As Frank Capra so masterfully illustrated in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life” we can never really know the impact we have on those people we encounter in our day-to-day life. Moreover, most of us, if we made a list of our accomplishments, would find much that is lacking; things we have done that we regret, things we haven’t done that we regret, and the despair that comes from the feeling that we followed the environmentalist credo of “take only pictures, leave only footprints” a little too well. We believe, perhaps a little too readily, that we are insignificant and that our lives mean nothing more than a moment of flatulence during a hurricane.
When we meet someone whose life far surpasses the expectations of this world, and whose voice reaches out to many, changing their lives for the better, we can’t help but wonder, admire, and yes envy, their ability to accomplish so much with what amounts to the same material we are all given to work with, and which we, ourselves have done so little.
Necia VanderWall was such a person. I know little about Necia’s childhood, having only met her a little over a decade ago, but I know much about her adulthood, having learned much about her by virtue of having the honor of being married to one of her daughters. Necia was many things; wife, mother, businesswoman, youth pastor, artist, intellectual, student, and teacher. Her passion was serving God through ministry to children. Knowing the trials and tribulations that children faced while growing to adulthood, Necia fought to assure children that, despite what the world told them, they were more than just physical beings adrift in a corrupt world.
Nowhere was she more successful than in the raising of her own daughters. Necia taught them that they were more, much more, than what Fifth Avenue and network television said they should be. She taught them to be chaste in a promiscuous world, that they were trophies to be won, not a commodity to be used. She taught them to respond to the shrill protestations of the perpetually offended with logic, reason, and compassion. She taught them that they were a Gift from God and that they should expect to be treated as such. She encouraged them to use their artistic talent to its fullest and stood beside them in defiance of those that sought to suppress it. She taught them by example to marry one man and stick with him no matter what life threw at them. As a result, she nurtured into womanhood four very formidable women who are very aware of their value and place in the world when so many others walk in the shadow of self-doubt.
Beyond that, Necia was a youth pastor who did her very best to alleviate the pain of adolescence for as many children as she could. To her, it wasn’t a job, it was a calling. She worked hard, perhaps too hard, to bring to children the insight that the pain they felt inside was temporary and that regardless of what the world, their friends, enemies, teachers, and even parents told them, that they were the recipients of a love that transcended time and space. That God was there for them and that they never had to feel lonely because He was with them, always. Too often, she worked herself to exhaustion and that took a toll. That toll was paid in full on January 3, 2011 when Necia passed into the arms of Our Lord.
What effect did Necia have on the world? It may never become widely apparent. Her epitaph may be nothing more than mention in a casual conversation, or a memory of her sparked by some quote, Bible verse, or photograph. But rest assured, Necia made her mark on the hearts of everyone that encountered her. Like Capra’s George Bailey, Necia was never fully aware of how her existence effected those around her, but there can be no question that, with her passing, all of us that knew and loved her are diminished.