Fate does not dictate the meaning in our lives

As I sat with the 104-year-old gentleman in the dining room of his assisted living facility, he began to take me for a stroll down his memory lane. The further we went, the more my heart was filled with wonder at God's grace to my friend. His father died of appendicitis at a young age, leaving a large family struggling to survive. Frustrated by her inability to care for her three younger children, the mother offered them to an orphanage to raise or adopt out to other families. The director of the orphanage said she could take the two younger children, but my friend, the 13-year-old boy, was too old for their home. When the teenager protested that he did not want to be separated from his brother and sister, the manager of the orphanage refused to receive any of the children.

My friend continued to share the memories of his frustrated mother's poor decisions, including a three-day marriage in Montana, and her eventual marriage to a "con artist" and an abusive man. Finally, as a teen, my friend fled his dysfunctional home to the safety of relatives in Bend, Ore., where he was able to continue his education.

While still a high school student, this energetic, enterprising young man went into the local J.C. Penney store and asked for any job available. The assistant manager said there was a temporary position for a young man to start the furnace at 5 a.m. each morning and keep it fueled with wood chips.

Faithfully, each morning he started the store furnace, shoveled wood chips into the fire and maintained the furnace room. When his duties were complete, he offered to help in the stock room, making himself useful while he was in their employment.

The management was impressed with his faithfulness, trustworthiness and eagerness to be trained. He went from the furnace room to the stock room, and eventually out on the sales floor where he loved to help customers find the right merchandise.

The temporary job became a career. His willingness to learn and explore new methods of merchandising eventually led him to become manager of several departments and training for store management. For the next 40+ years, this gentleman worked in management for the J.C. Penney Company, even becoming personally acquainted with James Cash Penney, whom my friend holds with deepest respect today. He opened and managed Penney stores in Idaho, Oregon, and California, and retired early so he might assist missionaries around the world.

He and his wife traveled all over the world, visiting missionaries and encouraging social and religious activities. He traveled and studied in the Middle East, focusing on many places mentioned in the Bible. His personal faith in Jesus as the Christ grew and deepened. He was honored to accompany many honorable ministers, like Ray Stedman and Louis Palau.

For the last 16 years, he has made his home in a retirement center here in Boise. Even at his advanced age, he continues to reach out to help others in his hallway and at his dining table. His selfless attitude, sense of humor and abiding faith is an inspiration to everyone who has had the privilege to meet him.

I have been honored to sit and listen to Victor Whetzel's unique insight into the Bible, based on his extensive travels. I love to hear his views on the world, given his long journey. But, most of all, I marvel how God's grace has brought this gentleman from a disastrous home life to become a successful businessman and Christian gentleman.

Given his background, one would expect a child raised in these circumstances to use his background as an excuse for irresponsible living. But Vic never has. He became the caregiver for his mother, and the loving companion to three dear ladies who died in his arms.

A person's past does not have to be the roadmap for their future. Fate does not dictate the meaning in our lives. Decisions that have the seeds of success embedded in them will eventually produce a harvest of productive living that pleases God.

Just ask Vic and watch the smile crease his face!