Our character is forged by the promises we make and keep.
I promise to take this man as my lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer . . .
I promise to defend the laws of the United States of America . . .
I promise to be a faithful member of this church. To uphold it with my prayers, my presence, my gifts, my service . . .
Anyone ever make promises like these? Our character is forged and our character is revealed by the promises we make and the promises we keep.
I read once about a young man named David who knew how to keep a promise. Dave's mother was an alcoholic. Not only did her condition cause her to neglect her children, she also became cruel and abusive while drunk. She beat and burned Dave, and forced him to live in their cold, dark, dirty garage. She treated him like a slave, and only fed him when he could perform his endless list of chores to her satisfaction. That didn't happen often. It was a rare day when Dave came to school clean, or dressed in adequate clothing. And when his second-grade teacher tried to intervene on Dave's behalf, his mother chose to punish him by changing his name to "It." She never called him anything else but "It," and she forbade the other children from calling him by name.
The only thing that kept Dave from total and complete despair was his teachers' kindness. His teachers treated him with respect and caring. Compliments from them were like food for his soul. At night, as he sat in that cold, dark garage, he pictured the faces of his teachers. This mental imagery gave him his only measure of comfort. In fact, he believed it was the only thing keeping him alive.
Dave remembers the day of his rescue with total clarity March 5, 1973. He was in the fifth grade. A few courageous teachers, the principal, and the school nurse convinced the child protective services to step in and remove Dave from his home. That day, as the authorities came to take him to his new life, the whole staff of Dave's school lined up to give him a hug. As each person held him, he tried desperately to imprint the moment in his memory forever. He had never known love like that before, and he didn't know if he ever would again. Before he left, this little fifth-grader made two solemn promises to his caring teachers: One, that he would never forget them and their kindness to him. And two, that he would do everything in his power to make them proud of him.
Twenty years later, Dave Pelzer stood before his old teachers at Thomas Edison Elementary School to thank them for what they did, and to give them something special. It was a book, Dave's own book, titled, A CHILD CALLED "IT." Today, Dave Pelzer is a speaker who spreads his message of inspiration to thousands of people. In 1994, he was honored with the Outstanding Young Person of the World award. He was also chosen to carry the torch in one stretch of the 1996 Olympic Torch Relay. He has risen above the horror and pain of his abusive childhood to make a great success out of his life. And he kept his promise.