Black Candles

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In 1940, Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, published a bestselling children’s book entitled “Horton Hatches the Egg.” It tells the story of a congenial elephant named Horton, who is coerced by a mother bird to temporarily watch over her newly hatched egg. But temporary transitions to permanent when the mother bird refuses to return. Still, Horton continued to keep his commitment.

During that time, he endured several challenging conditions and numerous hardships. And through it all, Horton’s commitment never wavered. When the egg finally hatched, an unexpected site appeared. Emerging from the shell came a remarkably unique “elephant-bird,” complete with an elephant trunk just like Horton’s.

In spite of the mother bird’s short comings, in spite of her failures, the baby bird’s needs were met. Someone else stepped in to take up the slack and cover the lack. And although Horton didn’t hatch from an egg or live in a tree like the little creature he nurtured, he still had something of great value to offer the baby bird. He gave faithfulness. He gave perseverance. He gave the gift of influence. And his simple gift of influence transformed what could have been a hopeless situation into a life time of blessing.

When I was a young child, I had a brief stay in the hospital because of a medical procedure. The entire experience was very frightening. As I lay in the hospital bed waiting to go to surgery, countless questions crossed my inexperienced mind. What does it mean to be put to sleep? Will I wake up? Will I see my parents again? Why does my mom look so troubled? Why is my dad so distant? Will I be okay? Can someone please give me a hug?

Despite the tears cascading down my cheek, I received no comfort what so ever. No one held my hand. No one hugged me. No one reassured me. No one did anything and no one said anything. It made me feel like a science specimen, like something being observed in a test tube. The presence of so much cold indifference was smothering.

Just at the moment I felt the fear and abandonment carrying me beyond what my emotions could comprehend, a handsome young man in his twenties appeared in the doorway. It was as if a beam of light flooded the room. His voice was calming. His smile was encouraging. His presence dispelled the coldness. It rescued me from despair. Something about him changed the dynamics of the entire situation. God had appointed this young man as the guardian angel sent to escort me to the operating room.

Immediately he noticed the fear in my eyes and the lack of comfort at my bedside. When he lifted me up to put me on the stretcher, I threw my arms around his neck, clutching him as intently as I could. Returning the hug, he gently rubbed my back and said, “You’re going to be fine. Don’t be afraid, I’ve got you.”  And with that, my fear subsided. The anxiety melted away. His gentleness and calm words of comfort made me feel safe. Somehow I knew things would be okay.

Even now, many years later, my eyes still well up with tears each and every time the memory comes to mind. On that day that young man was my hero. He was an agent of the Lord on assignment to bring his gift of influence to my life. His Gift of Influence was Compassion. And it transformed an extremely painful situation in to a grace filled memory.

My encounter with this young man lasted only a few minutes. But God knows how to take a mustard seed of anything to bring forth a mountain of change. Although I will never know his name, his job title, his politics, or what he spent the remainder of his life doing, for a precious brief snapshot in time, he was God’s hands and feet sent to fill a deep emptiness in my heart just when I needed it most.

But he was not the only heavenly agent of change who graced my life. There was also my ninth-grade Algebra teacher.

I have yet to meet anyone as passionate about mathematics as this gentleman was. He possessed a contagious charisma that permeated every corner of the classroom. His energy was mesmerizing. Mathematics was his product.  And he packaged and sold it with world class finesse. It was like having Tony Robbins for a math instructor the entire year.

He taught us to think about math as if embarking on an exciting exploration to the unknown. He even used different language about math. For instance, we were forbidden to say the words “Math Test.” Instead he re-named it. He re-spun it and demanded we call it a “Math Party.” And we got to have a “Party” at least twice each week. This might sound crazy, but his influence changed my attitude to the point that I actually started thinking about what I should wear to the “Math Party.”

Prior to his class, my primary goal in ninth grade was to do the bare minimum…to progress to the tenth grade and keep my parents off my back. But his personality, his demeanor, his passion and dynamic communication style shook me out of complacency. In a sense my math teacher became my hero. He challenged me to embrace a completely new vision, not only about my ability, but also about what I could be and achieve. His Gift of Influence was Conviction. And it rocked my world!

It compelled me to re-examine all my previous ideas about math. It shifted how I approached the subject. I transitioned from dreading mathematics to absolutely LOVING mathematics. As a result, my grades went through the roof. I completed the year with an A. Even more important was how much his gift of influence influenced the remainder of my academic years. Before I met my ninth grade teacher I always said, “I’m not a math person.” After being exposed to his gift of influence, my language changed. I started saying, “I love math… it’s a party!”

And last but certainly not least was my sweet friend Jack…

My grandfather owned a plumbing company in a small town in Alabama. Over the years he had several men who worked alongside him. But the most talented, the smartest and most loyal of them all was Jack. A towering man in spirit and body, Jack had a smile that made the stars in heaven take notice. His laughter was like a magic carpet, taking all hearts on a thrill ride above the mundane.

I spent a great deal of my summer vacation with my grandparents. And Jack was as much a part of my childhood as any family member could possibly be. My granddads office was located in a garage behind their home. So it was not uncommon for the entire crew to spend their lunch hour indulging in my grandmothers southern cooking on occasion. Sometimes I would join them, making sure to sit next to Jack.

Flopping down beside him on the back porch steps, he greeted me with a bigger-than-life smile. Then he would tap my head with his tattered ball cap, as if that smile of his actually needed a punctuation. Then we would just sit there and talk about all kinds of things. Soaking up summer breezes, sipping southern ice tea, tossing corn bread morsels to the birds, Jack would share stories about his sweet wife and their grandchildren. He bragged on my grandmothers’ cooking and never failed to remind my granddad how lucky he was.

After savoring the second piece of homemade chocolate pie, Jack would shift the conversation. He wanted to know about my life, how I was doing in school, what my summer plans were, what clothes my grandmother and I were sewing together, and so on and so on.

He wasn’t just making small talk. Jack had a genuine interest in what interested me. He encouraged me like a true friend. He reminded me of the importance of a good education, of prayer, hard work, going to church and reading the Bible. Those times with Jack touched my heart. Back home, there was very little conversations or interest in who I was or what I cared about. But Jack was the direct opposite. He cared a great deal. He was authentic. He was grounded. He was sincere.

Wrapped in dark denim overalls, Jack was a gift of influence to the world…to my world. His gift of influence was Connection. And through the simple act of sincere conversation Jack became my hero. He took time to care about what I cared about. And he always left me with a sense of significance…that my life really did matter to someone.

He loved God and he loved people and he made everyone around him feel valued. When Jack passed away several years ago, it felt like I lost a member of my own family. But his smile, his laughter and his Gift of Connection will never die. Jack will always be very much alive in my heart.

The book of Acts recounts an exchange Peter and John had with a person in need – a man who had been lame since birth. Every day this man did the same thing in the same way around the same people, with no expectation of life being any different. And then one day he encountered people who had the gift of influence.

As Peter and John walked by on their way to the Temple, the lame man asked of them the same thing he had asked of everyone else… just enough to make it to the next day. Peter, however, knew he had something better to give this man. Peter and John had something better than gold and silver, money or power. They had a gift that would transform this man’s entire life…something that would change his thoughts, his actions and his language.

Peter addressed him by saying, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee; In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” The scripture say they took the man by the hand and “lifted him up.” From their words and actions the man received strength in his feet and ankles. The King James Version explains it this way; “And he leaping up stood, and walked and entered with them….”

In a similar way, those “Three Black Men of Influence” gave unto me what they had. And just like Peter and John, their willingness to “give such as they had,” strengthened my weakness. It lifted me up so I could stand and walk, so I could leap forward, so I could experience a different way of life.

The young man in the hospital could not “be” my dad. But he gave what could in the moment of need. Jack couldn’t be my best friend, yet he befriended me in ways that live on to this day. The math teacher couldn’t take my test for me or ensure I received good grades. But he most assuredly inspired me with a new attitude and a thirst for life-long learning.

Every single one of us has been given a Gift of Influence to share with the world. No matter who you are, regardless of your vocation, location, or education… God has called you and gifted you to be a person of influence. The good news is you don’t have to do something earth shaking to shake someone’s world.

Your gift could manifest through a simple hug, through showing interest or by sharing your passion with others who need inspiration. Maybe your gift is your smile. Maybe it’s your ability to offer a kind word of encouragement, or insight, or wisdom, or experience or prayer. Maybe it’s running a successful business and providing jobs. Maybe it’s driving a friend or neighbor to the doctor.

Acts 10:38 tell us that God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and with power. It says he went about doing good. Yes he performed miracles. Yes he healed the sick and raised the dead and walked on water. But he also shared his gift of influence in small ways that had such a huge impact they were worthy of recording in scripture.

Take for instance his conversation with the woman at the well. There were no large crowds around when he ministered to her. It was just the two of them sitting and talking. But his words changed her life and the lives of those in her community. He challenged her to rethink the direction she was going and what she was putting her hope in.

Or consider Zacchaeus, the tax collector. He was a very wealthy man. No outward appearance of need or lack. But on the inside something was missing and God knew it. All Jesus did was spend the day with Zacchaeus, eating and conversing. No preaching. No miracles. No judgments. But those few hours turned his life around. It transformed his heart and put him on a new course.

And there are many other examples, such as washing the disciples’ feet, making breakfast for them, and walking with the men on the road to Emmaus. In each of those situations, Jesus was relating to people where they were according to the need they probably didn’t even know they had. And yet, he influenced them with the Kingdom of God.

I believe the Lord wants to do the same through us. I believe he wants to direct our steps in small ways to help others with big needs. He wants us to feel his heart for them and understanding his thoughts towards them. He wants us to value what he values, regardless of how it may appear to the natural eye.

As followers of Christ we are his Ambassadors, as if God himself were pleading with the world through us. We have been called to encourage one another in the faith…to comfort one another with the comfort we have received…to be salt and light…to reflect God’s glory in a dark and dying world.

Yes there is a place for signs and wonders and miracles. No doubt that we need them and should desire them. But there is also a BIG place for simply touching others in the everyday basics of life with the Gift of Influence God has placed on the inside of us. And through God’s spirit at work in us, we impart the miraculous to others. We can help someone stand and walk in an area of weakness because, “As Jesus is, so are we in this world.” (1 John 4:17)

You can also learn more about how to use your Gift of Influence in my latest book..         5 Easy Steps to Life Changing Prayer  Available now on Amazon.  

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