Wayne Collier helped us work cows after my father had died. I was four years-old, riding my one-eyed Shetland pony, gathering up cows. I felt so big. Even a four-year-old on a Shetland pony can move a cow. Then I rode up too close to the herd and Wayne hollered at me, “Son, don’t ride up on them cows. They’ll scatter.”
It was the first time I remember anyone calling me “son.” “Son” is what older men in my neck of the woods called young boys when they needed to correct them, but not be harsh with them. Since my father died, I didn’t hear “son” too often. Wayne that day gave me a word of affectionate correction when he called me “son.” I’ll never forget it.
My cousin Tiny Durrance grew up with my Dad. His home in Chattanooga was halfway between Florida and Kentucky, where I went to school. Half-a-dozen times I stopped and spent the night. Tiny would start to tell stories about my Daddy. He would tell about the time Daddy overturned the truck with fifteen men on back, when Daddy knocked out a man’s eye in a juke joint across the county line, and when Daddy’s mare beat his cousin Floyd’s colt in horse race one Sunday after church.
Tiny gave me memories of my Daddy I didn’t have. He gave me stories I needed to hear, stories I stored up in my soul, to pass on to my children. I’ll never forget those stories.
Doing graduate work at seminary was like living in a war zone. The competition was fierce, the expectations high. You never knew when a stray verse of Hebrew would be lobbed at you in class. Halfway through my Ph.D. studies, I realized I did not have a scholar’s temperament. I really didn’t care how many variations of conjunctions there were in the book of 1 Chronicles. I decided to finish my degree anyway, but it was like giving birth to watermelon. My supervisor, Dr. Marvin Tate was patient beyond belief with my missed deadlines and immature conclusions.
After I left school and came to pastor Alice Drive, I sent a weekly newsletter to Dr. Tate (we mailed them in those days before the internet). One day my assistant told me a Dr. Tate was on line one and asked if I wanted to speak to him. I immediately broke into a cold sweat; had I failed to turn in a paper? Were they revoking my degree?
Dr. Tate came on the line and told me a column I had written about women in ministry was the best summation of the issue he ever read. He asked permission to use it with his Sunday School Class. Then he asked if I ever considered being a full-time writer. In that moment, I received an affirmation I never dreamed of. A simple phone call healed many of the scars I incurred during Ph.D. wars. I’ll never forget his call.
One day I felt this strange prompting to write a thank you note to John Ortberg. John’s books have grown my soul through the years. He introduced me to Dallas Willard, who in turn challenged me to go deeper in my walk with Jesus. I met John once in a conference in the bathroom. It’s an odd place to meet a hero. We didn’t shake hands.
John had added so much to my life, I felt the need to say “thanks.” I wrote a note, sent it to his church, and felt like I had done what God wanted me to do. A few weeks later, I received a note back from John. It simply said, “Thank you Clay. Your note encouraged me. Appreciatively, John.” It must have taken him 10 seconds to write. I keep in my desk drawer to this day. I’ll never forget that note.
Each of these men were people of influence in my life. In their circle of influence, they reached out and communicated something positive. Their words and stories helped my soul.
There are people in your circle of influence. They need encouragement. They need something positive. They need your response. You are a person of influence and your words and stories matter.
You may think your influence doesn’t matter. You are wrong. It matters a lot. There are people in your circle who need your blessing. Bless them. They will never forget it.