My favorite paying job by far was when I worked at Discovery Place Museum in Charlotte back in the early ’00’s. Not only did I adore the work that I did, but I was surrounded with colleagues who were fun, full of life, rich characters that became life long friends. I miss working with those individuals still to this day. One of my best friends there was Michael. Michael is highly intelligent, quick-witted, incredibly articulate and so very humble. We worked in the Education Department with a handful of other fantastic individuals. You’ve hit the coworker jackpot when you click with your coworkers so well that it not only makes work more enjoyable, but you actually choose to spend time outside of work together socially.
I distinctly remember the restaurant we were at when I finally heard about Michael’s travels. It would change the course of my life but I didn’t know it yet. We got around to the subject of places you’ve been. In 2001, my subject matter on that topic was in short supply. Michael however, had done what so many people dream of doing. In 1995 when he was 26 years old, he had quit his job, liquidated most of his possessions and spent the next 3 years traveling the world. I sat in amazement (I’m sure my mouth was open and eyes wide in wonderment the whole time) as I listened to all the exotic places he went, things he did, and foods he ate. I soaked it all up like a dry sponge and lived every story vicariously through him. One stop on his travels struck a chord with me. He was recalling his time in Tanzania when he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Me: “Wait, you climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro?!?! You can even do that?”
Michael: (Laughing) “Yes, you can absolutely do that.”
Me: “That is awesome! I want to do that!”
Just like dropping a stone into water, Michael’s story rippled out, unintentionally influencing others around him.
Back in 2009, Journey Church where we attended was offering a mission trip to Uganda. The church I grew up in didn’t participate in mission trips and I had never known anyone that had gone before who wasn’t a priest or pastor, or outside of a youth trip. I had this vision of what a “missionary” looked like in my head and it certainly wasn’t anyone I knew. Those were self-sacrificing people who didn’t have families or worldly possessions without a thing to lose right? It didn’t even strike me as an option to go.
Melissa was one of our very talented vocalists on the worship team who had a ridiculously cute, and I mean right out of a catalog, picture perfect, young family. She felt called to go and signed up. She had four kids! Two daughters and two sons who were only 12, 11, 7 and 6 years old at the time. Her husband worked full-time. How was she going to manage that?
That wasn’t all she did. If her story would have stopped there for me, it wouldn’t have had the same impact. For months leading up to her departure, Melissa journaled about her trip and posted it for all to see. She wrote about her feelings of excitement, insecurity, how grateful she was, how scared she was, concerns for her family, finances, etc. She asked for prayers, she prayed for support, all the while professing how she knew God would provide. Melissa opened up and made herself vulnerable, to many of us who didn’t even know her well. She allowed others a peak inside her private world to show how God was working through her. And I was in awe.
How absolutely courageous of her to be so transparent, sharing both her positive AND negative thoughts and emotions. That was the first time I figured out it was normal to be scared about a big decision like that. My thought process instinctively told me you shouldn’t have a shadow of a doubt about going, in order to actually go. Melissa turned that perspective right on it’s head. Missionaries weren’t young mothers, leaving their families and homes behind who had concerns about the trip! That certainly wasn’t something I should do.
That’s when I heard the first whisper say “Why not you?” The ripple Melissa sent out into the world through social media reached me in the privacy of my own home where it would start to swell and shape my future.
Michael is a very modest guy. No one could ever accuse him of bragging and he wasn’t trying to impress anyone when he shared his story of his travels. In fact I had already been friends with him quite some time before I stumbled upon that gem of knowledge.
He had no way of knowing that telling me about a mountain he climbed half way around the world back in 1996 could ever possibly result in HUNDREDS of children and families getting access to CLEAN WATER.
Melissa wasn’t trying to convince the world she was holier than thou or to garner admiration for all the goods things she was about to do. She just poured her heart and prayers into her writing regarding her trip.
She had no idea that the simple act of her sharing her feelings about that trip would result in IMPROVED SANITATION for HUNDREDS of people years later, on a totally separate mission trip she wouldn’t even be on!
Your stories have ripple effects like water. Don’t ever underestimate the power of your story or how it can inspire someone else. You may never even know what course changes you are making in someone’s life when you decide to open up, and SHARE. You would be amazed at the incredible reach your ripple effects can have.
I have no idea if anything will ever come of me sharing my story, but I’m not naive enough anymore to think anything won’t. I’ve witnessed first hand how God works through others. How seemingly insignificant things can impact someone. How it can take years for an idea to develop because the courage 2 individuals had to share part of their stories.
So here is my promise to all of you. I promise to be genuine and honest. I can’t however promise to always be grammatically correct. I will start sentences with ‘And’ and other conjunctions or whatever it is you’re not supposed to start sentences with and end them with prepositions galore (I can feel my 8th grade English teacher whipping out his red pen now). However, it won’t matter because my goal isn’t to present perfection. My goal is to be authentic sending out ripples from the stories of both the good and the bad because I know just as much can be birthed from either. I hope you will too.
So go. Cast your ripples into the world.