The Story of a Real Influencer

INFLUENCE.  I spend a lot of time thinking about it. Do you? One reason is because of all the talk we hear about Instagram “Influencers.” They’re on my radar because I believe they could be so very helpful in helping get the word out about our little social enterprise, OUTsideIN.  

And yet, there is something that seems innately wrong about using the word influence in the context of something so impersonal as Instagram. Allow me to share two stories of real influence that I recently experienced. On Christmas Eve, my family was delighted to get to deliver a bundle of gifts to a family in Hornbeak (yes, there is such a town). I had run into a childhood classmate of mine some time earlier and she had updated me on a recent turn of events in her life. It seems that after her husband passed away, she believed she should look for a way to give of herself in a way that would be useful to our society. She decided to take in some foster kids. Apparently, that went well and she took in a few more. This process went on for a few years and about a year ago she found herself the mother of her own granddaughter and nephew, and three very young foster kids.

Then came the word from the Department of Children's Services that the foster kids were to be placed for adoption and my friend had to decide whether to solidify her role as their mother permanently or hope another family could be found to take them. Did I mention that my friend and I started school together in 1968 and we're well into our 50's? This is an important detail to this story. Trust me. I've no idea what kind of process she went through to make this decision or how much time it took but she stepped into the role of forever parent, never to look back.

My family of millennials - with a GenZ mixed in for good measure - delivered the gifts and thoroughly enjoyed the experience of seeing little kids light up at the sight of brightly colored packages. We chatted a few minutes to see what this little tribe liked to do and reconnect with the excitement of Christmas, so to speak. The wireless headphones and books about philosophy on my own kid’s lists couldn't compare to the LOL dolls and video games on theirs.  My sweet friend told my kids that she had fostered over 20 kids over the course of the last five years. I was so thankful she told them because I want my own children to see that you don’t have to possess wealth, college degrees or really anything except selfless love to make a difference in this world. She had done this by just loving kids who needed a mom. That's real influence and I doubt they'd ever seen it on their Instagram feed.

But before we saw ourselves out the door, she drove the point home by stopping my oldest and saying to him, "before you leave, I have to tell you something about your grandparents." We all stopped, never expecting to hear any mention of them. Sadly, both my parents have been gone for over a decade and honestly, I worry that at least my younger kids may have few memories of them. She went on to tell them of how my parents were the first to take her to church and she had vivid memories of sitting next to my mother. My mother would give each of us a quarter to put in the collection plate when it came past. What? While I do remember that this friend was invited to church by my family I don't remember this small detail. She added that my family had influenced her to make a relationship with the Lord a priority, and  that my kids should now see the fact that she herself had influenced the lives of 20 foster kids as a ripple effect of that action.

On a day that we totally expected to be a blessing to another family, another family totally blessed us. Yes, we were the ones with a credit card who made a trip to Target but this was the one who recognized that sharing the story of someone's influence could be a gift of indescribable value. She reminded us all that God places people in our path each day that we can influence and that we might never know who they are or even how we did it. I can assure you, my mother never considered that she had even the slightest effect on my friend’s life after elementary school. And yet look how many lives had been impacted because she invited a little girl to church and gave her a quarter for the collection plate.  

No, my mother never took a photo of a plate of food, or her latest outfit, gadget, or vacation destination. Heck, she could barely check her email, but was she an influencer? You better believe she was. I know 20 kids who can prove it.

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