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Being a Superhero When Their Lives Suck

by Mark Gregston

1 Corinthians 2:4-5 says: “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with the demonstration of the Spirit’s power so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” Let me tell you a story. When, when my granddaughter Maile was 16, she texted me one time and she said, Hey Papa, can we get together for dinner? Just us. I quickly responded that as soon as I got back in town from a speaking event, I’d come and pick her up and we’d go wherever she wanted to do dinner. You know what? She just wanted to talk. Not anything remarkable or outstanding. That wasn’t her point. She was really just asking, am I valuable and important enough that you’d like to get together? I heard it loud and clear, and I quickly responded with a resounding YES, of course.  

One of these days she’ll ask if we can get together again and it will be something remarkable, maybe even heart shattering. I’m convinced those critical conversations will never occur unless I’m willing to invest time in the smaller conversations that build trust and affection first. Many times, a parent or a grandparent is just the attending ear that listens and listens and listens and listens, and then when you’re through listening, you listen a bit more. Somewhere in the midst of wearing your ears out, a child or a grandchild begins to believe that you’re a superhero, all because you showed up and engaged. They’ll remember your stories and bits of wisdom just as you and I did growing up from adults who spoke to us and into us. 

From my early childhood up through my thirties, I was like a sponge soaking up anything I could to figure out who I was, what I was supposed to do, and what purpose my life was for. It might not have taken me so long if the voices I heard in my elementary and teen years encouraged more than discouraged. My sponge soaked up quite a bit of negativity from people who were more critical than wise. Even after I became an adult, many other adults I knew spent time telling me what I couldn’t do rather than what great things might be in store for my wife, Jan and I. People said I shouldn’t have dated Jan as long as I did.  Some said we shouldn’t have gotten married so early. We’ve now been married 45 years. 

Some folks close to me said I shouldn’t work for a church. I worked on church staff for seven years. I met many parents who thought I was constantly wrong. In fact, I couldn’t do anything right in their eyes. Many said moving to Branson, Missouri to work for Young Life was a mistake. We spent seven years working at Young Life. The biggest punch in the gut was wen one fellow sat with me and told me he didn’t think I was capable of starting Heartlight, he thought it would fail. He thought moving to Texas was going to be a big mistake. He stated that I just wasn’t capable of the plans I thought God had for us. In a way he was right, I wasn’t capable, but God was. He knew my calling, my passion and my purpose. He created me for it. The people I described here were naysayers. People that always saw the glass half empty and who took one-way trips to negative town, always emphasizing the worst of any situation. I’ve said for years that it’s not the presence of negative comments, but the absence of positive comments that sets one’s life on course. 

The positive for me came from older folks in my life who chose to sit with me and listen all times of the day, any day of the week. They could be counted on to listen to my hopes and dreams, offering input only when I wanted it or asked for it from them. I learned many important lessons that came from their ability to use experience and knowledge; to make good decisions and judgements. Wisdom flowed from conversations. I’m sure they never realized the impact they were having on me. As I reflect on their effect on me, I guess their influence was what a parent or maybe a grandparent could have offered me. I’ve spent a lot of time looking back in my life, thinking about those people who helped me become who I am. 

I try to imagine what I would be without their words and wisdom and I just can’t. Most of these individuals have since passed. Some of them have lost their spouse. Others have lost their mind. I still keep in touch with a few, but all of their legacies live on in me.  

When I was a youth pastor at a church in Tulsa, a fellow by the name of Dave said don’t stoop to be a king when you’re called to be a servant. Think about that one for a while. For me, that was a totally different perspective than being told to put others ahead of myself. The same principle, but a new way of hearing and perceiving it. The pastor of that church, Dr. LD, Thomas and I were out for lunch at the Tulsa oil club one time. I remember him pointing to everyone in the room saying, Mark, every person in this room feels like they’re carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. Another pastor there, a dear friend named Doug Berg told me a number of times, Mark, God’s going to use you. 

I remember the renowned author and speaker Chuck Swindoll saying everything that has come to you has first pass through the hands of God. I especially remember a swim coach of mine named John Roberts, he was really my algebra teacher. He said, Mark, if you think you can, you will. If you think you can’t, you won’t, for many a race was lost before the gun even sounded. 

Another friend of mine named Smith Brookhart, a dear friend from Branson, Missouri would remind me, Marcus, you’re going to do a good thing. Spike White of Kanakuk camps who took me under his wing would say, Mark, have you thanked the guy who fired you and brought you to Texas? Another dear friend, Pete Hershwin would say when we started Heartlight, Mark, remember that your revenues will always be half of what you expect, and your expenses will always be twice the amount you plan for. Another dear friend, Joe Newberry said Mark, most Christian ministries cater to women. It’s our job to serve up a good meal to men. Another guy that was in my wedding, Cliff Talbert, shared with me over coffee that you have to be genuine, and you have to be real. A lady named Margo Dukette who started a program called Windridge a therapeutic equine therapy camp for kids said, Mark, how you treat a horse when you’re on its back is pretty much how you treat those people that live around you.  

You know, all these folks probably didn’t even know the impact, each simple sentence had on me. I’m not sure I knew how important they were at the time, yet in hindsight, I see how each molded me and how God used them to influence me. It was these guys and gals that left a legacy of hope for me and to each I am most grateful. It’s interesting how each of the comments I remember from the superheroes of mine making didn’t use Scripture. However, each undoubtedly stood on biblical principles for their own lives. Sometimes wisdom is shared from the ways you internalize God’s Word in your life. You naturally express it through golden statements based upon your experience and knowledge. Each of these people had similarities in their influence that presented a wonderful example to me. Now I can use my influence in the same way to share wisdom with my grandchildren, and you can too. 

There are a few common practices to note. First off, these one liners didn’t come out of just one meeting. They were nuggets that I remember from the span of time we spent together. Conversations didn’t set out to solve a specific problem at a specific time, they were just ongoing conversations over a long period of time. The second thing I realized was that these friends were intentional about training me and these meetings weren’t just to shoot the breeze or pass time. They recognized they had a sponge sitting across from them, soaking up everything and they were purposeful yet not agenda driven with the desire to pass on something that would make life different. The third thing that I realized is that the time we spent together was positive. At least it seemed like it was. I’m sure they said things that needed to be said, but I always left our times together with a sense of encouragement, not discouragement. 

I realized each one of them gave room for me to ask questions. Millions of them. They weren’t afraid to tell me answers I didn’t want to hear, but they told them in an affirming way. I trusted them when they were right, and I trusted them when I thought they were wrong. As I reflect on these individuals, I think about what they left with me. 

Another key thing that I picked up was that the steadfast rocks had insight. Meaning they processed their own experiences and drew out insight and wisdom to be passed on to others. They told stories, their own stories of successes and failures, challenges, hurdles, and what they had learned or picked up in the process. I realized no matter how I saw something, each always helped me see things from a different perspective. I knew each of these folks loved me and enjoyed the time we were able to spend together. I felt their commitment when they introduced me to their friends, other colleagues and folks we would bump into during our times together. They didn’t spend time correcting me by telling me how I needed to do something different. They acted as a remedy helping me to figure out what was best for my life.  

I’m sure that you can list a very similar group of people that influenced your life. I bet you can list what each person has taught you. Well, guess what? Now it’s your turn to be that influencer, the storyteller, the perspective giver, the sharer of successes, the communicator of failures, the insight injector and the positive trainer. 

God has placed children, grandchildren, and other people in your life for a reason. He also kept you in theirs for a greater purpose. You’ve had plenty of years to have the light shine on you. Now it’s their turn. Remember what 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 says: “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with the demonstration of the Spirit’s power so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” 

I hope you have had people involved in your life that have helped mold you. And I hope you have chosen some people in your life that God can use you in to mold them. 

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.