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The Key People who Influence our Kids’ Lives

by Mark Gregston

Most people know that I’m a grandfather because I talk about it all the time. I have a 19-year-old granddaughter, a 14-year-old granddaughter, an eight-year-old grandson and a seven-year-old granddaughter. I think the world of them, mainly because I think grandkids are a reward for not killing your own kids. There just something about it that’s different.  

I’m always learning little lessons that maybe I didn’t learn when I was raising my own kids. Now that I have that second time around, oh how I wish somebody would have shared some things with me when I was parenting, rather than now. However, I’m learning that I get a mulligan, if you will, and can try out some new things on my grandkids. 

This happens in any family though. It’s about your words and your comments and how you engage with the child and what’s remembered. I remember when my granddaughter Maile was 16 and she texted me and she just said, “Hey Papa, can we get together for dinner?” I quickly responded, “As soon as I got back in town from this speaking event, I would love to get with you.” And she continued: We can go anywhere. I just want to sit down with you. And I said, “You bet, sweetheart” in a heartbeat. And you know what, she just wanted to talk. That was it. Not really 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? And I heard it loud and clear. And the answer is yes, one of these days she’ll ask if we can get together again and it will be something remarkable, maybe even earth-shattering, but I’m convinced that those critical conversations will never end. Unless you’re willing to invest in the smaller conversations that build that trust and affection, your child will not want to share the larger, more remarkable, or earth-shattering events.  

Many times, a parent is just the attending ear that listens and listens and listens and then listen some more. And then when you’re through listening, you listen even more and somewhere in the midst of wearing your ears out, a child begins to believe that you’re a superhero, just because you listen. Because you showed up and engaged in the nick of time. 

It’s no different for any of us. We all love that. I’m convinced that kids will remember your stories and your bits of wisdom just as you and I did growing up, from the adults who spoke to us and into us from my early childhood. From adolescence up through my thirties, I was like a sponge soaking up anything I could figure out about from anybody about what I was supposed to do and what my purpose in life was supposed to be. 

It might not have taken so long if the voices I heard in my elementary and teen years encouraged me more than discouraged me. My sponge soaked up quite a bit of negativity from people. People who were more critical than they were wise. Even after I became an adult, many other adults I knew spent time telling me that I couldn’t do things, rather than how I could do them. 

There were people who told me you’ll never marry your high school sweetheart. I did, and we’ve now been married 45 years. People said, you should never work for a church. I did, and I was there for seven years. I met a lot of parents that thought I was constantly wrong; that I couldn’t do anything right in their eyes. 

Many said that moving to Branson, Missouri to be a Young Life Area Director was the wrong choice. I did it anyway and we spent seven years with Young Life. The biggest punch in my gut is when I sat down with a fellow that I thought that I trusted. I told him I had this crazy idea about working with kids in Texas at a place called Heartlight; already knew the name. 

We were going to start the program and help families that were caught in crisis and their kids were struggling. I sat down with him and said, hey, here’s the plan. And here’s the idea. And this is where I’m going to get the money to make it happen. And I was excited about our meeting. 

His comments were this to me, you’re going to fail MarkYou’re not the right person for the job. He thought moving back to Texas was going to be a big mistake. And 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. And it was his positive push that countered this man’s negativity.  

What I’ve found is that there are a lot of people that I’ve been surrounded with throughout my life that I would describe as 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. You know exactly what I’m talking about. I’ve said it for years that it’s not the presence of negative comments, but the absence of positive comments that set one’s life on its 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 and offer input only when I wanted or asked for it from them. I learned some important lessons that came from their ability to use experience and knowledge. To make good decisions and judgments. Wisdom flowed from those conversations. And I’m sure they never realized the impact that they were having on me. As I reflect on their effect on me. I guess their influence was what a normal parent or a normal grandparent could have had. 

I spend a lot of time thinking back on my life and thinking about people who have helped me become who I am. And as I try to imagine what I would be without their words of wisdom, I just can’t. Most of these individuals have since passed. Some have lost their spouse. Others have lost their mind. I still keep in touch with a few. But all their legacies live on in me. When I worked as a youth pastor in a church in Tulsa, a fellow by the name of Dave came up to me and said, Mark, don’t stop to be a king when you’re called to be a servant. Think about that one. For me, that was a totally different perspective than being told to put others ahead of myself, the same principle, just a new way of hearing and perceiving it. 

The pastor of that church, a guy by the name of Dr. LD Thomas and I were out for lunch at the Tulsa Oil Club one time. And I remember him pointing to everyone in the room saying, “Mark, every person in this room, it feels like they’re carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders.” Another pastor there by, by the name of Doug Burr said this: “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 passed through the hands of God.” A guy named John Roberts, who was my algebra teacher as well as swim coach that I had for a number of years said, “Mark, if you think you can, you can, if you think you can’t, you won’t, for many a race was lost before the gun was even sounded.” 

A guy named Smith Brookhart who died a few years ago from Branson, Missouri would remind me, “Marcus, you’re doing a good thing.” Spike, of Kanakuk camp, took me under his wing and would say, “Mark, have you thanked the guy who fired you and brought you back to Texas.” Another dear friend from Branson named Pete Hershwin would say this as we started Heartlight he said, “Mark, remember that your revenues will always be half of what you expect, and your expenses will be twice.” Another dear friend, Cliff Talbert shared with me over coffee, Mark, you have to be genuine. You’ve got to be real or people won’t stand to be around you. A lady by the name of Margo Dukette here in East Texas who taught me about breaking horses, 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

I don’t know whether any of these folks really realize the impact that they had on me. I’m not sure I knew how important they were at the time, but in hindsight, I find that each has molded me, and that God used them to influence me. It was these guys and gals that left a legacy of hope for me, and to each one to this day, I’m eternally grateful. 

It’s interesting. How each of the comments I remember didn’t always use Scripture. However, each undoubtedly stood on biblical principles for their own lives. And sometimes wisdom is shared from the ways that you’ve internalized God’s Word in your life. You naturally express it through golden statements based upon your experience and knowledge in all their time. With me, each of these people had similarities in their influence that presented a wonderful example to me. Now I am able to use that influence in the same way to share wisdom with my children, my grandchildren, and the kids that I live with at Heartlight.  

I want to give you 10 things that I learned from these individuals as I reflect back. 

Here’s number one, these one-liners didn’t come out of just one meeting. They were nuggets. 

Our 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. Number two, these friends were intentional about training me. I realized that now, I didn’t then. I just thought that they were hanging out with some young guy, these meetings weren’t just to pass time. They recognize they had a sponge sitting there soaking up anything that it could, they were purposeful, but not agenda driven, with a desire to pass on something that would make my life different.  

Number three, and this is key. The time 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. Number four each gave me room to ask questions, millions of them. They weren’t afraid to tell me the answers I didn’t want to hear, but they told them in an affirming way. I trusted them when they were right. I trusted them when they were wrong. Number five, the people speaking into me were steadfast and had insight, meaning that they processed their own experiences and drew insight and wisdom to be passed on to others. 

Number six, they told stories their stories of successes and failures, challenges and hurdles and what they had learned and picked up in the process. Number seven. No matter how I saw something, each always helped me see things from another perspective. Number eight. Deep down, 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 and other colleagues. Nine: I learned from they didn’t spend time correcting me. Number 10: They acted as a remedy, helping me figure out God’s best for my life.  

Those are the 10 things that I’ve picked out from a number of men that changed my life and influenced me. I wouldn’t be half the man I am today, had it not been for their influence. I’m sure that you can list a very similar group of people that have influenced your life. If you really sit down and think, I bet you can list what each person taught you. Matter of fact, I would challenge you to do that. Now it’s your turn to be the influencer, the storyteller, the perspective giver, the sharer of successes, the communicator of failures, the insight injector and the positive trainer. 

God has placed your child in your life for a reason. He’s also kept you in theirs for a greater purpose, and you’ve had plenty of years to have the light shine on you, now it’s their turn. My hope for you would be this, that when they’re going through a tough time, that you would be the superhero in their life. That you would be the one that they would run to, that you would be the one that they knew would always encourage them and listen. There’s a Scripture that I think is important here. 1 Corinthians 2:4-5 “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.” God bless you all. Hope you have a great week. Your kids and your grandkids need you in their life. Desperately. 

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.