It was August and the new school year just started. I was extremely excited because I was fresh out of college and just got my first part-time job as a kindergarten co-teacher. My first (and only child at the time) was a year old and this would provide the balance I desired as a teacher and mom of a little one.
All through college I dreamt of one day getting my name on a mailbox in the office of an elementary school. In my mind, if my name was on a mailbox in the office, it meant I was an influencer in the field of education. I, Shanda Fulbright, made a difference in the lives of other people and I still got to be home with my baby.
On my first day as a new teacher, I anticipated walking into that office and seeing my name on a teacher mailbox. I was eager to meet my new students; thirty-two little minds I would be pouring into every day. I was an influencer. I was going to make a difference.
As I walked in the office to check in, I greeted the secretary and waited for her to show me around. She introduced me to the other teachers and staff, but I kept glancing over at the mailboxes, wondering which one was mine. I didn’t want to seem rude, but I really wanted to know where my mailbox was.
After all the introductions were made, I walked over to the teacher boxes and began glancing up and down each column. I saw all of the grade levels, and since kindergarten is the youngest of them all, I should be listed first. I didn’t see my name with the other kindergarten teachers, so I kept glancing, going from one grade to the next. When I got to the last mailbox, I realized my name wasn’t among the other teachers.
I walked over to the receptionist and asked, “Miss, where is the mailbox for Fulbright?” She smiled and said, “Oh, Fulbright? We thought you could share a mailbox with the other kindergarten teacher since you’re only here part-time.” My heart sank. No name on a mailbox? Isn’t that what validated my influence as a teacher?
I sometimes cringe at what I reveal to you about myself because I know it can sound really ridiculous. But, why hide who I really am? I struggled with this! I struggled with staying at home and being there for my boys against going to work full-time just so I could feel like what I did made a difference. I needed the validation of seeing my name on a mailbox to convince myself that my influence had an impact.
Influence. Have you ever looked up the definition? It means “the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something.” And I grew up wanting to be an influence for good. I still do. But my understanding of influence has changed since those early years of teaching and motherhood.
Here’s a little secret I’ll share with you about myself and influence: I always envied the people who influence others from glamorous positions. You know, the ones you mention in conversation and no one has to say, “Who’s that?” The person who influences millions but whom you’ll never have an actual conversation with because you’re just another one in line behind the millions of followers they have. They have influence. They’re important. They’re doing great things in life.
Over the years, my boys have taught me that influence is messy. Influence shows up every day, even when you’re exhausted. Influence watches over the lives of others regardless of whether or not anyone thanks you or mentions your name. True influence teaches, instructs and moves from the heart. And if we’re going to influence the world, we have to start right where we are. We have to be o’kay to influence when it doesn’t matter to anyone else.
Lately, God has been teaching me a lot about influence, and not taking for granted the opportunities to influence those closest to me. Even now, I can sometimes get caught up in thinking my impact on this world has to be big. But God, in His mercy, keeps me grounded with little reminders named Wyatt, Weston and Brody.
I’d like to share some of those lessons with you. First, influence is an opportunity, and opportunities don’t last forever. Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Every season in life only lasts for a little while. There is a time for influence and when it is in our power to do good, we have to seize it. Opportunities to teach full-time will always be waiting for me, but my boys will not always be under my wing and living in my home.
All too often we take for granted the influence we have in the tedious, unappreciated tasks of life; the influence of the not-so-glamorous and the uncompromising routine of being an example to others even when we feel it goes unnoticed. It doesn’t. Galatians 6:9 says, “Do not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” We don’t always see the impact of our influence; at least not right away. There will be a season in which our impact bears fruit. But don’t take for granted the faithfulness of your influence in the day to day kindness, positive words, and all the little things we may deem as insignificant because no one knows we do them. God knows, and He brings the fruit.
Finally, influence from a heart of sincerity is done in secret. I am a firm believer, and tell others often, that the “behind the scenes” influencers will get the greater reward. Think about the examples in God’s Word that prove this. Everyone talks about how great Moses was (and he was, don’t get me wrong), but do you realize he was influenced to fulfill God’s call because Aaron went with him? Aaron is the unsung hero in that story.
Everyone talks about how great David was (and he was pretty stinkin’ cool), but do you realize Jonathan was his best friend who constantly encouraged and reminded him of God’s plan for his life? Jonathan is the unsung hero in that story.
You see, it’s not the ones whose names are on mailboxes, or flashing on billboards that have the only influence, or the greatest influence for that matter. Our influence is like a ripple effect that begins with us and goes beyond us. I have learned that if I do not invest in my family first, my influence is superficial, and the ripple effect of my influence isn’t going to be as effective.
So, if you feel like what you do isn’t impactful, remember Matthew 6:4, “Let your giving be done in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” It doesn’t matter if anyone recognizes your influence. God does, and His reward is greater than any recognition a person can give. My greatest reward will be watching my boys grow up to become men of God; to fulfill the purpose He has for them. I want to be the unsung hero in their lives. I want to be the reason they go forward and fulfill God’s call on their lives and the one who encourages them to never give up on His plan.
As we leave each other today, I challenge you to look around at those you influence; the ones you can talk to face to face and invest words of wisdom and exhortation. You may never be thanked. You may never have your name listed on a metaphorical mailbox. It may be exhausting, messy and you may not see the fruits of your influence right away. But you are making a difference. Let your ripple of influence begin right where you are and it will go beyond your reach!
Hey Friend! Thank you for reading my blog this week. I have something coming up next week that will help you keep your focus on God’s presence in your life this Christmas season. Keep an eye out for it!
And, if you missed my downloadable nutrition plan with macro info and a grocery list, click here. You can stay healthy this holiday season!