I sat motionless.
I knew that something had finally “clicked.”
As the applause was dying down, I tried to discreetly wipe the tears that had pooled in my eyes.
From my seat in the front row, I had the advantage of none of my students seeing how emotional I had become. I tried to gather myself before I turned to face them.
I was in my early 20’s as a youth leader in the tiny cow-town of Hereford in the windy plains of the Texas panhandle.
About 3 months prior to this moment I had been strongly encouraged by one of my mentors to bring a specific program to my students and community. Trusting this man wholeheartedly I begged (and I mean begged) several local business leaders to give me the funds I needed to bring in this speaker. I earnestly believed that this speaker could make such a positive impact on our community.
Boy, was I right.
So there I sat at the end of the presentation for our students. I was in the front row, as I mentioned, and I was deeply moved. The message of kindness, forgiveness, and compassion had so deeply penetrated my heart; I was woefully unprepared.
I will never forget, as I spun to face my students, that many students were emotional. I saw hugs, tears, high fives. Some of the meanest, toughest kids in school were asking for forgiveness with tears in their eyes.
In just 60 minutes this speaker brought together our community; from the hallways of our schools to the chapels and churches in our close-knit town.
My first thought was, “This speaker did, in 60 minutes, what I could not do in years, maybe decades.”
My second thought was about my father.
My relationship with my dad was a rocky one. I don’t retain many memories from my childhood, but the ones I have are not pleasant. My parents’ relationship was tricky; they married and divorced 2 times. We moved around a lot. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents as my parents were trying to work things out.
The truth was that I was mad at my Dad. We hardly ever spoke. I went through middle school, high school, and college with little contact with him.
But, after seeing this speaker rock the stage with his message of forgiveness, I just knew that if my dad could only see the presentation that night, he would change. He would feel different.
I had a lot of family in Hereford (and still do), so we gathered everyone up. I had aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents ready to attend.
And, most importantly, my Dad.
That night the auditorium was packed. Over 1,000 people (in a town of about 12,000) came to hear the message. The impact was palpable. For the 2nd time that day the speaker rocked the stage, people were incredibly moved, relationships were restored… the response was overwhelming.
I hugged my aunts and close friends that were there. I couldn’t wait to see how the presentation had affected my Dad. I was ready for a hug, an apology, a handshake, whatever. I didn’t know what to expect.
But when I saw his face, my heart sank.
He was stone-faced. Cold. Like nothing had happened.
I couldn’t tell if he had just experienced an emotionally powerful presentation or was watching C-SPAN.
I was floored.
Actually, I was mad. I thought, “if that doesn’t get through to him, then nothing will.” As silly as it may seem, that speaker was my “Hail Mary” to restore this broken relationship with my Dad.
The auditorium cleared out. We shuffled back to our cars, and after a few more tearful good-byes we headed home.
The “Hail Mary” had fallen flat.
A few weeks later, my wife brought me a posted, stamped letter she had retrieved from the mailbox. It was addressed to me.
And the return address was… from my Dad? (The funny thing is that I lived 2 blocks from him, but he drove 4 blocks to go the post office!)
I cautiously opened the letter. My jaw slowly dropped as he told me time and time again how proud he was of me. He apologized for the father he had been. He said he was inspired by what I was doing in the community.
And that phrase that I had so longed to hear for many years… there it was in black and white… over and over again… “I love you.”
My wife and I held hands and read that letter again and again.
It was the first step towards a reconciled relationship with my Dad.
Now, it didn’t happen overnight. But it was the first step. Fast forward now, 13 years later, and our relationship is completely restored. We are closer than we’ve ever been to. He is not only an amazing Dad and friend to me, but he is also an incredible, loving Grandfather to my kids.
And you know the real kicker? A few years later, he found out that, at the age of 49, he was going to be a father again. And when his second son was born, he told me that he felt like this was his 2nd chance to be an awesome dad. And he is.
That night in Hereford I saw the power of a speaker. I saw the impact of a powerful message.
That is why I love speakers.
A speaker changed our community (we had that speaker back for several years).
A speaker changed my career (I essentially dropped what I was doing to get this message into every school in America… more on that later).
A speaker changed my family tree and mended some broken branches.
What message do you have inside you? What message are you taking to the world? Do you realize the immeasurable impact that your message can have on a person, a small group, business, town, or family?
Do you believe that your message can live beyond those 45 or 60 minutes you have on stage? Do you really believe that?
The truth is… it can.
Founder, Advance Your Reach