Giant oak tree branches are swaying gracefully like ballet dancers, but fiercely, as spring comes roaring in like a lion. As I open the old screen door, the springs squeak like fingers on a chalkboard. Then there’s a loud, abrupt slam behind me, amplified by the wind.
Green specks of pollen have covered every square inch of the newly painted back deck and the old wicker couch. I dust off the couch, making for a cloud of green and a quick sneeze, and sit here observing dancing-tree entertainment during this gray overcast day in hopes of some sprinkles to feed the wildflowers, which are hiding their beautiful heads just under the blades of grass, waiting for nourishment to come.
Spring always excites me as it leads to summer, my favorite time of year.
One of the great joys of my life was spending lots of the summer at my grandparents’ old clapboard house at 317 West Wildwood Street back home in Indiana. It too had a squeaky screen door that would slam loudly.
Because I grew up in a single-story ranch house, it was a lot of fun to stay at my grandparents’ home. They had two stories, a basement, and stairs, so I used to slide down the banister or run from the top of the stairs down to the basement and back. I’d bang on the keys of the antique Packard piano, then I’d slip into the small kitchen to watch “Mema” making sugar cookies with pink icing flowers and green leaves. I can still taste their sweet flavor.
Hot Indiana summer nights were brutal, but sleeping in the middle bedroom with a fan in the window somehow made it tolerable. I loved the humming sound of that old 1940s fan; it was very soothing and is a sound I’ll never forget. Combined with the sound of cicadas outside the window, it was the perfect noise to induce sleep.
Though it was never spoken of, my grandparents must have had a great love of art because their house was filled with art prints, mostly from the 18th century. In fact, one of the first Old Master copies I painted was a self-portrait by Elisabeth Vigee-Le Brun (1755–1842) with her daughter. I never knew why I loved that painting so much, yet decades later, cleaning out my grandparents’ storage unit, I found the prints that were hanging in their house during my youth. One was a print of that very painting. It’s no wonder I was drawn to it.
Depending on which cousins or brothers and sisters were staying at the house, I’d sometimes get moved to the front bedroom. There between the windows was a beautiful original oil painting of a deer by a stream. I used to stare at it as I went to sleep, it was so soothing. As an adult, I found out that my grandmother’s sister, Aunt Ruth Goad, was the artist. Suddenly finding out there was an artist in our family filled me with joy. It also might explain why my mother was so drawn to painting.
A Plein Air Pioneer?
I’m told my aunt set up her paints on location at that stream to paint the scene, which, if true, would make her a plein air painter like me. Maybe at some subconscious level, that’s why I became a plein air (outdoor) painter.
One of the jewels found among the prints and other curios in my grandparents’ storage unit was my aunt’s painting, which probably hung in the front bedroom for more than 50 years — and since I discovered it, has been hanging in my house for more than 25 years. I consider it a family treasure.
Planting a Garden
Whether intentionally or not, my grandparents planted seeds that impacted my mother, me, and probably my brother who became an artist. Art around the house planted seeds. The piano planted interest in music.
The seeds they planted run deep. Family stories, important life lessons, family recipes, how to grow incredible tomatoes, and more.
At Easter dinner last week, I told my family about my great-grandfather Joseph Samuel (Sam) Garrett. As a small boy I used to visit him and my great-grandmother Lucinda Range Garrett at their farm in Armathwaite, Tennessee, near Jamestown.
At 8, I’d have to clean chicken coops, shuck corn, and sometimes milk their cow. My grandparents lived in a home they built themselves (my grandfather and his cousin helped as boys). I can remember my grandfather had an old shack on the property, and the inside was filled with canaries in cages, which I assume he raised to supplement his income as a preacher. I can remember the deafening but pleasing sound of a thousand canaries while I watched him care for them.
A Country Preacher
Grandpa Garrett preached down the road at Mount Helen Baptist Church, a tiny white country church. A plaque on the wall with his portrait, painted by Aunt Ruth (his daughter), said that he had gone all over the region on his horse, preaching the Gospel and starting churches. I don’t recall how many, but it was impressive. Maybe 12 or 16 churches, which is no easy task. He is buried near Mount Helen Baptist.
Over Easter dinner I told my kids about the impact of that one man. Today, my family, my kids, my cousins, their kids, distant cousins and their kids, our families, are Christ followers because of this man. But more impressively, hundreds of lives were changed by those churches he founded and the revivals he held. Now, five or more generations later, the work of a single individual has impacted thousands of lives.
I reminded my kids that they too can impact thousands of lives, in their own way.
Our world is filled with stories of people who made a difference. Some became leaders of countries, others wrote books, music, or movies impacting millions of lives, and others made heroic efforts that made a difference. Some simply made their impact by being great parents.I wanted them to know that they should never consider themselves too small to make a difference. That everyone has a contribution to make if they are willing to step out and make it.
Thirty years ago, while in the radio industry, I decided some other opinions needed to be expressed about how the industry should operate. So I started a magazine, started editorializing in every issue, and after about a year of being seen, started to see the weight of my words affecting an entire industry. I was not sanctioned or appointed, I simply decided I had something to say that might make a difference and became a self-appointed publisher.
Leaders do not wait to be appointed or noticed, they simply step in at a time when they believe they can make an impact or be helpful. If they wait to be noticed or invited, nothing great will ever happen. We have to learn to speak up for ourselves and share our passions.
Count the ways you have made a difference in other lives.
In what ways have your roles, your ideas, or your contributions made a difference?
People need to know that they don’t need permission or an invitation to step up. When they see a need, they need to fill it. When they see an injustice, they need to point it out. When they see an opportunity, they need to grab it.For some of us, it’s simply making a difference in how we train our kids. For others it might be starting a church or an organization. For others, it means changing the world.
“Chance favors only the prepared mind.” — Louis Pasteur
Though we may not set out with specific intentions, there are rare moments that present themselves. A prepared mind may not have a plan, but a prepared mind is always looking at everything as an opportunity to make a difference. So they leap out and grab the golden ring of opportunity when it presents itself.
While consulting a radio station in Utah, the owner and I were discussing the renewal of my contract. The owner said he didn’t think he would renew because he was going to sell the station. I said, “I’m so confident that I can make this station a success, I’ll buy it from you. Name your price.” Though I was bluffing, he called my bluff, and I ended up raising the money and buying the station.
How Did THAT Happen?
While visiting the editor of a radio industry trade magazine to complain about my lack of advertising success for my Giant Boom Box mobile studios, the editor confided in me that he was not mailing out the number of issues promised because the owner was no longer committed to the magazine. So I went across the hall and requested a meeting with the owner. When the owner told me he wasn’t committed because the magazine was losing money, I told him I’d buy it from him if he would let me make payments based on profitability. I walked out of the meeting with a handshake to buy, and I’ve owned that magazine for over 30 years this year.
None of these things were planned. I never had a plan to go into radio ownership, till I grabbed it. I never had a plan to start a radio industry business publication, till it presented itself in a split second. I never intended to get into the art world or become an artist, until an opportunity was exposed. Yet by always being on the lookout for opportunity, and always listening carefully, I boldly grabbed opportunities, not knowing where they would take me. That’s the key to having a prepared mind.
Where will you carry your influence?
In what ways will you change the world or those around you?
Are you prepared to grab unplanned opportunity?
I have confidence in you.