Who Are Your Influencers?

Thirty years ago on Wednesday, January 6, a little after 5 p.m., I was heading out of downtown Montgomery, driving to my apartment on Thorn Place by way of Hull Street. When I reached the intersection at Grove Street, a Camaro-type car plowed through the stop sign and hit me on the driver’s side front door of my 1982 Honda Accord.

I was wearing a large blue overcoat. I remember that much, but not the rest of the outfit. You know how your mind searches for things to tell yourself, and I think I decided wearing the coat was probably good padding. I was not injured. When you have a wreck, you form a story and tell it over and over. I probably said the thing about wearing a coat and it being good padding quite a few times, and that’s why I remember.

This was supposed to be my first night to visit the choir at First Baptist Church in Montgomery. I was a copywriter at an ad agency; our office was on the twelfth floor of the Union Bank Building on Commerce Street. I had made arrangements with the man who sold us a fax machine to visit the choir. But I was driving home first, to freshen up for my visit. I was nervous. Why wouldn’t I be?

I was also really interested in how this unexpected door had opened. Before that December performance of the church’s Living Christmas Tree, I had never given any thought to visiting First Baptist. As a matter of fact, I had been upset when I heard the church had purchased the property of the Francis Cafeteria and had planned to tear it down. That was my favorite lunch spot, an affordable option for home cooking. A helpful thing, as my home did not do any cooking. Nor was much very affordable on my entry-level copywriter’s salary.

But here I was headed to the church that tore down my favorite restaurant to meet the man who sold us our fax machine so he could show me where to visit the choir.

I wonder what that would have been like – had I gone to my apartment, maybe changed clothes, combed my hair, checked my makeup – then headed back to visit that church for the first time. I wonder how my story of the last 30 years would have differed if I had made it to those steps on Perry Street.

But that’s not how it went.

I suppose I must have used the police officer’s communication device, whatever it was, but I did somehow contact a co-worker at the office, and she came to the scene. Once there, I told her, “Our fax machine salesman is standing on the steps of the church on Perry Street. Would you go there and tell him I am not coming to choir?”

He was a good Baptist, a good church member, and the next day he called me at the office to check on me. And he said the thing that opened a different door. “Well, hey, would you like to visit our Sunday school?”

That’s how I ended up in the other part of the church. On January 10, 1988, that first Sunday, a lady came up to me and introduced herself, “I’m Donna McConnico. I’m the single adult minister.”

I did not even know there was such a thing as women ministers, nor did I realize the different demographic groups had their own ministers. But I digress. Donna turned out to be a huge influence on my life and is the reason I joined that church. She later took a career turn, then moved back to Chattanooga where her family lived. It’s been more than 20 years since she’s served on the church staff. The fax machine salesman left even before that. Yet I’m still a member.

It’s not a one-and-done story. Over the years, sometimes I’ve been comfortable there, sometimes I haven’t been comfortable there. Thirty years is a long time and a lot of life cycles to go through various states of comfort and discomfort, belonging and disconnection.

And it all began by accident, so to speak.

The lady who drove into my car had insurance, and my pitiful broken car was repaired just in time for my last payment or two. Yet that lady dropped out of sight in the middle of the process. Her agent called to tell me that she had changed phone numbers. Pre-Facebook or Google, he didn’t know how to reach her, but he fulfilled the insurance responsibility.

I don’t know who she was, and I don’t remember her name. She must have been frightened by the idea that I would come after her, but that doesn’t sound much like me. Besides I was off on a new journey — one that would define my adult life.

In any case, she’s how I entered that church with a story: I had a wreck as I was trying to get here. I was wearing a large blue overcoat that probably provided padding. I told a co-worker to go tell the fax machine salesman I wasn’t coming that night. That Sunday and the next Wednesday when I did visit the choir, I told that story, and I’ve been telling it ever since.

The other driver was an influencer too. It would be sad, wouldn’t it, if 30 years later she still felt fear or guilt about that accident?

We’ve all had the opportunity to be a negative influence and a positive influence. The latter feels better in the moment and in memory, yet God works through the former too. Are there regrets that hinder your step that you can let go? Is there gratitude you can reclaim for the doors that were opened?

Enjoy your magnificent journey.

– Minnie Lamberth
The Magnificent Journey
Vol. 2, Issue 2