On my most recent trip to Africa I was attacked by the most vicious animal on the continent. It wasn’t a rhino or an elephant or a cobra (all of which are still on my bucket list)—it was a mosquito. No kidding. I’ve been traveling to Africa for the last twenty years. I usually go a few times a year, and while they recommend taking malaria medicine, I never take it. I mean, who needs it, right? I didn’t skip the pills because they were expensive or inconvenient. The pills are cheap, and if you take just one a day, you won’t have any problems. Still, I waved it all off as unnecessary. Almost predictably, I got malaria. Almost a million people die each year of malaria, so it’s not something you want to get. If you get the aggressive form of malaria, starting with your liver and kidneys, your body starts going offline one organ at a time until you get the right meds or you’re dead.
The crazy thing is that I didn’t know l had malaria, so I kept up my travel and speaking schedule. Two countries and eight cities later, it had almost killed me. I ended up in the hospital, and from my bed, I heard a doctor say to Sweet Maria, within earshot of me, that I had a one in three chance of surviving. I think I heard one of the nurses call dibs on my shoes.
I was in the ICU for a week. The great part about getting malaria is that I lost thirty pounds. Forget all those weight-loss books. My next book isn’t even going to have words in it—just one hungry mosquito with an attitude and a virus. We got the bill for my time in the hospital, and it was more than I paid for our ﬁrst house. Here’s the thing. I could have avoided all this with a nickel pill and half a glass of water. You can avoid some of the stuff that‘s distracting you from your ambitions just as simply.
Small things become big things. Jesus told His friends nothing less. He talked about mustard seeds and said they were the smallest kind of seed. The fact is, they’re not. Because I’m a lawyer, I checked. The smallest seed in the world is a Peruvian orchid. It weighs less than one twenty-four millionths of an ounce. The story isn’t about the seed though; it’s about the tree it grows into and the rest it gives to those who need it most. I’ve done a couple of big things but a lot more small ones. You have too. God can use both, I suppose, but I think He delights in the small stuff a lot more.
Other than my kidneys being permanently shot. I’m just ﬁne after getting malaria. I’ve crossed kidneys off of my donor card. They’re just no good anymore. I‘m trying to grow a strong heart to make up for it.
If you hold out your left hand in front of you, I bet it will be as steady as mine is. I could do Lasik surgery on anyone with eyeballs right handed. Since the tussle with malaria, my left hand has a very noticeable tremor. When it really gets shaking, I could whip eggs with it.
I was in Washington. DC, for some meetings with friends who were doing important things. As the meeting wrapped up, someone said, “Let’s all hold hands and pray.” I was a little surprised in the context, but a circle was steadily forming. Instead of reaching out, I put both hands in my pockets to cover up my shaky left one. I didn’t want the people there to think I was weak. I also didn’t want them to think I was intimidated being with them. How stupid is that? Jesus performed his seventh miracle when he met a guy who had a problem with his hand. I doubt it was from malaria, but maybe he had his hands in his pockets too. Shame, embarrassment, and feeling inferior will do this to us. Jesus said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”
Jesus could have ﬁxed the man’s hand while it was in his pocket, but He didn’t. I think Jesus wanted this guy to take the kind of action I hope you’ll be willing to take. I realized I’ve spent my whole life reaching out my strong hand to people. It seems counterintuitive, but if you're doing the same, it might be getting in the way of your ambitions. Here’s a suggestion that will work every time. Reach out a weaker, more authentic hand to people you meet. Sure, it’s easy to reach out your strong hand, the one that is conﬁdent and steady. It takes a little more guts to reach out your weak hand. It’s the kind of move that will shape your character while making you more available to the people and things that matter most in your life.