Posted tagged ‘Encouragement’

Mentors For the Journey

January 4, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 4, 2019

                                      

I’ve been blessed to have a number of mentors in my life that have allowed me to try and fail, hone certain skills, and pointed out my strengths and weaknesses. 

Dr. James Payson Martin, senior pastor of Arlington Heights (IL) First Presbyterian Church was my first mentor when I joined a church staff. He was gentle but firm. Grace-filled, but demanding. I was between my second and third years of seminary, looking for a summer ministry experience that would stretch me…and it did. Loved it and learned from it! Grew as I groaned! 

Jim Martin was the catalyst for my growth. His daughter, Cyndi, remains a long distance friend of mine (She still lives in the Chicago area). I get choked up thinking about her and her dad. Jim passed away suddenly the week of Easter about 30 years ago. 

And then there is Chuck Landon, my first mentor in a church ministry after I was ordained and on a church staff full-time. I had been on the staff of another church for about 15 months after seminary graduation and it did not go well. I was defeated and discouraged, wondering if I was really called to ministry. The senior pastor was rarely around to guide me. The rumor was that he spent more time on the golf course, which had one of its fairways rolling right behind his backyard. This “Wolfe” often felt like he was being fed to the wolves!

Lansing First Baptist Church rescued me from leaving ministry, and Chuck Landon taught me more about being a pastor than anyone else I have known. His work ethic flowed out of his passion for Christ, pursuit for excellence, and love for the people he pastored and community he served in. When I was willing to settle for less he let me know it was unacceptable. When I did something well he affirmed the excellence and effectiveness of it. When I wore my softball cleats (They were rubber cleats, okay!) to a Diaconate meeting in the pristine church parlor, he read me the riot act the next day! He taught me responsibility, and he taught me that perception, no matter whether it is accurate or not, is the reality.

Those two men mentored me to become a good pastor. They prepared me to mentor others to be good pastors, and hopefully those people will mentor others.

I’ve had other mentors through the years also in other areas of life. Don Fackler mentored me to a good basketball coach. When I assisted him in coaching the Mason (Michigan) High School Girl’s JV team, he laid the foundations in my life on how to coach. Now, more than 20 years later, I still find myself using some of those same learnings, and speak some of the same terms that he spoke. 

As I write more these days there have been a few mentors to bring my writing quality up. God has blessed me to have my life path converge with Ed and Diana Stucky. They’ve pressed me to not settle for less, to reach for quality and to be a wordsmith in conveying ideas. 

Mentors are essential for our development and success. If we learn in isolation we will experience the storms of being isolated. If we realize that we are “not all that!” and allow others to speak truth into the rough edges of our lives we will be better, and we will be better prepared to be vessels that flow with purpose!

A Good Rejection

December 19, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                December 19, 2018

                                  

Thursday afternoon one of the seventh grade teachers at the middle school I substitute teach and coach at exclaimed to me, “We love your book!” I sent her the book draft in a Word Document and she had been reading a chapter each night with her two kids, a fifth grader and a sixth grader.

I replied, “That’s great to hear, because I got the rejection letter from the publishing company two days ago.” Her face announced her surprise.

That afternoon the seventh grade counselor, who I had given the first seven hard copy  chapters to came to me and said, “I really like it!”

“That’s great to hear since I got the rejection letter two days ago.”

She frowned in disappointment.

The letter came from the managing editor who had given me his business card at the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference last May and told me to send the book. It had taken them this long to get it to the top of the pile. (Publishing companies are piled high with submissions and only a trickle ever being published.)

I showed my rejection letter to my Starbucks friend, who is one of the writers and producers of Adventures In Odyssey. She read it and, in a matter of fact way, said, “As rejection letters go…this is a good rejection letter!”

“Huh???”

“It shows that they actually read it and he’s giving you three suggestions as to what to do to improve it and bring it to a point where it’s ready to be published.”

“Ohhh!” My self-esteem came back up from the basement. “Have you ever gotten a rejection letter?”

“Sure!” This writer/creator of the series, that my grandkids love to listen to, had also been rejected. Several other people have told me about J.K. Rowling, who got numerous turndowns before Harry Potter became a household name. 

Rejections are stings that can make us strive for something better. After I had submitted my book draft to the publisher I went back through and revised it again. Since the rejection letter I’ve gone through and done another revision. My dear friends, Ed and Diana Stucky, are going through it again…for the third time helping with the editing and their ideas. Ed has reached out to a couple of friends in the publishing world for advice and suggestions.

Rejections can sometimes show us who will be there to help us keep moving forward. They can make us stronger, more determined, and more focused. 

One of the suggestions from the managing editor of the publisher was to cut it down to between 80,000 and 100,000 words. I was at 114,000. After going through it again I’m down to 101,000 and figuring out what the next cut might be that will not effect the quality or flow of the story.

If nothing else comes from this writing I will always remember getting a phone call one night from my ten year old grandson.

“Granddad!”

“Yes, Jesse.”

“We like it! We like your book. Mommy just read the last chapter to us tonight, and we really like it!”

“Thank you, Jesse!” 

Three months later I got another call. 

“Granddad!”

“Yes, Jesse.”

“We finished your second book tonight and…we really liked it!”

And now they are waiting to read the third book, which I’m 20,000 words into, as I also continue to revise Book 1 and Book 2.

I may never get a letter from a publisher saying “We’d like to pursue this with you!”, but two late night phone calls are all the acceptance I really need!

Report From A Rookie Writer

May 18, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May 18, 2018

                               

Day 3 of the Christian Writer’s Conference is upon me. There are a lot of people here just like me, hoping and praying that some editor or agent likes their manuscript or idea for a book so much that they hand them a business card and say, “Send it to me!”

That happened in my first appointment yesterday, and I could sense the rising up of tears. Not all of my 15 minute appointments ended up like that, but a couple did. I have two more today and one tomorrow.

It was encouraging to hear the leader of our Fiction Intensive Clinic say that there were many more who applied to be in that group who were sent letters saying “Sorry!” He told the six of us that were accepted that although each of us had things to work on there was potential in each of our writings to be taken to the next level. 

The group spends an hour on each of the admissions, which are usually about the first 10-14 pages of the manuscript. My turn comes Saturday morning and then I will have a half hour Saturday afternoon with the instructor.

This conference is about learning- learning to write more effectively, learning that there are other aspects to getting a book published besides pecking out 100,000 words on my AirBook, learning new terminology, and learning many of the little things that raise a writer’s readability level. 

I’m also learning that it’s necessary to risk. Coming here is risky, because you may get trampled on. Years ago, my fiction clinic instructor was ready to walk out of the same conference because he was so discouraged, but the conference coordinator got a hold of him and gave him a word of encouragement. Years later he’s now the fiction class leader, and author of a number of books. 

There are other conference first-timers here, just like me, but the bulk of the attendees have been coming to this conference for years. They know what to do and where to go. There’s been a few times where I’ve looked like a new freshman standing in the hallway of his new highs chool trying to figure out where the Band Room is.

We all come with stories that we think are the best thing since sliced bread. They are our babies that we want to protect. Having someone suggest that a writer might change the story or the wording sometimes feels like another person telling you to change the way you parent your baby.

Through it all, I’ve become more thankful for the God who leads and guides us and the people he brings along the path to walk with us. 

Getting Past February 16th

January 2, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       January 2, 2018

                                   

Each day I receive an email from “Trivia Hive” with the trivia question of the day. Yesterday the question was related to New Year’s resolutions. It asked what the date is that the typical resolution last until it is broken?

Negative Nellie here responded January 15. I’m not optimistic about people’s resolve about resolutions. The answer was February 16, a whole month and a half into the cause!

Why only six weeks? Why make a twelve month promise and cut the cord 12% into completing it? One reason, I’m assuming, is that a lot of resolutions are ludicrous and irrational! It’s like if I resolved to not eat any fried foods the whole year. That would be crazy! I was born in Kentucky. If we could eat it we could fry it! My farming grandparents had fried eggs every day, and the eggs were fried in the grease form the bacon that was fried in the skillet before them. Cutting down on fried food would be a more realistic goal, but to cut it out! Come on! Who would I be kidding? Myself!

A lot of people make resolutions that they know they can’t keep. By February 16 they resemble a shot putter running a marathon.

Another reason they hit the wall by February 16 is that some resolutions are too closely related to ingrained habits and routines. If something has become my common practice suddenly eliminating it from my life is going to be a struggle.

So, the question is how does someone make a resolution that goes the distance? I look to Jesus and the early church for answers to the question. At the top of the list is having someone who walks with you in the journey. It’s interesting, and revealing, to me that Jesus sent the disciples out “two by two” (Mark 6:7). The importance of someone joining us on the journey is paramount. When I am in the midst of self-doubt there is someone alongside me to encourage me and to push me on over that next hill.

When I ran cross-country back in college we would often do road runs together. Running with a group for ten miles gives a runner who is a bit lacking in self-confidence the support to finish the task.

Who will come alongside you as you resolve to attempt something that will improve your life in some way? That companionship, that sense of community, was essential for the early church. Following Jesus today becomes difficult because of all the things in our lives that have the potential to be more of a priority. Following Jesus in the first century was difficult because of the persecution and cultural expectations and practices. Thus, the first church had to hook their arms together and stand together.

For me personally I need to find that person or persons to journey with. Since I pastored for 36 years I’m used to being the one who supports and encourages, not the one who seeks support and encouragement. Several guys who have come alongside me in the past have moved on to other places. I was blessed to have them be my companions for a period of time, but now I need to seek a couple of guys for the next part of the journey.

That traveling companion is essential for each one of us stumbles along the way. Who will be there to pick us up and push us ahead? Who cares enough about us to not let us fail? Who cares enough to get us to the point where February 16 is in the distant rearview mirror?

Bill Ball, Mr. Encouragement

August 1, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              August 1, 2017

                                

God graces our lives with various saintly people who may simply say a kind word, give us a nudge in the right direction, or travel with us for a while in our journey of life. Those of us fortunate enough have some of these saints watch us grow up and become like “angels with skin on” who ponder our maturing and pray that our life has continued purpose and depth.

I’ve been blessed numerous times by the cloud of witnesses who have followed my wanderings. One of them passed on to Glory yesterday. He was one of my dad’s best friends…kind of like the last men standing, as Dad is now 89 and his friend, Bill Ball, was in his early nineties!

To me, Mr. Bill Ball was Mr. Encouragement! Our families attended the same church, even sat on the same side of the aisle, although Bill and Sue Ball sat a few rows closer to the back door and my parents were a few rows closer to the choir. As I progressed through high school my parent’s leash got longer and I was allowed to sit with my friends in another pew, but just about every Sunday Bill Ball would head towards me after the morning worship service and ask me how I was doing?

He became interested in my high school running progress. I can still remember him giving me a couple of pieces of coaching advice. Specifically, he told me to work on lengthening my stride just a bit. It was when I was heading into my senior year, and his encouragement to work on that one aspect of my race helped me break the school mile record that had stood for over a decade. But it wasn’t just advice he gave me! It was “encouraging advice!” Bill Ball showed me the difference. Encouraging advice gives the listener the confident belief that what is being told to him can become the soon to be reality! I can remember several times, when after a Sunday morning conversation with Mr. Ball, I wanted to go out for a run that afternoon. There are people who make you feel like the world is against you so why even get out of bed, and then there are people like Bill Ball who make you believe no mountain is too high for you to climb!

“Mr. Optimistic” had bought himself a new car about six months before his passing at the age of 92! He lived a life of possibilities. Each day was a new opportunity, a new adventure. Each time I’d come from Colorado for a visit Dad and I would try to get together with Mr. Ball for lunch at Rax Roast Beef or Frisch’s Big Boy. For some reason I still remember that he ordered a Brawny Lad the last time we had lunch together. Each shared lunch was another occasion of laughter, sharing old stories, and…encouragement!

I’m feel very fortunate to be back in Ohio visiting Dad this week. It means I’ll be able to be the encourager to his three awesome daughters, perhaps being able to share with them just a hint of how their dad motivated me to run faster and encouraged me to be who I wasn’t sure I could be!

Helping Each Other Up The Hill

July 21, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                July 20, 2017

                               

At Quaker Ridge Camp there is a peak high above the camp called Soldier’s Peak. Each year the kids at camp make the climb to the top where they encounter an incredible view of the wooded forest areas around it, and the other mountain peaks in the distance. Down below they can see the grounds of the camp and pick out the building they sleep in at night, the dining hall, the swimming pool, and other spots of activity.

But getting to the top is a struggle for many of them. They aren’t used to the hike, the elevation, and the physical exertion. Some begin the adventure with eager anticipation, but then realize it requires more than a video game controller and gradually lose their desire to reach the summit. Others begin to display the characteristic that usually rises to the surface when they meet a challenge that requires effort. They whine!

And then there are the Daniel Boone’s who blaze the trail, enjoying these moments in life to the fullest, ready to head across the valley to that next peak over that they can see after they reach the top.

And then there are the encouragers who want the whiners and the weak to accomplish what they know they will accomplish. They want all of their camp friends to make it up the hill, no matter how long it takes.

I was listening to our elementary camp pastor, Rev. John Mark Brown (Yes, he’s got half of the gospels in his name!) talk to his camp kids about the journey…kind of a debriefing session! He had been talking to them about what it means to serve in Jesus’ name…what might that look like? It was encouraging to me to hear a number of these young campers talk about helping each other up the mountain. That sometimes it’s not how fast YOU get up the hill that’s most important, but rather what each person does to make sure everyone gets to the top!

There’s a valuable lesson in there for all of us, not just eight, nine, and ten year olds. The church, when it is being the church, is a community of believers helping each other up the hill! And you know something! There are a lot of whiners who journey with us, and there are a few who are weak and aren’t sure they can go much further, and there are the trailblazers who look to run ahead and get to a location that will take the majority of the flock a long time to get to, and there are the encouragers who understand the celebration of having everyone standing on the peak…no matter how long it takes to get there!

It seems to me that the church needs to catch some of that understanding of the journey. It is a snapshot of what being in community with one another is all about!

The Saints That Go Before Us

June 16, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             June 16, 2017

                                     

I’ve been blessed with many of them! Saints, that is! Saintly people who didn’t know they were saints, just men and women who were walking steadily with God, stepping humbly forward in daily obedience.

They didn’t know they were making an impact, impressing young lives, and marking out a trail for those of us behind them. They just lived a day at a time, but another pebble would be placed in the vase of wonder each of those days. Over time the pebbles crowded out the uncertainty and marked the life with weighted consistency.

Yesterday I took my dad, one of those saints, to see another saint who has impacted my life. Bill Ball, with a nine in front of his age, has been an encourager of me and many others for years and years. I remember his words of encouragement when I was a high schooler trying to break my school’s record in the mile run…and that was 45 years ago. My record has long since been broken, but Mr. Ball’s words of encouragement have stayed with me. Now in the final lap of his journey he would be awed by the number of people who have been impacted by him.

Saints are like that…hesitant to believe they are making a difference and convinced that they are no one that is anything special. When I asked my dad what he would like to do and where he would like to go while Carol and I are visiting from Colorado his response was quick. “Go visit Bill Ball!” The number of times his friend has visited him during my dad’s hospital stays have been numerous. Yesterday was my dad’s chance to visit Bill in the care center he has recently become a resident of.

We’re all familiar with the official saints. St. James, St. Paul’s, St. Mary’s, and St. John’s…the names mark the places we worship at and the school’s we attend. My dad has resided many times these past few years at St. Mary’s Medical Center in Huntington, West Virginia. “Saints” is a term we relate to locations and a professional football team.

For me, however, saints have graced my life all along the journey. They appear in my memories and stories…Ken Bystrom, Russ Vincent, Rev. Gale Baldridge, Rev. Floyd Norton, Rev. Chuck Landon, Rev. Tom Bayes, Irene Voss, Marie Lyons, Glenn Fairchild, Ben Dickerson, Rex Davis, Virginia Welsby, Charles Slusser, and Pauline Jones. Names that don’t mean anything to most folk, but conjure up adventures and appearances in my life.

A tragedy is a life that never realizes or recognizes the appearance of the saints, never understands the gifts that they are. In a culture that is very much self-absorbed there are a lot of people who are blind to the saints around them.

The thing is…a life that is blind to seeing the saints that have graced it is a life that lacks guideposts and clarifiers. It is a life without teachers, a vessel without a rudder.

I’m increasingly thankful for the footprints of the many who have helped me stay on course, encouraged me to keep on going and redirected me when I wandered. As I said at the beginning, I’ve been blessed with many of the saints.