May 2019 E-newsletter: Lessons of Encouragement on a Baseball Field

Posted on 05/30/19 by Russ Corley

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Lessons of Encouragement on a Baseball Field

Posted on 05/29/19 by Russ Corley

Lessons of Encouragement on a Baseball Field. As summer begins, I think back a few years ago when my son Joel was learning to play baseball. I learned an important lesson about encouragement from him.

Joel was determined to become a good baseball player. He was eager to get me out on a ball field in the afternoon to work with him. Sometimes we worked out in the mornings, but he always seemed less thrilled about that hour!

I did not play baseball growing up, so to work with him, I had to learn some new skills. At first, it was not hard to stay ahead of him, but as he developed, I worked harder and longer to get myself up to speed.

I could hit ground balls and work with him on fielding and throwing. In the early years, I did a fair job on the basics of hitting. I knew that he needed someone who knew more about the game than I did. Fortunately, he had some good coaches for that. Most of them were willing to help me understand how I could best help him.

One of the things I appreciate about Joel was that he was eager to practice. He was not afraid to work hard on those hot summer afternoons. When I got home from work, he would get his glove, the bat, and a bucket of balls, and we would head to a dusty field. Often, on our way home, we stopped for something cold to drink and a small snack (you do not want to ruin dinner).

On the field, we had our routines. We warmed up, worked on fielding, and finally focused on batting. We both knew that the repetitions of the basic skills integrate those moves into the body so that in a game situation, his body was ready to instantly respond correctly. He had great gifts as an athlete, but also had a great work ethic—that was a wonderful combination.

Sometimes we came to the edge of his ability. Up to that point, things had been easy for him as he refined his familiar skills, but now we were trying something new. He was being asked to do something that was difficult and beyond his current range of ability.

There were a few times, when he was hot, tired, and discouraged by failure, that he would throw his glove into the dirt and tell me that he could not do this. He would be angry with his inability and frustrated with me for asking him to stretch into a new area.

The Basic Conversation: During those moments, we had our basic talk:

Joel: “Dad, I cannot do this. I stink!”

Me: “Son, the problem is that you are tired, and this is something new. You feel discouraged, and your feelings are telling you that this is impossible and that you should quit. I don’t think that they are telling the truth.”

He would listen to me, but if the feeling was strong, I would struggle to break through.

Me: “Let’s get a drink and take a short break. I believe that you can do this, and I don’t want you to quit. I want you to try something for me: Don’t tell yourself that you cannot do this. Tell yourself that this is hard for you to do. Remind yourself of all the hard things that you have learned to do and that now feel easy and automatic. The day is coming when this will feel exactly like that.”

Begin Again. Some discouraged people would quit listening as soon as I failed to agree with their emotional state. The good news is that Joel trusted me enough to think about what I was saying. His emotions had not overwhelmed him to the point that he would argue with me or storm off. Instead of quitting, he would get a drink, pick his glove up, and began to work again. On most days, after the break and the soothing of emotions, he found himself doing what he had declared to be impossible.

Those summer afternoons on the baseball field were special to me. I learned a lot about my son and about myself.

Deep encouragement is relational. As you grow to know someone, you realize their potential. Your conversations develop trust. When you try to encourage someone, you do not lie to them with a shallow “you can do it” slogan. Your hopeful and realistic knowledge of them allows you to address them truthfully and in love.

There is something thrilling in witnessing a person press beyond their moment of discouragement and achieve something that felt impossible to them.

As I watch Pat work in crisis situations with people, I see the same basic pattern. There are no magic words that bring encouragement. Encouragement Ministries allows the time and an opportunity to build relationships with people. That relationship becomes the living context of genuine encouragement. From your personal knowledge, you are aware of moments of discouragement and emotional fatigue. You carefully address the person in love and with hope. You do not abandon them. You do not agree with all that they feel (and sometimes that frustrates them in the short run). You help them see what is possible and you stay with them as they forge on. Truth spoken with love, addresses the heart and soul and can inspire them to keep pressing ahead in hope.

As summer unfolds, many of you will be very busy with new routines. Pat and I ask you to keep our work in your prayers, let us know if there is someone we need to meet and get to know in hopes of encouraging them. Your financial support of this ministry makes all of this possible, and we are grateful.

Encouragement Ministries, Inc. is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization. We exist through the generous financial support of the friends of Encouragement Ministries. If you would like to make a donation to help our ministry continue, click here. It makes a difference.

April 2019 E-newsletter: In Memory of Judy Flatt

Posted on 04/29/19 by Russ Corley

Click here to read the April 2019 E-newsletter: In Memory of Judy Flatt.

In Memory of Judy Flatt

Posted on 04/29/19 by Russ Corley

Recently, I have been reminded of the beauty of faith, hope, and love when it seems that the world is falling apart.

Pat Ward, my friend and co-minister with EM, has been in the middle of a very difficult time during the past few months. About three months ago, her sister Judy went to the doctor to learn why things had become difficult in her life since she had a fall last autumn. That appointment became a series of tests and visits which led to the diagnosis of an aggressive brain tumor.

Judy met with specialists, including an oncologist, to plan treatment with the hope being remission. The treatment was aggressive; therefore, the side effects of chemo together with the rapid spread of the tumor led to a hospitalization, and the chemotherapy was not slowing the tumor’s spread.

After a few weeks in a hospital with radiation treatment, the decision was made to go into hospice care. A couple of weeks after that decision, Pat called me. She had just heard from Alive Hospice alerting the family that Judy’s time was very short.

In the midst of this valley of the Shadow of Death, I have witnessed Pat, her sister, her sister’s family, and a deep circle of Christian friends face this challenge with faith, hope, and love.

Judy was a gifted Christian leader who spent her life loving and following Jesus and serving others in his name. She lived her faith with her family and in close Christian fellowship with others. As a faithful, influential leader, she made life better for others and witnessed to the reality of God with us in all things. She lived with purpose and got things done. She did not believe in playing games. Instead, she spoke the truth in love as one convinced that words matter most when they become action.

During these last months of her life, family and friends have gathered in her home, in hospital rooms, and in her hospice room to be close to her. Her love for them over the years drew them to those places in this time of crisis.

It is not easy to witness to someone decline rapidly and reach the point where she was no longer capable of sustained speech or action especially when that person has been a powerful force in the lives of so many. When her capacity to speak and serve diminished, her loving presence in the midst of suffering bore eloquent witness to the One she followed and served with joy. In these last few weeks of life, she, who had constantly served others in Jesus’ name, was now the one being served by family and friends.

Some sent thoughtful cards that were posted on the door and the walls of her room. Others came to visit. In the early phase of this cancer, those visits often included the sound of laughter in the midst of concern. During the final days, a reverent silence filled the room. It was never a total silence. In love, stories were shared, scriptures were read, prayers were uttered, and there were tender expressions of gratitude and love spoken in soft voices with a gentle touch. And there was music.

A number of minsters came to see her. They came because Judy loved them, ministered to them, and encouraged them when they faced a crisis. They worked with her in a church to strengthen the family of Christ that gathered to worship and work in Jesus’ name. One sang a song. As his strong voice filled the room with praise, those of us with weaker voices joined him. It was a holy moment.

I witnessed Pat in this stressful situation as sister, best friend, and minister. She was all that and more. Some ministers are unable to step outside an official role in a crisis: they try to be the strong person in the room who knows exactly what to say and do. I never saw that in Pat. She was her true self with her sister. Sometimes in laughter, sometimes in tears, and always in love. She was present in weakness, and in that weakness, she was a source of strength for Judy, the family, close friends, and hospital/hospice staff.

Psalm 23 makes a stunning claim: “Even in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, because you are with me. Your rod and your staff comfort me.”

Jesus, the good shepherd, invites his disciples to come to him when they are weary and burdened. When they respond to his invitation, he shares their burden, teaches them more about trusting him, and gives them peace in a place where the typical human response is fear and anxiety.

There is no room for romanticizing cancer and dying. Both are cruel enemies. Still, it must be pointed out that neither cancer nor death is greater than what Jesus accomplished in the Easter story of death and resurrection. He himself is our hope in all things. He gives us hope in our afflictions. He sustains us and keeps us for things more beautiful than we imagine.

Encouragement Ministries, Inc. is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization. We exist through the generous financial support of the friends of Encouragement Ministries. If you would like to make a donation to help our ministry continue, click here. It makes a difference.

March 2019 E-newsletter: Listen in Love

Posted on 04/02/19 by Russ Corley

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Listen in Love

Posted on 03/26/19 by Russ Corley

When my children were young, sometimes they would talk to me when I became distracted. All three of them had a technique for getting my attention. It was simple in design and very effective. They would take my head in both hands, direct my face towards them, and say, “Daddy, listen to me!”

My children were constantly reminding me of a deep truth. As persons, we have things to say that are profoundly important to us. We want to share such things with someone who listens with love and understanding, and who shares our perception of the importance of that thought or feeling. When we are with someone who listens closely and follows us through the labyrinth of our soul, we feel cherished.

My children were not my first teachers. My first mentors came during my childhood in the form of my first true friendships. One friendship was formed in third grade and another when I was in seventh grade. Both friendships were born in conversations about problems and deep questions about life and relationships (as deep as third and seventh graders can go).

Early on, I learned that if I interrupted the flow of careful thought or strong feelings, that I could shut down what was happening: the disclosure of the hidden life of a soul is a delicate matter. I also discovered that if I refused to comment and asked thoughtful questions, then often I was blessed with new insights into someone’s life. Those two people are still friends. We still share meals and talk, and as we do, the friendships born in childhood, deepen and mature.

During my years in graduate school, I met two people who were great listeners. They both drew me out and allowed me to draw them out. My lessons on listening expanded as I personally experienced the profound benefit of being heard and understood. Their questions allowed me to disclose aspects of myself that I was not aware. I actually discovered things about my personal thoughts and feelings as we talked. Often, I was surprised by something that I spoke. As I became vulnerable, they were willing to share more. It was becoming clear that mutual trust and confidentiality were essential to the listening relationship.

When I first began to visit patients in hospitals during those years in Ohio, I found that the key to my work was not being someone with expert spiritual advice. Instead, what they seemed to need was someone willing to sit with them and to listen with love and sincere interest.

Patients seemed to share things with me that apparently, they were not sharing with other people, even members of their own family. They shared because I would listen without judgement or correction or advice. They wanted someone to hear about their experience of suffering, their anxieties and fears, and to think aloud about decisions that lay ahead. Often, friendships formed between us after a few visits. Friendship provides a context of trust that opens unexpected possibilities.

Sometimes people ask me about how to encourage someone. My answer may sound shallow, but for me it is true: listen with love and a genuine interest in another person’s life. Such listening is a deep spiritual practice. I am still learning how. Listening has made EM a wonderful adventure.

I am still learning to listen. I should add that my three children are now adults. Something beautiful has emerged in our relationship. Now, they ask me about how I am doing, and they listen for my answer and ask questions to draw me out. In such moments, God’s love is poured into my soul with healing power.

Encouragement Ministries, Inc. is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization. We exist through the generous financial support of the friends of Encouragement Ministries. If you would like to make a donation to help our ministry continue, click here. It makes a difference.

February 2019 E-newsletter: Learning to Trust Jesus, My Shepherd

Posted on 03/01/19 by Russ Corley

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Learning to Trust Jesus, My Shepherd

Posted on 02/24/19 by Russ Corley

Recently, I have been reading Dallas Willard’s book, Life Without Lack. This thoughtful reflection on the Psalm 23 reminds me of many people that I have encountered in hospitals who trusted in Jesus with big faith as they walked through the valley of the shadow of death with hopeful courage. Let me explain.

Discovering the Depth of Familiar Reality

I have met people who visited the Smoky Mts. National Park but who never got off the road and onto a trail. Their visits were centered in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, and their presence in the park was in the car with quick stops to take scenic photos. They remind me of a person reading through Scripture during a year but never stopping with a text long enough to discover its deeper riches.

Many years ago, I got out of a car and hiked my first trail in the Smoky Mts. It led me up a beautiful stream with large boulders and finally to a waterfall. Sitting a while at the base of the falls, I enjoyed the sight and sounds that had escaped me when I was tied to the comforts of a car.

A few years later, I backpacked with a friend who knew those mountains well. He had hiked all of the trails, and many of them multiple times. He had backpacked the Appalachian Trail through the park, he has fished the streams, and he knew how to live in the woods for days. He hiked with me, taught me things about backpacking and about the wonders of the park and the life that fills the woods with beauty and sometimes danger. Our time together gave me new eyes and a deeper sense of wonder and awe.

A Deep and Beautiful Psalm

I first met Psalm 23 when I memorized it as a child in an elementary school class at church. It was not my first memory verse, but it was my first memorized chapter of the Bible.

Later, when I was a teenager, Ira North used Psalm 23 to teach some of us how to read scripture aloud so that others could grasp its meaning. Using vocal inflection and pauses, you could feature the Shepherd, or our personal relationship with the Shepherd, or the benefits provided by our Shepherd. For the first time, I realized that a text has a surplus of meaning that must be carefully explored if God’s word is to be understood. That insight became a lifelong invitation to study and meditate on Scripture.

Reading Willard’s book, I am humbled to see how a brilliant mind transposes a familiar text and surprises me with ideas that I’ve missed or that I noticed before but failed to explore like a side trail in the Smoky Mountains that breaks off a main path with hidden treasures.

Walking with a Friend through Psalm 23

When working with Psalm 23, one confronts two questions: (1) Do I trust that God will care for me in this way? (2) Do I live as someone who follows the good Shepherd all the days of my life, or do I constantly pull away?

These questions have become important to me because of a dear friend who is putting into practice Ps. 23 as he faces the reality of cancer.

He had just finished reading Life Without Lack when he heard from his doctor about the discovery of cancer in a lung that may have metastasized to his liver. He has begun re-reading the book and working with the Psalm as he faces tests, waiting, reports, waiting, decisions, waiting, treatments, waiting, and unfolding outcomes.

We shared lunch recently. I listened as he talked through some of the initial aspects of this personal crisis. At every turn in the path, he is working with his Shepherd, trying to trust Jesus when his emotions push him in a different direction. He is coming to know more about the guiding rod and staff and the voice that assures him that all will be well, no matter what lies ahead.

This is not a man in denial. His emotions are strong. More than once in our conversation, he paused and recomposed himself before he continued. During five years that I have known him, I have witnessed his development as a committed disciple of Jesus. This is not theoretical to him; it is an existential, practical reality that my friend now relies on in a new crisis.

I appreciate the book by Willard, and I cherish the Psalm. I see both of them as light filtered through the prism of my friend’s life. The refraction of this light through him is unique and holy. It is the beauty of one becoming more Christ-like, even in suffering. “We share in His suffering in order that we may also share in His glory.” (Rom. 8:17)

Encouragement Ministries, Inc. is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization. We exist through the generous financial support of the friends of Encouragement Ministries. If you would like to make a donation to help our ministry continue, click here. It makes a difference.

January 2019 e-newsletter: When God Uses the Thing That We Call Small

Posted on 01/23/19 by Russ Corley

Click here to read the January 2019 e-newsletter: When God Uses the Thing That We Call Small.

When God Uses the Thing That We Call Small

Posted on 01/18/19 by Russ Corley

I often talk to many Christians who, when they look at their lives, feel unimportant compared to others. They believe that they have very little to offer God. When they observe the impressive accomplishments of Christians who live in the spotlight and are promoted as examples, they feel inferior. They ask themselves, “What difference can my life and limited resources make given the big problems and the overwhelming needs of the world?”

I am always eager to remind people of what Jesus said to his disciples, “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of my little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will not certainly lose their reward” (Matthew 10:42).

My point? Small things done in love can be transformed into great things by God. Things that you consider insignificant have a potential for great good. Tiny actions brought into relationship with God’s purpose can create an experience of love with unexpected power. When you work patiently with that principle, it creates a world of possibilities that will constantly surprise you.

Let me illustrate my small point. What Pat and I do in our work consist of small, everyday actions: listening, speaking, touching, and praying. Little that we do lies outside the capacity of any person that you have ever met, including you!

For example, late one afternoon after a long day, I received a phone call. Weary, I did not answer but instead listened to the forty-two-second voicemail. It was a referral to see someone who was admitted that afternoon to a hospital through the ER.

As I listened to the message, I knew that the next day was going to be very busy with no opportunity to go by that hospital. A decision had to be made.

I talked with Jackie about switching our plans for the evening. She was gracious and gracefully flexible, and that kindness created our time together before I responded to the unplanned opportunity.

When I started my cross-town trip, I was not in the best of moods! I realized that something in my heart had to change in about twenty minutes, or I would be a Pharisee: looking good on the outside, but not within.

As I drove, I called Pat. That reality check helped me refocus. After we finished, I confessed to God what he already knew about my heart and asked him to take this small visit and use it for his purpose.

The visit went well. As I spoke with the patient, I shared about her friend’s thoughtful call that created our opportunity to be together. I added that her friend had emailed their small group so that a circle of loving friends was praying for her.

We joined that invisible circle of prayer as I prayed for her healing. There was nothing impressive about my prayer. Rather, it was an expression of the things that we had talked about, but it placed that situation in the hands of Jesus.

During our prayer, the door opened softly. When I said, “amen,” her husband stood there with her sister from Seattle. The four of us talked for another ten minutes. Our conversation was filled with love and laughter primarily led by her sister. Love and joy are gifts of the Spirit and aid healing.

Jesus taught his disciples about the greatness of small things. Long ago, Jesus stood with his disciples observing wealthy people in the temple making large gifts to the treasury. Apparently, many people were impressed, but these individuals in the spotlight did not get Jesus’s attention. Instead, his eyes followed a small widow walking in the shadows to give her small gift unnoticed by most. He discerned the greatness of her heart full of a love for and faith in God (Luke 21:1-4; compare this with Jesus’s teaching about the motive of our giving in Mt. 6:1-4).

Jesus did not simply observe this widow; he also taught his disciples how to perceive such moments.

Jesus can transform the way you think about the meaning and significance of small things done in love and faith. The next time the Spirit prompts you to do a “small thing” like write a note, make a visit, cook a meal, make a referral, do not refuse to act by rationalizing that it will make no difference because it is so small. Instead, thank God for giving you something to do. Accept his gracious invitation to work with him. You, too, may be surprised by the results of a small thing given in love for the glory of God.

Encouragement Ministries, Inc. is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization. We exist through the generous financial support of the friends of Encouragement Ministries. If you would like to make a donation to help our ministry continue, click here. It makes a difference.