Listen To God

Posted on 02/07/20 by Paulette Fewell

The First Lesson in Encouragement: Listen to God

There are many practical suggestions to encouraging people when they are struggling and losing hope, but the first lesson in encouragement is not about what to say. It is to pay attention to God and to do the thing He asks you to do.

I was reminded of this fundamental truth when a friend lost her father recently. Jackie, my loving wife, asked me if I was planning to attend the visitation. The visitation’s timing was inconvenient. I would have to rearrange at least three commitments to make a long trip across town. My initial response was resistance to the idea.

Gently, Jackie reminded me of the importance of this woman as our friend. I got quiet. Then another voice joined Jackie’s. She could not detect it, but I did. Through years of experience, I have come to recognize that other voice. It is never loud, but it is always clear. That still small voice was in strong agreement with Jackie: rearrange your schedule and go.

As you have developed spiritually, I hope you have come to understand that God wants to interact with you in order to work with you and through you. As you open yourself to that possibility, you begin to discern the difference between God’s directing you and other ways that your mind works. In addition to discernment, you glimpse the wonder and beauty of saying yes to God and joining him.

The morning of the visitation came. I drove 40 minutes across town and arrived at the funeral home. When I saw my friend, she began to cry. We had a few special moments of a very tender conversation. Then she made sure that I saw her sons who both had grown up since I last saw them a few years ago.

As I finished our moment together, another friend walked up. I did not expect to see his face. He has been living through a difficult situation in his life for a long time. During that time, I had reached out to suggest our getting together. The time never seemed right because of the intense demands of his situation.  As soon as I asked him how he was doing, he invited me to sit with him to talk a few minutes. For 30 minutes he thoughtfully recounted the events of the past year. As he shared, we both became tearful as he recounted God’s gracious provision on two very specific occasions. Our spontaneous conversation became a sacred time together.

Other people arrived, and many wanted to speak with him. I knew we had more to discuss.  I invited him to share lunch soon and he accepted. We enjoyed lunch on the day before I wrote this. Our meal had that same unique quality of a dialogue arranged by God. We plan to get together again soon.

This is my point: If I had remained with my first reaction to the suggestion of adding the visitation to my schedule, none of these conversations would have happened. Doing what God asked, created a possibility where God could work. Had I refused, God could have still done something for both of these people that He loves. But hearing God and acting, allowed me to participate in God’s graceful action. I deserve no credit for what happened. The main character in these stories is our loving Father.

My suggestion to all of us: Pay attention to when God shows you something to do or someone to contact. Often, He is initiating a unique opportunity to share in something important that helps someone and glorifies our loving God.

Pat and I often talk about the blessing of those who support Encouragement Ministries. Your financial gifts provide us with a great freedom to go to act when God opens doors. Your referrals are an integral part of God guiding and directing us to new opportunities. Your prayers are an important part of our working with a power that is greater than our abilities and that glorifies God as the source of every spiritual blessing.

Russ

November 2019 – Be “Right Here” for Those Around You

Posted on 11/22/19 by Paulette Fewell

Twelve years ago, a baby boy was born. He weighed only 1lb 9 oz. After his birth, his father left the home. Since then, his mother and grandmother have raised him together. This young boy is autistic and has a great personality. He LOVES the Nashville Predators. In fact, he is obsessed with the Preds! Even though he lives 90 minutes outside of Nashville, he keeps up with the team and is considered by some experts as their biggest fan.

The boy’s teacher from last school year attended our Evening of Encouragement and describes his intense passion for the Preds, “When I called roll in the mornings, he would never say “here”. His response was always, ‘Pekka Rinne!”’ (the Preds’ goalie).

She shared that for his birthday (which was to take place the Saturday after Evening of Encouragement), his Mom had paid $400 for a Ford Ice Center Party at Bridgestone. This is pretty amazing given the fact that his mother doesn’t own a car. To make this gift possible, she started making payments on this birthday party last June. She wanted to do something very special for his 12th birthday.

On the night of the Evening of Encouragement, this teacher pondered a question raised by Cynthia Bennett. In her closing words of the evening, Cynthia suggested to the audience that Encouragement Ministries and its’ supporters try to show up for people and to be “right here” for them with compassion and prayerful support. Her closing words of the evening: “Who do you need to be ‘right here’ for?” echoed in this teacher’s mind.

As this teacher pondered the “right here” challenge looking at the lights of downtown Nashville through the windows, she remembered that she had been invited to her former student’s birthday party and she had not yet responded. Like most of us, her life is very busy with her family responsibilities, a full-time job and going back to school to get her master’s degree. She felt she didn’t really have time to go to this party Nashville that would involve three hours of travel time.

But as she thought about the “right here” question, God told her that she needed to be “right here” for this young boy and for his mom at that party. So, the next day, Wednesday, she checked around with other people who were invited to the party. Not one single person was planning to go. A three-hour drive for a birthday party is no small commitment!

She did not get discouraged. She got to work. She offered rides. She talked to the parents of the kids invited and explained how important this party was for the boy and for his mother. Four children accepted their invitations. Two of the parents pooled their money and gave the boy, his mom, and his grandma tickets to the Preds game the night of his party! They were thrilled!

Speeches often inspire us and call us to action. This woman’s act of obedience to being “right here” in Jesus name was no small task, but she chose to obey, and that created unexpected possibilities. She does not take credit for what happened, instead she gives all the credit to God for using the Evening of Encouragement to get her attention and to change her mind. She believes that otherwise, not another person would have attended that special birthday celebration.

I love true stories like that. It thrills me to hear of how God works big things through small things. If you would like to hear another story about God using deep connections to work things for blessing, go to this link: https://player.vimeo.com/external/365880626.hd.mp4?s=882d587c047e36eee65653d0c1b04b8a18388123&profile_id=174 and watch the video that we shared at the Evening of Encouragement about another young boy and his family in a time of crisis.

Some details in this letter were changed to protect the privacy of this child and his family. 

Encouragement Ministries exists through the generous financial support of our friends. 

 

 

Encouragement Tips from Pat – August 2019

Posted on 08/30/19 by Paulette Fewell

As I grew up in church, I learned how to pray. The strange thing is that when I was developing my prayer life as a young man, it was by trying to sound like the grown men praying. The result: I became a prayer parrot! I said the things that men said in church when they prayed. It surely sounded a little strange when, as a young teen, I prayed things like: “Guide, guard and direct us until we meet again.”

I think that a lot of us who grew up in a church also learned what to say when bad things happened to people or when you go to a funeral home for a visitation. The problem is that some of us have not revised those ideas and discovered a more personal approach to loving people as they suffer.

Over the past few months, Pat has spoken at some local churches about how to encourage people. Over the years, she has learned to follow the Spirit’s lead and to speak and act with empathic love. She is an effective speaker for two reasons: (1) she is passionate about and experienced in ministering to people struggling with faith when life becomes difficult, and (2) she recognizes that there is no perfect thing to say or do in such situations.

Through her experiences and with faithful reflection, she has learned some things to avoid saying and doing. She follows a guiding principle: do not allow your involvement to make things worse for people. Below are a few of her suggestions that might be helpful as you develop your personal style of encouraging people in crisis.

Things to Remember:

  • A compassionate silence is always better than meaningless words. Don’t feel the need to fill the gaps in conversation.  You are not there to fix the problem.  You are there to love, listen, pray, and support.
  • Acknowledge the pain the person is feeling. Don’t try to make them feel better.  Don’t respond to their pain with a sentence that begins with “At least….”
  • If you are willing to support them prayerfully over time and reach out to them in service, let them know and then follow through (if not, do not offer to be there for them or to pray for them).
  • Share something that you would like to do for them. Suggest bringing food, running errands, helping with a chore at their home that needs attention (be specific).
  • Reach out to them after the intensity of the crisis. Meet for coffee or lunch when things calm down. Follow up with an invitation and show up ready to listen.
  • Make a calendar of anniversaries of deaths, births, etc. and send a note every month or at the one-year mark.
  • Form a prayer group and let that person know they are being prayed for. And keep in touch about how the group can pray specifically as things change over time.

Avoid Saying:

  • “Just think positive—it could have been worse.”
  • “This is going to make you so strong!”
  • “This will go away” or “This will get better soon”.
  • “I know how you feel.”
  • “Just think positively.”
  • “This is a terrible hospital”, or, “I do not like your doctor.”
  • “Let me tell you the bad things that happened to my friend when they were diagnosed with that!”
  • “God was ready for your loved one.”
  • “God must have needed another angel.”
  • “At least they lived a long life.”

I recently performed an informal graveside service at a family cemetery. Before, during, and after the service people shared stories and feelings. I spent a lot of time listening to people in their grief. There were things that people said that I sometimes thought to myself, “I wish they had not said that.” I kept silent until two of the children both shared how almost 40 years ago, when their father had died, well intentioned Christians had said things like, “The Lord must have needed your dad in heaven.” After all those years, those words still haunted those two children. They separately shared how they still felt hurt and angry, not just towards those who had spoken the words but at God for needing their dad more than they did. I apologized that such words had been spoken and then spent time listening to their old and new grief.

I keep thinking that if more of us were willing to say less and to be a loving presence in a crisis, perhaps the power of love and genuine concern would help ease the pain of suffering and God would be glorified.

We need to be reflective about passing along the things we learned growing up. We need to put ourselves into the other person’s place and consider how things would sound or feel. That might change our minds and our behavior in a moment of opportunity!

If you think that Pat speaking at your church or to a group of your friends would be helpful to encourage other encouragers, please let us know.

 We exist through the generous financial support of the friends of Encouragement Ministries. I have enclosed a card for your convenience if you would like to help us this month. It makes a difference.

 

Save the Date!  Our 2019 Evening of Encouragement will be held on Tuesday, October 15.  Your invitation will be coming soon.

 

 

 

 

 

July 2019 Newsletter – Encouragement in the Valley of the Shadow

Posted on 07/28/19 by Russ Corley

Through the years of my work with EM, I have had many conversations with people about death. Some were facing death; others were dealing with the death of someone they loved. These conversations are never easy, but they are important. The way we talk about death is shaped by our understanding of the meaning of life.

As a minister, I have been honored to witness the deep faith of many who believed in Jesus as they grew to love and trust Him more while walking with Him through the valley of the shadow of death. Let me share a story that created my deep desire to work in such situations and eventually led to the formation of EM in 1990.

My first conversation with a dying patient happened during the early 80s while I was a minister in Columbus, OH. I learned about ministry in hospitals by visiting patients with my friend and spiritual mother, Barbara Young. She was the first to model for me listening with compassion, sharing a scripture that spoke to the situation, and the power of prayer at the bedside of suffering.

After a referral about an out of town patient, I began to visit a young man at OSU Hospital. He was in his late twenties and had brain cancer. When I first met him, he was in his bed, standing on his head with his feet against the wall because this position brought some relief to his headache.

During our first conversation, I found out a few things about him. One of the most important pieces of information was that he had grown up in a small country church and had a little faith in Jesus, but that faith seemed to be waning as he faced cancer.

On subsequent visits, we talked more about what he believed and about his questions. Often, I did not have strong answers, but I would listen, share scripture, and pray with him. Over time, something began to happen in him. His faith in Jesus became real and personal. For a while he improved and went home in rural OH.

When he came back a few months later, the cancer was growing worse and the pain was intensifying. He called and asked me to visit. I saw him often over the next few weeks. He was getting sicker, but his faith was growing stronger.

We now had two anchor passages: Psalm 23 and 2Cor. 4:7-5:21. Each visit, we would read one or both of these texts. We would talk about what they meant in light of his life and the reality of his approaching death.

He shared with me some personal things about people back home. Some of them he was forgiving for hurt that they had caused. Others were people that he cherished deeply. A few were both. He talked about the things that he was learning to appreciate with deep gratitude. He shared what he wanted me to say at his funeral.

When he died, I drove down winding country roads to the small church where he grew up. On the day of his funeral, I spoke using both texts and sharing some of the beautiful reflections that he had shared with me.

When I finished, many people talked with me. What I shared included things that they had never guessed about this young man who was introverted and shy. They were surprised by the depth of his faith and feelings, his courage in suffering, and his tender heart towards people in that small town.

There are other kinds of conversations that occur in the face of death. Some people are terrified, others are very sad to leave people that they love, and some are angry at God for not healing them. Still, most of the conversations that I have shared with people, became an expression of the confidence of David when he wrote, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” When we discover the reality of the presence of the crucified and risen Jesus in the midst of our suffering, we realize that there is a hope that cannot be destroyed by death.

Pat and I thank you for supporting us in this work. Your generous giving, your referrals and your prayers sustain us and create the opportunities for conversations about faith, not only in the valley of death, but across many of life’s toughest situations. In the midst of suffering, the strongest faith is formed.

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.

June 2019 E Newsletter: What Comes to Mind When You Think of Encouragement?

Posted on 06/30/19 by Russ Corley

Click June 2019 E Newsletter: What Comes to Mind When You Think of Encouragement?to read the June 2019 E Newsletter:  What Comes to Mind When You Think of Encouragement?

What Comes to Mind When You Think of Encouragement?

Posted on 06/30/19 by Russ Corley

Thomas Pierce says, “Each time we make a difference in someone’s life, no matter how small, it will encourage them to do good for others. And each time that happens, we will be a stronger force for good.” I like to think that we will be a stronger force for God’s kingdom.

When I think of encouragement, many things come to mind: The encouragement from our Lord every morning when His new mercies flood my heart. The encouragement I receive from the strength of those I visit daily. The encouragement I gain from you, our co-ministers and generous donors. Russ and I are able to minister to those in crisis on a daily basis because of your faithful gifts, your referrals, and your prayers. Your gifts are not taken for granted. They constantly remind us that we are not alone.

Some of you who give to Encouragement Ministries find it very difficult to visit someone in the hospital or to work patiently with someone in a serious crisis. Such situations create great stress for you personally. Your support for EM allows Russ and I to work in such situations with people that you may not know or ever meet. Together we do something that would be impossible without each other. You not only enable us to serve in these situations, but you encourage us as we do.

The apostle Paul writes about such shared work in 1 Corinthians 12. “Just as one body has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.  The body is not made up of one part, but many. There are different kinds of gifts, but the same spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” The body of Christ is a wonderful thing. Through our different gifts, we are able to reach more people and give God the glory.

We cannot adequately express our deep gratitude for what your faithful giving allows us to do for others day by day without the anxiety of financial concerns.

As an example of what your financial support makes possible, last week I met a family who had complications after the birth of their baby in Murfreesboro. The baby needed to be transferred to the Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. The person who referred the couple also described them physically to me on the phone. I was able to pick them out in the Vanderbilt Cafeteria, and I introduced myself on behalf of my friend who shared their situation with me. We talked and prayed together and forged a new friendship. Such encounters happen daily because you refer people, you pray that God will help us in this ministry of compassion that He has called us to, and you give generously.

This daily work requires daily renewal. God has to provide new mercy and strength for this work. On many of those new mornings, I often pray this prayer, gathered from many friends through the years with phrases that touched my heart:  Lord, keep me from trying to distinguish between the deserving and undeserving. Help me to work to alleviate suffering and injustice wherever I see it, trusting the rest is up to you. Whenever I long to see your face, help me to not avoid the corners of my community where you most often dwell. Help me to minister to others in ways that validate and authenticate them as fellow children of God. Keep me from daring to assume that my good fortune is of my own doing or that my ability to serve is anything other than a gift from you. Teach me to share my resources believing that the more I give, the more you will provide.

Russ and I thank you for being generous souls and beautiful spirits in a world that could use many more people like you. You are appreciated more than words can express.

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.

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

Posted on 05/30/19 by Russ Corley

Click here to read the May 2019 e-newsletter: Lessons of Encouragement on a Baseball Field.

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.