A New Lesson in Encouragement

Posted on 11/13/18 by Russ Corley

Hi there! Cynthia Bennett here, Vice President of the Board of Directors for Encouragement Ministries and pinch hitter for this newsletter. My love and respect for Russ and Pat multiplied recently as I joined them for the first time for an Encouragement Ministries visit.

On a rainy morning, the three of us arrived in separate cars in front of the home of a dear woman who was uniquely special to each one of us for different reasons. This beautiful and strong woman of 98 years had been placed recently under 24-hour hospice care. Her thoughtful daughter had moved in with her to help care for her. We were greeted at the door and welcomed in.

I will admit that this visit made me feel very sad and emotional. I mentally kept telling myself, “Get a grip, Cynthia. It will not help anything if you become a blubbering mess.”

We walked down the hall and into the bedroom where the hospital bed had recently been installed. There was our friend. She appeared to be in a deep sleep. I felt uneasy, and I was afraid we would wake her. I wondered if we should offer to come back another time but….

Pat and Russ appeared to be completely at peace, and immediately each of them went to her bedside – one on one side and one on the other. Pat touched this precious woman and spoke soft words of encouragement in her ear. Russ put his hand on her shoulder and spoke the 23rd Psalm over her in his booming yet pleasant voice. (Our friend is hard of hearing.) Pat joined in on the 23rd Psalm, and I choked out a few words while fighting my tears. More kind words were spoken. Russ prayed. Our friend appeared to still be asleep.

We moved away from the bed and started talking with the daughter, but then we heard our friend wake up. Pat went back to her. She calmly talked with her and kissed her on the head. I drew close and talked with her. Russ waited for us to speak and then took his turn to talk with her. He reminded her of deep connections between his grandparents and her and her husband long before Russ was born. He reminded her that two of her grandchildren were friends of two of his children. Then he joked with her! She responded to his joke, and the room filled with unexpected laughter. Finally, we said our goodbyes and assured her of our love.

Before we left, we focused on her daughter. We let her share with us some of what had gone on the last week and how that had affected her. We talked about some of her shared moments with us: Pat’s weekly notes now include her, as well as her mother; Russ spoke at her father’s funeral thirty years ago; and there were other connections. Then we made sure that the daughter knew we are available for any future needs. (Russ and Pat both gave her their cards with their cell numbers.)

Have you ever heard of the 10,000-hour rule? Or the 1,000-hour rule? Some claim it  takes 1,000-10,000 hours of practice to get good at something. What I witnessed during that visit with Russ and Pat makes me believe this statement might be true. How many hours has Russ practiced the art of encouragement over the past thirty years? How many hours has Pat practiced the art of encouragement and heartfelt note writing over the years? Their experience is evident in their comfort and peace in painful and difficult situations. They genuinely feel honored to be invited into this sacred space by the people they visit. We all believe God gifted them and called them to this ministry and that the Holy Spirit strengthens them to do this work on a daily basis.

We currently live in a pain-avoidant and technology-saturated society. When suffering and crisis arrive, we need people to come alongside us who are familiar with pain and who are not afraid to be in the presence of suffering. We need people who enter into the pain, look people in the eye, pray with them, hug them, and encourage them. And this is exactly what Russ and Pat do. Every. Single. Day.

If you have someone in your life that could benefit from a visit from Russ or Pat, please let them know of the need. If you would like to make a tax-deductible donation to Encouragement Ministries, you can do that today and help us in this ministry of compassion. As a member of the Board of Directors, I can promise you that a donation made to Encouragement Ministries is money well spent.

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.

October 2018 E-newsletter: God Working in Your Life before You Were Born

Posted on 10/26/18 by Russ Corley

Click here to read the October 2018 e-newsletter: God Working in Your Life before You Were Born.

God Working in Your Life before You Were Born

Posted on 10/25/18 by Russ Corley

Do you ever stand in awe of what God has been doing in your life, even before you were born? At times, I am overwhelmed contemplating the countless things that happened in my life to prepare me, train me, and position me for the work that I am called to do. I need to have a deeper sense of wonder and amazement.

When I consider the key people in my life who were the encouragers of everything good and important in my life, I am deeply humbled. And it all began before I was born!

My father fell in love with my mother when she first arrived at their elementary school as a new student. She was in fifth grade, and he was in sixth grade. She caught his eye and captured his heart. That early attraction became a commitment that only death would sever.

My father worked hard and made sacrifices to provide me opportunities that he never enjoyed. My mother is my original encourager. She always focused on the good she saw in me. She also dealt with the bad in me with swift justice! Both aspects in me had to be worked with, but her focal commitment was to affirm and encourage every good thing that I did. For 65 years, my ears have become accustomed to her distinctive voice assuring me, “I love you. I am so proud of you.”

Then came a long line of friends. My first three key, early friendships began with Betty Ann in elementary school, Mike in Jr. High, and Jim in college. They were each born before me. I do not know what my life would have been like without their transforming friendships.

We loved each other, encouraged each other, came to understand so much about ourselves through each other. These childhood friends continue to be part of my life today. I thrill to see them and to hear their voices. Their love for me and their hope for my life continue to strengthen me.

Two professors in graduate school became mentors and later personal friends. Jim and Bill inspired and nurtured an intellectual side of me that I had not understood before their presence. Both helped me discover my passion for learning and teaching. Their goodness towards me created an educational experience that was nurturing and exciting then and that continues to be foundational to all I do today.

Then there were the people in churches. In some of those churches, I was only a member, but in others, I served as a minister. The list is too long, and I am sure that I would unintentionally leave someone important off the list. I know this: beginning in my childhood, churches at their best have been extended families where love and encouragement were the essence of our being together.

My involvement with Encouragement Ministries has allowed me to work with talented Board members. A few years ago, Pat Ward joined us as a fellow minister and gifted encourager. I first met her in 1985, and she has been a wonderful friend of encouragement since those early days when I first started telling Bible stories at Otter Creek School. Later, Amanda became a part of our staff and began to take care of the important things that freed Pat and I to focus on ministry. She brought a new level of laughter to our work together. Both Pat and Amanda have been wise friends and faithful encouragers.

You might wonder what all of this has to do with Encouragement Ministries. Everything! Long before we formed EM in 1990, God was filling my life with encouraging, life transforming relationships. He made clear to me how much I needed others. He spoke to me through them when I needed to be challenged. Those encouragers love me through successes and celebrations, failures and frustrations.

In the crisis moments of intense challenge, they did not abandon me. Instead, they were bearers of graceful encouragement. They helped me depend on God and allowed me to replace my human discouragement with a Christ-centered hope rooted in the reality of God’s living presence in the world.

Since my birth, God has patiently worked on me to deepen my understanding of the importance of human relationships and encouragement. I must be a dense and a slow learner! Still, He did not give up on me and kept sending encouragers into my life to remind and strengthen me.

Along with those special friendships, God also provided the resources necessary for EM. He used people like you. Some of you I know well, and many of you are tucked away in that paragraph about nameless followers of Jesus who have loved me in good times and bad. Others of you know and encourage Pat more than me. You support EM because you believe in her gifts and her calling. All of you are a living gift to EM because you make this ministry possible. In giving, you are a part of this ministry of encouragement.

I hope that you will take a few moments to reflect on the men and women God has used and continues to use in your life to bless and encourage you. Have you let those people know the role that they played in your life and thanked them for their kindness? If not, perhaps the real purpose of this letter is to remind you of the importance of taking a moment to affirm people that they have been a living gift in your life. Remember, Thanksgiving is only a month away!

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.

September 2018 E-newsletter: Aware of God as We Work with God

Posted on 09/26/18 by Russ Corley

Click here to read the September 2018 e-newsletter: Aware of God as We Work with God.

Aware of God as We Work with God

Posted on 09/26/18 by Russ Corley

I continue to be amazed at the depth and delights of this abundant life that we discover with Jesus. For many years, I operated as if this new life in Christ was primarily about getting to heaven after I die. That idea loomed large in my thinking and in my talking about salvation. I knew that living a “good life” was important, but I thought that meant acting good, according to a shared standard. I did not realize that a genuinely good life was primarily about the formation of a Christ-like character and the quality of my relationship with God and others. Our Father calls us to develop a transformed life that expresses our dynamic relationship with the risen Jesus, and the Spirit of God works within us to produce the fruit of that new life.

Such ideas seemed strange to me in my childhood and for much of my adult life. People who talked that way seemed odd. I had ways of assessing them theologically and psychologically so that I would not be endangered by their beliefs.

When I began to study scripture carefully, I discovered things that I did not expect. I saw how Jesus talked with his disciples about their life with him. I read the way Paul wrote about the everyday life of a follower of Jesus. I saw the huge gap between what they were saying and what I was expecting.

I am still in kindergarten spiritually when it comes to understanding this. I am convinced that we have been invited by Jesus to participate in the goodness of life with God. I am trying to practice this life with Jesus. I am intentionally working at being more aware of Jesus working with me, on me, and through me day by day.

There are many days when I fail in this attempt to follow and to work with Jesus minute by minute. I am self-centered, and there is still a deep part of me that wants to be in control of things. Those who know me can testify to my sinful failure to live consistently in rhythm with his divine presence.

But that is not the only truth. There are days, or more accurately, small segments of some days, when I concentrate less on me and more on him. In those better moments, I ask him to guide and to help me with the work he gives me, and I am consistently astonished at what happens.

I look at Wednesday morning, September 19. I had been in two early meetings, and as the second meeting ended, I had the distinct impression that I was to do something very different than what I had planned. It seemed clear that I needed to postpone a responsibility and drive to Centennial Hospital to visit two patients.

As I drove, I talked to Jesus as if he were sitting in the passenger’s seat. I discussed things with him and asked him for help in this assignment. I know this sounds strange to some of you reading my words. Would it sound different to you if I had written, “I prayed to Jesus and asked him for help in what I was about to do”? The former way seems more informal, more conversational, more personal. For some of us, perhaps, too personal. The shift is intentional, and it still feels awkward to me at times.

Walking to the first visit, I envisioned Jesus walking with me. I asked him to lead the conversation ahead of us. As I talked with him, a woman with a baby stroller walked towards me, so I smiled and greeted her. The baby seemed to be intently staring at me with bright eyes.

When I arrived in the Cardiac Care waiting area, I found seven members of the patient’s family. We shared a wonderful conversation and prayed together. As I was leaving, I noticed a blanket with toys spread on the floor. When I commented, they explained that grandmother had stepped out with her grandson (the patient’s mother and nephew). The father stood up and asked me to go with him as he wanted me to meet his wife down the hall.

As we walked together, I saw the woman and child that I had met before. When she got close, we both laughed remembering our first encounter as strangers. The conversation we shared for the next few minutes was deep. They shared their thoughts about what was happening with their daughter today. As they talked, scripture came to mind, texts that aptly addressed questions or framed a word of encouragement. It was as if someone else was helping me with what was to be said. All the while, an attentive seven-month-old baby did not take his eyes off of me, as if something very odd right beside me or behind me had caught his attention.

After making a second visit, I called Pat Ward and asked her to see the two patients that I had just visited. I did not explain more than the situations of each patient. She agreed to try to get by soon, but she did more than that! Being a woman who practices what I am learning, she rearranged her schedule and went immediately. She put aside a planned thing and went to a divine appointment.

Two hours later, she called me with joy and excitement. Both of her visits had been powerful experiences for her. When I talked to those visited by her on the next day, they told me that they were blessed and encouraged by her visits.

When you experience God working with you, the quality of everything alters. This is the deep meaning of the good life, the abundant life, the life with Jesus!

Now if you read this and are like the old me, you think, “Well, Russ has gone off the deep end!” I understand how you might think that and how you might come up with alternative explanations for what happened and have some tough questions for me. I am not sure if all the talk in the world could change your mind. I think my response would be: “Why don’t you begin your own experiment with Jesus. For the next few days, ask Jesus to walk with you and work with you. Seek his face at work and at home and in every place in-between. Knock at his door and ask him to spend time with you. Try it.”

Pat and I are deeply grateful for those of you who pray for us, refer people to us, and support us financially. We do this work together with you and with God. We believe He moves the hearts of others to help us in this ministry. We believe the purpose of this work is to point others to Him and to glorify Him in all that we do. We are grateful for the flexibility EM provides to adapt to the demands of each new day. What a joy to be caught up in something larger than ourselves.

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.

August 2018 E-newsletter: When Jesus Sends, He Provides

Posted on 08/17/18 by Russ Corley

Click here to read the August 2018 e-newsletter: When Jesus Sends, He Provides.

When Jesus Sends, He Provides

Posted on 08/16/18 by Russ Corley

We often mention two important things that the supporters of Encouragement Ministries do that are essential in our work: they refer people for us to serve, and they pray for us as we serve. Both are critical to our success. Referrals open unexpected opportunities, and intercessory prayers are a rich resource of blessings from God who enables and empowers true ministry. Let me share a story to illustrate.

Last week, I received a call from Ohio about a man in Kentucky who had been severely injured in a freak accident when a car plowed through the front of a bank and hit him. He was rushed to a local hospital and a few days later transferred to Vanderbilt (VUMC) in Nashville to receive specialized care. The person calling me supports EM, she knows the brother of the man injured, and she invited us to be involved. She promised that she would be praying for our first meeting.

I went the day after the referral. When I got to the Patient Information Desk, I gave the name and asked for a room number. Then the dreaded HIPAA moment happened! I only had the patient’s middle and last names, and without the first name, not even a room number can be shared in that hospital. This information specialist was a “strict constructionist” in the interpretation of the law! She would not budge an inch. I am sure that she has been trained that way with threats of termination if she failed to comply.

I tried to reach my contact in OH but to no avail. Understandably, I was frustrated. Then I remembered that the patient was supposed to have surgery. I went to the Surgical Information desk and explained my plight. This kind woman had a possible solution. There was only one patient by that last name scheduled for surgery. She called the patient’s room and asked if the patient went by the name that I knew. She got permission for my visit and sent me on my way with a graceful smile.

As I left, I had a sense of joy and appreciation for such unexpected kindness. One person felt compassion and worked within the rules to solve my problem. Then I was reminded of my praying friend in Ohio, and I was grateful for God providing helpers along the way.

After my visit, I went back to the Surgical Information Desk. I spoke again to the woman that helped me. At first, she had a suspicious look on her face. I assured her that I came with good intentions. I observed that she had helped many people that morning and that most of them took for granted her assistance. I did not want to be a member of that majority. I thanked her for changing my morning and helping me in my work and noted that her smile was an added blessing.

For 28 years now, I have been blessed by acts of intentional kindness (in contrast to random kindness) by people who were at the right place at the right time to help. Some might attribute that to good luck. I will not. I believe that when God gives us something to do in the name of Jesus, He provides for our needs in unexpected ways. I know that people like you pray for our work, and God answers those prayers as our loving Father.

Referrals and prayers are both essential things that our supporters provide. The third component of support is their generous financial assistance. We do not focus much on that essential element in our work. Our commitment through the years is a theological one: If God gives us work to do, He will provide for that work without our putting pressure on people or making fundraising a constant focus. Our loving Father has been faithful in moving hearts to provide for our every need. He uses people like you to help us with referrals, in prayer, and in giving. We serve a great God together, and we must never fail to say thank you with grateful hearts.

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.

Presence and Participation in Someone Else’s World: July 2018 E-newsletter

Posted on 07/24/18 by Russ Corley

Click here to read the July 2018 e-newsletter: Presence and Participation in Someone Else’s World.

Entering Someone’s World with Compassion and Interacting through Participation

Posted on 07/24/18 by Russ Corley

This past month, I witnessed Pat Ward involved in two aspects of ministry that are important but often neglected in our busy world of fast-paced change: Presence (really being with someone) and Participation (immersing yourself in their world of thought and action). These are not sophisticated techniques that require years of college education and technical expertise. They seem elusive in professionalized ministry, yet they embody the ministry of Jesus. 

Presence (being with someone) and Participation (indwelling someone’s world)

Years ago, I met a couple from Kentucky at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC). The husband was very sick, and his wife was with him constantly in the hospital and through a long rehab. During the long months at VUMC, I saw them often, and we became friends. After they left rehab, they moved to Nashville to live with their daughter. I made visits to the house, but they were not often as before.

When Pat Ward began working part-time during the summers, she would stop by this couple’s house twice a week! She was lavish in her time with them, talking and listening with genuine interest. When Pat would leave, the wife would tell Pat with a wry smile, “Remind Russ that he is getting a little behind, and we have a diet coke waiting for him in the refrigerator.” When the summer ended, Pat’s visits became rare until the following summer.

A few years ago, the husband died, thus isolating his wife more. A few people from her church checked on her, especially one wonderful woman who became like a daughter to her.

Last year, through the generosity of our supporters, Pat began full-time work with EM. One of the first things that she did was to establish a regular rhythm of loving visits to this woman’s home.

Pat does more than go by and listen. Our mutual friend took up coloring a few years ago to fill time with something creative. I stopped by for a surprise visit when Pat was there. Our friend showed me some of the coloring that she and Pat had done together. As she talked about their shared project, her eyes sparkled with love and joy. As we talked about other things, Pat and our friend updated me on what had been happening in our friend’s life. It was clear that through many conversations, Pat had drawn her out to elaborate the details of her life and had listened closely with interest.

As people grow older, isolated, and physically limited, it is an enormous challenge. Pat has been with her through good times and bad. They have shared meals out. Pat has provided transportation to doctor appointments. This woman considers Pat to be another daughter. When she talks about Pat, I hear the love in her voice and see it in her eyes. There is no quick way to describe that kind of relationship.

Both presence and participation are important, and there is an underlying factor that motivates and suffuses both: the love of Christ in us. Without love, my spending time to be with someone will be tainted by impatience. Without love, participating in someone’s world seems shallow. In love, I am able to enter and indwell another’s world. In such graceful moments, we share the joy of being together in the presence of God. In doing this, we glance a fleeting insight into the depths of the beauty of the incarnation, God with us in Jesus, the Word become flesh and serving us in love at the point of our greatest needs.

Thank you for providing the financial support for this kind of relationship-intensive ministry where time is not spent in meetings and planning projects (those are very important things) but where time is allocated to being with a person and participating in their world in love. It makes a difference, and it honors the unique meaning and inscape of people made in God’s image.

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.

Crisis and the Hope of Reconciling Love: June 2018 E-newsletter

Posted on 06/28/18 by Russ Corley

Click the link to read the June 2018 e-newsletter: Crisis and the Hope of Reconciling Love.