Archive for the ‘An Encouraging Word’ Category

“And because I knew you, I have been changed, For Good.”

Posted on 06/19/20 by Paulette Fewell

From Russ —

Thirty years ago, my family and I were in a time of transition and the idea of starting a pastoral care ministry to work with patients and their families in hospitals began to take shape.  After much prayer and discussion, the funds were raised to begin what is now known as Encouragement Ministries.

About 15 years later, Pat Ward joined me during her summer breaks from Otter Creek Kindergarten, and then came onboard fulltime when she retired. Anyone who knows Pat has been blessed by her.  Her sweet spirit, her visits and her notes have blessed so many people over the years, but sometimes I think we don’t really understand what an impact she has had on so many people.

Grace Moore Allen, one of our outstanding board members, wrote our newsletter this month and tells about her relationship with Pat (“Nana”) and how it has affected her life.  We invite you to read Grace’s sweet words.

From Grace —

When I was 11 years old, my mom, grandmother, aunt, cousin and I flew to Chicago to see my first Broadway show, Wicked. Wicked is the story of the happenings before the Wizard of Oz; specifically, it is the telling of why the wicked witch of the west was “wicked”.  What I didn’t know was that this trip would change my life and my view of the world. The moment I saw the James M. Nederlander Theater it was game over.  The marquee lights outside, the gold-plated ceiling inside, and the blood red stage curtains made my heart full. But then there was the show!

Transformed, my head began swimming with the most dramatic notes, love, laughter, and the color GREEN. My 11-year-old-self sat mesmerized in my velvet red seat all through the first act; I couldn’t move and I’m not sure I dared to take a breath!  I was so inspired, I was crying by intermission. As the second act began, again I sat enchanted. Before the finale, the two girls (Elphaba and Glinda), who started out as enemies in the story but have become best friends, slowly lean in to the most beautiful duet called ‘For Good’. Elphaba leads by telling Glinda,

“I’m limited, You can do all I couldn’t do, So now it’s up to you, For both of us it’s up to you.” Glinda responds by telling her these words “I’ve heard it said, That people come into our lives for a reason, Bringing something we must learn, And we are led to those that will help us most to grow, Well I don’t know if I believe that’s true, But I know I’m who I am today because I knew you.”

They go through a verse and a reprise all to come to this beautiful crescendo where they sing these words together in perfect harmony,

“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? I do believe that I have been changed for the better, And because I knew you, I have been changed, For Good.”

 I was personally changed as I walked out of that theater that night. Not from someone I had met, but from something I had seen; Wicked laid a foundation for me that I never realized was there until many years later.

A year before this trip to Chicago, my parents announced to me that we were leaving the church in which I had grown up and were starting to attend Otter Creek Church of Christ. Obviously, as a 10-year-old I didn’t have much say in the matter so I did what any 10-year-old girl would do: I cried. But as always, the Lord was working. Otter Creek held so many people who would change me For Good. Nine years later I learned what For Good meant. Over those last nine years people had come into my life that held me up physically, mentally and emotionally as my mother battled chronic illness.

The July after I turned 19 my mom went to the hospital for stomach pain – 3 weeks later, my dad and I found ourselves sitting in a hospital room with my mom, some family and friends and my mom’s doctors. As we sat there at either side, I listened to the words that the doctors were saying, but they didn’t sink in. Later that day we walked through the tunnels of Vanderbilt Hospital with my mom in a hospital bed. As we walked, we talked to her about what was happening and if she understood; she did.

As we walked, it hit me that we were walking to her finish line. We were walking to the Round Wing, the hospice unit. All my mommy wanted to do was go home, not to our house, but home to the Lord, so we walked. Later that afternoon, Pat Ward sent me a text that said “I know I can’t always be there, but every time that I think about you and your mom I will pray and send you a GREEN heart and you’ll know that is a hug from Nana. Pat Ward and I shared a love of Wicked, a GREEN heart was the perfect symbol. I don’t remember the moment that I met Pat, but I remember when she became Nana. Five years later, my Nana Pat still sends me GREEN hearts when she thinks of me.

You never know who you are going to meet that is going to be in your life ‘For Good’.  In this time of uncertainty and fear – reach out to someone. Maybe it is someone who looks like they have it all together or maybe reach out to someone you know is struggling. All it takes is one message that says “Every time I think of you, I’m going to send you a “GREEN heart”, and that’s a hug from me.”  You can change someone ‘For Good’.

Choosing the Right Card

Posted on 02/28/20 by Paulette Fewell

Paulette Fewell has been working with Encouragement Ministries for nine months. She has been a wonderful addition to our work and I continue to be deeply grateful for her leadership and her gifted service.  Recently, I had a conversation with her about Valentine’s day. As we talked, her mind became reflective about how carefully chosen cards were a metaphor for the way Pat and I attempt to do our work. I asked her to share those reflections with you in this month’s report.

“A few days before Valentine’s, I took some time to look for cards for loved ones.  I would pick up a card, read it and then discard it – too silly, too mushy, too immature, not appropriate, and on and on.  As I was going through that process, it reminded me of when I was in elementary school and we had to have Valentine’s cards for every child in our class.  It was the same ordeal each year as I searched for the right card for each friend – too silly, too mushy, not appropriate and on and on.  I didn’t want to give a Valentine to a boy that might imply that I “liked” him and I was afraid that I would offend a friend by giving one friend a “better” card than another friend.” 

As Paulette and I talked we realized that the same thing sometimes happens to Pat and me as we visit patients, families, and people in crisis.  We want to show love and concern to them, but we don’t want to intrude in their lives or say or do anything that could be considered inappropriate.  We’ve learned through the years that every patient and family have different needs and expectations from us.  It’s a fine line from providing the love and care that they need and over or under serving their current needs.

For this reason, I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Eph. 3:14-21

As with me finding the right card for Jackie. and Paulette finding the right cards for her loved ones, Pat and I want to find the right balance of visits, calls, cards and prayers for the patients and families that we serve.  We covet your prayers for this ministry, and would welcome any monetary gifts that you can provide.

We ask that you join us in prayer for the individuals and families that we serve, and that we’ll always remember that we’re in this ministry to serve the Lord and the people who need us, whatever their current status in life.

We exist through the generous financial support of the friends of Encouragement Ministries. If we can help you in any way, please don’t hesitate to call us. 

Russ Corley, Executive Director

 

 

 

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

We Are Grateful for Your Prayers and Financial Support

Posted on 12/11/18 by Russ Corley

God has been gracious to EM for 28 years. Our approach to fundraising has always been low-key. We do not focus on our financial needs, we avoid manipulating people to give with deeply emotional pleas, and we refuse to pressure anyone to give. We trust that those of you who believe in the importance of this ministry will help us. We continue to ask God to give us work and to provide the strength and wisdom to do it. We believe that if this is what He wants us to do, He will provide the support necessary for that work.

Some people think this is a crazy way to do business as a non-profit. You will not find this model in the books on running a charity, but 28 years of experience has made clear that God opens opportunities for service and provides financially in ways that surpass our expectations. I stand in awe of Him and I am grateful for those people who sense his prompting to pray for and to give to Encouragement Ministries.
What also amazes me is how a small beginning becomes a deep story if we are faithful and allow God to work.

Several years ago, I was taking a call for Pastoral Care at VUMC. One of the patients that I was asked to visit after chapel on Sunday morning was a couple from Kentucky. Our first conversation ended with prayer. That humble introduction became an enduring relationship that eventually included Pat Ward.

In that first meeting, I met the husband who was critically ill and his wife. He would be in the hospital and then at Stallworth Rehab for many months. I saw the couple almost daily through EM. We became very close, because they were far away from their friends and their home church.

When they left the hospital, they moved in with their daughter who lives in Nashville. They eventually had to sell their home in Kentucky and became permanent residents at her house. I would go by every couple of weeks to visit. The wife always provided me with Diet Dr. Pepper and cashews for a snack. We would talk about their concerns, laugh, and always end in prayer.
The wife’s health slowly declined as she cared for her husband and dealt with his developing dementia on top of all his other physical limitations. Yet they always greeted me with kindness and continued to feed me cashews.

Years passed. Their lives were rather isolated because of their limitations. They often had two jigsaw puzzles working at the same time on a large table set up by a kitchen window that allowed them to watch birds and squirrels in the yard.
When the husband died, I performed the funeral in Clarksville. After the funeral, the period of grieving and adjustment began as his wife now faced life without her husband and was separated from her network of friends in western Kentucky. Those were often very long and lonely days.

Then Pat Ward entered the scene. She had just begun working for EM during the summer. She would go by twice a week to visit. She would stay longer than I would and was much better at long talks and doing things with our mutual friend.

I was often reminded with a smile that I did not come by as often as Pat! When the new school year began, our mutual friend would be sad at her loss of Pat’s frequent visits.

When Pat began full-time work with EM, that brought tremendous joy to this woman. Now there was a year-round presence of love, prayer, laughter, and comfort. Pat and this woman began to work on coloring together, an interest that I do not share (I cannot stay in the little lines). They would color, look at photos, talk about the struggles of growing older and being alone. Sometimes Pat would take her to eat with some other friends or take her to get her hair done or pick up some groceries. They always prayed.

This past week, our friend went into the hospital with a serious heart problem. Pat and I have been working in tag-team fashion, going by frequently to check on our friend and her daughter who is trying to balance work and family responsibilities during this crisis.

On the day that I wrote the first draft of this letter, I had visited my friend early. She was having a tough day and was discouraged. I also was struggling with my emotions. As she shared her depression, I felt my energy draining. Her cardiologist walked in and needed to see her, so I excused myself.

While walking out of the hospital, Pat called. Her voice was sunny, and she was having a good morning. She was heading to the hospital to see our friend. I updated her on the situation and also confessed my emotional struggles. Pat assured me that she would see her soon and wear her “happy pants” and see what would happen. When our conversation ended, I was once again grateful for how God provides for EM, not only financially but also in bringing Pat to work in her unique way to complement what I can and cannot do.

This continuing story is possible because God works through people like you to make this work possible. The great actor in all of our stories about EM is God. He makes all things possible and is working all things together for good.

You see this truth when you read Matthew 1-2 and Luke 1-2, the accounts of the birth of Jesus. Read closely and see all the ways that our unseen God is working in the midst of history in the grand miracle of all creation, the incarnation of the Son in a baby named Jesus, Immanuel—God with us. May we all have eyes to see our God working in us and in the world today and honor Him with our lives. May God bless you and those you love this Christmas.

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.

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.