June 2021 - "Every time it rains, it rains, pennies from Heaven"
These song lyrics from an old movie are a reminder of loved ones lost, and the wonderful memories that we have of them.
My mother died 22 years ago after a short battle of fighting ovarian cancer. She lost that battle, but I believe that she won lots of other battles throughout her life. She was born before the Depression and lived through her parents losing their farm and her dad being an alcoholic and dying when she was still a teenager. After she graduated from high school, she moved 75 miles away to Memphis so that she could work and help support her mother and two younger siblings. She met my dad when she was 14 years old and they married ten years later after he returned from WWII and after her brother and sister had graduated from high school and could support themselves.
My mother would have told you that her greatest loves were God, her husband, children and grandchildren, and her country, especially her small hometown of Alamo, TN. She was devoted to each of these until her death.
A few months after Mother died, I read a story where they suggested that when you find a penny, it means that someone in heaven is telling you that they love you. So, every time I found a penny, I liked to think it was Mother telling me that she loved me.
My niece, Kathryn, was twelve years old when Mother died. I was with Kathryn one day after that and there was a penny on the ground. I told her to pick it up and she said it was dirty. I told her what I had read about finding the penny, and I said “that’s Dear (her name for my mother) telling you that she loves you.” Her immediate response was, “what about Papa? He would tell us that he loves us too!”
So, we had a discussion and decided if the penny was heads up, it was Dear, and if it was tails, it was Papa, telling us that she/he loves us. A few months later, Kathryn and her parents were on vacation and while shopping, Kathryn showed her dad a bracelet with a penny charm and said that they needed to buy that for me. Her dad didn’t understand the significance of that bracelet, so Kathryn explained.
On Christmas morning, I opened a gift from my brother, sister-in-law, and Kathryn, and there was the bracelet with the penny charm. My brother told the story and said that he had never heard that before, but now when he finds a penny, he looks to see if it’s heads or tails. It has become a tradition in our family.
Through Encouragement Ministries, Pat and Russ spend time every week with people who have lost loved ones. They pray with them, listen to stories and memories, and try to help them through very difficult times. Some of these relationships are long-term, and some they’ve only known for a short time. All of them have an impact on Pat and Russ, and the people they are serving. It’s never easy to lose a loved one, no matter the length of the illness or the immediacy of the death, but we hope that like our family, they will have fond memories of their loved one.
We don’t have a bracelet with a penny to send to everyone, but hopefully, the next time, you find a penny, it will remind you of someone in heaven and the love and memories you shared.
May 2021 - "Love One Another"
by Pat Ward
A few days ago, I received the news that a former student from Otter Creek School had been having headaches for a few weeks. After a several days of no pain relief and consulting with the doctor, the parents took him to the ER. An MRI was done and a lesion was found on the back of his skull. The ER doctor was fairly sure that it was malignant and scheduled surgery.
The mom asked her son if she could share the news about his surgery. He gave his permission, but emphatically told her to tell people not to worry. He wanted her to post pictures on Facebook of him smiling. It broke my heart to not be able to sit with them at the hospital, but there were limited visitors. We texted back and forth throughout the day.
When the surgery was completed, the doctor told them the good news was that he believed he was able to remove the entire lesion and would call with the biopsy results in a few days. The Otter Creek teachers (former and present) began to pray. We ALL felt HELPLESS and wanted to do whatever we could do to walk with this family who mean so much to all who know them. The teachers collected money and asked two former teachers who also serve on the board of EM and me to go shopping. With the generous amount of money they raised, we were able to buy him a “bucket” of many of his favorite things. I was able to deliver the gifts to him once he came home from the hospital.
He was overwhelmed. He opened each gift and expressed appreciation for it. His dad asked him what he wanted to say to me and have me say to all of the people who had participated in giving the gifts. He said, “I feel guilty because so many kids don’t have toys and would love these.”
Oh, to have the heart and gratefulness of a child! Before I left, the dad asked me to pray over this precious child and their family. I knew the doctor had called that morning to confirm the lesion was malignant and they would explain the news to him after I left. I put my hands on his shoulders and prayed. When I said, “AMEN”, he said “AMEN” also and thanked me for coming. I prayed all the way home for the conversation they were going to have.
NO PARENT SHOULD HAVE TO TELL THEIR 11-YEAR-OLD THAT THEY HAVE CANCER! This and many other heartaches are the world we live in. Many of you have lost mates, parents, and had hard news this year. We hear so much from the media about 2020 and the year of Covid. It has caused us great fear and concern. We have become intolerant with people who disagree with us. We argue over whether to wear a mask and social distance. And yet, when the crises come, our perspectives change. We forget about our differences. We gather together in the name of Jesus and pray to HIM who reigns on his throne. If I’ve learned anything in the past year, it is to remember where my citizenship is, who is really in charge of this world, and that I need each and every one of you in my life whether we agree or disagree.
Look up all the ONE ANOTHER verses in the Bible and remember what your life and calling is to look like. You don’t have to have the right words or answers when you walk with someone in crisis. Our “right words” might not be what they need. You show up, text, make a call, or write a note to let them know you care and will walk with them. It can be as simple as shopping for a “bucket of toys” for even in that moment the three of us who were performing this small task felt joy (as did everyone who gave the money). We weren’t making the story different but we were showing up.
We don’t all have the same talents. That’s the beauty of God’s community. It takes a village and every act done in the name of Jesus will bless the giver and the receiver.
If Russ or I can ever help you walk through a difficult time, we would love to listen to and spend time with you.
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.
“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’.
August 2019 – Encouragement Tips from Pat
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.
“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.
July 2019 – 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.