Category Archives: 31-Day Writing Challenge

31-Day Writing Challenge—Day 7 :: Encourage

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Since May, I’ve been talking with a coach each month. Since June, my wife has been fighting a myriad of health problems that have consumed us.

I entered into the coaching relationship intending to gain perspective and assistance in leading forward in the church I pastor—an historic church (it predates Abraham Lincoln’s presidency!) in the heart of California Gold Country. Since moving to this beautiful area a little over three years ago, I’ve come to realize how hard it is to be new here: in one gathering of parents of high schoolers, one parent introduce herself by saying, “we’ve only lived here three generations.” In fact, as one who has moved often throughout my life, I can say with great confidence that this is the hardest area to be new that I have ever lived in. And I know people who have lived here for fifteen or twenty years who still feel new.

Another realization I had shortly after becoming pastor: never before in my life have I even been part of a church with only one pastor and with fewer than sixty people—much less a church that is 80% over age 65. To say it’s been hard is an understatement. And don’t even get me started on the added challenges of the past eighteen months.

Back to coaching. Since early July my coach, formerly a pastor and church planter for thirty years, has started our phone calls with a question: How’s your wife? Answering that question—and airing all the difficulties and sorrows of her health and its impact on me, our family, and leadership—has consumed our calls. And in that, my coach has consoled, commiserated, and encouraged. It’s been good, but it hasn’t been what I would call “strategic.” It hasn’t helped me navigate the challenges of leading this church.

Or has it? Today I shared some of these thoughts. I said that as my wife’s health has stabilized and improved recently, it’s probably time to get into the real coaching. My coach heard my gratitude for the encouragement and he heard my desire to begin thinking strategically again. We made a start in that.

And somewhere in the conversation a light went on. I realized that maybe the listening, caring, and encouraging was just what I needed in order to stay in the leadership game over these past few difficult months. Maybe I didn’t need someone asking me about a strategic plan or Fall Kickoff or how to better care for a bunch of comfortable older women in church. Maybe the encouragement was strategic.

I’m not as natural an encourager as some are, as my coach is. But maybe there’s a lesson I can learn as I try to lead my church forward into new ways of thinking and being: encouragement is strategic.

This entry is part of the 31-Day Writing Challenge 2021 from Five Minute Friday.

31-Day Writing Challenge—Day 6 :: Whole

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Can broken be made whole again?
Is broken less than whole?
Is repaired less than whole?

Brokenness is part of life. Not the good part, perhaps, but there is good even in—or at least from—brokenness. “Scars have stories,” Dan Allender says.

I just read an encouragement to story. (I like the idea of story as verb.) But what story? What scar? What death? What brokenness?

[This entry was written—and interrupted—the second morning of a trip to a conference. I guess whole doesn’t have to be long!]

This entry is part of the 31-Day Writing Challenge 2021 from Five Minute Friday.

31-Day Writing Challenge—Day 5 :: Patient

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By now I know, from the general theme of these writing challenges, that the spirit of today’s prompt is an adjective referring to forbearance, not a noun describing a doctor’s client. But this is my blog, my writing, my imagination, and I’m going to take it where I want.

There is of course a connection between the adjective and the noun. After all, a patient must be patient; at least, it helps … how often have you had to wait (hopefully patiently) for the doctor? How often have I had to wait over these past four months?

It’s been a rough summer in our family, health-wise. We’ve spent a lot of time waiting—in doctor’s offices, having medical procedures, waiting for test results. And in the emergency room … don’t even get me started! I’ve theorized, based on three ER visits in as many days (or nights) that it doesn’t really matter when you arrive at the ER; you won’t be released until three o’clock in the morning.

And in our case, that release came with precious little help: no answers, so suggestions, no solutions. In short, since death wasn’t imminent, we simply waited. And waited. And waited.

I get it. The ultimate purpose of an emergency department is to keep people alive long enough to get more long-term care. And if there’s no indication that you’re knocking on death’s door, you’re pretty much the lowest priority. Even if it feels like death is knocking on your door.

And that’s how it felt for a while. And when we got help, it always came with the same message: this is going to take a while. But when you don’t feel good, you want to get better … now. Healing is slow. Be patient. But it’s hard being patient. It’s hard being a patient. It’s hard being a patient patient.

The amazing thing is, they were right. Healing is coming. It’s not complete, but it’s getting better. Not better enough (yet), but still a lot better.

Healing is slow. Whether it’s a broken arm or cancer; a broken heart or abuse … healing is slow. Be patient. With the people helping you heal, with the process, with yourself. Be patient.

This entry is part of the 31-Day Writing Challenge 2021 from Five Minute Friday.

31-Day Writing Challenge—Day 4 :: Comfort

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What word comes to mind when you want to strengthen someone? Whatever it is, I’d bet it’s not today’s word-du-jour in the 31-Day writing challenge.

I’m a words guy, so when faced with such a common word as comfort I decided to look it up—and what I found surprised me. The first definitions, both as verb and noun, had to do with strength. And there I was, pre-dictionary, with images of lying warm in bed, soft blanket pulled tight up to my chin, huddled down in—you guessed it—comfort. That image feels anything but strong.

Are you comfortable? Let me get you another pillow, a blanket, a cup of hot chocolate.

Yet as I ponder these newly-revealed etymological mysteries, it all makes sense. When do we need comfort? When we’re sad, scared, cold, tired, lonely. What does comfort do? It strengthens our heart from sad to glad, from scared to courageous; it warms our cold muscles, offers companionship to our loneliness, energy in our fatigue. It strengthens.

Maybe we don’t need to “get out of our comfort zone” after all. Maybe we need to get right into the middle of it—that place where we are strongest, most confident, most able to live out our unique calling for the world.

This entry is part of the 31-Day Writing Challenge 2021 from Five Minute Friday.

31-Day Writing Challenge—Day 3 :: Peace

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It’s quiet now. Late. Dark. Peaceful. It wasn’t always. But it is now.

I like the quiet. Crickets chirping in the dark. Cars in the distance, far enough away that they are nothing more than a soft hum. Some nights the stars go on forever, reminiscent of the fireflies of my Midwest childhood. Tonight, though, nothing above but an almost-midnight blue blanket … that I can’t see for the blinding white of my screen, the only interruption of the peace.

These moments alone, unhurried moments. Early morning or late night. This is peace.

This entry is part of the 31-Day Writing Challenge 2021 from Five Minute Friday.