For the last in our Thankful Exercises, take the time to list the top 5 people or so, in your life that have encouraged you in your walk with God over the years. If you are my age, some of those people may have already passed away. The reason it will be helpful to you to think about this is multi-faceted.
I thought this would be the easiest of my posts. As it has turned out, it has been very difficult. The more people I think about, the more come to mind. I tried to prioritize them and it was impossible. That’s why this post has been delayed. Well, that, and a flat tire that threw off the rhythm of my day!
Make time to think back over the encouragers in your life. Who has helped you along the way to take major steps of growth in your faith?
It gives you a face and a name to attach your thanks to. It makes it more concrete. You have an opportunity to think through a memory and realize it is important enough to fall into the group of top encouragers to you. That is a great thing! It’s a good idea to think through what they did to encourage you and how they encouraged you to grow in your faith. The context of their encouragement is also important. What was happening in your life at the time? Often, it wouldn’t have meant nearly as much at another stage of your life. What did they do that was helpful to you? Are there things they did that you want to make a part of your life so you can be that kind of encourager to someone else?Make time to write them a note of thanks or if they are no longer living, write an imaginary note of thanks. It may be that their ministry in your life was not necessarily one of a strictly spiritual one as you may observe from some of my comments below, Some people who helped me, did so in a way that helped me not take myself so seriously. It was an incredible help to me in future ministry.
You may find it helpful to learn from these notes regarding these encouragers in varies aspects of your faith. I’m starting my list here but i’m sure I will make adjustments over time.
Anne Fortosis: A joyful Christian in a gloomy time.
One of the first people I met who showed me down-to-earth Christianity with joy and fun in a place of heavy legalism. I was in 8th grade and had been bullied quite a bit that semester by people who were perceiver to be very “spiritual” and “sweet” (I came to the boarding school as a 2nd semester student to get away from bullying. Now, I was experiencing it 24/7 far from home!). They were neither. In fact, they were very unkind…at least when teachers weren’t around.
My parents didn’t think they could afford to bring me to FL from NC for Spring Break so I stayed in NC for Spring Break and we had an overnight with the Headmaster’s wife at a camping site. She talked about marriage and life with a joyful sense of humor unlike much of what I was used to that semester and I found myself captivated by her relationship to God as well. She became a believer as an adult. It was a small group of us and we picked her brain. I rarely had the chance to visit with her after that weekend, but it made a deep and positive impression on me. (She died of breast cancer about 1970. Her youngest was a toddler and only daughter after 4 sons,)
Bobby Clinton: (J. Robert Clinton on his book) Worked in unconventional ways to develop community among our Bible College community
Marilyn Clinton: helped me understand the realities of parenting and family life.
He was principal at Jamaica Bible College for about 3 years of the 7 we were there. He wanted to help us develop more of an understanding of how to function as a Christian community. He wasn’t the most tactful of the staff members but he was very driven and determined. Not everyone was excited about his goal, or at least the way he was trying to go about it. I was excited to try almost anything new but I got in the middle of more than one interpersonal glitch along the way, embarrassing myself and others.
However, I learned more in that period, much of it the hard way, than I did during my 1 1/2 years of Bible College, about spiritual gifts, how they play out in real life, how spiritual gifts play out in everyday life in community, personality differences, how they mesh, or don’t, in community, etc. For the first time, I learned some of the positive things I could offer a Christian community (other than my musical abilities). I learned how to encourage people in ways that touched them while I was also having babies and going through a stage of life that should have been a very weird one.
This period was a very fast growing one for me. But to say I grew fast doesn’t mean it was easy growth. My dad died suddenly of a heart attack, I bumbled a lot in relationships, I learned a lot about real life in ways I never expected to. I think I can say Bobby was the catalyst for all the growth and living in that close community of missionaries and Jamaicans was something that changed me deeply.
I can’t mention Bobby without mentioning Marilyn, his wife. She mentored me as a friend and mother. They had 4 children. One was in high school by then. We often got together on Sunday afternoons while her family was napping, over tea. She had increasing trouble with asthma in Jamaica and after 3 years, they had to leave because of her health. They lived in Miami for a few years before moving to CA where Bobby has been ever since, teaching at Fuller Seminary. We haven’t been able to keep up. They aren’t on social media and I no longer have their address. Makes me sad.
Her influence was one of laughter and helping me understand about real life. I knew a lot of the Bible for memory. I knew a lot of Bible facts. But I was lost among all the facts in the forest of details. She helped me understand how it coordinated with real life. She is one person I would love to sit down with and catch up.
When we went to Jamaica, we had just lost our first child to stillbirth and were newly pregnant with our second daughter. When we returned 7 years later after thinking we would be in Jamaica for many more years, a new government came in and wouldn’t renew our work permits after we finished out that school year. So we returned to the US and eventually went into a pastorate, I don’t think we have ever experienced the kind of community we experienced there.
PS. 2/2023 I recently learned, almost by accident, that Marilyn passed away in October of 2015. I was so sad to hear it. It has been very difficult to keep up. Neither of us is good at letter writing and she wasn’t on any of the social media platforms. I’m sad for the loss to her family and friends and grateful for the role she played in my life for a short time.
Ronald Brady: my husband and pastor for over 40 years of our marriage. He brought calm and peace to our home and set the tone for genuineness and stability. He kept the crazy from taking over!
I sat under his preaching almost every Sunday through series of Bible books or topics such as Attributes of God, for example. I received good Biblical teaching from him as well as others in the churches he served. Of course, it wouldn’t have done much good if he would have come home and been a scoundrel. But he wasn’t.
He wasn’t perfect, neither was I, but he was genuine and generally the one who came home and brought peace, calm, and reason into the house. He was usually able to bring calm to me as well. With time, I learned to do some of the things he recommended so I could head off crazy before it got to that point.
I loved him for his patience with difficult church members, his humility, his meekness, his kindness…all things I saw in abundance over the years as he worked with church members and session members (our name for elders.)
Ron Clegg: Former Associate Pastor at our church. He brought hard life experience and a walk with Jesus to the table with wise comfort.
Gayle Clegg: a hopeful example of someone who was a good example of a frail caregiver of her mom in the final few years of her life.
He mentored another women’s ministry leader and me twice a week for about 1 1/2 years. Both of us were dealing with a variety of personal issues along with the things we were dealing with in the women’s ministry. Often we worked on what we had to do with our planning. Then, if we didn’t say much, he would ask us each, “How is your heart?” That was when everything would come pouring out! Then he would say a word or two that seemed aimed for our heart issues and we would pray…for ourselves and for the women’s ministry.
We never felt preached at. His words were kind and comforting, but often the Spirit used them to convict. At the time, he and his wife were also caring for her mom in the final stages of Alzheimers. It was probably the worst part of my agonizing deeply as I watched my Ron have repeated strokes and receive his vascular dementia diagnosis. It hit me harder than it did him (my Ron) thanks to his bad memory from all the strokes.
Ron Clegg was so encouraging to both of us because he was not preachy and he helped us look to Jesus in the middle of our hard times. We knew he knew what he was talking about because he had been through some really hard times. Not all had come out well. He had struggled with God over them and come to peace. His wife Gayle was also very helpful and encouraging as I watched her through her time with her mom. She was honest about what was difficult. But she was encouraging just the same.
Judy Levy and Jennifer Godfrey: two friends in Jamaica. Their growth in Christ and hospitality was so encouraging and stimulating to my spiritual growth.
These were two close friends in Jamaica. They were newer Christians than I, but were often challenging to me in my faith as they grew rapidly. Judy was a new Christian when I met her and wanted to start a Bible study for non-Christians and new believers. She, I and another woman together started it in my home. It was scary for sure! I had never done anything like this before. It was life changing. Of the 3 of us, Judy had the best teaching gifts for sure! Some of the women in the group had never read the Bible. We had to leave out all churchy language. We read the book of Mark and asked questions. It was an inductive study.
Judy was the best at explaining complex truths. Our third friend was good at inviting others. So was Judy actually. I didn’t really know many people in the community. My oldest wasn’t in school yet at first. It was stunning to me to see women read the Bible and understand things I never noticed before about Jesus! During that year, Jennifer became a Christian and she never looked back. The study required us to stay on topic and not get on tangents. So after the study was over, we had tangent time. That was when the loose ends got tied together! It was so exciting to see God working. We didn’t have to explain as many things as I expected.
Within 3-4 years, many of those women were dispersed all over the world! The government changed, they started limiting how much money could be taken out of the country, and anyone with much money figured out ways to get away while they could take their money with them. A lot of stories came out of that group…and a lot of stories I’ll never know! Judy still lives in Jamaica but her 2 daughters are married to Americans. One to an evangelist and the other to a Christian singer. Her sons are in business with her husband. It is the largest chicken business in Jamaica.
Jennifer’s husband partnered with a company in Grand Cayman and they moved there. It is a construction company. Her daughter and her husband run a complementary business and her son works in Grand Caymen too. She has been active in a church in Grand Cayman. We visited there a few years back and she took us to visit. It was delightful!
These women taught me the joys of gardening, cooking, hospitality, and loving Jesus in ways I hadn’t enjoyed before! It was a delight to be around them and share part of their lives for a season. Part of the joy of being with them was their Jamaican culture which is very hospitable. I loved it and the influence it had on me. The lack of worry about time. The love of people over to-do lists. It is a wonderful way to live and influenced me greatly!
These are just a few of the many people God has used in my life to encourage and grow me. I’m so thankful for them. They have each been a treasure as have each of the other gifts of friendship along the way.
These are just a few of many, many people who have influenced me for the good over the years. So many great friends from different churches have helped me grow. Wonderful older women in churches have given me perspective when I needed to step back and see the big picture, not just the one from my generation.
But I also needed to see the mixture of friends too. One group of friends were a great mix of ages in Hanna City, IL. We formed a group and studied together over a year and into the second year began steps toward reconciliation that needed to take place. They were a godly group of ladies and I will never forget them. They were way more of a blessing to me than I was to them I am sure. It wasn’t long after the second year of that group that Ron and I left that church. There was no relationship to our leaving. It made the move more difficult. But his health was paying a price. It seemed that the work he came there to do was done. It was time to leave. His blood pressure wasn’t responding very well to medication.
As I review the names, I can think of more names that would have been just as good to put in those places. But they offer a great cross section of people. I guess I would call it a representative list. It definitely makes me stop and remember with thanks, the many people who have come across my path and been an encouragement to me over the course of my life. God has been good.
My time is up. My words were used up long ago. Take time be be thankful for your people. It will make your heart happy. It will remind you of some delightful people. I hope you enjoyed your Thankfulness Exercises.