This past weekend was hard. It was great and it was hard.
I spent Thursday evening through Saturday afternoon at the West Coast Christian Writers conference. That meant not being home with my wife on Valentine’s Day. She sent me along to the conference, encouraging me to join over 200 writers and faculty who would be making the most of two packed days together.
If you think this odd, she is also the one who sent me out the evening of our 20th anniversary years ago to be at a program at the local university. It was a bunch of incoming students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and I’d worked with the group for years every September on a mock trial.
When I told these 17 & 18 year olds that she gave me up for them on our anniversary because she knew how important their program is, they burst into applause. So I asked them to help me out. I held up my phone and called my wife. As soon as she answered, all 250 students promptly yelled out “Happy Anniversary!”
She was tickled. It turned out not to be too bad a way to celebrate.
And while we didn’t have dinner together this past Valentine’s Day either, we did get to spend the night before Valentine’s Day together. This is how she occupied her time part of last Wednesday evening:
My wife is one of my great encouragers, the greatest God has placed in my life. She makes conscious efforts and takes deliberate steps to support me. Sometimes it’s in my writing (see why this blog is my wife’s fault, as I explained in the very first blog post), and sometimes in my darkest moments (see The Best Woman I Know Is the Woman I Married). She’s strong when I’m weak, and she’s a booster shot when I’m running full tilt. I’ve told her more than once that her encouragement lifts me up. So she sent me to the conference on Valentine’s Day.
I had been looking forward to the conference for months. I’ve attended two earlier WCCW conferences, but this time Susy Flory, the conference’s chief organizer and director of WCCW, asked me onto faculty to lead a session on blogging.
The theme of this year’s conference was Write Brave.
Flying Solo in a Crowd of Encouragers
My Dad went into the hospital on January 30 and spent two nights being tested and monitored for his fatigue and shortness of breath. At 95, the conclusion was that his heart is continuing to fail. His primary care doctor and his cardiologist both scheduled follow-up exams and blood tests in the days and weeks following his discharge from the hospital.
I had to rearrange work, taking afternoons off to get him to the lab and the repeated doctors’ appointments. It was wearing on me. This wasn’t the first time I’ve gone through something like this with Dad (see Head and Heart at 92 Years Old), but it still wears on me to try to juggle my responsibilities to him and my responsibilities at work.
My wife the encourager encouraged me to stop trying to do it all. “Take two weeks off work,” she said. “You’ve got unused vacation days you have to take anyway.” So I did.
The conference fell at the end of that first week off. I’d taken Dad to his cardiologist for a second time since the hospital and she said she didn’t need to see him again for a week and a half. It was just a matter of monitoring him for a few days, and the staff at his assisted living apartment house could do that while I was gone.
Everything was going according to plan. I arrived at the conference site the evening before it started, helped Susy and others to set up tables and arrange the reception area, and checked into my hotel room early enough to get a solid night’s sleep. The conference started Friday morning. My session on blogging wasn’t until the following afternoon. All I had to do was listen and learn.
And try not to let my mind dwell on the fact that I was two hours away from Dad if an emergency arose. That became an impossibility.
The first phone call came from his home health nurse at 1:00 Friday afternoon. The second was his cardiac care nurse calling at 3:30. Next I got a call from the LVN on staff at his assisted living facility at 6:30, just as I was pulling into a restaurant parking for a faculty dinner Friday night. I sat in the car talking to her for fifteen minutes.
The final call came at 8:30 that night. I was stepping out of the shower in my hotel room when I heard the phone ring on the bathroom counter. It was his primary care doctor. She’d been receiving calls and messages from all these nurses all day. As we spoke, it became clear she did not consider any of their concerns to require immediate action. I was able to go to sleep with a bit calmer mind than I had expected. Not calm. Just not as wildly stressed and anxious as I’d expected.
How was I supposed to keep my head in the game for presenting my own session when it was wrapped tightly in concerns for my Dad’s health? I needed to not be isolated, to not fly solo, to not go it alone. I needed to reach out for help. That’s hard for an introvert like me, but I knew I needed people.
One person who came alongside me was my wife, who continued in her support even from a distance. I told her what was going on and she was praying. Susy Flory was praying too. She’d been part of a group of my writer friends I’d asked to pray for Dad since the hospitalization. Then there was the conference’s faculty chaplain, Michele Cushatt. I had only met her Friday morning but by Friday afternoon I told her I needed chaplaining and she made time for me. Her insights and prayers and just taking the time to let me talk through all I was feeling worked wonders.
And then there’s the encourager who has no idea she encouraged me.
The Unknown Encourager
Kathi Lipp is one of the best communicators among a conference faculty full of good communicators. She is also my unknown encourager. It’s not that she’s unknown to me, of course. It’s that she is probably unaware that she encouraged me and built me up so that I could speak at my session without being overwhelmed by all I was dealing with, and she did it in two very practical ways.
The day before my session, Kathi gave a talk on social media, a quick five minute look at platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram in a large group session. I was going to touch on the same topic in my break-out session and tell the class I only have time for two, Twitter and Facebook, admitting I don’t know how I could find time to learn to use more platforms and monitor them.
Then what did I hear Kathi say in her talk?
“Of all these platforms, choose two.”
The master communicator just encouraged me to admit to my students that not only do I only use two, but that they don’t need to use more than two either.
The second encouragement came in an interview. Kathi and Michele (the faculty chaplain) host the podcast Communicator Academy and Kathi interviewed me for it early Saturday afternoon. She wanted to hear about my blogging, how I got started, and how I view it as a ministry of encouragement.
What she didn’t know, and what I hadn’t anticipated, is that this interview provided a mini dress rehearsal for my session. Kathi is good at asking questions and providing insights to make an interview seem like a natural conversation, and once we finished – much too quickly, I thought – I came to realize that she had helped me think through what I was hoping to say to those in my blogging session. She unknowingly encouraged me to think my students might be as interested as she was in what I had to say.
The session started on time. My PowerPoint did not. Try as we might, no one, including the tech expert on site, got it running smoothly. I did without. The room also turned out to be the wrong size, but no one could have anticipated that. Twenty people probably could have sat comfortably in that space; the number was in the high thirties with people standing along the walls and sitting on the floor. Others saw how crowded it was and went to other sessions.
My ability to carry through to the end of the allotted fifty minutes, to keep a standing room only crowd interested, and cover everything I’d planned to cover was by God’s grace, grace he delivered through my wife, Susy, Michele, and Kathi.
I appreciate them, whether they know they’ve encouraged me or not.