The Unknown Encourager – a tale of stress, anxiety, and getting through the weekend

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 inscribed personally addressed Valentines on snap bracelets to give to her roomful of five-year-olds on Valentine’s Day.

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.

By the time I drove to the conference on Thursday afternoon, I felt anything but brave. It had been a rough two weeks.

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.

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16 Responses to The Unknown Encourager – a tale of stress, anxiety, and getting through the weekend

  1. Hi Tim. I was in your session. The information was great. I was in awe of all the people trying to make room for each other in the room. This was my first conference so the event was overwhelming at times for me. I phoned my husband Saturday morning telling him I wanted to leave and go home. But he encouraged me to stay. Rather, he said, “What do we tell our girls? To not give up.” So I stayed. I continued to feel overwhelmed, this shy person needed solitude. As the cookie and milk time began, God blessed me with a few moments of serendipity. I look forward to, bit by bit, incorporating all that I learned over the two days.

    • Tim says:

      It sounds like you and your husband have a wonderfully encouraging and supportive relationship, Michele. I’m glad you stayed. That overwhelmed feeling can be brutal. I hope my session was an encouragement for you to continue on. Going at the pace that’s right for you is completely ok. Blogging should not be a chore!

  2. Oh, Tim, God’s amazing grace is such a gift. He certainly was going before you into the weekend. What a wonderful conference….your words encouraged m e this morning

  3. damonjgray says:

    Tim, you’re spot-on, brother. Kathi is one of the most upbeat and encouraging people I know. She, along with so many others at WCCW (Susy, Michele, Sarah, et al) are SO selfless with their time, their gifting, their insight, their experience, their wisdom … well, you get the idea. We are immeasurably blessed to have access to their generosity.

  4. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    Tim, I *thought* I had replied earlier but it must not have saved. Anyway, I think your post illustrates how “brutiful” life can be: hard and stressful and exhausting, but also full of blessing and encouragement. I’m glad you were able to reach out for help and that you found support and inspiration. I’m sure your talk was very encouraging and inspiring to those who heard it, too. I hope your dad is doing ok. It’s really hard to see elderly parents declining.

    • Tim says:

      Brutiful is such an apt word, Jeannie. Dad is doing well enough but I’m coming down with a cold, which means I’ll have to be careful about being around him for a while. That’s going to be tough as there’s another appointment day after tomorrow.

  5. Tim, you are courageous! I love your heart and your determination to keep learning and growing. It was a true honor to share a little time together. Thank you for trusting me and daring to be YOU!

    • Tim says:

      My wife was so pleased when I told her about your ministry to me, coming alongside me and helping me cope with all I had to deal with. Her take on it when I called her late Friday was, “That sounds really good. Are you going to be able to meet with her again?” And then we did right at the end of the conference on Saturday! Thanks for being the chaplain, Michele. You provided a wonderfully uplifting ministry.

  6. jyjames says:

    Hi Tim,
    God delivered His grace through your wife, Susy, Michele, and Kathi, four ladies, to a guy who is gracious enough to say so.
    Lovely. God be praised.
    – JYJ

  7. Anu Riley says:

    This has been sitting in my browser for a few days! Sorry it took me so long to read it. Am very glad I did. It was extremely touching and well-written. Best of all, I think it illustrated VERY well the pains and strains of life. Real life. Brutal and burdensome. Not to mention draining. We so often neglect or negate how frail we are as humans. We simply aren’t invincible—or infinite.

    When someone gives an acceptance speech when accepting an award, it’s always always interesting to see who they will thank. Who made their achievement possible.

    It’s rare to see someone accept an award and make a speech about how they did all by themselves. Plus, this is their moment, not for the ones who stood in the background, blessing and believing in them.

    It IS possible to get carried away and forget about those that encouraged you. The incredible glare of the spotlight can be blinding—-but also quite intoxicating.

    This isn’t just applicable to famous persons. This happens all the time with everyday persons. They got through a trial like illness, financial hardship or other forms of brokenness—-lean on others, but leave them behind once the hardship is over.

    Too often I’ve listened or read testimonies that reflect the exact opposite of what you’ve written about. And the despair in their voices or words is unmistakable. They are depressed, discouraged, and feel defeated—-and adding to that—-now they have been dumped by those they thought they could depend on. These were professing believers who felt that the church turned their backs on them, and understandably felt a lot of confusion and contempt towards their lack of support.

    Posts like this are a fantastic reminder that the Lord gave to Elijah, when he was convinced he was the only one left, and that he was going to die at the hands of his own people. It doesn’t get any more despairing than that.

    “I have reserved seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” (1 Kings 19:18).

    There is always SOMEONE out there willing to encourage you, even if those you thought would step in—-stepped out. He has resources that we know nothing about.

    To be honest—I balked a bit at that 7,000 number. Really? THAT many? Note to self: God does not miscount.

    I’ve had non-Christians and even strangers step into the gap when no one else would. Not only that, but He Himself has stepped into that gap.

    Here is a bit of an ironic twist: the SAME persons who have cried and complained, are also guilty of turning around and turning their backs on ME when it was my turn to be in need. Whatever their reasons were. legit or not, it’s fair to use caution: to not only WANT others to encourage us when needed—but to BE that sort of person ourselves. And the only way you can BE that sort of person, is to ask the Lord to do a work in you.

    So often we expect others to BE that sort of person for us, but we neglect holding ourselves to that same standard. And you cannot meet that sort of standard apart from Him. So you have to actively ask Him, not passively expect Him to make it happen.

    This admonishment came to me when I read James 4:3. We tend to think it only focuses on money, but I realized that it might apply to far more. If you are lonely, and you ask for friends so that you no longer feel alone, is it fair to expect God to honor that if you only want them to serve your needs? Is it not also fair to ask the Lord to make YOU into the sort of friend that will also fulfill their needs, whatever they may be?

    I look forward to hearing updates about your dad. I’m so glad he is in good hands and that those helping him seem to be incredibly kind and hard working.

    Sorry, I just have to say this real quick: we’ve had to deal with doctors for a long time. Yes, they hopefully make a good living. But there is no amount of money in the world that can make a person care about you, not just as a patient (or a paycheck!). The best docs are the ones that saw as real people in real pain. I hope I can emulate even one tenth of that compassion for myself.

    • Tim says:

      I am so grateful for those who step up and step in to my life, Anu. Thank you for making such great points here, and for your constant encouragement.

  8. Pingback: Writing the Blog People Can’t Wait to Read | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

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