This column is a continuation of my last, which can be accessed in my column archive. It is simply an expression of gratitude towards the ten people who have most influenced my life as I approach the fifty-year mark. The purpose of writing this two part series is twofold. First, it is to remind people of the importance of stopping every now and then to express gratitude towards others (see the previous installment). Second, it is to highlight the way these important people have provided encouragement to me – in the hopes that this will give the reader ideas about how best to encourage others (again, see the previous installment).
Lisa Chambers has always overflowed with positive energy and enthusiasm. You know it when she enters a room. But her method of encouragement isn’t always orthodox. Sometimes she tries to plant a stone in someone’s shoe to make him think about something that might not be particularly pleasant. She did that to me back in 1993. The topic was abortion. Without starting an argument, she caused me to give serious consideration to the central question in the abortion debate, which is “what are the unborn?” She’s the reason why I talk about the abortion issue so much. Thanks to Lisa Chambers, I now know what “it” is. It is not a blob of tissue.
Marilyn Adams really is the reason why we won our legal case back in March. The seeds of victory were really planted one day back in 1976. I remember it like it was yesterday. I had broken something expensive while I was horsing around at school in the sixth grade. And then I tried to conceal it. Later, I was taken off the hook because the damaged property was covered by an insurance policy. But I was absolutely riddled with guilt. So I confessed the crime to my mother when we were out in the back yard picking some vegetables from the garden. As soon as I confessed, my mom stopped what she was doing and looked at me very seriously and said, “God will never punish you for telling the truth. As long as you tell the truth, things will always work out in the end.” I wish I could say I’ve always remembered that lesson. The truth is that I have not. On the occasions I forgot that lesson, I paid a very heavy price. On the occasions my enemies ignored the principle that lesson reflects they have paid a very heavy price. Recently, they paid to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars.
Nell Myers Rester is the only person on this list that I have never met. My maternal grandmother died in 1962. The doctor who was treating her for cancer decided not to prolong her surgery and opted not to remove an organ that was suspect. When her cancer returned, the doctor confessed that he thought he had made a literally deadly judgment error. Nell consoled the doctor rather than blaming him. He was so moved by her selfless compassion that he dove 90 miles to the funeral just to tell her surviving relatives how much she had impacted his life. That funeral was the turning point in my mother’s life. But it also affected countless others. I wrote about it back in 2006. Several years later, when I was walking down the street in Washington, D.C., a total stranger recognized me and stopped to thank me for writing about Nell. He said that after he read about her, he decided he needed to go back to church. That was almost a half-century after Nell died. She died when she was only 48. Her positive influence in people’s lives continues to this day.
Scott Klusendorf is the best pro-life speaker in the world. I reached out to him in 2011 when I decided to start giving speeches on pro-life apologetics instead of just speaking on pro-life activism. He was always helpful and generous with his time. But then he did something really sneaky. He sent a spy to watch one of my speeches. When the spy’s report came back favorable, Scott asked me to start speaking for Life Training Institute (LTI), the organization he founded over a decade ago. He has also asked me to fill in for him on a couple of occasions. My other obligations prevent me from joining the LTI team just yet. But I did get a chance to fill in for Scott when he was ill and had to miss a speech in July of 2013. It was such an honor to have such a great man place his trust in me – and with such an important task. He has truly given me life-changing (and saving) encouragement.
Virginia Rester was my step grandmother. Before she died, I would end up being closer to her than any of my biological grandparents. In all honesty, though, she had incredibly bad timing whenever she would call. This was especially true during those lost years of the late 1980s and early 1990s. On many of those occasions, I would be high and drunk and with some loose woman in my apartment. And then the phone would ring. I would pick it up and it would be Virginia just calling to check up on me and tell me how proud she was of me. I would hear my grandmother’s voice and be overwhelmed by the realization that I was living a life that was far beneath my potential. After every conversation, I would be left thinking that if Virginia knew who I really was she would not be proud of me at all. In fact, she would be ashamed. Looking back on it, I think she probably knew exactly what I was going through and just chose to love me anyway.
You may be busy but you’re not too busy to do two things just as soon as you finish this column. First, you need to make your own list before you turn fifty. If you’re over fifty you really need to get moving. Time is running out!
Second, you need to pick up the phone and call all of the people on your list who are still alive. Let them know exactly how they have encouraged you. In the process, you will be paying them back. Better yet, you’ll be encouraging them to keep on encouraging others the way they once encouraged you.