Saturday, December 1, 2012

Life in the Affirmative

We may tell ourselves that we don't care about encouragement or affirmation. We may even think that Christian humility requires us to remain indifferent to the appraisal of others.

But we do care, don't we?

As a teenage boy living in the foothills of East Tennessee, I aspired to be a writer. My first tentative attempt was to submit a handful of poems to the weekly poetry column in our Johnson City Press Chronicle. (Remember newspaper poetry columns?) And dear Dorothy Hamill, editor of the column, published every one of them.

I sent more poems and she published them, too. A teacher or doting aunt occasionally mentioned seeing them, but I had a growing suspicion that publication did not necessarily mean my work was any good.

Then it happened: By accident, I sent Miss Hamill the partial draft of a poem that I'd intended to throw away. (I threw away the final draft and sent her the fragmentary, pencil-annotated first draft. It happens.) And she published it.

So it was true. Publication didn't mean my work had any value, except perhaps to fill the space left when the corner grocer decided to reduce the size of his ad.

Despair. I stopped submitting my poems to the paper. Stopped writing them, too.

Months later, I received a typewritten letter with a return address that I didn't recognize. The writer introduced himself as an elderly self-published poet who lived alone on top of Buffalo Mountain. He apologized for intruding on my privacy, but he missed seeing my poems in the Thursday paper. Then followed several pages of quotations from my poems, with his comments and praise. They reminded him of his own work, so he encouraged me to keep on writing.

"If you'll send me your poems, I'll send you mine," he said. And there was a sheaf of his poetry.

We exchanged a couple of letters before I went off to college. I never met him personally, but I can still visualize that letter and how much his affirmation meant.

Affirmation. Let that be your legacy to some aspiring writer.

Joe Allison and his wife, Judy, live in Anderson IN, where Joe serves as Coordinator of Publishing for Church of God Ministries, Inc. Joe has several nonfiction books in print, including Swords and Whetstones: A Guide to Christian Bible Study Resources. He's currently writing a trilogy of Christian historical novels set in the Great Depression.

Visit Joe's blog at

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Joe.

    My feeling with affirmation (and lots of other things) -- we shouldn't seek it or depend on it, but if others are listening and paying attention, they'll provide it unsolicited when you need it. And likewise, we should be quick to affirm others because they may be needing it more than we do at the moment.