by Karen Ball
It was one of my first writers’ conferences, some 25 years ago. I knew what being there meant: that my job was to meet the needs of the writers who were attending. To help them on their journey, to give them what encouragement and counsel I could.
But on the first day there, I was approached by a slight woman whose halo of white hair framed a face that seemed wreathed in a perpetual, gentle smile. The crinkles at the corners of her eyes testified to years of laughter and delight. Her voice held the same grace and kindness as her smile, and when she asked me about myself, it was clear she really wanted to know. About me. Not what I could do for her. Not if I would critique her work. Not if I would acquire and publish her book.
She wanted to know about…me. My family. My passions. Even my beloved doggies. This was my introduction to the wondrous Ethel Herr. And it was the beginning of a friendship filled with laughter and thoughtful conversations about life and faith and the craft of writing. A friendship that has enriched my heart and spirit. Ethel spoke truth and wisdom to me through the years. And she listened when I really needed someone to do so. She never condemned or criticized, but oh! What a master at bringing conviction where it was needed—and doing so with a depth of love you couldn’t miss. Love for me. Love for God.
Always, always, a profound love for God.
So when I heard yesterday that Ethel passed from this world into eternity, I wept. And I smiled. Because there must be one HECK of a party going on in eternity! What but rejoicing and celebration could usher dear Ethel to the throne of the God she loved and served so very well? What but joy could accompany her as she hears the words we echo over and over: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Ethel, you left us too soon. But oh! What a legacy you’ve given. Of trusting God regardless of the circumstances. Of facing each day, no matter how difficult or painful, steeped in the surety of God’s presence. Of walking, even when you’re weary. And of looking, ever and always and only, to the One who created you for validation and approval. You lived a life that was genuine and caring. You showered us with countless blessings, just by being yourself. May we who loved you follow in your footsteps, and leave a legacy that honors the Lord you loved so dear—and that honors you.
We will miss you, dear lady. Thank you for being Christ to us. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Thank you for giving us your amazing book, An Introduction to Christian Writing. I bet you never imagined it would influence thousands of new writers, or that the Christian Writers Guild would make it one of their textbooks. But I’m not surprised. You were a phenomenal teacher, Ethel. And thank you for telling us things like:
When asked how she handled rejections:
“First I cry a bit. Then I ask God where to send it next. And I try to get it out in the mail again ASAP—preferably before I go to bed that night. I learned a little saying, `Never let the sun go down on a rejected manuscript.’ Simple. Once it’s back in the mail, it’s no longer rejected, just getting started one more time.”
“Everything we do and say must be an act of worship, done for God’s pleasure. Some of our writing goes on to bless others as well, while some does no more than bless God and ourselves. Whatever else our actions and ministries accomplish, if they don’t please Him, they have failed.”
“Cuddle me when I tremble.
Guide me when I cannot find the way.
Chasten me with your Rod when I disobey.
Prod and correct all my erroneous wanderings.
Ever and always, gently lead me home.”
Welcome home, Ethel. Welcome home.