Monday, April 6, 2009


A “wow!” story I seldom get to tell is about the first wow I ever received. I was working as a junior high counselor with kids abusing drugs, starting with toluene, found in airplane glue, which they sniffed in a paper bag. It escalated from there to “fruit salad” parties at their parents’ homes when they were left alone. Everyone brought a few colorful pills from their medicine cabinets and put them in a bowl at the host’s house, then during the evening the bowl was passed around and they took the color combinations of their choosing to see what would happen. Yeah, it was about as safe as it sounds. I worked with those kids and more serious offenders and ended up helping some. I got a reputation for knowing something about youth with self-defeating habits and started speaking about it.

Around this time, I met Dr. John from Ann Arbor, a British Ob-GYN turned psychiatrist, who taught and counseled at the University of Michigan. He was 20 years my senior and had an accent that made everyone sit up and take notice because he sounded brilliant -- and he was! John was writing NBC and CBS specials, warning of the impending fallout from the drug use sweeping the country, and I understood it from the perspective of street usage, so our professional interests complemented one another well. Despite my friendship with John, I was petrified when we were both invited to speak at an event in Chicago. I was nervous for two reasons: one, my parents lived in the Chicago area and my mom would be listening to the radio broadcast of the panel and two, I was the “token” woman, in my early 20s, and unaccustomed to public speaking, while the men on the panel were a distinguished juvenile court judge, a social worker, a pastor, a youth advocate, and Dr. John. These were pedigreed people, and I felt incredibly out of my league.

I got cold feet the night before and rang up John with a request: would he please sit in the empty ballroom and listen to my 15-minute talk? Because he’s such a nice guy, he agreed. It felt weird, but I practiced and he clapped, motioning me to do it again and again. By the third time, I had it down and felt much better.

The next day, following the judge’s sublime words of wisdom, I walked to the microphone, staring out at hundreds of youth professionals under the ballroom lights. I was only nervous until I realized I was simply telling them what I knew about helping turn kids’ lives around. I talked, and they listened and took notes. That helped.

The 15 minutes were over before you could say, “Thank heavens,” and I sat down. My heart was racing at the applause. I looked up at the next speaker attentively, barely noticing the judge reach over and grab my large folded Mrs. Wallace table placard. He then wrote on the back of it with a marker pen. He placed it back in front of me with huge letters on the back: WOW!

I thought I’d died and gone to heaven; it was one of the greatest affirmations of my life. I smiled graciously; he nodded, and we turned back to the speaker. He may never have known what he did for me that day with that simple comment. It was the boost of confidence from another human being, on top of John’s applause, that convinced me I really could earn some wows in my life.

Twelve years later, I was leading a community Bible study life-issues group called “Wednesday Woman” at our church. This group was made up of 100 women from 14 different church backgrounds who attended the study every week. We studied for an hour, worked on crafts, joked around, and shared snacks, while our children played and giggled together in the childcare area. It was a great group, and I realized early on we needed an identity, a logo, to put on letterheads, postcards, and shirts. I asked my eighth-grade daughter Jennifer to design a logo for us. The next day she brought me the word WOW with a W on each side of a heart (for the O) and a little cross inside the heart. Instantly, I thought of the last time someone had written that word out for me. Jennifer didn’t know about my wow sign from years ago, but God did, and He sent me another one from my own flesh and blood -- a reminder of how far I’d come.

Wow stories are everywhere, and once you look for them -- even ask God for them -- you can’t help but see them all around you. I hope you find plenty of wows in Woman to Woman. I know I do! Every single time I go on the air and provide information and encouragement, I can feel God creating a wow in my life, connecting me with others. I don’t need to look for a guy clapping out in the audience anymore; I know God made me to “encourage the weary with words,” as He says in His Word. I feel His pleasure when I write, and His Word is always in my ear when I speak. I hope you’re on the lookout for your own wows; God isn’t stingy, but rather a giver of good things to those who believe in Him, so I know you’ll find them if you take the time to look. Wow!

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