INSPIRING PEOPLE: Tom Long

When I first met Tom Long he was directing a new play for a big youth gathering. As a group of actors read it through, clustered in a circle in the stone chancel of a Cincinnati church, my delight with the script grew. It was fast-moving, funny, threaded with truth about God.

But when Tom got us on our feet to block it, that was a whole other level of impressive. We were jumping between levels, falling into each other’s arms, pretending to be Junior Birdmen – the parable of the sower and the seeds turned into a rollicking comedy uncovering all the awkwardness of adolescence and the goodness of God at the same time. I was dazzled.

That was thousands of performances and thirty-six years and ago. The fact that performers stick around so long is evidence of Tom’s leadership strength. He says he leads by divine default – only looking back to see God’s hand in his life, but the fact is that he has managed a thriving arts ministry, debt free and mostly free of backstage drama, for forty years.

Since 1980, Tom has been director, playwright and chief storyteller of Friends of the Groom, a Christian theater company travelling year-round to hundreds of churches, conferences and conventions all over the country and sometimes overseas. Last year he was in Asia for several weeks, using social drama to help girls who escaped human trafficking to tell their stories.

One collection of Tom’s short scenes is called, “From the Ridiculous to the Divine”, and that pretty much sums up Friends of the Groom. You can count on a compelling storyline, several gut laughs, and a twist that melts your heart in almost every scene Tom has written. His goal is to enflesh the love of God through excellent theater, and the American church is richer for it.

Tom is married to Karen, possibly the kindest person in the world, and has two gorgeous grown daughters, Emily and Rebecca. He inspires me because he is a loving husband and father, because he does beautiful, quirky, true writing, because he is a superb director and performer with impressive range, and because he is endlessly amusing (you can count on running commentary complete with goofy voices in any long airport tunnel and at every sound check).

About the only thing Tom is not good at is marketing himself, which makes him one of the great unsung talents of the Christian community. Some of his audiences have been enormous, but many are small church groups. Everywhere he goes, he gives his best.

With or without spotlights, Tom has blessed people with inspiring performances and excellent training, and has equipped the church with dozens of matchless plays and musicals. Check them out at http://www.friendsofthegroom.org.

INSPIRING PEOPLE: Rosie Eagle

In all my life, I’ve met maybe ten or twelve people who cheer me up simply by being present – Rosie Eagle is one of them. Rosie is the Activities Director at Bayley, a well-run retirement commuity on Cincinnati’s west side. Rosie is one of its best gifts to residents and their families.

I pass her office on the way to my mother’s room. Even when Rosie is frantically busy, her office crammed with Christmas ornaments or Easter decorations or whatever she is using for the next event – she always stops, smiles and says something upbeat.

She doesn’t just organize terrific parties – Rosie is the life of each party – singing, dancing, hugging people, dragging all the able bodied into conga lines when bands visit. She’s just fun.

I recall walking into Bayley’s foyer once, and hearing a rich, velvety voice singing at full volume. I followed it down the hall and around the corner to the chapel, wondering who the visiting singer was. It was Rosie – in a former life she was trained in opera!

Not only is she fun, but wonderfully empathetic. One of the first times I met her she took my hand and said, “Your family has been through so much.” Her sincerity melted me to tears.

Since the pandemic, Rosie has strategized every way possible to keep families in contact without risking residents’ safety. She commandeered tablets and trained her staff to facilitate zoom calls so residents could see family members, she coordinated outside family visits, she held a drive-by parade where families in decorated cars wound through all the independent living streets and around the nursing home, waving to the residents who sat outside in spaced-apart chairs.

Recently I got a packet in the mail – a fake passport , a post-card from mom, and pictures of her posed in front of exotic destinations. I can’t imagine all the coordination that activity took, but it did make me smile to see my mother in her ubiquitous gray cardigan, sporting a Hawaain lei under a palm tree on a beach!

I knew that my mother would receive good care at Bayley, but I did not know there would be so many delightful activities to enrich her days and lighten her loneliness. Many people work to make this so, but Bayley would simply not be the same without Rosie’s warmth, vitality and spectacular heart.

INSPIRING PEOPLE: Putty Putman

I found one – I finally found a scientific charismatic Christian – a bona fide STEM guy who not only believes in Jesus but is convinced He is still working through us to rescue and heal people, and has a systematic way of teaching how to be open to God’s power.

A person with all the healthy skepticism and sharp critical thinking of a PhD in quantum physics, who is also surrendered to God, prays for healing with visible results and has arranged his findings in a clear, practical manual.

This is gold because the two worlds of faith and intellectual credibility are often seen as  far apart. In Putty Putman, they live in one person. Putty left a career in physics to teach people how to cooperate with the Spirit of God. This is not a common career path. He now lives with his wife and young children in Urbana Illinois, where he is a pastor at the Vineyard of Central Illinois and runs the School of Kingdom Ministry.

SoKM, as it is fondly called by its students, is the clearest and most practical instruction I have ever found in how to live like Jesus.

I don’t know Putty personally, but I have watched his cheerful face and listened to his lucid teaching and cool stories for over thirty hours – his videos provide most of the content for SoKM, which is happening at churches all over the country. After watching the videos, you practice whatever he taught – how to listen to God, how to pray for someone to be healed physically, how to speak encouraging words you believe may be from God – not your usual Sunday School curriculum.

Putty’s life took a sharp turn when his unsupernatural evangelical faith was challenged by not only witnessing, but being a channel for God’s power on a mission trip to China. He was put on the spot to pray for someone, and saw them healed in spite of the fact that he did not believe anything was going to happen. (Read here for more detail.)

What is inspiring about Putty is that when he observed realities that debunked his religious position, he had the courage to change his world view.

Then he went on to explore, document and explain the work of the Holy Spirit in a way that makes sense to his generation. He designed an experiential training that grounds people in God’s love and teaches them to live it out in a way that results in physical and emotional healing. He has manualized how to live out the Kingdom of God that Jesus described in the gospels.

I am so grateful to this guy! A few years ago, I prayed that if anyone was intelligently teaching how to move in the spiritual gifts described in the New Testament letters, that I would find them. The very next day, three different people told me about a church in Cincinnati that was offering the School of Kingdom Ministry. My journey following Jesus took a great leap forward.

Here’s Putty with one of his books, “Live Like Jesus”. One more inspiring thing about him – he doesn’t take himself too seriously!

INSPIRING PEOPLE: Mitch Teemley

Mitch Teemley brings talent, goodness and integrity to the movie business. Our character comes through our creative work, and Mitch’s shimmers with faith and love. mitch-headshot

I knew the first time I spoke with him, years ago when he was hired to head up worship and arts at our church, that we were going to be blessed and changed by his decision to move with his family to Cincinnati from L.A.

We have been. Music, film, drama and visual art flourished under his leadership at College Hill Presbyterian church. When the recession hit our church and we had to cut staff, he stayed on as a member, which takes a largeness of heart! He went on to grow his production company, Moriah Media, making wonderful short films for church services and events.

 

Then, still in Cincinnati, he made the faith-based feature, Healing River, a gutsy story of forgiveness and redemption set in Cincinnati’s historic Over the Rhine district. It is now available on Amazon. Mitch and his wife Trudy promoted the film at  independent film festivals, where it won several awards.

His next feature, Notzilla, a Godzilla spoof, premiered in Cincinnati in January and is awaiting release.

All along his creative journey, in writing, composing, performing, teaching, and directing, Mitch has helped other people. This is clear when you read his terrific blog, “The Power of Story”; he often uses his large platform to promote other bloggers.

I know Mitch best as the leader of our College Hill Writers group. I have always admired how respectfully he gives feedback, never condescending no matter how flawed a piece of writing may be. One of my favorite memories is of a day when a lady visited the group and read a piece that only named objects. Most of us had no idea how to react, but Mitch, without missing a beat, said encouragingly, “Well, it sounds like what you have now is basically a list. If you want to turn it into a story, you’ll need to give it a beginning, a middle and an end.”

On the other hand, he gave others in the group much more challenging feedback, pushing them to up the stakes, make every sentence count, show not tell. He has great feedback for every skill level, kindly delivered.

I owe Mitch a large debt of gratitude. If it weren’t for his affirmation and guidance I may not have had the guts to write my first novel. My guess is there are many people who have known him who can make similar statements about how Mitch has challenged, encouraged and inspired them.

INSPIRING PEOPLE: Claire Snyder

It takes a while to realize how impressive Claire Snyder is because she does not draw attention to herself. This is so rare that I find it as inspiring as all the other cool things she does.

These include working as a dialysis img_20200128_175202nurse, mentoring and tutoring kids in a struggling school, running marathons, and going on medical mission trips. Every strength she has is poured out for other people.

The tenacity she gained from running is imparted to women recovering from addictions as she coaches them to run their first race. She is as happy with their victories as she is with her own.

 

img_20200508_111834She shares her lovely house and good cooking freely – taking meals to people who are sick, taking in an exchange student, hosting countless holidays and celebrations with a quiet, under-the-radar efficiency.

I am blessed to be her friend and the regular beneficiary of her noticing kindness. A few weeks ago when she was handing out food at our local school, she heard me telling someone I couldn’t find a mask, and my bandana kept slipping. The next time I saw her, she presented me with a beautiful mask she had sewn, in my favorite colors, reinforced with a little strip of metal that keeps it in place!img_20200421_093514

 

Claire is not adventurous for adventure’s sake. She has to overcome her own fears and self-doubts to do the brave things she does. But that is what is so inspiring – she pushes through those feelings, prays for power and follows Jesus into suffering and need. She brings wisdom, compassion, humor and healing, day after day.

I cannot tell you everything she does because no one knows! I usually find out from other people. Suffice to say that Claire embodies the care of God, with a constant stream of empathic, humble, focused service. Claire is the hidden treasure of her church and her community.

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Claire with her beautiful daughters, Elizabeth and Rebecca. Claire and her husband, Dave, lived in China for a year when the girls were little so they would understand the culture of the country where their daughters were born.

INSPIRING PEOPLE: Joe Brooks

Joe Brooks inspires me because he reminds me of Jesus. Not just because he has a beard. Not even because he was always the guy leading the resistant donkey down the ceter aisle of church on Palm Sunday.

Joe reminds me of Jesus because he has been following Jesus for a long time, and we begin to resemble those we love and imitate.

One of the main reasons Joe started coming to our church, College Hill Presbyterian, was that he and his wife Helen had a sense of call to racial reconciliation. When they first came, our church was almost entirely white.

Soon after Joe began attending many years ago, he had some tough experiences – like the time he put his hand out to the greeter at the door, and the guy would not shake hands with him. He turned away. That would have been the end of it for me, but Joe stayed because he knew God wanted him to stay. That’s another thing that makes Joe like Jesus; he forgives people when they’re mean and racist.

He has given so much to our church community – teaching, tutoring, leading men’s groups, helping with kids’ worship dance, serving twice as a deacon and as an elder, not to mention unofficial security guard whenever the situation calls for it! I’m so grateful for all he has been for us, and all he has done for us.

The family and friends of Joe and Helen Brooks have added considerably to the size of our church. I cannot imagine the place without them. They have eighteen grandchildren!

The other reason Joe reminds me of Jesus is how much he loves God. The love and truth of God is on his mind and on his heart, and he always eager to talk about God in a way that makes sense to his listener. If you ever get a chance to talk with him (when he doesn’t have a group of kids flocking around him) ask him what God is doing in his life, then get ready to hear something good!

INSPIRING PEOPLE: Janet Baltzersen

When Janet walks into a room, it changes. This is true on several levels. First, it becomes a more fun place because her presence brings joy and beauty and laughter. It also often literally changes because she does interior decoration and redesign as a business.

Years ago, she asked, “Is there something wrong with me if I’m waiting in a doctor’s office and I end up rearranging all the magazines on the racks?” Obviously not, since that impulse to improve spaces has led to a successful business that she enjoys immensely.

People rave at the transformation Janet brings to their rooms, sometimes only with a few hundred dollars and the clever rearrangement of their existing furniture and accessories. Some of the more fun comments I’ve heard include:

“I finally feel like a grownup.”

“I never used to have people over and now I do it all the time.”

“I gasped when I walked in the door…”

“When I opened the door to my newly designed room, a huge weight lifted off my shoulders…”

I’m always fascinated with how people’s strengths come out in the work they do. Janet really cares about people; she wants to improve the quality of their lives. The improvement of their physical surroundings is just the beginning.

She manages the Children’s Center at the University of Mount St Joseph with such love, professionalism and creativity that it was awarded five starts, and she was given the Elizabeth Seaton Mission Award in 2018.

She is a devoted mother of three and has blessed her kids, grandson and extended family with a beautiful home and garden and a special touch to every family celebration. Her personality has that rare combination of true kindness and a wickedly funny sense of humor that makes her the person you want to sit next to at the party.

Janet is one of those people given to us to bring joy, hope and renewal. Anyone who has know or worked with her is richer for it.

Find her work at rustyfigredesign.com, and on instagram.

INSPIRING PEOPLE: Jocelyn Sluka

Jocelyn Sluka is a fabulous actress and a wonderful friend. For years we have travelled together with Friends of the Groom Theater Company, and there is not a gig we’ve done (out of hundreds) when she has not been kind and professional off stage, and nailed her characters perfectly onstage.

She doesn’t just act; like Meryl Streep on screen, she channels characters on stage. In one show alone (The Case of the Missiong Bodies) she plays a luscious femme fatale, a scrappy street kid, and a godfather knockoff. I never get tired of it; after all these years I still peek around the curtain in rehearsal to watch her transform.

It’s not just talent that lets someone play an adoring mother, a bag lady or a burnt-out heroin user with five husbands, all with equal conviction. It’s empathy. Jocey feels for people; she gets them from their own perspective.

I don’t know anyone who has forgiven more. I don’t know anyone who has stayed more faithful to God, in joy and in suffering. I don’t know anyone who’s more fun to travel with, which is a good thing because we have sstayed together in homes and hotel rooms all over the country and overseas for three decades.

When she was a young actress she heard a clear call from God to leave Hollywood and devote herself to theater that embodied the love of God. How superbly she has done this, how faithfully and cheerfully. I think when she gets to heaven, there will be a long standing ovation.

INSPIRING PEOPLE: Carolyn Ison

Many people are beautiful to look at, but some also create beauty wherever they go. That is what Carolyn Ison does. People have always been drawn to her lovely, calm demeanour, her snow-white looks and captivating eyes, her kindness and grace.

Her work has always involved an extension of that beauty. She is a painter, and her pictures have the same magnetic, soothing quality that she does. All the homes and gardens she has ever lived in are little oases.

I have beneffitted greatly from these qualities, because I am her daughter. There is not a domestic image in my memory that is not picturesque. There was never a holiday that did not have a delightfully set table. My home is filled with paintings that give me joy.

Love can only be given away after it has been breathed into us. I am so grateful to have been loved by this beautiful woman. Her care for people and cultivation of beauty was a gift she passed on to her daughters, and we are so much richer for it.

INSPIRING PEOPLE – Bill Scheid

Living through a pandemic that has killed 25,000 so far with no end in sight makes you appreciate people. So for such a time as this, a series on people who inspire me seems like a good idea. I’ll start with someone close to home. At home, actually:
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It’s hard to find someone who just keeps getting up and doing the right thing every day. That’s what inspires me about Bill Scheid.

For thirty-two years he has put in tenacious workdays as an IT manager for Procter and Gamble problem solving how humans and technology best interact to keep his corner of a global business thriving.

For twenty-seven years he has stayed married to the same person (me, actually) with unwavering loyalty and devotion. Whatever it takeswhatever our differences, he is all in.fb_img_1524665630011

For twenty three years he has poured his energy into the well being of his three sons, taking them on wonderful vacations, coaching teams, helping with homework, teaching them skill after skill and always coming up with the next fun thing to do.

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So many people benefit from knowing Bill. He lets his faith in Jesus influence every area of his life. At our church,College Hill Presbyterian, he teaches Sunday School, runs a men’s group, takes kids to camp.

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His friendships have endured through decades. He faithfully visits his family and his in-laws. (Only Bill could have persuaded my mother to join him in dressing as a hockey player for her nursing home’s Halloween party!)

Bill is one of those people who walks into a room and can see right away what practical thing needs to be done to help. He’s the guy who puts the last chair away. He’s the guy talking to the quiet person at the party. He’s the guy bringing in donuts on Friday morning to cheer everyone up. Bill exemplifies a long, steady journey in the right direction, and does it with a good humor that inspires the same.