What Is Your Legacy?

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.

23 Responses to What Is Your Legacy?

  1. Renee Ann Smith October 31, 2012 at 3:09 am #

    Though I didn’t know this dear woman, your tribute touched and inspired me. Sharing this . . . Blessings!

  2. Dana McNeely October 31, 2012 at 5:09 am #

    Thanks for sharing Ethel’s life and legacy with us, Karen. I’ve known a few women like this. May the good Lord keep working on me until I become one myself. (Whatever it takes, Lord.)

  3. Jeanne October 31, 2012 at 6:14 am #

    Thank you for sharing this glimpse into the life of a beautiful, godly woman. What wisdom she had, and what a privilege for you to brush up next to her from time to time and have some of it sprinkled on you.

  4. Ruth Douthitt October 31, 2012 at 6:15 am #

    Thank you for sharing. It is always good to be reminded that our work belongs to the Lord.

    I knew a woman like that. She was Christ to all of us younger women. I admired her love for the Word of God and I aspire to be more like that.

  5. April W Gardner October 31, 2012 at 7:15 am #

    Karen, I’m praying for you today as you grieve, yet uplifted to see your joy despite the loss. Ethel is an inspiration. Thank you for sharing her with us.

  6. Meghan Carver October 31, 2012 at 7:25 am #

    Thank you for sharing her wisdom.

  7. Robin Patchen October 31, 2012 at 7:56 am #

    So sorry for your loss, Karen. What an example she was of faithful living. Death is always a reminder of what life is about: knowing God and making Him known.

  8. Rebecca DeMarino October 31, 2012 at 8:00 am #

    A beautiful woman and a beautiful tribute. Thank you, Karen.

  9. Janet Hanson October 31, 2012 at 8:29 am #

    I’m wiping tears and I never met her. Thank you for reminding me of what will matter to others when it’s my turn to go home.

  10. Steve Laube October 31, 2012 at 8:48 am #

    Ethel Herr was a dear friend. She always spoke of the glory of God in conversations. Her love for the Lord radiated everyone with whom she came in contact.

    I had the privilege of working with her as her editor and publisher (of the second edition of her book on writing) and saw her “behind the scenes.” The testimony is that she was the same beautiful person when being told to rework a chapter as she was when reaching out to help a writer in need.

    A towering example of one who worked tirelessly in our industry as a teacher, mentor, and prayer warrior.

    We love you Ethel. And we will miss you…on this side of Heaven.

  11. Becky Doughty October 31, 2012 at 8:49 am #

    Lovely, Karen.

    And you’re right – I can only imagine the celebrating that goes on in Heaven when one of HIS goes home. WOW – can’t wait for THAT party!

    Hugs and prayers,
    Becky

  12. Rene D. Aube October 31, 2012 at 10:05 am #

    Dear Karen

    What a lovely tribute! I had never heard of Ethel, but as I read your blog I wish I had the priviledge of knowing her personally.

    Her responses regarding rejections is encouraging and inspiring…her attitude towards writing is one that Ipray God ingrains deeply into my soul as I pursue publication of my children’s picture book series.

    I will definitely be purchasing Ethel’s book, An Introduction to Chrisitian Writing. Thank you for bringing this to my attention through your tribute.

    May God comfort you and bless you richly as you serve His purposes as an agent. Sincerely, Rene` D. Aube

  13. Audra Krell October 31, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    This was the first book I bought on writing. It is wonderful. Your tribute is lovely and I hadn’t heard she passed yesterday. I’m so sad, writing this with tears in my eyes.

  14. Ane Mulligan October 31, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    Would that we all leave such a legacy, Karen. I didn’t know Ethel personally, but you can be sure I’ll look her up when I get to Heaven. I’ll listen for the gentle laughter.

  15. Laura Christianson October 31, 2012 at 2:19 pm #

    Karen, Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute to Esther. I have been alternately grieving and rejoicing over the last 24 hours. At the 2010 Mount Hermon Writers’ Conference, Ethel and I spent several hours together, just chatting. I took notes, of course, because she was such a wise lady!

    After reading your tribute, I dug out my notes… our conversation was about “when Christians don’t act like Christians.” Ethel told me about a dear friend of hers who is a secular Jew. Ethel’s friend told her, “The one time I envy Christians is when they’re ready to die.”

    It was so obvious to me that Ethel loved and admired this woman completely and without reservation. I think that one way I can honor Ethel is to pray for her friend and to be more deliberate about befriending those whose beliefs are different than my own.

    • Dana McNeely October 31, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

      Those are great ideas, Laura Christianson – I’ll commit to pray with you for Ethel’s unknown (to us) Jewish friend.

  16. Karen November 1, 2012 at 1:19 am #

    That is a great idea, Laura. Ethel’s friend’s name is Ellen, and we can all keep her in our prayers as she deals with the loss of her heart sister.

  17. S. Kim Henson November 1, 2012 at 1:37 am #

    What a beautiful tribute. Wish I had known her … sort of feel like I did. Thanks for this.

  18. Tricia McCary Rhodes November 1, 2012 at 5:56 am #

    Thank you Karen for the lovely tribute. I have been grieving this loss all week. Ethel was a mentor friend, and every email I have from her is filled with wisdom that always points to the glory of God. The last email she sent was in June, telling of the struggle with relapse, and finding God in it. She included the following poem, which I wanted to share, as it so describes the wonder of this woman.
    Oh God!
    How crazy this roller coaster!
    How wild the ride!
    I’ve always thought it was an essential part of my witness for you
    to be strong, vibrant, joyful,
    always glowing.
    But today, at the end of myself,
    tears engulfing me,
    fearing I shall never glow again,
    I cast myself upon your mercy,
    and plead with you
    for a new kind of strength –
    “the joy of the Lord!”
    Thank you, thank you,
    and thank you again!
    Hallelujah!

  19. Martha Rogers November 1, 2012 at 6:42 pm #

    I met Ethel at a writing conference here in Houston many years ago and then reconnected with her one year at Mount Hermon. What a lovely, helpful woman she was. Like Karen said, she listened and was truly interested in whomever she happened to be with. I have her book, autographed by her, and I will treasure it. Thanks for the beautiful post Karen.

  20. Karen Ball November 2, 2012 at 11:50 am #

    Oh, Tricia, what a beautiful poem. What a lovely reflection of this amazing woman’s heart. Thank you for sharing it.

    Everyone, if you never met Ethel, you’ve got a TREAT waiting for you in eternity. For those of us who knew her and loved her, I can think of no better way to honor her life and legacy than to do all we can to be as pure a reflection of Christ as she was.

  21. Mary Young November 4, 2012 at 4:29 am #

    Dear God, when it comes my time to leave this temporary home for my eternal one, I ask only that I could have these same type of words said about me:

    [quote] 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.

  22. Mary Young November 4, 2012 at 4:31 am #

    Karen/Steve/Tricia, and all who knew Ethel — I am so sorry for your loss. Yes, we know that we’ll see her again, but in the meantime on this side of eternity, the days are a little less bright from the loss of her light. May the God of all comfort give you peace, strength, and joy as you mourn.

    Thank you for sharing her with us. I can’t describe the many ways this post and the comments here have blessed me this morning.

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