Thoughts on quality, quantity and the kind words of a dying man

During a time of lock-downs, quarantines, rampant violence and troubling uncertainty I hope you will find a measure of solace in these words.

One year ago, my book “Offerings” was released, and what an exciting day that was for me. In fact, I saw a post on Facebook that June 1 was the one-year anniversary of my first book signing. A friend of mine posted some pictures of that happy day, a day filled with smiles, handshakes and pats on the back. The book is a faith-based, motivational book with 365 entries, one for each day of the year.

However, in honesty I have to say the experience with my book during the past year has been a mix of feelings – rewarding at times and very frustrating at others. It’s been exhilarating on some days, aggravating on others and at times downright confusing.

I have to admit that early-on I got caught up in the numbers game. How many books would I sell? How many books could I sell? I suppose every author, if they are honest, has let their mind wander and had those thoughts. I also had to fight through feelings that the number of books I sold somehow equated to the quality of my work, which involved a lot of hours and a lot of very early mornings. To date, I have sold approximately 1,500 books, far less than I thought I would sell. Again, the number of books sold was always on my mind, so this is where the frustration and aggravation come into play. Hindsight always being 20/20, I clearly lost my focus and direction on why I wrote the book.

I have shared these feelings and sought advice from some author friends of mine (David Kroese and Gary Moore) who both assured me that I am far ahead of the average for books sold for a self-published author. I was astonished to learn during out conversations that most people who self-publish sell less than 25 books, primarily to family members only. Based on that, I have done well, but the feelings of failure and frustration, based on the quantity of books I sold, still persisted.

I pray daily, and one of those prayers was that my book would reach the right hands, that it would bless people and that it would be successful. My logic was that if folks in my neck of the woods loved the book – and many, many tell me they do – other people across the country would too. When sales were not what I wanted them to be I was frustrated and confused because I felt like, and often spoke, that I believe the words of my book are God-given words, yet the sales never, ever measured up in my mind. I have struggled mightily with those feelings daily during the past year.

I admit to these deep, heartfelt feelings and struggles and I bare my soul a little today because of a text message I received, ironically on June 1 that left me (literally) without words after I read it.
Here’s the story.

On several occasions I have had people buy five or six books to give to friends. One of those instances was several months ago from a friend of mine who lives in the northwest part of the United States. I received a text message from my friend and he told me that one of the books he gave away was to a man he knows – a man I learned yesterday that has a terminal illness. The man, who is in the last days of his life, sent a text message to my friend and asked him to reach out to me.

My friend forwarded me the dying man’s text. Here’s what it said:
“Please convey to your friend Jim Muir how much his book and writings have meant to me. Other than “The Word” his book has helped me so much in these last days. It has truly been a blessing.”

I read his comments over and over, and in a rarity for me, I was speechless. His words have weighed heavily on my mind since I read them and certainly caused me to do some serious soul-searching, and also to ask God’s forgiveness about my petty fixation on book sales. Consider this: here is a man I will never meet in this life. I will never know his name, his family or his ‘story.’ Yet, on his deathbed he felt compelled to reach out to let me know that my humble book – the one that has sold ‘only’ 1,500 copies – has, in his words, “truly been a blessing” and helped him during his transition from this life to a face-to-face meeting with his Savior. His words make book sales seem very irrelevant … don’t they?

Without a thought about book sales, let me conclude with this thought. If all those long early morning hours, all the writing, re-writing, editing and proof-reading were accomplished solely to help this unknown man during the final days of his mortal life – then I can honestly tell you it was well-worth the effort. And while I don’t know this man, God certainly does!

In facing death, this man taught me a valuable lesson about life. That lesson is that “quality” always exceeds “quantity” and there is not a single thing more important than sharing the love and grace of Jesus and being a blessing in somebody’s life, even if it’s a total stranger.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and God Bless You!

Rend Lake College Board meeting highlights

INA, Ill. — The Academic Building at Rend Lake College will be getting a new roof, and the Board of Trustees have approved a contractor to do the job. At Tuesday night’s meeting, trustees approved a bid for the project submitted by D7 Roofing of New Baden at a cost of $120,450. Five contractors submitted bids for the project, which is being paid through Public Health & Safety funds.

Stipend changes
The Rend Lake College Board of Trustees updated its list of stipends to accommodate the creation of a new Early Childhood Education Facilitator stipend and a recent hire in the Men’s Head Basketball Coach position. The creation of the new facilitator position allows RLC to remain in compliance with Gateways to Opportunity Illinois Professional Development System for Early Childhood Programs.

Handbook updates
The board approved handbooks for the 2020-21 school year for RLC’s Certified Nursing Assistant, Emergency Medical Technician-Basic, Emergency Medical Technician-Paramedic, Medical Assistant, Pharmacy Technician, Phlebotomy, Radiologic Technology, Culinary Arts and Medical Coding programs.

Leadership teams defined

The board created policy concerning the President’s Executive Leadership Team and approved revisions to policy concerning President’s Cabinet and Presidents Council (first readings). The changes better reflect RLC’s organization and needs. Per policy, the President’s Executive Leadership Team serves as the senior administrative decision-making body at RLC. Members are selected by the college President, who leads the team and may delegate decision-making authority as deemed appropriate.

Agreement with EIU
Rend Lake College Visual Communication Design students have an easier path to continue their education thanks to a new articulation agreement between RLC and Eastern Illinois University. This agreement allows students to complete an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Visual Communication Design at RLC and transfer into EIU’s bachelor’s degree program in Graphic Design or Organizational Development. The agreements are effective in the 2020-21 academic year and are subject to renewal quadrennially.

Analysis shows outside of Chicago area, most COVID-19 deaths are in nursing homes

(The Center Square) – An independent analysis of the state’s COVID-19 data found a significant difference in the numbers of COVID-19-related deaths in the Chicago area compared with the rest of the state.

Here’s a link to the story at Illinois News Network.

Pritzker says he’ll consider withholding federal funds from local governments that don’t follow his reopening plan

(The Center Square) – Some communities around the state have made it known they plan to open for business soon, despite a stay-at-home order and the governor’s reopening plan.

Here’s a link to the story at Illinois News Network.

Pritzker says he wants to see schools open in the fall

(The Center Square) – Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he hopes to see schools in Illinois welcome students back in the fall.

Here’s a link to the story at Illinois News Network.

Some Illinois counties draft their own reopening plans

(The Center Square) – Some local elected officials want local businesses to open safely far sooner than Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s reopening plan would allow.

Here’s a link to the story at Illinois News Network.

Restaurant owners frustrated with Pritzker’s reopening plan

(The Center Square) – With the prospect of waiting until June 26, many Illinois restaurant owners are wondering if their businesses will be able to stay afloat through the pandemic and Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s five-phase plan to reopen the state.

Here’s a link to the story at Illinois News Network.

Problems filing for unemployment in Illinois persist

As the number of people seeking unemployment benefits continues to rise in Illinois during the COVID-19 pandemic, many say they are still experiencing problems filing claims.
Here’s a link to the story at Illinois News Network.

Amelia Morris named 2020 recipient of Rebecka Garavalia Lab Choir Award

Amelia Morris is the 2020 recipient of the Rebecka Garavalia Lab Choir Award.

Amelia Morris

This prestigious annual award is given in memory of beloved Benton educator, Rebecka Garavalia who died suddenly just before the beginning of the 2002-03 school year. Lab Choirs under the direction of Mrs. Garavalia were always rated superior and excellent at Music Contests and Festivals. The criteria for the Lab Choir award is based on the standards of excellence Mrs. Garavalia demanded of her choir members including excellence in responsibility, discipline, leadership and musicianship.

Chosen by her fellow choir members, Amelia exemplifies all the criteria for this award, according to music teacher Alisa Leffler.

“She is a leader in the classroom, a responsible student and an excellent musician,” Leffler said.

A four year chorus member Amelia also performs in local theatre. She is active in Pyramid Players, Artstarts and Kre8ive. She has also appeared on the Rend Lake College stage. Amelia was slated to appear as Sharpay Evans in the 2020 Benton Grade School production of High School Musical Jr. The show was cancelled due to the COVID19 Pandemic. Amelia is a three time Superior soloist in Music Contest and often performs The National Anthem at local events. She is a member of the Jazz Band, a student of dance and participates in the music ministry at First Christian Church Benton. The daughter of Matt and Joelle Morris, Amelia is the big sister to twin siblings Rachel and Willis.

“It will be hard to fill the hole Amelia will leave in the Lab Choir. She is an outstanding vocalist and will be greatly missed. It has been an honor working with Amelia and being a part of her vocal training” says Leffler.

Recent recipients of this award include Benton High School students Mady Darr(2016), Trinity Price(2017), Kadinz Wilson(2018) and Delaney Leffler(2019)

Replacing ‘Pomp and Circumstance’ with social distancing: A message to the Class of 2020

A message to graduating high school seniors — the Class of 2020:

Before we get to the reality of this moment in time, let me begin by saying: Congratulations on your graduation, it’s a great accomplishment and regardless of what is happening in the world around us these days, it’s a milestone in your life, one of a handful of events that you should cherish. And you will realize as you get older that there are only very few real milestone-moments in your life … and because of something completely out of your control, an unseen virus that originated thousands of miles away, you are going to lose one of them.

As we roll into the month of May, it’s unprecedented that schools across the nation are closed, caps and gowns are still in boxes and gymnasiums where commencement exercises would be held are dark. As seniors you have lost the wonderfully independent days of April and May, days that should have been spent with classmates you started kindergarten with 12 years ago. Sadly, shelter-in-place, social distancing and online learning have replaced “Pomp and Circumstance” and graduation joy across the nation.

Like virtually everybody, I feel sad, I feel bad and I am highly disappointed for you. But, with that said, there will be no weeping, no wailing and certainly no hand-wringing from me concerning this particular hand that you have been dealt. Instead, I want to use this message to point out that you have been given the priceless opportunity, at a very early age, to learn two of life’s greatest lessons. The first lesson is that life is not always fair and the second lesson is that things happen, sometimes bad things, that we have no control over.

Many of you have lived your entire life within the safe and secure walls of your home, your school, your church, your circle of friends and your extra-curricular activities and you have never experienced real adversity – adversity that is totally out of your control. Well, even though you’re only 18 years old, let me join with many other seasoned, old folks and say: ‘Welcome to the real world!’

I recently heard a person refer to the cancellation of graduations as a “tragedy.” Let me be clear with you, here in the real world, this does not rank as a tragedy in your life. A tragedy is a young couple being told their child has a terminal illness. A tragedy is a young person dying in a car accident. A tragedy is finding out that your young child has special needs that will require medical treatment the rest of their lives. A cancelled graduation is a disappointment. Understanding the difference between a disappointment and a tragedy will help you throughout life to sort through adversities that come your way – and they will come your way.

I believe this positive message I bring to the Class of 2020 is far more important than anything else you have learned in the classroom during your four years of high school and it’s a message that will carry you a long, long way in life.

That simple message is that what you do throughout your life with adversity, setbacks, problems and crushed dreams will either make you or break you. It’s very important for you to understand that you have only two choices in life when adversity strikes, you either curl up in a ball and cry about your misfortune and blame somebody else, or you square your shoulders, hold your head high, rely on every ounce of inner strength you have, trust in God and then use the setback, the problem, the adversity for motivation to move forward and turn an obstacle into an opportunity and a mess into a message. In the end you become the victor and not the victim.

There is an old saying that states: “The same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg. In other words, it’s not about circumstances but it’s what you’re made of that will sustain you in every aspect of your life.” That last line is worth repeating: It’s what you’re made of that will sustain you in every aspect of your life.” If you take nothing else away from these words remember that previous sentence.

In closing let me offer a laundry-list of advice in no particular order – get a job, work hard, give back, don’t whine, ask questions … ask lots of questions about everything, be kind to others and be kind to yourself, don’t be afraid to take the road less traveled, have a purpose and understand that poverty of purpose is worse than poverty of purse, stand up for what you believe, say what you mean and mean what you say, assume nothing, learn to laugh at yourself, dream big, smile at people you don’t know, make your bed every morning because that way you’ve accomplished something before you ever get dressed, laugh often, do more with less, look people in the eye when you talk to them, remember there is always two sides to every story, never forget that you are capable of much more than you think and learn to accept responsibility when you screw up … and in case nobody has told you … you will screw up. That’s life! And last and most important … trust and thank God every single day – regardless of a lost graduation – because you have the world at your feet and the amazing good fortune to live in the greatest nation in the world!

God bless you on your journey Class of 2020, you ARE the future and we’re counting on you! There is a big world with unlimited opportunities and challenges out there waiting on you. Make us proud!

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