IPM: The Early Days
May 4, 2020
As we put our weary publication to bed for the final time I am reminded of a chorus we used to sing in our church. The song was so meaningful to Sally and me that we included it as featured music in our wedding ceremony in 1987 and also in the renewal of our wedding vows in 2017.
"Think not on the former things
Remember not the past
For I will do a new thing
And I will make it last."
It spoke to us of the need to understand whatever baggage we carried with us up the aisle that we were permitted and encouraged to set it down before we reached the altar; to give ourselves permission to not define ourselves by who we were but, rather, by who we were becoming in God. And in doing so we were inviting Him to transform us into the vision He had for us.
It was as powerful a lesson then as it is today. As we transition to a new format for communicating with you, our dear ministry friends, let us embrace those changes God has for us— even if they are sometimes a little scary. Change often appears as a formidable wall until we realize, with God's help, the wall can always be breached.
For His ways are always good and His desire is to see us blossom as His children. We are as much at the center of His heart as the well-being of our own kids is to us.
Let us look ahead, then, in wonderment at the plans our God has made for us in the coming years.
" Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! "
—Isaiah 43 18-19
From Here To Eternity
by Michael O'Connor
Long ago and far away—around 1990 to be inexact—two improbable people heard God’s call on their lives and began a music ministry. They traveled the country, sometimes months at a time, in their lovingly-used Toyota Van (Rosie) with their lovingly-named two-year old daughter (Dusty Rose). Beginning to sense a rose theme developing early on?
Traveling far and wide in this great country of ours this trio began making many new friends. These were some really wonderful people and these improbable people who, by this time had actually become Improbable People, began to miss these newly-minted friendships.
What to do? Whatever would they do?
And then one of their Board Members, let’s call him Steve Wertheim, told them what they needed to do was write a newsletter and send it out monthly to those ministry friends who also wanted a way to keep in touch.
“Monthly?” they both gasped as one, signifying one of the last times the stubborn pair was like-minded for several decades. “MONTHLY IS TOO OFTEN!” Indeed, with a young and growing family, this traveling ministry printing over 500 quality paper letters, folding, stapling and labeling by hand (Steve Jobs and his ubiquitous Apple farm were still a few years away) was too daunting a task to consider.
“How about every OTHER month?” they countered knowing even that would be a difficult and expensive proposition to maintain.
“Done,” said the wise Board Member, who likely would have settled for twice a YEAR.
And so, this improbable couple began taking names at concerts and keeping in touch with their new friends. They decided to produce more than a mere newsletter. They wanted something that was both informational and inspirational. So, they conceived a template. Every newsletter would not only contain news of where they had ministered and where they were heading. It also would include an essay, a Biblical teaching of sorts, to continue the ministry they had begun with the new friends they would otherwise only see every one or two years. To this they added a side devotional plus a stamp and a staple.
For many years they were faithful to this pace of six issues per year. Eschewing—and may I just point out aside from the usual religious pearls in these newsletters how important vocabulary-building in others was to the pair?—eschewing outside endeavors like bowling leagues, grocery cart roundups, and evening taxidermy classes the couple each created their own inimitable style that grew familiar to their readership.
(because we care about your vocabulary)
He, being the male member of the Improbable couple, compared their individual styles to a boxing match. It worked something like this: The bell would ring and he’d dance around his readers like a young Ali, opening with a joke or light-hearted quote, keeping light on his feet as he circled his opponent. Occasionally he would land blows with his message and inflict a bit of growth with his semi-edifying palaver. After 15 rounds and three thousand words his crowd would collapse in a heap of understanding and surrender. And he would win a unanimous decision from the judges.
She had a completely different style. The bell would ring signaling Round 1. She would come out gloves blazing. Pow to the body! A right to the head. Combination to the midsection. Our reader was up against the ropes. One final uppercut to the glass jaw and the subscriber would collapse in a pile, awaiting the trainer’s smelling salts. She had made her point with a first-round knockout. It wasn't always pretty but it was usually effective.
Two writers. Two very different styles.
Alas and alack, years of this edifying wordplay took its toll. Life in general and something called A Tour of Roses in particular caused them to slow down their delivery pace. First it was four times a year. Then three. Then two. Before anyone knew it they came up for air and discovered they hadn’t published a newsletter in a bit over *gulp* two years.
The improbable couple, as you may have already guessed was my bride of 33 years (Sally Klein O'Connor) and myself. I think we knew we were done sending out the newsletter some time back, but we were in a bit of denial. It was like the old Gladys Knight song, Neither One Of Us Wants To Be The First To Say Goodbye.
“Wait a minute,” you gasp. “Is that what’s happening here?”
Well, in a word—Yes and No.
Allow me to explain. Christian theology and Final Round Jeopardy answers teach that when the body dies it transitions to a new form and begins the journey to the afterlife. It is the most important transition God or Alex Trebek will ever guide us though. While it is true we are officially ceasing publication of our now 50-times-a-century newsletter we are not ending it completely.
Rather, like the caterpillar that has been hanging upside down from a twig or a leaf in its earnestly constructed cocoon The Improbable People Newsletter—we never did come up with a proper name for the thing—is transforming into a lovely literary butterfly in the form of a new ministry and family-written blog, From Here To Eternity. In fact, the metamorphosis is complete.
The blog is up and running. Like the caterpillar in its cocoon our blog has been dormant for many months, awaiting “such a time as this” to renew and refresh itself. So how does our IPM Newsletter reader fit into this? We know you enjoy the writing and the messages we bring. Before we went into The Big Sleep we used to get letters and emails (see below) sharing what the stories we wrote meant to you and encouraging us to continue. Many even encouraged us to write more often. What can we say? Your wish is our command.
Beginning very soon each reader of the dear, departed Improbable People Ministries Newsletter (this is you) will be automatically added to our blog’s list of email subscribers. We’ll do the heavy lifting. You need do nothing. We are making the transfer on the assumption that since you have been with us for years you would like to continue receiving edifying and inspirational posts from us in another format—the blog.
Once or twice a week you will receive an email to your inbox notifying of a new From Here To Eternity post. Just click on the provided link and you’ll be whisked away to the new offering where you’ll be able to read and even comment on the latest offering. It’s that simple.
Further, if you don’t want to continue with us for any reason—maybe it’s the deodorant we are using (or NOT using) or maybe you just don’t find this new format interesting . . . Whatever the reason, each email will have an Unsubscribe link at the bottom. One click will sever the ties with no guilt or hard feelings. It couldn’t be simpler.
That’s HOW and WHY things are going to change. And now for the WHAT. What can you expect to find in this new, shorter format? What kinds of pieces do we hope will keep you interested, inspired and even entertained?
First, these writings by all five members of our nuclear family—Michael, Sally, Dusty Rose, Bonnie and Shannon—are not intended as contributions to a strictly religious publication. We want to broaden our scope just a bit to include other aspects of our lives and the people around us. That’s why we see this project as "a family blog with deep ministry overtones.” That’s why the motto on our masthead reads: “Spirited Musings from an Improbable Family.” Spirited—but not always spiritual.
In addition to the types of Scriptural issues our newsletter dealt with in the past we will be sharing insights into the various stages of life in which we each find ourselves. There will be strictly humorous observations and musings. And lots of them. There will be inspirational stories of people we have encountered. But just because the focus has expanded from our previous newsletter, rest assured that while not every post will be, for lack of a better term—God-centric—please know that we are writing as believers in Christ and that even if He isn’t mentioned directly our intention is that God’s fingerprints will be all over every piece we publish.
What will our new platform NOT be? Divisive. Angry. Hurtful. Shaming. In short, it will not be Political. We figure you get enough of that elsewhere including areas that politics have stealthily invaded such as sports, entertainment and Sudoku puzzles. We imagine you are tired of the diatribes that filter into our lives because Washington, our State Capitols and even World Governments have become so pervasive in our every day lives.
Even if we see ourselves as non-political there is almost no escaping the rhetorical insanity that comes with the territory. There will be no avoiding the occasional reference to an issue or politician per se, but we hope to keep such references cultural in our pieces rather than simply write an anti-(fill in the politician) screed. If we feel God is calling us to share such a story we will alert you in an editor’s note up top so you can delete the post without reading.
Finally, I thought it might be good to introduce you to each member of our writing staff along with one of their previous posts. Just click on each name below:
Dusty Rose (O’Connor) Tsalkova
If you enjoyed these you can also read more of the archives of From Here To Eternity click here and scroll down the right hand column.
And if you’d like to travel down memory lane a bit our IPM Newsletter archives are still open for reminiscing here.
Sally and I thank you for your years of staying with us to read our essays and stories in the newsletter. And we hope you’ll come along for the ride to see what wonderful new thing God may bring to life from the ashes of a publication we have been proud to be associated with for over three decades. May God bless and keep you all in the palm of His hand.
Improbable People Ministries
So… this is our last newsletter. It’s hard to believe. The process of writing and putting it together was never easy, especially since we were each other’s editor. Not the best choice for us. But hindsight is always 20/20. And, as Michael pointed out, our creative styles of expressing ourselves were vastly—and often painfully—different. They still are, though not nearly as painful.
Many times I wanted to quit and felt it just wasn’t worth it. But it was You, The Reader, who kept us going when we thought we couldn’t continue. You encouraged us in a thousand little words in-person, or notes in the mail, or email. You told us how some of our stories changed your perspective, even your life. Others of you told us how the timing of our missive in the mail was amazing. It spoke to a situation in your lives that we could never have known about.
Our articles were never about preaching or theology, they were always about our real time experience of God in the middle of our lives, whatever we were doing, wherever we were. It was always about the struggles and the joys—and ultimately the faithfulness of God down in the valley and up on the mountain.
We have an entire file drawer dedicated to the many letters we accumulated over the first 5-10 years of the ministry. To our great surprise as we opened these letters over those years, many of them talked about the newsletter. Here are just a few I pulled:
Dear Sally, Michael & Girls,
Though you will not remember me, I have to tell you again how much you have blessed and continued to bless me with your music and your letters…
I never throw your letters away and really hope they will one day be published as a volume… Thanks for your vibrant and diligent transparency, as you press toward the mark!
—S.J., Pittsburgh, PA – December 1994
Your notes meant so much . . .
Dear Michael & Sally
Thank you for the letter to Dusty. It was very moving. It’s refreshing to see a “Dad” feel and be able to express his feelings for his little girl.
—J.C., Toms River, NJ – April 1994
I am finally writing to thank you for your ministry. I have wanted to let you know how much your newsletters mean to me as they come to our home and challenge and encourage us. I wanted to thank you for your letter about beauty/scars, about picking up hitchhikers, etc. … Please keep writing and singing and calling “an ace an ace” the way only you can do.
—W.H., Atascadero, CA – December 1995
… The newsletter is a treasure and a blessing and a refreshing…
—J.H., Phoenix, AZ – February 1996
… Thanks so much for the recent tapes and extra newsletters. Michael, your presentation in the October letter was so relevant and so touched me that I have included it in my father’s Christmas gift in the hopes that it will be able to say to him what I have been unable to…
—L.M.C., Fairbanks, Alaska – December 1994
Dear Michael and Sally,
Thank you for your “not so gentle challenge” in your December newsletter. I’ve actually just taken time to read it and very much appreciated it because I found it affirming (yet I wished I’d stopped my busy-ness to read it before Christmas).
But I found it inspiring also… Thank you for the idea of many other ways to “step outside of our comfort zones”—I’m excited to think of what that might mean for me.
—J.P. – Northfield, MN – 1995
The red pen strikes again
Believe me when I say that Michael and I pored over each article in the newsletter, almost as much as we picked through each lyric and melody of our songs. And it was always a wonder to me, when all was said and done, that God could use our writings because of the intensity of our struggle. And, as I said earlier, there were many times I felt it just wasn’t worth it, but time and again a letter or email would arrive at a very opportune moment that directly responded to what we had shared in the current issue. It was kind of mind-blowing.
Perhaps my most profound memory of this kind of experience relating to the newsletter specifically, was while I was at a friend’s church in North Isanti, MN. Mike and I were not in a good place at that time, and I kept thinking that nothing was worth this kind of excruciating effort. But our good friend, Pastor Jonathan Larson, was seeing me off as I got everything packed into the car after the morning service. He took a moment and said words to the effect: “I don’t know what it costs you and Michael to do what you do—to write the songs and put together your newsletter—but whatever the cost to you both, I want you to know it’s worth it.”
It was like God was speaking right to my heart out there in the parking lot. I never looked back after that moment.
So, thank you all so much for all your prayers and encouragement through the years. The newsletter could not have continued without your love and intercession that went up for us.
And now begins a new era. Who knew back in the early 90s when we were typing addresses and licking envelope flaps that there would be a whole other way to communicate just as intensively and almost instantly? We covet your prayers as we restart the blog in earnest this time, that our stories could continue to speak to old friends, their children, and perhaps even their children’s children for as long as God gives us time to do so.
Sally Klein O'Connor