Posted by: Mike Willoughby | December 21, 2009

Mending Fences

There have been many special people in my life that have helped shape my spiritual development.  One of the most beloved and influential men in my early life was my maternal grandfather, Grandpa Craig.  Grandpa Craig was a farmer and a rancher and I was privileged to be able to spend most of each summer growing up “on the farm” with Grandma and Grandpa.  They lived in a small rural farming village in Nebraska and it was during those summers that I learned a host of valuable life lessons that I never would have learned otherwise.  Grandpa taught me many of those lessons in the traditional mentoring style where the apprentice (me) works alongside the master (Grandpa) and learns not only a specific skill but also set of related life lessons.

One day when I was about 12 years old, Grandpa handed me an odd looking device called a “walking A” and we climbed into the pickup truck and headed out to one of his wheat fields.  Upon arrival in the field, Grandpa demonstrated the walking A technique to me which was simply to place both ends of the A-shaped device on the ground and then pivot the device on the front leg swinging the back leg around to become the front end.  Grandpa said I was to perform this technique while walking alongside a wire fence that seemed to stretch for hundreds of miles into the distance.  I was to count each time I swiveled the walking A and at the end of the fence line I was to tell Grandpa how many times I had “walked the A.”  I was also to stop any place where the wire was broken and put a yellow streamer on the nearest fence post.  I asked Grandpa what he would be doing while I “walked the A.”  He said he would be following along in the air conditioned truck on the road that paralleled the fence line.  Did I mention these were summers spent in Nebraska?  It gets hot on the high plains!  I remember I had a bad attitude about this task that seemed utterly pointless to me.  It was only after I completed the task and reported to Grandpa that I had “walked the A” a total of 1744 times that he told me that the distance between the legs on the A was one yard and he could now multiple the number of times I “walked the A” by 3 to get the total feet of fence line.  The fence line was 5232 feet or just short of one mile.  Grandpa said that result lined up with the odometer in his truck which immediately had a further dampening effect on my attitude since I wondered aloud why the odometer reading wasn’t good enough.  I found out later the precision was needed to confirm a survey result which Grandpa thought was in error.  He was right, of course.  A Mister Misty slushy drink from Dairy Queen fixed my attitude problem later that afternoon.

What lesson was learned from the experience?  Perseverance through a task even when I didn’t understand the meaning of the work?  If you are going to do something, do it the right way? Maintaining a positive attitude even when the going gets hot and sweaty and no Mister Misty is in sight?  Actually the lesson that stuck with me most came the next day when we went back to find the three yellow streamers I had tied to three of the fence posts.  Grandpa said we were going to mend some fences which he said was important for fences and also for friendships.  He went on to explain to me that relationships were like fences which needed constant maintenance.  If you noticed a break in a fence, you needed to take the time to repair the fence before something unwanted gets in or something wanted gets out.  He said relationships suffered breaks and needing mending too.  He told me to always get out and survey my relationships watching for breaks that need to be patched up.

I’m not sure what prompted Grandpa to wax philosophical that day, but since he was usually much more practical than philosophical, I paid attention to the philosophy when it came.  I’ve found wisdom in that relationship advice from Grandpa and I’ve also noticed that there folks who are blessed with natural fence-mending skills.  I’m sure you all know people who are constantly on the lookout for broken relationships and jump in hands-first to help patch things up.  These are the peacemakers in our lives.

In the first century church, there was a man named Barnabas who was a peacemaker.  “Barnabas” was the name given by the apostles to a man from Cyprus named Joseph.  The name “Barnabas” literally meant, “Son of Encouragement.”  What a testament to Joseph’s nature that his brothers would nickname him “Son of Encouragement!”  One of the ways in which Barnabas was an encouragement to his brothers and sisters was in his peacemaking abilities.  We first glimpse Barnabas mending relationship fences in Acts chapter 9 where Barnabas personally patches things up between the apostle Paul (also called Saul) and the Jerusalem Christians whom Paul had been violently persecuting prior to Paul’s supernatural conversion.  The Jerusalem Christians naturally distrusted Paul whom they reasonably viewed as a threat to their lives and Barnabas risked a great deal of his “personal capital” in vouching for Paul with these frightened believers.  However, Barnabas was successful in bridging the gap between them and the acceptance of Paul by the other apostles helped encourage Paul as he set out on missionary journeys to carry the gospel to Asia Minor and Europe.  

Later in Acts chapter 15, we read again of Barnabas trying to mend fences between Paul and John Mark who had deserted Paul and Barnabas in the mission field.  Paul was very frustrated with John Mark for leaving them and he held a grudge against John Mark that prevented Paul from letting John Mark join them on another missionary journey.  Although Barnabas was unsuccessful in patching things up between Paul and John Mark at that time, Barnabas was able to nurture John Mark and he took him on a separate missionary journey while Paul took Silas with him.  In the process, two teams went out into the field and John Mark’s faith was no doubt strengthened.  I believe John Mark ultimately wrote the Gospel of Mark recording the story of Jesus for us to read today.  I also believe Barnabas continued to work to patch things up between Paul and John Mark and I give him the credit for helping heal this relationship when I read Paul acknowledging John Mark’s usefulness for the ministry in II Timothy chapter 4.  Thank God for peacemaking Barnabas without whom we might be missing the Gospel of Mark and the benefit of John Mark’s ministry.

For those of you who are modern day versions of Barnabas, thank you for your service.  We see your service in our workplaces, in our church families and in our personal relationships.  We know you are always “out walking the fences” watching for breaks.  We may not always appreciate you and you may catch some criticism for poking your nose into others’ business from time to time.  However, you are doing God’s work and Jesus called you out as children of God when he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

When the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds on the hill, they also announced the Christmas present God was giving to the world through his son, Jesus Christ.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

Thank you for doing your part to deliver peace in your corner of the world and in so doing continue the giving of God’s Christmas present of peace to mankind.  You are truly a real-world son or daughter of encouragement!

Next week, I will have a guest post from my friend and beloved brother, Tim Pyles. Please check back next Monday and you will be blessed! Until next week,

Meet me at the intersection!


  1. Thanks Michael………….I sure miss those summers in little “D” and I miss Grandpa even more.

    He was a quiet, wise man who guided each of us in ways we needed, when we needed it. And I believe our memories of those times with him continue to be his guiding light shining through us


  2. Thanks for the great story about your grandfather. I also spent some time mending fences around Frisco as a teenager in the summers….before it was all concrete. Your insight and lesson about Barnabas is right on! Love how God is working through you for His glory. We miss you guys. Merry Christmas-The Wade family.

  3. Thanks for sharing mending Fences, we all need to walk the fence line of our relationships. Your writings are a blessing to us all. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  4. Thank you for this great memory. It’s amazing how many lessons that I learned from grandma and grandpa that I’ve passed on to my own girls. I believe that is what a true life accomplishment means…when your “work” continues long after you are gone.

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