The other night, I went to hear a friend of mine preach. He, his father and his son had helped me carry the cross up Mount Kilimanjaro, and he was sharing what he had learned from our journey.

After the service, many people came up to tell me they had been following and praying for us as we made that climb. Then we got to laughing at some of the antics I have shared in this column about my two grandsons and myself.

As I write this, my 1000th Baptist Messenger article, and finish my 20th year, I realize you, my readers, have taught me a great lesson: We are family. In fact, you have shown me how to be family.

Each week, I try to write words that I pray will make your day a little lighter or share a truth that will guide you through some difficult times. In turn, you have opened your hearts and made me a part of your family. You have allowed me to share my failures, my disappointments and my triumphs. No matter what I write, you always provide a return on my investment of words: your love.

So what does writing a column for the past 20 years look like? If you cut out all 1,000 articles and laid them end to end, they would stretch the length of three football fields and then some.

Many of you have asked me where I get the ideas for my articles. Probably the best answer is sleep deprivation, but in reality, they come from life. I may write about something that happened to me as a child, at home or on the mission field, but the best ideas come from God, and I can’t take any credit for those.

There have been many surprises on this journey as a writer. One of them has been the number of times my column has been republished and where it has shown up. I once got a call from a biker who told me one of my articles, “Jesus and the Motorcycle Gang,” had been reprinted on the European Hell’s Angels’ underground website. And then there was the time someone came up and told me his all-time favorite article was the one I wrote about the monkey and his bicycle. I don’t have the heart to tell him I have never written an article like that—at least not yet.  And then there was the 90-year-old lady who showed me a yellowed, worn-out piece of paper stuffed inside her Bible. It was an article I had written, and she said she had been carrying it around for most of her life. I am still scratching my head over that one.

I really don’t have the heart of a writer; I have the heart of a storyteller. I believe stories are the glue that attaches a truth or a lesson to our souls. If we remember the story, we will remember the lesson that goes with it. Jesus, a much better storyteller than I will ever be, taught me the importance of stories.

Have I ever thought about quitting during these past 20 years and 1,000 articles? Yes, at least 1001 times. I am not a paper-and-ink person; I would rather sit down and visit with you one-on-one. I want to hear your stories. As I travel and get to meet you, I have discovered your stories are a lot better than mine.

Beside finding a family, writing this column has taught me that God uses me the most in the places I am the weakest. I thought the more I wrote, the better my writing would get, but that hasn’t happened. I wrote my first few articles with no thought of asking for God’s help. Now, I plead with Him each week to give me something to write. A day may come when you open the Baptist Messenger and find a blank spot; you will know then that I am still waiting on Him.

As I close out this 1000th article, I need to mention the people who have made this journey possible. My wife, Cathy, and my two sons, Jeremiah and Caleb, have suffered a lot over these 20 years as I bounced ideas off them. All my articles have a groaning gauge. The louder the groans from my family, the better the article.

I am also incredibly indebted to Marti Pieper, who has helped edit and repair these articles as well as stopped things from going to press that would have caused me harm. She is the world’s best at what she does.

And then I need to thank you, my readers. Because over these past 20 years, we have become family. And I want you to know that I love my family very much.