Out of life’s challenges comes inspirational book by local writer

The life of a coach can be difficult on family members. A case in point is Barry Jones of Alpena, who since 2004 has lost two coaching jobs, moved from Tennessee to Michigan, back to Tennessee, back to Michigan, and then back to Tennessee and Michigan yet again. In the next few weeks, Jones and his family will be moving to Tennessee once again for another coaching opportunity.

“Needless to say, each move involves loss loss of jobs, home, schools, family and friends,” said Jones, who graduated from the University of Toledo in 1997 with a degree in secondary education and has since taught history and government, plus coached boys varsity basketball. This past year, he served as athletic director at Hillman High School, along with helping the principal with supervision, scheduling, counseling and various other duties.

Complicating life even further for Jones, his wife, Katrina, and their four children, was learning that their youngest son, Sammy, had a brain tumor. Following surgery, Sammy was left with limited use of limbs on his right side, his peripheral vision on his right side was severely impacted, and his memory wasn’t the same.

“In the spring of 2011, after yet another coaching job (and the teaching job that went with it) went up in smoke, I was struggling for a way to communicate to my children that sometimes in life, no matter how hard we try, no matter our good intentions, and no matter if we do everything right, sometimes things might still not work out,” Jones said. “It’s what we do after our failures that matters.”

Struggling with the difficult hand dealt him, Jones turned to his faith in God and to writing. Heeding the advice of multi-millionaire and bestselling author Steven Scott, who had spent a year studying the wise words of King Solomon found in Proverbs in the Bible, Jones himself started to spend five to 10 minutes each evening before bedtime reading from Proverbs with his oldest son, Toby.

“That time we spent together reading and discussing the wise sayings of King Solomon taught us many things,” Jones said. “We learned the difference between knowledge and wisdom. We learned from whence true wisdom comes. We learned about important life values such as having a strong work ethic, utilizing good planning, listening to wise counsel, and accepting constructive criticism.”

Jones found the time he and his teenage son spent together to be immensely rewarding. Ultimately, he took the experiences of jobs secured and lost, and of life not necessarily turning out as planned, and coupled them with the principles of wisdom gleaned from Proverbs. He used it all as inspirational fodder for a recently published book called “Letters to Toby.”

The book is the story of a young boy whose father has recently passed away. The struggles that the boy (named Toby after Jones’ own son) faces as he and his family try to pick up the pieces and begin life again threaten to derail any hopes or dreams he might have had for a better life in the future.

Before he died, the fictional Toby’s father anticipated this difficult time for his son and wrote a series of letters to be given to Toby by his mother on birthdays, his entry into college, his wedding day, and the birth of his first child. These letters are based on the wisdom principles drawn from Proverbs that Toby and his father used to read together at bedtime.

The reader follows young Toby as he navigates through the rough terrain of losing his dad, the traumatic move to a new home, and a dream that seems to be dying before his eyes. Methodically, the fictional Toby takes steps that are in line with the encouraging words of his father to get up, dust himself off, and begin to make a life for himself.

Jones said his initial goal in writing “Letters to Toby” was to intertwine facts and fiction, use real-life characters, and produce a book of personal and family significance.

“Honestly, the idea was to create a theme interesting enough to hold my son’s attention while also dispensing seven age-old wisdom principles from which all of my children (not just Toby) would benefit,” Jones said.

But as he wrote, his vision grew and he realized the message of the book was just too important for that kind of small thinking.

“Why not create a legacy story from which future generations (including my own children’s children) could gain insight? Why not try to get it published so this important message could go out across the country? The world? In short, I started writing “Letters to Toby” to Toby, my oldest son,” Jones said. “Midway through, I was writing to my other three children. By the time I finished, I was writing to everybody parents, grandparents, children, young adults, coaches, teachers, pastors anyone who is or knows a young person.”

Jones hopes his book, published by Sarah Book Publishing in Texas, will encourage parents everywhere not to miss the limited opportunities to impact their children for the better with words of wisdom. He also believes that the wisdom principles contained in each letter in the book still apply today, and if followed, are iron-clad recipes for success.

Jones currently has several other writing projects in the works and an online ministry, www.honorhimministries.org. “Letters to Toby” is available locally at Olivet Book & Gift as well as online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iTunes and the Sarah Book Publishing website. The author will be at Olivet Book & Gift on Saturday at 10:30 a.m. to share his story and sign copies of his book.