The Traffic Jam That Changed Our Lives

How I met Norman Vincent Peale and started writing for Guideposts

Posted in , Jul 21, 2011

John and Elizabeth Sherrill tell inspirational stories

It was more than 60 years ago that I climbed into a yellow cab in New York to meet the publisher of a new little eight-page leaflet called Guideposts.

I’d already met the four-person staff in their small office, a windowless suite that had once been a telephone exchange. The previous issues they’d shown me were different from any “religious” publication I’d seen.

Guideposts just told stories about people whose faith—Protestant, Catholic or Jewish—had made a difference at a particular moment in their lives.

The man I’d come to meet was already in the taxicab. Norman Vincent Peale was on his way from a radio interview at CBS to another one at NBC. Dr. Peale was pastor of one of New York’s largest churches, a widely read author (his new book, The Power of Positive Thinking, would be released in a few months) and a very busy man.

This short trip between radio stations was his only free moment of the day, and my only chance to apply in person for a job at Guideposts.

I badly needed that job. I was 27, newly returned from freelance writing in Europe with my wife, Elizabeth, to find scores of veteran writers out of work. “Tib,” as I called her, had just given birth to our first child—how were we going to pay our bills?

Dr. Peale kept looking at his watch. Traffic was crawling. The cab would move a foot and stop. Another foot, another stop.

“Well,” Dr. Peale said at last, “I’m going to be late and there’s nothing I can do about it.” For the first time he looked directly at me. “Tell me about yourself. Your background, your goals.”

What could I say? I could use some of the religious language I’d learned as a boy, maybe get away with pretending to be a believer, but under the steady gaze of the man beside me, I couldn’t do it. In the end I told Dr. Peale I wasn’t much interested in religion; what I wanted to do was write.

The traffic inched forward, came to a standstill, inched again. Dr. Peale seemed to be really listening.

“That’s an interesting answer.” We talked some more.

“I’m glad we have these extra minutes together,” he said at last. “You’re exactly the kind of person I wanted to reach when I started Guideposts, people turned off by religious jargon. We want to provide glimpses of God in everyday life all around us. And I think I can promise you something. If you do come with us, Guideposts will happen to you.”

As it turned out, I did get the job, and a few months later Tib was hired as well. The Power of Positive Thinking became a bestseller. Guideposts became the most popular inspirational magazine ever, with millions upon millions of readers.

And Guideposts did in fact “happen” to Tib and me, our faith becoming the central focus around which our lives revolve.

Now, 60 years after that taxi ride, has asked Tib and me to share a few short reminiscences, relating behind-the-scenes stories of some of the readers’ favorite articles. From its origins in that cramped windowless office, Guideposts now also resides in the limitless space of the Web.

The electronic media, though, remain true to Dr. Peale’s original vision: Find out what their faith means to real people in the real pressures of everyday life—and tell others.

Related Videos

View Comments