Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I can live on encouragement alone

In college, my husband was chosen among several men from his graduating class to deliver a Senior Sermon to the student body during our bi-weekly chapel hour.  He preached on Courage.  And the phrase he drove home in that sermon was his definition of Encouragement: to pour courage into.

My husband (who by the way is one of my favorite preachers, along with Andy Stanley and Jerry Steele, although my husband is my favorite to look at :) preached this sermon while battling some sort of awful cold. He was almost definitely high on cough syrup (am I even allowed to say that??) while delivering his sermon, and had almost lost his voice from the combination of sore throat and coughing.  He also has asthma, so that always flairs up anytime his body isn't in tip top shape.  Running nose, irritated sinuses, body aches.  I mean, the kid was a mess.  But he delivered a great sermon.  

And any time he and I talk about that sermon, we always talk about how sick he was.  How he wasn't even sure if he was going to be able to go through with it.  How I had gone out and bought him all of this stuff from Wal-Mart (pretty much the exact things my mom always bought for me when I was sick) like popsicles and cough syrup, ice cream, jell-o, nighttime cold syrup, soup, crackers, etc.  And he always reminds me how encouraging I was to him at the time.  The things I said to him, the way I said it.  Being there with him and trying to care for him as best I could.  And that always means a lot to me. To know that I did something that seemed like nothing at the time, and it encouraged him so much.  It perhaps even poured enough courage into him that he was able to bless the entire student body, faculty and staff with words of Truth and Life the next day.

I will never forget those words he spoke over and over about pouring courage into someone.  Quiet honestly I didn't really understand what he meant by that at the time.  I am only now starting to really grasp the meaning of pouring courage and the power in helping someone to find courage.

I think about some of the times in my life that I definitely needed to be encouraged.

How about... the first day of junior high?  What if I couldn't find my classes?  Forgot my locker combination?  Didn't know anyone in the lunch room to sit with?

How about... the first time my heart was broken?  What if I never stopped hurting inside?  What if no one would ever love me again?  How could I ever go on without him?

How about... becoming a wife?  a mom?  I could list the What If's here but I would be up all night.

And my most recent season of life, the one where I have become a mom, has proven to be a time when I desperately need encouragement more than ever.  The reality of that is two-fold.  One reason is that I think being a mom, and being a good mom (or dad) is the most challenging job in the world.  The second reason is that it seems like people criticize moms more than perhaps even politicians.  So not only am I trying to do a good job at a job that is endlessly challenging, but I am doing it while being criticized by family, friends, people within my social groups, at church and even by people I barely know, about every decision I make.

And the even more depressing truth is that this onslaught of criticism and negativity isn't reserved for only me, but is commonplace among most moms, among most wives, among most people.  No matter in what age or stage you are today I can almost guarantee you have someone or a whole slew of someones tearing you down for something you do or for something you are.  Am I right?

Well, I have nothing insightful to offer in regards to the naysayers other than I know they will always be around, and I hope you don't allow their voices to suffocate you or drain the very life from your bones.  What I can offer is how powerful the words of encouragement are and how fueling they have been for my life recently.

For me, since I am in the throws of motherhood of little ones and shall remain here for some time I hope, it doesn't take much to turn around a bad day for me.  I mean the smallest recognition of anything good from anyone who means anything to me is enough to keep my head held high with hope all week long.  If you are currently or ever have been a young mom to young kids, you know what I am talking about.  For a woman who used to need my husband to talk for hours and hours to me about what he loved about me and go to great lengths to show his appreciation for me, I sure have come a long way.  Now the simplest "wow, the house looks great" is equivalent to winning a Nobel Peace Prize and a "this supper is delicious" is like winning a Throwdown with Bobby Flay.  

And though any type of encouragement is a blessing, the most lasting type comes when someone you love/look up to/admire/trust looks you in the eyes and addresses an area in your life where you are giving all you have to do good (at say oh, I don't know, raising your children?) and lets you know that your efforts are not only noticed, but they are so important.

And I received that type of encouragement several weeks ago.  And this is what I mean when I say I can live on encouragement alone.  This happened several weeks ago.  And I am still replaying it in my mind.  I still remind myself of it when I start feeling down, hopeless, discouraged, unwanted, unnoticed, misunderstood.

My good friend, Marci and I along with her baby and my babies, joined our beautiful friend, Cathy for lunch one day.  Cathy invited us in to her lovely home, fixed us yummy and healthy snacks, made us fresh juice, and a meal that I swear tasted like it came from a four star restaurant.  And she held our babies and played with them, we enjoyed good conversation, we laughed, we talked about things that matter and got to learn more about each other.  It was one of the nicest afternoons I can remember in quite some time.  Not because I have a ton of lousy afternoons, quite the contrary.  But because it was just refreshing and she is refreshing and I left.....well, feeling refreshed.

Cathy is not in the same stage of life that Marci and I are.  She has raised her four children and is now enjoying being a grandma.  She has so many gifts and talents and she shares them.  She is a wonderful grandmother and who pours her heart into being a grandma and a mother and a wife.  She is kind and interesting.  She is smart and resourceful.  She is genuine and honest.  If there was ever a woman who exemplifies Titus 2:3-5 it is Cathy.  I couldn't praise her enough.

And on that day when we visited with her, in the midst of feeling so lousy, so distraught and beaten down because of all the negativity from all the naysayers in my life, Cathy helped me to feel like maybe I was doing some good with my life as a mom.  While enjoying lunch she commented to Marci and I that we were doing such a good job in teaching our kids about eating well and offering them fresh real foods (something that I am extremely passionate about), that we were doing what we should be doing as moms in other areas too and that she saw us making decisions that she didn't see all young moms making.

It was a brief moment and just a few sentences.  I can imagine Cathy had/has no idea the impact her words had made on me.  I figure she just said what she was thinking and that was that.  It probably was no big deal to her.  The way my buying all that stuff for my husband while he sick wasn't a big deal.

But Cathy, on that day, poured courage into me.

She poured enough courage into me that I decided I could continue on and keep working hard at being a good mom.  Even when I stumble (oh so frequently) and even when I mess up as a mom, I could keep trying.  This woman who I look up to so much, noticed something good in me and all she did was say what she noticed.  What a world of difference she has made for me.  And all the negative and cruel and condescending remarks that my family or my friends have made to me in regards to my the decisions I have made as a mamma, they all just melted away and meant so very little next to her words that Built, that Strengthened, and that Empowered me.

For me as a person who seems to lean more toward being the criticizer than the encourager, I realized that although I could be VERY good at fault finding, I wanted to switch teams and start being VERY good at recognizing an area where a person shined, and tell them so.  It doesn't have to be a long discourse, it doesn't have to be eloquent or insightful.  It just needs to be honest and it needs to be shared.

Our words have the ability to build or tear down.  I have spent a life time tearing down, but I have decided to start a new life of building up.

What about you?  Have you been encouraged?  Have you been encouraging??

"Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored."  Titus 2:3-5

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