India Irie has a song about the little things that at various stages of life I really thought I understood. It reteaches me at various seasons that the little things are ever changing. On a recent girlfriends trip I carried a small paperback book called "Encouraging One Another" and found little time to read it while I was there. The trip was 100% fun and sun, new experiences, stretching beyond my comfort zone and a daily opportunity to encourage one of the ladies that I was traveling with, with ample opportunities for me to be encouraged as well. When you are in an extreme situation, you don't really need a reminder about encouragement, it happens naturally. 24 hours state side and I started reading the book in detail. (It was actually less than 24 hours.)
Psalm 69:32 indicates "Be Encouraged, You Who Worship GOD." This very short verse offers clarity that on its own merit should encourage my heart, the instructions are clear. Be encouraged, you who worship God. I worship God, I should be encouraged. I believe that I'm a remedial case in basic life instruction because I have a lifetime of evidence that my God is real, and an on-time God, and at my most difficult hours He has been the only encouragement that mattered or made a difference. But there are seasons of glass half empty that I'm working to navigate better and believing that part of that requires the ability to radically impact others in a way that matters. After all, I have 4 decades of life experience at this point, and something should be the focus of my attention other than that math equation. (The trip was self-encouragement about embracing this phase of life.)
My little devotional introduced a concept for sentimental me, a trinket to treasure in every chapter. There are little images that symbolize the concepts that book tries to reinforce. The first is a baseball, a reminder that our Savior is in the stands as we live life, shouting fiercely, "Atta girl, you can do it!" Any parent who has attended a gymnastics, swim, basketball, soccer, track, cheerleading or football game weekly understands the obligations that come about. No matter what you are feeling, you go to the stands and turn off life to turn on "supportive parent" offering encouragement with little delusion that an Olympic star is on the horizon. (Gifted scholarship recipient maybe.... but not Olympics. Yet.) How much more does our God care for us? He doesn't have to turn it on or fight through what might or might not happen as a result of these skills in the future. Our God sets the standard for encouragement. I am a slow learner.
I have been discussing love languages with my children, a fascinating exploration of what ministers most to our spirit - an exercise in self-assessment, priorities and cyclical grief - not all love languages are created equal. When you know a persons love language, you can offer encouragement in the way that matters most to the person. My love language is acts of service and all other things come in a distant second, third or fourth place. My return from my trip has been filled with daily trinkets and lessons, the little things, and a BIG realization that I'm not on vacation any more. Welcome home.
May I suggest (to all 5 readers!), write a list of the little things that routinely touch your life or encourage your heart. Create a smile file so you have something to remind you of yourself when it starts to disappear. It can undoubtedly change the course of your day. When you weave them together, something nearly magical happens. You are released from your own circumstances when you remind yourself of the reasons to smile, and when you encourage someone else - regardless of your circumstances. My little things have been in abundance over the last week and I felt inspired to share:
- I wasn't off the plane for 15 minutes, when I noticed a weeks worth of mail on my dashboard. I was anticipating the number of people who would want something from me, bills in abundance and reminders of what I had not done in my day life. I found, however, a beautiful card that brought tears to my eyes, as a member of my ministry wrote "we watch you and wonder in amazement - I see you." Enough said, I didn't open another thing. Trinket - a card.
- I have started texting my high school BFF, a practice that has brought joy to my life. I shared a few recommendations about fairly personal products and was happy to have her report, "you done good." From high school exchanges about mean girls to adult travel and new life choices, I was reminded of the quote " make new friends, but keep the old - one is like silver, the other is gold." I had gold brought back into my life and have embraced more responsibility in keeping it deemed precious. Trinket - gold.
- Don't expect a list of sentimental hoopla and wonderful reflections on the good life. I returned home to 5 consecutive days of ministry obligation, and I needed a sugar rush by day 4. On a particular church anniversary night every plan for our Nursery ministry started to fall through the cracks - location, volunteers, set-up, etc. I was solidifying my nerves when I encountered a happy praise fest that still lingers in my heart. Surrounded by thousands of dollars of computer equipment, we created an island oasis in the corner of the room, where praises went up - and poop, and the temperature, laughter too - and my attitude went down. You simply cannot have a bad attitude and serve children well. It helps when you are surrounded with enough love, laughter, latitude and longevity to keep it all in perspective. I require women in my circle who have experienced more of life than the law should allow, who praise God fiercely in spite of their circumstances and who smile through the challenges of life. Trinket - diapers. I'm still laughing.
- At a Youth Experience I asked a group of female teenagers to describe what they could tell about me from the outside, or from what they encounter - based on their level of exposure. Some girls had known me for 3 hours, some for nearly 3 years. The list of items that they observed - mother, smiling, teacher, encourager, AKA, woman of God, truth teller, ministry worker..... and wife. Every time I'm with the young people they indicate they observe me as wife. (No pressure, right?) The trinket for this simple exercise is that of sunglasses. No matter how cool you might aspire to be, people see you. Right or wrong, accurate or inaccurate - they see you. When I'm seen I want to be the full, complete, total woman of God I aspire to be. I want to be a package to behold that is not placed into a tiny box based on one affiliation, one characteristic or one short coming. I am indeed the many things that they shared - with a healthy dose of sarcasm, dry humor, type A personality, loner and crybaby to boot. I am me. Carry your sunglasses as a trinket to see clearly, in the midst of the beaming rays of Son from our Saviour - because God sees you as you really are. And. He. Still. Loves. YOU!
- All conversations are not created equal. The trinket in this last lesson would be a monkey, one that could see, hear, and most importantly speak no evil. I returned with a desire to create encouragement where I need it most - or at least where I need it more. I have had a desire for couples fellowship that was substantive, entertaining, accountable... and in a recent conversation I shared that desire. I left thinking that I would help to be a catalyst for an important couples fellowship, fill a need that exists in the lives of many women I know, I was just thrilled at the future success. Two days later I had a conversation that resembled a game of grade school telephone the summarized less than one-tenth of my thoughts about the couples to, or not to include. I had become the catalyst in a game of dominoes that seemed to topple over creating messiness along the way. I felt both responsible and grieved all at the same time. Once I started writing out the scriptures in the Bible that dealt with the power of the tongue and I realized that God was intentional in encouraging us to listen for wisdom, talk less. The little monkey trinket serves as my reminder for that now - I think I'll live the marriage encouragement for those who have proven themselves something other than a nuisance. I think I'll save that outreach until I've gotten more resolved about the essence of Encouraging One Another.