Wednesday, June 25, 2014

“[She] encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the LORD.” ~ Acts 11:23

Encouragement. It's something that everyone needs and something that everyone can give. It comes more naturally to some people, but it is something we all have the ability to offer to others. In fact, it's something God calls us to do.

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…and we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.”
 ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:11, 14

My mom is a wonderful example of encouragement. She has always been one to encourage others - sending cards, talking to anyone and everyone, sharing God's love, etc. Since joining Facebook, she posts just about every evening a short post that includes encouragement in the form of a quote or short story and a Bible verse along with some love and smiles. I know that many people have been encouraged daily by these posts and I'm definitely one of them.

“Encourage one another daily.” ~ Hebrews 3:13

She also has created a list of six months worth of Scriptures, quotes and notes that she spends hours of time printing, cutting and folding to place inside jars or bowls that she then gives as gifts to people. A Scripture jar of encouragement that they can use again and again for daily doses of encouragement. I know this gift has been a great source of encouragement and support to many people over the years. Encouragement is definitely one of her gifts and her example has definitely been influential in my life.

“You never know when a moment and a few sincere words can have an impact on a life forever.”
~ Zig Ziglar

The above quote has definitely been my experience. When I look back at my life, I remember many such moments and their impact on my life. Not always are the words something that I completely remember, but more the feeling of the words and how it affected me. In my Bible I have a few special saved mementos. First is a note from my dear friends and mentors - a small dose of encouragement and support that has been an anchor in my life for over 15 years. The second is two pieces of paper - they are from the summer missions trips I went on in 1996 and 1998 and they include short notes from each of my teammates and leaders. They too have been in my Bible ever since and often provide a dose of encouragement and love when dearly needed.

“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ” ~ Colossians 2:2

A few months ago, I discovered some wonderful saved encouragement that I knew I had saved, but forgotten where it was. On my first summer mission trip, one of the many specific things we had to pack was paper towels and they had to be off the roll, in individual sheets, and folded into Ziploc bags. My mom took on the task of doing this for me, and unbeknownst to me, she wrote little notes of love and encouragement on some of the paper towels throughout. As I found them that summer they always seemed to arrive at just the moment I needed a reminder of home and love and support. At first I saved the whole paper towel, but as the summer progressed (8 weeks is a long time!) I started just saving the part with her note. :) All in all, my family was wonderful with encouragement that summer - I received mail at almost every stop and several care packages throughout and they always included enough so that I could share with my teammates as well. On my second summer I served as the nanny and my family was once again very supportive and I was able to use some of the abundance to write notes of encouragement to the rest of the team along with candy or mints or gum.

“Laying down your life means making your own faith and doubt, hope and despair, joy and sadness, courage and fear available to others as ways of getting in touch with the Lord of life. We are not the healers, we are not the reconcilers, we are not the givers of life. We are sinful, broken, vulnerable people who need as much care as anyone we care for.”
~ Henri Nouwen

I've discovered that as we build relationships with others, and start to be open and vulnerable it is easier to find ways to encourage others. Because the more you know their story and the more they know your story, the easier it is to want to find ways to be a support and show love. As I've gone through the past few years and the journey God has been taking me on, I've seen again and again the need to be real with each other. And it's scary to be real, because there is real fear of being rejected or feeling shamed. Unfortunately, sometimes that happens and some people can't or won't  be able to be loving and accepting and supportive. But, thankfully there are people out there who are just as broken and just as open to seeking deep friendship that puts God in the center. He wants us to be in relationship with each other, He made us for community, He intends for us to live and work and be together - building each other up, encouraging, supporting, convicting and loving one another.

“Our Lord insists on the social aspect of our lives; He shows very distinctly that we cannot further ourselves alone.”
~ Oswald Chambers

The friends and family that God has placed in my life have been so important in so many ways:
  • My parents have been such a loving and Godly example of faith and forgiveness. Their support and encouragement of me has been such an incredible blessing. I always know that I can go to them and in the past year or so it has been such a gift to have access to people who not only know me so well, but also know God so well and who can be a sounding board, reference and source of love and prayer.
  • My husband has been such a rock - supporting me even when my journey didn't always make sense, and being for me no matter what. He hasn't had the same questions or worries and yet he's been 100% on my side and his love and encouragement have been vital.
  • My sister has definitely been a part of my spiritual journey of the last year. We've faced some struggles together - from different perspectives and it has been so helpful to have her support and love. I'm so thankful to have her as not only my sister, but also my friend.
  • My mentors have been such a blessing and their wisdom and advice has been so incredibly encouraging and helpful, especially as I passed through the hurt feelings last year and also their insight in directing me toward this passion to share my journey.
  • Several friendships that have deepened over the past year or so have been invaluable to my ability to process through this spiritual crisis, to grow closer to God and see His leading and direction in my life and to feel the warmth and support of loving community.
  • There are many other people in my life who have been so important to me, and just because they aren't mentioned here doesn't mean that they haven't meaningfully impacted my life. I honestly could spend hours of time listing those who have been an encouragement and support to me and I am so thankful for them and for God's plan in putting them in my life.

“Worry weighs us down; a cheerful word picks us up.” ~ Proverbs 12:25

 “Congenial conversation – what a pleasure! 
The right word at the right time – beautiful!”
~ Proverbs 15:23

Last weekend, my sister and I had the opportunity to spend the night at our cousin's home. We hadn't seen her in almost a year and we were so excited by the opportunity to spend time catching up and having a fun girl's night. God knew how much we needed this time and as the evening progressed and we spent almost four hours sharing the journey of the past year it became more and more clear how much we all needed this soul care. We three are very different people who look at the world differently, who react to life differently, who have different personalities - but God is so good. He has placed us together as family and what an amazing gift it is to have people who love you, people who can see things from a different perspective, people who can encourage and uplift you. Our cousin had some wonderful words of encouragement for both of us - perhaps even prophetic words. They were heartfelt, they were inspired by God and they were full of love and grace and truth. We cried a lot, we also laughed a lot and we hugged a lot. It is a gift to have people like my sister and my cousin who have been part of my life for almost my entire life - we know each others stories and strengths and weaknesses and we love each other. God is so good and I am so thankful.

“May our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” ~ 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

Dear heavenly Father, Thank You for the gift of encouragement. Thank You for the gift of Your Word which is a constant source of encouragement and wisdom. Thank You for the people You have brought into my life - people who have encouraged me and people that I have been privileged to encourage. I pray for those who feel they have no source of encouragement - that they would feel Your presence and Your love in their life and that they might have the opportunity soon to have someone encourage them. I pray for wisdom and discernment to know who to encourage and how to do so - for the right words and the right approach. I pray for the courage and bravery to go out of our comfort zones and encourage someone this week.Thank You God for the encouragement You provide through Your Word and Your people. I love you. Amen.

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