Be an Encourager

 
Be an Encourager
 

Be an Encourager

This past weekend I watched the Grammy awards and couldn’t help but notice a pattern. Many of the winners started their acceptance speeches with some version of, “I just want to thank ______ for encouraging me to believe in myself, or take a risk, or be true to myself, to never give up….” The implication is that without the encouragement they are referencing, they might never have been able to accomplish what they did.

Most of us will not ever find ourselves giving an acceptance speech in front of millions of viewers, but most of us have received the gift of someone who has encouraged us. Pause for a moment and bring to mind someone who encouraged you at some point in your life. Do you remember what they said? Perhaps not, but you likely remember the spirit of what they said, and how much it boosted your confidence and self-esteem.

The first three words in the quote in the box above by Dave Willis are so simple that it would be easy to miss their power. Be an encourager. I have already noted the significant impact encouragement has on people in the frequency with which its power is referenced in the award speeches at the Grammys. Offering encouraging words to your child, partner, friend, colleague, family member, or even a stranger, is so simple do to and yet we can often immediately see their positive effect.

In light of the celebration of Valentine’s ay the week, we have all seen countless images of hearts, including some version of the popular graphic that has the word “I” followed by a heart, which is then followed by the word you.

While the obvious meaning of this is “I love you,” it can also be interpreted as a perfect representation of the words, “I encourage you.” This is because the word “courage” derives from the same root as the Latin word for heart, “cor,’ and in Old French, the word “corage.” The prefix “en” means “to cause to be in,” or “to put in” and so together to encourage another person literally means to put heart into that person.

So who do you know that could use a little encouragement right now? What could you say or do that could put some heart into their lives? Your encouragement might not lead to their winning a Grammy someday, but I guarantee it will add some sweet music to their lives in the present moment.


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Change is Inevitable. Growth is Optional.

 
Change is Inevitable. Growth is Optional.
 

Change is Inevitable. Growth is Optional.

The above quote, "Change is inevitable. Growth is optional" from author John Maxwell, is one of my favorites. Maxwell writes leadership books and so it is natural that the wisdom of this quote is often applied to organizations and businesses. In honor of Valentine's Day approaching, though, I would like to reflect on its meaning as it pertains to love and relationships.  

All relationships change, because change is inevitable. This is true of all relationships, whether they be with family, friends, or if they are romantic. While every relationship experiences change over time, not all relationships experience growth. Why? Because, as the Maxwell quote says, growth is optional. Growth only happens when both people in any relationship are committed to the ongoing emotional and spiritual growth that a mature relationship requires.  Growth occurs when both people can see conflict and difficult times simply as occasions and opportunities for growth and for learning new individual and relationship skills.  What does a committed student do when they come up against a problem they don't understand or can't solve? They work harder to figure it out, and in the process, they grow in their skill and knowledge. The same is true when both people in a relationship are willing to treat problems as opportunities to gain new knowledge and skills.  

One of my favorite bits of wisdom to share when counseling young couples is that love is much more than a feeling and that actually, love is primarily a decision.  It is so important to remember this in the midst of the constant images and messages we get through television and movies that focus primarily on love as a feeling. If love is primarily about feelings, then what do we do when the feelings naturally ebb and flow? Understanding that mature love is a decision is what helps us commit to persevering and growing, especially when we are experiencing challenges in our relationships and are not currently experiencing a lot of the feelings of love.   

Imagine a person walking into their local gym and saying to a personal trainer, " I want to get stronger, more flexible, and overall just get in better shape." The trainer would, of course, respond that they could help with that. Now imagine, the person added, "And I would like to receive these results without having to work at it, without feeling any discomfort as part of the process." It is easy to see that this is not going to work. When it comes to relationships, if the two individuals in the relationship want the feelings of love without committing to the decision to do the work, it is bound to fail. All significant relationships require both people committing to working on the relationship, in order for it to grow and mature.  

Change is inevitable. We don't have to make a decision for change to happen. It happens with or without our consent. Growth is what is optional, it only happens with our consent and when we make the decision to grow. 

While this wisdom is true for organizations and businesses, let's remember, in honor of Valentine's Day, that it is also true for all of the significant relationships in our lives. 


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Stay Warm

 
Stay Warm
 

Stay Warm

Most of my interactions with both friends and strangers this week here in the frozen Upper Midwest have ended with the same two words. Whether checking out at the grocery store or coffee shop, talking on the phone, or exchanging emails, the most commonly shared words of the week have been, "Stay warm."  For fun, I started counting how many times I have either said or heard these words, and as I write this it's been eleven times already just today, and it's only mid-afternoon.  Given that the temperature the past few days has reached 25 below zero here several days in a row, exchanging a reminder to "Stay warm" seems only appropriate. 


For the record, I really don't like bitter cold weather. I get really cranky when it's too cold to spend time outside. I get cranky when I have to constantly shovel and spread salt on our sidewalk. I get cranky when my furnace acts up, as it has this week. I get cranky when the fitness center we belong to is closed for most of the week (it is connected to our local high school and closes when school is canceled, as it has been the last three days). I get cranky when meetings get canceled due to cold or snow, and when the mail is cancelled, too. And, yes, I understand that's a lot of crankiness!


So in the midst of my episodes of crankiness this week, I suddenly realized I was receiving a regular message throughout the day of how to manage my moodiness. This message was hidden in plain sight, but when I realized it, it truly made a difference.  It happened a few days ago when someone once again uttered the words, "Stay warm" to me. For some reason, this time I heard those words in a whole new way. Rather than hearing them as reminding me to make good choices related to my physical well-being, I instead started hearing the words, "Stay warm" as a reminder for me to make good choices related to my emotional well-being.  


I have learned that staying warm emotionally is the perfect antidote for crankiness. I realized that just because its cold and stormy outside doesn't mean I have to be cold and stormy inside. Not that I don't still suffer short bouts of crankiness, but the very fact that I have set the intention to try and "Stay warm" is making a big difference. 


I am grateful that the forecast in our area for the next few days is for much warmer weather.  And while I may not be grateful for the extreme cold we have recently endured, I am thankful for the simple two-word lesson that so many people shared with me this week. 


You have probably already anticipated how this column is going to end..... "Stay warm" everyone.


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Coming Alive Through Small Acts of Kindness

 
Coming Alive Through Small Acts of Kindness
 

Coming Alive Through Small Acts of Kindness

My friend Matt Gunter, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, recently posted the story below on his Facebook page. He had received the story from a friend of his, and now it's my turn to share it with you. Its message is too beautiful not to be shared. I hope you agree, and will, in turn, share it with others. 


Howard Thurman sat on a train platform in his hometown of Daytona, Florida in 1915, crying his heart out. His family had raised enough money to send him to school, but he didn't have enough money to pay special shipping for his borrowed steamer trunk, which the ticket agent had just told him was too shabby and fragile to transport as regular baggage.


There were no schools for black children like Howard beyond 7th grade in Daytona, and to be unable to go to Florida Baptist Academy in Jacksonville would be the end of this brilliant young man's dreams. "Presently I opened my eyes and saw before me a large pair of work shoes. My eyes crawled upward until I saw the man's face. He was a black man, dressed in overalls and a denim cap. As he looked down at me, he rolled a cigarette and lit it. 


Then he said, "Boy, what in hell are you crying about?"

And I told him.


"If you're trying to get out of this damn town to get an education, the least I can try to do is help you. Come with me," he said.

He took me around to the agent and asked: "How much does it take to send this boy's trunk to Jacksonville?"


Then he took out his rawhide money bag and counted the money out. When the agent handed him the receipt, he handed it to me. Then, without a word, he turned and disappeared down the railroad track. I never saw him again."


Thurman got to Jacksonville. His battered old steamer trunk got there too. He grew up to be "an influential African American author, philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader. He was Dean of Chapel at Howard University and Boston University for more than two decades, wrote 21 books, and in 1944 helped found a multicultural church. Thurman, along with Mordecai Johnson and Vernon Johns, was considered one of the three greatest African-American preachers in the early 20th-century." (Wikipedia)


He was very close friends with an Atlanta preacher named Martin Luther King and a he became a lifelong friend and mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr. One of his most well-known quotes about the world needing more people who have come alive appears with his photo in the box at the top of this column.


We cannot know how much influence even the smallest act of kindness can have. Very few people will ever be a Howard Thurman. Even fewer will ever be a Martin Luther King, Jr. - but every single one of us, everyone, can be that man at the train station.

So what small act of kindness might we do for another today, something that just might help us and/or them to come alive? 



The story of what happened to Howard Thurman at the train station is told by him in, With Head and Heart, the Autobiography of Howard Thurman.


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Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell About It.

 
Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell About It.
 

Pay Attention. Be Astonished. Tell About It.

Mary Oliver, my absolute favorite poet, died this week at the age of eighty-three, and there is an ache in my heart. Accompanying the sadness is the gratitude I feel for how thoroughly she has enriched my life. Her poems make the deep accessible, describing the most profound and sacred mysteries of life with words that always stir my heart and soul. 


Writer Ruth Franklin perfectly captures the essence of this Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. "The way she writes these poems that feel like prayers, she channels the voice of somebody who it seems might possibly have access to God. I think her work does give a sense of someone who is in tune with the deepest mysteries of the universe."


If you are not familiar with Mary Oliver's poetry, do yourself a favor and spend some time getting to know her work. To help you get started, I am sharing with you of my favorite of her poems, "Sometimes." You can find more of her poems in books such as American Primitive for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1984 and in New and Selected Poems for which she won The National Book Award for poetry in 1992.  


Thank you, Mary, for connecting us with the Sacred both within and around us.



"Sometimes" by Mary Oliver

1.

Something came up

out of the dark.

It wasn't anything I had ever seen before.

It wasn't an animal

   or a flower,

unless it was both.

Something came up out of the water,

   a head the size of a cat

but muddy and without ears.

I don't know what God is.

I don't know what death is.

But I believe they have between them

   some fervent and necessary arrangement.

2.

Sometimes

melancholy leaves me breathless.

3.

Later I was in a field of full of sunflowers.

I was feeling the heat of midsummer. 

I was thinking of the sweet, electric

   drowse of creation,

when it began to break.

In the west, clouds gathered.

Thunderheads.

In an hour the sky was filled with them.

In an hour the sky was filled

   with the sweetness of rain and the blast of lightning.

Followed by the deep bells of thunder.

Water from the heavens! Electricity from the source!

Both of them mad to create something!

The lightning brighter than any flower.

The thunder without a drowsy bone in its body.

4.

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

5.

Two or three times in my life I discovered love.

Each time it seemed to solve everything.

Each time it solved a great many things

   but not everything.

Yet left me as grateful as if it had indeed, and

thoroughly, solved everything.

6.

God, rest in my heart

and fortify me,

take away my hunger for answers,

let the hours play upon my body

like the hands of my beloved.

Let the cathead appear again-

the smallest of your mysteries,

some wild cousin of my own blood probably-

some cousin of my own wild blood probably,

in the black dinner-bowl of the pond.

7.

Death waits for me, I know it, around

   one corner or another.

This doesn't amuse me.

Neither does it frighten me.

After the rain, I went back into the field of sunflowers.

It was cool, and I was anything but drowsy.

I walked slowly, and listened

to the crazy roots, in the drenched earth, laughing and growing.

"Sometimes" is from Red Bird by Mary Oliver, published by Beacon Press, 2008.


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