Standing on the playground after school, a fellow mom, a friend shimmied up next to me and whispered in my ear, “You’re such a good mama.”
I looked around to find each of my girls — to see what I’d done, what they’d done to deserve this compliment.
Helping an injured child to his feet after he’d fallen in the bark dust? Smiling kindly while talking to another mom about the day? Taking a stand for what was right?
But the girls did the kind of things they always did. J swung hard on the monkey bars. Sici talked in the field with her friends. Lala shifted her weight from foot to foot, waiting for a turn at the tire swing.
I looked back to my friend, touched and slightly confused.
“You are doing such a good job,” she said. “I just needed to tell you.”
I gather with friends I mentor and my mama, my sisters, dear ones with whom I pray, a blessed soul sister-fellow lover of words, and I know anew the value of encouragement. These words that drip love and knowing and say I see you.
I give them, and I receive them. It’s usually not too hard, if I only remember.
I feel the light weight of these word treasures landing in my lap, imagine them with shapes and color all their own and tuck them away.
When Michael and I married more than 14 years ago, we spoke a portion of our own vows. I don’t remember any of the lines by heart, save this one:
I will choose to believe the best about you.
And speak it, we could have said. For this is the building, stone by stone a dwelling place of love that encourages.
From the time I was a child, I thrived on words of encouragement. Truly, I needed them. When someone told me I was smart, pretty, helpful, brave, in my mind — for at least a glimmer — I became smart, pretty, helpful, brave.
The gift of these words found their foil in words not spoken. If no one gave a compliment, I assumed the worst. I was no longer smart, pretty, helpful, brave. I’d have to work hard to be that again.
And so this journey of adulthood has often been about choosing to believe what is simply true, receiving what God says is me, his child, whether spoken or thought by another human soul.
I began blogging partly because I am designed to encourage, and so I pray with everything in me that God might use this place to bring refreshing to dry places, that coming here would help remind you — even in small part — the uniquely colored and beautifully formed gift of you.
What I never anticipated in writing several times a week on these Draw Near pages is this community I would meet and that the words of you new and old friends spoken back to me would be such honey, love, life. I treasure each one.
In the kind of writing I do here, I’m not usually “asked” to take hugely controversial stands, though proclaiming the name and power of Jesus can certainly be that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid to speak what I feel needs said. But, unlike another blogging and writing friend who must pan through loads of mean, pointed rocks due to the hard stand she’s been called to take in her writing space, my comment box is filled with much pure gold.
You don’t need to always agree with me — please, don’t do that. But when you tell me how you’ve been seen or felt or known — oh friends, how that blesses me in my little place in the world, and my eyes fill again with true thanks at your encouraging gift.
So how to receive these gifts of encouragement without needing them in that gripping, clutching, soul-desperate way? I am still learning, but I believe it’s largely in knowing who I am. Knowing that I am crafted and held, beheld and loved by an all-seeing, all-gracious God who treasures me and desires me.
Perhaps it is, too, in living more concerned with the giving of encouragement than the receiving of it.
St. Francis prayed this:
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love.
And may I seek to find others — on the playground, in the neighborhood, across seas, in my very own home — to give the consolation, understanding, love.
Not waiting for another to be deserving of this building-up because in reality, none is. Not waiting for another to speak it to me first. But to give the very essence of what we ourselves seek.
Receiving the gift where it is, treasuring the unexpected grace of it, then giving it away and so becoming the gift.