Exchanging Encouragement

Exchanging Encouragement

Encouragement and delight are twins—on the same page.  If you have one, the other shows up. Encouragement doesn’t always mean speaking, it also means being present, praying, listening, singing, helping to clean up the church kitchen, giving a ride to someone without transportation, dropping a meal off at a Senior’s home or after a death, calling someone who lives alone, making a visit, sending a thinking of you note, get well or birthday card, mowing a neighbor’s yard or simply smiling.

Encouragement is also giving and receiving Christmas gifts--a two-way delight claiming a major part of the refreshment.  Another exchangeable, but invisible gift is refreshing encouragement in a small group setting, and such is what our Sunday class of twelve was surprised to receive ten minutes into our study led by our visiting inspirational speaker.

The door squeaked open and Patti, dressed in a lacy green Christmas dress, smiling and with her arms outstretched announced “I’m here! Finally!” We all looked up. “It’s great to see all of you! It’s been a long time. (Medical problems and the Pandemic had kept her away).  I need to hug each one of you,” she said as she butterflied around the room giggling with delight and delivering the promised hugs and giving the guest a gift bag as she always had done. The rest of us could do nothing except watch, listen and rejoice with her. Routinely contagiously-enthusiastic and grateful, Patti was back.  “Oh, I apologize for intruding and arriving late”, she said as she took her seat.  “We are very happy to see you, Patti”, I assured her. In just a couple of minutes we resumed our study.  My first thought was that this experience pictures an excellent example of exchanging encouragement which we had discussed earlier from Heb. 10:25. Let us not give up meeting together…. but let us encourage one another.

“I’ve never experienced anyone expressing this much delight in returning to church” a hug-receiver shared later. I didn’t get to speak with our visitor or Patti before they left, but I did wonder what our speaker, who had met her in previous years, thought about the episode.  Several hours later our guest called to say his flight had been on time; he was headed home from the airport.  I asked what he thought about Patti’s blustery entrance.  He said it was evident that she was delighted to see her friends and it didn’t bother him. He was happy to see her and appreciated the usual bag of goodies for his trip home.  Patti called me the next day concerned about being late and causing commotion but she had to wait until her ride came. She was so relieved when she learned what John thought. Refreshing encouragement was exchanged. He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. Prov. 11:25b

But that wasn’t all: After Sunday School was over, our little church on the Second Sunday of Advent was filled with members we hadn’t seen for nearly two years due to pandemic restraints. An atmosphere of joy prevailed as people greeted each other, sang Christmas Carols, heard the bell choir and listened to a challenging message. Hearts brimming with joy are pleasing to the Lord.

There’s no substitute for a circle of friends where exchanges of encouragement flow freely. I urge everyone to find a group of people to study, teach, bake, exercise, sew, play music, darts, ball or volunteer, etc.  Jim enjoyed his small group of Optimist members as they served the community together. And he always encouraged me to go to aquatics no matter what and never hesitated to crawl out of bed to drive me to class on snowy days.  He read and listened to music as he waited in the car.  He wanted to keep me safe and he knew how much the class meant to me.

As I recently walked in our development, I saw neighbors on ladders affixing the decorations in place which reminded me of Jim because he delighted in putting up Christmas lights on our dogwood tree, around the bay window, on bushes and porch columns for the grandkids. Jim never complained about the work involved and the struggle on bitter breezy November days to get it all done before snow arrived.

Gradually, decorated Christmas trees appeared in bay windows, wreaths and decorated homes with various styles of light promoting a welling of delight, joy and ultimately, encouragement. The homes were beautiful.  But my house remained dark, I mused.

When my son Roger and his wife, Elaine, arrived on Thanksgiving Eve, he hung our huge relic wreath up on the porch.  When they learned that I wanted some kind of lights on the wreath we looked online to see what was available. Elaine asked if I had any outdoor lights which made me laugh because Jim had many strings of fairly new outdoor lights.  “I just need one string”, she said.  So, we went to the basement to look through Jim’s stash of outdoor Christmas lights that were all wrapped neatly in several boxes. Elaine chose a fairly long multicolored string.

Roger brought the wreath inside and Elaine began to expertly tuck the string of lights around the greens. I enjoyed watching the enthusiastic designer at work.  They hung it again and I located one of Jim’s extension cords which she plugged into the porch-light timer.  The wreath, even more beautiful than I had imagined, brought tears of joy. A priceless gift.  A few days later I noticed that new neighbors directly across the street had a lovely decorated bay window with lights that changed color. I emailed her that I was enjoying her outdoor window decorations.  Her response was: “Your lighted wreath inspired me to decorate our porch and window.  We hope your holidays are going well.”

Trees, wreaths, lights all emphasizing delight and encouragement represent Jesus--the reason for the season--and help us to celebrate his humble birth. Decorations, cards, family newsletters, photos, gifts, family dinners, special music and worship services are encouraging and refreshing.

There are many ways to encourage others; just showing up for a meeting encourages a leader, listening to someone who is suffering a loss or rejoicing when a friend shares a breakthrough with their medical condition as occurred this last week as our small group of ladies met for bible study with an 8 ½ x 11 single spaced 8 font filled with prayer requests brought by the members which represent people all over the world who are encouraged because we pray for them. As we hear of miracle healing, successful surgeries, births, family problems solved, missionaries’ reports, etc., we are encouraged. In turn they are encouraged by our prayers. We often send cards signed by each to the people for whom we pray. Another two-way street.

I happened upon verses from Habakkuk this week which added inspiration to my already blessed heart about a day when Israel faced certain invasion which reflects a common-thread-sentiment to our adjustment to the Covid Pandemic and all its sadness, restrictions and problems. The confident ending   is a very encouraging message to us as well.

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my savior.  The sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to go on the heights. Hab. 3:17-19

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

As we count our blessings that the pandemic is on the downturn, and we can celebrate the holidays with our families, be aware that many people are still hurting and need assistance.