Sunday, February 5, 2017

Be an Encourager

I published a blog earlier on the topic of encouragement that was true and well written but failed to really capture what I was trying to say. I have been simmering on the topic of encouragement lately because I have witnessed its power on both the giving and receiving ends. Encouragement is potent because it is able to discharge discouragement of its strength. We have all experienced the potency of discouragement and all of the after shocks it can bring in our hearts. However, encouragement not only dominates discouragement, it has the potential to reinvigorate our souls with strength we did not know we had. It is for this reason that I think it is necessary for us to sharpen our skills at delivering effective and meaningful encouragement.

First, it is important to note that encouragement is not flattery. Flattery has at is deepest core a desire to get something from the other person. At it's worst, flattery is the desire to use your words to manipulate an outcome from another person. Whether that is some sort of transaction or just the desire to convince them that you are a nice and likable person, flattery is about you, not the other person.

Encouragement on the other hand is always about the other person. The motivation behind encouragement is to confer strength upon the recipient. Encouragement results in a sense of invigoration, fortitude, or renewed confidence. Encouragement has the power to take an idea and make it an action. It is a propelling word or deed that advances the spirit of another person. True encouragement makes a mark on the hearts of people.

If this sounds weighty and rare, it is because so many people have the intention of achieving encouragement but fail to consider how or what encouragement actually is. Below is an encouragement outline that helps distinguish flattery from encouragement and improves well-intentioned compliments to become compelling encouragement.

1. The Thinking Test- Does this word or action pass the thinking test? What I mean by that is, does it pass the guide we are given in Philipians 4:8?  Is it pure, lovely, true, noble, right, praiseworthy, or excellent? If not, then, it is likely not a thought that we ought to share.

2. The Helpful Test- Is this word or action helpful? Ephesians 4:29 says, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, except that which is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." This one is harder because we don't always know the needs of others. However, this verse does show us that if we are working to be helpful in our words of encouragement, we need to ask ourselves about its effect. Will this word build up or tear down? I have known a good number of "nice Christian" folk who undoubtedly thought they were being helpful but failed to consider the destructive effect of their words. Discouragement and encouragement can be distinguished by considering their effect.

If our words or actions pass those two tests, I think there are some ways that we can elevate the impact of our encouragement.

1. Be specific- Vague compliments will not result in lasting encouragement. "Hey, great job today" fails to help the other person see the impact of what they did or said. For all they know, you are just being nice. A non-specific comment can easily be dismissed or forgotten.

2. Draw out the significance- Help the other person see that what they said or did was important or meaningful. Situating your specific observation into a larger context, helps the other person recognize the role that what they did or said had in your life. If they said something during a conversation that really impacted you, tell them why. I don't know how many times I have had someone say to me, "Hey, thanks so much for being vulnerable in that conversation. I always thought I was the only one." That kind of comment helps me know that the risk I took in that conversation was worthwhile because it helped someone else become more open and feel more understood.

3. Consider the delivery- Public praise is sometimes appropriate. However, if what you feel led to say is intensely personal or maybe really significant, consider taking the time to go to them one on one or even write it down. I am a hoarder of well written notes of encouragement. They are stuck in every nook and cranny of my home and office. We may get this one wrong sometimes but these are the kind of mistakes I am ok making.

And Finally, my regular motto...
4. Say the good thing- I can't tell you how many times someone has sent me a text at just the right time to tell me that they are praying for me. Or when they have said something that was exactly what I needed to hear. Unfortunately, I don't think we do this enough with one another. I think we get intimidated or dismiss the nudge to text someone because we don't think it matters or sometimes because we don't want them to think we are being cheesy spiritual. We rob one another and ourselves when we hesitate to say the good thing. I have become more regular in just being willing to risk it and say the good thing and it seems that God keeps giving me opportunity after opportunity to be a strength giver to the people in my life.

Encouragement should not be bound up only in the closest relationships in our lives where we feel the safest to give love. Rather, we need to be risky encouragers. Notice the good in others and say it. Make it meaningful if you can and say it. Sometimes it really is not much at all. If your server is young and doing a great job, tell him so. If the checker at the grocery store seems stressed out by her day, offer her your patience and say something good to her. Say the good thing.

This world is long on downheartedness and short on cheer. We can be agents of change if we just consider how to offer relief through love in the form of an encouraging word.

"Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be Kind. Always." -Unknown

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Hey Girl, Give yourself grace...

I ran this morning for the first time in a very long time. It was slow and short but it was movement. Marathons and half marathons used to be my thing because my mantra was, "I do hard things." However I have realized something lately, the way I motivate myself has really changed. Gone are the days of self-domination. The old me would have been angry with my apparent laziness that must have been keeping me from lacing up my shoes. Quite a bit of shame and frustration would have accompanied me out the door. But not today. The inner voice has changed tones and taken on a grace-feel. I ran today because I wanted to and because it was good for me. As I was running this morning, I was thinking about the old me, and all my sisters out there who are like me. The purpose of this post is to issue a challenge for the other women out there who are working hard to make it all work but may be doing it in an unhealthy manner.

Goals are good. Health is good. But can we all just agree for a second that self-domination is bad? What I mean by self-domination is the tendency to issue high challenge with very little support or grace for ourselves in the process. Self-domination sounds like this internal monologue: "If you would just stop eating so much, those pants would look better." "You did it again, talked to much in that conversation. You are such a blabber-mouth." "Good grief, what is wrong with you? Your house is a disaster, your relationships are drama, and your kids are out of control. Why can't you just get your life together?" Grace on the other hand, is giving something that you don't think you deserve. Grace is a higher-good that out-pays self-domination every day of the week.

Self-domination is a cycle of ugly self-talk accompanied by negative emotions or a period of giving up. And if we will be honest, it is so normal for many women that we don't even recognize it as a pattern that can be broken. We don't know that there is a better, healthier way to live. For some of us, it is such a built-in, unconscious defense mechanism, we don't realize we could make a change. For me, self-domination was such a habit of mind that it took a wise older woman asking me a simple question for what was happening to become clear.

I was describing a situation in which I needed to make a change in my leadership behavior and going through all of the things I "should have" done or "needed" to do differently, voicing frustration with my lack of perfection. This wisdom woman said to me, "Why do you feel like you have to do it without help? Why are you dominating yourself like that?" At first,  the question didn't even make sense to me. Dominating myself? This is how I have learned to be successful. This figure it out determination is how I keep myself (and others) on track. You see, I felt like the lecture I gave myself was a necessary part of making progress toward my goals. I was worried if I adopted a different way of being, I would lose my ability to motivate myself toward achievement. It seems silly typing it now, but I thought being angry with myself for what I had not yet achieved was the fire I needed to complete all the things I needed to do. But I was wrong. There is a better way and I want to share it with you.

1. Stop the negative self-talk. It is ok to recognize what needs to change and be different in our lives but we should not allow the internal dialogue to ensue that we would not allow in our most treasured relationships. Why do we talk to ourselves in the most hateful of tones? If you would not say those same words to your dearest friend, don't say them to you. [And good grief, moms can we lay off of this for the health of our motherhood?--another day, let's have coffee]

2. High Challenge, High Support.  It is ok to set a high bar of challenge for yourself. I am the kind of girl that likes to do hard things. Not to be impressive, rather to prove to myself that I can do more than I think I can. It is a way of reminding my mind and body that the need to keep growing, to keep being alive. However, when we only give high challenge, we are being self-dominators. If we are really going to be alive and free, we must also allow ourselves some support. Do you need to lose some weight this year? Great. Decide what is doable, set that goal. But also give yourself a realistic time-table and the tools that you need to do it. It is not selfish to set your schedule up around being healthy. That is good support. Leave the office on-time, don't feel bad, and go to the gym. It is good to take care of you. High challenge is a good, achievable goals with high support is feeling good about doing what it takes to get there without the burden of all of that inner, negative self-talk.

3. Speak the truth in love. The bible talks about speaking the truth in love (Eph. 4:15) as if one without the other is just non-sensical. If we are going take out the negative self-talk, we need to insert something else. The inner monologue must be retrained to speak a different language. Did you miss your gym time this morning? Negative self-talk would tell you it is because you are lazy and fat. The truth is that you missed your gym time. That's it. It is not a moral statement about who you are. You may need to set your clothes out the night before to have a trigger for yourself  or put your alarm clock across the room. But you are not a bad person who cannot achieve goals. Love yourself enough to tell the truth to you.

The biblical definition of grace is to give something that we don't deserve. I would argue that this post doesn't fully land in the biblical definition grace, unless we alter the definition to read, "to give something that we *think* we don't deserve." Stop believing a lie my friends. You don't need to dominate yourself. Life is meant to be one of, well, life. Be alive and free today. Give yourself grace.

Love You.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Gospel Shoes

She gave me her shoes...They were the exact shoes I had in mind. They came with a string and a blessing attached. That's the end of the story. 

And here is the beginning. 
I met this angel woman recently. She was the kind of woman who is a bit effervescent, even from afar. I sat right behind her in a training, to which I was a late arrival. At the break, I complimented her shoes and asked where she got them. ALDO. I stored that away for later so I could find them online. You see, I had been mentally looking for this same pair of shoes. A little bit trendy and a little bit classic, because that is who I am. She had the exact shoes I was searching to find. 

This angel woman and I made small talk and moved on to learn what we needed to learn in our training sessions. I didn't know her story, but she had a shine to her that I liked nonetheless. I thought, I hope I give off that kind of grace vibe as my soul begins to mature. 

A day passed and we had another chance encounter in the hotel lobby. I rattled off a bit about a soul wrestling that is current, on the topic of flexing through the various demands of mothering, ministering, writing, and leading. She gave me words from her experience that eased some of my burden. She spoke life to me as a mother gives to a daughter. She encouraged me in my wrestling and strengthened my heart. That's what mother-people do after all.  I left her lighter. I thanked God that he had answered another prayer for me. On my way to this training I had prayed that he would give me someone to talk to about my stirring. He did that.

A day passed and it was time to leave our time of retreat. My soul had been filled up by so much goodness, rest, encouragement, and inspirational/applicable ideas. I hugged several new friends goodbye, including my encourager, and headed to the airport. When I arrived, I found out my flight back to OKC had been cancelled. The airline paid for me to return to the hotel and I headed back to relax and enjoy another day in sunny Florida. I thought to myself what a gift it was to get an extra day to recharge in a beautiful setting. 

When I got back to the hotel, I spent time in the hot tub and hung out with a few other new friends. At dinner that night, I bumped into my encourager again. She was surprised to see me still at the hotel and I explained that God had gifted me with an extra night in Florida. She beamed, asked me what shoe size I wore (8),  and told me to follow her. In her room, she had me try on her shoes. She said she wanted to give me her shoes and I tried to say no. But she replied, "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace. Your feet are fitted with the Gospel of Peace. I want you to take these shoes and pray for an important person in my life who needs to come back to the Lord." 

I was stunned. We prayed. I left. 

You see, I have never considered myself to have an unusually effective prayer life or a "prayer ministry." There have been distinct people in my life for whom I have been able to pray with particular fervor. But this dear, encouraging, generous woman may have unleashed something in my heart on that day with a simple pair of shoes and request wrapped up in a blessing. I have woken up every day since her request with a fire in my heart for not just her person but several other people and situations. 

I learned something that day. What God has for us is better than what we hope for ourselves. He gives us better things than we would give us, if the roles were reversed. The normal me would be tempted to over-spiritualize that statement. But I have some very cute, suede booties in just my size from a generous encourager to remind me, that sometimes God gives us the silly desires just to remind us that he sees our smallest details. 

I'm thankful. Filled up. And just needed to write it down.