We Need the Encouragers

So many people are quietly desperate for the behind-the-scenes cheerleaders, the roar at the finish line, the pats on the back, or the thoughtful notes replenishing the soul with uplifting words.

We need our encouragers. They get us through the tough times, and they celebrate with us in the good times.

An encourager helps us to remember our voice when we think we’ve lost it.

An encourager cheers us back to believing in ourselves after we’ve made so many mistakes.

They see our potential when we’ve lost sight of our own strengths.

They give us gentle feedback to help us to improve.

Or, they rev up our soul with words of affirmation.

Encouragers inspire.

They challenge us with reminders of hope. They teach us to dare.

They matter. They make a difference. They are catalysts of greatness.

Even the encouragers need to be encouraged.

Where would the world be without the encouragers?

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Achieve Your Dream: 10 Things To Help You Along the Way

What dream is on your heart? What do you hope to achieve? Do you wish to accomplish something that seems so big—so outside the box—but you just don’t know where to start? I know the feeling!

So let’s get down to the nitty gritty and talk about 10 things we can do in order to help slay that goal of ours, whatever it may be:

#1) Acknowledge it—Know your goal. What is it? Write it down. Make a list of things you will need to do in order to accomplish your goal.

#2) Declare it— Tell people! Speak it out loud. This might seem scary, but it will challenge you in amazing ways you never imagined. Be brave and ask for help if you need it.

#3) Embrace it—Willingly and enthusiastically come to terms with the fact that it’s likely going to take a good amount of effort and patience to get to where you want to be. You will learn so much on this journey you’ll be on!

#4) Keep things in motion—Set small deadlines for yourself along the way. This is so helpful! Whenever I stop setting dates to accomplish the tasks I need to complete to reach my goal, I usually get distracted, uninspired, and off-track. In addition to deadlines, keep things moving along by learning more about where you’re headed. Find podcasts, websites, and read books about the topics related to your dream.

#5) Let it rest if you need to—Grit is a good thing, but sometimes we need to take a breather and be okay with releasing a goal if it’s just not turning out the way you hoped. Learn to listen to your heart…and if you feel pulled in a different direction, then go for that instead. You’re allowed to change your mind. 🙂

#6) Give yourself grace—If you encounter a mishap, make a mistake, have a set back, or stop working towards your goal, don’t beat yourself up about it—just get right back up again and get back to it if it’s still something you dream of achieving. We are too hard on ourselves. You’re still cool!

#7) Be yourself—It’s likely there are many other people in the world with the same goal in mind as you. That’s okay. Don’t let that stop you. What you’re doing comes from you and there is no one exactly like you. 🙂

#8) Be proud—I don’t know about you, but I tend to get a little shy when it comes to my dreams. Sometimes I wonder if they are silly or outrageous. I’m not working on my goals in order to make money, but think on this whenever you get that uncomfortable feeling that your idea is goofy or even maybe unworthy: Beanie Babies, Chia Pets, Snuggies, and Slinkys. Yep, those people made millions.

#9) Find encouragers—This is one of my favorites. There are people out there who are ready to root for you. Find them! Make a list of who is in your corner and refer to it in those times when doubt might set in or when you feel like you’re going at it alone. It’s such a powerful thing to realize that you are not alone and that many, many people want the best for you and want to see you succeed.

#10) Pray about it—Above all, pray about your dream. Is it something you feel God is leading you to do? Does it keep you up at night? Does it keep coming back to you even when you think you might not be equipped or qualified to accomplish it? Does it feel right, even though you might be scared to try? Pray for wisdom. Pray that He will help you discern the things which He has put upon your heart rather than the things others might be pushing you to do. Pray for courage and strength. You’ve got this!

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Forgiveness

Do you forgive others swiftly? Is it easy for you? For me, it depends on the situation. In my head, I know Jesus instructs us to be forgiving, but honestly sometimes my heart just isn’t willing to do it right away. If ever.

It takes courage to forgive someone.

It takes vulnerability.

It takes a heart full of grace.

For the most part, I’d say I am quick to forgive. If someone cuts me off on the road, I might find my temper flaring, but a few minutes later I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. “Maybe they have to rush to the hospital,” I tell myself. “Maybe their wife is in labor!”

If someone I consider a friend doesn’t invite me to their party, I usually don’t fret long about it. “I’m sure there’s a good reason…maybe they just wanted to hang out with a different set of friends tonight.” And I go off and do my own thing, or join someone else.

But sometimes the wound is deep. Sometimes the protective bandage you wrap around your heart is wrapped so tight you’re afraid to let it unravel. So you keep it bound without letting go. “I’m just not ready,” your mind whispers to your heart when it calls on you to release the tight binding.

The problem is, when you don’t tend to a wound, it can fester and get ugly and become ten times worse than when it started. A heart can’t beat freely if it’s being squeezed with contempt.

About five years ago, someone close to me hurt my feelings badly. And even though many times I’ve read the verse below when Peter asks Jesus how many times we should forgive someone—and Jesus’s answer equates to 490 times— I’m still struggling with it to this day.

We’re so quick to point the finger. To declare we would never do such a thing or treat people in such a way. But if we take an honest glance at our past, not one of us has never hurt someone in some way. Maybe not physically, maybe not intentionally…but feelings get hurt…betrayals…the loss of a temper. Each one of us at some point in our life has had the need to be forgiven by somebody. We are human. It is going to happen. We cannot avoid it 100% no matter how faultless we aim to be.

I strive to be kind, but I know I’ve fallen short and I’ve been fortunate to experience the forgiveness of others in the past. I hope that grace has been extended to you with your mistakes, as well. And so, if a day comes when I expect forgiveness but don’t receive it, if I ask myself when that time comes, “Why won’t they forgive me?”…well, all I can do is look in the mirror and see a heart that is also battling to forgive.

Some injustices are horrifying, and some offenses are seemingly unforgivable. I often watch the news in disbelief at the atrocities of many conscienceless members of society. How could we possibly be called to forgive them?

In those moments, I try to remind myself that forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to be okay with what they did. It doesn’t mean they shouldn’t go unpunished. It doesn’t give the green light to stay in an environment that is physically dangerous or emotionally hurtful.

It’s just that, by forgiving, we are to let go of the anger and resentment we feel towards that person. In large part, it’s an act of freeing the bitterness inside of you so that it doesn’t sour your soul.

In the bible, Jesus himself forgave those who were crucifying Him on the cross (Luke 23:34). Those who were driving the nails into his palms and ankles, those who bloodied His head with a crown of thorns…those who left him on a cross to suffer and die. If He could forgive them, surely I can work on forgiving those whom I need to also forgive.

Forgiveness.

Not easy, but not impossible.

Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” -Matthew 18:21

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Broccoli Bird

My breath…I can feel it finally returning from a few weeks lost. Caught up, it was, in excitement and self-doubt—too impatient to go deep and swell, too busy to give clarity as it ought to do.  It takes wistful, eclectic Celtic music on a chilly Sunday afternoon to find the rhythm of the air which enters and leaves my lungs, peaceful and long. Staring up at the timid sunlight stripes at the tops of the windows, I pause to be thankful for this solitary moment.

Away from the music, outside, the wind chimes are right on cue to begin their daily two o’clock performance. It makes me wonder about the silky black cat who loiters frequently in our flowerbeds.

As I walk on bare feet from the couch to the back door, I think about the next chapter I’m about to read in a book recommended over at Higher Purpose WritersBird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I’ve peeked ahead to see the next chapter is called “Broccoli”. In the middle of that thought, I rub the bottoms of my feet on the cold hard floor to somehow warm them. On days like these, they miss carpet.

Do I really want to read several pages who introduce themselves as “Broccoli”? The tree-like vegetable is something I simply tolerate out of necessity. Thinking on necessities, I turn the knob on the door leading to the backyard, curious about the cat….believing that after I check on him, I will need water and chocolate. My mind nags that only one of those is truly a necessity, but I don’t have the heart to choose a winner. It will have to be both today. My eyelashes touch the blinds as I spy midnight fur on wood.

Yes! My mind both celebrates and decides at once. Yes, the black cat lounges in the tangled tanbark yet again. The corners of my smile lift higher at the evidence of that small joy. A furry creature is good news, because life itself is always welcome here. Even though we are not cat lovers. His head swivels quickly at the first sound of the door cracking open, only a bit, just enough to peer out with both of my hazel eyes and the tip of my nose. I breathe in cold afternoon sunshine.

Will he come closer today? My breath holds, just like it has for weeks. Waiting, anxious, excited all at once. Like with the writing. We stare each other down….one heartbeat, two…my hope floats as the third and fourth beat pulse silently between us. His yellow green eyes so like mine are fascinated with something in me. He stretches his arms and legs out slowly, eyes still glued to mine—a small victory, as it is a clue that he grows more comfortable near our home. Maybe he is a she. Maybe someday we’ll make introductions. Mike and I would like that. Even if he is cat.

Before my veins pulse for a fifth time, he-she sprints to the intersecting boards where four properties meet. With one swift leap, he is up and over the other side of the fence heading to the place we assume is where he calls home. Today, though, he stops a moment and bends his neck to look backward at me one more time. He stares. I don’t cower. My turf…but I plead with my eyes for him to stay. To add a little mischief and laughter to our forsaken backyard now that Amber has gone. With a slow blink, he reassures me he’ll return. I wave small, hopeful, and pivot back to face Bird by Bird waiting on the arm of my reading chair.

Yes to the broccoli, too, then. Because just like the hope that someday I will pet that cat and be close enough to hear him purr, I want to learn more about writers and how they think. What works and what doesn’t. If I am like them. And with each word, the author draws me in to a sense of familiar and home. She’s already had me whispering yes to her sentence that says “Writing can be a desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong.”

Hand on the door, pulling it closed, I recall my jaw dropping—like that moment when you realize there’s a surprise birthday party going on and you belatedly realize the party is for you—when on the fifteenth page I read, misty-eyed as it hit me, “Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth.” 

And so, as this adventure of carving out time to write for some kind of meaningful purpose sometimes has me breathless with many emotions, defeat will not be one of them. I’ll even read about broccoli, if need be. As I leave this page to go dive into another, I can’t help but be thankful for music, which leads me to nature, which leads me to cats, which leads me back to learning, which leads me back to writing.

Time, patience…perseverance. Breath.

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Unique Friends

I’ve known silence. Maybe not as oppressively as some. It can be a soothing, needed balm to the soul. It can also be the destination of lonely. Being my mother’s only child, I grew up in a quiet house. I was reading before I ever remember learning how to read. And in my books, I found gateways to worlds I could visit, introducing me to life beyond the walls that knew me. When I wasn’t escaping into fiction, I stared dreamily up at the ceiling as I discovered the power of music. Books and music—lenders of comfort…a comforting joy. My first friends.

I’ve had a few amiable pets throughout my lifetime, but about a dozen years ago, I met the best dog friend ever. A round bellied chocolate lab puppy named Amber, she pranced around the grass in a backyard filled with her already adopted brothers and sisters. She sported a white ring around her tail, which we think may have been the reason why she hadn’t been picked yet. It was down to two, and even though the other puppy left had a perfectly good tail, we chose Amber because she ran straight to Mike when he called for her from across the green, silky autumn grass. Silly people…they missed out on the greatest dog in all the world.

As soon as we brought her home, she dominated her new backyard. Only about twelve inches tall back then, she was, and she made it clear to every bird and squirrel in her dominion that she ruled the roost. “Don’t mess with Amber”, said her little proud stance guarding her backyard world, “and don’t mess with my mom and dad.” That would be us.

She was our little girl…this bouncy, seriously hyper little ball of brown fur. She failed puppy school, she ate a hole in the carpet, and socks cried in fear of her presence knowing they would disappear from the world if she crossed paths with them. We spoiled her. Not a single night did she sleep outdoors. Even when Mike had to stay in the hospital overnight and I stayed with him, the kind neighbors next door took our girl over to their house to sleep inside. She was older by then, taller and full grown…but every bit still the best dog ever.

She was entirely sweet, though, and only gruff when protective. Amber won the medal in our hearts for “Best Companion”. On hard days, she was there to lick the tears which would drip onto my shins as I sat in momentary defeat. When I got ready in the mornings, she was there to supervise my makeup routine, tail whacking rhythmically against the linoleum floor in contented approval. When we went to sleep at night, it was hard not to notice she was there…stubbornly digging in for snuggles on the bed and then trotting off about a half hour later to the couch where she would settle for the night.

Sometimes, I can still hear her nails click clacking on the hard floors. I imagine she’ll slowly meander and stretch her way up to the dishwasher to “help” put the dishes in as always. When the doorbell rings, once in awhile I forgetfully pause and wait for her curious bark.

Oh…my girl.

The day we came home without her was unbearable. Healthy until just a few weeks before she went to heaven, her loss was a shock. Our hearts ripped out of our chests, our shoulders shook with grief. We had known all along we loved her, doted on her, and relied on her for laughs. We had never taken her for granted, knowing the unreasonably short lifespan of dogs. She was family;  she meant the world to us—but we didn’t know just how much until she was gone.

If I were given the option to never know her if it meant we would never experience the pain of losing her, I wouldn’t trade a single day of having her in my life. I can truly say with all my heart that I can relate to Tennyson’s line ” ’tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Because of Papa, because of Dad, because of others I have loved…and, yes, because of Amber.

The loss of her friendship was rough. I wasn’t prepared for the thick silence that came with her absence. It was the kind of silence that squeezed my throat and beckoned tears which held my breath captive. The kind of deafening void that compounded the reality of knowing she was really not going to be sitting on the doormat outside the back door waiting patiently to be let in.  The silence that sharply teases with phantom musical shakes of the collared dog tags lost to heaven.

I felt abandoned once again, forsaken. Lost. A dog, yes. But one of my best friends. She filled my afternoons with joy, and was the best secret keeper I had. Funny how we can find such sincere companionship in four-legged creatures. Hard to explain, yet so easy to accept. I had to accept and relearn the silence.

But with her loss, I regained something amazing. I realized that I’d nearly forgotten about the One who was still there with me all along.

One afternoon in late March of this year, eight months after Amber passed away, I’d flung myself onto my bed in overwhelm. My temples pounded a heavy drumbeat while warring against processing a heap of new knowledge that my crowded brain had no room for. I had decisions to make, and uncertainty to conquer. I was mostly happy, yet in that moment I felt exhausted and confused. In need of cheer. In the past, Amber would have sensed my discontent and would’ve burrowed in for a comforting cuddle, or nosed her ball at me to distract me with a game of fetch.

So on that day, without her, I didn’t quite know what to do with myself. My Christian textbook answer was prayer. “Time to pray!”, my memory called out to me faintly. I wore the label of knowing Jesus, but when was the last time I really sought Him in prayer for my own tender heart? It had been awhile. I prayed for others, but when was the last time I spent quiet moments sharing with God about my needs? My slowly hardened heart had been filled with assumptions that He didn’t need to hear all about me, when in reality He longs to spend time with us. However, instead of praying, I still just sat idle and contemplated how to overcome this emotional avalanche. On my own. In need of a friend. I was geographically far away from my friends at home, and…

I didn’t have my BFF anymore. Amber.

Squeezing my eyes shut, I searched my mind for a solution. The silence would always be there, loved ones, beloved pets…they would inevitably come and go. Amber had served us well as a happy, loving pet. But I wanted to retain the joy that she brought to us. I needed to have something, Someone to hold onto that would never die. My memory tickled my brain again…“The first, the last…the beginning and the end” (Revelation 22:13)….and then the words became stronger from the inside, from the deep cellars of my ears, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20).  I have believed in Jesus for thirty years, but it had been a long time since I remembered what a friend we have in Him (John 15:15). I remembered that day.

After a long breath, laying there with the words of the familiar bible verses floating around in my mind, clarity unfolded in my heart—a butterfly emerging slowly from its cocoon. A thought had fluttered into my mind—one I knew I could hold onto forever–and I sighed with adoration at the beauty of it. The comfort in it. The silence can be lovely, and not unsettling because we are never truly alone. As dear as they are, friends come and go…but ultimately there is one friend who outshines them all.

And if the love and joy we have from our wonderful friends in our presence and in our memories can feel so good, isn’t the love and joy we can receive from our God and Creator a million times more? Smiling, soul-relieved, I pulled out my hot pink leather journal from the bedside table…the one that boldly says “Amazing things can happen” across the front…and I wrote down six little words which I knew wouldn’t be denied:

“Jesus, will you be my BFF?” 

And then I prayed. I knew Amber would joyfully approve with a great big “Woof!”.

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