I used to watch Fred Rogers with my children and then repeats of the show with my grandchildren. He always had such an optimistic, encouraging attitude and with his soft voice, he would tell the children to “look for the helpers. They are always there.” I think that someone who is an encourager is a helper, in one of the best ways possible.
I have had many encouragers in my life, mentors in my Christian walk as well as friends and medical professionals. There are some who stand out in my memory and I am so thankful for them.
My mentors in my Christian walk have been ladies of the church that I was attending who saw my youth and inexperience and encouraged me to dig deeply into God’s Word and to pray daily. I enjoyed Bible studies with them, long discussions about what I believed and why, until ultimately, I was better able to understand what I was reading and to mentor others. They led me to the understanding that I may not have a lot of knowledge to share, but I had some and I just share that seed so that other seeds would then be sowed into my life. It has always been in reaching out to others that I am touched myself. After all, this is the principle of reaping and sowing that God taught me in His Word and that my sweet mentors demonstrated for me.
I haven’t had a lot of friends that I would say are extremely close to me or me to them because I am such an introverted person. But the friendships that I have formed have been with people who spread positivity and encouragement in front of the path that I am following. One such friend was Heidi. She became a mentor to me at the high school in Virginia where I taught for twenty years. She opened her door and her heart to me, answered all of my questions and just spent time reassuring me that I was going to be okay no matter what the parents and the administration threw at me. We laughed a lot as well as cried a lot together. Heidi had a really rough life for a long time, with a philandering spouse and a friend who betrayed her, but she never once made me feel that I was encroaching on her time. I learned from her how to love life and live as though every moment matters. Heidi passed away in 2017 after a long illness and to this day, I can still look at her photo across the room from me and hear her laughter and see her smile that reached all the way into her eyes and never failed to make me smile in return.
Finally, there are all of the medical challenges that I have faced and the encouragement that I have received from various medical professionals. None stands out more than my physical therapist. I met Tim after my knee replacement surgery in 2004, many years ago. My rehab was extremely painful because I am allergic to opioids and could not take pain pills before the exercises that I had to do to get my knee moving properly again. My husband would drop me off early in the morning before I went to teach since Tim said that at the end of the day, my knee was too swollen to exercise well. Then my husband would leave because I literally screamed in agony as Tim manipulated my knee to bend and flex. All the time Tim was working, he was speaking quiet words of encouragement to me, “You’re almost there! You can do it!” Over ten years later, after my stroke, there was no one I wanted to go to for PT except Tim. He assured me that he would do the best he could to help me with occupational therapy, which I needed in addition to PT, but that was not his field of expertise. Tim purchased a white board for me to practice writing on and had me practice daily. I had lost my ability for language when I had my stroke, so I stuttered and stammered and forgot words frequently. I also forgot how to read with comprehension and how to write. Tim set up exercises for me specifically to work on the skills that I needed to recapture. I am thankful that when I was melting in pools of frustration, Tim always threw me a lifeline telling me that he had confidence that I could do it.
I would be completely remiss if I did not mention the greatest encourager in my life, my daughter Hope. Anytime I need prayer, she is right there, on the other end of the phone. When I had my stroke, she left her four children with her husband and a list of who was doing what for each child on each day and then Hope drove over nine hours alone to be with me. She encouraged me to try to live my best life, to walk and talk and to read even when I had difficulty doing those simple tasks. I didn’t like eating because it tired me, and the food was not tasty since I wasn’t allowed salt. She taught her dad how to cook tasty meals for me that had soft foods that were easier for me to swallow and plenty of protein that I needed. She took me to the grocery store and patiently walked beside me as I slowly made my way around and she instructed me where to find the foods that I can still eat. In short, she encouraged me to want to continue to live, even though my life had radically changed. She also encouraged her dad in ways to help me to learn how to be independent again. The result was that in three months, I was back at work part time. Of course, God had a lot to do with that miraculous healing, but I also credit Hope and Tim for the encouragement to embrace my new life.
My encouragers have inspired me to try to be more of an encourager myself. I look for opportunities to sow positive seeds into people’s lives, going against my old nature of being negative and deliberately thinking of positive things that I can say instead.
There are a lot of disheartened people in the world today, and some of them are in my world. They need my encouragement, just a word or two that acknowledges that they are important and that whatever they are going thorough is not a surprise or too big a challenge to God. I am sure that you can find someone to encourage in your daily journey through life, too. The cashier who is weary, the waiter who is overworked and overwhelmed, the young mom with crying children who just needs a smile and a word that she is doing a fine job with them.
All of the encouragement that I have within me to give to others comes from the message that Christ has written in my heart, one of love and gratitude.
I leave you today with this verse of encouragement and pray that the God of all positive things will walk close beside you today. He is and always has been our greatest cheerleader and our hope.