When Life Prompts You to be an Encourager

I recently heard this quote: "Be an encourager. The world has plenty of critics already."

I love this sentiment -- primarily because it's a reminder I need to hear. It's surprisingly easy to fall into a pattern of discovering the downside, or pointing out a pitfall, or focusing on the one thing that's wrong until that nugget-sized "wrong" thing overshadows the mountain of things that are right.

In a recent conversation with a friend, we both admitted to feeling out-of-sorts lately. While I can't recall our exact exchange, I'm pretty sure it included words like lethargic, apathetic, halfhearted, and blah, and was punctuated with inspiring sentences like, "There's a serious lack of chocolate in my house," and "Do you ever go to sleep knowing that you already want to take a nap the next day?"

Neither of us were stellar candidates for motivational speaking that afternoon.

But the arrival of fall seems to be a harbinger of hope. Fall has multiple charming attributes -- changing leaves, crisp temperatures, cozy sweaters, cute boots, football Saturdays, to name a few -- but it also invites me to be more grateful. (I'm looking at you, trifecta of autumn hashtags: #grateful #thankful #blessed.)

When I live with a heightened sense of gratitude, it's not only much easier to encourage others, but also to encourage myself. I start to speak to myself more boldly. Look up, child. Lift your head. There are so many blessings waiting for you to notice, if you'd just have eyes to see them. You are not alone. Turn your thoughts and feelings to God.

The quote is correct. There world has plenty of critics. Be an encourager, even an encourager to your very own soul.

Apologize to Yourself in Advance

Several weeks ago I saw a meme on Facebook that said this:

Because I'm thoughtful, I immediately texted the image to my oldest daughter, a high school freshman, and wrote, "It's okay. Dad and I still love you." She clearly appreciated the assurance.

But how true is this? Parents are perpetually breaking in new realms of parenting with their first kid. You don't want to be too permissive, and you don't want to be too firm. You want to keep them safe, but you also want them to gain independence and learn responsibility. You have no precedent for how to navigate the waters because you've never done it before. And the waters themselves? They're not crystal clear beaches. They're murky. You can't see the bottom, and you don't quite know what you're stepping on. It's all a bit unnerving.

The other night when our youngest left the room, my husband looked at me and joked, "Do you ever think that she's our best shot of getting it right?" I kind of laughed-snorted (a charming tendency) because, YES, I'm banking on this. Our third child better benefit from the mistakes we've made with the first two.

My office mate, a man who has no kids, recently said, "I don't know how you parents do it. I think you must have to get in the habit of apologizing to yourself in advance. You're not always going to get it right, but you sure are trying your best."

His words encouraged me. It's smart to give ourselves permission to not always parent perfectly, which is impossible anyway, and to trust that we'll grow as our kids grow.

Sure, our kids might turn out a little weird, like that first pancake. That's okay. Weird pancakes still taste good.

We're all trying our best.

The Pebble In My Shoe

There's roughly one more month until I run my half marathon.  Despite a minor setback due to a pulled calf muscle, I'm doing my best to stick to my training schedule: several short early morning runs before work during the week and one longer run that I save for the weekend. (Because nothing quite says "Hey girl, kick back and relax because it's the weekend!" like a long run.)

So far, my longest run has been nine miles. About two miles into this recent nine-miler, I noticed there was a tiny pebble in my shoe. I continued running, thinking it would work its way into a different space so I wouldn't feel it, but no. That pebble stayed right where it was. 

Still, I kept running.

You have a lot of time to think while running nine miles, so sometimes I distracted myself from the pebble by thinking. You know, thoughts about parenting, teaching, my to-do list, milkshakes, the Twilight series, whether I should get my hair cut, how I like the color of the front door on the house I just passed, whether I should paint my own front door, what color I should paint my front door, whether my calf feels tight, or why I'm moving so slowly. It varies.

But every so often, my thoughts came back to that pebble. It was still there. Still mildly irritating. And still, I just kept running.

People, I ran for seven more miles knowing that a pebble was in my shoe, feeling that pebble in my shoe, being increasingly irritated by that pebble in my shoe.

When I finally finished, I took off my shoe and shook that pebble out. Do you know how long it takes to remove a pebble from your shoe?  Five seconds? Ten seconds? Maybe thirty if you actually sit down and then carefully tie your laces back up? In contrast, do you know how long it takes to finish a nine-mile training run?  (Let me offer that it's considerably longer than the time it takes to shake out a pebble.)

For some reason, this made me pause. Why did I run all that time experiencing an irritation when I could have removed it quickly? Did I think it would just go away on its own? That it wasn't worth fixing? That it wouldn't really hurt me? That I wouldn't want to (or be able to) start running again if I stopped, even for a moment?

I really don't have answers to those questions. I don't know why I didn't deal with the pebble. 

But what I do know is that this pebble in my shoe parallels my life in certain ways. Sometimes I have pebble-like circumstances. They're low-grade irritants. I ignore them, hoping that they'll work their way out on their own. I avoid them by distracting myself, keeping busy, or thinking about other things. I know these "pebbles" could be removed if I actually paused and addressed them, but for some reason, I don't. I just keep running, running, running.

Maybe you have a proverbial pebble stuck in your shoe right now, too.

And maybe the answer isn't for us to keep running, acting like these problems will go away if we pretend they're not there. Maybe the best course of action would be to stop. To deal with the pebbles directly. To take action so small irritants don't unfold into larger problems. To correct the tiny areas where we're limping in our lives before our limping becomes more painful and pronounced.

It took an actual pebble in my shoe to remind me of this. If you, like me, have some circumstances that need to be addressed, perhaps we can both sit down today and start the process of shaking our shoes out.

I think our next steps will be better for it.
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