Bless Your Socks Off!
By Sandra P. Aldrich
Published by Focus on the Family / Tyndale House Publisers
How would a few words of affirmation change your day - or your life? I'm convinced that the need for encouragement - the longing to hear someone cheer us on - is part of our human makeup. Think about the child just learning to walk. He pulls himself up, then grins and looks around to see if anyone is watching. As his audience responds with outstretched arms and calls of "Come on, come on," he takes a hesitant step. If his effort is rewarded with hand-clapping or a robust "All right!" he is more apt to try again.
That need to be encouraged doesn't stop after we learn to walk. Those who have accomplished much often credit the encouragement of others - whether a quiet "I know you can do this, honey," or enthusiastic cheers from the crowd - for all they've managed to do. No matter what the exterior shows, inwardly we all need that little "Yes, you can" push that makes the difference in our lives. In fact, even simple encouragement has incredible power to change lives - emotionally, spiritually, physically-heal relationships, and give hope.
Encouragement Can Lift Another's Spirits
Years ago, my family and I were vacationing at a Bible conference in Michigan. That was back when I was awed by anyone who had a public ministry, so each time I saw one of the speakers or guest musicians on the grounds, I'd merely smile. I didn't dare actually greet them.
Then one week, a musical family was on the program. Their talents ranged from deeply spiritual hymns played on the piano, organ, and violin, to peppy choruses produced as they ran their fingertips over crystal glasses filled with varying amounts of water. We never knew what to expect - some nights serious, some nights hilarious - but the concerts were always wonderful.
One morning, I saw the father of this talented group approaching. He was walking slowly, with downcast eyes and slumped shoulders.
I hesitated to intrude, but I took a quick breath and said, "We've so enjoyed your music this week. Thank you for being here."
He smiled. "I really appreciate that."
As he walked on, I noticed - to my great surprise - that his shoulders were straighter and his step livelier.
I was so astounded by the difference my few words had made that I began to look for other opportunities to offer sincere compliments. Sometimes I'd point out something special the Bible study teacher had said, or send our pastor a midweek note, or tell a friend how I appreciated her patience with her young children. Each time, the words had a strengthening effect upon the receiver.
Encouragement Makes the Future Brighter
Actually, I'm amazed that I was so slow in understanding encouragement's power. After all, a few kind words when I was only 12 had given me the vision to get an education. The summer before I entered seventh grade, I met Doris Schumacher, a teacher visiting her elderly Aunt Minnie, who lived across the street from my family.
School teachers frightened me because several of mine had ridiculed my Southern speech patterns, so I was immediately intimidated by Doris, too.
But she smiled and said, "Aunt Minnie tells me you're going into junior high this fall. Tell me, what do you like to study?"
I was surprised by her question. I usually heard only "How's school?" from adults.
I managed, "Well, I like to read, and I like history."
She smiled again, and her graying hair seemed like a halo. "That's wonderful," she said. "I teach eighth-grade English and social studies in Minneapolis. What do you like to read?"
Two direct questions from an adult! Stammering, I told her about the books I had read that past week.
She nodded approvingly. "Good choices," she said. Then as I turned to leave, she added, "I assume you're nervous about going into junior high. Don't be; you'll do just fine!"
The conversation probably had taken all of three minutes, but by the time I walked across the street and up our front steps, I was determined to be a teacher "Just like Doris!"
In the 1950s, none of the women in my extended family had attended college, so my announcement was a bit unsettling to some of the relatives. But I pulled the dream into my heart and, with God's grace and my perseverance, gained the B.A. and M.A. degrees that gave me 15 years in a Detroit-area classroom. Later, those same degrees opened the door for me to pursue an editing career and rebuild my life after my husband died.
Doris is 94 now, but she has continued to encourage me over decades. One snowy morning, years ago, as we chatted over long-distance lines, she commented about how far I had come since my school days.
"You're a big part of that success," I said. "You gave me the vision to go to college." Then I began to tell her about that long-ago three-minute meeting.
She interrupted me. "No, dear," she said. "The first time I met you was when you were 15 and visiting Aunt Minnie at the hospital after she'd broken her hip."
"Oh, no, Doris," I insisted. "I was 12. I remember you stood by the oak table in her front room. The morning sun was coming through the lace curtains and falling across your brown and gray sweater that so beautifully matched your hair just beginning to turn gray."
She sighed, then said, "Oh, my dear, I don't remember that at all."
I chuckled. "It's okay, Doris," I said. "That morning only changed my life!"
Truly her kindness had done exactly that.