May 5, 2017

It’s All Good / Patti Lamb

We are called to be instruments of God’s encouragement

Patti LambA few weeks ago, my daughter received a new spelling list from school, and she asked me to quiz her. Spelling is what Margaret tackles first when doing her nightly homework because it’s a subject that comes more easily to her.

She pulled out the list, glanced over it quickly, and reported that she was ready for testing to begin.

As I read the words to her, I noticed that they were considerably harder than words in the past, as the school year was about to come to a close.

She got 50 percent of the words wrong on her first try, and a meltdown followed.

“Spelling is the subject I’m best at!” she boldly declared, head in hands, followed quickly by her statement that she was “just no good.”

I tried to calm her down, using reason and reassurance, explaining that these words were entirely new, and that anything new takes time to learn, even if you already have a knack for it.

Fast forward a few weeks, and I found myself in a similar situation. I started a new job and my mind was on overload with new names, acronyms, software and documentation processes.

One particular afternoon, however, I could relate to my daughter’s frustration. That was the day when I sent out an electronic meeting invitation to an important group of people for a premier event—four times, consecutively.

Recognizing my newbie misstep, I stood up, took a deep breath, and walked away from my computer. It was time to get some fresh air.

As I walked around campus, I recalled the spelling conversation with my daughter, when I emphasized that just because she doesn’t get it on the first try does not mean that she’s “no good.”

While I made my way around campus, I talked to God, partly praying, but mostly pouting.

I felt like my inadequacy made front page news, just as my Margaret felt when she failed the spelling pretest.

I glanced down at my watch and realized it was time to head back to my desk. When I looked up, I saw a yellow sticky note above the handle of the door I was about to open.

Written in black Sharpie marker, it said, “You are doing just fine.”

It was as if God had placed that message right in front of me. I was baffled.

When I made it back to my building, I saw another sticky note, this time on a mostly-bare bulletin board above an ATM machine. It read: “Chin up, buttercup!”

As I saw a student preparing to use the ATM, I asked her if there was some relevance to these sticky notes I was seeing. Otherwise, I figured that I had inadvertently entered an episode of The Twilight Zone.

The young woman explained that the sticky notes were part of a grassroots movement on campus to encourage one another, and to foster an atmosphere of support and inclusion.

That’s when I recalled a Bible verse about support: “Therefore, encourage one another and build one another up, as indeed you do” (1 Thes 5:11).

None of us will ever get it just right, especially on the first try. We must remember that God gives us grace. I’m learning that a little encouragement goes a long way, no matter what form it takes—whether that’s a heartfelt smile, a hug, a pep talk text, or a carefully placed sticky note.

How can we lift someone today, and act as an instrument of God’s love and encouragement?

(Patti Lamb, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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