Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Encouraging Words

My monthly e-news went out today. For those that don't yet subscribe, here's what I wrote. You can subscribe by clicking the link I just added at the right.

In the front of the file drawer to the right of my desk, two red file folders sit, bold yet understated.
They hold precious cargo, as evidenced by the label hand written on each: Encouragement. In those folders (one was getting too full so I added a second) I have things like speaking evaluations from retreats that went well, letters from friends, and notes from readers I don’t even know.
In my life, I have sometimes had a tendency to hold onto the discouraging words, the criticism. Or, I make stupid mistakes and then make things worse by beating myself up for doing so. I let the compliments, sincere as they may be, slide like water over my skin. Refuse to drink them in, to taste and see the goodness of a kind word. Or think, if people knew what I was really like, they wouldn’t say nice stuff like that.
God has called me to write—and sometimes that’s a difficult calling. I wonder why I’m doing it, whether my words are just out there, rotting on bookstore shelves (or worse, publishers’ warehouse shelves). The income is sporadic and not great even when it’s there.
I’m called to write about the spiritual life, but I also happen to be someone who is stunningly imperfect—I am a sinner, saved by grace, and lately, I’ve been very aware of my need for grace. Like the apostle Paul, I keep doing things I don’t want to do, and forgetting to do the things that would be wise and kind.So those two folders are not just there to stroke my ego. They are to remind me of my purpose. They are to remind me of God’s love, which is in spite of my mistakes, not because of my accomplishments.
The folders hold, like a reservoir, enough to prime the pump of creative purpose.
When I sit here and try to write, and the words won’t come, and I think—that’s it, I’ve got no more books in me, nothing else relevant to say. When I think, what’s the point, no one cares about this stuff, it’s not helping anyone anyway—I dip into them. And let their contents remind me that God has a purpose for my life, and he’s blessed me with encouraging friends.
Lately I’ve been getting a lot more reader mail than usual, thanks to the fact that MOPS (Mothers of PreSchoolers) sent out 110,000 copies of my book Breathe to their members.
Letters from moms who say things like “this book was divinely sent” and even “You saved my life.”
I’ve always thought of my books as letters of encouragement to people who just want to connect their faith with their actual day to day life. And so I am just so surprised and amazed and grateful for the encouragement that comes back to me.
And in a huge step of believing in myself, I’ve printed out those e-mails and put them in the red folder. Because I’ve had more than a few critics, and people arguing with me about what I write as well.
I don’t print out their e-mails.
I do consider their critiques, but I don’t dwell on them. And if I make a mistake (which I do on a fairly regular basis, unfortunately) I apologize to anyone I’ve wronged.
Do you have an “encouragement” folder? You may not get letters from strangers, but I hope you get drawings from your children, notes from friends, birthday cards, whatever.
Even if you don’t have written words to save in a folder, think about the words you save in your memory. Do you hang on to and replay harsh words of criticism? Do you have a folder in your heart for the words that say “You’re not good enough”? Or do you throw those away and hang onto words like “I’m so glad we’re friends” or “I love you.”
The good news is, God has written you letters of love and strength. So many words in Scripture can be filed in our “encouragement” folder. Here are just a few. Write them on note cards, and put them in a box or folder. When you’re feeling discouraged, pull them out and read them, knowing that they come straight from the heart of a God who loves you outrageously and unconditionally.
“I have loved you with an everlasting love, I have drawn you with loving-kindness” (Jeremiah 31:3).
“How great is the love that the Father has lavished upon us, that we should be called children of God. And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)
“I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from the Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last” (John 15:15,16).
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned” (Isaiah 43:1,2).


Dianne said...

Thanks Keri. This couldn't have come at a better time as I am feeling pretty discouraged today. Specifically wondering does my life have any purpose at all, blah blah blah. I feel this way every time I start to look for another job. I tend to hang on to the "I'm not good enough" thoughts and forget to look to the Lord for encouragement.

I appreciate your writing so much, especially the way you encourage women to partake of the spiritual life.

Jan Parrish said...

This is so true. I have a Physical encouragement folder but this encourages me to set aside a mental encouragement folder. Instead of thanking someone and dismissing it, I will savor the comments and put them in my mental file. Maybe I'll even write them down and put them in my physical encouragement folder so I can reminisce when I need a lift. Thanks so much for sharing. Isaiah 43:1&2 is one of my favorite passages!