I have a few stories to share. Well, they are not just my stories, really. But, they find their place here, wrapped up in my particular thoughts and hands, and in my particular words today.
I sat in a circle, all of us perched on folding chairs and eagerly or with disinterest sharing our current burdens and praises—the stuff that small group Bible Studies are often made of. But there was one that stood out, and it quieted us all. Her shoulders drooped and wet dripped into her hands. And still, we all sat silent. The pain and sadness, it burdened us too and we moaned, but inwardly. We listened, but sat too quiet in our listening. Until, one small form crept quickly and with purpose to the feet of the bent and weeping and clasped the wet hands, laying her head on those shaking knees, weeping shared tears that ran with shared grief.
“And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him…” Luke
Years later, on softer chairs and beside different faces, I listened, again in silence as the grief of an unborn, un-conceived child ripped raw through the small room. This time the quiet was too loud, so words ran swift, crashing all around, the kind that sometimes seem like salt in the wound of a friend, those ill-timed but well-intentioned words. “Perhaps such and such will happen… sometimes doctors are wrong… have you tried this?... God knows what is best, his timing is perfect…” and on and on the salty answers went, stinging bitter and unwanted. I longed to leap across that room and clasp her hands, lay wet cheeks against her knees and weep grief with her. But I didn’t. And it stuck with me, sticks with me still, my stillness.
Later, I wrote scratches of thoughts and looked in her eyes and I could see it meant something important, something comforting to her, to hear I’m-grieving-with-you words. But I still wished we had all done it then, in that small room, when it was crying to be done.
“mourn with those who mourn…” Romans
A couple sits stiff, rigid with the years of anger, of hurt, of disappointment and hidden grief. Their darkness looms large and seems too foreboding. Maybe a marriage seminar would be better, or a few good books by a PhD of something or other, maybe weekly sessions with someone more qualified. But instead it is the kind eyes of two friends, who have weathered these dark storms and who have Truth and their couch and a meal and a clasped hand and a weeping head on their knees to offer.
“Bear one another’s burdens…” Galatians
And my friend, she bore a baby, bringing smiles and joy and a new journey of love into the world. But she brought memories too, of baby brothers and a mama with empty eyes. I sent a text, an email, all my whispered prayers asking for so much, but it was my arms holding her child, the pans of food prepared with my hands, the embrace I had given and the moments at her feet with knees tucked close to my chin that seemed to bring the most powerful realization of this, my rejoicing in her rejoicing, the hope of grace and good to come.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice…” Romans
So many times I offer up a prayer, asking for strength, for comfort, for provision, for encouragement, and never realize that often, I have already been given the answer…it is me.
And while prayers often do more than our words, sometimes our words are the means by which our prayers are answered.
And while our words can sometimes be the means, it is often the means of our presence whereby the Word can be heard.
It is not new news. It is the way of these bodies we inhabit with souls and spirit and flesh and blood. It is why a baby in China who has not known the caresses and kisses of a mother or father will struggle to find safety and trusted love in the arms of any who come later. It is why a man longs for the touch of a woman and a woman the cradling of a child. It is why in a world that is more connected than ever through screens and wires and digital data so many still swim in a sea of loneliness.
And so, on this Day of Encouragement, I encourage you in this internetted space, to do a very un-internet thing and reach out and physically touch someone. Be not merely the words (but be words), or the notes (but write notes), or the prayers (but oh, please pray), be the hands and the feet, the arms and the flesh and blood that brings the Good News… be encouragement incarnate.
~I ordered a pack of cards some weeks ago to enter a drawing for a chance to win some money to be sent to a charity of your choice. I was supposed to share a story about using one of those cards to encourage someone… but there wasn’t time to get them here, being oceans away as I am.
So instead I had them sent to a friend who has tasted of the Incarnate Love and has time and time again let her own hands and feet, tears and beating sore heart be the means of bringing the Word made Flesh to the lives all around her. I am sharing stories of how she and a few others have taught me so much of embodied encouragement, which is what we are all asked to be for one another. And if, by some chance, this story is picked, I know that the monetary fruits of it will be yet another physical means of encouragement to another needy soul.
May you be blessed and be a blessing on this particular day!