When I think of people that I admire and those whose company gives me much joy, those people, I notice, have one certain character trait in common – they are encouragers!
This week I was at a thanksgiving service for a dear soul who was a great encourager. Whoever met him would leave his presence with a smile on their face and a song in their heart.
I want to be like that. I want to lift others; come alongside others; speak joy and hope to others.
A person who encourages is one with whom one feels one’s own spirit lifted. They do not use flattery or shallow, people-pleasing rhetoric, but they see what is good, what is true, what is possible, what is excellent and they focus on those things.
I have often said of myself that I am very easily encouraged and equally too easily discouraged. I am not proud of this. I wrote a poem some years ago, called ‘Emotional Rollercoaster’ because of this unpredictable powerlessness I had over my emotional state!
And it is still true of me. My emotional response to circumstances can fluctuate so rapidly, with the next change of the winds of fortune and opinion! It is not a healthy way to be and it is something that my growth journey of the last seven years has had me constantly aware of and working on.
It is a battlefield in the mind, as Joyce Meyer expounds in her excellent book with that title.
We are called to be transformed, by the renewing of our minds. Thankfully my mind is changing and being renewed slowly.
The key is in the word, courage.
When I am discouraged, I lose courage and become fearful. Such fears are rooted in rejection, punishment and limiting beliefs about myself, lies that say I deserve nothing, that I am stupid and that I am worthless.
When a circumstance changes and an obstacle arises, or a person shows hostility or opposition to something I hold dear, then the negative thoughts in my mind can trigger the fears and leave me feeling powerless and without courage or hope. I sink rapidly into a pit.
When I am encouraged, it feels like the world smiles on me; I feel accepted; I feel okay and I have the courage to believe that I can do something worthwhile. Encouraged, the sun shines and I can look for solutions to obstacles and I have courage to believe the truth and to stand against opposition with truth and resilience.
The trouble is that I still rely too heavily on such encouragement from other people.
Though I am working on ‘re-framing’ those internal scripts, that say I am rubbish, and contradicting them with true facts about who I really am and the truth of who God says I am, still I am too easily swayed by the opinions of others and the obstacles that appear in my circumstances.
Likewise I can choose to focus on the speck in the eye of another and the plank in my own eye, or I can be grateful for the goodness in that person’s heart and in the growth in my own life.
I am a work in progress. I have to constantly contradict the lies from my internal critic; have to constantly be mindful of the truth about the present reality; have to remind myself of what God says about me in His word; have to build myself up in faith and stand with courage on the faithful promises of God.
I need to build my house upon the Rock, not upon sand.
And I need to do this for myself and not rely on the opinions and acceptance of others. For transformation, I have to remain alert and keep up the housekeeping in myself. It is a daily practice of hope, as essential as sleep, food and water.
However, it is also my mission to my brothers and sisters.
I remind myself that today I will only say and do that which build another person up, in the truth.
I will not criticise, gossip or speak doom and gloom.
I will see all that is lovely, all that is good and true and excellent.
I will focus on those things and I will point them out to myself and to my fellow warriors who battle with their own minds.
I will be an encourager, a light and a smile to others, wherever I find myself.
Will you encourage and give hope to somebody today?
There is a picture forming in my head, with concepts spinning around, to do, I think, with accountability, but somehow all the words seem insufficient.
Like most of the world, I was reflecting on Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine and the fact that he was allowed to march into another sovereignty and begin killing, bombing and doing whatever he liked. And nobody could really stop him.
I’m aware that this is a very simplistic summary, but he’s not the first to invade somewhere and probably won’t be the last. Britain has done it’s share of invading too.
But my thoughts went mainly to the phenomenon of autocratic governments, dictators and those who set themselves up with absolute power. Like wannabe deities. What struck me was that they do not seem to be accountable, or answerable, to anyone!
At some point in the climb, either brute force, or charisma, or an established custom took the person to a place of power, where they then decided to assume total power, without consequence.
This is a dangerous place to be and seems to cause a kind of insanity. We know the expression, ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.
There is no boundary. If a person disagrees, or disobeys, they are likely to face punishment. They surround themselves with ‘yes-men’, who encourage them and, like some of our monarchs used to do, they satisfy their every whim at the expense of others, or else, ‘off with the head!
In our western democratic-style governments, leaders do not have absolute power (although Parliamentary Sovereignty is a very interesting notion), but they have their power limited to what will be accepted by the party they represent and by the voters. They have to win and maintain their position by persuasion, or else they are voted out. They are accountable to the status-quo maintained by the system and to the voters. If they overstep the mark and go off party lines, they can lose the job.
This happens in all levels of society – there are laws, rules, boundaries and expectations that most people follow in order to not face the punishment or consequences reserved for those who break the rules. This may be in school, within the family hierarchy, in the workplace and in society at large.
Most of us do not obey solely to avoid punishment. We obey sometimes out of love and respect for the leader, or because we respect the wisdom of laws and the standards such laws seek to protect and maintain.
All of us are accountable to someone in the pecking order. A parent, teacher, boss, spouse, group, organisation.
Even if one of them is a bully, they can only go so far, before the one to whom they are accountable calls them in.
I once witnessed a boy of only 10 years who was a tyrant to his helpless mother and completely without boundaries. It was very sad, in that he became obese in his boundless greed, was friendless because of his selfishness and rage and he became depressed.
You may have a parent who is a complete tyrant and bully at home, but they know they are breaking the law of the land and they live in some fear of being discovered and face the consequences of that law.
Accountability is an expectation and a check and balance with those to whom you are answerable. In a simple example, I promise something and I do it. You employ me, I do what you employ me to do.
There was once a time when I thought that accountability applied only as far as I didn’t get caught! But that was because I feared punishment. I feared all authority figures, but had little respect for most of them.
When I became a parent, I still struggled with the notion of discipline and consequences, but many years later, I now appreciate the value of boundaries. Boundaries set a safe limit and make us accountable. As humans, I now believe this is something we need for our general health and well-being.
Now I am grown up (ish), I choose to be accountable to others. It helps me to be disciplined and productive if I am to report success and failure honestly to others. When I gave up drinking, already seven years ago this month, I found it helped to announce the plan to family and to let them hold me accountable. AA was also great for this. To turn up, be transparent and answerable to the group is part of AA’s effectiveness. Of course, this also means others are there for you and they understand.
Another friend has chosen to report her targets and progress to me – also for that external accountability. It can be encouraging to have another celebrate those less public victories and successes.
I have chosen to acknowledge that I am always accountable to El Roi, to God who sees what is done, even in secret; to God who loves me unconditionally. I find the simplicity of keeping short accounts with my conscience, regularly acknowledging my honest faults and failings, this helps me to grow. I also know that each act of kindness is seen by the one that matters and I do not have to parade my virtues before others. This too is liberating.
I obey my conscience, not to avoid punishment now, but because I am loved.
I am so happy to be accountable to God and to others and to no longer seek to hide myself in the shadows. I find that this makes every thought, word and deed a special gift and a joy.
Despite the gloom of devastating news around the world, people are still praying and are seeing answers to prayer.
In extra-ordinary circumstances, we see extra-ordinary kindness and supernatural grace.
I am so grateful for each act of kindness shown to a person in need, at this time and always.
Acts of kindness are signs of hope, which generate gratitude in others.
Gratitude recognises hope and is simultaneously a beacon of hope.
The more grateful we are, the more abundance we recognise we have to be grateful for.
A grateful heart makes me conscious of the present, helps me to be mindful, helps me to lift my focus away from problems and to look for solutions.
Gratitude makes me smile, gives me contentment and peace and joy and it gives me the compassion to be generous to others and to become an answer to their prayers.
On a daily basis, personally, I need a lot of time and space alone, to recharge my batteries. Having company challenges this, but the benefits always far out-way any inconvenience!
That said, my life is about relationships – my relationship with God and my relationships with all the beautiful people I have had the honour of getting to know. I am so thankful for all of the people in my life.
The gratitude in this blog is specifically for the month of February.
Though my life is full of people, February was an extra-sociable month for me.
My first-born son, whom I’ve not seen for 18 months, came home from Vienna for a fortnight’s break. Not only did I enjoy some precious time with him, but also many of his friends dropped in to see him – an added blessing for me.
My sister also had made a trip South from Orkney and she came to spend a few days with me, which was also precious.
In between, an old school friend, visiting Nottingham, also had an evening and morning to spare with me.
I am so grateful for these beloved people, who no longer live close by – for who they are and for those opportunities to spend more quality time with them.
In other special intentions, I am so thankful for God for the following answered prayers:
That J.’s travel home to the UK was smooth and easy.
For some great family gatherings, meals in and out.
That D. and J. are now both on sober journeys.
That L. has been given leave to be a stay-at-home mum until T’s 3rd birthday.
That S. has sailed through a bout of Corona.
That A.’s neck-brace is now removed, the family reunited and God glorified in this.
That a positive connection was made with D. and R.
For F.’s beautiful spirit and that You took him suddenly and without any suffering.
For healing and restoring L. (and sustaining her with Psalm 23) and bringing her back to fellowship.
For the opportunities of zoom to allow T. and G. to lead home-group.
For all the families we could bless with half-term lunch-club and for C. and the team serving.
That D. got to see R. in the nursing home, despite all the regulations.
That an old friend was re-acquainted with S. through my book.
That Z got the job he applied and worked hard for.
That R. Got the job she went for and loves it.
For re-connection with R. and that she is writing, healing and growing closer to You.
For the blessings of donations from local stores for our Kilos of Kindness to bless our communities.
As always, I thank God for all the requests and cares that I have entrusted to Him and for the knowledge that throughout February, although I may yet see no results, I trust that He has already answered in His great mercy and compassion.
I am also grateful for all those who are praying for me and for all their loved ones.
If you want to pray, but don’t know where to start, pray for God’s will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
Speak to your heavenly father as you would to your closest friend and pour out your concerns however they come out, knowing that He listens, understands and cares more passionately than you do.