Encouragement Through Email

lunchbagWhile packing her lunch this morning, my middle-schooler, sighed in disgust and packed yet another lunch in a gallon size freezer zip lock baggie. She did not have to say a word. We are now in the third week of school and still….no brown bags for packing a lunch.

I don’t think this would have happened in previous years. But, with a self sufficient senior, and a 9th grader who will only eat the school lunch, I am left with one lunch packer. And, it just hasn’t made the written grocery list yet.

Yes, I have been to the grocery store many times in the last few weeks, but, out of site=out of mind.

Until today. When opening my email at work I saw this email from my daughter…

https://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.longbowmalta.com%2Fuploads%2F3%2F7%2F2%2F0%2F37209071%2F6088126_orig.jpg&imgrefurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.longbowmalta.com%2Fbags-bags-bags.html&docid=741ukNEKK756qM&tbnid=-BIx5kfOwLlPgM%3A&w=600&h=600&hl=en-us&safe=active&client=safari&bih=672&biw=1024&ved=0ahUKEwjv8pKWip7PAhXEZiYKHcmaDGMQMwhsKBEwEQ&iact=mrc&uact=8 don’t forget!!!

And she hasn’t even complained about carrying her lunch in a see through zip lock baggie. I guess it is time to get to the store!

What a great way to encourage me. Fill my inbox with subtle requests.

The Many Forms of Encouragement

There are so many ways to give encouragement.

On Sunday night when my Notre Dame Fighting Irish went into double overtime in the game against the Texas Longhorns …my encouragement was loud and hopeful.

At work when I was on the phone, but my co-worker did not notice as he came to my desk and started talking…my encouragement was a silent hand gesture.

This weekend when I was teaching my 7 year old neighbor to knit…my encouragement was calm.

When a friend of mine was recently laid off, she was hopeful of finding a new job quickly. However, the search has become a long and weary process. I decided that a little humor might encourage her to hang in there a little longer. Thus, the panties in the picture. (I found them at JCPenny’s if you are interested.)

I wrapped them in pretty tissue paper and put them in a cute orange gift box that looks like a Chinese take out food box. When she opened them she laughed. She laughed a lot.

Sometimes helping others to see outside the fog is the best form of encouragement.

Sweet Spot of Encouragement


Encouragement can happen here.


The sweet spot of encouragement happens when the giver believes success is possible, and the receiver is in a situation where success is possible.

The giver wants success for the recipient.

The receiver finds hope and tries to follow the words of encouragement.

Sometimes the giver and the receiver are different. Sometimes the giver and the receiver are the same person, yourself.


Encouragement Needs Awareness of Other Points of View

We all see the world differently. One of the ways we can increase our ability to encourage well is to be aware. Before giving or receiving encouragement we need to be aware of a situation. When we encourage others we cannot assume that everyone is viewing a situation from the same point as we are. Our vision of a situation can be widened by acknowledging that people looking at the exact same thing can see it very differently.

One way to make this clear quickly is to look at some optical illusions…what do you see? (I love these.)

Rubin Vase









Old Woman Young Woman


The Dress










Kaninchen und Ente

Rubin Vase: Do you see a vase or 2 faces?

Old Woman Young Woman: Which do you see?

The Dress:  Do you see a white and gold dress or a blue and black dress?

Kaninchen und Ente (Rabbit and Duck): Which do you see?

Once you get a first impression of a picture try to see it from the opposite perspective. How hard was it to view the pictures from the opposite perspective? What is blatantly obvious to us may not even be visible to someone else.

Being aware of other perspectives to the same situation may change the way encouragement is given and received.

Encouragement at School

Kid #5 is transferring from a fabulous charter school to the local middle school this fall. She has been in the carpool since she was 5 months old, riding along as older siblings were dropped off and picked up.  She has been a student for K through 7th grade. She was ready for a change and so were we, So, we made a decision I would not have imagined a few years ago. When we chose a K-12 school it seemed so logical to think the kids would be there all 13 years. If only life was that efficient. Schools change and so did our family.

This morning was “Back to school” day at her new school. That means come to school —find out about extra curricular activities, get your picture taken, buy a gym uniform and a planner, watch the “How to be Responsible with your iPad” video and sign the form that you understand said video, sign up for the lunch program, find the locker, test out the combination, and walk around the school – in class order to be sure all classrooms can be found, etc.

As we were zig zagging through the halls I noticed this sign.


My first thought is how does this fit with my 7 principles of encouragement.

  1. Encouragement is good. I am glad the school wants to be encouraging. It means they care and that is good.
  2. Aware. They are aware that the giver and the receiver need to work together for said results. They are aware of wanting specific results.  (They seem to be assuming that the parties involved have high expectations for personal and academic achievement and challenging coursework.)
  3. Just because it is possible, does not mean it should happen. In this case individual growth and collective success is good for everyone.
  4. Good for you does not mean good for me.  In this case education is good for the individual, for the school, for the family and the community. It is good for all.
  5. Possibility is necessary. Yes possibility is possible. In the normal course of maturing from grade to grade we know growth is possible. I am trusting that in special circumstances the special needs will be addressed.
  6. Words of encouragement are timeless. School is a place to learn, but also for seeds to be planted.
  7. Encouragement takes courage. Students who are entering into challenging coursework will need to dig deep sometimes. Ideas may not appear as easily as they did in elementary school.

I do wonder who the “we” in We Encourage represents. Is it the student and the school? Is it the reader of the sign (community member) and the school? Is it the parents with the school, and the students?

Encouragement from Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse

I love children’s literature. It brings out the commonality of human nature in a simple and often hilarious ways. I
love stories because they help us laugh at ourselves.

A favorite story is Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, by Kevin Henkes. The story is about Lilly and her new purple plastic purse that makes music when you open it. Lilly admires her teacher Mr. Slinger. One day, after a shopping trip with her grandmother, she brings in her new glamorous sunglasses, and purple plastic purse to school. While sharing her new treasures at an inappropriate time during the day Mr. Slinger gently takes the new items and holds them in his desk until the end of the day. Lilly gets very upset and angry. However, that evening she realized her mistake and apologizes the next day. Then all is well again.

Here is a walk through Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse with some editorial comments about encouragement and human nature.

Lilly’s teacher encourages others by example. He was not like the other teachers.

 (#1 Encouragement is intrinsically good. It brings out the best in others.)

Mr. Slinger was sharp as a tack.

He thought that desks in rows were old-fashioned and boring. ‘Do you think you can handle a semicircle?’

‘Wow,’ said Lilly. That was just about all she could say, ‘wow’.

Lilly loves her teacher and want to be one just like him. He did it through example.

Lilly felt good about herself with her new items in tow and wanted to share that feeling. Maybe she was encouraging others to get their own purple plastic purse, maybe not. (#4 Something good for me may not be good for you.)But she definitely wanted to share with others what was making her feel good about herself. She wanted others to notice her joy and perhaps help others to find their joy.

Lilly wanted to show everyone…Lilly really wanted to show everyone.  Lilly really, really wanted to show everyone.

“Not now,” said Mr. Slinger. “wait until recess or Sharing Time.”

But Lilly could not wait.  “Look,” Lilly whispered fiercely. “Look, everyone. Look what I’ve got!” Everyone looked. Including Mr. Slinger. He was not amused.

“I’ll just keep your things at my desk until the end of the day,” said Mr. Slinger. “They’ll be safe there, and then you can take them home.”

Because Lilly shared her overflowing joy at the wrong time, she temporarily lost her treasures. And she lost her joy.

Lilly’s stomach lurched. She felt like crying….Lilly longed for her purse all morning.

Not only did she loose her joy, she became sad, angry, and furious. She lashed out at Mr. Slinger with insults. She drew a mean picture of Mr. Slinger and put it in his book bag. She wanted him to feel her pain.

Lilly’s reaction made me think about how I react when my special things are taken away.

Mr. Slinger had put a note in her purse before returning it to her at the end of the day. It read, “Today was a difficult day. Tomorrow will be better.” When Lilly arrived home she felt horrible. After telling her mother and father everything that had happened, she wrote an apology note.

I thought it was very mature of Lilly to think of writing an apology note all by herself. I’m sure her parents would have encouraged her to write one if Lilly had not come up with the idea on her own.

Lilly seemed to be very aware of the situation. Although she did not like what happened at school, she wrote the apology anyway. She also made some treats to share with the class. This makes me think of another encouragement principle to be added to my list, encouragement takes courage.

In the morning, Lilly gave the treats and the note to Mr. Slinger before school started. And the day went much better.

Lilly shared her new treasures during Sharing Time. She also kept the treasures in her desk.

Throughout the rest of the day, Lilly’s purse and quarters and sunglasses were tucked safely inside her desk. She peeked at them often but did not disturb a soul.

I love having special things close to me during the day. When I was first engaged, and sometimes still, I love to glance at my engagement ring and smile. It is such a fun reminder of how our family started, just Chris and me. I can go days without thinking about my ever present ring, but it is a fun reminder when I take the time to look at it and remember.

At the end of the day,

Lilly ran and skipped and hopped and flew all the way home, she was so happy.

We are happy when things are in order. We are happy when we have the courage to make things right.

Encouragement to be YOU

Necklace And Other Jewelry, Ca. 1909.

One of the most privileged events in our life is being present when someone is “in their element”. People get chills at an Andrea Boccellli concert when he begins to sing “Time to Say Good-bye”, at least I do. We can see that every ounce of his being is focused on the performance, and no one can do it better. This is true for sporting events as well. We jump out of our seats when an amazing catch is made in the outfield or end zone. Some people enjoy replaying the event over and over and over. We may pause in awe when looking at a painting or when listening to a poem.

We do this because amazing performances inspire us to be more of who we are. It was special because that person performed in a way that was superior to many. People pay a lot of money for the privilege of being present for spectacular performances. But this is also true within our work places and families.

While my husband and I were in Pennsylvania last week for my mother-in-law’s funeral my sister-in-law Judy really shined. I knew she had worked at the jewelry counter for many years at a local store. And I knew that she had won awards for her fabulous customer service. So, when I realized I forgot to pack a necklace to wear with my v neck dress (yes, this situation needed a necklace) I went straight to Judy’s house and knocked on the door. If you passed Judy on the street, she would be an average woman walking along, like most of us. I asked her to help me with my bare neck her face lit up and she sprung into action. She took me upstairs and sat me down. She  selected a few pieces from her carefully stored treasures. It did not take long to find the perfect necklace. She knew exactly what piece would go with the dress, and my personality. I can see why her customers love her and keep coming back. Her joy in making others look beautiful is special.

I was sincerely grateful, and she was glad to help.

When we encounter people who are “at the top of their game” we may wish we were like them. We may  learn everything we can about them. Sometimes we even want to be them.

What we really want is to be our self as well as our idol is their self.

The problem is that when we try to be someone else it usually doesn’t go well. We can wear a jersey, ask for and try a recipe, start painting, or imitate them in many different ways. It may be fun at first, maybe forever. However, trying to be someone else will never be as satisfying as becoming YOU.

The truth is only YOU are good enough to be you. And you ARE good enough to be you.

Whether you are encouraging yourself or someone else remember to be aware. See all 6 Principles of Encouragement here.

Principle #2 Be aware. Be aware of your own gifts and talents and of those you are encouraging. It is much easier to get better at a talent you already have, than to try to improve on your weaknesses.

Also, be grateful. To be served by or to observe someone at the top of their game is a privilege.

Thank you Judy! You made me feel pretty on a sad day.

Encouragement to Say Good-Bye

I need to take a few days off to say good by to one heck of a mother-in-law.

IMG_0896She was 91 when she died earlier this week. Leaving quite a legacy. 10 children, 24 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren.

May I have the spunk to try to escape through the nursing home window like she did a few weeks ago.  Living big until the end.

Rest In Peace!

Encouragement To Let Go Of The Snooze Button

George Arents Collection, The New York Public Library. Alarm clock service.

The day I started hitting the alarm off button instead of the snooze button I felt empowered. I felt in control. I felt I had gained an extra half an hour in my day. And my day started out with a success and not a defeat.

The snooze button had me captive and I didn’t even know it. Every night when I went to bed I had every intention of getting up at the first beep. But then, at the first beep, the conversation in my head would begin. “Come on, you should stick with your plan and get up”, and then, “but I can get ready for the day quickly, no need to rush”. Every push of the snooze become a bigger and bigger failure.

I joined an Ignation prayer group at church for Advent last year. Part of joining the group was making a commitment to pray at a certain time every day, at least 4 times a week. Since I am more of the “all or nothing” type than the 4 times a week type, I decided to keep the same schedule every day. The only time for this was early in the morning. Once everyone is up and going there is no guarantee of quiet time. So I started setting my alarm for 30 minutes earlier than usual every day. Just did it cold turkey.

Eight months later I am happy to say I conquered the snooze button. Now I can hop out of bed and start the day with a fresh outlook. Arguing with myself is draining. Working the plan and starting the day with confidence carries through my whole day.

Once I discovered how refreshing it is to be in control of my snooze I shared my discovery. Because my results were so positive I thought this would be positive for everyone. I wanted everyone to share in my new found sense of control and confidence.

The reactions to my encouragement to get up at the first buzz surprised me. Not everyone was interested in making a change.

This is an example of effective encouragement principle #4…Just because it is good for me does not mean it is good for everyone.*

Some people said the snooze time was their favorite ½ hour of the day. It was a natural transition time between deep sleep and heading for the shower or a work out. It was almost like a secret hidden time for lucid thoughts and relishing a comfy bed for just a little longer.

When I asked my brother-in-law how he felt about snooze buttons, he took it a step further. He said he doesn’t use an alarm clock! Unless he has an unusually early flight for work travel, he just gets up when his body says go. He is never late, or even stressed about getting to work on time. For him it is a non- issue. I was impressed with the trust he has in his internal clock.

It is possible to change your snooze habit, if you are interested. While I was creating this article I came upon a twitter request from Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, and I Know How She Does It.  She was looking for people who have stopped the habit of hitting the snooze button. I responded with a few of my thoughts from above. Read her results 8 Strategies To Help You Quit The Snooze Button Habit For Good.

My quotes are in numbers 7 and 8. Enjoy!

*Click here to see the Principles of Effective Encouragement.

Principles of Effective Encouragement

George Arents Collection, The New York Public Library. Violet (Viola).

Have you ever wanted to become a better encourager? Or maybe you receive a lot of encouragement and think…that was really helpful, or really not helpful. Either way, there are certain truths about encouragement that can help us to understand what encouragement is and what it isn’t.

#1 Encouragement is intrinsically good. – Encouragement makes us better people, more of who we really are. It does not take a us to a place that detracts from our true selves. If you are giving or receiving encouragement that is taking you to the dark side, i.e. illegal, immoral, it is not encouragement. It may be manipulation, provocation, or bullying, but it is not encouragement.

#2 Being Aware is necessary – Since all encouragement is good. (See above.) it should always lead to the receiver becoming more of who they are meant to be. Being aware of a situation or person can lead to more effective encouragement.

#3 Just because something is possible does not mean it should be encouraged. We all make choices in our lives. Sometimes a fork in the road has 2 awesome choices. Perhaps your child is very bright and wants to pursue medicine, however you come from a long line of engineers. Your hope is that you child will love the field you love, and you know they are capable of the work involved to become an engineer. You can’t understand why they would pursue medicine, it doesn’t make sense, it is not what your family does. Remember, just because your child is capable of an engineering degree does not mean it is their only option. Yes, this one is a tough one for parents.

#4 Something good for me may not be good for you. Perhaps becoming a vegetarian or deciding to home school changed your life and you are enjoying many benefits from the decision. This is awesome for you, but others may never have the desire to become a vegetarian or home school and that is OK too. Really, it’s OK.

#5 Possibility is necessary. – We do not encourage new born babies to walk, it is not possible. Giving encouragement to someone who is not capable of success is ineffective, and it won’t go far. In fact, it may do harm to place false hope in certain situations. If there is no hope, there should be no encouragement. Encouraging a new direction may be the best plan.

#6 Words of encouragement are timeless. A kind nudge or gentle word of encouragement received as a teenager may be remembered many years later. Sometimes giving words of encouragement is like planting seeds instead of lighting a firecracker.

These are my initial observations. As more examples are added these may need to be updated. It is a good place to start.