No Strings Attached Encouragement

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I should have recognized my rebellious nature much earlier in life. I wasn’t the out-all-night teenager or the break-all-the-rules new driver, but almost nothing makes me want to do something more than these simple words:

You can’t.

Way back in the 80’s when I was sitting in an already-aged, three-story brick building lacking air conditioning in north Florida, I heard the rules for writing well for the first time. While construction paper and rubber erasers invaded my sense of smell, the rules of writing were showered over me by the teacher.

Why can’t I make sentences as long as I want?
Who cares if the paragraph has at least 4-5 sentences?
Why should I avoid the word ‘but’?

In the ensuing decades, life has moved from paper and erasers to keyboards and screens. Writing has taken the form of essays, journal entries, letters, and blog posts for me. I’ve worked tirelessly to ensure a college paper was meticulously cited and formatted. I have also thrown up a few thoughts in this little space without so much as a minute of editing. {Check out my #fiveminutefriday posts for more of those} I followed the rules many times, but sometimes I ignore the rules.

Despite all of the writing, it was a conversation which helped me realize the importance of following the ‘but’ rule. The impact of that word is felt by how much it takes away from what we have just said. Over the last year I have had highs and lows I wouldn’t have imagined. I’ve picked myself back up again over and over and over. Fitness, work, health, and family changes and crisis seem to have found a pace well beyond ebb and flow – more like crashing waves. Sometimes the life raft that has carried me along has come from the words others shared with me.

I’m praying for you.
I believe in you.
Your faith is an encouragement to me.

I’ve always encouraged others. I don’t do it for recognition, sometimes I genuinely don’t even think I’ve been encouraging until I get a note or message of thanks from someone. As is often the case with things we do well, I can give it freely but have a hard time accepting it from others {despite the power I know it can hold.} I am much more comfortable wielding the pen on the notecard or sending a quick text to help a friend smile in the middle of the hard stuff we call life. Encouragement is like a drug of affirmation for a perfectionist. 100 positive messages are immediately wiped away by the crash, the negative comment or that 3 letter word: but. That little word wipes away the positive comment like shaking my childhood Etch-a-Sketch.

You did a great job on that project, but I wish you’d turned it in last week.
I love your new hair color, but I wish you hadn’t cut it so short.
Your leadership was key in the success of our team, but we will take it from here.
You are such a patient and loving mom, but they grow up quickly so enjoy it while it lasts.

Why do we bother building someone up if we are immediately going to knock them over with that 3 letter word? How would your life be different if you never had to hear “but” again?

Unfortunately, that isn’t going to happen. Not only is someone going to ‘but’ you – but you will do it to someone else. I will. I wish I wouldn’t, but I am human and have this tendency to make mistakes despite my efforts.

So today, this week, this month – let’s do one of the best things we can do to honor people in our lives by choosing to put a period at the end of the encouragement. Let’s speak and write something truthful and kind and then shut up.

You look great today.
I couldn’t do this project without you.
We miss the way your smile lights up the room.
Your belief in me helped me reach my goal.
I love how considerate you are with the customers.
You are so patient with the kids.

Follow one of the writing rules and give some no strings attached encouragement. Ignore the part they didn’t get quite right. Don’t bring up the five other things your teenager didn’t do when they come home long before curfew. Look past a few imperfect things and put this into practice:

I Thessalonians 5:11
Therefore encourage one another
and build one another up, just as you are doing.

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