Friday, September 5, 2008

File it under 'E'...

I have a special file from my office filing cabinet. It’s labeled very simply: Encouragement. In it are words of appreciation that I’ve received from various people over the past twenty years. There are cards in here. Hand-drawn pictures. Notes scribbled on scraps.

If you were to look through my collection, you’d find things from my kids. You’d find thank yous from missionaries. And some of you would find words you wrote years ago.

Why do I hang onto all this stuff? I keep it because there are times when I need a lift. When I’m down, I can open this file and remember that I have helped others. I can read “love notes” from friends and know that I am truly blessed.

I read through the whole file this week. I’m not sure why. I wasn’t depressed in the least. I just started reading and couldn’t stop. Encouragement is kind of nice even if it’s of the antique or recycled variety. I was blessed as I cracked open cards I hadn’t seen in years, flipped through sheets of stationary, read the scribbles of youth group members. I was reminded of the many outpourings of love I’ve experienced over the years. God has been good to me.

There were half a dozen notes from friends and family members sent my way during a particularly difficult time in Indiana. I was being criticized mercilessly by anonymous complainers. The weight of the disapproving messages I was receiving was crushing. And there was nothing I could do about any of them. The events they referred to were past. The fault-finders were given the invisible cloak of complete anonymity. They attacked knowing they would not be held personally accountable for their slander.

What was I to do? Cry is what I did. My heart ached as I rehearsed again and again the cruel words which Hell’s fires burned into my mind. I tried to put out the flames myself. I couldn’t do it.

Enter God’s fire brigade – godly men and women who knew what to say because they’d been through the fire and survived. There was a note from my dad in this file. Another was from Grandma Neifert. My best friend Kevin wrote two pages. Doris, a member of our church, sent a handwritten paragraph or two.

My favorite note by far, though, was penned by a guy named Mike. When Mike, my across the street neighbor, received a copy of the survey that the elders were circulating about me, he wrote to them. Put his name right at the bottom of the page. He wasn’t one to hide behind the curtain of secrecy.

Somehow I ended up with his note. Not sure how. Maybe he made a copy so I’d have it. I don’t recall.

Anyway, here are the words he wrote:

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank whoever brought Mike Neifert to the Friends Church. I would like to see Mike remain at the church; he has helped me through a lot. Mike has helped me believe in mankind again. Through his guidance, I am trying to accept the Lord as my savior. I lost faith in mankind a long time ago, and I’m trying to get it restored. I’ve never been a religious person, but Mr. Neifert has helped me to see some good in this world. I did not fill out an evaluation form for Mike’s pastoral care, but if I would have, it would have been rated very high. I only began to attend Friends Church about five weeks ago, but I can tell a difference in my spiritual well being. I hope someday that I am able to help Mike as much as he has helped me. I’ve been lost in a world that needs help very much, and so do I.”

Rereading those kind words touched me this week just as they did years ago when they were so desperately needed. They brought joy to my soul, joy I didn’t even know I needed. But God did. He was gracious enough to supply my need even before I recognized it. Just when I think I know the depths of his goodness, he shows me more.

You remember words of encouragement from your past, don’t you? A teacher spoke kindly to you when you struggled in math urging you not to give up. A boss came to you privately and thanked you for your key contribution to a make-or-break project that made it big. A friend whispered to you over a cup of coffee, “I don’t know how I could’ve made it without you.” A coach gave you an “Atta boy” thump on the back after you scored your first touchdown in junior high.

Those kinds of things stick with you for a lifetime. They lift your spirits even from the distance of a dozen years. Praise remembered is powerful. Encouragement is invigorating, refreshing, healing.

Why not go out and refresh someone today? Encourage a friend who needs a lift. God may use your words, your actions to change a life.

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