Encouragement — hope giving

Encouragement (noun) — the act of giving hope, confidence, or support.

I didn’t even notice her at first. The rainy afternoon had created a pleasant break from the usually hot Florida summer, so I’d coaxed my husband to go to one of our local lakes just to get outside for a while. As we sat on a bench near the lake and talked, I realized she had passed us at least twice now. She was walking — making a loop around the sidewalk — but she didn’t look like she was enjoying it very much! Her shoulders were hunched forward, her arms hung lifelessly at her side, her steps were plodding, her expression was blank. Yet she walked.

A year or so ago, I took a brief foray into the world of running, participating in a few local 5Ks (mostly walking). If there was one thing I learned from my exposure to the running community in my city, it is that runners encourage one another. So as she approached for her next trip past our spot, I caught her eye, clapped, and shouted, “There you go! You’re doing it! You’re putting one foot in front of the other and you’re doing it! Way to go! <fist-pump> Woot-woot!” She gave me a shy grin as she passed.

My husband dropped his jaw, wondering what had possessed his normally reticent wife. He stared at me with a confused smile. “What?” I said. “That’s what runners do for each other!”

But what was really amazing was what happened next. I watched her as she continued her walk. Only now, her shoulders were straighter, and there was a slight swing to her arms. As she progressed around her loop, her posture and countenance changed. With a definite bounce to her step, her arms swung freely, and she had a bright smile on her face. I didn’t say anything else when she passed us several more times. I didn’t need to. I was surprised and humbled to see how my simple words of encouragement were enough to transform her whole attitude.

The Bible tells us to encourage each other in our faith. Some versions use the word “spur,” as a rider would use to urge a horse to run. Why? Why the admonition? Because we sometimes think we’re the only one walking this path, running this race, staying this course. The enemy of our souls wants to get us discouraged, to get the “poor me’s,” to feel isolated. Illness, death, financial struggles, family conflict, global crises — they can make us feel like we’re alone in this battle, ashamed to share our fears, that we’re less than or not enough.

We sometimes think we’re the only one walking this path, running this race, staying this course.

Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, The Message, puts it this way:

So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out. Hebrews 10:23-24 (MSG)* (emphasis mine)

We may or may not know what struggles others are facing. But as their lives intersect with ours, as they make the loop past us, let’s not forget to see them. Let’s reach out, clap and shout, “Woot woot! Look at you! You’re fighting cancer, you’re a caregiver, you’re laid off, you’re a single mom, you’re doing the hard things — and you keep putting one foot in front of the other and you’re doing it!”

Your words could be just the hope they need right now. Don’t be afraid to share them.

*The Message Copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson

Copyright (C) 2020 – Mary E. Egidio – permission is granted to share but with proper citation and not for financial remuneration.

Despite the craziness, there was always music…

For as much as the home I grew up in was full of its own type of craziness and dysfunction (see previous post), our saving grace was music.  My parents were great music lovers, and I can barely remember a time that some kind of music was not playing in our house.  Both of my siblings played the piano beautifully (me, not so muClassical Musicch), and even though our old upright grand converted player piano was out-of-tune and permanently on sustain, the music that came out of it still rings in my heart.  My sister played everything from Chopin to show tunes.  My brother favored Beethoven. especially “Moonlight Sonata.”

One Christmas, we gave my dad a ukulele.  We all sat around, my sister on the flute, me playing maracas, and my brother on some goofy kazoo, playing Christmas carols.  Ah, family togetherness!  See what the music world missed?

I’ll never forget the year my sister bought a stereo record player for our family.  This was not a little “suitcase” record player: this was a piece of furniture, with a record player on one side, and an FM radio on the other.  It was always playing, especially at Christmas.

My dad purchased every “50 Great Classics” and  “25 Enduring Favorites” album that was sold on television, along  with the Firestone Christmas Albums that came out each year.  He loved the Mills Brothers, and the famous barbershop quartet, The Buffalo Bills.  We sang along with Mitch Miller and watched every musical variety show on TV.  Only recently did I learn that my dad conducted a community choir in the town where they lived before moving to my hometown.  He had a deep voice, similar to that of Bing Crosby…  I can’t hear “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” without thinking of my dad.

Now, my mom, while a lover of music, couldn’t carry a tune if it had handles.  I think her problem was that most songs were out of range for her low voice.  She was the victim of our teasing, but she laughed right along with us, and was ever-present at our choir concerts.

Stereo I would come home on Friday night with my latest purchase — a “45” of a top song that week — put it on the stereo and sing into the mirror holding my hairbrush as a mic.  Oh yes, I was that girl.

In my bedroom, I had an AM radio with a slim “pillow speaker” connected by a jack.  It could pickup clear-channel stations from as far away as Indiana (WOWO, Fort Wayne).  The music coming from under my pillow drowned out the arguments from downstairs.

Looking back, I believe that music was God’s gift to our family.  It brought peace, joy, and unity amidst fractured times. It brought solace and comfort.  It echos still with pleasant memories.

Surely music is one of God’s purest gifts of creation.  We use it to express our love to Him.  That’s because He first used music to express His love for us, and He has placed it deep within us.  In the book of Job, God tells us that He laid the cornerstone of the earth’s foundation, “…while the morning stars sang together.” (Job 38:7)  What would we give to hear that tune?  Do you suppose Adam and Eve did?

And in Zephaniah 3: 17, we see these beautiful words:

“The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save.  He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” (NIV)

I didn’t always know it was you singing.  But thank you, God, for the music.

(c) Copyright 2015 by Mary E. Egidio.  Permission is given to share, but with attribution, and not for commercial purposes.  

Not My Face, Not My Mirror

IMG_0483 (2)I looked in the mirror and was shocked by what I saw.  I had lost my balance when my foot hit a pine cone and down I went in the soft grass.  Although I seemed to be in one piece, I knew my face had taken much of the impact when I’d landed.  Expecting minor scrapes, I was shocked to see small cuts, blood streaked down my face, and a bruise already forming on my left cheek.  But while my friends expressed their concern and ran to get ice and first aid, I was seeing something else they couldn’t see in that mirror.

I was seeing the face of my mother.  My mother, sitting across the breakfast table from her ten year-old daughter, with a bruised cheek and blackened eye.  She’d claimed to have fallen out of bed, but I’d heard the argument the night before, the yelling, the slap.  Worst, perhaps, was that I thought she was to blame for it.  “If she’d just leave him alone when he came home late, this wouldn’t happen,” I’d thought.

This was the family secret.  The middle-class neighborhood, the sales executive father who never missed a day of work, Sunday morning mass each week, the outward appearance of a happy family–all hiding the deeper secrets of alcoholism, abuse, denial and infidelity.  I didn’t know any different.  I thought this happened behind everyone’s closed doors.

I was almost in tears, looking at my own face in the mirror years later, a face that was closer to the age of my mother’s then. No.  I never wanted to see this, I thought.  This wasn’t going to happen to me.  Forgotten emotions started to build inside me.  But then I realized it hadn’t happened to me.  What had happened to me truly was an accident.  I truly had fallen. In that moment I realized once again how far God has brought me.

Domestic violence becomes a learned behavior, both on the part of the abuser and the victim.  It is a pattern that often is repeated from generation to generation. Hand-in-hand with other addictive behaviors, it is part of a seemingly continuous cycle.  So what happened in my life that caused the difference?  What broke the cycle?

I credit my older sister, who became a recovering alcoholic, and who took me to Al-Anon and Recovery, Inc. meetings, where I began to understand that the family dynamics in my house weren’t healthy.  I read books such as David Seamens’ Healing for Damaged Emotions and Healing of Memories.  Then I sought the miraculous, transforming power of God’s Holy Spirit, who healed me from the inside out and replaced the pattern of abuse with a heart full of His peace. It took years to fully understand and accept the unconditional love my Heavenly Father has for me. He showed me families who truly lived out the grace of God in their lives together, with no secrets and nothing to hide. In answer to the deepest prayer of my heart, God gave me a kind and loving husband, with whom I have shared 37 years, and who has never once raised a hand to me in anger, or even spoken abusively.  I am truly blessed.  I am truly thankful.

Seeing my face in the mirror that day was shocking. Even after 50 years, the memories stung.  But through my tears, I realized I could sing with joy, “My chains are gone!  I’ve been set free!  My God, my Savior has rescued me! And like a flood, His mercy reigns. Unending love, Amazing Grace!” *

*”Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)” refrain written by Chris Tomlin and Louis Giglio  (c) copyright 2006 Sixsteps Music

***October is Domestic Violence Awareness month.  If you need help, please, don’t hesitate.  Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline or your local law enforcement.

Copyright 2015 by Mary Egidio. Permission is granted to share, but with attribution and not for profit.