I didn’t even really know her. She was just someone I knew briefly from my time in a church with over a thousand families at the time I attended there. She was a familiar face in a fairly large crowd.
She died in 2011.
I just spent a few minutes paging through some public photos of her funeral that I found online. And one thing stood out: she was buried in an unfinished wood casket. Her friends and loved ones and family wrote messages on the casket before her service.
It was beautiful. Simple. Meaningful. –And as I paged through these images of a beloved woman’s casket covered with handwriting, the words of love from so many people, I started to wonder –How many of these words on the casket did she hear while she yet had breath? Did anyone pick up the Sharpie from the table and compose their final message, feeling the weight of regret for words they had never spoken?
We waste so much time in this life. We wake up with the assumption that the sunrise is our guarantee to another full day, and prepare for sleep, seeing the sunset as a promise that we’ll get another chance tomorrow. We’re usually right.
Only, one day, we won’t be.
I’m a woman of words. I’ve grown into my identity as a writer. One of the side benefits of my given vocation is a burden for encouragement, an eye for the neglected, a sense of the forgotten. Maybe you’re not so good with words yourself –but you, too, have that sense that I’ve grown into. Maybe there’s someone in your world that you know is dragging a bit at the heels, that’s fighting a battle few others are aware of. And maybe you’re the one hand of God in their lives, the one voice of love and kindness that will keep them fighting another day.
I know, it seems kind of awkward, frightening, kind of difficult to find the words, when you’re not someone who’s accustomed to speaking encouragement directly, with your voice or your pen. It’s a powerful and vulnerable thing, this role of encourager. You send your words out on the air or through the page, not knowing what you’ll receive (if anything) in return. Maybe you’ll say it wrong. Maybe you’ll embarrass the receiver. Maybe they’re hoping you didn’t notice the redness in their eyes, the tiredness on their face, the defeatedness in their voice. Maybe you should just let it go. They’ll be fine.
Encouraging involves risk, and, yes, sometimes you may not get it just perfectly right. And sometimes you will, but you’ll never know what (if anything) became of your efforts. That’s okay. The results aren’t your job. You are the messenger (Feel free to repeat those last two sentences as necessary).
There’s a quote from Henri Nouwen that I only recently removed from my blog heading, and it’s a quote I’ve been leaning heavily into this week:
“Trust that if you are living as the beloved you will heal people whether or not you notice it.” -Henri Nouwen
People who live as the beloved (that is, those who know their primary identity as a beloved child of God) know the healing that Love has done for them. It changes them. They see the world differently, and they are compelled to live into that love and let it flow out of the works of their hands.
You may not see the healing. Maybe not today. Maybe not ever.
Speak anyway. Follow that sense in your soul, value the day you’re given, and with bold hope and bolder assurance in the love you’ve been given, speak life, speak worth, speak healing to that person who needs it.
Don’t wait for a sharpie and a casket.