Because of the lack of available employment in our Appalachian community decades ago, my dad had to move our family north. Jobs were plentiful in the new area, but an encouraging welcome was not. Because of those hurtful years, I appreciate encouragement’s power and have written about it—especially in my book Bless Your Socks Off: Unleashing Encouragement’s Power. And I’ve discovered encouragement can be found in the most interesting places. Even within a flock of Canada geese. Each autumn, I wait for their migration over our community. As I watch the great flocks gather in V-formations, I marvel at their majestic grace—and constant honking. I’ve learned the strongest bird takes the lead, creating an updraft for the ones behind it. Then as the leader tires and drops back, another bird takes its place, heading into the wind. Those who write about the great birds tell us the weak ones are not at the end of the line but in the middle, surrounded by those who are stronger. Thus, they are kept from dropping behind, and the flock together flies farther than each bird could alone. In addition, the honking is not just noise, but encouragement from one to another to keep going.
What fun to apply that scenario to the human experience. A few years ago, I learned personally how important sounds of encouragement can be. I was speaking at a little church in my beloved Kentucky. Talking is not difficult for me, but that evening, as I looked at the audience—many of whom were my distant cousins—I realized if we hadn’t left Appalachia, I would have grown up knowing them by more than just name. Suddenly, I felt deep loss.
Tears threatened to spill onto my cheeks, and I couldn’t speak. I was embarrassed, of course, but the audience looked at me lovingly, as though they understood my tumbling thoughts. A few spoke aloud: “That’s all right, honey,” and “Help her, Lord.” The audible comments startled me, but I took a deep breath, smiled my thanks, and continued my talk. Since that evening, I’ve thought about the strength those kind faces and encouraging words gave me. And I’ve recalled other times in my life when someone cheered me on with a patient “You can do this” or “You good Mama.” Encouragers come in various forms, and their pats on the back, tangible or verbal, planned or spontaneous, can change circumstances and sometimes even lives.
Have you had a dose of encouragement today? No? Then let me offer an Appalachian come-here-I’m-glad-to-see-ya hug! Imagine I’m welcoming you into my kitchen where gingerbread fresh from the oven is waiting. I want you to feel special—because that’s exactly what you are! So until we meet, hugs across the miles!