We've all known them: amazing people in an ordinary world doing extra-ordinary things. They are the unsung heroes of our lives that make us feel special, secure and unique.
Looking back over your life, who is it who made a difference to you and helped you to become who you are today? Possibly a teacher encouraged you to excel and go to college when you had no intention of doing so. Maybe it was your parent, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends or neighbors who said "you can do it, go for it!" when you were hesitant to try something new. And that encouragement was the very catalyst that spurred you to get that job, go for that promotion, or work on that relationship.
The power of words is a much neglected training in our day. We watch the oldies on television, (my personal favorites) and there are examples of mentors who encouraged, disciplined when needed, provided humor at appropriate times, and gave guidance and an example to follow. It seems to me, that the 30-minute television series in the past provided an element of character training. I am thinking "The Andy Griffith Show," "Leave it to Beaver" and others like them. As they artfully wove humor throughout the show, there was a "way of life" that was illustrated, but not preached.
Is it possible that we could also create a life for ourselves and those around us that didn't necessarily "preach" character, responsibility, joyfulness, a work ethic, self-esteem, honesty, but artfully wove them into our lives in such a way that it spilled out onto those we come into contact? I like to think there is.
There have been people in my life who have taught me much by the way they poured their life into mine. I am thinking of my parents, grandparents, teachers, friends and relatives who have been there for me when I needed someone to spur me on. "You can do it" and "I know you can" go a long way when someone is struggling to accomplish a difficult task. Whether it is a child learning to tie a shoe, a college student taking final exams or a young person seeking a job, positive words have much power.
The power of words also brings a troubling thought to my mind and a burden to my heart. Words do have power to build, but they also have the power to tear down and destroy. I cringe when I hear how some people talk to their children. What a crime to ridicule or belittle a child. Telling a child they are bad and worthless is indeed counterproductive. A much better approach is to say with eye contact, "You are a good boy/girl, but what you did was not acceptable." Children become what you tell them they are.
I know this is one of those life cycle situations in which the parent talks that way because they were treated that way, but it is high time we awoke and broke the cycles of abuse in our families. We must determine, by the grace and help of God, that we will build up the little people in our homes, schools, churches and neighborhoods and not tear them down. For years, I told my boys the "mom thing" of "If you cannot say something nice, do not say anything at all." Then, I asked them where that came from. They answered in unison, the Bible, Momma.
"Actually," I answered. "I heard Kanga say it on Winnie the Pooh." They got a good laugh and of course I explained that yes, this is a Biblical principle also.
Positive words are an amazing thing in adult lives as well. There is enough negativity in the world already, and we can make a positive difference wherever we go. Reproofs are a necessary part of life, but they will be few and far between if we will determine to use positive reinforcement as opposed to the never ending negative nagging thing that seems to come natural to us.
Wanita was an older single woman in our church, but she was youthful. So youthful in fact, all the young people were drawn to her. She had one of those frozen smiles on her face and could banter with the best of them. She opened her home (a small trailer) to us for Bible studies and made us homemade ice cream. She spent many hours discipling and praying for those whom she mentored. She was a light and an encouragement for countless individuals. She also was not above lovingly rebuking someone who began heading down the wrong path, but she did it in such a way that it could not make you mad.
I was with Wanita on the day she died. She was 72 years young and had dwindled to a mere 40 pounds with cancer. She hung on to life not because she did not know where she was going, but rather because she was burdened about someone's soul. When that person arrived and assured her they were "OK now," she let go and went to heaven. Her investment in life was not in silver or gold, but in eternal and lasting things: people. What an example for us.
Denise is a friend of mine in another state. I met her shortly after the death of my husband. She began reaching out to me and my small daughter and we quickly became friends. I had no idea at this time of her struggles, but later learned she had multiple sclerosis. Throughout the 25 years I have known her, she has been the type of friend some only hope to have. She has had a very difficult life in many aspects and lost the ability to walk many years ago, but has never lost her ability to touch lives. She is one of those prayer warriors you read about.
A few months ago, my cell phone rang while I was driving. Now, I tell my kids to not talk on the cell phone while driving, but ... I answered, and it was Denise. "I can't get you off my mind, is something wrong?" She queried.
"No, I am stopped in traffic and it is storming" I answered, "but I'm fine."
Then, all of the sudden ... crash. A car ran right into the back of my SUV at full speed. "Gotta go Denise, I was just in the first accident of my life," I proclaimed.
Her radar had been right. Though there was nothing she could do about it, she had prayed for my safety when she became uneasy about me. No one was hurt I am thankful to say.
She is also a "card sender." Her kids laugh that when she meets people they are on now on her card list for life. She encourages by sending cards daily. I've heard people give love like they like to receive love, so I think it's time for me to go card shopping.
Denise's suffering has been severe for long lengths of time with bouts in bed and it really never ends. But, she chooses to reach out to others and make a difference whether anyone knows it or not. She is a hidden away saint.
There are so many more I could talk about and I know you have them, too. Now, I believe the job for you and I is to follow the example of those who have mentored us. There may be some reading this who think, "wow, no one ever mentored me." I have news for you. God is there for you with outstretched arms waiting for you to run into them and be safe. He will mentor you. You are not alone. Some of the best mentors and people helpers I know are people who were really never loved in the human sense, and because of that, they want everyone they meet to feel love.
Making a difference in someone else's life only comes through giving up our own comforts sometimes and getting uncomfortable for someone else. Investing your life in the lives of other people is an investment that can never be measured in dollar signs or bank accounts. Truly, we may never see the results and it may be a frustrating journey to say the least, because not everyone responds in the way we might hope. But never underestimate the value of kindness invested into someone else. Years down the road your kindnesses will probably be remembered and more than likely imitated. Wanita would have never dreamed the far reaching effects of her investments. There are now pastors, teachers, missionaries, gospel musicians, and many more who are where they are because of her impact on their life. I suppose I should say God's impact through Wanita's life. How about you? Wouldn't you like to change the world one person at a time?
Changing the world one soul at a time
Is God's purpose and His design,
Long and winding the road may be,
This is the the path of happiness for me.
Counting things gain that others count loss,
Knowing the temporal things are nothing but dross,
Loving the unlovely and paving the way,
For many will follow and find a new day.
Living my life for others you see,
Is God's plan and purpose for me,
Christ will shine in the dark night
For just a little candle will shine a bright light.
(Kimberly Short-Wolfe, MA, is a homeschool mom, and a licensed chaplain and counselor with Cornerstone Christian Counseling Ministry. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or call: 304-940-9362 or 304-637-7018.)