The last day of school had just ended, and Molly and I were waiting to say good-bye to her fifth-grade teacher.
The following year, my little girl and her sweet bunch of classmates would be heading off to middle school. It would be a huge transition, for sure.
Molly’s teacher, Mrs. Miller, was retiring after many decades of faithful instruction, so big changes were coming for her too. For now, though, she was making the most of her final moments with her students.
The kids—some of whom practically towered over her—clustered around the front door of the building, waiting for their chance to receive one more hug from their beloved teacher. Many of the children at the school came from less-than-stable homes, and she had been a powerful influence in their lives, to put it mildly.
I watched as Mrs. Miller grasped the arm of one of these girls and spoke directly into her ear. Her urgency was almost palpable—it was as if she knew she had one last chance to speak life into this student’s heart, and she wasn’t going to let go until she was finished.
Mrs. Miller is an unassuming, soft-spoken woman, but when she encouraged her students, she was intentional. Intense. Unwavering. Fervent.
In a word, she was fierce.
And though she’s no longer my daughter’s teacher, I’m still learning from her example.
People everywhere are desperately in need of affirming words. I see it in the topics that resonate across the blogosphere, by the things people say about their struggles—online and off. I recognize it in my own quiet communications with loved ones—I wouldn’t call them cries for help, exactly, but they might possibly classify as subtle hints.
But even in this season of life when my own heart longs for encouragement, a phrase from Ann Voskamp’s book, The Broken Way, keeps returning to my mind: “The best way to de-stress is to bless.”
I know what I need to do. And thanks to Mrs. Miller, I now have a name for it.
It doesn’t matter if they’re young or old, rich or poor, educated or self-taught, married or single. The people who pass through our lives—at church, at work, in the produce department, on the soccer field, in the dance school lobby—have gifts, abilities and traits that are worth noticing, worth pointing out, worth praising.
And if we have the opportunity, we should take it.
Not in an annoying, look-at-me kind of way, but in a way that refuses to let them minimize who they are and what God has designed them to do. In a way that will not accept answers of, “Oh, it was nothing” or, “I could have done better” or, “Oh, this old thing” or, “But I’m not very good at …”
No, I think when I get this kind of response. You are good at that. I know, because I am not good at it and I see what you’re able to do.
Sometimes I say these thoughts out loud, sometimes I keep them to myself. I think I should vocalize them more, though, because they are worth emphasizing—repeatedly if necessary.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be intentional about speaking life to people. I want to go first, to be observant enough to sense what I need to praise, to not back down if people try to dismiss my words of truth-filled affirmation.
When it comes to encouragement, I want to be like Mrs. Miller.