Monday, February 20, 2006

Lending a word of encouragement to other mothers...

I was able to share with and answer questions for two women who were very interested in homeschooling over the weekend. This happened when one lady's children saw ours and came over to stand with us in the checkout. Both mothers were very frustrated with their local school system and one was concerned for her daughter's welfare. Her daughter was rejecting her mother for new "friends" who are leading her into big trouble. As we were leaving, we almost left Joshua. He was engaged in a very animated conversation with the three children and did not notice us leaving. Homeschooled children "lack social skills though." (That was me being sarcastic in case you missed it.) :-)

If you see a tired-looking mother with a baby in a store, walk up to them and tell them how beautiful their baby is. Tell them how very blessed by God they are and watch their tiredness disappear from their face. I did this Saturday while we were eating out and it blessed the mother so much, I'll make sure I do it more often. She went from tired, worn out and frustrated to joy-filled, proud and smiling with renewed energy in less than one minute. She looked noticeably younger also. Her baby blessed me with so many precious newborn smiles, Clint went over next to see the darling little girl. That got a man, who was eating alone, laughing and commenting on how we MUST love children as he pointed to our five. You say you are looking for ministry opportunities, well, this is a simple and quick way to minister to another mother and it will bless you too.

Giving a word of encouragement, understanding or acknowledgement of the situation works well with mothers struggling with misbehaved, tired or sick children. Just make sure your word's can't be misconstrued as judgemental by an already sensitive mother so you don't add to her problems. Saying something encouraging is a much better alternative than sitting in judgement, rolling our eyes with other shoppers at their child's unruliness and creating a judgemental, hostile atmosphere for the mother. Sometimes it will help diffuse negative attitudes in the people around the area as well. I encouraged a mother with a horribly behaved child in a store one day and by time I was finished, she was smiling and the child was standing still and listening quietly (probably taking notes :-) to the other people in line regaling their own "misbehaved child in public" stories. None of our parenting skills are so perfect that our children haven't caused us public embarrassment along the way.

I was eating out one day when I saw a child with cerebral palsy having a birthday party. His whole family was with him, but his mother was looking very self-conscious as her child clearly stood out among the other diners. Other people were looking off and on and she was visibly uncomfortable with all of the "sneaked" looks of curiosity. On my way back from the bathroom, I stopped by and knelt down beside her son's table and told him Happy Birthday and how wonderful his big family must have known he was to throw him such a grand party. Then, I told him he was beautiful and that I was glad I got to meet him. The boy was grinning ear to ear, happy someone else noticed he was having a special day.

When I stood up, the mother was in tears and expressed her gratitude. No stranger had ever made a fuss over her child or called him beautiful before. Doesn't that just break your heart? How sad that we put such limitations on beauty when God calls all of His creation "good" and tells us children are a "blessing", a "reward", and a "heritage." Scripture does not say "Children are a blessing if/until/when..." It says they ARE blessings without limitations or restrictions. We are all created in His image and fearfully and wonderfully made, regardless of our health or appearance. Shame on us for only offering a kind, encouraging word when the child meets our criteria for "beautiful." Shame on us for trying to redefine what beauty is.

Now, by nature, I am an introvert. I had a lot of rejection as a child and it costs me personally to speak to a stranger and I have to force myself to do it. Clint will often see me struggling inwardly and say something to get me moving "God put that on your heart for a reason, Wendy. Go, speak to them or you will miss an opportunity." If I can do it, you can also.

I have only had one person react negatively towards me. An elderly man in a wheelchair was being pushed through a grocery store by his daughter. She was in a ferocious mood, but he caught my eyes with his as I turned down the aisle. Being from the south, if I make eye contact with a person, I generally will nod or say hi or something as way of polite acknowledgement of a fellow human being. When I said hi to him, he engaged me in a short conversation and wished me a good day. He was such a kind man and he gave me encouragement as he uplifted my spirit.

As soon as we finished speaking, I said hi to her and then SHE started up with venom and said something very nasty to me for speaking with him. I told her she was blessed to have him to care for and walked on. Her shockingly unkind comments lost their sting when he made the great effort to turn and make eye contact with me again for I saw the shame and misery in them. I was crying for him by time I left the store. I have never forgotten him or her. I prayed for them both for years.

Clearly she thought caring for someone in need was beneath her and she was very angry about it. We have to be careful not to adopt this attitude of pride while caring for our husband and children. I think he was just looking for a kind word and a kind face. May none of us ever fall ill or frail and have to suffer abuse at the hands of the unloving and incompassionate. But, consider would be far, far worse to be the abusive, unloving and incompassionate person whose soul is so void they can't show kindness to someone weaker in health.