Encouragement is one of the best gifts of all.

When I doodled the word “courage”, it struck me that it is a root of encourage… that is to give courage to!  It is to give the gift of hope and determination to carry on, even through the challenges we face.

Recently I found myself the recipient of such encouragement.

And I was surprised at the source.  That particular week I had visited two elderly women, unknown to each other: two separate hospital visits in my role as chaplain.  Both were into that tenth decade, both bright and cognitive, even with failing bodies.  Both were experiencing incredible physical challenges and pain.

What I remember well was that as determined as I was to inquire after their health and encourage them, the conversation quickly turned around.  They wanted to know all about me!  Both were deeply interested in my life, my family, and one was quite concerned I was taking time for myself!

Yes, I was very encouraged by these visits.  As much as I brought to their bedside, they gave me so much more.  I was so impressed by their ability to think beyond themselves, and to show care for others, even though each of them was facing challenging times.  Their gift of peace and grace was evident.  They had a radiance and serenity that most of us long for.

These kind of visits always draws me to the question.  What makes the difference for some, who live life with an attitude of giving, of hope, of facing challenges with peace?  I believe faith can be a part of that, and we had joy in sharing about our common faith in a God who cares.

But as I thought about it, I also believe strongly that it is our attitudes that can make a difference.  We can always make a choice about how we respond to what life brings, even though some of those times are painful times of learning.    I’ve quoted it before, but it is so good… we can choose to be better, or bitter.  I’ve seen many frustrated people from all walks of life who blame, who are unhappy, and often miserable.

When our minds… and our hearts… respond in a positive way to life’s challenges, I believe as we age we reflect those very choices we have made along the way.  Did I choose love?  Did I choose forgiveness?  Did I choose to really listen to those around me?

It is good to learn from others.  To be reminded, even in their encouragement to me, that the choices I make each day will also give me gifts for the future, coping skills, and even the gift to encourage others along the way.

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