By; Michelle Gunnin
I am a natural encourager. I am also a teacher. It is not clear to me which came first. Am I a teacher because I am an encourager, or is it the other way around? Either way, I have found great pleasure in building others up and helping them to feel valued. I do this in several ways, but mainly I write notes. They started off as handwritten expressions of appreciation. Never underestimate the power of a good thank you note. From there I started writing little memos just to brighten someone’s day. When the internet was invented, my note writing grew to a whole new level. The speed with which my words traveled was amazing! Notes turned into letters at the point when my typing speed surpassed my handwritten scrawl, and while I still love a handwritten note, the ability to communicate instantly has made inspiration easy to spread on a daily basis. Nothing motivates me like motivating someone else. It is my passion.
All this encouraging had been going on for a while before it occurred to me that I should use words to bless my own family. I was busy reaching out to those who were downtrodden or had been through some trauma or another. Having walked those roads myself, I knew the importance of not feeling alone. However, there came a day when I recognized my words could bolster people even in good times. I knew I had been given a gift of words, but I also learned that words are a gift, like a present to be opened.
At Christmas, in the bottom of the stockings, I began to give the gift of words to my children. I mean, I had been doing this for years for other people, so why had I not ever done it for my own children? They are simple notes, no more than a paragraph, or two, that tell them what I see in them. They are expressions of how they have grown over the past year, and what I see forming in their lives. Gifts and talents are affirmed, but I also tell them how proud I am of them and how much I love them. Simple. It doesn’t take much time and even less money, yet they are some of the most anticipated gifts I give all year. I have found them on bulletin boards in college dorm rooms, and on desktops at home. They are stuffed in Bibles, and taped to walls and magnetized onto refrigerators. I put a little of myself in every note, and that heartfelt sentiment brings a lift to the lives it touches.
My point is that words are a powerful, meaningful gift. As writers, we might not realize that. For us, words come naturally and so we do not always recognize what a gift they can be to someone. Yet, as an encourager, I can tell you that many to whom I have sent messages, treasure them. They hold them for years. They reread them long after I have forgotten what I even wrote. I know this because they tell me so. I don’t know why it always surprises me because I do the same thing. I have a collection of letters given to me in difficult times which bolstered me. I have a box of cards with notes written in them that made me feel loved. It wasn’t the cards that were the gift, it was the WORDS. It is the season for giving presents wrapped in shiny paper with bows, and while ‘words’ may not be on the top of anyone’s Christmas list, they are definitely a gift to be given that will last longer than most, and be more significant. Here are some things you might want to include in your gift.
- Appreciation- It never hurts to thank someone for being themselves. Everyone has something they have given to you, so figure out what it is and tell them how much it means to you. It can be thanking your mom for years of hard work that has gone unrecognized or thanking your boss for being fair. Anything that is noticed and communicated in words will have an impact.
- Encouragement- You can encourage people when they are down by lifting them up. But you can also encourage people on an average day just by telling them how much what they do means to you. I once wrote a note to our personnel director, thanking her for her hard work at trying to find the best teachers for our students. Most people are running on a shortage of affirmation, so giving some with your words is like putting fuel in their tank.
- Vision- This is particularly good for your kids, but can apply to anyone. Share with them what you see for them. Not so much, ‘I see you working in a job someday,’ but more like, ‘I see your strength is in your compassion for people. That is going to make a difference in someone’s life.’ Or maybe, ‘You are good with numbers, which means you are a problem solver. Our world needs more problem solvers like you.’ As a writer, you see those kinds of connections if you look for them. Once you do, simply write them down.
- Stories-Telling stories of friendship, or of something that stood out when your kids were younger, or even stories from when you were dating your spouse can stir up warm memories. As writers we are storytellers, are we not? Why not use that talent to tell your own stories about those you love? It lets them know they have had an impact on you, and someday generations from now, they will be a heartwarming tribute to your relationships.
- Value- Telling people they are valuable just does something to their hearts. It increases confidence. It builds them up. It increases positivity. It is like a healing balm that softens and covers past hurts and pains. It allows them to be themselves because they begin to see who they truly are, important people with great worth.
- Hope- Giving hopeful words to those without hope is like giving water to a man in the desert. They drink it up thirstily, but you don’t have to be without hope to benefit. Hope is what inspires change. It creates movement. It gives light in the darkness. Pour it out, and life follows. Everyone needs hope in their lives. What better time of the year to spread hope than Christmas?
- Feelings- I know, I know…you are asking to I have to share my feelings? The answer is no; you don’t have to. However, if you want this gift to be meaningful, telling someone how you feel about them is the sure fire way to do so. (Be honest, though. Don’t say something you don’t mean.) When I had cancer, I recognized the importance of regularly telling those I love how much I cared for them in writing so they would remember if I wasn’t around to tell them in person.
This list should get you started, and the great thing is that words are an appropriate gift for everyone on your list. Your boss. Your co-workers. Your friends. Your pastor/priest. Your children. Your parents. Your spouse. Your neighbors. Even the bagger at the grocery store could use some words. Every person wants to be acknowledged and understood. Words give them that. Do not underestimate the power of the Gift of Words.