Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Thank You Box

The picture that you see on the right is my Thank You Box. As I was putting on my jacket to head to the sanctuary for our second service on Sunday there was a knock at my study door. I opened it to find a group of 5th graders and their teacher standing there with smiles on their faces. That’s when they handed me the box. “This is a Thank You Box,” said Mrs. Stokes. “The kids put it together for you to say thank you for all you do.”

I didn’t have time to open it at that moment; I opened it a little later. And what should I find but little gifts of food, a bottle of water, some anti-bacterial hand cleanser, and several nice notes from the kids: “Thank you for teaching me the truth.” “Thank you for telling me about Jesus every Sunday.” “Thank you for being nice to me.” Good stuff. I’m eating some raisins from that box as I write this blog. They called it a Thank You Box.

What a great idea! And what an encouragement! All of us can use a little encouragement, can’t we? We get enough negative news, critical complaints, and cutting words in the course of a day. A little encouragement can go a long way. Most of us need a lot of it. Suppose in the course of a day you heard ten compliments and one criticism. Which will be on your mind when you lay your head on your pillow that night? It's safe to say we need more than a little encouragement; we need a lot. The word encouragement comes from the French word coeur; it means to put heart into someone. I suspect every single one of us has a few memories of those times someone put heart into us.

I remember Mrs. Dennis, my fifth-grade teacher, pulling me aside during a rough stretch in my life and telling me: “John, your life is going to count for something because you’ve got a good attitude.” That happened 43 years ago and I still remember it: encouragement.

I broke my wrist just before football season in my sophomore year of high school. I put a pad around the cast and played anyway. I still remember my coach saying to the team during halftime of a game in which we were getting whipped, “McCallum comes out here every day and plays with a broken wrist. If he’ll do that, you can pick up your effort too and get it done.” That was in 1971. Why do I still remember it? Because Coach Grant put some heart into me and the team with those words. Encouragement.

And then there was the time when I was very discouraged. I put on a good face and nobody was even aware of it. The secretary buzzed me to say Paul Land was calling. I knew Paul, but not well. He wasn’t a member of our church, just another Christian guy I knew. We hadn’t talked in a couple of years. I answered the phone and he told me, “John, I don’t know what’s going on, but when I was praying this morning the Lord told me to call John McCallum and let him know I was praying for him.” (My eyes well with tears as I type this story.) God knew I needed some encouragement and He put it on Paul’s heart to call me up and put some heart into me. It did. Encouragment.

And not long ago, I heard via email from a kid I had in my youth group back around the time the 70s were becoming the 80s. He told me he’d stumbled across a note I had written him way back then, thanking him for helping in a mission Vacation Bible School our youth group did for an impoverished church in the inner city of Kansas City. He went on to include the contents of that note in his email. He kept that brief, little note for three decades because it encouraged him back then. And you know what? Encouraged by that note, my friend Dwayne encouraged me.

Isn’t that just like God—sending the right word at the right time to put heart into us? I call those kinds of words “life words.” Death words wound, maim, and destroy. They stunt growth, they steal joy, they sap security. Life words encourage, strengthen, embolden, bless, and give hope and life to those to whom they are spoken. Of course, Jesus is the ultimate life word God has spoken to each of us: “I love you. I’ll save you. I’ll give you eternal life so that where I am there you may be also.” Life words from the Life Word himself.

I share these thoughts in the hope that you will take a few moments and reflect on those times God sent encouragement your way, and give thanks. And I share them for another reason too: that maybe today you’ll speak some life words into the life of someone who needs them. Don’t hold them back, speak them. Speak them to a spouse, a child, a parent, a friend. Speak them to a co-worker, a neighbor, a clerk at the bank, a cashier at the store, a waitress at your favorite restaurant. Speak them. Let them do their life-giving work. They won't do a bit of good locked up in your heart. So get them out of your heart and into the heart of someone who needs them. You can do this. You can put heart into someone today. You can encourage a person who needs it. Literally or verbally, pass along your own Thank You Box today.

And the encouragement you give away will come to rest on your head when you need it most. In his book 11, Leonard Sweet includes a parting blessing used by the Tzutujil Indians of Guatamala. I pass it along to you because it reminds me of my Thank You Box and wishes that same box for others: May God give you “long life, honey in the heart, no evil, and 13 thank yous.”

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