December 2, 2011: E is for Encouragement

“My friendship is very loyal but unlike Worry and Doubt, I promise to always encourage you that things will surely work out.” (from New Best Friend – A Little Book of Faith by Vera Jones)

“You’re going to lose. You’re too fat. You’re too slow and you’re stupid too.” The words cut like a jagged dagger through my five- year old heart. My big brother had figured out how to discourage my big dreams yet again. After all, that’s what older siblings do, right? It was my very first chance to run in a race, and they were giving out trophies! Wow, I could win a real trophy! My heart had never pounded harder! My only real opponent for years had been a stronger, more competitive brother, two years my elder, so I had never won anything before. Here was my chance to not only win, but have a trophy to forever show for my young talent and valiant efforts from the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity – Washington, DC Annual Family Picnic.

I believed I was fast. But I was only five and the race was for girls age 10 and under. My brother made sure I knew everyone was bigger, stronger and faster than I was. I was the youngest and smallest one there. The girl standing next to me was eight. She was tall and mean-looking and had a mustard stain on her T-shirt. She would probably devour me much like the apparent helpless hotdog she had just finished. My brother was right. I didn’t stand a chance. I would surely lose and all the onlookers gathered around would just simply laugh at me. Instead of receiving a trophy, I would receive a big, red forehead stamp that read, “LOSER” and it wouldn’t wash off! Oh the horrors! I’d be scarred for life! I began to cry.

Just then, my Godfather, Uncle Ed, walked over. He was very tall and strong with a deep, resounding voice like I imagined a lion would have if it could talk. He had always been a virtual giant to me. Uncle Ed who had witnessed the hurtful teasing and taunting stormed over and raised his big, booming voice at my brother, Danny. “You stop that now! That’s your little sister! You don’t pick on her, you encourage her! Go on baby girl, you step up to that there starting line and you run your little heart out. Don’t you pay your brother no mind! Do you want to run in this race?” With tears running down my cheeks I nodded yes. Uncle Ed emphatically continued, “Then get on up there and run, baby girl! Run and have fun! You are a winner!!” With that Uncle Ed took me by the hand and led me over to the starting line. Then he cut my brother a hard glance like he would string him up naked by his toenails if he even so much as blinked at me the wrong way. Uncle Ed to the rescue! My hero!

“Runners take your mark, get set,” said the man holding the cap gun. “POP!” sounded the gun and off I went! I ran fast. I ran hard. Mustard girl was on my right and I was gaining on her. Then I passed mustard girl! My heart was pounding as there was only one more big girl just steps ahead of me and I was gaining on her too! But just then she burst through the little yellow ribbon they called the finish line. She beat me. Danny was right, I didn’t win. I caught him smirking at me on the sideline. (His back was wisely turned to Uncle Ed). I started to cry again. But then I saw I saw Uncle Ed, my mom, my dad and a bunch of strangers all cheering for me, like I was the little engine that could. They were cheering for me even though I had come in second place. Suddenly a strange man came over to me, grabbed me by the arm, and placed a silver thing in my hand. It was a trophy! I had won something after all! I won a silver trophy! The girl next to me had a gold one, but I didn’t even care. I won something and discouraging Danny had nothing!

With tremendous excitement I ran over and handed my trophy to Uncle Ed whose loud voice was echoing over all others, “That’s my baby girl! I told you she could run. She’s a fast little thing, ain’t she? My god-daughter is a winner!” I felt so very proud. Although my brother could not bring himself over to congratulate me (it’s against sibling rivalry law), my parents, friends and complete strangers all seemed to be thrilled with my performance. My mom proudly told onlookers it was my very first race. My father and Uncle Ed seemed to be in competition over who could high five the hardest. It was the most awesome feeling I had ever felt in my five years of life – a feeling I obviously still cherish. Some said the first place contestant won the race. But I felt like I won something bigger – the will to try despite discouragement and doubt.

The biggest winner in my mind, however, was Uncle Ed, who in his great wisdom understood the power of encouragement. He introduced me to faith that day – the courage to believe in myself and to try no matter what anyone else said, or how discouraging things felt or appeared. I will never forget my first race, my first trophy, or the first time I realized there is no better assist to faith than another’s sincere voice of encouragement. We all have the power to be an encourager. You don’t even have to have a big booming voice like my Uncle Ed’s. I pray you recognize this giant gift within yourself and share it every day. Someone is ready to run today. You can help them win! In this way, you win, too! Take your mark, get set, “ENCOURAGE!”



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