Being A REAL Encourager

These days, I am focusing on how I can be a better encourager by detailing what kind of support I like to receive. In compiling the following list, I’ve recognized a lot of bad conversational habits of mine! Check out the list and see what you think:

  • I must remember that I am in this person’s space right now to soothe away fear, guilt, and shame. Anything else would be counterproductive.
  • I must avoid making broad character judgments about them solely based on their temporary emotional state. (Especially negative judgments!). Instead, I must let their emotions flow on by and listen for the truths and beliefs hidden in them.
  • I must remember that what makes me feel happy and positive may not necessarily do the same for them.
  • I must avoid giving advice until they ask for it. (!!!)
  • I must realize that they have a lifetime of experiences I know nothing about, and so I won’t automatically understand everything they are thinking, feeling, and saying. Instead of asking for clarification and explanation, I must simply listen.
  • I must not mock or belittle their suffering, or try to one-up them by sharing something worse I’ve been through. My personal experiences are not important in this moment–listening is.
  • I must not shame them for any bad choices they have made. Instead, when asked, I may offer solutions for how to move forward from them–for instance, not just suggesting that they change their thoughts, but showing them how their thoughts can change. (This is where personal experiences, book recommendations, etc., can come into play.)
  • I must keep everything they say in confidence unless they are threatening self-harm.
  • I must not let this listening and encouragement be a one-time thing.
  • I must advise them to seek professional help if this seems like more than just a down mood or temporary setback.
  • What would you add to this list? Does this cover the bases pretty well? Let me know in the comments!
  • Advertisements

    Belief Doesn’t Make Me Correct

    Just because I believe in something with all my heart doesn’t make me correct about it.

    This is something I’ve been grappling with the last several days. It’s hard at first to think that a belief I hold so close to my heart could be wrong…but then again, knowing that my thoughts are malleable, influenced by such things as hormones, lack of sleep, and low blood sugar, it gives me some hope, too.

    For instance, those wildly negative thoughts I sometimes have about myself at 2:00 AM aren’t necessarily true just because they seem to be while I’m battling hunger and insomnia. And other people’s negative thoughts and words about me aren’t necessarily true either, because they are influenced just as easily. So any thought or belief I hold to doesn’t mean I’m automatically right about it–it just means I think I am right, until proven otherwise.

    And if I’m proven wrong, so what? Being wrong is as natural and common as passing gas! Sure, it’s unpleasant in the moment (LOL), but once the wrongness dissipates, I can move on. Having been wrong doesn’t invalidate anything about me, and it doesn’t mean I’m a bad person. And if other people try to force their beliefs on me, it doesn’t make them bad people, either–just people who don’t yet know they can be wrong without being hurt or unloved. I don’t have to believe them, and I don’t have to guard against them or hate them, either. Their thoughts, faith, and other opinions do not have to affect me at all, because theirs are as fragile and fallible as mine.

    (This might not seem earth shattering or life changing to anyone else, but it’s really been helping me get through some tough things! I hope this will help someone else, too. ❤️)

    How to Make Someone’s Day Better

    This is something I’m trying to work on since my emotional setback a couple of months ago, because it’s been modeled to me so wonderfully:

    • Treating every person I interact with as if they need to know they are worthy of love. (Recently it’s been too easy for me to forget that other human beings need the same kind of boost I have been needing!)
    • Showing compassion, encouragement, respect, and forgiveness through everything I say, do, and write to them. (This means cutting out stuff like gossip and constant venting, the latter of which is a real challenge for me!)
    • Giving this same treatment to myself once I have helped someone else, because the “worthy of love” tank needs refueling after helping. (As I’ve found out, when you help others and forget to help yourself, pretty soon the tank runs dry!)

    Brighter Days After Surgery

    Hello all!

    Well, it’s been a pretty wild couple of months since I last posted–I battled more unexplainable/unstoppable bleeding in May, plus a lot of stress concerning a couple of people at church. It was very hard to feel positive about anything when I felt drained by blood loss, overwhelmed with grief, and harshly judged by folks I thought I could trust, plus I was facing so much uncertainty concerning my health.

    But in late May, I traveled with my dad to Chattanooga, TN to see a highly respected gynecological specialist, Dr. A., and she got more done for me in 4 hours than had been done for me in 7 months!  She was able to get ultrasounds done the same day I arrived, and those scans revealed 2 important findings:  1) my left ovary was all but taken over with a suspicious-looking cyst, and 2) my endometrial lining was far too thick for my own good–it was literally outgrowing its blood supply and causing the crazy bleeding I’d been suffering for four and a half years. Dr. A was VERY kind and broke the news to me gently that my left ovary was likely going to have to be removed surgically, and that a D&C was going to be required as well to test the endometrial lining for cancerous cells. I had hoped to avoid surgery, but when she went over my records with me point by point and showed me how serious the situation was, I understood we had to act fast. Dr. A also advised that even though she would be happy to do the surgery herself, she was worried that the cyst was cancerous, and if it was, it needed to be handled by an OB-GYN who specialized in gynecological cancers. She also didn’t want me to have to travel many hours back to Chattanooga for surgery in a few weeks.

    Once we got back home to western NC, Dr. A found a great cancer OB-GYN surgeon, Dr. S., in Charlotte (much closer to home) . I was able to get a surgery consultation with Dr. S almost immediately after getting home, and when I met with her I felt like God had led me to her–she understood and answered all my questions, and eased my mind quite a bit. (It was SO much better than the last surgery consult I had had earlier in the year, where the doctor made fun of my concerns!). Don’t get me wrong, I was still scared of surgery, but I was more scared that my left ovary could be cancerous…so we got laparoscopic surgery scheduled for June 25th.

    Aside from intense anxiety over the breathing tube possibly damaging my singing voice, I was remarkably calm –I had the feeling that we were exactly where God wanted us this time.  This time, I sailed through all the surgery prep that had felt overwhelming before, washing myself twice with a scrub that smelled and felt like a cross between hand sanitizer and school lunchroom dish liquid, avoiding anything but clear liquids after 10pm the night before surgery, and drinking apple juice to keep my blood sugar up on surgery day. When it came time to be prepared for surgery, I got the nice little gown that doesn’t quite cover in the back (LOL) and some nonslip socks, plus an IV to keep me hydrated while I met one last time with Dr. S and with the anesthesiologist (the latter of whom assured me he would do his utmost to keep the breathing tube from nicking my vocal cords by running a small camera down my throat to check the tube’s position).  By the time I was brought into the operating room, they had also given me a calming substance that kept me from bouncing off the walls with worry, and I don’t remember much after getting into the operating room.

    Meanwhile, downstairs in the surgical waiting area, my dad wasn’t alone–my fiance and his family, plus several of my good friends, kept him company.  This turned out to be a good thing, as the surgery lasted about an hour and some, and the waking-up period lasted nearly as long again!  I took an incredibly long time to wake from anesthesia, because under its influence I met with my mom and a man I recognized as Jesus.  We were in a beautifully sunlit room with ivory walls and soft purple furnishings–Jesus and I sat on opposing couches and Mom was in an armchair very close by me.  I know that Mom and I talked for what seemed like hours, and we discussed things about my future, things I would soon be doing, but upon waking from anesthesia I could not remember anything of what we talked about.  The most striking thing was that Jesus never spoke to me, only smiled kindly…and every time I looked at Him, He looked different.  Sometimes he was a young man, and sometimes he looked like an older man; sometimes He even looked like a younger or older female, and sometimes His skin color and features were changed.  But no matter what, I never questioned this was Jesus–the sheer kindness and compassion in His eyes was the same no matter what He looked like on the outside.

    Eventually Mom patted my knee and said, “Robin, you’re going to wake up soon, and it’s going to hurt—I can’t do anything about that, and I can’t come back with you, but He will be with you.  He’s been watching the whole procedure.”  Then I understood that Jesus had been quiet because He had been taking care of every little thing that happened during the operation.  I started coming back into consciousness a little after that, but I really wasn’t interested in staying awake–I kept falling back into a not-quite-sleep to see Mom and Jesus again.  I’m not sure how many times I did this, but Mom was ever patient and kept encouraging me to wake up, that I could bear the pain and I would be okay.  Everything felt so real in that room with them, though, and waking up in the hospital gurney felt so lonely, achy, and chilly by comparison; I wanted to stay and talk to Mom some more.  But finally I regained consciousness enough to be wheeled back to recovery, and eventually I was able to get dressed and hobble into a wheelchair to go home the same day.

    After the procedure, I learned that they did in fact have to take my left ovary completely–there was no more normal ovarian tissue, just a big ole horrible mucous cyst.  (Crazy thing was, when Dr. S checked the right ovary, it was covered in little cysts too, symptomatic of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome–this had not shown up on any scans previously, though I’ve long had severe trouble with weight loss, plus some other symptoms that usually go along with PCOS.)  However, the pathology report on the left ovarian cyst and the endometrial lining came back all negative for cancer (found that out yesterday), and the recovery at home has been really good, all things considered.  I’ve had to move carefully and slowly, and I can’t do as much for myself as I’m used to, but that will pass in time.  I just have five small stitches in my belly where the laparoscopic instruments went in.

    I’m really glad the surgery’s behind me, and I feel much more level and happy now that this uncertain health matter has been settled for the moment.  Time will tell if the bleeding issue comes back, but at least now I feel like I’m with the right providers who will handle my problem correctly and compassionately.  It’s much easier to turn toward day when I’m not besieged by uncertainty from every angle…and it’s much easier to be happy when I’ve had such a beautiful experience as I had under anesthesia.  I don’t know whether it was a mere dream, a vision, or what, but I do know it felt utterly real and lovely, and I didn’t want to leave. ❤

    Why I’ve Not Been Here

    In short, it’s because I’m not sure how to turn toward day anymore.  I’m not sure how to be “positive” anymore.

    First of all, I didn’t end up having my surgery.  The weekend before my surgery, my doctor’s working partner was hit by a car while jogging, and though he was expected to survive, my doctor was then in charge of getting to all of his partner’s patients as well as his own.  They postponed my surgery, which I was perfectly fine with…and then they never called back to reschedule, and a few other folks called me and talked to me as if my surgery had already taken place.  There were a few more problems with that practice, some strange handling and some stuff that smacked of unprofessionalism, so I just decided not to bother trying to get them to handle my surgery since I was uncomfortable and wary anyway.

    Then I began to suffer more symptoms in March like I had back in December and January.  Let me put it this way:  I woke up in several situations which would make the horse head scene in The Godfather look like Sesame Street.  I went through another period of anemia and feeling generally like bug guts on a windshield, which I’m still recovering from even now, but at least now I’m not losing volumes of blood every time I move the wrong way.  I don’t know when that horrible bleeding will start back up, either–which has been a constant worry on my mind for the last 4 years.  I am going to see a new specialist at the end of May, which I’m very very hopeful about since she’s apparently one of the best in the region, if not the country.

    The other weight on my mind has been grief.  It will be a year tomorrow since Mom’s passing, and though I am so glad she has found eternal rest and relief from that awful pain and illness she suffered through, my relief does not quite override the ache in my heart.  There are times it’s like I lost her 5 years ago, and other times it’s like I lost her 5 days ago.  My heart is easily ripped open to bleeding again, just like my body.  I cry easily and I am moved by the smallest poignant things.  Most days I just want to stay home and away from everyone so I don’t burden them with these wildly swinging emotions, but I’m also an extrovert (well, at least I thought I was), and I know I’ll be better for being around people.   But these days I get so tired just trying to be around others, because I feel so burdened to be “positive” and “upbeat” all the blasted time.

    That’s honestly the last reason I haven’t written for a while.  How am I supposed to write on a blog about “positivity” when I’m drained even past the point of crying?  How am I supposed to be “uplifting” and “encouraging” when I’ve literally spent the day on Netflix,  Youtube, and mindless games, struggling to escape the sinkhole that has opened beneath me?  How am I supposed to be an “example” to anyone when even getting myself bathed costs too much mental money?  I used to wake up with millions of dollars in my mental bank account, and now I wake up feeling like I got hit by a bus and someone stole my wallet.  I’ve never been necessarily a perma-chipper, cheerful person–I feel things too strongly for that–but now I am made to feel that if I am not chipper and cheerful, I’m some failure of an adult, or that “I’m just not trying hard enough,” or that I “chose to live this way.”  Every bit of advice I get or read shames me.  No matter how hard I’m trying, no matter how much effort I put in, it’s not enough if I’m not handling it all while wearing a sparkly Miss America smile.

    I am sick of being told I’m “making excuses,” that I should “get over it,” and that I’m a “bad person” for feeling as I do.  I spent too long believing that junk, believing the world would be better off if I was dead because I was so incapable of meeting its ridiculous demand of “positivity.”  Now I will not be convinced I am bad, inferior, making excuses, refusing to get over whatever “it” is, etc.  I am surviving day to day on a stubborn spark of existence that has somehow rebuffed every attempt at snuffing, and I’ll be damned if anybody is going to crush it now, not when I’ve only just found out it’s still there and still burning.  This might not be the world’s preferred brand of positivity, but it’s all I’ve got and all I’ve ever had–a defiant sense of self and a refusal to bend to what others want me to be anymore.

    I know this isn’t my typical post and I’m sorry for that.  But it is truthful, and completely germane to my experiences right now.



    I’ve been living most of my life trying to prove to myself that I’m a good person, while secretly believing I was garbage just because others told me that.  That’s a staggering realization, but necessary.

    All during my school years, I kept thinking if I just make the best grades, just do enough good deeds, just love others enough, I’ll transcend the distance between “living garbage heap” and “actual worthwhile human.”  Meanwhile I was rotting inside because I had taken in others’ jealousy and hatred and believed it; I believed having a good opinion of myself was conceited, and I didn’t want to be conceited because conceited people were inherently “bad.”  I desperately did not want to be thought of as bad, so I tried to be good in all the ways I knew how.

    And yet, in spite of this, so many different people over the years told me I was trash and suggested I should kill myself–how could all those people be wrong?  The majority opinion carries, doesn’t it?  I argued that case so many times in my head during my growing up years, and every time I was convicted:  I was indeed trash and had to earn any love I dared to want.  No matter how many people told me I was good, I knew the “truth”–that I was inherently a “bad” person, and that’s why others were mean to me.  I came to believe every person I ever met would scorn me and seek out ways to hurt me as soon as they found out I was imperfect (read: unlovable and worthless).

    I am almost completely freed of these poisonous ideas now, and it feels pretty amazing to be able to have a good self-belief at last.   I no longer have to be perfect to feel worthy of love.  I no longer need to earn others’ friendship, or put myself down.  I am imperfect but not unlovable, flawed but not worthless.  Others’ opinions of me do not override what I know about myself–that I exist for a purpose, and that I am loved no matter what.

    What ringing truth in my ears, truth filled with so much love that it makes me weep.  Just feeling worthy of love felt so impossible when I was younger, and now it’s a gift I can actually believe is mine to open.  I still am astounded at it.  When you finally believe you’re worthy of love, it helps you exist without being afraid, without having to rely on others’ judgments–and it helps you see others as worthy of love, too.  It’s a freeing experience.  💕


    One of the things that’s been coming to mind with surgery looming is the idea of surrender. Specifically, surrendering the care of my body and talents to God, since He gave them to me anyway.
    To preface this: I’m not in any way saying I magically have no more fear. I am afraid of losing so much during this surgery–afraid of losing the ability to bear children later on, afraid of losing my voice just as I’m rediscovering the joy of it, afraid of losing my very life on the operating table. So many things can and have gone wrong for others during operations like these, and no matter how many positive stories I hear, the horror stories linger longer.
    But I have solace in this: God has blessed me greatly with these gifts, and I am just now rediscovering them, being lifted by His wings to a better place in my life. My story does not feel complete yet–there is more to come, more learning and healing to do, more glorifying to do. God would not have given me this voice and led me to private voice lessons if I wasn’t supposed to sing for His glory in the future. God would not have allowed the cyst to be discovered if He did not want me to survive it. And God would not have spared me from the tornado I drove into (!!) if my work on earth was already complete.
    There are so many more factors at work here that I can’t even see or understand, but even with my limited wisdom I can see God has been transforming me, and that transformation is still happening. I have to surrender control of all these things to God, to trust that the same God Who blessed me with talents and life itself is the same God Who ordains healing, the same God Who guides the surgeon’s hands. No matter how much I worry, I still can’t take as good care of myself as God can and does on a daily basis. He has already prepared the way.
    Exodus 23:20 “See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.”


    Excuses are like clothes to cover shame.  Whatever we feel ashamed of, whatever we feel guilty about, whatever we feel like we have no control over, we use an excuse to cover it. But I don’t believe this is the mark of a weak person.  I believe this is the mark of emotional damage, of a wound that needs to be healed rather than hidden.  We come into this life gloriously naked in all ways, including the emotional self, and only over time do we learn we need to make clothing for ourselves–make excuses, to hide what others long ago thought unseemly and disgusting.

    What we must not do, then, is rip away others’ emotional clothing, especially in public.  “You’re just making excuses” is another way to tell someone “You’re a bad human being, you’re inferior, you’re worthless,” and it will only make them dress themselves in more layers to hide from us.  Instead, we approach them as if those excuses cover wounds–because they do.  And just as we would dress a physical wound with soap and water, ointments, and bandages, we come prepared to do the same with someone’s emotional wound.  We come with compassion, forgiveness, and respect, acknowledging the excuse even as we cut it out of the way.  We say, “I do not judge you.  You don’t have to be ashamed anymore.  You don’t have to be afraid or guilty anymore.  You don’t have to be trapped anymore.  You do not have to hide.  You are loved.  You can be free.”

    How do I know?  Because this is what enabled me to feel worthy of love at last.  Ripping away my emotional clothing never worked; meeting me with anger and condemnation only made me worse.  All that ever worked for me was love, respect, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness.  And I don’t think that’s just a “me” thing.

    A Little Wink from Heaven

    Today, I found my wedding veil at a local bridal boutique. I went in not really expecting to find “the” veil, but maybe just to get an idea of what they had in stock. I looked through elbow- and fingertip-length veils, not really finding anything…and then, I heard a whisper: “look at the one on the wall.” Hung on the wall behind the shorter veils were their longer veils, the ones that hit the floor (chapel, cathedral, etc.). The one in the center was ivory, similar to my dress.

    Just for giggles, I asked the saleslady if I could see that one–I didn’t expect to like it or want it, but I figured I’d at least try it on. Well, I pretty much knew I liked it as soon as she began to unwind it from the hanger. Not giving away any more details than that, but I will say that in my head I was comparing it with my dress’ details and thinking it would look good, at least.

    We put it on, I walked around with it a bit, and soon after that I was buying it. It was that quick and easy–even the owner said “That one must have been here just for you.” Much like my dress, it wasn’t what I had thought about buying at first, but after I saw it, there was no other real contender in my mind.

    However, I haven’t told y’all the best part yet. I brought it home and compared the veil to my dress–I expected there to be a little color and style difference, since I am no decorator/fashion maven, but I thought I could make it work anyway. Instead, I found that the color of veil and dress EXACTLY matched, as if they had been designed to go together…even the little details matched much better than I thought they would!! These two items were bought at separate stores, in two different states, at two different times, yet they were perfect together, and this veil was the last of its kind in the store, to boot.

    After everything I’ve experienced, I know enough to know when Mama’s been at work arranging things again. No wonder a cardinal flew over my car as I drove down the driveway…I just winked at it and said, “Thanks, Mom <3″

    The Fight Against Nonsense Advice

    I did not choose to be abused.

    That simple fact shouldn’t be a starting place for an argument, but it is and has been since I was a child. I have been told so often, “you choose to be a victim,” but it is patently NOT TRUE for my life.

    For instance, did I choose for a family member to continually violate my privacy and body boundaries from the time I was born? NO. I was a baby, then toddler, then child–I had no authority nor physical or cognitive power, and thus DID NOT CHOOSE to be abused.

    And did I choose for authority figures at school to ignore my cries for help when I was being hurt by other students? No. I was a young child and then a tween, with no authority. I could not control what ADULTS in power (who were SUPPOSED to protect me at school) chose to do or not do. I did not choose to remain abused, but it was forced on me.

    Did I choose for other students to restrain me, beat me, mock me, humiliate me, choke me, etc., during school hours? No. I was a young student, and when I fought back to defend myself, I was punished every time. I vehemently did not choose to be abused, but it was forced on me.

    I learned early on that defending myself led to punishment and shame. I learned that many times, authority figures and other adults are the ones abusing, and thus I would not have any power or legal grounds to fight back or choose differently for myself.

    These were horrifying situations, and so I did what I could to survive them–I had no choice but to allow the abuses to continue. I had no personal agency, no ability to choose differently.

    Now, as an adult, I am finally freeing myself of those constraints which I learned so well in childhood. I am learning that as an adult, I can remove myself from negative situations without fear of shame, guilt trips, or punishment from “authority figures,” because I have personal agency equal to theirs. I can tell someone no without fearing they are going to hold me down and choke me for it. But it has taken much therapy, counseling, and self-discovery to be able to make those choices for myself. Even though the abuses happened in childhood, their impacts have been long-lasting–I continued to believe, until I was 33 years old, that I could not tell anyone no without immediately being physically and emotionally assaulted. I was still living under duress, convinced that everyone I knew was out to manipulate me into being what they wanted, and to punish and threaten me if I didn’t conform and comply. So I behaved as if I had no personal agency, even as an adult, because I KNEW NO DIFFERENT. Only now, at 33, do I know different, and I am now acting accordingly.

    There are still some who will probably believe that I’m “making things up,” that I’m being “dramatic,” that I’m somehow still “choosing to be a victim.” To them, I say: You will not convince me that I am weak, inferior, or bad. I refuse to be victimized by your shaming and judging camouflaged as (bad) advice. I am making the choice every day to be free of others’ opinions of me, and to be free of others’ unwanted advances, desires, influences, etc. I am free for the first time in my life. So you can take back that “you choose to be a victim” nonsense. I don’t buy it, and I don’t want that garbage on my mental property. That’s my choice.