I’m not sure exactly what came over me, but one afternoon in the music room in junior high I was so charged up from a long day of doing anything I could think of to keep myself amused that I stood up and belted out the words “Look at moi! I’m as helpless as a piglet in a trough! . . . I get hungry just holding your hand!” like a 12 year old soprano Ethel Merman. That afternoon, I remember standing by my mom’s bed where she was folding laundry and telling her a little sheepishly that I was going to be Miss Piggy in the school play. It was kind of a big deal for me, but the thought of my family seeing me behave so outrageously was pretty mortifying. And not only that, but I was going to be singing and dancing with a boy in my class. In front of everyone! A kind of cute boy even. (Not that he could hold a candle to Justin Belt who was not only the hottest 12 year old ever, but inexplicably, spoke with an english accent of some sort. I think I would have lost control of myself in some way if I had to dance with Justin Belt in front of everyone.)
I, of course, stole the show. Or maybe not. I don’t really remember. But what I do remember is something my mom told me after the show. Some woman who I vaguely knew existed had sought out my mom and told her that I had “a voice like a beautiful bell.” Now, I do love singing – always have. But for many years, I had a huge hang-up about singing in front of people. So, I really had to push past my comfort zone to make a big ham out of myself in front of my classmates and whoever else was there. This woman’s compliment was my reward.
I now only have a medium sized hang-up about singing in front of people. Even today, I will sometimes remember that I have “a voice like a beautiful bell” and it helps me to forget myself and reach for the high notes in Rent. (All the people who were subjected to me singing “I am a rock, I am an island” in the hallways between classes in high school are thinking, “what the hell is she talking about?” See, that was after I learned of my fine singing skillz. And really they should be thinking “Thank God she had this horrible hang-up about singing in front of people or she might have been doing that in the middle of class! She would have taken over school assemblies just to make us listen to her heart-felt rendition of ‘The Rose‘. My entire high school experience could have taken place to the sound of her singing Erasure songs from the back of the classroom.” Actually, I may have done that last one.)
One of my favorite books is Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel. The Neanderthal clan of the title wear amulets around their necks. They are little leather pouches which contain bits of stones that are given at important moments like at naming, after a first kill or marriage. The main character, a human named Ayla who was taken in by the clan as a small child, would often notice an unusual stone just after having made some life-altering decision and would add it to her pouch. She took it as a sign from her totem spirit meant to affirm her and her choice. Later when she was gripped with doubt over the choices she had made or over her own ability to deal with the challenges facing her, she would open the pouch and look at each stone. Each reminded her of something good and true about herself and gave her the confidence she needed to move forward against some daunting challenges.
Now, me getting over my neurosis about singing in earshot of anyone and Ayla living off the land by herself for a couple of years with only the help of a horse, wolf and baby lion she domesticated herself are both fine examples of what it means to face daunting challenges with great courage, wisdom and determination. But it is also true that having been affirmed in some way – whether it be through a compliment or a sign from God – allows us to muster the courage we need to walk through challenges that just feel too big to be survived.
I believe down to my toes that when we arrive in heaven we will be greeted by people we hardly remember who want to thank us for some small word or deed that helped them in a hard place. Things we don’t even remember saying or doing. And I promise you that if you have not equipped those closest to you with little stones of encouragement when you could, they will struggle even more for not having them when things are really hard. And once a person is in the middle of their struggle, your encouragement will have a much harder time getting through. It is so important to take every chance you get to do or say something nice to the people you meet. Everyone needs these stones of encouragement and affirmation. Having them can make the difference between giving up in despair and trying one more time.
Of course, sometimes you’re like Ayla: taken in by people who don’t appreciate you because they are a different species of hominid and find you strange and threatening. Or maybe you were raised by wolves like Mowgli or perhaps you just annoy everyone who knows you. Whatever the reason may be, we can find ourselves without affirmation stones from the normal sources. So God has promised: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (Isaiah 49:15-16). He is father to the fatherless.
Ayla’s amulet is very much like a pouch carried by the main character in Hinds Feet in High Places, the Christian allegory by Hannah Hurnard. She too carried stones found at turning points. Hers were each tucked away with the memory of a scripture verse. And when she was at her very lowest point, certain it couldn’t be worth it to go forward, she also pulled those stones out and went through them one by one and decided to move forward. God will provide what you need even if no one else ever has.
Just look. And be open. Stop believing in co-incidence. Look for good things. If something unusual pops up, maybe notice it a bit. Not everything means something but not everything means nothing either. It may seem like a silly thing to imbue a stone on the ground with meaning because you noticed it at an opportune time. But when you are wondering if you’ve completely lost your mind and that stone reminds you of something good and true, you will be glad you did.
HT to Scott Williams for inspiring this post with his “This Means More Than You Know“.