by Linda Post Bushkofsky—

Last fall, in the days leading up to the beginning of school, some moms in my community hatched a brilliant plan. Nearly every child in our town’s elementary schools walks to school, so the moms encouraged residents to #chalkthewalk: to write words of encouragement on the sidewalks children would be walking on their first day. I loved the idea and dug out my sidewalk chalk, ready to participate.

I drew designs on four of the sidewalk squares in front of our house. In one, a smiley face greeted walkers. In another was a reminder to “Help all,” encased in a heart. On another square I wrote, “Be kind” and surrounded the words with multi-colored stick figures standing hand in hand. The final square simply exclaimed, “Spread joy!” What fun it was to hear the kids and their parents, through an open window, react to the chalk drawings.

An hour or two later, another thought struck me: Why not add to the sidewalk drawings with encouraging words so they would see these, too, when walking home after school? I happened to be working at home that day, so I took a quick break after lunch and added new messages. “You did it!” celebrated one square. “Who made you laugh today?” asked the words in another square. And finally, “Who did you help today?”

I returned to that open window as school ended. Moms walking past to pick up their students squealed with delight, “How cool is that?” One mom and her kindergartener stopped to read each square and answer each question. Two kids on our block wanted their picture taken with the drawings.

A little bit of time to reflect, a quick look through a few Pinterest boards, and some chalk: That’s all it took to offer encouragement to students and parents who walk by my house twice a day. It got me thinking: What other kinds of encouragement can we offer one another? What kinds of encouragement can we give ourselves?

You’ve probably seen page-a-day calendars that offer a daily dose of encouragement. That’s one way. Or there’s the screen saver on my personal computer, which consists of inspiring memes I’ve accumulated. I know a friend who writes encouraging words in a journal to which she regularly returns. Sending words of encouragement—yes, using a card and postage stamp—is a sure sign of caring. Encourage yourself by learning to say “no” and avoid overscheduling your days.

Holding one another in prayer is a form of encouragement. Supporting one another by showing up for meetings is another form. I can’t begin to describe the encouragement I receive when women in our organization tell me they are praying for me daily. So offer prayers for others. A year’s worth of encouragement can also come by giving a friend a subscription to Gather.

In these days with fewer hours of sunlight, when we often retreat to the comfort of our homes, won’t you consider ways that you can offer encouragement to yourself and others? Don’t stop with just the women in your congregational unit; spread encouragement to all you meet. As Paul exhorted the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5:11), “encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.”

Linda Post Bushkofsky is executive director of Women of the ELCA.

This article appeared in the January/February 2020 issue of Gather magazine. To read more like it, subscribe to Gather.