Three years ago for my birthday my daughter gathered letters from people all over the world who wanted to tell me what my life and friendship meant to them. That book is one of my most treasured possessions. Reading it is like attending my own funeral, things that people often don’t appreciate about someone until they’re gone. It has often been a great encouragement to keep living the life God has given me, even when things get rough and I’m misunderstood or even falsely accused by others. Affirmation is a powerful gift to give someone.
I’ve told Sara that those leaders speak to both of us, but she waved me off. They’re for you, she said, not for her. So for her birthday this year I made her own book. I asked people that knew Sara well if they would contribute a letter for her book. People were so willing and excited to tell Sara what her life has meant to them. And I found out Sara was right. What they said about Sara was so different than what had been said about me and painted an incredible picture of this woman I’ve had the privilege of living with for the past 41 years. I’ve always known she’s a magnificent treasure even as I get to see more of that treasure every year. But I was reduced to tears numerous times as I edited through the letters and created her book, adding pictures all the way back to our college days. It’s my latest work, and it was written for an audience of one! It may be my best book because I had so much help. But you’ll have to visit to read it.
I want to thank all those who contributed to this book. We will both be forever grateful that you have honored her with your expressions of kindness and friendship. Your words have washed over my wife like a refreshing shower after a hot day. She opened it last Sunday and just thumbing through it choked her up. Now she’s had more time to read the individual letters and she thanks me every day for doing this.
I know many of you haven’t gotten the chance to know Sara. While she travels some with me, she can’t possibly go all the places I go nor is she called to. Many of you have heard me talk about her in my writings and recordings and I’ve even done a few podcasts with her, but I know many of you haven’t had the opportunity to sit with her and get to know the person behind the name or the voice. Those who have amazed me with the things they wrote about her. Here are just a few of them:
“…your gracious sense of hospitality, the way you never seem to judge anything we do but support us no matter what…”
“So often you’ve gone out of your way to do things for others even when that meant sacrificing on your own part. Nobody I’ve ever met has wanted to do more for others than you.”
“You have shown me nothing but kindness and love since I walked through the door.”
“I still feel completely loved and welcomed when I’m with you.”
“You were the physical representation of what God was inviting me into—love and acceptance.”
“When you least expect it, here comes a tender word from Sara asking how we are doing, and letting us know that she is thinking of us and knows how hard some of our days must be.”
“Your honesty and openness in sharing your story just makes the Sara we know even sweeter. Each time we see you I am more and more impressed by the way Father is moving you into a deeper place of trusting Him.”
“You care about people more than yourself or things.”
“You really understood my heart, you understood just how much pain I had been in and you didn’t back away from sharing that moment with me.”
“You care so deeply for your garden and the love that you pour into the space is evident not only in the breathtaking flowers and landscaping, but also in the atmosphere there. Your appreciation for beauty and the way that you cultivate it is incredible. There isn’t an inch of that space that you do not know or has not benefitted from your skillful touch.”
Sara will be the first to tell you that she’s far from perfect, that life isn’t about getting everything right. Folks schooled in religion find it way easier to focus on their weaknesses rather than celebrate where God’s glory displays itself through them.
We just don’t affirm each other enough. Perhaps we’re too insecure or self-focused, but can you imagine the world we’d live in if every time we were with someone we found something gracious and genuine to say about the gift they are in the world and the gift they are to us individually? Word of affirmation and gratefulness encourage God’s work in us like nothing else and after editing this latest book, I want to make sure I put even more of that in my conversations with people.
Don’t wait for a funeral or even for someone to edit a book. You can salt it into any conversation with these simple words, “You know what I appreciate about you…”
Imagine the gift you’d give someone who doesn’t often see their life the way God does.