A few days ago I was in one of my most favorite places in the world–a bookstore. Yes, it’s true that I’d rather buy books than clothes which anyone who knows me well can attest to since I’ve never been a fashion plate. Well, I tried to be once for three whole days when I was 21 but gave it up for comfy clothes. You know–the type of clothes that never go out of style, like sweats; however, I’m digressing, so back to the bookstore. . .
This particular store happens to be Books-A-Million, (also known as BAM) which I frequent quite often, and I finally decided to buy their “Millionnaire’s Club Card” membership card after receiving some cash for my birthday which was two weeks ago today. The card is renewed annually; however, I let my old card expire several years ago due to a tighter set of finances extending from my prolonged experience with long-term unemployment. Now that I have one in my possession again I can go wild with a 13-cent discount on a bagel that I frequently buy in Joe Mugg’s coffee shop. Oh, the possibilities. . .
The first place that I make a beeline for when entering BAM is the discount tables and shelves, of which there are many, and this particular day was no different. I love a good bargain, and I have found many over the years on discount tables in bookstores everywhere. And I happened to run into a book that piqued my interest, for $3.97, and with my newly acquired membership card I got it for $3.57. Such a deal!!! While the title caught my interest it was what was written on the inside flap of the front cover that captured my attention. It began with this statement:
“What if you, personally, could make the world a better place . . . by tomorrow?”
Well, I wanted to know! The book is titled: “One Simple Act: Discovering the Power of Generosity” (2009), by Debbie Macomber, who is “a best-selling author of over 150 romance novels and contemporary women’s fiction. Over 170 million copies of her books are in print throughout the world, and four have become made-for-TV-movies. Macomber was the inaugural winner of the fan-voted Quill Award for romance in 2005 and has been awarded both a Romance Writers of America RITA and a lifetime achievement award by the Romance Writers of America” (quote source here).
The book is a delightful blend of true stories and encouraging messages from Debbie Macomber’s life and also motivational messages from the Bible. As stated on the front flap cover, “You are about to discover, through true stories, what happens when we commit intentional acts of generosity. Lives are changed in ways we never envisioned. Come with Debbie late one evening through the checkout line at the grocery store. Visit a Midwestern train station. Discover the link between a submarine, a few bread crumbs, and some minnows. Visit ancient Galilee as a young boy volunteers his fishes and loaves to Jesus only to see his meager gift multiplied many times over to feed five thousand. Listen in on a touching phone call with an elderly widow. You will stand amazed at what God accomplishes when we make ourselves available through simple acts of generosity.”
Throughout these past five plus years of unemployment, I have always been one to give a word of encouragement or spend time listening to others and their stories as a way to encourage others in their own personal struggles, and also from the encouragement I often receive back from them even if they don’t realize they have given it back to me. My mother taught me at a very young age to always try to “put myself in other’s shoes” and while I have not always been successful at it (especially with those who are intentionally nasty to others for whatever reason), I have always cared about folks who are struggling and the “underdog” as I’ve often found myself wearing those very shoes.
I do know from my own personal struggle with long-term unemployment for over five years now and being placed on the sidelines of life that I could use a dose of encouragement from time to time, and this particular book hit the spot. In particular, there is a short section in Debbie Macomber’s book that really struck a cord with me. The section is found on pages 34-37:
Encouragement as an Antidote to Failure
I know how important encouragement is.
Twenty-five years ago, there was nothing I wanted more in the world than to become a published writer. I’ve told this story often, but it is so much a part of who I am, I need to repeat it. I had struggled for years, trying to stay at home to write and raise our children when what we desperately needed was for me to go out and find a paying job. Wayne worked two jobs so I could do that, working as an electrician days and teaching apprenticeship classes at night.
I had finally sold an anecdote to a magazine. When I heard that there would be a writer’s conference nearby and that two New York editors would be there, I took some of those precious dollars I had earned and registered. Writers were allowed to submit their manuscripts in advance. Ten of those manuscripts would be reviewed by the editors. New York editors!
When I was notified that my manuscript had been chosen as one of those ten to be reviewed, I could hardly contain my excitement. I told Wayne, “I just know I’m going to be successful. I’m really going to make it.”
When one of the editors walked up to the lectern to begin the critique of the manuscripts, the first thing she said was, “Out of the ten manuscripts we reviewed, only one showed real promise.”
It took everything I had not to jump up out of my seat and say, “That would be mine.”
It wasn’t. When the time came for her to talk about my manuscript she had the audience laughing over what she called the implausibility of my plot. She ripped the story to shreds. I was numb.
I’ve always been determined, however, so after the presentation, I went up to the editor and introduced myself. I told her I would revise, rewrite, do whatever it took to make the manuscript publishable.
I will never forget the look in her eyes as she leaned forward, pressed her hand on my arm, and said, “Honey, throw that manuscript away.”
Throw it away. I will never forget those words. Were it not for the never-flagging encouragement of my family, I might have taken that critique to heart and not only thrown that manuscript away but thrown my dream away as well.
My story has a happy ending. It wasn’t long after that I sold my very first book. Know what book it was? It was the same book I was told to throw away.
I love what Stephen King wrote in his book, “On Writing”: “My wife made a crucial difference . . . If she had suggested that the time I spent writing stories . . . in the laundry room of our rented trailer . . . was wasted time, I think a lot of the heart would have gone out of me . . . Whenever I see a first novel dedicated to a wife (or a husband), I smile and think, “There’s someone who knows.” Writing is a lonely job. Having someone who believes in you makes a lot of difference. They don’t have to make speeches. Just believing is usually enough.”
I laughed when I heard a writer introduce her husband at a writing conference as her “patron of the arts.” Anyone who’s followed a dream to write knows that the financial rewards are few and far between, especially in the early years. A spouse who helps support the writer offers far more than words of encouragement.
I wish I could credit the anonymous person who compiled this list of “failures,” but I think it’s encouraging to share with anyone feeling frustrated by a lack of success:
~Einstein was four years old before he could speak.
~Isaac Newton did poorly in grade school and was considered “unpromising.”
~When Thomas Edison was a youngster, his teacher told him he was too stupid to learn anything. He was counseled to go into a field where he might succeed by virtue of his pleasant personality.
~F. W. Woolworth got a job in a dry goods store when he was twenty-one, but his boss would not permit him to wait on customers because he “didn’t have enough sense to close a sale.”
~Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team.
~A newspaper editor fired Walt Disney because he “lacked imagination and had no original ideas.”
~Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade and had to repeat it because he did not complete the tests that were required for promotion.
~Babe Ruth struck out 1,330 times, a major league record.
She notes the following on page 37 at the end of the section quoted above:
There’s another interesting thing that happens when we cultivate the habit of encouragement. Offering encouragement changes the encourager. The more we look to find ways to encourage others, the more we’ll find ourselves being encouraged. We have scientific data and studies proving this to be true. We understand that, like the loaves and fishes, it’s simply the miracle of multiplication. Let me say it again: The more we encourage, the more we are encouraged ourselves.
This world of ours is full of critics, as Debbie Macomber noted in her story above when she first started writing and was told by an editor from New York to throw her manuscript away. And she didn’t. And it ended up becoming her first published book. She is now a “#1 New York Times bestselling author and one of today’s most popular writers with more than 170 million copies of her books in print worldwide” (quote source here). The lesson for us?
Don’t pay attention to the critics!!!
Critics are everywhere, and yes, even in our churches, work places, and other social settings, and even in our own families and among our own friends (after all, people are people and some people just don’t change–like critics). It’s easy to get discouraged with critics all around, but don’t listen to them and keep moving forward.
The Apostle Paul, who spent a fair amount of time in prison (due to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ) throughout his 30 years of ministry after his conversion experience (click here for details), wrote these words of encouragement in Philippians 4:4-13 while he was in prison. Let them sink in:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him [Christ] who gives me strength.
There isn’t a person living on the planet who doesn’t need encouragement from time to time. Too often when we are in need of encouragement we instead hear from the critics who seem to far outnumber the encouragers. Also, we need to strive to not be critics ourselves! It’s far too easy to criticize others (whether to their face or behind their backs), especially when we don’t know all (or any) of the facts, which is often the case.
Paul wrote in Romans 12:21 that we should “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” And criticizing others, for the most part, is Just. Plain. Evil. In a few verses prior to this one, Paul stated: “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Romans 12:9-12).
So let’s criticize less . . .
And encourage more . . .
And practice hospitality, too . . . .
YouTube Video: “My Wish” (2006) by Rascal Flatts: