Last week my husband and I had the honor of showing the paintings of a gifted artist to some close friends.  The paintings were done for a book that he is illustrating.  The fact that the artist is our son made it pretty humbling.  All of our children and my husband are artists.  Our son, Mark, recently reignited his gift and the result has been explosively beautiful.

Today, however, I was remembering another gifted artist.  He majored in art in college and he has been a graphic artist for about 20 years.  He currently heads the art department for a major hotel chain.  A couple of years ago, I ran into him in the grocery store.  Laughing, he stopped me mid-aisle.  “You don’t know who I am, do you?”

The voice and mannerisms were familiar but it had been about 25 years since I’d seen him.  “Daniel?”  I asked, most unsure of myself.

“Yep!” he laughed again. 

After a few minutes of discussing what he was currently doing, he became serious.  “I always wanted to come back and tell you something.” 

Uh-oh,  I thought grasping my grocery cart for added support, another one of those painful confrontations.  But, no, this was different.

“You probably don’t know it but I’m an artist today because of you.”  Now I was pleased but really puzzled.  The confusion must have shown on my face because he continued.  “You and your son, Mark, were the only two people who ever encouraged me in regard to my art.  You would come into my room, just to see my paintings.  Every time I saw you, you asked what new paintings I was doing.  No one, and I mean, no one else ever did that for me.  You made me believe in myself as an artist.  For years, I’ve wanted to thank you.”

I do remember the first time his mother told me that he had started to paint.  “He thinks he can become an artist.  His stuff is awful.  Please talk to him and tell him to stop wasting his time.  Frank and your son, Mark, are good artists.  Daniel respects you.  Tell him he needs to quit this art stuff.”

The next time I was at his house, I saw one of his paintings.  It was good and I told him so in front of his mother.  Then I asked to see some more of his work.  Everything he showed me was equally impressive.  After he left the house, his mother said, “Why did you tell him he is good?”

“Because he is.  His work is wildly different but the style, colors and form are all good.  He is really a gifted young man.”

After several years of trying to dissuade her son, my friend gave up.  He worked his way through art school and set out in the rough world of graphic art.  And he succeeded.

I know that we all have similar stories but at times we forget how pivotal a small word of encouragement can be for a person.  It is even more true within the mentally challenged community.  I watched the South Carolina area director working with some of her members a few weeks ago.  Again and again, she would say, “Keep going.  You’re doing a good job.” Her member would smile and increase his effort, wanting to succeed and wanting to continue to please his friend. 

Several times, I caught her working with them, when no one else was watching.  She was just as positive and reassuring with them in private as she was when others were around.  I was impressed with the love of Christ that I felt as she worked with them. 

I couldn’t help but wonder how often I’m that encouraging and positive with my members.  Sure, when others are watching or listening, I work to keep the measured edge from my voice.  But what about the times that I’m in the van transporting several folks and Art can’t open the door, AGAIN.  Then Theresa gets in the passenger seat without a smile, grunting and pushing aside anything that threatens to touch her.  Am I still encouraging and positive.  Where is the love of Christ during those times?

Song of Solomon speaks of “catching the little foxes that spoil the vine.”  It isn’t the big things that cut to the core of our spirits; and it probably isn’t the big things that impress.  It’s the smile and tone that genuinely expresses pleasure. 

When do you struggle the hardest at being positve and affirming?  Do you think it is always necessary to be “little Miss (or Mr.) Sunshine?”   Have you found a way to bring correction and still remaining affirming?