There’s a particular Starbucks I frequent, one that sits across the street from the courts where my daughter, Faith, has tennis practice. While Faith works on her tennis game, you can often find me working on my writing game at one of their outdoor tables under an umbrella. I’m there a lot this summer.
One day, after ordering my typical iced chai latte (light ice with an extra pump of chai), I listened for the barista to call my name before walking up to the counter and grabbing my drink. After taking a sip, I lifted my cup of deliciousness and gestured to the barista saying, “Thanks so much!” before turning to leave.
And that’s when the barista stopped me.
“Wait, can I tell you something?” she asked, a shy smile on her face.
“Of course!” I responded, wondering what was coming.
She put a lid on the blender jar she was holding and said, “I want you to know how much I appreciate how kind you are to me when you come in here. You always smile and say thank you, and that means a lot. Yesterday, I had a terrible interaction with another customer, and I felt awful about it. But then you came in, and your kind words turned my day right around.”
Her words were so tender that I almost teared up right then and there.
I told her how much I appreciated her telling me that and that she does her job very well. We said goodbye to one another, and we both went on with our day.
Still, I couldn’t stop thinking of our short conversation — especially this part: “Your kind words turned my day right around.”
Kind words can surely do that, can’t they?
Unkind words, whether said from a place of entitlement or just plain ugliness, can surely do the same and turn a day around for the worse. Heaven knows I’m guilty of dragging someone that direction, too, and I’m not proud of it.
After writing a new book about belonging and finding our place and our people, you bet this interaction makes me think how very easy it is to bring another in through words that strengthen souls. It really couldn’t be simpler to turn someone’s day around than by saying, Thank you! or Great job! or You’re amazing! It couldn’t be simpler to welcome another in by seeing and naming what she does well in her job, her cooking, her advocating, or her parenting.
But here is the surprising thing that happens in all this: By doing something to help another know she belongs, you expand your own sense of belonging, too.
Bringing creates belonging — for them and for us. This may be one reason Proverbs offers this encouragement:
Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.
Proverbs 11:25 (ESV)
Those who water others will have their own sense of belonging watered.
I’ve heard it said before that you get out of community what you put into it. I think there is certainly truth to this, but what this doesn’t take into account is that when you’re new to a group or at the beginning of a friendship, it will often feel like you’re putting more into it than you get out of it. As the farmer must put long, faithful work into preparing the fields well before the harvest, so we must do the same for our own harvest of community. It takes time and effort to find your place and your people.
That time and effort is often comprised of a million minimal effort tasks, like saying, “Thank you so much for my almond milk chai latte with an extra pump of chai.” It begins with small gestures done with great kindness.
There are as many ways to bring others in as there are stars in the heavens. We can offer gestures big and small to help people across oceans, people at this country’s borders, and people within our own towns.
We can also offer the gift of kind words to those who cross our paths today, loved ones and strangers alike.
Continue reading this post here at my second online home.
Back Roads to Belonging is out and about now! Find it at B&N, Amazon, or another one of your favorite online retailer. Read more about the book and find a list of retailers here.
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