My initial interaction with a mother and her child did not go as planned, and I was embarrassed.

I first spotted the dynamic duo hiking up a steep trail I had climbed about an hour earlier that morning. I knew it wasn’t an easy climb, so I really wanted to encourage the mom and her daughter, who looked to be about eleven years old. It’s a big deal for anyone to be out for an early morning hike, never mind a young kid. The child looked a bit miserable, but still…I was impressed. The section that they were on was steep!

I shouted down the hill: “Keep going, girls! You got this!”

It was only when I got a bit closer to the pair that I recognized that I had made a mistake. The dynamic duo was not made up of two females; it was a mother and her son. Oh dear. The look on the boy’s face told me that I mistook his beautiful, French-braided hair as a sign of femininity. Nope. He was a boy through and through. (Cool hair, though.)

I quickly apologized for my blunder and picked up with my original intention: I really wanted to encourage these somewhat unlikely hikers.

“You guys are doing great! This is a hard trail! Have you been out here before?”

Mom answered: “This is my son’s first time.”

Fantastic! I love seeing kids hiking, so this propelled me into full-encouragement mode. “That’s A-MA-ZING! You are doing so well!” As I glanced at the son’s sports jersey, I added, “You are going to get in such great shape for soccer!”

As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I sensed I had just made another mistake. Mom piped up, “He plays football.” My heart sank, but that didn’t stop me from continuing to conjure up more ridiculous chit-chat in an attempt to connect to this boy.

“Oh wow! I bet you are one of the bigger and stronger kids on the team!” (Why, why did I say this? I have no idea what his team looks like.🙄)

The son replied: “Well, there are kids who are bigger than me.”

Yep…of course there are.

finally recognized it was time to shut my mouth.

“What are your names?” I asked.

Mom genuinely seemed surprised (and pleased) that I asked. She kindly asked my name in return.

“Well, Anna and Anthony, it was so nice to meet you both. I think what you’re doing is awesome. God bless you.”

We said goodbye, and I prayed my way down the hill.

So why am I telling you this story? As someone who is committed to all aspects of healing and restoration—individuals, relationships, communities, and land—I’m committed to facilitating healing in the world by helping others to feel seen, known, and encouraged. This practice is especially important in our current cultural context, where division is the norm. When whole people groups are villainized or judged to be “this” or “that,” it only contributes to the suspicion and outright hatred filling our world right now. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of it.

This is not a time to hunker down and isolate ourselves or only interact with people who are just like us. Rather, I believe this is a time for each of us to be the change we are all so desperate to see in the world. Many of us complain about the increasing division and hatred in the world but fail to see that we have the ability to change the dynamic if we are willing to do our part. I want to do that. What about you?

a stop sign with a cartoon character on it

If you are up for the challenge of being an agent of healing and restoration in the world, welcome to the club! Below are three easy steps to get started:

  • Notice: be on the lookout for people you typically wouldn’t have on your radar
  • Engage: Be willing to encounter someone outside your normal circle
  • Listen: Show interest by asking questions and listening without an agenda
  • Encourage: Find a way to cheer the person on

If you take a minute to examine my interaction with Anna and Anthony on the hiking trail, it’s easy to spot what went well and where I have room to grow😬. (Sadly, just because I’m committed to being an agent of healing doesn’t mean I always get it right.) My friend Brenda Harkins, author of “Loud is Not a Language,” has helped me a lot when it comes to learning how to engage with other people. She developed an acronym, C.H.A.I.R., that is helpful for explaining what is needed to engage and listen to others in a way that builds connection and (hopefully) brings a small amount of healing to our world.

  • Courage: If you are not used to speaking to strangers or people who are not like you, it takes courage to do so. You may experience fear and doubt. Questions like, “What if he/she thinks I’m weird?” or “What if they reject me?” are valid concerns. I get it. Keep in mind that people’s reactions to you say more about them than it does about you!I encourage you to start small if you are not used to engaging other people: 1) Say hello to strangers when you walk down the street 2) Have a conversation with the neighbor you may have never properly spoken to 3) Thank the grocery store clerk for doing a great job. I’ve been working on my courage for quite some time now, and I know from experience that it gets easier with practice! For example, I have been in my new neighborhood for about six weeks now and I know all of my neighbors; I have had extensive conversations with our postman, Mike, and have met at least half a dozen people on neighboring streets, including praying for someone’s knee to be healed—all from being outside and having an opportunity to interact with others. Being out and about is a great time to practice your courage! 
  • Humility: Regard others as important. Every person is made in God’s image and is valuable to Him. It doesn’t matter if they are homeless or from a different racial or socioeconomic group. Every person has a need to be truly seen and known and we all have the ability to see and appreciate others.Being humble also requires that we examine our biases and stereotypes and be willing to have them dismantled. When I met Anthony and his mom on the hiking trail, I assumed that because they were Hispanic, Anthony must have played soccer, given that it’s the most popular sport in Mexico. Had I taken the time to ask questions rather than make assumptions, I wouldn’t have been surprised when Anna said he played football. My biases are constantly being revealed. Are you willing to have yours exposed, too?
  • Authenticity: Be real. Show up as your true self. Don’t pretend you have it all together and think you fully know how to solve issues you are passionate about. No one does.I am forever grateful for a dear friend who kindly and authentically explained to me her opinion on the issue of abortion. I learned so much from her, and while it didn’t change my opinion on the issue, I feel so much compassion for those who don’t think like me.
  • Integrity: Have no agenda to deceive, manipulate, or change anyone. A person of integrity is willing to let the other person be themselves, no matter how much you disagree with their opinion or lifestyle.
  • Respect: Honor differences. You may not like the political flag in your neighbor’s yard or approve of their lifestyle choice, but that should not keep you from engaging with them, listening to them, and encouraging them.

I have three final points. First, ask people their names. Despite all my missteps with Anna and Anthony, I seem to have redeemed myself when I asked them their names and made it a point to use them in a sentence. Anna’s surprised smile confirmed to me that she did indeed feel seen by that small gesture.

Second, figure out a way to encourage that person. Often, just saying, “I appreciate how you are ____ (working so hard, so friendly, so thoughtful, etc) is enough for them to let them know you see them. Because I walk a lot, I stop to compliment people on their yards or tell kids that it’s cool that they can ride their scooters so fast. You’d be surprised how just noticing what they are already doing gives someone a real boost.

Lastly, ask God to cover your mistakes when you make them (and you will). As I walked away from Anna and Anthony that day, I prayed that my mistakes and biases would not harm them. I asked God to help them feel seen and encouraged. I also prayed that that would not be Anthony’s last hike with his mom❤️.

While these steps may seem small and insignificant in the big scheme of things, their impact on a person who feels overlooked or not seen can be huge. God calls us to show his love to others and to be light in the darkness. Walking this out day by day with the people you encounter is a great way to do so, and I know you will be blessed in the process. I’m cheering you on! 

If you are up for engaging, listening to, and encouraging others on a more regular basis, please comment below or just give me a thumbs up 👍🏻 to signify your commitment.

Lastly, I have a favor to ask! If you are enjoying this blog, will you please share it with someone else? Thank you so much!

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