If you have heard of the concept of the five love languages, you’ll understand me when I say that I’m a “words of affirmation” kind of person. It is through verbal communication that I am most inclined to let people know I care about them, and, likewise, praise, positive feedback and thoughtful conversation go far in filling up my emotional tank.
Throughout the month of November, I spend more time than usual reflecting on the people in my life for whom I’m grateful, and this pondering got me thinking about the most uplifting things that anyone has ever said to me. Besides being an incredibly encouraging practice in and of itself (try it! It’s like an emotional cup of hot chocolate that will warm you right up), this reflection also enabled me to consider what exactly made the sentiments so impactful. I went on to think about how I can pay the kindness forward.
Here are the three nicest things anyone has ever said to me, and how they are teaching me to level up my affirmations.
“You have always been you” taught me to celebrate the past.
After graduating from college, I spent my early to mid-20s in divinity school and then working as a hospital chaplain. During this time, I had a friend named Desiree. She wasn’t one of my closest friends, but our paths crossed frequently and happily. One day, we were chatting about something and I referenced an aspect of my childhood self. While I can’t remember the specifics of the conversation, I do remember Desiree’s response: with a big laugh, she leaned into me and warmly said, “Oh, Teresa, you have always been you!”
In that moment, I felt seen, known and appreciated for who I had been and who I currently was. She helped me deepen my sense of personal identity. I recall thinking, “Oh, yeah. I guess I have always been this way.” And because Desiree spoke the words with such love and positivity, this felt like a good thing.
My takeaway is to, as much as possible, see the whole picture of the people in my life. Learn about their childhood selves. Ask questions about their interests and passions as they have evolved over the years. Listen closely to the stories they tell. Notice how their pasts inform who they are today, and then celebrate the sum of their being.
“Now is the perfect time…” taught me to affirm the present.
About two years ago, I decided to go back to school. For the past decade I had thought about pursuing a career in social work, but it took the upheaval of the pandemic to realize that there was no time like the present to make a professional pivot. In late spring of 2020, I quickly applied to Masters in Social Work programs that would begin in the fall, and when I was accepted, I was both thrilled and terrified.
Was a second master’s degree really necessary to do the work I wanted to do? Did I have time to devote to school as I continued to work as a youth minister and as a mom? Was I too old to enter a new field?
In my bafflement, I reached out to a former divinity school classmate — Jenny — someone whom I learned via LinkedIn held a joint MDiv/MSW, to pick her brain about her experience in both fields. After hearing about my hopes for the future and reservations, Jenny, in a tone of humble confidence, declared: “You know, I think this is the perfect time for you to become a social worker.”
These words were just what I needed to hear. As a person who absolutely belabors decisions, I didn’t need someone to help me weigh the costs and merits of making this switch. I needed someone to listen to my desires and to affirm them.
Jenny was able to hear the deeper longings lying underneath my surface concerns and respond to them, since I wasn’t quite able to do that for myself. Remembering how life-giving and clarifying this conversation felt, I want to prioritize providing the same listening and affirmation for my friends and family members when they are in the midst of life transitions.
“You’ve given the greatest gift” taught me to honor the future.
A week or two after my second daughter — Franny — was born, I Zoomed with two of my best friends, Sarah and Isabelle. After showing off the sweet little baby resting on my chest, sharing her birth story, and hearing the latest in my friends’ lives, Isabelle asked to see Franny one more time. She took a long look at her, happily sighed, and said to me with declarative authority, “Well, now you’ve given Esther the greatest gift you’ll ever give her: a sister.”
I know that I had zero role in deciding the sex of my children, and I also know that brothers are as precious a gift as sisters (I have both and I wouldn’t trade either for the world). My delight in Isabelle’s comment had less to do with feeling good about any accomplishment on my part, and more to do with relishing in the joy of what was before me, with gratitude for the present moment and hope for the future.
Isabelle’s comment filled me with a sense of purpose in helping my daughters cultivate a strong sisterly relationship, and it made me so excited to watch their relationship develop and unfold over the years. It also reminded me that it’s a gift to others to notice the things worth celebrating in their lives, regardless of their role in bringing them about.