Sometimes we meet people for the first time and we think we have known them forever.
Something clicks. There is a strong chemistry and almost instant bonding.
That's how it felt when I met a beautiful woman named Lisa at a church conference. There was plenty of time at night to sit around and talk and get to know each other.
It didn't take long for the two of us to know that although our personal circumstances were quite different, in many ways we were kindred souls.
Lisa told me how she was struggling through her personal problems – trying to hold it together both financially and emotionally after a divorce she didn't want.
She was holding down a part-time job while trying to finish college. Money was tight and life seemed to be one big wave after the other, she said.
I reminded her of what she had going for her. She's beautiful, smart, and has an engaging personality that makes people want to be around her.
"You're going to do more than make it on your own," I told Lisa. "You're going to soar."
I talked with her about my "around the next corner" theory. When people are going through especially difficult times, they feel discouraged and depressed. That's because all they can see – all they can feel – is what's going on in the present.
What they don't know is around the next corner could come unexpected happiness and blessings they never envisioned.
If you believe in the "around the next corner" theory, you don't stay depressed because you know you can look forward to a better future.
Lisa and I talked a lot about the importance of believing that. I shared some things from my life with her, trying to demonstrate that we never know what wonderful thing awaits us around the next corner.
When the conference was over, we went our separate ways and I never heard from her again. We live far apart and normally our paths never cross.
The stunning surprise I had was when Lisa did a research paper and presentation as the last requirement for her degree. She dedicated it to me, saying I provided "the gift of encouragement" when she most needed it.
I had absolutely no idea a conversation I had with someone a year ago would have a profound effect.
I'm sharing this with you for only one reason: To reinforce the value of encouraging others because we never know how helpful our words may be.
Day in and day out, many of us try to encourage others. Mostly, we don't call that encouragement "a gift." We just think it's a pep talk, something we do to try to make the other person feel better.
Well, maybe those words we say to others are meaningless to them. Like seeds that fall on barren ground, maybe nothing will spring from our encouragement of others.
But there are also times when our encouragement will be just what was needed at the time.
Most of us have a frequent opportunity to encourage others. Most of the time, we might never know how much it helped.
I have a precious friend, Fran, who definitely has the gift of encouragement. She has such a knack for saying the right thing when it is most needed.
Often, for me, she has been the voice of wisdom that I needed at the time. I'm amazed at the number of times a short conversation with her can enlarge my vision, giving me both confidence and encouragement.
When that happens, I always let her know how her words turned out to be a gift for me.
Most of the time we never know the positive effect we have on someone's life.
What mostly happens is that it doesn't seem to do any good when we try to help someone, to encourage them or steer them in the right direction.
But every now and then, something amazing happens.
Someone like Lisa takes our words to heart and uses our encouragement to improve life.
Many people have the gift of encouragement and don't even know it. Others make a point of never, ever offering advice to others.
They are not comfortable sharing personal stuff and don't want anyone to do it with them. They are most comfortable keeping conversation on a superficial level.
And that's fine. The wonderful thing about people is that we are a bit like ice cream. We all come in different flavors.
And we all have different gifts. Often we don't even realize it's a gift.
Some have the gift of laughter. They make others feel better just by their uplifting laughter.
My friend Priscilla is like that. She can tell a story about her cat Tom getting locked in the closet and make it sound like the most hilarious thing. Her laugh is so contagious that we soon find ourselves laughing along with her.
Some have the gift of patience. They don't give up on a project and they are perfectly capable of waiting until they get the result they want.
And some have the gift of encouragement. They have a knack for saying the right thing at the right time.
If you are one with this ability, remember it is a gift, a gift that won't cost you anything to give to others. But every now and then, that gift might be priceless to someone like Lisa who is helped by it.