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The Generosity of a Word | by Terri Conlin

 

 

We are braver and wiser because they existed, those strong women and strong men… We are who we are because they were who they were. It’s wise to know where you come from, who called your name. ~ Maya Angelou

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We stood near the waffles when she said it. Alex and I were at an Idaho cabin retreat where the hum of ten brand-new friends filled the gathering room. As the sun winked through fog over the lake and we were waking to the day, she spoke to me. “You remind me of an umbrella.”

When I was a girl, I had a bubble umbrella. It was one of those clear, deep-bowled umbrellas, so deep you could look through the vinyl dome with its yellow-scalloped trim and see the stormy sky. When the skies opened, I felt as though I had ducked under a transparent flower petal.

At breakfast that morning, Alex didn’t elaborate. It was a simple moment between sips of coffee, but that single word, umbrella, stayed with me. The memory of the bubble dome came later, the image lingering long after I was home again chopping onions and scrubbing sinks.

And I thought of all the things umbrellas provide: an arc of care and protection in a storm, a shelter of sorts from the weather.

I thought of rain.

I live in the Pacific Northwest, where rain falls in an invisible mist making the land always a vibrant hue of emerald green. We pride ourselves in NOT using umbrellas. We are fans of the hoodie or the baseball cap and have perfected the look of layering with raincoats. Only out-of-towners use umbrellas to protect themselves from the rain.

I originally hail from Texas, where it rains like buckets pouring from the sky. There you understand the phrase, “raining cats and dogs.” Texas rain is serious business. Creeks rise, bayous spill over roads, and you may suddenly find yourself more in need of a boat than an umbrella. But as quickly as rain turns to floodwaters, the Texas sun can shine to scorching heat. Then, with a touch of Southern charm, the umbrella provides shade.

In either case, whether for foul weather or fair, an umbrella protects. Alex’s word had left me with a sense of comfort and heightened curiosity. How was I an umbrella? In what ways did I offer care, shelter, or shade when life was harsh?

I could think of a few ways. As a mama bird, I spread my wings over my birdies. As a wife, I create a cozy nest for my husband and me to come home to after work. To a friend, I hold both her happiness and her tears. To a nonprofit board, I offer teamwork, leadership and care for exploited children.

I think the very best words spoken over us point our hearts back to God. This one did.

“Then God will . . . mark Mount Zion and everyone in it with his glorious presence, his immense, protective presence, shade from the burning sun and shelter from the driving rain.” Isaiah 4:5-6 (The Message)

God is our ultimate umbrella. Under His widespread wing, we have the opportunity to share His generous wingspan as well as our own. Rain or shine, even as we improvise an umbrella with a fold of newspaper or a baseball cap, we offer our small, creative care right where we are.

Could a single, simple word encourage a sister today? Yes, and more powerfully than you might think.… Click To Tweet

Alex and I had just met the day before, but with the generosity of a single word, she was quickly making us sisters. Perhaps what she saw in me was so close I could not see it or name it for myself. In that moment over golden waffles, giving breath to a word, she named me.

That’s what sisters do: we pop open an umbrella over each other. With every kind and generous word or encouragement toward a sister’s dream, we are noticing and naming her.

Let’s make our umbrellas the clear, bubble kind where we can enjoy protection while still seeing the sky.

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Terri Conlin is a writer, creative collaborator, and wholehearted encourager for living a soulful life.

 Terri has a degree in Architecture from the University of Texas at Austin. She thrives when creativity, social justice, and gritty faith flourish together with all of the qualities of home.

You can find her sipping dark roast coffee in a thrifted mug while writing at www.whitepitchers.com or on Instagram @terriconlin.

Terri and her husband, Mike, live in Oregon and have four grown children along with three feisty grandkids she calls the Wonders.

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