The Encouragement Box

The Encouragement Box

Every year, buying Christmas presents is one of those tasks I put off. I’m not one of those people who can go shopping in a department store in July and think, “My sister would love this for…Christmas!”

I wish I were that organized.

But one year, my friend, Jeanette, gave me the perfect gift: an empty box. She gave it to me as a “thank you” gift after I spoke to a small gathering at her home. Inside she tucked a note, thanking me not only for speaking but also for the gift of our friendship.

I wasn’t quite sure what to do with the box. But I graciously thanked her, carried it home and placed it on the hearth in my husband’s office (it was the first place I sat when I got home that evening.)

And I left it there.

A month of so later, my husband–trying to clear his desk of all my junk that always finds its way there–placed a pile of letters in my arms. They were notes and cards sent to me by readers and listeners of my work that I’d dumped on his desk because I just didn’t know what else to do with them. It didn’t seem appropriate to file them and I certainly didn’t want to throw them away.

The day my husband dumped all these on me, had been a frustrating one. As I banged away at my computer, trying to meet an afternoon deadline, nothing seemed to flow. I had walked away from my keyboard, discouraged and tired, wondering why I was doing what I do. What difference was I making in others’ lives? Like the article I was working on, I had no focus, no purpose.

I felt like quitting.

And what the heck was I going to do with all these letters? Trying to decide, I plopped myself down on the hearth next to that hand-painted box and began rereading each note and card.

“Thank you for your article on…it touched me,” one note said.

“Your article made me think,” said another. On and on I read, and each time I finished another, I would place it inside my box. Each letter encouraged me and buoyed my spirits.

The very last letter I read, someone wrote: “I know you must get discouraged, but remember what God reminds us in Galations 6:9-10-“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

Wham. A spiritual spanking. I had taken my eyes off of Him. The work I do isn’t about me, it’s about Him.

Why was I doing what I was doing? For the letters? For the praise or hope that others would admire me? Did I need the praise of others to feel encouraged? Why wasn’t it enough for me to know that one day He’d say to me, “Well done, thy good and faithful servant”?

After I read that last note, I wrote these words on a card: “It’s not about me, it’s about Him. Well done, thy good and faithful servant.” I placed it underneath the other notes, closed the lid and returned to my desk with a new attitude and focus.

The box now had a purpose and new name: “The Encouragement Box.”

One of my older sisters works as a hospice bereavement therapist and quite often, after she’s assisted someone through the death of a loved one and the grief process immediately following, the family will send her a note thanking her-sometimes telling her how good they think she is at her job; some gush. She says the notes are wonderful and make her feel really good about what she’s doing. But whenever she loses sight of the fact she is serving God, she says she feels disappointed when someone doesn’t send a note, making her wonder, “Didn’t they appreciate ME?”

When that happens, she stops and calls to mind her personal verse: “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 26:40.

Every morning, on her way to work, she reminds herself of these four things:

1. Be surrendered. “Not my will, but Thine.”
2. Show up. “Arrive ready to work hard, to the best of my ability because I’m representing the Lord.”
3. Pay attention. “Be present completely. When I’m with someone, he or she will have 100% of my attention.”
4. Let go of results. “It’s not my job. It’s God’s job. I am just His tool.”

I was weary, in part, because I had lost sight of the One I was serving. It’s nice to get the letters, but they shouldn’t be necessary for me to stay the course. Mother Teresa said, “God doesn’t call us to be successful. He calls us to be faithful.”

The “Encouragement Box” holding my letters may be full or empty-either way, the work I do is not done for a response.

Since then, I have given away dozens of empty boxes to my friends as Christmas and birthday gifts. And in each, I tuck a note thanking them for the gift of their friendship and the role they’ve played in my growth as a wife, mother and friend. They all tell me they return to that box often to reread my note and others they keep there; to remind themselves of the impact they have on others.

I, too, go back to my “Encouragement Box” often, especially when I’m tired and discouraged and feel as though I’ve lost my way. But as soon as I lift that box lid, I am immediately encouraged, reminded again to let go of results and of Whom I am serving and what I hope to hear Him say to me one day.

That’s what I’m working for.

Diana Keough is the mother of four sons and Co-Founder and Editor-In-Chief of