Encourage Others

“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

I Thes 5:11 (NIV)

[8] We always hear the cliché “A diamond in the rough.” The bad thing about clichés is that they can lose their full meaning by the time they become clichés, because if we connect with the original idea, it can help us look at people in a new way.

I was in a Starbucks a few years ago meeting with someone about a project I was working on. We had limited time, and I remember wanting to get started and accomplish as much as we could. I got in line to place our order while my colleague set up his laptop for us to work on.

As I was waiting, I saw a man sitting at a table in the corner of the busy cafe, feverishly working on some origami-type project. I remember thinking, “This guy looks a little wired—maybe even homeless.” I noticed what appeared to be a finished prototype on his table—a blue and white spherical shape about a foot wide with long angular points in every direction. 

I placed my coffee order and waited, still fascinated by him. I got our drinks and took them to our table, but I couldn’t stop looking at this man busily and precisely folding small sheets of paper and connecting them together into the enigmatic structure.

I felt that familiar nudge.

When I walked up to him, he didn’t look up. His age was indiscernible because his energy and a crisp edge to his features made him seem youthful, like his late 20’s to early 30’s. But his skin was weathered and leathery, like his late 40’s.

He remained focused, industriously assembling his creation square by square—a man isolated from the rest of us in his work. I almost walked away.

“Hey,” I finally broached, “that’s pretty cool.”

The man looked up, fingers pinching the papers in place, and sprang to his feet.

“Oh, hey yeah. Thanks!”

“I mean, it’s really amazing,” I admired, now reflecting on its complexity.

“You can touch it if you want.”

The more I looked, the more fascinated I became. “It won’t fall apart? Is it glued together?”

“No, it’s not glued—it’s all held together by paper folds.” He looked as if he wanted to shake my hand, and momentarily evaluated how to set down the paper chain growing between his fingers. Then he hastily rested it on the array of small paper sheets spread out on the table awaiting their opportunity to be fitted into the masterpiece.

“I make these. My name’s Mark,” he held out a rough hand, and I shook it.

“I’m Wendy.”

“It’s okay. Go ahead.” He picked up the shape and handed it to me.

“Wow.” All the points were stiff and secure, with beautiful sub-folds interlocking each pointed pyramid. “This is so complex!”

“Yeah, it’s a [something or other]. That’s a 20-pointed star. Check it out,” he took it and turned it around slowly for me to see. “This is a very difficult shape to create, but it’s all in the math.”

He handed it back and I admired the structure, evaluating the workmanship. “You must be a genius, Mark.”

He smiled broadly. I noticed an empty plastic cup at his workstation, and concluded that he’s probably nursed and refilled his free ice water for hours as he worked.

“Did you go to school to learn this?”

He looked a little sad. “I—I went to school for a while, but . . . It was hard for me. I have a hard time with all the . . . the—you know, school requirements and. . .”

He didn’t seem to have a good ending for the thought. It was distressing.

“I get it,” I reassured. “It took me nine years to get my BA. It was rough. But you certainly have a talent, Mark.”

His smile returned. “Thank you! It’s all the math. It’s very complicated math. Not many people can wrap their mind around the kind of math that creates complex shapes like this. I can do all kinds.”

“I believe it. I certainly couldn’t do something like this. That’s a real gift Mark.”

“You think so?”

“Absolutely. I believe God gave you this gift for a reason, and He even has a plan for exactly how He can use it.”

His eyes moistened some, and I saw a little relief come over his face. “He does?”

“Yeah, of course. He loves you so much and He gave you this unique talent to use in a particular way to bless others. You’ve blessed me already.”

“I have?”

“Absolutely. I don’t know what you think about God, Mark, or if you believe in Him. . .”

“I used to. I mean, I grew up going to church sometimes. . . I still believe. It’s just that I feel like I’ve let Him down with my life. I don’t know how much He really pays much attention to me. But I do believe in God. I believe in Jesus. ”

I proceeded to encourage him about God’s love and faithfulness, and that He has a good plan to bless him. I gave him some scripture, and suggested that he tell God he still believes, and that he wants to let God help direct his life.

“Oh, I will! I’ll do that. I’ve just been thinking about God, and wondering if He thinks about me.” He nodded his head reflecting, taking it all in. “What you said means a lot. It does, Wendy. It really does.”

“Well, I think God wanted you to know. That’s why He sent me over, don’t you think?” I encouraged him.

He laughed and looked me in the eye with a little twinkle. “I think so,” he smiled.

“Well listen, I don’t know if you’d be okay with this, but I like your work so much, I’d like to buy this one from you. I’ve only got $10, but would that be okay with you? I don’t have more on me, and I know it’s a lot of work.”

“Oh yeah. That’d be great. Thank you!”

“And I have this Starbucks gift card. Can I buy you lunch and a drink?”

“Really? That would be so nice. I really appreciate that.”

I purchased my prize and accepted it with great appreciation, then helped Mark get a tasty sandwich and drink. I remembered I had a pocket New Testament in the car and took it to him before returning to my colleague, who was patiently waiting. He is a Christian too, so He understood.

I don’t know if that moment changed Mark’s life, but I know it encouraged him. I know it showed him God’s love.

It only cost me ten minutes and ten dollars.

It is so easy to overlook the people that God never forgets. Just like I am pretty sure I could walk by and kick up that rough, dirty, diamond from the mud and never recognize it.

But when we start looking for the diamonds with spiritual eyes, they’re easy to spot—even as others pass them by.

God sees their true value and their hidden splendor, just waiting for the hands of the Master Jeweler to do His work.

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