Posted by: donnatallman | March 7, 2012

The Power of Encouragement

Bob and I never had girls. God, in his incredible wisdom, knew I would not have known what to do with them – too complicated for me. God was also merciful to my daughters as well, sparing them a lifetime of frustration with the “Queen of Klutz.” My temperament and clodhopper ways are much more suited to the rambunctious world of boys. We had three. Our boys were fun, funny, and so easy to take care of – like Chia Pets. Give them water and sunshine and off they grow!

I do have four nieces, though, and they are delightful and lovely. Some of my nieces, however, tested the limits of lovely when they were younger. My sister’s two daughters had their moments. Without the herculean effort Sandi put out to help them become lovely, Alyssa and Kendra would still be standing in the upstairs bathroom trying to do their hair and looking for their matching hair doodles. I only had the courage to be present once or twice while my sister mobilized the girls to leave for school in the morning. A battalion commander wouldn’t have fared as well as did Sandi.

Photo by Jodie

Girls are an enigma to me, but I have determined to be a good “girl grandma” and try to look at the world more like they do. Granddaughter Kensington is only three, but she seems like she’s ready for her runway debut at Paris Fashion Week. We stopped in to see her and her parents last Sunday, and during our time there Kensington changed no less than five times. Her wardrobe transformations have all the dramatic flair of the Academy Awards but without any of the commercial breaks.

Kensington especially gravitates to anything spandex, gymnastic, or tutu-ish. The only problem with those little numbers is that they come with fluff and stuff attached all over the place but no instructions. Knowing how to put them on requires the equivalent of a fashion engineering degree…and no, that was not hyperbole.

On the 3rd or 4th wardrobe change, Kensington decided she wanted me to help her get dressed. She went to her room and reappeared moments later with some kind of ballerina outfit and a pair of tights. Between the straps, ruffles, and armholes to nowhere I was sure this was a catastrophe in the making.

“Kensie, this too complicated, I can’t do this,” I protested.

“Oh, Grammie. Yes, you can,” she insisted.

After turning and twisting the leotard this way and that, I finally decided to give in and at least try to be helpful.

“Put your little foot, put your little foot, put your little foot right here,” I sang as Kensie weebled and wobbled within the maze of the elastic fabric of the leotard.  She plunged her foot right into the center of the leotard immediately losing traction with the floor. Her feet slipped out from under her and she crashed to the wood floor with a thud.

In true Kensie fashion, she just laughed.

“Oh dear. This is so not a good idea, Doodle.” I pleaded with her. “You should have Mommy do this.”

“No, Grammie, try again,” Kensie urged.

“Okay, one more time,” I said.

After yanking, tugging, and futzing around with the leotard, we finally got her in it before it popped and snapped loudly into place. Girls’ clothes are so violent.

“Grammie,” she laughed, “It’s on backwards!”

Oops. She was right. We struggled through another attempt with the leotard and finally got it on right. Well, it looked like everything was going the right direction anyway.  At this point I had worked up quite a sweat wrestling this adorable little alligator, so I urged Kensie to take her tights to her momma to put on.

“No, Grammie. I want you to do it.”

“Kensie, I’m going to tie you up in knots if I try….” I started to protest.

Kensie interrupted my tirade with, “Grammie, I believe in you! You can do this!”

I believe in you? I wasn’t expecting that. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry, so I did both.

Photo by Jodie

Like I said, girls are an enigma.

I believe in you!

The power of her encouragement was startling. One minute I felt useless, and the next; I was ready to conquer that pair of tights.

And I did. No twists, no runs in the tights, and no futzing – we sailed right through the tights episode because someone believed I could do it. It wasn’t me, but my granddaughter believed in me, and there was no way I was going to disappoint her.

True encouragers are precious…and they are rare. Encouragers, like the armor bearers of the Old Testament, stand ready to help and/or defend you. Their only agenda is your agenda. Their joy is to meet your needs and to see that you don’t grow weary in what God has called you to. They are a priceless gift.

Encouragers say things like:

You can do this!

I believe in you!

You have what it takes!

You are made for this!

Barnabas was an encourager in the book of Acts. In fact, Barnabas wasn’t even his real name. His real name was Joseph (Acts 4:36), but no one called him Joseph. The disciples gave him the nickname of Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement,” because everywhere Barnabas went; he lifted the spirits of the people around him.

After reading Acts 4:36, I began to think about nicknames. Actually, I started to obsess about them. Why do we use them? Why did the disciples use nicknames? Why did Jesus use them? Matthew 16:18 says that Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter. “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not over power it.”

Peter, The Rock. It sounds strong, tough, immovable, and sturdy. Actually, it sounds familiar – athletic almost…

The Sultan of Swat – Babe Ruth, baseball

Sparrow from Minsk – Olga Korbut, gymnastics

The Great One – Wayne Gretzky, hockey

The Baltimore Bullet – Michael Phelps, swimming

Pistol Pete – Pete Maravich, basketball

The nicknames for these athletes reflect something of their character, ability, toughness, and power. Nicknames can also capture something personal about an athlete, like Olga Korbut’s Sparrow from Minsk. When hearing her nickname, her size and her heritage instantly come to mind, as does the fragile grace of a sparrow, which she needed to compete in Olympic gymnastics.

Nicknames are to sports what doublespeak is to writing; they communicate several things at once. Take John McEnroe’s nickname: Superbrat. McEnroe was a “super” tennis player, but anyone familiar with McEnroe’s penchant for temper tantrums on the court during the 70’s and 80’s immediately resonates with Superbrat. It catches both his status as a great player, as well as his bratty behavior on the court.

Tim Tebow’s nickname has several meanings as well. Tebow was dubbed the Mile High Messiah shortly after becoming a Denver Bronco, but a year before he led his team to the playoffs. Denver’s devoutly Christian quarterback did indeed rise to the occasion and “save” his team during the 2011-2012 season. He gave his teammates hope as they all pulled together to usher in the miracle of the millennium. Mile High Messiah perfectly reflected what needed to be done in Denver.

One of my favorite (positive) sports’ nicknames was given to Reggie White who played for the Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, and the Carolina Panthers during the 80’s and 90’s. He was one of the most decorated defensive ends in the NFL and known for his fierceness on the gridiron. Off the field, however, White was an ordained minister. His peers affectionately referred to him as the Minister of Defense. What’s not to love about that nickname?! It has more meanings than Imelda Marcos has shoes.

So why do teammates, coaches, fans, and sports commentators feel compelled to create nicknames for athletes? So the athletes grow into the expectation of the encouragement.  Have you ever had someone give you a positive nickname that reflects a new purpose or calling for you? What was your response? You wanted more than anything to fulfill the expectation inherent in the name. You wanted to rise to the potential of the expectation. Nicknames are about drive, motivation, and success. They are all about encouragement.

(There are derogatory nicknames we may spend a lifetime overcoming, but that’s a post for another day.)

Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter following a moment of revelation when Simon understood who Jesus was. Once Simon recognized Jesus as God’s Son, he could never go back being the same person again, so Jesus changed his name to reflect that reality. Jesus called Simon The Rock because he believed Peter would become the stable, sturdy foundation His church would rise from. Actually, Jesus “knew” Peter would fulfill that role one day, but Peter wasn’t always so sure, especially after he denied even knowing Jesus on the night of Jesus’ arrest.

Following Peter’s third denial of knowing Jesus, Peter’s heart was wracked with guilt. Scripture says Peter went out and wept bitterly. Peter was devastated that he had disappointed Jesus. He was ashamed. Peter had failed to live up to the moniker that Jesus had given him, and his heart broke. He was no strong and stable rock; Peter was a basket case. When Jesus most needed him, Peter fled in fear.

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Jesus drew near and asked Peter one morning after he had risen from the dead. Peter’s heart must have writhed with the sound of the old name. Simon was his old identity, the man he was before Jesus’ “Follow Me!” echoed across the water.

In using the name, Simon, Jesus reached back beyond the years they had spent together. He did this not to condemn Peter, but to remind him of just how far they had come together. Despite the pain hearing the old name may have caused Peter, Jesus intentionally used it to encourage Peter to rise to Jesus’ expectation of him.

“Feed My sheep,” Jesus instructed.

Peter knew his new name set him apart to care for the other disciples and all those who believed in Jesus. He knew that, but the pain of his failure loomed so large he couldn’t see beyond it. Peter immediately understood that Jesus was calling him back to the expectation of his nickname. Through the use of his old name, Jesus reminded Peter of all the miles, miracles, promises, and challenges they had shared together.

“Simon, do you love Me?” Jesus asked again.

“Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”

Jesus asked once more.

What was Jesus communicating to Peter with each repetition?

You can do this!

You have what it takes!

I’ve called you to this!

Just as fire can create its own weather, encouragement can create its own future.  By nature I am a quitter, but God has strategically placed encouragers in my life that pop up whenever I grow weary or want to give up. They refuse to let me quit. In fact, they hang onto my dreams long after I’ve decided I’ll never fulfill them. What are my friends saying with their unrelenting encouragement?

You can do this!

You have what it takes!

I believe in you!

When was the last time you told someone you believed in them? When was the last time you thanked one of your encouragers for believing in you?

What nickname is God asking you to rise to the expectation of?

You can do it, I believe in you!

© Copyright, 2012 by Donna Tallman.



  1. ahhh I love it!!!!! xoxo

  2. Loved this…

    “Girls’ clothes are so violent.” Heeeee!

    And this…

    “True encouragers are precious…and they are rare. Encouragers, like the armor bearers of the Old Testament, stand ready to help and/or defend you. Their only agenda is your agenda. Their joy is to meet your needs and to see that you don’t grow weary in what God has called you to. They are a priceless gift.”

    And this…

    “So why do teammates, coaches, fans, and sports commentators feel compelled to create nicknames for athletes? So the athletes grow into the expectation of the encouragement.”

    And this…

    “Just as fire can create its own weather, encouragement can create its own future.”

    I give out nicknames as easy as breathing. Seriously, it’s like a form of Tourette’s with me. You’ve given me much food for thought. What nickname has God given me with expectation (Wisdom) and encouragement (Beloved)? And also: maybe I need to be more careful with my nicknaming.

    Love you Donna Momma! 😉

    • Maybe when I stop laughing I can respond to your comment, Bethy. Nicknames in youth ministry…an absolute must! Names to show support, appreciation, and vision, intention, and camaraderie born in the fire and the fox holes of Jr. and Sr. high ministry no doubt! Thanks for all you do to usher in the kids’ futures. They are blessed and so am I!

  3. Thanks Donna…my friends call me Bonabus!

  4. I loved this! A blog about encouragement that is tremendously encouraging!
    And beautiful pictures of your granddaughter to boot! I thank God for how He is using you to speak words of wisdom and encouragement to others…and I’m thankful to be one of those others!

  5. Your encouragement and your stories make me go back and re-read my Bible through your eyes. Your words of wisdom make me share with others. Church has taken on a new meaning, because I actually(fully) understood one of our lessons, just from reading about judgement. It was a Donna-ism moment.
    Love ya

    • This is what I love about walking alongside other people; we all learn from each other. When I watch you all wrestle with the big questions about God after horrific tornado outbreaks, I always see something new about God, His love, His mercy, and His amazing grace! We all need each other to get through this journey of life! Hugs for your journey, Sharon!

  6. Donna, just recently had a conversation regarding the passages in John 21:15-17. When Jesus asks “do you love me?”, the Greek word used is ‘agapas’ (a love of decision). When Peter responds “You know that I love you”, the Greek word used is ‘philo’ (to show warm affection in intimate friendship, characterized by tender, heartfelt consideration and kinship). This occurs in v.15 and v.16.

    In v.17 Jesus asks “do you love (phileis) me?” The change of characterization for the word love by Jesus speaks volumes in knowing our hearts and His redemption in spite of it’s condition.

    Love and God Bless,


    • Yes, there are lots of nuances we miss in the English translation. Jesus goes to great lengths to break through our pain and our resistance. Peter got the full force of Jesus’ love in this encounter, I wish I could have been there to see it – it must have been completely overwhelming to him!

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