Friday, December 8, 2017

When Encouragement Comes Dressed As a Sympathy Card

by Marcia Moston @MarciaMoston

I had no idea what we were going to do. It wasn’t like we could turn around and go home. My husband and I had won a ten-day trip to New Zealand. But here we were on a Quantas Airlines flight, thirtysomething-thousand feet above the Pacific, with our eight-year-old daughter who was crying and clutching her throat and ears. In spite of the efforts of an affable steward who’d brought a steaming cup of eucalyptus for her to inhale, she promptly threw up. 

After landing, we stocked up on over-the-counter medicines and continued with our itinerary to a beach town. Surely some sun and fun would do her good. It didn’t. Dinner at our fancy hotel was a disaster. Thinking she could handle plain shrimp on a bed of rice, Natalie ordered a meal. But when the waiter set a platter of prawns, complete with beady eyes, claws and antenna in front of her, I knew we had seconds to flee.

Eventually we found a clinic and managed to get her on antibiotics for tonsillitis, but it was still several days before she felt like taking part in any tourist activities. To make matters worse, the weather was so rainy and overcast we couldn’t see a volcano if we ran into it. Halfway around the world, with only a few days left of our dream vacation, I was fuming with frustration.

I stayed in the car while my husband ran into the store for some snacks. Once we were back on the road, he handed me an envelope. Expecting to see a heart with an I-love-you type of message, I was startled to open a bereavement card. White flowers, silver cross and scripted letters illustrated the message: 

In Sympathy
May you find comfort in knowing your grief is shared by us all.

Those fifteen timely words delivered the power of a thunderclap. I burst out laughing. In his own quirky way, Bob had given me the perfect gift. My cloud of gloom couldn’t gather another drop of self-pity in light of the sympathy, understanding, love and humor the words conveyed.

Words. According to the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, the ancients believed words flew like arrows toward their mark without leaving any traceable path, sometimes delivering healing, other times, hurt. Each day we fling tens of thousands of them around, unmindful of the power they carry.

As a writer, I enjoy tinkering with words, lining them up in pretty little (or long) sentences, but during busy holiday seasons, I’m like the cobbler whose kids go without shoes. I craft my words for strangers, but my friends and family get quickly whipped off stock greetings of merry, blessed, happy, love and best wishes.

I forget that intentional words are a gift—a gift that doesn’t cost much. Except time. And thought. A gift that doesn’t dazzle and ding or come in gold foil or tiny velvet boxes but contains the power to impact a life.

And so I’m taking a minute here to remind myself, and hopefully you, not to overlook the opportunity we have as writers to turn our time and talent toward those we love. Who knows if that simple meme you fashioned into a personalized gift tag will last longer than the present inside? Or that perfect message you took time to find will bring laughter and encouragement—even if it comes dressed up as a sympathy card.  

When encouragement comes dresses as a sympathy card - thoughts from @MarciaMoston (Click to Tweet)

"As writers we need to always remember that intentional words are a gift." @MarciaMoston (Click to Tweet)

Marcia Moston—author of the award-winning Call of a Coward-The God of Moses and the Middle-class Housewife—has written columns and features for several magazines and newspapers. She has served on the faculty of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference and currently teaches her true love—memoir and creative nonfiction—at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute on the Furman campus in South Carolina.


  1. "Intentional words are a gift." Thank you for those 5 words, Marcia. Wow, you sure know how to kick off a season of giving. Jay Wright; Anderson

  2. Thank you so much for this reminder, and for the imagery of words being like arrows, leaving no traceable path. I love that! May your Christmas be blessed and beautiful.

  3. Marcia, thank you for your refreshing reminder of the power of words at the appropriate time.

    1. Yes, It's something i need to remind myself about, Christine. Blessings

  4. Words of encouragement are needed by all. Writers perhaps need them more.
    Thank you, Marcia.

  5. I love this story. We've all been there in some shape or form, in the pit of frustration, disappointment, and self-pity. I'm not sure what part of the story blesses me more, your husband's quirky humor, his knowing what would pull you our of your funk, or the human-ness that reaches into my own heart--the relatablity of the story. Thanks. I will be intentional with my words to my loved ones. And i will embrace taking life on the lighter side.

  6. Life on the lighter side, Andy. Yes, good for all of us, I think. Merry Christmas

  7. Thank you for this article. The NZ story reminded me of similar adventures with our kids. But the sympathy card was a fresh twist on the theme. Bob is a gem. :-D