In this inspirational message, speaker and author Florence Littauer describes how words of encouragement can have a powerful impact on a person's life.
Mrs. Florence Littauer: One little girl and I will never forget this little precious child. She stood up at the end of the row; she turned to all the people and she said to them, “What she means is ...” (Laughter) Amazing, amazing how a little child shall interpret it so the adults can understand. (Laughter) And she said, “What she means is, that our words should be like a little silver box with a bow on top.”
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John Fuller: Florence Littauer, remembering a moment at church that led her on a quest to give others the gift of encouraging words. Welcome to “Focus on the Family.” Your host is Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, we’re continuing our 40th anniversary celebration with a very popular program featuring Florence Littauer. It’s been a listener favorite for many, many years. Florence is an award-winning speaker and the author of over 40 books, including Silver Boxes: The Gift of Encouragement. Florence and her husband, Fred were married for almost 50 years. I love those stories. He passed away in 2002 and they have three adult children--Lauren, Marita and Fred, plus several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
John: Well, here’s Florence Littauer on this 40th anniversary edition of “Focus on the Family.”
Florence: It was a couple of years ago that I was sitting in a church. And I was just one of the people in the congregation and as I was sitting there, the pastor looked down at me and he said, “I see that Florence Littauer is in our audience this morning.” He said, “I think it would be nice if we had her come up front and say a few words.” Now, for some of you, that might be a shock to be called forward to say a few words spontaneously. For me, I have never been at a loss for words and I never mind being brought forth to say a few words.
So, I got out of my seat and started up the aisle. As I started up the aisle, he looked down and he said, “In fact, why don’t we have Florence do the children’s sermon this morning?” Now I had not ever done a children’s sermon. I had never felt that the Lord had called me to the children. And I was coming up the aisle, I thought of just saying to him, “I don’t do children’s sermons.” (Laughter) But then as soon as that thought came to me, I realized I couldn’t say that, because I was there in this man’s church to teach the other people how to be speakers spontaneously. So, I thought certainly I would be a poor witness (Laughter) if on the way up the aisle I said, “I don’t do that.” So, I ... as coming up, all this was going through my mind.
And as I was coming, trying to figure out what I wasgonna do with this situation, I noticed that little children were coming out of all the aisles. I mean, he had little children coming up front. They were used to this; they knew what happened every week. And all of the children came up front, so that by the time I got to the front, there was this whole group of children in front of me. So, as I looked at this little group, I thought to myself, “What am I going to say to them?” Well, I thought right off, “A verse, I’ll teach them a verse.”
The verse that came to my mind immediately was a verse that we had used with our children. And the verse is Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearer.” And they all looked wide-eyed. And they said like, “Oh.” And I said, “Do you think you can understand that?” Oh, they didn’t know if they could understand that or not.
“Let’s start it right at the beginning. It says, ‘Let no corrupt communication ...’“ I said, “Now what is corrupt communication?” One little boy spoke up and said, “Being nasty to your mother.” I said, “That’s right. Don’t do that; that’s bad.” (Laughter) And they all agreed that was bad to do; we shouldn’t try that one. And we went on and they pulled out little things, what it meant; all kinds of bad things to say. Then, I said, “All right. That’s what the verse says we are not to do. Now let’s look and see what should we do.”
“So, it says that ‘We should let no corrupt communication proceed out of our mouths, but that which is good.’“ I said, “Do you all know what ‘good’ means?” “Oh, yes,good, they knew good. I said, “Good to the use of edifying. What does edifying mean?’“ Well, they looked kind of wide[-eyed] about that. That’s a big word. And then, one of the boys said, “Build up.” I said, “That’s right, build up, that our words are supposed to build up other people.” Then I went on to the next part of it. “It says, ‘Not only is it good to the use of edifying, but it is to minister grace.’“ Now that’s heavy stuff for little children--minister grace.
“So what does it mean to ‘minister grace?’“ Somebody had taken a class somewhere that said that grace was God’s unmerited favor. So, this little child spoke out, “God’s unmerited favor.” I was amazed at the size of this child, that they knew that little phrase. They didn’t have any idea what it meant, but they knew the words. Somebody had taught it to them. So, I said, “All right. That’s good; that’s wonderful that, that means that God has given us a favor. That’s what grace is. So, if I’m to give you grace, I’m to do you a favor. So, now how could I do you a favor?” Well, we went from favor into present, into gift and then, we came up with, “Yes, every word that comes out of my mouth should be like a present. I should give you a present with my words.”
And I went on with that for a while with them and as I did, one little girl—and I’ll never forget this little precious child--she stood up at the end of the row; she turned to all the people and she said to them, “What she means is ...” (Laughter) Amazing. Amazing how a little child shall interpret it so the adults can understand. (Laughter) And she said, “What she means is, that our words should be like a little silver box with a bow on top.” I looked at her and I said, “That’s right. That’s what our words should be, that we should think of it like that. When our words come out, they should be like little silver boxes with a bow on top. Now I loved what she said. It stayed in my mind and I’ll never forget, even though I have no idea what that little child’s name was, but I’ll never forget her saying, “What she means is, your words should be like a little silver box with a bow on top.”
Just in the last year and a half that I’ve been working with this little concept off and on, it’s made a difference to me. It’s made me measure my words in a different way. I began to think back and I said to myself, “How have you spoken to your children?” And as I thought about it, I realized that it was easy for me to give silver boxes to my daughter, Marita. She and I have always agreed on everything. It was not hard for me to give silver boxes to Lauren. She always did everything right. Now you might say, “Isn’t that wonderful, she’s had these two perfect children?”
Butthen have an adopted son. Adopted son, Fred is nothing like me at all. He and I have never had two thoughts in our entire lifetime that coordinated. (Laughter) When I would say to my daughters, “Run,” they would run. I’d say to him, “Run,” he’sstop. He never seems to want to do what I wanted him to do. He said to me one day, “It amazes me that people pay money to hear you talk. (Laughter) That is not a silver box. (Laughter)
And I began to think about, “What had I said to him?” It’s amazing how usually they’re reflecting in a way what we’re giving. And if we’re not giving out silver boxes, chances are, they’re not giving them back to us. So, I thought about it. And I remembered one day when he came home and he said to me, “Mrs. Johnson said that I have a charming personality.” Now, I don’t know what you parents would have said, but before I even had a hesitation for a moment, I shot out with the comment, “I’d sure like to see some of that charm around here.” (Laughter) Now when you put that in the context of the silver box, Mrs. Johnson had given Fred a silver box and what had I done? I’d taken it away. I’d thrown away the silver box. It was gone. I’d wiped out everything Mrs. Johnson had said. I, as a mother, had taken away the praise he’d received.
I looked back at my childhood and I wondered, “Where did I get the affirmation? How did I go from being a child in three rooms behind a store without a ghost of a chance to amount to anything, remembering the lady that looked at my two brothers and me during the Depression as we stood in the store and as she looked at us, she said to my mother, ‘It’s a shame there’s no hope for those children, because they appear so bright’“ and that wasn’t a silver box. But it was truth at the time. There was no money. There was no hope.
And I remembered that and I remembered saying to myself when I heard that lady and I can picture her today and where she stood and what she looked like. I remember those words, words that knocked my blocks down and I remember them and I remember saying to myself, “Florence, you’ll show that lady.” And I worked to get there, but I thought back; I thought, “How did you do it? Who encouraged you?” And as soon as I began to think about it, as you might begin to think about your childhood, I realized that even though my mother never gave me a lot of affirmation and when I asked her why she didn’t compliment me, she said, “You never know when you’re gonna have to eat your words.” (Laughter) Mother was always afraid she’d have to eat a few words. She felt, “It’s better not to say any than to have to eat them.”
So, I thought about it. I said, “Well, where did I get my affirmation?” And I realized I had a father who was affirming. I had a father who was constantly giving us positive words, who was positive every single day, who was lifting people up, who during the Depression in our little store, people would come to our store just to hear my father’s encouraging words.
I remember back to my senior year in college and I came home at Christmas vacation. And my father, who was 72 at that time, he was 20 years older than my mother and as I came home, he said to me one day right after Christmas, “Florence, come in the back room. I want to show you something.”
So, I went into the back room with him. He never took me there. He never left out of the store. And we went back into this little tiny den, which was the only little haven we had, a little den with two pieces of furniture--a piano on one wall and a couch on the other that opened up. And when you opened it up, you could sit on the end of the couch and play the piano. That’s the size of the room. So, here it was. You had wall-to-wall bed.
And we went in there that day and my father reached behind that piano--you know, those upright pianos that have all the little holes in ‘em. My father reached behind the piano, brought out this little box--little cigar box. And he opened it up and I looked at it and I said, “What’s that?” He said, “It’s a box that I had and I hid it away.” And he said, “Somehow today I felt like showing you this box.” And I looked in there because I’m a curious person. If I’d known there was box tucked away, I would have been looking at it, but I didn’t know it was there.
And he showed it to me; it was full of clippings. I looked in there; they were newspaper clippings. And I said, “What are these?” He said, “These are articles that I’ve written.” I said, “You can write?” You see, my mother had always told me, “Your father didn’t have any education. You’ve got to get education so you can do better than your father.” My mother had fed me words like that. So, when my father said he’d written something, I was dumbfounded. I didn’t know my father was very bright.
And I looked at him. I said, “You wrote these things?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Why didn’t you tell me you could write?” It was almost like I deserved to know I had a smart father. Why hadn’t he told me before? And I said, “Why didn’t you tell me that?” And he said, “Because your mother always said, ‘Because you don’t have an education, you shouldn’t try to write. What if you tried and it wasn’t any good? We’d all be humiliated.’“
My mother was always afraid we’d be humiliated, so she never encouraged us to do anything, to take any risks or any chances. So, my father, he said, “I knew I could write.” He said, “I knew inside of me there was an ability to write, so,” he said, “I would write when your mother was out. And I would write and I would send it in to newspapers and I’d watch the newspaper until it came out and then I’d cut it out and I’d put ‘em all in this box.” And he said, “Somehow today, I wanted to give you the box.” And I took that box and I looked through it. I couldn’t believe all these things my father had written, important things.
And as I got to the bottom, there was a letter in there from the United States Senate. I always have been interested in politics. I’ve always been interested in personalities. And it was from Henry Cabot Lodge Sr. And I opened up this letter and it was to my father. And I said, “What did Henry Cabot Lodge write you for?” And he said, “Well, I wrote him a letter, telling him how he should run his campaign better, more efficiently and effectively next time.” And he said, “Because of that, he wrote me back a letter and it was a personal letter--two pages typed. And it said, ‘Dear Walter Chapman’ and then it went down; ‘This idea was very good. I will implement that in my next campaign. This idea I cannot use for this reason.’“ And he enumerated everything--two pages--answering my father’s letter, sharing with him what he liked about what he’d said and how he had thanked him and appreciated what he had done for him. My father had written silver boxes to a senator and he’d replied.
I was so amazed. I put that back in the envelope, put all the clippings back in there and I said to my father, “Let’s put it back behind the piano.” So, we did. We put it back behind the piano and I said, “But I’ll know it’s there.
As we left that little room to go back into the store, my father put his hand on my shoulder and he looked at me. He said, “Florence, I think I tried for something too big this time.” And I said, “What’s that?” He said, “Well, I wrote into our denominational magazine and I told them how they ought to change the way they chose the nominating committee for the National Convention.
You see, my father didn’t like trivia. He cared. (Laughter) He had the big picture. And he said, “I wrote in and told ‘em how they should do it differently,” he said, “good suggestions.” And he said, “It’s been three months now and they haven’t published it yet.” And then, he looked at me again and he said, “Florence, I guess I’ve tried for something too big this time.”
Those were the last words my father ever said to me, because the next day my mother and he took the first day off they’d had in 20 years. I stayed home and took care of the store with my two brothers. My mother and father went into Boston. At 4 o’clock in the afternoon, walking through the subway station in Park Street in Boston, my father dropped to the pavement.
At the morning of the funeral, I was sitting in the store opening up the cards that had come--for those days, many cards had come because, you see, everyone loved my father, because he gave them encouraging words. And as I opened up these cards of sympathy from all the people that came into our store, I noticed the magazine--our denominational magazine. I never would have looked at it at such a time, except my father told me. I opened up that magazine and looked through it and inside, there was my father’s article--”For More Democracy,” Walter Chapman. It came the day of the funeral.
I am so grateful today that my father showed me that box, because you see, I have those clippings and I have framed on my wall at home, I have the article from that magazine and a picture of my father. And I also have the letter from Henry Cabot Lodge Sr. And I went back to Boston and I got a picture of him. AndI have Henry Cabot Lodge and his letter and my father and his article and I have those framed on the wall in my study, so that every day as I pass by, I’ll remember the value of an encouraging word, because, you see, my father had a box of broken dreams; things he could have been if only someone had encouraged him.
John: Florence Littauer on today’s 40th anniversary edition of “Focus on the Family.” And a quick note that you can get Florence’s book, Silver Boxes: The Gift of Encouragement for a donation of any amount when you call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY or at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. All right, now more from Florence Littauer on “Focus on the Family.”
End of Program Note
Florence: One time I sat down with my husband’s mother. We’d never had anything much to say to each other. She seemed to be a superior being. She seemed to be above everybody else. She was elegant and beautiful, said the right things, did the right things, had the big home, knew how to pour tea out of silver pots, all the things I’d never learned. I looked at her with envy all my life. I was afraid of her, because she was so put together, because she knew how to do everything with such style and flare and I wanted so much to do that.
So, I’d never really had a one-to-one conversation with her until this one night, just a number of years ago when I sat with her in her living room. And I didn’t know what to say to her and I asked one of those trite questions. I said, “Mother, what was it like when you were young?”You know you’re getting old when people ask you that. People have started asking me that (Laughter), my grandchildren. “Grammy, what was it like when you were young?” They think I knew Abraham Lincoln personally. (Laughter) So, I asked my husband’s mother, “What was it like when you were young?” not knowing what I’d get for an answer.
And she said, “Oh.” Immediately she said, “Oh, I remember when I was in college, I had this boyfriend and I was so in love with him. We were going to get married.” And she went on telling me about this and I looked at her wide-eyed. I’d never thought of my mother-in-law having a boyfriend. Somehow it just didn’t seem to make sense. (Laughter) And so, I said to her, “Well, tell me about it, Mother.” And she told me that she and he were going to get married and when they graduated from college--and she graduated from Cornell when she was 19--and she said, “When we graduated from college, we went two separate directions for the summer. He was gonna call me in the fall and we were going to get married.”
I said, “Well, what happened?” She said, “Well, when the fall came, he never called me.” She said, “He never called.” I looked at her. I said, “You mean he never called you?” She says, “He never called. I never heard from him again.” I said, “Well, what did you do?” She said, “Well, I cried a lot.” Tears came down her cheeks. I’d never seen my mother-in-law relaxed; I’d never seen her real. And you may have some person that you deal with that you know is not real. You’ve never really gotten in there behind who they appear to be, behind the wall they’ve built around themselves and ... for protection. I’d never noticed it or realized that was what it was. But as I talked to her, she cried and she said, “He never called me. And my mother didn’t like him anyway, because he didn’t come from a rich enough family.” And her mother’s theory always was, you could marry and fall in love with a rich man as well as a poor man. That was her family motto.
She said, “My mother didn’t like him anyway.” She said, “After a while, my mother introduced me to Fred Littauer.” And she said, “I married him on the rebound.” And then, she looked at me and she said, “I never was in love with him.” This is Fred’s father. And I looked at her and I said, “You weren’t?” She said, “No, I did the right things. I played my role.” And she said, “I had the five children and I was the good wife.” And as she said this, she is crying and she said, “But I never was in love with him.”
What did that make me feel about my mother-in-law that I’d been judgmental and negative about, that I’d thought, “This is a cold lady?” I never knew she’d had a problem like that before. And I looked at her with a different feeling. And then she said, “But that’s not the end.” She said, “A couple of years ago, I went to a party”--she’s in her 70s then. She said, “I went to this party.” She said, “I looked across the room and there was this man standing there.” And she said, “I looked at him.” And she said, “He looked like that young man that I’d been so in love with.” She said, “I walked across the room to get a view, so I could look at him.”
And she said, “When I got near him, he turned and he looked at me and he said, ‘You are Marita.’“ And she said, “I looked up at him and said, ‘You’re John.’“ And she said, “I started to talk with him.” She said, “I looked at him and said, ‘Would you answer me one question? Why did you never call?’“ She said, “He looked at me and he said, ‘Oh, I called many times and each time, I got your mother. And each time, your mother said, “She doesn’t love you. She doesn’t want to hear from you again. Please don’t call.” And he said, ‘The last time I called, your mother said, `She’s engaged to marry someone else. Don’t ever call again.’” She looked up at me and she said, in tears, “My mother’s words ruined my life.”
What a different feeling I had about my mother-in-law that day. How bad I felt for the judgment that I had put upon that lady in years past. How aloof I’d felt she was, how cold, how artificial, when all the time she was hiding a broken heart.
I said to her, “Mother, what would you have been if you could have been anything you wanted to be in your life?” She said, “Oh, I would’ve been an opera singer.” I said, “An opera singer? I didn’t even know you could sing.” She said, “That’s because I’ve never sung since I got out of college.” I said, “Did you sing before?” She said, “I majored in music.” I’d never known that. Of course, I’d never asked her. She said, “I majored in music.” And she said, “I wanted to be an opera star.” I said, “Why didn’t you go and do it?” She said, “Because my mother said, ‘There’s no money in that. You’ll never make it. You don’t have enough talent. Come into the family business and that way, you’ll be secure. That way, you’ll have money.’“ And she said, “So I gave up singing.” And she said, “But inside, I’ve always wanted to be an opera singer.” I never knew that about her. I didn’t know she had any hidden desires.
And then she got up from the chair and she went down the hall. She came back with a box, a big suit box. She opened up the box; shepulled out some pictures and in it was this picture. She said, “I want you to see this picture.” She said, “This is a stage set,” she said, “because I want you to know that I did once have the lead in an opera.” She said, “It was my senior year in college.” She said, “Here I am, right here in the center.” She said, “I’m that one in the winged chair.” And she said, “These are all the cast around me.” She said, “I had the lead in the opera.” Now she gave it to me. She said, “Here, you take this picture. Your daughter’s named after me. Give this to Marita. I want her to have it. I want her to know that her grandmother could have been something if she’d ever had the chance”--if she’d ever had an encouraging word; if someone had given her a silver box.
Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “Many of us die with the music still in us.” Fred’s mother died with the music still in her. My father died with the music still in him. Each one of them had a box of broken dreams, a box of clippings, a box of pictures, memories of what they’d done that no one knew about, that had never become fulfilled. Both of them died with the music still in them.
During Fred’s mother’s latter years, when Fred and I went to visit her, her mind had totally left her. She could not communicate; she couldn’t say a word; we had no idea whether she could hear what we were saying or not, whether she understood anything. She was unable to articulate a word. I asked the nurse one day, when I was down visiting her in Miami, here in Florida and I said, “Does mother ever talk?” She said, “No, she never says a word.”
And then, she looked at me. She said, “But it’s the strangest thing, that every once in a while she’ll stand up and she’ll sing opera.” Oh, isn’t it amazing what’s still in our minds? Many times our minds have forgotten what our heart still remembers. Her heart still wanted to be an opera singer.
And the last night before she died, she stood up at the dinner table and the nurse told us that she stood there and she sang opera. And she said, “When she’d finished, I clapped for her and she held her hands and she bowed and she bowed.” You see, the opera was still in her. And she said, “When I went in the next morning, she was asleep with her hands like this and a smile on her face.” She died with the music still in her.
In the Song of Solomon, it says, “Yes, the winter is past. The rains are over and done. The flowers appear on the earth. The season of singing has come.” Is there someone at home waiting for you to give them a season of singing. Is there someone there who is just waiting for a silver box, who’s waiting for a word of encouragement from you?
Yes, there may be somebody you know who has a song waiting to be sung; perhaps, who has a race waiting to be run, maybe a piece waiting to be played; perhaps a scene waiting to be staged; a tale waiting to be told or a book waiting to be sold; a rhyme waiting to be read or a speech waiting to be said. If you know such a person, don’t let them die with the music still in them.
John: Florence Littauer on “Focus on the Family” and what a good reminder to reach out and spend some time encouraging those folks around us.
Jim: It really was, John and what a way to bless others, you know, the Bible talks a lot about the power of our words, especially in the book of Proverbs. And let me just cite a few of those verses. Proverbs 12:18 says, “Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Proverbs 15:2 says, “The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly.” And finally, Proverbs 18:21, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
And you know, these are the kinds of verses that you can write down and post on the refrigerator or bathroom mirror. The boys and I on the way to school, I have them read a Proverb every time we’re going to school and it’s a great way to get that Word into their heart. It’s a reminder to use encouraging words, rather than critical ones.
John: Yeah, the ... the Proverbs really are good for children and every time we read a Proverb around the dinner table and it’s about words, I feel a little conviction (Laughter), because--
Jim: You bet.
John: --it’s good for parents to hear, as well.
Jim: It is. The last time we aired this message, one listener said, “This was a great reminder. I typed out, ‘Our words should be like a gift’ and taped it to my computer monitor. Thanks for helping me be a better person, Focus on the Family.”
And hey, if you have any encouragement to share with us, I hope you’ll get in touch. It’s a way that we can discover what programs are ministering to your heart and what’s connecting and what we can do to improve what we do here at Focus on the Family. We would love to hear from you through our Facebook page or you can just give us a call.
And when you get in touch, please consider making a donation to support your Focus on the Family, because we are here together to encourage families around the world. When you make a generous donation of any amount, I want to send you a copy of Florence Littauer’s book, Silver Boxes, which has much more encouraging content than what we are able to share here today. Summer is always a tough time for us and we need to hear from you today.
John: Yeah, you can call with your donation, 1-800, the letter A and the word FAMILY: 800-232-6459 and when you do, request your complimentary copy of Silver Boxes or donate and get the book at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio. And if you enjoyed today’s broadcast, please tell a friend to tune in next time when our own Jim Daly will encourage you to embrace the messiness of parenting.
Mr. Jim Daly: I think that adds to the pressure today, that we are projecting perfection, yet behind the scenes, there’s a lot of messiness and that is normal. And I think what we’re missing is the idea that messiness is normal and that we should be comfortable with it.
End of Excerpt
John: I’m John Fuller and on behalf of Focus president, Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. Join us again next time, as we once again, help you and your family thrive in Christ.
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Florence LittauerView Bio
Florence Littauer is an award-winning public speaker who has educated and trained numerous other speakers. She has written more than 40 books including Personality Plus, After Every Wedding Comes a Marriage and Looking for God in All the Right Places. Florence is now retired and residing near Palm Springs, California. She has three children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Her husband of nearly 50 years, Fred, passed away in 2002.