My nephew, Stu, began running on his school cross-country team when he was in the eighth grade. Since we lived 200 miles from his home, I didn't get to watch him run at his meets. I was delighted when I heard he had qualified for the state meet which was being held in my hometown. However, I heard the main attraction at Stu's races was not the runners, but his enthusiastic mother.

I don't know if you have ever been to a cross-country race, but it is not exactly a spectator sport. Runners line up on the starting mark. A man fires a gun for the race to begin. Then the participants disappear down a trail in the woods, only to reappear some sixteen minutes later.

Before the race, my family stood on the sidelines, watching legs stretch, backs bend, and arms swing in an effort to warm up. Seventy anxious young men clustered around the starting line in ready position. The shot was fired into the air and the herd of boys began their 3.1-mile jaunt through the woods. As soon as Stu's foot left the starting position, his mother, Pat, picked up her thirty-six inch megaphone and began to yell louder than any woman I have ever heard.

"GO STU!" she cheered, not once but at ten-second intervals. When he was out of sight, she ran to another strategic spot along the winding trail where the runners would eventually pass by. And even though the boys were nowhere in sight, Pat continued to cheer, "GO STU!"

"Pat do you have to yell so loud?" my husband asked.

"Yep," she answered. "GO STU!"

Steve inched his way a few paces behind us and pretended like he had no idea who we were.

"GO STU!"

I'll admit, it was a little embarrassing. She had no shame.

At one point she yelled, "GO STU!" and a man from across the park yelled, "HE CAN'T HEEEAAARRR YOOOUUU!"

"Pat, Stu can't hear you when he's deep in the woods. Why don't you let up a bit?" I asked.

"I don't know if he can hear me or not, but if there's a chance that he can, I want him to hear my voice cheering him," she answered. So for sixteen minutes, this little dynamo continued to pump confidence and inspiration into her son's heart.

Later, I asked my nephew, "Stu, when you are running on that trail in the woods, can you hear your mother cheering for you?"

"Oh yes," he answered. "I can hear her the whole way."

"And what does that do for you?" I asked.

"It makes me not want to quit," he replied. "When my legs and lungs ache, when I feel like I'm going to throw up, I hear my mom's voice cheering for me and it makes me not want to stop."

A few years later, my son became a cross-country runner and I've learned a few facts about a foot race. As you near the end of a race, your throat burns, your legs ache, and you whole body cries out for you to stop. That's when friends and fans are the most valuable. Their encouragement helps you push through the pain to the finish.

That's a beautiful picture of what the blessed mother can do for her children as they embark on the great race of life. The mother whose children rise up and call her blessed is an ENCOURAGER. Like Pat, her encouraging voice can be heard echoing in the distance, pumping courage and confidence into her children's hearts. She's the cheerleader on the sidelines who knows that an encouraging word, offered at the right moment, may make the difference between her children finishing well or collapsing along the way.

Webster defines encouragement as: to give courage or confidence to, to raise the hopes of, to help one by sympathetic advice and interest, to promote or stimulate. The primary way we encourage others is by the words we speak.