Words…

“Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” Proverbs 16:24

“Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.” Proverbs 13:3

“Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.” Proverbs 17:28

“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1

Words have so much power. We can use them flippantly or thoughtfully, and even just a few words can change the course of someone’s life, for better or worse. Yes, words and how we use them are important; heaven knows I’m guilty of using them unwisely and thoughtlessly. Too often, I’ve had to humble myself and ask for forgiveness from people I love  – and hurt – with my words.

Something my mom used to say to me was that if I didn’t want others to read what I wrote, then I shouldn’t write it. Good advice. Today during my junior high writing class, we talked a lot about the power of words, written and spoken. We talked about the importance of measuring them, of choosing them, of guarding them. Of sometimes not saying them, and often keeping them to ourselves. Of venting to God, sometimes written, but maybe more often, not. We talked about social media and how we can use it to divide or to bless, and how we should never ever use it to announce others’ information or tell someone else’s story.

We talked about how words hurt, how we cannot take them back ~ how we should use them in ways where we wouldn’t want or need to take them back. How once they’re ‘out there’, we’d better hope we’re ok with them being out there, because in today’s world, they may always be out there, and we don’t want to regret them.

When I was in high school, I wrote a lot ~ in journals ~ and I truly thought what I wrote was profound and extremely sensitive and deep. And sooo wise! Many years later, when a friend from high school years and I got re-acquainted, we laughed till we cried at some of those profundities. Those high school musings really seemed important at the time ~ but to no one but me. If anyone else saw them, they’d probably slate me for therapy, for sure.

Not too long afterward, I burned those journals. Just doing that was therapeutic. The words I wrote as a high school girl, which at the time seemed to come deep within my soul (and maybe they did), weren’t the words I’d use today, as a person who is learning to understand my Redemption. Now I know how very important it is to choose wisely, carefully, prayerfully.

Another piece of advice, again from a mother, came from Thumper’s mom ~ if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. I might amend that just a little ~ if you can’t say something nice — stop — and if it needs to be said ~ really needs to be said ~ say it in a way that will be constructive and part of a solution, and say it in a way that will bless. Or as James 1:19 admonishes, be slow to speak. If we stop and asses the situation well, we may see that listening may be what is needed way more than any of our words.

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This Mama’s Heart

Letter to my children ~

There is so much I want to say to you, things I’ve probably already said to you face to face – maybe a million times – but lately I’ve been thinking that somehow, all these years, I’ve probably missed some things. So I’ll say them now and hope that somehow you catch some of it and take it with you into adulthood (even though most of you are already there, the truth is, we continue into adulthood for the rest of our lives. Well, at least I think we do. I still have more life ahead, maybe. Every day I realize just how much more I have to learn and put into practice. That’s all part of growing up, isn’t it? No matter how old you are?).

When you were born, your dad and I were in awe — with each of you. And in so many ways, we’ve been in awe ever since. You’re all such amazing kids, and we feel that you’ve become such great people in spite of us. We certainly weren’t and aren’t perfect parents, and we made ‘mistakes’ along the way. I put the m-word in quotes because I believe that our mistakes can lead to our greatest successes sometimes…because everything in our lives has a purpose from which we should learn and grow. I hope and pray we learned when we blew it and fixed it when we had the chance.

But I can tell you this for a fact – we didn’t do it alone. We have a great God who directed us. We read parenting books and discussed and read more books and discussed more…but each of you is so different, and although the books we read might have helped a little, we couldn’t have done it without a lot of prayer and faith that the reason you are even here at all is because God has something in mind for you. So we trudged along as your parents trying to get to know you for who God made you, not for who we wanted you to be.

As I say that, I’m not even sure we knew who we wanted you to be or what our dreams for you were. They didn’t go much beyond hoping and praying that you would follow Jesus and become whomever He wanted you to become. And on the outside, that looks so different with each of you. But on the inside, not so much — more than anything else, our heart for you was that you would be compassionate, honest, teachable, generous, kind, thoughtful, wise, loving people.

When you were little, I wondered when we’d see those character qualities — when would love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control be part of your life? Not that I expected you to be ready to go to work with Mother Teresa right away or anything. And honestly, there were times I wondered if we needed to invite her to our home to counsel all of us! But as you’re entering the world of adulthood, I see those attributes in all of you, and I’m so very thankful. They will take you far in life. Truly, the other things don’t matter so much — what you do with your ‘career’ or how much money you make. What matters is how you’ll handle life; and if you have the heart and character to make a difference in your little corner of the world, that is what truly matters.

I read a quote the other day that I think is one to remember: “You can’t claim that you love people when you don’t respect them, and you can’t call for … unity unless you practice it in your relationships. And that doesn’t happen out of nowhere. That’s something that has got to be put into practice every day.” The missing word there is ‘political’ — but the idea here doesn’t just cover political unity — it goes for unity unity. Period. Unity in families, with friends, co-workers, with those whom you disagree. Unless you practice those beautiful character qualities you’ve been given, you won’t make a difference in the world around you.

As a mom, I tried to make our home and life a place of peace and beauty and grace, as much as I knew how – and now it’s your turn to do the same to those around you, to find it or create it for yourselves and others. We all make choices, good and bad, so I just hope you choose all those fruits of the spirit with which you’ve been so endowed. I’m not perfect, you aren’t perfect — if we were, we wouldn’t need to grow or learn anymore. So please forgive me for the times I failed you. And even though there were those times, I’m confident that your dad and I took our job seriously enough that we gave you each a glimpse of what it means to keep your faith, to cultivate it, to grow it: to walk in those God given qualities and share them with others who need light and love and peace and grace in their lives. But please remember this most important truth ~ unless you have love, all of those beautiful qualities you have in your heart won’t matter. Because the greatest is love. Always.

I love you so much.

Mom

P.S. Someone once asked me how I still have many of the friends I had in college, and a couple from high school – my answer is that I chose to have sharpening relationships – friends who sharpened me, and hopefully I sharpened them. We went deep and beyond us. Eternal relationships. They last. Choose that kind of friend. You may not have thousands of them, but the ones you have will be everlasting and make you a better person.

Will I Ever Learn?

One of my former professors asked me once what the greatest thing was that I learned in college. After thinking about it for a short time, my response was that I still had so very much to learn. Just when I think I have everything all figured out, when I just know I’m finally right about something, life seems to jump up and knock me off my feet…one more time.

I used to be so much more opinionated than I am now; I guess I really truly thought I had everything figured out. Or maybe I just felt the need to speak my opinions aloud, I don’t know. But whatever the case, as I’ve gotten older I’ve begun to realize that most of the time, my opinions just aren’t that important, because there will always be others who can out argue me, out prove me, or out think me. And do you know what is really, truly important? Not what I think — shocker! — but what God thinks.

I know that we always grow and change, and I hope I’ll continue to realize my need to be teachable. At my new job, I’m still wearing the ‘I’m in training’ badge, and when people ask how long I’ll be in training, I usually tell them “always.” I’ll always have something to learn — from those who think differently, who look different, who are different.

One of the things that showed me just how much I needed to look outside my comfortable box was when I read Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz.  We were on the threshold of sending our oldest daughter to college in the northwest…the crazy, liberal, ungodly northwest. Eeeek!! As I read it, I loved it and I hated it at the same time. I didn’t want to think about seeing my faith from a different angle — it was just too scary and unsure. I was spiritually raised in the south, in the Bible belt, so reading something like that really challenged my faith and I had to ask questions. Yep, QUESTIONS! Sending my baby to the crazy NW, where I wondered if they even spoke English, just seemed like an equally crazy thing to do and had a huge question mark. How could a mother send her daughter straight into a den of wolves? A huge den, at that? What kind of mother would do something like that??

What I started to learn then was something about trust. Wolves are everywhere, even in the Bible belt, and I was over confident that my children, that we all, were “safe” there. I had to come to a place of trust that what she had learned from us would take her into the world (where I know we are supposed to be) with love and respect for others and differences, and yet keep her grounded in who she was and who God was making her.

Now, years later, my sweet girl actually lived through college in the northwest, and I actually lived through her going to college there. She still lives there and is alive and well, and I know she’s being a blessing to those who know her.

But most recently, I’ve begun to question more than what my kids are doing — whether they’re ok moving here or there, or having this relationship or that one. Or even if they’re thinking the same, believing the same, as I do. Not that I don’t look at those things…I always want the best for my kids. But that’s just it. What is best? Where and Who is best? How should I know? I don’t. Yes, I believe God gave these kids to us and us to them. And yes, we have a responsibility to raise them in light of eternity and with wisdom given to us by God. And yes, we spent many hours in prayer for them (and still do). But none of that automatically gives me an enlightened understanding or vision about what they should do or about how they will live. Whenever they struggle or question life or God or what is right, I struggle with them.  I know without a doubt that God can handle their struggles, way better than I can. But then the questions start to come back: questions about my own faith and understanding of how I’m supposed to live and love.

And now I’m at a point where I’m having to trust that what God has done in my own life, with my own faith, will keep me grounded as I learn to appreciate people right where they are – and for who they are. That over-confidence I had with my daughter, and that at times I’ve had with all my kids, that ‘safety zone’, I’ve also had with my own way of thinking. I thought I was good at loving others; and it’s easy to do when most of them think the same way I do. But I’m beginning to learn that there is a difference between what I thought about people, how I thought I loved them, what I secretly expected of them, and what is truly true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy. I see and work with people everyday who are very different from those I’ve chosen to shelter myself with. And I really really want to love them, right where they are, in that Philippians 4 kind of way.

I’ve continued to ask questions and learn to love others who are different than I am… a lot different. And that is a good thing. Thank heaven they aren’t all like me…oh the thought!

I’ve begun to question what I’m doing…and why I’m doing it. Not question the validity or importance of what I’m doing — but how to be truly honorable — toward God and others, and why I’ve been placed where I am. And tying it all together is tough; learning how to stand for Truth in a completely non-compromising way while loving and accepting others right where they are – no judgement, no requirements, no expectations.

I wouldn’t trade any of my life, because I know without a doubt that God has orchestrated every corner, every situation, every person. If I could, I might change some of the things I’ve done, that I’m not proud of. Because I know I could have been kinder, more merciful, more loving, more graceful. Those are the virtues I learn again and again every day, and I hope I’ll be worthy of them and able to impart them to those around me – today, with whomever I may meet, with those I work with, with those I’ll run into at the coffee shop or at work or at church or at the food bank.

And I hope I’m worthy of what they have to teach me, because I still have so, so much to learn.

People-purpose

For the first time in a very long time, I’ll be starting a job away from home. A real job, working with the public. Working with other people who are working with the public. Oh, I’ve done a few jobs in recent years that I did away from home, but the schedule was completely flexible, my ‘office’ was small and quiet, and I was rarely away from my kids. Home schooling didn’t go down the drain, my family didn’t fall apart (although there were times I did), and life pretty much went on as usual. But now we’re in a different season; our ‘normal’ is going to change. Yep, there will be times when these people who live at my house are going to wonder what hit them – and times when I’ll wonder the same.

There will be a learning curve, and I think I’m up for it. But it will mean more than just learning about a new job – it will mean learning again how to interact with the zillions of personalities out there, the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between.

And it’s one of those times when I’ll need to remember where to put my trust. Whether I know someone well or have never laid eyes on them, I need to remember that I don’t see the big picture. Not at all. I don’t know what others are going through or what kind of day they are having – what crisis is taking place in their hearts or lives. So I hope and trust that my responses will be the kind that could make a positive difference in their day – that maybe they are the reason I’m there, working with or talking to them. And that is true about the customer or the kids, the co-worker or the husband. I need to remember, daily, that I am where I am for a purpose – a ‘people-purpose’ – and I need to trust, for that moment in time, that I may be standing in part of the picture that may change the perspective for the person in front of me.

Isn’t that what life is about? Relationship. So often, relationships are hard work – some more work than others – and if we’re honest, some we’d rather not do at all. But when they’re right in front of us, it really isn’t our choice; we just try to make them work the best way we can. That means with those we see often and those we may just talk to on the phone. Family, friends, co-workers, regular customers, or people only needing a refund. Relationship looks different with every person.

Those I’ve had a long time are always changing, and hopefully growing; those that are new are sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes intimidating, sometimes comforting and encouraging, sometimes challenging. Sometimes they’re downright scary! But I know we’re all in this world of relationship for a higher purpose, and the way I choose to interact and respond could be the difference between grace and peace or confusion and pain for the one standing there.

Relationship is what we were made for. So as I walk through each day, I pray I’ll be faithful to keep my eyes focused on the One who sees the whole picture – that I’ll be a blessing to someone each day. Because we all have a place in eternity, and our true job, whether at home or in the local retail store, is to shine a light on the picture and trust the One who knows where we belong in the canvas.