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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But God…

There have been many times over the years — and especially lately — I’ve wanted to vent and rant on social media about one thing or another. But because I vowed many years ago not to use facebook in that way, I fight off the temptation.

But believe me…I grapple and struggle with and work through — thoughtfully and prayerfully and often tearfully — all the issues and events going on around us and in this oh-so-much-smaller-and-louder world in which we live. And sometimes when it seems too hard or I get angry, I want to go back on that vow I made and shout from the rooftops. Or I selfishly want to retreat forever.

But I know that neither is an option.

Because no matter how I feel today or tomorrow about a, b, or c, and no matter what changes take place in the world overnight, we have a Great God who is calm and compassionate, and He desires us to be the same. Oh how easily and quickly we forget that our confidence is in Him, no matter what is going on around us.

The nations (and events and evil and fill in the blank) can rage, but in vain, and the authorities and powers-that-be are ultimately not going to win.

So what it comes around to is this: there is no reason to rant or vent or shout. Instead, I need to remember, trust in and rest in the One who is truly in charge. His Grace is sufficient.

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.