A short 8 weeks ago the church was filled with children’s laughter amidst the adult conversation. Thanksgiving was right around the corner and spirits were high. Families were getting ready to feast and convene with one another. There were two days off work plus a weekend to look forward to. I gave thanks.
The second week of December I tracked conversations I overheard in passing or was involved with in one way or another. Some words were full of bitterness and disappointment. Others were full of gossip. Some words showed weariness. Others were hopeful, looking forward to having family home for the holidays. I experienced joyful talks. I also experienced words as sharp as swords—short and brief, but damaging just the same. I prayed for awareness of my own words.
I stopped in the grocery store aisle last week to visit with a Grandma, a friend of mine. We hadn’t visited for a long time, so it was good to catch up. Her words told of her concerns for her grandson who had just enlisted in the armed forces. She was proud of him. But her words also showed signs of worry and concern. I prayed for his safety and for God to speak Peace to him and the family.
Two nights ago, we found ourselves in the 3rd level balcony of a massive arena. The rodeo was about to start. The mood was celebratory! People were escaping from the work-a-day life with family entertainment. The music was loud. The conversations around me were playful. There were happy faces. I gave thanks for a Friday night out with my hubby.
Yesterday I finished Saturday morning training, upbeat and excited for the afternoon appointments. I took time to encourage some newer folks and greeted some of the students in for class. The music was fun, and the mood was light. The sun was even trying to shine in through the windows. I hadn’t taken time to pray since the meeting had ended.
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Eight weeks ago, at church, while the children were playing, and the adults were talking, one family was still reeling, trying to wrap their minds around the words they’d received from their doctor: “…here is the name of an oncologist. You will need to call to make an appointment…”
For this family, the conversations changed.
The Grandma whose grandson joined the armed forces to serve our country? Her words today were meek. The grandson’s unit had been deployed to Afghanistan. There had been very little contact with him in the weeks and months since he left. He sacrificed his own time, putting his very life on the line, missing holidays and family events, in order to serve others, half a world away among unfamiliar land and unfamliar peoples.
For this family, the conversations changed.
Sitting in the 3rd level balcony of the arena, the bulls were winning. The cowboys on the bareback and saddle broncs had experienced some success. But the bulls were not as giving. Not one cowboy had lasted the full 8 seconds yet.
The announcer introduced the rider, the cowboy gave the nod, and the gate swung open. As the young cowboy lost his grip, he hit the ground dangerously close to the bucking bull. Seconds passed but the cowboy didn’t move. The medics were called. The bull was roped by the pick-up riders at the other end of the ring. The defibrillator was hurried to the side of the young rider, who was still not moving.
The arena came to an eerie quiet as the medics worked on the rider. Many heads in the crowd were bowed. Others had their eyes glued to the cowboy. Even the announcer went silent. An usher arrived at the end of our row and motioned for a young dad and his children to follow. He asked, “…how far to get down there”. She said, “It’s a jaunt but we’ll get you there.” They left their coats and their hats and mittens, the dad carried the youngest and the two little boys followed along closely. I assumed family of the fallen rider.
The young, athletic cowboy was carried out of the rodeo ring on a stretcher, but alert enough to give the now applauding crowd a thumb up.
But for this family, conversations changed.
Yesterday morning immediately after the training, I received a text from our daughter in Hawaii. It was brief. It said, “Pray now! This is not a drill. We’ve been told there is an inbound missile aimed at us. I have to take cover in the bathroom!”
For our family, the conversations changed.
Hours later, I glanced back at the initial response I sent back to my daughter who was alone in her apartment taking cover for what was believed to be a very real inbound missile attack. My initial text said, “Oh dear…” I spoke “Oh Dear God” out loud, but I didn’t type it all out! What I didn’t say was, “I love you!” Is there ever a time when those words are inappropriate! I mean, really! Our daughter lives 20 minutes from impact if North Korea sends a missile towards Hawaii (God forbid)! Are there any other words to be spoken than “I love you!”?
So many words come out of our mouths every single day. But how many of those words impact the life of another in a positive, life-giving kind of way—on purpose?! I am very, very fortunate to be in a job where the work I do is dependent upon words of encouragement. And yet I must remind myself to take those words home with me sometimes! How quickly we diminish the value of the spoken word into mundane exchanges—some more positive than others.
The words we say, the conversations we exchange with others is so routine, so much a part of our daily busyness. I think back through so many conversations with a lot of words that really said nothing at all. I’ve pondered lately how often we really stop to think about our words—about how our words alone can lift a spirit, give encouragement, share compassion, express our feelings. Even so, on the flip side, our words can so easily crush spirits, hurt feelings, discourage, and draw a line of division between peoples.
I have the usual first of the year resolutions of things I want to accomplish, things I want to change about myself and my surroundings in the new year. But one thing I added to my list this year is giving myself permission to be present in the moments – to better listen to others—to weigh my words in such a way they cast light as opposed to casting shadows. Our words are important. Words are powerful. How we use them and what we imply with them has the potential to be life-changing.
I am drawn to the scriptures, from first chapter of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the WORD, and the WORD was God, and the WORD was with God…”
May our words reflect The WORD, in Truth and in Love. Keeping in mind, that sometimes, the best word is The WORD, offered in silent solidarity of the moment—an unspoken word that says more than words could ever express.