Generous, ordinary words

imageA few evenings ago I caught myself in some rather nostalgic contemplation as I was doing dishes late at night. I was thinking about words that had been said to me that had meant the most in my life. Oddly enough, I don’t think any of the people who spoke them would have given them a second thought; especially not imagined that they would mean that much to me.

For example, out of all the things my dad ever told me (and there were many very good and helpful things), the most special one to me was so simple and ordinary. (I’m planning on posting about another one closer to Father’s Day)

I was fourteen or fifteen and in the middle of having braces. I had pined for braces since I was a little girl because I thought they were so cool. = ) Luckily I had inherited my father’s rather crooked teeth, so soon enough I got my wish. Overall, it had been a great experience; not nearly as painful or bothersome as I had heard others describe.

However, one particular time after an appointment, my mouth and jaw were really hurting, the only time I remember this happening. I walked by my dad’s door and saw him resting on his bed from a long week of work. He must have asked how I was doing and I decided to tell him that my mouth was hurting pretty bad.

I’m sure he said he was sorry or something, but there is one thing he said that I’ll never forget. “Just remember I had them, too; and I know exactly how you feel.”

I probably just smiled, said thanks, and went on with whatever I was doing. But everything in me felt completely better.

Isn’t it strange how much that impacted me?

Another one that struck me unexpectedly was a simple remark that a man in our church choir had made right before I left for college. I had been the church pianist for about four years, so naturally lots of people were coming around to give goodbye hugs and good wishes for that next step in my life. One quiet man told me with a small smile that he remembered when I first started playing for the choir. (It was when my sister had left for college) He said he remembered how hard it was for me to play even the simple choir accompaniments, and how fun it had been to watch as I grew little by little. I’ll never forget those words. Forget all the compliments from other performances in my life; someone remembered when it was hard, when I was just a complete play-by-ear fake who had to really work at reading music.

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I began to think that possibly the words I speak that will be remembered will be ones I’m completely oblivious to, spoken only in passing. I mean of all the things I say to my girls day after day what will really warm their heart when they’re all grown up doing dishes late at night? Of all the words that I speak to friends or casual acquaintances what will it be that matters?

It appears the answer is… who knows?

Sometimes I recall a conversation or remark spoken in passing and think, “Why is my first reaction to say something about myself? Or, wow, what I said had some really negative undertones. Is that really what’s in my heart?” Of course, we can say good or wholesome things when someone approaches us for help or when we have a chance to prepare. But what do my mindless words that spill out communicate to others? What should they teach me?

As I stood there scrubbing away, I desired for God to change my heart; to make me someone who loved others above myself; to give me a spirit that would generously speak compassion and love even when I’m not really thinking. Every day so many words are spoken. May they be redeemed to be ones that bless and minister grace in the moment, whether they’re ever remembered or not.

Keep the door of my lips

If there’s one thing that bothers me about the first trimester of pregnancy, it’s the emotional highs and lows. Mostly the lows.

Feeling sick or tired is pretty clear cut. I feel like this because there’s a baby growing inside me.

But crankiness? impatience? frustration? a sharp tongue? I mean honestly, when was the last time you were like, “Oh, I’m flaming mad at my husband for being late because there’s a baby growing inside me.” No problem. I can just cut that emotion off right there.

It never feels that way. All the things around us that we perceive seem so real! Surely everyone in the world doesn’t turn into an inconsiderate mob the minute our hormones kick in; but it feels like the problem is with everyone else. Surely not us.

I was just a few weeks into realizing I was pregnant when I began to notice that the days were getting much harder. All of the sudden, the childishness of the girls began to get under my skin. I heard the words coming out of my mouth as harsh and unkind, not loving and patient.

At night, I would talk to Paul. “It’s so hard! I’m not any less accountable to be patient and kind, but the temptation to speak and act harshly is so much greater!” Every single minute is a battle. Every conversation. The days where you “do well” just mean you literally were fighting your flesh every five minutes and just barely surviving. At the end of the day, you are emotionally and spiritually exhausted. And there’s the days where you don’t feel like you win at all. At the end of those days you just feel really, really low.

I was sitting in church about a month ago, when I remembered a fragment of verse.

It had been one of those mornings. I had felt upset at everything and everyone. I had gotten really close to letting my feelings fly out of my mouth. Thankfully, through the schedule and rush of the morning I hadn’t had a chance. I sat in the service thinking through the morning. Slowly, my feelings subsided. I realized that it had just been a very normal morning. In fact, better than most. There were a few things good that had happened that didn’t usually.

The only real problem was me. Everything came from my perception of the circumstances, and those perceptions were being filtered by my heightened emotions.

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Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips. Psalm 141:3

If there was ever a time I needed to pray that verse, this was it.

So that became my verse for those weeks of my life. I can’t say I worked on memorizing it or even remembered it during hard times. The basic concept in my mind was, Don’t say anything when you feel like it. Give it some time and see if you feel differently after the initial emotions have worn off. Nine times out of ten I realized that it was really nothing. And if it was something, time gives you a much better perspective.

As I said with my napping light bulb moment, why did it have to take me until the fifth pregnancy to realize this? I wish it hadn’t; but at least now it’s helping. The crazy dramatic feelings have been less since about week thirteen, but pregnancy still has a way of getting to you.

I need to be praying even more for help to stay calm and kind. Homeschooling, potty training starting soon, busy schedules… temptation to lose it won’t be far.

Certainly there is grace and help to match the times of pregnant need.