Monday, June 24, 2013

Sticks and Stones

This was the alternate post to the last one I posted. I wrote this one first and then decided that putting the same thoughts in story form had more power. I wanted readers to feel the weight of the words and I thought that could be done better in a narrative. I would love to hear thoughts of comparison between the two posts.

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."

Most of us grew up learning this little rhyme, but the problem is it could not be further from true. Words do hurt. They can be as painful and destructive as a machine gun randomly fired into a crowded room.

"You are such a mess."
"You are hopeless."
"You're not good enough."
"I give up on you."
"You are just like...(fill in the blank with any number of hurtful comparisons)"

Words like these stick. They get lodged in a person's psyche, slowly leaking their poison over time. Sometimes they are so loud nothing else can get in as they eat away at self-worth, and confidence, and block out feelings of love and acceptance.

Thankfully, the opposite can also be true. Words can heal. The right word, spoken in the right way and at the right time can be as precise as a surgeon's scalpel.

"You are loved."
"You didn't do anything wrong."
"I believe you."
"You can do it."
"You are a miracle."

These words are sometimes painfully true in the moment they are spoken, especially when spoken into the heart of one who has been poisoned by the opposite. The bad stuff is often easier to believe. However, when we give these positive messages the chance to sink in, when we really allow ourselves to sit and dwell with these things long enough, they become the antidote to the poison. Slowly, over time, we can find healing. It is not a magic formula for healing overnight, but it can happen.

Ultimately, there is one word that is able to heal over all others. The Gospel of John tells us about that Word. It is the Word who was God that became flesh. Jesus, the Incarnate Word came to bring the ultimate healing for forgiveness and abundance. Listen to a few of His words.

"Your sins are forgiven."
"Arise and walk."
"My peace I give to you."
"Come, follow Me."

We have the power to choose the words we abide in and the words that come out of our mouth. Will we choose words of destruction, or words of promise? Will we choose words of pain and hurt, or words of hope and healing? Will we abide in the words of our own flesh, or the Word which became flesh for us? Words are powerful. Choose them wisely.  

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Words Have Power

 I do not write a lot of fiction these days. In fact, the last fictional short story I wrote was for Dr. Tony Cartledge's Ministry of Writing class several years ago. It is not that I do not still love to write stories, but simply that I do not often find time and opportunity to craft a good fictional story. I want everything I write to convey important message and meaning for people. The following story is a fictional account, but it is one that, given the number of victims of sexual and physical abuse, could have been played out very similarly in many lives. If you have been touched by abuse in some way, I hope the words of this story are healing to you. Even if you have not been effected personally, I hope that you can learn something from this story. Trigger Warning: Sexual and Physical abuse are discussed in this post.

"You didn't do anything wrong."

The words were almost painful to hear because of their truth. It was even harder to believe. They were as precise as a surgeon's scalpel, penetrating through years of hurtful and abusive words and actions. They were words that, as she would allow herself to dwell in them would allow for healing.

Only one other time had words penetrated so deeply and so accurately into Carlie's painful past. It was in the arms of her husband one night that he uttered the words, "You are loved." Though she knew that Philip had spoken, she felt as though the words came from God directly. It was the first time she ever felt truly loved, truly worthy of love.

Though these words were spoken to a grown woman, married with children of her own, she did not hear them that way. She heard them as a little girl, abused and neglected. The memory that stood out most was when she was nine years old. She told her parents what had happened only to be met by a silent, disapproving glare from her mother. Later she listened as her parents fought over her. Clearly her father believed her, but her mother refused to. She heard her mother call her names that she could not reveal to anyone, or even repeat in her journal. Nevertheless, she did believe the things her mother said. Mothers are supposed to be right after all, and they are supposed to be believed. "I must have done something wrong," she wrote in her journal the next morning after the yelling had stopped. "I brought this on myself and and I really am the whore my mother told my father I am."

Carlie was nine years old on the night she wrote that journal entry, but the abuse began long before that. She was abused sexually by her uncle, physically by her mother, and emotionally by her mother, grandmother, and even her older brothers on occasion who were constantly critical of everything from her appearance to the way she walked and talked. The years of abuse had damaged her self worth, and her ability to feel loved.

When Carlie became a Christian as a young teenager, she thought she had found a way out of the criticism and abuse. The promise of "all things becoming new" meant that she had a chance of escaping the labels that had been put on her. For awhile it helped a little for her to feel better about herself. Eventually she even enrolled in a Christian college where she caught the attention of Phillip, a young man studying to be a pastor. The two were engaged within a year.

When they returned home to share the news, the nightmare began again. Her mother found her alone and began her attack. "What makes you think you're good enough to be a pastor's wife? You are too selfish and spoiled. You'll never be good enough."

Those words would haunt Carlie. They opened the door and brought back all the insecurities and pain from childhood. The physical abuse from her mother and the sexual abuse from her uncle all came flooding back, as did the feelings that it was her fault because of the words which served to constantly tear her down. Words hurt. They can tear into the heart and mind of a person like a machine gun carelessly fired into a crowded room, and they are much more difficult to remove than a stray bullet. They stay lodged in, slowly and steadily leaking their poison into the soul.

Words can also be the antidote, but only when the poisonous words are quieted enough to hear the healing ones. "You are loved," penetrated into the soul of a little girl who felt unlovable. "You didn't do anything wrong," spoke directly to a five year old who could not say "no" to an uncle who was much bigger and stronger than her, and to the eight year old who was slapped around and called names by her mother.

Words have power to wound and to heal. Sometimes we use too many words, and they lose their power. My hope is that this story reminds us all that we are responsible for what comes out of our mouths. We never know what another person has endured. The Bible tells us that, "Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks." I hope that my mouth overflows with words of healing, restoration, and peace today.