Go word watching

I’m using a song to take a message from:

“You can be amazing; you can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug.”

This is the song Brave. So as you can guess this article is about words. (The title’s a bit of a giveaway.) Ever feel like words are mostly empty these days? They used to mean so much; now we call them cliché. Well, it’s not that words have lost their power, but that we have lost our hearing.

Listening well takes a good deal of practice, and a lot of people prefer not to take time to do it.

In frustrated moments I have blurted out things plainly (I thought) that I would much rather have only hinted at, but no one heeded the hints. Sadly, people have seldom (I won’t say never) heeded plain speaking either.

Hysteria: An uncontrollable emotional outburst, as from fear or grief, often characterized by irrationality, laughter, weeping etc.

I think hysteria is born of frustrated silence. From unbalanced people. Like Miss Amelia in “A little princess.” Let’s hope we won’t get to that point or if we do that we won’t park there. Even if you have, there’s a way out.

Words are weapons, and like any weapon they can be handled with reserve and control and skill, or maniacally by an ill-trained  or cruel person. Watch you words. This is told to us from a young age. By our parents, our teachers, our extended family, even our pastors. But they don’t always tell us why. Or how. So we end up confused and unsure what situations call for words and what ones call for silence.

I sometimes suffer from allergies that affect my sinuses. When this happens my ears can get plugged or drain uncomfortably. I can still hear, but the funny feeling distracts me and makes me fall out of it. How many of us have this with our mental hearing? We hear, but it’s like we aren’t fully present or something is plugging our understanding. We’re easily distracted.

But I am tired of only hearing about problems, and I’m sure you are too; let’s move on.

The thing is, no one tells us what to watch our words for. As an early adolescent I was constantly told I was rude and disrespectful. Often I had no idea. People would then tell me they were trying to help, but they wouldn’t really help. They explained my problem but were short of any solution other than for me to change my attitude. That was one thing I needed to do, but even after that I continued to blunder my words. I wrote stuff back then, and my writing suffered from lack of tact, taste, and detail. I realized this eventually. But while everyone could explain–over explain–my problem, no one could tell me a good way to resolve it. It’s looking back at this that makes me so glad there’s a God who cares about us. No better Therapist. Thanks to a lot of good reading–and that includes my Bible–I finally started to have a clue. It’s been slow; I’m not naturally a person considerate of the effect of my careless words. But a few simple rules would help.

Firstly. Something someone should’ve told me years ago (and I should’ve listened if they did) is to consider how I would like that said to me. This is fairly easy. If you’ve any imagination, picture yourself in the other person’s position both emotionally and physically. Reading a lot of books by various authors is helpful; one that’s helped me a lot is the Ever After High series by Shannon Hale. Because it covers two people from opposite perspectives yet though one is shown to be more clear-thinking, both have flaws and good qualities that make you respect them both even when you don’t agree. The web series the books are based on is also a great study of diverse characters. Another good read is “Till we have faces” by C. S. Lewis. But virtually any decent book provides multiple perspectives if you only look. Another good idea is to practice sympathizing even with people you like and understand.

This rule is often given as the best and greatest key to communication, but actually it is only the first step. As Stephen R. Covey put it, “Seek first to understand then to be understood.”

Secondly. Explain yourself. ( I must put a disclaimer here; this next step only works in certain situations. I would not try it in a high stress environment. Been there, and it never works. Unless with extremely mature people–apply step one in these circumstances. People often don’t mean what they say when they’re upset.) I have had to use trial and error in learning to do this. You probably will too. But I have a tip: be concise. The best trick I know for that is to think out your idea or complaint 2 or 3 times privately or with a third party, before bringing it to the person in question. I journal it. Also never explain something when you’re angry. It’s okay to be emotional. But as soon as anger comes in, reason weakens. I know–it feels so good to rant, but that is better done in private.

Choose your words carefully. Watching your words is about watching not what you mean (intend), but what you convey. too often I’ve meant to compliment and conveyed an insult. People have also hurt my feelings when they meant to be playful. Also, you can mean strength and convey anger. Or mean caution and convey fear. People read words, and read into words, differently. Sometimes it is not your fault. But a little extra thought might go along way in explaining. Know who you’re talking to. My dad appreciates clever humor with sincerity, my mom likes straight but gentle talk. I like energetic but affectionate communication. Each of us can easily misunderstand the other if we don’t consider.

Thirdly. But watching you words goes even beyond that. Sometimes you will have to say what nobody, not even yourself, wants to hear. You’ll be under peer pressure, and it’s so easy to frame our words into the most tolerant phrasing we can. Or, if you’re on the other end of the spectrum, you might overstate everything. Looking back, I rarely like that. I prefer grace seasoned with salt. a grace-filled word is like an apple of gold in a setting of silver. A valuable commodity in a rare situation. And the richer your words are the more of such situations you have. “If a situation is tarnished from ill-treatment in the past, that calls for even more care in the present. A family situation is a good example. You can hit a sore spot, but if you keep your head you just might smooth it out. “A gentle word can break a bone,” is another proverb. That sounds bad, but you’ve likely heard about necessary breaks, or that broken bones can heal back stronger than before.

A note on this: Playing off people’s emotions can be a low trick. Especially in America with our constant advertising. But some emotions are appropriate to big things. And it’s more scary or sad if you can’t evoke any than if you can. A good rule of thumb might be if you haven’t felt what you’re evoking, then it’s probably manipulation and hypocrisy.

In summary, watch you words for inconsiderateness; watch your words for clarity; and watch  your words for sincerity. (Which means to be without guile, without cover up of a blemish.) But the Bible puts it this way: guard your mouth. A guard keeps out threats and keeps in threats. It also makes threats if necessary. Tone can be everything as we all know. I hope these three rules help you. I know I need them myself–Natasha.


Turn: Part 6

“A time to gain and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to throw away; a time to tear and a time to sew; a time to keep silence and a time to speak.” Eccl 3:6-7

I’ve talked about keeping and throwing away before. And tearing and sewing. But I’ll briefly mention them.

Let’s look at clutter. Clutter is anything with no obvious or immediate use that lies around taking up space. The trouble with clutter is that it takes up good storage space. And when we get new thing we have no where to put them and they become more clutter. Kind of a cycle. Clutter often represents old dreams. That tool we’ve always wanted to use; that dish we’ve always wanted to try; that place we’ve always wanted to go; that book we’ve always meant to read. The sheer accumulation of stuff is exhausting, till one doesn’t even want to think about it. Well, then it’s time to decide what you will keep and what needs to be thrown away. I’m naturally a pack rat, so it’s a challenge to throw away anything I ever might use. But one just has to bear down on it after procrastinating for too long. Dreams are great, aired out and re-examined as Anne of Avonlea said.

Of course, tearing out old threads and sewing things back up applies to any range of things.

But on the note of keeping let me turn to another subject–our thought lives.

I think a writer has a unique perspective on thought. Because, at least in my case; we leave our thought everywhere. Put on paper, my thoughts can get carried all over my house, left on furniture or on the kitchen counter. In my room it often looks like a tornado met a stack of paper. This, however, means my thoughts are disorganized. It’s quite a poignant metaphor for actual thinking. If our minds were a house, our thoughts would often be all over the place, and in the wrong place. Important ones might be on the floor, why secondary lists of things would be on the wall. I need better organization. Often the trouble is we don’t take the time to organize; at other times there is just no place to put stuff.

When organizing my papers, I find old ideas I don’t need anymore, plans I can’t carry out, and even nasty blowing-off-steam writings that I just threw out. Making more room for important stuff. I’ll find old dream and goal lists. I’ll find gifts from other people or I’ll find stories I wrote that I can improve upon.

If we just took a few minutes a day to examine our own thoughts in the same way, we’d be surprised at the trash–and treasure–we would find. Hint: The best way is to catch a thought as it comes and either think it through or discard it immediately. Purposely.

And readers, the time to speak is coming; or perhaps it is at hand now. I am tired of silence. Not pure silence. Peaceful silence. No I want that. I am tired of scared, or guilty, silence. The silence of people who have been thoroughly cowed. It is time to shut up about what we want and what bothers us; and instead speak about what we need and what is wrong and must be stopped.

Life: The heart of the issue of abortion.

I have heard someone say “if your opinion is right than why do you feel the urge to get upset about someone else’s?” But as good as this sounds, I was disturbed about the example he had used: abortion.

I have to say, I was with him until then. But I can’t condone that because it is something to get upset about. In fact, anything you perceive as very wrong is okay to get upset about. That is the healthy reaction. It is not that I am in favor of knee-jerk reactions. (I’m not and I’ve thought this article out.) There are plenty of subjects this guy’s advice applies to–but never abortion. You cannot talk lightly about such an evil. Yes, I called it an evil. I don’t do that lightly. I have a reason for making abortion exempt from his advice and this is it: If this guy had said to be calm about the issue of domestic violence, homicide, or even arson, (any of the clinically insane, or wicked crimes,) there would have been no debate about whether it (the crime) was the wise choice, or the best one. No one would claim those things should be made legal, unpunishable, or considered harmless. Or helpful to society. Even the most tolerant of political persons would not say that. (Publicly anyway.) They would not advocate homicide.

How has abortion been reduced to an issue even in the minds of Christians? Just introducing it as a political issue has effectively got everyone’s minds off whether it is an evil or not, and onto simply what their individual rights are…How dare we? Since when is it okay to justify any other crime by the person’s individual rights to commit whatever felony they wish? How can you have a right to do wrong? In their heart of hearts, I believe everyone knows it’s not right; whatever they may think to the contrary. But that is beside the point.

Even so, the pro-life campaign often lacks gusto, or is far too angry. (Not always.) I am sick at heart when I listen to other Christians or conservatives speak so “logically” and “rationally” about it. It is not that we shouldn’t be rational. It is that we are so used to the idea. What has happened to us? One word: desensitized.

I have a personal example: A couple of years back I took it upon myself to do something pro-life. To be a good Christian. And to my dismay; my first wall I had to crash through was the apathy and indifference I myself felt. Sadly, my passion had more to do with a teenager’s desire to be up and doing, and to shake things up, than because I had any real sense of the value of life. I realized I didn’t have much. Only the barest hint that  I ought to. And a disgust with the whole abortion process. Anyone can have that.

It is to my shame that I admit this, and that even today I am no expert on how valuable life is. But back then I did what I do ultimately with every problem, I took it to God and asked Him to change my heart. Whether everyone would agree that it is Him who did so, I don’t know. But it is true that I have learned some things about valuing life

The first one was this: Our lack of value for these babies’ lives actually reflects a lack of value for our own lives. Do you really think it’s coincidental that suicide rate has sky-rocketed right along with abortion rates? Not to mention the aforementioned homicide, and less obvious things like self-induced health problems, cutting, and depression have increased also. It can all be traced to an undervalue of our own lives and bodies. If you will not care properly for yourself, how can you care for someone else? As a pre-teen, I spent a lot of time wondering what I was even alive for because I was so miserable. Over a period of a few years God began to show me that I had value simply because I was loved by Him. (What else gives anything true value?) And that my life was a gift from Him; both to me and to the world. God loves every baby and every person. And He gives each of us His gift of life.

“The Thief comes to steal, to kill, and to destroy; I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” John 10:10

Secondly. Faith of our Fathers. I like to read about the American Revolution and the prelude to it. And in reading the writings of our founding fathers, and about their actions, it was quite clear to me that they put a high value on human life. In fact, at that time, it was generally accepted that human life had immense worth. They respected their own lives and each others more than our most celebrated people of today respect theirs. Why?

It was their belief in God. I delivered a speech a couple years ago about abortion. At the end of it I concluded. “Life is what we would call ‘sacred’ something that is important to God.” Holy. King David actually prayed that God would deliver him “because I am holy.” That is such an unusual thing for someone to say in the Bible that it caught my attention. What was David onto that we are not? In the Bible it says God began human life and made Man according to His own likeness. It also refers to God’s commands as the path of life.  Finally Jesus himself declared. “I am…the life.” God takes life very seriously. In Proverbs it warns of seven things God calls an abomination. One of them is this: “Hands that shed innocent blood.” Note the word innocent. Innocent means the person has done nothing wrong. Existing is not a crime but a privilege. (A friend of mine says “there are no illegitimate children, just illegitimate parents.”) Thomas Jefferson so famously called it “a right.” Unalienable. That means you cannot negate it. You cannot take it out of context. There are no loopholes. No exceptions. The race or age or upbringing of the person does not matter. When Jefferson said all men are created equal he was referring to our three rights. Folks, there is no inequality of life. Either you are alive, or you are dead. End of discussion.

Before I give my third thing I want to share a story.

Once a long time ago, there was a girl named Mary. There was nothing notably special about her, save that she had immense faith. One day Mary was going about her business, never dreaming there was anything unusual  afoot. And then out of nowhere an angel appeared to her. Greeting her as the favored of God. To her amazement, he proceeded to tell her she would become pregnant with the Son of God. Mary of course was astounded. And asked how this would happen since she was a virgin. I’m sure she was probably thinking “Not to mention I’m engaged!” The angel told her the spirit of God would come upon her. Okay–weird. Being pregnant out of wedlock would get a woman stoned in those days, not a fun way to die. But Mary said “Let it be with me as you say.”

Imagine if Mary had lived nowadays. What would her friends have encouraged her to do? Quite possibly to have an abortion. Can’t you just see it? “Oh Mary, yeah, you screwed up, but hey, no one has to know. Having a baby will ruin your life right now. Think of what your man will say? Your parents will kill you. Literally.” And so on. Am I the only one the idea of aborting the Son of God is freaky to? It’s absolutely horrible to think of doing that. But every life is God given. That horridness is just as poignant with every other human child.

Thirdly. Life is beautiful.  Books and nature mostly are what helped me to realize this. Reading The Enchanted April or The Secret Garden reawakened my imagination to what a fine thing it is to be living. Living things are beautiful and human life is beautiful. The things we experience, the obstacles we overcome, the joy we spread in each others lives. Life is not a convenience. It is the second most valuable thing we have. (The first being the love of God which gave us life.)

My reason for writing this is to inspire people to discover life’s value for themselves, and then to protect it. And fight for it–everywhere. We need those who will speak up and stop treating abortion like a mere issue. It is not. It is literally a matter of life and death. If you are a Christian, I implore you to take a few moments to pray about this, asking God to open your heart. Lastly, be thankful for this most precious of gifts–life.


Turn: Part 4

“A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing.” Ecclesiastes 3:5

The idea of casting away stones in the bible seems akin to the practice of stoning (no not on drugs.) One of the worst forms of punishment for sin in the Old Testament. And gathering stone could refer to that as well. however The Preacher’s (Solomon) father King David used a sling in his early days to defend himself from threats. He would gather stones and then of course sling them away. Interestingly stones were also used to build altars to sacrifice to the Most High on. But laying aside biblical application for the moment, let’s think about what the action of gathering and casting away actually symbolizes: Preparation and action.

There is a time to prepare for meting out justice, defending you home, and purifying yourself; and then there is the time to stop preparing and actually do it. That goes for just about everything. Work, relationships, studying.

And upon mentioning relationships I come to the second half of the verse. Honestly. Being the homeschooled Christian that I am, I’ve mostly heard this verse used in context with Purity. Which is most certainly one application. But in my limited experienced embracing means much more than hormones. It requires trust to let someone touch you and to touch them. Even if it’s no more than a shoulder pat or a hand squeeze or the notorious side-hug. If you touch someone before they are ready you create unpleasantness in the relationship. And mistrust, if you persist long enough. But then again, sometimes people don’t know how much they need it. I’m serious, at my church hugging is the thing, and at first I felt awkward with it, but then I began to appreciate it. At least people thought of me enough for that even if they couldn’t say much by way of greeting. It’s not too hard to tell when someone is just uncomfortable and when they’re flat out disturbed.

And embracing is more than physical. There’s a time to open up inside, and a time to refrain from doing so because the other person is just not ready or able to return it. There’s a time to pull someone close, and a time to give them their space. There’s preparation for this too, Like courting or dating before getting engaged.

I’ve read that in the time of Christ, engagement consisted of a year of abstinence before official marriage, during that time the man would build a house and court the young woman; building her trust we can hope. I’ve read similar things about some tribes of native Americans. That the families would observe the couple individually to see if they were good workers and would make good companions for each other. It seems like a wise idea to me, preparing for commitment is kind of like standing on the edge of a diving board. You want to get into the right position and jump from the right place on the board and launch a perfect dive.

There are seasons in and of preparation and they are different for everyone. The important thing is to remember to exercise restraint and allow for time. And to give other people time as well. Don’t use the phrase “You’re holding out on me.” Preparation is the time to learn patience because like it or not, every season of life is preparing you for another. I like to think of it as going from glory to glory.

Be prepared for part 5, until then–Natasha