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In my quest to become a freelance professional book indexer, I registered for my next indexing class yesterday. At the USDA Graduate School site where I needed to sign up, things had changed since the last class I took. In fact, there was one of those “pardon our dust” kinds of notices there as the site was in the process of implementing a new registration account system that will enable students to track their courses and course work in what apparently is hoped to be a one-stop-shop.

The process did not go well. I have gotten pretty good at using online websites for ordering things. Most of the sites I’ve worked with have had logical, straightforward procedures for placing the order, giving the credit card payment info, and confirming the order and shipping details. Not this one, not this time. After muddling through the unclear steps and still not being 100% certain I was registered for the class and would be receiving the materials anytime soon–all I knew was that they took my money and let me print a (sort-of) receipt–I was frustrated and disappointed. I had looked forward to signing up for this next class, in part because I am eager to get at it, and in part because the process had been so simple the last time around.

So, I did what any good online shopper would do–I registered a query and a complaint with customer support. Only, when I got to the part of my email that came after my factual explanation of what I’d encountered, the part where I would be inclined to let my emotions take over and to let someone “have it”, something was checked in my thinking and my spirit, and I slowed down and toned it down to courteous words and an empathetic tone. After all, the person on the receiving end of my email would likely not be the person who had decided to change the registration procedure that had complicated and frazzled my previous morning hour. The only thing that would be accomplished by a mean rant would be the spoiling of someone else’s morning and possibly leaving a bad impression of the faceless but named student who is me. I would have sent the kind of crabby note that is easily deleted–click.

God helped me be clear and firm, but gracious too….thankfully. For, at about 6:45PM yesterday, the phone rang. It was Lynn from the USDA Graduate School. She was calling with a personal reply/apology/confirmation of my registration/answer to my question about when the materials would ship. Her words that have stuck in my brain since then were “I thought your email deserved a personal phone call.” When I reiterated to her the thinking noted above that had held back my rant, she went on to say that she understood entirely my frustration–the system does have some bugs, she acknowledged– and that the person to whom she would be passing on my note–the person who could actually do something about the problem– would give it more weighted consideration because of the way it was worded.

Whew! Thank you, God, for that check in my spirit and for helping me do the right thing. It made me think about other times that the temptation has come to rip and shred people when things didn’t go right. The “doors” my high school friend Ginny’s mom used to caution us to walk our words through come to mind: “Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?” ….just thinkin’. Thanks to Lynn for reminding me that words matter, even ones to unseen strangers…maybe especially one to unseen strangers.

Let your speech be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Colossians 4:6)

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