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Posts Tagged ‘power of words’

Asaph was struggling–or at least he was remembering a time he had been.  People don’t say things like, “…I was in distress,” or “… my soul refused to be comforted,” or “I was too troubled to speak” (things would have to be really, really horrible for me to get to that last one!) unless they’re having a tough time of it.  It had gotten to the point where he was beginning to have doubts about the big things:  “Has God’s unfailing love vanished forever?…Has His promise failed for all time?  Has God forgotten to be merciful?”

As all of this tumbled out of his heart to his mind and to his mouth, Asaph had an “Aha!” moment.  Bubbling up through all that rot was something on which he could get a grip and to which he could cling:  “the years of the right hand of the Most High.”  Figuratively, the right hand was the place from where good came.  It was a place of favor.  Asaph, in a flash of recall, didn’t lock on a single event, but instead flipped through the rolodex of time.  He began to “remember the deeds of the LORD… [His] miracles of long ago.”

Maybe he remembered the giant building project that God had set for a certain Noah and his sons–a boat bigger than anyone had ever seen or heard of, to save from a degree of destructiveness no one could fathom, brought about by the agency of an amount of water that was unthinkable.  God preserved that one little family and a boatful of animal pairs for the continuation of humanity and of His creation.   Maybe Asaph thought about the time, just as his forefather Abraham had been about to slit the throat of his son Isaac because God had told him to offer the boy as a sacrifice and it was Abraham’s habit to do what God said, that a loud bleat of a ram caught in a thicket nearby had been God’s way of being a Rescuer in a different way, providing a sacrifice that wasn’t a dearly loved son, just at the time when Abraham needed Him to come through, but not a moment sooner.

There had been miracles, too.  Water that did funny things like turn from bitter to sweet when a stick was thrown into it, or that came out of a rock when a man named Moses struck it, or, for goodness sake! that blew up into giant walls on both sides of a dry path made right through the middle of a sea!  Donkeys that talked, days made longer by the sun standing still, and a young boy given strength to kill a lion and a bear and, finally, a giant, with the unsophisticated weaponry that was a simple sling and a few rocks.

By the time Asaph has mentally visited a few of these “memorials” from his nation’s past or maybe some from a nearer, more personal time in his own or his immediate family’s life, his heart is singing a different tune:  “What God is so great as our God?…With your mighty arm You redeemed your people.”  He’s really on a roll now, enumerating nature’s response to this Almighty One: writhing, convulsing waters; resounding thunder; flashing lightning; quaking earth.  He recognizes the Unseenness of the One whose power can’t help but be seen if we are looking:  “Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.”

For all that, the personal touch of this mighty God in whom Asaph’s confidence has been restored by considering what he’s seen is not lost on him:  “You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”  In that simple declaration, God’s tender shepherd qualities and the fact that He often works His wonders and His will through human agency are acknowledged.

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These are the things that I pondered as I reflected on Psalm 77 this morning.  It made me think again of a song lyric that comes to my mind often–“We’ll praise Him for all that is past and trust Him for all that is to come.”  In those moments when life’s low times would grab at my feet and threaten to keep me under till I’m overwhelmed and drowning because of the weightiness of living in this place that sometimes lacks light and harmony and beauty, I must do what Asaph did.  I must consider what I’ve seen.  When I do, the low times let go and I rise to the surface to breathe in the beautiy of life in the sun, with a buoyancy that will let me get to a place of looking up, of rescue, of going on with hope and assurance.

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Maybe whoever said not to talk about politics or religion in social conversation was on to something.

Twice in as many days, I have read a string of comments and counter-comments on Facebook that have, in my estimation, amounted to a verbal spat. In both cases, the precipitating issue was political.   I must confess that I have, on occasion, “vented” in my own Facebook status or in this blog about things political.  I have also from time to time raised a question about someone’s strongly expressed opinion, just to pose another possibility. Mostly, though, I appreciate the uplifting and encouraging comments that I regularly read on Facebook–and I feel that a few minutes have been well-spent if I can be on the giving as well as receiving end of some each day.   So, I was quite surprised at the vehemence bordering on meanness that came through in the “conversations” I observed. And I was grieved.

In both cases, the “Facebook fights” I encountered appeared to have erupted over either a) a difference of opinion or b) a misunderstanding of what someone said.  What do we do in face-to-face conversations when either of those situations occurs?  If the goal is to be diplomatic or gracious or really to understand, we ask a question.  In the news feed eruptions, instead of being asked a question, the commenter was jumped on verbally, and, most surprisingly to me, was the object of name-calling.

I grieve because the “fights” were started and perpetuated by Christ-followers.  I have no way of knowing if those to whom the counter-comments were directed were also Christ followers.  But, I’m pretty sure Facebook fights are not an application of the Golden Rule or the command to love our neighbors.  And, if it matters if we are winsome in matters political, we will never get there by ugly argumentation with our fellow travelers.  Even in perilous times when the truth seems to be a rare commodity, we stand to gain more ground by speaking the truth in love to those who disagree with us than by screaming the truth at them in high-pitched voices.

We live in troubled and troubling times.  It’s putting people on edge.  It’s sending some people over the edge.  Some are lining up on the edge.  Many are lining up on opposing edges.  But, we need to seek not to let it make us edgy with each other.

Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer every man….” (Colossians 4:6)

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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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My horseback experience is limited to riding the ponies at the zoo or at the county fair of my childhood and maybe a time or two of trail riding somewhere.  I’m a little timid when it comes to animals that are taller than I am.  Nevertheless, I’ve been around long enough to have heard it said that if you fall off or get tossed off an equine back, the best means for conquering the fear of a repeat episode is to get right back in the saddle. 

(I hope I’m not turning a corner here, now, so fast as to give you mental whiplash… hang on…)  I’ve noticed something on the weather reports in the past week.  Whenever there has been a threat of “freezing rain” or a “wintry mix” in the prediction, the weather guy has been quick to say that there is no threat to limbs or power lines in this weather event–just the possibility of travel hazards.  Odd as it may sound, those are soothing words to a city that is still recovering from a pretty heavy-duty ice storm that left tornado-like tree damage and days-long power outages the week before Christmas.  Kindly so, the weather man anticipated our fears in light of our recent past experience, and did something to ease them. 

When I heard those words–“no damage to trees or power lines anticipated”–in today’s winter weather advisory, it did calm me…and set me thinking.  I thought about the “get back on the horse” theory.  I also thought about people who have had other negative experiences and are now paralyzed by fear of further hurt or damage to the point where they are unable to move beyond their past experiences.  What if someone is too afraid to get past a bad experience–in relationships, in a new endeavor, in the church? 

Sometimes–I would venture to guess in nearly all but the most traumatic experiences–maybe all it takes is a little hand holding or a few soothing words.  That requires someone who is in the know–of the situation and of the person–to anticipate fears in light of past experiences and to offer the supportive hand or the calming words. 

It only took the weather man a few extra seconds.  It may require a little more investment on my part to be the hand holder or the soothing word speaker, but…

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Are there things you’d say/have said through your fingers at the keyboard putting words on the screen that you’d never say to someone’s dear face?

I just finished replying to an email that was a solicited critique of a brochure I’d put together for a ministry area at church. I could feel the “It’s mine!” (foot stomping here) “Give it to me!” (snatch!) of the me-centered response of a little child rise up in me as I shaped my counterwords in reply.  I believe I was able to be gracious, put that uprisng of spirit in its place, and grant (and follow through with) some of the changes suggested by my cohort, at the same time explaining a bit more why I felt some of the original bits should remain as they are.  Because I have a good working relationship with the person on the other end, I’m pretty sure we will end up with a fine brochure that reflects the best evaluation of two minds and two sets of eyes.

However, that little rebel within nags at me.  I admit there are times that I have plunked! out! an email! reply! in anger! or self-defense! that–thankfully–I have held overnight, only to delete entirely or mostly the next day to be replaced by cooler, more measured, less self-focused, less defensive sentiments.  In those moments, I have been thankful that I’ve learned the power of words and have learned–in a few instances, the hard way–that they should not be thrust as daggers into hearts we care about, but rather laid gently as petals or weighty jewels around those same hearts. 

I see the danger of only having that screen before me as my words go forth.  Maybe I should place the photo before me of the one who will be on the receiving end of every word I type–or at least be sure that face is clearly in my mind’s eye as I picture the email opened. 

(And, then, there’s the deeper root matter of dealing with that little rebel within…another post?)

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