Lately I’ve been thinking about what an enormous impact they have.
When I was in junior high, my best friend’s little sister told me I had chicken legs. I was a skinny little kid with long legs that probably did resemble chicken legs – but that one comment – from a four-year-old kid, mind you – was enough to make me so self-conscious about my legs that the thought of having to wear shorts for gym class made me physically ill.
When I graduated from high school, my friends and I had a post-prom bonfire to reminisce about the “good ‘ole days” – and to say good-bye, since we would soon be scattered all across the province. The only thing I remember from that night (well, apart from the fact that Jenelle’s fish pond had a poor pH balance and all of her fish had died – and were rotting – while we were having our campout) was the fact that Paul’s girlfriend – who I had just met that night – laughed at me in my baggy sweatpants and told me that I had no bum. I spent years wearing shopping for long shirts to hide that fact.
By the time I was in my third year of university, I thought I was comfortable enough with who I was to brave wearing shorts to a retreat our church hosted for the leaders of our young adults group. By that point I actually liked my legs – riding a couple of horses a day for years meant I definitely didn’t have chicken legs - but it also meant that even when I was outside, I was most likely in breeches and boots or jeans and half chaps. When my young adults pastor put on his sunglasses and told me that my legs were blinding him … well, out came the jeans, even though it was probably 30º all weekend. That was eight summers ago, and the only shorts I own (which I’m still hesitant to wear!) are knee-length.
I can tell myself that what those people said doesn’t matter. I mean, obviously the little sister didn’t know any better, the girlfriend was probably right (I wore those sweat pants over my riding breeches to keep them clean before horse shows – they were so big, I probably looked like I didn’t have legs either!), and the young adults pastor was just joking around. (Besides, I’d rather have glaringly white legs and ride horses than have tanned legs and skin cancer any day!) I know all those things are true – but for whatever reason, I still can’t seem to erase those words from my memory.
But then again – the same is true for words of encouragement.
I remember the director of the youth program at the Bible College I attended pulling me aside after class one day and handing me my journal. “You should write a devotional for teens,” he told me. “You’re a talented writer.” Those words are what keeps me plugging away at my writing – whether it’s in my journal, on this blog, or elsewhere. I might not be working on a youth devotional (or novel, or children’s series, or anything, really …) at the moment – but I’m optimistic that some day at least some of my random scratchings will make their way to print!
It’s enough to make me want to stop and think before I speak: Am I speaking words that will build people up – or words that will tear them down?
Just random thoughts swirling through my brain …