Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can really jack you up. When I think back to the first few years of Brian and mine’s marriage, I cringe when I recall some of the foulness that would roll out of my mouth. When I would feel hurt and unloved, I would lash out… like scary, head-spinning, Brian-wondering-who-he-married, ugliness. We would say our sorry’s, go back to the blissfulness of good times, and then eventually cycle back around. Fortunately, we didn’t settle for this. Apologies accepted didn’t mean that it was okay. Forgiveness on both sides fueled us to do better… be better. We are far from perfect, but thank God we are just as far from some of those early marriage shortcomings.
A gritted-teeth prayer does wonders, nowadays, in softening my heart. Things that would once transform me into the Little Mermaid’s Ursula character now usually send me to some quiet time with God. Usually. I’m a work in progress. How cool that God can even calm the storms of emotions with loved ones? It’s like a muscle, though. Just like our faith, or choices to choose joy or peace, our patience and love must be exercised. It’s more difficult at first, but then that “muscle” builds and the load becomes lighter. Just like we must regularly work muscle to maintain it, we must regularly exercise our patience and love. It’s work. It pays, though, big time.
Well, just like being exposed to a somewhat different physical activity can leave your well-built muscles sore, different situations can test your growing love and patience. A few weeks back I experienced this and was a bit thrown off how words, that I knew weren’t true, could cut so deep.
Brian, Sophia, and I had ventured into H-E-B to do some grocery shopping. It was a busy Sunday afternoon so I had somewhat prepared myself. During this time especially, people are busy and rushing, and some are just downright rude. Navigating a wheelchair around the crowded aisles can be a bit frustrating. 98% of the time I do not mind the stares and reciprocate them with a smile. For the most part, I just spend my time talking and singing to Sophia while Brian does the actual shopping. We follow along, me answering Brian’s grocery inquiries, offering opinions, or chit-chatting.
As Brian scanned the fridges for coconut milk, I heard someone repeating, “Well, hey there!” Eventually, my eyes rose from Sophia to see a familiar face. An older gentleman from my previous job was standing there, with a big smile on his face. He had his toddler granddaughter sitting in his shopping cart. I excitedly greeted him back. I had not seen him since I had left that job four years prior. The man was part of the afternoon cleaning crew and would often talk with me while cleaning my classroom. He always had a big smile and a hardy laugh.
We exchanged the normal, “How have you been?” I asked if he was still at the school and shared that I was over at the college. Then I said, “Oh, this is Sophia! You were there when I was pregnant…” I was so excited to show her off. Most of my former co-workers knew that we had spent a year in the hospital, and had continued overcoming one impossible after the next. So I was not expecting his reply. He said, “See, I told you about going up and down them stairs.” Then, turning to Brian, he continued,” I used to get on her ‘bout going up and down them stairs. You see? You see?” And there it was. With those words, I withdrew. I regressed into my “lesser” self. My eyes shot to the floor and I nervously laughed, as I shook my head and desperately pushed out,” Oh, no. No, no, no.”
What I was trying to push out was, “Oh, no. It wasn’t the stairs. In fact, in was not anything that I did or did not do. I took really good care of myself when I was pregnant. My son had a defective amniotic sac. So, four months too early, it unexpectantly ripped, leaking amniotic fluid and sending me into labor. Crazy, huh? Something that random causing so much craziness. God is good, though. Although I might not know a lot of the why’s, I know Him. We celebrate every day. We really do.” I’d end it with a fabulous, confident smile… and change the subject (trying to eliminate the opportunity for another misplaced comment).
That’s not what happened though. To tell you the truth, I’m not quite sure how the conversation shifted to anything after that. I just remember wanting to be home, snuggling with my sweet Sophia. The gentleman went on to ask Brian about work and jokingly told us how naughty his granddaughter was, as she attempted to climb out of the basket. He truly had no idea what he had just done and I totally know that his intentions were not one bit ill-willed.
We moved on and I held back tears, a little in shock that someone could be that unaware of their inappropriate comments. As Brian scanned spices, I whispered to him (fearing that the gentleman was still nearby), “Did you hear what he said after I said ‘This is Sophia’?” Without looking up from the pepper bottle, Brian replied, “Huh? No. What?” More urgently, I said,” Brian! Did you hear what he said?” Looking up, Brian then asked “What?” again. I repeated the horrifying statement to him and Brian shook his head,” He didn’t mean it like that.” At that moment, it didn’t matter how it was meant. It was ripping through my heart.
I suddenly became hypersensitive to all the stares. I even felt like physically, my stance shrunk. My shoulders slouched and my head hung low, eyes staring downward. I was trying to be invisible. Of course that is when a friendly young lady stopped suddenly beside Sophia’s chair. She started telling us how beautiful Sophia was and asking about her diagnosis. I’m sure she caught on to how awkward my responses were. I could barely even look up at her. Anyone who is around me enough knows that I love talking about Sophia. I love her story and I love sharing it. Not then. I was answering this lady with one-word answers, if possible.
Down another aisle, a little girl rode by on the side of her mother’s cart. She stared at Sophia as they approached and then whipped her head quickly around to continue staring as they passed. Thank God for some holy self-control because in that moment I wanted to scream,” Mind your business, you little brat!” I know, I know. I completely get that it’s just curiosity and children staring actually don’t bother me at all. It was just in that moment.
After me bringing up the gentleman’s comment multiple times, Brian finally responded with, “Who cares? Who is he? He doesn’t know Sophia.” Brian was so frustrated that my whole mood had shifted. “Why does that bother you?” As he said this, he turned around and looked at me. I think at that moment, he saw in my eyes how deep it cut. As my lip trembled, I tried making out why I thought it bothered me so much. Tears welled up in my eyes before I could get much out, so I quickly looked away. I glanced over at the nearby pastries. Happy thoughts, happy thoughts. No mid-grocery shopping breakdowns today. I leaned over to Sophia and whispered in her ear, “I know. I know. Mommy needs to get it together.”
That gentleman might not have meant it, but what I heard was, “Look what you did. Look what you’re left with. Must suck to be you.” All of those statements are not true, but the enemy tied them to a dart that shot straight towards my heart. Those lies implanted in my heart in that moment and made their way to my head. I refuse to let the enemy drown me in guilt over what happened. We feel honored to be Sophia’s parents. Brian would undoubtedly agree that she is the BEST part of our days. Our house is filled with so much laughter and silliness. I’m in love with the atmosphere that has grown from what could have crushed us, pulled us under. So why in the world would those lies have a hold on me?
I realized that I was letting words, WORDS! shift my feelings drastically. Even worse, shifting my feelings about Sophia’s current status. All the impossibles that we had overcome were definitely not getting there due recognition at that moment. I am always reminding Sophia what God says about her simply because that’s the only input that matters. Now here I was, feeling some kind of way, because someone unintentionally made a hurtful comment. I’m not dismissing my hurt. It hurt more than I can describe. And in some circumstances, I feel strongly that comments should be addressed with the perpetrator. How in the world, though, am I supposed to teach Sophia that only God’s words matter when I can flip 180 degrees with a thoughtless phrase?
I made it through the rest of the shopping trip with a somewhat improved attitude. Note to self: Mentally reviewing God’s truths and staring at pastries make for a good uplifter. I still had a knot in my throat but I pulled my shoulders back and lifted my head. As we picked up the last item on our list, I sighed in relief. Finally, we could just get out of “the world.” We could go back to our home where Sophia was our “normal.” Wait, not normal… our “extraordinary.” I told Brian, “I am so ready to go home. I feel so defeated.” His reply? “Do you know why you feel defeated? Because you are not walking with God.” What?! Oh no he didn’t! I argued back that even Jesus cried and it was only normal for me to feel the way that I did…. but, he was right.
You see words do matter. More importantly, it’s whose words that matter. Yes, we should be careful in what we speak. For “the tongue has the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21). Stop. Reread that. Then reread it again, slower. Really let that sink in. Life and death, people. Words. Have. Power. A visit to my home would prove to anyone that I don’t hesitate to bombard my eyes with uplifting messages of truth and goodness. I try to save myself from negative self-fulfilling prophecies. Brian and I check each other regularly on the norm, as seen in the grocery store example. We don’t let each other off the hook for speaking against the most important words…The Word.
Words can and do hurt. They can cut deep. The remedy? Overflowing your mind and heart with God’s Word. I know, cliché, but that’s one check you can take to the bank! I’ve been talked about and been on the receiving end of hurtful comments, like we all have. Some from what I had considered friends, family even. Some by people who I knew didn’t believe what they were even saying. Some by people coming from a really good place and hitting a really raw, tender place. At the end of the day, we heal from words with His Word. It leads us to forgiveness, to love, and to the confidence of knowing who we truly are.
So, I encourage you to try matching up the words you speak with God’s words, running the words that you hear and receive through a “Holy filter,” and simply being cognizant of whose words you are believing. Work that muscle and see if your strength doesn’t reach new heights. It’s work, but the payoff far exceeds our efforts.