Words matter so much to me. I realize this is pretty obvious: I do put a couple thousand on this page every week, and my chosen profession requires me to use tens of thousands every day. Yeah, I love words; I’m drawn to them.
I typically read several hundred pages of fiction and/or non-fiction every week, and when I see words arranged in a way that resonates with me, I use my iphone to snap photos of them. Also, whenever I gather with two or more, I arrive with a notebook and a pen, prepared to write down the meaningful and the trivial. I scratch out notes at work, at church, and in my small group.
I spend my life surrounded by words, and I tend to horde them. As I was making my way to this space today, I grabbed a couple scraps of paper from my desk, my phone, a notebook crammed with sermon notes, a book I’m reading, and my laptop. What do these items have in common? They all contain words that I have gathered from one place or another and carried home with me. One bit of paper travelled all the way from my trip to St. Louis last November. Another is from a visit to Cincinnati about a month ago. My shoes and toothbrush might not have made it home, but these scraps of paper not only survived the trip, they have remained on top of my desk through several frantic clutter-clearing purges.
What could they possibly say that would validate my gripping them so tightly?
The one from November, which I scribbled while sitting in church with dear friends, says “I can have hope that He will redeem my loved ones and me and my community.”
The paper I shoved in my pocket after church last month in Cincinnati says, “Lord, if you don’t do something here, we are in trouble.”
In my notes from our small group Bible study I find, “This life is unsettled and incomplete,” and “hope wins.”
Last night, I started Jodi Picoult’s small great things. I opened the cover and read these words from James Baldwin, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed unless it is faced.”
Pithy phrases all. Concise. Succinct. Power-packed.
Why do I store these clusters of words?
Because in the emotional haze in which I have been existing, I wander around searching for beacons of truth. And, for me, truth is usually found in print. I don’t write down every word I see, but when I see words that speak truth, I capture them. I hold them. I carry them around.
Here’s why. Emotions are powerful. They are expressions of deep feelings that need to be experienced, but they don’t always tell the truth. My emotions tell me that all is lost, that hope has died, that everything counts on me, that I’m the only one with problems, and that none of this will ever work out. I weep on my bed and get so carried away by my tears that I never want to stand up again. Overwhelmed with sorrow, I reach out my hand and grab something to read to quiet myself. Without fail, I find some shred of truth that breaks through my exaggerating and misled emotions.
I find myself speaking out loud:
All is not lost; God will redeem my loved ones and me and my community.
Everything does not count on me; Jesus is doing something here.
I am certainly not the only one with problems — despite what social media wants me to believe — but my only chance at working through the problems I have is to face them.
All of this will work out. Sure, life is unsettled, but hope wins.
My pulse slows. My breathing returns to regularity. I close my eyes and move toward sleep.
Yes, I feel dark things still — anger, sadness, grief, and pain. These feelings are valid, and I will quash them no longer. I will sit with them. I will feel them. And, I will speak truth to them. I will not be overcome.
I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”