Archive | September, 2012

What One Thing Is My Best Friend And Worst Enemy?

24 Sep

“Words, Melissa. Words.”

This three “word” sentence has been following me around. It mostly started off as a joke between Mark and myself, when one of us (usually me) would say something that would come off sounding unintentionally hurtful. We all have hot buttons that people who we trust can push. With a few little words, I know that I could say something incredibly harsh and painful to the people I love the most and vice-versa. Words can hurt or words can help. They can bring life or they can bring death…

I’ve been studying words all weekend, unintentionally.

I happened to be at a park watching a soccer game full of 10 year olds on Sunday when I heard the coach yelling at one of his players. Mind you, this kid was 10! “Pedro, that’s not good enough. There’s no excuse for that! What are you doing?!” the coach yelled, as Pedro missed “heading” a ball. I couldn’t help but thinking, does this man know the damage he is inflicting on Pedro? Will Pedro be sitting in his therapist’s office 15 years from now still trying to live up to this man’s expectations? I certainly hope not ,but then I think back to things that people have said to me and they do stick.  What Pedro probably needed in that moment wasn’t a scolding but an encouragement from a man he looks up to. But the coach didn’t offer him that. And sadly, in a way, he failed little Pedro.

In another episode on the train, I heard a young woman talking to a new acquaintance in a rather loud voice. From listening to her words, I could tell that she didn’t really realize the impact of what she was saying to those around her. She was talking about her first tattoo when she was 12 and how the ink had faded. Then she offhandedly mentioned that she could totally beat people up (using much more colorful language than I care to repeat). She mentioned a pregnant friend that she “smacked around” but now they are “cool.” Of course she said it in a way that seemed normative for her and I kept thinking how tiring it must be to have to constantly try to prove yourself using your words.  What must it be like to go through life without a filter?

And then this morning I heard a very convicting sermon about the power of words.  I realized that I wasn’t too different from the coach or the girl on the train. My words constantly come out of my mouth too quickly and I don’t often pause to take stock of what I’m saying. I just talk because that’s who I am.  Sometimes it works, but other times I’m left apologizing.

On a good day, my words can build people up and bring people together like my last blog post about my grandma.  Today I found out that my words had really impacted my mom. My words in that situation had made her so grateful that I would even think to write something that resembled a tribute to my Grandma. That was a good feeling.

Other times, my words have caused division. I’ve gossiped. I’ve tried too hard. I’ve hurt Mark’s feelings. I’ve really just blown it. So I do my best to apologize and ask for forgiveness. What I’ve realized is how much of a battle this actually is for me. I’m not sure if I’m alone in this, but sometimes taming my tongue is virtually impossible. I have so many thoughts throughout the day that I can’t say that I just burst at the seams when I’m around friends and family.  So I tried something.

The sermon convicted me that I can’t just overcome my word issues on my own. I have to take it to God and ask for help. I prayed this morning and I honestly think it’s made a huge difference. I’m more aware of what I say to everyone from the auditors in our office to the people who call in for my boss to my bosses and more. And I’ve started to notice their words. I want it to be said that I’m an encourager, not a “Negative Nelly.” I want my words to bring light and love and life, not death. Not discouragement. Not anger or frustration. Not anxiety or hopelessness.

I come back to this a lot but it’s important. Are my words really reflecting who I am on the inside or are they just echoing a part of myself that is dissatisfied, grumpy, and wanting to bring others down? If that’s the case, I need to stop, take a breath, and pray.

It’s okay to pause between words. It’s okay to not answer right away. It’s okay to not spread my opinion to everyone or blurt out something that makes someone I am close to hurt or distrust me.

Proverbs 12:18 says “There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

I hope to not thrust swords, but bring healing and life. With God’s help and grace, I pray that it is so!

What about you and your words? Do you struggle with the right words to say?


Saying Goodbye To One Who Knew Me Well

21 Sep

I knew her once and well, but not lately.

Her small, lingering laugh.  Her bright eyes that lit up with emotion.

Her gray fluffy hair that I had long ago seen dark brown like my mom’s.

She smiled big and said “Well,” in a knowing tone.

She liked to explain her thoughts and I liked to listen.

She was small in stature but not in heart.

She had it rough, but she lasted longer than all of them:

The Depression, the Second World War, graduating college with a degree in Latin, 4 children (including twins!), 50 plus years of marriage, her battle with early hearing loss, his battle with cancer, his battle with polio, her battle with cancer, 8 grandchildren, moving to separate rest homes, his death, her friends’ deaths, 4 great grandchildren…she lasted 92 years through it all. A feat in its own right.

What was unique about her was that despite her hearing loss, she still heard me.

My Grandma, Elizabeth Vandersall Hanks

Despite her eyes going, she still saw me. She understood far more than they thought.  I sometimes wonder if she went through life behind the scenes, never really getting all the credit she deserved for all she endured. She was quiet like that. A servant.

I tried to take the time to hear and see her back. She felt blessed but wanted more for her family.  She hoped they would understand joy and our family’s deep traditions that stretched back to her father’s love for God, mission, and country.

She voted. She worked at the church. She believed. She instilled that in me in a deep way without having to say many words to do so.

I am bittersweet because she is gone, but only sweet because I know where she is.  Without a doubt, I know.

My Grandma is in heaven. She can hear. She can laugh. She can see clearly now. She feels no pain. She is sitting at the feet of Jesus and he is delighting in her up close.

He surely said, “Well done, my good and faithful servant” and he is so proud of her. So proud. 

In the church we often say that we don’t know people’s hearts.  Only God can judge who will spend eternity with Him. But from what I know about God and what I know about her, she is there with him. I don’t know very many people I can say that about for sure, but she is one. And so I’m happy for her.

She taught me how to persevere. She taught me the fruits of the spirit including peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. She taught me to keep going and I learned not to quit from watching her. She taught me just by being.

Elizabeth Vandersall Hanks , my grandmother, one of my first spiritual influences, went to be with Jesus last weekend. I’m grateful. I’m sad. I miss her.  But most of all I’m determined and committed to continue the work she started here and carry on the legacy she left us.  She was first and foremost a follower of Christ.  So I will cling hard and continue on. I will follow. I will tell others, just as her father did and she did after him.

I love you, Grandma. I know you’re happier than our wildest dreams now. More than anyone I know, you deserve this.

Philippians 2: 2-4 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.


Where Were You September 11, 2001? Here’s Where I Was…

11 Sep

I was living in the heart of Los Angeles on the USC campus. It was my senior year.

The phone rang. I was in bed on my top bunk, so I had to reach to grab it. It was my mom. The first words I remember her saying was “I think we are being attacked.”   It was mass confusion as I jumped down from my bed and ran into the other room to turn on the TV. She kept blurting out words like “New York City” and “plane.” Something about “World Trade Center.”  Just as I turned on MSNBC, I saw the replay of the plane hit the World Trade Center. My tired mind couldn’t compute. I thought I was watching “Die Hard” or “True Lies.” How could this be real? Reporters were trying to hold it together but I could see the confusion on their faces. They didn’t know what to report. Was this an accident? Just then, the second plane hit and it became collectively clear that this was planned. My mom was right.

We were being attacked.

My throat clenched tight. I thought immediately of NYU, where my boyfriend at the time was attending school. His apartment building was a mere 4 blocks away from the World Trade Center.  I had to hang up with my mom so that I could call him. “Was he okay? Were they evacuating him?” In the confusion, I woke my roommates up. They were just as befuddled as I was. I was hysterical and started to cry. I was scared, but didn’t know of what. I prayed but it was like I forgot the words. I didn’t know what to say to God in that moment. I was too panicked to ask why. It was a more “what can I do all the way here in Los Angeles?” question.

I couldn’t track my boyfriend down for a few hours. All the lines were busy. I called his parents in Vancouver. They hadn’t heard but would call me as soon as they did. At one point, one of my roommates realized that one of our friends was in Boston and was supposed to take a flight out that day back to LA. Was he on one of the planes? We didn’t know.

That pretty much sums up that day. We just didn’t know. We didn’t know why. We didn’t know what we could do from so far away. So we prayed. We cried. We huddled together and erected a mock vigil for the victims and their families. The next couple days were a blur but I remember buying a flag and going down to the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights and waving it as people drove by, joining others who wanted to do something to say

“We’re still here. We love America and we will not go quietly.” The smiles and honks validated us.  People were nicer for a few weeks. The sky was eerily quiet for a major metropolitan city. Yet, we were all in it together.  I wanted it to stay that way forever. Why couldn’t we drive like we did on the days after September 11th? Why couldn’t we all be so united? Why did it have to take a national tragedy to remind us that we can be kind and decent to one another? These questions stayed with me…

My boyfriend was okay, my friend wasn’t on the plane, but September 11th shook me to the core. It made me question my life and purpose in the world. Several days passed and others around me started to unexpectedly lose people who were close to them. A parent. A best friend. A beloved grandmother. All of it was too much for me to handle and it brought me to a crisis point. I was 21 and about to be graduating college into a world that I no longer understood.  A world where death was the norm. People could be there and then gone the next day. Life was truly fragile.  What was I to do about that? How was I to respond? How did I trust God in the midst of that uncertainty?

In December 2001 I got the chance to visit Ground Zero.  Although it was in a devastating sense a graveyard for thousands, there was something about Ground Zero that remained hopeful. Candles still burned there.  And passersby remembered, as did the cleaning crew that was still sorting through the remains.  The images of the smoking buildings, the tattered flags, and the crying relatives had stuck with me. But being there brought a sense of relief that I wasn’t crazy. Whereas many of my California friends had moved on from the events that occurred on September 11th, I needed validation that we wouldn’t just forget. I had been marked by it and I needed to see it up close to somehow understand that we would recover.  In those quiet moments where I replayed the events in my head and looked at pictures of the missing who weren’t coming back, I asked God to show me how to remember.

After September 11th, I started to see a therapist. It was a free service at school and while I thought I was dealing with my issues around the day, I really started to deal with deeper, core issues about myself. Was I going to make it? Was I going to be okay after I graduated? If life just offered death unexpectedly, what then could I do? 11 years later I have a better idea. I can keep holding on. I can keep hoping. I can remember and believe and trust. I can hope. It’s September 11, 2012…11 years later. I still think about those feelings I had. The fear. The uncertainty. The sadness in knowing that our country would never be the same.  The knowledge that it is okay to heal and that grief is a part of life. That God is still good even when we don’t know that he is. Despite everything.

I will tell my children where I was. I will offer stories and try to explain. I will keep traditions and grieve well. I will invest my passions and efforts into others because on that day I learned that heroes wear badges and suits and business casual, not always capes.

I want to remember. 

I hope to never forget.

“But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.” Micah 7:7

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