Pandemic Pages & Healing Words

Though the blog has been quiet, my journal pages are full. Full of what I call my “Pandemic Pages” – page after page of blue ink, my heart poured out onto the lines filling up the page. There is very little in there that I would ever share with the public….we keep private journals for a reason. It’s a bit like talking to God – I can rage, rejoice, weep, shake my head in disgust, and ultimately come back to that simple, powerful phrase “But God.” Perhaps you too have your pandemic pages – pages that walk you through this time, sometimes hope-filled and other times so desolate you can scarcely believe it is you. Yet, these words are important for us, and equally important not to share. To share them might be something of a betrayal.

A few years ago I read the words “Only speak words that make souls stronger.” I copied them down several times. For me that translates into writing – “only write words that make people stronger.” It’s easy for the sake of more readers, more likes, more shares to want to hop onto the latest scandal or crisis. It’s easy to react. It’s far more difficult to restrain myself and write words that do indeed make souls stronger.

Nine years ago, after a national crisis, then President Barack Obama said these words at a funeral:

At a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do, it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

President Barack Obama

During this time where everything is debated, where job loss and pandemic stress have hurt millions, where worldwide loss and grief are ever present, I am reminded how important it is to work toward offering healing words.

Just this morning I had to ask forgiveness of someone I love dearly because I quipped something that had no connection with what we were texting about.

“Only speak words that make souls stronger….” Only write words that make souls stronger, lighter, braver, and more joy-filled. That doesn’t mean that I won’t challenge and be challenged. It means that I learn to be careful with what I write and with what I say. It means I ask myself these questions: “Does this reflect the truth of my faith tradition? Does this encourage? Does this appropriately challenge? Does this make people laugh or rejoice? Does this spread false rumors?”

 As I walk the streets of my city I see the “walking wounded.” I go on social media, and I see more wounds. Yet our default mode is not to speak healing words, but rather words that accuse, criticize, mock, and assume the worst. I’d love to blame just the media for words that wound and criticize, but I know differently.  I am far more guilty than I want to admit. The power of language and the way we put our words together is up to us; the way I put words together and how I use them is up to me.

Our world is desperate for healing words. Desperate. Anxiety, depression, and suicide are all on the rise. A few years ago I thought that public bullying could not possibly get worse. I was wrong. With the rise of “cancel culture” and social media shaming it has become infinitely worse. Added to this is the plethora of poor public examples and a dearth of good ones in every area of life – whether that be politics or faith.

I can’t change what other people choose to say. But I can change my own words. I can choose to speak words of hope and grace. I can choose to disagree with civility and respect. I can choose to give people a chance instead of assuming the worst.

I can choose to share words that “make souls stronger.”*

*Ann Voskamp

The Power of Words

I am grateful to my friend, Parry, for these beautiful and wise words of poetry. Parry is a Muslim woman who lives in Kuwait. 

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Of all weapons, the most lethal a potent poison, extremely fatal more dangerous than guns or swords

Such is the power held by words.

Words can blind and they can deceive, entangle the mind, webs of lies weave,

till truth merges with fiction’s blight and is lost forever to reason and sight.

Fiery words spewed, used to propogate cloud the thoughts, spread such hate,

Inciting passions tear minds asunder, leading to wars, genocide and murder.

So be on your guard, beware of words,

Not all is true that’s spoken and heard.


Blog Reader Love

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The connection started with an email that a reader of Communicating Across Boundaries sent me. She would be in Boston for a conference with her husband. She is a good friend of Robynn’s. Could we meet?

I sent back an enthusiastic reply. Yes! That would be great.

We exchanged dates and phone numbers over email.

Meeting readers in ‘real life’ is a gift. That someone would like your writing, your blog enough to contact you and want coffee together? That is remarkable. In October I had another reader contact me. She’d been raised in Pakistan and, though years younger, had recently begun following the blog. We met over curry in a local Indian restaurant and talked for three hours. Last year another reader contacted me. Turned out she knew my brother, lived a block away, and had recently been to Egypt.

But before you meet them there is always a hesitation, an insecurity. What if they don’t like the real deal? What if I’m not who they think I am? What if their perception through my writing is all wrong? What if I’ve not given word pictures of my world authentically?

If I’m not careful I’ll get stuck on the ‘what ifs’, and if I get stuck I’ll back out, not meet them, and be the lesser for it.

Because meeting readers keeps me honest and alert. If I make up stuff about my community, my neighborhood, they’ll know, they’ll call me out. And that is a good thing. Meeting readers is simultaneously humbling and affirming.

Using our words in the public sphere is vulnerable and opens us up to criticism from strangers. Using our words in public also carries with it a responsibility. A responsibility to truth, to not write just to get an audience, to pray over what is posted, to grow through the process. And meeting readers in real life reminds me of this. Reminds me that what I write matters, that I can’t throw frivolous words out and expect them to be heard.

But there’s something more. When I meet readers, I get a chance to hear what’s important to them. They know what’s important to me, they read my words. But it’s not reciprocal. Meeting someone puts a face and personality to a comment. I learn that one reader is in school to be a physical therapist, that another is applying to medical school.

So Jill and I meet over coffee. I get to meet her husband as well. I hear just a bit about what is important to them, about an innovative program to help the homeless, those on the fringes of society who live on streets and vie for spaces at shelters. I get to see pictures of children and learn a bit about how they know Robynn. We share hot cider, laughter, and exchange written words for spoken. The time was short – I had to get back to an evening commitment. But I am the better for having met her.

So to all of you who I haven’t met – thank you that in a time where words are used too often, and not always well, you read the words put forward on this blog.

About the picture: I was in an artsy store in Atlanta, Georgia browsing through cards when I found the card above. I got to laughing so hard I could hardly speak. I took it to the cashier, a young, artsy person, and as I handed it to him, I said in a little voice: “I blog.”  He didn’t get it at first, and then burst out laughing, and shook his head: “It would have been better if someone else had found it and given it to you!” So there you have it.

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How a Stranger Got me to Re-Post Paper Sam & the Power of Words

The start to my Wednesday has not been ideal. I left an unfinished cup of coffee (a delicious cup, mind you) on my counter, I rushed to the bus, my son wasn’t feeling well…but those are minor. When I got to the subway I walked toward the end of the platform, the perfect place for me to hop off and head straight for the exit at the Park Street stop. The platform wasn’t crowded and at this point most who were idly standing by were men.

And then out of nowhere came words directed solely at me. loud and surly: “Skank” “Bitch”. My eyes followed the sound of the words and a man, scruffy and unshaved, looked directly at me, his lips curling in complete hate. He repeated the words as I walked quickly away, heart pounding.

The train could not come fast enough. He was a stranger yet these vitriolic words flew out of his mouth directed at me. 

But here’s what’s startling – while I knew the minute I heard the words that he was seriously mentally ill, that while the words were directed at me, they weren’t about me – those words stayed with me. They sank in and I wanted to cry. I know that I’m neither of those words. They don’t apply to me, or any other woman – but they still worked their way into my tired heart. And so I decided to re-post a piece I did a year ago called “Paper Sam and the Power of Words”. 

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The trainer pulled out a plain white piece of paper. On the paper was a simple drawing of a face: two dot eyes and a single line upturned to symbolize a smile.

Paper Sam Before Insults

“This is Sam” he said. The activity was simple. Beginning at the front of the room each person was to go back in time to the days of playgrounds and small friends. We would pass around the picture of “Paper Sam” and say something that was said to us in childhood that hurt. Before passing on the innocent piece of paper that had become Sam we were to crumple it up.

So the words and the subsequent crumpling began:

“You’re weak!” Crumple.

You’re ugly!” Crumple

“You’re so fat!” Crumple

“You have no dad!” Crumple

“You stutter!” Crumple

After 20 insults, Paper Sam was a crumpled mess. And then the activity was reversed. Paper Sam was sent around the room again, only this time we were to take Sam and repeat words that someone had said to us in our adult life that demonstrated they believed in us. After delivering those words we were to take crumpled, almost destroyed Paper Sam and smooth him out, try to remove some of the impact and take away those wrinkles.

The contrast couldn’t have been more profound:

“You can do this!”

“You are incredibly capable!”

“You are a role model for others”

“You are a real leader.”

“I encourage you to go back to school – you are so smart.”

“You are gifted with people.”

“Your family must be so proud.”

20 phrases later Paper Sam was smoother but still bore some residual scars. There was no way that all that crumpling could be undone, it was too much and too prolonged

We all know the power of words, but sometimes we are given a new way of looking at that power. Watching Paper Sam crumpled time upon time as memories of words came flooding out was poignant and powerful. We had personalized Sam – he was us and each time he took a beating we took a beating. Equally powerful were the attempts to smooth the crinkles and restore Paper Sam to his former self through words of affirmation and acts of restoration. That too was us.

Paper Sam – Restored with scars

While words of insult tear down, words of affirmation restore. While some hands crumple and crush, others gently smooth. While sin tears down, grace and redemption restore.

Where have you seen the power of words in your life for good or for ill? Tell your story in the comment section. 

Paper Sam and the Power of Words

The trainer pulled out a plain white piece of paper. On the paper was a simple drawing of a face: two dot eyes and a single line upturned to symbolize a smile.

Paper Sam Before Insults

“This is Sam” he said. The activity was simple. Beginning at the front of the room each person was to go back in time to the days of playgrounds and small friends. We would pass around the picture of “Paper Sam” and say something that was said to us in childhood that hurt. Before passing on the innocent piece of paper that had become Sam we were to crumple it up.

So the words and the subsequent crumpling began:

“You’re weak!” Crumple.

You’re ugly!” Crumple

“You’re so fat!” Crumple

“You have no dad!” Crumple

“You stutter!” Crumple

After 20 insults, Paper Sam was a crumpled mess. And then the activity was reversed. Paper Sam was sent around the room again, only this time we were to take Sam and repeat words that someone had said to us in our adult life that demonstrated they believed in us. After delivering those words we were to take crumpled, almost destroyed Paper Sam and smooth him out, try to remove some of the impact and take away those wrinkles.

The contrast couldn’t have been more profound:

“You can do this!”

“You are incredibly capable!”

“You are a role model for others”

“You are a real leader.”

“I encourage you to go back to school – you are so smart.”

“You are gifted with people.”

“Your family must be so proud.”

20 phrases later Paper Sam was smoother but still bore some residual scars. There was no way that all that crumpling could be undone, it was too much and too prolonged

We all know the power of words, but sometimes we are given a new way of looking at that power. Watching Paper Sam crumpled time upon time as memories of words came flooding out was poignant and powerful. We had personalized Sam – he was us and each time he took a beating we took a beating. Equally powerful were the attempts to smooth the crinkles and restore Paper Sam to his former self through words of affirmation and acts of restoration. That too was us.

Paper Sam – Restored with scars

While words of insult tear down, words of affirmation restore. While some hands crumple and crush, others gently smooth. While sin tears down, grace and redemption restore.

Where have you seen the power of words in your life for good or for ill? Tell your story in the comment section.