The Wonder-filled Power of Words: Thoughts on Teaching, Writing, and Words

I spend two days every week teaching college students about creative writing. I don’t teach them how to write; that is a simple but complex art form that most of us work out over the course of a lifetime. Rather, we spend most of our hours together discussing works of literature, practicing techniques, and experimenting with various stylistic choices. Through reading, we seek to understand what other writers have done well. Through writing, we seek to discover our own voice and ability as we try new things and push the boundaries of what we are used to doing with language.

I love my job. LOVE. MY. JOB.

Yesterday, I left the classroom on a professional and spiritual high. Because yesterday, we were talking about something I’m ridiculously passionate about—the power of words. Oh, the surprising power of words. Words shape us. They shape how we see ourselves; they shape how we see God. Long after a conversation or interaction, the words we hear from others can sting and wound, or they can bind up and heal. Words reveal our hearts—they point to what’s really there, and they often bubble up from places in our souls deeper than we understand.

In class yesterday, we talked about the fact that God spoke the universe into existence with a word. We read the first five verses of the book of John and were reminded of that beautiful and timeless declaration that Jesus is, himself, the Word—and that who God is and how he is are bound up in the power of words.

Power of Words.1

How amazing, then–how surprising and wonder-filled–that we should share in this mighty power of words. How incredible–how difficult to believe–that God would entrust us with words. We are privileged and charged with using these tiny instruments for good. For peace. For encouragement. For hope. For glory–His and not our own.

I have my students read Walter Wangerin’s An Ethic for Aesthetics, a beautiful consideration of how one author has covenanted with God and his community regarding the ways that he will use his words. And we talk about using words with intention and wisdom, with power and with grace. And we talk about how hard it is to do these things well, and how necessary it is to have empathy for others if we are going to write about them, and how necessary it is to have grace for ourselves if we are going to write about ourselves.

Words shape who we are, and they shape who we become. At the beginning of time, God used words to shape all of creation into its beautiful, spinning presence. And at the end of all days, the Word himself will return and right all things that have gone wrong. I ache for that day. I long for it. And until that great return of the Word turned flesh turned Lamb turned King, I will seek to use my words to point to him.

These unassuming marks on screens and pages, these syllables that bounce out of our mouths and bubble up from our hearts, they matter. So deeply. Let us be those who use them to right the wrongs that we can, to love the hearts that need binding up, and to speak to ourselves–and to others–the Truth that came through the Word made flesh.

The Gift of Celebration, The Gift of Friendship

Celebrate well

I’m a celebrator by nature. I love throwing parties, surprising people, and making up excuses to celebrate the people I love. I love being the one to gather friends together to show them why they are worthy of encouragement, attention, and time. Celebrating is a love language for me.

But my birthday falls in January, which, I’ve found, is not a great time to have a birthday if you like celebrating. For most of us, January is recovery month. We’re tired, we’ve used all our vacation time, we’ve made New Year’s resolutions that forbid us from eating sugar or carbs, we’re sick of seeing people, and we just spent a lot of money at Christmas. We’re tired of celebrating once January rolls around. We want to hibernate. We want to hole away.

Therein lies my problem; birthdays are special to me.

But then, last year, a friend asked me how I would feel most loved for my birthday. She wanted to celebrate me, she said. Even in her asking, I felt loved. And I told her the truth: I wanted to be with my closest friends, and I wanted to share a meal together. No gifts, no songs—just time gathered around the table.

And that is what happened, in the cold and dreary month of January. Ten of us shared a meal. We paid for babysitters so that our conversation could go deep; that in and of itself was a precious gift of time and money. Each friend surprised me by sharing an encouragement for my coming year of life. They told me how they saw Jesus at work in me, and they prayed for me. I sat there and felt deeply celebrated, and deeply welcomed into the new year of my life by the friends I loved the most. In my memory, it remains a holy and beautiful night.

To me, I have come to realize how that night encapsulates what is meant to be at the center of every gathering; in fact, what is meant to be at the heart of friendship. For true friendship is a kind of gathering. It is pulling people together around a shared table or on a soft couch, and it will cost us in time and even in money. True friendship means giving those things that my friends offered to me on my birthday night—time, encouragement, intentionality, welcome, love. And true friendship is celebration; it is seeing what is worthy of encouragement in those we love and declaring those things over them. It is seeing the presence of Jesus in the other and acknowledging his beauty through them.

Birthdays only happen once every twelve months, but gathering to celebrate those we love—to speak truth and hope and encouragement to them and over them—that can happen any time of the year. We can gather in coffee shops and pray for one another. We can gather on playgrounds and encourage one another. We can gather around kitchen tables and welcome one another. We can gather in restaurants and celebrate one another. And we can gather, always, and love one another—no matter where, no matter when. 

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