An average school year lasts 180 days. About seven hours a day, times 180 days, equals 1,260 hours. Toward the end of my 180 days/1,260 hours in fourth grade, I had reached my breaking point. My young, timid heart had been wounded one too many times. I battled the unspoken struggle between the possible relief of an end to the name calling or the consequences of a mean boy calling me even more names, if he found out I told on him. But after too many days of enduring the name he deemed fitting for me, I decided I did not care which of the outcomes came to pass. I was telling one of my two teachers and hoping she would put an end to my misery and humiliation.
“Horse teeth.” Popular, eleven year old, Jake, called me this name for almost an entire school year. Thirteen years later, I remember, like it happened yesterday. While I do not feel the same hurt as when it was actually happening, I do feel empathy and sadness for the petite, ten year old girl, who took a few years to grow into her adult teeth. And I was not even one of the “unpopular” kids in my class. I was more like wallpaper—quiet, subtle, nice to anyone who noticed me–so the kids that were labeled outcasts, well, you can imagine they had it much worse than quiet, little, “Horse Teeth.”
Words are painful. And they matter, even at the seemingly innocent age of ten and eleven years old. We all know the girl or boy who was made fun of throughout elementary, junior high, or high school. I vividly remember a girl named, Morgan, who was never in a single one of my high school classes, but I was well aware if there was someone to make fun of, it was supposed to be her… simply because she is who everyone “popular” decided needed to be called out for her differences. People say, “kids are cruel.” In fact, just the other day, I said the same thing, recalling a girl I went to elementary school with, who pointed out a single freckle in the sea of my freckled face, telling me “you’d be pretty if you didn’t have that freckle right there,” as she bluntly poked the one she thought was ugly. And she was supposedly my friend. The cruel words do more than stick with a person, though. They wound and they determine destinies.
While there were only a handful of those “cruel” moments throughout my childhood and teenage years, they made a lasting impact on my self-esteem; an image of myself I still fight to break away from to this day. Some of you were one of those wallpaper kids, like me, or one of those tormented “unpopular” kids, and you know those images and impacts I am speaking of too well. And chances are, even if you were neither a wallpaper kid nor an unpopular kid, whether it was your parents, friends, strangers or other family members, someone has spoken something about you or to you that sliced into your state of being—to the depths of your heart—and created in you an ugly impression of yourself that does not belong. Maybe you cannot recall a particular instance in which another person said something insulting to or about you. However, I would go out on a limb to say you were at least at one time, a bystander, an onlooker, of one of these people injured by the flippant words of another.
When I was in sixth grade, a girl in my science class called me, “teenage, pregnant Jackie,” for no reason other than her comic relief when I took offense to the nickname. It was slightly uncanny how her words came to life later, so I knew when I was single and pregnant I had assumed the role someone spoke over me as a child. Her words rang in my mind throughout much of my pregnancy. Although plenty of my own free will took action to cause my unplanned pregnancy circumstances, I have no doubt the words of another played a role in my insecure spirit, because I was not equipped, at the age of twelve, how to reject and deny the words of another person. My dislike for her words did not prevent them from playing a role in my life.
At 19, single and pregnant, I knew people whispered about me. I watched many a stranger give me the once-over, then turn to their friend’s ear to share their judgment. People I grew up with or went to high school with said things like, “can you believe she got pregnant? … She was always so shy and quiet … She didn’t even talk to a boy until she was 17… She always said she’d wait until she was married to do it.” I was sure all the whispers, all the secret talk, and not so secret talk was true. I would fail at being anyone’s significant other, because I had an unplanned pregnancy… Who would want to marry a girl with a kid? I was sure I would not be a very good mother… What teen mom has the capability of raising a healthy child, when she is still a child herself? I was sure I was damaged and flawed, incapable of being worthy of anything greater than my view of myself… Everyone knows, no pregnant teenager will every get with anyone better than the baby daddy that got her pregnant, right?
Wrong. Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad, wrong. Somehow, a suggestion within my spirit won the battle over all the words whispered about me, urging me to choose to believe the words of worship songs I listened to my entire pregnancy. I sang them at the top of my lungs, in my car, every day on my way to and from work. Very off key, I belted God’s love for me, His plan for my life, and my value in Him—whether I believed it at the time or not, I clung to the hope in the words I sang aloud, over my own life. And now I am a great mother, to two beautiful girls, and I have been happily married to a youth minister for two years and counting. I denounced the whispers and talk, choosing to believe in greater words planned for my life and the life of my daughter. Now I am watching the fruit of my words blossom and bloom.
My husband preached to his youth group on Monday night about the power of our words, and I could not help but reflect on the power of other people’s words in my life. Proverbs 18:21 says, “The tongue can bring death or life; those who love talk will reap the consequences.” This verse does not just say those who love to talk, but those who love the talk itself, whether you are the speaker or the receiver. Throughout my life I have accepted the talk others have spoken about me, and my physical, mental, and emotional health suffered. I became that talk; I outwardly manifested those negative words in my self-confidence, my physical posture, and through screaming insecurities. Other times I have said the ugliest things about another human being, and after my own experiences, I cannot imagine the impact I had on their life, whether I witnessed the effect of my words or not.
Every day I have a choice to make. I can echo the strength of my fourth grade self, who refused to accept the ugliness spoken over me for one more minute; I can sing God’s plans and praises over my life and the lives of my husband and children, while exemplifying them the power of spoken words; or I can surrender to the enemy of my soul, and accept the words of failure and death other people speak over me. We all have the same options to accept or deny the words of other’s for our own lives. We also have the option of empowering or discouraging other people in this world, friends and strangers alike, with the words we speak to or about them, in public or in private. I will choose to either receive or deflect the words of others, allowing only those reflecting His goodness and glory to remain a part of me. And I sincerely hope with each passing moment, I choose my own words wisely, ushering life into existence where death lingered before.
He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. Romans 2:7 NLT
by Jacqueline Fox