Seasoned with Grace


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I find languages fascinating. Why is it that some languages have big fat dictionaries and some have thin? Why do some people need more words than others?

A woman I knew who worked for an international charity learned after one year in language school that she was being assigned work in a different country. Most people would have groaned and been upset with time wasted. She was relieved.

“That language has no polite words!” she said, exasperated. “There is no please, no thank you, no sorry, no kind way to express sympathy. I will be glad to move on.”

In the next language she studied greetings took ten minutes. “And how is your father-in-law? Are your she goats pregnant? Is your second nephew well? And your third nephew, is he well?” Since she is a people person she was much happier and didn’t find these rituals cumbersome at all.

I stayed with my daughter while she was living on a tiny Caribbean island. I never got used to the accepted phone etiquette there.
“What you want?”
“Oh, um, hello. I hate to bother you, but is Tina there please?”
“Tina not here.”

The first time I used the phone I thought Tina’s father was an angry man. Then I discovered nearly all the people born on the island spoke the same way, even in the marketplace. They had no problem with it. They wondered what was wrong with me.

My husband spent some time in the deep south of the United States as a guest lecturer. “Not only do they talk slowly, they act like they’ve got all day. They’ll tell you story after story and offer more drinks until you can’t hold it anymore, then they will finally say what they intended to when they offered you a seat,” he told me when he got home. “Great folks, but how do they ever get anything done?”

“What did they want to tell you?” I asked.
“That I am too blunt with the students and I need to be more sensitive.”

I laughed. My parents both spoke English but they came from cultures with different communication styles. In my father’s hometown no one broached the subject they came to talk about until the second pot of coffee was on the stove or until a hand was on the door knob on the way out. My mother’s ethnic background required a person to make their point quickly and clearly so a person could get on with their work – and there was always work. Dad thought Mom’s family was shockingly blunt. Mom thought Dad’s family was frustratingly long-winded. (I take after my Dad, but I can switch and be ruthlessly direct when under pressure.)

Mom, bless her heart, set herself to the task of learning “tact.” It was not a skill that came naturally, especially since she didn’t understand why some people took offense so easily. “She asked me if I liked her new hat and I said it looked silly on the side of her head like that. It made her head look crooked. I straightened it for her. Well, she asked me. Did she want me to lie? She didn’t have to go off in a huff!”

Mom meant well.

There are two sides to communication: what was intended and what was perceived. If only they were the same.

I’ve run into people who really have to work at understanding that other people perceive differently. Whenever I hear them start with “I don’t have time to say this nicely so I’m just going to say it,” I know it’s time to raise the shields. Incoming! Sometimes “I don’t have time to say this nicely” means “I don’t know how to say this nicely,” and sometimes it means “I can’t be bothered with going to the effort of caring about your feelings.”

They may have meant well. Or they may not. The message could have been a valuable one, but it was lost in translation either way.

Then there are people who enjoy getting a rise out of folks. Their words are intended to be like pokes, or even like the rash thrust of a sword. They are meant to provoke an angry reaction, because to them, an angry reaction is better than no reaction at all.

Then there are those who go on and on and never notice polite smiles starting to droop or eyes furtively checking watches. The message is as lost as a misfiled book in a four story library. (Sorry about that.)

Words seasoned with grace have the hearer in mind. Speaking with grace means honouring the hearer, taking the time to consider how they perceive the message and bringing healing to a heart. It’s about love. Grace usually is.

Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (Colossians 4:6 NASB)

There is one who speaks rashly like the thrusts of a sword,
But the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18)

A gentle answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger.
The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable,
But the mouth of fools spouts folly. (Proverbs 15:1,2)

The Return

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Then he came to his senses and cried aloud, ‘Why, dozens of my father’s hired men have got more food than they can eat and here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go back to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have done wrong in the sight of Heaven and in your eyes. I don’t deserve to be called your son any more. Please take me on as one of your hired men.”’

So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still some distance off, his father saw him and his heart went out to him, and he ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.

– Jesus, from his story of The Father’s Prodigious Love.

This Now Place

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The fog wraps itself around me
like soft flannel encircling a child who twists to see.

Mystic air muffles the crying crow,
the howling wolf.

Damp cloud strokes my cheek
and covers my brow.

I catch a glimpse of mountainside
floating like a memory of the future in the sky.

Then silence.

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Beside secret stream,
as in a dream,
I walk on wood chips,
sainted cedars,
lives laid down
to cradle my steps.

The shoulders of giants hush my footfall.

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Between fervent moss clinging to rock
the fountain flows, in unexpected joy
between somewhere and somewhere,
beauty colouring only this place,

this now place,
this here place.

I settle my soul upon Your breast and breathe Your love.

The mountains stand
shoulder to shoulder
like guardian angels around the valley.

Whether I sleep or wake,
whether You hide Yourself
or gently wake me to see Your glory.
I trust You.

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Say Three Nice Things

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When our children were young, squabbling and tattling drove me nuts. He said… but she…and then he said…

I’d try to listen and straighten things out.

And then someone played the trump card – THAT’S NOT FAIR! Every. Single. Time.

No matter what I said, the atmosphere, which could have been perfectly cheerful only moments before, suddenly filled with anger, malice, slander, and curses. SELFISH! STUPIDHEAD!

We decided that the children themselves needed to learn to give honour and respect to their opponent, even if they disagreed. That’s where the three nice words policy started.

For every insult or negative word spoken against a brother or sister we asked the children to say three nice words about them before regaining privileges. Every protest of “But Mom, he is so…” doubled the required nice words.

Now when you are really mad at your brother it is hard to come up with three nice things to say about him. Sometimes it took a period of thinking about it in their room and they had to dig deep. You are good at tying your shoes.

After a while I realized I needed to say more nice words myself – especially after the toddler told someone he thought his middle name was Stop-it.

Words can change atmospheres. When we come in the opposite spirit we avoid getting sucked into the vortex of tit-for-tat nastiness. I changed my words from “How could you be so careless?” to “You are learning more about how to pour milk. Let’s try again.” The result was a better attitude in both of us.

I read through some of the posts on my usual social media sites today. These posters are my “friends.” Some of them are learning more about how to disagree respectfully. But honestly, sometimes I feel like going all Big Mama on them and telling some writers that now they need to say three nice things about the politician, the preacher, the journalist, the bus driver, the pharmaceutical companies, the pipeline workers, the other denomination, other party, other country, other province, other gender, other orientation, other team.

We can talk about what we believe, that God is love and that he will take care of all our needs, but if we have nothing kind to say and merely squabble and tattle to other people or try to guilt them into taking up our cause by shouting THAT’S NOT FAIR! we demonstrate that we don’t really believe in His ways. We forget we can talk to him about our problem (especially if it is caused by the choice of someone else.) We act like scared victims left to our own devices, in this case, electronic devices.

What we truly believe shows up in our words and actions when things don’t go our way.

So here’s my challenge. Discussing ideas is one thing. Tearing down people is another. If you have neglected to bless the person or institution who has you so riled up and you have posted negative things about them, say three nice things about them. (Do it on you own page — very few will read it here.) You can change atmospheres.

If you can’t think of three kind words, you have a bigger problem than they do. You might need to go to a quiet place and think about it for a while.

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”  – Jesus

Outside the Lines

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Don’t assume that God will always work in your life the way He always has. A sunset is proof that God colors outside the lines. He has no status quo. Even the laws of nature are His to interrupt. As many times as you’ve prayed before, today may be the day when God sends the answer so swiftly-so divinely-that you’re windburned.
– Beth Moore