A friend who is rather new to my Xanga account asked me today if I’ve always enjoyed writing.
That question really brought down a ton of memories!
And actually, yes, I have written since I was a wee girl.
The first time I realized that I could put my thoughts down on paper was when I was a third or fourth grader, and one of my friend’s father had died, leaving a young wife and six children aged 18 months to eleven years old. He was one of my father’s best friends, and my daddy was really affected by his death. I remember coming home from the funeral and my Daddy sat dark and quiet in the living room. Sometimes wiping tears. This was my world gone so wrong. My friend’s Daddy suddenly gone, and my Daddy so grief-stricken.
I remember going upstairs to my room, crawling into my old metal bed, and listening to our old stereo playing in the living room below. “Under his wings, I am safely abiding, though the night deepens and tempests are wild. Still I can trust Him, I know He will keep me. He has redeemed me and I am His child. Under His wings, Under His wings. Who from His love can sever? Under His wings, my soul shall abide. Safely abide forever.”
I had this burning in my soul, something I couldn’t define. It was a need to put this into words, and I crept out of bed and found a tablet and began to write what I was hearing, what I was feeling, what I was thinking. But then I didn’t know what to do with it. Here was this piece of paper that I had written stuff on and it felt important to me, but what did I do with it now? I didn’t know what to call it. I never wrote anything in a tablet unless it was a letter to my pen pal that I had gotten out of the Words of Cheer Sunday School paper that came in our family’s box at church every Sunday morning. And this wasn’t a letter to anybody. It really confused me.
I pulled the paper out of the old lined tablet and folded it up and took it down the steps to the trash can. I felt embarrassed and uncomfortable. I wanted to show it to someone, but that didn’t feel right either. I came around the stairway and came face to face with my mother. I must have looked guilty (something that I often was!) and she said, (not unkindly) “What are you up to, Mary Ann?”
“Aw, nothin’,” I said, unconvincingly, standing there with the paper in my hand, wanting to show her, but feeling so strange. She would have encouraged me if I had just shown her, told her, something, but I was so unfamiliar with what I was feeling and what I had done.
“Are you writing a letter to someone?” she asked.
Ah, relief, an excuse! “Uh, yes,” I said, “but I decided not to.” And I went on to the trash can and threw it in.
But the feeling didn’t end when I threw that away. The need to “write it down” or “put it into words” or “tell the story” became a very familiar feeling to me. And then I got into eighth grade and a young English teacher, Henry Shank, began assigning weekly compositions to the eighth grade class. While the others moaned and labored, I secretly loved it with all my heart, and then he told my parents that I had a gift! And that he was harder on me when he graded my compositions because he knew I could do better! I remember that when my Mama came home from parent teacher conferences and told me that, her eyes were shining and it made me feel like working really, really hard at learning all I could about crafting words into something people would like to read.
And then I had one year at the local public high school and I had the incredible opportunity to be in the college prep English class taught by Mr. Lou Reynelds. He was a legend when it came to English comp. I will never forget the day he publicly ridiculed me for using an apostrophe in “its” when I was using it as a possessive. I remember his voice thundering out over the whole class while he made sure that I (and everyone else there that day) never forgot that “the only time “its” has an apostrophe is when it’s a contraction!”. I wrote for him all through my junior year of high school, and his vicious red pen tore my compositions apart. And what a stickler for spelling! He would send my compositions back with an A over a D for spelling and he would average the two grades and that would be my grade for the composition. It ground my gears to be writing stuff that was worth an A and be knocked down to a c+ because of technicalities. So I learned to look things up and figured out that it wasn’t for his sake that I needed to be accurate, but rather it was for my sake. If people were ever going to take me seriously, I couldn’t go around making grammatical mistakes and spelling and punctuation errors. Especially if I ever wanted to be heard.
I still love to write. I still love crafting a story. I’m still careful about grammar and spelling. I believe that words are the most powerful force in the world. And it is a sacred trust to be able to write things and have people read them. I think people should be careful about a whole lot more than grammar and spelling when they write things for people to read. They should be careful to write things that will build understanding between people. They should write things that help people verbalize what is in their own hearts so that when someone reads what they wrote, there is a sense of being understood, and a sense of community. I believe that we need to know that the damage that words can do is so devastating that people sometimes never recover from things we say without thinking. And words can bring encouragement and light and life where there seems to be only a hopeless abyss.
But what I love most of all is that Jesus, my Redeemer and Lord, referred to Himself as “The Word.” Listen to these words from John 1.
1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Every time I hear someone say, “It’s just empty words,” (something we’ve certainly heard a lot in the last month!) I think about this verse, and think of the incredible power in words. And remember that God Himself described Himself as “The Word.”
There is nothing so powerful.
And those of us who love words should stand in awe of what has been entrusted to our care.
6 responses to “Of Words and Such”
Wow! Mary Ann, you certainly do have a gift with words. I loved your story. You probably wish you could go back to that trash can and retrieve what you wrote so long ago. I wish I could read it!Thanks for the careful thought you’ve put into this. It’s a real challenge. I’m going to take it seriously as I do my writing. I don’t write as much as you do, but I remember loving to get those composition asignments in jr. hi. English. I still have my folder of funny little writings I did for Mrs. Mock in 7th grade. Today the most writing I do is for our church newsletter, which comes out once a quarter. I wrote about my mother in the Brotherhood Beacon this past July. Now, may I suggest a correction to your beautiful post–nothing to do with the words at all. It’s the quotation “The Word”. The period should actually come inside the quotation marks. I know it doesn’t seem correct, but according to grammar rules, a period and comma come inside the quotes. -The prevailing opinion is that President Black informed Secretary White that the recommendation of Congress is “cockeyed.” When using words which suggest a different level of usage, as “The Word,” you will use quotation marks. The general rule is this: The comma and the period come inside the quotation marks. The question mark, exclamation point, and dash comes outside the quotation marks unless it is part of the quotation. Semicolon and colon come outside the quotation marks. This is a very common error in English and I see it all the time. I have made my own share of mistakes with this rule. A book that helps me with such technicalities is Errors in English by Harry Shaw. (Yes, that title should be underlined or italicized! I don’t know how to edit my own stuff here.) Hope this helps, and sorry about the long comment. Love you, Ruby
I enjoy your posts so much!
@Betterwords – I fixed it, Ruby! Thanks. I knew that rule, but thought that something different applied in certain contexts. I’m honestly grateful for the reminder! (And embarrassed that I messed that up!)
@Buckeyegirlie – Mary Ann, you are welcome. I actually hate myself for editing other people’s work, but know I would want the same for what I write!
You definitely have a knack for writing. I am no surprised it started early and was encouraged by an influential teacher.
I, too, have so enjoyed reading your interesting, entertaining, and well written posts! I love reading about your life, but also love the way in which you write. As a matter of fact, I have tried to recommend it to my daughter-in-law, who is also a very good writer, but for some reason it won’t let me recommend.I am also thankful for the grammar advice you received from Betterwords, as that is a rule I’ve often wondered about myself. I’m going to look up that book referred to in that comment!I love to write, and have realized that I have become lazy in my writing. I ran into my high school English teacher (also Mrs. Mock) recently, and she asked if I still did some writing, as she remembered I was very good. What a compliment that was!! I’d be embarrassed for her to read my blog, but I think I’d like it if she would critique it sometimes! It would be very helpful!