Tracing letters on the floor with the tips of my scuffed shoes, I sat in a folding chair, my 7-year-old self waiting patiently for my parents to finish their conversations. The evening meeting at Family Camp had ended, and most people had filtered out of the building into the warmth of the humid, mosquito-laden summer night.

When a woman approached my chair, crying, my attention was caught. Vaguely uncomfortable with her tears, I nonetheless froze when she leaned down and told me that someday I would write for God.

In that time and at that moment, that meant nothing to me. Sure, I liked to read — I was infamous for my bookworm tendencies, my year-round pale skin a testament to my habits. And I liked to write, but I was certainly no prodigy. My less-than-stellar poetry and fiction attempts were, quite frankly, pitiful.

Yet, over the years, her words would return to me again and again until they eventually settled into my bones, seeping into the very marrow of who I was and who I would become.

And isn’t this true for all of us? We speak into our own lives and the lives of others with words, and they speak into ours. Our words, with their power to heal or harm, have profound, lifelong effects that are often impossible to gauge in the heat of the moment.

The middle school friend that asked if she could date the guy I liked.
The high school girls who called me “Little Miss Perfect” in a taunting way.
The professor who told me that my copy-editing test was excellent and I should consider working at the college newspaper.
The dad who kept asking when my first book would be published.
The husband who tells me daily that he loves me.

Each of those moments shaped me, and continues to shape me. That’s a powerful thought, and a sobering one. So this week, I’m wondering:

What words am I (and you, too!) speaking into the lives of those around you? Are you using them to heal or to harm?

“Words satisfy the mind as much as fruit does the stomach; good talk is as gratifying as a good harvest. Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.” (Proverbs 18:20-21, MSG)