Life-Changing Words {I’ve Heard and Said}

Rip, cut, paste, repeat.  

We talk as we create collages that “define” us.  We laugh at one gal’s baby head cut out – she likes babies – as another searches page after page for some reference to her favorite TV show.   Our differences become apparent.  One girl clips makeup ads while another chooses lasagna.  One passes me a picture of rings; they think I need diamonds.

“Giving this world more guns is like pouring gasoline on a fire.”

“I love Pope Francis. He doesn’t act like he’s better than anyone else. He acts like he’s equal.”

“Anyone want this page?  The word school is neat… Anyone love school?” (Moans and groans)

“You know you’ll work the rest of your life, right?”

“Yes, and I would rather do that than come to school. I plan to be a truck driver…I’d like to be a translator; they make lots of money.”

Looking for Alaska is my favorite; I hope they make a movie of it.”

“I’d rather open at [the restaurant] than come here everyday…I am not smart enough for all this.”

I pause.  She does not believe in herself.  I know her.  I know she could go to college; she’s intelligent enough.  I know she’s capable of more than the job she plans to keep after graduation.  But, she doesn’t know.

Hope is absent.  Expectations are low. Life is hard.  No one can blame her.

I continue to listen, cut, and paste. I hear myself lamenting my lack of creativity and artistic ability. Their conversation bounces from topic to topic.

And I suddenly remember…

I am in elementary school.   I draw a large face complete with blond hair and eyelashes. I take pride in the detailed eyes and full lips.  Perhaps I will be chosen for gifted art!  I proudly show my face to…someone.  That part is fuzzy.  And that someone tells me I am not cut out for art.  I feel my chubby cheeks smush into a smile.  Of course the face is bad!  I am no artist! I don’t even like art.

I never draw again. That one person says I am not an artist, and I believe them.  I avoid art classes throughout school.

effect of words

Then, I am a freshman at Poca High School.  Pam Absten is my teacher.  I compose a compare and contrast essay of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables.  I note Hawthorne’s voice.  His style.  Ms. Absten asks me to stay after class. Sarah, you are a great writer and thinker. Keep writing.  

I grab those words as if they’re the gospel.

I write almost everyday for the rest of my life.  Why? Because I am a writer. Who said so? Pam Absten when I was 14, and that is enough for me.  I believe.

But, I do not remember the face and the criticism until I try my hand at art again.  Until I hear my student say she’s not smart…

“Yes, you are smart.  Someone along the way told you were not, but you are.  Trust me.”

“Ok, ok, I am smart, but I don’t care.”

“Yes, you do care….”

I am not sure my words can undo the words so deeply rooted within her.  But, I hope so.

Then I wonder…what words have flown from my lips, forever planted in a heart.  I know I have shut down dreams and limited abilities with my words. Sigh.  My students. My children.  My friends. My family. I have hurt with words.

And I truly aware of the effect more than ever.  Trajectories change when we think we can’t do something. Or think we can.

Today, friends, I am begging you to consider your words.  I am not asking you to lie.  I am asking you to consider that ALL things are subjective.  Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

In the words of my student who created this pasted poem…

Every day scared of 

War, disasters, time, money, and human.


Fear of beautiful life

We need change, rich or poor

Let’s change the world together.


What’s something you fear trying – or trying again -because someone once said you weren’t good at it or good enough for it?

Try it.  You get to define “good.”  Let’s change the world together.  

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. Proverbs 16:24



  1. LOVE this Sarah. You ARE a writer. A wonderful communicator.

  2. I love it too Sarah! You turn words into the most incredible sculptures as stories told and wisdom shared.

Leave a Reply