On the night before Thanksgiving 2010, I laid next to my sleeping husband and wondered if he’d wake to find that I’d died during the night. My fear may have been exaggerated, but it wasn’t completely unreasonable. My fever was over 102, and the number of white blood cells available to fight infection in my body was dangerously close to the number of hairs on my head: zero.
One month earlier, I’d been diagnosed with angiosarcoma. This rare, aggressive cancer threatened my hopes to celebrate my 35th birthday, see my three small children grow up, and reach milestone anniversaries with my husband. I was fighting for more Thanksgivings and determined to enjoy this one to the fullest. But it was hard to be thankful.
From the world’s perspective, I didn’t have much to be thankful for. I was stricken with a terrible cancer and facing months of difficult treatment. I was bald, sick, fatigued, and scared. And yet, the truth of God’s Word challenged my thinking: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18).
When someone’s arrested, a rule called the “Miranda rights” requires the first words spoken to the accused to be, “You have the right to remain silent.” This right is given in order to protect the accused from bringing further incrimination upon herself. Oh, that the Holy Spirit would whisper those words to me before I speak! Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”
Words. We speak them, think them, and write them. We use them to persuade, deter, build up, tear down, instruct, make someone laugh, and make someone cry. Our words shape us, shape others, and reveal what’s truly in us.
Words can bring healing . . . and they can bring deep hurt. Proverbs 18:21a says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” As people created in God’s image, our words, although not omnipotent like his, are still potent. Our words have power, not to be life-creating, but to be life-giving. Sadly, because we’re broken, sinful, and rebellious, our words also have power to destroy and be life-taking.
Do your words breathe life into others—or do they suck the life out of those around you? Do they bless and not curse, strengthen and not weaken, build up and not tear down? James says that, even though we can tame every kind of animal, no person can tame the tongue. So where do we turn? How can we become women who use our words to offer life, and healing, and hope, and help?
Because our words simply expose the reality of what’s happening in our hearts, the only hope we have is to be changed from the inside out. We need to be women who are transformed by the Word of God.
God’s Word Creates Life
Our God is a God who speaks. Speaking is the first thing we see him do in Genesis 1—and his words bring life! He spoke everything into existence: the heavens, the earth, the sun and moon, the land, the sea, the birds, and the animals. His Word brought forth life.
Once God spoke life into existence, life continued to be found in obedience to his Word. Adam and Eve were told to obey God’s good Word. Their obedience didn’t earn them all of God’s good provisions; God had freely given them everything they needed. Obedience to his Word simply meant they would continue to experience everything he had graciously given…
Where do you turn in Scripture when God calls you to walk through suffering? During a particularly difficult trial 20 years ago, a wise Spiritual Mother asked me, “What if the worst thing you fear in this circumstance comes true? What is still true?” Her answer pointed me to Psalm 139. The entire Psalm is filled with comforting truths; here are four which have guided me through many a dark valley.
God knows me
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
Psalm 139 begins with God’s intimate knowledge of me. Not only does he know everything there is to know about me, even the ugly and shameful secrets which I hope to hide from the world, but he knows my thoughts before I think them and my words before I speak them. His knowledge of my path and acquaintance with my ways is not based on observation, but on his sovereign providence in my life, for he predestined my steps according to the counsel of his will before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4, 11). God doesn’t merely know my steps, but he is guiding my every step and holding me close…
At the end of August, I took my kids to the orthodontist and there were ceramic pumpkins on the doctor’s front porch. That same week, Kroger replaced the school supplies on the seasonal aisle with Halloween candy. Don’t get me wrong. I love fall. However, my first instinct upon seeing all the orange and purple was indeed horror. With it being 90+ degrees outside and with two months to go before the end of October, I just wasn’t mentally ready! It felt like I just unpacked from summer vacation. School may have started, and college football may be have been in full swing, but my sleeveless shirts, white pants, and flip flops were still in heavy rotation, and my kids were still spending much of their weekends at the neighborhood pool.
A Thanksgiving Meal
My how things can change in just a few weeks! In my ladies’ bible study, we studied Leviticus 3, which describes the fellowship offering, and suddenly… I can’t wait for Thanksgiving! The first question in our study guide asked us to reflect on what it is we desire to communicate to our guests when we host a special meal. My thoughts immediately went to Thanksgiving. I love Thanksgiving for many reasons. The first reason can be summed up in five simple words: Aunt Margo’s Green Bean Casserole. This is THE dish in my family. THE non-negotiable. It’s the only time that my non-veggie eaters will happily shovel forkfuls of something green into their mouths, and unfortunately that includes my husband. The cheesy, tangy, salty, buttery-cornflake-crusted, decadent goodness is impossible to beat. Thank you, Margo. We love you.
The second reason I love Thanksgiving is because…
I was not going to read Rachael Denhollander’s book What Is a Girl Worth?: My Story of Breaking the Silence and Exposing the Truth about Larry Nassar and USA Gymnastics. As a wife, mom, and counselor, I did not feel like I had emotional bandwidth to engage with such a weighty, close to home topic. Like you, I’ve heard the statistics regarding sexual abuse. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “one in three women experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime.” Like you, I realize there are no good options for a survivor coming forward. Like you, I realize even with all that Rachael has accomplished through coming forward, she still lives with the trauma and scars of the original abuses. Why would I read a book that reminds me of all of this?
Against these odds, at the urging of a colleague, I picked up Rachael’s book and did not put it down until I had read every single word. I urge you to do the same.
What is a Girl Worth? is the memoir of Rachael Denhollander. She describes herself as “wife, mother, follower of Christ, advocate, author, speaker. Part of the army that brought Larry Nassar to justice.” CNN referred to Denhollander as a whistleblower, but as you read her memoir you will see that she did more than blow a whistle. She sounded a fog horn and has not let up.
Throughout this memoir, Rachael lets us into her world beginning as a young girl and through to the present day. She spares few details and the reader will come face to face with horrific evils (on multiple fronts). She does not do this to be indulgent or even to justify herself. Her memoir is ultimately an invitation. In the epilogue, she concludes with these words:
So much work remains. So much evil to fight. So much healing to reach for. So many wounded to love. Consider this your invitation to join in that work. To do what is right, no matter the cost. To hold to the straight line in the midst of the battle. To define your success by faithfulness in the choices you make. The darkness is there, and we cannot ignore it. But we can let it point us to the light….