I missed my Godson’s birthday. I had planned a trip to New York City to visit him and his parents, my dearest friends, but life got really busy and I had to cancel. On top of that, I emailed to tell them I wasn’t coming the day before I was supposed to show up, I forgot to send a present, and I was so consumed by some work circumstances that I didn’t even ask my dearest friend in the world about her new job, a job that she has been wanting for the past two years and just got word was hers. Do you know what my friend said to me when I called her a few weeks ago to apologize? She said, “You are a good friend.” In the moment when I felt like the worst friend in the world, she called out my potential and spoke hope over the place where I had the most shame. And you know what? It made me want to prove her right.
I believe words have heartbeats. Filled with electrical energy, pulsing with potential to bring life or death depending on the intention. Words stick with us. They imbed deep behind our ribs and echo their beating voice in our inner most places.
I can recite verbatim words that were spoken over me nearly twenty years ago, words that even to this day I have to work hard to quiet. I can also recite verbatim words that changed the course of my life when they made me believe something about myself that I had forgotten. How many of us have had a person tell us something about ourselves that we started to believe just because they said it. Or had someone tell us we could do something that we thought we couldn’t, and suddenly we began to believe it was possible simply because they spoke it? We become more ourselves when people remind us who we are.
I put a tremendous amount of energy into remembering this truth when I speak to my kids.
This intention started when my oldest was two years old. We were at a store, he had moment, melting down on the floor, sobbing and flailing around. Your standard tantrum. Instinctually I scooped him up and pressing my lips to his ear I started whispering all of the things I love about him. “Joseph, I love how you kiss my cheek to wake me up in the morning. I love how you are so kind to our dog, I love your unique laugh that I would recognize in any crowd.” Within seconds he quieted, the flailing stopped and peace overwhelmed as he focused on the words I was speaking over him. It was in that moment I realized words have heartbeats. Heartbeats with the power to heal and restore. Power to bring things to life.
In our faith tradition this power is referred to as blessing and cursing and articulates the truth that death and life are in the power of our words. It points to the gift that only humans have, an ability that came to us right from the start. In the beginning of God’s story with humanity he allows the first human to name the animals, essentially speaking identity and future over them. And with each name, the animals became more themselves. That was just the beginning.
The same is true with the names we speak over our kids. It starts with the birth names we give them, a name that will identify them for their entire lives. But it goes deeper too, into the names we speak over our kids on a daily basis.
Worthy, loved, enough.
This article originally appeared in the Winter 2016 issue of Hello, Dearest Magazine.