Why Your Words Matter Most

Why Your Words Matter Most

On the brink of a new year, we're thinking about fresh starts and how do we begin again and how your words matter. Whether you write, speak, or want to connect with the hearts of those you love, this year, The Word in your words can change the world. My friend, Ann Voskamp and I have been talking and praying about words. How to serve with them and use them well. We’re writing our thoughts as a series of letters each Tuesday and we’d love for you to be part of the conversation too. Will you join us? ::

Dearest Holley

When I cleaned out that basement drawer on the first day of the year and unexpectedly found that old card with all the prints of their bared, inked hands, I had crumpled to the floor.

Ink loosens bones and can make one fall apart.

Where does all the time go and how is it that ink can line our skin and outline our souls?

Picnik collage

I had forgotten all about that card, Holley. How I had made their handprints for our Christmas card that year, when we had four, three boys and a girl. The oldest then five. The youngest — seven. Seven days. I could hardly unfurl him.

He’d kept curling his natal fist when I went to make his handprint with the ink pad. Thus, the singular foot print. How could his toes ever been those string of black beads? I can remember how he felt, warm next to me — a sunning stone.

I had wanted to remember them all, just like that — the dimpled cheeks, the fine blonde hair, the bellies that jiggled when they giggled, and they giggled over everything — to somehow frame the art of now. I had used ink. I had pressed their hands, and that one wrinkled pink foot, to the pad — and they left their mark in ink. Pressed their wonder right into me.

A decade and one year later, and they are tall now. Those hands are big, carving out a life. The oldest and the girl both with feet larger than mine. I am sitting in a ring of lamp light, holding lines of their sworling ink. Of them long ago little. All that was. Sometimes I think I know where time goes — straight way to a bittersweet ache.




I don’t know how long I sat there tracing those black lines, Holley. Trying to find a way back in time.

And I don’t know which of the handprints I was outlining slowly when I realized: I don’t think now that we ever leave our mark in ink — It is the ink that marks us. It is the words that mark us.

It is all the ink and and all the words and and all the voices and and all the stories that stain us and make us who we are.

All the words I had ever spoken, they are making my children who they are. What we speak into others, this is what they become.

The Word God breathed life into us who are made of the ground and our lives are literally this: living letters. I sat there a long time, Holley. Not moving. Hardly breathing. Wondering what letters I had written on the skin of all the people in my life. I just kept tracing their inked fingerprints with my finger. The Word was made flesh and we are made of words.

Is that why He tells us that His Words are to be our very life? So that His Words permeate us and become the words of life we speak into others? You are what you speak and you are what you hear and we are our words and our tongue is the tail of our heart. Sometimes it is our own sin that makes us ache.

I think it was sitting there, Holley, tracing the ink of my children’s lives that made me think of Jesus, the Word, and how we have only one account of Him writing anything at all. It was with his finger too, and it was only this: Jesus “stooped down and wrote on the ground.” (John 8:6-8)

When God came to earth, He didn’t inscribe one word in a tablet of stone. No granite for God. Nor books or blog, not even one letter, signature or song. Jesus wrote no documents — He only scrawled in dirt. He etched His Word in shifting granules of dirt.

Writing in dirt — it seems so — fleeting. How can words in dirt survive anything?

And yet —

All words are really only shaped in dust.

Whether encouraging a child, phoning a hurting friend, publishing a blog post, writing a book — all our words can ever do is just this — inscribe dirt. For isn’t this what lives are made of?

Our words holler across the house, blink up on a screen, scroll across a page, but ultimately they’re written in dust — right onto skin, right onto hearts of sand.

And in the upside down kingdom, it is not published books or shared blogs that endure, but it’s what is housed in the dust that is eternal; it’s the words we’re writing on hearts that last forever.

Our littlest, she came to me when I was sitting there holding the card, Holley, settled down in my lap, this one born many moons after these three handprints and a footprint. 

She'd placed her hand over this handprint, that one, and then had to ask.

"Could I do it too?" She turned her face to face me hopeful. I looked right into her, framed art here.

And I cupped her close and whispered happy words straight  into her.  

And she ran to get the ink.



written for your heart, by Ann Voskamp @ A Holy Experience

Want to read a  related encouraging article?  Why You Really Are Living A Good Story Today

and then pick up your own free word strengtheners


O, tell us  a good, God-glorifying  story — who has written an encouraging letter on your heart? How did they do it? What strengthening words are you writing on the skins around you  these days? 

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What will we do with our words?

What will we do with our words?

{I'm continuing our conversation about words on (in)courage today. If you know how words can hurt, will you read below and then join us on (in)courage? I'm so grateful for each of you and the words you share here that encourage my heart.}


Sword photo by Richard 'Tenspeed' Heaven Women tell me of how words have wounded.

They walk into my counseling office and bare the scars on their hearts.

They lean into me at blogging conferences and tell of unkind comments.

They confide in me over coffee–the lines still echoing all the way back to childhood.

I nod my head, understand.

"Reckless words pierce like a sword" (Proverbs 12:18).

Words can be weapons.

A careless remark. A bit of gossip. A little less sensitivity in a stress-filled moment. Do we know what we do to our sisters?

I sit alone and pray about this one day. I’ve become afraid of words–of what they can do. And it seems in the dark I sense a whisper, “Daughter, words can defend and protect too.”

It’s right there in our armor: “The sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6:17).

We must choose how we wield our words.

In my heart I once pictured the enemy coming and a wounded woman on the ground behind me. I put my sword in front of her and said, “You can’t have her. She belongs to the King.” I still get goosebumps as I put those words on this page–because that is why I write. Because life is hard and we all fall and we need sisters who stand in the gap for us. Because words have the capacity to hold back evil, to bring forth life, to sustain, encourage, and unite us.

Will you read the rest with me on (in)courage? Just click here.

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The Way to Feed a Hungry Heart: A Series of Letters about Serving with Words (especially in social media)

The Way to Feed a Hungry Heart: A Series of Letters about Serving with Words (especially in social media)

Bread photo by Ann Voskamp - A Holy Experience (used with permission) Dearest Ann,

Thank you for the words you sent my way last week in your first letter—I tucked them away in my heart like pebbles in my pocket. As we traveled the last few days I kept pulling them out, turning them over and over, holding them and feeling their beautiful weight.

You’re right, Ann, we’ve talked about what it means to be in this world wide web for a long time. And really, it’s not just the web we’re wondering about—it’s all words, yes?

What do we do with the letters, phrases, syllables, sentences that have been entrusted to us? That's a question not just for those with blogs, twitter accounts, and facebook updates. If having a message to share makes you a writer then we’re all writers in a way, aren’t we?

Yes. I think so.

Even if our words are just the ones we speak to our family and friends.

Even if our encouragement is just for the tired check-out girl at the market.

Even if we feel like we stumble in what we put on paper or what we say.

Genesis says, "In the beginning God created…."

And John says, "In the beginning was the Word…."

In the beginning the Word created.

And ever since we’ve been creating with the Word.

Will you read the rest with me over at Ann's place today? Just click here…


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written with love for you by holley 

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How To Avoid Getting Caught in the World Wide Web: Letters between friends about Social Media: #1

How To Avoid Getting Caught in the World Wide Web: Letters between friends about Social Media: #1

a letter from Ann Voskamp to Holley Gerth


Dear Holley, woman with a heart as wide as hope itself…

Do you remember first asking me —"How do you be in the world wide web but not of it?"

How can we navigate this cyberweb and not get caught in it?

Creating buzz while we are soundlessly being wrapped tighter and tighter…. till we are slowly eaten alive…



I know. What does any of this web stuff have to do with anything real, really? The world wide web, these blogs, this thing called "social media" — isn't all just a little bit — virtual? Unreal? Disconnected to the stuff of our life, our hearts?

Media, it comes from the Latin word meaning "middle." This way we're communicating here, right now, on this screen, this is in the middle of us, you and I, the middle of our world right now, and social media is the medium by which we are gathering as a culture right now — readers on one side of the screen and writers on the other — and if this is at the middle of our society right now — how do we ensure God is in the middle of it?

When I got home from rooming with you at The Relevant Conference, Holley, I went looking for that note you wrote me, the letter with that question. Because what you said seemed to me be, yes, relevant. The stuff of hearts. 

I found it way back in the second email you ever sent my way.  We didn't even know each other. It makes me smile, Holly, to think how long you and I've been having this same conversation.  You wrote this: 


Dear Ann,

How do you be in the world wide web but not of it?

It's always there on the web, this temptation to make it about comments, numbers, traffic.

But our words are meant to be pure, from the heart, for Him and for them.

When you have a moment, can you tell me a little of what God has spoken to you about these things?


Who would have thought that a little over a year later, the farm hick and the word girl would be rooming together at a blogging conference, staying up late to discuss just this, how to orient our social media so God's in the center?



Our room was quiet, I remember that. How I'd offer you a wondering sentence about words and women and He Who's the Word made Flesh and you'd pick it up quiet… pick it up in prayer.

You'd wait. Listen. I remember the stillness of your listening. And then you'd offer words back. 

Yes, that was the essence of the quiet: the listening for His voice, the One that can only be heard in the echoing chambers of the heart.

I found it too, when I came home, Holley, the notes I'd written you in response to your second email. I'd like to talk about those thoughts, as we explore this, Holley…But I wonder now…

I now wonder if the answer of how not to get caught in the world wide web doesn't begin in another place?

I think this because of what I literally found in another place, just weeks before we roomed at Relevant, while I was at Laity Lodge, working with the team of editors from High Calling



It was that morning we sat our overlooking the Frio River. There in the dining hall by the windows and all that September light. 

Lauren Winner, our workshop facilitator, had looked around the table at the ten of us and then picked up her marker. The black Sharpie had squeaked across the paper of the easel. "Why Do I Write"  

She had turned to us, "Two minutes — go."

I had nervously yanked off the cap of my pen. Flipped opened the red journal. The ink kept blotting. My hand kept shaking. The words had just sort of puddled out:

Why do I Write:

I write to see Him. 

Without words, the Word, I grope, lost.

The only pupil I have is ink This is the pupil that makes me a student of God. This is the way I study being.

I write to encounter the Spirit, as Nouwen said. He is Word and I meet Him in words and these lines of words are my lifeline to Him and sanity. 

This is my handicap. I must live my life twice — once in the world, once in words. This makes my living slow. But in writing words, I uncover my own meaning and unveil God right here and He is my audience of One.

Writing is this way I let my blood, to heal and cleanse and diagnose all that boils and festers and flows within. It is my sickness and it is my medicine, it is my thorn and it is my healing. I take my medicine slow. 

I gag it down, I choke it up. It never gets easier. I am chronic and life's terminal and this is a salvation, the way the Word meets me.

I am not good at it.


"Okay…" Lauren had pushed her chair back across the floor, stood. 

No more time to figure it out? Really? But I had stumbled through this,given it only two minutes thought, not sure if any of it was right or made any sense. I had looked down at my last line. Yes, that was the ending that summed it up best.

"Now — if we just go around the table and each of you read yours out loud."

OH. My throat had constricted like a boa around a hog. And yet… maybe this is always the best place to begin, Holley?

If we're  ever going to find the answer of how not to get caught in the world wide web, don't we first have to know why we fly

Why do we write?

Perhaps we first have to unravel why we're on the web in the first place, if we want to figure out how to avoid getting tangled up in the trappings of the internet?  

Really, it's what Lauren said next that I keep turning over, that keeps turning me over, that undoes and releases me.  

But I've stammered on, so I'll leave that for now, Holley, for the next letter.

Because now, I wonder if the first step to avoid getting caught in the world wide web answer is to begin just with this: 

#1 To write a Web Mission Statement: Why do I Write 


We could talk about ways #2, #3, #4 to navigate the net… but I wonder if we first need to do #1– a mission statement. What do you think, Holley? How does knowing why you write, why you're on the web, help you find His Way? Do you have a web mission statement? How do you think begin to be of the www but not in it? 


I can see you now, Holley, how you'll take up these words, say them first as prayers– listening for Him.

I think of you, Holley, as one of those spinning silk gossamers of hope online, a place where we all trip — and fall right into the arms of Jesus.

You are so loved, sister…

By Father.

And this grace-bathed daughter.


All's grace,



Related: More of what Holley & I talked about while rooming at Relevant: living in the upside down kingdom







The backstory behind our friendship and why I think Holley's a rare gem 

Letter #2 on social media will be posted next Tuesday @ Holley's and Ann's

Photos and text: by Ann Voskamp

Ann Voskamp's a farmer's wife, mama to 6 kids, blogger of six years, and author of One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are (Zondervan). Everyday, she takes the wild dare and writes about it at A Holy Experience






So how do you avoid getting caught in the world wide web?

Why do you write? What's your online mission statement?

How do you navigate social media?

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