The Gift of {Strong} Words

Your words matter. Whether you write, speak, or simply want to connect with the hearts of those you love. My friend, Ann Voskamp, and I have been talking and praying about words. How to serve with them. How to use them well. We’re writing our thoughts a series of letters each Tuesday and we’d love for you to be part of the conversation too. Will you join us?_____________________________________________________________________________________



earest Holley,


Christmas almost here, snow deep and quiet here in the north, us readying to celebrate the Word who takes on skin to touch our spirits.

And I think of you Holley, all our sisters, word-women at sinks and by hospital beds and behind desks, giving the gifts of living words to all those around, waiting for the gift of He Who is Letters made into the love of the God-Babe — The Word we can hold on to.

TheGiftofWords I keep thinking of this too, Holley — Zechariah who had no words for months before the arrival of John, the messenger of The coming Word. 

And you, Word-girl, you upended me with last week’s letter — can words really change the world? Couldn’t hardly see the screen. How did you know that I’ve begged God to let me help the world with a bent back and dirt under the fingernails? But yes, you are right — when we give even a clutch of kind words to this little child here, we are giving it to Jesus, and changing the world with His grace.

Someone asked me last week if I had any home-made gifts made up for my family? My heart hurt a bit, Holley — what can I give from my own hands to these people here I love so?

And then, Holley, this memory — it all came back to me:

How I turned the last child’s light out that night and slumped down a door frame and how I cried quiet in the dark. The mother grief scalds the cheeks — but what washes away the mother grime?


That night I knew it: I’ve become the parent I knew as a child. The one I looked straight in the face and fierce vowed I’d never be. But my ears ring with the echo of my voice, that voice: Can’t you see what a mess this is? How many times do I have to tell you? What were you thinking?

How did I end up here and I want to muffle out me and the 24/7 forge of children that can liquefy the steely resolve.

I had wept molten. I beg God to burn off the soul dross.

How can a mother be frustrated her child is not as she longs him to be, when she herself is not as she longs to be?

I had run my fingers through my hair and I wail soundless. The clock ticks heavy.

When I find the pillow, my chest hurts hard and I know it: the only air non-toxic to humans is Grace.

I try to inhale it deep. I sleep.

When we wake, we read, for there is a Bread that can break the fast, and it’s the way this version of the text expresses it that unlocks the hard places:

“When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need—words that will help others become stronger. Ephesians 4:29 (NCV)

Stronger. Stronger.

I had looked around the table and into their eyes. Into them. I had held them in my one hand, them pinked and swaddled, and I had made them strong with the milk letting down and the love, and I had witnessed the stretching of the spine, the first tottering steps and I had squealed wonder and I had offered the hand. Mamas make strong.

When we had finished the Bible reading, we reach for hands to pray, I feel little fingers again and couldn’t I do this again?

Just for today:

  • Couldn’t all the words out of my mouth only be the strengthening words? Words that nourish their bones and muscle their hearts.
  • What if I tried to change nothing in children but I focused on only this: Only speak words that make souls stronger.

Like oxygen, couldn’t just speaking strengthening-words change the whole of the atmosphere?


When a brother had teased his sister and she rages, I grit-pray for grace and strengthening words: Family’s a boat and the world’s rough waters and family is meant to be the one safe place where no one pushes anyone out of the boat. Let’s hold onto each other folks.”

I get in there too, embrace them, draw them up out of the storm. And we hug each other until we feel soul strong.

And when an angry child had spit a fiery temper tantrum, I remember, and when there’s a heated debate over who gets to practice piano first, I remember and when in the course of five minutes a finger gets jammed in a door and a lego creation gets stomped on and the house erupts wild, I forget and a stream of exasperation weakens these walls and He reminds and I circle back and try to renovate my own tearing down with the edifying words.

We breathe grace. This oxygen changes everything.

The tongue is the tail of the heart. And a lashing tongue is the symptom of an anger riddled heart. It’s always the heart that whips the tongue hard and breaks the backs weak.

And I thought then that I was finally getting it: If Grace always pulses the heart, and love’s the blood coursing tender through veins, the tail of the heart, that tongue, it caresses and it strokes and it revives the soul until small ones stand up David-tall before Goliaths.


It was a dark night weeks later, Holley, and I still remember it. I turned out the last light and a voice calls through the dark.


“Yes?” I wait still in the black, hand on a light switch.

“Thanks…for the way you made me feel today.”

It’s the words, the strengthening words, the I-will-build-you-up-until-you-stand-so-tall-you-can-see-Jesus- here-and-in-you-and-even-in-me-words. I lean into a door frame and tonight I get to smile and I fill with the full life, light in the dark.

Grace words make the weak-us stronger.

And that, Holley, that’s when I thought of it — that is the heart-made gift I could give my family this year. To only speak Words that make them stronger.

That under the tree I could give them the gift of words that make them tall and strong… trees of their own with roots deep down into the grace and love and heart of Christ.

Words, Holley. Could there be a greater gift to give in honor of the Word made flesh?

I send these words to you with all my love. Grow strong, sister….

Ann Voskamp

Photo: us here with “By Grace Alone”, by DaySpring’s Blessings Unlimited Q




4U: What gift could you give with your words today? { If you’d like the graphic “Only Speak Words that Make Souls stronger” as a little token card to tuck in your pocket, to remind you to keep giving the gift of strong words, visit Ann’s A Holy Experience site right here. }

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About Holley

About Holley

Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author and Life Coach

I like humans, words, and good coffee. And I’d love to help you beat what’s holding you back, become all you’re created to be, and kick butt for the greater good.

Cheering you on,


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