What is Always the First Step, No Matter Where You Are: Where the Best Words Always Come From

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 as a series of letters each Tuesday and we’d love for you to be part of the conversation too. Will you join us? We’d love to hear your voice…


Dear Holley,

You sent me words and people read your words, gather them up and carry them like morsels for the journey, and I have to ask you, is it words that make us truly human?

Words we serve to each other on platters of grace, words we read, breathe in, oxygen to the lungs, words we drink down when the soul is cracked dry — is it words that make us different than all other forms of life?

I had read it last week in a book and I immediately thought of you, our letters — that the phrase for a human being in the ninth century was this: “reord berend.” A “bearer of speech.


All human beings carry letters, bear words, deliver lines, murmur heart sounds.

And this makes sense of everything, that it is words, “bearing speech,” — even groans and cries — that make us genuinely human: we bear the image of our Maker and He is Word.

Then this word-making matters — profoundly. By our words we are justified or condemned and words are what make us a certain kind of people to reflect the Word who made us.

How then do we speak? Speak words to others, write them down, send them off, offer them to the world? How can the words be all they were meant to be — making the speech bearer and the listener all that they were meant to be? How can the words of our mouths, our hearts, be pleasing in His sight?

I have returned to this again, again, Holley, like a child to the desert table at a potluck, what Lauren Winner said at The High Calling writer’s retreat.

She’d stood in the lodge’s dining hall and we sat at a dinner table and behind her, in the kitchen, I could see the plates and the cooks. Each meal, those cooks served us fresh bread. And Lauren told us how said she’d read one student’s words for a whole year but the next year she hardly recognized the same student’s words. Each line was far richer, deeper — life-giving. Gaunt souls can find filling on real words.

And Lauren had to know what had changed and she called the student and asked her outright, how the dramatic change in the quality of the words? Lauren had pushed her jewelled cat-eye glasses up the bridge of her nose and the words she said next have fed me for months: “This was what the student said was the one thing that had changed about her words — now, before she ever wrote a word, she entered into a time of earnest prayer.”

It’s only the breath of prayer that resuscitates our flat words.

Remember your mama telling you, Holley? “Listen before you speak.” Before you loose your tongue, listen with your ears. And Mamas, they’re right: Listen to the whisper of the Word God before loosing your words. Prayer alway before pen; bent knees before open lips.

All the words that give life are birthed in the nursery of the knees.

But then again — isn’t this always so, Holley? That prayer is always the first step in every walk of our lives — words and work, hearts and hurt:

“First of all, there should be prayers offered” (1 Tim. 2:1).

Prayer first; prayer before anything else or there isn’t anything else.

How is there communion with Christ who makes all things good and into His image, if there is not first prayer?

What if all words first went to the temple before out into the world, what if we were all Hezekiah, daily spreading our lines of letters out before the Lord, what if we of unclean lips prayed for the live coal of holiness, prayed that God may consecrate our words before we desecrated the day?

I have thought about this too, Holley— How might our words yield a more bountiful harvest if we gave God the first-fruit of our lips? (Heb. 13:15)

Do you think David spoke some of the richest words the world has ever known because he prayed to God three times a day and praised Him seven times a day?

I have a friend, Holley, a woman you’d love because she loves the Word, and she often closes her eyes as she talks, and true, it may just be a way to soothe nerves.

But as she speaks slow, eyelashes rested, I always think she looks like she’s praying her words. 

She is one of the most beautiful human beings, speech bearers, I know.

You know, you’re a lot like her, girl…

Write more soon? I am praying for you… for all our beautiful word sisters...

All’s grace,

Ann Voskamp @ A Holy Experience 


Holley is writing on (in)courage today about words and how we can use them to heal hearts instead of wound each other. If you know how words can hurt, will you come over and read with us?

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(Photo & text: Ann Voskamp  a farmer’s wife, mama to 6 kids, author of One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are (Zondervan). Everyday, she takes the wild dare. She writes about her struggle for joy at A Holy Experience)

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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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