When I was a high school freshman, I approached my English teacher, Mrs. Richard. My appetite for words urged me to ask her where I could buy one of the books we used in class—The American Heritage Dictionary. She looked up from the papers she was grading, red pen in hand and a sparkle in her eye. Through her smile, she said she’d look into it and continued to edit. A few days later, she slipped me a brand new copy and wouldn’t accept my money. She said it was an honor to give a book to someone who was hungry to learn.
The dictionary spine lay gaping on my bedside stand. Every day, I devoured a new word and nourished my growing vocabulary.
It wasn’t long before some classmates teased me. “Use normal words,” they said. “Who are you tying to impress?”
Their criticism threatened my passion for language; I considered defending my love for language by continuing to spout new-to-me multisyllabic speech, but I wanted to belong more than I wanted to increase my vocabulary. So I stuck the red dictionary between my ceramic dice bookends, where dust gathered on its top edge.
Several years later, I sat in my kitchen’s tender pre-dawn hours while my first husband and two toddlers slept. This was my time to do what I enjoyed—learn about writing from a borrowed copy of The Artist’s Way. I stole pockets of time, every chance I could. It was my secret.
Feet padded down the carpeted stairs. My husband looked over my shoulder. Excited, I showed him the book.
This wasn’t a good use of my time, he said, walking toward the cabinet for cereal. Shouldn’t I do more productive things? Two jobs, two toddlers and a large house left no time for writing.
I returned the book to the library and shelved another opportunity with words.
After my divorce years later, I spotted a copy of The Artist’s Way in a Borders bookstore and grabbed it, its inner hinge splayed open before I reached my car. I had my old friend back. Flipping through the pages, I realized my passion for writing never left; I found it buried beneath others’ ridicule and judgment—and my insecurities.
One day while rummaging through a box of books, I found my old journal from a time during my first marriage. I clenched at my handwritten words: “I’m an outsider in my own life. My existence is like a play acted out on a stage before me; only I’m not part of the stage cast. A shell of me sits in the anonymity of the audience.”
My words revealed the distance I felt. I struggled to find meaning for my existence. What was at stake? My purpose.
After a series of challenging events, I worked with a life coach. I began my time with her feeling empty like a shell. I completed our work together with unmistakable meaning. She helped me clarify my life values and discover my life purpose: writing.
The past two years I’ve committed to developing my writing skills and exploring my writing opportunities. The more I pursue it, the more I grow, and the more I’m experiencing a sense of community. Through words, we learn more about one another and how to heal one another.
The page offers open space where I compose my thoughts. As they spill into that space, I begin to see new perspectives. I discover my purpose is not just about me, but also about ministering to others. I don’t believe God intended for my story, or the troubles tangled within it, to be wasted. He meant for all of it to be used for His glory.
I think of Mrs. Richard from time to time, and her investment in a young woman who loved words. I think she saw a purpose in me that I didn’t yet see. I’ll bet she’d be glad to know her student found her way, committed to using words—new words, multisyllabic words—to tell stories. And it’s all part of finally living out her God-given purpose.
Meet Sharon Gibbs…
Sharon Gibbs is a writer, blogger and oncology nurse with a passion for how our stories connect and heal us. Her agonizing divorce and estrangement from her two sons led her to write about relationships, faith and life perspectives at sharonagibbs.com. She finds joy in knowing that nothing God has done in her is going to waste. Sharon serves her church’s ministry through being a Marriage Mentor, facilitator of Divorce Care and Life Group leader with her husband, Andrew. She would love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or her website.
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Sharon! I love this post! You’re a multitudinously gifted author! 🙂 Like you, I love words, especially those which take awhile to write and pronounce. Ah, the dumbing down of our vocabularies, our means of expression, our thoughts, themselves. It’s criminal. I had literally just read yesterday, in a book on creativity, the importance of employing a vast vocabulary. The more words we know, the better we are able to think and to convey subtle nuances of thought. I’m rushed here, so if I have time to insert the quote here later, I will. The advice you are giving (and which I follow), is precisely opposite of what many writers and editors would tell you. But I think they are wrong. Vast vocabularies afford us the opportunity to convey our exact thoughts and feelings about the vast vicissitudes of life. Dumb down our words, and we dumb down our thinking, and ultimately we dumb down our lives. Jesus IS the Word and He gives us the gift of words to share His story, and ours, within it.Let’s do that as intricately and interestingly as we can. He deserves the effort. I’m so glad that you have remained true to Him by living out His calling on your life. You do it so well!
PS I might add that women are not dumb. They love learning, and yes, most of them enjoy using their dictionaries, whether heavy, fine-printed tomes or online versions. Women love to explore and grow!
Lynn, Thank you for such a thought-provoking response.
My writing is teaching me to be brave through my expression and take my lead from my Lord and His Word. Who would have guessed it would have taken so many years to discover this purpose?? All in His time, right?
Words have always played an important role in my life. As I read, I stop when I encounter a new word. I jot it down and look up the definition. These days, I am more apt to Google the word than to pull that red dictionary from my bookshelf (yes, I still have it). Still, I think of Mrs. Richard, the example she set, and the seed she planted.
Sharon, reading this post, I feel a sisterhood in words. I still collect them and carry new ones around on scraps of paper — just in case I need one! I would love it if this post found its way to Mrs. Richards! What a gift it would be to her. Thank you for sharing your story and your heart.
Michele, I get it when you say you collect words. One drawer in my nightstand has scraps of paper and small notepads etched in words and definitions. I can’t seem to throw them away! These days, I tend to place them in a word file in my computer — a bit easier to retrieve that way! 🙂
Thanks sharing, Sister!
Sharon, I’ve tracked you down from our FFW circle. This story is filled with such purpose. It’s interesting to look back and see how God prepared us for the things we’re called to do. Keep writing friend!
Traci,Yes, I think back to the years of longing to write, but felt the possibility snuffed out. All along, I was being prepared and didn’t know it.
I hope a reader out there finds hope in knowing that it is never too late to go after a dream.
Thank you for tracking me down!
Sharon. I also feel a kinship through your words. Not that anyone has told me out loud that writing is a waste of time, but the self-guilt or enemy shaming that tells me I should do something more productive. Truth is, if I could spend all day reading the Bible and journaling about it, I would. I am looking forward to reading more from you. Glad to see you here.
Very inspiring Sharon. I often feel I lost myself in my marriage/ relationships. Trying to find that now. Thank you for sharing