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choose your mottos

I’ve always been a words girl - taping index cards of poetry and verses and phrases up all over my house. Most of my wall-hangings have words on them. I have letter boards. Display banners. Words are painted on my door frames. Some days I wonder what my children will say about the days before they could read the hundreds of words on display around our home. I wonder what they think those letters really say.

I get it honest. Looking out of the window over the kitchen sink in my childhood home would not just give you a view of the spruce tree growing tall as the years passed, but you’d also be looking at my mama’s handwriting on index cards taped to the window frame. We didn’t have a dishwasher growing up, so believe me when I tell you that I was very familiar with the verses and prayers she wrote on those cards.

Emily P. Freeman gave these words of advice in a conference I attended weeks ago: choose your mottos. She showed a picture of a fellow writer’s desk with her own hand-written words tacked to the cork directly in front of where her face would be when she sat down to write. Words of truth, words of motivation, words of encouragement. Those are the things we want to see when we look up from our work, when we get up in the morning, when we look in our mirrors.

I have my own words over my desk too, hanging from tiny clothespins on butcher twine strung across the window where I look out to see my entire backyard, all the way to the woods at the back of our property. I only write pleasant and positive things on those cards. There’s science to back me up. I want to feel motivated and encouraged to “improve my relationship, health, and educational outcomes.” Plus, happy words just make you feel good. (Thus begins and ends my official scientific paper on said topic.)

Here’s the thing I kept thinking about after Emily said those words, however: what mottos am I unconsciously living by that I would never write on a card and paste up in my house?

I, kind of embarrassingly, had a lot that came immediately to mind. They weren’t the pleasant and positive things that I actually have hanging up. They weren’t exactly motivational. What would it look like if those were the words that I scribed to pieces of paper all over my house?

You’re not good enough…taped on top of my mirror.

You don’t have what it takes…pinned over my desk.

You’re lazy…propped up on my nightstand where I can see it first thing when I wake up in the morning.

You’re unqualified…stuck beside the mousepad of my laptop so I can have it fresh in my mind every time I sit down to work.

You’re a terrible mother…stuck right on the refrigerator where everyone can see it every morning when they get out the milk.

I shudder at the idea of visually looking at those words day after day after day, but I don’t hesitate to tell myself those things privately where I don’t have to actually see them or voice them aloud. The ugliness with which I speak to myself is not a thing I’d ever want people to drop by and see publicly displayed. Anybody relate?

I had to spend some time with those words over the past couple weeks. Why do I display lies on the memo boards of my mind when I would never allow them to be said aloud? Does it matter what pretty things I write on my little motivational banner if those are the real things I’m feeling inside? I had to work on some truth-telling. After some long days of fighting this out in my mind, I felt some of those ugly words shape-shift inside my heart as I read this declaration during my morning reading, a balm to my spirit, a benediction for my soul:

But you are God’s chosen treasure – priests who are kings, a spiritual “nation” set apart as God’s devoted ones. He called you out of darkness to experience his marvelous light, and now he claims you as his very own. He did this so that you would broadcast his glorious wonders throughout the world.
For at one time you were not God’s people, but now you are. At one time you knew nothing of God’s mercy, because you hadn’t received it yet, but now you are drenched with it.
1 Peter 2:9-10

A benediction is just a blessing that typically comes at the end of a sacred service of some kind. It’s basically a verbal affirmation. One of my favorite speakers ends most of his talks with a benediction, and no matter what I learn or how good the content of the talk was, the end blessing is always my favorite part. I imagine a benediction as that drenching of mercy talked about in those poetic verses that I read in the sunshine that morning. That saturation of love and truth and mercy and goodness so intense that the blessing has nowhere to go but to overflow on to those around us. This is how we speak truth to ourselves in the midst of the lies. This is how we transform.

It’s time to change the narrative you’re telling about yourself, even if it’s in private. Speak words that bring life, even if it’s just to your mirror image. Write those words down and tape them where you can see them. Choose your mottos.

And may you, friends, be so drenched in mercy that you can’t help but broadcast that glorious wonder throughout the whole world.

May you step forward into transformation with courage, knowing that your wounds have only created space for light to both enter and pour out.

May you know without a shadow of a doubt that you belong and you are loved.

May I know it too.

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