“Good Words,” column for Oct. 4, 2016

Some people collect stuff. Salt ‘n’ pepper shakers. Ribbons from county fairs. T-shirts with catchy slogans. Once, on a flight from Dallas to Las Vegas, I met a woman who claimed to collect ex-husbands and alimony.

I personally have never been a collector, never found anything that seemed worth the effort to amass and store and dust it. Mostly, I collect people _ family, friends, folks I meet _ and the stories they tell me. All it costs is the time to listen. And they usually dust themselves.

But today, out of the blue, I suddenly realized what I’ve been collecting all my life: Words.

They repeat, like a litany in my memory and my soul, good things that were said to me over the years, that lifted me up, kept me going, gave me hope or just made me smile.

I think of a few of them most everyday. The difference today was this: For the first time I saw them as a whole, a lifetime of blessings heaped upon my head. So I decided to make a list of some of my favorites:

_ My grandmother, when I was 7, took my face in her hands and said, “I know you will never do anything intentionally wrong.” She was wrong about that. But her faith in me set a bar I still try (and often fail) to live up to.

_ When I was 12, about to be baptized, my Sunday school teacher told me, yes, Jesus loves me, and she loved me, too. I could see in her eyes she meant both. I never felt so loved.

_ My high school English teacher told me I was a “writer.” I didn’t know what “writer” meant, but I was pretty sure he did and I took him at his word.

_ When my first child, at 6 months, smiled at me and said “Mama,” it was the sweetest word I’d ever heard and the best name I’d ever been called. It still is. But I have to say “Nana” is a close runner-up.

_ Years ago, when I told my mother I’d won an award for writing, she said, “For what?” So I explained again what I do for a living, and she said, “Well, honey, I guess you’re smart!” Even now, it makes me laugh.

_ As my first husband neared the end of his long battle with cancer, he said to me, “I had no idea you could be so strong.” I don’t know why he said it. But hearing it made me stronger.

_ Once, for Mother’s Day, my daughter gave me a collage of photos taken of me with her and her brothers when they were growing up. On it she wrote this quote: “All that I am or hope to be I owe to my angel mother.” That, from the same girl, who at 18, had told me to get a life.

_ Fifteen years ago, the day my editor, who is now my husband, became more than a friend, he said, “I’ve been carrying a torch for you for a while and I think you ought to give me a chance.” You’d be amazed how often those words cross my mind.

_ Children often say things that give us reason to laugh and to feel more alive. My children and grandchildren have given me countless words to treasure. Henry, my grandson, is 5. I wish you could see him. One day, he begged me chase him.

“I can’t chase you,” I said. “But I’ll grab you as you run by me.”

“Why can’t you chase me?”

“Because, Henry, I’m old.”

“No, Nana!” he said, with his sweet eyes welling up. “You’re not old! You’re so pretty!”

I promised to buy him a car.

Words matter. Good or bad, intentional or idiotic, they stand forever. Most anything can be forgiven, but bad words, once spoken, can’t be taken back.

Most of us have heard our share of both: Words that build us up or tear us down; that lift our spirits or break our hearts.

I’d like to leave my loved ones a lot of good words. I bet you’d like to do that for yours, too.

We have a choice about the things we say, and also, about the memories on which we choose to dwell. The two go hand in hand. Kindness begets kindness, love begets love.

My list was just a fraction of the “good words” I can recall.

What are some of yours?


  1. Annemarie Mansfield says

    Just discovered you on the onus of my cousin who always reads you. Thank you to Jan and to you! I too have been a “word” person for as long as I can remember. One of my teachers told me I was a writer also. Funny how we find each otherx we writer people. I write a FB post every morning on a scripture reading, that is where my words take me. So very nice to read another writers words.

  2. Adrienne Thomas says

    Thank you Sharon for your words of wisdom, words that we speak to others must be chosen carefully lest we wound the people we say them to. They are powerful things especially those spoken to our spouses, children, and others around us.
    I appreciate the bright spot that your column creates in some otherwise sad and tragic news reports.

  3. There isn’t room in this blog for all the good words I could recall, but some of the funniest happened the night of August 8, 2008 and they weren’t spoken, they were texted. My younger son sent me a message from the delivery room where he was with his wife, awaiting the imminent arrival of their second child. The first text said…”Here she comes!!”. Followed shortly by..”It’s a boy!!!” My third granddaughter turned out to be my fourth grandson, instead. I no longer have the texts but I still have the grandson! 🙂

  4. Lana Barkman says

    I’ve been a fan of your columns for a long time, and a few months ago one of them was so touching I cut it out to share. It was about memorial services and grieving. One of my closest friends had lost her husband a few months earlier and I thought she might like to read it. At the time I didn’t know how much I would come to need those words myself. Then unexpectedly, when he seemed to be recovering so well from a heart attack, one morning my husband, the love of my life, was gone. Moving on has been so hard, but those words of advice you wrote have been an enormous source of comfort and I just wanted to thank you.

  5. My heart and soul was moved when I read this column,! Sharon I love you so very much. My mother in law told me same,never choose wrong words ,better stay quiet. Words are like gold we can save them in memory, if they are kind enough to encourage and they are worse than poison to swallow if they are rude. She told me when I was newly married only 19 . And I never said any rude words to her.She loved me till I was 57 and she was 86 years old ,even blessing me in heaven. Thank you so much for such a sweet reminder.

  6. When visiting my grandmother for spring break, I was trying to explain to her just how ANNOYING a college acquaintance was, how she drove everybody crazy. Without missing a beat, and at first sounding like she was commiserating with me, she said, “Yeah, I guess it’s a good thing Jesus loves her.” It made me feel so ashamed.

    A professor told me I should follow “the writing life.”

    My mother read “Wynken, Blynken, and Nod” to me almost every night. I recite it to my children now.

    Never mind that I’m their only Mama, but several of my children have told me that I am “the best Mama ever.”

  7. I tell my young great-grandchildren they are loved so much that “I could eat ’em with a spoon.”
    Those words always get a laugh. Their great-grandmother on the maternal side passed away last year. They were told she was very old and had gone to heaven. The 5-year old is very active and jumped in my lap with force. After being told not to hurt Nanny because I am old, he paused and looked me in the eye, saying, “Nanny, are you old?” I replied that I am old and he said, “Why you not in heaven?” Out of the mouths of babes!

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