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Jo 12Have you ever noticed how some English words that have an unpleasant, negative kind of meaning seem to sound unpleasant as well? Take for example the words ‘gloat’, ‘brag’, ‘skite’ and ‘boast’, with their rather hard, guttural consonants. Or does the meaning of these words merely colour how I hear them? Would someone unfamiliar with English still think they sound unpleasant?

A few months ago, I spoke at a meeting in a club. My topic was focussed on the lessons we learn throughout our lives and how, as we grow, we hopefully become more of the person we were created to be. While talking about my own school years, I showed a photo of an old report card of mine and mentioned my determination to come first in every exam in primary school—which I managed to do. But then I heard a lady at a nearby table say in quite a nasty tone, ‘Well, why don’t you skite about it!’ Now I had not meant to boast in any way. In fact, my aim was to point out how foolish I was to try to impress others with my academic achievements and thus make me more popular. That night, that little word ‘skite’ I overheard sounded particularly ugly to me. And, rightly or wrongly, I decided to respond.

‘That’s the very point I’m making,’ I told this lady, who now seemed just a little embarrassed. ‘Why skite about such things? There’s so much more to us than what we can achieve or do well. And it’s foolish to depend on these things to win friends and impress others.’

Maybe I should have let the comment pass, but words like ‘skite’, ‘brag’ and ‘boast’ do not go down well with me! And that might be why some words Paul wrote on the topic caught my eye recently:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the word to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. 1 Corinthians 1:26-29

Paul then quotes the prophet Jeremiah:

Therefore, as it is written, “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (31)

I then checked out the passage in Jeremiah where these words come from—and what treasure I found there!

This is what the Lord says: “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” declares the Lord. Jeremiah 9:23-24

Wow—what a wonderful Lord we are privileged to know! Who else could ever treat us with such perfect justice and righteousness or delight to show us such kindness? Only our Lord—and I’m happy to be accused of boasting about him anytime.

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The moment had come. For some time, I had planned to clean out a particular bedroom drawer that was stuffed to the limit with precious memorabilia—cards and notes I had received over the years, old school reports, certificates for music and academic achievements, programs from concerts and shows I had attended. It all seemed far too daunting, since I knew I would not want to throw any of it out. But I could not put it off any longer.

First, I tackled all those cards. Many were beautiful thank you notes from groups where I had spoken or from readers who had appreciated my books and taken the time to let me know. Others were special birthday or Mothers’ Day cards from our granddaughters, some handmade, with lovely messages inside written in wobbly letters. After reading them all again, I decided it was pimg_20170211_103120558-2robably time to throw away most of the thank you notes at least … but surely I could keep those precious Mothers’ Day cards?

I dug deeper and found more home-made Mothers’ Day cards from our own children, including one that said: ‘You will like this … and it only cost $1.49!!’ I found some funny notes as well: ‘Dear Mum and Dad … could you please make sure that in the morning Tina does not, I repeat, NOT wake Andrew or me up and play the piano? Thank you. Warning: If Tina does do these offensive things, you will probably not live to regret it—that goes for Tina too!’ From your loving daughter, Jane.’ Still another was in distinctly grovelling mode: ‘Mummy darling dearest, if you are in a fantastic mood, PTO. If not, don’t bother!’ How could I throw such gems out?!

I kept digging and soon found many more cards written to me at key points in my life. Cards for key birthday celebrations. Cards when moving on from jobs. Cards congratulating me on my graduation from theological college. Cards on the death of my mother. Cards on leaving our church. Cards for no reason at all—except simply to encourage me. So many words written just for me. So many words expressing so much love and heartfelt thanks for things I had said or done, some of which I now have no memory of saying or doing.

As I completed my mammoth task, I felt quite sad and nostalgic. I sat still for a while, trying to let all that love and affirmation people had expressed sink in. And in the quiet, I sensed God saying, ‘Remember my words to you too and take them to heart.’ Then those precious snippets came flooding back—words I tend to forget so often:

I will never leave you nor forsake you. Joshua 1:5

I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving kindness.” Jeremiah 31:3

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. John 14:1

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. John 14:18

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last. John 15:16

I love reading those heartfelt words from family and friends. But these are the best heartfelt words ever, don’t you think?

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