We learn in Proverbs 18:21 that “death and life are in the power of the tongue.” When I encounter this verse, I’m reminded that my words have impact and should be chosen carefully. Over the years, I’ve tried to adopt the practice of “when in doubt, speak life” (or at least keep the tongue quiet).

It has been my experience that for talkative people (like me), the law of averages is squarely against us. We’re bound to say something wrong sooner or later. Perhaps you’ve been there? And the longer I live, the less selective my internal filter has become. I sometimes find myself making inappropriate comments when my mouth seems to outpace my brain.

I remember making an especially egregious slip of the tongue many years ago. I’d registered for a quilting class. I wanted to sew my own design because most of the quilts I’d seen carried a rather strong country motif that didn’t quite fit my style. Instead, I wanted to make a vibrant quilt from African fabrics I had brought back from Namibia. This blanket would better match the energy of our family.

My words have impact and should be chosen carefully.

Since I didn’t have a sewing machine, I would need to stitch this quilt by hand. Now, I wasn’t an experienced seamstress—quite the contrary—but I could follow instructions pretty well and was highly motivated. During the first session of the class, the teacher distributed the instructional guide. It was the size of a small telephone book—remember those?

This manual was meant to guide us through the process of making a simple lap quilt with nine basic squares. I began to flip through the detailed pages and grumbled aloud (but to myself, under my breath), “Dang, I’m gonna die.”

The woman sitting next to me turned to me and said, “As a matter fact, I am dying. That’s why I’m taking this class. I want to make this quilt so that my daughter will have something to remember me by.”

I felt like an idiot. What a poor choice of words on my part. But not to worry, dear reader, I played it really cool. I turned to her, looked her directly in the eyes and simply burst into tears, exclaiming, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. That was so flippant of me. Please forgive me. I should not have been so crass.”

Would you believe that this precious woman then tried to comfort me? She even pulled back her wig, exposing her scalp and making jokes in an attempt to make me laugh.

My failure didn’t stop there: after completing four of the nine squares, my work hours changed, forcing my class attendance to dwindle. Sadly, I never finished my African lap quilt.

I think about this compassionate woman from time to time. I think about how kind she was to me, how she returned grace upon grace in response to my cavalier quip. I’m embarrassed to admit that over the many years since our interaction, I’ve forgotten her name. But I can picture her face in my mind’s eye at this moment. I’m certain her daughter treasures her mama’s quilt.

When I think about that clumsy yet grace-filled encounter, I’m reminded of a popular gospel song, “Please Be Patient With Me.” Many artists have recorded this tune, but one of my favorites is by the late-legend Albertina Walker, who recorded a live version in Chicago in 1979 that featured James Cleveland. This dynamic duet posits a simple plea: “Please be patient with me. God is not through with me yet.”

The song continues: “When God gets through with me, I shall come forth, I shall come forth like pure gold.”

Obviously, I’m no golden child—yet. But I imagine that gracious woman, who I met all those years ago, has indeed come forth as pure as gold. Her life is no longer under construction and her baptism is complete.

Angela T. !Khabeb
Angela T. !Khabeb is an ELCA pastor living in Minneapolis. She enjoys an active home life with her husband and three children. 

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