These words originally appeared on The Grit & Grace Project
"There aren't gloves thick enough for this job!"
With my teeth clenched, my gaze shifted around the "vintage" bathroom floor.
"What in the world have we done?!," I silently lamented as I scrubbed rodent feces off the tiled floor. The latex gloves provided little protection from what I was sure were unlivable conditions.
Our family had just relocated from a quaint New England college town to the heart of Washington, D.C. We had fallen in love with the city during a recent visit and had jumped at the chance to live in one of our country's most diverse places.
"It's just for two years," our adventurous sides reasoned.
However, the rose-colored lenses through which I had viewed our new quest quickly faded the moment we moved into the place we would live. Overlooking the dimly-lit, shabby interior as we quickly toured the rental, our excitement at finding a place within our price range allowed us to somehow justify the rowhouse as "cute and charming."
As it turned out, our Capitol Hill rental was full of filth and unwelcome rodent "houseguests."
Outside our home, heavy foot traffic, incessant sirens, rampant drug usage, and witnessed robberies replaced my once missional outlook to a mindset bent on fear and apprehension. Where I once held high hopes of making a difference in the lives of the marginalized and oppressed, I quickly learned I was going to have a tough time thriving. My husband's travel schedule was intense, and I didn't feel equipped to raise our young daughter alone each week he traveled while pregnant with our second. Often, I felt as though I were barely surviving.
I felt uneasy about my surrounding most days, and I'm ashamed to say I made rapid judgments about our new city and those who lived there. I trudged through my days with a pessimistic disposition, and I began to resent every aspect of my new location: the pace, the traffic, the noise, the hunger for power, and perhaps most of all, the displacement I felt. On and on, my thoughts would pinpoint the negative as I questioned whether we had heard God correctly.
As a result, my spiritual lens began to darken. Before long, my home wasn't the only thing full of filth; my heart, thoughts, and words were too.
One dreary afternoon, I glanced out the kitchen window just as a rat scampered across the power lines. Before I had a chance to speak words of disgust bemoaning such urban frequencies, I felt the Lord stirring something within my soul.
“Speak life,” He prompted.
Those two, gentle, yet authoritative words changed my trajectory. I began to intentionally focus my thinking on finding good in the face of difficulties.
I kid you not…I was tested in near comical ways.
Within the span of two weeks my daughter came down with lice, I was in a minor car accident, we discovered the boiler was emitting carbon monoxide and was on the verge of catching fire, and my purse—containing passports, wallet, and a kindle—was stolen.
I cried, I cursed, and acted out in all the ways people do when they’re upset. But I also became resolute (partly in rebellion against the daily onslaught of trials) to pinpoint the positive and focus my lens upon the blessings hidden under the shroud of difficult moments.
A few years have passed, and I often think about that moment standing at our old kitchen sink.
I’ve learned since then that I’m never going to have perfectly curated responses for the hard, nor is that the goal. There have been countless times when I revert into my old mode of negativity. Rather, I strive to take each day at a time, extend grace to myself, and learn how these words in Proverbs manifest themselves in my life:
“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Prov. 18:21 NIV).
There will always be trials and challenges that vie to keep our minds and words in negative places—that’s just a part of life. When we choose to speak words of life rather than words of death, it doesn’t always mean our circumstances will change. But, our outlook does.
Our lives are outlined by our words, so may our words speak life to our circumstances.