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ne need only watch “13 Reasons Why” to understand the power behind words. They can show love or convey hatred. They have the ability to create life or destroy it. To be wedding vows or to summon a divorce. To start a war or end one. The art of taming the tongue comes only with the passage of time; I learned this important lesson late, but in sincere gratefulness, I thank the Lord that at least Twitter wasn’t around when I hit high school.

Growing up, our household made a consistent habit of making fun of others. It was a dark form of humor that bonded and aided us in getting through some hard times. But at school, I found that it didn’t bode well (whether it was justified, or not). The people I’d talk to would nod and agree but inevitably, word would get out on what I’d said about someone else and spread like a dangerous wild fire (and this was pre-cell phones, people).

In the fall of my sophomore year, I found that my cheeks were on fire with embarrassment as I realized that the entire English class’s attention was on me. My eyes filled with tears and I was afraid to lift my head from the paper on my desk. They had done it to me again. The bright, orange sheet read: “Homecoming Hit List 1999…#2. Jen Thomas…#1. Hailley….” Hailley?? That was my name and what was it doing on the top again?

The fourteen unfortunate letters of my name scribbled on the student-made flyer would mean another lost Homecoming week. Being on the Hit List meant running from the upperclassmen after the football game. It meant dodging flying eggs, dye-filled balloons, duct tape and paintball guns in the school parking lot. You think I’m kidding – how could an administration allow that? They did. Homecoming week was a “fun” tradition at our high school in the safe and beautiful town of Hudson, Wisconsin and it appeared harmless enough. Each class had a color that they wore with pride, all week, in preparation for the game. Seniors would dress in their orange hunting gear, stand on the top of their pick up trucks and howl at the underclassmen as they pulled into school.  Throughout the course of the week, hair was shaved off, clothes were stolen, people were duct-taped to each other naked and dragged through the car wash in the bed of trucks—whatever was most humiliating. Cars were ruined and property destroyed. An underclassman was wearing the Seniors’ color of blaze orange on the wrong day of one unfortunate year and was beaten to the point of head injury. That was when the Homecoming hit list was finally put to rest.

My freshman year I thought it was funny that Seniors would bother to come after me—a mere 14-year old. But as the years went on and each found my name on the list, I realized I had a problem. I distinctly remember one girl going so far as to filling her mouth with water and slapping her big cheeks together in a vicious spray, just in time to soak my face for 3rd hour. “Take that, hit list Hailley!”

Next to all the other names on the hit list were labels like, “slut” or “bitch.” My listing was simply my name at the top, no label. Just me. Being hated for being me. Being hated for my words. The motive behind my words (to evoke humor, to deflect from what was going on at home, to take the focus off of my own problems) was irrelevant to my teenage peers; All they cared about was what came out of my mouth and I paid dearly for it. In the world, pre-cell phones, my spoken words had earned me the equivalent of a published, modern day Twitter nightmare.

I will instill in my children that they are no better than anyone else. That being every bit of themselves is the most important thing – more important than being liked, more important than being successful, that loving Jesus and loving others is the only way (If you haven’t read Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love, please do so…now). And it all starts with what comes out of their mouths. One of my favorite Purpose Driven Life quotes: Long after you’ve learned the art of taming the tongue, your thoughts will deceive you. We all struggle with troubling thoughts from time to time, and I believe that God can help us with those too but the first lesson to learn is not letting anything that isn’t helpful for building others leave our lips.

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen…Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. -Ephesians 4:29, 31-32.

There will always come a time when you would feel -justified- in ripping into that cranky boss, controlling Mom or super fake friend. But don’t cave! Stand strong. Leave room for God’s wrath and say a prayer for your person instead. God wants us to pray for our enemies – if we only pray for those who love us, where is the reward in that? I used to wonder what this “reward” was that Jesus spoke of. Because a good rip into someone who deserved it felt pretty darn good…The 13 rewards are listed in my 13 Reasons Words are Why Small Group Life & Bible Study for Young Women...coming soon!

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