The Bright Side of Thinking Before Speaking

The secret of being boring is to say everything. ~ Voltaire

A few weeks ago, I had a typical Monday. You know, a lot of making lists and trying to get my week off to a productive start. Although I have to tell you that the only thing that gets me out of bed on Monday mornings is telling myself I’ll go right back to bed after I get Caroline off to school. I never actually do this, but it’s amazing how it soothes my psyche at 7:00 a.m. on a Monday.

As it happened, Perry took Caroline to school that day, Unbeknownst to me, he’d toasted himself an English muffin, covered it in peanut butter, and left it sitting on the counter- top. Meanwhile, I grabbed some dirty clothes out of our laundry baskets and put them in the washer, then loaded the dishwasher with all the breakfast dishes. When Perry walked back in the house about ten minutes later, he said, “You threw away my English muffin!”

I would never throw away someone’s breakfast, so I replied, “I didn’t even see your English muffin!” And that’s when we both noticed Piper and Mabel lurking in the corner of the kitchen, looking guiltier than usual and profusely licking their lips. We can’t prove it was them, but generally speaking, English muffins don’t just disappear unless the rapture happened and said muffin believed in Jesus.

Anyway, instead of going back to bed, I drank a cup of coffee and worked on a few writing projects before I made a grocery list and a general to-do list. Then I went to work out at Smart Barre because I am currently trying to be the best version of myself. Afterward, I needed to run to the mail store to mail a few things, and since the mail store is right across the street from Target, I was overjoyed when I realized everything on my grocery list could be purchased at Target.

But once I found myself in Target, I ended up going down forty-seven rabbit trails, as one does when one finds oneself in Target. I looked at a few shirts, decided to go ahead and get snacks for Caroline’s soccer game that weekend, and looked through the book section to see if anything looked interesting. Then Perry called and reminded me of a few more things we needed, and I spied the dollar aisle and went all, Squirrel! Squirrel!

All this to say, by the time I finally made my way to the checkout line, it was after 2:30 p.m., and I hadn’t eaten lunch. I was starving. I decided I’d drive through Whataburger as soon as I left Target for a cheeseburger and a Diet Coke. I’d officially crossed into Chris Farley territory in the SNL skit where he says, “Lay off me, I’m starving!” as he eats french fries by the handful.

I found what appeared to be the shortest checkout line, except the guy in front of me couldn’t get his microchip credit card to work in the reader. (I get that microchip cards are safe and secure and the wave of the future but—serenity now—because they never seem to work the same way twice.) Meanwhile, my stomach was basically eating itself. Then I realized that the cashier in the line I chose is one I have on a regular basis. And this is where I need to tell you that she is very sweet and very good at her job.

But here’s the thing. Whenever I go to Target, I always buy these Dingo chew sticks for Piper and Mabel. And every time I have this cashier, she rings up those Dingo chew sticks and then says, “Aw! Do you have a dog at home? What kind?” I always smile and reply, “Yes, we have two dogs. They are Blue Lacys.”

This leads to a litany of questions. “What are Blue Lacys?”
“What do they look like?”
“What color are they?”
“Are they friendly?”
“Are they from the same litter?”
“Do they get along?”
“Who did they vote for?”

And so on, until she forgets that she’s supposed to be ringing up my purchases while we visit.

So when I realized it was this cashier, I prepared myself for the questions as she scanned the chew sticks and determined that, in my current starved condition, I was not emotionally prepared for all the inevitable questions about Blue Lacys. Sure enough, she looked up at me and said, “Aw! Do you have dogs? What kind are they?”

Listen. I didn’t even have to think twice about my plan of action. Which was to lie.

I looked right at her, thought about the most common breed of dog I know and replied, quickly and irrationally, “Labs.” I lied about my dogs to the cashier at Target. Jesus is going to come back for a toasted English muffin covered in peanut butter and leave me behind.

And I don’t need you to judge me. You were at my wedding, Denise.

In my defense, I was so hungry and just wanted to get to Whataburger and had truly crossed the line into hangry territory. I didn’t want to talk about my dogs. I just wanted to pay for my groceries and pack of ten plastic coat hangers and seasonal candy and be on my way.

However, my nefarious ways did not pay off because she proceeded to ask, “What kind of labs?”
“How old are your labs?”
“How do you tell the difference between a lab and a golden retriever?”
“Are they from the same litter?”
“Have you seen that movie about a lab who plays basketball? Or was that a golden retriever?”
“What are their names?”

So what I’m telling you is, lying never pays off.

And I think Mabel sensed that I’d basically denied her at Target because when I got back home, she gave me the cold shoulder, and later I saw that she’d written a haiku:

Lying is so wrong
Worse than eating a muffin
You make Jesus sad

That’s right, Mabel. I’ll never lie about having a lab again.

Also, my Whataburger was delicious, and I ate the whole thing in three bites.

Here’s the thing about me — and I tell you this because you are my friend and I am comfortable with this personal character assassination of myself. I say a lot of dumb stuff. I’d like to pretend that my impulse to lie to a cashier at Target about what kind of dogs I own is a one-off kind of thing, but that’s not really the truth. And it’s not that I go around lying all the time as much as my mouth just gets ahead of my brain, and sometimes this leads to saying things I don’t mean. I tend to talk at a speed that would be defined by Schitt’s Creek’s Moira Rose as “rapid velocity.” I’m often in need of a filter because my go-to is almost always to be funny, and sometimes funny and kind don’t line up. Not to mention that I have a tendency to use a sarcastic remark to cut the emotional tension in a room, and that can come off as less than empathetic. It’s not that I don’t feel what someone else is feeling as much as I just want to figure out how to bring the mood up a notch.

A few years ago, Gulley and I went to the rodeo with a bunch of friends. We took several pictures while we were there, and the next day she asked, “Hey, will you text me that picture of the two of us?” And I replied, “I deleted that picture. It wasn’t good of me and, I’ll be honest, it wasn’t any good of you, either.” We now have a term we use when we’re afraid one of us is about to be perfectly and honestly blunt: “Whisper it first.” This comes from a friend of Gulley’s whose mother used to beg her daughter to “Whisper it first” before she said something out loud because she was so prone to blurt out the verbal equivalent of a bull in a china shop.

When God told Moses to go to Pharaoh, Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” To which the Lord responded, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute?… Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say” (Exodus 4:10-12).

God Himself promises to teach us what to say.

We just have to listen and learn when to speak and when to keep our mouths shut. Because the thing is, the stuff we say comes from somewhere in our hearts, and the heart is the place of convictions, aspirations, dreams, values, hopes, cynicism, doubts, and all the emotions we bring to the table in any given situation.

Even as I write, I’m constantly thinking of the stories I can tell and the stories that aren’t mine to tell. What’s too personal? What could hurt someone I love? Author Anne Lamott once said, “If people wanted you to write warmly about them then they should have behaved better.” While I love that quote in theory, it would play out in a not-so-healthy way in reality. So I edit myself constantly. I have also made the decision that there are a whole lot of stories I will eventually tell decades from now in a book called, Now That Everybody’s Dead. If only I were as careful in everyday conversation as I am with the written word. But I guess the thing about the written word is that it’s concrete proof of what I say. That’s slightly terrifying because we now live in a world that will find something someone said ten years ago and obliterate them for it without even taking the time to consider if that’s how they still feel or even what they originally meant.

We’ve all read horror stories about someone who Tweets something, probably impulsively, gets on a plane, and then lands hours later to discover they’ve been fired from their job and their whole life has blown up. There have never been more ways to put our words out there on display for people to see and judge what we meant to say or what they think we meant to say without giving us any benefit of the doubt.

Our lives are built on words and, most importantly, our relationships are built on words and the grace we extend to each other.

We seem to have forgotten that we can disagree and still love. Me calling you an idiot for your political beliefs isn’t going to do one thing to change your mind; it will just change our relationship. We have to let the Spirit dwell in us so that we can have peace, patience, joy, love, kindness, and self-control. Imagine how different Twitter and the world would be if we all kept that in mind and acted even remotely reasonable and open to hearing someone else’s point of view.

We can’t take back our words.

When someone says something mean, unkind, or untrue, it takes time to rebuild trust. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. From now on, the cashier at Target will always think I have labs. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean she will quit asking me a million questions about them every time I check out.

But thinking about all of this helps me to remember to pray:

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. — Psalm 19:14

The bright side is knowing that our words are powerful and carry a heavy weight, which is why we need to do our best to use them wisely. Because, as the saying goes, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”

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Excerpted with permission from On the Bright Side by Melanie Shankle, copyright Melanie Shankle.

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Your Turn

Have you ever practically had to cover your mouth with your hand just to not say the thing that wants to come flying out of your mouth? *raises hand* But, friends, our words matter! They have impact negatively or positively. They can honor God and show grace, or the opposite. Let’s use our words wisely! Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full

Melanie Shankle

Melanie Shankle writes regularly at The Big Mama blog and is the New York Times bestselling author of three previous books, including Nobody’s Cuter than You. Melanie is a graduate of Texas A&M and loves writing, shopping at Target, checking to see what’s on sale at Anthropologie, and trying to find the lighter side in every situation. Most of all, she loves being the mother of Caroline, the wife of Perry, and the official herder of two wild dogs named Piper and Mabel. The five of them live in San Antonio, Texas.

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