Twelve Inches
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You Don’t Have to Explain What You Don’t Say (Atlanta Journal Column)

AJC 07.25.15 You Don't have to Explain 001I spotted the small plaque from across the dusty garage, propped in the middle of a table filled with knickknacks. As I drew near, its powerful message spoke loudly to my soul. The garage sale was full of valuable items, former belongings of a life that was now gone. I browsed the beautiful antiques, crystals and collections, firmly holding onto the one piece of visible wisdom Ms. Sarah had left behind. I didn’t buy anything else from her daughters, but that one small glimpse of their mother’s character gave me pause: “You don’t have to explain what you don’t say.”

The words, unpretentiously painted on an old 5×5 piece of wood, might well have been that mother’s most valuable possession. As I drove away, I wondered where it sat in their house. Did she leave it by the kitchen window, where she would remind herself to pick her battles with her husband? Or did she keep it by her bedside, as a fresh reminder before starting her day? Was its message in the heart of her daily struggles, or did she buy it as a pointed note to someone who lived under the same roof? I will never know the answer. As a matter of fact, I don’t even know if she lived by that truth. But as I thought about the shrewdness behind those simple words, I decided to purchase the most inexpensive piece of wisdom that now decorates my house.

Of all the creatures God created, humans are the only ones who were granted the amazing gift of speech. Indeed, words have the power to edify, comfort, encourage and strengthen any relationship. Yet, the lack of restraint and wisdom behind our words can forever damage lives, marriages and even entire nations.

I recently watched a documentary about the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany. As the camera perused the audience during his speeches, one could easily witness the love and admiration of a people who were seduced to blindly follow its Führer. This charismatic leader’s words moved an entire nation to trust him. His powerfully crafted words masked his evil ideals, seducing the multitudes to believe him. Conversely, there are countless leaders whose words are used to guide, inspire, propel and comfort the people they lead. Words can be life-giving or life-taking. For some, they are a blessed balm, used to heal. For others, they serve as spears of condemnation, contempt and destruction. Some people struggle to control them. Others have an innate controlled tongue; I was simply not one of those people.

My mother’s family immigrated to Brazil from Andalusia, south of Spain. A notoriously matriarchal society, Spanish women are known for speaking their minds and having the last word. Momma rules. Period. Couple it with the fact that God made me a natural communicator, mastering my tongue has been one of the hardest things for this Spanish-blooded girl to master. By the time I became a Christian at age 25, I had undeniably missed many opportunities to keep my mouth shut. One of the things God started to work on was exactly that – controlling my tongue. I am undeniably a work in progress, but I am so thankful that when my flesh screams and my tongue threatens to take over, I can cling to God’s word, which is filled with wisdom that helps me control my speech. And as for Ms. Sarah’s little plaque? It’s propped beside our dinner table, where all our family conversations are held. It has become a simple and beautiful reminder to me of this powerful truth: “When angry, tired or stressed, simply hold your tongue. You don’t have to explain what you don’t say.”

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Patricia Holbrook is a Christian author and national conference speaker. Her first book, “12 Inches: Bridging the Gap Between What You Know and How You Feel About God,” is now on Kindle, and pre-selling at Barnes and Noble, Amazon and other retailers worldwide. Visit her blog to read her devotionals at www.soaringwithhim.com or email her at pholbrook@soaringwithhim.com

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