Words that changed my world – Kelly’s Gift

I’m thrilled to introduce a new series on my blog: Words that changed my world.

I’ve been stewing on this idea for quite some time: the notion of telling the stories of little words which changed our trajectory.

As I think back on my own life – there have been a few conversations where someone said something which changed everything. Often their words were just a casual part of the conversation: they have no recollection of having said something significant or profound, but I remember it as being one of those illuminated-signboard-moments as they gave an answer, an insight, a grace, a perspective which I had desperately needed at the time. Like Alan’s casual question: “Have you ever considered going to bible college?” which was the final signpost in a series of little nudges towards seminary. Or Kelly’s off-the-cuff words which began the slow work of rebuilding my teen-damaged self-esteem…. read on to find out what they were.

Of course Alan and Kelly have no recollection of those conversations. But I remember. Their words were so important: I treasured their investment in me. We have great power to do good with the words we say to one another: words of encouragement and care sometimes mean more than you could possibly know. I was stunned, after my 20 year high school reunion and the flurry of facebook (re)connections that brought, to have two classmates tell me that something I had said at high school had made a significant impact on them. I was amazed. Humbled. And more convinced than ever that these are stories we should tell: stories of acknowledgement and thanks to those who spoke kindly to us, stories of encouragement that we should continue to speak good things to each other. Because you just never know which of your thousands of words could be used to change someone’s world.

These are stories I want to tell. And they are stories I want to read- so this is an invitation to submit a story of something someone said which changed your world. It can be a story about how you chose a career, how you came to faith, the little something that made you decide to get married. It can be about how you started a hobby, or forgave a friend, or had an a-ha moment which has brought you great joy. Please, share your story. I’d love to hear it. (Check out the Be My Guest page for more details on how to contribute!)

Old typewriter keys. ©Robin Nelson

So, without further ado – I’ll kick off with the first of this new series: Words that changed my world.

Kelly’s Gift

It was my second year of college and I sat, boyfriendless, with my friend Kelly as she prepared to go on a date. I watched her put on mascara, aware of the pillow I had self-consciously pulled towards my stomach in an effort to hide it. She looked glamorous. I felt gormless. We chatted about this and that: she combed, I coveted. The intercom crackled to life: “Kelly, you have a gentleman visitor.”

“Thank you,” she sang. I took my cue to leave, releasing the pillow I’d been kneading. I said my goodbyes, and was already out the door when her voice came from behind me: “Bron, I don’t know why you don’t have a boyfriend,” she said. “You’re quite lovely, you know.”

I think the world must have stopped spinning for a second. Decades later, I can still remember noticing the checkered black and white floors beneath my feet as I heard those quick, parting words. They changed my world.

black and white floor

Despite years of constant love and encouragement from my parents, despite self-esteem building classes from guidance counselors and accolades-on-paper… the fact that I, in my second year of college, had yet to attract the attention of even one guy I liked, had left me feeling there was something intrinsically wrong with me. If I was prettier, more attractive, less snarky, thinner, more damsel-in-distressish, more smart, less smart… anything other than what I was – surely someone would have been interested in me?

No one was interested. I assumed it was me.

Until that day in the hallway with the black-and-white floors – where a kind friend, who (unlike my mother) did not have to say nice things to me – made an off-the-cuff remark which made me think for the first time that perhaps, just perhaps, there wasn’t something fundamentally unattractive or unlovable about me. Perhaps it wasn’t that I wasn’t the right person, perhaps it was just that it wasn’t the right time. Because if Kelly, who was wearing mascara and a swishy skirt and going on a date, couldn’t see anything wrong with me – and more than that, could use the word lovely to describe me – perhaps I was being a little too hard on myself.

I look back on my 18 year old self now and know that there is no way, looking from the outside, that people might have known how unlovely and unlovable I felt. I worked hard to come across as confident and smart: I wore assertiveness as armor, all the while hoping someone would be brave enough to like the person within. Kelly’s words were a gift: a kindness to a friend who may have made snarky remarks about the dating scene, but could not confess how very victimized I felt by it.

Almost twenty years have passed. When I look at college students now, I wonder how many of them wear the armor I wore: confidence masking crippling self-doubt, snarkiness veiling vulnerability. To those women, especially to those young women who seem to “have it all together” and “have an answer for everything”, I want to leave a sprinkling of kind words affirming that they are quite lovely as they are. I want to give them Kelly’s gift.

photo credit: fiadda.it

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17 thoughts on “Words that changed my world – Kelly’s Gift

  1. The simple gift of an encouraging word, especially one unintended and unlooked for, is a treasure, Bronwyn.

    That said, I’d like to implore you never to become one iota less snarky. You are at just the right snark level.

  2. I really appreciated this article, and am a great believer in thanking people for their encouragement.
    Sometimes, friends have no idea how much they have impacted our lives, and to share your feelings is a gift to them, too.

      • Could empathize so much with the lack of boyfriend feelings, and wondering why I was not good enough or acceptable enough to be liked or loved. Had my first boyfriend at the age of 49, and made the wrong choice. Woe!

  3. And you are quite lovely still, Bron. I am so glad that those words were felt as they were said, in truth. And thank you too, for giving me with your words a rush of remembering; I have swished and smiled through my day today, feeling echoes of the best of my twenty year old self.

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