A Gift of Words

My daughter just signed up for an S.A.T. prep course. For the next six weeks, she will spend every Wednesday night and Saturday morning preparing for the big exam.

You would think that taking the S.A.T. exam is a regular part of teenage life. But for me, this is unfamiliar territory.

When I was in high school, I never took the S.A.T. exam. In fact, I can’t remember having a single conversation with an adult about the possibility of taking the S.A.T. exam. Since no one in my family had ever gone to college, I guess nobody expected me to go either.

As soon as I was 18 and out of high school, I began working full-time.

Then I did something crazy. I went down to the local community college to sign up for some courses. I stood in line for hours, not even knowing if I was in the right line. There was no one there to help me. So I followed the masses.

After taking some “placement exams,” I was told which classes to enroll in.

So I stumbled along, semester after semester, wondering if I was making any headway.

Sometimes my work schedule got in the way of my class schedule, so I would have to withdraw from those classes and hope that my work schedule wouldn’t change mid-semester again the following term.

Going to college was like taking “one-step-forward-then-two-steps-back.”

Then I got married. And his job moved us to a new city almost every year. So I would enroll at a new community college and begin the process all over. If I was lucky, I would get to finish the semester before having to move again.

When I was 24, and the mother of a 2-year-old, I finally transferred to a small, private four-year university. I was beyond excited.

But when I arrived, I didn’t fit in. Everyone was between 18 and 21, and they were living in dorms together while I commuted to campus. They may have thought it was weird that another student was a wife and a mom!

I was lonely and plagued with self-doubt. Would I ever finish?

Then I went through a divorce. Eventually, he moved again—only this time, out of state.

For the next four years, it was just me and my little girl. I worked more than 40 hours a week at a minimum wage job, and I took classes at night, desperately trying to piecemeal together enough units for a diploma.

Finishing a degree—so I could get a better job so I could take care of myself and my daughter—was the only thing keeping me going.

I was 28 years old when I finished my degree.

One university. Five community colleges. Ten years.

Ten years of night classes.
Ten years of setbacks.
Ten years of wondering if I would ever actually make it.

By the time I graduated, Jeff and I had started dating. And the only three people who came to my graduation were Jeff, my 6-year-old daughter, and my mother. (I had invited my dad to come but he said he was too busy.)

So there I stood. In cap and gown.

For ten years, I had dreamed of this moment, thinking it would be one of the happiest moments of my life. But to my own surprise, a sadness that bordered despair clung to me. I felt alone. I wanted to celebrate, but I felt as if no one could truly understand what this diploma meant to me. Only God knew what that dark decade had really been like.

At the graduation ceremony, I went through the motions, telling myself that I was only doing this for my daughter.

Afterwards, Jeff gave me a heavy box, wrapped in paper. Inside was a two-volume dictionary set. He said that he special-ordered the largest dictionary set he could find.

He knew I loved words. He knew I loved making words up and stringing words together.

With both arms, I held the volumes. Jeff didn’t know how dark the previous ten years had been, but somehow, he knew what the next ten years would hold. He knew I would go on to graduate school to study composition—where those dictionaries would come in handy.

He knew I loved to write. So he gave me words.

And he promised to read every one I write.

A dictionary set might sound like the most unromantic gift ever. And for many, that might be true. But Jeff knew me better than I gave him credit for. To this day, that dictionary set is my favorite gift he has ever given me. For me, nothing could say “I love you” better.

He gave me words.

The more I think about it, I realize that God, in His amazing love, has given us a gift of words too. His words, in letters and stories and songs, speak life—to the lonely, to the poor, to the marginalized—to me.

Isn’t this the most beautiful gift that God has given? He gave His Son, the Word made flesh.

God gave us the Word!

I love words.

I love reading words.
I love writing words.

And right now, my daughter is studying a whole bunch of words for her S.A.T. exam. And I can’t even put into words how thrilled I am for her to have the opportunity to go to college.

I may have labored and struggled—for more than a decade—for the privilege to study and learn, but the Word has always been available to me. And around the world, men and women are willing to give up their lives for the privilege to study God’s Word.

They know, as I have come to learn, that the most important words we could ever study are the ones He has given us.

Have you read His gift of words to you today?
Is there someone you could give a gift of encouraging words to?

*Jeff and I will celebrate our ten-year wedding anniversary this spring. God is truly amazing.

49 thoughts on “A Gift of Words

  1. Wow!!!! Your story amazes me, it’s so different from mine (my parents practically pushed me into college and supported me the whole way), but your perseverance humbles me. I totally get how that gift of a giant dictionary would be the greatest graduation gift ever. Thank you for sharing.

  2. You simply CANNOT be the mother of a girl taking her SAT!!! 🙂
    Being the unfaithful blog reader that I am… I am glad I popped over today to read your story and get to know my fellow Packer fan better! It’s a wonderful story of God’s faithfulness and your perseverance. Though I have journaled {spell check says that is not a word, is it?} for many years, I really don’t know very much about writing. When I home schooled Kayla her junior year, she often helped ME~ha! So I shuffle along blogging…trying to figure out how to work words. Probably why I am a better tweeter.
    On to read Gift of Time…Hope you had a terrific birthday! 🙂

  3. Pingback: To Share Our Stories Is To Give Our Lives | Denise J. Hughes

  4. Oh Denise! This is undeniably beautiful. Congratulations, friend, on that hard hard hard-earned degree. You earned it, really earned it. And I smile that you still cherish words, maybe even more now. I’ve always loved your blog and will love it even more now that I know a part of your story!

  5. ‎O_O
    [swallows hard]
    I cried when I read this. It’s so beautiful. I share your love of words also, and am blessed by your use of them. I love Jeff’s gift to you, that was an act of true love.
    Congratulations on your anniversary. 🙂


  6. Denise-
    Thank you for sharing your story. I have never finished college. I always thought I would, but it hasn’t been the plan for me. I never have stopped studying, though. Like you, words and composition and story all fascinate me. And like you, I have the most supportive of husbands who has kept me in computers to keep this dreamer keyboarding. I am just so honored to read your story — thank you.

    • Being a student for life is what counts most! I’m always studying and learning, whether formally in a classroom or informally in my living room. I love to learn.

      Alyssa, you have a beautiful gift with words. And I look forward to reading more from you. 🙂

  7. It was so nice to stumble upon your blog. 🙂 Even though I am a writer on a blog, I don’t usually read blogs (I am overwhelmed by books I am trying to finish!!) I enjoyed reading yours though! I am like you, I never took the SAT either. And, I gave the choices I made at 18 way too much power over my self worth. Not anymore! Have a great day and see you on Wednesday at Bible Study.

    • Jackie, I am so blessed you stopped by! And I totally understand what you mean … I have so many books I want to finish!

      I too am so thankful that the decisions I made in my youth don’t have power over who I am in Christ today.

      See you on Wednesday. 🙂

  8. Pingback: My Favorite Reason for Blogging | Denise J. Hughes

  9. tears … a beautiful story … God is so great, isn’t He? i love … love that you persevered, and He’s been so faithful. thank you for sharing your dark years … praying and believing in incredible blessings for your next 10!

  10. What a beautiful story! God has been so good to redeem those 10 years you felt you lost. And He has given you words — beautiful, thought provoking words. And He has given us His word! Amen!

  11. This is a beautiful story Denise! Maybe the dictionary set was unromantic, but I think it was something even better–a show of respect and support for what is so important to you. It was important to you, which made it important to him. What a blessing!
    In Christ,

  12. Hi I just found you through the “Write It Girl” Link up and I just love this post so much! I am a word lover also, thats why your thumbnail with the words “A Gift of Words” caught my eye.
    I am now a new follower of yours and look forward to many more words!

  13. Your story is so beautiful. I have never finished school, gone back a few times but never finished. The last two semesters did me in – I took accounting 1 & 2. Not sure I’ve ever met a funny accountant! 🙂 I loved that line.

    Enjoyed by time here…thanks so much for stopping by my place.

  14. This post gave me goosebumps. What a wonderful story. I love words too ( and The Word), so know how deep that passion runs. Wow I applaud you for your perseverance too.

  15. Coming over from Write It, Girl. It was very moving to read your post here – I loved how you persevered through the ten difficult years, I love how your husband gave you the best gift ever in encouraging you in what you love so much, and I love how you love the Word. Thanks for sharing your heart!

  16. What a lovely story. You and I have a lot in common I think. I also put myself through college and can relate to your Dad being too busy to come to your graduation. And look at you now. God is so good, He redeems the stories of our lives and creates new ones that reveal so much beauty. And I too, love the gift of words. It’s one of the best gifts anyone can give me.

  17. Oh, now I’m all choked up.
    How lovely he knew you that well. the gift of words. brilliant.
    And God’s words? Brilliant.
    And I’m sure your daughter is nothing less than brilliant.
    I’m always blessed by your words, Denise. You are a great writer.
    I have never seen myself as anything close to a writer (as my post today admits) but I sure am learning what a gift it is. To put what your heart feels into words. And you? have it.
    Thanks for blessing me today with your words, friend! So proud of how far you’ve come. Thank you for never giving up!
    All for Him,

  18. Ah, Denise, I find this moving and beautiful. Identifying, teary, with “the dark years,” and the love of words and *the* Word. Yes, God is so amazing and good!

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