Tuesday, February 21, 2012

There's power in words.

Shy doesn't even begin to describe me as a kid.

I'd hide behind my mom, literally. And I'd avoid grocery store aisles if I recognized someone, mostly because I worried they wouldn't recognize me and awkwardness would ensue. I lost count of how many times Mom told me my shyness would come across as snobbishness. Speaking in front of a group still ranks up there with my greatest fears.

But I gradually leg go of my mom's leg, accepted I'd never like dancing, avoided Public Speaking 101 in college, sorted out my jumbled thoughts while writing, started asking strangers questions, and kept writing.

Yes, I'm a stay-at-home mom and wife of an attorney who requests my bookkeeping help once a week.

But I still think I'm a writer. 

I blame Rochelle Riley.

Raised in North Carolina by her grandparents, she's a black, single mom to a grown daughter. She lives and works and writes in Detroit, although our paths crossed when she did the same in Louisville. And she reached out to kids like me.

In the high school journalism workshop she hosted at The Courier-Journal my senior year, Rochelle inspired me and encouraged me to pursue a career as a journalist and embrace who I was as a writer, even at 18 years old. I went on to college, majored in print journalism, worked at some newspapers and The Associated Press, and settled in small-town America at a desk of a six-day-a-week paper.

During that time, we talked a couple times. But I read her columns and books often. I would grasp onto her words and want to hold on ... so tightly. She can write about things that are so far removed from my daily life and I still finish her story and see a little of myself. That's how she tells stories. Her words capture the world. And I am left wondering how I can give more and do more and write more and love more.

I've been taken back to May of 1997 more than once. I had decided upon Murray State University, which seemed to be a world away from my near-Louisville home. But I was ready to go. I needed something new. That's what happened when I stopped hiding behind my mom's leg.

What Rochelle said -- it was written, of course -- at the end of our high school journalism helped me step out, move on, write more, and embrace life. While capturing moments in her own mind, Rochelle wrote, "I remember that Kristin Hill seemed the most like me, serious, but able to crack a joke. Her writing showed that she may one day have a desk near mine." 

My desk sits in Murray, Ky., in my home while hers sits in a big city. Yet her encouragement still comes. I drew confidence from her then and I gain hope from her still. Usually it's indirect, through her Facebook posts or her columns written to a broad audience. But we've emailed and talked a couple of times, and I want to hang onto every word.

There's power in words. I've learned that over and over, thanks to Rochelle. And all those stories really are worth telling and, more importantly, living.


Life with kids can be chaotic, but I want to make sure I don't miss an opportunity to encourage my own kids or someone else's kids to embrace what they love to do, especially if it means stepping out in faith. I'm not the only one who believes in the power of someone's words. It may be brief, but it can still be life-changing. Compassion International's President Wess Stafford wrote a book about just that. "Just a Minute" is next on my reading list. 

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