how story reveals God

photo credit: readbreatherelax.com

What is it about a good story that draws you in? Isn’t it the unfolding plot, the developing characters, a sense of movement and intrigue and the yet unknown? Do you live into the story that is your life? Do you view your life as story? And what kind of story is your life telling?

Enter last Thursday’s “To Be Told” conference taught by Dan Allender. Ironically, I hardly have words for how powerful it was. This conference, in this moment of my story, illuminated my own story and reminded me of the power of the story of a life. Of my life. Of your life. We are all living a story. But do you know your story? And what story is your life telling about God? And how are you telling your story and being an engaged presence to listen to the stories of others? These opening questions were the invitation to a conference I hope to be processing for the rest of my life. For that’s the thing with the stories that are our lives – they never end. There is no resolution this side of eternity, simply respites and hints of the Grand Resolution to come, and chapters that begin and end.

Story reveals the heart of God. The best stories always do. That’s what I love about the Harry Potter books, for example. There’s the undeniable themes of light versus darkness, and times when darkness seems to have won. But then it doesn’t. Not ultimately, though darkness in the personification of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named certainly takes many casualties down with him along the way.

Allender spoke into this connection between story and God’s revelation as he said:

We don’t know the heart of God outside of story, but we don’t know our story outside of God’s character.

What this says to me as a writer, counselor, wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend is that (1) I want to be a good listener to the stories of others. To look for and point out and worship alongside the revelation of God in the stories of my traveling companions. 

(2) I want to tell my story well. Which might mean, to tell my story. I hide from my story not because it’s “BIG” and “DARK” and “SCARY” but because it seems quite ordinary to me. Of course it does – it’s all I’ve ever known. I also often feel like compared to the stories of many clients I walk with and friends I journey beside, it does not reveal God as dramatically as theirs do. But that’s simply not true. There’s no comparison in this art of story-telling. The goal is story-telling. To tell your story. To know your story and tell it, and in telling your story, to know it better. And because we live in a world inhabited by the God of every story, knowing my story better will mean that I know the God of my story better. Similar to the way that listening to your story will also mean I know a different aspect of God in a deeper way, a part of God that he wrote specifically into your story and none other.

Intrigued? Let’s tell stories together. And I cannot recommend his book To Be Told or the accompanying conference highly enough. This will be the beginning of many posts on “story.”

 

Five-minute Friday: “Story”

Story. There’s a popular cliche that’s well known in counseling circles: “Home is where your story begins.” I love that because it is quite true that every story begins at home – a place of nurture, for better or for worse. Yet it’s also true that the place where you’re able to begin telling your story can become home. Hence my calling as a counselor. I consider it a deep privilege to become “home” for someone’s story. Maybe the first time they’ve shared about deep wounds or fragile hope or shattered places in their heart. And story is what shapes you, as well as what you shape each choice of each day of your life.

Story. To live in God’s story for me is another way of saying to live according to God’s will. Am I living a story of God’s glory or of my own comfort/pleasure/fulfillment? Have I remembered that Christ is the HOME for my story? He is where my story begins, and ends. Christ as the place where I am free to share every detail of my story, and Christ as the ultimate Story-teller. His story gives mine meaning, depth, light, darkness. His presence assures me that my story will never be meaningless or hopeless.

Story is captivating. And it is in daring to share our story boldly, honestly, freely, that we will have connection to others. Community is about shared-story-living (and shared-story-shaping). My story is never solitary. It’s part of a whole, and touches your story in similar ways that your story will touch mine.

There is a beginning. A middle. An end. I can tell you its beginning; the middle is what I wade through daily; the end is a mystery kept by God. Maybe in remembering where I am in my story will I be able to better live out the story of who I am; who God’s making me to be; living true to the story he is writing for me.

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I’m participating today in Lisa-Jo’s “Five Minute Friday” where you write for five minutes on a topic, unedited. Fun way to get a quick blog post and stir the creative writing process.

Mind the gap

This is how I imagine my kitchen to be:

Serene, beautiful, spotless. Could be on the cover or a feature story of “Real Simple.” The countertops gleam; all dishes are put away; there are matching Method hand soap and dish soap containers; and the lit candle signals that it smells as nice as it looks.

Instead, this is the typical end-of-the-evening scene in my kitchen:

20130729-214126.jpgAnd what you can’t see in this image is the dishwasher that still needs to be unloaded (it’s 9:30pm), and a pot on the stove that has another pot nested within it (both dirty, of course).

There’s quite a gap between “ideal” and “real.” To be honest, this particular gap doesn’t really bother me that much because I know it’s only a matter of about 30 minutes before the dishes will be put away and it will at least *look* clean even if it doesn’t smell clean or gleam radiantly. These photos illustrate a deeper gap I wrestle with almost daily. I know that I am not alone in this, because I’ve talked to many of you about it and read your blogs where you also honestly wrestle through the gap. The gap between who you want to be – “ideal you” – and who you really are day-to-day. 

In a conversation with my mom last week, she was telling me about a book she’s read lately in which the thesis is, “We all feel like we need to be perfect like everyone else because we compare our insides to their outsides.” Meaning that you don’t see me yelling at my kids and berating them to get dressed with proper shoes (slippers don’t count) and use the bathroom and get buckled into their car seats and etc etc … before you see us walk into the grocery store all smiles, me holding each of their hands.  Nor do I see your inward struggle with what to wear and does your hair look ok and what about this makeup and do these earrings really match. I simply see the beautiful well-dressed woman who walks into church with confidence and style, leading her equally well-dressed and smiling children behind her. And I’m intimidated by you. I feel less than.

I care so much because it could be that your image gives a picture to the ideal in my head. The who-I-want-to-be-but-feel-like-I’ll-never-be. Emily Freeman in Grace for the Good Girl describes it like this:

I am struck by how I have lived in a constant state of high expectation. I compared my current life to the one I thought I would be living.

What do we do with this? First of all, I mind the gap. I remember that my ideal self and who God created me to be are two different people. And who God wants me to be is who HE is making me to be as Jesus’ life overflows through mine. Which includes me being honest about weaknesses and struggle and confessing and repenting of sin. Secondly, I remember that you’re real, too. So I don’t envy you or judge you or distance myself from you because you seem perfect in ways I’ll never be. I befriend you, because you need friends, too, and you have messy places just like I do. I ask how you’re doing, and really listen. I don’t force honesty, but I offer you the real version of me – hoping that will invite you to do the same in case you’re also feeling suffocated and in need of the space to be real as well.

shame and its antidote

After listening to Brene Brown’s first TED talk a few weeks ago on vulnerability, it was time to listen to the second one on “listening to shame.” Shame is different from guilt, guilt meaning the feeling that tells you, “I did something bad.” Shame’s message is much more pervasive and insidious, telling you, “I am bad.” Ed Welch in his excellent book Shame Interrupted says this:

Shame is the deep sense that you are unacceptable because of something you did, something done to you, or something associated with you. You feel exposed and humiliated. … Guilt can be hidden; shame feels like it is always exposed.

Are you beginning to feel it? Beginning to feel the places in your own life where you hear the insidious whisper of shame, telling you that you’re not good enough; you aren’t holy enough; you don’t have the right friends; your possessions aren’t sufficient; that you deserve only bad and not good, and it goes on and on and on.

Brown discusses the way that shame is defined differently for men and women. For women the definition is “conflicted, unattainable expectations of who we should be.” And so I feel shame that I’m not working enough nor am I home enough, for example. Or shame that I’m not more like the perfect mom/wife/friend in my head who’s always available, always loving, always putting others’ needs above my own, always feeding my family organic food straight from our garden …. you get the picture.

For men, it’s a bit more complicated. A bit more hidden. Shame for men is being perceived as weak, according to Brown’s research. And we as women unconsciously support this sense of shame any time we pressure our husbands, fathers, brothers, boyfriends to always be the strong one for us and to never fall apart. Do I give space to my husband to be weak – or am I always expecting him to be together, thus supporting the idea that he can’t be anything but strong? If you are a man reading this, do you have someone you can be weak with? When was the last time you allowed yourself to be weak?

“How do we get back to each other?” Brown asks. A good question, that she answers by saying that shame’s antidote is empathy. Because shame grows in secrecy, silence, and judgment, to be understood and known in our place(s) of shame will eradicate its presence. Brown says –

Vulnerability is the way back to each other.

Who can you be vulnerable with? Knowing that vulnerability takes courage and brings community – how essential vulnerability is yet how unattainable it can feel! I have found that the only way I can be vulnerable with others or even reach out in empathy towards others is experiencing this in my own life. It is in relationships with brave ones who have loved me when I was unlovable; who have entrusted me with their shame-laced stories; who have stood with me without turning away as I began to speak about my own places of shame that I have learned how to empathize and connect. Yet even these ones have not done so perfectly or completely. I have both disappointed others and been disappointed. Where do you go then?

Try the one who carried all of the hurts and shame and guilt of the world. The one described as –

… he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him, despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and one from whom men hide their faces …

Read on about this man.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace; and with his stripes we are healed.

And what’s your connection to him? That shame that was so disfiguring to him? It was yours and mine. Those dark places that you can’t bear to speak about, much less for someone to know? He was there, and he knows, and he will redeem – if not in this world, in the one to come. His is the empathy that heals both shame and guilt as we say “yes! I need you!” to this one. It is in intimate connection with Jesus Christ, who knows us intimately and loves us completely, that we are free to risk vulnerability to fellow shame-laden travelers. It is in relationship with him that we are free to relate to one another; to offer the empathy that is shame’s antidote. 

When Father’s Day is painful

Before I delve into this topic, let me begin with a disclamor: I was blessed to be raised by a Dad who loved me well as his daughter and cherished me and led me to Jesus over and over again and proudly gave me away to the man I married almost 7 years ago. This man has been a father for three years to our twin daughters, and I daily thank God that my girls have such a father to call, “Daddy.”

This isn’t a post about my pain, but it’s a post about the pain so many of you carry on this day. God calls us to bear one another’s burdens, and in my calling as a counselor and friend, I have heard your stories and I hurt for you today. And I wanted you to know that someone notices, sees, and acknowledges today’s pain.

Today may be painful because you’re grieving the father you never knew. The father you wish you had known, but whose absence leaves a hole in your heart and your life. A hole that you’ve tried to fill a thousand other ways but it always comes up short.

Your pain may be the absence of a father you knew and loved dearly and who is now gone. Whose death you grieve today most keenly. I’ve written about grief here, and I pray the God of all comfort will meet you in each avenue of sorrow you will walk through today as you know Him as Father and the ever-present one.

Or maybe the pain comes from a father who violated the protection and trust meant to be inherent in your relationship. Abuse of any sort – emotional, physical, or sexual – breaks boundaries established by God and leaves indelible pain, confusion, and deep wounds. Your journey feels long and hard and impossible and dark. You may not even be able to speak of what happened, and so you have to fake a “Happy Father’s Day” to the man who violated you and did what should not be done. And this only adds insult to injury. I hurt for you and with you, and if you need a safe place to talk about this, find a trusted friend or counselor or pastor and begin to share this pain. Speaking about such things feels as if it will multiply shame, but that’s the kingdom of darkness trying to keep you from coming into the light. When light shines in the darkness, the darkness cannot overcome it (John 1:5).

Then there are those of you who long to be fathers, and whether the delay is due to waiting for marriage or waiting through infertility, this day is a painful reminder of what you (or your spouse) are not yet.

Some of you have a combination of what I’ve mentioned already, and so the hurt is multi-faceted and often complicated grief. Such as grieving the death of an abusive father. Or a feeling of fear and dread as you watch your husband becoming abusive in ways your own father was to you. Or celebrating a wonderful father while wondering whether you or your husband will ever become one.

And then there’s the frustration of waiting for your husband to step up and be the kind of father you had or that you pray he would be for your children. Perhaps you found yourself reading the greeting cards and wishing they were actually true. You feel disappointed and you wonder if and when he’ll ever change.

As you grieve today, I want you to know that you’re not grieving in silence and you’re not grieving alone. Not only do I (and many, many others) acknowledge your pain, but we want to walk with you through it. And even if today passes without any other acknowledgement of the burden you carry, there is One who sees. Who meets you even now, carries your grief for you; atones for the sin committed against you; is the perfect and present Father you long for or miss or never had. He is the one who met a slave-woman and her son when they’d been cruelly abandoned by her mistress and were languishing in the desert, expecting to die. Hagar’s name for this God in Genesis 16:13?

You are the God who sees me.

On this day when you will see all of the Facebook and Instagram posts celebrating fathers and painting pictures of beautiful Pinterest-worthy brunches and picnics and barbecues; on this day when you will feel as if you are not seen or known; take comfort that there is a God who sees you. Who sees your pain and your grief and your brokenness. He sees you, and his seeing brings healing, comfort, and light into darkness. I can’t promise the pain will be less, but I know a God who promises his presence with his people in times of distress. And he is the one from whom all the best earthly fathers derive their name. He is the one Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 –

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies
and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction …

And here’s one last thought. All of the images of perfect families with perfect fathers you’ll see today through posted pictures, at church or the brunch restaurant or your next-door neighbors – well, they’re not as perfect as they seem either. And in fact they could be well-constructed masks to cover pain that might be more similar to yours than you know. Take courage to tell your story, whether beginning today or tomorrow; whether with one friend or in a more public sphere; whether in person or email or a blog. Your story will remind others that they, too, do not grieve alone. And you may even be able to put words to what someone else could never express until they read or hear what’s on your heart.

Body image and the gospel

I just found out that I had the honor of being quoted in an important article on body image over at The Gospel Coalition Blog. You can read more here (quoted from an article written before I was married, so my maiden name is used): 9 things you should know about body image

Confessions of an angry mom, part 3

[Part 3 of a 3-part series. Click here for part 1 and part 2]

Ok, thanks for hanging in there! Here is the final part, as promised, and my prayer is that you feel a bit of hope dawning in your heart – like the first light of sunrise. This is certainly not my final time to discuss this topic here. I’m thinking it might be merely the beginning of a longer conversation. Also, please know that what I write is not merely “past tense struggle.” Today I was angry when two cranky girls pushed my buttons on our way home from church. The irony of it was that while my husband was preaching to the second service, I was losing it in anger towards my nap-starved toddlers at home. Oh, Lord, we need your mercy daily! Moment-by-moment. And thanks be to God in Christ Jesus that we have a guarantee of it – eternal, cascading mercy and grace. May you know that today wherever you are struggling.

*Part 3*

As I began exploring my heart and God’s Word, since true change always comes as the two intersect, I discovered that God has a lot to say about anger.  I found a sermon from a favorite preacher in New York City,  Dr. Tim Keller, titled  “Healing of Anger”.  Once again, God used him to invite my heart to the beauty of the gospel as it connects to anger. Much of what I’m reflecting on here is from that sermon. A few key verses on anger:

  • Psalm 86:15 – “But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” It is not that God is angry, but He is slow to anger and His anger is over the right things that make God’s anger so different than mine. His slow anger means that I am not destroyed because of my sinful anger against my children. His slow anger makes room for grace, for abundant love and mercy. His slow anger made a plan for how to deal with the source of his anger: sin. And at great cost to himself – he would allow his own Son to be the sacrifice his anger demanded for sin. So that we (the sinners) could be called sons and daughters. God’s anger is always against sin, and yet he allowed Christ to receive his wrath against sin so that we could be counted righteous. So that we would not have to be enslaved by the sin that grieves his heart. This is my greatest hope as I battle anger.
  • James 1:19-20 – “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” Yikes! What a contrast to God’s anger. Mine is hardly, rarely righteous anger, and it actually does not accomplish what God wants in my life – the righteousness He has given me and clothed me with in Christ. God’s anger is always against sin; my anger is usually because of personal discomfort. This is why I get enraged over a child not going to sleep at night but why I hardly blink to hear about the latest genocide in Africa. My anger is not righteous; it’s disproportionate. The injustice in the world that should anger me barely causes me to turn my head while I am disproportionately angry towards the person who cuts me off in traffic or the child who screams, “No!” when I tell her to come upstairs.
  • Proverbs 15:1 – “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” When I respond with harsh words instead of a gentle answer, I make my anger and that of my kids worse.
  • Proverbs 16:32 – “Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.” Being slow to anger will take tremendous soul strength, strength that I do not have apart from Christ. It’s compared here to the ingenuity, military prowess and planning necessary to take charge of a city. Patience will entail planning, fortitude, and strength – it will mean divine resources, available through Christ’s life and death on my behalf.
  • Proverbs 25:28 – “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” No self-control leaves me vulnerable, without protection and susceptible to destruction like a city without the protection of its walls and gates.
  • Ephesians 4:26-27 – “ ‘In your anger do not sin;’ Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Sinful anger is toxic and gives the devil an opportunity he should not have. It is part of my old self, not my new self in Christ.
  • Genesis 4:6-7 – “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” The very first instance recorded in the Bible of human anger is Cain’s anger toward his brother Abel that arose out of jealousy that Abel’s sacrifice to God was accepted and his own was rejected. The Lord here comes to warn Cain, and this story is a warning to me. Cain did not heed God’s warning, and anger gave way to murder. Anger’s natural unchecked consequence is death, and that means not just physical death of murder but the ways that anger unchecked always results in some level of relational death. In the power of the Spirit of the risen Christ, I will rule over anger or it will rule over me.

What does anger say about my heart? For me, it’s usually one of the following:

  • I am not believing God is sovereign, good, loving, and personally involved in my life.
  • There is something I want more than loving my kids and exercising Spirit-empowered self-control – I’m refusing to live in God’s kingdom and instead want to live in the kingdom of self.
  • I have unmet expectations, desires that have become demands, and I need to reexamine those desires as well as readjust my expectations. Maybe I’m expecting more of my child than is developmentally appropriate. Maybe I have turned a good desire into a controlling (idolatrous) demand.
  • I need forgiveness, and I need to repent. I need Jesus!

Hope is found as I agree with God about what he says about my sinful anger, confess to him and to others, seek the grace always plentiful and available in Christ through faith, and make Spirit-empowered choices that are different. This can include researching a good child development book so that I better understand why my children are responding in the ways that they are and adjust my expectations accordingly. It can include calling a friend who has similarly aged children and asking her how she’s dealing with a certain behavior or issue. It’s often included a conversation with a more experienced mom to ask for her perspective on this particular stage. Heart-transforming change always means coming before God in prayerful dependence, asking specifically for the help that I need and asking him to show me the “way out of temptation” before it comes. I have written verses I want to meditate on and remember on 3×5 cards and put them in highly visible places where I will see them during the day (my kitchen sink, car dashboard, etc). Most importantly, it means rehearsing the gospel story of redemption to myself again and remembering where I am in it: declared righteous by Christ’s death and resurrection and living a life no longer enslaved to sin in community with the body of Christ. I am awaiting Christ’s return to make everything right, to destroy sinful anger forever, and to restore all of his people to a perfect relationship with a holy and beautiful God. This is the hope that purifies me day by day, and it is remember my identity in this story that gives me courage to live out its beautifying truth. Even – and especially – as I battle anger as a mom of toddlers.

Confessions of an angry mom, part 2

[Part 2 of a 3-part series. Part 1 here, and part 3 here]

Many moms of toddlers struggle with anger – and we struggle in silence, feeling the shame of how we treat our children and feeling the shame of struggling with anger as a woman. Our culture often doesn’t connect anger as an emotional response of women. It’s seen more as a “male emotion.” And so that adds a layer of shame to our own struggles with anger as moms. In sharing my struggle openly, I found a few friends to be “go to” friends in the angry moments – meaning friends I could text or call when I felt really angry, or on the verge of anger, who could talk me off the angry ledge. Sometimes, simply interrupting my angry tirade by calling someone else was enough to help the angry feelings to pass – or at least for them to lessen and to give me time to pray. Sometimes I literally walked outside the door to get a breath of fresh air for a moment. Other times, I set my kids up with “Sesame Street” to give myself the mental and emotional break I felt like I needed. Some mornings, when I felt my emotions to be particularly fragile, we arranged a last minute playdate in order to have the accountability and companionship of a fellow mom. If this wasn’t possible, we planned an outing. To anywhere. It really didn’t matter, just as long as we were out of the house. I’ve also found that turning on music can be calming for everyone, both me and my daughters. Anything to give me a chance to calm down, to cry out for help from God (instead of having an angry tirade against him in the guise of parental frustration directed towards my children), and to wait for the Spirit to show up to direct how to discipline, instruct, or care for my child rather than following what my emotions told me to do.

In the category of preventing anger, counseling can be tremendously helpful. Counseling can be either formal or informal. Maybe you could ask an older mom in your life who’s been there to come over weekly or monthly for coffee – or, better yet, ask your husband to watch your kids so that you can go out with this older friend and have uninterrupted conversation. Maybe you could seek a good friend to hold you accountable and to be a fellow struggler with you, a friend who will counsel you and remind you of the gospel and let you do the same. Worship at church weekly is such a refreshment to my heart – like setting “reset” as I remember God’s forgiveness of the past sins and struggles of the previous week and as I ask for new mercies and grace for the yet unknown struggles of the week ahead. It’s been a time for me to be convicted of sin, repent, and be refreshed by the grace of God that covers all my sins – even the heinous anger of a desperate mom against her undeserving children.

It also helps to notice when you are most likely to be angry – to keep checking your emotional “barometer” and notice how you’re processing the demands of each day. I realized that I needed to go to bed earlier at night because I wasn’t getting enough sleep. And that I needed to do less outside of the home. I was most likely to get angry when I felt the pressure of a demanding week, with places to go, commitments and responsibilities outside of our home. Maybe for you it might be the opposite – maybe your anger comes because you feel too isolated and you aren’t getting enough outside connection. The important thing is to know yourself, asking God to make it clear what your tendency is – overscheduling or under-scheduling – and to seek wisdom and strength to know what to cut out or what to add in so that you are able to manage your home, your children, and/or your job while staying emotionally healthy.

I also notice that when I’m trying to process my own complex emotions that I am more likely to take it out on my kids. What can I do to process my own emotions better, separately from my children, so that I don’t have so much background noise/burden? It might be worth it to hire a babysitter regularly simply for the purpose of you getting out alone with a cup of coffee, your journal, and the Bible or a good book to help you process whatever it is that’s weighing on your heart in a given day, week, or season. Find friends who could swap childcare with you so that you’re able to give one another the much needed breaks you need. Communicate clearly to your husband what it is that you want. More than likely, he will be all too happy to cooperate when the end result is a wife and mom who is better able to engage her family. If I’m having a week that’s felt hard or anticipate a particularly difficult week ahead, I request with my husband a morning or afternoon “off” during a weekend simply to do whatever it is I need to do. Sometimes I head to Stella’s with my journal; sometimes I meet a friend for lunch; other times I run errands in the blissful joy of solitude and efficiency. The other benefits to this is that your husband will more fully appreciate what you do every day of the week and your kids get valuable “daddy and me” time. Leave any lingering mom guilt at home with the kids, take your keys, and go!

But none of these strategies alone is enough to get at the heart of your anger. They allow you to clear some space so that you will be able to deal with your heart. Stay posted for part 3 coming in a few days.

Confessions of an angry mom, part 1

Today I had the privilege of being part of a panel discussion on the topic of “Nurturing Emotional Health as a Mom” with our church’s moms’ ministry, entitled (appropriately) “Nurture.” I learned so much from my preparation as well as from my fellow panelists. And so I wanted to share here part of what I shared today, in hopes that you too will know (1) you are not alone (2) God meets you (3) you can change. I am experiencing all of that and more in this journey. A journey of “imperfect progress” to quote Lysa TerKeurst in Unglued.

Anger and fear/anxiety are often two sides of a coin. They are two responses to feeling out of control and two ways to seek to regain control. I have lived in both places, and I often still do. Anxiety used to be my prevalent and familiar emotional response to out-of-control situations, like a pending job transition or move, pregnancy with twins, bed rest while pregnant with twins due to preterm labor, trying to feed newborn twins, and the run-of-the-mill daily issues like budget, income, and people pleasing. Anger I was not so familiar with from the inside out. Until my precious daughters reached about 18 months, when they began turning from babies with predominantly physical neediness of me to toddlers with extreme emotional demands of me and a huge emotionality of their own that they brought to each day. I began losing it in angry outbursts, almost but not quite as frequently as they would erupt in a toddler temper tantrum. It became as if we would set each other off. I felt out of control and at the end of my emotional resources. Completely, utterly drained, with no hope until preschool of any relief or refreshment. And I don’t know about you, but as often as I hear “it goes by so quickly!” and really want to believe that, it does not help me to get through these very draining days and weeks that feel as though they are eternal in length and demands.

My anger continued to increase, despite my best efforts at prayer, seeking help, trying to be more self-controlled. And I think that’s part of the problem. It’s not about me being self-controlled, but about me being more Spirit-controlled. I’m learning ways to manage heat-of-the-moment anger and seeking God to heal me of the roots of my sinful anger, preventative care of my heart and soul. My anger is often my temper tantrum against God. I began keeping an anger log – tracking the times when I got angry, what I did in response to what was happening around me, why I became angry – looking at what I wanted in that moment, and then seeking God’s help for biblical truth to fortify my heart.

I noticed the many ways that anger can manifest itself – not only the loud yelling or outbursts, but also criticism, sarcasm, a lingering bitterness or resentment. The object of my anger was not always the one(s) I was acting angry towards. Sometimes I was angry at myself for getting angry; other times I was feeling resentful towards my husband and directing it towards my kids; and yet other times I was upset with my kids but taking it out in an angry resentment towards my husband. Ultimately, I was angry with a God I viewed as controlling yet distant. Far from caring, compassionate, and intimately involved in my day to day battles as a mom to twin toddlers.

Some of the messages of my anger were:

  • “I don’t deserve this. I deserve better treatment, more respect, kids who listen to me, etc.”
  • “I feel so emotionally overwhelmed that I don’t know what else to do.”
  • “I need a break”
  • “You’re getting in the way of what I want.” [Usually peace and quiet and kids who can self-parent – to quote Paul Tripp in his parenting series “Getting to the Heart of Parenting.”]
  • “You are not meeting my expectations.”
  • “I feel helpless to gain control of you.”
  • “CALM ME DOWN!” This last one I am indebted to Hal Runkel’s book, ScreamFree Parenting for, in which he discusses the need to take responsibility for my reactions toward my kids. Saying “you make me angry” just isn’t true. I get angry when others get in the way of what I want/think I deserve/expect in the moment.

I began with a lot of repentance, first toward God (the real target of my anger), then my husband (who would sometimes get fired upon), and most often, my daughters. Who, though often the ones seemingly triggering my anger, were the ones I sinned against in my angry yelling at them and out-of-control fly-off-the-handle moments. I talked to friends, honestly admitting my anger, asking for prayer, and finding that I wasn’t so alone as I thought I was. Hence this blog post, and our morning’s discussion, and each of you who find that this resonates with you. We are not alone! And that is the first and most important step in dealing with anger as a mom. Stay tuned for more in the next few days.

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Want to read the rest of the series? Part 2 here, and part 3 here.

my in-town 2-hour mission trip

I have desired for a while now to have a chance to get out of my comfort zone (and, yes, my house!) in order to participate in some sort of justice and mercy ministry. When Lisa Mazzio (fellow counselor and psychologist at my church) asked me to join her in offering pro-bono counseling to the homeless served by Trinity during our week of hosting NEST [Norfolk Emergency Shelter Team], I jumped at the chance. I told Seth as I left last night that I felt both nervous and excited, and I half-seriously said that I was going on my mission trip. (A contrast to Seth who’s preparing for a 10-day mission trip to India in the spring.)

When I arrived and walked past crowds of men and women waiting to get in (certainly much more than the 50 who would be selected by lottery), I felt guilty for breezing past in my new boots and the 4-year-old winter coat I’d secretly complained about for being “old” and “unfashionable.” Seeing true poverty has a way of putting petty fashion complaints into perspective.

As I served these people dinner,  looking in their faces and putting a plate of food in front of them, I felt a part of me come alive that’s been dormant for a while. This is Christ in me, who loves the “least of these” (by the world’s standards), who delights in offering a cup of cold water to the thirsty, a plate of food to the hungry, a warm shelter on a cold night to those without. And yet it seemed like so little! For just a week, our church hosts them, and for barely 12 hours a night. How much of a difference could that really make? And that is a reason why we must have faith. Faith that God will multiply even the tiniest of offerings done in his name – that he will multiply the scarcity into an abundance, and that he will use even this small act of service to multiply his grace in my heart.

Lisa and I had the privilege of sitting with one man and hearing his story. All throughout, he kept calling us “angels.” What did we do? We listened; we affirmed his pain; we asked a few clarifying questions; we sought to give him hope that he could in fact change. Simple really. Will it make a difference for his life? I don’t know. I may not ever know. But I know that Christ was there with us, in us, speaking and listening through us. And that will make a difference in my life.

I saw tonight a reflection of myself, spiritually speaking. Lest I become too  prideful and think that my service in Christ’s name makes me somehow better than those I served or that I obtained better status with God through it, God reminded me that when I was thirsty, he gave me something to drink. When I was hungry, he fed me. When I needed shelter, he invited me in. And he continues to do so every day to one as spiritually thirsty as the man we met with; to one hungry for the one who really satisfies, to one who thinks her self-righteousness can clothe her yet it is only fig leaves and filthy rags, to one in need of the shelter of his grace lest I fall under the judgment and wrath I deserve.