I took hold of peeling flowered paper and yanked.
This faded cracked barn red stencil revealed itself.
I stopped mid-yank…confused.
Even in its mucked and faded condition it was so pretty, so unexpected.
For a moment I thought I had unearthed an ancient motif from the previous owners.
But then recollection hit me the next moment. Of course, I HAD DONE THAT! I was so proud of my handiwork. I had completely forgotten about my lovingly applied stencil work in the small formal dining room that once stood, where my sewing/studio now stands.
That which seems so important and impressive today is forgotten and covered up tomorrow.
That is what anger does.
In our charging flood of intense feelings, the hemorrhaging of emotions, the flow of incensed questions, we forget, loose complete perspective. We forget the blessing standing before us, temporarily lost in annoyance, and we forget the guilt we will feel later.
The angry man is angered twice, the second at himself, so says the Chinese proverb.
And after the ugly spewing. After the guilt. After the apologies. After the confessions. We are left with only one single reed: The Question Of Why? Why do I keep doing this?
Self reflection is a good, good thing.
Years of dealing with my own failings. Years of the wrestling like Jacob, in the Old Testament, who wrestled an angel till dawn, not knowing it was God in whom he wrestled, and did not relent till the joint in his socket was broken and Jacob demanded: "I will not let you go till you bless me".
Many, many factors contribute to my own and to your own "failings" whether it be in terms of anger, anxiety, fear, laziness, out-of-control spending, indulgence of food and alcohol, ect. Talk to any woman long enough and it won't take long for a film of guilt; guilt over her own failings, to rise to the top of her conversation- oily and ugly.
Years of wrestling have given me perspective and wisdom.
I suffer from, in a word: INTENSITY.
I just can't seem to be even keeled, over anything.
And so I:
Read God's Word,
Limit my caffine and sugar
Sit in front of a sun lamp in the winter months
Drink wine in the evening
Write some more
Pray some more
Share with women
Make love to my husband
Sit by myself at Barnes and Noble
Go to bed early
Stay up late creating
Bum around being silly with the girls
Clean and organize all day, recruiting my girls to help…or else.
You see where I am going with this?
Life flows, and ebbs. Our family situations flow and ebb. The chemicals in our brain flow and ebb. The terrain of the landscape is always changing and we pick our way gingerly through the best we know how.
And I have been one smug little lady.
So happy that I have all my ducks in a row.
I have told numerous woman how happy I am to be in my thirties because all the tumultuous striving and figuring out of my twenties are over.
I have just about finished Ann Voskamp'sOne Thousand Gifts .
The lines in her book have picked off all my smart cheeky "ducks in a row" in my life like a sharp-shooter's riffle.
You see I am:
A pretty good mother.
I have a good marriage.
I am a happy, spiritual person.
I keep my house fairly clean and organized.
I am healthy and a size 8.
I know how to make people laugh.
I know how to encourage.
I volunteer and serve.
I take time outs for me, and don't feel guilty about it.
From an outsider's perspective I have figured it all out, and have it all.
But there is this dirty, resurgent secret, that rears her ugly poisonous head every so often.
My perfect image crumbles like a clump of sand in a child's hand.
I have bouts of irrational anger.
My family takes the blunt of it.
Remember that list above.
Well a decade of:
trial and error
Of listen to the gentle whispers of The Holy Spirit
Of submitting to the hot searing Truth as I poured over Scripture
Has helped in dealing with it, being aware of it, seeing the bigger outlaying outside factors for it.
But that mocking lone reed after the dust of and causalities have settled:
Why do I do this?
Remained unanswered- and my little reed of doubt is turning into a giant silent grey oak.
Then yesterday, in the ordinary mundane moment of sitting in the crowded parent's section of my daughter's gymnastics class. God dropped a jewell crusted drop of truth on that starved questioning tree:
Because agrees Dorothy Sayers, "whenever man
is made centre of things, he becomes the storm
centre of trouble. The moment you think of
serving people, you begin to have a notion
that other people owe you something for
your pain…You will begin to bargain for
reward, to angle for applause.
(pg 194 of One Thousand Gifts, emphasis mine)
I had to re-read that a couple times, over the din of mothers texting and talking about what they bought at target on my shared wooden bench.
Other people owe me something.
As the words jumped out, branding searing hot on my brain, the past week's guilty tirades towards my family replayed in my mind.
The huge looming question that rises up guilty:
"why do I get so enraged, and incensed at my family, the ones I love the most?"
And let me just add; anger wear many masks.
Complaining is anger's passive-aggressive cousin. As is nagging and cruel sarcasm.
Remember those works of service, those friends I make laugh and encourage?
Well I do those things, and please don't think me smug, "as unto The Lord".
Because trust me, volunteering, and being a good girlfriend is not my thing.
But as I have grown up in Christ, so have I grown in the understanding that public service and kindness to others is part of this thing we call Christianity.
In this regard I can feel good that I got it right:
I am operating out a desire to "become the gift of God and to others because this work is the public God serving…"
(pg 200 of One Thousands Gifts).
But my family…my precious girls, my wonderful husband.
Surely such high and lofty ideals of serving them, as a service to Christ, should go hand in had. Should flow as naturally as water down a hill.
Not At All.
And I will tell you why.
(Even as I am writing this post these abstract ideas are forming and crystallizing in my mind).
As long as I can remember I just wanted to get married, have a bunch of kids, and run a beautiful home.
A very conservative, nicey-nice dream right? Like something out of Little House on the Prairie. So Biblical.
But, I have been lulled into the sneaky deception that this "nice and good" ideal was Leah's doing- stemming from Leah's goodness.
And so I changed those diapers, cleaned those floors, read countless books, put on happy wife smile, made the husband- pleasing meals, and thought:
I AM SO GOOD.
Stay at home mom's are known for having quite the chip on their shoulder.
Just hang around a group of them sometime, and in between the sipping of coffee and cramming in of food you will inevitably hear:
"its soo hard"
"society just does not understand"
"he could never do my job"
"we sacrifice so much"
Perhaps all true statements.
But how much thankfulness do you hear? Any hints of gratitude?
And this is the crux.
"the root of the root" as e.e. cummings wrote.
And as my own blinded and simple mind has began to grope and hang onto these truths, God in all his loving kindness has been ripping out that root.
The root of pride that insists over and over again, "I do so much"/"my family owes me".
Let me illustrate:
Yesterday I got it into my mind that our entire upstairs should be cleaned, aired out, beds stripped, quilts aired, floors vacuumed. I was still feeling kinda sick and tired. It took all day, and I was exhausted. I even cleaned out all the closets, and put away a couple loads worth of my daughter's laundry for them.
Now this is a big deal, because I loathe putting away laundry, thus from kindergarten I have trained the girls to put away their own. I decided to bestow them with this kind "gift" however, since I wanted them to learn how to make up a stripped bed and wash their windows when they got home. I knew that if I asked them to that and put away their clothes they would have a fit.
(notice my "gift" was angling for a payoff later).
Exhausted but triumphant that I had done it, I made myself a strong cup of decaf coffee with a generous pouring of thick half and half. I sat down in my chair and prepared for my little treat after a long tiring day when:
"here let me put the food coloring in that"
pricked my ears.
I shuddered, slammed my coffee mug down and tore into the kitchen a few feet away.
Daughter number two was indeed putting food coloring into a water bottle. Blue food coloring was staining everywhere.
I had moments ago told her not to do any "experimenting"as she had called it.
I lost it.
I was angry over the blue food dye.
But my full vent of understandably raw emotions, spilled into completely un-related
Over and over again I said in my mind and with my lips that: " I worked all day cleaning your bedrooms, stripped your beds, aired your quilts, and I EVEN PUT AWAY YOUR LAUNDRY"!
I did those task not grateful that let me sweep and cleanse out the dust and germs, clean and fresh. I did not preform those tasks thankful for the four blond heads that would sleep soundly breathing in the sweet perfume of the outside.
I did it, because that is what I do. I work hard. I do it right. And I better get a groveling "thanks" in return. Any infraction from my family that incurs after my hard long, self-absorbed day, is then viewed as complete selfishness, and ingratitude FOR ME.
I am putting myself in the place of God.
That very first sin in the garden.
Satan said you can become like God, and Eve bit down hard.
That is what was really going on.
Over the top? Getting a little too theological perhaps Leah?
Now the simple question needs to be raised:
Did my daughter disobey my direct command not to experiment with dye?
Should children be disciplined for disobedience?
Am I only a tired human being, and therefore when fatigue sets in, prone to imperfections?
These precise questions have plagued me the entire journey of my motherhood.
How much yelling is too much yelling?
When do we give grace, when do we bring forth just judgement?
Surely God, in dealing with us, His children, uses a gentle staff and reproofing rod?
But let me drop another jewell encrusted nugget of relief to my and to your own whirling questions:
Lament over wrong doing, sin, which always leads to the strangling and cutting off of God's blessing in our lives, is the only justified anger.
The only form of anger our Lord displays.
"The Lord is slow to anger and great in power" Nahum 1:3.
He is angered at the death grip of sin on his children.
The Lord's refraining from anger IS THE EVIDENCE OF HIS GREAT POWER.
He is truly great in power who has power over himself…A man who has a strong mind can bear to be insulted and ONLY RESENTS THE WRONG when a sense of right demands his actions…A weak mind is irritated at little.
When I read these words in my Mornings and Evenings Devotional , I scribbled in the margin,
How much more should WE refrain from anger
from slights and irritations.
That was read on the morning of the twenty-second.
Numerous sporadic and irrational anger bouts have irrupted since.
The amnesia of anger.
Last night everything my husband said irritated me.
My daughter would not eat the eggs I made her this morning, and I was so furious.
I said it was because my children were so picky and never ate anything, but the truth was that I made a "special treat" of eggs and bacon and was incensed when I did not get the applause.
(never mind that the eggs I served were ice cold and i had accidentally let the slimy bacon drench the bottom of the eggs, making them taste gross)
I never asked her why.
But found out later when I took a bite.
A pretty miserable place to be in wouldn't you agree?
And yet I did the hard thing this morning.
Numb and full of regret and questions, that lone reed staring me in the face, mocking:
"why do you keep doing it"
I am now armed with knowledge.
(the revelation reading on the gymnastic waiting room benches)
As a child of God, don't I then possess the power and goodness of God?
And then I started TO THANK GOD.
Yes, thank Him for this bubbling up of ugliness.
This amnesia that reveals the real sin buried beneath.
Because here is the truth:
"we wrestle not against flesh and blood but principalities of spiritual darkness".
(Ephesians 6:12 abbreviated)
Our mortal enemy, Satan, fallen angel of light, is forever trying to immobilize us, where we do the greatest good.
For me it is my home, my children, my husband.
So as I start to scratch at the real going-ons..digging up little nuggets of truth, that bring life, he always seek to suffocate it, like a thick blanket over a small glowing ember.
But this is a good thing.
This is what I thanked my God for.
Think back will you, to perhaps those early months in marriage or dating. Remember when you just had to do everything with your man. He thought it was so cute when you wanted to be into those things he liked.
Did you ever, during those starry- eyed months "help" change the oil in the car.
Have you even seen the thick, black muck that gets drained from the engine, the heart of the vehicle, into the drip pan. Did you know that, that muck has the power to completely seize up, and destroy the huge steel engine your car runs on?
Have you even noted the striking difference between the dripping sludge pouring out the bottom and the clear amber liquid oil being replaced and poured in?
That is the precise picture that flashed into my mind as I wrestled this morning. I knew I was getting licked; that the self and satan- derived anger was pinning me helpless. But the muck has to drain out before the clean amber liquid can be poured in.
"the root of the root" was getting dislodged. Gardeners know how stubborn weed roots can be. In dry crumbly soil, it is nearly impossible to remove. Usually resulting in a sudden snap of the offensive stem. The weed is temporarily removed from blighting your garden, but you know the root is still intact and it will return. Gush the garden hose on the spot for a moments, and the weed is loosened, root and all.
This is what is going on inside of me.
And so if this bugger of a root is truly going to be dislodged from me-What now?
My always angling for praise, my doing and serving, out of a twisted sense that I am doing something for these pesky people, and don't they see all I do!
What do I do with that.
I do it as unto Christ.
It seems like a over simpled, Sunday School lesson, born straight out of "Mayberry", I know.
"This life of washing dishes, of domestic routine, it can be something wholly different". It can be "a public work, a public serving, even this scrubbing of pans-and thus, if done unto God, the mundane can become the living liturgy of the Last Supper"
(pg 194 of One Thousand Gifts)
On the Last Supper Christ put a towel around his waist, stooped and scrubbed grimy feet.
Mother Theresa, renegade nun, who left the confines of the abby to wipe the brow of disgusting lepers, and rescue babies from the rubbish heaps, left to be eaten by dogs, said,
"the work we do is only our love for Jesus in action".
Anger wells up amnesia-because anger has US at the center- and we are finite.
Joy wells up remembrance-because joy has Christ at the center- and He is everlasting.
I sincerely hope and pray that any tired and starved soul who has persevered through this now 2,798 word post will take away the truth of this message, not my own bumbling, typo-filled, long- winded words.