For My Thirtieth…an Attitude Adjustment

IMG_1580For my thirtieth birthday, I got a makeover…of my attitude. I haven’t blogged for two months because I took time off, intending, in fact, to come back a “new woman.” But when I said “Goodbye for July” (and August, as it turns out), I only intended to revamp my website and my writer persona—not my whole person. God had other ideas.

The makeover God wanted to give me was not primarily professional. It was more, shall we say, domestic? He wanted to make me into a loving, attentive mother. Self-sacrificing, patient, and wise, like Jesus was as he dealt with his children. This is not the woman I was focused on becoming as I signed off for July—at least, not the woman I wanted to be full-time.

I wanted to have this separate space in my life for the writer persona that has emerged through this blog and my other projects in the past two years.

On my new (but hardly dazzling) website, I have branded myself thus: “Lindsey Gendke: Writing True Stories for His Glory.” I wrote that tagline for potential memoir publishers, and maybe even clients one day (and because it describes my recently published works). I also wrote a lovely bio to characterize this blog and direct my future writings: “I am a happy writer, wife, teacher, and mom who doesn’t mind sharing that she used to be depressed,” et cetera, et cetera.

But after I signed off for my break in July (and after life got really busy, and Sam got really mobile), I couldn’t find time to write. I became unhappy, and I didn’t  want to share that with this audience. Ironic, huh?

It didn’t even matter that my first book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel, was published during those weeks (more in my next post). I still felt rotten.

Suddenly I became hard to live with because all I could do was complain about the lack of time I had to write. I found myself repeatedly apologizing to my husband for my nagging and hurtful words, and vowing to do better the next day. But the next day I only repeated my word crimes again.

Confession: sometimes when I’m stressed, I swear, and these negative months were no exception. Buc told me I better get my sporadic swearing outbursts under control before Sam was old enough to know what I was saying. But I knew I needed to get more than my words under control. I looked around at my life—beautiful baby, loving husband, nice house, good friends, PUBLISHED BOOK!—and I could not understand all the negative words flying out of my mouth.

I tried to write this post a few times…but found the words coming out so negative that I just couldn’t publish them, not in their totality. Here is one paragraph of clarity that slapped me in the face, though:

“I am disturbed sometimes by my lack of patience for Sam, my annoyance at how he disrupts my plans. I hate the wrong attitude I see in myself. Where is that love that conquers all? The love that doesn’t mind beginning the day at 4:20 because your sick baby is ready to get up? The love that is happy to put someone else’s needs before your wants? Sometimes I hate what motherhood shows me about myself. I hate how selfish it tells me I am.”

Yikes.

There it was, in plain black and white: I needed an attitude adjustment. That’s when I started doing everything I could think of to redirect, and correct, my thinking, flooding my mind with positive influences such as Christian radio programs, Scripture, books on mothering, and encouragement from my mommy friends.

I did not feel an instant change. Over a period of weeks, I had good moments and bad. But little by little, God spoke to me, until finally one day, He gave me a breakthrough.

As I tried to write this blog post one last time, and as I looked at the negative words I had previously penned, a switch tripped in my brain.

Wow, I thought to myself. Why am I complaining so much?

Suddenly, God brought to mind all the prayers he had recently answered.

  • I asked him for a book published by age thirty—he gave me one.
  • I asked for a baby—he gave me one.
  • I asked for a calling to touch hearts—and I believe he gave me one through the writing of my memoir.

With the realization of these answered prayers came instant repentance, a prayer of thanks, and my much-needed attitude change. Really, just like that.

I suddenly understood that it was time to rest from writing—at least in the professional sense. I understood now that writing more books might happen during later seasons of life, but right now is not one of those seasons.

I also suddenly remembered telling Buc, before we conceived, that I wanted my thirties to be a decade of relaxing from work and enjoying family. Now, I felt absolutely convicted that my first duty was to my family, and I regretted that I’d brought so much negativity and resentment to that sphere, treating my home duties as burdens rather than my calling. I understood that I had entered a new season of life—family, motherhood—and while I might find a moment here or there to write, writing could not be my primary focus right now. Not when my baby needed me, and not when my husband needed me.

It felt so freeing to hear God speak to me that way, and I’ve felt peaceful ever since. Over a week has gone by, in which time I didn’t do any writing, but I was okay with that, because I was taking care of my family—my primary job.

So, now that I have undergone my attitude adjustment, what happens with this blog?

I have decided to keep the “Writing True Stories for His Glory” tagline, because it describes the professional work I have completed, and one purpose of this site is to promote that work.

IMG_1647But as far as future posts? Right now I am a mother at home with my baby, trying to work out my faith through the trials of everyday life, and hoping to find a little writing time on the side. In a way, I guess my blogging counts as a story for His glory, because humans need to see faith worked out in the mundaneness of everyday life—otherwise, what good is faith?

God is doing something beautiful in my life, and it doesn’t exclude writing. It just means writing is not the end goal of my days right now—not for this season. That said, I hope this blog will be a witness to God’s continuing transformation in my heart and my mind. Specifically, I want to become more Christlike through my role as a mother, and I think that’s a story worth telling.

 

 

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Be Angry and Sin Not—Yeah, But How?

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What I saw in my kitchen this morning made me instantly angry, and I most certainly would have sinned, again, if I had not been meditating for the past two days on the Apostle Paul’s instructions to “Be angry and sin not” (Eph. 4:26).

The puppies tore up my rug, again, the one I had just fixed with duct tape (don’t laugh); and their water and food dish was empty, again, showing that my husband had shirked his duties for these puppies he wanted, again.

As I sat stewing at my dining room table, contemplating what to do with this welling anger (magnified greatly by past-due pregnancy hormones), I stroked my Bible. This was supposed to be my morning devotion time, but I was tempted to wake my husband and yell at him: “See what they did? You clean it up. See their empty food and water dishes? You fill them.”

I was also ravenously hungry by this point, and getting angry, yet again, that Buc has never in nine months of pregnancy made it a priority to get up and eat breakfast with me on the weekends. He always has to shower first and look at his news, which seems extremely selfish when I’m about to pass out. Because he won’t rearrange his routine, we miss eating breakfast together—because often I just can’t wait.

Anyway, this morning I had a decision to make. Was I going to pause and pray, or just react? Because I’d been mulling over Ephesians 4 for the last two days, I heard these words in my mind: “Be angry and sin not.” “Forgive others as Jesus forgave you.” “Speak only words that will encourage others, not tear down.” I also remembered an anecdote I’d just read about how Abraham Lincoln once advised a general to deal with his anger at a colleague. To summarize, Lincoln told his general:

Write a letter to that man in all honesty, in all nastiness, to express your feelings.

But…

When you are done with the letter, DO NOT send it. Reread it to yourself, then burn it. Now, write a new letter.

While my first impulse was not to pause and pray, or to write a letter, I asked Jesus for strength to overcome my instincts, my unreasoning hunger, and my prego hormones. And then I popped in a toaster strudel to tide my appetite, and pulled out a clean sheet of paper.

“To my husband,” I began. “I am very angry at you right now…” From there I quickly filled up the front and back. I could have gone on, but interestingly, part of my letter ended up detailing my own faults. Trying to see things from Buc’s perspective, I found myself writing things like, “I know you would tell I am too easy on the puppies, letting them get away with ruining my stuff, and how will I discipline a child if I can’t even handle dogs? Maybe you’re right; I just wish you could appreciate how damn hard this is for me. I’m not good at discipline.”

I paused for a moment, considering how small this morning’s events really were in comparison to life’s bigger mysteries—such as my son’s impending birth—realizing how sad it would be to ruin a morning just for the chewed up rug and empty water dish. And then, remembering what I’ve learned about fruits and roots, I wrote: “Maybe a root of this anger is that I feel unappreciated and disrespected. I feel you don’t understand how hard certain things are for me [like disciplining the dogs] or how important other things are [like breakfast on demand]. I just wish you would try to see things from my perspective and not brush off these things that are a big deal to me.”

By the end of two pages, I felt less volatile, but I still didn’t trust myself to speak in love. Remembering a tip from Dr. Laura’s The Proper Care and Feeding of Marriage, I pulled out a second clean sheet of paper. (The basic premise of Dr. Laura’s book is to kill your spouse with kindness—actively love him or her so much through words and deeds that he or she can’t help but respond in kind.)

ImageNow, I listed all the GOOD things about my hubby I could think of. Blinded as I was by my anger, I needed to remember that my husband wasn’t intentionally annoying me; and I knew that compared with all his good traits, this little issue would fade.

After I wrote for that one page (why is it so much easier to write bad than good?), I cracked open my Bible and reread Ephesians 4 in The Message version (yesterday I read the NIV), and then I went on to Ephesians 5 for good measure. Very funny, God. Chapter 5 is the one about wives submitting to their husbands. In my reading, which took no more than ten minutes, I was reminded of these key ideas:

1. Because I have been reborn, I can rely on Jesus’ blood and breath flowing through me, and Jesus’ love for my husband. I don’t have to rely on my own strength anymore.

2. Also because I have been reborn, God wants me to be mature, not childish anymore (Eph. 4:14-16; 21-24). How mature is it (I had to ask myself) to make a fuss over a torn rug and an empty water dish, or my empty stomach?

3. “Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life” (Eph. 4:26-27).

4. “Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another [husbands included] as quickly and as thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:31-32). What a tall order this was! But compared to Christ, who forgave those who tortured and murdered him, what did I have to complain about?

5. “Figure out what will please Christ and then do it!” (Eph. 5:10). I was pretty sure it wouldn’t please Christ for me to explode at my husband or skip my morning devotional. I was also starting to feel that it would please Christ for me to, once and for all, admit that these frustrations with our puppies are largely due to me not preventing bad behavior I could, actually prevent. I figured it would please Christ for me to finally just deal with the problem so it wouldn’t waste any more of my time or energy. I resolved to submit to my husband’s good counsel (Eph. 5:21-28) and start being more assertive with the dogs, and not let them sleep in the main areas of the house anymore (we have a laundry room that will do as well) so as to avoid these unpleasant morning surprises.

When Buc sauntered into the kitchen, eyes widening at the fluff strewn all across the tile (I hadn’t had energy to clean it yet), I was just finishing my three-part anti-anger plan, and I had no desire to yell at him anymore. I also didn’t feel much like talking (which is sometimes the best recourse when you can’t say anything nice), so I left the list of good traits on the table and threw the nasty letter (ripped to pieces) in the trash. I went to take a shower, after which I started scrubbing the bathroom tile. Better to give myself lots of distance from the temptation to sin. After awhile, Buc approached me, and he lit up my day with three statements:

1. “Do you want to eat breakfast together?” (Yes, I did.)

2. “I found that list you wrote about me, and I know you’re mad at me, because you don’t write those good things when you’re not. But I appreciate the list, and I love you. And I cleaned up the dogs’ mess.” (I was gratified that he’d found the loving list, and he knew without me telling him that I was angry. I was also reproved by the fact that he thinks I don’t write good things about him unless I’m angry—something for me to work on.)

3. “I’m going to get cracking on organizing my closet and my gun supplies” (something I’ve wanted him to do for the last few weeks). “I appreciate you honey, and how you keep me organized.” (This made me feel especially good, because it told me he has noticed the extra efforts I’ve been putting in to get ready for our baby. I was also softened to see that Dr. Laura’s advice was working: I had chosen to be kind to him, and he chose to be kind back.)

Readers, this may seem a long post to recount a silly could-have-been spat this morning, but don’t take lightly how important these small moments of life really are. I believe our lives are made up of these small moments, these small choices (to yell or to pray, to speak kindly or to criticize) and they are the stuff our characters are made of in the end. One “silly” spat can ruin a whole day, just as the choice to submit to God in something as simple as pausing to pray (or to read, or to write a “fake” letter) can set off a full day’s worth of kind words and deeds.

I wrote this post for myself, to remind myself how important it is not to skip my daily time with God, but I hope I have reminded you of the same thing. Even born-again Christians need to be recalibrated on a daily basis.