Growing Experiences We Don’t Want

Right now I’m going through a growing experience I don’t want, and I haven’t blogged about it because I’m struggling to talk positively about it. “I don’t want this situation,” I keep thinking, keep telling my husband and God, but so far no rope ladder has dropped from the sky to rescue me. What does an inspirational writer who writes about her own life say in such a situation? Just this: I don’t want this, but ultimately it will be good for me, because in order to survive, I have to grow.

What is this situation that has me spouting negativity from my first waking moments these days?

Outwardly, it’s embarrassingly mundane.

I’m in Texas again for a two-week business trip, sharing a house that puts my husband and me in separate beds, each in a room with one of our children (FYI, Sam is 2 1/2, and Seth is 4 months). Outwardly, I don’t have my vehicle here to jaunt off when I want; I don’t have my own stuff around me, I don’t have the baby equipment that makes life with a four-month-old a little easier. Outwardly, I’m doing a tricky, recurring trip with two kids instead of one, we’re out of our routine, and I’m getting less sleep. Outwardly.

I want to say the situation is outside of me.

But after all that I’ve learned about roots (our negative thoughts and feelings, which lead to our behaviors–and which rear their ugly heads when we are put upon or pressed), I know the situation is deeper than that.

My Roots

The real situation has to do with a woman who loses it when things don’t go her way.

The ugly, inward situation is a woman who wants to be in control realizing, blatantly, painfully, that she can’t be.

And yes, if you’ve read my book, this should be a lesson I’ve already learned. It’s in part 3 of my book, where I relinquished (some) control of my life’s plans, deciding to “just stay home and write, and have some kids” instead of pursuing a PhD and job security (which I then viewed as Life Security). Well, here I am. At home (but not at home for these two weeks)…with my kids…writing (very sporadically)…and realizing I still have a lot of control to give up to God.

Guys, internally, I’m a mess right now.

I’m facing the fact that when I said I wanted to stay home and write and have some kids, I wanted those things on my terms–impossible terms that no parent gets, unless they are rich and famous and can afford around-the-clock help. I didn’t want to stay at home and, I guess, actually parent 24/7. And I sure didn’t want to keep having to readjust things I’d already figured out for these annoying, recurring, every-two-month trips that always throw us out of our pattern. Especially when there’s a baby afoot.

But guess what? This is the outward situation right now. And it’s here, I think, to expose the inward situation. The woman inside me.

My Rope Ladder?

Brief pause here. A month ago, I thought maybe my rope ladder had dropped. An old professor from my alma mater contacted me to tell me about an opening in the English department here in Texas; he wanted me to apply; he gave me reason to hope. The month before that, I’d been struggling just to “woman” the home back in Missouri with my own two kids, and then with two more whom I’m babysitting for the summer. I’d been feeling like a failure, a bad SAHM, a woman who wasn’t meant to stay home. Was this job my green light to move back to Texas–to the helping arms of family–and to go back to “work,” where the work seemed so much easier?

I waffled back and forth, thinking maybe this could be a good thing. I submitted my resume and we prayed that God would open or close the appropriate doors.

In the past month, I also read Dr. Laura’s book In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms (one of many books I checked out about all types of moms and work situations). Dr. Laura makes a convincing case for staying at home with one’s kids, and she uses a lot of the same arguments I used before living the difficulty of staying home with kids. Long explanation short, I felt increasingly convicted over the past month that staying home was and still is the right thing for me to do in this season of life.

And then, as if to punctuate my findings, I didn’t get the job. Door closed, prayer answered.

So here I remain, at home (yet not at home), in this (on some sleep-deprived days) excruciating growing experience. This past month of pondering going back to work has taught me I wouldn’t choose to be anywhere other than at home with my kids (most days). It is the best job I could have, I have to agree with Dr. Laura. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. It doesn’t mean I always want it; it doesn’t mean I want to talk positively about it, or even find it within myself to do so.

So how do I wrap up this post on a positive note?

I guess this: God doesn’t always ask us to like our mission on earth (think of Jonah in Nineveh, think of Jesus in the Garden); he just asks us to accept it. So no, I don’t like this situation–being not-at-home in Texas, and, at the root of it all, being never-in-control of my life–but I am trying to accept it. I am trying to accept that I need to grow, and I need to let go of control, and maybe this is the best way God could design for me to do that.

Lord, help me to remember that you are in control, you know best, and you have my back. So I will praise you, Lord, even though I don’t feel like it. I praise you for what you can see and I can’t; I praise you for the work you are doing in me and in my family right now. May my words and thoughts center on you today, my hope and my salvation.

 

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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.