I’ve waited a full month to write this story. I’ve told it, I tell it and tell it and I will keep on telling it forever, I’m sure. I knew I should bask for a few weeks, walk in quiet victory for awhile, before sharing it with the world, though. Now, to tell it accurately, I have to back up about nine years.
Once Papa Bear and I were married, we almost immediately began talking about children. I didn’t know I would want them so quickly, but watching that skinny Marine long for the fullness of family was the most endearing thing in the world. As I began to daydream about babies and children, I discovered something absolutely amazing about myself: I was the most incredible mother in the world!
Can anyone relate to that?
I wasn’t judgmental. I rarely, if ever, saw someone parenting contrary to my dreamed up methods and thought, “Oh, I will never let my kids act like that.” I just sat in quiet expectation and waited for my newly planted dreams to become a reality. I might as well admit that these dreams began to wilt about thirty-seconds after conception, though. I spent the first twelve of those thirty-six weeks in bed while my husband lived on Ramen and other such bachelor foods. To move meant to vomit uncontrollably, and to vomit meant to die–or to wish I would.
At twenty-weeks, doctors would learn what I’d known for awhile. The cause of my hyperemesis gravidarum was a pair of wrestling, trouble making girls. I knew then that God was giving me the gift of daughters. I know now that He was also holding out two precious children, handing them to me ever so lovingly and saying, “Here, hurry up and fail. I’ll be here when you finally realize you can’t do this.”
On my list of pre-pregnant musts and “to-dos” was a very strict no-yelling rule. I broke that one about twelve weeks into parenting in a sleep-deprived, colic-induced panic. I’m not sure I’ve ever admitted that to anyone. I yelled at my twelve week old infants! Once I had four (just thirteen months later), yelling–struggling not to yell–became a weekly battleground. I would not yell. I was not a yeller. I was not was not was not that mom!
But if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck…
I was quickly becoming the one thing I had determined never to be.
Over the course of the past six years, I’ve talked about my tone with friends and mentors and pastors. I’ve pleaded for prayer and told them how desperately I desired to be the honey-speeched mother who led her children through encouraging whispers. They’ve prayed over me, advised me, comforted me. But when I’ve woken to find the results of a midnight raid or found my favorite face wash used as Barbie’s bubble bath…I’ve still yelled. I’ve yelled (lost it, blown-up) and apologized, yelled and apologized. I’ve repented through tears. And I’ve gone to bed, on so many nights, feeling like the world’s biggest failure–at the very least, the world’s worst mom.
A month and a few days ago, after my regular bi-monthly Bible study where we’re taught all things parenting and marriage, a sweet friend and I sat up late and talked. We talked until three in the morning. We were both struggling, first and foremost, with the same issue in our parenting; we lamented our lack of success and then both agreed to pray continually for each other.
So many things can be said between eleven p.m. and three a.m., but I remember mourning one thing specifically, “I know God can deliver me from this curse of yelling, but I just wish He’d done it while my kids were too young to ever remember a yelling mom.” We both agreed on that point. We both sighed.
When I finally crawled into bed that night, it was close to four a.m. I felt certain I had ruined my Wednesday before it really started, and I mumbled half a prayer before falling asleep mid-breath. I woke up at seven with the same hair color, the same stretch marks, and the same ten extra pounds as the day before. I wasn’t taller or shorter. But before I opened my eyes I saw a picture in my mind. It was of a simple glass jar, and scrawled on the front in black Sharpie was one word: “Mean!”
I was as happy as a pig on Hanukkah. I knew God was showing me something important! I sat up in bed and asked Him about what I had just seen, and then I ran to the living room to greet my children and to tell them about our new plan.
I stuffed about twenty tickets into a large brown envelope, and I wrote the following on the front:
If I yell at you, put a ticket in the jar.
If I receive ten tickets in four days, I owe you an “I’m sorry” party.
If I receive zero tickets in four days, we’ll have a victory party!
I’ll empty the jar every fourth day.
I explained the plan to the kids, and they were all excited to help. Everyone was rooting for a victory party, and we threw our very first one only four days later. Two weeks and no tickets later, I sat in tears in my bathroom and talked with God about what had shifted. What had happened? It was then that He revealed to me the day He’d chosen to give me our simple, vastly ineloquent no-yelling plan. Some people call it the Day of Atonement. It’s also called Yom Kippur. From now on, I’ll call it the day I stopped yelling–the day I stopped trying to stop yelling–the day God stepped in and took over. It’s now the day I stopped apologizing to my kids for something I couldn’t change and instead let them battle with me. If think you’ve known joy, just wait until your six year old zooms through the living room, eyes your jar, and elates, “Mom, it’s still empty!! We’re beating the Devil!!” If you think your children respect you because you’ve done your best to hide your sin and struggles, just wait till you’re washed in the respect that comes after laying bare your flesh and allowing them to witness your victory.
When you come to my house, you’re welcome to take a peek in the “Mean!” jar. It’s right out for all to see. Right now, there are two tickets in there. I earned one while I was trying to take a shower in the middle of the day and the other one while I was trying to pay a bill via an automated system. I’m so excited I get to empty the jar tomorrow morning! I’m a human being, and that’s OK–or at least, it’s been paid for. He knows all about my failure. He knows all about what I can’t do without following step for step in His plan. When He gave me my wonderful children, God winked at me and said, “Here, fail.” For it is only in my failure that I learn, and it is only in my weakness that I fall broken into the arms of my Savior.