Giving full vent

I never had a temper until I had children. At least, so I thought.

Katrina at 9 months
Besides occasionally getting frustrated in heavy traffic and bemoaning my singleness to a God who seemed callous to my fate, I rarely experienced anger. I thought of myself as a "peacemaker", and "even tempered" would have been part of my self-description.

Then - despite proclamations from multiple physicians regarding my eternal infertility - God gave me four children in four years. And before I was even half done bearing them, I found out I had a temper.

A bad one.

Yelling was part of my daily coping. Doors were slammed and laundry flung here and there, and sometimes I even dressed my kids roughly instead of tenderly. I remember pulling my fingers deep into fists so tight my chewed-short nails left imprints on the life-line of my palm. I often spoke through gritted teeth - my jaw so tightly clenched that I went to bed with an ache there in reminder.

Katrina & Rosalie in May, 2005.
I hated it. I loved my children, and realized - perhaps even more than most - that they were a gift to be treasured. But everything orderly about my life went out the door the day I brought my first child home. It took a few months to get things under control, and about the time I learned how to integrate the extra laundry and tasks into my day, I found myself pregnant again and tired beyond belief, vomiting every hour and searching endlessly for something nutritious that I wouldn't throw back up.

It was while potty-training my third daughter that I realized I really needed some help. I'd been praying about it for years, and I wasn't gaining any ground against this temper of mine. Another child was on the way...and this 3rd one would only be 15 months when the new baby arrived. I was already far beyond my human ability to cope with all the diapers, disobedience, and disarray. I didn't want my children to remember me as an angry mother spitting out commands, retreating in tears, and begrudging every chore she ever did for them. I wanted them to remember love. I wanted it to drip from my body like the blood of Christ, freely given from a heart that longed to be united with those little souls, my children.

A not-so-sweet mothering moment - all dressed up & nothing but tears!
And so I sought an older woman of the faith (Titus 2). I went to her because I heard someone say once that she used to have a temper. You'd never know it to see her of the most soft-spoken women at my old church. If anything, she was one of the kindest and gentlest people I knew - someone I definitely longed to be more like. She smiled a sad little smile when I told her my plight, gave me a hug, and prayed over me. Her eyes spoke words she didn't say aloud, I know this pain. I know what it is to long to change...and to fail. I know what it is to wound the ones you love most.

Thul girls, Christmas, 2007; you may notice #3's mischievous expression!
She gave me a few Proverbs that helped her, and suggested I put up a few notes around my home to remind myself when I was tempted to yell at my children. It helped...a little. Then something really strange happened. I had been praying daily that God would take my temper away for about 1 month when I was diagnosed with my throat. You know, where yelling comes from. Right in front of my voicebox. I had surgery to remove the cancer. And I lost my voice. Totally. I couldn't yell...I couldn't even speak! All my words were whispered, for weeks. I had to teach my children a special "family whistle" so that I could summon them in crowds or get their attention in noisy public places.

One of the signs on my kitchen windowsill reminds me of this, to this day. Verses written out, along with the words, HE gave your voice back - use it wisely!

The purpose of the Proverbs is to teach - not to argue or debate; and to provoke thought. Proverbs is a compendium of wisdom, the sum of the moral wisdom of man, a group of wise and weighty sayings that reflect the truth of the world. Many people take Proverbs as a series of commands (1 + 1 = 2). Yes, all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (II Timothy 3:16). But there are books written specifically to different people at different times, there are commands and there is wisdom, there are judgements and there is story. The Proverbs are classically viewed as "wisdom" - guides for our moral and ethical behavior as Christians. Julian Rivers, a professor at Cambridge and Göttingen universities, has this to say about how we use and view all kinds of Scripture:
We do not read the Bible flatly as a book of rules for right living; rather we take full account of its literary and linguistic forms. We do not read it as merely an ancient source of pious thoughts; rather it is the true story of God and his people, which tells us how things really are and commands us to abandon our self-centredness and live for him. We do not think we must do exactly as ‘they' did; rather we seek to understand what was right about the judgements the texts make in their historic cultural contexts. We do not proof-text, taking a single verse or passage to have concluded the matter; rather we place it within a coherent and overarching view of God's entire revelation. We do not think that the Bible is simply a starting point, to be left behind as the Christian tradition unfolds; rather it points forward – and back – to Christ, who is the centre of our lives. And we do not read the Bible simply to know what is good and pleasing to God; rather we read it to be caught up into it and then to live it out.
I am thankful that God spoke through Proverbs and personal trial to my heart. The triumph of my story is that I did get caught up in it...and my temper is largely a problem of my past. I wish I could point other mothers in the midst of their own struggle toward a "magic bullet" of Scripture that knocked the teeth out of my temper. Unfortunately, it wasn't just something I read, something I prayed, or something I changed that brought the beast of my temper under control. It was the Spirit of God living in me and changing me. For each of us, that process looks a little different. I can simply pass on hope that this, too shall pass. Get on your knees, deep in your soul. Beg God for change. Stay deep in Scripture, so that it runs through your mind like an infinite stream, conscious and unconscious, eroding the architecture of you into ruins and exposing the beauty of the marble out of which He is building a new creation.

With His strength, you will be able to laugh in the face of the worst of times, and have peace when nothing in life seems right. (Proverbs 31:25)

A few of the Proverbs that helped me most in my hardest times:
A fool gives full vent to her anger, while a wise woman keeps herself under control. (Proverbs 29:11)

She who is often reproved, yet stiffens her neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing. (Proverbs 29:1)

In the fear of the Lord one has strong confidence, and her children will have a refuge. (Proverbs 14:26)

Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but she who has a hasty temper exalts folly. A tranquil (healing) heart gives life to the flesh, but envy (jealousy) makes the bones rot. (Proverbs 14:29-30)

This post linked to Ann Voskamp's thankfulness campaign: