Sunday, February 21, 2016

Angry voice

I had one of those awkward parenting moments the other day when Quinn was acting out with a bad attitude that was quickly spiraling out of control at someone else's house. It was one of those situations where there is no solution that isn't awkward and embarrassing.  I had been patient and sweet and gently redirecting and loving and encouraging and all those other qualities parents in TV commercials seem to possess in infinite amount. But it wasn't working, so I yanked him outside and whipped out my angry voice and lit into him. And it worked. Now, let me be clear, I focused on the behavior, not on shaming him or all those other things you're not supposed to do, but I put the fear of me into this child. He repented, said I'm sorry, and changed his attitude. Five minutes later he was his sweet, helpful self as if nothing had ever happened. I was flabbergasted that after all the gentleness in the world failed to correct his attitude, completely losing my calm worked like a charm.

It is amazing that as a parent of only one child, I have all his one on one interaction with my son and still have no capacity to accurately predict how to talk to my child so that he hears me. Depending on his mood, his social interactions of the last 24 hours, and the weather in China, he can have any one of an infinite number of possible reactions to the same sentence in the same tone of voice. Parenting, it is hard work. Seriously. It's like trying to recreate a DaVinci masterpiece on a canvas that won't stop moving and has a tendency to spontaneously combust.

Although really close to being finished with my read through of the histories and prophets, I've been significantly slowed by February. Not only is this the month of perpetually gloomy weather, I have to walk through the anniversaries of my daughter's birth and death as well as Emmett's diagnosis. Unfortunately, I also have exactly 4 days off this month while putting in quite a few 14+ hour days as well. Add single parenting into that mix, and February can potentially be a recipe for disaster.

But it hasn't been. Quite the contrary, actually. A couple weeks ago, having been woken early full of thoughts and prayers for the day, I found myself driving to work at 6:30 AM having already bee awake for several hours. I was working through a difficult conversation in my head, when it struck me that in a few short hours I had experienced more emotions than most people have in a month. I burst out laughing and started praising God. Despite the numerous difficulties and long hours, my job affords me a front row seat to see God at work in so many people's lives. I see the hard and beautiful and sad and lonely. I see the struggles with mental illness and depression, and I see the victories and encouragements and so many moments that will make my students so amazing. I get to muck through the realness and rawness of life that so many people are missing.

A glorious respite from the gloomy weather came this weekend, happily coinciding with one of my only days off. I was reading though Ezekiel when I cam across this passage from Ezekiel 20: 33-38 (ESV).

“As I live, declares the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with wrath poured out I will be king over you. I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and with wrath poured out. And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will enter into judgment with you face to face. As I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will enter into judgment with you, declares the Lord God. I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. I will purge out the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against me. I will bring them out of the land where they sojourn, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord.
The fierceness of God to be king over the hearts and minds of the Israelites, despite their unfaithfulness is both beautiful and terrible in this passage. Seriously. Read it again. Do I really want to call this god, my God? The God who does whatever it takes, however pleasant, to bring his people to a heart of repentance is more than a little terrifying.

Despite the joy from really, finally flourishing in my job after so many year of patiently and faithfully and begrudgingly floundering, I still am convicted of my sin, perhaps now more than ever. Just the other day he brought something to my attention, as if he were saying, "Now, we can do this the easy way or the hard way, you choose." I ran so fast to repentance and prayer that I had to laugh at myself. Now this complicated issue involves how I speak to others, how I respond to their speech when it is not gracious, and how I lead students who are speaking ungraciously, so it is way beyond a simple correction. It involves patterns of my heart and years of attitudes and habits that need changing as well as a huge dose of wisdom beyond anything I can imagine.

But I heard the conviction and I want to repent, and I started to pray about the situation because I don't want God to yank me outside and use his angry voice to lead me to repentance. Because he will if he needs to. I am his and he will allow no sin to remain in me unchallenged. I have heard God's angry voice in my own life as I hear it in this passage, and I am so thankful to have grown into a heart that, although not perfect, is learning to run towards repentance before the angry voice comes out.


  1. Wendy, What a wnoderful description of how a Christian handled a tough case. It's been many many years since I had to deal with tough parent-child situations. I only hope I did half as well as you in handling them. You are a wonderful mother and I am delighted and thankful that you re the mother of my great grandson.May God continue to richly bless you!

  2. As the Team Emmett symbol popped up on my 'this happened X years ago', I've been thinking about you and knowing that this could be a tough time of year. Your resilience is incredibly inspiring, and I am constantly in awe of your strength of belief and your ability to put into words (and eloquent words, at that) the things I'm slowly learning about faith from my flops and struggles as a new parent, as a child (in all the senses) of God, and as a human being with weaknesses. I've been noticing the angry voice phenomenon lately in my parenting and hadn't quite managed to formulate it into a coherent analogy that had meaning, so thank you for voicing it in such a viscerally resonant way.

    I guess all that is to say, please know that you can inspire people that you don't even realize are following your struggles and victories. If it wouldn't bother you, I would love to read this post to my women's group as a devotion in the coming weeks, to share some of that inspiration more broadly.

    Much love to you and Quinn,

    Jennifer (Ashley) Vanderburgh, who hasn't seen you since high school but keeps praying for you intermitten try despite that.