Three babies in five years is what it took to throw me over the edge.
Mixing lack of sleep at night with defiant toddlers by day was a recipe for fraying nerves already, but then Taido often would have to leave town for work. I was exhausted at the sound of my own voice, constantly warning,
“Don’t hit your sister.”
“Stay in bed. If you get up one more time…”
“Who colored on the wall?”
“Why didn’t you tell me you needed to use the potty?”
In the dark winter of 2002, I was wearing especially thin. My usual irritability was quickly escalating to outbursts and one weekend while Taido was gone I thought I might actually be in danger of hurting someone. I called Taido and left him a tear-filled voicemail saying that I would be leaving as soon as he got home the next day. I just needed a minute. I needed to go one day without hearing myself give orders or yell at someone. And I needed a full night’s sleep.
When I was five years old, I beat up the older bossy girl in our cul de sac. I do not recall the inciting remarks that caused me to fly in a rage at this poor girl. I just remember the weight of my hate for her. If my little hands had been strong enough, I could have killed her that day.
Later in my room, where I had been sent to calm down and await my consequences, I was frightened by the depth of my emotions, but I was holding on tight to my fury.
When Mother came to talk to me, she told me a story.
“Once upon a time there was a man who owed a lot of money to the king of the land. Back then if you could not pay your debts you had to go to jail, so he was about to go to prison because he could not pay the money back. He fell to his knees and begged the king for mercy.
And do you know what?
The king had pity on him and told him he would wipe his slate clean. He forgave the whole debt and set him free without making him pay back any of the money he owed.
The man left the king’s house, but he was afraid the king would change his mind. He did not really believe he had been forgiven.
So he went and found a man who owed him just a little bit of money and demanded that he pay it back. This man was very poor and he could not pay even the small amount of money he owed. The poor man begged for mercy but the man showed him none. He had him thrown in jail because he could not pay.”
My clenched fists relaxed a bit as I asked, “But why, Mama? Why would he not forgive when he had been forgiven?”
“Why indeed? That’s what the king asked when he found out. How do you think the king responded when he heard what had happened?”
“I bet he was mad.”
“Alison, that man is us. The one who had been forgiven much by the king but then would not forgive a little for someone else.”
I was truly broken by this story and by the darkness of my little five year old heart.
I wanted to forgive and to be forgiven. To be love and mercy and goodness.
Mother prayed with me that afternoon and we both count that day as the moment I gave my heart to Jesus.
But anger is a willing companion, one I found difficult to give up. As I grew, angry blows turned to angry words.
Feelings of rage inside came and went with increasing familiarity.
When I gave birth to my own precious children, I never dreamed I could become as angry with them as I had with the girl in my neighborhood. I pictured myself the calm and composed mother of many little ducklings, but in my perfect picture of motherhood, the little darlings did exactly as they were told and did not get out of line.
Reality was harsh, or rather reality was making a harsh mother out of me. And I did not like her one bit.
When Taido got home the next day, I met him at the door. I had a bag in the car and a reservation on the Olympic Peninsula at an old monastery. I kissed my family goodbye and headed for the ferry.
On the drive over I listened to my father’s New Year’s Day message, one that has become familiar to me. It’s all about choosing a positive attitude and fighting to be grateful in life instead of complaining about your circumstances.
It was dark by the time I was settled in a room. I had a sack dinner, my notebook and my Bible. I got down on my knees and begged God to take away my anger. To unclench my fists. To forgive again this life long propensity to be so very angry.
I fell into bed and slept better than I had in five years.
The next day I continued my conversation with God while I walked along the shoreline of the Puget Sound. I sat by the sea and wrote in my journal. One verse that God gave me during my time away that has stuck with me since that day on the beach was Isaiah 30:15:
“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.'”
I took those words up like precious stones in my hands. I longed for them to be words that described my life. And more than that I longed for their result.
“Cease your striving, Alison.”
When my father is speaking he often says the words, “Draw a line in the sand.”
He says them in reference to any kind of commitment you might make in your life. A promise you intend to keep. A destructive behavior you need to leave behind.
I’m sure he said those words in his New Year’s sermon because I found myself standing on the shore, drawing a line in the sand.
I remember stepping over that line and saying out loud, “I don’t want to be angry anymore.”
“Not at my husband Not at my children. And maybe especially, not at myself.”
I fell to my knees and cried for a long time. Just letting go and being thankful for the sound of the waves drowning out my sobs.
When I was all cried out, I got up and walked for a long time on the beach, repeating those words from Isaiah. Before I left the beach I chose five small white stones, worn smooth
by the water. I chose one for each member of my family, including myself.
When I returned home, I was happy to see my people again, and I took my little stones out and set them on the shelf above my sink. I placed them there as a reminder both of the place I’d left my anger and of how much I need time away, quietness and rest.
When I moved to Arkansas I put those same five rocks in my kitchen window and when I began to feel angry again for too many days in a row, they would remind me that I had some things to let go of or that I needed time alone. Or both.
Anger loves to find its way back into my life. He finds a door into my home through one of my children or through a stressful move, but since that day on the beach, I am quicker to let go. To fall on my knees again before a king who reminds me that I have nothing to hold over anyone.
I am still the man in the story who has been forgiven much, but no longer the man who acts as though God might change his mind and throw me in jail.
I want more days of my life to be marked by…
Repentance rather than Blaming.
Rest rather than Striving.
Quietness rather than Yelling.
Trust rather than Clenching.