It’s always darkest just before dawn – Part 2

It’s always darkest just before dawn – Part 2

To read the first part of this story, click here.
We have a variety of oak tree in our back yard that doesn’t lose its leaves until spring. I don’t know what this oak is called. It could be a Pin Oak. An English Oak. A Live Oak. After spending entirely too much time trying to find out what it’s called, I finally decided it doesn’t really matter.
The point is, the tree used to annoy me. All the other trees dropped their leaves in the autumn. And here was this tree, stubbornly holding its leaves over the winter. Then, finally, when the grass was just getting green, it would drop its dead, brown leaves all over our yard. Piles of dead leaves in the springtime. It really messed with my seasonal photos. My yard looked like spring with an identity crisis. Especially since we have never really raked the leaves at our house . . .
So I didn’t really like this oak tree. Then, a day or so after I decided to stop yelling at my kids, I listened to a sermon by Dr. Timothy Keller. This is one of the ways God put his loving arms around me and lifted me up as I was emerging from the darkness. Keller’s sermon, “Forgiving & Forgiven,” was exactly what I needed to hear. The title gave me no clue as to the actual content, but something (Someone) made me click on that particular sermon and I daresay I’ll never be the same.
The first half was about anger—specifically parents being angry with their children. And what to do with that anger. How to be angry and not sin. How to be angry with the sin in our children in the right way and how to realize when the anger comes from our expectations not being met. Keller talked about how the change God works in us doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. It takes cultivating the fruit of the Spirit. The old, bad fruit needs to be forced out and drop off as the good fruit grows.
He compared it to a variety of oak tree they’d had in their yard when they lived in Virginia. The leaves didn’t drop off in the fall. They waited until spring, when the new buds emerged. As the new life came into existence, the old, dead, ugly leaves dropped off.
I looked out the kitchen window that March day and saw our oak tree, covered with old, dead, ugly leaves. And all of a sudden, I saw that tree in a different light. That tree was the hope of my life. That ugly old oak tree was the symbol of a life about to change.
Of a mom who’d been caught in a vicious cycle of anger and rage and sin.
A woman who could change and grow and become more the woman God intended her to be.
I read this article around the same time. It’s a great article, but I quickly realized I needed more. That mom had used the symbol of the “Orange Rhino” as something to remind her of the change she wanted in her heart. It worked for her.
For me, it’s the oak tree. I see the change God is working in me when I think of the annual cycle of this tree. It’s a reminder of the bad fruit that will continually be dropping off as I cultivate the good fruit.
I look at that oak tree now and it’s my symbol of hope.
I’m not saying that I have not raised my voice since March 25th. Just yesterday, Adrian was driving me insane. He cried and whined all day. At five o’clock he insisted that picking up ten tiny toys was, “Too hard!”
I did raise my voice as I marched him over to the toys and insisted it was not too hard for a 3-and-a-half-year-old to pick up a few things. 

I know I shouldn’t have even raised my voice. But I didn’t lose it. I haven’t raged at them. I have taken deep breaths and walked away and prayed very hard. And cried.
I have slowed down and looked into their eyes and reminded myself that this is my only time with them and it will be over just. like. that.
There’s a little part of me that doesn’t even want to post this for fear that tomorrow I will lose my resolve and rage at them again. But I have to trust God to keep doing this work in me. I have to fall on the grace that changes me and the grace that picks up the pieces when I do fail. Because it’s not me. I can’t do it without Him. And if I try to do it myself, then it’s not real.
But this is real. This is the fresh bud of spring pushing the dead leaf off the branch.
There is no room for that old, withered leaf anymore.

  • Peg
    Posted at 08:24h, 15 May Reply

    Thank you for your honesty on this topic Alison! I am glad to hear God is working in you on this. It's a topic I know a lot of us moms can relate to. I had a pretty bad rage issue in the first couple years after my third was born. (you think it's rough now…brace yourself girl. 😉

    I found that my rage was often cyclical and likely part of PMDD (a severe form of PMS). I am now under the care of an acupuncturist and am taking a few supplements that have helped me stabilize internally. I also get more sleep, more exercise, and more rest time – all of which have done wonders.

    I say all this because while it is a whole heck of a lot better, I do still yell at my kids occasionally. It happens and it is not because I lack the "resolve" to never yell. I've come to terms with the fact that I am human. My kids don't need me to be the perfect mom who never raises her voice. Then they will have that pressure, and those "should" voices in their head when they become mothers. What they need is for me to acknowledge that I'm human, that it's okay to make mistakes, and, most importantly, to apologize and ask forgiveness when I do.

    I love the imagery of God's love is like the sunrise (Glennon's book). It is there, every day, just waiting to fill me up. It would be daunting to me to promise never to yell again. So I greet every day as a new opportunity to do my very best not to yell, one glorious day at a time.

  • Alison Treat
    Posted at 15:16h, 15 May Reply

    Oh, don't worry, Peg! There is no danger of my kids EVER thinking I am the perfect mom. I could go on a rabbit trail here about how allowing God's grace to work change in me is actually something that will help them in the future. Because as I grow, I am less likely to put unrealistic expectations on them and become the "should" voice in their heads. Deciding not to yell IS daunting and it's not something I can do without Him. It also doesn't mean that I will never raise my voice at them again or that God loves me less if I do. His grace is enough when I fail . . . and it's also enough to change my heart in a lasting way. My kids don't need me to be perfect, but they do need me to not to be a yelling mom. I know this in my soul now. It doesn't mean I'm better than any other mom. And I'm not naive enough to think that now I've conquered this and I'm never going to forget why it's important. I need to stay on my knees and keep growing every day.

  • Abby
    Posted at 16:20h, 15 May Reply

    Thank you for sharing your journey with this! I've been working through this issue myself in the last six months to a year… I think I had a tendency towards being short-tempered with my daughter as she hit toddlerhood, but it didn't really become *evident* to me that we were having issues until I was around 5 months pregnant with her brother. Then it got worse after he was born, when I was tired and she was adjusting to being a big sister. He's three months old, and she's almost four, now.. and I can say that my resolve to change things is finally starting to make a difference. I think what helped me the most was a) realizing that my daughter is definitely old enough to *remember* my behavior towards her, now (not that that should matter, but somehow thinking about her remembering me yelling at her really stops me in my tracks); b) making a resolve to change my behavior, and c) reading a lot of parenting books with ideas on HOW to change your own behavior (which in turn changes your child's). I especially liked "How to Behave so Your Preschooler Will Too," "Raising Your Spirited Child," and "Peaceful Parent, Happy Child." Oh, and "Parenting with Grace" helped me see a more God-centered approach to parenting.. Anyway, I'll be praying for your journey in this regard – please pray for me! Also, if I may ask, was this mostly a problem for you, or for your spouse as well? One of the things that I'm finding tough at the moment is that my husband has picked up on some of my bad habits in interacting with our daughter, and convincing him to change / explaining why is difficult without coming off as "I know how to parent and you don't." Wondering if you faced a similar issue, or if your husband just didn't pick up the yelling problem.

  • Alison Treat
    Posted at 17:10h, 15 May Reply

    Thanks for your encouragement and prayers, Abby. I will pray for you, too. Todd (my husband) doesn't struggle with this nearly as much as I do. Sometimes I wish he would yell at me when the two of us are arguing (not really)! This is not to say that we never differ in our approach to parenting, though. When that happens, I try very hard to support him in front of the kids and share my opinion with him when we're alone. It is so hard b/c this is an internal change that God is doing in me. I'm not sure how I would have taken it if Todd had tried to tell me to change. But I welcome his support in reminding me if I'm off-track. The only time I can remember him exploding at our kids, I decided to let him deal with it instead of telling him he needed to apologize. If it were an ongoing problem, though, I would probably prayerfully approach him with a humble heart. I would hate for it to affect his relationship with our children. Perhaps an attitude, of "let's work on this problem that we both struggle with" would be accepted. Just some ideas. You may have already thought of them yourself. Blessings on your journey and I will keep you in prayer.

  • Grace in a Campfire | Alison Treat
    Posted at 07:57h, 13 September Reply

    […] written about my struggle with yelling at my children. My attempts to master my temper. My vows to walk away, to give myself a time out, to breathe and […]

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