It has been two weeks since I raised my voice and I have learned something unexpected.
I am meant to be a candle lighter.
I am meant to live a good story.
Right here. Right now. No matter what.
The dark is all around, ever pressing, ever crowding in.
Sometimes all it takes is one candle to keep it at bay.
Last month I read Tom Sawyer with my boys. Their faces grew chilled as we read of Tom and Becky lost in the cave, their last candle fading, darkness all around. Enveloping. There was hope until the moment the light went out, but then she despaired.
My days often feel like that. Trudging, seeking, trying to make it through a maze of carpool, school lessons, arguments and groceries. And then there is breakfast, lunch, dinner and do it all over again.
The candle goes out when showers are over and the kids still won’t go to bed or a conversation leaves my heart reeling or there’s another bill, another car repair, another doctor visit, another unkind word, another unfair circumstance. The light grows dim until I am left gasping and unseeing.
Then my voice raises frantic because maybe I can fling away the dark by my command. Journeying quiet these two weeks it has been so apparent that when my words grow loud I just add to the darkness.
Instead I’m called to be a candle lighter. Quiet, a purposeful igniting. One speck of light that seems it can’t possibly push away all the heavy black. One tiny spark that I must crouch low around, sheltering with my body, with my soul so that it can grow.
As I rock my daughter in the twilight, sunset glowing out my bedroom window I pray for a home bathed in light. I ask to be one singular flame joining the brightness of God’s glory, fed and fanned into a blaze by Christ.
I hear the refrain; many waters cannot quench love. And then His words, “In this world you will have trouble. Fear not, I have overcome the world.”
Fear not, fear not.
I do not always see my way but one gleam of light is enough to step towards. I pray for a flame that cannot be quenched and I stoke it with quietness.
. . .
If you’re reading this and want to join me, or would just like to listen and glean encouragement from others, please feel welcome to join us in the Gently + Quietly FB group!
I have read so many books, studied methods, gone to counseling, and learned about my personality. I have owned my own stuff and prayed for change in the lives of loved ones. I have rationalized, ignored, and most of all grown very very tired.
Everything I have been exposed to has focused on understanding how to communicate differently, avoid triggers etc… But when emotions are high it’s hard to remember the steps to keeping a quiet heart and it’s harder still to even want to.
That’s why last week I decided that instead of continuing to try to learn how to not yell, I was just going to stop yelling and find out what I would learn from that.
Before making the commitment to not yell for a year, I was sinking in confusion over why my heart explodes so easily in anger, how to change and if I even wanted to or could respect a gentler, quieter way. As soon as yelling was not an option, a stillness in my soul began to grow and I began to hear answers I never dreamed of. Here are just a few things I have learned already.
1. I am not alone.
Five minutes after posting that I was committing to a year of not yelling, no matter how long it would take me to succeed, I wanted to take the post down. It was terrifying to bare my soul like that and invite the world to hold me accountable. But I was amazed how many people had already said, “Me too.” The comments came pouring in on my Instagram, Facebook and blog, Mamas and Papas shared their struggles to control their temper and tongue and wanted to join me in this commitment to not yell. Some of them said they were also going to start a year long project that very minute, and some said they would start with a week or a month long challenge first. Within hours I had created a private Facebook group so that we can support and encourage each other and the words and love that has been pouring through this new, little community has given me strength daily. If you’re reading this and want to join me, or would just like to listen and glean encouragement from others, please feel welcome to join us in the Gently + Quietly FB group!
2. Multi-tasking is not a real thing.
Yes I had read that you can’t actually give your attention to more than one thing at a time… But I figured that meant I could still quickly change my attention back and forth between multiple tasks. I mean, I’m a women, that’s part of my God-given skillset right? I would never have thought that doing too many things at once was causing me to yell at my children. However, once yelling wasn’t an option anymore I realized I couldn’t do such and such task that I thought I could or should be able to do because I was fully immersed in – not yelling at my children. Many times in the past week I have found myself just standing still and breathing. For someone who loves being productive, I have asked myself in those moments – what am I doing? Well, I am not yelling at my child. That is the one thing I am doing in that moment when they are lagging to get into the car, yelling at their brother or rolling their eyes at me. And there have been other times when I have been making dinner, answering an email or even reading a book, and I have had to tell a child that is asking me a question or needing something, “I can’t talk to you right now, because I’m doing something else and I can feel that if I try to do both at the same time I’m going to end up raising my voice. I will need you to wait a few minutes, and then I can give you my full attention.”
3. I will not always like my kids or my husband, and I don’t have to.
Yep, maybe I should just leave it right there. I’m realizing that often when I yell at my children or my hubby it is because they are behaving or communicating in a way that causes me to not like them. Those times feel like they threaten our relationship. I don’t want to have feelings of resentment or distaste for those closest to me so I try to force them into being lovable by commanding them (loudly) to be/do/say the things that will make them lovely in my eyes. Yes, I am aware that this sounds ridiculous as I type it out, but I couldn’t see this until I couldn’t yell anymore, and maybe I’m not the only one? This week I have found that I don’t have to like them, but I do have to choose to love them, and for me that love begins with not raising my voice to condemn their bad behavior or command good behavior. I can still communicate with them in an appropriate way, and sometimes I just need to give them and myself some space until we can regroup and connect in a way that helps us both feel loving, loved and likable.
4. Not yelling burns more calories
True fact. Five minutes after telling my children I was not going to raise my voice for a year, I yelled my oldest son’s name. Their Dad had texted me a video that I was really excited to show them and Aaron was on the other side of the house. With excitement and joy in my voice I called for him to come here and watch what his dad had just sent us. My middle son caught me off guard saying, “Mom you just yelled, you have to start over.” I said, “Oh David, I meant yelling in anger or with a frustrated tone, not in celebration or because I’m happy and excited about something.” David said, “Ok that makes sense, I don’t think you need to start over, but you should probably walk to the other room to get Aaron because even happy yelling makes the house really loud.” Good call David. I have since been doing a lot of walking. I never realized how many times a day I take the easy road and call for my children to come to me instead of going to them. I also underestimated how quickly a seven year old moves and how many more calories I would burn each day just going from room to room to find where he is currently at. It has felt inconvenient at times, limiting, but the house has been quieter and I think I may have even lost a few pounds.
5. I don’t have to be afraid of losing it.
I was standing in the driveway a couple days ago, wondering why the typical anxiety wasn’t building over the fact that my children were not in the car so that we could get to swim team on time, and they were instead inside of the house arguing with each other and banging something into a wall. All the same things were still going to happen… We were going to be late, that would make me look like a bad mom and we would waste money we had paid for swim team. I would need to correct my boys for speaking unkindly to each other and not obeying my directions to be ready on time. There might be a hole in the wall from whatever had been slammed into and whatever had been slammed might be broken, both of which would take time, effort and money to fix. But I felt calm, I could handle all that. As I stood next to my van I realized that the panic that rises in my heart in these situations normally, causing me to bark orders and sharply reprimand my kids is that I am afraid of the response that their behavior can elicit in me. I am afraid of losing it and yelling in a way that makes my heart feel dark and sickened for days or weeks. So in order to keep this from happening I snap a quick rebuke hoping this will curtail their behavior and save me from the pain of an emotional outburst of my own. Now that yelling is no longer an option, they can do their worst, and situations can conspire to run the day ragged, but I’m not afraid because I know my heart can weather each small storm if it does so gently and quietly.
Friends my speech is far from perfect. I know it has only been a week, and I still have a long way to go, but I am rejoicing in awe that the Creator of the universe has tenderly guided me through this first week of not yelling. It has been His power that has allowed me to stand with strength and gentleness in the midst of my own fear, frustration, impatience and hurt. He comes quietly into our hearts, not forcing or shaming us, but rescuing us with power and understanding that are beyond our comprehension. I am excited to walk this journey with Christ and all of you, and will continue to share what I learn…
I have been delaying writing this post for some time now.
First I knew I needed to do something, but wasn’t sure what. Then I knew, but was afraid to start. Then I was certain I would begin, but I still feel silly and terrified to share here publicly. Yes I could do this privately, but there have been so many times I have tried and failed, and no one knew so I could just sweep it away into forgetfulness… I will just come out and say it.
At 11:11am September 14, 2017 I began a project… That project is that I am not going to raise my voice (yell) for one year.
This is an impossible project. I doubt that I will complete it by September 14, 2018, because each time I fail I will restart the entire year. It’s the same concept as when I tell my children that their quiet five minute time-out begins over at a full five minutes each time they break the silence to ask if they can come out of their rooms.
It is an impossible project, but I am going to succeed because I will not quit until I have completed one year of not raising my voice – even if that takes me five years. I am a competitive person so I think that a one year project taking a decade is pretty good motivation for me to not screw this up too badly. However, each time I do screw it up, I am going to drag myself to this blog and let you know. Everyone in my family has authority to keep me accountable. For that matter everyone who reads this blog, has authority to keep me accountable. So if you see me lose my stuff in Trader Joe’s when I think no one is looking and my kids have touched one too many bananas and whined for one too many snacks… You have full and complete permission to tap me on the shoulder and tell me that my year starts over right then and there.
I don’t know what I will do when I complete the year… Maybe I will jump and scream and throw things, just because technically according to the rules of my project I can.
My hope is that I will be transformed.
Yes as a Christian I believe that transformation is the Holy Spirit’s work – Christ in us, the hope of glory. But He is a gentle counselor and will not force us to do anything we are not committed to ourselves. I think the whisper of this project in my ear is His gentle nudge after many years of patience and pruning.
I have grown up amidst believers, among the Church. I have read the scriptures that say I am to adorn myself with a gentle and quiet spirit. I believe it, I acknowledge that this is God’s word and must be his will for me, but I have been too afraid that gently and quietly would mean to be weak, used and downtrodden. I have lived loud and broken all the while professing redemption. I have lived in a world of men, leaving my Father’s house to go to my husband’s house and fill it with boys of our own making.
And then a little less than a year ago my daughter was laid in my arms for the first time, and I realized I had no idea how to show her the way of womanhood. I knew that I didn’t want her to follow my example. And I know that she will – so I must change.
But what will I have to give her?
A few months later as my husband and boys were on a campout, I carried her under orange trees, through a gentle garden breeze. I asked God to quiet me, to let me listen to him soft as the wind through leaves. I heard Him tell me that there is a gentle quiet strength that I have not yet tasted fully, a power that is stronger than volume or argument. I heard that this is His way, a beauty and strength that is not forceful, but is unyielding.
I am going to continue to blog about the past and present and future, but I need to share with you this great question I have wrestled with all my life… Can I be both tender and fierce? Can I be both obedient to my Lord and a unique and ravishing woman? Is there a strength that goes gently and quietly, why are we called to it, and how do we live it?
To that end there may be blog posts that are difficult for my family to read, but I will share carefully as I dance with the question of – what is this beautiful voice and power that our God has given us as women? I think there may be some sisters who benefit from what I share because we post our cute Instagram stories and yell at our children when no one is looking. We tell ourselves we are doing the best we can, and we live with a sinking hole in our chest, an unspoken ache that there must be a better way. Or maybe it’s just me… either way this is my time to lay it all bare.
So for the next year (at least) I will not be yelling. I desire to speak the truth in love. That may result in saying some things that may be hard to hear, but I pray that I will only speak with necessity and tenderness. I am now afraid to open my mouth and I feel the tears coming, but maybe that is the point. I pray that somehow the Spirit uses this ridiculous project to help me find the voice I was always meant to have.
– this project is dedicated to my Mother, the gentlest, quietest, strongest woman I know
As a nation our imagination was captured a few weeks ago – we loved the eclipse because it reminded us that we could dance.
As a girl I would twirl in bare feet, braids swinging, dirt-hemmed sundress spinning. When I was a girl, fairytales still existed and magic leaked from every flower-grown hedge and dusky tree.
Then I grew into reality. No matter how I try to keep the mystery alive… grocery store runs, cleaning bathrooms, runny noses, arguments and driving, driving, driving seem to rule my days.
The sun comes up, and I march through to-do lists and meeting needs. The sun falls, and maybe I have stolen a few minutes to read God’s word, write a prayer, and watch the handiwork of His sunset, but then it is showers and bedtime and resting my weary body.
Time is home, and the days a comforting rhythm. Time is a master, stealing and propelling and dictating much of what our days will be. We do not know how to live beyond it, but often it robs us of the dance.
We live so short that the steps in a galactic waltz seem far between and slow. But we are whirling through space and a few minutes on a Monday morning reminded us that sun and moon and all of us are dancing sacred.
The moon stepped lyrical out of its usual rhythm and shadows fell a million tiny crescents. My son held a mirror reflecting a perfect curved slice of sunlight across the street, anointing buildings with a backwards benediction – the day the sun became the moon and we danced giddy circles in the parking lot.
Fifteen minutes and the shadows began to swell to their usual bokeh.
The weekend before as I searched for glasses and telescope filters, I had dreaded fitting one more thing into a busy back-to-school day – eclipse viewing was on the calendar. But as we drove home and the light playing through leaves across my dashboard regained their normally symmetry, I quietly grieved that this respite could be so brief. Don’t we deserve to dance a little longer?
But the moonlight reflects in her eyes, and their smiles splinter light all to pieces. Between the bedtime struggles and swim practice we twirl and twirl as the sun arcs up and down again, tracing a path so sure that we never have to wonder when morning will come or rest will take us in again.
This is the dance for now, steps learned and given and one day new ones will be revealed.
Until then gracious boundaries are set that cradle and comfort us.
Until then we watch Youtube videos of sunsets setting a perfect sphere, and hear our friends and countrymen gasping with wonder. “It can’t be described,” they say. The ordinary miracle of day turning to night and back again. The thrilling melody of a note played differently than we normally percieve.
The thrill of remembering this is all magic – the moon and earth dancing like children round a fiery giant. One day we will “dance, dance, children dance, dance forevermore.”
I drive home to making lunch and putting school books away.
“Remember,” I tell myself, “to stop and stare at the rose petals falling.” In a world of tasks and deadlines, it is not silly to trace a line of paint just to make something, it is not wasteful to steal away and read another chapter just to be lost in story. Even the moon must travel a different path some days to feel the dance and fling magic like little crescents all over our faces.
. . .
“Wonder is that possession of the mind that enchants the emotions while never surrendering reason. It is a grasp on reality that does not need constant high points in order to be maintained, nor is it made vulnerable by the low points of life’s struggle. It sees in the ordinary the extraordinary, and it finds in the extraordinary the reaffirmations for what it already knows. Wonder clasps the soul (the spiritual) and is felt in the body (the material). Wonder interprets life through the eyes of eternity while enjoying the moment, but never lets the momentary vision exhaust the eternal. Wonder makes life’s enchantment real and knows when and where enchantment must lie. Wonder knows how to read the shadows because it knows the nature of light. Wonder know that while you cannot look at the light you cannot look at anything else without it. It is not exhausted by childhood, but finds its key there. It is a journey like a walk through the woods, over the usual obstacles and around the common distractions while the voice of direction leads, saying “This is the way, walk in it.”… Wonder cannot help but sing. Even nature recognizes that.”
- Ravi Zacharias in Recapture the Wonder
. . .
A video of the eclipse my son captured with his iPhone through a telescope filter – IMG_8306
August 21, 2017
Books are some of my closest counselors and friends, books are often my lifeline.
I want to take some time on this blog to share with you all old treasures and new beauties that I find.
I’m on the launch team for Jess Connolly’s new book Dance Stand Run and it is such an encouragement to remember that grace and holiness walk hand in hand and our journey isn’t complete if we are not running on mission. You can check out the book trailer here!
I’m also on the launch team for Bri McKoy’s book Come and Eat and it is such an encouragement to get outside my comfort zone, set perfectionism aside, slow down and enjoy fellowship and food with others. Thank you Bri for this much needed encouragement in our busy, noisy world!
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