Monday, 01 May 2006
Praying for Patience
Rummaging through a rack of baby clothes at Wal-mart, I glanced up as a woman with several small children hanging from her cart walked by. It was hard NOT to notice her. One child jumped off the cart and hid from her, a second was screaming, as the third, a toddler, sat chewing on the bananas his mother intended to purchase. The exhausted mother suddenly reached her limit, and she began yelling at all three children. Shoppers turned their heads, trying to see what the commotion was all about. I turned away disdainfully, and continued to search for the perfect outfit for my firstborn to wear home from the hospital.
Rubbing my growing abdomen, I mentally patted myself on the back in advance. “Thank you, Lord!” I prayed, “I know I will never be a mother like that!”
Several weeks later, the doctor lay baby Tyler in my arms. I immediately determined that I would never raise my voice at this “perfect” little piece of mankind. He was so wonderful, and I couldn’t wait to be the kind of mommy I had always dreamed of. Fun, kind, patient, understanding, loving… The list went on and on.
But oh, how wrong I was!
As the babies kept coming, piles of laundry, ringing phones, messy pampers, spilled milk, and tired, whiny voices, all contributed to tying this young mother up in knots. I’d heard it said that to pray for patience, is to ask for a trial that requires the virtue. I decided that I would heed this advice and not ask God for patience. I had enough problems already, why ask for more? Unfortunately, it wasn’t long until I found myself becoming more and more like the frazzled mother whom I had despised. What was I to do?
Knowing better than to pray for patience, I decided to focus on Scripture. “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold…” I would remind myself while filling my mop bucket. Then, ten minutes later, I was once more yelling at my children as muddy shoes crossed my freshly scrubbed floor. Already the impatience and frustration had found its way back to into my spirit.
One day, a wonderful idea struck!
“Sing! Yes, I will sing! Raising my voice in praise will surely drive my impatience away!” I decided. Sorting through the catalog of hymns in my mind, I remembered a favorite from long ago.
“Set a watch ‘ore my mouth,” I sang, “and keep the door of my lips. Lord, teach me to bridle my tongue, the way that You…”
Suddenly, a loud CRASH interrupted my heartfelt singing!
Whirling around, I saw 2 year old Amy had fallen off her chair, spilling a glass of water all over the floor.
“Amy Nichole!” I shrieked loudly, “What are doing? Can’t you be more careful!?” Immediately, the Holy Spirit pricked my conscience, and I realized how sadly humorous the whole scene was. Wiping up the water in silence, I felt defeated. Would I ever learn patience?
Through the next couple of days, my impatience with my children kept running through my mind. I did not want my children to grow up with an impatient mother. I didn’t allow them to lose their temper, yet here I was failing in that very area.
One morning as I was having my quiet time with God, I was thinking about the day ahead. I had so much to do that day and I knew that I would probably let the stress get to me somewhere between… well… making beds and… eating breakfast! Knowing what I could be getting myself into, I bowed my head.
“Lord Jesus,” I prayed, “I am so impatient with my kids. I don’t want to be like this. Please, help me today, and…uhmm…well…uh…” Swallowing hard, I plunged ahead, “give me patience. In Jesus Name, Amen.”
“Well, here we go!” I thought. “This could be an interesting day!”
After starting the laundry, I could hear the children beginning to wake up. Just as I was headed up the stairs to kiss them “good morning,” the phone rang. Running to answer it, I could hear Amy crying at the top of her lungs.
“Oh great, now she’s going to wake up the baby!” I moaned.
Answering the telephone, I talked with my mother for a couple of minutes, but as the volume increased upstairs, I informed mom that I would talk to her later.
With a determined step, I headed up the stairs, where I found Amy screaming in her room. We had been gone over the weekend, and Amy was extremely tired. Trying to decide whether to send her back to bed, dress her, or punish her, I caught a whiff of a foul odor.
“Oh,” I groaned. I had forgotten that she had thrown-up in her car seat the night before. Having arrived home late, my husband, Tim and I simply cleaned her up the best we could and stuck her in bed.
Carrying the wailing child to the bathroom, I soon had the bath water running.
“No, no, no, no,” she yelled over and over.
Strangely, I noticed that while Amy was hollering loud enough to wake the dead, I was still feeling a sense of heavenly peace.
“Amy, be quiet.” I reprimanded. But she continued to cry. Before putting her in the tub, I lifted her onto the toilet.
“Go potty, Amy.” I said.
“No, no, no,” she continued to wail.
Turning back to the tub, I added some bubbles and a few toys. In that instant, Amy hopped off the toilet, and soon there was what every mommy dreads. A little puddle forming around her ankles.
“No, Amy!” I again responded, still with this ethereal peace surrounding me. “You may not act like that!” Placing her once more on the toilet, I stepped over the puddle to find something to clean up the mess.
Downstairs I grabbed the mop. As I headed back to the bathroom, I noticed a leak coming from under the washer, heard the dryer buzzing, tripped over a football helmet lying on the kitchen floor, and stumbled up the stairs once more where Amy continued to cry the cry of a thoroughly exhausted and angry child. As I turned the corner into the bathroom, Amy saw me and lunged forward, falling off the potty, and landed face down in the very puddle I was intending to clean up.
“That should do it, God.” I cried out desperately. “I’m catching on!”
Yes, God was teaching me patience! But through it all, He helped me! He wasn’t throwing problems at me, and leaving me on my own. Where once I would have felt a knot of frustration growing bigger and bigger in my stomach, I was, instead, experiencing peace, sweet peace.
I still had the regular (and a few irregular) day-to-day frustrations, but my impatience was gone. I found it interesting that several days before, I had snapped over a cup of spilled WATER, but today, felt at peace over a screaming child, broken appliances, and messes on the bathroom floor.
As I crawled into bed that night, I told my husband, Tim, about the events of the day. “I’m not afraid to pray for patience anymore,” I told him. “I would much rather be a mother who stays calm when everything is going wrong, than to lose my temper over every little irritation.”
Rolling over, I added, “You know what? I think... I think I’ll pray for patience again tomorrow!”
©Lynette Carpenter 2006
Several years ago, when our daughter Amy was three, she and big brother, Tyler were reenacting their own version of Monday Night Football. Needless to say, the game didn’t go well. Somewhere in the first quarter, Amy fell against the coffee table and hit her head…hard. Her skin split apart on her forehead and immediately, there was blood everywhere. After surveying the damage, we decided that we would need to take her to the hospital for some stitches.
Once there, we went through the normal routine of getting Amy registered and then sat for a couple of hours in the waiting room. Finally, it was our turn to see the doctor. Knowing how three-year-olds can be, the doctor wrapped Amy, arms at her side, tightly in a sheet and asked me to hold her down.
And the crying began!
Throughout the entire procedure, Amy screamed and screamed… and screamed! Try as she might though, Amy was unable to get away from the needle and “that man” holding it. As I held her tightly, I searched for any words I could find to comfort her. But there was nothing I could say to ease her pain and fear. Guilt plagued me for the part I played in keeping her trapped on the doctor’s table, yet common sense told my mother-heart that it was only for Amy’s benefit that I held her there.
Halfway through the procedure, I remember looking deep into her eyes and seeing the terror that was there. It broke my heart, but there was nothing that I could say to convince her that this was for her good…that this was the way to healing. And then, finally, when it was all over, the very same arms that had held her captive, set her free and became the arms that brought her comfort.
That night, after Tyler and Amy were tucked into their beds, I thought about how much like Amy I have been. There was a time in my own life when I was bound by fear, anger, bitterness and depression. The road I’d traveled had brought me to a place where I felt alone with only a broken heart to show for the journey. No matter where I was, I felt a cloud hanging over my head and sorrow smothering me. I became angry at God for not helping me escape from the prison of pain that my life had become.
Amy and I had both been hurt, but in different ways. While I had to hold on to Amy so she could get her head stitched up again, my Heavenly Father kept me in His grip so He could bring healing to my wounded soul. Amy didn’t want to stay on that table and feel the prick of the needle, and I hadn’t wanted to face getting stitches on my broken heart either. Still, God knew that I wouldn’t heal if He didn’t hold on to me when I was hurting the worst.
There were so many days when I wondered, “Where is God? Doesn’t He care about me? Why is He letting this happen to me?” It wasn’t until it was all over that I could look back and see that God had been there the whole time.
When hurting, we try just about anything to ease the pain. I look around and see the grief of broken dreams and shattered lives etched in the faces of people all around me. Trying to smother the pain never works though, for soon it is destined to rear it’s ugly head and take another stab at us. As the saying goes, you can’t put a band-aid on a broken leg. Yet, God’s promise to the contrite person is found in Isaiah 57:18 where He says, “I have seen [your] ways, but I will heal [you]; I will guide [you] and restore comfort to [you].
God didn’t like to see that I had gotten hurt any more than I liked seeing Amy in pain, but He used that time to show me how much He loved me. He never left my side. He just held me until my heart was stitched back together and then continued to hold me close and bring me comfort.
Amy’s forehead healed quite nicely and now she has only a thin white line for a scar as a memory of that night. I, too, have a scar on my heart. Wounds can heal, but the scars never go away. God has shown me how He desires to take our burdens and replace them with peace and joy. That joy will be complete when Jesus takes me home, for the only scars we will find in Heaven are the scars we’ll see on the hands and feet of the One who sets us free! His name is Jesus.
The Fourth Floor
The glass felt cold against my forehead as it was pressed against the window. I pulled my arms tightly around myself trying to ward off the chill that hadn’t left since we’d heard the news. Outside a drizzling rain continued to fall, perfect in keeping with the mood indoors.
Across the courtyard, stood an identical building to the one I, myself, stood in. The yellow blocks of light shining out of the occasional window were the only thing to break through the darkness. They told the story of life carrying on at a time when, to me, it seemed as if it had come to an abrupt halt. Through a third story window, a blue clad nurse rushed by, obviously bent on accomplishing some task. On the second floor, a man sat at a small desk working at a computer, his gaze focused intently on the screen. To the left, lay a woman in a hospital bed, the flicker of the television could be seen in the reflection. I wondered what her story was. As I watched unnoticed, I realized they were completely unaware of the unbearable pain happening here in the fourth floor waiting room.
I squeezed my eyes shut to hold back the tears. Behind me there was devastation and heartbreak. I could hear the sounds of sobbing as dreams were shattered and hearts were broken. Lives forever changed by the words coming from the doctor’s mouth, “I’m sorry, he didn’t make it.” I turned back towards the window! “No!” My mind screamed what my voice could not! He was so young! Only eighteen! Making my way to my friend, I gathered her in my arms and cried with her over the loss of her brother.
How many people had stood in that very window, looking out into the world? Wondering how it is that life hadn’t come to a complete standstill in the wake of life-altering loss? Had others wanted to shout at the nurse rushing by or the man at the computer? Ask them to stop and at least look their way? To simply acknowledge, that they are aware of what happens behind this window on the fourth floor?
Yet, how often I rush about with my own duties and agendas, unaware of the heartbreak happening right next to me? I glanced across the courtyard one last time. Though my eyes were still filled with tears, I knew this was a God-moment. I would leave this room a more compassionate, more caring person.
Between Egypt and the Red Sea
There should be warning labels on days like that! One shouldn’t have to be taken completely by surprise when the unexpected happens! On the other hand, would I have faced the day with more peace in my heart, or a larger dose of bravery had I known what lay ahead? I doubt it.
I couldn’t have known that our Carpenter family three-day Christmas celebration at a nearby camp would begin with one child getting accidentally locked in a bathroom for a long time before anyone found him, or that my six-year-old would get lost, only to willingly crawl into a car with a stranger. Amy had wandered in the wrong direction and was unable to find her way back to the house. Crying and afraid, she accepted the help of a woman driving by on the road. This stranger, identified only as Mrs. Perry-the-Platypus, very kindly returned Amy safe and sound, but the “what ifs” haunt me still.
After the scare with Amy and a refresher course on talking to strangers, I felt peace knowing that I had fulfilled my daily quota for both drama and trauma. I was sure I could now relax – the storms had passed. Somehow I missed the memo that it’s not always that easy. This day would end with a vomiting child and me driving home in the wee hours of the night.
After Corey’s third reminder of what he’d had for supper, I decided to take him home. In the midst of my weariness, I not-so-wisely chose to wear my jammies, slippers and a robe for the fifteen mile drive. It wasn’t until after I had hit the deer with my husband’s truck and was stomping around on the snow-packed road that I regretted my choice of wardrobe.
As I stood in the middle of Banker Street in my housecoat at 3:00 in the morning, I had one of those moments when I could only laugh. Corey was in the truck, puking into his coat (that part wasn’t funny), my slippers were reminding me that they were not made for this kind of weather, I was ridiculously tired, and that deer, to my amazement, had run away. Yet, all was calm. The night sky was clear and bright. I knew that my God was with me, even in the middle of chaos.
I wonder if Moses felt like that when he was standing between Pharaoh and the Red Sea. Could anything else go wrong? He had tried to do what was best for the Israelites, and now it looked like they were either going to drown… or die. Decisions, decisions! But as Moses stood on the banks of the Red Sea (in his robe, nonetheless) I’m sure he felt it! He must have felt a closeness to an Almighty God Who was in complete control!
I can’t control what happens in my life, and that can be a scary thought. But knowing that God is in control brings me comfort. Try as I might, I can’t protect my children from all that is out there in the world, but I rest in the knowledge that they have Someone so much greater than I watching over them!
I can rest knowing that the same God who parted the Red Sea for the Israelites, also sent Mrs. Perry-the-Platypus to rescue my daughter, just when she needed her.
I never got to meet Mrs. Perry-the-Platypus, but if you know her, hug her and tell her I said “Thank you!”
A Spoonful of Sugar...
It happened a while ago, but it’s only now that I am willing to admit that it ever occurred.
I lost my temper.
I suppose I could take the time to tell you how naughty the kids were while we were buying groceries that day, but it wouldn’t lessen my shame. I could go into detail describing how tired and hungry I was, and how loudly two of my four children were crying in the store. Then there’s always the frustration I felt when the other two kept begging for Superman and Cinderella flip phones that were sure to get lost before we even reached our driveway. I could even try to describe the way it felt like my body was hovering above me in the check out line watching as Corey melted into a puddle of tears on the floor and Kobe attempted to climb out of the cart. I might even be tempted to explain how I stood smiling as I struggled to remain calm as I dug through the gum wrappers and wet Kleenex in my purse in search of my wallet. I could tell you about the exhaustion I felt on the drive home, the time spent unloading the kids from the van and, finally, hauling all the groceries into the kitchen as the children whined for reasons I don’t remember.
But then I would just be making excuses. And, frankly, I don’t deserve any excuses. I should have known better. I should’ve kept my cool. I should’ve counted to ten. I should have made some chamomile tea. Anything! Anything, but what I did.
Instead, I let my frustration get the best of me. I had had it! I grabbed the nearest thing, which was unfortunately powdered sugar, and slammed the bag down in front of me. Hard.
I tried to stop myself! I knew what would happen, but once the bag was in the air, I was fully committed and there was no going back. After that, only a picture could fully describe what happened next.
The bag of powdered sugar exploded upon impact, sending a cloud of fine white dust everywhere. And I do mean everywhere.
In that moment, time stood still in the Carpenter home. Tyler looked up from the bag of groceries he was digging through, Amy peeked her head around the corner from the dining room, Corey stopped his whining from his place under the table, and Kobe sat back in amazement from where he had been hanging onto my pant leg. For the first time since the kids had crawled out of bed that morning, there was quiet - except for the cricket singing outside my window.
As I stood in front of my children, blinking powdered sugar out of my eyes, I was immediately filled with shame. My goal as a mother has always been to emulate Jesus to my children, and boy, had I just failed. I wished I could hit rewind and start this day over. Instead, I was left with white counters, appliances, floor and hair. Even my utensil basket was covered in sugar.
It’s been over a year since that not-so-sweet experience, yet even now I can still find powdered sugar when I least expect it. Just the other day, while scrubbing my counter, I noticed a powdery white substance clinging to the underside corner of my cabinet, and again I was filled with shame about that frustrating morning so long ago.
Sin is like that. We let it crop up in our lives without stopping it or making a choice to turn away from it altogether. Once sin consumes us, we make poor choices that we wouldn’t have otherwise, and it leaves us to deal with the shame as our world crashes down around us.
Thankfully, God forgives us, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences. The remaining powdered sugar hidden in my kitchen is proof of that. It’s a lesson to me to never let sin take control in my life. Cleaning up the mess it leaves behind is no fun!
Tim and I were certainly not on the same page that evening several years ago as we traveled to our Wednesday night prayer meeting. The atmosphere between us wasn't much better when we decided to grab some ice cream from Dairy Queen on our way home. Hoping a happy, chatty wife would lighten the mood, I did just that.
“You know,” I began as I munched cheerfully on my ice cream treat, “praying with people changes how you feel about them sometimes.” Tim remained silent, so I tried again. “I felt like... like I could show more love to others after praying with the group tonight.”
Again nothing. I continued eating, but my spiritual back-patting was soon replaced by frustration. “Why couldn't he be more talkative,” I fumed inwardly. Sure, we had a busy life, and yes, communication wasn't always easy, but now that we had a moment alone, I hastily determined he was wasting his time feeling sorry for himself.
“Are you going to give me some?” His request caught me off guard. Give him some! Of all the nerve! He sits over there so self-righteously, not even speaking to me, yet has the gall to ask me to give him more love!
Well, he had opened a door, and I was quite willing to walk through it!
The rest of the ride home, my husband had the privilege to hear just what his wife thought about him, our marriage, his attitude and life in general. Nearing the corner west of our house, I paused briefly to take another bite of ice cream before continuing, “and another thing! Look at all I do for you around here! I clean your house, I wash your clothes, I make your food! For you to insinuate that I don't give you enough love is ridiculous! I bend over backwards to treat you like a king – and this is the thanks I get?” I shook my plastic spoon in his face for emphasis.
The gravel crunched under our tires as we slowed to turn into our driveway. Tim pulled into the garage and put the van in park. Feeling a slight twinge of guilt for my rampage, I shut my mouth and began to gather up Bibles, papers and trash to avoid looking at my beaten-down husband.
Tim looked at me for a long time as I attempted to keep busy. “What are you talking about?” he asked. Did he always enunciate his words like that, I wondered. I looked up at him, hoping my eyes looked similar to those of the doe spoken of in the Song of Solomon. “You... uhmm... well, you know..” I stuttered around for a moment. “You asked me to give you more love.” I cringed uncertainly, “didn't you?”
I no longer questioned it, he was certainly enunciating more than usual, “I asked if you were going to give me some of that ice cream!” he gestured towards the empty cup in my lap. I was, for once, speechless.
The serving of humble pie I had just dished up for myself, didn't taste as good as the ice cream. The lesson on listening though, was one I won't soon forget.