I Was the Angry Mom

I hate school supply shopping.

I don’t like mass bins of glue sticks, highlighters, and colored markers. All I can think about for a good month near the end of summer is if I correctly calculated the number of composition books versus spiral bound notebooks everyone needed from their lists.

I feel overwhelmed by the mere mention of 120-page packs of wide-ruled notebook paper and 12-count packages of no. 2 pencils in yellow, no plastic, no color. I create mental images every year of the pink eraser that will evade me, imagining I end up stuck in a discount store for hours, knee deep in a bin of multi-colored erasers looking for the single pink nugget that everyone waiting behind me is also hunting for.

In order to avoid all my long-shot fears related to school supply shopping, we usually end up going at 9pm on a Tuesday to avoid “the crowd.” I’m not sure if there is an actual crowd or if I made this up in my head, but it makes me feel better, so that’s what we do.

Two years ago, while waiting patiently in the checkout with our cartful of folders, pens, notebooks, colored pencils and more, we ended up beside the “As Seen On TV” merchandise. There were light up pillow pets, copper non-stick pans, and garden hoses that claimed they stored really well. In the middle of all these products was a steam cleaner that looked like a small, middle-aged Russian doll in an apron. It was called the “Angry Mom.” You put water in her torso, screwed her head on, set her in your microwave on high, and as the water heated her head popped up and steam came out to neatly clean your family’s caked-on, month-old mess.

My kids were entertaining themselves with, “Oooo- this looks cool!” and “Hey, I need this for my room!” when I felt a small poke from the side hug my eight-year-old, Jyeva pulled me into. I looked down at her face and I will never forget her words –

“I’m so thankful you’re not the angry mom anymore.”

Time stopped for me, right there in the Walmart checkout lane.

I could hear my heart beat in my chest.

I could taste my saliva.

And I could feel the hot tears starting behind my public, smiling mom-face.

I took a deep breath, hugged Jyeva back, got down on her level, and looked into her eyes,

“I’m so sorry, Jyeva. I’m just so, so sorry.”

Jyeva, who is my child always overflowing with grace, looked back at me and said point-blank –

“No, Mom. You used to be the angry mom, but you’re not anymore. That’s really great. That’s awesome. You’re not. You were…and now you’re not!”

To say that EMDR changed my life would be an understatement. 

I was the angry mom.

I was nice, then I was nice, and I was nice some more, and then I railed.

It came fast and hard and it looked more like anxiety welling up and overflowing onto my children than disconnected rage, but it was ugly. I never physically hurt my children. I don’t think my family walked on egg shells, but I do remember the look they got in their eyes that said, “She’s gonna blow.”

It’s hard to be taken seriously when you’re gonna blow, fyi. People tune out as a defense mechanism, and children are just smart smaller people. They know intrinsically how to protect themselves, so they shut down and check out at the very moment you really want them to grasp your point because it’s too loud, too harsh, or too assaulting.

I knew all of this. I knew all about child development and communication, and active listening, and all that stuff they teach you in graduate school. But there was a disconnect between all my awesome knowledge and what I could put into practice.

I started EMDR, which is a memory processing therapy, because I signed up to see a therapist and he happened to be an EMDR therapist. If God has had a hand in anything in my life (which He clearly has) this is one thing I can point to and say, “Woah – God at work!”

Let’s not evade reality…EMDR was hard. Sometimes it felt a little like walking through a minefield of my brain’s own making. At about month three of therapy, I realized I was foreboding, and avoiding, holding back, canceling sessions because of the discomfort, the struggle, and the pain that comes with processing old stuff, but my therapist was safe, my husband was safe, my family was safe, and for the first time in my life I saw Jesus as a real, tangible refuge.

So I kept walking forward.

I attended regularly scheduled EMDR appointments for eighteen months and I felt like a new person. I saw life differently. I was free from the constant personal judgement that barraged me for years. Anxiety was still a thing for me, but it lacked the teeth it once had in my daily life. Then, in that Walmart checkout, I realized this life-changing reality –

I was not the angry mom anymore.

Praise be to God.

The cycle of frustration and anger and ugly that held me captive lost its grip. Life was still hard. Parenting, ministry, marriage, being a friend, none of it was magically easier, but I was no longer reactive to it in the way I once was. I finally felt like I had two feet on the ground at all times and I could clearly see the shield of God in my hands, placed firmly there by a Savior who loved me. I felt empowered. Together we were ready to deflect whatever junk the world wanted to throw at us.

I believe that God creates our bodies with the ability to heal in amazing ways – from broken elbows and cancerous cells, to stuck tight memories and angry outbursts. I also believe, thanks to an eight-year-old brave enough to tell me in the middle of a checkout lane –

I’m not the angry mom anymore. 

*EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

To find out more about EMDR therapy or to find a certified EMDR therapist near you, visit EMDRIA.org. You can also pick up Getting Past Your Past by the creator of EMDR, Francine Shapiro, to understand the basics of memory processing theory and find some very useful tools for healing.

(Disclaimer: this blog is not a substitute for counseling and local mental health resources. Local resources and counselors are your best bet for ongoing treatment and support.)

Changing the Narrative: Fight, Flight, Freeze, and Restore (My Redeemer Lives 3:2)

When I was in high school and even in early psychology classes in college, they taught us that the brain stem is responsible for two gut responses when we are confronted with danger: flight or fight.

Then, during graduate school, the truth came out –

We learn new things all the time, even in science, and we missed one: freeze.

There is the classic example given in psychology classes across the nation of what happens when you meet a bear in the woods. Why? I don’t know. How often do you meet bears in the woods? I can honestly say I never have. Perhaps it’s time for a new example. Let’s try this one:

You are walking into work or church, maybe even your home. It’s somewhere you go frequently. The people there are familiar with you, should know your character a little bit. You look up. You see a co-worker, a friend, someone familiar to you. You smile. You think in your head, “Oh, it’s such-and-such. It’s good to see them.” This is slightly involuntary. You generally think these things when you see this person, but don’t even realize it’s part of your thought processes. Then, said person opens their mouth. You open your heart and your brain for engaging conversation. Said person proceeds to lay into you about the way you handle a situation. They are not happy. They are getting worked up. You had no idea. Now there are people looking. You’d kind of like to dig a hole and crawl into it. You have three options:

You get hot and bothered and lose it. Words fly. We call this fight.

You start thinking about hippopotami because they are cute and this person is not. We call this flight.

Or your mind goes blank. You think nothing and enter the vortex we call freeze. Just done. Frozen.

There are many experiences in life that make us frozen, in varying degrees.

Resurrection heals even this.

Let’s look at Luke 7:11-17. This is the story of a woman whose only son was dead, the funeral procession already in play, the tears already falling.

11 Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 12 As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” 17 And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.

Notice that no one in the story was frozen. What I want you to see is actually the absence of frozen.

Read Luke 7:13 again:

And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 

The Greek word for had compassion in this verse is esplanchnisthē. A more direct translation would be that Jesus was moved with compassion.

Jesus, Son of God, in His perfection, isn’t relegated to our classic psychological responses. He brings resurrection healing to this woman, her son, and restoration to their lives.

When He sees death, He isn’t frightened.

When He sees tears, He never freezes.

When He sees struggle, He fights a different kind of fight, against forces we cannot see. Wielding weapons of serious power, so we don’t have to.

Jesus is moved. Moved to do something, even when you can’t see it. Working in your life, moved by compassion, the great love He has for you.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved… (Ephesians 2:4-5)

Our funeral biers of life may look different than this woman’s, than the crowd of witnesses’, than the person’s sitting next to us. The things that get us worked up, leave us speechless, or lock our hearts up tight, afraid to let someone hurt us, are all varied.

But know this today:

Jesus is moved.

He can work His restoration and healing in every situation bringing life where there once was death, joy where there once was sadness, and compassion where there once was cold and frozen.

Finish today by reading or writing out Psalm 126 and rejoicing alongside this widow. He does great things. He is moved.

Look a Little Closer (My Redeemer Lives 3:1)

It’s easy to feel unseen in this world.

I think this feeling contributes to at least 60% of our mental health issues. That’s me making a wild guess, but think on a few things and let them ruminate. Look closer with me, if you will…

Think of those moments that people feel invisible as children: in a classroom, in a family, lying in bed at night, on a playground.

Think of the time spent as a teenager or a young adult searching and praying for a friendship that holds unwavering acceptance.

Think of the mental energy we expend on any given day, wishing we were just a little bit smarter, a little bit more put together, a little bit more thoughtful…a little bit more.

This world can be a harsh landscape, even in the best of childhoods, given the best privileges, and treated with the utmost grace.

Now think of all the people who do not have that.

Every time I encounter Mary Magdalene in Scripture, she appears to me as one of the least of these —  lacking support, lacking friendship, lacking resources, lacking truth, carrying the weight of her baggage around her neck like an albatross. Invisible to the world around her.

Let’s look closer.

First read the resurrection account from Mark 16:9-11 Look for any details you can find about Mary. What healing had Christ brought into her life? What struggle may still have been there?

[[Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.

Not one, not two, not three, but seven demons. I want to lift the pain of that from her, but praise the Lord I don’t need to. Jesus did. He healed. He sent every last one of those demons in her life away, far away, gone. He saw her. He looked closer at her struggle and granted healing and restoration from years of torment and struggle. That’s Who Jesus is. That is what He does for each of us. Whatever pain of the past, whatever pressing struggles of the present, He sees and heals through His Word and His touch—not invisible touch, but very real touch. Think about Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This is the same real present healing offered to us, that Jesus offered to Mary besieged by her own demons.

Now look at another account from Luke 8:1-3 for me:

Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them] out of their means.

Look closer.

What continued healing did Christ offer in this passage?

Was Mary alone? Far from it.

Also, some women…

Christ brings healing in a million ways into our lives, and this week, as we study resurrection, we are going to look closer at some of them.

Healing and restoration describe a far broader concept than we might see at first glance. We all need some healing and restoration— healing for relationships, healing in our hearts, healing for our health, healing for a more secure identity, restoration where there was discord, restoration to trust in whatever God is doing in our lives, restoration to walk in truth and love this day, and the next, and the next.

For the final passage today, look closer at John 20:11-18. In this awesome resurrection account, we see Mary look closer, angels looking closer in Mary’s need, and Jesus’s challenge and fulfillment of really, truly seeing.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”14 Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic,] “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”—and that he had said these things to her.

Jesus heals in His resurrection, once and for all. He turns death, real and metaphorical, onto its head. It holds no power. Mary, and each of us just like her, is healed by the power of Christ’s sacrifice and the new life He gives in the resurrection. He also offers a challenge. Not a heavy law, you-better-get-it-together challenge, but more an offering –

Look closer.

“Do not cling to me…but go…”

Jesus tells Mary to go and tell, yes, but doesn’t that include looking closer? Looking into the lives of their community of disciples and all those around them and saying, “He is doing something else! He is healing! He is restoring!”?

We can miss so much when we look down or look in, only at our own frustrations, annoyances, or struggles. Christ continues healing by giving us community to walk this life together. He gives brothers and sisters to share the Resurrection Joy with, and a world to proclaim it to.

He looked closer at you. He sees you. Even while you weep, as Mary wept, in the midst of it, He reveals an empty tomb and Hope through His Word and through people to bring that Word to us. Look closer — where has He healed you?

Also today, let Him look closer through you. Watch Him see, heal, and restore. Be the Word bearer, share Hope and Life today. He sees you. He sees us. Look closer – know that you are seen.

You can download this Scripture card and one for every day of the week at PureJoyCreative.com.

Don’t forget this week’s Bible margin to help you reflect as you study.

Join the discussion by sharing your thoughts and insights in the comments, here and on social media.

Catch the week three video here:

20 Questions with Jesus

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