“Don’t throw the ball back.”
Those were the words that released me. Those were the words I will never forget because they gave me something I could grasp and use to get away from verbal abuse and manipulation.
It was my junior year of college and we had a guest lecturer for the day. The speaker was a bald man with a black mustache and a black leather jacket, and he was there because he was some kind of alcohol counselor. I sat up a little straighter in my chair that day, wanting to hear anything and everything he had to say because my mom was an alcoholic and I wanted to know how to deal with it. I don’t remember what he talked about during the class, but I do remember going up to him after and asking him if I could talk with him. We stood in the hallway and I told him my story.
I told him about the fact that I had a mom who was an alcoholic and who knew she was an alcoholic and had no interest in changing. I told him how it drove me crazy, how being around her or talking with her made me feel like I was crazy. We were so tangled up with each other. I told him how I always felt guilty around my mom, like somehow I always did everything wrong; I could never do things right or please her. I told him how she would call me names how she would always make me feel like I wasn’t doing enough; I felt like a total screw up. I asked him for advice. That’s when he said, “Don’t throw the ball back.”
“If I have a ball in my hand and I throw it to you, are you going to catch it?”
He said, “Okay, well, you made that choice; you caught the ball. Now you have another choice to make: you can hold the ball, drop the ball, or throw the ball back.” He told me this ball throwing situation is what was going on with my mom. He said we were engaged in a game of toss. She would throw out a ball of verbal abuse or begin to manipulate me, and I always responded by throwing the ball back; I engaged with her. “Mom, I tried, I really did. I don’t know what you want me to do!” Ball toss. “Sarah, if you would have just…” Ball toss. “Mom, you’re really hurting my feelings…why do you have to be like this?” Ball toss. “Get a grip Sarah, you are way too sensitive.” Ball toss. On and on, back and forth, a seemingly never-ending game.
“If you don’t want to play the game anymore, stop throwing the ball back.”
I could choose to “stop throwing the ball” in different ways. If she called and started being verbally abusive to me or manipulating me I could hang up the phone. I didn’t have to go see her if it wasn’t going to be a healthy situation. I could walk away. It was okay to get away in order to get healthy and clear my mind and figure out what was true and what wasn’t. I had always felt like I had this responsibility to make things right, but I was completely ineffective because I was still trapped in unhealthy behaviors and tangled thinking.
I was an emotionally unhealthy person trying help an emotionally unhealthy person.
And it wasn’t working. Of course.
That today I decided to stop throwing the ball.
My eyes were opened to the fact that I wasn’t crazy, that manipulation was a real thing happening, and that I needed to get healthy before I could love her well.
So I walked away for a time. I stopped playing the game. If she started in on me over the phone, I would just say, “If you keep talking to me like this, I’m going to hang up.” If she continued, “Sorry mom, I have to go.” And hang up. No goodbye. Just, ended it. This really ticked off my mom. And of course I felt guilty about it, but eventually, I didn’t feel guilty anymore.
Because I started to see things more clearly. I was beginning to understand what manipulation was and how it was affecting how I viewed myself. I saw how our tangled mess of manipulation was destroying us. It was destroying me.
I took about six months away from her, no phone calls, no visiting, just space to think and pray and seek counsel and begin the path of unwinding all the years of manipulation.
First the revealing, then the healing.
I had to see what was going on in me, just under the surface of things, in order to get free.
Here’s what happened when I stopped throwing the ball back:
I was able to get untangled, which helped me to get on a path to clarity and emotional health. I learned more about manipulation and how to spot it and not feed it.
I learned about the lies I was believing about myself (“I’m stupid, I’m ugly, “I’m not good enough”), and how in my own efforts to protect and comfort my tender heart, I acted in sinful ways.
God uncovered deeply wounded places in my heart, and He invited me to let Him care for those places and gently bind them up. And in the wounds there was loss, and I had to mourn and lament. But I learned this throughout all of it: If you want the healing to start, you have to face the deepest wounds of your heart. And so I did, but I didn’t have to face them alone.
After the facing and the pain and the revealing and the healing my heart began to get whole.
At first, as I went through this process of healing, things got worse with my mom, but then, they got better.
They got better because I learned how to set boundaries and love her without being entangled with her.
I was able to forgive her.
I was able to really love her.
And I learned how to love myself, even when it hurt. Even when the lies popped up. Even when her words stung.
I loved her. I loved myself (in a healthy way). And God worked miracles.
I’m working on my next book, The Complicated Heart, and it’s on unhealed wounds and painful relationships and dealing with the junk that is blinding us to emotional and spiritual health. Would you share with me in the comments what you would like to see addressed in the book? I so value your thoughts and stories and hold them all so tenderly. Thank you.
Also, if you’d like to follow along with the process of this book and the unfolding and untangling of it all, follow @TheComplicatedHeart on Instagram. I’d love to see you there.
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It’s weird how the smallest things can set a mom off.
And by weird I mean normal because oh our sinful hearts.
The other day I got so mad at one of my kids. I had asked them if they wanted to do something, they said no, then changed their mind so I gave them an instruction based on that, they changed course, and BOOM, set me off. It was so dumb that I would get mad, but I felt so mad. It didn’t help that I was already in an irritated mood. My child had blocked my goal, unintentionally, and it threw me and my heart came up out of my mouth and I said some unkind things to my child. I also gave them the “mean” look. You know the look. I don’t like wearing that look.
I took a deeeeeeeeep, deep breath, and calmed down.
I hate when my kids see my claws.
I looked at my child and I said, “I’m sorry I sinned against you in my anger. I was wrong. Will you forgive me? Come here, let me hug you. <good cuddles> Also, you need to obey when I tell you something. I need you to do your best to listen to me, okay?”
Hugs, forgiveness, we made it another round. All is well.
There is just something about sharing close spaces with people day in and day that can make you a little crazy. Throw in our sin nature, our bents, personalities, life, and sometimes we are primed for an explosion. We are human. We’re going to blow it, which is why we need Jesus. And it’s why our kids need Jesus. We are all loved but in desperate need of help.
To the moms out there who are reading this and feeling like you’re just so angry sometimes and you don’t want to be, but you think you’ll never change, listen: It can get better.
I used to think I’d always be this hormonal, angry, emotional mess, but I have seen God work in my life and calm my anger and my sinful reactions. And I am already seeing Him do that in my children, as we talk through things and I give them my time, and pray. All of this imperfectly, but with earnest desire to love well.
If you want to see change, if you don’t want to blow up so easily, if you want a good relationship with your kids that isn’t clouded by anger, read on. I have some hard-earned, God-is-so-kind-to-help-us, wisdom to offer you.
Check Your Heart
“For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Luke 6:45 (NIV)
“…what comes out of the mouth gets its start in the heart. It’s from the heart that we vomit up evil arguments, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, lies, and cussing.” Matthew 15:19 (Message)
Anger is an awful feeling when it lets itself loose and does damage. Anger, in and of itself isn’t bad, but what can come from it if not checked is. Lashing out in anger makes you feel out-of-control. It makes you feel ugly and dirty and self-righteous and so many mixed-up things. But the worst is the aftermath, after you’ve let loose and you wish you could take back what in the moment seemed so justified. I had a mentor in college say, “99% of anger isn’t righteous anger.” I don’t know where he got that stat but I find it to be true in my own life. Most of the time our anger is wrapped up in the lies we believe about ourselves, the world, and God. There is also our histories and wounds and sinfulness and self-protection and just plain selfishness there too. It’s hard to lay down our anger when our blood is pumping and our senses are heightened and the dark feels stronger than the light.
If you get what I’m saying, and you overcome by your anger, if you find your kids setting you off more and more and you’re not sure how to control it but it’s eating you up, there is a solution. Just like the check engine light in your car goes off if there’s a problem, your anger is alerting you that there is a problem. Ask God why. Ask God what is going on in your heart. Ask Him about your anger, and ask Him to lead you in the right way. He will answer you, but that doesn’t mean a quick fix. Often He’ll reveal something to you and you’ll have to go through a time of uncovering, healing, and suffering to get to the other side (soul work is often gutting). But He hears you, and if you’re willing to let Him lead you, your anger and angry reactions will lessen. You will become a calmer person; you’ll have more peace in your heart, and you’ll know how to slow down the anger train.
I know because I’ve seen God work in me. Do I still get angry sometimes? Yes! Do I still blow it? Yes! But not as much, not as quick, and not as harmful.
There is hope for you and your anger.
“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV)
Whenever I’m talking with someone who is depressed or anxious or angry and they are trying to figure out what’s going on, I tell them to write down every time they are triggered. What happens right before the explosion or the anxiety or the depressed feelings (not talking chemical depression). Often, especially in regards to anger, something has hit on a button that is unique to that person. For example, when I was fresh out of college I began to meet with a group of college girls to read the Bible with them and mentor them. Another woman, who was older than I was, talked to these girls about doing something with her as well, a leadership type thing to train them. When I found out, I was so mad! How could she go behind my back to “take my girls”? I called up someone who oversaw our ministry and I told him what she was doing. That is when he said to me what I mentioned earlier in my post, “99% of anger isn’t righteous. Let’s talk about this.” At first I was taken back. What is he talking about, she is clearly wrong and I have every right to be angry! I realized later that my issue with her was really my issue with me. I struggle with the lie that I am not good enough, and when she approached the girls about doing something with her, my lie triggered like a heart punch. My heart was screaming, “See, you’re not good enough! She is doing this because you really are no good.” She was blocking my goal of me feeling good enough, smart enough, capable enough. But she really wasn’t. She was just offering these girls an opportunity to also learn how to become leaders. It had nothing to do with me.
All this I shared might not make any sense because it isn’t rational. It’s a heart thing. I guarantee you have triggers that make you snap, and you don’t even know why you are so angry, but your heart knows, and it’s trying to protect you. You have decided that you will be a good mom, or a smart mom, or a perfect mom, or something, and when that goal is blocked, the claws come out because your heart will do anything to protect you from pain.
A good start to figuring out why you’re so angry is to pay attention to the triggers. Get curious. See if there’s a pattern. Write it down. What can you can learn? What questions can you answer? God will be working with you on this, so just pay attention.
The more you deal with your junk, the less damage you’ll do to your kids. (Tweet that.)
Every few weeks I turn into a crazy lady. I am crying one minute and wanting to stab someone the next. My friends in college used to joke that I could never be President because I would bomb someone every month.
It’s probably true.
I am a VERY hormonal woman. So was my mother. She used to put on the calendar when to stay away from her lest you be in her path of destruction.
I’m not making excuses for anger, but I am saying hormones are the real deal and can seriously mess with your steady-ness. Know your rhythms, take care of yourself, warn your people, and walk away.
Know Your Tipping Points
That is my tipping point. If my kids get out of bed after I’ve put them in bed, I LOSE MY MIND.
If I hear them talking after I’ve put them in bed, I LOSE MY MIND.
Bedtime is my tipping point, so I have to be wise and kind with my kids and myself around bedtime, making sure everyone has their water, is tucked in, prayed for, and set for a good night sleep. If I take the time to prepare for bedtime and give my kids what they need, I have reduced the bedtime angst.
It’s worth the time.
Speaking of time…
Take the Time
Speaking of time, the truth is, if you don’t want to be so angry at your kids, you’re going to need to teach them, discipline them, nurture them, and see them as the precious, eternal souls that they are and that mothering is Kingdom work (tweet that.)
There is no shortcut here. The more you spend time with your kids, loving them the way they feel loved, correcting them, and guiding them, the more delight they will bring you. More delight, less anger. And yes, it’s hard and you will do this so wildly imperfectly, but don’t give up. God made you a mother and your work is eternal and good and planned before time!
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:10
“Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart.” Proverbs 29:17
Ask Forgiveness Over and Over
Take that deep breath, grab your kiddo, and ask for forgiveness. Every time you sin in your anger, ask forgiveness. Tell them it grieves God’s heart when you sin against them in your anger. Be honest. Tell them when they’ve done something wrong, but also apologize for your part.
Kids are so gracious and willing to forgive with such genuineness, but you must acknowledge your sin and ask. I am so grateful for the sweetness that comes from forgiveness.
Here’s to more peace, less anger, and genuine delight in our mothering!
The TEMPER TOOLKIT is a collection of practical strategies, honest stories, and Biblical resources from one mom to another to help you take control of your temper BEFORE you lose it.
Get it while you can before it’s gone, gone, gone!
It’s hard to imagine now, but my sweet Caroline almost drove me to the mental institution.
God bless her, I honestly thought I wasn’t going to make it. I mean, I wrote a book called, Desperate, mainly because of that precious, out-of-the-box girl. I remember calling up my mentor Sally one day and saying, “What am I going to do with her? She won’t listen and she gets out of bed 10,000 times a night?!” Sally responded, “I really think if she could obey you she would.” From there she taught me some ways to love Caroline and nurture her and guide her sweet soul as she was, a “different” child who wasn’t going to conform.
What a delight she is to me!
Sally knows a thing or two about raising a “different” child, so her advice and encouragement is gold to me. Which is why when she sent me her new book, written with her “OCD, ADD, OH-MY-GOODNESS” son Nathan, I knew I was going to devour it. Which I did.
This week Sally and her son Nathan released that wonderful book, and it’s called, Different: The Story of an Out-Side-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him (get a copy here). Sally has protected her family by keeping certain stories hidden from the public sphere, until now. In Different, we are offered a vulnerable look behind the curtain into the story of a son with mental illness and a mother who fought to love well even when it felt impossible. The stories and truths in Different have not been shared before, and they will absolutely bring hope and freedom to those who struggle with their “different” children. If you ever look at your beautiful, different child and think, I can’t do this; it’s just too hard, then this book is a must-read.
I asked Sally’s son Nathan if he would share some advice for us moms so we could get into the heads of our kids, so to speak. Yes, we are all different and our kids aren’t like another person’s kids, but his perspective and insight is so helpful as I navigate raising my own children with empathy and wisdom. Below is the interview. Enjoy!
Nathan, what is your biggest piece of advice for moms who have out-of-the-box or different kids?
For me it was so valuable to have someone who accepted me completely. I know that not everyone will understand how and why I do things sometimes, even my mom. But to have a space where I was allowed to be unapologetically me, without pretense, or pressure to preform, allowed me to love the person God had created me to be. My mom didn’t always get me, but she lived with the knowing that God had desired me the way he had for a purpose— so she decided to love, encourage, train, and accept me the way I was made without trying to force me into a box of societal or social expectations. That didn’t mean she didn’t train me, stretch, or push me to be my best, but it meant when she did, she did it accepting the direction God has created me to move towards.
Sometimes as moms it feels like, “Am I even getting through to my child?!” Can you tell us what worked best in getting through to you?
Sometimes I think people have a conception that they need to be louder or more firm to get someone to listen. But often times what helped me connect, learn, and understand, is when someone took the time to see me, hear me, and approach me with grace. I can remember being so frustrated at the world around me as a kid which could make me lash out and talk-back. But in the midst of those times when my mom would take me off alone on a walk, or scratch my back and ask me what was on my mind, often I would feel the frustration dissipate more and more as I felt little by little more understood.
What was the hardest part about being different?
Well, let me say this: EVERY kid is “different” in their own way. Some may be quiet, some may be loud, but whatever your “differences” are I think very often they can make us, and made me, feel very alone and separated. And the deepest desire of every humans is to feel loved and known. So when we have these unique traits in our lives that make us feel alienated we can start to resent the way God has made us. But as I grew up in a home that facilitated an environment of unconditional love, I began to find value in the way I was made, and learned to believe that my differences weren’t disorders to destroy, but strengths to hone.
How should moms discipline a “different” kid?
I can imagine it would be so hard to know how to handle a “different” kid like me. I can’t even imagine how much of a handful I was! But I think when we look at the example of how Jesus interacted with the ones he loved around him, we find a man who was eternally forgiving and graceful, while continuously loving enough to not let people stay in the destructive patterns they were in. So I think it’s a delicate balance that parents have to walk in figuring out how to hold the tension between giving grace and giving guidance. But when both are present and from a place of love, I believe God can work in even the hardest and most “different” of kids.
What would you want other different kids to know?
I think I would want them to know they’re not alone. That while our differences can make us feel alone sometimes., EVERYONE is different in their own way. And these “different” things about we have are also the things that make us uniquely us. That God will tell an amazing story no one else could, not in spite of our differences but because of them.
Listen to Sally and Nathan talk about how to raise a “different” child
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Before I tell you about my new favorite resource I need to tell you that you really MUST come join me on Instagram because I AM HAVING SO MUCH FUN WITH INSTAGRAM STORIES. I’ve been talking in a Scottish accent and everything. Yes, it’s silly, but it’s a relief. You can’t see the stories on your computer, only on your smart phone, so if you have one of those, go to Instagram.com/sarahmaewrites and join me in the fun!
Okay, what I want to tell you…
I AM LOVING HOPE WRITERS.
Love, love, love, love, love.
I haven’t loved a writing resource since Author Launch, which has sadly gone away for now (BRING IT BACK TIM GRAHL), but Hope Writers is AMAZING. Can you tell I love it? I can’t praise it enough.
Okay, details would be helpful, yes? Yes.
Hope Writers is a site and community for writers who want to grow in the craft, learn about publishing, be encouraged, and hob knob with others writes. Well, not really Hob Knob because apparently that means drink together (I just looked it up). But you know…anyway… It was created by Emily Freeman, Myquillin Smith (The Nester), Brian Dixon (marketing dude), and Gary Moreland (Emily and Myquillin’s dad who is super encouraging) and they are KILLING IT with excellent content and a thriving community.
I’m telling you all this for a few reasons: 1.) Emily just wrote the most EPIC post on the publishing process that I have every seen. She shares her whole journey, from idea to writing to getting an agent to publishing to editing to marketing to ALL OF IT. It’s 5,000 words. She shares her book proposal and everything. It’s GOLD.
2.) Most Facebook communities I’ve been in or seen are lack luster and eventually die. NOT THE HOPE WRITES COMMUNITY. It is thriving. Emily and the team lead the way and facilitate conversation and answer questions and it is SO HELPFUL. They have live videos, interviews with agents, publishers and authors, practical teaching, and a constant stream of resources, like the Hope Writes Summit which I had the honor of being a part of.
Hope Writers Online Summit – 12 Interviews with Authors and Editors
The boundaries of book writing with Sarah Mae
Summary: The dream is to write and write well. To touch lives. To share a message. The dream is not to burn out. Sarah Mae found herself in that place where fear, people-pleasing, and sheer exhaustion dominate the heart instead of the joy of writing. Sound familiar?
In this interview, Sarah Mae offers her insight on the boundaries of book writing. Through choosing to take a writing sabbatical, she was able to breathe for the first time in a long time and discovered what truly brings her life. She found freedom from commitments, not by abandoning them, but by recognizing neither her publisher nor her book “own her.” Knowing your capacity as you continue to write will protect your soul and preserve your sanity.
Become a Hope Writer and CHECK OUT THE INTERVIEW!
3.) I’m telling you about this useful, encouraging, and nurturing site and community because if you want to write or currently write, you will be inspired and given practicals tools to help you in your writing. I am hosting a writing retreat in a couple of weeks and I know many of you wanted to be a part of it but couldn’t. YOU CAN DO THIS. Hope Writers is inexpensive (I think it’s $18 a month or $179 a year – WELL WORTH IT), and actually helpful.
I’ve seen tons of courses and communities, and rarely have I seen something as well done as Hope Writers. All to say, it has my highest endorsement and I stand 100% behind my endorsement. If you are a writer or want to be, it is my number one resource I recommend.
With that said, head HERE to check it out. You’re welcome. And make sure to say “Hi” to me in the FB community!
One last thing…
Want to pick my brain on writing?
Want to bounce ideas with me? Leave a comment and I’ll randomly pick someone to have a writing date with me on the phone! FUN TIMES.
Love, Sarah Mae, Hope Writer
P.S. Emily is hosting a FREE webinar THIS THURSDAY on finding your ideal reader – check it out HERE!
My affiliate link is used in this post. If they didn’t have an affiliate program, I would still be sharing this with you because I LOVE IT. Just sayin’. You can read my disclosure policy here.
I was at the salon having my twice a year therapy session.
You do know hair stylists are counselors, right? Of course you do. Anyway.
I was having my
stylist counselor HANDLE THE GRAY SITUATION when we started talking about motherhood. I was telling her that I was just tired. I have parented now for 11 years and am half-way done. In 11 more years my children will be grown. WHOA. And there’s this idea that my kids are old enough to raise themselves, that I can kind of coast. And it’s true, and it’s tempting, because THEY ARE ACTUALLY OLD ENOUGH TO RAISE THEMSELVES. I mean, not really, but they can make food and not toddle down stairs. I don’t have to do that much to ensure their survival. But I’m not just wanting them to survive; I want to keep on in nurturing their souls and finishing this parenting race well. And by “well” I mean doing the best I can…giving myself to the work faithfully. I don’t want to regret my long, short parenting years.
But ya’ll, I’m a bit weary…a bit…in need of fresh vision.
When I was a new mom I had TONS of vision. I read all the parenting books. I froze fresh cut vegetables and fruit and put them in ice cream trays. I actually bought a SQUASH, cut it up, blended it up, and froze that too. I sewed Christmas and Easter dresses for my baby girl. I went to all the library functions for moms with little ones, and I did crafts and I sang Scripture and I read books and I did ALL THE THINGS to be the best mother I could. As it is with all moms, I was wildly imperfect, but I was determined and on mission to raise my kids well and invest as best I could into them. As I’m sure you have.
That mission is still in my bones, and yet, I need encouragement to keep going.
I had a conversation recently with my Father-in-Law about how I was feeling (we were doing the dishes and, like the salon, therapy is bound to take place in the kitchen). He reminded me of two things: 1.) I am in a reprieve period with my kids, so I should enjoy it and take the time to rest up. He wasn’t saying to coast or ease up on parenting, but rather to see the season for what it is, a time where my kids will still cuddle and ask my opinion and listen to me read books and Scripture to them and help themselves to some cereal and there is innocence and sweetness all around. I get this. I want to rest in and delight in it. Especially because I’m tired. This is my slow walk (I’m still moving though) before the sprint. 2.) He reminded me that attacks will come down the pike. We’ll have to deal with things in the coming years that we haven’t yet had to contend with. As our children move towards independence and figuring out their worlds and all that the culture wants to throw at them, we’ll be in a new battle. Know it and prepare your heart and your mind for it.
I’m listening. Rest up and enjoy the season; prepare for the rest of the race.
So how do we prepare for the rest of the race, the second leg so to speak?
How do we keep our endurance up and stay focused on the mission?
How do we keep on?
Well, here is one thing I know for sure right now: I can mother.
(That sounds kind of awesome, doesn’t it? It is.)
I can mother (and you can mother) and I will mother and I will pace myself and I will KEEP GOING. That’s the biggest thing, to just KEEP GOING. I won’t give up. I won’t lose heart.
Our mothering, our choosing to nurture and bring up our children, it matters. God has prepared us for this since before the beginning of time; He has planned this good work of mothering for us to do.
Me, you, we are doing Kingdom work, right now, that was planned for us to do before we even had breath in our lungs. WE ARE ON MISSION. And that is pretty motivating. THAT is some vision to keep going.
So in His strength and power, we can, we will keep on. Be thou our vision.
Love and grace and all the cake (with some spinach thrown in later so we don’t regret the cake decision),
My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. Psalm 121:2
This is an old photo, but it seemed fitting. 🙂 Also, LOOK AT MY CARE! So little. So precious. Like my friend Amy says, “Babies don’t keep.”