Imperfect Progress

I used to be tough. Or, at least, I thought I was tough. Not physically, of course (I mean, have you seen my bird arms?). But in a verbal argument, I could hold my own and then some. I was like a Kung Fu master where my words were like combination kicks and my tone the serpent’s teeth sharp enough to reach the marrow of the bone. Recently, in women’s bible study, I tried to explain this, calling my outbursts “verbal vomit.” I certainly wouldn’t have called them that at the time. I would have said something like I was quick-witted or sharp-tongued; you know, something that had a more positive connotation. Because I took pride in my ability to “put someone in his place.” Yeah, pride. It seemed as if I spent most of my time looking for a fight, looking for something to get riled up about. And I was angry all the time. I was like Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk, ready to morph into an oversized green rage monster on the turn of a dime. You see, anger was an easier emotion to deal with; it was like a balm or seal over feelings that would otherwise be hurt.

I’ve been changing for awhile, and I’m different now. I’m not tough. Or rather, I’m not tough-hearted anymore.  And I cry a lot more. And I’m okay with that.

Some may say this is due to age – maturing, mellowing out – or ample anxiety medication, but I say by the grace of God, I am different.

The women’s group I sometimes attend has been studying Lisa Terkeurst’s Unglued for the past several months. We’ve been talking about making “imperfect progress” toward being women who do not let the little things (or the big things) steal the joy and kindness God has placed in our hearts. Our pastor’s wife, the ever-so-talented Tanner Cangelosi, painted a piece for us displaying one of the study’s Bible verses:

“Let love and faithfulness never leave you. Bind them around your neck. Write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.” (Proverbs 3:3-4).

I feel like she painted it on my heart.

Copyright 2015. Tanner Cangelosi.
Copyright 2015. Tanner Cangelosi.

I recently had a run-in with someone. I wasn’t expecting a difficult conversation; in fact, I’d called to apologize for something. But before I knew it, the conversation took an ugly turn. Rather than responding in anger (which certainly would have been the 20-year-old me’s response), I felt sorrow. Sorrow for the original thing I’d called to apologize about; sorrow for the words that were cutting through me and the relationship; sorrow for anything else that may be going on in the other person’s life to cause such vehemence; pure sorrow. My heart hurt. And rather than lash back, I ended the call. And I cried. Cried for me. Cried for the other person. Cried for the situation. And every time I started to get angry, I cried more. I’m tearing up now just writing about it. Years ago, I would have called myself a baby. Now, I’m thankful for the tears, because they’re evidence of my heart which, above all else, should reflect God.

Of course, I still mess up sometimes, lash out, spout off things I wish I didn’t. But, I’m better than I was; and I’m constantly trying to be even better. I’m claiming that “imperfect progress.” God’s love and faithfulness have bound my heart (and my mouth, praise Him!). And like Tanner’s painting (of which I’ve saved a photo on my phone), I’m carrying His love and faithfulness around with me everywhere I go, along with a box of tissue.

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