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I was an angry woman for about an hour today. ¬†We had Stake Conference early, so the rest of the day we were home. ¬†This should have been a good thing. ¬†But sometime during the early afternoon, I felt overwhelmingly tired. ¬†I had stayed up way too late for a few nights in a row. ¬†I had packed way too many things into my schedule. ¬†All the kids were just lazily lounging in the family room, eating. ¬†As I looked around at the messy house (I hadn’t kept up with everything this weekend), I was suddenly angry. ¬†I just didn’t want to be the mom. ¬†For a minute, I didn’t want to be the woman of the house. ¬†I didn’t want to think about dinner, or to worry about the way everyone was snacking like a bunch of slobs. ¬†I didn’t want to face the mounting laundry pile that was spilling out into the hall. ¬†I didn’t want to take care of little kids or even be pleasant to my husband.

Earlier I had tried to take a quick nap. But the kids were SO loud, it proved impossible. And by the time I strolled back out into the kitchen, it looked like a bomb had gone off.  I felt immensely punished and now, overly tired.

I eyed the door.  The urge to run was strong.

Over this past year, I’ve had many conversations with myself about something I like to call The Case of the Bitter Woman. ¬†I first saw this woman at a restaurant. ¬†She entered with her husband and children. ¬†Everyone was happy and playful, except for the woman. ¬†Her lips were pinched and her gaze was distant. ¬†I couldn’t look away. ¬†The husband tried to make a few comments to the woman, but she gave him the cold shoulder. ¬†Even the children tried to engage their mother. ¬†But she maintained her cool, bitter look. Eventually, that cold freeze spread. ¬†The husband interacted quietly with the children for a while. ¬†And in the end, everyone was sitting quietly, anxiously casting glances at the woman.

I know nothing of this woman.  I do not know what happened prior to entering the restaurant.  I do not know what she has suffered or what she was thinking.  I only know that it appeared to be a family night out at a restaurant.  And everyone seemed to want to have fun.  Except for her.

I couldn’t tear my gaze away. ¬†Because in those pinched lips, I saw glimpses of myself. ¬†And it was more painful to watch than I could have ever imagined.

I could see myself on an evening when the whole family is playing wildly. And it’s SO loud. ¬†I am trying to clear the dishes and wipe the food from the table, alone. ¬†I’m very tired. ¬†And then, in the middle of their frenzied happy state, Daddy suggests warm chocolate chip cookies, and everyone starts chanting, “Cookies! Cookies! Cookies!” ¬†I, in my amazing wisdom, choose this happy moment to slam my hand down onto the counter and snap, “What do I look like? ¬†A slave?” ¬†Suddenly, everyone grows quiet. ¬†And I pinch my lips as tight as I can. ¬†For a minute, I’m that bitter woman.

Of course it isn’t fair! ¬†Yes, I’m overworked. ¬†No, I shouldn’t have to bake cookies!

But every time I try to drive my point home, I’m left with a hollow, empty feeling. ¬†I’ve sat angrily in the car, while everyone tries to lighten the mood. ¬†But I still sat there mad. ¬†I’ve thrown fits when I think people aren’t helping. ¬†I’ve stomped and stormed. ¬†And then stayed bitter through apologies and efforts of my family to reach out. ¬†Whatever had happened to that woman in the restaurant, everyone else was trying to let it go. ¬†Everyone else was trying to reach out to her in love and friendship.

Whenever I think back to The Case of the Bitter Woman, I try to remind myself that the only thing that woman could control was her own mood. ¬†And it appeared that she could have enjoyed a fun family dinner. ¬†Or she could have sat there angrily. ¬†That’s her choice.

I next saw this bitter woman in an airport. ¬†There were two couples sitting next to us in a food court just passing the time while waiting for a flight. ¬†One woman had the unmistakable look of a bitter woman. ¬†Her husband tried and tried to make her happy. He offered to buy her something to drink, to get her some food, to grab her a treat. She was quietly snapping at him, “I SAID, I’m fine!” She mostly kept her lips pinched while the other three laughed and reminisced about their trip. ¬†If her husband tried to engage her, she just corrected him or ignored him. ¬†It was subtle. ¬†And it looked as if they were probably normally a loving couple. ¬†But something had made her angry, and she refused to let it go. At least that’s what I imagined.

I’ve noticed that bitterness is not a good look on a woman. It takes all of the beauty of her face and distorts it. ¬†Instead of loving and welcoming, it looks cold and dismissive. One of the definitions of “bitter” is a resentful feeling because of a perceived injustice. And that’s exactly what I’ve noticed for myself. ¬†I usually feel those nasty bitter feelings creeping up when I feel overworked, which I mostly bring upon myself. ¬†But no matter how much I stomp and storm, I just don’t feel better. ¬†I feel bitter. Sometimes the truth of my misguided perception comes slamming into my mind, full force. ¬†I am immediately humbled and sorry that I have allowed myself to be The Bitter Woman. ¬†But other times, it’s hard not to harbor such resentful feelings.

Instead of running out the door like I wanted to today, I rallied the troops and suggested we go for a drive.  Greg took us on a wonderful adventure through the Red Cliffs Preserve on a road we had never explored.  It was fun to be together as a family. And the scenery was breathtaking.  I tried to forget all of the work waiting for me back home, and for awhile, I relaxed and enjoyed the day.

We stopped at a little spot when the lighting was perfect, and Greg snapped a few shots with his camera. ¬†He’s always bugging me about learning to use the camera, so I took it for a turn. ¬†I wanted to practice some shots of Emma with the sun behind her. ¬†I took a few, made some adjustments, and tried to take some more. ¬†Emma grew impatient with me. ¬†And so did Greg. ¬†As I was coaxing Emma to please pose for another shot, she snapped at me. ¬†Then Greg snapped at me, too, telling me to STOP!

They were minor offenses, if any at all. ¬†But I lowered the camera. ¬†Then I pulled the strap off of my neck and announced that I was done. ¬†I practically pushed the camera into Greg’s hands. ¬†They were both trying to backtrack, saying sorry and begging me to come back. ¬†But I would have none of it. ¬†I walked back to the car and climbed in. The mood was heavy as the whole family loaded into the car. ¬†The boys had been tromping around happily, but now Greg was barking and hurrying them into their seats. ¬†I kept my face toward the window. ¬†And you can be sure my lips were pinched tightly into place.

As we drove, everyone tried different attempts to lighten the mood. ¬†But I sat stoically in my seat. Silent and cold. Deep inside, I was marveling at the majestic sunset. The landscape was so glorious it almost hurt to breathe! ¬†Numerous times I wanted to beg Greg to stop so that we could snap this shot or that. It was so heartbreakingly beautiful. ¬†But I wouldn’t let go of my bitterness. I was filled with pride. ¬†I wouldn’t dare take up the camera again. ¬†Even though they had been begging me to as I had walked bitterly to the car.

Luckily by the time we got home and the whole family filed into the house, I was working on letting it all go. ¬†I made a huge stack of warm pancakes and started serving them to the boys. ¬†Emma scooted up next to me at the counter, and then I felt her arms go around me. ¬†She apologized for ruining the outing. ¬†Soon Greg was walking up next to me. ¬†He apologized for snapping at me while I was using the camera. ¬†For some dumb reason, I STRUGGLED to let it go. ¬†I’m sad to say that my lips probably stayed a bit pinched.

Then, I thought of The Case of the Bitter Woman. I thought of how the only one missing out on a wonderful evening was ME. The only one who ruined the outing was ME. The only one was sat there bitterly because of a perceived injustice was ME.

Of course people will snap at me. Don’t I do it, too?¬†Of course I will have frustrating, tiresome days. ¬†Didn’t I sign up to be a mother? ¬†Of course I will have mood swings and angry stretches. ¬†Can’t I forgive? ¬†Can’t I forget? ¬†The quicker I learn to let things go, the happier I will be. ¬†I wish so badly I would have laughed when they got on my case about taking too many pictures. ¬†I wish so badly I would have handed the camera back to Greg and then gone exploring with the boys. ¬†And then on that beautiful drive home, I could’ve begged Greg to stop and take some shots of the sun setting gloriously in the desert on a gorgeous Sunday evening.

I wish I would’ve remembered that bitter woman a little sooner. ¬†Because then I could’ve hugged Emma tightly back as we stood at the counter. ¬†And I could’ve kissed my husband’s lips as he apologized.

The only thing holding me back from happiness is me. Everything I ever needed or ever wanted is right there in front of me.

May I let go of any perceived injustices.  And be the kind of person who lights up a room with her love.

I think I’ll make those cookies tomorrow.