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“What did you say?” I glared at the other waitress.
“You heard me,” she shot back.
It was true. I had heard. She’d made a racist comment about my Mexican family.
“If you have a problem, we can talk in private, not in front of the customers,” I said icily.
I felt my temper rising, but I kept calm. Then she pushed me on our way to the break room. I warned her to quit, and she pushed me again. My anger exploded, and I punched her in the face.
The manager fired both of us on the spot. Without a word, I grabbed my keys and marched out of the restaurant. She deserved what she got, I thought as I slammed my car door.
My temper hadn’t always been so explosive. In eighth grade, it took all the courage I had to stand up for a girl who was often teased. From that day on, the bullies picked on me instead—at lunch, in the hallways and after school.
A group of girls followed me home from school almost every day, calling me names and shouting rude comments about my Mexican heritage. I took the abuse without saying a word. But inwardly, my heart screamed. I felt scared, ashamed and angry.
When I started high school, I made friends with some of the upperclassmen on my softball team. They warned the bullies to back off. With friends behind me, I found the courage to stand up for myself. One day freshman year, I overheard a couple of girls gossiping about me. I yelled and swore at them and warned them to get off my back. My intense reaction surprised me. I guess all that built-up anger was bound to spill out sooner or later. Pretty soon, my fiery temper earned me a reputation as someone who wouldn’t take bullying from anyone. I started talking tough and even got into a few fistfights.
Even though I was a Christian, I hadn’t allowed God into this angry part of my life. Then something happened to change all that. At youth group one Sunday night, two guys got into a shouting match, and one of them shoved the other to the floor. The next week, they stood in front of the group and apologized to each other, to us and to God. One of the guys read Proverbs 22:24 (NIV): “Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered.”
The words hit me like a blow to the gut. That verse is talking about me.
And what was it saying? Don’t be friends with angry, hot-tempered me. I thought about the fights … the people I’d yelled at … being fired from my job. I thought about a guy from school who had made a rude comment to me a couple days earlier. I’d backed him against a locker and warned him never to mess with me again. What kind of person have I become?
The next day at school, I took my seat next to the boy I’d threatened. When our teacher passed back some homework, I handed him his paper.
“Thanks,” he said.
My friend at the desk ahead of mine turned around and stared at me in shock. I felt stunned, too. Where did that come from? Normally, I would have antagonized the kid for at least a week. After class my friend asked me what the deal was, and I told her something had happened at church to change my attitude.
I’ve noticed a lot of changes in my life these days. I’ve even tried to say I’m sorry to people I’ve hurt with my anger. I also have been biting my tongue—something I never used to do. I find I’m able to stay cool in situations that used to send me into a rage. In spite of all the positive changes, I still get angry and swear sometimes, and I feel frustrated and wonder if I’ll ever get things right. I know if it were up to me, I wouldn’t. Thankfully, it’s not. I know Christ is working on my heart to change me little by little from the inside out.