I heard my words first, then I heard the emotion behind them.

“Don’t you understand what she said?” I snarled at the woman at the cash register, gesturing to my cousin, who was having trouble communicating her request. “She wants that one.” The woman ducked her head and silently took down the item. She averted her eyes as she scanned it and added it to our purchases.

My stomach rolled at the shame I knew she felt, a shame I caused. My tone was condescending, angry, and full of hate. I was too full of rage—at myself, at her, at everyone around me—to apologize and could only stomp off when our purchase was complete.

It had taken me eight months to get to this point. That’s how long I had been living in mainland China, and how long I had endured insults from locals for my poor Mandarin skills and my even poorer understanding of the local culture. Like a good Christian girl, I didn’t let myself get angry about it. On my good days I acted as if the barrage of cruel comments and actions was mildly amusing. On my not-as-good days I told myself they were trivial annoyances I could shake off.

Then came that interaction with the woman at the grocery store. She was younger and physically smaller, and in a less powerful position than I. I couldn’t remember bullying anyone before. I was known for my kindness and compassion, yet here I was, shouting in Mandarin over the simplest of misunderstandings.

The anger I denied ever having ballooned and festered into rage over which I had no control.

For most of my life I read those well-known verses from the New Testament—“Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Eph. 4:26) and be “slow ...

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