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MY single mom LIFESTORIES & PRACTICAL LESSONS FOR YOUR JOURNEY
By ANGELA THOMAS
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Angela Thomas
All right reserved.
Chapter Onestarting at zero
"I was wondering if you buy diamonds?" I whispered to the clerk, hanging my head in embarrassment and self-imposed shame.
"Just a minute and I'll get the owner," she offered.
While I stood there waiting, with just about my only worldly possession in my coat pocket, I watched a man choose a diamond three times the size of the one I wanted to sell. He had been meticulous with his research and obviously knew all the important features of an investment diamond. With the help of a clerk, he examined the one he had chosen closely and twice took it outside into the light to consider all of its properties. He talked some about clarity and color and flaws, but mostly he talked about how much he loved the woman he was buying it for. I stood in the corner and pondered the irony. This was his beginning and, on the very same day, my ending. He was full of enthusiasm and starry-eyed plans for a proposal. I was as empty as I had ever been, trying to feel as little as possible just so I could stand there and breathe in, breathe out.
So I watched him for a long time as I prayed for the courage to show my little diamond towhoever appeared, and then to have the nerve to ask him to buy it.
Eventually a small, busy man came through the back door. He seemed genuinely immersed in the details of jewelry being shown and overseeing the transactions of the clerks as he walked toward me. Our eyes met, and I knew that he knew. His countenance softened, and I could feel the instant tears trickle down my face when he asked how he could help.
Somehow I choked out that I wanted to sell my diamond. And that gracious man began to treat me like I had just offered him a bargain on the Taj Mahal. No shame. No judgment. Just one used diamond being sold in a business transaction. He pretended not to notice my tears. I'm so grateful he treated me like that.
In about thirty minutes he handed me a check for fourteen hundred dollars, shaking my hand and telling me ever so sincerely that he was sorry. I drove straight to the bank, cashed the check, and then walked two doors down to a furniture store. There I spent every dime of that money on beds for the children. Somehow it seemed OK to sell my engagement ring if the money was spent solely for them.
That day I started at zero. And I think that day was the beginning of our surviving.
My life as a single mom did not begin with surviving. So I'll go back and tell you what happened at the beginning, or maybe it was the ending that actually became the beginning. Either way, I didn't do whatever it was very well.
becoming a single mom
The day my marriage was finally all over, I walked from room to room, nauseated, physically shaking, wiping tears, and packing three laundry baskets with whatever children's clothes I could find. I strapped two kids into their car seats, picked up the other two at school, and drove an hour to my parents' house. Mama made dinner, and my kids thought it was just a fun sleepover-except we slept over for three months. I realize it's exactly the opposite of how things usually go, but I never went back to live in the house with my things. The kids went every other weekend.
From that day until now I have been a single mom. I've done a hundred things wrong and finally gotten a few things right, but whichever way, I am absolutely sure this has to be the hardest job anyone could ever have. There should be a special medal for single moms. We should all get medals made of gold, with bouquets of flowers, for living this life and doing it with poise. Someone should stand and cheer every time we get the kids to school on time, fed and with clothes on. Or put stars on our single-mom charts for making it to the soccer games and school plays and for staying up late to talk to the kid who finally opened up. There should be a finish line to run through at the end of every day's marathon, corks popping from the celebratory champagne, a marching band playing "There she is, Ms. Amazing Mom." And there should be someone to hold us tight because we've given all we had to give.
No one ever prepares to raise children alone. I had never even considered it an option, but there I was, fresh out of divorce court with a parenting plan and four heartbroken kids who had me for a mom.
Honestly, I'm not really sure how I made it through my first year of being a single mom. I look back now and know that a survival instinct kicked in eventually. Unfortunately, the will to keep going took a while to materialize. For the first few months, there were no living instincts inside of me at all. Just the desire to evaporate.
I know it was October. I'm sure it was a beautiful autumn in the mountains where I was staying. But all I can remember are the colors of my bedroom in the basement of my parents' house. Mostly taupe: taupe walls, taupe carpet. A peach bedspread, a peach headboard. A green lamp. A floral chair. Quite pretty, if you can see pretty. But I couldn't see pretty back then. Just blurry, colored shapes, with darkness closing in. I spent the days moving around in my room, but mostly I just lay on the bed and cried for all those months.
I look back now and realize that even that was a gift. Not everyone can take three months just to fall apart. I screamed for my children and the label they would now wear because of me: You know their parents are divorced. I pounded my pillow and yelled at the future they'd just been handed. Packing an overnight bag every other weekend. Divided affection. Deciding which parent to sit with at the school play. Dumb things like leaving a baseball jersey at one house when it's needed at the other. Opening presents on Christmas Day with one parent, and then leaving for a week at 3 p.m. What in the world has happened? I thought.
My hair was falling out. My eyes twitched. I lost about thirty pounds on the divorce diet. I was severely depressed, with all the classic symptoms. My parents were devastated and worried sick about their daughter, so they sent me to their family doctor. His nurse took my medical history and then used a stethoscope to listen to my broken heart. I left with a prescription to ease the depression, but I never went to the pharmacy for the medicine. For some weird reason, I wanted to learn from the pain.
In the time we lived with my parents, I was a mess. I would get up in the mornings, drive the children fifty minutes to school, drive back to my parents' house, go downstairs to my bedroom, and lie on the bed until it was time to pick them up again. God bless my mom and dad. They truly carried me through every single day. Mama cooked dinner and helped keep the clothes clean. They both listened to me talk about the same things night after night and left me alone when I couldn't say any more. I think my divorce is one of the most tragic things our family has ever been through, and I hated doing that to them. I still hate the tidal waves of pain it has caused so many people in my life.
As the months went by, I knew I had to do something about where to live, but I didn't have the energy to pursue it. And besides, I had nothing. Really and truly nothing. No furniture. No dishes. No towels. Nothing you would need to make a home. Still, a thirty-nine-year-old woman can live with her kids at her parents' house for only so long. I began to pray.
My girlfriend Lisa, as usual, began to do something. A friend of a friend, who was also a single mom, had pieced together secondhand furnishings after her divorce. Now she was getting remarried to a man who had a beautiful home, so she didn't need most of the things she had acquired. She wanted to leave them in the house she had been renting. Enter my friend Lisa, the woman who gets things done. She decided it would be the perfect place for me-her pitiful girlfriend, who had four kids and no place to live-and called to tell me so. "I don't know ..." I said. "Maybe I'm not ready to do this." In case no one had noticed, I had no possessions, no job, and a big, fat mess of a life. I had no idea how I would pay the rent on a house. Lisa listened for a minute and then told me to meet her at the house at three thirty.
"Can we do it tomorrow?" I asked. She insisted that we do it that day. When you can't even put coherent sentences together, a bossy friend is a blessing.
Lisa was waiting when I drove up that afternoon with my carload of kids. There was a basketball goal at the end of the driveway, and my boys high-fived each other. All the kids ran around back and found two tire swings hanging from a 150-year-old tree. I walked through the garage into the tiniest kitchen I have ever seen and knew immediately that the five of us were supposed to live there. But how? I still didn't know what the rent was going to be and couldn't imagine being able to afford whatever it was.
I had figured out about how much money I thought I could make piecing together a couple of different jobs I hoped would come through. Turns out that the owner of the house has one of the biggest hearts known to mankind, and renting the house was going to cost about the same as an apartment. So we set a move-in date, and I began to pray for enough work to take care of us and pay the bills.
Talk about walking by faith. I was physically healthy, and I promised God that I would do anything I had to do to provide for us. But when we moved into that house, I was completely in the dark about what that would be. The only plan I had was to work hard and live with integrity. There seemed to be only enough light for that one decision. From there the way wasn't clear. It was one baby step at a time.
The first baby step I took was the day I sold my diamond. The day I sold the only thing I had, to take care of the kids, was also the day I knew we were going to make it. There is something about walking through embarrassment and even the pangs of perceived judgment that makes you stronger. You begin to realize that courage doesn't kick in until you stand face-to-face with what you most feared. I began to know the strength of a faith I had only talked about but had never been forced to live.
When the kids' beds were delivered to the rental house, I remember thinking, We have a roof, and we have beds. It's going to be OK. But sheets. I had forgotten sheets. Then I opened the linen closet in the upstairs hallway. Sheets, towels, blankets, everything a mom could need to keep her kids warm. In the kitchen were dishes, utensils, and pots and pans. In the utility room sat an iron and ironing board. In the garage was a lawn mower. I had no idea the woman who moved out would leave so much. That day I began to call my house The Blessing. People would come over, and I'd ask, "Would you like me to show you around The Blessing?"
Becoming a single mom was the hardest thing that ever happened to me. The circumstances surrounding the decision were beyond devastating. The emotional toll it took on all of us was awful. I tell everyone who asks me for advice, "If there is any possible way on the planet to stay married, then stay married." I can't stand the thought of anyone going through that kind of pain. Divorce hurts everybody-I mean everybody-and I never wanted to hurt anyone, especially not the beautiful children I love.
"it will never happen to me"
Becoming a single mother, well, it was never-and I mean never-going to happen to a girl like me, at least not through divorce. I am the daughter of Joe and Novie. They have been married, at this writing, for forty-five years. They are crazy in love, and, truly, I have never, ever heard them argue or seen them fight. We lived in the "happy house," which has its own weird set of dysfunctions that I'll save for another book, but divorce was a completely foreign word to our family. Most of my aunts, uncles, and cousins are still married to the ones they began with. And growing up, I didn't even know any divorced people or live on their street or go to church with them. So I grew up thinking I'd get married, live, and die with the man I chose. No options allowed, especially for nice Southern girls who love God.
After college, I did my graduate work at Dallas Theological Seminary, where I mostly studied Bible and theology. I absolutely loved my years there. I loved the professors, the commitment among the student body and faculty to live with integrity and passion, and the melting pot of culture and ministries from around the world. Sometimes I tell people that I have a master's degree in "not getting divorced." I know what I was taught, not only in seminary but by my parents and all the people who have been a part of shaping my spiritual training through the years. Not only did they teach me well, but I also made a deep personal commitment to adhere to the promises I had made to marriage. So you see, though more than half the population will find themselves in a marriage that ends in divorce, it wasn't ever going to happen to me. I was prepared. I knew better. I could withstand anything with all my big-shot resolve. I was committed.
Then I was divorced.
I couldn't have predicted how the perfect life I had planned would explode, and I wouldn't have believed it if God Himself had sent me a letter telling me so.
Almost every divorced woman I've met says the same thing: this was not going to happen to her. Not many of us meant to end up as single moms. It wasn't the dream we had as little girls or teenagers or college grads with five-year plans. But divorce happens, and when it does, it leaves you crying in the dark and screaming out to God, "How could this happen to me?" Even grown women from single-parent homes often thought their determination and better choosing would keep their marriages from the same tragic ending. These women had lived through it as kids, and they weren't ever going to let that happen to their own children. But we all know now that there is the life you dream of, and then there is the one you actually live. Divorce makes my stomach hurt.
I realize that many of you became single moms for entirely different reasons. Two of my friends recently lost their husbands to tragic deaths. In an instant these women became the only remaining parent in each of their homes. Another friend's husband just succumbed to illness. My heart grieves with you if you have suddenly found yourself widowed. I won't even pretend to know how you feel or to understand the emotions you face. But I can still stand with you. As dark as it may be for you, this truth remains: there are children to be raised and a life, your life, still to be lived.
A couple of my never-married girlfriends have unselfishly adopted some of the most beautiful children on the planet. They knew what they were doing. They weighed the responsibilities with careful planning and prayer and then intentionally chose with their hearts. Though the risks would be great and the commitment was for a lifetime, my friends say they would make the same decision a million times over. Their kids are amazing, miraculously rescued from orphanages on the other side of the world. Yet none of my friends ever dreamed they would grow up and parent alone. But these moms also tell me that after you've done it alone, you understand why the best option is a mom and dad who love each other and raise the child as a team. It's painfully evident, even when a child is rescued, that his or her heart was made for both parents. One great parent is a gift from the hand of God. Two is the same gift multiplied. We all want that for our kids.
out of options, almost
No matter how we arrived in the Land of Single Mom, we're shocked at where we've wound up. The way I see it, it's not how it should be or how we ever wished to be, but, dang it all, this is how it is. We are single moms, and right from the start we have options:
WE CAN FALL DOWN, STAY THERE, AND JUST GIVE UP. Depending on how you became a single mom, an emotional falling down may be exactly how you responded to the circumstances that brought you here. To me that is exactly the right response, considering some of the stories I have been told. Who could even breathe after getting a text message saying your husband doesn't love you anymore? How could anyone even begin to process seeing a state trooper at the front door, hat in hand, bringing details of your worst nightmare come true?
Excerpted from MY single mom LIFE by ANGELA THOMAS Copyright © 2007 by Angela Thomas. Excerpted by permission.
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