We usually don't share our "failures" in our social media posts. Most of us try to post the best memories, experiences, etc. But it never fails that during this week of this month, I am always carried back to my young adult years in my memories. Thirty-three years ago, I was preparing to marry the young man I had dated for three years. I thought I knew him; I could see the future we had planned so clearly. Thirty-three years ago tonight, we "rehearsed" my walk down the aisle. My 21 year old heart was so full of love, hopes, dreams, and naivete.
Six years later, also in the last week or so of October, having added two of the most beautiful, talented, amazing children this world has ever seen, we moved to Knoxville for a "fresh start." I had been extremely resistant to that move, telling a trusted counselor that I had little faith in this husband who had destroyed most of the trust in our relationship. I felt fear at leaving the delicate support system that had developed around me due to the kind, loving, God-serving friends who provided love, encouragement, hugs, rides to the grocery store, reminders of God's love for me, etc, etc, etc. But that wise counselor told me that faith in my husband was not required for this move; all that was required was faith in my heavenly Father. He had my life in His hands; I just needed to trust.
And so we moved. The husband was gone within a month or so; he had failed to attend to some business in our hometown area and was required to return there; since the two amazing children and I could not live with him in the lodging that was provided for him, we stayed in Knoxville to begin "the fresh start." It helped immensely that my mother's beloved cousin was here and part of my world and that she insured that I landed in her part of town and in her home congregation of believers. I soon found myself once again surrounded by a group of encouraging people, kind and loving, who provided me with a vehicle so I could give myself that ride to the grocery store; they passed on job leads so that I could escape the poverty I had lived in for the biggest part of that marriage. And they helped me face one of the most painful decisions of my life.
Just under a year after our move to Knoxville, I went to see an attorney. I had tried to make it work but painfully found that one person cannot make a marriage work, thrive, much less survive. I did not wish to raise my two beautiful children in the lifestyle to which my husband repeatedly returned. So by weird, coincidental chance, the divorce papers were filed on our seventh wedding anniversary at the Knox County courthouse. The actual divorce was granted approximately two and one-half months later.
It has recently been pointed out to me a couple of times by a friend who has been on the sidelines of this choice and the resulting changes in me, how monumental that decision was. First I must share that one Sunday during this unfolding transition to being a single mom, (though truthfully, I had been functioning as one for most of the marriage) the minister of our congregation shared a verse from Jeremiah. I cannot remember the context or the rest of his sermon (sorry "Uncle" Harold) but I do remember seizing that verse as though it was the first time in my life I had heard it. The hope that was born in my heart was palpable! The verse is Jeremiah 29: 11,
"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
Through leads from my new church family, I was soon applying for jobs and going to interviews; soon I was notified that I could begin working for the the state of Tennessee as an eligibilility counselor for the Department of Human Services. During my interview, I was asked what I could bring to this position that other applicants might not bring. I don't believe I had a moment of hesitation when I answered, "Compassion. I have been on the other side of the desk. Being a current recipient of benefits (food stamps now SNAP, AFDC, now Families First, and medicaid, now TNcare) I know what it feels like to sit at a desk asking a worker for help, feeling shame, vulnerability. I will bring compassion to my clients." I realize now the better answer might have been empathy; but I do feel that for several years, I successfully handled my clients with compassion born of empathy.
I will unhappily admit that my compassion became sketchy on some days with some of my clients. One can only be lied to so many times before patience is lost. By the end of my seven year employment, I was becoming very cynical; I was unhappy in my job. It made me sad that "little old ladies" who had sacrificed their entire lives to raise their children and stand by their men qualified for only $10 per month in food stamps because the measly bit of money they drew from their husbands' pension, or as his survivor for social security benefits, was classified as "unearned" income. Really? The government doesn't realize that "the greatest generation" earned their nickname by sending their men to war, women working at home and in factories for the war effort, raising children to be respectful, hardworking, productive citizens. I was embarrassed to tell them that they qualified for only $10 in assistance. However, that is another story.
What lasted through my years at DHS into my years of remarriage and bringing two more beautiful, talented, and amazing children into this world, homeschooling and volunteer work was my love for and desire to serve single moms. It's a hard world; but it is harder for those individuals who find themselves raising a child or children alone. I have walked that walk, had those days of hopelessness, felt the weight of all the decisions being on my shoulders. I felt the loneliness of evenings completely alone after the children were in bed, the longing for an adult to listen to me, hold me, love me.
But even that is not the real story. While I have found single moms to love, nurture, guide all along my path, the true story here is that our Creator is the one Who sees each of us through our lack or abundance of resources, our lonely evenings or those filled with friends and family, our feelings of hopelessness and the highest moments of our lives when we feel most accomplished. He has a plan for us and it is so much bigger than we can ever imagine or hope for. (Ephesians 3: 20-21)
When I look at my photo of the young bride who was me, I see naivete; I see a sinner, a self-centered, young, idiotic woman who had no clue what life was about or how to go about living as an adult. But I also see a foundation that was built by my parents and my aunts and uncles, a spiritual foundation on which I returned to and built my life, allowing God to redeem my bad choices and take my mistakes and use them to teach me about His love, His redemption, and His plan. When invited into our messes, His presence does not make everything perfect; it does not remove consequences. But it does give us hope for the future and a better way to live than we had before we asked Him to change us; then when we submit, He pours His love through us into the lives of others, that is the Story-and I am blessed to be a small part of His Story.
While that is the story I want to share, labeling that phase of my young adulthood as a failure or mistake is not entirely comfortable or accurate for me.. As I previously mentioned, I was gifted with two wonderful children during those years; while the marriage failed, I won! They are two of God's best gifts I received. All those precious people who helped me along that journey are also gifts for whom I will be eternally grateful. While choices and circumstances feel like mistakes and failures, they can only be counted as steps some of us take along the path towards God and maturity in Christ. Jesus came to provide redemption. Praise God!
Pressing on in Him