In Each Day a New Cup, I referred to a conversation I had with a fellow mom at the club a few days ago. Going through a divorce, she commented that she is hopeful, because of people like me, who have blazed the trail before her. I thought a lot about our conversation and her perception of how things have evolved for me, and I want to share some things in my life that made the difference of where I am, versus where I could be.
Here are my Five Top Things that I believe will get you from being the trail on which you’re trampled to being the one leading the trail: In theory, they’re not hard. But they take resolution. They’re behavior and attitudes that can kill us if we don’t pursue them with intention in our most desperate days.
1. Get out of bed.
That’s not to say we don’t all deserve a day to rest. But the simple act of removing one’s self from the seemingly safe respite of a bed can be an act of God when there’s so much we feel we’re not equipped to face. I remember a day that seemed even an act of God wasn’t enough for me. My children, then 10 and 12, got themselves up, fed, and off to school without the nurturing routine in which they’d been accustom. As I think about that moment, I recall the despondency that prevented me from doing my mom job. Sure, they survived. But that morning is part of their story, too. A page I wish I could have avoided. They were hurting, and this mom let them. I don’t raise my kids to “survive.” I raise them in the hopes that they will thrive. There was no thriving that day.
It was one day, fortunately. The regret I had when I considered the direction my life would take if I let those days accrue was more than I could stand. It didn’t happen again. That’s not to say that getting out of bed was easy. It was hard. But getting out of bed was worth it.
2. When the phone or the doorbell rings, answer it, no matter what.
It’s hard to believe that life goes on when ours has seemingly stopped. I recall feeling like the sun was mocking me as it shined high and bright on a summer day. How can it be, while I sobbed in my car on my way to a commitment I didn’t want to keep? Contradictions to my state of being were all around me. The world did not care. That reality is harsh and good. If the world accommodated my emotions, the sun didn’t shine, if strangers shared my same agony, the potential for me to remain in that same state would be great.
On the other side of your door is a boy scout who’s fundraising for his annual fee, and a mother who’s doing her best to do her part to contribute. Everywhere we go we’re engaging with people who need us as much as you need them. In your crisis, your home can be a sanctuary or a prison. Create the sanctuary, where you don’t turn others away, but embrace them as Jesus’ hands and feet. If they aren’t, you will know, and will gain wisdom in the effort.
Going through a crisis brings out the best in people. It also brings out other things in people that can be hard to sift through. You will discover who is calling to gather information. Those calls, you can avoid, once you identify their objective. That can change your friendships if you’re not able to entertain those people. But it’s okay. You’ll discover quickly the people who are a support, not just a cheerleader.
On the day that I couldn’t get out of bed a friend with whom I’d regularly gone to bible study for a couple of years called. I’d forgotten that we were to ride together that day. Everything in me didn’t want to pick up that phone. Ring, Ring, Ring. How would I explain the inadequacy of the my morning? I don’t recall my exact words when I picked up, but she skipped bible study and came to help. She’d assumed I’d been having a hard time, this day she lived it with me. There were many times it seemed crazy that I would answer the door. I wasn’t fit to be a friend. But I remember vividly those moments when a friend or a good acquaintance knocked on the door. It might be a bible study partner, or a mom with whom I’d volunteered side by side over the years, arriving when I needed that person, in that moment.
3. When someone asks if they can help, say YES.
It seems common practice to answer a request for help with something close to a “No, it will be fine.” Is “fine” what we want? If we want to move beyond “fine,” be bold in your answer, and honor your friend’s effort.
Try something like this: “Yes, that would be awesome.” The word “awesome” dates me. I know. I over use that word. Dig to find out what type of offer they’re making. Try, “What would you like to do?” or “Would you mind picking up Esmerelda from dance this week? She goes two times to Dancing with the Stars dance studio.”
One of my favorite gifts was cleaned and cut vegetables. In a zombie state, I remember throwing a meal together at the last minute. Noodles and parmesan cheese (a long time toddler favorite, but at 10 and 12 my kids had graduated to something more), bagels and cream cheese, cereal, spaghetti, potatoes. Carbs, carbs, carbs. Receiving the nutritious part of the meal relieved me of the guilt that I wasn’t providing the nutrition my kids needed. And, they weren’t subject to watching me stand over carrots as I peeled them with tears running down my face, imagining the inevitable, that the very kitchen I prepared in, would be someone else’s later.
So many things go undone as a single person without a family to help. Unlike wisdom teeth being pulled or an ACL tear, a divorce and change in the family as you knew it, a change in your forever plans, is a perpetual state of loss. If you remain a single parent, wholeness doesn’t come in a few weeks or months. Take the help when it’s offered, because when the newness of the crisis wears off, you will be in a position to ask (which is hard) because the offers will stop.
4. Read the Psalms.
1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
Imagine reading this in a time of despair. God’s word, and in particular, the Psalms was the water that quenched my aching thirst. I had a chair in my family room where I sat, as soon as the kids were off to school. I wanted to remain there all day long. I was desperate for the healing words to soothe me, and I hungered for them to stop the hurt. I wanted to live in the pages of God’s word. I didn’t want to face the world as it stood before me. Grief was my companion, but God was my friend, and I can’t imagine living without his wisdom, compassion, and hope. I carried his words with me with every errand and every commitment I couldn’t escape.
I purchased a pretty journal where still today I record my favorite verses.
When I can’t remember where to find a particular verse, I go to my book, where I treasure the verse like a found precious object.
I received books that gave me insight and perspective. I loved those books, but my favorite one is called A Grace Disguised. It’s a story of huge loss through a car tragedy. The author is able to communicate so that someone going through loss in divorce can also find restoration.
There’s no question my faith grew stronger as a result of my divorce. As much as I’ve mourned the loss of a complete family, I wouldn’t give anything in exchange for the relationship I have with God today.
5. It’s okay to medicate.
This was hard for me. My same friend who arrived on the morning I didn’t get out of bed, urged me to consider taking medication. I recall one friend telling me over the phone that maybe I should consider medication, but somehow in that moment, the suggestion seemed more like I was over reacting about my loss, almost as if I should accept the broken vows and the betrayal of so many things. On this particular morning, my friend offered that I should talk to a doctor and that it would be something to get me through the worst of it. I recall not having the energy to navigate the appointment (I was using a teaching hospital and didn’t have a steady doctor at the time). She made the appointment for me, and we drove together a few days later. The diagnosis was “situational depression.” I could live with that. I got the prescription filled, but for a couple of months it remained unopened in my medicine cabinet. I recall the day I recognized the value in taking it. I wish I hadn’t taken so long. I took the medication for about a year, and it was the right thing to do. It didn’t alter my grief, or my personality. But it altered my perspective enough to manage things. I remember getting pneumonia during that time and running out of the medication. Getting my prescription refilled was problematic. Abruptly discontinuing the medication was lethal and I had a couple of very hard days that I know scared a couple of friends (myself included). Be cautious of discontinuing those drugs without the care of a physician. A couple of months later a doctor helped wean me off without incident.
When I think of “Blazing the Trail,” I think of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind. I recall my former mother-in-law giving me advice in the beginning and telling me to just not “give a damn” and be like Scarlett O’Hara. I remember thinking, as wonderful as Scarlett is, I always wished I could be like Melanie Hamilton. She was angelic, full of strength and grace. I aspired to be more like her, but have missed that mark in so many ways.
I believe I wasn’t intended to be like Scarlett O’Hara or Melanie. I was intended to be myself, to work through my loss with God at the center. He instructed me, and I did my best to listen. Five things that you can do. The world is full of people who haven’t been able to. When you see a child who has lost his way, or a man or woman on a street asking for money, chances are big that there was a parent who experienced a loss they couldn’t manage.
I’m grateful that I’m here, where I am, living this life. I can share Christmas decorations, celebrate victories and frustrations with my pooches, as well job searches, house moves, and basically the hard that happens at the same time as the wonderful.
There’s really been no “blazing.” It’s okay if it looks like that, as long as you know this: It’s one morning, one day, one Psalm, one friend, one YES, and maybe one pill, at a time.