When You think it can’t be done, think again.
A recent visit with a friend reminded me of when I faced a period of financial and emotional uncertainty so burdensome I often woke in the night in tears. I’d bundle up in a blanket and step out onto the deck and stare into the night until a prayer came to me.
Prayers can be elusive. We can feel a gnawing need, absent of words. Our thoughts can be so jumbled, our feelings so overwhelming, we can’t navigate them.
The story is simple. I was separated then divorced, with three teenagers at home and later one daughter, then eventually two daughters, away at college. Each month I faced mortgage, utility, car, and grocery bills. A high school teacher, I worked long hours, taught night courses at the university, and took graduate classes.
Someone had given me a gratitude journal, which I tried to fill in at night before sleeping. Often exhausted, I’d write things like “I’m grateful for being tired” or “Thank God, I won’t have trouble sleeping tonight.” Discouraged, I’d write, “My hand can hold this pen.” Driving to work I’d feel encouraged because I had been given another day, had helpful, devoted children, a job, and energy. This cycle of energy expense and renewal played out for six years.
I was not alone. At the time 60% of all households were led by single mothers. They too experienced discrimination when applying for credit cards, auto insurance, and jobs. A potential employer for a prestigious state position asked me how I would manage since I had teenagers at home and no husband. When I asked an agent why my auto insurance premiums had increased, he said because I was divorced, so I switched to another agency. My applications for a credit card were denied until the NEA offered me a credit card.
When the dryer broke, I hung wet clothes on lines strung tree to tree. In the summer we used air conditioning sparingly only at night. During the day we hung out under a huge walnut tree or went to the library. We used cars primarily for business. Every dime counted. My children worked — paper routes, retail, food service — whatever it took to put gas in the car, go on a date, buy clothes, get to school and work and sometimes help Mom pay for a vacation.
My son would hang about while I put together the monthly menu and budget. “Are we going to be okay, Mom?” He wouldn’t relax until I’d paid every bill. He committed himself to getting straight A’s and a full ride to college. When I would insist that he go to bed and rest, he’d say, “I’m going to make sure you won’t have to struggle like you do to send the girls to college.”
Indeed, I was never alone. As I was driving down a familiar street near campus one late afternoon, on the way to yet another night class, and dining on a sandwich between home and a parking lot, I suddenly felt a voice — sonorous and authoritative — say, “I told you, you will never be alone. I will always be with you.” Suddenly I was awash in reassurance and confidence. I felt lighter. Even the light around me, in the trees and on the road, changed.
The children’s father fulfilled his responsibilities at some sacrifice for himself, for which we will always be grateful. Whenever the children questioned my judgement, he backed me up one hundred percent.
My father believed in me. When I said I wasn’t sure I was strong enough, he said, “Just do it.” When I said I needed to increase my salary, he advised, “Take graduate courses. The time will quickly pass.”
When I wavered, my step-mother provided practical advice. She cared for me when I came home from surgery. She said, “You must eat meat and vegetables and fruit. You must maintain your energy” and “The children need to see you are strong.”
Kind and patient, my brothers and sisters-in-law stuck with me without questioning my choices. One brother paid for travel, another called frequently. A sister-in-law sold me a lawn mower at a give-away price.
My parents paid for a daughter’s braces. My father sent a daughter to musical festivals. A friend loaned me the cost of graduate tuition. Another friend covered a year of piano lessons. One friend called every evening for a year to give me ten minutes of stress release. A male friend taught me how to change oil and change a tire. When I was recovering from surgery, three friends took turns staying with me and helped with the children.
I learned how to do taxes, repair wires on a stove, fix fluorescent lights, repair faucets and toilets, and service a lawnmower. I learned how to be alone with myself and not be lonely. We need to know we are all an essential somebody, despite trials and troubles. We need to accept that the opposite of fear is love; how we can be stripped of every familiar and comfortable accoutrement and still love and be.
To visit me today in the same home with its mortgage now paid, to see me comfortably wrapped in relative security and snuggled next to my husband of twenty-one years, to talk with our thriving grand-children, you would hardly guess at the depths of discouragement and level of courage I once experienced. I forget it myself from time to time. I call it the dark ages, as if it were behind me, which it can never be since it helped mold us and undergirds this family today.
Bundled up in a blanket, I might still step out onto the deck into the night and stare into space and wait for a prayer to come to me. I do so with a conviction and faith borne from raw experience. If nothing comes, I just try again later, and then later, and then later. Something will come of it, just like when I write these posts without knowing really where beginning will lead.