Thousand Pound Boulder

This post may appear self-serving but that is not my intention. People who know me well can attest to that. It is about giving a glimpse into a realm that you may not experience and raising awareness of an effort to enter that realm in whatever way possible.

As a child growing up, I did not have an awareness of or exposure to any single parent households. All of my friend’s parents were still married. In high school, I remember one girl’s parents getting divorced but I was not that close to her. No one I knew had lost a parent or lived with grandparents. It just was not something that I was exposed to.

Upon graduating, let’s just say, I entered the real world via college and work. There were people everywhere that I met that had one parent, were raised by grandparents or were single parents themselves. I began to have this deep awe and respect, even though I had no clue about this realm, for single parents and often wondered how in the world they did it.

At 23 years of age, I began babysitting for a mom who had recently divorced. She was a nurse and had two boys, ages 5 and 7. As a nurse, she was paid more money for the night shift than day shift but had not been able to work that shift due to the two children. We worked out an arrangement. I would pick the boys up from after-school care (mom was already on the way to work by then) take them home, feed them, help with homework, bath, bed, the whole nine yards. I would then sleep on the couch that night. I would wake up the following morning, get the boys up, dressed for school and drop them off before heading to my day job (mom would arrive home after we left). I did this three times a week (or more if she picked up extra shifts) on the nights that she worked for about nine months. I remember when I had my last day working for her (I was getting married in 2 weeks). She was saying how much she appreciated what I had done. She began to cry and say that she didn’t know how she would have made it financially if I had not been able to take care of the boys. She had looked for a replacement to no avail. I had even asked all my single friends but no one wanted to take this job as it would cramp their social life. I remember thinking that they just did not get what a huge help it was to this family. Yes, I was paid for the time with the boys but the real reason I did it and kept doing it was because I knew that I was making a difference in the life of this family, in the life of this mom. I often think about that family and wonder where they are and how they fared. My awe and respect of single parents grew through this experience. As I began to serve in children’s, youth and women’s ministries and encounter other families, the awe and respect that I had for single parents continued to grow.

Life is complicated and filled with frustration and pressure even for single adults, no matter how good life is. Marriage adds another realm of complication, frustration and pressure again in the midst of good moments. Becoming parents, no matter how life affirming that is, blows the lid off of all the others. It has been said that parenting is the hardest job in the world. I totally agree. If you are single, take the frustration, complication and pressure of just taking care of yourself and your responsibilities and multiply that by a couple of hundred and that is the realm of marriage. In marriage, you share the burden of frustration, complication and pressure. Even though the burden is bigger, you have someone who helps carry the load, a companion who knows the weight of the burden just as much as you do. Now, multiply that by about another couple of hundred and you have the realm of parenting. In this realm, the children do not share part of the weight of the burden but again there are two of you to carry it. Multiply that burden by about a thousand and that is the realm of single parenting. Only the burden is now carried by one. Unimaginable, unfathomable and honestly on most days, impossible.

person carrying boulder

The reasons for how someone ended up in the realm of single parenting do not matter. The grief on top of the burden being carried is the same whether it is divorce, abandonment or death. Then, for good measure, throw on top of that the fact that the children struggle through their own grief and loss, again no matter why the loss. I have often said over the past 3 years (since I think most of this began for me when Travis became sick) that being a single parent feels like carrying a thousand pound boulder up a mountainside every day. There are no breaks, no respite from weight. Even if I put the boulder down and just sit there, it is an overwhelming presence of responsibility that stares me in the face and covers me with its shadow. Even in sleep, the weight is constant, although I may not sense it as much, it makes its way into my dreams. The undeniable weight of financial responsibility, parenting responsibility and household responsibilities is simply overwhelming with no time clock in sight to let you know when your shift is over.

It may seem easy at this point for someone to utter that I need to let it go, trust God more, allow someone else to carry the burden and so on. Those seem to be great philosophies but what do they mean? I cannot let it go, I have children that are my responsibility and that depend on me. It is what I signed up for when I decided to become a parent. Responsible parenting means that the boulder is mine and it is my job to get it up the mountain. Trusting God seems like a great option as well but again, what does that mean? I can say as much as I want that I trust God, ask  Him to help me with the burden but in reality, I still have to shoulder the weight and put one foot in front of the other. He may offer me peace and calmness inside or He may not, I still have to carry the boulder. It may be the way He has called me to suffer. Also, someone else cannot carry my burden, it is mine. They may help me by putting a hand on the weight to steady it when it begins to fall, holding my arms in place when they begin to shake from the effort, offer me water as I climb or simply walk alongside encouraging but the weight cannot be transferred. The philosophies that we want to say and maybe firmly believe because we have not experienced that realm, only offer us a way as individuals to not become involved. We have the tendency to become so wrapped up in our lives, our frustrations, our complications that we fail to see anyone else’s struggle with their burden or that they may carry alone. These people work next to you, shop next to you, worship next to you and live next to you.

It is easy to get involved at this time of year. The holidays make us want, for a brief moment, to help someone else who might have it harder and relieve our conscience for the year. Isn’t that just as bad as the philosophies we say? What about the rest of the year?

Take a single parent’s children to shop for school supplies or basic necessities like socks and underwear every year before school starts. Offer to clean their house, do laundry, pick up kids from school or stay home with a sick child so the parent can go to work. Take their children to ice cream or just be involved by giving the children another outlet besides mom to share and vent with. Gift cards to restaurants (eating out is extravagant for these families) or making ahead dinners to put in their freezer. Several people gave us money and specifically asked us to use it for vacations and trips with the kids (again, an extravagance). If you have a timeshare or vacation place, offer them time to stay there. One person purchased annual passes to Disney for us. It might seem extravagant but honestly, when we go to Disney or on vacation, I get to forget for a while that it depends on me. I get to leave that world behind, have fun with my kids, enjoy just being together instead of wondering what’s for dinner, how I am going to get a child somewhere, who needs shoes and so on.

It takes more in order to be aware, to be intentional, to be involved in a life that might make you uncomfortable, put a dent in your wallet or your time schedule but to the single parent it could be the thing that gets them to shoulder the burden the next day and keep climbing. We can all do more than nothing. Yes, it takes love and kindness to do anything at all for anyone at anytime of year. It takes courage and boldness to love intentionally and consistently, to walk out of your world and be willing to expose yourself to someone else’s. Became aware of those around you and make a choice to love intentionally and consistently, not just this month but the other 11 months out of the year too.

Family Control Center

This is not going to a spiritual uplifting post but a little more practical.  From time to time I will make posts here regarding things that are working for us as a family and for homeschooling.  This is one of those posts.

Towards the end of December, I always had to look for a new calendar for the kitchen.  This calendar was the family calendar where everyone could see at a moment’s notice who had what, when, and where.  I had to buy the big calendar with the 5 spaces for family members names (Travis and I shared a space).  The spaces never seemed big enough and I had to buy a new one every year.

This year I have done something different.  I can not take credit for this idea.  I saw it in a Real Simple magazine.  This is our new Family Control Center in the kitchen:

I spent the same amount of money on all the supplies for this as I do on a calendar every year (about $25.00).  We love it so far.  It does require some work up front and through the year but next year I will be set because I will everything from the year before.  I am keeping the same color theme for 3 months at a time.  I made up the little circles for events.  As an event is scheduled, I write the time, person’s name and what they will be doing.  I then pin the morning events to the left side of the square, the afternoon on the right side and the evening events at the bottom.  Recently, when I took a trip I also wrote the flight # and the time on the circle.  Travis was able to check at a moment’s notice as to when I was coming in.  It also helped him throughout the week while I was gone to manage the things that the children were involved in.  As you can see from the picture, I did not take into account the width of ribbon when figuring out the placement so Saturday ended up being the smallest block.  It worked out okay for us because most of our stuff is during the week.

If you want directions and supply list, let me know.

God’s Extravagance

Sometimes I forget that part of God’s character is to be extravagant to those He loves…His children.  Ephesians 3:20-21 says, “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!  Amen.”  While some may be offended that I chose a picture of a Christmas tree overflowing with presents from underneath its branches, to our family it represents so much more.  This has been a tough year for our family.  You see, we made a choice to step out and follow God last year in helping planting a church in Wesley Chapel.  We clearly heard and knew that God was calling us to this endeavor.  Travis left his position at the church that we were attending to follow God.  We were confident that God would supply our needs but we could have never imagined what God had in store.  Travis has officially, as of January 1st, 2010, been unemployed for a year.  While God has provided sporadic income throughout the year, we have had no regular income.  Each month this past year, we relied on God to meet our needs on a daily and monthly basis.  Never once this past year could we not pay a bill or not have any food.  My children even jokingly say that they “never even had to miss one snack!”  With Christmas drawing near, we had already been telling our children that we probably would not exchange gifts this year.  But once again, God came through even though we never asked.  Not only did He come through but did immensely more than we could imagine.  These gifts came from many different avenues and places.  One family even decided to take the money that they would have used to buy gifts for each other and buy gifts for our children instead.  Every time I walked by tree, my eyes welled up with tears.  Not about the gifts but about God’s heart of love behind the extravagance that was poured out on our family this year.  He could have just given us a few gifts and we would have indeed been gratefully.  Instead He chose to overwhelm us with His extravagance!  Glory to God and to His church through whom He works in amazing ways!