Sunday, May 24, 2015

Life Out of the Boat: Five Years of Life With the Five Percent

Statistics state that five percent of America's children live with a widowed parent.  That is actually less than the percentage of children who live with neither biological parent.  So it's a small group.  I regularly communicate with men and women in my online widow support group, others who can emphasize with the ups and downs, the triumphs and complications of raising children solo.  In my three dimensional world, I very often feel as though I don't fit in. I've learned to live with it....mostly. 

Here I am five and a quarter years on the road since my husband's death and that is after years as his caregiver.  If I had to pick a few words to describe it?  It's life out of the boat.  That's what it feels like walking this path.  It's an adventure.  There haven't been any dull days.  The challenges have been significant and so have the triumphs.  I have felt pain I didn't know was possible.  I have felt pride I hoped for and love I knew I would.  We have gone through a lot of changes.  I mean now they are 12 and 5.  So I have a child a year from entering the teenage years and another who will start Kindergarten this fall.  At the start of this journey I had a little girl and an infant.

These folks are growing fast.  Everyone agrees on that.  For the most part I like our life.  The children are loved.  They have had nice things, they've been on vacations, they've had challenges facing new things.  They pray and believe in Jesus.  They've also questioned Him as to why their father isn't here.  Well, Ariana has questioned Him.  Elijah?  He questions me.  I can't fix that.  God walks us through and I'm grateful.  He's seen us through some rough periods and shown me the beauty of motherhood no matter what I was facing at the time.  He's been kind.  He's been my protector.  He's been the breath of life.  I love Him like a love song.
Now that all of that is established, here's what else I have to say about it.  I mean we're talking about a grief journey after all.  Let's be real. There's been many days, I really wanted to find that boat and my conversations with God sometimes showed it. But He could handle it.
God, I...I'm Tired...
I don't always remember to project that I'm so full of faith.  One day I see a meme that says "A Single Mother Who Believes in God Never Raises Her Children Alone," and I think to myself, "Amen!  He's Amazing!"  If I see it on a different day, my mind spins and after I say "Amen! He's Amazing! I love Him like a love song; but dang, I'm tired.  Dang, it was me changing every diaper, wiping every nose, wiping every other part that doesn't need to be named. God thanks by the way for stretching my check so I could get the diapers.  God I'm tired.  There's no more diapers.  The boy practically toilet trained himself once he decided he was okay with it (and yes, I waited) and I still get tired; but that's okay.
God, is This The Right Way or What...
There's this thing called "decision fatigue" and I'm here to tell you the struggle is real when that one person that's equally invested in the children is gone. In the past few years I have been on a journey, not just as a widowed parent, but also a parent of a child with a learning difference.  I've had to make a number of adjustments in how I parent and in how I manage education.  It meant going off of the path Thomas and I had decided on for the children.  We had decided on a private Christian School.  But it became necessary to change schools to get the IEP my daughter needed. 
I lost a lot of sleep deciding on a new school. Gone are the days you just send your child to the school closest to your house.  Choices range from the base public school to the local magnet around to any charter within driving distance and the two private schools with programs in place for children like Ariana that didn't cost more per month than my house. 
On the first day at her new school, she looked a lot like she did every other first day of school, freshly permed hair, a new backpack with supplies and a uniform.  She couldn't believe I managed to find a school with a tighter dress code than her old one.  I drove away still wondering, God is this the right way or what?  The waters calmed on that one around the 2nd IEP meeting.  It was around that time Ariana introduce me to several new friends. 
God, Another Loss...
Then I had to pick a new home.  I mean it makes sense going from two working people to one just after adding a second child was bound to cause some financial adjustments.  Add to it the fact that at times I just didn't have my head together to make the decision I should have and I really had little room for error. 
Our home became a weight I could not carry alone.  I made the most sense to find a new one that would be easier to care for and more affordable.  But after being in the same home for nearly 15 years making the transition was like a shock to my system.  And the question of whether I should stay and fight to keep it ran through my head all the way through the first two months after the move.   Some days I think of the other house and it just feels like another loss, one more thing taken from me. 
But I realized this move was God's way of giving me something.  See, when I walk around our new home, a cute little town house in the same area, there's no traumatic memories in any room.  It's not Thomas house, it's ours and in several ways, we brought him with us.  I realized I had fought a fight; but it wasn't necessarily a good one.
God, Help, I Want to Be Enough...
They are loved, they eat, they have experienced a lot of things already that some people never will.  I run around getting Ariana to choir rehearsals because she loves to sing and her new school doesn't have a choir yet.  Okay so some of it is my sheer determination that they won't feel inferior to children with two parents who either share a home or don't.  They don't have anyone to call daddy there when they wake up, to call on the phone, to write to who will write back, to talk to who will talk back without some supernatural visitation.  It hit me like a ton of bricks when I took this photo of them on Father's Day in 2012.
That's the time of year we get to hear it seems every other minute how important fathers are.  And they are; but it also comes with a message how children with one in their lives turn out so much better, have more confidence in themselves, make better grades, I mean you'd think the air must be better or something.  I took on the mentality that I wasn't going to cower under that notion.  I've raged against it this whole time.  No one was going to tell us we weren't a real family.  No one was going to suggest my children couldn't have every chance.  Okay it was part determination, and part anger.  It was like the world was trying to say I wasn't enough no matter how much I dedicated myself to my children like I didn't battle with that in my own mind oh all the time.   
God, I'm Mad...
Yeah I get angry.  He was sick and then he died and it was rough.  I lost my husband.  Four people lost a father.  A son was lost, a brother, an uncle, a mentor, a friend, a community leader, you get it.   I would like to be able to say that over the time since Thomas died, that I always keep it in the front of my mind God's grace that keeps us and His love that carries us and His faithfulness that strengthens us.  In truth I confess I ask His forgiveness because I don't.  I'd love to be able to say that I have never wallowed in grief or let the pain and fear take over at all because of the knowledge of God's hand on our lives. 
I can't do that.  I would love to say that I kept my eyes on Jesus every moment and because of that He kept us.  But I know there were many days He did that despite me because I was all in my feelings.  The heartbreak, feeling abandoned, cheated and deserted, the anger, the fatigue, it's all real.  I take time for breaks.  We like to have fun.  It releases stress.
God, Thank You for Not Leaving Me...
The thing about life out of the boat is I've felt His love for me in ways I never imagined.  His patience I can't even describe it.  I've seen that even when I take my eyes off the prize, Jesus never does.  If I turn my head because some life change brings that heartbreak, fear or anger to the surface, eventually I close my eyes and lean back looking for that feeling that He's still there.  When Peter lost focus and began to sink, Jesus extended His hand to save him (Matt 14:22-33).  
Yes, I feel the challenge of solo parenting.  School volunteer hours requirement anyone?  But Jesus has handled every emotion, every bout with depression, and every fit of anger.  He's seen me through battles with fatigue and irritation and the times I acted on shattered faith.  Had He not I would have drowned.    Grief tried to blind me to what is in front of me; but, His love continues to conquer it.  His strength is made perfect in my weakness (Col 2:10).  And my babies.  They're worth it all.



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