Chapter Onestarting at zero
"I was wondering if you buy diamonds?" I whispered
to the clerk, hanging my head in embarrassment and self-imposed
"Just a minute and I'll get the owner," she offered.
While I stood there waiting, with just about my only worldly
possession in my coat pocket, I watched a man choose a diamond
three times the size of the one I wanted to sell. He had
been meticulous with his research and obviously knew all the
important features of an investment diamond. With the help of
a clerk, he examined the one he had chosen closely and twice
took it outside into the light to consider all of its properties. He
talked some about clarity and color and flaws, but mostly he
talked about how much he loved the woman he was buying it
for. I stood in the corner and pondered the irony. This was his
beginning and, on the very same day, my ending. He was full
of enthusiasm and starry-eyed plans for a proposal. I was as
empty as I had ever been, trying to feel as little as possible just
so I could stand there and breathe in, breathe out.
So I watched him for a long time as I prayed for the
courage to show my little diamond to whoever appeared, and
then to have the nerve to ask him to buy it.
Eventually a small, busy man came through the back door.
He seemed genuinely immersed in the details of jewelry being
shown and overseeing the transactions of the clerks as he
walked toward me. Our eyes met, and I knew that he knew.
His countenance softened, and I could feel the instant tears
trickle down my face when he asked how he could help.
Somehow I choked out that I wanted to sell my diamond.
And that gracious man began to treat me like I had just offered
him a bargain on the Taj Mahal. No shame. No judgment. Just
one used diamond being sold in a business transaction. He
pretended not to notice my tears. I'm so grateful he treated me
In about thirty minutes he handed me a check for fourteen
hundred dollars, shaking my hand and telling me ever so sincerely
that he was sorry. I drove straight to the bank, cashed
the check, and then walked two doors down to a furniture
store. There I spent every dime of that money on beds for the
children. Somehow it seemed OK to sell my engagement ring
if the money was spent solely for them.
That day I started at zero. And I think that day was the
beginning of our surviving.
My life as a single mom did not begin with surviving. So
I'll go back and tell you what happened at the beginning, or
maybe it was the ending that actually became the beginning.
Either way, I didn't do whatever it was very well.
becoming a single mom
The day my marriage was finally all over, I walked from room
to room, nauseated, physically shaking, wiping tears, and
packing three laundry baskets with whatever children's clothes
I could find. I strapped two kids into their car seats, picked up
the other two at school, and drove an hour to my parents'
house. Mama made dinner, and my kids thought it was just a
fun sleepover-except we slept over for three months. I realize
it's exactly the opposite of how things usually go, but I
never went back to live in the house with my things. The kids
went every other weekend.
From that day until now I have been a single mom. I've
done a hundred things wrong and finally gotten a few things
right, but whichever way, I am absolutely sure this has to be
the hardest job anyone could ever have. There should be a
special medal for single moms. We should all get medals made
of gold, with bouquets of flowers, for living this life and doing
it with poise. Someone should stand and cheer every time we
get the kids to school on time, fed and with clothes on. Or put
stars on our single-mom charts for making it to the soccer
games and school plays and for staying up late to talk to the
kid who finally opened up. There should be a finish line to
run through at the end of every day's marathon, corks popping
from the celebratory champagne, a marching band playing
"There she is, Ms. Amazing Mom." And there should be someone
to hold us tight because we've given all we had to give.
No one ever prepares to raise children alone. I had never
even considered it an option, but there I was, fresh out of
divorce court with a parenting plan and four heartbroken kids
who had me for a mom.
Honestly, I'm not really sure how I made it through my
first year of being a single mom. I look back now and know
that a survival instinct kicked in eventually. Unfortunately,
the will to keep going took a while to materialize. For the first
few months, there were no living instincts inside of me at all.
Just the desire to evaporate.
I know it was October. I'm sure it was a beautiful autumn
in the mountains where I was staying. But all I can remember
are the colors of my bedroom in the basement of my parents'
house. Mostly taupe: taupe walls, taupe carpet. A peach bedspread,
a peach headboard. A green lamp. A floral chair. Quite
pretty, if you can see pretty. But I couldn't see pretty back then.
Just blurry, colored shapes, with darkness closing in. I spent
the days moving around in my room, but mostly I just lay on
the bed and cried for all those months.
I look back now and realize that even that was a gift. Not
everyone can take three months just to fall apart. I screamed for
my children and the label they would now wear because of me:You know their parents are divorced. I pounded my pillow and
yelled at the future they'd just been handed. Packing an
overnight bag every other weekend. Divided affection. Deciding
which parent to sit with at the school play. Dumb things like
leaving a baseball jersey at one house when it's needed at the
other. Opening presents on Christmas Day with one parent,
and then leaving for a week at 3 p.m. What in the world has happened?
My hair was falling out. My eyes twitched. I lost about thirty
pounds on the divorce diet. I was severely depressed, with all the
classic symptoms. My parents were devastated and worried sick
about their daughter, so they sent me to their family doctor. His
nurse took my medical history and then used a stethoscope to
listen to my broken heart. I left with a prescription to ease the
depression, but I never went to the pharmacy for the medicine.
For some weird reason, I wanted to learn from the pain.
In the time we lived with my parents, I was a mess. I would
get up in the mornings, drive the children fifty minutes to
school, drive back to my parents' house, go downstairs to my
bedroom, and lie on the bed until it was time to pick them up
again. God bless my mom and dad. They truly carried me
through every single day. Mama cooked dinner and helped
keep the clothes clean. They both listened to me talk about the
same things night after night and left me alone when I couldn't
say any more. I think my divorce is one of the most tragic
things our family has ever been through, and I hated doing
that to them. I still hate the tidal waves of pain it has caused
so many people in my life.
As the months went by, I knew I had to do something about
where to live, but I didn't have the energy to pursue it. And
besides, I had nothing. Really and truly nothing. No furniture.
No dishes. No towels. Nothing you would need to make a
home. Still, a thirty-nine-year-old woman can live with her
kids at her parents' house for only so long. I began to pray.
My girlfriend Lisa, as usual, began to do something. A
friend of a friend, who was also a single mom, had pieced
together secondhand furnishings after her divorce. Now she
was getting remarried to a man who had a beautiful home, so
she didn't need most of the things she had acquired. She
wanted to leave them in the house she had been renting. Enter
my friend Lisa, the woman who gets things done. She decided
it would be the perfect place for me-her pitiful girlfriend,
who had four kids and no place to live-and called to tell me
so. "I don't know ." I said. "Maybe I'm not ready to do this."
In case no one had noticed, I had no possessions, no job, and
a big, fat mess of a life. I had no idea how I would pay the rent
on a house. Lisa listened for a minute and then told me to
meet her at the house at three thirty.
"Can we do it tomorrow?" I asked. She insisted that we do
it that day. When you can't even put coherent sentences together,
a bossy friend is a blessing.
Lisa was waiting when I drove up that afternoon with my
carload of kids. There was a basketball goal at the end of the
driveway, and my boys high-fived each other. All the kids ran
around back and found two tire swings hanging from a 150-year-old
tree. I walked through the garage into the tiniest
kitchen I have ever seen and knew immediately that the five of
us were supposed to live there. But how? I still didn't know
what the rent was going to be and couldn't imagine being able
to afford whatever it was.
I had figured out about how much money I thought I
could make piecing together a couple of different jobs I hoped
would come through. Turns out that the owner of the house
has one of the biggest hearts known to mankind, and renting
the house was going to cost about the same as an apartment.
So we set a move-in date, and I began to pray for enough work
to take care of us and pay the bills.
Talk about walking by faith. I was physically healthy, and I
promised God that I would do anything I had to do to provide
for us. But when we moved into that house, I was completely
in the dark about what that would be. The only plan I had was
to work hard and live with integrity. There seemed to be only
enough light for that one decision. From there the way wasn't
clear. It was one baby step at a time.
The first baby step I took was the day I sold my diamond.
The day I sold the only thing I had, to take care of the kids,
was also the day I knew we were going to make it. There is
something about walking through embarrassment and even
the pangs of perceived judgment that makes you stronger. You
begin to realize that courage doesn't kick in until you stand
face-to-face with what you most feared. I began to know the
strength of a faith I had only talked about but had never been
forced to live.
When the kids' beds were delivered to the rental house, I
remember thinking, We have a roof, and we have beds. It's going
to be OK. But sheets. I had forgotten sheets. Then I opened the
linen closet in the upstairs hallway. Sheets, towels, blankets, everything a mom could need to keep her kids warm. In the
kitchen were dishes, utensils, and pots and pans. In the utility
room sat an iron and ironing board. In the garage was a lawn
mower. I had no idea the woman who moved out would leave
so much. That day I began to call my house The Blessing. People
would come over, and I'd ask, "Would you like me to show you
around The Blessing?"
Becoming a single mom was the hardest thing that ever happened
to me. The circumstances surrounding the decision were
beyond devastating. The emotional toll it took on all of us was
awful. I tell everyone who asks me for advice, "If there is any
possible way on the planet to stay married, then stay married."
I can't stand the thought of anyone going through that kind of
pain. Divorce hurts everybody-I mean everybody-and I
never wanted to hurt anyone, especially not the beautiful children
"it will never happen to me"
Becoming a single mother, well, it was never-and I meannever-going to happen to a girl like me, at least not through
divorce. I am the daughter of Joe and Novie. They have been
married, at this writing, for forty-five years. They are crazy in
love, and, truly, I have never, ever heard them argue or seen
them fight. We lived in the "happy house," which has its own
weird set of dysfunctions that I'll save for another book, butdivorce was a completely foreign word to our family. Most of
my aunts, uncles, and cousins are still married to the ones they
began with. And growing up, I didn't even know any divorced
people or live on their street or go to church with them. So I
grew up thinking I'd get married, live, and die with the man I
chose. No options allowed, especially for nice Southern girls
who love God.
After college, I did my graduate work at Dallas Theological
Seminary, where I mostly studied Bible and theology. I absolutely
loved my years there. I loved the professors, the commitment
among the student body and faculty to live with integrity and
passion, and the melting pot of culture and ministries from
around the world. Sometimes I tell people that I have a master's
degree in "not getting divorced." I know what I was
taught, not only in seminary but by my parents and all the
people who have been a part of shaping my spiritual training
through the years. Not only did they teach me well, but I also
made a deep personal commitment to adhere to the promises
I had made to marriage. So you see, though more than half the
population will find themselves in a marriage that ends in
divorce, it wasn't ever going to happen to me. I was prepared.
I knew better. I could withstand anything with all my big-shot
resolve. I was committed.
Then I was divorced.
I couldn't have predicted how the perfect life I had planned
would explode, and I wouldn't have believed it if God Himself
had sent me a letter telling me so.
Almost every divorced woman I've met says the same thing:
this was not going to happen to her. Not many of us meant to
end up as single moms. It wasn't the dream we had as little
girls or teenagers or college grads with five-year plans. But
divorce happens, and when it does, it leaves you crying in the
dark and screaming out to God, "How could this happen to me?"
Even grown women from single-parent homes often thought
their determination and better choosing would keep their
marriages from the same tragic ending. These women had
lived through it as kids, and they weren't ever going to let that
happen to their own children. But we all know now that there
is the life you dream of, and then there is the one you actually
live. Divorce makes my stomach hurt.
I realize that many of you became single moms for entirely
different reasons. Two of my friends recently lost their husbands
to tragic deaths. In an instant these women became the
only remaining parent in each of their homes. Another friend's
husband just succumbed to illness. My heart grieves with you
if you have suddenly found yourself widowed. I won't even
pretend to know how you feel or to understand the emotions
you face. But I can still stand with you. As dark as it may be
for you, this truth remains: there are children to be raised and
a life, your life, still to be lived.
A couple of my never-married girlfriends have unselfishly
adopted some of the most beautiful children on the planet.
They knew what they were doing. They weighed the responsibilities
with careful planning and prayer and then intentionally
chose with their hearts. Though the risks would be great
and the commitment was for a lifetime, my friends say they
would make the same decision a million times over. Their kids
are amazing, miraculously rescued from orphanages on the
other side of the world. Yet none of my friends ever dreamed
they would grow up and parent alone. But these moms also
tell me that after you've done it alone, you understand why the
best option is a mom and dad who love each other and raise
the child as a team. It's painfully evident, even when a child is
rescued, that his or her heart was made for both parents. One
great parent is a gift from the hand of God. Two is the same
gift multiplied. We all want that for our kids.
out of options, almost
No matter how we arrived in the Land of Single Mom, we're
shocked at where we've wound up. The way I see it, it's not
how it should be or how we ever wished to be, but, dang it all,
this is how it is. We are single moms, and right from the start we
WE CAN FALL DOWN, STAY THERE, AND JUST GIVE UP.
Depending on how you became a single mom, an emotional
falling down may be exactly how you responded to the circumstances
that brought you here. To me that is exactly the
right response, considering some of the stories I have been
told. Who could even breathe after getting a text message saying
your husband doesn't love you anymore? How could anyone
even begin to process seeing a state trooper at the front
door, hat in hand, bringing details of your worst nightmare