Divorce, Unemployment & Single Motherhood: The Concrete Path That Led to Restoration & Redemption
“I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten…”
“You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”
The Beginning of The End…
Behind my apartment complex is an asphalt roundabout where residents from the surrounding communities walk, bike, or jog. To get there from my unit you’d have to walk through the interior of the complex, back around the perimeter of it, and then down a 300-yard concrete path. It is an underratedly long walk. Unless you want to risk breaking some bones by scaling the fence in the back of the property, a shortcut doesn’t exist.
This concrete path makes the walk to the roundabout seem long and arduous because from its starting point, you can’t necessarily see where it ends. Most days you might see new mothers briskly walking or jogging on it while pushing their strollers, or you might see novice runners struggling to sustain a jog-pace for the entire length of it. Anyone I had ever found on it always looks as though they’re doing something laboring, and challenging. Little did I know….
One late afternoon, Sophia asked me if we could walk to the Roundabout. It was a cold and gloomy day---the kind of day that made me more depressed than I already was, and frankly, the thought of having to walk through The Concrete Path just to get to The Roundabout seemed too overwhelming. Depression had sucked the life out of me since Sophia’s dad and I started divorce proceedings, so I spent most nights in a fetal position in the corner of my bedroom hoping death would come in my sleep so that I didn’t have to face the reality that my family was falling apart. I found myself living in an unfamiliar apartment in a different part of town, and while I had enjoyed caring for Sophia as a full-time homemaker while I was married, I now found myself in the position of desperately needing to find work. So, with the weight of these responsibilities on me, the LAST thing I wanted to do was to go on a stupid walk. I learned this about depression: The thought of dying ironically brings depression-sufferers more comfort because there’s “an end.” To the sufferer, death is a better alternative to continuous mental and emotional pain while still alive. C.S. Lewis said it best when he said,
“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say ‘My tooth is aching’ than it is to say ‘My heart is broken.’”
The look in Sophia’s eyes---eyes that look so identical to mine---motivated me to stay in the fight just to stay functional. So I told Sophia to put her shoes on. She was ecstatic. I was not. We stepped out our front door. The crisp wind hit my face immediately and I recoiled from the sharpness of it. It was an acute, miserable reminder that I was still alive. It felt like torture trying to take that first step. But the beautiful thing about first steps is that it builds the momentum for the second, and the third, and the fourth and the fifth….
As Sophia and I walked in silence, I was preoccupied with a range of thoughts in my head:
How quickly can I find a job?
My dream of educating my daughter at home just flew out the window.
I am angry at God. How could he have allowed this to happen?
Will people judge me when they find out I sing on stage at church?
I am a Pastor’s daughter---how much shame will I bring on my family?
I am a failure.
I am unwanted.
I am not good enough.
I am ugly.
I am fat.
On and on it went. My identity, my self-worth, my self-image, and the thoughts about my future were hanging by a thread. My self-torture was just as debilitating as my depression. I wanted to crumble, but I had to keep moving. Sophia held my hand and stayed right beside me, not running off ahead nor lagging behind. Sometimes, she would kneel down to inspect rollie pollies, oohing and ahhing along the way because “they’re just so cute, Mommy” ---her sweet, small voice reminding me that if I didn’t live for myself, I’d have to live for her. Then, after what seemed like just a few minutes, Sophia stops, looks back and exclaims in excitement: “Mom! Look how far we’ve come!”
I look back and as I’m standing there in my pajamas that hadn’t seen a washing machine in about 10 days, with my hair tangled in a sort of bizarre rat’s nest on my head, crusty eyes from the night before, teeth unbrushed for days, and an unwashed face, I realized, “WOW. We HAVE come so far.” We had reached where the formidable Concrete Path had ended and where the Asphalt Roundabout began. I genuinely wondered how we got there “so quickly.” What felt like just a few minutes, in reality had been close to 30!
I instantly felt a new energy welling up inside of me and shortly found myself walking a little faster. We practically skipped back home. I took a shower for the first time in over a week, I put on my favorite pair of jeans, my favorite T-Shirt, and some lip-gloss. I ate solid food for the first time in days, and wrote in my journal for the first time in months. I wrote and wrote and wrote----there was too much to write as the weight of all the words that needed to be written weighed heavy. As I sat writing on my kitchen table, Sophia slipped herself beside me, snuggled up, and breathed deeply into my hair. She said, “Mom, you look like you again.”
My daughter taught me something important that day: that no matter what life throws at you, no matter how you’re feeling about your situation (scared, angry, mad, sad, despondent, rejected, like you had been thrown away or “put out”, “less than”, ugly, shameful, you name it), identify your “why” to survive, and TAKE A WALK. Identify your “why” to be in a better position than you are now, and keep walking. Take ownership of what you contributed to your situation, right as many wrongs as you can, and keep walking. You’re allowed to sulk, but not for long. Walk confidently, even though it looks like you’re on a path that doesn’t end. Put one foot in front of the other because no matter how slow you think you’re moving, you will always be farther along than if you don’t take a step. Find someone to walk with you-----even if all they do is “ooh” and “ahh” at rollie pollie’s along the way. If there is one thing I’ve learned about life, it is this: Life doesn’t exempt you from your own Concrete Path. You WILL walk down one at one point or another and sometimes it will be because someone else’s choices put you there. So, look at it in the face, challenge it to do its worst, and walk. There are no shortcuts, so don’t bother looking for one. Short cuts make long delays.
I look back at that time from the place I’m at now and I see a steady rebuilding of what I had lost and the continual evolving of this changed heart. My Concrete Path taught me how to forgive those who didn’t think they did anything wrong, and it taught me how to accept apologies I don’t expect to ever receive. I decided to make new friends and created my own network of people. I continued personal counseling towards healing correctly, and I leaned into my family, my church, and my music. I rediscovered my passions of singing, writing, and reading, and dove in to them again.
I found a job not too long after that walk down the Concrete Path. I submitted my resume to a company in the Commercial Real Estate industry, an industry I found myself in when I started college. Within 3 days of my submission, I landed an interview. A week after that, I was in their office signing an offer letter. My spine straightened with resolve as I realized at that very moment that I had become the sole medical benefits provider for myself and my daughter by landing that job. It was the confidence booster I needed to get my self-assurance and self-image patched up again after it took a hard hit. As my divorce finalized, I focused on Sophia and my new job, and I engrossed myself in the network of friends I acquired when I joined a co-ed beach flag football league that a friend introduced me to.
With these new changes in my personal life, I became even MORE selective in whom I introduced to Sophia and in whom I allowed in our home. As a parent, my job is to navigate this world for her until she is equipped to do so on her own. So, I made a rule that I would not introduce Sophia to anyone I was dating unless I knew I was going to marry him. This meant that the kind of man I would introduce her to would be a man so markedly different from the rest of the world, and remarkably different from what she had already seen and experienced----someone who displayed the kindness, intelligence, strength, and faith that didn’t waver with the ever-changing culture or how he happened to be feeling that day; someone who stood their ground, not out of pride, but out of sheer principle and righteousness. Did such a man even exist? In my experience, things looked bleak: up to this point, I had been wading through the little boys amongst the even littler boys who all claimed they were men.
Then, a miracle happened: I met Ross.
How We Met
In October of 2007, Ross moved to Southern California from southern Minnesota solely on "a pull" he "couldn't shake."
Fast forward 9 years to late- February 2016 - Ross sees this photo of me with his friends on a Facebook post I posted and tagged all of his friends in.
On March 9, 2016, by way of Facebook, Ross ends up clicking on the link in my profile that leads him to this very blog. While scarfing down a breakfast-sandwich at Chick-Fil-A, he goes on to read every word of every personal essay I wrote about my childhood, my family, and my faith. After reading, Ross would send the below text to his friends in a group message they dub, “Bro Chat.”
Ten days later, on March 19, 2016, without any effort of his own or mine, I meet Ross for the first time when I walked right through the front door of his home to attend a birthday party that his roommate invited me to.
We hit it off immediately. Aside from the fact that Ross is handsome, has a killer smile, and towers over me at 6-foot-4, something in my gut told me that there was something different about him, something completely unrelated to his physical appearance…but at the time, I couldn’t seem to put my finger on it. As the night wore on, Ross and I would find out that our lives shared many parallels---like the time I was supposed to go to Northwestern University in St. Paul, MN on a music scholarship after high school, and it happened to be an hour away from where he went to college. Surely we would have met at 18 years old instead of 33??!!; or the time he was 22 years old and wrote out a very specific list, at the advice of a few successful business men he knew, of physical and non-physical traits he wanted in a wife---and realizing after he met me that I fulfilled them all; or the time we found out we had always lived as little as a block away from each other; or the time we found out that we went to the same community park and neighborhood swimming pool everyday during the same exact summers without ever running into each other. We spoke of our similar upbringings in the church and sang old hymns we knew from childhood. In fact, on the night we met, we found ourselves sitting on a bench outside singing old hymns together. Ross spoke about a fondness he had for the name “Sophia Grace”---a name a close friend of his chose to give his daughter two years prior. He explained his sweet attachment to that name. I would tell him the day after we met that I had named my daughter Sophia Grace, too!
But amidst all these parallels and coincidences, the “thing” that really confirmed for us that God was at work was when we found out that our mothers, in two different parts of the world, gave birth to us on the same day, of the same month, in the same year.
Everyone in attendance at that party that night all thought the same thing about Ross and I: that we had looked like we had known each other for years when really, we had only met several hours prior. I guess when you’ve been wandering in your own self-inflicted wilderness for so long, people around you notice when you’ve finally reached home. That’s what Ross felt like the night I met him: HOME. And when you’re home, why would you ever want to leave?
It wasn’t until two days after this night that Ross and I went out on a proper date where he disclosed to me everything: about reading the blog, the text he sent his friends, the list, etc--- a “story” that clearly started before we knew it started; a story that came to fruition despite our poor choices along the way. Short cuts make long delays.
I can’t explain it to you, but I was not afraid of moving forward in a relationship with Ross. From the time we met, we haven’t been apart, and it didn’t take very long for us to decide to be exclusive. In the context of what I had just gone through, it would have been absolutely natural for me to be afraid of opening up my heart----the heart that I worked so hard to carefully sew back up together---- and loving again. The thing I’ve learned through my ordeal is that Real Love isn’t corrupt----it is people who corrupt it. Perfect love casts out all fear---and with Ross, I was fearless. My time in my “wilderness” was where I learned how to judge a man’s masculinity. It is NOT by his self-sufficiency, and CERTAINLY NOT by how much he can bench press, either. Rather, I learned how to judge true masculinity by how well a man can keep his word. Can a man keep his word even if he’s unhappy? I had learned a lot of things about myself during my separation, but perhaps the most shocking thing I learned is that I was willing to sacrifice my personal happiness in order to stand by a commitment I made. So, I had to ask God for a man who would be willing to do the same. Why? Because relationships don’t have happy moments all the time. And the person you’re with can’t make you happy all the time, either. How difficult would it be to be with someone whose loyalty depended on whether or not I made him happy that day, or that month? The fact is that no one can make anyone happy all the time---arguments happen, words that shouldn’t be said are said, etc. Loyalty shouldn’t be based on feelings because feelings are fickle. Depending on any human being for your personal happiness is a road fraught with disappointment. Not only did I work on reorienting my heart to develop an inward joy that wasn’t dependent on my environment or with whom I was with, but I prayed for a man who could do the same. I also prayed for a kind, loyal, gentle, honest, trustworthy man who can keep his word---someone who would be a shade of protection for both Sophia and I to rest under---a man who says what he means, and means what he says.
Ross meant what he said when he texted his friends that he “met” his wife after reading my blog on March 9, 2016---because on March 9, 2017, he asked me to marry him.
One Year to The Day….
It was just like any other Thursday evening. I left work at 5:00 PM, picked up Sophia from her father, and headed home. Sophia did her homework and reading assignments in the car, and just like any other Thursday before, she and I planned on Ross coming over around 6:00 PM for dinner. After dinner, we’d watch an episode or two of Friends on DVD, and then we would tuck Sophia in to bed. Bedtime ritual includes 1) spelling random words because Sophia always has spelling tests the next day, then 2) we would each say what we were thankful for that day, and finally 3) Ross would lead us into prayers. Thursday nights are also when Sophia gets to sleep in my bed with me, so on this night at bedtime, we all went into my bedroom and shut off all the lights to do our “ritual.”
First, came the spelling. Ross always tries to stump me with “difficult” words to spell, but he’s never successful. I think I read too many books. At one point, Ross asks Sophia to spell “MARRIAGE.” We had to help her along the way. I didn’t catch the hint. Next, we took turns saying what we were thankful for: Sophia went first and said she was thankful for Ross, the Pick Up Stix dinner he brought over, for school, and for me. Then, I said I was thankful for Ross, Sophia, and my new job.
When it was his turn, Ross turned to Sophia and said, “Sophia, do you know what I’m thankful for? I’m thankful for today. Today is a very special day because one year ago today, I told my friends I was going to marry your mommy.” Ross choked up a bit and it made me cry, too, but again, I didn’t catch the hint that he was proposing!! “And so,” he continued, “today, I thought it would be appropriate that I ask your mommy to marry me.” Ross grabs the box from the nightstand, opens it, and the LED light in the box is shining so beautifully on to this radiant-cut diamond nestled in a cushion halo in my pitch-black bedroom, and all I can hear Sophia saying is, “OH MY GOSH IT LOOKS LIKE A DISCO BALL!!!!!”
It was all a blur, but I do know that Ross asked Sophia if she would accept him as her Stepfather. Sophia responded by giddily jumping on the bed with more excitement I had ever seen from her before. Ross is saying his speech, but I can’t hear it over Sophia jumping on the bed and chattering away with enthusiasm. All I know is that I didn’t care what he said because I knew my answer would be “YES.” I always knew my answer would be yes. We held on to each other for a few minutes, with Sophia excitedly giddy in between us, thanking God for that moment, and asking Him to bless us as we start our new life together.
Within days of our engagement, I was pleasantly surprised to be contacted by one of the best photographers I have ever had the privilege of meeting and working with. Mike Villa, owner of Villa Visuals, offered to capture our engagement session in the middle of the wildflowers in Lake Elsinore as they were in full bloom from all the unusual rains Southern California received during this winter and spring. It’s been said that these blooms could be seen from space. It has also been said that the blooms only happen once every 10 years!
What a remarkable parallel to mine and Ross’ lives: 10 years of wandering in our own personal wilderness and individual storms, then suddenly, a burst of spring. What a “coincidence” that Ross and I got engaged in the same year these flowers went to bloom. It was an absolute privilege to be asked to capture our engagement in the midst of them.
Mike - thank you for portraying a visual representation of a very spiritual reality.
Having legally kept my ex-husband’s last name post-divorce for Sophia’s sake, never at all made me feel weird. It’s a personal decision I made so that the transition for Sophia, during a time where everything around her was changing, would be that much easier. She fully understands why I have to change my last name to Ross’ soon, and sometimes she even dabbles with the idea of using Ross’ last name as her own in some form. I found the following doodle of hers as I was putting things away in the living room:
For one, I think it’s adorable. But most importantly, it shows me that Sophia considers Ross a part of her own identity. When you show loyalty, faith, gentleness, humility, patience, peace, kindness, and self control to a child and her mother, that child will love you. It is Law. And Sophia loves Ross.
A Restored New Beginning…
Sophia and I took a walk down that concrete path and walked about 4 miles around the roundabout this evening. I have to fit in my wedding dress, you know. This time, the walk was starkly different: Sophia isn’t pre-school age anymore; she’s turning 8 in less than 2 months, as of this writing! Instead of “oohing” and “ahhing” at rollie pollies, she is swerving her Razor around those tiny toads to avoid running any of them over. We had a conversation about a personal life lesson we learned earlier today; she opened up to me about normal issues with friends, and the boy she likes in her class. I marvel at how much she is growing up. I marvel about how much I am growing up, too.
Then she asks me, like she does every day she’s with me, “What time is Rossi coming over?” She loves him, and looks forward to seeing him. She can’t wait, she said, until he and I get married so that he doesn’t have to go to his own house at night after he tucks her in. Sometimes we walked in silence, and as we did, I reminisced about that very first walk here that we took. It seems like only yesterday, but at the same time, feels like ages ago. Funny how time flies. The days are long, but the years are short, aren’t they?
As I plan my wedding, the song that comes into my head very often is the hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.” In fact, I’m humming it right now. I’ve been humming it a lot lately and I can’t help but take those lyrics to heart:
Great Is Thy Faithfulness, O God, My Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not
And Thou hast been and forever will be
Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Great Is Thy Faithfulness
Morning by Morning New Mercies I See
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Lord unto me
I am swimming in God’s Mercy and I am drowning in His grace. If you’re walking down, through, or past your proverbial Concrete Path, His ocean of Mercy and Grace is readily available to you, too. And guess what? He wants you to dive right in.
I dare you.
To be continued….
(Stay tuned for Installment 2, a follow-up post of our wedding day!)