arlier this year, my husband had agreed to do a full-time assignment for seven weeks in addition to his permanent full-time job. During that time, I was so overwhelmed by my three children that I was sure I was experiencing emotions I thought any single parent would. And I thought to myself not only then, but many times in the past: how does a single mother (or father) do it? How does one provide for their children, care for them and all of their needs (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually), and still manage to stay balanced? It was the last time I would secretly ponder these questions before I contacted Melanie who graciously introduced me to her previous life of single parenting.
A beautiful red-head and just eighteen years old, Melanie married the kind of man most teenagers her age dreamt of marrying – the kind that smitten girls would describe as the tall, dark, and handsome type. Gradually, the couple had three children and a successful business operated by Melanie in their million-dollar home. On the outside, they appeared to be the quintessential picture perfect family. But after enduring over nine years of pain, the verge of collapse abruptly came to a head. On an ordinary April afternoon, Melanie’s estranged husband took his belongings and left her behind with their three children, setting into motion a bitter process toward divorce.
Needless to say, Melanie was overcome by a myriad of fears and worries. Finding a new home and earning an income to pay the bills while raising and supporting her young children was downright overwhelming. But that was just the beginning. Melanie was afraid of the repercussions she felt her ex-husband was capable of or might inflict upon her person and her reputation. She dreaded humiliating her parents knowing how much her sister’s divorce almost a decade before had devastated them. She feared being despised by the church she had grown up in and belonged to for over twenty years. And she worried that she would be rejected by her friends and her children treated as outcasts.
At only twenty eight years old, Melanie officially had sole custody of the couples’ children (ages 7, 5, and 2), tarnished credit due to her ex-husband’s poor financial decisions, and a profitable business she was forced to gradually shut down. Melanie desperately searched for spiritual guidance to help navigate her young family through the uncertainties of their fragile situation.
Adjusting to her new role as a single mother was extremely difficult. Stress was at an all-time high in the beginning. Tardiness and speeding tickets became the norm for a time. Car collisions were miraculously avoided as she tended to her fighting children in the backseat. That first summer on her own, Melanie realized few outdoor activities were as appealing as they were low maintenance, so she planned park excursions with her kids and enjoyed picnics together. Sometimes, she took her children on walks or visited their grandparents. But for every good moment Melanie had, she had several moments where she was tired, sad, and lonely.
“Holidays used to be the worst because I knew that everybody was going to hang out somewhere and I was the oddball. When you are involved in a tight-knit community, you don’t really have a place. Suddenly, wives were holding on a little tighter to their husbands. When I saw this, it was hurtful, but I couldn’t react to it because I felt like these were the consequences of divorce. And there are consequences. But I went through them as best I could.”
As she might have expected, Melanie did lose some friendships, but she was determined to protect her children from the typical stereotypes placed on broken families. Melanie made a conscious decision to intentionally focus on her children and their well-being. Throughout the ordeal, she continued attending her home church but with some feedback from her children, kept an open mind and explored other area churches also. Her immediate family was her main source of moral support. Melanie’s eldest sister reminded her of an exemplary woman, wife, and mother – the woman described in Proverbs 31. “I posted the passage on my refrigerator and memorized it. I thought this was a very wise and business savvy woman. God was with this woman and if He was with her, then God would be with me too,” says Melanie.
In the years following the divorce, Melanie describes developing a sincere dependence upon and a close relationship with the Lord like she had never experienced before:
“I didn’t know God the way I knew Him when I went through my divorce. I fell in such a deep love with this Jesus and I wanted Him in every aspect of my life. He brought the right books for me to read, the right music to encourage me. I was so hungry that I would download podcasts of sermons and listen to them after I put Timothy [Melanie’s youngest child] down for a nap. I would drink my coffee while I listened to the Word and absorbed everything like a sponge.
He met me in my brokenness and revealed Himself in a TOTALLY different way and it was like an adventure… I always prayed, ‘God, if I don’t have a provider, You be my Provider. If I don’t have a husband, You provide for me the way a husband would provide.’ I didn’t get any handouts. Not even from my family. It truly was God providing for me in a supernatural way.”
She had just six short months to make some critical decisions before her ex-husband permitted their home to go into foreclosure. Finally, just before the house was taken away by the bank, Melanie found a residential home for lease. It was the only option she had at the time and was convinced she was destined to move her family there. The family packed their possessions and moved into the rental where she was permitted to launch an elderly care home for the second time. Her vacancies quickly filled and her business grew – a feat she credits to her heavenly Provider.
“Hauling and loading groceries for the business and the kids in the pouring rain, alone, was very overwhelming sometimes. There would be times when I would just sit in the car and rest my head on the steering wheel and I’d pray, ‘God, I don’t have anymore strength. Please, help me!’” On numerous occasions, Melanie locked herself in the bathroom and wept in desperation believing that life with three small children was not meant to be lived alone.
“When your spouse dies, it’s so horrible. But it’s a clean cut and you have everybody coming around you, consoling you and praying for you and having compassion on your children. When you go through a divorce, it’s like a jagged tear and everybody walks away because they don’t want to be associated with you and you’re left alone with the pieces.”
Sadly, one of the most heartbreaking pieces was Melanie watching the aftermath of her ex-husband’s complete withdrawal from his children impact them negatively. Rejection led to severe anxiety issues that influenced their behavior at school and at home. When Melanie occasionally scheduled a break for herself, her children would call her from their grandparents’ home begging her to take them with her. In her words, Melanie was “their everything.”
Not only was she terribly needed by her children, but she was the primary caregiver of five elderly clients. Melanie’s business was running steady, but a year later, the owners asked her to consider purchasing the home or relocate. Because the home was priced beyond her budget, she found herself standing at the crossroads again. Instead, she sold the business to the owners and once more, the Lord was her guide. He led her to a home that was not her preferred choice, a fixer-upper, but it didn’t require a down payment. Only at the insistence of her parents, Melanie warily agreed to proceed with the deal. More and more, Melanie realized how gracious the Lord was with her, not because of what she did, but because of Who He is. She started her business a third time, her expertise and savvy skills more refined than years past, and her earnings surpassed those of the days when she lived in her grand manor with her ex-husband. The increased revenue enabled her to refurbish the home while providing the best care for her family and her elderly residents.
By this time, Melanie had a revelation that changed her mind about the God she thought she knew.
“He wasn’t this God just waiting to get down on me every time I messed up. He was comforting me when there was nobody else. Alone, at night when I was bawling my eyes out – not because I missed my ex-husband – but because people had their own families and I had to respect that. And then the next day, I had to hold it together for my kids and for everybody else and act like I’m strong when inside I was thinking, what am I doing? But He supernaturally came through for me emotionally and financially.”
At times, comfort for Melanie came in the form of passages from Scripture (Isaiah 54:4-17, specifically) or from pages in books written by inspirational authors like C.S. Lewis. Other times, lyrics from a worship song struck a chord in her heart. But perhaps the most influential instruments the Lord used to encourage Melanie were people.
Melanie met ladies at her children’s school that held regular prayer meetings and spoke words of truth into her life. She hired a humble and courteous couple to help her with her business, but quickly became like guardian angels over her curious children. A thoughtful friend drew close to her during her hardship and occasionally invited her to lunch or offered to take the young family boating. Still, others stepped in with random acts of kindness and provided charitable gifts, like bicycles. Outnumbered by her children and limited by her business at home, trusted friends helped Melanie by taking the kids on spontaneous trips to the Lego store and other little outings that her children looked forward to visiting. “God pulled away some people and brought near some people. As I went through those four years, He brought in individuals at just the right season – the perfect counsel and the perfect help. They are the kind you just can’t find on your own; they were the hands and feet of Jesus. I can’t overstate how much God used them to touch my life.” Then finally, one individual in particular entered Melanie’s mending world, forever changing the seasons and dynamics of her maturing little family.
[…to be continued…]