22 April 2019

From the Ashes


It has been nearly three years since I left my marriage. It was the most difficult decision I have ever made, and one with the highest cost I’ve ever had to pay. It was ‘Hobson’s Choice’ you might say – the choice you have when there is really no other choice. When my marriage ended it wasn’t from lack of trying – we’d been in counselling since 2012, after all. But when all avenues have been tried and the pain being caused to all parties is greater than the benefit of staying, well, at some point you have to call ‘time’.
No-one walks away from a marriage lightly. No-one launches a grenade into their family on a whim; but still, I had no idea at the time just exactly what the price would be for that decision, though all things considered it was still the only decision that could have been made.

With the decision to walk away came Death of the Dream.



Everything I had hoped for my family, the dream I had for my kids’ childhood, the ideals I had tried to live by, all the ways I believed a good Christian family should be – Dead.

It was like a fire ripped through my life and left me surrounded by smouldering ashes and I’ve been trying to salvage what I can ever since.
It was like our family had been smashed into pieces and I’ve been trying to pick those pieces up and form them back into some semblance of a whole, but they are jagged and splintered and all I have in my hands are the shattered bits of what once was.

A counsellor told me that the grief which accompanies divorce is called “disenfranchised grief” – the kind that is hidden and unnoticed by most people - not the kind where people turn up with flowers.

At times the grief has been completely debilitating. There are some days I stand in the ashes of my family and feel completely overwhelmed, helpless and hopeless because sole parenting is hard. Parenting teenagers is hard. (Sole parenting three kids with ADHD who are mostly teenagers – well, you can imagine.)


Some days I count my losses. Too many friendships I thought would stick but didn’t; the loss of my church community of 27 years (it became so awkward and painful I had to leave); the grief over the loss of these things was devastating. When you go through the fire it burns up everything that can be consumed, but when you come out the other side what you are left with is Gold. I may not have many friendships left, but the ones that stuck with me through the fire are priceless.

Lost in the fire was also the sense I once had of being on a Sure Path. I used to have a sense of Destiny, of there being a Greater Purpose and a Hand that was guiding me. But the inevitable questions shook my certainty – if I was following God’s Plan how did I end up here?
I don’t know if there is an answer to that question, so I have to put it to one side and come back to what I can know.

Maybe I’ve let too many “extras” be added on to my faith. Ideas about “what should be” that have no foundation in the actual Gospel but are add-on ideas from our culture. The Prosperity Doctrine (giving to get back as if God were a slot machine); ticking boxes and following Rules and you’ll be ‘blessed’; “Family Values” as the highest goal of Christianity – all add-ons. None of it actually what Jesus himself said.
Did I think that by following Jesus it would mean I’d have a trouble-free life? He never promised that.  He said, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart because I have overcome the world.”


So what can I count on? If my life has burnt down to its foundations, what are those foundations? What can I stand on? What can I rebuild on that is sure?
I know that in the middle of the fire He never left me. I know that I lacked courage and strength but He supplied me with enough to do what I needed to do. I know that I lacked resources but He provided for me and my children, He supplied all my needs – an amazing job in the most nurturing supportive environment; a home of my own with a manageable mortgage (no small miracle) and so much more.
I know that I was afraid, so very afraid, and somehow He got me through the darkest night of my life. I know that I am tired, exhausted, depleted, and overwhelmed most days but every day I somehow get through.


Some days what I need to do is stop counting my losses and count my blessings instead: I have a handful of precious friends who stuck with me through the fire; I still have my kids, I still have my faith. Though much has changed I have new blessings - new job, new home, the dog. There are still many blessings in my life and much to be thankful for.

My dream of a picture-perfect nuclear family may be dead but we can still rescue the broken bits that are left and rebuild them into something new. It might not be the Dream, but it’s something. Some things help glue us together...


Having a dog. Yep, getting that goofy dog was the best decision I made. The kids may squabble and disagree on most things but they agree 100% on how much they love Clyde. Clyde is Glue.


Being around family. One thing I realised at Christmas was that we feel more like a family when we are around our wider family. When we hang out with our cousins, it’s like, “oh there we are! We ARE still a family.”

  

Fire Nights. We have not been able to have fire nights in our new house and we have missed them sooooo much. I didn’t realise just how much sitting around the fire toasting marshmallows and playing games helped us feel like ‘us’. We are moving house again at the end of June* and one of the things the kids are most looking forward to is being able to have Fire Nights again.

Dinner together. One of the things I have struggled with is cooking dinners for my ungrateful unappreciative hoards. So I got into the habit of not trying, dishing up the same tired fare week after week; not bothering to lay the table, just letting everyone disappear off to their room with a plate. Bad idea. About a month ago in a fit of desperation and amid growing complaints from the inmates, I signed up for one of those food boxes and it has revolutionised our dinnertime. It takes the mental load off meal planning and I am maybe starting to enjoy cooking dinner just a smidge. And bonus – we are eating at the table together again and it is like Glue.


Some things that I thought would be Glue for us are still hard work – like holidays. I have not yet managed to pull off a successful holiday together. It’s just no fun and tent camping is way too much work for One Mum on Her Own. In an attempt to build some new holiday memories I tried booking a cabin at our favourite former camping spot but was disappointed at how we struggled to enjoy it.

Feeling frustrated sitting out on the deck with a cuppa I observed the family in the cabin next door – a single mum in her fifties, with three grown up kids who actually seemed to be enjoying each other’s company! They were cooking together, playing cards, teasing each other good naturedly... it gave me hope. Maybe one day we will achieve this. That mum and her kids became my new family holiday goals. (I rebooked a cabin for next summer; we live in hope and will keep trying).


Something I have to learn to do is to let go of the ‘shoulds’.
When I compare what I manage to achieve as a single mum with how well I think I ‘should’ be doing the sense of failure is crippling and I lose all sense of hope.
But if I let go of the ‘shoulds’ (and being worried what people might think of how well I'm doing) then I find that the load is not too heavy, the task is not too daunting and maybe I am not unequal to the task of parenting these children after all.

I have to hold onto hope - hope gets me through. Hope that things will get better, that this will get easier, that my kids will come through this and be OK.
I have to let go of the picture I had, that Dream Picture of my family - it is no longer helpful.

I have to get a new picture for us, a new Dream that fits our reality. This, I'm still working on. 

One thing I do believe and which helps give me hope - the promise that God makes beauty out of ashes. 
(Ashes make good fertiliser for new growth, apparently.)
So this is me, taking it one day at a time, living in hope.

To finish, I’d like to share with you an excerpt from an article by John Pavlovitz:

People grieving loss of loved ones and relationships....
Everyone is grieving and worried and fearful, and yet none of them wear the signs, none of them have labels, and none of them come with written warnings reading, I’M STRUGGLING. BE NICE TO ME.
And since they don’t, it’s up to you and me to look more closely and more deeply at everyone around us: at work or at the gas station or in the produce section, and to never assume they aren’t all just hanging by a thread. Because most people are hanging by a thread—and our simple kindness can be that thread.
We need to remind ourselves just how hard the hidden stories around us might be, and to approach each person as a delicate, breakable, invaluable treasure—and to handle them with care. 
As you make your way through the world today, people won’t be wearing signs to announce their mourning or to alert you to the attrition or to broadcast how terrified they are—but if you look with the right eyes, you’ll see the signs.
There are grieving people all around you.
Go easy.”

___________________________

 


*We moved into our brand new house with the pool in the pocket community back in January 2018; about 11 months later I had to admit that it wasn’t working for us for many reasons and decided to sell and re-buy a stand-alone family home with room to kick a ball and have Fire Nights. The kids said our brand new home “still felt like a hotel, not a home”; our new house-to- be is a 1940’s Art Deco cottage and they all reckon “this feels like home”. (Here's a few pics of the house we're moving to) We move on June 29. 


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