About ten years ago, I sat in a church as the preacher offered some advice. I have returned to those words time and again over the past decade. He said that while it’s easy to be thankful for the the wonderful people and moments in our lives, we would do well to offer as much thanksgiving for our pain and our challenges and our losses. Why? Because those difficult parts of our lives help us to gather our strength, build resilience, and develop character.
We are now in the month of thanksgiving. We make “thankfulness trees” with our kids and share a new reason we are thankful every day on Facebook. With the words of that pastor in mind, I want to pause and spend some time this month in gratitude for some of the more demanding parts of my life. Each one made me a better person.
Let me share just a few . . .
I separated from my husband when my daughter was three years old and I was seven months’ pregnant with my son. The split was a long time coming and finally happened after many false starts. The first year was a blur of taking care of a preschooler and an infant. I cried a lot, reminded myself to breathe, and tried to put right side up a family and home that had been turned upside down.
But, you know what? That year was also filled with amazing family and friends. They made sure I never felt alone. It was a time of finally having a say over my finances. I took steps to get that piece of my life in order. Late nights of walking into the bedroom of my sleeping daughter filled my eyes with grateful tears. I no longer felt I was setting a bad example for her. We celebrated my son’s first birthday in our new apartment. And I took a moment to acknowledge my being a stronger and more confident woman than I had ever been.
I was leading this family — and doing it well. Eight years now have passed since the divorce. And I am thankful for it. While my kids and I will always carry our own wounds from the fracture, I am confident that this is a better situation than remaining married would have been.
Owning a Home
Six years ago, I became a homeowner for the first time in my life. Since then, I’ve been through one crash course after another. It started with the process of actually purchasing the home. I’ve never had to compile so many documents in my life — only to sign even more on the day I finally got the keys in my hand! I learned how to handle insurance and renovation issues when a water leak behind my refrigerator led to replacing the flooring in multiple rooms. I’ve watched YouTube tutorials and appreciated the guidance of knowledgeable friends as I learned to fix my dishwasher, garbage disposal, washing machine, and toilet. In order to landscape in such a way that drew problematic water away from my crawlspace, I read about grading issues. I’ve replaced smoke detectors, patched walls, and cleaned gutters.
Problems with my home still exist that I need to address. I’m still not super awesome at keeping the place as organized as I like. And, I just don’t have the eye to make my rooms look like they belong in a fashion magazine. But I can open the door after a day at work and know that this is a safe place for my children and me. I know how fortunate I am as a single parent to be able to live in a neighborhood filled with other kids. My kids gather outside with them and play. We live in a home where we are warm and (usually) happy and build memories together.
Going Back to School
This summer, I returned to college to complete a seven-course paralegal certificate. I LOVED just about everything from my college experience the first time around (twenty years ago). But now I tackle classes as a single parent with a full-time job.
This has made for a lot of late nights. I’m often studying or completing a writing assignment for a class or catching up on work that I brought home from the office as midnight approaches. Like most students, I’ve found some of my coursework exhilarating, with instructors and texts that have taught me so much. And I’ve had a class in which I just put in the time and waited for it to be over. It has been a challenge to add school deadlines into our already hectic schedules. There have been times when an assignment or an appointment for one of these kids slipped through the cracks.
But it feels great to be taking this professional development step. I like being able to sit down and do homework WITH my kids. Their seeing learning as a lifelong endeavor makes me proud. I like that they ask me about my teachers and classmates and seem genuinely interested. So while fitting one more dynamic into our lives has come with some difficulties and even less sleep than I managed before, I am grateful for the opportunity.