I Painted a Pretty Picture

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As an artist, I can paint a pretty picture. And with my artistic skills, I painted a picture of what my life should look like. A young Christian lady married young with two beautiful and healthy children. I added rays of sunshine with happy family pictures on Facebook and spoke of every highlighted detail of our life through my updated status. From the surface of the picture, it looked good. A young couple was learning to be married and learning to be parents with a smile on their faces and God in their hearts.

 

Yet, this picture was ridden with ugly spots. And the top layer only looked pretty because I painted it that way. But the layers underneath were scraped and marred. I kept adding heavy layer after heavy layer to cover up the mistakes and spots that I didn’t want anyone to see.

 

I didn’t want anyone to see the toxic spaces. I didn’t want to tell anyone of the harmful moments. I didn’t want anyone to know of the pain and neglect and the dangerous parts. I didn’t want anyone to see beneath the heavy layers of dripping paint was a woman with a shattered soul desperately trying to hold herself together and shield her children.

 

I was afraid everyone would think I failed in my marriage. That somehow I was the one who messed it all up. If I just prayed hard enough. If I just accepted the pain and glossed over the hurt. If only I had kept on painting a pretty picture, then my marriage would work out. I knew God gave me the strength to carry the world on my shoulders, so I took that to mean I was supposed to carry everything in my marriage, even if I carried it alone.

 

But there is only so many layers of paint a canvas can hold. Eventually, paint starts to chip and chunks begin to fall off. The day I separated from my husband was the day I was left with my children and a blank canvas. The thick crusts of paint on the floor, because my canvas couldn’t hold it anymore

 

It was heartbreaking. It was painful from a mixture of all the hard work to keep this pretty picture, the people pushing me to portray it that way it and the fact I was only human. And at that moment I felt like an utter failure because I could create what should have been beautiful.

However, God is the creator. He is the greatest of all artists. From the brokenness, He gave me new paint and held my hand as I trembled to hold the paintbrush.  And upon this canvas, He helped me paint the truth. It shows all my scars and all my broken pieces. It shows where I have grown wiser and where my children have grown stronger. It reveals our troubles and our blessing. It shows tenderness and brokenness. It shows the good and the bad. And it shows the deep love I have my children and that we are even more loved by a mighty God.

I think many other women have done the same thing as I did; making pretty pictures to hide the brokenness that we have inside. However, God does not intend for us to hide our brokenness or be ashamed of the fact we can’t do it all alone. We were not all meant to display these fake, pretty, little, pictures of ourselves that lack what is raw and real. Even in our failures and brokenness, God gives us a blank canvas to paint upon. It should be filled with both the good and the bad; the vulnerable places and the victories; the gentle and hard parts; the troubles and blessings. And that picture may have rough parts and ugly bits you do not like, but know that painting is truly lovely.

NaTacia Z.

See more blogs from her at her site https://blessedsinglemom.wordpress.com

Surviving Divorce and Thriving as a Single Mom

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Single mom life is tough - I’m raising two boys on one income - no child support or government assistance. I don’t make a huge salary, but we live a pretty good life, and I’m proud of my little family. We’ve learned a lot over the past two years, through struggles and celebrations, and I’m grateful for the lessons.

At the time of my divorce, my ex-husband and I lived over an hour away from any family, friends and my job. I had no support network in that little Oklahoma town. Many times my ex-husband demanded I quit my job and find something closer, but I loved what I did each day. I had a boss, a team and a culture which encouraged me to grow and be successful. I wasn’t willing to give it up.

Our marriage had always been troubled, but when I discovered he was having an affair it was apparent my marriage was over. My world was falling apart, but it was my team at work who got me through the days. My two little boys were depending on me to make sure we were okay through the chaos of divorce. I had some tough choices to make and lessons to learn during this time.

 After we filed for divorce, I moved to the same town where my job was located. Within days, we had a small apartment, my oldest son transferred to the new school and after school care set up for him. My youngest remained in his same daycare - 35 minutes away.

 This created a long commute and made for very long days. To get both kids to school and me to work on time, we had to leave by 6:00 AM daily, even earlier in poor weather conditions. We did it for nine months. The schools supplied breakfast, and I used my crockpot faithfully to keep us fed with home-cooked meals. Meal planning was a critical skill I had to master.

Money was always tight with my ex-husband, but I was used to two incomes when raising my kids. On my own now, I had to learn how to budget tightly and say no to non-essentials. It didn’t help when I was hit with a garnishment from an eviction my husband had received while we were separated a few years before.

 At first, I was angry, but with some soul searching, I realized that although this was not my debt, it was my fault for not having my name removed from the lease when I left and for not settling the debt legally during the divorce.

 Once I took ownership in my part of the situation, I realized that with budgeting I could afford to have 25% of my check deducted each week. The debt would be paid off by the end of summer proving I could afford a better place to live. So, I accepted the lesson I had to learn, and God saw us through - we survived.

 Not only did we survive, but the kids and I also thrived. I found several free activities for us to do in the summer, like hiking and visiting parks. We even took a small vacation to Silver Dollar City and stayed with a family member. I was able to hang on to most of my savings, so when the garnishment ended, we were able to move to a better home.

 We moved to the town where my parents live. God provided a home to rent just minutes from my sons’ schools in a friendly neighborhood. The boys love our big backyard where we play most evenings. My parents helped with getting kids to and from school, especially when I was still working 35 minutes away. Life is better - much better.

 Over the past year, I was promoted with my company, and I am blessed to work from home. I have a great team and no need for daycare. I still budget and avoid non-essentials. I use my crockpot, and I am a master meal planner - with a binder system to prove it! We eat at home mostly and pack picnics when we travel. Last year, we took a bigger vacation to visit a friend who lives in the Gulf of Mexico.

 I’ve learned over the past two years how to set goals and reach for my dreams. I’m already planning next year’s vacation - a camping trip to Yellowstone National Park. But, the most important thing I’ve learned in this time is to lean into the Lord.

 Two years ago, I was a long-time agnostic - a jaded, “recovering” Catholic. Raised in the Catholic church, I had a hard time reconciling my parents’ divorce with the older Catholic dogma. In my teenage years, I briefly attended a non-denominational church, but it didn’t stick. I spent most of my twenties and thirties struggling with faith and trying to put God in my own definition.

 Thank goodness the Lord doesn’t give up easily! Even in my years of sin, He still protected me from so much darkness. The demons that haunt my ex-husband never got their hooks into me, by the grace of God. When I finally realized how much I needed Christ in my life, I fell to my knees in my room and pleaded for salvation. I never knew such love existed until that day. It has changed my life and the lives of my children.

 At the beginning of my divorce, I questioned myself daily, asking “Am I doing the right thing?” It took a little time, but I began to realize that I was making good decisions, thanks to feedback and encouragement from friends. These friends were living good, successful and faith-filled lives - I could trust the source. After years of gaslighting, I’ve learned to trust my own instincts again, and I have a faith deeper than I could have imagined. I made a conscious decision to take responsibility for my sins, seek forgiveness and live a life of faith - and it has made all the difference.

 The last two years haven’t been all roses, though. I’ve lost friends and loved ones with making these changes. I’ve had to deal with ghosts of the past and negative people in our lives. However, I don’t get discouraged when people hold my past against me - I know where my value lies. I keep my head up and understand that each decision I make is leading me to a better life. I know His truth and do my best to live it in the face of those who oppose me.

 Here’s what worked for me:

 Faith

 Forgiveness

 Accountability

Gratitude

My church   

A support system is a MUST.

Clear communication with everyone

 Setting boundaries

 Planning and backups

Budgeting

Fellowship

Seeing problems as opportunities for growth

Meal planning, a crockpot, and premade crusts

Making friends with people who have faith, integrity, and goals

Free, fun activities like hiking and parks

These were my failures:

Living without faith

Reacting emotionally to things outside my control

Not asking for child support.

Not making a clear parenting plan with a schedule.

Not separating the debt legally.

Not having a lawyer

Believing the threats

I’m still working on overcoming my weaknesses. I continue to read and learn how to be a good steward of my resources and how to grow my faith. I’m frugal, but I want my kids to have a great life, so I plan accordingly. I work every day to see the lesson that God is teaching me. I do my best to be a good leader for my household. I pray - A LOT! I’m not perfect, not even close, but I’m trying to be better than I was yesterday. Being a single mom isn’t easy, but with God on my side, it’s worth every moment!

~Tabitha Gripka

Righteous Anger

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Gosh, I love those refrains about single mothers that gush about our unique combination of strength and grace.

“Wow, I admire you.”

“I could never do what you do.”

“Single moms are heroes.”

It is so nice to be recognized, even briefly or superficially, for the back-breaking struggle of parenting children alone. Being a parent is an often-thankless job in itself. So, outside validation is always welcome.

But the other day, I got to thinking and questioning. What is it that motivates me to drive my girls to track meets when all I want to do is face plant into a venti latte?  What makes me keep going? My love for my kids? Yes. But, what else? Is there something special about me? Am I like the X-men of parents, with some genetic mutation that gives me an upper hand that society simultaneously envies and uses as an excuse to ostracize me from the “real family” norm?

As much as I wish I could say that I am understudying Dad while playing the lead role of Mom from a place of love and grace, the truth is that I am deeply and constantly angry.

I am livid that I am nearly 40 years old and still have to ask my mother for help paying for my car insurance because my ex-husband is thousands of dollars behind on child support, and the embarrassing amount he is ordered to pay does not even cover the kids’ food for two weeks.

I am furious that I still feel compelled to respond to his emails offering to help, knowing that he never actually will.

I am vexed that he can sleep at night while I lay awake worrying about how we are going to make everything work this week, this month, this year.

I am irate that he still gets the title “Dad” and they still carry his last name, even though he does not know them at all.

Mostly, I am enraged that these two precious, dynamic, hilarious, brilliant, mind-blowingly incredible little girls may think, even for a second, that his absence is a reflection of their worth.

My X-gene is anger.

It is not a force of will or Christ-like grace. It is full blown, unadulterated, unrelenting anger…and that is fine.

Righteous anger is Biblical. Being angry is not a sin to be prayed away. What we do with anger is what matters. Ephesians 4:26 may be one of the most difficult imperatives in all of the Bible: “Be angry and do not sin.” God commands us to let the sun go down on our anger before we make room for the Devil in our lives. He does not tell us to simply let go of anger.

In his book, Uprooting Anger, Robert Jones tells us that, “True anger properly diagnoses what is an actual sin, it focuses not on personal offense as much as Godward offense, and then it expresses itself in ways consistent with Christian character.” This is the anger that I am striving for in my life. I pray to remain angry about the rupture of the parental covenant and to use that anger as motivation when the demands of parenthood, work, and relationships drain me. I will embrace the righteous anger born of a callous act as an intentional inspiration to be the most loving parent that I can humanly be.

So, next time you see me, it is ok to holler, “Stay angry, momma!”


A. Smith