Single Mom for a Week

I was a single mom for a week, kind of.  With a husband away on a business trip, I was the parent on-call for all children’s needs, desires, wishes, wants, tantrums, crises, and cuddles.

I was the homework master, the bath overseer and hair washer, the bedtime manager, the school issue overseer, the household servant, head chef and personal shopper, the sole chauffeur, and more.

And really, we did just fine.  All those tasks and mom jobs weren’t so different from my normal mom resume and daily agenda.

Besides, I knew I still had an emergency fallback position: I could threaten children with a phone call to dad for ridiculous misbehavior.  I also had the gift that technology gives, conversations with my husband in between his conference sessions and the ability to spill out, if only for a few minutes, the news and adventures from the home front.

And I had people every day asking how I was doing, making sure I had the help I needed, and reminders that they were just a phone call away.

It was mostly my husband’s presence that I missed.  Just being with him calms me.  I’m a grumpier mom when he’s away and more apt to cry tears over the eventual build-up of tiny annoyances that swarm the day like gnats.

Things like:

Children forgetting homework.
A child having a tantrum in the school library.
Sibling fights.
A dentist appointment I didn’t remember I had scheduled during an insanely inconvenient week.
A preschooler who took an unexpected nap and is therefore unable to fall asleep anywhere close to the vicinity of bedtime.
A package on my doorstep that I didn’t order.
People sending me forms for an event without filling them out correctly.
Extra phone calls to be made.
Unexpected conflict.112339-20130114

And so it was, when the week was over and my husband walked through that door, I felt the burdens ease somewhat.  I was calmer, more cheerful, more relaxed, better able to sleep.

During the earlier days of our marriage, my husband had to be away from me for 3-4 months at a time, living in another state for job training or job transfers or while I was on-site for grad school.  I’ve been there, done that several times.

What it taught me then was that time with this man is precious. 

Taking it for granted or spending it like the quarrelsome, nagging, contentious, vexing wife in Proverbs (Proverbs 21:9, Proverbs 25:24) makes me no better than water torture to live with: “An endless dripping on a rainy day and a nagging wife are alike” (Proverbs 27:15).

These annual one-week stints apart from each other just remind me anew to value my marriage and this man, who is a God-gift to me.  It resets my priorities and readjusts my expectations.  It gives me reason to pray for him with focus and attention and re-establishes the habit of covering my husband’s daily walk, work and ministry in prayer.

This year, though, I was reminded of something else—-that we minister to others out of our own experiences (2 Corinthians 1:4).  Just as others have served me during my short-term single mom moments, so I should take the time to serve another.

And these women who need us are everywhere: Divorced moms, widows, military wives with husbands on deployment and other wives with husbands away.  They may not have the safety net of a call from dad to threaten unruly children.  Their single mom reality might not end with a plane trip home after a week away.

All last week, as I hung up the phone from my final conversation with my husband for the night, I didn’t just think about me.

I thought about these women going it alone and how to love them:

  1. Write them a note and tell them, “you are doing a great job and you are an amazing mom.”  They may never hear those simple words of praise and encouragement.
  2. Pray for them daily.
  3. Send them a gift card for pizza, Chic-Fil-A or some other restaurant so they can take a night off from cooking.
  4. Take them out for coffee, tea, or dinner.  So often what they miss is just adult companionship.
  5. Don’t ask them to let you know if they need anything.  They probably won’t.  Be proactive (without being pushy or invasive) by offering specific help or (if appropriate) surprising them with a helping hand.
  6. Call them on the phone just to chat.
  7. Let them know when you will watch their kids or hire a babysitter for them so they can go out with friends.
  8. Personally invite them to ladies’ nights out at church and don’t let them feel excluded from women’s ministry (which so often focuses only on married women with kids).
  9. Pamper them a little, maybe with a gift card for a manicure or to a hair salon, flowers, or an anonymous present of lotion and bath salts.
  10. Care about their kids.

This one week of missing my husband makes me a better wife and can make me a better friend.

How would you minister to single moms, divorced women, widows, military wives and other women whose spouses are away?

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

When words get in the way

He told me about his wife, about her kidneys not behaving, her liver calling it quits and her heart not being strong. Mostly, though, he told positive news and trends for the better.

Yet, they had dared to throw out the word ‘hospice’ in one of those foggy discussions with doctors where you’re hearing them and you’re nodding your head, but really the words don’t make sense.

On the phone, I heard how ‘hospice’ made him stumble.  He sucked in his breath, cleared his throat and told me the rest.  His brother is already there, in hospice–(there he said it again; that word never seems to come out easy)– 5-1/2 hours away.

As my grandfather talked, I though of my grandmother, spunky and life-filled, always in tennis shoes so she could speed-walk to everywhere, always talking about trips to Haw-a-ii and cruises to Alaska and more adventures.

Then I thought of her in the hospital, under 100 pounds, fragile and so easily broken.

Two irreconcilable images, surely not the same person.  And yet there it was, unreal but real.

My grandfather said, “I’m fixin’ to be an orphan here soon” and laughed a kind of nervous giggle when you make a joke that isn’t truly funny.

What to say to that?

After years of women’s ministry, I’ll tell you what never gets easy—knowing what to say when it’s all spilling out of someone and you just want to rescue and protect and bandage it all up.  But you’re powerless to do little more than hug and slip on a few Band-aids, then pray with desperate cries that God will heal in the deep-down ways we can’t.

Lost jobs, unfaithful husbands, abusive spouses, alcoholism and pornography, runaway kids, bankruptcy, rape, homelessness, pregnancy unplanned and unwanted, pregnancy wanted so bad it hurts every month with that negative test, abortion, custody battles gone wrong, parents not talking to kids and kids not talking to parents, divorce, fatigue, dying moms and dads, babies in caskets, surgeries failing and car accidents turned tragic…

This…. never…. gets …..easy.

How can there be the right words for so much that is wrong?

Maybe that’s exactly the point.  Maybe even a lover-of-words like me has to fess up that sometimes words don’t just fall short, they actually get in the way.

Like for Job, sitting heaped in ashes and wearing torn rags, scraping at the burning blisters on his flesh with broken pottery, mourning his servants, grieving his children.

Scripture tells us:

When Job’s three friends, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite, heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads.  Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him because they saw how great his suffering was (Job 2:11-13).

They spent a week in silence with Job, just sitting next to him without speaking or offering hollow words of fake comfort.  For guys who turned out to be so chatty (okay, verbose), this was a big deal!

They seemed to get this right, this friendship without words.  Just mourning with those who mourn and leaving it at that.

Unfortunately, Eliphaz finally asked the question: “But who can keep from speaking?” (Job 4:2) and that’s when it all went awry.

The moment he erupted with spiritual cliches, the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” speeches, theological debates and judgmental accusation…that’s when he felt more impressed with his oratory skills than concerned about loving a friend.

Ezekiel, on the other hand, “came to the exiles who lived at Tel Aviv near the Kebar River.  And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days–deeply distressed” (Ezekiel 3:15).

For a week, the prophet crouched in the dust with the exiles from Jerusalem, those who had been carried off after years of starvation and the siege by the Babylonian empire.

And he stayed there until God told him to get up and move on (Ezekiel 3).

Sometimes we back away in fear from those in pain, not really knowing what to do.  After all, we can easily say the wrong thing.

But you really can’t mess up listening.

God brings hurting people to us not so we can fix life for them or speak some magical words that make it all better.

He wants us to get down in the dirt where they’ve fallen, love them, pray with them, serve them, and practice the power of presence, and so often presence without words.

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May I recommend this book if you are grieving the loss of someone or ministering to another who is mourning?  It is lovely and full of practical advice and spiritual encouragement. Grieving God’s Way: The Path to Lasting Hope and Healing by Margaret Brownley

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King