There have been a lot of lean years in my life, many of them as a single mom of children whose father chose not to provide for them. One of those years stands out to me, now, as what I refer to as, my year of chastening.
There have been a lot of lean years in my life, many of them as a single mom of children whose father chose not to provide for them. One of those years stands out to me, now, as what I refer to as, my year of chastening. This year was fraught with many hard lessons about pride. The interesting thing about that year, however, was that when I talk to my now adult children about it, they tell me about the fun memories, and not about the struggles. Looking back, I think pride had a lot to do with my outlook.
Accept the struggles, but don't make them your focus
Having achieved my carpentry certification in New York, I chose to move to Massachusetts where I got a job working an overnight shift in a cabinetmaking shop where I was one woman among 84 men. Many of them did not want me there and were patronizing and overly critical. I spent most of my "lunch hour" at 2 a.m. crying in the executive bathroom, as there were no provisions for a women's restroom. Most of my thoughts were about how tough life was, with the exception of when I was with my children. Then, it was a fun adventure full of imagination. I should have treated myself with the same consideration.
Recognize the tender mercies
It was one of the coldest winters I can remember. The kids would collect pop bottles along the street and exchange them for change to contribute to the household. Even with that, there were times when I did not have bus fare and would walk the seven miles to, or from work. This particular morning, I made that walk in 20 degree weather with two feet of snow on the ground. My tears froze to my face. I was hating life. My feet stung, then went numb in my wet boots. As I made my final ascent up a steep hill toward my third floor apartment, I looked up and began to laugh uncontrollably. There, on a rooftop, was a bird riding a revolving heat vent proudly, as if it were a carousel. At the end of that awful night of work and after most of that dreadful 7-mile walk, I was given a gift from God. I recognized it. Why else would I have been prompted to look up to the top of that building? Then and there I said a prayer of thanksgiving, and it completely changed my outlook.
Make it work, but don't deny yourself or your children basic essentials
We ate more pancakes that winter than we did meat, vegetables or fruit. We often walked to church. I used paper towels from work for my feminine needs. When asked if we were doing alright, I always smiled and gave the same response. "We're fine. Thank you for asking. I'll let you know if we need anything." I cried myself to sleep a lot. Then, a kind bishop chose not to believe me and implored me to ask for a little assistance. I cried, but through the tears, I accepted his challenge and asked. We were aided with boxes and bags of essentials, and for the first time in a long time, I did not cry myself to sleep. I did not beat myself up. I knew that I was doing all that I could and that God would reach our reaching. He did through his servants.
When I talk to my children, they remember the time they returned bottles and got enough to buy three boxes of fabric dye. We tie-dyed everything in the apartment that was white: the lace table cloth, the girl's tights, my son's socks and boxers, T-shirts, an old white housedress, everything we could find. We laughed, and had a ball creating an indoor rainbow out of our dingy white things. They remember how much fun it was to walk and talk as we made our way to church. They spoke of the Christmas tree that got stuck in the window because we didn't want to scatter the old dried needles all the way down the three flights of stairs we shared with our neighbors. They remembered the creative things we tried to do with pancakes.
Pride is really a form of selfishness
Looking back, I see the selfishness in my prideful attitude. I made myself a martyr for absolutely no good reason. I wanted so badly for people not to think of me as a burden that I denied them the blessings of being able to reach out and offer a little assistance. I hoarded all of those blessings, and in the process, lost many of them.
What I learned is how fine the line is between self-reliance and reliance on those who want to help. I was thinking only of myself and how I might look to others. Life is full of juggling acts. We just have to be careful not to throw things out of balance by that old monster, pride.