The other day on my way home from work, I thought about October of last year....
I had no idea how I'd pay my bills for the month, let alone afford more food when my four kids and I ran out of what we had. With the last bits of my paychecks, I'd bought some noodles and broth, cheap meat, potatoes, rice, and Top Ramen. I barely had time to sleep or the sanity to keep going, so when my kids were busy watching TV, I'd escape to my room and cry.
I didn't want my babies seeing this person-- ME. --who'd become much weaker than I'd ever hoped to be. People on the outside thought we were okay, financially and emotionally, but my kids saw the truth.
"Your eyes look kinda red," my oldest daughter said last October. "Have you been crying?"
"Nope," I sniffled, emerging from my bedroom. "Maybe I'm just tired from working so much."
She nodded, looking wise beyond her eleven years. I wiped my eyes and thought of how strong my kids are--especially my oldest daughters. I never knew what they were made of...'til last year.
That night I went to the kitchen and prayed I'd be able to make something worth eating. The compilation of scraps turned into a miserable meal really, but my four kids acted like it was better than candy. "Great seasonings, Mom! We should eat this again sometime."
I forced a smile. "Okay," I nearly whimpered. "We can have it tomorrow." And the next day...and the next day...and hopefully we'd have enough for the next day. I set my fork down and told myself to keep from crying. "I think something's in my throat," I croaked. "I'll be right back." I suddenly ran to the bathroom, shut the door and sobbed quietly.
"Come on, kids," I heard my oldest daughters saying. "Let's get our PJ's on. Mama is having a hard time...again. It's okay though. You'll see." After all of them went to bed and I made sure the sitter was available, I worked at home for a construction company, then rushed to get ready for a grave shift as a security guard.
Me Last Year (Scary security guard, right? Be afraid! :)
Working as a security guard was exactly what I needed at this point in my life: empowering, distracting, and (although it didn't pay terribly well) money toward my bills.
But *whispering* those weren't the only reasons I enjoyed the job....
A kind co-worker of mine felt compelled to start visiting with me on his break at 4am, saying he thought I might need someone to talk to. "How's your night been?" he'd ask.
"Oh, ya know," I'd reply, "just livin' the dream."
Our first conversations were quite superficial, but then as months passed, we both began really talking about our lives. And somehow every time he'd come visit with me on break I felt a little better just knowing someone--even at work--cared.
I'd go home every morning, and as I cooked breakfast for my kids, I'd catch myself singing to them, playing or laughing as they told me darling stories about school and friends. My crying spells lessened and life began to shine.
It's hilarious, remembering how I'd scramble, rushing to get all of my paperwork done, just so I could visit with this happy-go-lucky man on his break. But as time passed, I realized that my co-worker's words had anchored my life, grounding me to a healthy place so I could heal.
Like I wrote at the beginning of this post, I thought about all of this as I drove home from work the other day. It's ironic how much life can change....
I smiled, still driving but nearly home from my new job at a hospital. A red truck was already in my driveway when I pulled in. After walking up to my front door, all sorts of good smells wafted to me from the house.
"Hello?" I hollered, taking off my shoes in the entryway.
My four kids yelled from the kitchen. "In here! We're making dinner."
After I rounded the corner, my feet rooted in place as I took in the whole scene. All of my kids giggled, taste-testing a red concoction that looked delicious. My four-year-old spied me before hugging my leg like she'd never let go. "We're makin' a surprise, Mama! You love it? You super-duper love it?"
"Yes, honey.... I love it sooo much!" I hugged her back.
My three older kids waved, then continued buzzing about happily and laughing. That's when the handsome man in front of the stove turned and gazed at me with so much love....
"How's your day been?" he asked, his deep voice always so smooth and rich.
Those simple words reminded me of our first conversations at the security desk, and I couldn't help but reply with what I'd said so many months before, "Ya know, just livin' the dream."
And as I stood watching my family, tears filled my eyes, not because I was sad, or stressed, but because I'm so happy.
"Mama," my oldest daughter came up to me, "are you crying?"
"Yeah," I said, smiling so big. I hugged her and we walked into the front room. "Life is just so good right now."
"For me too," she said. And being wise beyond her years, I knew she completely understood how hard we've fought for a moment just like this.
"I'm just really thankful for ... everything."
I thought of: My kids, fighting just as hard as I have. God, for giving me a break. My family and friends...for all the support. And...I thought of the handsome man at the security desk...who's so good to me and my four children that it's truly astounding.
If you step back and think of what love is, you might think of excitement, romance ... passion.
While love can begin with all of those things, right now I'm seeing something much stronger.... This kind man who has entered my life as a friend and confidant has literally changed my world and the lives of my children. The consideration and kindness he's shown us day in and day out is one of the biggest blessing I've ever received.
I know life has its ups and downs. But for right now, I'm going to enjoy the ups... I sure hope you're doing the same.