The last nine years of my life haven’t been easy, by any stretch of the imagination. Three months after I graduated from high school, I had E. The day I had E, I started classes at a local college. Four years after I had E, I graduated from Francis Marion University. Then, after a stint as a butcher shop worker, I moved E out of our comfort zone. We moved 3.5 hours away from my parents and lived on our own in a tiny little place in Clemson, South Carolina. Two years later, I graduated from graduate school with a Master’s degree in English. One month later, Tyler and I got married, and E and I once again moved, but to a new city, state, and family.
I don’t say all of this to build myself up. I say it to explain what I’m learning about the last nine years. I try and live in my own strength. Growing up, our family motto was from 2 Thessalonians 3:10b — “If you don’t work, you don’t eat.” Well, the actual verse is, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat,” but my dad always referenced it the first way. I agree with this statement, but in some ways, I made it my mantra to get through life. I took a good thing and made it an idol. I’ve always been able to scrape through these situations, or so I tell myself. I’d tell myself I’ve been strong through our house burning down, I’ve been strong through being a pregnant teen, I’ve been strong through school, grad. school, and I’ve been strong as a single parent.
But the truth is, I’ve been lonely. I’ve been hopeless. I’ve felt trapped. If anyone has been strong, it hasn’t been me. If I’ve made it through the last nine years, and I have, it hasn’t been because of my abilities or strengths, but because God, in his ever amazing providence and love, has carried and guided me through that time, as well as providing an amazing structure of community through my parents and a few friends. But only now am I allowing myself to see this. I counted all my goals met and degrees earned, all the compliments to E’s personality as my ability to parent as a single mom, as my own ability.
It made me proud as if I were the one who did so well. And I was proud. I was proud I was able to walk through the halls of my school, when fellow students would turn around and look at me as if I was so much different than they were. I was proud I could answer questions about my future and my baby when people finally got the nerve up to ask when I’d wear maternity clothes or what I was going to do the next year (I certainly wasn’t going away to school as I had hoped).
Later, I was proud to be able to juggle parenting, a full-load at college, and at times, two part-time jobs. I was proud I could tell the older women I saw that yes, he was my child. Yes, I did look like I was a teenager because I was a teenager. I was proud I could bite my tongue anytime someone stereotyped teen moms as rednecks and people who would never go anywhere in life. But that pride also evaporated into pity.
For the last nine years, I’ve swung back and forth on a pendulum between pride in myself and self-pity because of my situation. I was accomplishing so much on the surface, and yet during the nights of being alone in the quiet of the dawn with a screaming baby, in the grumblings of my heart when I saw friends’ “normal” lives, I threw a giant pity-party. I demanded of God, “why me?” Why was I punished for a sin that so many commit? Why did I have to deal with so much on my own? Of course, I didn’t listen for any kind of answers, but continued on my way as if God didn’t answer.
Don’t misunderstand. I have always loved E. From the moment I knew he existed, and I always knew it was a “he,” I have loved him. In all of my self-pity, I have loved him. But I have also been selfish, thinking that I was the one who “got caught.” This pride/pity thrived on my selfishness, as if I deserved something greater than what I was experiencing. The difference between whether I was wearing Pride or Pity stemmed only from the circumstance, one that could change in the turn of a page or the cry of a child. As I responded to my situation, I never considered that my attitude, of all things, could actually be the problem. I never considered that the whole thing wasn’t just about me and what I wanted, but rather what was best for me in the big picture of life.
E has always been God’s perfect plan for my life.
Pride and self-pity have controlled so much in the last nine years. They’ve prevented me from making no more than a few deep friendships. They’ve controlled how I respond to almost every situation. They have tormented me constantly. Yet, I clung to them as if they were the only thing that would get me through. I clung to myself, my constantly flawed and failing self. On the outside, I would say I knew God was in control. I would say I knew He had a plan for my life. But on the inside, I thought if I didn’t work, if I didn’t control it myself, then I would never get anywhere. My actions and thoughts reflected the lies I believed. I am so thankful to see this selfishness exposed. I am so thankful to be moving past it. I am so thankful I don’t have to do this on my own. I am so thankful for God’s providence. I am so thankful to have Tyler. I am so thankful to have E.