Solo Zone: All in the Family
- Tuesday, August 24, 2010
EDITOR'S NOTE: Each month in "Solo Zone" we will meet believers who have taken advantage of serious opportunities God has laid in their faith walks—and whose singleness actually works to their benefit, as well as God's glory.
Are you a single Christian waiting—even subconsciously—to get married for your adult life to truly begin?
Many of us have an intellectual understanding that, yes, our marital status does not define us. We leave school, we buy homes, and we participate in communities of faith. But how many of us have adopted the mindset that our reality won't really click until we have a spouse?
Singlehood certainly wasn't Patricia's life's ambition after graduating from college. Blonde and vivacious, she had her choice of suitors and married a young man fast-tracking his way to being a youth pastor. Maybe they wouldn't be the richest family in the world, at least in terms of finances. But love could make up for that.
Four years into their marriage, however, Patricia found herself signing divorce papers at the request of her husband, who had decided he was gay. Husbandless and childless, she resolved to trust in the Lord for solace, direction, and purpose, and moved out into a new singlehood for which nobody ever plans.
An Aunt's Intervention
As quickly as Patricia's marriage had turned dismal, so did the childhood of her niece, Natalie, who was only seven when her mother died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. Greg, Natalie's father and Patricia's older brother, used this tragedy to foment his distrust of God. United in grief and anger, Natalie and Greg struggled for years in a downward spiral of unmet spiritual needs, economic instability, and alcohol abuse. Although Natalie managed to matriculate to high school, she did so with the poorest of grades and a fragile vulnerability instilled by Greg's misery. Patricia knew few chances remained for her niece to salvage any chances for a healthy transition from childhood into adulthood.
While Greg had festered in bitterness after his wife's death, Patricia had moved on from her unsolicited divorce. She had a good job, owned a three-bedroom house, and developed a hectic volunteer life at her church. Although her marital status bothered her, it didn't control her. Patricia entrusted her desire to remarry and have a family to God, and devoted the time she would have spent as a wife and mother on ministry instead.
A couple of years ago, however, Patricia noticed the Lord leading her out of several long-standing commitments at church. At the time, it seemed counter-intuitive to her, since she assumed her singlehood offered the perfect opportunity for these activities. Then one night, after months of relatively minor incidents, Natalie's dysfunction crystallized for the family when she ran away from home. Patricia soon realized why God had been clearing her schedule.
Over that weekend of Natalie's cry for help, Patricia and her family decided major changes needed to be made in Natalie's environment. After prayers with a pastor at their church, discussions with church friends familiar with the situation, and an admittedly long-overdue heart-to-heart with her brother, Patricia knew what had to happen.
"This whole situation was just laying so heavily on my spirit," she recalls. "I know it was not me—God was telling me I need to take my niece in to live with me!"
"My mind was swirling," Patricia continues. "Looking back now, it's really neat to see how the Lord had been laying the groundwork for a while."
The Making of a Mom
Himself exasperated as well, Greg actually seemed relieved with Patricia's solution. During the school year, his daughter would live with Patricia and visit him on weekends. This would require Natalie's transfer to a different high school across town, where the diverse student body, they discovered, provided a better environment for her assimilation.
As an employee of the school district, Patricia facilitated the process of obtaining educational guardianship of her niece, convincing school officials she was serious about helping her niece fix past scholastic performance issues.
Most importantly, Natalie would have a mother figure praying for her and ministering the Gospel to her on a weekday basis. Even though Patricia's influence on Natalie would only go so far.
"Greg doesn't let me take her to church on the weekends," rues Patricia, nevertheless respecting his parental authority. "I do pray over her every night when tucking her in…and she's actually come to expect it! If she's heading off to bed and I just say goodnight, she's like, ‘aren't you coming in?' My heart just melts!"
Even if it wasn't a success in every way, the first year of their experiment ended satisfactorily enough this past June. Natalie's grades had improved, and she joined the golf team. There have been some tensions between Greg and Patricia that she laughs about now: "It's kinda funny thinking about interacting with my brother as more of an ex-husband when we differ over custody and parenting issues!"
Indeed, being an instant parent hasn't been easy.
"It's like I jumped into the deep end of the ocean, coming in at the height of a teenage girl's hormonal changes," Patricia admits. "During this first year, I had to psych myself up almost every Sunday before she came back to me as the butterflies were so thick in my stomach. There were days I'd cry from the anxiety of the task I'd taken on… This is definitely stretching my faith and prayer life.
Not that tensions haven't eased somewhat. "It's funny dealing with folks who don't know our situation. Because we do resemble each other, people refer to us as mother-daughter and… it's sweet that she's adopted me in that role as well."
"Everyone's been asking me this summer how Natalie's doing at her dad's, and I say, ‘Well, I haven't heard any complaints from either side, so I guess they're OK!' Patricia continues. "I was really happy to have Greg tell me a couple weeks ago that they have had a good time together this summer… He appreciates that she's starting to develop some maturity."
Acknowledging God's Sovereignty
As Patricia, Natalie, and Greg prepare to reprise their roles for this new school year, the ramifications of staying in this experiment for the long haul might make people wonder what it's doing to Patricia's dating life. But she professes to have already reached contentment in that area.
"I'm not actively ‘seeking,'" admits Patricia. "My singlehood is the Lord's provision for this season, having me in a place in my heart where I don't feel the ‘need' to be dating."
"Yeah, I'd LOVE to be married, and I know the Lord knows that, so in the meantime, He's my sufficiency and I've learned to rest in that.
"Having really desired to be a wife and mother and not seeing that dream become reality, it's been nice to experience ‘mom-hood' even if it's on a part-time basis. God laid this situation before me that I could not refuse for Natalie's sake…and I'm thankful for the opportunity to serve Him in this way."
From his smorgasboard of church experience, ranging from the Christian and Missionary Alliance to the Presbyterian Church in America, Tim Laitinen brings a range of observations to his perspective on how we Americans worship, fellowship, and minister among our communities of faith. As a one-time employee of a Bible church in suburban Fort Worth, Texas and a former volunteer director of the contemporary Christian music ministry at New York City's legendary Calvary Baptist, he's seen our church culture from the inside out. You can read about his unique viewpoints at o-l-i.blogspot.com.
**This article first published on August 24, 2010.
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