Dena Johnson Martin Christian Blog and Commentary

Serving Left Overs

I have very fond memories of my childhood. Many people say I was raised in a Leave it to Beaver home. My dad worked for the government, and my mom taught Home Economics at the local high school.

Dad was raised as a farmer, and we always had a huge garden filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. We helped plant and pick and snap and shuck. My mom spent her summers canning green beans and freezing okra and corn and making homemade tomato sauce and pickles. And mom made the most delicious chigger plum jelly! I had never eaten store-bought green beans until I moved off to college!

Mom taught every student in the community to sew. Unfortunately, she made me rip out too many perfectly not so perfect seams…and I quit my sewing career before it ever started. However, she did teach me to cook. When I was in the seventh grade, Mom had surgery a few days before Thanksgiving. I asked who was going to cook our Thanksgiving feast, and I was told we wouldn’t have a normal meal. That simply was not going to work for me. I drug my dad to the grocery store, and we picked up all of the ingredients for our traditional feast. On Thanksgiving morning, Mom gave me directions on how to make the turkey and the dressing and all the fixings, and I cooked the entire meal.

I always planned to be a June Cleaver mom. I dreamed of kids coming home from school to fresh, homemade cookies. I knew we would have a garden full of fresh, homegrown fruits and vegetables. I would be the homeroom mom, attending every activity, maybe even homeschooling. And holidays. Coloring eggs at Easter and homemade Valentines and Christmas decorations. We would do it all, together. I would be a Pinterest mom extraordinaire.

Dreams are great, until they collapse around you.

My reality is far from the Cleaver image I had planted in my mind. I am a single mom, raising three kids on my own. I work a full-time job, write part-time, and chase my kids to activities every day.

A garden? Nope. Didn’t get my dad’s green thumb. I can’t even keep an ivy plant alive!

Fresh canned vegetables? Nope. Who has time to can when I work 8-10 hours each day of the week?

Homeroom mom? Nope. My job doesn’t allow me to attend every activity during the school day.

Nutritious home-cooked meals shared as a family every weekday? Nope. We often rush in, see what we can scrounge up, and rush back out the door. Left-overs are a staple.

Crafts and holiday fun? Nope. I’m too busy trying to keep our lives running.

Lazy summer days swimming? Nope. Sledding on snow days? Nope. Picnics and bike rides? Nope.

I feel like I serve left-overs to my kids in so many areas of life.

Left-overs at meals. Left-overs of my time. Left-overs of my energy. My kids seem to get whatever I have left over at the end of a long day, a long week, after doing my best to fulfill all of my responsibilities.

I’m not sure why I feel so inadequate at times. I’m not sure if it’s the gap between my expectations and my reality. I’m certain there’s a big dose of guilt in there. And, there’s no doubt Satan would love to rip apart my self-esteem in an effort to keep me from being effective for the Kingdom.

If you ask my kids, they would probably be oblivious to my short-comings. They know I work hard to provide financially and emotionally. They know that I bend over backwards to attend their activities. They know that I put their needs at the top of my priority list.

But I find myself grieving over the mom I wanted to be.

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows— this is God, whose dwelling is holy. God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. Psalm 68:5-6

Let’s be honest: as a single parent, I am trying to fill the shoes of two people, a job I was never meant to do. It was supposed to be a shared responsibility, one that we took tremendous joy in together. Our job is to shepherd our kids, to show them how to live in a way that is pleasing to God. We are supposed to help mold their hearts, teaching them to love God and love others. And we are supposed to do it as a team, sharing the burden.

But life happens. I find myself shouldering the responsibility by myself. And I have become keenly aware of how incapable I am.

Several years ago, I quit parenting. Actually, I quit life. I became consumed with Galatians 2:20: My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. My prayer every single morning is that God would live through me, that every word I speak, every move I make, would be Him through me. And that includes my job as a parent. I pray every morning that God would parent through me, that He would guide my every interaction with my children. I pray that He would be the perfect Father to my children.

There is no way I can adequately lead my children. And, by the grace of God, I don’t have to. Where I am inadequate, I must trust that God—the Father to the fatherless—will step in and take over. I must trust that I can do my best, and God will do the rest.

This life is not what I expected it to be, but it didn’t take God by surprise. He knew from the beginning of time that I would be raising these precious children on my own, and He provides the grace I need for each and every day. He gives me wisdom. He gives me direction. And His grace steps in and overwhelms me in my short-comings.

What will my children remember when they get older? I don’t think they will remember the left-overs. I don’t think they will remember the occasional field trip I missed. I don’t think they will remember the many nights we scrounge around to find something for dinner.

I really believe they will remember how I sacrificed everything for them, that even when money was tight I found a way to get them the new shoes they needed. I think they will remember the love and laughter. I think they will remember how we pray together every morning on the way to school and every night before we go to bed. I think they will remember that yes, their mom was often tired, but it was because she worked hard to provide for their needs. I think they will remember the late night conversations when life was weighing on their hearts and how I did everything I could to fight sleep and listen to their concerns. I think they will remember how I rushed from one activity to the next on a regular basis to make sure they knew they were loved and supported. I think they will remember that we had a house full of love and grace and mercy.

Is this a Cleaver family childhood? No. But, as long as we are together and focusing on God, it’s the perfect childhood, the perfect family, for us.