Starting from Scratch When You're Single Again
- 2009 22 Jan
A conversation with Janet Leck
And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. —Philippians 4:19
I sat in the quiet of my condo, on the porch overlooking the nature preserve. All of creation lay before me. I needed a break because I had been floundering in a pile of bills to pay and tasks to do all morning. My petition for patience and guidance grew from my new station in life—on my own.
Talking to God was easy, and I trusted that He was listening. Still, He was not forthcoming with answers. Not right then. But later in the day, the wisdom of His Spirit seemed near. I heard one word: “Simplify!”
When I questioned what I had heard, the only response was: “Simplify! Simplify! Simplify!”
D’Arcy (pronounced Darcy) and I had been married for more than fifty years when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. We prayed for healing and believed God would provide it through faith and medical treatment. So his doctors administered radiation therapy, and the tumor’s progress slowed for a little while. But then the cancer crept into his bones. Throughout the ordeal, D’Arcy continued to lead a weekly Bible study for men at a nearby prison. He had served as the leader for nearly twenty-five years and hated the thought of giving it up.
Our prayers continued, but the cancer stepped up its relentless march. It wrapped itself around his spinal column until he couldn’t walk. Soon he was dependent on a wheelchair and too tired to continue his ministry.
Then one day he could no longer get out of bed. After a period of time in the hospital, we arranged for hospice care so he could be at home. “You know,” he said, “I think the healing the Lord has in mind for me is divine and eternal restoration. He is going to take this cancer-ridden body with all its limitations and let me trade it in for a vibrant, eternal body.”
He said the words with great peace. I squeezed his hand and raised it to my lips.
Then he said, “The car needs an oil change.”
The car needs an oil change? It seemed absurd. But D’Arcy’s sense of responsibility had taken over. He was caring for me.
“Would you get something for me to write with, please?” he asked. Still numb from his oil change announcement, I walked down the hall and into our home office to grab a tablet and pen. I wondered why he wanted it. When I returned to the bedroom, he scooted himself up in bed and reached for the pen and paper. With barely enough strength to sit, he started a list.
I smoothed his rumpled hair and glanced at the pad as he wrote. Slowly and with great effort, he itemized the household bills. “These are the first ones you need to pay,” he said, pointing.
I sat on the edge of the bed with the list in my hand and faced my own denial. These were the bills I needed to pay, meaning he would not be here. His stoic acceptance helped me face the truth. Now I knew he would die.
The writing exhausted D’Arcy, and he fell asleep. I slipped the pen from his fingers and covered his bare arm. Then I picked up my Bible and turned to a New Testament verse that had so often encouraged me during rough times: “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13). I prayed:
Oh, Lord, please give me strength. Give me the love and grace I need to serve D’Arcy until he goes home to You.
A few days later I told D’Arcy it was April 28. I wanted to see if the date held any significance for him. He smiled and whispered, “It’s our fifty-first anniversary, isn’t it?” I nodded and gave him a kiss.
Three days later, D’Arcy traded in his cancer-ridden body for a perfectly healed one that would serve him for eternity.
During those first difficult months after his death, I was so thankful for the times D’Arcy and I had spent together in God’s Word. Two years before his death we had studied Revelation, the last book of the New Testament. One passage in particular brought me great comfort because it describes what Christians experience when they get to heaven.
They are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. —Revelation 7:15–17
I could picture D’Arcy in heaven near the throne of the Almighty—safe and joyous under God’s protective tent. Our heavenly Father had provided for my husband, and now, in the early days after his death, I wondered how He would provide for me. That’s when the prompting of the Holy Spirit took hold with one word: “Simplify!”
All through our marriage I had done what many women of my generation did: I let my husband take care of the tasks I thought were too complicated or time-consuming. I did not know how to change the oil in the car, for example, or even how to get someone else to do it. I needed to learn how to fill the gas tank and to understand the fine points of my car insurance. I wondered whom I would call if I was in an accident. Whom should I ask about the financial affairs?
The list was daunting and went on from there. I was suddenly mired in responsibilities that I felt ill-equipped to handle.
Again I thought about that prompting from the Holy Spirit. Simplify? I would love to do that, but how? Then a thought leaped into my mind—stop balancing the checkbook.
It was not that I didn’t know how to reconcile my check register; it just never came out quite right. After hours of trying to balance my bank statement, I wanted to sweep my arm across the table and send everything flying! So I came up with a solution that worked for me. Instead of writing a check for each one of my expenses, I started using a credit card for the majority of my purchases. I am always very careful and disciplined to spend only what I know I can pay at the end of the month. Then I only need to write one check each month to pay off the credit card balance in full. It is much easier for me that way.
I also decided to set up three checking accounts from which I write only a few checks a year. One account is for tithing and charitable giving. One is for home and car insurance, the monthly credit card bill, and other large but infrequent expenses that I don’t want to automatically pay via credit card. And the third checking account is for receiving dividend payments and paying my annual tax bills. Since I write only a few checks a year from each of these accounts, balancing them is a simple task.
To provide an extra layer of protection, my son-in-law said, “Let’s go to the bank together. We’ll sign you up for the Private Client Program.” That was a great comfort. God was my spiritual advocate. Now I had a financial advocate too.
Next, my children wanted me to get a cell phone, so I went to the mall and talked with a young man at the phone kiosk. He helped me pick one out and told me how to key in the names and numbers for my contact list. I thanked him and went to sit at a nearby bench. Every few minutes I went back and asked more questions and then returned to my bench. Back and forth I went until I had a list of names and numbers.
Proud of myself and feeling bolder, I went to the kiosk one more time and asked, “Now what about those Bluetooth things?”
“Oh,” he said, with an exasperated wave of his arms. “That is way too complicated for you.”
“Never mind,” I said, knowing that complicated is not compatible with simplify.
While the emotional part of healing was not easy, I found it could be tailored to my needs. I had been active in prison ministry too, and as soon as I felt able, I joined a team of men and women who were leading a four-day Christian retreat at a local women’s prison. Supporting and encouraging others was a great way to take the focus off myself. I also joined a grief group, and learned that grieving is an individual process. Talking and listening to others’ stories was fine, but God helped me find different resources that were more helpful to me.
Mostly I relied on Scripture and a few other good books. I read a devotional called Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love.1 One of the many issues it addressed was guilt—a plaguing guilt that said, “You should have looked for alternative cancer treatments. You should have done more to help D’Arcy.” Slowly I learned not to blame myself anymore. Even my emotional clutter was simplified.
Near the end of the first year after D’Arcy died, I found another helpful resource called The Widow’s Workbook.2 This was the meat that got me through some of my toughest days. The study addressed all the issues I had stuffed away, and it got to the core of things I didn’t even know I was ignoring. Clearly I was on the mend.
God didn’t provide the kind of healing D’Arcy and I had originally prayed for, but He walked with us through the entire journey of D’Arcy’s illness. The Lord is still caring for us on a daily basis—D’Arcy is safe under His heavenly tent, and I am secure under His earthly protection. Along the way I have learned that grieving and growing are not simple. But with God’s help, they can be greatly simplified.
Excerpted from Starting from Scratch When You're Single Again by Sharon M. Knudson and Mary Fran Heitzman (Christian Life, September 2008). Copyright (c) 2008 by Sharon M. Knudson and Mary Fran Heitzman . All rights reserved.
Sharon M. Knudson is a full-time freelance writer with five book collaborations and hundreds of published articles. She speaks at Christian events and retreats and also teaches courses on the craft of writing and getting published. She holds BME and MM degrees from Michigan State University and lives with her husband in St. Paul. Minnesota.
Mary Fran Heitzman writes essays, poetry, and magazine articles and is president of the Minnesota Christian Writers Guild. She is a certified member of Toastmasters Intnernational and cofacilitates a Faith Interaction group at her church. She works in the world of finance with her husband of thirty-seven years.