I remember sitting in my car in the carpool line at my children’s school one afternoon in 2008 panicking.
I had to figure out how I was going to make $86 last for the next 10 days while still providing meals, getting my kids to school each day and all the other incidentals that would arise.
At that time, gas was $4.25 a gallon and my kids attended school 15 miles away from home. We were in this predicament because some months before, my husband’s company shut down without notice – or without paying any of the employees – and so we had to scramble to keep our heads above water. This became one of the heaviest crosses I’d had to carry since my divorce.
What ensued over this 18-month period was financial hell, and it affected every aspect of our lives.
We pulled our kids from Catholic school and put them in the public school around the corner…something I was staunchly against but had to accept because it had to be done. We lived on hot dogs and Top Ramen for a long time. We had no health insurance. We had to ask for help from a local charity so we could keep the utilities on. I could only put a 1/4 tank of gas in my car each week, which meant I could only go three places: the grocery store, the bus stop, and Sunday Mass.
When I look back on that time, I can see how minutely focused I was on the day-to-day details that were so negative and prevented me from seeing a minor miracle: the good that was coming from it all.
I share this with you my friends, for one specific purpose, that as we approach Thanksgiving, a day of gratitude to God for all our blessings, I ask you to reflect and see if you have ever thanked God for the crosses He allows you to carry?
If you had asked me that question the day I sat in my car stressing over money, I would have answered with a firm “NO!”
After all, it wasn’t just me this situation was affecting, it was my entire family. What could be good about this cross when it affects my little ones? Didn’t God want them to have a Catholic education? Didn’t he want us to eat? Didn’t He want us to have a roof over our heads? I was hard pressed to find something good in the steady decline of our financial situation.
But despite my negativity, God was using His grace and our situation to open my heart and draw me closer to Him, the One who loves me and knows what’s good for me. Once I began doing that, everything changed for me.
Purification by fire
Remembering how Sacred Scripture talks about being purified in the fire, as a goldsmith purifies gold was a huge help to me during this time. I realized that’s what God does: purifies us as we walk through the fire of difficulty. And so I did my best to rise to the challenge.
As Thanksgiving approached that year, instead of panicking I prayed for guidance. We had very little for Thanksgiving dinner and I knew there would be nothing available for Christmas, so I had to come up with something that was worth celebrating and would keep the kids happy. That’s when the Holy Spirit, my guardian angel, or some saint in heaven inspired me with the idea of “Presents.”
I sat down and cut out enough strips of paper for each family member for every day from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve and on them, I wrote down things like “Give the person on your right a big hug” or “Tell Dad 3 reasons why you love him” or, my personal favorite, “I will clean the kitchen after dinner tonight.” All kinds of different things I could think of that would be a personal, loving gesture that cost nothing and could be done on the spot.
I folded them all up, put them in a fishbowl and after dinner on Thanksgiving, we all picked a piece of paper from the fishbowl and began this family tradition called “Presents.”
It became a nightly event after dinner and everyone loved them. We’ve done that every year since, and to this day, my kids still get excited as Thanksgiving draws near and they know that dinnertime Presents are coming.
When I look back on that time in our lives, I thank God for every awful detail of that cross. There was a lot of suffering in that 18 months, but I wouldn’t trade that experience because there are so many good things that came out of it:
- We grew very close as a family
- My marriage was strengthened
- I became a more frugal and resourceful wife and mother
- I learned how to trust God implicitly.
I learned how to say, I don’t understand your plan, Lord, and it doesn’t feel good but I know you are doing something good for me. Thank you.
I’ve come to realize that suffering is the platform that allows miracles to happen in your life.
As a single Catholic, whether you are divorced, widowed, or never married, I know you would love to celebrate Thanksgiving with a happy family of your own and you may feel that being single is a heavy cross to bear. I understand this sentiment and I encourage you to thank God for this difficulty. These are occasions for becoming a stronger and wiser person, to know Christ better, and to be a brilliant light in a world of darkness. Lean entirely upon Him and trust Him, even though you may not understand why you haven’t met the right one yet. He will bring good things out of your suffering.