I didn’t plan on being a single mom at Christmas.
Last year at this time, my husband and I were celebrating closing on our first house, a small townhouse in the suburbs, and were anticipating the approaching birth of our first child. But after the holidays, in February, as I was painting the nursery midnight blue, my husband came home to tell me that the U.S. Army Reserves had called him up for a deployment to Afghanistan. He was to leave two weeks after our son’s due date in April.
I immediately saw that this was an answer to prayer for everyone involved. Stephen is a chaplain and his soldiers adore him and coveted his counseling while abroad. Stephen desired to love on his soldiers and do what he had spent years training to do. Our son wouldn’t know the difference, so it was perfect timing for his life. There were ways it worked for our church, too, where Stephen is an associate pastor.
The deployment was an answer to prayer for everyone involved, except myself, that was. I was going to lose out on having a partner help me through months of sleepless nights. I would be alone in seeing our son’s first everything—smile, laugh, crawl, teeth, bites of food. My husband would miss my 30th birthday, our son’s first birthday, and our fifth anniversary.
But it wasn’t only those emotional sadnesses—I was also going to be saddled with house projects while juggling a newborn’s schedule (or lack thereof), paying the bills, and maintaining a connection between father and son through handprint art in monthly care packages, a daily blog on our son’s development, and FaceTime phone calls.
To me, this was the worst news in the world. I cried for days and refused to talk to God for two months. How could this be your perfect timing, God? How could this be for my good and your glory? I felt betrayed.
God didn’t capitulate to my passive-aggressive tantrum and find a way to keep my husband home. Our son is now seven months old and my husband has been gone for 207 days.
I don’t want to tie this story up into a neat little bow like the ones on your presents under the Christmas tree. Because these last seven months have been hard, and messy, and painful. I have had to take our son on walks through our neighborhood so that I wouldn’t become paralyzed with depression. And I’ve hired a teenager to give me a few hours each week to shower and keep myself pulled together. On the days when I know my husband is traveling from post to post, and potentially in danger, I find that I’m so distracted I can drive down the highway the opposite direction from my destination or forget about an important phone meeting.
But my list of the things that God has done in my life this year is longer than my list of complaints. God has made me stronger by making me weaker and he has taught me how much I need the body of Christ.
Soon after Stephen left, I decided that the tears would be over. I was not a victim. There are single mothers who stay single for their children’s entire upbringing (and I have immense respect for them).
Loving friends reminded me that I needed to scale back my activities and expectations, but I chose instead to stay up late into the night so that the house would be clean each day. And to get up early so that our son would participate in his first Turkey Trot 5K, a tradition with my husband’s family. I refused to let this be a year in which we fell behind, a year we would always be playing catch-up from.
So this Christmas, my son and I are starting our family traditions just the two of us. We are learning Christmas hymns together and reading through Sally Lloyd Jones’s Jesus Storybook Bible. And I’m putting together ornaments for our first Jesse Tree, thanks to Ann Voskamp’s Greatest Gift. My husband won’t join us for these traditions, but they’ll be ready for him next year.
I used to think that God sat up in the clouds and judged us, that our struggles with finances or housekeeping were trivial to him. But now I know that he is a person who pleads before the Father’s throne for us, that he is the Holy Spirit who lives with us. God is a god who has helped me find my wallet so I could buy groceries, who kept my baby asleep for long naps on Sundays so I could sleep, and who gave me neighbors to take in my mail while I was visiting friends and family. He has answered every single one of my emergency prayers this year.
While I may still struggle to forgive God for calling my husband up for deployment this year, the amazing thing is that God has already forgiven me for my rebellious heart that thinks I am the one in charge. I’ve never been able to deceive myself into thinking I’m alone, because I know that there is one person who always understands how I’m feeling. Jesus.
And it’s at this time of year when I think of Mary, who also must have felt so alone, with Joseph for a midwife and a dirty stable for a hospital. Her son wasn’t born the way she wanted. And yet she wasn’t alone either. She had Jesus, too. He was flesh in her arms because he had finally come to rescue her—and me.
Our life is not our own. His ways are not our ways. And praise God for that, because his plan is bigger, mightier, and more glorious than we could ever plan for ourselves. No matter what happens on this earth, we will one day live eternally in joy in heaven because Jesus was a little boy just like my own.
Lindsey M. Roberts spent years writing exclusively for secular journalism, including such outlets as The Washington Post, Architect, and Gray magazine, before she first tried to write about Jesus. She’s thrilled to explore in words how everything from cleaning the kitchen three times a day to delighting in the maritime history of Nantucket is an opportunity to meet and glorify God. Lindsey lives with her husband, a pastor and U.S. Army Reserve chaplain, and two children in Wisconsin.