When I accepted my first (and current) call, I was intentional in looking for congregation that had time and space carved out for children during the week. To put it bluntly, I was look for on-site childcare for the future, hopefully at a reduced (if not free) price for future dream fulfillment. Four months into my call, I became pregnant with our first child (“that was quick,” my head of staff remarked with amusement). At three months old, Daniel was just three doors down from my office. At two and a half years old, he is now two doors down, having graduated from the baby room to the “two’s.” In the fall, one door away at the “three’s.” While the privilege of bringing my son to work was beyond measure, the blessing was hundred-fold when my marriage fell apart.
I don’t recommend divorce.
Then again, I kind of do.
Becoming a divorced clergy who also happens to be a single mom was a huge adjustment, and it came hurtling so quickly that I’m not sure I was standing for much of 2009. I stood for Daniel when I had him, but the days when I found myself alone in my apartment fighting depression over shared custody and a slew of other divorce-y battles left me wondering how long the waters would be up to my neck. In his absence, I would gather Daniel’s favorite stuffed animals (doggie, tiger and bun-bun) and slept in his sweet embrace, my soul emptied not just of spouse, but now too of child three days a week.
It can be hard to proclaim God and God-isms when feelings of isolation, betrayal and grief get in the way of experiencing the very grace, love and hope we cling to, profess and proclaim at table, font and pulpit. Just when one would expect the floodgates of compassion to open from the congregation, I experienced a trickle. Divorce can do that. It can halt conversation. It causes others pause. It creates doubts in leadership and ministry capabilities. It can bring about a self-reflection that one would rather leave behind. It reminds congregants that even in the space where they seek a sure foundation, the boat still rocks from time to time - even on the inside.
But the Children’s Enrichment Program was truly my resurrection. Not only were his weekdays full of stability from 8:30-2 while instability seemed to swirl everywhere else, but on the weekdays that I didn’t have custody of Daniel, I still got to see him. If I opened my door and the door to the hallway leading to the classrooms, I could hear his laughter and his tears. I got to interrupt the lesson for a hug, or push his swing on the playground. And because I do a chapel time with the children, I taught him songs of simple faith and prayers that knit us together.
My office is cluttered with his toys, including one of those Fisher Price cars he can drive in the hallways. My door is covered with artwork, that, when it is swung open into my office, I am reminded of his presence in his absence. Current pictures are always posted alongside the latest artshow, and I find joy in congregants pausing and wondering if he’s really grown just that much.
I still sleep with doggie from time to time. Daniel’s favorite stuffed animal, I bring doggie close and breathe him in deep. I love his nappy fur from sweaty nights and few washings. Doggie reminds me that Daniel will be back. Really and truly, because he lives, I can face tomorrow.