James 1: 27, Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
One of my earliest memories is one I wish I could forget. I was maybe three years old. My Mama, my Daddy and I were sitting and having breakfast when my father, for some reason known only to him, exploded. Slamming the table, he jumped up wielding his fist as a weapon in front of him. Cursing Mama, threatening to knock her **** teeth down her throat, he was a terrifying figure indeed. My mother, who’d been abused by him for years at this point, continued to sit. I don’t know if she spoke or not but I do know that I did. I also jumped to my feet and screaming as loud as a three year old can, I came between the Mama I loved more than life and the father I both loved and feared. With all the force I could muster, I screamed, “Don’t you hurt my Mama!”. I probably said something else. I don’t remember. I don’t remember much after that point except that my father, stunned to silence, looked at me, looked at her and then quietly walked out of the room.
He didn’t walk out of our lives. We walked out of his. We’d already run from him on a number of occasions and soon we were running again. He who both threatened violence and carried it out, was threatening my mother that he would “kill you and take the girl” if we didn’t come back to him. We did go back. Then we’d leave again. Finally after she was marked with burns, bruises and broken bones and my spirit was crushed to the point I was “blanking out” and walking into walls and had been prescribed phenobarbital, we left for good.
We headed home, to Tallassee AL. My mother had been born and raised there. There she’d married at 20, had given birth to twins who then, like her marriage, died. It was the early 1940’s and there was no known cause of the twins death; her marriage died at the hands of WW2. A long separation following intense grief led her husband into the arms of another woman. But Tallassee was still home. Her brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles and cousins were there. There, for the first time, we joined a church.
We’d gone to church before but we’d never settled. Either because we were nearly constantly on the run or because of the pervasive fear and stress in our lives, we couldn’t, didn’t, attend regularly. But in Tallassee we did. It became the bedrock of my existence. With joy, I memorized the names of the books of the Bible, learned songs of praise that I repeated loudly and off-key and heard ancient stories that filled my imagination. I learned who Jesus was and, when I learned of the crucifixion, I had my heart broken all over again. But not for long. Finally I’d found my best Friend. It wasn’t for several years that I realized that our little family, my mother and myself, were missing out on something that almost every other family there had: fellowship outside of church as well as inside.
My mother was a woman alone. In a world of couples, she didn’t fit in. In a world where children had two parents, I didn’t fit in. So when friends invited friends over, she and I were never invited. When groups assembled, we were sometimes included and from time to time, I’d be invited to play somewhere. But it wasn’t until there was another single Mama in the church, that my mother and I got invited anywhere, just she and I.
My mother felt that loss, felt the exclusion, like an open sore. She used to talk about wishing we’d been invited to this or to that. It just didn’t happen. It hurt. And I think it helped to lead to her later extreme emotional breakdown. Which led to more pain for both of us.
My mother was a widow. Though she divorced my father when I was five, he was dead from alcoholism two years later. Even when alive, he’d never been a husband or a father; now there was no hope he ever would be. I was officially a half-orphan. But few thought on us. Few offered words of comfort or friendship. We had a very hard time financially as both she and I had some pretty severe health issues. She worked as long as she could; when her health forced her home, she started sewing for a living. No one could sew like my Mama. To this day, I’ve never seen her equal. Still we often did without, frequently we had to make do. Meals were small and sometimes she just didn’t eat. I thought then she had a small appetite. I realized later she was saving more for me. Eventually, due to a special government program, she bought a house; later, when my medical bills mounted and threatened to sink us, she sold that house and we moved in with first with this family, then that, then another, and another, as she became a live-in aide to the elderly and infirm. We struggled and nearly sunk every single step of the way.
I don’t think that the church has to step up and do everything in every single case where there is need. Struggle has its point and purposes. Struggling can make a Mom more dependent upon Jesus and that’s a good thing indeed. And if family members can help them out, they ought to. In our case, they wouldn’t. But I do know that Jesus said that Christians are to care for widows and for orphans. Sometimes we do. And sometimes we don’t.
It hurts to be a woman alone. It’s hard to raise a child with two parents; even harder with one (or when one just refuses to act as a parent). There’s things a local church can do to make life a little simpler, a little less of a struggle, for a single Mom and her children. You can offer help financially. You can pray. You can take meals. Offer to babysit while she does errands. Babysit if she is sick and needs to rest. Invite her and her children into your home. Whatever you do, treat her with dignity. Treat her children with dignity. They are already walking a long, hard and lonely road. You are blessed if you are in a situation where you can alleviate some of her pain, fear or stress. Surely there’s something you can do, something the church as a whole might be able to do. Start with praying for her and her children. Then think, put yourself in her situation. What would you hope someone might do? Might say? Might offer? Then step out and be a blessing. God will bless you for it.