Here I was, 21 years old. I was taking Chemistry and Biology with about 15 hours of lab per week, with the stubborn goal of becoming a doctor. My son was three. My daughter was one. I received a check every month from welfare for $540. My rent was $325. I spent about $100 in gas to get to and from school each day. I used the balance to pay $1.50/hr to my Pakistani neighbor woman who watched my kids so that i could attend classes. She became a bit like a surrogate mother for me, too. If it wasn't for food stamps, we would have starved. I was becoming very thin with the stress unbelievable. My soul seemed to age literally years every few months. At 21 years old, I often was quoted as saying, "I may be 21, but my soul feels 40."
There was a moment, while still attending jr. college that haunted me for years. I was feeling crushed from the weight of poverty and trying my best to survive. I called my mother to express my anguish and plea for help. I cried, "Mom, I can't even afford toilet paper." Her response, "You are just suffering the consequences of your sin, Natalie." The sting of that statement could be summed up in one word: Rejection. I had been feeling for it for years, but when your mother can't love you in your most vulnerable place, it leaves a sense of abandonment that is astoundingly deep. I sought attention, affection, and validation where ever I could find it.
Once again, in that darkness, God sent me a light. My filipino friend, Rick, still dealing with the emptiness in his house without his brother, began to stop by to lend a hand. He worked evenings at a video store and for daily visits brought borrowed movies and a listening ear. That summer really solidified him as yet another treasured, lifelong friend.
Craig's involvement during that time with our toddlers was minimal. Having graduated, he began a new job with the county and did his best to avoid me. However, his own experience with abandoment motivated him not to completely dismiss his own children. Every two weeks, like clockwork, he would begin to miss them and come out of hiding to see them. I admonished him to show up regularly and on time in order to continue the privilege of relationship with them. Having entered adulthood, I was no longer the naive trophy wife he once walked all over. I now had the reigns and filed for divorce.
Soon after, I was accepted to university as a science major. As if God orchestrated it Himself, I got a lump of cash for a car accident which left me without transportation, but was exactly what i needed to move my little family into low-income housing and purchase a computer for school. Things began to shift in my favor. My new town, outside of the city, was a safe environment for my children and a new start for me. Public transportation, free for students, almost replaced my need for a car. Child care grants helped with costs of that enormous expense, and University loans subsidized my education. Upon moving in, I found a daycare along the bus route. Every day, I would take the bus home, jog the 3 miles to pick them up, and take the bus home with my little children in tow. Occasionally, I would ask a neighbor for a ride to the grocery store. Eventually, the DA caught up with Craig, garnishing his wages for child support. Financially stable for the first time, I was able to attend classes and continue toward my goals. I was finally right where I wanted to be.
The difficulties and juggling as a single mother for five years were lonesome, exhausting, but well worth every single tear. I learned to Trust God for my circumstances and provision, and to lean on no one else. In return, He brought the people, the resources, and the inner strength I needed make it through each and every day. Over the next two years, I graduated with a science degree, met my future husband, and I revived some of the dreams that still reside deep in my heart. I found authentic Christians and learned that there "is no condemnation in Christ." Throughout it all, I clung to Jesus, unraveling my misconceptions over time, and slowly forgiving myself, Craig, and later, my parents.