I’m Melanie Goldstone, and this is how I’ve been living deeply.
It was very sudden when I was first on my own with the kids -nine of my 10 were still living at home- as my marriage unexpectedly dissolved five and a half years ago, with an order of protection in place to safeguard me and the children. I had stayed home for 20 years and home schooled. (I still home school my remaining school-aged children today). All of a sudden, I needed cash income fast or we’d be waiting weeks to eat- we had nothing but our clothes and nowhere to live. Shelters either couldn’t accept a large family like mine or didn’t have room. So I got two jobs that paid cash. One was driving a taxi, the other delivering pizzas. Life was just trying to survive day by day. I thought of it like being out in the ocean flailing- it’s dark, it’s gloomy, you can’t see the shore or anything; I was just trying to get enough energy to kick above a wave coming over me every day. I was incredibly sleep-deprived. One customer actually attacked me while I was driving the taxi, so I decided that night to quit and take a sales job. I discovered I liked sales, and that reignited a desire I’d had years back to do real estate. But I was unable to get my real estate license then- I couldn’t get enough time off between my jobs to do the class. And what would I have lived on if I was putting time into building a real estate career? I had to have an income still, so real estate was a goal that would have to wait. At one point we were in a one-room motel for a month. We had no refrigerator, so I’d buy small amounts of milk and the kids would just drink it right then. I went to the store three times a day to get them fresh food because we had nowhere to store it. I’d say ‘Eat all the ham because there’s nowhere to keep it. Otherwise, we’re throwing it out to the racoons!’ and we’d all laugh. Our first step to stability was finding a house to live in. I had been saving like crazy to come up with enough for a deposit, rent, and utilities, and God enabled me to secure a rental home within a couple months of being on my own.
After the early years of extreme struggle, I managed to save up two years of tax refunds. We could live on that while I started pursuing a full-time real estate career without having to worry about another income, and that’s what really changed our lives. I’m in my second year as a realtor with The Sands Group at Keller Williams Realty. Life is easier now. It’s still a lot of work, but I enjoy the work and it’s so different from doing the physical labor that made my joints sore. I love the relationships and how I’m able to serve people and feel like I’m a little part of giving them better lives. That’s very gratifying. But I wouldn’t trade what I went through- it helped me learn gratitude and joy. I really needed it to happen at the age it did -approaching 50 years old- because I don’t think I could’ve appreciated it if I’d gone through it in my 20s, when I was physically stronger. I would’ve been asking, ‘Why me? Why me?’ The kids (six of them, ages 8 to 17, are still at home) and I really haven’t felt that. We’ve felt like, ‘This is what we have, and this is okay.’ Watching God carry us through so much, it’s brought us a lot of gratitude- being thankful while you’re in pain is a reassuring sign to us that God’s producing spiritual maturity. Every hard stage of life, from my mom dying when I was 31 to a very trying marriage where it was just struggle all the time- all that shaped me to still be able to enjoy life during these past few years of trials and have genuine gratitude. I know in my 20s I would have been saying, ‘Why me? Why are you letting me go through this, God? When is life easier? Why the struggle?’ Being nearly 50 when I started going through this, it wasn’t like that. I remember thanking God that I could pay our utility bills with no money left over instead of saying, ‘Darn it, I only have $5 left now.’ That’s a perspective only God can produce.
I can barely describe how wonderful CSPC has been for us. It’s made me feel like I’m almost not a single parent. Just like my extended family has stepped in to help us (my 79-year-old dad still plays a huge role, doing home & car repairs and taking the kids to church activities when I can’t be two places at once!), so has the church. I think of people like Katie Goodner, who’s been my daughter Rosalie’s youth leader moving up with her through the years. She’s provided closeness at a time when Rosalie really needed her. The kindness and generosity of time and prayer that the children’s ministry and youth leaders have invested in all the kids has just been amazing. With the boys, it’s filled a big gap- I know how to teach my daughters how to become women but don’t know how to teach my sons to become men. So it’s been incredible to see the impact the men in the high school and junior high ministries have had. It’s needed encouragement week after week, every week. My boys genuinely love these men. Godly influences like Dan Davis, Lee French, Brian Campbell, Ryan Riggins, and Jeff Haun (and others!) are examples of strength and love my sons can emulate. I can see what CSPC means to them in the determination of one of my sons (Harry, who’s now an adult but was a teenager at the time) to be present and highly involved with our church. Those days when I was working two full-time jobs and overtime at one of them, how much I wanted to sleep in on a Sunday morning! I’d be thinking, ‘Please, just once, just once. Maybe Harry won’t wake up this morning. ‘ Looking back, thank God he was at my bedroom door every Sunday morning- ‘Come on, get up. We gotta go! We gotta go!’ There were days when I was almost falling asleep driving to church. One time I almost missed the exit (He still talks about it every time we go past that exit!). I needed him in my life those first two years or I wouldn’t have been keeping my kids in church because I wanted to sleep! God provided what I needed- I needed that boy to tell me ‘Let’s go!’ If he hadn’t had that strong desire, then everyone else would have been falling away from church. I would’ve become complacent with it.
God promises our story ends well -He’ll get us safely into His arms- and that’s helped me see His blessings in even small ways through all this. For example, when I look back at that motel room, my perspective is ‘How nasty!’ My kids’ is totally different. They’ll think about it and say, ‘Do you think we could ever go back and stay there, just for fun?’ They look back on that as a time of joy and adventure. What a gift! Because we know the story ends well, the fear you might expect us to have isn’t there. He’s encouraged us in big (earthly) ways, too. Something showed up every day that I needed- usually a person to encourage, meet a physical need, whatever. I think of my CSPC friend Karen Peebles. Once I was $200 short on rent, which was due the next day. Out of the blue, Karen showed up on our doorstep and said, ‘You know, I got my tax refund back. And I felt like a portion of it, I just needed to be able to give to someone else.’ Wouldn’t you know it? She had $200- exactly what I needed. You hear stories like that, and they sound cliché if you’ve never been in those situations, but I’ve seen it happen over and over again. There were times when I needed $100 for gas and groceries, and someone just gave me an extra generous tip because they were feeling good that day. To look back and see God’s hand holding us every single minute, to feel that like I have, I get mad at myself for ever having even a tinge of worry. Because He doesn’t owe me anything. Who am I? An undeserving sinner, of course, like all His children. Yet everything we’ve needed has been there. I can’t worry now, for the most part; I’m not saying it doesn’t occasionally creep up. Of course, there’s still sadness and strain, which I have to be real about and face head-on, but that’s different from making a habit of worrying. Just yesterday, I found a nail in my tire- something that’s weirdly happened to me a lot the past few years. 20 years ago, I would have been freaking out- ‘Oh my gosh, what am I going to do?’- but now this stuff can’t bother me. I’ve lost the ability to have certain types of fear and worry because I haven’t been alone yet. God’s been there the entire time.