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Finding Life in the Ashes

with Jill Rigby | March 17, 2009

Life after divorce was hard for single mom Jill Rigby. Today, she talks candidly about her severe, debilitating depression, and the God who “showed up” to give her a reason to keep living.

Life after divorce was hard for single mom Jill Rigby. Today, she talks candidly about her severe, debilitating depression, and the God who “showed up” to give her a reason to keep living.

Finding Life in the Ashes

With Jill Rigby
|
March 17, 2009
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: The death of a loved one often brings a season of grief.  So does the death of a marriage.  Here is Jill Rigby.

Jill: No one in my life knew that things were where they were in my marriage.  No one knew that, and Mother was coming down for Thanksgiving, and I had not shared anything – no one in my family knew, and she walked in the door, and Mother grabbed me, and she said, "What's wrong?"  And I just fell apart, and I cried and I cried, and I said, "Mother, everything is a mess."

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, March 17th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll talk today about what you do to deal with the grief and the depression that can accompany the end of a marriage.  Stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  I think every one of us who has had the experience of standing at the altar looking into someone else's eyes, saying our vows, every one of us has a hope and a dream of where that's going to take us.  But, for a lot of folks in our culture today, Dennis, that dream disintegrates either months later or years later, sometimes unexpectedly.  And that disintegration winds up being one of the most difficult, most painful moments an individual can walk through.

Dennis: And it's, at this point, Bob, I wish we were a television program and not a radio broadcast, because I'd want to look right into the hearts of the listeners at this point, especially to that group, a select group of people who listen to our broadcast, a group of single parents who have been left to raise a family, because of divorce, by themselves.  Maybe it's a mom who has got several children, and the weight is enormous, or maybe it's a father who has experienced the abandonment of his wife. 

You know, the devastation of divorce is bad enough, but then being called to live life on purpose and to move forward with a sense of call and mission – well, that's your assignment, and I want to introduce you to a person who has gone through this process, and didn't do it perfectly, but she did do it well.  Jill Rigby joins us on FamilyLife Today.  Jill, welcome back.

Jill: Thank you, thank you, Dennis.

Dennis: Jill is the founder of Manners of the Heart ministry.  It's a ministry that reaches out to really bring respect to the community and to schools.  She has written a number of books, and she is the mother of twin sons who are now grown.  They are in their mid-20s and, as we heard earlier, Jill went through the process of going through a divorce with her husband of a number of years and was left with a couple of boys 12 years of age, to attempt to raise them on her own. 

And, Jill, as we talk about a story here that obviously is your story, there really can be redemption for that single parent who right now may feel hopeless.  You're on the other side of it, so speak some hope to some people who are listening.

Jill: You know, the message I always want to share with single parents is that rather than looking at this moment in life as the end; that once the initial shock and pain and hurt have somewhat subsided, and you can cope, in some way, again – this truly can be an amazing opportunity, and it's an opportunity that can bring you a relationship with the Lord that you really can't experience apart from such pain.  And that's really what the Lord did for me.

He drew me so close to Himself, there were times when I just – I could feel that He was crying with me, and it brought me into that relationship that He did become my husband, and the Father to my sons, and the head of my home in very real, tangible ways.  As the years passed, I have even been known to say, "Goodness, I almost feel pampered, I'm so taken care of," because those little guidance incidences happened, you know, when I desperately needed something repaired, and someone would call and offer help when they had no clue I was at that moment when I needed something, and the way that God really does draw so near, and He truly takes care of you.

Now, I do believe that we have to be willing to put ourselves in a posture that makes that possible; that we have a part we must be willing to play in that, and we talked about being willing to open our hearts and let the Lord examine our hearts and clean out the junk in us.  And then the next part of that, I believe, is being willing to look at our priority list, and I believe, as a Christian, that our priority list is God, number one; our spouse, number two; our children, number three; our service to the Kingdom, our service to the community, and on down our list.

So when a spouse is removed, whether it's through death or divorce, abandonment, they are removed, and the list just bumps up a notch.  So then it's God, children, service to the Kingdom, and so forth.  But what the world tells us to do in that moment of shatteredness is to put yourself on top of your list – "Boy, but you better take care of you."

I'll be kind of rough here and actually say I'm really tired of women being told, "Honey, you need to take care of yourself," because, yes, that's true, to a degree, but what happens when a woman is told that, it keeps a woman from allowing the Lord to examine her and the error of her ways in the situation, and it also prevents a deeper healing from taking place, because if that's happened in your life, and you're there on your own now, we should never put ourselves on our own priority list at all because we stay on top of God's priority list.  We've already said God hates divorce. 

Being a single parent is completely outside of God's perfect plan.  It's completely outside of God's will, but, of course, it happens because we live in a sinful, fallen world where we have our free will choices.

But what happens when we find ourselves in this moment is that we fit on the top of God's priority list – I do believe He gives an extra dose of grace, He gives an extra dose of patience, He will even give you an extra dose of the ability to listen at 11:00 at night when your teenager comes in, and you are so tired you can't hold your head up; He helps you to make that batch of brownies at midnight.  He allowed us to open our home, and our home was the hangout, and the reason?  Because I was the parent at home on Friday or Saturday night because that was the choice I made because my children bumped up to number two on my priority list.

I wasn't worried about myself.  I let God worry about me.  Frankly, I just didn't have the guts to say, "I'm going to worry about me.  I'm going to take care of myself because I've kind of already seen what a mess I could make of my life."

Dennis: Well, that's where I want to take you because there was a moment in your life not long after the divorce occurred where you hit a wall. 

Jill: Yeah.

Dennis: And you had to come to the end of yourself before you could look like the picture you are painting now.

Jill: Yes.

Dennis: You know, Jesus talks about unless a grain of wheat fall on the ground and die, it bears no fruit.  And, for you, there was a period of death after the divorce that dramatically shaped your life.

Jill: Yeah, not only did I hit the wall, but I fell in the pit, and I fell in the deep pit of depression.  So deeply that my mother came to keep the household running, and …

Bob: You were non-functional?  You were …

Jill: Yes.  Mother would lift me out of the bed and put me in the shower and get in with me to bathe me and to brush my teeth and shampoo my hair, and she would get me dressed, and then if the boys were coming in from school, she would go pick them up at school, and then before she'd leave, she would put me on the corner of the sofa or put me on the stool in the kitchen so …

Bob: You weren't walking for yourself?

Jill: I was not functioning.  She would look in my eyes and say, "Where are you?"  She asked me that question every day, over and over, "Jill, where are you, where are you?  Come back, come back."

Bob: How long after the divorce did this happen?

Jill: Actually, this was before the divorce, this was when my husband left home.  This is during that year.

Bob: That first year of separation.

Jill: First year of separation.

Bob: And how long were you in this state of depression?

Jill: Fortunately, it only lasted a few weeks, maybe six weeks that I was …

Bob: That's a long – that can feel like a long – you look back and say it was just a short time, six weeks – your boys may have wondered, "Are we ever going to see Mom again?"

Jill: I think they wondered.  I have been so blessed to have a – I always say "magnanimous Mama."  She's a magnificent woman, and she – and my boys adore their Mimi, and she picked them up from school, and she would help them out, whatever they needed to do, take them where they needed to go.  They love her cooking, they thought it was a great treat, you know, that she was helping.

Dennis: Jill, I have to ask you – what was the signal to your mom that you weren't doing well?  Were you on the phone with her?  Did she come over to visit?

Jill: She, again, this – you know, I'm so glad you asked me that question, Dennis, because this will be an encouragement to the women, maybe, in this situation right at this moment in their lives.  This was the fall of the year, and Mother was coming down for Thanksgiving, and I had not shared anything.  No one in my family knew, and the boys and I picked her up at the airport, and I thought I could kind of pull it off, and she walked in the door, and the boys went on about to do their thing in the neighborhood, and Mother grabbed me, and she said, "What's wrong?" – because my mother knows me well.

And I said, "Oh, everything is fine."  And she said, "You are not yourself," and I just fell apart, and I cried, and I cried, and I cried and said, "Mother, everything's a mess, everything's a mess, everything's a mess."  I mean, no one in my life knew that things were where they were in my marriage.  No one knew that because I didn't share it with anyone.

And I cried and cried and cried, and she said, "Well, let's take a nap," you know?  And, anyway, and then the problem was the next morning I couldn't get out of the bed, and that's where it started.  And I'm sure part of it was that my mother was there, and maybe I knew I could, you know, I could just stay.  And I just kind of sank deeper in the depression from there.

Bob: As you laid in bed or sat on the corner of the sofa where your mom had put you and went through this six weeks in the pit, what were you thinking?

Jill: Oh, Bob, I would lay there in the bed and say to myself, "Okay, get up.  Today is a new day, and we're going to get up today," and then an hour would pass, and I would still be in the same position saying, "Okay, Jill."  And as the weeks passed, they took me to a counselor, and she agreed that I needed some medication to help me begin to function so we could get past this.  And so I finally found my way to the kitchen one morning, and when Mother had gone to take the boys to school, about an hour and 15 or 20 minutes it took to make the round trip, and I'd walk to the kitchen to find my medication, which mother was hiding because she was terrified of where I was.

Bob: That you might overdose?  That you might …?

Jill: Oh, most definitely.  She was just as terrified of it as I was.  And I stood there in the kitchen as the sun came pouring through, and I felt that warmth on my face, and the Lord had given me the picture of the Trinity that I'd used with my sixth grade Sunday school class years before – that God is the sun, and the light that comes from the sun is Jesus, and the warmth that we feel from the sun is the Holy Spirit.  And so it's way to help sixth graders understand the concept of the Trinity and explain it and yet help them understand the interdependency and the oneness of the three.

And as I stood there, it was as if that warmth from the sun just infiltrated my cold, cold body, and just – it brought me back to life again.  And one of the things I'm so grateful for is that the Lord didn't allow me to feel shame.  I didn't feel like – oh, boy, you know, "Boy, Lord, I am so ashamed of myself."  Oh, and hide my face from Him.  In fact, I held my face higher because there He was again, and so I went over to the garbage, and I took the little prescription, and I threw it all away, and as I'm closing this garbage bin there was the visual picture of my life – this big pile of stinky garbage, and everything was a mess, I had no clue what was coming, what the future would hold, but it was a pile of garbage.

And as I closed that garbage bin, I said, "Lord, you know what?  It's all yours.  Every last stinking scrap of this mess of my life I've made, it's just yours now.  I hope you can do something with it."  And I turned to walk out of the kitchen, and I whirled back around, and I held my finger up and said, "Wait, Lord, one more thing.  I've got to tell you one more thing.  I can't help You, and I sure hope that's okay, because I've got nothing left."

Bob: What did you mean, "I can't help you?"

Jill: I meant that this was for me, I think, that full and total and complete relinquishment.  It was a total abandonment that I found out – and I'm so grateful to the Lord now – that this is what I try to convey in, I guess, my story, which I hope is really God's story, that we are nothing apart from Him, and if we'll just allow ourselves to open wide and say "Show me me through Your eyes," and allow ourselves to go there.

C.S. Lewis once said, "Embrace the pain to learn its lessons well."  And the world says, "Let's take away the pain," and the world says, "Oh, let's make you feel better, poor thing."  I just – I'm sorry, I just don't think that brings full healing.  And at that moment when I said, "I've got nothing left, and I'm not even going to help you help me," it was saying, "Lord, I know.  Thank you for showing me who I am without You.  I can't even brush my own teeth."

And ever since, and that's been, let's see, what, 14 years ago now, every time I brush my teeth, there is that beautiful, sweet, and it's not bittersweet, truly, it's not – is a beautiful reminder of who I am without Him and, oh my goodness, who I can be with Him.

Dennis: You had an encounter with your mom that occurred after you had your little conversation with God in the sunlight and also next to the garbage can that was really kind of the exclamation point of the whole deal, and this came, like, six weeks after your mom has been at your house, is that right?

Jill: Yes, and when I left the Trinity in my kitchen, I went and I stepped in the shower, and I stayed in until the hot water ran out, which must have been a half hour, I guess, and I was standing in my bedroom with my head flipped upside down, blow drying my hair, which was very long at the time, and Mother walked in, and I didn't even realize she was in the room yet, until she knocked the hairdryer out of my hand.  And I looked up at Mother, and she got hold of me by my shoulders, and she shook me, and she said, "Look in my eyes," and I looked in her eyes, and she said, "Oh, thank you, God, she's back.  Jill, you're back, you're back.  I can see it, you're back."

And then it didn't matter that I was 38, 39 years old, my Mama cuddled me up in her arms, and we fell on the bed, and we cried the rest of the day.  She said, "You know, darlin', I don't know, I don't have your answers, but now I know you're going to be okay.  You're back.  You're going to be all right."

Dennis: You know, the interesting thing about that story is we started it at the beginning with you talking about how much life you had found through the process.  But we had to go all the way back to the ditch, the deep, dark bottom you were describing there and hear the story of how God pulled you out of that to ultimately bring you life.

As you were talking, I was thinking of Romans, chapter 5, and the first five verses – "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through Him we have also obtained access, by faith, into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."

Three very, very quick thoughts – first of all, God has a purpose for everything that comes into our lives.  He wants to use it for His purposes in our life if we will but let Him.  Secondly, one of those purposes for all of us is growth.  Suffering was intended by Him to produce growth in our lives.  Third, the one thing God does require of us, and you used the word – I wrote it down before you used it – is "relinquishment."  It's the giving up of ourselves and ultimately turning to Him in faith, trusting Him.  The question is, will you trust Him?  Will you turn to Him and will you say, like Jill did, "God, my life is a mess.  I don't have anything.  It's like this garbage can."  But you know what?  You can turn a garbage can into a purposeful person that has a mission in life.

And the cool thing about this story, Bob, is it didn't end in the ditch.

Bob: Right.

Dennis: Jill is having a great ministry in her community and in dozens of communities across the country through her own ministry today of writing, speaking, and addressing young people, and she certainly hasn't allowed her circumstances to define her life and cause her to quit.

Bob: Yes, I have passed along copies of your books, "Raising Respectful Children in a Disrespectful World," and "Raising Unselfish Children in a Self-Absorbed World," to parents I know because I think these are key themes that all of us, as parents – whether we're single parents or a husband and wife working together on this assignment.  This is a part of what God's challenged us to, as moms and dads, and I want to encourage our listeners, go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com.  There is information about the books Jill has written on our website.  Again, it's FamilyLifeToday.com.  Or call 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-358-6329, 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team can answer any questions you have about the books Jill has written or about other resources we have available, and we can make arrangements to have any of these resources sent out to you.

It seems like when I pick up a newspaper these days, there is some new graph or chart that is showing the progress that the economy is making, or how things have dropped recently.  This is, obviously, a time of tremendous economic uncertainty, and it is in times like this that all of us here at FamilyLife are especially grateful for those of you who not only listen to this program but also help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.  We are listener-supported.  Your donations are what make it possible for us to be on this station each day and for us to be on other stations all across the country.  And we so appreciate your partnership with us.

If you are able to help with a donation this month, here is how we'd like to say thank you.  We'd like to send you a copy of the most viewed motion picture of all time – "The Jesus Film" on DVD.  It's great to watch with your family in advance of Easter.  It tells the story of the life of Jesus, His death, His burial and Resurrection.  It's an accurate account, and if you know someone who is a native Spanish speaker or someone whose first language is German or Arabic or Vietnamese or Tagalog, one of the things about this DVD is that it has separate audio tracks so that those folks can watch this movie in their native language.

And there is a special feature called "The Story of Jesus for Children."  It tells about the life of Jesus through the eyes of a child, and it's very appropriate for elementary and younger age children to watch.

The DVD is our way of saying thank you when you support the ministry of FamilyLife Today this month with a donation of any amount.  If you make your donation online at FamilyLifeToday.com, just type "JesusDVD" in the keycode box, or call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone.  Just ask for the Jesus DVD when you do that, and, again, thank you so much for your partnership with us.  We appreciate your support of this ministry.

Tomorrow we want to talk about how someone moves from the emotional devastation of a divorce through a process of recovery and moving toward wholeness again as a person.  Jill Rigby is going to be back with us tomorrow.  I hope you can be back as well.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

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