I’m so happy to introduce you to Jenni Ellis! Jenni says:
I want my son to know that God comes first in my life. While I can tell him that, I have to model that for him because I know he will pay much more attention to what I do than what I say.
When I “met” Jenni I didn’t know that she grew up and lives in Atlanta. I grew up in Atlanta, too! I moved to North Carolina six years ago, but miss Georgia terribly. Then I found out that Jenni is an administrator at a private school across the street from the elementary school where I taught six years ago! What a small world!
I love Jenni’s story and words here because she offers so much encouragement to all single women and most especially single moms. So get comfortable, read her interview, and soak in her words of wisdom.
Brenda: First, tell us a little about yourself – your name, age, where you live, and where you grew up.
Jenni: I am 39. I grew up in Atlanta and still live in Atlanta.
Brenda: Where do you work, and how did you get started in your job?
Jenni: I work at a Catholic school as an administrator. I started off teaching middle school for Whitfield County Schools in Dalton, Georgia. My second year teaching my principal told me, “Jenni, one day you are going to make a great administrator.” I literally laughed in his face and told him I had no intention of leaving the classroom. I believe now that God put him in my life to open my eyes to this possibility. This is my 19th year in education and my 12th year as an administrator. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Brenda: Do you feel like your job is God’s calling on your life or do you hope it leads to something else one day?
Jenni: My job is definitely my vocation. I get excited going into work every day.
I am not sure where it will lead. As of now I have two different dreams on my heart for the long-term – one to open a Catholic Montessori school here in Atlanta and/or to be the head of an all-girls Catholic School. Only God knows what the plan is. I pray every day that I do His will and that he guides me on the path he wants me to take. One of these may be part of my plan; neither of these may be part of my plan. “I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord.” I hang onto to Jeremiah 29:11 especially when I start to question or get anxious about what the future may hold – both in regard to my job and my home life.
Brenda: When you envisioned your life as a young girl, did you hope to have a career when you grew up or was your desire more for marriage and children or did you want both for your life?
Jenni: I honestly expected that I would have a career and be married with a family. There was no doubt in my mind that I could have both. This was the example my grandmother set for me. She taught school and had a family at a time when being a stay-at-home mom was the norm. I knew if she could do it, I could too.
Brenda: What fires you up? What are you most passionate about in your life and in the world?
Jenni: I am most passionate about helping other people. I feel that God has gifted me with the ability to connect people to one another and to connect people with opportunities.
Brenda: Are you involved in serving in your community or church? What, if any, ministries or organizations are you a part of?
Jenni: I am going through Stephen Minister training this year, which I am very excited about. I also am involved in Christ Renews His Parish and am a drop-in assistant for Catechesis of the Good Shepard. I also host a group of women from my parish at my house every other Wednesday night for prayer and reflection and fellowship. And, yes, they are all married.
Brenda: Tell us one thing you LOVE about being single and one thing you hate (or your biggest struggle) about being single.
Jenni: Love – The freedom to make my own decisions. Biggest struggle – Not having another adult to confide in.
Brenda: I imagine there are times when you feel content in your singleness and other times when you want to throw something across the room because of it, but overall, how do you feel about being a single woman? Is there more contentment and peace or more of the opposite?
Jenni: This has been quite a journey for me and journey that isn’t over.
Starting when I was very young I always wanted a boyfriend. My life revolved around the boy of the day, trying to get his attention, and trying keep his attention. My self-esteem was in the tank and I didn’t feel like I deserved a boyfriend.
In college I had my first real boyfriend. We dated for several years, but one day I woke up and realized that he wasn’t treating me as well as I deserved to be treated and I broke up with him. Months after that I began to panic because I was a senior in college without a boyfriend.
I did start to date someone else my senior year. We dated for several years. We eventually got engaged because that is what everyone was doing. God was present as we were preparing for our marriage because as I planned the wedding nothing was working out – the bridal shop where I was going to buy my dress closed, locations weren’t working out and neither were invitations. I took a step back and realized that, in fact, we weren’t meant to be together. Looking back I realize that we were together because it was easy for both of us. He is happily married now and I am very happy for him.
I am at peace with my life the way it is now. Yes, there are times of anxiety and wishing things were different, but overall life is really, really good. I am very blessed and I try to never lose sight of that.
Brenda: Do you ever get mad at God because you are single? When bitterness, discontentment, confusion, and even jealousy creep into your mind, how to you deal with it? Do you have a go-to person or scripture verse or something else that helps?
Jenni: There are times that I definitely get mad at God and I tell him how angry/mad/lonely/sad I am. I believe that is prayer too. God wants us to be completely honest with him. A lot of times I will write about it in my journal before I go to bed and I feel that just getting it off my chest helps and I feel better in the morning.
Brenda: How do you deal with loneliness?
Jenni: I try to remind myself of all the benefits of being single and, trust me, there are a lot of them.
I reach out to a friend and/or help someone in need – even if that is only holding the door for someone as they enter or leave a building. If I can, I get out of my house. Staying home alone doesn’t help things.
I have this Rainer Maria Rilke quote in my bathroom
Believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”
What I realized over months of reading this each day is that this quote is not about a man’s love, but about God’s love. This is how God loves me and this is all that I need.
Brenda: Do you struggle with obsessing about guys and dating? Like, if you’re interested in a guy or if you just start dating someone new, do you think about him constantly, analyze every conversation, and get overly attached quickly? Is so (or if not) how do you deal with your emotions?
Jenni: I used to do this all the time. I have found for the first time ever that a man who has shown some interest in me is not the number one thing on my mind. Quite honestly, at this point I am nervous about being in a relationship with a man because I have such a great relationship with God – that is the gift that singleness has brought me – and I am afraid being in a relationship with a man will distract me from my relationship with God.
Brenda: Do you struggle with finding community in your local church? How do you find community in a world that seems coupled up?
Jenni: This was really, really hard for me at first. What I realized over time is that it isn’t other people who had the problem with me being single, it was me who was self-conscious about being single. Everyone was seeing me as Jenni, even though I thought people were seeing me as “that single mom.” I took several leaps of faith and tried to get involved in several different things at church before one was a true fit. I just had to keep putting myself out there and being willing to make the first move.
Brenda: Are more of your girlfriends married or single? How do you find authentic friendships as a single woman?
Jenni: Most of my girlfriends are married. As a mom, I find that most of my friends are either moms’ of my son’s friends or friends from church who also have children. In both cases almost all of them are married. Because we are moms we have that in common. The fact that I am single really has no bearing on our relationship, although at times when they complain about their husbands I will say things like, “It’s not so bad being single!” And admittedly there are times when I do get jealous, but I know that there are also times they are jealous of my situation.
Brenda: Our perception of you is that you are living a fulfilled, purposeful life as a single woman. You’re not waiting around for marriage, but fulfilling God’s call on your life now. What would you say is your secret to doing this?
Jenni: I turn to God in all things. I am sure women have conversations with their husbands, I have those conversations with God. And the great part is that I don’t have to wait for my husband to be around. God is always there.
Brenda: What words of advice do you have for other single women who want to live with purpose now and not wait for marriage to start their lives?
Jenni: Start today. Don’t wait another second to live the life you want to live. Find out who you are and be that person without a man in your life. The biggest secret is that you are going to need to be that person once you have a man in your life because the reality is that life really won’t be all that different when he arrives.
Brenda: Now let’s talk some about your life as a single mom.
Brenda: How many children do you have and what are their ages?
Jenni: I have one son who is five.
Brenda: Is divorce also a part of your story along with being a single mom?
Jenni: Yes, his dad and I got divorced when he was 8 months old. Although his dad doesn’t live close by we have a great relationship. We make an effort to still do things together – we actually went apple picking together just a few weeks ago.
Here is my public service announcement in regard to divorce – when you find out that someone is getting a divorce, please do not say “I am sorry.” A much better response is “How are you?” or “That must be hard.” Everyone’s story is different. Be a good friend and minister to the person. Don’t pass judgment. Saying you are sorry, although not intentional, could be taken as passing judgment.
Brenda: What does your community and support system look like? Do you have a team of people to help you – mentors, counselors, church family, and personal family?
Jenni: I have great friends, but these are not people who have been in my life for years and years. These are mostly people who have come into my life since my son was born. It has taken years to form these friendships. Really, years. And these are friendships that continue to form and develop.
I have made a conscious effort in this regard and have prayed for God to bring the right people into my life. It didn’t happen overnight, but over time He has provided me a wonderful community.
This being said, I am still not 100% comfortable asking for help when I need it. I am working hard at accepting help when it is offered. It is a process.
My dad and stepmom moved to Atlanta about a year ago. Having them here is a huge help even though we don’t live in the same part of town.
I also see my therapist approximately every two weeks. She is wonderful and has helped me through a lot. It is wonderful to have someone in my life whose only role in my life is to support me.
Brenda: How important, would you say, is community and support for single moms? How do single moms go about finding community?
Jenni: Community is very important, but unfortunately there isn’t a one size fits all solution to finding that community. When it comes to finding community my mantra is: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. I have had and continue to have failed attempts.
Brenda: Are there days when you are completely overwhelmed? What keeps you going on the hardest days?
Jenni: Yes, yes, yes! There are definitely days I am completely overwhelmed. I don’t know what keeps me going other than I know I have to do what is best for my son. I keep going because I don’t have time to stop and have no other choice than continuing to put one foot in front of the other. I try to always have a smile on my face. It helps my son and it helps me. And when you are smiling people smile back and that helps a ton too.
I know that as a single mom and a career your days were long and tiring. What does the day-in and day-out look like for you? How do you balance both aspects of your life without neglecting one?
Here is my average day:
5 a.m. – Get up
6 a.m. – Wake my son up
7 a.m. – Leave for school
7:30 a.m. – Drop my son off at his school
7:55 a.m. – Arrive at my school for the day
4:45 p.m. – Leave my school
5:20 p.m. – Pick up my son from school
6:00 p.m. – Get home, get dinner, etc.
7:00 p.m. – Nighttime routine with my son and get him to bed
8:00 p.m. – Answer emails, etc. for work
9:30 p.m. – Head to bed
Additionally I average two nights a week that I have to go to school for an event or meeting.
Our lives are jam-packed from early in the morning until late in the evening. There is no down time. My son doesn’t do any extracurriculars during the week because there isn’t time. I don’t have a nanny and am not involved in any car pools. I am doing it all myself.
There are days I am a great mom and days I am a great friend and days that I am a great employee, but rarely is there a day that I am good at all three things. In my world, as much as I hate it, something is always neglected. When you are doing it all by yourself there is no way around it.
To me balance is defined as wanting to go to work in the morning and wanting to go home in the afternoon. If I am dreading either part, then that is my indication that something is off. At that point I need to figure out what it is and get back on track.
Brenda: Is dating a part of your life now? At what point did dating become part of your life again? How did you know you were healthy enough to begin dating?
Jenni: This summer is the first time that I really opened myself up to dating again. It has been almost five years since my son’s dad and I got divorced and I wasn’t ready to even consider dating until this summer. I have gone on a few dates, but dating is a lot different than it was before and I am a lot different than I was before. I recently read The Surrendered Single by Laura Doyle and it really helped me get my head in the right place in regard to dating.
Brenda: How has dating and looking at potential future husbands changed since your previous marriage experience? How do you approach dating differently?
Jenni: I am not sure if I will marry again. On one hand I don’t want to spend my life alone. On the other hand my life is great just the way it is. Only God knows what is in store for me.
Brenda: How has God worked in your life as a single mom? How has He grown you and how has your relationship with Him matured?
Jenni: I want my son to know that God comes first in my life. While I can tell him that, I have to model that for him because I know he will pay much more attention to what I do than what I say.
Brenda: What advice would you give a newly single mom? What should she do first to begin the process of healing and restoration for her and her child?
Jenni: Take the time to take a deep breath. Know that God will not give you more than you can handle, although on many days it may seem like it. Allow yourself to get in a routine and adjust to the new normal for you and your children. Don’t try to make too many changes too quickly. Don’t rush into another relationship. You need time to process the one you are getting out of, especially because your children are involved.
You need someone to care for you, to listen and to support you. Find someone to talk to – a counselor, a therapist, a spiritual director, or a Stephen Minister. Stephen Ministries can be found at over 160 Christian denominations across the US and Canada and in 24 other countries. If there isn’t a Stephen Ministry at your church, I am sure there is one in a church nearby. Because it is non-denominational the denomination of the home church isn’t important. There is never fee to have a Stephen Minister talk with you.
Brenda: What advice would you give single moms who have been single for a longer period of time but can’t seem to find peace in their circumstances?
Jenni: Consider the time that you have been given as a single mom a gift. The grass is always greener and one day when you aren’t single, you will look back fondly at your time being single and miss it. Keep turning it over to Him and remember that His plans for you are greater than any you have for yourself. Trust completely in God.
Brenda: And some fun stuff!
Brenda: Which do you like best – Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or Pinterest (or all of it!)?
Jenni: Pinterest – it’s my vice.
Brenda: What’s your favorite drink?
Jenni: I’m super boring and only drink water, so I will go with that as my fave.
Brenda: Where would you want to live the rest of your life – beach or mountains?
Jenni: The beach.
Brenda: Do you read more fiction or nonfiction?
Jenni: It’s a total mix. Fiction for pleasure reading. Nonfiction for work and church.
Brenda: Are you an introvert or extrovert?
Jenni: Total extrovert, but because I am with people all day having alone time in essential.
Brenda: What’s something quirky about you?
Jenni: When pumping gas the price must stop on a multiple of 5. Yes, I am that person pumping a little bit more after the automatic shutoff cuts off because the price must stop on either a 5 or a 0.
Brenda: What else do we need to know about you? Where can we connect with you online?
Jenni: Yes, I have a blog – www.georgiajenni.blogspot.com – but admittedly I don’t update often. My goal this year is to at least keep everyone posted on the progress of my list of 40 things that I want to accomplish before my 40th birthday. I am much more active on Pinterest.