Learning to be provided for

I’m sitting in my new dining room as I write this, looking out a large bay window onto a quiet, early-autumn morning. If I’d been keeping track, the number of cars which have driven down our street in the 20 minutes I’ve been sitting here, it would probably add up to fewer than the fingers on one hand. We get more cat and dog traffic than auto traffic, which is dreamy.

It’s Wednesday so it’s a little-kids-only day at home. We’re not doing complicated STEM crafts or visiting the library; they’re watching a Wild Kratts marathon in their pajamas while I clean up from breakfast and make vague plans for the next 8 hours of life. Okay, maybe we’re all in our pajamas.

Facebook reminded me this morning that two years ago today we were pressed up against a barricade in the streets of Philadelphia, clutching a 6-week-old baby against our chests and then dangling him out enticingly like so much human sausage to be snatched up by the Pope’s personal motorcade guards and thrust into the air for a drive-by pontifical smooch.

I remember the exhilaration of the moment and locking eyes, ever so briefly, with the Holy Father as he rolled past our spot in the crowd and he laughed at me. Head thrown back, big south-American style belly laugh at the stricken and slightly hysterical expression on my face/noises I was making while my baby was passed back to me over the metal fencing.

It felt like a real gotcha moment from Heaven. A wink and a nod and a full-blown cackle over how easy it was – is – for God to gob smack us with things we neither deserve nor have any business hoping for, if we’re being honest with ourselves.

God has done that to me so many times (and I don’t just mean via Pope kisses, though that be true enough); He relishes in providing extravagantly and coming through in the clutch. But obsessed as I am by control, planning, and managing life down to the micro minutia, I miss it. All too often.

Right now we’re broke. House poor, they call it. Ridiculous to imagine we’re anything other than wildly, luxuriously wealthy in this house filled with clean clothes and running water and, yes, 3 entire toilets. But technically, based on assets-held and cash in the bank, we’re dancing perilous close to the red.

We knew it would be, buying again in this rip-roaring housing market, and we were not sorry to part with our hard-earned and long sought after down payment when we signed on the dotted line back in August, but the reality is, now we’re back to square one, so to speak, but with a roof over our heads and a bank willing to let us repay them oh-so-slowly for the privilege of calling it “ours.”

Normally this would make me nervous. And while I am not thrilled about the zeros in our checking account that remain stubbornly on the wrong side of the decimal point, I’m aware that it is consistently in these moments of apparent desolation that the Lord delights in coming through. Whether it’s with an unexpected freelance check, uniform pants in exactly the right size for a growing first grade weed, a freakishly-low electric bill for the month, or, yes, a quick smack on the cheek from the Vicar of Christ, our God is the master of “gotcha.”

The thing is, I’m a planner and a choleric and a first born and the right Meyer’s Brigg combo to get me lumped in with Mussolini, so I like to plan things. I like to be in charge. I feel powerful when I’m calling the shots.

But when I’m the boss, the miracle stream slows to an anemic trickle. Sure, I might get the dishes all done, the lunches all packed, the essay completely edited, the inbox cleared, and oh yeah, all the bathrooms scrubbed to perfection (bear with me, this is a dream sequence) but it is almost always, always, at the cost of my sanity and the peace in our home.

I had a wonderful encounter in the confessional this past weekend (after, ahem, taking my own words to heart and just getting in line) during which father gently reminded me not to chase perfection. Not to expect perfection. And as I sat there mentally rebuffing his suggestion with the Scripture passage about being perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect running in all caps across my brain (this gives you an idea of exactly how intensely neurotic I am, no?) he spoke the words aloud: “You know we are to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, yes? Well that perfection is in love. Not in productivity. Not in human achievement. Love.”

I lowered my reddening cheeks and conceded the point to the Holy Spirit. Nicely played, omniscient one.

That’s the thing about God. He already knows what we need, and He knows better than we do how to achieve it for us. But most of us moderns – and hyper-technological Westerners in particular, I’d wager – rarely give Him space to operate. Our days are so scripted and our risks are so carefully and calculatingly managed that it’s nearly impossible to experience His provision in a tangible way. I mean, does God provide the skills and means for my dentist to operate his practice and therefore to give me quality dental care? Well, sure. But it’s a little harder to keep that in mind when I’m paying using my debit card and the insurance our employer has provided through Dave’s compensation plan, driving there in the car we payed off and wearing shoes that fit that I bought at Target.

It’s easy to lose sight of God when it feels like we’re calling all the shots ourselves.

I think that’s why these seasons of scarcity have such a capacity to build faith and stretch us into the next level of trusting Him. I spent so many years floundering in anxiety during the leaner times, lying awake at night not in prayer but in paralyzing fear of the “what if?”

I don’t care to spend my nights that way any longer. And what a gift that I don’t have to, that I’ve been freed from the prison of anxiety with a new capacity for discomfort and expectant hope in Him. And sure, it’s a combination of the right meds, the fact that we’re snuggling in “our” house, no longer canvassing the entire metro area by minivan every afternoon between 2 and 5 pm, and a general chilling out in the frenetic pace of life as compared to the summer we just survived, but it’s also that I’m allowing myself to be vulnerable because I have little choice in the matter.

I’m more emotionally and physically vulnerable when I’m pregnant. And rather than fighting that, this time around, I’m choosing to embrace it. I’m more tired than I’ve ever been, because I’m older than I’ve ever been (which my doctor is fond of reminding whenever I raise another “is this normal?” question at appointments) and because my body has done this quite a few times in the past 7 years. I’m having to let standards slide (cough, cough, Netflix) and allow dishes to pile up in the sink while I lie down and close my eyes, knowing with perfect confidence that those dirty pans will still be there at 4 or 9 pm, and that the universe won’t stop spinning if I step off the ride for a little breather.

Even this little reflection, typed in a moment of quiet at a dirty breakfast table, could have come together in 30 minutes rather than 50 were it not for the sweet baby from that picture, now a loud, opinionated two-year-old, perching stickily in my lap and forcing me to reach awkwardly around his precariously balanced penguin-shaped bulk to type.

But every few minutes he turns around and yells “Mommy, I love you so much!” and if I weren’t willing to endure a few (or maybe more than a few) misplaced keystrokes and having a SUDDENLY AND MYSTERIOUSLY DAMP LAP, well, I might miss the gift.

And I don’t want to miss the gift. I don’t want to miss the provision because I think I know best, or because I insist on my own way. I’ve spent far too many years living that lie, and it’s time for something new.

Let Him show off. He almost certainly will. And if you’re anything like me, once you see it happen, you’ll be curious enough to let Him try again, even though you secretly doubt Him every single time.

Lucky for us He likes showing off.


  • Lorna

    Is it normal to get goosebumps that your kid got kissed by the Pope?
    A whole post of normal, emotional, count your blessings encounters.
    I need to go to confession (I’m still a bit scared).
    At the end of an emotional day – pre school visit where the kids sang ‘every day I grow a little bit, there is no way of stopping it’ (small tear) and an emotional but positive encounter with the eldest boys teacher (some more eye moisture) you’ve made me stop and count my ‘wealth’

  • Melissa

    So needed today. We are going through a terribly rough season with our oldest child, and had decided to wait a while and use NFP to space babies out a bit more so we can focus on getting him the help he needs. Sunday we found out we are pregnant with #4. So much joy in my heart, so much fear for the future. Thanks for the reminder to let God care for us, it was much appreciated

  • Caroline

    thank you Jenny. I really needed to hear these words, and to be reminded of the superabundance of His protection and care during this time of uncertainty. He has it under control, and you brought me back to the wonder of our Heavenly Father’s care.

  • Colm

    Inspired by these words on my lunch break. I go back to the desk now knowing that its not what gets done but the love that goes into it thats important…great writing. Colm

  • Ciara

    I’m an Irish student who has had it on my heart to come and study Theology in the US for a long time now, Franciscan being the dream, money being the object..

    The words “things we neither deserve nor have any business hoping for, if we’re being honest with ourselves” — really speaking to me right now!”

    Regardless of what happens the reminder to count my blessings was so needed today. Blessings on you and your family!

  • jeanette

    The scripture quote about being perfect shows how important it really is to take those scripture quotes that attract our attention and read them in full context so as not to lose sight of the intended meaning…that whole passage was in Jesus’ words about love of enemies (MT 5:45-48). So the priest was right to point you in the direction of love as the meaning of the passage.

    As for the connection between perfect housekeeping and one’s sanity and peace within one’s home, there is still an opportunity for all of us to examine our behavior in the accomplishment of our household duties to determine how much really ought to be accomplished, by whom, when, and how. From those observations of what we do well and what could improve, we really do have the ability to make changes that enable us to peacefully carry out those responsibilities that face us daily.

    The evaluation of how one approaches housekeeping can uncover the behaviors that contribute to problem areas: having unrealistic expectations of oneself (especially when we have competing demands upon our time and have not prioritized them well, often because they overwhelm us), lacking energy due to many factors (poor sleep, poor health, overly involved in activities…which can increase exponentially as the kids get older), having a disorganized household due to many factors (packing/unpacking for a move, members of the family who are great at creating messes, not great at helping clean them up, lack of basic organizational or time management skills, lack of adequate space for organizing the home, etc), unfair distribution of responsibilities (which, face it, cannot be distributed to the under 3 years old crowd!), imbalance between leisure activity and responsibilities (hardly the case with most mothers with young children, but if someone watches several hours of TV or in other leisure activities because they lost track of time and end up neglecting household chores they intended to do, there’s a problem). So, in other words, even though we are not called to be “perfect” in housekeeping, we still have a measure of accomplishment that should be realistically achieved if we genuinely examine ourselves on how we carry out our duties with the properly shared sense of responsibility among all members of the household (under 3 crowd excluded!)

    So, when you have really young children, you will have to expect less than when they are older and can help more around the home. Which means, your expectations should change over time and your children accept a level of responsibility. It also means husbands have to help carry the load during that time in life when the kids are not able to help, and that means husbands have to recognize that staying home is not equal to not working.

    Staying home means supervising children ALL DAY LONG and meeting their needs first (and as they start going off to school, some time will become available, but there is a lot of work and time involved in getting the kids off to school, picking them up, helping with homework and projects, attending to the demands that schools place on the family outside of school hours…). It does not enable one to be a perfect housekeeper without his help in that role. Often the high expectations we place on that area of life are stemming from that imbalance of shared responsibility. We are somehow made to feel either by our own perception or that of our husband that we should be perfect housekeepers because we “don’t work” – ha! And frankly, it is worse sometimes when both husband and wife are employed and somehow housekeeping is still primarily done by the wife. Truly imbalanced and in need of redistribution of responsibility.

    Love is shown in all of the mundane activities of cleaning our homes, keeping them safe and healthy, providing meals, etc. Love for our family is a genuine motive for all of those things, and when we approach them in that mindset, they take on a proper meaning. But they should not displace the greater task of interpersonal relations as the means to demonstrate love; they supplement it as the condition under which all of family life happens.

    Sometimes we can have “happy chaos” in our homes, but chaos itself does not create happiness. If our family members feel both well cared for and loved, we will know we are balancing things well. And if they don’t, we know we need to examine why that is the case and do what we can to bring things into balance. Each member of the family plays a role in that, too. It shouldn’t fall exclusively to the mom.

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