Thriving, surviving, and tithing (+ a little miracle)
November 7, 2017
Since mid-October we’ve been battling a mild onslaught of illnesses of the childhood variety, along with your typical run-of-the-mill life with lots ‘o kids shenanigans. Evie kicked off sick season with a heart-stopping middle of the night croup episode that had us racing to the ER for oral steroids, nebulized epinephrine, and multiple albuterol treatments. We escaped a transfer to the PICU at Children’s by the skin of our teeth (and daddy’s fervent 4 am rosary, I’ve no doubt) and were discharged home by 6 the next morning. Cue huge sigh of relief at 1. a healthy kid and 2. not having to sleep for multiple nights curled up on a hospital chair at 7.5 months pregnant.
Unfortunately, she had a repeat episode about 11 days later (I blame the cold snap that accompanied trick or treating) and back to the ER we trotted. Evie is a tricky one with croup because unlike her brothers (whose airways are perhaps a tad sturdier?) she doesn’t respond to the usual steam/humidifier/shocking cold outdoor air tricks. She needed drugs and she needed them asap, both times. Praise God again that she demonstrated after only a single round of meds a sufficient degree of recovery to get her sent home. The attending doc was only willing to give her 1 strike rather than the usual 3 before ordering the transfer, since she was presenting with the same symptoms so soon after her first episode. Again, the prayers. Again, the miraculous pre-dawn discharge home.
Oh, p.s., according to the ER pediatrician, she also had pink eye. Eye drops all around, put it on my tab. I’m shameless in begging multiple rounds of meds for pink eye whenever one kid is diagnosed because duh. They’re all going to get it. Hell, I’m probably going to get it too. We’re all more or less symptom-free now, a week later, and pretty much recovered in the sleep department. Luke has been the last man standing in terms of the offending virus that started this whole mess, and so last night at 4 pm when he dropped his drooping head on my shoulder and passed out cold, I knew that it was at long last his turn to be up all night.
I was pleasantly surprised though, because after some cuddles, that ill-timed nap, and a little bit of children’s Motrin, he slept mostly through the night and so did the rest of us.
That extremely lengthy lead up is headed somewhere, I promise. I’m just setting the stage. Oh, did I mention that in the midst of this our van broke down?
Yeah, it was the morning after that second ER vi$it, so I was doing school drop off as a favor to daddy while he and Evie caught up on missed sleep. As Luke and I pulled away from the school parking lot, I heard an ominous thud. The rpm needle started jumping wildly up and down, and there was a distinct loss of power that had me pointing the car east to the mechanic’s shop (from whence we’d retrieved it yesterday – “nothing we can see wrong with it, ma’am”) for a second opinion. I drove approximately 20 miles per hour (because that was apparently my new max speed) through Denver rush hour traffic with my hazards blinking praying that we’d make it the 4 miles to the shop because I was makeup-less, pregnant, and toting a barefoot 2-year-old with a snotty nose in the backseat.
After a mildly harrowing journey, we pulled into the auto shop’s lot where the van promptly died. It was poetic. (But of course, it took another 3 hours for the guys working there to get it to demonstrate its bad behavior for them. But demonstrate at last, it did.)
Official diagnosis: transmission. Official estimate: $3,400-5,000, depending upon what degree of “newness” we were after in a transmission.
Did I mention we put $1,200 into this car in August and had deferred an additional $1,500 worth of work? Ain’t that the way it goes, though?
Dave Ramsey’s ominous proverb about Murphy “moving into your spare bedroom when you buy a house before you’re ready” was echoing in my tired brain while I tried not to cry (unsuccessfully) and called my sister. Luckily, we’d forgotten to pick up Dave’s car the night before after raging too hard at an All Saints’ party, and so there was a way for me to get home. That alone felt like a little miracle, and so I allowed myself to be cheered by it while I drove Luke and I to Starbucks to drown our sorrows (senselessly and ironically, considering the price) before returning home to a surprised and still-sleepy daddy to relay the news.
As we sipped our bankruptcy lattes in contemplative silence, it occurred to me that apart from the tears shed on the phone with my sister – which weren’t really all that unexpected considering pregnancy hormones – I wasn’t freaking out.
We’d just spent lot$ of time in the ER, our primary family vehicle was dead, we had a big, fat, new mortgage in our names and a fifth baby coming in 8 weeks or so and I wasn’t – am still not – freaking out.
This, my friends, must be what they call shellshock maturity? Or something like it. It wasn’t that I wasn’t tempted to panic about our finances, or the fact that all my kids had all the infections for all the weeks and surely the poor, defenseless newborn we’d be bringing home shortly will also fall prey when he or she arrives… I mean, those thoughts definitely went through my head, but then something weird happened: I let them pass right on out.
I guess it’s probably a good combination of effective meds, a gentler pregnancy experience, and just some plain old fashioned healing, but I am not drowning in anxiety. It really is well with my soul.
Last week we heard a homily about tithing that pricked my conscience because I’d just been mentally debating dropping our monthly giving below the 10% mark because finances have been so tight. I broached the subject with Dave after Mass and we decided, instead, to do something that’s objectively pretty stupid: to increase our monthly giving by $50 bucks.
Not a huge amount of money, but not nothing, either. And it looked really dumb on paper. Like, “maybe you should pay the water bill first” dumb. I think I even said out loud to Dave “I am consciously doing this to call down God’s blessing on us financially” (And yes, I know it doesn’t work that way. But I wanted to put the Almighty God on notice that I was expecting big things, and was doing so with ridiculous and possibly insane expectations.)
And guess what?
The day our car died, the day after our second ER trip in less than 2 weeks, about 4 days after that fateful “tithe more” decision, I got a message from a friend.
“Jenny, I’ve got to tell you something, and you can’t say no.”
I mentally steeled myself for whatever it might be.
“I have (a certain amount) of money set aside for personal use, and I want to give it to your family for a new mini van fund.”
It was many, many more dollars than $50.
I was speechless and immediately burst into tears, staring at the blinking message on my screen. Evie must have asked me 20 times during my half hour of intermittent sobbing “is everything okay, Mommy?”
Yes, baby girl. Everything is okay.
And it was. And it is. And we used the money for a down payment on a new-to-us van with “low” (80k, lol) mileage and – wait for it – 8 full size seats, meaning come December, all 5 existing carseats will fit perfectly inside it, like a winning round of highway safety Tetris.
I’m not sharing this story in a magical-thinking “this is what happens when you tithe, shazam!/prosperity gospel” kind of way, but to underscore the even bigger miracle (yes, bigger than the $$$ for the car): and the miracle was this, that I believed God was going to provide. Not that He did provide, but that I believed He would.
I’ve never been there.
I’ve never trusted Him – not when it came down to it – that I could completely hand off the reins and hope for the best.
I’ve always, always taken the “work like everything depends on you” piece of the old axiom kind of on it’s own. Sure, I might slip in the “pray like everything depends on God” with a kind of mental eye roll, but let’s all be real, grown ups help themselves.
How wrong I’ve been. And what an exhausting, impossible way to live.
For me, this has been the greatest gift of mothering a larger family: that I can no longer even pretend to be in control.
And when I at last travelled beyond (see: permitted myself to be dragged like dead weight) the point of no return, the I-can’t-handle-another-moment-of-this-nervous-breakdown (helloooo, last summer + the real estate market) I found that on the other side of all that fear, all that insomnia, all of that mind-paralyzing worry about things that are actually outside my control to begin with…He was there.
This must be the peace that surpasses all understanding.
Not that things are actually okay (though they pretty much are okay, if I’m being honest. Credit card debt and running noses notwithstanding), but that He will be my peace in the midst of of the storm.
The storm might still rage. The other car might break down next week. The kids could get really, really sick in a way that pushes us beyond midnight ER runs. And, ultimately, at the end of all our striving and planning and worrying…death.
But the peace is there. I think my little tithing “experiment” was as much a tithe of money as it was a tithe of trust, an act of blind confidence (containing no small amount of “fake it till you make it”) that God actually would make it okay. That He could be trusted to take the reins. Even as my brain screamed “illogical,” my heart surrendered “it’s possible.”
And it was. And it is.
And I don’t think I would have gotten here by any other path by this one. My confirmation saint is Rose of Lima, chosen (superficially) for her pretty name from a book of saints I idly flipped through while zoning out during confirmation class in high school. One of my favorite expressions from her is this:
“Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.”
And so we climb. And the cross turns out not to be quite the horror I initially and intellectually shied away from in my younger years, but, at least for this remedial and oh-so-reluctant pupil, more of a gentle and slow death to self.
Death to preferences. Death to convenience. Death to comfort. Death to nap times lining up during the day and death to a perfect body and a good night’s sleep and uninterrupted plans. Death to a fully-matched 401k (which is a great thing to aim for!) and death to a preference for my own will.
But from all that death, a new life is being drawn forth into the light. And not just the little one growing beneath my heart and currently battering my ribs, but a new life for me too.
The miracle wasn’t only that He provided, though, miraculously, provide He did. The miracle is that He transformed my heart, and I believed He would.