Evangelization,  Family Life,  large family,  Marriage,  motherhood,  Parenting

Thriving, surviving, and tithing (+ a little miracle)

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.

“Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Meet Catherine the Sienna.


  • Linda

    And Grateful.
    Not only for all the richness and truth and honesty of this post, and not only for the undeniable goodness and faithfulness of Our Lord, but also for the perfect timing for this message come to me, through you, from Him.
    Thank you.

  • Arenda

    Oh man. We have just put an offer on a house and I’m looking at our bank account dwindle and just today the thought of “Maybe we should cut back on our tithing – but wait, that’s not what God wants of us” flitted through my mind. How timely, and lovely, to read your reflections.
    And Catherine the Sienna – goodness gracious, I couldn’t help but laugh!

  • Kris

    This is OUR story from many years ago. When I quit working to stay home with our very young family, we were SO, SO, in the hole. I made more than my husband at the time, and although he got a promotion and a raise around the time I quit, we basically cut our income in half. It was so tight for a few years, and it was VERY tempting to stop tithing. But my faithful husband insisted we stay the course and there were so many times that money seemed to appear out of nowhere just when we needed it. Somehow, we always made it to the end of the month. We just kept the faith that God would provide for us, as long as we did our part as good stewards and were faithful to His plan for our family.

  • Sarah

    I really, really needed this today. Thank you!! May your family continue to be richly blessed. Will you say a little prayer for our family of 7? It’s been a rough few years and I am trying to trust.

  • Stacy

    What a beautiful friend you have! And kudos for being mature. Except for the Starbucks. Come on! You gave up the Smartphone. I KNOW–no, I BELIEVE–you can conquer this Starbucks addiction, too.

    • Rebecca

      I would totally have done the same. It’s not immature to look for a little comfort on a really rough morning, even if it’s found in a red cup.

      On a different note, Jenny, thank you for sharing! Congrats on your new van. Your money/budgeting posts always hit close to home for me. When our first child was born 5.5 years ago, I quit my job as a high school theology teacher to stay home with her (and was able to find some part-time work from home). At the time, my husband was a full-time grad student, getting his PhD in philosophy. He found a job in a totally unrelated field and has been working full-time and writing his dissertation for the last 5 years, and now he will be defending his dissertation in a month. These years have been really hard in a lot of ways: we (still) don’t own a home; we crammed our three kids in the back of our 10-year old Toyota Camry for 16 months until getting a used van last month; we took our first-ever family vacation in 7 years of marriage last summer, etc. But the Lord has provided for us time and again, and we’ve been able to save some money and are planning on buying a house next summer.

      So thank you for sharing the light at the end of the tunnel of this whole process for you and your beautiful family! It’s encouraging for people like me who are still in the season of seemingly endless renting.

  • jen`

    This is the reason I tithe religiously. (Pun kinda sorta intended.) I’ve seen God work like this quite a few times.

    Also, empathy on the ER trips. Between the ages of 2-5, my kiddo never met a respiratory bug he didn’t want to get to know better. You know you’ve hit up the peds ER too often when you are on a first name basis with all the attending physicians. 🙂

  • Ashley

    “For me, this has been the greatest gift of mothering a larger family: that I can no longer even pretend to be in control.” I just said something similar last weekend!
    We are in a similar financial situation around here and for whatever reason (I blame hormones), I’ve not been dealing with it very well. I needed this reminder, thank you!

  • Christina

    This is so perfect. Since becoming a mother, I have had to slowly but surely give up control– it has been both so hard and (frighteningly) liberating. God bless you & your family!

  • Evie

    My husband and I gave a tithing talk one time in which we described a similar (though smaller scale) situation. We’d paid the bills, the tithe check was written, and there was no money left for food. We paid the tithe any way (we were very young and newly married, there were no children to consider). The next day, a friend, not much older or more well-off than ourselves, wrote us a check for the exact tithe amount and told us that the Holy Spirit told him to do it. In our talk, we explained that God used tithing to develop a trust relationship with Him. Later, when our first-born died in a SIDS event, we drew on those building blocks to trust Him even with our baby. Tithing isn’t for Him; it’s for us. And it is a profound gift. Years later, with big kids and well-established careers, we could put our tithe on auto-pay, but I enjoy the discipline of writing out the check each Sunday and allowing my kids to see us honoring God with the gifts he’s given us. It amazes me that the check that is no longer painful to write (because of a time of plenty in our lives) can still feel like a relinquishment. The check is bigger, not devastating, and, yet, the temptation creeps in every once in a while to view it as “my” money, my mammon more like. God bless you and yours!

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