Becoming equipped

May 30, 2008 | Background, Conversion | 24 comments

As always, I was blown away by the comments to my post about my new little friends.

One of the things that stood out is that a few of you referred to me as having “that” house — you know, the house in the neighborhood where all the kids hang out after school, where there’s a constant flow of people in and out the door, where mom always has some yummy munchies on hand. I told my husband about all the great comments, and said in disbelief: “People seem to think that I’m ‘that’ mom with ‘that’ house…and I think they might be right!”

I know I sort of touched on this in my last post, but let me just say this again: nothing could be more unlikely. [People who know me personally are nodding vigorously at their computer screens right now.]

Back when my husband and I first got married, we lived downtown and had a very, umm, “downtown” kind of lifestyle. If I’d had to guess what our future suburban neighborhood identity would be, my best guess would’ve been that we’d be “‘that’ house where the parties always end in police involvement” or “‘that’ house where the socially awkward wife turns red and gets uncomfortable when neighbors try to make conversation with her.” Under no circumstances would I have ever guessed that I would not only have a bunch of kids in my house but that I’d warmly welcome their presence; not just because I didn’t have any experience with anything like that but, honestly, because I would have thought it wasn’t possible — and, in a certain sense, I would have been right.

Let me give you a bit of background: I’m an only child. None of my good friends growing up had more than one brother or sister living at home. I don’t think I ever knew anyone well who had one of those houses that are full of noise and chaos and kids coming in and out all the time. I’ve seen such a thing depicted in movies, but never in person. A while back I took a Birkman test, a personality inventory renowned for its accuracy, and on a scale of 1 – 100 with 100 being most extroverted, I was a 1. One. Uno. It doesn’t mean that I don’t like people, but that being around others is exhausting for me. As the test administrator put it, “You need introvert time where you don’t have to be ‘on’ like normal people need air.”

All this is to say: I would have made a great desert hermit. I simply can’t have the kind of house where a bunch of kids are in and out all the time. Shoot, for that matter, I’m not even well-equipped to have more than one kid of my own. And yet, here I am, with three children ages three and under, regularly setting out snacks and drinks for a stampede of high-energy pre-teen girls whom I don’t even know very well. Most surprisingly of all, it’s working.

How is this possible?

This situation is Exhibit A in: God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called. As I said in my last post, this situation has God’s fingerprints all over it. I found out recently that all of these little girls had begun dabbling in the occult with some seriously creepy results only a short time before our paths collided (anyone else think that’s more than just a coincidence?); and I was in desperate need of some help, and of learning how to ask others to help me (you were all spot-on with your suggestions that the girls might be happy to help out around the house). As much as we may have needed each other, however, I didn’t have the skills to bring everyone together and make it all work. I was not equipped.

So God equipped me.

Not only is the situation working, but we’re all thriving. I am honestly delighted by these children’s company, and they seem to be pretty big fans of being over here. I somehow haven’t fallen behind on the things I need to get done; I keep finding unexpected pockets of time to recharge and relax to make up for the times that they’re here during my kids’ naptimes; it’s almost eerily easy, in that certain way that can only come about when God has been invited to be involved.

This situation is just one example, but there are many others. I once read that when St. Margaret Mary Alacoque was confused about what it meant to consecrate her life to Jesus, she had a vision in which she heard this answer:

You think of me; I will be the one to think of you. You look to my needs and those of your neighbor; I will look to yours.

I have found this to be true over and over again. Not that I do this nearly as much as I should, but whenever I seek to serve God by serving others, whenever I practice the act of loving others even when I feel that I have no love to give, God begins to act noticeably in my life. Things work out that shouldn’t work out. I have strength I shouldn’t have, that I’ve never had before. If I need some time for myself, an unexpected opportunity pops up at just the right time; if I need an encouraging word, one comes out of the blue; if I need rest, I suddenly great a great night’s sleep; and so on.

For me, this has been the most surprising aspect of Christianity.

After a life of atheism, I began to seek God only because I was curious about the truth. God was the answer to a question, a concept to be pondered. I didn’t think I needed or wanted anything from this “God” that the Christians were always talking about; I was just interested to know if he was out there or not so that I might pass on the correct worldview to my children.

I don’t know when it started to happen, but somewhere along the way, things began to change. At some point, I began to seek God with my heart as much as my head. Little did I know, the more you open your heart to God, the more he will enter your life in a perceptible way. This “God, ” who was supposed to be just a distant concept to be pondered from the pages of a book, was now real; to quote John C. Wright, in some ways he became more real than reality.

This morning as I made up my store list, I smiled as I wrote down what I was going to get for the girls — R. likes popsicles, V. doesn’t care for that orange tea, M. and G. love pretzels — and it occurred to me that this is really what the Christian life is all about. I thought of what you all wrote in the comments to my last post on the subject. Those of you who responded by saying something along the lines of “God is good!” had it exactly right: this is all God. The only credit I deserve is for finally (after dragging my feet for months) asking the children to come in when he sent them to my door. In that moment, I opened a door not just in my house, but in my heart as well. And God took over from there.

Three years ago I imagined “being a Christian” as a series of things you did: you went to church, you talked about Jesus, you read the Bible and thought “I agree with that, ” or something like that. Now I realize that what’s stunning about the Christian life isn’t just what you do but what you become. A force external to yourself begins to move, and you are taken places you never thought you could go; sometimes you’re taken places you didn’t think you wanted to go. You find yourself, even if you weren’t looking.

On my own, I’m the cranky introvert whose interactions with the local children would probably be limited to telling them to stay off my lawn. Through Christ, however, I think I am becoming “that” mom. And I am as delighted as my little friends are to have “that” house.

24 Comments

  1. TRS

    Beautiful!
    I’m stealing this turn of phrase from another blogger… but you are finding the Mary buried in the Martha.

    I love that you finally learned to open the door. What if that were Jesus knocking and we were only worried about our sleeping babies?!!??!?

    Jen, I don’t know that ‘that’ house even exists in the real world outside of Kool-Aid commericals and episodes of Seventh Heaven. But praise God, I love the concept!!

    Ever since I was little, I’ve always wanted to be the Kool-Aid mom! Maybe because my mom was more the closed-door type. (My dad told me once that he is embarrassed that they have never returned the favor of the many card parties and gatherings to neighbors who have invited them into their homes for the past 50 years. Mom never wanted to have the neighbors over – always had an excuse. Dad seems to suspect that it has to do with outdated kitchen cabinets!!)

    Regardless, I’m still single, no children, living on the third floor of a secure building – no one is wandering in from the streets! No Kool-Aid mom here.
    But together, my priest and I have decided that the best medicine for my great fear of growing old alone – is visiting the least visited in a local nursing home. What you wrote today reminded me of that goal. The goal I keep saying I’ll get to next week.

    Because your words are so encouraging to this Cradle Catholic – who often forgets to act as Christ… I’m actually going to do it next week. I already bought a reader’s digest to read stories aloud in case conversation wanes – I plan to bring fresh, cheerful flowers and my best smile!

  2. Bob

    The old proverb applies here: God writes straight with crooked lines.

    Thank you for sharing your life.

    I too am introverted. But just yesterday, through reading 1 Peter, I was reminded that God chose me into a royal priesthood “to announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

  3. Heather

    Hubby and I, as you may remember, are both super introverted yet God has given us spiritual gifts that demand huge amounts of extrovertedness–and He gives us that as we need it. It is really amazing to see.

  4. Joy of Frugal Living

    I’m so glad to hear it is working out well. I think you were brave to give it a try. I’m sure you’ve already made a great difference in these girl’s lives.

    I’m also mainly an introvert (maybe not quite so much as you, but definitely shy by nature), and I found being a librarian broke through my introvert-barrier again and again. I had to do things I never would have done otherwise. That’s part of why I picked it.

    Now, though I’m not working, I find this skill of now being able to talk to anyone comes in useful all the time. It’s a way I can help my husband. Plus I certainly was a help to others as a librarian.

    So, that’s a long way of saying, not only is this a good thing for this particular situation, you never know how this experience may be a blessing in the future as well.

    Have a great weekend!

    Jennifer

  5. Kim

    You are so right. It’s not about what we bring to Him, but what He brings to us!

  6. Kelly @ Love Well

    Love the follow-up.

    I’m an extrovert by nature, but I would still find it stretching to do what you’re doing. It’s uncomfortable and inconvenient.

    The fact that you’re doing it anyway, and that you feel joy about it just proves to me that God is at work here.

  7. Literacy-chic

    Try Lemon Zinger or other Celestial Seasonings teas. Kids love ’em! πŸ˜‰

  8. Jane @ What About Mom?

    What a great follow-up post. You inspire me and make me feel my own inadequacy, plus making me regret my own sometimes-unwillingness to open my door, in a way that makes me wish to change.

    I feel all Pollyanna and Sound of Music now.

    Thanks for a great Friday night read!

  9. Tyler Dawn

    Hi Jen, just wandered over from A Former Leader’s Journey and I am glad I did.

    This comment nailed me good — “I was in desperate need of some help, and of learning how to ask others to help me”

    Urgh that has been the hardest thing in my life. Sometone else needs help here comes supergirl here but always feeling like a big bother.

    So far He hasn’t changed me enough to where I want to have a bunch of kids over *shudder* though.

    I look forward to reading more about your transformation. πŸ™‚ Sounds like an awesome one. I am what they call an introverted extrovert, I force myself to be social when all I really want to do is stay home all the time. Dang, it IS exhausting being around people!

  10. Anne Marie

    I often think of the Christian life as a series of ripples in the lake of humanity, or maybe more like a domino game where one topples over and those lined up behind it begin to topple too. What’s the point? Who knows how far reaching your impact on these girls lives will be, how far reaching your prayers for them and their families will be. Who knows where the Good News of Jesus will spread through your interaction with these girls. Sometimes popsicles and pretzels is more than just popsicles and pretzels, just like sometimes bread and wine is more than just bread and wine. When Jesus is invited in he changes lives, he changes the face of eternity one pretzel at a time.

  11. SuburbanCorrespondent

    It still breaks my heart to think of those girls needing your home so badly. Thank the Lord He equipped you to help them.

    Your post made me think of “My yoke is heavy, but the burden is light,” or however that goes…

  12. The Sojourner

    I love this post. I’m an introvert myself–I generally score 100% introverted on the Myers-Briggs–so I was recently surprised to note that I love my boyfriend’s big, chaotic, noisy family. That fact, and posts like this, give me hope that I won’t have a complete meltdown in a couple of decades when I have my own big, chaotic, noisy family. Instead, maybe I’ll be that woman with that house–by the grace of God, of course.

  13. The (Almost) Amazing Mammarino

    Just beautiful. What a difference you’re making in those girls’ lives.

  14. Anonymous

    I’m an introvert, and I’m well on my way to having “that” house, as well. I find interactions with kids aren’t as exhausting as with adults. I’ve pursued it more consciously than you, but I’ve found there are certain types of “bait” that work well at attracting neighborhood kids. One is good home cooking, and plenty of snacks. Another is cool toys courtesy of an only child spoiled by grandparents. Another is a wii game system. πŸ™‚ Also a tree house and sandbox in the back yard, cool pets, and inviting people over frequently. Or, when they’re over, inviting them to stay and eat with us. Works for us!

    What you say about arrangements that work, but shouldn’t really resonates with me right now. My mother recently moved in with us, and I anticipated all kinds of hell fromt his arrangement, plus I feared becoming a caregiver for her and her many needs. I am happy to say that God has smoothed the way for us, and we are all adjusting very well. I thought my house was too small for a third adult, and yet somehow room was made, furniture rearranged, and I’ll be darned if the place isn’t bigger than before. I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep up with the chores, but as my mother has recovered from her most recent illness, she is using household chores as a way of exercising and keeping busy. I thought her presence would be obtrusive to family life, and make all of my “mom” issues unbearable. Instead, those “mom” issues have evaporated, so that I can hardly recall what irritated me so much. Praise God!

  15. Diana

    Hi Jen,
    I found your blog through Shannon at Rocks In My Dryer. I simply CAN NOT stop reading. Every single one of your posts (that I’ve had the joy to read, so far) speaks to my heart in some profound way. “Now I realize what’s stunning about the Christian life isn’t just what you do but what you become”. So, so true. Thank you for sharing your Christian walk with us.
    ~Diana

  16. chandy

    Hi, I’m a new reader to your blog…not even sure how I found it! But these stories are very cool. I love the idea of God equipping the called, and it encourages me to maybe try to get out of my comfort zone a bit.

  17. Tertium Quid

    If Christianity is not transformative, we probably ought to take up cycling, organic cooking, political activism, or smoking hash.

  18. Dustmite

    Another awesome post of God changing the human spirit and working through you. I really truly hope to read many more posts about you and these girls and the blessing God is giving them and you.

    P.S. – have you hooked up the door bell again?? πŸ™‚

  19. Liz

    Jen, I read your comments about the kids and I had to tell you a story. When I was a very little girl (even younger than your little friends) we moved to a new neighborhood. The neighbor on our right was an older lady who had no children. My mother was quite busy with a new baby and later a toddler and had less time than she used to for her firstborn. Mrs. McGratton welcomed me in. She let me watch her make lemon meringue pies, or baked chicken, she let me look at the funny papers on Sunday afternoon. She let me watch The Lone Ranger on her television (we didn’t have one). She even let me pick flowers from her garden. She was my friend for all the years we lived in that house, although as I got older and she remarried (she was a widow when we first knew her) I spent less time there. Now the end of the story is this, Mrs. M was a Catholic, we were Protestants (Pentecostal Protestants at that!). She never really talked about her faith, but I knew she was Catholic. When I finally became Catholic 11 years ago I wondered how many prayers for my conversion Mrs. M. might have said (if not while she was on earth certainly once she was in the company of the saints). It was very special for me to have a grown-up friend. She treated me with such respect and dignity. It was at her house I first ate salad from fancy wooden bowls and she frequently had me over for dinner just like a grownup. She was so different from my own mom that she added a whole new dimension to my life.

    You may never know just why God brought these little girls into your life, but be sure it’s for a reason.

  20. onionboy

    God is constantly finding those who are not looking for him. [A loose paraphrase of Saint Paul quoting Isaiah]. People like me, like you, like the people he sends us.

    ::thrive!

  21. 'Becca

    I’m so glad this is working out for you and the girls! I am a Girl Scout leader of 15 girls ages 9-12, and although it’s a lot of work, I feel I get more out of it than I put in…in part because I am still repaying what Scouting did for me. That age is a great time for trying new things and learning new skills, so it’s important to offer good things and model good skills.

    The link behind my name is a piece I wrote about shyness and how I partially escaped it. SHYNESS AND INTROVERSION ARE NOT THE SAME THING, and understanding the difference has been extremely helpful to me. There are some links about that at the bottom of the article.

    I think it might be wise for you to stop thinking about whether you will become “that” house for the whole neighborhood. Focus on your relationships with these particular girls. They may be the first wave in a tide that will fill your house for the rest of your life…or they may be specific friends who have roles in your life as individuals rather than representatives of Girlhood. They need you to listen to them, be with them at this moment in their lives. I like the way you’re thinking about their individual snack preferences rather than “what snacks will draw kids to my home.” Keep your focus there and let God’s plan unfold!

  22. Daiquiri

    What an awesome story! I just LOVE it when God’s work is so tangible. Sometimes I think he picks those who are least likely to, say, “be ‘that’ mom”…just so it’s abundantly clear that it’s Him at work. Some days I’m thrilled to be so inadequate…gives Him lots of room to work in my life πŸ˜‰

    I’m totally captivated by your blog, and will be adding you to my “daily reads”. I hope you’ll swing my my blog this Sunday and participate in “Seek The Lord Sunday”…we’re sharing our testimonies this week. I’d love for you to participate.

    BTW…I also have a house full of kids…4 kids, ages 6, 5, 2, and 9 months. We’re kindred spirits πŸ˜‰

    Nice ‘meeting’ you.

  23. Jane

    Jesus tells us that whatsoever we do for the “least of these” we do for him. So often I look at helping others as me giving out. It’s always great to be reminded/enjoy the fact that helping others gives back to Him and also ourselves too.

  24. Genny

    I know this is an older post, but I found you through Rocks in My Dryer and HAD to comment. Your story was beautiful, and made me cry. Thank you for the reminder about hospitality and about God’s hand in all that we do! Loved stopping by!

    Genny

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