June 25, 2008 | 35 comments

“Miss Jennifer, Miss Jennifer! I have a new theory! Do you want to hear it?”

I can’t even count how many times I’ve heard those words this summer. One of my new little friends, Riley*, has decided that she wants to be a great physicist. From the moment she started coming over to my house, she displayed an intense yearning to know all the how’s and why’s of life and the universe. Since I didn’t think it would be appropriate to go into religious territory, I stuck to the topic of physics (which, as I’ve said before, I think is very close to the topic of God anyway).

She took to this subject — theoretical physics in particular — like a duck to water. She came over to my house every chance she got, sometimes staying for hours at a time, to eagerly tell me about all her new ideas based on what she’d learned from our talks about topics like string theory or Schwarzschild wormholes. She’d follow me around the house and help me put away toys or fold laundry as she chattered excitedly about all her ideas, which belied a piercing intelligence far beyond her nine years. She always asked me if I had any more information for her, and I was hardly able to keep up with her insatiable appetite for knowledge. Even at the time, I was aware that I’d never forget these moments: spending the long, hot days of summer 2008 chatting with my little nine-year-old neighbor about the most wondrous mysteries of the universe while we worked together to complete some of the most mundane tasks in the universe…there was something very special about it.

I was caught off guard, then, when I found out recently that she’s no longer allowed to come over to my house.

I had a brief, awkward conversation with one of her guardians about it, but evidently the decision stands. When she came to tell me, she looked like she was going to cry. She was the one who said, as I mentioned in my first story, that she really needed someone to talk to. Now, when I see her around outside, she doesn’t talk to me much at all. Just one-word answers here and there; occasionally a sentence.

My husband has a saying that “it’s never about you, ” meaning that 99% of the times we think that people are snubbing us because they don’t like us or we’ve done something to offend them, it’s actually not about us at all. I hope that’s true in this case. I thought I was on good terms with her relatives with whom she lives, and they’re still friendly when they see us.

Nevertheless, it’s hard not to be sad.

I look at the physics books out on my desk, come across links I’d emailed myself about quantum mechanics, and think of my little friend for whom I was going to read these things. The other girls are frequently out of town this summer, and when they are around they’ve been spending most of their time at her house so that she’s not alone, so my children and I have our house to ourselves again. I’d gotten so used to having them around — sometimes up to eight hours a day — that life feels incomplete without them.

When our paths first crossed, it was an amazing experience of witnessing the hand of God at work in such a palpable way. Yet, as I have so often done, I fell into the temptation to use my deepening connection with God to satisfy that never-ending human urge to want to know the future. Rather than focusing on my daily bread, I spent too much time making assumptions about the details of the bread-delivery schedule for the indefinite future. And when it didn’t play out the way I wanted or expected it too, I was left with deep disappointment.

As I’ve mentioned before, this is one of the hardest parts of the Christian life for me. I know it’s silly to spend so much time evaluating the world and speculating about the future from my perspective, since my information is so woefully incomplete. But the temptation to want more than my daily bread, to use the graces of today to make predictions about the graces of the future, is always there.

So, today, my house feels incomplete. Yet the story is incomplete.

Maybe as soon as I publish this post Riley will knock at my door to announce that she has permission to come over again, pouring out new theories before she even steps into the entryway. Or maybe I’ll never speak to her again. This story, the story of my life, the story of humanity, is incomplete.

I’m beginning to see that a hallmark of the peace of Christ is thriving as a player in an incomplete story, reading well from a script that we get only one line at a time. A recovering control freak, I’m slow in learning to embrace the fact that we live our lives with only minuscule amounts of information, and that our entire earthly existences — let alone any particular situation — are only tiny parts of a grand storyline that is far, far bigger than we are.

* Not her real name.


  1. Erin

    I’m sorry your little friend isn’t allowed to come around anymore. I know it would a little awkward to do so, but have you considered taking one of your books over to her guardians to loan to her–it may be that they really do think something more interesting than science is going on over at your house, that they think she’s bugging you, or even that they object to her being taught science (as opposed to religion–many people do still see the two as in complete opposition, unfortunately).

    I guess all I’m really trying to say is that it really isn’t about you personally–that she probably does miss you too. And that I hope things patch themselves up and maybe she’ll be allowed to visit you again. 😀

  2. Tienne

    Oh, Jen, I’m so sorry to hear this. Let’s hope it’s just a temporary thing. *hug*

  3. AmyDe

    I am so sorry! Prayers for you and for her as it sounds like she REALLY needs someone.

  4. David

    How sad, Jennifer. I think your husband is probably right about this situation: the decision of your young friend’s guardian likely has much more to do with her than you. After all, what did you do that was wrong? You offered adult companionship to a young girl. Jeez. That’s terrible. You should be ashamed of yourself! At any rate, it is very saddening that this blessing came to an abrupt end. Still, there must be another blessing you can gain from this — if only the opportunity to surrender to His will.

    Also, I want to say in response to your final paragraph: how true… and, for me at least, how terrifying.

    Anyway, thank you for blessing us through this incredible blog. It has repeatedly nourished my sometimes wavering faith in the truth of God’s existence. God be with you always, to love and guide you all the days of your life.

    Take care,


  5. The (Almost) Amazing Mammarino

    Wow, you’re handling this so much better than I would. I feel so bad for Riley. She’s the one who will really miss out.

    I can’t fathom why her guardians won’t allow her to come over anymore. Who wouldn’t want their child to spend time with such a caring person? It boggles the mind.

    I’m sure that Riley will treasure every moment she did spend with you and cherish those memories.

  6. Nicole


    That’s really too bad. Your house must be awfully quiet these days! I’ll say a prayer that her guardians will have a change of heart. Good luck!

  7. April

    I’m so sorry to read this! Thank God, she will always have a memory of someone who took genuine, loving interest in her interests. Bless you for being salt and light.

  8. Anne Marie

    I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your young friend. Perhaps it will only be temporary. Do you think it would be appropriate to ask her care takers about the situation, or would that just be awkward and a bit to forward?

  9. Eileen

    What a sad, sweet post.

    You have such a beautiful way of applying your faith to everyday situations. I don’t think I could put into words my reaction to this post. I’m amazed at how beautifully you are able to express your reflections. It makes me want to have what you seem to have — a much deeper willingness to allow the hand of God to work in ways I cannot know.

    He already uses you in this way much more than you might think.

  10. Eo Nomine

    “In a flash I saw life
    spread out before me as it really is, full of sufferings and
    frequent partings, and I shed bitter tears.” — Therese the Little Flower

  11. foursure

    When I read about your growing friendship with the girls I wanted to warn you that this might happen, but didn’t want to dampen the moment. Your husband is right, it’s probably the guardians feeling threatened by you. I’m sure this child goes home and says, “Miss Jennifer this and Miss Jennifer that”. It’s got to be a dagger in the heart of a working mom to hear about how perfect life is at the neighbors. Pray for their relationship – if it improves at home maybe they won’t feel so threatened and will loosen up on the restriction.

    Best wishes…

  12. Tausign

    Encounters such as these are so poignant. You can be sure that as much as you’ll remember this girl, she’ll remember the encounter more deeply. I say so because children ‘bookmark’ these episodes for future nourishment. It’s a healthy and hearty defense mechanism for those who are missing something at home. You may have already given her inspiration to draw on for the future, like a slow acting time-released medication.

    Either something you don’t know (or fail to share) says that this situation is not ‘copacetic’. Long hours of a child with a stranger (you and the guardians know each other so little), means something is awry. Whatever is best for this child would at least entail these guardians getting to know you better. So either they have something to hide; they are not comfortable approaching you or they don’t trust your motives. True Christian self-giving is rare enough and can appear quite odd for skeptics.

    Your concluding paragraph, indeed your entire sentiment “Incomplete”, is true enough. But it’s only ‘incomplete’ for now, and since in Christ nothing is truly lacking, the story is more ‘ongoing’ and ‘unfinished’. As the Lord himself teaches…”Here we have the saying verified, one (wo)man sows and another reaps.” [John 4:37]

  13. Anonymous

    Oh,Jen I am sorry–yet I can’t help but think how wonderful it is that He used you to be His hands bringing salt and light to her. I can only imagine the impact you have made upon her, it has brought glory to Him. He will use the time you spent with her to mold her for the rest of her life and He used her to bring out someting beautiful in you.

    I look forward to your posts, so glad I found you from RIMD!

  14. Stephanie

    This is such a beautiful and touching post. You’re an amazing writer. Thank you for reminding us all of the important truths.

  15. 4in4

    I have really enjoyed everything I’ve read about your yong neighbors. My heart has a little ache in it for you and Riley tonight. Your entire post, especially the part about being recovering control freak, really resonates with me and I’m so glad I read it!

  16. Rocks In My Dryer

    “I’m beginning to see that a hallmark of the peace of Christ is thriving as a player in an incomplete story, reading well from a script that we get only one line at a time.”

    My word, Jennifer–that’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. You knock my socks off every time I come by here.

  17. Barb

    Another possibility could be that they’re afraid she is bothering you too much. Maybe it drives them crazy when she follows them around the house talking and they’re figuring that she’s driving you crazy too.
    I hope that things improve…God bless..

  18. crusader88

    I just read your “Google and Ye Shall Find: The Internet and the New Evangelization” at, and I really enjoyed it. I, too, had an atheistic upbringing, and entered the Church two years ago after discovering Christianity through old-fashioned Bible reading and perusing a few Catholic publications. Welcome home, and may God be with you!

  19. razzler

    It’s so sad she can’t come over any more. I’ll pray for you and her and her guardians.

    What you say about being a recovering control freak speaks volumes to me. I must learn to trust God one step at a time. Thank you for reminding me.

  20. Jaime (ChaseNKids)

    This broke my heart. I wonder why they aren’t letting her come over if you talked to them and said it was okay?

    This is when you really have to rely on faith and “Give it to God”.

    I’m so sorry. Sending you a huge hug…

    Your husband is right though…it isn’t about you.

  21. Jenny

    It is most probably about them and not you. You said that her caretakers were her guardians and not her parents. And that Riley “really needed someone to talk to.” Who knows what situation led to her guardianship.

    The guardians may not really want her around, but have to keep her due to a bad situation. Children sense when they are not wanted, so she may have kept out of the way of the adults. She may have come out of her shell because your influence. And they adults may not want to be bothered. So they remove your influence in the hopes that she will go back to behaving as she did previously. Namely staying out of their way and not annoying them with interaction and conversation.

    Of course this is wild speculation and may not be at all true. But your use of the word ‘guardian’ struck me. I would remain open to her and maybe lend her a book so she will know that she is welcome to visit anytime she is allowed.

  22. Julie D.

    The poor little thing. My heart aches for her.

    I tend to agree that the guardians probably felt threatened. I will pray for them as well.

    I echo Erin’s idea that you risk a possible snub and offer to lend one of those books via the guardians. Perhaps if you tell them that they don’t need to tell Riley where the book came from … then they might give it to her to read.

    No matter what, you have given her a glimpse of a better way, of how things can be … and that is worth quite a bit.

  23. The Mom

    Hi Jennifer,

    I have so enjoyed your blog. I am a life-long Christian that has struggled very much the past few years in my relationship with God. Your thoughts and wisdom about how all the pieces fit together…or sometimes don’t fit in our human eyes….have been good for my soul.

    I am a single mom and I want you to know that it is hard for us to let someone else fill the shoes we’ve left at the door when we go to work each morning. I so wish my girls had someone like you to go to, even though I would be fighting jealousy and envy that you were there when I wasn’t.

    I also want you to know that I grew up in a single parent home. I had my special adult friends that filled in those parental gaps for me. Your little friends will never, ever forget you. You have touched their lives in a real and important way. The work you have done is only starting. You have planted a special seed. I hope that you will see more of Riley’s story. But if you don’t, please remember that even if she isn’t physically present in your story, you will always be a big part of her story. She will internalize the interest you showed and carry you with her always. I know. I have done the same.

    I wish you and your neighbors great peace and many blessings.

    – Another Jennifer

  24. Soul Pockets

    I am sorry for your disappointment. I hope she will once again be able to come and visit you. I adore your blog. The way you see God and our faith in all situations is aspiring. I will keep you and your little friends in my prayers.

  25. The Sojourner

    “I’m beginning to see that a hallmark of the peace of Christ is thriving as a player in an incomplete story, reading well from a script that we get only one line at a time.”

    I needed to hear that. Thanks.

  26. elizabeth

    I wonder if foursure is correct. Either way, I was so sad to read this. I didn’t see it coming, at all, which is such a change from my former cynical self. I really thought you had found the answer to your lack of neighborhood/community interaction as well as unwittingly providing a safe place where your young friends could find the adult attention they were craving. I’ll be praying for both you and your children and Riley because I’m sure you all miss each other. But you’re right — this surely isn’t the end of this story.

    I also agree with erin — you might want to try taking some books over to her home. That would let Riley know you’re still thinking of her (imagine what she must be going through right now!) and it might serve as another reminder to her guardians that you really meant it when you said she was welcome to spend time in your home.

  27. Evelyn

    Whenever my frequent guests have quit coming over, it’s because their parents think they are becoming a nuisance. I have never been successful in convincing them otherwise. I agree that you should take the book over, because it will tell both Riley and her family that you want a continued connection.

  28. Marian

    None of us knows the future of your relationship with Riley and the other girls,of course, but one thing is sure: the perspective and love of God that you placed into her life are of great value.

    I am constantly amazed to think of the way God takes the most miniscule events of human thought and action, times every human who has ever lived, and weaves them all together for his sovereign purposes. Who, but God, knows what may bloom someday from the little seeds you have already planted through your interactions with her?

    It reminds me of a poem that I’d copy for you if I could find it, called, “Planting My Garden.” It’s about someone who plants a seed and goes away, never able to know who, if anyone, came along to water and tend it. The last line is something like, “But somehow, someday, I may see, My garden blooming in eternity.”

  29. patience

    I am sorry for your loss, and for Riley too. How lovely that the other girls are circling around her, nourishing her at this time so she won’t be lonely. What a beautiful sense of community they have.

    I believe God weaves strands of beauty and hope through our lives and sometimes these take the form of angelic-like intervention from other people. It may be only a smile across a room that can lift someone’s heart or save them from dark intentions. It may be a few weeks of friendship and attention from an adult over summer. Riley came and went from your life only briefly, but I have no doubt your influence will remain with her always. And hers with you.

  30. Jessica

    Oh, dear, I’m so sorry to hear about this, Jen.

  31. P

    A thought on your situation, take it for what it is worth:

    Our Lord said that we should return good for evil. Your recognition that they are probably not “targeting” you is probably true, but I think insufficient.

    It was said of St. Teresa of Avila that the surest way to win her friendship was to wrong her in some way. I have always believed that when someone causes us to suffer, it is God’s way of telling us that He wants us to pay attention to that person, which for a Christian should always be by loving them.

    Archbishop Sheen once said that when a shepherd wants to lead his flock, he picks up a little lamb and walks away, and the flock follows.

    Our Lord has brought these little lambs into your life, and lead you to love them, and now He has taken them away. Maybe He is using the lovable lambs (who once seemed not so lovable in your eyes, IIRC) to lead you to love the less lovable goats?

  32. Anonymous

    Dr Taylor teaches us how to attain deep inner peace – easily, simply, without drugs, anytime we want it. Forgive me for doing everything I can to be sure everyone reads this book and sees this video, but I think all of us benefit and in the larger sense, if everyone reads this, our world will benefit in a very large way.

  33. happy appy wife

    our dear Jen –

    I once experienced loss much as you describe.

    A rare emotional connection with an autistic child, severed by the parents’ decision to place the child in an autism care facility at the age of 10.

    I do not judge them for their decision. The day-to-day impact of the child’s autism on their family was tremendous.

    When the mother left the family, and the father worked F/T nights to provide for his children, I often continued my daily care of the child into the night, and sometimes over the course of several days.

    One of the few words the child would say was my name.

    For me, the child would interact socially with others. For me, the child would sit quietly for lessons, and learn.

    The child loved to ride piggy-back when we walked across the school grounds, and I often obliged. Despite my colleagues admonishments.

    They had no such ties with their neuro-typical children, and surely did not understand the bond my atypical and I shared.

    Or the fact that all those noisy running screaming children was just too much stimulation for his already over-whelmed senses.

    Hanging on and peering out from behind the halo of curly hair, the world was safer, more calm. With me, the child was reassured.

    Yes, our dear Jen, I understand.

    Your heartache is real.

    And so is the LOVE you showered on that child.

    You may be the only example of that kind of LOVE she ever experiences.

    And that is not sad, because if you had not opened your heart and ears to God’s voice, she never might have known that LOVE at all.

  34. Ragamuffin

    You mentioned that you had a “brief, awkward” conversation about the matter with her guardian. What did they say was the reason or did they give one? I’m just baffled why they’d persist with the decision if they’ve talked to you and realize she’s not bothering you.

  35. mr bill

    All can see that these children have brought all eight of the Beatitudes into play in your life. And you have responded in a most Catholic and Christ-like way.

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