Having nothing to offer

July 8, 2009 | 36 comments

Today is day six of our experience as Kidsave hosts, and so far almost everything is going well. I say “almost” not because there are any problems with Rita — she is delightful — but because I’ve been surprisingly stressed about making sure that she has a good time this summer.

All the other families are sending the kids to all sorts of fabulous day camps all summer, and I haven’t been able to get anything like that together for a variety of reasons (limited budget, limited ability to leave house with car full of crazy toddlers, doesn’t make as much sense for us since we have an at-home parent, not sure what she’d like, my own negative memories of summer day camps fit for a B-grade 1980’s movie that make me freeze up any time I think about it, etc.)

In my more neurotic moments I feel like I have nothing to offer her. I worry about Rita comparing her days to those of the other Kidsave kids, wondering what horrible thing she must have done in a past life to get stuck with us. Though we are doing our best to make sure she has a great summer, what our best looks like is more humdrum and involves listening to a lot more screaming than what others could give. I’m not able to spontaneously hop in the car and take her somewhere interesting, we need to be home in the afternoons most days for the kids’ naptimes, and I’m often distracted by dealing with some chaos involving the little ones. In my almost hourly temptations to get worked up about how little we can offer her, I have taken great comfort in something I read in Seven Storey Mountain a few months ago about Baroness Catherine Doherty.

Thomas Merton describes how everyone who met her was entranced by her presence. Recalling an occasion when he saw her speak to two priests, he writes, “What impressed me most was the effect she had on these priests. We had been sitting around the station, bored, complaining of this and that situation in the world. Now they were wide awake and listening very attentively to everything she had to say.”

He emphasizes the Baroness’ incredible presence in more than one part of the book, explaining how people were drawn to her like moths to light. And yet, in a worldly sense, she had nothing to give. She had no money, and was “dressed in clothes that were nondescript and plain, even poor. She had no artful way of walking around, nothing for the gallery.” And yet, he writes of another time he saw her speak, “the impression she was making on that room full of [people] pervaded the place with such power that it nearly knocked me backwards down the stairs which I had just ascended.”

If she didn’t have any great speaking tricks or affectations, what was it that made people come alive to such a great degree in her presence? Merton offers the disarmingly simple answer when he recounts the time she spoke to the two spellbound priests:

What was it that she had to offer them, that they did not already posses? One thing: she was full of the love of God; and prayer and sacrifice and total, uncompromising poverty had filled her soul with something which, it seemed, these two men had often looked for in vain in the dry and conventional and merely learned retreats that fell to their lot. And I could see that they were drawn to her by the tremendous spiritual vitality of the grace that was in her, a vitality which brought with it a genuine and lasting inspiration, because it put their souls in contact with God as a living reality. […]

It is a tremendous thing, the economy of the Holy Ghost! When the Spirit of God finds a soul in which he can work, He uses that soul of any number of purposes: opens out before its eyes a hundred new directions, multiplying its works and its opportunities for the apostolate almost beyond belief and certainly far beyond the ordinary strength of a human being.

What was it that she had to offer them?…She was full of the love of God. I have thought of these words over and over when I have felt like I have nothing to offer Rita, finding consolation and peace in the example of the Baroness. It reminds me that I need to stop focusing on how to force more activities into our days, stop comparing myself to other people with different means, and start focusing on what I can do, and what matters. If Rita has missed out on anything important so far in her visit it’s not from a lack of thrill-a-minute activities, but from a lack of God’s love working through me, blocked out by anxious fixations on how impressive our calendar looks. It’s powerful yet daunting to realize that, if I were only willing to do it, to die to self enough to let it happen, I can always, no matter what my circumstances, offer other people the one thing they need and want most: the love of God. And if I were only to let God’s love pour out through me, I would go from having nothing to offer, to having everything to offer.


  1. Iona C.

    Another wonderful post! Thanks for being honest about feelings of inadequacy because I can definitely relate, but hopefully I can offer you some encouragement in the form of my perspective as a daughter.

    Growing up, my dad made enough so that my mom didn't have to work and he could support me and my two younger brothers comfortably. We weren't rich, but we had all the necessities and then some; But then, three years ago, we hit a 'wilderness' of sorts.

    My dad lost his job and couldn't afford to pay the mortgage on our house so it was foreclosed. A year or so later he was diagnosed with cancer and had to have surgery. Though he fully recovered, all the time he took off for medical reasons took his toll on his job, and with the economy worsening, he was laid off. Now I think my parents have pretty much liquidated all their assets and right now I'm not exactly sure how we're surviving except for the grace of God.

    Which is really… all you need. 🙂

    Malachi 2:15 – "[God] seeks godly offspring".

    That's a verse straight from the heart of God. Ms. Jen, keep abiding and growing in God's love and make an example of that to your children and Rita because it will be a far more enduring legacy to give them than anything money can buy.

    My mom expressed a similar concern to me while we went for a walk one morning, about how she was afraid she couldn't provide. It absolutely broke my heart. I told her that it doesn't cost a worldly cent to be the person God wants her to be for me and my brothers.

    I know that my parents love me dearly and the fact that my family is all together hanging on to God, growing more in love with Him and being loved even more each day is more than enough.

    I'm sure Rita will be able to return with stories of her own and most importantly a heart touched by the pure, powerful love of God.

    I'll be praying for you all!

    In Christ,

  2. Wendy C.

    It is so easy to compare ourselves to others and yet as you say the remedy is so simple. Be a channel of grace from God to others. I am reading a book called Mother Theresa's Secret Fire and besides the profoundly deep theology which has rocked my mind, there is the consistent theme of Mother Theresa's openning herself to be a channel of God's love to others. The stories are truly amazing from her willingness to receive every visitor with great love to the profound impact of simply her voice could have on converting others. I have read and reread the section on Saints in this book with great awe as I struggle with my own unsaintly self. Thanks for sharing your process and struggle, your words have greatly impacted my journey.

  3. Jane of Seagull Fountain

    This is what I have to offer my kids everyday (I mean, I guess we're more mobile and outside-entertained some days, but most days are like this), and if it's served up with God's love (and peace and security and storytime) — who could ask for anything more?

  4. Dina

    I am so glad you brought these words from Merton about how Catherine was in person. A few years ago I read her _Poustinia_ and it was the first Christian book that really excited me (and shocked too). Her writings about her life story and about God in her life is just amazing.
    You found a great example to inspire you. I'm sure your visiting kid will have wonderful and loving memories.
    Shalom from Jerusalem.

  5. Elise

    Please don't underestimate how wonderful it must be for her to just be part of a family, in another country! That is the most important thing and something that might just change her whole perspective on life. It's not about the parties and the outings, not at all. Relax and be your beautiful self, along with your family and you'll be the biggest blessing there is.

  6. Shannon, Mommy to seven

    I haven't ever commented here, but I read your blog daily. I enjoy your writing so much, and am struggling to revert to Catholicism in the face of a staunchly fundamentalist husband (don't get me started…). I have 7 children, 4 of them under 6, so I love reading about your motherhood journey as well.

    At any rate, I found your post today particularly interesting, and I'd like to offer you a bit of encouragement. It seems to me that Rita is exactly where she needs to be. You said she is an orphan. I would assume that the opportunity to just exist in a family situation is precisely the experience she would covet. I would think sending her off to camp would be the same as sending her to a different kind of orphanage–perhaps a bit fancier, but still institutionalized and rather unfeeling.

    I guess what I am getting at is that if you spent your month with her MOTHERING her, she may end up having the best experience of all the children. Anyone (well, a lot of people) can write a check and send the child away for a week or two, but how many are willing to spend naptime baking cookies or teaching her a craft? You may not have a lot of money to invest, but you have time and love to offer. I know a lot of that time has "bitty people" (that's what my older kids call our littles) involved, but, hey, that's family.

    I hope I have uplifted you in some way. I fear I'm not saying what I intended. It's just that I think you are doing a fine job with Rita, and I hope you don't feel discouraged for not having the resources to "do exciting things."

    God bless,

  7. Christina

    My parents worked in an exchange program for many years, where highschoolers from around the world would come for a year. While in contact with other families they'd hear how so-and-so went to New York/Disney World/Yosemite/California/etc, and would worry about the kids at their home being bored.

    However, years later, they're still in contact with many of those kids, they still get called "mom & dad," and more than once have been told how wonderful the time they spent there was. That they were thrilled to be part of my parent's home and many of those other kids wish they'd been there instead of taking all those exotic trips.

    What's sad is that now that "something" that the kids felt drawn to is lost, my parents have pretty much left the Church. They speak often about how our family had something special, and how it's gone now. They don't see that that "something special" had nothing to do with the family, it was all God's grace that was allowed (however inadequately) to flow out into their lives.

    People are starved for God in this world. The greatest gift you can give is to cooperate with God in your sanctification so that He can pour out His Love on your family, friends and the whole world.

  8. Anonymous

    Chill. Offer her your time and love. Make cookies and have tea parties. Could be she only needs to see she is loved and safe while she is here. You have more than you give yourself credit for.
    Enjoy. The time will fly!

  9. Christine the Soccer Mom

    I am going to say right upfront that I'm kind of skimming when I am between phone calls here, but I wanted to just say that I find it much better for Rita that she gets YOU. She isn't there for day camp, and from what you tell us, I think she'll have a very happy Summer just being with wonderful, kind, God-fearin' Jen.

    We forget sometimes that we don't NEED to give the kids all that stuff, that sometimes it's soul-suffocating. To help us remember, God makes sure that our kids play with the boxes their toys come in, instead of with the actual toys.

    My girls get more joy out of blowing bubbles and sidewalk chalk, plus some shoeboxes to make houses and cars and boats for the stuffed animals than they do from more elaborate games. (Wii might not be included in this…I'll have to ponder that.)

    God bless you, honey. You're doing right, day camp or no.

  10. Nadja Magdalena

    Oh, how often I have said the same thing to myself. My spiritual journey since my baptism has been one mostly of aridity and inertia. Before my baptism my constant prayer was, "Lord, please let me feel Your love for me!", and since it has been, "Lord, let me feel more love for You!"

    And the main reason I desire this fervent love is not for the consolation of it, but for the sake of my children–I want them to see my love of God whenever they look at me.

    God bless you and grant that we all be channels of His great love.

  11. Dawn Farias

    yes, yes, yes, and yes. thank you for this post.

  12. Alicia@Playing With Paper

    Beautiful post! I now want to go and find that book at the library! I often do the same thing. I think that my children should be constantly moving and going to activities but I cannot afford them. So then I feel guilt. Thanks for easing my mind and reminding me of what is important!

  13. Anonymous

    Nothing to offer? Who are you kidding?

    Camps might or might not be fun. The one I spent my formative summers in was just a warehouse. Nuff said.

    All this running around to zoos and museums and whatnot can be nice, but it's just frosting. What you're giving is savory and nutritious — which would you rather live your life on?

    You have the best to offer — a stable normal family life, mom and siblings around most of the time, dad around regularly and predictably, lots of time with people who care about you personally — that's not nothing — that is Love.

    You go, girl.

  14. e2

    Amen, Jen! I was going to say almost exactly what Shanon, Mommy to Seven said. Having a summer in a real family will be the so good for Rita. "Children's activities" are so over-rated in our culture. I, too, have horrible memories of daycamps.
    Gosh, can I just come sit in your house sometime? 🙂

  15. Christine the Soccer Mom

    I'm glad Shannon said it, too. I was kind of thinking that Rita's there to be with YOU, not day camp.

    So, yeah, what she said.


    Oh, and Shannon, I'll say a prayer for you and remember you when we pray the Rosary tonight.

  16. Christine the Soccer Mom

    Oh, hey, can I clog up your com boxes more? Please?

    There's a Madonna House not far from where I live. 🙂 come visit me and I'll watch your babies so you can have a little day-retreat.

  17. Amy

    I love that book. This is a wonderful post. (I came from Amy's Humble Musings and have you in my Reader now!)

  18. Ashley

    I think the most important thing she needs is what she is getting right now among all the screaming. She is getting the experience of an intact and loving family. She doesn't have to experience summer camp. She gets to hang out with other kids all the time in the orphanage. What she needs is to see a family and how it works. The most important thing you can do for her is to love on her. If I were an orphan girl I would want to experience the family, not the summer camp. Find some things you can do together so she can see what a mother is like and do some things as a family so she can feel what it is like to be a part of a family. Your family's time and love is what will make the difference in her life.

  19. Anonymous

    Jennifer (and all posters),

    If you are married to a good man (not perfect, but basically good), and you know God, and you have your health…your life IS perfect.. You have everything to offer Rita. She will find peace in your home amongst the chaos

    I have been a single mother of 5 for so long…the word husband makes me cry (mine left when I was pregnant w. # 5…leaving me to raise 4 children under 6 and one 9yr old w. ADD). I limped along on child support for years, but have been working a full time job for a year and a half…I hate it. I just want to be home. Last week on my day off, instead of doing chores and errands, I just spent time w. my children: baked bread w. my daughter, let my 7 yr old help w. some other kitchen work, took a walk in the woods w. all of them, and topped it off w. free (of course) fireworks. It was a very peaceful day and everyone was happy. So back to Rita: I think she will get far more out of feeling like she belongs…than she would feeling like a guest who needs to be entertained.

  20. SusanE

    What does an orphan miss most in her life? FAMILY! You are giving her exactly what she needs–the opportunity to experience a warm and loving family. Even the very best summer camp can't give her that. All the screaming, the chaos, the naptimes are part of the family experience. God bless you for opening your heart and your home to this young girl.
    "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God." (Micha 6:8)

  21. Lenae

    This is a wonderful reminder and exactly what I needed to hear today!

  22. Lee

    Children don't need those things such as summer camp and being involved in a billion extracurricular activities. All they need is love. Rita is so blessed to be a part of a stable family for the summer. God bless you and your husband.

  23. EandE

    I just don't have time to read all the response to your post, but the one from Iona really brought tears to my eyes. One of my kids would love to go to all the camps her friends go to. I keep telling her those camps were created for kids who can't be at home because both parents are working. You are giving Rita a look into what real life is like here, what it would be like to be part of a family here. Its not about entertainment. Its about being part of a FAMILY. You are doing an awesome job. Just let her BE with you. Maybe rent some videos you can watch with her after the kiddos go to bed, pop popcorn, read to her, bake with her. She will love her time with you.

  24. KimP

    Hi Jen, I don't have kids, but I can share this: when I was growing up, there was one house where all the kids hung out. That was Mrs. Radcliff's house. My brother and I practically lived there in the summer until we had to go home to sleep every night (and sometimes we stayed the night, too). Mrs. Radcliff didn't do anything special, really. The difference was that her house was a place where kids were genuinely liked, not just tolerated. Mrs. R always had crockpot of chilli or soup or something in the kitchen, so you could grab something to eat practically any time. She wanted to know about your day and really listened to you. She fussed at us, she was amused by us, she loved us. That was the difference.

  25. Joe Strain

    Hello Jennifer

    Great things will come from LOVE. Just extend that to Rita, she will certainly remember that more than a bunch of fancy camps

    Handsome Joe

  26. Susan


    You are an amazing writer…what an incredible post. Thank you so much for your honest sharing.

    Rita is indeed blessed to be a part of your family!

    Blessings to you,

  27. Owlhaven

    What a wonderful reminder. I had one of those days today, wishing I could do more for a person or two in particular in my life, and feeling like my best just wasn't good enough.

  28. Lesley-Anne Evans

    What a wonderfully transparent posting… your ability to cut through pretense and share your heart is a gift.

    And I really enjoyed learning about Baroness… which reminded me of something I read this year in Henri Nouwen's book 'In the Name of Jesus'. Nouwen speaks of offering others his 'irrelevant self', in love. This is what it eventually comes down to… for all of us.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  29. mary

    anonymous single mom: I will say an extra prayer for you and your kids tonight. single parenting is ROUGH.

  30. Lisa

    I agree with the others. I'm sure what Rita is craving is being apart of a family, not going to camp or running around sight seeing. This kid must just be absorbing all the love around her like a sponge. I think she's lucky.

  31. Anonymous

    I don't understand … isn't the purpose of that Kidsave summer a "test run" to see if this child fits at least tolerably into one's family, with an eye to possible adoption? Then why on earth would one push them away, warehouse them, in some sort of summer camp, no matter how costly? It seems to me that if some parents are using this as an opportunity to show how much money they can spend, this is probably means nothing more to them than the social cachet achieved by hosting an AFS child.

  32. Elena

    Imagine my surprise to see a picture of the B on Conversion Diary. We live practically around the corner from Madonna House in Combermere, ON; so, it is always delightful to see MH spirituality popping up in even more places. I spent a summer there ten years ago and my mom was an applicant years ago and knew the B personally. Thus, the MH way of life permeates our home and many of the homes around this area. You are welcome any time. And, I am sure, that your ministry of presence to Rita is more than enough.

  33. Jennifer @ Conversion Diary

    Anon –

    Then why on earth would one push them away, warehouse them, in some sort of summer camp, no matter how costly? It seems to me that if some parents are using this as an opportunity to show how much money they can spend, this is probably means nothing more to them than the social cachet achieved by hosting an AFS child.

    Thanks for your comment. I apologize, I should have given a little more detail. All of the Kisave families in our area except us have two parents working, so they have to utilize day camps. Although they're all taking turns taking days off of work to hang out w/ the kids at each other's houses. They're really wonderful people who are incredibly dedicated to helping the children.

    Also, the idea w/ Kidsave isn't necessarily that you (the host family) think you will adopt; a lot of people do it who know they can't adopt but think they might be able to find the kids homes w/ people in their social networks.

    Thanks for the comments, all!

  34. Elizabeth

    My thoughts are that if you give Rita the same sort of open-hearted affection you showed to your neighbor friends, you will bless her more than an entire summmer of camp! You're doing a great job! Also, remember to get some rest! 🙂 xo. EE.

  35. monica_divineoffice.org

    I am a "young" reader of your blog, I am impressed with your ability of describing your thoughts and feelings. I see all this people giving you their support, I really hope all our best wishes and thoughts and prayers can help you find some strength for yourself. And I agree with everyone, your love is your best gift for Rita.

    God bless you!


  36. Anonymous

    I think you've gotten a lot of good encouragement about what you are offering Rita.

    I just wanted to add encouragement to read Doherty's works! Fantastic stuff for moms, imo.


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