“How do you do it?” they ask. “How do you manage all these kids and still get everything done?”
There are several different ways to answer this very reasonable question…
“How do you do it?” they ask. “How do you manage all these kids and still get everything done?”
There are several different ways to answer this very reasonable question…
What’s your “Yay, It’s Finally Fall Weather!” dish? Something that you only cook or bake or eat at this time of year. It’s okay if it’s some kind of pumpkin spice bullshit. This is a safe space. Here’s what our week in food looked like:
Today it’s raining, and we’ve had a few frosts already, and have turned on the heat for the year. Love that cozy smell of toasted dust. But last Saturday, it was still warm, and Mr. Husband cooked the burgers outside:About a month ago, Aldi had this American cheese on sale for ten cents a package, so I bought an armful. Check it out: it has pictures on it. Not only that, but it looks like this one one side:and this on the other side:THESE ARE THE SAME TWO PIECES OF CHEESE, FOLKS. God bless America. I made fries using this cold oil method I just heard about. It’s supposed to be easier, less smoky, and just less hassle all around.The first batch definitely was less hassle; but then I had to make about five more batches, and the oil was already hot, so no more newfangled cold oil method for me. But they were good! And I never would have taken the plunge if I hadn’t thought the recipe would make things easier, so I’m glad.Some of the kids sprinkled vinegar on their hot fries. Here I am, dealing with one of the slightly overdone ones:If you squint, it looks almost liturgical.
Beef stew and apple pie are my “Yay, it’s Fall!” dishes. For stew, I use a pretty basic recipe: Cut beef into small chunks, and shake them up in flour seasoned with salt and pepper. In a heavy pot, fry up some crushed garlic in a little oil, then throw the floured meat in, plus the extra flour. Fry it up until it’s slightly browned. Add some combination of water, beef broth, and red wine*. Add in cubed potatoes, chopped onions and carrots, diced tomatoes with juice (canned is fine), and string beans (frozen is fine). Add a few bay leaves, and add more liquid if necessary; or, if it’s not thick enough, make a little roux (flour and butter paste) and stir that in. Cover and simmer for several hours. If you have mushrooms, add them in an hour or so before serving. Oh, here’s a tip for feeding hot foods to babies: mix in a few frozen vegetables. This cools the food without diluting it:Tried this popover recipe for the first time. You make the batter in a blender. I ended up using the standing mixer with the whisk attachment, because a triple recipe of batter didn’t fit in the blender. Popovers are supposed to be light and airy, and they are supposed to puff up to great heights and then collapse when you pull them out of the oven. Mine were kind of dense and hearty, and just kind of sat there looking eggy. Everyone loved them anyway, and they sure were easy to throw together, so I will probably make them again, even if I don’t get the hang of it.I have now used that mini muffin pan exactly three times in six years: once to make mini quiches for a baby shower, once to make bacon roses for father’s day, and once for these popovers. I can’t use the spots in the middle, because I drilled holes in them to let out the grease for the bacon roses. I should have a TV cooking show called “The Stupid Kitchen.” So, pie! I had to make at least one pie before we ran out of apple orchard apples. I think Cortland apples are technically best for pie, since they are flavorful and keep their shape, but I love the taste of Mackintosh the best, so that’s what I use, even though they get mushy. I have plateaued in my pie crust-making skills, so I just bought some frozen ones and threw in a bunch of apple slices with sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, a little flour, and some butter. Irene helped with the apple prep, but quickly discerned that there were too many damn applesand went to watch Spiderman. *Pinecroft. It’s crazy cheap – maybe $3 a bottle – and it tastes completely okay for all your okay-wine-drinking needs.
A new recipe for me from Damn Delicious. I had to buy Brussels sprouts, which are unreasonably expensive, because a woodchuck ate pretty much everything in my garden this year. I planted peas, beans, tomatoes, lettuce, radicchio, spinach, basil, pumpkins, cucumbers, and Brussels sprouts, and every time I went out to weed or water, something else would be gone. Just chewed into oblivion, everything except one pumpkin. It was infuriating.Next year, I’m buying a gun, and I’ll share my recipe for pan roasted friggin woodchuck with the vegetables of vengeance. Anyway, this recipe was a big hit. My family loves anything with a balsamic vinegar taste. I associate balsamic vinegar with light, summery, Italian dishes, but it went really well with this cozy, autumnal meal. It was a really good dish for putting together in the morning and then chucking in the oven in the evening. And it looked GORGEOUS. And it’s a smorgasbord of vitamins, too. I felt like sending a picture to my pediatrician with the heading, “SEE?”Oh, so butternut squash is much easier to peel if you cut the shaft off the round part, and peel them separately. I tried peeling the whole thing, and Benny thought it looked like a phone. I wanted to take a picture of her talking on the squash phone, but she wouldn’t let me, and insisted that she take a picture of me talking on the squash phone. So I let her, while thinking, “This is the kind of precious, overstaged nonsense that makes people hate mommy bloggers.”I’m posting it here because the dog intervened. Also, plus, real reason: look how skinny I look! This is a trick of perspective. I’m super fat right now. Hey, here’s some chicken:
Just regular old tacos with ground beef and spice from a packet, nothing to write home about. I stopped taking pictures at this point in the week, because it was mainly me driving around for hours and hours, and then me lying down and playing Tokyo to Corrie’s Godzilla:
And yes, that is a treadmill with clothes draped on it.
Cooked up some sweet sausages, fried up some peppers and onions, added a few cans of diced tomatoes, and mixed it up with pasta, jarred sauce, shredded mozzarella, and grated parmesan, and heated the whole thing in a casserole dish. We ate this meal approximately 946 times after I had the baby, so I’ve shied away from it for a while, but I think it’s time to put it back in the rotation. Another good make-ahead dish.
We went out on the spur of the moment. Three cheers for having four teenagers in the house!
This is what we’re having today. It’s a Budget Bytes recipe. Her recipes are really reliable — they turn out just as described, and are usually fairly easy to put together. The ricotta gets creamy and yummy, and it is cheap, and you can totally use frozen spinach. Phew. Made it through the week. What’s you eat this week? And don’t forget the question of the week, la di da: What’s your favorite fall dish?
Alternate title for this week’s dinner round-up: This Is Why I’m Fat. Hey, if you have to die young, might as well die young while full of cheese. Specifically, feta, parmesan, mozzarella, pepper jack, cheddar, and provolone, all in one week. And we’re not even vegetarians. The cheese was just to help all the meat find its way around. Whee!
At the end of the post, there will be a little blue InLinkz button, so you can add your own post; or feel free to leave a comment. You don’t have to be a fancy pants chef! This is just a place to talk about food, the good, the bad, and the cheesy. Don’t forget to link back to this post!
Here’s what we had this past week:
To you, that’s “hash browns” and “sausages.”
Everyone likes omelette night. Anything made to order is always a hit, if somewhat complicated.
Their choices were mushroom, feta, pepper jack, fried onions, ham, and tears of a mermaid
Was there even any promotion for this movie? It’s fantastic. One of my all-time favorites, just bizarre and hilarious, and feast for the eyes.
I was never able to make decent omelettes, or anything else that involved frying, until I got a decent pan. I use this T fal stainless steel 12-inch pan, and it turns out I’m not actually a terrible cook! I just had terrible pans. So that was nice.
Pork was still on sale, so my husband made a dry rub from what we happened to have in the cabinet, which happened to be brown sugar, white sugar, garlic powder, salt, pepper, cumin, chile powder, and paprika, and he grilled the ribs outside.
I honestly thought it was going to be too sweet, but holy cow, they were fantastic. The sugar turned into this glorious, savory, mahogany, yes-life-is-worth-living glaze, and I made a complete pig of myself.
My oldest daughter made a wonderful coleslaw with a recipe I can’t find at the moment, but it was pretty standard. We don’t have a food processor, but the cheese grater works well enough. We didn’t have buttermilk, either, but used some plain yogurt instead. (You can also make a buttermilk substitute by adding a splash of vinegar to regular milk and letting it sit for a bit.)
My husband had the day off for Labor Day, so he and my third daughter made his sumptuous chicken cutlets, which involves pounding the chicken flat, breading, and frying it, and then topping it with a basil leaf and a slice of provolone, and then garnishing the whole thing with a ladle of homemade tomato sauce, so it all melts together.
The recipe is here, on Deadspin, which has many wonderful recipes, all full of cussing (which I can totally deal with) and a lot of extraneous narration (which I cannot deal with, but my husband can). I cannot say enough about this dish. It is so good. So good.
I tried a new roasted broccoli recipe from Damn Delicious, and I added a bunch of sliced mushrooms. It was tasty, and the recipe was super easy, but I will roast it longer next time, and probably dry off the broccoli better. It turned out a little damp. Probably the mushrooms added moisture, which I had forgotten they would do.
My daughter had made chocolate chip cookies the other day, and we miraculously had leftovers, so we used them to make ice cream sandwiches.
I have no idea if we’ve always had tacos on Tuesdays anyway, or if the Lego movie made us do it, but we sure have tacos on Tuesdays a lot. We love this movie, too, by the way. So weird and funny and sweet.
We’ve also figured out where to store the tortillas so they’re safe from the infamous ravening tortilla hound, who just can’t help himself.
The completely wrong dish for a brutally humid day, but oh well. We had leftover (unseasoned) ground beef from the tacos, plus leftover wonderful sauce from the chicken cutlets, so I added those things to Aldi’s jarred sauce, which is not bad at all, and cooked up some sweet Italian sausages.
I seem to recall salad.
Lovely pizza. One pepperoni, one olive, one olive and basil, and one basil, pepperoni, and red onion.
I like to put the toppings under the cheese, so they don’t get dried out in the oven; and I like to sprinkle garlic powder, oregano, and grated parmesan on top of the mozzarella, to give it a nice crust.
This is what’s on the menu today. I use the Fannie Farmer white sauce + cheese recipe, but I tend to throw in a lot more cheese than is called for. I don’t even know how much I use, but it’s a hell of a lot more than half a cup. “Half a cup of cheese” is not even a thing, as far as I’m concerned.
For a topping, I either mix together melted butter and breadcrumbs (I find this technique easier than buttering each individual breadcrumb, ho ho), or else crushed Ritz crackers, because there aren’t enough calories in eleven cups of cheese.
My goal for next week: less cheese, more vegetables. Corrie’s goals remain the same: EAT EVERYTHING.
Got a big family? Then you already know that you’re crazy, a traitor to feminism, and a slave to the patriarchy; you’re neglecting most of your kids and robbing the rest of their childhood; you’re a burden on the system in general, and you probably don’t own a TV.
But wait, there’s more! Don’t forget, you’re also destroying the earth.
It’s become fashionable, in the name of the planet, to denounce large families as irresponsible, even selfish. Some politicians and a good many combox blabbermouths even say that it should be illegal for people to have more than one or two “replacement” children. Illegal!
And yet, if we can get beyond the inflammatory rhetoric, do radical environmentalists have a point? Should we slow down a little? It almost seems like common sense, especially when you’re having one of those days when you do feel a little crowded by the swarms of ravening locusts — uh, I mean, treasured offspring who share your last name.
After all, aren’t Catholics supposed to be good stewards of the earth? Isn’t it true that we “lotsas” are using more than our share of natural resources, burning more than our share of carbon, and just plain taking up too much space?
Probably not. Moms of many already know that the work of caring for, for instance, seven children is not the same as caring for one child times seven. In some ways, it’s easier. In the same way, many large families actually have a smaller carbon footprint than a typical family with one or two kids. A household of nine is not like a household of three times three. It just doesn’t work that way.
Moreover, when larger families do have an environmentally friendly profile, it often occurs naturally as a result of the family’s large size, not despite it. It’s not the numbers that count; it’s the lifestyle.
As Pope Francis says in Laudato Si,
To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption. Besides, we know that approximately a third of all food produced is discarded, and “whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor.”
By necessity or for convenience, big families tend to naturally fall into patterns of behavior that would make Pope Francis proud.
How? Here are a few ways:
Let’s start with that enormous van we drive — could it be eco-friendly? Sure. It’s certainly not fuel efficient; it’s just that it’s usually parked in the driveway. With ten kids in tow, I leave the house as close to zero times as possible, bringing our weekly mileage to far less than the national average (and if you’re calculating PMPG or “people miles per gallon” – that is, how many people get moved per gallon of gas — large families look even greener). My husband has a smaller, more fuel-efficient car, which we use if only a few kids are on board.
And how often do we fly? Well, the stewardess is still in therapy from the last time our family boarded a plane together, about twelve years ago. We’d rather get our kicks at the beach down the road than go through the agony of air travel, which the New York Times called the “biggest carbon sin.”
How about electricity? Do twelve people use more than three or four? Not necessarily. Six kids playing Dinosaur Wedding do it by the light of a single light bulb, just like one or two kids would. Two or three kids fit in a bathtub at a time, and there aren’t enough hours in the day for all of us to shower daily. The oven stays on 350 degrees for 45 minutes, no matter how big the meatloaf.
Most large families I know don’t live in energy-hogging giganto-mansions. They live in normal houses, they’re a little crowded, and they have lots of bunk beds. (They do, however, tend to go for big yards, lots of trees, and gardens. Natural wildlife preserves, you might say.)
Reduce and Re-use
Many large families also live with tight budgets. We happily trade a second or third income for another armful of babies. The quick and easy methods of saving the environment that make the news daily are hardly news to cash-strapped families: Turn down the heat, insulate, avoid anything disposable, buy in bulk, cook from scratch, breastfeed, don’t eat out, don’t waste this, don’t buy that. Turn out the light, close the door, unplug it, wash in cold water, make it do or do without. And if it does not get eaten for dinner, we serve it for lunch.
Even if we have plenty of money, the sheer clutter forces us to try and live simply and learn to do without excess stuff.
What a revelation! And so good for the earth.
How about consumption of goods? My family and many Catholic families I know are almost complete failures as consumers. Our house is mostly furnished, from the couch to the car to the pots and pans and coffee cups, with used goods. We are not, for the most part, consuming new products, with all their attendant carbon costs in manufacture and transport. By taking in used things, we’re also preventing an entire houseful of stuff from clogging up the landfills.
Pregnancy is green
Babies perform a service to the world before they’re even born: they excuse their moms from using (and sending to landfills) pads and tampons for nine months — longer, if they breastfeed enough for lactational amenorrhea. And what about birth control pills? Catholics who refuse to use them are also refusing to excrete endocrine-disrupting hormones into the water supply.
Pass It On
Large families tend to buy used clothes, books, and toys, and we hang onto them, passing them down from child to child, even to the next generation. The thermal onesie on my baby last winter? It started life keeping my oldest nephew warm, then went on to clothe every one of my ten kids so far.
Not convinced? Still feeling some eco-guilt as you survey all the little consumers you’ve produced? Go ahead and plug your own family’s stats into one of the many carbon calculators available online (try SafeClimate.net). You may be surprised at how “be fruitful and multiply” translates quite naturally into treading lightly on mother earth.
Last time I took my family’s numbers and plugged them into the first three carbon calculators that Google turned up, we consumed and emitted less than the national average for a family of three. And we were just trying to get through the week.
But what about the future?
This is all very well, some will say, as long as your many children all live with you in your little green shoe. You may be very thrifty today, but what about when they all grow up and move out? More people is more people, no matter how you slice it.
For this argument, I have two answers.
First is that grown children of large families tend to be what you might call natural conservationists. Children who grow up as one of many are likely to have learned that they’ll survive without buying stuff, that it’s okay to share, that material things come and go, and that, like it or not, we all depend on each other for survival.
So who will I be sending out into the world? A small crowd of perfect environmentalists.
Second, children of families that are open to life also know something much more important, something that rabidly utilitarian environmentalists still don’t seem to realize: A human soul is more than the sum of how many kilowatts he consumes. This is what it comes down to. Human beings are a gift to the world.
What can we say to people who do not realize that the human family is the very seat of love, and that procreation is the ultimate human imitation of the action of the Holy Trinity? What can you say to people who somehow truly believe that everything humanity does is something to be apologized for — that the only good human is a human who was never born?
There is nothing you can say. Satisfy yourself that you’re not being wasteful, and then answer not the fool according to his folly. Love your children, and teach them to love each other; and if you and your brood feel like a sign of contradiction, then that’s a good sign.
The call of Laudato Si is nothing new. The Catholic Church has been teaching this lifestyle for thousands of years: a lifestyle of welcoming children while being careful and generous with the way we live. There is no contradiction between loving and caring for the earth and supplying it with inhabitants: We are commanded to do both.
Was it short-sighted when God the Father explained these things to Adam? Was it hyperbole when Christ asked, “What does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but suffer the loss of his own soul?”
‘A Great Big Yes’
Our beloved Benedict XVI said of big families:
“Their Yes to one another in the patience of the journey and in the strength of the sacrament with which Christ had bound them together, had become a great Yes to themselves, their children, to God the Creator and to the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Thus, from the witness of these families a wave of joy reached us, not a superficial and scant gaiety that is all too soon dispelled, but a joy that developed also in suffering, a joy that reaches down to the depths and truly redeems man.”
Of course it’s Catholic to be an environmentalist. Of course it’s our job to care for the earth. But even more, it’s our job to remember, and to teach our children, that this world will not last, and to live accordingly.
“All flesh is as grass, and all its glory as the flower of grass; the grass withered, and the flower has fallen — but the word of the Lord endures forever” (Isaiah 40:6).
How will it endure, if there is no one to hear it? Let us answer the “No” of child-fearing radicals with a joyful and ancient “Yes.” The world needs big families.
Ignatius Press: Fr . Fessio, Vivian Dudro, Mark Brumley, and John Herreid discuss Laudato Si
Jen Fitz: The Terrible Problem with Laudato Si
Epic Pew: You won’t hear this from the mainstream media
Elizabeth Scalia: All Our Sin, All of Our Hatred On Trial
Tom McDonald Tweeting as he reads
Kathy Schiffer: This is completely Catholic
John Allen: The Pedigree of Laudato Si
George Weigel: It’s about us
Mark Shea: Chesterton on Laudato Si
Lisa Hendey: Laudato Si and me
Stream: 11 Good Take-aways
Joseph Susanka: Advice as you prepare to read
CWR Encyclical focuses on Heart of Man
LarryD: Brace yourself…
Phil Lawler: It’s more provocative and less political than expected
Gregory Popcak: Something Fishy: Why is THIS missing from the encyclical?
Rebecca Hamilton: Fourteen Things Laudato Si Says. Nine Things It Does Not Say.
Laudato Si in hardcover from Ignatius Press
This article originally ran, in a slightly different form in Faith and Family magazine in 2010.
No, but seriously. Several months ago, before the baby was born, we had a photographer at our house for three days, documenting What It’s Like to Live In a Family of Twelve. The photo essay came out last week in New Hampshire Magazine, and we are delighted (EXCEPT DAMMMIT I TOLD THOSE BOYS TO PUT SHEETS ON THEIR BEDS).
Here is just one photo, one of my favorites out of the nearly thirty that made it into the online story:
It’s such an honest but positive story. I have so much to say about the experience of having our family life documented! But things keep turning up. In the meantime, check out the story and the rest of the pictures here, and find more wonderful photography by the very gifted Matthew Lomanno at his website. Especially take a look at the documentary collections.
First, kudos for Erin of Bearing Blog for spurring me to reread the full transcript of the Pope’s recent in-flight remarks. He didn’t precisely say “Catholics shouldn’t be like rabbits” (and he never used the word “breed” at all). What happened was that the reporter asked him what he thought about the idea that so many in the Philippines are poor because of the Church’s ban on contraception. The Pope replied:
God gives you means to be responsible. Some think that — excuse the language — that in order to be good Catholics, we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood. This is clear and that is why in the Church there are marriage groups, there are experts in this matter, there are pastors, one can search; and I know so many ways that are licit and that have helped this. You did well to ask me this.
Another curious thing in relation to this is that for the most poor people, a child is a treasure. It is true that you have to be prudent here too, but for them a child is a treasure. Some would say ‘God knows how to help me’ and perhaps some of them are not prudent, this is true. Responsible paternity, but let us also look at the generosity of that father and mother who see a treasure in every child.
So, yes, if you read the entire context, he wasn’t saying, “The Church thinks you shouldn’t be like rabbits.” He was saying, “Some people think the Church teaches this, but it doesn’t.” A subtle distinction, a fairly important one . . . and an unfortunately quotable phase that just screams to be misunderstood.
Francis Phillips of the Catholic Herald UK says pretty much what I thought when I read the stories about the Pope’s interivew: This is really nothing new, but yikes. Phillips:
[W]hile I knew exactly what Pope Francis was actually saying, I still groaned. … Those people who read and listen to the secular press and who already have their own prejudices against Church teaching, will remember and repeat the word “rabbits” like a mantra, while we Catholics will sigh and point out as patiently as possible that that the Church has always taught “responsible parenthood” – and indeed, the Pope mentioned this too, during that hour-long meeting with reporters on his flight home.
What the Holy Father implied was that “responsible parenthood” is what matters, not specific family size. This will be different in each family and with each couple; while the use of artificial contraceptives is intrinsically life-denying it can also be irresponsible to have children thoughtlessly, without regard to issues of health and family circumstances.
But the problem with these remarks, unless they are carefully developed and explained within the context of Catholic teaching, is that they might cause confusion, not only outside the Church but also inside, among faithful families. Yes – people can have large families from selfish motives, just as they can limit their families from selfish motives. But what about large Catholic families, struggling to do what is right in their circumstances and under the normal pressures and demands of family life? They might, wrongly, take the Pope’s remarks personally and worry that they are being profligate and irresponsible. They have taken the biblical words “Go forth and multiply” seriously, at great personal sacrifice. They have already, in our secular society, been dismissed as “breeding like rabbits”; the Pope’s remarks will seem to undermine them, however much this was not intended.
Yup. He wasn’t advocating contraception, and he wasn’t saying small families are better than big families. He said things that are true, but he said them in a way that gives ammunition to people who are sloppy thinkers, or who are unmotivated to find out what the Church really teaches, or who are looking for justification to hate the Pope. Which is just about everybody.
Look, this is our Pope. He’s kind of a blabbermouth, and sooner or later, he’s going to irritate just about everybody. And no, this isn’t the first time he’s said something that makes me go, “Oy.” All the more reason to pick your head up out of the constant stream of gabble in the media from time to time, take a deep breath, and focus on your own family and your own spiritual life, rather than diving headfirst into the outrage du jour. (And yes, that means you might end up reading my blog less. Go ahead, I can take it!)
Anyway, Phillips was nice enough to recommend my book as an antidote to some of the confusion over what the Church actually teaches about family size, and how to balance the seemingly contradictory ideas of responsibility and generosity. I do hope that it helps!
I guess if Catholics want the beautiful teaching of the Church to be better understood by a skeptical world, then it would behoove us to spend our energy, you know, using these dust-ups as an opportunity for sharing and explaining that teaching, rather than constantly bitching about the Pope.
The other day, a woman lashed out at me for announcing my latest pregnancy online. This particular woman’s stock in trade is lashing out; and since I’m pretty sure I don’t (as she accused me of doing) parade my perfect children around like perfect trophies to prove that I’m a perfect Catholic mom, I didn’t give her anger much thought. Just another angry person on the internet.
Later, out of curiosity, I read more of her comments. And then my heart broke.
It was a lot of what I expected: You Catholic moms think you’re so great! You think I’m bitter, but I’m not! Who cares what you do with your stupid perfect lives! You think you’re happy, but you’re not!
You think that just because I don’t have any kids, God doesn’t love me!
It was as transparent as a child who howls and screams that he is not tired, not tired at all. Only no one was going to come to this woman, pick her up, soothe her, and put her to bed. No one was going to say, “It’s all right, sweet one. I hear what you’re saying. Let me help you and give you what you need, so you will feel better.” She thinks that God doesn’t love her, because He didn’t give her any children.
It’s not true. God loves you. But I don’t know how, just like I don’t know how or why or how much He loves me. He makes rain fall on the wicked and the just, and woe to the just who think that they deserve the rain.
This is not easy. When we love somebody and want to show them our love, we give them things – do nice things for them – make them feel our love in the way we know best. If I spent four months hunting for the perfect present for my husband, and he acted like it just randomly fell out of the sky because he’s a lucky fellow, I would be annoyed. No! I would think. I gave you that on purpose, to prove that I love you! This is personal!
And it is personal when God gives us good things. But it’s not proof of His love, exactly. It’s not that simple. Yes, everything that is good comes from God, and He deserves our thanks and praise for the things He give us. But the problem comes when we look at His gifts and draw conclusions about ourselves.
This is why I rarely say, “God has blessed us” when I mean, “We have good things” — whether it’s things like the sunny little house where we live, or a car that keeps running one more year, or a happy weekend, or a living, breathing baby (or ten). I say, instead, “We’re so lucky.”
I mean that the good things that come to us are only the hem of the mystery of God’s goodness. They are only a rumblings in the outskirts of the real workings of the economy of grace. It is a very good thing to be grateful and to praise God for the things we receive. It is a monstrously bad thing to conclude that we got them as a reward for good behavior. And all too often, at least in the 21st century of the United States, that is how we use the word “blessing.”
Witness the blaspheming Osteens telling us,
To experience [God’s] immeasurable favor, you must rid yourself of that small-minded thinking and start expecting God’s blessings, start anticipating promotion and supernatural increase. You must conceive it in your heart before you can receive it. In other words, you must make increase in your own thinking, then God will bring those things to pass.
Tit for heavenly tat, in other words. Well, Jesus wasn’t small minded. Jesus’ Father loved Him, and look at Him. Look at Him:
PIC Grunewald cruxifix
This is why I do not say that I am blessed, even though I know that this is the word that is technically, theologically sound. I think it means something different to modern ears. I am afraid that it says something so loathsome that I don’t want to risk it.
If my happiness is a sign that God has blessed me, what does that equation say to people who aren’t experiencing “promotion and supernatural increase”? To the people whose house is washed away, whose husband is shot down, whose womb is barren? It says what my reader said, without knowing she was saying it:
God does not love me.
So I don’t say that I am blessed. Instead, I say that I am lucky to have all that I have, because it is closer to something that I cannot express: in my best hours, my witless bafflement in the face of God’s mercy to me and my family. I am lucky, not because my good fortune has no meaning or no purpose or no design, but because I do not know why it happens. It happens because God loves me in this way at this time, when I am just and when I am unjust. I do not know why.
Why do I have, and why does she not have? I don’t know. It is easy for me to see that God loves me, because I am simple: I see that He has given me many things, and to my childish soul, that spells love. When I pray for other people, I often ask that He will bless them in obvious ways, that He will make it as clear as possible that they are loved. I suppose this shows some arrogance, telling God how to do His job. But really it’s fear. I am afraid to learn more about the other kind of love.