By Jennifer Fulwiler
Editor’s Note: This post, taken from Jennifer’s new book One Beautiful Dream, highlights a snapshot of Jennifer’s busy life as a mother working from home and raising six children, and what happens when her day gets unexpectedly interrupted by a group of mischievous neighbor girls.
The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. – John 10:3-4
I went into try-harder battle mode, determined to minimize distraction and maximize productivity. I committed to getting out of bed as soon as my alarm went off to have more morning writing time. I got a noisier fan to put outside the bedrooms. It sounded like a Category 3 hurricane was perpetually hovering over the hallway, but I sure could make it downstairs without waking the kids. I pushed my hour of evening writing time to two hours, which meant less sleep but more progress.
The editor at the pamphlet company mentioned that if everything went well with this project, there would be more work in the future. I was typing away one afternoon, lost in the fun of taking a jumble of thoughts and channeling them into a clear stream of words, when a familiar noise exploded through the house:
I scrambled to the window and threw back the curtains. For the first time, I got a look at the group, at least the backs of them. There were four of them, all girls. I pounded on the glass and shouted for them to cut it out, but they only glanced over their shoulders before running around the corner. Just as I lost sight of them, the sounds of crying floated down from upstairs. I stared at the spot on the sidewalk where I’d last seen them, wishing I had a superpower to shoot lasers from my eyes and zap people from afar.
My mind was ablaze with anger. And then, suddenly, it was cooled when a fresh, peaceful thought glided into my mind:
You should reach out to them.
It seemed to be one of those ideas inspired by God, since it definitely did not come from me. I tried to reject this bizarre message, but I couldn’t escape the sense that these kids might have been sent to my door for a reason other than testing my anger management abilities. I had a strange feeling that they would continue ringing my doorbell until I let them in, one way or another. So I disconnected the doorbell.
Whatever cosmic forces were sending these neighborhood miscreants my way, I would show them all by making this a non-issue. I gave now-wide-awake Donnell, Lane, and Lucy cookies to keep them happy for a few moments while I got to work. I stood on a stool, removed the plastic cover from the doorbell box on the wall, and carefully unwound the wire connected to the bell.
In the days that followed, it was with unadulterated joy that I listened to the scampering on the front porch, confused whispers, then the sound of retreating footsteps. I had taken my writing time back and defeated the neighborhood punks! It felt good to win at life again.
The next day, my kids were toddling around the front yard and had been given their five-minute warning that it was time go inside. I kept pulling my phone out of my pocket to glance at the time, making sure everything proceeded according to plan. Then Donnell’s voice cried, “Mommy, a bird! He’s hurt!”
I ran over to see a small bird who was flailing in the grass. I was trying to figure out what to do when Lucy crawled too close to Lane, and Lane tripped over her, which knocked them both into Donnell. Before I knew it, everyone was crying and I had no bandwidth to help this poor injured animal.
It was time for God and me to have a serious chat.
Listen, Lord, I said in my best we-need-to-talk voice. There is a lot of craziness in this house. We are not perfect people, in case you haven’t noticed. But please don’t let this be the kind of house where birds die on my lawn because I have my hands too full to take care of them.
And then I did something I always hated to do: I asked for help. I always wanted God to answer every prayer by beaming down the ability for me to conquer all adversity on my own, but it was pretty clear that that’s not what was going to happen here. So I ended the prayer by saying, I want to help this bird, but I can’t do this on my own. Please send help.
Almost immediately, the doorbell ringers appeared.
They were headed from one end of the street to the other, and their trajectory would take them right past my house. My gaze briefly met with theirs, but we all looked away. The bird flipped over as it struggled at my feet. They were getting close. I couldn’t do this alone. But every time I looked at them I could only think of all the afternoons they’d ruined for me.
They walked in front of the house, staying safely on the other side of the street, studiously avoiding looking my direction. It was about to be too late. Just before they drifted out of earshot, I gulped hard. I forced myself to shout, “Hey! Girls! I need help!” They paused and examined the situation with apprehension, perhaps assuming that this was a trap where I would finally enact my vengeance.
“There’s a bird here,” I explained. “He’s injured.”
Hesitantly, they approached my spot in the driveway. When they saw that there was indeed a small bird in front of me, they picked up speed. When they got to us, I saw that they were much younger than I’d guessed, one of them probably only eight years old.
“Aaaw, poor thing! What happened?” the youngest one asked. “I don’t know. It looks like its wing is injured.” Lucy and Lane were fighting again, but I shushed them so I could talk. “I’m Jennifer, by the way.”
“Hi, I’m Carmen. This is my sister, Megan.”
An awkward silence filled the air as we all anticipated that the next statement would be to acknowledge that we already knew one another. I changed the subject. “So does anyone know how to help this bird? As you can see, I have my hands full.”
“We could take it back to our house and try to help it. Poor little guy!” Carmen said. “Do you have a box we could put him in?” I tried to set Lucy down so I could dig through the shelves in the garage, but she acted as if I were lowering her into molten lava. I froze in frustration, and then Megan appeared at my side.
“Hey there, you want to come with me?” her smile was so innocent and bright that Lucy happily went into her arms.
I emerged with a box a few minutes later, as well as gardening gloves to pick up the bird. When the animal was all set, Carmen ran off with it to see if her older brother could help with its care. I expected the others to leave too, but they stayed. We chatted about where they went to school and what classes they loved and hated. When I finally announced that I had to get back to work, they seemed reluctant to leave.
My writing schedule was demolished that day due to my work as bird rescuer. Part of me was silently screaming in frustration, but I admonished myself to chill out and make up for lost time tomorrow. When nap time rolled around the next day, my whole body tingled with excitement. When I took my place behind my desk I actually rubbed my hands together in anticipation, like a madman in a movie. I cracked my knuckles to prepare my hands for the awesomeness that was about to flow from my fingers, and then . . .
I looked out the office window to see the neighbor girls congregating on my porch, this time not hiding from my view. They could see me through a space in the curtains and were waving. They weren’t running. I stifled an exasperated sigh and went to greet them. I stood in the entryway with the door cracked as little as possible, displaying the same posture I used when the Jehovah’s Witnesses came by.
“Hi, girls, good to see you,” I said thinly.
“We wanted to update you on the bird!” Riley, the youngest one of the group, announced.
“He’s doing better,” Carmen said. “My mom says she thinks he’s going to make it.”
“Oh, that’s great. I’m happy to hear it.” I put my hand on the door in preparation for closing it.
They just stood there. There was a long silence while I waited for them to say goodbye, and they waited for . . . something else. When I couldn’t take the awkwardness any longer, I finally said what they were evidently hoping I would say: “Do you want to come in?”
They twittered excitedly. One of them did a little jump.
“Yes! Sure!” Megan said.
With my back to them as I led everyone into the kitchen, I checked the clock on the stove. On a good day, my kids might nap for two hours. If I could get these girls out in 30 minutes, I’d still have a solid chunk of time left for my work. I offered them seats at the table, moving Lucy’s high chair and pulling in my office chair so that everyone had a place.
“You want something to drink?” I asked. “I just bought this new orange tea.” They all responded with enthusiastic yeses, just as I realized that I had no clean mugs. The glass-fronted cabinet by the end of the table caught my eye. Our gleaming white wedding china sat there, never touched. We always said we’d get it out for “special occasions,” but we never seemed to find an occasion quite special enough. I looked from the cabinet to the girls, their faces open and giddy. I decided to go for it.
Each girl got a tea cup and saucer, the snow-white china lined with a simple silver pattern that was still shiny. I lifted a large serving bowl from its place in the display case and dumped in a family-sized bag of pretzels.
I set the bowl on the table in front of them. And then I didn’t know what to do.
There are lots of people in the world who naturally gravitate to kids, for whom having a gaggle of pre-teen
girls in their kitchen would be a normal activity. I was not one of those people. If I had found myself in a kitchen full of trained circus bears, I couldn’t have felt any less at ease. I stood awkwardly next to the sink, trying to think of what to say or what I could offer them next.
“Miss Jennifer, are you Catholic?” Carmen asked, looking at the Christ the Teacher icon above the couch. Which, now that I looked at it, had something—was that peanut butter?—smudged on the bottom of the frame.
“Yes,” I said, wondering why she asked. “Are you?”
“No, but my uncle knows some Catholics, and they kind of got him in trouble a while back.”
“Have you heard of the thing of burying a statue of St. Joseph in your yard if you want to sell your house?”
“Yes . . .” I said, not sure where she was going with this. It was an informal tradition that I’d seen a few Catholics do, usually while wrestling with whether or not they were being superstitious. Catholic bookstores sometimes sold tiny St. Joseph figurines for that purpose.
“Well, everyone told my uncle that it worked really well, but he’s not like Catholic or anything, so he didn’t know how to do it right. He found this big statue of Saint Joseph that was about as tall as I am, and he buried that in his yard one night. But the neighbors saw him doing it, and it looked like he was burying a body, so they called the cops on him.”
A laugh burst from my lungs that was so big and so unexpected that it shattered all the pent-up awkwardness within me. Still laughing, I moved to the table and eased into a seat. “Are you serious? He did what?”
The conversation was now cracked open, and waves of laughter and giggles rolled over the sounds of chatter and clinking china. The girls were so excited that they kept jumping up and raising their hands and exclaiming, “Miss Jennifer, pick me! Pick me!” When I learned that some of them had surprisingly serious stresses in their lives, I felt like pretty much the worst human being in the world for all the things I’d thought about them back when they were ringing the doorbell.
They eventually announced that they had to go. On the way out, Riley paused at the door. She turned back, her brown eyes meeting mine hopefully.
“Miss Jennifer, can we all be BFFs?” she asked.
“BFFs?” I’d heard the term but it didn’t register immediately.
“Best Friends Forever.”
My throat was so tight I could barely choke out a “yes.”
Adapted from One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both by Jennifer Fulwiler. Click here to learn more about this title.
Pursue your passions, love your family, and say goodbye to guilt—pipe dream or possibility?
Work and family, individuality and motherhood, the creative life and family life—women are told constantly that they can’t have it all. One Beautiful Dream is the deeply personal, often humorous tale of what happened when one woman dared to believe that you can have it all—if you’re willing to reimagine what having it all looks like.
Jennifer Fulwiler is the last person you might expect to be the mother of six young children. First of all, she’s an introvert only child, self-described workaholic, and former atheist who never intended to have a family. Oh, and Jennifer has a blood-clotting disorder exacerbated by pregnancy that has threatened her life on more than one occasion.
One Beautiful Dream is the story of what happens when one woman embarks on the wild experiment of chasing her dreams with multiple kids in diapers. It’s the tale of learning that opening your life to others means that everything will get noisy and chaotic, but that it is in this mess that you’ll find real joy.
Jennifer’s quest takes her in search of wisdom from a cast of colorful characters, including her Ivy-League-educated husband, her Texan mother-in-law who crushes wasps with her fist while arguing with wrong number calls about politics, and a best friend who’s never afraid to tell it like it is. Through it all, Jennifer moves toward the realization that the life you need is not the life you would have originally chosen for yourself. And maybe, just maybe, it’s better that way.
Hilarious, highly relatable, and brutally honest, Jennifer’s story will spark clarity and comfort to your own tug-of-war between all that is good and beautiful about family life and the incredible sacrifice it entails. Parenthood, personal ambitions, family planning, and faith—it’s complicated. Let this book be your invitation to the unexpected, yet beautiful dream of saying yes to them all, with God’s help.
Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer, a speaker, and the host of The Jennifer Fulwiler Show airing daily on SiriusXM channel 129. She is the author of the bestselling memoir, Something Other than God, which chronicled her unlikely journey from atheism to faith. Jennifer is the co-founder of the Edel Gathering, a women’s conference that promotes spiritual renewal through good company and bad karaoke. She has been a guest on Fox and Friends, HuffPost Live, and multiple shows on the worldwide EWTN network. She lives with her husband and six children in Austin, Texas. You can connect with her at JenniferFulwiler.com.