Tag Archives: spirituality

I asked God for free parking. Here’s what happened.

 

There I was in about July of this year, sitting in my car and talking to God about an old subject that tends to crop up (more and more often, it seems).

“God,” I said, “I  need money. A million dollars would be nice. Or maybe you could help me get a literary agent and sell a book. Or maybe a raise–a raise would also be nice.” (I like to give God plenty of ideas for his plans, in case he’s running short)

“See, in case you forgot,” I told God, “this is our first year as a single-income family. I’m the breadwinner, which by the way appears to have been your idea and not mine, and it’s been 6 years since my last raise. During that time, taxes in Chicago have gone up, so my paycheck has actually gone DOWN. What’s up with that, God? Also, my family size has increased from no kids to three kids, and all those diapers . . . Oh, plus a mortgage. Oh, and property taxes saw the largest hike in history right after we bought our house (side note, God, maybe you could do something about the corruption in Chicago?). Oh, and plus life insurance, which we didn’t need before kids. Oh, and plus a bigger car to accommodate said kids and all of a sudden expenses associated with school. Anyway God, have you forgotten about us?

So, as I was saying, I was in the car, praying out loud like I like to do. I think I was heading to the hospital for a pregnancy check-up since I was close to having this little bean.

Suddenly I realized that parking in the hospital garage was going to cost $4.

NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

NOT $4!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I circled around the neighborhood trying to find free parking, but it’s all permit-only in the surrounding streets (makes sense). So I went into the garage.

Seriously, that $4 was suddenly bringing me to tears. I was like, “God, this is ridiculous. I don’t want to be worrying about $4 for parking! Maybe you could work it out so that parking is free.”

When I came out from my appointment, I tried to pre-pay for parking on the machine in the lobby. It wasn’t working. Then I remembered they had machines at the exit that you can use from your car. “I’ll just use that,” I decided.

Those machines didn’t work either. I called “Help” with the little green button. The gate went up and I went through–FOR FREE!

Oh my word.

I’d been going to that hospital for give-or-take 6 years–for yearly female check-ups, pregnancy stuff, having surgery, being pregnant, having babies–and I had NEVER gotten out of there with free parking.

Never.

Until the day I prayed.

Of course, I cried.

Then I told my husband the story. And all my friends.

The next time I went, I prayed again. And guess what. IT WAS FREE AGAIN.

After Isaac was born, I went in with him. IT WAS FREE AGAIN.

Babies have a lot of appointments when they’re fresh out of the cooker, so next time I went back I was like, “Well God, you’ve certainly given me a lot of free parking. Thank you so much. Um, I know this little parking situation we’ve worked out may not go on for the rest of my life or anything. But could you do it one more time?

I eyed the machines as I drove into the garage. The machines appeared to be fully functional. Okay, fine, I can totally do $4, no big deal, it’s really fine. An hour or so later, I left. I pulled up to the gate to pay. And guess what. There, sitting in the little slot where you insert the ticket to get out, was an already-paid-for ticket. Just waiting for me. I pushed it in, the gate went up, and I drove away.

“Aaaaah!” I said. “Ohmygosh, God, what did you just do!?!?!” Then I told the story fifty million times to all the same people that had heard it before.

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Fast forward to today. It was Isaac’s 4 month appointment. I arranged to go into work late so I could take him. Right before leaving, I wrote down the $4 in the budget so that when I got home I could head right back out to work without wasting any time.

“Oh,” said my husband with a grin. “Not putting God to the test, huh?”

“God,” I said, immediately turning my face upwards-ish like I do sometimes, “I’m not putting you to the test. But if you did give me free parking again, that would be so great.”

When I arrived in the garage, all gates again appeared functional. But when I left an hour later, the gates were all up. The two cars in front were not able to pay. I could tell based on the fact that a lady got out of her car and tried jamming her credit card in, like four times before driving away.

I drove up next. I did the responsible thing and tried my own credit card. But clearly the system was down. The gate was up; I drove through.

“Okay God,” I said, “Thank you thank you thank you. Well, now I have to tell this story again. My friends are probably tired about hearing about my free parking over and over again. Huh. I think I’ll put it on my blog and tell a fresh batch of people about it.”

So here I am, to say this:

God has not given me a million dollars, though I have asked him more than a few times. But by giving me free parking, he has said to me so clearly: “I hear your prayers. I care for your needs. And I will provide.”

It’s one of those times where I can just hear God saying, I AM HERE! I AM LISTENING!

And can I just say? This string of miracles, which has gotten to feel like an inside joke between me and my Heavenly Papa, is so much more personal-feeling than a million dollars. It’s like a wink from above. A squeeze on the arm, saying, “I got this. You don’t have to be afraid.”

I can’t tell you how much it’s meant to me, this free parking joke/blessing.

It blows me away: I am in a relationship with God (!?!?). The same God who made space-time and did funky quantum things cares enough about ME to answer a small but deeply-felt prayer for something that in the scope of the universe could seem quite insignificant.

But it’s not insignificant to Him, because it’s not insignificant to me.

Oh what a good God I have.

And how it encourages me to keep asking for whatever I need–or think I need–or even just want! A million dollars is still on that list. But more than a million dollars, I want exactly what I already have: a Father who is good, who listens, who gives abundantly when the time is right and comforts me when I cry in the car.

I love these verses from Psalm 62:5-11:

For God alone my soul waits in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my deliverance and my honor;
    my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
    pour out your heart before him;
    God is a refuge for us.

Those of low estate are but a breath,
    those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
    they are together lighter than a breath.
10 Put no confidence in extortion,
    and set no vain hopes on robbery;
    if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

11 Once God has spoken;
    twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
12     and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord.

I love prayer.

For me, prayer isn’t boring or formulaic or blah–it’s an actual conversation with a God who listens.

While I want to pray ‘well’ (whatever that means), I also don’t worry about how I ‘sound’ to God. I figure, whatever I throw at him, he can handle it. Not that I try to be rude or anything–but I do keep it real (if not, what’s the point?). And if real is me crying and shouting and saying “Why are you DOING THIS TO ME!?” as I sit alone in my parked car in the dark privacy of the garage, then that’s what prayer is at that moment.

Yes, there are times of prayer that are full of awe and reverence. Or wordless praise. But for all those times, there are other times when I’m like, “I don’t like, this, God!!! How about, if this is your plan, you change your plan? Oh, and could you remind me later that I need to put popcorn on the grocery list?”

Ultimately, I’m God’s kid. And as my good Father, I don’t have to worry about what he thinks about me. Because I know what he think about me–he loves me.

So, friends–pour out your heart to him!

And if anyone from Swedish Covenant is upset that my prayers keep breaking their credit card processing system, all I can say is, um . . . sorry?


Living in the middle of the story

It’s always easier to write about completed journeys.

And I love reading about them! Ben was sick . . . now he’s healthy. I was miserable . . . now I’m happy. I was querying my novel . . . now I’m published and a movie of my book is being made AS WE SPEAK (not).

I was . . . now I am.

But when you’re in the midst of something, sometimes it’s hard to even know how to talk about it with others–or even to yourself. There’s not always a particular lesson you can share. A particular feel-good point you can make. There’s definitely no satisfying conclusion. So how do you talk about journeys you’re in the middle of?

I think it requires a particular kind of vulnerability to say, I haven’t arrived. There are no guarantees I even will. In fact, the arrival point may have been a mirage to begin with.

But I find that when I can be honest about where I am, there’s a kind of freedom.

Because, isn’t that life? A story that’s never complete? A story with twists and turns you can’t see around?

Does the road straighten out ahead–does it dip, or climb? You just don’t know.

I want to get better about talking about that–the uncertainty, the lows, and yes, the sometimes sadness.

After all, who am I keeping up appearances for?

Myself, maybe. At the root of it. There’s a version of myself I happen to really like–confident, creative Jenna. The Jenna who’s getting stuff done, making healthy meals, finishing manuscripts, putting herself out there, connecting with people at heart-level, eating sushi, crying when a good song plays and devouring incredible books. And overall, having energy for it all–for my family, my friends, my creative projects. That’s the essence of it–somehow who’s overflowing with abundance at a soul-level.

Is that me? Yes.

The true me, at least. The me I was made to be.

Is that me today? Doesn’t feel like it.

I suppose there’s a fine line between keeping up appearances and striving to be your best self. Between being true to ourselves and honest about our particular point in the road. Between not questioning the essence of who we are–but allowing ourselves to be complex and nuanced and messy and unresolved humans.

Without God in the picture, this is where my thoughts devolve into a big mush.

Thankfully, God.

Which I think leads me here:

Ultimately, I am a work in progress–His work. Which I participate in every day. He has made me new–but I am not perfect. He has given me an essence–creative, an enjoyer of things, a lover of people–but I will not realize that fully every day. Ultimately, that’s okay. Because though I am weak, He is strong. Though I am lost, He is not. Though I can’t see the path, He can. Though I can’t see the purpose to feeling stalled-out, He has promised to make everything purposeful for those who love him. I am convinced that He will waste nothing–not a single tear or stalled-out minute–but will use it all (even my imperfection) to wind my story more tightly into His. Which is a story of salvation, redemption, beauty after ashes, strength in weakness. A story that ends around a dinner table with aged wines and delicious, rich food, laughter instead of tears, happy faces and full stomachs. With family.

So I’m on a path. I have no idea what life holds for me–or even the next hour. But I do know how the story ends, and the One who’s guiding it.

That’s the arrival point. Not feeling happy again (though I hope to), not getting published (though I hope to), not achieving this or that . . . but ending it all around that table where I’ll look into the eyes of the One who loves me best and say, ‘here I am.’ The place I was headed all along, even when it felt like I was sitting still.

It’s okay that I’m sad right now. It’s okay that I’m hitting bumps in the road with my creative process. I don’t know what part it plays, but I have a God who turns the otherwise pointless, the sad, and even the tragic into something new.

And I can’t wait to get to his dinner table.

Though I plan on enjoying all the dinner tables on the way there.