I want to share some of the blessings of having a large family, and not come across as if I don't count the cost. I want to share some of the challenges and not scare away women who are already hearing fearful messages about motherhood from culture. But I'll just do the best I can, and trust God to use this sharing for good in your heart and mine, and for His glory.
I want to share what God has taught me, how He has changed me, and how the landscape around me has changed, as our family has grown.
Please read this as a personal tome and not as a prescriptive tutorial.
A LARGE FAMILY?
When we married, we knew that we would be large-family weirdos. :)
Well, let me take that back... I had been told by my gynecologist at age 16 that I had poly-cystic ovaries and would have difficulty getting pregnant, and might not even be able to have children. Doug knew that going in. So we knew there might be obstacles.
But still, we talked about large families and having lots of children, and both of us were "in" for that vision before we married. We weren't super-spiritual people... by that I mean, we didn't have outward vestiges of holiness. I'd dated around and been reckless and rebellious for years of my life (in ways I now regret), and he was a hippie artist from a divorced family who drove a VW camper van. While we were both genuinely children of God, we were singed and scarred from having the majority of our worldview influenced by the world and culture around us.
Somehow, though, we both loved children and both loved Scripture and entered marriage with hearts open to the possibility of having lots of children. Whenever we expressed that shared desire to people, we got a lot of responses like, "yeah, just wait until you have one or two...", which made me sad. It is truly sad that Christian people try to dampen the vision and desires God puts on the heart of two young people.
Nonetheless, despite our open hearts, God had a lot of self-importance and career-idolatry (both for me, with politics, and for Doug, with painting) to move out of our hearts, which he did in those early years, and still does from time to time (just last week, I had this daydream of being a Senator...). :)
Jumping ahead to parenthood, to move the story along, after a difficult first baby labor and delivery, and after deciding to stay home with him, I purposed to enjoy every single minute with Ethan. And I really did. At his first birthday party, I remember reflecting back and being so thankful that I'd tried to listen to the wisdom of older moms: "take time to enjoy him; they grow so fast!" The biggest lesson of that first baby was that it's not about me... everything took longer and I had a different body and different life than I'd had going into it, but when I welcomed the newness and reveled in the changes, seeking wisdom as needed, there was inexpressible joy.
Focusing outward (on others) rather than inward (on myself) was a wonderfully freeing change of attitude. I still was a crummy housekeeper and a terrible cook, but I was learning some things about being a loving wife & mom.
Soon I was pregnant with Baxter, and he too was a welcomed blessing in our lives and hearts. New lessons came with him: with a natural delivery and immediate breastfeeding (which I wasn't able to do with Ethan, as he had been whisked away to the NICU for a week) came an influx of hormones and attachment/bonding that I hadn't experienced so easily with Ethan. There were so many physical and hormonal benefits that I hadn't known the first time around. I internalized the truth that God made our bodies to work so wonderfully!
I also began learning about prioritizing needs, as all moms of more than one inevitably have to learn. :)
When Baxter was about a year old, I got pregnant again, only to start bleeding about 2 days later. It was an early miscarriage-- the kind that doctor's offices irreverently term "chemical pregnancies". Thankfully, by this point, God had firmly convinced Doug and I of His good sovereignty, and I felt certain, even in the midst of the physical process of miscarrying, that God would give us the children He meant for us to have. I still believe that. That does not mean I didn't hurt, but I really did have a quiet confidence in God's goodness despite present circumstances.
The next month, to our surprise, I was pregnant again. 5 days later, I miscarried yet again. People around me thought I was crazy, I think, for not being uncontrollably emotional about these two losses, but I held fast to confidence in God. I knew He had not abandoned me and would make something beautiful of this.
The next month, I got pregnant with our beautiful Maranatha.
No one questioned our decision to get pregnant for a third time. I think it seemed natural to people; "oh, you finally got your girl." We'd smile and think, "Lord willing, we're not stopping here, but thank you." :)
While pregnant with her, we packed up our home, sold most everything we owned, and moved to the opposite side of the world, to China. She was born in Thailand.
I felt that I needed to understand what the Bible teaches about being a woman even better, that I needed to be a godly example for my daughter, not only of personal holiness, but of grace and kindness. The Bible talks of a "gentle and quiet spirit" and I'd always seen myself as having a forceful, passionate, and loud spirit, LOL. I needed to be able to help her understand how to navigate the natural biological functions of womanhood, the biblical roles of womanhood, and our culture's views of women. I began thinking and reading about these things more. This blog was started, in a large part, because of my grappling with these things as I strove to understand what God means for women, regardless of culture, and what God means for Christian women, here in this culture.
During this time, too, Doug got sick. The LORD taught us so much about suffering, problems, and pain. We learned to trust Him when we were smack-dab in the middle of a season of suffering. We did not know how it was going to end, but we grew dependent on the LORD.
That summer, as things leveled out with Doug's health, we moved to Istanbul and found out the same week that we were expecting Silas, our little stowaway. :)
Reactions to this pregnancy were decidedly different than I'd experienced before. Friends were excited but still asked, "so this was a surprise, right?" Relatives' reactions ranged from pleasant to "oh no!" and "Well, if you're happy about it, then congratulations." Having a 4th baby seemed so intentional, I guess. :) So much like embracing insanity. :) So "in your face"... like deliberately choosing something so unnecessary. But we looked at the precious smiles, and sweet moments with each of our 3 unique children and knew that God was right-- children are truly a wonderful blessing.
While these were some of the most tender and sweet days, I admittedly was entering what would be the most difficult season of my life thus far. In a small apartment, in a new culture, without language skills, with four children 6 and under, my days were mostly eaten up with physical tasks- tying shoes, making chicken spaghetti, breastfeeding, picking up army men, changing diapers, putting on coats, pouring cups of milk, snuggling.
My blog became to me a place to outpour all of the thoughts I'd stored up through each day (this was 2007-2008).
Even in the midst of wonderful times with our children, I faced personal discouragement, and when two old friends came to visit me (separately), I realized how much I had changed, though I still couldn't express in what ways I was different. I was grappling with how to lovingly train my children, cutting anger out of my heart, my role in and out (?) of our home, choosing contentment, and learning hospitality. Living overseas, despite the fact that we were often hosting large groups in our home, loneliness and isolation were real and present concerns in my life at that time. OH, how I longed for a good friend.
I read and felt the truth of Isaiah 40:11: "He gently leads those who are with young." God looks at those who are with young through gentle, tender eyes, and He knows we are made of dust. I took to heart His kindness, and grew more dependent upon Him.
God's Word became more precious to me, and God used all these struggles to break me of my sense of pride and self-reliance. I hadn't realized it before, but I had skated through my early years of child-rearing in my own strength. I gave cursory nods to God in prayer or by trying to apply Scripture, but I still carried it all out in my own strength, confident in my own abilities. During this time of struggle, God showed me how much I had taken glory in my own talents and strength. He stripped me of the sense that I had it all together. And I thank Him for it... I still work to not fall back into the thought pattern of self-reliance.
When Silas was about a year old, we learned that we were expecting again, when we were about 2 weeks out from a move. Thankfully, a moving company came to pack and physically move our belongings, so I didn't have to lift things, etc., but it was still a stressful, unsettled time.
I believe it was the day after our move that I began miscarrying, at about 7 weeks along, 2 weeks farther along than our other miscarriages had been. Certainly this was more difficult, emotionally, as I'd had more time to get excited about the baby coming. But physically, it was much more difficult than the previous 2 miscarriages. I was spent, utterly exhausted. Silas was still nursing many times a day, I was homeschooling Ethan, taking Turkish language lessons, and I had a house to unpack and organize, and new neighbors to meet.
Here is where God ministered to me through my husband.
We had previously thought through various stances concerning birth control, and come to the belief that in general, for us, fertility and family should be our default position. Biologically (generally speaking), God has given women a long window of fertility, and he has put our hormonal levels of desire at the very point in our cycle when we are most fertile. It seems straightfoward to us that God set it up so we would (on the whole) be fruitful.
However, unlike what some people call a "quiverfull" mentality, we also believe that we are to be thoughtful stewards of our bodies, souls, and families, like anything else. He who starts building a tower without considering the cost is reckless. Doug Wilson comes the closest to explaining our point of view in this article, which is similar to how a farmer views stewardship of the fruitfulness on his land: BIRTH CONTROL. (My favorite quote: "A man can have a high view of apple trees and still not plant them a foot and a half apart in his orchard.") Children are wonderful, AND we are stewards. Consider carefully, AND trust God. Both/And. Anyway, moving on...
At that time when I felt used up, post-miscarriage, mid-move, and with four children six and under, Doug "lived with his wife in an understanding way." He determined that we would take measures to prevent pregnancy for a time-- both to allow my body to rest and heal, but also to allow me the opportunity I'd not ever had-- to nurse a baby for as long as both he and I desired to do so (after my two miscarriages while nursing Baxter, I'd always weaned ASAP once I found out I was pregnant). We made it to 18 months, when Silas began weaning, and I enjoyed about a 6-month "rest" (though I know to some people that sounds absurd-- that with four children, and a nursing baby, I was resting, nevertheless, and at the end of those six months, I felt like a new woman).
Through Doug's love for me, understanding my heart, and meeting my needs, I saw another picture of Christ loving the Church, tending to her, caring for her, protecting her in her weakness. He loved me and cared for me and it fed my soul and allowed us to steward what God had given us well.
We prayerfully decided to again be open to children, and like a true "Fertile Myrtle" :), I got pregnant with Moses. This time was different. Pressures of life overseas, limitations of living in an apartment, the expense of traveling (either for vacation or to see family), the weight of childrearing without any support from a nearby family member or friend willing to occasionally help lift the load... we knew something would have to give, and for the first time, I experienced pregnancy considering the possibility that it might be the last.
Even with painfully sharp ligament spasms, and normal pregnancy "ailments", I sought to again enjoy every part of it-- the first flutters, the full-on kicks, the sonograms, the labor, and the delivery... and I did. Someday I'll write about my last 3 labor experiences; I intended to years ago, and should do so soon. My labor with and delivery of Moses was quite different from all the others.
Anyway, he was such a precious addition to our family, and for the first time, really, I got to experience some of the absolute outright joys of large family life.
First of all- people didn't criticize us anymore (namely, those same relatives who had rude comments the 4th time around), at least not to our faces. :) Maybe they finally realized we were going to do what we were going to do without considering their disdain or disapproval of our "choices", and so they began embracing each personality as individual and began seeing us as a unique family, too... not just a carbon copy of theirs, and not something to be compared or contrasted to theirs... just unique.
Instead of solely being like a small young sibling, just asking when they would be able to play, and learning to help by bringing diapers and such, they actually began saying things like, "mom, did you see the way he scrunches up his cheeks when he smiles?" Or, "oh, mom, he's so cute; I can't imagine a cuter baby in the whole world." Or, "have you seen him _______?" They began interacting with him in ways that previously only Doug and I had done-- they were able to see and watch him every day and relate to him more like how we as adults related to him- doting on him, noticing all his cute details, treasuring moments of just holding and snuggling this newborn baby as the unique times that they are.
It was amazing to us to see how much they loved him, how much he meant to them. Truly, it softened and shaped their hearts in a way that surprised me. There was something decidedly different about having older children around with a newborn than there had been about having a bunch of little ones close together. Though that had been fun and special in its own right, this was even better. I began to see how God has designed for us to learn about and know about family life... I knew Ethan and Baxter would be better fathers for having experienced the delight and wonder of Moses as a newborn.
WHAT ELSE WAS/AM I LEARNING?
In bullet-point form, here are a few things:
- to embrace and accept the chaos of daily life
- that messes are made very fast, and pile up quickly, in a large family
- that messes are cleaned up quickly and easily, when we all work together, in a large family
- to enjoy moments of quiet but not feed in my heart an unhealthy appetite for them (i.e., "me-time")
- to depend on the LORD and look to Him for guidance and trust that He will give it
- to rest in God, looking to Him as the source of acceptance in my life, and not expect it or look for it from other humans
- to care for my own soul, being a godly steward of it
- that children really are a blessing. Each of our children brings something so special to our family life (Ethan- curiosity, enthusiasm, and wonder, Baxter- hilarity, acceptance of others, and softhearted faithful friendship, Maranatha- artistry, tenderness, and passion, Silas- our funny, sensitive, snuggly little squishball :), and Moses- the baby who we are all convinced is the most precious in the world), and we truly can't (and wouldn't want to!) imagine life without them. Each personality God has brought into our family's life has enriched each of us and added color and joy to our family.
- Each child does not just "add" to the love in our family- they multiply the love, as we each develop a new relationship with this new person. When we married, there was one relationship in our home-- the one between Doug & I. With the addition of Ethan, there were 3 relationships-- with Doug & I, Doug & Ethan, and Ethan & I. With the addition of this 6th baby, there will be 28 relationships going on (simultaneously!) in our home. That is a lot of love, a lot of learning, a lot of sanctification, a lot of relationship. So many opportunities to experience love, seek & express forgiveness, learn to understand others' perspectives, serve one another. I praise God for this!
- that I am not going to be magically "zapped" with biblical wisdom and insight-- if I am going to be a wise and godly woman, wife, mother, and friend, it will come with discipline and purpose on my part, as I yield to God, letting Him instruct my heart.
- that my role as the wife & mom in a large family will only be eternally successful if I quit relying on my own strength and yet, as unto the LORD, purposefully grow in skill and wisdom, walking in the Spirit, and trusting God for the outcome.
And there is more, but I'll stop there, for now. Except to say this:
We are pregnant for the ninth time. :) We hope to meet our newest little "valentine" next February. The kids are so so so thrilled (all of them!).
I am (more than ever) aware of my own frailty and limitations, and yet, (more than ever) aware and completely confident in God's goodness in giving always and only what is good, and what will bring glory to Him. I am so thankful that He is going to root out even more of the selfishness that resides in my heart. God truly does sanctify us through childbearing. I am so grateful that He will teach our children more about love, kindness, gentleness, patience, self-control, and more, through this new baby.
I am so excited to meet him or her, and just as each of our children has done, to see how our family will be changed by this new person. God has been so gracious to us, and never stops pursuing our good as He seeks to make us more like Jesus. When we yield to Him, and walk in the Spirit, He is so good to do amazing things in our hearts and families.
I thank Him here and now for what He's doing in our family, and pray that this has encouraged your heart.
I thank Him here and now for what He's doing in our family, and pray that this has encouraged your heart.