Nothing compares to the power of a negative example. Like the demotivational poster of a shipwreck with the caption: “Mistakes: It Could Be That The Purpose of Your Life is Only to Serve as a Warning to Others.” I am not the posterchild for domesticity or homemaking or caregiving.
No less a Christian titan than Cynthia Heald freed me to confess that publicly when she declared at a retreat, “I am not a baby person.” Neither is my friend Tana and we laughed (hard) after church today at the irony of being tapped as mentors for the Apples of Gold program at our church (which I am deeply excited about…still…)
Tana really did learn everything she knows about cooking from the Food Network which, unfortunately, was not around when I was a young Mom. Neither was the internet. So I’ve learned from roommates, trial and error, and all the women who have lavished loving care on me in seasons of surgery, pain and limitations with my rheumatoid arthritis. From this unique perspective, an only child and the mother of an only child—one who is care-giving and baby challenged-- I write this letter about nurturing a family:
Dear Young Woman or Mom:
Perhaps like me you were not raised around other children, or like me you have been wired and gifted in ways that take you into education or the marketplace and caregiving is not your strong suit. Maybe you struggle to follow the instructions on Food Network or HGTV. Perhaps you are taking the measure of the high cost of caregiving and wondering if you will have multiple (or any) children. Perhaps you are discovering that the only place you can read is in the bathroom with tiny fingers wiggling under the door. Or it’s hard to type your thesis with a toddler banging on your chair. Maybe you struggle with health issues. Or you find your single or no-kids married life just so enjoyable that you wonder if it’s really worth it to make room for more caregiving.
If so, then this letter’s for you.
Family and caregiving is on my mind because it is Christmas. On the radio Bing is “dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones (he) used to know.” And if you asked me, “What about past Christmases do you long to experience now?“ I would respond, the family swirl. Gathering into my grandmother’s house with all my cousins. Opening her door to a roomful of presents stacked up to here. Jumping on the beds upstairs. Trying out everyone’s new toys and gadgets. Wearing our new muffs and stoles.
Wandering through the kitchen, sitting at (or sometimes under) the table, surrounded by aunts and uncles talking, stirring the pots on the stove, washing and drying afterward—completely immersed in the beauty, joy and togetherness of Christmas and family. My heart goes out to my only child. For Zach Christmas has always meant one on four—one child to four adults, Jack and me and my folks.
When I was in my early thirties I hurt so much with RA. I struggled with being a wife and a Mom. The prospect of another child scared me. I could barely care for the child and husband I had. Because of all the loneliness I experienced growing up, I had always wanted at least two children.
In those days before home pregnancy tests I believe I became pregnant. My body was telling me all the same things it told me when I first became pregnant with Zach. I would like to say that I thanked God and trusted him for the gift of life. But I didn’t. I chose fear. I chose comfort and safety. I would never have had an abortion, but in my fear I cried out to God, Please…no baby. With no insurance for pregnancy and feeling overwhelmed with caregiving and the life I longed for slipping ever further out of reach I couldn’t see the true value of another child. Then there was a bad, crampy day and all the feelings of pregnancy went away.
Not that the choice was ultimately mine, but I wish now I had chosen life. I wish we had another child. Our family seems smallish. Adultish. My son’s friend Spencer would see the family photos of the three of us hanging on the wall and ask Zach, “You call that a family?” He is one of four children and now has seven nieces and nephews. I am so thankful that we are in ministry where we get to love on a whole church family. Still at holidays and so many of life’s milestones I know there is a richness I have tasted that is missing.
God created families. Families are good. Families are a treasure. They have the potential to bring God great glory and us great joy. Psalm 127:3 tells us, “Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” I love my little family. But I would not pray again to reject such a gift, such a reward, from God.
Multiple children require much sacrifice. Especially on the front end. But as I see my friends savoring the richness of relationship with their multiple children and now their spouses and grandchildren, I see a great blessing that we are missing. I was so thankful this past Thanksgiving that friends in Austin with a large family invited Zach to join them. I loved the pictures on Facebook of him hugging my friends and playing guitars and laughing with their grown children on their deck at sunset. I wonder if Zach feels what I feel.
This holiday season, whether your family is small like ours, whether your arms long to hold a baby that God is not granting, whether you are sick or hard pressed financially, join me in turning to Jesus. In his fullness we always receive grace upon grace. (Jn 1:16) Here in South Carolina He has blessed us with extraordinarily rich friendships--the kind that invite you to share their Thanksgiving with them. (and you actually love to go) We both visited our parents in November and will see Zach at Christmas. Grace upon grace.
If you are thinking of no kids or feel overwhelmed by baby care and homemaking, I encourage you, from the lessons of my own jounrey: Trust God and find a mentor. The support of a church and a small group. It is harder to live large in a small family. Harder to be as refined by sacrifice. To grow to be the person we long to be and whom God can use. The pattern of response that brings life and joy in God’s kingdom is always to choose sacrifice and trust God. Don’t give way to fear and self-protection. Or default into entertainment…life on a screen. Real life with real families, even when they are wracked with disappointment and heart ache are always richer.
God will be with you through the hard times. When we choose life he promises us blessing. And you will enjoy your family for eternity.
If you are reading this as the mom of a larger family, even if you are grieving over a broken family, give thanks for your children and ask God to help you see what an absolute treasure they are. Ask God to give you the gift of surprising creativity and love to lavish on them this Christmas.
May your holidays be merry and bright…and may all your family Christmases be white.