Friday, February 20, 2009

Blessings Multiplied

The following comment is in response to a post I wrote a couple weeks ago called "How We're Populating the Earth." It's from a lovely young lady named Michelle, and she asks some very good questions that I thought deserved answers. Michelle has given me permission to answer her questions publicly, as we thought others might ask the same questions about the practicality of having a large family in today's world.

She wrote:
...I know that if I let go and just let Him do His will everything would be fine, but I worry about the other stuff. Not Disneyworld and a McMansion (as you called it), but I worry about a college fund. I love the idea of a big family, but I want a house, just a regular old house, and to be able to do some stuff, like movie night.
For my husband and I we need two incomes. If we didn't both work we would not be able to live in our 1 bedroom apartment, yet alone have a house or have any savings. So my questions to you are do your kids have college funds? Does your household make a big enough income to support 11 kids? I am not being snarky either. I love big families, and wish I was in a position to stay at home and have many kids, but I am not.
If you are then that is wonderful, truly. I think your post has many good points, but it is not entirely selfish of everyone that doesn't have a big family. I am not some eco nut either. I come from a family of 3. I have to pay for my own college, which is why I see an importance to have a college fund for my future children because I will have student loans for the next 10 to 20 years which interferes with the income I will have to support a family. I could do without the extravagant things in life, but there are some things that are needed to have big families, like enough food for an army. These things take financial support as you are well aware of, and not everyone has those kinds of means.
As I said I wish I could have a big family but I will need to work for the next 30+ years and cannot have a big family as I would find it irresponsible to have a large family and not be there to support them. I hope for my husband to find a better job so we can have 2-4 and me work part time, because I do not want other people raising my babies. I want to be the best mom I can be and I couldnt work part time and give each child in a large family their due time and effort. Do you see the issues here? It isn't selfishness for me.
What I'm thinking:
First of all, I'm sorry I sounded like I thought all parents of small families are selfish. I really dont' think that. I do think, though, that many of the motives for purposely limiting family size are worldly, and therefore contrary to God's purpose ~ which is to lead us away from the world and toward Heaven. Sadly, heaven isn't the goal of most people in the world today, and many modern couples are, indeed, (hate to have to say it) selfish.
But, you know, sometimes they're just scared. Taking that leap into the dark space of Faith can be terrifying! First of all, it flies in the face of modern conventional wisdom. What will everyone think of us? Will people look at us like we're freaks? Then there's the natural human fear of the unknown. What if God's not there to catch us when we make this leap? What if we don't like the way He catches us?
It's hard. Saying "yes" to God, often before we're even exactly sure what He's asking, is like stepping up to the edge of the world and agreeing to jump. Theoretically, we know He'll catch us, but.... Well, that's where the faith comes in. Choosing to be a truly practicing Catholic does require a great leap, often into the unknown. To give your time and your self ~ your life ~ to Him is a difficult sacrifice, especially since so few of our peers follow this road today. In particular, it's one of the hardest decisions for a newly-married couple to turn over their reproductive life to God and say without qualifications, "Thy will be done."
No kidding, the traditional "big Catholic family" adventure comes with a world of challenge. Without God's help, especially through the Sacraments, the intercession of his saints, and a most wonderful husband, I don't know how I ever would have survived emotionally all these years. Having a house full of toddlers under your charge 24/7 would try the patience of any of the saints! And, then those toddlers become teenagers.... and I just won't even go there! But, it's not only possible to live through it, it's the stuff that greatness is made of. Seriously. Parents of large families (and I don't mean to brag, it's just the facts, ma'am) develop the most amazing battery of skills and knowlege! Nothing phases us; weve seen it all, and probably have a file on it. And a funny story.
Of course, the obvious question still has to be, "How can you keep your sanity when you have to come up with the money to take care of so many people?" One answer is that the ability to financially manage it all doesn't come all at once; it doesn't have to. Most of us start out small; small family, small budget. As the years go by and the family grows, we adapt to accomodate each new addition. With our cooperation, God always somehow provides, either with improved income, or improved skill. Truly, every family is unique and learns its own financial coping strategy as it goes along. It does take management skill to feed, clothe, and house a small Catholic army; I won't try to sugar coat that. And we wouldn't be human if we didn't worry about it sometimes! But, with God's grace and a lot of good planning, it always works out. And, yes, there are sacrifices that we make to do it. Most super-families do exchange children for luxuries, but we always manage to have what we need to get by.
You know the size of our family; here are the specs:
* Since we were married almost 23 years ago, I have never brought in any discernible income; I make money by saving money. My husband is what you would call the "breadwinner." ( I guess that makes me the bread baker, huh?) Dan (my husband) started out his career making very little money as a hack accountant, but through many years of hard work, he's made it to near the top of the information technology field. Which is a wonderful thing. But, the salary raises have always been rather a wash, rising in unison with the size of our family and our properties. (Did I say "a wash?" Let me rephrase that: they have been a blessing!)
* We have very little savings; any sum we've ever scraped together, has always managed to somehow be eaten up by some emergency or another. Thank God most of our emergencies have been along the lines of burst pipes and broken down cars! And we thank Him, too, that whenever we've needed it, He's provided a windfall. Most large families will tell you that this is almost always true. God never lets us starve.
* We've never owned anything but the cast off homes we could get for a song because nobody else wanted to deal with them. But we've renovated each of those homes and sold them at impressive profits to be able to buy incrementally bigger and better junk heaps to fix up over the years.
* We didn't get to have a new (well, "barely used") car until we'd been married twenty years. But, as time has gone on, we've been able to add a farm truck and a minivan that serve our needs pretty well. I should add that the minivan took the place of a new roof on our house. Juggling necessities is par for the course for us.
* Though we do everything we can to help our children attain their higher education goals (from grocery shopping trips to covering their car insurance), we do not have college funds for our children. We know that if our kids aspire to higher education they'll earn scholarships and work their ways through like their father and I did. This we consider an asset to their futures, not a liability. There are few entitlement mentalities in big families.
* We buy almost everything we eat or wear on sale, and usually in bulk. We raise our own food whenever we can. Thrift stores are our dear friends and garage saling is a sport for us.
* We don't go on fancy vacations; for the first ten to fifteen years of our marriage, a big night out was a stop by the Taco Bell drive-through and a walk around the park. Now-a-days my husband and I do get out to restaurants and movies whenever we can, and the kids get to see the occasional movie. Our preferred entertainment, really, though, are rented movies and popcorn or mountain hikes.

I guess none of this sounds particularly glamorous, does it? There have been some pretty lean times and a lot of hard work through the years to make ends meet. But, you know what? I don't regret a minute of it. I really don't.
It 's a fact that the only time in my entire life when I was absolutely, positively sure I was doing God's will was when I brought each of our ten children into the world. Anything else I have only been second-guessing at. When there is a baby in my womb, I know God placed that soul there. And, as much as I love each of my babies, He cherishes them far more. He sees the texture of every fine hair, and hears every beat of each baby's heart. It's staggering that He trusts us so much to lend them to us. But He makes sure we have everything we need to raise each one of His dear ones.

But, God's list of necessities is different from the world's. And that's what throws people sometimes.

We learn through so many of Jesus own words where heaven places its value. The Beatitudes, for instance, teach us what He means by living true love. And, though it can certainly be learned in many ways, the selflessness and humility which are required to live the Beatitudes and practice the virtues are things a child naturally learns when he has many brothers and sisters.
We may never have the opportunity to visit exotic lands, but living with this many people in one house, we have ample opportunity to practice the virtues. God likes that, I'm thinking. Practice makes perfect.

Our numbers and our tight budget may also prevent us from many different lifestyle options, but we know that every single one of our children was planned by Him. He chose each one of them specifically for us. And we cherish every single face, every milestone, and every goofy little quirk of each and every one of these children.
What we may have lost in expendable income, we've gained in laughter and love. I know you've heard the soundbite: Each additional child does not use up the storehouse of love in a family, but rather adds to it exponentially. This isn't just a trite excuse trotted out by big families. It's true and worth the trouble to find out the beauty of it in real life. Our youngest child, William, has a big three-year-old heart that he shares generously with each of his nine brothers and sisters, and each of them returns all that lovin, likewise. And our next child from the bottom, Gabe, adores all his siblings, and each one of them dotes on him. Our oldest son lavishes big brother pride and affection on each one of his little brothers and sisters, and they practically worship the ground Paul walks on. And so forth. And so forth. And so forth. Ad infinitum, because God's 100% in the mix, as well. The love is so thick it's palpable.
Yeah, I know, that sounds really cheesey, doesn't it? But it's true.
And nothing in this world or the next is better than that.

Here are a few bits of wisdom on the subject:
Aubrey, at Prosapia Vita had some wonderful insight the other day. Among other wisdom, she had this: In the last 30 years, I have heard many parents say that they wish they'd had, "just one more." I have never heard someone say that they wish they'd stopped at 4 or 10 or 14. In the last 30 years, I have heard many friends say that they wish they'd had a sister or a brother or both. I have never heard someone who was part of a large family say that they wish their parents had stopped at 4 or 10 or 14. This is just another reason why I will always be open to life.

And, one of my husband's favorite things to remind me: God is never to be outdone in Generosity.
* To read up on what the popes have said about family size: Pope Piux XII on the blessing of large families, in general, Pope Pius XI on the proper use of NFP, and, most recently...
To read one of the great explanations of trust in God, find a copy of A Story of a Soul, the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux ~ or read it here, online.
* Advice and wisdom from a Mom who realized it cost her less to stay home than to work , and another Mom who found it surprisingly do-able.

* This frugal forum gives a good idea of how large families manage to stay fed.

* Mega-Families' site also has lots of budget ideas.

* Here is a step-by-step guide to living on one income ~ that can be borrowed at the library or bought cheap and used on Amazon.

* And here are some Frugal Mom Sites, which can give a good idea of how we manage: Mommy Savers, Frugal Mom, Catholic Mom, Wise Bread,


Faith is a grasping of Almighty power;
The hand of man laid on the arm of God;

The grand and blessed hour

In which the things impossible to me

Become the possible, O Lord, through Thee.

Anna Elizabeth Hamilton


Sarah (JOT) said...

This post is simply beautiful and touches the Divine. Thank you for the frank information - and the OBVIOUS love. The greatest of these is love . . .

Michelle said...

Thank you Lisa. The more I read at your blog the more I like. I am on a learning curve with God and His will right now. Everyday I feel like I give more and more to Him and take that off of my shoulders, mind, etc. In my heart I really do know that through Him ALL things are possible. I LOVE the idea of a big family as I was an only child until I was 11 and wish I had my brothers and sister closer in age so we could have bonded more (although I am close to them, just not as must as I could have). I have no plans cemented as to the size of my family. I can read what you wrote and I know that God is with you and in your home and that you make a lot of sense. Each day I just try to give Him more and more of me. I will say though that I do plan, God willing, to start my family after my husband and I have our formal "church" wedding May 2. I truly hope for sooner rather than later, but I plan to leave it to Him. Thank you very much for your thoughtful, honest, and beautiful post.

Maryan said...

:) This made me smile Lisa.

His Servant: Ann Kraeger said...

Well said. And although I haven't as many as you do, I can vouch for all that you have said. Not a one of my children has said anything but that they wished that they had more siblings, not fewer. God bless you and all who read this.

Aubrey said...

What a beautiful post, Lisa. I am the oldest of nine and can say assuredly that it only gets better, as a sibling. No matter what the family goes through, there's always a brother or sister.

We have four and hope for more. In fact, my five and a half year old said at supper tonight that she would like, "one more brother and one more sister," and I told her that she should ask God for these people. A brother and sister agreed with her--her older sister said that she would like twins (Mom hopes for one at a time!).

I agree with your descriptions of income rising gradually to match family need. Although you have more children than we do, I have found the same patterns to be true. We run a tight budget. In our beginning (7 years ago), the budget was even tighter and the income was less than half of what it is now...but we had only one child, then two, then three, then four. Eventually we were blessed with a new position for Jeremy which enabled us to pay a mortgage so we bought a house. We still drive cars that are 14 and 10 years old and we don't mind at all.

I would rather have children than a new BMW!

Thank you for the compliment and link to my blog! I was surprised to find that tucked away in your post.

Have a great weekend!

SQUELLY said...

Oh! Such a beautiful post - the part in the middle where you talk about bringing each of your children into the world and the love of God - wow! Had tears in my eyes.

Kim H. said...

Lisa, you are AMAZING!!!

And I love cheesey, so keep it coming! :)

You are a wonderful wife and mother and I'm truly blessed God has allowed our paths to cross. Thank you for being an inspiration -- and you're pretty much one of my heros!

GrandmaK said...

I have to say, "Amen" to what you say. You see the Lord has never given us more that we needed...I read this and remember the "Five Little Kellers" and how they grew. At one point we had 4 of us in college at the same time and yet God did provide...HE ALWAYS DOES!!! Thank you soooo much! Cathy

MightyMom said...


Aussie Therese said...

What a wonderful post Lisa.

I just wanted to add to this, Steve and I have found that the more we have opened our hearts to another child, the more generous God has been with us.

Life was tough for us when we had 4, but we got through and I believe my faith is stronger because of it. I have learnt the difference between a want and a need. Now we have 7 children and I see God blessing us with more wants than we have ever had before.

Never have any of our children missed a meal or gone without any need.

We have always seen the importance of tithing and had many little financial miracles. I always make sure we are giving a minimum of 10% of our income.

As for more children, our 7 year old prays every night at family prayer for a new baby. We lost our baby Matthew last June and ever since the other children have all wanted a new baby. Our 11 year old wants twins. I would love to have twins too.

Marie said...

This is such an excellent post that I have linked it to my piece on 'Hollywoods' version of marriage.

Bravo Lisa! I am almost speechless(which is a near miracle lol) because you have explained everything so well. God bless you and your lovely family:).

Peace, JOY & Love to you,

Marie xoxooxoxox

EbethW said...

However, may I add that it is NOT the amount of children that you have that truly counts, it is the openness and faith you have As you have them. My husband and I were not blessed with many children 3 were all we had due to timing; being married later in life prevented us from being able to have more. We are not less, though. It is my wish that families didn't count themselves more faithful, open, and trusting for the number of children they have as proof. But what is truly in their heart all around.

Memarie Lane said...

You know, as the youngest of three I often wished I was an only child. :P

I have to say I think the pressure of society has a lot to do with why people limit families. There's a lot of negative energy toward people with more than two kids, and everything's designed for families of four; from homes to cars to KFC family buckets.

I always roll my eyes when people cite finances as a reason not to have kids. Whether you have one child or ten, whether you're a hillbilly or a Hilton, there's no such thing as "enough" where children are concerned.

I had a dream last night that I had a newborn son I'd somehow forgotten about, maybe Odessa's twin. She's so fat and hardy, and I found this little newborn boy, near death because I'd been neglecting him. I was able to bring him into health. But this made me wonder if on some level I'm regretting Brad's vasectomy. I wouldn't mind having more kids honestly, but for so long I had wanted to stop at just one or two. I wonder though if I'd be thinking about a 4th if he hadn't had the vasectomy.

At any rate it's quite possible that the V didn't take. Brad chose not to go in for the follow-up to see if it was effective, maybe he feels the same way. We'll find out, won't we? ;)

I'd like to get your thoughts on children's prayers, I wrote a bit about it today. I know it's different for Catholics, but I'd like your thoughts nonetheless.