I always have to laugh when someone asks how many children we have....I always laugh right before I reply. It is funny to see the responses we get...anywhere from "You are a saint" (so NOT the case), to "Better you than me...", to "I am crazy with just two kids!", to "How do you do it?"
The kids were laughing in the car yesterday that when we arrive somewhere, like the campgrounds in the summer, the looks from the older people around us are immediate horror - not due to what we look like, just how many of us there are. But within a day, we are suddenly the "most amazing family" they have ever seen. (I always wonder what other families they have seen that would prompt that response within hours!??! Yikes!) It almost always starts a spontaneous giving of treats - cinnamon bread, gum, chips - all very funny, but so appreciated.
I remember two trips to Sam's Club in particular. During one, there was a woman that saw us and began asking very abrupt questions - not mean, just abrupt. If I cannot gauge where an interaction is going, I try to politely end it before something weird or that may hurt my kids feelings is said. This was a situation that I wasn't sure of, so I kept the family moving. We saw her on a few more aisles, but then she was gone. I quickly forgot about it as it was time to finish up for the youngest kids' sake. As we were leaving, she marched up again and I thought, "Uh, oh!" She pushed something into my hand and gruffly said, "Good job! You are amazing. I have done foster care for years." I didn't even have time to respond and she was gone again. In my hand was a $100 gift certificate! What? Such a huge gift from a stranger!
Another time, we decided to get pizza at the deli because we had taken too long and kids were just not going to make it home. Two of the boys needed constant reminders to behave. One because he was cranky, one because he was squirrely. I noticed that a woman was watching us intently. It is easy to assume the worst, but I try to give the benefit of the doubt. We are a "novelty", especially in the area of the country we live. But at the same time, I am silently praying the kids don't have a full meltdown under such scrutiny. As she was leaving, she walked up to the table and handed me $20 and said she wanted to pay for our lunch because we were "Amazing." Wow. Again, I always think that we are not amazing - we have bad days - and this was not one of our best - so what prompts this response? What are people seeing elsewhere? Good grief! At the same time, each time someone complements what we are doing and my kids in particular, it is a much needed burst of sunshine to our days. Now as we go into a public setting, we remind the kids that we want to turn the looks of horror to smiles of delight - the kids get it and love seeing how long it will take. Please note, I have enough strong willed, independent kiddos that I know their first reaction is, "I don't want to!"....but it is so much fun to see that they all end up agreeing anyway.
When people ask, "How do you do it?" There is not a simple answer. I have started telling people that they can't take what life looks like with 2 or 3 or even 4 kids and try to picture doing that with 13 kids - no wonder they look so stressed out trying to picture it! Our life does not look the same as it did with 4 kids. I cannot tell you how thankful I am for that. In so many ways, we wasted time on the "not so important." I would have been VERY angry as a mom of 4 if someone had told me that - everything seemed extremely important - critical! - at the time. I felt very busy and tired - but I still loved being a mom. But I was also very busy tiring to squeeze in so many things - to our schedule, our budget, our daily life - that just really didn't need to be there. I was still trying to squeeze so many things in for me that just didn't need to be there. And I was never content with what I did squeeze in! I always hoped to find more "me" time....I had so much at the time, but just couldn't begin to recognize it.
Our days now are just full of "daily living". Meals, laundry, school, diaper changes, baths, clean up, wiping up tears and kissing "owies", bills, snuggle times, home therapies for the girls, g-tube feedings, etc. Just what we need to do daily. But in a way, it is so much more fulfilling and less demanding than all the expectations I had with 4. "Me" time is in the early mornings with a cup of coffee and my Bible and prayer journal - even for 10 minutes. I have put away my cross stitch bucket and my books I read for fun. This year, I am not even attempting to sew Christmas or Easter dresses (very hard to let go of for me). I am even having The Testy Chef crochet the new blanket for Little Man's arrival - something she was tickled to do - there are so many fun yarns, colors, and textures out there! I know what my response would have been as a mom of 4, "What? I couldn't do that! I need to take care of my dreams, too!" or on my more self-righteous days, I would think, "Well, I am doing that already." Oh, silly girl!
But please listen to me - I am more content and full of joy than I ever was as a mom of fewer. Not because I have given up "me" time - but because of the work my Savior has done over the years in my heart. He didn't just gently take these things from my hands, He had to wrestle it from me as I kicked and screamed and threw temper tantrums! I just could not see how this could be better. I thought I knew my heart and priorities - what a laugh! Despite my confidence that I was a "good" parent and a "good" Christian - willing to sacrifice myself for others - I came to clearly see (and still do!) how selfish I was and am. I had just been able to paint it nicely - or I had fully believed those that said I must take care of myself first, so that I could properly care for my family. That sounded like good advice!
I always had niggling doubts though - where did I see that in Scripture? Where did Paul do that? Where did any of the heroes of the faith do that - without being shown that it was sin? Most importantly, where did my Savior do that? He who laid down the privileges of heaven to be born in a lowly stable, be raised as the son of a carpenter in a group of people that were looked down upon? Where did He do that as He healed and taught the multitudes...only to quietly move away in order to pray? Even when He did fall into an exhausted sleep on a boat, He was awakened by the disciples who were in terror for their lives. He woke up and silenced the wind and waves for their sake. Scripture doesn't say, but my guess is that He didn't get to go back to sleep after that amazing display of His power and authority.
I sincerely think we need to HONESTLY look at this bit of advice....but as a way of illustration, I would like to share something I heard in a Q & A session online with one of my favorite teachers . He was being asked by a bunch of high school/college age kids a question about obeying their parents. You may remember those questions if you were in youth group at that age. "Do I need to obey my parents even if they are wrong?" The teacher's obviously insightful response was, "Who's definition of wrong? Yours or Scripture's?" Ummm...that wasn't quite what the group expected....they hadn't thought of it from that perspective. But being young, they can always find a (clever but wisdom less) response...so one said, "What if my parents tell me I have to do something against the commands of the Bible? Like lie or kill someone?" I thought, "Ugh, I have been asked that question too many times and in too many ways!" when I was a youth leader. But I had to laugh at the teacher's response! First he laughed - he is a big, black man, so it was quite a belly shaking guffaw when he did laugh - and then said, "Really, son? How many times have your parents asked you to do this? How many of you have ever been asked to do this by your parents?" He paused....as you can guess, a very impressive dead silence. He then went on to say that we spend so much time on the obscure, almost completely unheard of "exception" to the rule as a way to avoid the truth that we are not obeying when we should be! We focus on the exception, rather than on the reality of our daily lives.
So with moms - I have to ask...do you really, personally know a mom that is driving herself into the ground by serving others? Are you yourself doing this? Really? I know moms that are driving themselves into the ground because of their own desires/expectations! Desires and expectations that are not laid our in His Word. I know of moms that are driving themselves into the ground over fighting against what Scripture asks them to do - to lay down their lives for those God has given into their care. The very rare moms I know that are giving their all to what Christ has asked them to do can get very weary...but they always have their eyes focused in trust on Christ - believing when He says that He will give them rest in due time and the strength to continue. They rejoice in the few extra hours (or minutes) of sleep that they do get in due time and the 5 minutes to read His Word for encouragement without having to referee a fight. They rejoice in the hope of a beautiful sunrise and a day in which they must work hard, but sense His presence in each detail - even the hard ones. These few moms are tired, but full of joy - true joy.
The other moms are being driven into the ground by trying to take care of their needs first and the needs of others - in my experience, there is no way to do both if we are the ones working to supply our wants/needs - not trusting Christ to do so. Pick up your Bibles - start finding all of the verses that God promises to meet our needs - and then find all the verses that instruct us to seek Him first, to serve to bring Him glory, to put others above ourselves. We cannot let human "wisdom" become more important or true that God's wisdom. Do you want to lose your life? Then cling to it. Do you want to save your life? Then let it all go. This is a paradox that can only be truly understood through living it.
Please know this does not mean your life will be rosy and easy. NOWHERE is that promised in Scripture. But it means there will be joy and blessing in the journey - what your heart is truly longing for. Please also know that this is not an area I have even begun to master. I look outside and long to be gardening. I look at my yucky gray walls and long to paint color on them. I eye my cross stitch bucket and just want to pick up a project. I wish some days for just an hour of quiet. But I have learned that these things do not bring the joy I am longing for. Don't get me wrong, if my Savior provides time for it, I will rejoice and jump in with a thankful heart. But I know now, through experience, that my life is not my own, it was redeemed at unspeakable cost...it is not my life to live anymore. It is His. What freedom there is in that...
To Him be all honor, glory, and praise forever....