Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Being Open to Life, ala Danielle, Christi, Margaret, and Copycat Me

I'm following the lead of several incomparable moms. It's another chain reaction, a bit like the "40 Reasons to Have Kids" (and I still need to put that whole chain together and do a post linking to lots of other great lists.)

Yesterday, the incomparable Danielle encouraged us to encourage one another in our openness to life. Then, the incomparable Christi at "Mum2Twelve" posted her Family Foundations article on the subject. The incomparable Minnesota Mom did likewise.

And, now, I'm being a copycat.

I was blessed to appear in the same issue of Family Foundations that ran essays by Christi and Margaret. We were all asked to write about how we had discerned family size, how we "decided" to have the number of children we have. And, even though we have such varying numbers of children, ultimately, our answers were the same: God decided.

And we keep letting Him decide. He's the boss of us.

It's not always easy to follow the Boss's orders. But, it's always good. Always best. And always, bottom line, the most joyful road to take.

The Little Way of a Little Family

How many children should we have?”

When young, Catholic couples marry, do they ask that question?

My husband and I wouldn’t know. We weren’t Catholic when we married (we were, in fact, unbelievers) nor were we particularly young when we started a family. For the first seven years of our marriage, we agreed that we absolutely did not want kids. We thought them too expensive, too consuming, and definitely too sticky.

But time, God’s sense of humor, and conversions to Catholicism led us to embrace parenthood. We’re now the happy parents of three beautiful daughters on earth and a number of (miscarried) souls in heaven.

For us, “How many children should we have?” was never the question. Once we opened our lives to God’s plan, our question became, “How many children does He want us to have?”

He seems to have settled on three. We are, at ages 47 and 50, ridiculously open to more, but that’s in God’s hands. And, I must say that life with three is good. No, let me amend that: it’s great. I dote on my daughters, find endless delight in being a mom, and repeatedly catch myself wondering, “Who was that horrible woman who didn’t want children and how could she not know what jewels they are?” My incredible girls make me laugh every day, cry now and then, and, most of all, thank God constantly for the gift that they are to me.

By Catholic standards, we are certainly a little family, due to our late start and our losses. And while having a small family has brought certain heartaches, perhaps our losses have also helped us appreciate more fully what is unique in each individual child. And, perhaps, they’ve helped us to see that every child (born to us or not) is an eternal blessing. In my journey to accept God’s will for our family, I’ve learned to trust that He gives what’s right for us.

On a more lighthearted note, I’ve also learned to appreciate some practical advantages to being “little.” For example:

  • In our small family, I can revel in more one-on-one time with each of my children than perhaps a mom-of-many can. We schedule regular “Mommy/Daughter Nights” out, which usually involve an evening Mass and copious amounts of ice cream.

  • Speaking of Mass, when we’re frantically racing around getting ready for it on Sunday morning, I have only three little heads of hair to fuss over (my husband is on his own) and only three pairs of shoes to track down (he’s on his own for that, too.)

  • Our whole family still fits in our ’92 Grand Am, a more fuel-efficient vehicle these days than our van (which we broke down and purchased during a particularly strong phase of “Van Envy” that I experienced a couple of years ago.)

  • A mom with only three kids and a van (aha -- It was a smart buy!) can tote her kids’ friends around town, making her feel quite magnanimous, and giving her the opportunity to help out the big families, who have no spare vehicle space.

  • Our whole family still fits in one hotel room, making traveling a slightly more economical proposition.

Now … would I trade in all of these silly, little worldly benefits in order to have more gifts from heaven?

Oh, yeah. In a minute.

But, God is making that call. And, I firmly believe He wants us to work with what He’s provided, to “bloom where we’re planted.” The Lord allowed our many miscarriages; He gave us only three living children in our little family. In contemplating this, I’m reminded of St. Therese of Lisieux and her “Little Way.”

St. Therese had big dreams. She wanted to be a missionary, evangelizing the whole world. Instead, she was given a short, hidden life, full of mundane little tasks in the convent, tasks she learned to do with great love. And now, this Doctor of the Church is evangelizing the whole world through her intercession from heaven.

It’s true that St. Therese could have asked God, “How many countries should I visit?” but that would have been the wrong question. God answered Therese’s desires and expectations in surprising ways, just as He has done for my husband and me. Our little family here on earth -- our “little way” -- is not the big dream family we’ve often wished for. But, our little domestic church is exactly what God wished for it to be.

It was never up to us. But I know that, like Therese, we will see rewards and beauty in heaven that we cannot begin to imagine here, while we’re still looking through a glass darkly.

Ultimately, the answer to the question, “How many children should we have?” is easy:

Ask God.

In so many ways, big and little, He’ll let you know.



  1. I am short and cast a very small shadow.

    So on the contrary, dear Karen. It is *I* who is forever following your so many ways.

    In any case, you're very cute. Ain't none of us a copycat, though. Ad majorem Dei gloriam!

  2. Dear Karen -

    I've read your blog for about a year, but have never commented. I just finished reading Danielle's post on openness to life. Like you, I have three children on earth and six in heaven. We share an unusual history! In heaven, we'll understand this strange path we have walked. I always laugh when people commend me for the excellent family planning that must explain the large gaps between my children.

    I enjoy your writing.

    - Kelly

  3. I can so relate, since I feel like our family is a bit small by Catholic standards... Thank you for comparing it to 'The Little Way'...

    How beautiful!


  4. Your analogy with St. Therese is just wonderful -- thank you!

  5. Thank you again today. I think God is helping me heal through your words, or is it the words He is sending you? All day today, His message has been that we were blessed for 7 wonderful years with our son. And blessed we were! And still are with our other children.

    On a different note, I do not know what to say to people who ask how many children we have. Any ideas?


  6. Thanks, all of you, for your comments on this! And, Kelly, thanks for speaking up. We do indeed share an unusual history. I like to picture all those saints up there, cheering us on through the hard times especially.

    Jenny, I hardly know what to say. I can only imagine what you're going through. I would imagine that your answer to "How many children do you have?" will vary according to who's doing the asking. Also, it will depend somewhat on where you are in your healing, and what kind of day you're having, you know?

    Sometimes, it helps to have a "rehearsed" answer for those times when you want to acknowledge your child, but you've been caught a bit off guard. I used to feel the need to do this after a miscarriage. If you decide in advance that you're going to say something like, "Well, we have one in heaven, and three with us," it can be easier, and you may feel less put on the spot. But, the final answer is that whatever *you're* comfortable saying is what you "should" say .... Again, I am so sorry for your terrible loss. May Christ comfort and strengthen you and your family.

  7. I love this, Karen. I would love to see this piece as part of a marriage preparation course.

    St. Therese, pray for us!

  8. May I please ask for prayers? My name is Maria, I'm 41, and recently married (6/16/07). My husband and I want children very much. We are very open to life. However we haven't been able to concieve yet. I had an issue with ovarian cysts. On Feb. 12th 2008 I had surgery to get rid of them. On that day the doctor told me I had severe endometriosis, massive adhesians (which is why they had to do the stomach opening surgery), and the two cysts were endometriomas. I was devastated. I never knew I had endomtriosis. I am especially devastated about being told I could be infertile.

    I know I am blessed to have such a wonderful Catholic husband. He would make such a great Dad. I feel bad that I might not be able to give him children.

    I have a devotion to the Blessed Mother and the Rosary. I pray the Rosary every day especially when I'm feeling down about my recent diagnosis.
    I'd LOVE to hear from other Catholic ladies. Maybe you could pray for me and send an encouraging word or two?

    May God Bless you.

    Maria :)