The first thing new friends notice about our children is the number. The second is the gap.
Things start out as you’d expect for a family of this size– stair steps. I still remember the awe I felt as I hung up small jackets (pink, blue, blue) in only slightly staggered sizes, and the utter cuteness of lining my babies up for the tell-tale graduated height photo. I also remember the exhaustion of giving birth for the third time in just under four years, and the frustration of three little ones unable to buckle their own car seat straps.
I also remember the moment I put my foot down. No more babies. That’s it. I’m done. I’m tired. We have three. It’s enough. No one with half an ounce of sense can afford more than three kids–physically, emotionally, or financially.
My husband wavered, but acquiesced. When Jack was six weeks old, we made things permanent.
My relief was total. The baby years are finally over, I sighed.
And, but for the grace of God, they would have been.
That gap you see–that empty space between Jack (11) and Phineas (7)– tells a story. Those four and a half years represent some of the deepest, most personal, and most painful work God has done in me as a Christian.
I thought I would spend that time breaking free from the bonds that held me back from who I wanted to be. I would be done with diapers and nursing. I would enjoy more freedom. I would discover the flexibility of having children in school all day. I might even find a way to earn some money.
I would definitely be less tied to my home, my children, and the incessant, ever-present needs of so many people.
Instead, I spent that time looking at my life, finding my purpose, and begging (yes, begging) God to bless us again.
Clearly, He answered. Phineas came to us at 14 months old, and the drought came to an end. Dramatically, some might say–in the six years since he joined our family we have added five children through a flood of God’s amazing grace. Phineas, through adoption. John Mark, through the same gift. Babita, through love. And Birdie and Simon through the sort of everyday miracle that we call biology.
My heart has changed. That much is obvious. Much to the horror of many, I can say without flinching that if I found out tomorrow that another baby was on the way or another child somewhere in the world was meant to be my son or daughter, I would rejoice. I ran out of the kind of sense that puts caps on family size long ago, in those lean years of looking at my blessings and wondering what I had declined in my headlong rush towards a freedom I found out I didn’t want.
Is my life perfect? Is raising a large family one beautiful, soft-focus moment after the next? Have I somehow been given a pass from exhaustion, frustration, or bad days?
Far from it. But I do have a gift in knowing that that one thing that should seem so appealing in my worst moments is really not the answer I’m seeking. “They’ll grow up eventually” isn’t a balm when your soul has ached under the weight of “this is slipping away too quickly.” I take no comfort in the idea of the cloth diapers being folded away for the last time, or the last sixth grader fixing me with that tell-tale, pre-teen gaze. I have the gap to remind me of what will come. I have a small, slim empty season to look back on and remember that this, in all its pressure and chaos and beauty, is fleeting. And some day, the long freedom will begin in earnest, and the Lord will usher me into something entirely new and no doubt as fruitful.
But for now, I am here. Straddle parenting across the gap that has shaped my heart … and feeling grateful for it.
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