"You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you."
I get flat-out asked all the time. In the grocery store line. At the end of Bible Study. When the conversation falls quiet during a new play date. People watch me and my ravenous tribe, and then I get asked. The same question over and over. And I always pause long before I answer, reflecting on how different my response would have been years before, when I was asked the very same question.
"So, you have four children.
You seem like you have your hands full.
Are you done?"
And my heart floods warm. And every time my answer leaves my lips, I feel a deep sense of peace wash over my tired body.
Because how can I possibly answer what's in store for the size of our family, even when we feel at our max right now? How can I foresee the will of God and what life He might bring into our home now or years down the road?
Because if there is one thing I have learned from pounding out my learning on this blog, it is the Biblical truth that no season is permanent with God. If there is one thing He has taught me, after cradling the fourth impossible and living each day to the full, counting His gifts to find joy, it is this - God's will is fluid. His plan is ever changing and surprising. What might feel like "done" for now, right now, can feel much differently tomorrow. Or next week. Or five years from now.
And I praise my Heavenly Father that He knows my future, and I do not.
Because it wasn't too long ago, that the uncertainty of how many and when, the "unknown" about the number of children we would have, made me cringe. Peace was elusive and I sick at the uncertainty of my womb's future...
When I close my eyes, I can see us sitting there, together, on that rickety wooden booth, over eight years ago. Desperation and sloppy words pouring out of mouth. Deep soul-searching had led to heart-confusion, I was teetering back and forth, trying to balance on a slippery, dangerous point. Quite simply, I was having an interior meltdown about the uncertainty of my future.
I called him, my best friend and warrior-husband, out of work to meet me for lunch. We sat, with our untouched hot sandwiches, surrounded by noisy talkers and happy customers at one of our favorite Eastern Shore dives. There was no happiness at our table. Fast cars swirled by outside the restaurant window on the freeway. Their tires, humming fast, seemed to match my racing heart. Big tears dripped quietly into my vegetable crab soup as our oldest and only child, just turned one, sat babbling in the wooden highchair. I blotted at my face and stuffed crackers into the baby's mouth to keep her quiet. I felt ready to explode. I did explode.
At the age of 26, I was so unsure of where this life, my one and only life, was headed. I admitted to him I felt like I had "so many dreams to live, ones that would go unfulfilled if we had any more children...". My husband reached across the table to grab my hand as I immaturely pulled it away. My serious tone scratched out of my tired throat. I was irritated. Confused. Flat-out-scared. I felt betrayed and surrounded by a big, fat, cloud of uncertainty.
I felt desperate and my eyes begged him to make a permanent decision. I unloaded all the fear that had been circling my heart, "I can't handle anymore babies," I confided. "I think we should just have one. I'm not cut out for this. Mothering is SO much harder than I thought. Let's just decide and be done with having kids. Would you do this for me so I can move on with my career?"
And he understood what I was asking and saw how much I was struggling. He listened. He loved me so much he softly put his hand on my back. And because of that, He spoke gently, not wanting to hurt me. But he loved HIM even more, so he was firm. He remained steady. Principled. This man I had married, a man of conviction, formed his words slowly, looking deeply into my eyes. "Take a deep breath, Jo," he whispered. "You are a new Mama and you are tired and overwhelmed. You are doing a great job. You're a natural. Let's pray about this and be smart and responsible. But we can't make a permanent choice to sever our oneness. God wants us to remain open to His will...And we have so much life ahead of us."
But even though he's purposeful and very kind, I feel hurt. The tears fall even harder and I stay angry. We part ways and I squeal wheels in the parking lot because after all, don't I "deserve" this from my husband? As I drove, my heart actually hurt at the idea of uncertainty of our future.
"I need to know now. Right now. Need to know if we are "done" so I can get on with my life, so I can get back to working," my words, directed heavenward, came harsh out of my mouth. But I needed answers. I was desperate for peace.
I hated the fact that I secretly yearned to return to my "adult" life, the one where my days weren't centered around nap schedules and baby food and patiently instructing a toddler who could barely talk back. Surely, this "secret" meant I was not cut-out for this whole mothering thing.
I spent the rest of the day fuming at my husband, and his conviction, because I didn't yet understand. Did not understand where God was on this whole family-planning thing. And I wasn't happy with my husband's answer. So I asked more. I read more. I sought council from church goers and Jesus followers and family experts. But their answers were conflicting. Permissive with an absence of depth. No proof from Scripture. No hard evidence to convict this retired-news-girl who needed hard fact for truth. As a teen, I had thrown myself head-first into following Jesus, wherever He may lead. But on deciding how to handle contraception and how many children to have? I felt like He was silent on this issue. Unclear and silent. As I spoke with another pastor, his evasiveness in giving guidance on this issue left my skin crawling. "Whatever is best for you," he said. "Just do what feels right."
Before we were married, during a portion of our pre-marital prep, I remember sitting in the office of my childhood pastor who looked from DJ to me and then asked, "So, the final question is WHAT type of birth control are you going to use?"
We shrugged our shoulders and squirmed in our seats. Back then, something about that question just didn't feel right for two people who had waited to share their bodies and their lives until marriage and two souls who were ready to give themselves, their whole selves, to each other fully.
But what did God have to say about this? Didn't He give me free will so that I could decide? After all, this is my body, my career, my life. Did God have an opinion on birth control?
"A child is God's greatest gift to the family, to the nation, to the world. The child is a life from God, created in the image of God, created for great things, to love and to be loved." Mother Theresa
I didn't know what God wanted from me, but I did know one thing. After a day of mothering just one child...I was spent. Exhausted. Overwhelmed and bored in the same day. I look over at a sister-friend herding a brood of five kids at Church and I couldn't possibly wrap my head around that life. Those long days. How can you even have time to have a conversation with each kiddo every day when you have that many, much less make sure a toothbrush gets into their little mouths each night before their heads hit the pillow? Surely I could NEVER handle more than one, maybe two kids...
I knew that loving this little one was hard and exhausting and mind-numbing at the same time. I battled the daily lie that I was ill-equipped. I felt like my gifts and talents were going unused. I felt unseen. Because of these inadequacies, surely this meant we should decide NOW and be purposefully finished. Done having babies.
Days later, I'm pouring over Psalm 143, and my eyes linger on verse 8.
"Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love. For I have put my trust in you. Show me the way you should go, for to you I entrust my life."
I flip open my journal, finger through the scribbled pages which chronicle my journey with the Lord, and I begin to scratch out my irritation about my struggle when I hear the Lord whisper to me, "You read this and you say you believe....but do you trust me Jodi? Do you really trust me? If you say that I am the giver and sustainer of life. That I breathe in life and am the One who takes it away...do you not believe that I know what is best for you? That yes, maybe this mothering thing is hard but you don't have to try so hard to do it on your own. I'm here. I want to help love through you. I want to grow you closer to me through this struggle, in the midst of these questions. There are answers. Come to me. Rest in me." And as I hear His voice, I breathe deeper and feel my shoulders fall. Because His Words of peace and comfort illuminate the struggle of my heart. A constant, twisted wrestling for the need of control.
"Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust." Psalm 91: 1-2
Attempting to control this life is just...well, just plain exhausting. Gripping, crawling with control is the opposite of what life looks like when we are participating in a full, transparent relationship with Jesus Christ.
But surrender? Whisper that word and the need for control shrinks back. Yes, surrendering is what has saved this girl's soul. Surrendering deep and climbing into His lap is where I find peace, and there, only there, blessings abound.
In those days I would start to learn that I had a choice. Not a choice to "decide" where my life would head and know exactly how many lives I would love, whether I birthed them or simply opened the front door and let them in, but I had a decision.
Either I would believe that God is who is says He is.
Or I would not.
Either I would believe what the Church teaches and the Bible confirms and the Saints live - that God is infinitely wise and infinitely loving - or I would live for myself, trusting my own needs and living independent of something greater than my own desire.
Either I would believe Romans 12 and offer myself fully, as "a living sacrifice" emptying my life out each dawn to be filled up each warming hour by the only One who can satisfy or I would shrink back, holding tight to what I thought was best. Wrestling with control.
Either I believed that I could trust the One who gave His life for me and trust He knew what was best for my life, or I could not.
And after I'm convicted by those verses, D.J. and I (because Jesus in his goodness allowed me to marry THAT kind of man) we begin the nightly habit of praying together. Faithfully going before the Lord and asking Him for peace and purpose. And creating that type of habit? It transforms my heart. Deep conversation with the Lord and time in his Holy Scripture grows our dependence on Christ. Blossoms our marriage. I weep asking the Lord, the author and giver of all life, to help me trust and be open to His plan for our family. No booming lightening or loud-speaker announcement comes. Just a consistent, warm peace started to saturate my heart. And we wait to make a permanent decision. We live and enjoy this one daughter and remain open to God's plan. And as we waited, I grew a little each day in confidence in my mothering. In purpose in knowing that my life was not identified by what I accomplished, but by how I loved. I learned to find my satisfaction not in the things of this world, but in the hope of pouring into a child who would one day make the decision to give her life to the same Jesus who saved mine.
"God has created a world big enough for all the lives He wishes to be born. It is only our hearts that are not big enough to want them and accept them...We are too often afraid of the sacrifices we might have to make. But where there is love, there is always sacrifice. And when we love until it hurts, there is joy and peace." (Natural Family Planning Blessed Our Marriage pp. 36-40, by Fletcher Doyle)
And I thank God for the conviction of my husband because on that day, over eight years ago, when I called him having a Mama-meltdown, D.J. knew me better than I knew myself.
He didn't know God's exact plan, my warrior-husband didn't know how many children we would end up with, he still doesn't know who or when we will welcome life in, but He knew just how much this God loves us and so DJ trusted the Church's wisdom on staying open to new life. He led boldly when I was wavering and so unsure. He knew following this God, believing in this Savior, had a cost. We would give up sleep and wrestle our will strong and sacrifice much. But discovering truth and eternal life was well worth the toll.
He knew me too. My husband knew months later, I would bathing our 15-month-old daughter and experience this incredible wave of desire coming over me, longing to have another child. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Desiring to gift her a sister and best friend. And as I watched bubbles cascading over her tiny body, I grabbed my stomach and looked up, suddenly knowing there was precious, just-weeks-old life brewing inside. It was if in that moment I caught a glimpse of what it must have been for Mary to be touched by the angel, smiling in her secret gift.
"She who guarded in her heart the secret of divine maternity was the first to see the face of God made man in the tiny fruit of her womb." Pope Benedict XVI
Yes, I think my husband knew. He trusted God's plan and knew hidden beneath the lies, that I was ill-equipped and overwhelmed, lay a tenderness in my Spirit that melted with motherhood. He knew love would change me.
He somehow knew I would wrap my arms around him, so thankful he had not gone right out and come back "fixed" like I had immaturely begged. Knew I would cry with joy as we welcomed our second daughter, Lacey Marie. Knew I would take such great delight in teaching two girls how to love. He knew loving and mothering would transform me; grow me to have a deeper relationship with our Lord.
Knew, yes, there would still be some days of Mama-meltdowns and mid-day phone calls confiding this Mama-thing was tough. Too tough for me... But I would grow in love and praise God for this gift of mothering and how it brought me daily to my knees.
I would pray and petition years later for another baby, a son, to carry on my husband's name. That when Tripp's strong body broke through mine that warm October day, I would be forever changed. Knew that the kisses and the strokes of a blond-haired boy can do that to a Mama, can strip you to the core and make you feel love so deeply. Can break your heart and mend it stronger at the same time.
And although my husband could not have known what was coming next and how I would be physically and emotionally transformed, he trusted God's Sovereign plan when everything around us looked bleak and the doctors were telling us to "retire" from having more babies. When it came time, in the final hour, to decide to try and salvage or save my womb or make the permanent decision to take it out, we prayed for wisdom, and had such peace we were making the right decision.
He knew God loved me so much that my Heavenly Father would not allow anything to happen to me, even horrific physical pain, if it would not drawl me closer to knowing Him.
That my suffering would be what saved me, because it drew me deeper to the Cross.
And perhaps knew the miracle would happen of carrying and delivering our baby daughter, our fourth child, after the trauma of undergoing a severe pelvic surgery to secure a prolapsed womb and drooping organs.
And now I writing here, our littlest just 14 months and we are coming up for air in this house. After enduring my first C-Section, I whispered to the Lord that I just couldn't imagine going through this again. But suddenly, just the other day, I am struck with the sudden urge to have another. (No, .... I was not drinking...)
And I wait. And I pray. And late one night as we are trying to fall asleep, I lean into DJ and ask for his wisdom. And again, his words hit deep, but they speak such truth.
"It's a no, Jo. A no for now. You have been through so much. It was a miracle to have a fourth baby after your surgery. I need to lead on this one. I need you. I need your attention and your love. These four kids need the best of you and another pregnancy right now is just too much. Let your body heal. It's so beautiful that because you have remained open to new life that the desire to carry a child is still there. It will always be there. Because you are a mother."
And I start to cry. Because again, I am at that place of wanting to know the future and what God has in store. I want to have a definitive answer to, "Are you done yet?" in my own spirit.
"The transmission of human life is a most serious role in which married people collaborate freely and responsibly with God the Creator. Humanae Vitae n. 1.
And this...this spot...is a new place for me to be. When sister-friends are celebrating new pregnancies and I'm faced with what to do with all the extra baby gear and too-small clothes. When I get adjusted to this "new" (stretched out!) skin and am months away from not having to carry a diaper bag anymore (how fun is that?!).
And that is what is so beautiful about Natural Family Planning. Beautiful because it is not a one-time discussion or decision about the number of children (if any) to have. It is a LIFETIME of intimacy and discussion.
"Catholics who have not heard a defense of the Church's teaching on contraception might be surprised how rich and full of common sense it is." Janet E. Smith PhD. "Contraception: Why Not?"
Following NFP creates a spring-board for openness and love and communication. It helps us respect and honor how God created our bodies and His Sovereignty. For us, it's living a way that keeps us from judging other marriages or other families but requires us to focus on our own marriage and family. NFP is a way to respect our fertility, our femininity without suppressing a perfectly "wired" ovulation system with manufactured drugs.
Searching for God's truth on this topic has been life-changing. Life-changing. And the pit I was stuck in for years as I navigated these questions about how and when to welcome new life? The stay in that deep was well worth the freedom I've felt when I climbed out, grabbing one rung at a time, up the ladder that the Catholic Church dropped down to me. Some days, when things are harried and I'm tired and kids seem to be EVERYWHERE and into EVERYTHING I shuffle back closer to that pit and stand on the edge, looking down.
But then I sit with a sister who is walking the same road, and she encourages me to keep pressing on. To be obedient to living how I know God is calling me to live. And where there is obedience, peace abounds.
And that kinda deep-soul-peace allows us to gently answer questions about our future with a hope and an openness. With trust. But with responsibility to each other and the children we already have.
"With regard to physical, economic,
psychological and social conditions,
responsible parenthood is exercised by those
who prudently and generously decide to
have more children, and by those who, for
serious reasons and with due respect to
moral precepts, decide not to have
additional children for either a certain or an
indefinite period of time."
Humane Vitae n. 10.
Our house is busting at the seams and I've given up on keeping an organized shoe bin (yes, we could build an addition for all of the shoes), because that would be pure insanity. The laundry is always piled high and we often go through a cartoon of Almond milk at one sitting. Our kitchen table is overflowing with laughter and little hands and my hubby and I fall back into our bed each night exhausted from all the dishes and tight hugs and homework and instructing...brimming over from all the love that covers every corner of our house.
But are we "done"? Right now, I'd say yes! But for forever? I simply can't say.
And praise God I can't.
Because everything and every life that He has brought into our married path has been SO MUCH MORE AMAZING than I could have ever dreamed. We are being purposeful and responsible in postponing another pregnancy for now, maybe for forever, but are open to what wind the Holy Spirit may blow our way, so thankful that should He tug our hearts we will be ready to obey. God is amazing ah? All the time. God is good.
Just last week, we sit across from each other, alone. Staring over tall glasses of red wine and brilliant, colorful plates of sushi. His eyes sparkle and he leans in closer. Grabs my hand.
"I felt a tug today Jo. Don't know if it was from God but this afternoon I felt led to read an article about a family that has adopted orphan children from around the world. Children who are missing limbs and missing eyes. Babies who are missing parents. And I wonder...maybe God has blessed my business so abundantly so that I might offer up my "extra" for a child in need...Maybe we should pray about adopting..."
And I bite my lip to hide my emotion. Hold close to my heart the tug my husband is starting to feel that I felt years ago. Because, again, we never know in this life where the Lord might lead. All He asks? For us to lean back and lean on Him. Trust Him. Seek him. Surrender to Him. He is faithful and will never let us down.
And the greatest path to joy? Gratitude. Giving thanks in the now is what changes our hearts.
I'm so grateful for each new life that Lord has entrusted to us and so thankful that my husband has guided me to be open for us to carry each of God's children. Because after all, they are our Heavenly Father's children anyway. We are a steward of these babies, a witness and a guide for these four beautiful lives.
So my response when someone asks if we are "done"? I got it down sisters. I smile big and say, "We will see. But we are so blessed with our four and feel really content where we are. Because only the Lord knows. But we can't wait to see what's coming around the next corner...." (wink wink....)
Dear Jesus, Guide me in your truth. Teach me all of your ways. Help me to surrender my fertility to you, even when I am overwhelmed and scared. Encourage my heart to celebrate the gift of new life, of every new life. Thank you for making me a mother. Even if I have not carried my own children, you have still made me a mother. A spiritual mother. Work and love through me as I reach out and pull others to you. I give you my body. My womb. My marriage. My life. My soul. All that I have is yours Lord. Your beloved daughter, Jodi. Amen.
“I know that couples have to plan their family and for that there is natural family planning. The way to plan the family is natural family planning, not contraception. In destroying the power of giving life, through contraception, a husband or wife is doing something to self. This turns the attention to self and so it destroys the gift of love in him or her. In loving, the husband and wife must turn the attention to each other as happens in natural family planning, and not to self, as happens in contraception. Once that living love is destroyed by contraception, abortion follows very easily.
“I also know that there are great problems in the world - that many spouses do not love each other enough to practice natural family planning. We cannot solve all the problems in the world, but let us never bring in the worst problem of all, and that is to destroy love. And this is what happens when we tell people to practice contraception and abortion.
“The poor are very great people. They can teach us so many beautiful things. Once one of them came to thank us for teaching her natural family planning and said: "You people who have practiced chastity, you are the best people to teach us natural family planning because it is nothing more than self-control out of love for each other." And what this poor person said is very true. These poor people maybe have nothing to eat, maybe they have not a home to live in, but they can still be great people when they are spiritually rich.
“When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread. But a person who is shut out, who feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person who has been thrown out of society - that spiritual poverty is much harder to overcome. And abortion, which often follows from contraception, brings a people to be spiritually poor, and that is the worst poverty and the most difficult to overcome.” (Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Address to the National Prayer Breakfast sponsored by the U.S. Senate and House of representatives on 3 Feb 1994)