I don't remember ever considering having children until I was 30 years old or nearly so. It's possible that the thought crossed my mind, but it wasn't something I dreamed of or planned for. Exactly why my husband and I decided to begin to plan for children, as we neared 30, I really don't know. Maybe it just seemed like the next phase, just like finishing high school, going to college, getting a job.
So we set out to have children and parent them. Seems simple, if you've never had any. And although we had no idea what we were doing, we muddled through pretty well for a few years. Frequently we found ourselves totally surprised by challenges we faced, and we discovered that our lovely plans for how all of this parenting business was going to go were pretty much useless. But eventually we'd figure something out and move forward, feeling pretty confident.
We exemplify the Peter Principle for parenting. Instead of being promoted to the level of our incompetence, we had children to the level of our incompetence. If you have more children when you think things are going well with the children you already have, eventually you add one more child and discover you didn't have things together as well as you thought you did.
By the time our fourth child was born, we realized we weren't managing the older three as well as we'd thought. Our fourth was desperately needy, with incredible food sensitivities that caused him severe discomfort and kept him (and me) from sleeping or being at peace for days at a time. Months of extreme sleep deprivation do not enhance a person's ability to cope with stress. I was done. We gave away almost all of our baby and maternity supplies, because I was not going to go through this again.
But God had other plans. God had been real in my life since I was a very young child, and although at various times I pushed Him away so I could pursue my own priorities, I always recognized His presence and eventually came back to listen to Him. And at this point, when I was finally ready to take control of my life and move on with as much competence as I could manage, God kept touching my heart with a feeling of unease. I remember praying at the park with a couple of friends one day and telling God that if He really and truly wanted me to have more children, he'd have to convince my husband because I wasn't going to try. Not long afterward my husband mentioned how nice it would be to have another baby.
I didn't know why God was asking us to have another baby. We were happy and overwhelmed with the four children we already had. Deciding to leave this up to Him was hard, and we set out with more fear and trembling than excited anticipation. Almost immediately I was pregnant. About the time I had finally come to terms with the idea, I learned that the baby had died. So we endured our first significant miscarriage, one that was far enough along to really be noticeable. Twice more I was pregnant and then not pregnant anymore, and we found ourselves realizing that we really were willing to parent another child, despite our misgivings. We mourned each lost little one and wondered what God was doing.
The next pregnancy was hard, with physical challenges for me and concern over possible complications with the baby. For several months, we wondered what lay ahead. We braced ourselves for various difficult outcomes and tried to envision how we would cope. The delivery was the most difficult of the five, and our little one spent three weeks in the hospital before she could come home, followed by several challenging weeks as we taught her to nurse. Our whole existence was more complicated and less comfortable. Most of our fears turned out to be groundless, but even still this little one required more of us than we thought we had to give.
Christians often say that God doesn't give us more than we can handle. I think God does give us more than we can handle so that He can show us our need for Him. Before having kids, I thought I had a pretty good handle on my life. After each child came along, I struggled, but as I began to get things together I again started to think I had a pretty good handle on my life. By the time our fourth was a few months old, I was realizing that I did not have a pretty good handle on my life, and I was trying to do my best to regain control when God said, "Let go and see what I will do." I did not want to let go. I didn't want to see what God would do. I wanted to get my life back into the path I envisioned for it. But God still said, "Let go."
Daily, as I try to fulfill my responsibilities to each of the people in my life, I see how short I fall. Daily, I realize that I cannot do this. Daily, I see that I do not have things together. Daily, I'm confronted with my need for a Savior and my utter dependence on God. Daily, I see His loving grace. I have no doubt more extreme challenges lie ahead, and I know I do not have what it takes to meet them. But God does, and I can trust Him to help me through.
Day by day, and with each passing moment,
Strength I find, to meet my trials here;
Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
He Whose heart is kind beyond all measure
Gives unto each day what He deems best—
Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
Mingling toil with peace and rest.