God’s Bountiful Blessing

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God's blessing on Adam and Eve contained another important element as well. Not only were the man and the woman to rule over and subdue the earth; they were also to "be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth." They were to have many children!

Before the Fall, in other words, one of man and woman's greatest prvileges and most important responsibilities was to bring other human being into this world from the purposeful partnership of their marriage. These offspring were also to know the design of God. In the context of the family, they would learn what it meant to be made in the righteous image of their Creator to subdue the earth for God's glory, and to populate the earth with their own children, thus producing a godly heritage. The Mission of Motherhood

This quote is packed. From the very beginning of our marriage–the vocation to which God called us and the path He chose as our route to heaven–we have clearly heard His call to be open to His plan for children. As a young woman, I was blessed to hear and read the messages of godly men and women who helped me to understand the Church's beautiful teaching on openness to life. Through decades of pregnancies and breastfeeding and childbearing, I could clearly see God's providence. By the grace of God, I truly embraced the childbearing part.

So here we are, nine children later. "Be fruitful and multiply." Check. We did that. But this is a longterm proposition, people! He doesn't just call a woman to survive hyperemesis and months without more than two hours sleep at a time and the very real challenges of life with more toddlers than grownups. There's so much more. And I'm learning that those early years were bootcamp for these later years. Those early years were the training in self-discipline and endurace and patient acceptance of God's will that I so desperately need to live in His will during these years.

There is the "purposeful partnership of marriage." Over the course of a lifetime, we are called (asked? begged? pleaded with ?) to nurture our marriages. We are called to love that man God gave us with every fiber of our beings. And we have to do it while taking care of the children our love brought forth. No small task, my friends. It's a beautiful, wonderful, joy-filled, amazing, hard thing to do. I don't know about you, but just this piece could easily demand my full time and attention. 

And then, in the context of family, those children are to know God. Whether she has two children or ten children, God entrusts a woman to make Him known to her children. And whether she has two children or ten children, that is a longterm, fulltime job. Fulltime. Here's where I will step out on a limb. And I beg you not to throw stones. If a woman has been blessed with many children, she will have to spend more time, effort, and energy in the raising of children than the neighbor with fewer. I didn't used to really think that. I heard about the candleight analogy: in big families, we share the light of our candles with each other and it multiplies.There's plenty to go around. Oh, it really does! Love multiplies like candlelight. And with all those children carrying flames, the likelihood that someone is going to catch her hair on fire is greatly increased. It's just the simple math of it all. With more children, comes more of the stuff of childrearing. More baptisms. More laundry. More meals. More visits to the pediatrician (and the orthodpedist). More late night conversations. More algebra homework. More high school dances.More high school drama (not the theater kind).  More weddings.

So, the mission for a mother of many to bring an entire family before the throne of God is a big mission. When saying "yes" to the call to be open to life, we sign up for a very longterm, all-consuming proposition. We don't just have children, we have to raise children. For God. Children in a big family require and deserve just as much love, guidance, and attention as children in a smaller family. Because there are more of them, there is more to do. There is more work; there's no way around it. Love multiplies, but mothers don't. The mother's work in a large family must be done by the mother of that family. I don't care how well you train your children to do chores or to care about and for their siblings, the reality is that the big family mom is repsonsible for more.

And the season is longer. 

When the mother of a large family considers mission, particularly as her children grow and become more independent, she is likely to look around and notice that mission looks very different for her than it does for her neighbor. Many women at midlife who chose to stay at home and raise a family find themselves pursuing new challenges in the "real world" as their children leave the nest. A mom who continued to bear children late into her thirties and forties will find her friends from early mothering days forging new paths. She, however, will be walking familiar paths with a new little ones. And there is such blessing in that. Really, there is! It's not a bad thing; it's a different thing.

As women with fewer children find pockets of time to answer God in the community, the mother of a large family must be very, very careful. She has to be careful not to be distracted, not to feel as if her mission is somehow less important than one that bears the public affirmation of "good works."  And she has to be careful not to grow discontent with the "sameness" of the life born by extended childbearing. We learned as young women that a woman has seasons in her life: a season for new love, a season for childrebearing and being at home, a season for pursuing new interests out in the world. For some of us though, that season of intense childrearing is a very long one–much longer that that of woman who had two children in her late twenties. The women with two early-in-life children looks very different at 45 than the woman who had ten children between 20 and 40. It's just the way it is.

I remember a time when I'd just had my fifth child. A new parish was beginning and I eagerly filled out the form asking how I'd give of my "time and talent." I don't remember exactly what I said I'd do, but I know I checked several boxes. A few weeks later, in spiritual direction, I asked my pastor why nobody had yet called to follow up on all the things I'd said I'd do. He told me that he'd pulled my card. "You are to raise up a large family of faithful children. That's all you can do right now. And, God willing, there will be more children, so that's all you can do for a long, long time." That conversation came back to me one night in the NICU four years ago. I held my tiny, too-soon baby, the ninth precious baby who was my privilege to hold and to teach. I watched the busy, quiet, purposeful work being done around me–the neonatologist, the expert nurses, the miracles of nearly every moment. I remembered days in nursing school and dreams of midwifery. My head back against the rocker, I closed my eyes and planned on the day when I would return to school and become a NICU nurse. I thought to myself that this last little girl and I could go to college together. Then I remembered that I was 42. That would make me 60 when she left home. I couldn't really imagine a refresher course in organic chemistry and all those 12 hour clinicals at 60. Sequencing looks very different for the mother of many. 

Lots of things look very different for the mother of many.

Mission looks very different for the mother of many.

I've got another quote highlighted here, but I've gone on much too long today. The painters have arrived and Sarah has resumed her familiar position for coping with strangers in the house. The irony of trying to see this screen around her is not lost on me.

I pray you are wide awake to the blessings God will shower on you this day!

 

This post is part of 31 Days To Remind Myself of the Mission. I'd love to hear your thoughts about mission and vocation in the comment box. Find all the posts in the series here. And please, help yourself to a button if you want one for your blog. I'd love to read what you say there. 

31 days Misson

 

 

Comments

  1. Michelle Dunne says

    “And the season is longer.
    When the mother of a large family considers mission, particularly as her children grow and become more independent, she is likely to look around and notice that mission looks very different for her than it does for her neighbor.”
    This is why you blog. Because there are a few women of great faith who have large families and an ability to communicate these thoughts with eloquence so that those of us who frequently feel flooded and forget can be gently reminded. In a world (state, county,town, neighborhood) that pushes women in their forties to re-create themselves ( and not in the way we might hope) these words of wisdom are the rock that we can cling to.
    Peace be with you.

  2. Mary Alice says

    Just a quick thought. Before we began adopting lots of kids I taught in a nursing school. One student I had WAS 60 and living her dream. You just might too!

  3. Karra says

    I LOVED this post. Thank you for typing it all out and not cutting it short! I’m really enjoying your thoughts on mission. Praying for you and your family. :)

  4. maddalena70 says

    You have the gift to speak to my heart…..
    I always dreamed about a large family but God sent me my d.h. at 34 so i have been able to have only two wonderful little girls… now in my late 42 almost 43 i felt the desire for anothger baby… but i felt overwhelmed by the way of life I conduct… full time job… no a lot of money… my parents that now are quite old… so I gave up and decided to concentrate on my two little girls and my husband.. tryng to do my best
    And now I ahave a question.. my girls are 7 and 4 .. so I would like to introduce God to them…. make them understand… but I really do not know from where to start….. they know that God is our Father… we always have a prayer before dinner… but not more…
    Any suggestion?
    Thank to be here….
    Cheers
    Maddalena

  5. says

    Just a light note on this heavy post – My mother (of six) and I went to college together – she finished her nursing degree and graduated just before I did! We even hung out in the cafeteria together when we could. You never know!

  6. Michelle says

    I won’t take much of your time by leaving a lengthy comment, but I want to say I so very much needed this today. What a huge blessing your words and thoughts are to me just now. May God continue to guide your hand in all you do. Thank you.

  7. Angie Wolfe says

    LOVE this! Thank you so much for this. I find myself feeling tired and crazy and blessed ALL the time with my 7 blessings!

  8. Judy says

    What I like best in reading this, Elizabeth, is the way I see God bringing you contentment in where you are, and peace in leaving community work to others. At the beginning of your 31 days ‘assignment’ you described feeling torn, but He is granting you clarity and wisdom as you seek it from Him. May He continue to reveal His way…
    Blessings.

  9. Susan (DE) says

    I can really relate. With 8 children born more than 21 years apart (eldest is 31 today — and still fairly frequently wants to discuss his life), and youngest is still 9 — I can soooooo relate to what you say. The concept of going out and “doing something” is just not imaginable. Just talking to all those people (3 of the 4 eldest are married) is already overwhelming. And most people of my age just don’t get it. They can’t. They didn’t have the same life.
    I am SO GLAD God allowed us to do this (called us). It is a wonderful gift. But it can be hard. And I honestly feel that it’s STILL hard. Good. But HARD. And I don’t feel that I necessarily do it very well at all. I had more confidence ten years ago. Sigh. (And yes, all of the children are believers — it’s just…a lot.)
    Thank you.

  10. says

    Elizabeth, you have no idea how much you spoke to me today through this post. The tears finally broke when you spoke of the wise words your spiritual director spoke to you. You understand. You get it. You speak it so clearly and with true charity.

  11. Marianne says

    Hi there, we’re due in January with #8 and I’m 40. I have no friends because they have all moved into hard core volunteering and back to work part time and things like that, which is perfectly appropriate for their situations. I’m happy for them, but happier for us and pretty content, however…
    It’s similar to the isolation that I felt when I went from working to having my first couple of babies and learning to stay home with them, when I was so used to being out and about. Now, everyone else is able to get out and about again, and I’m still home, hunkered down, hardly able to get to my kids’ sports games because of so many littles. Everyone else calmly stands around on the sidelines with their beautiful coffee mugs and have conversations. I drag my pregnant body around with little people to the concession stands, to the porta potty and back while people shake their heads and wonder how I manage.
    You are not alone. Aside from the “it must be nice” pangs that I get at those sports fields, in general I kind of feel sorry for the other families whose seasons of cute little chubby cheeks and sweet snuggles was over and gone in the blink of an eye. We are so blessed beyond anything we could have imagined. It’s not just a calling or a mission, it’s an amazing blessing and I am savoring it.

  12. Leah says

    “And I’m learning that those early years were bootcamp for these later years. Those early years were the training in self-discipline and endurance and patient acceptance of God’s will that I so desperately need to live in His will during these years.” This quote brings me joy, thinking of God’s infinite wisdom.
    I’ve been following along this series, but living the mission leaves me little time to respond or keep up with the discussion. Yet, what I can follow has been a blessing.
    As an older mom of young ones, I understand that sequencing looks very different. When my oldest was four months, I dropped my post-graduate work to devote my entire time to our family (I too went to school for teaching and then later thought I would go into midwifery). My only regret is that I didn’t drop it sooner. I’m convinced that I won’t be going back in the work force, but I look forward to becoming a Titus 2 mom one day and share in the joys of what motherhood brings in spite of the hard work and great responsibility it carries.
    Though I don’t know you personally, as a longtime reader, I am grateful that you have been a mentor-mom to me through the sharing of your words and heart. Thank you so very much.

  13. maddalena70 says

    Oh Marianne.. you are not alone…and remebver that other peopke with two or three children will never understand your desire to hgave a big family and the blessing to have it.. I remenber last year when I saidc that I would like to have the third child everyone at my office lokked at me how I was gone nuts…… and it would be only my third child..
    A big hug
    Maddalena

  14. Sarah says

    I am not at the point that you are yet…..but already expecting my 5th at 33 years old I am starting to notice that my lifestyle desisions are putting me on the “outside”. Several of my friends are “done” having children & moving on. My husband and I have had several conversations lately about the total sold-outness (don’t think that’s a real word) we are starting to realize we’ve taken on….I mean 5 no longer feels like we can be subtle :o) Our life calling is setting us apart from the norm…not that we feel better or holier then others, just like we are definitely starting to make a statement to the world (and church).
    Thanks for continuing to share this series, I eagerly await each installment!

  15. Emily says

    This amazing post is exactly why I find myself saying, “What would Elizabeth Foss do?” when I’m in over my head with my 8. =) Wonderful post!

  16. Elaine says

    Thank you for your ‘mother of many’ perspective. It is such a joy to me to read.
    As an extremely proud mother of three I do regret that I didn’t have the chance to have more – but I am amazingly lucky still to be here after a very life-threatening health situation when my last child was born.
    I pray for all mothers that they may have energy and time to give to all their children, whether they have two or ten.
    And for those of you with ten – a little extra prayer!

  17. Kelsey says

    Thank you yet again Elizabeth. I am that young mother with two little ones. Trying hard to find true examples of mothering in a culture permeated with selfishness and a message that children are inconvenient. I come to your blog often to refocus my attention when I am weary and I always leave inspired and refreshed. Thank you for telling me it’s okay to say “no” and stay at home serving my family. I pray so often that God will bless us with a large family. I’ve had to be patient in this season while dealing with some health issues. Trying to be at peace with the knowledge that God with give us the family He has planned for us, in His timing.

  18. Lorelei says

    Dear Elizabeth,
    How it rings! I also have university “littles” to a two year old.(6 so far…)
    It’s only since my last gift was born that I began to realize the importance of looking after me. Something that is not selfish, but something that is necessary. Exercise has been for me, the energizer that has kept many health issues at bay, kept off the extra 35 pounds that caused me to drag around and feel excessively fatigued. When I am tired, everything else seems 99% worse. It took so long for me to understand it. Such a small detail, but changed everything. My whole family gains because I have more vitality.

  19. Carla says

    Thank you Elizabeth for your gift of putting it to words so beautifully. We need women to look up to that have their priorities right. Sadly, tomorrow I am attending the funeral of my dear friend Cheryl McDonough. She was a homeschooling and saintly mother of 8. To be inspired, check out her caring bridge: cherylmcdonough. You will be inspired and changed for the better.

  20. LuAnn says

    Thank you for “keeping it real”, Elizabeth! I’m a mom of 7 (so far) and I often tell others about the older ones being a big help, and more kids to do chores, etc. But you’re right – the fact remains it is more. More everything.

  21. says

    “the mom who has ten children between the ages of 20 and 40…”
    …that’s me. Had my first at 20 and my tenth at 39 1/2. This is the best post on this lifestyle I have ever read. Exactly what I would have written describing this life as a mother of many. My two oldest are married, and the oldest has given us our first grandchild. But they still want my time and attention. I spend lots of time talking with them on the phone as they share their days with me. They both live an hour away, so we see them nearly once a week if not more. My youngest is only 5; so 12 years of homeschool yet to go! I am 45 yrs old and living the life I lived at 25, only with 5 times at many children. LOL!! And I love it and can’t imagine any other life.

  22. almamater says

    Lovely thoughts about this long, complicated, glorious season. Upon hearing that I have six children, people often reply, “Wow! You have really got your hands full!” It is funny, but it wasn’t until the ages of my children spanned from toddler to high schooler, that I felt I *really* had my hands full. It was then that great diversity of ages, stages, and needs that finally really hit me. Boy, do I miss the days when a rough day could be cured by cuddling everyone on the couch with a good picture book.;) But, seeing my teen son amusing his toddler sister with a silly story or inviting his 4yo brother outside to coach him on his batting? I wouldn’t sacrifice these scenes for anything. Tonight I beamed as my 7yo daughter was called upon to explain parts of the movie Voyage of the Dawn Treader to her 12yo sister because the younger has been reading the series obsessively and the elder never did make it that far in the series and was getting confused. Priceless.
    It is a long season–which I embrace. It is a Big Work–which I also embrace. What I find is that as my children grow and are more and more ready to head out into the world, I am more and more ready to make home. I find more than ever that I just want to tend to the domestic hearth. I was never a homebody, but now I am a bit. I just want to concentrate on basics: orderly house, nutritious meals, projects with my older girls and elder son, gardening, etc.
    Is this a natural response to the bigness of the work at hand? Is it just my age (40)? I think I am grasping for an anchor and grasping to hold on to these precious days. Maybe, too, it is just a hunkering down as I realize fully the length of the season that is still ahead and seek a way to reserve my energies for all that is being asked of me?
    Ha! I didn’t mean to write my own blog post length comment here…just wondering if any of you have had a similar response as your family grows (in quantity and age)?
    Thank you again for your beautiful post, Elizabeth.

  23. Betty says

    This post is another keeper for me (along with yours on computer time). You have really blessed me with this one, Elizabeth. I’ve had such a warped paradigm. I have a 17yod, 15yo twin sons, 9yod, and a 1 yr old. I have had a few seasons where I could actually think about branching out a little, but then the Lord sent health issues. Then I had another 8 yr season without a baby and just when I felt like I could start thinking about hobbies or branching out, boom! God sent us another blessing. I barely survived my last pregnancy with a very big blood clot and a big risk for stillbirth. But the Lord was so kind and though in many ways I’m still recovering, I’m so very grateful for my little bundle. She is a precocious, busy little one who had a very rough start much like your Annie. I thought about you so much during my pregnancy.
    As I said, my paradigm has been so warped. I’ve compared myself to other mothers who have only had a few kids and felt so inadequate in my appearance (my body really took a blow with the last pregnancy and c-section), my activity level, my free time, the cleanliness of my house, etc… I did not grow up with viewing my family as the mission that it is, though my mother was very dedicated to us in raising us. But, when I had more than 3 children, I’ve really pushed everyone’s comfort level.
    I forget that this is a long season. Those 8 yr breaks were necessary for me (I took care of a very sick husband and then recuperated as well from my own illness), but they also made me forget how involved motherhood really is. Now that I have teenagers I understand how this stage is even harder in many ways than the baby years, though I’m still incredibly sleep deprived.
    I’m in a wonderful church now that is teaching me about the Lord’s faithfulness and giving me a more Biblical view of the blessing and mission of a family. I hope to connect with other who have big spaces in between their kids because I find there’s a little different dynamic going on. My 9yo is almost like a middle child, and for a long time was like an only child because the older three are so close in age. It’s been hard trying to make a life for 3 teens and a younger one and now a baby! But somehow in God’s great scheme of things and with lots of His grace He has made our family something beautiful that I pray brings Him glory. Your blog has been such a huge blessing these past 8 years (I think I’ve followed since your FIAR days!). Thank you for opening up the comment box and allowing me to express my gratefulness! Much Love!

  24. Mary Beth says

    Thank you for this Elizabeth! Your words have given me much inspiration! As a mom in the thick of things, with sixlittles, and as a former RN that sometimes finds myself longing for those working days, I really needed this at this time. Embracing every moment with these children God has given me is my most important job. Oh, and we are in the midst of repainting projects around our house too.:)

  25. Jennie says

    Thank you for writing those words. I needed to hear that it was okay to stay home and raise my 4 children and how important it is. I knew it in my heart but I struggle with the voice of the world screaming to me that I need to hurry up and come out to play or work. Again, thank you for putting that into words and sharing. Blessings.

  26. says

    Thank you Carla for sharing the story of Cheryl Mcdonough. I just finished reading all her posts and looking at the pictures of her and her family! As a mother of a large family myself (11 children) and having been near enough to death several times myself, I am truly touched and inspired! One thing that really moves me to want to be a better server to my family was reading about her service to her family – her love of doing her chores, etc…for her family as long as she could to her dying days.
    God bless you for sharing this,
    Jill

  27. says

    I feel so the same as you in so many ways… I have 6 children who range from 1-14 and I turn 40 in May! I have definitely become a homebody…focusing on the basics, reserving energy, being present and available. Too much busyness outside of the home makes me more irritable, impatient and wiped out. I love your phrase “Big Work”…yes.

  28. says

    I feel like I need to get out pen and paper and write you a really long letter going into great depth on all the ways you have inspired and moved me over the years, Elizabeth! But I will spare you that and just let you know that, I too, found this so profoundly moving. I am 42 and typing this with my 7th infant nursing in my lap — just like I did 17 years ago with the first. It is this EXTENDED season of childbearing that has been wearying to me these past few months. Thank you for helping me to see the blessing of it. You do such a grace-filled job of bearing the peace of Christ to us! : )

  29. says

    Ditto! Amen! Thank you Elizabeth and all the commentators for reminding me to ENJOY the blessing and privilege that is this lengthy season of raising Lilliputians. I don’t think I’ve slept through the night in twelve years and now I have the grey hairs to show for it, but then I step back and read something like this and remember to PRAISE God from Whom all blessings flow! Thank you!

  30. says

    Thank you…this really speaks to me today. I used to BE a baby nurse, years ago, before coming home to homeschool after my second child was born. :) I love being here, but I did love nursing…anyway, today is my 38th birthday, and I have five kids ages 16 years- 4 months…maybe a couple more coming someday, God willing. I love it. But it is a very different path, and a lonely one.

  31. Nancy says

    Don’t feel sorry for mothers of small families — it is a different blessing, but it is still a blessing. I get debilitating postpartum psychosis and I was able to tough it out for my two beautiful children, but I don’t intend to go back into the dark hole again. I am not a “baby person” so I honestly don’t miss the baby days. I enjoy and relish the time we have now, and especially now that the postpartum problems are fading in the rear view. Don’t pity me and I won’t pity you! :) Peace, and cheers.

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