11.26.2009

A Heritage from the Lord

Mike and Abigail have three children aged three and under. Going through the potluck line at the church picnic requires some advanced planning. Mike finds a table for the family, holding the infant in his arms while putting bibs on the other two children, the younger of whom is trying to climb onto his lap while the older one sits precariously on the edge of a chair. Meanwhile, Abigail goes through the food line, getting one plate that will be split among the children and another for herself. Afterwards, Mike will get his food and bring drinks for everyone. Complicated? Perhaps at first, but Mike and Abigail are getting used to the challenges of parenthood. The three year old, ironically, is even messier than the 20 month old, and suddenly Mike realizes he forgot the extra napkins. Even so, they are building family memories. Thankfully, an elderly couple sitting across from them makes funny faces at the children to keep them occupied between bites of food.

As Mike reaches to save a glass of milk from the toddler’s reach, Jim and Pam walk by. “Boy, do you have your hands full!” Mike, still working on damage control, does not reply, but his wife looks up meekly and says, “Perhaps our hands are full these days, but our hearts are not empty.” Smiling nervously, Jim and Pam continue to the next table, where they sit down opposite of Jeanette, the congregation’s volunteer coordinator for the local pro-life pregnancy counseling center.

“Their children are spaced far too close together,” says Pam under her breath to Jim as they begin to eat. Jim and Pam have two children, both grown and out of the house now. They were separated by four years, which worked out well when only one of them attended the parochial high school at a time. “Can you imagine if we would have had to pay tuition for both John and Beth at the same time?” Changing the subject, Pam asked Jeanette how things were going at the pregnancy counseling center.

“At the center itself, things are going really well,” she said. Then she told of two recent girls who came in, neither one married, both pregnant and confused. One had been raped. The other had been promiscuous. The victim was having trouble dealing with all the “Why me?” worries, but the Christian counselors reassured her that keeping the child was the right thing to do, and that they could refer her to the support she would need. The other one had stopped attending church and did not really understand the love of Jesus—that even a sin like hers could be forgiven at the foot of the cross—indeed, that in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism God already had bestowed to her all of the blessings of Christ's life, death, and resurrection. “It’s such a blessing to share the good news with these girls, and to see their children come into the world,” explained Jeanette.

“But not everything is going so well?” Jim asked. “You said ‘at the center itself’ things are okay, but did you mean there are outside problems confronting the center?”

Jeanette sighed. Her face fell. Then she began to speak in a slow whisper. “These days, people—even in the church—have such a low view of God’s gift of life.”

“I know what you mean,” quipped Pam. “Like those Catholic politicians. Their church is as pro-life as we Lutherans are, but then they get into office and support abortion funding.”

“Yes,” said Jeanette, “there’s that.” Her voice slowed even more, as she softly continued, shaking her head in despair. “But it’s worse. Even people who think of themselves as pro-life, too often are not.” Just then everyone’s attention turned to the neighboring table. Mike stood up suddenly, a screaming infant in his arms, purple grape juice dripping down his shirt, Abigail reaching for a napkin hopelessly too late, two other children painting chocolate frosting all over the table. As the commotion subsided, Pam and Jim turned their faces back toward Jeanette.

She smiled at them. “You know, that’s a perfect example of what I mean. Mike and Abigail certainly have their hands full.”

“I’ll say,” interrupted Pam.

“And in these days of ‘planned parenthood’ I’m sure they been criticized—branded irresponsible for having them so close together.” Pam’s smile dropped into an expressionless face, caught in an emotional limbo, uncertain how to feel or what to say. “But the Bible,” continued Jeanette, “says that ‘Children are a heritage from the Lord.’ and that it is God who opens and closes wombs. Look at Mike and Abigail’s three children—they’re beautiful. Which one would you take away from them? Shall we call the middle child a ‘mistake,’ and keep the others, since they are spaced farther apart? The volunteers at the center are pleading with young girls not to abort their babies. We assure them that every child is a blessing from God, that God does not make ‘mistakes.’ Yet, too often being anti-abortion falls short of being pro-life—too many Christians would tell unmarried girls not to abort, but then would expect their married friends to plan to avoid pregnancy until it is ‘convenient.’ How convenient do you think pregnancy is for a seventeen year old who hasn’t even finished high school yet? We don’t counsel her with advice on convenient timing. We tell her about love—God’s love for her, for her child, and the love that Christ can empower her to have for her child, whether she’s a rape victim or a promiscuous girl who needs to repent of her sin. We tell her that in Christ her guilt is gone forever, and that God her heavenly Father will watch over both her and her child. If God can care for an unwed pregnant teen, then surely he can help a married couple raise their children, too. After all, it was to the first married couple that God said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’”

Just then Mike returned from the restroom, his shirt a little wetter, but still just as purple. “Honey,” he said to Abigail, “I don’t think this stain will come out.” She smiled. “That’s okay. We’ll just call it your ‘badge of honor.’”

“Excuse me,” said Pam to Jeanette, as she slowly stood up at the table. She looked down toward her feet for a moment, then over at Abigail, who had soothed the infant back to sleep, then back at her feet. Closing her eyes, she inhaled deeply, then let it go. Walking over toward Mike and Abigail, Pam held out her hands and offered, “Would you like me to hold him, while you get the others cleaned up? I know your hearts have more than enough room for all the children in the world, but sometimes parents’ hands can only do so much at once.”

“Isn’t that the truth,” smiled Mike, still drying his shirt with a napkin. Just then he felt a brotherly pat on his shoulder.

“Enjoy it while you can.” It was Jim. “They grow up too quickly. It must be a challenge with three little ones. Hey, Pam and I sometimes felt challenged with only two. But there will never come a day when you’ll look back and say, ‘I wish we had not had so many children.’ If anything, you’ll wish you had more.”

Pam caressed the baby’s soft cheeks and smiled. “And wasn’t it Jesus,” she chuckled to herself, “who said, ‘Let the little children come to me’?”

9 comments:

mtnman said...

O.K., God doesn't make mistakes but people-rapists and others- do. Thankfully we have safe methods to undo what a rapist has accomplished.

GL said...

Good post. We are blessed to attend a church where many families have several children and where folks chip in to help those of us with little ones. For that I am very grateful.

Mtnman: Murder of an innocent babe is NEVER the answer to rape. Killing the baby does not undo what the rapist accomplished. Instead, it kills the life which God permitted or caused to come into existence through the evil act.

Charles G. said...

OK. I'll admit it: We're Mike and Abigail, except that our names are Charles and Martha. We have three children aged three and under, with a fourth due in March. (That'll make it four under four for four months.)

And Family Man, that is exactly what we do at church potlucks! Complicated? Perhaps at first, but we're getting used to the challenges of parenthood. Church services are even trickier, because half the time I'm at the organ. Yet there's nothing I love more than to hear two little voices singing "LORD, HAVE MERRRR-CY!" over two hundred other people.

We didn't set out to do it this way. In fact, we went into marriage on contraceptive autopilot and were married over four years before our son was born. But with each birth, I learn anew how great a heritage from the Lord children are.

shepherdstory said...

Thank you for this post. I can identify with the "complications" of having a family of young children (5 kids, oldest is 6). I am also aware of the subtly low view of life that expresses itself in the attitude towards children. And I'm sure that some of those thoughts have come at the sight of my wife managing 5 little ones in a church pew. But I think we demonstrate a positive towards God's gift when we consistently speak of children as the blessing they are.

It's probably better than all the sarcastic remarks I have thought to myself as witty responses to the comment, "You sure have your hands full."

Anonymous said...

.Try this one on all ye who condemn ALL abortion: The young couple tried to conceive. At last she took shots to ovulate. Result: six fetuses; one already dead. Doctor: I cannot tell you what to do but, given your frame, etc. if you choose to bring these five to term there is a strong likelihood that you may not survive nor all five be normal. Alternate: Selective reduction. And that is what they did and have two healthy girls-and a healthy mother....now then,
What would you do? What would Jesus counsel?

Family Man said...

Anonymous: I rejoice with that couple that the mother's life was spared and that they have two healthy girls. My joy does not, however, cover the fact that they instrumentalized, and thus dehumanized, first her body and then the lives of three of her children in order to save the other two siblings and fulfill their desire to bear offspring.

As for Jesus, you may infer His counsel from the way He dealt with the Pharisees and Sadducees who often asked Him complicated questions such as the one you have asked here. In the Gospel accounts you'll find that He never answers the question they ask, but rather addresses a more fundamental truth--the real questions that need to be asked. Consider these two:

1. Why do you call her "healthy"? Your account describes the woman as being "healthy" now, but Jesus, as you know, would be concerned not only about her physical health during pregnancy and childbirth, but also her spiritual health. No doubt she is haunted by "what ifs." Why spare these two and sacrifice those three? Should I have tried for triplets? Maybe for one boy and one girl, rather than two girls? Do I tell the girls that I had to abort their siblings in order to increase the chance of their own survival? Her guilt will only increase as these thoughts percolate in her heart.

2. What would make her well? She thought having children would make her fulfilled. Indeed, she had good reason to think so, for in general God so intends that a woman marry a man and bear offspring. This is part of her nature, her divinely ordained calling. And yet, God sometimes withholds this blessing. He calls some women to be single for life. He calls others to be married yet barren. How unsearchable is His wisdom in such matters, and how confusing to us mortals! How tempting, therefore, it was for her to try to solve this problem by her own scheming, even as Abraham lay with Hagar the slave woman when his wife Sarah failed to bear him a child. But in the end, nothing brings peace, fulfillment, or anything else worth searching for except God's grace in Christ. Abraham received this through faith in God's promise: Sarah herself would bear him a son, and his descendant, Christ, would be the seed through whom all people would be blessed. To this woman of whom you speak, this same Christ would say, "Come to me, for I make all things new. I forgive your sin. I wipe away your tears."

Family Man said...

Charles, Martha, and Shepherd: Glad to share with you in mutual encouragement. Let us never tire of doing what is right!

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

Family Man said this better than I can, but this is why ovulation should absolutely NEVER be artificially hormonally induced. Killing babies does not ever right a wrong. But sometimes multiple conceptions happen without artificial induction. What then???

Selective reduction???

Euphemisms abound. Perhaps I can put it more bluntly:

This is selective MURDER!!!

It is never moral to do evil, even if it could attain a good. Sometimes we are in a position to only helplessly witness the death of our fellow human beings. Sometimes as a direct or indirect result of our own sinful actions. But two wrongs do not make a right.

What would I have done? What would the Incarnate Word, my Lord and God, Jesus Christ counsel? We look to God's Word for the answer:

"And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just." [Romans 3:8]

Pray and fast for the mother and her five remaining babies in her womb, and repent of the selfish decision to force God's hand by artificial means. And if abortion has already been performed by your will, confess that sin and repent of it.

Do no harm, and pray for God's mercy.

Lord have mercy upon us! He is merciful and has given us His Only Begotten Son to die for our sins. His mercy endures forever! Come, Lord Jesus, come!

GL said...

Family Man's answer to Anonymous was wise and good and Erich is absolutely correct in noting that the use of chemicals to stimulate the ovaries to over produce was itself sinful. The command not to kill (or murder) includes the concepts of not acting killing through negligence or recklessness. The fertility doctor knew or should have known of the prospect of multiple conceptions and the likelihood that this would "necessitate" the murder of one or more of the babies to save the life of the mother. He had an obligation to disclose this to his patient and, assuming he did so, she then could not utilize this method.

My wife and I had fertility problems in the early years of our marriage. As a result of our previous use of contraception and then our fertility problems, we did not have a child until after our tenth anniversary. I say that to say that I know the pain of infertility. I am sorry for anyone who suffers infertility. In the end, however, the ends, no matter how good, cannot justify any means to achieving it.

May God grant His grace and forgiveness to anyone who has made such a decision.