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’?”