My best friend used to have the first email I ever sent her. Ken and I had made the decision to give homeschool a whirl, and as I searched for local homeschool groups, I found “Kim Trouy, new member contact” listed on the website of a Catholic group serving the greater Memphis area. I banged out some ridiculous email about thinking about homeschooling our four year old (!), and being interested in meeting up with a group. Years later she found that email in a folder somewhere, read it to me when I was pregnant with baby number five, and we had a good laugh (side note- composing formal emails are not my strength).
I vividly remember the first phone conversation I ever had with her. She called me a few days later to invite me to a playgroup that she hosted every Friday afternoon. As she spoke to me briefly about curriculum choices, I could hear yelling in the background. Lots of yelling. I think I asked her if she had company and did she need to go? She paused for the slightest of beats, then said, “No, that’s my kids. I have nine and am pregnant with number ten.”
I may have paused for slightly longer than polite as this sunk in.
“Uh-huh? Ten? Um…” and Kim, bless her supernaturally patient heart, didn’t say a word beyond directions to her house so I could go to that Friday’s playgroup.
And that, as Humphrey Bogart said, was “the beginning of a beautiful friendship”. At Kim’s house, I was introduced to an amazing group of women who were open to life in the broadest sense of the phrase. There were women there with two or three children, there were women there with ten or eleven children, and there were women at every space in between. Some of them were affluent, others struggled with poverty. There were women with Masters degrees, women from foreign countries, women who were cradle Catholics, and a whole spectrum of other experiences I won’t go into here because somehow this paragraph has gotten away from me. Shorter: these women were diverse and amazing.
Despite the wide range of differences of the group at Kim’s table, one thing was a shared experience- their openness to life. Whether it was the uncertainty of a husband transferring the family for the 6th time in as many years, or a child with cancer, or repeated miscarriages, these women looked life full in the face, and didn’t attempt to numb the pain nor seek out only the pleasure. They met life head on, relying on God and His Sacraments to get them through.
Sitting among those women- my spiritual, emotional, and maternal betters- I saw this possibility for a life that I’d never imagined. I saw the possibility for a life that loved life, even when it wasn’t tightly controlled or according to carefully laid-out plans. I saw the possibility for a life that brought God into considerations of family size, and honestly listened to what He had to say.
It was like waking up one morning to find yourself on a planet that was reminiscent of Earth, but fundamentally different in major ways- like gravity pulling upwards, or the sky being purple. And the longer I spoke to these women, the more I found myself wanting citizenship in that world. I wanted to throw my arms wide open to God and say, “Not my will, but Your will be done,” and actually mean it. To not be scared of tomorrow, or even of today, because I honestly believed that He used all things for Good.
Time went by, and a little over a year after joining the Church, we decided that we’d like to have another child. Understandably, this was an eyebrow raising decision for some friends and family, as we had a girl and a boy, and any further children seemed to be a sort of stereotypical Catholic thing to do. But the decision had nothing to do with a misunderstood notion of Catholic teaching on family size (hint: there is no “magic number” of kids), and everything to do with our developing trust in God and gratitude for all His blessings.
Then the real test came.
I clearly remember being several months pregnant with Gabriel, and trying to catch up on laundry. Lotus and Joaquin were squabbling in the living room, my house resembled what would happen if you let a pack of rabid dogs tear through it, and I was too exhausted to seriously contemplate cleaning it.
I looked around the house, and felt two distinct things. The first was a rising panic that my plans were quickly falling apart. My world was a far cry from how I felt it should be managed and that loss of control was almost painful.
The second thing I felt was otherworldly in its message and clarity. I was overcome with a sense that I needed to take a moment to fully feel my panic and frustration at my less-than-flawless house, and accept that I was feeling those things. I needed to look my feelings of inadequacy straight on, instead of blowing them off or making light of them like I do with so many other important, but unlovely situations. I spent a few moments soaking in the fact that my house and life may not be the tidy, controlled things I wanted for the next 18 years of life. Shoot, maybe my house and life would never be the tidy, controlled things I wanted again. I allowed myself to completely feel that panic, that uncertainty, and didn’t try to run from it.
And on the heels of that acceptance, there was a total sense of peace. I was able to look at the laundry, at the dirty floor, the bickering kids and see what lay beyond it. Beyond it was a God who was embarrassingly, unabashedly generous with His gifts, who had nothing but my best interests at heart, and who was completely in control of the entire Universe. Where I was at that precise moment was a place God had hand-designed for me to be, in order to help me grow closer to Him.
I know that I’m a one-hit wonder on this topic. And before you think that standing there in my dirty kitchen that day I achieved a mystical union with God that has never wavered to this day, let me tell you some things:
1. I still hate it when my house is messy. It still makes me feel out of control, and I still don’t like feeling out of control.
2. Despite that moment of supernatural grace, showing me that all is according to God’s plan, I still get pissy when inconveniences come my way. Come over to my house when I’m trying to get all the kids ready to go run some errands for shocking proof of that statement.
3. I am a horribly self-centered, self-indulgent person, and I’m sure God wants to kick me in my pants for roughly 99% of my day for the exact same reasons I get short tempered with my own children: “Why do I have to repeat myself? Do it the first time! Cheerfully! I do not make these requests capriciously, I do actually know what I’m doing and I’m doing it for your benefit!” Do as I say, not as I do, children. That usually works, right?
But, even with the laundry-list of my flaws, vices, and sins constantly before me, I can say that one of the best things I ever did was cooperate with God’s grace, trust that He has something in mind far better than anything I could dream up, stop worrying, and love kids.