The thing about “having a family”

This post has been in my brain and on my heart for awhile now, but I haven’t had the energy to sit town and type out my thoughts until tonight. It’s an emotional subject for a lot of people, and it can be for me as well. But just bear with me.

As you may have noticed if you live on planet earth in 2014, there are many opinions swarming around out there in internet-world. One of the most prevalent topics people love to post about is family and kids. Ever-growing conversations like ones around “mommy wars” or the demise of traditional families fill the blogs, but another big elephant in the room of young adults is showing up more and more: The question of whether or not it is ok to wait to have kids…or, dare I say…whether it is ok to not have them at all. (Gasp.)

As many of us women who grew up in the southern church culture experienced, our lot in life was very clearly laid out for us. We were destined to be the Proverbs 31 woman. But the hot kind. The kind that the husband can brag to his fellow deacons about. Ew. Most of what I took away from that chapter, though, were these:  She was a servant. She was married. She had kids.

When I got married at age 20, I thought for sure I would have at least one kid by the time I was 23. Why waste my youth on myself, right? Luckily at that point, we had zero pressure to rush into parenthood. Few of our friends were having kids, and our parents obviously understood how desperately we needed some time to finish growing up ourselves. Here I am at age 26, still with no intention of having children any time soon. It is strange to me how fast the time has flown, and I’m so beyond grateful for the past 6 years I have gotten to spend sorting out my identity and my marriage. It is definitely tempting to compare myself to other people my age. And comparison truly is the thief of joy.

“So and so is pregnant again.” I always tell Josh. He rolls his eyes, knowing where my brain is going and wanting to reassure me that our life is beautiful. It is meaningful. It is worth a lot. But sadly, many of the things posted on the godforsaken internet beg to differ.

One viral post I came across on Facebook recently blasted young people for squandering their youth and not starting families as soon as they are old enough to procreate.

“So if you really want to do something bold and beautiful with your youth — love someone, commit to them, have kids, forge a place in this world for you and your family. You can go stare at buildings in Europe and walk across sandy beaches on the Pacific, but none of those experiences will teach you more about yourself and the world than staring into someone’s eyes and saying “I do,” or holding your child and swearing silently to God that you will gladly die for this little being in your arms.”

Many christians I know of buy into the idea that it is our mission as believers to have children. As many as possible. Those same people have thrown around a lot of hurtful words against people like me. People who choose to use their 20’s to do other things. But is it fair to say people like me are selfish in their intention?

I’m not going to sit around and write all my justifications for not wanting to rush into parenthood. Many days, I will admit, I have no other motive but getting a good night sleep. But then there are times when a friend calls late at night and asks me to come over and watch her kids because she had a family emergency and I was the only one able to rush over last minute. Or the fact that I have the opportunity in this season to mentor, share, give, see the world, and be present for my husband. It hasn’t been all fun and games because that isn’t what following Jesus is about. Following Jesus requires sacrifice, but that doesn’t have to come in the form of midnight feedings and budgeting for organic diapers. Paul was never even married, after all, and I think we all know how he felt about the idea of settling down. It seemed to me like he thought that was kind of selfish. Just saying 🙂

Here’s the thing I want christians to hear: Being a parent or being married does not make you a better christian. Just like being childless doesn’t make you selfish. How you spend your time and energy dictates what kind of person you are. The world is not that simple, and we all just need to chill out and give each other some space to breath and become who God wants us to become.

{Side thought: Is being so focused on your own family that you forget the needs of your neighbor so different than a married couple never having children and mindlessly enjoying all of the frivolous pleasures of life together?}

My friends who are parents are the most sacrificial, hard-working people I know. I want to be like them. Being a parent is incredibly significant. I look forward to sharing in that journey and understanding those joys and battles. But for now, I’m going to live sacrificially and love the heck out of people around me while I still have the capacity to easily serve people outside of my own family. The past 6 years have been about growing, learning, giving, failing, learning boundaries, and now entering into a career that serves the needs of hurting people.

Proverbs 31 lady is still alive and well, but she looks a bit different than the person I had in my head in high school. “Having a family” at age 26 looks different too. It looks like me and Josh trying to give ourselves away for the sake of others and navigate the complexity of life and suffering and joy together. I can certainly live with that, and never feel an ounce of guilt because of it.

 

 

Six years stronger.

My wedding day was a blur. I was a barely-20-year-old bundle of nerves and excitement. Truth be told, I loved the attention. It was the second wedding I had ever been to in my life, and I was the star of the show.

I loved Josh as much as anyone barely out of teen years can love a high school sweetheart. Everyone could see we were great together, but behind the giddy affection, we were actually a mess. Jealousy, anger, not knowing how to communicate…these are just a few of the battles we fought regularly throughout our dating relationship. There was so much love, but so many unhealthy expressions of it too. “But marriage,” we thought. “Marriage will be the solution to all of our struggles.”

Thinking back 6 years from today at the girl walking down the aisle on her proud father’s arm, I am so torn. I wonder why no one warned her of what it means to marry someone. No one held my head in their hands and told me sternly that the hard stuff was ahead of us, not behind. Or that we would change more in the coming years than we’d ever changed in our lives. The internal growth-spurt of our early twenties came as a complete shock. No one explained that the man waiting for me at the altar would be utterly unidentifiable six years down the road. I had no idea.
Instead, I looked at all the smiling faces from all walks of life smiling back at me. Their smiles brought me comfort that my decision to marry so young wasn’t as weighty as one would think.  Honestly, I was probably smiling back at them more at how admired I felt and less at the fact that I was entering into a beautiful covenant with the man God chose for me.

The weird thing is, though, is it turns out I’m glad no one told me. I’m glad I marched forward without hesitation, blissfully ignorant of what was to come. If given the chance to turn back, I may have missed out on the greatest adventure and joy I’ve ever known.

Writing this is tough because I so desperately want to believe my own choices and preparedness is what led to Josh and my marital success. That is just not the case, though. The truth is, I was clueless. Maybe we all are when we embark on a life-long journey with a single, flawed, starry-eyed person at the end of an altar. No one can know the pain of holding that person when they hear of their parent passing away or sitting in a therapist’s office with them when you just can’t figure some things out on your own. But in all of that is where the beauty of marriage lies.

Marriage did not fix any problems. In fact, it might have created more struggle than it alleviated. It forces you to take a good look at yourself and realize you have no choice but to give more of yourself. To move out away from the comfort of selfishness into the realm of uncomfortable sacrifice. And giving up just isn’t an option anymore. But in the striving and the fighting and toiling together, there is growth and an inexplicable, deep satisfaction. That is where true love shows her hopeful face.

Looking back on my wedding day gives me a feeling of deepest gratitude toward the One who took two kids and grew them in ways that bound them together instead of tore them apart. God truly deserves credit for the miracle that is my marriage. We have so far to go, and a lifetime of battles to fight together. But the fact that we still have each other after 6 years of transforming into our current version of  ourselves is pretty remarkable.

 

I love this man more today than I ever thought possible. He has helped me navigate high school, college, young adulthood, and every challenge in between. He’s shown me dignity and honored me when I least deserve it, and pushed me toward healing and loving myself where I desperately needed it. He loves the poor and seeks justice in all areas of life. He wants to adopt children. The list goes on and on.

Today I’m in awe at God’s goodness for not only giving me Josh, but for making him into the man he is today. Six years isn’t a long time in the grand scheme of things, but it has sure felt like a lifetime ago that we said “I do.”

And ya know what? I definitely still do.

“here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)”
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