It might be cheesy to say having children opens up your eyes, but it really does. I'm sure it's different for everyone because we're all on different journeys, but for me, there are two things in particular that having children taught me.
1- Being a new mum helped me understand unconditional love.
When my first son was born, I loved him immediately. This is a normal response for a new mum, to fall in love with her baby. It was only later that I realised just how much I loved him, and how, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't rationalise my feelings. When William was born, he didn't do anything. He didn't thank me for carrying him for 9 months or give me a little "hello" present. He didn't have any exceptional talent that I could be proud of. If anything, he was actually more of a burden (although it never felt like it): entirely dependant, unable to feed on his own or move by himself. Taking care of him was a 24-hour job and it wasn't easy. Yes, this is what all mothers do, but at one point I realised there was no reason why I should feel anything for this newborn baby. In a way you could say he didn't deserve to be loved.
Yet, I loved him. Not like I love my friends or my husband; I loved him with an unconditional love. It is very difficult to explain, because it is not the kind of love that is taught, but one that is felt. I can only say that I knew, then, that no matter what he'd do or what he'd say, I would always love him. I might not always agree with his choices, but I will always love him. The same is true for my second son, Ezra. There is nothing he could do to make me stop loving him just as much as I do.
This is such a powerful truth for me. I don't need to do anything for God to love me. I don't need to prove I am worthy of His love. Even if I am totally dependent on Him for everything, He doesn't consider me as a burden. No matter what I do, no matter what I say; He loves me, always and forever, with a love that will never be shaken. Like the way I love my children, and possibly even more.
2- Seeing my sons grow up helped me understand that mistakes are ok.
When William took his first steps, he stumbled. There were a few falls, bumps, and tears, before he could walk confidently. Never once when he fell did I think it was hopeless. I knew that every time he tried, he was closer to that condifent toddler walk.
This is just like us when we exercice a spiritual gift. We don't get it right first time. It is ok to make mistakes along the way. In fact, I believe mistakes are a necessary part of the learning process.
Now that William is learning to speak, I can see it even more. He can say a few words, but doesn't pronounce them all correctly. Some words he doesn't know how to say yet. But as time goes on, he is able to speak more and more, and we now understand most of what he is saying. I know it will take another few months before he can speak properly, and that's fine. We are not disappointed when he doesn't get it right, nor do we feel ashamed or angry. It's actually the contrary; we love watching him learn! We love hearing him improve day after day and being able to see just how much progress he already made.
If this is how God sees me when I practise a gift (and I know it is!), then I have nothing to worry about! I used to be so fearful of making mistakes that I wouldn't even try. Now I know that God will never think "I wish she didn't go for it", but "I am so proud of my daughter". Even when I do get it wrong. Because I am still a learning child, and because He is the one who teaches me.
I know this isn't children related, but thought it would be a good idea if I shared a little bit more about me. Yesterday, as I was walking to church listening to worship on my iPod, I felt compelled to write down my own personal testimony of how I gave my life to Christ. So, here you go; my lovely sons are sleeping upstairs, which means I have time to put it in writing!
I became a Christian when I was 16. I wish I could say my family took me to church and led me to Christ, but sadly my parents are both non believers. I was raised in the belief that there was no God, and that religion was only invented for weak and desperate people who couldn't cope with the harsh realities of life. When I was 10, one of my dad's colleague died. It was the first time I heard of someone dying and it prompted something in my mind. For the next few days, I asked countless questions about life and death. I was only given vague answers until someone got tired of my constant nagging and bluntly told me that "there is nothing after death. People who die are buried and that's the end of it." I didn't know how to respond, so I just left. But that thought deeply troubled me and I cried myself to sleep for almost a year. I couldn't imagine how my parents could accept that there was nothing more. What was the point of living if it meant we were all going to be buried in dirt and eventually be forgotten? Was it really worth all the hard work and problems adults seemed to have? It was at least 10 months before I decided that my parents were wrong, that it didn't make sense at all, and that there was, in fact, something else. And I was determined to find out what it was.
"[God] has put eternity into man's heart [...]" (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
Having no idea where to start (and still being very young), I spent years reading books that would relate stories of people who had experienced "the other side". I would do the same for TV programmes, but it took a lot more convincing on my part for my parents to let me watch them. It became much easier when they got divorced just after my 14th birthday. I was now old enough to buy my own books, and spend time on the computer looking for testimonies to feed my spiritrual hunger. During that time, I learned a lot about the occult. This was because most books I read were people claiming to talk to dead spirits or convincing their readers to learn witchcraft. I became very interested and started to think that I, too, could develop those skills. As I set a foot into this dark world, I started to change. I became very choleric; angry with everyone and angry with myself. I became lonely. I became depressed. It was destroying me.
But God reveals himself to those who seek him earnestly (Deuteronomy 4:29), and even though I was in a very dark place, I was still only trying to find out what really happened after death. Unfortunately, my quest for the truth led me to dangerous paths, but God did not forget me. As I started secondary school, I met a girl who was a Christian. Funnily enough, we didn't get on well at all. Something about her bugged me and I couldn't bear the thought of having to share my best friend with her. We spent the first few months pretty much doing anything we could to avoid each other. However, just before the Summer holiday, we found out we were going to spend the following year sharing a room in the boarding school.
In July that year, I went on a holiday with my family. Fights had become a part of my everyday life, due to my insolent character. Each time a conflict would occur, I felt myself burning inside and words escaped my mouth before I had time to think. Each fight was worse than the previous one, and I was starting to feel the urge to hit things to get rid of my rage. I myself couldn't understand what was going on. I would often find myself looking at the scene like a spectator at the same time as it was happening. I had no control over my words or my actions. My thoughts were starting to get affected too. One afternoon, after a particularly hostile dispute, I ran away. I ran and ran, not paying attention to where I was going. I wasn't running from my family, I was running from myself. I ended up at the top of a big hill of rocks, shaking. There was nowhere else to go but jump into the water where the hill emerged. Nobody was around. Tears were pouring down my face as I shouted to an invisible god. I cannot remember exactly what I said but I was begging for someone to hear me and rescue me. I don't know how long I stayed on that hill. I did eventually go back to the house, feeling exhausted.
What happened during the rest of the Summer holiday, I did not know. I was starting to feel a lot better and people around me were noticing a change. When I went back to school in September, I wasn't the same. I used to wear black or offensive outfits, but was now wearing colours. I used to withdraw myself from people, but I was now happily chatting away. I used to look at people with a defiant stare, but I was now smiling. Inside, I felt different, too. I knew something had happened that day on the hill; however, I couldn't explain it.
My Christian acquaintance was relieved to see I wasn't as hot tempered as I used to be. We were enjoying being in each other's company and slowly starting to become friends. I noticed she would read her Bible most nights which stirred up my curiosity. Every now and again, I would ask a small question, and she would give me a small answer. In my mind, I was battling with everything I had discovered until then. I was already confused by the different spiritual theories I had heard about, did I really want to add one more? Yes. After all, I was longing for the truth and my friend inspired me to look into it further. Yet, it wasn't easy. There was a lot of resistance inside me: everytime I would think about opening my friend's Bible or join a prayer group, I was overwhelmed again with the all too familiar negative feelings that left me feeling very distressed. It was undeniable that "something" was trying to prevent me from knowing more. So it was no surprise that when my friend invited me to her church one Sunday, I sat on my chair for 2 hours, furious and arrogant. All I wanted to do was go home. And when I did get home, I cried, because I couldn't put my finger on what was bothering me.
Fortunately, that first experience didn't scare my friend and she invited me to her church again. This time, I was in for the biggest surprise of my life! When I stepped into the room, the spiritual atmosphere was tangible. I sat down, almost febrile, and waited. My heart was racing. As the worship team started the first few music notes, something incredible happened. I saw a man in front of me with his arms open and immediately knew he was Jesus. He was glowing, so much so that I couldn't see his face. In fact, all I could see was that he was standing as if walking towards me, and that his hands were reaching out to me. Suddenly I knew, for sure, that Jesus was alive, and that He was the son of God. After the intial shock, I was met by the most overwhelming feeling I have ever felt, and could do nothing but fall to my knees and burst into tears. In my mind I could see all the terrible things I had done and was doing wrong and I knew that there were keeping me away from God and that I had to renounce them. It was painful, but Jesus wasn't saying I wasn't worthy of His love; He was saying that, if I wanted to get rid of the burden of my sins, He would carry it for me. I cried and cried and cried, until I was able to mutter the word "sorry", and I cried again because it felt so good to finally be with God. I had no doubt then that this was the truth I had been looking for since I was 10; but if I ever wanted a confirmation, it was the first time since exploring different spiritual routes that I felt peaceful instead of oppressed.
The first time I sat down in my bed to pray after that weekend, I felt very excited. But when I opened my mouth, I could hear voices. They were mocking and threatening me. When I closed my mouth, the voices would cease. But nothing could stop me. As I started my prayer, the voices were so loud I couldn't hear my own voice. I spoke louder, and so did the voices. I continued to speak louder and louder until I was practically shouting, and suddenly, I felt the presence of God upon me. It was at that moment that I realised the voices had left. It was just me and God. I was safe. I was just where I needed to be.
What followed was comparable to a honeymoon period. I was so close to God that miracles were happening everyday in my life, and Jesus and I would talk together like two good friends. It was the most normal yet extraordinary thing in the world. If I had only one prayer today, it would be to be as close to God as I was at this time. He is still doing amazing things in my life and I have never regretted my decision to follow Him.
If you know me or if you've read my little presentation, you know I was still very young when I had my first child. I have a few friends who are also parents, but the majority of them are still "only" husband and wife (not that there is anything wrong with that, and it's great that they get to enjoy being together!) But we are getting at the age now when most are thinking about starting a family and it is a subject that oftens comes up in conversation. This got me thinking - is there a right time to have children?
Couples today tend to have children much later than past generations. This is mainly due to the fact that it is taking longer to complete a degree, and that it is becoming increasingly harder to find a job. It used to be common for the wife to stay at home while the husband was going to work, but now most women are starting careers too. There are a few reasons for this, but the main one is money, of course. When both (future) parents work, the household income is higher. Now, as Christians, we shouldn't focus on money; but that doesn't mean it's wrong to earn a good wage! God likes to bless His children and I praise Him for the families than get more than enough and are able to spend money on things that they like. It's true that babies can be expensive. Therefore, financially, it might seem like a good idea to have children slightly later in life. Once one or both parents are working, it certainly lightens the burden of buying all the necessities - not to mention the expenses that come when the children get older. This is why I can understand why some people would want to be settled financially before thinking about getting pregnant. From this point of view, it certainly does seem like a wise decision!
Biologically, however, our bodies are meant to have children at a young age. I don't mean as a teenager, but it is a known fact that fertility reduces with time. I find it ironic that nowadays couples start wanting to build a family around age 30 when it is at this age that fertility starts to reduce considerably. Many studies suggest that the best time to conceive is around age 20-25, when the odds of getting pregnant are about 25% each month. In our mid 30s, the odds are already half as much, and keep decreasing as time goes on. It's important to note that it isn't just the time it takes to get pregnant that worsens, but also the number of miscarriages and stillbirths. Indeed, nature seems to indicate it is better to have children at a young age.
So... is there a right time to have children?
I don't think there is one good answer to this question. Every couple is different; what will work for one family will not necessarily work for another. I can only speak for myself and explain why Mat and I have chosen to start a family in our early 20s. Aside from the biological side of things, there was also a calling upon our lives. We knew since our teenage years that God would make us parents and we both had the same vision of a large family. Sure, things haven't always been easy financially. But God has provided for us and we've learnt to live on little money, so it isn't a worry in our lives. Plus, being parents doesn't have to be as expensive as people make it out to be. And although I do understand the idea of wanting to be financially secure before having babies, it doesn't seem like a strong enough reason for me. You could be going to uni, but once you graduate, will you take a job? Once you have a job, will you go for the promotion? Once you are promoted, will you want to buy a bigger house? A bigger car? Move again for a bigger garden? By the time we've ticked all the boxes, it might be too late to have children... Besides, in 50 years from now, I want to look back on my life and be happy with my choices. Will I regret not getting a job earlier? I don't think so. But I know I will remember the days when my children were young and growing and all the memories we will have built together. This, to me, is what matters. Not the material possessions that we can't keep in Heaven, but the children we will strive to spend eternity with.
(I really like this verse :)
"Children are a heritage from the Lord, offsping a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one's youth." - Psalm 127:2-4
Mat and I are hoping to add to our family in the future and we have a million reasons for wanting to pursue our parenting calling. However, I realise that it might not be the right thing to do for other couples. I think the best thing to do for people trying to decide when to start a family is ask God - you really can't go wrong when you're doing what He wants!
I love babies. They are little miracles and they bring so much joy. However, I enjoy the toddler phase more because I feel we can do stuff together. For example, I like crafts, and I love that I can share this with William now. When he was a baby, I struggled to find activitites that both of us would enjoy. We are very lucky here in England to have amazing children's centres, but I wanted to be able to play with my son when it was just the two of us. Well, it turns out there are plenty of activities that young babies will love. Here is a quick list of my favourites.
- Find a mirror.
Newborns love mirrors and this is so easy. No set up to do, just find a mirror (preferably one meant for babies like you can find on children's toys). William would spend ages staring at his own face. I used to attach the mirror to his playmat and watch him stare. One time, he actually laughed at himself! Great for tummy time too : just place the mirror on the floor, it will give baby something to look at and they might stay on their tummy for longer period of times. This was particularly helpful for us because William hated being on his tummy.
- Stretch baby.
Calmly stroke baby's arms and legs, then stretch them. Always be delicate, of course, and don't force it if they don't appreciate. It's best to do it when they're fed and happy. Ezra liked when I stretched his arms above his head, and brought them back together. You can also take baby's arm and touch the opposite leg.. This is supposed to help develop a certain area in their brain (I'm sure you can find more on it on the internet if you're interested).
It doesn't matter if you think you can't sing. Baby will enjoy listening to your voice and if you sing the same song over and over again, baby will start recognising it. They might even copy your actions so try and do easy hand gestures. William still asks me regularly to sing the "baby songs" he heard from birth :) He's even starting to sing to his brother!
- Blow bubbles.
Babies love looking at soap bubbles! (Or is it just my boys?) This is very practical too: they learn to follow things with their eyes and to concentrate. It also helps their eye/hand coordination, so it's a bonus!
- Read and play with books.
I have always been a book lover. In fact, I even prayed when I was pregnant that my baby would enjoy reading! There are many books aimed at very young babies: books with contrasting colours (babies can't see very well when they're born) and thick pages for example. Don't try and stop them from putting books in their mouth. Let them explore! They might not be able to listen to an entire story before they are older, so follow their lead and let them have fun chewing on the front cover!
I've had it happen many times. I started noticing it during my first pregnancy, but it's possible that it happened before. It's the kind of thing most people don't pick up. However, as Christians, I believe it's important to take note all the little things said about (and to) our children. This is because it can take hold of their true destiny. It sounds very dramatic, but I am convinced that it is true and this is why I pay attention to it. Here is what I do when people proclaim bad things about my children.
- During pregnancy
When I was pregnant, I heard many well intentioned people joke about the sleepless nights I was about to get. "Good luck!" they would say. I used to grin and take it in my stride, until I confided to Mat. "Don't you think we could just refuse the sleepless nights and proclaim our baby is going to sleep really well?" He agreed, and at that moment we prayed that our son would be a good sleeper. Everytime one of us heard someone mention sleepless nights, we would respond by saying "our son will be a good sleeper", and smile. I'm sure our friends and family must have been giggling inside at times, but we believed there was something about proclaiming it out loud that was crucial. If not for our baby, then for us (as it helped us believe it was actually going to be true.) Then, when we were on our own, we would renounce those lies. I remember Mat and I laughing about how we were going to sleep soooo well when our son would be born. Well, we did :) William only woke up once a night for the first three weeks, and slept through since then! (And for the record, I slept much better as a new mum than I did when I was 9 months pregnant)
- On children and baby clothes
Has anyone noticed how some baby outfits say things like "I love mummy and daddy"? Well, it's not always that nice. This one is really bugging me because I have two boys, and most boy's clothes display sentences such as "Here comes trouble" or "10% nice, 90% naughty" (I don't believe it's right either that girls should have to wear tiny version of (sexy) women's clothes, but that's another story) Ok, so this one is pretty simple. I just don't buy the tee shirts I don't like. If I get one of those as a gift, I politely say thank you but they don't get worn. It's a shame, because sometimes I really like the colours or the design, but I can't bring myself to make my sons wear something that proclaims negative things.
- The odd comment to me
Most of the time, it happens from mothers of older children who are having a hard time because their child is teething / hitting / biting / screaming etc. They will ask "is William doing that yet?" As if assuming that he will definitely go through the same stage. Because the person asking is already feeling a bit discouraged at this point, I don't normally pick it up. Or at least I don't say anything in front of them, - (other than "no") However, I silently bring it to God. Occasionnally, I answer "it won't happen" (and I wish I did it more). But this is usually if the person says something along the lines of "You'll see when William starts hitting..." because this is implying that he will hit. I'm not saying some children don't go through these stages, but I don't know that it's compulsory. I just think it's not helping them to assume that it is going to happen. We need to have positive expectations of our children!
- The odd comment to them
"Haha, you're a naughty boy, aren't you?" or "Come here, little devil". I know they don't mean to offend but this really bothers me. No, my son is NOT naughty, and he is definitely NOT a little devil. Yes, occasionnally, he does silly things, but it is mostly because he does not know he shouldn't be doing them. When he does know, I agree that his behaviour was naughty, but I make it a point to always say that it is not who he is. In this case, I always correct the person out loud. This is very important to me because my child is standing right there listening to the conversation and I want him to hear that I don't believe those lies. I will say "he's not a little devil, he's a really good little boy!" and add something like "look what he's done today!" I want my sons to know I am proud of who they are.
"Life and death are in the power of the tongue"
- Proverbs 18:21
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