A Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.

But at the time, I didn’t realize it.

It was one of the times I walked into the grocery store with my brood.  There were boys in the cart, around the cart, under the cart, and every other preposition physically possible.  I scraped one child off the side as the automatic entrance doors stopped opening abruptly, as if they weren’t expecting to accommodate a load that wide.

We took our time (that’s how you do it with kids), heaped groceries in every cranny of the cart where there wasn’t a body, and eventually made it to the checkout without too much drama and only a few scratches from the fight over who got to hold the bacon.

The lady smiled with recognition as she looked up from the register.  She often worked the day we normally appeared.  Groceries bounced onto the conveyor belt as my minions exuberantly raced to heap produce on the moving counter.  A bunch of bananas arched over my head.  The three year old reached for the extra pennies he had recently discovered always live in a little bowl by the kiosk.  He smiled a joyful grin at the grandmotherly clerk. “Shiny!” He boasted.  He glanced at me subversively as he tucked the treasure down into his lap.  I frowned at him.  This petty-penny-theivery threatened to become a habit and I was cracking down.  I unclasped his hand myself to avoid a battle of wills if I asked him to do it himself.  We were so close to the exit.  I didn’t want to force a showdown when we were nearly done.

“Do you want help out?” The checkout lady asked as she handed me the long receipt.  I shook my head, returning my usual response, “It’s ok, I bring my help with me.”

The answer generally satisfies, but that day, the woman leaned over with a grandmotherly furrow in her brow.  “At least here, you can get help when you need it…” My eyes snapped up to search hers.  Was she implying that having so many kids was impossible to do alone? Or did she feel the urge to call the Department of Human Services to alert them that a woman was leaving the building with too many children to be considered safe?  Who in their right mind would have five young boys by choice, after all?  I decided to go with the least imprecatory option.  It was nice to be offered help with a big load of groceries.

“No thanks.” I said with certainty. “We’ve got this.”  And believe it or not, we managed.

Produce
Produce

But I mulled it over as I loaded the car, buckled in babies, and peeled bruised bananas to keep the backseat drivers occupied.  It is an extension of grace to be offered help, and I mean to respectfully treat it that way always.  But what I have is children.  Not a disease.  I don’t need chemo.  These are my blessings, and I mean to treat them that way always.  No matter how others think.

The LORD has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does…

Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and don’t live in dread of what frightens them.

Make the LORD of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life.  He is the one you should fear.  He is the one who should make you tremble.

(from Isaiah 8:11-13, NLT)

I shudder to think what my sons will face as they grow into men.  Devaluing of human life, government corruption, a super sized handout culture, sex, lies, and whatever has replaced rock and roll… It’s scary.  It will hurt them.  And sometimes I do go down that path to Pity City.  Sometimes I get overwhelmed.  I really must be crazy to think I can properly manage a big young brood.  The looks I get when I’ve got my ducklings waddling behind me, wheelchair in tow, baby on my hip, nerf gun bullets whizzing past my head…  Clearly I am recklessly bearing offspring with no control of my fertility or my husband, and am ruining my financial future and stomping all over the fragile environment with my huge carbon footprints.  Tragic.

But sometimes I take the other path, up the trail to Perspective.  The view is much better from there.  The idea that five children is a big family is newfangled.  The belief that it is a bad thing is unfounded, in fact, antithetical to all evidence from tradition and history.  It is only very recent culture that looks short-sighted down its nose at a growing family unit.  It is the vocal consternation from a few that makes the masses recoil at the sight of a car with so many car seats. The very first command God gave to the very first couple was “Be fruitful and multiply” (Genesis 1:28).  Though there are (good) reasons not to have a lot of kids, I haven’t had one personally yet that overrides this first basic command.  “It’s hard” just isn’t a good enough excuse.

People don’t stay at the crossroads between the two cities.  When they see me, they immediately have an opinion, and often share it.  No one is ambivalent, and somehow it still surprises me the force of conviction I encounter.  Call me crazy and stupid, or set me on a tippy pedestal.  Everyone wants to either slap me silly or pat me on the back.  I guess they did the same to Jesus.  It’s funny, really; I’m just walking the path I’ve been set upon.  And it is covered with legos.

“I and the children the LORD has given me serve as signs and warnings to Israel from the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.  (Isaiah 8:18)

For better or worse, I guess I’m going with Isaiah on this one.  I will just keep on walking, and watch our simple existence affect the people we meet.  Isaiah ended up dying a horrific death for walking the road he was set on.  But he did also write a big chunk of the Bible.  Unfortunately, he left out one key part of the story.  How did he manage his cartload in the grocery store?  I wish I knew…

3 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Cities

  1. I’m willing to bet she was being kind. My first 4 arrived in less than 4 years. I refused help for the same reasons you’ve offered here. But looking back I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I’d let people help me . . . would they have gotten a better look at my blessings? . . . would I have opened a door to a relationship? . . . would my children have seen good examples of Christlike service in action? Now my oldest 4 are 10-14–absolutely capable helpers–wonderful human beings and an extension of my own arms. But now I say yes when people offer to help (as long as it is even slightly useful) because instead of showing them that I can do it, I want to open my heart and my family so that others can do it, too.

Let me know what you think!