I always wanted a large family.
When I was young, I dreamed of many brothers and sisters. After a couple of well-placed suggestions, I knew that my parents were not going to budge, so I wrote stories and read stories about large families. I was the oldest of eight children in one of them. One of my brothers collected crayfish, and took apart my bike. I also read Cheaper by the Dozen, Who Gets the Drumstick, and anything that would give me survival tips for children in large families.
Later on, I dreamed of having children myself. Maybe not eight or twelve, as I did when I was younger, but five, I thought at eighteen. Or four, I thought at Twenty five. Or three, I thought at thirty. I revised downward probably because as I got older I knew my window was closing. Also, I realized more and more that raising children is not just all fun and games. (I also wanted to "go live on the farm with grandma and grandpa", yet another reason my mother thought I was nuts.)
Maybe when I finally gave up and heard God calling me to be a pastor, there was a little bit of this sentiment in it: Perhaps here is my chance to have a large family! I was thirty-two, did not have a steady beau, and was beginning to wonder about a particular dream that I had always had: being a mother. At the same time, I was brought face to face with the fact that I had been avoiding God's call to me for a few years. I had gotten very good at making excuses about why God couldn't possibly mean me. (I'd tell you some of them, but that would be another post.)
I was right to be a little worried at thirty-two. I never did have children of my own, but when there is a baby at the font, and I get to look into her eyes, or hold his hand while I pour water over his head, when I get to hold him or her and show him to the congregation, I feel like I get a little taste of what it is to be a mother. I get to say, "Meet your new brother in Christ", and hear everyone ooh and aah. We have also begun to invite all the children up to the font to get a better look whenever there is a baptism. So if you can imagine the scene this past Sunday: little Chelsea Marie, looking so beautiful in her white dress, and surrounded by children from three years to twelve, all welcoming her into the family of God. A few people approached me after the worship service, but all they could manage to stammer out was, "All of the children!" I always wanted a large family.
Recently I read an article about Pastor Carol Stumme. I read with interest about how she, a second career pastor, thought about her ministry as a natural extension of her role as a mother. She had five children, all grown, when she was ordained. At least three of them were international adoptions. When she came to her new church, the synod thought she had come to close its doors. Instead, she helped create a new community, an international community. She welcomed Vietnamese children and their families. New life came to the church.
New life: nothing says it better than baptisms. And the gift of baptism is just that: a gift, totally unearned, given even to the least and the most vulnerable among us. That's another reason I love baptisms. They remind me that everything I do is really God's work, God's work in Jesus, opening his arms, welcoming us, loving us, forgiving us.
As it turns out, God wants large families too.