Sisters Share in Joys and Challenges of Parenting

Trips to see our families this summer were made sweeter with announcements from Steve's brother and sister-in-law and Candice's sister and brother-in-law that new babies would be arriving next year. Every time this happens, and it's been happening a lot lately, we're reminded of the joys babies bring to extended families. Here to tell us what that looks like from the inside are three sisters: authors and GirlTalk bloggers Janelle, Kristin and Nicole. They discussed our questions along with their husbands (while their kids hunted groundhogs with flashlights nearby.)

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Did you always want to be moms?

Janelle – Yes! From an early age, our mom instilled in us the importance of giving our lives to being wives and mothers. But it was also just a natural desire that I think is innate in every woman. My girlfriends and I played “house” and “mommy” every day. No one had to tell us to do this; we just wanted to!

Kristin – We read in Scripture about the priority of being a wife and mother, but we also saw it lived out by our mom. This created a desire in our hearts to one day emulate her example. Mom also encouraged us to cultivate that desire by babysitting and caring for children; so we babysat a lot as teenagers. That was great preparation for motherhood.

Nicole – I’m so grateful that Mom helped us guard and preserve that godly desire from the worldly, unbiblical message that insisted other pursuits were more significant.

How did your husbands feel about babies early on in your marriages? Were there any hurdles (emotional or practical) you had to clear before starting your families?

Steve – I was always excited about having children: to participate in the transfer of the gospel to the next generation, to grow together as husband and wife, and I liked kids! When we decided to have a baby, it meant Nicole would stay home full-time and we would lose her salary. Given the housing prices in our area, that decision meant we might not ever be able to buy a place of our own. So we were prepared to rent for the rest of our lives, if necessary. The Lord blessed us and we now own a home, together with my parents. But either way, I don’t think we ever would have regretted our decision to go ahead and start a family.

Nicole – Our “hurdles” have come after each child was born. I had a very difficult delivery with Jack, which was followed by several surgeries and then we weren’t able to get pregnant with Tori for a couple of years after that. We were so grateful for the blessing of another child! Then, after Tori was born there were more unexpected physical complications. We are hoping that God will bless us with more children, but the challenges we have faced have given us a greater appreciation for the two wonderful kids God has given to us!

Janelle – we were married for two years before starting our family, so that Mike’s salary would allow me to stay home and have a child. We were having a blast, just the two of us. We could have easily given in to the temptation to just enjoy our fun and comfortable life. Watching my sisters have kids first, I knew something of the realities of motherhood: it requires hard work and sacrifice. Especially with all those crazy boys! But I think a biblical conviction about the importance of family and children created a desire in our hearts to have kids and not wait any longer.

Brian – I was eager to start a family right away. But we moved to Chicago right after we were married. Kristin was so overwhelmed by the changes she was experiencing: new location, new husband, new job, new friends, new everything. We decided we would wait six months before discussing having kids. And then at that time, Kristin got pregnant.

Kristin – After we had our first son, Andrew, we wanted to have more children right away. Nicole and I are fourteen months apart and Brian is only sixteen months younger than his brother. We both had wonderful experiences growing up with a sibling so close to our age and we wanted the same for our children. We had two miscarriages after Andrew but then God blessed us with Liam and Owen followed soon after. I’m so glad we had our boys so close together.

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What's the most annoying toy or children's show/video that parenthood has brought into your life?

Nicole – The Wiggles. Hands down it’s The Wiggles. “Fruit Salad, yummy yummy.” One Christmas Jack received a “Wiggly Guitar,” so even though my kids don’t watch The Wiggles anymore, that toy is still around and will sometimes turn on, seemingly all by itself, and start blasting that annoying music.

Brian – Yep, The Wiggles. “Wake up Jeff! Before the day is through.”

Kristin – “Wake up Jeff, everybody needs you!”

Steve – I think The Wiggles are great. Barney is the one that annoys me.

Janelle – Barney is far more annoying than The Wiggles. The Wiggles just do silly stuff that make kids laugh. Barney is so sappy: “I love you….”

Brian – I think you could say that the effeminate quality of Barney and the high cheese factor of the wiggles make them both very annoying.

What is it like having sisters all having babies in the same season? Is that a plus?

Janelle – Better than I could have imagined. We talk about parenting all the time and are spurred on by one another. The topic just flows in and out of all our conversations. And our kids are best friends. They will have lots of wonderful memories of growing up with each other.

Nicole – I remember babysitting Kristin and Brian’s son Andrew before we had kids and thinking, “wow, he is having so many bad attitudes.” I’ve since apologized to Kristin many times for my arrogance and self-righteousness toward her. You don’t realize how hard parenting is until you do it yourself. So having kids all at the same time keeps us all humble together.

Kristin – I think it has really served to strengthen our relationships as sisters, and with our mom. We have a bond because we are all going through this season together.

What have been your sources for inspiration and encouragement in family making?

Janelle – Dad and Mom have been our greatest inspiration for sure. They made us want to duplicate what they did with us. I’m always telling Mike about things I remember from growing up and how I can’t wait to make the same memories with our girls.

Steve – CJ and Carolyn have made family life so attractive. It’s really fun to be together. As CJ would put it, they’ve sought to establish a “culture of joy” in the family. So we laugh all the time. Being in the Mahaney home is a delightful place to be. They have created a family dynamic so enjoyable to be with that it inspires us to do the same.

Brian – Couples may not necessarily have godly parents to look up to. That’s where godly couples in the local church are God’s provision for wisdom, inspiration, counsel, encouragement and correction in parenting.

Kristin – When we were in Chicago, and didn’t have anybody. Our parents weren’t close by. Although I’d done a lot of babysitting, Brian hadn’t been around a lot of kids. So we looked around our church and picked a family to serve. We chose a couple with four young children. We would go and babysit for them. In doing that we became part of their family. We learned so much from them. We would observe and talk about things we wanted to do with our own kids. It was a great opportunity to learn, to spark conversations as a couple about how we want to shape our future family. It also allowed us to serve this couple and gain some wonderful friends.

Nicole – In addition to our parents and other couples, I think that biblical resources have been an invaluable help in our parenting. We’ve passed books or message recommendations back and forth between us. We talk about them as married couples. There are so many, but Tedd Tripp’s Shepherding a Child’s Heart, Elisabeth Elliot’s Shaping of A Christian Family, JC Ryle’s Duties of Parents, and Ginger Plowman’s Don’t Make Me Count to Three are just a few of our favorites.

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How has God revealed himself to you through your children?

Brian – I’ve seen God’s creativity and variety in the kids He gives you. Each one is unique. Each has his own gifts, his own strengths, his own weaknesses. Each child reflects God’s varied grace in creation.

Kristin – I think also the patience and forbearance that God shows us as our Father is the same patience and forbearance we have to show our children.

Mike – I think I’ve gotten a new perspective on receiving the discipline of the Lord as His love for me and not just as a consequence for my sin.

Nicole – Parenting helps you realize your utter inadequacy. I can’t change my children. I can’t save their souls. I need God’s grace to work in their lives. It doesn’t negate my responsibility as a parent. But God’s grace is the only thing that makes any of my efforts effective.

What surprised you most about becoming parents?

Nicole – Even though Mom told us that motherhood was exhausting and delightful, even though she taught us all the practical things we needed to know, even thought we had lots of experiencing babysitting – I don’t think anyone can fully prepare you.

Kristin – The amount of self-denial and selflessness that I experienced with having three kids, three and under, was more than I expected.

Mike – How selfish I still was. Also the joy that a child brings you. She turns to you and says "I love you daddy" and gives you a huge kiss and hug — this couldn’t be any better.

Steve – The “daddy’s home” moment. I’ve been surprised at how much delight I’ve found in my children. Not realizing that the capacity for that much love for them was there prior to having them.

How has having children affected your marriages?

Brian – It’s so easy to let the issues of discipline and training take up the entirety of conversation. We’ve needed to learn to protect our cultivation of romance, intimacy, conversation, etc.

Kristin – We’ve found that with secondary issues in particular – approach to schooling, media, methods of discipleship, etc. – it’s challenged us to communicate, pursue fellowship and wisdom from others, and pursue unity in our convictions and approach to parenting.

Nicole –It’s such a wonderful thing to parent together with your best friend. Going through the challenges of secondary infertility and physical trials, as well as sharing the moments of indescribable joy of giving birth and then enjoying our children day by day, this has strengthened our marriage relationship in so many ways. I love that I get to do this parenting thing with Steve.

Steve – parenting has brought us joy and delight in one another that we maybe didn’t recognize or have before.

Mike – I felt like we went from every day being a “date day” to days filled with the constant responsibility of children. This has required us to work to make time together the priority that it needs to be. Children have also added another dimension of joy to our marriage.

How has it affected your relationships with your own parents?

Janelle – There is an aspect of joy, to be able share in the joy of them of them becoming grandparents.

Kristin – You realize the vast wisdom your parents have because there are so many questions you realize you never knew you had. Like how do you get a child to sleep through the night? What do you do when they throw a fit in the middle of the grocery store? You don’t realize the wisdom, the experience, the knowledge that it takes to parent until you are a parent.

Steve – It has made me much more grateful as I’ve realized their patience and generosity and kindness toward me all these years.

When do you make time to blog? (seeing as it's a family affair, do your kids read it?)

Nicole – We write posts early in the morning or over naps, mostly. Blogging is nice because it fits into our schedule and we can put our families first. But there are certainly days that are tough. Some times we settle for putting up a simple link or a post that needs a little more editing. That’s fine with us, though, because we don’t want to compromise the importance of our role as wives and mothers, so we just do what we can on the blog and pray it serves.

Kristin – My boys like to pull up the Friday Funnies – they especially like the ones with videos. But their all-time favorite post wasn’t a funny. It was the video of the young man with no arms and legs. They watched that over and over, maybe 50 times. I think they were very affected by his heart for God.

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Nicole Whitacre is the wife of Steve Whitacre who serves as the youth pastor at Sovereign Grace Church in Fairfax, VA. Their two curly-headed cuties are Jack (six) and Tori (two). Nicole is the co-author of Girl Talk: Mother-Daughter Conversations on Biblical Womanhood with her mom, Carolyn Mahaney, and Shopping for Time with her mom and sisters. She also co-writes for the girltalk blog.

Kristin Chesemore is married to Brian Chesemore who serves as one of the Married Life pastors at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg MD. They have three boys: Andrew (nine), Liam (six) and Owen (five). She is co-writer of the girltalk blog and the book Shopping For Time with the other girltalkers.

Janelle Bradshaw is the wife of Mike Bradshaw who is the pastor of Children’s Ministry at Covenant Life Church. They have been blessed with two daughters: Caly (three) and MJ (one). Janelle is the girltalk blog photographer and co-author. She also co-wrote Shopping for Time with her mom and sisters.

Without God, We're Done For

It's one thing for us to talk about cutting excess from our schedules so we have more time with our kids. Trade out TV for reading time. Spend less time online in exchange for time at the park. You know, the usual time wasters. But when Newsboy-rock-and-roller Phil Joel, and his TV-personality-wife Heather, say it, it takes on a whole new level of seriousness. Phil and Heather have given up what most of us would only dream of having. Why? So they can spend more time at home with their kids. Recently we caught up with them to ask what you're probably thinking: Are you kidding me?

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Did you always want kids? What kinds of thoughts did you have about children and family when you first got married?

We always knew we wanted to have kids one day!

What prompted you to start your family?

Heather: By the time we got pregnant, we’d been married five years. We’d had an amazing ride up to that point with it just being the two of us, but we both began to get that feeling that someone was missing. We prayed about it and felt a real excitement and peace.

What emotional or practical hurdles did you have to overcome in order to start your family?

Phil: It took us a little while to settle down and get certain things out of our systems—well, mainly Heather’s system. She was hosting a TV show for Country Music Television (CMT) up until the time she got pregnant and she really loved her job. She had to travel quite a bit and knew she didn’t want to keep up that kind of pace once we had children. We knew we wanted to be fully focused on parenting when we started into that season of our lives, so it was a bit of a mental transition out of the mindset of television and road tripping to the great and awesome job of being a momma.

How are you building such a vibrant and strong family; where do you go for advice and encouragement?

Heather: Our main strategy for our family is keeping it simple. We try not to allow our lives to get cluttered up with bunches of activities and stuff. Family dinners around the table, lots of reading, bike rides, talking and taking lots of time to “stop and smell the roses” are what we fill up our time with. We once heard the challenge “are you going to be a media-centered family or a relationship-centered family”? That question really impacted our thinking—we now use that as the measuring stick for the things we do.

We are big on finding great ideas and resources—anything we can get our hands on that we can enjoy together. We’re always on the look out for new things—we’re resource junkies!

Phil: Our best resource ever ... Heather has been blessed with the greatest mom on earth! She is the best sounding board, advice giver, encourager, truth speaker and is always there with a listening ear. We are so blessed to have her!

How has God revealed himself to you through your children?

The parent/child relationship is such a fascinating parallel to a person’s relationship with God the Father. God has given us that dynamic as an awesome picture of how He loves us completely and unconditionally while at the same time shaping, teaching, training, and growing us into the people He created us to be. We will always be children under His care no matter how old we are!

What surprised you most about becoming parents?

Heather: Over and over people would always say, ”make sure you get your sleep before the new baby comes” ... we’d think, “okay, okay ... we know.” Well apparently we were totally unable to prepare for our newfound lack of sleep. We had no idea how close to “insane zombie” you feel in the first few weeks with a newborn. It’s like your mind gets frozen and you walk around in a fog.

What's the most annoying toy or children's show/video that parenthood has brought into your life?

Heather: When any one theme can be found on pencils, vitamins, hair clips, toothbrushes, socks, underwear, gum, light switches, drinking cups, backpacks, tennis shoes, juice boxes, etc., it feels like somebody is set on extracting every last dollar from people’s wallets. Over-branding is a big turn off!

How has having children affected your marriage?

Phil: It’s made Heather and me really come together in a new way as a team. We are always talking through things relating to the kids as individuals as well as the way we are doing “family” as a whole.

How has it affected your career(s)?

Phil: Well, it’s led to quite a significant change for us. Two-and-a-half years ago, Heather and I decided that it was time for me to finish up my time with Newsboys (the band I’d been in for 12&1/2 years). We were on the road quite a bit and we realized that this kind of pace wouldn’t be healthy for us as a family long term. At the same time the Lord had really been putting this deliberatePeople ministry/message/music on my heart.

Heather and I knew that in life, seasons change and having a family really re-sets the playing field. We knew that if we wanted our family to thrive, we needed to make some significant changes regarding my job. I still get to do music and play shows, but my schedule is much more open. I get tons of time at home with Heather and the kids and I get to really focus on the things that God is putting on our hearts to share.

Phil, when do you find time to write music and record as a dad?

I am really blessed to be able to work out of my home studio in the back yard—it’s an old carriage house that we converted into a studio. I keep regular work hours writing and recording. I have an “open door” policy with friends and family—the kids (and friends) are always popping in for visits. It’s a huge blessing!

A friend of ours describes the family as a "domestic church." What's life like in your "domestic church"?

Phil: We know that the key element in our family is my walk with the Lord and Heather’s walk with Him. If we are to be the godly leaders in our home and shepherds of our children’s hearts, we have got to be seeking Him, knowing Him, and looking toward Him as our provider. If we try and take on the huge task of raising our family in this culture on our own, we are done for. As we are pursuing the Lord each day and relying on His strength, vision and strategies, we can be confident that He will lead us and show us the things we need to know in order to lead and grow up our family.

It starts with us and the Lord individually, and from there it directly impacts our marriage and then the way we raise our children.

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Before launching deliberatePeople. in 2005, Phil Joel was bassist and support vocalist for the Newsboys. He and his wife Heather, former host of CMT's All Access and Hit Trip, have two children, Phynley (8) and Eden (5).

The Joels realized how having a deliberate encounter with God everyday was the key to greater intimacy with Him and how this lifestyle would revolutionize peoples’ lives.

Learn more about their ministry and music at deliberatePeople.com

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(Note: You can hear Phil and Heather tell more of their story on the Boundless Show.)

Path to Family Turns into Path to Faith

"[I]t is the desire to give not only life but a good way of life to our children that opens us toward a serious concern for the true, the good, and even the holy," write Leon and Amy Kass in the introduction to their book Wing to Wing, Oar to Oar. "Parental love of children leads once wayward sheep back into the fold of church and synagogue. In the best case, it can even be the beginning of the sanctification of life..." Fulwiler_headshot3

That was kind of the case for Jennifer Fulwiler and her husband. Over a five-year period, they got married, started a family and grew into people of strong faith. But Jennifer wasn't just a wayward sheep returning to church. Her path to family also prompted a path from atheism to a profound belief in God.

Her powerful story is next in our interview series.

What kinds of thoughts did you have about children and family a decade ago?

A decade ago, I was certain that I did not want to have children. I had an exciting career and thought that getting promotions and going on exotic vacations was the meaning of life.

What prompted you to start your family?

As I reached my late 20's, my biological clock started ticking and I started to think that I would regret it if I chose not to have any kids. Even before our religious conversion, my husband and I had decided before we got married that we did want to have one or two kids, especially since we're both only children. When we got married, we thought we'd have plenty of time to plan it all out -- I had been diagnosed with a condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and told that I'd need a lot of medical intervention in order to have children. Three months into our marriage, we found out we were pregnant.

How has God revealed himself to you through your children?

It was only after I had children that I realized what agape -- self-sacrificing love -- is all about. I found that, ironically, the deep, lasting happiness I'd been seeking when I was an atheist obsessed with career and travel can only be found in God himself. And you can only really know God when you're living a life of agape.

What surprised you most about becoming a mom?

How much I love each of my children, and how much fun it can be. Before I had kids everyone had told me doom-and-gloom stories about how hard having children is, so I wasn't prepared for all the good parts.

What's the most annoying toy or children's show/video that parenthood has brought into your life?

I can't stand battery-operated toys! It seems like every time we clean up and put toys back in the toy box it takes 30 minutes for all the random noises to stop.

How has having children affected your marriage?

It's completely transformed it. It was through our children and our religious conversion that we realized that marriage is not about each spouse seeking his or her own amusement -- it's about serving God by serving others.

What have you learned through the highs and lows of starting a family?

There's an old saying that "every baby comes with a loaf of bread under his arm." When I first heard that I was recovering from a serious complication in my second pregnancy, crushed with more than ten thousand dollars of medical debt that resulted from that medical issue, trying to keep up with a two-year-old and a five-month-old, didn't have a car that would hold more than two car seats, still didn't have health insurance that covered pregnancy...and I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant. I rolled my eyes at the idea that things would somehow work out with this new pregnancy; I felt sure that a new baby would push us past some kind of mental or financial limit. And yet, it turned into an amazing opportunity to see just how much God does bless the arrival of new life. It took my faith to a whole new level to watch how God held us in the palm of his hands through all the challenges we faced. It was through that situation that I went from having a sort of lukewarm, mostly intellectual faith to having a deep relationship with Christ.

When do you find time to read/blog/write as a parent?

Usually during the kids' daily nap/quiet time. My mother and mother-in-law are also very involved in our lives, so I often get breaks when the kids are with them.

A Catholic friend of ours describes the home as a "domestic church." What's life like in your "domestic church"?

Well, with four kids under age five, it's noisy. :) To be honest, things have been so chaotic these past few years that we have not implemented a lot of the ideas that we'd like to do to make our home feel more like a domestic church such as daily Bible readings or nightly family rosaries. But we do say daily prayers, and my husband and I try to make it clear through our actions and our words that God comes first in our house.

What advice would you give a couple considering starting a family?

Be not afraid.

In our culture there's this idea that you have to have everything perfect before you can have a baby. I think there's a lot of fear of the unknown when it comes to having children, as well as a worry that something might go wrong, and people feel like they can avoid having any difficulties if they just plan enough. At some point, you have to set aside the spreadsheets and the "what if"'s and accept that some things will go wrong and you will face unexpected challenges, and that that's OK, because God will be right there with you. While prudent consideration is certainly warranted, I would recommend that people err on the side of openness to life. Any stresses that a new child brings into your life will be infinitely outweighed with love.

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Jennifer chronicles the story of her growing faith and growing family at Conversion Diary (you can also follow her at Twitter). She's in the process of writing a book about her story.

Surrendering to God's Design

If you've ever had the chance to meet your favorite author in person, you likely know the sinking feeling of dashed expectations. It's just so easy to build an image of someone from their words that's totally different from who they really are. Not so with Gary Thomas. He's the real deal. We met him in real life five years ago when we were expecting baby three. Not only were we not disappointed, we were blown away. He is just as humble, just as wise, just as kind, as you'd expect the author of Sacred Marriage and Sacred Parenting to be. Meeting his wife Lisa last year completed the picture. Together, they are a model of what it looks like to have kids and do it well, for God's glory. It's our privilege to run this conversation with them about what it was like for them when they started their family nearly two decades ago. It's our prayer that their modeling—both here, and in Gary's books—will be an ongoing source of inspiration, encouragement and equipping as you start yours.

What emotional or practical hurdles did you have to overcome in order to start your family?

Well, for us we had to adjust to the knowledge that we had in fact actually started a family! Even though it was a surprise, we both had known that we wanted kids and we were thrilled.

A major hurdle was the fact that Gary was in the middle of seminary and Lisa was going to have to quit her full time receptionist job. Gary immediately signed up for an intensive Greek summer course so he wouldn’t have to take all of it the following year. This allowed him to finish the bulk of his course work right before the baby arrived. He added a full time job to his schedule and slipped back to being a part-time student, while Lisa worked up until two weeks before Allison was born. On paper it looked like a financially crazy time to have a baby, but it all worked out.

How did you build such a vibrant and strong family; where did you go for advice and encouragement?

We were so young and inexperienced when we started that we would have to say that it is only by the grace of God that our family is what it is today. Both of us have parents that have now been married for over 50 years, so the idea that marriage is permanent was definitely a part of our upbringing, and a heritage and stability that we are enormously thankful for. However, there were areas of family life that we wanted to do differently than our families of origin.

A lot of our inspiration and how to advice came from watching families that seemed to be doing things right, and from reading books and a Christian family magazine available at our church, and listening to family radio programs like Focus on the Family. I (Lisa) also took baby and toddler classes offered in our community that were really helpful. Most of the time during those early years we were in survival mode and we were maybe not as purposeful in our parenting as I wish we had been.

Lisa, did you have any unusual cravings during pregnancy?

I craved anything citrusy. I ate copious amounts of grapefruit and oranges through all three pregnancies, and with the final one I added chocolate to that list.

What surprised you most about becoming parents?

Gary: From the moment I first laid eyes on our baby girl, I experienced emotions I never knew existed.  Life changed for me from that moment. I was ready to sacrifice on her behalf to feed her, fight, if necessary, to protect her (up until then I was, theologically, a pacifist), and eager to raise her up to follow God.  I was instantly changed, and see my life in two epochs: before becoming a parent, and after.

Lisa: I was the youngest of five and never much into babysitting so I did not have a great deal of experience with kids and almost none with babies. So I guess I was surprised by how much of it came to me instinctively and how much I enjoyed just spending a day with my baby. I was also surprised by how much time one little infant could take up. Finally, since our oldest spent a good deal of her first year crying I was surprised by how easily frustrated and upset I could become.

What do you miss most now that you’re nearly empty nesters?

Gary: Everything. I just like little kids—their clothes, the funny way they say things, the cuddling, the wrestling, the playing, spending time together, watching the world of wonder in their eyes… Not to mention, as a writer, I REALLY miss all the funny anecdotes I used to open books and talks.

Having said that, I very much enjoy now having an adult relationship with my kids, and seeing them develop into mature men and women, so I wouldn’t want them to stay young forever. I just want them to get married and provide grandkids.

Lisa: The transition has been gradual so that has helped. We homeschooled each of them through 7th or 8th grade and then they attended high school. The oldest went to a university just an hour from home and came home frequently the first year. This year has been the biggest change with Allison coming home less frequently and our son being an airplane ride away. I miss knowing all of the details of their day. I miss just hanging around chatting. I miss cooking for more people. From their younger years I miss having them all curled up by me while I read to them, watching them act out wildly creative play scenarios, and being able to take them on all kinds of enriching excursions without having to consult their schedules!

How has having children, and having them grow older, affected your marriage?

Lisa: We are so different from each other in so many ways, so having kids allowed us to have shared goals and activities and interests. We’ve been able to appreciate each other's strengths and styles in parenting. Watching Gary parent makes me thankful that he’s the father of my kids! As we hit this new stage of marriage we’re looking forward to having me travel more often with Gary and finding more things to enjoy together.

Gary: I feel like in some ways I’m getting my wife back. As a mom, she was necessarily involved in so many lives that she simply didn’t have as much time or energy to devote to me. She was thoughtful about this, so I didn’t notice it as much as the kids were growing up, but now that her schedule has been freed up a bit, I’m noticing more attention and even care.  And I have to say, it’s been nice.

How has having children affected your relationship with God?

Gary: It would take a book for me to answer that question. Oh, wait; I already wrote one: read Sacred Parenting!

Lisa: First of all, being a parent has caused me to have complete and utter dependence on God. I don’t think I could do this without knowing that there is one who loves them even more than I do and is helping them to grow up into who He wants them to be. Without that dependence on God and being able to pray, I would live with a lot more fear and worry and would probably try to b e more controlling. I would also have a lot of guilt for my parenting failures. Second, seeing how much we love and delight in our kids opens me up to the possibility that God really does love and delight in me.

Gary, when did you have time to write when the kids were young?

When they were sleeping. Up through Sacred Marriage, 90 percent of my book writing was done while everyone else was asleep. I’m a big morning person, so that helped. Sometimes, I’d get up in the middle of the night. Since I had a full-time job early on, I didn’t want to miss out on family time in the evening, so my books were written early in the morning on weekdays, weekends, and vacations. Once I became a full-time writer, that was able to change, as I could write during the day and still see them.

What advice would you give a couple considering starting a family?

Lisa: Well, the Bible says “Blessed is the man who fills his quiver” with children so that’s a good mindset to start from. Having kids IS a huge blessing. There are so many more resources out there now to help parents with their parenting, so I think that should alleviate some of their fears about being a good parent. Having kids will confront your selfishness big time, but consider that a good thing.

There is usually not a perfect time to start a family (when all of your travel urges have been satisfied and the finances are in good order, etc.) so don’t wait for that. On the practical side, consider babysitting together for friends or siblings’ kids and see what kinds of child raising issues this brings up. Talk about what family life looked like growing up. Read books. Work out how to live on dad’s income.  Just go for it!

Gary: I agree with everything Lisa just said. At a recent conference, a young man said he was afraid he and his wife were too impatient and selfish to have kids. I said that sounded like a good reason to start a family—unless he wanted to die selfish and impatient. We grow as we take on new challenges. God has ordained that most of us get married and raise kids. Biological reasons or disabilities may prevent some from part of that, but for those of us who can, I believe becoming a parent is surrendering to God’s design for our lives.  And being surrendered to him is the only place I want to be. ----------------------- Gary Thomas is an award winning author whose books on marriage, parenting, and the Christian life have become worldwide bestsellers.  Sacred Marriage: What If God Designed Marriage to Make Us Holy More Than to Make Us Happy? has now sold over 300,000 copies and is changing the way the church thinks about marriage. In addition to his ten books, he has spoken in 48 states and six countries, had over 150 articles published by numerous national magazines. He and Lisa have three children.

 

(Incidentally, Gary and Lisa's part 13 of The Interviews circles us back around to our first interview of the series: MckMama. Apparently we're not the only uberfans out there. She's blogged about Sacred Marriage more than once, and about meeting Gary and Lisa during her infant son Stellan's recent hospital stay in Boston.) You can read her family-making wisdom here.

Family Making, BooMama Style

Boo mama

Steve always knows when I'm reading BooMama's blog because I laugh out loud, right before I say, "you have to read this!" Now you can laugh along with her and grab your husband (or wife) and say, "honey, you've got to read this interview!" She is hysterical, and wise, and well, let's get on with it. It's part 12 of the series, if you're counting.You say in your bio, "I've been married to my best friend for eleven years, and our little boy is five. I’d love to have another child, but, well, I’m old. We’ll just have to see what happens." What were those first six years pre-kid like?

Um—I guess the expected answer would be that those years were wonderful and easy and we traveled and we were footloose and fancy-free and we loved every second. And that was true to a certain degree. But those years were also really hard—especially the first three. We both had a whole lot of growing up to do and some Life Junk we needed to address, but we didn't really realize that until after we were married.

Why the wait? Did you face any emotional or practical hurdles to starting your family?

No practical hurdles. Probably a few emotional ones. For whatever reason, I had never been a girl who just couldn't wait to have kids. And because I married later than most of my friends (I was 27), I just wanted to SOAK UP the experience of being a wife. After we were married, I kept thinking that we'd both know when it was "the right time" to start a family. Right after our fifth anniversary was when we said Okay—let's give this baby thing a shot. That was the first time in our married life when we were both ready for a little one. And I got pregnant right away.

Did you have any unusual cravings during pregnancy? Did they stick around?

Tomatoes, guacamole and yogurt. And that guacamole craving is still alive and kickin', my friends.

What surprised you most about becoming a mom?

I had no idea that I could love anyone like I loved our child the very first time I saw him. Like I STILL love him. I also had no idea that I could live and function on so little sleep. But I think the biggest surprise for me was the daily epiphanies—and I'm still having them—in terms of how God reveals His character to me as I parent. I'll never, ever forget trying to teach Alex how to hold my hand when we took walks when he was around 18 months old. I just wanted to guide him and protect him, and he fought me with everything he had. God taught me a lesson or four hundred about surrender in the process.

What’s the most annoying thing that parenthood has brought into your life?

"Caillou." Hands-down. I can hear the first three notes to the theme song before I lunge for the remote. And if I can't get to the remote in time and have to hear Caillou's voice, I start to twitch. Believe me: if I could jump into the TV screen, I would put Caillou in time out FOREVER. :-)

How has having a child changed your marriage?

Seeing my husband as a father has given me a whole new level of respect for him. He's so steady and even and patient. We are typically on the same page in terms of discipline and what we want to instill in our little guy, so in that sense parenting together has really strengthened our bond. We would both tell you that Alex is the best thing that ever happened to us—for a whole host of reasons.

How has having a child changed your relationship with God?

I have been blown away by how becoming a parent has deepened my relationship with God. When I was pregnant with Alex, a friend of mine told me that motherhood would give me a completely different perspective on God's love. And he was so right. As much as I love my little boy, that's just a teeny tiny little fraction of how much the Creator of the universe loves us. I feel like motherhood has given me a fresh appreciation for God's grace and—oh, have mercy—His PATIENCE with His children.

What's your high/low of starting a family?

I feel like there's a high point every single day. Children see the world without judgment or cynicism, so Alex's enthusiasm for life in general blesses my soul in ways I can't even describe. I can't really think of a low point. I mean, I struggle with daily frustrations like anybody else (every once in awhile MAMA NEEDS SOME TIME), and sometimes when I think back on parenting a three year-old I shudder just a little bit, but TRULY motherhood has been the great joy of my life.

Does Boo (Alex) drink your diet coke?

NO MA'AM. :-) Only the real stuff for him. And not too much of it. He has enough energy without the added stimulus of caffeine.

What kid-proofing changes, if any, did you make to your home or life?

Honestly, besides putting a gate on the stairs and putting those little plastic things in the electrical sockets, not many. I never put away my breakables or anything like that. If you could see my mama's house (or, as we like to call it: The Showroom), you would know that the children in our family have to figure out how to live in the middle of lots of dishes and crystal and assorted fragile treasures. So I figured if our little guy could learn how to live among all of my pretties, he'd be up for the task of staying at my parents' house, too.

When do you blog? Does your family read it?

Mostly after 8 at night, though sometimes I'll get a chunk of time in the afternoon when I can take care of blogging stuff. Sometimes I'll even write a little bit when I'm sitting in carpool line. And yes, my family reads it. Alex is just now starting to understand that "Mama writes on the computer." My parents are really good sports about it, but the whole thing absolutely confounds my mama. She tells people that I have "a blog on Google."

What advice would you give a couple considering starting their family?

There's no such thing as talking too much about how you're going to handle parenting in your house. If you're planning to be a mom and you think you might want to stay home with your child, then do a trial run on one income for several months to make sure that you know what you're getting into. I think the financial stress of losing one income can be super-tough on a lot of couples.

Also—and my husband and I tell people this all the time—it is so important to be on the same page spiritually. Every discipline issue you face with your child is a heart issue, and how you handle those heart issues is HUGE. We're both big believers that if you just address behavior, you're only dealing with a symptom of the real problem—which is every heart's need for the transforming love of Jesus. I think all the time that if David and I weren't on the same page with that, parenting could feel really tense and lonely. I'm so grateful that God gave us the gift of working through our junk (and we had plenty) before the little guy came along. We are much healthier parents as a result.

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BooMama is a wife, mama, daughter, sister and friend. She adores her family, and loves to laugh. She also loves TiVo, Mississippi State sports, diet Coke over ice, pedicures, and entire seasons of television shows on DVD. And Jesus. She loves Him most of all.

She started BooMama blog in November of 2005 because she wanted to do a better job of documenting Alex's life (and because scrapbooking's out due to the unfortunate and chronic twitching that would be the result of having to use some form of specialty scissors).

Becoming Parents of a Special Needs Child

We discovered a valuable book last month while we were in Little Rock recording broadcasts with FamilyLife. After hearing us record a show about starting a family, Dan Donovan of FamilyLife Publishing encouraged us to consider how we could help couples who might start their families only to discover that their child has special needs. He told us about Joe and Cindi Ferrini, a couple who have been working with Weekend to Remember marriage conferences, and recently released a new book called Unexpected Journey: When Special Needs Change Our Course. We appreciate the candor and encouragement the Ferrinis bring to a challenge that can push many couples to the breaking point. They are the next interview in our series.

Ferrinifamily

What emotional or practical hurdles (if any) did you have to overcome in order start your family?

While some families wait a long time to decide to start their families, or to be able to get pregnant, that was not what happened in our case. Of our three pregnancies, the first two were “first tries”. It wasn’t until we were trying for a third child that the “wait” began. It was five years of unexplained waiting.

How did you handle the news that you were going to have a child with special needs?

Our son was born after a very long and difficult labor. He looked perfect but had a large and misshaped head, which we attributed to the difficult labor; however, the shape and size never went back to what one might consider “normal.” We began to think Joey’s large head was what kept him from being able to hold his head up on his own. But that simple milestone took a very long time, and we were also noticing how far behind he was in all early developmental milestones.

Each of us had different defining moments when we said, “Something isn’t right with Joey’s development.” For Joe, it was noticing “that look” in a person’s eyes that he often saw in dental patients who had special needs – but now he was seeing it in Joey’s eyes. For Cindi, it was seeing the children of friends who were much younger than Joey - far surpassing him in sitting up, crawling, etc.

We both handled the news with denial at first. But as time went on, and he wasn’t improving, we struggled with anger and grief. It was such a feeling of hopelessness for both of us.

How has having a child with special needs affected your marriage?

Joey’s special needs initially affected our marriage by us clinging to God and each other. As time went on, we had to learn ways to “divide and conquer” different things going on in our life because it was often hard to take Joey places (any kind of loud noise or fast moving people would be too much stimulus for him and he would scream and cry - including going to church or visiting others in their homes – as a one-year-old he could barely sit up in a grocery cart, so it wasn’t safe nor easy to take him). One of us often had to stay home or have grandparents care for him. And for many years it just got harder and harder as the difference between what he should be able to do got farther from what he was able to do.

Taking a six-year-old to church who wants to roll around on the floor was tough for us as parents, but it was tough for those around us, too. He couldn’t handle being in a kindergarten Sunday school classroom because he wasn’t able to do what they did, and he was too big to ask to put him with the 3 year olds where he might have been able to do some of what they did. So, for years, one of us would go to church for first service while the other stayed home; then we’d switch for second service.

It was a strain. Everything we did (and continue to do) took so much extra planning that sometimes it wasn't worth the effort. While we have maintained a strong marriage for almost 30 years, it’s because we desired to give each other freedom to do ministry (separately and together), to have outside interests, etc. We've been very intentional and purposeful so neither of us would feel “alone” in the journey. We’ve had many challenges, struggles, and difficulties, but they have always given way to joys and victories. We've just had to “wait” for them!

How has it affected your relationship with God?

Thankfully, because we purposed to maintain a close relationship with our Lord and Savior, that has been a continued wonderful relationship; however, it hasn't been easy. There are times we’ve questioned why He allowed for us to have a son with so many challenges. There have also been times when the frustration levels of caring for our son far exceeded the victories - and we've felt at the end of our rope; but God has never failed us. He takes our questions and answers them (in His time) and He’s always been there for us – to guide us and love us through the tough times.

What have you learned through the highs and lows of your “unexpected journey”?

Well…that’s why we wrote the book Unexpected Journey – to share those highs and low with others and to let them know it’s normal – perhaps a new normal, but what is normal for them. It has been QUITE a journey and on any journey or adventure, one has to expect highs and lows, good times and bad, times of frustration and joy. The simplest summary would be that we've watched our two beautiful daughters learn to help care for their older brother with love and sincerity. They've also shown themselves to be loving and caring young adults to other people and they're not afraid to stand up for people who are challenged. Most importantly, their love for the Lord is evidenced in their lives by how they treat others and how they live their lives. All of us have learned the value of life, what it means to sacrifice our own time as well as our desire to “get our own way” due to caring for another--we've come to recognize it as a privilege the Lord has given us.

We did not start the journey considering it a privilege. The hard work, years of sleepless nights, and years of therapies, etc. were so exhausting, we did not always find joy in that journey. If the Lord would have asked us 20 years ago, “Would you like Me to heal Joey?” we would have said, “YESSSSSSS!” But today, we've learned so much about unconditional love and serving that we probably wouldn't answer in the same way if asked!

What advice would you give a couple considering starting a family, especially those who worry that parenting might bring additional challenges?

The Lord WILL provide. All parenting is challenging. All parenting has its ups and downs - frustrations and joys. Jump in! Enjoy the "unexpected journey"  He gives you!

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Joe and Cindi were married in 1979, have raised three children, and speak nationally for Familylife Weekend to Remember Marriage Conferences. Joe is a semi-retired dentist - in practice for over 30 years; Cindi founded Creative Management Fundamentals - seminars on life and time management. They serve together as associate staff with Campus Crusade for Christ They have lived their "unexpected journey" in the Cleveland, OH area." You can find out more about them, their ministry, and their book at www.joeferrini.com and www.cindiferrini.com.