"[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..."
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.