Category Archives: Odds and ends

You never know what a day may bring

I was 10 when it happened.

It was a warm September day in San Diego. Dad said, “Let’s go to the Cove!” Dad, mom and six kids piled into the van, and down to La Jolla Cove we went. We stood on the rock cliffs enjoying the pleasant breeze and watching the jumbo surf, the result of a storm off the coast of Baja. The water came almost to where we were standing. We kids wanted to take our shoes off, but dad said no, we aren’t going swimming. Bummed, we tried to at least move far enough down the rocks to feel the salt spray on our faces. Bliss.

The waves roared in and pounded the rocks. It was crowded that day. Lots of other folks trying to catch a break from the heat. My older brother and I inched our way out in front of the rest of the family. We hadn’t gone too far when dad called us back. Bummed again, I turned to walk back asking “Why?” I was too late. The breaking wave knocked me off my feet and began pulling me out into the ocean. I frantically grasped at the rocks of the cliffs, desperately seeking a hand hold. They were slick and only cut at my fingers as I thrashed. I remember my family receding from view as the water pulled me out and overcame me. I was not a strong swimmer, and I still had shoes on. I was pushed down deep in the water — so deep that I could not see any light. I was disoriented. I did not know which way was up. I tried to kick off my shoes. My life flashed before my eyes. My lungs were burning. I knew I was going to die.

Then another wave came pounding in and pushed me up to the surface of the water. I gasped for air and had only an instant until I was pushed down, down, down in the water a second time. In that split second, I saw my brother next to me in the water on the right. And a stranger, a man, to my left. I realized he was trying to help me, but then we were all tossed up, down and under by the ten-foot swells. The waves kept coming. Each time I was able to get a breath, I became more aware of my surroundings, but also more exhausted. I saw the cliff side behind me, and a large cropping of rocks in front of me. The waves rushed in around both sides and over the the top of the boulders in front of me; the force of the water slammed my body into the side of the cliff. Then the pull of the wave receding tossed my body like a piece of driftwood, and slammed it into the cropping of rocks. The pain was unbearable.

After one of my trips under the water, I came up to find two more men next to me. Lifeguards! They communicated with me the best they could over the immense noise of the ocean. Timing was of the essence. Taking advantage of the two-second micro pause between wave crashing and wave receding, one lifeguard pulled me quickly out from between the rocks and the cliff and over to the adjacent beach where he left me, lying on the sand, completely exhausted, bloody and unable to even get up. He immediately went back out for the man who had tried to help me. I lay there in the warm sand gratefully gulping the air and letting the adrenaline surge diminish while spectators gathered around me. My brother, meanwhile, was pulled out by the second lifeguard. and when they arrived on the beach, they started some first aid. We were bloody from head to toe. Cuts, scrapes and bruises. I still have scars. The lifeguards bandaged us the best they could, but they did not have enough bandages to cover all our wounds.

As we were reunited with our parents, I noticed that my mom, seven months pregnant, was soaking wet. I learned that she had tried to grab me as I slipped away. She had also fallen in the water, but the water had washed her a different way. She was caught in a crevice in the rock. Two men who had been fishing nearby pulled her to safety. We thanked the lifeguards, the stranger who had tried to come to my aid as I was washed off the cliffs and all the bystanders who had helped. Some had taken care of my younger siblings as my dad helped my mom. Someone who lived nearby brought out treats for the younger ones, to distract them from the chaos and fear of a world turned topsy-turvy.

Finally, very much shaken as a family, we made our way home. We were so thankful to just be alive. We spent the next several days just enjoying our time together. I did a lot of thinking. Why, God? Why did this happen? What was the purpose? I learned that less than 24 hours later, two grown men were swept to their deaths from very spot. It could have so easily been me! Why not? Why did God spare me that day? I did not know. I couldn’t fathom it then and I don’t presume to know now. But I know this. God snatched me from death for a PURPOSE. He had/has a purpose for me. I was called to follow him. I did not know what the purpose would be but knowing that he saved me gave me confidence and hope for the future.

I come back to that hope when things get hard. When I am discouraged. When I feel my life has no point, no meaning, no significance. Or when circumstances are overwhelming and I feel like giving up. This purpose for which I was saved gives me courage and strength to keep going. This purpose does not appear to be extraordinary. I have yet to save the world. My purpose is found in the everyday. Faithfulness in a life that is sometime monotonous. Often thankless. One that is difficult to judge the outcome and gauge success. I do not know the future. I do not know what impact my life will have on future generations for his glory. But it is good and this is where faith occurs. And if I had died that day, there are twelve people who would not exist today.

God has saved each one of us for a purpose. This is something I work hard to teach my children. I happen to be blessed to REALIZE I was snatched from death. We are all one accident, one false move, one phone call away from the same. What is your purpose? What does God have for you to accomplish while on this earth?

There’s more to this story, aside from what happened to me. My mom, after her fall, no longer felt her unborn baby moving. For a full day and a half, nothing. We feared the worst, but then the kicks resumed. My baby brother was born healthy, at full term, two months later. He is named Isaiah, which means “God has delivered” or “God saves”. Truly God is our salvation. Always. Whether we acknowledge it or not.

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On Comments and Questions from Strangers

So I’m a mom of a “large” family. Large in this case = 11 kids. Over the years we have heard many, many rude, insensitive, unhelpful, prying, inappropriate comments on our family size and topics relevant to that… such as our fertility/sex life.

Though it has been done before (search Google for “things not to say to a mom of a large family” if you are curious), I will compile a list for you of some of the comments and questions I have personally received:

Nosy

  • Are they all yours?
  • Are you Mormon? Catholic?
  • How to you handle it? I’m going crazy with just my two (while their kids are standing right there, usually).
  • How many loads of laundry do you do per week?
  • Do you have more than one washer and dryer?
  • What does your husband do? or Your husband must have a good job.
  • Do you also home school?
  • How many boys/girls?
  • What are the ages?
  • Any twins? Wow, all single births? Are any adopted?
  • What is the age range of your kids?

Intrusive or rude

  • Do you know what causes that?
  • Don’t you have a television?
  • Do they all have the same father?
  • What is your grocery bill like?
  • How many bedrooms do you have?
  • You must be rich.
  • You gave birth to them all?
  • Are you going to have any more?
  • Are you done now?
  • How old were you when you got married?
  • How old were you when you started?
  • You must have been married at 14.
  • You don’t look old enough to have 11 kids.
  • How old are you??
  • You look great for having 11 kids.
  • Were they planned? Did you plan to have __ kids?
  • Do you use birth control?
  • Why do you have so many children?
  • When are you going to stop having kids?
  • How do you afford it?
  • Do you take government assistance? (e.g. welfare, food stamps)
  • There’s a cure for that.
  • You don’t look like you have 11 children.
  • Are you a blended family? (His, Mine and Ours?)

Absurd

  • Are you related to the Duggars?
  • Do you know the Duggars?
  • You must be patient.
  • You are so brave.
  • They are so well-behaved!
  • You are lucky you got _____(calm, happy, kind, easygoing, etc) kids.
  • Like Cheaper by the Dozen? (the one with Steve Martin is what people are thinking of… Umm, no!)
  • Just wait until they are teenagers.

Captain Obvious

  • Boy, you have your hands full.
  • You must be busy!
  • Do you work?
  • Wow, you’re still smiling.
  • You look happy.
  • You look relaxed.
  • I’d go crazy!
  • Better you than me.
  • I could never do that.
  • Looks like you have some helpers with you today.

There are the non-verbal “comments” too. The shocked, open-mouth stare. The obvious head counting. The furtive whispering. Early on in my mothering career… say, after child three… when I received the “big family”, “rapid rate of reproduction” comments, I was irritated and frustrated. Why couldn’t people just keep their comments to themselves? Why could they not see that they had no right to pry into our intimate life, and no business asking the kinds of things I was regularly being asked? Why could they not imagine how they would feel if the tables were turned? Golden Rule anyone?

I pondered and arrived at a variety of appropriate responses to these rude questions. Sassy, pointed and sometimes vague responses. With the intent that hopefully they would take a hint and spare the next poor mother of many. My responses, even to the same question, varied depending on the context of the situation. Who was asking, under what circumstances, what was their tone, what did I sense was their reason for asking? Was this a person with whom I was to have a lasting friendship/acquaintance, or just a passing stranger?

Somewhere along the line, my perspective on these questions, and on the askers of these questions, changed. And I can only think it was God who orchestrated the change in me. There was a defining moment about 13 years ago… I had all my kids (7 kids all age 10 and under at that point and I was pregnant with my 8th) with me in the public library. We were weekly visitors there and the staff “knew” us. On this particular day, there was a new staff member (volunteer, perhaps?) helping out. She was an older woman. She made audible “whispered” comments to another volunteer about me and the kids. Finally she chose to speak to me directly. “Are they all yours?”, “How many boys/girls?”, etc.

And then came a question I was totally unprepared for. One that I had never before been asked. “Do they all have the same father?”

My mouth dropped open and my brain went nuts trying to think of a proper response to this rude and intrusive question. As it so happens all my children do have the same father, but that is NOBODY’s business! I could not believe this woman, from another generation than me, a generation that generally speaking I have found to have better manners than more recent generations, would ask such a thing.

I was about to retort sharply that it was none of her business to ask such a thing, when I heard a voice of caution in my head and a revelation hit me. What she was trying to say was “Are you a blended family?” Still a bit prying, but much less rude in my opinion. In this day and age of step- and half-siblings, my family dynamics are an anomaly.

So I replied, “Do you mean, ‘Are we a blended family?'” And she nodded. I’m thankful for that caution I had. That moment of pause that kept me from rudely responding to a woman who had the misfortune to put her foot in her mouth. How many times have I done that? Say something, intending to communicate one thing, and having it come out so wrong that it is just awful.

I’m so thankful for gracious responses when I screw up. If I had responded rudely, what would the result have been? I would have alienated someone, not just from our family, but from all big families. The next family to come along would be treated with contempt and disdain as she would have had a negative association in her mind.

I need to act above reproach. People asking curious, often prying and intrusive questions are ones for whom Christ died. Do I really want to eliminate any opportunity I might have to share Christ with them by my harsh or unkind responses? I have come to realize that the vast majority of people who ask these nosy, rude, insensitive or just plain absurd sorts of questions are simply curious. Not malicious, not hateful, not even trying to be rude. They just aren’t thinking through what they really want to communicate before they let their words out, which is something I am frequently guilty of, much to my shame. We all need better filters. We all need to think through the impact our words will have before we speak them.

Still, I do enjoy a feisty comeback to some of these questions, particularly when I feel that the answer is personal/private and I don’t care to discuss it. I keep a smile on my face. Answer the things that I’m comfortable with and try to make my responses lighthearted and gently pointed in the hope that the speaker will take the subtle hint as to the inappropriateness of their comments.

I think that as my own attitude has changed toward the intrusive questions (viewing them more as an opportunity to share the joy of a large family), the overall tone of my interactions with people has changed. I think at least 95% of all comments and questions I receive are pleasant, curious (without being negative), supportive and positive. Seldom do I receive a negative comment. Some things that I have had said to me or done that have just made my day: a genuine smile from a stranger as they pass by, comments (when appropriate) such as, “Your children are well-behaved,” “You are blessed,” “How nice to see a big family.”

What I’m mostly discussing here are interactions with total strangers. I’m a pretty open, forthright person. If a friend has a genuine question, I’m almost always willing to share. A deeper relationship brings with it a right to ask deeper questions. And once in a while, a “total stranger” interaction turns into a lasting friendship. Many of those friends are the ones who have encouraged me to write a blog to share the ups and downs, the real-life, nitty-gritty details of my big family life. The Hands-full Life.

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