MaryBeth Eberhard ponders how having a large family was not her plan, but rather God's plan for her.
I have become a go-to person for large family questions. I am not sure which child achieved me this status. Sons one, two, and three are all incredible gifts and watching them grow together was and continues to be a joy. Was it number four because we chose to open our hearts after our third son was born with a rare disability? Maybe number five because well, we got our girl so why have another? Number six was a surprise, but oh, how can there be a morning without the embrace of this son?
Adopting number seven with the same disability as my son just made us saints in the eyes of so many, but the truth that I have come to recognize is I needed her more than she needed me. This self-directed, joyful daughter of my heart has changed me profoundly. Number eight was a shock to us all and a risky “yes” to the Lord, as carrying her put us both at a risk, and yet to know this almost 9-year-old daughter of mine is to encounter such a pure heart.
In truth, having a large family was not my plan but rather God’s plan for me. In it, I have found sanctification. I have learned mercy and sacrifice. I experience love in its purest form every day through the gift of this family. I am becoming the vision of the woman I hoped to be, but never could I have gotten where I am by following my own plan.
This beautifully rich tapestry of marriage, woven together by an openness to life, has not been without its hardships. There is a cross that mothers carry that goes beyond the needs of our children, seen and unseen. We are tied to our children from the moment of conception, and that bond lays the foundation for a lifetime of service and joy.
As I write this, visions are filling my head and heart of all the moments we have been so blessed to share together as a family: the memories of older siblings meeting the younger for the first time, the way my youngest daughter runs to meet her oldest brother when he comes through the door, and the normalcy of big family life that has made the challenges of having children with special needs be the second thought rather than the first. The mistakes, the mercy, and the redemption we offer to each other over the years from within the walls of my family are unfathomable. The family truly is the mirror of Christ’s love for his church and its richness paints a masterpiece that daily I offer to the Lord.
I love sharing this family of mine with the Lord. They belong to Him more than to me and in that I find a heart so ready to listen and laugh. I share their antics, their successes, and their sorrows. I belly laugh in prayer when I debrief the day with the Lord. Daily, I am in out-loud conversation with the Lord as to what is happening within the walls of this home because I have become dependent upon Him to keep it together. He knows me so well, forming and blessing me through all my hours and days. There is such peace and grace that goes into knowing and owning this!
I simply cannot convey the richness that has come from opening our hearts to this family. As a mom of many, I am often asked, “How do you do it?” Staying close to the Lord, intimately close, the kind of snuggle into your husband, breath his scent and hold it in close is how I do it; how we do it. I rely on the intimate relationship I have cultivated with the Lord.
It is also true that large family life is done best with a father who leads by example. He daily lifts us up to the Father as St. Joseph did his Holy Family, interceding for us in prayer and deed. My husband and I are indeed one flesh. We are connected by our love for each other and our sacrament of marriage. We live our marriage and our parenting out loud in a way that is utterly dependent upon the recognition that without Jesus, this house would fall.
We did not choose big family life as a statement of our Catholicism, but rather God chose it for us as a statement of His plan for our lives. Having a big family does not make anyone a saint, though it might offer more opportunities for sanctification! There is no award in heaven for me due to the number of children I have conceived. Rather, this openness to God’s plan lived out in the everyday continually forms me into a woman, wife, mother, and daughter who knows her identity and strives to live a life worthy of that gift.
Copyright 2021 MaryBeth Eberhard
Images: Canva Pro
About the Author
MaryBeth Eberhard spends most of her time laughing as she and her husband parent and school their eight children. She has both a biological son and an adopted daughter who have a rare neuromuscular condition called arthrogryposis and writes frequently about the life experiences of a large family and special needs. Read more of her work at MaryBethEberhard.com.