“Are those all your children?” Over the years I’ve heard this question hundreds of times. Even with half my kids in tow, we stimulate the curiosity of the most socially cautious, who want to know how many we have, whether they’re all our own, if we’ve figured out where they came from, and when we’ll be finished having them.

“Are you Catholic?” they ask. “Are you Mormon?”  Puzzled that a pair of everyday people would willingly trade fancy cars and dream vacations for fifteen-passenger vans and doctor visits galore. 

I must admit I’ve had my moments. Like when we had six simultaneously in braces – top and bottom. I shook my fist at heaven Fiddler-on-the-Roof style: “Is this really what it’s all about? Building a swimming pool for our orthodontist and otherwise driving the American economy?”   

Of course that’s not what it’s about, as God has made clear that he intended us to enjoy children as a blessing and reward from Him. 

Tripp and I didn’t know that in 1985 when we gave up our birth control. We weren’t even Christians then. We were raising two daughters from my hippie days – Samantha Sunshine and Jasmine Moondance. And somehow - in spite of our best efforts at birth control – we’d somehow ended up with two sons 17 months apart. 

In fact, it was our birth control failure that began a paradigm shift (or collapse!) leading us to trust the natural process of childbearing in marriage. But by then we’d lost our culture-driven fear of children: our four – no matter how hard the work involved in raising them – were bringing out the best in us. Our capacity to love had expanded. Our commitment to each other and the future seemed more solid and sincere.

Besides, we loved them madly – each one so different and unique. How wonderful to look into the faces of our sons and see the unique blending of ourselves! How exciting to watch their individual personalities unfold, to see their gifts revealed. And for survivors of two families scarred by divorce and alcoholism, what an opportunity to grow! While we could not go back and fix our own broken childhoods, we could find a lot of healing in purposefully parenting the next generation.

Tripp and I made a covenant together that we would never again use birth control, trusting our “Higher Power” – in the limited way we understood Him as some remote spiritual overseer – to provide for them. 

We were thinking materially, of course.

But God went us one better.  In 1987, after the birth of our third son, we ended up at a Family Life Weekend to Remember, where the dots were connected for two confused spiritual seekers in four simple steps: God loved us and had a plan for our lives, the separation we felt was because of sin, Jesus died and rose to bridge that gap, and we needed to make a decision.

Knowing we were God’s children changed many things about how we viewed the world, but it didn’t change how we felt about our children and – especially now that we understood who He was – our commitment to leaving the construction of our family to His care. It was plain that God had us on a fast-track, wasting no time waiting for us to “find” him before beginning his plan. His fingerprints were all over the names of our boys: Joshua Gabriel, Matthew Raphael, and Benjamin Michael. 

I breathed a sigh of relief, looking forward to finally having fellowship with people who understood what made our family tick because they too trusted God in every aspect of their lives. 

And yet that was not the case. As our family continued to grow, I continued to hear the same belittling banter about kids I’d heard for years – only now it was on my church steps:

“I don’t know how you do it!  My two are enough to drive me crazy!” 

“I’ve finally got all the kids in school. I can’t imagine having to deal with another baby!”  

“I wanted more but my husband put his foot down.”

“How can you afford it?”

My heart would ache for any children in earshot. My heart would ache for the missed opportunities. And finally, my heart would ache for the misunderstanding of how it all must sound to God – who certainly never got the memo that children were a burden.

As an ex-feminist I knew where this all started, but still I wondered: how could the church have so mindlessly absorbed ideas from the popular culture rather than looking to God, whose truth never changes?  In 1997 in an article titled “A Call to Arms,” I wrote:

Still, I wonder what the church would look like today if we were influenced less by the culture which sees children as invaders – who will rob us of our freedom, status, beauty, wealth, and sanity – and influenced more by Scripture, which steadfastly affirms children as God’s reward, as in Psalm 127:

Sons are a heritage from the LORD,
children a reward from Him

Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
are sons born in one's youth.

Blessed is the man
whose quiver is full of them.

They will not be put to shame
when they contend with their enemies in the gate.

Hold that thought. Then consider that while our current national birth rate is 1.8, in many Muslim countries the average mother has five or six children.

It’s been ten years since I wrote those words, 22 years since Tripp and I made our commitment. We have 12 children – 9 by birth and 3 by adoption (in addition to our 8th child, who has Down syndrome, we’ve adopted 3 more). Our two oldest daughters each have five children and are expecting their 6th – Jasmine by birth, Samantha by adoption. I’m grateful that our hard work has given us such a sizable stake in the future.

And what an unexpected joy it’s been to find – through the Internet – that Tripp and I were never alone! All along there were families like ours, who somehow came to the conclusion that it might be best to buck popular wisdom – and even church culture – to put God in charge of their family size. 

Now we are being taken seriously: Laura Ingraham’s new book, Power to the People, extols the potential of big families to transform the culture, and reporters from Christianity Today, Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal try to capture what makes us tick. 

What makes us tick is as different as the families themselves.  I’ve rounded up some personal narratives from readers at MommyLife  – which will certainly resonate with any Christians beginning to question their personal status quo vis a vis children.

Among younger Christian moms, many report going on The Pill before their wedding day as a matter of course – expected by their parents, their in-laws, and everyone else. Some report paradigm shifts set off by side effects: depression, weight gain, lack of sex drive.

Others discovered to their horror – since they considered themselves pro-life – that the pill can act as an abortifacient.  They gave it up immediately.

While some went on to barrier methods, for others the shakeup of their preconceived ideas led them to rethink and scrap birth control altogether.

Many who structured their marriages to come off The Pill when they felt ready have been disappointed to find that fertility isn’t something we can turn off and on like a light switch. They struggle with infertility and miscarriages – adding up to much more time than they bargained for waiting for a baby.

Others discovered on their own – sometimes with a nudge from books like The Way Home or A Full Quiver – that God’s plan for their family did not include birth control of any kind. While some ended up with 12- and 15- passenger vans, others barely filled a sedan, discovering that for those who leave family planning up to God, the personal challenge can go either way, including trusting Him through just a few – or even no children at all.

And finally, some – from families large and small – have been called to follow God’s individual plan for adding children through adoption or foster care.

Many couples – after years of following the culture's recommendations on family size – express deep regret at “wasted years,” which prompts them to share their stories.

The bottom line is this:  If as Christians we are called not to be conformed to the pattern of this world (Romans 12:2), shouldn’t we question the worldly assumption that children are burdens rather than blessings? And if we did, wouldn’t it follow that our words would reflect that truth and that families would look different? 

Shouldn’t each Christian couple – before declaring “When we’re ready, we’ll have three” or “Two’s plenty for us!” – take such a weighty matter to the One who knows us better than we know ourselves, who just might have some ideas of His own: 

            “Lord, how many children do You desire for our family?” 

Sometimes it takes the right question to find the right answer.

Originally posted in October 2007.

Barbara Curtis, award-winning author of seven books and 700 articles and columns, lives with husband Tripp and six still-at-home children in Waterford, VA.

In addition to the personal narratives referenced above, she has created a Picasa Web Album titled Quiverfull Families and invites interested families to contribute to this ongoing project.