Counting My Blessings
By Patti Maguire Armstrong

December 28, 2006

As the old year comes to a close it's time to take inventory and count my blessings. This year, my list includes the new "dollar store" in town that sells toothbrushes. There is a wide variety, with even some two-pack toothbrushes for, of course, only a dollar.

Lest you think I jest, consider the fact that I have ten children. The price of toothbrushes in your run-of-the-mill department store has skyrocketed over the years. In a family of our size, dental hygiene gets expensive. Even though two of my kids are not living at home, they naturally arrive for the holidays forgetting their toothbrushes. God surely does provide. 

My dollar-store blessing may lead some to guess me to be a simpleton. After all, is that the best lead I can come up with for an article? It may not be the best, but it's the easiest. If I had launched into the theme of opening yourself to the possibility of receiving more blessings in the New Year, many might have sputtered over their cup of coffee and skipped to the next article. 

Even in Catholic circles, having a large family is not always viewed as positive. My youngest child was born when I was forty-four and my husband, Mark, was forty-five. Politically correct we are not. Had we been movie stars and this was our first or second, we would have smiled at you all from the magazine racks of the grocery store checkout stands. Instead, we are the worst nightmare of the likes of Zero Population groups and many cafeteria Catholics. The latter have largely rejected Catholic teaching on artificial contraception and are as comfortable with their birth control as they are with a second cup of coffee.

Having ten kids makes a very public statement. The public does not always understand and some are quite hostile for various reasons. Thankfully, there are a growing number of families such as ours, growing in both commitment to Catholic teachings and family size. That's another blessing I count.

I myself once thought I did not have to "follow every rule." Many Catholics are confused because the message from the pulpit rarely addresses such topics as artificial contraception. My own error in thinking was the result of being misled by societal views and my parish priest when I lived in Montana. He was both a doctor and a priest. He told me it was "not reasonable" to expect couples to follow this Catholic teaching. I believed him. My husband had a vasectomy after our first four children. It wasn't his idea, but operating like Eve, I convinced him to do it.

By grace, we grew in our faith and came to understand the truth and beauty of all Catholic teachings. Without benefit of Mark's surgical reversal our home would be emptier. At first we decided to pray it away. After all, stories of vasectomy failures abound. Through continued prayer, our hearts led us down another route. It was within our power to reverse our error and live our lives in union with God's plan for our family. Thus, that was the only choice that would give us peace. 

Our last four blessings are ones that make clear that God always knows what's best. A large family does not always bring peace under our roof, but it gives peace to our hearts. Without the four youngest, our house would be very empty and the lives of our older children reduced in love. Even their friends often come over to play with the younger ones. A friend of my nineteen-year-old son, Tyler, stopped by over Thanksgiving. He knew Tyler was at work, but had come to see Tyler's little brothers. Tyler's girlfriend even brings coloring books and games to play with our kids. Many friends walk in the door with their arms open, waiting for a hug the likes of which you can only get from a young child.

It would be selfish of me not to share the message of my blessings with others. I want other families to open their hearts and consider not merely the cost or the added work, (these are blessings too because they help us get to heaven) but the joy of a new life in the family. It's the only thing you can take with you to heaven. The rest, as you know, gets left behind.

Family planning should include the Master Planner. What is His plan for your family? How would you feel at the end of your life if you learned He had planned to give you more children, but you made that impossible?

I know it's not God's plan for everyone to have ten kids. I'm merely saying that we should involve God in the planning. To truly seek God's will in this matter with an honest heart, we must reject worldly messages and consider the eternal context of our families' lives. Here are some examples.

If I have more kids, I feel like I will not be in control. Good. God was supposed to be the one in control. If you have been thinking that you are the one in control, letting go and letting God will be a grace-filled adventure.

The world is already over-populated. There's not enough room to explain it here, but the world is not over-populated. You don't have to believe me, consider the logic. Would God create a world we could outgrow? Would He tell mankind to be fruitful and multiply and then forget the addendum to stop at six billion? Countries without enough children are the ones hurting now.

My house is too small. A big heart is more important that a big house. See what happens in a family with a new baby. Their hearts grow bigger.

I can't afford it. If God desires for you to have more children, do you think He's not going to support that? There may not be money for "the extras," but there will be lots of extra love. Somehow it has worked for us without a financial cushion. We could not afford more, but told God we believed we were in His hands and He would not drop the ball.

I'm too old to have children. God designed our bodies and He has included a cut-off time for women to bear children. It's called menopause. If we are able to have children, then that means we are not too old.

The older I get the fewer years I'll have on this earth. What if I don't live to see my children all graduate from high school? Every year there are parents who die before their kids graduate and their ages vary from younger to older. This is not a numbers game. God will decide when your time on earth is up. I do not think He asks you to clear your house out of children so you'll be ready "just in case." And when a parent dies and leaves a child behind, does anyone ever say it would be better if that child had never been born?

What about the early retirement we were planning on? That's what eternity is for. Which of the Bible characters went into retirement? And how long is the average retirement? Twenty to thirty years at best. Is that what you are here on earth for — to live for your retirement? Children keep us young anyway, so you'll feel younger than your senior peers.

How can I save for their college? Who says you need to? You can make major investments and have a savings big enough to send one or two kids to college, or you can trust in God and your kids. Our kids work, some have gotten scholarships and they do take out loans. No one would trade in a family member for the money. Our family has proved that where there's a will, there's a way.

Life is an adventure in which we should love and serve God and look forward to eternity with Him. Wouldn't it be great to have one more soul in your family to spend eternity with you?

Patti Maguire Armstrong is the mother of ten children including two Kenyan AIDS orphans. She is a speaker and the author of Catholic Truths for Our Children: A Parent's Guide (Scepter). She is also the managing editor of Ascension Press's Amazing Grace book series. Her website is