What is impossible for man is possible for God
Well, here I am again. At a Project Sanctuary retreat, the only organization designed to serve the entire military family, helping them reconnect after a member returns from one of our perpetual wars. Except it’s winter this time and we’re at Snow Mountain Ranch, a YMCA camp just over the Continental Divide from Denver.
Much is the same. Lots of hyperactive kids who, before the week is out, have made some new buddies. Plenty of opportunities to unwind: ice fishing on Grand Lake, snowmobiling on the Continental Divide, a trip to the Fraser Rec center for the water slides or flips off the tramp into the foam pit. Like last time, I’m sous chef for Tom who, despite laboring under the handicap of institutional raw materials, manages to whip up pretty tasty meals that satisfy the whetted appetites of everyone from kids in high chairs to their parents.
And, again, more of the darker aspects of a Project Sanctuary retreat. The Post Traumatic Stress workshops. The “Reconnection With Your Family” sessions. The presentation from the Cohen Veterans Network on how to access mental health care for service members when, as is too often the case, the VA system falls short.
A Well Oiled Machine
Since I was there a couple of days longer this time, I had the opportunity to get to know a few of the families better than last time.
One of those was the Johnson family. The husband, Jeremiah, is a military nurse. His wife is Felicia. They live near San Antonio, Texas.
My acquaintance with the Johnsons began when I sat on a bench next to an older daughter, Toby, looking across Grand Lake where one of the P.S. kids squealed with delight as he pulled a trout through a hole in the ice.
“So,” I asked, “what grade are you in?”
“Well,” she replied, “I’m in about 11th grade. But my mom home schools us.”
“That’s nice; home schooled kids usually do very well. How many brothers and sisters do you have.”
“There’s 8 of us, the youngest is 1, the oldest 20.”
“You’re kidding,” I said, looking over at her dark eyes under the Prince Valiant haircut. “And you guys all drove up here?”
“Yep,” she said, “all except my oldest sister. She lives in Colorado Springs.”
“Amazing. And what do you think you want to do when you’re done with school?”
“I want to be a farrier. We have a horse and I like to work with them.
“Not easy work,” I said. “Is that why you have that splint on your wrist?”
“No,” she replied, “I’m accident prone. I cut myself.”
But wait. There’s more.
That evening I got the chance to speak briefly with Toby’s mom as we stood in line for supper.
“Toby,” I began, “tells me that you guys have eight kids. And that you have a blog. How in the world do you do it all?”
Without skipping a beat, and holding the one year old on her hip, she pointed upward and said “We get some help from up there.”
“I have a blog also,” I said. “What do you write about? And how often do you post?”
“It’s about Christian homeschooling. And I post once a week. Here’s my card.”
“The ‘Zoo I Call Home,'” I read. “That’s a good one. I’ll definitely take a look. Here’s the card for my blog. With all your spare time,” I concluded, as a little boy in boots that looked like they’d been through several kids before him began tugging at her, “maybe you can take a peek at mine sometime.”
Life with an open hand
In the “liberated” ’70’s, when I was a new believer and a student at C.U. Boulder, I knew a guy named Mike McElroy. He ran the Christian bookstore on The Hill. Mike was a brilliant, thoughtful guy who had a way of forthrightly challenging my comfortable assumptions. I’m sorry I’ve lost touch with him.
Mike and I both attended the Hillside Church of the Savior, a Protestant church that met in the home of Gene Thomas and had a vibrant outreach to college kids.
Once, for reasons that I’ve entirely forgotten, we got into a discussion about sex, contraception, and children. Mike’s opinion was that the Catholics had it right. And Protestants had it wrong. “Catholic doctrine forbids the use of contraception. And it’s not because the Pope wants us to procreate like rabbits. It’s because sex without contraception is to be open to how God may want to intervene in our lives. Contraception is our way of saying “No” to that intervention.”
Mike’s argument impressed me. But it wasn’t something we adopted for our marriage; I had my tubes tied after our third child. The prospect of the financial burden of having more kids frightened me. And a good case, of course, can be made that fear is the opposite of faith.
I didn’t ask, but given that they live smack dab on the buckle of the Bible belt, I’d be stunned if the Johnsons are Catholics. But regardless of their denomination, the Johnson’s, with their 8 kids, took a different path than ours. One that, at least from the perspective of an outsider, is driven by faith. One that’s radically open to how the Lord might choose to disrupt their lives with little ones. A life that puts up with cars that have 350,000 miles on them. A life that grins and shrugs when a hand me down boot has a hole worn through the top. But one that that allows the Johnson’s to know, first hand, the promise and, no doubt, the challenges of Psalm 127:3:
“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him.”