I have a genetic mutation called Loeys-dietz syndrome, which in addition to physical and external complications, also weakens my arteries and causes them to rupture easily (depending upon the location of the artery, this is both life-threatening and faith-strengthening). My wife and I have three beautiful children named Abigail, Noah Jay and Silas, two of whom also have Loeys-Dietz. Frequently, we get ‘asked’ about why we chose to have children knowing that they would likely be born with a life expectancy of 26 (though with the surgical replacement of arteries, this number can be significantly improved).
Non-believers ‘ask’ us why we did not abort.
Believers ‘ask’ us why we wouldn’t have chosen to adopt instead.
Doctors ‘ask’ leading questions about our family history. When they realize we chose to have children knowing that my mutation would force half of them to live with physical pain, their faces make it obvious what terrible parents they think we must be.
First, a bit of background:
A. I do not believe it is sinful for a married couple to prevent conception. I am not wading into the controversy of the pill, but rather simply stating that if conception is legitimately prevented I do not think it to be sinful.
B. We love the idea of adoption, admire those who adopt, and have not ruled it out for our family.
C. My grandmother was what doctors call a ‘spontaneous mutation’. From there on, the mutation had a 50% ‘chance’ (Prov. 16:33) of passing on… which it did to my father and to me. I am therefore a third generation LDS patient (Yes, I am an evangelical missionary who has Loeys-Dietz Syndrome).
D. My grandfather was a doctor, my father was a doctor, and my first job was as a certified hospital Chaplain at LAC-USC. Medicine runs deep in my veins in every sense of the word.
E. I was convinced prior to meeting my wife Crystal that I would never hinder my Gospel ministry by getting married and certainly not by having children.
The first time I seriously considered having children was at Stanford University. Crystal and I were dating, and the doctors shared with her the marvelous medical advancement: We didn’t need to have children with LDS. They joyfully presented us the ‘miraculous’ news that they were now able to only implant zygotes which did not have LDS. My Hospital Chaplaincy training helped me maintain composure, explain that I believed that would not please my Creator, and then excuse myself to weep, horrified at the thought of how many “me’s” they were throwing into the trash simply because they failed a genetic test.
The fact was incontrovertible: Doctors did not think my life was worth living. So, in all honestly, I must confess that I first starting thinking hard about filling the planet with more me-mutants just to prove that I and my children were just as fearfully and wonderfully made as any of God’s image bearers (Psa. 139:13-16).
Of course, more than that, these events sent my mind reeling with questions:
Is it ever sinful to have children? What does make a life worth living?
Does there come a point when it becomes sinful to have too many children if you can’t reasonably provide for them? What if you know your children will go through trials? If we say yes, does that mean that families living under intense poverty in Africa should never have children because their life-expectancy will be much lower than if they lived in the United States?
Did Shem wonder if it was even worth it to have children if they were only going to live a couple hundred years instead of a millennia? What would a married mutant like me have done before contraception was available… especially in light of the fact that Paul commands married couples not to deprive one another (1 Cor. 7:5)?
The more questions I asked myself, the more clear the answers to these questions became. So here are the four general principles that most guided our thinking:
1. This is a ‘grey’ area. If I cannot make a Biblical case that something is sinful, then there is liberty. If a family decides to stop having children, I say praise God, if a family decides not to stop and has 15, I say, praise God, may both of them be fully convinced in their own minds and may they rejoice in what God gives them. Paul says about marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 that he wishes to spare us from worldly troubles, and thinks it’s best not to marry at all, but he doesn’t call it sin, so there is freedom.
2. Objective #1: we need to be Biblical parents. Just because we are ‘free’ to do something, doesn’t make it best (1 Cor. 6:12; Phil. 1:10). So we prayed, we sought counsel, and the longer we waited the stronger we desired to have children (See: Found: God’s Will for further details on how this guided us). Crystal strongly desired to have a large family. I loved the idea, but thought it would be hard to biblically parent more than two LDS children given the fact that they would need surgeries and the other children would still need us to instruct, discipline and not exasperate them. Nothing is impossible for the Lord, but it seemed overly difficult, especially with my own physical limitations, to parent children in different houses and hospitals simultaneously. So, we prayed that God would give us many children, but ‘decided’ (Jas. 4:15) that we would stop when He gave us two with LDS. If that meant 7, we would praise Him, if 2, we would praise Him just the same. Three was God’s perfect number ;).
3. Children are a blessing from the Lord (Psa. 127:3). This is a basic principle that guided us and encouraged us to have children, but one which we have come to understand much more clearly after being entrusted with them. We are so thankful and so grateful to the Lord. In fact, it seems almost silly to me that I once thought they could ‘hinder’ my ministry, knowing now how often the Lord uses them to open doors to speak of His matchless grace. Our children are a blessing in every respect. (Obviously, I am not saying missionaries who prevent pregnancy are sinning, in fact, I think Paul would say they do well, I’m simply speaking of our own experience).
4. The only thing that matters is Christ. To know Christ for 26 physically painful years on earth is incomparably better than to live a millennia without Him and then suffer eternally in hell. This knowledge, through the Holy Spirit, enables me to live my life here in the flesh with complete hope and joy. If a doctor pities me because he thinks my life must be terrible, I pity him. He knows not the joy I feel nor the hope that I have. I’m not mad my parents chose to have me, I’m grateful!
Now, of course, I’m not saying that we should choose pain, or that I go around hitting people so that the Lord would sanctify them, but I am saying that we and all our progeny will have pain, this issue here is only one of degree… a degree chosen by Him, not us, and for our good (Rom. 8:28). So if someone doesn’t want to have children because they might have pain, or because they might not be able to provide for them… then nobody should ever have children!
Furthermore, if I pray “Lord, do whatever it takes to mold me into the image of your Son,” knowing that His molding will most likely require the painful removal of my flesh, but I pray it nonetheless because I know that He knows best, why would I not pray the same thing for my children? And if my mutation has a coin’s flip chance of passing on to my progeny, is not He who sovereignly sustains all things capable of making it land heads 7 times in a row (Prov. 16:33)?
I trust my God, that He will not give me one ounce of pain more than I need for His glory, and I earnestly pray that He will do the same for my children… and for you and yours as well! May He do whatever it takes to save us, be it cancer, a car accident, LDS, or if He wills, a long joyful life of effective ministry.