Excerpt from Better by the Dozen, Plus Two, subtitled Anecdotes and a Philosophy of Life from a Family of Sixteen
By James & Kathleen Littleton
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Courage! It is I! Do not be afraid.
(Matthew: 14: 28)
ver the past twenty years, God has blessed our family with the gift of nineteen children–fourteen living and five in heaven. We have twelve daughters and two sons living, ranging in age from twenty years to seven months. This book shares the story of how we came to be such a large family and the truths God taught us along the way.
We have had to struggle with many temptations to abandon writing this book as we confront our many inadequacies and the numerous ways we fall short. We are tempted to think that people who know us and our many failings might challenge us as imposters, phonies, and hypocrites, and question how we might dare to write a book offering advice and formation to others. Well, if we waited for the perfect of the world to do the work of promulgating truth and virtue, nothing good would ever be accomplished. We do not wish to attempt to abdicate all personal culpability for our personal failings, but we are convinced it would be a grave and irresponsible sin of omission to leave this little work undone because of our own unworthiness. Moreover, in our own experience we have always found more consolation in, and been more convinced and won over, by the example of those persons who have accomplished great things in life for God and their fellow man, despite their human inadequacies and limitations, because they are like us, and we can relate to them. So perhaps the reader will even find some encouragement in our ongoing struggle to live more authentically the very things we preach. We are all human and in need of mercy and a Redeemer.
“… It was to shame the wise that God chose what is foolish by human reckoning, and to shame what is strong that he chose what is weak by human reckoning; those whom the world thinks common and contemptible are the ones that God has chosen–those who are nothing at all to show up those who are everything. The human race has nothing to boast about to God, but you God has made members of Christ Jesus and by God’s doing he has become our wisdom, and our virtue, and our holiness, and our freedom. As scripture says: If anyone boasts, let him boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-31)
It has been very difficult to write about our family, to put ourselves in the spotlight. We would candidly prefer to remain hidden. That would be much easier, much more comfortable, but we have felt a strong calling to share some of the gifts of what we have learned and experienced in our lives with others. “Not that I do boast of preaching the gospel, since it is a duty which has been laid on me; I should be punished if I did not preach it!” (1 Corinthians 9:16-17)
We realized that by mere virtue of the fact we have been blessed with fourteen living children, plus five in heaven, many might be attracted to read what we have to express, if only through initial curiosity. Our infinitely loving God utilizes many mysterious means for our good. We do not consider ourselves masters or prime examples in the subjects we have written on. We try to live the things we preach the best we can, yet, we admit, dreadfully imperfectly. “For it is not ourselves that we are preaching, but Christ Jesus as the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 4:5) “We are only the earthenware jars that hold this treasure to make it clear that such an overwhelming power comes from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7-8)
Our target audience includes all persons of good will. Although we are Catholic, and by the grace of God our faith permeates who we are and everything we do, think and say, we wish to appeal to secular as well as religious and Catholic audiences. We do not desire that this book should be classified as strictly religious. We would like to reach as many people as possible. Our goal has been to make this an appealing and interesting read for anyone and everyone, to move the reader to serious reflection on the state of his or her life, and to hopefully come away with some helpful resolutions, of a spiritual and/or practical nature.
We do encourage the reader to pray before reading this book, pray while reading it, and to pray always. Many aspects of this book can only be truly understood with supernatural help. We hope the reader will pray to God for this help, for the help of the Holy Spirit. It is also our desire that the reader will take time, as inspired to do so, to open up the Bible and read and reflect further on the scripture that is salted into this work. Certainly the Holy Spirit has more to say to you than we are able to enumerate in such a limited fashion. Perhaps the reader will also take the step to read further some of the other writings referenced herein.
We have tried to be open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our writing, not that we are even close to infallible. We are laity. We have no theological degrees, although we have devoured information on our faith over the past many years. We have strived to remain in complete conformity with the Church’s teachings. We would never knowingly go against these in any way. We love the Church and everything she teaches, no exceptions.
We trust the reader will experience the recurring theme of hope in this book. Yes, one encounters many difficulties in life and in the world, many areas we need to work to improve upon in our lives, but we must rest assured that God is with us. We are totally dependent on him, and he is always faithful. He is in command. We need not be afraid. Not a single detail of our life escapes his loving and beneficent providence.
If the reader finds himself challenged or in any way discouraged by what he encounters is this work, we implore him to trust in God’s inexhaustible mercy and help to conform to his will. We are hoping to give the reader what we coin the two “C’s, to challenge and console. We must always hope. The past is past. We can learn from it, but we cannot go back. The future is not in our control. God does not want us to bring the anxiety of the future down upon ourselves. All we have is today, the now. We must learn to live in the present. God’s will can be found there, in the ordinary as well as in the difficulties and disasters of life. We need to advance in faith and hope in order to be at peace.
Through prayer, experiences in helping others in their faith and family formation, and through various comments and encouragement we have received, we have become convinced that an audience would be interested in and benefit in some way from this description of how our family, by the grace of God, strives to live our lives, and in our philosophy of life. We include anecdotes and a philosophy of life from a family of sixteen to give insights into the meaning and purpose of life, with the goal of helping the reader to achieve true happiness and fulfillment. We hope to help readers to reflect on and reexamine a hierarchy of values or priorities in the midst of the modern dominant culture which is seriously disordered. We write very simply about what we have come to know primarily though our interior life and practical experience. We have tried to bring out the difficulties and the reality of our lives. The reader will encounter a glimpse into, though not including every superfluous detail, our own Godless, hedonistic, materialistic lives (more so Jim’s) before our reversions to our faith. We hope that by sharing these aspects of our past, the reader can better relate to us and to our messages.
We have also included many hopefully humorous and entertaining anecdotes so as to make this an enjoyable read in addition to the more challenging aspects of being a catalyst for some serious reflection relative to areas of the reader’s life which may need revision, healing, and redemption.
We don’t wish to present ourselves as an anomaly, nor as an ideal example, but we would like to contribute in some way to the authentic comeback of God, then family, as the center of each person’s life and of society; giving faith and family (as the fundamental unit of society) their true place in the hierarchy of values.
We have done our best to examine the dominant culture unequivocally and identify major aspects of its confusion, lies, and disorder; and then, rather than being content to wring our hands and complain, we attempt to provide some hopeful, practical and effective solutions.
Some of the cultural problems we have tried to address include:
- What happens when God and his will are not our first and highest concern?
- Prevalence of self-centeredness
- What happens when God is not at the core of marriage?
- Pervasiveness of divorce
- Fear of being open to having more children. Does closing the door to openness to life in marriage really bring the good and happiness longed for?
- Prevalence of seeking to fill our void with stuff. Materialism, how this never satisfies; one always keeps seeking more. This results in a type of modern slavery.
- Prevalence of haste in the dominant culture. People in the dominant culture are rushing constantly, but to what end?
- Great prevalence of fear and lack of real faith. A fear-driven culture, a sense of wanting to be in complete control (an impossible goal), rather than a deep abiding faith and trust in God. This induces us to hate our neighbors, and inspires a readiness to crush anyone that interferes with our false sense of comfort and control, anyone who wants to intrude into our bubble. Just listen to talk radio. Divisive. Over and over they shout: “Crucify him!” (John 19:6)
- Prevalent disordered use of the gift of sexuality
- An epidemic of abortion, sterilization, and contraception
- Depression, over medication, infidelity, emptiness
- The family as the center for all the members is non-existent in most families.
- Morally relativistic society; the boiled frog syndrome
- Today’s religion is politics. People are obsessed with and consumed by politics. But, no particular political ideology alone will solve all societal problems or bring the happiness people innately hunger for.
Some of the solutions and encouragement we propose in this book include:
- Radical problems call for radical solutions. With God’s help we must cultivate a willingness to risk, to be radically different than the dominant culture. “You will shine in the world like bright stars because you are offering it the word of life.” (Philippians 2:15)
- We must develop a supernatural outlook. We must be people of prayer. Permit God to transform us. ‘Martha, Martha,’ he said ‘you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.’ (Luke 10:41-42)
- Our children have a great untapped capacity for virtue, sacrifice, and service.
- Cultivate a willingness to sacrifice.
- Learn to embrace the difficulties in life. Be thankful for them. What would life be without challenges?
- God will never give us more than we can handle, though we may in moments of weakness mistakenly think that he broke this rule in our case.
- To be happy in any and all circumstances.
- Be open to life; to have faith like Abraham. “Abraham called this place ‘Yahweh Provides’.” (Genesis 22:14)
- To slow down. When in constant haste we don’t have time to reflect on and notice the wonders we have around us to be thankful for, like the innocence of a child’s face, God’s very image and likeness.
- Not to be afraid to make mistakes. He’ll provide the graces to do the mission he asks of us. We must merely try our best, without putting undue pressure on ourselves. If we do our best, we can count on God to do the rest.
- Requisite sense of humor.
We hope you will stay with us, that you will stay the course of reading and reflecting on this little work. And may our Blessed Lord be with our spirits. “They pressed him to stay with them.” (Luke 24:29)
James & Kathleen Littleton, October 7, 2006
Our Lady of the Rosary, First Saturday