Combating a Kid Centric World

There are so many opportunities for our children. And we love them so much and want good things for them. But the options never end, and when does it get to be too much?  Nathan and I have made the conscious decision that we will not pay for and provide our children with every opportunity that presents itself. I recognize that we do some of this also out of necessity, because we are a family where kids outnumber parents and where the finances are very tight. But there are choices we make that have nothing to do with these factors. And if we had one child and unlimited finances, I really believe we would still practice many of these same things.

Many families are falling into the trap of living a kid-centric life. When we send the message to a child that the world revolves around them, becoming an adult will be extra hard on that child and on our society that has to deal with them. A kid-centric family misses out on teaching a lot of important lessons about selflessness, responsibility, self control and financial planning. Nathan and I have been very intentional about drawing some lines that we hope will make our kids better people. The jury is still out on if this will have the results we hope for. These aren’t proven methods and I don’t pretend to have all the answers.  But this is how we are making a stab at combating the kid-centric mentality in our society.

We pay for food, you pay for extras. We are their parents so we feed them. If they go on a school trip where the group is eating out, then we will give them a reasonable amount of money for food. But if they feel the need to buy a stuffed cheetah at the zoo or put $15 in quarters into the arcade at the pizza place, that’ll come out of their pocket.

Just because you are invited doesn’t mean you are going. There are countless opportunities available to me as an adult that I pass up every single day. My child cannot attend every leadership week they are invited to. They cannot go on every overnight trip that their school organizations go on. They cannot go on every vacation with a friend that invites them. Between scheduling, finances, and being intentional about how we spend our time, this just doesn’t work for our family. My kids will learn now to pick and choose their adventures, just like I do as an adult.

Some days will not be about you. Some days we force our son  to get up early and sit in the cold to watch his sister’s soccer game because we want to spend our Saturday with him. He might rather stay home or be sent to a friend’s house where the day can be all about what he wants. But he is a part of our family, and some days are about the team rather than the individual. My job is not to entertain all children constantly, so I will not apologize for this. There are certainly days that are all about making a child feel special, like their birthday, the day they compete in a big tournament or the day we shop together for something they need. But I will not try to pretend that every day should be like that.

If you pay half, I’ll pay half. There are some expenses that I can almost justify but not quite. So if it’s important enough to the child, then they can pay for half and invest in it too. We’ve used this method of compromise for lots of things like dance clinics, name-brand jeans, and fun youth trips. This is a good way to easily find out what really matters to my kids as well.

Don’t expect everyone to gladly hand over money for you to go somewhere fun. There are some times when a child earns an opportunity to move on to represent their school or town at a higher level of competition. A child may need to fund raise in order to do this. There are other times when a group or organization is simply going on a trip to play ball, visit a really neat area of the country, or attend a special event.  These trips aren’t “earned” and they are basically a vacation. If you want to go on a special trip like this, it would make sense to me that the child and the parents or other extended family members would foot the bill. I don’t want my kids to believe that whenever they want to go somewhere but it’s expensive, they just ask other people for money or do enough fundraisers to make it happen. Notice that our kid-centric world allows children to do this. What if my women’s book club wanted to go to NYC for the weekend? Would a fund raiser be appropriate? No. Because for some reason we don’t approve of adults doing that.

We will sometimes miss your games for our own personal activity. We have three active children. But as an adult, I also have interests and hobbies. Sometimes Nathan will go hunting and miss one of their soccer games. Sometimes I will choose an activity that is for me over being at their event. I could say no to my personal activities and try to be there for all their moments. But I want my kids to know that I am a real person with depth, goals and interests that go beyond watching little league. I want to model what a well-rounded adult actually looks like. When I’m there for their stuff, I want to be all in. But I just will not be there every single time.

I look around at the trend to make life a little bigger and better than it was the day before. If you give your child every opportunity as they grow up, pulling out all the stops and whistles at every turn, then what is left for later? Real life will be a boring let-down. They’ll end up confused, unable to hold a job and never satisfied with their cash flow. We’re already starting to see this play out in our culture with young adults. I hope that my children will learn that happiness doesn’t come from these things. I hope they are learning to be responsible with their money and time, how to make hard financial decisions and how a family is more important than the individuals in it.

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Just Squirming Around Out of my Comfort Zone

If this steps on your toes, well I’m right there with you. This idea has been stepping on my toes for months, and I’ve been uncomfortably jumping around and trying to figure out where to land my feet in a spot that’s safe for my little piggies. As much as I’ve tried to  orchestrate my own unique mission in life, I still come back to this very simple thought of making a difference. Don’t you? And for me that means that I want to spend my time trying to impact and further God’s Kingdom.

Lately God has been challenging me about my kingdom work and what it looks like.  I got a little too comfortable with some of the ways I was serving. They were almost too easy and I was running on auto-pilot. There’s a lot to be said for serving in your areas of strength and doing the things that you’ve gotten really good at, but that doesn’t stretch and challenge you like stepping out in ways that are new. In the uncomfortable places, where I clearly see how inadequate I am and how much God will have to make it happen, I learn and grow oh so much. This doesn’t mean I will give up the ways of serving that just come naturally to me. I believe there are some things I will always do because they bring me joy and reflect the way that God created me to be. I believe there’s nothing wrong with that. But I’m also looking for more opportunities that require me to be brave and place me in situations that aren’t so natural.  Because otherwise, I will stop growing and also have a super boring life.

Along similar lines, I’ve also realize that  some of my investments aren’t having the kind of impact that I would like. How do I serve in the kingdom of God?  There are a lot of people already in his kingdom that I love to spend time with. They are my people, my dearest friends and my closest associates. They are where I find my encouragement and my comfort. Their families are mine, so I take on their needs as mine. It’s a no-brainer, and it’s honestly not that hard. Is this the real sacrificial work of the kingdom? While it does sometimes require sacrifice, I’d argue that it’s not. It’s serving in my comfort zone. And although I am not serving the kingdom in the hopes of it being reciprocated to me, it often is. For another thing, these people already have Jesus. Sure, it’s great when they see him in me and it’s an encouragement, but it is not life-changing for them. I am not introducing someone to the face of my Savior who doesn’t already know him.

Are we as Christ’s church  just entertaining ourselves? Sometimes it feels like it’s way too much about us. Hopefully, we are building each other up and growing together, which does strengthen the kingdom. I realize it’s not all about adding to the numbers. But Jesus made it clear that spreading his message to those that haven’t heard it is pretty important. So why am I spending so much time with those who already know?

I want to increase my focus on adding to the kingdom of God. Doing so is requiring me to get out of my comfortable place and jump over into some uncharted waters that make me squirm a little.  So that’s kinda where I am in life right now. Just squirming around outside of my comfort zone. Trying to find a spot to get comfy enough to serve effectively but not so comfortable that he will ask me to move again too soon. God is asking for more of me than only what is comfortable and what comes naturally. Because if I fill my times of service with comfortable things,  then there is no time left for reaching outside of my zone. And outside of my zone seems to be where I find those who are really searching for the Savior, and where I grow as a person and in my relationship with Him.

Island Life: When God Says G0

moving
Our family at the airport  the day we moved to St. Vincent in March 2005.

As a young married couple with two little ones, our family spent two years living on the island of St. Vincent in the West Indies. Here’s the story of the day I knew we’d move there.

Nathan and I were full-time missionaries serving with Wycliffe Bible Translators. We had helped finished up a project in Peru where we sort of got our feet wet with translation and oral Bible story projects. Now we were ready to oversee a new project of our own, and were praying about where God would have us go.

There were many days and months of raising up prayer and financial support where I could not answer the important question: Where are y’all going?  Nothing makes you feel like an idiot without a plan more than not being able to answer this question. But God first asked us simply to GO, and we said yes. Remember when God said to Abram, “Go to the land I will show you”? Genesis 12 He asked him to leave his family and his country and go somewhere, but he didn’t tell him where. Our experience was a lot like that. We didn’t know  where we’d be going for a long while. Then we learned about some island projects our organization wanted to start using oral Bible story methods. We were asked to consider if this would be a fit for our family. So in November, Nathan and I visited the island of St. Vincent to see what we thought. This was my first time to leave both kids, who were 3 and 1 at the time. Yep,  I went all out and left for a third-world country for our first little getaway.

This was a scouting trip to meet with the people on the island who were asking for someone to come, to learn what it was like there and to see if we thought we could live there. After an overnight and a meeting with some church leaders in the main town, a pastor came to pick Nathan and me up to drive us to his village an hour and a half away. This was my first travel of this long and winding road that followed the coast all the way from the city to the village of Sandy Bay, where we would later live. I had no idea all the trips that were to come. In a few months, I’d travel that winding road on a bus with a very sick child in my lap. Read the story here. In a year, I’d travel that winding road holding a paper bag, as I’d be very nauseated and pregnant with our 3rd child.

Nathan sat in the front with the pastor and made conversation. I was in the back seat, taking in the new sights and listening to them talk. And then suddenly without any warning I was having a moment. It got dark quickly during that drive, and I was completely  lost in my own little divine meeting with God there in the backseat of this old car. It was an overwhelming point in time of God speaking to me, where everything converged and felt so strongly all at once. In that moment, I felt the urgency of getting God’s word into this language. I felt love and deep compassion for a people that I hadn’t yet connected with. I felt God say, “THIS. This is your place. Your task, your mission, your where. This is the land I wanted to show you.” I knew in that moment that I would be moving my family there. I immediately started sobbing and trying to hide it, which worked okay because it was dark and I was by that point so not a part of the conversation happening up front. I knew what God was asking of me, and I knew that I had to obey. It doesn’t mean that I felt all happy about it in the moment because I knew obedience would be hard. I  knew there would be a cost, and I looked around and understood in this seemingly strange and unfamiliar place a lot about what that cost would be.

I did not say anything about this to Nathan for a little while, because I knew that God was also speaking to him in his own way and time and I didn’t want to interfere with that.  But there was no doubt in my mind that we were going to be “island people”, and we soon talked about it and confirmed that God had made this clear to both of us. So we went back home and spent the next four months preparing for a big family adventure in St. Vincent.