I know I wasn’t going to blog this week, but my blogging button got pushed, hard.
First, I saw a video of an absolutely adorable little girl who is “donating” her birthday to raise money for the famine in the Horn of Africa. Right after that, I saw a post on Facebook discussing the best time to relocate “third culture kids”–kids who grow up in countries that are not their own. (My TCK instincts were shouting “Never!”) These topics may sound disconnected, but hang with me for a second.
The little girl in the video is obviously a happy little kid blessed with parents who love her and love God, but watching it hit a nerve in my heart. Her innocent little face, her lack of comprehension about the horrors she was nevertheless expected to interface with, her desire to please her parents by trading birthday presents for food distribution–they were all too familiar.
I remember being in the nursery in the basement of my tiny little church in Northern Wisconsin, waiting for my class’s turn to take the stage for the Christmas pageant. The teacher asked us, if Jesus came to earth and asked us to give him all our toys, would we? I honestly agonized over the question. I thought I would, but what if Jesus wanted to take Honey Bear, the teddy I slept with every night? The thought was scary and made me sad. But was something wrong with me, was I less “good,” because I would hesitate before handing over Honey Bear?
It was Honey Bear I clutched as my family got ready to board the plane for Liberia. (My grandma told me years later that it just about tore her heart out, watching me white-knuckle that teddy as I walked onto the plane.) It turned out to be a darn good thing that I carried Honey Bear on, because all the rest of my toys, including Patty, the homemade Cabbage Patch doll my grandma had made for me, were stolen when the shipping container landed in Freetown, en route to Liberia.
I was consoled with the fact that Patty had probably landed in the arms of a little African girl who didn’t have any toys. I was glad for that girl, but I was still heartbroken. The missionaries banded together and collected wonderful hand-me-down toys for my brother and me, and my grandparents scraped together the money to buy me a real Cabbage Patch doll, but I still asked my dad to look for Patty every time he traveled to Freetown, hoping against hope that he would find a little African girl holding a homemade doll with yellow yarn curls–that he could buy that little girl a different toy, a better toy, and bring Patty home to me.
It pales in comparison to children starving in the Horn of Africa. I know this. But it was still incredibly traumatic to my tender little girl heart.
Honey Bear was the teddy I brought with me on sleepovers with friends from ELWA, the mission school I attended. During one of those sleepovers, my best friend Nicole and I read a story about a little girl who donated blood to save her baby brother, who had been in a horrible accident. After the blood was donated, she asked how long it would be before she died. Obviously she had misunderstood what was being asked of her, but Nicole and I were convicted, and discussed in muted tones whether we would be as brave, as sacrificial, as she was. I think we were eight.
Nicole and I had a very developed understanding, at a very young age, of what it meant to “take up your cross.” But had we really taken them up, or had simply they been laid on us by people who were bigger than we were, people whose agendas we were powerless against? And were our little souls strong enough to carry the heavy weight “God” had placed on them?
I have reason to believe they were not. Praise God for the healing that has taken place, and pray for the healing yet to occur.
This is a tough subject for me. I want to live a God-honoring life. I want to give sacrificially. And there are definitely times when I’m tempted to sell everything I own and move my family to Haiti, or rural India, or back to Liberia, to help the truly desperate.
And then there are times I look at my sleeping children and think, like hell. Like hell am I going to make them go through what I went through. Let them have birthday parties with lots of fun, frivolous presents, let them lick the frosting off the cupcakes, their little minds untainted by thoughts of famine. Let them grow up in the same little town, attend school dances with girls they’ve known since they were two, and graduate with their football buddies. Let them be kids, for Christ’s sake!
And yet, now that I’m older, I wouldn’t trade those years in Africa for anything. They took a chunk out of me, to be sure, but my world would be so small, my heart’s capacity stunted, I believe, if I had grown up cloistered in my little community. Am I robbing my children of vital experiences that could help them grow, and deepen their walk with Christ?
As Grover from Sesame Street would say, “Oh, I am so confused!”
But here’s what it comes down to for me:
It is one thing to take up your cross and follow Christ. It is another to be crushed under another’s expectations, dragged kicking and screaming to someone else’s Calvary.
It is one thing to suffer because things are hard. It is another to be called selfish when you cry out in pain.
It is one thing for God to be with you in your suffering. It is another for God to be the cause of your suffering, according to your parents, or your teachers, or your mission organization. I mean, seriously? People send their babies off to boarding school so they have more time to advance the Kingdom of God? Someone thought this was a good, God-honoring idea?
Luckily, my parents are wonderful, gracious people who didn’t make the big missionary mistakes. They didn’t lay unreasonable expectations on me (although I certainly managed to absorb them from other sources). They didn’t condemn my feelings, or minimize my grief over everything living in Liberia cost me. And I think my mother would have burned every boarding school on the continent to the ground before letting my brother or me be sent off to one. But there still was a lot of loss, a lot of sacrifice, a lot of pain involved in the missionary kid experience.
Raising kids in a materialistic society has its problems, but trust me, raising kids with an ascetic spirituality has its pitfalls too.
Here’s my question: How do we help our children see the needs in the world, help them develop Christ’s compassion for those who are hurting, without laying weights that function like millstones on their little hearts? What if in demanding that a child gives up her toys, or her homeland, or her family, or her life for “Jesus,” Jesus loses what he really wants from her–her trust, her love, her heart?
I am here to tell you, it does happen. A lot.
What do you think? How do you find this balance with your children? And I really am asking–I need ideas!