Alace and I have been blessed with many great things in our life, but we really treasure 3 amazing gifts above all other earthly ones.
The first gift came on December 21st of 1994 in a hospital in Nacogdoches, Texas. The cool thing about the gift was that we got to give it a name. We decided on Joseph Carter.
The second gift came on August 8th, 1996 in Longview, Texas. We called this one Megan Catherine.
Leading us to the third gift on August 25th, 1998 in York, Pennsylvania- Samuel Caedmon.
Parenting these three kids has been such an honor. As any parent knows, as much as you seem to be teaching your kids, they seem to teach right back to you.
There's many dynamics in taking kids to live outside the country that you yourself called "home". In fact, when a child spends a good amount of his or her formative years outside of the country that their parent called "home", the children earn the title "third culture kid" (TCK). So... our kids are going through some of that. They are TCK's. There have been books written on the dynamics... Alace has read some of them... I'm sure they're insightful.
So, when our family went "home" to the states, we were returning to a place where the number of choices and diversions skyrockets. In Africa, diversions, for our family, were limited to about 3 main selections: "screen time" (tv/internet/dvd/Wii/etc.), card games, and the beach. There were other things, but those were the main ones. Contrast that to the other side of the ocean. In the states, the number of choices is exponential. It wasn't until later in our time back in the US that Alace and I bothered to chat about the challenges that this might pose on our family. Here's a "for instance"...
For instance, when our kids asked for permission to go here or there, or to buy this or that, there's an interesting thing that would happen in my brain. I would think, in that moment, "you know... for the last 2 or 3 years my children haven't been able to even consider this thing, so why not?" And, in that moment, I have to be honest with you... I had guilt and, on some level, that guilt played a part in my decision. I would often say "yes" to such appeals to purchase this or that (within limits, of course) or to go here or there. It took me a while to recognize this... or, should I say, acknowledge it and discuss it with Alace.
I'm happy to say that we did, in the end, recognize, acknowledge, and discuss this phenomenon. We had to fess up to the fact that we also allowed this thinking to creep into our own choices. When faced with a Dairy Queen or Dunkin Donuts along our path, there were those moments of internal dialogue... "you know... I'm on a limited timeline here in the states... you know... I really should load up on things that I could otherwise not get when I'm away... you know... I really do deserve it..." and so on. Sadly, I must admit to returning to Africa with my belt on the next notch larger.
Another line of justification goes like this... "Hey- I'm not gonna be back in the states for a few more years. I better load up on this or that or update all my technology, etc." That's a good one. I have "a friend" who got bit by that one this past visit to the states. Is it wrong to think that? No, of course it's good to make sure you have the right tools for the work that you're called to- no question. However, there is a limit, right? Do I need the iPad? Do I need the iPhone? Another good line is, "Hey- I'm an 'early adopter'... it's just in my blood to get the 'latest and greatest' stuff!"
So, here's the rub... If every trip to the states (or anywhere that you have more choices) is another occasion for us to give into our "guilt" or my "justification" for indulgence, we open ourselves up for over indulgence. Not only that, but when you add in the fact that your children are part of the equation, you run the risk of planting unhealthy ideas about what returning to the US is all about.
How much is too much? Where's the line? Hmm... good question. Certainly, there are things that are unquestionably good to take advantage of when you can find them in the world- better healthcare, drinking water, connection to a faith community, clean places to live, safer transportation, etc. However, then we come to the "not-so-much-needed" stuff of life, so to speak. Some places, like the US, are filled with more than others. However, most anywhere you go, there are opportunities for over-indulgence. The question becomes, "How much is enough?"
If you happen to hold the "purse" in your family, surely you've had this moment... someone approaches you with the request for cash to go get something that they "NEED". Then ensues the chat about what is truly a "need" verses a "want", rolling of eyes, personal insults, charges of hypocrisy, etc. It can get messy.
Well, if you've ever met our kids, you know that we are blessed with really balanced children. I'm not in fear of them going "overboard" into a lifestyle of over indulgence. Alace and I are parents trying to do the right thing and give our kids a healthy worldview. When it comes to the "stuff" of this world, we simply tell our kids, "Listen, we're not on this world for long. God has given us stuff to borrow and take care of for the time being- stuff that is durable and consumable. Also included are our minds and bodies. We should be taking care of all these things in such a way that gives evidence that we are simply 'stewards' for a time, and we're grateful for such a gift."
So, over-indulgence puts the focus on the "stuff" and not the ONE who blessed us with the stuff. Over-indulgence also takes from any testimony to others that we are being wise stewards of these God-given blessings.
Luke, the physician and friend of the apostle Paul, wrote in his Gospel, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." Here is a call to good stewardship... the responsibility of having "stuff".
How much is enough? How about this question... "Who" is enough? Jesus is enough. He is sufficient, not any thing in this world. The Creator God, our Heavenly Father, was more then generous when he gave us His only Son, Jesus (John 3:16 - Merry Christmas!) With this perspective, I believe we're free to live a life that is "wealthy" or "poor" or anywhere in between in the eyes of our world. We realize that none of it belongs to us. It's only by God's grace that we have any of it.
Many people misquote the 1st century Roman writer, Petronius saying, "All things in moderation", however, what he really said was "Moderation in all things, including moderation". I'm not sure that misquoting him has much to do with this, but, suffice it to say, that quotes like this and others like "Do you own your stuff, or does your stuff own you?" become hollow- they miss the point that we're in a dream world if we think we own any of it to begin with.
So, how much is too much when heading to a "land of plenty"??? That's probably not the right question. A better question is, "What is capturing my heart? ... the stuff? ... or the ONE who has blessed us with it?"
Now, in case you've developed the idea that I'm a kill-joy, let me add this...
I have a friend, JD, who works in a West African country. He and his family went for an extended visit to the states and he told his young children, "when ever you see a Dairy Queen and wanna stop, just say so." That must have been fun... I was thinking at the time, "JD, you can take me on a trip to the states anytime you'd like!"
Has our God been generous with us? Yes! To an unimaginable degree! Can I, as a father, risk being overly generous to my kids from time to time? Yeah... I think that'd be a great risk to take.
(ps. Seriously, if you have questions/concerns about over-indulging your kids, there are a lot of resources out there. Don't believe me? Check out "www.overindulgence.info")