Friday, September 6, 2013

What are you thinking?!

"I don't get it...
What are you all thinking?!"

Have you ever looked at someone else's life and said these words?
Or maybe you just thought it.

Maybe your response came from a place of judgement, but more likely it comes from a place of sheer confusion. You just don't really understand why someone would do...that.

Our family gets the shocked/confused/perplexed face fairly often.
There are some choices we have made as a family that don't fit into the "norm" and often times folks are simply confused as to why we would choose this seemingly nonsensical path.

In this post, I seek to explain a little bit of where we're coming from, as a family.
Not to defend any one world view.
Not to speak for anyone else who has made similar choices.
Simply to expose our hearts and intentions,
in hopes that it will be easier to understand us.
And who knows?
Maybe you know someone like us and it will help you understand them a little better too?
The goal is not to have you necessarily agree with us.
There's nothing wrong with disagreeing.
There aren't any 2 people in the world who always agree.
I think that it's not  the agreeing that's important.
It's the listening.
And the understanding.
I have found in my own life that it's easier to distance myself from people who I don't understand.
And it always seems easier to keep misunderstanding than it is to seek to understand.

I also think that, most of the time, when we stop and take the time to listen to people who are different from us, we will find an immense amount of compassion and grace hiding in our hearts.
SO, like I said, I am not speaking to any one particular person or for any group of people.
And please know that I am not speaking against anyone who has differing opinions. 

Just here to say...In case you've ever wondered...this is where this family is  coming from.

Often times, I think people think we are either
 Super crazy,
Super weird,
or Super Spiritual.
I think we are non of the above.

But then again, from where I sit, it would be hard to say, definitively.
At least about the weird and crazy part.
I can say definitively we are NOT super spiritual.
We are just regular people whose lives really were made new and redirected by a Super natural event.  We were made into new and different people after being drawn into a personal relationship with the  God of the Bible.
This one relationship does motivate all of the choices that we've personally made. But that is because we serve a very personal God who very personally leads His people.
It doesn't mean that our choices are "distinctly Christian" choices or ones that all Christians should make, if they love Jesus.
With that preface...

What kinds of things exactly do we get funny looks for? What kinds of things do people ask us questions about either directly or indirectly? Here are a few.


1. Why would you take your family (especially all of your young children) all the way to a third world country to live? Isn't that selfish or foolish at best? Surely, their quality of life and safety is greatly compromised. You're not just some bohemian couple who can travel at a whim. You have to think about your children, too.

We've chosen to live, for a time, in the Dominican Republic instead of our small town in North Carolina, where all of our family resides. This does come at a level of sacrifice. But every choice you ever make will come at a certain degree of sacrifice.  Even living in a nice, big house in Suburbia and having the best insurance possible will come at a sacrifice (Someone has to work long, hard hours to afford said life). The real question becomes, "Is this sacrifice worth it?" We live here because we have the opportunity to serve Haitians living here and we consider this work to be something God set aside for us to do as part of our "life's work." For how long and in what capacity is totally up to God.
We believe certain things about our personalities and dynamics as a family have been given to us as gifts from God, to help us accomplish the tasks laid before us. It's not so much that we do these things because of our personalities or desires, but that our desires and personalities are tools for us to use.
For example-
we like change, are pretty resilient, enjoy traveling, don't mind living minimally, are fairly laid back by nature, etc.
We do think about how our choices affect our children. This is of great importance to us. We are not comfortable sacrificing our children at the altar of work wether it is called ministry or humanitarian work or being a good doctor, or teacher, or plumber. They are a great priority to us and we expect that whatever choice we make as we follow our good and loving God (who greatly loves them too) will have powerful affects on who they become. We also expect that our choices, just like all parents, will have some "negative" affects and some "positive" affects on them. Many times, it is hard to see from where we sit how it will all shake out. Our hope is that our children will be flexible, resilient, sharp-thinkers, who can process much of the unknown world around them and love people well regardless of where they come from, because of the experiences that they are having in their early years. We hope that they will be strong and have the ability to do things that are uncomfortable with servant hearts to lead those around them.
BUT
it could be that they become people with OCD who crave stability and avoid riding in tight minivans at all costs, so as not to relive their childhood of being packed into gwa-gwas with ladies who carry chicken's in their purse.
Hard to say.
Gonna have to trust God on that one.
And love them like crazy, regardless.
And be willing to apologize.



2. When are you all going to stop having kids? And why wasn't it a couple kids ago? 
The other day, we were walking through Sosua, a town here in the Dominican, close to where we live.
We were waiting at a cross walk. I carried Joey in the sling on the front of me and held Shepherd's hand while Noah held Aslan and Haddon's hand. Sosua is a not a town intended for families and the crowd that frequents it's streets are, well let's just say, not generally families.
A couple of ladies zoomed up on their moped to the light where we were waiting to cross. She looked at us wide-eyed and counted out loud while pointing at each of our children, "Uno, dos, tres, quatro..." wherein we couldn't help but interject in unison, while pointing at my belly, "cinco!!"
It was like a cheesy moment from a Spanish Sesame Street episode.
They laughed and shook their heads like, "Crazy gringos," and off they went.

I think those moments are funny. I am  not a person that is easily offended and I get that it's just completely out of the expected norm.

So, why do we keep having more kids?
Well, one reason is...
 we like it.

I enjoy being pregnant.
I really enjoy all of my kids.
So the thought of more is a pleasant one.
It's not totally complicated.
It doesn't mean that you don't enjoy your kids as much as I enjoy mine if you've chosen to have less children than we have.
I'm just saying it's not all that puritanical.
We are young. We are happily married. We do what young, happily married people do and we get pregnant and we're ok with that. God could have designed the conception of a child a million different ways and he chose one specific way.
And we aren't in a place at this point in our lives where we want to go to great lengths to redirect His natural design. We know most people do and that they love God just as much,if not more, than us.
It doesn't mean we are trying to make some sort of "statement." It doesn't mean we have a number of children in mind for our family. It doesn't mean we will have more after this baby, or that we won't. We will just take life one gift at a time. There are certain ethical convictions we do have about the gift of children and the sanctity of life and God's design within creation. We have no idea what life will hold for us and for our future.
We just know that we want to have hearts that are always open to the gift of a child.
For a child truly is a gift, in every way.
Always. regardless of their health, regardless of their gender, or the timing of their birth.
We want to have hearts that are filled with thankfulness, when gifts are given to us.  We, as people, cannot always recognize a gift when we see it at first. But we want to always have hearts predisposed towards gratitude.


But how will you provide for all of these children?! Financially? Emotionally? Spritually? Eeeeeek!!!!!

This is the one we get the most. People are generally most concerned about the financial element, which I find surprising, to be honest.

Noah and I are Americans. This means we are from one of the richest countries that has ever existed in all of history. At least for now.
Of all people in the world, it is hardest to make an argument for having less children in America because you won't be able to provide for them.

Right now, we live in a third world country where people truly struggle to feed their children.
With that said, we are from a country where parents are almost ALWAYS able to feed and clothe and shelter their children if they so desire (barring mental illness or some other unique circumstance.)
Maybe not exactly how they want to but not because there simply isn't enough work or food or shelter.

Noah and I live the way that we do by our own choosing. Financially, this means that currently Noah has chosen a vocation that offers a product that does not bring in it's own income. Therefore we, like almost all people in our type of work (pastors, humanitarian/aid workers, some non-profit employees, politicians, etc) rely on the financial support of others who want to see us do the work we do. If people who believe in the mission of HaitiLove did not give, we simply could not do the work we do. But they give because they believe that this is God's mission and not just a personal whim of our family. We strive to gain more support on a monthly basis and this is a major area of prayer for our family.
With that being said, God has always provided for our family, abundantly.

In many seasons of our lives, God has provided for us through a job that brings a direct income for it's service (i.e. electrician, carpenter, youth pastor).
Noah has done many jobs and provided for our family in many ways and this is always a priority to him. Our children have never gone without needed food/nutrition and we don't ever expect them to.
I choose not to work outside of our home to bring an income and Noah chooses to be in full time ministry right now.
And we choose to live with the limitations of these choices. Our children have never complained about all of the time they get with me.
They may complain about not getting to pick out any toy they want at Target or eat out whenever they want. But that is just life. No one always gets what they want.
At any point in time, if God ceased providing for our family to do what we do, we are left with numerous options.
Now,
part of the reason Noah and I can do what we do is because we have a low expectation of financial "stability" and a high threshold for financial "instability."
What this means is that we are simply more comfortable with a certain level of "financial instability" than most people. This is a matter of both preference and conscience.
Most people prefer to live at a level of material comfort that is slightly higher than ours
 (though I do like material comfort aplenty. More on that in a moment.)
I think it just has something to do with those special "tools" God has given us.
 I'm not saying that we are slumming it or anything. We are not poor. Trust me. We just have less than most Americans.
BUT, I honestly do not care if we ever own our own home.
I could care less of we have 2 cars... or 1... or none (though I'd prefer one to none;). I doesn't bother me much if I drive a junk heap that will keep me from having to stress over spilling coffee on the upholstery. Or if I get the opportunity to drive a beamer that I don't eat or drink in. Either way is fine for me...I think. Don't have much experience with the latter;)
We don't need a spacious home. I don't have to have a "new house" or a "nice house." I've lived in both. They're both equally a home to make memories in.
It's not that I don't care AT ALL or that I don't struggle with materialism. Trust me. I DO.
It's just that I don't care enough to let it drive us to make different lifestyle choices.
I'm as materialistic as the next gal. I love shopping. I love beautiful things and regardless of if we live in a trailer or a big house, I will try to reflect the beauty of our Creator in both order and creativity.
I just don't HAVE TO have _______to be happy.
I may want it some times. Bad. But not enough to go work a full time job. Not enough for Noah to go get a job somewhere else only for the sake of "financial security."
Especially because "Financial security" tends to be a false illusion anyway.

Anyone can lose their perfectly secure job at any moment so making decisions solely with financial security in mind isn't what makes most sense to us.
Especially when God is so clearly leading us down a path that may not offer financial security but does offer the peace of following obediently after Jesus and His plan for our lives.

It's perfectly honorable to work hard at whatever you do and even to seek financial stability for yourself and your family.  We seek to do this through raising our own support and having our monthly support goal be one that provides things like insurance for our family.
But this is also why I say it is a matter of conscience. Some people would have to betray their conscience to go without insurance for a time or not provide certain things for their family that are either real or perceived needs, so it would be wrong for them.
But we are fully at peace with the choices we've made and feel that our entire family is well provided for.




Sure, all those kids may not seem like a big financial burden NOW, but wait till they're older or worse... in college!

Yeah, maybe.
I don't know because I've never had teenagers or children in college.
Here's what I do know.
I have three boys right now who eat like grown men.
I plan to restrict all sports in our home so that extra calories can't be burned, therefore raising poets and artists, instead of athletes.
This is a practical step towards keeping the grocery bill down.
Oh, Shoot!!
But I need them to play sports so they can get scholarships because I can't afford their college!!
Well, crapper.
I'm up a creek on that one.

But seriously, here's the thing.
I know I am not enough for my children. 
Neither Noah or I were made to give them all that they ever need in life.
We are 2 people with limited time, resources, patience, etc. But we will live and make choices both knowing this and yet simultaneously acting like we are enough. I don't know if that makes sense.
Here's what I mean.
My children aren't a side note in my life. We make choices assuming that they need ALL of us. And yet, we will run up against our limitations and our humanity time and time again. And this will not be surprising to us.
They were not made for us and us for them.
They were made for God.
And, gratefully, His limitations are truly endless.
There will be so much we cannot be for them. So much we cannot offer to them. Not just financially, but in so many ways. Yet I have no doubt that they will always have all of what a person really needs in life. They will have all that God has in His endless resources available to them, if they want it. A person is so much more than flesh and blood and circumstances. They are people with a body, a soul, and a mind.
 My hope is not to offer them everything but instead to offer them the real things.
They will struggle and they will find places of great need and there will be times I want to rescue them or offer a way out and I cannot. But God knows what they really need and they were made for Him and His plans for their life.
So they will be ok.
Life is hard. And life will offer us all many obstacles and disappointments and I hope they will experience some of this reality in the environment of a loving home before they have to experience it in a harsh world with people who don't know or care about God being at the center if it all.
This is of immense comfort to us.
And this is a big reason why I am not afraid of having 5 children. Or no retirement. Maybe I should be more afraid.
Maybe one day it'll hit me like a mac truck. But I don't think it wise to make decision based out of fear. I am not afraid about my future or about my children's future. Proverbs 31:28 speaks of a woman hopeful about the future, "laughing at the days to come..." even though she doesn't know what exactly they will hold.
Our lives may be terribly hard and they may be terribly wonderful and they may be both. And that may or may not have something to do with the amount of children we have or our lack of savings. Our children, thus far, have brought us an immense amount of joy and we look forward to the next one.



As far as college goes...
I am not planning on being able to afford my children's college education.
Don't call Social services yet.
To be honest, that would be the case wether we had 1 child or 12 children. College in America is very expensive and though I don't know the future, I don't anticipate Noah and I making the kind of income that affords many of the college options available.
Now.
This doesn't mean I have stolen opportunities from my children.
They are free to go to college-if they want to.
They don't have to.
Maybe God has made them to do something that doesn't require a college education and they are dang good at it and they love doing it more than anything else.
They should do that thing.
OR
Maybe I end up being better at this homeschooling thing than I realize and one of my kids is crazy smart and wants to be a doctor.
They will need to go to school for that.
And lots of it.
And we can cross that bridge when it gets here.
They can, believe it or not, work their way through college.
It may be really hard. But hard stuff isn't bad.
Maybe they're smart enough to get a great scholarship.
Maybe.
Maybe.
Maybe.
There are plenty of options available for almost any goal.
I want to raise children who know themselves and their gifts very well. I want to raise people who know what God has given them to offer this world. People who know where they're going in life before we pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to figure it out.
And then, once our children know where they wanna go, we will do everything in our power to get them there and pray for all of the the things outside of our power.
We're in 100% to see our children be successful.
There are just lots of unknowns and many ways to define success.
We are choosing to invest the majority of our efforts into their person as a whole in the present and not worry about their future and all of it's unknowns.

If we can build people.
I am confident that they will build lives.

On that note, people some times wonder...

Why do you choose to homeschool your kids? Aren't they missing out on tons of socialization and educational opportunities?!

Yeah, Maybe.
There are pro's and con's to every choice. There are things we gain and things we lose from homeschooling. But for our children and our family life right now, we gain far more homeschooling than we lose.
I could sit here and argue for the fact that not all home schoolers are weird and that they generally excel beyond their peers academically. But who cares?
Umm, I think lots of kids are weird.
Lots of people are weird.
And lots of people are smart in lots of different ways.
I went to public school up until junior high and then onto private school and finally homeschool, finishing it off with a good ol' dropout and GED.
Which one of those made me weird, huh?
 I have tried it all and enjoyed different elements from them all. I don't think that there is one way to educate a child. I simply think that it is important for parents make the decision of how to educate their child with a well informed, humble, prayerful attitude. And may they be led by faith. There may very well be a particular child or a particular season in our lives when we choose to educate our children totally different. These are people we are raising! Not robots. May God continue to lead us and may we walk by faith regardless.
We've weighed the options. We've watched our children and we know our family and this is the best option. Today.
It's not the blueprint to building successful people.
It's just us listening to God lead us. Today.
And we are so grateful for the freedom to choose this for our family.
We don't know everything. No teacher does. We have tons of resources, tons of love and tons of insight into these little people. In that sense, we have much more than most traditional teachers.
But it still doesn't mean it's always the best option.
Just now. For us.














6 comments:

laura mouro said...

Amen! Great post! Congratulations on #5! What a blessing.

laura mouro said...

Amen! Loved your post! Congratulations on #5--what a blessing!

Sue Gann said...

LOVE you both I mean...all 7 of you! So blessed to know you is how I always feel. Thank you for sharing... I don't think I have ever read something so easily and heard such a sweet voice in my head saying such common sense things! (yours)
I have to say I am envious often of your relationship with God and all that you share! Much love to you and Noah and the blessings... and thank you :)

Tara N. Howell said...

Your post was so encouraging to me in so many ways! We have been asked the very same questions b/c our lives don't "make sense" to many people. I will pray for your ministry/mission, and again, thank you for posting with such honesty!

Tara N. Howell said...

Steph,
Your post was so encouraging and refreshing to me, as we have been asked the very same questions. Our lives have not "made sense" to many people, but we continue to trust and follow the Lord's leading. I will pray for your ministry/mission. I truly appreciate your honesty!

Jessica Connell said...

Thank you for writing all this down. I needed to read it this morning and be encouraged about all the "weird" choices we make too.

Doug & I have talked many times about how each choice that we make seems to make us more weird. That was even more the case when we were overseas like y'all. And sometimes the weird takes its toll and feels heavier. I'm kind of in that spot this week, so reading this now was timely.

And- one more thought-- #5 was the first one born that I felt like went back to people just being happy for us. #3 got mild eyebrows raised. #4 got rude comments. By #5, people who had even said *RUDE* things started actually just "celebrating the weird" with us. :) And before we ever got preg with #6, some of those same people were discussing why we should have tons of children (even more openly than I felt about it at the time, LOL). So attitudes CAN change (they don't always, but they can). Take heart. I'm sure you absolutely know this but you will never regret the person that this baby will be, and never regret the relationships that this baby will bring to your family. Congratulations!