I am an expert in kicking myself in the butt. For those of you who live life without regrets, this is not the blog post for you, friend. My life has been messy and beautiful and full of poor choices and better choices shaded by the inability to make decisions. I am grateful for the moments of perfect clarity and timing, but those are few and far between.
Some of those decisions rank low in the “change my life” category, like the beautiful red coat I spotted on the rack, tried on, considered buying and then decided against it hoping it would go on sale. The coat went on sale but out of stock in my size. That was more than 20 years ago, and every now and then I’ll kick myself in the butt for being practical to a fault (how many coats does a girl need?).
Other decisions are weightier . Will I stay home and put my career on hold when we start having children? How will we care for aging parents? How will we choose a church?
So when two opportunities of a lifetime vied for prime real estate on my calendar this fall I found myself in a familiar place – full of gratitude and momentarily full of whining.
Opportunity #1: to be home to see our children (and myself) through a major transition. This fall our oldest child is headed to high school. (Yes, I know. I don’t look old enough to have a child in high school. Yes, time has gone by quickly. Yes, she is nervous and Peter and I are too.) This fall our second child is headed to middle school. (Yes, we’re a little nervous. We’re not sure if he’s nervous, but neither is he.) And, our youngest, will be in 3rd grade and not have an older sibling at school. (Yes, he is excited and nervous, and so are we.)
Opportunity #2: to be one of 4,000 leaders from around the world to attend the Third Lausanne Congress, Cape Town 2010.
I know. Poor me.
I was honored & humbled to be invited to participate, and amazed at the opportunity to be a part of an international discussion on the critical issues we are facing and how they relate to the future of the Church. This was never in the career plans.
But after the thrill came the realities of the opportunity, the largest hurdle was time. Saying “yes” to #1 meant seeing my family through a once-in-a-lifetime transition, with the possibilities ranging from full of drama to smooth as butter. Saying “yes” to #2 meant being a part of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be a learn from international leaders and be a part of conversations that have a global impact. Raising money to attend and travel was one thing, but no one was going to be able to give me my time back.
All parents have to make choices weighing the pros and cons, comparing time and money against opportunities gained and lost. I have never been able to separate my statuses as Asian American Christian working mom and wife from one another, and this decision pulled on me in all directions and pushed all the right buttons.
When you say “no” to something, you are leaving open space to say “yes” to other things. That is what I tell other ministry colleagues, friends and even my family. In a culture and society that often screams “more is better”, saying “yes” to every good opportunity makes sense. Seize the moment. Carpe diem. No regrets. The phrases sound good and are wonderfully inspiring, perfect for a bumper sticker or status update.
But reality, at least the whole, big picture of reality, doesn’t fit neatly on a bumper sticker. Saying “no” can feel foolish. Saying “yes” can feel selfish. It’s all so messy, isn’t it?
So, I thought I knew within a week which opportunity to say “yes” to because I saw once-in-a-lifetime one way. It wasn’t wrong, but a month later it didn’t feel right. I needed to let go of some angst, deal with ambition and self-image issues, figure out what space I was going to leave in my life and how to draw the margins.
This fall 4,000 leaders from around the world will gather in Cape Town, South Africa and I will watch Bethany become a high schooler, Corban become a middle schooler, and Elias become a third grader. I will not be discussing issues facing the Church, but I will be discussing scheduling challenges facing a family headed in five different directions. I will not be with thousands of international leaders, but I will be with three future leaders who will probably be running a little late or needing a little help and teaching me a few things about life in the process.
It is a once in a lifetime opportunity I could not pass up.
As always, your eloquent words, made me think. And I have two things to say…one…your children will only be children for a relatively short time of your life…and two…there’s bound to be a Fourteenth Lausanne Congress in 2021…(I purposely chose the year AFTER Elias will enter college…because I know you would not want to miss THAT transition) and who knows where in the world it will be held, but I’m sure your attendance will still be desired 🙂
Love you and think you are an inspiration to mothers everywhere.
Kathy- Wow, as a child of a missions leader, I must say how fortunate your children are to have a mom who is obviously so accomplished and capable and willing to prioritize being their mother. I wish more men created the space in their lives to make those choices. The rewards for you will be huge.
I won’t list all the significant moments where my dad was elsewhere in the world. You stop caring after a while. (Or try.)
On the other hand, most men will not understand your decision.
Right on, sister! As Ouk-Yean (there she is again) reminded me: My child is my ministry now.
I’m blessed to know you.
way to go Kathy- I’m sure that was a hard choice. And I will say I’m jealous that you got an invite to Cape Town! I know the Lord will bless your decisions as you seek to honor your calling & family.
I applaud you for being able to hear God’s voice clearly enough in the midst of the swirling emotions and thoughts with regards to that decision. It’s nice to have decisions that seem to have multiple positives rather than multiple negatives. I pray that you remember the reasoning and remember all of this when times get tough and you might say “I wish I had just chosen…”.
I moved around a lot as a child, and I had the opportunity to be in many wonderful circumstances. But we moved together as a family, although my father usually was flying somewhere for the Air Force. When my father left the military, he tried to get back into the chosen career he wanted before. Teaching. So, my father had to help raise two children getting ready to grow into teens. We thought we would see much more of him after he came back from Vietnam. We were wrong. For many years, studying and teaching at the same time, he would get up before the sun, and come home so often past my and my younger brother’s bedtimes.
It was awful for him, and for us it was like a giant tease for his time. But, after he got his Masters, things settled down. Unfortunately, no one knew each other in the family. Not really anyway. We didn’t know how to live with each other, and eventually my parents’ marriage disintigrated.
I share this to encourage you that choosing family over opportunities, or choosing your children over a once in a lifetime chance cannot ever be wrong. At least to me. The investment that I wish had been made in our family or could have been I’m still trying to make right… 30 years later. I pray that you are able to see the fruit immediately, but also that you can see that fruit in the eyes of your great-grandchildren’s relationships with their parents… That type of love, affection, commitment to family passes down for generations.
Be blessed and well.
I love your comments about your once in lifetime opportunity with B, C, and E and the way that their schedules may not seem as important as the conference, but actually do require just as much work and planning and communicating as a family. in some ways, though the two choices posed two different experience options, the lessons and skills afforded by each opportunity are not so different.
It is very heartwarming to see that you chose to spend the time with your family. As a parent, God has given you the charge of bringing your children up in His word, which calls for your presence in certain key moments of transition. It must have been hard trying to choose between the two, but I hope that you are truly at peace.
I can only pray that I would be able to choose as you did if a situation like yours ever comes my way.