American Dream

(This is a special guest post from Alicia, serving in the Bahamas, that she graciously agreed to share after I had the blessing of reading a similar post on her personal blog.  Please enjoy these great thoughts from Alicia!)

What is your American Dream? What did you anticipate your life being like as an adult? Maybe you didn’t even realize you had an American Dream until you moved outside of the USA. I’ll tell you what mine was. Living close to my family, owning a home, my husband having a 9-5 job, being church and small group members, involved in ministry at the church, getting together with friends, ladies Bible Studies, going out to eat, garage sale shopping, family vacations, regular date nights, and access to health care…just to name a few.

When we first left for the mission field almost 5 years ago now, I didn’t realize how hard it would be to give those things up. That was normal. Maybe you always knew that you were going to be a missionary and you never anticipated having those things to begin with. God didn’t call me into missions until the end of my senior year of college and after. I had plenty of time to establish in my mind what my life would look like. Doing without the things in the above list was not in my plans!

I had to learn that God did not call me to have the kind of life I considered normal. God has called me to live a new kind of normal for myself and for my family. I thought that I had let go of these dreams until it came time to move to a new mission field about 6 months ago. I realized that in all of the delays (the move was “in the works” for 2 years) that I was secretly holding onto the dream to move back to the US and have the kind of life that I consider normal.

Except, this time it was more.

This time I realized that the Lord was calling me to give up the American Dream that I want for my kids. (We have two little ones now!) It wasn’t about me being near my family…it’s about wanting my kids to be near them. It’s not about me being involved in a church…it’s about wanting my kids to have Sunday school and AWANA. It’s not about me getting together with friends…it’s about wanting my kids to develop relationships with other kids from Christ-like families. It’s about wanting them to be able to play on little sports teams…to not always stick out in whatever crowd they’re in…to have opportunities to go to the museums and the zoo…and this list could also go on and on.

Every time I struggle with letting go of these things, the Lord draws me back to Philippians 3. Let’s look at a couple verses together. v.7-8 ”But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.” There is simply nothing in this world that is worth holding onto if it hinders knowing Christ!

v. 20 ”For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” I don’t belong in this earthly world anyways! My true citizenship is in heaven! Keeping this perspective fresh in my mind helps me on those days when I wish we could just hop in the car and drive to my parent’s house for a visit. Knowing that this earthly life is just a speck of time in the scope of eternity makes letting go of those things a whole lot easier.

How about you? Do you struggle with letting go of these things? I, by no means, have conquered this struggle. Some things have gotten easier to let go of as I’ve come to understand how much of the rest of the world is unlike the US. The being away from family part has only gotten harder the longer we’re away though. I would love to hear how you have handled this struggle in your own missionary experience!


15 Responses to “American Dream”

  1. 1 ambrosia4 May 6, 2010 at 12:13 pm

    Thanks so much for sharing this. I’m not actually a missionary mom, but we do live across the country from our extended family. With a 1-yr old I definitely find myself contemplating those very thoughts…wanting to be closer to family for HER sake, wanting a good church group (which is sometimes a struggle even in America!!), etc. It’s good to keep it all in heavenly perspective, though. It may not ever be easy, but we can trust that He will shape our little ones in His image regardless of where we are geographically. I needed this reminder 🙂


  2. 2 Ashley L May 6, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    I also agree that I feel the cost of living overseas in some ways has increased the longer we’ve been away, but like you, also have felt that God has helped our family to feel His leading and empowering to stay and do his unique will for our lives every step of the way. I guess the challenge never goes away, but I am thankful that the Lord is an endless supply of strength and comfort. I so appreciated your eternal perspective as I constantly need that reminder!

    Like you shared, I also had NO plan to be a missionary until I was in college. I remember confusing the words “missionary” and “mercenary” when in high-school, it was such a foreign idea to me! I never thought I would live more than about 30 miles from my parents and envisioned my life being much like what you described. I praise God for working out His will though, because I have found that I absolutely love what He has called us to, though I would have never imagined myself to be that kind of person! He knows me so much better than I know myself!

  3. 3 Elizabeth H. (Russia) May 6, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    I had done short-term missions all through high school and college, but didn’t really think about long-term until I was getting ready to move to Russia after graduating from college.

    There was a time before going when I wrestled with what I would have to give up and laid it before the Lord. So far that has been the distance from relatives that you mentioned. I have made it to all the weddings so far, but I have a few young nieces and nephews whom I rarely see. When I am busy here I don’t think about it that much, but I don’t think you ever really stop missing people. And I think that’s okay.

    So far, no family of my own yet. When I look at Russian families, I sometimes see things that scare me, and think to myself “I don’t WANT to go to work and send my kids to preschool” or “I don’t WANT the grandmother involved in everything” (which wouldn’t really be bad, just different.) But I see a lot of good things, too. We’ll see when the time comes.

  4. 4 Gina May 6, 2010 at 10:46 pm

    When I first moved overseas 11 years ago, I was determined that my kids would still feel American (I was pregnant with my first at the time). A wise woman later told me, “The second your kids stepped on a plane to live in another country, they became third culture kids and there’s no way to change that.” Ok, so they are third culture kids, but I still had this longing for them to have the idyllic American childhood experience I had – huge backyard, park across the street, neighbor kids all around.

    For a long time I lamented the fact that we live in concrete apartment buildings and we’re lucky if we find grass. One day when I poured out my heart to God about this, He gently reminded me, “Gina, your kids have traveled places most people never dream possible. They’ve ridden elephants in Thailand and climbed the Great Wall. They’ve played in the ocean, eaten food from a dozen countries, been exposed to all kinds of people, broadened their world views and they aren’t even teenagers yet. Do you really think this is a bad childhood for them?” I’m realizing it’s not the childhood I would have chosen for them, but it’s actually a better one! So thankful God has taken us places I might not have chosen to go on my own.

  5. 5 Ellie May 7, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    I grew up as a MK, a child of MKs, so I had no American dream. I mean, I had vague memories of being a small child with a big backyard and a school at the end of the block. That was fun for awhile, but then we went and saw so much more.

    For me, I struggled with having a “Missionary dream” for my kids. I dreamed that I would be raising them in a different place in the world, with them getting to see and experience so much. Being able to learn another language and play with children and see things differently. Being part of a missionary community with “aunties” and “uncles” around them. Being a part of what we do – seeing it, working with us on some things, able to share and see the world.

    And we got transferred because of some things to work from not home exactly, but close. My kids have a backyard with grass and trees and a school a few streets away. They can ride their bikes in the street and play hopscotch on the sidewalk.

    And I watch them and am sad… This was not my dream for them. I dreamed that they would be traveling the world and seeing so much… being MKs with experience of other cultures. Being “here” meant laying down that dream for us. They are slowly becoming “one-dimensional” kids instead of the multi-faceted ones that I had dreamed for them to be.

    But God has called us here, and He is carefully designing my kids for the path He has chosen for them. That is what I come back to – knowing He knows their future and will prepare them for it as only He knows how.

  6. 6 Sarah May 7, 2010 at 4:39 pm

    This was such a good post, and I’m really enjoying reading everyone’s comments. This topic is so relevant for me right now.

    The last couple of months I’ve really been struggling in this area… I knew in high school that God was calling me into overseas missions, and sort of happily put the whole idea of the “American Dream” behind me and never really thought about it or looked back when I left for college overseas. Then after marrying a European, moving to Asia, and having kids, I gradually began to start thinking about all that I’d left behind…especially the part about living down the street from my family in the house with the white picket fence.

    We just ended a 6-month furlough in the States and it was bittersweet time of living down the road in a beautiful house from my entire family, having grandparents and great-grandparents within walking distance, having our church and dear friends nearby, Super Target, the mall, etc, etc – sort of like living a temporary “American Dream.” Since then, I’ve really struggled with all that we (especially the kids) are missing out on, and there have been some days where I’ve just felt like throwing in the towel and going back to America and living a “normal” life.

    It was interesting to read Ellie’s perspective – kinda coming from the opposite angle of being in America yet yearning to be overseas. It did me good to be reminded that just changing my location won’t necessarily make me happier or feel more complete. I’ve been very challenged lately (thanks especially to my husband) to keep my eyes fixed on the Lord and to find my joy in HIM and Him alone. Not in my surroundings, not in friends or family (or lack of them). It’s not always easy to do that, and often I’d much rather just be lazy and wallow in sadness (self-pity??), but He is a never-ending supply of strength and comfort and it’s so humbling to think that He still wants to use us despite our many shortcomings.

  7. 7 Richelle May 7, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    I’m one of those ones who has always known that I’d serve the Lord on the mission field… but that didn’t stop me from having all the typical dreams girls tend to have… I naively figured I’d have my American dream and serve the Lord as a missionary. So as my sister and bro-in-law bought their beautiful home a few years ago… I wondered, “What would it be like?” Watching my high schoolers participate in soccer, basketball, cheerleading and high school formals this year has left an ache in my heart for which I was unprepared… but it is also something that comes from me and not from my children. They’ve had a great year and have loved living in the States, but they can’t wait to go home, asking every day if we’ve bought plane tickets yet and talking about the friends they miss and the things they want to do.

    Maybe part of the ache this time (which I’ve not really experienced before – outside of the sadness of saying goodbye) is the knowledge that this furlough was probably our last one as a nuclear family – next time, the current plan is that two will be in college. My sweet mother in law has serious, debilitating health problems that make it very possible she’ll go to be with Jesus before we return next time… and my kids might miss out on the privilege of knowing the sweet, godly woman that she is. I don’t believe that God asks us not to grieve a little for the dream of “What it might have been…” but what He longs for is that in that grieving, we allow Him to teach us dependence upon Him and that we learn and relearn each day that our hope and future is in Him and not in some dream of “What we thought it might be like.”

    Reading through Gen 15 one time, I was struck by the fact that God comes to Abraham and says, “I will be your shield and exceeding great reward.” My paraphrase is that God tells Abraham that He is giving Himself to Abraham… and really, my head says, what more could Abraham want? But Abraham’s response is a little like a petulant child who doesn’t like what Mom puts on the table for dinner: he says, “I don’t want You. I want the child You promised me.” Yet, just a few short chapters later, God takes Abraham from that point to where he is ready to sacrifice that same child, because his God commanded it…

    I remember people asking me how we could make this decision for our children… and how God could call us to do something that does deprive our children of so much opportunity. While it is true that our children experience and enjoy many things in life that their American peers might not, it is also true that they miss much that is considered normal and important. Unless, by God’s grace, we keep an eternal perspective, both my children and I can feel like they’ve been deprived because no matter how much I try to rationalize or romanticize the benefits of the tck life, from a worldly perspective, the negatives outweigh the positives. It is also true that I’m taking my children to a place where malaria, menengitis, measles, typhoid and dysentery are prevelent, everyday realities… and where, in our last 2 years there, we had two hospitalizations for resistant strains, including one where I was watching one of our precious kids slip away, except that God intervened.

    So I find that I have to cling to God’s Word and truths like: I am train up my child in the way that my child should go (not according to my hopes and dreams) and God has placed us in the best position for that to happen. We are not to love in word and tongue, but in deed and truth – and life on the mission helps me to live that daily in front of my children. We are to teach our children continually, throughout the day – and when I must depend on Him for the grace to live in difficult and hard place, they see me dependent upon Him. He promises to supply all my needs according to His riches in Christ Jesus… and lately I’ve been learning that sometimes my greatest need is to have a need. I try and focus on the day at hand and not worry about tomorrow, and that the best way to see God and His miraculous hand is to remain in the position of the obedient servant. And I pray, almost daily, that God gives me dreams and hopes for the future that are of and from Him, not ones of my own creation for either me or my children.

  8. 8 aliciafox May 8, 2010 at 3:35 am

    Wow! What a great discussion. I hesitate to even comment after Richelle’s thoughts here, she wrote truth so clearly.

    Back in January, one of the goals I set for 2010 is that the Lord would show me the hopes and dreams that HE has for my life. That I would let go of my ideas and expectations and trust Him fully. It’s a lot more than the American Dream for me. It reaches to every part of my life. I had a hard time keeping this post to just this subject because the Lord has been hammering this truth home in so many areas.

    As we can see from Ellie’s comment, we all struggle with a different dreams. Something or some way we thought life would be like, but God has chosen to do something different. We’ve all had hopes deferred.

    One of the specific things the Lord showed me, is the need for me to be thankful in everything. Seems like a basic concept, but it has really transformed the way I think. Choosing to always focus on what I have to be thankful for causes me to not dwell on something painful, an unfulfilled dream or a hope deferred. Our God is a big God and there is no end to what we can thank Him for!

    In the book “Having a Mary Spirit”, Joanna Weaver says,
    “God’s ways rarely make sense to our finite human minds. And if we aren’t careful, we will spend most of our life arguing with God rather than embracing His ways.
    Doubting His promises rather than trusting His power.
    Resisting His love rather than resting His arms.”

    I pray that we are all able to embrace, trust and rest.

    Thanks for sharing all your thoughts!

  9. 9 damaris May 8, 2010 at 5:44 pm

    this post is so right on, so touching.

    American dreams are over rated! You are doing a wonderful thing and you kids will appreciate the experience, for sure.

  10. 10 Corinne May 8, 2010 at 7:15 pm

    When I read this post, I thought maybe you had jumped inside my mind and written down my own thoughts. This month my husband and our two boys will celebrate our first anniversary on the mission field in Eastern Europe. I have struggled with these feelings off and on for so long. My husband is an MK and he just never seemed to understand what I was trying to say, but now I know there are others out there who too have experienced these same feelings. My boys are not yet old enough (ages 4 and 1) to appreciate the amazing life they have already lived! I try to remember that these dreams I have for them are mine, not theirs and their experiences will shape the way they view their lives and the lives of their families some day. I know that God is already shaping them into wonderful vessels for Him.

  11. 11 Ashley L May 9, 2010 at 3:33 am

    Wow, so so many amazing thoughts here. We could probably just stop putting anything new up on the blog for the next week or two to spend time thinking about all of your great comments. I have so appreciated the wisdom that you have all shared, as well as the opportunity to relate to one another in this. Richelle, I was so encouraged by your words and how you related this to the story of Abraham and Isaac, and the fact that yes, even though in many ways we can’t rationalize ourselves into thinking that the benefits outweigh the challenge from a worldly point of view, nothing outweighs being in the center of God’s will. Thank you everybody!

  12. 12 Kylene Bak May 9, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    I cannot really add anything except to say my heart is so encouraged and I feel like I am not alone in my struggles. Thank you so much ladies for sharing your hearts. What a special sacred bond happens here.

  13. 13 Phyllis May 10, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    I wanted to comment, too, but it’s taken me a while to read all the other comments. Once I got to the end, I felt like there wasn’t anything more to say.

    I don’t think I have much of an American Dream for my children. I feel like we are living my dream (except in Ukraine, instead of Russia! You should have heard me when my son started saying Russian words with a Ukrainian accent recently!)

    I know there are definitely parts of my life where I have to be careful not to “spend most of our life arguing with God rather than embracing His ways.
    Doubting His promises rather than trusting His power.
    Resisting His love rather than resting His arms.”
    What a great quote!

  14. 14 Kara May 17, 2010 at 4:58 am

    Such healing and godly thoughts. Thank you all for posting.
    I have realized that staying committed to our calling in ‘middle age’ is difficult. I just turned 35; teammates are leaving. my oldest child just finished his first year of national school. The missionary adventure felt great in my 20’s. Now that my friends all have post-graduate degrees and good jobs, I suddenly find desires for financial security and prestige that I never had. After a year furlough in the States, I know what I’m missing with my parents and sister’s family. And under all is a discouraging lack of fruit in our ministry. I have realized that it takes intentionality to renew my calling in my own mind. Our pastor preached on II Cor 4. The whole passage is incredible, but just the last verse, well, 17 and 18, really challenged me. …

    “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but he things that are unseen are eternal.”

    I’ve been realizing that if I don’t feed myself on biblical truths of eternity, it is only natural to start focusing on the temporal. Whether materialism, or the desire to ‘make a difference’ in ways I can see, the seen things are easy to desire. Now, my challenge for myself is to meditate on those truths.

  1. 1 Weekend Links « Busy@Home Trackback on May 21, 2010 at 7:41 am

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