Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Downside to Family Short-term Missions

We have been blessed as a family to serve together for the past two summers. We also enjoy opportunities to serve all year long together, and we know we're creating a lifestyle and experience for our daughters that not many children even imagine. Someday I'll try to list all the benefits of doing this sort of ministry as a family, but right now I'm realizing the one (and really, I can't think of many others!) downside to doing what we do. We don't really get a break.

Really, this has been a challenge of T's since we embarked on this crazy thing we call SPACE. T spends hours of time investing in students, planning events throughout the year, networking with missionaries/organizations about training, trips and purpose and all this while he's working a full time computer job and raising a family. It's a big deal, and there are a few things we've tried to institute to help with the stress level for him.

Some of those things include allowing him a budget and time for reading. He could literally open his own library at this point. He enjoys reading, takes notes, shares all he learns with me and anyone else who will listen and we can honestly say that much of what he's read has shaped his philosophies of missions, leadership development and church models. We've also tried to build in some down time each week for us. We're not always so great at doing this, but I need it, the girls love babysitters and if we didn't do this, T would be setting up meetings nightly with students. Gotta make him take a break!!

While we haven't intentionally chosen to do this, another way we've allowed for T to do what he does is for me to work very part time jobs as opposed to going back full-time to work. I've been really hesitant to go back to work for several reasons, but it has really given him the flexibility to do many things he enjoys doing. He loves to attend different conferences, loves to travel with at least one or two teams over the summer, he puts in just enough hours at work to free up more time with students. All those things are made easier by me being home most of the time for our girls. I can also say him changing jobs 18 months ago freed up a huge amount of his time - another choice we made so that our lives could include SPACE.

All this being said, our past two summers have left me feeling a bit of grief over not having a family vacation. Some of the reason for this is the fact that T has no vacation time left. Last year he had just started his job, so we had decided that we would just forgo our family time. This year I don't really know what happened, but there's negative vacation time left. It's a bit depressing.

To put our trip into perspective from a family point of view, the reality is that although we travel together on these trips, I would hardly call it a family vacation. I saw very little of T on our trip and even less of Kt. Out of 23 meals we were served in Hungary, I ate 3 of them with Kt and I believe just two of those were with our entire family. Most of the time, I had no idea where my kids were or what they were doing! And while that may sound glorious to many moms, while they were all off having fun, I was fulfilling my end of serving by watching the babies, which was fun and exhausting. The time spent with my family was spent with little energy.

For our little stint in Paris I actually asked T for some family time, and it was fun. It consisted of us running through Paris, taking as many pictures as we could, T on the phone every 10-15 minutes with various other team members, checking on a van for our luggage, trying to figure out what we could do for our sick team members and us rushing to meet up with the team from Cameroon that never showed up! Having a world phone is nice, but it definitely ate up our family time!!

So, in processing all this I was remembering past summers minus the family missions trip. Most of them involved me and the girls doing something on our own for about 10 days, sometimes having no contact with T, sometimes getting to talk to him once or twice, almost always having some kind of major disaster while he was away and being relieved and excited when he came home. The one thing each of those summers had in common, though, was T's great desire to spend a week or two with just his family, no students, no SPACE. And I have to admit, we needed that. These past two summers I haven't felt we've had that same break for various reasons. It almost feels like we've just hit the ground running when our plane landed.

I think next summer will look really different for us. I'm not sure how, but I'm really hoping for something that affords us all a break from ministry. I think we might have forgotten how to be a family in the past two years, and maybe that's a good thing? but I doubt it. We have not built in anything for just our family this year. Even the few things we're talking about for the end of this year all revolve around something ministry related. I'm so glad we took the girls to Europe because they have had an amazing experience, they've seen things many kids their age only dream of and they had an opportunity to serve other families like us. I think it's time for a furlough, though!

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