When my kids were in elementary school and I was campus minister at USC, I had responsibilities on the denomination’s region staff. My dear friend, colleague and fellow region staff person was responsible for raising support for missions among the American Baptist Churches of Los Angeles. She would put on meetings quarterly at which she would invite representatives from each of the AB churches and then bring missionaries and people in ministries of outreach that the churches supported with their money designated for missions. She would call me early in the week and tell me that I needed to be there to share about the campus ministry. These meetings happened on Saturday mornings which was a day that I was home with the kids as my husband worked on that day. So what that usually meant was that I would pack up the kids and hope that they could entertain themselves while I did my thing at the meeting. But as it turned out, my friend had a way of making those meetings so interesting and exciting that my kids actually liked going! Eventually, my friend decided that she would go to South Africa as a missionary and as we sent her off my kids started telling people that they were “going to be a missionary like Auntie M. Cecilia.” For some time, my son, especially, said that when he grew up he was going to be a missionary. When my kids said that, I was proud and excited. I knew that they could grow out of that professional goal, but wow! I have always counted various missionaries among the people that I really admire…my heroes! To think that my own kid would grow up and do something incredible like that is everything a mom could want… until she really thinks about it.
What if he ends up in a dangerous place? What if she gets sick and there is no place to go to a hospital? What if he challenges the powers that be in the name of justice and people don’t like that? What if she stands up for someone who is being abused and she gets abused as well? Ok, I want my kids to do great things to make the world a better place…just as long as they are safe and well fed and have all their needs met.
A few months ago my son started talking about riding across the country on his bicycle right after graduation. At first I thought he was joking—of course he was joking!!! What a crazy idea!!! Before long I realized that he was serious. My response was completely appropriate: “Are you kidding? You need to just get a job. After all, you took enough time to get through college. You have student loans to pay. You are not going to be able to be on our health insurance for much longer, and did I say you need to get a job??” But he said he wanted to do it in order to raise awareness about the issue of human trafficking. He wanted to go around and tell people and maybe even raise money to fight it. I still said things like, “that is really nice, son, but… are you kidding?
When that didn’t work I switched into the next level of dealing with trying to control my children’s lives when they are not at all cooperating. That next level is what I learned from my mother who no doubt learned it from her mother. I switched into sarcasm. Every time he made a comment about riding his bike across the country I responded with sarcasm.
When that didn’t work…by the way, it never does, but it offers brief moments of instant gratification, but I finally realize that sarcasm is actually my transitional stage between denial and acceptance…so when that didn’t work I decided that since he was going to do this anyway, I should probably help him. Brilliant, eh? So I shocked him one day as we were riding in the car and I just out of the blue said to him, “If you are going to do this thing then you need to build a team of people to help you.” And then I went through the list and in the process realized that I was sharing with him out of my experience of planning and networking. I started to realize I was on the right track when he actually starting making contact with the people for his team.
Little did I know at that time it would turn into what it has, something really big! More than once my mother and my sisters have said to me, “Are you really going to let him do this?.... Alone?!?” And I have to remind them that he will be 26 years old and that I really can’t stop him, so I have been trying to help him be safe and organized and supported. For one thing, we are trying to work it out that he will be going from church to church. That way I know that there will be good people waiting for him and if he doesn’t show up they will go look for him.
I still have the “mom moments,” when I just blurt out something that indicates that I am still scared and nervous that something will happen to my little boy while he is out trying to make the world a better place. He just looks at me and rolls his eyes and I remind him that I can’t help it. I can only hold the “mom” in for so long and then she just jumps out and says something. But that’s what happens when you raise your kid on stories of heroes. Or you talk at the dinner table and in the car about what is going on in the world and how somebody ought to do something about it. What kind of ideas are they going to get when you introduce them to people who are actually out doing those kinds of things? At the same time you have devoted your life to seeing that they are safe.
What’s a mom to do, but pray… and say, “Go out and make the world a better place, but be safe!”