I still clearly remember my fervor as a young Christian in college, newly recommitted to Christ and ready to take on any and every challenge God had for me. Evangelizing fellow undergraduates during Spring Break on the beaches of Fort Lauderdale? Inviting Tony Campolo to our secular campus and telling everyone and anyone who would listen to go into the auditorium and hear him speak about Jesus? Abandoning my plans to pursue a career in medicine in order to work in ministry instead? No problem to any of the above. Saying, “Here I am, Lord! Use me!” came naturally during a time in my life when I was young, single, and free to make life-changing decisions that ultimately would not affect anyone else but myself.
Fast forward twenty or so years, and my situation is completely different as a married, middle-aged mom of three boys, all under 12 years of age. Providing a stable and comfortable home for my kids, making sure they have access to education and extracurricular activities to help them fulfill their potential to accomplish great things in their lives someday: these are the hallmarks of successful parenting, successful Christian parenting, at least as evidenced by the lifestyle of so many Christian families I see around me. We are all busy, scurrying around, and investing heavily in our families and our children in particular, because that it what we believe it means to be a great parent.
At least that is what I thought.
Over the past few years, God has been gently turning my ideas about great parenting upside-down. He has introduced me to numerous people who have taken a different approach to their lives, people who have taken the risk to say, “Here we are, Lord! Send us!” not just in their 20s, but in their 30s and 40s with children and careers to take into consideration.
Kirsten Strand is one such parent. She had been living in Naperville, a well-resourced suburb outside of Chicago with world-class schools, libraries, and parks. But after becoming familiar with the community right next to Naperville, East Aurora, Kirsten and her husband sensed that God was trying to get their attention, to take notice of the impoverished and under-resourced residents of that city instead.
“We decided that if God was calling us to this, He knew we had children, and He would take care of them,” Kirsten says. “We had to be willing to lay down that cross and say, even if the absolute worst happens, that we would be able to accept it.” The Strands moved to East Aurora in 2007 with their nine- and six-year-old sons, and they have not regretted it for an instant. They have discovered a more relaxed atmosphere, an abundance of kids for their sons to play with, and a healthier lifestyle for everyone in the family. “It’s allowed me to be a better mom, better wife, and better person,” says Kirsten.
Kirsten and her family demonstrate what happens when we have a willing heart and the openness to God’s call, wherever it may lead us, whether around the world or down the street. We may not experience what the world calls “blessings”—financial gain, material possessions, and a lavish lifestyle—but instead, we benefit from spiritual and tangible blessings that are far more valuable.
It may seem harder to make these choices as we get older and have more people to care for. But the counter-cultural nature of the Christian walk has always been a paradox. It’s as we lay down our lives for God that He demonstrates, time and time again, how much more He gives in proportion to whatever our perceived sacrifices are. We just have to be willing to say, “Here we are, Lord! Use our family for your purposes.”