As I peeled back the Christmas wrapping paper, my eyes lit up as I saw what was inside. But, out of the corner of my eye I saw my 4-year old son’s face instantly shadow with confusion. I triumphantly pulled out my brand new gleaming white oval ceramic pan from IKEA. He scanned the room as if he could not believe that no one else was observing the horror of this situation and then urgently whispered, “Dad gave you a squatty potty for Christmas?!”
I have absolutely loved raising our four boys overseas. The stories we have, the laughter we have shared, and the ways it has shaped them into who they are have become treasures that I ponder in my heart. Yes, of course, there are countless challenges in this crazy life. Our hearts ache for grandparents, we lay down our dreams of Little League for our kids, we long for youth pastors and teachers who would come alongside our kids, or we wish we could head off to the public library or city park. How many times have I cried, “Everything I do all day long with my kids I could do 10x faster and better in North America”?
But, God has amazed me again and again with His abundant, generous heart towards our kids. I discovered a simple and profound truth: God loves my kids infinitely more than I do and His heart towards them is always good. That means that this life of airplanes and cultures and goodbyes is actually accomplishing His amazing, perfect purposes in, and through, and for them. God is for us and our kids. Raising TCKs is a messy, hard call. But, it is also a tremendous privilege and a blessing that I will never regret. God, who gives infinitely more than we ask or imagine, is shaping our kids through this life in a million ways we can’t even begin to comprehend. But, here are a few:
1. Our kids become crazy creative. Because our kids don’t have sports leagues or tons of toys, they have become these insanely creative kids who make fun happen. Our boys have opened restaurants, art museums, barber shops, mystery theaters, obstacle courses, concerts, magic shows, game shows, dance parties, and cooking shows all within the walls of our small Asian apartment. I marvel at how our kids have the incredible ability to create fun wherever we are. Who else makes puppets out of the barf bags on the airplane? Celebrate how your kids are growing in creativity.
2. Our kids get MORE family. There have been many times when I have longed for my kids to be geographically closer to our biological family, but God–once again—blesses us immeasurably more than we can imagine with more family. Brothers and sisters in the expat and local community become the precious aunts and uncles and dear, dear friends who love our kids, play games at their birthday parties, celebrate their victories, and cheer them on in this journey. I love the passage in Matthew 19 that says, “…everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children for my sake will receive a hundred times as much…” Stand back and be amazed at how God can fill your life with a hundred times as much family.
3. Our kids get a massive picture of God and His Bride. Life in our passport country can sometimes create such a false, teeny tiny picture of what it means to be a follower of Christ, or what the Church looks like. My heart swells with gratitude that God has allowed my kids to see God worshipped in different traditions, different languages, and different cultures. I love that my kids have brothers and sisters in Christ that they have linked arms with from literally every continent in the world (well, besides Antarctica. My boys are still holding out for this one). One of the greatest gifts TCKs are given is that they have a better picture of how great our God is.
4. Our kids become global citizens with a unique perspective on their passport culture and the world. TCKs understand that there are lots of ways of “doing life,” and that this world is a big place full of wonderful diversity. They love to study maps and flags, and they imagine what life is like in every nook and cranny of the globe. Our kids love cheeseburgers and pizza from their passport country, but they also love pad thai, sushi, dumplings, and naan. They enjoy having a quiet backyard in North America, but they also love the energy of living in a huge urban center. What a gift this is! This has taught them to enter new situations with a confident anticipation that there will be cool new people to get to know, places to discover, and experiences to enjoy.
But, also it has taught them such a wonderful perspective on the world. I have one son who loves to cook, and I love listening to him describe what he needs in a fully stocked kitchen. Just like my son knows that he needs oyster sauce and star anise and tons of other unusual spices and flavors to make his kitchen complete, so, too, our kids have learned that the diversity of life is, well, awesome. They know that God loves ALL the people of the world, and that our creative God delights in the diversity He has made. Our kids understand that ALL cultures and nations (including their passport one) are broken and in need of redemption, but also have aspects of beauty to be celebrated. I love that our TCKs have this rich, full, deep appreciation for the world.
5. Our kids have learned how to love and be loved by all sorts of people. Because they have not lived life in their passport country where they would be surrounded by peers, our kids have learned how to become friends with kids younger than them, older than them, kids with different personalities, single adult teammates, the grandpa who lives next door to us. TCKs learn how to love wide and deep. And here’s the kicker: they get to BE loved that way, too. What a lifelong gift. They are being equipped to be true Kingdom servants who know how to love well, even when their neighbor doesn’t look or act like they do.
TCKs get to ride elephants and camels, pet baby tigers, learn multiple languages, and become really good at navigating airports and new cities. But, more than all these things, they get to be shaped into amazing people with massive hearts for this great big world God made. One day when I was wondering out loud to a dear friend about why in the world we were choosing to raise our kids overseas, she said to me, “Remember — we’re raising the next generation of the army for the King.” What a privilege and honor. What a gift to get to see God shaping our kids into these super cool people…even if they can’t always tell the difference between a squatty potty and a pan from IKEA.
What have you seen God give to your kids?