It was quite a learning experience for everyone, including me. After sending my baby girl off to serve in a somewhat rugged area, though, I knew this: I want all of my kids to have that experience. And I want them to have it while they're still fairly young.
There's no better way to truly impact a child's worldview than giving them the chance to wrap their brains around some seminal truths. Even kids who, like mine, have been without the luxury of their own Wii, handheld games, cable t.v., designer clothes, etc., have plenty to consider themselves blessed with. I know that this isn't a revelation to you, but many children in many parts of the world struggle to merely eat, stay safe, and get educated. The thought of clean clothes, clear water, and creature comforts would strike them as absurd riches.
While I know I'm blessed that my children aren't being raised that way, I do want them to realize that what they have is a gift. Even more, I want them to see their own laps as overflowing ... and learn to pass it on.
Jo was never what I'd call a perversely jaded child. But, nonetheless, she came back from Tijuana changed. Why? The family whose home my daughter helped to build had a small baby. The baby had a hacking cough, a fire-red diaper rash, and no clothes (thanks to "neighbors" who had stolen the family's belongings the night Mr. Blandings and Jo arrived). But day after day, the baby's mother raved about how blessed her baby was since she would soon have an actual, solid roof over her head.
That kind of joy changes a person, no matter what stage of life you're in. When you're a child, though, it alters the way you see everything: your home, your family, your friends, your community, and your faith.
Jo has now been on two trips. Her dad loves traveling with her because she's fun, she's spontaneous, she's gracious, and she can roll with whatever happens--and on the kinds of trips Mr. Blandings likes to take, a lot can happen. There are many "not sure what this is" meals served on dirt floors. Lots of sleeping wherever the opportunity presents itself. Plenty of dirty clothes worn day after day. Plenty of squatty potties.
Jo has always been the kind of kid who can take it, love it, and come back for more.
Atticus, however, is not that kid.
There's always been something a bit more fragile about my oldest son. He's not the kind to wear his underwear two days in a row, or to skip showering, or to eat anything that may have sat on the counter a touch too long. Atticus carries hand sanitizer in the same pocket he stows his Swiss Army knife in, because he likes to make sure the blade gets a good going over. You know ... just in case. Atticus will gladly pass on a camping trip that might get too hot, or too cold, or be located somewhere that might be rainy for the bulk of the trip. He knows that it's safer to fly than drive, that handling a nightcrawler may possibly give you a rare parasite, and that sunscreen can--and should--be reapplied with fair regularity.
As a matter of fact, pretty much being in our family stretches the bits out of Atticus. I'm fairly certain that God gave him to us simply to keep him from becoming the kind of man who moves to New York city and lives, works, shops, etc., in the same building for his entire life. Unless, of course, being in our family makes him more that way. I can hear it now:
"Honey, your parents called. They want us to come to that family gathering."
((deep sigh)) "Well, alright. I'll feel guilty if I don't. But we're bringing out own food. And for goodness sake bulk up on EmergenC before we get there. You know how someone there is always biting their nails or picking their nose or something disgusting."
Mr. Blandings started trying to come up with a plan for Atticus well before his 10th birthday last spring. He toyed with staying in the US and accompanying some friends on an annual outreach to some migrant workers here. Then he tossed around a Canadian project someone we know works with that does a theater project with kids. There was even a comfy gig in South Africa entertained. But nothing came to fruition. A whole year passed, and still, he wasn't sure what to do.
Finally, after much prayer and pondering, Mr. Blandings just flat out asked Atticus where he wanted to go. To our surprise, he said Nepal.
Yes, Nepal is still where our family plans to land. But understand this: when we actually take up residence, we'll sort things out to be as comfortable as possible for our crew. We'll have beds, mosquito nets, food prepared in a fairly familiar fashion, and western toilets. We will, in other words, be hanging on to some of our American notions. And we'll be doing it after a year transitioning in Chiang Mai.
But a mission trip to Nepal ... living with Nepalis ... eating with Nepalis ... well, it's going to stretch Atticus. He might see a spider--a big one. He won't recognize the food. He's going to ride without a seatbelt and maybe even on a motorbike--without a helmet.
You see why God's plan of allowing us that year in Thailand is such a brilliant idea? Acclimation.
But this, well ...
Concerned, Mr. Blandings and I pulled Atticus aside after he announced his destination. We gently, lovingly, pointed out to him all of the potential pitfalls I've already mentioned here. In truth, we steered him to something a little easier. He was having none of it.
In desperation, I told him my biggest fear. "Son, I want you to be comfortable."
He looked at me like I had disappointed him--and that's a very sad look to receive from one's own child.
"Mom," he told me, "It's not about being comfortable, right? It's about being available for Jesus. I can do that. I know I can."
So late this summer, Atticus will head to Nepal with his dad. I have no idea where they'll be staying, what they'll be eating, how they'll be getting around, or what God has in store for them. But I do know this. That boy is going to come away from this trip eyes opened wide for the spreading of the Gospel. After all, he seems to have a pretty good head start.