Today's sermon brought our pastor to mention that we as parents have to be willing at times to not over-protect our children. One of the parents later asked the pastor to what that looked like. The pastor asked people to share what they do in terms of that, and I had a few things to share regarding our own children. While I will not apologize for raising my children in a more protective environment than most parents I know, because I feel that for them it has been more beneficial and suitable, there are circumstances and times that seem God-given to expose them to the world's ways and allow them to impact the world if they might, or be impacted for the sake of learning and prayer and discussion at home.
It's strange how at our previous church we were considered over-protective, whereas at this church I suppose we may seem less-protective, maybe even the most liberal family in the church in the things we have allowed Katie to experience. I'm not sure which position makes me most uncomfortable! Still, we don't live to please people at any church but to please God. He is the One who has given us all these opportunities and He is the One who entrusted these children to us and to Whom we entrust them in return.
I know though that while they were little, I would not have been able to foresee us allowing Katie to take part in so many of the opportunities that have molded her life thus far. There are a number of them that would have frightened me a great deal if they had come her way before we were ready, before she was old enough, and I'm sure I would have said that I would "never allow" any number of them.
First of all, with Katie, the youngest exposure I can remember for her to a fairly large variety of unsaved people (other than relatives) was enrolling her in a secular co-op preschool. I was new to Christ, and I don't remember expecting it to be inappropriate or risky, though it was sometimes offensive. I had an advantage in that I was there with her. We did end up sometimes running into conflict with the other mothers. I remember one boy wanting to hit another, and when I would restrain him, one of the mothers was indignant that I was inhibiting his self-expression. For the most part, though, I think it was a positive experience and I remember having some interesting discussions with other moms, such as regarding where Adam and Eve's boys got their wives.
Also of course, we've always had issues regarding exposure to unsaved relatives. Interestingly, most of them severely curtailed social interaction with us when salvation entered our household, so that exposure was limited to say the least (for which I am somewhat grateful, to tell the truth). Nevertheless, Katie's concern for her unsaved grandfather was highly instrumental in his coming to Christ a week before he died--and he had been a pastor of six churches in his life. He's the only relative who has come to Christ yet. She was only about 12 when he died.
Katie didn't play with many unsaved children; being homeschooled made that easy, and living in a strange old neighborhood where substance abuse and witchcraft abounded, made that vitally important.
We allowed Katie to go to the Snow Retreat into the Cascades and on College Preview Weekends down to the Master's College in Santa Clarita, California. I remember one very protective mother asking whether the girls' dorms were separate from the boys' dorms at the Snow Retreat. That was of course a given--and her daughter was probably the most trustworthy one in the group to send on such an outing. The consideration I recall coming to mind is, "Do you trust God with your child?" and then, "Do you trust your child?" and then, "Do you trust the leaders of the church with whom your child is going?" Perhaps you don't trust the boys, at least not the whole group--but I've been to one of those retreats, and there's really hardly any chance anything would happen, especially when the interest would be one-sided. Katie also was in the realm of the trustworthy. There really were no boys in the entire group whom she found even slightly interesting in any romantic sense, and in response they found her quite boring in that regard as well.
When Katie was 16 she had the opportunity to be a Senate Page. She stayed down in Olympia at Senate Page housing that was made available. I had signed her up to be in a house with all girls, but she got reassigned to a house with some girls and some boys. We assumed that she would be amongst a good amount of conservatives, if not Christians, but it was not the case...the vast majority were liberal kids with very unholy ways of living. I was a bit alarmed at her house assignment, but we prayed about it, and it turned out to be a good and safe exposure for Katie to what she would have experienced in public school, and what the world she was going to meet in adulthood would be like.
When Katie's cousin Kristin (who is about 8 years older than Katie) was 16, she went over to Germany for a year to stay with a family that her family did not know. I remember saying, "Can you imagine? I cannot imagine sending my daughter all the way to Germany at age 16." (I do believe I said "to stay with a family we've never met." Still...) When Katie was 16, what do you think happened? The youth ministry was planning a three-week missions trip to Germany. At least we had met the family she would be staying with, and they had a strong Christian testimony. We signed her up to go with a team of leaders and--this sounds shocking but really wasn't, for the same reasons as described regarding the snow retreat, above--five teen boys. She was 16, and she was going to Germany to distribute invitations to the Bibelgemeinde there, a small Christian church in Berlin. It was a great experience. Something happened to her world view, her picture of the global Church, and she changed from being something of a theoretical Christian to one who had experienced a big picture of it, and her understanding was more clearly defined. She seemed more real after that. If we had decided not to let her go, it would have left an integral part of her learning and spiritual growth unfinished. We couldn't have taught her at home what she learned and experienced on that trip.
She has since worked at Safeway, at Let's Dish (a "Dinners Ready" kind of place), at Lavender Hills Farm, and at Red Robin, and attended Everett Community College--many of these environments are replete with non-Christians who at the very least gossip and backbite and compete, and at the worst have foul mouths and speak of their foul lives with no shame. And a great many of them rarely see a Christian and know very little about Christianity in general or Christ in specific. Katie had many opportunities to share various aspects of her faith; if not intentionally then unintentionally. Without asking, they knew that she would not be interested in their nightly drinking parties, and one was very amused and went on at great length about it when she thought Katie had used a swear word--only to find out that she hadn't. In her speech class, Katie gave one speech on the Resurrection, and another speech (she had two minutes from being given the topic for preparation, and another two minutes for the speech) on her stand regarding premarital sex. Wow. She asked if she could use an outside source, and when the professor said, "If you can find one in 2 minutes," she pulled out her Bible. Her speeches were well-received, though it seemed they didn't convince anyone.
Tim is another, different consideration. We now live in a mostly unsaved and amoral but comparatively safe neighborhood of unsupervised and unkind children. I know this sounds contradictory, but it describes it to an extent. I feel safe allowing Tim to go out and play as long as he doesn't go into anyone's garage or house or back yard, or the park that we can't see from our house. He has told the Hindu and Sikh girls about Jesus, and they now consider him racist because he has the gall to consider Christ better than their many gods. If they were to consider the whole story, they would have to recall that when no one else in the neighborhood would come to their birthday parties or invite them out to birthday parties, Tim would. There were many ways that we tried to help their families out and participate with them, but they have turned on him. Now it's not much fun for him to go out there, so he stays home or plays with friends from church, when we can drive him there or bring them here. When it was possible, he's taken opportunities to be kind when mistreated, and the kids are aware also that he doesn't swear, as they do.
I am excited to recall the opportunities that Katie had to see and experience things, to be a witness, to become girded in her faith for the future as the time unfolded. Now Tim is reaching an age where that will be my anticipation as well. There may be times where we protect him more or less than we did Katie, depending on prayer impact, his character, the circumstances and the timing. I am eager to see what God provides in his life.