Grudgingly, I gave in.
It wasn’t the first time we had had this discussion, and it didn’t make sense to me to escalate it into a full blown argument.
“Okay fine,” I uttered, “But only if I get a good second-hand deal.”
For a house with an active, buoyant toddler, our home was pretty empty by most standards.
One day, like a loud gust being released from a pent-up can, Cliff finally declared, “We don’t have ANY toys in our house!”
While I thought it was an exaggeration, it was not far from the truth. I knew what he meant- all our friends we knew in North America who had kids had houses filled with toys- kitchen sets, train tracks, interactive toy models. Besides a few picture books, stuffed animals and Chinese word cards we’d been given, you mightn’t know we had an exuberant toddler running around our turf.
For a long time, I had put my foot down. Having lived among the underprivileged in Nepal and Africa and seen the face of poverty, I didn’t want to be sucked into the insatiable lure of buying more and more for our own children. The children I had lived with there were happy, not because of what they owned, but because they learned to cherish and enjoy what they had.
Defiantly, as Sarah-Faith grew, I made kitchen play sets out of my baking trays and raw pasta, tugboats out of cardboard boxes and string, and animal shapes from my own cut-out drawings.
“It wouldn’t hurt to buy SOME toys,” Cliff reasoned, “It’s not wrong.”
“It’ll be never ending,” I argued. “They get bored, we get another, and another. She’s a happy baby, we don’t need MORE.”
The truth was that, deep down inside, I felt a little guilty- guilty that maybe I WAS wrong after all. Maybe our toddler did deserve better.
But a part of me didn’t want to give into a materialistic, first world culture that my experiences in humanitarian work and living among the poor could not agree with. Besides, it hurt the environment, I argued- all that plastic, ah!
Knowing that someday we would, God-willing, return to a developing nation to serve, I didn’t want our children to suddenly feel deprived then. I want them to grow up knowing that we could be happy in abundance and in lack, and that God would always provide sufficiently for all our needs, without us spending more and more for ourselves. Deep down, I really wanted them to know that we could live simply, and enjoy the pleasures of a simple childhood without buying more.
But I gave in, not because I agreed with my husband’s philosophy, but because I saw his heart- filled with an extravagant love to bless and love on his child, the same love that pursued and won me over when I said no to him at the start.
I never told anyone about this discussion we had. Over the next few days, I didn’t find any good second-hand deals online either.
That very Sunday, an elderly lady we hardly knew at church came walking towards us, her hands full.
In a hurried fluster, she unloaded her bags on the floor and panted, “I know this is strange, but this week I was at my friend’s home and I felt God telling me to ask her for toys for your family. I don’t know why I asked really, it was so weird for me to do so, I’m sure you have toys- but I hope you don’t mind I did. These are all for your family.”
In shock, I stood there for a moment, before she hurried off, as if half-embarrassed. As I looked at the large bags, I saw colorful LeapFrog and Fisher-Price musical learning tables in mint condition, a musical turtle that sang as it spun round and round, an interactive ladybug that belted creative tunes about numbers and letters, and countless entertaining wooden puzzles of animals and cars and trains for our child. In total, they must all have amounted to hundreds of dollars.
My jaw must have dropped to the floor. Pressure built up behind my eyes. As my eyes met Cliff’s, I saw the biggest, widest megawatt grin spread across his face.
Suddenly, as I held back tears, I was overwhelmed.
It was then that I felt God’s unspeakable love wash over me like an avalanche.
His extravagant display of love astounded me- Cliff got his wish as a father to bless his child with lots of fun toys, Sarah-Faith was thrilled beyond her understanding, and I didn’t have to spend a cent feeling guilty for one moment for buying into our materialistic consumer culture. They were given to us, after all.
In God’s glorious out-of-the-box way, we all got what we wanted. It blew my mind.
Suddenly, I had flashbacks of all the blessings we had received from God over the year.
I had been worried about burdening our growing family financially by going to grad school as a young mother, but God astounded us with sufficient scholarships to graduate from my Masters program at Hopkins debt-free, with excess remaining for our family’s needs.
When we moved to USA when our baby was 6 months old, we had to travel light and live simply- I felt guilty for not having enough clothes for her or a proper crib. She slept in a hand-me-down play pen, and it was beginning to sag under her growing weight. But the moment we pulled into the driveway at our rental home, our new neighbor from across the street came over and said, “I have a two year old daughter and we have so many clothes to give you. Would you like some?” When I opened the large bags he gave to us, they were mostly 6-9month old clothes, the age group that I needed most urgently. Later, he said, “Why don’t you come over and take a look at our crib? My baby doesn’t want to sleep in it.” So that brand new $600 Toys R Us crib which we never would have afforded became Sarah-Faith’s.
When we moved to Canada, I felt guilty for not knowing where we would stay. Within the first two months, we were gifted a home we did not, still do not, deserve. When we discovered the home did not come with air conditioning and I worried about how the hot summer would trigger Sarah-Faith’s eczema, we found out our housing agent had installed a brand new air conditioning system for us as a housewarming gift, a gift that we later found out cost him $3000.
When I started Kitesong Global, there were people who told us not to, that it was a mistake. Less than a month later, a random donor wrote us a cheque to cover all our legal set-up fees and more. Before the year closed, as I dwelled self-piteously upon self-doubt and whether what we were doing was meaningful or not, we received another donation from a donor who said, “Your work is an encouragement to many.”
All this while, God astounded us with His lavishness- even through my moments of resentment towards Him, through the hurdles of multiple transitions, depression and pregnancy challenges. Yet, as I stood in awe of His love for our child, amidst the bags of toys, I realized that it was a reflection of His love for me, too.
It reminded me that every day, He is watching over us, listening to our needs, even when those prayers are only uttered in the innermost depths of our hearts, when we can’t find the words to express them, even.
It reminds me, of the lies that are overthrown in the light of His miraculous provisions- that He is too busy for us, that there are more important things in the world for God to worry about than whether my child has enough toys, or my job woes or whether we’ll have a roof over us, that He doesn’t really care for me.
They’re all untrue.
When I get overwhelmed just thinking about how we will cope with yet another newborn and moving back to Singapore later this year, for me to start work and finish my contract as a physician, where we will stay (we have no house in Singapore anymore), where I will work, how I will cope as a working mother of two, I am reminded of God’s lavish provisions and His promises when He says, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” – Mt 7:9-11
So this new year, as you grapple with the disappointments, hurts and failings of the year gone past, I hope that His still small voice gently reminding you of the blessings you’ve received might give you fresh perspective on the incredible love God has for us.
Our lives are messy, broken and filled with unresolved circumstances.
Yet, God gives us an unwavering hope that He cares for us
intimately, passionately and extravagantly.
As you enter the new year with joy and thanksgiving,
our prayer is that you might experience His lavish love and provisions
as a Good Father for all you need, and more.
From our family to yours,
Blessed New Year.