Set Them On a Path

by Tara Livesay on August 1, 2014

A friend recently wrote and shared this from Barbara Kingsolver, the author of the Poisonwood Bible:

There was a quote in the author’s notes at the beginning that blew my doors off.  Barbara is thanking her parents for being good ones and lists a few traits she particularly values. She states the final thing she is grateful they did for her  “…set me early on a path of exploring the great, shifting terrain between righteousness and what’s right”. 

 *         *          *

A quick google search brings up the top parenting books available on the market today. Further investigation tells me which ones are “Christians” and which ones are “secular”.

Most of us that have been parenting for a while have come to realize that the books don’t necessarily tell us the things we need to know and do the most.  

Books cannot make us humble or gracious or merciful and those are some of the most important things a parent can be.  Only God does that for us, and sometimes we forget to even ask Him because we are too busy reading parenting books.

Choosing to raise kids abroad does not make us better parents, worse parents, more faithful parents, or less caring and loving parents.  We are not idiots for doing it. We are not super heroes, either. We are just parents trying to do the best we can while we happen to be living outside of our ‘home’ culture.


When our kids grow up and go away we grieve like every loving and involved parent that releases their child into the world. It is possible that it is a little bit harder or slightly more complicated because we are an international flight away, but hard is hard, and even a kid down the street can feel an awfully long way away to a grieving momma.

We moved our daughter last year, kissing her goodbye at the Dallas Ft.Worth airport at the start of this year. She was the second to leave the nest, and for reasons  too complicated to go into, it felt a bit scarier to us than launching the first one did. Five younger siblings and two parents felt the weight of a new separation as we boarded our first flight that day.

Not too many weeks later that daughter shared with us that she was newly pregnant.  (We wrote about it a couple of months later in May and June.)

One friend said, “Oh my, this is complicated for you being in full-time ministry and donor supported. How do you think this will affect you?”

Another friend said, “Will you try to keep this quiet?”

We knew that this (and other common things like it) were once a very hush-hush thing in Christian circles.  We were surprised to learn that even today some prefer the hush-hush approach.  Hiding was something we felt we could not and should not do. My reaction to those questions was one of unbelief.  Certainly we don’t sweep things under the rug in 2014, do we?  That thought was followed up with, anyone that would stop supporting us due to this are not really “our people” anyway.

Much happened in us and in our daughter in those first months of processing and adjusting. There were really good friends on the listening end of multiple conversations. There were hard conversations and many tears shed.

Once we had an appropriate amount of time work through some grief and move into love and forgiveness we openly shared the news with the folks that support us either financially or in prayer.

We landed in a place of great anticipation and we began to hand our fears over to God. We decided it was okay to say we were excited. We were told by a good friend that anything short of celebrating our new grandchild was not fair to our daughter or our future grandson. We believed her. We decided that hush-hush and half-truths and hiding is an old-school  way to live – and what God knows is happening, donors may as well know too.

We have mainly felt supported and encouraged by the responses.  Many and most people have been so kind. There will always be those that just don’t talk about these things. The sprinkling of “you ought to be ashamed” responses was tiny enough to ignore.

We have focused our attention on watchful anticipation of God’s continued mercy and healing in all of our lives.

Raising kids on the support money provided by churches, foundations, and friends never meant raising perfect kids in the first place.


Certainly we can all agree that a donor that expects perfect children is delusional to begin with. No matter what their parents do as a vocation in the world, all kids claim equal rights to grow up disbelieving  or disenfranchised. I understand why pastors and missionaries feel like it is a big deal when their kids go off the rails in one way or another, but I won’t ever understand hiding it or being ashamed to share it with our support-team.  We are real people with real needs, not super-spiritual giants or heroes of the faith.  We sin. Our kids mess up.  We need help sometimes.

*          *           *

We want to be people of love.  When we are disappointed, love.  When we are angry, love.  When we have been lied to or cheated, love.  When we are exhausted or burning out, a tired love – but still, love.

We desperately want the love we show the people of the country we serve to be a love that has been perfected in our own home. We want our hearts to be hearts of forgiveness and grace and true love. When we get a chance to practice at home, let us practice like champions.

Oswald Chambers wisely noted,  “If what we call love doesn’t take us beyond ourselves, it is not really love. If we have the idea that love is characterized as cautious, wise, sensible, shrewd, and never taken to extremes, we have missed the true meaning. This may describe affection and it may bring us a warm feeling, but it is not a true and accurate description of love.”

We will welcome our grandson in 11 short weeks.  The excitement and anticipation are growing by the week. We are not ashamed. We will celebrate his life. As always, we will continue to ask God’s restoration of our broken places.

Tonight we want to encourage our friends abroad and in domestic ministry with kids using drugs, running from God, or making otherwise questionable decisions to know that our love and support of them is not based on perfect performance by their kids OR by them.  We also want to encourage donors to remember that your friends in ministry don’t promise you perfection, (if they do – RED FLAG) but they would really like to trust you with openness and honesty.

*           *           *

Have you ever felt it necessary to keep secrets from those that support you?

What other ways can we encourage one another to be vulnerable and honest about these things?


Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About Tara Livesay

Tara and her family have lived in Haiti since 2006. She resides in Port au Prince, where she serves as a CPM (Midwife) with Heartline Ministries - Maternity Center working in the area orphan prevention, Maternal and Newborn Health. Tara is a the wife of Troy, the mother of seven children ranging in age from 27 to 9 years old and has recently become a grandmother to 3 grandsons. Tara enjoys friends, laughing, sarcasm and spending time with her family.
  • Marla Taviano

    You know your family is my favorite. And I am loving every minute I get to spend praying for you all and that darling baby boy. We’re heading out to be “missionaries” soon, and I will never be able to thank you enough for your shining example. And by shining, I mean shining the light on the realities of life, not the fake surface-y crap. 11 weeks!!! Ack!! (still waiting for my e-mail–are the lights back on? ;))

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Email — YES! Hitting send now. Thanks for your on-going encouragement, Marla!

  • vanderjanedoe

    One of the things that almost kept me from choosing to move our family to Haiti was the difficulty we were having with one of our kids. God took me on a little jaunt through humility by exposing my pride for what it was and inviting me to lean on him — good things to start dealing with before jumping into the missionary world. I certainly have no edge on perfection in these areas, but I remember with some sweetness walking though dark days and knowing God was carrying me through, despite the pain. I continue to shelter in the knowledge of his cover as a very imperfect missionary mom with donor supported imperfect kids. 🙂 Thanks for boldly sharing your family’s struggle and your connection to grace, too. It’s a beautiful light, you cast.

    Christina Vander Pol
    Children of the Promise
    Lagossette, Haiti Nord

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Hi Christina!
      I met your husband once at that HaitiServe retreat. So glad you guys came to Haiti. I think if donors have perfect kids, then they can ask us to have them. 😉

  • Tara, I love your honesty here. Love the permission you give the rest of us to love our kids through their mistakes and to NOT HIDE. I think this is a real challenge of missionary families — their kids become poster children, through no “fault” of their own. And so often parents tend to keep up the veneer at the expense of their kids’ hearts and the TRUTH. Thanks for not doing that.

    Your new grand baby is a gift and I’m glad you guys are celebrating! Lots of love and ALLL the VERY BEST to you and your daughter and new fiancé in their journey! Love you guys! Thankful for you!

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Thank you Laura — you know I love and respect you and Matt and am glsd to be learning as we go TOGETHER on the journey – I have made enough parenting mistakes to have learned two, maybe three things in my life 😉 — much love to you today.

  • Tammy Brouwer

    For us, part of the decision to be open about our son’s girlfriend giving birth, and choosing to be excited about our granddaughter’s life, was our relationship to our son. We knew it was better to hear criticism of our parenting and our decision to love in spite of sin than to lose our son. It wasn’t easy. There are still times when someone else finds out that I feel shame. But that is all something I’m working out in my heart. And as a side note…when in the US recently I had lunch with a young lady who told me how much she has appreciated the way we’ve handled the situation. She doesn’t come from a family that accepts imperfection and it spoke volumes to her that you can love Christ, seek personal holiness, and yet still give grace. And just let me tell you Tara, this little boy is going to melt your heart! He is a gift from the Lord that you will treasure. <3

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Hi Tammy –
      Love wins. I think it is our default response and as long as it is, we won’t live to regret it. Who ever says, “Oh, I loved too much” ??? Also blessed to read that your love spoke to someone watching from the outside.

  • Fellow MK

    If you would allow me, I would like to briefly share with your supporters about my experience with the cruelty of “Christians”…

    When I was a mid-teen Missionary Kid, I became pregnant by a national. My parent’s mission gave them the utimatum f either publicly apologizing to all the national churches for “Raising her wrong”…or resign. My parents lovingly resigned – returning to the States penniless and without a church family or support.

    What this mission board and it’s missionaries did not know, not that it was any of their business at all, was that I was a super naive, overly trusting virgin that had been impregnated by date rape. And because of the incredible public shaming they put my family through, I couldn’t find the strength to tell my family of the rape, either. Instead I silently carried that burden alone for the next 16yrs. I then married my rapist. I thought it was the “right” thing to do for girls in my “situation” – and I thought it would somehow fix things for my family.

    I thank God daily for the beautiful, miraculous child He blessed my life with 25yrs ago!!! I also pray daily that He will help me to show a million times more grace, mercy, sympathy, compassion, and love than what was shown to my family. I will be praying that each and every one of your supporters will be led by Him to do the same for your precious family.

    May this precious little miracle baby boy, that came straight from the very hand of God, be forever and always blessed!

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Dear MK –
      Thanks for sharing. I am so so sorry to read of a little piece of what you endured due to needing to keep appearances up. I am so sorry that your parents had to be treated like that instead of loved and helped. I am even sorrier that you were shamed and I know it is all too common in the ministry circles. It makes me very very sad. We have had to deal with the horrible effects of sexual abuse in our years in Haiti and I know that this is a lifelong recovery. Please tell your parents I am so glad they resigned and I’m sorry that anyone treated them that way. Sometimes Christians are not very much like their Christ.

  • Tara, I loved this post (and I followed the links and read some of your personal posts, too). You do such a good job of looking at the complexity of writing about those near and dear to us as they get older, and of sharing our lives online.

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Thank you Lisa. If I write about anything personal I ask the kids to read and approve first. For sure there are times when we need to be careful what we write as kids get older … I feel like we always benefit from hearing that our struggles with our own sin or struggles and questions as we are raising our kids are not necessarily unique. Prayers for your family today.

      • That sounds like a great way to handle it – it’s how I already handle material related to my husband rather than just me. And, yes, there is SO much benefit to others from those who can pull back the curtain gracefully on the hard times as well as the fun and pretty times.

  • Richelle Wright

    Tara, thank you for this. I’ve been following you and your blog for awhile now because I long to hear from someone who’s just a step or two further along this path of raising tcks… and from someone who has your larger than average family. And man, I hate the fact that this thought has even crossed my mind but with 8 kids – let’s just say that I won’t be surprised if one or the other does something… makes some choices… and ends up with consequences that, because some of our donor support circles, could greatly impact ministry futures. Our kids live under that weight because they know, even without parents saying a word. Yet we love those people – they’ve been with us, those relationships have been cultivated and tended, some of them, for 20 years. It was much easier when they were littler, when parenting out of the fear of others wasn’t such a temptation and didn’t have consequences that a long hug and a “I’m sorry, Mommy was wrong. Please forgive me,” couldn’t fix. My prayer continues that hopefully, because our gang has seen us love back, even under difficult situations and when they knew it was something we had to fight for to do and to try do well, they will trust us to love them at least to that same degree…

    Thanks telling your very real story so beautifully. I pray God works His grace as mightily in my life.

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Dear Richelle – Thank you for your generous and kind words. It is true, large families equal greater statistical chance of lots of things 🙂 — I think most of the folks that support have had their own struggle or at least something close to one, that usually creates gracious people who don’t drop their financial support, but rather increase their prayers. You’ve got this, Momma.

      • Richelle Wright

        forgot to say – the photos you posted the end of last month were gorgeous and make me smile every time i think about them.

  • Marilyn Gardner

    Tara – just thank you. Prayers for a safe delivery and joyous arrival. Sent you a private message.

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Got your note M. Love to you today and prayers … always believe God can be working out His grace in our lives and our kids’ lives — even when it is hard to see.

  • Amen! 🙂

  • Sarah M.

    I love this! We served in Haiti for a year, and we’re encouraged multiple times by our sending ministry to keep things quiet. We were not allowed to freely share the struggles we faced because they feared losing donor support. It was very sad to me and one of the reasons we left their organization. I love seeing your openness and honesty.

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      Sarah M – that bums me out. The first place Troy and I were was pretty legalistic and they found me to be a problem and wanted Troy to get his wife under control — so, yeah … we’re not there anymore.

  • Dalaina May

    Tara, first off congratulations on your wee one! So exciting!
    I read this post this morning and came back to it tonight. It is so powerful to me as an MK, and now mom of 4 TCKS. In my childhood, there was an enormous burden on my 4 siblings and me to “be good” because we knew that our family’s livelihood was somehow directly related to how we presented the family. It is a huge burden for a child or teen to (think they) have the power of whether or not their parents have a successful career. We were expected to be good and also to NEVER EVER make my parents look bad by questioning their authority publicly, “back talking,” being disrespectful, or pointing out a parent’s mistake publicly. There was a huge difference in how much grace and understanding there was at home and how much less there was in public. The clear message was that we were on display any time we walked out the door and screwing up brought horrible consequences. Even as an adult, I spent a number of years learning how to say “My parents did X poorly” to others because it was so strongly beat into me that my role was to protect their reputations by my own actions. (Even as I write this I feel compelled to also write about what good, loving people they are, how close we are now, how much they have changed etc.)
    When I was 14 and in my first romantic relationship, my father told me that if I got myself knocked up (his words) that I wasn’t to bother coming home because he would not be responsible for me at that point. While I wasn’t interested in having sex anyway, I remember feeling terrified of making a mistake. I felt that his love was conditional and that he cared more about how people perceived him than being there for me at the worst moment. It’s taken a lot of healing to get over these messages from my parents, and those message have often created a drive for perfection in my walk with Christ – along with the inability to label my sin as sin because I am not always convinced that God would still have me if I truly am sinful (I know, it’s twisted).
    I don’t know your daughter or you, but I can only imagine the relief and the freedom that you have given her when you chose her in her imperfection and messy mistakes over your reputation. To me it is a very beautiful picture of Jesus who bore our sins instead of leaving us alone to bear it ourselves. You took her burden and failures and opened yourself to the criticism and gossip that would have been on her. I know that you might have thought it was a natural, easy choice to choose her, but in my experience with M parents, it was not natural (and maybe it wasn’t easy either). I don’t know what your daughter’s faith is like, but I have no doubt that she has experienced Jesus through you. My heart is rejoicing and grateful on her behalf that she is getting a very different story than so many other TCKs have.

    • Tara Porter-Livesay

      wow. this is so heavy and hard to read — but only because I grieve that you grew up with such pressure. so sad. I want that to be the old school way – not the way anyone acts today — but I know that there are some missions and organizations that still hide behind pretending to be perfect. Hate that reality. Thanks for writing this. So much love to you and your parents today and thankful that God doesn’t give up on us — hopefully we all grow in grace as we go along.

  • Lourens Laureti

    Thanks, we ourselves are homeschoolers in the Mission field, thanks for the encouragement.

  • Kathy

    Thanks for the article. Great read. I think the whole thing about how much we (as missionaries) tell supporters about our kids is tricky. Yes they are supporters of the kids as well but then the kids (especially as they become young adults) are also entitled to their own privacy. My son has chosen not to believe in God but this is hardly something I’d put in a newsletter because it’s really no one else’s business but his. It’s not that we want to hide it (we just had furlough and he didn’t do the church circuit with us) but we have to balance his and our families privacy.
    But on another note – yes it is all about loving them and keeping the relationship! Our kids are far more important than supporters in the end! 🙂

Previous post:

Next post: