Sunday, September 25, 2011

Thumb-o-meter and Family Decision Making

When we chose to volunteer with Mennonite Central Committee in Colombia, we did so with much thought and discernment. We also did so as a family. Sure, it was Aaron and I who were applying for jobs, but Lydia, Andy, and Abby were going to be sacrificing a lot, and working very, very hard.

So, at that time, I pulled out one of my standard social work assessment tools called the "thumb-o-meter." This tool works best when used over a period of time to measure change and growth. It is a simple way to measure how someone is doing or what they are thinking without words. Basically, the thumb all the way up means, "I am all the way ready, enthused, this is definitely the right thing." The thumb down means, "This is definitely not the right decision for me. I do not want to do it." And, the design is for there to be a spectrum all the way in between.

Now, I know that it is not appropriate for a 13, 11, or 9 year old to be responsible for such a major decision like this. But in order for my thumb to be in the upper quadrant, I needed all three of the kids to be there too, and I needed it to be that way not just one day, but over a period of time. And before we actually said yes, they were. They were excited for the challenge and ready to go. What a blessing to all 5 be on the same page.

As we entered into our third year of our term the question was posed to us about extending for a longer term. We never really considered staying longer than 3 years, which is the standard term for MCCers. This question, however, put us in the position of having the discussion again as a family. And the result was all over the board.

And each day since the conversation our thumbs have moved around significantly.

I had an interesting conversation with my friend Neil about what variables are considered when making a decision to stay longer or go home (they came at the same time as we did and have decided to stay longer). We came up with a few.

1. Family and Community (both here and there)
We Mennonites do not live in a vacuum. We are connected to people. The people we are connected to miss us a lot, and we miss them. Sometimes they worry about us, and sometimes they have to make great financial sacrifices to come see us, and we are humbled that they do. They are part of this decision.

Is the Mennonite community here in Colombia really needing us to continue our work? Are will filling a void? Are they growing and learning from having us here? Are we?

2. Career
Aaron and I both left careers that we were enjoying to come do this. We also did so knowing that it would expand our understandings and make us better at what we do, for so many reasons. How long do we take this "sabbatical" to serve and understand the global work world better? At what point is this even a sabbatical and at what point is it a new step in our careers?

We both have jobs here. Does it make sense in the contexts of our work for these jobs to continue as they are? Do we have more to give? Do the organizations have the motivation and willingness to put enough into our positions to continue to make them productive and valued?

What are the possibilities of jobs at home?

3. Finances
We are not making a lot of money as International Service Workers. However, we are living more comfortably than we have in a very long time. By this, I mean that we have full medical coverage, all of our bills are paid, we get enough to eat, and thankfully there are kind people renting and taking care of our house in Newton.

In the current economic scenario at home, will we be able to do the same?

We are also keenly aware that to have a family in MCC is very expensive for the organization and their donors. We deeply respect that fact that they accept and support families, but especially in more urban setting, this can be an economic drain.

4. Attitude/Perspective/Faith/Gut
Whatever it is exactly....does it feel RIGHT to be here? What parts of this experience are really giving us energy and what parts of this are really taking away energy? Do we still feel a calling? Are we feeling fulfilled and at peace in our environment? Do we feel grounded and integrated into this community? Are we experiencing Mutual Transformation between our Colombian cohorts and ourselves?

A long time ago, Aaron wrote about our different styles of making decisions here.
Needless to say, it is not simple.

However, we have come to the conclusion that the three year term we agreed to is just the right amount of time for the five of us. At times, this makes some of us very, very sad and at times it makes some of us very, very anxious, and there are even times that it makes some of us very, very excited. Let it be so. Here we go, again on the Merry-go-round...

(Any ideas or suggestions on repatriation as a family would be very much accepted, as would prayers, thoughts, understandings, and job leads.)


  1. Thank you for being honest and filling us in.

  2. Wow, I hear ya! We're starting to go about making those kinds of decisions ourselves, and it's a bit mind-boggling when you think of all the future paths you're accepting or closing off. Best of luck, and keep us posted!

  3. Thank you for sharing about your decision-making process. As we've already talked about, repatriation is not easy, but we're finding that it is a continuation of the intensity we shared as a family while away. I also find that we're more intentional now about setting aside time for the five of us to spend together--which sometimes, for us, means saying no to social events. We're certainly not isolating ourselves, but being more intentional about dedicated family time has been one way that we can hold onto the closeness we shared as a family overseas. Thinking of you all as you contemplate this huge transition.