by Nancy Tichy, Author for KidZ at Heart International
Our first assignment in Africa came when we were still in our twenties. When we arrived in Liberia in 1957, our eldest was ten months old. Her three siblings were born in Monrovia in the following ten years. For all but one year, we lived in neighborhoods surrounded by Liberian families. Many were far poorer than we; some were richer. We were about in the middle.
From the beginning, we found Liberia to be a very welcoming place. Speaking English was an advantage. We worked among high school and university students, all of whom wished to improve their command of our native language. Our kids went to school with African children; some of their playmates were local kids. From the beginning, we had Liberian teens and young adults in our home, in some cases as adopted family members.
Looking back, I try to capture what may have been our family hallmark. How would I have described us in a short phrase to follow: “GO! TEAM TICHY!” Good question, especially when each of our kids was undeniably unique. I used to say we had four chiefs and no Indians.
Our eldest, from the age of three, could sit at a piano and find music. As she grew, it became clear she had a real gift. Our second loved science and showed a penchant for networking. Even as a preschooler, she enjoyed assisting her dad in his biology lab. Our third daughter was also good at making connections – and making money. All through high school, she earned her spending money from her various business enterprises; in one instance she even had an ‘employee.’ Our fourth loved competitive sports, beginning with Little League baseball in elementary school. His interest in high school then shifted to basketball and surfing.
All this to say it might have been a challenge to find a unifying theme as our family grew, both in numbers and maturity. We sang together often. We loved nature walks and talks with Dad and spirited dialogue around the table at mealtimes. We read a lot. Our home was often a haven to others outside our six person nucleus. Maybe that was the unifying factor. WELCOME, NEIGHBOR!
Even casual guests and extended ‘family’ members recognized our love for God and God’s love for us. Now, I wish we parents had been more intentional in providing instruction for spiritual growth along the way. We could have been more present to each of our children, as individuals, to mentor them as they explored life. I remember my husband’s personal life motto was “Pleasing Jesus.” I’m not sure how well we managed to build that into the common threads of our everyday life.
Our single family unit, established decades ago, exists no longer. It has given way to at least nine separate households on three continents. And I haven’t even begun to count the third generation. I’d like to think that some of the original DNA from the fifties and sixties is identifiable now and will be found in future families that only God knows will be part of our far-reaching heritage.
So, you may still have your nuclear family intact. Even should you represent a fractured family structure, if there are still growing children among you, I would urge you to take some time to describe the corporate ‘who’ that you are. Find a way to draw your whole family – however it looks now – into the conversation. Ask questions like, Who am I? How am I like the others? What makes me different from the others? What makes us like other families? What are our distinctives?
Word mapping is one way to do this. Find a large, blank space upon which you can write. Put your family name in the middle. Then let each person print words and very short phrases around this that describe him or her, until the space is filled up. If you want, each person can print in a different color. Then look for commonalities and contrasts. Use these discoveries to spark discussion and research. Just see where this leads you. It may be awkward at first, but I think you’ll find it well worth your while, especially as you pray for each other before and during the process.
GO WITH GOD! GO TEAM…!