Late one afternoon this past week, I was driving home from the office with Jeremiah and Penelope in the back seat. I was deep in thought, planning the content of my next book, Making Vegetables, Volume Two, when my son interrupted my reverie with, “Hey Mom, if you could learn or be really good at anything, what would it be?” He is always coming up with funny questions.

“Well, I would like to know a lot about and be really good at preserving, fermenting, and storing food. Because I am writing the Making Vegetables Series, I am studying everything about vegetables. In preparation for Making Vegetables, Volume Two, I have been spending a lot of time studying how to preserve and prepare foods so they will be really tasty and healthy.”

I could see his puzzled and thoughtful face in the rearview mirror as he pondered my answer. Then he amazed me with this response, “On the outside that seems kinda normal and boring, but when you look at food close up it is very interesting.” Pausing a moment he continued, “Yeah, it is a good thing to know. And I can see it would be a good thing to learn. What I was going to say, that I would like to be really good at, is doing tricks on my bike. When you look at it on the outside, that seems very interesting, but when you look at it up close you can see that it is really just normal and not that interesting, nothing you can really use.”

He is a young boy, and doing thrilling things with a bicycle is an important part of growing up, so I talked with him awhile about the fun of learning bike tricks. But I knew he had perceived the value of practical knowledge over recreational thrills. I marveled at his wisdom. Even the question was thought-provoking and wise. He is learning to make wise decisions. He is questioning what I value so he can decide what he values.

He is questioning what I value so he can decide what he values.

When I was a young teen, two very challenging, totally unexpected opportunities beckoned me. When I was about 17 years old, I went to the YMCA with my older brother Gabe to play volleyball. A scout noticed my performance and offered me a full scholarship to be trained for the junior Olympics. What an opportunity! I talked to my mom and dad, and they basically told me that they had raised me to make my own decisions and now was the time to start! My only thought was, “Oh, man, why let me start making decisions NOW? I don’t know what to do.” I thought about all the hours of practice and how much I would have to give up just to play volleyball. I did not want to be only a volleyball player. I knew that if I accepted the scholarship, it would shape the direction for the rest of my life. I would meet new people…make new friends…and at some point fall in love with my best friend, whoever that might be. I knew that God could use me in that life, and I could minister to people, but that was not the direction I wanted my life to go.

That very summer, another opportunity presented itself, and this one was a major surprise. A different scout had seen me riding down the road in an Amish buggy with some of my friends. A few weeks later, the same scout saw me at our small hometown fair. The unknown, very city-like lady rushed up to me, grabbed my arm with exhilaration, and exclaimed, “I’ve been looking everywhere for you!”

Startled, I laughed. She told me that she was a scout looking for models, and asked if I would be willing to audition for a modeling position. I didn’t even know that there were scouts looking for possible models, especially in our little country area.

My parents trusted that God could use me, whatever my choice was.

Again I told mom and dad what had happened, and asked them what I should do. They talked to me about it, but in the end it was my decision, my life, and my walk with God. They had raised me to make my own decisions, and this was a life decision. If I went down this road, nothing would ever be the same, so I needed to choose carefully for myself. I decided to go in for the audition because I didn’t know anything about modeling, and it seemed so exciting, I knew I would never rest if I didn’t at least investigate what being a model meant. At the audition, the judges asked me about scars, tattoos, or any other mar that might pose a problem. They looked at my hands for possible hand shots, at my hair, and at how I walked…the whole nine yards. Then they called me in and asked various questions to see if I could answer with poise and confidence. The modeling job would start immediately, and it would involve travel all over the US and Europe.

I went home to think about it. I knew, once again, that accepting this opportunity would change my life. I knew that God could use me there. But when the modeling judge called me a week later to ask for my decision, I said, “Thanks, but no thanks.” I was not interested.

How can a parent know when a child is old enough or wise enough to make serious decisions?

It was nice having a choice. It was good that I had to turn down the opportunities myself, because if my parents had stood firm against me doing either one, I would have always felt that they kept me from reaching my full potential. As it was, they trusted that God could use me, whatever my choice was. I know they were scared, for I have been a total knucklehead both before and after these life-changing decisions. Now I am raising my own set of knuckleheads, and even at their tender ages it is important for them to begin learning how to make wise decisions.

This article is the first of a two-part series. To continue please read Trusting and Supporting Our Children’s Choices by Michael and Debi Pearl.