Trading the Dream: One Family’s Story of Purpose

Hilary Alan: "In 2006 we let go of everything that was familiar to us. … Nothing would ever be the same."

The events we had seen on CNN were quickly forgotten. We were more focused on the quick service we’d received at the Volvo dealership. We drove to Florida and had a wonderful vacation, just as we had planned. And I was not forced to ride in the uncomfortable backseat, squeezed in between my kids.

In 2004 my family and I were intoxicated by the American Dream. Curt was an IT director at SAS Institute, the largest privately owned software company in the world. (SAS was hailed in 2010 and again in 2011 by Fortune magazine as the “Best Company to Work For in America.”) He had a plush corner office, a reserved parking space, a six-figure salary, a 35-hour workweek, four weeks of vacation every year (with an extra week at Christmas), and a nationally recognized benefits package. He often traveled to Germany, the company’s European headquarters, earning enough frequent flyer miles to take us on vacations to Maui, London and Paris.

We lived in a brand-new house in an upscale subdivision. We both drove new cars, and we had two beautiful, healthy kids. We thought we were serious Christians because we attended a Bible-teaching church every week where we were “involved.” We considered God to be a priority in our lives. No question, we had it all.

The truth is, we were living for nothing more than the advancement of our own little kingdom. With every raise my husband received, we increased our standard of living. Though my husband’s job provided well for our family and enabled me to stay at home, I took on a part-time position as a teacher’s assistant at our daughter’s elementary school. I enjoyed the work, and we both enjoyed having “just a little extra money” for ourselves. (The truth is, no matter what our salaries were, we always wanted more.) We were convinced that an extra $10,000 or so would make the difference and get us everything we wanted. But we’d bring in $10,000 more and find it never quite did the job. We could never be fully satisfied with what we had.

When I went shopping for groceries or clothes, I bought what I wanted, not considering what was on sale or clipping coupons. That was too much trouble. I didn’t shop in expensive stores or pricey boutiques, because I considered myself low maintenance and did most of my shopping at Gap, Old Navy and Target. Since I bought clothes off clearance racks, I considered myself fairly frugal. We put all our regular expenses on an airline-affiliated credit card, which we paid in full every month in order to earn frequent flyer miles. That way we could count on taking even better vacations in the future. Since we were not carrying any debt, and we were earning free airfare for future vacations, we considered ourselves to be financially wise.

Our approach to life extended to the way we practiced our faith. We attended church, had our kids participating in church activities, and Curt and I were also involved. We lived across the street from our pastor and considered him and his wife to be good friends. We prayed and we read our Bibles. But when it came to the Bible, we preferred to read selected passages that we found inspiring or consoling. We weren’t reading the Bible with an openness to being changed by the Truth we found there.

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And then, as we drove to Florida on our December vacation, we became aware of a devastated region in Southeast Asia. We didn’t realize it, of course, but God was planning to use the widespread destruction and loss of life to reverse the trajectory of our lives. Within weeks of our stopping in Savannah to get a seat belt fixed, God would interrupt the lives of two adults in their 40s, a 14-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl. He had future plans for us that involved resigning from our jobs and selling our home, our cars and our possessions. He wanted us to take a completely different path in life.

“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?’” (Matt. 16:24-26).

If you are single and have read advice about being intentional in dating, you are familiar with the advice regarding a DTR, a conversation designed to “define the relationship.” It’s important that you not assume the man or woman you are interested in shares the same level of attraction to you. In our case, the Asian tsunami forced our family to examine our relationship with God. It was time for a DTR with him.

We loved God, but were we ready to serve him and other people without holding anything back? Were we prepared to obey him even when it would lead us to do things with our lives that we never dreamed of, or even knew were possible? Were we ready to follow him on his terms rather than what felt most comfortable and convenient to us? Were we prepared to follow him in the way he defines what it means to be his disciple in Matthew 16?

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God called us to give up everything so we could trust in him alone. He called us during a time when the nation’s economy was weakening and the rate of unemployment promised to rise. Curt and I both had job security and high combined salaries, but God called us to give that up so we could earn less than what we had made when we were first married in 1985. He called us to home school a rising middle schooler and a high schooler, who had been in traditional schools all their lives. He asked us to leave a comfortable life that we had worked hard to create. He wanted us to go somewhere we previously weren’t even aware existed.

God was not interested in how good we were at serving ourselves. He took us to the other side of the world to serve him, and to live among a people group we had never before heard of, and frankly were a little afraid of. Curt was an IT specialist; I had worked in public relations and education. Neither of us was experienced in disaster relief or community development. We were not veterans of short-term missions trips. But the Alans are living proof that God doesn’t call the equipped; He equips the called.

There was nothing in our backgrounds to indicate that we would succeed in helping Muslims who didn’t speak English and who were suspicious of Westerners. We had no experience or qualifications that gave us expertise in helping people rebuild their lives after a devastating tsunami.

There was only one reason why God would choose the four of us. We learned that God delights in using ordinary people to do very extraordinary things. He delights even more in reversing the trajectory of a life, pointing us away from ourselves and toward him. In fact, that’s kind of the point.

But we didn’t know that yet. This is our story.


Taken from Sent: How One Ordinary Family Traded the American Dream for God’s Greater Purpose. Copyright © 2013 by Hilary Alan. Published by WaterBrook Multnomah. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

Order from Sent: How One Ordinary Family Traded the American Dream for God’s Greater Purpose