Today I experienced a pretty monumental "first." I think my parents might be disappointed to learn what I did, but I was far from home and with a group of friends who convinced me it would be OK I'd even like it.
And so, today, for the first time ... I ate at one of those popular all-you-can-eat buffet restaurants.
It was overwhelming. There was a row for tacos and fajitas, lo mein and sweet and sour chicken, a stir-fry bar, ribs, burgers, fried fish, fried chicken livers, fried okra, fried shrimp. Fried everything. There was a salad bar with three kinds of ranch dressing and a dessert stand that featured cakes, pies, cookies and a chocolate fountain so you could dip your dessert in case it wasn't dessert-y enough. Just when I thought I had seen it all, a kid walked around the corner with cotton candy.
I'm calling it now. It's only a matter of time before this gets on the first lady's radar and she razes them all to plant organic gardens. Until then, we have access to all the mac'n'cheese, chicken wings and barbecued baked beans we can eat.
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And we can go back for seconds.
Despite the miles of MSG-saturated goodness, I did have a hard time getting into the action. Yes, it all looked ... edible. But there was so much to choose from, I couldn't figure out where to begin.
Life can be a lot like a trip to an all-you-can-eat buffet. We are given so many choices of how we spend our time -- television, sports, crafting, traveling, working, sleeping, praying -- you name it. And, like at the restaurant, we need to be prudent about what we choose to fill up on.
As a new school year begins, families are faced with big decisions about the activities they pursue (because even if it's just one child in ballet or soccer, we know this affects the schedule of the whole family) and how they spend their time. Much like a buffet, some choices are better for long-term health and happiness than others.
For children to learn how to live balanced lives as adults, they have to learn balance first in their families. Do you want your adult children to take their faith seriously? Engage in acts of charity and kindness? Have healthy relationships? There's no magic formula, but it helps to encourage this while they're young. There can be tremendous pressure on families to allow extracurriculars to take over the whole calendar, but this is like filling up on cotton candy and fries -- it leaves no room for what's really important, nor does it teach balance for the future.
The problem with all these extra activities is that faith and family can be the first casualties. Prayer, attending church, youth group and Sunday school takes second place to the demands of a coach, a league or a director. The absurdity of this is when the season is over, the show stops and the school year ends, it is faith and family that remains.
When I began to fill my plate at the buffet, I knew I had to stick with the nutritional habits I had been given as a child. I filled up half my plate with a salad and green beans before venturing into the less-than-healthy aisles for french fries and those delicious little cheeseburgers.
We can take the same strategy when we plan our schedules, placing what's important on the plate before anything else. Family, church, studying, service to others -- these should be the first things we schedule because these are the people and beliefs that will sustain us as we mature.