Teachable Moments

Fruit Check: The Necessity of Gentleness

I love apple picking in the Fall!  My husband and I took our kids out to an apple orchard every fall to pick apples.  (If Mom liked it, then everyone got to join in the fun.) Applesauce, apple pies, fried apples, apple chutney – you need an apple recipe, I probably have it.  Besides a feast of fruit, we also used this opportunity to teach some basic theology. The question we discussed one fine Fall day was, how do you know if someone is a Christian?  What do apples and Christians have in common?  Glad you asked!

Scripture teaches that you will know a Christian by their fruit.  Galatians 5:22,23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Fruit is referring to what is produced out of the life of a believer who is filled and walking in the Spirit.  If I have come to Christ as my Savior, then God has deposited within me His Spirit (2 Cor. 1:21,22) and in fact, the Spirit of God within me is proof that I am a believer (Romans 8:9). But in explaining this to children, how do you explain to a child someone they can not see?  Children won’t argue that the Spirit exists, as most children have vivid imaginations and live in the world of all-things-possible. But they will want to know, what is the Holy Spirit like and how can I know if I have the Spirit?

The Spirit is likened to fruit.  When we went to an orchard, there were pears, apples, pumpkins and corn that we could choose from the harvest.  We could easily tell what type of plant we are looking at because we could see the fruit. How do I know if we are picking from an Apple tree?  Because there are apples. How do I know if I am picking from a Pear tree? Because there are pears. Trees bear the type of fruit that is in their DNA; the fruit bears witness to what type of tree it is.

Same for believers – what kind of a person am I – a believing person or a non-believing person?  The answer isn’t how many bible verses you can quote (though memorizing scripture is important) nor how much doctrine you can explain (though solid doctrine is important).  More important than knowledge is the character that is produced as a result of faith. Do you want to know if someone knows Christ? Then you should SEE their faith.

One of the characteristics of a believer should be the fruit of gentleness.  Gentleness is described in scripture as both a believer trait as well as something we can do.  If you do a study of gentleness (sometimes translated meekness), you can find 4 thematic qualities that help define it:

  • Gentleness is NOT harsh – calm and kind in demeanor
  • Gentleness is NOT thoughtless – considers the other person more than one’s self
  • Gentleness IS protective – cares for the welfare of others
  • Gentleness IS powerful – strength under control

The Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology defines gentleness as, ”Sensitivity of disposition and kindness of behavior, founded on strength and prompted by love.

The fruit of gentleness has for the many centuries been touted as a key characteristic of faithful believers. Jonathan Edwards said, “All who are truly godly and are real disciples of Christ have a gentle spirit in them.” Jesus was described as the gentle King (Matthew 11:29); Paul defined his ministry to the church in Thessalonica as gentle as a mother caring for her little children and in Philippians; Paul gives a final charge to Timothy to pursue gentleness and finally, Paul urges everyone “to let your gentleness be evident to all.”

How important is the spiritual fruit of gentleness?  I’d suggest very!

Dear Reader, grabbing every opportunity as a teachable moment to help our children know and appreciate theological truth is a great habit to get into.  And besides our children, it’s good for us. Are you going to eat a piece of fruit today? As you do, remind yourself that the fruit the Spirit produces in you is an indicator of how your relationship with God is going.  Are you walking with Him closely? Do a fruit check! And start with the fruit of gentleness.

Gentleness fruit check – NOT harsh, NOT thoughtless, IS protective, IS powerful:  does this describe you?

May we today be obedient to the challenge Paul gives all believers, “May your gentleness be evident to all.” And I pray others will be gentle with you.

Fondly yours with gentle blessings!  Elizabeth

 

Teachable Moments

Socially Anxious Kids

Children feel anxiety too; for some, anxiety in social and performance situations can be so intense the child is unable to function well, if at all.  It can result in lower academic performance, negative self-confidence and unsatisfactory social relationships. Children may avoid engaging in sports or other extra-curricular activities for fear of being embarrassed in front of their peers.

Newest research shows that 40 million Americans are currently diagnosed with an anxiety disorder of some kind and not all of these are adults.  Right behind specific phobias, Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD for short) is the most common anxiety disorder with onset typically beginning in youth.  Statistics estimate 7 – 9.1% of our population suffer from SAD.

What Social Anxiety Is Not

Social Anxiety Disorder is not extreme shyness, though many teens and adults diagnosed with SAD report experiencing extreme shyness as kids; but, this correlation does not infer causation.  Shyness does not necessarily produce SAD, but it surely can set you up to more likely experience it.

What Causes SAD

SAD is characterized by the emotion of fear of social judgment which manifests itself from feelings of embarrassment, criticism, rejection and scrutiny.  SAD is also characterized by the belief that “I do not have what it takes to deal with what life requires of me.” Social anxiety is both intense fear and an overly critical self-appraisal which cripples a person from living happily, at peace while building relationships and meeting goals.

Does my child or myself have SAD?

If you answer yes to the following questions and can have said yes for over 6 months, you or your child may be suffering from SAD.

  • Do you experience extreme, persistent fear of others judging you?
  • Are you painfully self-conscious?
  • Do you avoid social situations where you meet new people?
  • Even though you have positive outcomes in your social interactions, do you still find yourself criticizing yourself and discounting the positive feedback you get to the contrary to your own negative self-evaluations?
  • Do you consistently try and avoid most of the following because of how bad it makes you feel?
    • Beginning or ending conversations
    • Walking in a room where you know no one
    • Asking or answering questions with others watching
    • Asking for help
    • Asserting your “no”
    • Talking about yourself

Social Anxiety Disorder is diagnosed with the fear of being judged or rejected in  a social or performance situation, to the point where the intense anxiety significantly impedes everyday life functioning and inhibits us reaching our life goals.  It is painful and it is real and there is help.

How Can I Help My Child

First, listen carefully to how your child is feeling.  It is important that you listen without judgment or comments, but with acceptance and compassion.  Show mercy. Be gracious. (Colossians 3:12)

Second, pay attention to the judgmental and overly critical comments that the child says to themselves.  What is the dialogue going on in their head? What negative statements is the child saying again and again to themselves?  Does the child recognize their negative self-speech? Self-awareness is the first step toward coping with anxiety. (Proverbs 4:23)

Third, accept what the child is saying without trying to change the meaning.  Accepting their reality is more important than understanding why the reality is there. (Romans 15:7)

Four, help the child focus on what feedback they are receiving from others – real evidence (often the positive results of social interactions) vs false evidence (the negative self-critic that they anticipate, but doesn’t occur). Reinforce the positive experiences they have with others. (1 Thes. 5:11)

Five, when the child doesn’t know what to do, ask for their ideas versus giving them answers.  We don’t want to reinforce their belief that they aren’t capable of dealing with life. Instead, help them realize their ability to come up with ideas of how to solve their problems by asking questions and processing with them vs. producing answers. Go for talking with and not talking “at.” (Ephesians 4:2)

Six, encourage curiosity.  Encourage the child to consider others’ lives and who they are. Redirect the focus off of self-criticism to engaging in curiosity of others.  (Phil. 2:3)

Dear Reader, Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a real, painful and often debilitating fear that interferes with life.  It is not the abundant life Christ would desire to give to those who follow Him. However, as with any pain, SAD also gives us the amazing opportunity to be compassionate, patient, thoughtful people who love unconditionally and offer timely wisdom.  What a pleasure especially when the people we most lend a helping hand to are our children. I pray the suggestions offer hope and help where help is needed.

Blessings and peace, fondly yours, Elizabeth.

Teachable Moments

What Traveling Can Teach You

I just got back from traveling overseas.  I enjoy the chaos of travel – its unexpected trials, my new best friends that I sit next to on the plane, and the airport food that is twice as expensive but just as satisfying.  I like looking at possible souvenirs I won’t buy and rifling through magazines I would never have time to read in my “everyday” life. I even enjoy the waiting for delayed flights.

When our children were younger, we traveled with them.  We loved showing them new places and teaching them to navigate the airports, unique travel challenges and meeting people who spoke different languages, wore unique clothing and had traditions that had little to do with their “everyday” life.  They even enjoyed waiting for delayed flights with us.

We all learned a lot about ourselves and who we were as family during our travels.  Our trips’ Teachable Moments are our souvenirs that we still enjoy remembering and using today in our “everyday” lives.  These souvenirs bring a wisdom that only comes through travel.

SOUVENIR #1 – Plans Always Go Awry

You can plan; you can obsess; you can detail every second, but I guarantee you, something will go awry.  There is no perfect plan and there are no guarantees. The only one who is perfect and knows the plan is God Himself, “I make known the end from the beginning…” (Isaiah 46:10).  

T.M.:  Having the expectation that the journey of life as well as any travel routes will never end up being what we initially expect is a wise truth to remember, especially when the unexpected arises.  Get ready to be surprised, uncomfortable and interrupted and remember – all of these build character.

SOUVENIR #2 – Picking Your Travel Partners

Not everyone is built for travel.  Some do it much better than others.  Some struggle with the confinement that is inevitable when you are negotiating how to get from point A to point B.  Some hate the amount of time it takes to reach one’s destination, no matter the mode of travel. Some feel edgy thinking of all the other things they could be doing until they reach their destination.  And some HATE figuring out out of all the stuff they own what stuff they need to take with them. These types of worried, anxious individuals who usually expect the worst-case scenario and have no hope that they will enjoy life as they travel make the journey more difficult than it needs to be.  Proverbs is correct when it says “anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down” and Proverbs is also correct when it says, “a merry heart makes for a merry countenance”.

T.M.:  Besides packing a toothbrush, pack a good attitude that is hopeful and leans upon God for contentment!

SOUVENIR #3 – Perspective Matters

My husband has said as long as I’ve known him (over 30 years now) that it is not perfection, but the direction of our lives that count.  Focusing too much on having the “perfect” trip or focusing too much on where we are going and not where we are currently at are both perspectives that will kill any decent travel plan.  Focusing too much on any moment of time other than the moment we are currently in is a great waste of time.  I can’t change either the past or future, but I can influence this moment – and since a trip is just a series of moments – it’s wise to make every moment count.  As for considering just “getting there” as the very definition of success, that is a misguided idea that process is inferior to results. It’s just not true – how we get somewhere, what we learn and enjoy as we get there, the relationships we build as we get there – these are all significant in their own right.  

T.M.: Realize the current way being made for you (Isaiah 43:18-19) and celebrate the moment you are in (Romans 14:17).

Dear Reader, if you travel, you have a whole bunch of Teachable Moments that direct your life.  Recognizing what God has taught you and how it informs your life is an invaluable collection of souvenirs. Have you shared with your children what you have learned from life’s journey and specifically, your own travel experiences?  What has God taught you? What Teachable Moments are your souvenirs? Next time you come home from even a day trip, start a conversation with your family that begins with, “On my trip, God taught me….” and let them see how God had been at work within you as you had been away from them.  

May you enjoy picking through your collection of Teachable Moments and giving testimony and thanks to God for each one.

Blessings to you as we travel this life together.  Fondly yours, Elizabeth

 

Teachable Moments

Time to Care – Parenting and the Holocaust: Part 2

My husband came up with this idea, and I wasn’t sure how it would go over.  But we tried it anyway and now it has stuck for years. When our kids took to the stage or field and we wanted them to know where we (their biggest fans) were sitting, we put our hands over our head and made two “llama”s with our fingers and then, brought together the right hand llama and the left hand lama so they could kiss each other, several times. When our children would see the kissing llamas, they knew it was us and we were there cheering them on, so proud to be their Mom and Dad. As they grew older, they returned the llama kisses to us. Llama kisses all around!

This may seem small and somewhat silly, but it was our way to show we cared about each other. What does caring about one another involve?

  • They could depend upon us to show up.
  • We offered our unconditional support; win or lose, we are on their team!
  • We gave positive encouragement and, if needed, helpful feedback, after it was done.
  • We believed in their talent and their hard work, believing they could improve and succeed.

In the Holocaust, families formed a necessary support system for one another in which their care was expressed thoughtfully; they showed affection, concern and spurred one another on to creative pursuits.  While all those who were victimized in the Holocaust suffered, those families who failed to express care for one another were more negatively impacted than families who did express affection and encouragement. Families who could not rely on the support of one another were at a sad disadvantage.  

Why is a family that shows care so important to us as humans?  God created us to live in a family community with one another, a community that is encouraging, loving and supportive – a community that expresses their care in consistent and effective ways.  We are made in the image of God, and God himself as Trinity lives eternally within a loving relationship between the 3 persons. God is always in community with Himself and this perfect community is our prototype for what a family should be.

Families are indeed a God-given form of support for all of its members, and the love we share is necessary for our well-being, no matter the circumstances. It’s important to recognize the importance of family and take the time to tell our loved ones we care for them.

How do you show daily that you care for those in your family?  In times that are busy, and especially  in a crisis, taking the time to show that one another’s well-being is a top priority in your family helps each of us survive and thrive.  Some pointers in finding that time and showing care well:

  • Empathize with feelings – saying, “you are feeling excited and nervous as you go into this next game.” We need to recognize and acknowledge one another’s emotional experiences.
  • Encourage each other’s relationship with God – a verse, a prayer or a theological truth can help everyone keep perspective as well as remain thankful in both the good and bad times. Shape the verse according to what the person receiving it will find encouraging.
  • Memorialize big and little events with photos, encouraging letters, handmade notes, special treats or even a “this is your big day” celebration plate on which they can eat their favorite dinner (plates like this can be bought online or created at your local pottery shop)
  • Hug!  Appropriate physical affection never goes out of style – a pat on the back in any style is always a good idea.
  • Technological Know-How is helpful when you’re on the road and you still want to show-up (watch live but through a device) or give them a personal congratulations after the event.  Staying in touch is easier and can be personal when we use the technological advances available to us.

Dear Reader, however your family does it, don’t put off tomorrow what you need to do today – get your “care” on and express your love, concern, support and encouragement to your family.  Don’t miss an opportunity to let those you love know you love them.

Love and blessings to each of you!  Fondly yours, Elizabeth

Teachable Moments

A Label Does Not Define Potential

Dyslexia, Cystic Fibrosis, Autism, Down’s Syndrome.  Each of these diagnostic labels is helpful in that we use them to communicate what is going on for a child with special needs in an effective manner.  But if we’re not careful, labels which are meant to be helpful for children can turn into a barrier which works against them.

We know with surety that a label does not represent a mistake, but an intentional challenge God has designed affecting both the child and their family.  It’s important – vital really, that we remember we are created by God specifically and purposefully (Psalm 139). Yes, labels help us navigate and communicate certain expectations, but in no way, however, do these labels define a child’s identity and importantly, they do not limit the child’s potential.

Potential is the capacity to become more than who we are today; it is about our development, our future prospects, and our yet-to-be-tapped-into success.  Potential is not predetermined nor inevitable in its scope or outcome. Potential is all about what can be, not what can’t be.

We need to have a clear understanding of potential when we know or work with children and families who navigate a disability. Remember, when you meet one child with a disability, you have only met one child with that disability.  While that precious child may possess characteristics which fulfill the diagnosis of autism,for example, that child will exhibit those characteristics in their own unique way and it in no way should assume a lack of potential.  We never take away possibility and we never stop believing in the “what could be” in one another.

In being a fan of “potential,” it doesn’t mean we turn a blind eye to the limits that also exist.  Potential does not assume limitless possibility. When we acknowledge potential, we are talking about the boundaries of limits and what they are and what they aren’t.  In truth, all of us have limits we can’t exceed in our life. For example, I am unable to run a 6 minute mile. I am unable to deadlift 200 pounds (okay, can’t do 100 pounds either).  I am unable to enjoy doing math computations. Nor do I enjoy ironing, lima beans, and I really hate slimy animals – please don’t ask me to go fishing and hold the fish! Do any of these limitations define me?  Do any of these limitations make me less able to have a happy and successful future? No – I’m perfectly fine not doing any of the things I just listed. Yet, I know if I wanted to, I could push against the limits I just named and get closer to reaching my potential in each of these areas (maybe I will move from hating slimy animals to at least tolerating them).  Reality is, I don’t really want to or need to for I embrace the idea that I do not have to be good at everything; embracing my limits while simultaneously challenging my potential are two sides of the same coin. I choose where to work to maximize my potential and I choose where to embrace my limits.

All this talk about limits and potential and embracing both can be expressed in compassionate, kind and loving ways to the children and families we know who so valiantly live with special needs.  Here are some suggestions of how to do this:

  • Let’s not pretend we don’t “see” the disability.  A family who has a child with a disability knows they have the disability.  Neither extreme of focusing only on the disability nor avoiding acknowledging the disability is helpful.  An appropriate recognition that makes necessary accommodations in a tactful manner is what is usually best.
  • Ask questions.  If we aren’t sure what could be helpful or what is needed, taking the initiative to ask what is needed or wanted shows kindness.  Taking the responsibility of always having to ask for help off the shoulders of the family can be a true blessing.
  • Be a friend.  Children with disabilities often express a feeling of loneliness as do their families.  Being included and finding ways to enjoy other kids is a normal emotional desire for all children; families also want to get together with other families to have a good time.  A disability doesn’t take away normative needs.
  • Don’t judge.  Families have a lot of difficult decisions to make regarding the care of their children.  A million things need to be managed and unless we are in their shoes exactly, we really don’t know what it is like.  
  • See God’s blueprint.  Because we are all God’s creation, His offspring (Acts 17:29), we have inherent value and part of the responsibility of being a believer is to assist everyone in their God-given potential.  To help one another survive and thrive is part of obeying God’s commandment as Christians to live well with our fellow humans (Luke 10:30-37).
  • Laugh, enjoy!  All humans love to laugh and have fun.  We all need humor and a smile. Find the joy, the laugh and the smile and the challenges become easier to bear.  We are to “bear with one another” and laughing together is an easy way to do this.

Dear Reader, knowing that labels do not define people and knowing that we can embrace both the limits and the potential of life is a God-given opportunity.  May we not miss it! I hope this week you will find opportunities to encourage the potential you see in others, especially any family or child who bravely navigates any disability or special need.  May we be people who see what can be, not what can’t, and may we all look beyond the label.

As always, fondly yours, Elizabeth

“There is no man living who isn’t capable of doing more than he thinks he can do.” Henry Ford