Teachable Moments

Parenting and the Holocaust Part 1

As I write this blog, I am in Jerusalem.  I’d suggest that whenever you travel to Israel, you make Yad Vashem a “must-see” site.  I have wandered its halls a number of times and every time I observe the stories that tell of the Holocaust atrocities, I walk away inspired by how those captured into inhumane living and dying conditions found extraordinary ways to survive and thrive.  Today, I want to ask one question from my experience at Yad Vashem.

What can we learn from the men and women who raised children amidst such pain and grief while they survived in camps, ghettos, while hiding away or who joined the Jewish Partisans to fight against the enemy?

No matter what life throws at you, if you are a parent, you know that parents don’t get to quit.  This is true now and it was true for parents in the Holocaust. These parents protected, cared and fiercely loved their children.  Their children grew up to tell their stories and we can learn from 3 primary types of emotional memories that they shared. Their emotional memories can help us teach our children wisely today.

1) Conflicting emotions accompany memories

Children’s memories will contain conflicting emotions under normal situations, let alone situations rifled with crisis and trauma.  One story told regarding a daughter and mother relationship from one of the ghettos explains,

When we examine Anat’s (the daughter’s) narrative, for example, we see that in spite of the fact she was alone for long periods in the ghetto, witnessed the severe beating of her mother and had several other traumatic experiences as a very young child, Anat also had the positive experience of her mother always returning to her. In fact, her mother remained with her until the last day of her life. While there are signs in Anat’s interview that she also feels anger toward her mother, due to feelings of fear and desertion, these are interwoven with a deep admiration and a strong sense of protection by her mother.

This daughter’s memories evoked strong emotions that ranged from the very positive to the very negative.  This wide range of emotions allowed her to build an independent life as a woman, even informing her own role as a mother.

OUR APPLICATION:  Conflicting emotions accompany memories

Understand that two very different emotions can exist at the same time and those contrasting emotions then crop up in our memories.   Our children will have both good and bad feelings about their childhood and we shouldn’t be discouraged that they express both the good and the bad as they grow older.  Listening and working through the memories is what counts more than trying to hold onto a false remembrance of perfection.

2) Emotions interpret memories

For some Holocaust survivors, the emotions that accompanied childhood memories dictated the interpretation of events as an adult.  For example, some children who had one Jewish parent and one Christian parent survived because the Christian parent was able to rescue the child.  In some cases, the Jewish parent was taken away to be housed in a ghetto or deported to be gassed in a concentration camp. As adult children remembered the separation from the Jewish parent and that parent’s subsequent death, these adult children often resented the surviving Christian parent, even though the Christian parent saved their life.  Children remembered the division of the family and the horrible anguish of that moment of separation; that anguish later turned into anger and sometimes, even hatred toward the surviving parent.

OUR APPLICATION:  Emotions interpret memories

We need to be aware of how our own emotions get in the way of our recall of past life events

and inform our children how emotions can skew our perspectives.  Being aware of this will help us see life in a more balanced and true-to-life way; we need to make sure our emotions help inform our life, but we are not lead nor dictated by our emotions.  Emotions can lead us to wrong conclusions. What a great lesson to teach our children!

3) Emotions reflect the relationships within the memories

Some survivors explained emotional memories that while very painful, reflected the physical and emotional safety their parents provided.  Researchers who reflected upon one such survivor’s story said,

Even though most of his memories express negative emotions, the intensity with which he speaks leads us to believe that the ability to recall and willingness to openly express negative emotions connected to one’s parent during the Holocaust reflects closeness, even if the parent-child relationship was a problematic one.

OUR APPLICATION:  Emotions reflect the relationships within the memories

Even turbulent emotions show a parent-child relationship in which parents are engaged and caring about the child.  Even if parents are not always right, showing up and emotionally engaging with our children makes a big difference both when times are distressing and when the adult child looks back.  Let’s show up and engage and not worry so much about always having to be “the perfect parent”.

DEAR READER,  

We as families will experience painful times and while most of us will not experience anything close to what the survivors of the Holocaust did, we have the opportunity to learn from the rich emotional memories that survive; even the worst of history can teach us.  These brave parents who taught, protected and fiercely loved their children throughout the Holocaust can remind us of some significant truths.  May we honor their memories by learning from their lives.

Fondly yours from Israel, Elizabeth

 

Teachable Moments

Luther Said What?

Consciously or not, we will come to imitate what we have learned.  This is especially true, I believe, when it comes to how we conduct our relationships, specifically marriage. We can see marriages and families lived out in front of us in first person today, but we can also glean from those who have gone before us.  Take for example, the marriage of Martin and Katie Luther who lived 5 centuries ago. Watching their marriage play out from today’s perspective enables us to learn some key biblical and pragmatic principles that work in today’s family as much as it did then.

Before we begin examining the Luther’s marriage, be warned.  You may be shocked to read what Martin said to and about Katie.  One thing I suggest we all take away is be careful what we say to and about our spouses.  It could be recorded throughout history. For example, when asked about Katie’s looks, Martin said Katie wasn’t much to look at.  I really wouldn’t want that to be my husband’s quote about me that lasts for 500+ years

Marriage was not always seen as a virtue of a Christian ministry leader.  Martin Luther, the great protestant reformer of the 1500s, was encouraged to take a wife as an example to other protesters in support of a gospel of grace alone, by faith alone, through Christ alone, according to scripture alone, for the glory of God alone.  In opposition to the religious tradition of the time in which singleness was venerated, Martin finally followed the call to be married and married a woman of strong character to whom he once said as she herself struggled with whom to marry, “You can ill afford to be fussy.”  Not the most romantic conversation, but they did indeed wed.

As for romance, Martin described his emotional relationship with Katie by saying, “I’m not madly in love, but I cherish her.”  Their passion was most seen in their commitment to one another as they talked and fought their way through figuring out how to live life together.  Luther spoke about their conflict by putting it into perspective; “Think of all the squabbles Adam and Eve must have had in their 900 years together.”  All marriages must figure out romance and conflict, one may seem arbitrary and the other unavoidable, but both are key players in a successful marriage.  As Martin and Katie discovered, both need our attention and time to experience an enjoyable and effective relationship.

As Katie and Luther’s marriage progressed throughout the years, Luther reflected upon it: “Marriage is like the wine of Cana, the best is saved for last.”  Marriages that last the distance often figure out how to negotiate, compromise, serve and love more fully as they have learned to embrace self-denial and live together “as one.”  We can glean several key principles from the Luther’s marriage of 21 years that help us navigate toward “the best which is saved for last.”

  1.  Marriage is a good gift from God. Asceticism is to deny ourselves, to sacrifice ourselves harshly in order to attain a level of spiritual maturity.  It embraces the idea of “do not do” as a way to holiness. Marriage at the time of Luther for those called into ministry flew in the face of such an attitude.  Instead of celibacy, the call of the reformers was to embrace the goodness of marriage which Paul purports in 1 Corinthians 7:7, “I wish that all were as I myself am (single).  But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind (single) and one of another (married).” While the apostle Paul embraced the single life, he in no way espoused that singleness was the only choice for a godly person.  Both positions, married and singleness, are choices that are good and godly in their own right. To raise one over another is neither helpful nor Biblically informed.
  2.  Husbands and wives were made to complement one another. Genesis 2:18, “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ ”  Men and women are different in many ways let alone that each person comes with their own unique personality. Marital competency, like cultural competency, requires embracing that which makes us similar as well as that which makes us unique.  And instead of having our unique attributes clash, we should strive to see how they complement one another. Our differences do not need to lead to bitterness, but a betterment of each person; we are better together than apart.

How did Martin and Katie better one another?  Martin’s stellar theological and biblical passion fed the flame of faith in Katie; Katie indeed was Martin’s biggest fan and most ardent scholar and delighted in learning from him.  Katie provided for Martin a home which nurtured his physical and emotional stability, both which he sorely need. This can be seen in the practical everyday matters that any married couple needs to navigate.  For example,

  • “Martin didn’t make his bed for a year.”  Beds were made of straw and if not tended to regularly, the straw would rot; such was the case for Martin. Katie entered the home and quickly corrected this situation as well as supplying her husband with a pillow (he never took the time to get one for himself).
  • “She ruled both her household and her husband, a situation which the latter accepted resignedly, since he was totally incapable of organizing the affairs of even the smallest household.  She brought order into his life and not always to his satisfaction.” While Martin did not always enjoy being organized, he thrived under the implementation of it. He enjoyed hot meals, bills being paid and medical care for himself and anyone in his household and home.  He did not always enjoy having his time usurped by necessary marital conversations or engagement in the mundane duties of the pastorate and yet, Martin Luther also said, “In domestic affairs I defer to Katie. Otherwise, I am led by the Holy Spirit.”
  • Katie was an ex-nun who was created to lead; she naturally stepped into situations of chaos and need and brought order and resolution.  Overseeing a home and making sure that it not only ran well, but was financially viable, was the “dream” job for Katie. Martin allowed her God-given talents to rise to the forefront of her life and encouraged her to thrive under the mantle of responsibility she wore.  She was known for her work and work ethic and serves as an inspiration for women to embrace industry with godliness.

3. Marriage takes work. In today’s world, obsessed with entertainment, work is something we work hard to get rid of or over with as quickly as possible.  If my “free” time is so prized that I see work as an inconvenience and not my duty or calling, then laziness is in danger of becoming a covert value of the home.  We can learn from the work that both Martin and Katie accomplished which we all now benefit from in our understanding of faith and family.

Facts of the Luther household:

  • 6 children, 6 nieces and nephews, 4 children from a friend who lost his wife in the plague.
  • A large number of guests were often found in the home including tutors for the 16 children as well as student borders; Martin gave nearly-daily lectures and spent countless hours teaching and writing.
  • Katie managed the farms, gardens, cattle, the livestock, and the family brewery.  The household was self-supporting by growing peas, beans, turnips, melons, and lettuce in the garden and grew 8 different fruits in the orchard.  She caught fish in the brook, and oversaw the taking care of 8 pigs, 5 cows, 9 calves, chickens, pigeons, geese, and a dog named Tolpel (translated, “idiot”).
  • The Luthers inherited another farm which Katie oversaw; she was also always looking to expand her real-estate ventures.

From marriage to being a good gift from God, to gender complementation to work both within and outside the home, we have a marvelous opportunity to reflect on what we learn from observing the Luther household.  We can start by asking ourselves these questions:

  • How might I have bought into the unfair and unnecessary dichotomy of holding one position as more valuable than the other – singleness vs. marriage?
  • What areas of responsibility and giftedness do I need to appreciate more in my spouse?
  • If work is inherently required in marriage, where do I struggle in my attitude and action when it comes to fulfilling my responsibilities to the family (where am I selfish with my time and efforts)?

Dear Reader, I am always convicted as I learn from those around me, especially the saints of old like Martin and Katie Luther.  What an opportunity for us to learn from watching how they navigated the waters of marital bliss. May we always be learners and never miss a teachable moment that can lead to our own sanctification for ourselves and home.

Learning with you!  Fondly, Elizabeth

 

Teachable Moments

A Strong and Simple Faith

Throughout history, there have been many women of notable interest to us since they help us change the way we look at God and others. They all stand firm in the faith with incredible strength and grace, while also working hard to care for their families and those around them. I could write on and on about strong examples of women in the Bible who knew how to use their words and actions in truth, love, and righteousness for the Lord. There are many matriarchs of the civil rights movement who stood strong and courageously fought for the truth when others failed to do so. These women and more were pioneers for many reformations and they are all to be honored and admired.

If you had a chance to listen to the podcast on the Women’s History Month (see “Women’s History Month” blog post if you have not yet listened), you may recognize the name, Katherine Coleman Johnson. I’d like to take a minute today to talk about this math genius and human computer. (Facts taken from Nasa.Gov).

  •        Katherine was one of 3 African American students chosen to integrate West Virginia’s graduate schools and earned her Bachelor’s in Mathematics and French with highest honors.
  •        She established the computations of the angle needed for rocket ships to land back on earth for NASA and helped sync satellites and computers together for moon-orbiting modules.
  •        She was so astute in understanding the new processes and technology necessary for traveling to the moon that she was a vital piece of the puzzle for space travel and exploration in the USA.
  •        In 2015, Pres. Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor for a civilian, and she was very humble and gracious in her receipt of that award.

While all of these accomplishments are amazing and Katherine did break many barriers, both as a successful African American and woman during a difficult time in history to do so, the greatest thing to remember about her is a simple reminder she provides.

In an interview with her in August for her 100th birthday, she was asked what the secret was to her longevity of life. Her answer was simple, “I’m lucky…and the Lord likes me. And I like Him.” She, in a very simple manner, communicated much more than simply knowing where her longevity of life comes from. She communicated humility, simplicity, and her love and identity rooted in Christ while speaking nothing of her great knowledge, experience, or accomplishments. Very simply she communicated that she is the Lord’s and the Lord is hers. The Lord loves her, and she loves the Lord. Her humility comes from her faith and identity in Christ. Her joy comes from her simplicity. Her bedrock is a quiet, strong, and simple faith.

At the end of the day, what we do or do not accomplish in this world doesn’t matter. It all comes down to our relationship with Jesus and who we are in Him. Out of all the things we could learn about Katherine and other women, this mindset of a quiet, strong, and simple faith is the one thing we should remember well today.

Being kind, tenderhearted, humble, gracious, and allowing the spirit to show up in our conversation is the most noble and gracious act a woman can do for God, others, and her family. None of our greatest accomplishments in life could ever compare to the value of holding a strong and simple faith. The most important characteristic about our personalities and identities should be that the Lord likes us, and we like him, and that is made evident by our words and actions. The words and actions we display must revolve around the idea that “the Lord likes me and I like him.” When we abide in Him, the fruit of the Spirit will be evident and we too will empower others to reflect the same grace, love, and humility that Christ has shown us. This is the simple gospel. A strong and simple faith. The simple reminder that orients us back to what truly matters.

I urge you to reflect on this idea today and let others know that your strong and simple faith is the most important aspect of who you are.

Blessings Abundant, Elizabeth

Eph. 4: 31-32

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as Christ God forgave you.”