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

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

What You Can Learn From a Snowflake

There has been so much snow this winter that even the local weatherman is tired of talking about it.  But while we have the snow for at least a couple more weeks, we may as well as make the most of it. Thank you to a wonderful article by Charles Q. Choi on LiveScience (2007) for all the great snowflake facts.

Just like snowflakes, children are both strong and fragile.  “Snowflakes are created when snow crystals stick together. Some contain several hundred crystals.” They are so strong, they survive atmospheric changes and winds yet, catch one on your finger tip and it can immediately melt away.  

Each child holds within themselves a strength that can help them overcome incredible odds; not all children, however, have the opportunities or resources to nurture that strength.  Psychologists call this internal working aptitude resiliency.  One of the keys to a child accessing and exhibiting resiliency is if they have adults who believe in them, coach them, and cheer them on toward goals they can attain.  While strength emerges, children need intentional care and gentle responses to help guide them into that strength. Carelessness can make a child weak and vulnerable with just an arbitrary word or action.  We should honor both the strength in the child and the gentleness required to nurture it.

Just like snowflakes, no two children are alike.  “The exact form each snow crystal takes depends heavily on tiny changes in temperature and humidity it encounters as it falls, resulting in extraordinary diversity.  “It is probably safe to say that the possible number of snow crystal shapes exceeds the estimated number of atoms in the known universe,” Nelson said (Jon Nelson at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, Japan). While smaller crystals that are not yet formed may be the same, it would be impossible to find the two that might be alike.

Individuation is the gift of being and expressing one’s self as a unique individual. Children from the age of 2 realize they are their own person and start making choices to set themselves apart.  Have you ever asked a 2-year old what they want to wear to church? Many will enjoy putting together ensembles that reflect bizarre preferences that both delight and embarrass.  God in His infinite creativity, created each child in their own way, and the best way to celebrate our God-given differences is to both acknowledge and accommodate them when we can.  Next time you see a 2-year old with purple tights, a pink tutu and a cowboy hat, smile and enjoy!

Just like snowflakes, children can respond to the light of the gospel and reflect the grace of God in illuminating ways.  “Ice crystals in the atmosphere are also believed to influence the production of lightning by helping electric charges build up in clouds.”

The Spirit of God can move and work in the heart of a child. Teaching the gospel to children and giving them the opportunity to respond to the light of the gospel is key to their faith formation as well as to the well-being of the church.  All generations are important in the body of Christ. Teach children truths about God, pray for the Spirit to touch their hearts, and watch for signs of spiritual fruit. “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12a) – and this light is available to children as well as adults.  

Just like snowflakes, children are immeasurable in what they bring to this world.  “A typical snow crystal weighs roughly one millionth of a gram. This means a cubic foot of snow can contain roughly one billion crystals. A rough estimate of the number of snow crystals that fall to Earth per year is about 1 followed by 24 zeros,” Nelson told LiveScience.

Underestimating what a child can contribute hurts the child’s sense of self-efficacy (the belief that they can do something successfully).  If the child does not believe they can, then they won’t.  Just like one little snowflake may not weigh very much, in the right circumstances, it makes a huge difference  Encouraging children to achieve goals, work hard, contribute what they can and enjoy the ability to accomplish tasks are key ways to help foster a child’s positive attitude as well as motivation to discover and use the gifts and talents God has given them.  Children can make significant contributions to those around them given the opportunity to do so.

Dear Reader, we might as well make the most of this winter.  If you can’t beat it, join it – and discover from a little part of God’s amazing world what can be learned in our everyday lives.  One of God’s tiniest creations, the snowflake, can give us teachable moments about the tiniest ones amongst us – children. Let’s not overlook an opportunity to learn even at this time of year.

May your winter be white and your temperatures increase to above freezing!

Fondly, and warmly yours, Elizabeth

 

Teachable Moments

Everyday Celebrations

If you don’t have to choose, don’t.  Try and say “yes” to whatever you can, as long as it is not illegal, immoral, unethical or ungodly.  For example, one hot summer day many summers ago, my children and myself had just spent a day working in the yard.  We all deserved a treat after all that weed pulling, mulch laying, and flower planting, so off to our local ice cream parlor it was.  When we got there, it seemed like every other family in the area had the same idea so we had plenty of time to contemplate our choices. However, when we stepped up to the register, my daughter just could not make up her mind.  What a pleasure it was to say to her, “get both.” Why choose between Birthday Cake and Cookie Dough ice cream if you don’t have to? In fact, put them both in a bowl and pour on the hot fudge, with whipped cream and sprinkles.  Go big, or go home. This wasn’t an everyday occurrence, but occasionally, when choices did not have to be made, we didn’t. We exercised this privilege on trips to Florida when we stopped at gas stations or when we went to the $5 movie with $1 treats on a Wednesday matinee for children and one adult.  Special times deserve special choices.

These exceptional moments made our everyday lives exceptionally fun.  Sometimes they were planned, but more often than not, it was a moment that had crept up and just couldn’t be ignored or treated casually.  These extraordinary times allowed us as parents to exercise generosity and to let our children know that we not only noticed, but celebrated them.  The moment was not just about what had taken place, but with whom we had been with in the moment.  

I believe when I was aware of the moment, reflected on how best I could show my love and appreciation in the moment, and then acted on an immediate plan of celebration, I loved my children well.  It wasn’t just what had happened situationally, it truly was that I was getting the opportunity to enjoy that moment with them.

Biblically, there are many examples of people exercising extraordinary moments because of how they experienced God with them.  God was powerful and very present and the people responded in praise.

  • Genesis 12:7 – God appeared to Abram as he entered the promised land and spoke with Him.  Abram built an altar of praise, showing worship to God in the moment.
  • Luke 1:39-56 – The spontaneous praise of both Elizabeth and Mary filled Zechariah’s house as together, expectant Moms, they rejoiced, being with one another in the moment, glad and thankful for what God was doing.
  • 2 Chronicles 20:17 – When God announced to Israel at the time when King Jehosophat was on the throne that He would fight the battle and win on their behalf, Jehosophat and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem bowed down and fell to the ground in worship.  They stopped everything and physically, together, acknowledged God’s promise, power and promise through an immediate act of worship.

Beyond these biblical examples, God promises to be with us from the lips of Jesus (Matthew 28:20), “And, surely, I am with you always to the very end of the age.” This is the great joy of the Christian life – that our God is with us.  And it is what makes everyday moments exceptional in our families – taking the time to remember that being with one another can take an ordinary day and make it extraordinary.  What makes movies fun or runs to the ice cream parlors? Being with one another.  

Dear Reader, I hope you look around today and see the people God has put into your life that you are with, especially if you have the privilege of being with family.  Remember to celebrate the moments not just because of a situation, but because of these people with whom you get to share life.  What a privilege to live this life together!

May you enjoy both kinds of ice cream flavors today, and enjoy the blessing by being with those whom you love.  

Fondly yours, Elizabeth

Teachable Moments

The days are long; the years are short

I recently had a lovely day with my adult daughter, chatting over lunch and diving into some retail therapy.  As we engaged in the hunt for a new pair of workout clothes, I reminisced how different shopping was now compared to 22 years ago when my daughter was a toddler.  I watched the young Moms in the shopping center, pushing strollers and attempting to pacify children who were hungry or in a need of a nap. I, on the other hand, was thoroughly enjoying a quiet day, strolling through the shops, sipping a Vanilla Almond Latte, conversing about everything and nothing with my 20-something, newly-married daughter.  Wow – what a difference 22 years can make.

I remember those days back then. There were moments when I thought they would never end.   I would never sleep a full night, never take a shower without being interrupted, or never eat a warm meal again – ever.  The days were long. At times – never ending long.

At the same time, the years are short.  It went so quickly. I remember the dance recitals with tiny pink tutus and itty-bitty ballet shoes.  I remember the play dates, Bible times, and early Saturday morning pancakes. I remember as the years went by trying to figure out schedules and which sports, lessons, and activities should or should not be signed up for.  Figuring it all out was stressful, time-consuming and when it all went right, a joy. I loved cheering from the sidelines, commiserating over an unfair call, or offering a hug when defeat was hard to swallow. I loved being my daughter’s Mom.

Time is hard for parents to put in perspective.  At the time when newborns and toddlers fill the house, the days seem long, but after they are done, indeed – the years are short.  It seems time is a game we can never win. Time is not so much an ally, but an adversary. Understanding this and gaining God’s view on time is the key to making the most of the time we have.

When did time start to go wrong?  I would suggest we find the answer at the beginning of Genesis.  When death as a consequence for sin entered the world, time went wrong.  Prior to death, we were created with an intention of living forever with God in a state of peace.  But with rebellion, man no longer walked with God, but ran from Him and instead of enjoying endless days, knew that the days of one’s life would come to an end.  Death creates a tension in our relationship with time that heaven will, thankfully, erase.

Eternal life is the state in which time is no longer a Christian’s enemy.  As immortal souls, we are freed from this body of death and finite experience, and enter into the infinitude our soul longs for.  CS Lewis said, Though we cannot experience our life as an endless present, we are eternal in God’s eyes; that is, in our deepest reality” (Letters to Malcolm).

I as a Mom have lived most days by schedules, appointments and deadlines.  I have felt time move too slowly and too quickly; I have had too much time on my hands and more often than not, I have not had nearly enough of it.  Time is not comfortable for me and yet, I find myself mucking about in it every day. I have found that if I stop and consider life through God’s eternal eyes, I remember that this day isn’t so much a moment in time, but a moment that is part of God’s infinitude.  It is part of a bigger picture. If I remember that my life and its teachable moments are part of God’s bigger plan for me, then long, endless days seem less long because the purpose of even having this life grabs my attention. In addition, perhaps the years that seem too short seem more precious because of the path they created to where I am today.  An eternal perspective on the many years of parenting that are now behind me leads me to gratitude for the faithfulness of God as I navigated those years. How grateful I am for Him and His ever-present provision.

Dear Reader, may this week we look at our days and our years through the lens of eternity.  May we find strength in the days that are long by remembering we are a part of a bigger, eternal plan.  And for the years that are short, may we find ourselves able to give God thanks for the many ways He provided and for the many precious moments we enjoyed.

For this week, I pray God grants you an eye that looks at life through eternity.  Knowing as believers in Christ, we get to enjoy eternity together with our King, I rejoice in sharing my thoughts with you in this moment in time.  I hope they bless your days as you live out your years in light of the bigger reality of immortality.

As always – fondly yours, Elizabeth

Other CS Lewis Quotes on Eternity:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. (Mere Christianity)

The difference God’s timelessness makes is that this now (which slips away from you even as you say the word now) is for Him infinite. (Letters, August 1949)

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next. (Mere Christianity)