Teachable Moments

Have a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving

Do you know this picture and why it is a classic at Thanksgiving? 

The painting entitled, Saying Grace, and created by Norman Rockwell in 1951 for the Thanksgiving cover of the magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, was inspired by a reader of the post who had witnessed a Mennonite family pausing to pray prior to eating their meal in a restaurant. Rockwell was paid $3500 to make this cover but it sold for $46 million dollars in December of 2013.

Before creating this art, Rockwell researched how he would do it by visiting New York and Philadelphia diners and automats and used his son, Jarvis, as a model for this work to create a “as real to life” scene as he could manage.  It was so real, many who saw the picture said they recognized the diner when in actuality, it was a compilation of all his travels’ stops and doesn’t really exist. Rockwell is well-known for his physical creation of a scene, using family and friends and real tables and chairs as props, taking hundreds of photos and then starting his art with a charcoal sketch, moving on to oils and then finally, creating the painting.   

Rockwell has preserved our American heritage through his art and shows that the story of our country matters.  While not a perfect America, Rockwell captures the heart and relationships amidst the challenges of the time. He paints the good, the hopeful, and the best of people.

I appreciate Rockwell’s art as it reminds me how God has instructed us to think about our lives and those people in it.  We are to be quick to forgive, quick to think the best, and quick to enjoy. After all, this is how we all want to be treated – and it’s clear we are to Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:31, ESV)

Family times at Thanksgiving can look a lot more like a Norman Rockwell painting if we but had the mindset of the artist who painted his famous pictures.

  • Value others needs above your own
    • Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you look to the interests of the others (Philippians 2:3-4 NIV).
  • Look at issues from others’ perspectives
    • For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. (Romans 12:3 ESV)
  • Live by the Spirit
    •  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22, 23 ESV)

Dear Friend, Happy Thanksgiving!  Will you join with me today in asking God to allow our thankfulness for all Christ has done for us eternally shine through our lives to bless those we gather with today?  May His death and resurrection produce in us a life that blesses others.  

He died for us – how can we not but live for Him!


Blessings Abundant for a Happy Thanksgiving – gratefully yours, Elizabeth
Teachable Moments

The Real Work of Thanksgiving Preparation

Dear Friends – Here’s an early Thanksgiving treat for all of you.  I am going to introduce to you a guest blogger – Pastor Brian Smith (yep, it’s no coincidence that we have the same last name).  When my husband and I were discussing this upcoming Thanksgiving, he generously shared with me his latest bible study in preparation for this holiday.  It blessed me – may you be blessed as well!

Do you want to have a great Thanksgiving this year?  

Let’s not settle for a superficial thanksgiving. I am struck by how offended our God is with a thankless heart. The book of Romans starts with the warning that the wrath of God is being revealed. Why? “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking…” (Romans 1:21). The natural response to having life and breath, food, clothes, and a family (and for the Christian, salvation, a church family, and the security of salvation) is to give thanks. 

Paul tells us that if we are not thankful there is something drastically wrong. Our thinking has become futile. The Holman translation puts it this way, “their thinking became nonsense.” The grumbling person is not in their right mind. The tragedy is that they think their thinking is just fine. Like the man who thinks he is the king of Mars others see his nonsense, but he sees his every thought as self-confirming of his kingship. 

The tragedy is that the thankless person can’t be reasoned into thankfulness. His reasoning is broken. What the thankless person needs is not to be reasoned into “having a better attitude”, but to repent of a heart set in rebellion against his Creator. Anything less is dressing the wound lightly (Jer 6:14) by working up some sentimental feeling of thankfulness. 

The secret to having a thankful heart is the opposite of what most people think. It is to repent of our rebellion. Cry out for a renewed heart. Long to be truly thankful for life, breath, health, family, our own green grass, the forgiveness of sin, the gift of a church family, the joy of music, and the promises in the Word of God. The problem with the thankless person is not with everyone else, it is within. It is ultimately with our Creator. The solution is not to complain, or to run to greener grass, or to be reasoned with; the solution is heart surgery. If you want a great Thanksgiving, will you turn off the media, find a quiet place, and take as long as it takes to pray this prayer, honestly, from the heart? 

Psalms 51:1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.  2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. 4  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.  5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. 6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.  7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.  9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.  10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.  12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.  13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.  14 Deliver me from blood guiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.  15  O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.  16 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.  17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. 

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Pastor Brian

Friends – are you encouraged and challenged? I hope so.  May this year as we celebrate this Thanksgiving, no matter where or how, may we be thankful to the God who provides so well for us eternally.

Blessings and Warmest Thanksgiving 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

Adulting is Hard: The Unexpected Cure of Self-Compassion

One of my favorite conversations I had with my daughter when she was in college was regarding the reality of adulthood. She and I were reminiscing about her childhood – the good old days.  After remembering days of sleeping in, an ignorance of how expensive life really is and a schedule that had a lot more wiggle room, she summed up her experience by saying, “Adulting is hard!”

Adulting Is A Time of Anxiety.  Even though my daughter’s days of college are over, as a college professor, I interact with college students on a regular basis and most of them would sympathize with the angst of adulting. For some, the angst grows into a disabling anxiety. Unsurprising, the majority of directors of university counseling centers report the number of college students with significant psychological problems is on the rise and the most commonly diagnosed mental health illness across colleges (and the US) is anxiety; a recent study showed over 40% of college students considered anxiety more of a problem than their relationships.

What causes this disabling anxiety? This is a tough, complicated question! There are many factors that contribute to a diagnosis of anxiety- biochemical, environmental, psychosocial, spiritual, cognitive – but there is one common theme that rises to the top over and over again.  Overly self-critical people are much more likely to suffer from anxiety than persons who have a more balanced assessment of themselves and handle their self-criticisms with self-compassion.

Anxious persons, including college students especially, demonstrate a significant lack of self-compassion.  This lack of compassion can result in obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviors, general anxiety disorder, and is even a possible precursor of PTSD, more so than those who have survived a war.  Not only do larger doses of self-criticism without self-compassion result in pathology, but it also can be a predictor of how well someone will respond to help. Self-compassion is key to overcoming problems, dealing with negative and erroneous thoughts, and is especially key to minimizing anxious feelings.  

What helps?  Self-compassion is an unfamiliar word to many.  To clarify its meaning, it is not really any different than compassion expressed to others.  Compassion (translated, “to suffer with”), whether for others or to ourselves involves:

  • an acknowledgment of suffering (admit when you are sad, hurt, stressed or have reached your limit)
  • an honest evaluation of pain which results in empathy (it matters that I feel emotional pain and I should extend kindness to anyone in pain (Gal. 5:22,23) even myself)
  • an understanding that all of us will fail at times (we are not super humans; we are merely human; we are saved by grace and kept by grace.  We don’t become perfect until we reach heaven. This is truth to live with daily.)

The myths about self-compassion produce unnecessary fears. To allay any fears, self-compassion does not promote self-love, worry, narcissism or pity parties.  Research clearly shows there is no cause for alarm here and that these fears are a myth; it may feel uncomfortable initially, but we need to look at what is helpful or right more than what “seems” godly.  But even as we understand what self-compassion is and is not, self-compassion is still typically an uncomfortable topic for some Christians.

Why is self-compassion so problematic for Christians?  I believe it is because we usually understand compassion exclusively in terms of our response to others more so than how we engage with ourselves.  Some may suggest that self-compassion be limited to secular psychology and it should be disregarded in biblical counseling as it is just another term for selfishness or our flesh; we are called to give compassion to others, but not to ourselves.

Why self-compassion should not be a problem for Christians. This type of thinking creates problems for believers as it is antithetical to Christian beliefs.  We are called to live consistently with scripture so we demonstrate what we believe in all areas of our lives.  Paul exhorts others to follow him as he follows Christ (1 Cor. 11:1) and Paul tells us we are to look not only to our own interests but also to the interests of others (Phil. 2:4); notice this does not say disregard your life without a thought for yourself as you serve others.  Paul also encourages responsibility for self in Galatians 6:4,5 and 1 Thessalonians 4:11,12. It is incorrect for Christians to say compassion is meant for everyone else, but not for themselves.

Martin Luther’s self-compassion changed history.  Martin Luther believed that Satan’s attacks of condemnation against a believer’s soul were to be expected.  Our enemy attacks us relentlessly and would encourage our despair and hopelessness which we also heap on ourselves, then handle, in wrongful ways.  Martin’s self-condemnation without hope led to despair from which God in His good grace rescued him. Like Luther, as believers, we are wise to admit our suffering and take pity on ourselves as we embrace Christ as our Savior and Lord. Coming to salvation is the ultimate act of self-compassion.

Self-compassion…so what now?  If we begin our journey with an act of self-compassion, then why would we live the rest of our lives doing the opposite?  As we practice self-compassion, we then possess a peace that passes understanding (Phil. 4;7); the anxieties of this world are put into eternal perspective and diminish. What a witness this is to the watching world! And especially to our young adults who are just beginning to get the world of “adulting” under control.

Dear Reader, remember to practice what you preach.  As you extend compassion to a needy world, don’t forget to extend it to yourself as well.  May the peace of God be yours in abundance.

With His grace and compassion, 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