Planting Seeds of Joy

It’s that time of year again. For many of you the presents have been opened, Christmas dinner preparations are old news, family have returned to their homes, New Year’s resolutions have been made (or at least considered, right?), and life is starting to get back to the “pre-holiday” routine. This can be a relief for some, a letdown for others. So, what now? We often idealize the holidays as the stuff dreams are made of, and we regularly go to great lengths to make sure our family members and friends feel that extra bit of love. How can we continue to encourage our families to live the joy, thanksgiving, and dream-like utopia that we aimed for only days ago, throughout the rest of this year?

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Today, I have a few suggestions for helping to maintain the “Christmas spirit,” and plant those seeds of joy for the other 11 months of the year. Because, really, whether you celebrate Christmas officially or not, it’s the spirit of giving, goodwill, and hope that makes this world a better place, and I strongly believe those are concepts that come directly from the heart of God.

1. Continue the tradition of saying what you are thankful for at mealtimes, family worships, or bedtimes. Thanks begets more thanks. Let your family know what blessings you have experienced during the day, even if it’s as simple as finding a toy that has been misplaced, or making it to a doctor’s appointment on time (in my home, these are actually huge). “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth,” Isaiah 12:4-5.

2. Look for ways to reach out to others. It may take extra effort, but making someone smile always brings one to my face. Drawing pictures, writing encouraging notes, delivering homemade goodies — it may sound clichéd, but it works! “Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed,” 2 Corinthians 9:6-8.

3. Spend time connecting with your spouse. One of my favorite memories with Josh is sitting on the couch sipping hot chocolate, and looking at the lights on our tree, while he read stories from a book we both enjoyed. It was spontaneous and simple. A date doesn’t have to mean going somewhere expensive. Talk about what you most admire in them. Discover their love language if you don’t already know it.

4. Take time to make your children feel extra special, whether it’s a “date” night once a month, or a surprise “break” day to go do something fun. Tell them what you most admire in them. Discover their love language if you don’t already know it.

5. Don’t sweat the small stuff. The world will not end if the toys are not picked up, or laundry isn’t folded and put away. I say this to myself as much as to you. Order and cleanliness are near the top of my list, because I generally feel more relaxed looking at a clean house, but there are times when it’s ok to let that stuff go. In general, your family is not going to remember you for your spotless livingroom, perfect kitchen, or whether your children’s rooms look like something out of Good Homes Magazine. They’re going to remember you for your warmth, interest, and caring; it’s the memories of being together that will leave warm fuzzies in their hearts.

6. Last, and most important on this list, take time out to restore your soul. We as parents don’t always do a good job of taking care of ourselves. With 948 other things calling our names (along with the children and spouse of course), the struggle to take care of our hearts is real. I, for one, need a lot more time to recharge than my husband does. It is crucial that recharging time happens because without it, the energy to do the other five things on this list won’t be there. When the primary caretaker (whether husband or wife) is running on empty, the whole family suffers.

My prayer, as usual, is that you will continue to grow in grace (2 Peter 3:18), that you will lack no good thing (Psalms 34:9), and that the God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13).

Many blessings and blossoms of joy for the new year ahead!

~Kirsten

Teaching Humility

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How do we teach our children to be humble when we so often miss the point of it?

What is humility? How do we protect our children from the sin of pride, while at the same time teaching them that they are valuable and important?

For too many years, I thought humility was to depreciate myself, to cling to my failings and faults in order to refuse value. I thought humility was always being aware of my failings, my sins — to live in degradation because of the things I do or have done wrong…in other words, to continually pay for the consequences of my sins. I have lived in the shadow of seeking to be perfect because I didn’t believe I had value otherwise. I have struggled with teaching my children to be humble because I did not understand humility myself. I have heard parents say they did not want to praise their children’s accomplishments because they didn’t want to teach them to be prideful. I do not want my children to believe they were less than they are. I want them to know I believe in them and I am pleased with their accomplishments!

God has been working on my heart. I have realized that humility is very much like courage. Courage is strongest in the face of danger. A person who never faces a challenge, who never faces danger, cannot be called courageous; so also, a person who does not believe in their value cannot be called humble.

If we do not have an intrinsic understanding of our value, we cannot truly understand humility.

Let’s look at some Biblical examples. Who does Scripture admonish to be humble? At first, it is the Israelite nation. Why? They have intrinsic, God-given value. God made it abundantly clear to them that He held them in high regard. He literally moved oceans, rivers, and armies to prove how much He cared for them. They KNEW, without a shadow of a doubt, that they were chosen to be God’s special people. What did they do with this knowledge, however? A lot of the time they used it to set themselves apart from the other nations. They set themselves up as more valuable than other people because they had God’s favor. So often, they took the special favor given them by God and decided it was their right rather than their gift. They forgot the source of their value. They sought perfection to hold onto His favor instead of seeking Him. They refused to be humble. In turn, they had to be humbled.

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God doesn’t want proud people. Prideful people treat others with disrespect and abuse. He wants us to understand we are valuable and then show others that they, too, are valuable.

Pride is believing you alone are valuable and have the right to hurt or hold others down so you look more valuable than they are.

Then there is self-degradation. Self-degradation is refusing to believe you have value, focusing only on your failings, and believing that you cannot have value until you have achieved perfection. This is disproved in Scripture time and time again.

Self-degradation, the belief that you have no intrinsic value, is pride, not humility. It stands beside pride in believing that you alone are responsible for achieving value.

Though there are many examples through Scripture, you really only need to look at one character to see this: David. David was a simple shepherd, without value in his family of origin, shrouded in mystery, small in size, without anything to recommend him when Samuel anoints him to be the next king of Israel. Suddenly, his life does a complete turnaround and he is pretty much left reeling from the changes. What David does have to begin with is a deep understanding of his value in God’s eyes.

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David understands that all his accomplishments are because God has provided them and protected him. Even knowing that, even understanding that God was beside him and eager to answer any question he had, David was not perfect. Sometimes he forgot to ask God what to do. Sometimes he blatantly chose to sin, such as when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and had Uriah killed. Sometimes he made huge errors in judgment because he neglected to check in with God. History, however, tells us that no matter what David did, God continued to show him favor. David didn’t need to be perfect; he needed to maintain his humbleness by remembering where his favor came from, returning to God every time he messed up, and using his favor to help others.

Humility comes from understanding God holds your value; it is a gift meant to be shared. Humility is understanding you don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to accomplish it all or be strong enough to sustain life. Humility is remembering where you have come from, what you have survived; it is knowing you have value despite the mistakes and errors made along the way. It is seeing the full journey, recognizing God’s hand in your life and treating others the same way.

This is what humbleness is. Humbleness is knowing intrinsically what your value is and Who it comes from, and helping others to see the same value in themselves.

So, how do I teach my children to be humble? I have to start by teaching them they are valued, that they are loved, that they are important. I need to teach them that their failings and mistakes will never affect their value in my eyes or in God’s. Then, I have to teach them to treat every other person they interact with as valuable also. Only then will they truly understand the meaning of humility.

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The Why of Jesus’ Birth

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace,” Isaiah 9:6.

In all the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations, do we take the time to really think about what the birth of Jesus is all about? There’s also the confusion with the fact that the day we celebrate His birth has its roots in a pagan day.  While we know that Christmas is not the true day of Christ’s birth, we need to understand why He was born at all. Why didn’t Jesus just come down from heaven and live a week or so, then be killed and rise a day or so later? Wouldn’t that have saved us?

With all the controversy over Christmas — from the view that it is totally pagan and should never be celebrated, to the view that it’s roots are insignificant and it should be fully celebrated — maybe we should change our focus to why Jesus would come as baby at all.

As I have pondered why Jesus would come to this earth and be born as a baby, I have seen an importance that we usually miss or pass over lightly. We often look at the cross as being the only thing for our salvation. The cross gives us the forgiveness we need, but His birth gives us the reason and strength to learn how to live godly lives. The why of Jesus’ birth is to give us the desire and strength to live our lives with the connection to Heaven that Jesus had, and to give us the victory over our sinful ways. To have this connection with God in our daily life, as Jesus did, will give us the strength to overcome. This should be something we do every day, so we should celebrate Jesus birth and death every day. Both are vital to our salvation in our lives day by day.

As we enjoy this Christmas season, after all the celebrations and dinners are over, let us not lose the importance of what Jesus came for, and remember His birth every day.

A Different Kind of Superhero

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“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak,” Isaiah 40:29.

I’m a control freak. There I said it. I like things to be predictable, well-ordered, and consistent in my life. If I could find a way to keep my house spotless, turn the children into skillful masters in their preferred fields, and save the world at the same time, I would. More often than not, though, the living room is a convention center for cars, airplanes, and Legos; my children sometimes struggle with the three R’s; and, to top it off, my Super Mom uniform shrunk three sizes the first time I washed it, and hasn’t fit since.

My shortcomings become even more obvious as I scroll through my Facebook news feed, and see updates telling about how much my friends accomplished that morning. They finished their shopping, home improvement, gardening, and laundry, all in 20 minutes! WOW! (Okay, maybe not 20 minutes, but close, right?) I cast a weary glance at my half wilted plants, while tripping over clothes/toys/shoes on the floor on my way to the pantry (which is still unfinished), just to find shelves full of nothing I want to prepare or eat. Why did I sign up for this job again? My sink is still full of dishes, and it’s 4:30 in the afternoon. Order is hardly reigning in my house.

Of course there are also other days that I can get the kids’ schooling done, dishes washed, laundry run through, house picked up in a couple of hours, AND have a nice meal cooked and waiting when my husband comes through the door. Martha, eat your heart out!* I have even been known to post my accomplishments for the world (all 200-some of my Facebook friends) to see. But, my reasoning, and I’m sure most other mom’s as well, is more to show myself that I am capable and competent — not to make others feel like they have no chance at a “Mom of the Year” award.

Oftentimes there are more important moments and interactions that are not shared publicly. These consist of siblings playing and sharing nicely, an encouraging word said to a family member, or listening to my children sing a favorite song they heard on our Christian radio station. They may not seem as outwardly impressive as having a sparkling bathroom, but they are significant because they reflect the character training that goes on here. The character training that is being blessed, despite my own character still being a work in progress. Praise God for his mercy towards us!

Looking again to the story of Mary and Martha, Jesus told Martha that some things could wait, and others couldn’t. When I see my house as a disaster area, it’s usually because I took extra time to read to the children, go over a difficult lesson, or fix them a nutritious meal. And, by spending time with my children, educating them, doing social activities, and providing moral, and spiritual guidance, I am a “superhero” saving the world — their world. No, I can’t control their decisions or the ultimate outcome of their lives, but I can give them a solid platform from which to launch. I can infuse their hearts and minds with the building blocks to lead fulfilling, God-centered lives. I can’t guarantee that my life will be predictable, well-ordered, or even consistent, but when I put my trust in God to provide the strength and grace I overwhelmingly lack, He gives it ever so abundantly. That’s exactly the kind of superhero I need.

*Luke 10:38-41

What About Socialization?

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Scenario #1: Imagine standing in front of someone, with a smile on your face, extending your right hand to shake that person’s hand, and after 10 seconds or after 10 minutes or after 10 crickets died, that person does not extend his/her hand to meet your hand mid-air to shake it, and just gives you a blank stare or a weird smile. Cringe!

Imagine if that person is your child…at his or her current age…or 20 years in the future. Often times homeschooled kids have been labeled as socially awkward or simply weirdos in the eyes of “normal kids.” At least, that’s the stereotype. That’s also often the main question that we, as parents who choose to homeschool, receive — “What about socialization? Don’t you worry your kids will have trouble dealing with other kids or peers?”

I grew up attending public school K­-8, an Adventist boarding school for academy, and then an Adventist college for undergrad. My wife went to public schools K-12, and then attended a small Christian college. We definitely do not know what it’s like to grow up homeschooled. We have, however, had the privilege of working with and caring for hundreds of homeschooled children in our clinic in central Kentucky; and, for the past several years, we also have been homeschooling our two children, ages eight and four.

It is interesting to observe in our clinic that there is a clear distinction between homeschooled children and public-schooled children in regards to behavior, and the homeschooled children, bar none, are always the best behaved children we daily observed in our clinic. Ironically, families with four or 10 (yes, 10!) homeschooled children often sit and communicate in their best manners to our staff and doctors, while public-schooled children, very often, though not always, are some of the rowdiest kids, lacking in manners and discipline, according to our staff.

I also enjoy carrying on a conversation with most of these homeschooled children. Most are able to display critical social skills that many public-schooled kids rarely display these days: being actively engaging in two-way communication with involved responses, being able to maintain full eye contact, being able to shake hands and smile, having self-­awareness, having empathy, being able to manage emotions, etc. This is obviously a generalization, very subjective, and mostly from my own personal observation, my clinic team’s observation, and our team’s coping strategies while working with these children.

My staff often have trouble getting sufficient information from public-schooled children (and their parents) during consult, evaluation, or treatments, as most of them would typically reply with short answers like, “Yes,” “No,” “Kinda,” “I don’t know,” or in many cases silence or blank stares.  There is a good chance that many were on behavior-modifying prescription drugs.

The New York Times best-selling author and internationally known psychologist whose books were translated into 40 different languages, Daniel Goleman, Ph.D., made popular the term emotional intelligence (EI): “the capacity of individuals to recognize their own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and label them appropriately, to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and to manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt environments or achieve one’s goal(s).”

Another psychologist, Dr. John Mayer, developed the Mayer­-Salovey­-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT), and found that high-EI people have better social relations; are perceived more positively by their peers; have better family and intimate relationships, better academic achievements, better work performance and negotiation skills; and have higher life satisfaction and self-esteem.

So, how does having better EI relate to homeschooling and the Great Commission, which is to “go and make followers of all people in the world,” Matthew 28:19? This is the question that repeatedly stops me in my tracks many mornings when I spend those precious times homeschooling our kiddos. How shall I, as a parent and as a teacher, shape the minds of my children to be stewards of Christ in reaching out to the world?

Scenario #2: Imagine attending a church service at a location you’ve never been to before — perhaps one you found on a phone book or your phone’s Google map during your road trip. You notice that even though everyone is smiling, chatting with each other, dressed up nice and fancy, with cool music playing, none of these people actually come to you, shake your hand, ask how you are doing, ask your name and where you are from, or pretend to show some interests.

Has this happened to you? Here’s a sad fact. This has happened to us quite a few times. Strangely, we felt so embarrassed for the church. Did we show up like beggars? No, we were dressed up nice and appropriately. Did we smile at all? Yes, we did. Did we try to greet people? Yes, we did, but there was no further communication than a brief smile, a brief handshake, and a “Hi.”  Thankfully, there were many more churches and members in other places who went above and beyond to make us feel welcome. Not surprisingly, almost always they are the ones who attract new members and grow as a church in quality and in quantity.

Have you experienced this personally when you travel? What would you do differently? What would you tell your children? If you were the pastor of the church, president of the conference, president of the General Conference, what would you do?  Since we are already identify with the church, it is easier to dismiss the fact that as visitors we were being ignored.  But what about real visitors, non-members?  Visitors will be more likely to attend a church when they make connections with members within the first few visits.  How can the church reach the outsiders, the neighbors, the world, if the church does not have the proper communication skills?

Churches who are too busy with itself and not reaching out to the community around them on a regular basis are dying churches.  Families who are too isolated and not spending time interacting with other families and community around them are also unhealthy families.  How can we promise Christ that we will help the Great Commission if we refuse to deal with strangers, if we refuse to go outside of our comfort zone, if we refuse to interact with the world, if we refuse to let God’s light shine through us in this dark world?

I strongly believe that the communication skills and social skills begin at home. Obviously, there are growing numbers of children with autism or genetic or developmental issues that must be handled differently with specialists who are trained to assist them. But, in general, children copy what they see, not what they hear. If their parents are lacking in social skills, they will more than likely end up with similar social skills, and end up socializing with friends or people who are also deficient in social skills.

Many children and even teenagers are not familiar with standard communication manners, which obviously differ from one culture to the next. But, these nonverbal communication manners are critical in determining one’s progress in society. We have interviewed countless of people who have applied for work at our clinic, and often times people, young and old, “shoot themselves in the foot” within the first 60 seconds of interview because they were never taught or never developed and practiced critical communication manners such as proper eye contact, handshake, and posture, as well as managing anxiety, etc.

With these two scenarios in mind, I thought it would be useful to share some EI-­specific exercises that will help parents in developing their children’s social and communication skills:

1. Intentional Communication

a. When was the last time you actually sat down one-on-one with each of your children to talk heart to heart about various issues? Do you set aside time to do this on a regular basis? Does your family do a weekly team huddle to review the previous week’s and upcoming week’s agendas, challenges, and things to improve?

b. Take time to explain and show your children, even as young as age two, how to properly greet people, maintain eye contact, and give a proper handshake. You can practice this at church or when meeting strangers.  If you realize your own social skills are lacking, do not hesitate asking other parents with great social skills for help.

c. Explain and show your children (typically age four and up) the importance of proper body language during communication, and how certain body language or posture can lead people to think of you differently (i.e. “Which person looks like they are interested, and which one looks like they are not interested or not happy?” Person A: sitting with crossed arms and crossed legs. Person B: sitting straight, leaning slightly forward, hands on thighs, legs relaxed.)

2. Self Awareness: Ask your child to evaluate or label his/her current state of emotion throughout the day, while you mirror their facial expression or the state of emotion to convey the true meaning of certain emotion words that may be new to your kids. This will help increase their emotional vocabulary and help them understand the full range of emotions they experience throughout the day. This will also help your kids to express intimate, loving emotions which are essential to maintaining close personal relationships.  Ask questions like these:

  • How are you doing, Shawn?
  • What are you thinking about, Sarah?
  • Are you mad, Jack? (stiff lip, bulging eyes)
  • Are you excited, Lisa? (raised eyebrows, big smile, high tone of voice)
  • Why are you sad, John? (sad face, mirroring kid’s face)
  • Is she sad or happy?
  • What should you do to help you be happy again?
  • You can choose to spend the rest of the day whining and crying in a foul mood, or you can choose to forgive her and choose to be happy for the rest of the day. Which one?
  • Is he being nice or naughty?
  • Did Joseph feel like this when his brothers were mean to him?
  • Was Jesus happy after he shared bread and fish with all those people? How do you feel after sharing your things/food with your friend?

3. Managing Emotions: Emotional maturity, in biblical context, is about being in control of our emotions so that the fruits of our thoughts are in line with the fruits of the spirit (Galatians 5:22,­23…love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self­-control). Greek philosopher Aristotle said, “Anyone can become angry — that is easy. But, to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not easy.”

It is ridiculous to observe online drama on Facebook posts, or bloody digital wars among keyboard warriors, let alone in real life. People get upset over silly little things and crave for drama, for gossip, for attention. The bottom line question to always remember is, “Does this attitude, behavior, response, action, bring me and others closer to my God-given purpose or not?”

Check out these ideas:

  • Use the Unfollow button or even Unfriend button, on Facebook friends  whenever they post things that are not in line with the fruits of the Spirit. (This one is for yourself, but it sets a good example of personal boundaries.)
  • Hold your child or sit next to him/her during a tantrum or a stressful situation in silence. “I know you are upset. I will sit here with you until you are done crying. But, you can’t yell, hit, talk, or do anything mean. We will sit here until you are done crying and until you are ready to be nice again.”
  • Walk outside and get some fresh air or do 10 burpees with your child. If your child is depressed or fearful, his cortisol level is typically up and the oxygen level in blood is low. To counter this, do some aerobic movements such as burpees or jumping jacks or simply dance. Many times when my daughter was upset about something, I would just pick her up and dance with her, or we would do burpees together, and most of the time she would crack up or giggle and feel better, and we would be able to continue our day in a better mood.

These ideas will teach your children the concept of managing their own emotions and not doing or saying something they would regret later.

Dr. Mary Kay Clark wrote, “Homeschooled children benefit the community because they are not shaped by peers but by parents.”

American talk show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger observed, “…home­schooled students are able to successfully adapt emotionally, interpersonally, and academically to their first, and most challenging, semester in college. That is probably because, having had the consistent teaching and support of a family and a community, they have developed strengths and convictions that provide a bridge over the troubled waters of a multitude of challenges and temptations.”

E.G. White wrote in That I May Know Him, p. 39., “How interestedly the Lord Jesus knocks at the door of families where there are little children to be educated and trained! How gently he watches over the mothers’ interest, and how sad He feels to see children neglected…. In the home characters are formed; human beings are molded and fashioned to be either a blessing or a curse.”

A blessing or a curse!

This is where homeschooling shines! This is why we chose to homeschool. We want our children to have our values and beliefs, not their peers or teachers’ values and beliefs. We must ask ourselves these questions daily:

  • Am I intentionally equipping my children with tools for His services?
  • Am I managing my own emotions well? What are my excuses?
  • How many times a day do I spend time on my knees with my children?
  • Am I reading them stories from the Bible that they may understand how different people deal with different situations, and how they allow God to mold their characters?
  • In front of my children’s eyes, do I interact with my family, neighbors, coworkers, and strangers, showing fruits of the Spirit?
  • Do I post inappropriate un-Christian things on Facebook that I wouldn’t want my pastor or children to see or read?
  • Are the words that come out of my mouth and my spouse’s mouth full of blessings or full of curses? Do they build my children up or tear them down?
  • Am I preparing my children to be able to socialize with confidence, or am I shaping them to avoid strangers, to be remote, and to ignore the Great Commission?

May we all continue to communicate better and be a blessing to others.

Maranatha!

Arthur