April 14, 2020

Be Real but Land Correctly

Music-smart people “think with rhythms and melodies” and gravitate toward understanding the world and expressing themselves through both. God has chosen to make me quite music-smart, and I’ve been able to utilize that throughout my life in many different ways.

One of the most meaningful Holy Week experiences I’ve ever had occurred several years ago my then-worship pastor asked me to be part of the Good Friday music team. In addition to leading the congregation in several meaningful songs, we opened the service with a special music piece in which eight singers stood in a semi-circle facing a large cross we’d secured onto the sanctuary’s platform. We sang the beautifully haunting piece a capella – without any instrumentation – in four-part harmony, endeavoring to listen as carefully as possible so we’d all stay in tune with each other and hit every note on-pitch. Our goal was to glorify the Lord, aiming to honor His sacrifice on the cross by drawing people into worship through our words and notes. Without accompaniment, the task was incredibly challenging, but God honored our desire by enabling us to “nail it,” as musicians say. As our last notes drifted away through the sanctuary, the congregation responded as we’d hoped they would – sitting in awed silence, not at our “performance” but at God’s amazing gift of salvation as expressed in the song. Many of us shed tears of joy as we smiled at each other across our little circle, and recalling the experience has made me emotional all over again.

It’s very important – in regards to any of our “smarts” – to avoid idolizing the strength itself or the things that support it. For example, I need to remember that the most important thing about worship music is the God it’s designed to glorify. Music draws me into worship, but I must guard against “worshipping” the music itself, whether I’m listening or performing. That, however, doesn’t negate the fact that limits on our ability to use our God-given “smarts” do hurt.

And that has been my experience since my church was forced by the COVID-19 situation to move to online services a few weeks before Easter. It’s natural for me – by God’s design – to be drawn to Him when believers join together in song. I know I can’t do anything about it right now, but I transparently admit that listening from my living room with just my family to the few musicians allowed to gather on Saturday mornings to record music for the streamed Sunday services just isn’t “real church” for me. It’s still my responsibility to worship, but the unfortunate limits placed on my music-smart strength right now challenge me emotionally. Holy Week didn’t “feel” like Holy Week because my God-given learning strengths couldn’t be fully expressed.

Perhaps you or your children have been experiencing similar feelings as the expression of your/their “smarts” has been altered in one way or another during this trying time. Don’t dismiss that; it’s important for our overall well-being to feel our feelings instead of “stuffing” them. So, if this past week didn’t “feel” like Holy Week to you, it’s okay to admit that. Just don’t get stuck there.

Just as God is far bigger than current events, He’s also big enough to handle our feelings. So, be real, but remember to ultimately land every day on what matters most of all: No matter what, Jesus IS risen (He is risen indeed!).

CK

Photo Credit: Jon Tyson

March 31, 2020

Will You?


As I write, our nation is consumed by COVID-19. It’s the only topic substantively addressed in the media, and related posts of all sorts – from data to rants to irreverent memes – abound on Facebook and Twitter. As testing increases, many results come back negative, some positive. Of those who contract coronavirus, some have no symptoms, many feel horrible for a time but recover in rather short order, and some become seriously ill and even die.

In particular hot-spots, medical personnel are stretched to their limits, and the governors of many states have enacted executive orders limiting freedom of movement to greater or lesser degrees. Most institutional schools are closed, leaving parents to figure out homebound learning on the fly. Workers who can do their jobs via virtual means have been sent home for the duration, computers in hand, but hundreds of thousands of others have been furloughed or laid off, spiking unemployment claims and jeopardizing their financial security. Some who’ve been deemed “essential” and must continue working worry that their health and that of their families may be at risk. Small businesses struggle within narrow profit margins to stay afloat, the stock market has tanked, and Congress recently passed a multi-trillion dollar “rescue” plan. People are either petrified or livid, sometimes both.

Whatever particular emotion any of us may be feeling at any given moment, it’s safe to say that our stress is through the roof. And that stress is undoubtedly putting strain on relationships – between friends and among extended family members, perhaps even between husbands and wives or parents and their children. In times of angst, the default position into which most of us unconsciously fall is a defensive one. We feel backed into a corner by the overwhelming nature of the larger issues from which we can’t run; because we can’t flee, we fight.

It’s hard – though not impossible – to step back and try to see things from another’s point of view. For the sake of relationship, though, it’s worth the effort. Because, whatever the casualties – from the virus itself or all the ancillary damage – we should aim to ensure at the very least that our valuable relationships don’t die during the pandemic.

And thinking in terms of the eight great smarts may help with that endeavor, as it does in so many other ways.

The different ways in which people are wired impact everything – how they process academic information, to be sure, and also how they react in crisis situations. Just as adapting to a child’s innate intelligence strengths improves his ability to learn his math facts, so, too, accepting that different people have different needs in the midst of our current circumstances can help to salvage relationships.

For example, a people-smart individual will crave time with others to discuss his views and feel secure, while a self-smart person will need to be alone to process what’s happening. The logic-smart will seek data; if they’re also word-smart, they’ll search for articles and research studies, but if they’re picture-smart, they’ll prefer graphs and charts. Body-smart individuals may struggle in very real ways with quarantine because of how it limits their level of physical activity. I’ve even seen nature-smart at play when a friend recently expressed hope that the environment may have a chance to heal as more people stay home.

Rather than becoming angry when a friend or loved one processes matters related to this situation differently than you, can you, instead, choose to take a step back? Can you consider how someone else’s “smarts” differ from yours and accept God’s design in each of you? Will you choose to seek understanding and peace with the ones who should – at all times – matter most to you?

CK

Photo Credit: Tyler Nix

March 3, 2020

Speak, Act, Guard

Some American parents hold the position that they have no right to “impose” their beliefs and values on their children. However, most parents feel that passing on their views, hoping their kids adopt them as their own, is part of what it means to be a parent. This idea generally holds true across racial, cultural, socioeconomic, political, and religious “divides.”

How, though, do we each go about teaching our children what we believe? And how can we maximize the potential that they will choose to adopt similar values? 

This is a complicated matter, of course. The Judeo-Christian principle laid out in Proverbs 22.6 tells us that taking time to consciously disciple our children will generally result in their choice to adopt good (godly) values.

However, the existence of free will means that the verse is a principle, not a promise. Some who are trained well still choose to go astray, and that reality can be disheartening and scary. However, despite the risk of a child deciding to reject his parents’ values, it’s still our responsibility to impart them; we can’t abdicate just because the desired result isn’t guaranteed. And we must do this directly and indirectly – in what we say and what we do.

It’s imperative that we actively teach our children – in ways that will resonate with them at different ages and through various phases – the precepts of our value system; kids must hear from us directly what we feel is important and why. In fact, Deuteronomy 6.7 challenges us to “teach [God’s ways] diligently to [our] children and speak of them when [we] sit at home and when [we] walk along the road, when [we] lie down and when [we] get up.” In other words, we’re commanded to directly and personally communicate truth to our kids during all of their waking hours.

But the old adage, “Do as I say, not as I do,” is a dangerous lie. If we instruct our children to obey particular rules or follow certain beliefs, yet they see us consistently living contrary to our words, they’ll rightfully see us as hypocrites and likely conclude that our values aren’t worth embracing. Likewise, even if we personally obey everything we preach and hold our kids accountable to, but fail to build strong, intimate relationships with them, we will be to them like the clanging gong of 1 Corinthians 13.

And we’re also called to protect our kids from influences that will contradict the values we aim to teach and model (Matthew 18.6). This doesn’t mean raising kids in a bubble, isolated from the world. But neither does it mean throwing them into situations where their fledgling beliefs are apt to be regularly assaulted. As parents, we are accountable to God for what (and whom) we allow to impact our kids’ minds and hearts.

Living up to all of this is a very tall order! Continually watching what we say, what we do, and the influences we allow into our kids’ lives is surely overwhelming – and we definitely won’t be perfect. But the more we’re consciously aware of our responsibility and calling, the more intentional we can be, and the more success we’ll have.

CK

Painting by Auguste Renoir

February 18, 2020

Abiding is the Guide

In my first piece in this series, I addressed the fact that we can and should take responsibility for how we participate in social media – that we must choose to share evidenced-based ideas in a logical, mature, respectful manner rather than spouting off from an emotions-driven position. And last time I challenged you to know what you know and why you know it – by taking the time to fully understand the foundations of your particular worldview position. For example, Christians must purpose to study the Bible and know how to apply its precepts in order to accurately represent Christian principles in the marketplace of ideas. 

Even with all of that background, though, we might still wonder what to do on social media in the “heat of the moment” – i.e., when some contentious or controversial issue comes to the fore. As a Christian, I endeavor to look to Scripture as my guide in all things, and two passages came immediately to my mind in response to that question:

  • Ecclesiastes 3.1, 7b - "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…a time to keep silence, and a time to speak…” Sometimes God will call us to speak up (whether we really want to or not); other times He will challenge us to remain quiet. Both are biblical responses, contingent upon God’s leading in the moment. The key is to be abiding with Christ (John 15) so we’ll be able to discern His will one way or the other. And when we’re supposed to keep our fingers off the keyboard, we can (should) decide to take a matter to prayer instead, so we can feel that we’re still “doing something;
  • Luke 10.27 – "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” If we believe we should say something, we must then consider how to both glorify God and demonstrate care for any who will read our words. And in doing so, we can remember how John tells us (John 1.17) that Jesus – our example in all things – is full of “grace and truth.” In other words, true love (as we represent God as His image-bearers and as we interact with other fallen humans) contains a balance between the softness (not spinelessness) of grace and the firmness (not harshness) of truth. We should seek for that balance, too, and need – once again – to be abiding with Christ in order to discern the right mix of the two in any given situation.

Did you notice the common thread there? As with everything else in life, how we interact on social media comes down to a choice – day after day and moment by moment – to abide in Jesus or not. That sounds too simplistic, I know; most of us would prefer a detailed, definitive rulebook. But in all things – including how we use social media – God wants our dependence on Him, not our own (fallible, incomplete) human understanding. If you choose to submit yourself to Him – i.e., by devoting time to studying His Word – you can trust that He will guide you even in the messiness of social media, step by step as you walk along the way each day.

CK

Photo Credit: Ben White on Unsplash

February 4, 2020

Know What You Know

In response to the exponential increase in cultural and moral relativism he observed, mid-20th century Christian theologian and philosopher Francis A. Schaeffer once said, “…[W]e should note this curious mark of our age: The only absolute allowed is the absolute insistence that there is no absolute.”

Schaeffer died in 1984. But any cultural observer understands implicitly that the curiosity he observed has metastasized even more in the last 35 years. Indeed, we’ve reached a point in some quarters where positing simple, self-evident, scientifically verifiable facts (i.e., carrying XY chromosomes makes one male and possessing an XX pair renders one female) causes relativists to react with extreme vitriol and even violence, and sometimes costs people their livelihoods and reputations.

The ironic “absolutist relativists” – those who insist that the only absolute is that there are no absolutes and who ostracize those with other views of truth – preach “tolerance” but are actually among the most intolerant people on the planet. And they’ve caused no small number who do still espouse belief in moral absolutes to shrink back and keep quiet for the sake of self-preservation. But at what cost? 

We’ve already endured more than 100 years of relativism’s reign. And with each passing generation, it leads more and more people astray with its illogical non-truth truths. We see its damage all around us – especially in our kids, who, though they know deep inside themselves (Romans 1) that absolute truth does exist, are berated by the bully of relativism day in and day out.

Relativism is but a worldview perspective – one idea of how the world operates. Even if it’s the current prevailing idea, it’s not the only view, nor the most progressive one, nor the “best.” The biggest, loudest kid on the block is rarely the wisest. And, for the sake of our kids, those of us with different ideas must confront the bully.

In other words, if you’re not a relativist – if, for example, you profess instead to be a Christian – it’s imperative that you know the philosophical underpinnings of your faith and that you actively teach them diligently to your children and speak of them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6.7). You are allowed – relativists’ rants notwithstanding – to hold a worldview that believes in the existence of absolute truth as presented to us by the God of the Bible, and to train up your children in that truth. But you must take responsibility – by studying Scripture and supporting documents such as a solid catechism – to know what you know and why you know it. It’s foolish – and irresponsible – to coast along without doing so.

When you take the time to ground your beliefs in facts and evidence, you’ll have the confidence to openly share them with firm but quiet grace in the marketplace of ideas populated by angry relativists and those who espouse any number of other worldviews. Even more importantly, you’ll be able to train up your children as you see fit, which is your God-given right and responsibility as a parent.

It all starts with figuring out how to know what you know. Where will you begin?


CK

Photo Credit: Ekta Chawla

January 21, 2020

Be a Current Changer

If you spend any time at all on social media, I have no doubt that you regularly see opinion-spouting – i.e., people feeling entitled to publicly spew what they think and believe, usually absent evidence to support their claims and accompanied by ugly, thoughtless dehumanization of those who think differently. Our culture has – for well over a decade now – been inundated with the phenomenon.

Of course, sharing one’s views isn’t a bad thing. In fact, feeling free to speak one’s mind has been ingrained in the American psyche since the Founders penned the First Amendment. But with any right comes responsibility – in this case to handle the “weapon” of words properly – and acting irresponsibly carries dire consequences. Tragically, our society’s new knee-jerk habit of reflexively spouting off is anything but responsible. And it’s hurting us, individually and collectively, in many ways.

As with any other behavior, the remedy comes down to a personal choice to change – an individual’s conscious commitment to stop spouting off and begin, instead, to speak responsibly, sharing logical, evidenced-based ideas in a mature, respectful manner. It matters not what “everyone else” is doing. The direction of a river is changed little by little over time as rocks are placed – one by one – in the current’s path. If we want the tenor of our cultural discourse to change – and who doesn’t long for today’s ugliness to cease? – we can’t wait for “everyone else.” Each of us must, instead, decide to take personal responsibility and commit to planting current-altering pebbles, rocks, and boulders.

If that thought irks you – “Why should I have to watch my words when [name your personal nemesis] never does?” – purpose to look forward for motivation. Without a commitment to actively redirect ourselves, human behavior always degenerates over time (see Romans 1); in fact, that truth mirrors the natural law of entropy which God has built into the creation as a whole. This means that the social environment our kids will face as they grow up and then become adults will – without a change in current – be even worse than it is today. Can you imagine?

I hope you can. And I pray the thought of it chills you to the bone and then motivates you to be among those who aim to change the current. If you want your kids to live in and contribute to civil society when they grow up, it’s imperative that they see and hear you doing the same now.

CK

Photo Credit: FotoFloridian

December 10, 2019

It Might as Well Be You

Are you feeling the pressure of the Christmas Crazies yet?

For many, this sense of feeling constantly stressed and overwhelmed starts the week of Thanksgiving and carries all the way through December into New Year’s Eve. First, they fret over preparing the “perfect” Thanksgiving meal – and/or having to endure a long holiday weekend with particular stress-inducing relatives. Then they dive headlong into “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” bargain-hunting but still worry right up until Christmas Eve that they don’t have “enough” of the “right” gifts. In between, they hunt down the “perfect” Christmas tree, aim to fill their homes with “perfect” holiday d├ęcor, bake batches and batches of “perfect” Christmas cookies, draft a “perfect” family Christmas letter, pour over recipes to plan yet another multi-course holiday meal with the same unpleasant relatives, and try to squeeze in a visit for the children with a mall Santa. They might also haul reluctant kids to practices for the church Christmas program, scour clothing racks for “perfect” family Christmas outfits, and prepare “perfect” goodies for the school or homeschool co-op Christmas party. And as all of this is going on, they surround themselves with streaming Christmas carols and grumble each time they hear a refrain mentioning peace or joy. “If only,” they mutter while pulling gaudy wrapping paper over yet another present they hope against hope its recipient will actually enjoy.

When we stop and think about it, most of us can readily admit we hate the chaos. But we feel stuck. We muddle through because we’ve done it “forever” and because everyone around us is in the same boat. But is that really a good reason to stay on the hamster wheel?

I think not.

Habit, others’ expectations, and cultural norms are never good reasons to partake in activities that make us emotionally – and even physically – sick. It may feel odd to step out of the holiday vortex, and friends and family may question or criticize. But we can still decide to take a different path if we really want to. It’s simply a matter of personal choice and a commitment to follow through – with love and grace – despite possible detractors.

So…ponder what actually brings peace and joy to your home and heart at this time of year, and focus on that and that alone. If a long-standing tradition brings more angst than peace, set it aside this year. If a particular activity steals your joy, take a break or at least tweak it somehow. You can always go back to it next year, but you may find you don’t really miss it after all.

When a society’s behaviors become unhealthy for its individual members, someone has to step out and say, “Enough is enough.” It might as well be you…and me.

CK

Photo Credit: Clipart Library

November 12, 2019

BE the Parent

 
Correcting requires careful observation and for you to use more words. It may also require an attitude change on your part. You must be interested in helping children improve rather than just pointing out what’s wrong and maybe getting some perverse power from putting them in their place. (Start with the Heart, p. 210)
Ouch. These are tough words from Kathy, but they’re spot-on.

It’s all-too-easy in the trenches – when we’re probably overextended in other areas of life as well – to lose sight of the kind of intentional parenting it takes to carefully observe our children, focus on helping them mature, and keep a check on our own attitudes. It’s easy to fall into an unhealthy routine of on-the-fly criticism to curtail some imminent bad behavior. But, of course, that causes most children to react with defensive antagonism, which then leads to more criticism by parents, and eventually sets up what seems like a never-ending cycle of angst in a home. This is why too many kids can’t wait to leave and why too many parents think (or even say), “Good riddance.”

What a tragedy!

I feel a bit like a broken record when I say this, but it’s truth. The way out of this sort of relational tailspin comes down to a parent’s conscious choice (day in and day out, moment by moment) to be the parent – i.e., a mature, responsible adult. It is not a child’s responsibility to “stop being a brat” so the parent “doesn’t have to” scold. It is not a teen’s role to “grow up already” so the parent can stop criticizing.

It’s actually just the opposite. As a parent chooses to stop scolding, a new relational pattern will develop such that the child will eventually stop acting out in “bratty” ways. As a parent chooses to move from criticism to correction, the teen will learn as time progresses to truly hear the parent’s words and then begin to self-regulate. Difficult as it is and as much as we dislike “adulting” some days, it is our job as parents to take the lead…because we are the parents.

Having peaceful homes and fulfilling familial relationships – both of which are wholly possible –starts with us as parents. Parents choosing their “better angels” over knee-jerk emotional responses. Parents deciding to watch their words and actions. Parents putting on the cloak of maturity no matter how unnatural it may feel at first. Parents faking it till they make it. Parents being parents.

CK

Photo Credit: Kim Davies

October 29, 2019

They Will Not Depart

When I was a young college student sitting in Kathy’s education classes, I didn’t take compliments well. I was a perfectionist who didn’t see the point of a compliment unless I performed perfectly. Of course, I rarely reached that goal in my own estimation so I never felt worthy of praise.

Because Kathy was the faculty advisor for the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship group to which I belonged and also attended the same church as I, we soon became friends. And she began to gently challenge my thinking as I deflected her compliments. I was a baby Christian so I was still trying to grasp even the basics of God’s infinite love for His children, but one thing Kathy said early-on has stuck with me ever since: “If we don’t graciously accept a compliment, we’re insulting God.” Why? Because by downplaying or rejecting a compliment, we’re essentially saying that the way in which God has wired and gifted us is junk.

I still didn’t believe anything I did was praiseworthy, but I sure didn’t want to hurt the God I’d just embraced as Savior and Lord. When I voiced this to Kathy, she encouraged me to essentially fake it till I made it. She suggested I stop trying to explain why I wasn’t worthy of a compliment and, instead, simply say, “Thank you,” no matter how strange that felt.

Fast forward quite a few years and my husband and I were raising two beautiful girls, then in their early teens. We’d raised them using Kathy’s precepts for complimenting and correcting, but there came a time when one of them – when she was about 14 – suddenly began to push back at every compliment, despite their being real and wholly appropriate. I regularly reminded her of what her “Aunt Kathy” had taught me, but she struggled to say even the fake-it-till-you-make-it thank you.

Fast forward two more years and this girl was finally emerging from what she now calls her “angst-y phase.” And one day she said, “Thank you, Mom, for always reminding me that not accepting a compliment is offensive to God. I know it didn’t seem like I was hearing that the last couple of years, but I was. I felt so bad about myself I didn’t believe anything nice you or anyone else said, but in my head I always kept saying, ‘Thanks, God, even though I think they’re wrong.’ And doing that is part of what got me through the angst.”

Applying the principles that Kathy teaches about complimenting and correcting from early-on imprints those ideas on our kids’ minds and hearts. And – as with all godly precepts – our children will not depart from them when they are “old” …even if they take an occasional detour or two along the way (Proverbs 22.6).

CK

Photo Credit: Raj Vaishnaw

October 15, 2019

It’s about Relationship


A mom in a large homeschool group I moderate recently posted this anecdote:

Today, I am "that weird…mom." I didn't ground my son from video games or whatever normal people do. No, I banned him from paper for the day....

I [verbally] corrected him…about his chores while he was holding sheets of paper he was going to draw on, so he angrily threw them to the ground. I immediately told him to pick them up, so he [did]. [But then he] crumpled them up, which he also knew better than to do. So, I told him he was banned from paper for the rest of the day.

He whined, "But what if I need it for my schoolwork?"

I just replied, "You won't," and went back to what I was doing.


So, no paper...No drawing, making airplanes, or crafts of any kind with paper for him today. I feel kind of bad taking one of his favorite hobbies
from him for the day since he's so creative, but that's part of trying to raise good people, I suppose.

The story is a perfect illustration of what Kathy Koch advises in Chapter 6 of Start with the Heart: “When you think about what logical consequences, treats, and bribes might motivate and help your children, think about who they are.”

For many kids, banning the use of paper for a day would be silly and irrelevant. But for this boy – whose mom obviously knows him very well and understands the need for consequences even when issuing them makes us uncomfortable – losing the ability to have paper for the day was logical (and also somewhat natural, given that he’d crumpled up and essentially wasted at least a few sheets).

Over the years as I’ve parented, I’ve seen lots of “parenting systems” come and go. Generally speaking, these systems promote using the same techniques delivered in the same manner with every child, promising “well-trained” children if the parents dutifully comply with all of the system’s precepts. This view treats children as if they’re robots or, perhaps, products on an assembly line instead of uniquely-designed human beings. I get angry with those promoting such lies and grieve for parents who buy into them.

Consistency in parenting is important. However, that doesn’t mean subjecting our children to a sterile, inhumane “system.” Good parenting is much more complex than that. Good parenting means taking the time to know each of our kids so intimately that we’ll learn when to most effectively teach, when to coach, when to cheer, and when to referee. It means we’ll come to understand what motivates a particular child at different stages of his life and then be consistent in the application of what is logical for him in that season. And it means we adapt our parenting techniques as each child grows and matures. It’s not about a system; it’s about relationship.

CK

Photo Credit: Valerie
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