Connecting with God Everyday

Connecting with God Everyday

This is a recent reflection from a mother about the importance of building in daily habits that help us connect our families to God and His hope for humanity.

My daughters just started ice skating this summer. Every Saturday morning they had class.

They started on the side of the rink, moving slowly, inch by inch. Gradually they let go of the siding and wobbled across the ice, their arms flapping up and down to steady their weight. I would watch from the side, holding my breath between falls. With the help of their instructor, two months later, they can now glide around the rink safely.

Early on, I realized the importance of supporting their ankles in their skates. I observed that their ankles would fold inward, making it painful and hard to stand on the ice, let alone move on their skates.

One class, I called them off the ice and coached them to try to stand straight on their blades. One of my daughters complained that it was hard to stand straight, her skates kept collapsing.

I knelt down to check out the situation and found that her skate was loose. The extra room between her skate and foot made it hard for her to control her skates. It was also rubbing painfully against her foot. I could see if I didn’t tighten the skate, she would end up with at least a blister, at worst a broken bone.

I loosened the laces. Then carefully, I adjusted each layer. I made sure her socks weren’t scrunched down but pulled tight against her skin, then I smoothed the tongue of the skate up against the top of her foot. Finally, I carefully pulled the laces tight, row by row, making sure that the skate was snug around her foot.

As I pulled the white lace, I realized, this is how it is with God. When we allow a gap to come between God and us, when we stop seeking to understand His principles and values, when we don’t take time during each day to connect to His heart and His dream, we become like the loose skate. We don’t contribute to the joy and excitement of gliding across the ice, rather we pose danger and even pain.

That is why building in daily habits to connect to God throughout our day is crucial to understanding our identity, but also our overall sense of well-being. Having habits such as prayer, a study of spiritual scripture, discussion around our life aspirations and family values are valuable avenues for every family and individual inside that family to touch on the most important relationship in our lives.

But these things are not automatic. Like everything important in life, they take effort and discipline to develop and maintain. But, like the important things in life, when we don’t consistently invest the effort, we are less happy and become disconnected from our purpose and identity, and source of life and happiness.

As parents, but also as husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, we should regularly check in to see how our spiritual habits are doing and refresh them if need. Just like I do now every time before my daughter goes out onto the ice, I check her skates to make sure they are snug.

I tightened the last row of laces on the skate and asked my daughter to stand. She stood on her tightened skates and smiled, “It feels good!” She tried standing, now with no gap between her feet and the leather, her ankles stood steady. Happily, she pushed off onto the ice again.

Reflective Leaders Raise the Bar and Achieve Goals

Reflective Leaders Raise the Bar and Achieve Goals

The process of learning from our mistakes is an essential part of growth and development. This applies no matter what age you are and whatever career you pursue. Whether a student or follower and especially as a teacher or leader, self-reflection is a process that nurtures us to grow mentally and spiritually.

But how many people actually want to set aside time for reflection? The process is not an easy one. For some people, they don’t like what they may view as a slow, time-consuming process. Some just don’t like what they see. It is far easier to acknowledge our strengths than address our weaknesses. Instead of becoming too defensive, we can acknowledge our weaknesses, bring a positive attitude to the table, and understand the lessons to be learned. This is how change and growth happens. We have the power to reframe a mindset of being judged for our weakness into a positive mindset of growth and the opportunity to be better.

Helen Keller with Anne Sullivan in July 1888

Teachers especially can attest to the importance of reflection in order to address the needs of their students. Good teachers are good at reflecting; they are good learners. Anne Sullivan was a young but bright and ambitious teacher. At only twenty years of age, she would become the teacher of the famous Helen Keller, a deaf and blind child who would go on to be the first deaf-blind person to receive a bachelor of arts degree, becoming an author, world-famous speaker, and political activist. Helen was a stubborn and difficult child but the reflective process of her teacher would prove to be an essential part of her achievements later in life.

Sullivan herself was visually impaired, but her determination and ability to reflect on her methods meant that she would be able to make significant breakthroughs with the confused and frustrated child. She described a pivotal moment in her teaching experience and sent her reflection to a friend in the form of a letter.

Sullivan had been working to find a solution to a frustrating problem for Helen who was struggling to understand the words “mug” and “milk,” often confusing it with the verb “drink.” Helen didn’t even know the word for “drink,” but motioned the act of drinking when she spelled “mug” or “milk.”

One day it dawned on Sullivan to connect the concept of sign language with the physical objects around Helen by having her touch the items with one hand as Sullivan spelled the name of the object in her other hand.

Photo of Anne Bancroft as Annie Sullivan and Patty Duke as Helen Keller in the broadway play The Miracle Worker. In this scene, Miss Sullivan tries to teach Helen the meaning of “water”.

We went out to the pump-house, and I made Helen hold her mug under the spout while I pumped. As the cold water gushed forth, filling the mug, I spelled “w-a-t-e-r” in Helen’s free hand. The word coming so close upon the sensation of cold water rushing over her hand seemed to startle her. She dropped the mug and stood as one transfixed. A new light came into her face.

From that point on, Sullivan and her pupil progressed leaps and bounds in teaching the girl how to use Braille and communicate with the world around her. It wasn’t easy. Both student and teacher faced many challenges and frustrations along the way. However, taking that time to reflect instead of constantly, stubbornly pushing in one direction or just giving up, was the conscious, decisive action that made learning possible. It may seem to “slow things down” but looking forward, it actually allowed progress to be made faster, more efficiently, and with fewer tears down the road.

An article by Harvard Business Review said employees who spent 15 minutes at the end of the day reflecting performed 23% better after 10 days than those who did not reflect. Similarly, a study of commuters in the UK found that those who were prompted to use their commute to think about and plan for their day were “happier, more productive, and less burned out than people who didn’t.”

Put simply, reflection is that pause we take in the chaos of our everyday lives to sort through, acknowledge, and find meaning in our experiences. The time and place we choose to do this may look different for each person but the good news is that there are many ways to make reflection a part of your lifestyle, whether it is in a journal, thinking in the car during your commute, or going out into the best classroom there is: nature.

Do you reflect? If not, how can you start making time for reflection today?

On the Path to Spiritual Growth: Understanding Our Negative Emotions

On the Path to Spiritual Growth: Understanding Our Negative Emotions

The critical and commercial success of the 2015 Pixar movie, Inside Out, was especially notable given its subject matter. While Pixar was known for its signature 3-D animations and heart-warming storylines, it was both unusual and impressive in its ability to convey in a children’s movie the importance of negative emotions in one’s development and growth.

In an age of pop psychology, negative emotions have often become easy scapegoats. Negative emotions are also what’s to blame for what ails you as well as what ails you. Experts seem to advise positive thoughts and positive thinking will get you out of your rut. While the field of positive psychology has helped us in a myriad of ways, by identifying positive thoughts as, well, positive, this identification has also led to a downside. This is to say: if positive emotions are good, it would be natural to assume that negative emotions are bad.

And this view is hard to deny as studies have shown that positive thinkers are more successful in life, with healthier personal and emotional lives and relationships.

Yet, we need to take a second look at the negative emotions for what they are.

If we parallel negative emotions with that of physical pain in the body, we can take an important lesson for its function in our lives and personal growth. We might even do this by observing those who are unable to feel physical pain. Called Anhidrosis, or CIPA, it is a disorder experienced only by an extremely small percentage people. A description of it by a mother whose daughter suffers from the rare genetic disorder gives us food for thought:

“Pain’s there for a reason. It lets your body know something’s wrong and it needs to be fixed. I’d give anything for her to feel pain.”

Just like physical pain, emotional pain has an important function and that we need to pay attention to. Just as we look at physical pain as signals, we can see emotional pain as important calls for attention to specific needs.

With this in mind, it is worth taking the time to “unpack” the experiences that give rise to our negative emotions. In doing so, we can come to understand what it is that we need to do or be aware of in all areas of our lives whether it is in school, work, or business, and especially in our personal relationships and families.

In our journey to have healthy, happy families, we need to have a growth mentality – to grow our knowledge of ourselves, to cultivate our character and find new ways to develop.  Along with this willingness and mentality to always grow and become better, we need tools along the way. Understanding that, in fact, negative emotions can become part of our toolkit for understanding ourselves and others can also be liberating in that we no longer need to hide from or ignore or erase negative emotions, but embrace them as indicators of our opportunities for growth.

Six Tips for Parents Who have a Teenage Son Who is Searching for God

Six Tips for Parents Who have a Teenage Son Who is Searching for God

Is your pre-teen or teenage son starting to ask questions like, “Is God real?” “How much of my parents’ values are valid?” “Is there really a spiritual dimension to life?”

It is not unusual for an adolescent boy to start asking hard questions about his faith.

Don’t panic. Take a deep breath.

Your son is starting out on his own journey to become a hero in God’s history.Although it seems that these doubts and questions are the road to disbelief, they are actually an important part of your son’s journey to adulthood. Questioning the most fundamentals are a part of his efforts to make his faith his own.

The great heroes of history also went through this phase, probably more than once, and it opened the way to new understandings of God, His ideals and His principles. So, congratulations! Your son is starting out on his own journey to become a hero in God’s history. This is probably his first of many where he will come to deepen his relationship with God and his faith.

This important stage is probably heightened by the physical changes he is going through. It is scientifically proven that the testosterone spike during adolescence and young adulthood not only causes physical changes, but also stimulates the desire to feel the thrill of pushing boundaries, whether it is rule boundaries, physical limits, or safety.

This stage in their life could last months, even years.

And during this time, he is going to need you more than ever.

Here are six things you can do to help him along the way.
  1. Remember. God is bigger than any question that your son can pose. God’s love doesn’t change. God’s truth doesn’t change. Don’t let your son’s questions intimidate you. His questions may actually lead him closer to God in the end.
  2. Pray for your son. In many ways, your son is starting to venture out of your proverbial “nest” to see the world. It can feel very scary for the parent as your son flexes his mental and spiritual wings to see if he can fly. Your first impulse may be to put out your hand to prevent him from falling out, but more than your hand, he needs your prayer. Your prayers will help you connect to the long-term perspective God has for your son, and His wisdom. Your prayer can also support your son, and open his heart and eyes to see God and his faith actively working in his life.
  3. Listen to your son and give him honest answers. The temptation may be to give your son quick and strong answers. But, your son needs to feel that you are with him on his quest for understanding. Some of the questions you may not be able to answer to his satisfaction, but give him your most honest and sincere answer. That aside, his questions may be stemming from other challenges in his life. He could be struggling with fitting in with a circle of friends at school, he could be feeling unsure of his own self-worth. When you listen closely to your son’s questions, you may be able to uncover the real root of his questioning.
  4. Create a place for him to explore his questions.
    1. Some families have started family study circles with other families where their adolescent sons are able to study, listen and ask questions with other family parents and peers. This support circle is helpful not only for your son, but parents as well. Sometimes someone else can give an answer that is better accepted than you can. It’s okay to borrow mouthpieces. This place with understanding and little judgement will provide a place for your son to bring up his question.
    2. Other families have said that a circle of brothers of faith who walk through their journey together is extremely important. Every boy will go through their course in making their faith their own. Having each other will provide a place where they can openly express their questions, provide support during their highs and lows, and discover God together
  5. Encourage him to make efforts in his search for answers. Asking the questions and uncovering doubts is just the first step to finding the answers. Encourage your son to invest in his search. Along the way he can develop tools that will help his spiritual development. He can try things different things to see what helps him on his journey. He could go into nature and challenge his physical limitations as he searches for an answer. He could a time period where he devotes time to prayer and or study. He could commit to a time period to attend family study circles or youth group to ask his question. But make sure he understands important things can take investment over time.
  6. Remind him how much you love him and how you will love him no matter what. God gave your son you, to show the unchanging, eternal and unconditional love of God. So, no matter what he says, does or asks, don’t lower your expectations of happiness for him, but also remind him how your love will never change.

 

Be excited, but also patient. As he experiences growing pains in his move from childhood to adulthood, this is also chance for you to grow as parents. You will be pushed to express your love in different ways, share and affirm your faith in new ways, and grow closer together as a family.

When I Talk to Dad, Everything Seems Possible

When I Talk to Dad, Everything Seems Possible

“I need to talk to my dad more,” Jin said with a relieved smile.

It had been months since Jin could have a deep father-son talk but Dad had just returned from a business trip and that evening  the two of them spent almost 4 hours catching up. From financial planning, future goals, mom’s health and recent life lessons, they had a lot to talk about.

Between school, work, social events and the demands of everyday life, they had been too busy.

But the last hiatus was important. After talking with Dad, Jin realized how many thoughts, worries, and inspirations could build up inside when he didn’t check in regularly with Dad. He also realized how many things could be resolved simply by talking things out with Dad.

It was kind of a realignment when they talked; a time to get on the same wavelength. Dad, being on the outside of Jin’s life, could present a different perspective. When they talked, they identified the priorities, the large rocks of life, which helped map out where the smaller, but just as important things could go, and which ones he could just let go of.

Talking to Dad also made the impossible seem possible. Most recently, Jin had been contemplating the next few years of his life. Should he go to school right away or not? If he did, could he be financially responsible? Along with those questions came the bigger questions that impacted those answer – like did he know what he wanted to do with the rest of his life? And was he where he wanted to be at this point in his life? As he talked to Dad, these stressful questions that sat in Jin’s gut got unraveled, reformed, and made into an opportunity for growth.

He realized that life didn’t rest merely on what he did, but how he grew from his different experiences. He realized that more than making the “right” choice, he should take responsibility for his choices. He also affirmed his long-term goals which included family life and career. After talking to Dad, the next few years seemed less daunting and more exciting. The past few years looked less ambiguous, and more purposeful.

“God was wise to give each child parents,” reflected Jin.

The parent-child relationship is one of unconditional, absolute and eternal love. Such an unmovable foundation is the wellspring of confidence, innovation and solutions.

Parents, have you talked to your children recently?

Children, have you talked to your parents recently?

Don’t be “too busy.” You may be surprised what fruits can come out of that conversation.

Gratitude Helps Us See How Rich We Are

Gratitude Helps Us See How Rich We Are

Being married and raising kids is hard work. Sometimes we get lost in the hustle and bustle of keeping up with our “to-do” list. Pradit and Niyom, who have four kids and a busy working life, remind us that taking a moment to be grateful helps us see all the ways that our lives are blessed.

“In our lives it feels like we are busy 24/7,” said Pradit. “Sometimes I think, ‘I don’t have money.’ But I have a car and a house. I thank God for giving me a beautiful wife and these four children. When I think about this, I am humble before God. I can’t even thank God enough for what I have accomplished. I have a billion things to thank God for. In that way, I am actually a billionaire.”

His wife, Niyom, chimed in, “God has really shown me that a husband is very special.”

She’s also real about the challenges of life. “Daily life is not easy. I myself try very hard to feel God but it’s not easy, like climbing a mountain every day.”

She reminds us of the intentional effort it takes to building personal relationships, with God and our family. As we climb these mountains, taking a moment to say, “Thank you,” allows us to appreciate the journey of the climb, and the blessings that surround us: family, friends, personal and the opportunities God presents to help us grow into stronger, more loving people.

It also helps us marvel at the view when we get when reach the top, which is almost always worth every step it took to get there.