Family Tree: Understanding My Context

Family Tree: Understanding My Context

    “A person is always situated in a context, relating to what is above and below, right and left, and front and back. This context determines his or her position. Your life will turn out better or worse depending on whether you properly create relationships with those above you and below you, with those to your right and to your left, in front of you and in back of you.” From True Families: Gateway to Heaven (p 1)   This passage might be hard for a nine year old to understand, much less a seven year old or a three year old. So to break it down, we made a little family tree to be able to explain it in very specific terms. As always, we decided that the best way to do this was by making it a family craft activity! This was how it went for us:
  1. Since it was Christmas season, our family tree took the shape of a Christmas tree. First I took a large piece of paper and cut out a Christmas tree shape and had the kids draw and cut out ornament shapes from colorful paper to decorate the tree.
  2. My daughter made the star at the top and drew in glittery gold letters “God.” A good start.
  3. We then wrote the names of our (immediate) family members onto post-it notes and put them on our trees. We left space so that we could add in our extended family members in at a later time (another project!)
  4. We used special glittery pink and silver washi tape to draw out the lines of connection between each family member. Right now there are blank spaces but we will be filling in those soon.
  5. One further step – we had every person write down what they were grateful for. Our three year old was grateful for our family and, fittingly, Washi tape. 
Once we completed this tree, we could point to each line and name and say to Emily, “You are the older sister of your three younger siblings; the daughter of mama and papa; the granddaughter of grandpa and grandma on both papa and mama’s sides; and then niece of your aunts, uncles; cousin of your cousins, etc. That is your context.” Emily’s eyes lit up and she exclaimed,”Ahhh…!” What was wonderful was that, as comparatively big as our family might be with four kids, when we looked at our extended family tree we could see the more extensive network of loving bonds that went outwards to our cousins, aunts, uncle and grandparents. Looking at the pink and silver lines on our tree, we could see those above, below, left, right, front and back, our little microcosm became that much more complex and wonderful. Personally, I grew up in a small family with very little contact with my relatives as my parents had immigrated to the United States before I was born. This being as such, I never had strong ties or relationships with my grandparents and cousins and so I never understood the wonderful world of cousins, aunts, uncles and grandmas and grandpas. Now as a parent, I’m very happy that my children have very strong bonds of love and trust with their relatives and hope to keep them strong through constant communication and exchange. This is our family tree at the moment. What would your family tree look like? Happy Holidays!  
Slow and Steady

Slow and Steady

In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins not through strength but perseverance.”

Jackson Brown Jr.
American author

My niece was always naturally athletic. In kindergarten, she was always the fastest in her class and when she got to elementary school, she was easily the fastest girl in her grade. In first grade, she won the school marathon and so was given the coveted position of relay race runner. This was something kids repeated to each other in hushed tones, “She’s a relay race runner.” This was said regardless of its relevance to the topic at hand.

So, when she was picked to be a relay race runner in second grade, it was somewhat expected. Not only was she a relay race runner, she was also in the anchor position, an added honor rewarded only to the fastest of the bunch.

A few days before the race, I asked my niece whether she had been practicing for the relay. She looked at me as if in surprise. She explained to me that were she to practice too much she would get tired. I looked and pressed, “are you sure that’s the best way to prepare?” She nodded confidently with a slight smile – she was the expert after all.

Photo Credit: Mark Zimmermann

The day of the race came, and my husband jostled for a good position to take video of our little niece in what we hoped to be her moment of glory. He ended up standing next to a particularly enthusiastic father who was yelling advice to his daughter as the young kids dashed down their lanes. Red-faced, sweating and excited, this father then threw up his hand triumphantly as his daughter, an anchor for the yellow team, crossed the finished line – first place!

Our darling little niece, had ended up tripping and scraping her knee. Even so, she still got up and bravely finished the race – third place – not bad overall. Her knee was scraped quite badly and the nurse, her mother and father came over to comfort her and clean her knee. She cried from the pain and her shame at the loss, with sand mixing with her tears and leaving brown streaks across her plump little 8-year-old cheeks.

My sister later heard that the girl who had won the race had practiced running with her now very proud and enthusiastic father every day for a year in preparation for the relay.

Although the story was a bitter one for my niece, it was an important lesson for us all. Every story has a flip side and were we related to the other little girl it would have been a “Tortoise and the Hare” victory story. That day, we experienced the loss from the perspective of the Hare. Although in many ways it becomes a story we’d like to forget or to change, to do so would cover over the essential lesson we need to learn in order to be truly successful in life.

In our efforts to be closer to what God intended, to fulfill our highest potential, we need to face life’s experiences with honesty, humility and gratitude. Today, let’s not skip over the bad moments we have in life. Let us reflect, let us learn from our mistakes and keep going, keep working to become a better version of ourselves.

 That day, we learned that slow and steady wins the race and that it was the everyday habits leading up to the race that made all the difference.

The sting of that memory pushes us now: What are the habits I need to develop today to get closer to my goals?

Being Responsible for My Choices

Being Responsible for My Choices

“Why should I practice piano?” Yoshi asked himself. He had a choice between practicing his piano or continue reading his comic book.

“I promised I would practice every day,” he reminded himself. “And practice helps me in many ways. I get better at piano so I can play nice music. I become responsible for my own actions, and I make Mom happy.”

He closed his comic book, walked over to the piano, opened his practice book and began to practice.

Later in the day, when Mom came home, he proudly announced that he had practiced his piano. A big smile spread over her face as she said, “Thank you!”

Yoshi (far left) helps organize candy donations during CVA service project.

Earlier in the week at Core Values Academy, Yoshi’s class learned the importance of owning their own choices.

Ownership he learned, means doing things not only because you were told to, but because you understand and agree with the value of the action.

In many areas of his life, Yoshi’s parents ask him to do things like practice piano, study, eat healthy, do chores, pray, and spend time studying about his spiritual values. Without personal ownership, these actions could become routine that Yoshi did only when his parents reminded him. Ownership, allows each action to become a conscious choice that he takes to put his values into action.

For example:

  • I study so I can gain knowledge that can help God and the world.
  • I eat healthy so I can have a strong body to help God, the world and be there for my family.
  • I do chores so I can be responsible in my family and myself.
  • I pray to invest in my relationships with God, and reflect on what He taught me that day.
  • I study about my values so I can know about the values of my family.

He learned that small everyday choices are opportunities to own his values and important preparation for the larger, groundbreaking choices that he will have to make in the future.

That week each student was asked to make a goal through which they could practice owning their choices. Yoshi chose to practice piano.

That week he made his mother happy, made his teacher proud, and owned the value of practice and daily discipline a little more.

Try it at Home:

Make a list of expected actions for your children.

Talk about each one with your child. Explain what values they can put into practice when they work to meet those expectations.

Make a goal with your child to “own” one of those expectations this week.

At the end of the week reflect on what they learned about ownership as well as the values that they put into practice by owning that action.

Talk about hypothetical situations where they will have to own their choice of action. (Ex: Sharing with a sibling, choosing to lie or tell the truth, doing chores or not, etc.)

Bridge of Trust

Bridge of Trust

“Did you brush your teeth?” David’s mother asked him.

David almost said, “Yes,” without thinking. But he stopped himself. He really didn’t brush his teeth. It was habit to give mom the answer he thought she wanted even if it wasn’t true.

“No.” he said, “But I will now.”

Mom smiled and said, “Great.”

David breathed a sigh of relief, he had put another stone in his bridge of trust with mom, and he had practiced his truth telling muscle.

This week in Core Values Academy David learned about the bridge of trust that he had between himself and others.

They learned about the story of the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” and how the boy’s lies had broken his trust with the villagers.

But just as lies weaken or break the bridge of trust, truth strengthens the bridge.

The most important bridge, he learned, was the bridge between God and himself and the bridge of trust between himself and his parents. These bridges are there to get love, advice and help. That is why telling the truth is so important, it strengthens these important connections.

But telling the truth is not always easy. Sometimes it seems like lying will be an easy way out. But in the long run, the truth helps find the problem and get help.

That is why it is important to use the truth muscle, even in small things like brushing teeth. When we practice the truth muscle, we have it ready for when we need it when we have to talk about bigger problems and questions with God and our parents.

Try it At Home:

Talk about the difference between truth and lies.

Draw the bridge of truth with your children. Discuss how the bridge is the path for God and parents to connect to the child and give love, guidance and help.

Talk about how truth strengthens the bridge and how lies break the bridge.

Talk about different examples where they could tell the truth or lie. (ex: brushing teeth, breaking something, hurting a sibling, taking something without permission)

Make a goal to choose to tell the truth this week. Use the bridge as a reminder.

Treasure Hunt to Practice Unconditional Love

Treasure Hunt to Practice Unconditional Love

“I found one!” A four-year-old shouted with delight as he held up a colorful plastic egg.  The other children crowded around him as he cracked the egg open. Inside was a chocolate. Rather than stuff the treat in his own mouth, the four-year-old smiled and handed it to one of his friends. His friend said, “Thank you,” his face full of surprise.

The activity was part of the Core Values Academy (CVA) in Seattle. The weekly program focuses on providing children ages 4-16 with age-appropriate lessons to support families in cultivating important character traits, values and spirituality.

The assignment was to work together in pairs to find hidden treasures that included a special tasks for the kids to complete to demonstrate unconditional love towards their peers and teachers.

The four-year-old was instructed to give his chocolate away to his friend. His happy face showed that giving is a joyful experience.

A major value that the Core Values Academy focuses on is living for the sake of others.

Teaching children at a very young age to consider the needs of others and serve others, not only cultivates a critical ethic in the child, it brings joy as they learn to give value to others.

CVA supports empowering children with the confidence and conviction that they have something valuable to offer their family, community and world.

You can try the treasure hunt at home with your children, or at your next community gathering.

Here are some example instructions you can include in the treasures:

  • Give a close adult (aunt, uncle, mom, dad) a hug and thank them for what they do for you everyday.
  • Compliment your partner.
  • Clean the area with your partner.
  • Give your treat away to your partner.
  • Even if it is your turn next, let your partner lead.