Life Stages: Growing from an Individual to a Family

Life Stages: Growing from an Individual to a Family

Taking a family outing compared to trip by yourself might  be comparable to the difference between spiritual growth as an individual and as a family.

A trip where you’re responsible for only yourself is easier to prepare and plan for, just as focusing on your own growth and development is less complicated than having to consider the needs of all the members of the family.

Even just preparing to head out for any activity is immensely complicated with your family in tow. If you have multiple kids, questions that might run through your mind might include:

“How many changes of kids’ clothes will I need?”

“Should the kids bring their own bags or no?”

“Vests or jackets?”

“Is he old enough that he won’t need an extra pair of underwear?”

“Will this snack be enough to keep them quiet on the ride over?”

“Three diapers or four?”

“Should I bring a carrier or a stroller or both?”

“Will the stroller fit in a coin locker if I don’t need it?”

“Will she sit in the stroller?”

“Throw up bags?”

“Stickers? Crayons?”

…along with a million other considerations.

Whereas heading out the door by yourself might be more along the lines of:

“Phone? Wallet? Keys?”

From Dependence to Independence

Despite these and many other complications, there is something to be said about the messiness and discomfort of having to think about more than one’s self. And perhaps this speaks to God’s design.

We all start out as babies, completely dependent on those around us. Our choices are, at first, not our own as our parents make them for us and may or may not give us varying levels of independence as we grow. But no matter how we are raised, we eventually go through a process through which we must become independent, autonomous adults.

Just as our bodies need to go through a period of maturation and growth in order to create human life, our spirits need to do the same. Much of this process of maturation can happen on the individual level but, at a certain point, our spiritual growth and development hinges on our ability to go on to a higher and deeper levels wherein we need to begin to consider ourselves as part of a bigger whole.

Becoming Part of a Bigger Whole

When we become part of a couple, we then come to reflect God’s divine image in the sacred union of a man and woman. As a couple, we need to consider the needs and desires of the other person. As parents, we need to consider the growth, education and development of our children, one another and the family as a whole. Later, as adult children, we begin to need to consider the needs of our elderly parents.

It is in the critical period of youth where we begin to make all the choices and habits that then sets the trajectory for our whole lives. This is the period where we are no longer tied to our mother’s “apron strings” and begin to make the decisions that will determine who we will become in life. Itis at this juncture that, if we’re able to have a clear purpose and direction, we can make the choices that allow us to fulfill our God-given potential, to have fulfilling and meaningful relationships at home and at work.

Preparing for the Next Stage

All this starts from knowing both where we come from and where we want to go!

If — even in the period of our flourishing independence — we clearly know our identity as sons and daughters of God and His purpose for us, it makes it so much easier. Put simply, it cuts away the confusion and fumbling that is often associated with adolescence. Instead of searching for meaning and purpose, we can direct our energies into positive pursuits towards fulfilling our God-given potential. We can then also focus on how and in what ways we would enter back into a web of interdependence, in preparation for building our own families in the future.

Knowing and understanding the importance of these natural life stages as being part of God’s grand plan for our personal, spiritual growth and development is essential to guide us towards good choices and habits in our lives. And how lovely is it that the process of our growth is in one that can also bring us so much satisfaction and delight?

So, whatever stage you might be in – how are you growing? What would you like to work on?

Reading Aloud in the Family is a Values-Strengthening Activity

Reading Aloud in the Family is a Values-Strengthening Activity

“In order to grow good vegetables, you need good soil with lots of various nutrients. Likewise, we have to think about the kind of “soil” we’re providing for our own education” – Teacher Tami (92-year old Japanese author and cooking teacher)

The importance of reading aloud

In our common quest for ways to strengthen our relationships with one another and support personal growth and development, reading aloud together as a family is one of the best and easiest ways to get started.

In The Read-aloud Handbook, author Jim Trelease outlines the academic and social benefits of reading aloud to your children. Above all, he sternly reminds us that we simply cannot expect schools to be the primary place of education for our children.

Put in numbers, the average U.S. student will spend about 900 hours in school in contrast to the 7,800 hours they will spend outside of it. The habits and activities determined by the family (i.e., parents) need to be considered more primary to a child’s education than what they might acquire in the classroom. Trelease cites conclusions from the U.S. Department of Education’s 1983 Commission on Reading to support his claims: “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”

But the truth is, success in reading is not our goal – although it is a nice perk we can acquire along the way!

Raising families of shared understanding

Closer to our own endeavors, podcaster, author, and mother of six, Sarah Mackenzie, offers the benefits of building a shared understanding with your family by reading books aloud, together. While she draws inspiration from The Read-Aloud Handbook, her goals and her own experiences, are perhaps closer to our own. She confesses her own hopes for her own first child:

I had high hopes for Audrey right out of the gate. I knew that I wanted her to grow up to love God with all of her heart, mind, and soul. I wanted her to do well in school. I wanted a warm relationship with her, always. I wanted her to be kind and compassionate, to do what was right even when no one was looking.

We, as parents, might mirror these same sorts of hopes for our own children. Fortunately for us, Mackenzie reinterprets the educational practices touted in The Read-Aloud Handbook in a way that might be even more meaningful for us as parents. In Mackenzie’s recently published, The Read-Aloud Family, she recounts the ways through reading aloud together with her children has helped her children develop what we might label as a character and a healthy, active family culture of learning and growth.

In exploring books across a range of genres and cultures, her children began to explore moral questions about right and wrong, aspirations and values. In short, the family is able to build experiences, moral resources and a shared sense of certainty about the most important things, together.

In our own families

As Mackenzie recommends, in our own families we can use adventure stories, novels, picture books, nonfiction books, to explore moral values while deepening familial bonds. Reading aloud with the whole family or one-on-one with a child, parents are able to build bridges between the minds and hearts of their children.

Knowing and being able to share thoughts, feelings, and understandings about the same characters, situations, and storylines equip us later with ways to reinforce lessons or to turn difficult moments and decisions into moments for growth and development.

Humanity has always told stories to one another and this has often been the primary way through which they communicated the most important values of one generation to the next. For this reason, the stories we tell or read to our children are perhaps the most important ones to might ever tell.

If we furnish our children’s minds with stories, characters, and understandings of important truths and understandings, we may be equipping them with the strength of character to get them through the hardest times and decisions. We can’t always be with our children and we can’t always protect them. We need to nurture them in the mindset and habits that allow them to become good and strong. In this, they can both withstand the difficulties they will inevitably face as well as to gives them the room to grow into their own unique destinies.

Reading to older kids

Mackenzie also recommends different questions to open up conversations with your kids about the books that you read together. In this, the acting of reading aloud to your children begin to take on magical dimensions – it builds another pathway to open one mind or heart to the other, utilizing questions and conversation to become more fully connected with one another. Imagine the implications of having such a habit and what it would mean for your relationship with your children as they get older!

To this point, while many parents are enthusiastic about the general idea of reading aloud to kids, but most would see it as an activity primarily for the very young and those who have yet to read. Many might feel more awkward to read aloud to older children. But both Trelease and McKenzie are adamant that those children who already know how to read and older should consciously and intentionally be included in this sacred family ritual. Trellis notes that in the aforementioned 1983 Commission on Reading that “[reading aloud to children] is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.”

Perhaps it is in the most confusing time of adolescence that we want to have space for the family to continually engage with each other as well as to have a common language, understanding, and values to keep the channels of communication open between teens, their parents, and siblings.

How to start?

For obvious reasons, we are concerned just as much about what one might read aloud as with the act. Many families may choose a mix of devotional scripture or faith-based stories for a younger audience. Both The Read-Aloud Handbook and The Read-Aloud Family have a great list of book recommendations. The Read-Aloud Family also includes a few good audiobook recommendations and some simple crafts or quiet activities to keep little hands busy while parents read!

In this specific handbook, we’ve provided one story that we found to be particularly interesting and useful in teaching good values to families. While the story featured here is from the Korean tradition, the discussion questions and pieces exploring different themes in the story is something that can be done with any story.

As part of this, we will go into the elements of a good story and ways to understand how to bring out the important lessons that lay within the best stories. Many of the most beloved children’s stories have within them important lessons for us in our day-to-day lives. Being able to uncover these lessons in stories can also make us more well-attuned to the lessons that lie in our own stories.

While our efforts are still in its infancy, we hope to develop a wide range of recommendations for just this kind of activity with the mindset of building God-centered families. Please feel free to share your own efforts and discoveries!

Reading Aloud in the Family is a Values-Strengthening Activity

Reading Aloud in the Family is a Values-Strengthening Activity

“In order to grow good vegetables, you need good soil with lots of various nutrients. Likewise, we have to think about the kind of “soil” we’re providing for our own education” – Teacher Tami (92-year old Japanese author and cooking teacher)

The importance of reading aloud

In our common quest for ways to strengthen our relationships with one another and support personal growth and development, reading aloud together as a family is one of the best and easiest ways to get started.

In The Read-aloud Handbook, author Jim Trelease outlines the academic and social benefits of reading aloud to your children. Above all, he sternly reminds us that we simply cannot expect schools to be the primary place of education for our children.

Put simply, the average U.S. student will spend about 900 hours in school in contrast to the 7,800 hours they will spend outside of it. The habits and activities largely are determined by the family (i.e., parents) need to be considered more primary to a child’s education than what they might acquire in the classroom. Trelease cites conclusions from the U.S. Department of Education’s 1983 Commission on Reading to support his claims: “The single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading is reading aloud to children.”

But the truth is, success in reading is not our goal – although it is a nice perk we can acquire along the way!

Raising families of shared understanding

Closer to our own endeavors, podcaster, author, and mother of six, Sarah Mackenzie, offers the benefits of building a shared understanding with your family by reading books aloud, together. While she draws inspiration from The Read-Aloud Handbook, her goals and her own experiences, are perhaps closer to our own. She confesses her own hopes for her own first child:

I had high hopes for Audrey right out of the gate. I knew that I wanted her to grow up to love God with all of her heart, mind, and soul. I wanted her to do well in school. I wanted a warm relationship with her, always. I wanted her to be kind and compassionate, to do what was right even when no one was looking.

We, as parents, might mirror these same sorts of hopes for our own children. Fortunately for us, Mackenzie reinterprets the educational practices touted in The Read-Aloud Handbook in a way that might be even more meaningful for us as parents. In Mackenzie’s recently published, The Read-Aloud Family, she recounts the ways through reading aloud together with her children has helped her children develop what we might label as a character and a healthy, active family culture of learning and growth.

In exploring books across a range of genres and cultures, her children began to explore moral questions about right and wrong, aspirations and values. In short, the family is able to build experiences, moral resources and a shared sense of certainty about the most important things, together.

In our own families

As Mackenzie recommends, in our own families we can use adventure stories, novels, picture books, nonfiction books, to explore moral values while deepening familial bonds. Reading aloud with the whole family or one-on-one with a child, parents are able to build bridges between the minds and hearts of their children.

Knowing and being able to share thoughts, feelings, and understandings about the same characters, situations, and storylines equip us later with ways to reinforce lessons or to turn difficult moments and decisions into moments for growth and development.

Humanity has always told stories to one another and this has often been the primary way through which they communicated the most important values of one generation to the next. For this reason, the stories we tell or read to our children are perhaps the most important ones to might ever tell.

If we furnish our children’s minds with stories, characters, and understandings of important truths and understandings, we may be equipping them with the strength of character to get them through the hardest times and decisions. We can’t always be with our children and we can’t always protect them. We need to nurture them in the mindset and habits that allow them to become good and strong. In this, they can both withstand the difficulties they will inevitably face as well as to gives them the room to grow into their own unique destinies.

Reading to older kids

Mackenzie also recommends different questions to open up conversations with your kids about the books that you read together. In this, the acting of reading aloud to your children begin to take on magical dimensions – it builds another pathway to open one mind or heart to the other, utilizing questions and conversation to become more fully connected with one another. Imagine the implications of having such a habit and what it would mean for your relationship with your children as they get older!

To this point, while many parents are enthusiastic about the general idea of reading aloud to kids, but most would see it as an activity primarily for the very young and those who have yet to read. Many might feel more awkward to read aloud to older children. But both Trelease and McKenzie are adamant that those children who already know how to read and older should consciously and intentionally be included in this sacred family ritual. Trellis notes that in the aforementioned 1983 Commission on Reading that “[reading aloud to children] is a practice that should continue throughout the grades.”

Perhaps it is in the most confusing time of adolescence that we want to have space for the family to continually engage with each other as well as to have a common language, understanding, and values to keep the channels of communication open between teens, their parents and siblings.

How to start?

For obvious reasons, we are concerned just as much about what one might read aloud as with the act. Many families may choose a mix of devotional scripture or faith-based stories for a younger audience. Both The Read-Aloud Handbook and The Read-Aloud Family have a great list of book recommendations. The Read-Aloud Family also includes a few good audiobook recommendations and some simple crafts or quiet activities to keep little hands busy while parents read!

While our efforts are still in its infancy, we hope to develop a wide range of recommendations for just this kind of activity with the mindset of building God-centered families.

What books might you recommend to begin this practice with your family, 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.

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.

A Lesson in Parenting: Lead by Example

A Lesson in Parenting: Lead by Example

“Actions speaks louder than words,” is an often heard adage that comes to life in the everyday life of parents.  As we raise our children to become people of character, it is important to remember that we must first reflect qualities they can then aspire to make their own.

Kenshu and Karilee are parents of five children. One of the most important lessons they learned after becoming parents: lead by example, not just by words, a lesson that they recently reaffirmed during a weekly family study circle. 

“Our children are going to inherit a lot of the habits we have, everything from what food we eat or what daily discipline we have. So when we tell kids they have to do this and that, we have to think, ‘Are we setting the example?’ So when we have a task, we do it together; everyone has a role. To educate our kids, we have to lead by example.”

Parents are leaders in their own homes. The best leaders know the importance of being a role model. By manifesting a healthy lifestyle both physically and spiritually, and not just talking about it, parents not only help kids better understand what to do, but it also fosters trust and respect between parents and their children.

What are values that you want to pass on to your children?

How would you rate your example of that value?