A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Guest Post: Taming the Chaos in Your Home

There are moments in my home that can only be tidily described as chaos.

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“It’s not your problem. It’s ours”: Engaging in our communities’ most personal struggles

Allow me to tell you the story of a friend of mine, because her story’s stuck with me. I’ll call her Susan.

Susan has a couple of daughters. They’re grown now–but back in the day, she was ready to pull them out of their public school and opt for private: Their public school was performing among the lowest 20% in the UK. But it’s her take on this that struck me:

I realized most the kids from our church remaining there didn’t have a place to go or the means to get out. They were stuck there. And it didn’t seem like ‘being the church’ if I pulled out and left them to flounder.

So we pulled together a bunch of people and started praying. And some of us got on the [school board], and I eventually became the [chair].

Together, they considered their school problem a community problem, and therefore a Church problem.

An unexpected, happy ending God tacked on? Susan’s daughter ended up with stellar test scores on all her IGCSE’s–British university entrance exams (6 A-stars, if you’re familiar with their system)…better, in fact, than some friends removed to private schools.

Allow me to clarify: The point of this post is not “you should put your kids in public school”. As a former homeschooling mom of eight years, know that I understand the heart behind all sorts of school decisions.

But I am saying this–an echo of another friend who’s both school board president and pastor’s wife. If our greatest strengths are some of our greatest weaknesses, our focus on our own families and what’s best for them can at times divert us from a beating heart for our communities.

Forgive me for getting a little soap-boxy. Because yes, yes I believe in the power of our homes. But I also believe our goal isn’t to be cesspools, but funnels for the great stuff God’s pouring into our families. And of course not just on short-term missions trips, but in our own “Judea” right here. Or as Romans 10 puts it, how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?

Our homes and churches carry potential not as bunkers, but aircraft carriers.

Keeping our distance?

Tim Keller articulates,

Celebrate deeds of mercy and justice. We live in a time when public esteem of the church is plummeting. For many outsiders and inquirers, the deeds of the church will be far more important than our words in gaining plausibility (Acts 4:32-33). Leaders in most places see “word-only” churches as net costs to their community, organizations of relatively little value. But effective churches will be so involved in deeds of mercy and justice that outsiders will say, “We cannot do without churches like this. This church is channeling so much value into our community that if it were to leave the neighborhood, we would have to raise taxes.”*

My oldest has come home twice concerned about girls in his class that might be in dangerous home situations. I love that rather than just praying from a distance for them, he’s getting his hands dirty in the work of lifting injustices in his school. There is no room for “those people over there” or “their problem” in our churches.

If it’s a community issue, it is an issue of the Church, right? We actively “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7). May God continue to awaken our hearts to the distress of those around us.

Lord, enable us to live so that others can truly say, “They engaged in the crucial struggle[s] of our time.” 

–  Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals

So we’re ready for some practical ideas! In what ways is your church actively engaging in key struggles of our times?

P.S. Want more? Check out this timely message from Jill Briscoe, regarding the “mission field between our own two feet.”

 

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An Open House

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A Prayer for Your Community–Every Day of the Week

12 Ways to Pray for Your Child’s Teachers (FREE printable)

 

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Do our churches prefer certain personality types?

churches prefer personalitiesAlright, if it isn’t obvious already–I’ve never really been one of the cool cats. I will sheepishly admit to wearing pleated pants in high school. I had braces until I was a junior. It took years for me to learn to tame these crazy curls (not to mention the frizz and curly eyebrows that went with them). I was more than a little Anne of Green Gables-ish with all my melodramatic creativity. And as you could probably pick up from my blog–I am guilty of trying too hard. Which is woefully beyond any scope of cool in high school.

But in church circles? I have one of those personalities that’s easily accepted. I’m bubbly. I’m a married, creative mother (bonus!) with domestic-diva interests and a bleeding heart. I’m high-capacity in my time management, irreverent in the right ways, and–wait for it–I was a missionary. (I know! Cue the heavenly theme music!) So my gifts, talents, and temperament can lend me toward respect in these circles.

Yet what if I wasn’t?

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ADHD and What Works for Us: Tips, tactics–and hope

Author’s note: This post veers a bit to a niche audience. But my posts on what I’m learning from my son’s learning disorders—ADHD and dysgraphia—and this one on helping our kids turn suffering into praise have been perennially visited by whom I can only assume are parents hoping to adjust to similarly harrowing and frustrating diagnoses. I’m not a doctor or an expert—just a parent who has found some gratitude in all this.

Six years ago, my heart wasn’t just gripped by preparations to heave our family of six over to Africa. It took only till September of my son’s kindergarten year to piece together that something wasn’t right. Perhaps I should have seen it in the way he couldn’t pay attention to the end of a flashcard. Or that he had no friends to invite to his birthday aside from his brother’s buddies. Or that his mind was so regularly drifting from any reality at hand.

The statistics, let alone my realization that in Africa, I would be one of his only advocates—wrapped around me like seaweed in an undertow. Depression. Addiction. Worse words I won’t use here. But I’ll say this: This is why accurate diagnoses matter. Because diagnoses mean we can get help for our kids. We’re not planting our heads in the sand, hoping a label won’t stick to that son or daughter we love. We’re finally able to utilize tools that help them have a promising future.

 

Laying out six years of trial and error, of tears (his and mine), of miles of change for both of us isn’t possible in a single post. I can’t outline all the playdates where we installed extensive rewards and consequences for not melting down, yelling, or (yes) striking someone at a playdate. I have formatted countless charts and chore to-do-index cards and teachers’ daily progress reports. We have cried together over spelling lists that felt impossible.

Yet here’s what my son wrote recently in an endearing report about his disorder:

ADHD has some undeniable setbacks that make it almost impossible to function In the way people expect me to. But ADHD has more treasures than you think…

I agree with a Yale professor that people with ADHD tend to be creative, intuitive, tenacious and high-energy.

I am glad for the way I am. I am still amazed the way God made me.

And I will say–my original post was going to be an open letter to the God who gave my son this disorder. It was a letter of thanks.

Don’t misunderstand me. Someday I cannot wait to get to know my son in heaven, the fully-healed version. The majority of ADHD is part of the disorder in our world. But as a wise adult friend with ADHD told me in those frightening beginning days, this is not just part of the Fall of humanity. God has good plans for this, too. This is part of my son’s unique creation.

Dr. Russell Barkley, who is my current favorite resource for this disorder, has said, “Do not misunderstand. ADHD is not a gift.” What comes to mind is the poetry of Mary Oliver: Someone I loved once gave me/a box full of darkness. /It took me years to understand/that this, too, was a gift.

Because of ADHD, my son has unparalleled senses of creativity, perspective, and emotional and spiritual intuition. He also is the funniest, one of the most compassionate—and some would even argue most loveable—member of our family.

Raising a child with ADHD can make you want to take a baseball bat to your soup tureen. It at times resembles how Jerry Seinfeld described life with toddlers: like running a blender with the lid off. But I will argue that with a great deal of perseverance, help, and tight, consistent, immediate discipline, it’s also vibrant and full of depth. It requires much more involvement and advocacy than children without these obstacles–but as I recalled in this post and this post, God has showed me his own advocacy for me therein.

ADHD for dummies, according to a non-doctor: ADHD is 90% genetic. It directly results from physiology of the brain involving three neurotransmitters and sort of neurological “vacuums” that suck up those (often under-produced) neurotransmitters. This means the nerves’ messages don’t finish their circuit. On brain scans, the frontal lobe–which controls impulses, planning, emotional control, and other executive skills–looks sort of “asleep”. This is why medications are a form of methamphetamines–speed–to illuminate that frontal lobe.

Here are some ideas and resources that work for us. I’d love your comments below from your own experience. Let’s get a helpful dialogue going!

  • Teachers and parents should keep eyes out for other concurrent learning disorders; 30% of ADHD sufferers have these.
  • Understand, Barkley notes, that this is primarily a social disorder, deeply affecting our kids’ friendships. It’s also primarily a disorder of executive functions, seeing as how ADHD is based in the frontal lobe. It’s not as much about forgetfulness or being “spacey”; those occur, but people will forgive you for that. (Less so when you’re the kid who loses his temper and scatters Candy Land.) Because this is a “sleepy” frontal lobe, they lack impulse control. Barkley, in these very helpful tips, advises stronger and more immediate consequences and rewards to, in my understanding, lodge the cause and effects in the child’s brain (think Pavlov’s dogs, here).
  • Structure is super-helpful for kids with ADHD. (They tend to succeed in the military and military schools!) As I’ve heard it described, it’s like their brains are flipping channels, and they can’t help it. Structure helps give them scaffolding to hang the rest of their day on—something to expect. The more you can give them lead time to expect changes, the better. Similarly, I have also found those with ADHD to be very black-and-white thinkers; my son, for example, very much loves rules and has a strong sense of (at times slightly miscalibrated) justice. We seek to help our son understand nuances and gray areas, and to avoid extremes and jumping to conclusions.

 

  • For discipline and executive skills, Smart but Scattered is one of my top picks. I would isolate target behaviors we needed—no hitting during playdates, for example—and offer small, consistent reminders before the playdates and during, with quick responses on consequences (homeschooling gave me advantages in being able to respond right away). Since ADHD restrains both foresight or hindsight, again–consequences need to be embedded in their frontal lobe.  
  • Mornings are best for subjects and behaviors that demand a lot of attention.

 

  • I find that when my son gets in a rut with his fears or whining or attitude, active time helps a lot. He prefers repetitive behaviors outside, which increase serotonin (the neurotransmitter) naturally. You can also increase serotonin by serving protein (its building blocks) at breakfast and lunch, when our bodies naturally make it.
  • At the risk of opening a massive can o’ worms–after finding little success in natural methods, medication provided an immediate and clear result for us, particularly in social respects. (We do find results from Vitamin B complex gummy vitamins every morning.) ADHD meds inhibit the neurotransmitter “vacuums”, so the neural messages finish their circuit. We saw immediate improvements in relationships–including our ability to feel connected to him–and school performance, as well as moods (specifically a lot less whining!) and responsiveness. We realize that’s not for everyone, though these medications have been used and refined for over 50 years with a lot of solid science and research behind them. If your children do go on meds, realize those meds often change their metabolism; they’ll eat a big breakfast and dinner, but a small lunch, and may lose a little weight. Find common side effects here.  Some parents who don’t use extended-release medications (which are well worth it for their consistency of medication throughout the day–a smooth plateau) often give more meds at homework time after school.

 

  • For teaching skills, this post has some key takeaways from another ADHD book. At the recommendations of the books below, I developed “good job charts” (you can see my printable ones here, that we now attach to screen time, which is very motivating for my son; video games have immediate consequences, which are super-rewarding for ADHD kids, for better or worse). For chores, I created index cards with step-by-step instructions and supplies he needed, since he has a hard time with the “file cabinet” in his brain—also known as executive skills, discussed in Smart but Scattered.

 

  • For memorization, like multiplication facts, try them on flashcards with the answers on them, and then put them to a metronome (there are free apps or websites for this). Say them to the beat. My son has found the metronome soothing to him! (See related studies here.) Rap music and other music with a strong beat can also be soothing.

 

  • For anxious times, I found it helpful to give my son “scripts” for what to expect. You can read about that a little here. (I’ve also compiled some ideas about helping kids through their fears here and here, and on dealing with kid drama without squashing emotion here and here. This post deals with some of the fears we face ourselves as parents!)

 

  • This YouTube video—and Russell Barkley’s podcasts—have been really helpful for me.

 His fact sheets are also great for some basic ideas on discipline.

 

  • My favorite, most helpful books:

 Smart but Scattered: The Revolutionary “Executive Skills” Approach to Helping Kids Reach their Potential (there’s a teen version now, too!)

How to Reach and Teach Kids with ADD/ADHD: Practical Techniques, Strategies, and Interventions (Great for teachers–but so helpful for involved parents, too)

The ADHD Book of Lists: A Practical Guide for Helping Children and Teens with Attention Deficit Disorders

 

 

Parents, I’m praying for you as I write—and trusting God knew exactly what He did in giving you those kids. 

Edited: For those of you confused between ADD and ADHD–the DSM 5 (the latest version of the diagnostic and statistical manual for mental health professionals) has made ADHD all that’s left; there really is no “ADD” without the hyperactivity. (Barkley elaborates on this in one of his podcasts.)

Also, we’ve found the “Motivaider” app to be somewhat helpful in keeping our son on task.

And one statistic that’s been helpful for me to keep in mind: Developmentally, kids with ADHD lag an estimated 30% behind in maturity (the video above explains why). This helps me to manage my expectations with my son.

 

Help us out! What practical coping skills have been helpful for you as a parent or teacher of ADHD?

 

Like this post? You might like

Helping Kids Turn Suffering Into Praise

What I’m (Slowly) Learning from my Son’s Learning Disorders

Why our kids need to struggle

11 Ideas toward Emotionally-whole and -healthy Parenting

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Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: 14 Creative Ways to Help Your Kids Praise God

Want to catch up on this series? Start here.spiritual disciplines for real families

Would your kids believe me if I told them eating mac and cheese could praise God?

True story.

If Romans 12 is true–then it’s all His. (Um. Even that questionable, nuclear-orange variety of tube-y pasta.)

 

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Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: 13 Simple Ways to Teach Hospitality

spiritual disciplines real families

Missed the previous posts and the ideas behind this series? Catch ’em here.

He was barely in the front door, cheeks flushed from the bike ride home. He smelled like the cold and that faintest puff of little-boy sweat. “Mom! Guess what! We’re getting a new kid and his name is Toby and the teacher wants me to show him around and tell him all about the school!” He drew a breath, those Chiclet-sized adult teeth still, charmingly, just a bit too big for his eight-year-old mouth.

I grinned. Just a month ago, he’d been the new kid. Now my little guy was thrilled to be the one ushering in a new friend.

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Hungry: When Soul-cravings Leave Us Vulnerable

Every now and then, living overseas, you get one of those pregnancy-worthy cravings (even if you’re a guy, apparently). For my husband, it was one of those drive-thru burgers and a fountain Coke. Ooh, and tortilla chips and salsa. For me, Greek yogurt with blueberries, then some edamame, with a Starbucks Frappuccino on the side (decaf, with whip). And really good cheese.

Thankfully, none of these were really nutritionally driven. Sometimes I think we’re just hungry for what our hankerings represent. For comfort; ease. Home.

When you’re a bit wobbly

Ever feel a little bit…tippable?

I felt this last week, curving through the aspens on the way to pick up my son. I felt strangely vulnerable–not in the powerless-to-change-my-circumstances sense I witnessed of many in poverty, but the kind borne of deep longing. Many, many things right now are going right for my family as we transition. But every now and then, something knocks me a bit. I find myself scrabbling for that sense of purpose in which I basked in Africa, purpose as tangible as my own hands. For the vast majority of the time, I find great meaning in what I’m doing now.

But that hollow sense left occasionally still unsteadies me.

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Guest Post: Helping Our Kids Become a Safe Place

becoming a safe place person of refuge

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A Symphony around My Chopsticks: Thoughts on Everyday Faithfulness

symphony alongside my chopsticks everyday faithfulness

My house is (blissfully) quiet now. I sit at my clean wooden table. My stomach is comfortably satisfied. My kids are actually adjusting remarkably well to school life—something I couldn’t have anticipated after five years homeschooling them in Africa. (Adjusting so well, in fact, that after their dental appointments last week, the younger two begged me to return to the last hour of school. Um…okay!) My new job as a freelance writer—after a few weeks of what might be called panic—is actually a delight. And my husband is happy, which is just a good gift all around. We are all healing mpola mpola (slowly by slowly).

This is to say: I have a lot I am thankful for. Many of you have asked about our transition, probably because my heart has seeped out a bit into cyberspace. I would not be telling the truth to say something other than—wow. This has all gone much more smoothly than I thought possible. (Thank you, friends, for praying. He hears.)

I noticed in myself this weekend—I guess you could call it a longing. As a friend pointed out, I’ve lost a couple of my jobs in the last year. And I think the slight gap I feel, where the wind whistles through, could be called purpose. Occasionally I see flashes of it, like light on water. But a little part of me is still puzzled. It whispers, see–when I’m not flying around with school lunches and permission slips and work deadlines. Why am I here? (And maybe, Why am I not there?)

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The Safe Place Series, #3: Practical Tips to Becoming a Person of Refuge

The other night, one of my kids was at his finest. It was as if a switch had been flipped. He went from easy-going to stonewalling us, arms crossed, resolutely stubborn. And man, was I getting the stinkeye.

Though his attitude was not without consequences, God was kind to me. I think He reminded me that disproportionate reactions are a lot of times symptoms that something deeper’s being triggered. Thankfully, this tipped my husband and I off to dig and uncover the problem more than just slam down the symptom.

Because when you’re going through a hard time, life can feel a little…naked. So our emotional safety is directly tied to the degree of acceptance we sense from someone.

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