A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Category: challenging (page 1 of 10)

“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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“Not my problem”

An Open House

Living “Sent”: An Updated Job Description

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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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?

 

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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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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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From My Pinterest-imperfect Day to Yours: Simple Thoughts about What Goes Wrong

I padded downstairs to shake my daughter’s shoulder, waking her for school. But instead, she woke to my “Oh, no.”

‘Cause that’s generally what you say when you see liquid pooling in the hall in the half-light, oozing from the laundry-room-slash-pantry.

That was the price-club-sized empty detergent bottle on its side, the cap to the air vent lying surrendered beside it, and the laundry room now flooded with a pleasantly lemony, biodegradable, outstandingly viscous liquid soap.

pinterest imperfect day

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Friday Quotables #6: A Terrible Force

Dostoyevsky humility humble love terrible force Karamazov

At some thoughts one stands perplexed, above all at the sight of human sin, and wonders whether to combat it by force or by humble love. Always decide “I will combat it by humble love.” If you resolve on that once and for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humiity is a terrible force; it is the strongest of all things, and there is nothing like it.

-Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

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Ways to Keep Your Giving from Hurting, Part II

Missed the first post? Grab it here.

4. We are not the heroes. Give to organizations that empower and employ local workers, and who utilize the local economy.

Sending shoes or clothes or food, for example, to impoverished countries—in my experience–can simply be sending in what could be purchased there, without the Western manpower and shipping expenses. (My family and I still load Samaritan’s Purse shoeboxes at Christmastime; those are different to me.) Supporting local farmers and businesses helps those working hard in their own nations.

Organizations with local workers help in the constant interpretation of situations around them, so Westerners don’t make them worse. Employing local workers also tend to encourage Westerners to “work themselves out of a job” a bit. It presents authority figures from a culture’s own people, rather than encouraging a colonialist mentality. And it develops and cultivates vision in national workers who are so much more naturally equipped to help their own people. I love organizations working diligently to “entrust these things to faithful men” (2 Timothy 2:2).

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Ways to Help your Giving Keep from Hurting the Poor, Part I

The stories happened more often than I’d like to admit, and echoed a truth a friend had told me within my first few months of moving to Africa. “The longer I’m here, the more I realize just how hard it is to help without hurting.”

I’ve heard heartrending stories of boxes of early reading books collecting dust. Sewing machines gone into disrepair, sitting idle for years. Business owners possessing the equipment they need, but selling their goods for less than the goods cost, for lack of basic business training. Adoption funding such widespread corruption that an entire nation must close nearly entirely its adoption doors.

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When God Isn’t Who You Thought He Was: On Spiritual Bewilderment and Anger

Perhaps one of the most unsettling aspects of this year of upheaval for my family has been my own understanding of who God is. It actually took me awhile to churn out this post for you, because, well, “I’m angry with God” should ideally have some kind of resolution at the end, right? I’ve learned people get unsettled when you tell them you’re feeling spiritually jaded or rattled.

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Here in the Waiting

Last week I was remarkably privileged to spend three days with global women from around the world. I love the work of Thrive, a ministry which works diligently to provide a respite from the very real demands of cross-cultural work. Personally, you know a bit of the discombobulated state in which I left for the retreat.

It was in the meal line when I was laughing with a young 20-something who’d just left her home in Sweden after years serving there. As I reached for the fresh berries (berries! I missed those in Uganda. I may have taken an inappropriate amount, maybe four times), I was getting her name, her country of service, her tenure. “And you’re back now?” I asked.

Her: “Yup. Um, transition stinks.”

Me: “Yes. Yes, it does.”

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When my cravings “get religion”

You’ll have to forgive me for the rather junior-high-level humor today. I now have a teenager (which makes me feel old. Another post, that one) and two middle-schoolers. So you can imagine the stimulating conversation that surrounds the dinner table (which can actually feel more like a cafeteria table. Sometimes I feel like I should be wearing a hairnet. Box of milk with your fries, anyone?).

At any rate—at a certain point in our marriage, my husband kindly asked for us to spend no further dollars on air freshener for the bathroom. His reasoning, at the time: It only kind of layers on top of the real smell lurking beneath. You start inhaling something flowery or sentimental, with a name like Tahitian Sunrise (because who doesn’t want a tangerine sunrise from Tahiti in the loo?) or Honeysuckle Nectar (with a name like that, maybe we should stay in here all day!) or Apple Cinnamon (which reminds one, oddly, of eating pie). Then, BAM. It hits you. This is not nice. This is not nice at all. There is nothing “fresh” or edible about this. Hence my husband’s affectionate moniker of “Poo-potpourri.”

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