Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Facing the Next Wave of Covid Family Life


When Covid hit, and children came home for remote learning, we all found our inner hero and rose to the occasion.  We looked for the good in the situation, joked about working in pajamas, and turned a room in our house into a family work center. Psychologist Ann Masten says we went to our surge capacity to survive a new crisis.  A surge capacity is a collection of skills (emotional, mental, and physical) that come over us in a wavelike sweep allowing us to cope. Our surge capacity helps us use our inner resilience. In this state, we get creative about problem-solving; we activate our ability to find gratitude and the strength to ignore difficulty. God gave us this capacity to get us through a difficult time.

Our challenge now is that the difficult time has become a chronic situation. Add to that the summer is over, and we have new burdens. We have depleted our surge capacity, and the road ahead looks daunting.

We are tired. We are tired of adjusting, tired of creative problem-solving, tired of new covid news – even good news. When we feel depleted, this adds a whole new level of anxiety to our thinking. We ask ourselves, "How are we going to manage?" and for the first time, we have no idea.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

After the reminder of God's grace, I note in this verse that I am not the only one to feel depleted. The psalm writer gets what we are going through, and God tells us He has a plan to address our needs. I urge you to read the entire psalm and notice how the emotions gravitate from one extreme to the other: crying to gratitude, hunger to blessing, affliction to delivery, and peace. Covid might be a new virus, but what we are going through is not new.

What are the tools God gives us to repair our crushed spirit? How do we replenish our surge capacity?

Forgive: Admit that you are not a superhero and accept God's forgiveness for your mistakes. Teach your family to be easier in forgiving each other. Challenging times demand we develop our grace muscles.

Grieve: As a family, list the activities and routines you miss. Write or draw about the things you discuss and put them in a box with the assurance that you will retrieve them. Save the box as a covid time capsule and remind yourselves the box will be opened some day.

Breathe: While taking time to practice deep breathing will help replenish our surge capacity, it is equally healthy to do to your breathing outside in the sunshine. Playing outside will reinforce the idea that there are still good things to be experienced. When we are outside, we relieve anxiety and revitalize the parts of our brain that help us to focus.

Create: At this point, it is hard to imagine we will ever forget this year, but so much of what we are learning will be lost as we work to survive. Take time to document your family's life in photos, stories, songs, and favorite survival Bible verses. This activity will replenish your surge capacity for the short term and provide you with memories to give you courage in the long term.

Help: Look for ways to help others because, in addition to the apparent benefit, it also restores a sense of control and reduces anxiety. Helping others is an excellent coping strategy to teach your children.

Study: It is always a challenge to find time to study God's word as a family. I recommend diving into the Psalms. Highlight a verse or two and talk about how it applies to your family.

Oddly, the best thing you and your family can say is, "We can't take it anymore!"

At this point, the point of giving up control is when we can trust in our loving Father.

Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10


Weary Joy: The Caregiver's Journey

Concordia Publishing House



Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Pandemic Peace for Families


Who knew 2020 was going to expect so much from families? We’ve had school at home, online church, sports cancellations, staycations, and now challenging choices regarding returning to school. While we find a ray of sunshine in the realization that the current pandemic does not seem to be hard on children in terms of health, at the same time, we realize that the emotional health of families has taken a beating. Many of the things that help us to weather stressful times have been shut down or made more complicated.


Situations such as these are where resilience is forged. When our children experience little to no struggle, they have little opportunity to develop coping skills. This is the time to learn confidence in the ability to conquer disappointment and obstacles. However, when a family is weary of restrictions, guidelines, and stressful decisions, it is discouraging to add the already long lists of tasks the one of building resilience.


Coping with stress and building resilience are two things we cannot teach our children outside of a situation where they are needed. The brain learns these skills when the times call for them. This current time calls quite loudly for the need for resilience.


It would be great if I could write a post outlining the ten best ways to build resilience. If this list existed, and it was true, then our work as parents would be easy. However, we can’t merely teach resilience. Instead, we nurture it through family time and family values.


In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. Isaiah 30: 15


The times we live in now require strength and trust, but they also urge us to try to take control. As we work through decisions, we feel our sense of peace diminish. We do not find peace in our strength. We find it in faith and family fellowship. By repenting our need to solve the world’s problems and returning to the trust God gives us, we begin to create an environment that not only offers peace but builds resilience.


A family that nurtures peace and resilience will:


Focus on what God asks us to do rather than on what the situation demands. The pandemic is in God’s hands. Through science and expertise, God has given us things we can do. Once we have instituted these practices, we leave the rest to God. In doing this, we change our parenting goal from the need to make every decision right and instead put our trust in God. If we ignore the clutter screaming at us from social media, we can better discern God’s plan.


Be diligent about worship. Whether online or in-person, attending church feels different, but it is still God’s word. It still feeds our faith and invites us to trust. Your best tool to nurture resilience is to also look for faith discussion opportunities at home. Daily devotions and nightly prayers are wonderful, but so are car ride talks and Gospel reassurances at times of struggle or discipline. During this challenging time, your faith dialogues will connect the concepts of faith and struggle as part of brain development. The discussion you have about trusting God, now, will become a coping strategy for future troubles.


Look for ways to come together as a family. Busyness and stress tend to pull us away from each other. We mistakenly believe that when we need rest, it means we need time away. However, we build resilience in fellowship. When family members are together, relationships grow. These experiences and relationships are how children learn to cope with stress and trouble. Look for ways your family can play together. Everything from board games to backyard dodgeball will provide small problems solved by togetherness as well as good memories. Little by little, children learn that God has given us each other as a source of help, comfort, and joy. Projects completed together will afford the same practice and add in the sense of accomplishment.


Value family discussion. Children learn so much when they listen to and participate in a family discussion. This is why research on family mealtime shows a link to academic achievement. Children develop language skills as well as learn the unspoken rules about communication and relationship building. Ask your children to share their joys and concerns. Share with them your strengths and weaknesses and create a safe place to talk and grow. These times are excellent opportunities to slip in your faith, showing your children how your faith shapes your understanding and your ability to cope.


We do not need to be perfect decision-makers to find peace. In fact, that is the least likely path to take you to peace. Find ways to rejoice with your family – in activity and in prayer. God’s peace will reign, and He will bring about good for your children.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4: 4-7



Weary Joy: The Caregiver's Journey

By Kim Marxhausen

Concordia Publishing House



Thursday, July 2, 2020

Raising Children Without Racism: Simultaneous Saint and Sinner

In the previous post, I talked about how our brains create categories for concepts (including people). The more examples each of these categories have, the more comfortable we are around people who look, talk, or behave differently. This is a crucial first step in preventing unintended racism in children.

Racism comes out of how we describe and understand people we have placed in a group different from our own. The problem is we see differences and use those differences to separate. There is no reason why we can’t teach children to see differences, to learn about differences, to honor differences, and to welcome differences into the group in which they see themselves. In other words, we should watch to be sure our children are not creating an “in” group and an “out” group. We want our children to find ways to include more people in their group.
The essential step is to teach children how to welcome others into their circle of friends is not to teach them to ignore differences. But to teach them how to find commonalities amidst the differences.
First, we recognize and teach that we are all sinners standing in need of a Savior. Second, we accept and teach that we are all made righteous through our Savior’s death and resurrection. As Christians, we do not divide into the “in” group (saints) and the “out” group (sinners.) We are simultaneously members of both groups.

I believe in/out-group formation happens in the light of two equally damaging situations:

I. Law without Grace

As a longtime teacher in Lutheran schools, I can attest that creating an in/out-group does not have skin color or ethnicity as a prerequisite. A room full of children who all look the same will find reasons for some people to be relegated to the “out” group. I saw children so designated because they were not wearing the right color shirt or sat in the wrong chair. The difference in this kind of “out” is that shirt color, or seats can be changed, whereas skin color and culture do not change. This latter kind of “out” groups are exquisitely damaging because they exert power and leave children feeling helpless to improve the situation.

Jane Elliott showed this in her Blue Eyes Brown Eyes Exercise, where she convinced children with one eye color that their group was better than other children. The results were quick and quite disturbing. No one had to teach these children to hate. This was accomplished by using law without grace. She taught them unfair rules, modeled in/out behavior, and neglected to teach them how to love.

I have seen elite “in” groups form in classrooms where following rules and completing perfect schoolwork are the most important things. This creates a group of successful children who feel it is justified to look down on someone less successful. They begin to believe that they are good enough and smart enough to save themselves. They begin to fear their failures and instead direct that fear to those in the “out” group.

II. Grace without Law

Likewise, children who are rarely expected to face their sin or to atone for their actions will also create their own little happy “in” group. They do not see their sin and consequently are more aware of the sins of those around them. The people in the “in” group behave according to seeming unwritten rules, who like the same things, who dress in the same way, etc. These people must be good, and others must be bad. If you think your child has never believed they have no sin, stop into any early childhood classroom and ask for sinners to raise their hands. Then watch the children point to each other. All of those children have been disciplined, but their memory is fleeting, so they feel safer denying their sin.

Grace and Law Together

When we use grace and law together, we raise children who do not deny their sin, nor wallow helplessly in shame. We teach children to be accountable for their actions, to repent of their wrongs sincerely, and to care for others by working to atone for their sin. We show them it is safe to admit to mistakes because our mistakes will not put us permanently into the “sinner” group. Children who learn to understand their sin, apologize, and ask for forgiveness will also accept forgiveness. More importantly, they will be able to forgive themselves.

If I can’t forgive myself, then I will do anything to escape my sin. If I create a cozy “in” group that can follow a random set of rules, then I can fool myself into thinking I am good, and the sin I see belongs to others. The sin belongs to the “out” group. Once this happens, I have even more justification for staying away from this group.

The second blessing of learning repentance and forgiveness is that your child will also learn mercy and empathy. A child with empathy can imagine themselves in a fellow sinner’s shoes and is more likely to apply mercy and forgive. When children empathize with each other, when they understand that we are all saint and sinner, in need of and blessed by forgiveness, the “in” group fades away into a blessed family of God.

Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about the importance of an attitude of forgiveness. David Brooks explains it in this way: “Real forgiveness is rigorous. It balances accountability with mercy and compassion. The person with a forgiving attitude expects sin, empathizes with sin, and is slow to think him – or herself superior to the one who has done the sinning.” (Martin Luther King, Jr. Sermon circa 1948) (David Brooks, The Second Mountain ©2019)

Accountability without forgiveness and forgiveness without accountability; both teach children to be cruel. Their cruelty comes from trying to make sense of a world that does not balance law with grace.

When we help our children to understand the reality of sin and the joy of God’s mercy and grace, we are making the in/out-group phenomenon much less likely. We are also actively, and with the help of the Spirit, teaching our children to avoid racism.

Concordia Publishing House

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Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Raising Children Without Racism: Teaching about Differences

We often hear the adage that children learn to hate. While it is true that children will learn to hate if it is modeled for them, this is not the only way to learn racism.

Racism is sin, and we are hardwired to sin; children are no exception. Because of this, it is not enough to refrain from teaching our children to hate. We must actively teach them to love and accept others.

An infant is born able to focus on the face of the person who holds him. The pattern of eyes, nose, and mouth is one of the first an infant learns to recognize. This kind of pattern learning is so strong that as adults, we can still see faces in things that are not human.

 The brain sees a possible face, compares it to previously seen faces, and makes a quick decision. As long as toddlers see more human faces than sink faces, they will make a correct determination.

This learning technique of creating a category and deciding what does or does not fit is used by the brain for things other than learning. It can also be a shortcut to determine if an unfamiliar face is safe. If a child sees only faces that look like hers, it is more likely that a strange face will cause small anxiety. If children see many different faces, then their category for faces will be large and varied.

With many examples in the category, new faces will be more readily accepted.

This shortcut is called a schema. Schemas help us to think quickly, to learn, and to problem-solve. But, they can also get us into trouble. Schemas can make us assume things that are may not be true. For instance, fill in the missing words in this sentence:

It is important for young ch ______ to have plenty of  s _________ and good  f_________ for healthy growth. 

Your brain uses its schemas to fill in these words. It pays attention to the grammar of the sentence and uses the beginning letter clues to identify the right categories. You likely filled in these spaces using words such as “children,” “sunshine,” and “food.”

However, this is a line of text from a paragraph about raising chickens. “Sunshine” is a correct word, but the first and last blanks are “chicks” and “feed.”  Schemas serve as shortcuts, but sometimes shortcuts point us in the wrong direction. If your brain had more categories that fit the term "healthy growth" it might come up with different answers.

Schema thinking is a gift from God because it helps us to understand things and make quick decisions. However, like everything else in our world, sin creeps in and turns something helpful into a potential for sin.

If children have a small number of schemas, if their categories have few examples, they will be limited in what they are comfortable with, think about, or like. Children who do more, see more, and learn more will have many schemas full of examples.

Think about what kinds of faces your children have seen over their lifetimes. Do they see faces with skin color or eyes different from their own? As a parent, think about how you can increase their exposure.

Literature- The photographs and characters in books have a profound effect on schema development because photos provide more examples for the categories of things that make up schemas. And stories show children how different people work together. Seek out books, movies, video games and other toys that feature people who are different. If your child’s everyday world includes people who look different, speak a different language, or accomplish things in different ways (e.g., moving in a wheelchair), these differences will become familiar. Achieving this goal takes work. You cannot let the world do this for you. It’s not enough to notice a different character; your goal must be to make differences familiar.

Media – One of the biggest dangers of a lack of experience with people who are different is when someone different gets attention in the media for a bad action. As you seek to fill the life of your children with exposure to different people, it is essential to point out the variety within each group. The media tends to focus on wrong actions because that is what gets our attention. Look for ways to find things to admire in people, so your children become focused on looking for the good.

It is equally important to talk about the power of forgiveness. Children tend to define an individual based on one wrong action – even though they do not apply that standard to themselves. Children who have been forgiven and have been taught to forgive will be less likely to judge an entire group of people by the actions of a few.

Life- Literature and media have a significant influence on our children, but not as significant as the way a family lives from day-to-day. How often do you seek out new experiences with new people? Everything from trying new food, attending a cultural celebration, enjoying music, and worshiping at a church where you do not look like most of the people are all experiences that broaden those schemas. The goal is not to ignore your family’s culture but to appreciate it more when you realize that each family has their likes, rituals, and traditions.

In my previous post, I mentioned that an unspoken truth is an untaught truth. This idea applies beautifully to teaching our children about racism. We do not do our children any favors by hoping they will not see differences. Their brains are hardwired to make a note of differences and to assign value to those categories. We need to teach children about differences and how to value those who look different, like different things, and celebrate in different ways.

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. Genesis 1:26a

We do not know if Adam and Eve had dark skin and black curly hair or light skin and blue eyes. We do know that God made all of His children in His image. And just like Adam and Eve did not have to teach their son Cain to hate, we know that sin has found its way into our families. Through the power of God’s Word and the work of the Spirit, we can teach our children about fellow children of God.

This Dr. Lawrence Chatters, the Vice President for Student Affairs at Midlands University. We were classmates in graduate school and I have learned much from his wisdom. Here is an interview with him on the topic of children and racism.

Concordia Publishing House

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