Faith Not Fear

What has happened in our country, indeed in most of the world, may have surprised many of us.   However, it has not surprised God.  God has a plan and a purpose for everything that happens.

A lot has changed.  Some pills have been harder to swallow than others.  Still, there are silver linings to everything.  There are things that are working out for our good.  For me personally, I have more time to relax with my family.  I’ve been able to write more.  I haven’t felt nearly as stressed out as when I had a lot more on my plate.  I’ve been able to just chill and watch historical dramas with my husband.  I’ve been able to read my Bible for longer periods of time.  I do not feel an urgency to fit everything into my day.

I don’t know how long this will last, but I do know that God works out all things for the good of those He has called (cf. Romans 8:28) and for His glory (cf. Isaiah 48:9-11; Ephesians 1:4-6).

Faith, not fear, is the response we need.  God has this!

“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36 English Standard Version).

 

Train Your Brain: Always be Learning

For several years I have been joking with my children that their impulsivity and bad decision-making is because their frontal lobe is not fully developed.   Anytime they did something that perhaps was not so very wise, I would remind them of this.  The fact is, this wasn’t really a joke at all!

Your prefrontal cortex is part of the frontal lobe of your brain.  Your frontal lobe is responsible for all sorts of things like decision-making and planning, reasoning, personality, social skills, recognizing and regulating emotions, and morality.  The prefrontal cortex is specifically responsible for decision-making, impulsivity, attention, and emotional regulation. This part of your brain does not fully develop until you are in your early twenties.

This slow development of the prefrontal cortex can cause children, teens, and even young adults to make all sorts of bad decisions.  If you are a parent, you probably understand this quite well.  Sleep deprivation and substance use make the problem even worse.  Thus, it is very important to do things that nurture and develop the functioning of the frontal lobe.  Essentially, you have to proactively train the brain!

Believe it or not, training the brain involves regular workouts.  I’m not talking physical workout here but mental workouts.  While regular physical activity is great for the brain, purposeful mental workouts are of utmost importance.  If kids would start training their brains when they are young, this would help improve the functioning of their prefrontal cortex as they age.  Kids aren’t the only ones who can see results from mental workouts though.  Adults can keep their brains in shape too.

What workouts improve the fitness of the prefrontal cortex?  Any activity where you have to evaluate alternatives, make decisions, or solve problems are helpful.  Rather than sitting on the couch engaging in mind-numbing passive behaviors, you need to get out there and do some things that require you to think and to learn.  In other words, always be learning.  Be proactive.  Be purposeful.

What are some ways to train the brain?  Take interesting and challenging classes.  Engage in social interactions.  Play games that involve thinking and strategizing.  Identify interesting problems and work to solve them.  Build and create things.  Play a sport. Read a book.  It does not matter how young or old you are.  You can improve the efficiency of your frontal lobe at any age!  So what are you waiting for?  Train your brain!

 

Common Cognitive Errors

There are seven common cognitive errors in which individuals engage particularly when they are under stress or faced with difficult situations.  I have included these cognitive errors in a chart below.   While these errors can be present in a large number of situations, I thought sharing these here at this moment in time might be beneficial to those who are in a current state of lock-down in this country as you do not want to approach any situation based on erroneous thinking.  The following chart is copied in a modified form from Trafton, Gordon, and Misra (2019, p. 82).

 

Thinking Error Description
Overgeneralization Assuming that the outcome from a specific event or situation will occur in a large range of situations.
Catastrophizing Focusing only on the worst, most extreme possibility regardless of how likely it is to occur.
All-or-None Thinking Focusing on only the extreme “best” or “worst” of a situation without regard to the full range of alternatives.
Jumping to Conclusion Interpreting a situation with limited information and without a rational evaluation of its likelihood.
Selective Attention Selectively attending to negative aspects of a situation while ignoring any positive aspects.
Negative Predictions Assuming the worst will happen in a situation.
Mind Reading Assuming what people are thinking instead of finding out what they are really thinking.

In times of stress, it can be easy to revert to maladaptive forms of thinking.  How many of these cognitive errors have you been guilty of lately?  Maybe it is time to renew your mind.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:1-2 English Standard Version).

 

Reference

Trafton, J. A., Gordon, W. P., & Misra, S. (2019).  Training your brain to adopt healthful habits: Mastering the five brain challenges (3rd ed.).  Los Altos, CA: Institute for Brain Potential.

 

Dirty Little Secrets of Home Schooling

Within the past few weeks, we have very nearly become a nation of those who now school at home.  As a mom that has schooled my children at home and now fully home schools on my own, the very thing I have at times been ridiculed or criticized for as abnormal or weird has now become the norm.  What I have done by choice, people now are doing by force.  I am certain what these individuals are about to discover is not something they would have ever thought possible.  You see, schooling at home has some dirty little secrets!

First, what people are likely noticing is that it’s not as hard as they thought.  They have a curriculum that is laid out already for them, there ready to go.  Their kids are still learning from a teacher or teachers while still getting to be at home with their families.

In addition, school doesn’t take nearly as long as they thought it did.  While their kids are away for several hours at a brick and mortar school, kids that are schooled at home do not have to spend nearly as much wasted time.  There are no long bus trips, no wasted periods, and no squandered time waiting for others to catch up.  Students can focus on their tasks and be done, moving on to other things that perhaps they find more interesting, developing new skills, or spending time with their families.  This leads me to my third point.

Schooling at home provides more quality family time.  If it is true that the average family spends about 37 minutes of quality time a day together, then it’s likely these newly schooling at home families aren’t quite sure what to do with all this extra time they have with their children.  They need to see this as an opportunity unlike no other!  I mean, God gave them children for a reason, and now they get to spend time with them.  They get to know their children better.  They get to deepen their relationship with their children as individuals.  They get to learn and explore new things together.  They get to see how their children learn.  Parents get to share their wisdom and knowledge with the next generation.  Do people realize how strong a family unit can grow by simply spending this quality time together?

Another consideration has to do with the number one argument against schooling at home that I have heard from people:  I don’t know enough to school my child at home.  These parents are about to face a miraculous discovery:  they don’t have to “know enough”.  Especially in a schooling at home scenario, the work has been done for you!  Not only that, parents actually know more than they think.  As parents review what their children are learning, parents will discover it’s not some great mystery which only college graduates can dispense.  Parents themselves are very capable of guiding their children’s learning in a meaningful direction, especially when there are so many resources available these days.

Additionally, parents that are schooling at home are likely discovering their children are a bit more well-rested.  They are not having to live according to someone else’s schedule.  They have a bit of freedom and can get some good, quality sleep because they don’t have to get up early to catch a bus or get to school on time.  That extra hour or two of sleep can work wonders on a young mind!

Finally, and I think this is perhaps the dirtiest little secret of home schooling, schooling at home is fun!   I can’t tell you all the times I have sat at the dining room table with my children just laughing…laughing at some irony we discovered in the curriculum or some humorous observation one of my kids made about the topic we were addressing.  Kids are fun.  They remind you not to take life so seriously.  Kids can help adults take it down a peg and relax a bit.  Kids remind you what life is all about.  Who doesn’t need a little more of that in their lives?

I think it’s quite possible that these dirty little secrets of home schooling are being revealed amidst this national crisis!  The word is getting out, and people are getting to experience it for themselves just how awesome schooling at home can be!

 

 

Treatise on Crowd and Mass Behavior

Some of you may know who I am but not really know much about me.  I do not often share about my background.  I do not like to brag because what I have been given in terms of my education and knowledge has been given to me by the grace of God.  However, I do want to share important information that I think people should know and not just from a layperson’s perspective.  For this reason, I am giving you my credentials so that you know I am coming from a professional background.  To that end, I have a PhD in Psychology, a Master of Arts in Mental Health Counseling, and a Bachelor of Science in Clinical/Experimental Psychology.  I have been in the mental health field as a clinician, researcher, and academician for over 23 years.  With that laid out before you and out of the way, I want to extend a brief primer related to the topic of crowd and mass behavior which I simply request you think about in light of what is going on in society today.  I am not going to tell you what to believe.  I simply what you to think for yourself.

  1. Masses are thought to be incapable of thinking on their own, thus require the intervention of those more powerful and wiser than they.
  2. People who have been incited by fear and panic can lose their individual thinking capabilities, following ideologies they might not have once considered. For a prime example, study the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party.
  3. Collective behavior is structured and predictable, and even when appearing to be irrational, can be incited by agents of social control who often have a very different end goal in mind than what the collective believe to be true.
  4. Crowds by their very nature can take on a contagious, frenzied mindset which can stir up otherwise sane people into irrational behavior. This stems from the comfort that comes from belonging to the group or thinking you are part of something. In other words, there is a sort of “strength in numbers” even if the numbers are behaving like lunatics.
  5. Mass hysteria results when people are frightened by an assumed or contrived event. People can even begin to imagine the symptoms they have been told to fear.
  6. In a panic, people become afraid of something that will impact the general well-being of society. This type of panic generally purposefully occurs because a certain group of people have decided they want to redirect society’s moral values.
  7. The media is a powerful influencer in society and can impact social order, transforming the thinking of average citizens to conform to what they want it to be. To understand this better, examine the use of media by Hitler in how he got people to do what he wanted them to do and how media is used to control people in communist governments.

I close with some wisdom from Scripture:

“The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps” (Proverbs 14:15 ESV).

“…so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16b ESV).

“Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7 ESV).

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2 ESV).

Why are We so Afraid to Live?

So many people these days seem to be afraid to live.  They are told there is a corona-virus pandemic, so they panic, store up a bunch of food and supplied, and stay hold up in their homes.  There is a lion in the streets, so they turn in their bed, ignoring the world around them.  The big bad wolf is coming, so they hide in all sorts of structures hoping to keep him from eating them up.  The sky is falling, so everyone comes up with their own ideas about what everyone should do to protect themselves.  School gets canceled.  Sports get canceled.  Stores shut down.  Socialization and interaction decrease if not stop altogether.  People watch the world through little screens in the comfort of their own homes believing they are being protected from a scary virus not realizing what the real enemy is: fear.  People have become afraid to live.

The true irony is that people are afraid to live because they are afraid to die.  The fear is so strong that it cannot be overcome by rationality.  It is as if normally sane people have become mad.  People this afraid are very easy to control.

The real answers will not be found in the government dictating what we can and cannot do.  Government control will only intensify the fear.  Put the people in a panic, and they will do whatever you want them to.  There is a wealth of history that shows us what is the end result of this ideology!  (Do the words “Heil Hitler!” ring a bell?)

The real answer is found in understanding that there is a sovereign God who is in control of this world!  All things that happen fall under His direction and His will and are for His glory.

There are many false things in this world.  There are many versions of what is “true”.  What is real though is that Jesus Christ is God, and He is greater than anything that can happen in this world.  If you know God, you know the truth.  If you know God, you will not be pulled around by the nose rings by fearmongering, panic, and the general craziness of this world system.  If you know God, you will know truth and love and the balm of healing these provide in a time where unrest and panic abound.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” (I John 4:18 English Standard Version).  Everyone is afraid because they do not know the source of true love.  They do not know the source of eternal life:  God.  Without knowing God, they will die in their trespasses and sins.

Why is everyone so afraid to live?  It is because they ultimately are afraid of the final punishment: death.

Working Out the Wrinkles

Lately, I have been enjoying ironing.  It is a mundane task, and perhaps that is why I enjoy it so much.  It is simple.  There is no stress.  I apply a little heat and a little pressure.  Presto!  All the wrinkles come out.  The finished product is a crisp, clean shirt ready for one of my boys to wear.

As I was ironing today, it got me thinking.  I have a lot of wrinkles in my own life.  Things that make me not so crisp and clean.  Thinks that make me less than I ought to be.  I come by these wrinkles naturally.  They are part of my sinful nature.  I cannot work them out on my own.  I need someone else to iron them out.

You see, for a shirt, wrinkles do not come out on their own.  They do not just magically disappear.  They need to be worked on.  They need heat and pressure applied to them to come out, especially the stubborn ones.

My wrinkles are the same.

Fortunately, because I am a child of God, the Holy Spirit is right there ironing out my wrinkles to make me more like Christ.  He gently applies heat and pressure at different moments in my life.  God works out my wrinkles according to His purposes and for His glory!

Perfect analogy?  Perhaps not.  Yet somehow there is satisfaction and comfort in contemplating how a mundane task in life can point to the handiwork of God!

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (I Corinthians 10:31 English Standard Version).

Thinkwell Homeschool Review

I have been homeschooling my boys for 12 years.  I will be graduating my oldest son this year which is really bittersweet.  On one hand, I want to see him succeed and walk the path God has planned for him.  On the other hand, it is hard to imagine not being with him everyday helping him learn and grow.

One resource that I have found particularly helpful in high school is Thinkwell Homeschool.  We actually have used Thinkwell for both middle school and high school math.  The curriculum is all online.  Material is delivered via video instruction which is really rather entertaining at times.  There are questions that need to be worked through with every lesson as well as quizzes, practice tests, and unit tests.  There are other resources available such as worksheets, lesson planning, and additional support from Thinkwell.

I am not a math person, and I have learned so much watching Professor Berger.  Professor Berger is a college math professor, but he has a way of explaining the concepts in an easy-to-understand manner.  He uses props and examples as he writes things out sort of Kahn Academy style (although you get to see him in the videos).  I have one boy who loves math, and one who is glad that being forced to take math classes has come to an end.  I must say that Thinkwell has been instrumental to the success of both my boys.  My evidence: my oldest was able to take a college level math class and pass it!

So this is a bit of a “plug” for Thinkwell.  If you are a homeschooler and interested in  exploring Thinkwell as an option for your own math courses, here is a link which will provide you with a 15% discount:

Thinkwell Homeschool

Enjoy!

Just Learn to Love Yourself…Not!

“When we learn to love ourselves, we can love God and others.”

This statement generally sends me off the deep end.  Oh, if you could just love yourself, everything would be wonderful!  If you could just learn to love yourself, you could be right with God and man.

Hogwash!!

Loving ourselves is what gets us into trouble to begin with!  I mean, without realizing that we are sinners in need of a savior…that we are not okay without Christ, and we are in fact dead in our trespasses and sin (cf. Ephesians 2:1; Colossians 2:13)…we are lost.  I know a lot of people who love themselves, and this is why they feel they do not need Christ.  Satan loved himself and thought he could usurp God.  God doesn’t say, “Love yourself first, then you can come to me.”  He says, “You have sinned and fall short of my glory” (cf. Romans 3:23).  He says, “You deserve death for your sin” (Romans 6:23).  He said, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  True love comes from God first and is given to us through Christ.

What if instead of falling for the psychology of the world, we understood who God is and who we are in Christ first?  After all, love comes from God (cf. I John 4:7-9…note that in this passage the love referred to is for others not oneself). I love who I am in Christ because of the work Christ did on my behalf.  I do not love myself.  There is nothing inherent in me that makes me lovable apart from the work Christ has done in my life.  Christ’s righteousness transferred to me is what makes me capable of loving God which in turn makes me able to love others.  I am last on that list if I make the list at all (cf. Philippians 2:3).

Sometimes I think that the study of psychology puts blinders on our eyes so that we are evaluating God’s Word through it as opposed to evaluating psychology by God’s Word.  If Satan can twist things just a little, he can keep more people from truly knowing Christ.  It’s like having a glass of cool clear water which is good to drink and refreshing.  However, if you put just a drop of arsenic in it (something you cannot see which poisons the water), a drink from the glass leads to death.

Let’s not fall for the tricks, the slight adjustments to truth, which are propagated by the spiritual forces of evil (cf. Ephesians 6:12).  Satan has a way of making things that lead to death look good.  Just something to think about.

Surviving Private Ryan

“Private Ryan”, my son said to the account manager at the bank.  “I call my minivan Private Ryan.”

We were there opening up his first checking account in preparation for going off to college in the fall.  The account manager and my son were joking about the names they had given their first automobiles.  I just sat there laughing as I contemplated how grown-up he had become.

It was an ordinary day.

I ran to the grocery store quickly as it was our day to “feed the team” for basketball.  We were trying to get all the necessary things done to provide sustenance for our son’s basketball team.  I walked in the door, put down my things, and looked at my phone.

A text read, “Guys, pick up your phone.  I totaled my car.”

Panicked, I called my son.

“Mom, I totaled my car.  I’m near the reservoir.  Come quick.”

I called to my husband, and we rushed out the door.

Driving up to the scene, the horror of seeing our first family minivan crumpled up awaited me.  I jumped out of the car.  As I was running to the scene, I saw my 6’3” baby boy clad in his red Letterman jacked walking toward me.  Yes, my boy was walking toward me.  I examined him all over as I asked, “Are you all right?  Did you bump your head?”

There were no visible injuries, no blood, nothing.  There he was saying, “Yes, I’m all right.”

He proceeded to explain what had happened, how he lost control going around a curve because he over-corrected a bit when he felt his tire go off the road.  After swerving all around, he panicked, let go of the wheel, and hit a tree going 40 mph.  The van landed away from the tree, so I can only imagine how it go there.  It was smoking, and a nice gentleman had stopped to help my boy.  Soon it became a whirlwind of law enforcement, fire trucks, and EMS.

When all was said and done, the car was totaled and the tree was cracked in half from top to bottom.  Mulberry, I am told, is one of the hardest woods, so it had to have been quite an impact.  Yet there my son stood uninjured with the exception of some bruises from the seat belt.

Later, I took him to the emergency room just to be safe.  After several X-rays and examinations, the verdict came back that there were no injuries other than bruises from the seat belt…the seat belt that by the grace of God saved his life.

My son is with me today surviving what happened with Private Ryan because he wore his seat belt.  I call it a miracle and praise God everyday that he gave us more time with this remarkable boy.

At any moment, at any time, on any ordinary day, life can change drastically.  We may think we have control, but we do not.  God decides when we enter this world, and He decides when we leave.  I could be sitting here with a very different story, but by His grace, God chose to let us have a story of survival.  This is not always the case, and we have since heard many stories from others about teens who did not make it.

I asked my son, “If you would have died today, do you know if you would have gone to Heaven?”

“Yes, mom.  I’m convinced,” was the reply.  “But God didn’t want me there with Him yet.”

Ordinary days happen all the time.  They can turn into something that you never would have expected.  Are you ready?