Thursday, June 30, 2011

Why We Need Bravehearts

Let me confess my personal agenda behind Building Bravehearts.  I want to help equip and give courage to young people to make an impact for Christ in their world.  While success by anyone's definition is best achieved with courage, my agenda--or vision--certainly needs it.

I have two dreams that have haunted me.  Years ago, in the Chicago Tribune, I read a column by Bob Greene about 12 year old Liliana Ciprianu who was beaten to death by her step-father because he didn't like the way she dusted the house.  Apparently a bubbly, sweet girl. I still see her face with long dark hair. Greene wants to know who will come up with answers before another death happens.  He says, "The answers to all of this must be out there somewhere."  I dream that someone I know will find the answer for child abuse and unreached homes.

My other dream is global.  While I worked at Wheaton Academy, Chip Huber led a connection between our high school students and a community in Zambia.  We became immersed in the big picture needs of hunger, health care, water, and AIDS.  And, we saw ways to help solve those things locally.

Max Lucado in Live to Make a Difference (Thomas Nelson, 2010) says:
"The book of Acts announces, 'God is afoot!' "
"Is he still? we wonder.  Would God do with us what he did with his first followers?"
"Heaven knows we hope so.  One billion people are hungry, millions are trafficked in slavery, and pandemic diseases are gouging entire nations.  Each year nearly 2 million children are exploited in the global commercial sex trade.  Every five minutes, almost ninety children died of preventable diseases.  More than half of all Africans do not have access to modern health facilities.  And as a result, 10 million of them die each year from diarrhea, acute respiratory illness, malaria, and measles.  Many of those deaths could be prevented by one shot."

Lucado says that "God has given this generation, our generation, everything we need to alter the course of human suffering."  I believe him.

So, Bravehearts.  I work and write largely with fairly privileged Americans.  Anyone reading a blog has a computer and internet, thus resources well beyond most of the world.  I would love, through Bravehearts, to help every child make a difference in his or her world.  I would love for some to change the world.  We do have everything we need.

More often than anything else, a lack of courage holds us back from making a difference.  Fear kept Israel from the best God offered in the Promise Land.  Fear keeps all of us, at times, from stepping out in faith to do something special or unique.  We live in a world with fears, real and imagined.  Courage is needed.

In one of the few passages from the Bible to tell parents specifically what to do, Paul says in Colossians 3:21:  "Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart."  Keeping heart is so important that God tells us to make sure our children don't lose it.  A child with a lost heart gives up and doesn't make a difference. 

But, a child with heart, a braveheart, will grow and become who and what God intended.  He will live out Ephesians 2:10:  "For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago." 

My two dreams are only two dreams. There is a world of other needs and dreams out there, down the street and around the world.  Wherever God leads a child, I hope that each is equipped and courageous to make a difference in ways that I can't begin to imagine.  I hope and pray each one is a braveheart ready for God's adventure and use.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Fixing Overload Failure in Children

“I have found that the most dangerous disability is not any formally diagnosable condition like dyslexia or ADD. It is fear.”

Edward Hallowell says that fear of mishandling the large number of normal daily inputs is a major reason that gifted people don’t perform (in a 2005 Harvard Business Review article called “Overloaded Circuits: Why Smart People Underperform"). He continues: “Fear shifts us into survival mode and thus prevents fluid learning and nuanced understanding. Certainly, if a real tiger is about to attack you, survival is the mode you want to be in. But, if you're trying to deal intelligently with a subtle task, survival mode is highly unpleasant and counterproductive."

Hallowell explains that gifted leaders become so overloaded with inputs, information, and needs that their brain goes from an orderly and creative approach controlled by the frontal lobes to a survival mode of the lower brain characterized by “fear, anxiety, impatience, irritability, anger, or panic.” This overload creates a situation where the person “is robbed of his flexibility, his sense of humor, his ability to deal with the unknown. He forgets the big picture and the goals and values he stands for. He loses creativity and his ability to change plans. He desperately wants to kill the metaphorical tiger.”

The same thing happens to our children when they can't handle, as Hallowell says, “the hyperkinetic environment in which we live…Never in history has the human brain been asked to track so many data points. Everywhere, people rely on their cell phones ,email, and digital assistants in the race to gather and transmit data, plans, and ideas faster and faster…As the human brain struggles to keep up, it falters…” Our children are faced with the same overload, but with less maturity to handle it.

(This overload is subtle and pernicious. Without thinking, I just clicked to my email to read a response from one of six notes I sent earlier for work. And today is a vacation day!)

Hallowell suggests four approaches to either stop or control the overload. They are good ones to incorporate into our parenting, as we help our children reduce fear from our stimulated world so they can grow and live freely in the world of learning, creativity, and courage.

1.  "Promote positive emotions" by "building a positive, fear-free emotional atmosphere."  A critical role for parents is to make home a positive, supportive place; it is a hard world out there, even in First Grade.  Physical contact and relationship are essential; make time for them.  Let's start by turning off screens and their inputs and replacing them with people, play, and creative places in our homes.

2.  "Take physical care of your brain with sleep, good diet, and exercise."  Children should never suffer or do less than they can because of an adult's lack of attention in this area. The basics are so important.  Let's make sure our children sleep and rest enough, eat foods that are healthy and that maintain steady glucose levels (not white breads, sugars, and power drinks), take vitamins, and exercise regularly.

3.  Develop strategies that help handle the overload.  For adults and children, have chunks of the day when email and videos are banned.  Don't use screens as the default in parenting, make screens the exception. Create a neat space; your office or a child's room can be messy, but there should be a clear place somewhere.  Help your child organize and prioritize needs rather than adding unnecessary burdens or getting frustrated when they aren't done well.  Give your children an atmosphere for work that works for them.

4.  "Protect your frontal lobes by staying out of survival mode all you can."  Guard your children's inputs and stressors, reducing the ones you can and helping them sort out the others with a plan.  Give them chunks of time when they don't have to experience the pressure or inputs.  Do things like play games or read books that require their total concentration on one thing so they can forget all the inputs except the one pleasant one they are doing.

You might want to look at Dr. Hallowell's site Crazy Busy for ideas on being busy, Don't Miss Your Life for ideas on getting inputs and fears under control, and 45 Things about life in the workplace (the picture above is from this site).

Or, even better, memorize Philippians 4:6 with your child, "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything in prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which passes all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."  Maybe study Jesus' life together and how he handled pressures and crowds.  And model for your children, "Cease striving and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10).

What does all of the input our children absorb do to them? Let me end with this quote from Luke's Commonplace Book, originating with Agatha Christie: "I suppose it’s because nearly all children go to school nowadays and have things arranged for them that they seem so forlornly unable to produce their own ideas."  How do we help our children control fear and its consequences from the overload?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dad's Courage

If you read through Braveheart blogs, you'll find a recurring theme:  the power of parents who model courage to their children.  No matter what we want our children to become, "do as I do" has a lot more impact on our children than "do as I say." That's a little frightening, isn't it?  Our children are watching.

Leslie Neff
As we move beyond the cards and grilled steaks of Father's day, I hope that we can do what my Dad did for me.  Even though he didn't always know it, I watched him a lot.  And I learned. He moved on to life with God over two years ago, but his impact on me still makes a difference every day.

From an outside look, Dad wasn't a world changer.  He worked as a machinist, lived in a modest home in Arizona, and managed to enjoy fishing and hunting as much as he could squeeze in while working and fulfilling his responsibilities.  But, the leap he made from a farm in rural Kentucky to the end of his life was over a gap that took more courage than I will ever muster.  He modeled courage to me.

I hope that when my children and your children look back they can say that they learned courage from us, courage to be bravehearts for the right things.  Here are some ways Dad modeled courage:

* He married my Mom, when he could have left her alone with child--me!  He had the courage to do the right thing instead of leaving.

* He sold everything he had and moved from his beloved Kentucky home to Arizona to help my Mom's health.  He pulled one small U-Hall behind his truck and gave up all he knew to do the right thing.

* He had the courage to give my sister and me a big vision, a vision for a life different than he had known.  His life wasn't bad at all, but he was bold to give us something new and big.

* He had the courage to quit smoking.  When he decided it was wrong, that was it. Courage and strength to decide what was right and do it without complaint and without turning back.

* He had the courage to serve my Mom for decades of illness, giving up his dreams to be at her side twice a day in her nursing home.  He had the courage to show how Jesus loves us.

* He had the courage to humble himself in his last couple of years on earth and let Jesus change him in ways that surprised me.  Sitting and talking on our porch in his last visit to us, I hardly knew this man who had God's grip on him.

My dad didn't talk much about these things, he just showed me.  That has made all the difference.  May you and I have such an impact on our children through our lives.