Wednesday, November 19, 2014

What if it doesn’t get better?

Many people enter therapy hoping to resolve some crisis or change some behavior to restore a chaotic life to normal.  A couple wants to work on communication for a better marriage.  A family wants to start working together for a better future.  An addict wants to stop using for a better life.  But what if therapy can’t solve the issue?  The marriage ends in divorce.  The bipolar diagnosis will require a lifetime of medication.  The condition is terminal.

So many of life’s trials are not temporary valleys, they are permanent detours on a journey that no one ever saw coming.  They are life altering events that forever change our landscape and our perspective.  But there can be healing and recovery even in the most dire of circumstances.  I want to offer a process and a practice that will create an environment where healing and restoration are possible.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness  have its full effect,  that you may be perfect  and complete, lacking in nothing.  If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.  James 1:2-5

I never knew the truth of these words until my wife was diagnosed with colon cancer.  She recalled us studying this passage together, months before, and told me, “I guess this is when we have to consider it joy and pray for wisdom.”  And we have been blessed for doing just that.  Two years later, after chemo and remission, our story continues.  Many are not as fortunate.  But Paul reminds us in   1 Corinthians 15:19  “If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.”  In Christ, there is an eternal hope that even in the face of death, we may continue to trust in Him.


Romans 5:3-5 lays out the Biblical plan for dealing with loss.  It is a recognition that loss is a part of life.  Suffering becomes something to be anticipated, not avoided.  The first step in the process is to acknowledge the suffering, embrace it.  This does not mean enjoy it or revel in it, only that we must know the depth of it and face it, knowing that it will bear fruit. Perseverance will involve the next step, grief.  Losing a relationship, a dream, a future, requires a time of reflection and mourning.  Psychologist, Henry Cloud says, “Grief is the one pain that heals all others.” The point is not to grin and bear it, but to grieve the loss by saying good-bye.  The backdrop of this process is faith.  When one has suffered and persevered, true character is proven in the fire of trial, resulting in hope.  Hope is a confidence in God to restore and redeem, a faith that life can still be lived abundantly.


This is an easy process to describe but there is a vital ingredient that must be in the process - relationship. You were not designed to go through this process alone.  Genesis 2:18 says,
“It was not good that the man was alone.”  You will need other people, trusted, safe, people to accompany you on the journey.  They will acknowledge the hurt with you.  They will weep with you.  When you don’t have the strength to endure any longer, they will persevere with you.  And through their support and encouragement they will allow you to hope. 

There will likely be things in your life that will not get better.  There is no need to fear these events or run from them.  We have been designed to endure the hardships of life.  We have been given a process and a practice to ensure that we not only survive these times but that we thrive in spite of them.

by David Rogers

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Science of Raising Healthy, Happy, and Intelligent Children

When my sons were growing up and being shuttled between athletic events and extracurricular activities, we often refueled at their favorite fast food establishments.  On one occasion, feeling guilty about wolfing down two more double cheeseburgers and fries, I reluctantly opted for a much healthier salad.  Not nearly as tasty, but better for you, right?  Imagine my annoyance when Eat This, Not That informed me that thanks to the dressing, croutons and assorted toppings, I had actually consumed MORE calories and fat than my usual order!

As parents, are we similarly misguided in our strategies for raising children?  While preparing a workshop series on Parenting, I reviewed the research of William & Mary Professor Peter Vishton (PhD, Psychology and Cognitive Science, Cornell).  Some of his surprising findings and recommendations:

Rewarding a child for being nice to others can be detrimental to social development.  Altruism is a basic human instinct - - sharing and helping is observable even in young toddlers.  Pairing this behavior with an external reward changes how they think about it… doing so only when being rewarded is likely.  Interestingly, children that recently engaged in group singing were more likely to be helpful in subsequent peer interactions.

Playing is important - - onlooker play (around two) involves mainly observing.  Parallel play (around three, mirroring each other but little interaction) and associative play (around four, involving the same activities or toys) set the stage for cooperative play.  This progresses to pretending (sociodramatic play) which is important in developing executive function, creativity, and self-control.

Math is commonly regarded as the language of science - - the Queen of the Sciences - - yet a source of anxiety and low self-esteem in children… and adults.  Unlike physical development - - a child who crawls two months before his peers enjoys a temporary advantage that will likely dissipate by one year - - progress in math is likely to persist.  Children who are ahead in math in first and second grade tend to maintain their advantage.  Competence in math is highly correlated with career success and average salary.  Developing ‘number sense’ early enhances later progress.  There is strong evidence that playing board games (one experiment used Chutes and Ladders) or using a hundreds board (Montessori) builds number skills.  Around age 8-10, developing an understanding of fractions had a significant impact on math success.  Using math workbooks and online guides that focus on fractions is a wise parenting strategy.  Learning a second language also enhances math skills.

Learning a second language increased general cognitive ability, reading comprehension and creativity… even in preschoolers.  Bilingual elementary students demonstrated significantly larger working memory capacity - - significantly correlated with academic achievement… especially in math.  Because their brains are more highly activated, increased neural development promotes brain health and overall development, resulting in more creativity, better memory, and more effective reading.  Exposing your child to a second language as early as possible is recommended, although grammatical rules and vocabulary - - and often motivation - - are more easily grasped by older children.

Too often, children entering adolescence tend to restrict their communication with parents.  Teens who talk with parents - - particularly regarding personal issues - - are more successful in navigating adolescent pitfalls.  The best parenting strategy is to keep asking - - especially ‘is anything wrong?’ if a teen seems more withdrawn - - even when they respond ‘Nothing; everything’s ok’ for a couple of weeks.  It’s also advisable to develop relationships with your teen’s friends and welcome them into your home.

John Slywka is a parent, marriage & family therapist, and former teacher at Dallas’ Townview Magnet Center, and certified in Math, Health Science, AP Psychology, Social Studies, and Gifted & Talented.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Power of Perseverance

I have a confession to make:  I have Olympic Fever.  It’s true.  I love the pageantry, the drama, the amazing feats of strength and skill.  Most of all I love to hear the inspiring stories of athletes who overcame incredible adversity to win or even simply compete at the Olympics.  There are so many examples but I am most inspired by those who endured tremendous physical pain and emotional loss and still never gave up.  They just kept going as though they didn’t understand the concept of stopping.  I think about difficulties I have faced and how I responded.  I realize there are times I have given up short of the Gold.  Most people have.  So what’s the difference between those of us who throw in the towel too soon and the Olympians we admire so much?  It boils down to perseverance.  Most of us are not training for the Olympics so why does this matter so much?  Paul answers this question in Romans 5:3-5.  He says that perseverance produces proven character and proven character produces hope.  We all need hope.  It’s what keeps us from slipping into depression or pulls us out of depression if we are already there.  It keeps us from being paralyzed by fear and anxiety. It’s what we cling to when life in this fallen world is hard.  We have hope that we can trust in God’s love for us and that the eternal life He has waiting for us will be so glorious we will forget all the difficulties of life on earth. 
So how do we develop perseverance?  Our Olympic heroes seem to agree with Paul on this.  It starts with learning to exult in, or happily embrace, our trials.  Any Olympian will tell you that athletic performance is 90% mental.  It’s all about the messages we give ourselves and how we think about our challenges. We must view them as opportunities for God to make us stronger and grow our perseverance, proven character and hope.  God desperately wants to give us these gifts, but it can be hard to rejoice when we face seemingly overwhelming struggles.  When we focus on our difficulties and not our loving God, we can lose our motivation to persevere. But God has given us His Spirit to help us, if we will only trust Him.  These seem like fairly simple answers, but changing the way we think and where we place our focus requires discipline and practice.  Its hard work but it is well worth the effort.  Just ask any Olympian.
If you are in the midst of a trial and you are having trouble persevering or you find yourself without hope, please reach out for help.  You don’t have to face your struggles alone.  At Kim Humphries and Associates, it is our joy to walk along side you and your family as you learn to persevere through trials and find hope.

By Wynne Shaw