Teachable Moments

As a brand new mother, I freaked out that I wasn’t engaging my newborn with enough structured stimulation. Basically, I wasn’t educating her properly.

I think I saw another mom with a Baby Einstein book, teaching her two-month old to read (or something like that), and I felt the pressure to plan a training ritual for her little brain, including expensive learning tools that all the “good moms” touted.

But then I was sorting laundry with her sitting next to me and held up a sock and said, “White sock.”  Her eyes lit up, and she smiled as I held up another white sock and said the same thing.  I talked about the entire pile of laundry in the same way, and I realized that the best teaching was taking place in them moment, in the middle of my mommy chores and mundane tasks around the house.

Basically, I didn’t need new fangled, IQ stimulating toys.  I just needed some patience and a willingness to find opportunities to teach my baby as they came along—out on walks, in the grocery store, or while washing dishes.

So it’s not surprising that I expect my father in heaven to use more formal methods to teach me.  I am ready and waiting at the appointed times, with the correct materials. I sit in church, ready to learn the lessons he has for me for the week, or I open my Bible, the proper curriculum for lessons, and wait for the teaching to follow.  I’m not saying that God doesn’t use these opportunities to teach.  It just seems like he has a far more varied education in mind for me.

Just like Lizzy learns best during teachable moments, God is also teaching me in the moment, in those little mundane tasks of life.

That same laundry pile, the odious chore I faithfully perform weekly, is a chance for me to learn a little humility (workout clothes smell pretty awful a week later).  I also develop a servant’s heart as I stain stick puke and other bodily fluids out of Lizzy’s clothing (sometimes, I fail to learn the lesson and throw the item directly into the garbage).

The best teachable moments are those really frustrating ones, the ugly times when life isn’t going my way.  I’m learning that God is in control and I am not.  I learn about his grace and my weakness.

The challenge is using those ugly moments to teach Lizzy as well.

She’s there, eyes open, when mom makes mistakes.  I admit, I’m not so great at recognizing those stressful moments as learning opportunities. I forget that she’s soaking up my responses.  (“Uh-oh” has been on of her favorite phrases for awhile now…wonder where she learned that one.)

I’d like to say that the times when I arrive at the grocery store and have forgotten my wallet or when I am late for an important appointment, that I step back and consider how I’m teaching Lizzy to handle the stresses and trials of this life.  If I’m honest, I’ll recognize that the lessons I teach her at these times are about how to freak out and lose one’s cool, instead of asking for help or praying for guidance.  A little laughter would help too.

I think I like those structured, formal, planned teaching moments because they are under my control.  I have a lesson plan.  I have a goal.

It’s not surprising that God uses daily life to teach me. I mean, his son, Jesus, did that constantly with the disciples. I didn’t see Jesus running to the nearest Christian supply store to stock up on the latest disciple training materials.  He used what he had, which was wine, shepherds, figs, fish, and rocks.

Just like for the disciples, learning takes place for both Lizzy and me in the midst of the mess of life. In the highs and lows, we’re both learning.

Here’s hoping that when teachable moments arise, we’re both good students.

Are you a good student, in planned times of learning and unplanned ones as well?

“The ear that hears the rebukes of life Will abide among the wise” (Proverbs 15:31 NKJV).


Packing What’s Important

I hate packing. But I love travel. So, I pack.

I’ve long been of the opinion that the way people pack for vacations tells you a lot about the person. The old relationship wisdom says to go on vacation with someone to truly get to know them. And while I think that’s true, you can learn even more by observing how they prepare for that trip.

Exhibit A, my friend

Her method for packing is to wait until the last minute, which of course varies depending on the person, but in her case, it is literally the last minute. A couple hours before the airplane begins taxiing down the runway, she opens her suitcase and dumps the contents of her dresser drawers directly into the luggage. Packing done.

Exhibit B, Me

I make a list. Or several lists. And I begin weeks before the trip, sometimes months, gathering the appropriate gear, making shopping trips to get the items needed, write more lists, and generally dedicate a lot of thought to it. And I always pack WAAAAAAAAAAY too much. The day the airlines began charging for checked luggage was a dark day for me. I can’t fathom fitting my gear into a carry-on, even for an overnight trip.

Exhibit C, my college buddy

He joined me, Dan, and 30 or so other students on a semester long trip around Europe and Israel. I packed the largest suitcase possible. He fit everything into a small carry-on bag, and most of it was packed with books. And he saw just as much as I did and probably had a heck of a lot more fun.

You can imagine how both friends challenge me. I love them, despite their different packing styles, but I also shudder when I consider letting them pack for me.

Now that we have Lizzy, the packing went to a whole new level. All the baby gear far outweighs anything Dan and I pack. And the lists. My goodness, the lists.

Last week, we went on a mini-getaway to the University District of Seattle while Dan attended a conference. I had the cushion of knowing I could drive back home if I forgot something important. Plus, I had two cars to pack, instead of one. But I was still stressed out about the packing (and I barely fit everything into both cars. Sad, but true).

The night before, we prayed that I wouldn’t stress out as much about the packing (this is a recurring issue). That we wouldn’t forget anything important. And God answered our prayer. Not like I wanted, though.

Boy did I forget stuff. I thought my last vacation had a colossal mistake, since I forgot to pack underwear. But this time, the quantity of things I forgot was quite embarrassing, especially considering the amount of lists I made.

And I was tempted, hours after arriving, to drive back home to pick up the stuff I forgot. But I didn’t. And I’m glad I didn’t.

Because I had everything I needed. God didn’t let me forget anything “important” (be careful what you pray for, and choose your terms precisely).

I forgot Lizzy’s placemat, something I rarely leave home without since it lets her eat at a table with us and allows me to scrape the food into a pocket instead of littering the floor with all her leftovers. Instead, I worked on teaching Lizzy to eat off a plate without throwing it and all the food across the room. We had some trying meals, but she’s gotten the hang of it, so much that by the end of the trip, we could trust her to eat off a breakable plate, in a restaurant with white linen table cloths! We were so proud of her.

I also forgot Lizzy’s baby spoons. So now, she’s eating off our spoons quite well, as long as we heap the food on the end of the spoon.

And I forgot my laptop stand. I get carpal tunnel pains when I write without my laptop at an angle, so I have this little collapsible stand for on the road. But I saw a student propping up her computer with its cover and realized that I was an idiot and could use just about anything to keep my computer at an angle.

As I write these examples, I realize how petty I was in worrying about them. It seems silly, now.

But I feel God’s grace, as he’s teaching me, in small ways, how little I “need.” But also, how much he gives me what I truly need. In the end, my lists won’t cover my needs…he will.

I won’t be giving up on my packing lists. If anything, I’m planning a more detailed system for the next trip.

But the anxiety level is going down because I realize that the lilies of the field don’t pack suitcases, but they look great each day with one outfit, without a truckload of beauty products, and none of the baby lily gear.

And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:28-34)

Smelling the Roses

Okay, so I know it’s cliché, but Lizzy and I stopped to smell the roses yesterday. We also stopped to point at and smack around some balloons.

I’m an agenda driven person. I like to know the plan for the day long before the day starts. I know how long I’ve allotted to get from point A to point B, and I’m not too happy about detours, interruptions, and unforeseen obstacles getting in my way.

So can you imagine how challenging it is to have a little one who competes with an agenda of her own?

But my plan didn’t account for lovely roses, perfectly in bloom, a beautiful array of purples, pinks, reds, and yellows, free along the sidewalk for anyone to smell and enjoy.

And I fail to notice, like Lizzy notices, that every grocery store has balloons at the checkout stands. Did you ever notice that? And some are gigantic! They also come in animal shapes. Some even play music.

You should hear her try to call my attention to the balloons. I’m in my own world, headed to point B, and she starts saying “Baa boo” “Booo Booo” Baa baaa baaa baaaaaa.” And she points and gesticulates wildly toward the sky. Believe it or not, I sometimes miss these highly elaborate cues.

So Lizzy interrupts my plans. She makes me stop, constantly, and messes up my schedule.

And I’m loving it. Well, sometimes I’m loving it. Because I see how I’m imperfect, and I need reminders to stop, smell, touch, enjoy, and be.

Many are the plans in the mind of a man,

but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand. (Proverbs 19:21)

Overheard on a Swiss Train

When you’re in a foreign country, here’s a fun game to play.  Speak English among yourselves, even if you know the local language.  That way, when the locals start badmouthing you or saying rude things about Americans, you can give them a good scare.

That happened on the train today.

Chari and I were headed to a far corner of the Zurich area to do some shopping.  Jack, her one year old, was accompanying us in his stroller.  The train ride was about 45 minutes long, and it covered the lunch hour, so before our trip, Jack and I stopped at the grocery store to pick up some lunch foods while Chari ran some other errands.

I love grocery shopping here. It’s one of my favorite things to do because I always see new and interesting foods. (You’d be amazed at the things they put in tubes here:  mayo, tuna, mustard, tomato paste, and various herb concoctions.)  I picked up some sort of apple quiche looking thing and a couple cups of yogurt, one which was chocolate flavored, my favorite, of course.

Jack and I met Chari at the train station, and while we were on the train, we all ate our lunch. People are always eating on trains here. It’s a socially acceptable practice, while oddly enough, eating on the busses and trams is forbidden (There are signs depicting an ice cream cone with a big “no” sign through it, and when I first saw them I asked why people couldn’t eat ice cream. Duh.).  On the train, Chari and I ate some quiche and yogurt while poking food in Jack (always a struggle).

A woman passenger was sitting behind us and was mumbling in Swiss German, “Why can’t they eat at home,” and “they eat like animals.”  Of course, I was oblivious to this, but the Swiss teenage girls sitting next to us and Chari, of course, picked up on it right away.

Chari met the woman’s eyes and gave her a good icy stare (the kind she perfected in high school to scare away creepy boys).  It worked and clearly sent the message that she might want to watch what she’s saying about these particular Americans. The woman shut up for the rest of her journey on the train.

The teenage girls cheered when a couple stops later, the woman got off the bus.  They looked over to me and shouted, “Hooray!”

Just another reason to watch what you say. You never know who’s listening (or understanding).

Published in: on August 4, 2008 at 12:32 pm  Comments (1)  
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