Do We Need Divergent Thinking?

While I have been away from home and the kids, I have had time to do some research on education. My curiosity was piqued when I found out that many of the top higher learning institutions in the U.S. are using a blended learning software to make lessons and lectures accessible to students anytime and anywhere.  This means that students have a whole lot of flexibility when it comes to learning. It sounded a little bit like homeschooling to me – at least delivery wise, where the learning is made more suitable to a student’s needs.

As I researched further, I chanced upon a lecture given by educator, Ken Robinson. In case you are wondering who in the world this guy is, he is “an author, speaker, and international advisor on education in the arts to government, non-profits, education, and arts bodies. He was Director of The Arts in Schools Project (1985–89), Professor of Arts Education at the University of Warwick (1989–2001), and was knighted in 2003 for services to education.” (Thank you, Wikipedia.)

Anyway, his talk was fascinating. He threw out concepts like, “Why in the world do people still believe the best way to educate children is to segregate them by age?” Children, according to him, have different strengths and abilities often beyond their age group but they are forced to learn subjects according to the pace of their class.

Another thing he pointed out is that divergent thinking is an ability that people lose as they go through the educational system. Divergent thinking is the ability to conceptualize multiple ways of arriving at a solution (just think of the word, creativity). People with the capacity for divergent thinking may not necessarily have high IQ, but they are highly creative. Which just supports the fact that IQ is no longer the only standard for intelligence.

For example, if a person was asked, “how many ways can you use a paper clip?” A person who is good at divergent thinking might come up with oh, 200 ways of to use a paper clip! Hmm…this sounds a lot like the way children think when they find a crazy number of ways to use toilet paper, or boxes, or a favorite toy.

In fact, children are the best at divergent thinking! According to a study that Robinson presented, children ages 3 to 5 scored 98% for divergent thinking. Sadly, the percentage dropped significantly. By ages 8 to 10, they scored 32%; by ages 13 to 15, they scored 10%; and by ages 25+, a dismal 2%. What do these results say? As children move through school levels their ability to think creatively decreases. The most likely reason is they tend to follow more conventional thought processes as taught in schools. And by adults, taking the most logical route to solve a problem is the norm, and exploring multiple scenarios or ways is not. This is probably why organizations often need to schedule brainstorming sessions which can take hours!

Do we even need divergent thinking? First, I believe that the greatest minds in history were divergent thinkers. They invented and discovered new ways of doing things and persevered to see their ideas become reality. They didn’t think like everybody else. (Steve Jobs is a case in point). Thanks to divergent thinkers’ willingness to dream, take risks, think outside of the box, and persist in the pursuit of their ideas, they have changed the world. Okay, so there is such as a thing as divergent thinking gone bad. Let it be said that if divergent thinking does not ultimately serve the common good or fail to bring glory to God then there is no value in it.

Second, organizations and corporations need divergent thinkers who can brainstorm and propose unconventional ways to solve real life issues and problems. For example, if a company needs to find ways to cut costs and have exhausted all known logical means but have not been able to solve their problem, they will need to apply some divergent thinking.

Third, divergent thinking is a gift from God that should not be robbed from children. God has given each child the inherent capacity to imagine, invent, dream and believe in impossibilities. I see this in my own kids. One of my sons loves marbles. He can play with them all day. Marbles are not just round, shiny objects to him. They are pocket treasures, bouncy sound makers, things that can fit into small holes or other odd containers, they can be hidden in different locations around our house, they can be rolled in many directions, they are math manipulatives, tools for making craters in Playdough, and sometimes, they are company under his pillow at night. I don’t tell him how to play with marbles. He creates these options on his own. I hope marbles will never just be marbles to him.

So how do we help preserve this divergent thinking in our children? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Allow your children to ask questions. Encourage them to make inquiries and find the answers.
  2. Give them time to reflect and think. Children don’t need to be constantly entertained or amused.
  3. Involve them in brainstorming for family projects or activities.
  4. Have open sharing of ideas without criticizing them. (This will also give you insight into what’s going on inside their hearts.)
  5. Ask them questions that don’t always have obvious answers.
  6. Let them keep a journal where they can chronicle their thoughts and draw their ideas.
  7. Do art frequently.
  8. Encourage them to learn a musical instrument. “Researchers from Vanderbilt University found that musicians are more adept at utilizing both hemispheres of the brain and more likely to use divergent thinking in their thought processes.” (Thank you again, Wikipedia)

As a last thought, divergent thinking is most productive when it leads a person to contribute to greater good and when it glorifies God. Wisdom should always trump any kind of thinking. God exercised creativity when he made the universe, but his creativity was full of wisdom. The Bible says, “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” (James 3:17)

If you are concerned about your children losing the joys of creativity because of schooling, then why not consider homeschooling? Homeschooling gives lets children exercise divergent thinking, but allows you to guide their creativity with the wisdom of God’s word.

My Children Belong to You

When I joined a church-wide fast about three years ago, I surrendered my children to God. It was one of the most difficult spiritual experiences I have gone through as a parent.

Why? When I was young, something traumatic happened to me (which I may share at a later time), and while I believe that God certainly used everything for good in my life, I had this fear that something “bad” might one day happen to my children. I put bad in quotation marks because as a follower of Jesus, I do believe that God is ultimately in control of our lives and is purposeful, good, and wise in all that he does. However, I also know that tragic occurrences bring pain and I would never want for what happened to me (or anything remotely similar to it) to ever happen to my children.

As I prayed to the Lord during that fasting week, I felt there was something blocking my communion with God. And as the week progressed, God revealed to me that I was not able to surrender my children to him. It was then that he spoke to me.

“Your children belong to me. And if I should ever allow something to happen to them, do not forget that I am a loving God who has a purpose and plan for all things. And if I should choose to glorify myself in the lives of your children, then you can be confident that my grace will be sufficient.”

Even though I knew these things in my head, the manner in which I held on to my children made them more important than God’s work and God’s will.  When I recognized the idolatry in my heart, in tears I said to the Lord, “Okay, Lord, I will trust you.”

In Psalm 24:1 it says, “The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” While Edric and I must do our part to provide our children with security and safety, we need to parent them with a perspective and disposition of surrender to God, to whom they belong.

What does this look like? About a week ago, sitting in the cozy living room of an amazing homeschooling couple, this truth became clearer to me.

Edric and I had the privilege of visiting the Cox family in Taneytown, Maryland. It may have been just a short four hours, but the conversation was worth a lifetime. Gary Cox is a pastor and an educator who set up Walkersville Family Schools, which provides accreditation for homeschoolers in Maryland. He and his wife, Sally, raised and educated their 10 children, the youngest of whom is 16 years old. (And I thought 4 were a handful! What was I thinking?!)

Personally, I was refreshed to spend that afternoon with Sally – a woman who radiated with the Holy Spirit. As I spoke with her about homeschooling and parenting with the disposition of one eager to learn, it must have seemed like I was conducting an interview at some point.

Sally told me the story of one of her older sons – David. We didn’t have time to talk about all of her children, but I certainly would’ve loved to listen to all her stories. But God allowed me to hear the story of one.

David was a bright child whom, at the age of 8, was sure of many things in his life, one of which was the desire to fly airplanes.  Because the Cox family did not have the kind of money needed for flight school, Gary and Sally challenged David to pray about his desire and find a way to earn the money on his own.

By 13, David started a small business of breeding papered Golden Retrievers and it became viable enough to support his flight school training. Prior to this, at the age of 11, David also started praying for his future wife. (Yes, he was mature for his age, but then again, isn’t this as it should be for all young people?)

In a blog entry I read where his testimony was posted, this is what he shared, … somewhere on I-70 between Kansas City, Kansas and Illinois, I just surrendered my whole future to the Lord once again especially most specifically about getting married. I said, “Lord, You know, You can search the entire world up and down and back and forth and You can search the entire world, check all the hearts out and find the best one for me. You know which girl is most compatible, most godly, the one that is just for me.” I said, “If she is on the other side of the country or on the other side of world, You can bring her to me in Your time. (What can I say, homeschool kids have special insights on things!)

Everything was going well for David until about age 20 when he had a severe back problem that left him immobile. He had to be carried out of his home on a stretcher because he could not move. And he wondered at that point if he would ever see the farm home that was so dear to him.

After running tests, it was discovered that David had cancer. This was in November 1999. He was diagnosed with myxopapillary ependymoma – very large intra-spinal tumors.

Here is another excerpt from his testimony.

When I first found out about it I didn’t think I would live to see the New Year as I told you before. I didn’t know what God had for me but I didn’t think it would be marriage. But that was a big struggle for me especially in December because the Lord knew that my heart’s desire more than anything else was to have a family, to raise a godly offspring. That was just an incredible struggle that I had. More than anything else I wanted to raise a family. So I had to surrender that to the Lord.

One day in December my heart was just breaking and crying out to the Lord and He led me to Psalm 89 which was incredible, it was like God clearly answered me, answered my prayer and answered my fears because I was worried, “Am I going to be cut off? Am I going to not have any family or any posterity which is a future generation? Is my heritage going to be shortened or cut off?” And the Lord led me to this Psalm. I was wondering, “God, have You forgotten about me?” or “Why are You doing this to me?”

And Psalm 89 was incredible encouragement. It says, “I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever. With my mouth will I make known Thy faithfulness to all generations. For I have said, ‘Mercy shall be built up forever, Thy faithfulness shalt Thou establish in the very heavens. I have made a covenant with My chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant, thy seed will I establish forever and built up thy throne to all generations. And the heavens shall praise Thy wonders, O Lord, Thy faithfulness also in the congregation of the saints. For who in Heaven can be compared unto the Lord? Who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the Lord? God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of His saints and to be had in reverance of all them that are about Him. O Lord God of hosts, who is a strong Lord like unto Thee or to Thy faithfulness round about Thee?” And when I read that Psalm, it goes on another 52 verses, but when I read that Psalm I was just so excited and so amazed and so at peace with what God is doing because it was like He clearly answered me and says, “Yes (name omitted), I have not forgotten about you. I still have a plan for you. Everything is under control.(Read more about his engagement testimony in this blog entry: http://www.walkersvillechristianfellowship.org/?p=131)

When doctors from Johns Hopkins saw the size of the mass that had grown in David’s sacrum, they said they could not do anything – no radiation or chemotherapy would help. And they refused to operate on it because the spine is such a sensitive place with so many nerves. They did say that if surgery were even an option, he would never be able to have children. The only thing they were able to do was remove the part that had metastasized to one of his vertebra so that the severe pain went away.

“What did you say to him, Sally?” I asked as I fought to contain myself emotionally (I couldn’t help but think of the kind of pain she must have been going through as a mom). She said, “Joy, I told David, ‘I don’t know why God is allowing this, but I do know that God always has a plan and you have seen God do amazing things in your life and you are going to have to trust him for this, too.’” (This is a paraphrase.)

In the meantime, Gary and Sally exhausted all possible options to help David get well. One day they read about a specialist in New York, a very unconventional doctor, who performed unique surgeries like the one their son needed. It was still very risky but if there was anyone who could do it, this doctor was the guy.

This doctor was successfully able to remove part of the mass, but not all of it because there were places he could not get to. David lived through it and it has been 15 years since. He married Abbey (the woman he specifically prayed for) and they are about to have their 8th child! What was once thought to be impossible became a miraculous demonstration of God’s faithfulness and goodness.

David still lives with daily pain, like the apostle Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” but he has made every day of his life count for Jesus Christ.

As I listened to Sally share this story, I tried to read the emotions on her face. Here was a mom who journeyed with her child through a lot of suffering but there was no trace of anger or anxiety in her countenance. She spoke with a sincere peace and hopefulness in God’s sovereignty, goodness and wisdom.

I asked her, “How did you deal with all of this as a mom?” She said, “I was confident that God loved my son more than I ever could.”

The image of my four children came into mind as we ended our conversation. There is nothing in this world I would not do to protect my children from heartache and pain, but what if that heartache and pain is from God and part of his plan to bring them closer to himself and make them testaments of his glory? What then? Who am I to dictate the circumstances that my children will go through as they walk with the Lord? What can I do as a parent?

And it occurred to me that when I surrendered my children to the Lord during that week of fasting, this meant that I was not just entrusting them to him, this meant that I was fully confident that God loved my children more than I ever could. Sally went on to share with me that many parents feel that they must direct their children’s lives, sort of like “herding” them like sheep. But, God is the one who decides which way to take our children. He has a specific plan for each of them, orchestrated in love for his good purpose and glory.

What I took home from that afternoon visit was this: Our children will inevitably face difficulties in their lives, the specifics of which are not revealed to us yet, but when they walk through the valleys they someday will, the most important thing is that they go with God, hand in hand. Our responsibility is not to fear what lies ahead but to fortify their hearts with a sincere love for God, his truth, his promises, and a perspective of faith. For if we build on this foundation, when the storms of life come (and they surely will), they will have the confidence to believe and see that God indeed causes all things to work together for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).

Thank you Gary and Sally, and the entire Cox family for your life of faith.  

Edric and I with the Cox Family (minus 6 who are not pictured here)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Raising First Culture Kids

My dad is Chinese, my mom is American. I was raised in the Philippines, yet not immersed in the culture until my college years. I don’t look Chinese, American, or Filipino, but that depends on where I am. For a few years I went to a Chinese school then I was homeschooled. After, I went to an American school in the Philippines then to Ateneo De Manila University.

Someone told me recently that there is a term for these kinds of people. “Oh, you are a TCK,” he said. “What’s that?” I asked. “Third Culture Kid.”

I didnt know there was such a term, but it did seem to make sense. That’s why I never felt like I belonged to any race or country. But then I also thought, I am not a third culture kid either.

Wikipedia defines culture (the sociological term) as “the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization, or group.” Another website defines the word upbringing as “the systematic, purposeful influence of the adult members of a family and family ways on the child.” Therefore, cultural upbringing is the culture your parents influence you to have.

So what is my cultural upbringing?

I believe my parents raised my four siblings and I to be “first-culture” kids. It was a culture where God was first and center of everything. From our sense of identity, to our relationships with one other, to our value system and morality, to our world-view, this first culture had the greatest impact on who we were and are today. It was not about being Filipino, Chinese or American, but having an allegiance to God above all things.

We were taught to,”Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) This God-first culture was so ingrained in us that even when some of us made wrong choices growing up, we reset back to our default mode as Christ-followers.

To this day, my siblings and I are so grateful for parents who gave us this first culture upbringing. With God’s help, we are passing on this culture to our own children.

Raising first culture kids begins with being first culture parents–committed followers of Jesus who disciple out children to be the same, making the Bible our life manual by studying it together and obeying it, and pursuing, as a family, the fruits of the spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.

Finally, it also means giving our children an eternal perspective. I like what Hebrews 11:10 says about Abraham…”For he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

My son, Elijah, recently told me as we were walking through the parking lot, “Mom, I had a dream about heaven. It was so amazing. I can’t wait to go there someday!”

When he said this I was reminded that the earth really isn’t our final home. To paraphrase my first culture parents, “We are citizens of heaven who are in transit.”

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Marbles in Heaven

I praise God for parents who told me about Jesus when I was young. My siblings and I all came to know the Lord and have a personal relationship with him because of our parents. Helping me to have a relationship with Jesus was, by far, the greatest treasure my parents ever gave to me. It is the same treasure I want to give my children – the treasure of eternity.

But this task is urgent. Our children are given to us for such a short time. As parents, we busy ourselves and sacrifice to provide love, emotional support, physical comfort, and a good education for them. But these are not the most important things. The single, most important thing we can do for our children is to introduce them to Jesus and help them to have a personal relationship with him. This is big picture parenting — parenting with the end in mind.

Jesus said, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Luke 18:16)

Are our children coming to Jesus?

I hope that what Edric and I are doing with our children will encourage you to do the same. While we talk and live out our faith, including them in our ministry activities and letting them see what it means to have a relationship with Jesus, we prioritize sharing the gospel to them. For us, the earlier, the better!

Jesus did say, “The kingdom of God belongs to such as these,” which means that children have the capacity to believe. God will give them the faith they need to accept the truth of his love for them and what he has done through Jesus Christ, his son.

Our older two sons, Elijah and Edan, each made the decision to believe in Jesus at the age of three. We have seen the Holy Spirit cultivate their faith and helped them to grow spiritually. Our third son, Titus, only recently made the choice to accept Jesus into his heart.

It was Sunday evening when Edric took Titus’ hand and let him to the boy’s bedroom, and as he passed by me, he said, “Hon, I think it’s time I shared with him. He’s ready.”

I knew exactly what he was talking about and I was thrilled. It was a life-changing moment for Edric and Titus, and as tempted as I was to spy on them and hear their conversation, I waited patiently in a separate room. Twenty minutes later, they emerged from the bedroom and Edric came to me with tears in his eyes. “He understood!”

“How do you know?” I asked while my eyes began to tear, too.

Edric explained how their conversation went. He told Titus about God’s love for him and how God sent Jesus to die for all of us to save us from our sin. He talked about the reality of hell and heaven. But when he asked Titus, “Do you want to go to heaven?” Titus shrugged in an I-don’t-know-manner. So Edric thought, how can I get him to understand how wonderful heaven is going to be? He then proceeded to share that, “Mommy, daddy, Elijah, and Edan are going to be in heaven because we have Jesus in our hearts.” Titus’ eyes lit up.

Edric added, “And, heaven is going to be more fun that anything you can ever imagine. What is the most fun thing for you, Titus?”

“Marbles!” Titus said excitedly. (Marbles have been his most recent obsession.)

“Well, you can have lots of marbles in heaven!” Edric said.

Titus’ eyes lit up even more. He must have pondered upon these things and been thoroughly convinced because when Edric asked him again, “Do you want to accept Jesus in your heart so that you can go to heaven?” Titus spoke out a most certain, “Yes!”

Edric led him in a prayer to say sorry for the wrong things he has done, ask forgiveness and ask Jesus to come into his heart.

As Edric finished recounting to me what happened, I was overjoyed and thankful to the Lord. I knew we would have to keep on reinforcing Titus’ decision by helping him to grow in his understanding of who God is and mature in his relationship with him. But, at least, he had made the choice and now the Holy Spirit could begin to work in his heart.

Edric told me, “Why don’t you ask him some questions later to see if he really got it.”

So when we were sitting around the dinner table to play one our board games, I said, “Titus, what did daddy tell you about Jesus?”

He said, “I prayed to Jesus. Daddy told me about heaven.”

“What about heaven?” I asked.

Titus replied, “That there will be people there.”

“Who will be there?” I asked.

He started naming names, “Elijah, Edan, mommy, daddy, Uncle Paul, Aunty Jenny…”

When I asked him, “Where is Jesus?”

“In my heart,” was the soft reply he gave and pointed to his chest.

The next day, he also told our househelp that there will be marbles in heaven!

I know we have a long way to go to disciple Titus because he is still young, but I’m thankful to the Lord for this new beginning in his life. And, I’m thankful for a husband like Edric who loves our children so much that he would never want to leave their eternity up to chance.

I pray that you will consider sharing the gospel to your children even while they are young. There are several ways to share the gospel. One way is to use the wordless book — a book of colors to illustrate sin, God’s love, heaven, new life, etc. Another way is to tell the story of the garden.