why you should smile at strangers


4 year old Norah Woods, with the help of her mother, was the key player in a feel-good story that circled the internet earlier this year. She was at a local supermarket in Augusta, Georgia, when she struck up a conversation with an elderly man shopping alone. 

Her cheerful greeting immediately brightened the man’s disposition and started a precious friendship that has become significant for them both. 

It turns out that Dan had lost his wife only months before and was struggling in his aloneness. He reported that after their brief exchange in the supermarket aisle he was able to sleep well for the first time in a long time. 

Every day we walk by people with stories unknown to us. We don’t know the impact a simple smile or a brief interchange about the weather might have on another’s day. How we might completely alter a person’s mood or break into a negative self-talk cycle and change the trajectory of their day. 

I recently helped a lady to reach a basket from a higher shelf and got the entire story of how the bathroom at her place needed more storage and she doesn’t get to the shops very often and she is hoping it won’t rain this afternoon …and a whole lot of other unrelated pieces of information that told me she probably hadn’t had anyone much to talk to. 

For people who live alone you (at the shops, church, work or even passing by on the street) may be the only person they interact with in a day. Their first chance to speak out loud. Their only smile or laugh. Their only sense of their place in the world or connectedness to others. 

Norah’s boldness to first speak to Dan and then her insistence to follow him up with visits that include colouring in together and taking Dan food have positively impacted both of their families. But even without an ongoing relationship, the smile a simple interaction brought to Dan and the joy it brought to his heart were profoundly impacting. 

What about you? Look out for a person you can smile at or extend yourself to today. An empathetic exchange with a parent juggling kids, pausing to hear someone’s seemingly inane prattle, breaking into another’s frustration with a joke or even allowing someone else to help YOU with a door or your bags …the cost is relatively small (it really is) but the payoff could be huge!

Read more about Norah’s story here

I say to myself 


I talk to myself a fair bit. Sometimes out loud. There is a constant narrative – internal or external – of self-talk and ongoing attempts to give words to the things I’m seeing, experiencing and processing. 

You might be the same. You conduct whole conversations with yourself – playing both sides – asking and answering. You commentate your activity. You imagine what others might say to you. 

More often though, I find myself intensely impacted by what others are saying. I’m listening for affirmation. I’m waiting for direction or instruction. I’m hopeful for them to tell me I’m acceptable. I’m letting their talk define something of how I see myself, where my identity is found. 

I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” Lam 3:24

I say to myself God is enough. He has all I need. His opinion of me is the one that matters. His guidance and His truth are my stay. 

I say to myself. I will wait on Him. I will trust. I will rest in His peace and provision. 

What do you need to say to yourself today? 

why people at church don’t talk to you


A friend and I have been known to run an experiment. When attending a different church, she leaves me alone in the foyer (to go to the bathroom or something) and we see if anyone will talk to me. It’s damaging to my pride, self-esteem and sense of confidence in my personal hygiene to report that – more often than not – when she returns, I’m standing where she left me feeling forlorn and having had no interactions with others.

As someone who leads in a church and desires that our environments be welcoming and inclusive for all – I run this experiment not just as a test of the church I’m visiting but to remember for myself what it feels like. To experience that awkwardness of trying to posture myself to look open to conversations or interactions without making a fool of myself. And as bad as it feels, I remember that my experiment is only partly accurate because I’m a visitor. Others coming into churches come because they are looking to find Jesus! Some come because they are desperately seeking a place of connection and belonging – of home. While I’m only there for one night. So much more is at stake for them.

Whilst I have received feedback from people who have felt a little ignored or adrift in our church, it’s more likely that those who feel this most poignantly haven’t stayed around to tell anyone – they’ve just left. You may relate to this experience in your own church environment. You look around and others are deeply engrossed in conversations and excited interactions and you wonder why you’re not included.

 

The reason people at church might not talk to you is because they are exactly like you!

They are uncomfortable talking to strangers. As an outgoing, verbal, extrovert I am uncomfortable talking to strangers! Most people are! People don’t talk to you because, just like you, they are unsettled about talking to people they don’t know. How awkward will this be? What if we have nothing in common? What if I inadvertently offend or upset them with what I say? What if they don’t want to talk to me!? EVERYONE is processing these same questions.

They are comforted by their own friends. There’s safety and security in the knowledge of their connection to their group of friends. And in fact, they may well be worried that if they don’t speak to these people no one else will speak to them and so they don’t leave the circle for fear of feeling that isolation. We are all creatures of comfort and security. Stepping away from the known and into the unknown requires a bravery that we don’t always manage to summon.

Someone once said to me “I never realised how cliquey people were until all my friends were away one week and no one spoke to me.” She didn’t even realise the irony of what she was saying. She only noticed that everyone else stuck to their friends when the friends that she stuck to weren’t around.

They wrongly assess their social position. Frequently, the socially insecure assume that everyone else is socially confident. The quiet and shy ones assume that the noisy ones are more bold and self-assured (when, often, it is just the same feelings manifesting in different coping strategies). Those unfamiliar in an environment assume that everyone else is quite familiar. Those who are more connected don’t trust their social connections enough to leave them temporarily to reach out to others.

Ultimately, the human condition is such, that we are all looking for a degree of connectedness and are all at the mercy of one another to find that place of belonging and welcome. New. Old. Loud. Quiet. No one is exempt from contributing to the social dynamic of a community.

*** A common cry. ***

“What if I go up to someone and say – Are you new here? – and they say – No, I’ve been coming for 3 years.

OR what if you start your conversation a different way!?! (Genius, I know!)

“How are you today?” (Revolutionary, but effective.) “Are those your kids? Have you had a busy week? What’s ahead for you this week? How will you be spending your afternoon? Have you done the winter pruning of your fruit trees yet?” (Read – there are lots of other ways to start a question that don’t need you to guess how long they’ve attended your church!)

Or just a simple, “I don’t think I’ve met you before, I’m Kim!” might be enough.

The reason people in MY church don’t talk to you is because people like ME (and you) need to get better at it. We can do this!

 

talking with your kids about sex

Where did you learn about the birds and the bees? Do you remember your parents giving you “the talk”? Did most of your learning come from friends, the graffiti on toilet cubicle walls, movies and TV, or maybe your best friend’s super-cool older siblings?

One of the most significant areas of discipleship and leadership we offer our children is in the area of sexuality and relationship – and yet, they can be some of the most awkward or feared conversations of all.

Here are some thoughts to consider – part of a broader conversation that I host with parents – to help empower you for this potentially uncomfortable yet intensely important aspect of your parenting role.

1. do the personal work 

Each of us has a unique perspective on the topics of sexuality and relationship that is heavily influenced by our own life experience. Our ability to lead children in healthy and helpful ways is impacted by the degree to which we have reviewed and processed our own upbringing and history.

If you were sexually abused or mistreated you may pass on fears and stigmas that are unhelpful. If you have had negative experiences or made significant mistakes in your own past, this will impact how you approach these topics with your child. If you have had a sheltered or extremely conservative upbringing you may pass on uninformed opinions or ideologies. If you had multiple relationships or sexual partners, if you were a pregnant teenager (or made a teenager pregnant), if you had an abortion, if you had early exposure to pornography, if you’ve struggled with sexual addiction … all this and more SHAPES your perspectives, understanding and feelings about sexuality and relationship.

In humility, parents must to do the work of review. We are doomed to either repeat the actions of our own parents or react to them (and do exactly the opposite) – for better or worse – unless we stop and review what that looked like and make sober decisions about its validity or usefulness. Our own experiences can be redeemed when we allow them to inform and educate others to make better choices.

2. know where you’re headed 

What do you hope for for your kids? What do you understand of the goal or intent of their sexuality? What type of relationships do you hope they’ll experience? How do you want them to perceive their own body and manage it? What empowerment or wisdom do you want them to be armed with? What situations do you want them to navigate intelligently and safely? How do you wish them to honour and respect others?

Knowing where you’re headed makes the pathway there more clear and more intentional.

The more ‘simple’ outcomes of saving themselves for marriage or protecting themselves from abuse or regret are a starting point, but there has to be more to your focus than that. Beyond the messages of “don’t” and “no” we have to endow our children with a sense of the beauty and joy that sexuality and relationship are designed to bring us and others in our world. Part of our created design includes this aspect of our beings and, as such, it is more than just a set of rules and guidelines that will help our children navigate the murky waters of culture and desires. It is a well shaped understanding of who they are, what God has in store for them and how they might ensure they are experiencing the fullness of His intent.

3. talk, don’t have ‘the talk’ 

It may be stating the obvious, but you’re not going to get this done in one conversation. It doesn’t matter how good that conversation is, how long it goes for or how many incentives are offered with it. One chat over milkshakes is not going to cover everything, it’s not going to accommodate for changing needs and cognition with age, it’s not going to give opportunity for all questions to be asked or all teachable moments to be explored. This is an ongoing conversation. Sorry for those of you who thought you were done! 😉

Make the most of opportunities that present to continue to shade in the big picture understanding you desire your kids to have. Ensure that each time you do talk about these kinds of topics it is left open-ended – ‘we can talk about this some more whenever you want’ or ‘if you think of other things later, be sure to come and ask me’. Engage with TV, media, overheard conversations, events in your family, song lyrics and the like to leverage opportunities to know where your child is and to keep the dialogue happening.

For some tips about talking to your kids about porn – check out this article  For further development of your awareness and language check out this site Fight the New Drug.

4. help your child translate culture 

We live in a highly sexualised world. It’s not sensationalising to make that observation, it’s just how it is. In fact, it is so sexualised we can often be immune to the various ways overt or distorted sexuality permeates our culture.

Rising proliferation and exposure to pornography has changed the water line and we are now soaking in a highly ‘pornified’ environment that requires our intentional identification and rejection. In sociological circles, pornography is considered to be the number one sexual educator of our children. Young people are being exposed to pornography often before they’ve had their first crush or their first kiss. Pornography has continued to become more and more violent and aggressive and less and less (if it ever were at all) reflective of intimate, romantic, private expressions of love.

This article draws attention to the pornography inspired images that are common-place in marketing and advertising. A walk through a shopping centre or a flick through a mainstream magazine will see multiple examples of these images. This website Collective Shout promotes advocacy around issues of objectification – it’s useful for raising your awareness as well as empowering you to be part of the response.

We need to help our children reflect on the things they see around them and to decipher the messages they are being sent and whether or not they are to be accepted or rejected. At age appropriate levels it may be as simple as wondering aloud with your child as to why a lady might look so unhappy in a picture – do you think she is having fun, do you think she is liking what is happening to her? To observing in more mature ways the submission-dominance interplay, the perception of a model as an object more than a person, the idiocy of a promotional picture that has no point of reference to the product or service it is purporting to promote.

***

This is a teaspoon of thought from an ocean of ideas, understandings and considerations that we need to continue to drink from – but it’s a start.

ASK THE QUESTIONS … what do you struggle to help your children understand? What approaches have you tried that you’ve found successful? What resources have you found useful?