From Susan Hillis:
As WONDERFUL as it was to be with 450 women at the Created for Care Retreat last week end, I keep wishing there had been time for this one more Breakout Session to highlight some exciting info coming our of Harvard; I would call the session, 'When Love Builds the Brain.' It occurred to me I can write about it and maybe some of you will leave a comment to let me know what you think! I am already planning to share more on this at Hope at Home 2012, October 5-6. We hope you will join us here in Atlanta!
LOVE BUILDS BRAIN CONNECTIONS
Try to think back on a time when your mom or dad did something that left a singular impression of love on your lives. For me it is the time it was raining, I was about 6 and bored stiff, and my mom made a statement about her love and my importance: "this house (which was messy and needed tidying!) will be here when we are both dead and gone; let's draw chalk circles on the floor and play marbles!" Sitting foot to foot, looking at each other and laughing, we had one fine marbles competition! Fast forward and think of times when we play and share those fun moments and outings with our kids. Some of mine are sliding in mud puddles in the rain belly first, painting black spots on our white dog so that we could have a dalmatian, sunbathing on the roof through the trap door.
From research that is coming out of Harvard (some of it actually builds on research at CDC I have had the privelege of being involved with!), it is now clear that loving affection which includes eye contact and touch, actually builds brain hardware that is needed for learning and development. See it here in this 2 minute clip from the Harvard Institute for Child Development by clicking HERE.
TOXIC STRESS DISRUPTS IMPORTANT BRAIN CONNECTIONS
Now if you are like me you begin to feel a little disturbed as you think of some of your kids who spent their early years living outside of the care of a nurturing family, in orphanages or other alternative environments. "I wonder what effect this has on brain connections?" Of our 11 kids, the 8 who were adopted at ages 7 to 14 all lived a fair number of years in an orphanage setting. With time the stress that comes from living outside of a loving family can become so dangerous that it is called 'toxic stress,' and has the potential to disrupt essential connections of neurons, as shown in this short Video Clip.
LOVE COMPENSATES TO OVERCOME THE STRESS
When we put these two clips together, we realize that what is most needed for promoting healing and development in a child from these hard places is love and connection and relationship and shared positive experiences with a nurturing parent and family: as Karyn Purvis so perfectly puts it, we need CONNECTION more than CORRECTION! If I had understood this need for connection more clearly 10 years ago, I would have spent less time on homework and even more time on building deep and happy relationships and memories (even though we did a lot of this!)
It is as though I see in the first of these two clips the physical affects on the brain of Paul's advice that we "live a life filled with love, following the example of Jesus" (Eph 5:2). By giving our children the kind of love shown in the first clip, we are actually helping hardwire new connections in brains that may have suffered the damage shown in the second clip!
WHEN LOVE + HALF A BRAIN = A WHOLE LIFE
Lest any of you feel discouraged, I will close with a final 5 minute clip which includes an interview with Dr. Ben Carson the famous believing surgeon who separated the siamese twins, and the hero of the wonderful young adult biography, "Gifted Hands." The clip is the story of a little girl with a rare disease for which the only treatment was total removal, by Dr. Ben Carson, of the right side of her brain! No kidding! The entire right hemisphere. And she is happy, well-adjusted, well-loved, normal little 9 year old. Watch this and show it to your kids! "Guys, look at how POWERFUL and LOVING God is! Look at what He can do with half a brain! He works miracles and can always teach the strong parts inside us to help make up for the areas that are weak!" To watch this fascinating story full of Hope, click HERE.
It is so encouraging that the One who created us is big enough to take LOVE plus HALF A BRAIN and turn them, together, into a WHOLE LIFE. So we pray that You, Lord, the One who is all powerful, will take any of those brain connections in our children that are weak, and still bearing the effects of toxic stress in their early years, and use God's love and our love to rewire them. We pray with Paul:
May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together - spirit, soul, and body - and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ. (I Th 5:23 MSG) For your glory and for their healing!