Author Archive : Cara Martens

An Epic Adventure

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012


EPIC.  It’s a big word right now, the latest upgrade of “awesome” from years past.  But to me, the word goes even deeper and conjures up larger-than-life characters and adventure from classics like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings.

On that note, I’ve been reading about something called the Hero’s Journey with specific steps characters like Luke Skywalker and Frodo Baggins follow on their journey through transformation.

  • The hero starts out in an ordinary world, with limited awareness of the problem and is-
  • Called to an adventure, with increased sensitivity to the situation
  • They are initially reluctant and might even try to refuse
  • But they are encouraged by a mentor and overcome their doubts
  • They move into a special or different world, committed to the mission
  • But then they are tested, discovering both allies and enemies along the way
  • They go through a huge ordeal to help bring about the change they desire
  • Finally, they are transformed and changed themselves, no longer ordinary, and they experience some reward, consequences as well as improvements

It’s a storyline with which we all resonate, one that says we all have the ability to grow, that change and redemption are possible. It got me thinking about my own nine year old son, who loves these tales almost as much as I do.  How would something like that play out in his life?  Don’t we as parents want our kids to live EPIC lives and not settle for average?

While every part of the story is important, I think one of the most crucial elements in a Hero’s Journey for our children is the outside voice or mentor. With a strong mentor, our kids can navigate even the most difficult tests and ordeals.

It’s so important that we as parents find people that not only we can trust, but that our kids can trust to help them along in their life adventure. Who else is speaking into their lives and encouraging them in ways we cannot alone?

Cara Martens is the 252 Groups Director at Orange. She loves to write, research, and develop creative ideas. Cara and her husband, Kevin, have two kids and live in Texas.

When You Have Great Expectations

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

All it took was an ice cream cone. When my son first started playing baseball, he was scared to try and hit the ball. He didn’t want to miss. So, we bribed him—and it worked! So of course, you can guess what he said after that first single: “If I get to second base next time, can I get a double scoop?” We laughed but said no. Now that he knew he could do it, the sweet sound of the ball smacking the bat and his feet kicking up dirt as he rounded the bases would be enough. And it has been.

Another time, my 20-something brother came to town and invited my son to go rock-climbing with him. My husband and I honestly didn’t think that Cale would last 30 minutes. But he surprised us—climbing for several hours, literally until his hands gave out. He far exceeded our expectations and rose to the challenge.

Reflecting on this, I think Cale was motivated by several things like the different paths—color-coded by level of difficulty—on the climbing walls. He started with the easier ones to gain some confidence. And also Cale felt safe, knowing my brother held the other end of the rope, ready to catch and lower him down if he slipped.

In the education world, this type of approach is called “scaffolding”—starting with things kids already know or have practiced and encouraging them to stretch and try something new with you as the guide by their side.

That got me thinking about what God expects from each of us in this game called life. His goal isn’t just to weigh us down with a long list of responsibilities—all the things we should do. He also paints a picture of how the world could be and shows us where He’s already at work, inviting us to join Him.

And here’s the interesting thing, when you’re responsible with a little, you tend to be given more: more opportunities, more relationships, more ways that you can use what you’ve been given.

Our series this month in 252 is called, “Great Expectations—will you win Trust?” We show that we trust God when we respond to Him with everything we have—our abilities, our stuff, our words, our time and our actions. Just imagine how the world might change if we lived out these “great expectations” and became even more trustworthy people!

Some things to think about or try:

  • Where has your kids/teens been showing signs that they are ready to be responsible, and how can you best motivate them to follow through?

  • What new serving opportunities could you and your kid/teen explore together that might be a good challenge and stretch you both in surprising ways?

  • Write down something specific that you think your kid/teen has the ability to do that would make the world a better place. See the potential in them and take time to share these positive thoughts one on one this week.

Why Puzzles are Addictive (and Frustrating)

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Know anyone that’s addicted to puzzles? It might be plain old jigsaw puzzles with traditional pieces or even Sudoku or Tangrams. What do they do when they get stuck or run into a problem?  They often physically react, don’t they? They just can’t help themselves—tossing the piece or paper down. Maybe they cover up their eyes, clutch their heads, erase furiously or even walk away for awhile. But if they’re a true puzzle-lover, you know they’ll be back. They might not even be able to sleep until they solve it!

That makes me think about what truly causes us to learn—to want to try and figure something out. There needs to be one of two things:

1. a gap in our understanding
2. or a conflict—something that goes against what we believe to be true already

So going back to those puzzles—I’ve watched my mom working on them for hours. She gets (and gives) new ones every year at Christmas. She’ll have this piece that just doesn’t seem to fit anywhere or maybe she’s sure that it fits in one specific spot—but it just won’t go. I’ve seen her sit back with a puzzled but intense look on her face too many times to count. And you know what almost always happens next? She grabs the box and studies it, looking back and forth between the piece, what she’s put together so far on the table and the box with the completed picture.

The same thing happens to all of us in real life, doesn’t it? We’re going along and all of the sudden—something happens that we don’t expect or like. Maybe we’re not sure what to do next (gap) or maybe this new thing makes us question what we believed before (conflict). That’s when it’s so important to take a step back and look for the bigger picture, allow ourselves to ask hard questions, and remind ourselves of the things we still know are true.

One of the best things we can help our kids understand is that sometimes things are just not going to make sense and they may find themselves holding a piece of the puzzle that just doesn’t seem to fit.

Maybe someone they care about dies
A parent loses a job
They get bullied at school
Someone gets divorced

Our job is to help our kids understand that there is a big picture that we can’t always see. And just because things don’t make sense to them doesn’t mean they don’t make sense somehow. God has a way of taking the pieces of the puzzle that don’t seem to fit and using them in ways we could never imagine. That’s where hope comes in. Hope is believing that those puzzle pieces fit into the bigger picture—outside of the small context that we can understand.

We define hope as believing that something good can come out of something bad.

As Reggie Joiner explains more in the preview video below, “It’s important to help kids know what to do when life throws them a curveball—when their picture doesn’t pan out the way they think it will—that life will get messy at some point. But no matter how confusing, God still has a plan.”

What conversations are you having with your children about hope when bad things happen? Share them with us!

Preview: Puzzled (April 2012) from Orange on Vimeo.

Two Myths about Creativity

Friday, October 7th, 2011

In our last post, we are talked about the idea of creativity and why its important to tap into it as part of God’s image in us. Creativity is a hot topic these days, but the idea is sometimes misunderstood. Here are two myths that could actually squelch creativity if  believed.

Myth #1 – You are born creative or you’re not.

Creativity is not a gene that’s passed on like red hair. It can be developed. We are all born natural problem solvers. And problems require us to get creative. We might create a new solution or even express how we feel about the problem as a way to process it.

I’m pretty confident that you as a parent are creative—a lot. It’s the nature of the job! Your child doesn’t want to eat dinner, so you pass out kid chopsticks or set up a picnic in the middle of the floor to change things up. Your teen doesn’t seem to want to hang out or talk anymore—so you plan a day full of his favorite or new things and surprise him by inviting close friends. We’re all creative—we’re just aren’t necessarily seeing or naming all that we do as using our “creativity”.

The next time there’s a problem, try inviting your kids or teens into the action. Say “I wonder what we should do…” and trail off. Their amazing minds will start to fill in the blank automatically. You can build on or bounce off their ideas.

Myth #2 – Creativity happens in an instant—out of nowhere.

Actually, creativity is rarely making something from nothing—that’s God’s job.  Instead, creativity is more like making new connections or combining things in a different way.

One of my favorite movie examples of this was in Apollo 13 when something on the shuttle broke way out in space. An engineer walks into a crowded conference room and dumps a bag of stuff in the middle of the table and basically says, “This is what they’ve got up there—so we’ve got to find a way to fix the problem using just this—oh and they’re running out of air!”

Creativity is a process and it actually thrives on challenge, so constraints—like using only certain materials or having a time limit—are actually helpful.

Here are some quick tips to try to develop creativity in your kids (and yourself):

Create challenge scenarios by providing a few simple resources. Here’s a few ideas to start:

Play improv charades with younger kids. Grab some random items from around the house and put them in a basket or big bag. Pull one out at a time, take turns and see how many ways you can use it, except for the right way!  Example: a spatula can be a microphone, a brush, a wand, and a baseball bat.

Create Mad Libs with older kids. Brainstorm some of their favorite things and activities—it could be music, games, food or people. Randomly mix and match some of them to see what kind of new something can be made by combining different elements. See which of your original creations you might want to try.

Embrace Real Challenges. More than anything, creativity is an attitude. We’ve got to positively model it—which basically means talking through the process out loud instead of just mentally brainstorming and solving things all by ourselves. This way our kids and teens can see it’s a natural and normal part of everyday life.

Try reframing negative problems or frustrations into an exciting challenge whenever possible—rub your hands together as you start to wonder about all the different things you could try– “What if…?” and “How about…?” Be loud and proud that your family is the type of people that like and thrive on challenges.

What other myths did I miss that prevent us from raising creative kids?  What other things would you add to this list to develop more creativity in our kids?  I’d love to continue the conversation, so add your comments below.

Cara Martens is the 252 Groups Director at Orange. She loves to write, research, and develop creative ideas. Cara and her husband, Kevin, have two kids and live in Texas.


Need a Nap?

Friday, November 12th, 2010

Every parent is a working parent.  And a lot of us know sleep is important.  We’ve heard about the different types of sleep cycles that we go through (ideally) several times a night, but did you know that research has shown that there are also natural cycles during the day as well?

Unfortunately, most of us are too busy to notice– we just compensate by grabbing a sugary snack or another caffeinated drink to get through the 3 o’clock slump.

In a recent book called “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working”, author Tony Schwartz tells about an experiment where researchers watched to see when people naturally want to rest each day.  Guess when it happens?  Can you say, “Siesta”—between 1 and 4 pm every day.

If a nap is out of the question, read on for some things you can do to replenish your energy during the day and throughout the week.

One of the most memorable things Schwartz says is, “Rather than running like computers at high speeds for long periods, we’re at our best when we pulse rhythmically between expending and regularly renewing energy.”

Schwartz points to specific research by Anders Ericsson and his team at Florida State University that found. “Great performers…work more intensely than most of us do but also recover more deeply. Solo practice undertaken with high concentration is especially exhausting, The best violinists figured out, intuitively, that they generated the highest value by working intensely, without interruption, for no more than ninety minutes and no more than 4 hours a day.”

What we can do DAILY:

*Work for no more than 90 minutes at a time on intense, more high-demand tasks and then take short breaks- go for a walk, breath deep or just do something different.

*Do your most demanding, top priority item first thing each day when your energy is highest.

*Pick certain times each day when you turn off your email and your cell phone in order to fully focus and to really unplug.

What we can do WEEKLY:

*Tackle your most challenging issues on Tuesday and Wednesday, which studies show are our highest energy days.

*Save your planning, reading, creative and more relational activities for Friday- right before you head into the weekend when you are most tired from a long week.

*Plan ways during your weekends to get longer times doing things that recharge you physically, emotionally and spiritually.

What one thing do you want to try next week to see if it helps you achieve a more healthy rhythm of work and rest?

Put it to the test- commit to focusing on one thing at a time for 90 minutes and see if you get more done in a few of these more intense cycles (adding up to just 4 total hours of work) with breaks in between- compared with what you used to get done in a whole day!

Wake up with a Clear Head

Monday, August 30th, 2010

A recent article in National Geographic says that “If your brain is an email account, sleep is how you clear out your inbox.”

For years sleep studies have hinted that shut-eye improves our ability to store and consolidate memories, reinforcing the notion that a good night’s sleep is much more conducive to learning than an overnight cram session.

Now scientists may have figured out how, in part, this happens: During sleep, information locked in short-term storage migrates into the longer-term database of the cortex.

This action not only helps the brain process new information, it also clears out space for the brain to take in new experiences.

That means “it’s not just important to sleep after learning, it’s critical to sleep before learning,” study leader Matthew Walker, of the University of California, Berkeley said.  ”Sleep prepares the brain like a dry sponge, ready to soak up new information.”