Mirror Neurons and Role Models

ice cream coneBy: Alex Blackwell, Student Ministry Pastor

I’ve been fascinated lately with mirror neurons. I was having a conversation a couple months ago with a group of parents. This is when I learned about mirror neurons. We were talking about how incredible it is that our little babies were able to look at our faces, see our smiles and smile back. I can look at a hundred things people around me do, and there’s no way my body translates it in the same way – knowing exactly what muscles to use to mimic and do the same thing. “It’s almost instinctive,” I said. Another dad across the room smiled at me and said, “it’s mirror neurons.” He went on to explain that there are neurons in the brain specifically wired to help the body mirror what someone else is doing when they see it. Gabriel can look at my smile and smile back, without even thinking about it, because these neurons help his face muscles do what they have to do to form a smile, instead of a frown or a hundred other faces. There’s no trial and error to figure it out. It just happens. He will continue to grow into a boy and a young man, and learn how to be so with the help of mirror neurons. Fascinating.

A few weeks ago we had a student ministries event getting Nelson’s ice cream. When we walked in to the room we would sit down in to enjoy our MOUNDS of ice cream, I noticed what was very likely a date outside the window. I looked up at the students at our event and I started making up the voices and words that the couple was conversing about. Very innocent, I assure you – nothing against the couple. I said things like “MMM I love ice cream nom nom nom” (in a low manly voice), followed by “yeah I can tell it’s all over your face” (in a high-pitched girl voice). The students giggled, and maybe even laughed a little – but there was no way they were going to partake in the voice-over game. Somehow the subject changed, undoubtedly one of them said something to shift the focus away from doing something that may even slightly risk their embarrassment. What if what they came up with wasn’t all that funny to the rest of us? A while later we started cleaning up, and got up to leave. As I started walking toward the door, I heard the voice of one of our students playing the voice-over game with the couple one last time before we left – something about the girl being embarrassed with the idea of being seen in public with a guy with ice cream all over his face (the guy didn’t actually have any ice cream on his face). The student risked embarrassment, but also took the risk, meeting my original hopes that shared experience and comfortability would grow in the midst of our small growing community of students.

This story is a metaphor for the greater experience of modeling good character, a strong faith, and continual growth for the students at enCompass. I am thankful for a team of solid volunteers who have been showing up in the lives of our students, through one on one experiences and at our events. I am thankful for those beyond our volunteer team, in the broader enCompass community, who model community, desire for growth, and a heart to serve the city, country, and world around us. Whether with the help of mirror neurons or with help beyond what mirror neurons can provide, I believe, because of our great models, that we are poised to see significant growth among our students.

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Teamwork in Marriage

nestBy: Amber Lynch

My Dad grew up in functioning, but VERY dysfunctional family. There was substance abuse, physical and emotional abuse, infidelity and a whole lot of anger. As my Dad witnessed these struggles, he prayed for a spouse that loved him just as much as he loved her. I’m happy to say that my Dad found that spouse and he and my Mom have been happily married for 41 years.

After hearing about how my Dad prayed for my Mom, I decided I should also pray for my perfect teammate. Little did I know I had already crossed paths with that teammate, when I was five years old, at Little Lambs Pre-school in Hugo, MN. After 14 years of marriage, I will say that it feels like five minutes. Steve will joke that it feels like five minutes…underwater (I really hope he’s joking).

We purchased our first home together in Northeast Minneapolis with the intent of diving in and making it our own. We refinished hardwood floors, painted, updated landscaping, remodeled a bathroom and a kitchen, as well as many other updates. Through all of these projects, we would work tirelessly…day and night, after work and the entire weekend. In order to get us through these brutal days of hard work, we would name a “Most Valuable Lynch” or MVL. It was a way to make days of physical work more fun and a way to entice the other one to get the job done.

In the middle of our kitchen remodel, Steve once visited Home Depot eight times in one day. Without a doubt, he was MVL that day. I remember crouching over all day in an attic (but soon to be bedroom) edging hardwood floors and you guessed it, I earned MVL that day. While these projects were hard work and at times very stressful, there were a lot of laughs, a lot of high-fives and a lot of hugs. Teamwork was critical to our success and when one was dragging, the other would somehow muster up enough energy to help the other one cross the finish line for the day. Whether it was a run to Home Depot, making lunch, or letting someone be the first to “shower up” for the night, these were the days when I was so thankful that God gave me the ultimate teammate in Steve.

Though our focus is much different these days, I am still incredibly thankful for my teammate who provides for our family. Or, when he can see that I have had my fill of negotiating with a four year old, steps in to take over to give me a little relief. I think he also appreciates it when he gets into a vehicle that has been filled with gas for him, comes home to a freshly mowed lawn, or takes a night off of bedtime duty to go play soccer or basketball with friends.

With teamwork in marriage, we are living God’s promise, “Two are better than one…for if they fall, one will lift up the other.” Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10. And each time when Steve picks me up, I wonder how I could be so fortunate, but I guess I should stop wondering and just say thank you.

NOTE: Ask us which house project we called “The Marriage Tester”.