Saturday, January 3, 2015

So What If This Year Was REALLY Different At Your House?

We all know that the New Year is a common time for people to make resolutions they rarely keep.  But what if this year were different, not even in BIG ways but just little adjustments here and there that could potentially mean big changes down the road.

None of these suggestions, and they are only suggestions, are that big of a deal by themselves but I have a hunch that if we even did a couple they could end up bearing revolutionary results if we stayed with them. Here we go:

What if we bought less and were thankful for what we have just a little more each day?

What if we stopped one activity that uses lots of time but pays little dividend.

What if we had a weekly tech free night or even one hour each day?

What if we got to know three neighbors who we don't currently know?

What if we saved up some money each month to give away to someone who needs it?

What if we took a vacation that is different from what most other people do?

What if we found a new activity our whole family would enjoy and made it a hobby?

What if we actually took time to look at old pictures and videos?

What if we parents told our kids some of our stories about growing up?

What if every day we took time to share a high and low from our day?

What if we regularly talked about God moments that we experienced?

What if prayed more both individually and together?

OK, so I gave you a few ideas.  I'll bet you can come up with more, ones that your family could also embrace and turn into a truly new year. Try one or two. Let me know what happens. I'll bet you will want to do more. I'll bet you won't want to go back to the old way either.

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Problems With Too Much

Most of us parents would love to give our kids some of the things we never had. We look forward to providing for our offspring and ultimately helping them to find happiness and fulfillment.

Unfortunately many moms and dads think that giving them pretty much what they want or that everyone else has is the answer. Can I say it simply? It's not.

When kids get too much stuff, attention or an abundance of accolades that are really undeserved the kids don't blossom they bloat. They get weighed down with entitlement, ungratitude and confusion. I've seen a recent situation where the kids continue to get so many gifts from their grandparents and other close relatives that they don't even know who gave them each gift.

The presents all simply get thrown together into one big pile, sadly a mountain of things that are soon forgotten if even played with much at all. And yet the family thinks this is what these kids need and should have. It makes me wonder who the gift-giving is for in the first place.

The results?

First, a lack of thankfulness for what they do have. Instead of saying thank you they tend to say or at least be thinking, Where's the next one?

Second, a focus on what they have versus others. You will often hear from these children, "I just got a . . . ." or "My parents bought me a . . . ."  They never have enough but it always needs to be more than others got.

Third, a waning of social skills. Some might argue that this result depends upon the kinds of gifts the kids get and there may be some truth to that. But given too much of anything most young people will want to spend more time with the stuff and less having meaningful interactions.

Fourth, little desire to help or serve others. Yes, thankfully there are some exceptions where kids have a lot and find the passion to give it away in some form or another. But the majority of kids I've been around simply make life more about them because their parents did just that.

Each family will have to decide and determine what too much is but my advice would be to always err on the side of too little. I've written some other posts about holiday giving that might help here with other practical ideas about how to do some gift-giving and stuff slimming from your home.

Whatever you do remember the adage that is true in so many other areas: Less is more!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Five Greatest Gifts For Your Kids This Year

Is your Christmas shopping done? Probably not unless you're one of those really organized people. Like most you are probably running from place to place, checking list after list while trying to find the best deals that will maximize your Christmas budget this year.

And while gifts for each other are great and yes can still remind us of the incredible gifts God gave us in sending His Son to earth, I wonder if there aren't some other less tangible, yet more valuable gifts we might give this season. Let me suggest a few, ones that can last and be enjoyed all year long.

More of you. No, I don't mean that you will show up at more of their events or drive the kids to more places in the family taxi. Rather, give them more of you when you're not exhausted, more of you at your best, more of you in casual, relaxed times when they can just be with you and you with them. Let go of some of the usual demands and obligations you've placed on yourself and family and leave some time and energy to just enjoy one another.

Surprises. What if this year instead of doing the same activities, going to the same events, and spending your money on the usual things, you found a couple of special, unique things to do with them that they will never forget?  It will depend on your abilities, interests and resources but you can do a special trip or getaway, visit or invite someone they haven't seen for awhile or attend an event or show they've wanted to go to. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

Serve together. Consider finding not just a holiday commitment but a year-long opportunity, perhaps once a month or several times in the next twelve months to care for other people together. The gift?  The blessing of doing something for others and together. Plus you'll be modeling for them how real life and joy are more often found in giving not getting.

Slow down. This is necessary for most good gift ideas but what if this year it was simply more obvious that the whole family is going to be less busy than past years. And while kids might balk at first they will most likely see and reap the benefits of not living in the angst of running ragid and meeting the demands of others all the time. You may take some flak from outsiders too, but so what?  Try it.

Deepen your family's faith walk.  When we make significant changes in other priorities we open up our options for growing spiritually too. Parents will have to set the pace on this but think about some ways that you all can grow more spiritually, both individually and together. One size doesn't fit all here and chances are you're not looking for a program or course to do this. It might start with just praying more, adding more spiritual growth options at home or talking more about spiritual things.

You might serve this year on a missions trip or at a local shelter or other organization.

Whatever you do this season and subsequent new year, be sure to include some gifts that won't ever be under the tree but will shine brightly for months, even years, to come. And once they're opened I'm pretty sure they will be enjoyed long after the boxes and other gifts are set aside for something else.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Preparing Well For The Hard Times

Recently a good friend's marriage broke apart. A 14-year-old lost her best friend in a car accident. A family member learned the cancer came back. Another home continues to be rocked by abuse and mistreatment.

Most of us could provide our own list of stories where we or others are hurting deeply. As one of my professors said once, People are hurting more deeply than we know. The question is, "when hard times come will our family be ready or at least be prepared to handle them as wisely and helpfully as possible?"

Of course, like climbing mountains, it's tough to ever be fully prepared for what's up there on that mountain. But you can try and get ready as well as you can. And if we're wise we will not take preparation steps lightly.

Where do we start?

First, develop an openness at home including parents and kids to talk about things honestly. If we won't discuss the simple issues or events we probably won't talk about the challenging ones. Ideally you have to start early. Waiting until the worst comes and then expecting teens to talk, for example, will often be fruitless. But even if you did wait, try anyway now in the small things.

Second, avoid easy answers. When tragedy and hardship hit there are usually few simple responses. Talk often about how sometimes answers will differ depending upon the situation. People grieve in different ways and intervals. What specifically worked for someone else might now be the answer for you or the person you know.

Third, focus on principles and actions that are true and helpful for us all. For example, teach the concepts of God's goodness no matter what happens. Remind one another that Jesus said he would never leave or forsake us. Talk about the fact that God gets sad, Jesus shed tears and the Spirit can be grieved so we can too.

Finally, tell each other often that you love each other. We all need to be able to rest in the fact that our "accounts" are up to date, that we've said what we need to say to each other and that it will be natural to say those things in the struggle.

No, we can never fully prepare for the worst, but we can prepare the soil of our relationships so that in spite of the storm, growth and healthy change will still occur. But it won't happen by just hoping. We have to start and we have to start now.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Embrace The Joy At Home

Jackie and I just spent a week watching our three Lubbock grandboys, ages 1, 3 and 5. Ok, so we're exhausted, but it was great fun. The boys were boys but behaved wonderfully the whole time. Their parents have obviously done a lot right. Sure we had our moments and wondered how mom and dad actually keep up with the constant questions, activity and neediness that normal kids that age expend.

Sometimes we'd get them all into bed and quiet at night and we would just collapse.

And I was reminded of when we were those parents and had the daily, non-stop responsibility for our two. How did we do it?  I'm not sure other than by the grace of God.

But I wonder how many parents under the pressures of parenting their little ones, saying "no" fifty times a day and being worn out much of the time also miss the little joys along the way. Perhaps we need to laugh and giggle a little more in the middle of our kids immaturity, challenges and being prone to look at themselves first.

One day, Silas, the three-year-old, was jumping on the couch. So I said, "Silas, don't jump on the couch please."  To which he responded, "Don't watch me do it." It took everything I had in me at the time to not laugh and unintentionally condone his actions, but inside I was cracking up. Somehow there was joy in seeing that little mind at work.

Joy came when we picked out and then carved our not so exotic pumpkins. And more joy arrived the next morning when we got up in the dark and had lit the pumpkins for them in the dark. Joy came when they rode the swing or their scooters with all their might grinning from ear to ear.

Joy showed up when they got their favorite donut with sprinkles or made a simple tower out of blocks. Joy was there when the oldest began to read words he never thought he could read.

All those little things could have been missed if we'd only focused on the BIG stuff or been too busy being productive. 

And remember joy doesn't only come in the good moments.  Joy isn't just another version of being happy. Joy can also be the feeling we have when we see something great, some work of God, some specialness in the difficult times when life isn't going as we'd hoped. We can bring some joy to our kids when we love them anyway when they've messed up.

We can exude joy when we teach our kids important lessons through their mistakes. We can have joy when we see those little bodies and minds attach themselves to new little learning moments or special times that don't require a lot of fanfare, money or fame.

Find some joy at your house even if times are tough. It's there if we'll look for it.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

So What's A Parent To Do With Halloween?

My kids are long past the Halloween stage. Okay, they're actually grown, married adults with their own kids now. And they face the same challenges we did when we every year faced this bizarre, often misguided holiday. Sure, it's fun to dress up and get candy, but kids today have even more ugly, almost demonic outfits to choose from not to mention the other kids whose parents often give no thought to putting their children in grotesque and often hell-ish like costumes.

So how do you handle it as a parent? Some choose to skip it, others find alternative activities while many think it's just pretend so what's the big deal?

First, to me skipping Halloween without any discussion or substitute seems unwise and probably confusing to the kids. All their friends are involved for the most part though that alone is not a reason to let them do anything we oppose. However, to just not participate in any way doesn't seem to be the answer either.

Alternatives are good, many churches and clubs offer them, but that doesn't answer the question for older ones which is, "So what's the problem with Halloween in the first place?" But just jumping in to Halloween activities without some cautions is a bit dangerous, too. The movies, videos, comic books and TV programs out these days have taken the blood and gore to new extremes and wise parents ought to notice.

I want to suggest a couple of things. One, whatever you do consider celebrating All-Saints Day the day before. Do some research online and learn the bigger history and biblical, spiritual implications that the healthy side of this holiday implies.There are wonderful models and stories that our kids shouldn't miss out on.

Two, participate in some way with appropriate attire and only at homes of people you know well. Many families put out fun decorations without all the gore and guts stuff that will keep your day fun and wholesome, not gruesome. Some parents actually work together and share the load with each other and throughout a neighborhood.

Three, if you can find an alternative activity that substitutes other kinds of characters and images as well. But frankly, some of the activities out there simply aren't very good and are actually pretty hokey.  Use your judgment and maybe talk to others before just jumping in. No need to go to something that is just a waste of time.

Four, and maybe most important, talk to your kids. Of course, be age appropriate. Don't demean any other family or child who just loves Halloween or imply that your family is better. They don't need a Hell, fire and brimstone sermon. But you can talk about having fun, about concerns with evil, demonic images (even though they are hopefully fake) and that you as a family want to focus on only the good and enjoyable parts of it all.

You'll probably have to say no to some of the outfits and images and you should. Some of the video game characters represent nothing good or healthy. Your older kids should be able to understand that. Show them that in your faith and God there are better alternatives and that our minds need to be on what is good, right and positive.

Halloween can be just a fun time of the year without having to keep our kids from any of the good times they could still have. You will have to be the ultimate guide through it all. And maybe if work it right there will be a few pieces of candy left just for you!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Do You Require Church When Family Members Balk?

There's a now oft-told story about a woman who opens the door of the bedroom and says, "John, you need to get up and get ready for church." To which John replies, "I don't want to go to church."

"You have to go," the woman replies. "But I tell you I don't want to. No one likes me, church is boring and I'd rather be at home. Give me three reasons why I should go."

"Well," the woman says, "One, going will make you a better person, two, there are people there expecting you and three, you're the pastor of the church."

Perhaps you're not dealing with the pastor not wanting to go to church but it's one of your kids. What do you do? Do you force them? Do you make them go and hate it? What if they're almost eighteen and you're trying to help them learn to make their own decisions?

First of all there are things that kids still living in your home under the age of eighteen really don't have the right to decide and in my opinion one of those is church attendance. Ideally, wise parents make church an important part of their home and family experience starting when the kids are little. Often that will help those children to want and expect to go as long as they are at home.

And yet we know that kids will often still balk at church attendance for a variety of reasons and I encourage parents to address the reasons before they consider letting a student stay home.

Maybe the options provided aren't very good ones - poor student ministry leadership or no programs per se. Perhaps there has been a relationship struggle with someone or a certain group that needs addressing. If that's the case then work on changing those things.

Go help with the student ministry. Help your son or daughter navigate the relational issues.  Meet with the teacher or student leaders to get more insight on what might be done to improve things. Start by being proactive.

Second, consider that there may be a spiritual issue. Perhaps your child doesn't have a relationship with God. Maybe they're unsure how to grow spiritually or has received some flack from friends about Christianity. Spend some time with them talking about spiritual things and listening to their questions. Maybe you could read something together that will help you both learn.

Third, learn to worship together. Tell your kids that you're going to discuss the message later and would like their thoughts. Model for them your active and passionate involvement in the music, prayer and teaching. Let them see your faith in action!

Finally, be patient.  Most kids have times of wondering, rebelling and needing to make your faith their faith. They will grumble, pout and question at times. Don't let deter you from parenting them and pointing them to Christ. Someday they might still reject their faith but Proverbs 22:6 reminds us that when we train them well the odds go way up.

And letting them stay home doesn't usually help those odds.