Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Best Stage in Your Marriage? How about NOW?

I've not counted how many couples I've counseled over the years but there is a malady that I have seen in most of them when they are struggling. It's not typically the main or root cause but it certainly adds to their challenges.

The difficulty? One or both of them live in the past or the future, not the now. They bemoan the fact that their marriage, health, activity level, finances or stage of life isn't what it used to be. They live in the past. Or they constantly talk about (and gripe) about not being where they had hoped they would be. These couples live in the future.

It's a black hole that will never get filled.

After nearly four decades of marriage, certainly an imperfect one, I know that we've tried our hardest to make the best time in our marriage right now. Sure we've made some great memories. We hope there will be many more. And yes we've had our struggles as a couple and individually and we pray there won't be as many of those.

But if we've done anything right it's that we've made enjoying the present something we embrace and appreciate no matter the circumstances. One of the ways we do that is we explore the world around us together. We've not had to live in too many places but we've always found things to do together. Not everything, but a lot of things.

Whether we've lived in Michigan, Illinois or Texas we've poked around to find fun things to do and enjoy together. And at each of those stages our kids and now grandkids have lived in different settings. Most of the time they haven't been close. For five years though our daughter and her family were nearby. Now we're nearer our son. We've tried to make each situation work.

Sometimes our work environment was going well, other times we struggled. We embraced it all. We didn't like it all the time but we made the most of it and didn't dream of past or future as something better. The apostle Paul speaks of learning to be content in whatever circumstances we're in. That is powerful advice and certainly makes for a better and stronger marriage.

Living in the past or future also kills healthy communication with a spouse. We start bringing up past mistakes as tools for punishment of the other rather than dealing with the current struggle. We must learn to speak only in the here and now and if we live that way it will be more natural.

So whatever your age or circumstances spend a bit more time, energy and conversation on what you have NOW. Enjoy it, embrace it, relish it. God's given you some moments that you'll never have again. Don't cheapen them by wishing they were something else.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Do You Know Where Your Kids Are? Really?

Yesterday I was driving home for lunch and was headed down a residential street just before reaching our street. And as I looked to my right I could not believe my eyes. I thankfully saw a little toddler who couldn't have been walking long in a diaper headed towards the road.

He was just ready to walk down the slanted concrete into the road so I slowed down looking frantically for an adult to follow or be nearby. There was none.

So I began to brake thinking I needed to swoop up this child and find his mother or father or someone caring for him. Only then did I see a women, I assume to be his young mother, race out of a home across the street and run toward the child shouting, "Oh my God, oh my God!"

Of course a lot of assumptions and wonderings went through my mind but who really knows what happened.  Hopefully it was a terrible mistake or carelessness that will never happen again.

Thankfully a potential tragedy was averted because this woman didn't know where her child was at every moment.

But I sometimes wonder if parents who would never dream of neglecting a child and endangering its life this way still don't know where their kids are.  At least they don't know much about their well being spiritually, socially, emotionally and even physically.

Parents everyday find out that their child is doing or feeling things they never knew about. And most of us are shocked when it happens, aren't we?  We wonder how we didn't have a clue.  In the worst cases it's parents of kids who end up killing someone later who apparently just looked the other way a time or two.

How do we keep track of our kids in real terms?  Well, there's no full-proof method but there are some places we can start.

Talk to them. Sure teens especially can be hard to connect with but always try. No matter what their age, don't badger, talk. Spend time with them beyond driving them places. Build a relationship by doing things together. Make it easier for them by listening, not lecturing.

Observe them. Take note of changes, odd actions or habits that suddenly change. Do not look the other way and always assume that these occurrences are just because of their age. That might be true but don't be naive.

Guard them. Yes, it's still a cruel world and kids can't handle all the pressure on their own. Guard against their doing too much, not getting enough rest and hanging with the wrong crowd.  Don't be a t tyrant or a safety fanatic but you must still be the parent and say "no" when your gut tells you something is not a good idea.

Teach them. Model healthy behavior, time management and faith. Teach them what it means to practically love God and follow Christ. Serve with them and give them opportunities to use their gifts to help others. Show them how to rest, care for others and do things that really matter.

You won't want or need to follow them around but you can still know where they are much of the time.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Sometimes Our (Family's) Choices Are The Problem!

I decided to go outside and sweep my covered porch this morning but because of some light rain thought shoes might be a good idea. However, being too lazy to tie them, I just slipped them on.

But as I made my way down our lengthy porch to sweep I began to step on my shoelaces. And wouldn't you know it? Every time I moved I stepped on a lace, my body jerked and as a result I found myself irritated.

But what did I do?  I kept sweeping and kept getting mad.

Finally, I thought . . . You know, this isn't anyone's problem but yours, Gary. YOU decided not to tie your shoes, YOU were the one too lazy to tie them in the first place. If you're mad you have no one else to blame but YOU!

I wonder how many of us do the same thing with circumstances and challenges in our lives. We've made bad choices and yet we make everyone else miserable griping about what they are doing to us now.

I wonder how often we let our kids get away with the same thing never teaching them that they need to own what's going on because of decisions they have made. We perhaps use the word entitlement a bit too much these days but in this case we are entitling ourselves or our kids to avoid responsibility for our actions.

If we are going to be healthy and have healthy families then our homes need to be places where everyone has to take ownership for their choices, at least once they are old enough to do so.  We don't have to yell, berate or taunt to do it, however.

Sometimes we need to do nothing if we're dealing with a child. Just let them handle it. Or perhaps they need a little guidance on how to proceed but we don't fix it for them.

Other times we might need to apologize if we're the culprit. I am sorry that I'm making everyone else miserable over this. Or we might need to simply stop griping and irritating others because of our mistakes. We probably need to do something specific to deal with our issue (like tying our shoes) and move on.

We may even need outside help to recognize what it is we're doing that we could actually change.

The key is: don't let not working on things you could change keep you from being emotionally healthy. Sometime God even stays silent knowing that He's already told us what to do. We just need to do it!




Monday, July 7, 2014

Missing The Special Moments? Don't!

This past weekend we attended some outstanding fireworks in a wonderful little town near our home in Princeton, IL. The atmosphere was festive, the people were all having a great time, the fried foods were in abundance and the anticipation for several hours prior was electric.

Near us were numerous children running, playing and just having fun. However, one mother nearby was locked into her cell phone for nearly three hours. Her two daughters were being little girls and having a great time but mom never noticed and only engaged with them when they apparently bothered her.

At one point "Elmo" showed up eager to have pictures taken with him and to cause the little ones to squeal with delight. In fact, at our friend's urging he came right up to this family and made a point to interact with the little girls who were of course thrilled.

Mom never noticed or took a picture.

How sad.

I wonder how many special, fun, spontaneous moments we parents miss because we're too preoccupied with our own little world - the phone, the tech, the urgent. Yes, we can go to the other extreme and make our kids the center of our universe, hover over their every move and do everything for them that they desire.

But we all must be careful to not miss those unplanned, carefree moments like the fireworks when there was no agenda, record to be broken or performance to be evaluated. This mom had an opportunity to make a memory, one that those girls will remember, one that the mother could have embraced and engaged. 

But apparently her wall or the news was more important.

This summer, especially when our kids are around a bit more, take time to enjoy the moments, those special times when your kids are just kids. Those times won't be here forever and someday you will cry that they are gone.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Don't Miss The Fine Print of Family Life

We closed on our Austin condo this week. We went through more challenges than we expected but we're thankful that its sale is finally behind us. However, to complete the process a notary had to be sent to our Illinois home to oversee our signing of the paperwork on our end.

Pretty soon we found ourselves putting our signature on document after document, only some of which I actually read. Frankly, I didn't read much of the small print. I probably should have examined every word though I'm pretty sure I got the gist of things and there's nothing I signed that could harm us later.

However, I wonder if a lot of spouses and parents miss the fine print about what they sign off on at home, forgetting the impact their choices and actions may have on their family.

For example, the fine print for families reads, If you don't build relationships it doesn't matter how much you have. 

Or other forms say something like, Your marriage will never work if you don't work at it yourself.

How about this one . . . . have you read it?  Your kids are not the center of the universe but it's easy to start sending the message that they are. Beware.

Here's another you don't want to miss:  If you run at high speed all the time and never slow down your family may self-destruct.

Or . . . You are signing up for a lifetime relationship with your spouse. This marriage is not supposed to have an expiration date.

One more for now . . . Children are people with feelings, potential, uniqueness and intellect. Treat them as human beings even when you are mad.

Yes, when it comes to families the small print matters. Take some time this week to read it all. The little things count too.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

When It Comes To Busyness Geography Changes Nothing

As I mentioned in a recent post we just moved . . . from a large major city in Texas to a small county seat in central Illinois. Of course there are lots of differences between the two. Some would like one more than the other. We are particularly enjoying this new chapter in a smaller town again. But to each his own.

However, I noticed one thing that apparently doesn't change. People here are just as driven, stressed-out and exhausted as they were in a bigger city. Many still live life around the hectic schedules of their children, rarely miss a special event and believe that this kind of life is what life must and should be.

They have few commitments to anybody or anything outside of their own home. Many have few deep relationships, give their faith a nod now and then for good measure and spend hundreds of hour outside and inside watching their kids play games that they will quit once they leave school and their home.

Of course there are exceptions everywhere too and I have great respect for those who are willing to swim against the current of their culture. Why?  Because I know they are going to benefit from their willingness to slow down. How? Let me mention a few ways.

First, their relationships with one another and others will be significantly deeper. They will talk more, enjoy each other more and stop long enough to see the little miracles of nature and life all around them. They won't be as likely to get into heavy debt and will have a better chance to have well adjusted and less entitled kids.

Second, their faith will be more real and vibrant. Church, Bible study and personal time with God won't be a mere add-on or obligation. They will not only give more but will get more because they will have the freedom to also live out their Christianity by serving.

Third, they will be healthier. I'm not a doctor but research will back me up on the fact that more stress is more taxing on the body, soul and spirit. So when will you break the cycle?  Are you willing to swim upstream, slow down your life and get some of the many benefits of a life less-driven?

It won't happen unless you are intentional now about making some major changes in your lifestyle.  Your kids will have to be a part of it but they will notice the good difference too. Go for it. Don't be like anybody else now and you won't have to live like anybody else later.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

It's Just Stuff: Teach This Truth Well

We just moved. From Texas to Illinois. It wasn't a short distance or a journey without emotion. Moving is rarely easy though home is where you live at any given time. Nonetheless, at our age, it was still a challenge though we are thankful for our new ministry opportunity.

However, one thing surprised both Jackie and me. We were shocked at how much stuff we still had after eight years in a condo. We downsized before we went to Texas so we thought we had toed the line on accumulation and we probably were pretty frugal. But we still had a lot of stuff.  Maybe 120 boxes plus beds, dressers and all sorts of other odds and ends.

Where does it come from?  I guess that depends upon the person or family.  The common denominator?  We all have a lot of it.

Why? Well first of all, we don't throw much away.  So many things seem sacred and sentimental and they just aren't. But we think we might need that or want to look at it again. We have some sort of fear that we might lose something valuable, essential for living.

Second, we tend to think our stuff makes us better or more important. Having the bigger house, boat, fancy clothes and all the rest is often a rite of passage for young couples. But it's all more stuff, much of which we don't need but we think it makes us more important.

Third, we like extra. It just feels good to have more than one or two of most everything. And there's nothing wrong with that and planning ahead for hard times. But most of the world doesn't have extra. And we don't always need it either.

You see, it's important that as parents, spouses and even friends we remind each other that we only need so much. We must learn and teach the importance of having enough and getting excited about giving things away.

Like the name of the old movie, we need to focus on The Right Stuff. And that is way more than more things to move the next time.