Gary's blog for couples and parents plus resources for individuals, leaders and churches.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Staying Married 40 Years: The Tools of Commitment

Jackie and I are celebrating forty years of marriage today, Sunday, June 26th. We were married in 1976, the same year our country was founded.

Oh, wait a minute, it just seems that long and we look that old at times. We actually honeymooned in Canada during most of the 200th celebration of our country's establishment so we weren't too patriotic.

Sometimes we both feel as though we couldn't even be forty years old, much more married that long. On the other hand, we are incredibly blessed to still be husband and wife in a culture where silver, golden and even ruby (40) anniversaries seem to be fewer and fewer.

We were blessed with two awesome kids, who now have their own and have given us six grandsons. Wow, who would turn that down?

But we also know that we haven't been perfect and accept our warts, scars and ongoing challenges that others face. We didn't do everything right by any means and brought our own issues to marriage, ones that we too had to overcome by the grace of God. We've shared some of those stories elsewhere.

If we can share anything, however, it might be just a handful of attitudes and practices that have been handholds and footholds in our journey together, points of balance and strength that have kept us from giving up or giving in. No, we didn't do any of these perfectly but we made them consistent throughout the years.

One, we made time for each other even when we had kids or other significant responsibilities. I've written about this in other posts plus my book, Turn Up Or Turn Around Your Marriage, but I need to highlight the idea again here. We've almost always had a least a day that was dedicated to time together. We still do today.

When we had kids, we shared babysitters to lessen the costs, but we still made it a priority. That time kept us talking, relaxing, connecting and making each other a priority. We dreamed, planned and worked through things because we had the time.

Two, we said "I love you" a lot along with other encouraging words of life. Even in conflict we avoided name-calling, comparing and shame. We knew that words were and are powerful so we kept trying to speak life into each other. A related action is that we still act romantically towards each other in the everyday times - hold hands, sit together on the couch when we watch TV and kiss each other hello and goodbye.

Third, we were always a team - as parents, partners, dealing with finances, making decisions, disciplining the children. Everything we own, we both own. It's all ours even though there might be a few items that one or the other cherishes or uses more. One of our favorite things to do was to plan special trips or other events together.

Finally, though there are more I could talk about, we both looked to God, to Jesus and the power of His Spirit for our ultimate worth and happiness and the strength to live godly. Unlike the Jerry Maguire line, we don't try or expect to complete each other. We immensely enjoy each other's love and care and hope to keep doing so for many years to come. But we are clear that when it's all said and done, God is enough.

You see marriage is a wonderful taste of what only God can do in us all the time. That's why we sacrificed to give to Him over the years, to serve other in missions or special programs like MOPS. It's why we chose ministry together over just getting more stuff. And it's what we believe will make the rest of our years special, whatever time God allows us.

We do value so many who have been our models, mentors, teachers and encouragers. Some of you who will read this are in those groups whether you know it or not. Thank you.

And if our example can help you or someone else to keep committed to marriage and not give up, then it's been worth the difficult journey even more. Feel free to share this post with others who might benefit from hearing a little of our story.

As I like to say, never quit climbing. The view from the top is worth it!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Three Things That Can Steal From Your Kids' Summer

For many parents summer is often either a blessing or a curse. It's a blessing because the early mornings, school nights and mounds of homework end for a while.

It can be a curse because mom and/or dad have to figure out how to keep their cherubs happily occupied, busy and at least somewhat productive when they get bored after only three days without the classroom.

Of course, other factors include the ages, personalities, interests and initiative of each individual child. We parents have many tough jobs but one of them is their supervisory role during summer break.

As a result we can overreact and go to extremes, several which in my mind as a parent, counselor and student of the family cause long-term problems rather than help.

Let me suggest three perspectives and strategies to avoid:

Don't over-program their time.  I know that the trend these days and often the requirements for kids if they're going to be involved again in the fall is . . . MORE. More training, more games, more practice, more experience, more talent development. And all that requires more time, energy, money and in many cases travel for the family.

Of course there are times when we feel like there aren't any alternatives. I remember our son as a basketball player being required to attend summer camps, workouts, tournaments and the like. One year he also got mono so couldn't attend most of the required activities. The kid who started almost every game since seventh grade hardly played his junior year of high school. Really? What kind of coach does that?

Whatever the case somewhere along the way we have to say enough is enough. That doesn't mean we don't let the kids do any of the offerings, but we can say "no" to some. They need a break! They're kids, not recruits.

Don't merely let them get lazy because school is over. I was an education major and taught school for fifteen years. I know that kids forget a lot over the summer. How about giving them a couple of choices that allow them to apply their knowledge, remember the highlights and do it all in a fun setting different from school?

If they started a language find a work, play or learning setting that requires they use their language skills rather than just study them. Music, art, sports, math, science, writing can all be practiced over the summer in fun ways, even ones that are done at home without cost or a leader.

In addition, don't be afraid to tack on a few more chores at home. Teach them some practical skills now that they're around the house more. They can learn to cook, help with laundry and do more yard work. You won't be there someday, remember?

Finally, don't miss out on opportunities to use this more flexible time to serve others. While most parents don't intend to merely spoil and indulge their kids (okay some do), it's easy for our children to begin to think that family life should center around their interests, needs and wants. So, why not find at least one opportunity that your family does together and/or they participate in with a community, church or other area group to help and give to others?

Whatever you do, don't buy into the more is more, look the other way or it's all about me, isn't it habits of so many families these days. Be different, stand tall above the summer status quo. Who knows, it just might change the direction and course of your family for the coming year.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Memorial Days Are Better With Stories

My dad, Harold Sinclair, served four years in World War II. He didn't die in the war. He passed away in 2000, a goal he'd told us about for most of our lives. "I at least want to live to see 2000," he reminded us most every birthday.

However, he could have died in the war and perhaps should have. You see, nearly fifteen years after his passing, I was in mom's attic going through an old trunk of his military things helping her get ready to move. My sister and I were passing things back and forth between attic and the main floor, reliving fun memories and determining what should be kept or not.

All of a sudden I pulled out a newspaper clipping from several documents in a folder and my heart nearly stopped. As I read it, tears came to my eyes and I quickly called my mom and Marilyn. The little article explained that my dad years before had won the Silver Star, one of the country's highest medals for bravery. He had risked his life to save some of his men while facing machine gun fire to do it.

I dug a little deeper into the trunk and sure enough found an old, faded box and the medal was inside.  My dad was a military hero. Sure he was a hero to us in other ways, but we never knew to what extent. My mom didn't know, we kids didn't know of this military award. I wonder if his mom and dad knew.

All I know is that I wish my dad were there to tell us about it. I wish he would have shared that when we were kids.  It would have changed a lot of Memorial Days into Memory Days, ones with far more meaning and impact. Yes, I know that those heroes like my dad were usually pretty humble and didn't want to talk about actions and events that may have had significant emotion and angst for them even years later. That's understandable and perhaps we should all just accept that.

However, it seems that young people today are missing out when they don't hear some of the stories of bravery, sacrifice and commitment that parents, brothers, sisters and others in their families exhibited and experienced for our country's freedoms. Who will pass on the legacy, the knowledge and pride to future generations?

Yes, war is hell and there's much that perhaps shouldn't be included in our stories. And our tales don't need to only be about the war, military or serving our country. But we don't need to remain silent and steal from our children the important lessons, examples and challenges those who served us so well and in many cases died for left us. Why don't we this year talk to our kids, share with our families and express some pride and thanks in story form about the ones who paid a significant price for us to freely enjoy this day?

Then perhaps the picnics, hot dogs, races and games will take a richer and deeper place in our thinking all year long.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Top Ten List For Dads

I can't think of many things I've enjoyed more in my life than being a dad. Of course, there have been a few hard, even disappointing times, but not many. Kids will always be kids and I know I sure made my share of mistakes, learning how to be a father by trial and error much of the time.

But I couldn't be more proud of my son and daughter, now observing them parent their own kids while my wife and I get to enjoy these six grandboys without all the mess (well, most of the time).

And while there aren't any set rules to follow or practices to embrace that will insure fathering success, I wanted to share my personal Top Ten List for Dads.

These are a few practices and insights that seemed to make a difference in any successes I've had as a father the past three decades or more.

Successful dads:

  1. Love their wives.  They don't just act as though mom is another helper. They visually and with emotion show their children that they love mom in very tangible ways and are committed to her for the rest of their lives.

  2. Keep their word. They say what they mean and mean what they say, even if they're not perfect at that now and then.

   3. Act like an adult most of the time. Healthy dads leave their adolescence behind, man up and lead their homes well in a partnership with their spouse. They're not seeking significance from their offspring.

  4. Still have a childlike heart. They can also enjoy playing and having fun with their kids while being spontaneous.

  5. Take care of themselves physically but aren't obsessive about it. Good dads model health and care for their bodies, but they know they don't have to be a super-jock or lifetime athlete.

  6. Live out their faith in everyday ways.  Too many men sit on the sidelines spiritually. Great dads model spirituality, not waiting for their spouse or leaders in the church to grow their kids in faith.

  7. Laugh a lot for the right reasons.  Some dads joke around all the time out of insecurity. Great dads laugh and have fun because they are secure and don't misuse their humor and joking.

  8. Initiate important communication with other family members. Mature, healthy dads are willing to go deep and start important conversations about faith, struggles, concerns and life in general.

  9. Pray every day for their family. Solid, godly dads don't dabble at praying. They live on it. It's natural, but it's powerful. It's common and it's real, not just a habit.

10. Live like they are dying. They live as though every day might be their last. They enjoy moments, make memories and say what needs to be said.

No, there aren't any perfect dads but there can be some great ones. You can be one. I'm going to keep trying as long as I've got a chance. You know, live like I might be dying.

Friday, May 13, 2016

When We Mean Well But Make It Worse

When a loved one, friend or neighbor faces a tragedy or challenge, our natural response is usually to do something, say something helpful or in other words, make it better. We certainly would never intend to add more angst to their situation but frankly we sometimes do - unintentionally.

And our misguided, ill-timed responses are often expressed through our words. We say the wrong thing though it may sound like the right thing.

Here are a few examples along with the better, more helpful, more realistic response.

1.  I know everything's going to turn out fine.  The problem is that in life everything doesn't always turn out okay. Thousands may pray and people still die or remain ill. We lose a job and there's no other job on the horizon anywhere. The better answer . . . ?

I know that you're going to get through this and a lot of us are here to help you.

2.  One of these days you'll discover why this happened.  Thankfully we do sometimes learn what God had in mind or how we grew and what was accomplished in us through a major challenge or tragedy. But often we never learn the why. We'll find out in Heaven perhaps, but not in this life. So it's a bit dangerous to promise someone that they will get the answers about why in this life. Maybe they won't. The better answer . . . ?

Sometimes only God knows all the reasons, but I will pray that you move from having to know WHY to finding out WHAT you will do now and HOW.

3.  I know exactly what you're going through and . . . .  In reality, none of us knows exactly what someone else is feeling or facing even though we may have a similar experience or story.  There may come a time when our sharing our perspective could give the other person some practical help about how to move forward or what not to do. But saying it in the moment of their pain only discounts their struggle and suggests they ought to be able to get through it easily because of where you have come.
There are better answers especially when the hurt is still raw and extremely potent . . .

I can't know what you're feeling but you are free to talk to me and share that anytime including right now. 

Get the idea? To be truly helpful means that we simply stay with another person in the moment without trying to fix, simplify or discount their hurt. Down the road may be the time for other suggestions. Initially make it your goal simply to listen and respond accordingly. I guarantee that the person you're caring for will thank you later for your ministry of presence and care, even though you did little to take away the pain.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Three Things To Be Sure To Teach Your Kids About Home

My wife and I recently moved again after less than two years at our former residence. We've actually been blessed to stay in several places for eight to as long as seventeen years at a stretch but whatever the time frame moving can still be tough.

It's not only the challenge of packing, sorting and then unloading and setting it up all over again. Often the bigger issue is the myriad emotional struggles we face leaving friends, finding new doctors, learning where things are, what you need and how to get places.

And sometimes we can begin to think that we left our real home and are now stuck in some sort of barren Purgatory that will never be the same as what we had before.

In this continuing fast-paced, often - changing - locations kind of society, it is important that we make sure our children know that home is more than a place, an abode of brick and mortar or a school system.

Home is where the family is. I know this sounds like a greeting card or Hallmark Special, but it's easy for kids to forget or simply not know that. In fact, while I don't encourage lots of moves every few years, I do know that the moves we've made have reminded us that home goes with us. Yes, with US. That means, just as the church is not the building, but the Christians, our home isn't that address on Orchard St, but rather the parents and kids.

Home is also a place where we help each other with the challenges, including moving. Yes, it is hard for children to make new friends, leave the familiarity of their school and learn new names, streets and amusements. But each time they have to endure that they are reminded that none of those things were really home anyway and most of the time the new setting is better. They survive and so do we.

Home then is affirmed as that group of people who yes love us but also help us make it. We live through it together and care for each other when we're hurting. We may have all shed some tears driving out the driveway but we also share the smiles that can come with a new place with new adventures and new dreams.

Finally, home is the place you always go to feel safe, comfortable and real. When I was in seminary and our son was just two we lived in Texas for the summer.  Our home, however, was in Michigan. The day we returned after ten weeks in the South, we were bringing things in from the car and knew Tim was in the house but we didn't see him.

So we of course went to discover where he was and we found him sitting on his bed. And as we walked into his room he simply said one word, "Home!"

You see our kids will face some tough times perhaps having to leave a location and some people they care about but thinking they're leaving home. And while we know better often young minds don't. So teach them about home where their real home is. Prepare them for that day when home might be somewhere else but not with someone else.

I'm thinking Heaven might be like that, too.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Three Key Non-negotiables In A Healthy Marriage

Every marriage, every relationship has its uniquenesses. Some spouses are more active or outgoing than others. Some have no kids, others a couple, some a large brood. Some husbands and wives love the outdoors, sports or travel. Others can be happy at home, enjoying local family and not being too busy.

Those special differences make the world better and life rich. Each couple ought to enjoy the image in which it is made.

However, there are a handful of qualities in good marriages that need to flourish in every couple's portfolio if they're going to succeed and stay married 'til death do them part.

Let me suggest three.

They make quality, meaningful, interactive time for each other. This is time that is focused on them, not the kids or other family, not work or individual hobbies and not television or other entertainment simply done together.

Some of these times will be very informal, while others may be more serious. Leisure, fun and even errands can be done during these times but the key is that they emphasize being together. There are few distractions from other people, responsibilities or dissimilar interests.

They speak to each other (and yes even argue) with respect, kindness and avoiding contempt. Marriages that last are known not for sweet and syrupy conversation all the time, but rather a basic tone of voice and use of language that is never mean, disrespectful or unnecessarily hurtful.

Couples avoid demanding, derogatory name calling and shaming one another. They speak in the here and now without bringing up past mistakes to gain advantage or control. They also build each other up both in private and in front of others, never using humor or berating of the other with friends, family or acquaintances.

In fact couples would be wise to get some counseling or other practical help on how to communicate with one another more effectively. Check out my marriage videos at Marriage Videos.

They regularly talk about how they are doing as a married couple. In other words, they aren't afraid of evaluation. We usually take a mini-retreat every year to do just that. We have fun, go somewhere we both would enjoy (need not be expensive) and talk about both the past year and the one ahead of us. We actually take time at the end to pray over our goals and ideas.

You can do this any way that works for you but give it a try.

Of course there are more important keys to a great, effective, intimate marriage. But why not start with these three and see how you're doing? It's worth investing in one of the most important relationships you have and will ever have!