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

Monday, May 21, 2018

Teaching Your Kids To "Pay It Forward"

This past week my wife and I traveled north of our home about an hour to visit a popular air force museum, have lunch nearby and just leisurely enjoy the rest of the day. We had a great time and were taking our time heading home when we remembered seeing a pie store on the way up.
It caught our eye for a couple of reasons. One, we love pie. Two, it was located in a somewhat remote section of road and apparently only sold pies. We simply couldn't pass that up.

So we pulled in to the lot and headed through the front door of this small, attractive building. Inside we were not disappointed as we saw a couple of large pastry cases filled with homemade pies. Our mouths of course began to drool and we began talking about the kind of pie we would order to take home with us.

However, as we looked around the woman behind the counter said, "I'm just letting you know that we only take cash or checks here." Our enthusiasm immediately flatlined as we both knew that we rarely carry cash and we didn't have our checkbook. So we graciously told her that we would stop in next time and headed for the door.

A young thirty-something woman was in the process of getting her order filled and had taken out her checkbook to pay. Upon hearing our story, she immediately said to us, "Listen, I would be happy to write a check to buy your pie for you." Not sure what she was exactly saying I replied, "Well, thank you, but I don't have any cash to cover your check."

She then said, "Oh, no, I'll just buy it for you. I'd love to do that." Still stunned we stammered, "Well, okay, thank you so much. We'll have coconut cream."

Keep in mind that this woman didn't know us or our financial situation at all. We are at a time in our life when we don't have a lot of extra, but we aren't poor and obviously could buy a pie without having to skip dinner or go without gas in the car.

She apparently didn't care about that. She just wanted to pay it forward. Perhaps she's a very giving person, likes to serve others or just got a supernatural nudge at that point. We'll never know. What we do know is that she made our day and reminded us of the importance of looking for similar opportunities.

Yes, the common term these days is paying it forward. Maybe it is also just being nice or having a sharing attitude or being thankful for what we do have rather than wanting more. Whatever the case, we got a powerful reminder of how special it is to help others. 

I also thought again about how important it is to teach the younger generation to do that. Our society has so many more popular examples of demands for more money, fame and possessions that it's time we balance the ledger a bit and also model servanthood and giving more of what we have away. 

I found myself wishing that her children, if she has any, could have seen their mom helping us out. On the other hand, I imagine she shows them in other ways.

I'm looking for a similar opportunity this week. It's not that we don't help others like that. We love sharing what we have. But we got blessed by a stranger and it truly lifted our spirits. My guess it did hers too. How about joining in this week and making someone else's day. And if possible, let your kids watch.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Five Signs That Your Kids May Be Settling For Just Okay in School

Let me start out by saying that there's little I dislike more than those parents who unfairly and needlessly push their kids to excel beyond reason or their normal capabilities, apparently trying to live vicariously through the successes of their offspring.

These parents are pretty obvious most of the time. They demand the best teachers and coaches, the kids have no social life and their children can rarely do enough except to be perfect.

However, on the other hand, some children will have a tendency to just get by, do the bare minimums, live on their natural abilities but not be the best they can be. They get decent grades, receive general praise from their teachers but may not be working up to their abilities and thus will need a nudge, challenge or even ultimatum from mom and/or dad depending upon the circumstances.

So let me suggest five signs you might look for that could be indicators that your child or teen needs some encouragement and direction from you or someone to get moving again.

They rarely talk about school in a positive way. Sure, lots of kids when asked how their day went give the classic response, "Fine." But over time kids who are trying hard, working their tail off and sincerely trying to do their best will talk about their successes and/or struggles because they want to do better. If you never hear anything about school, especially on the positive side, check things out.

Their grades and accomplishments don't change much. They get the same marks, do the same kinds of projects and write similar kinds of papers. While they're not doing terribly, you never see much improvement in their writing, mathematical thinking, musical skills or athletic prowess.

Homework is an afterthought more than a priority. Yes, kids today love their phones, video games, music and all that. That's normal to a point. But if you rarely hear them talk about homework or they always say, I did it in school, I wouldn't buy that and would check with their teachers. Some kids can get by on talent but that's rarely enough. 

They don't dream as much or talk about their special goals. Maybe the older kids used to discuss being an engineer or doctor or starting their own construction business but now they have more of a whatever attitude. Or the younger ones, not yet thinking seriously about careers, still rarely talk about what they could be someday even if it's unrealistic.

They don't seem to think they excel in anything anymore. At one time they thought they were an up and coming musician, ballplayer, artist or Lego builder but now there's nothing that captures their attention or purpose. So they just get by doing the average, same old things they know they can do pretty well but that's about it.

If your son or daughter seems to exhibit three or more of these tendencies you might have a talk with them and/or their teacher, mentor, coach, etc. No, the answer isn't to put the hammer down and demand that they now become a superstar in something. 

Instead, help them think about some goals, begin to go after them and remind them why having a direction and desire to keep doing better matters in life.  If you sense there are underlying issues that aren't being addressed then pull in a quality counselor who can likely get to the root of their insecurity.

Remember: a little change now can lead to huge results later!


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Let's Honor The Real Men Of The Year

Yesterday another Citizen of the Year award was given by a national magazine to a supposedly brave, culture-impacting athlete. To read the headline you would think this person found a cause for cancer, fixed major crime in his city or saved hundreds of people in burning buildings.

And of course there are numerous awards like this one given each year, usually to musicians, movie stars and professional ball players who were more infamous than noteworthy and yet placed on a pedestal for their perceived courage, bravery and boldness.

And while I'm not going to address this particular person or award (he's had enough unnecessary notoriety already), I do want to offer honor and kudos to a group of men who in my mind should more appropriately be given well-deserved Citizen of the Year acclaim. They make up one of numerous groups that we could better lift up as examples to others, especially our children.

I want to suggest that we instead give our praise to every man who:

1. Works hard each week to provide for his family.
2. Comes home and plays with his kids even though he's tired.
3. Still dates his wife and the mother of his kids, making regular special time just for her.
4. Guards his family's activities and commitments to assure meaningful time together.
5. Often communicates his love, encouragement, faith and hope to his family.
6. Is honest about his own failings, temptations and lacks in judgment.
7. Shows respect to and appreciation for those in authority, government and law enforcement even when he may disagree.
8. Models serving and caring for others.
9. Makes his faith in Christ something that affects him everyday.

Yes, we could make the list way longer but the idea is there. We have men all around us who, though not perfect, are faithful, consistent, working hard and being far more courageous morally, spiritually, emotionally and practically. As I alluded to earlier, we could write about groups and subgroups of men, women and even children who model the same commitments, habits and passions.

Isn't it time we give them some love and honor rather than to those who do so little and yet receive the acclaim of a magazine, awards show or television appearance? I know this, it's these little known men, women and children all through our culture who are the ones that we'll not only remember longer but who will impact us in ways that are more likely to change us forever.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

What If This Thanksgiving Had More Thanks In It?

Most every family has some sort of Thanksgiving traditions. Many are meaningful and remembered for years to come while others may be memorable but aren't particularly anticipated or welcomed each fourth Thursday of November. Of course there are the classic ones . . . . Alright everyone before we eat, let's each tell something we're thankful for.

And as the food cools, the preschoolers share their thankfulness for things like the sky, the dog and mommy (dad seems to always get left out) while older ones try to impress and keep things moving with one or two word answers such as God, food, my room and cell phones.

Deep, huh? Although one of the parents, usually the one about to also pray and allow the food to turn completely cold, rescues the moment with a tearful, Well, I'm just so thankful for my family. . . . and football!

Of course if you avoid some of the holiday disasters that have been reported over the years, maybe you should just be thankful for that.  For example, Thanksgiving dinner conversations can get heated such as when an angry Maryland woman one year stabbed her half brother with a serving fork. He was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries and she was arrested for first-degree assault.

But what if we intentionally tried to add more thankfulness to not just our holiday but more importantly to our lives and the souls of our family? Wouldn't that be a far greater result in this era of entitlement and privilege here in America?


First, start affirming and even expecting thankfulness at home. No, don't turn your responses or comments into punishments or berating. Instead, start as early as possible to simply teach kids to say thank you. Model adding thanksgiving first to your prayers without immediately beginning to ask God for a list of things.

Second, don't give in everyone's expectations, personal preferences and demands. I know of many parents who allow home meals to become restaurant-like where everyone can order what they want, how they want it and what should come with it. Kids can instead learn to be thankful for what has been provided for them in that meal and later enjoy special times when their unique food wishes are granted.

Third, provide some experiences where the family is reminded how good they have it. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or for an organization that works with disadvantaged people. Serve at non-holiday times, too. A short mission trip accomplishes similar goals.

Fourth, talk specifically about the best things they have to be thankful for such as their salvation, life, health, a home, jobs, a good school, etc.

Finally, teach them to share some of what they have with others. For example, if they earn money, have them give ten percent or more to the church and other organizations.Some families give part of their Christmas or birthday funds to help others. This hurricane season is one setting where there's lots left to be done for many months.

However, you do it add some real thanksgiving to your home all year long and maybe you can avoid some of those embarrassing moments this November and actually eat your holiday dinner while it's still hot!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Thinking About The Kids When Your Church Is Struggling

Spoiler alert! There are no perfect churches. So, yes, your church will face problems too if it hasn't already. Some problems are minor, some a very big deal, but few can be kept private or away from young, curious ears and eyes. At some point your kids will probably hear something as well or perhaps should be brought into the loop.

Let me suggest a few principles that you might keep in mind if your fellowship experiences significant challenges. Of course, any actions and responses must be guarded and guided by the age of the children, the nature of the offenses and the people involved.

But in general several reactions are wise:

Clear up as much wrong or misleading information as possible.  Usually rumors and talk are guided by what people think happened rather than what they know for sure. Of course there are many implications and meanings to Jesus' comments in John 8 but his words, The truth will set you free, are certainly applicable here. And if you don't know the truth tell the children that you aren't aware of more but that you're not going to make assumptions.

Remind the kids that it's always important to talk TO the person(s) involved not about them.  Merely talking about them without their knowledge and without a biblical reason is gossip, nothing more, nothing less. People in churches often feel they have the right to go over someone's head before talking to them personally but Jesus again said otherwise in Matthew 18. Christ's church and individuals in it can be deeply wounded by words that are said to others even if there might be a sliver of truth in them.

 Pray together for the people involved, that God would bring healing and that the truth would come to the surface. If there are several opposing parties involved pray for them to find forgiveness, honesty with one another and resolution.

Commit to not talking about the situation with each other or others in the church.  Model for your children giving the authority and responsibility to handle things to the church leadership. They were put in place in part at least for that reason. Give them a chance to do their work.

Finally, talk with your kids about conflict being normal and okay if handled correctly. You might look at the story of Paul and Barnabas after their first missionary journey described in Acts. They disagreed dramatically and yet God blessed them both. Conflict is not a bad thing and can be used to bring healthy change and understanding.

If anything, when conflict bubbles up in your church, become a part of the solution and ask God to use it to grow the church, not tear it down. Jesus again said, By this will all know that you are MY disciples if you love one another.  Let's model that first and foremost and our kids will come through the difficulties just fine.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Why You Don't Want Your Kids To Feel Entitled

My wife and I went to an outdoor concert the other night featuring one of our favorite groups. And the performers did not disappoint. Their harmonies were incredible, the weather was perfect and I even got to slap hands with the lead singer who ran down the aisle next to me during one song.

There was just one problem. We were in about the 20th row from the front and after three or four songs, all the students in front of us (and hundreds of others) pretty much stood for the rest of the show. We ourselves either had to stand in front of hundreds of people behind us or basically not see the stage.

Now before you complain that I'm just this old guy complaining and should understand the common habits and practices at today's concerts, hear me out. First of all, we were in reserved seats, not on the grass or at an Austin, Texas club where there are no chairs. Second, this concert was heavily attended by 40 - 60 somethings. None of us had come there to hear Maroon Five or a popular rapper which would attract mostly youth.

And by the way, we attended a similar kind of concert at a different venue about a month ago and saw the same kind of thing. Two women, a mother and daughter this time, stood in front of a group for quite a while. When one of the blocked patrons said something the daughter responded with something like . . . It's not my problem.

First of all, the refusing to ever sit when in front of others seemed rude for starters. But it was also almost as if the students felt entitled to do what they wanted to do, to see what they wanted to see and not care about anyone else.

You see, that's what entitlement leads to and why we need to teach our kids that life and the universe aren't only about them. A sense of always deserving certain things breeds selfishness. It's going to be hard to teach children about giving up something for someone else if they believe that they have somehow earned or inherited the right to be first and most important.

Entitlement can also lead to laziness. "I'm entitled to this money, this education, this seat at a concert,"  or whatever so why should they expend any effort to sacrifice for themselves or others.

Entitlement also leads to an errant worldview. Our kids can begin to think that life must be easy, that others don't really matter the way they do and that relationships of all kinds must have them at the center. And sadly, many who think that way have entered or will embark on marriages or parenting still believing that life all revolves around them.

So mom, dad, take a look at how your home works. Do you directly or indirectly foster entitlement? If so, what could you do differently. Don't lecture them, just start acting differently, expecting them to contribute and/or sacrifice more. Give them less stuff and more of yourself. They are entitled to that!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Five Things They Won't Likely Teach Your Kids In School This Year

School starts soon. For some it begins next week while for others the opening bell is another month or more away. Parents are excited to soon get some normalcy and routine back into the schedule while most kids can't believe how quickly the summer flew by and that school is almost back in session.

And thankfully, many of our schools will do stellar jobs teaching science, math, history, etc. orchestrated by committed, passionate teachers who give their best for too little remuneration in most cases. But it's worth remembering that there are some concepts and life lessons that we often think our kids are learning that probably won't get much attention in the hallways or classrooms.

Let me suggest five of the most important lessons our children would benefit greatly by learning some about in school but probably will not. We could certainly argue whether they should be addressed or not in our educational settings. Nonetheless, it's important that we then think about how we are going to teach and model these vital lessons for life.

1. Our kids won't be taught how to deal with relational conflict. Sure, when two kids fight, the teachers break it up. When a few of them loudly disagree with each other they may be told to hold it down. When there is a conflict between student and adult, most leaders will be happy to get the student to agree with them or just do it because I said so.

But there will be little training or modeling of how to appropriately, wisely and maturely work through differing points of view accompanied by intense emotions. And while we could argue that schools need to focus more on learning the basics and their accompanying subjects, there is still a place for showing students how to handle points of view that differ or resolving everyday disputes they will face with others.

2. Our kids won't be taught how to think logically. In public institutions they'll be told more what to think or to only think about a limited slate of ideas, often ones that generally don't include conservative, religious views. But we, even as parents of faith, need our kids to learn to think through options, evaluate truth from a variety of perspectives and be able to articulate why we believe what we believe.

Even in classes math and science, there is value in learning how to compare ideas, use the scientific method and examine all points of view for their validity. But most public schools will stay away from arguments for perspectives they deem non-popular or not to be tolerated while sometimes in Christian schools the students are simply told to accept Christian perspectives with little consideration of any evidence or analytical thinking.

3. Our kids probably won't be taught the whole truth about history. History is often re-written in our schools today where past heroes can be portrayed as horribly flawed, where America is more the evil empire than the greatest provider of aid in the world. The role of Scripture, the church and religious leaders has been nearly erased in many textbooks these days.

It has become more popular to criticize America and its leaders today rather than to have a balanced and fair perspective on our country both past and present. While we don't have a perfect country or past, there is far more good in it than will likely be highlighted in our social science classes.

4. Our kids won't be taught that moral guidelines of the past have relevance in our culture today. Perhaps the most obvious one is that sex was intended by God to be enjoyed and to flourish in marriage between a man and a woman. I was watching a game show the other night and the prize was an overnight date with the person the woman chose as her favorite. And to make it worse, they told us that the date ended up with the woman actually hooking up with the limo driver the night of the date!

And yet, living together, having casual sex and one-night stands will be generally accepted, assumed or ignored in most of our school settings.

5.  Our kids won't be taught the value of life. Yes, certain poor treatment, abuses and even killings may be criticized, critiqued and bemoaned as they should be, others, such as the killing of life in the womb abortion or taking the life of someone in law enforcement if they feel the cause is justified will be ignored.

And of course, if we stop here the news for many of us and our kids isn't good. Yes, some of us will find more peace in our private school setting where some of these issues awill actually be addressed.

But it's critical that we as parents don't just sit back and hope for the best or let others do the important work for us of teaching our children the key things we want them to learn. Instead we must start, be proactive and find creative ways to teach them. We don't have to train them all by ourselves however. Some of what we can do is take our children to places, seminars, teachings and other experiences that can assist us with these important lessons. We can get them next to people who will model truth.

Start or continue the task now. Don't wait. Don't assume. Your school is less likely to help you than hinder you. So make the most of this school year -  and teach the other things, the missing things, at home.