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

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Five Discomforts Every Parent Needs To Embrace

There are lots of things parents endure that are certainly yucky or at least not much fun, right? We live with these irritations but would rather not have to face them: dirty diapers, kids with the flu, filthy clothes, messy rooms and food that lands on the floor, just to mention a few. You get the picture. These facets of parenting, though necessary, aren't exactly the most enjoyable parts of being a mom or dad.

But I want to suggest that there are at least five potential kid qualities that, while they too may make us cringe at times, should actually be welcomed. They will in most cases shine a beacon on wonderful, future possibilities that our children might never encounter without them. Don't push them aside.

The child who always has a better idea. Do you have a potential lawyer at home? You know, the one who you always had evidence and even witnesses to present as to why what they want to do, be or think is better than what you have in mind. These kids can be exhausting and of course at times need boundaries.

But these are also the kids who are going to be entrepreneurs, try new things and have the ability to think subjectively. They'll one day come up with better ideas for all of us and likely go a long way in the adult world.

The child who questions your most valued beliefs. This may also be the same child in the better idea group but here we add that they regularly question everything from your political perspective to your personal faith in God, the Bible or Heaven. And yes, you may spend much of their adolescent years debating and getting them to quit hating church or even go.  But trust me, they have the greatest potential to develop a deep, long-lasting, passionate faith, because they've dug deeply into truth. They don't just believe something because you as a mom or dad did. They make their belief system their own.

The child who doesn't like doing the things most others like. We live in a very activity-driven culture these days, with accomplishments, trophies, scholarships and other awards that are often agreed upon spoils for being successful.  And you're not popular if you don't participate. Add to that the fact that there are a limited number of acceptable arenas for that success - i.e. certain sports, certain music options and certain kinds of schools to enter - most parents would rather their child didn't deviate from that list.

But some of our kids do not gravitate to these common talents, skills and interests but take the road less traveled. They're into writing, specialized art, other cultures, history or acting and we need to  celebrate, encourage and listen to them. These are people in our churches who also need to be told they can do something in our gatherings and ministry that counts and is just as important as the more common talents. They add color and fabric to any group if we'll just let them.

The child whose temperament is different from the others. This uniqueness often fuels the others I've talked about but it's worth its own mention. One child will want to be with people all the time and rarely plays by himself or herself. Another, however, can stay busy and interested in lots of things while alone in a room for an hour or two. I have one of each extreme in my immediate and extended family. And at times I've honestly worried about both of them for different reasons.

But today one is a successful entrepreneur while the other is a tremendous graphic artist who's helped me on numerous occasions.

The special needs child who adds a little more challenge to each day. I've never parented a special needs child so I'm hardly an expert. But I've rarely talked to a special needs parent who doesn't regularly get blessed because of their child's extra insight, perspective and focus on what's important. Yes, they are often more work, at least for a long while. But that little bit of discomfort always brings greater joy that would not probably be experienced in the same way without them there.

So, mom and dad. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed about having a child or two or three that doesn't exactly fit some sort of mold you were expecting, consider yourself blessed. You may not see all the positive outcomes today, but the best is yet to come. Wait for it.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Why Your Marriage May Be Getting Stale Without You Knowing It

Have you ever headed to the refrigerator anticipating a cold drink of milk or juice, a crisp piece of fruit or a crunchy vegetable. Or maybe your more decadent taste buds were already salivating as you thought about that one piece of pie or other dessert still there.

But when you went to take that first drink or bite, you knew in an instant your choice was no good anymore. The delicious flavor had lost out to time. Nothing would save it and you threw it all away.

Things get stale, deteriorate if left alone, even in an environment designed to keep them fresh a little longer like a refrigerator. And so do marriages. Without attention, care and intentional feeding our relationship, though perhaps in a relatively healthy environment can become pungent and lose its flavor if we don't make caring for it a priority.

We get busy, focused on our kids or parents, run ragged at our job, overwhelmed by too many commitments and don't notice the deteriorating relationship with our spouse.

And if we don't stop and re-evaluate, shore up our time, intimacy and connecting as a couple, the results may approach being irreversible like that piece of fruit that has lost all its flavor and shape.

So what do we do to keep a marriage fresh?

Of course, there are hundreds of ideas that can help, some working for one couple, different ones being effective for others.

But let me repeat a few general guidelines:

Take inventory. Get away or take an evening or two now and then and admit how you're doing or not doing. Be honest. Ask each other, How do you think I've been doing as a spouse the last few months? Be lovingly ruthless and admit it if you've gotten distracted. Talk about what the two of you might work on to put some focus back on yourselves.

Add margin. You will never enrich your relationship if you don't make time for it. I can't tell you specifically what to do but I can pretty much guarantee that you'll need to cut something  -  attending so many kids' activities, not volunteering as much, letting go of some overtime, you decide. But it will be worth it. Is anything worth losing the most important relationship, apart from God, that you'll have in this life?

Do some planning together. Think about some things that you both would enjoy doing that you're not going to wait to do until after you retire. You can't do them all, but how about some of them?  A trip, weekend away, take a class, do a missions trip, a cruise, etc.

Marriages left alone don't stay healthy and vibrant. And we can't blame when they do on nature alone. It's our choice to keep our relationship strong, exciting and always growing. Check your marriage refrigerator often.  That can save you a lot of surprises and disappointments.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Three Things Every Child Needs To Learn About Leadership

Most of us parents have these dreams that someday our kids (at least one of them) will be in front of a team of people, maybe even thousands, motivating them to do great things, change their lives and perhaps lead others as well.

Of course the reality is that not all of our kids for a host of reasons will aspire to or have the talent to be in that dynamic a situation. They aren't all born with the skills, personalities and temperament to be great influencers of people.

But there are some things that every child needs to learn, especially at home, about leadership whether they ever become a leader or not.

First, they need to learn that everybody leads. No, not everyone is gifted as a leader, but everyone will lead even if it's only by default. As John Maxwell and other leadership experts suggest, leadership is influence, and we all will influence others in some way for good or bad.

Perhaps a corollary to this idea is that our actions towards others matter. We may only influence a sibling, a friend or two or a neighbor, but we're still leading. In other words let's teach our kids that their actions have consequences and often that will mean impacting someone else.

Second, teach them that not everyone is designed to be an overt, formal leader. Leaders need good followers. In fact following well is also a taught and nurtured skill. We parents can make a huge difference in how children actually learn to follow, us as their parents and the other leaders in the world.

And yet many parents are absent when training to follow is possible. They expect others to set up the rules and keep their kids on task, leaving the guidelines and boundaries open ended much of the time at home.

Third, we need to model for our children that leaders are to be respected even if we disagree with them. Yes, children will need to deal differently with peers who exhibit leadership skills early on and may want to use those skills to dominate or control them inappropriately. We'll probably have to help them navigate those waters and learn how to respond.

But, too many kids never learn how to talk respectfully and graciously to adults at school, their job in the future or church. They hear their friends talking down about leaders so they can be swayed to do the same.

Leadership training is not something to be put off until our kids are adults. Leadership is modeled and nurtured as well in our homes and we dare not skip our responsibilities in that. The dividends are significant.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Sometimes We Smell And That's A Good Thing

Alright let me be blunt here. Why do a baby's diapers smell so bad? Is it the vitamins? I don't know. Of course there are lots of things whose odors are so pungent that we immediately turn away. Rotten meat or eggs, manure in a farmer's field, something that burned on the stove or in the oven, even certain flowers not known for their sweet fragrance.

Whatever the case, when something has a bad fragrance we don't stick around long. We move away from it or at least try to cover it up.

But let's be a bit more positive. What smells and odors are we attracted to? Freshly baked cookies, bacon, a favorite perfume or aftershave, a just bathed and powdered baby who no longer has that messy diaper I mentioned earlier?

This morning I was reminded that God asks us to live our lives as a sweet smelling fragrance, an aroma that people are drawn to, the odor of life not death. And we're to give off that scent even during the tough times, when days aren't going as we'd hoped.

How can we do that?

Well, it's knowing that no matter what's going on in our world, God's still in charge.  He can still handle whatever we're facing. Just because life stinks, our world doesn't have to.

On my way to work I'll sometimes stop at a McDonald's for a morning latte. I've gotten to know the drive - thru team pretty well, too, so in the few seconds I may have there I usually get to talk to one or more of them. This morning the regular woman there who takes the money smiled and said, "Yours is free today. The person in front of you got it."

I said thank you but of course looked to see if I recongnized the car or person ahead. I didn't. I think it was a drive - by blessing. But somehow my spirit got lifted a little and I found myself wanting to do the same for someone else. I got a whiff of a caring fragrance that filled my car and my spirit.

I know I need to think more about my odor each day and is it one that people will hope sticks around or would rather dissipates quickly? Will my responses today be a sweet or ugly smell? What if we talked with our spouse and our kids about how we could through our actions and attitudes be more of a welcoming fragrance at work, school, church or wherever in the community? What if we shared at the end of the day how we attempted at least to make a positive difference?

Yes, there will always be smelly diapers and rotting garbage out there. But there are hundreds of ways to give our world something else, a scent that they'll enjoy all day, perhaps all week long. It may be the breath of fresh air someone needs to move forward or keep going.

How are you going to smell today?  The answer will be based on our choices and decisions. And it's possible that someone in our world could use some cleaner air. See today if you can help.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Three Things I Most Want To Leave My Kids

Most of us have heard the old illustration or challenge to think about the three things you would grab first if your house were on fire. And yet, our response to that question does tell people a little about our priorities, at least regarding temporal things.

But given more time, as we usually have with our children, what three things do you hope stay with your kids long after you're gone? This is a little different question since one, we do have time to work on these items and two, they're  more under our control.

So have you thought about them? Doing any planning?

Let me suggest three that seem pretty important to me. See what you think.

One, I want to leave my kids the model of a life lived beyond himself. No, I know they won't ever think I'm perfect. That possibility and image have been long erased. But I do hope they see that I sacrificed for them and for others. I hope they've observed both my wife and I putting aside many of our own wishes and demands so that others, including them, could be blessed, encouraged and helped.

I hope they too will look for opportunities to appropriately (see below) love and train their kids and make it a priority to serve their neighbor, friends and the needy around them

Two, in what may appear an opposing goal, I hope they saw my wife and I making our marriage and time together a high priority and continuing that goal after they left our home.  While yes we do make sacrifices for our kids and others, our relationship is still important and that has to be balanced out with our other commitments.  Some couples unfortunately make their kids and other family requirements their mini-god and worship at the altar of busyness around them.

In fact, we continue to pray that now as adults our grown children can find the healthy balance between parenting and keep their own relationships strong and healthy.

Third, I hope they will ultimately see that while I am clearly flawed that I made my faith, my walk with Jesus more than just something I did for work, to feel better or to impress others. I hope someday they'll look at my Bibles filled with notes from my personal study. I hope they can meet a few people whose lives were touched because I invested spiritually in them.

I hope they can see times when I stood up and did the right thing even though there was opportunity to do otherwise. I plan to share more stories about how God intervened and gave me opportunities to help others that I could never have done on my own. I pray that long after I'm gone they will see a spiritual legacy lived out in the lives of hundreds of others, including them, that my life touched over the years.

Yes, there are things that may get lost in a flood, fire or just because they wear out. But there are some things that need to last and be shared with the next generation. What will your list include?

Friday, January 15, 2016

Life Is A Vapor: Make The Most Of It Now.

An early morning text woke me today, telling me what I had feared that a sweet man and friend from my church had died following a major surgery. He loved Jesus and was never afraid to talk about his faith, raise his hands in worship or serve others.

He'd had quite a few surgeries in the eighteen months I've been at the church so I called him our Bionic Man. He loved the joking and always made my day with his smile and attitude. He was a key part of our MenUP! planning team again for this year's retreat in April. A lot of us are going to miss him.

But it seems like our church and community have recently lost an unusual number of people to deaths that weren't anticipated or expected. Most were way too young, some teens, some suicides, others in accidents or had health issues that went bad. So many families are still reeling from the pain of an empty space in their lives.

And of course, we can never hope to understand why and need to trust that God did not miss these events. Thankfully, when people know Jesus and have a relationship with God, we enjoy a hope that we'll see them again. But the the loss is still overwhelming and the sadness great.

And every one of these losses that any of us experience should be a prompting to not waste the special time with people close to us that we now enjoy. I know I need to do a constant check on my priorities that I slow down and keep the main things the main things. Do I really embrace every moment that I have with my spouse, kids, grandkids and extended family?

Are we just running through life doing what we think HAS to be done when there are moments we could be enjoying with those we love that cannot be embraced at 70 mph? Do we savor each other, take time to hear their stories or just play and have fun anymore without a schedule to follow?

Are there people we need to say thank you to or I'm sorry or I love you that could be gone before we know it and we've missed our chance.

No we don't need to live morbidly, but we each have to answer those questions for ourselves and would be wise to take inventory. I think of the song Vapor by Little Big Town.  It's worth a listen if you haven't heard it. The chorus simply says, I want to live, I want to love, Just one more day is never too much, never enough, I want to drink in every minute that I can, Life is a vapor, fire and paper, gonna make the most of it before it's gone.

So who will you stop and savor a moment or two with today? Where can you slow down and not just fly by some person you know you would so miss if they were gone?

Yes, life is a vapor. Make the most of it before it's gone. Skip, you'll be missed, buddy. I'm glad I knew you. See you again someday.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

Three Things We Need to Quit Telling Our Kids

I'm confident I could find scores of studies that show parents really do have the ability to impact their children over time.  The research would no doubt suggest that if we do things relatively well we can teach our sons and daughters how to relate to others, love God, work hard, save for the future and someday lead a home of their own just to name a few. I'm thankful for that.

However, there are several things I hear parents regularly suggest to their children  and I just have one cautionary word for these likely well-meaning moms and dads: STOP!

I'm sure there are many examples to be mentioned but I'll go with what I call the big three, all untruths and errors we parents need to finally avoid saying or implying.

Just put your mind to it and you can do anything you want someday. What? No, our kids can't do just anything they want to do someday and neither can you. Kids with little athletic interest or skill won't make the Olympics. Someone like me who can barely cut a piece of wood or hammer a nail was never going to build a house and shouldn't for that matter. A child born blind isn't going to be an airline captain at Southwest. The more you think about it, the dumber this sounds.

And it's okay that we can't do everything we try or wish for. We're still humans, not Jesus. So let's not suggest to our kids that they will always succeed and reach their goals and dreams. What we mean, so let's actually say it, is that there are amazing things they can do and some will be things we only dream of now but the list won't be endless. There are exceptions. We just set our kids up for huge failure and disappointment when we're not honest.

Or a related misguided comment is, You're really good at that . . . when they really aren't. Again, we're falsely building them up believing that our phony praise will be good motivation and they won't feel bad. The problem is they don't need our pretend accolades to be successful. If anything, we would be wiser to help them find what it is they actually have an aptitude and affinity for and let them succeed at that!

We tell our kids that they're great soccer players at age five and many of them actually hate playing it every week, but we prod them on. In reality we often need them playing more than they do. Why do you think so many terrible singers get angry, throw tantrums or run down the street shouting obscenities at the judges who told them they were terrible on American Idol? Didn't they know they were horrible singers? Probably not.  In many cases mom and dad kept believing that they were awesome, going to someday be superstars and should never let anyone tell them otherwise.

The main result from this one is a bunch of kids who feel entitled thinking that everyone else should see that they're wonderful. But instead they become a laughing stock in front of millions on Idol or quit trying to find a job or go to college because they got turned down a few times. What happens to their view of themselves now?

You deserve to be happy. The problem with this seemingly innocuous comment is that it ultimately implies that our happiness is based on others giving it to us. And if those others do not come through for us, then we're victims, we've been mistreated, even abused in our minds. In addition, because we supposedly deserve happiness, then some take that as license to either demand it from others or focus all of their efforts and energy on pleasing themselves to dull the pain.

Instead, why don't we show our kids how we find happiness and joy even when times are difficult and life doesn't work the way we'd hoped?  Let's spend time pointing them to our God, our faith, the source of true joy even when we've faced tragedy, pain and sorrow.

We have much to teach our kids while they are in our homes. Let's not screw it up with messages that miss the mark of truth and reality by a long shot.