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

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Make a New Year's "Revolution" This Year

As I write this post I'm sitting at my sister-in-law's home having enjoyed several days of family time with more to come during the upcoming week. Lately I've been thinking a lot about how blessed I've been to have first lived this many decades and second to have the family I've been enjoyed for so many years.

However, while some of life was beyond my control, I'm thankful that at various turns on my journey people have encouraged me to both stop and evaluate where I've been and to regularly reconsider where I'm going. In fact, there have been several key watershed moments in my life that have radically changed my direction. Life could have been far less meaningful, interesting and impacting without those vital times that helped me gain new perspective.

So as the new year approaches I want to encourage you and/or your spouse to not just make some casual resolutions that you will probably forget about in a week or two. What if this year you thought and prayed about just one major new direction that you will take this year in your marriage, parenting or life in general?

What if you said, "I'm not going to settle for this coming year being just one more year of my life? Instead, I'm going to do something different, something more lifechanging that will make a difference in the life of someone and matter more for eternity."

Maybe it will involve the fulfillment of a personal dream. Dreams are often those things that would best use our skills and resources anyway while breathing new life into our everyday world. Perhaps you could serve others in a new or fresh way through sharing your time and talents in the community, your church or city. Maybe there is a project that needs your specific skill set and passion where hundreds, even thousands of people would be changed as a result. The possibilities are endless.

You see most of us tend to get into some ruts that are comfortable in many ways but that have stymied our personal and family growth. It's hard to find a new way to look at life and your future when all you can see are the walls of the long bunker you've lived in for a long time.

Our marriages and families could find new energy and excitement if we'll just take time to ponder how our direction might change and our purposes could be fulfilled.

So where do we begin? Well, you might start by simply answering these questions: What have I always wanted to do that I've never done before? (You know, develop a Bucket List!).

Second, what passions and talents do I have that could be used to help someone else?

Third, has anything - a cause, need or person - been gnawing away at me lately and occupied a lot of my thinking?

Some careful thinking, pondering and praying with a spouse, friend and even older children could help give you a whole new direction and turn your former resolutions into a life revolution. Whatever you do, start somewhere! Don't let this next year just be another 365 days of the same. God made you and me to be difference makers so dare to be different. You won't regret your decision, I promise.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Keep Your Family Connected

Driving home the other night I noticed the flickering of one of the video screens that are now standard fare in many family vehicles. The kids in the back of the SUV were no doubt being entertained while mom had a little peace and quiet during the trip home. And of course there's nothing wrong with those cool, technical things we all have access to these days. I can think of numerous times when our kids were little when we would have welcomed a DVD (which wasn't invented then) to keep the kids busy on road trips.

We were one of those "Hey, don't make me come back there," kind of parents who definitely needed an extra tool now and then to help us make it to our destination without going crazy.

And while I, too, love the benefits of today's amazing technological gadgets, I see many children these days who are allowed to pretty much disconnect from their families because of them. Cell phones, iPods, DVDs, video games and the like have sadly become for many actual barriers between kids, their parents and the rest of the world.

Young people are allowed more and more to remain in their electronic cocoons any time they are not involved in school or their own activity of interest. And while I'm overstating the case a bit to make my point, it's possible that a child today could . . . wake up in the morning to his iPod, text a score of times during breakfast and before school, watch a video on the way to school in the carpool, spend numerous hours during the day on the computer, watch another video on the way home while texting some more, then retreat to their room to listen to more of their favorite songs, watch other videos or TV programs that afternoon and evening and then head for bed.

And the whole time they might have spoken two sentences to their parents or siblings!

And should they have opportunity along the way to ride with mom or dad to a ballgame, doctor's appointment or restaurant, they may again hide behind their ear buds while in their own virtual world.

So let me again make it clear that technology can be wonderful and has its place. Where would we be without DVRs, computers and smart-phones? But don't let electronics keep you and your kids (or spouse) from meaningful interaction and connection with you and others. Of course, there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach or the perfect plan, but let me make a few suggestions.

First, make sure that the use of technology is a privilege not a right. Whether at home, in the car or at a friend's house, don't allow your kids to instantly or out of habit pop a DVD into the player or to pull out their ear buds for their mp3. Set a tone and atmosphere in your home and car that makes interaction with you, other family members or friends who are with you the priority and first choice.

We too often let the TV or video become our babysitter during legitimate times when our kids don't need one, they need us. Sure, on long trips some of those distractions can be helpful and appropriate. But take some time wherever you are to do some things together, to talk to one another, to share stories, to listen and to engage.

These family times are going to be precious and few when all is said and done. We simply dare not miss out on these special moments because we chose to look the other way or got too busy.

Let me also suggest that you think of some questions to ask your kids or spouse that don't have a yes or no answer. With younger children you can play the favorites game where you try to guess one another's favorites. Or instead of asking the proverbial, "How was school today?" question, try something like, "Tell me about the project you're working on in Mrs. Johnson's class" or "What's one of the things you like most about _____________.

If you have a group in the car or the whole family is together, suggest that everyone gets to talk about one thing they like so far about vacation, the new house, their youth pastor at church or whatever. It will take some preparation but it will be well worth it. And if they're at that I-don't-want-to-talk age, don't let them off the hook. They may be self-conscious and all that but you won't be helping them by giving in. Keep at it. Graciously find their hot button and topics they like to talk about and go for it.

Third, use limits. There are times when it's simply best that the video or TV stays off, the phones are out of sight and the headphones stay home. If their use is a privilege and not a right as I suggested earlier then this will be easier to enforce. Let your kids know that they need to ask first to use those things. As they get older teach them how to set their own limits and then expect them to keep them. Be the parent and lovingly, but firmly, say "no" sometimes and show them another, better option.

Tech privileges can also be a great bargaining or discipline tool that we can pull out when we need to have a consequence. Give your kids an amount of time that they can use their tech stuff and take it away in reasonable increments when they don't behave. However, be vigilant in keeping your word on this and if married make sure that you and your spouse hold to the plan.

Finally, use technology together when you can. Sometimes listening to music, watching a video or sending text messages can help us communicate and to be together in fun ways if we use them wisely. Talk about a movie when you're finished, play some games together on your Wii or research something on the computer.

Remember, we've been blessed to have so many helpful inventions that make our lives more fun, organized and productive. However, be sure that in your world, you control them and they don't control you or your kids! Oops. . . gotta go. I just got a text.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Breaking the Harmful Cycles - Part 2

Breaking cyclical behaviors, attitudes and actions from our past is rarely easy. Many of those characteristics in our relationships stem from years of habit, dysfunction and emotional inbreeding. It will take our own honesty, intentionality and commitment to rid ourselves and our homes from the effects of years that are now behind us.

And sadly, much of what we do today is not our fault. However, we must take responsibility for what we do from here on and the good news is that change IS possible. We dare not accept the idea that this is just the way we are and everyone else will have to accept that. Our God is a God who changes people from the inside out!

I gave a couple of beginning suggestions last time about how to make those significant changes we need to make, to not be run by our past so let me add a couple more this time. First, be honest. Admit that those tendencies, responses and habits still lurking in your heart and mind are real and need to be addressed.

If you're married you need to fess up and talk about them with your spouse. It's also helpful to get some counseling or mentoring that can help you face some of your issues head on and begin to do something about them. Whatever you do, don't just cover them up. Like a tumor that has the potential to do great damage, we must have our "tumors" exposed and ultimately removed so that we can begin to live more free of the cancers from our past that can potentially damage everything.

Second, begin to go where you fear the most. Most of us have things we simply won't do because of the fear, shame or inappropriate actions we've learned from our past. For example, you may have been taught or had modeled that the only way to get what you want is to yell or demand. So now your home is a place where a loud voice is the only one that "wins."

You likely fear that you will never be heard or given attention if you're not the tough guy or gal. If you're going to be different and begin to model a new way of relating then you'll have to try another approach. You'll need to move toward your spouse or children confidently but without the loud voice. You need to try being gracious, listening and not just talking and getting your point across without all the gusto.

Or if you believe that people won't like you if you don't do just what they want, lavish them with gifts or always play the pleaser you can try something different. Decide to be their friend - period - no strings attached. Be willing to say what you think for a change even if you disagree. No longer demand that they like you.

Fear is the great paralyzer. In fact most of our past struggles stem from fears that were built into us, modeled or obtained. We fear not being loved and accepted. But instead of enjoying God's unconditional love and acceptance we demand it from others in our lives. And when those people don't come through for us (and no one ever does that perfectly) we begin to panic.

With God, however, there doesn't need to be any fear about who we are. In Him, we're always OK. So go where you fear and begin to change those debilitating and even destructive tendencies you've brought with you from the past. Change may be slow and tedious at times. We'll never totally arrive until Heaven, but we must head in the right direction.

It will change everything!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Breaking the Harmful Cycles From Your Past - part 1

I celebrated my birthday recently! And no I'm not telling you my age. Most people think I still look quite young, however. Unfortunately most of those people also have 20/600 vision. Nonetheless I'm truly thankful for the years God has given me and for a generally healthy and normal family in which to grow and thrive.

However, we all have things in our past and present that we would like to change, right? There are no perfect families and many of us have faced some pretty awful circumstances or been treated poorly by dysfunctional and hurtful people.

The good news is that the cycles of hurt, pain, shame and inappropriate relating you perhaps experienced do not need to continue. In fact, you can and must change them for the generations to come. Sadly, many families stay in generational orbits, meaning that how they related and functioned in the past continue un-phased into the present . However, like the space shuttle when it returns to earth, we must add some new power or energy from somewhere to get us out of orbit or nothing will really change.

That implies that we will have to start acting and functioning in our homes in strategically new ways. We must learn how to act fundamentally different with our spouse and/or our children so that harmful attitudes and actions from the past are not replicated in our situation. At the same time we must intentionally pass on those things that are important, the spiritual and moral truths that we do not want our children to lose or the healthier ways of acting and relating that we know are best.

Psalm 78 wisely challenges with these insights. . . . "We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power and the wonders he has done . . . . So the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children . . . (and) they would not be like their forefathers."

So where do we start? I would first suggest making a list of the most important truths, habits and attitudes that you want your family to embrace and exhibit. You may think these would be obvious but chances are they are not necessarily on your radar or at best you've not been very intentional about developing some of them in your home. Then take inventory and ask yourself and/or your spouse how you are doing. Prioritize your goals and determine which ones you'll work on first and with the greatest passion.

Next, start considering what moving toward those goals would look like. What would need to change if certain things were going to be emphasized and practiced more in your home? What needs to be stopped? What can be worked on? What have other families done to teach or heat up certain values in their home. Learn from others. Ask around. Read.

Of course, you can't protect your family from every negative influence but you can make those influences less impacting by highlighting the positives and healthy ways of living every day in your home. Sometimes we may need to lessen or even quit our involvement with certain people in our families who continue to be negative and hurtful models. That's something you will have to decide while getting wise counsel from others.

But please do not be casual about this. Don't assume that your church, school or youth group will teach these important truths for you. And don't expect that things will be different just because. As the well-used time management adage suggests, We don't plan to fail, we just fail to plan. As I mentioned earlier real change, change so that the past doesn't repeat itself, will require intentional and planned energy and effort.

So next, start somewhere. Pick your most important goal and do something to move you and your family in that direction. Take small steps but don't be paralyzed. If for example you want to start seeing more positive affirmation and encouragement in your home then begin by doing that yourself.

At the same time you can perhaps try a new game at some of your meal times where everyone has to share something positive they have seen or appreciate in the other people around the table. If you want to raise the value of saving money then help each of your kids to open a bank account and begin saving in some way from their allowance or odd jobs.

If you want to help people learn to be more honest with each other then make honesty a high priority in how you and/or your spouse speaks to one another and the rest of the family. Attitudes aren't taught or developed in a day, week or month. They are seen, acquired and practiced over long periods of time.
Start now and the dividends will be great later.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Make Christmas Extra Special At Home This Year

Does it seem like Christmas shows up all-of-a-sudden each year? In July it seems like it's a long way off but once fall arrives the holidays come rolling towards us with a rush, don't they? And if you're like most people, the Christmas season can easily suck the life and energy out of you rather than being an enjoyable, celebratory time to remember Christ's birth.

So while we're still a few weeks away, let me make a couple of suggestions to help you in your marriage and family perhaps make Christmas a little more special and meaningful this year. First of all, break a few traditions. Yes, break them. Do something a little bit different. If you always tend to travel think about staying home. If you always open gifts at a certain time change it up. Sometimes when we do something a little differently it means more and we remember it longer.

Second, give more away and keep less. What if you took a part of your Christmas giving resources and gave them away as a couple or family? That could take lots of forms from working through a local agency to helping out a particular family. What if your Christmas shopping this year involved you going to the store and spending most of your money on others instead of yourself? What a great lesson to teach your children that Christmas is more about giving than taking.

Some agencies like World Vision even offer gift booklets that allow you to give money to buy a large ongoing gift for someone in a third-world country that they could use year round such as an animal to provide milk or a well that would give water. What if you and your kids went through their ideas and picked something that you would together give?

Third, tell the Christmas story in a meaningful way. Read it from the Scriptures, act it out as a family, or watch a movie. Talk about what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph to face the circumstances of their new baby being born in a manger in a barn or cave. Sing some Christmas carols together, too, and perhaps serve some goodies to top off the evening.

Fourth, make some cookies or other simple gifts to give to your neighbors just for fun. We used to go and carol for our neighbors with our two little kids and then offer them a plate of cookies.

Fifth, totally go away somewhere and forget the regular Christmas rush. If you don't normally travel this will be more fun. Take your resources, give some away, and then put the rest toward one trip somewhere and skip all the gift-giving. Just enjoy being together.

There are lots of other creative ideas out there. In fact, if you have some put them at the end of this post for others to see.

Let's face it, most of the world around us has stolen the real Christmas from us. They want the season, the lights, the trees, even the name but they've left Jesus out. It's more about what people can get rather than what they can give. And they've forgotten that God gave the greatest gift in all of history to the world on that first Christmas, Jesus, His son, born in a manger so that he could ultimately die for us.

Don't let the real story get lost this year. If anything, help it come alive by making your Christmas unique, special and full of meaning this year. Merry Christmas!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Making of an "Affair" part 2

In my last post I talked about how affairs start and progress. The first stage occurs when we become vulnerable. We're not communicating, we're hurting from a major loss, some aspect of life is especially trying or we simply quit paying attention to one another. During those times we can find comfort with another person of the opposite sex which can lead to what I call engagement.

We don't intend to be unfaithful but through a simple conversation or two, coffee, a lunch, some back and forth bantering, an internet connection or regular interactions within a group, we start to become attracted, at least on an emotional level. We may see our connection with them as innocent but because it feels so much better than how things seem in our marriage we go back for more.

And if we continue to become more intimate in soul and spirit with the other person the next step can lead to a physical betrayal and adultery. In fact, as I said last time the betrayal already began and the affair had actually started emotionally. However, once the physical line is crossed the road back becomes more difficult and painful.

Marriages can be devastated, ministries lost and reputations ruined. Spouses usually have to face coworkers, family and friends telling them through their tears what happened and how they've let them down. Many spouses unfortunately make it worse by continuing to try to cover up the truth rather than facing the facts and dealing with them.

So let me talk first to those who have entered into an affair whether it's known or not. Stop now. No excuses. Stop. Your marriage can make it but the road you're on is a road to more damage and pain not health. Get some help from a friend, pastor and/or counselor. Come clean and do the right thing.

Don't hurt your spouse, children and marriage any more by waiting. You will have to face a long journey of counseling, discussions, changing of habits and the like. There is no shortcut. And there is no guarantee that your marriage will make it. But if you are Christ followers you have a much better chance to get through it. In fact, eighty percent of marriages impacted by an affair stay together although sometimes they don't remain in a healthy marriage.

Become accountable to someone for the rest of your life. Being in community with others who love you will pay incredible dividends. Determine that you will do whatever it takes to restore the marriage relationship you committed to years before.

But let me secondly suggest to all of us what we can do now to help avoid compromising our marriage vows or getting into that situation again. First, don't have exclusive close associations with members of the opposite sex. Jackie and I together have female friends, but I alone don't have my own female friends.

I don't even go to coffee or meet in a restaurant with any women alone. I want to do everything I can to guard against any inappropriate connection or the impression of one. I also don't want to risk a relationship with another female that is attractive even for a short while.

If you're in a setting where regular connections with the opposite sex are required or regular (I am), then set up appropriate and healthy boundaries. Make your decisions now what you will and won't do. It's better to be overly careful without being an annoyance or rude. But if your employer, for example, is unwilling to work with you on those boundaries, seriously consider your options at that job. I realize that may not seem very practical in our current economy but how practical is it to lose your marriage.

Second, keep growing in marital intimacy. Couples who are talking to one another regularly don't need to find someone else to talk to about their struggles. Couples who are praying for one another and growing in their faith aren't tempted to find spiritual connections somewhere else. If you serve others together you'll grow tremendously and help anchor your relationship. Because you see, unfortunately the church and other seemingly safe places are often where many affairs start.
Also, keep evaluating with each other how you can make more time together, get away from time to time and work on your relationship in general. Make time to enjoy your physical relationship too. I like to say that if you don't seduce your spouse now and then, someone else might!

Third, get help when you need it. There's nothing wrong with letting someone else look into your marriage and help you walk through the rough spots. Guarding your heart is your responsibility and it will protect one of the most important possessions and relationships you'll ever have. And it's worth it!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Making of an "Affair" part 1

This is a topic I'd rather not be writing about but it's too important and relevant to skip. I deal with couples every week who have been torn apart by inappropriate relationships with the opposite sex. I see the pain and long agonizing months and even years it will take to bring healing and reconciliation.

I also sadly observe the couples who don't make it because the pain is too great and/or one or both won't accept the hard work it will take to be restored. Add to that children who can be impacted by it all and it makes you wonder why anyone would risk facing all this.

However, what I want to make sure we all understand, including me, is how vulnerable any marriage can be to an affair. That's because the majority of affairs do not just happen. There were several stages that the offender went through most likely thinking that there would never be a problem. Unfortunately, they were wrong.

So let me in this first post on this important topic suggest some of the dangerous phases of our relationships and their warning signals that can help us avoid the tragedy of an affair.

We must first be aware of and address the times when our marital relationship is vulnerable. Our relationship is particularly at risk when . . . there is significant stress (which is most of the time), when we're not communicating well, when we've gone through a difficult emotional experience such as death, job loss or other personal challenge.

We can be vulnerable when we're too busy to spend significant, intimate time with each other and our relationship is just on auto-pilot or in orbit. We are in danger when our children's attention and activities are allowed to rob us of meaningfully connecting with our spouse.

The problem is that when we're hurting and not relating with our spouse, we can easily be attracted to someone else who does connect with us. They may be the associate at work, the volunteer or staff person at church or even a neighbor who simply shows us a little attention. But when we talk to them they listen, they're interested in us, they follow-up concerning our struggle or even pray for us!

In those times of need some meaningful interest from another person, interest that we're not getting from our spouse for whatever reason, is like a cup of cold water in the desert. It tastes wonderful and without thinking much about it we long for more. So we find ourselves wanting talk to them a little more, spend a bit more time with them, send them one more email/text or even consider having coffee or lunch. That leads to the second stage which I'll call engagement.

We start to connect with this other person beyond our normal relating. We can begin to take risks and not care because the thrill of having another person care about us seems so worth it.

Of course, we disguise it by saying it's nothing or it's just for business. We call them just a good friend and a person whose wisdom and advice we find helpful. But without knowing it we could be on our way to an affair. Why?

Well, intimacy is more than physical, contrary to much of Hollywood's perspective. Intimacy involves body, soul and spirit. When we start to expose our soul and spirit to someone of the opposite sex, we're starting to become intimate with them. Is that necessarily all wrong? Of course not. But it's dangerous because the physical was designed by God to work in tandem with soul and spirit in men and women.

This is why affairs are so prominent among religious leaders, counselors, doctors and therapists - there is much soul and spirit connecting that goes on between those leaders and those they work with every day. Now obviously an affair does not need to be the result but we must be intentional about doing our part to keep things from escalating beyond appropriateness.

Because if we're not careful we'll at some point move to the next stage - betrayal. Yes, in some sense the betrayal has likely already started but at this point a significant line is crossed. That line is usually a sexual relationship that has started but it doesn't have to be physical. It may be emotional but the connection is at a new level. The spouse begins talking and relating to that other person about things that are deep within. They share words meant only for their spouse but they don't care anymore.

They may even take their "spirituality" to a new place, praying for each other, sharing Bible verses and being involved more deeply in serving together. It may sound and look acceptable but it's not.

If you find yourself at this place or headed in this direction, I want to plead with you right now to stop. Get some help. Talk to someone. Quit the relationship today. The consequences are too great. God said that we're to give ourselves only to our spouse and he said that for our good.

I'll talk next time about some practical things you can do to keep yourself from ever getting to this place. In the meantime, as Proverbs 4 says, guard your heart.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Teaching Your Kids Lasting Truths

One of the most difficult (and often scariest) tasks for a parent or parents is to figure out how to teach God's truth to their kids. We usually have good intentions but in reality our time pressures, fear and lack of training usually cause us to leave this task to the experts. As a result we expect the church, the Christian school or other organization/group to do the work for us.

However, there are a few problems with that approach. First of all, God tells us parents that this kind of training is our job. Check out Deuteronomy 6 and Proverbs 22:6 for starters and you'll see what I mean. The church and school can be available to help us but they're not to take our place.

Second, we miss out on the opportunity to spend meaningful time with our kids. When we're teaching them they're also seeing our faith modeled in us. We are also afforded opportunities to talk with them about some of the most important lessons and truths of life. Why should everyone else have that chance instead of us?

So, where do we start if we want to be intimately involved in the spiritual training of our kids? Well, first of all, start early if you can. If your children are young begin now. Start simply, but get going. The more you make training them a natural part of your home's routine the more responsive they will be when they're older.

Second, be creative and age-appropriate. Not all spiritual training has to be done while you're sitting in a table with the Bible open. When our kids were little we used to act out Bible stories rather than just read them. We used to take all their stuffed animals and put them on the couch to teach them about Noah's ark. We'd find a wood plank in the garage and use it as a ramp in which to march the animals into the ark.

Other times we'd act out Daniel and the lion's den. I'd be Daniel and our son Tim loved being the lion. We had great fun while they were learning some of the most important stories in the Bible. As they got older we used other methods such as letting them read the story themselves, finding well-written Bible story books and looking for God in everyday life.

I remember taking a trip with my son and a number of other dads and their kids to Colorado. We learned some phenomenal lessons about God by observing the nature all around us and talking about it in a relaxed, enjoyable setting.

Third, talk with your kids about what they're learning in church, children's ministries or youth group. Find out what they're studying and then make time to talk with them about it. Keep it light and fun, but let them teach you! They'll enjoy that a lot more than being lectured to in some boring after-dinner devotional. In fact, there were times when we had our kids in church with us and Jackie would draw pictures during the sermon to help illustrate what we were learning in simple ways.

Finally, be sure that faith is lived out in your home everyday. When your children see you stop and pray about a challenging situation they're learning to do the same. Bring your kids together with you to pray about their struggle, others or a family decision. You can even use TV and movies to talk about the spiritual lesssons to be learned. You can follow up by looking at or finding scriptures that might illustrate that lesson.

In addition, find ways to serve others in your community or on a missions trip. God's truth suddenly comes alive in ways you won't be able to teach when you're ministering to others who have less than you do.

There are all sorts of ideas and ways to teach God's truth to your kids. But whatever you do don't leave the teaching in the hands of someone else. Becoming involved yourself is really worth it. And you might be surprised how much you learn in the process!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Ten Mistakes To Avoid on Your Next Marriage "Date"

In a recent post I talked about the importance of married couples continuing to date and spend focused time together even if they've been married a long time.

However, there are some pitfalls that would be wise to avoid if you're going to truly have a meaningful and special time. So here are my top ten things to avoid when on a date with your spouse:

10. Texting the entire time with your children, coworkers or best friend.
9.   Bringing the paper along to read during dinner and doing the crossword during dessert.
8.   Going to a sports bar - period. Just don't.
7.   Leaving the radio or stereo going whenever you're in the car. Just talk.
6.   Taking in a hockey game. There are too many fights that might bring up bad memories.
5.   Attending an activity that one of you clearly hates.
4.   Talking the whole night about your kids.
3.   Referring to several of your spouse's greatest weaknesses.
2.   Having a debate about politics, the war in Iraq or TV evangelists.
1.   Not making plans for the next date.

So, are there some things we can do to make our dates more interesting and desirable? I think there are although every couple will need to determine what unique activities fit them best. Here are at least a few things you might try:

A. Play the favorites game. Each person gets to bring up a topic and then you try to guess the other's favorite in that category - i.e. ice cream, movie, song from the 80s, actor, book, etc.

B. Ask the other person what they've always wanted to do but never could and why?

C. Talk about what your dream vacation would look like.

D. Discuss the favorite place you've ever lived along with the place you'd most like to live someday if money were no object.

E. Share one of the times in the last year when you really saw God at work.

F. Exchange things you want the other person to be praying for you the next week.

G. Go somewhere you've never been, even if it's just local. Research it ahead of time and then make plans to get there.

Hopefully you get the idea! Dating is part of the glue that can help marriages stay together, fresh, alive and exciting. You can take turns planning them or just work them out together. They don't always have to lavish (ours rarely are) but they can always be fun and you can learn more about each other if you work at it. Sometimes you also just need a no-brainer date where you dont' talk about anything of significance.

Whatever the case, keep dating alive in your marriage. Just make sure it's only with your spouse!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Are You Still "Dating" Your Spouse?

Remember those days when you and your spouse were just getting to know each other? You called each other on the phone, set up a special place to go or spot to meet, held hands everywhere you went and made the evening last as long as possible?

But then came marriage, kids, a house to take care of and bills to pay. Working late and getting older meant you were more tired and it was easier to just share a quick kiss and say goodnight. Time for each other became replaced by time for everyone and everything else.

No more love letters, evenings just for the two of you, and conversations that seemed to never get boring. It was like you'd learned all you could about the other and if there was more to find out it was just too much effort.

Does any of that describe your marriage? Or are you possibly on your way there? One reason might be that you and your spouse have forgotten what it's like to date or you've quit making personal time for the two of you a priority. And if you quit being intentional about your one another relationship, you'll quit growing closer.

But here's the good news. It's never too late to re-kindle the sparks in your marriage. And you don't have to wait until your kids are grown or the house is paid off or you get that perfect job with the ideal hours to do so. And I'm not just talking about returning romance to your marriage but also deepening your total intimacy of body, soul and spirit.

Let me give you a couple of suggestions that you can adapt to your specific situation. First of all, commit now to a regular time to do something together. Some people pick a night of the week or every other week that is date night. If that works for you go for it.

We have chosen a day or part of a day each week that is more our day. It's varied over the years depending upon our work situation and the ages of our children. When we were younger, had small children and didn't have a lot of extra money, we worked out an every-other-Saturday morning deal with some friends where we would watch their kids one week and they would watch ours the next. That way we never had to pay for a sitter but stayed committed to get out of the house together.

Now we spend every Monday doing something. Sometimes we may include some errands but we're still together and at least have a relaxing lunch in there somewhere. But as much as possible we're out hiking, going to some new place and eating at a different restaurant. It usually doesn't cost a lot but it's worth millions for our marriage.

In fact, because we've done this most of our married life, it was a natural thing to continue once we became empty-nesters. And our kids also learned growing up that while they were incredibly important to us and much-loved, mom and dad's relationship was a priority too. Remember your home is Marriage 101 for your kids. What you do is what they will more likely model themselves.

Second, talk together about some things you could do as a couple that you both would enjoy. You may need to add some new things to your list or there might be some activities that you used to do that you've long forgotten about. We've found that much of the fun and what brings us together revolves around the planning of the events.

Is there a trip you've wanted to take? Is there a new hobby that would be fun to try? Don't wait until you're old to start checking off some things on your "bucket list."

Third, get away for at least a couple of nights together every year. We've found that those extended times help us to take inventory of how we've been doing the past year as a couple and/or parents and what we want to work on during the coming year. That coming together helps unite us even more around our real purposes, goals and what we believe God wants for us and our family.

A classic excuse I hear from married couples is, "Well, we just can't afford the time to do those kinds of things." My response is, "You can't afford NOT to do them." If you're too busy to work on your marriage, then you're too busy. If time with your children has usurped any time for you you're in for trouble at some point if not already. Invest in your relationship with each other. It's one of the most important possessions you'll ever have. Enjoy it and enhance it. And do it now.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Talking About Your Roles in A Marriage

The five-year-old of some friends of ours recently said to the father, "Dad, why are you doing the dishes? Dads only do dishes when their wives are dead!" Pretty telling isn't it? And funny! Yes, sometimes we send messages that we never intend to send. I talked about that in an earlier post.

But the little girl's candid comments also are an important reminder that couples may not ever talk about their expectations of one another especially when it comes to the roles they are willing to play or not play in a marriage. Thankfully, our friends had obviously talked and decided it was OK for dad to take on something like dishwashing but in some households that would be a no-no.

I remember early in our marriage I would help with the dishes and then wipe off the stove and counter. I didn't do that because I was some kind of knight in shining armor. No, it was because that's what my mom expected us kids to do when we were growing up. I thought (and still do think) it was a part of doing dishes. However, Jackie took it to mean that I didn't think she was doing a good enough job.

That led to some important discussions about our roles!

While there are few right and wrong or clearly obvious roles per se in marriage, many people think there are. How they were brought up and the models they had or didn't have determined what they now think is appropriate in a marriage. Somewhere along the line (ideally before marriage) those things need to be talked about and agreed upon.

One or both partners may need to accept the fact that their marriage doesn't need to play out the way their family's did when they were young. But role problems don't have to go on and on. They can be fixed.

However, two things will inhibit our addressing the problem. One is not talking about it. When spouses continue to do something that they hate or resent doing or feel they're not the best equipped to do, bitterness can occur. That doesn't mean that we don't need to sacrifice and do hard things that may not be enjoyable. But to not talk about what's best and who can do a role most effectively or how to share the load more fairly will only lead to more problems.

The second harmful pattern is assuming. Don't assume that just because your spouse has been doing something all along that they enjoy it. Take inventory together now and then of your roles and ask each other if you both need to consider some other options for getting certain things done. Does one of you need to step up and help more? Is it time for a break? Is there a way to give you more time together by putting a responsibility on someone else? Do the kids need to help more?

You'll have to work out the details and how things will best work in your marriage and home. But start by taking time to communicate about the roles you play or will play. For example, if you have your first baby on the way, talk now about what will be expected in terms of childcare, getting up in the night and curbing some activities for awhile.

If mom is going to start work at some point, how will things need to change around the house? What difference will it make if one spouse is going to get home an hour later every night? Remember, intention is one thing, perception is everything. Head off some problems at the pass now and you'll walk through the challenging valleys that come later much more effectively and happily.

Well, I gotta run. I think it's time for me to get to sewing those buttons back on my shirt.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Teaching Kids To Talk To And Respect Adults

A number of years ago now I remember going to a wedding where I ran into some of my son's friends from high school who were then in college. While I didn't know them as well as some of his other buddies I was interested to see them nonetheless and they certainly knew who I was.

So I simply greeted them and asked about college and how things were going for them. Their answers were something like, "Uh . . .", "OK," and "Hey, good." There was no response of even, "How are you, Mr. Sinclair," or even any details about college, their life or interest in our son who they had known well.

Now granted, I wouldn't expect any college student to want to engage with an old guy who they didn't know that well and maybe I surprised them. I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

But I know this. Our son, Tim, at that same age wouldn't have had any trouble engaging any other adult in at least a little, polite conversation, whether they were 30 or 90. In fact, he talked on and on to adults when he was three! Is it any surprise he's in radio and can talk with ease to tens of thousands of listeners?

Kids are certainly different and have unique personalities. Some are more talkative and others tend towards being shy. However, I think parents can and must help their children to learn to talk readily and politely to adults in their world.

Now of course I'm assuming that parents will also warn their kids about just talking to any adult, particularly strangers. That's a different situation. But let me make a couple of suggestions that can help our kids to speak with adults in appropriate settings.

First of all, give your kids opportunities to speak casually with adults in your home. I've gone to numerous family visits where as soon as the adults walk into the house the kids are shuffled off to their rooms to play. Why not give the children a chance to interact with the adults first for awhile and then split up when it would be more appropriate?

Our children have to learn that the world is filled with people of all ages. And if we never give them a chance to connect with adults and learn to interact with them, when will they learn? How will they address and communicate with their teachers, neighbors, professors, pastors and bosses someday?

Second, don't let them only live in their technological hiding places. Too many kids are allowed to let their cell phones, video games and iPods become their whole world when they're out in public. Now don't get me wrong - I love technology. I use an iPhone, iPod and yes, have even sent text messages.

But challenge your kids (and that may mean saying they can't use their cell phone while you're at a certain event) to make the effort to talk to people, not just stay in the comfort of their virtual or electronic world. And it will help if you model the same behavior. Our messages and emails will wait, too.

And yes, our children should be free to have some fun time with other kids their age at a wedding, picnic or church gathering. However, make sure they get some practice and experience meeting and talking to other adults somewhere during the day or evening. Your kids may balk, but remember you're the parent and trying to teach them an important skill and lesson.

Third, talk to them yourself. And not just about everyday things. Do you spend time conversing about life, their likes/dislikes, about world issues and people in need? Some parents say, "Well, my daughter just never talks about anything." And that's true - the longer we let our kids not talk the less comfortable they'll be.

But if some serious talking between us is the norm early on then they'll be more likely to interact as they get older, especially during the challenging adolescent years. You might even be a bit afraid to talk to your kids about deeper things, but trust me they want to engage you even if they don't like to admit it.

Finally, teach them how to be respectful in their conversations. You may not feel compelled to require they say "yes sir" and "no sir," but you can require respect in other ways. For example, they can learn to stand up and greet people they're meeting, to say "It's nice to meet you," or to shake hands when it's appropriate. They can learn to speak in sentences and not be afraid to talk about their interests and ideas with those older than themselves.

The benefits of working now to help our kids relate to adults will be huge someday. Don't put it off. Start now or keep going if you're already at it. It will be SO worth it. And just maybe one or more of your kids will actually be influencing others through their words in ways that make a difference. You never know.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Big FOUR Mistakes in Communication

There are lots of mistakes that we spouses make over the years, some of which are pretty hard to swallow or come back from afterward: forgetting anniversaries, talking about old flames, not offering a compliment and the like.

But psychologist and author John Gottman has identified four of the biggies that we would be wise to know about and seek to avoid if our marriages are going to continue to grow and thrive. I share these with every couple in pre-marital counseling and I think they're worth mentioning to anyone in a marriage these days. In fact, the cautions are worth considering in our parenting or general relationships as well.

The first one is criticism. Ever been around someone who is always critical of you or others? No, I'm not talking about times here and there where we honestly and in love tell another something negative that we believe would truly be helpful. Rather, I'm thinking of persons who have to criticize everything. Your cooking, your looks, your clothing, your opinions are never enough or always in question. Sometimes the criticism is couched in humor but it's very real and hurtful nonetheless.

We all need to be encouraged now and then and no one is always wrong but many people send that message to others all the time. Chances are they feel nervous about their own worth and value but that doesn't help. Don't be your spouse's or child's biggest critic.

Second is defensiveness. Many people respond themselves to every comment by defending themselves rather than hearing the other person out. "Honey, did you get milk on the way home?" "Get milk? I worked until 6:30 and you wanted me to remember milk? What did you do all day?"

Or "You know, last night when you responded the way you did I felt hurt and blamed for everything." "Well, you WERE at fault. You're the one who's supposed to be dealing with the kids when I'm not here. Why are you always trying to get me to take on your responsibilities?"

Do you relate? Are you this way or do you know someone like that? Makes you want to just stay quiet the next time, right? So many people think their value is on the line when someone else is displeased with them. The good news is that it is not. Our worth is found in God who made us. If we're His child then our worth is forever secure. Our spouses, children or friends could never be enough for us anyway. Don't defend - listen and engage. You'll survive.

Third, silence. I used to use this one a lot. Jackie and I would disagree about something early in the day and then I'd leave for work. I'd get home later and would come in, turn on the TV and read the paper. I figured, "Why upset her? Let's just forget about it." I finally figured out that she saw my silence and not dealing with it as a reflection on her, that I must have believed she couldn't handle it. And she was right. I wasn't treating her with respect by being silent. I was protecting myself.

Finally, contempt. This is the worst of the four. It's where one person starts to call the other names, speak in a degrading tone of voice, use profanities and other mean terms and basically devalue the other person through their speech and actions. I worked with a couple once where the man had called his wife a "whore" the week before. That's probably the worst I've ever heard but contempt is often used as a weapon as a final blow to win the battle again their spouse or someone else. It's also pretty lethal to most relationships. Remember, there's no battle to be won. We're to be a team. Remove the destructive words from your speech.

So take inventory and ask yourself whether any or all of these Four Horsemen are evident in your relationships. If so, pray that God will help you change and give you some new terms and ways of relating. If you've made the mistakes, ask forgiveness and start communicating more effectively. If you need help, get it. As I've said often in these posts our words are powerful. Use that power to be loving, truthful and impacting. It will pay huge dividends in the end.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Being There When You Communicate

We were walking through a mall not long ago and saw a dad and his young son making their way to do some shopping. Unfortunately, the dad was talking on his cell phone the whole time. Now to be fair, the dad may have gotten an important call that he had to take at that moment and could have felt guilty about having to do even that.

But I've seen others doing similar kinds of multi-tasking during opportunities for deeper communications. I've done it, too! I'll be reading the paper, watching a game or most recently counting in Russian the toes of our little grandbaby Liam. And all of a sudden I realize that Jackie is trying to talk to me and while I started out listening to her I am no longer there.

Usually she can jolt me out of my coma by ending her comments with, "And I'm getting a divorce tomorrow." The problem was that I had let myself be distracted instead of looking her in the eye and listening.

How many special moments are we going to get when we have the attention and presence of someone we love and then we miss out on the full experience of talking to them and enjoying them completely? Without being morbid, I still have to ask, "What if those moments were over tomorrow?" Wouldn't we be wishing for must one more chance? In fact, those moments won't necessarily end because someone dies. They can be dramatically reduced when our kids go off to college or a loved one moves away.

Well, the good news is that we currently have that one more day with those we love. Don't waste it by letting disruptions, calls that could wait until later and games whose outcomes really don't matter that much get in the way. Take every opportunitiy to enjoy your kid, spouse and others as much as possible every time you're with them. Do something unique, talk about things you've not discussed lately, find out more about what they love to do and then enjoy it with them.

What's more important in the restaurant with your son or daughter? Checking your email or finding out what their favorites are or hearing about their day. Can you live without reading the newspaper to take time to hear your spouse's special or challenging moments of the day?

Now, is there a place for games, grandbabies and reading the paper or checking the latest on our smart phone? Of course. Sometimes we have to give one another a little space and be sensitive to the circumstances under which we try to communicate more deeply. Hey, if the Patriots are playing is there anything else to talk about? Not really.

Seriously, we need to keep communication, interaction and even intimacy with those we love safe and protected from the tyranny of the urgent. In an earlier post I talked about a little boy trying to get his dad's attention but unfortunately dad was reading the paper. When the boy realized his dad wasn't listening he finally crawled up on his lap and said, "Daddy, listen to me with your face." I have a hunch more of us need to add some face time to our interactions. Make the most of every moment now.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Being a TEAM In Your Marriage

The other night in the National League playoffs the left fielder dropped a line drive that ultimately cost them the game. While I'm sure his fellow players were disappointed and perhaps one or two of them saw him as the goat, most of them encouraged him as he came off the field. I think they realized a couple of things: first, they could have had the same thing happen to them; and second, they are all a team. They win together and they lose together.

I've counseled with lots of married couples over the years. And there's one thing (among several) that I notice seems to be common among those who are seriously struggling. They've lost the sense that they are still on the same team. Instead of seeking the other's success, of working together to overcome their challenges and celebrating both their victories and agonizing over their losses, they have become enemies of sorts.

Discussions or arguments become wars over who's the smartest, who made the best decision or who is going to get their way. There's little encouragement when someone does something well and every mistake is highlighted to make the other person look bad. Even their children start hearing things like, "We can't bother daddy because he doesn't handle pressure very well," or "Let's not do anything to upset mommy - you know how she is."

Marriage is a lot of things: the joining of two spirits and souls, a commitment before God to love and respect one another and the joining into one flesh. But marriage also implies that we are teammates. Teammates accept that each brings different talents to the organization, encourage one another to develop their skills and applaud the successes of the other. Teammates watch each other's backs and pick each other up when they fall.

In fact let me use TEAM as an acrostic for four things teammates in marriage need to do or embrace in their thinking. T stands for together. Teammates in a marriage think together about everything. Everything you own, succeed in and decide to do must be a together decision. That doesn't mean you can't have individual activities and passions or have time to yourself or with others. But in the big picture your relationship is a together thing before it's an individual one.

For example, we've never had Gary's money and Jackie's money. All that we have, no matter who makes it, is ours, not his or hers. When we've made a move it was first a together decision, not the rest of the family simply following dad or mom. When we were thinking about how to discipline our children, we accepted that we must work together and be on the same page in how to do it.

The E stands for expect the best. So often marriages have had trust broken and yes that trust may need to be re-gained when there's been a major breach in it. However, some marriages simply devolve to the point where one or both partners now assume the worst about any action the other takes.

Last year my wife accidentally locked me out on the balcony of our condo for four hours in the rising heat of a Texas morning. It was tempting to be furious at her (and I admit I had some challenging moments while waiting to get back in when she returned) but I have learned to know and expect better. I knew that she would be devastated, not gleeful, and I was right. We can laugh about it now and she even let me use it later as a message illustration. But it would have been a mistake to add that to some sort of list to hold against her.

A stands for admit your own mistakes. True teammates know that others will goof up somewhere along the line. But when that happens they do what they can to pick each other up not beat each other down. Now granted there are many times when in marriage we need to work through differences of opinions, hurt feelings and actions that need to be changed. But we have to do all that with humility, not arrogance. We must remember that we, too, are capable of locking the other on the porch or whatever.

And the M stands for make the most of every moment. It's easy to spend a lot of our time and energy wishing things were different than they are only to miss out on the joys and blessings that are available to us right now. Teammates find every opportunity they can to celebrate what's currently happening while looking forward to the possibilities that are ahead. Can you imagine if professional baseball players never had fun or celebrated each other's accomplishments until the playoffs?

If your marriage has hit some rough spots or if you'd like to give it a boost, ask yourself what you're doing to help be a teammate instead of an opponent to your spouse. Take some time to talk together about what being a team might be like for the two of you. If you do, you'll have a better chance of being a winner in the challenge of being married and you'll stay that way for a long time!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Simple May Be Better

Jackie and I were flying back and forth to the Midwest last week. We usually bring things to read on the plane and I was reading a book that discussed how if churches were to intentionally become simpler they would perhaps actually accomplish more. However, at one point in the flight I looked up to also see a man near me reading a book called The 36 Hour Day.

I thought, "What a contrast!" A simpler life vs adding even more hours to our day so to speak. Hmm. . . I decided right then that I really don't want to have a 36 hour day. My twenty-four hour one is quite long enough thank you.

I wonder how many families wish they could pack just a little more into each day. And would it help? I'm not sure it would. Have we simply added more activity to our lives but less meaning and significance? Will we say ten to fifteen years from now, "Gee, I wish we would have been busier!" I doubt it.

My hunch is that many of us will be lamenting that there was too much time spent in the car going from place to place and not enough time looking each other in the eye, playing together or simply talking about life. I have a feeling we'll wonder where the time went and then wish we had stopped and just done nothing a little bit more, which would actually be doing something important.

We need time to connect again. No, I'm not suggesting we go back to the 1800's. We can't. And we shouldn't. We live today and must try to live life to the fullest in that context. However, what if all of our activity isn't really where true life can be found? What if simpler were better in some ways?

Of course there is no one template on time that will fit every home and family. We have different numbers of children, unique interests and varying job and school demands. However, have we ever compared our goals and real dreams for our marriages and children with the actual time we give towards their fulfillment?

For example, if you as a married couple want your marriage to become more intimate in body, soul and spirit, where you don't just live together but grow together, then ask yourself, "How much time in a week do we give to that goal?" When do you seriously talk, do you have time to enjoy one another physically, do you have fun together, do you think about spiritual things?

If you can't come up with many ways to answer those questions you probably need to re-arrange some things in your schedule, quit some others and figure out how you're going to become more intimate.

Or if as parents, you want your kids to enjoy time as a family, learn about spiritual things, remember some special moments you enjoyed together and the like, ask yourself, "Does our schedule encourage those things or take away from them?" Do our kids need to be in all the activities they're in, do we need to work as much as we do, are we ever intentional about reaching these goals or do we just expect them to happen?

When our son Tim was in the 8th grade, we were given an opportunity to spend a week in Colorado. It was around that time that I suddenly realized that he was only going to be actively in our home for another five years or so. And while we'd done some good things, I think, as parents and certainly spent time together I decided that I needed to consider doing something with him that he would never forget.

So that summer in Colorado we climbed our first 14er (a mountain over 14,000' of which there are fifty -two in Colorado). It was challenging, dangerous at times, but a blast. I'll never forget it and neither will he. I committed to doing three mountains like that before he graduated from high school. And you know what? We did four and at least one since then, including our last with him, his wife and my daughter. I'm so glad we decided to be intentional rather than just hoping it would happen.

To do that however, we had to simplify in some other areas. We had to decide to give up some other activities that the kids could have done, some other personal pursuits and work commitments that we could have taken on so that we could reach that intentional goal to do something special together.

I challenge you as married couples or parents to do the same. Your goals and ways of reaching them don't need to be the same as ours or anyone else's but you'll be glad you slowed down and focused on what really matters.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Speaking in the Here and Now: A Communicating Basic

"I can't believe it! You just never listen, do you?" "You always leave your clothes laying around. Can't you put things in the hamper just once?" "You're just like your father. You both think the world revolves around you."

Have you ever heard a statement like one of these? Have you said one recently? Most of us have done one or the other or both. We or someone we know gets mad and out come words that are horribly unfair, not ever totally true and which stymie any meaningful discussion after that.

Why? Because statements like the ones above are not spoken in the here and now. Comments that use the words always or never or that compare or call people names are not about the present. Instead they imply things about the other person's character by calling up the past or predicting the future. They say, this is the way you are and you will never change. They imply things about the other's personhood that will probably not change.

Who wants to continue a discussion like that? If we hear enough put downs, insinuations about who we are and implications that we'll never be any different, we'll eventually quit trying to have intimate discussions. We'll get busy with other things, stay silent, change the subject or simply try to keep things nice. And while relationships can go on that way for awhile, they eventually implode or become shallow at best.

There's a better way!

Learn to speak in the here and now. Here's an example. Carrie is mad at Ryan about his changing of their plans last minute and not letting her know. He put her on the spot in trying to rearrange babysitting, making last phone calls and having her hopes dashed because they weren't going to do what they had planned on together.

She could say and might feel like saying, "I can't believe you would pull this stunt on me again! You never think about me. It's all about you, isn't it? You can't even make a stinking phone call and ask me what I think. Can't you just once follow through on something and keep your word?"

However, she can say the same thing but keep her comments in the hear and now: "Ryan, I have to tell you I'm really confused and pretty angry right now because last minute you're changing the very plans we made this morning and you didn't let me know. I have to tell you that I'm really disappointed that we can't go out and it's really made for a lot of hassle to not know about this sooner."

Do you see the difference? The first one focuses on the other person's character more than the issue. The second response aims at only the present situation including Carrie's feelings about it. Both ways of communicating express the emotion but it's not directed at the person as much as the circumstances. The second response is more likely than the first to end in understanding and resolution even though the situation is still a challenging one.

Don't hamstring your conversations by even unintentionally attacking your mate, friend or child's character. Take a look today at your responses, especially when you're upset. Do you speak in the here and now or do you imply things about their character. If you need to, step back, slow down and measure your response first before you get mad.

These same concepts apply to our conversations with our kids. Instead of, "Morgan, you're just never going to listen to me are you?" why not try, "Morgan, I'm very irritated that you're not listening to me right now." A small difference in words with huge implications.

As I've said before our words have power. The old names will never hurt me maxim is simply untrue. Name-calling or implications about character do hurt! As Ephesians 4:15 says, speak the truth, but speak it in love!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Importance of Mentors in Marriage & Parenting

Recently Jackie and I finished a six day conference and family visit trip to the Midwest. We had a great time at a prayer workshop and then traveling a few hours to see our son, daughter-in-law and two precious grandsons.

However, the night we flew in to Indianapolis we had a rental car reserved. And like many rental agencies these days you get to pick your car out of those that are available in the class in which you made your reservation. So I went over to a nice white Nissan, put our luggage into the trunk and Jackie and I got into the car. "Ah yes," I thought, "cruise control, an input for my MP3 player, all the necessities."

And then I tried to start the car. I couldn't find the key (which I later discovered to be somewhere near my left foot and which you only need to have in the car with you!) Then I saw a glowing button that said "start" on it. Being a highly trained professional who can immediately make wise deductions based on the evidence before me I decided to push that button. But apparently start doesn't refer to the engine but rather to the state of one's blood pressure going up once he realizes he may be a moron.

Everything within me at that point wanted to make this a personal challenge and figure it out by myself. However, after years of realizing that is typically futile, at least with me, I decided to humble myself once again and ask the 20 year old female attendant, "Uh, I'm having a little trouble with one of the driving basics here . . . . yes, that would be actually getting the car to move."

Let's face it - while we'd rather not need anyone to help us with life's challenges, getting help is really the way to go, especially when it comes to more important things than rental cars such as marriage or being a parent. I haven't done a scientific study but I'm pretty confident that most of the couples in messed up marriages I deal with have not had practical, meaningful and helpful pre-marital counseling. No one told them how to start their marriage.

And sadly, our culture and even many churches don't even think about having marriage mentors, ongoing classes and other practical helps for couples. And who, when they walked out of the hospital with their first child, got a packet or book on How to Parent? And who provides the ongoing help for parents who struggle with the everyday challenges of babies, toddlers, preschoolers, elementary children and adolescents? Oprah? Dr. Phil? We have to have more.

Proverbs 1:5 says, "Let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance." I'm convinced that as married couples and parents we need to seek out mentors. A few churches and organizations actually train and offer mentors but they are few and far between. Most of us will have to ask for help. Where do you find mentors?

Start by looking at couples and families you highly respect Chances are if their marriage is healthy and their kids are doing well they are doing something right. Yes, there are always those families that look great on the outside and are imploding on the inside. However, start with people you know fairly well and you'll probably be able to tell who can be most helpful to you.

In addition, you want a mentor who is real and authentic. If people are too perfect then you might want to question whether things are going as well as you thought. But start somewhere and ask a person or couple if they would mentor you. If you're a single parent find another single parent with a bit more experience who can help you make your parenting more effective. Ask a staff person at your church if they know someone who might fit the bill. In premarital counseling I ask couples to do an interview with a mature, Christian couple and often that couple becomes their mentor.

Jackie and I were hiking in Colorado a couple of summers ago on our way to a lake at a fairly high elevation. We were getting challenged by the trail, some pesky flies and the altitude so we started to wonder whether we should turn around. Finally, at one point I suggested that I would hike up the next half mile or so and see if it was worth going on. Within just a few hundred yards I realized we'd made it to the lake!

I went back, got Jackie and we finished our hike. You see, we all need a few people who've hiked the trail and can encourage us to keep going and help us find our way. Get a mentor. Or if you're well down the trail, be one. And by the way, when you start a car with a push button starter you need to have your foot on the break. Want some help?
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Importance of a Loving Surprise Now and Then

Not long ago I went to my favorite Starbucks for an early morning meeting. I walked up to the cashier and as usual ordered my latte, pulling out my money to pay for it. Just then the barista said, "Oh, by the way someone is paying for all the drinks this morning. There's no charge."

The cashier went on to explain that a person had apparently come in early that morning and dropped $500 down and said to cover everyone's beverages until the money ran out.

You know what's interesting? That small gesture of generosity kind of made my day as it seemed to do with a number of us who waited for our coffee. People were buzzing about it each with a smile on their face if only for a few minutes. It was nice being surprised by someone's kindness. Sure, it was only worth a few dollars, but his or her thoughtfulness went significantly beyond their investment.

In fact, that person's actions reminded me that while I too should be willing to sacrifice even for strangers, I also need to look for opportunities to surprise those close to me. While I certainly love them, I don't go out of my way nearly enough to just give a surprise or extra dose of love and kindness to them through an obvious action or word.

What might that look like? Well, there are no doubt hundreds of answers to that question depending upon you, your circumstances and the people you love. But here are a few suggestions. First of all, give some doses of affirming or encouraging words. Have you told your spouse lately how proud you are of him or her or what a great husband, wife or parent they are?

Have you told your kids lately what a terrific job they're doing in school, around the house or if they're an adult complimented them on their parenting? Have you told a friend how much you appreciate their listening ear and helpful thoughts.

Have you brought one of your office team a surprise coffee or other favorite treat just because?

You see if we're not careful we'll become like the man whose wife wondered why he never said he loved her to which he responded, "Why should I do that? I told you I loved you when we got married. That should be enough." Wrong answer.

Words are powerful. I've said this before but let me repeat this important verse from Proverbs 18:21, The tongue has the power of death and life. Or Proverbs 25:11, A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Thoughts unexpressed are just thoughts. Those close to us don't typically read our minds. And loving actions have great impact especially to those who respond more emotionally to what they see than what they hear.

Get creative. Have fun with this. And know your audience. Use words or actions or your presence depending upon the love language of the person you're with. Every now and then I stop on my way home from a long day away from my wife and bring her one of her favorite treats letting her know I was thinking of her even though I was gone all day. More often than not, she surprises me, though, with a fun note or creative card. Our actions don't have to cost a lot of money. But we do need to be intentional.

Here's a question that might help you determine what you could try: What could someone do or say to YOU that would encourage you and lift your spirit today? Chances are good that someone in your world would love to receive the same from you today. Go for it! In fact, be bold and ask God to open the door for you and then look for the next opportunity. It might make your day!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Parents or Friends

I always enjoy time with my grown children who are both married and have children of their own. However, we all realize that we don't have these times too often so we enjoy them as much as we can. The time together is wonderful.

But Jackie and I have been reminded again that we now relate to our children more as friends than parents. Yes, I hope we will always provide them a sense of support, wisdom and leadership, but they are nonetheless now adults in their own right and that's a good thing. It really is fun to be more friends to each other than parent and child. And you, too, can anticipate that you can enjoy a friendship relationship with your kids someday.

However, when our kids are young and in our homes, we're to be more their parent than friend. Yes, we should be loving and we can be friend-ly, but many parents make the mistake of trying to be their child's friend in inappropriate ways. And when they do that several things can begin to happen.

First of all, some parents will not do much of anything if it will cause their child not to like them or to be angry with them. As a result the kids get most of what they want, make key family decisions and become the center of attention. Some parents don't ever want their child disappointed with them so they give in to them most every time. Parents who live this way end up with children who think the whole world revolves around them. They begin to believe that everything in their home must be done to please their wants and needs.

Second, parents can start to act like a child instead of an adult who has fun interacting with their child. This next week we'll be traveling to Illinois to see our son, his wife and their two sons. Jeremiah turned two in July so he'll be ready for grandpa to play all sorts of games, read books, help him ride his bike and build with Legos. I can't wait! But if you came to watch us and I were acting like a two-year-old myself you'd be calling for the mental health police to pick me up! And you should.

Too many parents try to still be a teenager by dressing, talking and acting like them in general. Teenagers don't want us to be their friend. They want and need us to be their parents who act towards them and their friends in friendly, but age-appropriate ways. If we try to somehow be cool we're going to be grossly uncool. Trust me.

Third, parents who want to be their child's friend don't think clearly about discipline and their child's best interests. There are things in life that we as parents must simply enforce. Our kids will not naturally gravitate to the right and best things. So we'll have to set rules, say no and make decisions that they won't like. For a time they might not like us very much. You'll survive and so will they.

I can remember one or both of our kids saying something like "I hate you," when they were little and had to do something they didn't want to do. My response was typically, "Really? You know I don't hate you right now. But I'm sorry you hate me tonight. There's nothing you could ever do that would cause me to hate you. However, you still need to go to bed. Hopefully you'll feel different tomorrow."

On those nights, I was clearly the parent and my child didn't need me to be a friend. It was best for me to lovingly, graciously yet firmly be the parent and have them learn to obey. And now as I watch our two kids parents their kids, I'm pretty sure I was right. They're terrific parents.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Consider Your Goals When Parenting

I heard some commentary and questions on a radio program this morning about how busy families are these days. There was some excellent discussion about how parents make decisions regarding how many activities their kids are allowed to pursue.

Now granted, every family is different. One home's guidelines won't necessarily be applicable in another home. Our schedules, demands, number of children and priorities are typically unique. However, there are a few good questions to ask yourself about how you spend your time as a family that can radically impact your parenting.

First of all, do you get to eat an evening meal together on a regular basis? Once a week or now and then isn't good enough. Studies clearly show that families who eat together regularly are healthier, more united and build stronger relationships. Rare meals together means that the paths of the members in your family rarely cross and that will be costly someday. Will our children someday say, "You know, I'm sure glad we spent as little time together as did," or "It was really great not knowing my parents or my sister that well?" I don't think so.

Second, what are the ultimate goals you have for your parenting? What is it you want to teach your children? My hunch is that you want your kids to learn from you what it means to have a great marriage, be good parents, and foster healthy relationships in a home. But if their lives merely revolve around a busy schedule of games, classes and practices, where will they learn the life lessons you want to teach them?

I remember watching a TV news magazine show where a little boy, maybe seven or eight, was playing tennis. The program piece was looking at young children who were being groomed by their parents to be great athletes or top-notch musicians. At one point they showed this little guy sobbing as he sat down by the fence with his tennis racket at his side. Just keeping our kids busy doing things they may not truly care about or have potential to do can harm more than help.

Third, when do our kids have time to just be kids? I'm sure I sound archaic here but kids still need to have fun. Every experience doesn't have to be an educational exercise. Laughter, random play and games are part of life and actually a healthy part of our development.

Fourth, are we teaching our kids to serve and give as well as take? We live in a great country where we have lots of wonderful opportunities to grow, learn and experience things. But there's more to life than just getting things for ourselves. One of the best thing we can teach our kids is to give and serve others. What does your family do for those less fortunate? You can serve at your church, school and in the neighborhood. At holidays give some gifts away instead of only get them for each other. In fact, think about taking your Christmas money one year and coming up with a project to care for others.

My hunch is you will get some of the best "gifts" you've ever gotten and learn more than you've learned in a long time. And you'll have a new perspective on how to use your time from here on out.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Handling Our Pain In Helpful Ways

Pain isn't fun, is it? Whether it's from a toothache, childbirth (what would I know?) or surgery, we and our doctors do our best to limit the pain we must endure. And there's nothing wrong with lowering or even getting rid of pain in many circumstances as long as we do it wisely and appropriately.

However, many people spend great amounts of time, energy and even money to dull other kinds of pain and they use unhelpful, inappropriate and even destructive ways at times to do it. And when we bring that painkilling to our marriage or parenting, the results begin to affect others as well as ourselves.

For example, some people have great amounts of emotional pain left over from their past. They may have been told they would never amount to much, that they were rejectable for some reason or that they weren't very talented. Some of us may have received those impressions from teachers, parents, bosses and friends who may have never even said those words but we knew what they meant.

As a result, we've spent much of our lives trying to anesthetize our hurt because it is too much, at least in our minds, to face every day. So some of us work harder, others get more degrees, many never let anyone down or must always be right. Others take more obviously destructive routes like abusing alcohol, using drugs, or being drawn to destructive short-term relationships.

Sadly, some of us bring our hurts and painkilling strategies into our homes. Jon's pain came from his parents always setting extremely high standards for him in school. If he got all A's except for one B, his parents were mad because of the B instead of being proud of his outstanding report card. So now as a husband and father, he still feels he has to perform. Criticism is unacceptable. He WILL be the best dad, the perfect husband and can never be wrong.

Why is he like that? It's possible that the pain of being unacceptable is still too risky and potentially damaging from his perspective to face. He never wants to have anyone look down on his efforts like his parents did even though he may never associate the two situations.

Jill has never thought she is pretty or attractive. The kids in school mercilessly called her names, made fun of how skinny she was, and laughed about her skin problems. Her parents weren't overtly critical but she knew they didn't think she was good-looking either because they never commented about her outfits or bragged on her looks.

So when Jill got married she was thrilled that someone seemed to like her enough to want to spend their life with her. But the thought of her husband possibly ever leaving her because of her looks kept her in a panic most of the time. They never talk about it but nonetheless Jill goes to the gym at least five days a week and spends a fortune on clothes whether she needs them or not. If she doesn't have at least ninety minutes to do her make-up and get dressed she becomes terrified to leave the house.

Why does she live that way? The pain of being unattractive and as a result rejected is too much for her to bear. Do you see the power of our personal painkilling? It can begin to run our lives, stymie intimacy in our marriage and taint our parenting. It is potentially paralyzing.

What's the answer? Well, it's easy and it's hard. The easy part is that we must learn that our worth is not found in what anyone says or does. It's only based on what God thinks. So often our identity becomes tied to our circumstances, accomplishments or what others think of us. But the Bible tells us that God loves us unconditionally, that Christ died for us as a result of His love. If we choose to follow Christ and become a child of God our worth and value will always be intact.

Instead of our mistakes or inadequacies now determining who we are, we can remind ourselves each day that we are a child of God, made in His image, a person of worth and purpose. Yes, we may happen to mess up from time to time or have a person not like us on a given day or have our kids not be perfect or have our spouse be more right than we are at the moment. In spite of it all, we still matter to God.

Unfortunately, the hard part is that we have often lived based on wrong thinking for a long time and we have to practice with God's help thinking in new ways. It's not always easy to change. Romans 12:2 reminds us that real change happens as we let God renew our minds. It's something we need to do every day.

What do you need to change about how you think about you? I encourage you to let God do some work on your mind throughout your waking hours. If so you will be free to be the best parent, spouse, friend and Christ follower you can be without all the pressure to be perfect or to gain your worth from what happens on a given day.

Yes, as Jesus said, "The truth will set you free."
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

Gary is currently a consultant, teacher, speaker and chaplain providing resources for families, leaders and churches.