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.