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

Friday, December 24, 2010

Things Worth Re-Gifting At Your House

OK, so we've all done it. We've taken a gift given to us by someone else that we really didn't want and then passed it on to someone else later, right?  If we're honest, yes, that was a kind of cheap and lazy move for the most part.

However, there are some things we have been given in life that we would be wise to pass on, especially to our kids, that they can take with them as well.  And yet, some of us aren't terribly intentional about that sort of re-gifting  so think about some of the following challenges.

First of all, be sure to re-gift your faith. That would seem obvious if you are a fairly religious, church-going family but it's not. Many people expect the church or Christian school to do the bulk of their modeling and teaching about what it means to follow Christ. And yet the Bible clearly suggests that parents are to be the principle teachers when it comes to helping our kids know, love and serve God.  See the Old Testament, the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 6.

Second, re-gift the importance of hard work. We live in an entitlement culture where so many comforts and things to make life easier are at our fingertips all the time. Many in our educational systems want to merely level the playing field and make sure that no one feels bad or loses. But in reality anything that's good or worth having will require diligence and sacrifice. Teach and model that kind of ethic in your home. Make sure children and teens appropriately help with chores and family needs even if they're active in school and extracurricular activities.

Third, re-gift the specialness of family. We only get so much time with each other. Make sure it's not all taken up with personal activities, lessons, games and media. Those things all have their place but we need to have time to just enjoy each other and learn to love better. Take inventory on this one, slow down and don't pre-program every moment of your family's life.When's the last time you were all together just to have fun, for a vacation, or to do something truly spontaneous?

Finally, re-gift a thankful heart.  While we may seem to have much or little we're all wonderfully blessed.  Even in the middle of hardship there's much to be thankful for.  Model that you don't always need one more, or the new version, or the same thing they have next door to be happy.  Learn to make do a little more and to wait until next year some of the time. Regularly ask your spouse and kids to share something they are thankful for and then tell God about those things.

Some gifts are worth wrapping up and passing along even if you've seen them before.  I've shared a few.  What are your ideas?
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, December 17, 2010

More Than A Coffee Table Life

Have you ever noticed something common to many offices, funeral homes, waiting rooms and even homes?  There is often a stylish table or two stacked with books. The volumes are often beautiful, covered with striking pictures, multi-colored and likely expensive.

The problem is that most of them never get opened.  Perhaps the top one gets paged through now and then but the rest accumulate dust and are for all practical purposes useless. They sit there for years and accomplish little. And most of the books on those tables look alike even though in reality they're probably quite distinctive.

I wonder how many families have never gone or imagined life beyond the coffee table stage.  Sure, things in their home look good and there's lots to be thankful for. And everyone there may be relatively happy and feel a sense of accomplishment. But they look like and are doing what everyone else does. They are involved in all the same activities, go to the same events and strive for the same things as their friends and neighbors.

And yet how many of those families would say they intended to have a coffee table life?  Not many. But if we're going to have marriages and families that are distinctive it's going to require that we think hard and actually plan to do some things that are fundamentally different and in the long run make us feel truly alive.

The things we could actually do to be distinctive and truly enjoy life are myriad. Only the limits of our imagination and creativity limit us. And when we invite God into the equation the possibilities become endless for all practical purposes.

So where do you start?  First, look for local ways that your family can serve others.  Your church, community center and schools can be a place to begin.  Find some people in need, look for an agency that would like some volunteers, or come up with your own project that would give your family an opportunity to care for others. A warning though:  once you start you might get hooked and decide to stay involved for a long time.

Second, plan some marriage or family events that would be unique or special for you.  Climb a few mountains, go whitewater rafting, take some sort of lessons together . . . you get the idea. Take one portion of the year when your kids don't need to be in a sport or music or whatever and do something you all like. With the power of the internet these days you can write books, make photo albums, research your family and who knows what else for very little money. Make some memories that none of you will ever forget.

Third, dream together. What are the skills, talents, resources and interest your family or marriage enjoys?  How could those attributes be used to make a difference?  Children and adults both have dreamed dreams and found that they could literally start programs and even movements that others rallied to and impacted thousands. Why not you or your family?

Don't just be a book that looks like everyone else?  Stand out, take some risks, do something together that you'll never forget.  And the time to start is now.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?

The other day I heard someone on radio say, "Christmas is my favorite time of the year."  And of course most of us know the Christmas song favorite that begins, "It's the most wonderful time of the year."  And it is a special time. Who doesn't enjoy the gifts, lights, music, festive gatherings, great food and of course the story of Jesus' birth and all it means to us who follow Christ?  It's all great.

But I wonder if making holidays or seasons or special events our favorite doesn't somehow diminish our ability to enjoy every day as truly special and worth being thankful for. Maybe it's just because I'm getting older and more thoughtful, but I'm learning to make the most of now and it's making a difference.

I remember my mom sometimes saying to us kids, "Don't wish your life away," when we would incessantly talk about how we couldn't wait for something or some time in the future. There was probably some wisdom in her comment.  It's so easy to think that some future event will really make us happy or fulfilled so we wish for that to come while missing out on today.

How do we keep ourselves in the everyday moments that God gives us and teach our kids to do the same?

First, be thankful a lot.  Paul wrote in the New Testament that we should give thanks in everything.  There is something in most every moment and experience for which to be thankful.  No, not everything is enjoyable or positive, but we can still learn to thank God for anything he wants to teach us through it.

Second, watch for God sightings.  What do you see God doing in this current moment?  What person around you might He be wanting you to be Jesus to?  It's possible that God has something wonderful in store for you to do or see even if you're at the mall, grocery store, work or school.

Third, if you're a parent, model gratitude for your kids.  Don't give them everything.  Teach them to appreciate what they have. Express your thankfulness often in prayer and praise. Remind them often of how blessed they are and how much they have by helping out in a nursing home, working with underprivileged kids center or serving in a soup kitchen.

Finally, talk with your spouse and/or kids about special things that have happened each day.  Get in the habit of sharing the blessings of every day even though you certainly have to talk about challenges and difficulties as well.

When we begin to see the amazing things that go on around us every day we will begin to discover that there really aren't any most wonderful times.  Some are just a little more special than others but they all count for something.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, December 6, 2010

That Three Letter S Word

OK, so it's time that I talk some more about that three-letter word that starts with S. It's so difficult to mention even though we know we think about it all the time.  Of course I'm talking about SOX.  No not the White Sox or Red Sox, but the "socks" that you men still throw on the floor.

It's one of those little things that yes you do to passively-aggressively (I am a counselor you know) annoy your wife. She hasn't mentioned it since the second week of your marriage but every time she picks them up she throws them into the clothes hamper with a "Hmmph" that expresses her continuing deep hatred of your laziness and obsession with ESPN.

She's even considered just hiding them all until one day you look in your drawer before work and realize there are no socks to wear on a day when the temperature is barely above freezing.

Actually, there are hundreds of little sock-like annoyances that can crop up in a marriage which can slowly destroy our relationship. Or we can figure out how to live with them or at least work through them. I have a favorite pre-marital counseling theorem that I often use with couples:  If you throw your socks on the floor before you get married, you'll throw them on the floor after.

Your wedding day changes nothing when it comes to your habits.  Just because you went to this beautiful worship center or outdoor venue for your wedding, enjoyed the company of hundreds of family and friends and said your vows before "God and these witnesses," you will still be you the next day.  You won't likely say, "Oh, I'm married now so I won't be doing such and such (well, except dating, I hope) again."

So how do you handle those little annoyances like socks on the floor or how they brush their teeth or the way they clean or don't clean or whatever?  First, you remind yourself that you love this person including the good and the bad.  Part of loving someone is accepting who they are faults and all.

Second, you determine just how important their changing is to you, your family and your overall safety.  For example, if your spouse enjoys driving eighty miles per hour around town with you and the kids in the car, something needs to change. However, if they leave a drawer open now and then is that worth a fight or major discussion?

Third, when something does need to be discussed speak the truth in love.  Don't turn a habit into a character-fault issue.  "You are such a lazy bum.  Why can't you pick up your stupid socks?  Your parents obviously thought you were the center of attention and I'm telling you that's not going to be the case in this house?"  Tell them how it makes you feel and what you need that would help you feel differently.  In fact check out my posts on communication - there are some helpful tips there.

Finally, learn to compromise.  What could each of you do to make the issue that much less problematic, annoying or threatening.  Part of intimacy is looking at the things in each of us that aren't so pretty so get them out on the table and work out a solution that you both can accept if you can't stand things the way they are.

But remember, when it's all said and done, most of our annoyances are about us more than the other person and many of our annoyances are far worse than theirs. You only have so many days together.  Decide today which parts, the good or the bad, you're going to focus on during the years you have left!  And for Heaven's sake, go pick your socks up.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Intention Is Only One Thing . . .

Have you ever seen someone respond badly to a medicine?  Allergic reactions can be dangerous, even deadly, and if nothing else can cause the adult or child to be miserable.  But here's the odd part.  The doctor or parent who gave the medicine meant no harm. Their plan and goal was to help the person to actually feel better and to be healed from their ailment.

Unfortunately, the same scenario can occur in family relationships. Our intention was good but the result was disastrous or at best problematic.  What happened?  As a husband we thought we were just trying to give our wife some help and she took it as a put down. Or as a wife you were simply telling your husband about how he could have responded differently and he thought you were berating him.

Intention is one thing, perception is everything.  

Or your teenager came home feeling pretty defeated after not making the team or getting a part in the play and you tried to build them up by suggesting they didn't need to feel that way.  However, they just felt worse and walked out of the room. Most of us can come up with hundred of other examples, can't we, where our good intentions weren't well received or turned out badly.

Let me say it again.  Intention is one thing, perception is everything.

This important maxim also impacts the things we do as a family that we intend to be good but in the long run can be detrimental to the health of our home.  For example, the parents who want their kids to be involved in everything to develop their minds, improve their skills and help them feel better about themselves may one day regret their choices.

They can discover that much of that money, time and energy could have been better used to be together, slow down and focus on some other more important priorities.

So how do you decide what is really effective and what might have been or will be received poorly or have a negative result?

First of all, listen. Yes, listen to what your spouse, your kids and others in your world are saying about your actions and choices. That means asking them good questions and not being afraid to hear something negative. Listen as well to those who have gone before you - wise friends, parents and counselors.
Second, continually re-evaluate your priorities.  Think through what your choices as a parent or spouse are doing to enhance or hurt the most important things you want to develop in your home.  And if some activities or commitments are getting in the way, make some changes.  Have the guts to say, "No, we're just not going to do that any more. It's not worth it."

Third, pray.  Ask God to reveal to you where your words, actions, comments, habits, etc. are getting in the way of what He knows is best for you and your family.  Sometimes we have blind spots that God can reveal to us.

Finally, have someone who you're accountable to for what you say, commit or respond to.  Make sure they're honest with you and know your weaknesses.

Remember that even with the best of intentions, the results can be disastrous. Intention is one thing, perception is everything.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Just Say KNOW - part 2

In my last post I spoke about four things that Jackie and I wanted to make sure our kids knew before they left our nest.  Let me suggest four more to ponder and see if they stimulate some other teachable ideas at your house.

We also wanted our kids to know how blessed they are.  It really doesn't matter how much or little you have in America, you're at an advantage compared to much of the world. Thanksgiving ought to be a normative expression in every household year round.  Even the Bible says, In everything give thanks.  Teach your kids to say thank you to God for even the everyday things they enjoy.  And don't always let them have the latest and newest just because everyone else is getting it. Show them how to give more than get and they'll likely become more thankful now and later in life.

Second, we wanted our kids to know what healthy married people are like.  We were far from perfect but we wanted them to see us work through problems or disagreements, see us not afraid to show appropriate affection or spend time together as a couple and notice that our relationship with God impacted everyday life. We became intentional about certain lessons we wanted them to grasp while trying to model lots of things that they would hopefully translate into their own marriages.

Third, we wanted them to have a healthy view of themselves.  That meant teaching them that first of all they are not the center of the universe.  There are other people in this world. And while there is a time and place for taking care of ourselves,  loving others is essential to a fulfilling and joy-filled life.  However, at the same time, we wanted them to understand how God sees them - they matter to Him, have purpose, are loved, have been forgiven and when they accept Christ are children of God.  Their view of themselves and understanding how God sees them will impact the rest of their lives.

Fourth, we wanted them to know how to talk to adults.  So many young people today have little to no experience talking to people who are older than themselves. And part of the problem may be that parents never encouraged or required them to sit in a room for a time and talk to adults.  Often kids are told to go to their room once the adults show up.  There's a time for that but give your kids the opportunities to learn to interact with the adult population.  Teach them how to address them politely and give them a chance to try their wings at a little adult-level conversation.

Do you have ideas to add?  Share them at the bottom of this post!  I'd love to hear from you!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Just Say KNOW At Home

If you could pick a handful of things you would want your kids to know the day they walk out the door of your home, what would they be?  Have you thought about them? If so, are you conscientiously teaching those things?  Chances are they won't learn them in one lesson. It will take repetition, years of modeling and lots of practical life experiences for those lessons to truly sink in.

Let me share a few that were on our list. I'm sure we didn't do them perfectly, but I think they're worth sharing with you. First, we wanted our kids to know and experience our Christian faith story. Yes, the first part of that goal is teaching them the basics of Christianity and I couldn't merely leave that to the church or other faith group. It was first and foremost our task.  But in addition we needed to give them and encourage experiences that would help that faith come alive and deeply resonate within them.

Second, we wanted them to know that their actions have consequences. That's part of life isn't it?  If you don't work, you don't get paid.  If you do something poorly the results will be poor.  If you don't practice you won't be a great athlete or musician.  Our culture has a way of coddling kids and always bailing them out even when they are clearly irresponsible.  Yes, we need to be understanding of a child's age or circumstances and give grace but we must not simply look the other way or only give praise but not correction.

Third, we wanted them to know how to love their spouse.  Our homes are Marriage 101 for our children.  Where else will they learn how to be married?  Nowhere.  So we need to model love, caring and even how to deal with conflict well.  Our kids are watching and will notice.  How we talk to each other, how often we compliment and express love will make a difference in our kids' marriages.  And if you're a single parent you can model well how you respond now to your former spouse and others.

Fourth, we wanted our kids to learn to give to others.  So much of what kids hear about life today is to get more for yourself.  It's all about you they're told  And unfortunately many parents foster that attitude in their homes.  Everyone gets what they want it when they want it.  We must do what we can to help our kids invest in others even when it costs them something. Teach them to give of their time, money and skills to help someone else through serving locally, missions trips, being involved in the church and the like. Go together and care for a neighbor and serve others on a holiday instead of having your own gathering sometime.

There are lots more key lessons and I'll share a few more next time.  In the meantime, think up your own list and then set some goals to start teaching them now before one or more of your kids is driving down the driveway for that last time and you've lost the chance.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Teach the Importance of ONE

Last weekend I had the chance to spend a couple of days with two of my three grandsons and their mommy and daddy. Jeremiah, the three-year-old, and I would spend a good bit of time "working" outside - shoveling dirt, raking leaves and watering the flowers.

And being November there were a lot of leaves on the ground - thousands? tens of thousands?  hundreds of thousands?  Who knows? But that didn't phase Jeremiah. He would take a few leaves in his little pail and walk them over to the burn pile. Sometimes he only had one leaf.  But he moved the leaves anyway.  He didn't care that in the big picture of things he wasn't making much of a dent in the leaf problem.

But as I watched him at work I realized that what he was doing did make a difference.  It wasn't much compared to what an adult with a rake or leaf blower could do. But it was something.

In the same way, we all need to be reminded that doing something for one or two at a time can make a difference, too.  Adopting one child, helping one homeless person, listening to one friend, giving to one child or family overseas all counts. Who knows what could happen in a community, city or state if thousands were willing to just do one of something?

We might be able to literally wipe out the orphan problem in a city if many of the Christian families were to pitch in and adopt one child.  We might end poverty or provide tutors for every child who needed one if we all just did our part.

What would that look like in your home?  What need could you and your spouse or children solve that others could also join you in accomplishing?  Could you develop something that would be a grass roots solution to some major problem or issue?  I think it's possible if we'll all just start with ONE.  And whether our efforts become a movement or not, there will be one person who's been touched in some special way and we'll know that we've made a difference.

Holiday seasons are a great time to try something but don't limit yourself to just one event or season. Start something that you'll want to keep doing.  I guarantee you if you get your kids involved they'll want to go back again. And you'll be teaching them some life lessons that will hopefully set the stage for their own caring about the ONE someday when they're older.

Remember the starfish story. A young boy was walking along the beach and threw a starfish back into the water. A man walking by said to him,  "Son, your throwing one little starfish back isn't going to matter much when there are so many."  To which the boy said, "It mattered to that one."  Somehow I think Jesus thought the same way.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Love Is Not Always Obvious

I was driving down the road at a conference this week when I came upon a huge sign that said Hell Is Real.  That was it.  No explanation, no place to find out more, just this in-your-face message about Hell.  Well, I'm thinking, cancer is real and abuse is real and messy marriages are real.  They're all bad, too.  Why don't we put them up on big signs reminding people of their existence?

Some of us probably remember when the John 3:16 placards were in every end zone of the football games each weekend. I always wondered how many people even knew what John 3:16 said anymore and even if they did, would they all of a sudden think, "Oh yeah, that's about Jesus being the savior of the world. I'd better think about that?"  I doubt it.

You see unfortunately,when it comes to messages many people think that other people just get it.  They believe that no matter what else is going on at the time or what form our communication takes, if we're sincere and the message is important others will figure it out.

Wrong. Communication is both an art and a skill. We dare not assume that people will embrace our message just because we think we've put it out there.  And most importantly we must learn to communicate well when it comes to those we love the most. For example,what if someone were to ask your children, do your parents really love you?  Particularly consider about the older ones who can now think subjectively.

Would they respond with a resounding "yes?"  Maybe. But some of them may wonder about our love because we haven't said it lately or we've missed sharing a compliment or encouragement of late.  We may be providing for their needs and attending their events but have we looked them in the eye and told them we love them just because?

How about our spouse?  Same questions. Don't assume they just know of our love, pride in them and appreciation.

Here are the problems with the signs I mentioned earlier.  They first of all have no context.  There's no explanation, no relationship and no understanding of the reader.  Our comments in our families have so much more potential because they can be heard in the context of a home.  But we must speak the words.  Death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21).

Second, we must offer more detail. It's great to say love you! on a regular basis as a little reminder of our affections.  I do.  But at times we must say and offer more.  Sometimes we need to tell something specific about them that we especially love.  Yes, our love is to be unconditional, but detail adds to the depth of our commitment.

Third, we must speak it loudly. No, I don't mean you need to shout.  But we used to talk about a principle in drama that makes sense here.  If you want your expression to reach the back of the room you had to sometimes make it larger than normal.  It felt weird on stage but it made sense to the people in the last row. In the same way sometimes we'll need to repeat our expressions of affection.  Other times we need to make a big deal of them through a gift, surprise or special honor.  You'll have to determine what's appropriate and helpful.

In fact Gary Chapman's series of books on the 5 Love Languages would help you learn how different people feel loved in varying ways.

So today and this week when you want to show your love, be obvious.  Just don't put it on a sign, OK?
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Moving from ME to OTHERS in your home

Do you know what everyone born in the 70's, 80's, 90's and through today has in common?  They're technically called the ME Generation. Somewhere in time our society began to subtly become more and more focused on MY needs, MY possessions, MY success and MY pleasures.  It's kind of sad, in one sense, that someone had to actually name it.

However, if we're honest the ME in us didn't begin in the 70's. Since the creation of mankind, we all have had a major tendency within us to think about ourselves first and others second. While we don't say this in public, we might as well:  OK, enough of me talking about me.  Why don't YOU talk about me?  In fact, a recent country western song by Toby Keith was entitled exactly that . . . I Wanna Talk About Me!

And unfortunately the focus on me rather than others can seep into the fabric of our homes. We can schedule all our time around our desires, we let our kids be involved in every extra opportunity and we even troll the church scene to make sure our kids hear the best youth speaker in one church, get the best Bible study at another and enjoy the ultimate worship at another.

Let's be careful that we're not sending the message that life really is all about us. Do we want our kids to only be consumers and not investors in the lives of other people?  Of course wanting to provide excellent educational and personal growth experiences for our kids and family as a whole are fine. But do we balance all that with focusing on others?

Here are a few ideas. How about next Christmas taking most of the money you would have spent on gifts for each other and giving it away to another family, service organization or special project?  Why not substitute an extra gymnastics or music class some semester with going and serving at a church ministry or community shelter?

Could you go as a family or couple on a missions trip using money you would have just kept for yourselves?  You can seen that the ideas to teach about caring for others and not ourselves are many.  Think of ones that would work for your family.

In fact, be careful that even your words of praise at home might send an it's-all-about-me message.  If we never tell our kids, for example, when they make a mistake or could do something better, but always encourage them anyway, we're setting them up for false confidence and arrogance. They can begin to believe that they deserve to be complimented, affirmed and applauded no matter what. They'll expect the same in school, in work and in life . . . and be disappointed.

So yes, build each other up but do it appropriately, honestly and with balance. Show them how to be more like Jesus who was always looking out for someone else.  Don't let ME become the dominant goal at your house. Make more of life about others.  That's when you really feel alive.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Importance of Meals Together

Barbara Billingsley died the other day.  Who's that?  Some of you know she played the mom on Leave It To Beaver, the classic TV program back in the late 50's and 60's. Yes, that show was a far cry from family life today and in some ways that's a good thing.  Women in the 21st century don't all wear dresses and pearls around the house, the dads aren't all suited businessmen who work at some unknown office and the kids' problems aren't worked out in thirty minutes.

But something of importance seems to also have died in the forty or so years since shows like LITB were on the tube. The family mealtime. In a lot of homes there is rarely a few minutes when the whole family stops long enough to eat together to talk about the day, life in general or one anothers hopes and dreams. There's no common place to laugh, show off projects and just enjoy each others company.

Instead, many meals these days are either eaten in shifts, in a hurry or more likely out on the road. Parents who work arrive later or meet the rest of the family at that evening's event. Parents watch from the stands or the audience while their children perform, play or practice. There's little interaction other than "Good game," or "Is your homework done?"

There is research galore that shows that at a minimum the social benefits of mealtimes together matter.  Teenagers suffer less depression, do better in school and are less likely to use drugs in homes where time together around meals is valued.

But there are other important outcomes. You get to really know each other.  You teach the value of family. You honor each other more. You learn that life is about more than just activities and accomplishment.  And perhaps most important, you have a forum in which to teach spiritual, moral and social truths to your children that you want them to carry into adulthood.

My trips overseas always remind me that other cultures are typically so much better at enjoying time together around a meal, sometimes for hours.

However, I realize that to even add a couple of meals per week to our schedule some things might need to change.  Let me suggest that those changes are worth it. Here are a few ideas.

Don't let your children dictate their schedule.  Say no to doing everything. Give them some choices but they cannot and do not need to be in a sport or activity every season.  They don't have to participate in every cool event, class or program the school or community has to offer.

Decide a reasonable number of meals per week you'd like to have together.  At least think about holding one night a week that is sacred as a family night.  If there's an activity on that night, the answer is automatically "no" unless everyone agrees you'll make an exception that week. What about Sunday?  Have you ever considered making one of the weekend days or part of it a different kind of day?

Start early. If your kids are young and you make family mealtime a priority they'll learn to enjoy it sooner and simply expect it as they get older.

Have some mealtime rules that everyone abides by.  For example, when one person's talking everyone listens. Second, no electronics. Phones, mp3 players and the like can wait for later.  That includes mom and dad! Third, no one leaves until they get permission.  And finally, no put downs or making fun of each other.

Be creative.  Parent ought to do a little thinking about some ideas that will generate some discussion, fun and enjoyment of the mealtime. Have some good questions to ask or activities to try.  For example, ask one another to guess each others favorite in a category - i.e. dessert, movie, TV show, etc.  Or pick a current topic and give everyone a chance to provide their take on it. Talk about something you learned on the weekend at church or youth group.

Expect push back but don't give in.  Be the parent.  There are lots of things in life that may seem lame or boring to a middle schooler or teen but you can expect them to be done anyway.  Your kids won't die and will likely appreciate it years from now.

We'll miss you Barbara, Mrs. Cleaver,  but maybe we can hang on to a little something from your world.  "Hey, Beave?"
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Accepting and Blessing Your Child's Uniquenesses

My favorite humorist Dave Barry writes, "I wish there was an early morning kids' TV show called Let's Go Back to Bed. The licensed characters would yawn a lot and say: 'I'm tired! Let's all lie down and be very quiet until at least 7:45am!' Wouldn't that be great? Daddy would send money to that show."

Can you relate? Some kids are early risers no matter what was happening the night before. Others are laid back and take life as it comes. We had one who was up every morning by 6 or so and ready to live life! In fact that's what he has had to do for his radio work for years now. Some are creative and artsy while others love sports or technical challenges. 

And it's easy as a parent to subtly or not so subtly push our kids to be who they are not or to do those things we like the most rather than watch them blossom and be who God made them to be.  Yes, we must still be the parent or parents and there are times when we have to encourage our kids to push through and do something that on their own they would choose not to do.

We need to remember that there are decisions they can't possibly make at a young age about whether an activity or talent should be pursued.

However, it's still important that even when we push them a little we have one eye on what is it that really makes them tick, what skills truly help them come alive and what is it that their personality best matches with in the long run. In addition, we must monitor how much time will their activities require from our time together as a family.

As I drove by a local sports field this morning at 7:45am, I saw scores of five or six-year-olds playing flag football. While I can't know all the circumstances surrounding the families' motives and kids' interest I  had to wonder just how many of those little ones needed to be on a field already on a Saturday.  I'm assuming they were all up going to school Monday through Friday last week. When can they just have time to one, rest, and two, to simply be kids?

I pondered how many of those parents had taken serious inventory of whether Saturday morning football was really going to add value and meaning to the lives of their children and family as a whole.

Where is the time when the family just does something together, spontaneous, agenda-less and simply to have a good time?  Some parents forget so often that each child is different and they don't all need to involved in an organized activity every waking hour nor are they all athletes, artists or musicians.  Find out what your child loves (and yes, that takes some experimentation) but help them to also learn to enjoy rest, refilling and just coming up with their own creative ideas for play and activity.

Are you living through your children or are your children learning to really live through you?  What will you look back someday on and say, "yes, we're glad we committed ourselves to that?"  It's your decision but remember it's an important one.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Is Mistaken Identity Paralyzing Your Home?

A woman went to the hospital and during surgery had a near-death experience. But during that time she saw  God so she asked Him, "Is this it?  Is life on earth over?"  And God said, "No, you actually have 35 years left. You're going to make it."

So before long she woke up in her hospital bed and realized she was alright. As a result she decided to stay and have some plastic surgery done - a tummy tuck, some implants and major face alterations.  She even had her hair dyed as well figuring that if she had all that time left she might as well make the most of it.

However, as she finally left the hospital, she was hit by an ambulance racing to the ER and was killed.  So this time when she comes before God she is very upset. She says to God quite dramatically, "I thought you said I had 35 years to live and then I get hit by a car and killed."  To which God replied, "Oh sorry, I didn't recognize you."

A case of mistaken identity.  And while that's just a silly story, mistaken identity is a major problem for many people. No, not that they are thought to be someone else. Instead, THEY think they are really someone else they really are not.  Some think their identity is determined by their circumstances: loss of a job, poor finances, location and the like.  Others believe their worth is decided by their lack of ability - they can't sing, can't fix things, aren't athletic enough or whatever.

Another group thinks that who they are is determined by what they're feeling:  hopelessness, grief, anger.

On the flip side, we've also been taught that our worth is tied up in what we do, have or know. We have money, a great education, good looks, lots of accomplishments.  But what if any or all of those things are taken away?  Do we hand off our value at the same time?  God says we don't.  Our worth and value are never determined by anything other than what God thinks of us.

And God believes that every human has value, matters, is loved and can be forgiven.  And when we choose to follow Christ and receive His payment for us on the cross, we receive that forgiveness and literally become God's child. That's where our worth is.

So what are you struggling with today?  Remember it doesn't determine who you are, just what you're experiencing. Ask yourself what you're teaching in your home. Are you implying to your kids that their value goes up and down based on school work or other achievements?  If so, change the message.  Show your kids that they are unconditionally loved by you and by God. Keep a case of mistaken identity from taking over your household!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Modeling REAL Christianity At Your House

I was recently told on Facebook for at least the hundredth time that I would finally be a real Christian if I would click that I liked their post. Wow, if I'd only known it was that easy years ago. I hope no one actually believes that authentic faith is so simple but apparently some do.

It sure isn't at home. In fact I wonder how many of us have taken inventory lately of our closest relationships to see just how real our faith is where we live. While there's no one right answer let me suggest a few helpful questions to use in your exploration.

First, are you honest?  No, I don't mean do you overtly lie or not? Instead, do you openly talk about your weaknesses, faults, temptations and mistakes?  In some Christian homes, being near-perfect is the goal and the image that adults especially try to portray. And yet, most of the heroes of the faith in the Bible were people who struggled much of the time and were open about their humanity.  Why would we model anything different?

Second, where do you turn in the hard times? Our spouses and children will learn much about trusting God if we show them what it's like to look to Him when things aren't going well.  When they see us overtly ask God for wisdom, strength and courage they can see that God really is our source of hope. Difficulties don't develop the character of our homes as much as they reveal it.

Third, do your values at home reflect your faith?  Do you as a family or couple hoard most of what you have or freely share it? Is your home a place where visitors, neighbors, friends and those in need are welcomed. Are you looking for opportunities to serve others or to just get more for you? How do you spend the majority of your time?  What do you imply is most important at your house?

We were far from perfect at this but I'm thankful for the times in our house when we went next door with cookies at holidays, invited people from other countries to join us for meals and were as generous as we could be with our tithes and offerings.  We put a limit on extra activities so that we weren't just running around non-stop every day.  And watching our kids today freely serve God with their resources and talents makes those choices worthwhile.

Finally, are you growing closer to God or just learning more about Him?  Too many people are into more knowledge about the Bible, the details of Christ's life and even end - times scenarios than they are about growing their relationship with their Lord. Knowledge has its place but don't fall into the trap of worshiping the wrong thing or person.  Real faith is grounded in a relationship not a routine.

Somehow it's questions like us stay focused on real Christian faith, not what we say because we're supposed to or do because everyone else does. If our faith in Christ is truly genuine, then there will be a pervasive authenticity in our life, where trusting God is simply the norm, where it's what we do and who we are when no one else is looking.

So take inventory and be a real Christian today whether any of your friends hear about it or not!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Power of NO in Parenting

I was babysitting for my 14 month old grandson Liam some years ago now. And it became obvious again that his parents had taught him well about things that are not OK. He'd point at something like a plug or the computer and say "No," (sometimes Nah but we know what he means). It's pretty fun, really,  but it also shows that he can grasp the idea even at his young age.

However, he's also very human and so wants to see if he can push past the roadblock.  He tried several ways to get me to say yes as he reached for some DVDs near our television.  First, he just touched them and then looked at me to see what I'd do or say.  So I repeated "No" to him calmly.  He tried that several times but to no avail.

Then he went for the "cute" option.  He would pucker up his face and then smile at me while reaching for the treasure. I had to work at not starting to laugh. Thankfully he didn't push it too far and I was able to move him on to something we could have fun with together.

Of course, rules, discipline and guidelines always have to be considered in light of a child's age and maturity but too many parents seem to have this fear or at least reticence to tell their kids "no." I spoke with a man just the other day who told me exactly that about his teenage son.  "It's so hard to say 'no' to him." And I could identify because we don't want to be the parent of doom or have our kids upset with us.

However, having concrete boundaries and clear rules actually help our children to function more freely and have more fun doing the things they can do. It's when they don't know the rules or the rules are always changing that they begin to fear us more and wonder when the gavel will come crashing down on them again.

Secondly, saying "no" helps prepare them for the real world.  No one gets to do everything.  And yet if kids grow up getting to make all their own decisions and rarely getting turned down for anything they'll expect that from their work, family and friends as adults.

In fact, there's a line you might use when you have to make a decision on the spot but aren't sure if you should say no or not.  Maybe you simply haven't had time to think about it or to talk with your spouse.  Try this.  "If you need an answer right now, the answer is 'no.'  If you need an answer in fifteen minutes the answer is maybe."

Now you have an opportunity to think about the wisest decision. Most of the time your kids don't have to have an answer on the spot even though they may think they do.  But it's better to wait and make the right call rather than just give in.

So when it's appropriate and needed . . . just say "no."  It's not so bad.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Watching Out For the Slippery Slope At Home

Jackie and I watched a little toddler almost die yesterday. We were at an overlook at Pedernales State Park in central Texas looking at the water rushing over two small falls that are famous in this part of the state. After heavy rains there was a significant amount of water flowing that makes that lookout particularly attractive.

A woman was in one of the reachable dry spots with her two young children where visitors often sit to get a better view. They were all seated on a blanket appearing to just be enjoying the beautiful day.  However, within seconds the toddler got up and started to try to walk down an incline next to the deep water. Normally she would have been ok but wandered too close to the part that had gotten wet and slid down into the pool. The mother thankfully responded right away and slid down in her blue jeans to where the little girl was and was able to pull her out.

Had the mom been seconds or even a minute later the little girl might have drowned.

We can also walk too near some slippery slopes in our homes if we're not careful.  There's the slippery slope of putting spiritual things aside. We skip church more and more, we get too tired to have family times, we skip our personal times with God.  Pretty soon we don't even notice that we've lost our spiritual strength, that God is just sort of an extra in our day.

Or there's the slippery slope of personal morality. We start having more lunches with opposite sex people who aren't our spouse, we watch a little more of things that we know are a weakness for our temptations or we let our bad habits gradually get more out of control.

Or there's the slippery slope of emotional distancing.  We don't share much of significance with our spouse, we rarely have time to talk with our kids about their lives and feelings, and we're not really close to anyone.  Or our anger keeps ratcheting up a notch or two to where others don't want to be around us much.

Chances are good that we probably know the slope we're on but we don't really believe danger is that close.  If that's you remember the mom at the waterfall. One moment everything was fine, the next her daughter was in grave danger.

Ask God to show you the dangerous spots in your world. What slopes are you on today?  And when you see them admit you're too close to the edge and find someone to help you stay in healthy territory.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Importance of Balancing Travel and Family

I recently made my fourteenth trip to Russia. Thankfully this time my wife went along but often she has to stay home. Thankfully I don't have to travel even more like so many do. But the impact of being away doesn't end when the plane's wheels touch down and I later walk in the door. I'm extra tired, jet-lagged and out of sorts for a few days as well. Let's face it - our families take a hit and make some sacrifices when we're on the road.

So what can we do to help minimize the impact?  First, make sure you actually need to travel as much as you do.  Can you use some of the new technology to do conference/video calling instead? Does your boss have you travel because he or she thinks you actually like the extra time on the road? Perhaps you like the road more than you should. Maybe there really is a way to cut back and not be gone so much.

Second, build in some time before and/or after your trip for family.  How about doing something extra special before you have to leave for awhile.  Jackie and I try to take some time for lunch or an extra day together to debrief, get caught up and reengage. That's important for your spouse and kids. Don't assume they've just gotten used to your being gone.

Third, make more of the time that you are at home. We should all be doing our best to communicate well, play often with our family members and give them face-to-face time. But if you have to be away a lot, then it would be wise to make extra efforts to engage with your family when you are there. Are you still at work most of the time when you're at home because you rarely stop checking your messages or are drawn like a magnet to your laptop?

Our kids only reach each age once but there will always be one more client to call, email to check and report to write. What's most important to you?  Our spouses put up with a lot for us to be gone.  Do we show them our love and thanks when we're home? I know that we can't always control how much we're away but we can control how we respond to being gone.

Fourth, be sure to connect with family when you're away. When I first went to Russia in the early 90's it was difficult to connect. Now I can call regularly anywhere I have wireless. There's not much excuse to not be in touch.

Leaving again soon? Make the most of it and show your family they still matter!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Be Honest About Your Pain

This week I experienced my first ear infection in say twenty-five years. The inside of my ear would simply start throbbing and the pain was awful. But I knew that in a couple of days I was also going to get on an airplane and fly 11-12 hours overseas. Not a good time to have ear problems.

So I did the manly thing and downed a couple of margaritas.  No, I actually went to my doctor and he quickly diagnosed the situation and prescribed some medication. We all have pain at times and most of us don't try to play through it, especially the emotional kind. However, many of us attempt to dull or cover it instead of handle it in mature, healthy ways.

Some common painkillers?  Silence, addictions, blaming others, working harder, spending, becoming more religious, serving more at church, sex . . . .  The list is long.  Now don't get me wrong - trying to reduce our pain, whether it's a headache or from the loss of a loved one, is normal and understandable.  But we have to learn to seek out appropriate painkillers, not illicit ones.

And appropriate honesty is the best place to start especially in your home. When you're hurting because you lost your job, it's important to talk with your spouse about what's going on inside of the two of you as a result of your financial struggles. Instead people often go to one of two extremes.  They either don't talk about it or get so angry and irritated that they begin to hurt others they love or demand even more from them.

And if the two of you don't have much in your emotional tanks to help each other then go and get some outside help from a counselor, pastor or friend. But whatever you do don't just dull the hurt. And avoid the subtle painkillers like working harder or serving more. Working and serving are wonderful but not when they're just a way to avoid the real issues.

Like the prescription I received from my doctor, sometimes we need the healing words of God Himself and of others God has placed in our lives.  Don't face your pain alone. Proverbs 25:11 says, "A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver."  Let words of truth be spoken into your pain.  But you'll have to be honest about it!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Being Ready For Parenting Turbulence

On a recent flight I sat next to a new, young pilot-in-training.  He even asked to sit by the window so he could see more of what was going on outside.  I asked him a couple of flying questions and he was more than eager to tell me what he knows.  As a long-time wannabe pilot I found his discussion fascinating and it made the trip go by faster, too.

However, not too long into the flight we encountered some pretty bumpy air, more than usual. I wasn't panicky (I happen to enjoy flying) but I looked over at the young man and he was as calm as a cucumber.  He said, "I don't get worried unless my head is hitting the ceiling."  I guess that's the kind of pilot everyone wants flying their plane.

Parenting can have its bumps, too, and Jackie and I found it's a good idea to prepare as much as possible for it ahead of time. While we can't ever totally know what our kids will do, our kids need to know what we'll do!  And so do we!

This is especially true for families with both mom and dad at home to together about strategies and steps they'll take when things might hit the fan.  Are there certain things you'll at least both agree to try when a child has a meltdown?  Can you agree on actions you'll avoid at all costs?  Are you willing to leave a restaurant, someone's home or wherever if things get out of hand? What are your options?

Have you decided on your limits or what you will do when a child has simply had enough and it's not wise to push them any further?

These kinds of discussions are important so that you as parents can be on the same team and provide a helpful and united response when your kids go beyond acceptable limits.  If you're a single parent then at least do some homework about what actions and words are actually doable for you and appropriate.

Take inventory of those times at your house or with your kids that are bumpier than others. For some it's time at a restaurant while for others it's bedtime. It's helpful to arm yourself with some practical strategies that you can use when the bumpy air comes along on your journey. If you need some ideas, talk with some other parents about what they do in certain situations, read some good books or even someone's blog like this one!

And then at some point you need to act. Show your kids what you will do and won't do when things get rough. Turbulence in parenting is inevitable, but it doesn't have to cause great harm or unmanageable angst if we're prepared for it.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Bring the World To Your Home . . . and Vice Versa

I'm going to Russia again next week. It will be my fifteenth trip. This time I get to travel with many very talented musicians, artists, technical people and some who just want to help out. We'll be helping lead our third worship conference for pastors, worship leaders and others who want to learn about helping others praise God and teach truth in meaningful, compelling and inspiring ways.

But obviously my involvement in Russia started awhile back. . . . close to twenty years ago now.  I won't take time to give you all the details other than to say I'm so thankful for God's allowing me to learn to love a people and a country that I would never have dreamed of visiting once much less a dozen times and counting.

Yes I've learned some Russian, met wonderful people, seen many of the famous sights of both the Moscow region and Siberia and been able to teach some people there about spiritual things. However, I'll always highly cherish what my overseas involvement has done for my family. Serving in another country brings that other country into your home - literally at times.

We've had Russian pastors, friends and acquaintances around our table many times. We've collected Russian artifacts, books and souvenirs. We've enjoyed Russian concerts and music. And we've together developed a heart for the Russian soul. That can't help but change one's perspective and it did for us.

Jackie has traveled there with me three times but has also learned to cook borscht, understand a few words and appreciate the kindnesses of dozens of Russian friends. My grown kids have not gone with us but have had the privilege to eat Russian food, hear our stories and interact with incredible people from the other side of the world.

Families . . . don't miss engaging the world in your home.  You don't even have to travel.  But if can go at least once.  If you can't then invite people from other cultures into your house. Make friends.  Serve. Take time to be with people who don't look, think and go through life like you do. Learn some of their language, customs, and faith stories.

Adopt a family, an orphan or even part of a culture. Begin to read about it together and to pray for the individuals, families or people group. Young children will love learning something new and will probably grasp even more than you do at some point.

Our culture is not the center of the universe.  God has made us different for a reason.  Help your family to figure out why!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, August 29, 2010

When Your Marriage Is In Trouble

Divorce happens. It's real. Sometimes it's unavoidable when one person isn't willing to work on their part of the marriage anymore or a spouse just leaves or it becomes dangerous to stay. But perhaps more tragic is when there truly is some hope, things could be fixed and the couple just decides to give up because it's too hard or "I've tried too long" or they never really knew how much better things could be.

And if you've been divorced my thoughts today aren't about beating you up for your circumstances or decisions. Most every family today has been directly or indirectly impacted by divorce including my own. And like I've already suggested there are myriad reasons, situations and individuals involved in hurting marriages and why people ultimately divorce these days. There are no easy answers.

However, I do want to ask couples who might be in trouble to at least ponder a few key thoughts before they would ever decide to divorce or even explore it as an option. First, have you done your part to make things better?  I counsel with many couples and so often the discussion centers around what the other person has done or continues to do.  "If he (or she) just wouldn't ____________, our marriage would be great."  If you each own your own part of the problems you'll lower some of the angst right at the outset and maybe be able to see a possible resolution.

Second, have you together taken advantage of every resource available to help you make it?  Counseling, books (I Don't Want A Divorce is a great one), mentoring, conferences, and the like all have the potential to help you sort through the issues that are putting the most strain on your relationship.  Some of you may say, "Well, we don't have the time or money for all of that."  My response is, "You can't afford NOT to do some of those things! The consequences can be dreadful and lifechanging."

Third, ask yourself, "How much of our thinking has been influenced by the world around us and the media?"  Television, some talk radio and movies glamorize and laugh at broken relationships while modeling that most of the culture is single, runs around and loves every minute of it. Think of a favorite drama or sitcom where the leads are married and much less happily married.  There aren't many. Don't buy into the fantasy that just getting divorced and living as your own person again is the answer.  Hollywood wants us to believe that but it's not.  Look at the lives of most of the actors.

Finally, consider where you and your spouse are spiritually.  Do you pray for each other?  Have you committed to pray about your marriage for an extended time? Do you both have a personal relationship with God? Does your faith impact how you treat each other?  This can become a time when you both get drawn back to God or to Him for the first time.  When you have Christ living in you, you have greater resources to draw from when times are difficult and you don't look to your spouse as much to be your source of life, worth and value.

So if you're sensing or even overwhelmed with marital problems, will you at least make sure you've done everything you can first to make it?  Your kids (if you have them) need a loving mom and dad who are together if possible and there is a better way.  Let someone and God help you. Keep climbing.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, August 23, 2010

Have A Good What?

The other day I was picking up a subscription and the cashier ended the sale with the oft-used greeting, "Have a good one." For some odd reason I started to think about what that really might have meant.  "Have a good day?"  Perhaps.  "Have a good week, month, year, decade, century, eternity?"  Not as likely. 

How about, "Have a good pill when your finally take one."  After all I was getting something that is related to my sleep.  As a result maybe he was saying, "Have a good night," as opposed to a lousy one which I can have now and then. Or more simply he was probably just wishing that I "have a good walk to the parking lot or a wonderful trip home."

Whatever he was saying it became for me one of those, "Yeah, whatever," moments.  I've heard that phrase hundreds of times from the Midwest to the Southwest. Does it mean anything?  Probably not.

But more importantly our communications with those we love can get pretty bland and rote too.  Do we say things that we assume they will understand, use tired responses that illicit their own whatevers or just get lazy avoiding expressions that truly matter and that our loved ones really long to hear.

Even "Love you!" as we drop someone off or end a phone conversation may not mean much if that's all we ever say or we just use it instead of "bye!"  How can we keep our conversation powerful and more significant than, "Have a good one?"  The best way is to stay or become intentional about saying things beyond the trite, everyday and habitual.

Ask yourself, "What do my kids probably long to hear that I haven't said for awhile?" "What might my spouse like to hear that I rarely say even though I may think it?"  Answering those two questions would be a good start and likely fuel other ideas.  I'm proud of you or I really do love you, you know or I can't think of any one else I'd rather have in this family besides you would be good places to start.

Another direction that we often overlook is inviting them to tell us what they think about whatever.  Tell me more about what you're thinking says a lot about how we view someone else.  Everyone likes the opportunity to talk and tell their story.  Do we sometimes not let our kids or spouses just talk because we can't be quiet long enough?

On the other hand don't overdo it and just get mushy, never say anything hard or negative or turn every event into a praise moment.  We were around a woman with a young baby not long ago who talked to her one year old plus child every time using baby talk and a baby-like voice. I suppose that's not the end of the world for now but she talked that way to the rest of us in the room, too. It was like having coffee with Snow White and Minnie Mouse.

We can show love and teach maturity by talking to our family members with respect, age-approrpriate words and a balance between praise and challenge.  What do you need to say today that goes beyond, "Have a good one."  Maybe next time I get my presecription I'll say, "Have a good what?"  Of course, my wife will never shop with me again.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, August 20, 2010

What's The Plan At Your House?

Years ago a group of interchange designers were in a room with the purpose of planning how Interstate 35 would intersect in downtown Dallas with I 30, US 75 and the runways at DFW Airport. They were apparently smoking crack at the time and after several subsequent beers the chairman said, "OK, let's get started."

If you've ever driven through the center of Dallas you know that none of the major roads there actually meet each other.  You simply turn left, then right, then left, watching out for approaching aircraft and then get off at the next exit, finding the nearest Starbucks for a triple shot espresso. You then look for the oldest person there without piercings and ask for directions.  You might arrive at your destination the same day, but don't count on it.

Unfortunately, a lot of well-meaning spouses and parents have similar plan-less lives when it comes to their families.  Ask them and they'll say, "Oh sure, we want our home to be a Christ-centered home," or "Yes, we really desire that our kids learn to be independent and handle their money well," or "Absolutely we want to serve others together as a husband and wife." 

But if you ask them if they've made any plans to do any of those things, chances are good they have not.  The busyness of life, other priorities or just not thinking about it all get in the way.  People mean well but . . .

Jackie and I have been there and knew at one point that we needed to become intentional about some of our most important goals and actually do something to make them happen.

So here are a few tips for helping add planning to your marriage and family.  First, make a list.  Sounds so simple and it is.  Take a date night or a few free hours (you might have to PLAN those, too) and ask yourselves what it is that you believe God wants you to do in your home.  What will you look back on in ten years and be disappointed if it didn't happen?  Write it down.  Put the items in an order of importance if you can.

Second, start somewhere.  Don't leave your time together until you've agreed on at least one thing you're going to do to move you toward one goal.  If you can, plan a few other longer term goals or a time to start something else or to take a next step.  And celebrate your first steps when you take them.

Third, plan a longer "retreat" once a year or so.  Jackie and I have done this most of our 34 years of marriage.  Sometimes we can add a couple of days to a conference I have while other times we just stay local and get away to a hotel or resort nearby.  We use it as a time to just work on us in general but part of that time is for reviewing the last year and looking ahead to the next couple.

We take time to pray over our list too and ask God to give us wisdom along the way. I'm in ministry today because of one of those retreats where we asked each other the question, "What have you always wanted to do but haven't yet?"  One of my answers was, "Go to seminary."  The rest is history as they say.

The classic leadership proverb is so right . . . We don't plan to fail, we just fail to plan. 

And oh, by the way, if you're needing to go through Dallas?  I just wouldn't.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, August 13, 2010

Authenticity Isn't Overrated

I read this in a hotel room recently. . . . "Due to the popularity of our hotel room items, we have them for sale at the front desk."  In other words people are stealing the hotel blind and they don't want you to take their stuff anymore.  OK, fine, but it seems like they should have said that. Can't they just be honest?

I guess telling it like it is isn't that easy especially with those we love, but being genuine is pretty important as long as we do it wisely and graciously.  The New Testament in the Bible says it quite clearly,  Speak the truth in love.  You can't have one without the other. Truth without love can become inconsiderate arrogance while love without the truth is phony sentimentality. Healthy relationships need both aspects.

So let me offer a few guidelines about truth telling whether we're speaking to our spouse, kids or others close to us.  First, timing matters.  When you need to share from your heart take into account the location, who else is around and how long you actually have to talk. Mentioning your big hurt or need on the way into church simply won't work. And whatever  you do, don't use email or letters to say hard things. While it may be difficult it's always best to speak in person.

Second, talk only from your perspective not based on what you think the other person feels or knows.  Tell how you feel at that moment and explain what you need that would help you feel differently.  Don't blame, assume or try to convict. "I felt angry last night  . . . and needed this from you . . . " as opposed to, "You always have to get your own way, don't you?  You just think about yourself and no one else."

Third, be willing to be wrong.  Admit that perhaps you didn't have all the facts, have a blind spot that keeps you from seeing the whole picture or that you too have some things to work on.  Remember, your worth isn't on the line. Most people fight over generally unimportant things because they think they HAVE to win to be ok. You're not less of a person if the other person doesn't see things your way or you find out you simply blew it.

Spin is only for dancing, tops and cool sports moves. And when  you're my age . . . just forget it altogether. Definitely leave it out of your discussions and go confidently for the honest truth. Yes, the truth will set you free as Jesus said. Authenticity will make all the difference in whether your relationships are deep and lasting or not.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Speaking Each Other's Language at Home

I was recently in another church for a wedding and decided to glance through their song book.  Some of the titles were, When Cain Killed Abel, God Weeps and Crossing Waters At Creation.  I'm not making those up. I had to wonder how those songs could even be close to worshipful or uplifting.  They wouldn't work for me I'm sure.

However, maybe they do inspire the people at the church.  I'll probably never know.  And if I happened to mention one of your favorites - sorry.  But I'm confident of this - the people at that church or at least who wrote that hymnal speak (or sing) with language that I don't get.

I'm pretty sure that happens in families too. We think we're communicating well or using terms and phrases others get but often we're mistaken.  We assume from their nods or apparent assent that they're totally tracking with us but it's important that we find out.

Do we use words that are simply too complicated for our young children? Do we talk to our spouse with a lot of work language, man/woman focused talk or in generalities that really don't say much?  It's possible.  Do we try to connect with our teens in their language but we really don't have the concepts correct?

How do we know if we're on track or not?  First, if we have young children ask your spouse or someone else who can observe your interactions. They'll probably be able to tell by observing and can give you suggestions.  For spouses and teens try asking them.  Tell them to be ruthlessly honest but ask, "Is that making sense?"  Or, "Do I ever use language that you don't get?  It's ok.  You won't get in trouble if you say 'yes.'"

And with your spouse you can obviously go further and deeper.  "What do you need more of from me when we communicate?  How am I doing when we talk together?"  You can learn a lot and you'll figure out some things you need to do better.  Don't fear the responses.  You won't die.  And you'll learn to connect with your family members in ways that will pay terrific dividends later.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, August 2, 2010

When We Just Try To Stop the Pain

Some of you remember the excruciating pain of childbirth. I sure do. My wife had a lot of it. I'm a wimp and if birthing the children were up to me . . . well . . . you see my point. Pain isn't fun.  And there are appropriate ways and times to try to reduce or get rid of it. And if you have a bad headache or backache there's nothing wrong or un-Christian about taking or doing something to soothe the hurt.

However, when it comes to emotional pain we can easily get into trouble if we're not wise. It's painful to feel like we're not measuring up as a parent or spouse. It hurts to be out of work and become burdened with the sense that we're not providing.  Our heart can ache while we wonder if our marriage will ever be what we thought it would be.

But what do a lot of us do when the pain becomes too much?  We try to dull it rather than deal with the source. Some people start to drink more. Others work harder. Many who are married get drawn into an affair because that relationship feels better than the one at home.  A few even get more religious or spiritual for all the wrong reasons. We wrongly think that phony Christianity can also help us feel better. And it might - for awhile.

I have a theorem that I'm pretty sure is true: When life is out of control in one area, we often try to over-control another.  Control can also serve as a way to feel a little better about life even if it's only for a time. We lost our job so we try to control more things at home. Our kids are a mess so we become more controlling at church or work. We usually don't realize we do it but misguided control can happen under the radar much of the time.

So when we're hurting what should we do?  First, learn to accept that pain is part of life and doesn't mean that we're a failure. Author Tim Hansel wisely wrote . . .  Pain is inevitable, misery is optional.  He was so right. We can accept our pain and deal with it appropriately or we can live in misery trying to stop the hurt for little periods of time but never winning.

Second, face the source of your pain. If you lost your job and are struggling financially, then be sad about your loss but take healthy appropriate steps to keep going, find work and meet your needs the best you can.  If you marriage is hurting go gets some help and admit your part of the problem.  Learn to communicate and love better but don't think that finding someone else is the answer.  It isn't.

Third, let pain teach you more about trusting God.  God never promised that He would remove all our pain. Sometimes He does but other times He does not.  The Book of John in the New Testament says that we can ask and it will be given to us if it brings us joy, bears fruit in us and gives God the most glory.  But sometimes we will get more ultimate joy, see more fruit in our lives and give God more praise by going through something not around it.

Fourth, admit the things you've been doing to inappropriately deal with your pain and stop them now.  Control things less, quit an unhealthy relationship or commit to giving up an addictive behavior.

There really is a better way even when you're hurting.  Keep climbing.  The view from the top is worth it!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Sometimes We Need To Just Stop and Take Inventory

I was at a high school graduation ceremony a number of weeks ago when a light in the auditorium apparently overheated and exploded during the speaker's address. There was a large popping sound and it looked like a few little specks were floating down into the audience.  In the area where I was sitting most everyone's attention was diverted to the action overhead and was no longer listening to the speaker.

However, instead of stopping for a few moments and acknowledging that there might be a problem, the guest giving the address simply kept going. He didn't think that he may have lost his audience and apparently was unaware that many had tuned him out.

We as both spouses and parents can do the same thing at home.  We have something to say and we're going to say it no matter what is going on around or in those who are listening.  Sometimes they're not hearing us because of something else that has "exploded" in their world that day.  Other times they're distracted by things going on at that moment or our words may simply be unclear and they're not getting it.

The wise person stays attentive to whether the other person is connecting with them or not.  And yet too many of us just keep going anyway and take no notice of whether we're getting through. 

So what can we do to determine if we're getting anywhere with our comments?  First of all, stop and ask. If you're speaking to a child you might say, "OK, tell me what you think I've said so far."  Or if you're talking to a spouse something like, "Do you feel like this is making sense?" or "Do you have any thoughts about this so far?" would be more appropriate.

Second, observe the other person's reaction.  The face and body can give off a lot of signals that tell you whether you're being received well or not.  Of course, if they've fallen asleep it's pretty obvious!  However, most of the time the clues are a bit more subtle. Do they appear attentive, do you sense they're ready or willing to hear more?  Can you see some obvious distractions that have taken their attention away?

Third, think about how you're communicating.  Are you using a tone of voice that is pushing them away?  Are your words too complicated for a child or too detailed for the situation with an adult?  Do you need to slow down or change your position so that you're less intimidating?

Finally, be willing to stop and acknowledge what else is going on right then.  "Honey, I'm wondering if we're just too tired to finish this conversation right now"  or, "I've given you a lot to think about so let me hear what you're thinking," could be helpful comments that provide a needed pause.

Most of us talk too much and listen too little.  Maybe we can all have better and more effective monologues and conversations if we'll just check out what's going on in the audience a bit more carefully!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, July 16, 2010

Do You Really Hate Your Kids?

I'm writing this post from Colorado where I and my family heard two parents within a couple of hours of each other profanely berate their kids in public. They swore at them!  And it was for nothing - such as not doing exactly what was expected of them while getting into the car. My wife, daughter and I just looked at each other.  I thought to myself, "Do these people really feel the hate they appeared to have for their kids at that moment?"

Now granted all of us parents have blown it at times saying things we wish we could take back.  There aren't any perfect parents. I'm sure the parents I saw don't really hate their offspring. But what could be the purpose of yelling at kids and much worse cursing at them?  What are these people teaching their kids?  Couldn't they express their displeasure or concern without the drama?

In my thinking there's no reason to ever yell at our kids unless they're in immediate danger.  Yelling never adds to the effectiveness of our speech. Never. However, it can do much hurtful damage, some of which may stay with our children forever. What will we do when our kids really mess up?  How many kids end up feeling they can never measure up simply because their mother and/or father couldn't lovingly and firmly discipline or express their expectations?

There are alternatives to the tempting verbal barrages we could serve up when our kids act up.  In fact, I've written in previous posts about some practical parenting techniques that are most effective depending upon the age of the child.  Go back and look at some of those.  However, there are a few helpful basics that apply no matter how old your kids are.

First of all, when your kids are driving you crazy such as not getting into the car, failing to follow through on your request at home, or just being squirrelly at the dinner table, stop and take a breath. That's right - pause and think about what you're going to do.  You can then say to your son something like, "Come here next to me right now," and expect him to do it.  Be firm, no exceptions.  But you don't need to yell to get action.  Let your words be the motivator not your emotions.  And if little Ryan doesn't come, appropriately help him in one form or another. With little ones that may mean actually picking them up or ideally leading them by the hand. Let them know you mean it and follow through without the high emotion and words that simply hurt.

Second, give them choices"Sarah, you can either stand here by mom or sit in the front seat of the car but you cannot run across the parking lot."  And then don't be satisfied until she is doing one or the other.  To be honest most of our fits of anger come from feeling like we are losing the battle with a child and we're not willing to do what it takes to win appropriately.  Is winning easy?  Not necessarily. But if we give clear choices as the only "win" for the child, then we will tend to have more satisfying and less destructive experiences.

Third, be ready ahead of time for the 'rough water.'  Being here in Colorado reminds me of some whitewater rafting I've done with my family in this beautiful state.  And I remember that before we ever got in the water the guide would give us instructions on what to do especially when we hit the bigger rapids.  In other words, before we got in the rough water we practiced and prepared in the still water. The same is true with parenting.  We must make our choices regarding what we will do and won't do - ahead of time.

We will prepare and even practice saying and doing the most effective things before we hit the class- four rapids of parenting. If you're married work these things out with your spouse as well.  It's important that you be on the same team and using essentially the same tactics so the kids receive consistent responses no matter which parent is doing the disciplining.

Proverbs 18:21 reminds us that, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue."  Don't let your harsh words even in the emotion of a difficult moment cause undue hurt and long-term harm.  Keep even your words of correction meaningful, helpful and consistent. It will be worth it and make times with your kids more fun and memorable.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Importance of Making Memories

One summer my wife Jackie, daughter Amy and grandson Liam got on a plane to Colorado. We spent eight days in the Rockies at a timeshare condo we bought over eighteen years ago.  And every time I go back I can't help but reminisce about the fun family times we've had together over the years.  We didn't buy the timeshare week for an investment and it probably wouldn't sell for much now anyway but the memories are like gold and I wouldn't trade them for anything.

I wish more families would make real memory-making together a priority. Yes, we can have great theme-park memories and times with extended family, but each family needs to also develop their own unique getaways.  They don't need to be expensive. Ours usually weren't.  We bought our timeshare as a resale and we only get to use it once a year.

But we decided to make the mountains a key part of our times together.  I've climbed ten 14ers (14000' mountains) and six or seven of them were with one or both of the kids. We've hiked scores of miles of other trails many above treeline eating sandwiches in some of the most beautiful places in the country.  We've basked in the beauty of God's handiwork and taken time together to notice the One who created it.  Some of my most church-like moments and greatest God encounters were with family members hiking in the mountains.

Your family times may be along a stream, at a favorite cabin, swimming in the ocean or even serving others together on a missions trip or at a nearby shelter.  Whatever you do, make your own special moments.  And don't just settle for the same thing or what everyone else does.  The big theme parks are fine now and then but enjoy the outdoors, do something a little risky and go places others might not go.

And second, please do not make every vacation a visit to the relatives!  Yes, family relationships are important and need to be nurtured, but our immediate family needs the same attention. Always going to Aunt Phyllis' and Uncle Bob's can get old and stale pretty quickly to a kid.

If you've not done a lot of memory-making start making some plans for the coming year.  Half the fun is in the planning.  Let the kids be a part of the preparation.  Get out some maps (you can teach them a little geography, too) and start considering the possibilities.

And finally, count the number of years left until your kids turn 18.  For some of you that's not a lot of time.  Make the most of the years remaining because soon those kids will be out the door for the most part. 

Guess where our kids go these days when they can get away for a vacation?  The mountains.  I think they enjoyed the memories.  You can too.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Games Couples Play

I'm doing a wedding this fall and I asked the couple what time the wedding would start. Their response was, "As soon as the Texas/OU game is over."

I guess we know what most of the wedding party will be doing before the wedding starts!

Their comment reminded me that any of us who are married can allow our relationship to wane through an inordinate amount of time given to the hobbies, favorite activities and personal interests of one or both of them.  Now there's noting wrong with college football, gardening, shopping or working on your hot rod provided those things are done in moderation and not at the expense of your connecting time.

But some of us need to take personal inventory about how much time, energy and money is going out the door while one or both of the persons in the marriage are obsessing about their golf game, musical interests or the Internet.

So, when is a personal interest, "game," or hobby too much in a marrige? 

First, when it becomes more important than protecting the basic components of a healthy relationship.  When you have time for your activity but won't or can't make time to talk, spend time together or deal with issues, you need to cut back or quit the extras.  In fact, for many their interest becomes a diversion, excuse and escape from meeting their responsibilities or working through problems.

Second, when that activity is simply unwise from a time, cost or emotional standpoint.  Let's say your hobby requires eight hours a week.  That's four hundred hours a year or two thousand hours in 5 years.  Was the enjoyment you got or the sense of fulfillment you received worth that amount of time?  Maybe.  But maybe not.  What else could you have enhanced in your marriage, family or community by giving even half of those hours away to a better endeavor?

I wonder how many marriages simply wilted because one or both spouses didn't water their relationship with enough meaningful time doing things that matter most.

Third, when you can't live without it, or at least you think you can't.  When you wake up thinking about your next time of involvement, when you ponder how to be better at it even  during the night or when that's all you talk about you're probably in trouble.  The classic comment of the addict is, "I can stop any time." Really?  Then try it and see.  Because if you can't go without it that means you've put your obsession before everything even if you don't think you have.

And if you're still not sure, ask your spouse or a friend.  They can often be the mirror you need to see that your hobby or whatever really has become your life.  And when it's your life then it's also stealing life from you, experiences and relationships that someday you'll wish you had made time for.  

Are the games getting in the way of a healthy marriage for you?  If so, you'll need to start with a fast and de-tox so to speak, proving to yourself that there are better things to give your life to.  It doesn't mean you can't ever do that activity.  But you'll begin to control it rather than it controlling you.  And trust me - your spouse will know the difference.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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