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

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Thinking Before We Speak

Not long ago I went with a team from our church to work at an apartment complex downtown to assist people there who have very little and some of whom have extra special needs. During the past couple of years we have built some special friendships with these folks and enjoy our time with them every time we go.

On this particular visit I spent some time with a young blind man. He is very bright and most enjoyable to talk to about most anything. But at one point during the day he asked me to come up to his room and help him look for something that he'd been having trouble finding.

I said I would and began pushing him up to his room in his wheelchair. As the elevator door on his floor opened I noticed the incredible vista of our Austin downtown lake and its surroundings. So I immediately said, "Wow, you have a great view up here." All at once I realized that I had just told a blind man what an incredible "view" he had!

I felt like such an idiot and frankly I was at that moment. Thankfully, he had a good sense of humor and laughed with me when I realized my mistake.

However, that incident reminded me again that it is pretty important to think before we speak whether we're talking to our spouse, our kids or a friend. During a recent trip to Russia, my eleventh, I was constantly trying to think how to say things in Russian, my skills being pretty limited. But sometimes I wonder if I don't need to spend more time thinking every day about how to say things in English!

Am I speaking words that will build up this other person? Am I trying to enter their world in a meaningful way or am I just attempting to make myself look better?

Even when I need to say hard things, am I speaking words that will help the other person be stronger and better or am I just seeking my own satisfaction? Are my words demanding that others be more like me or do I express my perspective and opinion in a gracious, non-threatening way?

We will all have to evaluate our own habits and practices, but it will help if we all take regular inventory of our speech tendencies with others. In fact, ask someone else to give you some feedback and then listen to them. Chances are they see and hear things from you that you do not. Let them be a mirror for you.

I know that when I listen to the recordings of my teachings I often hear things that I actually said and yet didn't know those things came across the way they did.

Before you respond to your spouse's or child's action or perspective that you don't agree with, think about the best way to engage them. As the New Testament says, let your words be seasoned with salt. Salt is designed to preserve and to bring out the flavor in our food. Let your words do the same for others in your world.

Think before you speak today!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Sometimes In Marriage We Need to "Retreat"

Written from MOSCOW, Russia:  I love being here even in the middle of winter and look forward to the continued ministry this trip will help me and my church do in the coming months and years. And while I'm anticipating the next few days visiting churches and seeing wonderful friends, I already miss home and my wife Jackie.

And I know that even being gone just a little more than a week, she and I will need some time to catch up, get reacquainted and have some space for ourselves. It will be tempting to just launch back into life the way it was before I left. However, I've learned over the years that Jackie and I must continue to be intentional about OUR time, too.

Thankfully, early on in our marriage we began a couple of practices that we continue as empty-nesters some thirty three years later. We plan marriage retreat times. They generally come in two forms. The first kind happen on a more regular basis. We find a time during most every week to just have time for us. It can happen in little bits, too, and often does. However, we've found it important to have a larger chunk of time as well.

So most recently we take Mondays off. I know not everyone has that option but the day isn't that important. However, we try to get out of the house, go hiking or do something interesting together that we wouldn't do otherwise. If the day doesn't afford something like that we at least go have lunch and even run errands as long as we both agree that's what we want to do.

Because we anticipate those days off we work harder at finding new places to go and things to try. Yes, sometimes weather will limit what you can do. But that means that you simply find something to do indoors. And you don't have to spend a lot of money to keep things fun. We do find it's important to do something that gives you a chance to interact along the way and to talk about things. Some of the things you talk about are big deals and others are not.

However, that's why we don't go to a lot of movies on Mondays because we can't talk doing that. The important things is that you get to connect in a meaningful, focused way, reminding one another that they really do matter. Have you seen that beer commercial where the woman keeps asking the man which he would choose - her or something else? He keeps saying he would choose her until she mentions his beer. When he hesitates she leaves and for good reason.

Making time for each other reminds us that we won't hesitate when it comes to the importance of our marriage relationship.

Our second retreat idea however is a little more involved. We've found that we need a longer time together as well each year. We try to get away for an extended time, both for our own relaxation and to talk about the bigger picture of our marriage and family. Over the years we've talked about everything from having children to how to better teach them. We've seen some of the biggest decisions we've ever made germinate from a discussion over dinner or in a hot tub.

I'm a pastor today because of one of those discussions when we asked each other, "What have you always wanted to do that you've never had a chance to do?" One of my answers was to attend seminary. If our marriages and families are going to be all that God intended and what we'd hoped, we can't leave the results merely to chance. As the old adage goes, we don't plan to fail, we just fail to plan.

So make a commitment to "retreating" in your marriage and parenting. Get away and talk about everyday life and about the years still ahead of you. Make regular time for each other and talk face to face, uninterrupted as much as possible. The dividends will be well worth the time you invest in each other. It could literally change your life for the better. And by the way, those dates and retreats are lots of fun, too.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, January 15, 2010

Developing Hearts for The Hurting In Your Home

As I write today I'm just a few days now from leaving for eight days in Russia. It will be my eleventh trip there. And I know that once again I soon will be hit head on with how blessed we are in America and how God has given me and my family so much. I always come back enriched and with my heart full though when I'm around these sweet people who have learned to live with lots less than me.

I also grieve as do people all over the world the huge losses in Haiti from the recent earthquake there. Thousands have died and those who were already so poor now have even less. And while many are giving time, treasure and talents to help, none of us can ever understand the incredible pain and suffering these people are facing.

You see I'm reminded once again how important it is for us and our families to do our best to not only learn about and understand those less fortunate than we are but to also do what we can to help in very tangible ways.

So how can we do that in our busy, often comfortable, worlds? Do we have to literally go and live in another country or even travel to places of poverty to do so? Not necessarily.

First, start by re-evaluating your own lifestyle. A family at my church recently moved into a smaller home. They could easily afford the larger one but they made a conscious, deliberate decision to downsize and give more away! Wow.

They didn't just talk about re-evaluating - they did it! Can you imagine the long-term impact their decision will have on them and their children's view of things, success, and possessions in general? Think about the lessons they are already learning about having less and giving more away!

Maybe downsizing will be just cutting back on some luxuries, not always having to have the big vacation or skipping the extra lattes for awhile. You'll have to decide that for yourself. However, think about ways to literally change some of your everyday practices so that you can help others more.

Second, become intentional about giving. If you attend church, it's likely that the leaders there have already developed some ready-made connections with organizations where you can give your time, talent or treasure. Give sacrificially to your church so they can help those groups and then give over and above that. Pick a group that you and your family will help on a regular basis and involve your children in the process.

We just started helping a single mom and her kids who live in an RV (yes an RV) here in Austin. Our small group joined forces and we've committed to help her, not just with money, but with time, advice, counsel and direction so that she eventually thrive on her own. We've just started but there's something very special and meaningful about the relationship we've begun with her and her children.

Third, get your hands dirty. Our church provides scores of missions trips and serving opportunities, both locally and abroad, that our people can become a part of each year. Almost every person who goes has two things happen. First of all, they get wrecked in a good way. They see how much they have, they build relationships with real people, and they figure out that they've never felt so alive than they did when they were actually caring for others. They are never the same after that.

In addition, they begin to develop a lifestyle that is more about giving than taking. And their kids start to see the changes and they too get involved. Many of our people who served here locally now serve at least once a month if not more. In many locations we now know the names of the people we serve because we see them all the time.

No person or church can do everything but we can all do something. And if we want to teach our children the importance of giving, loving and serving others then we can start the process now by getting "dirty" together.

Who could you start helping today? A neighbor, a friend, some people in your neighborhood, community or city? What special gifts and resources do you have that might encourage someone else? You may not be able to leave for Russia or Haiti today, but you can start helping close to home. Do it now. Jesus said in Matthew 25:40, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these of mine, you did for me."

How could we not do something?
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Parenting on the Straight and "Arrow"

I'm sitting here at my desk looking at a stack of pictures of our grandkids we've taken the past of couple of weeks during the Christmas holidays. What special memories and moments those photos represent! I wouldn't trade one of those times for anything.

I am also beaming with pride over my children and their spouses who I see so diligently and passionately trying to raise those precious little ones with godly wisdom and practical insight. They reminded me once again of how important being intentional is when it comes to pursuing effective parenting.

Psalm 127:3, 4 say that our children are a reward and heritage from God. In one of the few Psalms written by Solomon we read, "Like arrows in the hands of a warrior" are the children born to us when we are young. That image of our children being arrows is one that we as parents can learn from and must not miss.

First of all, remember that part of our parenting involves a battle. I wish it weren't true but there are lots of powers out there fighting for our kids' attention and minds - the media, advertisers, writers, policiticians and the like. We must help our kids face and respond to all sorts of wrong thinking and misguided approaches to life that they will encounter during their lives in our homes and beyond.

While we certainly should also teach our kids to love others, be like Jesus and respond to even those who disagree with grace and kindness, we must also help them to stand for what is right, good and holy. Don't leave their strength and battle-ready training to someone else.

Second, the Psalm writer's picture of an archer reminds us that the warrior must prepare for battle and know how to use the weapons he or she has been given. Unfortunately, when that new child enters our home the baby doesn't come with an owner's manual! Our training as parents largely comes from the home we grew up in and that may or may not have been that great of a learning center. Even if we had a terrific home, the skills we might use to parent weren't always that obvious during our growing up years.

It would have been nice if someone would have told us how to perform the day to day parenting tasks, too, especially during the most challenging of times.

Thankfully, there are ways to learn how to parent better - books, church classes, mentors, blogs like this one and a host of other resources. If you're struggling with your parenting, no matter what age your children are, seek out some help from wise counselors, friends, pastors and others who you respect. There are many ideas and tools out there that you can apply to your situation if you'll just take the time to seek them out.

Third, the archer must not only shoot the arrow. It must be aimed! This is where we must become intentional and not just let life in our home happen. Ask yourself, what is it that we (or I) believe God wants me to accomplish with my kids? Make a list. Then ask yourself, what am I intentionally doing right now to point my children in that direction? Am I shooting my parenting arrows toward the target?

I've talked about some of this in earlier posts so go back and read some of the other entries in this blog regarding spiritual training, discipline and character building. However, the bottom line is take time to plan how you're going to train your children in the way they should go. (Proverbs 22:6). Yes, many things are taught and caught through how we live out everyday life.

However, sometimes we have to go further. For example, when our kids were entering middle school or so, we did what we called their 13 Year Old Challenge. Over the course of the year we designed a one-year program that encouraged them to develop physically, socially, intellectually/emotionally and spiritually. We gave them a list of books to read. There was a job-shadowing list where they got experience in the work world and a taste of what they might like to do someday.

Ironically, our son Tim chose to spend one of his days with the manager of a local Christian radio station. Guess what he does for a living today? You never know. We also provided spiritual growth opportunities that would help them deepen their faith. At the end was a financial incentive as well that matched the amount of money we encouraged them to save during that year. While it wasn't a perfect idea, we do know that both of our kids benefitted from that exercise and we sensed that we were targeting some very specific objectives in each child's maturation process.

If you're a parent God gave you an arrow or two or three to shoot in a direction that will make a difference. How's your target practice going? Wherever you are in your parenting it's never too late to start shooting straighter. Pull back the string and see what happens!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Dealing With Pain In Healthy Ways

The older I get the more I realize I will have to live more pain than I used to endure. Exercise, playing with grandkids and sometimes just moving around during the day leave me achy much of the time. And thankfully we have products easily available to us that can help lessen those sore muscles and joints.

However, we often face different kinds of pain in our relationships, especially marriage. While we may think that our marriage was made in Heaven, we still hurt each other, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not. We also encounter the pain of not being the spouse we had hoped to be or having not overcome some personal struggle that still impacts our relationship.

It can be painful when we're not communicating well and we don't know quite what to do to fix things. It hurts when the demands of both being married and a parent overwhelm us and we have little time to enjoy marriage the way it "used to be."

So what do we do when life is hard and our relationship stings more than soothes? Unfortunately, many spouses try to dull their pain rather than deal with it. In fact, most addictions are some form of painkilling. Misusing alcohol, prescription drugs, illicit drugs and the like can all help dull pain. Affairs (see several recent posts) and sexual addictions can illegitimately serve to dull the hurts that come from a life that isn't working well.

The problem is that addictions like those above and many others are destructive not helpful. But when we're desperate we'll often risk everything, including our marriage and family, to get our "fix" and not hurt - at least for awhile.

Thankfully, there are better ways to deal with the pain that stems from a relationship that is less than we'd hoped. Let me suggest several. First, get some help. Sadly, many people think that counseling is only for messed up people. But if we have a physical problem most don't feel the same way and say, "I'm not going to the doctor. Physicians are only for messed up people." In the same way seek out someone to help you and/or your spouse to think through what might be causing the stress and angst in your relationship.

Second, learn to communicate better and then practice. I work with couples every week who have never learned to communicate in healthy ways. If you get counseling your pastor, counselor or therapist can help you with this. There are excellent books that can provide you with helpful tools as well. But by all means, don't keep drowning in a sea of hurt because you've never learned to use the life raft of intimate dialogue with your spouse.

Third, take your insecurities to God. He cares about you. He loves you. He wants you to make it. There's a little phrase in Psalms that I love in chapter 56, verse 9 that says, "By this I know that God is for me!" If you're one of His children, he is for you. What good dad wouldn't be for his kids? Are you hurting? There is help if you'll just get it from the right place!

Yes, life will always be painful at least some of the time. This isn't Heaven and never will be. But thankfully God has provided ways to deal with our hurts that honor both Him, those we love and even ourselves if we'll just follow his lead and seek His wisdom.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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