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

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Impact of a Hug

Her name is Elizabeth Laird. You probably don't know her but at Ft Hood here in Texas they do. She's known as the Hug Lady. Since 2003 she's been greeting soldiers deploying and returning from missions with a hug.

"If I can bring a smile to their face, if I can lift their spirits a bit, if I can let them know we care, it's my way of saying, 'Thank you for what you do.'" This four feet, ten inch woman is described as a one-woman welcome wagon and one-person goodbye party. In seven years they estimate she has hugged at least 500,000 soldiers.

Scared and worried soldiers leaving home and tired and worn out warriors thankful to have returned all get a hug from Elizabeth. Her hugs must be like a cup of cold water in the desert.

I wonder how many of us and the people in our world long for a hug. Oh, not just a physical, put your arms around the neck kind hug, as great as that is. No, a hug that may take a hundred different forms, but has the same impact. It's something that sends the message, I noticed you, you've not been forgotten, you matter to me and most of all you still matter to God.

Think about what hugs to our spouses, kids, parents, neighbors and coworkers might look like. A smile, a word of encouragement, a "how are things going?" to someone you know has been hurting.

What about a thank you in a spoken word or card? How about inviting someone for coffee 'just because.' Wouldn't it feel like a hug if someone walked up to you and said, "Thanks for a great job," or "I'm proud of you?"

Do we take interest in people, do we listen instead of talk, do we ever seek to learn more about someone else's recent or past story? All of these can be "hugs" that we give out regularly.

When we first moved to Texas we were amazed at how many people came up and gave us a hug even though they didn't know us. Yes, hugs can be overdone and misused but somehow it seems like we need them more in this fast-paced culture of ours.

And let's not leave out the physical version either. There is something affirming about appropriate touch and closeness when it expresses our love, pride and encouragement towards one another. In a world where people are flying by us every moment, a hug, physical or not, slows us down and helps us to notice someone else. We embrace each other emotionally when we really hug someone.

Who in your world needs to be hugged today? Who is the person who you think needs it least? They probably need it most. Give of your hugs freely, intentionally and lovingly. Give them often. And offer them in love. Someday we might wish we had hugged more when that person is no longer around or in proximity to meaningfully connect any more. Start now.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, March 26, 2010

Cramming Too Much Into Life?

Have you seen these people when you travel? They are determined to get the case that they should have checked into that little spot in the overhead compartment so they shove and shove and then pull the cover down and slam it several times until it finally latches?

I've literally seen where parts of their case were still hanging outside. Ugh!

But sadly, I also encounter a lot of struggling families where a parent or parents are in the same way trying to stuff a little bit more into the compartments of their lives. They rarely say 'no', they never stop and evaluate the worth of adding one more thing and they certainly haven't paused to think about what is really most important in their worlds.


And yet we all have similar tendencies at times. How many special moments have been missed because we simply did too much? How many lifechanging, legacy - leaving conversations never happened because we just rushed by the people we love the most? How many picture postcard opportunities were lost because we just didn't have the time?

Let's face it. The culture is never going to change. The options for our kids, for ourselves and for fun will continue to increase by leaps and bounds. If we're going to slow down, we must simply decide to do it. It won't be easy but it will be worth it. Less is always more.

In fact, the greatest example of someone who chose limits for himself even though he didn't need to set them was Jesus. Here was God-in-the-flesh who chose to limit his ministry time to 3 years out of 33. He didn't heal everyone, speak to everyone or even see everyone. He took time out of his day to simply be alone with God and pray.

One time when a friend was dying instead of running there right away he stayed where he was longer! If Jesus could change the world in only three years and not do everything we might consider doing the same. Someone wisely said, "Jesus already died for the world. We don't need to do it again."

So where do we start? First, write down the most important things you feel you need to do or focus on? Then write down how much time you give to actually doing those things. Most people find that they spend way less time on those things than they thought and are simply caught up in the tyranny of the urgent. Start re-working your schedule, a little at a time, so that what you actually do mirrors what you believe are your priorities.

Second, say "no" more. We just can't do everything. And neither can our kids. Slow down. Give yourselves some margin. Leave regular spaces for time to breathe, think, play and refresh. You may not get an hour everyday but how about fifteen minutes for starters. How about taking a half-day every month that you wouldn't normally take and just turn the rest of life off in some way.

Go through your list of current responsibilities and drop a couple of them. Do you really need to do them or are you just trying to please someone? That ministry or group will go on without you, trust me.

Third, make a commitment to not add one more thing without dropping another. I do that with my personal library these days. I have way too many books to carry around or store any more so when I get a new book I get rid of one I already have. Usually it's a book I never look at anyway or one that someone else or a library I know about can use.

In fact, finding more time for life is like licking the beater blades. My wife knows that I just love it when I get to sample the dessert she's making so she'll bring the blades over for me to get my taste. I sit there sometimes for five minutes just scraping a little of the brownie or cookie mix onto my finger and then into my mouth. But when I do that I know that I'm getting a taste for more of the same.

In the same way as you find more time to slow down, reflect and enjoy the most important things, you will likely get a taste for more! So start your time taste testing now and it will be well worth it.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Not Missing the Obvious In Parenting

I couldn't find the remote in the hotel room, remember? But it was right there in front of me. Check out my last post if you missed the story. However, like that remote there are obvious parenting keys, like in marriage, that we might also miss, avoid or simply forget about over time if we aren't careful.

Let me offer a few in this entry. First, keep a sense of balance. By balance, I don't mean equality or for us to be 50/50 on everything we do as a mom or dad. But when it comes to encouragement versus correction, for example, many parents aren't even close to healthy. Their children can do no wrong, get abundant praise for every "accomplishment" and are given the impression that they are little angels no matter what they do.

Kids must face the fact that life doesn't always work the way they hoped, that they aren't always perfect and that at times they need to admit their mistakes and learn from them. Everyone else in life is not going to always tell them how great they are.

Or when it comes to stuff or things, keep a similar equilibrium. Even if you have the resources to give your children a lot, don't do it. Balance means our kids are more likely to learn to give as well as receive, that we say "no" some of the time and that they learn to earn some of what they get especially as they get older.

Second, be consistent. Again, consistency doesn't require that we become tyrants or monsters, never wavering on a rule or guideline. But if we say that bedtime is at 8 then it needs to be at eight other than at special times. We need to hold our ground, be firm and in charge. We can learn practical skills that can help us do that appropriately and effectively (see earlier posts) but it helps children (and us) when we keep things the same rather than random.

If we ask our children to do something (being reasonable of course), then they need to learn that we will follow through and hold them to it. Don't make idle threats that you cannot keep . . . ."If you don't pick up your toys right now, you won't go on vacation with us next week," or "You had better get your grades up or you will be grounded until summer."

Be consistent by keeping your word, offering reasonable options when appropriate and following through each time rather than responding later with some big emotional blow up or diatribe.

Third, give your kids your time. I used to hear people say that quality time was more important than quantity time. The problem with that is that younger children can't tell the difference. What three -year -old ever said, "Gee, dad, I know you couldn't play with me very long, but our time together sure was rich!" Our children need to know that we make them a high priority (not THE priority or ONLY one) and that we will give them focused time without distractions.

I know the feeling, however, of coming home from work to find kids eager to take more of my time and energy, resources I had given away all day long. Sometimes there wasn't much left. However, if you're married, you and your spouse can work out some ways to give each of you some time to rest, to share the responsibilities, etc.

You might try, if your kids are old enough, to start with a greeting and a little time when you get home, but then telling the kids they need to play on their own for a short period of time while one or both of you catches your breath from the day.

But don't just play with them either. As you're working together or driving somewhere, talk with them, listen to their successes, struggles and dreams. Ask them what their favorites are or how they feel about something you know happened in their world that day or week.

All of these small actions may seem minor in the scheme of things, but in the end they pay huge dividends for you, your parenting and your children. Maybe all you need to make is a mid-course correction or perhaps you will have to make some major changes. Whatever you do, start now . . . and don't miss the obvious.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Not Missing the Obvious in Marriage

Recently we drove to Dallas with our daughter, her husband and our grandson Liam to see my sister who was there for a conference. She hadn't seen little Liam personally nor been with the kids lately so we thought it would be fun to drive up for an overnight to get everyone together.

We eventually made it to the hotel fairly late in the evening, all of us pretty tired. The baby of course needed to get settled right away so we all headed for our rooms and said goodnight. Jackie and I quickly unpacked and as a "normal" man would do I looked for the remote so that we could at least watch the news before we went to sleep.

But I couldn't find it. I searched near the TV, on the desk and even on the floor nearby. Not seeing it I asked Jackie about it and she too came and looked some more, going through drawers, opening up cabinet doors but all to no avail. I was just about to call the desk and ask for another one when Jackie said, "Look!" And sure enough there was the remote, standing on end, right next to the TV and a water bottle!

I wondered if it had just materialized. It was like looking at one of those pictures that has a hidden object or person in it but you just don't see it right away. I said to my wife, "How could we have missed it when it was there in front of us all the time?" Other than the fact that we were a little tired, the only explanation (well . . . other than I'm a moron) seems to be that our eyes weren't looking for it standing up on end. Our past orientation was such that we expected to find it in a certain position or location but not standing up!

Because our minds apparently weren't open to another alternative we'd missed it completely when it was there all the time. I wonder if we sometimes don't bring a similar blindness to our marriage and parenting. We've gotten so used to only seeing in certain ways, living in a comfortable framework, that we miss the obvious when it's right there staring at us.

So in this post and the next I want to remind us of a few things that we perhaps need to see more in our homes, things that are probably there but that we may miss if we're not looking. Let me start with marriage.

First, don't miss your spouse's uniquenesses. Yes, sometimes these special traits may have become irritants or qualities that we simply don't resonate with much of the time. But enjoy and appreciate them anyway. God often uses our differences to bring strength to an area of our weakness or to help us see things that we would not.

Jackie typically looks at things with a much more tender and emotional eye than I do. And over the years that has helped soften me and make me a better husband, pastor and counselor. But there were times when I didn't know what to do with her way of reacting. Now I'm glad she's uniquely made with that wiring.

Second, don't miss opportunities to give praise. We all need to know that what we do matters and that we are loved and yes we can only get those two things in adequate amounts from God. However, it always helps to hear affirmation from those we love and are closest to in life. Do you thank your spouse for what he or she does over and over that makes life better for you and those in your home. When's the last time you complimented your spouse on an outfit, the meal they made or the project they completed?

Don't assume they know already or don't need to hear the words. I've used this verse in other writings but let me go back to it for a minute. Proverbs 18:21 says, Death and life are in the power of the tongue. Words matter.

Third, don't miss an aching heart. So often one or both of us is struggling and we have no time or margin to connect with each other long enough to process the hurt, disappointment or discouragement. We just go on to the next event or responsibility longing for the one we love the most in this world to talk with us and understand. But instead we may miss each other because the more urgent things tear us away.

Look for changes in reactions, a sad countenance or a sense of downness in the other. It may be big or small but taking the time to listen, pray and talk about next steps can be huge in bringing you closer together.

Finally, don't miss an opportunity to show love. Stay creative, be cagey at times, look for ways to surprise each other with a touch of love that the other didn't expect. Yes, everything we do for one another should be rooted in love, but sometimes we all need those special reminders don't we? God does that all the time with us when He gives us something special over and above what He normally does. . . just because He loves us.

So, keep your eyes open. Break up the patterns and perspectives that can keep you from seeing the obvious right in front of you. You might be surprised at all the new things you discover. And now, I'm going to go watch a playoff game . . . that is if I can find the remote.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Lost Art of Praying for Our Family

Last year Jackie and I attended a regional prayer conference. It was our first time attending this particular event and we looked forward to it with anticipation. And in many ways it was thought-provoking, inspiring and challenging.

However, we were only there a short time when we realized something . . . we were two of the youngest people there! Sure there were a few more youthful than us, but not a lot. I found myself wondering, "Why does prayer seem to be more for the elderly than others? Where are the young adults who still believe that prayer makes a difference?"

A pastor acquaintance once said, "If you schedule a prayer meeting, don't expect a crowd!" My experience has been that he's right much of the time. Now granted, there are lots of people from many different age groups who still believe prayer is important and who practice meaningful prayer on a regular basis. But I wonder how many of us, caught in the rat race of life, have put prayer within and for our homes on the back burner for a time?

And yet, the Bible reminds us often of the power of prayer. While we can't understand all the nuances, theology and implications of prayer, we do know that it makes a difference. And if prayer matters, then wouldn't we be wise to pray for our spouse and children on a regular basis? I think so.

So let me offer a few simple challenges. And if some of these would be fairly new or a major stretch in your life, start small. Don't set yourself up to fail by making your goals too lofty.

First, if you're married, get in the habit of praying for or with your spouse. You could start by just committing one minute (yes, one minute) to praying for each other sometime during the day. Add more time as you are able, but you can accomplish a lot in 60 seconds. Consider first thing in the morning, on your way out the door or at night before you go to sleep.

Second, keep a record or journal of your prayers and requests. It's pretty revealing and encouraging after a couple of months of praying to see how God answered. You'll likely be astounded. No, He doesn't necessarily give us everything we want (like any wise parent) but you will see His hand more directly on your life as you look back through your journal pages.

Third, if you're a parent, pray specifically for your children. Of course, it's important to pray with them on a regular basis but also ask them about things that you'll pray for them at other times. Pray for their character, safety and their living out their purposes. Pray for their friends and that they will model Christ-like behavior to others at school. In fact, try praying particular scriptures for them that you read in your own readings that day.

Finally, pray together at least some of the time beyond mealtimes. Little by little make prayer the norm when you're seeking wisdom, going through a struggle or just living everyday life. I remember when our son Tim was little we would pray with him about renting out our house for the summer while I went to seminary.
I'm pretty sure he didn't even understand all the ramifications of that but we invited him to pray with us about our needs anyway. I'm confident that experience made a long-term impression on him and helped him understand the importance of praying about everything just as Philippians 4 says.

In fact, our senior pastor and my good friend Will Davis, Jr. has written a couple of good books that could help you - Pray Big For Your Marriage and Pray Big For Your Children. Check them out!
Start or continue today to make prayer a normal, natural thing in your home. "The effective prayer of the righteous can accomplish much!"
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, March 5, 2010

"The Third Component of Marital Intimacy"

"Last night Bob and Cheryl were intimate." When you read that statement what do you think it refers to? Of course, most people would suggest that it means they had sex. Who wouldn't? But why is it we don't consider the possibility that they had a deep discussion or were praying together?

Because we've been programmed to think that intimacy is only physical. But instead sex is only one component of total intimacy in a marriage. It's an important component, something beautiful that God invented, but it's still only a portion of the true intimacy I've tried to describe in the last several posts.

Nonetheless, let me talk about some practical ways to enhance physical intimacy in a marriage. First of all, become more intimate in soul and spirit. You'll have to go back a post or two to get my practical thoughts on the first two. However, let me simply say for now that you'll grow your sexual relationship with your spouse if you'll grow together in your soul and spirit.

God made these three elements of intimacy to work together not separately. When I work with couples and they have sexual issues I'm pretty sure that there isn't anything wrong with them physically. Of course it's always important to make sure the physical checks out. See your doctor to make sure.

But most likely there isn't a physical problem. It's typically a soul and spirit problem. Couples wonder why their romance has waned and often it's because they've become more distant personally. They rarely talk about meaningful things and most likely their spiritual enthusiasm is gone as well.

However, when two people begin to get closer together emotionally they want to be together more physically. That's why people of the opposite sex who aren't married have to be careful that they don't connect emotionally on a very deep level. It can draw them together in other inappropriate ways.

Second, keep romance interesting and creative. It will take some time but plan times away, try some new things and get out of old and tired habits. There are excellent and tasteful books out there that can give you fun ideas for dates and getaways. Write each other a love letter, go on a special date now and then and attend a marriage conference that will breathe some new life into your relationship.

Third, monitor your lifestyle. Fatigue, burnout and busyness are pretty ruthless killers of physical intimacy. It just becomes too much work to try anymore. In fact fatigue can wipe out many components of a healthy marriage such as communication so do some evaluation now and figure out to give yourselves some margin. Try turning off the TV more too.

Fourth, talk about it. Yes, talk about your intimacy, lack of it, or ways to improve. Be gracious, not condemning. Be honest, but sensitive. Express your desires, but don't be demanding.

The book of Song of Solomon seems to suggest that God invented sex and thinks it's pretty special. So let's give our physical relationships with our spouse that same kind of intention and attention. If we do, then along with spirit and soul intimacy, we'll enjoy the perfect triad of marital intimacy.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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