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

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Don't Wait To Do What Matters Most

It may sound a bit morbid but a lot of people die before they plan on it.  In fact most do.  I think of a former pastor we knew who was so looking forward to retirement and to doing some of those things with his wife that he felt had to wait during his ministry years. Unfortunately he contracted a swift-growing cancer and died at sixty-five.

However, dreams and doing special, life-changing things with our spouse and kids aren't shattered just by death. They can vanish because of chronic illness, family breakups, job losses and a host of other unplanned occurrences. Kids grow and move out of the house. People can relocate to other parts of the country or world.  Lots of things can inhibit doing the things that we long to do and know would be legacy-leaving events and opportunities.

So . . . .do as many as you can now.  No, we can't do everything.  Time commitments, finances, having children and life in general will likely forbid doing many things. But we can do some.  I've talked before about planning and doing things out of the ordinary. But even everyday things like a simple vacation dare not be put off for too long either. If you don't have the money for a big trip, take a small one but do something.

Spouses, don't wait to spend meaningful time with each other. If you're dreaming of a European vacation after you retire make sure you take at least one before then. After retirement go back and see more. If you're looking forward to spending some alone time after you're sixty-five, make sure you're getting regular alone time now.

Don't wait to say what you need to say.  Yes, say the obvious things like I love you.  But add some others like I'm proud of you, You changed my life, Thank you, You're a great dad/mom and If I had it to do over again I'd choose you.

Don't postpone what God may be asking you to do now.  Serve others, start an impacting project, change careers to do something that matters more, slow down . . . . you get the idea.  Sure, be wise, get counsel and don't just do something to avoid facing the hard things of today. But as Seth Godin, marketing guru, says, You don't need more time, just decide.  That's where many of us are when it comes to these kinds of decisions.  You've been waiting around for the perfect time. A perfect time will never come.

But if God's nudging you and you can't shake the idea or challenge that keeps ruminating in your mind, then now is the time. Go for it. Don't look back someday with regrets. In fact keep this catchy phrase in mind that I might market myself sometime, Just Do It.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, December 16, 2011

Getting Parenting Results Shouldn't Require Anger

It happens all the time. Little Ryan's parents tell him that it's time to go and take his bath but Ryan doesn't move. Five minutes pass and they tell him again. This time he says, "OK, but I just want to reach one more level on my game."

Five more minutes go by and Ryan is still intently working his joy stick. Mom comes in and says with more intensity, "Ryan, I'm not going to tell you again. Put the game away and get in the tub." Ryan hears her but again responds with, "Alright, I'm going," but he hasn't budged.

Three more exchanges take place and finally dad enters the room and literally yells, "Ryan, get your butt into the tub right now and give me the controller!!" Ryan now knows he has passed his parents' limit on grace and he runs to the bathroom for his bath.

Have you been there? Does a similar scene happen in some form at your house on a regular basis?  If so, you're not alone. Children often learn that the first, second and even fifth time that mom and/or dad asks them to do something that they really don't mean it or at least won't follow through. Instead the children have been programmed to wait for the anger level to reach it's high point before they act.

Wise and effective parents, however, know that they can and must expect action sooner and can do so without blowing their gourd.

How? First, make reasonable expectations. Young children especially need some time to prepare for an expectation. You can use a timer or with older kids give them a clear time limit.

Second, immediately expect and enforce the action you're requiring. When Ryan's time was up the parents needed to make sure that he complied right then. With a cool and calm voice they could have said, "Ryan, look at me. We're going to your bath right now. Hand me the controller. We're putting it away."

Some kids will respond well and others may balk. If they do, just say the same thing again. With younger and more strong-willed kids, you may have to walk them in to the bathroom or even pick them up. Whatever your choice is, stay cool and nonchalant while in control of your emotions.

You might have a child or teen say, "I hate you," because you're requiring a certain action. Again, with as much calmness as you can muster look right at them and say, "I don't hate you. You could never do anything that would make me hate you, but I'm sorry you feel that way today about me. Nonetheless, you need to go to bed."

It will take practice and patience to learn to respond quickly and without anger. But I promise you that you will get better results and use less energy if you don't let anger be your most effective way to get action from your kids. Keep on.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, December 9, 2011

How We Respond To Our Spouse Is A Gamechanger

Have you ever tried to get someone's attention?  The nurse at the hospital, the vendor at the game, the teller at the bank or a clerk in the department store? And isn't it horribly frustrating when they don't seem to notice you or give you that look like, "I really don't have time for you, right now?"

But isn't it refreshing when one of those same people gives you the sense that they want to do everything possible to help you, even if they are busy?

Husbands and wives can respond the same way. We each make attempts to emotionally connect with the other and wise couples learn how to acknowledge that desire, even if we have to put off the best of responses for the time being.

For example, Mike has been thinking all day about taking his wife out for breakfast the next weekend.  They've not had a mini-date for awhile, they've both been incredibly busy and while he's not the greatest planner Mike was hoping to make his wife Connie's day. So he calls her at lunch and says, "Hey, hon, how about we find a sitter for Ryan Saturday morning and go have a leisurely breakfast?"

To which Connie says, "Mike, are you kidding? No teenager is going to come babysit on Saturday morning and for Pete's sake, I don't have time to even eat breakfast at home, much less go sit somewhere and pretend to relax!"

As you can imagine, Mike is deflated and finds himself thinking, I won't be asking her to do that again.

On the other hand, Gina has been waiting all afternoon for Ron to get home from work to tell him about a vacation idea she has for the family. She works half days and has been determining how to use a little of her extra earnings to do something special. As Ron walks in, he grabs a beer out of the refrigerator.  Nonetheless, she asks him how his day was.  "Hard," he says and heads for the TV.

After giving him a few minutes to relax, Gina, however, suggests, "Hey, after dinner, I was wondering if we could talk about an idea I ran across for our vacation this summer."  As he takes a gulp of his Budweiser he manages an, "Uh-huh," and keeps watching ESPN. Gina is pretty sure their talk won't happen that night if ever.  Maybe I should have just never tried, she thinks.

In both cases, the spouse just wanted to connect with the other person about something meaningful and important to them. In the first case, Connie responded but totally missed Mike's intention. In the second, Ron simply avoided her reaching out. And the right answer in each scenario was not necessarily for each spouse to drop everything and agree.

Rather, they needed to respond, to affirm the other's good intentions and honor in some way their desire to relate on some deeper level.  They could have said something like, "Mike, I'd love to do breakfast or any meal with you. It's been a long time. I wonder if Saturday is the best time but let's talk about it."

Or, "Gina, thanks for checking into that for us. I don't know quite what a vacation will look like this year, but let's see what you've got. Maybe we can work it out."  Both responses say, "I value you and what you love, think and care about."

Whatever you do, acknowledge and affirm first. The rest of the discussion will depend on you and your circumstances. But the more you respond and don't deflect or defer, the more your spouse will come back for more.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Making the Most (Or Least) of Television At Your House

Since 1999 the American Academy of Pediatrics has been discouraging parents from allowing kids under two to watch television. However, many parents, leaders and even some pediatricians have felt that the academy's views were draconian and out of touch at best.

However, ongoing study and more recent research have showed a couple of concepts to still be true. First, young children learn best from real people and playing with real objects. And second, kids over two can learn language and social skills from high-quality programs.

In fact, there is evidence that watching significant television, even the usual teaching shows such as Sesame Street, can hurt their language development, reduce the quality of sleep and detract from unplugged, unstructured playtime.

In addition, when parents watch a lot of TV they tend to talk and interact less with their children in general and the TV distracts the child even if they are not actively watching the parent's show.

So, while only a few parents would choose or need to enforce a totally no-TV rule, there are some basic principles that the research seems to suggest for the wise parent.

First, don't just leave the television on in your home. Whether we like it or not, it distracts and impedes healthy and rich interactions while stealing from a family's ability to concentrate on each other.

Second, limit the amount of time your child who is two or older spends in front of the television.  Of course, choose programming that is enriching or appropriately entertaining but limit the amount as well. Make television a treat or something special, not the norm. Be intentional about the plan you put in place for the role of television in your child's life.

Third, as kids begin school, don't allow the television to be on while they do schoolwork. You as a parent may need to change some of your habits but your life will be better too as you focus on reading,  hobbies or interaction with your spouse or friends.

Fourth, develop habits of doing things together as a family that might have been spent in front of the television. Playing games, reading, watch a video of interest and just talking are nurturing activities that are often lost in many homes these days.

Finally, when you can watch television together and discuss some of what you saw, good or bad, afterwards. Sometimes you will get sideswiped by a negative impression or scene that you weren't planning on.  Use it as a teaching opportunity and lead-in for further discussion depending upon the ages of your kids.

Television isn't evil or harmful in and of itself. It can just be used that way. However, we can also turn it into a valuable means of enhancing our kids' worldview, knowledge and growth if we'll just manage it well. And that won't happen by itself.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, November 27, 2011

What Are We Teaching Our Kids About "Stuff?"

It has become known as Black Friday. It's the day after Thanksgiving when so many get up in the middle of the night or don't go to bed at all so they can shop for all the sales. For some it's a holiday tradition while for others a chance to seriously save some money. Who knows if they really save anything but that's their sincere goal in many cases.

And frankly, enjoying family time in a fun, unique way or saving a few dollars both have their merits.  But this year a woman in Los Angeles peppered sprayed ten people in line in front of her so she could be first. Another man experiencing a heart attack was walked over. And a lady grabbed as many two-dollar waffle irons as she could as her pants began to slip down off her bottom.

Sure, these are extreme examples. Not everyone who engaged in Black Friday shopping was so rude or crude. But it's worth considering whether we're sending signals to our family that stuff means more to us than it should. While we may not even shop on Thanksgiving weekend, we can still be teaching things about our possessions that will be harmful in the long run. How might we do that?

First, we may have a habit of always wanting one more thing or the next best one. Companies have a way of coming out with new products within months sometimes of the last one. That's fine but do we always have to have the latest one? If so, we teach our kids that appreciating what we have doesn't matter.

Second, we may tend to get things NOW rather than later. We can't wait, we won't settle for keeping the old one and we fear the embarrassment that others will have something that we don't.  If we're not careful we can subtly teach our families that waiting and saving are not that important. In fact, this perspective can lead to significant credit card debt and overspending.

Third, we may simply talk more about getting than giving. We may help out our token charity, give to the church or serve once a year but giving to others isn't a regular part of our home life.

You get the idea. We don't have to be a Black Friday fanatic or do something wildly absurd or unkind to send all the wrong messages. We teach our families by what we do the most and how we live our lives from day to day.

You want to teach your family members how to keep your "stuff" in perspective? Live your life in a way that it wouldn't matter that much if you lost it all.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Different Kind of Christmas For Your Family

I'll bet you're already envisioning what Christmas will be like at your house. Perhaps it will include a  service somewhere, family gatherings, a special breakfast, gifts under the tree, visits to local lighting displays and lots of great food.

You probably have other special traditions that are unique to your family and all those things are good and right to enjoy. Christmas should be a time of celebration, joy and family.

However, what might it be like if we allowed Christmas to take a significant turn in our home and we did something radically different? What if we made it a day more of giving than getting? What if we did one of the simplest, yet most memorable holidays yet?

A few suggestions.  First, think about purchasing a gift that keeps on giving. World Vision and other agencies have catalogues where you can buy an animal, for example, that would help keep on feeding a family in another country. Their brochure or website is usually full of ideas from small to large that are difference makers and would model for your children what it means to really sacrifice for someone else.

You  can invite your children to be a part of the decision making process, too, and have lots of fun picking out just the right gift. You can also get more information about who you will be helping plus follow up later.

Second, think about only giving each other one or two gifts this year. Explain that you're going to use the money you save to help others or you want to just simplify the day and focus on its real meaning. Another option is to just limit the amount you spend on each other but see who can get the most for the money.

Third, read the Christmas story together and/or watch a video that will help you think about Christmas as a family. Even in Christian homes the actually story of Jesus' birth can get lost in all the busyness that we allow to crowd into our homes. You can count on the TV networks to only show holiday movies that get no deeper than dreams, trees, smiles and snowmen. Give your family better.

Fourth, go serve others somewhere on Christmas Day. There are usually nursing homes, shelters and homeless camps who would love to have a family like yours come and spend a part of the day with them volunteering or just talking to people. Or if you're willing to consider bigger ideas use your holiday time off to do a missions trip.

You can no doubt come up with many more ideas but think about making this the most unique kind of Christmas ever. I know your family will never be the same and you'll have memory that you will talk about for a long time.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, November 12, 2011

When Right Loses Out to Reputation

I'm sure thousands of articles and blog posts have been or will be written about the terrible revelations of child abuse at Penn State. And unless we're experts in the law or know facts that the general public doesn't know none of us writers should be making judgments about motives, actions and intentions that we can't possibly know about for sure.

However, there seems to be one thing that is pretty clear in all of this.  And sadly it's probably true in many other offices, homes, and universities. People often don't do the RIGHT thing because they are more worried about their reputation. Or put another way, they don't do the hard thing because they don't want to look bad, it's painful or they might get rejected by someone.

Unfortunately, we all have this tendency. Some of us just take it to greater extremes than others. The sad part in the Penn State case is that the result of not doing the right thing is that a number of young children have been irreparably hurt. Yes, they can heal and hopefully by now have been able to move on as young adults but they lost something that can never be returned. They have memories that will not be erased.

Much of that could have been prevented if a few people would have just done the right thing.

So we'll have to let the authorities and other officials determine how the Penn State situation plays out. However, we can certainly look at ourselves and ask if there are corners we are cutting, things we're avoiding or actions we're taking that we are unwilling to expose because our reputation might be on the line.

Who's going to be hurt if we keep doing what we're doing or are not willing to take the high road?

So let me suggest a couple of ideas for anyone at a crossroads of right versus wrong. First, tell someone you trust. You don't need to tell the whole world, but tell someone. Let them help you take the next steps or keep you accountable. Second, if you know something as serious as the Penn State allegations, talk to the police. Don't wait one more minute.  

Third, if you personally need forgiveness, talk to a counselor who can tell you about God's love for you and walk you through finding His forgiveness. There is nothing He can't or won't forgive. We just have to be willing to ask.

Knowing the right thing is one thing. Doing the right thing is everything. Do it now.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Great Habits Help Make Great Marriages

I'll bet that you and your spouse can quickly come up with a list of things you do individually that are just routine in your daily schedule. You make your coffee, take a shower, read the paper, turn on the TV, go to church, take the kids to school and dozens more.

And while some of those activities are simply our personal choice,  many of our habits are helpful because they keep us doing things that are important. We stay clean, we see that our kids get an education and we go to work and help pay the bills.

However, how many routines do you and your spouse have that are important to the health of your marriage? I find that most couples who are struggling rarely take time to develop habits for their marriage. They're too busy or they simply haven't thought about it.

So let me suggest a couple of habits that could help add new life, strength and even healing to your relationship. And by habits I mean that you do them so regularly that if something interferes with them you will naturally do them the next time.

First, have a time during the week that's just for you. Yes, when you have kids at home this is more difficult but don't let parenting get in the way of this one. When our kids were little we shared babysitters every other week so we could have a Saturday morning to ourselves. For many years since I've been a pastor we've taken Monday or Friday off.

And we just spent 12 days in Russia when we missed two of our off days but guess where we'll be this Monday?  Together doing something.

Second, have a time that you pray with or for each other. It's this simple - prayer matters. God is in the business of giving strength, healing and providing wisdom. But even beyond the spiritual benefits, praying for each other deepens your care and trust for each other in ways beyond what you can imagine. And I've never heard of couples fighting during prayer!

Third, be habitual about speaking words of love, life and encouragement to each other.  If you are speaking kindly to each other regularly, you'll know when you've gotten out of the habit.  You'll be able to tell that you miss the words of your spouse that build you up and vice versa.

So, take a look at your habit list and make sure some of those habits involve your spouse and time together.  True intimacy doesn't just happen.  You need to get in the habit.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, October 31, 2011

Serving Together Can Help Keep You Together

I'm writing sitting in bed in a hotel room in Moscow, Russia. We're just finishing twelve days here having helped organize and lead a worship and pastors' conference here.

One of the best parts for me this year is that my wife Jackie was able to join me in Russia for the third of my fourteen trips here. She worked tirelessly with our hospitality team as they took care of both our staff and those who attended the conference.

And while there were times when we didn't see each other too much (my job involved teaching, training, etc.) we have memories and shared experiences that we will enjoy talking about for a long time.

You don't need to go to the other side of the world to have this experience. But you usually do need to plan to serve others or it probably won't happen.  We're just too busy.

And the benefits?  There are many but here are a few. First, you get to see God work in some ways beyond the usual. Most serving opportunities simply won't work well without God's hand in them to guide, direct and even surprise.  God has a special knack for bringing just the right people together, too.

Second, you let God build a similar vision and passion in you. Jackie and I will both return home with many of the same names, observations and cultural experiences that will keep us having long discussions for many months. And God does something for your spiritual connection as a couple when you take a leap of faith into something new.

Third, we learn to trust God more together. It took a considerable sacrifice for her to go - time, money and the taxing of the body.  But because we've seen God's provision before and during the trip, we trust Him even more with our lives. Add that to the many daily "God - moments" we had and you have a built in spiritual growth plan

So, look for an opportunity to serve somewhere.  Start now. Begin planning.  That's half the fun. But whatever you do don't let other things crowd out your service for Him. You will never be the same.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Wise Parents Learn to Pick Their Battles

Comedian Martin Mull once said,  "Having a family is like having a bowling alley installed in your brain."  I think most of us parents can identify with the many challenges and often the "noise" of having kids. Children  always have new ideas and new ways to push us to the limits on our decision-making.

That's why it's important for parents to decide (ahead of time, if possible) what things they are going to go to war over. There are extremes on this. Some parents don't like any conflict and refuse to let their kids down or have them mad at them so they give in on most everything. Other do the opposite and fight with their children over most everything and offer little slack room.

So, how do you find a healthy balance?  How do you determine whether to give in and let your kids do what they want or be tough?

First, ask yourself, Is this a decision the child should be making?  For example, getting in the car to go somewhere with the family at a certain time isn't optional.  And yet sometimes parents will say, "Landon, do you want to go to grandma's now?"  That's not their decision. It's time and they need to go and you need to teach them that they don't have a choice on that. You must win that argument.

Second, Is there a character issue involved that I need to shape through this decision?  Even though the issue may not be an important one at that moment, if your child has been disrespectful, dishonest  or inappropriate in some other way then you need to stick to your guns.  You can't look the other way when they have not exhibited appropriate behavior or a decent attitude.

Third, is it just not that big of a deal?  If it's reasonable for them to make a choice and if frankly the world won't end with their decision, it's reasonable and they haven't been impolite towards you or others, let them do it.  Sometimes the energy expended by taking your kids on over something that doesn't matter that much eventually becomes draining and destructive.

If you're married, I encourage you and your spouse to try to determine some of these decisions ahead of time.  Other times you'll have to make the call on the run.  However, sometimes you might try this line: "If you need an answer now, the answer is 'no.''  In the appropriate circumstances that can buy you a little time to make the wisest choice.

Hang in there.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A 13 Year Old Challenge For Your Kids

We tried something part way through our parenting years with each child that seemed to be a favorite and positive learning and growing experience. When they were approaching thirteen we developed a year-long challenge for them with a perk or two involved to give them some incentive.

We wanted to help them grow as Jesus did in "wisdom, stature, favor with God and man" (Luke 2:52) in a significant way as they headed toward adulthood. So we developed a list of things that they would do with our help during the next twelve months. The tasks included activities to develop them intellectually, spiritually, physically and socially.

And while I won't include our list here (each child is different anyway) let me share some highlights to guide you in doing something for your children if you so desire.

One key activity was reading. While they read in school we wanted them to read some important books about people, life, faith and inspiration. You probably have some favorites of your own that you would put on their list.

A second key component was job shadowing at least three people in three areas of their choice.  Our only requirement was that one of those people had to be involved in some sort of Christian ministry.  Interestingly our grown son, Tim, is now following in the steps of one of the people he shadowed and God is using him in special ways.

A third thing was requiring them to learn some basic life skills - i.e. washing clothes, ironing, cooking and saving money. And this is where one of the major perks came from.  If they basically completed the year-long exercise (be gracious but make sure they work at it well) we would match the amount of money they saved and they could spend that portion on anything they wanted.

You can of course come up with your own perks but that seemed to work well for us. At the end of the project we had a little party with some close friends to celebrate and let them know how proud we were of them.

Depending on your kids and their current activities, you might add physical exercise, Bible reading challenges, social events, etc. whatever might fill out the four areas of emphasis.  Work out your own plan.  You know your kids best.

Nonetheless, we look back at this plan as a home run idea with our children and think it's worth other families trying it out. Feel free.  And if you do use it in some form, let us and others know how it went.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Real Parental Love Knows Few Limits

I was at a large conference this week and happened to sit behind what turned out to be a very special family. A father, mother and son were all in the row ahead and nothing looked abnormal at first. The son, at least an older teen or perhaps a young man in his early twenties, sat between his mom and dad.

However, the son had seemed pretty quiet and I didn't see or hear him talk for a number of minutes.  Once the program started I could tell he had some special needs.  Before long he laid his head down on his mother's lap and she just put her hand over his back and stroked it.

After a time he sat up again, made a motion or said a quiet word to his mom, I couldn't tell, and then laid down on his father's lap. Before long the boy sat up again only this time I could see that the father was wiping something from his own pant leg or lap. The boy had apparently drooled on him.

This time the dad just calmly wiped it up, it took some time, while the mom looked on. Nobody got upset or was surprised. This had all probably happened many times before.

And while I was in a setting where spiritual training, worship and teaching were going on, observing them was truly a spiritual moment for me. I saw love and compassion for this special young man that many parents would never display or enjoy. I'm sure there had been days of heartache and disappointment but this day their love did not wane.

I found myself thinking that God our Father is like that. He sees our flaws and knows we are needy. Nonetheless, he continues to love us even though we aren't as mature as we should be or we "drool" on him through our weaknesses and faults. Yes, He knows what we are capable of but also accepts our limitations. When we're tired and overwhelmbed He strokes our backs in the same way these parents did soothing us to rest.

I'm glad I met that family the other day. I may never see them again but hopefully I'll never forget the poignant image they painted for me through their care for their son.  It was a picture of our Father loving us as only a parent could do.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, September 23, 2011

Most Journeys Are More Like a Marathon

I've written nearly 200 posts now on my Safe At Home blog. Compared to some bloggers and writers that's a drop in the bucket. However, put my total next to many others and  I appear like a novelist.

Whatever your perspective, I'm pretty thankful I've lasted this long. While I love to write it would be easy to think that I'm out of ideas or it's just not worth putting in the time. But over a couple of years quite a few readers seem to have been helped by my sharing while others are just finding out that they too can learn something from an older, more experienced guy.

My total, whatever it represents, does remind me that most good things and the overcoming of most challenges requires a long-term effort and commitment. Anybody can start most anything. Only a few in the big scheme of things finish or last.

Lots of people start to write novels, but how many Grishams are there? Myriad climbers have begun the trek up Everest, but only a small percentage make it to the top. Thousands have started music lessons but there are relatively few virtuosos.

So what is typically true of finishers, of those who reach the upper echelons of their craft, talent, relationships or climb?  A couple of things.  First, they understand from the beginning that their commitment must be for the long haul. While they can enjoy the small victories, they only savor the larger gains. They think in terms of the big picture.

Whether their journey is their marriage or the overcoming of a major illness, their mindset is the same. Small disappointments and setbacks may discourage them but they are not defeated. There's a wonderful challenge in the New Testament that speaks to this way of thinking.  "We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair . . . struck down, but not destroyed."  (II Corinthians 4:8)

Second, they sacrifice the good for the best.  They realize that there are certain things that may be desirable that they must lay aside if there are to reach their ultimate goal. I remember years ago hearing a young high school boy play one of the most incredible trumpet solos I had ever heard at Interlochen Music Camp. We knew the director of the orchestra and mentioned our enjoyment of his playing and how impressed we were.

The director smiled and simply said, "Remember, he gave up most everything else to play like that."

Third, they always have a greater purpose or goal in mind beyond the present. Most people who prevail in life have something or Someone within them that spurs them on. Some find their power in God Himself. I believe He's the greatest and most important power we could ever know. Others get their strength from a hero, parent or friend. While yes, selfishness has produced dramatic results in many who achieve great things, it rarely produces great things in great people.

So whatever you're doing and whatever you deem in that to be important, remember that it will require more than starting to be successful. You must see beyond the present and beyond yourself. And when you do your likelihood of completing your daunting journey is dramatically increased.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Great Communication: The Importance of Timing

Farmers think about it. So do climbers. Even surgeons know it's important. You can't plant corn in the fall in the Midwest. You don't head for the summit in the late afternoon in the Rockies. And doctors make sure their patients are physically stable before they allow them to be operated on.

In other words they all know the importance of timing. Families need to also understand that timing can make all the difference in the success and effectiveness of their communication with each other. While yes there are times when the urgency of the moment requires immediate action most of the time that's not the case.

So when husbands and wives need to tackle tough questions they would be better to agree to a more acceptable and workable time to solve their problems. And yet many couples dump their biggest concerns on the other person at the most inappropriate times. One of them has just come in the door from a business trip, another has been home all day with demanding kids or they are on their way to church with the kids in the back seat.

None of those times will likely work to handle a major (or even minor) crisis. Parents can exhibit the same time mismanagement in dealing with discipline issues.

So how can we do better at timing at our house?

First, know your spouse or kids better and maximize their best times to talk and respond. Yes, we can use timing to simply not deal with painful realities but that's not what I'm talking about here. Sometimes you need to simply figure out a better time to dig deeper and agree that the tension of the moment can wait.

Second, curb your penchant to always have answers right now. Most problems didn't happen in an hour so they probably don't need to be resolved in an hour either.

Third, remember how helpful it is when others talk to you in your best moments, not your worst. I know that after a long day of meetings and counseling I'm often not ready to talk seriously the moment I come home. I need to think about my wife's similar needs and give her the same courtesy.

While timing isn't the only thing that makes for deep communication, it sure is a main thing. Think about timing a bit more the next time you have serious issues to talk about at home. I'm pretty sure it will make a significant difference.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tips For Keeping Your Home SAFE

I originally named my blog Safe At Home for a reason. Sure, it's a clever (at least I think so!) play on words with a baseball analogy. But more importantly I've worked with families long enough to know that many homes simply aren't safe even though the people in it think so.

In recent years homeowners have been told that they should have their dwellings checked for radon gas. Apparently it's an unseen substance that can leak into a home and be deadly. The same is true for carbon monoxide. It's possible to be living around a deadly gas and not know it.

In the same ways, many homes have some destructive "gases" spreading through their families and the people who live there are unaware of the damage they are doing.

Let me suggest a couple of tips for keeping your home a safer place from those toxic elements.

First, ban destructive words. That's right. Have a family meeting tonight and say in front of your kids that you will end the use of words that are unfair, harsh and needlessly hurtful. Tell them that you will model, even when you need to be stern and firm, how to speak fairly, without yelling and to the point. Admit it if you need to change some things. But then require everyone in the house to do the same. You may need to have a point system, money jar or whatever to help this happen but do it.

Second, show every person that their comments, questions and opinions matter. Husbands and wives every day in certain homes tell each other how incompetent they are or suggest that their input into the discussion is unimportant. Children are told or it is implied that certain topics are off limits and that their comments don't ever matter when it comes to decisions made in the home or their feelings about life. Instead, listen well, invite comments when spoke appropriately and let your family know that their honest expressions don't ruffle you.

Third, keep rules and guidelines clear, fair and constant. No one likes to live in a home where what is right one day is wrong the next and vice versa. Few can tolerate being trusted one day and not the next when one's behaviors and attitudes have been consistent. If we're always moving the goal lines and boundaries on our discipline how will our children ever know what or how to obey?

Safety is not only a set of guidelines, it's also a state of mind and an atmosphere that a home must have to truly be a place our families look forward to return to each day. Who's guarding the safety in your home and have you evaluated your safety standards lately?
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Don't Miss Imporant Lessons in a Tragedy

We all will face some sort of devastating experience, illness, or loss in our lifetime. Some of us have even faced what may seem horribly unfair especially when compared to others. And while we should never minimize our struggle or those of others there are important things we can and must take away from and yes through even the worst of times.

Let me suggest a few.

First, we can learn more about what really matters. Many people in Austin, Texas where I currently live lost their homes to wild fires this past week. When it comes to possessions most of them have nothing or very little. But I've already heard story after story of individuals and families who still feel blessed to be alive, to hug their spouse and children and to know they can at least start over. They've realized that their stuff was just stuff.

Second, we can be reminded of what other people will do for us when we're down. Sure there are people who will always be selfish jerks. But there are many more who come alongside us when we're hurting and ask nothing in return. Churches share Christ's love in tangible ways, neighbors give of what they have even when it's not very much and people go across the city or state just to help.

Third, we will see things done for us that we will do for others later.  Often the person who cares for others most is the one who was helped the most. A woman came to our church the other day to help those impacted by the fires. Who was she? The wife of a man recently killed in a tragic accident! She knows how much even the smallest actions matter to people who are hurting. And she was reminded that her life in spite of her tragic circumstances still matters.

Yes, we must be free to hurt, grieve, rest and heal. And our journey is our journey and need not be similar to that of anyone else. We will need time and we will never totally forget the impact of our tragedy. But be sure to take the time to embrace the life lessons that can still enrich, bless and encourage you and  your family both now and for years to come, even in the worst of times.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Is your home thirsty? Let it rain.

I currently live in Austin, Texas. We're experiencing our latest drought, one which has broken some all-time records. It was 112 degrees the other day tying the highest temperature ever. Our lakes our down some 40+ feet. We had the second most number of days in a row over a 100 and the most days above the century mark ever for one year.

So as you might expect the officials in our counties are taking some wise steps. They've banned outdoor burning. We've had to add watering restrictions and boaters on the lakes have new rules to insure safety.

And if you're home is typical, you and your family can face your own times of drought. You're thirsty for relationship, time, sanity, love, attention or a host of other good things that every person needs. What typically causes family drought? Over-commitment, selfishness, straying priorities, poor planning, unresolved marriage problems, challenging circumstances, getting away from God . . . 

There are more . . . you can probably add some of your own.

But you also know that if nothing is done in response to your drought damage can be done. And unlike in Austin where we can't just turn on the rain, you can do some things to at least stem the tide of the rain shortage.

First, slow down and take inventory. Sometimes slowing down will make a huge difference by itself but it's important to face what the rain deficit is doing to your home. Perhaps an activity or two needs to go, maybe some counseling would help, perhaps you've let your spiritual relationship with God go to the back burner.

Second, make some initial changes and take some first steps to find water. Go to that counselor, get back to church, slice some things from the schedule. Remind each other that all these extra activities will mean nothing if your family tanks.

Third, speak love and life into each other more. Because of busyness our homes can become void of meaningful discussion, encouragement and building each other up. Listen to feelings and needs. Talk more -period. But that will take some focused time. It may start around a game or mealtime but begin somewhere.

No family will survive well living in the desert. But if we're smart we'll bring along some of our own water, even if mother nature doesn't help us out.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Good Discipline: Parenting Like You Mean It

We've all had a child or two push us on our expectations, right? Your son should know that he can't be a jerk in public but he makes a scene in the restaurant nonetheless. Your daughter seems like she knows that she just can't wear anything to school but one morning she throws a tantrum demanding she get to put on her favorite outfit when you object.

So what do you do? How do you handle those sudden push backs on your guidelines and authority without using live ammunition to quell the problem?

I'm pretty confident that you actually set the stage for what you will do before these big-time struggles ever happen. How?

First, you keep your word in the little things. You parent like you mean it. No, you don't have to be a tyrant but you do need to follow through even on the small stuff especially when your kids are little. If your kids know you'll stick to your guns about bed time and you do it every night for the most part, then they'll likely better understand that you're going to follow through in the restaurant or before school during the blow-up.

Second, if you're married you keep your word as a team. Kids need to know that mom or dad are not the easy out to the tough decisions that the other parent makes. If mom says it's bedtime and then dad comes in and changes the rule and allows them to stay up, the children begin to figure out the difference in mom and dad and begin to use it to their advantage. Moms and dads must be on the same page when it comes to how you follow through on your disciplinary commitments.

Third, it never hurts to address some of the more major possibilities ahead of time.  I remember telling our kids that we would have a curfew time for when they went out, one that varied depending upon the event, how far away it was, etc. But we also told them that if they didn't show up very close to on time, that we would either be in the car looking for them or on the phone with the police.  Interestingly, one of our kids went well beyond this rule about two weeks after we had that discussion.

They found out very quickly that we meant what we said when they met me on their way home . . . in my car looking for them.

A big percentage of parent/child discipline problems could be resolved if the parents just parented as though they meant it. And the sooner the better.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Five Things Every Parent Must Do

All families are different and unique. They come in varying sizes, shapes, locations, and personalities. There are lots of things that one family will do or enjoy that another family would hate. That's normal and OK.

However, I want to suggest five priorities that every parent needs to include in their home no matter who you are, where you live or what you have. These five actions are not only essential but their presence will help determine whether your family will be healthy and stay healthy.

First, make time to rest, relax and reflect. People are just too busy today. Children are pushed to be in a sport or activity every season. Parents work crazy hours so they look for even that much more for their kids to do while they're gone. Being involved in good things is fine, but never slowing down is insane and destructive.

Second, speak words of life often. Words of life are not always compliments or mere flattery. Words of life speak to one's soul about who they are, why they are valued and how they make a difference in your life. We can't say these vital phrases enough but often those rich kinds of words are drowned out by mere platitudes, empty praise or plain silence.

Third, make lifelong memories. Yes, great memories can and should be spawned in the everyday of life - the little things, the surprises and the day to day moments that are special and revered. But it's important to be even more intentional by discovering ways that you will make memories together in unique and more grand ways. Take some vacations, plan unique trips with each child, develop a few hobbies and special activities that are your family's favorites.

This is how we began climbing mountains. And we'll never forget our experiences together.

Fourth, teach and model your faith journey. Some parents want their kids to have some sort of religious instruction so they make sure the kids get to church and hope some of it sinks in. That may be helpful and the children might deepen their own faith that way, but you'll make a far greater impact in them and you if you're the one who is their model and guide concerning spiritual things.

Finally, love your spouse openly. Remember your home is marriage training for your kids. It will be the major classroom where they will learn how to treat their husband or wife someday. Let them see your affection, kindness, respect and commitment to one another every day. Show them how to handle conflict appropriately and wisely. Admit when you make mistakes, let them know you won't be perfect and teach them how to handle those imperfections in healthy ways.

Yes, your home will be special and one-of-a-kind in many ways but you will have a richer home if you'll make these fabulous five actions prominent at your house.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, August 15, 2011

How To Avoid Letting Tradition and the Past Paralyze You

This past weekend my wife and I stayed in a hotel overlooking Reliant Stadium in Houston where their pro football team plays and other large stadium events are held. The arena is a beautiful facility, modern and impressive especially at first glance.

However, right next to it stands a large, greyish, starkly naked building that looks like it was once something but clearly no longer has any usefulness. I eventually found out that it's the once famous Astrodome, the first building of its kind built decades ago.

I couldn't believe it is still around. I actually had a tour of it with my wife and small son in the early 80's. It was unique, brand new and something we'd certainly never seen the likes of before. But it's none of those things now.  Its presence alone is stealing from the attractiveness of the new stadium.

I thought they must have torn it down at least once they built the current stadiums. It turns out there are some people, a council, historians or someone who has influence who don't want to get rid of it just yet.

I found myself thinking that's the way a lot of families, churches, neighborhoods and other organizations are. The leaders and people in general are more committed to their memories of the past than doing something to change the future. They long for the good old days and so they hang on to habits, traditions, ways of doing things and vision that are really hurting themselves and those around them, often causing an organizational or familial paralysis.

Is your family, church or other group still hanging on to their version of the Astrodome just because you or they don't want to let go of a memory?  If you're honest, has it hamstrung your growth and change?

If so, think about doing a couple of things where you have influence. First, keep celebrating the goodness and good people of the past. It's uplifting to now and then look at old pictures, tell great stories of bygone days and honor those whose efforts have helped you be what you are today. Tradition isn't a bad thing unless it becomes the only thing or the major motivation behind what we do today.

Second, take time to grieve or at least be sad about situations, people or things in the past that you don't enjoy in the same way. Thinking honestly about those items will help you both emotionally begin to let go and start to free you over time to move on even though it's hard. Keep some appropriate momentos of the past but limit them and don't let them run your life any more.

Third, tear down, put away or throw away those Astrodomes in your world. In a family, those might involve traditions that you just don't need to keep up any more or being involved in an activity that has outworn its purpose. Many church leaders need to finally get rid of a traditional service, add a new style of service or change other things in a major way.

Fourth, celebrate the newness and change in your life, family or church. I'm confident that healthy, God-directed change will bring new life into you and those around you just like a new stadium, house or town hall does for a city. Start somewhere, be honest, but don't stay paralyzed.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Five Ways To Find Balance In Your Home

If you've ever written a comment on someone's blog you know that sometimes you get a message like, "This comment awaiting moderation." That means that someone needs to review  your comments, make sure they're not out of line, laced with profanity or too long.  You have to be reviewed by a moderator.  Good idea unless you don't care what shows up on your public blog.

However, I wonder if that phrase shouldn't be written in bold letters somewhere for our families to see every day.  "Awaiting moderation."  How many of our homes are places where we're just doing too much of so many things? I've spoken before about our pace being too quick but that's only part of the problem. Even if we're moving fairly slowly we still may be doing way too much.

What are some of the areas in our homes where we may have gone overboard and need moderation?  How about:  activities, kids' responsibilities, house maintenance projects, weekly chores, meetings outside the home, hobbies, educational demands, school service commitments, church obligations. The list could go on and on, right?  You can add your own that I didn't mention.

Here are a couple of questions to ask yourself that might help you identify the items needing moderation at your house. Do I dread this commitment every time it comes around? Do I fudge on my preparation and planning for it because I simply do not have time?  Do I see joy in others in my home when we're involved in it or could they just take it or leave it?

Are several of these activities just more of the same?  Would I just rather be doing something else?

In addition, talk about what things are we missing out on, skimming on, barely doing but need to be doing because other things are crowding them outMy hunch is that most parents had certain desires and goals for their families that have gotten lost because we're simply doing too much of things that don't really matter that much.

So start somewhere. Where can you trim?  Where must you cut back?  Then add one thing in that you'd rather be doing or need to do as a family that you'll all be glad you did later. And don't forget to include just some quiet time, time that doesn't have to be so productive and results oriented.

Do more playing, praying and staying. You'll be glad you did.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, August 5, 2011

Marital Conflict: How To Fight Fairly

All couples fight or at least disagree. However, not all couples do it well. Sadly, some marriages have ended not because they weren't in love, but because they did so much damage when they weren't feeling very loving. Their words, expressions, and responses all spoke more to their winning their own personal battle than trying to understand the other person.

Other had terrible models in their home growing up. The only things they know to do are yell, scream and demand their own way. 

So how do we fight and face conflict more effectively?  Most of these principles are common knowledge and often taught by counselors but my experience is that most couples, especially those in trouble, don't have a clue about them. Or if they have heard them they simply don't use them.

First, speak only in the here and now. It's not fair nor helpful to bring up the past or predict the future. We do that when we tie the current struggle to a past action or attitude. When we use always and you never we immediately move our discussion out of the current situation.

To speak in the here and now you talk only about your feelings and needs related to the problem at hand, nothing else. "I'm angry and confused because this morning you said we were not going to go away during the holidays and tonight you want to change everything."

However, what would an unfair fight sound like in the same setting? "Don, this is what you always do. You say one thing and do another. I can never count on knowing what's in your head because you'll change your mind on a dime and I'm sick of it!"

Second, listen and seek to understand. So often the deepest need both partners have is first to be understood. In fact sometimes understanding is the only thing needed. Try to find out both the other person's real feelings and what they need from you that would help them feel less that way next time. Don't either of you be satisfied until you feel like you've accomplished both for each other.

Third, determine a first step that you will take to make things better. A lot of spouses get frustrated because even if something is talked about often the other person never does it. Showing your mate that you are actually going to make changes and vice versa will help you want to go through the process again.  It gets results!

So next time you feel the heat rising and tempers getting ready to blow, try some here and now listening and discussion followed by some actual changes. Quit the posturing and demanding that you win the argument.  Remember that awhile back you stood before God and some people and vowed to love each other through the good and the bad. Now is your chance to really put that into practice.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, July 29, 2011

Maximizing Your Family Time: Slow Down

There was a popular song when I was much younger that started with the lyrics, "Slow down, you move too fast, got to make the morning last."  Sadly the title of that song included less than profound and meaningful words, "Feelin' Groovy."

However, I wonder if those first lines of that song aren't still a wise admonition for much of our culture today and perhaps for you at your house . . . "Slow down, you move too fast."

If you've traveled to other cultures, particularly in some of the poorer countries,  you know that living life slowly or simply isn't necessarily a detriment. Families who have few resources, a smattering of things to entertain and whose meals may last for hours are often some of the happiest people on earth.  And if they are facing challenges and times of despair, it's usually because of their terrible conditions or a recent catastrophe not because they have so little to keep them occupied.

Living life faster rarely makes us happier. If anything, it only adds more stress, worry and a diluting of our relationships. Yes, we live in a fast-paced society but there are some things we can do to slow the pace for our family.

First, take inventory of how many things you're attending, participating in and committed to. Are they all really worthy it?  Have they become "doable hard" or "destructive hard?"  There's a difference.  Are some of our activities stealing from our time together, rest and well-being?  Ask yourself not only, "How much is this costing us financially?"  But ponder, "How much is this costing us emotionally and personally?"

Second, prioritize and then cut some things.  You'll have to do what you can to be fair and it's likely that your kids will be mad if one of the cuts involves them, but do it anyway. You're the parent and they are not. They'll survive and you might be surprised that in some cases they're actually happy about it while other times they will be relieved.

Third, determine some intentional connecting and just resting that you will use with your time.  Just filling your extra hours with more planned busyness wouldn't make much sense.  However,  part of the goal is to get some meaningful moments together so think of what you might do to connect. Perhaps it's just spending a little more time at the dinner table. Maybe you can do something around the house that you can all contribute to.  But also don't hesitate to just give everyone a breather.

Finally, consider doing something that would serve others. Having a needy couple, single or family over could be a starting place that would still keep you at home. But if it's not too demanding, go together and help out a neighbor, friend or relative. Giving instead of taking is always a great teaching opportunity and takes the attention off yourselves.

Whatever you decide, do what you can to slow life down. The choices each family makes will be unique to their situation, interests and location. But I'm pretty confident that a few significant attempts to reduce your family's miles per hour will likely have you feelin' groovy.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Lasting Marriage: The Power of a Kiss

The other day I discovered that my wife had a bag of Hershey's Kisses in the pantry. I hadn't seen that many of those for a while but I quickly remembered how much I had always enjoyed them. And then I also realized that they've been making those kisses for a long time.

I remember having them as a kid, pulling on the little string sticking out on top, unwrapping the shiny cover and popping it into my mouth. In fact, just to enjoy that memory a bit more I took a few out of the bag in the pantry and re-did my ritual from years ago.

I'm glad those Hershey Kisses are still around but I wonder how many couples are taking advantage of the importance of a kiss or two around their house. Sure, the passionate kind are probably still pretty popular in our most romantic moments but I'm talking about the small ones that come in simple wrapping and are just a taste for more.

I think those little kisses represent a lot in a marriage and say much to our spouse about what they mean to us. Regular little kisses are first of all touches. You probably know about the studies done on the importance of touch with a newborn. The truth of the matter is we all need human touch on a regular basis and a kiss adds extra spark and importance to that touch when it's with your spouse.

Second, little kisses show that we notice each other and that we're important to the other. When we come together after a few hours, a day or even weeks, a kiss says, "I missed you," and "No one or no thing is more important than seeing you again right now."

Third, kisses suggest that we want to be with and show affection that isn't only centered around sex. When we skip simple acts of touch, tenderness and closeness we can send the message to the other person that we only value that intimacy when it's in the bedroom. Chances are that if we regularly give kisses we're also often holding hands, giving back rubs and sharing hugs.

Finally, regular kisses can be one of many good habits that add to our relationship. Like having date nights, regular time together, praying for each other and the like, kissing adds a healthy connection that will add strength to your emotional foundations and love for each other.

So, if you've been off the "kisses" lately, try a handful in the next few days. Somehow I have a feeling you'll be saying to yourself like I did with those Hershey ones, "You know, I think I'd like another."
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, July 18, 2011

Legacy: A Model To Follow At Home

My mom's neighbor died recently. His name was Ernie. I didn't know him well although I'd met him a few times while visiting my former home. But I'd heard about him many times, usually through my mom, about how much he was known for helping others.

He'd watch over her house while she was gone, see that the yard got watered or whatever else was needed. I've also heard similar stories or comments from other neighbors like, "There's nothing Ernie wouldn't do to help you."

At the funeral home I met his three daughters and I could tell that they were proud of their dad and had seen evidence of his caring, giving heart. I'm pretty sure they will continue to be impacted by the gentle, servant spirit of their dad and how he cared for others. One of the daughters called him her "hero" at his funeral.

The "Ernie's" of the world are helpful reminders for us all to regularly consider what we're going to leave as a legacy for our family members. Will they remember us in the same way as people who gave more than they took? Will they speak our name and naturally say, "Yes, he (she) cared about people and was willing to help them any way they could?"

You can't orchestrate an authentic legacy but you can live in such a way that you leave a lasting, eternal one.  A couple of principles seem to be important at least from my perspective.

First, as the popular Tim McGraw song says, live like you're dying. I don't think we need to be morbid but if we thought of any given day as one of the last weeks, months or even moments we had left we'd likely change a few things. We'd certainly spend less time on the mundane and more on the vital.  You can figure out what that would be for you.

Second, serve other people even if you're facing your own struggles. When we take at least some of the focus off the mountain we're climbing and walk with someone on theirs or simply share what we have with them our perspective changes. And in the process we leave something special in this world that will impact others.

Third, fight against consumerism.  It's so easy to think that life is about getting more.  But being and feeling really alive is about giving more. Consuming by itself isn't wrong or unhealthy. But worshipping what we consume is and will steal from any meaningful legacy not add to it.

Finally, do the above with the people you love - your spouse, kids, friends. Teach and help them to live the same way and to leave their own legacy that others will certainly praise at their funerals and hopefully long before.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Rewards For Kids or Good For Nothing?

The Smiths pay their kids for good grades. The Johnsons wouldn't think of it. The Andersons have found that providing financial and privilege incentives for their elementary-aged children really motivates them but the Davis' think kids need to learn to do their part without complaining.

Parents and so-called parenting "experts" have disagreed for decades about whether children should be given anything beyond the pride of accomplishment for helping at home, doing well in school, practicing their instrument and the like. And my hunch is that you blog readers will have varying views on the subject. I'd love to hear from you.

Nonetheless, while I'm far from the last word on anything, let me offer a few principles or guidelines that you might at least ponder as you do your best to teach, motivate and mature your kids.

First, remember what motivates you. My hunch is that while you may love your job, it's the money, bonuses and vacation time that keep you at the top of your game and going to work everyday. Incentives aren't inherently wrong so don't totally throw them out of your parenting manual.

Second, if you use rewards, allowance and other incentives don't apply them to everything or use them all the time.  Special bonuses should come later and not be the norm. When your kids are little they can learn how to help pick up, do simple chores and assist mom and dad just because they're family too. Teaching kids a healthy work ethic usually finds its foundation in learning to labor well whether there's a personal benefit or not.

Third, you can use rewards to teach children important life lessons.  For example, they can learn to save, to not always get what they want immediately and even to begin to give offerings to God. A simple allowance or some special pay for an over-the-expected chore can provide you  and them some learning capital with which to teach and train. They can also learn that even though you have something (like a salary) you won't keep it if you don't work, show up on time and do things well.

Finally, rewards can often help a child who is struggling an extra push toward reaching an important goal. Not every child will be a naturally good student, athlete, musician or worker at home. Sometimes though that extra nudge from mom and dad with a reward can motivate them and teach them that sometimes working extra hard is worth it in very tangible ways.

So, you'll have to decide what works best at your house but keep the options open when it comes to motivating your kids. I don't think I've ever met an adult who felt like they were emotionally messed up because their parents rewarded them now and then for hard work. But I have met a lot more individuals and couples whose parents didn't teach them much of anything about money, time and resources and they're paying a high price now.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Love Means You Really Do Need To Say You're Sorry

If you're at least forty-five or fifty then you probably remember a sappy, but very popular movie from years ago called Love Story. It was probably one of the most viewed movies that year although I don't think it won any major awards.  Nonetheless, the most famous line of that film was no doubt, Love means you never have to say you're sorry.

Yep, nice movie line. Unfortunately it was untrue then and it's just as silly today. In fact, the more counseling I do, the more I see struggling couples digging in their heals to do anything but say they're sorry.

Why? Well for some their worth as a person is horribly fragile. They simply do not want to admit they're wrong. To admit a mistake about this one thing (as simple as it might be) is to risk the possibility that their spouse will think they are a total loser. Of course that would rarely be the case but the fear is too great.

Others have unfortunately been brought up that way. Mom and/or dad just said things - rude, crude or lewd - and everyone just looked the other way or went on with business as usual. Manners along with kind words of "thanks, please or excuse me" just weren't part of the family's vocabulary. It was the "sticks and stones may break my bones . . . " mentality but no one ever talked about it and the pain it caused.

And yet marriage experts such as John Gottman and others have shown how statements like I'm sorry show the other person that you really are willing to try to repair a mistake or situation and it encourages the spouse to believe that you will do it again. It's a function of learning to start over or re-try a situation so that it's handled more effectively and with compassion, not enmity. It's part of friendship development, something sadly missing in most troubled marriages.

Saying I'm sorry is not an admission that you're the whole problem. It's just taking ownership for your part in it. It doesn't diminish your personhood, it enhances it. Admitting you've made a mistake keeps you real, human and more accepting of other's errors including those of your spouse or children.

Showing humility in this way also teaches your kids healthier and more effective ways to handle disagreements and personal slip-ups, to be authentic and real.

And perhaps most importantly, you model in your home what real love is.  The love chapter (I Corinthians 13) in the New Testament speaks of love being patient, kind, gentle and not keeping an account of wrongs suffered. God's love in us flourishes most when grace is needed.

So say you're sorry, will you?  To your kids, your spouse, your friends, your associates.  It really won't hurt you. it certainly won't kill you and you will be no less as a person. In fact, it will slowly begin to change you . . . for the better.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Celebrating Your Marrige Every Day

Today is our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary!  On the one hand it seems like we've been married forever (we've been married much longer than we were single!).  Other times though we wonder where all those years went.

We have usually enjoyed celebrating  in pretty simple ways each year - a quiet dinner, a weekend away, tickets to a concert. We've never needed a lot of fancy things. We're still wearing the same rings that we put on June 26th, 1976. Jackie is wonderfully creative so I've enjoyed many handmade cards and gifts. She unfortunately is married to a not so handy person so I buy the classic card or small gift punctuated by a song I've written now and then for extra special years.  I can write music, but my presents never equal hers!

We did celebrate twenty-five years with a dream trip to Austria and Switzerland and just returned from an awesome land/cruise to Alaska for thirty-five. At this point in life we're thinking we had better do a few more bigger trips or we're going to run out of time to finish our bucket list.

However, whatever ways you and your spouse choose to celebrate anniversaries I want to challenge you to in a sense celebrate your love every day. No, not with chocolates, roses, trips or concert tickets. But more with little, thoughtful acts of kindness and love that let one another know again and again they are loved and special.

And usually couples sort of develop and negotiate these over time and they differ from marriage to marriage.  For example, we often sit together on the couch with my legs on hers or vice versa. We surprise each other with a treat we know the other person likes. We do something tangible that the other person might not care to do - put gas in the car, iron a shirt, or kill a spider. Those are all little touches of love.

As a pastor I'm busy a lot on weekends but as much as possible I try to sit with Jackie during one of the services unless I'm teaching. (I'm teaching on our anniversary today by the way - what else is new?)  We make one day a week available to each other to just be together, often doing something special, sometimes running errands.  The point is that it's just us and it reminds us of our commitment to each other.

We say "I love you" a lot and speak with respect even when we have conflict. We try never to talk negatively about the other person outside our home. We try not to let irritations simmer.  We say thank you and I appreciate all you do and that sort of thing in everyday moments.

We've been far from perfect all these years but we do know this, marriages hang together for long periods of time when love is expressed is some way most every day.  What little loving habits do you have or could you develop?

You'll have to come up with what works and impacts each other best in your relationship.  But don't merely wait for the big days and the major anniversaries. Yes, plan for those, celebrate and have fun. But share some of your love every day and you'll more likely celebrate more and more of those major milestones together year after year.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, June 17, 2011

How To Make Your Marriage Last - part 2

So let me continue what I began in my last post about helping your marriage last until death do you part.  It's not easy, there are no simple recipes but there are a few principles that can help.

Brag about your spouse to others. No, don't make things up. But be sure to speak well about your mate to your friends, relatives, neighbors and associates.  I regularly hear about people who tell jokes, gripe and make fun of their husband or wife to others. And now and then when you both agree there's a funny story to be told about the other that's fine.

But our speech about our spouse needs to affirm and build up the other person even when they don't hear our comments. I'm pretty sure that many people say negative things about their spouse so that they themselves won't look so bad. That's a crummy excuse and our resulting words end up hurting the other person and destroying trust. Speak words of life and tell the world about all the great things your mate is and does.

Keep learning more about intimacy of body, soul and spirit. I've spoken on this in other posts so go to the index and click on "intimacy"  for more. However, intimacy of soul and spirit takes much more intentionality and practice than the physical part.  The interesting and important thing is that all three areas complement one another. As we develop all three we help all three.

Serve others together.  One of the best ways to develop intimacy and grow your relationship is to serve, do projects and help others together. Working as a couple helps you bond and gives you something special to talk about later. And if you become involved in an endeavor that is ongoing it becomes both of your passions and you enjoy it together.  Serving especially helps you grow stronger even in the middle of struggles.

It shouldn't take the place of working on your problems, but serving can help growth to speed up.

Don't allow your relationships with your kids to become more important than yours.  Our kids are important and should be one of the loves of our lives. Ours are. I would take a bullet for either of them, their spouses or our grandkids. I couldn't be prouder of them all.

But we've tried to both teach and model for them that our marriage and their marriage is always more important than their parenting. We're to love, protect and provide for our children but one day we're to set them free to live, lead and love on their own. And during that whole process we're to model what a healthy marriage is all about. And healthy marriages don't live vicariously through their offspring.

Healthy spouses keep loving each other, working at their relationship and thereby teaching their kids to do the same.

So do you want to keep your marriage for a lifetime?  I would guess you do.  It's work, it's not easy, but it's worth it. Happy anniversary . . . whenever it is.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, June 12, 2011

How To Make Your Marriage Last - Part 1

My wife Jackie and I just returned from a twelve -day thirty-fifth anniversary trip to Alaska.  No, we don't do big trips like that very often but certain special anniversaries have encouraged us to try something a little grander now and then.

How do you have a marriage that lasts thirty-five years or more?  I met a couple the other day who'd been married sixty years!  I felt like a marital youngster at that point.  But I too had to ask myself how will we make it another 25 years if we live that long?  I'm not totally sure.  There aren't any simple recipes, I know that. Everyone's life experiences, personalities and families will bring different dynamics to a marriage.

All I've got to offer are a couple of observations, perhaps even significant enough to be principles, that will at least increase your chances to have a marriage that lasts till death do you part.  Since there are quite a few I'll do some this time and add a few more in my next post.  Here we go:

First, renew your commitment to each other by your actions every day.  Living out a marriage happens one decision, one choice, one action and one experience at a time. Yes, at the altar we make a public commitment but we make private ones daily and those are what keep us going. Choose to love, to act responsibly, to give to the other person over and over. Even in the middle of conflict we can respond in ways that are healthy, positive and godly choices. They're not always easy responses but they must be the fuel for our ongoing commitment.

Which leads me to number two: deal with conflict and deal with it well.  We joke all the time that we've been married thirty-five years (or whatever number it is at the moment) and they've been thirty-two of the happiest years of our lives.  Hmm . . . that means there are three years or so that weren't happy.  Yep, that's probably true  . . . the rough moments came one hour or day at a time.

And maybe the number is more or less for you but there will be conflict and unhappy days. How do you handle it well?  Learn to communicate in healthy ways.  And if you don't know how get some help. Read books or go to some of my earlier blogs on communication. Get counseling.  Don't settle for excuses like, "That's just the way I am, " or "My parents fought this way all the time and it worked out for them."  If your conflict resolution is destructive or at best harmful, fix it.

Also admit it when you're wrong. No one is right all the time and no one needs to be right all the time. Tell the truth, admit your weaknesses . . .it's part of being intimate with the other person.  And learn to listen, understand and be patient.  You must be relentless about getting into the soul of the other person.

A third principle is: make time together a high priority no matter what stage of life you're in. We can argue that having kids or a challenging job or greater family responsibilities won't afford us the time. You can't afford NOT to take the time to be together. Of course it will vary and change depending upon your family circumstances but if you want your marriage to last you cannot let time with each other slide.

Have lunches, do things you both enjoy, find a hobby, talk and take big vacations now and then.  If we don't invest in our marriages we won't see a positive return down the road.  I hope you'll have some twenty-five, thirty-five and longer celebrations of your own.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Best Parenting Teen Ideas - part 2

I've learned over the years why God made teenagers. To punish us parents for the way we acted as children. OK, maybe that's not his purpose but it sure seems reasonable.

But let's face it one of our big struggles is that we simply don't know what they're going to do much of the time and frankly they don't either. They have these maturing, growing bodies facing all sorts of unknowns, peer pressures and challenges. But they typically don't have the emotional strength to handle all that. That's why they have melt downs or act out doing crazy things or take huge risks in order to be accepted.

So how do we as parents deal with them during these tough years while still enjoying the healthy spreading of their wings that will lead them to true independence?

First, we need to do a lot of talking and listening. Unfortunately if your kids are already teens and you haven't worked at this prior to adolescence the task will be much harder. Nonetheless, make times and relatively easy opportunities to just talk. Eat meals together, do some things alone, make conversations about hard things something normal not weird.

And don't buy into the silent treatment. Do not allow for doors to be slammed and for them to just walk away from any conversation. As I mentioned in my part one blog options are important. So do the same regarding conversation. You can say things like, "Ryan, you may not want to talk right at the moment, but when we get home (or in the morning or whatever) we need to have some time to talk about last night (or about your trip or whatever)."

When it's all said and done they need to learn to talk and really want to be heard and understood.

Second, let them know that you will keep your word. You don't have to be a tyrant but make it clear if you haven't already that if there is a curfew time you will hold them to it, expect them to call or meet whatever other boundaries you set. When you do this on the little things you'll be much more likely to be taken seriously on the bigger ones.

Even teens need to learn to keep rules and meet expectations. Yes, they should be given more freedoms as they get older but only if they're earning that freedom along the way. Our son was told that he had to call if he was going to be late and I told him I would be one of two places if he didn't call - in the car looking for him or on the phone with the police, especially if I thought that was warranted.

Not two weeks later we had an incident and I met him in my car in the middle of the street as he returned significantly late.  I was looking for him. I didn't yell, berate or give greater punishment than he deserved. But he knew I was serious about both discipline and looking out for him.  We didn't have a problem with lateness after that.

Too many parents don't take the time to do the hard work of both communicating effectively or setting reasonable boundaries and keeping them. You can be your kids' friend AND their parent but the parenting part always has to come first. And if you do that the friendship part will be even richer and stronger later when they're an adult.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Fighting the Good Fight In Your Marriage

A survey came out this week that suggests the average married couple fights or at least spar with each other seven times a day! That means there are some who must fight more and of course some less.  But the bigger questions seem to be, "How do we fight and why?  What purpose does our arguing accomplish? And are there better ways to handle our conflicts.

Yes, conflict is normal. Every couple has it. Couples who never disagree are likely facing some sort of denial, stonewalling or unhealthy lack of authenticity.

But there are definitely some things we can do to improve our communications at home especially when we're not on the same page. First of all, we need to deal with our personal worth. I've addressed this in other posts but if you believe that your spouse's criticisms of you have to do with your value as a person you will fight to the death to win. Unfortunately you won't fight fairly or effectively. You won't listen, you'll just be on the offensive or defensive the whole time.

The good news is that your value in God's eyes is never about other person's views of you. You can still be the important or valuable person you are whether your spouse agrees with you or not.

Second, communicate upfront more. In the age of cell phones, texting, emails and the like, we need to over-communicate. How many fights are generated because one or the other spouse simply didn't take the time to let the other person know their plans or change of plans, needs, goals, desires or even emergencies?

Do what you can ahead of time to let your spouse know what's going on in your world.  You're a team - that's only fair and right.

Third, learn to communicate your needs, concerns and frustrations in healthier ways. A most helpful tool is what is called speaking in the here and now. We tend during our spats to use phrases like you always or you never or attempt name-calling or comparisons to others to get our way. Each of those methods goes beyond the current problem and actually begins to speak unfairly about the other person's character, before, now and in the future.

Here and now communication is more like this . . . "I was really hurt last night when you talked about my weight in front of our friends."   But many couples would say, I can't believe you put me down last night just like you always do whenever you feel like it. You're just like your dad who doesn't care what he says and who hears it. I'm sick of it."

Healthy communication uses words and phrases that only speak about what is going on now. Then couples work to better understand the other person's feelings and what the other person needs or needed to avoid that feeling so much.

Changing communication patterns takes time and often the help of a counselor or therapist. But if you're arguing seven times a day, even though its supposedly average, I'd seriously consider that there is a better way!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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