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

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Growing Up Too Soon?

Just this week I heard about a woman in California who gives her 8 year old botox injections to help her look better for her pageants. Days later I saw a news story reporting that a major clothing store is offering a push-up bra for little girls.

Now trying to get kids to act and be older than they are is nothing new. It's just that the ages seem to be lowering and the ideas to "mature" the kids are simply more bizarre.

Why the push to grow up?  Some parents clearly want to live as soon as possible through the successes of their kids so they manipulate them to dress older, perform better and take on myriad responsibilities in athletics, music and the like.

Other moms and dads are all about impressions. "My kid is going to be as good or better than yours," even though their admitting that desire is unlikely.

Third, the media (though it's not their job to parent our kids) pitches the prematurity of our children in how they produce today's music, clothing and storytelling.

So, what's the challenge.  Well, there are no rules or guidelines that can work for all children. Kids are unique in their maturity, personalities and ways of responding. However, a couple of principles are in order.

First, let them be kids for awhile. They need some time to have fun, be immature, and not be expected to take on adult responsibilities or characteristics.  Some of the things we ask young ones to do are simply too hard physically and emotionally. Long-term damage may occur. Count the cost.

Second, ask yourself who each event or activity for your child is really for.  Does your child really want to be in that contest, sport or training program?  Would they care if you stopped it?  I realize that sometimes parents have to make decisions that kids aren't mature enough to make but it's different when we're asking them to consider something really beyond their years.

Finally, relax.  Pushing our kids harder before they're ready will not make the difference that gets them into Harvard, medical school or a great job. Lots of kids never even graduate from college and become huge successes.  And isn't the most important thing to help our kids be great people, not just ones with impressive resumes?  So step back, have some fun with your kids and let them do the same.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Marriage Energizers: Some of the Fun Is In The Planning

We've all had the experience of picking up our camera, looking at our watch or grabbing a needed flashlight during a blackout only to discover that the batteries were gone or failing, right?  And then we usually discover that we don't actually have a replacement anyway. Irritating to say the least.

In the same way married people can have their emotional, physical and spiritual batteries worn down as well and periodically we need to recharge them.  How?  By doing things together that allow us and our spouse to spend time together, relax, think about things out of the ordinary and slow down.

The specific activities will of course depend upon the couple so let me simply offer a few basic helps and guidelines.  First, find some things you can do together and places you can go on a fairly regular basis. We like to hike so we've found several books that show us trail options all around central Texas where we live. We read up on the possibilities and then talk about which ones might work best on a given day off.  We generally take a day off every week but the important thing is that we do something like this together on a frequent basis.

When the weather is too hot or too cold, we find other options but we still do something.  And half the fun is in the planning!

Second, dream about and start working on a bigger getaway at least once or twice a year.  Bigger might be just a weekend or it could be a longer vacation.  Bigger might involve going far away or just close to home.  Nonetheless, let it be something that you wouldn't just do on a whim. Make it a next tier event that offers a little more time together and a little more commitment. And remember, half the fun is in the planning.

Third, build some milestone events into your marriage.  Yes, special anniversaries can provide a great incentive but you decide what works for you. And when it comes to planning these are the most fun of all. You can start looking online, at brochures or talking to people about ideas months, even years in advance.  The two of you will actually find that anticipating the trip is really exciting and it gives you something special to look forward to even while you're facing the challenges of every day.

We've been planning a special anniversary trip to Alaska and we're just months away from leaving.  We can't wait but even now we watch specials on TV about Alaska, bought new boots and are trying to figure out what clothes we need for the cruise part. The trip will be great but planning has truly been half the fun.  It's these kinds of energy building events in our marriage that help keep us filled up, connected and able to face the bigger challenges when they come.

How are your marriage batteries?  Don't wake up one day to find out that all of a sudden there's not much charge left. Get your battery chargers out . . . because . . . half the fun is . . . . Well, you know.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Is There a ME in Marriage?

There's a billboard near our house advertising diamonds that says, "She'll owe you big time!"  Of course the idea is that if he buys her their beautiful diamond engagement ring she will be somehow obligated to him later. He'll get something in return for him. Wow. Really?  Now there's a great motive for marriage.

On the other hand, it's a fair question to ask, "When people marry do they totally give up themselves?  Is there no place for ME in my marriage?"  Or to use the old cliche-laden idea, there is an "I" in marriage, isn't there?

Well, as presidents so often like to say, let me be perfectly clear.  Marriages won't make it and really aren't much of a marriage if either or both partners is more concerned about themselves than the other person.  Marriage is truly a union, a spiritual union as I see it, that is more than two people signing a paper, living in the same house and having sex.

It requires an understanding and acting out of sacrificial love, care for each other, the willingness to share hopes, dreams, finances and the future. It involves an emotional and spiritual meshing of two lives where they become better and stronger as one than they ever were separate.

However, they do not and cannot lose their individuality.  Married people don't and shouldn't become some amorphous blob where each person disappears. Let me suggest several ME actions that we as spouses must take if we want to keep our marriages thriving, healthy and growing.

First, we must continue to do those things that fill ME up emotionally, spiritually and physically.  Some of those things we may do together as couples but some we may not.  We need time to think, to read, to ponder, to relax and to plan. When our "tank" is empty we then have less to give to the other person.

Second, we must have freedom and a forum to express ME thoughts and emotions.  This is one that both spouses must encourage, welcome and embrace for the other. Too many couples make little time or rarely give permission for their spouse to be honest, authentic and struggle emotionally.  Some spouses treat other out there ideas from their partner as silly and unrealistic. We're often pretty lame at listening and understanding each other.

Third, we must protect ME if abusive or dangerous situations arise because of our spouse.  There's nothing noble or loving about staying in a home where your life is in danger. In a healthy marriage people don't just take it when things become critical.

Fourth, we must keep affirming our own worth and value.  We may not feel lovable, smart or that we have purpose but we do matter in spite of our past or current circumstances. We may not deserve it in human terms but God's love is bigger than our weaknesses.  Jesus said we must love others as we love ourselves. So we must learn to love ourselves as He loves us, not in some arrogant way but with humble thanks.

In fact, when we feel more confident about who we are we demand less that the other person somehow make us feel good enough.

So you see there is an "I" in marriage and it is worth thinking about ME.  It fact it's vital and important. Just don't make everything at home about ME.  Then you just become a pain.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Who Are We REALLY Worshipping?

There's a lot of internet traffic out there right now about a well-known pastor and outstanding communicator named Rob Bell. Apparently he has a book coming out that says that a loving God would never send people to Hell and as a result Love Wins, the title of his book I believe. Hell is essentially empty.

And while it's tempting to jump into that discussion I'd rather talk about why I think the discussion is going on in the first place.  And I think the reasons do give us something as spouses and parents to consider in our homes and families.

Let me start with a question.  If Rob Bell were not famous, the writer of many books, the principal teacher of numerous videos and a regular conference speaker around the country and world, would we care much about his views on Heaven and Hell?  I doubt it unless we were attending his church or part of his family.

A lot of people care about Bell, however, because he is well known, people look to him for insight and seek out his superb teaching.  And sadly many seem to have also elevated his words, perspectives and even final thoughts on all matters theological equal to those of the Spirit.  And I'm pretty sure that was never Rob's desire nor is it really his fault.

I run into all the time people who also seem close to deifying their favorite speaker, author or teacher: Rick Warren, John Ortberg, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Joel Osteen, John MacArthur, Joyce Meyer . . . the list goes on and on. In their minds what that leader says about anything goes . . . it is THE truth, THE perspective and THE only way to look at the Bible or its implications. The first thing out of many well-meaning Christian's mouths is . . . "Well so and so says . . . " before "This is what the Bible says."

And when that happens we are on shaky ground. Yes, God has given any of us who speak or teach the privilege of teaching the Bible as accurately, clearly and compellingly as possible but none of us has the final word on anything that is not clear and obvious in Scripture. Maybe we've forgotten that.

I wonder if we've not begun to worship more the messenger than the Messiah, the pastor than the Priest, the author than the Ancient of Days.  Do we want to hear the words of the Rob Bell's more than the Word of Life, Jesus Himself?

So that when a Rob Bell stirs the pot about Hell (and he may be totally wrong for all I know), we fear that so many may become confused or led astray because of the thousands of  people who follow and perhaps worship him.  Maybe if we adored our teachers less and our Savior more we wouldn't get so upset when our spiritual heroes aren't quite as perfect as we think.

How about as leaders in our homes we commit right now to keeping our eyes first and foremost on Jesus?  He's the only Savior, the only one who died for the world and the ultimate author of truth.  Teach that, model it and speak about it in your home.  Perhaps we need to do a better job of balancing our own personal study and worship with that of listening to our favorites and expecting them to feed us.

Second, how about we pray more for our leaders, pastors, teachers and preachers that they remain humble, authentic and students of the Word?  Let's let even famous people be human.  Yes, we can challenge and disagree where necessary but we can still respect them as fellow believers and Christ followers.

And finally, let's be loving, no matter what.  We must speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), we must model love, we must show others who are watching that love still guides us.  Because as some pastor once said, "Love wins."
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, March 7, 2011

Learning to Parent in the Still Water

I've never forgotten an illustration that Pastor Gordon McDonald told years ago, one that I've since learned more about firsthand. When you go whitewater rafting they first teach you the proper techniques, commands and responses to trouble when you are on land. Then once you're in the raft they have you practice while you're in the slowly moving water.  The whole idea is to help you get ready for the challenges of the bigger rapids downstream.

It was an important reminder that it's always foolish to wait to learn how to do anything challenging once you're in the middle of the struggle.  The same is true of parenting.  Our kids are going to test us - our patience, our reactions and our perseverance.  So we must do what we can to prepare in the still waters of our homes for what might happen in the class four and five rapids of everyday life.

Of course we can't prepare for every possibility, but we can do our best.  For example, have you decided what you will do when your child misbehaves in a store, restaurant or other public setting?  Do you know what you will do as they push back when you give them a deadline, time or instruction?  If you're married have you and your spouse agreed on common actions and alternatives that you will use together when your children aren't their normal angelic selves?

Now what you do is up to you.  There are a variety of approaches and responses, many of which are best determined by you the parent who know your child best. Discipline ideas and suggestions are for another time.  But I can't say enough about thinking through your options and strategies ahead of time.

First of all, you will be more confident.  Your child will be less likely to try to get you to respond differently if they see that you aren't willing to waver.  Second, you will be more comfortable being out with your kids.  Third, you will have more success in getting them to respond to your guidelines and direction. Finally, you will be less likely to get out of control and to say or do inappropriate things out of mere frustration and anger.

So, get ready for the rough water.  It's up ahead for sure.  But meet it well, knowing that you are as ready as you'll ever be.  It will be worth the time and you just might find those swirling rapids weren't as bad as you thought!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Nobody Wants To Have The Sex Talk, Right?

OK, so we know it's coming but we really hope we can just skip it. Why can't our kids just stay little, innocent and without any urges? Why do we have to talk with our kids about sex when it just makes us red-faced, nervous and nauseous while we're pretty sure they're just as panicked.

Well, first consider the alternatives. They can just learn all their information on their own.  You know, get a healthy view of sexuality from TV, movies and their friends. Not likely. I have two words that should make you think twice about that . . . Charlie Sheen.

Or you can hand them a book and hope they will read it and understand it all.  And yes, they will probably devour that book, maybe even read it several times, but at some point their going to say . . . "What?  Are you kidding me? I thought . . . "  Don't they deserve a little more explanation?

So, while it's a challenge to broach this important subject there is something important and fulfilling about knowing you were likely the most influential person in helping your child understand the facts of life.  And it's important that you start fairly soon.

When?  I would suggest no later than ten or so depending upon your child of course.  But at ten they're starting to wonder and in this culture they are hearing things in school, on the street and of course through the media.  So it's better to risk being early than too late.

Since we had a boy and a girl, my wife and I each took part of a weekend away, her with our daughter and me with our son, and combined both fun and sex ed together.  We used one of a number of excellent sets of recorded talks out there that hit the basics of maturing, adolescence and of course sex.  They were designed to lead to questions and discussion ideas for the two of us to talk about.

It was nice having someone else get the process going rather than just dig in on our own.  We spread out the discussions over a couple of days of shopping, fun activities, swimming at the hotel and the like.  You can then follow up later with other materials that will help them as they mature more.

So is it time for you to set up a weekend or at least get the process started.  Do it whatever way you choose but go for it.  You'll help your kids know what it means to be human and they'll also see a little more humanity in you.  Remember, God made sex so help your kids see it as something special He made for us all to enjoy.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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