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

Friday, December 28, 2012

Giving Up Your Entitlements This New Year

The other day I was watching eager shoppers days after Christmas flooding the stores and malls one more time apparently to either spend their gift cards, return something or find one more deal. It was as though the Christmas rush had never quit.

And of course I can't know what each of those people were doing or thinking. Some may have simply been out trying to enjoy a day with the family. And who doesn't want or need a bargain these days?

But the scene did cause me to wonder how much we think we're entitled to especially in the United States. Do we really think we're entitled to one more gift, the next best whatever or to the stuff our parents or grandparents never had?  And are we going to keep spending lots of time, energy and money to get it all?

Let's face it we live in an entitlement society. And while not all entitlements are necessarily bad such as ones we've actually been promised and earned, many things we enjoy aren't really ours to demand.

Let me suggest a few that perhaps we and our families not only can let go of this year but should release if we want to be healthier and more fulfilled.

Let go of your MORE entitlements. Tell  yourself this year that you don't really need more of anything, at least when it comes to stuff, money, objects and the like. Help your kids learn to say NO and even to give some things away. Make a goal to serve some others with less to help remind you that people can be happy with less.

Let go of the NEW entitlements. This mirrors the first one and makes us want more but we don't always have to have the newest car, computer, TV or other hobby items.

Let go of some of the COMFORT entitlements. Again there is nothing wrong with a massage or manicure or the top of the line hotel room, but do we always have to make our comfort our entitlement?

Let go of some of the entitlements for our KIDS.  Do they always have to do everything, play every sport, be in every activity and have the best teacher?  When will they learn that the world does not revolve around them?

I'm sure you can think of other things that you feel entitled to: being served well, prompt attention, getting your needs met before others.  Make your own list.

But remember that every day we get things, blessings and opportunities that we simply don't deserve from God Himself. Enjoy them, be thankful and leave some gratitude as a major part of your legacy.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Best Christmas Gifts You Could Give Your Family This Year

Most of us have spent countless hours and energy trying to find just the right gift at least for those we love the most. Other gifts have been perhaps more obligatory and in some cases perhaps we didn't even care that much.

However, a number of us have missed some of the most obvious and yet valuable gifts we could ever give. And they don't require huge sums of money, credit card payments or sets of directions. Let me suggest a few.

First, this year give the gift of your time. Gary Chapman suggests in his now classic book, The Five Love Languages, and in various versions of it that focused time is a key way that most people feel loved. So this year give your spouse, your kids, a friend or neighbor some meaningful time with you. Time doing what?  It depends on the person but it might include conversation (especially listening), doing something they like, just focusing on them for a while.

Second, this year give the gift of the story.  The what?  Yes, the story.  First, share the Christmas story.  That is the holiday, isn't it?  Christmas, Jesus, the manger, the splitting of the calendar - it all happened. It's the core of history and yet most of our movies and Christmas specials are only about reindeer, Santa, lights and presents.  But secondly, tell some more of your own stories.  Perhaps talk about Christmases you enjoyed or special events in your life when you were growing up.

Third, this year give the gift of less.  Christmas sadly has become all about us and often we give our kids more and more so they expect more and more. Try giving less to them and together offer more to others. Give some of your money away to a non-profit or overseas mission or charity. Buy a goat, pig or cow for someone in a deprived country so they can have sustenance all year long. Places online like World Vision and Samaritan's Purse make it easy to do.

Fourth, this year give them some new memories.  The above three suggestions might be a start. But perhaps you could add some new Christmas light viewing, a story time with special treats or a movie that you've not seen before about Christmas. One of our favorites is The Polar Express and it has some interesting spiritual overtones that are worth noting and talking about.

Use your own creativity but my hunch is that it will be these things that your family remembers far longer than any special material gift.  And you don't have to wrap them!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Some Sensible Lessons To Learn During Tragedy

We're all still reeling, aren't we, from the horrific shooting of innocent children and adults this week in Connecticut.  And naturally all sorts of questions are already being asked about the shooter, his motives and of course why could this have happened in the first place.  And for now we must wait for those with the greatest expertise and most knowledge to come up with those answers and not suggest our own trite or uninformed responses as tempting as that might be.

But I think there are some things we must re-visit and hopefully continue to learn from as we walk through these unexplainable events that seem to be plaguing our country and world more of late. Let me suggest a few.

First, evil is real and something more than the occurrence of bad things or the actions of bad people. While some things can be explained by mental illness, events of the past or a terrible upbringing, not everyone who experiences those things goes out and kills the innocent. Evil takes these humans to another level that goes beyond any sense of decency, normalcy or compassion for others. Evil comes from a source beyond our world, from Satan himself, whose ultimate goal is to devour, kill and destroy.

If there is no God and no Satan, then the actions of these deviant ones are merely genetic and the bad results of evolution. Our grief and sense of loss are the same. It's all just chemistry. But who wants to make that argument today?  Does it make any sense?  Not really.

It's why faith involvement, training and relationship is still essential to us and our culture. Yes, we want to be a country where all views are respected, but we must never allow expressions of faith and the use of faith principles to be completely removed from our classrooms, public squares and discussions in general.

Second, death for many has become unreal or fantasy. No, I'm not going to suggest that we should remove all violent video games or that video games directly cause these tragedies, but parents ought to quit letting their kids and teens keep playing them indiscriminantly. They have turned killing into a game where the people get back up again to play again.  But Hollywood and other media should also be challenged to quit making the death of someone easy without remorse or consequence in their programs and films.

We must change our culture back to a society of life, good and hope from one of easy death and destruction.

Third, we must remember that God is still in charge.  The question that is surely being asked over and over is, "Why would God allow this to happen?"  And none of us has the whole answer to that but we can certainly know part of the truth on it. God gave mankind a choice as to whether we would follow Him or not. He never planned on making us into robots.

As a result, many people choose to embrace their own way, their own choices and ultimately Satan's evil desires over God's. And when those choices get carried to their logical end, very bad things happen. Does God ever intervene?  Of course. Probably more than we know. He has certain results in mind that we won't ever understand in this life.  He does miracles all the time. Sometimes we see them, sometimes not.

But God wasn't looking the other way. I'm sure He's more sad than we are. And I'm confident He will still do something good with all of this. He always does.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Lessons Learned From My Grandchildren

This past week my wife Jackie and I got to enjoy something for the very first time. We were together with all four of our grandsons at once. While the oldest is more than five we've never been able to all be in one place so this was a pretty special time.

And while there are lots of great memories I could share with you perhaps the most profound things I could say are little thoughts or impressions I had while watching or interacting with them.

First, each child is unique. We must never expect them to be the same. One is more shy, another speaks non-stop, a third likes to read while the next would rather play with trains. The shy one likes to wrestle, though, while the talker loves football. The reader also likes Angry Birds but the train engineer is also friends with everyone.

Uniquenesses in children can be frustrating but they must be celebrated. God made each one his own person and their specialness is to be enjoyed.

Second, love is real and more than a chemical reaction. Most grandparents like us find themselves overflowing with love for their grandchildren. You can't help but have great affection and a desire to do or give anything for them. The toughest of men or the most callous of women suddenly melt when those little ones walk through the door.

And yet some would suggest that we all just somehow got here without any role of a Creator. My question? How then do we explain something like love?  Is it just the physical result of our ever evolving structure over the years?  Is what I feel just reaction of various chemicals making their way through my brain or other physical system?

Third, time with family is precious. I don't know when we'll all be together again. It's not easy to arrange a week like we just had. It could be years for all we know. One of us could be gone before the next time. And yet so many families take these gatherings for granted or are fighting over the most petty of issues and can't enjoy being together at all. Perhaps we need to see the time we do get more as gold rather than Kryptonite.

As Christmas approaches we all probably have opportunities to connect with family. If so, embrace each child uniquely, pour on the love and value the time. You won't have it forever.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, November 23, 2012

From Greed to Gratefulness This Year

Some woman was sitting in front of a Best Buy days before the holiday to save $240 on a television set on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. Really? She gave up family time, a meal with those she loves and who knows what else all for a couple hundred dollars.

Of course that's a pretty extreme example, but I wonder how many of us really think about the messages we're sending to our kids, spouses and selves that really say, "You know, this Thanksgiving thing is really all about me getting what I want when I want it."  While we might suggest that we're really grateful people (and most of us probably are), are we still saying that it's not enough?

Sure, some people like the fun, tradition and the fact that maybe they really did get a good deal. And there's nothing inherently wrong in any of that. But why do we have to have that during a holiday that we call Thanksgiving? Couldn't we stop for a few days and truly be thankful, talk about how blessed we are and not have to have the next bigger, better, cheaper or even more expensive thing?

I wonder if a lot of the dysfunction and even emotional struggle in our country isn't because we have forgotten how to be thankful and grateful for what we have. Have we isolated ourselves that much from people not far from us as well as those around the world who have next to nothing and yet are probably happier than we are in many ways?

Can I suggest a few alternatives this year?  First, just skip all the drastic bargain hunting. Stay home, enjoy the days off and truly spend some time thanking God for your blessings.  Enjoy some things that are really priceless like time with people you love.

Second, cut back on Christmas gifts. If you have to spend money, give it away or go make someone else's holiday that much better. Find a mission agency and buy something for someone in another country that will make them ongoing income throughout the year. Give each family member a small amount of money and see who can get the most for someone else in the family with that little bit. I'll bet you'll remember that Christmas like never before.

Third, decide on some ways you can live differently all year long.  Christmas is just around the corner. Other sales, holidays, birthdays and random moments will beckon us to spend money on more things we don't really need and miss opportunities to bless someone in need. Why not commit to helping your family learn what it means to feel really alive by giving more away than we get?

Remember the things our kids learn best are those we model most. Think about how to model things that will last not just a lifetime but an eternity.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Putting Protective Locks on Your Marriage

If you know me or regularly read my posts you know that I travel to Russia a good big.  I was there two weeks ago as a matter of fact. However, I saw something on a recent trip that I'd never seen before. On the Luzhov Bridge over a canal there are these "trees" of locks where newlyweds come a place their own lock on their wedding day.

I don't know all the symbolism behind them but they apparently come expressing their commitment to each other in one more way to each other.  I like that picture and the trees are pretty cool, too.

Perhaps more of us need to think about locks that we should place on our marriage commitment.  Yes, some will immediately think that locking one's marriage means confinement, authority and a lack of freedom but read on because that's not the goal at all.

A lock also implies protection. We put locks on our houses, safes and garages.  We lock our cars with special electrical systems. We lock the things that we care the most about.

So what might locks on a marriage look like. First, I think it means you lock out inappropriate relationships. That means men don't build deep friendships with other women and vice versa. The potential for deeper involvement is high and dangerous.  Intimacy should be reserved for your spouse.

It's also wise to lock out a schedule without margin. Too many couples and families simply have too little time for each other or for spontaneous time to just enjoy one another. We're married to our calendars, our outside activies, work and hobbies. We need moments when we can talk and just enjoy the many things and people in our lives.

We need to also lock in  spiritual growth and training. If we're honest there is more to life than stuff. There is a world around us, made by a Creator who longs to know us, live in us and show us our purpose here. If we're just busy and avoid the spiritual we miss what really makes us alive.

Finally, lock in serving others and not just ourselves. Teaching our kids to serve plus serving with our spouse provides new persepctive about life, what we have and what we don't need. It will help you build memories that will last a lifetime and change you in the process.

So perhaps you and your spouse need to go put a lock somewhere this weeek or weekend. Have a little ceremony reminding each other what you're committed to.  That way if you want to have a great marriage, it will be a lock!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Our Kids Often Hear Things We Didn't Intend

Recently our three-year-old grandson Liam had his hands over his ears and announced to us all, "You can't hear me!"  Of course he just had things a bit confused, pretty normal for a little guy his age.

However, Liam's actions could be a description of many parents and the way they talk in their homes. They say things to one another believing that their kids never hear their comments or they make remarks that they believe won't bother their children. In both cases they are usually wrong. They can hear you much of the time.

Why?  Well sometimes they're in the house and actually hear what we say. Their radar is often tuned for the sound of our voice or sometimes they intentionally get close enough to us when we're not looking to hear what we say about them. And in those moments, intentionally or not, we sometimes send the message that they aren't smart or good enough or as gifted as a sibling.

Other times, we are speaking directly to them intending to say one thing but they hear something else. For example, we say that one of the kids is particularly talented in some skill, sport or academic area. We don't mean to slight the other but that's how they take it.  "What about me?" they may think.

Third, they may hear things indirectly that we've said about them through someone else.  We may have told an aunt, grandparent, neighbor or church leader something negative about them and all of a sudden our cute or clever story gets back to our child. All they know is that we were talking about them and they think the worst.

Of course, we live in a culture where telling kids they are wonderful, bright, talented and a winner is often overdone. I'm not suggesting we encourage that kind of overblown praise.  But we do need to be wise and careful about our words.

Always make sure your kids are out of earshot when you have to have hard conversations about them, their schoolwork or talents. Be careful what stories and tales you tell others. Ask yourself what you child might think if that story came back to them.

Consider the words you use when you talk to one child about their abilities and not another. Be sure to find talent and ability in both kids even though their skills may be very different. My sister and I both tried art and music but we clearly went different directions when we got older. My parents figured that out thankfully.

Proverbs wisely tells us in chapter 18, "Death and life are in the power of the tongue."  Remember the power of your words this week. They matter.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, November 2, 2012

Oh, How Much We Have! Teach It At Home.

I just returned from my fifteenth trip to Russia. I went with a terrific team of Americans to serve and lead a worship and church leadership conference in Moscow. I could tell you lots of stories about how God worked there, relationships that we will treasure forever or ways the Russian people blessed us perhaps more than we helped them.

However, what I want to focus on in this post is the reminder we all received again of how much we really have in this country and often do not appreciate. Even in a huge city like Moscow, one of the two most prosperous cities in the country, the differences to our lifestyle are striking.

For example, most everything you have to do there is hard, at least much harder than most of us are used to.  It's hard just to cross a major street there. You may have to go down twenty-five stairs or more on one side, walk through a long tunnel and then climb back up the same number of stairs on the other side. Or if you can cross on the surface, the street may be filled with trolley tracks, holes and uneven pavement, not to mention an errant driver who refused to stop.

It's also hard to move from place to place. If you have a car you will probably crawl along in traffic much of the day. If you are relegated to public transportation your trip will likely take 45 - 90 minutes each way or more and involve the Metro (subway), bus and/or trolley.  And from October through May it will be cold, rainy, cloudy, snowy and/or windy most days.

It's also hard to buy the things you need for basic life. While more larger stores are popping up in Moscow, it is still difficult to purchase all you need in one place for one meal or to get that small little item you need to fix something at home or that you need for your wardrobe.

The list goes on.  It's hard to complete paperwork, register for things, exchange money, get a bank account. It's hard to get to fun things to do or to just find places to play with your children. It can be hard to find good medical care or someone to help in an emergency.

Yes, we all have our hard days and some of us have major obstacles to overcome even here in the U.S. But it's always good for us to remember how much better we have it than most of the world. And we probably won't appreciate our better circumstances until we go somewhere and actually experience how others have to live. In fact, if you know missionaries or others who work in countries overseas, you might especially pray for them or send them a note or CARE package of encouragement.

And if you're a parent teach your kids to appreciate how blessed they are. Go on a missions trip sometime when you can. Go serve some people who live hard lives. Thankfulness is a virtue many families and individuals have lost in this country. Perhaps we can help keep it alive. Our family and country will be better off if we do.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, October 12, 2012

Something Fundamental Missing in Most Troubled Marriages

Remember your wedding day?  Can you still recite your vows?  Whether you know them word for word, you probably recall promising to love, cherish, and honor each other until the day you died. You meant well. You hoped that would happen and more.

But many of us know that things change. And while we still try to love each other we know there are way more fights or at least major disagreements that often become hurtful and harmful. We don't know why we spar over the little stuff or why our spouse irritates us so much.

Well, there are lots of factors when it comes to our conflicts but there is one that is especially worth considering.  It's what I call the Identify Factor. Most of us have a case of mistaken identity. We think that our spouse will fulfill us, do or say enough things everyday that will make us feel whole and important.  And while we should attempt to love our spouses, encourage them and build them up we can never be enough for them.

However, many couples struggle with arguing and fighting over some of the dumbest things. Why? Well, it's often because they are fighting for their worth, not about what restaurant they should go to or whether one of them picked the right outfit for little Suzanna. We go at it with the one love because they are not agreeing with us or telling us about something we might have done better and that only reinforces that, yes, we really aren't OK.

But if you're a Christ follower, you ARE OK in God's eyes. Jesus died so that we could be OK again. And there are five things we must be reminded are always true of us once we join God's family.  Let me tell you what they are: We are loved, we matter, we have purpose, we are forgiven and we're a child of God.

On any given day those things are always true. And since they are then when we approach our spouse to talk and they need to say something difficult to us or we aren't on the same page we don't have to win. We are freer to say tell me more or I'm sorry I responded the way I did or let's figure out how to make the best decision here about the kids (or whatever).

Our messed up identify has all sorts of implications: how we will do our work, how we will react to difficulties and even how we parent. If you've been trying to improve you marriage and have even gotten counseling but can't seem to put any new ideas into place, consider your identity. You just might be mistaken about it. Thankfully, God has a better offer for you.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, October 5, 2012

Help Your Family Discover True Riches

I read recently that Mark Zuckerburg, founder of Facebook, only wears T-shirts and jeans most of the time. And I suppose when you're that successful you can wear whatever you want.  Nonetheless, it's kind of interesting that this billionaire goes around looking like some average college student. You would never know how rich he is by his clothing choices.

But more importantly I wonder if our children, especially here in America, know how rich they really are.  Sure, we may not have millions or billions in our bank accounts or stocks, but we truly are wealthy in so many ways. And it's vital that we remind one another at home of that.

For example, we're rich financially in comparison to the majority of the world. We often spend on one pair of shoes what much of the world earns in a week, month or year. We spend billions in this country on things that many people don't even know exist nor would they think matters like massages, make-up, sports memberships and television.

Secondly, we're rich because of our freedoms. Travel to many other foreign countries and you'll discover how monitored and regulated their worlds are. Many countries allow the police to stop you for no good reason or to keep you from saying anything negative about the government. Some places would never allow a church to be built or even meet.

Third, we're rich because of our opportunities. Yes, we're struggling a bit on the economic front but there are still myriad ways for people to succeed, expand their knowledge and live out a dream here.

Fourth, we're rich because of our faith in God.  Too many people have no purpose, meaning or hope in this life. Remind your kids often that God is a God of hope who placed us on this earth to do something that matters and makes a difference.

So whether you consider yourself wealthy or not, have the house or other possessions you've wanted, you really are rich. So think and live like it - even if you only wear T-shirts.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Role Of Prayer in A Troubled Marriage

Ryan and Diana are ready to call it quits on their marriage. Married only eight years with 2 young children, they don't see any way to save the union that they promised less than a decade ago to protect and cherish until death parted them.

Now the only thing they want is something else and relief. The arguments, loneliness and lack of closeness are now a dark cloud that neither of them wants to stand under any longer.

They've talked with a lawyer and are already acting as though the relationship is finished.  They just live in the same house.

And there are thousands of couples just like them. They sense there is no hope so they've given up. And while if you asked them if they ever prayed about their problems they would probably say "every day," it's possible that they've still missed out on an opportunity in prayer that could save their marriage.

And if Ryan and Diane, who are not real, could be your marriage then I want to ask you to consider one more thing before you call it quits. Would you and your spouse be willing to call a truce for thirty days so that you can very intentionally and purposefully pray for your marriage?

By truce I mean that you lay aside any talk of divorce. You also quit talking down to or about each other. You live in your home as civilly as possible and begin to treat each other with respect, at least for the time being.

And then you commit every day to pray passionately and specifically for yourself and your spouse.  What do you pray for?  Here are some possibilities:

Pray for truth in each other. Jesus said that the truth will set you free.  So pray that God will reveal in each of you things that you individually or together need to change or deal with.

Second, pray for a softening of each other's hearts. There is probably lots of anger, resentment and bitterness but God is a big God.  Give Him a chance to touch you both. Pray for yourself as well as your spouse.

Third, pray for hope. Pray that each of you can get beyond the past and commit to doing the hard things it will take to change the future. Remember God is a God of second chances and each of you deserve that.

Finally, pray for the right people to come around you and help you move forward.  Pray for 30 days with the last few days including some prayer together. I realize there are no guarantees that you will both still decide to move forward. But if you've never really asked God for help and to give you the strength for a miracle, you'll never know if one could have happened.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Powerful Oxymoron For Every Parent.

You know what an oxymoron is, right? It's two words put together that are actually opposites. For example, jumbo shrimp or pretty ugly or living dead. Well, there is one I've coined over the years that has significant implications for parenting.

The oxymoron is firm nonchalance.  Let me explain. Every wise parent needs to set fair, clear boundaries for their children. If bedtime is 9 then we ought to hold to that other than some special exceptions. If you ask kids to do a chore you ought to follow through and see that it's done. If you expect a child to do his or her homework before playing you need to make sure that happens.

That's the firm part.

The problem is that too many parents try to enforce or reinforce the firmness with anger or the loud sound of their voice. Ryan, haven't I told you five times now to pick up your toys!  Carissa, don't make me come in there and drag you out of the room!  Why won't you do what I say when I ask you to?

This is where the nonchalance comes in. At the first request for Ryan to pick up his toys, the wise parent says, Ryan, did you hear me? Look at me. You need to pick those toys up now. Ryan responds, But mom, I just need to finish this section of the Legos.

Wise parent calmly but firmly replies, Ryan, I need you to do that now. Ryan: Mom, that's just not fair. You're so mean. Wise mom: I guess I am tonight. Sorry but you still need to pick up your toys.

You keep the boundaries but leave the extra emotion to the side.

Now I realize this isn't a perfect system but trust me, staying cool, but firm, accomplishes way more than going ballistic.  If your kids know there is a point where you'll blow a gourd anyway they will learn to wait for that moment because that's when they know you are serious.

Don't give them that option. Let them know you can keep your cool but you mean it.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Having KIds Who Still Love The Little Things

The other night my wife Jackie and I attended a AAA baseball game here in Austin. If you're not that familiar with the structure of baseball, AAA is the level just below the major leagues, in our case the Texas Rangers. Nonetheless, it's a fun night at a very nice ballpark but you won't see many current stars at a game like this unless they are trying to come back from an injury.

Anyhow, we were sitting down the third base line in the 4th row and there was a young boy, maybe 10 or 11, there with his grandpa. He had his baseball glove with him and like most young boys hoped he would catch a foul ball. However, in these games the players coming off the field will often throw the ball they caught and ended the inning with to one of the kids in the stands.

Every inning this young man called out to the players hoping a ball would come his way. But every inning he was disappointed . . . until the 8th inning when one of the players saw him and threw his ball right into the kid's glove. You should have seen his face. You would have thought this was the best day of his life. And maybe it was. It doesn't matter.

What struck me was how special that ball was to him. It was no big deal, really. These weren't major league players, at least not yet, and of course the ball wasn't signed. It probably only cost a few dollars to the team. But it was gold to that young man.

And I found myself thinking how few kids, at least in our middle to upper class neighborhoods have learned the joy of getting something as simple as a baseball. When so many young people get hundreds of dollars spent on them every Christmas, birthday and new school year, and they have entitled access to the best of computers, iPads and video games, why would something so insignificant as a ball matter?

So how do we teach our kids to appreciate the little things and to be thankful for what they have?  First, don't give them so much. That sounds pretty easy and it is, but our kids need to live in a world of enough not more if they are going to learn the value of things. Cut back on how much they have, let them work a little more for at least part of some of the bigger purchases and help them practice living with only two or three of something instead of ten.

Second, expose them to other cultures and settings where people don't have much at all. Those places may be across town or the ocean but we will open the eyes of our kids to situations they didn't know existed where people live every day wishing for one new piece of clothing or just enough to eat.

Third, give them opportunities to serve others. Start early modeling that real life is found more in giving and serving than getting and taking. Help them find ways to give some of their stuff away and experience the joy of watching someone else smile like I saw that young man smile at the game.

Is it any wonder that we live in a country where entitlements are such a big deal?  Maybe we can help our kids to learn in the next decade or two that true life is found more in what we give than what we have.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, August 25, 2012

When and Why Do Our Heroes Fall?

Well, it looks like Lance Armstrong's explanations have run out. He appears to be guilty of doping during the years he was winning cycling's greatest race. A lot of us have been let down again, haven't we? I used to live in Austin, Texas, Lance's hometown. Ugh.

And while many will still support him and others will want him crucified, I plan to do neither. But it is worth a look at why our heroes fall so much of the time and how we should respond. What can we learn that puts it all into perspective and reminds us of what is really true?

I mean how many times will we have to sigh huge sighs when another Tiger or U.S. senator or famous minister or movie star takes a personal or moral dive? Probably lots because it will happen again and again. So we need to re-think some things about what a hero really is and the kind of role they should or should not play in our lives.

First of all, there is a place for heroes. They are good to have as long as we don't worship them. Heroes can give us healthy role models to emulate, standards to aspire to and the inspiration to work harder at what we want to accomplish.

But second, we have forgotten that heroes are human just like us. While many of them truly do amazing things and accomplish feats few will copy, they still mess up. They lie, cheat and even steal sometimes. They never were what we probably believed them to be: superhuman? invincible? perfect?  No, their humanity doesn't excuse their often pitiful behavior, but it shouldn't surprise us.  It wouldn't shock us if we initially assumed that they were just everyday people who just happened to be very disciplined and accomplished.

Third, popularity and fame are dangerous entities and the human tendency is to hold on to them no matter the cost. Once the seduction of being sought after, winning all the time and enjoying the myriad perks takes hold, it's difficult to admit anything that could force someone to let go of it all. It seems like Lance finally tired of the charade. Most people just eventually get caught in the act and have no choice. Either way it's ultimately better but there is always a fight and there are always consequences.

Fourth, we need to find and recognize better heroes. And the good news is that they are all around us. They are parents who love their kids even when times are tough, they are service men and women along with police and firefighters who protect us. They include people with disabilities and other challenges who persevere and live meaningful lives anyway. They are giving men and women who serve others in soup kitchens, ministries, churches and agencies out of love for their God and others.

Yes, while there will be others who we've deemed as heroes who will fall, we will be less disappointed if we remember that the ones typically given the title of hero are not. Most of the real heroes will never be famous or rich or write a book, star on TV or play in the Super Bowl. But once we find those genuine heroes, they will change us and be less likely to ever let us down.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Putting Some Healthy Limits on Technology

A popular big-city restaurant recently offered its customers a 5% discount on their meal tab if they would turn in their smart phone for the duration of their stay in the restaurant. Apparently about sixty percent of the customers have accepted the offer. And I have a hunch some very good things have happened during those meals.

I would guess that couples are talking to each other more. They are more likely to be engaging in each other's lives and learning things they should have known but did not.

I would think that families are having more fun together and coming up with special ways to enjoy the moments they have with each other before their food arrives. Children probably have time to tell stories about their day or week and parents have more opportunity to just enjoy the spontaneous laughter and insights their children initiate when talked to and listened to intentionally.

Who knows what other good results will happen but it sure seems like they will be worth it, much more than the five percent discount.

Of course, it's not that technology is bad. I love it. It keeps me learning,  helps me organize my week and to stay in touch with other important people in my life. But it can subtly steal relationship from us, especially during meals and other places where our family is together. I've often seen husbands and wives or dads and a child sitting in silence during their time together in a restaurant, focused on their phone or newspaper. When will they ever get that moment back?  Probably never.

When did phone calls, often inane comments on a website from friends and updates on sports scores become so necessary and important?  We live a lot of life as though we will miss something important and be scarred forever.

The biggest scars,  however, will be those left in children and spouses where a cell phone became more important than they were in the eyes of those they love. We are hurting ourselves and our families when we let the mundane take precedence over the eternal.

So maybe more of us would be wise to put the phone aside at key times during the day, especially when in the company of our family. Who knows?  You might even get a little something knocked off your bill?

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Myth of Having the Smartest Kids

Have you heard that the Baby Einstein products really don't help kids much? Yep, recent research shows that much of what they claim to do really doesn't happen and in fact can even hinder intellectual growth.

And to think that we might not have the advantages we thought we would have over other parents and their children?

Well, relax. It's probably not that big of a deal. Yes, we should do what we can to help our kids have a healthy learning environment, learn under qualified and able teachers and develop study skills that will assist them in getting the most out of their education

But perhaps this recent research is a good reminder that much of a child's learning comes from more foundational experiences than Baby Einstein, Sesame Street and preschool gymnastics. Let me suggest a few.

First of all read to and with your children. Healthy minds are still stirred and developed through creative imagination, regular practice and caring relationships. Too many parents these days have given over the pleasure and specialness of having time with their children exploring the world through books, pictures and stories.

Second, give them opportunities to play. Play is another arena where children have opportunities to creatively stretch their minds, think logically and solve problems. Just watching a video or TV program that does all that for them defeats the purpose and often steals learning from them.

Third, expose them often to the outdoors. Go hiking, exploring and even exercising outside where they can see the beauty of what God has made and the wonders of creation.  Take vacations where you stop and soak in an incredible mountain view, golden forest or powerful waterfall.

Teaching a child is a glorious experience, one that we dare not only relegate to games, videos and dolls. In fact, it's possible that we may be wasting our money in the stores and would do better to spend it doing more things together. Maybe Baby Einstein isn't so smart after all.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, August 6, 2012

Don't Live LIfe With Tinted Windows

I live in Austin, Texas where the summer high averages in the mid to upper 90's. That means a lot of days can be well over 100. So like a lot of people who live in the south our cars are all air-conditioned, the stores keep the temperatures very cool and most of the car windows are significantly tinted to help maximize the cooling.

However, I've noticed something about tinted windows in automobiles. It makes it hard to see who is in someone's car. I remember not that long ago being able to wave to people I knew in parking lots and neighborhoods. But now the tinted windows keep me from knowing who is in that vehicle. I'm sure some people wonder why I don't wave when I'm only a few feet away.

Unfortunately, it's easy for us to live life as though we have tinted windows on us!  We can act like we really don't want people to see who we are, notice our faults and get into our challenging world. We'd much of the time just rather keep things nice, safe and to ourselves.

However, there are problems with living that way. Let me suggest a few.

First, we miss out on true intimacy and friendship with others. If we never bare our souls then we never enjoy the care, love and compassion another might show us. We keep things bottled up and it only raises our anxiety causing us to miss out on the understanding of another that we deeply long for inside.

Second, people miss out on seeing the real us. Instead they just get a facade. We may try to present ourselves as always together and happy but we know better. And frankly, others close to us really want to the real us, not the pretend one. In fact, all of us love to know that someone is struggling with many of the same things we are.

Third, we miss out on some of the growth that occurs in us when we're honest and open about our faults, limping and struggle. When we hide our stuff we don't give others the chance to help us get better, to see our blind spots and to take our skills and abilities to the next level.  God sees us as we are and He still loves us. Let others do the same.

So while sometimes we do need to protect ourselves in relationships, don't stay isolated. Let some people see into your life. They can help make you better, stronger and healthier. And when you do open yourself up you will probably help others. They probably need you too!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, July 27, 2012

Preparing for Life When The Kids Are Gone

Most parents who have children can't imagine life without them. But unless we die early we are all going to experience the empty nest at some point.  Unfortunately many parents never prepare.

Instead, they spend eighteen or more years living life around their children and work. Children's activities require constant attention, taxiing and expenses. Work of course takes a significant amount of time and energy every week.

Perhaps there's a break for a week or two of vacation. But then the process starts all over again.

But what about mom and dad?  Will they ever learn to spend meaningful, fun and anticipated time together?  In many cases, no. That takes thought, planning and work.

So instead, the last child heads off to college or a family and mom and dad sit across from each other with no clue how to enjoy each other. Or they simply sit in front of the television and plan to die.

There is a better way.

Start living as a couple now. You probably did it for a few months or better yet years before the kids came along. From the time you started dating until that first baby arrived you were most likely great friends who talked, went out together, planned fun times and couldn't wait for the next time.

For some reason we think though that when kids enter the scene all that has to end. Now granted, it's more difficult. But we're making a huge mistake when our children become the center of their and our universe.

Instead we would be far wiser to keep making time together a high priority. You can still date if you work at it. You can still find time away if your plan well. As I've said other place planning is half the fun. In fact, it's not that you can't afford to be together, you can't afford NOT to be together.

Your kids need to see you making each other a priority or they'll do the same when they get married. They need to know they're not the center of the known universe. Life in not all about them.

So start right away. Put time for you as a couple on your calendar. Sure, there are limits and times when it will be harder but when the time comes for your kids to leave you'll be more OK with it and healthier in the process.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Our Kids Will Be Like Us . . . At Least In Some Ways

Some of us are old enough to remember the classic ballad The Cats In The Cradle by Harry Chapin. The song hauntingly tells the tale of a father who was too busy for his son during his growing up years. But when the son became an adult he also was too busy for his dad and it turns out the son had become just like his dad.

Most of us want our kids to think highly of us, be like us in some ways and feel like they learned some important things about life, faith and what is really important. But we must remember that our kids will also learn things that we'd rather they didn't emulate.  And if we're wise we'll remember that truth as we raise our kids and be willing to stop a few things that they may bring into their home someday.

Let me suggest a few.

Stop using language you don't want them to use. Sure we all have our moments when a word or phrase slips out in the heat of our anger or frustration. But some parents have made dirty, caustic language the norm. They barely raise their voice about something and an expletive or two flies out. Maybe we don't aim those words at our children, but they hear them nonetheless. You can express even your emotions with language that still builds up and helps calm the situation rather than ignite it.

Stop living a life without margin. If you never rest, slow down or take it easy your kids won't either, at least as they get older. They will think that success and self-worth come from accomplishments and busyness rather than from the Creator who made them. They won't learn how to develop healthy, meaningful relationship and how to enjoy other people without having an agenda. Learn to say "no" and help your kids understand the same thing.

Stop suggesting that your faith is more about religion than relationship. Quit going to church because that's what you do on the weekend. Quit implying that your Bible reading and prayer are mere rituals that you do at the appropriate time but rarely discuss as meaningful, real and life-changing. Serve others more, become involved in your local fellowship and teach your kids yourself about the Bible, your faith and your relationship with God.

Stop just trying to get more stuff - more money, house, cars or whatever. Your kids will quickly learn what is most important by how you spend your resources. Do you spend most of your energy to get more or give more? Have you been subtly modeling that happiness most likely comes from having the most of everything?  Show them that less is more, especially when you're focused on others and not yourselves.

You see, your kids WILL be like you in some way. And most of us adults know that there are some things we are happy our parents taught us. But there are others we wish would never have reared their heads in our homes. The good news is that if your kids are still at home you have a chance to limit that negative list. Do something about it now.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Power and Privilege of A Hug

Did you hear about the woman who started a business called The Huggery?  For sixty dollars she'll snuggle with you for an hour. She says she's right up front about what this is and is not, but I still wonder about how that works.

Whatever the case, she says that lots of people out there just need to be close to someone. I guess you could say this is a form of a hug. And yes, we all do need to be touched to survive well emotionally. Most of us know about the studies of infants where those who were held and cuddled had their health and well-being improve dramatically.

So while I don't suggest we start our own cuddling/snuggling business there are some ways we might connect through touch better at home.

First of all, cuddle with your spouse. Yes, guys, cuddle. That can take lots of forms from holding hands to sitting close on the couch to giving a long-lasting hug. And no, I don't mean the kind of touch that has to lead to more. Just be close.

Second, give more hugs. Of course, hugs toward the opposite sex should be appropriate and careful, but we don't have to eliminate them. Where we lived for eight years in Texas hugs are the norm and they make a difference in how people feel especially when they feel alone or discouraged.

Third, don't be afraid to touch your older kids in affectionate ways. Young children are easy. We pick them up all the time and often hug, wrestle or play on the floor. But teens are different story. When my son as an adolescent was getting to be about my height I would purposely claim that he wasn't as tall as me. So he would naturally ask my wife to compare us as we stood back to back.

I would put my arms behind my back and pretend to pull him close for measuring but I was really getting a hug. He just didn't know it. (That didn't last long by the way, but it worked for a while.)  Our kids need to be able to enjoy the simple, caring touch of a parent who truly cares about them.

You see, in our fast-paced, busy worlds, touch can become a thing of the past if we're not careful. So as the old commercial used to say, Reach out and touch someone.  It does matter.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Sometimes With Our Kids We Have To Let Go

In three days our hearts are going to break - again. No, there's no divorce or funeral or rejection letter coming that I know of at least. Rather, my daughter, son-in-law and two of our grandsons (almost one and three) will be moving from a home fifteen minutes away to over six hours from us.

The two adult kids that we love and their boys who we watched be born, babysat and played with often will suddenly be in another city that requires a good part of a day to reach.

We won't be able to just get in the car last minute and drop by, invite them over for dinner or take the boys to the mall for an hour or two of fun.

Why the move? Well, Amy and David will be involved in a ministry to college students at Texas Tech. They will be making a difference in the lives of students who need God's direction and involvement in their worlds.  They will be loving on people they way we would want our kids to, they will be doing something that matters for eternity. Who in the world doesn't want to see their children grow up to be world-changers?

To be honest, years ago we did the same thing to our parents and to this day don't live nearby either of our moms who are still living. Yes, they had some years like we did being near us and our children but I'm sure they wanted more. We do too. But there are no guarantees. Sometimes we have to let go so that our offspring can be all that God intended for them to be.

In fact a lot of parents never let go even when the kids are nearby. They expect the same involvement every weekend or holiday, they continue to make decisions for them and even obligate them to stay close through large loans or gifts of money and other resources.

The reality is that our children were merely on loan to us in the first place. And yes we have a right to long for and enjoy those years we do get to be near them. We plan to do as much as we can to be involved in our kids and their kids' lives during the years ahead. But we dare not stand in the way or use guilt or other manipulations to somehow keep everyone together. That's usually more about our getting our own way than about letting our kids fly and blossom wherever God calls them to be.

There are several haunting and poignant verses about this in the Gospels, one of which is found in Matthew 10:37, a portion of which says, Anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. I like to joke that it doesn't include grandsons or granddaughters but that misses the point.

Sometime God may ask us to accept the fact that He may want our kids to go somewhere that is not near us. God may ask them to even go overseas. And our faith and commitment will be stretched like never before. Thankfully, technology is allowing us to connect in ways we didn't even dream about a few years ago. 

Nonetheless, the tears will still come and the lump in the throat may persist for awhile. It won't be the same as having them down the street or in the next community. But it will be worth it and God will honor our sacrifice. Let's not mess up the great things God wants to do in the precious children He gave us by simply refusing to let go of the rope we've had around them all these years.

Remember, God had to let go of His Son for awhile, too.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Danger In Doing Too Much For Our Kids

There are few parents out there who don't want to give their kids the best of everything - education, opportunities and experiences. Many of us who didn't have that much growing up certainly want our children to have more than we did. And there is nothing wrong with that perspective and goal.

However, as I look around at a lot of society today, I see many parents who perhaps are offering their children too much and as a consequence can cause harm rather than help. Summer is a great example. Once school is over kids are off to one week of camp, two weeks of sports tournaments, another week of lessons, a summer seminar, etc., etc.

During the year these same families run from event to practice to lesson to church activity with mom and dad serving mainly as the chauffeurs and bankers for all these commitments. What's the potential downside? There are several.

First, our kids can begin to think they are the center of our universe. They start to feel entitled to more airplane tickets, equipment, clothing and shuttle service to get them to all of these events and activities. Life becomes more about what they do and need and little about serving or helping others. Mom and dad become these necessary providers of transportation and money so that they can succeed.

Second, our other relationships, especially our marriage, can suffer in the process. I talk with parents all the time whose marriage is starving while they keep feeding energy and resources into their children's lives. Many parents have no time or finances for each other because their entire resource account is spent on the kids.

Third, much of our spending will be spent on things that really don't matter as much as we think they will. How many of our kids will be great athletes and actresses and musicians and brilliant scientists? Why not help our children focus on one or two things each year that will still help them develop a talent, build character and learn to work hard? Do they need to do it all? Can we afford to let them do it all?

What are we to do?  Well, if you have the courage (and it will require courage), start to downsize your family's commitments.  Do less that is organized and more that is spontaneous. Take a real vacation not just one around a child's activities. Focus your kids on one or two key areas of involvement and stop the rest. Spend more time together at home and less in the stands or on the field. Serve others more together in your church, community or city.

We all only have a limited amount of time with our kids. Use it wisely. It will be gone too soon.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ten Things Great Dads Do or Don't Do

In several years of blogging at this site I've not written a post related to Father's Day.

So in honor of this FD weekend, let me offer my Top Ten List for dads of things great fathers do:

  1. They love their wives.
  2. They keep their word to their spouse and kids.
  3. They act like an adult most of the time.
  4. They still have a childlike heart.
  5. They take care of themselves physically but aren't obsessive about it.
  6. They live out their faith in everyday ways.
  7. They laugh a lot for the right reasons.
  8. They initiate important communication with other family members.
  9. They pray every day for the family.
10. They live like they are dying.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Great Ways To Save $ In a Tough Economy

When I was a young boy my grandfather took me on a train trip from Detroit to Niagara Falls.  I don't remember a lot of that jaunt but I do remember being so thrilled to travel with my grandpa and to ride on a train, something I'd never done before.

Apparently before we left for home, however, he suggested that we get a present for my grandma, my mom, dad and sister. So we found a souvenir store and he let me pick out the ones I wanted. But as we headed for the cashier, he noticed that there was one extra gift in my stash and he asked, "Who's that for?"  To which I happily replied, "That's for me!"

It's interesting that the desire for more, especially for us, starts early in life. And there's nothing wrong with having some nice things and enjoying the blessings God has given to us and our country as a whole. But the recent economic struggles are perhaps reminding us more and more that things may not always be so easy to come by and that we need to stretch our money a bit further.

And when we save we give more away to others who need it more than we do.  So let me suggest some ways that you and your family can very easily save a bit of money while teaching that  in most cases we already have enough without getting one more gift for us.

1. Get more books and videos from the library. I rarely read a book twice, especially novels, and I only own a few videos.  I don't have time to re-watch many of them anyway. So saving money by using the local library is a wise idea for most people. \

2. Eat out more reasonably.  I'll talk more in a minute about eating at home, too, but you can save money when you go to a restaurant as well. Drink water more often instead of alcohol, iced tea or soda. With a family of four those kinds of things can add ten to twenty dollars to your bill.

3. Eat at home more often. Our restaurants are full most every night because many people are too exhausted to think about meals at home. But if you work at it you can figure out some ways to prepare easy meals by using a crock pot, having the kids put something in the oven at a certain time, etc.

4. Vacation more wisely. Yes, staying home would save the most money and that's one idea. Pick some local places you could go that are nearby and fun. Even get away overnight but use the internet to find rooms that are a bargain even in very nice hotels. If you do go away, shop around online. Don't take the first option that comes along for hotels, rental cars and flights.  We're off to Colorado next week and by waiting and looking my wife got us a full-sized car for 8 days for $150 including taxes and fees.

5. Make do with what you have more often and longer. Do we really need the latest car, iPhone, basketball shoes? Can we live without another manicure or massage a bit longer? Can we survive without being in the club again this year?  Do we really need twenty shirts, dresses or shoes when we already have eighteen?

6. Keep better records. Most families in financial trouble have little idea what they are really spending. They put a wad of cash in their wallet and it suddenly disappears. Or they use their credit card over and over but never get a receipt or write down what they've spent. If you look honestly at your outgo you will probably be shocked and begin to rein in your spending.

7. Give more resources away . . . to the needy, to your church, to local organization, etc. When we have less to spend we spend it more wisely. And when we give to others, God does something special in us that mere getting will never do. We begin to focus more on what matters and the needs of others, not our own.

So you can save, you can overcome your financial challenges and you can enjoy some freedom with your money. Try some of these ideas and others you know about and really make a difference this year.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, June 1, 2012

Don't Avoid All The Pain in Life . . . It Can Serve a Purpose

I recently endured two somewhat painful procedures. One was to remove some melanoma from my scalp. The second was to have a wisdom tooth extracted. While not equal to that of childbirth (though at times I wondered), each event resulted in some significant pain that I would have rather skipped, thank you.

However, both doctors involved reminded me right up front that to avoid this pain meant that I would likely incur far greater hurt, discomfort or, in the case of the melanoma, even death later on. And when my doctor uses the word fatal in one of our discussions I listen!

I know that at other times in life I've also wished I could have avoided all sorts of relational or emotional pain as well. Struggles with family, friends, coworkers, for example. Difficult situations with my children or a close acquaintance have all brought their share of pain.

And while there is nothing wrong with trying to lower our pain at times, like taking medication for a migraine, we need to sometimes embrace and accept some of our less controllable pain as potentially helpful and able to make us grow beyond where we might have gone without it. Why?

Pain helps us understand the pain of others better.  So often we're called on to be there for someone else and many times we really don't know what they're going through. As a result we say too much, do unhelpful things and trivialize their struggle.

Pain can teach us to receive help from others.  When my wife Jackie went through her cancer we received food, rides and many other gracious touches that we were almost embarrassed to need. But our weakness actually gave other people the opportunity to be blessed and to serve us. Our humility grew.

Pain can remind us that we often put too much worth on our comforts and easy lifestyles.  As a result we get inward-focused, we leave God and faith out of our life for the most part and miss seeing the needs of others around us.

So while I hope you can find some relief for your current challenges, I also encourage you to use these times for good - to open your eyes, give you new appreciation for what you have and to be a better friend and companion. Pain is inevitable, but misery is optional.  Tim Hansel

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Can There Be Too Much Info In Our Marriage Talks?

My four-year-old grandson was finishing up his meal recently when he asked me if we could go play again. I suggested that he needed to eat up his food and then we could play. To which he promptly replied, "Well, we could multitask!"

Yes, us men are known for our penchant for doing several things at once: watching TV, reading the paper trying to talk to our spouse or whatever. However, a recent study suggests that women are actually better than men at multitasking. I don't know the parameters or other details of the study but that's really not that surprising a result when you look at other research.

John Gottman has suggested that in conversation with their wife, most men can easily become flooded if they receive too much emotional information to respond to at one time. He suggests that there is a physiological limit to a man's ability to process and when he reaches that limit he tends to shut down rather than engage in more dialogue.

And I would guess that most wives can identify certain times when this has happened.

Some women might wonder if men then will suggest they now have an excuse for not listening more or stonewalling. Well, guys, that won't work. Just giving up or getting quiet isn't the answer.

Instead, wives should first be sensitive to how much they try to drop on their husband about their feelings, circumstances, goals or whatever before giving their husband some time to respond. And then both husbands and wives would be wise to talk about what to do when a man feels this flooding of information. They should have a a strategy that works for them. Guys, at times you need to be willing to graciously say to your spouse that you need a few minutes to process or respond before moving on to another aspect of that topic or a different one altogether.

I know of some couples who take a 20-30 minute break and then come back and talk more. Others might just stop more quickly and talk about the one main item first before moving on to something else or adding more detail. Others may feel a need to write some things down as they talk so the man especially has a good overview of what's been talked about so far.

Whatever you do, don't miss out on this simple idea that may help ratchet up your communication skills. Keep your conversations from flooding each other. Don't overdo it or over-expect. Floods are usually dangerous.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Where Are You Putting Your Resources At Your House?

I heard this week that the average prom spending per family was $1100 in 2012. That's the average so of course some spent less but just as many spent more!  For a dance.

Now there's nothing inherently wrong with special nights and activities in high school. Kids look forward much of their lives to their junior and senior proms. But who's driving these high costs for one night out?  The kids? Probably. The parents, too?  You bet.

There aren't too many students out there with the kind of income on their own to shell out a grand or more for their dress, limo, tux, food, photos and whatever else comes with it. My hunch is that a lot of parents use prom, just like so many other things, to keep up with the Joneses and to not disappoint little Julie or Ryan.

But what messages might we be sending?

The obvious one is that you must do what everyone else does or you won't be good enough. Kids have enough self esteem issues to add this pressure to their lives. Our worth is never in stuff and there isn't enough stuff to satisfy us. If there were then every Hollywood celebrity and pro athlete making huge amounts of money and living in enormous houses would be happy. But that's rarely the case.

Second, we may send the idea that you never need to wait or save for something better later. We've lived in a I-must-have-it-now culture for a long time now and these latest statistics merely add to that mentality. Wise parents help their kids to have great memories and fun experiences without having to do or spend exorbitantly.

Third, we are saying that of the resources God has given us, we are going to exhaust a significant amount of them on things that really don't matter in the big scheme of things.  Do our children see us spend that kind of money on other people, God's work, mission projects and the like? They watch us throw a twenty or even fifty in the offering each week but not ashamed to break the bank for a dress or limousine.

I talked with a man today whose wife was rushed to the hospital with severe abdominal pain. Thankfully, later in the day she was to be released but the man had no way to go get her and only $15 dollars left which he did not dare spend on cab fare. They don't live in the slums but have a place only a mile or two from us.  They've just been hit with lots of personal hardships.

So I spent a little of my time, money and gas and took him and his nine-year-old daughter to get mommy. And did I mention that I was the one blessed? That's the way it works when we try to spend our resources in the right places. Hope you and your family will try it.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, May 7, 2012

TMI: When We Say Too Much

One of our staff members is doing a search for another associate and received the usual resumes for the job. However, one this week stood out. It was in a three-ring binder and included copies of emails, notes, initiatives, articles and who knows what else that this person had written or compiled in the workplace!

Is it any wonder he was looking for work?

When it comes to applying for a job, more is rarely better. And the same is true in relationships and communication. Less is usually more. Where do we have a tendency to simply say to much?

In our questioning.  We are upset with a spouse or child and so rather than just focus on what seems to be the most important issue, we pepper the other person with all sorts of concerns. Why were you late getting home? Were you talking to her again? Have you done your homework? Why are you so moody lately? 

Stick with the here and now, the main issue. Anything else is likely too much.

In our answers. In the same way when someone needs more from us especially about something we may have erred on or handled poorly, we can start making a pile of defenses hoping we can explain ourselves away. But it's usually not that involved. And even if the situation is a bit complicated it still helps to say something like, You know, things got pretty messy in my world, but the main thing here is that I blew it and didn't communicate well. I'm sorry

In our comfort. Often another person is going through a hardship and we very much want to fix their problem or make things better. So what do we do?  We start throwing out myriad options. Well, why don't you . . .  you know, if you just tried this . . . when that happened to me I . . . . We're not going to be help but just overwhelm them. Keep it simple. Maybe just listen.

In our praise. It would be easy to think that we can never compliment or encourage our spouse, kids, friends or coworkers enough but in reality we can overdo it. Children, for example, don't need to be told they are wonderful every time they do something. Or people don't need to be talked out of their difficult emotions through us telling them how awesome they are and that people just don't know it yet.

When we do that we're really disavowing their emotions and telling them there is something wrong with them for thinking that way. Or with our children we can give them the impression that life will always tell them they are terrific.

So, by all means, communicate as well as you can with those you love. Learn to do it better. Just don't send them any three-ring binders.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, May 4, 2012

Flowers From A Cactus

The past few weeks have brought an unusual number of pressures and challenges to my wife and me. The latest is a family illness where the unknowns bring significant emotional angst. We've also both been traveling, much of it separately, and our physical reserves are pretty low right now, too. Sleeping has been irregular and interrupted much of the time.

Nonetheless, Jackie, upon returning home from her trip, went to the store and bought some new little cacti to put out on the balcony of our condo. She really didn't have time to re-pot them or anything but planned to do that within a couple of days. Three of them sat for a day or so just outside the door wall.

However, the next day, Jackie looked and each of them had bloomed with a beautiful yellow flower. They brought tears to her eyes and a lump in my throat later to realize that from the middle of those prickly extensions came beauty that we had not seen before.

That was an important reminder that yes good can come from bad. That the miraculous can rise from evil. That resurrection comes after the burial. That joy can result from mourning. That life in God always wins over death.

You, too, may be experiencing your own challenges these days. And it's easy to only see and feel the sharp edges of them. The pain, sadness and even feelings of despair can be overwhelming.

And picturing a potential flower won't remove the cactus but it can help you deal with it better. It can assist you in coping, keep you from remaining paralyzed and help you remember that God may be doing something beautiful in and through your circumstances that you simply can't see. Keep watching for the flower.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, April 21, 2012

During Recovery Lock Your Doors!

A recent news story showed how many people at shopping malls leave their car doors unlocked while they shop. In addition, many of them have valuables, previous purchases and other expensive electronics clearly visible to anyone passing by.

Obviously many individuals and families get needlessly robbed of things that are important and in some cases difficult or at least expensive to replace.  IF they were only a little more careful they would rarely get taken advantage of.

Sometimes in life, we too can leave our emotional and personal doors unlocked only to have necessary energy, strength and other resources taken from us.

One way we are vulnerable is when we don't set appropriate boundaries. Boundaries are safeguards we set up with others that we control to keep them out of our world at unnecessary or inappropriate times. For example, a person is grieving the loss of a loved one and yet they let all their friends tell them how to handle their grief or where they should emotionally be at some point.

Or someone with cancer struggling with not having their usual energy still gives in to a friend or relative's demands that they meet their needs or acclimate to their schedule in some way. As a result our ability to function well is stolen from us because we've left ourselves open to others entering our car when we should have locked it.

Another way we let people rob us is when we offer them our personhood and let what they say, do or not do make us feel less valued. We allow them to take away from our value, our being made in God's image, through their comments about what we're doing or not doing right. We succumb to their negative evaluation by believing that what they say really determines who we are and it does not.

There are five things that are always true of us in God's eyes that are worth repeating: We are loved, we are forgiven, we matter, we have purpose and we are children of God.  Any person who has chosen to join God's family can count on those no matter what anyone else says.

So, are you during your personal journey leaving yourself open to emotional robberies by others?  If so, set some boundaries and remember who you really are in God's eyes. It will change how you climb and in general how you live.  And that's worth a lot.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

LIfetimes Are Often Shorter Than We Think

My friend's son died the other day from cancer. He and his sweet wife had only been married about twelve years, had three little kids and were no doubt planning a long life together. I had the privilege of officiating at their wedding and heard their sincere and passionate vows to love even in sickness and in health, for better or for worse.

I'm confident that they never planned that in less than a dozen years one of them would be gone.

They promised to love each other for a lifetime. Sadly, however, that lifetime was much shorter than they could have imagined.

So am I trying to scare us all and suggest that we live in some sort or ugly morbidity all the time?  Of course not. But I would say we don't think nearly often enough about how we use each day and the time we have with those we love.

Often we succumb to the tyranny of the urgent and a penchant for more stuff, forgetting that it could be all gone tomorrow.

So what does this mean in everyday terms?  Well first I think it requires that we don't miss opportunities to meaningfully connect with those we love. Say the words we would want said, work at doing the things that won't end up in the regret column of your life. Take a little extra time to talk to your spouse or child, play with them spontaneously and slow down.

Second, we need to hold short accounts. If we've become angry or distant from someone go make it right even if you weren't in the wrong. Say you're sorry and let them know you don't want to continue to live apart or disenchanted with each other. Forgive if need be. Forgiveness isn't about letting them off the hook. It's about letting YOU off the hook.

Third, start on your bucket list now. Yes, some things may need to wait until you have more time or money but don't put them all off until retirement or later. Enjoy accomplishing some of those things now with your spouse and/or family. Don't spend your later days, months or years wishing you had done a lot of these things.

Of course there are other activities and actions you can think of and take to make the most out of each day you have. Whatever they are, start now. You never know how much time you have.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, April 12, 2012

What Did We Teach ABout Easter This Year?

So the official holiday has passed for another year. Attendance at church will likely drop to more normative levels and church leaders will catch their breath from the non-stop preparations done for the huge crowds.

But it's always worth asking ourselves, "What message did we as a church or family send or learn this Easter?" Of course, our intent was likely to focus on the real story, the resurrection of Christ, but did we?

A Facebook post had a picture of their church meeting in a huge public arena and entitled their comments, "The Best Easter Service Ever." And while I wasn't there I had to wonder why it was the best in their mind - because it was big? because there were lots of people? because it perhaps outshined the talents and resources of their previous churches or experiences?

Other churches brought in special speakers. One church I know of gave people gas money if they came. Were those services better then in some way than the church whose one hundred people, up from their normal fifty, praised and thanked God too with all of their being? I would suggest they were not.

While there may be a place for "extra special" components during our celebrations I think we need to be careful that we're not teaching something we never intended, at least I hope we didn't, that somehow Easter is better if it's bigger.

The Easter story isn't about us, it's about Christ and His sacrifice. And while I'll be the first to suggest that we must tell the story well, do things with excellence and give God our very best, I don't think that requires big or spectacular or somehow outdoing the next church.

I wonder how many parents leave or prepare for our Easter services by telling the story themselves to their families? I wonder how many Easter worshipers celebrate the day just as well in a small gathering of committed believers who humbly offer their thanks and praise to God. I wonder how many of us on the Monday after are still just as excited about Easter after all the inspiration of the day is over.

I'm trying to do that. It's what I hope we'll all spend more time doing this year.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, April 7, 2012

My Top Ten Great Family Easter Ideas

Easter isn't just an important holiday for Christians . . . it's the ultimate one. If there was no resurrection then every Christian might as well fold up shop and look for another eternal reality.

Therefore, we dare not miss great opportunities for teaching the significance and importance of Easter to our family members. And to help I've offered ten ideas you might consider during this Easter season.

1. Watch The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.  C.S. Lewis' famous segment of the Chronicles of Narnia has several beautiful pictures of both the death and resurrection of Christ in Aslan the lion.

2. Read the Easter story from the Bible. Luke is probably your best Gospel source.

3. Attend your Easter service but talk about what you heard, saw and experienced when you get home or over dinner at a restaurant.

4. With age-appropriateness in mind, watch The Passion of the Christ.

5. Listen to several great worship songs or hymns and discuss what they remind us of regarding Christ's sacrifice for us.  Chris Tomlin's Amazing Grace and When I Survey come to mind.

6. Go serve somewhere together as a picture of Christ's coming not to get but to serve us.

7. Get up early and go to a park or other scenic area and talk about what the women and other disciples might have experienced that Easter morning.

8. Give an Easter financial or other gift to a local service agency as another example of Christ's gift for us.

9. Take communion at home with bread and your choice of juice or wine.

10.  Have a time of prayer thanking God for sending His Son to die and rise again for you.

You can probably come up with some of your own. But don't settle for mere candy and bunnies at your house. Nothing wrong with those but missing the bigger story?  That is a mistake.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, April 2, 2012

Your Presence Makes More Difference Than Your Presents

I was  recently playing Hide 'n Seek with my two-year-old grandson Liam.  I would of course go hide and the idea was for him to try and find me. However, before long he would just say, "Where are you?"  In other words he didn't want to look for me anymore and that's certainly understandable for a little guy his age.

Sadly, many children are asking the same question about one or more of their parents.  "Where are you?" And I'm confident that a lot of those parents would say, "I'm there for my kids all the time."  Or, "Hey, I give my kids quality time when I am there."

But let's think about how many parents spend time with their kids these days: driving them places, sitting in the stands watching their practice, games or other performances. We take vacations allowing their hands on their phone or video game the whole time, we even go to dinner and all watch the TV screens in the restaurant or check out our own emails much of the time.

We fill every day and every moment of our schedules and many of us wouldn't have time to do something spontaneous with our children even if we wanted to.

But are we ever just having fun together, enjoying meaningful conversations, serving others or playing?  Are we really present even when we're present?  A lot of parents are not.  And our kids have a reason to ask, Where are you?  Don't buy into the lie that says if you're around your kids you're engaged with them.

Children need us to be more than babysitters, taxi drivers and meal providers. They need us to talk to them, be with them and teach them by modeling while we're at their side. They need to do more than play on someone's team. They need play time with us! And we must start early and keep doing it until the day they leave the house for good. Sure, our methods will change but our commitment must not.

Yes, middle and high schoolers will likely try to push us away but we need to stay connected. Don't embarrass them but don't neglect. I remember that our daughter in her teen years would come in to our room and talk. Often it was late but we made the time knowing we wouldn't have it for long. We took vacations and accomplished some milestones together that they will never forget.

Take a look at your lifestyle and schedule. What opportunities to be present with your kids are you missing or could you use better?  Maximize them now. They'll be gone before you know it.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Do The Small Hard Things Now At Home

It was just discovered that I have melanoma on my scalp. Thankfully my dermatologist caught it, removed it and the odds of a full recovery are nearly 100%. However, I also know what can happen if it isn't found. People can die. My doctor told me just that.

Having it removed is frankly a bit painful and certainly not a fun process. It was not the highlight of my day. But I'm thankful I could go through a little pain now to avoid some tragic consequences later.

Unfortunately many spouses and parents avoid doing the little things now that could have great dividends later. It just doesn't seem like a big deal, perhaps, but let me suggest a few things that probably matter big time down the road.

First, if you're a parent hold to your boundaries and guidelines. No, you don't have to be a tyrant but don't give in, be consistent. Make sure your rules are fair and age appropriate but disobedience gets chipped away at a little at a time.

Second, make time for each other. Build margin into your life, have time to talk as a couple or family and have significant times of play and relaxation. Too many families have every hour of every day other than sleep programmed with enriching activities but enjoy too little time to just be together.

Third, do more with less. Most of us need far less than we have and if we're honest much of that stuff steals even more time from us because we have to take care of it, clean it, repair it or maintain it. We probably don't need as much car, house or amount of clothing as we think we do.

Fourth, give more away. If we want to teach our children to be generous they must see our generosity as a normal part of our way of life. Give to local agencies, your church, other needy people who live nearby.

You see, any of these simply acts could easily be neglected. And to do them may cost us something. They may be a challenge. But it will be far less than what we might lose if we don't do them. Start now.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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