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

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

What It Will Take To Keep A Resolution This Year

Of course this is the time of year when many people start make resolutions, turning over new leaves and hoping to finally win the battle to lose some pounds, start exercising, quit smoking, begin school or whever. And my hunch is that most of those people are pretty serious and sincere.

But so many of those hopes, dreams and goals simply never happen. Why? And what WILL it take for us to finally look back and realize we actually did accomplish something in the new year?

I think there are a couple of key ingredients for success. First, we need a crisis mentality. A good friend of mine just discovered that some cancer he had had removed has returned other places. While it was serious before it's a potential personal crisis now.

I know this. He doesn't need anyone's motivation, list of resolutions or accountability partner to fight this now with all of his being. If he doesn't the results will likely be disastrous. And yes we hope that many of our goals aren't that serious but we need to think more that way. For example, we might need to lose ten pounds or more.

What if we started thinking that if I don't lose this weight I could end up gaining more, becoming more unhealthy and perhaps not be able to enjoy my family the way I could if I got healthier? To not lose weight with this kind of thinking could be a crisis. That would probably motivate us a lot more than just a list.

More significantly, what if we thought about the consequences of not getting our finances together, working on a relationship or stopping a habit or practice that could destroy our marriage? That might get us going.

Second, we must have a plan. The old adage, you don't plan to fail you just fail to plan, fits here. Write down not only your big goal but the little goals you need to get there. Have someone doing it with you if possible. Make deadlines for when you will start, join a club or group, start classes, etc.

Ideally, have an accountability partner keeping tabs on you, too. Make sure they are ruthless. Plan to work and work the plan.

Third, we must get real. So many of our resolutions are just talk, way beyond our resources or ability and discourage us just thinking about them. So start at a realistic trailhead. Make sure you can accomplish the first few steps before you commit to the bigger ones. And if you can't really do this find something else! You don't have to climb Everest. There are other smaller mountains to climb first.

Fourth, anticipate and then enjoy your early successes. Dave Ramsey, financial expert, tells couples in large amounts of debt to first pay off the smallest amount. That way they get success and can apply those funds to the next smallest sum. We need to do the same no matter what our goal is. Get to the first plateau and celebrate it, encourage yourself and look forward to the next one.

Finally, remember that God wants you to grow, become more like Jesus and to be the person He intended. Invite Him into the process, ask Him for strength and wisdom along the way.Christ followers actually have God's power in them to do more than they could otherwise.  Use it.

If you'll tackle your resolutions wisely and with God's help they might just turn into a personal revolution!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, December 15, 2013

We Would Never Be A Hoarder Would We?

Maybe you've seen the reality show called Hoarders. The producers find someone who is clearly obsessed with keeping everything and a team of expert organizers, a psychologist and other helpers try to get them to change their ways.

In most cases it's not easy. There is usually all sorts of personal baggage hidden under their emotional layers of debris which will not be disposed of quickly. Often the person breaks down in despair seeing their prized possessions being thrown in a dumpster or at best organized.

Most of us watching a program like that would say, "That will never be me. I couldn't stand living that way." And we're probably right. There are only a small percentage of people who will endure the extremes of a true hoarder.

But I wonder if a lot of us aren't closer than we think, at least in spirit. We really do hoard we just do it in an organized and more acceptable way.  Let me suggest a few areas where potential hoarding can crop up in our homes.

We may hoard successes. We keep trying to add one more award, win, trophy or adulation for our kids or ourselves. We live for the next chance to tell a friend or put on Facebook the latest impressive feats in our family. How many Christmas letters rather than just giving an update on the family's important moments of the year are filled with all of the latest things to brag about on each person?

We may hoard security. Of course it makes sense to set aside savings for emergencies and retirement and to do all we can to make sure our family needs are maintained. But many keep adding more: another piece of real estate, bank accounts, other income streams and the like. We're never satisfied that enough is enough.

We can hoard extra stuff. Just like we might do with our finances we feel we always have to have a lot of abundance or we won't be OK. So we buy mulitiples of everything, never miss a good sale and keep trying to find more space to store it all in.

So what might we do at our house to battle the temptation to hoard?

First, make giving things and money away the norm at home. Look for ways to share what you have, find a regular place to give things to and teach your kids to do the same. Yes, be wise and careful that you have planned well for your needs then give the rest to someone or a great organization.

Second, take inventory and pare things down to only what you need. This may take some soul-searching and admitting that you really do have too much. Get rid of a lot, have a garage sale or rent a truck and donate things to a needy organization. If you really want to get serious, move into a smaller home and you will quickly find you can't take it all and will have to do something about it.

Third, start living in ways where you must trust God more to make it. Don't be foolish. God  has blessed us in many ways so that we would have what we need. Take good care of those basic things. But find some challenges, mission opportunities or whatever that require you to have special faith in God meeting your needs. You will live on a lot less but live a lot more.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Gifts I'd Most Like Again: They Can't Be Bought

I can think of all sorts of special gifts I've received down through the years. Of course, like most of us, I got most of them when I was a kid. I'll never forget the electric train cars, sports equipment, electronic games (yes, there were a few when I was young), the cool clothes (at least I thought they were), a special Bible or book and a host of other gifts that I longed for so badly.

We all had that present, too, that our parents gave us last that we knew was the big gift. But there are very few of those that I want again now. In fact, I really don't long for any of them.

But there are a lot of gifts I wish I could enjoy again that I simply won't ever have. And they remind me and I hope you that we need to cherish similar gifts now while we still have them. It's so easy to just rush through the most special moments of all because we're wrapped up in the tyranny of the urgent or trying to do it all when only a few things matter.

For example I wish that I could again have:

My kids be little again for even an hour.
My wedding day with my young bride.
A morning with my dad or father-in-law.
A moment or two or a cup of coffee with some of my childhood heroes and mentors.
A Christmas as a young kid with my mom, dad, sister and any other relatives who decided to show up that day.
A game of basketball or catch with my teenage son.
A weekend back at college with my good buddies.
A date with my daughter in elementary school.
A school program, sporting event or awards ceremony.
An evening with our whole family at home together.
A day of playing baseball with my neighborhood friends.
A morning with my church friends from a bunch of years ago.
A snow day.
My first climb of a fourteener in Colorado.
The day our son or daughter or grandsons were born.
A conversation with Al or Don or one of many other friends now in Heaven.
A family vacation.

My list could be much longer. In fact, I'll probably put a more extended one together just for me. The problem with doing it now is that every entry brings tears to my eyes both of joy and sadness.

So what's the point? It's pretty simple. Enjoy every special moment now. Savor them. Slow down. Be thankful. Don't rush them and please don't wish them away even though some of these moments came with pain, hardship or challenge. Some of us still have these moments in front of us. Watch for them. Be ready. Relish every one.

We live such faced-paced, driven lives it's easier and easier to miss the great moments because of the quantity of mediocre ones.

They are still gifts. All of them. Gifts you'll someday wish you could have again.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Avoid the Immaculate Deception This Christmas

Before Thanksgiving Alice was already planning for Christmas. Yes, she put her usual passion into the food planning, preparation and family inviting for turkey day but she also made time to start her Christmas checklist and knock a few of those tasks off as well.

And now that the first round of food and football are over she is going full steam ahead to make Christmas as wonderful as it always is. There are gifts to buy of course, but the house decorating has always been an obsession with her so the attic and garage have been cleared of their Christmas decorations and she is on her way to turning her house into a fantasy land.

Granted her oldest will be home soon from college and her parents are getting up in years. She hopes to spend some quality time with all of them and even invite a few close friends over but all that will need to wait until she has things just right.

Alice is encouraged, however, because she did get up early on Black Friday and buy some of the gifts she knows her family will treasure and she saved some money this year in the process. And she knows that with a few late nights (OK, maybe a lot of them) she will also get her Christmas cards signed and sent out. This year's cards, more like booklets, are the best and most creative ever with lots of pictures and updates on the kids successes and family milestones.

Is Alice a version of  you at holiday time? She certainly represents a lot of people who are caught in what I call the Immaculate Deception. It's the false belief that certain expectations must be met every year at the holidays. And as a result many individuals and families miss out on the most important opportunities of a time like Christmas.

Some common misguided demands?  That everything be perfect. The house, the cards, the meals, the outfits, the church service, the time spent with family - they must all be refined to a standard that in reality can never be reached. As a result family members (often mom) never sit down, can't relax and miss out on the many spontaneous and casual conversations, interactions and special moments that they will never quite have again.

Second, that everyone be happy. Yes, holidays are a time when we should be happy and joyful but there is no way to please everyone . . . and yet we often try. We have to get Uncle Ralph the perfect gift and send Grandma Mary a card on time. Our kids need to get every gift they asked for and be allowed and even transported to attend every gathering required of them. Even Jesus didn't go to everything or give everyone what they wanted so why should we?

Third, we do more than in the past. If last year's Christmas card was really creative, then this year's must be more so. If we bought such and such last year for a present we should do better this year. We at least think that everything we've done before should be equaled if not improved. Says who?

The sad part about buying into the deceptions that often surround our holidays is that we miss out on what really matters. Let me suggest a few things:

Jesus. Yes, Jesus as the saying goes IS the reason for the season. I get it when non-Christ-followers don't focus on Jesus much but I don't get it when Christians pretty much avoid Him other than going to a Christmas Eve service. Try making Jesus the focus of your holiday and see what changes. Re-teach the real story of Christmas and tell about some of the things you are most thankful for from God.

Close family time. Notice the word close. Sure families are generally together during at least some of the Christmas vacation but are they close?  Do they really talk? Do they slow down and just enjoy each other, perhaps even get to know each other better?  When we're running, running, running there will be little time for each other.

Spontaneous get togethers with friends, neighbors, relatives or associates.  What would our holidays be like if we took time to just grab a friend and go have coffee (egg nog latte)? What if we did something really unique with our family or in the neighborhood, something WAY out of the box that we would never forget instead of the usual? What if we just enjoyed the tree that we put up, played some games, listened to music or watch a favorite Christmas special without having to fit it in between events or responsibilities?

You know there is still time to make this year's Christmas different. But you'll have to make some decisions NOT to do a few things pretty soon. Nevertheless try it. Remember all that other stuff may just be taking you away from the best Christmas ever and from the Jesus who started it all in the first place.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Entitlement: The Killer of Thankful Hearts

I don't mean for this post to be a holiday squasher but perhaps this is the BEST time to discuss something that is becoming a deadly virus in much of our culture. During a time of year when we at least try to focus on being thankful for what we have we would be wise to also consider what can steal that attitude of gratitude the rest of the year.

It's entitlement. And no I'm not talking primarily about programs commonly labeled as entitlements like social security and Medicare though perhaps they too are an indirect result of this virus.

But I want to challenge us all to think about an attitude and expectation that we personally should have certain privileges, rights, possessions and opportunities provided for us no matter what. In a recent blog I discussed how many parents expect that their child should receive the best coach, teacher, role in the play or whatever.

Go back and read that blog if you missed it. It's one subcategory of entitlement.

But this attitude goes beyond our children. We, too, believe that we should have priority in even the simple things like: the open parking spot, the place in line, tickets for the game the invite to the prestigious party or the full attention of the clerk in the store. See what the reaction is of most drivers when you accidently took their space in a driving lane or that one place left for a car to park at the mall!

Perhaps more significant might be our demand for: the best doctor in the waiting room, the head of the company to call us, the pastor to pay more attention to us or the local utility company to handle our complaint and problem first.  One way to tell is to measure your anger quotient when you don't get something you felt entitled to. If it's highere than say "5" on the anger meter you probably struggle with entitlement.

But remember that this virus can be deadly. It can first kill our thankfulness. And when we're not thankful we aren't usually happy. We will always demand more from those around us, our kids and even our family.

Second, we will become annoying, arrogant people who people will ultimately pull away from and avoid unless they are just like us. No one wants to be around a person who constantly thinks they deserve more or better and is always trying to get their demands met no matter the cost.

Third, we will never overcome our personal challenges. Why? Because we will always require one more thing to satisfy us, one more person to give us what we we believe we're entitled to. And even if we do get something on our list, there will be one more. We won't understand that entitlement is really a black hole that never gets filled up.

So, whatever you do, squash the entitlement virus from  your mind, family and home. Start by becoming thankful all the time, every day. As you feel your anger rising, tell God you're thankful for something He blessed you with that day anyway. Teach and model thanksgiving for your family.

Second, you let go of your demand that you get everything you think you must have to succeed or be OK. God is the only one capable of giving you that. So let Him be your guide.

Desire those things but don't demand them. If you do, you'll lose any chance of having a thankful heart and experiencing an ultimately fulfilled life.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, November 18, 2013

Make Thanksgiving A Lifestyle At Your House

I talk with people every week who are hurting because of their illness, relationship struggles, grief, finances or a host of other things. And I know those hurts are very real and are certainly understandable.

I do my best to help encourage them and give them practical suggestions on how to walk through their struggle, make necessary changes and heal from their pain. We often go beneath the surface to find unhealthy behaviors and thinking that may be adding to their challenges.

However, one of the common inhibitors of growth I see in them all and in myself from time to time is a lack of gratitude. They don't find anything to be thankful for. They've put on blinders so to speak and can't see how they might still be blessed in some ways in spite of their difficult times.

As a result they tend to walk down the path to more discouragement, bitterness and emotional paralysis. If they could only begin to think bigger than their own circumstances and in the middle of their moving forward stay thankful.

One way to assure that people remain thankful at your house is to make gratitude more of an attitude. How?

First, model it. When you pray, especially with others, include praise and thanks, not just requests. Talk about things you're thankful for at the dinner table, when you're having fun and even working.

Second, practice it. Have some sharing times with the kids where you all talk about something you're thankful for that day or week. Talk about the little things, perhaps things that everybody else wouldn't necessarily think of.

Third, teach it. Scripture is filled with passages that speak about the power and place of thanksgiving. I Thessalonians 5:17 says, "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus."

I am confident that many of the people who come to see me in pain would find their journey made easier and heal more quickly when they focus more on being thankful. In fact, some of the greatest healing comes when hurting people start giving to others even through their pain. And they won't start investing in others if they remain bitter and angry rather than thankful.

So perhaps this Thanksgiving holiday could be the beginning of a new era of thanks in your home all year round. And perhaps you're the person to get it started. Happy Thanksgiving.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Stay Determined Parents! It's Hard But Worth It.

Recently as I was leaving a Target store, I saw a mother and her crying preschooler walk out just ahead of me. The little blond-haired boy was clearly upset, yes mad, saying over and over, "I want the gingerbread man, mom, I want the gingerbread man!" He must have said it twenty times in my hearing and kept going until the two of them reached their van in the parking lot.

Even as I walked by their car with the windows rolled up I could still hear him pleading with mom for that cookie.

But to the mom's credit she wasn't yelling or chastising. She had him firmly by the hand as they calmly kept walking out of the store. Her eyes were focused ahead, she said nothing and didn't flinch. The little boy at one point even looked at me perhaps hoping I would go back and get him the gingerbread man. His eyes seemed to say, "Help me, please!"

None of it worked. And in my mind that mom was a model parent at least for that moment.

She had perhaps faced this before. Either way she knew ahead of time what she would do and she was determined that her cute little boy was not going to win that battle. This was probably one of a number of watershed moments she had had and will probably have again that will convince her son that mom means what she says.

Would it have been tempting to give in? You bet. Would she have made a big mistake in doing so? No doubt.  There's nothing wrong of course with a gingerbread man cookie now and then. But when it's demanded and a tantrum ensues no child should ever be given what they want.

Through her determination she was teaching him that his tactics to change her response would not work. I would hope that sometime later she explained to him that there are other ways to both ask for things and to react when you don't get something you want. I would hope that she made it clear that she still loved him no matter what.

But her victorious moment of parenting today during a tough situation should get an A+ and will likely bring her great success down the road plus help her little guy to grow into a respectable, obedient and un-entitled young man someday. How are you doing when it comes to giving in versus your child getting their own way much of the time?

Remember winning a small battle now will likely assist you in winning the bigger war later.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, November 7, 2013

It's All Tainted: Why We'll Never Be Perfect

The other day someone asked me as their pastor and counselor how they would know if they were going to do something for all the right reasons. I think she was shocked by my response when I said, "Well, I have bad news for you. You will never do anything in this life for all the right reasons. Neither will I. We're all tainted."

Now the rest of our discussion did include the fact that we can work on our motives and need God to help us keep the right perspective.

But I think most of us forget that even though we may be Christ followers and forgiven in God's eyes, we will always be human and our selfishness will always still creep in. It doesn't matter how long we've been a Christian or our chronological age. We won't ever have perfect motives, thoughts or attitudes.

We thankfully can get better.  We certainly don't need to stay the way we are. That's why we need the fellowship of other believers, the truth of the Scriptures and some spiritual discipline in our life. But we must always be aware that we can slip up, even in a big way.

And when we accept that truth we'll actually be better off.  Why?

First, we will pretend less because we no longer live according to an impossible goal that someday we will have things all together. Instead we can be honest about our failings and ask others to keep us accountable.

Second, we will live in less guilt because we know we can't be perfect now. We can strive for it but we'll never get there until Heaven.  And that's OK.

Third, we should be more on the alert knowing that we're always vulnerable and could really do the worst of things given the right circumstances.  Yes, Christ does make us new, but those changes take time and we must grow in our faith. There is always a chance we will slip up again.

So, if you've been subtly trying for some sort of perfect life, welcome to the real world. And remember you're among friends.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

My Most Offensive Blog Ever . . . For Parents

Alright, let's just say it.  I'm going to offend many of you with the premise of this blog. Some of you might even quit reading my stuff. A few will wonder how I can be so misguided but I'll take my chances.

Because here's my observation. And like Simon Cowell on American Idol or Howard Stern on America's Got Talent, I know I'm right.

The universe does not revolve around your children! Nor my children nor anyone else's kids. Our children are not the most important people in the world, our church, school or neighborhood. They do not deserve more than others and are not entitled to the first, best, optimum, finest anything. The world has not been looking for or waiting for your child or my child to arrive on the scene any more than anyone else's son or daughter.

Now let me be clear. I'm a parent and now a grandparent too. I love my kids and their kids. I want the best for them and tried along with my wife to give them as many favorable and positive experiences and training opportunities as possible. There is nothing wrong with desiring the best for our kids. But too many parents demand it and shove their way to the head of every line so to speak to get it.

I recently heard of a mom who was attending a Christian women's activity and who demanded that her preschooler be in the same childcare room with his friend, a friend who was not even the same age. Parents in a host of situations demand the best teacher, trainer, room, nursery worker, class, summer activity or coach and if they don't get it for little Connor or Clarissa they vent their anger, pull strings until they get it, make life hell for the leadership or find another program.

Comedian Bryan Regan talks about the people on airplanes who take ten minutes trying to get their large case crammed into the overhead compartment while oblivious to the people waiting to get to their seats. His description is hilarious though these rude travelers are not. You do wonder sometimes if this person in row 20A really thinks they are the only one on the airplane.

Pushy, demanding parents aren't funny either nor are we if we live our lives forcing our kids to the front of every social line. Sometimes in life we just don't get what we want. We need to get over ourselves.

Why might parents like us overreach, overreact and over- respond when it comes to our kids?

Perhaps we didn't get the perks and opportunities we would have liked when we were growing up. And yes, that is disappointing but we're not helping our kids by letting them think that they need every advantage now or are more important than the others. And we certainly aren't wise to use our children as some sort of payback for the childhood we never had. We're only going to injure our kids or a relationship somewhere.

We're fearful that if our kids miss out on that one teacher, class or experience they will be scarred for life.  Guess what?  They won't. In fact, part of growing, learning and maturing is to face experiences that are extra-challenging, where you don't have all the advantages others have and work through it anyway. Many of the perks we're perhaps panicky about today won't even be remembered by us or our children in five or ten years.

We're just plain selfish. I know none of us like to hear this one but it's worth asking. Have we become a little too entitled, arrogant and self-centered? Is it time for us to care about others more than ourselves? If we are Christ followers are we modeling the kind of spirit and attitude Jesus modeled? He modeled humility and restraint and was always sinless even in His dissent.

Is it time to take a step back, breathe in deeply and remember that life is about far more than being first or getting our own way?  Maybe.

One final caution. What our kids expect in life today is likely what they will expect tomorrow.  If they live an entitled life and watch mom or dad demand more for them at every turn, they will probably expect the same when they are adults. But they will be disappointed and likely hurt big-time when they find out that people and  life in general doesn't cater to them.

So enjoy your kids. Help them succeed, grow and mature. But they aren't the only star in the heavens. Just yours. Appreciate and love them for that.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Is Fear of Missing Out Driving You?

I was just checking my smart phone again and found three new emails with ideas that could streamline my productivity.  I need to try them. I recently got a new computer and the directions tell me about twenty new little shortcuts and timesavers that came with this new electronic beauty.  I need to memorize them.

I saw an ad for several new television programs that look really interesting and would probably expand my knowledge about people, life and the world around me. I should watch them.

I have a stack of good books waiting to be read or finished (I read thirty a year or more as is) and I have an exercise workout, Russian lessons and distant family also inviting me to give them my time.  I need to figure out how to add these back into my life.

Can you relate?  Do you, like me, hate to say "no" to any of these options because, "I don't want to miss out on something great."  Or "I want my kids to have the best so we'll do it all no matter what it takes."  Or, "That's a good thing, an important thing, I must figure out how to do that too!"

I've got news for you . . . and me.  We'll never do it all. Or as one wise pastor said, "We'll never accomplish all of our potential."  Don't even try.

I'm sure I don't have to tell you that the plate of options for learning, productivity, entertainment, knowledge, growth and experience continues to increase geometrically every day.  We can't have or know it all.  But we are tempted to try, aren't we?  We feel guilty when we hit delete or throw a book away or erase a program from our television list.

We fear that our child will miss out on something vital for life if they don't take that class, play that semester or sports or get that lesson.

So what are we to do?

First, accept the fact that you can't do it all.  Period. Live with that truth.  It's OK.  Our worth is not based on how productive we are or how much we know.

Second, start conscientiously saying "no."  Don't order that new book, keep your kids out of a sport, turn the television off, skip that latest article you saw on Facebook. Be a chooser, not a responder. Learn to do only the best things or the most important things or the things that will add to your feeling alive or doing something God has called you to do.

Third, learn to rest or fast. Take a total break for a while from some of those things that have the greatest seductive pull on you. Get off of the internet or Facebook, don't watch television for a week or take a major break from some activity or even ministry for a season. Quit your hobby for a while. Remind yourself that you can live without some things and not die or shrivel up.

Fourth, embrace slowing down and resting. It's good for the body, soul and spirit.

You may miss out on some activities that could have enriched you but you will more likely not miss out on the ones that make you truly feel alive.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, October 18, 2013

Parents . . . Pick Your Battles

When law enforcement or military personnel get into a firefight, they usually take time to assess both the enemy and how much ammunition they have. While on television the heroes often unload their guns on the bad guys, that is not always wise. Sometimes you need to save your ammunition and as we say pick your battles. The wise fighter decides quickly how much attention they are going to give to the potential threats around them.

Parents must do something similar at home. Yes, parenting can seem like a battle or war at times but I want to think a bit more practically. There are actions, responses and other things that bother us from our children that we could fight against and expend all sorts of energy on, but wise parents fight the most important ones.  Somet things just aren't that big of a deal.

For example, is that clothing choice your eight-year-old made worth fighting over?  How about the toy your three-year-old wants to bring in the car or the friend your teen would like to take to the mall with you?

You see, there are usually bigger things to fight for or about and that's where our attention needs to be as we make our decisions concerning our kids' choices.

Let me suggest a few.

Is their choice immoral or dangerous?
Are they responding to you disrespectfully?
Are you being played against the other spouse?
Has this decision already been made in previous discussions?  (Like bedtime, watching a certain kind of movie, etc.)
Is this a watershed moment where you need to make or reinforce a point?

If the answer is "yes" to any of these or other similar questions then start "shooting" your parental bullets and be sure you win the battle.

But there are some things you can do that will help the battle keep from unnecessarily escalating.  First, give them choices when you can.

Second, speak firmly but nonchalantly. You don't have to shout to get them to make a better choice.

Third, hold your ground. Only make "threats" you're willing to keep.

Yes, at times parenting will seem like a war but we can help keep it civil and with minimal friendly fire if we'll just pick and choose when it comes to which skirmish we're going to face head on.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Home Ain't Your House

My mom is moving this week from her home of fifty-eight years! Who lives that long anywhere anymore these days?  I know she, my sister and I all have lots of great and no-so-great memories of that place and we will until we die. I'm sure there will be some tears shed as we drive her out of the driveway for the last time.

But I've been reminded as we've done a good bit of cleaning out the last couple of years that our home was never really the bricks and mortal or lawn or the linoleum in the basement. That was merely a part of the "tent" of sorts for a family, a group of people who loved each other and helped each other to be who God intended them to be.

The day we sign the papers and it's officially gone will not be the end of our family. It will just mean that the last person in the family, my mom, has moved out.

I wonder how many of us, if we're honest, put a lot more stock in the buildings we live in than we should. We often spend an exorbitant amount to buy our house, then spend thousands more each year to keep it up or improve it. Now don't get me wrong, there's nothing immoral about a house. We're blessed to have so many in this country, something different from so many other countries.

But we do need to be careful that we care more about hanging on to our family than our actual house.

How do we keep it all in perspective?  Well there's no magic way but consider trying a few of these things:

Think about downsizing or at least throwing a lot away.  Do you really have too much?  Could some of it be given away or could the money be better spent elsewhere?

Be intentional about doing more with less. Don't buy as many of everyday things, settle for only one of most things, make things do a little longer and let them wear out. You won't get as attached to all of that stuff.

Share your house more. Let it become other people's home, too, in a sense through sharing it often.  When's the last time you had people over on a regular basis?  Is there someone in need who would love a place to hang out a bit more often with some really great people?

Dedicate your home again to the Lord. Tell him you remember that it was never yours in the first place.  Have your pastor or small group or other friend come and pray over it with you and write down the date.

Because you see one of these days you will have to leave.  Maybe not fifty-eight years from now, but you will leave. Remembering it's not yours will help you let it go.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, October 4, 2013

Don't Miss The Warning Signs Before Marriage

John and Alice were so in love.  They couldn't wait to get married.  They'd known each other for a good while and everyone expected marriage was a given. They had a date planned for a wedding in about a year and were just beginning to put some details in place for their special day.

Nothing in their minds could keep them from committing to spend the rest of their lives together.

Sure there were a few things that irritated John. For one thing Alice spent nearly an hour every day on the phone with her mom. But they were probably also talking about wedding details so that didn't seem like a big deal.

He did notice that Alice's dad was pretty quiet and never said much but he was nice nonetheless and he and John's future mother-in-law seemed to get along well.

John did wonder from time to time about Alice's continued connection to an old boyfriend, but they just seemed to be good friends and John liked the guy too, so what was the big deal? Alice would often tell John that she wished he was a little more like Alex the former boyfriend, but she was just trying to help John, right?

But five years later, John began to wonder if he should have noticed some of Alice's tendencies, actions and habits. No, there would never be a perfect wife but had he missed some warning signs that would have told him about potential big problems later.

Because now, Alice continues to put more stock in her mother's views than his. Alice still sneaks around texting Alex, keeping their "friendship" going but not telling John. And to this day John has still never felt any respect or deep affection from Alice. She continues to belittle him about most everything and they have little intimacy of body, soul or spirit. He wonders if that's really the way her dad is.

When I deal with couples in marriage counseling, I have found (and so have they) that there were almost always signs during the dating phase of their relationship of potentially bad things to come.  But instead of talking about them, exploring more and even deciding not to marry the couples simply ignored the signs and hoped things would change or never show up at all.

Of course we must understand that we can never know our spouse completely when we marry. People change and so do circumstances. The covenant we make at the altar must endure beyond good feelings and be lived out through two imperfect people.

But there are warning signs that may also tell us this marriage shouldn't happen, that there are qualities, habits or attitudes in the other person or their family that will not help that marriage be a healthy and godly one. Do not ignore them.  You must explore them, talk through them with a qualified pastor or counselor and prayerfully consider whether the marriage will work and be fruitful.  A spouse who is not willing to look deeply within themselves is going to have trouble with honesty and authenticity later.

Some potential areas of concern to watch for are: unhealthy relationships or connections with parents or other family, unresolved abuse issues, strange marriage role perspectives, distorted views toward the opposite sex, unaddressed fear and anxiety concerns, distorted ideas concerning money, children or God.

So what does a person or couple do to avoid trouble later. First, take notice of the signs.  It may just start as a bad feeling but don't ignore it. Explore, get wisdom, find out more.

Second, talk about it with the other person.  Most of the time you need to get someone else involved who will help you both look honestly at your concern to determine if it's anything significant. This is why quality premarital counseling is essential!

Third, be willing to postpone your wedding or break up. There are far worse things one of them being sitting in an office like mine years later in despair with little hope knowing you made a big mistake and those hidden problems are now major problems for your relationship.

Marriage can be wonderful and it's always a growing, learning, giving and sacrificial commitment and covenant. But marriages with unrevealed disease and dysfunction are usually doomed to die a slow death. Don't miss the signs.  They're usually more obvious than you think.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Are You Wandering or Really Headed Somewhere?

At my mother-in-law's residential complex there is an innocent man named "Walter" who spends most of his day just wandering all over the grounds. They say he's harmless and he apparently bothers no one. But in an hour or two there we'll see him go by six or seven times. He looks like he's talking to someone but it's just to himself.

It's kind of sad to think that Walter spends his day, every day, just wandering through life. I've wondered what he's thinking, if anything. I'm sure there are some mental deficiencies that keep him locked up in that orbit most of the time.

But while most of us don't wander like Walter does, I've been challenged in my own life recently to make sure I'm not just wandering around either. Sure I may be much more functional, able to vary my actions, thoughts and responses and make decisions in ways that Walter can't, but I (and you) could still be wandering.

Let me suggest what our wandering might look like.

We can wander by just doing the same things, enjoying the same little pleasures and being happy with the same routines for years on end. I wrote on that in a recent post - go back and read it if you missed it. One of the things I notice about Walter is that his expression never changes.  Interestingly, I see a lot of people all around me like that as well.  Too many of us are probably just bored so why get too excited about anything?

Or we can wander by settling for life as it is. We may feel defeated or penalized or without purpose so we just settle for what we have, what we've done in the past and accomplish little of substance. We've quit trying to overcome our challenges and won't take on a new goal, job or activity because it's a little too scary.

Or we can wander by never focusing in on the main things. We're trying to do it all or at least a lot, we want our kids to do the same but we rarely do any of it well or in a way that we deeply enjoy what we're doing. Things blur together and we flit from one event to the next forgetting much of the time what those events were in the first place.  And the main thing or things get lost in the busyness.

Or we can wander by rarely planning for the future. We just take life as it comes, react more than initiate and never plan anything special with our spouse, family or good friends. We've never made a bucket list or talked with anyone about five things we'd love to do if we only had time. We don't dream big or pray to God for a vision down the road that only He could make happen.

Are you wandering?  Are you really just another Walter?  First be thankful that you're still able to decide, turn a corner in your life and try something new. Remember that you're not paralyzed.

But then hone in on a goal, a direction, a plan, a dream. Pray for God to give you and your family some direction, a purpose that will truly change your life. Remember the big problem with wandering . . . you never really get anywhere.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, September 16, 2013

Five Things NOT To Teach Your Children About God

There are lots of great churches, Christian schools and books out there that can help us with the fundamentals of our faith that we need to teach and emphasize at home. Unfortunately, I've noticed a number of things that seem to be subtly or unintentionally passed on in our fellowships and families that are way off the mark.

Let me suggest five.

One, God's ultimate desire is to make us happy. Well, I'll be the first to admit that living for God does bring great happiness and blessing (Matthew 5 and the Beatitudes, for example) but that is not His main goal. He wants us to mature, to be strong in our faith and to ultimately do what glorifies Him. That's why He doesn't always take away the tough times or necessarily find us a parking place ahead of someone else.

Two, serving God gets us closer to Him and eventually more favor from Him. Yes, we are to commit ourselves to Him with all of our hearts, but our serving is to be a result of our love for Him, not to get that love. We can't get any closer or further from Him once we're His child.  Just because we're doing mission work, giving time every week at a soup kitchen or spending great amounts of money for the kingdom doesn't make us any more spiritual than the family in a third world country who loves Jesus but is just trying to stay alive every day.

Third, if we mess up enough, God will finally give up on us. I talk to people every week in my counseling office who feel that way.  They think that because of their mistakes, their spouse's leaving, their kids messing up or whatever, God has now passed on them in terms of using them for something that matters. But Psalm 57:2 reminds us that God will continue to fulfill His purpose for us.

Fourth, the more earthly success we have the more worthy and important we will be in His eyes and others eyes. So often our children who play in a sport or do an  activity almost every day of the year begin to think that their doing well in those events makes them extra special.  And while kids can learn a lot about themselves and life through sports, music and drama they're not better or worse as a person whether they participate or not.

Fifth, God is only about love or only about rules. God actually cares about both. He loves us unconditionally as no person can ever do. His love is greater than any sin, past or mistake.  However, He gives us rules to help us live well and avoid things or people that will eventually harm us.  Every wise parent will model having both love and healthy guidelines in their home.

So if you're teaching any of the above, stop and take inventory.  Begin to explain and model otherwise.  If your kids follow a God who really isn't the way you make him, it's going to be your fault. Don't live with that.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Learning In A Restaurant About Happiness

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Have You Had a Rest Lately?

As I write this post I am just into my final two weeks of a nine-week sabbatical from my work as a pastor. Yes, nine weeks off to travel, relax, do nothing, read a book, spend time with my wife or whatever. I am very thankful that my church, Austin Christian Fellowship, makes that kind of break after seven years of service an option.

So as we head off to one more adventure in San Francisco and Yosemite National Park, I wanted to give you a few of the benefits of this time off that I know I must keep in my life in some form, even if I can't get nine weeks in a row very often.

You see we live in a driven culture. We all exist under the umbrella of expectations, potential and success. We want to have what everyone else has, we fear our kids will miss out on something they need for life and we're addicted to the rush of accomplishment. So we rarely slow down. Even our leisure is harried. Our vacations are even jam-packed with more to do, see and overcome.

Things that should be plain fun like watching our son or daughter play a game or star in a play are often simply opportunities for us to catch our breath or sneak in a short nap. We cram our exercise and meals into an already jampacked schedule. We take more to help us sleep than ever before and many of us are getting by on the bare minimums.

Time off, real time off, reminds you that you simply can't keep living that way and that there is another, better option.

First, time off or rest reminds us what is really important. There are a lot of things I have not done during this time that I usually do each day or week that I found I can live without. I also discovered some things that I was able to add to my life that I don't want to stop now.  I need to play more, keep exercise important but not rushed and spend more time just drinking coffee without a timetable. I have new goals regarding my wife and family that I haven't thought about lately.

Second, time off or rest give us perspective. Busyness keeps us from evaluating what we're doing and why. We may be accomplishing lots of good things but are they the best things, especially for us and our family.  It's too easy to wake up one day and realize that ten or twenty years went by and we just did the same things over and over and never thought about why.

Third, time off or rest help us focus better on our relationship with God. When we're too busy we can become too busy for God or we begin to think that He wants us in this ratrace too.  We start thinking that the more things we do for him earn us more points or favor when in reality He often just wants to be with us where we are.  He wants us to enjoy Him and Him us.

One day on the sabbatical I was in North Texas where the mornings are usually cool even in the summer. I got up early and went to get coffee for the adults and walked out the door into the pleasant temperatures.  As I drove to the coffee shop and back and enjoyed the crisp air I found myself worshipping God and thanking him for that moment.  I was just enjoying Him, His creation and my moment in it. I want and need more spaces like that and I would guess you do too.

And we won't get them if we don't slow down and really rest. We may have to do it in little moments much of the time but if those moments become normal we'll never go back to living without them.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, August 23, 2013

Beware of Selling and Modeling Cheap Happiness

I was at a festival of sorts the other day, one of those gatherings in another state where people came from all over to hear a lot of bands, eat food, hang out, buy crafts . . . you know what I mean?  There were thousands of people there. And I was one of them.

And it was a fun night in many ways. There's nothing wrong with listening to some music, enjoying some not-so-healthy-food and seeing more than a few really weird people out in public now and then. There can be something uplifting and reenergizing when you go out and have some simple, uncomplicated fun.

But the problem is that for many of those people, at least I would guess, that evening was pretty much what they look forward to over and over. They will attend another gathering - a bar, a patio, a concert, a backyard - where they will do pretty much the same thing - talk about the same old topics, have a few drinks and burgers, sit and listen to the same old music, try to impress somebody with some accomplishment and go home.

That's what I mean by cheap happiness. We settle for the same old thrills that may make us a little happy for a while or perhaps just dull some other pain and we think that's all there is.  Watch college and university students out on the town and you'll see what I mean. And often we lead our spouse or kids into the same lifestyle and never introduce them or ourselves to something more, something better, something richer.

Let me suggest a couple of ideas to help you to get in touch with a few opporutunities that will more likely bring you joy and add something to your life that's actually worth doing over and over.

First, take a deeper dive into something.  If you like music, great, but become a student or expert or follower or healthy fanatic. Perhaps you like to hike, then go climb a big mountain. If you are fascinated with a country, learn the language some and take a trip there.  If you have a skill, talent or resource that could help others then start volunteering, giving and serving and bring your spouse or kids along to participate.

Second, add variety to your fun.  Don't keep doing the same things over and over.  Perhaps do more by going to less. We love to travel but can't afford to be going all the time.  So we plan some bigger trips that we can look forward to but that also add some special locations to our itinerary.  We've gone to Alaska, Switzerland, Austria, France, British Columbia, the Smokie Mountains and the like.  Next month we're off to Yosemite National Park and San Francisco.

We do go a few places on a more regular basis but we can't stand just doing the same thing.

Third, ask God to give you a mission or ministry. I've been to Russian fifteen times and have a heart for the people there that I never dreamed would happen years ago.  Others have local commitments to help feed the hungry, help the homeless, work with special needs kids and the like.  It doesn't matter as long as you become invested in it and use your gifts, talents and resources.  It's this kind of involvement that changes lives, including yours!

So, don't settle at your house for cheap opportunities to feel a little better doing the same things everyone else is doing.  Because if you do you will someday look back and wonder what you did with your time.  But if you try something new, meaningful and unique you will more likely wonder why you didn't start sooner.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, August 16, 2013

"Gambling" At Home Rarely Works

I was behind a woman in line at a gas station/convenience store in Michigan the other day. And I couldn't help but notice that she spent sixty dollars on lottery tickets. I wondered if she gives up that kind of money every week or if she just felt lucky that day.

Either way, I know that the odds of her winning anything were infinitesimally small and that the significant portion of her money she was committing would likely be wasted.

Interestingly, it seems to me that there are a lot of things that we in our homes gamble on just as foolishly. 

We spend lots of resources - time, money, energy and emotion - hoping to get a  huge payday but unfortunately the odds are small. Let me suggest a few. 

We gamble that our kids will become a famous, successful superstar in something.  We secure the best coaches, send our kids off to other cities and/or follow them around the city or country hoping they will finally hit the big time.  And yes a small fraction make it and we see them on television. But the bigger percentage, like it is in gambling, never pay off. Is the gamble really worth it?

We gamble that as husband and wife we will love being with each other . . . AFTER our kids are grown. While the kids are in the house we might rarely date, work on our relationship or spend meaningful, intimate time together. Everything revolves around the kids. That is also a huge wager that rarely beats the house.

We also gamble that there will be time later to enjoy all the things we sacrificed while our family was growing. But sadly the numbers often work against us. A pastor we knew years ago worked hard and well at ministry and had planned to finally travel with his wife after he retired in his mid-60's. Sadly he died later during the year of his retirement. Gambling with death often won't beat the odds either.

We gamble that our kids will one day mature and be the kids we'd hoped they would be. In the meantime we can look the other way from bad behaviors, disrespectful attitudes and lazy habits. Providing our kids with purposeful lifechanging activities or involvement in a quality church youth program never becomes a priority.  As a result the odds increase that our kids will not grow in the ways we had dreamed they would.

You see the wise spouse and parent will not play the numbers for their future but simply do NOW those things that may not be available later when their bets are less likely to win. They work at as many of the best things they can in the present knowing that they all won't likely be there in the future. They don't let their hopes and dreams be relegated to the future only.

So don't make life at your house a poor bet. You can do better and win so much more by playing your relational chips today and tomorrow. God gave us the wisdom to do that now. Don't let the world's house win. Cash in today.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, July 29, 2013

Living in the One Percent

I've had the opportunity to stand on nine or ten summits over 14,000 feet in my life. I've been blessed to travel to Russia fifteen times and another trip is on the horizon. I've hiked for days near the Matterhorn, one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. I got to take a zipline from next to the Great Wall of China across a lake flying hundreds of feet in the air.

And in each of these scenarios and others like them I wondered to myself:  What percentage of people in the world have done this or been here? And of course I don't know the amount but I'm pretty sure it's quite small, less than one percent.  I remember thinking, "I am so fortunate to be here because very few have experienced this."

But I also know this . . . those moments were some of the most alive times in my life. Most of them required sacrifice, hardship, pain and/or fear but they were worth it. They were opportunities that the majority of other people either couldn't or wouldn't take advantage of because in many cases they were too busy doing what everyone else does.

Is that you  and your family too?  Just accomplishing a lot of great things but doing what most other people do every day. Are you just a clone in a busy culture but with little uniqueness of your own?

And before you think I was just off doing special adventures let me explain what led to the above activities. The mountains were largely climbed with one or more of my kids or my wife. They were special family moments we would never forget.

The trips to Russia have been to teach, help, encourage and train others in ministry, to help them more effectively share their Christian faith with their people. The Matterhorn trip was a twenty-fifth wedding anniversary trip with Jackie and the Great Wall opportunity was part of a trip to see our daughter and son-in-law serving God in China.

REMEMBER: If you want your one percent choices to be extra special do something that involves things that truly matter - ministry, family and helping others.

It is so easy to just coast through life making money, getting stuff and trying to just be happy. But living in the one percent is more about finding joy, giving things away and discovering that the things that are worth the most actually cost the least in everyday terms. You don't need dollars, pesos, rubles or Euros to buy them.  But you do have to plan them, look for them, pray about them and be intentional about living life differently from the masses.

Look for a cause, a mission, a neighbor to help. Find an adventure that your family will never forget and yet which teaches eternal truths and makes a lifelong difference in someone. And when you do you will find that your life is alive in a way you've rarely experienced before and you will never go back.

Start now.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

To Have Great Kids Start Early

So if you could describe the third-grader or middle school student, teenage or adult you would like your child to be what words would you use? Polite, self-controlled, kind to others, honest, obedient, God-honoring?  I'm sure we could make pretty long lists and many of us would include the same words.

Why?  Because they are words that describe the character, attitudes and actions we know make up great people, those who get along well with others, succeed in life and serve God by doing things that matter.

The problem is that many parents think these qualities will just appear in their children one day. In the meantime they wait for the child to get older before they try to instill and develop those qualities in their offspring. That is a huge mistake.

If you want your children to exhibit certain behaviors and attitudes start when they are little and I mean little. Yes, children are different in both personality and development so we can't all expect the same results at the same ages. Some kids push us harder than others and have a stronger will to resist the direction we want to give them.

In fact, that is why a lot of parents just give up and don't stay with training their kids in the way they should go because frankly it's just hard. But please don't make your child being a challenge an excuse for not digging the soil deep for planting personal seeds for their future.

We were just with our daughter Amy, her husband David and their two boys for eight or nine days. However, the youngest, Silas, who is just twenty-months, would regularly say thank you when he was given something. Twenty months. But that didn't just happen. They have a boy who is learning to be polite and they are helping him to it. In fact, their oldest, now almost four, has been learning politeness for a long time now.

Are those boys perfect?  Of course not and we cannot expect that. But too many parents simply do not try to build character qualities into their children early in their development assuming they can't learn these things. They can amd they will if we'll be actively involved.

And when your children push back, especially the strong ones, then yes they will require more repetition, reminders and practice. Your timeframe for success will be longer but it will be worth it. Don't quit.

Of course other factors are important such as modeling, family atmosphere and parenting styles. We parents must practice what we preach. But when we put intentional training along with natural modeling we are far more likely to have children who actually become what we've hoped and prayed for.

So start early.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Why We All Need A Little Sabbath in Our Homes

Some people don't know what it is. When I tell people I'm going on a nine-week sabbatical they look at me like I'm speaking another language. Others think I must be doing this because I'm a pastor and that maybe I'm going to take some kind of pilgrmage to a foreign, mystical land.

For many the word sabbath only makes sense if it comes after the word Black. (Are they still touring?) But actually the purpose of sabbath or taking a sabbatical  is to rest and breathe in a major change of scenery from the hectic pace of life and its demands.

It's only when we literally stop doing what we're doing for a while and live differently for an extended time will we understand true sabbath. God, obviously knowing how we are made and what we need, ordained and commanded sabbath on a regular basis. We could say that every night's sleep is a form of sabbath and it is. But God's chief plan was to tell His children to take one day a week and experience a major stoppage or at least change of pace from the usual grind of life.  Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy is one of the Ten Commandments. It's not a suggestion.

Even the fields were supposed to have a periodic rest and sometimes individuals were given much longer breaks. That's why many wise organizations like schools and churches offer something to people like me, usually after seven years of service following the Biblical example.

The problem is that most of us in our culture are caught in the trap and pull of having to do more not less, to never rest but be productive. We want our kids busy every moment, we need more money to get more house and then have more to take care of and then we sleep less. But our bodies weren't made for living that way. And neither were our souls.

We need regular times to slow down, even stop. We must recalibrate our minds,  rest our muscles and bones and  renew our relationships with crockpot slowness, letting each hour simmer in new flavor, perspective and calm.

The other day I had to schedule a follow up doctor visit during this sabbatical and my first reaction was to check my schedule on my phone to see what times would be open. And all of a sudden I thought . . . "Wait, my time is totally free. It doesn't matter when we make the appointment!"  That was liberating and rejuvenating in and of itself.

Do you and your family embrace sabbath in your world?  It won't likely be nine-weeks long (and mine won't either again for at least seven more years) but it can be a few hours, a day, a weekend or just a short nap. But don't say I can't afford sabbath.  The truth is you can't afford NOT to have sabbath. You're going to run out of gas, you're going to miss some of the most important things in life that you won't enjoy unless you stop long enough to experience them.

Start now. Once you do you'll never go back to the old way.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Avoiding Friendly Fire At Your House

War has many unpleasant outcomes - debilitating injuries, time away from home and challenging stresses and emotional issues long after time of service finishes.  And of course the worst result of all is death - the loss of a mother, daughter, son, father, brother or sister. Life is never the same after that.

However, there is one kind of death that makes the situation even harder to bear. Death or injury from friendly fire. Someone gets hurt or killed accidentally by the bullets or bombs of one of their own.  As I write this our country is celebrating our independence on the 4th of July but that independence came with great cost including some who were lost but were inadvertently taken away through the error of a fellow soldier or team.

Sadly, there are friendly fire results in many homes that are also tragic and could have been avoided as well. Children, spouses and parents can all be the recipients of explosions and other ammunition that gets shot into a home or family.  Let me talk about some that could actually be stopped or deflected if we will just stop and admit it is there.

Verbal assaults.  Name-calling, shouting, rage and put downs are common in many households.  People may not even think they were making a big deal or hurting someone else through their words but it happens all the time. Children begin to think they are bad all the time, spouses are told how stupid or dumb they are and just an angry tone of voice can be devastating.

Proverbs remind us that death and life are in the power of the tongue.

Unreasonable expectations. Some parents won't accept anything from their children less than their being number one, getting an "A" or winning. The implication even in their compliments is that the results should have been better. How do I know this is a problem in many families?  Because I talk almost every week to these kids who are now grown ups in my counseling office and they are still paying the price of their parents unfair desires for them.

Selfish decisions.  Many adults in the middle of an affair, a divorce, financial struggles and a host of other things make quick, inward focused decisions without considering who else in the family might be affected. I wrote recently of this in a post about divorce but it happens in myriad situations. Often couples are so mad at each other that they will yell, scream, deceive, conjur and manipulate to get their own way not realizing that several other sets of eyes are watching and hearts are breaking.

My hunch is that you can think of some more settings where friendly fire can take its toll.  Look at yourself and your situation and ask God to show you where those situations might be.  Or if the ones I've discussed here are true of you, decide today to make a change now.

The battle is tough enough without hurting those you love in the process.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, June 29, 2013

When Divorce Looms Over Your Marriage

I am sure I don't have to remind most of us of the statistics on divorce. Half of today's marriages will not experience "til death do us part." So it's imperative that spouses think long and hard about the impact of divorce and decide now what they will do when divorce rears its ugly head in their homes.

Some would say at this point, "Well, we shouldn't even be talking about it."  And I would agree that in a perfect world that SHOULD be the case. But we are humans so let's get a little more real and think about this for a few minutes.

First, ask yourself how the idea got posited there in the first place. Did one of you use it in an argument for leverage?  Is that really the route you want to go or were you just mad?  If there is no real movement or need to go the divorce route, then take the word out of your vocabulary NOW. Become more mature and talk about what's really going on, in the here and now, and deal with it.

But using divorce for leverage is the cheap way to resolve conflict and it rarely works.  Get some help but change your terms.

Second, have you done everything YOU could do to fix things?  Sometimes one of the spouses appears to have quit or given up.  And if that's the other person then I still want to ask you, "Have you tried everything anyway?"  Have you gone for counseling, have you prayed, have you been the spouse you want the other person to be?  Have you confessed your role in the strife (and yes you do have a role).

Ten years from now you at least want to be able to say that you before God did everything you could to save your marriage.  And sometimes, not always, the other spouse will see those changes in you and begin to come around.

Third, what kind of impact are your responses having on the children?  Whatever you do, keep the kids in mind.  Don't let them get hit with unnecessary friendly fire and shrapnel from your arguments, namecalling and petty ways of trying to win the battle. Lay aside your pride, suck it up sometimes and deal with the conflict but only in appropriate ways.

And should you go down the divorce road, still keep those kids in mind. You may have to yield on something that you'd rather not so that your kids can be spared some unncessary hurt. Do it. I know a guy who broke up with a woman he had a relationship with after his marriage ended because of how his ex used that relationship to harm the kids. I admire him.

Finally, remember that your worth comes from God not your spouse. Too many battles go on and on in homes because each spouse is fighting for his or her worth when it's not really on the line. Remember whose you are. Your spouse will never be enough for you so move forward.

Go to the mat for your marriage. Fight for it. Pray about it. Give it all you've got.  It's usually worth it.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, June 24, 2013

At Your Home Do You Enjoy or Protect?

I've only seen a partial episode of the reality show Hoarders but that was probably enough for a while. Each week the program focuses on a person or family who literally hoards everything from old boxes to tools to clothes to you name it. In most cases their homes are a mess and every room is piled with stuff. I can't imagine living that way for even a day.

However, there seems to be a common reason behind most of the hoarding, one that is closer to where many of us live than we care to admit. They can't imagine losing it for fear that they might need it someday.

They can have a hundred empty shirt boxes but won't throw any away because they might need one and one is never enough. That pile of magazines probably has an article, ad or coupon that could come in handy. That shed full of tools, broken and worn, might meet a need for them or a neighbor.

And while saving things, making do with what we have and not being wasteful have their merits, hoarding like this is really just selfishness and many of us are at least tainted by it. In fact there are probably some deep-seated insecurities and self image issues that have never been resolved in hoarders and us.

Nonetheless, in most cases we too have WAY more than what we need and we can become protectors and hoarders in our own right. We spend thousands of dollars on what we deem necessities that people in most of the world would call luxuries and in some cases would like to have just one.

So we live a lot of our lives trying to protect our stash rather than wisely using just enough.  We accumulate and accumulate just a little bit more.  And we model the same for our children who pass along similar habits to their kids. People alive who lived through the depression still think this way but that mentality has made it to today as well in some forms.

In fact today there are two extremes:  use things up and then buy a new one or never throw anything away and try to get more. Both are misguided.  I'll talk about the consumer mentality in another post.

For now let's talk about how can we live a life of contentment with what we have versus being those in the protective camp who fear losing anything.

1.  Regularly take inventory and throw away (or give away) things you aren't using or don't need.   I have a lot of books that I've had to buy or read for my counseling and pastoral ministry over the years.  However, whenever I get a new book now I throw or give one away.  I'm just not going to add to my collection anymore.  We need to do something similar in our homes.

Some say if it's been there a year or more and you haven't use it get rid of it. You decide.

2.  Get rid of some of your storage by downsizing or selling some places you have that just pile up more stuff.  Some people have sheds, multiple homes or other places where they are keeping things that they just don't use. But they are paying to store it or asking someone else to manage it. Say goodbye and pass it on to someone else who could benefit or just throw it out.

3.  Enjoy what you have, don't hide it away somewhere.  Sure, we should take care of and maintain those things we've been blessed with. We should help things last as long as possible. But also take time to enjoy special items - pictures, collections, hobby items, special souvenirs, etc. They were made to be used.

4. Get involved in the lives of people needier than you.  They will remind you of how much you have that you don't really need. The more we spend time here or in other countries with people who have so little we'll realize how little we could live on.  And the less we have the less we have to take care of.  Aren't there better things we could do with our resources?

You bet!

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, June 17, 2013

Teaching Our Kids To Value The Right Things

I remember when a number of years ago now a friend's home went up in flames. One moment he and his family had a beautiful home, minutes later it was ashes. They lost most everything except their lives.  However, I remember his comments when I among others arrived there to see if we could do anything.

He said,  "Well, it's just stuff."  And he was right. Yes, he and his wife went through some emotional challenges losing so much in one night. But I think his faith in God reminded him that the most valuable things he had not lost that night. The rest was just stuff.

It's replaceable and temporary. It's really not what makes us happy.

But I'm pretty sure that most of us, even with the best of intentions, put way too much value and focus on what we have - our home, cars, equipment, special objects and other things of value. We say they don't matter that much but deep down they count for more than most of us would admit. If we're honest we know it would be hard to live as happily without those luxuries, comforts and things we so often take for granted.

How can we learn to live more with a stuff-less mentality and a focus on the eternal while modeling a less is more way of life?

First, I think it helps to cut back drastically.  No, I'm not suggesting go live under a bridge but cutting back could include getting a smaller home, selling a big ticket item, dropping one of our big vacations or just spending less on things we don't need.  How about saying, It still works so why buy another one?

Second, get more intentional about giving resources away.  And not just money though that counts. Give away your time, a car, clothing and whatever else could be used to help someone else.  Think about a Christmas where everyone gets one small gift and the rest of your normal spending goes to help others.

Third, try going and serving somewhere.  This goes along with sharing resources, but you will also have sweat, tears and relationship in the game.  You will actually go and care for someone yourself and not just give them money. You will become friends with someone likely outside of your social strata and become personally involved. And your kids will remember those interactions forever.

There are lots more ideas.  You can come up with your own.  But whatever you do, find ways to involve your family in activities and practices that will take their eyes off of things and give them new eyes for loving people and valuing things . . . the way Jesus did.


Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Who's Really Raising Your Kids?

Outside of our second story condo are lots of trees and some birdfeeders. We get all sorts of birds to watch, some colorful, some annoying and all of them quite hungry most of the time. However, recently we've had some cowbirds poke around or at least try to get into  feeders that they really don't even fit in but they work at it anyway.

Interestingly my wife recently discovered something unusual about how cowbirds care for their young.  They typically deposit their eggs in the nests of other birds and leave them there for these rogue parents to take care of. How sad. A momma is going to have these cute little babies but in essence doesn't really care that much if she is involved with them.

Now I'm sure no human parents would ever think of dropping their kids off at someone else's house to raise (though we had moments) but I wonder if some parents are more like cowbirds than they want to admit.

For example, do we let the church do most of the spiritual training of our children?  We expect the church to teach them Bible stories, life concepts and what it means to truly follow Jesus. We expect the church or other Christian organization to provide all their special faith-building activities, missions trips and social gatherings.  And so we drop them off in the nests of other leaders and hope for the best.

But Deuteronomy 6 reminds us that this training is to come from the everyday lives and actions of us, the real parents. Don't give it all  away to someone else.

Or, do we let other adults really do most of the parenting, disciplining and rule - setting?  Sure we have our guidelines but we don't push them too hard. We want our kids to like us, think we're just as cool as them and are the parents that all the kids think are the best!  So we look the other way, let things slide and then wonder why our kids don't really listen to us anymore.

Or if we're a single parent we may believe that we're just warring against the different standards of our ex so why try?  God still asks us to be the parent, train up our children well and teach them that life isn't all about them.

Third, do we let culture ultimately parent our kids. We allow TV, movies, and other social mores determine their morality. We rarely talk with them about what it means to be pure, holy and godly even when others around them are not. We also may find ourselves letting most of our own rules and habits slide explaining that it's really no big deal.

But it is a big deal. Kids do absorb what they hear and are taught everyday.  We as parents can and must be the central purveyor of truth and righteous living in our homes. There will always be an onslaught of ideas that our kids will face but we can help them learn to still stand for the truth, especially after they leave our homes.

So don't put your kids in some other nest or nests to raise.  God gave us this wonderful opportunity to shape the hearts and minds of our kids for good and to help them be all God made them to be.  And frankly, no other bird, no matter the species, can do that better than us!

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Bold Love: Laying Aside The Past Wrongs in Your Marriage

I have several large bookshelves that stand directly behind where I sit when I counsel couples. (I somehow believe it will it impress them but that hasn't ever seemed to work.)  And I often use those shelves as an illustration regarding how we like to keep our own personal bookshelves handy, shelves filled with all the wrongs our spouse did in the past.

And then when we need them we grab one or two or twenty of those "books" and throw them again at our spouse. "I've never trusted you since that day five years ago when . . . " or "Don't you ever forget how much you hurt me when . . . " or "You lied back then and you're obviously lying now. When will it ever stop?"

Now granted the past matters because it has shaped much of what we do today. It matters because we need to learn from it sometimes. It matters if things really haven't changed and today you're simply facing more of the same.

However, healthy couples instead learn to leave those volumes on the shelf and communicate only in the HERE and NOW.  When they are angry or upset they talk about what's currently happening and don't include the past as part of the discussion.  They let go of the past out of love for their spouse and work on today only.  This is a biblical concept.

"Love does not store up the memory of any wrong it has received."  I Corinthians 13

We need to forgive, to let go of the wrongs against us. As I've said before, forgiveness is not about letting someone else off the hook as much as letting yourself off the hook.  But if you and your spouse are ever going to make real progress in dealing with conflict you will have to live by this idea of letting go of the past.

How do you live this out in everyday life?  Start rephrasing your comments when you're angry, hurt or confused.  Say something like, "This morning I was really hurt when you . . . .  "  as opposed to, "Every time I try to bring up (blank) you get defensive and blame me.  It started the day we were married and I don't even know why I try any more."

Don't let the past own you anymore.  Love even admits that often our view of the past is skewed by our emotional reaction to it.  Sometimes it's as bad as remember but often it is not.  Either way, it does us no good now.

Love was never intended to be easy or not require big-time sacrifice. Read the rest of I Corinthians 13 and you'll see what I mean. But the love God describes there is the only kind we should settle for. And if we're going to enjoy it then we need to forgive . . . even when it's hard.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Don't Add to The Bumper Bowling Generation

For years bowling alleys have utilized a system to help youngsters still have fun when they try to bowl. They put these foam cushions or bumpers in each gutter so no matter where the child rolls the ball it will at least go down the alley and hit a few pins and not end up in the channel.

And for those purposes it was and is a great idea. Most of those kids would never hit any pins the whole time if it weren't for the bumpers.

Unfortunately, our society seems to want kids to live all of life that way, with bumpers everywhere so they always succeed, never really lose and avoid most of life's disappointments. All the kids get trophies, ribbons and "good job" comments no matter how they perform.  In many ways we've almost removed disappointment, hard work and healthy competition from everyday life for kids, something that simply isn't true in the real world.

So should we go to the other extreme and just make every activity, sport and class tough, raw and ultimately may the best kid win?  Probably not. But there is a place for balance and letting our children experience life more the way it truly is and will be when they are older.

The benefits are important.  For example, kids need to learn to lose. They will not always be first, number one or get a trophy. Sometimes you give your best and someone else is better. That's OK and normal is the lesson we can teach here. We can show them how to lose graciously and as a good sport in the process. But what's the value in going over and shaking hands or telling the other team they did great when nobody won and it's pretty easy to do and say?

Second, losing can help increase their motivation to do better. Who wants to try harder when the result next week will be the same?  "I will get a prize whether I work hard or not. Everyone will think I'm wonderful even if I don't care and don't try."  And so they look for another "bumper" from mom and dad or the coaches to just make them feel good again for trying.

Third, facing hardships grows our inner strength.  In the Bible, God rarely took people around problems.  Instead he made them, including Jesus, go through them,. God knows that we learn to trust Him more not our abilities when we struggle, face problems and have to overcome obstacles.  Let's face it many of us face more struggle than victories in life anyway.  Now's the time to prepare them to still have joy and peace in the middle of our challenges.

So yes, we need to encourage our children and not make expectations so high they become exasperated as the Bible points out. But we also need to let them fail, make a mistake and not be the winner every time. And if we do, they will "win" in the biggest challenge of all, being the person of character and integrity God wanted them to be all along.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Top Five Things NOT To Do As A Parent

There are lots of things parents do and don't do that are certainly unique and special in their home. Even things like discipline can vary from family to family depending on the size of the family, setting and personalities involved.

However, after decades of parenting and counseling others, I'm pretty convinced of at least five things that parents should definitly stay away from no matter the nature of their household.  And yet as you look at the list I'll bet that you've done at least a few if not more of these. Read the list and then consider some better options that I'll throw in.

5. Don't try to get your kids to behave by yelling louder.  Yelling should be reserved for when our child is about to be injured, but not to get t hem to act. It's our actions that will get our kids to obey more than the tone of our voice.

4.  Don't forget to follow through on your promises - good or bad.  Discipline tanks when we are inconsistent.  When spouses have different rules and expectations or even as a single parent when we do one thing one time and something else another.  Say what you mean and mean what you say. 

3.  Don't try to be like them. Too many parents are trying to be their child or teen's friend before being their parent. As a result we give in more and often still try to live vicariously through them. Many parents are still trying to dress and talk like them too and if the kids are honest they hate it when we do that so stop.

2. Don't fight with your spouse in front of them. Of course we've all had those split-second moments when something flared up between us with the kids right there. But wise parents don't continue the argument with the kids as spectators. Yes, kids need to know that parents may not get along sometimes but they also need to be shown how to take the next step. Let them see you talk about how you're going to work through things and resolve them . . . somewhere else.

1. Don't trivialize your faith. So many parents make their love for Jesus and belief in God a little nice practice that the family engages in every week. They make sure they get their church time in and maybe even get the kids to the camps and other special programs. But it's essential that we teach and model for our children that our faith is the center of who we are and what we do, not just a fraction.

You can find other blog posts on each of these ideas by going through the index. But if you find any of these cropping up in your parenting . . . just say no.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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