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

Monday, December 29, 2014

The Problems With Too Much

Most of us parents would love to give our kids some of the things we never had. We look forward to providing for our offspring and ultimately helping them to find happiness and fulfillment.

Unfortunately many moms and dads think that giving them pretty much what they want or that everyone else has is the answer. Can I say it simply? It's not.

When kids get too much stuff, attention or an abundance of accolades that are really undeserved the kids don't blossom they bloat. They get weighed down with entitlement, ungratitude and confusion. I've seen a recent situation where the kids continue to get so many gifts from their grandparents and other close relatives that they don't even know who gave them each gift.

The presents all simply get thrown together into one big pile, sadly a mountain of things that are soon forgotten if even played with much at all. And yet the family thinks this is what these kids need and should have. It makes me wonder who the gift-giving is for in the first place.

The results?

First, a lack of thankfulness for what they do have. Instead of saying thank you they tend to say or at least be thinking, Where's the next one?

Second, a focus on what they have versus others. You will often hear from these children, "I just got a . . . ." or "My parents bought me a . . . ."  They never have enough but it always needs to be more than others got.

Third, a waning of social skills. Some might argue that this result depends upon the kinds of gifts the kids get and there may be some truth to that. But given too much of anything most young people will want to spend more time with the stuff and less having meaningful interactions.

Fourth, little desire to help or serve others. Yes, thankfully there are some exceptions where kids have a lot and find the passion to give it away in some form or another. But the majority of kids I've been around simply make life more about them because their parents did just that.

Each family will have to decide and determine what too much is but my advice would be to always err on the side of too little. I've written some other posts about holiday giving that might help here with other practical ideas about how to do some gift-giving and stuff slimming from your home.

Whatever you do remember the adage that is true in so many other areas: Less is more!

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Five Greatest Gifts For Your Kids This Year

Is your Christmas shopping done? Probably not unless you're one of those really organized people. Like most you are probably running from place to place, checking list after list while trying to find the best deals that will maximize your Christmas budget this year.

And while gifts for each other are great and yes can still remind us of the incredible gifts God gave us in sending His Son to earth, I wonder if there aren't some other less tangible, yet more valuable gifts we might give this season. Let me suggest a few, ones that can last and be enjoyed all year long.

More of you. No, I don't mean that you will show up at more of their events or drive the kids to more places in the family taxi. Rather, give them more of you when you're not exhausted, more of you at your best, more of you in casual, relaxed times when they can just be with you and you with them. Let go of some of the usual demands and obligations you've placed on yourself and family and leave some time and energy to just enjoy one another.

Surprises. What if this year instead of doing the same activities, going to the same events, and spending your money on the usual things, you found a couple of special, unique things to do with them that they will never forget?  It will depend on your abilities, interests and resources but you can do a special trip or getaway, visit or invite someone they haven't seen for awhile or attend an event or show they've wanted to go to. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

Serve together. Consider finding not just a holiday commitment but a year-long opportunity, perhaps once a month or several times in the next twelve months to care for other people together. The gift?  The blessing of doing something for others and together. Plus you'll be modeling for them how real life and joy are more often found in giving not getting.

Slow down. This is necessary for most good gift ideas but what if this year it was simply more obvious that the whole family is going to be less busy than past years. And while kids might balk at first they will most likely see and reap the benefits of not living in the angst of running ragid and meeting the demands of others all the time. You may take some flak from outsiders too, but so what?  Try it.

Deepen your family's faith walk.  When we make significant changes in other priorities we open up our options for growing spiritually too. Parents will have to set the pace on this but think about some ways that you all can grow more spiritually, both individually and together. One size doesn't fit all here and chances are you're not looking for a program or course to do this. It might start with just praying more, adding more spiritual growth options at home or talking more about spiritual things.

You might serve this year on a missions trip or at a local shelter or other organization.

Whatever you do this season and subsequent new year, be sure to include some gifts that won't ever be under the tree but will shine brightly for months, even years, to come. And once they're opened I'm pretty sure they will be enjoyed long after the boxes and other gifts are set aside for something else.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Preparing Well For The Hard Times

Recently a good friend's marriage broke apart. A 14-year-old lost her best friend in a car accident. A family member learned the cancer came back. Another home continues to be rocked by abuse and mistreatment.

Most of us could provide our own list of stories where we or others are hurting deeply. As one of my professors said once, People are hurting more deeply than we know. The question is, "when hard times come will our family be ready or at least be prepared to handle them as wisely and helpfully as possible?"

Of course, like climbing mountains, it's tough to ever be fully prepared for what's up there on that mountain. But you can try and get ready as well as you can. And if we're wise we will not take preparation steps lightly.

Where do we start?

First, develop an openness at home including parents and kids to talk about things honestly. If we won't discuss the simple issues or events we probably won't talk about the challenging ones. Ideally you have to start early. Waiting until the worst comes and then expecting teens to talk, for example, will often be fruitless. But even if you did wait, try anyway now in the small things.

Second, avoid easy answers. When tragedy and hardship hit there are usually few simple responses. Talk often about how sometimes answers will differ depending upon the situation. People grieve in different ways and intervals. What specifically worked for someone else might now be the answer for you or the person you know.

Third, focus on principles and actions that are true and helpful for us all. For example, teach the concepts of God's goodness no matter what happens. Remind one another that Jesus said he would never leave or forsake us. Talk about the fact that God gets sad, Jesus shed tears and the Spirit can be grieved so we can too.

Finally, tell each other often that you love each other. We all need to be able to rest in the fact that our "accounts" are up to date, that we've said what we need to say to each other and that it will be natural to say those things in the struggle.

No, we can never fully prepare for the worst, but we can prepare the soil of our relationships so that in spite of the storm, growth and healthy change will still occur. But it won't happen by just hoping. We have to start and we have to start now.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, October 20, 2014

Embrace The Joy At Home

Jackie and I just spent a week watching our three Lubbock grandboys, ages 1, 3 and 5. Ok, so we're exhausted, but it was great fun. The boys were boys but behaved wonderfully the whole time. Their parents have obviously done a lot right. Sure we had our moments and wondered how mom and dad actually keep up with the constant questions, activity and neediness that normal kids that age expend.

Sometimes we'd get them all into bed and quiet at night and we would just collapse.

And I was reminded of when we were those parents and had the daily, non-stop responsibility for our two. How did we do it?  I'm not sure other than by the grace of God.

But I wonder how many parents under the pressures of parenting their little ones, saying "no" fifty times a day and being worn out much of the time also miss the little joys along the way. Perhaps we need to laugh and giggle a little more in the middle of our kids immaturity, challenges and being prone to look at themselves first.

One day, Silas, the three-year-old, was jumping on the couch. So I said, "Silas, don't jump on the couch please."  To which he responded, "Don't watch me do it." It took everything I had in me at the time to not laugh and unintentionally condone his actions, but inside I was cracking up. Somehow there was joy in seeing that little mind at work.

Joy came when we picked out and then carved our not so exotic pumpkins. And more joy arrived the next morning when we got up in the dark and had lit the pumpkins for them in the dark. Joy came when they rode the swing or their scooters with all their might grinning from ear to ear.

Joy showed up when they got their favorite donut with sprinkles or made a simple tower out of blocks. Joy was there when the oldest began to read words he never thought he could read.

All those little things could have been missed if we'd only focused on the BIG stuff or been too busy being productive. 

And remember joy doesn't only come in the good moments.  Joy isn't just another version of being happy. Joy can also be the feeling we have when we see something great, some work of God, some specialness in the difficult times when life isn't going as we'd hoped. We can bring some joy to our kids when we love them anyway when they've messed up.

We can exude joy when we teach our kids important lessons through their mistakes. We can have joy when we see those little bodies and minds attach themselves to new little learning moments or special times that don't require a lot of fanfare, money or fame.

Find some joy at your house even if times are tough. It's there if we'll look for it.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, September 28, 2014

So What's A Parent To Do With Halloween?

My kids are long past the Halloween stage. Okay, they're actually grown, married adults with their own kids now. And they face the same challenges we did when we every year faced this bizarre, often misguided holiday. Sure, it's fun to dress up and get candy, but kids today have even more ugly, almost demonic outfits to choose from not to mention the other kids whose parents often give no thought to putting their children in grotesque and often hell-ish like costumes.

So how do you handle it as a parent? Some choose to skip it, others find alternative activities while many think it's just pretend so what's the big deal?

First, to me skipping Halloween without any discussion or substitute seems unwise and probably confusing to the kids. All their friends are involved for the most part though that alone is not a reason to let them do anything we oppose. However, to just not participate in any way doesn't seem to be the answer either.

Alternatives are good, many churches and clubs offer them, but that doesn't answer the question for older ones which is, "So what's the problem with Halloween in the first place?" But just jumping in to Halloween activities without some cautions is a bit dangerous, too. The movies, videos, comic books and TV programs out these days have taken the blood and gore to new extremes and wise parents ought to notice.

I want to suggest a couple of things. One, whatever you do consider celebrating All-Saints Day the day before. Do some research online and learn the bigger history and biblical, spiritual implications that the healthy side of this holiday implies.There are wonderful models and stories that our kids shouldn't miss out on.

Two, participate in some way with appropriate attire and only at homes of people you know well. Many families put out fun decorations without all the gore and guts stuff that will keep your day fun and wholesome, not gruesome. Some parents actually work together and share the load with each other and throughout a neighborhood.

Three, if you can find an alternative activity that substitutes other kinds of characters and images as well. But frankly, some of the activities out there simply aren't very good and are actually pretty hokey.  Use your judgment and maybe talk to others before just jumping in. No need to go to something that is just a waste of time.

Four, and maybe most important, talk to your kids. Of course, be age appropriate. Don't demean any other family or child who just loves Halloween or imply that your family is better. They don't need a Hell, fire and brimstone sermon. But you can talk about having fun, about concerns with evil, demonic images (even though they are hopefully fake) and that you as a family want to focus on only the good and enjoyable parts of it all.

You'll probably have to say no to some of the outfits and images and you should. Some of the video game characters represent nothing good or healthy. Your older kids should be able to understand that. Show them that in your faith and God there are better alternatives and that our minds need to be on what is good, right and positive.

Halloween can be just a fun time of the year without having to keep our kids from any of the good times they could still have. You will have to be the ultimate guide through it all. And maybe if work it right there will be a few pieces of candy left just for you!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Do You Require Church When Family Members Balk?

There's a now oft-told story about a woman who opens the door of the bedroom and says, "John, you need to get up and get ready for church." To which John replies, "I don't want to go to church."

"You have to go," the woman replies. "But I tell you I don't want to. No one likes me, church is boring and I'd rather be at home. Give me three reasons why I should go."

"Well," the woman says, "One, going will make you a better person, two, there are people there expecting you and three, you're the pastor of the church."

Perhaps you're not dealing with the pastor not wanting to go to church but it's one of your kids. What do you do? Do you force them? Do you make them go and hate it? What if they're almost eighteen and you're trying to help them learn to make their own decisions?

First of all there are things that kids still living in your home under the age of eighteen really don't have the right to decide and in my opinion one of those is church attendance. Ideally, wise parents make church an important part of their home and family experience starting when the kids are little. Often that will help those children to want and expect to go as long as they are at home.

And yet we know that kids will often still balk at church attendance for a variety of reasons and I encourage parents to address the reasons before they consider letting a student stay home.

Maybe the options provided aren't very good ones - poor student ministry leadership or no programs per se. Perhaps there has been a relationship struggle with someone or a certain group that needs addressing. If that's the case then work on changing those things.

Go help with the student ministry. Help your son or daughter navigate the relational issues.  Meet with the teacher or student leaders to get more insight on what might be done to improve things. Start by being proactive.

Second, consider that there may be a spiritual issue. Perhaps your child doesn't have a relationship with God. Maybe they're unsure how to grow spiritually or has received some flack from friends about Christianity. Spend some time with them talking about spiritual things and listening to their questions. Maybe you could read something together that will help you both learn.

Third, learn to worship together. Tell your kids that you're going to discuss the message later and would like their thoughts. Model for them your active and passionate involvement in the music, prayer and teaching. Let them see your faith in action!

Finally, be patient.  Most kids have times of wondering, rebelling and needing to make your faith their faith. They will grumble, pout and question at times. Don't let deter you from parenting them and pointing them to Christ. Someday they might still reject their faith but Proverbs 22:6 reminds us that when we train them well the odds go way up.

And letting them stay home doesn't usually help those odds.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Lies We Let Our Kids Believe

If there is one thing that parents hate as much as anything when it comes to disciplining our kids is when they lie to us. We can tolerate juvenile mistakes and actions much of the time but when they outright lie, that angers us more most of the time, right?

But have we ever thought about the lies that we consciously or subconsciously help our kids to believe? Yes, there are un-truths that they are exposed to all the time that if we're not careful they will adopt for themselves and even live according to much of their lives. Those lies probably come from outside of our home much of the time but some even originate with us at times.

Let me suggest a few that we would all be wise to respond to, oppose and teach the truth about in our parenting:

The lie that my (our) stuff will make me happy. Most families spend a lot of time, energy and money getting more and keeping up with their neighbors. And there is nothing wrong with enjoying some of the fruits of our labors. But if we keep giving our kids or filling our homes with the newest of everything, the latest, the best and the coolest we send them a message that all of those things matter more than they do.

The lie that I am entitled to most everything I have, get or am awarded. And yet nothing could be further from the truth. We don't deserve anything other than what we get for working hard, doing our best and receiving because of God's grace.  Our culture is now saturated with an I-deserve-to-get-this mentality that has sapped our government resources and caused parents to often demand of school and community leaders that their kids get special privileges.

The lie that mom and dad should provide and fix everything.  And if we do that where will our kids learn how to fend for themselves, take care of their own needs, save money and problem solve on their own? They won't. They'll bring this needy, whiny, helpless attitude into a marriage or other relationship that will tax both people more than is necessary.

The lie that casual sex and fun, party-filled relationships are free, don't hurt anyone and don't require any responsibility. And yet the social landscape continues to be littered with broken relationships, abuse, divorces and dysfunctional families because no one ever taught our young people how to grow a healthy, vibrant and caring relationship and home.

Finally, the lie that God, Jesus and the spiritual side of life are either mere fantasies and nice stories or at best just one option for people who actually care about such things or need that crutch. I am old enough to have watched for five decades the slow metamorphosis of our culture's views on faith and Christianity. It has certainly been under attack for centuries, even millenia, but never to the degree it is now.

Christians both here and around the world are not merely tolerated anymore. They're being beheaded in other countries and culturally killed everyday here. We must help our kids make our faith their faith. We dare not leave the teaching merely to the church, Christian school or helpful media. Scriptures tells us in Deuteronomy 6 that WE parents must be the foundation of their faith learning.

Ever look at an X-ray and not see the problem that the doctor sees?  I do that all the time. But I finally realized that doctor's can see the defect easily because they've seen the right version so many times. If we teach our kids truth, they'll know the lies more quickly too because we've shown them the right version over and over.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Beyond The Ice Bucket Challenge

By now if you haven't heard of the unique and successful fundraising ice bucket challenge to support ALS research you must have been out of the solar system or something. Millions love it and a good less number find credible reasons to say no or give elsewhere. I can't really add to the dialogue on either side so I won't.

However, I do think it would be shortsighted and a clear missing of a powerful opportunity if parents, teachers, coaches and other leaders allow this to merely be their feel-good deed for this month, year or decade.

In other words, what will be happening, if anything, after this challenge runs out of gas?

I think we have a huge chance to use this effort to explain, especially to our children, that serving, giving and sacrificing are where real life is. Maybe it could sink it a bit more deeply that all the fun, accolades, games, accomplishments and victories really don't compare that much to truly helping someone else.

Maybe true caring could become more the norm than the exception.

Because my fear is that too many will simply go back to living a life focused on self, me, my and ours. That many young people will think, "Yes, that was a cool way to raise money and I'm glad a lot of people were helped, but I'm headed back to my sports team, computer and video games. Catch me later."

What if the millions involved decided that they would soon find another way to help others, one that lasted a bit longer and required more involvement, investment and sacrifice?  I think for that to happen adults, especially parents, are going to have to become intentional about making serving more the norm than taking, getting and enjoying just for our own pleasure.

What will that look like?  I don't know. Every person and family are unique. Come up with your own strategy but do something to make and keep caring for others a true family value. Find an organization, family or cause that you will give to regularly.

Build relationships with real people who are invested or involved in this same cause.

If you do, then you'll keep the value of serving and caring warm, even hot, at your house and in our culture and not on ice for another time.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Teach Your Kids About Their "Selfie Image" - It Matters.

Ok, so selfies, those pictures people with smart phones take of themselves, are going to be the rage for a while. And of course, some of them are obnoxious while others are actually quite cool. Well, I've not taken one of those cool ones yet but I'm working on it.

But their popularity does beg the question, especially with our children, are they helping our kids gain a healthy view of themselves? I heard one sports commentator talking about child sports stars wisely say, "There is a difference between being self aware and self-absorbed." He is SO right.

If we're not careful we will continue to develop another generation (and they're not the first) of kids who are far more self-absorbed than self-aware. And it won't be just because of selfies.  Much of the problem will lie with us parents who continue to feed their egos without modeling an alternative perspective.


First, we require that they be productive and successful all the time.They are in a sport or learning activity every season, always competing and pushed into winning much of the time. It would be nice if the many camps for kids were merely about expanding their experiences and opportunities but we know better. For most players, parents and coaches they want more activities so their kids will be better athletes or musicians or cheerleaders and so they will win more.

And we do much of it in the name of self-awareness when all we're doing is adding to their being self-absorbed.

Second, we often model the same tendencies ourselves. More and more parents are even quitting their jobs or at least altering their lifestyle and free time in major ways so they can run more marathons, become an American Ninja or get multiple martial arts belts. The not so sports minded ones get more degrees, ascend the ladder at work or decide to climb the world's tallest mountains.

And of course there is nothing wrong with having a big goal or two and going for it. But when it becomes an obsession, and for so many it is just that, we start to become as absorbed with us as our kids do and they notice.

Third, a lessening of our attention on the spiritual and emotional usually accompanies these obsessive tendencies. No, people don't typically reject their faith or become jerks (though a few do) but they just don't place as much important on the less obvious, the things that don't impress others outwardly as much. There usually isn't a radical change but rather a slow move away from the things that matter most to the things that are about us.

Fourth, we don't speak against the cultural affirmations of self-absorption. The selfie prophets are everywhere preaching that we're number one - in movies, on television, in grocery-store magazines and even school. And while we shouldn't be strident or obnoxious about it, we do need to have frank discussions with our kids about why giving ourselves away produces far more fulfillment than always being focused on us.

Yes, everyone needs to know that they are important and matter but the real truths about self-worth can't be found in stuff, accomplishments or accolades. That comes from the God who made us.

So, sure, enjoy a selfie now and then with your kids. Just be careful that you and your family don't get too much selfie confidence. 

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, August 8, 2014

Our Kids Need To Know When We Can't Afford It!

We've all been there, right?  One of our kids asks if they can have something reasonable. Maybe a computer. Lots of kids have them. It would help for school. Our other computer is being used all the time anyway. But the thousand dollars isn't exactly in our budget.

Or we're on vacation and they want to do one more special activity. It's not that big of a deal. Sure, we don't have the funds in our vacation dollars for that but how many times will we be back? Our parents couldn't have afforded this so we're not about to let our kids suffer like we did, are we?

Many of us feel embarrassed to tell our kids NO and God forbid, we argue, that they think we can't afford that extra right now. But why do we fear that possibility? Isn't that the way life is? Don't we wish our political leaders would save money rather than spend what they don't have? How will our kids ever learn how to budget and live without some things if we never show them?

We parents need to help our kids understand that life does not owe them everything and that very few people have unlimited funds to spend. In fact, we need to teach them that it's not healthy to live that way even if we do have the money.

Sometimes we need to say no. Of course we don't have to explain our no as a lack of funds if that's not the case. Nor do we need to go there every time when it is.

But there are some helpful phrases that can be free to use when money is tight and we cannot do something because of finances:

You know, we have just so much in our vacation budget and we're still planning to go horseback riding which will use up the rest. So no, we can't add rafting this year.

Or . . . We really do plan on getting you a computer of your own after the holidays but right now that's not in our family budget unless you want to put some of your own money toward it.

Get the idea? You see there are several important benefits of being honest with your kids:

One, they learn that we all only have so much money. That's normal and the reality of life. Very few people have unlimited funds.

Two, they are less likely to feel entitled. Too many kids today think that they can have it all and frankly deserve it all. And sadly, some of their friends live that way so the task for parents is not always easy. We may have to swim upstream on this one but it is important nonetheless.

Three, we will more likely be able to show them the importance and value of serving others. When families spend so much of their time, energy and resources keeping up with others and pretending to have it all they usually don't have much left over for others. When they start to realize life is not all about them and that feeling really alive is when we make life more about others it's a win for everyone.

So be honest with your kids. Don't play the we're poor card and belittle their desires, hopes and dreams. Just be sure to teach them reality even if it takes some humility on your part.


Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Five Things I Would Do Before My Kids Started School

School is just weeks or even days away now, isn't it? Yep, most parents are saying, "Where did summer go? How can school be here already?" And many of them add, "And I'm SO ready!"

Whatever your emotional response is this fall, let me suggest five practical things I would be sure to do this year before the kids head off to that first day of class. They aren't rocket surgery as I like to say, but they just might make a big difference this year:

1. Pray. Yep, just pray for your kids. Thank God for them, confess that you probably can do better as a parent at times, then pray specifically. Pray for their teacher(s), their friends. Pray for their school, safety every day and for them to be able to be themselves whether it's in the classroom on the field, in the practice room or just having a good time. Pray that they will make a difference in someone else's life and not be impacted by the often cruel and mean comments of others.

There is lots to pray for. You know best what your child needs so pray to God for it.

2. Commit to less hovering this year. Yes, you know who you are, the parent who has to know everything their child does every moment, who fights all their battles for them and thinks that one taste of unhealthy food will kill them. You're the parent who practically does your child's homework lest they not get an A and who won't let them sit and waste one moment not being productive.

Of course, I'm not suggesting that we ignore out kids and give them free rein on everything. But sometimes we just need to let our kids be kids and quit demanding some sort of perfection out of them or fearing that their weaknesses will somehow reflect on us.

3.  Picture yourself spending more quality, meaningful time with your kids apart from their activities and commitments. Think of some ways now that you're going to program in time with your kids - time for a lunch together, a family getaway, some personal time each week, whatever.  Think about the ages of your kids. How many times will you get to do this age over?  The answer is easy. Zero. No mulligans.

What is it this year that you don't want to let the tyranny of the urgent cause you to miss? I remember that when he was 13 I started climbing mountains with our son Tim. Sure we could have waited until later and maybe started earlier but I knew that thirteen was going to be a prime age for us to begin.  I'm so glad we didn't miss that year and the years of climbing that followed.

4.  Figure out how to slow yourself down. Part of the reason we miss special moments (and I'm not talking here about being at every game or practice - that's nuts) is because WE are too busy. We have no margin for more. So what will you give up or put aside for a time that will free you to enjoy your kids more and really spend the quality, special time I talked about in #3? Answer that question NOW.

5.  Finally, I would have a heart to heart talk with your kids about the first four things. Let them know that while the activities and opportunities they have are still important, your time with them is more important. Tell them that you want to model what you hope they will do with their kids someday and be more than a spectator or helicopter parent.

Explain that you are going to make some memories this year that they will never forget, not necessarily because they are so big or special, but because you will be together.

Lovingly let them know that your being their parent isn't just a spectator sport. It takes work and you're going to be working at it as much as anyone. 

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Best Stage in Your Marriage? How about NOW?

I've not counted how many couples I've counseled over the years but there is a malady that I have seen in most of them when they are struggling. It's not typically the main or root cause but it certainly adds to their challenges.

The difficulty? One or both of them live in the past or the future, not the now. They bemoan the fact that their marriage, health, activity level, finances or stage of life isn't what it used to be. They live in the past. Or they constantly talk about (and gripe) about not being where they had hoped they would be. These couples live in the future.

It's a black hole that will never get filled.

After nearly four decades of marriage, certainly an imperfect one, I know that we've tried our hardest to make the best time in our marriage right now. Sure we've made some great memories. We hope there will be many more. And yes we've had our struggles as a couple and individually and we pray there won't be as many of those.

But if we've done anything right it's that we've made enjoying the present something we embrace and appreciate no matter the circumstances. One of the ways we do that is we explore the world around us together. We've not had to live in too many places but we've always found things to do together. Not everything, but a lot of things.

Whether we've lived in Michigan, Illinois or Texas we've poked around to find fun things to do and enjoy together. And at each of those stages our kids and now grandkids have lived in different settings. Most of the time they haven't been close. For five years though our daughter and her family were nearby. Now we're nearer our son. We've tried to make each situation work.

Sometimes our work environment was going well, other times we struggled. We embraced it all. We didn't like it all the time but we made the most of it and didn't dream of past or future as something better. The apostle Paul speaks of learning to be content in whatever circumstances we're in. That is powerful advice and certainly makes for a better and stronger marriage.

Living in the past or future also kills healthy communication with a spouse. We start bringing up past mistakes as tools for punishment of the other rather than dealing with the current struggle. We must learn to speak only in the here and now and if we live that way it will be more natural.

So whatever your age or circumstances spend a bit more time, energy and conversation on what you have NOW. Enjoy it, embrace it, relish it. God's given you some moments that you'll never have again. Don't cheapen them by wishing they were something else.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Do You Know Where Your Kids Are? Really?

Yesterday I was driving home for lunch and was headed down a residential street just before reaching our street. And as I looked to my right I could not believe my eyes. I thankfully saw a little toddler who couldn't have been walking long in a diaper headed towards the road.

He was just ready to walk down the slanted concrete into the road so I slowed down looking frantically for an adult to follow or be nearby. There was none.

So I began to brake thinking I needed to swoop up this child and find his mother or father or someone caring for him. Only then did I see a women, I assume to be his young mother, race out of a home across the street and run toward the child shouting, "Oh my God, oh my God!"

Of course a lot of assumptions and wonderings went through my mind but who really knows what happened.  Hopefully it was a terrible mistake or carelessness that will never happen again.

Thankfully a potential tragedy was averted because this woman didn't know where her child was at every moment.

But I sometimes wonder if parents who would never dream of neglecting a child and endangering its life this way still don't know where their kids are.  At least they don't know much about their well being spiritually, socially, emotionally and even physically.

Parents everyday find out that their child is doing or feeling things they never knew about. And most of us are shocked when it happens, aren't we?  We wonder how we didn't have a clue.  In the worst cases it's parents of kids who end up killing someone later who apparently just looked the other way a time or two.

How do we keep track of our kids in real terms?  Well, there's no full-proof method but there are some places we can start.

Talk to them. Sure teens especially can be hard to connect with but always try. No matter what their age, don't badger, talk. Spend time with them beyond driving them places. Build a relationship by doing things together. Make it easier for them by listening, not lecturing.

Observe them. Take note of changes, odd actions or habits that suddenly change. Do not look the other way and always assume that these occurrences are just because of their age. That might be true but don't be naive.

Guard them. Yes, it's still a cruel world and kids can't handle all the pressure on their own. Guard against their doing too much, not getting enough rest and hanging with the wrong crowd.  Don't be a t tyrant or a safety fanatic but you must still be the parent and say "no" when your gut tells you something is not a good idea.

Teach them. Model healthy behavior, time management and faith. Teach them what it means to practically love God and follow Christ. Serve with them and give them opportunities to use their gifts to help others. Show them how to rest, care for others and do things that really matter.

You won't want or need to follow them around but you can still know where they are much of the time.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Sometimes Our (Family's) Choices Are The Problem!

I decided to go outside and sweep my covered porch this morning but because of some light rain thought shoes might be a good idea. However, being too lazy to tie them, I just slipped them on.

But as I made my way down our lengthy porch to sweep I began to step on my shoelaces. And wouldn't you know it? Every time I moved I stepped on a lace, my body jerked and as a result I found myself irritated.

But what did I do?  I kept sweeping and kept getting mad.

Finally, I thought . . . You know, this isn't anyone's problem but yours, Gary. YOU decided not to tie your shoes, YOU were the one too lazy to tie them in the first place. If you're mad you have no one else to blame but YOU!

I wonder how many of us do the same thing with circumstances and challenges in our lives. We've made bad choices and yet we make everyone else miserable griping about what they are doing to us now.

I wonder how often we let our kids get away with the same thing never teaching them that they need to own what's going on because of decisions they have made. We perhaps use the word entitlement a bit too much these days but in this case we are entitling ourselves or our kids to avoid responsibility for our actions.

If we are going to be healthy and have healthy families then our homes need to be places where everyone has to take ownership for their choices, at least once they are old enough to do so.  We don't have to yell, berate or taunt to do it, however.

Sometimes we need to do nothing if we're dealing with a child. Just let them handle it. Or perhaps they need a little guidance on how to proceed but we don't fix it for them.

Other times we might need to apologize if we're the culprit. I am sorry that I'm making everyone else miserable over this. Or we might need to simply stop griping and irritating others because of our mistakes. We probably need to do something specific to deal with our issue (like tying our shoes) and move on.

We may even need outside help to recognize what it is we're doing that we could actually change.

The key is: don't let not working on things you could change keep you from being emotionally healthy. Sometime God even stays silent knowing that He's already told us what to do. We just need to do it!

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, July 7, 2014

Missing The Special Moments? Don't!

This past weekend we attended some outstanding fireworks in a wonderful little town near our home in Princeton, IL. The atmosphere was festive, the people were all having a great time, the fried foods were in abundance and the anticipation for several hours prior was electric.

Near us were numerous children running, playing and just having fun. However, one mother nearby was locked into her cell phone for nearly three hours. Her two daughters were being little girls and having a great time but mom never noticed and only engaged with them when they apparently bothered her.

At one point "Elmo" showed up eager to have pictures taken with him and to cause the little ones to squeal with delight. In fact, at our friend's urging he came right up to this family and made a point to interact with the little girls who were of course thrilled.

Mom never noticed or took a picture.

How sad.

I wonder how many special, fun, spontaneous moments we parents miss because we're too preoccupied with our own little world - the phone, the tech, the urgent. Yes, we can go to the other extreme and make our kids the center of our universe, hover over their every move and do everything for them that they desire.

But we all must be careful to not miss those unplanned, carefree moments like the fireworks when there was no agenda, record to be broken or performance to be evaluated. This mom had an opportunity to make a memory, one that those girls will remember, one that the mother could have embraced and engaged. 

But apparently her wall or the news was more important.

This summer, especially when our kids are around a bit more, take time to enjoy the moments, those special times when your kids are just kids. Those times won't be here forever and someday you will cry that they are gone.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Don't Miss The Fine Print of Family Life

We closed on our Austin condo this week. We went through more challenges than we expected but we're thankful that its sale is finally behind us. However, to complete the process a notary had to be sent to our Illinois home to oversee our signing of the paperwork on our end.

Pretty soon we found ourselves putting our signature on document after document, only some of which I actually read. Frankly, I didn't read much of the small print. I probably should have examined every word though I'm pretty sure I got the gist of things and there's nothing I signed that could harm us later.

However, I wonder if a lot of spouses and parents miss the fine print about what they sign off on at home, forgetting the impact their choices and actions may have on their family.

For example, the fine print for families reads, If you don't build relationships it doesn't matter how much you have. 

Or other forms say something like, Your marriage will never work if you don't work at it yourself.

How about this one . . . . have you read it?  Your kids are not the center of the universe but it's easy to start sending the message that they are. Beware.

Here's another you don't want to miss:  If you run at high speed all the time and never slow down your family may self-destruct.

Or . . . You are signing up for a lifetime relationship with your spouse. This marriage is not supposed to have an expiration date.

One more for now . . . Children are people with feelings, potential, uniqueness and intellect. Treat them as human beings even when you are mad.

Yes, when it comes to families the small print matters. Take some time this week to read it all. The little things count too.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

When It Comes To Busyness Geography Changes Nothing

As I mentioned in a recent post we just moved . . . from a large major city in Texas to a small county seat in central Illinois. Of course there are lots of differences between the two. Some would like one more than the other. We are particularly enjoying this new chapter in a smaller town again. But to each his own.

However, I noticed one thing that apparently doesn't change. People here are just as driven, stressed-out and exhausted as they were in a bigger city. Many still live life around the hectic schedules of their children, rarely miss a special event and believe that this kind of life is what life must and should be.

They have few commitments to anybody or anything outside of their own home. Many have few deep relationships, give their faith a nod now and then for good measure and spend hundreds of hour outside and inside watching their kids play games that they will quit once they leave school and their home.

Of course there are exceptions everywhere too and I have great respect for those who are willing to swim against the current of their culture. Why?  Because I know they are going to benefit from their willingness to slow down. How? Let me mention a few ways.

First, their relationships with one another and others will be significantly deeper. They will talk more, enjoy each other more and stop long enough to see the little miracles of nature and life all around them. They won't be as likely to get into heavy debt and will have a better chance to have well adjusted and less entitled kids.

Second, their faith will be more real and vibrant. Church, Bible study and personal time with God won't be a mere add-on or obligation. They will not only give more but will get more because they will have the freedom to also live out their Christianity by serving.

Third, they will be healthier. I'm not a doctor but research will back me up on the fact that more stress is more taxing on the body, soul and spirit. So when will you break the cycle?  Are you willing to swim upstream, slow down your life and get some of the many benefits of a life less-driven?

It won't happen unless you are intentional now about making some major changes in your lifestyle.  Your kids will have to be a part of it but they will notice the good difference too. Go for it. Don't be like anybody else now and you won't have to live like anybody else later.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, June 7, 2014

It's Just Stuff: Teach This Truth Well

A couple of years ago we moved from Texas to Illinois. It wasn't a short distance or a journey without emotion. Moving is rarely easy though home is where you live at any given time. Nonetheless, at our age, it was still a challenge though we were thankful for our new ministry opportunity. And we're actually moving again in the next few months.

However, one thing surprised both Jackie and me the last time. We were shocked at how much stuff we still had after eight years in a condo. We downsized before we went to Texas so we thought we had toed the line on accumulation and we probably were pretty frugal. But we still had a lot of stuff.  Maybe 120 boxes plus beds, dressers and all sorts of other odds and ends.

Where does it come from?  I guess that depends upon the person or family.  The common denominator?  We all have a lot of it.

Why? Well first of all, we don't throw much away.  So many things seem sacred and sentimental and they just aren't. But we think we might need that or want to look at it again. We have some sort of fear that we might lose something valuable, essential for living.

Second, we tend to think our stuff makes us better or more important. Having the bigger house, boat, fancy clothes and all the rest is often a rite of passage for young couples. But it's all more stuff, much of which we don't need but we think it makes us more important.

Third, we like extra. It just feels good to have more than one or two of most everything. And there's nothing wrong with that and planning ahead for hard times. But most of the world doesn't have extra. And we don't always need it either.

You see, it's important that as parents, spouses and even friends we remind each other that we only need so much. We must learn and teach the importance of having enough and getting excited about giving things away.

Like the name of the old movie, we need to focus on The Right Stuff. And that is way more than more things to move the next time.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Potential Dangers In Simple Answers

Whenever there is a crisis or major problem people usually want to find out just one thing: what is the answer that will fix it? And sometimes there is a basic cause that is worth a look and can provide significant relief, healing or change.

But more often than not, the simple, singular answer is not the only answer. A child is doing poorly in school, the crops need rain, a friend's cancer showed up again or our marriage is staggering. Chances are the solutions for solving the problem or the reasons that started it are complex.

Unfortunately many well meaning people including leaders, parents, pastors, authors, counselors and friends are unwilling to walk people through the messiness of multiple facets of a problem. And sadly they miss out on learning to also trust in a God who Isaiah says has ways that are "higher than our ways."

Where does some of this over-simplification often show itself in our culture?

With our children. Ryan's struggling emotionally at age twelve and his parents are having trouble with him at home. Several simple answers will likely be suggested to the parents from others or in their own minds. It's Ryan's diet, it's hormones, it's the parents recent marriage challenges, it's a spiritual rebellion or it's even the demon of rebellion. (I personally don't think there is such a demon by the way though I believe in demons.)  Could part of the solution be in that list?  Of course. But it's unlikely the only answer. There may be several important factors at work.

With national and local disasters. When tornadoes, floods, earthquakes and hurricanes hit the "experts" will often claim it's because God is punishing the people for disobedience, we're in the End Times or it's a sign of things to come. Maybe. But could it be that God can do all of that and more during the disaster and even accomplish his chastising without one? Is it possible that God wants to teach us something about trusting Him even when things don't go our way? Could it be that natural disaster happened because, well, . . . it's natural?

With our theology. Someone isn't healed. Some will argue they didn't have enough faith. That's it. Or no one claimed the promise or said just the right words. The church isn't growing because they don't use the right translation or don't teach the Bible verse by verse or they quit singing the "right" music. There must be one answer that will explain everything. At least that's what many hope (and I have too) but it's rarely the case.

With our other personal struggles. We lost our job, our marriage is on the rocks, our adult child has wandered from the faith, our health never seems to quite return to normal.  "Aah," we or others say. "There must be some hidden sin," or "God is punishing me for what happened last year," or "If we just went on that diet things will change."  Should we consider those avenues sometimes?  Of course, if wisdom dictates it or God leads us that way.

But there are dangers in always wanting or expecting the easy answer. First, we can miss God. We can miss out on his love, care and patience through the struggle.  We can miss learning to trust Him even when we don't understand. And we can miss loving one another through the fog and mystery.

Second, we can become mean-spirited. We don't intend to but because we believe in the ONE answer we tend to tell people they had better get with the program and start doing what they need to do. And we miss just loving them, listening to them and trying to understand their feelings and confusion. We become as I Corinthians 13 says a "noisy cymbal" rather than a chime of love. I wonder if sometimes God doesn't hold off on making things better to see if we His children will be present for a time with those who are hurting and actually live out our faith in powerful ways.

Third, we ultimately teach a lie, the lie being that everything God does or we experience can be explained by one simple action or result. Not true. God has plans that go beyond us and our world. God's only goal is not to make us happy. It's to glorify Himself and sometimes that makes us happy and sometimes it does not. God is coordinating myriad plans in the world and universe that we could never understand or grasp in this life. We must accept that.

So, in your home, learn to become more comfortable with the complicated, the complex and the multiple answers that may be needed to solve  your dilemma or at least help you live with it. And I'm pretty sure that if we're willing to look beyond the simple we will see some things that God intended for us to see that show just how great He is and how much we need Him.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Why Your Kids' Teachers Are Heroes . . . At Least Most of Them

Recently we took three of our grandsons to one of their favorite science museums. But as we drove into the parking lot we saw bus after bus parked end to end and knew that meant one thing . . . school field trips and lots of them. Kids would be everywhere.

Sure enough there were lots of elementary and middle school students walking through the exhibits with their teachers herding, guiding and cajoling as kids that age do what they do. And I was reminded that these teachers do this every day and it is not easy.

Are there crummy, incompetent teachers out there? Of course. I have had some here and there from elementary to graduate school. But there are way more who in their own way are stellar making a difference in our lives and the lives of our children.

Sure there are lousy teachers just like there are lousy employees in most professions. No teacher is perfect either. It irritates me, having been a teacher of all kinds much of my life, when parents have to have a certain special teacher and obnoxiously demand their kids have only "the best." The best ones aren't only those who turn our kids into academic superstars, however. In fact if that's all they do they aren't necessarily the best.

Let me suggest what a great teacher is and does:

Great teachers love and respect our kids as individuals. They don't expect everyone in their class to look, perform or respond the same. They get excited when a child has a unique talent and then they get to help them develop it. They care about the brightest and those more average. Each one matters to great teachers.

Great teachers see potential and they don't give up. My tenth and eleventh grade English teacher was the toughest in the school. And during my sophomore year I hoped to God that I would only have her one year. Not to be. She was my guide for half of my high school education. But Mrs. G never quit on me and plowed the foundation for me to learn and love writing like I do today. There must have been days when she thought there was no hope for me but she looked ahead not back.

Great teachers build relationships along with enforcing their rules. Classes need structure and students will require discipline. But every kid needs someone who knows and cares about them. How many young people have no parent that cares and no one to simply listen to them? Teachers can help fill the gap and provide some needed affirmation missing from home. Not every child will let them get close but they try anyway.

So as the school year begins again, how about praying now for your kids' teachers and thanking God together for them. Many families of course will never thank these heroes personally or will wait twenty years to realize how important they were to them. Your words of appreciation during the year will also mean more to them than you can know and you will remind those special leaders that their passion for teaching really has been worth it.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Sometimes The Big Things Are In The Little Ones

Big events and accomplishments always seem to get more attention, don't they?  Eighty-thousand people in a stadium always feels more exciting than eight hundred. An ad campaign that touches millions is usually view as better than one that impacts a few hundred.

Even service projects are deemed more worthwhile when we know that many, many people were helped versus just a few. And there is something to say for using our resources of time, talent and energy so that the greatest results can be achieved.

However, there are times when it seems like we've forgotten the potential impact of the one or two people we or our family might touch. When we help a neighbor or friend, assist one homeless person or volunteer for one morning God can use us to make a huge difference. At the moment, not necessarily. 

But as we do our share along with hundreds or even thousands of others BIG things can happen. Too many churches, non-profits and even individuals seem to think that success is only measured by the ton or at least the giant size version of congregation, money raising or community impact.

You hear it all the time . . . ."Yes, we're believing that ________________ people or churches or groups (or whatever) will be changed or take part or raise so many dollars or grow to a certain size."  And we should be thankful when hard work, prayer and commitment do result in important and significant outcomes.

But let's never miss the power of doing something small now for a greater result later and in tandem with others engaged in the same.

What might that mean in the everyday?  First, we will enjoy the little "wins" and blessings we see in our churches. We'll be thankful for the one or two new people who came, the one marriage that was saved and the few students who joined the youth group this last month.

Second, we'll be even more intentional about helping just one or two people each day. We'll look for those small opportunities to help a neighbor, friend or someone we just meet during the day.  We'll relish that we had that one God-moment to make this small difference in someone's life believing that God can use it for a far greater good.

Third, we'll teach our kids and model for each other an attitude of serving and giving that has no minimum on how much we accomplish. Caring and serving will simply become more of the norm at our house.

You see BIG things don't necessarily happen in big ways. They happen more often because people with just a little resource give it away believing something big will occur anyway.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Really Living? Most of Us Miss It

When is the last time you felt really alive? In fact, when is the last time you noticed something more than the fact that you were just existing? I would suggest that most of us miss the opportunity most of the time.

Why? Well, it's not because we're not breathing or our heart is not beating.

It's just that there's not that much we enjoy that takes our breath away or causes our heart to skip a beat. Of course there are lots of opportunities. We are usually just too busy doing the everyday and the mundane to truly engage with the spark in every one of us known as life.

I know it's not fun to be out of breath or to have a racing heart but we would at least notice our body functioning in some unique way and be reminded that we are not dead. In fact, noticing would be hard to avoid.

You see we need something that jolts us out of our cruise-controlled life and reminds us that the life within us is truly special, unique and ultimately amazing. Pain works. So does shock or tragedy or some other sudden interruption of our normalcy.

But there are other and better ways to be reminded of and enjoy life without the negative prompts. We might also want to engage in them more and even give our family members similar opportunities on a more regular basis.

Slow down. Instead of driving the fast way home, take the long way. Turn the radio off. Walk instead of drive. Skip an evening responsibility and stay home. Simplify your days even a little. I hear of more and more people these days who are downsizing. They have realized they don't need it all. Neither do you.

Do what you were meant to do as much as what you have to do. Some things in life are boring and required. Everything doesn't have to be fun nor can it be. But somewhere in our week, month and year we need to engage in what we naturally do and love. Use those skills to serve others and pay it forward. Find a ministry that gives you the opportunity to do what you can't live without and you'll feel alive most very time.

How do you know what that is?  I don't have an easy answer other than you'll know. You will do it with very little effort, the time will fly and it will probably involve other people.

Spend more time with the people you love and just enjoy watching them live, breathe and move. Become amazed at their talent, artistry, uniqueness and abandon. Sing, dance and enjoy with them if you can. And don't rush whatever you are doing. Let it simmer. Embrace the moments more.

Little children are a great place to start. So are seniors or those with special needs. Just start looking and you'll see what you need to see.

Pray for wisdom to keep learning where life will show up for you. Feeling alive isn't a one-time thing. Once you get a taste you will want more but you will have to fight off the inertia that will try to keep you from more and returning to the sameness of life beforehand. Don't give in.

Everyday those lifegiving opportunities are everywhere. We don't need to hunt for them. They will find us if we let them and we'll never be the same.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Simple Action Can Soothe The Pain of Conflict

Have you ever felt like you were in a conflict that you couldn't win or resolve?  Perhaps it's with our boss, kids, spouse, friend, neighbor. We can't seem to make them understand or don't see any reason behind why they treated us the way they did.

Or perhaps our conflict was with life. Why couldn't things have worked out for me the way they did for my friend? Why does trouble seem to follow me or our family?

Maybe we've been tugging against God Himself. Good luck with that by the way but I've done it too. We wonder why God seems to have allowed bad things to happen -  we lose our job, struggle financially or can't work things out so we can and be happy and content for a while.

So what do we do?  Often we pull harder so to speak. We get more angry, try more logic or become even more demanding that others change and come through for us. And while things and people don't change we do. We become bitter and hard to live with most of the time. Our health can suffer and life simply isn't fun anymore.

I have a suggestion. If you were in a real tug-of-war that you didn't want to engage in, you could stop it quickly, right?  Just drop your end of the rope. The other person or persons can keep pulling until Jesus comes back but you're not in the contest.

Well, we can do the same when we're in an emotional contest with someone. We can drop the rope there too. How?

Lots of ways. One is to change your responses. That means that you quit arguing, shut down your end of a conversation or agree to disagree. You don't have to keep going in the conflict.

Some will feel like this is giving in but it's not. We can let someone else win. We can let them at least think they've won, believe they are smarter or whatever.  We know better but we also accept that they don't need to understand us or what we're doing. Let them deal with the conflict if they want.

A second option is to not demand anymore. Do not demand that the othe person change or agree with you. Don't demand that you look good. Don't require that they like you. There are times when even those we love might not connect with us for a time. They will likely get over it and so will you. High expectations are often the cause for why we feel like we must prevail in conflict.

Third, use language that frees you.  For example get comfortable with phrases like, "I guess we're going to have to disagree,"  or "Tell me more about that," or "I'm sorry that we can't be on the same page on this but it's OK."

Sometimes we literally have to hear ourselves say that we're not going to engage, try to win or let another person's actions ruin our day, week or month.

Yes, conflict is inevitable in marriages, family and life in general. But it doesn't have to own us or rule the day. Just learn to drop the rope.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Risk and Change: You Can't Grow Without Them

I'm leaving my current job. We'll move eleven hundred miles or so in five or six weeks to another town and new ministry. We'll have to develope new relationships, find different doctors, dentists and hairstylists and make a different house a home.

Sure, we've done this before but not often. It would be so much easier to stay in a place we like with people we know well and where we were pretty comfortable all around. Because you see this step in our life will require more risk and change. And for some people risk and change are typically avoided.

And to be honest we aren't going to like all of it but we've learned it's necessary and actually helpful. You won't grow if you won't risk anything. You won't mature and get stronger if you're unwilling to change. And as a Christ follower you don't get to depend on God as much and see Him at His best and greatest.

Of course, there can be too much risk or too much change.  Too much risk is usually disguised foolishness. Too much change generally leads to unhealthy chaos often hurting relationships in major ways.

But staying put all the time, never risking the new and scary makes for a like with little real excitement and fulfillment.

How to know you might be holding back from change and risk and not growing as a result?

Examine your life. Have you been in the same house, job, hobbies and habits for decades? Have you been confronted with opportunities to do something different or live somewhere else and you've turned each one down without a grain of thought?

Are you feeling rather bored and unfulfilled?  Sameness has a way of producing boredom.  Never trying anything new can lead to wonder about your purposes here.

Let me suggest a place to start.  First, if you're married, get away with your spouse and simply talk about your bucket list, things you've always wanted to do but never have. That will likely lead to some first steps, fun ideas or even radicaly, potential changes that are very doable and exciting.

Second, pray. Ask God to help you consider some new work, ministry, serving opportunity that would stretch you. There might be things right in front of you in your church or community that would light your personal fire and give you an opportunity to trust God through some risk-taking and change. Seek forgiveness, too, for just staying put so long and living for comfort rather than commitment to Him.

Third, do one thing to get out of your comfort zone. Don't rest until you've started that new thing.  Do some research, begin planning and talking to people about your ideas.  And if you're a parent get your kids involved. Let them learn with you about trusting God, trying new things and not living the way everyone else lives.

Think about the many special things we enjoy in our society that we would never have if someone wasn't willing to take a risk and change. Chances are you're missing out on some of your home in your home and life. Get going now.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Happy and Faithful Are Boring, But The Best

I read an article that interviewed an actor whose character was just written out of the show during the season's latest episode. And as part of one of his answers to why they couldn't always make his character happy he responded essentially saying that "happy doesn't make for good drama."

And he's right. Happy is way more boring for television or a good movie than action, struggle, manipulation and revenge. An intruiging story will most often have a protagonist, antagonist, numerous plot high points and low points and a host of surprises. That's why many Christian movies aren't very good - they don't tell interesting stories because they try to make everything always work out fine. But in reality it does not.

Newspapers, sitcoms and the latest films rarely focus on people who stay the course, are naturally happy and stay faithful to their spouse, other family and friends. They're boring. Who wants to hear about that?

Who wants to know more about the person who simply loves God for decade after decade but never makes a headline for some horrible mistake or a huge endeavor? Who wants to hear about the single mom who year after year works hard outside her home, then comes home to work until the kids are in bed only to do it again the next day and the next?

Who wants to read about the dad or mom who worked steady, average jobs all their lives so their son and daughter could both go to the college they never went to?  Not many. But I do because that was my mom and dad.

You see happy and faithful don't necessarily make great drama but they produce rich marriages and family. And when I talk about happy I don't mean some syrupy, never-real, never-honest kind of relating. No, I mean that people have something deep within them that truly satisfies and fulfills, not just getting more, succeeding more or partying more.

And faithfulness to God and to each other doesn't necessarily mean some sort of drab, no fun kind of existence. It's commitment that lasts and love that overcomes even the toughest challenges. There are lots of things that are boring which have to be done over and over for a long time that have worthwhile results. Scales on the piano, thousands of golf swings, a language practiced and math tables memorized.

What are the members of your family learning and committed to do that may be a little boring now but that last for a lifetime?  Make sure your home includes some of those and that you remind each other that being boring isn't always so bad.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, March 24, 2014

Red Flag Tensions in Mate Finding To Share With Your Kids

I've seen a few helpful lists online recently that suggest things to teach our children to look for or avoid in the person they marry. And most of them seem pretty accurate, worth talking to your kids about.

However, let me take a slightly different approach and discuss what I would call the tensions that must be addressed when embracing or rejecting a particular characteristic one sees in a potential mate. What I want to suggest is that even too much of a good thing may be as unhealthy and destructive as an abundance of a negative quality.

For example, let's say that someone is very careful about how they spend money. That sounds like a good quality and probably is. But what if their frugality becomes obsessive to the point where they never spend money for fun, for enjoyment, for special moments or for the spouse to use as they feel led?

It seems to me that we need to also help our children in selecting their future mate to prayerfully and wisely look at the whole spectrum of a person's qualities and be willing to admit that this person may have too much of a seemingly good thing. There may be some underlying need that causes that person to be overly positive which can ultimately become destructive and demoralizing.

Of course in every marriage there will be differences that we must learn to love and appreciate. No two people will ever be a perfect match. But let me suggest several spectra that I often see in marriages where that tension I'm talking about should have been considered and monitored. And let's face it some things can be hidden well but perhaps these suggestions will give you and your kids a place to start looking.

Do they have a sense of humor?  Or can they not stand humor and more specifically yours?

Do they care about the things of God, being like Jesus and their personal faith?  Or can they talk about nothing else so that they are really "of no earthly good?"

Do they talk to you?  Or do they ever stop talking period?

Do they love themself in appropriate ways?  Or are they the only person they care about?

Are they motivated, hard working and industrious?  Or is getting to the top their ultimate goal ahead of you and everything else?

Do they love children?  Or are they basically still a child and likely not going to change?

Do they share their emotions freely?  Or are they a loose cannon who hurts you and others with their feelings and words?

Are they careful and wise?  Or do they actually live in irrational fear most of the time?

Are they nice? Or are they actually just covering up deeper anger, resentment and bitterness?

Are they honest about their mistakes and faults?  Or are only concerned with yours?

There are lots more.  Let me encourage you to think of some that you might add to the list. Remind your kids that this is why they need to take time to get to know someone for a while. The real person doesn't show up on one or two dates or even in a couple of months of knowing someone. Make sure they see this person in a variety of settings.

And no, living together rarely helps this process. Playing house typically covers up or masks any real discernment about the other person under the guise of phony commitment.

When our kids do the hard work of pondering, experiencing and getting to know each other they have far more hope for success and a relationship that is all they hoped it would be from the first time they even considered marriage. Help them mom and dad. Give them some tools they need. I hope this might be one of them.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How We Might Knock The Air Out of Someone At Home

I only remember it happening a few times growing up, but I'll never forget the sensation either. I'd be playing with friends or involved in some sporting activity and someone would accidentally run into me, a ball would smash into my abdomen or I'd fall down in an awkward way.

And all of a sudden it felt like I couldn't breathe. It would take several minutes before I could catch my breath and feel somewhat normal again. It's called getting the air knocked out of you and it happens all the time, even to adults, especially those who play rough sports.

Unfortunately we can do the same, at least emotionally, to one of our loved ones at home.

Often it's done through our words. In a fit of anger we may yell and call someone a name, imply they are stupid or make an unfair (and likely untrue for the most part) comment about their character.  "You're lazy," we say to our teen. "You aren't much of a student," we spew to our 4th grader. Or, "You're just like your mother," we rant to our wife.

Sometimes we do need to say hard or challenging things at but we should never, and let me repeat that, never attack someone's character. We can talk about their current action and why it was wrong or unwise but it hurts deeply and can knock the emotional air out of someone we love to imply something unkind and untrue that they are as a person.

We can also injure through our actions or lack of them. We promise that we'll be there for a game or other special activity but regularly never make it. We make a family member look bad or silly in front of others. Or we brag all the time about one child but can never seem to find anything good to say about the others.

Actions matter. They are the exclamation point on our promises. They are the follow-through to our words. No, we'll never be perfect but don't promise if you can't deliver most of the time.

And believe it or not we can even hurt someone through a look or expression. We all know when someone looks at us with a face that clearly says they are disgusted with or ashamed of us we remember and feel it for a long time. Many a helpful resolution to a conflict or disagreement has been undermined by a look of disdain before the conversation could ever get started.

Are you knocking the air out of those you love? Take inventory. Listen to yourself. Ask others to watch too. Because if we keep doing it, some of the people who matter most to us will simply quit "playing" with us and that would be a tragedy.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Trying To Light What Can't Give Light

I recently officiated at a wedding, one of my favorite things to do as a pastor. The reception was in a lovely venue out in the Texas hill country. Some friends at our church were also there both to assist with some of the wedding preparations and then to attend.

So after the wedding finished we were getting ready to sit down at one of tables but my friend and his wife were, like the servants they are, going around to see that the candles on the tables were lit.  Each table had a large candle in the middle with four smaller candles around it outside of the glass covering for the larger candle.

So the man came by our table with his lighter and easily lit the four smaller candles but couldn't seem to get the large one in the middle lit. He finally gave up only to have his sweet wife come by, lift up the candle, turn it over and click the switch on the bottom. It was obviously electric and a fake. We all had a good laugh afterward seeing our friend with a slightly red face.

And I thought to myself . . . how many people in everyday life are trying to get light or a flame out of something that was never intended to light?

They try. Sometimes over and over. They believe with all their heart that some activity or person or accomplishment will finally light up for them and give them what they had hoped for.  But like that electric bulb, which was never intended to become a warm flame, their hoped for satisfaction never appears either. 

Getting married,  having children, getting that promotion, obtaining that long-sought-after degree, seeing their kids win awards, owning more stuff, getting the big house, having a parent finally affirm them . . . .The list is endless. And yet they keep striking their match.

We've all done this, haven't we? The question is, "Have we gotten over the pull of things or people for our fulfillment?"  Are we trying to light a flame that is un-lightable?

If you are, then it's time for a recalibration of your thinking and your heart. It's time to learn that there are many wonderful things on most of our lists that are good to desire, but terrible to demand. Much unhappiness in life is really the result of  unmet expectations. And if we expect these things or people to make us happy we will live the rest of our lives with expectations never reached. We'll be trying to light an electric candle with a match.

Practically?  Start being thankful for what you already have. More is never enough.  Begin to pray more for what you desire and ask God to take away your demand for anything or anyone but Him.

Second, slow down, live with less and add margin to your life. Limit how many activities your kids are in and how often the family taxi has to run to meet all their needs. If you'll try this even on a small scale you will find yourself enjoying life and your family so much more.

Third, take inventory with  your spouse or a friend and admit those things have been  your lights that won't light. Don't beat yourself up, just commit to quit trying to light them. Take a first step to live differently and find your own real candle that does light.

You'll be a lot less irritated and a lot less . . . .well, shall I say "embarassed."
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Beware Family Sinkholes

Maybe you heard about the car museum in Florida where some eight Corvettes were damaged or destroyed falling into a sinkhole that appeared in the floor. Eight Corvettes! Most of us would love to have just one!

One moment that museum housed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of shiny sports cars and minutes later many were gone. What was so valuable quickly turned to rubble.

I wonder if we ought to think about life that way a bit more. I wonder if we shouldn't look at many of the things that seem valuable to us and realize that life's sinkholes could take them away too in an instant.

I often talk with people who at one time were making hundreds of thousands of dollars each year but now struggle to find or keep a job. For a while they were living the high life but now it's vanished. Others lost their "Corvettes" to their health, to the economy, to a dishonest coworker or their own foolishness. Whatever the case the wealth and value they once thought they had is no more.

Sometimes life is hard and bad things happen.

So what do we do? Like that museum we can't always avoid the sinkholes. They often just happen. But we can have a different perspective that won't make the loss seem so great.  We can value different things so that we put our hope in what truly matters. And that perspective is something we parents must especially teach our kids. We couples must affirm for each other every day.

A few key components of a healthy perspective?

Stuff is only stuff. More of anything material does not make more of us! If we have it, great. If we lose it, it's not the end of the world. Do not let your home, your efforts, your focus revolve around more things. If you're blessed with a lot, give a lot away.

Relationships are where the greatest riches lie. Invest in time with each other, making memories and learning more about each other. Unfortunately, families today have or make little time to just be with each other, talk and grow together. Be different and make time for one another.

Don't become an entitled couple or family. Don't expect that you always have to get the best, the most and what's first.  Teach your kids to look out for those who have less, volunteer in places where people have little and be willing to scale back and live on less.

Ask yourself, "What would we do if we lost most everything material that we own?"  Of course you would be sad, even devastated, but could you see yourself moving on?  Can you picture your family living on less and knowing that you're OK?

The greatest example of someone not needing stuff was Jesus. He even said that he had "nowhere to lay his head."  He had no home, few possessions and probably not a lot of clothes. But He was the source of peace and joy and still is.

It seems like if He could do it, we can . . . and must.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Is Debt Slowly Stealing Your Family's Health and Wealth?

I officiate a lot of weddings and love being a part of a couple's special day along with the preparation that goes with it. However, I've never heard any pair include, 'Till debt do us part," in their vows. But many couples today might as well say it because overspending is often central to the death of their marriage, home, reputation and even family.

In addition, many young couples today believe that they must immediately have what others have worked hard for over many years - the nice house, two newer cars, club memberships, personal toys, hobbies and the ability to go out whenever they want and not worry about it. But often their income will not support all that so they start accumulating debt - house payment, car payments, credit card balances and loans.

Their excuse is to say to themselves, "But we can afford the payments."  And perhaps for a while they can. But eventually the payments won't even pay the interest while they continue to try and live the same way. And if they are living on two incomes the situation just gets worse if one loses their job or has to quit for some reason.

Soon they aren't living the good life anymore. They're drowning in the debt-life and it's not fun. Their relationship suffers, their children endure the extra stresses and they eventually may just give up trying to get out of their mess while bathed in a lot of heartache.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, a couple was described who was $50,000 in debt. A financial planner asked them where the boat or pool or RV was that they purchased to incur such a debt. Sadly, they couldn't even remember one thing they bought with that money!

So, let me first talk to those of you who aren't plagued by debt, at least not so far.  First, continue to spend only what is concurrent with your income. Remember you don't have to have everything everyone else has. Be thankful for what you have but resist the temptation to get more.

Second, keep saving something every paycheck. Start if you haven't already with an emergency fund. If things are tight then shoot for $1000 first. Increase your fund to at least several months income later. Save for retirement through your company or start a separate fund or two using a financial expert.

Third, as Dave Ramsey suggests, live like no one else now so you can live like no one else later. Develop a thankful heart and spirit in your home. Drive an older car, live in a smaller house now so that you can have more later that you own free and clear.  Don't give your kids everything and don't borrow money except for your home.

Fourth, start or continue a budget. You must know where your money is going and start planning ahead so you can enjoy a freedom to spend money and have it work for you.

However, if debt has you in its grip, start changing your financial habits today. Develop an emergency fund first, quit using your credit cards, begin saving something every check, downsize your house and cars and start taking control of your money instead of it controlling you. Find a financial professional to help you discover other important ways to save and to spend more wisely.

Money isn't evil. The Bible says that it's the love of it that's the problem. Debt isn't usually an avalanche that kills you all at once. It's more like a non-stop snowfall that gradually gets you. The good news is that it doesn't have to happen. Get financially healthy this year. And if you're already there, stay that way!

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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