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

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Who's Getting Your Time and Why They Need It in 2016

A young boy was waiting at the door when his weary father came home. "Dad," he said, "how much do you make an hour?" "That's none of your business, son," the father responded obviously irritated.

"But dad," the son replied, "I really need to know, really!"

"Okay, I make about $30 an hour. Are you happy? You just wanted to know so you could go and buy some toy or video game. So go to your room and think about how selfish you are."

The boy leaves, his shoulders slouched, his head down. Before too long the father began to feel a little guilty about his sharp reply so he headed up to the boy's room with a ten-dollar bill in his hand.  "Son, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have responded the way I did. Here's the ten dollars."

The son's eyes lit up and he said excitedly, "Thanks, Dad!"  He then proceeded to pull a wad of bills from under his pillow and added the ten dollars to it. Then he said, "Dad, now I have $30. Can I buy an hour of your time?"

Sometimes those close to us are longing for the same thing. Just an hour or so of our precious, focused, non-distracted time. Yes, we've perhaps been around our kids but have we been with them?

We get busy, distracted, focused on other things and maybe other people. But we cannot continue to give them our leftovers.

Culture will only get more complicated and faster this year. We can't wait for it to change. We must change. The time we have with those we love can end in a moment or at least feel like one. The country western song says it so well, You're Gonna Miss This. Yes, someday soon we're going to miss those little bodies running around that we would love to slow down, those hugs we get when we come home yet wish for some quiet and the conversations we might wish would end sooner.

So give the people you love your focused time now. And give less to those who are merely takers and aren't a part of your most important connections. Embrace your moments for what they are not for what you wish they would be. And make it rich time as well as extended time. Most children and teens need both quantity and quality.

Who needs your time and might want to buy an hour of it?  Give it to them soon - for free!

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, December 24, 2015

What About The Night(s) After Christmas?

It's always amazing, isn't it, how long we anticipate the arrival of Christmas Day and yet how quickly it's here and gone. The gifts have been opened, the relatives are back home and the lights and decoration seem to have lost their luster. We're now ready for it all to be put away. Even some post-Christmas shopping isn't quite as fun or exciting.

Maybe that's why we try to crank ourselves up again for New Year's with all of its hopefulness, optimism and accompanying celebration.

But I wonder if we don't give what took place during the Christmas season enough credit and too easily lay aside its challenges, inspiration and impetus for real change and new direction. Rather than hope that some less than helpful New Year's resolutions will turn our lives around, we could still consider some of the good things that remain from Christmas.

For example, don't forget the family times. Hopefully this season you slowed down here and there, took a moment or two, even part of a day, to just enjoy each other without a clock, agenda, deadline or trip in the car. You laughed, told stories and played. Why can't there be more of that the rest of the year? There can. Figure out one or two ways you can allow that kind of time back into your home.

Or, embrace more of the important things all year:  Jesus, salvation, loving others, giving to those with needs and hope. So often these profound, life-changing, long-lasting truths and concepts get lost in our penchant for hurrying and accomplishing. We may care about our faith but so often we don't practically live it. What if this year we all were much more intentional about the things that mattered most, like those we were reminded of and even did again this year?

And don't lose the power of a gift. No, I'm not talking about going into debt for a bunch of things that will be forgotten or put away within days or weeks or gifts given just because that's what everyone does in the family and they're expected.

No, remember more what you felt when you received that unexpected or handmade or especially meaningful gift that clearly had a message of love and care behind it. We can give those gifts the rest of the year too. They may not even be wrapped up but they come in the form of a kind word, a thank you, a gesture that says I'm still thinking about you. They can be tangible too like a note, flower or some other especially loved item that says to someone that they still matter to you.

While the night before Christmas almost always exudes anticipation and delight, the nights (and days) after will tell us if Christmas was really the time of peace and joy it was intended to be. Let your Christmas last this year. It's really up to you.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Three Things Not To Skip This Christmas At Your House

I'll bet there are a few things you might like to leave out of your holidays this season though that may not be possible: your weird Uncle Mel's sense of humor, grandma's fruitcake, the credit card bill coming in January or figuring out whose house you'll be at and when.

And of course there are the things most families never want to lose even though they may at some point: unique traditions, opening gifts together, putting up decorations (okay most guys are thinking differently here) and lots of food.

But there are a few important elements that can get lost if we're not careful. They're not terribly involved, don't require much expense and families are usually surprised at the potential reactions they get from family members. However, the busyness of the season that we often let steal our time can keep these things as a footnote at best if present at all.

The first?  Don't skip the real Christmas story. You know the one about Jesus for whom the holiday is named. Telling it doesn't require a boring reading, however. You can act it out, have a fun discussion sometime after one of your services or read it in a new version. Every idea obviously is dependent on the ages of the children involved.

But don't think that just because it was covered in church that you've done enough. Often the church presentations get lost too in the bigness, tradition and excitement of the event. You might consider just reviewing it with each child as you tuck them in one night.

Second? Don't skip serving someone else. If Christmas is about gifts then it makes sense to bless someone else outside of our family who might not have much to get or give. Find a family or organization and build a relationship with them that you cultivate all year with the holidays just being the culmination of the past year of helping them.

So often our kids think Christmas is ultimately about them. Why?  Because we teach them that when we make gift getting the focus. Let your kids be a part of selecting who you'll help and serve and if they're old enough do some of the leg work. It will be fun and give Christmas a whole new perspective.

Finally, don't skip the thank you's.  Of course thank God that you made it together through another year. Perhaps you even went through some big challenges or losses. Even so, thank Him for walking you through and being there when you needed Him.

Also, thank the people you love and those who've blessed you in some way. They don't each need a gift other than your words of appreciation. There are scores of people in your world who would love to simply know what they did for you mattered and was noticed.

Say it, write a note, take someone out for a cup of coffee. Say thanks and "I love you" to those you are closest too. Whatever you do, don't assume that you've said it enough. You haven't most likely.

So have a great Christmas, but make it extra special by adding some things this year that might change everything and everyone - including you! Merry Christmas.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Five Essential Things To Ramp Up At Home Next Year

Okay so very few of us ever follows through on a New Year's resolution. But maybe if we put our minds to it we could actually make a change or two over the long haul. Let me actually suggest five areas to work on to take your home to a higher plane this year.

First, spend more time with your spouse. The number one reason couples struggle is because they don't act like friends much anymore. And remember when you were dating you had little trouble spend huge amounts of time together. While you were busy very little got in the way of your time together. That has likely changed big time. Make time again for each other.

Second, make more memories that involve your whole family. Make spending time doing fun,  unique and even giving things that you do together. We spend way too much time in the car and in the stands merely watching each other but not engaged with one another. There are lots of possibilities out there that you've never considered.

Plan some special events and try not to make them all activity or entertainment oriented.

Third, teach your kids skills they will need in the future. Do they know how to do the laundry, iron clothes, organize their lives and balance a bank account (check book for some)?  Many do not know these basics and enter marriage without these and other fundamental skills that would benefit them in major ways once they are out on their own. Add your own additional items, especially ones that you are particularly good at.

Fourth, go back and review some of your family highlights. This could be easily done by going back and looking at old photos or videos. Most of us have countless pics somewhere that we haven't seen again ever or at least for a long time. You'll have some laughs and enjoy some wonderful memories that you don't want to lose.

Finally, go serve someone else. Find a shelter, nursing home, neighbor in need or whoever where  you could serve not just once but all year long. Figure out where you could build some relationships with people you don't know but will get to know over time. Your family will never be the same and you'll add a memory and experience.

So don't make resolutions but consider starting some new ways of living that aren't that hard but will likely last you far longer than your last promise to lose weight, exercise more or save money. And the investment will even have eternal dividends. Enjoy.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

One of The Best Habits We Ever Put In Our Marriage

Most couples over time develop certain habits whether they like it or not. Some are helpful and enriching to their marriage, others annoying and some even destructive. Often most of their habits aren't even planned, they just happen.

Jackie and I have had our share in the above lists but there is one that I am thankful we were very intentional about from the very beginning of our marriage until today. No, we've not done it perfectly and there have been periods where it pretty much vanished for a time but its importance and pull have always brought us back to it.

I am confident that it has enhanced our communication, intimacy, planning for the future and ability to simply rest and enjoy some Sabbath in our busy weeks.

Our habit? We've made extended, focused time for each other. We have committed to a day, morning, evening or a combination where we put aside our regular schedule, plan something fun, go out to eat perhaps along the way and explore new places together. We usually have some sort of goal but the time is not typically programmed and we can always change things up last minute.

Sometimes the weather alters our course or we're just too tired. That's okay. We have enough margin during that time to not get flustered because our original plan didn't work out. We don't always go somewhere either. Sometimes we stay home, read, relax and watch movies or television that we didn't get to see earlier.

We try not to let other outside influences steal our time away either. We limit phone calls (I'm a pastor so sometimes there are emergencies), online efforts, housework and errands. We try to make sure we have time to talk, leaving room for heavier issues but not limiting ourselves to that. We laugh a lot and talk about non-work, non-people things rather than ministry.

And there is something about having a day that we know is out there waiting for us that makes challenging times a bit more tolerable.  We know that a reprieve is coming so we can take a little more pressure for a time if need be. And even if our getaway time gets robbed because of events we can't control it is so ingrained in us we gravitate to it immediately the next week.

I fear that many, if not most couples, in this 21st century, have relegated time for each other to we'll-do-that-when-we-get-time or once-the-kids-are-grown or some other fantasy-laden hope that will never happen. It's not that you can't afford to take time for each other. You can't afford NOT to have it. You'll have to make it happen even if it means letting go of something else.

Marriages don't deteriorate for no reason. They fail because we don't give them time, priority and intentionality. So don't wait!  Start somewhere. Maybe you can't give a whole day yet. Then find a couple of hours or a morning for starters.  But write it on your calendar.  Let you kids know you are working more at being together. You'll be modeling something for them to take into their marriage.

I'm pretty sure it will be a habit you're glad you started.  Try it.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, November 8, 2015

When Selfish Isn't Sinful

Anna is a mom of two normal, healthy, fun-loving, busy kids. She and her husband Al do quite well at sharing the responsibilities of providing, taxiing, feeding and who knows what else that children and family need every day.

But the end of each day arrives and they usually have just enough energy to plop in front of the television for thirty minutes and even then one of them is usually nodding off before the program ends. They look forward to weekends but there are games, church and special events to attend and participate in that seem to never end.

They both long for some time together, even a little alone time when their tanks aren't empty. They know that parenting and marriage both require sacrifice and often feel guilty for wanting more. Their parents sacrificed for them. Shouldn't they do the same for their kids? They know that someday when the kids are older they'll be able to focus on each other and maybe even start a new job or hobby that just has to wait for now.

Sound like you? Struggle with the same feelings? Wondering when you're going to get a break? Is being a little selfish, getting some time for yourself or your marriage always in your mind selfish and about ME?

I don't think so. And apparently Jesus didn't either. He took time to be alone, to walk, to rest his physical body (of course He was God otherwise).  He wasn't always with people, there for everyone and meeting needs 24/7.

There are some reasons why we too need to follow His example.

First, if we have little in our tank emotionally then we'll have little left for others. We'll get angry more, skim on the most important things and not give our kids and spouses our best.

Second, we'll be more likely to do something we would never do otherwise. We'll blow up at a coworker, have an affair, emotional or otherwise, or make a stupid decision. We're hurting, empty and longing for a little relief and sometimes we'll do anything for a cup of cold water in the desert.

Third, we need to be reminded of our limits. No one can be there for everyone. There is only so much time in our day, so many emotions in our reserve, so much energy in these bodies we have.

So what do we do?

Accept that you are not being selfish when you add rest and refreshing to your life, physically, emotionally and spiritually.

Second, incorporate some you time into your day. It may start with only a few minutes but start somewhere. Try a walk, find time to think, read, meditate, pray, just unwind. If you're married include some regular time with your spouse. Require your kids to give you that time if they are old enough (and most are if you work at it with them).

Third, make slowing down more of a priority in your family. No, we don't need to do all the things everyone else is doing. No, we don't need to be in all the clubs, sports and special programs that the neighborhood crowd has embraced. There are more important things. Focus on those.

When you start re-filling your reservoir you'll discover you actually have more to give and enjoy. And by the way, that's how God intended us to live 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.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Five Things Couples Will Wish They'd Done Before Retiring

I'll never forget a wonderful pastor who Jackie and I learned so much from. He led a vibrant congregation as a teacher and leader for many years, looking forward as he said publicly to traveling a lot more with his wife after they retired around his sixty-fifth birthday. All seemed to be working according to plan as he bid farewell to his church except for one thing.

He died within a year.

All those plans to travel, spend time with each other and enjoy life were over, at least for the two of them. Sadly, many couples also put off until later opportunities, dreams and special hopes that didn't have to wait.

Let me suggest five things to try now that you would can include now in your marriage,and family life that you'll be glad you did even if you do live long beyond your retirement plans.

Travel together. Yes, like our pastor friend, travel plans don't always happen as we get older. Of course his death was the major reason he missed out but there are other inhibitors. Less money, health and other family responsibilities are three that often keep our big plans from happening in our later years.

Save more.  We live in a spend it when you have it culture. We're all about having the new, latest thing now. But someday you're going to wish you had saved some of what you spent on long-gone thrills and new technological advances to have extra resources that you can use for those days when it's time to work less and enjoy other things more.

Have more spontaneous fun. When is the last time you and your spouse or family did something unplanned just because it made you happy?  So much of family life today is scheduled, centered around the sports, school calendar or rehearsal schedule with little time to just enjoy one another. Take regular time to merely BE, to do things that make you laugh, that have no great purpose other than to re-fill your tank and take some of the stress out of life.

Share a bigger mission or purpose together. Over the years our hearts have been turned to loving, serving and helping the Russian church. Jackie and I have traveled there together, had Russian friends in our home and shared our resources. Your purpose can be local or far away, but there is something uniting and fulfilling about a bigger goal that you and your family embrace together. Don't wait.

Get to know your adult children as adults. So often we move far away (as we did for a while) and don't have the same amount of time to spend with them. If that's the case make sure you invest in ways to  help you get near them as much as you can. The computer makes connecting easier from a distance. And when you're together, make some memories.  Of course your children and their family responsibilities will place parameters on how much time you have but don't just sit back and hope you can get together. Suggest options, take time alone with grandkids if you can and plan some special things now and then.

You see, from someone who's there right now, you're going to face a day when you'll be asking this question: Did we do the things we wanted to do in life while we could still do them?  I'm thankful that we can say we did a lot of them. Thankfully, we seem to still have time and good health to do more of them. But I'm SO glad we didn't wait.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Beware the Activity Monsters

Have you seen that insurance commercial where you're supposedly watching the telecast of a professional golf tournament and the announcers are speaking softly as the player is about to strike the ball?  Then all of a sudden out of the water hazard some huge octopus-like creature springs up grabbing several of the golfers by its tentacles and throwing them all around.

I have to admit I have no clue what the producers of that commercial were smoking in their design meeting. I have no interest in buying their insurance after that ad.

However, I wonder how many parents realize they and their children may have similarly been caught by the tentacles of their monster schedule, a situation that could have been avoided with a little planning and some saying "no."

I've spoken of this before and perhaps you've tired of hearing about it from me and others that our kids are being eaten alive by activity, much of it unnecessary and driven by parents. Kids no longer just play a sport (and it's rarely one anyway). They must go to camps, play year-round, take specified lessons, travel long distances and enter multiple tournaments. And we're not talking about the Michael Phelps level athletes preparing for the Olympic Trials.

This is happening with preschoolers, elementary students and middle school students whose running from activity to activity is not only wearing them out but stealing time from their personal, spiritual and emotional well-being.

Student groups in churches are often thirsty for participation and willing servants in ministry because students are now gone to tournaments all weekend, can't attend a midweek activity because of more practices or lessons or are simply too tired to give the church some extra time.

Marriages struggle because mom and dad have little face to face, quiet time just for them anymore.  On the surface they think things are fine, but their relationship is eroding and can potentially collapse if it's not given body, soul and spirit attention.

So what's the answer?  Some will say, "Gary, don't you know that my son or daughter can't move up in their sport or skill unless they do all these extra things?"

First, limit the choices. Okay, so your Ryan is potentially the next great college basketball player.  Then let him focus on that but don't grant him access to four sports. Allyssa is a phenomenal volleyball player - then, let he focus on volleyball.

Second, don't sacrifice the most important things. If you and your children have little time to serve others and be a part of your church's ministry in some way, you're too busy. If you never  take a vacation any more and your family doesn't know what it means to be together for an hour or two and just have fun, you're too busy.  If mom and dad never have time for themselves, you're too busy!

Third, make some choices that will model the lifestyle you believe your kids should lead when they are parents.

Too many activities are not just a monster of sorts. They will mess with who you are and who you become. And that's not worth the risk. Stay away from the water hazard.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Richness of a Mountain Climb

My wife Jackie and I just finished a wonderful week with some Texas friends in the mountains of Colorado. And as I typically do I sought out another high mountain to climb before the week ended. One of our friends and I decided to tackle 13000' Notch Mountain, not as popular as the oft-climbed 14ers that we and others typically choose, but a climb with glorious views of Mount of the Holy Cross nonetheless.

But as soon as we began to climb I was reminded again of the rich senses, impressions, thoughts and emotions I would experience and desperately needed, ones that I miss so often in everyday life. Let me share a few.

We began our climb in the dark as the wafting smell of the pines woke my mind and soul to what was yet to come. I couldn't help remember that unique and fresh scent that had so captivated me even as a child. You can't find it just anywhere.

Minutes later the light began to rise in the east and the coming sun appeared as a mountain halo soon to glow like a bright ball of welcomed warmth. It was a special and fleeting moment. And yet  it is easy to miss these simple, mysterious yet wonderful experiences that cannot be bought. I am glad we did not run past this one only eager to conquer our goal.

Soon one sunlit ridge became dozens and it was difficult to take it all in. The majesty of God, always present, seemed inescapable now and we felt again that we had entered a holy place.

But the world of the mountains is rarely one of mere joy. The trail soon became steep, the footing rocky and the air thin. My breathing felt more labored, my legs ached and every step seemed heavy. The switchbacks were relentless and appeared unending for a time. Rocks were ubiquitous and intense concentration was required to continue without injury.

My body was fighting the mountain now and I knew from experience that my mind and spirit must engage my movement and urge me to not quit the climb. My physical energy drained quickly as I sought for something deep within to prevent me from turning around. And yet in the middle of the struggle I felt oddly invigorated discovering an ultimately powerful determination within to keep going and to conquer this huge task in front of us. 

There was a deep passion to overcome that I both hated and welcomed but that I rarely encounter in my daily life. 

I again thought how often I prefer the easy road, the comfortable and the familiar and miss how something greater always grows and changes me. I realized that there is something almost more impacting in the journey, in the climb far beyond reaching the summit.

I learned anew that sometimes, most of the time, the way to overcome our mountains is to just survive one more stretch of the trail even when our lungs burn and our strength seems gone. This is also the time when perhaps God's nearness is felt most, when He both gives us a boost but whispers simultaneously, "Keep going."

But then often comes that special moment when you take those last steps to the summit, with breaths still labored, feet aching but you know you have made it. As I like to say, "The view from the top is worth it." And it was. We experienced another sacred setting with only us, the quiet and God's beautiful creation there as our companions.

When summits are achieved we are free to enjoy them, embrace the thrill of victory stolen from the agony of defeat.

However, we cannot live on the summit. We must go down. That is where life is lived. So we descended, yes with less of the fight against gravity stealing our strength but a new dilemma emerging in the context of our joy at the top.

I found myself even more tired. The glow of summiting remained but I had given so much to persevere on the way up. Different muscles ached and more pain was added to the already strained  sore spots. But isn't life like that? We give and give with God's help to overcome but we have fewer reserves for a while as a result.

So we get emotional In the least likely of times, snap at those we love and dread the idea of another challenge coming too soon. As my legs seemed only to have enough strength to keep moving, my mind nearly erased all I had enjoyed for the past 5+ hours. But this is when we must remember again that God uses mountains and all the good and bad that comes with them to make us better, stronger and deeper people. 

Going down is a key part of the journey and the growing. It's all part of the process of being stretched, molded and made better.

I read recently that we would be wiser to spend more of our money on experiences and less on things. Another mountain climb affirmed for me that nothing could be further from the truth. What will be your next mountain experience? It may not be granite but it must be bigger than you are. Think of one now. You can't afford not to.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Potential Deadly "Items" In Your House

Everybody pretty much knows about molds, asbestos, viruses and other seen or unseen things that left untouched can make us sick or even kill. A story just yesterday re-visited Legionnaire's Disease, something many of us remember first arriving on the scene some forty years ago. It's still here. People can die simply from air-conditioning units not being cleaned.

But what we often don't think about are the emotional and social molecules that can also be destructive, even deadly, within our own family and home. These actions and ways of responding may seem small and even be unseen by the natural eye, but they can have dramatic consequences.

Let me mention three common ones.

Too high expectations. So many parents these days are requiring their kids be the next Rhodes Scholar, Olympic athlete, college superstar, curer of cancer or famous actress or musician. Most of them would never use those terms (though a few would) but in the back of their minds they really believe their child has that kind of potential.

So they push, taxi, search for the best coaches or teachers, spend their resources and never allow anyone to have a moment off from training, learning, improving and winning. "Michael Phelps didn't," they bemoan. As a result family time dwindles, marriages suffer, church activity and service lessens while parents keep hoping and believing their child deserves the best that they never had. Another medal, ribbon or trophy is to them a badge of courage and of course the opportunity for another Facebook post.

Too low expectations.  This may sound contradictory to my first point but there are also problems with this polar opposite. These parents are happy to let their family just coast through life. They spend most of their time without many goals or dreams or hopes. They plan very little other than to just get by. The TV is on most of the time and their favorite shows are the highlight of their week. They rarely eat together, the kids are allowed to spend most of their time on their pad or video games and there is little accountability of anyone's time, health or money.

Kids who are capable of more are just average students and they all do very little for others. Chances are they are hurting financially because there are so few ground rules and things to work towards so resources are used up foolishly.

Too little emphasis on the things that matter most. I would guess that most parents don't go into family life imagining the kind of life they are now living. Many did have dreams, hopes and goals that they hoped they would someday look back on with great satisfaction and contentment.  Sadly, what most of us don't realize is that those things take work, intentionality and purpose.  They don't just happen.

Perhaps I could have also called this item the problem of inertia.  We just keep going. Even those with high expectations rarely stop long enough to evaluate if their plans are helpful and a good idea.  We let life, circumstances, culture around us and other challenges dictate the final outcomes rather than stay determined to keep certain things within our reach. So instead of relaxing and slowing down, we speed up more. Instead of taking time to teach our kids to love, be honest and enjoy life, we push them to go faster.

Instead of enjoying each other  and making memories we demand that everyone accomplish one more thing and put off the enjoyment for another time. Unfortunately, that other time often never comes. Or if our expectations are low, we say, "Oh, well maybe next year we can get around to that."

You will have to figure out how to keep these unseen "substances" from hurting you and your family but I beg you to not look the other way. Make some changes now, put some new patterns of living in place so expecting too much, requiring too little or missing out on what really matters will never take over and cause emotional harm.

Someday you'll be thankful you made even a few small changes now that you discovered had huge results later!

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Your Family And The Supreme Court Decision

It's been a few weeks now since the Supreme Court's landmark decision on same-sex marriages. Thousands of editorials and articles have been written, pro and con, and it seems like emotions have for now at least settled down somewhat.

Nonetheless, impassioned cries have come for pastors and churches to do everything from rise up as a mighty army to fight the decision and its implications to be more tolerant and accepting even though one may be opposed.

Those discussions and actions will continue for a long time I suspect.

But a question for families might be the more practical one to consider: what should Christian parents do and say to their kids about it?  Or should we just not talk about it? How do we prepare our families for the likely discussions they will encounter at work, in school or college this fall? How can we share what we believe to be God's truth while helping one another to respond to others in a Christlike fashion?

Let me suggest a couple ideas that could help.

First, if you're married work on your own marriage. Yes, boldly model what it means to have a healthy, growing, even thriving relationship in your house. Don't settle for OK. Show your kids how the two of you work at spending time together, having a vision for your long-term relationship and truly loving each other. So many kids today see mom and dad mostly as their taxi drivers and providers. Their parents have or experience little time for and with each other.

My hunch is that some of the most vocal Christians will be ones who spend little time, if any, improving and deepening their own marriage. We'll accomplish far more if we can make a case for and model a healthy heterosexual marriage.

Second, make sure you know the facts on the decision. Talk, yes, about what was decided but try to avoid all sorts of implications that we simply do not know will happen at this point. It's tempting to bemoan the possible changes in our culture, church or future decisions merely getting everyone worried rather than focusing on the present. There have already been numerous internet hoaxes of apparent actions taken as a result of the Supreme Court's decision. And of course, people jumped all over those, posted them to Facebook or Twitter and looked bad as a result.

Let's help our own families to learn the important lesson of getting the details first on anything before we assume the worst or some significant outcome.

Third, teach one another about speaking the truth in love and with grace.  As I've written elsewhere we can do our part to stand for the truth without becoming people others can't stand. Let's remind each other that we all make mistakes, that none of deserves God's grace and that there are sins that we all commit that also need forgiveness, love and someone to not reject us because of them.

What are our kids hearing come out of our mouths on this issue? What spirit do they sense behind our disagreement - bitterness, contempt and disdain or mercy, compassion and kindness?

Fourth, help one another with some cogent, respectable and meaningful replies to those who would espouse same-sex marriage. Learn to respond without anger or a demeaning spirit. Practice ways to invite an ongoing discussion and friendship, if possible, in spite of the fact that you disagree. Learn what Scripture says and doesn't say.  Because we love someone doesn't mean we must agree with them. Jesus loved a lot of people like that so we can too.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Experts Say "Parents, Get Out of the Helicopter!"

A year or so I took my first helicopter ride with a friend who is a rescue pilot in Texas. I loved it. The view was great even on a rainy day. It was fun looking over the traffic instead of being immersed in it.

However, it is one thing to ride in a helicopter.  It's very much another to live so to speak in one. And a number of studies the past couple of years have suggested that all the hovering parents tend to do these days to manage, control and manipulate only positive results in their kids lives is not helpful. 

A recent University of Washington study suggested,  Children of helicopter mothers were more depressed and less satisfied with life, and felt that they had less autonomy and were less competent.

"We think when parents are over-involved with their kids lives, they're undermining their sense of competence, both by sending a message that says, I think you can't do it yourself, and robbing them of the opportunity to practice those skills."

Many parents literally fly over and around their children on a regular basis thinking that they will help them prepare most effectively for the future. What they don't seem to know is that they are actually stealing healthy growth, independence and maturing from them.

As a result many kids not only have to have the best of everything these days - teacher, trainer, grades, experience, status on the team. They also have to look like it so every picture has the perfect smile, outfit and location.

Facebook for many is no longer just about communication. Much of it has become competition among parents to show how wonderful their offspring have done in life. Families subtly (or not so subtly) wage war to boast the best vacations, awards and even stories about the famous people their children have met or studied under.

So what does the research seem to imply to any of us who may be flying too closely to our kids?

Lighten up. Get out of the way. Let your children become more independent, make more and more decisions, learn from their mistakes and be imperfect. Of course, we should always be there for guidance and advice. And yes, there are boundaries we are free to have as long as they live in our house and we're paying the bills.

Provide some practical opportunities for your children to taste and develop independence. Even an elementary school child can learn from his or her mistakes or have to go to a teacher or friend and make things right. As they get older widen the path and add more responsibility with appropriate rewards or losses just like they would experience in their future education or work experience.

Admit your inappropriate role as a parent in staying too close. Are you trying to live through your child? Are their unresolved issues and events from your past that are causing you to put needless and unhealthy pressure on your kids? Talk to someone about it if need be but don't require your kids to carry your stuff around with them.

Maybe it's time to land that helicopter and just enjoy being back on the ground for a while.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, June 4, 2015

GUEST POST- Jackie Sinclair: Grieving Lessons From My Phone

Computers and smart phones have revolutionized our lives.  I sometimes have said that my brain is now in my phone and I can get panicky when I lose track of my devices.  On the other hand, there are times when technology can be downright frustrating.  My iPhone seems to crawl or my battery is dying before noon.  A quick Google search will bring lists of suggestions to get better performance. 

As it turns out some apps run silently in the background allowing them to be ready in an instant if we need them.  The downside is that they are constantly sapping battery life and eventually slowing down the processing.   In many apps this option can be turned off but other utilities must remain running for the proper operation.

About 7 months ago my brother was diagnosed with a recurrence of colon cancer.  In spite of aggressive treatment it became obvious that the cancer was moving quickly and there would be no cure.  Last Friday, May 29, 2015 he passed into eternity surrounded by his wife and grown children.  We will all miss him deeply.

Over the past months I have found myself increasingly distracted, forgetful and unmotivated.  And since his death it seems that even small tasks and decision-making have become more difficult even when I was not actively thinking about him.    

Yesterday it occurred to me that my grief was like an app running in the background of my life, depleting my energy and decreasing my thinking process.  Even though other parts of my life were going on without obvious problems, the grief was there (sometimes silent and other times intense) and it will continue to affect my life in some way for a long time to come.  

As I thought about it more, what is true for grief is also true for other negative events in our lives.  Even when we aren’t dwelling on them they are always there, running in the background and still affecting us. Unfortunately these negative events can’t be turned off with the swipe of a finger.   They are a part of our life that cannot be changed.

So what do we do in the meantime?

First, take the time to evaluate what pain or negative circumstances may be running behind the scenes in your life.  Sometimes we can do a good job of hiding those wounds, even from ourselves. 

Next, evaluate what is essential and which things threaten to drain your emotional battery. What commitments can temporarily be put aside to allow yourself more energy to deal with the loss? 

And lastly, give yourself grace and time to heal.  There is no correct timetable to get past grief.   Allow people to help.  This is often as important for them as it is for you.

Much like our electronic devices, it pays to do a periodic maintenance and assessment of our emotional health and life responsibilities.  It just may keep us from running out of critical energy at a time when we need it the most.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Teach Your Family To Pray

I have a close family member dying of cancer. He’s way too young. Thousands have prayed for him but he likely won’t live more than a few days from this writing. Friends have prayed for years for more rain in Texas. Christians from all over the city of Austin prayed together last May for rain and only recently has there been precipitation of any substance.

Of course I believe prayer works . . . sometimes.  By “works” I mean that we get our desired outcome.  Our family has seen bunches of miraculous acts of God over the years where He did more than we could ask or think.  I am confident that as Scripture suggests our prayers both individually and corporately matter.  I hope my friends in Austin get rain, that others I know with illnesses are healed and that friends I pray will change from their destructive ways will get turned around We should never quit praying just because we don’t always get the answers we want.

However, we must also do the appropriate teaching about prayer that will help us understand what I call the parameters of prayer. We must seek from God as well the best reasons we can find that will at least help explain why God doesn't respond as we desire at least some of the time. Why do we pray for rain along with thousands of others and God not give it to us?

Why even ask God for some things if He's going to seemingly ignore us or wait for years to respond.

Why would a cherished love one lose his life while another get to keep hers even when their diagnoses were pretty much the same?  The just have faith proponents often forget to talk about the other times when God doesn’t seem to come through.  And when we’re parents it’s even more important to admit, wonder and then at least try to understand a God who is not merely a cosmic vending machine or happy-go-lucky grandfather who just gives us everything we want when we want it.

Of course, one blog post isn’t going to be able to cover a topic so vast nor will we ever be able to figure out the whys of God. But I do know that the Gospel of John, for example, suggests pretty clearly that we can ask for whatever we will and one or all of three things must happen.  Our prayers must give God glory, bring us joy and bear the most fruit. Check it out in chapters fourteen through sixteen. Seems to me that would be worth some family study along with some pastoral explanations from time to time.

I also know that the Scriptures over and over suggest that prayer is actually a conversation with God not merely our time to make requests of Him. Prayer often opens the door for us to get in line with what God knows best. Wouldn't it be helpful to talk about that?

Maybe some teaching in our homes and churches is in order as we seek out God’s plan and will for our homes, churches, cities and country. It won’t require a degree in theology to do so. But perhaps we can encourage our teachers and pastors to work together with us to wrestle with more of the hard questions and do less promising that God will always listen to us if we just say it enough or get enough people to agree with us.

As parents lets take the lead instructing, modeling and yes even wondering what God is up to as we pray together. Somehow I have a feeling that will draw us together in ways we didn’t know were possible.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, May 8, 2015

Fear: Not Usually Helpful At Home

I have a number of things I'm basically afraid of.  I'll bet you do, too. Snakes are high on my list. Most of us wonder if terrorism will end up in our town or city's backyard. It's natural to be pretty nervous. While I'm confident in my faith in God and that I'll see Heaven someday, I'm still a bit fearful of what dying is like, at least the unknown parts right now.

And healthy fears of getting hit by a car or struck by lightning can help us taken necessary and wise precautions to avoid the worst. All fear isn't bad.

However, some fear in a home can be debilitating, destructive and emotionally painful.As parents we would be wise to think about those kinds of fears and try to avoid them. Let me suggest a few.

The fear of failure. While our kids may not care much at first, many parents hate to see their child make a mistake, not get on the team or give up on a project or endeavor. To those parents their child's lack of succcess means they as parents aren't a success either. So they push harder or at best have trouble hiding their disappointment in their child. And trust me they notice and probably will become fearful themselves of not measuring up.

The fear of what others think.  This can be exasperated when failure looms, but it can also result when we constantly compare ourselves with others.  We don't have as much house, money, fame, social connections or power. So we're not OK in our minds and soon our kids begin to believe it as well..

The fear of other people. Yes, only a few will be totally non-social. That's unusual. But sometimes we can allow our kids to never learn to connect with adults or new people or anyone not quite like them. Other parents teach kids to think that everyone in their world is out to get or hurt them. What a dangerous allowance in a world where someday social interactions and trying new things in relational contexts will be essential to succeed and relate in the culture.

The fear of having fun. Many kids today are being pushed harder and harder as I alluded to earlier. But a corollary emotion and response can be the sense that to have a good time is never OK. Only working harder is acceptable here. And while most kids deep inside still want to have fun, they find themselves always wondering if mom and dad are listening or know that they are anything but totally serious about succeeding.

There are of course other fears that I don't have time to explore now. But the bigger issue is, Is our home a safe place for kids to grow, be stretched and even fail? If not, why not?  What are you possibly helping by making the accepted landscape in your family one of only hard work, determination and outdoing their best friend?

Yes, we need to model and encourage that we all do our best. And yes, even the Bible suggests that we should love God and others with all our heart. But fear will never be the best motivator. Imagine what your work experience would be like if your boss motivated you only with fear (and some of you no doubt CAN imagine that.)

Be sure that you are wise and reasonable in your expectations.  Have fun. Celebrate victories, of course, but also celebrate trying hard, doing something unique and even failing after doing your best. Keep fear protective, yes, but not preventative of healthy, wise, fun life at your house!

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Living In the Death Zone

I've never climbed in the Himalayas but I've read a lot about those who do. And there is an area generally above twenty-five or twenty-six thousand feet that is poignantly known as the Death Zone. It is so named basically because at that altitude there is a variety of conditions that if not overcome will simply kill you and likely do it quickly.

Of course the most obvious one is the thin air and even with supplemental oxygen the body won't perform with its usual efficiency. And because one's faculties are typically impaired a climber is then more exposed to falling, various forms of edema and other potentially fatal results. Weather is also likely more extreme and dangerous, causing many climbers to bivouac in places where survival is unlikely at best.

A very small percentage of climbers ever experience the Death Zone of the highest mountains in the world and for good reason. It's just too dangerous.

However, in life there are some reasons to actually live in our own Death Zone of sorts. In fact, we can't avoid it. It's living knowing that at any moment our life on this earth could end. We could be gone or someone we love simply won't be around. Morbid? Creepy? A little out there perhaps? Yes, in some ways.

But I have a close relative who is most likely going to die in the next few months or so, barring a miracle that of course our entire family is praying for. However, whatever happens it has made us all think a bit more about whether we would be ready to face the same ourselves. What would we do if death were looking us in the eye all of a sudden? 

I think the answer gives us some essential things to think about doing now without living in some sort of dark, fearful place in the process.  Let me suggest a few. 

First, make the most of every moment you can. No, none of us can savor each second of every experience, but we can slow down and enjoy people and opportunities a bit more.  We can quit cramming so many things into our lives and running by people we love as though they are hardly there. We can stop and watch our kids and grandkids longer, spend a few more minutes with a spouse or friend and just enjoy little special moments of nature that occur every day all around us.

Second, take inventory. Be brutally honest about how many things you're doing that really matter for the long-term versus those that are just because everyone's doing them. Yes, there's nothing wrong with leisure, goofing off now and then and simply having fun. But are we letting the temporary push aside the eternal and the things we think we should invest in for our gain steal time from the people we want to invest in because we love them?  Have we pushed the most important things and experiences into the I'll-do-them-someday-when-I-have time category?

Third, say what you want to say now. I've often thought we should have everyone's funeral before they die if possible. That way people can say to another's face what they want to say about them and would likely say once they're gone. Well, in a sense and in the same way we would be wise to say what we want to say to people before one of us is gone. Do we need to forgive, tell them we love them or that we are proud of them, let go of some past hurts or remind them of how much they meant to us?  Do it now.

You see living in the death zone doesn't have to be something we dread. It can be more something we just do naturally and regularly so that when our day comes to leave this world, we know for sure that we've left little undone or unsaid. Few regrets.  Seems like that's a better way to live . . . and die.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Slowing Down Almost Always Brings Joy

It snowed 8-10 inches last night. Our town and much of the Midwest came to a screeching halt. Churches were closed and even the road crew trucks got stuck at times. The winds are picking up, more snow is on the way and we could be hunkering down at home for another day or two. And while the Super Bowl is on tonight many of the parties simply won't happen.

Families will have to watch the game by themselves and have their own little party. Kids and parents may together be eating hot dogs and chips while laughing at the silly commercials. For most who wins the game won't matter that much.

But I wonder if on this slow day many will experience something deep within that is good, refreshing and re-filling. Perhaps some will stop long enough to remember what is really important - their family, others they love, time for themselves, moments to enjoy what God has made and delight in the little things. Maybe some will be glad watching the game at home. I hope so.

A young man did some work over several days for a woman and stole a valued coin collection from her when she wasn't looking. When she suspected him of course he denied it. However, he was caught when he spent several of the valuable coins for pizza and movie tickets. One was worth nearly $19,000. He didn't realize how valuable they were.

Slowing down is often what we too need to remind us of things we possess that are so valuable. And when we get those moments I think that's when we get a taste of much more than happiness. Instead we experience JOY. And times of joy are rare for many people these days.

Joy is a deep feeling, a profound awareness that we are engaging and embracing something more eternal, not totally of this world and certainly not merely of our own making. The problem is that we spend much of our lives running past joy, spending our valuable coins so to speak on the mundane.

But when we stop, get snowed in perhaps or just take some moments on our own to walk not run we will have more and more opportunities to experience what matters most. And I'm convinced that God intended it that way.  He never wanted us to keep getting busier, accomplishing more and running ourselves ragged.  Even churches can get caught up in the bigger and better syndrome where spirituality and success for God is measured by how much we do or how many people we impact at one time.

Early this morning, while I was making contacts to let our church people know we would not have services, I noticed through the dawn's faint light a car stuck in the snow in front of our house. So I headed out there in my boots and winter coat with a shovel to see if the person needed help.  I discovered a young woman was trying to get to a nursing home where she was needed to work.

Thankfully another man stopped and together we guided her out of the snow and got her on her way. Somehow I wondered if that wasn't a small, but significant opportunity to be Jesus to a person in need and experience joy.  No, it wasn't at church and it was only one person. But somehow it seemed to matter a lot. The sermon I didn't get to preach wasn't important. 

In fact, maybe I actually did preach one - to an audience of one.  It probably wouldn't have happened without the storm. Perhaps we all need a few more storms or at least the motivation to slow down so that joy is more predominant in our lives than mere happiness.

At least today I think I'm going to have another cup of coffee for now and just embrace the joy.  And hopefully I'll be willing to slow down more often even without winter's brutal help to do it. How about you?

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, January 3, 2015

So What If This Year Was REALLY Different At Your House?

We all know that the New Year is a common time for people to make resolutions they rarely keep.  But what if this year were different, not even in BIG ways but just little adjustments here and there that could potentially mean big changes down the road.

None of these suggestions, and they are only suggestions, are that big of a deal by themselves but I have a hunch that if we even did a couple they could end up bearing revolutionary results if we stayed with them. Here we go:

What if we bought less and were thankful for what we have just a little more each day?

What if we stopped one activity that uses lots of time but pays little dividend.

What if we had a weekly tech free night or even one hour each day?

What if we got to know three neighbors who we don't currently know?

What if we saved up some money each month to give away to someone who needs it?

What if we took a vacation that is different from what most other people do?

What if we found a new activity our whole family would enjoy and made it a hobby?

What if we actually took time to look at old pictures and videos?

What if we parents told our kids some of our stories about growing up?

What if every day we took time to share a high and low from our day?

What if we regularly talked about God moments that we experienced?

What if prayed more both individually and together?

OK, so I gave you a few ideas.  I'll bet you can come up with more, ones that your family could also embrace and turn into a truly new year. Try one or two. Let me know what happens. I'll bet you will want to do more. I'll bet you won't want to go back to the old way either.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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