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

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Why Many Kids Today Are Killing Their Parents . . . Well, sort of.

Sadly, we read almost every week that some family dispute has again occurred and one of the members of what was a generally loving family, mom, dad or a child was killed by one of them. These scenarios are always tragic and horribly sad, but seem to be increasing in many part of the country, most notably larger cities.

However, there is also slow death and dying going on in many more families though thankfully, no one is losing their life per se. If not who, what's dying?

It's meaningful relationship.  It's family time, sometimes church attendance and involvement and memory making together. But perhaps worst of all, many husbands and wives are basically ending their marriage relationship the day their first child comes into the world. While the dwindling of togetherness may move slowly for a while, their relationship can almost disappear once their first child becomes involved in any activities and/or another child comes along.

And obviously more children (and of course more activities) simply add to the messy matrix that absorbs everyone's focus, time, attention and any hope for much in th eway of family interactions.

Sure we cover the problem by attending all their games and activities but most of our interactions are comments like, Call me when you need a ride or Good game! or Be sure you have your homework done.

We call it relationship when we're in their presence, say sitting in the auditorium or the stands watching them participate or driving them to a practice, but it's faux relationship.

And at some point wise parents make some key decisions, not ones that are always popular with family, school parents and the kids. Let me suggest a few of those important choices:

Limit the number of sports, activities, rehearsals and practices you children are involved in. Kids don't have to be in every sport, music group or advance class of something.

Make a family time vacation at least a once or twice event each year.  Plan it together, anticipate the possibilities and be sure there are group activities that are fun for everyone and don't require technology.

Be a mean parent and limit the amount of screen time your kids have on their pads, computers and other technological devices.

Parents need to plan regular husband and wife getaways that the kids actually observe them taking. This is modeling, folks, and your kids may not learn the importance of time together as spouses from anyone else. And single parents can work at saving up for their own getaways as well. That's what grandparents are for.

You can choose your own other ideas to give your family margin and more time for each other. In fact when all is said and done and the question needs to be answered, "What's BEST for our children and what's just GOOD or BETTER?

So often we focus on what looks best competitively for our family when we need to think about what would best help each child grow as a person, future leader, spouse and Christ follower while helping the parents to grow in their love and commitment to each other. And instead of killing their relationship a family like yours could actually be bringing life into your home. What could be better than that?

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, October 21, 2016

Why We Made Our Kids "Moons" Not the Sun

The solar system is amazing isn't it? Planets (okay, no more Pluto) revolve in continuous orbit around our majestic sun. Each follows a distinct path at varying distances away from the golden globe at our system's center causing a uniqueness in each locale of temperature, general climate and substance.

And even scientists with all their knowledge and brilliance realize there is still so much to learn.

But as incredible as this miracle of physics in God's creation is, it's not a great model for a family if the sun happens to be now occupied by the kids. And in many families that's exactly the situation.

The kids have become the sun and the parents, grandparents and who knows who else are now forced to revolve around them. Activities, vacations, days off and a lot of money are invested every day and every week to keep it all working. In fact, to run the analogy just a bit further, the kids actually can begin to think they're the center of the universe or in other words everything.

They become entitled . . . deserving in their minds of more time, investment and commitment by mom and dad and other siblings not yet acting as their own sun. And this misunderstanding of the familial solar system is hurting, even destroying many a home. Homes that revolve around the kids, as the planets do the sun, are typically not healthy and in many cases self-destructing.

One symptom of over-focusing the life of our family on the children has been parent-hovering, driven by moms and dads who won't let one detail of their child's life be threatening or hurtful. But interestingly, several articles have been published recently in well-respected magazines such as Psychology Today, suggesting that helicopter parenting as it is referred to is even more harmful than once thought.

Of course are kids should be important, loved and very special to us. But they cannot become the center of our home's solar system. That's why we tried to live as though our kids were moons, orbiting and reflecting light from us, light that we tried to reflect from our sun, the wisdom, direction, example and knowledge of God.

In practical terms, that also means that our schedule should, excuse the pun, reflect this same structure. If the kids are not the center of our system, then our calendar will not be all about them. Our lives won't orbit around our kids even though they deserve our attention and appropriate focus. But they will be moons, pulled naturally by other nearby planets, but not the sun.

And frankly, we'll all be better off as a result. We'll slow down. Kids will learn to respect and give to others rather than just get the attention and resources for themselves all the time. We'll all be less stressed and anxious about life, not trying to get it all done and being tired much of the time.

You see, just as God placed our solar system in a structure where each part works well with the others, families need to work the same way. And when kids become the sun then that order and structure gets disrupted and the parts can't work properly.

And while your family will still have its uniquenesses, you'll find yourselves when in the proper orbit enjoying each other far more, connecting on a deeper level and even growing more in faith and other things that really matter. And who knows, maybe even Pluto can be reinstated one of these days!

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, September 5, 2016

Why We Need To Quit Trying To Give Our Kids Everything

Another Labor Day weekend has arrived and millions travel, head to beaches, enjoy cookouts or embrace resting for an extra day much deserved. There will myriad parades, special events and end-of-summer celebrations as most of us in the north hope to stretch the warmer temperatures for just a few more weeks if we can.

And yet most of us forget that the holiday is called Labor Day. We ironically take a break from work to celebrate it and those whose work ethic has formed the foundation of this amazing country we live in.

But sadly, many modern parents seem to be skipping the part about teaching their kids what it means to work hard, sacrifice now to save for something later and to perform whatever labors they commit to in the future with honesty, commitment and respect for their leaders. Instead, there seems to be this tendency and temptation to just give kids more and more freebies, while doling out the dollars, gasoline and time so their wishes, longings and dreams will come true.

And yet, these same children will one day soon have to apply for jobs, start at the bottom of the ladder in many cases and stick with something they don't like at first to get to a job they one day will love. Who's teaching kids today what it means to work hard for something, be proud of what they do, endure challenges, relate to different kinds of bosses and stick with a task until it's finished?

I'm not suggesting that we go back to the good old days when our parents or grandparents worked in terrible conditions for pennies a day and eventually opened their own cleaners, bakery or machine shop where they remained for the rest of their lives.

But I am suggesting that it's unwise to simply let our kids do everything they want on our dime so that they don't miss out on any special experience or opportunity. You see when we take that approach they are missing out on something important - learning to work hard on their own, without the special privileges and minus the perks and resources that we provide now which won't likely be there later.

Let me suggest a couple of ideas for helping kids understand the meaning of hard work.

1. Make sure they have a job or two before they go off to college. It might be very part-time and low paying but they will get a taste of the real world.

2. As much as the take your kid to work idea seems contrived and manipulative at times, there's probably a reason to do it on your own time and in your own way. They will learn a lot about what an average day is like the real world and perhaps realize it's not all fun and games.

3. Volunteer as a family. While there's no pay involved there is usually some hard, rewarding work required.

4. Talk about your work, what it took to get there and what you expect from your employees. Let them ask questions, show them examples of your successes and even give them some lessons on how you spend the money you make.

I'm sure you can come up with other ideas. Whatever you do, don't let one more Labor Day go by without a plan to teach your family some more about work. It's what has made America great and what will sustain your kids for the rest of their lives . . .  if you work at it.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Five Things To Teach Your Teens Before They Leave The Nest

Let's face it. Teens are often vilified, considered rebels and emotional wrecks much of the time. Many parents hope and pray that everyone can just get along until they are out of the house.

However, the teenage years are an important time for parents to stay very intentional and involved in the ongoing training, development and maturity of their kids who will soon leave their home for good.

While there were challenges of course, we found our kids' teen experiences to be fertile ground for them to still learn important lessons about life that they would use for decades to come. Let me suggest five key goals for parents to have in their plan for adolescent training.

1. Teach them to communicate with adults. Teenagers of course interact with adults in a variety of ways in everyday life but there will be more important opportunities to come. They will need to sit in interviews with colleges and employers, communicate with bosses, neighbors and local merchants. I've met too many teens whose vocabulary with me consisted largely of, "Yeah," "sure," and "okay." That won't cut it in life.

2.  Teach them to make their faith their own. Many teenagers still believe in God, the Bible, salvation in Jesus and the like but have never determined for themselves "why?" Therefore, they lack the ability to also think according to Scripture and logically. Parents can help by initiating discussions and interactions about spiritual issues, tough questions and the validity/reliability of the Bible. Let them question without being criticized.

3. Teach them practical living skills. Both boys and girls need to learn to wash clothes, basic foods and pay bills. Other chores can be added depending upon your household. Of course, aptitude will impact just which skills go to a higher level. I have never been good at fix-it kinds of things so more training would have only moved me up a slight amount in my ability. Nonetheless, there were other things I was required to do that I still do today.

4.  Teach them to show respect, kindness and humility. We live more and more in a me, myself and mine culture so our kids are being programmed to have much of life about them. Give them opportunities to serve others, speak graciously and be polite.

5.  Teach them to work hard. The best way is to model it but make sure they get regular opportunities to work both at home and in the workplace. Expect them to do their best and not settle for average. Encourage them to serve others through mission work and or acts of kindness.

Seeing our adolescents succeed in these areas may seem small but the dividends will be huge and you'll have teens who stand out from the crowd!

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Seven Simple Habits Every Parent Should Teach and Model

We all can think of the great sayings of all time, some from the Bible, others wise proverbs and many the timely thoughts of great leaders and individuals. Most of these principles suggest practical actions and regular behaviors that will make life better, more joyful and certainly fulfilling.

But there are some that aren't quite as well known and yet I'm convinced every child should be taught to do, repeat and embrace as they grow into adulthood. They're not complicated, scholarly or widely studied in the literature. But perhaps being reminded of the things on this list will help you as a parent work a little harder at making them more normative in your home.

  1.  Always make your bed. I know, young kids don't often think about this one and we may feel there are other more important things, but a made bed tends to cause other things that day to be more orderly.

  2. Always tidy up your desk before you leave work or a project. This has the same effect as #1 and gets a person more ready and organized for the next day.

  3. Say "I love you" often to the people you truly love. These moments can be gone before we know it and we all need the reminder that someone does care.

  4. Always do your share. No one at your home should be expected to do all the work for results that bless the group. Teach kids early on to help pick up, do dishes and assist with other chores. You're a team, a family.

  5. Learn to say you're sorry. No one is perfect, we all make mistakes. But walking away from something we did that was rude, unkind or unfair should be unacceptable. It's okay to be wrong, but it's not okay to forego righting a wrong.

  6. Don't always wait until the last minute. Projects, chores and other tasks can be planned and thought about ahead of time. If not, they tend to suffer in quality and we take on more pressure than needed.

  7. Give as much away as possible. Keeping stuff rarely satisfies. Giving to others almost always bring you joy and is way more fun in the long run.

Pick one or two of these to start working on or taking to the next level. They may seem like little things now, but the dividends down the road can be huge!  Happy parenting.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Staying Married 40 Years: The Tools of Commitment

Jackie and I are celebrating forty years of marriage today, Sunday, June 26th. We were married in 1976, the same year our country was founded.

Oh, wait a minute, it just seems that long and we look that old at times. We actually honeymooned in Canada during most of the 200th celebration of our country's establishment so we weren't too patriotic.

Sometimes we both feel as though we couldn't even be forty years old, much more married that long. On the other hand, we are incredibly blessed to still be husband and wife in a culture where silver, golden and even ruby (40) anniversaries seem to be fewer and fewer.

We were blessed with two awesome kids, who now have their own and have given us six grandsons. Wow, who would turn that down?

But we also know that we haven't been perfect and accept our warts, scars and ongoing challenges that others face. We didn't do everything right by any means and brought our own issues to marriage, ones that we too had to overcome by the grace of God. We've shared some of those stories elsewhere.

If we can share anything, however, it might be just a handful of attitudes and practices that have been handholds and footholds in our journey together, points of balance and strength that have kept us from giving up or giving in. No, we didn't do any of these perfectly but we made them consistent throughout the years.

One, we made time for each other even when we had kids or other significant responsibilities. I've written about this in other posts plus my book, Turn Up Or Turn Around Your Marriage, but I need to highlight the idea again here. We've almost always had a least a day that was dedicated to time together. We still do today.

When we had kids, we shared babysitters to lessen the costs, but we still made it a priority. That time kept us talking, relaxing, connecting and making each other a priority. We dreamed, planned and worked through things because we had the time.

Two, we said "I love you" a lot along with other encouraging words of life. Even in conflict we avoided name-calling, comparing and shame. We knew that words were and are powerful so we kept trying to speak life into each other. A related action is that we still act romantically towards each other in the everyday times - hold hands, sit together on the couch when we watch TV and kiss each other hello and goodbye.

Third, we were always a team - as parents, partners, dealing with finances, making decisions, disciplining the children. Everything we own, we both own. It's all ours even though there might be a few items that one or the other cherishes or uses more. One of our favorite things to do was to plan special trips or other events together.

Finally, though there are more I could talk about, we both looked to God, to Jesus and the power of His Spirit for our ultimate worth and happiness and the strength to live godly. Unlike the Jerry Maguire line, we don't try or expect to complete each other. We immensely enjoy each other's love and care and hope to keep doing so for many years to come. But we are clear that when it's all said and done, God is enough.

You see marriage is a wonderful taste of what only God can do in us all the time. That's why we sacrificed to give to Him over the years, to serve other in missions or special programs like MOPS. It's why we chose ministry together over just getting more stuff. And it's what we believe will make the rest of our years special, whatever time God allows us.

We do value so many who have been our models, mentors, teachers and encouragers. Some of you who will read this are in those groups whether you know it or not. Thank you.

And if our example can help you or someone else to keep committed to marriage and not give up, then it's been worth the difficult journey even more. Feel free to share this post with others who might benefit from hearing a little of our story.

As I like to say, never quit climbing. The view from the top is worth it!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, June 13, 2016

Three Things That Can Steal From Your Kids' Summer

For many parents summer is often either a blessing or a curse. It's a blessing because the early mornings, school nights and mounds of homework end for a while.

It can be a curse because mom and/or dad have to figure out how to keep their cherubs happily occupied, busy and at least somewhat productive when they get bored after only three days without the classroom.

Of course, other factors include the ages, personalities, interests and initiative of each individual child. We parents have many tough jobs but one of them is their supervisory role during summer break.

As a result we can overreact and go to extremes, several which in my mind as a parent, counselor and student of the family cause long-term problems rather than help.

Let me suggest three perspectives and strategies to avoid:

Don't over-program their time.  I know that the trend these days and often the requirements for kids if they're going to be involved again in the fall is . . . MORE. More training, more games, more practice, more experience, more talent development. And all that requires more time, energy, money and in many cases travel for the family.

Of course there are times when we feel like there aren't any alternatives. I remember our son as a basketball player being required to attend summer camps, workouts, tournaments and the like. One year he also got mono so couldn't attend most of the required activities. The kid who started almost every game since seventh grade hardly played his junior year of high school. Really? What kind of coach does that?

Whatever the case somewhere along the way we have to say enough is enough. That doesn't mean we don't let the kids do any of the offerings, but we can say "no" to some. They need a break! They're kids, not recruits.

Don't merely let them get lazy because school is over. I was an education major and taught school for fifteen years. I know that kids forget a lot over the summer. How about giving them a couple of choices that allow them to apply their knowledge, remember the highlights and do it all in a fun setting different from school?

If they started a language find a work, play or learning setting that requires they use their language skills rather than just study them. Music, art, sports, math, science, writing can all be practiced over the summer in fun ways, even ones that are done at home without cost or a leader.

In addition, don't be afraid to tack on a few more chores at home. Teach them some practical skills now that they're around the house more. They can learn to cook, help with laundry and do more yard work. You won't be there someday, remember?

Finally, don't miss out on opportunities to use this more flexible time to serve others. While most parents don't intend to merely spoil and indulge their kids (okay some do), it's easy for our children to begin to think that family life should center around their interests, needs and wants. So, why not find at least one opportunity that your family does together and/or they participate in with a community, church or other area group to help and give to others?

Whatever you do, don't buy into the more is more, look the other way or it's all about me, isn't it habits of so many families these days. Be different, stand tall above the summer status quo. Who knows, it just might change the direction and course of your family for the coming year.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Memorial Days Are Better With Stories

My dad, Harold Sinclair, served four years in World War II. He didn't die in the war. He passed away in 2000, a goal he'd told us about for most of our lives. "I at least want to live to see 2000," he reminded us most every birthday.

However, he could have died in the war and perhaps should have. You see, nearly fifteen years after his passing, I was in mom's attic going through an old trunk of his military things helping her get ready to move. My sister and I were passing things back and forth between attic and the main floor, reliving fun memories and determining what should be kept or not.

All of a sudden I pulled out a newspaper clipping from several documents in a folder and my heart nearly stopped. As I read it, tears came to my eyes and I quickly called my mom and Marilyn. The little article explained that my dad years before had won the Silver Star, one of the country's highest medals for bravery. He had risked his life to save some of his men while facing machine gun fire to do it.

I dug a little deeper into the trunk and sure enough found an old, faded box and the medal was inside.  My dad was a military hero. Sure he was a hero to us in other ways, but we never knew to what extent. My mom didn't know, we kids didn't know of this military award. I wonder if his mom and dad knew.

All I know is that I wish my dad were there to tell us about it. I wish he would have shared that when we were kids.  It would have changed a lot of Memorial Days into Memory Days, ones with far more meaning and impact. Yes, I know that those heroes like my dad were usually pretty humble and didn't want to talk about actions and events that may have had significant emotion and angst for them even years later. That's understandable and perhaps we should all just accept that.

However, it seems that young people today are missing out when they don't hear some of the stories of bravery, sacrifice and commitment that parents, brothers, sisters and others in their families exhibited and experienced for our country's freedoms. Who will pass on the legacy, the knowledge and pride to future generations?

Yes, war is hell and there's much that perhaps shouldn't be included in our stories. And our tales don't need to only be about the war, military or serving our country. But we don't need to remain silent and steal from our children the important lessons, examples and challenges those who served us so well and in many cases died for left us. Why don't we this year talk to our kids, share with our families and express some pride and thanks in story form about the ones who paid a significant price for us to freely enjoy this day?

Then perhaps the picnics, hot dogs, races and games will take a richer and deeper place in our thinking all year long.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Top Ten List For Dads

I can't think of many things I've enjoyed more in my life than being a dad. Of course, there have been a few hard, even disappointing times, but not many. Kids will always be kids and I know I sure made my share of mistakes, learning how to be a father by trial and error much of the time.

But I couldn't be more proud of my son and daughter, now observing them parent their own kids while my wife and I get to enjoy these six grandboys without all the mess (well, most of the time).

And while there aren't any set rules to follow or practices to embrace that will insure fathering success, I wanted to share my personal Top Ten List for Dads.

These are a few practices and insights that seemed to make a difference in any successes I've had as a father the past three decades or more.

Successful dads:

  1. Love their wives.  They don't just act as though mom is another helper. They visually and with emotion show their children that they love mom in very tangible ways and are committed to her for the rest of their lives.

  2. Keep their word. They say what they mean and mean what they say, even if they're not perfect at that now and then.

   3. Act like an adult most of the time. Healthy dads leave their adolescence behind, man up and lead their homes well in a partnership with their spouse. They're not seeking significance from their offspring.

  4. Still have a childlike heart. They can also enjoy playing and having fun with their kids while being spontaneous.

  5. Take care of themselves physically but aren't obsessive about it. Good dads model health and care for their bodies, but they know they don't have to be a super-jock or lifetime athlete.

  6. Live out their faith in everyday ways.  Too many men sit on the sidelines spiritually. Great dads model spirituality, not waiting for their spouse or leaders in the church to grow their kids in faith.

  7. Laugh a lot for the right reasons.  Some dads joke around all the time out of insecurity. Great dads laugh and have fun because they are secure and don't misuse their humor and joking.

  8. Initiate important communication with other family members. Mature, healthy dads are willing to go deep and start important conversations about faith, struggles, concerns and life in general.

  9. Pray every day for their family. Solid, godly dads don't dabble at praying. They live on it. It's natural, but it's powerful. It's common and it's real, not just a habit.

10. Live like they are dying. They live as though every day might be their last. They enjoy moments, make memories and say what needs to be said.

No, there aren't any perfect dads but there can be some great ones. You can be one. I'm going to keep trying as long as I've got a chance. You know, live like I might be dying.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, May 13, 2016

When We Mean Well But Make It Worse

When a loved one, friend or neighbor faces a tragedy or challenge, our natural response is usually to do something, say something helpful or in other words, make it better. We certainly would never intend to add more angst to their situation but frankly we sometimes do - unintentionally.

And our misguided, ill-timed responses are often expressed through our words. We say the wrong thing though it may sound like the right thing.

Here are a few examples along with the better, more helpful, more realistic response.

1.  I know everything's going to turn out fine.  The problem is that in life everything doesn't always turn out okay. Thousands may pray and people still die or remain ill. We lose a job and there's no other job on the horizon anywhere. The better answer . . . ?

I know that you're going to get through this and a lot of us are here to help you.

2.  One of these days you'll discover why this happened.  Thankfully we do sometimes learn what God had in mind or how we grew and what was accomplished in us through a major challenge or tragedy. But often we never learn the why. We'll find out in Heaven perhaps, but not in this life. So it's a bit dangerous to promise someone that they will get the answers about why in this life. Maybe they won't. The better answer . . . ?

Sometimes only God knows all the reasons, but I will pray that you move from having to know WHY to finding out WHAT you will do now and HOW.

3.  I know exactly what you're going through and . . . .  In reality, none of us knows exactly what someone else is feeling or facing even though we may have a similar experience or story.  There may come a time when our sharing our perspective could give the other person some practical help about how to move forward or what not to do. But saying it in the moment of their pain only discounts their struggle and suggests they ought to be able to get through it easily because of where you have come.
There are better answers especially when the hurt is still raw and extremely potent . . .

I can't know what you're feeling but you are free to talk to me and share that anytime including right now. 

Get the idea? To be truly helpful means that we simply stay with another person in the moment without trying to fix, simplify or discount their hurt. Down the road may be the time for other suggestions. Initially make it your goal simply to listen and respond accordingly. I guarantee that the person you're caring for will thank you later for your ministry of presence and care, even though you did little to take away the pain.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Three Things To Be Sure To Teach Your Kids About Home

My wife and I recently moved again after less than two years at our former residence. We've actually been blessed to stay in several places for eight to as long as seventeen years at a stretch but whatever the time frame moving can still be tough.

It's not only the challenge of packing, sorting and then unloading and setting it up all over again. Often the bigger issue is the myriad emotional struggles we face leaving friends, finding new doctors, learning where things are, what you need and how to get places.

And sometimes we can begin to think that we left our real home and are now stuck in some sort of barren Purgatory that will never be the same as what we had before.

In this continuing fast-paced, often - changing - locations kind of society, it is important that we make sure our children know that home is more than a place, an abode of brick and mortar or a school system.

Home is where the family is. I know this sounds like a greeting card or Hallmark Special, but it's easy for kids to forget or simply not know that. In fact, while I don't encourage lots of moves every few years, I do know that the moves we've made have reminded us that home goes with us. Yes, with US. That means, just as the church is not the building, but the Christians, our home isn't that address on Orchard St, but rather the parents and kids.

Home is also a place where we help each other with the challenges, including moving. Yes, it is hard for children to make new friends, leave the familiarity of their school and learn new names, streets and amusements. But each time they have to endure that they are reminded that none of those things were really home anyway and most of the time the new setting is better. They survive and so do we.

Home then is affirmed as that group of people who yes love us but also help us make it. We live through it together and care for each other when we're hurting. We may have all shed some tears driving out the driveway but we also share the smiles that can come with a new place with new adventures and new dreams.

Finally, home is the place you always go to feel safe, comfortable and real. When I was in seminary and our son was just two we lived in Texas for the summer.  Our home, however, was in Michigan. The day we returned after ten weeks in the South, we were bringing things in from the car and knew Tim was in the house but we didn't see him.

So we of course went to discover where he was and we found him sitting on his bed. And as we walked into his room he simply said one word, "Home!"

You see our kids will face some tough times perhaps having to leave a location and some people they care about but thinking they're leaving home. And while we know better often young minds don't. So teach them about home where their real home is. Prepare them for that day when home might be somewhere else but not with someone else.

I'm thinking Heaven might be like that, too.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, April 15, 2016

Three Key Non-negotiables In A Healthy Marriage

Every marriage, every relationship has its uniquenesses. Some spouses are more active or outgoing than others. Some have no kids, others a couple, some a large brood. Some husbands and wives love the outdoors, sports or travel. Others can be happy at home, enjoying local family and not being too busy.

Those special differences make the world better and life rich. Each couple ought to enjoy the image in which it is made.

However, there are a handful of qualities in good marriages that need to flourish in every couple's portfolio if they're going to succeed and stay married 'til death do them part.

Let me suggest three.

They make quality, meaningful, interactive time for each other. This is time that is focused on them, not the kids or other family, not work or individual hobbies and not television or other entertainment simply done together.

Some of these times will be very informal, while others may be more serious. Leisure, fun and even errands can be done during these times but the key is that they emphasize being together. There are few distractions from other people, responsibilities or dissimilar interests.

They speak to each other (and yes even argue) with respect, kindness and avoiding contempt. Marriages that last are known not for sweet and syrupy conversation all the time, but rather a basic tone of voice and use of language that is never mean, disrespectful or unnecessarily hurtful.

Couples avoid demanding, derogatory name calling and shaming one another. They speak in the here and now without bringing up past mistakes to gain advantage or control. They also build each other up both in private and in front of others, never using humor or berating of the other with friends, family or acquaintances.

In fact couples would be wise to get some counseling or other practical help on how to communicate with one another more effectively. Check out my marriage videos at Marriage Videos.

They regularly talk about how they are doing as a married couple. In other words, they aren't afraid of evaluation. We usually take a mini-retreat every year to do just that. We have fun, go somewhere we both would enjoy (need not be expensive) and talk about both the past year and the one ahead of us. We actually take time at the end to pray over our goals and ideas.

You can do this any way that works for you but give it a try.

Of course there are more important keys to a great, effective, intimate marriage. But why not start with these three and see how you're doing? It's worth investing in one of the most important relationships you have and will ever have!

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, April 7, 2016

THE, (Yes), THE Most Important Parenting Principle

Thousands of books have been written on how to parent and many of them contain outstanding, practical ideas regarding tactics, strategies and plan old actions that effective parents do. Of course, some ideas work well in some families and some accomplish more in different homes with different children.

You always have to pick and choose, use some trial and error and know your kids well before you land on the Holy Grail kinds of parenting skills. I wrote my own book that I think has helped some moms and dads. It's called Turn Up or Turn Around Your Parenting and is available at Amazon in both paperback and Kindle.

However, I want to highlight something I cover in the very first chapter that I think too many parents overlook, play down or at best give too little importance. And I'm convinced that in a home where there is a mom and dad that this is THE most important parenting theorem and rule of all time. And if parents don't make this a priority the rest of the ideas in those thousands of books will matter little because they won't work, at least not for long.

So what is this gem of principle that I've baited you long enough with? Here it is: Moms and dads must be on the same page and carry out the basic rules, guidelines and disciplines they decide on. This sounds so simple but many parents knowingly or unintentionally actually undermine the discipline and guidance of each other by doing just the opposite.

It happens in a couple of ways. Sometimes parents actually do talk about what they're going to enforce at bedtime, for a curfew, regarding parties, riding in other cars, going to a weekend activity, etc. But then when that guideline is broken or questioned one parent or the other looks the other way, thinks the change is no big deal and the child wins.

Other times, parents have to deal with a more spontaneous ask from their child about what to wear, going out with friends, playing with their video game, going to bed at a unique time or whatever. These kinds of events can't be talked about specifically because they don't fall into any regular pattern, category or previous discussion's content.

But the problem is that parents often then make a quick decision not knowing whether their son or daughter has already asked about this or if the other parent knows a good reason why a decision one way or the other isn't a good idea.

The result of either of these scenarios not handled in tandem together and based on previously agreed upon parameters is two-fold:  One, the children begin to believe that they really don't have to keep most rules because they can be easily broken. Or two, one spouse begins to think that their input or discipline really doesn't matter because the other partner continues to allow the opposite. And the corollary is that the kids begin to think that one parent is an easy mark.

What's the answer?  First, parents must have those meetings that lay out the basic rules and guidelines for discipline. Of course these things change as the kids get older, but the meetings and clear determinations are important nonetheless.

Second, parents must commit to keeping those rules (there are of course exceptions but should be rare) even if the other parent isn't there to help enforce them. And when we don't know if the other parent has weighed in or has a perspective particularly regarding a more spontaneous ask that needs our decision, we came up with a phrase to say to our kids.

If you need an answer now, the answer is "no."  If you can wait ten minutes (or whatever time is required) the answer is "maybe." Which option would you like to go with?

Of course, 90% of the time they took the maybe route.  That was the option with some hope and promise behind it. Once we began to respond that way all the time our kids figured out that working us against each other or pushing back on the rule wasn't going to work.

So how are you doing?  Do you and your spouse need to have a staff meeting to re-visit your discipline partnership?  If you're having trouble enforcing healthy actions and attitudes at home it's possible that you need that gathering and a new team perspective.  Chances are you need to renew your commitment to helping and supporting each other when it comes to leading and guiding your children.

And for more detail on this and other practical stuff check out my parenting book at:  Happy and more fulfilling parenting!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Ten Things To Always Consider Before Marriage

A wedding is one of those events that most look forward to and eagerly anticipate. Little girls dream about theirs and act out the perfect wedding in play times. Couples spend countless hours looking for the perfect location and extra elements that will make their day memorable.

And yet beyond the wedding is a marriage, a hopefully lifelong relationship fueled by love, founded on faith and sustained by commitment that survives even the toughest of times. And sometimes people let wedding plans and excitement distract them from determining whether this other person they're planning to live with until death do them part is not just the person they can live with but also the one they can't live without.

I want to suggest that couples spend far more time on their marriage than their wedding. And finding that special individual can be helped dramatically by being willing to look at ten considerations and questions below and answer them honestly. No one is perfect, but these questions can root out some deeper issues that may rear their heads later and keep a marriage from being the intimate, loving, lifelong relationship it could be and should be.

And let me add that if several of the questions suggest significant problems or red flags, please consider not getting married until these issues are talked about and examined closely. Counseling may be valuable at that point too. There is little worse than being several years into a relationship knowing that there were skeletons lurking in someone's background that needed attention and can potentially destroy the relationship.

I have a theorem that has proven true over and over. If something is going on before the wedding, it will still be there after the wedding. Marriage changes little when it comes to problems.

My Marriage Top Ten:

1. Does your fiance like you? For example, do they laugh at your jokes, take interest in your likes and priorities, talk about things you enjoy or is it all about them or someone else?

2. Does your fiance seem proud of you? Do they brag about you to others, ever tell you they think you do something well or does it feel like they're always a little jealous or at best silent about your talents?

3. Do you make most of your decisions together or does the other one subtly take charge as though they know better?

4. Does either of your fiance's parents act the same way?  In other words, are there genetic, family systems issues involved?

5. Have you talked about whether there has been any abuse in either of your families? Abusive characteristics are often passed on from past generations or started in childhood. See #6.

6. Does your fiance tend to not want to talk about serious issues or problems or suggest that you can work them out after you get married?

7. Are faith, church involvement and spiritual growth considered by your fiance to simply be nice things but doesn't support with any enthusiasm or personal commitment?

8. Do outside hobbies, goals, education and work seem more important than your marriage, home and ongoing relationship together?

9. Does your fiance place undue importance in keeping family traditions and not upsetting their parents?

10. Do you simply sense something is fundamentally wrong and you can't put your finger on it?

Answers to these questions won't make any marriage perfect or unearth every potential problem but they will address most of the major ones. I know you might rather look the other way but don't. Your life and relationship depend on it. And if nothing else by asking these questions you may end up affirming that you really have found someone you can't live without.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Can Anyone Learn Anything From Soccer? Maybe.

We're going to another professional soccer game today. Our son is the public address announcer for the Chicago Fire and sometimes we get to sit with the boys during the game while Tim works and spend a little time as a family beforehand and after.

I've never been much of a soccer fan, however, playing baseball, basketball and some hockey as a kid. Soccer always seemed like too much running, too little scoring and a lot of fake injuries. But the more I watch these games, I see some life lessons that are worth talking about and modeling in everyday life.

It seems parents would be wise to discuss these now and then with your kids whether they actually play the game of not.

You don't always see the results of your efforts right away. Let's face it, soccer games with scores of 1-0 or even 0-0 are more common than 4-2 or 5-3. Results (most notably goals) don't just happen and usually don't occur in great quantity unless you're watching 7-year-olds.

Life works that way, too. Sometimes you have to work hard and long to see the results you want to see. And today's kids probably need to hear and see that more often to help them keep from becoming part of this oft-entitled generation.

You won't always win either. That's a lesson to be learned in every sport but it's enhanced in soccer because of ties. You can work really hard, lead the whole game 1-0 and then see the other team score in the last minute and you end up even. Life's the same. We don't always come out on top and sometimes others waltz in at the last minute and seem to get the same benefits. It doesn't feel fair, sometimes it's not, but it's life. Move on.

Sometimes great skills won't get noticed or appreciated. I have to admit that top-level soccer players are incredibly talented and fit. They run and run while making moves with a round ball and pretty much only their feet that most of us don't even dream about. And while soccer purists and participants generally recognize the high level of ability the players possess, many like me really don't appreciate their abilities for what they are. The lack of goals can imply that the players aren't doing that much of note when they are in many cases world class athletes.

We need to remind each other and our children that our efforts and abilities will never receive all the accolades they deserve. Nonetheless, we need to enjoy and embrace our accomplishments for what they are to us, to those who love us and to God.

Finally, we don't always live in the greatest of circumstances. Soccer, at least in the Midwest, is often played in lousy weather - rain, snow flurries, wind, you name it. And the game goes on anyway unless there is lightning. In fact, today's weather is supposed to be chilly, perhaps in the 40's at best. And in life we often have to go on in challenging weather - disappointments, challenges, steep roads to climb and wind, so to speak, in our face.

And that's what makes us stronger, tougher and more trusting in God.

So is there a game coming up? Look for a lesson or two.

Where's my favorite jersey?
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, March 14, 2016

"Do It Again" And Other Everyday Wonders

What parent or grandparent hasn't sighed a time or two when they've turned the last page of a book and the child in their lap says, "Read it again." And while we generally love those moments with our sweet kids or grandchildren, thankful that they even want to read these days, it's easy to want to just move on to something else.

It's tempting to wonder what significance could there be in those next few moments that couldn't wait for another time.

And while every reading session or other activity needs to eventually end, let me suggest why we not jump too quickly to wrap up our time.

Those opportunities don't last forever.  Before long our attentive readers won't be as interested, they'll grow quickly, move on to more fun or challenging pursuits. And God forbid, people die. We may not be there for the next book. One more time could be the last time - why not have it now?

There's wonder, awe and holy ground there. No, I'm not suggesting our little darlings are angelic all the time. God know mine aren't. But think about it . . . in just the reading of a simple book, a fearfully and wonderfully formed being is seeing, thinking, hearing, processing, enjoying, imagining and learning all at the same time. They are in the process of becoming who they are and who they were made to become, help and influence someday.

They, too, are wondering, revering this new knowledge and experience as though it's the best thing that's happened to them all day. And we get to be there.

God knows the beauty of repetition and made it available to us. Think about the creation story. Six days God designed new things and then pronounced them good or very good. He also made them, millions, billions and trillions in some cases, to do the same thing over and over. The sun comes up and sets every day, the moon circles the earth over and over, the stars keep shining their light from almost uncountable miles away.

You can sort of hear God saying, Do it again, sun. Do it again, moon. There's wonder in repetition that flows from the eternal, that is beyond our human abilities or understanding. Who doesn't want to see it one more time?

Observing God's hand in the everyday enriches and deepens us. Life becomes more fascinating, special and worthwhile. Things that once bored us become intriguing and our days take on fresh meaning and purpose because we saw the miraculous in the mundane.

So when you next hear the words one more time, be thankful. Enjoy the moment. You're in touch with the eternal, the holy, a special moment that you may never have again. Don't miss it. 

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Three Things We Inadvertently Teach Our Kids

Most of us find ourselves modeling the actions of our parents, right? Even things we vowed we would never do sometimes just happen and we hardly notice.

However, we also teach our kids attitudes and actions that most of us would rather they didn't learn. And chances are that even when we see our sweet sons and daughters acting inappropriately we prefer to blame their nature, other social influences, the declining culture or some other handy sacrificial lamb.

Unfortunately, some of their responses are our fault. We the parents taught them how to live the way they do and we need to own our part in it. Let me suggest three of those lessons.

We don't really mean what we say. We supposedly lay down the law regarding when they'll go to bed, their need to clean their room or what they can and can't wear. But then they balk, come up with an excuse or two and we let things slide. And then they use that tactic again the next time and the next. And it seems to work. They have quickly learned that we're not serious and it doesn't matter if they don't respond to our exhortations right away.

We might subsequently tell others that our kids are not very obedient, but we've actually taught them that they really don't need to do what we say, at least right away.

The family revolves around them. How many families are simply running from event to event, practice to practice, rehearsal to rehearsal, all required for their kids? And in most cases there is more than one child involved so the schedule is even more complicated. As a result there are few meals eaten together or evenings when everyone is at home. Sleeping in and having a leisurely weekend morning is a thing of the past.

In other words, mom and dad spend most of their non-working time driving the shuttles, sitting in the stands watching or getting things bought or cleaned so these activity addicts can do it all the next day. And the kids likely begin to think they deserve all of our time, money and other resources. Mom and dad aren't entitled to relax, stay home or slow down. The family center has become the children and their activities and everything else bows down to them

More is more. Finally, most of our homes are not satisfied to be busy during one season, one sport or one extra-curricular activity. Child athletes almost always play multiple sports while some children play a sport, instrument and join a club or two. They can't just play on a local team either and they also at some point join a traveling league, more advanced conference or trendier academy. They are learning that you're only better if you do more.

So how do they learn otherwise?  You'll have to break some habits, go against the cultural grain, be serious and put our values into action, not just talk about them. You might risk having the children angry at you a bit more but when it's all said and done, they'll love you for it and probably be just like you someday! Teach them what you want to teach them. Forget the rest.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Real Parents Actually Parent

There are all sorts of things we can purchase these days that look like the real thing. You can find faux leather, fake diamonds and a luxury countertop that only looks like granite. When you're buying something that only mimics the original it's called a knock off and we have to constantly make sure we're not ripped off.

To be fair, there's nothing wrong with having a less expensive version of something if it saves us a little money and still works well, as long as it's not illegal.

But it's different with parenting. A fake version isn't acceptable or effective. It's really just a cheap substitute and can be harmful or damaging in the long run. Too many parents only think they're parenting well when in reality they're for the most part faux moms and dads.

A few samples of fake parenting might be . . .

Having discussions all the time with the kids instead of enforcing the rules.  "You need to get ready for bed," typically leads to "wait a minute" or "as soon as I'm done," rather than immediate, yet calm, action that gets the child to do what was asked. Instead of the child heading to their room mom or dad gets into a discussion with the child or children about why they can't obey at the moment. There's a place of healthy discussions with children, but not at the expense of obedience and fair discipline.

Giving children everything instead of expecting them to pitch in. Even little children can do small chores and bigger ones can handle larger responsibilities. Real moms and dads aren't always picking up the kids' clothes, cleaning their rooms and putting away their dishes or food. There can come a time when children are given an allowance and expected to contribute to certain things they want, give money away or to church and save for something in the future. Parents just manage these moments.

Making empty threats and not keeping our word.  This is another version of the first one, but extends into other promises such as expectations for school, attitudes and actions towards others. It's essential that husbands and wives stay on the same page here and not undermine each other's authority and leadership. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

Spending more time watching sons and daughters participate in activities rather than building relationships and making memories.  Parenting today has in many ways become a glorified taxi service where mom and dad are expected to oversee a multi-faceted schedule, a fleet of family cars and an ever-being-drained pool of income to support it all.

Real parents talk to their kids, limit their commitments and engage in learning, growth and fun activities together.

There are lots more examples. Take a look around and see where you too might be unintentionally faking it.

You see fake parents produce fake, shallow, boring families. Fake parents ultimately hurt their children and keep them from being all God intended.  There's a better way. But you'll have to be willing to invest a little more, maybe a lot more - time, energy, emotion and even prayer. You'll have to do some hard things, not always be popular and put up with more push back and griping. 

But sometimes it's worth the extra price to get the real thing, isn't it? Splurge. Live it up. When it comes to parenting, quality matters!

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Is Your Spouse Still Your Best Friend?

How many times do you hear it at a wedding or see it celebrated on Facebook years later?  Today (or on their anniversary) they say, I married my best friend. And that's a good thing. How wonderful that a two people grew through a wonderful, deep, meaningful friendship and decided to marry? Maybe you've said it and totally meant it.

The problem is that many couples have lost the reality of being best friends. They have no time for it anymore. I mean, don't best friends just naturally find time for each other, listen, talk without time limits, find things to do that they both like, do spontaneous things, dream dreams and laugh a lot, just to name a few?

But how many couples after a year or two or more would have to honestly say they've lost most of those friend-like actions? I would guess that most argue that they have jobs that demand more commitment, kids who require more attention and possessions that need more maintenance. We struggled too.

But if we have no time for each other to act like friends, then frankly we're not best friends anymore. We can say it publicly and sound romantic, but we're not. Sorry, but your friendship is over or at least on hold for a while.

The good news is that our excuses can be set aside and we can go back to a friend-filled marriage if we'll commit to several things. But I need to warn you . . . they can be a challenge for some.

First, build more margin into your family world. Yes, a few things might have to go or be cut back but is your marriage relationship worth it?  It should be. Make it that way. Shove some of the less important things out.

Second, intentionally put some friend actions back into your world. No, that need not require some some sort of schedule or fancy programming. Too much regulation will make it an obligation more than something enjoyable. But you will likely need to plan some spaces and ideas - coffees, lunches, evenings out or afternoons free - that will make it more natural to slide into a friendly activity. The more you do them the more natural and anticipated they can become.

Third, if you're a parent, you need to get over your child or children being the sole important focus of your lives. Great marriages based on friendship can never put their relationship on hold for the sake of their children's well-being alone. Where will your kids learn how to be married themselves, be friends and keep growing in body, soul and spirit? Yes, kids complicate things and may even reduce the frequency of your friend commitments at times, but never let parenting stop you from acting like your married . . . and friends.

So if you're going to say that your spouse is still your best friend, then man-up or woman-up and commit to living like it again if you're not currently. In today's culture, friends are hard enough to find. Don't forget about the one closest to home!
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Five Discomforts Every Parent Needs To Embrace

There are lots of things parents endure that are certainly yucky or at least not much fun, right? We live with these irritations but would rather not have to face them: dirty diapers, kids with the flu, filthy clothes, messy rooms and food that lands on the floor, just to mention a few. You get the picture. These facets of parenting, though necessary, aren't exactly the most enjoyable parts of being a mom or dad.

But I want to suggest that there are at least five potential kid qualities that, while they too may make us cringe at times, should actually be welcomed. They will in most cases shine a beacon on wonderful, future possibilities that our children might never encounter without them. Don't push them aside.

The child who always has a better idea. Do you have a potential lawyer at home? You know, the one who you always had evidence and even witnesses to present as to why what they want to do, be or think is better than what you have in mind. These kids can be exhausting and of course at times need boundaries.

But these are also the kids who are going to be entrepreneurs, try new things and have the ability to think subjectively. They'll one day come up with better ideas for all of us and likely go a long way in the adult world.

The child who questions your most valued beliefs. This may also be the same child in the better idea group but here we add that they regularly question everything from your political perspective to your personal faith in God, the Bible or Heaven. And yes, you may spend much of their adolescent years debating and getting them to quit hating church or even go.  But trust me, they have the greatest potential to develop a deep, long-lasting, passionate faith, because they've dug deeply into truth. They don't just believe something because you as a mom or dad did. They make their belief system their own.

The child who doesn't like doing the things most others like. We live in a very activity-driven culture these days, with accomplishments, trophies, scholarships and other awards that are often agreed upon spoils for being successful.  And you're not popular if you don't participate. Add to that the fact that there are a limited number of acceptable arenas for that success - i.e. certain sports, certain music options and certain kinds of schools to enter - most parents would rather their child didn't deviate from that list.

But some of our kids do not gravitate to these common talents, skills and interests but take the road less traveled. They're into writing, specialized art, other cultures, history or acting and we need to  celebrate, encourage and listen to them. These are people in our churches who also need to be told they can do something in our gatherings and ministry that counts and is just as important as the more common talents. They add color and fabric to any group if we'll just let them.

The child whose temperament is different from the others. This uniqueness often fuels the others I've talked about but it's worth its own mention. One child will want to be with people all the time and rarely plays by himself or herself. Another, however, can stay busy and interested in lots of things while alone in a room for an hour or two. I have one of each extreme in my immediate and extended family. And at times I've honestly worried about both of them for different reasons.

But today one is a successful entrepreneur while the other is a tremendous graphic artist who's helped me on numerous occasions.

The special needs child who adds a little more challenge to each day. I've never parented a special needs child so I'm hardly an expert. But I've rarely talked to a special needs parent who doesn't regularly get blessed because of their child's extra insight, perspective and focus on what's important. Yes, they are often more work, at least for a long while. But that little bit of discomfort always brings greater joy that would not probably be experienced in the same way without them there.

So, mom and dad. If you're feeling a little overwhelmed about having a child or two or three that doesn't exactly fit some sort of mold you were expecting, consider yourself blessed. You may not see all the positive outcomes today, but the best is yet to come. Wait for it.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, February 5, 2016

Why Your Marriage May Be Getting Stale Without You Knowing It

Have you ever headed to the refrigerator anticipating a cold drink of milk or juice, a crisp piece of fruit or a crunchy vegetable. Or maybe your more decadent taste buds were already salivating as you thought about that one piece of pie or other dessert still there.

But when you went to take that first drink or bite, you knew in an instant your choice was no good anymore. The delicious flavor had lost out to time. Nothing would save it and you threw it all away.

Things get stale, deteriorate if left alone, even in an environment designed to keep them fresh a little longer like a refrigerator. And so do marriages. Without attention, care and intentional feeding our relationship, though perhaps in a relatively healthy environment can become pungent and lose its flavor if we don't make caring for it a priority.

We get busy, focused on our kids or parents, run ragged at our job, overwhelmed by too many commitments and don't notice the deteriorating relationship with our spouse.

And if we don't stop and re-evaluate, shore up our time, intimacy and connecting as a couple, the results may approach being irreversible like that piece of fruit that has lost all its flavor and shape.

So what do we do to keep a marriage fresh?

Of course, there are hundreds of ideas that can help, some working for one couple, different ones being effective for others.

But let me repeat a few general guidelines:

Take inventory. Get away or take an evening or two now and then and admit how you're doing or not doing. Be honest. Ask each other, How do you think I've been doing as a spouse the last few months? Be lovingly ruthless and admit it if you've gotten distracted. Talk about what the two of you might work on to put some focus back on yourselves.

Add margin. You will never enrich your relationship if you don't make time for it. I can't tell you specifically what to do but I can pretty much guarantee that you'll need to cut something  -  attending so many kids' activities, not volunteering as much, letting go of some overtime, you decide. But it will be worth it. Is anything worth losing the most important relationship, apart from God, that you'll have in this life?

Do some planning together. Think about some things that you both would enjoy doing that you're not going to wait to do until after you retire. You can't do them all, but how about some of them?  A trip, weekend away, take a class, do a missions trip, a cruise, etc.

Marriages left alone don't stay healthy and vibrant. And we can't blame when they do on nature alone. It's our choice to keep our relationship strong, exciting and always growing. Check your marriage refrigerator often.  That can save you a lot of surprises and disappointments.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Monday, February 1, 2016

Three Things Every Child Needs To Learn About Leadership

Most of us parents have these dreams that someday our kids (at least one of them) will be in front of a team of people, maybe even thousands, motivating them to do great things, change their lives and perhaps lead others as well.

Of course the reality is that not all of our kids for a host of reasons will aspire to or have the talent to be in that dynamic a situation. They aren't all born with the skills, personalities and temperament to be great influencers of people.

But there are some things that every child needs to learn, especially at home, about leadership whether they ever become a leader or not.

First, they need to learn that everybody leads. No, not everyone is gifted as a leader, but everyone will lead even if it's only by default. As John Maxwell and other leadership experts suggest, leadership is influence, and we all will influence others in some way for good or bad.

Perhaps a corollary to this idea is that our actions towards others matter. We may only influence a sibling, a friend or two or a neighbor, but we're still leading. In other words let's teach our kids that their actions have consequences and often that will mean impacting someone else.

Second, teach them that not everyone is designed to be an overt, formal leader. Leaders need good followers. In fact following well is also a taught and nurtured skill. We parents can make a huge difference in how children actually learn to follow, us as their parents and the other leaders in the world.

And yet many parents are absent when training to follow is possible. They expect others to set up the rules and keep their kids on task, leaving the guidelines and boundaries open ended much of the time at home.

Third, we need to model for our children that leaders are to be respected even if we disagree with them. Yes, children will need to deal differently with peers who exhibit leadership skills early on and may want to use those skills to dominate or control them inappropriately. We'll probably have to help them navigate those waters and learn how to respond.

But, too many kids never learn how to talk respectfully and graciously to adults at school, their job in the future or church. They hear their friends talking down about leaders so they can be swayed to do the same.

Leadership training is not something to be put off until our kids are adults. Leadership is modeled and nurtured as well in our homes and we dare not skip our responsibilities in that. The dividends are significant.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Sometimes We Smell And That's A Good Thing

Alright let me be blunt here. Why do a baby's diapers smell so bad? Is it the vitamins? I don't know. Of course there are lots of things whose odors are so pungent that we immediately turn away. Rotten meat or eggs, manure in a farmer's field, something that burned on the stove or in the oven, even certain flowers not known for their sweet fragrance.

Whatever the case, when something has a bad fragrance we don't stick around long. We move away from it or at least try to cover it up.

But let's be a bit more positive. What smells and odors are we attracted to? Freshly baked cookies, bacon, a favorite perfume or aftershave, a just bathed and powdered baby who no longer has that messy diaper I mentioned earlier?

This morning I was reminded that God asks us to live our lives as a sweet smelling fragrance, an aroma that people are drawn to, the odor of life not death. And we're to give off that scent even during the tough times, when days aren't going as we'd hoped.

How can we do that?

Well, it's knowing that no matter what's going on in our world, God's still in charge.  He can still handle whatever we're facing. Just because life stinks, our world doesn't have to.

On my way to work I'll sometimes stop at a McDonald's for a morning latte. I've gotten to know the drive - thru team pretty well, too, so in the few seconds I may have there I usually get to talk to one or more of them. This morning the regular woman there who takes the money smiled and said, "Yours is free today. The person in front of you got it."

I said thank you but of course looked to see if I recongnized the car or person ahead. I didn't. I think it was a drive - by blessing. But somehow my spirit got lifted a little and I found myself wanting to do the same for someone else. I got a whiff of a caring fragrance that filled my car and my spirit.

I know I need to think more about my odor each day and is it one that people will hope sticks around or would rather dissipates quickly? Will my responses today be a sweet or ugly smell? What if we talked with our spouse and our kids about how we could through our actions and attitudes be more of a welcoming fragrance at work, school, church or wherever in the community? What if we shared at the end of the day how we attempted at least to make a positive difference?

Yes, there will always be smelly diapers and rotting garbage out there. But there are hundreds of ways to give our world something else, a scent that they'll enjoy all day, perhaps all week long. It may be the breath of fresh air someone needs to move forward or keep going.

How are you going to smell today?  The answer will be based on our choices and decisions. And it's possible that someone in our world could use some cleaner air. See today if you can help.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Three Things I Most Want To Leave My Kids

Most of us have heard the old illustration or challenge to think about the three things you would grab first if your house were on fire. And yet, our response to that question does tell people a little about our priorities, at least regarding temporal things.

But given more time, as we usually have with our children, what three things do you hope stay with your kids long after you're gone? This is a little different question since one, we do have time to work on these items and two, they're  more under our control.

So have you thought about them? Doing any planning?

Let me suggest three that seem pretty important to me. See what you think.

One, I want to leave my kids the model of a life lived beyond himself. No, I know they won't ever think I'm perfect. That possibility and image have been long erased. But I do hope they see that I sacrificed for them and for others. I hope they've observed both my wife and I putting aside many of our own wishes and demands so that others, including them, could be blessed, encouraged and helped.

I hope they too will look for opportunities to appropriately (see below) love and train their kids and make it a priority to serve their neighbor, friends and the needy around them

Two, in what may appear an opposing goal, I hope they saw my wife and I making our marriage and time together a high priority and continuing that goal after they left our home.  While yes we do make sacrifices for our kids and others, our relationship is still important and that has to be balanced out with our other commitments.  Some couples unfortunately make their kids and other family requirements their mini-god and worship at the altar of busyness around them.

In fact, we continue to pray that now as adults our grown children can find the healthy balance between parenting and keep their own relationships strong and healthy.

Third, I hope they will ultimately see that while I am clearly flawed that I made my faith, my walk with Jesus more than just something I did for work, to feel better or to impress others. I hope someday they'll look at my Bibles filled with notes from my personal study. I hope they can meet a few people whose lives were touched because I invested spiritually in them.

I hope they can see times when I stood up and did the right thing even though there was opportunity to do otherwise. I plan to share more stories about how God intervened and gave me opportunities to help others that I could never have done on my own. I pray that long after I'm gone they will see a spiritual legacy lived out in the lives of hundreds of others, including them, that my life touched over the years.

Yes, there are things that may get lost in a flood, fire or just because they wear out. But there are some things that need to last and be shared with the next generation. What will your list include?
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, January 15, 2016

Life Is A Vapor: Make The Most Of It Now.

An early morning text woke me today, telling me what I had feared that a sweet man and friend from my church had died following a major surgery. He loved Jesus and was never afraid to talk about his faith, raise his hands in worship or serve others.

He'd had quite a few surgeries in the eighteen months I've been at the church so I called him our Bionic Man. He loved the joking and always made my day with his smile and attitude. He was a key part of our MenUP! planning team again for this year's retreat in April. A lot of us are going to miss him.

But it seems like our church and community have recently lost an unusual number of people to deaths that weren't anticipated or expected. Most were way too young, some teens, some suicides, others in accidents or had health issues that went bad. So many families are still reeling from the pain of an empty space in their lives.

And of course, we can never hope to understand why and need to trust that God did not miss these events. Thankfully, when people know Jesus and have a relationship with God, we enjoy a hope that we'll see them again. But the the loss is still overwhelming and the sadness great.

And every one of these losses that any of us experience should be a prompting to not waste the special time with people close to us that we now enjoy. I know I need to do a constant check on my priorities that I slow down and keep the main things the main things. Do I really embrace every moment that I have with my spouse, kids, grandkids and extended family?

Are we just running through life doing what we think HAS to be done when there are moments we could be enjoying with those we love that cannot be embraced at 70 mph? Do we savor each other, take time to hear their stories or just play and have fun anymore without a schedule to follow?

Are there people we need to say thank you to or I'm sorry or I love you that could be gone before we know it and we've missed our chance.

No we don't need to live morbidly, but we each have to answer those questions for ourselves and would be wise to take inventory. I think of the song Vapor by Little Big Town.  It's worth a listen if you haven't heard it. The chorus simply says, I want to live, I want to love, Just one more day is never too much, never enough, I want to drink in every minute that I can, Life is a vapor, fire and paper, gonna make the most of it before it's gone.

So who will you stop and savor a moment or two with today? Where can you slow down and not just fly by some person you know you would so miss if they were gone?

Yes, life is a vapor. Make the most of it before it's gone. Skip, you'll be missed, buddy. I'm glad I knew you. See you again someday.

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Three Things We Need to Quit Telling Our Kids

I'm confident I could find scores of studies that show parents really do have the ability to impact their children over time.  The research would no doubt suggest that if we do things relatively well we can teach our sons and daughters how to relate to others, love God, work hard, save for the future and someday lead a home of their own just to name a few. I'm thankful for that.

However, there are several things I hear parents regularly suggest to their children  and I just have one cautionary word for these likely well-meaning moms and dads: STOP!

I'm sure there are many examples to be mentioned but I'll go with what I call the big three, all untruths and errors we parents need to finally avoid saying or implying.

Just put your mind to it and you can do anything you want someday. What? No, our kids can't do just anything they want to do someday and neither can you. Kids with little athletic interest or skill won't make the Olympics. Someone like me who can barely cut a piece of wood or hammer a nail was never going to build a house and shouldn't for that matter. A child born blind isn't going to be an airline captain at Southwest. The more you think about it, the dumber this sounds.

And it's okay that we can't do everything we try or wish for. We're still humans, not Jesus. So let's not suggest to our kids that they will always succeed and reach their goals and dreams. What we mean, so let's actually say it, is that there are amazing things they can do and some will be things we only dream of now but the list won't be endless. There are exceptions. We just set our kids up for huge failure and disappointment when we're not honest.

Or a related misguided comment is, You're really good at that . . . when they really aren't. Again, we're falsely building them up believing that our phony praise will be good motivation and they won't feel bad. The problem is they don't need our pretend accolades to be successful. If anything, we would be wiser to help them find what it is they actually have an aptitude and affinity for and let them succeed at that!

We tell our kids that they're great soccer players at age five and many of them actually hate playing it every week, but we prod them on. In reality we often need them playing more than they do. Why do you think so many terrible singers get angry, throw tantrums or run down the street shouting obscenities at the judges who told them they were terrible on American Idol? Didn't they know they were horrible singers? Probably not.  In many cases mom and dad kept believing that they were awesome, going to someday be superstars and should never let anyone tell them otherwise.

The main result from this one is a bunch of kids who feel entitled thinking that everyone else should see that they're wonderful. But instead they become a laughing stock in front of millions on Idol or quit trying to find a job or go to college because they got turned down a few times. What happens to their view of themselves now?

You deserve to be happy. The problem with this seemingly innocuous comment is that it ultimately implies that our happiness is based on others giving it to us. And if those others do not come through for us, then we're victims, we've been mistreated, even abused in our minds. In addition, because we supposedly deserve happiness, then some take that as license to either demand it from others or focus all of their efforts and energy on pleasing themselves to dull the pain.

Instead, why don't we show our kids how we find happiness and joy even when times are difficult and life doesn't work the way we'd hoped?  Let's spend time pointing them to our God, our faith, the source of true joy even when we've faced tragedy, pain and sorrow.

We have much to teach our kids while they are in our homes. Let's not screw it up with messages that miss the mark of truth and reality by a long shot.
Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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

Friday, January 8, 2016

Marriage: The Important Three Circles of Connecting

If you were to ask most married couples how and when they spend time with each other (if they do) they would likely tell you about an activity or meeting together that falls into one of three options. Some would say, Well, we connect and communicate as we go through our day - phone calls, texts, little conversations here and there.

Others would say that they plan periodic meals out, parts of a day together, an evening alone at home here and there. Unfortunately most couples these days admit that these times are just that - periodic - and they wish they did them more often but they just don't make or have the time.

Or a few, and this number is usually less than the other two choices, say that once or twice a year they actually get away from home, go on a couples' trip, tack on some days after a conference or business trip or celebrate a special anniversary, birthday, etc. with just the two of them.

What I'd like to suggest is that healthy marriages intentionally include all three.  Why do we need the Trifecta of Connection?  Because they each  accomplish something unique and just doing one or two of the others will still omit some key ingredients in marriage that are important to the solid marriage recipe.

For example, the getaways are times when you can finally let go of some of the pressures of everyday life, think more long-term and actually do some serious brainstorming, planning and yes, praying. Companies make time for this and so do many growing churches. Why not couples and families? Longer periods of time also help us relax and enjoy each other in ways that we just don't when we're time strapped.

But those meals, afternoons, days together, etc. are also important. They're the fertile soil for you to talk about current feelings, challenges, dreams and potential changes. These times let the other person know that they're not just a passing ship in the night or merely one of the supervisory team at home. These moments continue to cement the idea in each other that you really do still matter even when life gets crazy.  Leaving these regular events out will cause serious questions to arise in each other about how important you are in the big picture.

And of course, the daily, quick connections are important and usually not a problem for most couples. But they take on a little less challenge and urgency when you and your spouse are connecting in the two other ways as well.

I encourage couples to think of three circles of connecting.and to include all three as priorities.

                                       Big Events/Getaways      Regular         Every Day

Of course the every day circle should include the most connections. The regular events need to be well . . .   regular, ideally at times that you guard carefully.  And finally, the big events will only happen on a very limited basis. But they complement each other and will all add communicating and connecting to your marriage that will be life giving to your relationship for years to come! What area do you need to shore up next?

Gary Sinclair Writer | Speaker | Leader

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