Archive for Celebration

Join Your Family in Song

My daughter was just learning to walk when we started singing “Go Down Moses” while dancing around the living room. My other daughter stood up to sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” as we solemnly buried a bird that had committed kamikaze against our front window. The toddler we babysat looked at me with anticipation and followed the directions of our impromptu lyrics calling her to step onto a small step and “jump” before laughing and asking to do it again.

When our children seem upset and begin to cry, we sing them a song to help them calm. When they can’t sleep, we sing them a lullaby. When they need to clean up their rooms, we might follow Barney’s cue and sing “Clean up, clean up….” We teach our children the alphabet through song. The list goes on. Music works wonders for a parent…and it continues working right through the teen years.

Children start remembering melodies as early as 5-months-old. At 11-months-old they are more receptive to a person singing a familiar song, even if that person is a stranger. Infants and children feel soothed by music and even begin to use music to calm themselves at a very young age. Who hasn’t heard their very young child, upset about having to take a nap, lying in their crib singing a song rather than crying? Even teens calm themselves through song.

Music brings us together. Whether we sing like a songbird or croak out a tune, it communicates that we are paying attention to the one we sing to and the ones we sing with. It signals that we are all part of the same group, we belong. Music draws us together and bonds us. It allows us to share emotions and even synchronizes us physically.

Why not use music in your family? Sing a song together. Listen to music together. Enjoy music together. Your family will love it. You will experience greater joy and intimacy with your family. Give it a try: “Sing. Sing a song. Make it simple to last the whole night long….” 

Why Do I Have To Do Everything?!

Have you ever asked this question? You’ve made the bed, washed the clothes, and cooked dinner. Now, resentment builds as you wash the dishes and clean the kitchen. In frustration you ask yourself, “Why do I have to do everything around here?” Or, maybe you’ve cut the grass, trimmed the hedges, washed the car, and grilled supper. Now you’re being asked to run to the store. You wanted to sit down and rest. Frustration wells up and you think, “Why do I have to do everything around here?” Perhaps this question has been verbalized during a conflict over who does what around the house…”Why do I have to do everything around here?” or “I do everything around here!” I know I’ve said those very words.  One day, however, I had an epiphany. A light went off in my head as a new insight flashed through my mind. It’s my fault.  My frustration and fear about “having to do everything” was my fault. By complaining about “everything I do,” I rob everyone in my family. I rob them of opportunities to serve and then I became resentful that they allowed me to rob them! As this insight became clear in my mind, I began to smile at how silly my complaining seemed. Then, I decided to make a change. That change led to happier relationships in my family. Let me share what I learned.

  • I do not live with mind readers. No one in my family knows when I feel overwhelmed or when I want help unless I ask. I have a responsibility to ask for help when I want it. I hate asking for help. I like to feel independent. But it’s crazy to resent people for not helping me when I haven’t even told them I need help. Actually, I often tell them I don’t need help even when I want it. You’ve probably had a similar conversation. “Do you need help with the kitchen?” “No, I’m alright.” “OK, I’m going to do some stuff downstairs (translate ‘watch TV’).” In frustration I reply, “That’s fine. I don’t mind” with a more cynical tone than I had intended. “You sure you don’t want any help?” “I’m sure,” comes the short reply and a roll of my eyes. Now I’m cleaning the kitchen feeling like a slave and my spouse is downstairs watching TV trying to figure out what they did to get “yelled at.”  Avoid the whole scenario. Ask for help.
  • I’m not called to play the house martyr. Sure, I can make sacrifices for the good of my family. I can put aside my own selfish needs and serve my family, but I do not have to become a resentful martyr. Instead, I can honestly state my needs. (I know, radical idea, right?) My family needs me to become honest about my needs. If I need their help, if I feel overwhelmed and require assistance, if I just want a break and would like their help…I need to come clean, be honest, and tell them.
  • It’s alright to accept help and it’s alright to expect help. Everyone in the family has a contribution to make to the household. By not stating my need and accepting help, I rob my family of the opportunity to make a significant contribution to the household. I don’t want to rob them of the opportunity to express their love for family through service. I don’t want to rob them of the pleasure of some other activity because of my frustration (see first bullet above). I want to accept their help and have the joy of working together as a family to maintain our household.
  • I need to be honest with myself. To be completely honest with you and myself, I have to acknowledge that I’m not the only one “doing everything around here.” Other family members are doing various jobs around the house as well. My spouse and children make huge contributions to the household.  I need to develop the habit of noticing what they do and thanking them for doing it. I need to develop the habit of gratitude. I need to be grateful for what other family members do.

Four realization and four actions…each one made me smile. And, my smile gets bigger and bigger as I practice each of the four actions—asking for help, being honest, accepting help, and being grateful for help. Give them a try and you’ll be smiling too. 

This Is Your Brain On Kindness

What can we learn about kindness from 36  studies and 1,150 fMRIs gathered over a 10-year period from people making kind decisions? Psychologists at the University of Sussex can answer that question. They analyzed the research of those 36 studies and split the acts of kindness into two categories: strategic kindness (kindness in which the person giving kindness gained a personal benefit) and altruistic kindness (kindness in which the person giving kindness did not gain a personal benefit in return). The research revealed that reward areas of the brain became more active when a person engaged in strategic kindness, kindness with the opportunity for the recipient to “return the favor.”   But wait. The same areas became activated when the person engaged in acts of kindness with no hope of a “return favor.” There was no hope for personal benefit in the act of altruistic kindness, but the reward centers of the brain still became more active. So, whether one engaged in strategic kindness or altruistic kindness, the reward centers of the brain became more active. It appears that engaging in deeds of kindness may be its own reward.

But wait. There’s more. (No, it’s not a ‘Chop-o-Matic.’) Activating the brain’s reward center represents the similarity between the two types of kindness. The research revealed a difference as well. In altruistic kindness even more areas of the brain became active. In other words, altruistic kindness did more than activate the reward centers of the brain; altruistic kindness activated even broader regions of the brain. Want to get your children’s brains active? Give them opportunities to engage in acts of kindness.

I realize we can activate the reward centers and other areas of our brain by engaging in any number of activities; but, might I suggest we engage the brains of our children and families by presenting opportunities to engage in kindness as a family. Maybe if we engage the reward centers of our family members’ brains with kindness and relationship, they will be less likely to engage them in harmful ways (like drug use).  And, engaging in kindness sounds like so much more fun! So, engage your brains and the brains of your children. Activate your reward centers. Enjoy the stimulation of your brain’s reward system. Engage in acts of kindness.

(If you’re stuck for ideas, read The Mighty Power of Kindness for Families or A Family Fun Night to Share Kindness.)

Improve Your Marriage & Have Fun Doing It!

Remember when you first met your spouse? The excitement of new love? The longing to see them as often as you could? The endless conversations as you got to know one another?  Remember the nervousness when you decided to disclose some new personal information to them? And the excitement of experiencing acceptance anyway? How about the laughter and the thrill of trying something new just because your spouse-to-be enjoyed it? These all represent moments of self-expansion, growth, and learning.  They drew you and your spouse together. These moments were the building blocks of intimacy and love.

Jump forward several years, perhaps even to today. Are things getting routine? Feeling kind of bored? Feel like your marriage is in a rut? Maybe you even feel a little dissatisfied and wonder how to “liven things up” a bit. Do you miss the “spark,” the burning ember of love that seems to have slowly cooled and grown…comfortable?  Then I have good news!

Research reported (in 2000) in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology offers a great solution. Turn back to your spouse and do the things you did when you first fell in love. Literally, grab your spouse and do something you both enjoyed but haven’t done since you first met. Or, better yet, do something completely new, something you’ve never done before, not even when you were dating. Play a new game, cook a new meal, try a new activity, take a trip to a new place. (If you can’t think of anything else, try the activity used in the study. Tie yourself to your spouse on one side by the wrist and ankle before crossing a gymnasium floor that includes at least one obstacle. It doesn’t sound exciting…so maybe try taking a hike or flying a kite together.) Whatever activity you choose, make sure it is a novel activity, a new activity for you as a couple.

When you engage in these novel activities, you and your spouse will learn new things. You will grow and experience an expanding sense of who you are as a couple. Even better, research suggests that when you engage in these novel, fun, and exciting activities together, you will feel better about your relationship. You will grow more supportive and accepting of one another. In other words, your marriage will grow stronger and more intimate. Now isn’t that worth a little bit of fun along the way?

Teach Your Family the “Hidden” Message of Christmas

Most of us know the Christmas story. Baby Jesus was born of the virgin Mary and placed in a manger because there was no room in the inn. That’s the story; but, hidden in plain sight for all who look more closely, is a deeper message for Christmas…a message not just about “baby Jesus” but about Immanuel.  Immanuel is my favorite Christmas word. It means “God with us.”  I love the truth of Immanuel. Jesus “emptied Himself,” became a man, and dwelt among us. He literally became “God with us” to bring peace between God and man as well as peace among men who truly hear His message.


The message of Immanuel has gotten lost today. We live in a divided world.  Divisions grow stronger as interest groups rally for their personal wants and needs, erecting walls between “us” and any who might disagree with “us.”  Conflict increases as we sequester with like-minded people behind walls of demands for “my” space, “my” needs, and “my” desires.  At the same time, we hide in fear from the travesty of disagreements that might call “my” belief into question. Fear, conflict, and division give rise to battles about “mine” and “theirs” and between “me” and “them.”  In the midst of the growing division, isolation, and conflict God speaks the message of Immanuel, “God with us.” “God with us” breaks down the barriers and puts an end to isolation. He walks with us, talks with us, eats with us, laughs with us, cries with us…He is “God with us.” He breaks through the fears and speaks the message of peace through Immanuel, “God with us.” “God with us” bring “peace among men with whom He is pleased.”  Yes, our barrier-filled world needs to hear the message of Immanuel.

The message of Immanuel, “God with us,” was first spoken through a Baby. Who doesn’t love a baby? Who doesn’t feel a sense of joy and peace in the presence of a baby? Who doesn’t want to come alongside a baby and connect with a baby? Yes, Immanuel spoke His first message of “God with us” as a Baby, a Baby born into an occupied country to poor parents. “God with us,” a baby born to a woman who experienced the pain of being cast out because she appeared to have engaged in activities outside the accepted behaviors of her culture. “God with us,” a Baby worshipped by poor people like shepherds and wealthy people like the “magi from the east.” “God with us,” a Baby who had to flee with His family to escape political persecution and death. “God with us.” Yes, Christmas celebrates “God with us,” all of us. Like us, “God with us” experienced the joys of family and friends. He experienced the pain of persecution and disenfranchisement. He knew the struggles of poverty and the riches of faith. He touched the lives of people in every circle. He is Immanuel, “God with us,” walking with all people…in every walk of life. As our families learn the message of Immanuel, as we come to understand the message of “God with us,” perhaps we will learn to walk with those Immanuel chose to walk with–the outcasts and the accepted ones, the poor and the rich, the joyous and the sorrowful, those in our homes and those outside our homes–for we are representatives of Immanuel. Will you join me in living the message of Immanuel this year?

Perfect Last-Minute Christmas Gifts

Are you looking for the perfect last-minute Christmas gift? If you are, forget the new shirt or the latest gadget. Research suggests that experiential gifts are more “socially connecting.” They  strengthen relationship more than material gifts. Experiential gifts allow us to experience more intense emotions like adventure, relaxation, or excitement than do material gifts like clothing or the latest coffee maker. Even more, when the experiential gift allows you to engage in the activity with the recipient, you will draw closer together through the emotion of that activity. So, if you want to buy a gift that can enhance intimacy with your spouse or strengthen your bond with your child, try an experiential gift. You will definitely get more memories for your money, more “bang for your buck.” If you’re not sure what to get, here are a few ideas:

  • Tickets to an amusement park
  • Dinner dates. You might try a book of homemade coupons for “one a month.”
  • A weekend getaway.
  • Tickets to a concert, musical, or dance.
  • A membership to the museum or the zoo.
  • A date night jar filled within expensive dates and an opportunity to add to the jar.
  • A promise to attend family game night once a month for a year. (Of course, you have to keep that promise.)
  • A carrot, some coal, and a hat so you can run outside this afternoon and make a snow man together.
  • A picnic box with plans for family picnics. 
  • Family dinners.
  • Walking maps for family walks.

You get the idea. Give a gift that will allow you to have an enjoyable experience with your family. You’ll love. They’ll love it. Your relationship will love it!

A Gratitude Turkey to Save the Day

Are you a somewhat shy person, an introvert? You enjoy people, but you’d rather not become the focus of attention at a party or suddenly find yourself having to make some spontaneous, impromptu speech. I know the feeling. BTW, if you are not this person, chances are there is at least one person like this in your family. You can imagine the terror that goes through that person’s mind when their Thanksgiving Day host says, “Let’s go around the table so everyone can tell us what they are grateful for this year.” Suddenly the plan to enjoy a meal and share simple conversation has turned into a whirlwind. Their mind goes blank. They look around the table of 20 people and notice all eyes turned upon them as they search their whirling mind for a word, any word, let alone a word of gratitude.

Well, I just saw a great idea to prevent this trauma and still create the opportunity to share gratitude at the Thanksgiving table. It’s called the Thanksgiving Gratitude Turkey. It takes a little preparation, but I think it is well worth the time. First, make a Styrofoam turkey and some feathers (For instructions click here or use the “basket turkey” in the picture). As your guests arrive, give them a feather and ask them to write one thing they are grateful for on the feather. After they have done that, they can stick the feather into the Styrofoam turkey’s butt…er…I mean, they can place the feather on the turkey’s back. Leave extra feathers on a table in case they want to do more than one. By dinner time your turkey will be full of colorful feathers identifying things for which your guests are grateful. Then, during dinner you, or a willing volunteer, can read some of them aloud.

Another idea, would be to make “gratitude stuffing.” Instead of putting gratitude feathers on a turkey you can write  gratitude on slips of paper and stuff them inside a fake turkey, like the real stuffing in the turkey. Then, at dinner time you can pull them out one by one and read them aloud.  Of course, my wife doesn’t like that idea as much as the gratitude turkey (she likes mashed potatoes more than stuffing too; but I like stuffing more than potatoes…and there is just something about stuffing a turkey with gratitude).  Anyway, my wife rather prefers the idea of colorful turkey feathers decorating a lovely centerpiece filled with statements of gratitude for all to see as they enjoy their Thanksgiving dinner. I guess I can see her point. Ok. Forget the gratitude stuffing. Stick with the colorful feathers on a gratitude turkey…and enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving!

A New Beginning

I had the privilege of witnessing the marriage of a young lady I have watched grow from her childhood years. She has had struggles, no doubt. Those struggles, however, have contributed to her growth as a woman of great integrity, perseverance, compassion, and love. I pray I shared in those years of struggle in a way that helped her grow into the strong, lovely woman she is today.  I am grateful to have walked with her and witnessed her growth.  And, I am grateful to have witnessed her wedding day, a day that marks a new beginning in her life with the one she loves. She has joined her life with a wonderful young man who brings her happiness and joy. I remember meeting him in the “Strip District.” She introduced her then boyfriend to my wife, my daughter, and I with obvious adoration in her eyes. He showed the same adoration for her in his actions toward. It was a short and pleasant introduction, but it felt like a little more. I walked away feeling as though I had witnessed a moment of celebration between them. Their wedding was an even greater moment of celebration, not just for them but for their families and friends as well. We witnessed their like-mindedness in the music we heard. We witnessed their united compassion as they gathered socks for the homeless while celebrating the “bridal sock hop dance.”  We witnessed the beauty of mutual adoration and love that surrounded their every movement and glance.  Each person present witnessed the joy of their love, their warmth and companionship. Truly, this day marked a new beginning in their lives…and I’m am so excited for them. Later, as I contemplated the joy of their wedding celebration and the beauty of their love, a Native American Wedding Prayer came to mind. I offer this prayer for their lives together:

Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be a shelter to the other.

 

Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other.

 

Now there will be  no loneliness, for each of you will be a companion to the other.

 

Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before you.

 

Go now to your dwelling place, to enter the days of your togetherness.

 

May beauty surround you both in the journey ahead and through all the years,

 

And may you days be long and good upon the earth.

Making Deposits in a Topsy-Turvy Bank

I spoke with a couple about making deposits into the Family Bank of Honor several weeks ago. They went home and put the discussion into practice. They made loving deposits of honor and grace into their Family Bank of Honor. Much to their surprise, these deposits resulted in a major improvement in their relationship. As we talked about their experience, they realized another important aspect of the Family Bank of Honor. When we think of making deposits, we often try to make big deposits…the bigger the better. However, in the Family Bank of Honor even small deposits carry tremendous value. Small deposits are of great value. In the economy of the Family Bank of Honor, even a deposit of one cent is worth a million bucks! Consider a few examples.

  • Greeting one another with a smile seems like a minor thing. But it communicates the joy you feel in the presence of your spouse. It reveals the affection and admiration you have for your spouse. It tells your spouse how much you desire their presence in your life. That’s worth a million bucks.
  • Holding the door for your spouse seems like another penny deposit. But, by arriving at the door first we have established the right to enter first. By holding the door for our spouse, we give up our right and allow them to enter ahead of us. We have placed them ahead of us; we have made them “as more important than ourselves.” That is worth a million bucks.
  • Offering to get your spouse a drink as you get your own drink seems like a minor penny deposit. But that penny deposit informs your spouse that they are on your mind. You are concerned about their needs and their desires. By offering to get them a drink, you have proclaimed that their needs and desires are important to you. You have voiced a willingness to meet those needs and desires. And that is worth a million bucks!
  • Letting your spouse pick the activity or the movie for a night seems like a slightly bigger deposit than those listed above, but still only a nickel deposit. However, this nickel deposit represents a personal sacrifice, a giving up of your desires so you can satisfy the desires of your spouse. It communicates that you value your spouse’s interests as much as (and at times more than) your own. You care so much about your spouse that you are willing to give up your own interests and desires to satisfy your spouse’s interests and desires. That is definitely worth a million bucks.

You get the idea. A simple, inexpensive, penny deposit in the Family Bank of Honor is actually worth a million bucks to your relationship. The more you make these deposits, the richer your marriage will grow in intimacy and health. Now that’s worth a million bucks!

Get Self-Expansion Without the Chubbiness

My daughter says the same thing every time we see an older couple walking hand in hand, talking and laughing, looking into one another’s eyes…looking like they’re on a first date. She looks at me and says, “They’re so cute.” And, they are…but what makes them so cute? What gives them such a glow? A study by Laura VanderDrift in 2011 they are experiencing “self-expansion” in their interactions with one another. No, I don’t mean they have gotten chubbier. I mean that each individual in the relationship has learned how their marital relationship enhances their personal competence and increases the resources they need to make their goals attainable.  They have experienced “self-expansion.” And “self-expansion” has led to greater joy and intimacy in their marriage.

How can you experience the joys of self-expansion in your marriage? Good question. There are at least two ways.

  • One, engage in novel and arousing activities.
  • Two, including another person in one’s sense of self.

Fortunately, your marriage can provide both of these experiences. When you do have these experiences in your marriage you begin to perceive your partner as the best partner, more positive than any other alternative. That’s a good thing. It builds trust and faithfulness to the relationship. So how can you experience self-expansion in your relationship?

  1. Have fun together. Discover those activities you both enjoy and work them into your schedule. If you like to dance, dance. If you like to hike, hike. If you enjoy the movies, go to the movies. And do it together. Engage in those activities that bring mutual enjoyment. When you do, you’ll both experience self-expansion.
  2. Have an adventure. You can also do something new that interests you both. Perhaps you’ve both considered taking a cooking class. Why not do it together? Take a ballroom dance class just for fun and adventure. Go on a trip to a new place. Try camping or hiking. Try a new activity. If you’ve never been to an opera, give it a try. Grab you partner and do something you’ve never done before. The adventure will bring greater self-expansion.
  3. Explore an interest your partner enjoys. Learn about their interests. Engage in those interests with them.

Begin today. Begin making time to enjoy activities with your spouse. You will experience self-expansion and your marriage will experience stronger intimacy and greater health.

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