Archive for December 29, 2012

But I Really Neeeeed Them!

I remember standing in a checkout line behind a mother and her preschool age son. As they waited their turn, her son examined the candy shelves. His eyes lit up when he saw gummy bears. He turned to his mother to ask if she would buy them for him. She shook her head “no” but he persisted. She calmly looked at him and said, “Not today honey. We are not going to get any gummy bears today.” As disappointment filled his eyes, he pleaded in a voice that would make any salesman proud, “But Mom, I neeeeeed them!” I believed him. That young man had a dire need for gummy bears. The fact is, our children do have dire needs, albeit not for gummy bears (although I can understand that need myself). What are a child’s greatest needs?
     ·         Children need unconditional love from their parent. Children need their parents to invest the time necessary to build and maintain a deep relationship with them. This unconditional love and connection provides a sense of security for children. And, security allows them to explore, learn, and grow more competent. Our children need our unconditional love.

·         Children need to be heard. In fact, listening attentively to children is more important than anything we can actually say. Listening lets a child know that we value them. Listening also allows a parent to know their children: how they think, what they like, what they fear.  Ultimately, listening allows a parent to learn who their children are. Our children need us to listen attentively to them.

·         Children need a positive example to follow. The first and most powerful example children will follow is the example of their parents. Children learn more from observing their parents’ daily actions than they ever learn from our words of wisdom and experience. They will do as we do before they do as we say. Determine what kind of person you want your child to become and then become that person yourself. Clear the path for your child by setting the example yourself.

·         Children need to know we believe in them. One way they know we believe in them is when we stop hovering and trust them to accomplish the challenges set before them. They also learn that we believe in them when we entrust real responsibility to them, whether that be chores around the house, a part-time job, spending their own birthday money, or helping us with a household job. Let your children know you believe in and trust their ability.

·         Children need us to get out of their way so they can learn from their own experience. I don’t mean that parents should let their children stray into dangerous situations. However, sometimes we need to get out of the way. Let them experience the consequences of their mistakes and the joys of their success. Let them struggle through the difficulties of a challenging task or assignment. Let them learn what they can control and in what areas they need assistance. Children need us to stop hovering so they have the freedom to learn and grow on their own.
Children easily express their need for gummy bears, but they may have difficulty expressing the five needs discussed above. Nonetheless, they will find a way to have these needs met. They may assert their independence to make us “get out of the way” or nag us to be heard. You may even find them acting out behaviors and words they have seen in you that you find embarrassing. But, one way or another, they will express these needs and push to have them met. Why not take this year to meet these five needs in a positive way? Make it your goal for the coming year to provide for these needs in your children. They “really neeeed them!”

Carry the Beauty of Christmas into Next Year!

I hope you had a wonderful Christmas filled with family, joy, and peace. Many people enjoyed receiving presents during the Christmas season…I know I did. Even more, I enjoyed giving presents to others. I love to see peoples’ faces light up in response to a well-chosen gift. But, Christmas is more than merely exchanging material gifts. Christmas commemorates and celebrates God’s gift of His Son, Emmanuel—a gift that humbly reveals God to us. I find it amazing that God, the All-Knowing All-Powerful Creator, did not reveal Himself as the Majestic King of Heaven, the Almighty Creator of the Universe, or a Conquering Warrior, but as a servant, born a Baby in humble circumstances. That Baby, God Incarnate, grew to become a humble Servant. Jesus, God’s gift to us, “made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…” when He came to earth. We celebrate Christmas because on that first Christmas day God gave us a gift—Jesus, His humble servant. Jesus came into the world to humbly serve mankind (Mark 10:45) and spent a lifetime doing so. We can follow Jesus example of serving as we start a new year; remembering that, in God’s eyes, the humble actions of a servant are acts of beauty and love. In His Kingdom, acts of service represent true greatness. They reflect His image. Our acts of service, like those of Jesus, humbly reveal God to the world.
We can carry the true beauty of Christmas into the next year by continuing to reveal the beauty and love of God to our family and neighbors through humble acts of service. By serving others, we reflect the servant nature of the Christ whose birth we celebrated on Christmas day. We reveal the God who made Christmas possible. We reflect the image in which God created us. So, how can we serve others this year?
     ·         First, serve your family. Serve your family breakfast in bed. Serve your family by taking over a family member’s chore for a day. (As I write this, my daughter—who had her wisdom teeth pulled earlier today—asked, through swollen cheeks and a “pain-medication-induced-confusion,” if I would pour her a drink. How could I say no?)

·         Buy presents for a less fortunate family or for children in an orphanage or other type of residential placement.

·         Help serve food at local soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
·         Take a plate of cookies to shut-ins or a local nursing home.

·         Visit with the elderly—play games with them and sing some songs.

·         Arrange to visit children in a local children’s hospital.

·         Participate with a well-known organization that serves those less fortunate. Angel Tree, Operation Christmas Child, or Toys for Tots are organizations that help provide Christmas presents for needy children and families. Compassion and World Vision are two organizations that help provide support to needy families throughout the year.

·         Take an inventory of any extra coats, boots, clothes and toys in your house. Gather them up and take them to a local facility that serves the needy.

·         Deliver homemade bake treats for local firemen, policemen, emergency response crews, nurses.
The Spirit of Christmas is more than just the exchanging of gifts. The Spirit of Christmas involves the giving of ourselves in service to others, just like Christ served us by giving Himself to us in obedience to His Father. As I write this blog, I realize the need to remind myself of this message more than anyone else. In fact, I need to hear the words that a Storyteller once used to end a great story of serving. After telling of a man who served with all he had, the Storyteller tells His audience to “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). Will you join me?

Christmas Spirit? Stuck in Gridlock!

I hate driving during the Christmas season. Traffic is terrible. Drivers seem more erratic, less patient, more rude, and in a rush. Every time I leave my house I end up in gridlock. If there is one thing that triggers my impatience (and there is at least one thing), it is traffic. Especially when I’m trying to enjoy the Christmas spirit and all I do is inch through gridlock. I’m afraid I may end up acting like one of those crazy “erratic, less than patient, in a rush” drivers I mentioned earlier.
The other day, as I moved at an unbearable snail’s pace through the shopping wonderland of Christmas, I began to think about Mary and Joseph arriving in Bethlehem and inching their way through gridlock in search of a room. The town was crowded, filled to the brim with out-of-towners who had come in for the census. Maybe all kinds of “reunions” and class parties were going on…I don’t know. I do know that Mary was pregnant and ready to give birth to Jesus, her first born son. The town was so crowded that Mary and Joseph couldn’t even find a place to stay. Even a woman in the throes of childbirth could not find a room. Finally, someone gave them permission to stay in a stable. Fighting their way through an impatient crowd, Mary and Joseph entered the stable to find it crowded with animals that belonged to the visitors and guests. Listening to the serenade of noisy animals, the couple quickly set up their home away from home…and soon delivered a Baby.  Jesus was born in that crowded stable and laid in a feeding trough, the closest thing to a crib that Joseph could find. Surrounded by the noise of a crowded city outside and the braying animals inside, Mary and Joseph gazed for the first time into the eyes of their newborn Son. That peaceful gaze did not last long. Shepherds, pushing through the Bethlehem gridlock, burst into the stable to see the Baby. They spoke of angelic visions and told of a huge angel choir that sang “glory to God in the highest and peace on earth, good will to men.” They rambled on with such unbridled enthusiasm that it bordered on hysteria.
In the midst of all this noise and rush, Mary marveled…she “treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” As crowds fought for space in the city, and animals mooed and brayed all around, Mary treasured the events. In the middle of that first Christmas gridlock, Mary pondered. Perhaps we need to follow her example by taking time to ponder, even in the midst of our holiday rush…especially in the midst of our holiday rush. Our whole family will witness our pondering and follow our lead. They will ponder with us. Together, our families can ponder the treasure residing in our hearts because of the gift we received on that first Christmas—that gift is our newborn Baby Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us! “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given…” In the midst of our pondering, our family will experience the quiet peace of Christmas. Our family will discover the joy found only in the treasure of that little Baby laid in the manger of our noisy hearts. Won’t you join me as we “treasure all these things and ponder them in our hearts?” Have a Peaceful Christmas of pondering.

Priceless Christmas Gifts…Cheap!

I don’t want to say I’m a scrooge, but I do like to find a good deal, especially at Christmas time. In fact, I’d love to get each family member a great gift, one they consider priceless…and I’d like to get it inexpensively. Let me rephrase that: I’d like to get it down right cheap! If you are like me, I have good news. I have found a way to get priceless Christmas gifts on the cheap! How? I discovered it in a study that I reviewed recently (psychology does have life application—who would have thought?). This study suggests that “experiential purchases” produce greater happiness than “material purchases.” Experiential gifts include things like taking someone out to dinner or enjoying a concert together as opposed to material gifts such as a new shirt, a game, or toys. Experiential gifts bring about greater happiness than material gifts because:
     ·         They improve over time. We tend to forget the boring moments of an enjoyable experience and simply recall the fun and memorable highlights. That new sweater, on the other hand, slowly wears out until we throw it away.

·         They take on symbolic meaning. The shirt we buy remains a shirt; but the dinner and movie we enjoy together become symbolic of our relationship and common interests.

·         They outlive any comparison. Those lovely ear rings I bought my wife suddenly seem to appear in everyone’s ears…and some women even have more beautiful ear rings. But, our walk under the starry sky while holding hands remains our personal memory and, as such, is very difficult to compare…or beat.
I know that some of the experiential gifts I mentioned above cost money. But, the study was in the Journal of Consumer Science so they didn’t mention that many experiential gifts can be absolutely free! With this study in mind, maybe we can choose a few of our Christmas gifts from the experiential kind. These gifts can create lifelong memories that grow in value over time. The price for these gifts can range from dinner and a movie to a walk in the park. Whatever the actual price tag, the value remains priceless…and that’s getting a deal for my money! Here are a few ideas for experiential gifts:
    ·         Purchase a gift card for a local theatre. Make the movie contingent on sharing dinner or dessert together either before or after the movie. I know, this one costs some money, but the value far outweighs the price tag!

·         Give the gift of affirmation. Write your family member a blessing. Simply write them a short letter (about 1 page) that identifies three traits you admire in them. For each trait, give an example from the last year that exemplifies that trait. Finish with a statement of your love.
You can also create a homemade coupon book filled with experiential gifts such as:
     ·         The gift of touch by offering twelve coupons for a backrub or massage. That’s one for each month. Then, light some candles, warm up the massage oil, and enjoy time together.

·         The gift of extra hugs. Vary the coupons for a quick hug, an oxytocin hug, or a bear hug.

·         The gift of service. Include coupons that family members can cash in for you to complete their chore, no questions asked. 

·         The gift of quality time. Coupons for quality time can include a walk in the park, a rambling ride to the country, or any other activity you might enjoy together.

·         The gift of a day off—a day off from cooking, cleaning, lawn cutting, driving, whatever. Offer a day off so you can enjoy time together as a family. Let the work go and spend just one day practicing the philosophy of “play first, work later.” Don’t worry, the world will survive and your work will still be there.
Add your own coupons and ideas. Be creative. Have fun. Make it a memorable experience. The memories will bring great joy and grow in value as time passes on…and the relationship you nurture is priceless!

Christmas Shopping Increases Children’s Competence

“Ho, Ho, Ho! ‘Tis the season” for giving gifts…and that means shopping. Shopping is work (for me anyway)! But, shopping also provides an opportunity to raise children with character, children who feel competent. Have you ever thought about what goes in to getting someone a really good gift? First, we have to think like they do: What kind of gift would they like? What gift would bring them joy? To answer these questions, we have to step into the other person’s shoes, see their life through their eyes, and accept their view of the world. In other words, we have to have empathy with the other person…a good character trait to develop. Second, we have to have a desire to be generous or gracious toward the other person. We have to desire to give them a gift with no strings attached and no expectation of repayment…otherwise it just isn’t a gift. Christmas shopping offers a great opportunity to teach our children about generosity and grace, especially the grace of God in giving us His Son to pay the price for our sin. That sets a pretty high bar on generosity, doesn’t it? Third (and on a much less taxing level perhaps), we have to use good math skills. We want to show generosity and grace, but we do not want to go bankrupt. We want to wisely balance our generosity with our actual ability. Math skills become important for wisely showing grace while remaining in our budget. Overall, Christmas shopping offers a great opportunity to raise children competent in perspective taking and empathy, budgeting skills, and generosity. What can you do to help this process? I’m glad you asked….Here are a two specific ways you can use shopping to build competence in your children:
     ·         Get out of the way and let your children decide on the gift they want to give. You can brainstorm with them and discuss ideas, but let them decide. Show them that you trust their ideas and wisdom. While you brainstorm, listen. Listen to learn how your child thinks. Ask them why they are thinking about a particular gift. Have they heard Mommy talk about wanting that? Do they notice Daddy using something similar or wearing something similar? What lead them to think their friend might like this particular gift. Not only do you learn about your children’s thought patterns, you also help them learn perspective taking through this conversation.

·         Let your children contribute to the gift. I realize that many children do not have money to buy gifts, but let them make some kind of contribution. This contribution does not have to be in the form of money. Their contribution may include wrapping the present (this may not be pretty, depending on their age…although my family says my wrapping is still not pretty—unique, but not pretty). Or, let them hand the money to the cashier when purchasing the gift, hide the gift somewhere at home until it’s time to put it under the tree, or put it in their special place under the tree at the right time. As our children get older, they can even contribute financially to the gift. Whatever their contribution, let them do it. Do not step in to fix it or tweak it. If their “wrap job” does not look neat, let it go. Acknowledge and appreciate their contribution and their effort. Do not step in to make it neater. Instead, communicate your trust and confidence in their ability by letting them finish the task, in their way and at their speed. And, if they have an idea about the gift or their contribution to the gift, listen and discuss that idea. If at all possible, utilize their idea. Be excited with them for their idea and “brag on” that idea to reveal their involvement in the whole gift-giving process. After all, their idea expresses their love and generosity. Share in that love and generosity with your own excitement.
Two simple ways to use Christmas gift shopping to increase competence in your children…and have fun at the same time! Merry Christmas!

Family Christmas Tree Values

We decorated our Christmas tree last week. I love our family time decorating the tree. We put on Christmas music while we work together decorating the tree, sipping hot chocolate, and joking around. I always joke about not getting a Christmas tree, but I love the Christmas tree. I hope that, in the long run, decorating our Christmas tree represents a microcosm of our family’s actually character. I hope that decorating the Christmas tree ultimately reflects our family values. What are the values and character traits we strive for in our family? Let me see…
C a r e,
H o n o r,
R e s p e c t,
I n t e r a c t  with…
S h o w  s u p p o r t  for…
T e a c h   e a c h   t o   l o v e…
M a k e   g r e a t   m u s i c   w i t h…
A c c e p t    a n d    a c c o m m o d a t e…
S h a r e   a c t s   o f   g r a c e  w i t h…
Enjoy Christmas tree decorating and all of your other family activities this holiday season. While you do, remember to let your actions and interactions reflect your family values.

That Was Awkward…

I sat in the car waiting for my daughter to finish her music lesson, come into the parking lot, and hop into the car. While I waited, one of her friends walked into the parking lot, briefly looked around, and began walking in my direction. She stared at her phone as she walked, thumbs quickly tapping on the screen. I thought she would walk right past my car and into her own family car. However, she stopped at my car, opened the passenger door, and plopped down in the seat…still texting away. I sat still, looking at her. “How do I say something without scaring her?” I thought as she continued staring at her phone with thumbs dancing on the screen.  Quietly, I simply said, “Hi” and filled in her name. Her thumbs stopped in mid-motion. She looked at me, eyes wide. “Oh, did I get in the wrong car?” I tried to offer some reassuring words, but she her whole body was suddenly in quick motion. She opened the door, jumped out of my car, and closed the door. “That’s awkward” were her final words as the door closed and she walked away. I’m not sure if she knew who I was or not. But, I got a chuckle out of the whole incident.
The whole incident reminded me of news reports about people walking while texting on their cell-phone. There is the “Fountain Lady” (view here) who walked into a fountain while focused on her cell phone and the story of Fort Lee, NJ imposing an $85 fine on people who text while walking (read it here). More importantly, this incident reminded me that we, as parents, need to teach, and “re-teach,” our children safety awareness. We may need to remind our children to put down their cell phone and pay attention to the world around them—to watch where they are walking, to look into the car before they hop in, to observe who is standing or sitting next to them, to make sure the path is clear before stepping into a street, to observe if the dog approaching them is friendly or not… or, to simply enjoy a sunset or a lightning storm. This simple awareness of our surroundings provides a measure of safety in the world. Unfortunately, the rise of cell phones, hand-held games, and ear phones raises another area in which we need to teach our children awareness and caution.  Although I agreed with this young lady’s last statement (“That’s awkward”), I also learned an important lesson. I came home and reminded my daughters to remain aware of their environment; it’s a matter of safety. Let’s all encourage our children to practice that awareness!

4 Ways to End Grumbling in Your Family

How can our children and spouses become blameless and innocent, above reproach and shining like lights in the darkness? Ancient wisdom tells us that we become blameless, innocent, and above reproach…shining like stars in the darkness when we “do all things without grumbling and disputing.” That would make for a tremendous home life, wouldn’t it? Ban grumbling and arguing in your family and home life becomes much more enjoyable. Imagine it: children completing chores without grumbling. Spouses talking through schedules and finances without argument. Siblings avoiding any arguments by generously giving “first dibs” on the shower or the “shotgun” seat in the car. We would definitely stand out like lights of peace and joy among the families of the world. So, what can one person do to create a family environment in which grumbling and disputing are on the decline? Here are a couple of ideas you can try.
     1.      Ban grumbling and needless arguing from your own life. The family environment begins with you; so start by banning grumbling and disputing from your lifestyle. Make it a point to replace grumbling with gratitude and arguing with the pursuit of peace. Instead of grumbling about that slow driver in front of you, thank God for the opportunity to relax and spend a little extra time conversing with your family. Instead of moaning about taking out the garbage, rejoice in the opportunity to serve your family. Instead of arguing to prove your point, honor your family enough to really listen and understand their point of view. As you model behaviors that supersede and replace grumbling and arguing, your family can follow suit. Lead by example.

Establish clear and consistent limits in your family. Consistent structure creates predictability in the family; and, predictability creates security. Family structure, including limits, boundaries, and rules, also provides a sense of safety. We feel safer and more secure when we know the rules. When we feel secure in a predictable environment, arguing decreases. Family members are more likely to live without argument within the structure of the safe, consistent limits, stated clearly, and enforced in love. 

Listen to family members with a determination to understand their ideas and opinions.  Not only do we listen to their ideas, we allow their ideas to influence us as well. Whether the idea comes from our spouse or our children, we listen to understand and determine how that idea might influence us. Doing so shows respect. It reveals that we value each family member and their ideas enough to take them serious…to let them actually have an impact on our daily life.

Practice gratitude. Learn to give thanks every day. Give thanks individually and give thanks as a family. When you feel like grumbling, look for something you can be grateful for in that situation…and give thanks. Voice your gratitude to your family members and enthusiastically listen to your family give thanks. Weave gratitude into the daily fabric of your life!
Four ways for you to model behavior that will put grumbling and arguing on the decline in your family. What are some ways you have discovered to help decrease grumbling and needless arguing in your family?