Archive for April 27, 2013

Time to Mow the Lawn…Again

Winter has finally ended and spring has sprung. I know because my grass is now green and growing fast. I have to warm up the lawn mower and get chopping today. Many of my neighbors have already cut their lawns. Their lawns look so nice, neatly trimmed, green, no weeds. Then there is my lawn–scraggly, dandelion ridden, little piles that remind me that deer visit our yard often. The grass always looks greener at my neighbor’s house…
Have you ever thought that about your family? “My friend’s family always seem to smile. I wish…” “They have so much fun together. I wish…” “See how his children always talk to him? I wish…” “They seem so happy. I wish…” I have a little revelation to make. It’s nothing new and I’m sure you have heard it before. It is true when it comes to our lawns; and, it is true when it comes to our families. The grass is always greener where you water it. My neighbor’s lawn looks nicer than mine because he has cared for it this week. Maybe mine will look better after a little work, too. And, if my neighbor’s family looks better than mine, it is probably because of the effort invested in creating a healthy family. With that in mind, here are three things you can do to water the lawn of your own family.
     ·         Make your family grass greener by spending time together. Have fun. Play games. Sit down for dinner. Engage in conversation. Go someplace together. Whenever we spend time with family we build stronger bonds. The green grass of intimacy grows stronger, deeper roots. Individual blades of grass can reach out and nurture the others, strengthening one another and holding one another up. Spending time together waters the green grass of healthy family.

·         Fertilize your family with words of kindness and encouragement. Nothing will make a lawn greener and healthier than good fertilizer. For the family, that fertilizer comes in the form of words. Fertilize generously with “thank you,” “please,” and other polite statements as well as words of support and encouragement.

·         Pull the weeds out of your family. Weeds will pop up and now and again…and again and again. Weeds like anger, arguments, disagreements, distractions, or even selfishness may spring up when a family member is tired, hungry, worried…or maybe out of nowhere. To have a healthy family, we need to pull these weeds out of the family. We pull these weeds by learning to disagree in a healthy way, seeking forgiveness when we hurt another family member, offering forgiveness when family members hurt us, and learning to argue in a respectful way. Learn to identify the weeds and pull them out of your family with care and diligence.
After watering my lawn and investing time in nurturing a healthy lawn, I like to enjoy it. I can sit outside with my family and enjoy the beauty of the lawn. Even more, my family and I can play in the soft, lush grass of a healthy lawn. The same is true of family. As you invest in watering and nurturing a healthy family, you can enjoy the results. You can enjoy playful interaction with your family as well as intimate times of conversation. A family watered well with time, fertilized with words of kindness and encouragement, and cleared of weeds is a beautiful sight, a place of respite and love. I pray you will know the joys of the “greener grass of your watered lawn.”

Planting Seeds of Beauty in Our Daughters

“Women are their own worst beauty critics.” A new Dove campaign helps reveal this truth by having women, after having a short conversation with another woman, sit behind a veil and describe their physical appearance to an FBI sketch artist. After he sketches the woman based on her own description, he makes a second sketch based on the description of the stranger who had just met the woman in a short conversation. The sketches are then compared. The results are very interesting to say the least. Check out the video at this link or read the related article at Huffington Post for more information about this campaign and to see the comparative sketches.
When I watch this video I begin to wonder about our daughters…my daughters and your daughters. How can we help our daughters develop a more accurate view of themselves? What can we do to help our teens learn to see the inherent beauty they have as God’s masterpiece? Here are some tips to help you instill a sense of esteem and beauty into your daughter. Although these tips are important for both parents, I think a father plays a special role in how their daughter sees herself in the world.
     ·         Spend time with your daughters. Daughters see themselves through their father’s eyes. If they know that their father sees them as beautiful, they see themselves as beautiful. If they know that their father values them, they feel greater value. Remember, children (daughters included) spell love T-I-M-E. When we spend time with our daughters, they recognize our love and so feel loved, valued, and beautiful.

·         Tell your daughter she is beautiful. Let her know that you find her attractive. Pay attention–notice when she gets a haircut and comment on it. Tell her that she “looks nice in that blouse” or that she looks “beautiful in her glasses.” Take time to notice her appearance and what makes her attractive. Make a point to acknowledge her attractiveness.

·         Talk to your daughter about beauty and the images of beauty portrayed in the media (Check this link for the creation of media beauty).Teach her that beauty is more that skin deep. Beauty is a reflection of a person’s inner character. Help her develop a character that emanates beauty. As noted in the last bullet, notice the beauty that exudes from her character and acknowledge that beauty: “Your generosity toward your friend is so beautiful,” “You looked so beautiful as you said those kind things,” or “You were so beautiful when you humbly stepped back and let your friend take the limelight.”

·         Hug your daughter. Some fathers hug less when their daughters hit puberty. But, it is as important to hug our teenage daughters as it is to hug our preteen daughters. Hugging our daughters reminds them that we love them; we value them. Our love is constant, even in the midst of any adolescent changes they may encounter. Continuing to hug our daughters, even into adolescence and adulthood, lets them know that our love for them transcends their body. It helps them to realize that their bodies are only one aspect of who they are, not their total identity. Males may begin to “check them out” as they move through adolescence, but our hugs reassure them that they are loved for their person, not their shape.  

·         Treat all the women in your life with honor and respect. Our daughters are watching us…and learning from what they observe. When they see us treat women with honor and respect, they learn that they deserve honor and respect. So, hold the door open for the ladies, speak with politeness and respect, offer sincere compliments, offer to carry a heavy package…. Show by your example that women deserve honor and respect from those around them.  
Perhaps if we begin with these simple ideas, the next generation of women will give a more accurate description of their beauty. What tips might you offer to help our daughters accept the beauty God has given them?

5 Ways to Help Your Teen Build Identity

The teen years are full of exploration and questions. Most likely, your teens will even engage you in “discussions” about the answers to those questions. You will watch, listen, and discuss questions like: What values do I believe? What career will I pursue? What lifestyle will I live? What kind of person do I want others to see in me? What is my purpose in life? What kind of person might I want to marry? Do I want to marry? In the process of answering these questions, teens may argue with parents and teachers (maybe even rebel), withdraw from family and spend more time with friends, “push the limits,” question family standards, experiment with different lifestyles and ideas. As any parent knows, it’s not just the teen who experiences difficulties during this time. Parents also struggle during their child’s adolescence (And can learn to love more). How can a parent journey through the teen years and maintain a loving relationship with their teen? Here are 5 tips to help.
     ·         The journey through the teen years begins with preparation. One wise writer suggests that parents “train up a child in way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Solomon, Proverbs 22:6). This author tells parents to encourage, nurture, and bring out their children’s inherent personality and natural abilities—“the way he should go.” When your children are young, pay attention to their interests and strengths. Provide opportunities for them to pursue their interests and practice their strengths. Acknowledge their interests and strengths with recognition, specific praise, and even detailed discussions about them. Express value in those interests and strengths. Notice that this takes time! You have to spend time engaged in a variety of activities in order to discover their interests and strengths, and, even more time to nurture those interests and strengths.

·         Encourage your teen’s self-discovery. This will also take time…time to engage in activities and conversation. When your teen asks questions, take the time to discuss the question and answer. Realize that teens are thinking and processing many ideas and values that they hear in the world around them. With that in mind, do not try to force an idea into their mind. Instead, discuss it. Allow them to disagree and encourage them to think. Let them know your strong beliefs, but realize your beliefs are the result of thought and experience. Allow them the freedom to think and experience as well. Value them enough to allow disagreement and trust them enough to believe they will reach healthy mature conclusions…then lovingly, gently, and patiently guide them toward those conclusions.

·         Enjoy your teen’s uniqueness…even more, value their uniqueness. Recognize that they may have different talents and interests than you do. Enjoy those differences. Relish in their uniqueness. Realize that those unique talents, interests, and dreams make them uniquely qualified to accomplish God’s purpose for them. Verbally admire their uniqueness. A great way to honor their uniqueness is with the compliment of accepting their expertise in areas of their interests.

·         Set loving limits for your teen. I know…teens are still teens. They still need limits. They do not have the experience to “do whatever they want.” They have not gained the mental, emotional, and experiential knowledge necessary to make every decision independently. And, they still live with you. So, set loving limits. Remember, however, that the limits you set are your limits on the behavior you will accept. Talk to them about why you believe those limits are effective and how they express love. Discuss their thoughts about the limits and listen to their perspective. When realistic you might even “give in a little.” Such loving discussion of limits and values will go a long way helping your teen develop their firm identity of character.

·         Be patient and constantly express love. Navigating the teen years is an adventure, a journey…and it will have plenty of difficult moments to mark the way. You will also find many joyous occasions and intimate moments that brighten the path of adolescence. Think back to your own teen years. Recall some of the silly (even dangerous or crazy) things you did. Remember, you survived. Today, you may look back on some of those events with humor or pride. When your teen does something that seems “kind of crazy,” be patient. Hold on for the ride. Work to keep lines of communication open. One of the best ways to do that is express love. Constantly find ways to express your love for your teen. Express love through your words, your respect, your hugs, your recognition, thoughtful gifts, time together, acts of service, or even a simple smile and acknowledgement of pride in them.
The teen years are full of adventure…and adventures have both scary moments and moments filled with joyful excitement. Enjoy them both. Fill the journey with times of joy and stuff it full of fun. Let your teen know that no matter what happens, you still love them. Soon, the teen years will end and your teen will be on their way. You will reshape your relationship with them into one involving two adults…and retell those teen adventures with misty-eyed pride.

Three Gifts of Sexual Intimacy

I don’t normally write about sexual intimacy and marriage. However, I have had several couples in my office discussing issues of sexual intimacy and decided to share a few thoughts. To begin with, sexual intimacy is a gift given by God to a married couple…and a gift given by one person to another. It is a precious gift, a special gift; a gift to be carefully guarded and highly honored. Here are three aspects about the precious gift of sexual intimacy I believe important.


The gift of sexual intimacy is sacred. It is holy, set apart. Sexual intimacy is not a crude, common form of intimacy. Instead, sexual intimacy is set apart from the common and made sacred. It is uniquely designed by God to express the creative love between a man and a woman. By that unique design, it allows for an intimacy that can be experienced in no other way…an intimacy that involves not just our bodies but the entwining of our emotions, intellect, and spirit—our whole being. In sexual intimacy we get to “taste and see” that the one we love is good; mentally imprint their scent, touch, and face in our memory; emotionally share a deep moment of unequaled intimacy; and spiritually unite as one. When couples share sexual intimacy (whether holding hands, hugging, kissing, or total sexual intimacy), they engage in a sacred time, a holy time set apart by God. As such, sexual intimacy is not be engaged in lightly. It is set apart for the deep expression of committed love within a marriage.


The gift of sexual intimacy is built upon cherishing one another. Cherish literally means “to keep warm,” “to foster tender love and care.” Sexual intimacy is not something we use to manipulate our spouse. It is an act in which we tenderly cherish our spouse. Realize that cherishing is revealed through caring and caring translates into a loving empathy that opens us up to the needs of our spouse and a compassion that compels us to relieve that need. When we, as a couple, learn to cherish sexual intimacy, we focus on satisfying our partner’s needs and desires, not our own. We also foster an unconditional acceptance of our spouse…an acceptance that allows us to “stand naked and unashamed” in one another’s presence; an acceptance that calls forth and nurtures the best qualities of our spouse’s life; an acceptance that welcomes, even adores and treasures, our spouse, limitations and all. Cherishing undergirds true and joyous sexual intimacy.


The gift of sexual intimacy is to be nourished. We nourish sexual intimacy by pleasing one another. Sexual intimacy is not simply about getting my desires satisfied, but the joy discovered in meeting the needs and desires of the one we love. To nourish sexual intimacy, we engage in sexual intimacy…not just physically but in all aspects of our married life. Sexual intimacy begins by caring for one another and showing value for one another. We nourish sexual intimacy by speaking kindly and lovingly to one another when in the presence of others and when alone. We nourish sexual intimacy by serving one another, helping one another with the “tasks of the day.” We nourish sexual intimacy with words of personal encouragement, actions that contribute to our spouse achieving his or her goals, and loving touch that communicates affection and respect. Holding hands, a hug, respectful eye contact, and playful interactions all nourish sexual intimacy. As you can see, we begin to nourish sexual intimacy long before we move to the bedroom. Sexual intimacy is nourished by a lifestyle that communicates love and affection, respect and admiration.


Perhaps that is the biggest “secret” of all—sexual intimacy is not an act but a lifestyle…a lifestyle in which I set apart all aspects of my life to share intimately with my spouse and no other; a lifestyle in which I cherish and nourish my spouse emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually throughout the day. With that foundation, sexual intimacy culminates in a deep wealth of loving expression and intimacy.

My Child Is So Immature!

Have you ever looked at your children and wondered what they were thinking. They seem to do the strangest things and do so without even thinking. Sometimes they even act like two-year-olds (although the other day my daughter said I was acting like a 5-year-old…maybe the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree). You may have even said to yourself, “They are so immature!” I have; and, I have heard many other parents say similar things. In my more rational moments, I respond to that statement with one word…GOOD! Yes, good! Children are supposed to be immature…they are, after all, children. They are learning and growing. Our job, as parents, is to help them become more mature. Character is one important area of maturity that we help them develop. When our children develop positive character they become trustworthy and reliable, which fosters better social relationships. Children with positive character also work hard, learn from mistakes, persevere, and experience more success. How can you help your children develop the character that you can be proud of? Here are a few things you can do to help your children develop a strong and positive character.
     ·         Become actively involved in your children’s character development. If you do not instill positive character traits into your children, someone else will. If you do not model and teach your children the character traits you value, they will learn the character traits modeled through the media, their peers, or from others in the community.

·         Notice and acknowledge acts of kindness. When your children do something nice, acknowledge it. When another child or a neighbor does something nice, notice it. Doing so informs your children that you value kindness. While you are at it, model kindness in your interactions with your children and with others you meet throughout the day. Children learn more from our actions than our lectures and instructions. Let them see you put kindness into action toward family, friends, strangers, and even those you “are not particularly fond of.”

·         Encourage your children to include others. Teach them to be inclusive rather than exclusive. Reinforce the idea that love reaches out to others, regardless of skin color, clothing choices, interests, beliefs, music preference, grade achievement, or any other marker we use to establish our “groups.” Let your children know they can disagree with someone and still treat them with kindness, respect, and gratitude. Practice this in your own life as well.

·         Promote responsibility in your children. Involve them in “running the household” by giving them household chores to complete. Hold them responsible for their decisions. Teach them to finish what they start.

·         Learn to give together. Talk about various charitable organizations and the work they do. Pick one or two organizations your children seem interested in and donate your time, energy, or finances to those organizations. You may volunteer for the organization or raise money for them. I especially like the idea of volunteering. Volunteering allows your children to get to know the people they help. It also teaches them that, in spite of circumstances, the people they help are people with strengths and weaknesses just like you and me. 

·         Watch the TV shows your children like. Listen to the music they like. Play the video games they like to play. Do all three of these activities with them. Use the TV characters, the music lyrics, and the video game concepts as opportunities to learn about their interests and how they think. These “media adventures” provide excellent opportunities to discuss the character of the person on the TV show, the message of the song lyrics, or the goals of the video game. Enter these conversations from a point of curiosity, not lecture, and your children may surprise you with the character they reveal through their mature answers.
I’m sure you have more ideas to help your children develop than the six ideas listed above. How do you help your children develop character? What activities do you and your children share in an effort to develop character? Let us know in the comment section below. Your comments can help us all grow children of strong, positive character.

Family Rest: A Lost Family Art

Whew, what a blur this month has become! My children have activity after activity, some out of state and some next door. Some mark major life transitions (such as graduation from high school) and some are great opportunities (such as participating in state level academic programs). Then, there is the typical run-around involved in keeping house and home–things like shopping, spring cleaning, working, etc. Even the world around us seems rushed and distracted. Music plays everywhere you go. Cars crowd the roads, weaving and swerving in and out of fellow travelers. Even in the “quietness” of home, computers buzz, lights flicker, cell phones glow, ice makers drop ice. At a recent school concert I watched the dancing shadows produced by the glowing lights of younger siblings playing video games on cell phones, I-Pads, or I-Pods. I encounter a constant barrage of lights, sounds, busy-ness and rush everywhere I go. In the midst of all this, you know what I miss? Do you know what I think our families need? Family rest!
Family rest—a long forgotten art in our fast-paced world. When I speak of a family rest I’m not talking about times in which the whole family takes a nap together…although that’s not a bad idea. Nor do I mean those times in which everyone sits around complaining that they have nothing to do; and, in response, everyone literally “veg-out” in front of the TV. Family rest is not sitting in a restaurant because everyone is too tired to cook, although I enjoy this as well.
So, what do I mean by a family rest? I mean those times when the whole family gathers together in one area and spends time together…playing, talking, reading, whatever. Turn off the TV, the cell phones, and the computer; forget the deadlines, the “honey-do” lists, and the planning for upcoming days; don’t worry about the world news or the menu for next week. Forget it all and intentionally engage one another in the moment–a relaxed, enjoyable moment of togetherness. You can do this in so many different ways, but here are a few.
     ·         You might enjoy games like Apples to Apples, The Game of Things, or Uno–games that encourage fun, interaction, and verbal exchanges. Don’t be surprised if these playful interactions lead to real eye to eye contact and times of engaging in uproarious laughter together. 

·         Maybe you prefer a more outdoor, active style of family rest. If so, perhaps you would enjoy a family walk or hike, a fishing trip, or a “[semi-] leisurely” bike ride along the rails to trails. During such an activity you can enjoy simple conversation. Once again, you may find this conversation becoming more intimate and meaningful as you proceed. Don’t be afraid to walk right into the more meaningful content of the conversation when it arises and enjoy the intimacy you find.

·         Perhaps you have a creative family that would enjoy creating together. You could sing together, play music together, make art together, or write a story together. Let the music entrain your family rhythms. Allow the art to give integrity, beauty, and flow to your interaction. Listen to the story line as it twists and turns through metaphors and similes as your family writes an evening of fun and intimacy into your family rest.

·         Take a vacation. Vacations don’t have to be long or expensive. You can even have a short “family rest vacation” in your backyard. Enjoy a back-yard picnic and a game of badminton. Set up camp in the back yard, equipped with a camp fire and s’mores. Put out a blanket on a warm night; then lay down as a family and point out the constellations.
I’m sure you have more ideas about how to create a family rest. Make it a point to enjoy that rest together. Relax, forget the deadlines for a little while, turn off the electronics, and enjoy the opportunity to resync your individual rhythms with the rhythm of family life.

Time for a Family Spring Photo Race

No, I’m not talking about getting the spring family photos or even the lovely spring photos of prom dresses and spring formals. I’m talking about a Great Family Race. This family celebration takes a little bit of preparation but results in fun, laughter, and time together.
To begin, pick a destination that your family and other families enjoy. This destination might be a favorite restaurant, a concert, an ice cream shop, a friend’s house, putt-putt golf, a bowling alley, or any other place your family enjoys together. 
Next, develop a path to this destination that goes through several other fun places. For instance, maybe the path to your destination will go past the book store where everyone enjoys looking at books (your favorite bookstore), a park where your family enjoys playing catch (Pleasant Kingdom), a free zoo where you can glimpse the buffalo and peacocks (South Park), and a restaurant where you can get your favorite appetizer (you name the place—I like appetizers). Take a couple of pictures that can give your family a clue to identify the next location. Make the clue one that your family has to think about…not a picture of the sign at the park, but of a look down the slide or the view you get on the upper end of swinging on the swing.
After you have the clues all together (maybe on your cell phone), start the hunt. Find one or two other families to share this event with and let each family start in their own home at a set time. Show the first picture to your family and figure out what it represents. Then, race to get there. At each location, spend time with your family and any other family that might have arrived. Look at some books together. Play catch. Check out the animals at the zoo. Order and eat your favorite appetizer. Talk about the day, your life, and your dreams.  Tell jokes. Have fun.
After sharing fun and conversation at each place, pull out a picture that gives a clue to the next location. Each location you find will draw you closer to your final destination…one of your family’s favorite places. You can make this treasure hunt last as long or as short as you like. Maybe you can have a “prize” for the first family to reach the final destination. Or, maybe the prize will simply be enjoying time together as a family with other families. Either way, have fun. Spend the day laughing and celebrating your family.

Do You Use Accountability as a Club or a Staff?

Accountability helps children develop into mature adults. It teaches them wisdom and gives them insight into the consequences of various behaviors. Accountability enables children to know right from wrong, to courageously stand for right, and to live out values of virtue and integrity. With that goal in mind, parents hold children accountable. But, do you wield accountability as if it were a club or a staff?
When a parent uses accountability as a club, they use it to beat the wrong behavior out of their child. A parent who uses accountability as a club will constantly pound their children with a verbal barrage of unmet expectations and disappointments. Yelling, name-calling, and lecturing will leave the emotional bruises of an accountability club. The accountability club is also seen in the wallop of public humiliation and the thrashing of excessive punishment received from a parent lashing out in anger. The parent who uses accountability as a club focuses on the wrong, the negative. They hold the club of accountability high, waiting to “catch ’em being bad” so they can immediately pounce on the negative behavior of their children. Parents who use accountability as a club believe that rules alone produce good character; and, so, the club of accountability becomes the only tool of choice.
Accountability can also be used as a staff. When parents use accountability as a staff, they use it to guide their children toward positive behavior, to encourage their movement toward the desired character of virtue and integrity. Although a staff can provide a “stronger than gentle” nudge in the right direction, it does so in an effort to instruct and train the child in the dangers of negative behavior. Parents who use accountability as a staff recognize progress and express pride in their children’s gifts and strengths. They strive to “catch ’em being good” and then continue to lead their children in that positive direction. Accountability as a staff also becomes a tool parents can use to lift their children up with encouragement or to lovingly lift them out of pits in which they may have fallen.
The only problem with using accountability as a staff is that it eventually leads to children’s independence. The loving instruction, training, support, and guidance of accountability as a staff will produce mature children who make wise decisions…children who will no longer need us for every decision…children who grow independent enough to live their own lives. When we use accountability like a staff, we work our way out of a job…and, who wants to do that?