Archive for June 29, 2013

What’s On Your Summer Bucket List?

Wow! Summer always goes so fast. We have so many things we want to do as a family…so much to do and so little time. So, we made a family bucket list. Our bucket list includes:
   ·     Attend a summer outdoor concert.

·     Go to Ohiopyle for a picnic…or at least have a picnic. While near Ohiopyle, we want to check out Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater

·     Go to the Zoo.

·     Attend a baseball game…Go Pirates!

·     Go to the wave pool.

·     Enjoy a day at a local amusement park like Kennywood

·     Eat an ice cream cone…or sundae at one of our favorite ice cream places.
Have a water balloon fight (is fight politically correct? Maybe it should read have a water balloon scrimmage).

Other ideas for a summer bucket list can include:

·     Going for a bike ride on the Rails to Trails.

·     Go to the Phipps Conservatory

·     Take a trip to the beach.

·     Enjoy sprinklers in your back yard or make your own slip-n-slide.

·     Catch a jar full of lightning bugs.

·     Go camping in your back yard.

·     Roast marshmallows on a campfire. Even better, add some chocolate and graham crackers to those marshmallows to make s’mores.

·     Plant a garden and enjoy the harvest!

 What activities do you have on your summer bucket list?

3 Responses to the Summer Mantra “I’m Bored”

Summer has arrived. School is out and children are home. Soon, if not already, your children will come to you with an age-old problem. The summer mantra will begin. “I’m bored.” The first thought to sound in your head will go something like this, “What? Bored? How can you be bored? There is so much to do!” Nonetheless, you will hear this mantra repeated throughout the summer…”I’m bored.”  Let me offer 3 potential responses to this summer mantra when it arises.

1.   Stare at them in shock for a brief moment before launching into a lecture. Remind them of the multitude of opportunities available to them. Point out the myriad of games available to them or the numerous chores they have left undone. If you choose this option, expect the “rolling eye” response from your children. Your children will shoot down every idea you present and continue with the well-worn mantra, “No. I’m bored.” On second thought, scratch this idea. It just does not work. Go straight to option two.

2.   Empathize with your children and their mantra of boredom. With all the compassion and sincerity you can muster, respond with a statement of understanding like, “Summer sure can be long and boring, can’t it?” Or my personal favorite, “That’s too bad. I’m sorry you’re bored. What are you going to do about it?” After offering empathy for their predicament, step back and let them deal with the boredom. After all, they are bored, not you; it is their problem, not your problem. Let them sit with nothing to do. Let their boredom grow until it motivates them to find something to do. One caveat here, this option presupposes you have already set a limit on the amount of screen time (TV, computer, gaming, etc.) your children are allowed each day (the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 2 hours per day for school-age children). Without this limit, your children will find an end to boredom in front of a screen. So, set that limit before using option two.

3.   Option three can supplement option two or stand alone. Create an “activity jar.” Gather as a family and list as many enjoyable activities as possible. Include family activities, activities with friends, and solo activities. Include activities ranging from reading a book or taking a walk to calling a friend or playing Frisbee golf. You can even include some simple chores in the activity list, chores like weeding the garden, trimming the hedges, or loading the dishwasher (Aye, chores can be beat boredom and be fun…come on!). Write each activity on a slip of paper and put them all in the “activity jar.” When you child says, “I’m bored” you can respond with option two and add a statement like, “…and if you’re really struck for an idea, pull one out of the activity jar.” Now they will have to resolve their own boredom and doing so may include looking through the activity jar (an activity in itself).


All in all, options two and three help your children learn several important skills, like how to manage their time, how to resolve their boredom independently, and how to problem-solve to name a few. So, enjoy your summer. And, when you hear your children join the “I’m bored” mantra, rejoice in the opportunity they have to learn about living with boredom. Smile…and say, “That’s too bad, honey. What are you going to do about it?”

A Parent Stands, Stoops, & Stays

I recently read a quote by Eugene Peterson from his book entitled A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. Mr. Peterson was referring to “God’s posture of blessing” when he said, “God stands–

He is foundational and dependable. God stoops–He kneels to our level and meets us where we are. God stays–He sticks with us through hard times and good, sharing His life with us in grace and peace.” This is a beautiful picture of God… and it is a beautiful picture of parents, family shepherds, who strive to emulate our Heavenly Father in our family. Think about it:


A parent stands, foundational and dependable in the family. He lays a clear foundation of trust. His children know he will keep his word and do as he says. He establishes a foundational lifestyle of honor and respect, in how he treats others and in the response he elicits from others. A parent also stands firm on the foundation of love, even in the midst of disagreement, discipline, or conflict. This foundation of love proclaims how much he cherishes and values his family.


A parent stoops. He kneels to his children’s level and meets them where they are. This is as simple as getting on eye level with your children when talking to them…or walking a little slower so their little legs can keep up. Stooping also means listening carefully to understand their needs, emotions, and desires from their perspective, from the mind of a child.  Parents who stoop realize that their children have not seen what we have seen. They have not experienced what we have experienced. Parents graciously stoop to understand the impact of experiences and situations on the family from the limited life experience and knowledge of their children.


A parent stays. He sticks with his children, sharing his life with them through hard times and good times. When times are difficult, a parent who stays will keep his children in his hands, protecting their innocence and emotions as much as possible. He will not only stand with his children through the joys of accomplishments and the pride of achievements but through the sorrow of disappointments and the confusion of transitions as well. A parent who stays will lean into the relationship with his children if they begin to stray. He will graciously stay with his children when they have to endure the consequences of their negative behavior. A parent who stays communicates that no matter what, good or bad, through thick or thin, he will always remain available to his child.


Yes, a family shepherd stands, stoops, and stays. In doing so, he lives out the image of the Heavenly Father in the presence of his children. So, parent in the image of our Father. Stand firm. Stoop down. Stay…always stay.

Oh Man…Over-Scheduled Again?!

Summertime and the livin’ is easy.” That may have rung true for Bess in Porgy and Bess, but summertime is anything but “livin’ easy” today. We have a constant rush of activity, even in the”long, lazy days of summer.” Children have swim practice, soccer practice, hockey conditioning, baseball practice, band camp, dance class, football conditioning, etc., etc. etc. They may also have church activities like Sunday school, church camp, youth group, mission trips… Then you add in special camps like piano camp, football camp, wrestling camp…the list goes on.  Of course this does not include your usual family activities of cooking, eating, cleaning, yard work, shopping, traveling to and from the myriad of activities…. I am growing tired just thinking about it. No, “livin’ ain’t easy” today; it is rushed, busy, hectic, and even chaotic. Unfortunately, all this busy-ness means we find little time to enjoy one another’s company in the family. The busy-ness robs us of the opportunity to sit down and talk, to learn about each other, and to grow more intimate. It keeps us from the spontaneous tickle match or the leisurely sharing of intimate conversation about relationships over an ice cream cone. Family intimacy suffers in this busy-ness; and family separation grows. Family members begin to live parallel lives. Or, we share functions rather than relationships. For instance, parents serve the function of taxi-driver or cleaning service rather than the role of parent, intimate mentor, and loving disciplinarian. The children are kept busy, but never get the opportunity to learn how to manage their time, involve themselves in family life, or relate in casual, unstructured conversation. Somehow, we have to get back to some “easy livin'” but it will not happen unless we make an intentional effort to “slow it down.” One way to “slow it down” is to become more conscious about the activities in which each family member becomes involved. To become more conscious about the impact of one activity on the whole family, consider these questions:

·         How many hours does the activity require?

·         How much time will you need for preparation and practice of this activity?

·         How much time will it take to drive to and from this activity?

·         What is the parental commitment to this activity? Do you have to attend all practices? Games? Recitals? Can you car pool?

·         How will this activity and the activity’s schedule impact your meal times?

·         Will this activity impact vacation time?

·         Will this activity impact any holiday plans?

·         How does this activity impact your children’s down time or hang out time? Your down time?

·         How will this activity impact your other children’s schedules? For instance, will little Suzie have to attend all of her big brother’s games? How much “passive involvement” time will that mean for her? Or, will you have to hire a babysitter?

·         What is the goal of involvement in this activity? What character trait or virtue do you hope to develop through this activity? Perseverance? Teamwork? Sportsmanship? Focus? Fun?

Reviewing these questions for activities under consideration can help you make a more conscious choice about balancing involvement in activities with family life and development. Hope it is helpful.

Men, Build 6 Pillars of Trust

Do you want a strong, lasting marriage? A marriage that fills you and your spouse with joy until “death do us part?” Do you want a marriage that will inspire your children to “never settle for less” in their own marriage? A marriage that leaves a legacy of hope and teaches positive boundaries that will promote true marital bliss in your children’s lives and marriage? If you answered “yes” to these questions, you can begin to create that kind of marriage now. It begins with your leadership in the building of trust!

Establishing a high degree of trust in your marriage produces amazing dividends. Communication goes more smoothly as mutual trust removes the need to listen for ulterior motives and defend “myself.” Overall interactions become more open, relaxed, and enjoyable when they occur within the context of trust. Couples find their decisions more mutually satisfying when they trust their spouse to have the best interest of their relationship at heart.

 Take away trust and, in the words of Stephen Covey, you replace those dividends with a tax. With a lack of trust, communication becomes taxed with lengthy, defensive explanations. Interactions pay the tax of constant vigilance against ulterior motives and fear of being used for someone else’s selfish desires. Decisions become bogged down with arguments about “my” needs since I don’t trust my spouse to care about those needs. Mistrust carries heavy duties: fear, defensiveness, constant vigilance, and an emphasis on my needs that ultimately results in isolation. So, what can you do to build marital trust? I’m glad you asked…

      1.    A leader in trust will strive to become a person of trust. A person of trust leads by example. He remains open and transparent about his needs, emotions, and desires. Doing so informs his family that he trusts them with his innermost self. A leader in trust will also remain true to his word. His wife and his family know that his word is “as good as gold” and completely trustworthy!

2.   A leader in trust accepts responsibility for his personal growth. He actively confronts his shortcomings and works to change them for the better. He will make mistakes; but, he admits those mistakes, seeks forgiveness, and works to become more mature in character, speech, and behavior. 

3.   A leader in trust strives to maximize his wife’s emotional comfort and relational 
security. He speaks highly of his wife to others. His words and actions build his wife up, secure her emotional comfort, and strengthen her relational security. He also remains aware of her sensitivities. As a result, he avoids pushing her buttons and approaches sensitive areas with care and respect. When he unintentionally hurts her (and he will), he quickly admits his wrong and makes amends.

4.   A leader in trust will capitalize on everyday interactions to stay “in tune” with his wife. He will prove faithful in his presence and availability. As a result, he and his wife will enjoy times of adventure, play, and rest. To lead in trust demands intense, constant, and careful listening as his wife expresses her needs and concerns. It means listening wisely and patiently to discern whether to step in and meet the need expressed or to simply support his wife through the need. The husband who listens well will have a finger on his wife’s pulse and share a wonderful journey with her.    

5.   A leader in trust will show respect to his wife and others. He will avoid making negative comparisons or left-handed compliments. Rather than erecting subtle performance standards and judgments, he will offer unconditional acceptance. He will clarify realistic expectations while confirming the grace of unconditional acceptance even in the midst of misunderstanding, disagreement, or conflict.

6.   A leader in trust will focus on, and cherish, his partner’s positive qualities on a daily basis. He will open his eyes to those qualities he admires in his wife, acknowledge them openly, and speak of them often. He will also believe in her desire for him, trusting that she has the best interest of him, their relationship and their family in mind.

Men, you are called to lead your spouse in establishing these 6 pillars of trust in your marriage. You become the first to practice them. You lead the way…your wife and family will follow. I know, it sounds like a big job…and it is; but, the dividends are priceless!


Avoid Pushing 5 of Your Children’s Buttons

I hate it when people “push my buttons.” Don’t you?  Our children do not like to have their buttons pushed either.  Effective parents learn to identify those buttons and avoid pushing them. I must admit, I still push a few buttons on accident; and, when I do, disaster ensues. So, I decided to look into what pushes my children’s buttons and share my results with you. Perhaps knowing these buttons can help you avoid some of the meltdowns I have endured. So, for the sake of more effective parenting, here are 5 buttons our children hate…and how to avoid pushing them!

     1.      Unexpected changes. Children love predictability. They need predictability. Predictability provides a sense of security for our children. So, a sudden change in their daily routine can produce an upset child…a meltdown…a tantrum. Avoid pushing this button by simply giving warnings about upcoming changes in routines. Warn them as soon as you know of the change. Warn them several times if possible. Along with the warning, assure them that everything will work out. Let them know of all the people who will remain support and available in spite of this change in routine.

2.      Overloaded schedules. Children need time to process what they learn. They need time to rest. The stress of constantly “being on the go” leaves them “running on empty,” emotionally and physically. With depleted emotional resources, your child becomes cranky and well…may blow their stack at a simple request. Avoid pushing this button by allowing daily down time—time when your child has nothing to do, time when your child can “veg out” and get “bored.”  Schedule free time for your children every day.  

3.      Limits. No surprise here, right? Children get upset with their own limits and the limits placed on them by others. When children cannot keep up with their older siblings or when they find themselves unable to do something they think they should, they become upset. Children are growing more independent every day. So, when you place a limit on them, they will push the limit—maybe even freak out a bit. Still, a parent has to set limits. Reduce pushing this button by making sure limits are necessary, clear, and concise. Let them know the limit ahead of time and explain the reason behind the limits in a way they can understand.

4.      Comparisons. Children gain the ability to categorize and compare during elementary school…and with that skill they become sensitive to comparisons. Comparing your child’s actions to a sibling’s cooperation, a cousin’s achievement, or a peer’s ability will not only push their buttons but make them feel less valued, less loved, and more likely to act out. Avoid pushing the button of comparison. Simply accept your children. Love them for who they are. Acknowledge their talents, achievements, and abilities without comparison.    

5.      Embarrassing moments. As children move toward their teen years, they become easily embarrassed by their parents, especially in front of their peers. They voice embarrassment when Mom yells from the stands during a baseball game or Dad gives a good-bye kiss and hug in front of the guys. Moments they find embarrassing are sure to produce an eye-roll, a “Dad, you’re embarrassing me,” or some other backlash. Avoid pushing this button by honoring your children’s budding sense of social awareness. Do not embarrass them in front of their peers. Give them a kiss before you leave home, not when you drop them off. Remain quiet in the stands at sporting events. When your children begin to get red-faced with embarrassment, change your response to make them feel more at ease.

 A wise elder once wrote, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger” (Ephesians 6:4a). One way to follow this advice is to remain aware of these five buttons…and avoid pushing them! 

Teach Your Child to Remember the Future

As parents, we want our children to have a great future. A great future has one ingredient that we cannot overlook. Adding this ingredient into the mix will help direct our children into a positive future. What is that ingredient? A memory! That’s right—a positive future demands a memory. Think about it… 

       ·    To truly anticipate a joyous future, a person needs memories that spark gratitude. Memories of gratefulness for kindnesses received, days of learning, effort that led to accomplishment, and exciting days of fun builds anticipation for similar events in the future. Help your children develop a history of gratitude by encouraging them to offer thanks for what they have and modeling thankfulness yourself.

·    To have a future free of excessive worry, your children needs memories of support, encouragement, and coaching in problem-solving. Build those memories by supporting your child through times of difficulty and encouraging them when the going gets tough. Spend time listening to them talk about relational and personal difficulties they experience. Listen carefully, acknowledge and encourage their efforts, validate their emotions, and help coach them in ways to successfully navigate those difficult times.

·     To have a future of positive relationships, our children need to have a memory of how their behaviors impact others and a practical memory of forgiveness and reconciliation. You can help your child build these memories by pointing out how their misbehavior and positive behavior impacts you and others. Let them know that screaming in the restaurant is disturbing the other diners. Let them know that helping you clean the house has made your life easier, gave you greater joy and pride, and allowed more time for you to enjoy a fun activity with them. Teach them the power of apology by example as well as direction. One of the greatest lessons in apology occurs when we, as parents, apologize to our children for some mistake we have made. Allow them to witness your forgiveness in your marriage and friendships. These memories will guide them into a future filled with positive relationships.

·    To have a future filled with personal growth, our children need memories of self-reflection as well as accomplishing goals and solving problems through effort and patience. Personal growth is necessary, but not necessarily easy. To grow in any area of our life demands some self-reflection. We have to reflect upon our current standing as well as the level we would like to attain and what we need to learn to “move from here to there.” Even more, we need to make the effort to “move from here to there,” patiently moving forward and persisting through setbacks. One of the best ways to teach your children these skills is to give them the gift of your memories. Tell them about the effort and patience you had to have to achieve your goals. Perhaps even more influential is to tell them about times you did not practice the self-reflection, patience, and hard-work necessary to reach some goal and, as a result, fell short. In this sense, you give your children a great gift—the gift of your memories and the lessons you learned through them.

 You get the idea. Our children need memories to create a strong foundation on which they can build a great future. Give them those memories in their own life and from your life. In doing so, you help them lay the foundation for a great future.

The Amazing Power of a Label in Family

Labels help us explain things like our occupation, food, or moods. After all, it is much easier to say, “I’m a therapist (or teacher or chemical engineer or accountant)” than it is to explain all the nuances of what you really do.  At the same time, labels can limit us.  Kierkegaard once said, “Once you label me, you negate me.”  Think about this in terms of your family. Perhaps you have two children. For whatever reason, one becomes the “responsible child” and the other “impulsive-child;” or, one is labeled the “problem-child” while the other is your “happy child.” Once we apply any of these labels to our children, we have successfully put them in a box. We come to expect behavior that will match their assigned label. We filter their actions and their words through our expectations. We even filter our response to them through that filter. Since we expect the “responsible child” to do what is expected, we may forget to thank them for taking the responsible action.  On the other hand, we give our “impulsive child” a “left-handed compliment” (“Oh, you finally remembered to do it”) for completing an expected chore.  You could say that our label turns into an expectation that becomes a judgment. That judgment sentences our child to develop a style of character consistent with our expectation. The label has become an integral part of their self-image and that self-image will follow them into adulthood. This same process occurs in response to any label we might use with our family member, whether it be the label of “joker,” “problem-child,” “happy child,” “smart child,” “athlete,” or “musician.” In the end, the label will limit our family member’s overall behavior. After all, it is difficult for a “problem-child” to become known as the “helping-child.” How can we avoid limiting our family members through labels?

·    Do not use global labels. Instead, label specific behaviors. For instance, rather than thinking about your “problem-child” think about specific areas in which your child “gives you problems.” Perhaps your child poses difficulties around specific activities like math homework or eating certain foods. They probably are a pleasure in other areas…which brings us to the next point.

·    Think of exceptions to the label. If you have a “problem-child,” think of all the times they do not pose a difficulty. In what areas do they exhibit strengths and show themselves a “helper” or a “peacemaker.” I realize that it may take effort to think of exceptions after you have told your “messy-child” for the umpteenth time to “clean your room.” But, when you remember examples of the times they were the “helper” or the “problem solver,” you will have a more realistic and holistic view of your child.

·    Keep any labels you use flexible. Realize that your children will change and grow. Any label that seems to fit your child today is temporary…you may find it untrue tomorrow.

·    Provide opportunities for your children to grow. Let them tell the jokes or be the center of attention sometimes and, at other times, the quiet-behind-the-scenes observers. Teach them to be the helper as well as the recipient of help. Encourage them to enjoy athletics to the level they enjoy as well as music, art, and academics. Giving your child the opportunity to fill many roles will help them realize (even expand upon) the complexity of their personality.

As you expand your view of each family member, you open up future possibilities for them. You let them out of the label box to explore other ways of acting in the family and the world. You open up the possibility for them to develop deeper and more complex character…. And, isn’t that the goal of parenting?

A Dozen Lessons Our Children Need to Learn

Family shepherds want to teach their children important life lessons. Here are 12 lessons I believe important.
  • The greatest pleasures in life are earned through hard work and patience.
  • Relationships require effort, kindness, patience, and forgiveness.
  • It is alright to struggle, experience frustration, and even fail. In fact, failure is the seed of success.
  • Treat others as you would have them treat you…even if they do not treat you that way.
  • Success is about effort and perseverance, not performance and achievement.
  • Politeness goes a long way…in other words, “you catch more bees with honey than you do with vinegar.”
  • The world is full of choices. Don’t let those choices overwhelm you. Instead, learn to be content with the basic necessities…anything more is a gift.
  • Practice generosity and gratitude every day.
  • If you are not happy where you are, move!
  • You will encounter situations in your life and the world that you will not like. You can complain, in which case nothing will get any better; or, you can work to make your life better. Work to make your life better! 
  • Freedom comes to the person who acts responsibly.
  • You can not clean up the world’s problems until you learn to clean up your room.
What lessons would you add to this list?

My Life Is About To Change

Please, allow me a slight digression from my usual blog. This is a transitional week for my family…my life is about to change! Yes, the time has come for my oldest daughter to graduate from high school. We are very proud of her. She is bright and intelligent, a lovely person and a talented musician. She has been accepted to college and, when she leaves home this fall, will major in piano performance. You can listen to her playing a classical piece (The Revolutionary Etude) by clicking here and a song she wrote using the poem Annabelle Lee by clicking here. She dreams of playing in an orchestra for Hans Zimmer. Did I mention…we are very proud of her. Still, so many thoughts go through my mind as I prepare to “launch” my child into the world. I have to remind myself that she is moving into adulthood and making her own decisions now. And, she has shown us that she will make good decisions. Still, there is one word of advice I think important for her (and all those graduating from high school) as she prepares to build her life in the world. It is the same message that Jesus taught Mary and Martha during His life on earth. Perhaps you remember…Jesus came to their house for dinner. Martha was “distracted” with everything that had to get done. She became annoyed with Mary who just sat at Jesus’ feet, listening to what He said. Finally, in frustration she asked Jesus, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?” I love Jesus’ response: “Martha, you are worried and bothered by so many things; but only one thing is necessary…!”
As you go off to college (or high school or work or hobbies) many things will try to pull you away from the “only thing necessary.” Good people and good opportunities, great employment opportunities and even ministry opportunities can distract you from the “only thing necessary.” Negative influences and negative experiences will threaten to distract you from the “only thing necessary.” Don’t let them. Keep your heart and mind focused on the “only thing necessary.” You can still practice the instrument (or art or vocation) you love. In fact, you can practice that instrument, grow in that interest, or master that vocation with “the only thing necessary” in the forefront of your mind. As you go through the next several years, you will find things that do not make sense. You will feel overwhelmed. You will wonder why you have to keep that “only thing necessary” as a priority in your life. That’s OK; keep that “only thing necessary” in the forefront of your mind anyway. You will discover that those things that don’t make sense or make you wonder will often “fall into place” as you trust and obey that “only thing necessary.”
You have probably figured out what that “only thing necessary” is, but let me clarify. The “only thing necessary” is what Mary chose…sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him. Remember, after all is said and done, the “only thing necessary” is your relationship with Jesus Christ. That “only thing necessary” has eternal import. Pursue that relationship with Jesus (“the only thing necessary”) with all the vigor of pursuing a new love…or a new Rachmaninoff Prelude or a Chopin etude. No, pursue your relationship with Jesus with even more vigor than that! After all, “only one thing is necessary…and it will not be taken away…,” ever!