Tag Archive for identity

Someone Stole Christmas!

Don’t look now but someone stole Christmas! This thief is sly, too: he carefully replaces everything he takes with some other distraction. I first recognized the evidence of his felony while at the mall. Christmas kindness had disappeared, hijacked from the hearts of Thief pushing a trolley of giftsshoppers and replaced with pushing, shoving, and darting in front of others. Christmas joy has also come up missing, stolen and replaced with profane grumbling over slow cashiers and impatient demands for immediate service. That got me thinking. This thief has ripped off our sense of community and replaced it with a focus on individual rights and privileges as well. He has even snuck into our homes, taken our casual, intimate family time, and shoved frenetic schedules filled with crowd fighting and shopping sprees in its place. I think he even threatens to rob us of our very family, carefully replacing it with toys and gadgets that allow us to be alone, engaged in our own world while we sit in the same room! Someone needs to stop this little thief, catch him and teach him a thing or two. But, he is a shadowy figure, slipping through our hands and minds with no substance to grasp. He is elusive. We have to use a different tactic to end his reign. So, I’ve devised a plan. I hope you will join me in implementing this six-part plan to stop the thief of Christmas.

  1. The first step in stopping the thief of Christmas is keeping him from stealing the Christmas spirit from your own life. Model the Christmas spirit in your home and community. Practice kindness. Be polite. Look for opportunities to give generously of your time and money to others. Celebrate Christmas.
  2. Spend time with your family. Make time with your family a priority in your life. put down the video game, turn off the phone, and spend time in conversation with your family. Play a game like “Apples to Apples” or “The Game of Things.” Laugh. Talk. Enjoy time together.
  3. Invite another family over for Christmas games or snacks. Share some Christmas cookies. Practice sharing friendship, fun, and togetherness with others.
  4. Watch some Christmas specials. Talk about the message each one communicates. While you’re at it, watch the commercials and talk about the messages they communicate as well. It will likely provide an interesting contrast to discuss, the contrast of between the thief of Christmas displayed in the commercials and the true Christmas spirit communicated in the Christmas special. Just for fun, check out Jerry Seinfeld’s acceptance speech for the Clio–very insightful…and humorous.
  5. Create Christmas traditions. Traditions bring families together and keep families together. So, make it a Christmas tradition to decorate the tree together, give a gift to someone in need, attend a Christmas Eve service, visit a shut-in, back cookies…you get the idea. “Get your traditions on.”
  6. Remember what Christmas is all about…a gracious, generous, and holy God who gave a Child, His Son to ransom our freedom and adopt us into His family.


The foundation of this six-part plan rests on relationships. Intimate relationships with our family and community will protect us from the Christmas thief and guard us from his evil scheme to replace our heart’s true desire with counterfeit decoys. By the say, did I start this blog by saying “Don’t look now but someone stole Christmas”? Let me take that back. Open your eyes. Look now. Keep your eyes open to catch the Christmas thief and end his tyranny of robbery. Join me in practicing the six-part plan above to stop the thief of Christmas and find the true joy of Christmas.

The Family Fun Night I Secretly Love

Dad helping boy to decorate christmas treeI’m going to let you in on a secret. I love this family fun night…but don’t tell my family. Every year I pretend to dislike it. I pretend to begrudge the whole process even while I participate. In reality though, I have a wonderful time and love…here it is…decorating the Christmas tree. (Shhhh, don’t tell my family.) You know why I like it? We put on jazzy Christmas music, drink some hot cocoa, and work together to complete a project. We talk, joke, and laugh the whole time. Each ornament carries a story or a memory. Some ornaments speak to our individual interests. Other ornaments represent our vacations or fun activities we have enjoyed. Still others remind us of our first year of marriage, the year our daughters were born, or the special “rite of passage trip” my wife took our daughters on when they turned sixteen. We even hide a “Christmas pickle” in the tree just for fun. Each year, we have to make the “big decision” of whether an angel or a star will sit atop the tree. This opens the opportunity to talk about the birth of Jesus on Christmas day. And, we place a giant nail on the tree to remind us that the Christ child, whose birth we celebrate, is also the Savior who died for our sins. As my daughters leave home, I think my wife and I will still decorate our tree…but I will miss doing it as a whole family. I hope you enjoy this family fun night as well. In addition to the ideas mentioned above, you can…

  • String some popcorn to hang on the trees.
  • Pick a theme and decorate the tree accordingly.
  • Make paper snowflakes to put on the tree.
  • Put some cotton on the tree to look like snow balls.
  • Hang some candy canes on the tree. Take them off and eat them throughout the season.
  • Use your imagination to come up with more creative ideas for your family tree.

Go ahead and decorate your Christmas tree. Enjoy your time together. Take advantage of the opportunity to discuss the reason for the season. Take time to celebrate the joy of remembering. But, please (puh-leeeez) don’t tell my family how much I love this activity, it will ruin my reputation!

Parenting Advice to Parents of Teens…From Teens

Parenting teens is tough. They often seem to believe they have all the answers. They “know” exactly what they need, exactly how a parent can best parent, and exactly what their parent is doing wrong. Well, I decided to listen in on the vast wisdom of a few teens and learn some of their parenting tips. Actually, they did offer some pretty good advice. So, I’m sharing their advice with you—advice to parents straight from the teen’s mouth.

  • Cute Teenage Girl with Serious Expression“Get a hobby.” Healthy teens are moving toward independence. They want to establish their own identity, to individuate and become their “own person.” So, they begin to spend more time with friends and less time with parents. The joy of having a parent by their side now becomes the annoyance of “my parent, the stalker.” Don’t misunderstand this advice. Teens still need parents. Even more surprising, teens want their parents to remain available and attentive to their needs. They need a safety net only their parents can provide. Remain available to your teen. Let your teen know you are available. Talk with them. But “get a hobby.” Do not make them the sole focus of your life. Invest in your own interests and friends. Have fun with other adults.
  • “Quit interrogating me.” Many teens have told me they “can’t stand” being asked “a lot of questions.” They don’t want to walk through the door into a barrage of questions: “How are you? Where did you go? What did you do? How was school? Did you remember to put gas in the car? How come you look unhappy? Are you OK? What’s wrong?” Quit asking so many questions and simply greet your teens when they come home. Ask one, maybe two questions. Tell them about your Give them space and allow for some silence. Develop the conversation of friendship with your teen—one which involves both people sharing information about themselves and their day. Honor your teen by trusting them to reveal information to you in their time and in their way while you simply keep the door open.
  • “Let me be me.” Too many teens feel compared to a parent, brother, sister, neighbor, or “me when I was your age….” Comparisons leave us, and our teens, feeling unaccepted or “not good enough.” In response, our teen might just give up and say, “Nothing I do is good enough anyway.” Comparisons hinder our teens’ self-esteem. Instead of making comparisons, simply acknowledge what your teens do. Accept their level of ability, acknowledge their interests, and praise their efforts to improve. You will watch your teen grow in maturity as a result.
  • “It’s my life. Let me make my own mistakes.” Of course we do not want our teen to make a life threatening mistake. However, most mistakes are more of an inconvenience than a true threat. Teens learn from their mistakes, just like we did. So, let your teen make some mistakes. Keep the lines of communication open so you can warn them of the dangers. Remain available to offer guidance. Rather than telling them “I told you so,” show empathy for the discomfort and negative results your teens experience when they make the poor choice. Doing so will allow your teen to learn from that mistake…just like you and I did.
  • “Life with you is boring.” The teen brain is undergoing a whole remodeling. During remodeling, teens’ “reward center” operates differently. They need a greater thrill, a bigger risk, to activate the reward center. But, when it is activated, they experience a greater rush, a bigger thrill, and are ready to do it again. In other words, what excites you and I will often bore our teen. So, they seek the next thrill; and when they find that thrill they get a rush of chemicals in their brain’s reward center. We don’t want that thrill to be life threatening or dangerous. Taking the time to know your teen is a healthy practice to help you manage their risky behavior. Take time to discover your teens’ likes and interests. Gently guide them toward taking healthy risks based on their interests. Help them learn how to find that rush of excitement while remaining safe.

Believe me, teens have a lot more to say about parenting, but I didn’t want to overwhelm anybody. Just let these 5 pieces of teen parenting advice sink in and maybe we can learn more “teen wisdom” in the future.

A Family Night to Share Kindness

We all want our children to learn kindness; so, we model and teach kindness every opportunity we get.

Hispanic family making Christmas cardsWe also want our family to grow stronger and more intimate. So, we share intimate times and grow stronger family ties.

This Family Fun Night activity can help you accomplish both goals (raising kind children and growing stronger family ties) while having fun! It provides an opportunity to gather the whole family together for a project utilizing everyone’s imagination and creativity. It allows the whole family an opportunity to show kindness to as many people as desired. And, all it takes is some cardstock, scissors, glue, and creativity. That’s right…this is a Family Fun Night making homemade cards. You can make cards for any occasion—thank you cards, funny cards, serious cards, thinking of you cards, encouragement cards, get well soon cards, Christmas cards, birthday cards, etc. You can even make cards for unique holidays like “Pi Day” or “I Forgot Day”.  Be as creative as you want with the cards. While you make your cards, admire your ideas. Laugh at one another’s jokes as you put them on the cards. Talk about the people who deserve a special card. When all is said and done, you will have a stack of cards to use on any occasions. People love to receive cards in the mail. So, take your stack of cards and practice kindness by mailing them out to whoever you want…at any time you like. In fact, why not send out one or two cards today? Send them out just to celebrate your family fun night of card making.

Families Unite for Family Fun

When I was young, my family enjoyed “get-togethers” with another family every Friday night. The adults would play cards in one room while the “kids” played together in another room. These were great evenings. We had such fun. The evening began by ordering pizza. We would eat, laugh, and enjoy one another’s company. Then the adults would play cards and talk about…well, I don’t know what they talked about because I was upstairs enjoying time with the other kids without any parent watching over our shoulder. Our relationship with the other family grew as we enjoyed one another’s company. Interestingly, the relationships within our family also grew more secure.


As an adult, I still enjoy getting together with other families for activities. We might get together with a family to go to an amusement park…or to play games at church…or to simply go out to eat…or, well, you get the idea. I find great benefit in these “get-togethers.” I grow closer to the other adults, forming deeper friendships. Couples who have grown children share stories of raising their children, giving me hope that my wife and I can survive, even succeed in the child-rearing years. When we are stumped by some parenting task, we can get advice and encouragement. When I struggle with some aspect of my marriage, a close friend can give insight and advice. All the while, we have fun. Our children play, sometimes with us and sometimes with one another. We laugh, play games, joke around, and eat. Whether with one other family or a group of families, we have a blast. We leave feeling as though we have connected with another family and with each other. We discover that mutual support between families helps each family grow stronger, more secure, and healthier. And, in an obvious way, we leave such activities with a smile on our face and a new lightness in our heart…even if we are exhausted by all the fun.


So, have a great family fun night. Call your friends and come together for a night of laughter, games, and conversation. You will have a great time…and you will be surprised at the subtle benefits you receive!

Hike to a Family Fun Night

Well, this Family Fun Night is not literally a family fun “night.” It is more of a Family Fun Family in autumn parkExperience or Family Fun Event. Either way, it’s still a great family fun time…and all it involves is a little hike. Family hikes are fun and free—they cost nothing! On a hike, you and your family can get out of the house, away from the daily grind, and into nature. Together you can enjoy the trees, watch the birds, climb over some rocks, wade through streams, and maybe even see some deer, squirrel, turkey, elk, bear, or other fascinating wildlife.


To make a family hike really enjoyable, pack a small snack or lunch (small enough to put in a small back pack) and pick a scenic spot to stop for a picnic. One of my favorites in our area is a particular outcroppings of rocks on the Laurel trail. On a clear day you can sit on that outcropping while conversing with your family and enjoying some crackers, cheese, and drink while looking over the tree covered valleys and hills, through the “gaps of the Chestnut Ridge” all the way to the distant US Steel Building in downtown PGH! It’s a beautiful view of the mountains and valleys of the Laurel Highland Trail.


There really is something healing to individuals and families when you share a meal in the shade of a forest tree surrounded by a variety of plant life, listening to a babbling brook, and serenaded by a choir of birds. Shoulders relax. Walls fall down. Conversations deepen…and families connect. So enjoy a family hike for family fun! If you live in PGH, click here for a few ideas on where to take a family hike in this area. Wherever you choose to hike, have a great family fun time.

The Story That Will Change Your Family Life!

newly married couple chasing each other in fieldThe TV sitcom “How I Met Your Mother” communicates a profound family principle in its title. Seriously…the story of how we met our spouse is one of those questions kids really want to know. Actually, it is more than a mere “want to know;” it is a boon, an asset, a huge benefit to children’s emotional health and family life. Research tells us that children who know more about the stories of their family and their family history have a higher self-esteem, a stronger sense of personal control, and a belief that their families function well. They also revealed greater resiliency, bouncing back more easily after stressful events. Adolescents who know more about their family history have a greater sense of self-worth, more self-confidence, and a stronger sense of identity!

Family researchers tell us that children and adolescents who have a greater knowledge of their family story have a strong “intergenerational self.” They know they belong to something bigger than themselves. They have come together with their family for family meals, family gatherings, and family activities and heard the stories of their family. They have learned about the good times, the hard times, the setbacks, the recoveries, and the successes. Through it all , they learned that they come from “something bigger than myself.” That “something bigger” is a family…a family that sticks together through thick and thin…a family that survives…a family that accepts struggles but bounces back…a family…and not just any family but their family!

So, go ahead and tell your children the story of how you met their mother or father. Tell them about your crazy aunt’s all-encompassing hugs, your grandparents hobbies, your own embarrassing moments, the obstacles your family has overcome, the day they were born, and…the list goes on! While you’re at it, you might tell the “stories” asked about in the research described above. Here are the 20 questions they asked children to see how much of the “family story” they knew.

  • Do you know how your parents met?
  • Do you know where your mother grew up?Father and Bride
  • Do you know where your father grew up?
  • Do you know where some of your grandparents grew up?
  • Do you know where some of your grandparents met?
  • Do you know where your parents were married?
  • Do you know what went on when you were being born?
  • Do you know the source of your name?
  • Do you know some things about what happened when your brothers or sisters were being born?
  • Do you know which person in your family you look most like?
  • Do you know the person in your family you act the most like?
  • Do you now some of the illnesses and injuries that your parents experienced when they were younger?
  • Do you know some of the lessons that your parents learned from good or bad experiences?
  • Do you know some things that happened to your mom or dad when they were in school?
  • Do you know the national background of your family (such as English, German, Russian, etc.)?
  • Do you know some of the jobs that your parents had when they were young?
  • Do you know some awards that your parents received when they were young?
  • Do you know the names of the schools that your mom went to?
  • Do you know the names of the school that your dad went to?
  • Do you know about a relative whose face “froze” in a grumpy position because he or she did not smile enough?

One last thing…my wife loves to watch home videos of family. She has the right idea–home movies are a great way to share the story. So, gather the family, make some popcorn, pull up a chair, and watch that baby take her first steps again!

12 More National Holidays to Celebrate Family

I thought I might share a few more “National Holidays” your family might enjoy celebrating (click here and here for some other holidays to celebrate). This time I did not include any food holidays, although food compliments any celebration in my mind. These holidays are all relational and fun holidays. A couple of them even offer some great perks if you watch for them. So, find the appropriate month and let the family celebrations begin!


January 24–National Compliment Day. Make some major deposits in your Family Bank of Honor on this day with a few well-spoken compliments. You may even want to start a Pandemonium of Honor this month and practice throughout the year!

January 31–National Backward Day.
Do everything backwards. Have supper for breakfast and breakfast for supper. Eat your meal starting with dessert. Put on your clothes backwards and go out to eat. Walk into the restaurant backwards. You get the idea. Have fun.

February 17–National Random Acts of Kindness Day.
Another wonderful opportunity to honor your family with a random act of kindness. Be creative and have fun.

March 22–National Goof Off Day.
My kids think I celebrate this day every day.  That’s OK. The point is to have some fun. So, go ahead and goof off together.

April 27–National Tell a Story Day.
I love to tell stories. Tell stories about your dating days, early childhood days, your favorite family vacations. You can make up stories. My kids still remember the stories we made up when they were preschoolers. Read a story together. Whatever you choose, just tell some stories that bring your family together. 

June 22–National Listen to a Child Day.
Listen to your child…they will love your for it.

July 13–Embrace Your Geekness Day.
All you Big Bang enthusiasts rejoice. Today is your day!

August 4–International Forgiveness Day.
Forgiveness will change your life and your family life. If you have trouble figuring out how to forgive, read 5 Steps for Forgiving Family.

September 19–Talk Like a Pirate Day.
A day of family celebration. Every family member can talk like a pirate and you can watch Pirates of the Caribbean. Invite some friends over and make it a multi-family event! Go to Long John Silver’s and order with your best pirate accent. Dress up like a pirate and you might get free donuts at Krispy Kreme.

October 12–National Family Bowling Day.
You don’t have to be good, just have fun. See who can get the worst score. Bowl behind your back. Plan to knock down as few pins as possible. Put up the bumpers. Whatever it takes, have a fun family outing while you bowl.

November 11-Origami Day.
Enjoy time making origami today. Here’s some help if you want some. 

December 8–Pretend to be a Time Traveler Day.
Dress up like you live in Wild West, renaissance England, ancient Rome, Israel at the time of Christ, or your community in the midst of dinosaurs. Whatever time era you think your family might enjoy, travel to that time in dress, food, and amenities. Have fun!


Alright now, get out there…Have Fun and Celebrate Family!

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.

Is Your Family Like a Scene from RV? Try Rituals

This scene from RV vividly describes how the culture and our busy lives can pull our family apart. We watch as the RV rolls down the highway for a great family vacation; which, by the way, the father, Bob Munro, initiated in an effort to meet his own employment needs. His wife rides in the passenger seat, listening to her IPod and singing along to her music. His son sits behind the passenger seat with headphones on, flexing his biceps, and “singing” along with his favorite rap. Directly across from him and behind the driver’s seat, sits his daughter. She also has her headphones securely in place and is screaming along with her favorite tune. A family of four starting their vacation, confined in an RV for an extended drive…yet living in four different worlds. They have no interaction, no talking, no connection. Everyone is together in one place, yet all alone. You know what the Munro family needs? They need a good set of family rituals, like eating together, spending time together at the end of the day, a weekly family game night, or a date night.
Rituals are like the glue that can hold families together. Practicing rituals on a regular basis builds and strengthens family relationships. Rituals provide a regular opportunity for family members to connect with one another. The whole family is encouraged to cooperate and think about the other person. Everyone participates, creating an opportunity to enjoy time together, have fun, and experience a meaningful time of connection. 
Rituals also help to build family identity. If you have a family ritual that involves a family game night, your family takes on the identity of “game-lovers,” “fun-lovers,” or “competitors.” If your family enjoys volunteering as a family ritual, you take on the identity of “helpers,” “volunteers,” or “caregivers.” Families that practice a ritual of participating in Sunday Worship become known as “church-goers” or “Christians.” Those that connect over sporting activities become the “athletes;” those who camp become known as the “campers.” The list goes on. The rituals we engage in help us build a family identity in which the whole family can take pride.
Rituals help build predictability into the family as well. A ritual occurs on a regular basis. Knowing that our family “has pizza every Friday night” builds predictability and anticipation into the weekly schedule. That predictability brings security to our children. They like to know that “our family always does that.” And, secure children are better behaved children. The anticipation of a regularly occurring ritual encourages good behavior. In addition, family members can arrange their schedule around regularly scheduled rituals, ensuring time for connection building and family fun.
Finally, rituals provide an opportunity to instill family values into the family. We celebrate shared meaning in our rituals. Celebrating birthdays communicates the value we place on individual family members. Celebrating Christmas and Easter becomes an opportunity to communicate the joys of giving, the love of God, and the humble sacrifice of Christ. The ritual of a game night communicates the importance of fun. Families that connect over rituals of sports teach sportsmanship, discipline, and graciousness in winning and losing. Rituals instill family values.
Yes, the Munro family really needed practice a few family rituals before getting into that RV. Maybe your family does too. If so, start today with the simple ritual of giving a hug and kiss good-bye when you leave the house and another hug and kiss when you return. It may sound silly, but practicing the rituals of connection pays will bring added joy to your life!
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