7 of the Best Gifts a Dad Can Give a Child

Father singing

I love being a dad. I have a lot of titles, but this is one of my favorites.

Long story short, I grew up much of my childhood without a father in the home. It left some scars, but one thing it did was make me very intentional to attempt to be a good dad. I remember as a 12 year old boy praying specifically that if God ever gave me the opportunity — I’d be the best husband and father I could possibly be.

I fall short so many times — but it’s not because I don’t try. It may be because I get distracted — but it’s not a lack of desire.

I was reflecting recently on the role of a dad. It’s different. Its unique. Its challenging.

A dad has such a powerful impact on a child — good or bad — intentional or not — by what a dad does and doesn’t do.

(Of course, mother’s do also — I can’t speak about that role as well, however. But, I know the role of dad well.)

But, oh how rewarding is being a dad! There’s possibly no higher reward when a job is done well.

Want to be a great, intentional dad?

Gift your child. Give them great gifts.

Not a better car — or another electronic device. Give them gifts that money can’t buy.

Here are 7 of the best gifts a dad can give a child:

The confidence to say, “No thank you. That’s not for me.” Dads can give a child the ability to stand for what’s right, rather than following the crowd. It’s an empowerment to be different. When everyone else is “doing it” — whatever it is — a “gifted” child has that gut emotion of not only knowing the right thing but actually have the courage to do it — regardless of peer pressure and the search for popularity. Dad’s gift this as they live a model for their child of dependence on God and an independence from having to please others. They gift this by living moral lives even among an immoral culture.

The gumption to follow through on commitments. Don’t you hate when someone commits to something they don’t complete? We all do. Dads have the ability to gift their child a follow through mentality. They model for them that a promise made is binding, unless providentially hindered. They do this by following through on their own commitments — to their child, their mother, and everyone else in their life. They live a life that exemplifies “my yes is yes and my no is no”. They also do this by holding their children to high standards and making sure they are held accountable for their actions.

The tenacity to continue after a failure. Years ago we had a business failure. We had put all our hopes in this business for wealth and fame. It didn’t work. In fact, God had other plans for our lives as we later learned. It took us a while to recover, however — especially me — financially and emotionally — but we did. I’ve learned failure is training ground for success. I’m convinced — in fact I know — because they’ve told me — I gifted an example to my boys that when life throws a curve, you can learn again to hit home runs.

The courage to face fears. The world is scary. Especially to a child. Dads give their children courage as they model facing risk and experiencing adventure — even when afraid. Good dads don’t hide the emotion of fear, but they model courage as they move forward in spite of fear.

The strength to overcome obstacles. It’s easier to always rescue our children. It’s easier to always make things right, open all the doors for our kids and never make them stand on their own or struggle for what they want. Good dads gift their children a freedom to explore, freedom to imagine and freedom to fall — and then the never-ending support to begin again.

The affirmation to pursue great dreams. Everyone needs someone in their corner who can affirm “You’ve got this! You can make it! Go for it!” Dads are uniquely positioned to be this gift in a child’s life.

The freedom to discover who God designed them to be. There is a freedom in knowing you are loved by God, secure in your position in the family, and released to live boldly to the glory of God. Good dads invest spiritually in the life of their child. They teach them the truths of faith and grace. Good dads seek to discover and live out who God designed them to be — and allow children to watch the process unfold. And, make no doubt about it — they are watching!

I’m not pretending any of these can’t be developed outside a dad relationship. Or that they are easy. I’m certainly not saying a mom can’t provide these things. Absolutely not. My mom did for me.

But, I’m a dad. And, I love, love, love being a dad.

And, I am saying a dad has a unique opportunity for some of these — and — it’s a special blessing for a dad — and his children — when he’s the one doing some of the gifting.

Dad, what’s the best gift you’re giving your children these days?

7 Ways Great Couples Make Marriage Soar

Happy Couple

Marriage is hard work. Great marriages are even harder.

I don’t know if I’d claim to have a great marriage. My wife reads my blog — some days. (She’s the one that finds most of my typos.) And, my wife is the relational queen — the best I’ve ever seen — so her expectations for relationships are high.

For years working with couples I would ask them how strong their marriage was on a scale of 1 to 10. I just wanted to see where they felt they were and how far apart they were from each other. Almost without exception, the wife had a lower number than the husband. I think that’s because the women are usually the more relationally aware than us men. And, frankly, because of that, often having higher expectations for all a marriage could be.

So, while I actually think we have a great marriage — I’m going with good for the purpose of this post.

But, I’m pretty sure she’d say we have a good marriage. (Please say that sweetheart.) And, I’m certain she’d agree we work at being great together — most of the time. (There have been weeks, especially earlier in our marriage, when we seemed to work against each other — but those days are rare now. Thankfully)

Certainly both of us have seen things that don’t work — for our marriage and with the hundreds of other marriages we’ve encountered in ministry. And, we’ve also witnessed some great marriages. We’ve made a goal to surround ourselves with people who have marriages that can strengthen our own. One of our best pieces of premarital advice we give is to encourage people to find mentoring couples. It’s worked for us too.

So, what are some things that make great marriages soar? What keeps them going? What have we observed? What have we experienced?

Here are a few thoughts.

How great couples make their marriage soar:

Let differences work for them. All couples are made with two different people. No two people in the world are just alike. And, after working with hundreds of couples, I’m convinced opposites often do attract. But, great couples learn to build upon those differences. They build upon each other’s strengths and let each other minimize their weaknesses. “Two are better than one” — the author of Ecclesiastes says — and great couples live this truth.

Extend grace for the minor annoyances. Can we just be honest? People do stuff that gets on our nerves at times. That’s true of all of us — even with the people — maybe even especially with the people we love the most. Great couples have learned not to let those little things distract from the major things — like love and commitment.

Serve each other. There are no 50-50 splits of responsibility in a great marriage. Great couples learn to sacrificially serve one another. In the best relationships, it would be difficult to judge who serves one another more. There may be be times one gives 100%, because the other can’t give anything. And there are other times the other spouse gives 100%. And neither complains when it’s their turn to give all.

Prioritize their time. Great couples spend time together. Life is busy for all of us. These couples schedule time together. They find things to do that each of them enjoy. And, they say no to other things that would keep them from having adequate time together.

Keep no secrets. There are no hidden issues among great couples. They are vulnerable with each other. Both partners open themselves up to the other person completely.

Publicly support each other. Great couples are supportive of each other in public. They don’t tear each other down in public. They handle private issues in private.

Keep no record of wrongs. Great couples learn to forgive. There aren’t any lingering issues that haven’t been resolved.

I feel the need to emphasize that I’m writing these with the understanding that it takes two people — both committed to making the marriage great — for any of these to work. There are some people who would give anything to make a great marriage, but they are the only part of the couple trying. I get that. A one-sided commitment won’t work when attempting to bond two people into one great couple.

But, when two people are willing to work hard — a great marriage is within reach. For all of us.

We are working towards the great marriage. Who is with us?

How Some of the Best Discoveries Are Made – In Life and Leadership

highland road

Don’t be afraid to take a wrong turn — or go where the path isn’t clear — or act when you don’t have all the details figured out yet.

Some of the best discoveries are made that way.

People are always asking Cheryl and me how we discovered a great new place to visit. Or to eat.

Don’t you love Instagram and Facebook for those postings?

Often it was on a discovery trip.

One time we were in Maryland. I said to Cheryl, “Let’s just take this road and see where it goes.”

It actually went to a dead end. At the ocean. Stop. No way out except where we came from. We may have even been in another state at that point. I never knew for sure.

There was one restaurant at the end of the road. It looked like a dump. Our cell service was so weak we couldn’t Google the place, so we just went for it. It turned out to be one of those memorable meals — in a good way.

We didn’t know where we were going or what we would find when we got there, but details don’t matter as much when you’re on a discovery mission.

We’ve actually used the discovery method to find dozens of great places. On most every vacation or trip we set aside some time just to discover something new. It gives us adrenaline as a couple, keeps things interesting (we’ve discovered some not so great places too) and — whatever we find — it gives us lots of great memories together.

I use the discovery method in leadership too. We try lots of new things. Some work. Some don’t. But, the ones that do prove to be some of our greatest discoveries. We found them by exploring.

Details are great. I know some people feel they need them. (Cheryl is that way.)

But don’t let not knowing them keep you from the greatest discoveries.

Explore. It’s often how the best discoveries are made.

And, it keeps life interesting.

In life and leadership.

Two Ways to Improve Your Marriage Today

Still In Love

Two ways to improve your marriage today

Communicate more often.

Schedule times just to talk.

Plan activities that will allow you to engage with each other.

Get a sitter so you can be alone.

Don’t let too much time to without longer conversations.

Begin and end your day — as much as possible — in communication with each other.

Read a book you both enjoy for something to talk about together.

Take long walks together.

Trade texts throughout the day.

Share calendars to keep you on track with each other through the day.

Shut down all electronics frequently.

Communicate better.

Learn each others differences.

Speak to each other’s head and heart. Learn how men and women communicate differently.

Prepare for conversation by preparing questions of each other.

Always be honest and always be kind.

Consider the other person’s needs.

Really listen to each other.

Laugh together frequently.

Extend grace. Forgive quickly.

Get some conflict resolution training. (If needed)

Don’t go to bed in anger. Stop little issues from becoming major issues.

One of the greatest threats to marriage — and one of the greatest helps — to most marriages is communication.

Use it often. Use it well.

Obviously, you can’t do all of this today, but could you do something to intentionally improve the quantity and quality of your marriage communication?

Any other tips you could share with my readers?

Finding Family Time in a Busier Than Ever World

family lifestyle portrait

Finding family balance in a busier than ever world. It’s tough.

Cheryl, the boys and I were talking recently. They wanted to know how we did it? How did we keep the balance between a busy life and a healthy family life?

They knew we were busy. We had lots of responsibilities.

I was on the local city council. Served for a time as vice mayor. We owned a small business. I was on dozens of community committees and was active in the church, where I served as a deacon and Sunday school teacher.

Cheryl spent more time in the home than me during that season, but she also worked in our business. She served in the church. She was active leading in the schools where our boys attended.

Yet my boys knew we rarely missed anything they were doing. Ball games. Practices. School events. Church events.

And, they felt we had lots of time for just us as a family. They felt we invested a lot of time in them.

They wanted to know how we did that — how we found the balance.

And, honestly, everything seems busier now. Travel ball. Travel dance. Social media. You know you’ve got to update your status.

How do you do all you have to do and still find balance?

Well, it may be harder today than 15 or so years ago, but I think the same principles we used then still apply today.

Say no to some good things. That’s hard isn’t it? Because you want your kids to have every opportunity they want. You want them to be exposed to lots of different things. You don’t want them to miss things their friends are doing. How can you say no?

But, sometimes as a parent you have to make the hard decisions for your kids that they aren’t mature enough to make for themselves. Of course they want to do it all. They are kids, but is that the wisest decision for them?

One day they’ll be gone and you’ll wish for more time with them. Some moms, like Cheryl, will wish you could wash some dirty clothes or pick up some socks from the floor (yea, funny how that works). Some dads, like me, will miss coming home tired from work and still getting outside to play catch. But, right now your kids need you. More now than ever. They need your influence. And, that happens more when you’re with them. So, which is the greater good — another sport — another activity — or more time with you?

Say yes to intentionality. When you’re home be home. Turn off the phones. Put down the laptop. Turn off the television. Be radical with your scheduled time with them. And, yes, my family went on my calendar — trumping other good things.

I know that’s. hard. You’re tired — and the recliner and remote are your escape. I get it. I cover that more in the next one — but since time is limited you’ve got to make the most of it. Every moment must count. Every night is another opportunity. An opportunity that quickly disappears with a fast moving calendar.

And invest in your marriage too. Intentionally shut everything down often enough that you stay connected. Yes. It’s crazy. It takes time away from an already busy schedule. But , it’s life giving to the marriage and your sanity.

Be creative with your time. You’ve got to learn to use teachable moments. Learn to love the activities your child loves. Throw balls together. Learn to love dancing at home. Play with action characters. Build science projects together (oh I hated those — miss them now). Use bedtime and dinnertime and breakfast time — and car circles — and trips to the garbage dump — whatever you have, whatever it takes, use the time you have with your children well. Use it creatively.

There isn’t one moment to spare when you’re intentional in raising a busy family. Not one moment.

You can find the balance. It is hard. There’s nothing more rewarding.

7 Pieces of Advice for In-laws of Young Married Couples

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I often teach and write about the experiences that I have working with relationships. Personal experience is often some of the best information I have to protect and help other relationships.

In helping marriages, I often try to share some of the barriers that I have seen to having a good marriage. My theory is that if couples are aware of the barriers before they become an issue it’s much easier to deal with them when they arise.

One of the consistent barriers I have seen in having a strong marriage is the way the couple deals with outside influences. It could be friends, family, work, or hobbies. It’s mostly people.

One of those primary outside influences that many couples struggle with is dealing with in-laws.

And, the in-laws who are causing a problem are now rejecting this post. :)

The crazy thing about this issue is that I once talked about the issue but now I live the issue. So I realize I am on shaky ground by speaking to a subject I haven’t yet mastered. We have been in-laws now for a couple of years and it is still relatively new for us. But now at least I see both sides of the issue. Cheryl and I are trying to be good in-laws by learning from other people’s experiences we have encountered in ministry.

I’m speaking primarily in this post about parental in-laws, but these will also apply to other relatives of couples. This type post gets me in trouble. It’s a sensitive issue. Keep in mind this is an opinion blog. And this is an opinion post. But these are gained through years of experience working with young couples. Apply as necessary.

Here’s some of my best advice for in-laws:

Remember “leave and cleave”.  It’s Biblical. Two people are trying to become one. That’s the goal. That means the two can’t be part of another unit in the same way. Yes, they are still family, but they are creating something new. Their new will likely look different from yours — hopefully even better. No doubt you will have influenced who they are as a couple. That may be in good and bad ways. Let them as a couple determine what they keep of your influence and what they leave behind. Again, they are still part of you. But, in the formulation of a new “them” they have to leave some things behind.

Know this: Everything you say to your child impacts their spouse. One way or another. And, it will likely either be repeated and injure your relationship with their spouse or cause a hidden wedge in their relationship. You can’t expect them to become one if you have a private world of communication with your child. And if they are trying to be a good husband or wife they will not keep secrets from their spouse. Yes, you should always be a safe place for your child. And there may be times where it is necessary for them to come to you in secret. But those should be rare. Very rare in my opinion. You can help them reduce friction in their marriage by not contributing to or promoting private conversations.

They sense the pressure to “come see you”. Chances are they have pressure elsewhere too. Maybe even from other in-laws. How welcoming is it if you spend most your time talking to them complaining how little you see them? Yes, it’s hard when they don’t seem to want to — or you feel slighted in the amount of attention you receive — but guilt and complaining won’t accomplish what you’re attempting. It might even get them there, but it won’t promote quality time with them.  And, it will often build resentment.

Get rid of the phrase “What you should do is”. It isn’t helpful because it’s usually received with an immediate pushback. They are trying to form their own identity as a family. Hopefully they will solicit your input at times but don’t offer it unless you’re asked.

Offer advice only if you’re asked. I thought this one merited repeating. Again, it’s not that you don’t have for good advice. And they would probably be better off if they listened to your advice more often. Most likely you have experience they don’t yet have. But most young couples want to discover things on their own just as you possibly did when you were younger. Unsolicited advice is almost never seen as valuable as solicited advice.

Be a fun place to hang out. All young couples need to see healthy people and healthy relationships. Marriage is hard without any outside influences. So the more healthy and environment you can create for them the more often they will want to be a part of that environment.

Love them unconditionally. I would say equally, but that’s hard — isn’t it? You’re going to naturally lean towards favoring your own child, especially when there is friction or conflict in the relationship. Be patient with them. Give grace generously. Hold you’re tongue when you’re tempted to say something that could be hurtful. Forgive quickly when needed. Remember, you are supposed to be the maturer people in this season of life.

The point of this post — and this blog — is to help. I’m not trying to stir more frustration. Other blogs do that well. :). Seriously, my aim is to address issues I see often and help us learn from other people’s experiences. I realize this is a hard season for many parents. But, with careful intentionality it can be a great season.

Remember, we are new at this.

What other tips do you have? 

7 Thoughts to the Families of Introverts

UOMO SEDUTO SULLA PANCHINA

I was talking with a young pastor recently.

It was after one of my posts about introversion and how I don’t think my introversion has to keep me from being a senior leader. Whenever I post about the subject of introversion I hear from fellow introverts. Some of these are apparently even more introverted than me. And, that’s a lot of introversion.

Anyway, this particular pastor is having some issues at home with introversion. He has managed to be extroverted for his church, but when he gets home, he has nothing left to give. He feels the tension. He wants to push through it, but he doesn’t know how. And, his wife is growing increasingly impatient with a lack of intimacy in communication, limited social life, and feeling left out of part of his life.

His side of the story. He knows what he needs to do, but he doesn’t know how to do it.

Her side of the story (according to him). She doesn’t understand how he can be so introverted — even when it’s with his family.

I get it. I really do.

So, this post is to the families of introverts. There are a few things I’d love to say to you. I hope they are helpful.

Here are 7 words to families of introverts:

We aren’t crazy. Sometimes you think we are, don’t you? Be honest. When we don’t talk for long periods of time — even when we are with people — you assume we must have a few screws loose somewhere. We probably do — as you possibly do — but introversion isn’t one of them for us. We aren’t weird — okay, again, some of us might be, but not just because of introversion. In fact, you may not know this, but there are lots of introverts around. Lots. Mega lots. You may even have overlooked some of us because we aren’t always trying to get your attention.

It isn’t personal. When we don’t talk that is — because that’s what you enjoy doing with people so much It’s hard not to take it personal though, isn’t it? But, it most likely has little to do with you when we don’t talk to you as much as you wish we would.

We do love you. This one is huge. The crazy thing about introverts — that I know some have a hard time believing — is that most of us really do love people. A lot. More than you can imagine. In fact, the measure of extroversion or introversion, from what I can tell, has no bearing on the degree of love a person has for others. That’s a whole other side to a person’s personality — and character. If one expectation you have of love is talking a lot, you’re going to be disappointed at times. But, this may help to know — for some introverts, one expectation we have of love is giving the people we love time to not have to talk. (Figuring out how to balance those expectations is tough, isn’t it?)

We need time to recharge. The amount of time is relative to the amount of extroversion we had to do to get to the opportunity for introversion. But, all of us need that time. We may even crave it. This is especially true after very extroverted events or settings. For my pastor friend I mentioned above, that’s Sunday afternoon following a Sunday morning. (Funny how Sunday afternoons always follow Sunday mornings.)

Preparation helps. If you give us advance warning, we can often better prepare for conversation. We can gear up for it. I know that may be difficult to grasp for especially extroverted people, especially when it involves people we love so much. Please understand, though, that introversion impacts how we relate to others — not how we feel about them. I love my wife. More than anything. And, she shares my calendars so, thankfully, she knows the times I am more likely to revert to my introversion preferences. I find, however, that my wife and I having a routine time where we interact together at night, is the time I’m ready to dialogue with her best about my day and hers. And, she loves that time. I do too. Seriously. It works better for me because I’m prepared for it — actually looking forward to it — and it works better for her because I actually talk. And, want to.

We don’t have a right to ignore you. There. I said it. And, my introverted friends can get frustrated with me if they want to, but we don’t. You can expect communication. Relationships are built on communication. We just have to figure out how to make it work with your personality and ours. We can do that, can’t we? And, you can tell them I said it. Get an outside party (such as a counselor) to help you if you need it. We can’t expect people to ignore their personality — and we should work to respect other people’s personalities, but we can expect two people in a healthy relationship to find a balance that allows healthy, intimate conversation — at a level that meets the needs of both in the relationship.

Activity often produces conversation. This may sound strange unless you’ve experienced it, but as an introvert, I talk more — and am more comfortable doing so — when I am being physically active at the same time. Walking for Cheryl and me helps us communicate. Our communication is strengthened when we have an activity we do together regularly. So — we walk. Almost daily. Certainly enough that she feels we’ve communicated. What’s an activity you could do with your introverted family member that might produce more (and better) conversation?

Here’s the disclaimer. Not all introverts are alike. Just as not all extraverts are alike. And, there are varying degrees of introversion and extroversion.  It’s important not to put people into boxes — and that’s not what I’m trying to do here. Maybe the best follow up to this post is a conversation with your introvert on how the two of you could communicate better. More than anything, as a relationship counselor and pastor, I want to help people better communicate. Sadly, I’ve sat on the outside of dozens of relationships in trouble and communication is almost always one root of the problems in the relationship. This post isn’t counseling — and my intent was a very soft approach, but the issue here is huge for some couples. Don’t be afraid to get help if needed.

Are you an extrovert married to an introvert? Any tips you’ve learned that can help?

7 Ways We Keep Our Marriage Strong

happy couple 2

Cheryl and I are in a good season of life and marriage. We’ve been empty-nesters for a few years now — we’ve adjusted — it was hard missing our boys at first — but now life is good. Really good.

This weekend we had a destination wedding (I love those) and added a few days for time just the two of us. We needed it. As great as a season as we are in it’s a busy season. We’ve been running hard for several months.

The good thing — we can’t think of anyone we’d rather be with when we are off from work.

Isn’t that a great feeling?

Cheryl and I intentionally strive to keep our marriage strong. It’s a work in progress. We know that if we ever let up the enemy will win. The Scripture is clear — Satan crawls around like a roaring lion, waiting to devour.

So, how do we keep our marriage strong? I’ve been asked that so many times.

Here are 7 ways we keep our marriage strong:

We walk. Cheryl and I walk together almost every day. When weather and time permits, we walk hours and miles together. This may sound strange unless you’ve experienced it, but as an introvert, I talk more — and am more comfortable doing so — when I am being physically active at the same time. When my boys were home, I engaged more when we were throwing a ball together. For Cheryl and me, it’s walking. And, here’s the key: Our communication is strengthened when we have an activity we do together regularly. So — we walk.

We talk. And, that’s so incredibly important. Every day we talk about our days. We debrief our life. There are always moments of the day we would have to explain to understand them. We explain. It cuts down the surprise factors in our life. I’m a part of every aspect of Cheryl’s life — and she is of mine. Our work. Our friends. Our families. Our hobbies. Our thoughts. Our fears. Our dreams.

We question. Cheryl and I have been known to ask some strange questions of each other. More than, “What are you thinking?”. Cheryl or I might ask something such as, “If you had one prayer — and only one prayer — for our boys, or for me, what would it be?” Questions that may seem silly to some, but to us they make perfect sense, because it keeps us thinking deeper about our life and each other.

We dream. Everyone has them. Some of us hide them better than others. Cheryl and I have a consistent habit of dreaming together. No dream is too small or too large. It’s a dream. It may or may not become reality, but that’s okay. It’s fun and energizing of our relationship to dream together.

We laugh. A lot. We don’t have the same sense of humor, but it doesn’t matter. We enjoy laughing together about whatever there is to laugh about at the time. It would probably be silly and not funny to anyone else, but that’s okay. Our mutual humor keeps us close at heart.

We cry. Okay, I’ve got to be honest on this one. I’m not a big crier. I cry, but very selectively and very privately. But, Cheryl and I share something with each other. We are vulnerable to each other. Very vulnerable. I’m not afraid to tell her I’m afraid. That I’m hurt. That I wish life was different than it is — even if I have to say it with tears in my eyes. Our lives are open books with one another. It builds a closeness that is hard to destroy.

We love. Deeply. I’ve heard it said I’d rather be deeply loved than widely loved. Cheryl and I deeply love each other. It’s the kind of love that can overlook the flaws we bring to the relationship. And, we bring a lot. Mostly me. But, love is ultimately a choice we make — a deep, committed, loyal kind of choice. I choose Cheryl. She chooses me.

That’s our seven. Do you have more to share?

What keeps your marriage strong?

20 Things Good Dads Do!

Father singing

What good dads do — like nobody else can do.

They joke.

They challenge.

They inspire.

They build.

They provide.

They encourage.

They discipline.

They listen.

They counsel.

They validate.

They play.

They model.

They pray.

They forgive.

They teach.

They strengthen.

They believe.

They lead.

They protect.

They love.

Dads!

There are no perfect ones — except our Heavenly Dad — but good dads try. Every good dad I know wants to do the best he can.

And, some good dads have left us already — at least from this earth — and still, they do what they do through the memories they left behind.

Give a shoutout to a good dad today!

Thank you God, for good dads.

Which of these remind you most of a good dad you know?