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See How to Create Lasting Memories with Your Children

They don’t just happen, you know. Lasting memories, that is. Parents need to be intentional about creating them. But how to do it?

My daughter creating lasting memories fishing with friends in South Carolina.

One of the best ways to create lasting memories is to do something with your children that is a unique experience — something out of the ordinary. It could be something as simple as going to a movie or to McDonald’s for breakfast one morning. The what doesn’t matter as much as the why. Children notice when parents go out of their way to spend time with them. They pay attention when we make the effort to carve out space to experience something new with them — something only we share with them.

Believe me, in a busy family of six children, it can be difficult to spend that one-on-one time with each of them. We do things together, of course, as you can see in my series Build a Family You Can Be Proud Of or Why Walt Disney World Is Our Favorite Place to Be a Family. We read together as I’ve written about here. We explore parks. Enjoy special family nights.

But there’s something to be said for a parent taking time to build the one-on-one relationship with each child to create lasting memories.

One method I have used as a dad to create lasting and unique memories with our children is to take road trips with each of them. I started last December when I took my oldest son on what was to be an eight-day road trip to Florida and back. It turned into a 9-day trip when we encountered a nasty ice-storm in Northern Kentucky and had to vacation an extra day in a hotel. But even the unexpected drama of skidding across the interstate only added to lasting memories of the trip.

Most recently, I took my oldest daughter on a week-long road trip to Atlanta, Ga, and South Carolina. The primary purpose of the trip was more professional and ministry-related, but a chance to spend time with my little girl (she just turned 12) one-on-one was right up there in making it a win-win trip.

The benefits of a taking a road trip

Here’s what I noted most about the benefits of taking a road trip with one child to create lasting memories:

  • You get to be quiet with the child. In our daily rush, we seldom get to be still, to sit in silence with each other and be Ok with it. In that environment, thoughts get shared as they come. Or not. It can make for a very authentic relationship building that sets the stage for future communication.
  • Older siblings get to enjoy being young again. Like it or not, older siblings tend to carry some of the load of helping with younger brothers and sisters. Some of that duty they take on themselves. But a road trip alone with mom or dad gives them a chance to relax and enjoy being a kid again.
  • You can do things that otherwise might not be possible as a family. Taking the entire family out to eat can be expensive. But a light snack for two might be doable. Stopping at a roadside attraction suddenly isn’t the logistical challenge it can be with the family when it’s just the two of you.
  • You can create lasting memories unique to that child. For my son, he is now the only child to have toured the USS Yorktown, seen Fort Sumter up close, and touched a Saturn V rocket. My daughter is now the only one to have caught a decent-sized fish (and then eaten it), gone clamming (a first for me, too), and visited the Atlanta Zoo. Oh, and she was also named honorary older-sister for our friends’ girls in Atlanta. Nobody else can say that. And that’s a good thing, provided each child gets a chance to carve out unique memories along the way.
  • You get to talk about life as it unfolds. For example, as we drove, we listened to Christmas music and discussed the lyrics at our leisure. We made new friends and discussed how people do things differently than our family and why we do what we do. It made for terrific opportunities to prepare her to think through life on her own in the coming years.

A few pictures from the trip with our friends: 

My daughter in her honorary role of Big Sister at the Atlanta Zoo.

Clamming with friends in South Carolina — a first for us both.

All of these reason only begin to scratch the surface. In short, road trips create lasting memories because they allow you to write a chapter in the story of a child’s life that is uniquely his or her own. And in a tight-knit family, it’s critical not to lose sight of each child as an individual, created in the image of God to be unlike anyone else.

Are you sensing some distance between yourself and one of your children? Maybe it’s time you fired up the car and took a road trip of your own to create some lasting memories with your child — before it’s too late to get intentional about life. Judging by the extra hugs I’ve received from her since our return, I can’t wait for the next trip with the next child.

Which of these reasons makes you want to take a trip with one of your children? Have you ever taken a road trip like ours? Share your story with a comment here to help us all grow.

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5 Key Resources to Help You Discover Your Life Strengths

As most regular readers know, I’ve been on a journey — call it a quest – to discover my life strengths for the last five years. I’ve made quite a bit of progress, I think. The journey has caused my to take some pretty dramatic steps of faith into the unknown.

But I haven’t stepped completely into the unknown, thanks to five key resources that helped me discover my life strengths. On a recent stay with friends, I shared some of these resources with their sons. It reminded me that I have been sharing this list often of late and others might be helped by my sharing it here.

“First, know thyself.” Aristotle’s words ring more true today than ever when the wide array of options before us in Western culture can be paralyzing. For many years, I stood transfixed by the plethora of dishes at life’s buffet. Sure, I occasionally nibbled at leftovers on others’ plates while promising myself that someday I too would step up. Someday.

Uncertain of my own strengths, I waited, afraid I’d mess it up if I tried to figure out the direction my life should take. Maybe you can relate. Eventually I realized that I’m going to die whether I ever figure it out or not — so I’d best get busy.

The 5 resources I share below helped me to discover this as my life calling:

To write, speak, and create resources to help Christians think, live, and lead with abundant faith.

I just wish I had discovered them earlier in life. If you know any teens or twenty-somethings, do them a favor. Pass on this list.

My top 5 resources to help you discover your life strengths

  1. In, But Not Of Revised & Updated: A Guide to Christian Ambition and the Desire to Influence the World by Hugh Hewitt. No, I’m not just listing this one because I wrote the Forward, Study Guide, and Group Leader’s Guide. I did those things because it is that good. Loaded with proven practical advice, my friend Hugh’s book started me thinking in a very intentional manner about how to use my gifts to get and use influence for Christ.
  2. Now, Discover Your Strengths by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton. Although not the most scientifically reliable tool out there, it is a great starting point to help you identify your strength themes. After reading the first 80 pages or so, take the on-line assessment to identify your areas of natural giftedness. Mine were ideation, intellection, input, responsibility, and belief. Out of that came my preliminary purpose of creatively questioning, connecting, and communicating in the context of my beliefs.
  3. The Truth About You: Your Secret to Success also by Marcus Buckingham. Especially targeting the twenty-something demographic, Buckingham included a DVD and exercises for drilling down into your strength themes. I found when I did the work of drilling down, I quickly identified both my strengths — those things I did well which energize me — and my weaknesses — those things that sucked the life out of me no matter how good I was at them.
  4. StandOut: The Groundbreaking New Strengths Assessment from the Leader of the Strengths Revolution I know. Again with the Marcus Buckingham! But his British accent is so cool! Sorry, can’t help it. He’s done some outstanding work. This latest one gets far more scientific in its results – and it is uncannily accurate in assessing what role you play when part of a team. The on-line assessment solidified much of what I had uncovered already, but gave me even clearer vocabulary with which I could talk about my contribution. By the way, I am what Stand Out describes as “The Hub at the Center.” Provider and Connector led the way on my results with Pioneer not far behind. In short, I am a catalyst who gets things moving and cares deeply about making everyone around me better.
  5. Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will My most recent entry onto the list is from Kevin DeYoung. It is the straightforward antidote to that life direction paralysis that keeps so many of us standing still. His practical yet theologically sound advice speaks candidly to young and old alike but is especially targeted toward the young adult demographic.

I know I’ve left a lot of resources off the list, including a lot of books by John Maxwell that have dramatically influenced my life: Thinking for a Change: 11 Ways Highly Successful People Approach Life and Work, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You, and  Put Your Dream to the Test: 10 Questions to Help You See It and Seize It.

Start with these five as a gift pack for any young person in your life — or for yourself. It’s never too late to discover who you were made to be and begin to walk in that direction by faith.

What other resources have you discovered have discovered to help you find your life direction? Share your suggestions with a comment here so we can all grow.

Are You Quick to Forgive — Like God?

You know you should. Forgive, that is. You know you should do it. And quick. You even know you should ask God to forgive you. Like, now.

Yet somehow sinful pride so often holds us back, making our lives even more of a complicated mess.

photo: seantoyer

My son models this call of being quick to forgive and to ask for forgiveness — for any perceived offense. Sometimes he’s too zealous in his request, even asking others to forgive him for thoughts he had about them but never shared with them. Awkward. But good.

I’d rather he be too quick to forgive and request forgiveness than become hardened to sin like most of the rest of us.

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you. (Eph. 4:32 NKJV)

We are called by God to imitate his lead on this forgiveness thing. As we look at His example, what do we see that might give us a plan for being quick to forgive?

  • God is eager to forgive. First, the facts: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.” (Ps. 103:8 NKJV) It’s as if it’s overflowing out of Him. So often we visualize God as a grudge-holding manipulator whose happy to finally have us at a disadvantage when we stumble — can you say “Projecting!” That’s what we do. But not God. In truth, He is always poised to pounce at the slightest opening to forgive all who ask. Is that the ready-and-waiting condition of your heart today?
  • God forgives quickly. “If we confess our sins…he will forgive our sins….” (1 John 1:9 NKJV) There’s no time-delay with God. There’s no committee to review the request. There’s no standing in line. No weighing of the leverage He has over us. Forgiveness is instant — like that powdered stuff they call coffee in a jar — only without the stirring. We ask. It’s gone. I wonder if we give it out as quickly as it’s given to us.
  • God takes offenses seriously but holds them loosely. As the just Judge of all men, He doesn’t look the other way or pretend it didn’t happen. He confronted Peter in a powerful way for his cowardly denial. Once forgiven though, Jesus never mentioned it again. We would do everyone around us a tremendous service if we would do take the same approach with those who wrong us.
  • We must be quick to ask. Instead of rationalizing away our failures in defense of our foolish pride, let’s treat them with the urgency they deserve. We wouldn’t hang around with radioactive waste arguing about just how radioactive it might be. Well, most of us wouldn’t. Why dilly-dally while a far more pernicious but equally invisible evil eats away at our soul? Note the priority Jesus places on it:

Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.   (Matt. 5:23-24 NKJV)

Not even worship comes before our urgent need to forgive and seek forgiveness. Maybe it’s time we started un-complicating our lives by being like God — at least when it comes to forgiveness.

The rest of the mess might take us all a little time.

Do you find it easier to forgive those who offend you? What other truths have you found helpful to to ask for forgiveness before sin erodes our soul? Leave a comment here to share the growth.

Do You Teach Your Kids to Do Hard Things?

When I came home tonight, my kids excitedly shared what they’d been up to all day – designing and then practicing on a ninja exercise course! 

They shared their breathless story of how difficult it had been both to think up and then execute the tough assignment. Apparently, they all took turns repeatedly crossing from swing-to-swing over gaping crocodiles, scaling the slippery pole of certain death, and plunging down the scary slide with reckless abandon!

Again and again. It also explained where all the spaghetti went at dinner.

It reminded me how important it is to teach kids to do hard things.

We parents tend to foolishly think that our job is to make life easy for our kids. Or make it safe. I suppose it is if we want them to learn that life is easy. But is it?

For anything worth having, one must pay the price.  ~ John Burroughs

I suppose that’s partly why we chose to read The Lord of the Rings as our story for family reading time. I’ve blogged about why you should read to your kids and how we have found ways to read to them and enjoy it. One of the reasons we chose to tackle the 1,000 page LOTR by Tolkien with six kids between the ages of 4 and 11 was to teach them — and us — to do hard things.

Instead of running from the challenge, we tackled it head on.

I recall my teacher and mentor from my high school years reminding me often that the brain is a muscle. It will grow if you exercise it. I told my first students the same thing on the first day of school so mnay years ago. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that all four of our older kids are now tackling tougher reads all on their own.

And judging from the creative workout they’re getting on the playground, our strategy for cultivating greatness seems to be working.

Do you agree that we should teach children to tackle the tough stuff? What ways have you found to teach your kids to do hard things? Share a comment with a click here to share the growth.

 

How to Read to Your Children and Enjoy It

Yes, it is possible. You can read to your children and enjoy it — all of you. My post on Why You Should Read to Your Children gave a few reasons for making it part of your family routine. But that doesn’t mean it’s always been easy for us to float away on imagination bubbles.

At first we failed miserably. I thought the children — ranging in ages from 2-9 at the time — would sit like angels and listen to me regale them with classic tales from C.S. Lewis. They did. For about five minutes.

Somewhere in the never-ending back story at the beginning of Prince Caspian, they faded out one-by one. Soon the family-bonding time turned into a frustrated fit of anger from — well, me. And it was “off to bed!”

I even used our regular family meeting table (a square one that seats all eight of us) as the reading spot so we could all be gathered around facing one another. A couple of children did actually stay focused. Not surprisingly, they were the ones who naturally gravitated toward words.  The others? Well, let’s just say they were polite — but easily distracted.

I am happy to say, we’ve learned a few tricks to improve our family reading time. It’s no longer something we dread. In fact, the children moan if we miss it! And that’s in spite of the fact that we are reading through the unabridged version of — The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien.

That’s right — the whole thing.

A Few Key Steps

Here are a few key steps for reading to your children so you all enjoy it:

  • Choose a time. Children crave consistency. Let’s face it, we all do. If we don’t schedule it into our weekly routine, it probably won’t get done. Make it predictable so it doesn’t conflict with other priorities. For us, every Tuesday night for 30-40 minutes is our family reading time. Important reminder: Always leave them wanting more, not wishing you had ended twenty minutes ago.
  • Choose a place. We moved reading to the children from our family meeting table to the family room around the fireplace. Nothing like a fire to spark imagination in the winter. Everyone can still be more or less in a circle but each is free to relax a bit.
  • Choose an activity. I know this seems counterintuitive to have them doing something while we read, but our breakthrough came when I decided to seek synergy in the reading time. We purchased a sketch book and colored pencils for each child. We gave them their own “creative tub” in which to keep them. It’s only for family reading time. While Dad reads, each child must first sit silently for a few minutes. Once the imagination wheels start to turn, they are free to create whatever their minds conjure up. It doesn’t have to connect with the story. Their hands stay busy while their minds stay active. And both activities together grow their imaginations.
  • Choose a story. Don’t start with an encyclopedia or even cool gardening books if that’s your thing. Everyone loves stories. Choose stories that will interest them. But be sure to be a parent, as well. Pick tales that will put meat on the bones of their soul. That doesn’t mean you can’t toss in short, fun readings from time to time. In fact, you may want to have each of the children take a turn offering a short story or book to give them more buy-in into the process.
  • Choose a voice. Make it a fun time for all of you by doing your best to find unique voices for each character. Believe me, it’s hard to keep track of them all in LOTR – but still fun. (Gimli still makes my throat tickle a bit too much, but Gandalf is a fun one.) Remember, you are training their imaginations by modeling how to read. No pressure.

I’ll post later on why we chose Lord of the Rings. You should  choose what works for your family. I’d suggest making a “short list” of books you think might work and then discussing them with your children. Try to reach a consensus – and maybe a compromise — to get things rolling with their support. If your children are much younger, of course, any Dr. Seuss or similar tale will do the job.

How do you read to your children? What tips and trick do you use — or did your parents use with you — to create lasting family memories? Share a comment with a click here.

photo by: h.koppdelaney

5 Reasons Why You Should Read
to Your Children

How did you learn to drive a car? From suddenly picking up a manual, skimming it and then hopping in for a test drive? Maybe some of you did, in fact, do that.

That dent in the garage door is till there isn’t it? 

If you’re like most of us, you observed your parent’s driving habits for many years, perhaps without even realizing it. You wondered how they made the turn signal come on while slowing down the car at the same time. You saw what you could see and concluded that driving wasn’t so difficult after all. It’s the same way with reading to your children.

photo: nlnnet

Study after study has simply reinforced what common sense tells us — we do what we see done.

Do as I say…

I recall my uncle once trying to teach me how to make the bowling ball hook when I threw it. You know, in that cool way that pro bowlers magically do. He told me how to place my fingertips just so to make it curve just like the pros. He told me just how to release it at the right time. I thought I had it — until I watched him do it. He didn’t do it at all like he was telling me to do it.

When I asked him why he didn’t do it the way he was telling me to do it, he laughed and said, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

I don’t bowl now.  I’m not blaming it on him, of course. But I never did figure out how to make it hook  like he did. Bowling just isn’t as much fun when the pins don’t fall down.

Because reading is such a gateway to personal and spiritual growth, our children face a significant challenge in life if they’re not avid readers. Sure, they can still grow through other means. But it’s kind of like trying to play golf at Pebble Beach without a driver. You can till get around the course, but it’ll take you quite a few more shots. And you’ve got no chance of winning.

And isn’t reading rather important for people of faith who depend on the written Word for life direction?

Here are 5 reasons you should read to your children on a regular basis:

  1.  Children do as you do not as you say. We may not like it, but it’s true. Just telling them to read won’t mean anything unless they see and hear you do it.
  2. Children need to hear how to do it. Often children are afraid to fail — like all of us. They don’t pick up a book because they know they can’t do it perfectly. When they actually hear you reading — complete with imperfections — they realize that it’s OK to stumble at times.
  3. Children perceive priorities. If you take the time to read with them, you send a clear message that they are important to you. Note the synergy (Habit 6) at work here as you are both spending time as a family and educating them.
  4. Reading together opens doors. Some of the best discussions we’ve had as a family came as we talked about characters in a story we were reading. Stories give us hypothetical — and safe — ways to discuss the stuff of life.
  5. Reading is an interactive experience. Unlike television, reading forces interaction between parents and children. It prompts questions from your children, a habit you definitely want to encourage as they get older.

Not that it’s always easy. My next post will share a few tips and trick for HOW we do it. After failing miserably many times, we’ve actually figured out a method that has our children upset when we have to miss our scheduled time of reading.

What are some other reasons you can think of for reading to your children? Did your parents read with you? Leave a comment to share the growth.

How to Say No: You Too Can Have This Superpower

No.

There. You just said it. It wasn’t that hard, was it?

So why is it so much more difficult to say “no” to others when they ask for more help than you know you can safely give? It’s almost as if you need a magical cape to conjure up the elusive superpower to say “No!”

photo: hillary h

Of course, the thing about capes is their tendency to get caught in jet engines — think Syndrome in The Incredibles. So let’s not go there.

But what can you do to better manage the many requests for assistance from well-meaning people who see you as someone who is good at getting things done?

Say no. You can do it. Really you can.

Here are a few key steps I’ve learned to develop the superpower to say “No.”

  1. Believe that you are in charge of you. It’s not “if only you believe,” but it all starts there. In that space between their request and your answer lies a place where you do have a choice — no matter what you tell yourself. Even if you find you can’t change the specific instance of the request, perhaps you can back up and change the reason the request is being made in the first place.
  2. Know that you’re responsible for you. We like to play the victim far too often by acting as if we just can’t help but say “yes.” But often the reason we give for complying has more to do with our own fear of confronting or disappointing and less with reality.
  3. Get clear on your priorities. One reason we struggle to say no to so many good things is that we haven’t yet discovered what the best things for us might be. Because we’re not sure where we’re going, any old train will do to get there. Instead, take time to live intentionally by developing a life plan.
  4. Fear God more than people. Ed Welch has written a tremendous book on this topic entitled When People Are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man (Resources for Changing Lives). If we see our responsibility to be pleasing to our Creator as the main thing, our fears about disappointing the people He made seem to shrink rather quickly.
  5. Get over yourself. Guess what? If you dropped dead tomorrow, life would go on. We’d miss you, of course, but 90% of the stuff you do would get done by someone else. Don’t think it all rests on your shoulders. Sorry. It doesn’t. Instead, focus on the 10% that can only be done by you.

Do you struggle to say no? What steps have you taken to harness this superpower that seems so elusive to so many of us? Leave comment with a click here to share the growth. 

7 Habits of Stephen Covey: Is Think Win-Win Biblical?

I think we can safely say that the Bible speaks to how we think. “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” Stephen Covey certainly recognized that in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Habit 4 simply acknowledges that how we think about conflict determines the solution.

Habit 4: Think Win-Win.

I confess this habit is one of my favorites because it gives me permission to think creatively about possible solutions.

You may also have noticed that I posted on Habit 5 (Seek First to Understand) before Habit 4. In my own thinking about conflict, I find it critical to first seek to understand before I can think of win-win solutions that truly bring value to the other person. I recognize though that the mindset of win-win must be in place to even want to reach out to others and understand their desires.

Covey noted often that Habits 4-6 are indeed interconnected. One naturally leads to and fuels the other:

  • Think Win-Win.
  • Seek first to understand…then to be understood.
  • Synergize.

Thinking win-win is the opposite of thinking only of yourself. It’s a mindset that seeks first to add value to all. Yes, even to yourself.

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13 ESV)

But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matt. 5:44 ESV)

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil. 2:4 ESV)

A few Biblical examples come to mind of those who thought win-win — and those who failed to do so. Consider first the positive example of Daniel:

Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring…youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank.

Therefore he [Thinking Win-Win] asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.” hen Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.”

So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food.   (Daniel 1:3-15 ESV)

Consider also the negative example of Rehoboam who had an opportunity to think win-win when he followed his father Solomon to the throne. The people offered to loyally serve him if he would just reduce their tax burden. After rejecting the elders’ advice and consulting his naive peers, Rehoboam refused. He chose a win-lose path in which he would get all or nothing. He got nothing. (1 Kings 12 ) 

This win-lose thinking holds a tight grip on American political thought these days, though perhaps no more so than at other times. The reality is that elections have winners and losers. Because of our sinful nature, it seems we find it easy to not just win, but pummel our opponent beyond recognition in the process. It seems I’ve heard in political circles recently the phrase, “I won. You lost.”

In our churches, this win-lose thinking results in vicous power struggles that split the body of Christ.

In our families, this self-centered mindset causes endless division that leaves some momentarily triumphant but everybody hurt.

How do we get to win-win? By laying down our insistence on getting everything we want for starters. Christ modeled this approach for us by emptying himself to achieve what was the greatest win-win ever conceived — the gospel.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8 ESV)

Here are three simple steps I use to get to win-win:

  1. Identify what it is you really want. You may need to drill down a bit to find what is at the core and what is optional.
  2. Understand what it is the other party really wants. This will require active listening and empathy.
  3. Seek common ground where your goals overlap. Think of the Venn diagram below to visualize what that might look like.

Do you really believe that most conflicts can have win-win solutions? Where do you find it easiest to slip back into win-lose thinking? Leave a comment here to share the growth. 

photo by: Horia Varlan

7 Habits of Stephen Covey: See Why Habit 5 is Biblical

It’s not as if habits are something we celebrate all that often. Maybe we should. My tribute to Stephen Covey author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People noted some of the wisdom he shared that changed my life.

Since then, I’ve been picking off a habit at a time, sharing why I believe they’re grounded in Biblical truth. I’ve also tossed in a few practical applications for what they’re worth starting here.

Habit 5: Seek first to understand… then to be understood.

The wisdom of Proverbs sounds like this:

Any story sounds true until someone sets the record straight. (Prov. 18:17 NLT)

It’s easy to miss the obvious. The first story we hear is always the one we tell ourselves. It’s not surprising that we’re quick to think the story in our heads sounds pretty accurate — until we take the time to listen to someone else. Often we find we weren’t exactly honest.

Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. (James 1:19 ESV)

Why?

Because as followers of Christ we’re supposed to genuinely care about what others think.

Right?

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  (Phil. 2:4 ESV)

The biblical assumption is that we will, of course, look out for those things we think are important without any prodding. Pretty safe bet. Remember that story we’re telling all ourselves inside our heads?

But wisdom comes to the one who listens to someone else’s story first:

Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance. (Prov. 1:5 ESV)

For some, apparently, seeking understanding may just be a lost cause:

But a stupid man will get understanding when a wild donkey’s colt is born a man! (Job 11:12 ESV)

How does this habit impact family life?

Stephen Covey put it this way in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families:

When people know they will have their day in court, they can relax. They know that their time to be heard and understood will come.

I’ve recently begun re-emphasizing this habit in our family. In particular, I’ve gotten intentional about understanding my kids, one at a time. Like most parents, I don’t have a lot of time to spare in the day. I always plan to spend one-on-one time with my kids. But if I’m not careful, a few months will go by without it actually happening.

Instead, I thought I’d try scheduling daily meet-ups with my kids. Not on-line. In person.

After the other kids have turned in for the night, each child gets a turn to stay up an extra 15 minutes with Dad. If the weather’s nice, we’ll sit on the deck as the sun fades. And just talk. Well, I mostly try to just listen. And let them talk. About whatever. Sometimes I’ll guide the conversation through questions of my own. But mostly, I’m seeking to focus on understanding their story. If I do that well, there will be time — and a desire — to hear my story later.

 First, I must genuinely build their trust to get permission to speak into their lives.

And therein lies the most critical component of Covey’s biblical habit — people will only share truthfully with you if they believe you can be trusted.

There’s no shortcut, but one way you can build trust is by listening — without judging or ridiculing. Ask questions of your kids to clarify what they share. Let them know you heard what they said.

Before you know it, you’ll find they will actually asking you what you think. How’s that for a change, parents?

With people, fast is slow and slow is fast. ~ Stephen Covey

Have you had someone practice this habit with you? How did it make you feel? What about when you felt no one understood? Share a memory or comment to help us all grow.

photo by: srboisvert

7 Habits of Stephen Covey: See Why Habit 3 is Biblical

Stephen Covey’s wisdom touched a lot of lives. My series continues today answering the question, “Was the wisdom found in Covey’s 7 Habits biblical?” You can start with Habit 1 here.

Habit 3: First Things First

photo: tableatny

The foundation for this habit lies in the simple acknowledgement that some pursuits are more important — or have more value to me — than others. Covey taught that we should be proactive, making a plan to put first things first (the first three habits working together). He illustrated the value of putting first things first with his now classic “Big Rocks”  illustration:

Does this idea of putting first things first have Biblical support?

  • “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33)
  • “Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.” (Prov. 4:7)
  • “And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.” (2 Cor. 8:5 NIV) 
  • “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matt. 7:5)

The list of supporting Scripture could go on for — well, several volumes in fact. The very nature of God demands that He Himself has more value than all else. Thus being pleasing to Him intrinsically has the highest value possible in His universe.

How does this Habit impact how we live?

We begin by determining exactly what we believe has the most value to us (Habit 1: Be proactive). We then devise a plan to get there (Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind). Covey recommends making both a personal and a family mission statement — both of which I and my family have done some years ago. Based on that mission, we then choose how we will spend our most critical resources by putting the most important things first (Habit 3: First things first).

Make your problems line up for you. ~ John C. Maxwell

In my life, those priorities look like this:

  • My God and my relationship with him
  • My wonderful wife and my relationship with her
  • My awesome children and my relationship with them
  • My calling to write, speak, lead, and teach while connecting real life with real faith.

If it falls outside of those key priorities, it’s not likely to get much of my time. Sorry, I won’t be watching the summer Olympic games much.

I plan the year, each quarter, and every 40-days (borrowed that idea from John Maxwell) based on my mission statement. Each week, usually Sunday evening at 6 PM, I take an hour to reconnect with my priorities, pray, and then schedule the first things into my life remembering that if it doesn’t get scheduled if probably won’t get done.

I then review the plan with my wife — most weeks when I’m paying attention. Our family meetings each Thursday night complete the communication cycle to Build a Family We Can Be Proud Of provided we prepared well to make them productive times.

What helps have you put in place in your personal or family life to keep first things first? Thanks for sharing your ideas with a comment to share the growth.

Leave a Legacy: Start Something Today

While visiting friends south of Charleston, South Carolina, I stumbled across a vivid reminder of legacy and the secret to leaving a lasting one.

It came in the form of a church.

This classic southern Presbyterian church claims roots back to the late 1600s. The gravestone in the pictures here represent only a fraction of the many plots filling the picturesque site. The massive live oaks, the draping spanish moss, and the tilting iron fences marking family plots all emphasised how much time had passed since these earthly journeys ended.

And how much had remained unchanged.

Based on the care given to the site, I suspect they left more than crumbling gravestones as a legacy.

This past weekend at A Day About Books with John Maxwell, Michael Hyatt put the challenge to us in this way:

When’s the best time to plant a tree? About 25 years ago. When’s the second-best time? Today.

What will you do today to leave a lasting legacy?

What places have you seen that reminded you to leave a legacy? Share your memories with a comment to share the growth.

The Hunger Games: Battleground for Gender Wars

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This is a guest post by Kate O’Brien. She is an exceptional teacher of Ancient Literature and History at Cornerstone Christian Academy near Cleveland, Ohio. I asked her to share her thoughts on The Hunger Games from a Biblical perspective as I am traveling today to an event with John Maxwell and Michael Hyatt — A Day About Books. Kate graciously agreed to do what she does with excellence every day in the classroom. Enjoy.

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Not many things will convince me to read teen fiction.  As an ancient history and literature teacher, I much prefer Penelope to Bella and Orestes to Harry.  But when teen buzz stared flying over Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games, I saw beyond the swarm of publicity to a teachable moment, where I could connect my passions: ancient history, literature, and training teens to process the culture around them through a Biblical lens.

You’ve probably heard the details of this Roman-gladiator-based dystopian novel.  To be as brief as possible, the novel describes the Hunger Games—a reality TV show where 24 teens fight to the death.

Even this terse summary reveals that Collins is making many (valid) statements about Reality Entertainment.  And, as in all dystopian novels, The Hunger Games has its share of political points as well, which should be thoughtfully discussed, although my focus turns elsewhere in this particular discussion.

Most of the parental backlash against Collins’ series has been directed toward the brutality of the premise and the violence of the plot.  Christian parents must carefully discern what place this type of literature may have in their homes.  But personally, the violence is not the main controversial issue of this novel.  And frankly, next to Homer, Collins’ descriptions of the violence seem trite and childish.

Collins’ story contains a far more subtle “acid” that will eat away at a biblical worldview:  gender role reversal.

After discussing Roman gladiators in my 9th grade ancient history class, I saved ten minutes to discuss The Hunger Games.  The girls were very excited about this prospect, but most of the boys in the class didn’t know anything about the story, and only grudgingly participated. 

I proceeded to lead the discussion as every English teacher throughout all of time has:

“Describe Katniss, the main girl character of the story.” Strong, protective, hunter, courageous, not really into romance, provides for the people she loves. 

“Describe Peeta, the main guy character of the story.” Sweet, kind, gentle, in love with Katniss, a baker, good at decorating cakes, emotional, sincere, taken care of by Katniss.

This is where those boys who were so reluctant at first chimed in. And I paraphrase: “What?  Are you kidding me?  That guy is a wus! This story is messed up. He’s named after BREAD? What is he, a GIRL?”

The danger in Susanne Collins’ novel is not the barbaric violence: it is the sexual reversal that this story portrays.

Adolescent girls, the target market for these types of books, are also the most prone to completely swallow these gender-bending ideas.  The story dazzles these girls with its sugary romanticism, only to feed them the bitter pill of warped femininity/masculinity. 

Collins’ story makes young women identify with a character who shows predominately masculine traits. Even more concerning, this story makes these young girls want a “man” like Peeta—a sweet, gentle, affectionate boy whom they can take care of.  (In a more thorough analysis of the story, I could mention Gale, Katniss’ more masculine “guy friend,” whom she rejects in favor of Peeta.)

As we seek to pass on a Biblical view of truth to our children, we must meet these attacks head-on.  God created men and women, differently, to work together and to show off different aspects of who He is.  God created marriage to explain how He relates to His people (as a faithful husband to his unfaithful wife), and how Christ relates to the Church (as a bridegroom to his bride).   The next generation of believers must understand the Biblical basis of human sexuality—a lesson that is most powerfully taught in the home.

If nothing else, Collins’ novel does aptly describe the brokenness that, unfortunately, the majority of American teens experience in their homes.  Katniss’ father dies when she is young, causing her mother to plunge into depression.  The heroine is then left to provide for her sister virtually on her own.  In doing this, Collins accurately explores the effects of familial dysfunction on an adolescent girl.  Christians should take the opportunity that Collins serves up to discuss these hard issues, both with those inside and outside the church. 

The battleground is marked: the enemy has his eye fixed on destroying the remnants of biblical sexuality and family in our culture.  We must strap on the full armor of God to take our stand again his schemes, a battle with much higher stakes than The Hunger Games.

Do you agree that the gender-bending of The Hunger Games should concern us? What do you think a Biblical take on the books should be? Leave a comment here to share your thoughts.

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