The hardest thing to say to a family member

I was wrong

The hardest thing for you to say to a family member is probably not:

“Isn’t this fun!”

“Please pass the beets.”

“Yes, I took out the garbage.”

When something is fun, or lighthearted, or informational, or you get credit, it’s easy to say it.

As unpleasant as it is, it’s also probably not hard to say:

“I can’t believe you said that!”

“You NEVER give me credit for anything!”

“I hate you!”

Those things can come out naturally, without trying. No thinking or effort required. They burst out driven by your emotions. You have to work to NOT say them.

You might find it harder to say:

“You are soooo good at that!”

“I need you.”

“You make my life better.”

Why is it easier to say something in anger than it is to say something that builds someone up? This is where we get a clue to a nasty default built into us: judging others and demanding justice of others comes naturally. We’re born selfish and judgmental. No child needs to be taught to say “mine!” or “no fair!”

Your hardest thing to say would be different from mine. But whatever it is, I’ll bet it requires humility.

Here’s the hardest thing for me to say to a family member. Yours might be something like it:

“You were right. I was wrong.”

More and more with my wife Brenda, I seem to be wrong. I’m getting really good at it. Shouldn’t I be getting better and better at being right? I guess she’s getting better at being right faster than I am.

Being wrong gets your attention. The more convinced you were that the other person was wrong, the harder it is to backtrack. Backtracking is not fun. The more you backtrack, the more sensitive you are to overconfidence. Sensitivity to overconfidence is good.

“I’m sorry” is much easier for me to say than

“You were right. I was wrong.”

Both parts together are the kicker. You de-exalt yourself while exalting the other one over you. This goes against everything built into you at birth.

But it goes WITH everything put into you through your faith in Jesus.

In humility count others more significant than yourselves – Philippians 2.3

God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble – James 4.6

Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted – Luke 18.14

Being right is fun. Being humble is godly.

What’s the hardest thing for you to say to a family member?

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Are you digging deep to find hope in your home, your family, or your soul, no matter how things appear? Hope*ologie might be for you. Find out HERE.

A bonus that might be for you

fam

When your grown daughters get excited about an idea and want you to be part of it, you get excited, too.

It’s the same kind of excitement you felt when you helped build the Jarvik 7 artificial heart model from margarine tubs and aquarium tubing for a fifth grade science project. Or when you drove along East River Drive beside moonlit barges on the Mississippi River after minor league baseball games together in Davenport, Iowa.

Daddy daughter kind of excitement.

But this is better than science projects and baseball games.

This is about hope

Hope in three of the most challenging areas of life: your home, your family, and your soul.

Myquillyn (the Nester) and Emily realized each of us majors on one of those areas, and that together as a family we might multiply hope far beyond what we’ve been doing alone.

Each of us has had to dig deep (and we’re still digging) to find hope, and we’re living out what we found in each of those areas.

The past five months have been fun and lots of work. We’ve asked ourselves over and over how we might make a difference and help you embrace hope no matter how things appear.

The result is Hope*ologie

It’s not free. It might not be for you.

Or it might be perfect for you.

Hope*ologie is a subscription website with new encouraging content each month. Not just articles. For example this month, right now, some things you get:

  • an inspiring, hand-lettered, printable quote from the awesome Annie Barnett
  • the Hope*olgie Podcast with the Nester sharing with me how to make goals your slave and not your boss
  • an article from each of us: Begin where you are, from Emily; The purpose of your home, from the Nester; and my Hope*ologie Family Style, including a short home video of our most recent family goals day
  • a DIY video from the Nester on a foolproof way to draw nifty little embellishment laurels even if you’re not an artist
  • a handful of other printable goodies with instructions on how to use them to start a Hope*book or gallery wall
  • the one and only Sister*ologie Podcast – a sister thing that I can’t explain even though I was there

Each month will be different, with a changing variety of content like that.

You can learn more about it and decide if it’s for you by clicking these words

Nothing about this blog or your subscription will change. Well, actually I hope it does change – for the better.

If you’re digging deep to find hope in your family, your home, or your soul, Hope*ologie could be for you.

No one asked me this question but I’ll answer it anyway

proverbs 17.9

Whenever I do an interview on the radio with someone sharing advice, I try to ask them one bottom-line question as a simple take-away for people.

For example, the other day I asked John Fuller from Focus on the Family, “What is one thing that would make the biggest or quickest difference in parenting – one attitude or thing parents could do?”

He didn’t pause a second: “Give up control.” He said our kids have a thing called free will which will destroy all your expectations of control. Amen to that, right? What a great answer that helps with more than just parenting; it helps with your expectations for all your family relationships.

Since I’m always the one asking the questions of others, I thought I’d ask myself a question for a change — that bottom-line question with the simple take-away. So here’s the question:

What one thing is the biggest obstacle to family harmony?

The one single change that could have the biggest effect on a family’s ability to get along?

My answer: “Bitterness. Which comes from keeping score.”

When we see the news story about the family member who attacked another family member over a TV show or macaroni and cheese, we all know it’s not about the show or the mac cheese. It’s about everything that’s happened before that. It all adds up to a fight over mac cheese.

It adds up because we keep score. And we wouldn’t keep score if we didn’t think we were winning. If I think I’m more offensive than you, that you’re more right than me, I’m not going to keep score. I only track offenses against me.

Whoever covers over an offense seeks love – Proverbs 17.9

If I think you owe me more than I owe you, I feel resentment towards you. I don’t want to call it a grudge, but that’s what it is. I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder. But I handle it like a Christian, which means be nice on the outside, and feel like I’m sacrificing because I don’t overtly pay you back what I think you deserve.

I pay you back COvertly. My heart is cool towards you. I suspect a negative motive in most everything you do and say. I don’t trust you. I never ask you a personal or caring question. And here’s the worst part that I will NEVER admit – being so offended and bugged by you feels a little sweet, in a strange perverted way. It’s kind of nice to be owed.

The Big Blind Spot

I can’t possibly comprehend that you feel the same towards me. The bitterness, the chip on your shoulder, the cool heart, the martyrship of smiling on the outside, the sweetness of being owed big time – goes both ways?

That is outrageous and maddening to me. That makes it even more offensive. How dare you think it’s me! Sure I hold some blame, but nothing like you.

No way. Ridiculous.

And you think the same thing.

And thus you have tormented marriages, families, and extended family relationships.

In humility count others more significant than yourselves – Philippians 2.3

Families are the easiest place for this to happen. The opportunities to be offended and misunderstood are endless. The impact of endless offenses and misunderstandings leads to tension and bitterness. Marriages, parenting, in-laws, and grandparents end up living in this tension and bitterness.

If what I’ve described here is you, there’s hope. The fact that families are the easiest place for dysfunction to happen means families are also the easiest place for grace and love to happen – those opportunities are also daily and endless.

Here’s what ‘grace wins’ families do

Grace wins families are families characterized more by harmony and unity than by bitterness and anger. Bitterness and anger happen – but they don’t dominate.

Grace wins families begin with grace-filled individuals. Or maybe just one individual.

One individual – you – who realizes you might be wrong. You don’t insist on fairness, even on the inside in attitude. You refuse to keep score. You notice your own offenses more than others. You know by experience the negative consequences of a quick, loud response, and so you practice patient, quiet responses.

Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience – Colossians 3.12

You’d rather give in when you’re right than win when you’re wrong.

You’d rather trust a person’s motives when you shouldn’t, than not trust their motives when you should.

You’re confident that giving grace is contagious in a family, and your confidence and grace spreads.

You trust that this one thing – in humility refusing to keep score – kills the seed of bitterness and creates a growing garden of grace in your family.

And you’re grateful that today is another day to nurture that garden.

Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it – Mark Twain

Who’s the non-scorekeeper in your family?

How to walk down the sidewalk of love

walk this way~

This is the sidewalk of gratitude, kindness, humility, forgiveness, and love. Smooth, a few turns, nice view, calm.

It is NOT to be the sidewalk of grumbling, blame, arguing, selfishness, and anger. All broken and cracked, turning your ankle; might as well walk in the grass.

You walk this way the same way you walk any other way

There are no buttons or secret passwords or six steps to get there.

You look down the sidewalk, turn the way you look, take a step, and start walking.

When I walk Delly down this sidewalk there are lots of stops, distractions, and poop. Normal stuff for a dog walk. But we keep going, together. Poop is part of it.

Lift your eyes from the poop.

Standing in any one spot, right now, before I walk much on this sidewalk, I look around and see that even though I’m not where I want to be, this spot here is not so bad. It might even be pleasant.

I appreciate this view right here in whatever way I can.

You can’t live all in the future and miss this decent view.

And you can’t live all in the past and present, believing this is all there is with no hope that things can be better as you walk.

You don’t walk alone

As people are walking all the time, in the same spot, a path appears – John Locke

Your family is with you, since you can’t help influencing them. Your walk may be slow if they don’t understand or appreciate this sidewalk yet, but you can lead, just a step ahead. Who doesn’t like grace and patience and encouragement? By perseverance, the snail reached the ark.

And the Lord is with you – if you’re with him on this sidewalk that he made, and if you let him lead.

For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in your faithfulness – Psalm 26.3

What’s the view from your sidewalk right now?

Now do this

johnny cash to do list

If you like plans, steps, and lists, this is for you. You’re probably saying, “finally.”

Let’s say you’ve read the last three posts. You’re doing your best to accept your family right where they are, and you accept your role to model what you want to see in your family. You see the value and power of attention and curiosity. You want to cooperate with God in what he’s up to in your family, and you’re even a bit excited to think of yourself as God’s access to your family

Now you’re ready to do something. You’re ready because there is now a much greater chance that what you’ll do is not your own idea, but God’s idea of what is good for your family.

But how do you know WHAT to do? You could just copy Johnny Cash’s to do list above. Or you can go through a little exercise that takes where we’ve been, runs it through a funnel, and spits specific actions for your family out the other end. It’s just one imperfect idea, but it’s the beginning of being purposeful.

1. Create a ‘My Family Dream List’

Your family is that combination of relatives that engage your heart and mind the most. From husband,wife, parents, kids, and siblings, to grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, and beyond. Whichever ones you have hopes and dreams for.

So dream like you’re the all-powerful master of your family universe. Get all your hopes and desires out there. Don’t yet consider any obstacles or restrictions or negative thinking or reactions of others.

What do you want to see in your family? How do you want your family to relate to each other? Include personal qualities and attitudes you think are important. Include behavior. Include ‘stop doing’ and ‘start doing.’ Include anything you want for your family.

Write everything down. It’s your dream list, so dream. No one else will see it. Leave some space around each item since you’ll write more later.

Take whatever time you need to think about it. It will be worth it. You can stop when you feel like you’ve got 90% of it down.

Now look over your list. Can you have a clear conscience that your desires for your family are also in the best interest of your family? Mark off anything that seems selfish on your part.

What you now have is your heartbeat for what you feel is best. These are your hopes and dreams for your family. Have you ever seen this all in one place before? How does it feel?

2. Now think of obstacles

The fun just ended.

For each item on your list, think of things that are preventing fulfillment. Distance. Money. Attitudes. Health. Time. Opportunity. “The past.” Think of all the reasons why that part of the dream isn’t true or can’t come true.

This is where your family dreams face reality. Even if the obstacle isn’t real and is just in someone’s head or is a misunderstanding, it counts if it interferes with the dream. Adding all this up could get depressing so play some upbeat music, snarf a favorite snack, and don’t do this part late at night.

Take your time. Don’t think of how to overcome the obstacles, just define them.

3. Go through your list and mark the items you have most influence over

Which parts of your dreams for your family can you realistically influence and how much can you influence it? This is where you balance the blunt reality of obstacles with realistic hope for overcoming those obstacles.

If your dream is for your husband to be more appreciated at work, your influence on that is probably limited. Same with your dream for your parents to stop hoarding.

But you probably can have tremendous influence if your dream is for brothers and sisters at home to get along better.

The people who influence us most are those who live their lives like the stars in heaven and the lilies in the field, perfectly simply and unaffectedly – Oswald Chambers

If your dream is for your grown kids living on the other side of the country to move to your city, your influence is probably limited.

But if your dream is for those same kids to feel love, acceptance, and more of a family connection, you can potentially contribute greatly to that.

You might give a score to your potential influence. ‘One’ or ‘two’ or ‘three’ or something for each dream item. Or stars. Mark them some way so that you can tell at a glance where you can most make a difference.

4. Now pick one goal where you can make the biggest difference right now

Look through your dream list, at the obstacles, and at the items marked where you have the most influence. Which of these would make the biggest difference in your family right now, even with just a little progress?

Pick a goal that’s easy and that has the best chance of some success. Don’t make it big and difficult – keep it simple so you can see some progress and get some momentum.

5. Get creative and think of ten little practical things to do for that goal

Call it your Itty Bitty list. No big ideas or you’ll stress over them or procrastinate or talk yourself out of it. Small. Easy. Positive. Non-attention-getting.

It could be a favor you do for someone. Or an attitude that you model.

For example, for once you don’t let a certain something bug you like it usually does. Or you don’t raise your voice. You let someone go first or have the biggest or you let them win. You don’t argue. You smile.

Maybe a ‘just thinking of you’ text or phone call with no other agenda. Or a brief encouraging word about someone’s attitude or behavior or appearance. Something meaningful enough to feel, but so small that no one really notices. You know, itty bitty.

6. Do one of those things every day for three weeks

Each day decide which thing to do from your Itty Bitty list. Of course you can do more than one thing if you want. Just keep it simple.

Try this and see what you notice after three weeks. Are you encouraged? Has anything changed, just a little? Has anyone noticed anything? Have you moved an inch closer to the goal you picked?

Once you’ve tried this for three weeks, you can go back to #4 and pick a different goal and make another Itty Bitty list of ten little practical things for that goal. Maybe you’d also try more than one goal at a time. But when you first start, keep it simple and small.

What questions, suggestions, or encouragement for others do you have?

Find the hidden treasure buried in your family

by tim van de vall

Here’s how to find the hidden treasure buried in your family:

1. Walk into your bathroom.

2. Look in the mirror.

Your family’s hidden treasure is you. Well, actually your presence. There’s a subtle difference between you and your presence.

Your presence is God’s access to your family

You and me ourselves have proven pretty feeble change agents in our families, wouldn’t you say? What good have you caused by the power of your will and personality and wisdom alone? For me, not much.

Ahhh, but God’s presence through us goes places we can’t touch, places we don’t even know exist. Sure he can do that all by himself without you. But he created families as a place for us to influence each other while cooperating with him.

You . . . your family . . . you IN your family . . .

No accident.

I know what you’re thinking: “Aren’t there some other big strong grownups in this family that should model and cooperate with God too?” Oh yes. But right now it starts with you. And you’re enough to start with.

During our daughters’ Compassion child sponsorship trip last week, it was clear everyone assumed the difference one child could make in a family:

While changed circumstances sometimes change people, changed people always change circumstances.

One changed child eventually changes a family. A changed family will influence change in its church. Enough changed churches will transform a community. Changed communities change regions. Changed regions will in time change entire nations

- Wes Stafford

Do you believe that?

Because if big changes in a family can start with one little kid, what kind of changes can start with one big strong grownup actively cooperating with God?

Be the grownup cooperating with God

Don’t default to the common, “Well I tried and they just won’t change” or “Things can’t change because _____ (fill in the blank with your favorite reason). You’re better than that. God is bigger than that. You just haven’t seen how, yet.

Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge – Colossians 2.3

Christ in you, the hope of glory - Colossians 1.27

And if he is in you, where are those treasures? In you. And where are you? In your family.

That person in your bathroom mirror is God’s access to your family to influence them towards the things he has in mind.

Fortunately, since the things are in his mind, then the burden is on him to make it happen. You get the privilege of cooperating with God and watching what he does.

Put your family, your role, and the results, in God’s hands and lighten up

Realize the great power that comes from a peaceful attitude of trust. Find moments to give genuine attention knowing it’s an act of love and an act of curiosity about what God is up to in each family member.

These are the first attitudes and acts of a person cooperating with God, no matter what family you’re in. This is the beginning of modeling for your family. And these are things that can become contagious.

Then after a bit of peace and trust, attention and curiosity, you begin to notice more specific things God is up to in your family and you get more ideas for little ways to cooperate.

Next week: let’s start to see some of those small specific ways to cooperate with God.

When have you seen an attitude  become contagious?

Some family math: curiosity + attention = ?

curious

You start with a desire for your family to be headed in a good direction. Well that’s easy, we all want that!

Then you do a tough internal thing: you accept your family unconditionally, and accept your role to influence them on purpose. Hmm, even without them accepting the same thing? Well, OK, but yes that is tough.

What’s next? Something you can do a little bit of every single day.

Let’s say you and I are talking. I look you in the eye and sincerely ask a few insightful questions about something you did, why you did it, how it made you feel, and what you wanted to see happen. I listen and ask a question and listen some more. You do most of the talking.

You can tell if my questions and curiosity are driven by duty, or by my own self-interest, or to catch you at something, or to gather gossip. You can tell if I’m trying to get credit for seeming interested.

And you can tell if I’m curious because I really am interested in you, and because I think my curiosity is going to be satisfied by discovering something worthy from you. When someone does this with me I feel honored. I feel they care. I feel I must be valuable. And I remember who it was that made me feel that way.

Be curious and sincerely care, listen without pushing or having an agenda, do it consistently in the little moments, and your family will feel honored and valuable, too. They’ll feel loved. And they’ll remember who made them feel that way.

Curiosity + attention = love

When you feel honored, valuable, and loved, what happens? You calm down. Your self-protective exterior gets soft. You lose the urgency to win and prove yourself and be right. You feel a bit generous and unselfish.

How does a calm, soft, generous, unselfish family sound to you? Genuine curiosity and attentiveness move you in that direction, moment by moment.

No, most of the time you don’t sit down with family members and give each other your undivided attention in a conversation. It’s a good idea and sometimes you do it, but family life is usually as-you-go. Many little moments add up.

What does your attention and curiosity lead you to discover? What do you see when your curiosity is satisfied?

You see inside a soul. You learn who they are and how they feel and why they do and think what they do. You hear their heartbeat.

Curiosity + attention = vision

The vision is NOT your vision for that person. It’s a vision that’s already present apart from you. You can’t see the whole thing, but you get hints from the heartbeat that you hear in the soul. You get a clue that something is going on, and if you stay curious and attentive you begin to gather dots to connect.

This is a privileged place. God is up to something in this person that he created, and you’re getting a little peak at what he’s up to. When this person is a family member and you love them, an awesome honor presents itself: the honor of cooperating with God in what he’s doing in someone you love.

The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out – Proverbs 20.5

Here’s where the ground can get loose. You don’t know everything that’s going on, and you can easily mix in your own ideas and desires with what you think you see. This cooperation needs to be done with humility, since we all hardly know what God is up to even in our own selves.

A man’s steps are from the Lord; how then can man understand his way? – Proverbs 20.24

We all need help understanding our way. Wouldn’t you love to have someone who cared enough to commit to cooperating with what God is doing in you? Your family would love to have the same thing – and they do: you.

Now if only we knew how to do that cooperating. We’ll talk about that next Monday.

When was the last time you felt loved by someone giving you attention and sincere curiosity?

Start here

photo (10)

This could be the beginning of real change and progress in your family.

It begins with you.

All that stuff you’ve heard about ‘be the change you want to see?’ It’s true.

Humans are designed to influence each other. Especially in families. That’s scary, because to be a positive influence you have to take responsibility for that influence, which is hard. But it’s good, because when you DO take responsibility, the design will automatically help you.

So, when you take responsibility, start with these two things:

1. Accept your family

Here’s what I mean by acceptance; it’s your attitude: This doesn’t have to change. You don’t have to change. I may want change, but my happiness and contentment are not dependent on you changing.

Accept your family as a whole and accept each individual. Accept the reality of who they are. Desire change all you want, but don’t make your acceptance of them conditional on them meeting some criteria.

Accept them personally and accept how God seems to have created them. That doesn’t mean you approve of all their attitudes or conduct. It means you love them anyway. Each is an individual on their own personal journey and accountable to God. God is not finished yet, with them or with you.

This journey is tough enough without rejection and conditional love from the ones closest to you.

This is the same thing you want from them. This is hard to do. It’s hard for them, too, to accept you.

But this is the beginning of what Jesus did and does.

God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us – Romans 5.8

Hopes and dreams and goals for your family are different than your personal dreams and goals. You have control over your own desires and efforts. Would it be challenging to you to have a goal to lose 30 pounds? But how much more challenging would it be if you had a goal for someone else to lose 30 pounds? And what if you made acceptance of them conditional on them losing the weight?

Now replace the weight goal with goals like being respectful, or employed, or sober, and let’s say you won’t accept them until they change. How does that feel in your family? What if they hold back acceptance of you for their own reasons?

To be fully seen by somebody, and be loved anyhow – this is a human offering that can border on miraculous – Elizabeth Gilbert 

2. Accept your role (and your limits)

You role is to take the initiative no matter what others do. In a sense, it’s up to you; not the results, but the role of modeling.

You want your family to be patient, kinder, more respectful? Then you be patient, kinder, more respectful.

You want your family to take less offense and be less argumentative? Then take less offense and be less argumentative.

You want your family to root for each other and have a more positive attitude? You know what to do.

No, of course you can’t do it all, and you can’t be perfect, and it will take time. But you can do something, and you MUST. You can’t say they won’t listen! You can’t say it doesn’t do any good! You can’t say but look how they treat me!

Their response is not your job. Your job is to model and to be an example – as imperfect as it will be – of what you want.

We are never responsible for filling anyone else’s cup. Our responsibility is to empty ours – Andy Stanley

And Jesus’ responsibility is to fill yours so you can empty it. Do you think he wants to do that? When I keep my cup full he doesn’t fill it at all. No room for him.

When you move in the direction of accepting your family and loving unconditionally, and in the direction of accepting your role to model what you want to see, you’re walking with Jesus. This is his direction. He’s with you.

This could be worth it even if your family doesn’t change.

How do you feel about this starting point? 

Next Monday: Cooperating with what God is doing in your family

What if this time next year . . .

. . . you have a great feeling of hope and satisfaction about the direction of your family? Sound good?

onward

But do you know what that direction looks like?

How do you want things to be different in your family?

Can you describe it? Or is it just the same vague desire you’ve had for years for things to be ‘better?’

Maybe in your heart it’s always been an ‘I wish’ kind of thing for a closer, more loving family. Less dysfunction and drama. More reconciliation and healing. But you’ve never been specific about it or defined it as a goal or known how to get there. It seems so much bigger than you, so complicated with personalities, agendas, histories, and obstacles out of your control. So mainly you wish and hope.

Or maybe your family is actually pretty rockin’ solid. Yet there are holes and dysfunctions that you feel hold some members – or your whole family – back from being all you think they could be. You don’t need perfection, but love desires the best, and you love them.

You like the IDEA of a vision and goals for your family, but being specific and purposeful about it has never been on your radar. Where would you start? How?

You could start now

For a few weeks we’ll talk about how to think about your hopes for your family. Maybe something will click. Maybe you’ll catch some encouragement for how to influence your family. Maybe you’ll want to keep at it longer than a few weeks.

I think this time next year you could definitely feel that greater hope and satisfaction.

But it won’t be the result of a formula or following steps. It’s more nebulous, like pursuing an attitude and a perspective, and adjusting your expectations.

Recently someone asked how our family ‘got that way.’

The person asking seemed to see something they liked.  You know what I said?

“I don’t know.”

I don’t like that answer. Like I said at the beginning, you ought to be able to be a little articulate about a thing that you say is so important to you, right? So I did some thinking, and talked with my wife Brenda.

Here’s what I know: I can’t tell you how to get where you want to go. Every family is different, and is at a different place. But I can share what we’ve learned, our experience, things we’re convinced are important. And we definitely have some things we’re convinced are important. Again, these things start with attitudes and expectations.

For the next two or three Mondays we’ll take a few steps

We’ll begin to think purposefully about your family. You’ll have a chance to see some specific steps that might be good just for you. After that, we’ll keep on in that direction on the blog and maybe some other ways, too. I hope the next few weeks are encouraging to you.

But progress takes time, longer than two or three weeks. And you’ll have to be the one to do the work of taking the initiative. Oh, and no guarantees.

Maybe the change this year won’t be big. But the change can be meaningful, and this year can be the beginning of big changes.

See you Monday.

What is one change you would like to see in your family?

8 ways to give Christmas to your family this week

These 8 gifts come already unwrapped. No shrieks of delight when they’re opened. They’re quiet and don’t draw attention to themselves. Yet, the mood, the feel, the quality of your family time together will be enhanced in un-measurable, meaningful ways.

These are not Christmas gifts, but gifts OF Christmas. Maybe one will be perfect for you and your family this week:

1.

Let Plan B become Plan A. The manger was Plan B. Plan A was the Inn. You have plans and expectations for your family time, but stuff will happen. Don’t argue or get frustrated. You could end up in a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Day singing Fa-ra-ra-ra-ra!

2.

Accept generosity. Let others be generous towards you. Let them give, clean up, pay for a meal, give you more than you gave them. Receiving is a gift to the giver. All that back-and-forth insisting “no I’m not going to let you do that,” and grabbing the check stuff is demeaning to generosity. Baby Jesus couldn’t give back until later (and then boy did he give). You’ll have a chance another time to be overly generous to them.

3.

Sing. I hum absentmindedly, inventing themes and choruses as I go. People stop me and say, “you must be happy.” Singing, happiness, contentment, and peace seem linked. When  Jesus’ birth was announced to the shepherds, an army of angels sang; a singing army! Even if you DON’T feel like it, singing will surround you with an aura of happiness, contentment, and peace that touches your family.

4.

Fear not. Don’t put high expectations and pressure on yourself to meet a standard you made up that no one else is even aware of. The shepherds at Christmas were at the center of a majestic appointment between heaven and earth. Now, THAT’S big. Who could stand it? They were told to “fear not.” Take your invented idea of a perfect Christmas and family time and exchange it for the simple expectation of “good news of great joy.”

5.

What you give is good enough. The wise men brought riches. The innkeeper had only a stable. The shepherds just showed up. Resist comparing the number or value of your gifts to the gifts given by others. Money and presents are one kind of gift. Hospitality is another. So is attention, patience, grace, gratefulness, and words of encouragement. Give what you have.

6.

Resist the urge to dish out justice. Joseph believed Mary was pregnant by another man. Yet he would not publicly and shamefully send her away, even though it looked like she deserved it. Of course it turned out things were not at all how they looked. The argument, the slight, the insult, the unfairness may beg for retaliation, but for this week leave fairness to God and go to him for the satisfaction you would get from justice. Your family will notice.

7.

Take inner joy that your family is important to God. Do this secretly while you’re with them. Walking the dog with my wife the other day, I had a great sense of appreciation and gratitude for Brenda as I walked behind her. I thanked God for her over and over for several minutes. I think my attitude, without saying anything, influenced the quality of our time together. The Christmas story in Matthew and Luke begins with establishing the identity of of the families of Joseph and Mary. When God blesses the world, he starts with family.

8.

Serve with humility. Release expectations of credit or reciprocation. This might help: tell God you want to do good and serve your family, and you do not want anyone to say anything thanking you for it. NOW you’re ready to be unappreciated and you’ll thank God for it. God humbled himself and came to earth as a lowly human, born as a baby in poverty and humility. He deserved worship, but received rejection and punishment. You’ll be in good company.

Which Gift of Christmas is talking to you? Can you think of others?