Chapter One.
“If Only We Could Get on the Same Page!”

THEY HAD FINALLY MADE IT!

As they pulled into the snow-covered parking lot, the rental car was almost bouncing from all the excitement the Evans family felt. After months of planning and saving and nearly two full days of traveling by car just to get to their dream destination, they’d arrived! They were now just yards away from joining the throng of smiling people, all funneling slowly across the parking lot toward the entrance to the ski resort. The crowd around them wore a rainbow of brightly colored winter outfits, each person making white puffs as they exhaled in the cold, crisp mountain air.

The Evans family were all first-time skiers from a flatland state. This trip to Colorado’s spectacular high country was going to be the big one for them all right, the “mother of all their family vacations.” It would be a getaway they just knew would pile up a blizzard full of wonderful memories and easily raise their family closeness as high as the fourteen-thousand-foot peaks surrounding them.

Soon they would be schussing down the beautifully manicured slopes just like they’d pictured in their mind’s eye. Dale, their twelve-year-old son, and Meagan, their ten-year-old daughter, would be skiing right beside their parents. All four of them would be together under a beautiful, ink-blue sky, leaving behind snow trails like a long letter S from their skis carving into the half inch of fresh powder. As they made their wide, gentle turns, the kids would call out things like, “Watch me, Mom!” and, “Isn’t this great, Dad?”

And most of all, there was the togetherness. Robbed so often by their busy lives back home, here they would be snuggling together on the ski lift, making run after perfect run as a family, and ending their perfect day by clinking mugs of steaming hot chocolate together as they cuddled in front of a roaring fire.

The Evanses just knew this day at the ski slope would be a dream come true.

In reality, it had all the qualities of a nightmare except that nightmares are warmer!

If you’ve ever been skiing, perhaps you can imagine all the things that can and did go wrong for the Evans family. It began when the rental center at the ski slope ran out of anything resembling shorter skis long before they finally reached the front of the line. Every family member ended up with skis way too long for first-time skiers.

In addition, two of them got boots so tight that by the end of the day, their toes throbbed so terribly that it was a constant effort to blink back tears. The other two Evanses forgot to bring either sunglasses or goggles to the slope. That might not have been a problem if the clear, blue skies they’d dreamed of for months actually were overhead. Unfortunately, by the time the four of them stumbled out of the rental center and walked awkwardly down the stairs in their unfamiliar ski boots, the perfect early morning skies had been replaced by dense, latemorning clouds.

With the clouds that rolled in came snow that was soon blowing sideways, aided by a bone-chilling wind. The blowing snow cut visibility to only a few yards, and that was at the base of the mountain. Visibility would get progressively worse as they started up the ski tows and lifts.

Since Donna was one of the Evanses to forget her eyewear, the blowing snow was the reason that later that day she missed the hard right turn the rest of the family made. The others went right and down the wide, gentle, “green” slope. Blinking hard with the snow streaming toward her, she missed the turn, skied straight ahead, and never saw her family peel off. When she realized she was all alone, she had traveled so far down the slope, climbing back up to join her family wasn’t an option.

Without realizing it, Donna had started down “Arnold Swarztaslope,” a fearsome run that quickly became narrow and double the slant of her roof at home. Over the next two hours Donna lost count of the times she fell. Time and again, she would do the same thing: bravely struggle to her feet; get her poles and hat in place; and then gently push off, always sideways across the steep slope. Only no matter how hard she tried, she found herself falling head over heels down the mountain at locomotive speed.

It wasn’t just Donna who seemed to be in the midst of a terribly bad dream. There was her husband, Jack, getting his ski pole caught in the rope tow on the “kiddy slope.” While that may not seem like such a bad problem, it actually dragged him down the hill until the busy attendant finally noticed and rescued him.

Daughter Meagan won most frightening moment. On her first trip up the chairlift, she failed to get in position in time and correctly. She was still trying to get in place when the moving chair bumped the back of her legs so hard that she barely caught the edge when she sat down. She was so far forward, she literally would have fallen off the chairlift and dropped a dozen feet had not the stranger next to her grabbed her parka and pulled her back. Then she got her skis crossed and fell face-first trying to get off the lift.

And let’s not forget son Dale. In some ways he was in even worse shape than the rest of the family. At least the other three were suffering on the same mountain! Having lost his trail map from his pocket when he pulled out his gloves, Dale didn’t realize that the long, cross-country trail he found led to a chairlift that took him to an adjoining mountain. In no time twelve-yearold Dale was literally miles away from the others.

So much for all that family togetherness!

By early afternoon Jack had given up trying to spot anyone he was related to on the slopes and headed to the lodge. There he stood in a nearly endless food line that moved at glacier pace. The long wait allowed him to purchase an overpriced, barely warm cup of watery hot chocolate and a half-cooked hot dog that made him feel sick.

Daughter Meagan had begged to go to ski school and was somewhere on the slopes with a dozen other ten-year-olds and their perky ski instructor.

Donna was still stuck on that same blue slope, having now crossed under the chairlift where the trail became a black diamond, filled with moguls as high as she was tall. And don’t forget poor Dale: Hungry. Lost. Alone. Twelve-year-old Dale had no cell phone or money and was unable to remember the exact name of the hotel his family was staying at, much less any idea how he’d ever be able to hook up with them again!

At that moment the Evanses would have given anything to be on the same page!

LONGING FOR FAMILY CLOSENESS AND TO BE ON THE SAME PAGE

Even if you’ve never been on a family ski trip, can you relate to some of what Jack and Donna went through? This family’s desire for closeness and togetherness is a wonderful goal. In fact, it’s our hope that these same qualities of strong families are the goal that prompted you to pick up this book. But if you’re like many busy homes, particularly those filled with people with very different personalities, it doesn’t take a ski trip for parents and children to feel like they’re all over the map. Take the Barnes family as an example. Their differences started with who they were as a couple. Mike and Allisa were so different that one of the only things they had in common was that they were both married on the same day! He was right-handed; she was left-handed. He was a night person; she was a morning person. He was a spender; she was a saver. She ordered off the menu; he looked at a menu as a starting point. She wanted the toilet paper to go off the top of the roll; he just wanted to know it was there! All those differences didn’t stop when they became parents. In fact, if anything, they compounded. When it came to their default parenting styles, they weren’t just on different mountains but different planets. From decisions on how to discipline, to the way they picked babysitters, to the kind of restaurant they should pick when they went out to dinner, to what kind of and how many chores to assign to their children, their first reactions as parents seemed to be exactly opposite. And it didn’t help that both their children were different personalities from them as well. The Evans family may have been all over the map on the ski slopes, but the Barnes family was all over the map right under their own roof!

The Barneses would have given anything to be on the same page at least some of the time! And if the Barnes household sounds a little too much like your home at times, wouldn’t you like to find a practical way to get on the same page as a family?

As parents, wouldn’t you like to better understand your own parenting style and strengths and find yourself appreciating your spouse’s differences instead of having them frustrate you so much? (And if you think that a failure to “blend differences” is only a minor concern, you need to listen in to what’s discussed in too many marriage counseling offices. A lack of knowledge and appreciation for differences, if left unchecked, can turn into resentment, which can easily begin eating away at a family’s closeness and even at marital commitment.)

With your children, wouldn’t you like to pinpoint where they are in a way that helps you build up and bless them for who God made them to be? And most important, wouldn’t you like to better understand how to “train up a child” in a way that links most closely with their unique, God-given bent?

To get on the same page that day on the ski slopes, Jack and Donna would have given anything for each family member to have their own high-tech GPS (Global Positioning System) device. Imagine how different things would have been if each family member had a state-of-the-art tracking device that could have helped them pinpoint exactly where each family member was on the mountain. While they might have still experienced challenges in the weather or skiing on difficult slopes, at least they could have ended up at the same place at the same time at the end of the day (instead of the police finally having to reunite son Dale with his nearly desperate parents at their hotel long after dark had fallen!).

While we can’t offer you a handheld GPS to physically keep track of your spouse or children, we can offer you something even better. In fact, the parenting plan we’ll lay out in the pages that follow (one we call for fun the GPS “Global Parenting System”) can be the very thing you need to get everyone in your home on the same page.

Not only that, but as you increase your understanding of each family member’s God-given strengths, you’ll also discover a key to greater closeness as well as a key to avoiding predictable conflicts! All of these everyday benefits can help you become more confident as a parent, more in sync with your parenting partner, and more appreciative of your spouse and children than perhaps ever before.

Another positive benefit of working through the Parenting from Your StrengthsTM process is that it provides a God-honoring picture of positive parenting, particularly for those of us who didn’t grow up with a strong Christian parenting model ourselves. And if you’re a single parent, this book holds loads of encouragement for you as well. I (John) grew up in a single-parent home, and all of us authors believe this book can be of real help and encouragement to someone having to cover all the parenting bases.

MEETING UP WITH THE SKI PATROL

In case you’re wondering, Donna finally did get down that blue/black slope in one piece but not until two helpful members of the ski patrol came to her rescue. Seeing her desperate situation, they literally put their skis on either side of Donna’s so that she could make safe turns through the steep, tough spots. They guided her past the moguls and onto a wide green trail with a manageable slope. They even stayed beside her until she got all the way to the bottom and fell exhausted into the arms of Jack, who was just as glad to see her as she was to see him! In this book we’d like to think that the three authors are like those ski patrol members for parents. We’re there to cheer on those who are already experts at weaving through the challenges of parenting and perhaps point out small changes you can make to be even more effective and encouraged as a parent. (Even the best skiers can benefit from ski lessons.) But we’re also ready to come alongside those who may be feeling more like Donna—alone, frustrated, and exhausted. While we don’t set ourselves up as perfect parents by any means, as we write this book, between the three authors, we have a combined total of sixty-four years of marriage and eight children. These children range in ages and stages from a sophomore in college to one just entering kindergarten. Each principle you’ll read about in this book is something we’ve used in our homes with boys and girls and from young toddlers to older teenagers.

What’s more, our kids are just like yours. They struggle with each other at times and with their parents at other times! What’s more, we represent three couples with six strong personalities, each of us with a sin nature as real as that of anyone reading this book. Yet what our families fervently believe, and have seen lived out in our own and our children’s lives, is the amazing way life changes for the best when we line up with God’s Word and heart. And that’s our heart’s desire. Through reading this book, starting to live it out at home, and sharing it with someone else who really needs it, you’ll sit back one day soon and say to the Lord, “We’re actually getting more and more on the same page, Lord. Thank You!”

One final thought before we jump into sharing with you the Parenting from Your StrengthsTM model. That’s a quick comment on the number three that you may have noticed on the front cover of this book. This is the third book in a series geared toward helping men and women lead from their strengths. The first book helps ministry teams get on the same page and work more effectively in the ministry God has given them. The second book is geared toward helping small groups and Sunday school classes get off to a great start in understanding one another, laying the foundation for trust and intimacy. And now we’re excited to help you, as parents, understand how to Parent from Your StrengthsTM.

You’re going to be reading a great deal in this book about how valuable you are, not how miserable you are as a parent or how much you’re failing. You’ll discover that in almost all cases the weaknesses you have are often your strengths pushed out of balance or to an extreme.

We’re big on “speaking the truth in love,” not on slamming busy parents who are trying hard to do their best in raising kids in these stressful times. So don’t be surprised if, after reading this book, you actually find that you’re more aware of how God has fearfully and wonderfully made you and more thankful for who He is as well.

So where does the Parenting from Your StrengthsTM process begin?

It might surprise you, but it begins by turning the page and making a commitment to be abnormal.