Friday, December 31, 2010
“Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you…” -1 Peter 5:7
Well, the holidays are coming to a close and what we looked so forward to a few weeks ago flew by too quickly. Of course, vacations are like that. We plan and get excited, then we snap our fingers and it’s over. Suddenly we’re all planning to go back to work and school. We call it “going back to reality,” but it’s really just going back to life. Teaching our kids how to handle the “Disney Land to work” transition is a valuable life-long lesson.
I read a study once that 80% of people go through some level of depression after the holidays. No wonder. We plan and look forward to the lack of responsibility for weeks, even months. Then the break begins. We sleep late, have meals prepared for us, see movies and get hundreds of dollars of gifts. Then, the clock strikes midnight and we’re back to being responsible again. We have to get up early, fix our own breakfast and pay off the bills for the money we spent.
As a kid, I still remember that fun, exciting drive every summer heading east on I-20, driving from F0rt Worth to Georgia for summer vacation with family. I also remember that long, boring drive heading back west on I-20 to Fort Worth after the vacation. It reminds me of the Norman Rockwell print “Going and Coming.” It’s two pictures, one headed out to vacation and one headed home. I love the detailed contrast between the excitement of heading out and the exhaustion of driving back.
It’s important that we process through these emotions and teach our kids to talk about what they feel. These four suggestions might help:
1. Remember that vacations are not reality. It’s so easy to compare the holiday to the day-to-day. But that’s comparing apples with onions. Not having responsibility is always fun for a while. But in the end, we all find true fulfillment in having a goal. Though we complain about our work and about school, deep down we need that purpose.
2. Keep up with those you love. We all spend extra time with family we normally aren't around during the week. Don't let too much time pass before you re-connect with those brothers and sisters you were sad to leave. These days, with twitter, Facebook, and texting, keeping up with each other is easier. Keeping the lines of communication open helps keep relationships healthy.
3. Count your blessings “one by one.” I love that old Baptist hymn. It reminds us to count our blessings so that we can “see what God has done.” That is so important to do during and after the holidays. Everyone secretly compares to the relatives and we usually come away feeling inadequate. “Their kids are better behaved than ours; they make more money than we do; they seem happier than we are.” It’s okay to learn and grow from others, but comparison usually leads to envy and envy leads to jealousy and on and on. Realize the blessings you do have instead of what you don't possess.
4. Live like there’s no tomorrow. A good friend reminded me of that challenge this week. Too often I fret and worry about what might be. Too often I worry and fret about what was. The Bible challenges us repeatedly to set my sights on today. When I correctly focus on today, it’s awesome whether I’m working or vacationing.
Ward off those post-holiday blues and embrace the excitement of another day of life. Live life to the fullest, whether you’re at Disney world or at the desk.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
“…a Savior has been born…” –Luke 2:11
This will be the last blog post for a couple of weeks as Jeanie and I head to Baton Rouge and Fort Worth to be with those we love so much. The miles travelled are easily worth the effort to be with family. And this season of joy is easily worth the effort to honor God’s grace in sending His Son. Our kids don't need a 3-hour sermon every night, but they do need to hear that message from mom and dad. They (and we) need to be reminded that candy canes, trees and Santa Claus are fun, but the real joy of Christmas is in celebration of the birth of Jesus.
I grew up attending Arlington Heights United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. During the worship service, the Methodist church is big into responsive reading where the Minister reads a selected line and then the congregation reads back a response on the next line. It’s pretty efficient and simple.
After a service one day, I asked my dad, “Doesn't the responsive reading seem like a rote and boring way to worship?” My dad replied, “Not if your heart is really in it.” He was absolutely right. It seemed like my dad was always right. Traditions and ceremonies are genuine if I am genuine. I can't look at another person and determine his authenticity. But I can be honest with myself.
That principle fits for Christmas too. There are a lot of reasons to get excited about this season: candy, gifts and days off from school and work. But if I am genuinely celebrating the birth of Jesus, then Christmas carols and traditions take on a whole new meaning.
Teach your kids about the true meaning behind the Christmas traditions. Granted, Frosty the Snowman and the Grinch don't have much of a spiritual message. The typical nativity scene may not be totally accurate, but it does depict the birth of the Christ-child.
Don't overanalyze it all. Keep it simple just like God kept it simple in his whole design of Christmas. Be intentional as you’re with family this holiday. Take the time to pray before meals and make mention of the timeline leading up to Christmas day. I know December 25th probably wasn’t the actual birthday, but again, relax, take a deep breath and enjoy the blessing. It’s close enough.
Before you open gifts on Christmas morning, acknowledge the greatest gift of them all, the gift of Jesus Christ. Read John 3:16 and remind your family that God sent His only Son that we might have eternal life. Sweaters and Playstations will pass away, but the gift of Jesus is eternal.
Have a wonderful Christmas with your family and don't forget the reason for season. Enjoy the eggnog and football, but be sure and lead your family in remembrance of our wonderful God’s grace in sending His Son.
The reality of Jesus birth trumps any gift under the tree. Just ask your kids what they got for a gift 5 years ago. Most won't remember. But we all marvel again at the babe called Jesus.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Thursday, December 16, 2010
“For I know the plans I have for you…” –Jer. 29:11
It’s been said that the only thing that can be predicted is change. We can be 100% sure that, given enough time, things will change. Help your kids navigate the changes that affect their lives because the changes ahead only grow more difficult and one day they won't have you there with them.
But also teach them to respect tradition. There are some things that should stay the same- some rituals and allegiances that we need to pass on to others.
I was with a group of teenagers at a nursing home years ago when a sweet lady in her 90’s gave me a gift. I was trying to converse with her about how she was doing and she said, “You know honey, life is all about going with the flow and not resisting change.” I’ve never forgotten what she said.
Most of us resist change. Some say, “Oh, I just love change” but innately most of us like predictability and consistency and when direction changes, we tend to freak out. Yet, for God to be able to work and maneuver in our lives, He has to move the pieces. Like the popular song says, “ I can’t go with you and stay where I am, so you move me.” If we’re going to grow, we have to allow God to move us. Like most areas, our kids watch us and take constant mental notes on how we, as parents, handle life’s surprises.
Forrest Gump’s mom told him, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get.” Life is unpredictable. But we do need to make plans. Planning our way is a good thing to do and goal setting is an important discipline. But, every goal setting exercise should be done in the context of God’s overwhelming ability to trump any plans we make.
A friend was telling me yesterday about his plan on buying new vehicles for their family for the next 10 years. “I will buy this particular car for my wife who will pass that vehicle down to me in 3 years and then I’ll pass it on to my teenager 3 years later.” A great plan. But none of which calculates the unknown factors in that 1o year span. The breakdown, the car wreck and the hail damage all have a tendency to change the plan.
The point is, make plans and set goals, but always remember that our loving, wise God may disrupt what we thought was the perfect way to go. Why? Because He has a better plan in mind and He knows what we need more then we know what we need.
But remember, if your teen suggests that you should change Christmas plans this year and not visit the grandparents, don't give in to his desire to change. Remind him that it’s important to visit and respect his elders. Though your kids may whine and complain, insist that family traditions be kept and honored.
Discuss with your kids the differences between adjusting to change and sticking with tradition. There is a right time for both.
If we trust that God is in control, it’s okay that we don't know what kind of chocolate candy we’re getting.
Because whatever we choose is still 100% chocolate.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Friday, December 10, 2010
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” –Psalm 51:17
Brokenness is an intriguing concept. For most, the picture of a “broken person” is one of weakness and desperation. Yet, the Bible speaks of the strength of a “broken and contrite heart” and the weakness of the prideful man. Don't be afraid to let your kids see you as a broken parent.
Sure, they need a secure and confident mom and dad, but they need to know that moms and dads are real and that life isn't perfect. What they really need to see isn't the difficulty, but how mom and dad work through the difficulty. They need to witness the surrender of the trial to the Lord. Why? Because they have many a struggle coming down the road and the way parents handle trials is the way they will tend to handle trials.
Someone said, “God loves much whom He breaks much.” Someone else said, “we stand the tallest when we’re on our knees.” The point is that humility is strength, not a weakness and too often we, as parents, want our kids (and everyone else) to think we have it all together.
But we all know secretly that we have nothing together. The more I work with people and live with myself, the more I realize that apart from Christ, I’m a mess. Larry Crabb said, "Brokenness and freedom go together, in that order; first suffering, then comfort; first trouble, then joy; first felt unworthiness, then felt love; first death to the self, then resurrection of the soul.” Being broken isn't strong in of itself. It’s the filling of the void it creates that brings the strength.
Years ago, I was roller-skating (very poorly) with a bunch of college students and we decided to play hockey. Like most games, it got pretty competitive and as I was going for a shot, one of the “kids” pushed me to the ground. I caught myself with my hand and broke my wrist. I went to the doctor and he put a cast on it. I returned in 2 months to have it removed, but he had bad news. “The bone hasn't set. It’s still broken. We’ll put on another cast.” I returned in a month and the news wasn’t any better. “It still has not set. We’ll try one more cast and then we’ll have to do surgery.” (Yuck). I returned a month later, he did the X-ray, shook his head and said, “well, here’s the deal (never a good intro). It healed! No more cast and it will be stronger than before.”
“Stronger than before.” I like that idea. And that’s what being broken promises. There is strength in the brokenness because it produces a strengthening of faith that didn’t exist before. That’s why James wrote to “have joy in trial because it produces something stronger than before.” [my paraphrase] The catch is, I have to let the Lord fill in the voids and do the healing. He makes us stronger than before. That’s what we all desire for our kids. As they grow up and move away, we want them to understand the progression of trial, taking it to the Lord, and trusting.
So, discuss life with them along the way. Don't shield them from life’s struggles and remind them that there is joy in the trial, even if they have to wear a cast for a while.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Saturday, December 4, 2010
“And Jesus chose the twelve that He might be with them…” -Mark 3:14
Kids and teenagers need parents that are willing to be with them. Kids will go to great lengths to engineer circumstances to get attention and most of their methods aren't good. A better alternative is to provide your teens the time they need.
Thirty years ago, the second year of Doulos Ministries, I went through the discipleship program. It was much more informal and relaxed than it is now. But the emphasis was still on growing in relationship with the Lord. One of our assignments was to write a paper on a topic of our choice. I remember a friend in the program did a presentation on “Be-lous as well as Do-lous” and he taught on “being” not just “doing.”
His talk hit me hard because I’m a chronic “do-er” and a poor “be-er.” His challenge was to “be” in relationship to the Lord and in relationship to each other. I’m good at doing projects and poor at just relaxing and being together.
My brother Bob reminded me that when our dad would visit and we’d ask what he wanted to do and he would always reply, “I didn’t come to do anything, I came to be with you.” Funny because my dad too was a “do-er,” but the older he got, the more relaxed he became.
We demonstrate love to our kids when we are with them. The more I work with families, the more I’m convinced that it’s more of a quality issue than a quantity issue. Kids understand that moms and dads have lots of responsibilities and that they can't be at every activity. But kids have a super-sensitive radar that evaluates and senses the desire and wishes of mom and dad. They can tell when we really want to be with them and when we don’t. By the way, we all possess that ability to discern.
I remember coming home one afternoon and had been swamped at work but feeling the need to be home with Jeanie. I came home and was preoccupied with a couple of projects back at the office. Jeanie asked me what was wrong. I said “nothing” and that I was glad to be home with her. She commented, “Joey, I love you, but why don't you go back to the office, because that’s where you are anyway.”
She was exactly right. Being home in body didn't mean I was home in spirit.
We need to be careful and intentional that when we’re with our kids, we’re really with our kids. We need to pray that important prayer, “Lord, I trust you with my work responsibilities. Help me to be entirely focused on those I love the most.”
He will honor that prayer and our commitment to our family.
Cherish the time with your kids and don't forget to be a “be-er” and not a “do-er.”
Then, when your child’s radar is up, he will sense your genuine love for him.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Tuesday, November 30, 2010
“ …make the most of your days…” -Eph. 5:16
It’s holiday time in the U.S. and most families were together last week, at least for a few days. It is a rich time to build relationships with family. Don't forget, we’re modeling the definition of family and extended family for our kids.
Jeanie and I played host to nearly 20 members of the Beadle family from Baton Rouge for Thanksgiving. It’s an Ozarks tradition that goes back nearly 25 years. The size of the family grows every year and this year we had the first of many grandchildren present. The time together was absolutely a blast. We built a bon-fire, watched lots of football, went to Silver Dollar City and ate really well. Mostly, we just spent time together. Like any family, we all have our quirks, but there was lot’s of love passed around this past week and we tearfully said our goodbyes Sunday morning.
I think the greatest challenge over the holidays is “connecting.” It’s just so easy to stare at the TV and never engage with extended family. Truth is, most people aren't comfortable being vulnerable with their own families. It’s easier to be judgmental and impatient. My theory is that the things that bother us the most are those traits that we see in others that remind us of our own faults. It’s hard to look at ourself in a mirror. But that’s a part of what makes families so good for us. They keep us honest and teachable.
But life goes so quickly and if we’re not careful, we’ll miss it. When my dad passed away in 1988, it was devastating. He died suddenly of as heart attack. I had no idea he would leave us so quickly. The goodbye was difficult. But it was cushioned by a fairly empty suitcase of issues with him. I had resolved years earlier to love him, faults and all. I tried to make the choice to love him when we were together during those later years.
What is it with family? Why do we tend to be so judgmental and comparing with those we love the most? We show more understanding to strangers and acquaintances than we do our own flesh and blood.
Prayer is huge: “Lord, help me to be patient and kind with those I love the most. Help me to show agape, unconditional love to my own flesh and blood. Remind me that my time with family is short.”
And remember, the eyes of our kids are taking notes as they watch us interact with family members. They are listening when they hear us discussing issues about our relatives. Don't forget that the way we treat family now is the way our kids will treat us later on. Let’s be a good example for our kids in words and deeds.
Let’s enjoy the holidays and not shy away from good solid time with those cousins, aunts and uncles whom we rarely see.
Let’s not be afraid to look in the mirror- it only gives us a clearer view.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Monday, November 22, 2010
“For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up” -Eccl. 4:10
Every parent of every teenager needs help. None of us were designed to solo through this journey called parenting. We need to network, share and pray together with others in raising our kids.
Interview any jet fighter pilot and I bet they’ll tell you how much they enjoy flying their jet plane. But, as we saw in the classic Top Gun movie, a good pilot “never leaves his wingman.” Why? Because even independent, confident, self-sufficient pilots understand they need help. They need another pilot next to them to see what they can't see and to cover them when the combat get’s tough.
Moms and dads need each other too. But for some reason, when the times are the toughest, we kick into solo mode. When life is clicking along, we welcome others’ involvement, but when the trials hit and we need people the most, we tend to keep people at arms length and insist on doing it on our own. God must observe us, shake his head and think, “I’ve designed them to lean on me and each other, yet they lean on themselves.”
My wife, Jeanie, and I watched an old Steve Martin movie last night “Cheaper by the Dozen.” It’s a fun movie about a family of twelve, the parents’ drive for vocational success, and their choice of family over career. In the end, dad chooses to be a good dad over being a good coach. The movie is full of the trials and tribulations of a crazy family.
Thinking back on the movie, there were missing pieces. Not once in the movie did I see grandparents or friends helping the family raise their kids. Yes, they hired a babysitter, but they pretty much soloed it. I know it was just a movie, but typical of families these days.
Moms and dads take a deep breath and audit yourself. How often do you call on your friends to help you? Better yet, how often do you help your friends in their parenting? Perhaps it’s someone to just share a need or a prayer. Maybe it’s someone to help with driving. Maybe it’s a phone call to encourage a friend with a sick child.
Jeanie is so great at reaching out and encouraging young moms. She is a mentor at the Branson MOPS (mothers of preschoolers) and has a compassionate heart for young parents. She just delivered a meal to a new young mom on a Saturday night.
Let other’s help you in your parenting and, at the same time, be intentional about reaching out to others. It won't make parenting easy, but it will make it easier to know you’re not the only one on this crazy but wonderful parenting journey.
Besides, flying jets is a lot more fun with a friend.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” - Eph. 2:10
The master craftsman at Silver Dollar City in Branson designs his wooden pieces with creativity and intention. So God designs every human (even teenagers) with the same creativity.
Teens come in all shapes, sizes and varieties. Though they may look the same, they differ in so many ways. While a “book can't be judged by the cover,” teenagers can’t be judged either. Even within the same family, their temperaments and personalities fill the spectrum.
Years ago, the concept of “situational leadership” was being taught by management seminars all over. The premise was that a good leader studies and learns the personality characteristics of each employee. Knowing their traits, the leader is able to motivate each employee to their potential. He treats each person as an individual.
The same is true in parenting. What mom and dad hasn’t marveled at the differences in their kids. The wise and prudent parent recognizes that to be the parent each of the children needs requires “situational parenting.” That is, discernment to be what each child needs for that particular situation.
Great coaches know the secret of coaching the individual. The lazy coach sits down all the players and yells at them collectively. The wise coach is the master psychologist. He studies each player and their individual bents and nuances. He waits for the right timing. Player A needs to be confronted directly. Player B just needs a gentle nudge. It takes more work, but in the end, the best teams are coached individually.
In our small group last week, one of the dad’s expressed it well. “When I’m with one kid, I have to remember who I’m with at that time. It’s easy to forget.” It’s really easy to forget when we’re rushing from one soccer game to another or just trying to get the kids out the door to get to work on time.
No one ever said this parenting job would be easy. Proverbs 22:6 reminds us that we need to work with each child’s particular bent. We need to become students of our kids. Like a detective, we need to study and learn who and what they are.
Why go to so much trouble? Because, if we’re going to correctly love our kids, we have to know our kids. Sure, there’s the same genetic material between our children and us, but that doesn't mean we truly know them.
So, be like that good boss or effective coach. Get to know your kids as individuals. Take the extra time to raise them independent of one another. Don't play favorites. Realize that each child is the workmanship of God and worth every second of time. Pray for wisdom and discernment.
Treat each of your kids as a unique and precious gift. And you’ll realize again that the worth of each of your wooden pieces is priceless!
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Sunday, November 14, 2010
“…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” -Heb. 10:24-25
For over 20 years, Jeanie and I have been a part of a wonderful small group in our neighborhood. We have all raised each other’s kids in our “village” and are now welcoming marriages and grandkids.
We have been through victories and difficulties together, cried tears of laughter and pain, and all the while, acknowledged God’s work in our families. And our kids are watching what we do in these groups and learning that they, too, need community to be the best they can be.
Small groups are awesome and are so important in raising our kids. Being connected to other families in our neighborhoods provides accountability, encouragement and security. It’s been said that “no man is an island.” I believe that no family is meant to solo through this life either.
But small groups can be difficult. In the book, The Connecting Church by Freezie, he concludes that today’s society of families isn't geared for small groups. He observes that the sense of community 25 years ago has been replaced by more secluded families who stay hidden in their homes with their entertainment centers.
People have not changed in their need for community. It does take a village to raise a healthier kid and the decision to engage with others begins with every parent of every child. Yes, we’re all busy. We all have jobs. We all have sports activities. We all have responsibilities. But the challenge remains for all moms and dads to make the decision for community. Sometimes it takes sacrifice. But the need to make choices for “gaps” is so important. It means we’ll have to carve out time for our friends and families to get together.
So, take the initiative, set a time and invite your friends over. Have a cookout and set a regular time to gather. Small groups provide the foundation that all families need to grow together.
Remember, there is no set formula how to operate a small group. Some groups focus on prayer, some groups on Bible study and others on fellowship. The most productive groups are those that combine all of the ingredients. Certainly have time to just visit and eat snacks, but also schedule time to study the Bible and pray together. And also have some share time for people to express their needs.
And let your kids know what you’re doing. Even include them in some of the small group time. Let them observe first hand the benefits of fellowship together. Sure, having kids involved can be a bit chaotic, but it’s worth it. I recall an episode when the disciples tried to send the kids away from Jesus because of the mess they were producing, but Jesus told the disciples to “chill” and let the kids “hang out.”
As someone said, “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” Families who pretend like they don't need others are lonely too. So, mom and dad, take the initiative and get your friends together. Open God’s Word and pray together. Turn off the TV and spend time with friends. You’ll be glad you did.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
“There is an appointed time for everything and there is a season for every event under heaven” -Eccl. 3:1
Parenting is not easy and we sure don't parent in a vacuum. Most of us are trained professionally to separate how we’re doing from what we do. But that’s not possible when it comes to raising children. There’s just too much of who we are in all that we do as moms and dads.
“Mid-life crisis” is not listed as a psychological disorder and there is not a medication yet invented to make it go away. There are a gillion different definitions to describe it and it varies from person to person. I’m thinking “crises” happen all through life, at any age, but I happen to be at “mid life” and I’ve been encountering some challenges lately. So, I’m concluding that I’m going through “M.L.C.” (I just made that up).
A man I deeply respect, Jack Herschend, is known for his awesome quotes. When he speaks, people listen. He and his family are largely responsible for the Branson boom and he is a committed Christian. He once said, “having lost sight of my objective, I redouble my efforts.” In other words, playing harder doesn't make up for playing smarter. And being smart is having a plan and a focus.
I am 52 years old and hope to live to be a 100. So I guess you could say its half time in my life right now. The wonderful ministry where I served for 28 years shut it’s doors in Branson and I’ve just begun to serve as associate pastor at growing and thriving FBC in Branson. It’s the same line of work with a different twist.
And I just said bye to my mentor, boss, and friend, Richard beach, who went home to be with the Lord last week after a long bout with cancer.
It’s been a time of loss and it’s been a time of fear. But mostly it’s been a time of faith building. With so many securities stripped away, I’ve been doing a lot of talking with God lately. My wife and I recently watched the live Broadway production of “Fiddler on the Roof” and were impressed again by Tevye, the dad’s, casual and easy dialogue with God. I want that kind of friendship too.
So, the Lord and I have been in the locker room at halftime writing plays on the blackboard and figuring out how to make the second half of my life more successful than the first half. I’m setting some pretty aggressive goals to be the husband my Jeanie needs, to love my kids and grandkids, to be a Godly minister, to finish a book and more.
But the goals on the locker room blackboard are worthless unless I take them back out on the field the second half of the game. All the pep talks in the locker room mean nothing if I creep back on the field and fail to apply them to the game.
I want my second half to matter and as I’m heading back out onto the field. I’m ready to roll. But the truth is, the first and second quarters matter too. No matter where you are in the parenting journey, use your time outs. Take the time to set goals and objectives that tie into your parenting. Be intentional about your role.
Ask your spouse and friends to hold you accountable. And as the crises hit you in quarter or mid life, take them to the locker room with our loving and wise God. Talk with Him. Dialogue with Him. He’s always there to help us set just the right objectives and goals. And with those in place, we find our life is more relaxed, at peace and effortless.
Even then, parenting is still a huge challenge, but it becomes more fun too.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Saturday, November 6, 2010
“…work out your salvation with fear and trembling” -Phil. 2:12
Most parents are concerned about the spiritual growth of their kids. Though goals in academics and athletics top most wish lists, a teen’s moral and spiritual health remains an important priority for moms and dads as well.
But the spiritual area is tricky. Forcing teens to be “spiritual” sometimes creates the opposite effect. Most teens rebel against being forced into being “religious.” The key is creating an atmosphere for our kids to recognize their need for a loving God in their lives. But it comes at their pace and requires us to respect our kids and their choices.
I grew up in the church, attending a denominational church in Fort Worth. I understood my need for a Savior, but made the decision to follow the Lord my freshman year in high school. Through the wonderful ministry of Young Life, a ministry to high school teens, I grew in my faith through the high school and college years.
My sophomore year in high school, I was hungry to grow in my faith and wasn’t feeling plugged into our church. My Young life leader and friends were attending a local Bible church, which I had visited several times. Feeling nervous, I spoke to my mom and dad about attending that church. They said, “that would be fine” and off I went to search and grow and learn.
At the time I thought “no big deal” to attend another church. Now, looking back, it was a big deal. It meant my parents had to release me from the tradition of attending church together. They had to put my growth ahead of their desire.
For the record, I think it’s best for a family to all attend church together and for the entire family to be “fed” through that fellowship. But the youth program in my church was almost non-existent and I needed more. The point is that my parents were willing to let me go.
So, step back and take inventory of where you stand with your teen’s spiritual journey. If your teen is thriving and growing, that’s awesome. Pray for them and support them. If your teen is stagnant, that’s okay too. Again, pray for them, that their hearts will be soft and pliable. At the conclusion of most counseling sessions, I ask parents if I can pray for the family. I pray mostly for a soft and teachable heart for their teen.
The soft heart is important for mom and dad too. When our hearts are soft and pliable, they are open and flexible to God’s work in the life of the family. Even if all the “ducks aren't in order” (which is most of the time), it’s okay because we bow and submit to a loving God who is patient and at work in the lives of those we love.
It’s not our responsibility to produce change. We are not the Holy Spirit and we are not required to worry until those we love are at peace in their lives. All we can do is be faithful. We are simply called to love, pray and love again.
So, take a deep breath and take some time right now to pray for those God has put into your care. Pray that their hearts will yield to God’s love in their lives. Pray that they will grow and thrive in His care.
And pray that you will be at peace as well.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
“…For each one will bear his own load” -Gal. 6:5
Homework and school projects are a regular part of any teenager’s school experience. Some teachers pile it on while others try to let students do their homework in class. Either way, homework is just part of the academic game. There are multiple ways a parent can respond to homework, but be sure you let your kids own it.
When I was in 7th grade, I entered the Fort Worth public schools Science Fair. I was attending Monning Middle School and I think we got extra credit for entering. And I had a great idea for a project (so I thought). My hypothesis was that plants give off oxygen. I would prove my remarkable theory by using 4 large pickle jars, some aquatic plants and a few gold fish. I put water and 3 goldfish in each pickle jar. But in jar 1, I put a minimal amount of plants, in jar 2, more plants and so on. My theory was that the fish in jar 1 would die first and the fish in jar 4 would die last. They, after all, were getting more oxygen, so they should live longer. I was already envisioning a writing contract and $1000 an hour on the speaking circuit. And, at 12 years old, I already had my dissertation well under way for my Ph.D. And, I would win the blue ribbon!
But an interesting thing happened. The fish in jar 4 died first and the fish in jar 1 died last. And to make it worse, they all died way ahead of schedule. So, by the time my parents and I took my project to the science hall at TCU, my project was a disaster and smelled like dead fish. Needless to say, I didn't win a ribbon and I never wrote that book. And, to this day, I don't like pickles or fish.
Here’s what I don't remember about that whole episode: my parents helping me. My dad was a doctor and my mom a nurse, so I know they had the knowledge to assume my project would flop, but they apparently let me own it. I’m sure they helped me fill the jars and go buy the fish, but they let me own the project. My success or failure depended on me, not them. They were apparently secure enough to live with my PhD or my failure, either way.
That’s because they were willing to live with themselves. They were secure enough to let me own my life. Sure, I was devastated after the science fair loading up my pickle jars in the back of the station wagon and watching Lori (name changed) parade around the parking lot with her blue ribbon. I wanted to go pour my fishy water out of my jars all over her project, but I would have caused some sort of diseased outbreak all over North Texas. So I restrained myself and sulked all the way home.
I learned an important lesson that Saturday. I learned to never enter a science fair project! No, what I learned was that I can fail. I already know how to win. But the losing was different. Of course, I’m still learning how to lose.
Most importantly, I learned that it was okay with mom and dad if I lost. They still loved me. When we do the projects and homework for our kids, we’re basically telling them it’s not okay if they aren't the best. We’re telling them we love what they do, not who they are.
So, mom and dad, back off! Do the hardest thing imaginable, nothing. Let your kids own the project. Sure, help them a little, but let them own it.
Be a parent that loves your kids without conditions. Let your teen know that they’re awesome, pickle jars and all.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
“Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” -1Thess. 2:8
There is a profound difference between being around someone and being with someone. The “I see you” connection from Avatar is vastly different from the surface connection of a Facebook friend. Kids today are no different than kids of yesterday. They long for connection with others, especially their parents. Take the time to truly connect with your kids.
We are packing up to make that long, flat drive across Kansas to say goodbye to our dear friend, mentor, example and boss, Richard Beach. He passed away a few days ago after a truly courageous 16-year battle with cancer. I know Rich is at peace, healed and loving being in the presence of the Lord. He impacted so many people for Christ during his 65 years on this earth. I’m sure the memorial service will be huge.
I‘ve been reflecting on what made Rich so unique. He had an amazing ability to make everyone feel comfortable in his presence. He didn't have a graduate degree in anything (though he claimed to have bestowed upon himself a doctorial degree). And he never wrote a book (though we tried to get him to write one many, many times)!
So, how was Rich able to touch so many people’s lives, from the stewardess to the bank president? I think the secret lied in his ability and willingness to connect. Sure, he was an extrovert, but the “connection ingredient” isn't about temperament, but about love.
Rich simply made the choice to love. His willingness to love the unlovely sometimes got him into trouble too. Much like Jesus sharing with the adulteress woman, Rich sometimes embarrassed those closest to him. But his heart of love simply had no choice.
Kids are asking, no, they are begging, for us as parents to provide that kind of connection and love. Not the cheap “I love you because you’re my child” love, but the thick kind of love that jumps in all the way. Rich invested into every life he encountered, whether that person was lovable are not.
Rich was simply a reflection of the love of Jesus who loved unconditionally. Many claim that kind of love, but Rich lived it out with every person he encountered along the way. There’s not one of us who had the privilege of working closely with him who wasn’t embarrassed by one of his encounters at some point. Sitting at a restaurant, Rich would joke with the grouchy waiter and minutes later be sharing Christ with her. No matter the result of their conversation, they would part with a hug and a smile.
The legacy Rich leaves behind for his family and for thousands of teenagers and mentors is that love is an action verb not a passive noun. If God is on my heart, I have no choice other than to impart my life to everyone I encounter.
Parents, squeeze every drop out of every encounter with your teenager. Impart your life. Love. Give. Sacrifice.
Rich, have a blast as you encounter Christ Himself. Enjoy the time together. You deserve it!
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Sunday, October 24, 2010
“….put on a heart of humility…” –Col. 3:12
It’s been said that, “A violinist can't truly appreciate first chair until he’s played second fiddle.” It is so important to teach our kids about humility. We can’t make them humble- they have to do that themselves, but we can help them understand why humility is so important. Life is packed full of situations engineered by our loving God to “put us in our place.” Our “place” is actually an awesome spot when we’re sitting at the feet of God.
Pride is the opposite of humility and at it’s root is the attempt to put ourselves on the throne of our lives. So much of this life reinforces the building up of pride. From academics to athletics, the directive is to take control and come out ahead.
By contrast, humility “regards one another as more important than myself.”(Phil. 2:3). Does that mean a humble person never competes? No. But it does mean that the humble athlete does his best for the sake of best, not to humiliate his opponent.
I still remember 5th grade at Mary Louis Phillips Elementary School in Fort Worth, Texas. We had an end-of-the-year program for the parents. We were dressed as different historical characters and I was an Indian. When they were choosing where we would stand on the podium for our singing, they moved me to the back row. I was devastated. To this day, I’m not sure why. But I figured it was because my singing voice wasn’t very good. I was humbled. I was learning to be okay without the spotlight.
“Joey’s humility book” is filled with many chapters. Not making the 6th grade basketball team, having to get glasses, losing my final high school football game to our across town rivals. The list goes on and on. But all those “defeats” have been used to teach me to take my focus off myself and onto the loving God who watches over me. It’s still a struggle, but I’m learning.
Kids come prewired towards pride and by the time they become a teenagers, self- esteem and self-worth have rarely been softened toward humility. So what is the role of a parent in teaching teens humility? Practice humility before them. It's another “better caught than taught” principal. Let your kids see you choosing humility.
Put it into action. Let your teen see it. Admit that you made the mistake. Share stories with your kids about a past failure in your life. Give your child the last M&M. My dad didn’t share too many stories with my 3 older brothers and me but when he did tell us about the hardships growing up in rural Georgia, we listened. Hearing about his simple background reminded us that simple is awesome.
Reward your child when they put humility into action. Many scriptures remind us that, “pride comes before the fall” but “the humble man will be exalted.” Many victories and defeats await your teenager. The wins come easily, but he’ll be better prepared for the losses if you’ve helped increase his humility quotient.
So, rosin up the bow and let the second fiddle begin.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
“He that walks with wise persons becomes wise” –Prv. 13:20
Peer pressure can be positive and negative. Sometimes parents, in an effort to shield their teen from negative influence, can “over-shield” them from positive peer pressure.
I’m not sure if you saw this headline in the sports section last week, but it’s worth reading:
Rangers celebrate ALDS title with ginger ale; Hamilton: 'It meant a lot'
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -When the Rangers clinched the American League West in Oakland, All-Star Josh Hamilton remained in the training room to avoid the alcohol bath in the postgame celebration.
After Tuesday night's 5-1 American League Division Series-clinching victory, Hamilton was in the center of the action.
Left-hander C.J. Wilson and equipment manager Richard "Hoggy" Price supplied the team with bottles of ginger ale. The team waited for Hamilton to hit the clubhouse door and then doused him with the soft drink.
Being part of the postgame festivities meant everything to Hamilton, who battled alcohol and substance-abuse problems.
"It says a lot about my teammates," he said, "them understanding the sensitivity of my situation and not wanting to send the wrong message to other people out there."
Hamilton celebrated with his teammates for a few minutes then left the clubhouse when beer and champagne showers started.
He did interviews in the hallway and reveled in the team's first playoff series win.
"Obviously this is something we've never done before," he said. "To be a part of a team that's done that in Texas is a privilege. To do it with these guys is a privilege. Hopefully we're not done.
Sure, negative peer pressure can send teens (and baseball players) in bad directions, but positive pressure can send them in positive directions too. Sometimes we underestimate the ability of teens to encourage and build up others.
I love the story of the kid that had been going through chemo for cancer and was nervous to go to school because of his baldhead from the treatments. When he entered the classroom, he looked up to see all his boy classmates with shaven heads. They had shaved their heads so he wouldn't feel embarrassed.
Encourage your kids to build up and encourage others. Better yet, model positive peer pressure for kids. Let them see you build up your spouse. Let them experience you building them up.
Be sure to pressure those you love to be positive, even if that means drinking ginger ale!
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
“…but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant” -Matt. 20:26
It’s been said that people are born to be leaders. I’m not so sure leadership is a genetic predisposition or a skill that’s learned early in life. To most people, a good leader is someone who leads. But truth is, a great leader is someone who serves, and the others-centered servant learns his skills early.
I remember as a child admiring the Smith family (named changed to protect the innocent) down the street. They always had mini bikes in their driveway and cool motorcycles down at the “trails.” The trails were the paths through the woods behind our subdivision where I spent countless hours playing as a child.
My dad wouldn't let us boys have mini bikes or motorcycles. I remember him saying, “I’ve seen too many kids in the ER seriously hurt by them.” That sounded scary to me so the phase passed, but I still thought the Smith kids were cool through junior high because they “led” a lot. They were always out in front in sports and activities. By the time high school came, they were still leading, but in areas like drug use and fights after school.
In high school, my admiration switched to another kind of leader (and I will share his name). Andrew Thomas was an African American friend that came to my high school from across town. He played football next to me as a linebacker and we became good friends. I admired him as a leader. His quiet demeanor and leadership through serving was an awesome characteristic. He was a great and quiet leader on the football field and was admired by many.
Teens might appear apathetic and passive, but their eyes are open and their ears are listening for truth. They are looking for honest, truthful leadership. They recognize that the loudest and most talkative person isn't usually the best leader. They are watching parents like hawks and are thirsty for truth and wisdom.
Be a parent that models servanthood to your family. When opportunities present themselves, give. Unselfishly give. Be a family that serves together. Go to the homeless shelter in your town on a Saturday and serve. Go to the neighborhood food pantry and give your time. Take the family on a mission trip to Africa or across town to pour into the lives of those less fortunate. Or those more fortunate, it doesn't really matter. Just give.
Your kids will learn that a true leader isn't the one who has the title or is up front. The true leader is the servant. Jesus was the perfect model. Be sure to read His stories to your kids and teens.
Model servant leadership and you kids will admire your spirit of servanthood much more than the Smith family!
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Saturday, October 9, 2010
“…but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up…” –Eph. 4:15
Honesty and vulnerability in relationships always fosters growth and maturity. This is true in marriage and also applies to the relationship between parents and teenagers. Yet we shy away from being honest with each other. Too often, we avoid the truthful conversations that would bring the very peace and closure that we need with those we love.
Fred Goss, owner of a dry cleaning business in Mayberry, invites Aunt Bee to a dance. Bee is not the least bit interested but when Clara Johnson suggests that Andy will never marry until Bee marries first, Bee unenthusiastically gives Goss some consideration. When Andy learns from Otis that Goss is romantically interested in Bee, he believes Bee is interested as well and encourages her to get to know Goss better. Bee and Goss have a few dates. Within days, Andy thinks Bee and Goss will marry and Bee leads him along - believing she is doing the right thing regarding Andy's chances for marriage. In a discussion one evening with Bee on the porch, Andy learns that Bee doesn't love Goss. Andy makes it clear that no one in the family marries unless they are in love. Aunt Bee is relieved that she's released from marrying Goss.
An honest conversation between Andy and Aunt Bee during the first 5 minutes of the show would have made the whole episode 6 minutes long. Not good for the producers, but good for the Taylor family. Instead, Andy and Bee presume and guess their way through each other’s intentions without sharing their honest feelings.
This week, a friend was telling me about an honest but difficult conversation they had with their spouse and about how it produced such a freedom in their relationship. He said it was great for his relationship with the Lord too.
We could all share stories about times when we’ve finally been honest with someone we love about an issue and the freedom that followed.
This morning, I was headed out of the house to work and my brother-in-law Brian stopped me. He said,” Joey, you’re not wearing that shirt- it’s all wrinkled.” I froze and the moment was awkward. But he was right. The shirt (like many items in my somewhat outdated wardrobe) was wrinkled and fit tightly. I changed shirts and thanked him. I didn't like it at the time, but I appreciated it. He was right.
Be sure and model honesty with your teen. Don't be rude and don't be judgmental in your heart, but love your loved ones enough to share the truth. And, allow yourself to receive truth also.
Your kids will appreciate you and love you for being willing to engage with them and share your ideas. They may not act like they like it- but they will respect you for being real.
Speak the truth in love to your teen. It will help your teen grow and it might even keep them from marrying Fred Goss!
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Monday, October 4, 2010
“And looking at them Jesus said to them, “With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matt. 19:26
There aren't too many things in life that are not risky. Billions of dollars are made every year to cover “risk management.” Health, life and home insurance all exist to cover “risk.” But raising children may be the biggest risk of all. No matter how hard we try, there are no guarantees. But we need to be willing to let our kids take risks as they explore and experience life.
One of my favorite board games (remember board games?) is the game “Risk.” It’s the one where each player takes over countries and tries to take over the world. But at its most basic level, it is a game where the one who rolls the dice the best wins. It’s a game of chance. It’s a game of risk. And if you take over your country and decide to just hunker down and not take over the world, you lose quickly. Risk is required to win “Risk.” The same is true in life.
Life is a risk- at least an abundant life worth living. Scripture is packed full of stories of men and women who were willing to risk. They were willing to try the difficult because they had the directive of the ultimate risk manager- a loving God. When God is initiating a risky venture, even supposed failure is a success. And when we have the correct view of life’s risks, we’re freed up as parents to let our kids attempt difficult things.
When I was in 7th grade, my parents let me go on a YMCA canoe trip to the boundary waters of Northern Minnesota and Canada. Looking back, it was a huge decision for them to let me go for a week to a place a thousand miles away. They were entrusting me to unknown staff to canoe in a wilderness area in the rustic Canadian wilderness. Even now, I get nervous writing about it. What were they thinking?!
But the trip was a blast and not without it’s trials. Our camp was visited by bears several nights, I got lost for a few hours one day, portaging canoes between lakes was very hard and I missed my home. But it was so good for me to be stretched. I needed to risk and as John Eldredge writes in his “Wild at Heart” books, young men need to experience adventure.
But all too often, well meaning parents overprotect their kids. Especially today, the media describes everything as “risky.” It implies that the “good parent” will shield kids from anything that has the potential to be harmful. I’m sure not advocating that we knowingly let our kids step into danger, but I am challenging us to “back off” and let our kids experience adventure. Let them fail. Let them succeed. Let them try something crazy.
Remind them that if God is the initiator, then “all things really are possible.” Remind them that if they take that kind of risk, they’re a success whether they win or not. Challenge them to try out for the team. Let them apply for that job. Encourage them to apply to that college.
It may not all work out perfectly, but your kids will learn how to be confident to step out on their own. Don’t do it for them. Let them attempt it on their own.
That way they’ll be a success, no matter how they roll the dice.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Friday, October 1, 2010
"... My soul finds rest in God alone..." –Psalm 62:1
Wouldn't it be nice if we never had to say “good-bye” to those we love? Wouldn't it be perfect if our kids were contracted to live with us forever or to at least live in our neighborhood?
Truth is, those we care for and love so much typically leave our home. The kids we raise and nourish and teach to fly on their own eventually decide to…fly on their own! It’s paramount that we deal with the goodbyes and separations in healthy ways. Our kids are taking mental notes on what they observe in us as they learn to cope with their own goodbyes.
Jeanie and I have been having a blast in Amarillo all week with our daughter Elizabeth and our beautiful granddaughter, Reese. Brian, my bro-in-law, came too. He’s on furlough from his missionary work in Africa and is living with us for 6 months.
But the trip has been tempered by the absence of our son-in-law Mark. He’s in his last year of Medical School and is doing away rotations for his training, this month in Jackson, Mississippi. He’s been away from home for 9 weeks. Everyone misses him and he misses his family, but all is okay.
I have been so impressed with Elizabeth and Mark and their perseverance during these weeks. Though they miss each other, they recognize that it’s a season and that their rest comes from the Lord always. Mark continues his hospital work, Elizabeth her school teaching and Reese keeps smiling. It seems we all long to be with someone, but true rest is never found in a place or a person. There are never geographical solutions to contentment.
There is another kind of separation too, which is emotional. I’ve been going through a pretty tough month changing ministry focus. I’ve been dealing with a lot of change and have not been much of a husband to Jeanie. I have apologized for being so self-focused these days, but she has been phenomenal. Though I’ve been grabbing all the encouragement lately, she has persevered and been such a model for me. I love her so much. Her peace comes from a deeper place.
Our kids leave for camp for a month, our kids go to school for the day, our kids travel to sports activities until late at night, our kids go away to spend the night with a friend… the list goes on and on. Bottom line, our kids leave. And eventually they pack up to move away. And then eventually we all, without exception, leave this earth and leave loved ones behind.
Things change, and we don't have to grieve like the world grieves. Whether for a night or a lifetime, our goodbyes should be different. I’ve discovered how much of my security is in what is familiar and not in my loving God who controls it all. I’m still learning to lean on Him alone.
Our kids (and I) need to learn that “our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness.” Anything else is shaky and vulnerable. Sure, it’s okay for us to miss those we love, but we continue on.
Have the conversations with your kids about those you miss or long to be reunited with soon. Be honest about the pain.
Then, when your child’s wings begin to flutter, the goodbye will be sweet.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
“There is a time to weep and a time to laugh…” –Eccl. 3:4
Right off the bat, let me say that my expertise on this subject is a little shaky. I am not a person that easily laughs at himself. As the youngest of four boys, I grew up pretty insecure and self-conscience. I’m still that way in many ways. So when I’m less than perfect, which is most of the time, it bothers me.
Of course, we’re all insecure in some area of our lives. This side of heaven, by ourselves, we’re all incomplete. And our kids are too. And as they grow, their inquisitive eyes watch us to see how we deal with the void. It’s important that they see us yield to something bigger than ourselves. When we can laugh at ourselves, it means our security is valid enough to handle the mistake or trial.
Now, the Lord has been chipping away at me on this issue for 52 years. He’s been teaching me over and over that it’s not what I do, but who I am in Him that really matters. That hit home especially hard a month ago when, after 30 years, the Doulos Ministries Board made the decision to shut the doors of the Doulos campus in Branson. Financial difficulties necessitated that Doulos consolidate everything to the KC campus. I had the option to make the move, but the Lord said stay and opened an amazing door for me to be the associate pastor at FBC Branson. He closed a door so that he could open a door. It all makes sense now, but four weeks ago, I was struggling and life was difficult.
I guess that’s the point. What usually makes sense to us later makes sense to our wonderful God right away. Of course, some things may never make sense to us. But they do make sense to our awesome God.
So, when we make the mistake or life deals us a blow, it’s OK. He is absolutely secure when I’m insecure. So why not laugh? Abraham, 100 years old, and Sarah, 90 years old, were very retired, using AARP and a million miles away from thinking about babies. Then Sarah got pregnant. God had even told them a year earlier about the plan. But when the trial came and they had a son, they named him Isaac, which means laughter. Of course, it was hilarious and funny. They weren’t angry or confused. So they laughed.
There is a laughter that is sarcastic. And there is a laughter that’s rude. I’m not describing that kind of laughter. I’m describing the laughter that a pitcher has when Albert Pujols hits that 3-0 pitch over center field. The laugh says, “the guy is just good.” It’s a laughter that shows respect. It’s a laughter that’s saying, “this is out of my control and I yield to something bigger and better than myself.”
And it’s a laughter that is freeing. Because, though I made the mistake or am dealing with the trial, it’s OK. Something bigger overrules and I’ll be all right. Next time you lock the keys in your car, take a deep breath, let the smile come to your face and laugh. Sure, it’s an interruption, but if “God causes all things to work together for good…” then the delay has a reason.
Be sure and model that laughter for your teen. Let them see you go through the difficulty and pray for the joy that doesn't take life too seriously.
Then, when, not if, the hard times come, you can point to our loving God, and smile as the baseball sails over the fence.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Thursday, September 23, 2010
“…for his mouth speaks from that which fills his heart” -Luke 6:45
Occasionally your child may utter a word that leaves you in shock. Kids say funny things at times, but the use of profanity from that sweet little mouth is a shocker.
It is absolutely appropriate that we teach our kids and teens that using profanity is not tolerated within the family. But it is also important to teach our children that it's the heart that matters more than the words.
When young kids use profanity, they are usually just repeating a word they heard on TV or in public (or from you). When older kids swear, they are usually trying to get attention. They notice that when adults use profanity, they do it with emotion, so it must be important. But the teaching parent is careful to use the opportunity, not just to wash out a mouth, but also to wash out a heart.
Think about the “acceptable” swear words- words that are used to mimic unacceptable curse words. “Shoot, dang it, crap” etc. are all just substitute words that are acceptable in society, but may reveal the same heart issue that fuels the original cursing.
Growing up in the Staples household, language was always very important. One of the main items in our den was a huge dictionary. When the definition of a word was asked, Dad would always point to the dictionary and say, “I’m not going to tell you- look it up.” I always wondered if he just didn't know the definition. He required good grammar too and both my parents were quick to correct.
They also didn't tolerate profanity, at least not in front of the four boys. Occasionally he’d let a “crap” slip out, but no real profanity. But I knew he got mad and I knew he got angry. He would usually turn red and go in another room.
Most cursing is the result of anger and most anger can be destructive. Controlled, valid, loving anger can actually be a good thing, but 90% of anger is fueled by jealousy, vengeance and ill will. Yuck. Just telling our kids to be quiet doesn't help them learn how to sort through these emotions.
Teach your kids how to process through disappointment and anger. Teach and re-teach how to forgive and move on. Be a good example before your kids in modeling the healthy ways to process through disappointment. Then, as the heart is cleaned, the mouth follows.
I remember when our kids were little and Elizabeth had a portable tape recorder. One of Eric’s little friends took the recorder into the bathroom and spoke into the microphone. We laughed as we listened to it later and heard what the little boy recorded. He simply spoke the worst words he could think of “poopie, diaper, bottom…” To him, they were “adult” words. His little heart felt the urge to “let it all out.”
Jesus stressed that it’s the heart not the mouth that truly does the damage. As Barney would say, “Nip it in the bud.” And the bud begins in the heart.
Stress heart surgery with your kids and help them practice forgiveness and love.
Yank that bar of soap out of his mouth and focus on his heart instead.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Saturday, September 18, 2010
“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” -Heb. 13:2
Teaching kids to be friendly neighbors is another “better caught than taught” lesson. Kids aren’t necessarily born friendly. In case you’re wondering, go spend some time in the church nursery this Sunday morning. Observe the babies. They are precious but observe their little natures. They mostly focus 100% on themselves and when their needs are not met, they don’t mind letting the whole world know about it!
Then shift over to the children’s department and do a psychological study on “innate friendliness in the sharing of toys.” It can get pretty brutal when it comes to sharing Legos.
Again, that’s okay, but as those beautiful babies and kids grow up, their innate selfish nature remains and needs to be retrained. Kids can be taught and, by far, their best teachers aren't at school but at home. As they observe mom and dad being neighborly, sharing and putting others first, then they learn to be friendly themselves. Only Jesus can heal sin nature, but it is the parents’ job to help develop a child’s healthy behavior.
No one was friendlier than Mr. Rogers. And my two kids watched him any time he was on TV. They loved watching King Friday and X the Owl, but most of all it was the smile and demeanor of Fred Rogers that caught their attention. He taught them that they were special and wonderful. Truth is, he taught me that too! I loved watching the show.
What was the key ingredient to the success of the Mr. Rogers show? He was friendly. He asked us at the beginning of every show if “we’d be his neighbor” and of course, we secretly answered “yes.” That’s how friendliness works. When someone is friendly to us, we tend to be friendly back.
So, audit time. How are you doing in teaching your kids how to be friendly? They are soaking up every encounter they see you handle throughout the day, good and bad. When you gripe about the waitress at dinner, they file that away. When you tailgate the car in front of you for going too slow, they file that away. (By the way, they might be driving slow because they’re on vacation and trying to relax. Let them). When you slander someone in a conversation with your wife, they file that away.
So be sure those files don't exist. Rather, give your kids good examples to follow. When you stop to help a stranded motorist, make an encouraging phone call to a widower or speak highly of a neighbor to your wife, that is all filed away by your kids too.
Jesus set the best example for us all when he lived out his challenge to “love your neighbor as yourself.” He loved the unlovely and set the bar for us to love unconditionally.
Be intentional with your teen to teach him to be friendly, neighborly and kind. If you’re that friendly, who knows? When you visit that nursery, you might feel like going the extra mile and changing a diaper!
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
“…there’s a friend that sticks closer than a brother” –Proverbs 18:24
There aren't many things more valuable than good close friends. Friends come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. There are best friends, fair weather friends, friends of a feather, and Facebook friends.
When he was a little guy, I remember my son, Eric, describing two of his best friends. He said that one of his friends was his best friend, but the other friend was his “silly friend.” I’m still not sure what he meant.
Friends are such a huge motivator for teenagers. The desire to belong and be included begins early in a child’s life and becomes a top priority by adolescents. It’s important that we teach our children about healthy friendships and what a difference being a true loving friend can make in our lives
My definition of “friend” has changed so many times in my life. When I was in grade school, my best bud was named Eric (I too was Eric, but everyone called me Joey). Our main activity was playing in the woods behind my house. Joe and Ricky were two of my best friends in junior high school. We had many a slumber party at each other’s houses. In high school, I hung out with Russell and Bill all the time and we played sports together.
Then I went off to college all the way to Baylor. Okay, it was only 2 hours away from home, but a long way from the familiar. It was there I met two of my best friends to this day, John and Donny.
And now I live with my best friend, Jeanie. She truly is a friend that sticks closer than a brother and she been so loyal and believing in me for 30 years. I am so thankful for the special friends the Lord has brought my way.
Remind your kids that best friends are usually for a season. “Best” friends sometimes change through life, all examples of how God provides just what we need at the right time.
In my experience with teens, they usually hang out with the kind of friends they feel like they deserve. When self-image and confidence are in doubt, there is a tendency for teens (and adults) to desire fellowship and friendship with people that are not a perceived threat to that fragile self-image. Simply put, unhealthy people are attracted to unhealthy friends and healthy people are attracted to healthy friends.
Help your child walk through the friend journey carefully. Be sure there is an open dialogue about their friendships. Don't be judgmental or over controlling. Avoid the “west side story” syndrome: telling your kids whom they can and can't befriend. They’ll tend to hang with the one’s you like the least.
Teach your kids the most important lesson about friendship: how to be a true friend. The saying, “to make a friend, be a friend” is true. Teach them to respect and honor their friendships.
And be sure they hear about the most important friendship there is: a relationship with Jesus Christ, who calls us friend. It’s the only friendship that is solid as a rock and never changing.
We certainly don't deserve that friendship with Jesus, but by His grace, we can have a 24-hour slumber party with Him everyday!
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Friday, September 10, 2010
“Do not let your adorning be external- the clothing that you wear…” -1 Peter 3:3
The multi-gillion dollar apparel industry knows well who their top audience is- the teenager. Just look at most of the magazines, commercials and mall stores and you’ll notice that the goal of apparel marketing is convincing teenagers that they can't be at their best or look their prettiest without particular clothing.
Browse through some of the teenage clothing websites, and you’ll find a definite provocative slant in nearly every one. The advertisers are consistent in their preoccupation with the sexual content of clothing. What is easiest to forget in this world of teenage fashion is we’re talking about clothes. Just clothes. Pieces of cotton sewn together to cover these bodies we possess for 7o years or so.
Life is all about having and maintaining the right perspectives on God and ourselves. When we lose that mature perspective, we buy into the marketing world’s “sell” to make a buck and we convince ourselves that what we wear determines who we are.
So, our role as parents becomes huge! What our kids view as the “norm” has to be countered with an alternative to the norm. It’s imperative that we teach our teens that who they are has nothing to do with what they wear. It’s important that we teach them to focus on their hearts and not their cosmetics.
Many years ago, we loaded up the kids and drove to Seymour, Missouri east of Springfield. I was doing a project for a cross-cultural doctoral class I was taking at the time. I needed to spend a day interviewing an Amish family. It was a fun day for the family and the people were very nice. I remember one of my observations was that “dress is relative.” I observed that the Amish struggle as much as any with comparison and peer pressure. Yes, they dress “plain,” but there are different definitions of plain.
Compare teen dress in the 50’s with teen dress now and it’s certainly more provocative now. But the heart struggles existed then too. In other words, it’s not the clothes worn but the heart corrupted. The answer isn't to lay out overalls for our kids each day or to force them to wear uniforms. The answer is to be about heart surgery as we raise our kids.
Yes, don't allow inappropriate clothing, but go deeper with your teen. Discuss the “whys” behind what they wear. Don't buy the “I have no idea- it’s just an outfit” explanation. Teach them how to value their hearts more than how they look.
And of course, for some teens, it’s not about over dressing it’s about under dressing. That was more my problem. I didn't care enough about what I wore. The key is balance.
So, when the clothing concerns you, take the time to discuss it with your teen. Don't just lecture them but talk with them. Give them an objective perspective on what really matters and help them be more concerned with purity of heart instead of the latest fad.
Teach your kids that purity and respect is possible without having to live with the Amish.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Monday, September 6, 2010
“It is more blessed to give than to receive” –Acts 20:35
Teaching our kids to be givers, not takers, starts early, very early. While it may not be “natural” for a child to share his Legos, kids do model the giving they observe in their parents.
I remember when I was a little boy at Arlington Heights United Methodist church in Fort Worth, every year my parents would always give me the little box with envelopes in it. They explained that I was to put a quarter in the envelope and put it in the offering plate when it came by on Sunday morning. I would take the envelope and write “Joey” on it and put my quarter (that my mom gave me) in it. I remember putting it in the plate and wondering how that quarter ever got all the way to God. They were teaching me to “give away.”
Kids are more inclined to give away, but by the time those kids become teenagers, their money is spent on itunes, iphones and other electronics. But deep inside, given the right prompting, even teenagers can be givers.
The last five years, I’ve been a part of a mission trip to the Gulf Coast to help with Katrina relief. We were involved in general clean up, helping rebuild homes and bringing encouragement to the people of New Orleans and surrounding areas. We took Staff from Doulos and a group of teenagers from the Shelterwood program.
My favorite part of the trip was watching these otherwise difficult teenagers serve the people. Given the opportunity to be “others-centered,” these remarkable teens worked hard and engaged with the hurting people of New Orleans.
One of my best memories of those mission trips was working on the home of an elderly gentleman named Harry. He lived in New Orleans and has since passed away. But the few days we painted his house, he was so appreciative of our efforts. He especially engaged with the teenagers working on his home and they engaged with him.
Many times I think we’re hesitant to “nudge” our teens towards giving away their “valuables”: time, possessions, money and themselves.
As I’ve mentioned before, my dad especially was a giver. I remember numerous times him giving away valuables to people in need and on many occasions him giving to worthy causes. I’m not sure he knew how much I was watching him, but with eyes like a hawk, I soaked in every encounter and conversation.
Kids are like that. They may not appear to be engaged, but they are watching every move we make (or don't make) and are filing it away for later justification to give or to hoard. Right or wrong, the actions of parents are readily used to justify actions of kids. That’s why stats show that children of parents that use drugs are more likely to, you guessed it, use drugs.
So, be intentional with your kids and teens. Look for opportunities to give. I read in the paper once that a trailer park outside of Branson flooded. I loaded up the family one Saturday morning and we went and helped clean up the mess. That was my dad whispering in my ear to “go.” Don't think about going but GO!
Be a giving parent and you’ll raise kids that are givers, whether you give them the quarter or not.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Thursday, September 2, 2010
“For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” -Gal. 1:10
Peer is defined as “people who are equal in such respects as age, education or social class.”
Pressure (the symbol: P) is defined as “the force per unit area applied in a direction perpendicular to the surface of an object.”
So, peer pressure is simply defined as “force applied by equal people.” And it’s the word “force” that can cause problems.
As a new school year begins, kids and teens all deal with the issue of “fitting in” to the world of their peers. As self-image and self-confidence are developing, it’s easy for comparison to become the norm for teenagers to gauge their self-worth. Therein lies the problem. In the teenage years there is no solid, applicable norm. Certainly in the teenage world, the standards are all over the place.
Of course, in the ultra-tolerant world we live in today, having absolutes or standards isn't “politically correct.” That creates dilemma, not just for teens, but for parents as well. That’s where the Bible and family standards need to enter the scene. Contrary to popular belief, the Bible is not a set of “do’s and don’ts.” The Bible is a set of instructions that has stood the test of time, ready to be the stable guide for mankind. For teens and parents alike, it’s a gold mine of instructions and precepts to guide us through life.
With the Bible as a standard, it’s important that parents lay a foundation in the home as a norm for teens to take out into their worlds of school, sports and friendships. These spiritual and family foundations counter the pressure created by the media and peers. On any given evening of watching TV, one would think that having casual sex with an acquaintance is normal or that manipulation of an individual in a reality show is the way to succeed in life.
The truth is that integrity, honesty and faith are still the attributes that produce a peaceful, solid foundation for life. As kids encounter the pressures at school to deviate away from wholesome, healthy living, they need an alternative to counter the peer pressure. It’s not enough just to tell them to say “no.” Today’s teens need to know why. “Just say no” doesn't work today.
As parents, take the time to explain why sex outside of marriage is a counterfeit to the true purpose of the sexual experience within marriage. Explain to them why provocative dressing conveys a negative message. Engage and talk with your teen. You can't start these conversations too early, but you can also wait too late.
As negative peer pressure threatens to tilt teens towards unhealthy living, tip the scale the other direction by teaching your teen. Don't start a lecture series every evening, but take the time to discuss the issues with your teen and take the time to listen, listen, and listen again. Most teens know the right answers but need to process through them with someone they trust.
Peer pressure can be negative, but don’t lock your teen in a closet. They need to be “in the world but not of the world.”
Whether that’s politically correct or not.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
“He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him” -Prov. 18:13
In this age of electronic communication, it’s important that we teach our kids how to communicate well. Taking the time to train them in being good listeners and communicators is more caught than taught. In other words, they model what they see around them, especially in us as parents.
No electronic device has pervaded teenage life like cellular phone devices. I read that 86% of Americans own a cell phone. Like so many mainstays in society, the answer rarely lies in the lifetime ban but more in the moderation mode, teaching teens how to use things appropriately.
Does anyone remember the bag cell phone? It was huge and bulky and had a little case that had to be carried along with the phone. It did have great reception using 3 watts of power (today’s phones have .6 output watts) but was very expensive and had limited coverage. Next came the first hand held phone. It too, was huge. Then came the flip phone and so on…
Like them or not, the cell phones are here to stay. Of course, now the “phones” are more powerful than computers were not too long ago. They are mini laptops doing everything from surfing the web to finding directions across town.
The telephone was invented in 1876 but began to be used as a communication device in the early 1900’s. Like cell phones, the modifications and ease of their use progressed over time until most every household could not do without a phone in the house. I would imagine that our grandparents commented about phones like we comment about cell phones, “If there is something worth saying, why not say it face-to-face instead of over wires.”
I asked one of my kids the same question about texting, “I don't get why y’all text. Why don't you just call each other?” By the way, did you know the average American teenager texts 80 times a day? My kids explained to me that they like texting because then you don't have to take the time to listen.
Therein lies the problem with modern communication devices. I call them “lazy communicators.” True, they are efficient, but they also break most of the healthy communication rules: no non-verbal cues, no listening feedback and a focus on the person speaking.
The cell phone is advantageous for interpersonal socialization. But the cell phone should not replace healthier forms of communication. Remind your kids and teens that when the issue is important, face-to-face is always better. Encourage your teen to make the phone call instead of texting when the message involves more than something just informational.
Bottom line is, when the communication is important, avoid using email or texts. It’s better to discuss issues on the phone but the best way is face-to-face.
You decide when your teen is mature enough to handle the responsibility of a cell phone and be sure to set the rules and parameters for it’s use.
Let them know that if they bend the cell phone rules, they’ll have to carry a bag phone!
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Friday, August 27, 2010
“…I count all things to be loss…” –Phil. 3:8
Someone said life is all about how we handle winning and losing. Perhaps the greatest lesson we can teach our kids is how to suffer loss and disappointment. No lessons are needed for success (except maybe humility), but in the losing department, teens need to be trained in losing well.
It was time for the Annual Sheriff’s race day and Opie was excited. Barney promised Opie that if he trained him, he would win a medal in the 50 yard dash. “You let ‘ole Barney ‘the Rabbit’ Fife train you and you’ll win a medal for sure,” Barney said. Opie prayed that night, “Lord, if you let me win, I’ll take my medal off for my bath.”
Finally, race day came and Opie lost badly. Opie was disappointed and sulked on the couch as Andy came to talk to him. “It’s important that you tried. It’s important that you know how not to win,” Andy said. Opie replied, “I don't want to be a nice loser, I want to be a good winner. My friends beat me and they’re not my friends anymore. They got my medal.” Andy replied, “then I’m disappointed in you.”
Opie later came to Andy and apologized. “Pa, I don't understand why I’m supposed to be happy about losing.” Andy replied, “You don't have to be happy about it, but you need to be a good loser and congratulate your friends when they win.”
Of course, here’s the catch: we can't teach well what we haven't learned ourselves. And in the area of winning and losing, most adults haven't learned much at all. Just watch a professional sport tonight. It doesn’t matter which one really. Chances are, you’ll observe some matured grown millionaire athlete throw a temper tantrum over a missed call. Or you might see fines levied toward an aging coach for throwing a water cooler on the baseball field.
When my son Eric was in 3rd grade playing basketball on a neighborhood team, he had a game north of Branson in Ozark. One Saturday afternoon, he had a game against a team that had an irate coach. The kids were small and having fun, but the opposing coach began to lose it. With every foul called, he got louder and angrier until finally he charged the referee. The game was cancelled and the confused kids left the court. Kris, the kids’ excellent coach, explained to them what had happened and that the coach was in trouble because he wasn’t nice to the referee.
These incidents happen all the time. Maybe not to that degree, but often kids are witnessing adults being poor losers. It’s the subtle times that we communicate the most to our kids. It’s the drive home from the basketball game when we say, “that ref stunk, those judges gave really low scores, or that umpire was blind.” Funny that we never say those things when our team wins.
Instead our teens need to hear us speak encouragement. “Tough loss tonight, but you all played really hard.” Or even, “not our best game tonight, but glad we get to play this weekend.” If your kid didn't play well, chances are he already knows. Don't remind him.
Yep, medals are a blast. But most of us won't win one most of the time. Our “medal” needs be the knowledge that we gave our best with what God gave us. Teach that to your kids.
Even Barney can't improve on that!
By Eric Joseph Staples ©