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 ©