Friday, December 31, 2010

Post-holiday blues

“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

The reason for the season

“…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

Traditional change

“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

Being with

“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 ©