Friday, December 23, 2011
This will be the last blog for 2011 as we enjoy the Holiday and focus on family. Merry Christmas!
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…” –Isa. 9:6
Adoption is a wonderful thing. Simply put, it’s the process of loving parents taking in a beautiful child to be a part of their family. Christmas is a wonderful thing too. Simply put again, it is the process of a loving God providing His Son, Jesus, so that we might be adopted into His heavenly family. God provided what we needed, but we have to make the choice to love Him in return. It’s seemingly an easy choice- why would anyone reject that kind of love? But many do.
Amy and Stephen, dear friends of ours, adopted a beautiful girl a few years ago. They were not able to get pregnant and were so excited to be parents of a beautiful baby girl. As they waited patiently for all the legalities to be finalized, Amy discovered she was pregnant. But they continued with the process and then embraced Karis as their own. Last year, they began the process of adopting Karis’ brother. The mom could not care for him and it seemed natural for the pair to be together.
But the adoption process was difficult. Another family was involved and the courts were slow to act. But Stephen and Amy were steadfast in their love. They never wavered in their determination to pursue and love that baby boy.
Finally, last week, the judge finalized the plan and signed the document to make the boy theirs. What a Christmas present! Stephen and Amy were rewarded for their determination and will be awesome parents. God too is steadfast in His love for us. It never wavers.
That’s why He gave us the gift of His Son Jesus. We’ll all experience a taste of that kind of love on Christmas day when we share gifts with one another. Though a shallow example of true grace, it’s a glimpse of God’s willingness to give. Picture a dad giving his son a special gift and the son turning to him and saying, “Thanks dad, but I don't want that gift. It’s not for me. Maybe it’s okay for someone else, but I don't need it.” Don't need it? What? Every kid loves to be given gifts. And nothing brings joy to a parent more than seeing their kids simply enjoying themselves.
God made the choice long ago to send His Son, His chosen Child. Perhaps God had several plans in place in case His created man decided to rebel against Him. But He knew that anything less than the sacrifice of His only Son couldn’t satisfy the requirement. God’s choice of His precious Son, Jesus, magnified Christmas and glorified God’s plan to send His Son to His death as a substitute for our sin. And it was all because of His choice. He chose to adopt us as His kids and He sealed the deal with the Cross.
We parents love our kids so much. They are the most important things in our lives. But our love pales in comparison to God’s love for us. He proved that once and for all by sending His Son, Jesus.
Thank you, Amy and Stephen, for your example of persistent and compassionate love. And thank you Heavenly Father for your persistent and unending love for us. This Christmas, may we all remember to look past the eggnog and mistletoe and say a sincere thank you to God for sending His one and only Son, Jesus.
No paperwork or courts are required, just the choice to believe.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Monday, December 19, 2011
“Do nothing out of selfishness…” –Phil. 2:3
It’s Christmas time and though the season is all about the birth of Jesus, the focus seems to be more about gift giving. Nearly every TV commercial, advertisement and billboard is focused on selling something. A challenge for every parent is to be sure and set the Christmas tone for your family. Take the time to keep the focus on the Christ child. Talk about it on Christmas day. Tell the nativity story. Pray a prayer of thanks with the family on the 25th. Keep Christ in Christmas.
A part of the lesson is teaching our kids that they can't have everything they want. It’s okay to have the means to give our kids more than they need. I read yesterday that the average American spends $800 on Christmas gifts. Of course, that’s the average, so some spend a lot more.
When I was in the 8th grade, I went on a YMCA canoe trip with a bunch of other kids to the Boundary waters between Minnesota and Canada. We spent a week canoeing the beautiful lakes, fishing for Pike and roughing it in the wilderness. It was a stretching trip for a pretty insecure kid trying to find his way. The trip had a profound effect on me and helped build me into a more confident person. It also stamped a love for the outdoors in me that continues to this day.
The Christmas after the canoe trip I knew what I wanted. Better yet, I knew what I thought I needed. I wanted an 18 foot double-end aluminum Grumman canoe. I had plans to spend my spare moments canoeing the great outdoors in Texas (?) I made my wish known to Santa Claus (mom and dad) and waited for the 25th. I woke up on Christmas morning and hurried into the living room. To my surprise, there was no canoe. “Oh, it’s too big to be in the house,” I thought, “it must be in the garage.” But upon inspection, there was no canoe there either. Mom and dad showed up, along with my brothers and we received some awesome gifts I’m sure (I don't remember). I never asked about the canoe and it never appeared. A gift, after all, is a gift, with the innate choice to be given or not given.
But the message was received. I wasn’t going to get everything I said I wanted. My parents certainly had the means, but they also had the maturity to realize that there needed to be a line. As the spoiled youngest child, I needed to learn that just because I wanted it didn't mean I’d get it. They laid the groundwork for the lesson God has been teaching me my whole life: that He provides what I need.
I am innately selfish, manipulative and greedy. Yuck! I want what I want when I want it, which is NOW! I wanted that canoe but I didn't need a canoe. Truth #1 is there are few places to canoe in Central Texas. I’ve canoed the Brazos River many times and most of the trip was spent dragging the canoe, not floating. Truth #2 is that it’s simpler to rent a canoe that it is to have to store and carry it around. The canoe was a good non-investment and though I was disappointed not to get it, within a few days, I was over it.
That’s the way most “things” are anyway. The build up to getting anything is huge, then the gift is received and within a few days, it’s no big deal. It’s because we’re reminded over and over that “things” don’t bring fulfillment. Like trying to grab water, there’s no substance in things. But unfortunately, that doesn’t keep us as parents from trying to give our kids too much “stuff.”
So, celebrate Christmas and certainly give gifts to those you love, but don't overdo it. And certainly don't forget to give away the best give of all: the reminder that Christmas is about the birth of Jesus and God’s gift of grace.
Now that’s better than any old canoe.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
“For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it?” -Luke 14:28
I've noticed lately that my eyes are extremely dry, my lips are cracking, and my hands are chapped. Yes, it's winter when heaters are running and moisture scarce, but I just generally feel like I'm shriveling up. So, I went to the absolute expert source of information on anything: the Internet. Of course, I'm kidding. The information on the Internet needs to be verified, but I did go to Web MD, and it said that, "extreme body dryness can be a side effect of allergy medication." I do take medication for my allergies and the advantages of my medication outweigh the side effects. Most life decisions have advantages and disadvantages. A part of maturity is weighing out the factors and an important part of parenting is teachings our kids how to weigh carefully.
The medications that commercials feature show talented actors explaining how wonderful the meds are and the major lifestyle change that comes with taking their product. Then, at the end of the sell, comes the bombshell. The narrator’s voice lowers and kicks into fast-forward as he describes the potential side effects of the medication. "This medication is known to stunt growth, cause death and to occasionally cause your eyeballs to fall out of their sockets." Then, the beautiful actors come back on the screen, all smiles and energetic.
Then, it’s choice time. Do I take the meds and reduce the discomfort caused by my ailment or do I find alternative ways to deal with the illness without risking the side effects?
In the Fall of 1975, I was faced with a tough decision: where to go to college. I had three older brothers who preceded me to college. One went to S.M.U. and the other two went to T.C.U., in my hometown, Fort Worth. I had followed my brothers step by step. I wore the clothes they wore (literally), I drove the car they passed down to me and I played the sports the played. I was torn about where to go.
That Fall I made some college visits and one peculiar visit was to Waco, Texas to see Baylor University. I’d never been to Waco, (we weren’t southern Baptist, we were Methodist), and I’d never known much about Baylor, except they were terrible in football. But that Friday visit was awesome and I was sold. It wasn’t too far from Fort Worth (2 hours) and deep inside I was ready to be Joey Staples, not “little Staples.”
I discussed the decision with my mom and dad and they said I should “weigh out the options.” As they usually did, they left the decision up to me. Though they helped me weigh out the advantages and disadvantages, they let me make the decision. I’m certain they had opinions about it all, but they knew that a part of me growing up was growing in decision making.
Baylor is tough academically. Check. The campus is beautiful and friendly. Check. Your brother is at Baylor finishing his Masters degree. Check. Waco isn’t Fort Worth. Check. Baylor has a soccer team. Check. Baylor has a Christian foundation. Check-check. You don't know many people at Baylor. Check. Baylor is expensive. Check. We weighed it all out and I made the decision to go. It was a good one.
I weighed it all, took the medicine called Baylor, side effects and all, and it worked. God used that education to grow me up. Help your kids make their decisions, but be careful not to make their decisions for them. Don't be a control freak. Let them own it, even if you disagree.
After all, their eyeballs probably aren't going to fall out.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Monday, December 5, 2011
“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” -1Pet. 5:6
Yesterday, I took our lab, Maisy, for a drive to the Vet’s office. She’s a loving, hyper, cocky puppy these days, but yesterday, she was scared, quiet and humble as she sat in the floorboard of my SUV with her tail between her legs. Today she is going to be spayed and the vet needed to check her weight in preparation for the surgery. I was reminded of the strength of humility. I don't know about dogs, but I know God uses opportunities of humility to remind us all of our own frailty, our dependence on others and our need for God. We need those reminders!
Life is so much fun on sunny days when our health is excellent, our bank account is overflowing with cash and our car is full of gas. It’s easy to cruise along when our greatest challenges are small, but when we’re sick or an unexpected financial set back hits us, we’re like Maisy sitting in the floorboard: scared, dependent and needy.
I was talking with a teenager last year as we were kicking a soccer ball back and forth. The teen’s main focus in life was soccer with the future goal of playing in college. He was asking me questions about playing college soccer. My answers surprised him, “Yes, I played in college but it was not a big deal at my school and you know what, it was such a small part of my life.” I could tell by the look on his face that he was disappointed. I continued, “Enjoy soccer, but you need to remember that you’re only an injury away from never playing again.” I reminded him that Jesus is the only thing that lasts forever. He was shocked. This was a great kid, but I had taken his secure world of athletics and exposed it as fragile and temporary. I will never forget his response back to me, “Oh Joey, I’ll never get injured.” I saw so much of myself in his answer.
When I’m Maisy, sleeping in the backyard, my stomach full, cats out of the yard, and torn up items everywhere, things are great. I’m in control, I’m the ruler of my ship, “I’ve got the world on a string” and “everything is going my way.” I might even throw out a, “Praise God for He is good” comment because everything in my circumstances is perfect. I’m convinced that I have it all covered and I too will “never get injured.”
Then BOOM. I wake up sick or the doctor office calls with the negative report or I balance the checkbook and I’m out of cash (with a lot of month left to go) or the car breaks down or I leave for work with a strain in a relationship or I’m called into the boss’ office and am told I’ve lost my job. The list goes on and on. One minute I’m basking in the backyard, the “big dog” and under control. The next minute, I’m off to the vet’s office about to be sliced open, with everything out of my control.
And then I have a choice. I can try to regain control by trying to “fix”, get angry over my circumstances or blame someone else for my misfortune. Or, I can accept the circumstances with humility and lean on God. Yes, God engineers circumstances in my life so that I’ll depend on Him. Why? Because He knows I’m at my best when I’m in that position. Just ask Job of the Bible. It’s a long book, but read it sometime. He was basking in the sunlight, then life took a twist and he was broken. But, in the end, He settled with God and he was okay. God provides the opportunity, but we have to humble ourselves.
So relax in the circumstances this week. Be humble in the up and the down times.
Whether you’re headed to the Vet or not.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Thursday, December 1, 2011
“The integrity of the upright guides them…” –Proverbs 11:3
You know I love the Andy Griffith show and I would never make fun of Barney or talk disparagingly of the Darlin family. The show is masterfully written and the vast majority of the shows teach excellent lessons about the importance of truth, the value of friendship and how important it is to put others above self. But a few episodes aren't exactly “above board.” Perhaps the writers were having a bad day. I’m not sure. And I sure wouldn’t “black list” these episodes, but I would take the time to explain an alternative sub-plot to your kids.
One such show was “Barney’s physical” and it originally aired on September 24th, 1964 (47 years ago - Wow)! On the occasion of his fifth anniversary on the police force, Barney learns that in order to pass the mandatory state physical for the deputy's office, he must weigh more and be taller. Barney turns in his resignation, but Andy and Aunt Bee try to stretch him and fatten him up. When he's still two pounds underweight, Andy finds a unique solution to the problem and Barney passes the physical.
By the way, here’s a great trivia item to watch for the next time you see this episode: in the opening scene Barney is trying to get Andy to remember what important event happened to him 5 years ago today, May 16th. Later that day, as Aunt Bee, Thelma Lou, Floyd, and Opie are making preparations in the courthouse for Barney's 5th Anniversary surprise party, the one-page calendar next to the gun cabinet clearly displays MAY 15. Thirty seconds later they all hide in the back room just a few seconds before Barney walks into the courthouse. A moment later, when they all rush out with the cake and holler SURPRISE, the calendar mysteriously reads MAY 16. And no one had the opportunity to tear the MAY 15 page off.
Now, back to the episode. It’s Andy’s solution that presents the problem. You’ll remember that Barney got the hiccups, which prevented him from being able to eat and gain weight. His height was okay from using that strange contraption in the closet… “You kids get on outa here. What’s the matter with you? Haven’t you ever seen a person with his head in a harness before?” However, his weight was too low.
The letter from the State police about the mandatory physical said, “Wear your regulation whistle and chain.” So Andy put a huge, heavy towing chain underneath Barney’s uniform and when he weighed in, he passed. Andy’s logic: “the weight rule wasn’t fair, the rules called for a chain, so I’ll bend the rule.” And it worked. Lesson learned: “If you don't like a rule, bend it and make it work for you.”
I wonder what would have happened if they would have explained their problem to the state officials? Would they have made an exception? What if Barney would have started eating again when the hiccups stopped? He could have passed the exam later. Better lesson learned: when there’s a roadblock to a desired goal, follow the road of integrity. The project may take a bit longer, but any goal met through honesty is a goal worth reaching.
The end never justifies the means. People of integrity see the means as the end. Teach your kids, “How we get there does matter.” In today’s world of politics and sports, winning is all that matters. Teach your kids that it’s important how we succeed. Teach them to be truthful, honest, real and above board.
Then, whether they pass the physical or not, they’ll “pass the integrity test.”
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Saturday, November 26, 2011
“…give thanks…” –Psalm 75:1
We need to remember to count our blessings this Thanksgiving season. Even science proves it’s good for us. Even though Christmas lights and black Friday are the focus, we need to remember to slow down and acknowledge all the ways we are blessed. And it's contagious. As Thanksgiving fades away and Christmas approaches, stay thankful. Don't give into the tendency to start focusing on what I "need" for Christmas. Thankful parents tend to produce thankful kids and thankful bosses tend to produce thankful employees. Be a thankful person.
It's kind of funny, but scientist are finding that being thankful makes us happier and can change our attitude about life, "like an emotional reset button"' said an article I read today. Is that really new news? "Oprah was right," said University of Miami psychology professor Michael McCullough, who has studied people who are asked to be regularly thankful. "When you are stopping and counting your blessings, you are sort of hijacking your emotional system."
And he means hijacking it from out of a funk into a good place -a very good place. Research by McCullough and others finds that giving thanks is a potent emotion that feeds on itself, almost the equivalent of being victorious. It could be called a vicious circle, but it's anything but vicious.
McCullough said psychologists used to underestimate the strength of simple gratitude: "It does make people happier ... it's that incredible feeling."
One of the reasons why gratitude works so well is that it connects us with others, McCullough said. That's why when you give thanks it should be more heartfelt and personal instead of a terse thank you note for a gift or a hastily run-through grace before dinner.
Of course, the gratitude is empty if it's not directed to the Giver of givers, the loving God of the Universe. True thanks acknowledges that any blessing comes from the Giver of all good gifts.
"Gratitude also serves as a stress buffer," Emmons said. "Grateful people are less likely to experience envy, anger, resentment, regret and other unpleasant states that produce stress."
Scientists are not just looking at the emotions behind gratitude but the nuts-and-bolts physiology as well. Preliminary theories look at the brain chemistry and hormones in the blood and neurotransmitters in the brain that are connected to feelings of gratitude, Emmons said. And the left prefrontal cortex of the brain, which is also associated with positive emotions like love and compassion, seems to be a key spot, Emmons said.
Of course, our Designer knows we need it too. When we praise God and thank Him for all His blessings, the difficulties we encounter don't rule our lives. When we focus on the big picture, the other pictures grow smaller. And it all pales in contrast to God choosing to send His Son to die so that we might have eternal life.
It’s better than any gift we’ll get for Christmas.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Sunday, November 20, 2011
“In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O LORD, make me to dwell in safety” -Psa. 4:8
Sleep is mysterious. Since man was created, sleep has been an often neglected but essential element in human growth. All living creatures need to rest. The fact is, as important as our time is to us, we'll spend a third of our lives sleeping. And after all the research, we don't really know why.
But we do know God had a grand design for us. Do you ever wonder why he created us like He did? Why didn't he give us 3 ears or give us an eye on the back of our head? Why did he create us with a dependency on sleep? Perhaps He knew we needed to be forced to rest. Maybe He anticipated our "works curse" and it's hindrance to our lives.
Because the typical American family today is busy, busy, and BUSY! In most homes the stopwatch starts at 6:00am and ends late. In-between are meals, work, school, homework, practices, games, more meals, meetings, appointments, even more meals, church and even more meetings. The pace is crazy. But not all the activities are bad. It's great for families to be active and involved, but it's great for families to rest as well. No matter how crazy and busy the day, every family will eventually succumb to the need for rest and sleep. It's simply a part of our DNA.
By definition, sleep is a naturally recurring state characterized by reduced or absent consciousness, relatively suspended sensory activity, and inactivity of nearly all voluntary muscles. It is distinguished from quiet wakefulness by a decreased ability to react to stimuli, and is more easily reversible than being in hibernation or a coma. Sleep is also a heightened anabolic state, accentuating the growth and rejuvenation of the nervous, skeletal and muscular systems. It is observed in all mammals, all birds, and in many reptiles, amphibians, and fish.
And if we "listen" to our bodies, they will tell us when to slow down, close our eyes, and chill out. It's important that we teach out kids when to "go" and when to "stop.” It begins early with the "red light-green light game." Kids learn to move forward or stay put, depending on how the leader directs. Somehow, as we get older, we forget how to play the game. We forget to listen to the leaders God has placed in our lives. When we finally are forced to rest by exhaustion or sickness, we can usually recall other’s previous warnings.
So teach rest. As parents, teach it by living it. Teach it at three levels: the time to go, the time to rest and the time to rest as you go. We need to teach the value of work- that when the task is waiting, work hard and finish it well. We need to teach the value of rest- that when it's "sabbath time,” we need to truly rest and sleep.
But most importantly, we need to teach the concept of resting as we go. It’s the idea that, on the one extreme, we don't stay in bed all day or at the other extreme, we don't fanatically work all day. It’s the pace and balance in the middle. We teach our kids to work hard and rest hard. We teach them to have peace and contentment as they work, not one extreme or the other.
So be a do-er, but also be a rest-er. As is repeated so often in the Bible, “be still and know that He is God.”
And sleep very well tonight.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Monday, November 14, 2011
"Jesus chose the twelve that He might be with them..." -Mark 3: 13-15
I spent most of the day Friday at the Branson Doulos campus cleaning, vacuuming and rearranging. The beautiful property is still for sale after shutting down at the end of the summer of 2010 (though Shelterwood continues in Kansas City). As I wandered through every building and room, so many memories came flooding back. So much healing and growth happened in that place. Branson Doulos was fueled by such a tremendous, godly staff and I am honored to have served with them. So many lives were changed one life at a time.
The Doulos-Shelterwood formula worked because there was a concerted effort to prayerfully focus on each teen as a person. By the way, that same formula works in parenting too. Taking the time to listen and respect our kids spells L-O-V-E every time.
While I was cleaning one of the classrooms, I came across the attached message written by one of the kids on a whiteboard. Yes, it was and is truly God's place. Lives were changed for 30 years on that Branson campus. Kids found hope, families were reunited and staff grew in leadership skills.
Hundreds and hundreds of teenagers reluctantly came through the Shelterwood gates because someone intervened and wanted them to find freedom from struggles in their lives. They typically stayed for about 12 months and in that time were challenged to face their issues, reconcile with their patents and engage with their heavenly Father.
Families that were shattered were brought back together. Not always, of course. Some kids’ stays we're cut short or unsuccessful. There are no guarantees. But most of the time, through countless hours of counseling, families were refocused and reunited. That was probably my greatest joy in working at Shelterwood. The healing that took place will have generational effects forever.
All the Staff who worked at Doulos were never the same at the end of their tenure on the leadership team. The intensity of the ministry had its effect on everyone involved. Living and working with the teenagers required more than most of us possessed. Someone said, "Attempt things so great that they're doomed to failure unless God be in it." We always “bit off more than we could chew” but God was faithful and lives (including ours) were changed.
I thought of Richard Beach the other day, too. He was the founder and leader of Doulos. He was my boss and mentor. He passed away from cancer a few months after Branson Doulos shut down. Doulos was just an extension of Richard’s vision and calling. He loved people and loved leading them to freedom in Christ. He simply liked being with people. That's what makes any people-work successful.
I've moved on now and love my work at First Baptist Branson, but my years at Doulos will never leave me. God engraved the mark of discipleship on my heart. Richard's voice will always be whispering in my ear, "Love others one person at a time." Of course, that's Jesus reminder to us all as we work, play and parent.
We’re called to love others as God loves us: personally and unconditionally.
Thanks for the reminder, Doulos.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
“Let us behave properly…not in strife and jealousy” -Rom. 13:13
Perhaps you’ve read this simple poem, “Living with brothers and sisters in heaven one day, oh won’t that be glory, but living with them down here on earth, now that’s a different story.” It's simply hard for people to get along. Interpersonal harmony requires maintenance and that maintenance is fueled by love. Paul spoke to the harmony issue a lot in his letters. As parents and grandparents, we need to speak to the topic too. We need to challenge those we love to "put away" strife, jealousy, and envy and embrace the choice of love.
You’ve heard my opinion before, but the producers of The Andy Griffith Show were masters of combining well-written life lessons with tremendous acting. Many of the episodes deal well with real life, everyday lessons. Most TV shows today just show real life difficulties without any moral lessons or solutions. Sad.
In “Andy and Opie’s Pal,” Opie makes a new friend, Trey, a fatherless boy who is visiting Mayberry with his mother. Trey is a good boy and he and Opie get along fine. That is until Andy also takes an interest in the boy and asks him to join them fishing. A jealous Opie then shuns his new friend and Andy tries to teach him the cost of jealousy and just dropping friends. Barney becomes the object of the exercise.
When Opie is rejecting his friend, Andy tries to make a point by telling Barney that he doesn't want him to go fishing with them. It hurts Barney’s feelings, which Opie observes. Opie realizes that he’s hurt Trey’s feelings and mends their friendship. Afterwards, Andy reminds Barney repeatedly, “I was just using you as an example. It wasn’t real. I do want you to come fishing with us.” In classic Barney fashion, he acknowledges Andy but still hangs on to the rejection. Barney gets over it, but more importantly, Opie learns an important lesson about friendship.
Opie learns that his father’s love for Trey doesn't lessen his love for Opie. Too often, sibling rivalry creates competition and jealousy between family and friends. Too often, we feel that friendships can't be shared. We react out of our own insecurity and impose needless boundaries and limits to love. Opie realized the depth of his father’s love and reconnects with Trey. He even gives Trey his prized, genuine football. Andy comments, “Opie, you gave him something better than that. You gave him a prized, genuine friend.”
Our kids need to understand the depth of our love for them. Of course, we need to be careful within our families to not show favoritism but to love everyone equally. When our kids experience the unconditional love of grace, they are free to grow into the children God intends for them to be.
Because not only are we teaching them about our love, but we’re ushering them into the love of God. We want them to accept the unconditional, graceful love of Jesus. We’re presenting to them a love that disciplines when necessary and loves always.
When relationships are based on that kind of love, then forgiveness and acceptance rule the day.
And we can all go fishing together.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Friday, November 4, 2011
“Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart” –Proverbs 29:17
Maisy, our 10 month old lab, is doing well. She continues to grow and mature. But the growing and maturing isn't happening by accident. As most dog owners can testify, it happens through blood, sweat and tears. Parenting can be tough too. Why? Because the master (parent) is attempting to impose his will on the puppy (child). That is usually a difficult and choppy process. But that process, if carried out by loving masters (parents) and if allowed to have its effect, usually produces stable and secure dogs (kids).
Months ago, we discovered what we already knew about Labrador Retrievers, Maisy's breed. We were reminded that Labs are strong. We took her on walks with her regular collar and leash and she would pull so quickly and aggressively that the walk became more like a run. As much as we tried to get her to slow down and heel, the puppy and breed in her stayed aggressive.
Kids are strong too. Even as babies, they are so cute and sweet but I am always amazed at the amount of emotional strength that even little kids possess. They have a will and it is strong. The child wants what he wants and is willing to kick and scream to get it!
So, we finally decided to switch collars on Maisy. We went from a regular loose collar to a [insert organ music] CHOKE COLLAR. A choke collar, also known as a slip collar, is so named because if the dog puts force on the leash, the collar around their neck chokes them. The idea is that the dog learns that yielding to the master holding the chain brings relief and a much more pleasant walk for the dog. It sounds horrible and cruel, but it actually produces a more settled and compliant dog. Labs are smart and Maisy quickly figured out that submission brought peace.
Our children usually figure that out too, if we keep the collar on them long enough. I say “usually” because there are no guarantees. Raising dogs and kids is a project of faith. Parents do the best they can and the results are up to the kid. Some dogs (and kids) are just more ornery than others, and all the psychological data can't explain exactly why. But applying the pressure and discipline needed to teach a child submission is the right thing to do. Kids and dogs need structure. And compassionate discipline equals love in the soul of a child.
The choke collar also reduces stress on the person walking the dog because the consequence of the misbehavior falls squarely on the dog, not the walker. If the dog resists, the dog chokes. If the dog submits, the dog has a relaxing walk. Training dogs and parenting are difficult work, but much more enjoyable when responsibility is correctly shared. The most frustrated parents are those that bear unnecessary responsibility for their kid’s resistance.
We need to let our kids choke! Not literally, but when children are pulling against the chain, let them suffer the consequences. As parents, don't own their problem. Yes, love them, but don't project too much of yourself into their struggle. Otherwise, you might remove the choking chain and with that, remove needed discipline in their lives.
We need to remember that as we’re teaching them the strength of submission to us, as parents, we’re more importantly teaching them of the freedom that comes with submission to a loving God.
So take a deep breath, let the collar do its work and enjoy the walk.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Saturday, October 29, 2011
"…do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering…” -1 Peter 4:12
Sometimes life can be… a pain. But dealing with pain is just a reality of life. We all go through physical and emotional difficulties at multiple points on multiple days. But we do everything possible to reduce pain in our lives. We’re led to believe that if our retirement plan has enough money in it or if we take the right medications or if we have the right credit cards, we’ll be pain free. But God has designed us to deal with pain in a way that escorts us to His grace. Training our kids in pain management will help equip them to handle trials the rest of their lives.
A few years ago, I began to have some pain underneath a tooth in the back of my mouth. I went to the dentist (a friend of mine) and had the dreaded root canal. I’d had an infection under one of my molars and he had to clean out the infection and put a crown on top of it all. The pain was huge but it went away soon after the surgery. I remember being so relieved after the procedure.
We will have difficulty in life. We need to remember to teach our kids and grandkids that life is awesome but sometimes a check up will reveal some cavities. As much as we brush our teeth, sometimes our checkups won't be fun. Scripture tells us, in the book of James, “to consider it all joy when we have cavities” [encounter various trials]. Not “if,” but “when.” We are going to have toothaches. How we respond to the pain is what matters.
Three weeks ago, I had pain under the crown where I’d had that root canal years ago. I took a few ibuprofen, but the pain grew worse and worse. I finally went to the dentist and he prescribed an antibiotic. But the pain didn't go away. Again, I went to the dentist and he prescribed a different antibiotic. It did the trick….for a while.
The point is, I went to the dentist. I had a problem with my tooth and I went to the expert to fix it. I was prepared to camp out at the dentist’s office until they could squeeze me in. Why? Because it hurt and I knew I needed what only he could provide. Remind those you love that when the pain hits, run to the one who can help. Our loving God understands the pain. He doesn't promise to take the pain away, but He does promise to be with us through it all. An easy life minus God is much less than difficulty plus God. Why? Because when we’re hanging out with God, we have true peace in our lives.
Eventually the antibiotic wore off and the infection returned. As the dentist had explained, “we will have to get to the root of the problem.” So, I went back in, he removed the crown, and re-did the root canal. Yuck. Though the original root canal worked, bacteria had crept back in. So the dentist (still my friend) went back in and cleaned it all out again. The tooth is fine now. I asked him, “how could this happen again?” He answered,” Sometimes it just happens. We’re not sure exactly why.”
For all the control freaks out there (which is most of us), I have a major announcement: “Most of the time, we won't know why trials happen.” We need to remember and teach that it’s not about figuring out “why” but about remembering where to go. When difficulties come (and they will), run (don't walk) to Jesus Christ. “Pray without ceasing” and give it over.
Keep brushing your teeth, but run to the dentist when your teeth need help!
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Friday, October 21, 2011
“…for I’ve learned how to be content in whatever circumstances I am in…” –Phil. 4:13
Sometimes the ride of life can seem less like a gentle carriage ride and more like a roller coaster. Up one minute and down the next, the roller coaster flies through the air. People scream as the coaster zooms down the track, out of control. Or is it out of control? Hum. It feels out of control, but it’s attached to a track and has an elaborate braking system. Our lives are out of control when we’re doing the driving, but when we’re submitting our ride to the Lord, we can trust that God is in control. Though the ride may seem crazy, twisting and reckless, we have faith that God has a bigger plan. It’s why we can encourage our kids to trust in the Lord.
I had a pretty crazy roller coaster ride this past week. I spent a good part of the week with my mom in Fort Worth doing projects around the house. Some of the projects were big ones and the travel was crazy. I returned home Friday in time to change clothes and attend visitation for my good friend Vince. He had passed away earlier in the week from a brain tumor. He was such a great dad, husband and friend. I was up early Saturday morning for an event at the church then hurried home to put on a tie for Vince’s memorial service. It was awesome. Then, that night, we went to a wedding of a long time friend from Branson. Crazy.
From my mom, to visitation, to church, to a memorial, to a wedding. The roller coaster goes up and down and up and down. We experience the ups and we experience the downs. Most of us are great during the up times and stressed during the downs.
In the early first century, a man named Paul rode a roller coaster too. In his second letter to the church in Corinth, in chapter 11, he described his roller coaster ride: “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.”
Wow! My coaster ride looks like the little kiddie roller coaster at Silver Dollar City compared to Paul’s journey. “Beaten, stoned and shipwrecked.” Yep, I’m not quite in Paul’s league. But I am in the league God has designed for me at this juncture of my life. It does no good for us to compare our coaster tracks- mine is specific to me and yours is specific to you. God knows our course but we determine whether we’re going to enjoy the ride or freak out.
We make the decision whether to lean on the Lord or try to take our own control. My own will responds with an anxious spirit that tries to maintain control. Faith responds with a trusting spirit and yields to a loving God.
When we give it over, we can be content, like Paul, in whatever the circumstance. Not happy. But content knowing God is in control. It calms our spirit and our family’s spirit too.
Enjoy that coaster ride and hold on tight. It’s an awesome ride!
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Thursday, October 13, 2011
“…but your grief will be turned into joy” –John 16:20
Our good friend Vince Elfrink was healed last night. His loving wife and family and many more have been praying since he was diagnosed with a brain tumor a year ago that he would be healed. I’m glad to report that he is 100% healed and in the arms of our loving God. This life is very short, but the next life is very long. Though we will miss Vince greatly, I am so glad he’s at peace. Vince was and is very special for many reasons.
Vince was a servant. His eyes were off of himself and on to others. He was quick to anticipate what someone else needed at the expense of himself. Getting the credit was not important to Vince but he did care whether the other person got their due. He was a giver and because of his character, he received everyone’s respect.
Vince was a competitor. My greatest joys with Vince were playing racquetball or softball or anything competitive. He was an excellent athlete and never gave up. Sometimes, when he was down by a bunch of points in a racquetball match, he would pause before he served. He would turn around with that Vince smile and say. “are you worried yet?” Then he would turn around and serve his great serve. He taught me how to win and lose with class.
Vince loved his family. His wife Jo Beth and his kids were his true banner. His office at CofO was filled with pictures of all the kids at all ages. He was so proud of them, not just for their awards but mostly for who they are. He loved to tell stories about them and build them up. His wife Jo Beth was his true life mate and he lit up when she was by his side.
Vince loved God’s creation. He was an avid hunter and fisherman and loved being in God’s creation as much as sporting in that creation. Many people were guided by Vince and loved the time with him. My best memory was lying face down in the middle of a wet field waiting for a fierce thunderstorm to pass over us. Lighting was striking all around and it was scary. But when the storm passed by, Vince jumped up and said,”this is going to be a great hunt”. I don't think we fired our shotguns that day, but the time with Vince was great.
Vince was humble. He honestly cared more about the other person getting the credit than himself. He loved being in the background making the event happen. He never needed the accolades to know that he was serving his purpose. He humbled himself and in that was highly exalted.
Vince loved the Lord. He had (and has) a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, His Savior. He was not shy about His faith and through the trial of this tumor, Vince never shyed away from God’s plan through it all. As I was driving him up to one of his chemo treatments, he commented, “I’d sure like to get better, but I know God is in control.” He lived his life by that creed and he went to heaven with that creed.
Many of you reading this didn't know Vince, but please tell his story to your families and kids. Men of faith, like Vince, leave an eternal mark on every life they touch. They even leave a mark on those they’ve never met. His life was touched by God and his character ripples on.
We all will miss Vince greatly, but look forward to a grand reunion again one day.
No more worries, my friend.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Saturday, October 8, 2011
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted”-Matt. 5:4
Wow! The other day, I was reflecting back on where I was a year ago and so much has changed. What a year! Life is like that for me (and for all of us). Life brings many surprises our way and our best-laid plans are usually interrupted by God’s better plans. Sometimes the interruptions are wonderful additions to life: spouses, kids, jobs, grandkids, or victories. But sometimes those changes are loss: the death of a loved one, the closing of a business, or difficulty in a relationship. We need to teach our kids how to walk through all the seasons of life. We need to teach those we love how to grieve and deal with loss.
I’ve had two very difficult periods in my life. One was in 1988 when I got a call from my brother that our father had “expired.” I’ll never forget that call. I think he used that cold, confusing word because it just seemed too real to say my dad had died. We thought he’d live forever, I guess. He had a sudden massive heart attack and just like that, he was dead. I was devastated. Someone I had leaned on all my life was gone. He was my mentor, advisor and hero. I didn't know how I’d make it. But during that time of loss, my heavenly Father became more my father than ever before. He was there for me.
The second most difficult time in my life was a little more than a year ago. Due to financial struggles, the Board of the ministry I’d served with for 28 years, decided to close the doors of the Branson campus and consolidate to the Kansas City campus. I had the option to continue with the ministry in Kansas City, but Jeanie and I did not feel led to move up there. So we stayed in Branson. The Lord opened up an amazing door at First Baptist Church and I’ve been so blessed to serve there ever since, but the loss still hurt. To add to the grieving, my mentor and boss, Richard Beach, passed away of cancer a few weeks after the ministry shut down. I still miss him a lot.
Again, I was devastated. In the few weeks we had to shut down the campus, I was little help to the grieving staff around me. I recently discussed this with one of the staff members who was disappointed in me for not encouraging the staff more during that time. I apologized to him because a better leader would have been there to guide the team through the closer. He was right, but thinking back, I had little to give. I was just trying to cope myself. He accepted my apology and I reflected back on that time. It still hurts, but during that time of loss, the Lord taught me how to bear my burden with Him. He reminded me that He is my strong tower that I can run to and be safe.
I’ll admit, I prefer the seasons when I got married, finished graduate school, got a job, and had kids. But the seasons of winter have been more important in my life. They have taught me that God is a phenomenal Comforter and knows the plans He has for me and they are plans for good. Change is an absolute necessity for Him to make us more than we are.
It’s a lesson to teach to our kids early. When the slumber party is called off or our kids don't make the A team in basketball, the hurt is real, but we learn the basics of faith: someone bigger than ourselves is at the helm. So we cry and grieve and doubt. We struggle with God and ask “why?” Then, we trust and have faith. All those emotions are okay. Let your kids experience them all. God loves the dialogue and the genuineness.
And let yourself experience them too.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
“Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. 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. 4:9-10
It’s so easy to get lost. In this age of the GPS, MapQuest and smart phone map app’s, it’s still possible to find ourselves wandering in the wrong directions. Even our Garmin gets confused sometimes. In the midst of the confusion, the best thing we can do is unplug the electronics and ask someone for directions. Sometimes the best thing we can teach our kids is to stop and ask for help when they get lost.
This past week, I attended an excellent conference in Nashville sponsored by the American Association of Christian Counselors. The conference was at the Gaylord Opryland Resort, a great place to stay. But it is HUGE! It’s probably my tenth time to stay there, but every time I go I get lost. Though I have maps and brochures with the floor plan, I find myself wandering in the wrong direction.
The Opryland is enormous! It’s 3,000 rooms, a huge convention center and four major covered wings to the hotel. In truth, it’s really four hotels joined together. Several times, with map in hand, I’ve taken off to explore parts of the hotel only to find myself at the wrong end.
By far, the best way to maneuver through the maze of buildings is by stopping and asking directions. The Gaylord Staff is more than capable and available to guide anyone asking to the appropriate part of the hotel. But I’m always hesitant to stop and ask directions. I’m certain that, though I got lost last time, I’ll master it this time.
Pride always views it the same way. I, yes, a capital I, usually think I can do most anything better on my own. Our sin nature always thinks it can do the best job on anything by itself. We love to fly solo. The problem is, the plane we’re all flying is a two-seater jet (cool). Yes, we’re in the front seat flying the plane, but guess who’s missing in the seat behind us? That seat is reserved for the navigator.
So, most of us are content to fly the plane by ourselves and leave that seat vacant. After all, it’s easier to do it all by ourselves. There are no problems with communication, I save weight and fuel by not having another person involved and I don't have to bother someone else with directions.
But without a navigator, we tend to get lost. We all need a navigator. We can't be both the pilot and the navigator and expect to find our way. The military figured that out a long time ago. Sure, people fly planes by themselves, but travel is easier when responsibilities are shared.
God gives us directions through prayer and the Bible, but usually He has appointed navigators to help us through the maze of our life. When we get lost, confused or overwhelmed, they are there to guide us, comfort us and lead us through difficulties. They provide objective encouragement for us and help show us the best routes to our goals.
We need to teach our kids that it’s okay to have navigators in our lives. We need to remind that those who journey best through this life are those who journey with others.
After all, people helping people is always better than a “recalculating” Garmin.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Thursday, September 29, 2011
“Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart” - Col. 3:21
I came within an inch this week of taking Maisy to the local animal shelter, giving her a hearty pat on the head and saying goodbye forever! I was angry. Not once, not twice, but three times she chewed some wiring underneath my SUV in the garage and messed up the ABS brake system on the vehicle. Over the years, I’ve visited with many parents that were ready to drop off their kid somewhere. Anywhere. It’s easy to get frustrated, but perseverance and patience are always rewarded. Loving deeply means loving for the long haul.
Child abuse is a horrible thing and should not be tolerated. In my pre-parent world, I thought it unbelievable that a parent could physically and emotionally lash out at a defenseless child. But later, having been up late with our sick kids one night, I do remember thinking, “I can see how a parent with a few loose screws could lose it.” When exhaustion, frustration, lack of teamwork and self-centeredness rule the day in my life, most life issues become chaos.
That’s why compassion and patience are such huge factors in parenting, marriage and life. When I am focused on me and getting my needs met first, anything that isn't meeting that need is an annoyance. Chaos is relative to what it’s being measured against.
Because the truth is, Maisy is a puppy that I’m trying to treat like a dog. What I call chaos is just fine with her. My O.C.D. world wants the backyard spotless and tidy. Her puppy dog world adores chewing things. It’s in her genetic makeup to chew. As a vet explains, “A dog's mouth is the canine equivalent of our hands; it's what dogs use to pick up and examine things, evaluate their potential use, and transport them from one place to another. Chewing lets a dog know what something feels like, how it tastes, and whether it's good to eat. It's a natural part of dog behavior: You can no more train a dog to stop chewing completely than you can train him to stop breathing. Chewing is also an important part of the pup's development. Just like babies, puppies chew in part to soothe sore gums during teething. It can take up to a year for a pup's adult teeth to come in, so this is another instance where you'll need lots of patience to teach your dog what he can chew and what he can't.”
Wow. Chewing is a part of the natural maturing of a puppy. Pups have to chew. So to leave our pup in the same garage with a mostly rubber car is a set up for disaster. Is it Maisy’s fault or mine? Hum. In truth, I was the one who set her up to chew the wiring.
Now, I’m sure not excusing a lack of responsibility in dogs or kids, but I am appealing to us as parents to be careful before we overreact and threaten to sell our kids to the lowest bidder. We need to remember that kids are kids. They’re going to make dumb decisions sometimes. That’s part of growing up. Take a deep breath and remember that sometimes they’ll learn more from your grace than from your grump.
Hang in there and pass on a little of what our loving God gives to us so freely: grace. Pray for a heart of patience and compassion.
And keep your dog out of the garage.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
“…but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God” -1Pet. 3:4
Hidden things, like Easter eggs, can be good. Other hidden things, like land mines, can be bad. There are several hidden essential keys to contentment and peace in this life. And they’re good. Certainly, faith in something bigger than us, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, is paramount. From that essential value flows the rest of the values that govern and lead this life. As parents and friends, there is no better message we can pass on to those we love. Then, hopefully, when their circumstances are difficult, they’ll have that hidden faith to get them through.
I was in a hurry the other day (seems I’m always in a hurry). I rushed out to my car in the church parking lot with books and folders in hand. I quickly unlocked the door and threw my pile on the car seat. But I’d left my laptop in my office, so I shut the door and went back in to get it. When I returned to the car, I reached into my pocket for the keys. They weren’t there. As I gazed through the car window, I saw them on the car seat. In slow motion, I reached for the door handle to open the door, but, you guessed it, the door was locked. Yikes!
But then I remembered, I’d hidden a key under the car (which you’ll never find- it’s in a weird place). Though I got a little dirty, I found the keybox, removed the key and unlocked the door. Pretty simple. No problem.
A few months earlier, a friend of mine locked the keys in their running car and didn't have an extra key stashed away. Not simple and yes, a problem. A locksmith and fifty bucks later, the door was unlocked.
So many of the lessons we teach our kids are caught rather than taught. We’d prefer the “taught” options. The “caught” scares us a bit because it’s not something we can teach in a lesson or type on a sheet of paper. It’s the way we live our lives. A life of faith teaches our kids that a there is something stronger and more powerful than ourselves, that is the “strong tower” we can run to and be safe in the hard times.
When the tough times come (and they always do), having that hidden, secure, heart-filled faith makes all the difference. It’s there to grab and lean on through it all. Sure, we can always call the locksmith to unlock the door, but that’s always a temporarily fix. Or we can determine to never lock the keys in our car, but it will happen when you least expect it. A loving God guarantees it. Why? Because he knows we’re at our best when we’re depending on Him. So He engineers circumstances in our lives to produce faith in our lives.
He produces circumstances in our lives to bring us to our knees. That’s what James 1:2 is reminding us, “consider the trials as joy knowing they are there to produce something good” (my paraphrase). It’s difficult because we have our plans and our expectations. But life is short and the building of faith is what it’s all about.
So, next time you lock your keys in the car or whatever, reach for that Hide-a-key and pull it out. Trust that God is there as a Helper and Comforter. Don't solo through the difficulty. Put that key in the lock and open the door. And let your kids and friends know about it.
And rejoice that you can never be locked out again.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” -Rom. 12:21
I heard someone comment yesterday that they feel sorry for teenagers today who are “growing up in a world with so much evil.” They were reflecting on the events of 9-11 and all of the difficulties in our world today. But as a student of history, I’m reminded that this world has always been in pretty bad shape. It’s really just a question of whether we live in this world or of this world. It is a question of whether we stand for what is good and best or settle for what is mediocre. We have to let our voice of good be louder than the shout of bad.
How does this relate to parenting? Kids model what they see in their parents. And if we are parents who see the worst and never express the best, our kids tend to model that same behavior. It’s more than just being half-full or seeing the day as partly sunny versus partly cloudy. It’s being real about the world’s difficulties, but acknowledging the bigger purpose and role of faith.
We recently went to the “kick-off” football game at Cowboys stadium between #4 LSU and #5 Oregon. Jeanie is an LSU graduate and I am a qualified fan by marriage. The game was sold-out, loud and intense. If you’ve ever been to an LSU game, you soon discover that it’s much more than just a casual contest. It is war. Tiger fans are awesome. Fans wear every variety of LSU garments to proudly proclaim their loyalty to the Tigers and possess all knowledge of anything involving LSU. The fans are absolutely sold out to the Tigers. They even bow their allegiance to the defense when they hold the opposing team. They can't wait to attend the games every weekend.
At church Sunday, I wondered why the “good news” of faith and freedom isn’t shouted and exalted like fans about their schools at football games? Why is it okay for fans to go absolutely berserk but not okay for most people to express their faith? Most football fans aren't afraid to risk rejection as they loudly proclaim their allegiance to a particular school. Granted, many times alcohol is involved in the uninhibited nature of the fan, but still, they are aggressive about what team they support.
In a world that is seemingly falling apart at the seams, we need to proclaim our allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ and the need for a hurting world to find it’s answers in putting faith in a loving God. Sure, we need to be respectful and loving to those of different faiths, but as Bill Hybels says, “We need to be willing to walk across the room and tell our story.”
Teach your kids to talk about what is good and true and lasting. Talk about God and His love with your kids daily. Tell your stories of God’s faithfulness to your kids often. Turn off the national news (which always shares the worst of the world) and replace it with some time in God’s Word. Remind your kids that there is an alternative to finding peace in this unpeaceful world. Remind them that true peace only comes through faith in the Lord.
Mention again that God is our strong tower, whom we can go to for peace and protection (Proverbs 18:10). Be bold about your faith. Be reminded that the God of the Universe carries more weight than even LSU (but I still like the Tigers)! He is truly worthy of our praise and of our sharing to a hurting and lost world.
Go God (and go Tigers)!
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Sunday, September 4, 2011
“…there is a time to love…” -Eccl. 3:8
“We’d love to come see you, but the drive is just too long.” That’s the excuse used by most family members to avoid leaving their cozy homes and going to see relatives. As much as family means to most, the “cost” of making the drive and plans to make the meeting possible are just too high. Facebook and email are easier and more convenient than face-to-face meetings. But something is lost. There is no substitute for being able to hug and connect with people that share your name and DNA. But it comes with a price. Teach your kids that the price is worth it.
What a fun week we had last week! We had some very special people that drove a long way to be with us. My daughter Elizabeth and granddaughter Reese made the drive from Columbia to our home in Branson, Missouri. My sister-in-law Lisa, her daughter, Becca and her daughter, Emery, made the trip from Indiana. We all gathered to celebrate family and grandkids. It was a mini-reunion of at least part of the Staples family and a chance for a couple of cousins to meet each other for the first time. Mostly, it was a time for family.
With the prevalence of the blended family and the geographical relocation of many families, reunions aren't quite as popular as they used to be. Many kids grow up having never met aunts, uncles and cousins. The stories told at reunions go untold and the links between generations are left blank. Be a parent that chooses to pay the price to being family together.
When I was a child, I remember the long drives from Fort Worth to Georgia to visit my mom’s family in Thomson and my dad’s family in Roopville. The journey was long and hot and my three brothers and I played games in the back of the station wagon. We always went to Thomson first where I loved running around house, playing with my strange cousins and going to help my grandpa pick corn in his garden. After a few days, we’d make the drive across Georgia to Roopville. It was much more rural and I loved staying at the farmhouse outside of town. The home had one bathroom and a wrap around porch. It was surrounded by acres and acres of farmland. There too, I played with mysterious cousins, helped fetch eggs from the chicken coop every morning and just had a blast. My Papa died when I was little but my gran-nanny was a wonderful, kind woman. I loved seeing my dad with his brothers and sisters. It made me proud to be a “Staples.”
Somehow, none of that is captured on Facebook. Those big reunions and small reunions unite family and create a security within all involved. Sure, they can be sticky and awkward sometimes. All families carry hurts and scars from the past. But differences are set aside when family gathers. That’s called love. The Greeks used the word “storge” to describe the familial love between family members. It’s different than loving ice cream or a spouse. It’s the thick kind of love that cares because it's simply family.
Be a parent that teaches your kids to love family. Don't let them hear you speaking badly about relatives. Be sure to model love for your extended family. Remember, one day you’ll be old and will want those you love visiting you. Allow your kids to meet their aunts, uncles and cousins. Be willing to make the drive, no matter how long it takes. Because, in the end, the drive is always worth it.
And will mean tons more than a Facebook chat.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Friday, August 26, 2011
“…in everything give thanks…” -1 Thess. 5:18
It’s been a while since I’ve written about Maisy, our 7-month-old yellow lab puppy. My last few blogs about her reflected an immature, out of control crazy dog! Of course, that’s how all puppies are- impulsive and wild. But as time has passed, Maisy has settled down. Honestly, I’ve been so focused on her messes that I’ve missed some of her victories. It’s so easy to do with a dog and certainly as easy with our kids.
Victory #1: she’s learned to “deposit” in yard. This is huge. I was cleaning up multiple puddles and poop in the garage every morning and with the weather getting hot, well…it was gross. But suddenly, without any warning, she apparently decided she didn't like the smell either, and now the garage floor is squeaky clean. Teens too, without warning, seemingly get “tired of the smell,” and often just decide to behave with more responsibility. Even with all the research and techniques, kids often just get better. Even the professionals aren't sure why. It’s a reminder to us as parents to keep training and teaching our kids because often, time is on our side.
Victory #2: she’s learned to “sit” upon command. With the use of a choke collar, it took a few strolls around the driveway, a few yanks on the chain and voilà, she had it down. The great thing about sitting is her spirit after she sits. It’s less about sitting and more about her attitude. When she sits, she has a noticeable submissive spirit. She knows that when she sits, she’s pleasing her master. Teens too, regardless of how they appear, desire to please parents. Sure, there’s the defiant sin nature that wants what it wants now. By the way, if you doubt the existence of sin nature, pull up a chair in your church nursery this Sunday and watch the babies. They’re sweet all right, but they also are…needy. But when teens are obedient, they dispel the rebellion and feel their own sense of accomplishment and peace.
Victory #3: she’s learned to go to her bed when a car is pulling into the garage. She learned this lesson the hard way. When she was a small puppy, our rule was to never pull in or out of the garage without someone holding her. We’d heard about too many dogs that were accidentally run over by their masters. Sad. But she began to sit to one side as we pulled in, so we left her on her own. One day, as Jeanie was pulling in, Maisy got too close to the car and she got bumped. Ever since, she runs to her bed when the garage door is going up or down. She learned the lesson the hard way, but she learned the lesson. Often, kids are left to learn their lessons the hard way. We can only hold them so long before they’re left to figure it out on their own. We can only hope they don't get too bruised.
Victory #4: she’s become a friend. Don't get me wrong: I’ve always liked Maisy. But as a crazy pup, my goal in being with her was to avoid chaos. Lately, after I walk her through a few “obedience laps” on the driveway, we sit together and she let’s me just rub her belly. No squirming, no biting, just being a friend. Now don't get me wrong, she can still be a kamikaze pilot flying through the yard, but she’s a loyal friend. Don't miss the friendship with your kids. Teens can appear that they only want to be with their peers, but deep inside, they cherish the time going to get ice cream or just sitting on the deck talking. Don't let the roll of the eyes fool you. They cherish the time with you.
Don't miss the bright spots with your animals or your kids. Don't be too busy to recognize the victories.
It brings peace, satisfaction, contentment and maybe a good ole belly rub!
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Monday, August 22, 2011
“…and let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” - James 1:4
When things break, we all like to fix them with the least amount of “collateral damage” possible. In other words, we don't want any remaining reminders of the breaking. But many times things change, even after the problem is fixed. That’s God’s ultimate purpose as He takes us through trials- to make us into more than we were before. That’s his plan for our kids also. But usually, we resist the change. We’d struggle less if we knew the benefits of the change.
Like many homes, we have two refrigerators in the Staples house, the newer one in the kitchen and the older one in the garage. I noticed the ice cream in the kitchen freezer getting soft and knew we had a problem. As always, I attempted to fix it myself. The Internet said to clean the coils underneath the refrigerator, which I did, but it made no difference. I called a repairman, but it took a couple of days for him to come to the rescue. In the meantime, I laid hands on it, I shook it, I talked to it and I even dreamed that I’d woken up and it was fixed!
But denial didn't work. It never does. The fact was that the refrigerator was broken and I couldn't fix it, period. I needed to ask for help.
We watched the movie “Soul Surfer” last week, the true story about a champion surfer who loses an arm to a shark but gains a stronger faith. In one scene, just home from the hospital, her parents are dealing with their daughter’s difficulty. Dad comments, “if she doesn't get back on a surf board, she will never be the same.” Mom responds, “Honey, she will never be the same.”
Surfing again or not, their daughter was changed. As parents, we want to keep our kids in a mold of comfort and ease. We don't want things to change, even though we know, intuitively, that they need to change. So, too often, we jump in the fix this and fix that. Intuitively, we attempt to fix problems to produce as small a consequence as possible.
But sometimes our kids need to live with the damage. Sometimes, the process of the trial and the scares left behind teaches our kids more than we realize. Sometimes, the lessons learned are stored away for our kids to use as they encounter trials later on in their lives.
The repairman finally came and I watched as he tested, diagnosed and fixed the refrigerator. He commented, “feel free to ask questions as I do the repairs.” I did and I learned a ton. He showed me the timer, thermostat, sensor and heater coils. When it goes out again (not soon I hope), I think I could fix it- maybe.
Isn't that our goal as parents? Not to solve our kids problems, but to teach them how to solve their own problems. When their refrigerators break, we want them to have the tools and knowledge necessary to make the fix. We also want them to be willing to ask for help. We want the trials to teach them and to have their “perfect result.” We need to remember that none of that happens when we jump in to make the quick fix.
We need to pray for discernment to know when to step in and appropriately help our kids and when to back off and let them hurt a little and learn. Even if we’re to jump in, we need to remember to teach them.
Then, when the refrigerator goes out, they’ll be able to make the repairs.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
“For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” - Matt. 23:27
As is true in most neighborhoods these days, “for sale” signs are everywhere. The real estate market is CRAZY and many people are choosing to fix up their homes to sell. That’s led to a resurgence of remodeling and upgrading on many homes. Most figure if they can increase the attractiveness of their home, it will be more appealing. Works well for real estate, but not so well for life. Looking better on the outside says little about how well we are on the inside.
It’s estimated that over $226 billion is spent every year on home improvements in the United States. I don't have the stats, but I bet more money is spent on outside improvements than inside improvements. After all, if we drive by a home for sale, the curb appeal is what catches our eye. It’s been said, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression.” When it comes to selling anything, the look of the item is huge. The quality of the product is determined by the look of the product.
The Bible says the heart determines the quality of the person. With the exception of a few cardiologists, we can't see someone’s heart. We’re left to observe the fruits produced from that heart. Yet, most of our maintenance and remodeling work is focused on the outside. Most time is spent on the look: what do I wear? What do I do? How much money do I have? How am I coming across to others?
Of course, there is nothing wrong with dressing nicely and saying nice things, but when we’re focused on external things, we tend to neglect the inside heart issues that really matter. I passed a home once that was painted and remodeled a few years ago. I slowed down one day to inspect it closely and realized it was a mobile home that had been sided and roofed to give the appearance of a structured home.
There’s sure nothing wrong with living in a mobile home- there are some really nice ones. But this structure was remodeled in a way to appear to be something it was not. People are like that too. But true freedom comes with being genuine.
As parents, we are the coaches and teachers that will lead our kids and teenagers in this remodeling craze. What we have to determine is whether we’ll teach our kids to upgrade their inside or their outside. Remember, if I am focused more on outside, it's super hard to teach inside focus. The “do as I say, not as I do” rule has never worked. I can't teach what I don't practice myself.
So, mom and dad, take a little time out today and ask yourself, “Am I focused on outside things or inside things? Am I more concerned about integrity and truth or on looks and impressions?” Then evaluate, “Am I more focused on my kids’ grades and awards or on his thought life and attitude?”
A beautiful house is a great thing, but if the roof leaks and the wallpaper is outdated, then the landscaping means little. Why? Because when we’re actually living in the house, we see it from a different perspective.
We need to focus on matters of the heart in our own lives and in the lives of our children. We need to realize that when we focus on the inside, the outside takes care of itself.
And the remodeling job is beautiful!
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Monday, August 8, 2011
“…after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of a gentle blowing… -1Kings 19:12
I slept terrible last night. A storm knocked out our electricity and I need noise to sleep well. I’ll get into the origins of my malady later, but the “noise handicap” is there. Jeanie, my wife of 30 years, is the opposite. She likes it quiet and calm. Our compromise (sort of) is the air cleaner I turn on every night in our bedroom. The constant “buzz” lures me to sleep like a baby. Needing noise isn't good but teaching our kids to live with “the quiet” is a great thing. The truth is, when I lose power, I need the noise. Or do I?
My theory is this: I grew up on SAC Air Force bases. I was born at Rhein-Main Air Force base in Wiesbaden, Germany at the height of the cold war. Those high profile air force bases were pretty phenomenal. Huge B-52 jets, loaded with nuclear bombs, were literally taking off 24 hours a day everyday. From 1946 until 1992, the United States had enough firepower in the air, at any given moment, to launch nuclear strikes against multiple sites all across the Soviet Union (in defense of course). So I stayed awake or learned to sleep with noise. As a child, I learned to live and sleep with the racket.
There is so much noise in our world today. There are so many distractions. For the youth leaders and camp directors of the world, it presents challenges. What used to impress kids years ago, initiates a bored yawn today. In the computer filled, entertainment-based world we live in today, the more noise the better, or is it worse?
Maybe a gift lies beyond the power outage. Maybe, when all the electronics are turned off, whatever is left is worth cultivating. Could it be that all the “I- somethings” are really just distractions away from the simpler, quieter and longer lasting noises? Could it be that when the power goes off another power takes its place? But the transition in our kids comes slowly. It requires us to guide our kids to the alternate power.
That’s where grandparents play a huge role, simply because they don't have the “gadgets.” I loved going to Granny and Papa’s farm in Georgia. Why? Because there I could go to the hen house and bring eggs back for breakfast. There I could play in the barn and run in the fields. There I could take a bath in an old-fashioned bath tub. I didn't need to plug any of those things in the wall but they were powerful to me.
Think creatively about your kids and whether you’re willing to do some unplugging. I’m not suggesting we do away with TV and games. They’re okay in moderation and fun for kids (and adults). But I am challenging us to be creative. Take your kids on canoe trips, go Geocaching, go hiking, go camping, go fishing, go, go, go. Get away from the electronic noise to the stillness and quiet of God’s amazing creation. Yes, it takes more time. But it’s powerful.
Try unplugging the power cords and experience something more powerful than any noise can provide. Experience God’s creation through nature and have a blast.
You may not sleep as well, but getting used to the quiet is worth it.
By Eric Joseph Staples©
Monday, August 1, 2011
“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth…” Eph. 4:29
“Speaking the truth in jest.” Sounds innocent enough, right? But in reality, cloaking a true statement in humor usually produces confusion and frustration. I’ve heard it said that sarcasm is the lowest form of humor. It typically gets lower marks because it’s really not funny. Of course, it’s kind of funny to the person dishing it out, but in the end, it’s usually destructive to friendships, marriages and families. When the sarcasm meter is raised, the quality of the relationship is lowered.
The word sarcasm comes from the late Greek σαρκασμός (sarkasmόs) taken from the word σαρκάζειν meaning 'to tear flesh, gnash the teeth, speak bitterly.' However, the ancient Greek word for the rhetorical concept of taunting was instead χλευασμός (chleuasmόs).
Thomas Carlyle, the famous Scottish writer, despised it: "Sarcasm I now see to be, in general, is the language of the devil; for which reason I have long since as good as renounced it."
Psychologically, sarcasm is used because it’s a safe way to express one’s negativity without being direct. Your wife is on the phone downstairs at your home in an exciting conversation with a friend. When she hangs up, you say, "I think you should talk a little bit louder next time -- the entire neighborhood didn't hear it." Your wife smiles and apologizes. Why not just share with her, “Honey, next time would you mind speaking a little softer?” Or, why not just shut the door to your room? Because, other factors always contribute to the use of sarcasm.
Jealousy and envy are typical precursors to sarcasm. My wife’s enthusiastic conversation with her friend might remind me of my lack of friendships. Hearing her talk stirs my heart to jealousy. Or perhaps I’ve already “let the sun go down” or “stuffed” anger towards my loved one for an earlier issue. When I’m sarcastic I’m speaking a half-truth: yes, I’d like you to be quieter, but I’m getting in the jab also.
Parenting can certainly produce sarcasm. Our teen has been studying for a test and announces that she’s taking a break for a while to watch TV. “Oh good, you sure wouldn't want to study too hard or you might make an A on the test.” She looks at you with a smirk and goes upstairs to watch TV. You’re actually upset because of the C she has in that Biology class and her lack of effort you sense in her attitude towards the class. But you’re afraid to confront her about her studying habits.
Fear is certainly one of the roots of sarcasm. Usually, people-pleasers are the most sarcastic. They don't want to be too direct and run the risk of damaging the relationships, so the “cloaked truth” is the substitute. Then, if the other person claims they’re being rude, they can play the “I was only kidding- gosh, can't you take a joke?” card.
Scripture repeatedly challenges us to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15) and reminds us that, “open rebuke is better than concealed love” (Proverbs 27:5). We need to continually be honest with ourselves and keep our slate clean in our relationships. If I’m sarcastic, let it be a warning to me that I may have issues I need to resolve in my relationships.
It’s tough, but certainly easier than the damage produced by “tearing and gnashing!”
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Monday, July 25, 2011
“…for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” –Phil. 4:11
OK, I know the topic is kind of gross. But hang in there as we discuss…worms! Right now, as we continue through the warm weather of July and August, a strange is happening- the worms are coming out after I water the yard. I can tell by the amount of birds snacking on them, but mostly I can tell by the amount of worms on our driveway. Shriveled and dying, the worms there aren't in very good shape. Are they coming out to avoid drowning? Or do they just feel like they have somewhere better to go?
Dr. Dennis Linden, Cindy Hale, and other worm experts say that worms do NOT surface to avoid drowning. In fact, they come to the surface during rains so they can move over land. The temporarily wet conditions give worms a chance to move safely to new places. Since worms breathe through their skin, the skin must stay wet in order for the oxygen to pass through it. After rain or during high humidity are safe times for worms to move around without dehydrating. It is true that, without oxygen, worms will suffocate, but earthworms can survive for several weeks under water, providing there is sufficient oxygen in the water to support them.
So why do they choose to scoot across my driveway, only to shrivel up half way across? The answer is simple. They’re moving to a new place. If I could have a conversation with the worms before their journey, I’d encourage them to stay put. I’d remind them that, although the other side of the driveway looks attractive, dying half way across isn’t worth it.
But a worm’s need for something better isn't much different from ours. It seems we’re constantly comparing ourselves to the “Jones’s” and wanting a better yard. It seems we’re constantly weighing the journey across the driveway against the possibility of getting ahead. Contentment so easily escapes us. The grass does seem to always look greener on the other side of the driveway.
As parents, training toward contentment begins early. Particularly at Christmas time, media works hard to convince kids (and adults) that they can't live without whatever they’re selling. Teens are bombarded with commercials about gadgets and clothing. It seems that all good marketing exists to convince us to slither across that driveway with the promise of something better on the other side.
“Sure, the grass I’m living in is okay, but imagine how much better it could be!” That’s what we’re led to believe. The truth is, comparing yards is never a productive activity. We either convince ourselves that all the surrounding yards are better than ours or that our yard is the worse one in the neighborhood. Until we bloom where we’re planted, we’ll always be looking for a better yard.
We need to remember to teach our kids to bloom right where they are at the moment. We need to remind our kids that circumstances will never be perfect. We need to remind our kids that every yard has a few weeds. We need to remind our kids of the old saying that “where we are is where we’re planted.”
So enjoy your yard. Feel free to slither a bit, but realize the grass you’re living in is just fine.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Monday, July 18, 2011
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you…” -1Pet. 4:12
It is stinkin’ hot in the Ozarks right now. And the humidity is off the charts. But, according to the Weather Channel, we’re right on the average. It’s as hot as it’s supposed to be right now. So why doesn't knowing that make it any easier? You’d think that knowing it’s supposed to be hot would make all the difference, but expecting it doesn't lower the temperature at all!
We read books about parenting and know growing up is a difficult time, but still, we freak out when the hard times hit. And of course, we’re not just reading about growing up, we actually went through it ourselves! Don't we remember? Well, truth is, we don't. Our memories are the best or the worst and not the reality of what really was.
According to the dictionary definition, heat is “energy transferred from one place in a body or thermodynamic system to another place, or beyond the boundary of one system to another one due to thermal contact even when the systems are at different temperatures.”
But we don’t care about the definition when we’re hot and uncomfortable. We don't care about the process- we just want it cooler now.
As parents, when the heat rises, we need to remember not to be surprised. Our kids are going to go through hardship. They are going to experience difficulty. They are going to cry some tears. And when they do, the worst thing we can provide for them is air conditioning. Yes, they need us to be there with and for them, but they need to walk through it in their own way and in their own time.
We can rest assured that the life of our kids will have ups and downs. Of course, we love it when the temperature of our kid’s lives is 72 degrees. Great grades, great sports and great health are easy to “weather.” But when school is difficult, our child is sitting on the bench and sick, we expect and demand cooler days. We forget that life is often hot and uncomfortable. We forget that difficulty is the greatest catalyst for change in our lives (and the lives of our kids).
Nothing much changes on the easy days, but the ground is fertile on the challenging days. Why? Because when we think we’re “cool”, pride rules our lives and pride never responds to the need to change. Someone said, “when you’re green you grow, but when you’re ripe you rot.” We all need to stay green and fertile.
So, take a deep breath and realize that it’s July weather today. And July weather is always hot. Don't be surprised when your kid’s lives heat up. Be there for them but let them walk through the day on their own. Let them own it. Be there to help but not to do.
Slip on the sunglasses, drink some lemonade and work on the tan. And remember that six months from now, you’d gladly trade the freezing weather for a day in shorts.
By Eric Joseph Staples ©