Friday, May 27, 2011

Joplin and the Rubbermaid tables

God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong- 1 Cor. 1:27

Like most everyone else, I wondered how to respond to the Joplin tornado crisis. I wanted to immediately jump in the car and go help the people. But Jeanie reminded me to pray and wait for God’s direction. She’s pretty smart. Unfortunately, like Peter, I tend to just jump in where I think I’m needed. God often has different plans. He almost always wants me to “go” but He usually has a different itinerary than I have scheduled.

A few days later, I had a phone call with a buddy in Joplin who is a counseling colleague and he said, “come on out here. We need your help.” It was God’s directive, so I headed to Joplin and here I am. I am helping do counseling with employees of the Home Depot that was destroyed.

I have a break from the action, so I wanted to write. Thank you for your prayers for my brief time here. Needless to say, it's pretty crazy. But hope survives.

I dropped off a load of donated items from First Baptist Branson to Forest Park Baptist church in Joplin early this morning. That church is doing a great job with helping the community. There are tons of people there and a lot of supplies. They are fulfilling the true call of a church to a community in need.

I'm spending the day in groups specifically with associates from the Home Depot. They are going through a lot of trauma. They had one co-worker killed and a lot of injuries. But Home depot is taking such good care of their employees, financially and emotionally. The employees are sharing a lot of shock and hurt and grieving through their loses.

They will "open" again next week in their parking lot and will eventually have a huge air-conditioned tent as their temporary store for Joplin’s rebuilding. They are committed to rebuilding a brand new store and think they'll have it finished by December (Dec. 7, 2000 is when the store was built). They'll have a big grand re-opening.

One interesting fact: a bunch of the employees were saved by rubbermaid tables. I know. Kinda weird. But they crowded underneath them and, though they were battered, they held. The employees can't quit talking about them.

It reminds me that God often uses the most unusual things to protect His people. God loves to uses the unlikely. He loves to confound the wise. Rubbermaid tables. They weren’t built to protect people from tornados, but they were the very shield that protected dozens of people from harm.

I think we are all Rubbermaid tables. We all have potential to be used in ways we never imagined. We just have to be willing. God can use a donkey, God can use a shepherd, and He can use us. We just have to be willing.

Let’s continue to pray for the people of Joplin, but let’s pray for ourselves too- that when crisis hits, we’ll go to Him first, and then be willing to be the “tables” God desires.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Puppy lessons, part 1: a messy slate

“…with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves” -Phil. 2:3

I wrote a month ago that we had to say goodbye to our sweet Kipp. She was a great dog but was so sick we had to have her put to sleep. It was sad. But I also wrote that we’d probably get another lab soon. We now have a 4-month-old yellow lab named Maisy. Not long after Kipp was gone, I found Maisy at a breeder north of Branson. We met them in Springfield, paid our fee and drove Maisy back to Branson. And so life begins with a new pup. Much like a new child to a parent, Maisy brings challenges to us at home.

She is an absolute mess. I, with my OCD and perfectionist tendencies, had our garage looking pretty clean and tidy. The backyard was well kept and orderly and my prized outdoor waterfall was pristine and attractive. Then came the whirlwind named Maisy! She likes things as messy as possible. The garage is her personal toilet and every spare scrap of wood is scattered around our backyard. The waterfall has become her bathtub and shower, all in one. But what I’ve discovered is that the mess is okay. The lack of order is more than balanced by the addition of Maisy.

The same is true with parenting. We marry and organize our world and life and have it all under control. Then, the wife finds out she’s expecting. We have nine months to prepare, but we don't and then BAM, our little one comes along and our world changes forever. There is no greater tool for God to use in our lives than our children and as our world blends with the world of our child, we learn over again that putting our child first really blesses us the most. Yep, our organized world is obliterated, but the change is a good one.

Maisy is a clean slate waiting to be taught. This is our fourth lab pup and I’m always impressed with how smart and teachable a pup is from the beginning. Now granted a non-registered stray may not have the brains to be trained, but they still deserve to be loved. But the full breeds are amazing. But there is a catch: they have to be taught. There is not a special dog food that teaches them how to sit and stay and where to tinkle and poop. It requires an owner that loves his dog and is willing to give time and patience.

Again, the same is true in parenting. The nature-nurture issue will always be debated, but no one argues that correct nurture is needed. Kids soak up what they are taught. They have a soul and crucial need to be loved and nurtured for them to thrive and grow. It’s not about whether they’ll be taught, but what they’ll be taught. No parents are perfect, but we all can provide the secure environment our kids need to have their best shot at growth.

So, if you’re ever in Branson, come by and say hi to Maisy. She’ll be glad to bite your shoes or chase a ball for you. Mostly, she’ll want to just play, play and play some more. She is mess and does require discipline and encouragement to grow, but she is a blessing. We’re enjoying the new addition to our family.

Even with the messy garage.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


“You have placed our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your presence” -Psa. 90:8

There has been so much focus this past month on the flooding in the Midwest and along the Mississippi River. We had major flooding here in the Ozarks and down south, the people of Louisiana are bracing for the onslaught of water. As we’ve seen on the news, some of the levees have held well while others have failed. Of course, they don't fail all at once. The flaws are usually hidden. They are secret. They fail gradually. The leak begins and widens and, unless repaired, creates a breech in the levee itself.

Parenting can be leaky too. Moms and dads all have the best of intentions. We start out fully prepared to hold back the waters that attempt to disrupt our role as parents, but the leaks develop inside and sometimes they flood our parenting world.

Busyness. This leak develops slowly. We have every good intention to focus time on our kids’ activities and interests, but the pile at work never seems to grow smaller. “If I work more hours, then I can provide more for the family,” we rationalize, and the “sweat of the brow” begins. We miss a few soccer games but we promise our wife and son “I’ll be at the next game.” “Dad, we had our last game yesterday,” says our son and the opportunity is lost forever. Blink again and that same son is off to college. Busyness. Listen to your spouse or a best friend. Heed their advice that no amount of money can replace that track meet or recital. If that leak develops, fill it quickly and let someone you love help you.

Comparison. Another leak that starts early and can damage the levee is looking at other families and measuring success (or failure) by how they are doing. The leak of comparison is always damaging. Sure, learn from other families, but don't compare. It only produces envy, strife and slander when I keep score with other families. I put undue pressure on my kids to “stay ahead of the Jones’s.” We forget that it’s my family being what it’s supposed to be before God and not being better than the family next door. When we’re feeling envious, we need to plug up the hole with the assurance that my worth is in Christ, not in how my family performs.

Inert marriage. This might sound like a strange leak, but our effectiveness as a parent is tied directly into the health of our marriage. Of course, single parents can do a tremendous job with kids. But a struggling family is often (not always) a by-product of a poor marriage. A leaky marriage needs help and needs it now. Otherwise, kids will take on the stress and difficulty and live it out in their behavior. Be honest and real about the condition of the levee. If it needs repairing, get it repaired.

Spiritual complacency. This might be the most important. The engineers say that the most important part of a levee is the foundation. The top of the levee may erode a bit, but if the foundational part of the structure is solid, the levee will hold. Even if the levee looks good on the outside, it will crumble if the right kind of hidden material is not holding it together. That’s why it’s so important that we, as parents, are providing that foundation in our parenting. If we’re parenting with our own feeble strength, then the foundation is shaky at best. Jesus invites us to lean on Him and He will be our strength and guide. Being prayed up and fresh in our relationship with God provides the foundation for consistent and loving parenting.

Pray for wisdom and discernment. Pray for eyes that will recognize leaks and initiative to have them plugged. Engineers say that every levee has small leaks. No levee is perfect. But damaging leaks need to be repaired. Be a parent that is willing to continually learn and grow.

And a parent that is willing to get your feet wet.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


“Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at the future” -Prov. 31:25

Dads, this one is for you. In case you’ve been really busy, Mother’s day was last Sunday. If you missed it, I’d recommend flowers, cash and prayer. If you remembered, I have a thought. As far as I’m concerned, Mother’s day should be celebrated every day. No one is more deserving of recognition than the committed, tireless mothers of the world that sacrificially give of themselves day in and day out. We need to teach our kids to honor and love their moms every day.

Moms need to be thanked for their time. They give up so much to unselfishly serve their kids. When the baby monitor sounds it’s alarm, moms go to their kids, no matter the hour, what TV show is on or whatever activity they’re doing. And so much of the time they give is unnoticed. The countless hours of prayer and preparation to take care of their kids paves the foundation for kid’s lives.

Moms need to be thanked for their provision. From meal after meal to bath after bath, moms work hard to provide whatever is needed for their kids. Forgotten homework magically appears at the school office; the shirt needed for church just happens to be ironed and ready to wear. Most of all, moms provide love. Moms are there to ease the hurt, mend the “ouchie” and bring the relief that every child needs.

Moms need to be thanked for their optimism. When kids have lost all hope, moms provide hope. When the grade was the worst, moms see the best. When the break up happens, moms help put the pieces back together. When the job is lost, moms remind their kids of God’s hope. They simply see the best when kids see the worst. “Mom, this dress looks terrible on me,” the daughter exclaims. “Sweetie, don't worry about the dress, because you look beautiful,” said mom. “Mom, I’m nervous about starting in the game tomorrow night,” says the son. “Buddy, you just do your best. That’s all that matters,” replies mom.

Moms need to be thanked for their healing touch. Most don't have any education in medicine or counseling, but are true professionals in the healing arts. They reinforce the theory that love is more powerful than college degrees. They provide the warm washcloth on the forehead and that special hug at just the right time. They can correctly diagnose an illness by that look in the eyes or that skin color.

Moms need to be to be thanked for their laugh. Moms bring humor into situations that seemingly have no room for laughter. But moms recognize that how we view most situations is relative to our perspective. Most stressful situations could be a lot worse and with a little patience and levity, they seem so much better after that talk with mom.

Moms need to be thanked for their honesty. Sometimes, as in any relationship that means anything, we get angry with our parents. Moms especially can push just the right buttons to drive us crazy. But the truth is, the buttons they press need to be pushed. They tell us and remind us of realities that we have hidden from ourselves. “If you don’t study for that test, you’re going to fail,” says mom. Aggravated, we reply, “I know!” We’re angry because we know she’s exactly right. Moms aren't afraid to point out what we need to hear and that’s a good thing.

Moms need to be thanked for their faith. They can be the best vehicle God uses to usher us to faith in Jesus. Seeing our mom’s earnest effort to know God and commit us before God sets the stage for our own faith in Christ. Sometimes we claim we’re tired of all the “religious stuff,” but mom’s faith sets the stage for our own relationship with a loving Father one day.

Thank you mom, Granny, Jeanie, Elizabeth, and all you other moms, for your examples of love and faith. Your love for your kids is a beautiful example. Dads, don’t ever back off of the effort to teach the kids to respect, love and admire their moms. Push that message every single day.

Even if you missed Mother’s Day.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


“… not a result of works, so that no one may boast." –Eph. 2:8

I discovered something interesting over the weekend walking through our neighborhood: no yard is perfect. Now there are yards in our neighborhood that are definitely well manicured and kept. There are other yards in our neighborhood that, well, could use some work. But every yard has its flaws. Every child has flaws too. Of course, every parent has imperfections. Sometimes, we expect too much out of those we love. There is peace in surrendering to the imperfections.

I love cutting my grass this time of year. The cool weather plus the rainy days makes for full, thick grass. Last year, I let a yard service talk me into letting them spray my yard with fertilizer and for weeds. It was expensive and left a bunch of bare spots in the yard. This year, I sprayed for weeds and didn't spray with the intensity of the yard people.

And you know what, my yard looks better this year. No offense to the yard people, but I discovered that a few weeds in the yard make for a fuller landscape. Killing out every single piece of vegetation except pure grass would make for the perfect yard, but there are conditions in our soil that won't let that particular grass grow freely.

Kids aren't perfect either. Parents intuitively know that every normal child has issues, yet most parents strive for the perfect kid. Spraying and spraying, well meaning moms and dads do their best to remove every single weed from their child’s life. Most parents would claim that, “I’m only pushing him for his best.”
But sometimes, the push needs to be a nudge or no nudge at all.

Now I’m not suggesting that Augusta National Golf Course have fairways full of dandelions. Being on the international stage, the Masters is certainly worthy of all the man-hours put into making that course absolutely beautiful. But I am suggesting that hiring tutors, personal trainers, life coaches and mentors for your kids might be a little much. Yes, counseling is good when there are issues to be addressed, but be sure the issue is truly a need.

If my child is the reserve quarterback on the football team, I don't need to hire a personal coach to work with him all summer so that he can get that starting position next year. If the child wants to put in all that time, then great. But be sure he knows it’s okay with you for him to be the backup. It’s a great lesson for life. Most of us are backing up somebody.

I googled “pretty weeds” today on my laptop and what I discovered was amazing! There are hundreds of varieties of plants that are classified as weeds, but they’re beautiful.

Teach your kids to do their best and strive for excellence. Challenge them to shoot for the moon and give their all. But also provide assurance to your child that you love them for being them, not for what they do. Remind them that you love them unconditionally. Assure them that a few weeds don't make a difference.

Secretly, we all know we have weeds in our yard. God reminds us that He died for it all. His unconditional love for us is everything. When we experience that same love from those we love, it makes all the difference.

So keep cutting that grass and making your yard as beautiful as you can, but don't sweat a few weeds.

They only make the yard fuller.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Sunday, May 1, 2011


“…give me neither poverty nor riches… that may not be full and deny you…” –Prv. 30:8,9

Water. We drink and bathe in it every day but rarely think of its immense importance. Water makes up 70% of the earth’s surface and 70% of our bodies. No wonder we’re thirsty all the time. Like many things in our lives, we simply take it for granted until we have too much or not enough of it. A part of appreciating life is realizing the blessings we do have, whether full or empty. We pass that habit on to our kids every time we identify those blessings.

This week we had too much water where we live in the Ozarks. Last week, it rained and rained and then rained some more. The series of rivers and lakes, connected through the Ozarks, is controlled by a series of dams that run all the way to the Mississippi river. But those dams are releasing record amounts of water every second and many homes along the banks of the lakes are flooded. More rain is expected this week and there is worry that the water levels will stay high for a while.

My brother-in-law Brian lives in the other extreme. In Africa, water is a limited and valuable resource. Botswana primarily sits on the Kalahari Desert and has limited resources of water. The miracle called the Okavango Delta is responsible for the abundance of wildlife in Africa. It’s an inland delta that supplies water for central Africa. The national currency is called “pula,” which means, “rain” in their language. They recognize that water is as good as gold. One of the biggest religions there is to the “water God.” Sounds silly to us, but they simply cry out to the resource they deem the most important (instead of to the one who invented it to begin with).

Many historians claim that the prosperity of a country is linked uniquely to water. They point out that America is prosperous and wealthy because of its abundance of water. Rivers, lakes and oceans all supply the resource needed for transportation, agriculture and life.

I came face to face with the reality of water’s importance two weeks ago on a bed in an emergency room in Branson. I had food poisoning and my body was severely dehydrated. They put me on an IV and pumped water into my veins. It made all the difference. I felt better in 3o minutes. Humans can survive for weeks without food, but only days without water.

For most of us here in the States, we’ll never lack for water. What about the other blessings in our lives? What about our homes and cars? What about our finances and health? We thank the Lord for all He has provided but we have to be careful not to worship what He has given us. Like the people in Botswana who worship the water gods, there are gods in the States too: money, power, homes, or sports. As empty as they are, they have proven worthy of worship by many.

Remember, what we prioritize as parents is usually passed onto our kids. It’s been said that the god in our lives is where we submit our time, resources and lives. What are your kids observing as they watch you? Be sure your kids recognize that you first honor the true God of the Bible.

The old song reminds us to “count our blessings, count them one by one.” Be sure you acknowledge the blessings in your life. Mention them out loud to your kids.

And whether you have too much or too little water, thank the Lord.

By Eric Joseph Staples ©