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 ©
Saturday, July 9, 2011
“…I die daily” -1 Cor. 15:31
This past weekend I was at an antebellum southern plantation near Baton Rouge. We were there for the beautiful wedding of my niece, Anna. It was a wonderful wedding and will be a wonderful marriage. Her fiancé Bo is a great guy and they have a great future ahead of them.
As the “officiate” of the wedding, I was struck by all of the detail that went into the ceremony itself. Months and weeks before the wedding, hundreds of details had to be checked off a list. The day of the wedding required specific timing and coordination, and the service itself was an orchestrated celebration of God’s invention of marriage.
But the wedding has little to do with the marriage. I’ve often thought of all the wedding rings that sit, gathering dust, in jewelry boxes all over the world. They were slipped on fingers with guarantees of love and commitment only to be removed a few years later in pain and sorrow. It’s so easy to make commitments but such a challenge to keep them.
The same is true in parenting. What parent isn't beaming from ear to ear the day their child is born? There is no greater joy than the birth of our son or daughter. We are so proud and fully prepared to do whatever is needed to raise our child in the best possible way. We’ve prepared by buying the most expensive crib at Babies “R” Us, every known gadget to monitor their sleep and the top-notch toys to entertain them.
But in marriage, the honeymoon eventually ends and the raw job of loving and serving begins. And it’s a wonderful job! Most husbands and wives forget that love is a decision, not made once on an altar, but a decision made every day and every moment. Love is a wonderful decision to “die” to my own needs and wants and to serve.
Kids are so easy to handle at the hospital where the nurses watch their every move in the nursery. But beginning with that first night at home, the choice to love begins. Changing diapers in the middle of the night isn’t usually our first choice. But we make the choice to love and love sometimes means changing dirty, poopy diapers in the middle of the night.
Marriage requires the same choices. In our single years, we’re used to making choices for ourselves. But in marriage, as we choose to love and serve, our spouse’s needs become more important than our own. We are all, by nature, selfish and our nature is “me” focused. But love chooses to overrule our selfish nature and focus on the other.
Whether in marriage or in parenting, make the choice to love. Flip through the scrapbook of your kids when they were born or go back and watch the video of your wedding. Be reminded of the commitments made and refocus your energies towards love.
Make the tougher decision to die to yourself and love your precious spouse or child. Then, ironically, you’ll be the recipient of the greatest blessing of all...
By Eric Joseph Staples ©
Monday, July 4, 2011
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free…” –Gal. 5:1
We’ve had our puppy, Maisy, for 4 months now and she is growing like crazy! She is acting crazy too. Though we’ve been working with her to “sit” and “stay,” she is still a puppy. We’ve even nicknamed her “Crazy Maisy” because there are times when she acts pretty wild. But puppies are supposed to act wild. They are puppies, after all. Kids are supposed to act wild too. Sure, parenting is about teaching our kids to “mind” and “be seen and not heard,” but not at the expense of their childhood. In our effort to keep things “orderly” (no doubt I have a little OCD in me), we have to be careful not to squelch our kids creativity and fun.
I have been having daily “leash times” with Maisy. She reluctantly lets me put the choke collar on her and then we patrol up and down our driveway. I repeat “heel” as I force her to stay next to me on the right side. Every few feet, I stop and command “sit” and she sits next to me as she looks my direction. Then we start walking again and repeat the process. It usually lasts about 10 minutes. but when I take off the choke collar, she runs wild. She takes off into the front yard, her legs moving faster than her body, takes a sharp turn around the trees and comes flying back toward me. She looks like she could crash and burn at any time. She needs the discipline time but she also needs the “release” time.
It’s easy, as parents, to require only structured discipline from our kids. After all, when children are compliant and organized, our world works better (sort of.) Research shows that kids are the happiest when they are allowed to be the most creative. Creativity requires “release”- that’s when their unorganized, messy, and unpredictable world yields phenomenal results. In all my years of counseling, I’ve discovered that the happiest kids are the messiest kids. Why? Because when freedom is allowed, freedom flows.
Now, I’m sure not advocating chaos and our kids do need to learn compliance and respect, but the key seems to be balance. Our kids need to be mindful, but they don't need to lose their joy. Because our kids experience joy when they are allowed to run. Does Maisy need time on the choke collar? Yes. And in a weird way, she even likes the leash time. But she does not experience all of her joy on the leash. She experiences joy when she’s free from the leash, chasing a squirrel, smelling whatever she smells in the yard, grabbing a stick or just rolling in the grass.
So how do we find that balance between letting them run wild and free and between bringing structure to their lives? As Gary Thomas suggests in Sacred Parenting, first we pray. Nothing exposes our weakness and inadequacy more than parenting. All of the “how to” books in the world can't provide the wisdom we need more than the inventor of family in the first place. God asks us to come to Him with our burdens and none are greater than the needs we have as parents.
“Lord, give me the wisdom I need to discern when to be an active teacher in the life of my child’s character and when to just chill out.” What a prayer. And of course, it’s more than the words. It’s a heart beseeching the Lord for wisdom and discernment. It’s a humble spirit that acknowledges that it needs help. There are no easy answers here, but when we’re prayerful, we sense in our spirit when to turn up the volume and when to just relax and laugh. God is faithful to provide the answer.
And the crazy joy begins!
By Eric Joseph Staples ©