Friday, December 23, 2011

The Chosen Child

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

The Christmas Canoe

“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

Side effects

“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

Going to the Vet

“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

Barney's physical

“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 ©