Friday, May 25, 2012

The Trails, Part 2: the Catfish

"And Jesus said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while” -Mark 6:31 Children and adults alike need “gaps” in this life. Gaps are those inexplicable separations between responsibilities. They are the difference between the “have to’s” and the “want to’s.” We need to be able to handle the difficult days. But we need to realize too, that difficult circumstances are more manageable when we’ve cushioned them with gaps. As I grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, most of my summers were spent playing in the hundreds of acres of woods north and west of our neighborhood. One of our favorite things to do at the trails was to catch animals and fish. I would leave the house, ride to Joe Paget’s house, and we’d make the 5-minute ride down Ridgemar Boulevard until it reached a dead end. I always loved getting to the end of the street and riding from the asphalt to the dirt trail. It meant we’d left the man-made and entered the God-made. These were the days before today’s hyperactive sports programs. Today, it seems that driven parents are “forcing” their kids to spend more and more time focused on a particular athletic set. No gaps. Back then, as soon as baseball was over, the wide-open summer stood ready to absorb our exploration of the trails. Back then, summer began in May and lasted until after Labor Day. The creek that meandered through the trails usually had water flowing through it. It fed into a larger tributary of the Trinity River that eventually made it’s way through Texas to the Gulf of Mexico. Many times we’d send boats down the creek, imagining their eventual landing in some Mexican Beach. In truth, the boat probably never made it out of the trails, but our imaginations simply wouldn't accept reality. Gaps are like that. They are rich in creativity but low in productivity. There was a bend in the creek where it widened and became more of a pond than a creek. We had caught many baby catfish in the pond and we were just smart enough to figure out that those babies had to have a mommy. We also deduced that she was probably in the pond, so we decided that we’d find her. These are the kind of projects that never take place when days are spent heavily involved with sports and homework. Athletics and academics are important and needed, but gaps are needed too. Creativity is built around these meaningless gaps, but they have to be intentional. That particular summer in 1970, we spent most days trying to find that catfish. Joe, my best friend, had rigged his bow and arrow with a line so that if we hit the catfish, it couldn’t swim away. One afternoon, in the middle of a Texas drought, the water was so low that we finally spotted the catfish. We were so excited. We cornered her under a tree and Joe fired the arrow. His shot was true and we had us a catfish. We took it to Joe’s house where his mom filed it, fried it, made some hush puppies and we had a feast for lunch. We felt like true pioneers. We had hunted, captured and cooked it and were convinced we could conquer the world. I am so thankful for those summer days. As parents and grandparents, we need to let our kids be kids and experience this world for themselves. Those times at the trails, we were on our own. Our parents never made a trip there with us. My parents were willing to let us go. Audit the gaps for your kids. Audit the gaps in your own life. Our kids model what they see in us. Go for a walk. Watch the Andy Griffith Show. Spend time with God. Work hard, but relax. Allow yourself to go to the other side of the lake. Even if the crowd meets you there, the journey across will be well worth it, catfish and all. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Trails, Part 1: the Backyard Pool

“Let our sons in their youth be as grown-up plants, and our daughters as corner pillars fashioned as for a palace” -Psa. 144:12
I grew up in the same home where my mother lives in today. It’s in a nice neighborhood in Fort Worth. I make the journey there several times a year to spend time with her and do projects around the house. I love that home and I reflect a lot when I’m there on the great times growing up. Growing up, my mother was always joking about one day having a pool in our backyard. My dad would always say, “There’s a nice pool at the Country Club.” We’d all remind him, “We know, but we have such a great yard for it.” And we did have the perfect backyard for a swimming pool. But the wish never came true. Or did it? When I was in 6th grade. I was really into bugs and animals. We lived near a lot of undeveloped land that we called “the trails.” There were tons of woods and trails for “mini-bikes” (remember those?) and a creek that flowed right through the land. I spent countless hours down at the “trails” with my friends. We built a cool fort there where we kept secret treasures. One day I had a great idea, “Why not start a ‘zoo’ in my backyard?” I remember asking my mom and dad if I could buy a baby pool and put crawdads and stuff in it? They said, “sure,” but I’d have to take care of it. So, my mom drove me to the BX at the base (my dad was retired Air Force) and I (my mom, really) bought a baby pool. I brought the pool to the backyard, filled it with water and rocks and the transplant began. My friends and I used buckets and began to transport all kinds of living things from the creek to my backyard. We brought tadpoles, frogs, minnows, catfish (small ones), plants, and pretty much anything we could catch. I remember later that week I left to go to YMCA camp for 4 days, but my parents said they would “water the pool.” When I came back, most of the fish and tadpoles had died but my experiment was complete. I had proven to the scientific world that the creek creatures could survive for a few days in my backyard! My parents unknowingly showed me their love in several ways. My parents were willing to let me mess up the backyard. I’m sure my dad didn't like the idea of an ugly baby pool with smelly fish in his backyard, but he loved me enough to let me do it. It reminds me of the story about the man who was mildly rebuked by the neighbor for not keeping his yard tidy. His reply, “I know there are toys and bikes all over my yard, but I’m growing kids, not grass.” My parents were willing to let me pursue my dreams. I was in 6th grade and summers were a blast! The world has changed so much since the 70’s. Now, 6th graders are typically so intensely involved with sports that they don't have much time to do meaningless things like build a fort or catch animals. We need to be careful to let our kids just be kids. Everything doesn't have to be super intense. My parents were willing to cover for me. Taking care of a bunch of crawdads might not seem like a big deal, but they tried their best. They even wrote me at camp to let me know how the “pool” was doing. They didn't just let me pursue my dreams, but they supported my dreams as well. Some childhood memories are sad. But what better memories are we leaving for our kids? One of the joys of parenting is providing our kids with memories better than our own. We need to let our kids pursue their dreams, as goofy as they might seem us. We need to be willing to buy baby pools or whatever, and let it be their idea. We must not forget that our most important job is growing kids. Smelly tadpoles or not, there’s nothing more important we can do. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Rest of the Story

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” -Rom. 8:28
The “Rest of the Story” was a Monday-Friday radio program hosted by Paul Harvey that debuted during the Second World War. It was very popular, but after Harvey’s death in 2009, Doug Limerick was chosen as the show’s new host and the show lasted only 3 weeks. It’s seems the show needed Harvey’s deep voice and charm to succeed. The show featured “true mysteries from history.” It was intriguing because Harvey usually described a seemingly uneventful story from the past, followed by an ending punch line that explained its significance. Many times, it was the name of a famous person. The show was popular because we all like comeback stories. Comeback stories are a lot like the trials in our lives. It’s why we can “consider it all joy” when difficulties come our way. What initially seems meaningless eventually has purpose. Faith is trusting that God has a bigger and better plan in place. We may not know the ending, but just like that radio show, we wait expectantly for the punch line. Consider the challenges within our family. Eric finished college with an excellent GPA and resume’ to apply to medical school. But he didn't sense God’s release to move that direction. Elizabeth and Mark (and all of us) prayed fervently for a nearby location for their next home. But that location didn't work out. Jeanie found she had extra time on her hands, but wasn’t sure where to plug in. And I was led to move on from Doulos Ministries, but wasn’t sure where to go. If we had turned off the radio in the middle of the Paul Harvey show, we’d have never heard Paul’s conclusions to his stories. That was the best part! We needed to hear those endings to remind us that our stories have awesome endings too. They aren't usually what we expect, but, if we’re seeking God’s purpose, they are always for the best. Eric began a photo and video business in Nashville and loves it. Elizabeth and Mark are moving to Des Moines, Iowa and are excited for the adventure. Jeanie is working part time at a ministry in town and being used there, and I am the associate pastor at First Baptist Branson, discipling and counseling. What we all expected? No. Better than what we expected? Always. It’s safe to say that God’s plan is always better than what we’ve put together. From the big stuff to the small stuff, prayerfully let God have His way. And enjoy the rest of the story. GOOD DAY! By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Brothers dwelling together

“A man of too many friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” -Prov. 18:24
Friend. Kind of like the word “love,” the word friend takes on so many different meanings these days. We say “hello friend” to people we rarely see or know. We might have a thousand friends on Facebook that became our friends by the click of a mouse. And then we have friends that are brothers. True friends. Our kids watch and observe our friendships with others, so be sure to discuss friendship with them. We need to remind them that true friends are a special gift. For me, a special group of friends this year has been the men’s Bible study group at our church. We have several studies going these days and I’m a part of the group that meets on Tuesday nights. We all come from different backgrounds but we are unified because we’re Christians. One member of our group runs the Andy’s Frozen Custard in Branson, so we met there this week. It was great to be with brothers in the faith. And, of course, the Snowmonster Concrete tasted so good! These men are quickly becoming true brothers, not shallow friends. Shallow friendships are based on shallow foundations. True friends share common values. My closest friends share a common faith with me. Much like the current Bible study, friends that I have served with in the trenches of ministry are the closest. At some time in the past, we “fought the good fight” together and our common faith in Jesus will always be the glue that keeps us close. These relationships are based on something deep and lasting. Shallow friendships never really connect. True friends know our hearts. We choose to divulge our heart secrets to those we trust the most. And we rarely share our hearts with anyone. We know these are true friends because whether we’re with them or not, we know they’re standing beside us. They have seen our worst and stood by us through tough times. Like the Three Musketeers, they are with us “through thick and thin.” Shallow friendships require maintenance. True friends have a lifetime guarantee. I have a couple of very close friends that I’ve known for over 30 years, but because of time and distance, we only talk every now and then. Yet, they are instant friends. When we visit, it’s as though we’ve been talking everyday. Yes, all relationships need to be respected through time together, but true friendships aren’t conditional. Shallow friendships stay guarded and cool. True friends get heated sometimes. Proverbs 27:17 reads, “Iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” If we are going to keep each other sharp, there has to be friction. And friction produces heat. Real friends hang in there during conflict realizing that true accountability can be rough sometimes. But we need people in our lives that are willing to tell us what we don't want to hear. Shallow friendships are comparing and competitive. True friends love it when the other person wins. We will even help them succeed, because humility, not pride, is at the heart of the relationship. True love is not jealous, so we’re willing to help these friends finish the race well. We look for ways to encourage and cheer them on to the finish line. We pray for them all the time because we realize what a difference prayer makes. Yes, true friends are a special gift. We’re to be kind to everyone, but we’re to cultivate and nourish these rare friends called brothers. Whether it’s Bible study friends, spouses or co-workers, stick closer than a brother. And enjoy the special gift of friendship. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Brothers passing it on

“…do not imitate what is bad, but what is good…” -3 John 11
It’s been said that, “imitation is the greatest form of flattery.” In other words, if someone copies what we do, they are paying us a compliment. If someone wears what we wear and it makes us feel good. But if negative actions are imitated, we’re not so encouraged. We need to remember that kids soak up what they observe from those they trust the most. I was the youngest of four boys and always got the hand-me-downs. The funny thing is, I didn't mind it at all. I liked my brothers (I still do) and pretty much treasured what they passed on to me. I admired them a lot, so when a worn madras shirt or an old pair of penny loafers were replaced by them, I was glad to wear my brothers used “groovy” clothes. Here’s the reality: if my brothers had passed down switchblades and hand grenades to me, I probably would have thought those were cool too. I admired my brothers and trusted them. That automatically meant that whatever was acceptable to them was going to be acceptable to me. Scary. By far, the coolest thing passed down to me was a 1969 V-8, 350 4-bbl Chevrolet Camaro. The brothers had driven it for years and by the time I was 16, the brothers were off to college and the Camaro was mine! I made one major addition to the Camaro. I installed an 8-track player and speaker. It was quite a vehicle and I appreciated my brothers keeping it in good shape. But more than the Camaro, they passed on other qualities. Determination. Growing up in Texas, my brothers all played (you guessed it) football! And all three of them were good at it. Sports were a big deal in our family and we all did our best. My brothers taught me that “if your ship doesn't come in, then swim out to it.” They showed me that if I gave my best, I could expect the best. Importance of family. Our family was far from perfect. Most “all boy” families are not going to win many awards for compassion and sensitivity. But growing up, we spent every summer driving to Georgia to visit and love extended family. All the brothers made most of those trips. I learned that “blood is thicker than water.” Appreciation of history. Though none of the brothers majored in history, all the brothers were into American history, especially the Civil War. My dad started it by always telling stories about our southern roots. The brothers picked up on it and it’s still a topic around the table when we’re all together. We gave each other books this past Christmas and they were all about the Civil War. Roots matter. A focus on helping people. All the brothers are in people-helping professions. None of them went into financial services but into fields that involve human service to others. I followed suit and learned that, in the end, it’s not how much money one possesses but how much talent one gives away. None of my brothers is perfect, for sure. We all have the tendency to be head strong, stubborn, and controlling. But I thank Pel, Marc and Bob for all the lessons they have taught me and for taking care of me as their little brother. I pray for many more years together and blessings for them and their families. Thanks again for the Camaro. And still feel free to send me any old clothes and shoes in your closet! By Eric Joseph Staples ©