Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Brazos River Expedition

“Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you” -Deut. 31:6 I grew up in a tremendous “kid-friendly” neighborhood in west Fort Worth. Back then, we were on the outer rim of the city limits, so to the north and west of our neighborhood were creeks and woods and fun. We built forts, dammed up streams and had a blast. We caught all kinds of wildlife and brought a lot of it home to our shocked mothers. I grew up in a day when parents were willing to let their kids risk both adventure and fun. In these days of increased liability and too much knowledge, we need to be careful to let our kids explore and get dirty. In the summer of 1970, in 6th grade, my best friends, Joe Paget, Bill Adams and I had the great idea to build a raft and float it down the Brazos river. The Brazos is a river that flows through north central Texas all the way to the Texas coast. We had all been canoeing on the river before and were convinced that we could pull off the great adventure. So, the three of us met at our unofficial headquarters in Joe Paget’s garage, and we went to work. Today, most projects like this would end at the beginning. “It’s too dangerous. It’s too risky. You’re too young.” But our parents left us alone and let us design the raft and pick the route we would float on the river. I’m sure our parents were more than involved than we realized. But we felt like the project was ours. And that’s the point. Our parents let us do the work. Then, we went and bought the materials necessary to build the raft. None of us could drive, so I remember my mom taking us to a hardware store and to a tire shop to get the huge inner tubes necessary to float the raft. I remember we scraped our nickels and dimes together to buy the materials. Our parents didn’t mail order the raft or hire an expert in raft building. We built it ourselves. It was rather “scrappy,” as I recall, but it was ours. We loaded the raft on top of Joe Paget’s mom’s station wagon and off we went to the Brazos, about an hour drive. Our moms had fixed us meals for the day and we had a map and route all planned. We were dropped off that morning and were to be picked up that evening down stream at a bridge site. As we drifted down the river, I remember being half scared and half excited. All was going well and on time, until the wind picked up and the rather heavy raft sat motionless. We figured that the current would move us along, but before long, we had to pull the raft using ropes on the bank. And, to add to the difficulty, a couple of the inner tubes we used for flotation began losing air. We did stop to eat some sandwiches, but we finally arrived to our arrival site later than expected, tired, sore and so relieved to see Mrs. Paget waiting for us. We lifted the raft back on top of the station wagon and made the trip back to Fort Worth. The expedition had been a success, sort of. We had succeeded in our mission, but the raft took a battering. It sat in Joe Paget’s yard for years, until it finally fell apart. It was a reminder to us that sometimes projects are worth doing just to do them. We all need hills to climb and rivers to float. In the video game and sports crazed world we live in today, encourage your kids to explore, build and risk. Be careful not to hold onto them too tightly. I spoke to Joe Paget about that trip not too long ago. He told me he now runs a marina on Lake Palo Pinto, not far from that stretch of the Brazos where we went that day. He said, “I can’t believe our parents let us go on that trip.” Without knowing it, we were learning lessons about risk and difficulty and about trusting God to provide strength in the trials. Thank you, moms and dads, for letting us be on our own. Thank you for letting us grow up a little that day. Thank you for letting us take a risk that we might come out successful, whether we succeeded or not. Thank you for believing in us. And thank you for loving us enough to let us go… …on the expedition called life. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Mom's Fourteener

“Be strong and very courageous…”- Deut. 31:6 I know Mother's day isn’t until May, but I want to take this time to honor my Mom. Jeanie and I just spent the week with her and discovered again that she’s an amazing lady. My mom, Mildred Rabun Staples, is 86 years old and lives by herself in Fort Worth, Texas, where she’s lived for over 40 years. My dad passed away in 1988 and she’s been on her own ever since. Though my brothers and I do the best we can to care for her, she’s left to handle a lot of life on her own. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes and the height of the mountain is all relative to our ability to climb. My mom will probably never climb Mt. Everest, but she has climbed some pretty steep fourteen thousand foot mountains over the years. A few weeks ago, Jeanie and I made a quick trip down to Dallas to have dinner with our son’s fiancĂ©e’s parents. We stayed with my mom in Fort Worth. I had casually asked my mom if she would like to drive back to Branson with us and she said “yes.” She hasn’t left Fort Worth in years. She doesn’t walk very well and uses a cane, so making the trip and the flight back to Fort Worth was a big deal. But she decided to brave the journey. She made the long drive to our home with us. She spent the week in Branson, climbing the stairs of our split-level house and then we flew back to Fort Worth. She persevered and climbed a 14er. Last Spring, she lost her son Pelham after battling cancer for over 10 years. She did the best she could to care for him when he was in Colorado. She called him often and even made the trip up there several times to care for him. When his cancer worsened a few years ago, he moved to Fort Worth and bought a house there. She called him nearly every day, fixed him meals at her house and when he wasn’t able to be by himself, she housed him and finally, visited him often at the hospital. When he passed away, she painfully said her goodbye. Every mother struggles outliving any of her children, but she accepted God’s plan, moved on and climbed another 14er. Twenty-five years ago, her precious husband and my dad, Pelham Sr., passed away suddenly of a heart attack. Her world (and ours) would never be the same. He had handled all the emotional and financial issues of the family. Literally, in a heartbeat, the load fell on my mom. Several family friends and certainly my brothers and I all jumped in to help bear her load. But at the end of the day, she had to face the future without her dear husband and provider. And she faced it well. She learned to handle the finances and settled in to being on her own. She survived and climbed yet another 14er. Yes, my mom is an amazing lady. And I pray she continues to rely on God’s strength as she faces the future. Her health is good and she has a family who loves her dearly. But she continues to choose to live on her own in our home in Fort Worth. I’m sure other mountains await her in the future, but she’s in the care of an awesome God who will be her strength in the climbing… …and will provide a hero’s wreath at the summit. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Virgil and Paul

“But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus” - Acts 9:27 Seeing potential in people is always difficult. Why? Because believing someone can change requires future vision. It requires seeing past the present behavior to what could be. It requires hope- hope that the person in question may not possess. But seeing potential is absolutely crucial in helping people reach their God-given best. Two people at the top of the “potential see-er” list are Barnabas of the New Testament and Andy of Mayberry. In episode thirty, season two of the Andy Griffith Show, Barney tells Andy that his cousin Virgil will soon be visiting Mayberry and perhaps they could offer him a job at the Sheriff's office. Add Virgil to the list of people that Barney saw as “fit’’ to be deputies on the “force.” Barney did not see potential in people very well. Andy takes a “wait and see” attitude, which turned out to be good thing. When Virgil finally shows up - he had missed the bus when he went to mail a letter during a rest stop. He seems nothing short of disaster prone. From spilling the dinner at Andy's house to crashing the squad car, everything he touches seems to end up in disaster. He even cleans the jail keys so thoroughly that they will no longer open the cells, leaving Otis trapped just when he has a job interview to get to. Just when things seem at their worst, Andy finds one thing Virgil does well. Virgil had carved Opie a wonderful wooden figure of a cowboy. Andy asked how he did it and Virgil replied, “I do better work when no one is watching.” So, with no one watching, Andy has him get Otis out of the cell. Virgil does it well. Andy helps Virgil discover that he does have talent, if it’s used in the right atmosphere. That’s what “potential seekers” do. They move the frustrated lineman to defensive end and marvel at the success of the athlete. They move the unsatisfied salesman to a job on the plant floor and appreciate his success in his new role. They see the power of change and the relief that comes with being planted in the right kind of soil. Barnabas, was a Jew from Cyprus who became a Christian. As is recorded in Acts, he was an outstanding man and was dedicated to the church in Jerusalem. After Paul became a Christian, Barnabas supported Paul as he associated with the disciples in Jerusalem. He built him up just when he needed it. When Barnabas was assigned to head up the new church in Antioch, he formed his ministry team. One of his first choices was the young, feisty Paul, who has been living for years back in his hometown of Tarsus. It was a gamble, but Barnabas made the journey there, found Paul and hired him. And Paul flourished in his God-given role. Barnabas literally means “encourager.” What a nickname. His given name was Joseph (Acts 4:36) but he must have been quite an encourager. Encouragers always see potential because encouragement is the fuel that drives someone to reach their potential. Discouragement drives people backwards while encouragement propels them forward. That’s what Barnabas did for Paul. He took the once all-star Jewish legalist Saul and helped develop him into the grace-filled leader named Paul. He helped him be more than he thought he could be. That’s what happens when we tap someone’s potential. They become more than they thought possible. They use their God-given talents and marvel at the gift. Be a Barnabas and Andy to those around you. Look past the present behavior and build up what could be instead of criticizing what is. Have the vision to see the possibilities. Paint the picture for the person. Set them up to succeed. The Virgil’s and the Paul’s are waiting… By Eric Joseph Staples ©