Friday, December 11, 2015

Holidays With Family: A Beautiful Mess

“Love…does not take into account a wrong suffered” -1 Cor. 13:5 What an odd time of year! Thanksgiving is awesome, Christmas is the “most wonderful time of the year” and it’s a “jolly” four weeks between the two holidays. Yet, stats expose this month as the most depressive and difficult time of time of the year for most people. But that is certainly not what God desires. His plan is toward peace, contentment and completeness. I think the problem lies in family. Yes, a myriad of ingredients produce this difficult season: the weather can be cold, the pressure to buy gifts is high, the stress of party after party can bog us down, and we’re reminded of the loved ones we miss. But Thanksgiving and Christmas are holidays for family. And most families, if not all families, have a grocery list of issues that have not been resolved. One important trend I have discovered in my years of working with families: most families have some form of dysfunction. They have always been like that. Why? Because families are made up of people and all people are wounded, to some degree. Wounds are medicated and healed when they are brought to the light. Family works when family members submit themselves to love one another. Family works when anger accounts are kept empty by reconciliation and forgiveness. But most family accounts are full. I love well-written stories about healing in families. “A River Runs Through It” by Norman Maclean is one of my favorites. This quote from the book describes this family dynamic: “Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don't know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them - we can love completely without complete understanding.” The key is “loving without understanding.” We can all do that one. During these holidays, as we’re around family, may we all reach out to love and give and bless. May we do the hard work of reconciliation and forgiveness to keep our accounts empty and our love flourishing. After all, the more our accounts are emptied, the more capacity we have to love. So, have a holly-jolly Christmas this year and enjoy your family. Love those who are unlovable. That’s what God did for us when He sent His Son to be born and die for our sin. If we have maintenance work of forgiveness to do, then clean the slates during the holidays. Family is difficult and messy. But it’s a beautiful mess. So this holiday season, dive in! Get wet! Love, forgive, touch, interact, and love again. Entertain your beautiful mess and enjoy the season. Realize we can love only because God loved us first… …as a beautiful mess. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thankful in Sorrow

“…as sorrowful yet always rejoicing…” -2 Cor. 6:10 Thanksgiving 2015 has arrived! This season stirs emotions of joy and happiness and loss. It brings back memories of the whole family together under the same roof; succulent turkey and buttered rolls; great football games; playing basketball on the driveway; cleaning up after the huge meal (okay, not my favorite memory). It is certainly a time of excitement, but for some people, it can be a time of difficultly as well. Yes, by now we’ve read all of the devotionals about thankfulness and already heard the patented sermons on being thankful. Most of us get that we have so much more to be thankful for than we realize. We get that, when compared to the precious gift of Jesus, we have very little to whine about. We certainly have plenty to be thankful for and need to continually offer thanks to our loving God. But the holidays can stir up sadness as well. We’re reminded of those we love that have passed on. I miss my dad. He died around this time over twenty-five years ago. That was a long time ago, but feels like yesterday sometimes. His sudden heart attack took his life but it also took away the heart of our family. It has never been the same. And that’s okay. As Solomon reminds us, “everything has a season.” But the energy and brightness in the Staples home has never been quite as bright. His legacy lives on, however, through a bunch of bright and happy grandkids. He would be so proud. I miss my oldest brother Pelham. He died five years ago of cancer. He was healthy and energetic and determined, but the Ewing Sarcoma in his back did its damage. He was the rock of our family, especially with the passing of my dad. Suddenly he was gone. He was the true “big brother” to me. He called to check on me and made sure his little brother was doing okay. I miss those calls about life, football and family, but I’m glad he’s no longer suffering. I miss my second oldest brother Marc. He died earlier this year from the complication of ALS. He and his wife Brenda came up to the Ozarks to visit around this time last year. I took him up to the Wilson’s Creek Civil War battlefield and he loved it. Most would be bored, but, like all the Staples’ brothers, Marc loved history. Marc could appear tough on the outside, but he had such a soft heart. I miss our long talks about life and God. I miss Richard Beach. He died five years ago from cancer. He was my boss and mentor for twenty-eight years. I learned so much from him. He died shortly after the Doulos-Shelterwood program closed its doors in Branson. I loved Richard’s vision of discipleship and all of the relationships built in my tenure with Doulos. I miss many other dear family members and friends and co-workers. We all have suffered loss. But, though I miss them, I am so thankful for them as well. I am thankful that I had a season of life with them. Though I am sorrowful for their loss, I am thankful for so much I have gained. I am thankful for my beautiful wife, Jeanie, my best friend and love of my life for 34 years; I am thankful for my mother and the privilege to get to care for her many miles away; I am thankful for my in-laws; I am thankful for my wonderful children, Elizabeth and Eric, and their spouses, Mark and Jennifer; I am thankful for my beautiful granddaughters, Reese and Lucy; I am thankful for my remaining brother Bob; I am thankful for my many brothers and sisters in law; I am thankful for all of my nephews and nieces; I am thankful for countless friends (who stick closer than brothers); I am thankful for all of the people whom I have had the privilege to get to walk through life with in the counseling office. But mostly, I am thankful to my loving God and His Son Jesus Christ who, by His grace, allows me to live life redeemed and saved. Yes, I am sorrowful for the sunsets, but I am rejoicing in the sunrises as well. God is so, so good and this Thanksgiving there is truly reason for rejoicing in having abundance… …and in suffering need. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Doors

“Blessed is the man who listens to me, watching daily at my gates, waiting at my doorposts” -Prov. 8:34 I just returned from a tremendous conference in Nashville. Nearly 8,000 therapists from all over the world gathered for the week, all organized by the American Association of Christian Counselors. I love going to the conference every year. But when I go, I’m always stirred to compare myself with all the other “professionals.” You’d never know on the outside. But inside I’m measuring and judging and determining how well I “fit in.” Then I realize again that God has opened up every door in my life. It has truly been an amazing ride. But no doubt, along the way, I have walked through doors He did not open. Those doors led to success but not fulfillment. True fulfillment is only found when we walk through the doors that God ordains. Yes, God used me in spite of my motive, but it’s not the best. I come to professional conferences and the doors are numerous. There are so many that I want to open. I want to open them because I think the more doors I open, the more important I become; the more I hustle, the more I succeed; the more I work, the more important I am. But my loving, dear God is the perfect door manager. He manages the doors to perfection. He opens doors, not so we can earn His favor at all. After all, He already loves us completely. But He opens the doors so that we can glorify Him in our work. I know in my spirit when I am correctly walking His way. For when I create a door to open, I compete with all the other door openers. Writing books, speaking engagements, degrees, licenses, credentials- the types and dimensions of the doors go on and on. And I realize again that I am only called to walk through the doors that He opens. I was brought up in a family of achievers. And I love that heritage. My three brothers and I were taught to work hard and make a difference. Our motto was “if your ship does not come in, then swim out to it.” So much to do, so much work, so much sweat, so much to earn. And though I’m proud of our heritage, I realize it comes with a price. If the ship has not come in, then perhaps it’s not my ship at all. Perhaps the purpose of my life is to remain on the shore and fulfill my purpose there. Many of us would rather drown swimming out to the ship than to rest on the shore. Why? Because work is our savior and our peace. We are afraid to rest, slow down and wait. But work is a poor god. Our cup of significance can only be filled by the loving God of the Universe. Work is a great thing, but only if it is what God initiates. If God leads to write a book or get a degree, then most certainly go for it! But don’t do it to earn anything. Do it because He has opened the door. At the conference, I learned again to rest. I’m reminded that every door I have walked through has not been by my own ingenuity or wisdom. They have all been His doors. May we all rest and wait and be willing to only walk through His doors. May we dedicate all we have to the Lord of the doors, small and large. May we rest… …whether the ship comes in or not. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Northwest Passage, Part Two: Old Faithful

“Well done, good and faithful slave. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” -Matt. 25:21 After a good night’s sleep in our cozy cabin, we headed into Yellowstone. As we drove through the Northeast gate of the famous Park, we knew we were headed somewhere special. As we meandered through the first couple of miles we were already seeing bison (buffalo) and prong horn deer. The park exploded into beautiful mountains, streams, wildlife and all kinds of vegetation. We were enjoying the journey, but our sites were set on the southern part of the Park and perhaps the most famous landmark of all: Old Faithful. There we would hear the best quote of our whole trip. Old Faithful is a cone geyser located in the south central part of the park. Old Faithful was named in 1870 during the Washburn-Langford-Doane Expedition and was the first geyser in the park to receive a name. It is one of the most predictable geographical features on Earth, erupting almost every 100 minutes. More than 137,000 eruptions of Old faithful have been recorded. Harry Woodward first described a mathematical relationship between the duration and intervals of the eruptions in 1938. Old Faithful is not the tallest or largest geyser in the park; those titles belong to the less predictable Steamboat Geyser. Prior to 1904, Waimangu Geyser, in New Zealand, had some taller eruptions capable of reaching 1,600 feet but in 1904 a landslide changed the local water table and since then Waimangu has not erupted. Excelsior Geyser in Yellowstone's Midway Geyser Basin likewise was taller, with eruptions reaching 300 feet. However, Excelsior has not erupted since 1985, and is now classified as a hot spring. As we waited near the base of Old Faithful, the crowd began to gather as the time for the eruption neared. As we were prepared our IPhones to take pictures and videos, a park ranger came and stood with us. He explained how the mechanisms of the geyser work and then casually commented, “Old Faithful may not be the largest or the highest, but it’s famous because it’s…well…faithful.” A few seconds later, the eruption began and it was beautiful. Later, I thought about his comment. Old Faithful isn’t really that remarkable at first sight. Yet hundreds of people gather every hour and surround the geyser. We come because it’s something we can count on. That’s why faithfulness is so attractive and magnetic. Of course, that’s true in people as well as geysers. I suspect that’s why there aren’t large crowds gathered at those geysers that go higher and larger. They’re too unpredictable. Somebody could stand for days and weeks waiting for those geysers to do their thing. They’re inconsistent. They’re unpredictable. Like the geysers, faithful people are preferred because you can count on them and journey through this life together. The Park Ranger explained why Old Faithful is so predictable. He said that the geyser has a unique constant flow of water below. He explained that most of the world’s geysers have irregular and shallow water sources, but not Old Faithful. It’s water source, down very deep, provides it with all the water it needs. The water pools in the cavern below, is heated by the magma, and eventually…BOOM…it rises to the surface, explodes and begins the process over again. Faithful people have a consistent source as well. It’s not fame or money or health. It’s the substance of a loving God that provides security and contentment and peace. When the God of the Universe fills a believer via love and salvation, a new source of water replaces the brokenness. When that water is heated and stirred, it produces a faithfulness that is attractive to people. Why? Not because of the cone itself but because of the faithfulness of the Source. Old Faithful doesn’t worry about whether it’s erupting correctly and it doesn’t compare itself to the higher and larger geysers. Old Faithful simply waits and trusts and yields. And every hour, its beauty is displayed for all to see. May our lives be a geyser that exists wherever God builds the cone and waits for His inward churning to produce its results. May we all be patient with His will and ways. Some days may seem like a fizzle while others may feel like a massive explosion. But the key is contentment in whatever results. Faithfulness isn’t about forcing the eruption- it is about resting on the source. May we all rest and grow old and faithful… …as we’re relying on our most faithful God. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Northwest Passage, Part One: The Surprise

“By faith Abraham…went out, not knowing where he was going” -Heb. 11:8 Some of us like surprises and some of us hate them! For those who despise surprises, I don’t think the word “hate” is strong enough! It’s a good thing to research before you organize a surprise party for a friend. Throw a party for an “un-surpriser” and it can be a disaster. But God is a God of surprises and He’s not waiting for our permission. Jeanie and I encountered a surprise this week and it was awesome. We discovered again that God’s surprises might…uh…surprise us, but they are always wonderful. We were asked to be a part of a conference for Pastors in Billings, Montana. It provided much needed rest and retreat for Pastors and their families from all over Montana. What a wonderful group of people. Neither one of us had ever been to Montana. The Northwest is a bit of a mystery to us both. But we were so excited to get to go on an adventure. We decided to come a few days early, before the conference, and see some of the beauty of Montana and Wyoming via Yellowstone Park. After the conference, we’d be continuing the trek to Portland, Oregon to visit Jeanie’s brother, Bill, and to see the sites in Oregon and Washington. But first, we landed in Billings, rented a car and headed to the Northeast gate of the massive Yellowstone National Park. We knew it would take a few hours to get there and that the road would be a bit curvy, but no big deal…so we thought. Bear Tooth Highway would be throwing us a surprise party of it’s own. The Bear Tooth Highway is an All-American Road that has been called "the most beautiful drive in America," by late CBS correspondent Charles Kuralt. Because of heavy snowfall at the top, the pass is usually open each year only from mid May through mid October, weather conditions permitting. It is the section of U.S. Route 212 between Red Lodge, Montana and Cooke City, Montana. It traces a series of steep zigzags and switchbacks, along the Montana-Wyoming border to the 10,947 foot high Bear Tooth Pass. The approximate elevation rise is from 5,200 ft to 8,000 ft in 12 miles and has the most daring landscapes. LESSON #1: Focus on the journey, not the destination. Bear Tooth Highway is the route from Billings to the Northeast gate of Yellowstone. For us, the prize would be to get to Yellowstone Park- the destination. But the surprise was the journey TO the park. I catch myself (and sometimes don’t) focused on the end and not the journey to the end. It’s called “being in the moment.” It doesn’t mean we don’t set goals, but it does mean we’re giving “due diligence” to the present. Of course, this awesome, gorgeous (literally) highway demanded our attention, but the lesser routes deserve no less. The route and the people all have something to offer us along the way. But we have to be careful not to miss it. LESSON #2: Embrace the fear in the fog. We expected a simple route but we encountered a complex system of switchbacks and curves in the foggy mountains. Initially, we were checking the Garmin for alternate routes but soon we were marveling at the scenery. Sure, it was scary and risky but we settled down and appreciated the rush in the rough. We were not in control and that was okay. We were safe and it was beautiful. LESSON #3: Blow out the candles. Surprise parties are great, but it’s easy to get so into the party that we forget what the party is all about. The cake and gifts are awesome, but the party exists to celebrate another year of life. As Jeanie and I pulled into our destination outside the NE gate of Yellowstone, we paused to say thanks to the Creator of it all. Yes, the creation was awesome, but was a piece of dust compared to the awesome God who created it all. He is worthy of our awe and wonder much more than what He designed and built. It’s easy to focus too much on the miracle and neglect the Miracle Worker. The Bear Tooth Highway was wonderful and we were excited to make the journey back down in a few days. But after good nights sleep, we were off to explore the famous Yellowstone Park, perhaps the most famous park in the world. We wondered what other surprises awaited us in the coming days. But this time we weren’t afraid… …we were ready to party! By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Friday, August 7, 2015

My Big Brother Marcus

"Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being" - Gen. 2:7 As you know, I have three wonderful big brothers, Pelham, Marcus and Bob. They have truly been a blessing in my life. I have always looked to them for example, direction and support. Two years ago, I was forced to say bye to my big brother Pelham. He succumbed to cancer. He left behind great kids who are raising their own families now. He was a great man and genuinely watched over me as the youngest Staples boy. I’ve missed him a lot. Last week, after a difficult and too brief battle with ALS, I said goodbye to Marc. He contracted ALS a few years ago and, as is typical for that disease, it damaged Marc’s muscular system eventually taking his life. I’m still a bit numb as we didn’t expect the disease to pick up pace like it did these last few months. Marc leaves behind a wonderful wife, companion and friend, Brenda and two great adult kids, Collin and Rachel. Our mother is still doing well in Fort Worth and will miss him dearly. And of course, Bob and I are left to carry on the Staples legacy. Marc represented that heritage well. Integrity, hard work and a genuine concern for others are traits our dad taught us and lived out before us. All the Staples boys have different strengths. Marc’s gift was in his hands. As a kid, I would watch him work on family cars and fix anything and everything. He taught me how to repair fuel pumps and carburetors. He loved mechanics and he loved creativity. But eventually he turned his creative hands from cars to God’s creation, planet earth. That’s what led him to be a geologist. He was actually my professor for a geology lab course when I was a freshman at Baylor. Even then, I could see his passion for geology. But ultimately, cars and rocks weren’t going to be enough for his artistry. After all, automobiles and geology have limited creative potential- but not God’s ultimate creation. Marc knew his hands could change oil filters and find fossils, but the ultimate test would be in helping heal God’s most precious creation: his children. So Marc went to medical school and learned how to use his hands to provide healing and comfort in life. Marc’s hands delivered thousands of babies in his career- a much bigger deal than cars and rocks. I’ve often thought that God could have just spoken and created man and woman, like he did the rest of creation. But instead He used his hands to form man. God knows too well the gift of the hands. Marc knew that gift as well. That’s what was so hard about his illness. His loss of touch was difficult. But he never lost the touch of his love for those he loved, Brenda, Rachel and Collin. He loved them so much. Marc was an artist and engineer and sometimes his intellectual mind struggled as he tried to figure out life and God. But he understood who God and Jesus are. As he wrote me, “I do believe in God and intend to live each day to it’s fullest and find joy and purpose in the days I have left.” I’m so glad I had Marc for my brother. If he tried something, that was reason enough for me to try it as well. He went to Baylor Graduate school, so when I graduated from high school, I went to Baylor. Marc has moved on to Heaven and I will follow him there one day as well. I am so thankful for Marc’s gift of his hands and touch. Rest well Marc. Keep using your hands as you embrace a loving God. Dr. Seuss said, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” I say bye to Marc with a smile on my face, and I look forward to seeing him again someday… …and experiencing his touch as well. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Taking Down the Flags

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor”- Romans 12:10 Over the years, I’ve worked with a lot of survivors of horrific tragedies. When something terrible happens, we try to make sense of it all. When a particular event is beyond explanation, we look to anything to bring relief. After the Joplin tornado, the Weather service was rebuked for not having warned the people in plenty of time (they actually did a great job). And when a young man killed nine people in a church in South Carolina, people blamed the Confederate flag. But removing the flags won’t change anything. Those that fly the flag as a symbol of racist hate will continue to fly their flags anyway. The only flags that will come down will be those that correctly honor fathers, husbands and sons that died defending their homeland. We need to focus less on flags and more on the major reasons why people are so angry. Let me be clear on my perspective: since the Confederate flag is offensive, the battle flag should be removed from public places and the true Confederate States flag be hung only in memorials to the Civil War. After all, the Confederacy lost the war. These days, the battle flag is associated with slavery, which was a terrible thing and should not be condoned or celebrated. Those of you who know me, know I love history. My dad passed on a southern heritage to all of the Staples boys. His Georgia roots ran deep and he wanted us to share in the legacy. We, as a country, need to embrace our heritage while honoring those affected by a difficult past. That includes Black Americans, Native Americans, Japanese Americans and more. And as we strive to make sense of the mass shooting last week, we need to run to the right source. There is so much anger in this country (and all around the world). Last year, there were 100-150 people killed in 20 mass shooting in the U.S. but there were 15,000 individuals killed in single-victim homicides. People are angry. People are depressed. People are frustrated. Removing guns and flags won’t change people’s hearts. That’s where our focus needs to be. Hearts. And heart surgery is expensive. Denial is cheap. Cosmetic surgery is easier. The roots of racism and hate are difficult to tackle. Only a loving and gracious God can supply such love. If only all Americans would understand and live in that love. Why won’t taking down the flags change anything? Because those who fly it as a symbol of slavery and apartheid will continue to fly it anyway. That’s their legal right. But the memorials that are a tribute to the American’s who died in the war will come down. That will have no affect on those who choose racism. After all, not everyone fighting in that war condoned slavery. When the slave trade was abolished in 1808, the southern agrarian economy was doomed. And by the 1860’s, slavery was simply not affordable for the average American. Of the six million white men in the southern states in 1860, only 347,000 owned slaves and of that, 37,000 owned 20 or more. By the start of the civil war, there were 2,500,000 black slaves in the southern states, 40% of the population. 75% of them were focused on the cotton trade. The political cause of the south was lost from the beginning. But that’s not why most southerners were fighting. One captured Georgian was ask why he was fighting and he responded “I am fighting for my rats (rights).” Oh, that we might correctly salute those Americans who died for their beliefs but at the same time, honor those who walk in freedom today. We need to embrace the differences in the country. This crazy experiment called America is doomed to failure unless we choose to dialogue about what makes this country healthy and what can lead to it’s demise. Even 150 years ago, Lincoln understood that America was defensible against the other countries of earth, but not against itself. He understood that this grand experiment called America was vulnerable. He understood the vastness of our diversity could lead to ruin. And even though Lincoln discriminated as much as anyone (he was not an abolitionsit against slavery and allowed it in states not rebelling against the Union- Maryland, to name one) he understood the need to keep the Union politically together. “At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it will ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.” At the war’s end, he sought to honor those who had fought for the Confederacy. “With malice toward none and charity towards all…” he said. He got that these rebellious Americans needed to be respected and honored. So, take down the flag America, if it makes you feel better. That’s fine. The Confederacy lost the war anyway. But it won’t change the anger and hate that fills many hearts in America. As that beautiful church in Charleston understands, only love will make the difference. America needs to embrace faith in the loving God who is the author of true love. He sent His Son Jesus to die as an example of that kind of love. And He sent the Holy Spirit to supply that kind of love. Teach that to your kids and grandchildren. Be that kind of example to those that follow. We need to remember that slavery was legal under the United States flag from 1776 till 1865. We need to remember that 13 of the 50 stars on the United States flag represent the 13 states that made up the Confederacy. But that’s all in the past. May whatever flag you happen to fly on your flagpole be a symbol of love… …and respect for all Americans. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Buffalo Canoe Trip

“…the testing of your faith produces…” –James 1:2 When we face difficulty, we’re presented with two options: go around it or learn through it. Years ago, I faced adversity with a group of high school kids. As glad as we were to be finished with the trip and the trial, all these years later, the memory is still sweet. The Ozarks are absolutely beautiful this time of year. The red buds and dogwood have bloomed and all the vegetation is at its peak. It’s awesome! Years ago, when I was working with the wonderful ministry called Doulos-Shelterwood, we often took our teenagers on canoe trips on the beautiful Buffalo River, just a few hours south of Branson, in Arkansas. The Buffalo River has the rare distinction of being classified as a National River. It is an amazing experience to spend time there. This particular summer, another youth group coming to town needed our facility in Branson. My boss asked nicely if I would take the group of boy’s (12 boys and 8 Staff) on a river trip. He knew I taken several groups on the Buffalo over the years. Excited for the opportunity to go canoeing for a couple of days, I said, “Sure.” Then he informed me, “Joey, not for a day, but for five days." “Five days on the Buffalo,” I thought? But I was up for the challenge. Lesson #1: High risk brings high reward. When we’re up for the big challenge (for the right reason), it brings a big reward, whether it succeeds or not. So the outfitting began. We collected food, tents, fishing poles and flashlights and, a few weeks later, we loaded up the vans. I psyched up the group and challenged all of us to “embrace the adventure.” We headed to the Buffalo River and the trip began. We knew that 4 nights on the river would be a challenge because we would have to travel a minimal amount of mileage each day lest we finish the trip too soon and twiddle our thumbs at the end. But as it turned out, the forced slow pace made all the difference. We only canoed a few miles every day and spent the rest of the time hiking, swimming, exploring, telling stories and just being together. Yes, the time together produced some altercations and fights, but it was life on life. It was real. Lesson #2: when we slow down our lives, we speed up the process of relationship. It’s not always easy, but it’s always rich. From the beginning, food was a big issue. All of the canoes were loaded down with 5 five days of food supply. But it’s difficult to predict how much food a bunch of teenage guys will eat in a week. I thought we had more than enough food, but in the end, food was scarce. I remember we intentionally saved the Dinty Moore Stew for the last night on the river. Just writing about the stew makes my mouth water and my stomach growl. We wanted to eat it so badly during the week, but it was worth waiting for the feast on the last night. Lesson #3: we have to be nourished, not just physically, but emotionally as well. And it needs be enough and it needs to be healthy. We survived to the end. Most of us were sunburned, stinky and scratched, but as we headed back to Branson, we knew we’d accomplished something special. We felt like we had conquered a National Geographic obstacle and survived. Through the struggles and the hunger, relationships had grown and deepened and, in hindsight, we had a great time. The memory of that trip reminds me, “If nothing is ventured, then nothing is gained.” When was the last time you went on an adventure? Gary Smalley is always challenging families to “go camping." He was speaking of the adventure, of the common struggle that comes with bugs and snakes and firewood. And, most importantly, it’s awesome to be in the presence of God in the expanse of His creation. Be willing to “get out there.” Pull away from the TV, the job and the Wifi. You’ll deepen your relationships and you might just create sweet memories you will never forget… …along with a few bug bites. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Monday, May 25, 2015

Decoration Day

“The memory of the righteous will be a blessing…” –Proverbs 10:7 Memorial Day is a National holiday in the U.S. set aside to remember those who have given the ultimate sacrifice. It is a day to reflect and be thankful for those, in the military, who gave their lives for our wonderful country. While so many men and women went off to foreign lands, never to return, many died right here in the country they loved. But they all paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we might enjoy freedom. The practice of decorating soldiers' graves with flowers is an ancient custom. Some call it Decoration Day and others Memorial Day. Soldiers' graves were decorated in the U.S. before and during the American Civil War. The losses were catastrophic and America, as a society, struggled to process through it all. The first Civil War soldier's grave ever decorated was in Warrenton, Virginia on June 3, 1861, implying the first Memorial Day occurred there. Though not for Union soldiers, there is authentic documentation that women in Savannah, Georgia decorated Confederate soldiers' graves in 1862. In 1863, the cemetery dedication at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania was a ceremony of commemoration at the graves of dead soldiers. Jeanie and I were there almost exactly a year ago, and the cemetery was beautiful. Following President Abraham Lincoln's assassination in April 1865, there were a variety of events of commemoration. The sheer number of soldiers on both sides who died in the Civil War, more than 600,000, meant that burial and memorialization took on new cultural significance. Under the leadership of women during the war, an increasingly formal practice of decorating graves had taken shape. In 1865, the federal government began creating national military cemeteries for the Union war dead. On Memorial Day, the flag of the United States is raised briskly to the top of the staff and then solemnly lowered to the half-staff position, where it remains only until noon. It is then raised to full-staff for the remainder of the day. The half-staff position remembers the more than one million men and women who gave their lives in service of their country. At noon, their memory is raised by the living, who resolve not to let their sacrifice be in vain, but to rise up in their stead and continue the fight for liberty and justice for all. That’s really the point of it all. And it’s that message that we need to pass on to our children and grandchildren. Though, hopefully, they won’t have to fight in a war, they can still validate the memory of those who died by living freedom well. The Gettysburg Address was delivered by Lincoln during the American Civil War, on the afternoon of Thursday, November 19, 1863. It was given at the dedication of the Soldiers' National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, four and a half months after the Union armies defeated those of the Confederacy at the Battle of Gettysburg. While Lincoln certainly honored the memory of those who died in the battle, he also had a message for us as well. “It is for us the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain.” Our “great task” is to live freedom well. It’s to honor them for sure, but it’s also to honor all living Americans. It’s to show respect and devotion and love to all brothers and sisters. Like someone said, “It’s easy to love mankind, but much more difficult to love your neighbor.” So may God bless the memory of all those who sacrificed their lives so that America might be free. May God bless every family who misses their loved ones. And may God strengthen every American to practice freedom well. May we honor them… …by honoring each other. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Letting Go, Part Zillion

…it has not yet been revealed what we shall be… —1 John 3:2 People ask me sometimes, “Where do you come up with the topics for these blogs?” I wonder, “Where do I come up with them?” The truth is, they come up with me. Sometimes life comes at me like a game of Galaga turned to warp speed. I am shooting at the targets but they are coming toward me faster than I can reload. It’s all a part of God’s unending agenda regarding control. He knows I’m at my best when I’m on my knees, out of control, depending on Him. Lately, life has been a whirlwind. I’ve been unsettled. People I love dearly have been suffering. My precious mother dealing with severe back pain, my best friend recovering from a heart attack, my dear brother dealing with muscle issues. My load is heavy because their loads are heavy. I don’t like people I love hurting. I scramble for control. Then I re-read Oswald Chambers this morning, April 29th, in the devotional book, “My Utmost for His Highest” about “Gracious Uncertainty”: “Our natural inclination is to be so precise– trying always to forecast accurately what will happen next– that we look upon uncertainty as a bad thing. We think that we must reach some predetermined goal, but that is not the nature of the spiritual life. The nature of the spiritual life is that we are certain in our uncertainty. Consequently, we do not put down roots. Our common sense says, “Well, what if I were in that circumstance?” We cannot presume to see ourselves in any circumstance in which we have never been. Certainty is the mark of the commonsense life– gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, not knowing what tomorrow may bring. This is generally expressed with a sigh of sadness, but it should be an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God. As soon as we abandon ourselves to God and do the task He has placed closest to us, He begins to fill our lives with surprises. When we become simply a promoter or a defender of a particular belief, something within us dies. That is not believing God– it is only believing our belief about Him. Jesus said, “…unless you…become as little children…” (Matthew 18:3). The spiritual life is the life of a child. We are not uncertain of God, just uncertain of what He is going to do next. If our certainty is only in our beliefs, we develop a sense of self-righteousness, become overly critical, and are limited by the view that our beliefs are complete and settled. But when we have the right relationship with God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy. Jesus said, “…believe also in Me” (John 14:1), not, “Believe certain things about Me.” Leave everything to Him and it will be gloriously and graciously uncertain how He will come in– but you can be certain that He will come. Remain faithful to Him.” So, I learn again to leave it all to Him. He knows. He grows. He builds. He has it all in His hands, literally. Are you holding on to anything too tightly today? Perhaps God is asking you, once again, to let go and give it to Him. He’s got it under control. May we yield our loads to the God of the Universe and experience His rest. He can handle any load… …whether it’s in warp speed or not. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Restacking the Firewood

“Now therefore amend your ways and your deeds and obey the voice of the Lord your God…”Jer. 26:13 Yep, the change needed to happen. But I told myself a thousand times to let it go. I tried to convince myself I was too concerned. Maybe it was just my OCD kicking in. But if I was honest, truly honest, the change needed to happen. And I knew it. Change is like that. It’s tough because there is always a price to pay for correcting any mistake. But the cost of the change is always less than the price of neglect. A few months ago, when I had stacked firewood in my backyard, I was in a rush. I knew I was stacking it on the side of a hill, but it seemed OK. My friend and brother-in-law, Brian, was helping me. As the stack got higher, the lean became more obvious. Brian even commented, “that wood is kinda leaning.” “Oh, it’ll be fine”, I said and we finished the chore, marveled at our handy work, and feeling very manly, returned to the Saturday afternoon basketball game on ESPN. As I retrieved firewood this winter for the fireplace, I noticed the lean, but I wasn’t overly concerned. “It will straighten up as the pile decreases,” I rationalized. Instead, the lean got worse. And then came the puppy. Our precious lab, Maisy, had died four months earlier. And the time finally came for us to add another dog to our legacy of labs. Sammy would be number five. As we played in the backyard one afternoon, I threw her ball up by the woodpile. She ran to retrieve it and I looked up and noticed the leaning woodpile. Her playing by the pile could cause it to fall and easily kill a small puppy. That was enough. I hurried in, put on my “play clothes” (as Jeanie calls them), grabbed gloves and got to work. I restacked the whole cord of wood with wooden slats on the downhill side of the bottom logs. The new stack was level and Sammy was safe. As I finished the job, I petted Sammy and reflected on what I had just done. I made a change. My back was sore, my hands a bit scratched and my foot hurt (I had dropped a log on my left foot- ouch), but the job was complete. The chore I had so vehemently resisted was done. I reflected on why most of us resist making changes. We tend to be lazy. Yep, I was looking to do the best job in the easiest way, never a good combination. When it came to stacking the wood that day, I wasn’t as concerned about doing it right as I was about doing it quickly. Most mistakes happen when time becomes THE factor. Slowing down and “being present” equals a job well done. We don’t listen very well. Wise counsel makes all the difference, but we only listen if we want to. Brian gave some good perspective, but I was so focused on finishing, that I didn’t truly entertain his thought. Remember, when we’re “entertaining” someone, they are getting all of our attention and focus. We’re willing to live with mediocrity. Of course, I’m a paradox. I can be extremely picking about things that concern me directly, but very passive if they don’t. But the truth is, any time I take a short cut, it affects those around me. It was only when Sammy entered the scene that I saw the potential consequence for my mediocrity. But the pile could have fallen on lots of people. We don’t like being humbled. Pride “rules the roost” for most of us. To admit to making a mistake is difficult. It means we “messed up.” But a humble heart is willing to admit to the mistake and make the change. Mistakes pave the way for progress, if positive change occurs. May we all be willing to admit our mistakes and be willing to make changes. Heed the advice of Godly, wise counsel of true friends. Have a humble heart. Keep an eye out for things that are “leaning” in your life. Make the adjustments to straighten them out… …and avoid the fall out. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Applying the Seasoning

“He will be like a tree…which yields its fruit in its season…” –Psalm 1:3 We’re enjoying a beautiful warm spring day here in the Ozarks. We’re in the middle of season transition- cold one day and warm the next. The seasons are so pronounced and unique and beautiful- each one worth embracing, none worth skipping. I’ve had so many seasons in my own life: coming to know Christ, the Baylor years, marrying my best friend Jeanie, moving to Branson, the birth of our beautiful children, my dad passing away, our kids leaving for college, our kids marrying wonderful people, our two grandkids being born, being trained and discipled by Richard Beach, Richard passing away, my oldest brother dying of cancer, the list goes on and on- the seasons go on and on. Take a moment to reflect on the seasons of your life. Like me, I bet you’ve been through the crisp days of spring and the cold days of winter. No mater the seasons, we have been blessed throughout. Every year, fall comes after summer and spring comes after winter. Every single year! The pattern never changes. No disrespect to Al Gore, but the globe has always warmed and cooled. God created the cycle of seasons for a reason. I wonder sometimes: why can’t we have spring all the time? Why can’t we always have warmth and sunshine and prosperity? The truth is, God knows what He’s doing. We need the seasons because, in the end, seasons produce growth. Winter is a dormant time of rest and stillness. We’re reminded that on the seventh day, God rested from all his work (Genesis 2:1-3). He created nothing. He simply enjoyed His creation and saw that it was good. It was enough. We miss God’s goodness when we’re moving all the time. Spring is a new, fresh time of growth. We’re reminded that when a man comes to know Christ, old things pass away and new things come (2 Cor. 5:17). All is changed. Newness prevails. It is a time of change, from what was to what will be. It’s a time of fear of unknown being replaced by enthusiasm for the new. Summer is a turbulent time of heat and storms. We’re reminded that Shaddrak and his buddies were tied up and cast into the midst of the furnace of blazing fire (Daniel 3:29). Though the fire was hot, they were not. They were resting in God. They chose not to live under the circumstances but above them, in God’s peace. Fall is a time of loss and despair. We’re reminded that Elijah went a day’s journey, hid under a Juniper tree and requested of God that he might die (1 Kings 19). Jesus struggled in Gethsemane as well, but never lost His trust in the Father. We don’t have to deny difficult times but rejoice when we take refuge in Christ, even when nothing makes sense. Seasons are sometimes fertile, sometimes still, but are always God’s seasons with a purpose, whether fruit is being produced or not. Maybe that’s the problem. We want fruit all the time. We are gluttons. We want more and God says, “You have enough.” He provides and then we compare. “They have more,” we say and God replies again, “but I’ve given you enough.” Someone said, “The secret to contentment is wanting what we have.” Some seasons produce fruit and some do not. But there is growth in every season. Our challenge is to be present in every season- not wish it away for the next one, but embrace it. Pull out the sled in the wintertime, enjoy the beach in the summer, plant like crazy in the spring and jump in a pile of leaves in the fall. May we embrace every single season God brings our way. May we let the seasons produce their growth. May we “apply the seasoning” and let it improve our lives. May we trust God in every circumstance… …no matter the season. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Call

“The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps”- Prov. 16:9 The Super Bowl game. It’s been the focus the past several weeks on social media and the news. The Seahawks made a decision at the end of the game and lost. It seems everyone is questioning the call. Perhaps they would have won had another call been made? The choice didn’t work out. Sometimes our choices don’t “succeed.” But it depends on how we define success. We make choices where we work, in our families, in our lives. Sometimes our expectations are met and sometimes they fall short. But sometimes a blessing lies in the failure. As the Super Bowl game was winding down, Jermaine Kearse makes a great bobbling catch. This left the Seahawks with a first down on the Patriots five-yard line with 1:06 left in the game. On the next play, the Seahawks handed the ball to running back Marshawn Lynch who ran it four yards, almost scoring a touchdown before he was tackled on the one-yard line. And here’s where things went wrong for Seattle. On the next play, they decided to throw the ball. The play made sense. The route was open. The play had worked before. But the defense countered and the pass was intercepted. Game over. Quarterback Russell Wilson said later, “It’s one of those things, you trust what they called. I had no doubt. I had no doubt in the play call. I still don’t to this day. I just wish we had made the play. If we had made the touchdown, you guys would be sitting here asking me different questions, but we didn’t.’’ Wilson said he never contemplated tucking the ball and running. “Oh, no. It looked wide open,’’ he said, before slightly altering that assessment. “Open enough. I shouldn’t say wide open, but it looked open enough to get it in there and make the play. I thought we were going to. When I threw it, I was like, ‘touchdown, second Super Bowl ring, here we go.’ He (Butler) made a great play. Now Wilson has quite a tale of overcoming adversity to impart. His roommate, Robert Turbin, said he tried to soothe Wilson by telling him that this game, devastating as it was, would wind up as a positive because he would be able to use it to inspire kids. “One day, you’re going to be talking to some kid, or talking to some high-school quarterback who may be low on confidence or struggling with his game,’’ Turbin said he told Wilson on Monday. “You’re going to give him the example about how you threw a pick on the last play of the game in the Super Bowl. Somehow, some way, that story is going to help that person get better, the same way the game is going to help you get better as a quarterback.’’ Those were words that Wilson embraced, a sentiment he vowed to embody on a day he didn’t let the recent Super Bowl loss keep him from his customary Tuesday visit to Seattle Children’s Hospital. “You continue to grow, you continue to learn from the lessons,’’ he said. “You guys are probably going to be asking me questions for the next 15 years, hopefully. So when you guys ask me this 15 years from now, hopefully I’ll have several Super Bowl rings, and you guys will ask different questions.” Wilson reiterated that he couldn’t wait to get back on the field. One thing we’ve learned about Wilson by now is that he’ll be single-minded in his quest to ensure he’ll be ready in the next crucial moment in the next big game. If people thought this game was going to break Russell Wilson, they haven’t been paying attention. “Every time I’m in that situation again,’’ he said, “I believe I’m going to have success again.” He relies on God for his strength and success, to Russell Wilson, is doing the best he can and leaving the results up to the Lord. When I was in high school, I played football in the Fall and loved it. I played soccer in the Spring and loved it as well. In soccer I played “rover’ in the defensive end. My football conditioning prepped me pretty well to keep up with the forwards on the other soccer teams. Yes, I got a few yellow cards, but it was all part of the game. I also had the ability to kick the ball a long way. After encouragement from coaches and friends, I had considered placekicking in football but I loved playing linebacker and we already had a great All-State kicker (that went on to kick at A&M and for the Patriots in the pros). But he was going to graduate after my junior year. I prayed about it and decided to kick for the team. The day I was going to tell my buddies and coach about my decision, a good friend of mine made the announcement first. I will never forget the moment. “Hey guys, Tony Franklin is leaving so I’m going to go out for kicker senior year,” said my friend Bill Adams. My heart sank. I was not going to compete against my friend. I already started on defense and didn’t need to kick to make the team, but I had grown excited about the idea. But the dream died right there on the steps of Arlington Heights High School. Bill went on to kick very well that year and ended up kicking at Texas Tech. But I wonder sometimes what might have been? Would I have been a good kicker? Would I have broken records and won games and celebrated on the shoulders of my teammates? I will never know. We will never know. We don’t need to know. Because the Lord has our back every time. I was not supposed to be a kicker. God altered my course to lead me to His plan. And he’s right 100% of the time. May we all rest in His direction. Let’s not shy away from making the hard calls. We simply do our best and leave the results up to a loving God. We’re not “lucky” and our lives are not controlled by “fate.” We trust that God has a bigger plan. We can glory in defeat because He truly can “bring good from bad.” So, make the decision, throw the pass, trust… …and leave the results up to the Lord. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Monday, February 2, 2015

Bill Lamkin

“Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing”-1Thess. 5:11 I found out the other day that a dear professor of mine from back in Graduate School passed away. I had no idea. He lived down in south Texas, a long way from the Ozarks and he and I emailed back and forth for years. He would call occasionally and promise to come see me “all the way up there in the Missouri.” Bill Lamkin was such a blessing to my life. He was an encourager, a builder-upper, an urger, a prodder and a blessing. I would not be where I am today without his God-appointed influence on my life. As a senior, I was finishing my undergraduate degree in psychology at Baylor and was considering options. I was entertaining opportunities all over the place. I was looking at seminaries, working with Young Life, playing soccer with Athletes in Action ministry and some other ideas. One other option was to continue my studies in Graduate School. But that was a long shot. My GPA was only fair to average. So that spring, I went to meet with the Dean of the Baylor Graduate College, Bill Lamkin. I had never met him before. He asked about my dreams and took a genuine interest in me. I explained that my GPA was fair and that I had not taken the GRE entrance exam. He asked more questions about my future. I told him I would like to one day be a Professional Counselor and help people with their problems. He explained, “Joey, you’ll have to take the GRE and make a passing score to get into the Baylor Graduate School first. Then, you’ll have to be accepted into the Counseling Graduate program and make satisfactory grades your first semester. It all depends on whether you really want this. If you do, I’ll take care it.” I explained to him that I wasn’t sure of the Lord’s direction. We shook hands and I told him I’d be in touch, if it could all wait. He said, “Fine.” I left to work at Kanakuk, a Christian athletic camp, for the summer. While at camp, all the other doors shut for various reasons. It seemed the Lord was leading me to Graduate School. But there were a lot of hurdles to jump over first. In July of that summer, I quickly registered for the GRE, took the test in a town nearby camp, and made qualifying scores for the Baylor Graduate School and the counseling program. I phoned Bill Lamkin and he encouraged me to make plans to be in Waco in the fall. I felt so honored. I felt blessed. I had a long way to go, but I was confident that the Lord had sent this special man to help me through this season. I lived in Waco, worked at a restaurant, and began my studies. It was tough. Each student was assigned a Supervisor. Mine was Bill Lamkin. I’m sure, as the Dean, he didn’t have specific students, but he chose to help me. Our meetings and lunches were full of questions about me, my studies, my life and the girl I had met while working at camp. That girl, Jeanie, would become my wife in the spring and move to Waco with me. As I worked through the program, I cherished my times with Dr. Lamkin. Life was not easy as I was working a couple of jobs and keeping up with challenging studies. But Bill Lamkin had the right words and stories to tell me to keep me going. He was God’s messenger to me to persevere and finish the course. Though he is gone now, Dr. Lamkin left a great legacy. He allowed the Lord to use him in so many lives, mine included. I appreciate him so much and hope I’m as willing as he was to reach out. I know I was an “extra” in his life. He was a busy Dean, after all. But he valued me, honored me and represented the love of Jesus in my life. Rest in peace, Bill Lamkin. Of all people, you deserve the joy of heaven. Your selfless life has ushered you into beautiful paradise. May our lives follow your pattern of encouragement… … in helping others through life. By Eric Joseph Staples@

Friday, January 23, 2015

Deer Dependency

“Bear one another’s burdens…,for each one will bear his own load” -Gal. 6:2,5 It’s not easy for most of us to depend on people. Truth is, it’s not easy for most of us to depend on anything. We like our independence, our control and our consistency. We don’t mind others depending on us nearly as much. But in God’s plan here on planet earth, most of the time, he chooses to meet our needs through others. We’re called to “bear one another’s burdens.” But for us to be able to bear others’ burdens, we have to be given permission. We have to humble our pride and yield to another’s ability to love. Most of us would rather gargle tomato juice than depend on another brother or sister. But in doing so, we let others love us and they are blessed besides. Before Christmas, we were driving to Des Moines to spend a few days with Elizabeth, Mark and the grandkids. We were driving after dark in between Springfield and Kansas City when out of nowhere, a huge buck, crossing the median, slammed into the side of our SUV. The side airbags deployed and we pulled over in shock. We drove to the next exit and pulled over to survey the damage. The vehicle was badly broken. I have come so close to hitting deer in the past, but this was the first time I’d had an actual collision. As my bro-in-law Brian pointed out, the deer actually hit us. It’s amazing how much damage a big buck can do when he makes contact with a pile of metal going 70 mph. But the vehicle was drivable. We still made the three hour drive to Des Moines with no problems and drove the six hours back a few days later. On the way back home, we spotted the deer on the side of the road and stopped to survey the damage. It was indeed huge and it’s rack badly damaged from the collision. We dropped the car off at the body shop in Springfield and had someone pick us up to take us back to Branson. A few days later, I had a call from the body shop that they would do the repairs and, in a month or so, I’d have the vehicle back in my possession. A month! Having no choice, I responded “yes” and the dependency began. I became a man without wheels! It’s kind of funny because most of the men in this world do not own a car. They don’t need a car. Most cultures are much more dependent on mass transit and their feet to get them from here to there. But not in America. We take pride in our independence. And that’s the problem, one that the Lord is working on in me these days. With no car, I’ve been forced to depend on Jeanie and Brian. They both have Hondas and have been generous to let me use their vehicles when needed. And Terry, a co-worker from the church, has been so gracious to give me rides to work. They have all been more than gracious. But I had to let them help me. I had to be willing to let them serve me. As Chuck Swindoll said in his classic book Improving Your Serve, “We can not be true servants if we do not let others serve us as well.” Makes sense. It’s meant to be a continuous circle of giving and being served. When we’re hyper-independent, we rob others of their ability to provide blessing to us as well as the blessing they can receive. So, be someone who helps carry others’ loads. Give someone a ride. Take a senior citizen to the grocery store. Encourage a friend. But also be willing to be served. If you have a need, reach out to a brother or sister. Ask for help. Let God provide for you through others. Thanks to Brian, Jeanie, Terry and everyone else who have helped me during this season… …and thanks to that poor deer for making it necessary. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Monday, January 5, 2015

Dad and the Baylor Grade

“…to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me…” -2 Cor. 12:7 My whole life, I’d been trying to keep up with my three awesome big brothers. Everything they accomplished created a bar for me to have to jump over as well. At least that’s what I thought! They were great big brothers and were smart and athletic. I kept the pace pretty well through high school but at the close of my first semester at Baylor, I was concerned I had fallen way behind. But a loving dad and graceful Heavenly Father would teach me a great lesson. My time in high school was full of athletics and pretty good grades. My best sport was soccer, but my brothers all played football, so I did too. We lived in Texas, after all. So life in the fall for the Staples family focused on football. I had pretty good speed but was much too small to play in college. So, keeping up with the brothers in college wouldn’t include football. Ironically, I did play soccer in college, but back then soccer was kind of like being on the bowling team- not a lot of exposure. My oldest brother went to SMU and my other two brothers to TCU. I thought I was ready to try my own wings so I chose to go to college far from home- actually only two hours from home! By the time I landed in Waco at Baylor, I was a confused freshman searching for my identity and purpose. I chose biology as my major and quickly discovered that I was way out of my league academically. Truth was, I had no idea what I “wanted to be” and competing with the best of Baylor wasn’t going to go too well. By the time I finished my first semester, I changed my major to “undeclared” and waited nervously for my final grades. My grades were decent, but I had made a D in one of my biology courses. I was devastated. I’d never made a grade below a B in high school. It was a crisis as I struggled with my identity. I didn’t know who Joey Staples was. I wasn’t Joey the football player. I wasn’t Joey the smart person. I wasn’t Joey the success. And alone in Waco, I wasn’t Joey the little brother of Pel, Marc, and Bob either. Funny that I always rolled my eyes when someone called me “little Staples” but with that gone, I missed the title and the security. But God had a plan and a purpose. He always does. He was chipping away at a huge reserve of pride built up over the years in my heart. It consisted of a competitive, envious, controlling, arrogance that lent itself well towards winning games and making good grades, but not toward living in freedom in God’s grace. So, after my first semester at Baylor, I arrived home in Fort Worth and waited anxiously for my report card to arrive. I checked the mailbox and it finally came in the mail (no email back then). I opened it and sure enough, I had made the D. That night I walked back to my parent’s bedroom with the report card in hand, prepared to be rebuked. I handed it to my dad and apologized for the poor grade. His response, “Oh well, try to do better next semester. The Cowboys play tomorrow. Let’s watch the game.” What? That was it? I replied “yes” to the doing better and the Cowboy game and left the room shocked. My dad (and my mom too I guess) had just given me a huge gift. It was called grace. Truth was, I didn’t need more pressure from them. I needed grace. I already had plenty of guilt. But remorse and guilt are fuel for success when the principle players apply grace. Do you think I left the bedroom feeling like I could be lazy and make all D’s? NO. I left determined to honor my dad’s grace. I returned to Baylor and focused on school. I didn’t make a 4.0, but I graduated four years later. I was free to fail. And therefore, I was free to succeed. My earthly dad had ushered me to the grace of my Heavenly Father. It was and is a tremendous gift. I still struggle with trying to perform, with trying to “keep up.” Then I remember my loving Father and His grace toward me. I’m okay. I have nothing to prove. God has already declared me officially loved and approved. I smile and I relax and I remember… …that the Cowboys play tomorrow. By Eric Joseph Staples ©