Thursday, June 15, 2017


“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” –Phil. 4:13 Suddenly it’s summer! All of the best seems to pop up in spring and summer in the Ozarks. That yard that was ugly and needing sod is suddenly beautiful (weeds and all). Those barren trees are now large and full (and dropping pollen). And the electric bill is smaller (though the flower bill is larger). I know I’m weird, but one of my favorite summertime jobs is mowing the lawn (or for us southerners, “cutting the grass”). I love my job as a “people-helper,” but in helping people, it’s difficult to measure success and failure. Unlike a baker or factory worker, I don’t often see the good result of my work. I think that’s why I enjoy seeing the lawn mowed and groomed and perfect. So, last weekend, I experienced a relative disaster. Sure, bombs explode and earthquakes quake, and fire’s burn. But when my lawn mower malfunctions, the earth stands still. My aging mower lost its self-propelling capability. And with the crazy terrain of my yard, self-propelling is a must. Truth is, the self-propelling system on my mower had been failing for a while and I didn’t even know it. I discovered that, even though I pulled the lever to engage the drive, it wasn’t working. I was actually applying all the power to move the mower. So, I made that wonderful trip to Lowes and looked over their beautiful (and expensive) mowers. Shiny and new, they all looked great. But my eye caught the wonderful Husqvarna-Honda rear-wheel-drive mower and I was sold. It cost a little more, but I was in love (sorry Jeanie). I took it home, unpacked it, filled it with oil and gas, and let her rip! It was amazing and so easy. I could have cut every yard in the neighborhood! The greatly improved self-propelling feature was nothing short of amazing. It’s a feature provided on nearly all mowers. Of the ten mowers I looked at in Lowes, nine had the self-propelling feature. Why? Because it’s too much work to push the dead weight of a mower up and down hills. When I finished the yard, I cleaned my new mower and put it back in the storage shed. A question hit me, “Why would I purchase the self-propelling feature but elect not use it?” I could only think of one reason: control. When the self-propelling drive is engaged, the semblance of control is lost. It’s harder to turn and maneuver - but well worth the loss. It’s true of our lives as well. When we surrender our lives to Christ, he provides us with a self-propelling feature (and it came with a price). If we pull the lever, God, via the Holy Spirit, provides the very power and strength we need. He powers us up the hills and navigates us through the struggles and blessings of life. But we have to pull the lever and leave it engaged. The lever of God-dependency requires us to yield to His will and way. God-dependency moves us in the ways He desires. God-dependency requires us to let go of our need to control. God-dependency requires us to yield to His results. What a wonderful blessing. We weren’t designed to navigate through life by ourselves. As Bill Gillam once said, “We’re God critters. We’re at our best when we’re under the Lord’s control.” We’re in sync when we’re allowing God to be the self-propelling power of our lives. Sure, we can push and pull. We can strive and work to get our “mower” from here to there. We can even push the lever without letting it actually engage the drive. But we’ll end up frustrated, tired and directionless. Let the Lord be your drive today. No matter the course or topography of your yard, He is more than capable of being your strength. No matter the circumstance, settle in His might. Let go of control. Let Him have His way and you’ll be at rest… …and the yard will be beautiful. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Thursday, May 11, 2017

James and Mom: a Beautiful Contrast

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.” -Job 1:21 Something wonderful happened yesterday: a beautiful baby boy named James Wylie Staples was born to Eric and Jennifer Staples. And he is perfect. He has all his toes and fingers. He weighed eight pounds and fifteen ounces and is twenty-two inches long. Eric was almost identical when he was born. Mom, Jennifer, did a great job and she is resting well. James is such a wonderful blessing. And I am a blessed Papa Joe. A contrast is defined as “a comparison in which differences are demonstrated or enhanced.” About four months ago, something else wonderful happened: my sweet mom, and James’ Great Grandmama, went home to be with the Lord. She wasn’t nearly so perfect. Her body was worn out and failing after eighty-nine years of being a mom, friend, and wife here on planet earth. But she too did a great job and she is resting well. She was a wonderful blessing. While I am tremendously blessed to have my grandson, James, this Mother’s Day, I’ll be missing my sweet mom. It’s quite the contrast. We embrace and marvel at birth but we shy away from death. This morning I had multiple texts from friends and colleagues expressing their joy at the birth of James. “Precious and congrats,” “So Sweet,” “How awesome.” There’s just something about a sweet baby that we want to embrace. The joy and blessing of a new life grabs us. After all, it’s life. Not so true with death. Though I had a few close friends call me, the texts were few and the comments awkward. We’re just not sure how to respond to death. In a world that values and craves control, death is the ultimate lack of control. We can exercise and eat right to add a few years to this life, but in the end, we all die. But as Christians, that’s OK. There is wonderful, eternal life beyond the grave with Jesus. In one of my favorite John Wayne movies, The Shootist, Wayne plays an old, sick gunfighter, John Books. In a key scene, Books goes to visit his doctor. Books is clearly depressed when Dr. Hostetler tells him his cancer is fatal. Books responds, “You told me I was strong as an ox!” Dr. Hostetler responds, “Well, even an ox dies.” We all are born and we all die. And while it’s OK for us to rejoice when a beautiful baby is born, we can rejoice when a life ends as well. I’m sure not knocking grieving. It’s a God-given necessity for us to say “good-bye” to someone we love and will miss. And I’ve sure been in the midst of grieving the loss of my mom for months. We need to experience sadness and emptiness and struggle. But the sting is turning sweet. It just takes time. I’m so excited for Jeanie and me to get to go to Nashville in a few days and celebrate the birth of James. I can’t wait to hold him and hug him. While my mom has moved on, James has arrived! It’s the circle of life. God does give and take away. As James grows up, I’ll always think of the wonderful legacy that my mom left behind: a legacy of integrity, faith and family. Let’s choose to embrace life. Death is a necessity and we all have our time. But let’s choose to embrace our time of life. It’s a wonderful gift and beautiful in the eyes of a newborn. May our sweet James grow up in every way… … in the legacy of his sweet Grandmama. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Happy Birthday Mom!

“We give thanks to God always for you…”– 1 Thess. 1:2 We lost our precious mom a few weeks ago. We had moved her from the town she loved, Fort Worth, to Branson, barely six months ago. Living at the house in Fort Worth became too difficult for her. Though her spirit was strong and encouraged while she was here in Branson, her health continued to decline. She died just a few weeks short of her 90th birthday, which we’ll celebrate tomorrow, February 20th. What better birthday present than to be in the arms of the Lord! But I am missing her today. They say, in grieving, that eventually “the sting turns into sweet.” I’m still stinging these days. It will just take time and being patient and waiting has never been a strong suit of mine. The truth is, she’s doing great. We’re the ones who are missing her. I keep thinking of what I could have done. I keep thinking of ways I could have loved her more. I keep thinking of her frailty and pain. I keep wondering if I could have made her life better. But I also find myself focusing less on what “could have been” and more on what “was.” What “was” was awesome. The Staples family lived a wonderful life of adventure. From Georgia to Ohio to Washington D.C. to Germany to Texas to Alabama and finally, back to Texas, my parents assured that we experienced the world. My mom and dad gave us the “OK” to risk and search. I cried as we watched the new movie “La La Land.” I was reminded of the precious gift my parents gave to us boys: permission to pursue our dreams. My mom allowed us boys to “give it a go.” “Better to be starving pursuing our dream than to be fat and bored settling for life.” As one older man once told me, “How sad to get to the end of your life, look back, and discover you have lived out someone else’s dream.” If you looked at the resume of the four Staples boys, it would definitely include some failures. My former mentor and boss, Richard Beach, used to encourage me to “risk.” “If something didn’t work out”, he’d say, “Chalk it up to R and D” (Research and Development). What he meant was that it was OK to risk and fail, because somewhere in the failures come the huge successes. My mom’s greatest legacy is her boys. She selflessly gave all for her kids. Her sons and now her nine grandkids, carry on the legacy. Some might say she was too consumed with us. In the end, she didn’t have garden club plaques but she had love. The greatest investment she could have made was locked in and passed on. I’m already missing all those fun things about her, but mostly I’m missing her smile at a pretty sunset, her compliment of a job well done, her encouragement on a hard day, her stories about her childhood, her stories about my Dad. In 2 Timothy 4:7, Paul said, “I’ve fought the good fight, I’ve finished the race, I’ve kept the faith.” Mom’s race is over and she finished well. She fought a great fight. We will miss her, but all is well. We love you mom. Oh, and happy birthday! By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Journey

“…I’ve learned the secret of being filled and going hungry…” Phil. 4:11-13 Today we’re flying to Arizona for my nephew’s wedding. It’s been quite a journey already, from the parking garage to baggage check, late arrivals to turbulence, the journey has been difficult. But the time with family and the wedding will be awesome. Journeys worth taking are usually difficult. Life takes us on such multiple walks- most not of our choosing. And that’s okay if we remember that the worth of the walk depends on our willingness not to waiver. We all just finished another walk called 2016. All of us experienced ups and downs. Some days we rejoiced on the mountaintops. Other days we struggled in the valleys. Some days we got ahead and other days we fell behind. Of course, we all love easy days when everything is just clicking. But there’s no growth when times are easy. Mountaintops are great- but nothing grows above the tree line. We learn little when we win. We learn so much more when we lose. Someone once said that “trials don’t produce character, they reveal it.” I think they can do both. Trials send us one of two directions: growth or grouchiness. The sun shines on butter and melts it, and that same sun shines on clay and makes it harder. Same sun but different material- different substance. It’s what James meant when he wrote James 2:1-4 “Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result…” We’re all going to encounter trials but we choose whether the difficulty will do us any good. We have to “let it” help us grow. A hard heart grows bitter in trial- a soft heart grows better in trial. A soft, teachable heart is willing to learn and grow. Only a heart that is pliable and flexible can see the purpose in difficulty. I’m hearing the passengers in the seats behind me in the plane describe their “horrible day” and how life has just been “terrible.” They are frustrated about the “airlines not caring because they lost my bag.” They concluded, “We just didn’t have good luck today.” They are like so many of us who define our days by our circumstances. If we’re slaves to the “luck” in our lives, then we’re like a roller coaster- up and down and up and down. But life is more that our circumstances. 2016 was not defined by events. It was defined by how well we let the loving, awesome God of the universe have His way in our lives. It’s why Paul could say, “I’ve learned to be content in whatever circumstances I’m in.” (Phil. 4:11) How about we make that our goal for 2017: to live above our circumstances instead of underneath them. We can’t do that on our own. Paul goes on to say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Let Christ have His way in your life this year, whether the flight is on time… …or delayed. By Eric Joseph Staples ©