Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Family Forte: The Thorny Side of Life

by: Topher Wiles

What keeps you on your toes?  While I was out for a sunrise run recently, I was shocked when I planted my heel firmly on the concrete sidewalk to hear a CRUNCH and felt a mild discomfort in my left heel.  The remnants of a glass bottle had conveniently decided to take up residence in my shoe, pricking the sole of my foot. I was only a quarter mile from home with the glass firmly lodged in the heel of my shoe, so like any silly guy would do, I kept on running.  Since putting weight on my heel wasn’t an option, I leaned forward in my stride and made sure every footfall contacted the pavement on the forefoot. I ran the rest of the way home on my toes.

According to the professional running websites, contacting the ground with your mid-heel or forefoot is much more efficient and produces less injury than running on your heels.  Up to this point, I had always been a “heel-striker” as evidenced by all my shoe tread wearing out on the rear first. This time, however, due to the glass shards lodged firmly in my shoe, I enjoyed running with proper form all the way home.  I noticed that my knees were taking less impact, my footfalls were lighter, and my pace was quicker as I focused on running on my toes. I was somewhat thankful for the little intruder in my shoe as I realized I learned a more valuable lesson than just proper running form. I learned the lesson of the thorn in the flesh.

Thorns in our lives can often spur us on toward better things.  Those thorns come in a lot of different shapes and sizes, depending on the lesson God desires us to learn.  For instance, at the end of Judges chapter two, the Lord informs readers that He let some small Canaanite nations remain unconquered so that Israel could be tested and learn from their mistakes.  The result of these thorny countries antagonizing Israel was the appearance of faithful judges who would call Israel to repentance.

In James chapter one, the brother of Jesus encourages those who were being persecuted to take joy in their troubles because they would be more complete with patience and perseverance in the end.  Their persecution was much harsher than the minor discomforts we are accustomed to today. Many of them were homeless, jobless, and displaced from their normal support network - rather large thorns if you ask me.  Yet God allowed this situation for them to develop a level of richness in faith that money couldn’t buy.

Paul even admits in his second letter to the Corinthians that he was given a thorn in his flesh to keep him from being proud and boasting.  Some have named his thorn blindness, while others have theorized it as another bodily illness. Whatever the thorn was, Paul asked the Lord three times for this nuisance to be taken away.  It’s tough to understand that it was out of wisdom and goodness that the Lord refused to remove Paul’s thorn, but Paul understood well what the score was. Here’s what he wrote.
“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” - 2 Corinthians 12:8-10.  

Your thorn could be different from Paul, James, or the Israelites, but don’t doubt for a minute that God can use it to help you learn and grow in life.  It could be the sudden loss of a job that challenges you to go back to school for more learning, thereby bettering the world and your future. Perhaps your thorn is a sports injury that has humbled you when you became a little too proud and boastful of your abilities.  Is it possible that God has allowed an illness to persist while you learn to appreciate the friends and family who have loved and cared for you? Maybe it’s just a small one, such as a little glass in the shoe which provokes one to pause and meditate on the spiritual truth of thorns.  

Whatever your thorn is, strive to see it as a blessing rather than a curse.  May we learn to take joy and appreciate the little thorns in our lives knowing that our Father allows them to make us stronger, healthier, and better runners in the race of life.  Be open to God’s goodness and He’ll always keep you “on your toes.”

“Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” - Hebrews 12:1b-2 The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email,, or through our website,

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Family Forte: Yoda, Obi, and Grieving Children

by: Topher Wiles

     I was born in 1979, and Star Wars played a big part of my childhood.  With Ewoks on my lunchbox and and Yoda on my shirt, I was a total Star Wars nerd.  That nerdiness expressed itself a few years ago when we adopted a sweet old hound dog from the shelter and named him “Obadiah Juan.”  My three boys enjoyed the “Obi-Wan” Star Wars pun, and I watched my kids share lots of love with this aging dog.  We joked that our mission in Obi’s life was to give him a good retirement home, kind of like the peaceful place Yoda enjoyed before his passing in Return of the Jedi. 

     Last week was tough as we saw Obi take a quick downward turn.  The day he stumbled around looking for a place to hide let us know the end would come soon.  Sure enough, Obi found his final rest in the front yard underneath the cedar tree.  Gabriel (12) and Ethan (9) understood well, having lost pets before.  It was Micah, our loveable giant of a 5-year-old, who struggled the most with grief.
     As any dad would, I considered sheltering Micah from the sights of his dead dog lying in the front yard.  I contemplated burying Obi by myself while Micah was sleeping that night just to ease his pain, remembering the old adage, “Out of sight; out of mind.”  As a dad, I was tempted to protect my child from painful sights and memories that might produce grief.  I myself was struggling with my own grief for our loveable little Obi and his passing.  Yet it was Micah himself who reminded me of the need for us all to work through our grief when he said, “Dad, make sure I’m there when we bury him; I want to put flowers in his grave.” 

     Current research on children suggests that their needs to process grief are often at odds with our protective nature as parents.  Sometimes we avoid taking them to hospitals and funeral homes for fear of overwhelming them with grief.  Sometimes parents avoid telling about the death of a family member because of the fear of traumatizing a child.  For our family, holding a small burial ceremony complete with flowers in the grave was just what our Micah needed to work through the grief he was experiencing at the loss of his first dog. 

     Kids will experience trauma in life and we as parents can’t protect them from it all.  What we can do is give them opportunities to grow and work through grief in a safe, loving, and stable environment when they are young.  Even Jesus knew He couldn’t protect His disciples from pain when He said, “In this world you will have trouble…”, so He taught and prayed for them.  Like Jesus, we can help prepare our little loved ones to handle the tough trouble that comes their way. 

     Whether it is the loss of a beloved pet, a tragic natural disaster, the sudden loss of a family member, or the gradual decline of an aging church member, we can help our children be prepared.  Here are some ideas to implement in your own life:
  • ·        Don’t shelter a child from ALL trauma in life.  Strive to override that protective parental nature by exposing your children to manageable doses of life’s trials as they come.  Having a small funeral ceremony for a pet is a good way to give them manageable doses of loss.
  • ·         Don’t dismiss the emotions accompanying a grieving moment; instead, validate the healthy expression of emotion during a loss.  Let children know that it is ok to feel sad, cry, take a break to rest, or even feel angry as they experience grief.  Take time listen to them while they express sadness and give them a shoulder to cry on should they need it. 
  • ·         At the same time, don’t be surprised if children seem unbothered at first, only to later be struck with sudden, strong emotional responses. Adults who have experienced grief know that it can be a complicated emotion, and in children it can be especially unpredictable. The unexpectedness of a child’s response to grief doesn’t make that grief any less real. Be there for them when the grief surfaces.
  • ·         Offer them ways to process and record their grief and memories.  For older kids, giving them a chance to journal or create a photo book can be very productive ways of moving them through stages of grief.  Give younger children a tangible way of processing emotion, such as putting flowers in the grave or allowing them a chance to do their own little eulogy at the graveside.
  • ·         Allow them to express grief the way you do.  When Micah asked one of our church elders to pray for our dog Obi in his passing, the elder did an excellent job of not dismissing this prayer request for a dog.  Instead, he shared with Micah his own heart at losing a pet and offered a beautiful prayer of thankfulness for all the loving moments we enjoy with our pets.   
  • ·         During holidays or in poignant locations, give the child a way to honor the loved one they are missing.  Give them the responsibility of decorating your pet’s grave, or involve the child in leading a special new tradition at Christmas, such as hanging a new ornament in memory of their passed family.  This can help your child can process their grief over time in a healthy way.

We will miss Obi.  Micah especially will be working through that grief for a little while yet to come, and even though it is hard for him, it is a growing time for him.   Let’s give our children the opportunity to experience and express their grief in healthy and productive ways as they mature.  May the Lord bless you and your family in your times of grief.

“He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.” – Psalm 147:3

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email,, or through our website,

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Family Forte: Every Hand's A Winner and a Loser

by: Topher Wiles

My mom used to sing along with a sad old Kenny Rogers song on the car radio that was released the year I was born.  This morning I woke with those pensive lyrics on my mind about winning and losing.  The Gambler’s chorus reads like this:
“You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, Know when to fold ‘em
Know when to walk away, And know when to run
You never count your money, When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’, When the dealin’s done”

The chorus is easy to sing, but one line of the song jumps out at me today, “Every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser…”

(personal disclaimer: No, I don't condone gambling or drinking alcohol.
I participate in neither in my life.) 

Perhaps it was my dad’s racing team that got me focused on winning and losing.  At three days old I was at the dragstrip as that 1968 royal blue Chevy Nova careened down the asphalt.  When I was big enough, dad put me in charge of pulling a water sprayer in my red Radio Flyer wagon to cool off the radiator after every run down the track.  Then I began to win and lose myself.  Bridge building, speech, glider flying, math bowl, science quiz-bowl, mechanical drafting, spelling bee, baseball, tennis, basketball, wrestling, and bowling are just a few of the events I competed in during my adolescent years.  Add to that the twenty-five seasons that I’ve coached athletic teams and you can tell I’ve won and lost a lot of games in my 40 years. 

One of the most important concepts that keeps me competing is what Kenny Rogers summed up when he sang, “Every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser…”

At first read, this line sounds like a logical contradiction.  I know parents who believe a pretty saying like this can’t possibly be true.  I know players who find it too confusing to have any merit.  It’s true that for many of my opponents over the years who have such a short-sighted view of competition, this verse remains an enigma.  For people who only care about the physical scoreboard when time runs out, this line makes no sense.  To truly understand the deep and profound wisdom of “Every Hand” from The Gambler, you need to know these three fundamental truths. 
  1. The true game is life.  The way some people lose their religion when competing makes it appear that trophies, rings, and scoreboards are all that matter.  Jesus didn’t sum it all up by saying, “Win competitions and bring home some hardware.”  The Lord of all Creation knew that our competition is beyond the ball field when He shared His winning strategy, “Love God and Love your Neighbor” (paraphrase of Matthew 22:36-40).  Winning at life is the only thing that matters.
  2. You can’t control the hand you’re dealt.  Just like any gambler will tell you, we can’t control what cards are laying on the table of life.  You can’t control where you were born, the social class you were born into, the skin color you were born with, or the parents you were given.  Jesus, in sharing wisdom about life said it this way, “He gives His sunlight to both the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and unjust alike” (Matthew 5:25b).  Each event contains the potential to win or lose toward the game of life.
  3. Whether each hand is a win or a loss is determined completely by you.  Every hand truly is a winner or a loser based solely on your perspective of sunlight and rain.  Paul shared the winning perspective this way to Roman Christians who struggled with bitterness in life, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28a).

Yes, I took this photo on our
baseball diamond!  Clayton
was safe! 
Coaching Little League baseball has been a great reminder that we need for positive life perspective.  Our 9-10 year old team is made up of undersized (almost all 9 year olds), under-experienced, and underage players compared to the other three teams.  In our 10 straight losses the scoreboard has always been set against us, whether it was the three times we lost by one run in the last inning or the three times we’ve been run-ruled.  It is easy for parents, coaches, and players alike to see that scoreboard as the determination for winning and losing if we forget our three simple rules. 

1) The true game is life, not baseball.  Each game with our pint-sized players is just a small hand in the game of life.  2) We can’t control the team we started with as we drafted blind, the player that broke his hand mid-season, or the kid whose bat just got hot.  3) Whether each game is truly a win or a loss is completely up to how we decide to keep score. 

I’m blessed with a coaching staff who puts a higher value on physical, mental, and spiritual growth than on the actual scoreboard.  We consider each game a win when the players choose to lead a group prayer before the game.  We consider those games a win when our players choose to get on the fence to cheer on a teammate rather than sulk after a strikeout.  We consider each game a win as the kid with the broken hand feels like a needed part of the team.  Combine those scorecard metrics with the fact that our players are progressively getting better at the skills of baseball itself and you see that we are consistently producing winning hands in the game of life. 

The great wisdom writer of Ecclesiastes went through all the high and low hands in the game of life and at the end he concluded with a winning strategy and perspective that we’ll be blessed to learn. “The end of the matter; after all has been heard is this. Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” – Ecclesiastes 12:13

"But in his final words, I found an ace that I could keep.
You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, Know when to fold ‘em
Know when to walk away, And know when to run
You never count your money, When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’, When the dealin’s done” – Kenny Rogers in “The Gambler”

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email,, or through our website,

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Family Forte: Kryptonite, Patience, and Hope

by: Topher Wiles
Kids aren’t naturally patient.  Patience must be taught. 

Yes, those are
rubber boots! 
     Picture this.  You’re arriving at home for a bite of lunch on a quick stop between errands.   You do a headcount of kids and find 3 of the 4 reading books in the house.  When you pose the inevitable query to your wife she responds with, “Just look out the window.”  There’s Micah dressed in full catcher’s gear (that is too big for him) running laps around the back yard barking orders to imaginary friends like “Shoot two, shoot two!”  When he finally sees my truck Micah runs inside, throws off his mask to reveal a sweat drenched head, and proudly proclaims, “Dad, I’m ready to play baseball!”
Kids aren’t naturally patient.  Patience must be taught. 

     If Micah was a superhero, patience would be his kryptonite. Our third-born son is a normal five year old with an active imagination and indestructible mindset that leads him to believe he can do anything.  He sees his 12 and 10 year old brothers participating in karate, baseball, and music lessons on a regular basis, so naturally, he thinks it is his turn for them as well.  As both elder sons are getting dirty on the diamond a couple times a week Micah struggles with why it isn’t his time to don the cleats and swing a bat. 
Kids aren’t naturally patient.  Patience must be taught. 

     Each family has to make their own decisions on how to manage their time, priorities, and abilities. When it comes to league sports, we chose a different route than many of our peers, embracing a play-at-home mindset rather than running the hectic, divide & conquer, fast-food-for-dinner-every-night-under-the-lights-lifestyle.  Based on research, we’ve decided that our kids are allowed one league sport per year starting at 10 years old.  Don’t let our self-imposed limitations fool you; we are active!  Our family regularly plays basketball, wiffleball, and freeze-tag together with church friends and neighbors outside.  Rather than tie up 30 evenings in a 3 month period with a league, we have our kids jumping in 1 mile mud runs and 5k’s with us in their preschool years.   During the summer, family tennis days are weekly regulars in our schedules, even putting a racket in the hands of our 2 year old daughter, but no early-age leagues.  Since we have chosen a schedule plan that affords our family more time at home around the dinner table, more date nights for mom & dad, and more vacation adventures, our children have had to wait longer to play in schedule-crushing multi-league sports like other kids.   With our personal family choices, 5 year old Micah struggles with why he isn’t allowed to be on a league team. 

Kids aren’t naturally patient.  Patience must be taught.

      The Good Book is littered with wisdom on counter-cultural patience such as the following.   But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:25).” “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him (Psalm 37:7).” “With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bear with one another in love (Ephesians 4:2).” “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength (Isaiah 40:31).” “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).”  
Yet, the Bible verse that tips me off onto how I can best build patience for my child is Paul’s words in Romans 5:4, “Patience produces character, and character produces HOPE.”

     HOPE is the key to avoid frustration when delayed.  For Micah, when he begs to be put on a league team that we know will limit our volunteerism or decrease our quality family time together, we respond gently with our plan of hope.  I say, “Micah, remember, when you are 10 years old you will get to play baseball.  Until that time, let’s keep playing together in the back yard.  Why don’t we take a minute right now to throw you a few pitches.”  Instantly Micah smiles as he grabs his bat to smite the leather ball as a caveman would with his club.  To curb frustration, Micah gets little tastes of the hope to come.  Wiffle-ball with mom, catcher drills with brothers, and special trips alone at the ball field with dad are fun little tastes of hopeful things to come. 
Kids aren’t naturally patient.  Patience must be taught.

     Every family life plan is different, yet we each decide our priorities in life for our family and we must be ok with removing the things that distract us from those priorities.  We must be resolute in saying, “No” or “Not yet” to our children, all while we give them taste of the hope to come.   Here are some other ways you can build patience in your children.

  • Small Doses Starting Young – As toddlers teach them patience in a positive way.  Ask them to calm down before you fulfill their request.  Have the wait quietly for 1 minute before you put more milk in their sippy cup.  It’s not much but it’s a start to build on as they get older.
  • Purposeful Delayed Gratification – In a world where everything is instant, make them wait.  You might want a new puppy just like they do, but make them wait for a birthday or till Christmas to get one.  To build hope, write little notes telling them how excited you are as well.
  • Make Them Pay For It – They want a new Nerf gun don’t they?  Make them save up the money with extra chores to pay for it.  Resist the urge to front them the money; make a special trip later for them to bring their own wallet to pay for that N-Strike Elite Strong Arm Blaster.

Yes, patience is kryptonite to a kid. However, exposing them to small doses of patience with hope when they’re young will later turn them into a superhero in a culture struggling with character.  Kids aren’t naturally patient; it must be taught.  So decide your family priorities and invest in building patience coupled with hope.  You’ll be glad you did.

“Patience produces character, and character produces hope.” - Romans 5:4

The word “forte” comes from the latin word “fortis” meaning strength.  Our weekly Family Forte article in The Expositor is the effort of family at Central Church of Christ to give your family the love, care, and attention it needs to become a stronger version of itself.  If we can help you in any way, please contact us at Central Church of Christ through email,, or through our website,