Wednesday, July 31, 2019

FF: We Need More Celebrations of Life

by: Topher Wiles

     The line was long as it wound down the hallway to the entrance.  The small room was packed to the brim. Extra seats were brought in and immediately filled.  The late July heat was increasing as more people found space where ever they could sit, stand, or kneel.  The Wiles family found their way to the short steps located just before the entrance, two kids to a step. I stood just at the base of the steps where I had a pretty good vantage on the entire venue.  The event was beginning 30 minutes later than scheduled because it took that long for the line to wind down and people to find their seats. We were halfway through the Celebration of Life service for Joe Pat Clark at Hunter’s Funeral Home when I looked around and thought, “We need more of this for our families.  
     What I noticed was amazing. Many families at various stages of life were sitting, listening, laughing, and crying, all while giving full attention to the various speakers.  No children were fussing and fighting with siblings. Nobody was making mad dashes to the restroom. Not a single cell phone was out during the entire memorial service! That’s right, no men texted their workmates, no kids were playing games, and no middle-aged women were filming for Facebook.  
     I continued to watch for the full hour as friend after friend stood at the front to make you well up with tears or giggles with Joe Pat stories, and the entire time the audience in the packed out room remained focused on the speakers.  There was no high tech music for entertainment. There was no fancy Powerpoint for visual aids. There wasn’t a specific order in an elaborately planned program. What I witnessed was amazing and gave me hope.  
     I worry for modern families as I observe them in many different gatherings including: church services, public monument dedications, National Days of Prayer, company picnics, family reunions, and more.  In all of these events I regularly see families default to some form of technology to fill their attention and addiction. What I routinely witness are adults at the dinner table checking youtube videos, kids playing video games during prayer gatherings, and deacons checking sports scores during the sermon message.  Even I am not immune and am often tempted to pull my cell phone out in family time to answer emails, respond to texts, or plan my weekly calendar activities, all while missing the beautiful life around me.
     That is what made Joe Pat’s Celebration of Life service so special and why I believe we need more Celebrations of Life.  We need less Face-Time and more face to face time. We need fewer Facebook stories and more listening to people telling their life story.  This service time demonstrated that if we put our minds to it, we can strip down our gatherings to what is most important: people sharing life together.
     At this point you may be asking, “How can I strengthen my family to enjoy these beautiful life moments together?”  You’re not alone; many other families are asking the same question. Here are a few ideas to help. 
  • Set limits and stick to them.  Your toddler doesn’t need screentime for any reason.  Cut your teen down to no more than two hours of entertainment media per day.  Decide on your limits based on research and stick to them. 
  • Encourage your family to play.  Take them down the road to meet the neighbor kids.  Schedule time for them to ride their bikes to the next neighborhood.  Set a “healthy entertainment jar” on the kitchen table and draw a random event from it daily (i.e: hide-n-seek, freezetag, fishing, blanket forts, model building, puzzle work, reading a book…)
  • Create Tech-Free Zones.  Making the dinner table and the bed a tech-free zone will increase language development in kids and increase the quality and quantity of sleep for everyone.  
  • Don't use technology as an emotional pacifier. Media can be very effective in keeping kids calm and quiet, but it should not be the only way they learn to calm down. Children need to be taught how to identify and handle strong emotions, come up with activities to manage boredom, or calm down through breathing, talking about ways to solve the problem, and finding other strategies for channeling emotions.
  • Apps for kids – do YOUR homework. More than 80,000 apps are labeled as educational, but little research has demonstrated their actual quality.  Look to organizations like Common Sense Media for reviews about age-appropriate apps, games and programs to guide you in making the best choices for your children.
  • Be a good role model. Teach and model kindness and good manners online. Because children are great mimics, limit your own media use. In fact, you'll be more available for and connected with your children if you're interacting, hugging, and playing with them rather than simply staring at a screen. 
  • Do more research.  You can find some of these ideas and many more on websites like and  Check them out and decide what works best for your family.
     As we travel through this journey of life, we are blessed to connect with other families who are noticing the same trends and wrestling through the same struggles.  You and I are not alone in goals to increase our family fortitude in a rapidly changing world. May you succeed in finding allies and strategies that focus your family on the best things life has to offer.  As always, if we at Family Forte can help or if you have a suggestion for an article, please don’t hesitate to contact us at Central Church of Christ in Sparta, TN.  
     “May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” - Psalm 29:11
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, July 17, 2019

Family Forte: Appreciating Bugs, Girls, and Guts

by: Topher Wiles

That year was a dogged one for me as a Rutherford County boy.  I knew by my southern roots that I was supposed to be rough and tough, but in 1989, I felt as little and lost as a spec of dust in a Tennessee tornado.  After mom had her massive heart attack that landed her in the hospital for six weeks, I did little more than lay in bed listening to the radio and wondering what life was all about.  

My older sister was in the throes of teenage life and my younger sister was the darling baby of the family soon to start kindergarten, but as the middle child struggling with a young stage of depression in a world suddenly turned upside down, I felt broken, alone, and upset with life.  I can still remember the strong grasp those emotions had on me, all until Jack talked to me about bugs. 

(Photo Credit:
Jack was a good kid, not an influential popular kid that everyone followed, but just a solid friend.  Our time together in Cub Scouts and Little League had given his family a familiarity with me, enough so that Jack knew I was hurting that summer.  Whether prompted by his mom or not, I may never know, but I’ll be eternally grateful that Jack talked to me about bugs.  His church down the road was one that I had spent time at, just not on Sundays.  (They had the only basketball goal with pavement in the entire neighborhood, so of course my friends and I invested time around the rim there.)  Jack gave me great hope, and it started when he asked me if I liked bugs.  My Cub Scout buddy proceeded to tell me all about a bug catcher they were making at VBS at his church that week.  It was formed from a coffee can with mesh covering a rectangular cutout in the lid complete with a string threaded through the sides to make an easy carrying strap, and I knew it would be perfect for summer lightning bugs.  Then Jack asked this unchurched kid if I wanted to come to his Vacation Bible School the next night to make my own bug catcher.
(Want to make your own bug catcher?  Metal coffee cans are harder to come by today, but Pinterest has got a lot of great ideas for plastic ones!

By the end of the week, I had felt loved by a lot of people, completed my bug catcher, and memorized some saying called a “Bible Verse.”  It went like this, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”  Life, that four letter word was precious to me as I lay in bed after VBS and prayed my very first prayer asking a God I did not know to give my mother life. 

Yes, that really is Stephanie and her piano back in the day!
Who wouldn't go to church when she invites?
Fast forward six years to when I was struggling with the deeper meanings of life and my own teenage troubles.  Mom was much healthier by this point (by the grace of God I think,) and I hadn’t stepped foot inside a church assembly since that VBS (except maybe to play basketball indoors at the Mormon church building.)  I had just begun dating this pretty young lady in my AP Biology 2, a girl who captivated my heart with her big brown eyes, her flirtatious nature, and her piano playing ability.  One Wednesday evening at her house, after we had finished a discussion on the deeper concepts of life and its struggles, Stephanie played the piano and sang for me.  I was melted butter on a microwavable plate at that moment when she looked at me with those mesmerizing eyes and asked, “Do you want to go to church with me and talk?” 

GUTS.  I’ll always be thankful for guts.  That’s the word I use to describe what Jack, the bug catcher kid, and Stephanie, the piano playing beauty, had in common.  They saw the struggles I faced as a kid and had the boldness to invite me to their churches, a place where they knew that I could find love, hope, and a few answers to the tough questions of life.  I’ll always be thankful Jack and Stephanie had the guts to invite me to share in a life in Christ with them, even though none of us could see the bigger picture of what my life would become.  Today, as a result of bugs, girls, and guts, I serve as a minister of Central Church of Christ, where we also strive to be a church where people can find love, hope, and a few of their own answers to the tough questions of life.  Friends, never underestimate the good that can be done in someone’s struggling life if you just have the guts to befriend them and invite them to find love, hope, and faith in Christ.

It just so happens that we also have a Vacation Bible School event coming up on July 21st – 24th at Central Church of Christ.  It would be hypocritical of me to not to invest a few words to invite Family Forte readers to enjoy our VBS theme of “Power Up Parables” from 6:30pm-8pm each night.  We’ll begin with a meal open to all at 6pm and then jump right into a time of praise before we separate into youth and adult learning activities.  Our Super-Hero themed VBS will focus on the deep truths that the original Superman, Jesus, gave when he had the guts to share wisdom through stories.  I invite you to join us by first signing up at:  Most of all, we at Family Forte encourage you to continue invite others as you strengthen faith, hope, and love in your families.   

“Let us then with boldness draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16

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, July 10, 2019

Family Forte: Practicing a Positive Perspective

By: Ashley Wiles

Summer, summer, wherefore art thou, summer?  Every year, I marvel at how quickly the summer passes.  As I write this, I find myself in July, staring down the beginning of school.  Yes, we homeschool, but we follow a traditional school calendar, which means July is the time for finalizing plans for the upcoming year, and this year, I have more plans to make.  You see, Micah is five now, which means he will be doing kindergarten with us this year. (And boy, is he thrilled about it!) I've been cruising along in a good rhythm with Gabriel (7th) and Ethan (5th), who have become a lot more self-directed in their learning, but now, I've got to circle back and think about some things I haven't had to in a few years.  Out come the easy readers and early math books. Out comes an adjusted daily schedule in which I am a lot more hands-on in school work. Oh, and kindergarten is a signal that it's time to take care of some other business: shots.

I had mentioned to Micah a few months ago that he was due for a few booster shots this summer, and his reaction was predictable: reluctance, concern, anxiety.  He can't really remember receiving other vaccines, and besides, who really wants to go to the doctor and get poked with a needle? I offered honesty (it will sting) and reassurance (it doesn't last long), but I wasn’t sure that he was convinced.  Not wanting him to have mounting anxiety, I didn't bring up the subject again until the morning of our appointment last week. 

"Micah, today you will take the next step toward kindergarten."

"What is it?"

"Booster shots."


He was excited?!  Yes, it appeared that in his little brain over the last few weeks, he had turned his fear over shots into...happiness.  When I questioned him about it, he simply said, "They mean I'll be ready for kindergarten."  

When was the last time you were excited about an unpleasant, albeit beneficial, task?

I get to write a twenty page paper to finish this college course!

I get to pay my car insurance!

I get to go to the gym and get really sore!

I get to write lesson plans!

I get to unclog this drain!

If you’re like me, you probably haven’t said any of those things with much excitement. I'll admit it:  my first instinct is not to view the good that comes from these tasks. Instead, I usually think about all the work and discomfort that's going to be involved.  Thankfully, the simple conversation with my son reminded me that sometimes a change of perspective is in order. 

How do we cultivate this positive perspective shift? The apostle Paul is one who seemed to have mastered this attitude of gratitude.  If anyone could complain or be anxious about the future, it was him. This was a man who endured beatings, jail time, shipwrecks, hunger, and homelessness (2 Corinthians 11), but he didn't seem to fret.  Instead, Paul wrote that he delighted in his hardships because they made him stronger and advanced the cause of Christ for which he worked (2 Corinthians 12:10).  With Christ’s help, Paul kept his purpose and his goal in view. He knew what he was working toward, and he kept at it, even when faced with discomfort or death. How’s that for perspective?

We can use this mindset when we’re facing tasks we dread.

I get to write a twenty page paper to finish this college course!  I am privileged to receive higher education that will create opportunities for me.

I get to pay my car insurance!  I have the ability to drive and will have some financial help in case of an accident.

I get to go to the gym and get really sore!  I am getting healthier and stronger.

I get to write lesson plans!  I can teach and influence children. 

I get to unclog this drain!  I, unlike a lot of the world, have indoor plumbing and clean water.

Micah showed this to me.  He took his vaccines bravely; even the nurses were surprised by how tough he was. Micah knew the secret: he could see something momentarily painful (shots) was going to lead him to something he really wanted (kindergarten). When we’re tempted to complain about or be afraid of something ahead, let’s remember Micah and Paul’s approach and practice a positive perspective. 

"...Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." - Paul, in Philippians 3:13-14

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, July 3, 2019

Family Forte: All Freedoms Require a Cost

by: Topher Wiles
What began with tears of frustration ended with a smile of joy.  At any age, freedom comes with a cost, a tough lesson that my wonderful wife was determined to teach my darling daughter.  At three years old, Clara was delayed in potty-training just a bit longer than her three older brothers.  As I got up from my chair at the kitchen table, my daughter stuck out her quivering lower lip with tears streaming down her cheeks.  So deep was her desire to go with dad on a hardware store run that she was devastated when her mother said, “No.”  Ashley cancelled all her regular routine and daddy-daughter trips to stay home and teach Clara the value of keeping that big girl underwear dry.  Ashley did not to the YMCA for her normal morning Pilates class, and we cancelled our evening tennis, all in the hopes that Clara could be trained to use the porcelain.  Yet the deepest cut for Clara was being told “no” to a trip with dad as her brothers walked out the door with me.  Even though there is great long-term freedom in maturing to using the potty like a big girl, that freedom comes with a short term cost that is hard for a three year old to understand.  
We see the cost for freedom played out in our families every day. For a 16 year old, it may be in the form of sacrificing time working a first job to pay for insurance and gas to be able to enjoy that driver's license.   The cost for freedom from heavy college debt may come in the form of sacrificing years of high school study and hard work to be rewarded with freeing scholarships and grants.  The cost of freedom from an abusive relationship may come with the discomfort of having to go it alone for a little while.  The cost of freedom from a debilitating drug addiction may come in the form of strict treatment and restrictive rehab.  The cost of freedom from the restraint of diapers and changing tables may come in the form of a week of earnest potty training, but even for a 3 year old, we know the cost for freedom is worth the effort. 
As parents building our Family Forte, or strength, it is essential that we bear with the short term costs that give our children greater freedom. We understand that freedom comes with a cost no matter the size of the struggle.  We see this principle in major conflicts from world history. In the great battle between the thirteen American colonies and Great Britain we learned that our Independence Day cost approximately 25,000 patriots.  In WWII, the “War to End All Wars”, there were over 400,000 American soldiers lost by the end of 1945.  Yet the cost of freedom isn’t felt only on major world stages.  We feel it in cities in America on a daily basis.  According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, we’ve lost 62 police officers this year in America while on duty.  In Tennessee alone, three families will struggle through the fireworks of the 4th this year as their loved ones died wearing a badge while on duty in 2019.  We understand that sober truth that freedom has a price, and at this time of year we honor those who have made the greatest sacrifices for our freedom.
Our heavenly Father knew the cost better than any of us when He sent His only Son.  John describes that great cost of freedom from sin this way, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son to pay for sins, so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)  Jesus understood the cost so well that he foreshadowed to his disciples by saying, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)  Our Savior knew that true freedom was worth it, and it was something we desperately needed when He shared, “If the Son has set you free, then you are free indeed.” (John 8:36)  Yes, freedom comes with a cost. 
As I walked through the door on day two of potty training I was greeted with great news.  Clara was all smiles as she came running up with arms spread wide to give me a big hug.  Then she shared her proud statement of the day.  “Daddy, I used the potty!”  I beamed as big a smile as I could as I encouraged her saying, “I’m so proud of you Clara.  What a big girl you are!”  Then I encouraged my wife, who sacrificed her time, energy, and routine in this little battle of life so that our daughter can enjoy a greater freedom as she matures.  Yes, we understand that freedom comes with a cost no matter the size of the struggle.  We hope and pray that you will continue to fortify your family by sacrificing for your children’s physical, monetary, emotional, and spiritual freedom because their freedom is well worth the cost. 

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,