Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Family Forte: Cruising the Challenging Changes of Life

by: Topher Wiles

     Horrible.  Horrendous.  Heinous. Those were the words ripping through my head when the stuff of nightmares became reality.  No, it wasn’t a Freddy Krueger type of moment.  It was my first day of school, and I was late!  As a second year Algebra teacher at McGavock High School, I was rehired only 5 days before the school semester began (a result of my type of licensure), which meant I had little time to get my new room ready for my 150 new students.  I was teaching 5 preps that year (high school teachers cringe at hearing this thought), sponsoring a new club, and coaching a sport.  There was entirely too much on my to-do list before the first day of school.  Maybe that’s why I had been working in my classroom at 1am before the first day of school.  Maybe that’s why I overslept my 5am alarm! 
Despite my rough first day, I had a great
year teaching students in McGavock!
Even named Teacher of the Week
on 107.5 the River!

     Panic set in when my blurred vision found focus on the red digital display of my alarm clock.  My 1st period algebra class had begun 45 minutes ago!  Like a fall Tennessee tornado, I ripped through the morning routine, only allowing time for the bare essentials, calling my principal in the process.  He said, “Don’t worry Wiles, you weren’t the only one.”  My principal was full of forgiveness and flexibility as I arrived in time for my 2nd period Honors Algebra 2 students.  As it turns out, I certainly wasn’t the first who struggled through the transition back to school, and I won’t be the last.

     This year, I’ve already worked through multiple text messages, phone calls, and face-to-face meetings helping students and parents through the new school year changes.  From challenges of affording school supplies, to rising tensions in homes, to trouble understanding advanced math, the new school year brings many challenges with the changes. Through our church family, Ashley and I have been blessed with opportunities to counsel and care for several students this year, from kindergartners to college students, and they all agree on one thing:  change is challenging. 
By God’s grace, though, we can tackle those challenging changes with a joyful heart and the hopeful expectation that we can not only survive but even thrive through change.  Here are a few tips on how to prepare yourself and your students for the tough transitions of life. 

Credit: ShutterStock RoyaltyFree
Start Preparing Young for Change – According to Psychology Today, flexibility is a must-have skill to learn as we deal with change.  That’s right, I said flexibility is LEARNED.  Researchers state that we begin teaching the skill of flexibility right out of the womb.  In her article titled, “Our Thriving Children,” Dr. Tovah Klein says it this way:  Neuroscience and developmental research repeatedly show that the early years before age five are foundational for setting up optimal lifelong development. Facing transitions is a daily dilemma for young kids even as it presents the opportunity for lifelong skills to grow.”   We begin teaching our children flexibility by modeling it at home.  If we handle change with anxiety and stress, our kids likely will too.  Be aware of how you deal with life’s transitions in front of kids.

Credit: Health Magazine
Start Preparing Early for Change – Nothing is as anxiety-inducing as the sudden change from a normal 8am summer wakeup time to a 5am alarm clock.  Establishing routines early can help mitigate the misery of change.  When we began preparing our kids for the new school year, even though it was still summer, Ashley began enforcing earlier bedtimes and setting morning alarms, gradually changing those times to match school year needs. If you know change is coming, prepare early in your time management, finances, and routines.  Even as adults, this strategy is a valuable asset in our ability to be flexible.  Whether you are starting a new job or taking over the care of aging parents, begin new routines early with your time, money, and energy to make a terrific transition for life’s changes. 

Start Preparing Now for Change – Whether you’re reading this as a student, working adult, or aging retiree, there are a few things you can do now to help prepare for inevitable change.  

  • Allow more room in your schedule by planning in “relax” or “buffer” time.  Change adds stress to over-filled schedules; adding margin allows you to more easily absorb any extra time commitments needed. 
  • Start a savings account now to anticipate needed money later.  If your car is on its last leg and you know the next repair is going to cost more than the car is worth, begin saving now so that you aren’t put out having to walk or take the bus to work/school.  
  • Add things into your life that bring you peace, such as prayer, singing, Bible study, a walk in God’s nature, and church services.  When your thoughts and emotions are filled with peace, you’re better able to handle the stressful transitions in life. 

     It’s been over a decade since that horrible, horrendous, and heinous first day of school, and yet I still find thankfulness and joy when I think back to how my principal handled my mistakes in transition.  When I walked into the school on that first day, I was met with a smile, a handshake, and a heartwarming, “Welcome back!”  We would do well to remember that transition is tough.  Let’s strive to be flexible and forgiving with others through life’s challenging changes.  Let’s also be grateful for the One whose mercy never changes.   

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” – Hebrews 13:8

Students, we hope your new school year is blessed with joy and peace as you continue to grow. 

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, August 21, 2019

Family Forte: Sharing the Daring is Caring

by: Topher Wiles

Teens at Welch's Point for a Sunset

     That deep orange circle of sun rapidly disappeared underneath the canopy line of trees.  The edge of dark chasm between us and the sun only added to the gravity of the colorful spectacle before us.  So much joy filled my heart as I watched these teenagers quietly stay in awe of the sunset view from Welch’s point.  My heart was full. 
     I’ve listened to too many men share that life seems meaningless, empty of joy, devoid of passion, or lacking in purpose.  Yet, these exciting men are doing daring things.  They are fishing aficionados, drag racing darers, metal-working masters, tennis terrors, Zumba-aholics, and rock climbing rockstars.  How can a man enjoy such marvelous adventures, yet struggle to find fulfillment in life?  I think solution lies in the old mantra, “Sharing is caring.”
     No, I’m not talking about taking a photo, posting it on Facebook, and clicking a share button.  Sharing is connecting intimate time, moments, and memories personally with other people.  If you want to upgrade to the next level of fulfillment in life, there are four peoples you may want to share your life adventures with.   

Share Level 1 – Your spouse.
Climbing at Vertical eXcape
in Bowling Green
     As a minister, I counsel too many men who complain about losing the “spark” in marriage as husbands and wives live in the same house with their lives moving different directions. Regularly sharing adventures with my wife has brought us to a higher level of intimacy and fulfillment in our marriage.  
     Recently Ashley and I shared an inexpensive trip to southern Kentucky where we enjoyed indoor rock climbing and a butterfly sanctuary.  Our hearts that are often tugged in different directions by hurried schedules were rekindled as I encouraged her up a 30’ rock wall.  Our closeness increased as together we marveled at the soft kisses of butterfly wings as they fluttered all around us.  While butterflies are not my first choice of adventure and rock climbing certainly isn’t hers, the sharing of simple adventures together rekindled a fire and sense of fulfillment in our marriage.  If you find your hobbies unfulfilling in your life, consider sharing them with your wife.
Charlie Miller Butterfly Habitiat
Bowling Green

Share Level 2 – Share with your children
July 2019 at Welch's Point
     Some of my fondest memories of childhood are from my times drag racing with dad.  No, I couldn’t drive the 1969 Camaro, but he made sure I had an important job on his racing team. My little red radio flyer wagon was the perfect size to tote a big water sprayer which I dutifully used to cool down the car’s radiator after a run down the dragstrip.  I know I slowed down his daring dragracing, but it brought him a sense of joy knowing that his son was sharing in the adventures with him.  Likewise, there’s little I enjoy more today than when one of my kids gets up to preach a sermon with my help, navigates the rapids in a kayak beside me, or fires the .22 rifle as we target practice together.  To find more fulfillment in life, share in your adventures with your children.

Share Level 3 – Share with community kids
We kayaked to a cave
and got wet inside!
     Tim was good at making and flying model planes.  He loved the high-flying fun and sunk a lot of money into his immaculately made airplanes.  When I was 17 years old, I remember watching him as he met once on month on Tuesday nights with his “Airplane Club,” a group of kids in the community who built and flew airplanes with him.  Maybe it was his training as a preacher that gave him so much patience with the kids, because it took a lot when they crashed the creations they had made together.  Tim was a good example for me. As I look around the community in White County, I witness many kids that don’t have active parents in their lives sharing adventures with them.  No, not every kid likes to kayak, hike, and play tennis like I do.  Yet when we are willing to offer and share our adventures with others, I’ve found no shortage of kids willing to be in my informal “kayaking club.”  You’ll find me sporting a big grin as my sons and their new friends shout and yell their way down the rolling waters of the Caney Fork next to me.  Share your daring deeds with other kids who desperately need it and your heart will continue to be filled up.   

Share Level 4 – Share with another adult
I'm grateful for the many
gray haired men in my life!
     They had more gray hair than me, but I was blessed years ago to join with a group of adventurous men in church.  These old codgers taught me a lot: how to run a marathon, win a 5k, cycle 60 miles, catch the biggest bass, shoot pool, bow-hunt a deer, and much more.  Unbeknownst to me, this group of older fellas at church were training me in daring adventures which in turn, I would share with my sons. While I never intended to be a “dad-trainer,” now that I have a few more gray hairs, I now find myself in that same informal position, and I love it. It brings me great joy to take a young father running on his first half-marathon, give him his first tennis racket as he steps on the court with me, or guide him into his first cave exploring adventure.  My smile broadens as I watch him share the same daring adventures with other children as the process repeats itself. Share your adventures with other adults, and you’ll find no lack of fulfillment in all you do. 

     Welch’s point was beautiful the other day as I took those teens on a trip to see their first sunset from that high cliff precipice. Yet the greater joy came a few days later as photos popped into my Instagram feed of my first-timers now taking others to enjoy the same awe-inspiring experience.  Sharing truly is caring.  My heart is full. 
“And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.” – Hebrews 13:16

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, August 14, 2019

Family Forte: The Traveling Ten Year Old

by: Topher Wiles
     “Can a 10 year old make a difference in the communist, socialist, and challenging state of Cuba?”  That was the question I wondered before and after my trip with Ethan a couple weeks ago.   I struggled with fear and doubt as we approached this trip together, concerned for my son’s safety and usefulness during our first family foray into Cuba.  After the trip I received this message from that beautiful island country that answered my question.  
Ethan praying with little David in Matanzas, Cuba
     “Dios les bendiga hermanos, gracias por todo el trabajo realizado en su estancia en Cuba, los jóvenes pudieron tener las mejores condiciones gracias a la obra de amor hecha  con las manos de todos ustedes, muy especialmente del pequeño y ya gran misionero Ethan. Las más ricas bendiciones de Dios para todos. Hoy Susana usó para traducir un texto la Biblia que él le regaló. Mil gracias nuevamente. Un abrazo en Cristo. – Ludmila”
     Here is Ludmila’s message roughly translated. “God bless you brothers, thank you for all the work done in your stay in Cuba, the young people have the best conditions thanks to the work of love done with the hands of all of you, especially the little and already great missionary Ethan. God's richest blessings to all. Today Susana used the Bible he gave her to translate a text. Thanks a lot again. A hug in Christ. – Ludmila”
  Believe me, the need is great.  It’s hard to describe to you the poverty in places where the social services and resources to better yourself just don’t exist.  It is an annual reminder of how blessed I am to live in the United States where truly anyone can find success.  I shed tears each and every time I’ve left those countries, due to the plight of the beautiful people there.   
Ethan and Susana in a Bible class working on telling
the story of the paralytic and his friends in
Matthew 9:1-8.
   Allow me a few words for explanation. For the last 8 years I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to travel to underdeveloped countries in Central America to help meet the needs of poor and share the loving story of Christ.
     As a father, I believe the experiences would do a world of good for my own children as they develop.  To build relationships with kids in other countries, to get their hands dirty and bodies sweaty under the hot sun for little or no reward, to see the inescapable hardships that others experience on a daily basis: these are all reasons why I took my second son on his first international mission trip.  I knew the effort would leave a mark on him, but would Ethan be able to leave a mark on others? 
     Ethan is a good kid, don’t get me wrong.  Yet, he’s like most 10 year olds, as much of his focus is spent asking for more dessert and video games.   Yes, we’ve had Ethan studying Spanish since 1st grade.  Yes, we’ve taught him world cultures and geography in social studies classes.  Yes, we provide a structured schedule so that he reads Scripture daily, helping him desire to serve and love others.  Even so, I still wondered if it was worth the large monetary, time, and energy investment to take my son on a mission trip at such a young age. 
     Ludmila’s description of my son being the “little and already great missionary Ethan” settled my quandary once and for all.   
Ethan breaking up gravel for flooring the kitchen
in the sweltering Caribbean sun.
   Ethan swung a pickaxe with gusto to break up a gravelly dirt pile for flooring while we built a kitchen that would feed elderly and orphans in Cuba.  Ethan kneeled in prayer alongside children with different skin colors, accents, and experiences.  Ethan also wrote a short letter and a prayer into the cover of a bilingual Bible and gifted it to Ludmila’s 12-year-old daughter, Susana.   Ethan showed that in that culture, youth can be an active participant in success now, not just the future.  Yes, I now believe that the time, energy, and money invested to help Ethan be a part of Central Church of Christ’s mission effort will pay dividends in my son’s life and the lives of others in the world. 
   That young man may not have been the build site manager, mission trip leader, or class teacher but his example, friendship, and gifts left a lasting mark on people in Cuba.
     Most of all, it gave this dad a renewed respect for the influence a young person can have in bringing faith, hope, and love to a world in need.  My gratitude goes out to all of you that helped support Ethan through prayer, encouraging words, and donations.
     Parents, I know the lure of our culture pushes us to spend exorbitant amounts on our children’s travel experiences such as basketball tournaments, band trips, and Disney experiences.  I urge you to also set aside time, money, and efforts to give your children a mission experience serving the hungry and hurting of the world.  You and the world will be glad you did. 

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” – 1 Timothy 4:12
(Author’s note: Due to volatile situations and government relationships, I must be cautious and measured with what I write publicly about the challenges of serving in Cuba.  If you have any questions about the state of the Cuban people, the government, or the needs, I’m happy to share my experience privately with you.  If you’re curious how to prep your child for missions, I’ve got a few ideas as this is our second successful effort for our children to be foreign missionaries. To ask questions, share your own experience, or meet together to talk, please email me at

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, August 7, 2019

Family Forte: The Simple Virtue of the Yellow Vests

by: Topher Wiles

     I’m like most of you, growing up hearing quick quips like “it’s good enough for government work” and “How many government workers does it take to change a light bulb?” Being influenced by a culture of regular jabs at our civic workers makes even the best of us look for the lazy as we travel down highway construction zones. Yet, a recent TDOT worker in Sparta made me reconsider my culturally influenced perspective and reminded me of one of my important parenting principles for building strong families.
Point out the positive more than naysaying the negative. 

     Have you ever been a part of a church or met a family whose identity is defined by what they don’t do? Rather than being known for the fruit that they bear, how they make the world a better place, or how they bring glory to God, they focus on a checklist of things they don’t do that makes them “righteous.” In reality all they are creating is self-righteousness. As a dad, this pitfall is an easy trap to fall into as one of my primary roles in training my kids is discipline and correction. You’ll frequently hear me tell my boys, “Wiles men don’t whine,” “My boys will not lie,” or “We don’t hit.” If I’m not careful, I build a code of conduct that isn’t focused on positive communication, integrity, and gentleness but rather is a simple list of “do nots.”

     It takes purposeful and intentional effort to point out the positive more than naysaying the negative. As a parent, my positive efforts have lead me to create new mantras such as, “The men of the Wiles family don’t hit, but we do handshake, hug, help, and hold each other accountable.” As a preacher it means that I focus more messages on the positive ways Christ changed our world rather than negative behaviors. Yes, I’ll still tell people to abstain from drunkeness, sex outside of marriage, and the love of money; things that constitute the “milk” or elementary teachings of the Bible. However, the primary focus of most messages deals with cultivating a hope through salvation in Christ that breeds the fruit of the Spirit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I want our church and my family to have a reputation for how we love God and our neighbors more than being known as “the church that doesn’t have musical instruments” or “the family that doesn’t watch tv.”

     That is why the TDOT workers I witnessed on Tuesday are so valuable. When I see those bright yellow reflective vests, no longer will I be conditioned to think they are lazy trying to gain as much hourly wage for as little work as possible. The group of men at Pressed 4 Time on North Main Street in Sparta got my attention for their respect, courtesy, and willingness to work. It was standing room only for lunch at this swift little sandwich shop located just across the road from the building where Central Church of Christ meets. I love to frequent this establishment because of their welcoming smiles and their Buffalo Kickin Chicken toasted sandwich. (Topher’s Tip: Add the dipping ranch and the homemade sweet-heat pickles and you’ve got an explosion of flavor in every bite!) All the tables were full on this lunch hour and this team of four yellow vests were occupying one of them when another group of four locals walked in.
I nabbed a quick cell phone shot of the sweeper.

     Due to rising popularity of the cafe, Annie and Sharon were literally “Pressed 4 Time” in taking orders, bussing tables, and delivering food, all while responding to smalltalk, smiling politely, and welcoming the new group who would need to wait for a table. The TDOT boys looked like they’d been sweating hard out in the sun that summer day and needed a full hour lunch break to rest and recover when they saw the new group walk in needing a table. Even though they weren’t finished with their food yet, the yellow vests recognized the dining dilemma, wrapped up the remainder of their sandwiches “to go,” and began bussing their own table. They cleaned up their own trash and quickly wiped their table, much to Annie’s protest. Then, one went an extra step and grabbed the broom. Noticing that his boots left mud tracks on the light colored floor under the table, he worked to quickly sweep every nook and cranny around the table and then also swept the rest of the main walkway through the restaurant. How often do you witness restaurant patrons doing the dirty work? In under a minute, the polite group of TDOT workers had Pressed 4 Time ready for the newcomers and were hopping back in their work truck.

     In that minute, my perspective of “good enough for government work” was changed by these four reflective vests, especially the broom man, who put a high value on respect, courtesy, and working hard to serve others. As a parent and preacher, I could naysay the negative by telling my kids, “Don’t leave your toys on the floor,” or chiding congregants with instructions, “Don’t leave Sunday lunch waitresses regretting that you were there.” Yet I know my words will have more impact if I frequently point out the positives in life like the time I witnessed the Simple Virtue of the Yellow Vests. Always strive to be like these four workers as you seek to serve your community, be respectful of your neighbors, and leave every place better than you found it.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” - Galatians 6:9

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,