Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Family Forte: Respect is Deserved

by: Topher Wiles

Our families need respect practiced and modeled.  I’ve lived long enough to watch a decline in the cycle of respect in religious, political, educational, entertainment, and familial cultures in America.  I believe that much of the same people who complained about the lack of respect given to Barack Obama are many of those who are unwilling to give respect to Donald Trump, and vice versa.  Our world follows a mantra that believes respect is earned, and I have witnessed that the requirements to earn it are near impossible. 

Photo Credit: https://etiquettejulie.com/respect-incivility/
I found these eye-opening statistics in a Today Show article from 2009 titled, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Where has it gone? “Nearly eight in ten Americans (79 percent) say a lack of respect and courtesy is a serious national problem, and most people say it’s getting worse (60 percent). Seventy-three percent say we used to treat one another with greater respect.”  From an educators poll on CNBC.com in 2019 of 556 teachers in America, 50% of teachers have considered leaving their profession, and a full 10% of those cite “lack of respect” as the primary reason.  Yes, lack of respect is a major problem.
Yet, there is hope for our families and our culture, and hope begins at home. 

"R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Find out what it means to me."  Aretha Franklin attracted droves of followers with these lyrics in her passionate pop plea for honorable treatment.  As you look through Aretha's 1967 lyrics, you do indeed find out her meaning of respect.  Respect seems to be giving Mrs. Franklin her "propers" in her relationship with her spouse.  She defines respect as being maritally faithful and giving her spouse full honesty.  Her song is a movement discovering respect through her experience of family life.  Faithful honesty is a great starting definition of respect, but R-E-S-P-E-C-T is even more. 

The Biblical word “honor” is synonymous with our word, “respect”.  It means to give something weight, attention, priority, nobility, or richness.  Honor is something we typically give to people who have earned it such as our parents, spouses, and leaders, but Jesus came to show us a better way.  In the Bible we are told not only  to "You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man,"  (Lev 19:32a) and "Honor your father and mother,” (Ex 20:12) but we are also told in the New Testament to, "Honor everyone." (1 Pet 2:17a

When Peter penned those words, I’m sure he struggled with them.  Remember, it was Peter swung his sword to cut off someone’s ear at Jesus’ arrest. (Matt 27)  As he writes these words he is living in a world in which his faith, his friends, and his church is being persecuted.  In the same letter that he says, “Honor everyone” he also shares, “Beloved, don’t be surprised at the fiery trial that comes upon you…” (1 Pet 4:12).  Yes, even when being mistreated, the disciples of Jesus call followers to honor everyone.  Jesus came to show us that EVERYONE deserves our honor and respect.  People deserve to be given faithfulness, honesty, attention, priority, nobleness, and richness because they are made in God’s image. (James 3:6-10)

In our current culture, respect is a gift deserved by all but given by few.  Recently I was struck by one of those few as I witnessed the respect of an elderly gentlemen right smack dab in the middle of Sparta, TN.  After preaching a funeral, I drove my beater of a truck right behind the hearse on the way to the cemetery north of town.  Some people kept driving on the opposite side of the road as the funeral procession came north on Spring St.  Most cars pulled over out of respect.  Yet one gentleman went beyond, pulled his car over, stood outside of it, and held his hat over his heart while we passed.  What did our procession do to receive that respect?  Nothing.  He was simply living out the New Testament words, “Honor everyone.”   What a beautiful model of respect to all the families in the funeral procession!

I believe the cultural cycle of respect can reach an upward swing again and I believe it begins in the family.   Here are a few ideas we can start with. With toddlers you can teach respect for others by enforcing unselfish play, putting a few coins in charity boxes or in the collection plate at church, or saying a prayer together for others.  When you prompt them to say “Thank you” or open the door for others, you are building a culture of respect.  As your children develop conversationally, discourage disparaging remarks about others, even in private.  Build respect by working “thank you” notes into their regular routine or schedule acts of service in just as often as you schedule sporting events.  Remind your teens that their clothing choices are a way to show respect of unspoken (or written) standards, whether at school, parties, or church.  Yes, respect can be taught at home.

    Yet, I remind you that we, as parents, aunts, uncles, educators, and community leaders need to do the exact same things in our lives to model respect for children.   If we model respect and teach families to rise above this dog-eat-dog world to give respect to everyone, we will see a change in the world around us.  Respect begins at home.  May you be successful in joining others to build again a community and culture of respect.  

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, this is what it means to me. 

"Show proper respect to everyone." (1 Peter 2:17a NIV)

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, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.spartacoc.com.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Family Forte: Encouragement over Exasperation

by: Ashley Wiles

Have you ever been the recipient of a random act of kindness?  Something that makes your jaw drop, heart smile, and eyes water?  We had such an experience this weekend when we went to Chattanooga to celebrate my birthday.  We spent the afternoon at the Creative Discovery Museum and delighted in time spent with our children.  We explored, made music, created art, played, and learned, and it was such fun! To top off our excellent afternoon together, we decided to have dinner before heading back to Sparta.  At the restaurant, our server seated us next to an older couple who were enjoying a quiet dinner. I couldn’t help but wonder if the couple cringed when they saw a family with four children being seated next to them!  We turned our attention to ordering and then spent time as a family chatting together. We talked about all the fun we’d had at the museum, brainstormed other ways to solve the engineering tasks we’d experienced, and even challenged each other with mental math problems (yes, we’re nerds).  Midway through our meal, the couple behind us rose to leave, but the woman stopped by our table. “Excuse me,” she said. “It’s so nice to see a family out enjoying themselves without electronics.” We were surprised and thanked her before continuing with our meal. Dining out with children can be an adventure, and hearing someone praise them was a blessing to our hearts.  As we finished our food and shared a piece of birthday pie, our server approached us with a surprise. Imagine our shock to learn that the couple I had been concerned about disturbing had paid for our meal! We had never seen them before and wouldn’t recognize them if we saw them again, but they showed kindness to our family with a generous gift, kind words, and a simple note they left, saying “Bless your family.”  We appreciated their generosity so much (dinner out for a family of six is not cheap), but what meant the most was that they took the time to speak kindly to us about the good that they saw. My already-great birthday was even better because someone chose encouragement rather than exasperation. 

Similarly, my friend Tara spoke recently of an older gentleman who approached her in Walmart as she was corralling her children. He told her that she was doing the most important job in the world, and then he blessed her and wished her to be filled with the fruits of the Spirit.  She later said that his words were worth more than a million dollars to her. Parents who have ever run the gauntlet of the grocery store with their children can recognize what a blessing he was to her. Instead of assuming that three little boys were a handful, he recognized that they were a gift and cared enough to speak words of light and love to a mother working hard to care for them. 

I’ve thought a lot about the power of encouragement since then.  Isn’t it true that an encouraging word at just the right time can make a huge difference?  When I have been working through a tough situation, a word of criticism can be so deflating. Conversely, a word of encouragement provides a boost to my spirits that helps me get through the challenge.

I will admit that my default setting is criticism.  If I’m not careful, my running dialogue with my children has a tendency to be: 

“Don’t do that.”
“That’s not nice.”
“We don’t act that way.”

Of course, correction is necessary, but it needs to be part of a balanced diet that’s sprinkled liberally with words of encouragement.  When I receive encouraging words about my parenting, it lightens my heart, puts a spring in my step, and makes me want to do an even better job. I must take care not to forget that my children will have the same reaction if I call out the good I see in them.  Our day together goes much more smoothly if our dialogue sounds more like this:

“I like how you shared your toy.”
“I am proud of you for standing up for your friend.”
“I saw how you controlled your anger.”
“Thank you for putting away your dishes without being asked.”
“Thank you for the hug.”

I challenge you to find a way to encourage someone today - your spouse, your children, or even a stranger in Walmart.  It is wonderful if you are in the position to give a financial blessing, but even more important are the words you offer, and they don’t cost a dime. Let’s give the people around us the gift of kind and gracious words.  Let’s choose encouragement over exasperation.

Proverbs 16:24: “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.”

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, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.spartacoc.com.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Family Forte: 13 Ways to Love Your Teenager

by: Topher Wiles
Photo Credit: Fascinate.com
Glory Hallelujah, we’ve reached the teenage years!  I know, I know, the teenage years for many are worse than a cat’s tail stuck in the screen door.  Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way; God intended abundant life during the teenage years too.  In honor of Gabriel’s 13th birthday, here are 13 family strengthening ideas I’ve stashed away in my teenage preparation toolbox.
13. Invest Time in Your Teen – Gabriel still loves creating Legos masterpieces.  However, I’m more interested in how he’s progressed in his Microsoft Excel tutorials in school.  In my time serving as a high school math teacher and church youth minister I watched the hands of time tick down on teenagers seeking their parent’s attention and approval.  For his confidence growth, whenever he wants to share his newest Picasso artform in Lego medium, I need to invest time in listening and marveling at his passionate progress in Legos more than Excel.   
12. Say You’re Sorry – Adults, we stink at uttering the simple words, “I’m sorry.”  When I remind myself that my goal with my son is to raise an adult who loves God and the community around him, I am struck by how much he needs to see adult skills modeled in me.  That means apologizing when I’m running late, short on my temper, or selfish in my time.  Adult skills take adult examples to learn and a father is a perfect place for the learning to deepen.
Ashley's chocolate cherry 13th
birthday cake was good!
11. Have Fun – Teenagers have so much energy, so many big dreams, and a desire to shirk responsibility to play.  Why not shirk responsibility together?  Yes, my kids have frequently heard my mantra, “Work first, play later.”  They’ll probably write it on my tombstone when I’m gone.  I won’t let go of that mantra lightly, but I do make exceptions to go create some fun with my son because he needs it.  Go check out Willard Harley’s chapter on recreational companionship and a man’s need for it in “His Needs, Her Needs.”  Then go have some fun with your teen.
10. Maintain Your Authority – I am not my son’s best friend.  I am not my son’s best friend.  I am not my son’s best friend.  I am my son’s parent.  Enough said.
9. Reward Maturity with Freedom – When he gets that legendary license freedom that begins with being home by 9pm, I’ll extend his nightly curfew when he shows the maturity of being home on time.  Give more freedom when they demonstrate repeated growth with mature decisions.
8. Connect Them to God – Teens need hope more now than ever that there exists something bigger than them and their world experience.  You can connect them to God by continuing to read the Bible with them, take nature walks with them, slow down to meditate with them, serve with them, and fast with them about the decisions of life.   As you connect with God personally in your life, invite them to the same.
7. Connect Them to Other Adults – If their entire world is made up of teenage life, teenage peers, and teenage media, they are living in the confines of a very small bubble missing out on some of the great blessings a broader life has to offer.  Involve them in civic organizations, church leadership teams, or multigenerational workforces in a business.  It truly does take a village to raise a child.
6. Run at Their Pace – Sometimes I run 5k races to win and sometimes I run to help train others to win.  If I’m training others, I can’t bolt out of a starting line and leave them, expecting them to catch up later.  Slow your life down a little so you can run beside your teenager through the challenges their experience has to offer. 
Look at Gabriel smile!
5. Be Fertilizer for Ambition – Fertilizer may stink sometimes, but the nutrients it gives provides for growth.  Your progeny may want to only sit and home playing video games and may not want your pushing them on to higher goals, greater adventures, and bigger kingdoms to conquer.  Know your child enough to recognize when they need a boost and fertilize that ambition.
4. Be Soil for Deep Roots – Don’t let them chase every passing adventure in life.  The grass isn’t always greener on the other side.  Remind them when they need to stay in an area and develop deeper roots that will benefit them for years in life by providing stability and strength. 
3. Listen to their Fears – Fear of the future, failure, and loneliness are common in these years.  You may not have all the answers, but God gave you two ears and only one mouth for a reason.  Listen to your kid. 
Does time fly?
You bet it does, so
enjoy it!
2. Give Up the Lawnmower for a Weedeater – The new term, “Lawnmower Parent” describes those who cut a clear path for their kids to succeed like those parents who paid for cheating test scores so their kids could get into the ivy league schools.  We all struggle with being a lawnmower because we want to help our kids.  Think less about clearing the path in front of them and focus on just clearing some of the unwanted weeds around the edges of life. 
1. Love Them Anyway – Your teens will make mistakes, say things that hurt you, and fail to be perfect.  Love them anyway, because God loves you.

Sometimes I stink at parenting and need to follow my own advice better.  So when you see me as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs, remind me of the wisdom learned in this article so I can approach these teenage years as cool as the cat who got the cream.  May you be blessed with Family Forte as you strive to bless your children with abundant life.

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” – Jesus in John 10:10b

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, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.spartacoc.com.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Family Forte: Socializing and Thriving as Families

By: Topher Wiles

    The question used to surprise us.  Well meaning people who knew our family’s activities would ask the question and I struggled to understand the logic.  Our kids are involved in sports teams, community clubs, outdoors events, the YMCA, our church, a homeschool cooperative, music lessons, and more.  Knowing that, I’m always surprised when someone asks, “Don’t you worry that your homeschool kids aren’t properly socialized?” 
     Since we are well known for our home education efforts, we get quite a few concerned comments about our children being properly “socialized.” Caring people live in fear that we are short-changing our kids without involvement in the standard school system.  I appreciate their care and their willingness to ask.  I guess it is true that there are some homeschoolers who live more like hermits, but that’s definitely not us.  So I try to turn their question to address social isolation for families as a whole.
     My usual response begins by asking, “Did you know I was a public high school algebra teacher?”  Once I’ve solidified common ground that I can talk intelligently about our current education and social structures,  I follow with, “Have you ever seen a socially awkward or isolated student in a standard school?”  They always return with a “Yes, I know a few.”  Sometimes they even admit that they themselves were the awkward one (really, we all went through middleschool and struggled didn’t we?).  Then, I follow by thanking them for their concern and letting them know that positive socialization for all of members of families and the malady of loneliness are important issues to us and to our God, no matter how we receive our education.  If they are willing, we talk about loneliness and what we can do to help.  In my years in public education, I saw more than my fair share of those who struggled with isolation, awkwardness, and feeling out-of-place.  Sadly, I see it even more now in adults than in kids and have seen first hands some of the dangerous affects.
     From the New York Times Article “How Social Isolation IsKilling Us” comes the following eye-opening information of a loneliness plague that is hurting our families in the United States.  Author Dhruv Khullar gives us the following news.

“Since the 1980s, the percentage of American adults who say they’re lonely has doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent. Loneliness is as important a risk factor for early death as obesity and smoking. Socially isolated children have significantly poorer health 20 years later, even after controlling for other factors. Socially isolated individuals have a 30 percent higher risk of dying in the next seven years, and that this effect was largest in middle age. Individuals with less social connection have disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, more inflammation and higher levels of stress hormones. One recent study found that isolation increases the risk of heart disease by 29 percent and stroke by 32 percent. About one-third of Americans older than 65 now live alone, and half of those over 85 do. Loneliness can accelerate cognitive decline in older adults, and isolated individuals are twice as likely to die prematurely as those with more robust social interactions.”

     Social isolation or loneliness is a growing problem in our country in every age range and its negative affects can be clearly seen in the medical and psychological fields.  The good news is, there are quite a few tools you can use to help someone avoid this malady and encourage positive relationships that breath life into their existence.
     The tool I appreciate most for my kids and my wife is the Lord’s church. 
Perhaps God knew all this isolation was debilitating when He inspired this remedy, “(Let us) not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25) In a day of TV church, Radio church, and Podcast church, nothing can replace the benefits in my children's lives of the face-to-face real Church, which is the gathering of loving people and purposeful encouragement of the of those around you.  Even though we at Central livestream our services on our website, I encourage viewers to meet together as often as is possible.
     God has also given us some other wonderful social constructs such as extended family, civic clubs, and sporting teams.  Ashley and I endeavor to keep our kids involved in a little bit of each.  We love the Vision basketball league in Cookeville that focuses on sportsmanship and positive relationships.  We are excited about the start of a Trail Life program in Sparta later this year (it’s the Christian version of Boy Scouts).  We treasure the moments when we listen to live music and play chess with neighbors at the Coffee Collective in downtown Sparta.  Our local YMCA, where I serve as a board member, is growing to be even more of a positive, healthy, and encouraging environment for all people to enjoy.  God has blessed us with many wonderful ways to develop deep and regular meaningful relationships in our church and community so that we can avoid the harmful affects of social isolation. 
     Just as you push your kids to invest time eating healthy foods and exercise, for the sake of your family, can I push you to also invest time in positive social relationships?  Come experience family love at Central Church of Christ or come see me at the YMCA and I’ll make sure to give you a welcoming smile.  If you are “properly socialized” and know someone who struggles with social isolation, then lovingly and regularly invite them to come along with you.  We’ll give them a big smile too. 
     “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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, topherwiles@spartacoc.com, or through our website, www.spartacoc.com.