Encouraging Family Unity
About the Guest
Dennis Rainey talks with Tim Stafford, author of the book Never Mind the Joneses, about building family unity and love.
Tim StaffordTim Stafford is a freelance writer and Senior Writer for Christianity Today Magazine. He’s written more than twenty books, both fiction and non-fiction. His most recent publication is God’s Justice: The Holy Bible. He is General Editor, overseeing the biblical commentary of 55 writers, most from the majority world. Stafford himself wrote the notes for five books of the Bible. You can find God’s Justice at ...more
Tim Stafford talks about building family unity and love.
Encouraging Family Unity
Bob: Does your family feel like a family? What are some practical things you can do to help promote family unity? Here is Tim Stafford.
Tim: I know one family that had very active, engaged kids. They would just wait to have dinner until everybody was home, and sometimes they ate dinner at 10:00 at night. You know, it was that late. But that's just one way you can really say, "We're together. We eat dinner together," and, believe me, that communicates much more than a bunch of lectures on family unity and love.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, August 18th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We'll get some practical help today on things we can do to promote the core value of family unity.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition. Were you at all confused about who we were having in this week? I mean, somebody on staff asked me if we're having a guy from Branson, you know, Jim Stafford on.
Dennis: I've been to his program up there at his theater. It's good, clean family fun.
Bob: You could recommend it?
Dennis: At least it was 10 years ago when we went.
Bob: So when I said we were going to have Tim Stafford on, did you think, "Oh, it's that guy from Branson?"
Dennis: No, I knew it wasn't the guy from Branson, but I did remember the guy from Branson. Well, Tim, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Dennis: How's your show in Branson going?
Tim: You know, I don't sing anymore.
Bob: And no relation to the guy who does, right?
Tim: No, no, no.
Bob: Just making sure.
Dennis: Well, Tim Stafford is joining us all this week. He has written a book called "Never Mind the Joneses," and it's really the story of how he and his wife – Popie – now, hold it right there. Your wife, Popie? You spell that how?
Dennis: How did that come about? We're talking about family values here.
Tim: My wife is from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and in the Deep South, you can name anybody anything.
Bob: But is there a family something?
Tim: Her actual name is Nell Pope, and "Pope" is her mother's maiden name, and so …
Bob: … "Popie" came out of that.
Dennis: Okay, well, you guys have been together for more than 27 years; have three children, and …
Bob: … do you have a nickname for her? Do you call her "Popie?"
Tim: Just "Pope."
Dennis: "Pope?" You call her "Pope?"
Tim: Well, you know, she can be pretty authoritative, I'll tell you.
Dennis: We're talking all this week about family values, and it really brought to mind a story with a businessman I had, about a home that he was thinking about purchasing. He was feeling a little guilty that perhaps this home as a little too much for their family, perhaps a little too big, and he was just saying, you know, "I need some counsel on this, Dennis." And I said, "You know, really, the size of your house is not the issue. What the issue is, is what values does this decision represent? So the issue for you and your wife is – have you really hammered out your values, as a couple, that you want to pass on to your children?"
And he said, "Where were you about two years ago before we started thinking about this?" He said, "That would have been a very helpful question long before we started down this road and started making all kinds of decisions that kind of set us on a course."
Well, I think that's what happens to a lot of families today – they get set on a course, having never considered what their family values are.
Dennis: But you, in your life, and Popie, you decided early on that you were going to hammer out some values – that really changed the direction of your marriage and family.
Tim: Well, that might be what we wish we had done. In reality, we learned as we went. But I think, looking back on it, we did have some very clear core values that we agreed on; we talked about.
Dennis: But the issue is, you did end up with a list, you hammered it out together and came up with a list of 14. We've parked your list, my list, and Bob's brand-new list …
Bob: … new wet-cement list.
Dennis: So you're not really owning this at the level I thought – I thought your core values …
Bob: … we'll wait and see how it hardens here, all right?
Bob: Give us a little …
Dennis: … we put all those on our website at FamilyLife.com. If folks want to go there, they can take a look at your 14 and Bob's wet cement and ours. Let's talk, though, about core value number five. You list it here – "Family unity and love." How did you come up with the core value, Tim?
Tim: Well, I think it starts with one of the Ten Commandments that says, "Honor your father and your mother." And there are a lot of other Scriptures that talk about family relationships. And I think at least one of the values behind those commands is that families are meant to be a unit. They are meant to be loyal to each other, loving to each other, together. And I think that value has always been important. It wouldn't be in Scripture if it weren't. But it's probably more difficult in the age we're living in than ever before. Families are disintegrating, splitting, distracted, overworking, pulled in multiple directions. But I think that you will find in all the families that are living loyally together, you will find this current of loyalty and love and enjoyment.
You know, I think it comes through in times of crisis. Are you really there for each other when there is difficulty? Are you ultimately supportive of each other, or do you tend, under crisis, to fly apart? If you've really gotten that value of family unity and loyalty, crisis will tend to pull you together. It won't necessarily be easy. That's not what family loyalty is about – what family unity and love is about. It isn't about being easy or perfect, but it's about when push comes to shove, we're a unit. We work together, we help each other, we care about each other.
Dennis: I’m not going to get into the details of it, but, really, some of the greatest moments in our family have been in a crisis where one of the children, as an adult, is going through a difficult time and watching the other adult children come around their sibling and rally and pull and love and offer grace and forgiveness. And this is the group of kids – you know, we had six of them – this is the group of kids that were at each other's throat, you know, you had to pull two guys off of each other fighting upstairs in their bedroom. You know, they jerked the door completely off the hinges, and you wonder if they great up to hate one another. And then you go through a valley, a dark valley, as a family. And I think this is where God gives the payoff to parents occasionally, you know?
Tim: Yes, but that's the payoff. And I think where this starts is in much more mundane things. One example for us and our family was just eating meals together. You know, that's pretty basic, but it's tough sometimes when your kids are really actively involved, and you're actively involved, to really sit down at a meal together. Sometimes that takes some doing.
Dennis: Well, that's a lost value, really, today, I think, in many families.
Tim: Very much so. And I know one family that had very active, engaged kids, and they had a deal where they would just wait to have dinner until everybody was home, and sometimes they ate dinner at 10:00 at night. You know, it was that late, because – even on a school night – but that was their value. They said that's our commitment, we will not eat until everybody is home.
Now, there are different ways to do this, and there are lots of ways to flex. I don't think there is any rule in the Bible that says you have to eat all your meals together or this is where you need to eat it or how you need to eat it, but that's just one way you can really say, "We're together. We eat dinner together." And, believe me, that communicates much more than a bunch of lectures on family unity and love.
Dennis: What I wouldn't want our listeners to miss here is the assumption that you're passing on to your children that – you know what? There are a lot of things vying for our attention out there, but we're going to define our lives around this family unit, sticking together through the storms and through the mountaintops of life. And if the parents do not set the course to do that, I promise you, this culture will rip your family to shreds. You won't be together. You'll be a very mobile group of people who individually are all doing your own thing, but you will not be a unit. You will not experience family unity.
Tim: Yes, that's so true, and I think it starts, you can see it starting, pretty early on, where you ask, "Where is that family of young kids?" Or where are they physically? Where are they? Where do you find them all in one place? And you have a hard time coming up with an answer to that.
Dennis: You believe that the ultimate family value other than apart from God, which we talked about earlier this week, is the husband-wife relationship. You think that relationship sets the tone?
Tim: Absolutely. If your kids don't see loyalty to husband and wife, then the rest of the loyalty or the rest of the unity doesn't connect at all.
Bob: So if you want family unity, you've got to start with Mom and Dad.
Tim: Yes. Walter Trobisch had a wonderful example of this, I thought – at least it stuck in my mind as a young guy when I got married. He said when he came home from a trip – he was a pastor, and he traveled a lot – he would walk right past his kids who were excited to see him and go and kiss his wife. And, you know, I thought about that. That probably hurt the kids' feelings a little bit – that their dad would just ignore them and go straight for their mother. But what a powerful communicative tool to tell them, "You know, there's one person here that really has first place in my life," and then, "I love you, too."
Bob: And that gives kids a real sense of security.
Tim: Yes, it does. Because when they feel they can split up the mom and the dad and work with one side or the other, they're learning another kind of lesson – they're learning that you can split this family apart according to interests.
Bob: This has been a core issue for my wife – probably more core for her than for me, and I would tend to look at individual interests and desires and, let's say, one of the kids – the choir is performing, and you go to the other kids, and you say, "Hey, your brother is in a choir concert. Do you want to go?" And what's the answer? No, they don't want to go, you know, of course, not – a boring old choir concert. "But your brother is in the choir concert." I've tended to have the, "Oh, why make them sit through a boring hour-and-a-half choir concert. They're going to be bored, they're going to be restless, it's going to be less pleasant for me." And Mary Ann has said, "No, they need to be there supporting their brother and sister." Now, the kids have gone to the brother or the sister and said, "Do you care if I go to your stupid choir concert?" And the brother or sister has said, "No, I don't care." But the truth is, we all do care, don't we?
Tim: Yes, and it rubs off, the experience rubs off. When we go to choir concerts, we're there. We're there for each other. I want to mention something else, and that's family vacations. I know some families that don't even take vacations, and I know some families, when they take vacations, their emphasis is on entertainment. They're really trying to just maximize entertainment, and they may all go different directions on their vacations. I'm not knocking anybody's style of vacation, but I think summer vacations are powerful times of family unity, and some of the greatest memories of family unity come when your car breaks down in some place in the middle of the desert, and you have to spend two days waiting for the new carburetor.
Bob: You must have a whole different experience …
Dennis: … you only had three kids …
Bob: … great memories here …
Tim: Six could be challenging under those circumstances. No, but, you know, ask your kids what they remember. They remember the real messed-up vacations where everything went wrong.
Dennis: So, okay, Tim. What's your favorite memory of all the vacations you took with your kids?
Tim: Well, I already mentioned, in our first show, about this terrible rainstorm, when my daughter had a complete meltdown. I have very fond memories of that experience. I remember when our car – our radiator went out in the middle of Nevada on a very small, two-lane highway, and we had to nurse it into the nearest gas station, which was about 50 miles away. You know, things like that sort of stay with you. They're family experiences.
Bob: A couple of summers ago, we had driven the family out to Colorado. We decided we were going to drive from Denver, Colorado, to St. Louis, Missouri, in one day. Now, that's a pretty good stretch.
Tim: That's a good stretch.
Bob: That's a full day. It was one of the longest, one of the worst days of our lives, as a family. And just as you were saying, "Ask the kids what they remember" …
Tim: … they remember it …
Bob: … they remember that day. Now, I don't want to go repeat that any time soon, but there was some bonding that took place in the midst of that nightmare that we were in between Denver and St. Louis.
Tim: I remember when we went to Carlsbad Caverns, which is in a part of New Mexico that's not really near anything – it's not on the way to anything. But we, Popie and I, remembered, as children, going there with our families. So we went there with our children, because passing on family culture. And we're standing in line waiting to get into the first tour of the morning, and we started talking to the other people in line. They all were there for exactly the same reason. They remembered going there when they were children with their families. And I thought you know, there's something about these shared family experiences that are pretty powerful, that we'd get them to drive to a very remote part of New Mexico just to duplicate it with their own children.
Dennis: To illustrate what you're talking about, I'll never forget having some romantic idea, but somehow I thought the idea of buying a pop-up camper for six kids would be a great idea. So I shopped and found out that there was only one pop-up camper made in the entire world that is a little trailer, you know, that you crank up after you arrive at the campground, that will sleep eight.
Tim: Yes, that's a large number.
Dennis: That's a herd. So I bought this pop-up camper. Our first night we camped out in the Sierra Nevada range somewhere near Yosemite. I don't know where it was, but we were about 8,000 or 9,000 feet. That was a bad decision.
Tim: It was cold.
Dennis: It was very cold, and there was no heater in this, and you can get eight human beings in a pop-up camper, but it looks like cordwood. There is just one person stacked after another, and when one needs to get up in the middle of the night …
Tim: … oh, yeah, they all move.
Dennis: I mean, the pop-up camper moves, the trailer moves – I mean …
Bob: … the earth moves.
Dennis: I’m telling you – but you know what? We've never forgotten that night. It's exactly what you're talking about.
Tim: And isn't interesting, the three of us can sit around this table, and we just instantly start coming up with these stories? Well, that says a lot about the value of planning some family vacations.
Dennis: The difference on this one – your kids may go to Carlsbad. Our kids will not to go to 10,000 feet to freeze to death.
Tim: Don't be too sure.
Bob: You know, a few years back at Christmastime, Mary Ann came to me, and she said – we've done this deal where every year at Christmas on Christmas Eve, we cook fajitas. We've been doing it for more than a decade.
Dennis: You've never told me this.
Bob: It goes back to when we lived in San Antonio. We used to get take-out fajitas from the Alamo Café …
Dennis: … we've worked together all these years, you've never shared this with me.
Bob: Yeah, fajitas. So we kind of carried it as a tradition – Christmas Eve is fajita night at our house.
Dennis: Hold it. Keith, our engineer – Keith, did you know this about Bob?
Keith: I did, but he told me not to tell you.
Bob: So I've worked with Amy and Katy, with the girls, to produce fajita night, and we usually have to get it done quickly and then go to church for the Christmas Eve service. And I think one particular year we were cutting it close, and the kitchen was a mess, and the next day was going to be Christmas, and Mary Ann came after it was all over, and she said, "I think we need to simplify. Let's get Chinese take-out next year or something. I think this fajita thing has just – it needs to die a timely death."
Dennis: Mary Ann?
Bob: Well, that's what I said.
Dennis: Where are your convictions, Mary Ann?
Bob: We're going to end the fajita night?
Tim: And if your children had been consulted, they would have …
Dennis: … oh, my goodness.
Bob: Well, that's who I went to. I went to them as my allies, and I said, "What do you guys think? Should we do Chinese?" "No," you know, and I think back on that, and I think, "Why did I care so much?" You know, Chinese take-out would be fine. Why did it matter? I think it mattered because of what it represents and what we've been talking about here today. We're talking about unity, we're talking about tradition, we're talking about stuff that gets lodged in your mind and identifies you as a family. But kind of deep in our soul, that's kind of what we do and who we are, and we all feel good about it, and there's some security in that, isn't there?
Tim: There really is. It's so important that our kids feel they have those roots, and they're really rooted through their values, but the values are communicated, first off, through our family. That's their first connection with what those values are, and if the family has a sense of integrity and unity, then it's strong; the transmission is strong.
Bob: The first year I was here in Little Rock, and I went to the grocery store to buy the skirt steak for fajitas – I'm in the wrong part of the country to try to buy fajita meat, you know, Little Rock, Arkansas, didn't have it. I had to import it to make it work. I'm still kind of bitter about that.
Dennis: You know, as I'm listening to us talk about these family memories here and building the core value of family unity, I'm reflecting back on a conversation I had with a younger man. Just earlier this week I was talking with him about family vacations, and I said, "You know, if I had it to do all over again, there would be one thing I would change about our family vacations, because we had some world-class family vacations. We went to Yosemite, we went to the Rockies, we went to the Grand Canyon, we went to Washington, D.C. – I mean – Minnesota – I mean – I've touched every area of the nation," all right? But I said, "If I had it to do all over again, I would have found one vacation spot, one unique vacation memory, that we would have done every year." And the reason – this core value right here. Because when you go back to the same place and do the same thing, there is something about that sameness – it doesn't create new adventures, but it creates solidarity around a single experience replicated year after year after year. And if I had it to do all over again, I would have found that spot. I don't know where it would have been. It would have been somewhere cheap, though, I could promise you, with six kids.
Tim: Well, this is what backpacking was for our family, and it's – I recommend it highly if you can put up with it. You have to go to 10,000 feet and freeze, of course, but, you know, you're alone. There is no television, there is no alternative but to be together around the campfire, and it's cheap. You can backpack cheaper than you can live at home.
Dennis: Yeah, that works unless you're married to Mrs. Holiday Inn – no surprises.
Tim: Every family has to find their own way.
Bob: Can you do fajitas on the campfire? I'm just wondering, never mind. What we're talking about here is creating a culture for your family, and that's where the family ties – that's where the real family values come from. We're encouraging family this week to do a couple of things – get a copy of Tim's book, go to our website at FamilyLife.com. You can actually order Tim's book online at FamilyLife.com. But there is also a project that we've created that a husband and wife and do together that will help you articulate your family's values. That family values project is on our website at FamilyLife.com. Just click where it says "Today's broadcast," and there is a link there to the project that I'm talking about.
You can get a copy of Tim's book, you can also get a copy of a great book by Dr. Robert Lewis called "Real Family Values," that is built around the same theme, and if you order both of the books from us, we'll include, at no additional cost, your choice of either the CD audio or the cassette tapes of our week-long conversation with Tim Stafford. All the information is on our website at FamilyLife.com. You can order from our website or give us a call, if you'd like, at 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.
You know the movie "Casablanca." There is a scene in that movie where it's the evening, and everybody's at Rick's and they're all sitting around, and a bunch of German army officers start singing the German national anthem, I think it is. And, when they do, the other patrons, who are loyal to France, one of them starts to stand up and starts singing the French national anthem, and the other voices join in, and pretty soon the French national anthem is drowning out the German national anthem. I was thinking about that scene recently. I was thinking about the culture we live in, and I was thinking about the noise that we're hearing from the culture that presses us away from biblical values; away from the kind of family values we're talking about this week.
You know, in many ways, we look at this radio program as one of those voices that's trying to sing a song to drown out the culture that's leading us away from real biblical values. If we're going to be able to do that in the weeks ahead, we need to hear from as many listeners as we can here during the month of August. This is the last month of our fiscal year, so we're hoping as many listeners as possible will either call to make a donation this month, or will go online and make a donation. Let us know that you're listening, that you believe in what we're doing, and if you're able to help support it financially, we would appreciate whatever you can do.
You can donate online at FamilyLife.com or you can call 1-800-FLTODAY to make a donation. If you want to write a check and mail it to us, just give us a call and someone will pass the mailing address along to you. Let me say thanks in advance for helping us turn the volume up so we can drown out the wrong messages that we're hearing loudly in our culture today.
Well, tomorrow we're going to try to continue to do that. We're going to talk about some of the key values that families need to consider and perhaps embrace as your family's core values. I hope our listeners can be back with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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