Today’s Table Talk is by our friend Joe White – a walking billboard of encouragement for kids and parents alike. He sent the following letter to folks that have been involved with Kanakuk Kamps, where he has been building into the next generation of leaders for years. Check it out if you get a chance ( Some of my favorite memories are on the shore of Lake Taneykomo, nestled in the Ozark mountains, teaching kids how to water-ski, then heading back years later to watch mine learn. I hope you enjoy Joe’s words of wisdom. He’s sweet to let me share.

Thanks, Joe … and thanks for walking the road with me.


Today as I write, I’m flying to Nashville for Michael W. Smith’s daughter’s wedding. Michael and Debbie Smith have been so faithful to Kanakuk over the last 25 years. He lives his hit song, “Friends are Friends Forever.”

On this flight, I’m randomly sitting next to two Kamp parents and now Kamp grandparents reminiscing about their two and a half decade relationship with Kanakuk and the great stories of Kamp’s influence in their children’s and grandchildren’s lives. We began to talk about what kind of parenting skills have the best shot at producing kids with hearts for family, hearts for God, and hearts for biblical moral values.

I’ve had this conversation with countless parents over the years and I have found a few common denominators that are worth sharing and dwelling on today.

“Giving God the Glory”

The moms and dads of good kids are always quick to give God the glory for the goodness in their kids’ hearts. I can’t remember one parent conversation in forty years where the parents took the credit for the “success” in raising Godly kids. Good parents are humble people! They are people like you and me who are committed to prayer, family Bible study and bedtime and breakfast devotionals knowing that it is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” that sustains kids with Christian character.

“The Firm Voice of Discipline”

The Decker family (seated next to me today) joined the chorus of hundreds of other families I’ve encountered by reiterating the need for crystal clear boundaries….curfews…standards for friends…standards for media consumption…standards and expectations for social outings. Hebrews 12:11 whole heartedly endorses a home and a parenting style that includes the firm, dependable hand of discipline.

The fun side of a well-disciplined home is that the soil of these children’s hearts is fertile for the production of the fruit of righteousness! The disciplined heart receives biblical guidance and appreciates words of encouragement and affirmation. A happy child, simply put, is a child who knows that God is firmly in charge, mom and dad are clearly the authority in the home, and parents are that child’s biggest fans.

“Over Encouraged”

I recently spoke frankly to the sons at the Kanakuk Father-Son retreat on the subject of “Some People Read Stories; Some People Make Stories.” I soberly reminded the boys that no good coach wants a player who thinks he is the center of the world because his parents have convinced him that he can do no wrong. Kids of entitlement who expect a coach or parent to always give them what they want, make a place for them on the starting team, or praise them for halfhearted effort will never amount to much. The only success they’ll ever know is a trumped up slogan on a Nike t-shirt with self-proclaimed grandeur.

But, if a child puts forth great effort and displays a positive attitude or accomplishes a noble goal, somebody needs to notice it and appreciate it verbally. My wise older mentor, Jack Herschend, told me once that it only takes 20 minutes to teach a pigeon to bowl! “You give him one kernel of corn when he gets near the ball and two kernels of corn every time he touches the ball.”

Productive encouragement needs to be specific. Everyday catch your child in the act of doing something good and tell him/her about it!

“Atta Boy,” “Way to go,” “Super Job,” “That’s amazing,” “I like that,” “Yeah baby,” “That’s what I’m talking about,” are but a handful of phrases that need to always reside on the top of your tongue ready to launch when a specific moment of great effort or great attitude is displayed by a child (of any age!)

But, when encouragement is just pointless chatter or ill deserved, it will build a false sense of self-centeredness or useless entitlement.

“Criticism and Sarcasm Kills The Heart Of A Child”

Furthermore, criticism and sarcasm kills a child’s heart and creates deaf ears to beneficial reception of words of encouragement. While coaching and teaching are not only good but also a parent’s job, harsh criticism and words of sarcasm will destroy the relationship and drown out any words of affirmation quicker than a spring flood.

When I coach the teen Kampers of K-2 football each summer day (my favorite job) my goal and the goal I communicate to these wonderful college players on our staff is to let every boy hear his name with something good attached to it at least 10 times a day. We don’t win most of our scrimmages with Kids Across America because we have better talent. We win because we encourage our kids’ socks off. We expect their greatest effort, we encourage their best effort, and we receive their best effort. Our kids know we love them win or lose. Our kids know we value them. Our kids know we’re crazy about them from the least athletic to the most skilled.

Encouragement, affirmation and appreciation are like gravity to a successful team or a successful home. When applied consistently, specifically and personally, hope prevails even during a child’s most difficult season of life.

Thank you for letting me and our team of summertime coaches be an encouragement to your precious kids! We so love what we do. Our days of summer are the greatest days of our life.

Together for your kids,
Joe White

P.S. Debbie Jo knocked me out recently with this luscious dessert for chocolate lovers!

Nutella Gooey Butter Cake:
Cake: 1 (18 1/4-ounce) package devil’s food cake mix, 1 egg, 8 tablespoons butter (melted)
Filling: 1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese (softened), 1 cup Nutella, 3 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 8 tablespoons butter (melted), 1 (16-ounce) box powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine the cake mix, egg, and butter and mix well with an electric mixer. Pat the mixture into the bottom of a lightly greased 13 by 9-inch baking pan.

To make the filling: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and Nutella until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla, and butter, and beat together. Next, add the powdered sugar and mix well. Spread Nutella mixture over cake batter and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Make sure not to overbake as the center should be a little gooey.

Chocolate Sauce: 1 stick butter, 2/3 cup cocoa powder, 3 cups powdered sugar, 1/3 cup milk, 1 tsp. vanilla

Melt butter & cocoa powder in sauce pan. Alternately add powdered sugar & milk. Thin with additional milk if needed. Take off burner & add vanilla.

Joe White: Since 1976, Kanakuk Kamps owners and K-2 Directors, Joe and Debbie Jo White, have shared a deep passion for pointing kids to Christ through Christian sports camping. Together they have seen Kanakuk grow into nine unique Kamps and have also founded Kids Across America – for inner-city kids. Joe played football at S.M.U. where Debbie Jo was a cheerleader. Joe then coached at Texas A&M before moving to Missouri in 1972. He has since written 19 books and speaks across the country for Men at the Cross, After Dark, Pure Excitement and Focus on the Family radio. Dr. James Dobson says, “Joe White knows more about teenagers than anyone in North America.” 

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