Not In The Boxscore

Posted January 24, 2022 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

RED HOT LIFE LESSON: “A person’s character is remembered long after the boxscore is forgotten.”

In my Red Hot novel series Randy Bowman, the redheaded, red-hot-shooting basketball player, finds himself receiving more and more media attention as his high school team keeps winning its games. Despite the stories that the press like to spin, his character and integrity do not change. He treats people with respect the same way he always has; he hangs around with his neighbor, Ethan Thomas, just as he always has even though Ethan is two years younger and has no athletic skills at all; and he is just as nervous as he ever was when his girlfriend, Jenny Molson, holds his hand.

Some would say that such a fictional character is just that: fiction. Excellence and outstanding performance, they might say, change a person. When the boxscore stats seem to hint at the extraordinary talent of a person he/she gets, as my papaw would say, “a little too big for their britches!” Press clippings have a way of transforming Jimmy into “the Slam Jam Jim” and Bernice into “Ice”. Boxscore stats become more important than camaraderie.

I had a player on one of the teams I coached who would check the scorebook after each basketball team. If he hadn’t scored many points he’d mope and pout, no matter whether the team won or lost. If he scored enough points (in his opinion) he would be ecstatic…regardless of the outcome of the game. Unfortunately, the way he treated his teammates was as unpredictable as his performances. Years from now, if his teammates remember him at all, how he will be viewed will have nothing to do with his game stats.

What is remembered by those closest to the person in the boxscore is how they treat people and whether they are still interested in the going-ons of their friends like they have always been. As a good friend of mine says, “there are some players who they think their poop doesn’t stink!”

A person’s character is remembered long after the scorebook has been played in the trash can. Our culture is enamored with how many yards the quarterback passed for, or how many hits the centerfielder got. Fantasy sports participants care nothing about loyalty, truthfulness, and high morals. They simply want results. Friends, however, need people they can depend on and teammates who will listen to them when they’re having rough days.

That’s what is of utmost importance in my mind as a former player and a current coach.

The Other Stuff and Jesus

Posted January 21, 2022 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

Christians have always had a hard time staying Christ-centered. That is, keeping Jesus as the main thing, the central focus, what everything else revolves around. Followers of Christ so often have Christ following the other stuff, the issues that weren’t passionate about, the later trends, the church politics and the other politics. Jesus has an obstructed view from the back of the bus.

Why should it be different than the first century? Most of the letters that the Apostle Paul wrote to the emerging churches in various locations either hinted at Jesus being a side note to strongly chastised churches for losing their focus on what was to the center of their purpose. The early church, prone to be pulled in various directions, needed someone to redirect it. Like a basketball coach calling timeout to remind her team of what they were to be about, Paul had to call the fellowships together for explanations, exhortation, and out of exasperation.

There’s always been the uncomfortable rub between Christ and culture. The mission and the ministry of the church is about Christ affecting and influencing culture rather than the culture changing our view of Christ. The atonement is not changed by the tone of cultural whims and wants. The gospel is good news for all, not a select few or certain polling groups.

In a world where opinions and causes change like the wind, the gospel is a steadying constant, the anchor that holds firm as life swirls in violent ways around it. When there are a number of other things blowing around the gospel, our attention has a bit of squirrel-like behavior to it, jumping from one tree to the next and looking for the next nut. Jesus is the un-moveable object Who exemplifies our God Who is moved by our hurts, heartaches, and celebrations.

Stephen Covey said “Keep the main thing the main thing.” It’s easier said than done, but when it is done, church-wise that is, it is memorable. No, it’s transforming!

Knowing Who You Are

Posted January 15, 2022 by wordsfromww
Categories: Novels, RED HOT Life Lessons

Tags: , , ,

LIFE LESSON (from the Red Hot Novel Series): Knowing who you are is more important than who people perceive you to be.

Earvin Johnson is six-feet, nine-inches tall. Better known since his days at Michigan State as “Magic” Johnson, Earvin grew up in Lansing in the shadow of Spartan Land. I wonder how many of his coaches assumed he was a post player, a center, before anyone realized that he was a point guard who simply didn’t fit into the perceptions of what a point guard looked like? You see, 6’9″…even 6’4″…was more often than not viewed as the player who would be down low, on the block, close to the basket, the rebounder.

Perceptions and a-rush-to-judgment are hard to change. So often younger siblings are seen through the same lens as their older brothers and sisters. A have a student who is the youngest child in a family with four kids. I coached her two older brothers in basketball and assumed, since she is tall, that she would be a hoops players as well. Instead, she has other interests not connected to athletics, is a great student and a great kid. I’m sure, however, that she has had to answer the question, “Do you play basketball like your brothers?”

Middle school and younger high school students get pressured by their classmates and friends sometimes to be who they aren’t. I’ve noticed a few eighth-graders this year who, as seventh-graders, were responsive, respectful, and made good decisions, but have been drawn into groups where wisdom and common sense have taken a leave-of-absence. They’ve allowed their identity to be reshaped in order to fit-in and be accepted. It happens quite often in those years of “figuring out life”.

The adolescent years need mentors and advisors who model integrity, strong values, and trustworthiness. Middle schoolers, especially, need non-judgmental adults who help them in the defining of who they are. Young people need those encouragers who will keep saying to them that who others want them to be is not nearly as important as being who they really are.

That doesn’t mean that every six-foot seventh-grader is going to be a point guard or every eighth-grader who isn’t afraid to sing should be the lead vocalist. It’s simply to make the point that kids these days– especially kids whose self-image is shaky– need people to help them believe they can be something different than what others are telling them they need to be.

In evaluating my own life I am so thankful for a couple of friends in my middle school years and, after a move to a new town, a couple of friends in high school who helped me stay grounded and weren’t afraid to say to me, “What are you thinking, Wolfe!!!” when I was heading toward the valley of stupidity. I’m thankful for a great church youth group and awesome adults who lead it. Those ingredients and relationships solidified my discovery of who I was and am. I can only hope that I can now be an encourager, mentor, and coach for a few as they go through these years of their lives.

Touching a Teacher’s Nerve

Posted January 13, 2022 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

I received the COVID vaccination booster shot in about a month ago. About a day after I received the shot, the area around the injection point was sore and tender. You could have walked up to me and punched me in the right arm and I would have been fine, but simply touch that one spot on my left arm and I would have flinched, whined, and grimaced in pain. I guess you could say that I was a bit touchy about it.

The other day I was guest teaching in a class that I’ve subbed for quite a bit. I know the students and they know me. As I say, I know the suspects and the prospects. In the classroom next door to mine their was commotion, laughter, and loud conversation. It was apparent that a number of students were taking the opportunity to disrupt the classroom environment because there was a substitute teacher there. The noise was amplified because of the class I was teaching at the time who are usually on task and…get ready for it…quiet! Some of them were looking with dismay at one another as the next-door volume was resembling of an 80s boombox echoing through the walls of an apartment complex. Like the sore spot from my booster shot, it touched a nerve with me.

The instructor returned from the early morning appointment she had, to teach the rest of the day. She is an awesome teacher who doesn’t put up with such behavior. She filtered out the students who were on task from the ones who were clogging up the class and administered appropriate penalties.

But they had touched a nerve in me! Each class I had the rest of the day I talked about disrespect, taking advantage of the situation, and the need to become more mature. The interesting thing is that the day before I had put my wise saying of the day on the screen that said, “Self-control is the discipline to do what needs to be done now in order to be able to do what I want to do later.”

Perhaps getting my dander up was a ripple effect of the guilt I still carry with me about the problems i caused my substitute teachers back a few decades ago. My diatribe might be a form of penance for causing some serious grey hair production. I can still remember the disrespectful things we did to my high school Spanish teacher. They were an indication of the fallen nature of mankind.

But, on the positive, yesterday each of my classes were well-mannered. They even, I assume, learned some American History!

Pulling In The Same Direction

Posted January 9, 2022 by wordsfromww
Categories: Novels, RED HOT Life Lessons

Tags: , ,

LIFE LESSON:

“A successful team learns how to work together, not against one another.” 

There’s a scene in that great American comedy series, The Three Stooges, where Moe and Curly are digging two foxholes. As Mo throws a shovel full of dirt over his shoulder into Curly’s hole, Curly is throwing another scoop of dirt into Moe’s hole. In the tradition of the comedy of the clueless, it takes a couple of minutes for one of them (Moe) to figure out what is happening. 

For some teams, the difference between success and failure comes down to a tendency to work against one another instead of with one another. A step forward is discounted by an error in judgment. Something negative that happens in the school hallway resurfaces in a reluctance to pass to a teammate in the midst of a game. There becomes a battle seen by those observing the contest between some of the members of a team. They are pulling in different directions. In essence, they’re simply throwing dirt into the other foxhole. 

Successful teams find a rhythm to their work or performance. They have discovered and defined the roles of each teammate: who is the best defender, who is the best rebounder, who handles the basketball, who comes off the bench and picks the team up, who is the team cheerleader, and who is the go-to scorer? Successful teams discover those roles and succeed because of it. 

Years ago I was coaching a girls’ junior varsity team and I noticed that one of the players wasn’t passing the ball to a wide-open teammate. When I shouted to her that the teammate was open, another girl sitting on the bench said, “Coach, she’s not going to pass to her?” I asked why and she replied, “Because she heard that she (the teammate) was talking to her boyfriend in  the hallway today.”

I was dumbfounded! Differences had poured from their personal lives onto the court. 

In today’s culture there are more challenges for a team to experience success than there are ingredients of success. You can see it especially in a player’s drive for statistics. After all, a college coach is going to look at scoring average, rebounds, how well a player shoots three-pointers. The drive for individual recognition is always a tension point with team success. 

Jealousy, self-centeredness, overconfidence, lack of effort, not being coachable, not listening…all of those are challenges to a team’s rhythm and success. 

Successful teams discover a fluidness that leads them smoothly down the stream. They support one another, congratulate each other on achievements, create an environment of equality no matter whether it’s the best player or the last perps on the bench. When one player suffers the team empathizes with him. There is an attitude that says, We’re in this together!

I think of an Olympic rowing team. The importance of the oars hitting the water in a synchronized fashion determines success or disappointment. I think of teams I’ve coached where there’s been “an oar” that sticks out like a sore thumb in its bad timing or minimal effort. One person out-of-synch can detour a team away from victory.

Life Interrupted

Posted January 3, 2022 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

A few days ago the fragile nature of life came close to me. A Mercedes-Benz sedan blew through a stop sign going at least 50 as my CRV was already proceeding through the intersection. Less than two seconds separated me from being able to write these words and breathing my last.

I have replayed those moments quite often in the days since. I can see the bushes on the other side of that intersection and at the entrance to our subdivision. The blur of the speeding car coming from my right, perhaps never even being aware of how close to the edge of life he/she can come.

We sometimes take the rules of life for granted. More than that, we take life for granted…and then something interrupts it. A sickness, a virus, a fire, an accident, a mistake. Any one of them throws our plans into a rolling bundle of chaos.

We have a tendency to treat life like the electricity in our homes, just there…always…not even a part of our thoughts. When I flip the wall switch as I enter a room I just assume that the lights will turn on. Life is like that, taken for granted, assumed. Our calendars are an indication of our presumptions. Not that planning ahead is a bad thing, but rather an instrument that keeps our attention off the slippery existence of life.

Let’s be honest! Many of us were surprised that Betty White passed away, even though she was just a few weeks shy of reaching 100. We just assumed she would always be around, doing Snickers commercials and being the featured entertainment on Saturday Night Live. This life, however, has a punctuation point at the end to indicate its conclusion.

A streaking car, operating outside the traffic laws, makes a person not only think twice about crossing an intersection, but also about his life direction, his purpose, and his relationships. Does what he’s doing in his life make sense or is it nonsense?

Sometimes the careless living of someone else causes a person to do a careful evaluation of where his own life is heading.

That Old Thing Called Loyalty

Posted December 30, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

Besides the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro Baseball League, Ernie Banks played 19 seasons for the Chicago Cubs from 1953-1981. Voted the greatest Cubs player of all-time, Banks said this about loyalty:

Loyalty and friendship, which is to me the same, created all the wealth that I’ve ever thought I’d have.”

Loyalty seems to travel great distances these days to find a place willing for it to reside. I guess it’s always been that way. After all, Adam and Eve had been planted in a great place to live a fruitful and happy existence, but the lure of a piece of forbidden fruit was too much for them to resist.

Remember back to those days when you shopped at the same stores, bought the same brands, and rooted for the same teams in the good seasons and the bad? I guess I’m showing my age when I bring up a past that included those things.

How about this? Remember when a college football team would see that playing in a bowl game at the end of a season was like the hot fudge on top of vanilla ice cream? It made all those sprints, drills, and hours of preparation worth it. Well, that’s now losing its sweetness as well.

Four Ohio State football players are opting out of playing in the Rose Bowl, rather than risking injury and hindering their pro football draft potential. The Rose Bowl! Not the Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl or the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. The Rose Bowl! Speaking of the Potato Bowl, Wyoming’s quarterback who was voted MVP of the game, promptly announced he was entering the Transfer Portal to play somewhere else next year.

Like I said, loyalty is finding that there’s no room in the inn. It’s a trait that is seen by most people as being admirable until it reaches a crossroads where an easy right turn with promised power and/or riches are just up ahead.

And it’s not just with athletes who have been told their value reaches to the moon. Corporations close factories that have been the lifeblood of communities. Spouses walk away from the one they said their vows to because someone else has convinced them it can be better in their arms. Christian folk trade churches like Topps baseball cards. Someone who is thought to be the best friend disappears when the road gets bumpy.

Loyalty is what we hope for in others, but when it comes to its ramifications for us we often use the excuse “That’s different!”

Simply Respect

Posted December 22, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Novels

Tags: , , ,

RED HOT NOVEL SERIES LIFE LESSON: “Respect one another!”

When many of us say the word “respect”, we think of Aretha Franklin’s song titled as such. We can hear her spell the word in a commanding rhythm, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

In my middle school world, it’s a word that is sung in the minds of administrators, teachers, students, custodians, librarians, security officers, and cafeteria workers. In other words, everyone wants to be respected, from the skinniest sixth-grader to the most weathered staff person.

Respect, however, is detoured around as if it’s a bridge that we fear will not support the weight of our vehicle. Others may view the sag in our toughness. Our “coolness” might take a hit. And so we yield to the well-trudged path of disrespect.

How does respect become the way and not the exception? Many years ago I had a professor who told us that there is a battle that goes on when two people meet each other to establish oneupmanship. Each of us wants to unconsciously have a feeling of superiority. An element in respect is the surrendering of that desire to be seen as more important, smarter, more clever, funnier, more athletic, more attractive, more with-it, and more relevant. Instead, I look for the value in the other person, the possibility of a valued relationship, and the sacredness of his being. He/she has been created in the image of God and, therefore, worthy of my respect.

Of course, I can’t really lay all of that on a middle-schooler! He will look at me like I’m an alien being, clueless of what adolescence is all about. What I can do in the classrooms I’m privileged to inhabit is be committed to establishing an environment that values the input and involvement of each student. I can foster a place where we listen to one another, agree to disagree, and agree that it’s okay to agree! I can set up a campsite where everyone has a voice, and there is an equal playing field. What happens in other places is beyond my control, but in the setting that I facilitate I have the right and responsibility to establish certain expectations for the good of everyone.

Truthfully, we live in a time where our culture has come to expect the minimizing of one another, an impatience in listening, and a scowling disrespect. I admire people, especially students, who refuse to cave into the chaos and cruel words, and live with a consistency and commitment to those three words: Respect One Another!

Because of Aretha, we can easily spell it. The challenge is showing it.

Middle School Espresso Break

Posted December 19, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

On a family vacation to Italy a number of years ago, my father-in-law and I took a day to drive over to Assisi, view the cathedrals and walk the streets of the town. On the way back to where we were staying in the Tuscany area we pulled off the highway at a roadside espresso cafe. It had no tables or chairs, just a counter, like in the old western movies. We ordered two cappuccinos, spent about three minutes sipping on the small cups, and climbed back in the car for the rest of journey home.

The Christmas break for schools commenced in our community on Friday at 2:45 p.m. At 3:00, after the hallways and byways had cleared, the teachers pulled into their “roadside espresso cafe”. It’s their respite for traveling the first half of another long and uncertain school year, a welcome distraction from the fact that there are five months still to be slowly walked through.

The teachers need an Italian espresso break. I’ve heard the deep sighs of weariness and experienced the searching for wisdom in handling situations that only a Mission Impossible scriptwriter could dream up.

Alan Wolfelt, who has written extensively about grief and its effects on the grieving, has said that grief needs to be expressed in some way. Different people grieve in different ways, whether that means overeating, acting out, not sleeping, not talking, or compulsively buying unneeded items.

School kids these days have been doing a type of grieving. They’re grieving the loss of normalcy and the dependable. That is, the way school has been is no more. What they had come to expect has been blended together with the unexpected. Masks, hand sanitizer, quarantines, COVID-19 tests, social distancing, new variants and new paranoia…it’s a whole new chapter in the educational handbook.

The first half of the school journey this year has been punctuated by students acting out in unacceptable behavior, as if they ran out of common sense filters. Things have happened that would be great material for Jerry Springer episodes. Teachers at times have been more like ranchers, just trying to keep all the horses in the corral. At other times they’ve been like foster moms and dads, providing comforting words, being a dependable presence, and offering advice.

In the midst of the expectancy of the unexpected happening each school day, they’re trying desperately to teach kids math, science, social studies, language arts, art, and woodworking. It’s a Herculean task, keeping little Johnny engaged in U.S. History, when he just wants to escape to the fantasy of his iPhone video game. Or teaching Brenda about the laws of gravity when she is grieving the loss of her grandparent.

Yes, it’s time for an espresso, a pull-over, a respite, a break to rejoice in all the things that have been pushed to the side in the rush to make sure the school to-do list has been achieved.

Take a sip. Reflect. Rest. Play.

Putting Pants On The Same Way

Posted December 15, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Novels

Tags: , ,

RED HOT LIFE LESSON: Focus on the ways we are similar to one another, not how we differ.

I remember a man from a church I pastored years ago talking about his encounter with Jud Heathcoate, the Michigan State basketball coach. The two of them were on the same plane and the man said, “Hey there, Judd!” When I asked him if Jud responded, he said, “Sure! He puts his pants on the same way I do!”

That declaration that brought a chuckle to my inners then resonates even more with me in recent times. It seems to be easy, and even our nature, to focus on the ways we differ, rather than the ways we are similar. I see it every day I’m in the hallways and classrooms of our middle school. Students who might be short, chubby, not very coordinated, intelligent, talented, socially awkward, or anyone of a few hundred other boxes that might be checked on a list of differences, have students and teachers alike focus on their shortcomings and personality warts much more than their common traits and qualities.

In the first book of my Red Hot novel series, Red Hot: New Life in Fleming, I introduce two characters who are visibly different, one with thick eyeglass lenses, short hair, and short stature; and the other with bright red hair that makes him look like his head is on fire. In a small West Virginia town where no one would envision them becoming friends, they learn the value of having someone who notices how they are more alike than different.

There will always be those who feel the need to tell someone how weird, stupid, or unimportant he is. In middle schools it doesn’t take you long to figure out who the outcasts are, the kids who stay close to the walls as they down the hallway, trying to go unnoticed. Or the student who, when the teacher invites the class to work with one or two other students on the assignment, is the one who is never invited to join.

As I view the assortment of students conversing, socializing, or avoiding eye contact, I’m always impressed with the ones who seek out the marginalized and treat with respect, the ones who push the unusualness of a fellow student to the side and sees how clearly they are alike.

It’s like putting on pants. Everyone who wears pants puts them on the same way. The pants may have different designs on them, be bell bottoms, skinny jeans, or have a different designer label but…they’re all pants!

Focus on the ways we’re similar instead of trying to divide us because of our differences.