Rationalizing Pain

Posted June 9, 2021 by wordsfromww
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WORDS FROM W.W.                                           June 8, 2021


Phillip Yancey wrote these words: “Pain is a foolproof producer of guilt.”

Pain is something we all experience and very few of us understand. It is the path of life we try to detour around and yet is the trail that requires us to walk from time to time.

I can still remember a book written by Ben Carson that talked about the importance of pain. Sometimes pain is a warning that alerts us to a situation that is happening, such as a finger touching a hot burner. If I had no sense of pain the damage could be much more severe. 

But some folk have a bad habit of spouting bad theology to explain the presence of pain. Often their God formulas are intended to bring understanding to the hurt, grief, or wound that a person is experiencing. For example, one person held the hands of a grieving parent who had lost her young child and said, “God just needed another angel in heaven!” 

First of all, it’s bad angelology. Regardless of what Hollywood has made us believe, we don’t become angels. More importantly, the loss of a child is one of the most excruciating pains to happen to a parent. I’m sure the grieving parent’s thought was to let it be someone else’s child get their wings.

We’re uncomfortable with silence in the midst of a person’s pain so we fill the void with nonsensical phrases that are about as helpful in understanding life as an episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. We simply don’t know what to do or say with the occurrence of pain.

Songwriter and musician Charlie Peacock wrote a song a number of years ago entitled “This Is a Time For Tears”. It’s a powerful song that makes the point that one some life situations words are meaningless. I know, I know…that sounds like something Solomon would have written in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. Maybe Solomon’s grim perspective on the meaningless of life had been penned after he had been subjected to a few pet God formulas pertaining to loss. There’s a line in Charlie Peacock’s song that says, “Don’t speak, say no words! There is nothing that you can say that can take this pain away.”

In my years as a pastor I was called upon to walk the trail of pain with the grieving a number of times. I’m so glad I had attended several seminars and workshops presented by Alan Wolfelt that focused on various aspects of grief and loss. Wolfelt operates the Center for Loss and Life Transition outside of Fort Collins, Colorado. He has journeyed with the grieving for decades and never tries to simplify the experience by suggesting someone do these four easy steps or say these five things. 

His insights helped me sit with a young couple whose unborn child had died in the womb. It was devastating for them. Thirty years later I still have vivid and heart wrenching memories of sitting in that dimly lit hospital room offering nothing more than my presence and prayer. That’s all they wanted from me. Anything more would have been a distraction from their need to grieve. It was important for them to experience the fullness of pain. They needed to wrestle with the questions of why their unborn had been taken and the self-doubts that had been echoing through their minds about what they might have done that had contributed to the death? Had they not prayed enough? Was there something one of them had done wrong that had caused God to take their child? As Yancey had written, “Pain is a foolproof producer of guilt.”

Whereas, sometimes pain is that warning about something greater, like our immune system trying to fight off an illness, there are plenty of other times when pain, simply put, just is.

When What You Believe Isn’t What Others Believe

Posted June 5, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

I remember once in my college days at a large state university being offered a reefer. I had never been offered marijuana before, never even seen it, but I knew it was against the law (1973) to smoke it, so I responded with the first thing that came into my head. “No, thanks! I’m Baptist!”

Kinda lame. Kinda stupid. It did, however, come off as funny to the two guys down my dorm hallway who proceeded to inhale deeply. I encountered several situations like that where what I believed– my convictions– were not on the same page as most of those around me.

Being a follower of Jesus came with certain beliefs and leadings. Some of those beliefs were deeply rooted in the culture of my church, such as abstaining from the consumption of alcohol except for medicinal purposes. Other leadings were the result of how I sensed God was speaking to me. It might even be described as the rumblings of the Holy Spirit within me.

I can not argue that some of my decisions back in those growing up days were simply the result of wanting to be a good little Baptist boy. I no longer believe that a drop of alcohol on my lips is a sign that I’m descending the staircase into eternal darkness, although I’d still rather have an A&W Root Beer than I would a beer on tap. I do, however, see the chaos that the overconsumption of alcohol can create.

The quandary that many Jesus-followers face in these days of cultural turmoil is what to do when belief goes against what our culture now holds as the standard? You see, it’s often easier to go with the flow instead of being a Christ-follower. Like Peter, who denied knowing Jesus in those moments when he yielded to the popular view of the moment, a follower of Jesus encounters those occasions where his beliefs rub up like sandpaper with what he’s expected to believe or do.

As corporations and organizations take on certain positions that are uncomfortable to a person of faith the reaction can be adamant protest, surrender to the popular position, or somewhere in the middle. “The Middle”, in many situations, is the place where a person’s faith can be communicated while promoting opportunities for dialogue. It’s the conversational table where, as a Christ-follower, I can say “I hear what is being conveyed as the position, but my belief system is anchored to a different source of truth. In fact, there’s a scripture verse that says He is the Truth. I know that isn’t the accepted view of many, but it’s at my core. If you try to cut out what is at my core you leave me hollow and double-minded.”

Does the Holy Spirit lead someone else to a different position than me? Sometimes, yes. Do I understand why? Not very often. Am I open to my mind being changed? Yes and maybe. For instance, even though cannabis is now legal in Colorado does not mean that I believe in its recreational use. On the other hand, it does have medicinal qualities that can not be overlooked. Am I compromising my beliefs in seeing its value in that way? No, but if those two guys from years ago offered me a reefer again today I’d still say no. I just wouldn’t add the tagline, “I’m a Baptist.”

Remembering Doc Ryder

Posted June 4, 2021 by wordsfromww
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A month ago today one of my former college professors, Dr. Stuart Ryder, passed away at the ripe old age of 90. No matter the age, there is something about my former college and seminary professors that makes me think they will always be there, always instructing and mentoring.

Doc Ryder has been at my alma mater, Judson College (now Judson University), for half a century. He predated most of the buildings on campus. I never heard how he made his way from the state of New York to the minuscule college campus in Elgin, Illinois. In the summertime he’d make his way back to a cottage he had there. I remember him telling us about his neighbor, New York Knicks Hall of Famer Willis Reed. It seems, however, true to Doc’s nature, he always referred to Willis as Will. It was an indication of the fact that Doc Ryder was not so much impressed with a person’s celebrity status as he was cognizant of their humanness.

I only had Dr. Ryder for one class, an English Composition class of some kind that now escapes me. Honestly, even though I’m now an author and just completed a year of teaching seventh grade language arts, I can not remember anything from that class except that it met in the basement of the library. That is not to be a reflection on Doc’s teaching ability but rather my lack of interest in my higher education pursuits at that time in my life.

My closeness to Doc Ryder was in the area of athletics. He had become the athletic trainer for our cross country team. It was a way he could help and engage in a non-academic way with some of the students. Judson didn’t have the funds for an athletic trainer. Our cross country team didn’t even have the funds to stay in a hotel overnight if our Saturday morning race was a few hours away. We’d camp and slide into sleeping bags for a few hours before our four or five mile race the next day. Doc would be right there with us, filling the air around the campfire with his pun humor that caused a few groans. Tim Etternick, our team manager, was Doc’s “pun partner”, taking his cleverness into creating a pun that would be even more brutal than Doc Ryder’s.

Those campfire moments brought our team to appreciate and love our English professor in different ways than we did in classroom situations. One summer we took a team retreat to Baraboo, Wisconsin. We stayed in a camper at a campground and laughed and laughed and laughed. After all, you can only run for so long. What do you do the other 12 to 14 hours a day that you’re awake? You tell stories, and jokes, and listen to the ripple effect of puns coming from them.

Doc would follow up one of his humorous sayings with his unique laughter, a distinctive inhaling through his mouth that included a kinda gurgling sound. He would stand there with arms crossed and enjoy the lightness of the moment. He was a great man, highly intelligent, but able to relate in ordinary ways. Sometimes you are impacted by someone who doesn’t make a big smash on your life, but rather changes you as a result of a multitude of little ripples.

Rediscovering Adult Conversation

Posted June 3, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

I’m six days into my post-seventh grade existence. A hundred and eighty-two days of hanging out with twelve and thirteen-year-olds have reworked my mannerisms and speech like a Texas move-in developing a twang. My language had begun to be peppered with tints of adolescence. Some words whose meaning I was clueless about had begun to filter into my bantering back and forth with students. As natural as saying “macaroni and cheese”, I had become almost fluent in the language of meaningless youth chatter.

And now I had emerged from the forest back into the groomed garden of adulthood. I’m wondering if there should have been a quarantined period in between the two groupings to make sure I was not infected with the inability to spell correctly. It’s as widespread as the flu amongst seventh graders. (I should have spelled it “flew” or “phlu”!) Adults actually spell out the whole word, not abbreviate it with the new language of middle schoolers called texting. “BRB”, “OMG”, “CUL” (See you later!), and “LOL”…I needed an app on my phone that could have translated for me.

So now I’m back with people who talk in meaningless mature conversations and discuss world politics in lengthy diatribes that make me want to hurl (Oops! Another seventh-grade term right there!). Whereas teaching seventh-graders is like being in a bubble, unaware of catastrophes and disagreements, adulthood is populated with people trying to be impressive.

My diet needs to make the transition back to food that is not saturated with sugar. I often wondered how many grams were in the typical seventh-grader’s daily intake. I mean, donuts and/or Sugar Pops for breakfast, candy bars for lunch in between servings of nachos and a pizza slice and rinsed down with a can of Mountain Dew. It’s no wonder that the munchkins were looking comatose by the time the last class of the day arrived as the sugar effect disappeared. So now I’m trying to make that adjustment in diet back to tasteless cereal and tossed salads. And, like most adults, I find myself sneaking in a candy bar or bag of chips here and there…quietly!

I never did master the ability to talk fluently about video games with my students. The only game on my iPhone is Words With Friends, something that is non-existent and unknown to them. Playing the online version of Scrabble would have been like spending a Friday night sitting at the kitchen table with their parents. For my students, they had become proficient in reaching Level 28 in some game, proud of beating their classmates in another game that they were able to play on their smartphones together, and experts in discovering hidden treasures and special powers to defeat their opponents, real and imagined. Education, slow to come to the realization, did create certain classroom games/contests to help make learning relevant for them…apps like Kahoot, Quizlet, Padlet, and FlipGrid. It will be interesting to discover how many students can identify hyperbole as a result of a classroom Kahoot competition compared to my talking about and writing it on the chalkboard.

Truth be told, I am more entertained and interested by middle schooler conversations than adult chaotic chatter, but when you’re with grownups whose physical and mental flexibility has done a U-turn toward non-existent you tend to stay away from doing handstands and cartwheels (One of my students finally convinced me to do a cartwheel one day. It’s probably now on YouTube under adult bloopers.)

Adults are both more responsible and more depressing. They are confusing and conversational, rational and repulsive. Seventh-graders can talk about passing gas and nose-picking as if it’s a part of any kid’s normal daily life. Adults pretend the smell from their backside doesn’t exist.

It’s going to take a while, but I’ll get comfortable with maturity again. Of course, I may become a lot less interesting when that happens. OMG!

Rearview Life Laughter

Posted May 31, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

I was talking to my long-time friend, and Best Man, Dave “Hugo” Hughes last night. We’re now separated by five states, but still good friends. We took a European river cruise together two years ago. Our wives came, too!

In the midst of our conversation, he made a statement that stuck in my head like a slow-melting chocolate Whopper. He said, “You know, life is a lot funnier in the rearview mirror.” It was a comment stated by a father who lost his oldest son four years ago this week, and a guy who, along with his wife, battled COVID-19, and a friend who has dealt with the drama, death, and dilemmas over the years.

Other situations have happened over the years that caused momentary stress, but looking back at it now cause a reaction of belly-chuckling. Like the time Dave and I were returning to Ohio from a visit with our high school friend, Mike Fairchild, who had moved to Rochester, New York for his first job. We had taken my parents’ Chrysler, gotten a mustard stain on the front seat that my mom would remind me of for the next 30 years, but also encountered the problem of the vehicles cruise control sticking. I’m riding the break and we’re still going 85! We were coming up on a rest area and Dave told me to throw it into neutral and head into the rest area. I did…but didn’t! Instead of neutral I threw the car into reverse. Not a good thing when you’re going 85, but my friend’s quick thinking saved us. He reached over, moved the gear shift into neutral, and we coasted into the rest area, two twenty-year-olds sweating profusely.

And now we laugh at that memory. We laugh at my cluelessness, our sudden brush with death, and my mom’s focus on a mustard stain and disregard of the mechanical disaster we faced.

So much of life is funny…after the fact! Like the time in college when I was trying to flatter a young lady toward as our first date was coming to an end. I made a statement that was meant to communicate how nicely proportioned her body was (Never a good thing to do!) and she came away with the idea that I was saying she was fat in certain areas and lean in others.

There was not a second date!

I chuckle as I remember that evening conversation, but still mutter to myself “What an idiotic thing to say!”

Maybe my tendency to chuckle about the past has resulted in more of a lighter view of the present. Some people get stressed out by there still being milk after its expiration date, or a coffee spot on their pants. There are a handful of life situations to take seriously, like a diagnosis of cancer, the death or serious illness of a child, someone’s spiritual condition, and broken relationships. But a boatload of life should be viewed with the perspective of how we will see it a few years down the road in the rearview mirror.

I conducted a basketball camp last week for middle schoolers. One of the things we taught and worked on was left-handed layups. I found myself saying several times to a few kids reluctant to use their left hands, “What’s the worst that can happen? You miss it? Is that the worst?” My elderly rationale broke through the anxiety for many of them and they tried their left hand. I applauded their step into the scariness of the undiscovered. Maybe twenty years from now they will look back at the basketball coach who encouraged them to discover that their left hand wasn’t useless.

Teaching language arts to seventh graders this past year has amplified the volume of my humor. Most of them enjoyed my unpredictability, whether it was donning a blond wig, greasing my hair back as we read the book The Outsiders, or bringing in a multitude of stuffed animal “replacement students.” One class of over-achievers, in my opinion, had become too concerned about their grades. One day I had a talk with them about doing their best but also enjoying the journey. I said this to them: “Life is more than a letter grade on an academic record. It’s about people, friendships, family, and things that last forever. It’s about the joy of laughter and the memories that stay with us.”

And then I gave each of them a roll of Smarties. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll remember that sweet conversation on down the road when they look in the rearview mirror.

Recognizing Vaccinated People

Posted May 29, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

I received a few strange stares from people as I walked into King Soopers Supermarket a few days ago. I was wearing a mask. It was something I had been doing for the past year, even to the point of moving my eyeglasses to the top of my head because they had steamed up. Hiding half your face with a mask while sporting glasses perched on the top of your head is a bit unusual.

There were other people in the store who weren’t wearing masks and they seemed undisturbed by their radicalism. It wasn’t until I exited the store that I noticed the sign that said “Masks are optional for vaccinated people.”

Optional…huh! Those strange looks were actually coming from people who were probably thinking I was a non-conformist. The suspicious stares were because they thought I was the one who was going against all those public service announcements. Actually, my second vaccination was in early March. I just hadn’t gotten the memo about optional masks.

But isn’t it a bit presumptuous to assume someone has been vaccinated just because they are mask-less? Or, on the other side of the mask, assuming quite a bit that someone hasn’t been vaccinated just because they ARE wearing a mask?

Knowing how many self-absorbed, entitled, self-centered people there are these days, I can’t assume too much. Also, there is plenty of nosey folks who think they have a right to question someone’s status or intelligence. In Walmart the other day one of my wife’s cousins was wearing a mask. A stranger walked up to him and said, Why are you wearing a mask? Aren’t you going to get vaccinated?” There was a hint of judgmentalism in his voice. Carol’s cousin replied that he had been vaccinated.

“Well, why are you still wearing a mask then?” came the crotchety response.

“Because…I want to!”

We have entered a new phase of confusion. We aren’t sure of anyone’s status. Thus, we make judgments on appearances.

“He’s not wearing a mask, but he just doesn’t look like someone who would get vaccinated.”

“She’s wearing a mask. Probably has tested positive! Better stay away from her.”

Hey! I’ve done the same thing with Sunday morning people. If the family at the next table in Cracker Barrel is dressed up I assume they are church people. However, I go to the next step in my analysis. I make a determination on what flavor of church they’ve attended. I’m pretty good, I think, at spotting conservative Baptists and downtown Presbyterians. I even go so far as to make a guess on the type of worship service they’ve been to…traditional, Pentecostal, contemporary, Catholic mass, Christian Science lecture, or Mormon ritual.

True confession! I have even judged a few people on the road to Hell because of their scruffy, non-repentant appearances.

Yes, Jesus had whispered to me about the fact that the log in my eye might distort my vision of the speck on the other guy’s eyeglass lens. I…okay, we…have a tendency to make judgments on the unknown. When I came home from college one Christmas break with long hair parted in the middle, my mom thought I had gone over to the dark side, maybe even been smoking some of that “funny weed”. A haircut two days later at Morris’s Barber Shop instantly moved me back into the land of the Lord’s!

It’s how we are. Crazy, isn’t it, how a mask in a supermarket or a nice dress worn in a restaurant on a Sunday can cause us to make leaping assumptions.

Earning Your Grade, Expecting Grace

Posted May 23, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

My 7th-grade language arts adventure ended on Friday with weeping, rejoicing, clock-watching, and writing in numerous yearbooks of my munchkins. The adventure had begun last August 18 when the principal summoned my assistance for the beginning of the school year and, like a one-month house remodeling project that keeps getting extended into a yet-to-be-determined finish date, it just kept going.

Similar to the week before our last Parent-Teacher Conferences, the last week of the school year was punctuated with comatose students who had suddenly awoken to the reality of their abysmal academic performance. More precisely, their grade! Students who have ‘A’s’ don’t need to be shaken. They’ve been in the driver’s seat all along. But there are others who have been playing video games in the backseat “Fortnite” so long they have to be reminded of which class they are traveling in.

When the fear of the repercussions of receiving a D or an F for the academic quarter suddenly hits them, they pause their game long enough to seek “grade grace”. They’ve redefined grace to be an expectation. They’ve come to believe that the last several weeks of inattention can receive a pardon from the instructor. They believe their performance, which resembles a weed patch, will suddenly be transformed into a rose garden.

Where does such a warped sense of grace come from? Does the fact that I kept warning them of the fact that Wednesday of the last school week would be the deadline for handing in any assignments count for anything? Or was Mr. Wolfe simply a grown-up version of the boy who kept crying “Wolf”?

“But, Mr. Wolfe, it was a difficult year! Hybrid, remote, in-person, quarantines…there was no consistency for the students!”

True! That’s why I, and other teachers, expected less from them. It’s why we may have lowered the bar to an easily achievable height. Sometimes, however, when less is expected “less than the less” is returned, and if a good number of students are able to do what is asked of them, put in the time and effort, is it fair to reward those who have disregarded the expectations? Would that be an example of “scholastic socialism”?

And so the sounds you may have been hearing the last couple of days may lead you to believe they are the sirens of paramedics and fire engines, but in reality, they’re just the echoes of a number of seventh-graders weeping loudly into the wind!

The Last Week of School

Posted May 16, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

The chalkboard in my classroom displays an over-sized “5” on it! It’s an announcement, a hope, an applauding encourager to indicate that the finish line is in sight. Five more days of school, which could be slimmed down to say there are two more days of instruction and three days of throwing water on thoughts of student dumbness sparking.

Like runners facing the last mile of a marathon foot race while being chased by a herd of confused gerbils, teachers head toward the finish. In the coming few days as they say goodbye to kids who they have bonded with in various ways the last nine months, there will be relief, revelation, and regret.

The relief will come in knowing that a school year like no other is concluding. That is, the trail of the past school year has had as many switchbacks as Barr Trail that leads hikers up Pike’s Peak. The direction and directives then back of one week would be switched for the next week and the other direction the next. Virtual learning, hybrid, remote, quarantines, teachers in quarantine and students in person, cohorts, cafeteria divisions…mercy! it resembled a passenger on Frontier Airlines trying to get to Florida by way of Phoenix, Las Vegas, Houston, Charlotte, and Memphis. Most teachers have adjusted well to the numerous changes, but the mental, physical, and emotional fatigue has begun to show itself. Relief is coming in the form of ten weeks of a different schedule that will be distinguished by fishing destinations, relaxed reading while sitting on a porch swing, lawn mowing, and wondering what in the world to do on an event-less June afternoon?

Revelation will take different forms. It will include revelations of understanding what was and who he/she really was, and revelations about what will be. I’ve discovered that as I ponder each of my students. Some of them have become heartbreakers as I’ve become more familiar with their family situations and home chaos. The school struggles of some and the academic apathy of others are simply ripple effects of what and who have shaped their lives. I can use the safety and coursework of a classroom to try to distract them, but the pain of their brokenness is an ongoing weight on their shoulders. The sobering realization that I can’t have an effect on every student grieves me.

But there’s also the revelation that Johnny Junior, who seemed to annoy you on Day 1, is simply proficient at being annoying. It wasn’t a mistake or miscalculation. Your first-day perception was dead-on! He has pushed your buttons so many times it’s permanently pressed in. He’s Dennis the Menace times ten! In regards to him, you started counting down the days last August. You may already be writing sympathy notes to whoever his eighth-grade teachers are going to be.

And then there are those students who are revelations of hope. On the days that have seemed a week-long, they have brought a grin to your groans, and optimism about their potential. They are the kids who say thank you each day when they leave class and appreciate their teachers’ efforts, the ones who seem to already have a grasp on what is important and what is excess.

Finally, there are the regrets. The list is long and, in some ways, guilt-producing. I regret not understanding my students’ culture more, a dinosaur living in the land of Minecraft. The verbiage sometimes was incomprehensible to my AARP brain. It brought back memories, weird as it sounds, of the semester during my seminary years when I took Hebrew…a square student in a round language hole.

I regret not helping struggling students through the times of remote learning. When I say help I mean being able to come alongside them in their emotional and mental distress, their social isolation. Learning how to organize an essay doesn’t seem very important or pertinent to a student who feels she is in the midst of a long, dark tunnel with no sign of light to indicate its end.

I regret having to say goodbye to the students I bantered with daily, the end of handing out awarded or begged-for Smarties, and the laughter of my teaching team. Our team of four celebrated birthdays, gained pounds by eating our science teacher’s quarter-pounder cookies, saw the social studies teacher learn new teaching tricks, and marveled at our math teacher’s increasing collection of moose-related accessories. I’ll miss them as I fade off into the sunset. And I’ll really, really miss the daily strategizing with and instruction of my South African-accented, long-tenured, and multi-talented co-teacher. We played a rendition of “Good Cop-Bad-Cop”, I being the counselor and she the boot camp drill sergeant. I brought laughter to her daily school life and she brought a new education to one who is more knowledgeable about Tinker Toys than teaching apps!

The last regret is that I’ll be done. Sounds weird…counting down the days, but then having regrets about the school year coming to an end. Sounds more mixed up than a seventh-grader trying to figure out the difference between an idiom, a metaphor, and hyperbole.

The Day Your Oldest Grandchild Hits 13!

Posted May 9, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

It’s Mother’s Day! That’s not a revelation to anyone…well, most everyone! I noticed several men rushing into the supermarket this morning at 7:00, passing other rushing males running back out with bouquets of flowers in their hands. The revelation came late for a few, but hopefully before the “shes” woke up!

In our family, however, it’s also the birthday of our oldest grandchild, Jesse Dean Hodges. It is the first day of his emergence into teenager-dom. It culminates “birthday week” for our family: May 5 for me, May 8 for Jesse’s dad, Kevin, and May 9 for “the kid”. Hopefully, Kecia Wolfe Hodges does not feel slighted this year by sharing Mother’s day with a newly-arrived teenager.

Jesse is the reincarnation of his Granddad Wolfe. When I was a 7th grader I stood about 4’6″. I grew to 4’10” by the time I arrived in high school, easily overlooked at Maysville High School and in fear daily of being stuffed into a hallway locker. Likewise, Jesse is not a threat yet to reach something on a top shelf. He’s about 4’8″, a couple of inches ahead of his granddad’s height pace. My growth spurt didn’t come until around my junior year of high school and, suddenly, I was a lanky 5’8″!

Like his granddad, Jesse also has endless energy. Think tree-climbing, fence-bounding squirrel! I met one of his teachers about a week ago in Culver’s (Butterburger, please!). She had been his assessment testing proctor that week and mentioned the chair that Jesse was sitting in that, unfortunately, had wheels on it. In case you don’t understand, a student with limitless energy sitting in a chair with wheels is a bad idea for a testing environment.

At church camp, Jesse is known for his sudden bursts of uninhibited dancing that causes my body to ache just watching. His creativity is a reflection of his mom who used to videotape herself doing made-up monologues dressed as an old lady or an extremely pregnant twenty-something. Jesse’s creativity comes out in sudden brain bursts filled with movement and expression.

Like me now, but unlike me when I was his age, he is an avid reader, consuming books like candy. His reading level is far above most of his classmates. That can be attributed to his mom who is an elementary teacher, who has always stressed reading with her kids.

Like me, Jesse has always been involved in a church fellowship. He’s a follower of Jesus and in the midst of figuring out what that means and how it looks for a middle school kid in a world where there is limited absolute truth. The challenges ahead will be many, but he’s planted into a well-grounded family that has a good balance of guidance, loving concern, and discipline.

This summer I’ll be his camp pastor, something that causes my eyebrows to raise more than it concerns him. Can I let him be himself, not just my grandson? Can I let him be “me” five decades ago? Can I let him breakdance in the midst of singing praise music? Can I let him pass gas and not scold? I think I can, and if I become too much like a stern granddad he can straighten me out.

Happy birthday, Jesse Dean! I hope your entry into the world of teenagers is awesome. I have to admit, however, that the idea of you driving three years from now causes me to quiver!

Middle School Track Meet

Posted May 2, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

This past Thursday we had our first middle school track meet since two years ago. In other words, none of our runners, jumpers, and throwers had experienced a meet before. They were all rookies as they surveyed the competition who were in the same boat.

The nerves were quivering at hyper-speed. The hurdles took on the size of eight-foot electric fences. The discus seemed to weigh a ton. Long-jumpers felt like they had lead in their feet.

“Hey! Let’s go out there and have fun! Don’t worry! Just go and do your best and then we’ll have something to go on as we establish goals for our next meet.”

“Coach Wolfe, I’ve never thrown the shot put!” whimpered one girl.

“Neither have I!”, I replied. Her eyes got big. Was I being empathetic or sarcastic? “What’s the worst that could happen?”

“I could lose!”

“No. The worst that could happen is that you never try. Just don’t drop the weight on your foot, remember which direction you’re supposed to throw it, and you’ll do fine.” She nodded her head in partial agreement still halfway in doubt.

“Hey! My college track team had 7 guys on it. We competed in all kinds of crazy events that were outside our comfort zone. I threw the javelin, high-jumped, long-jumped, triple-jumped, ran the mile, the hundred, and a leg of the two-mile relay. It was fun and I’m still alive to talk about it.”

“Will people be watching me when I run?” asked another young lady, hoping that all spectators would suddenly turn their backs and not view her attempt at running half a lap.

“Should I have our announcer ask people to not watch the girl in lane 4?”

“Can you do that?”


Smiles emerged from the others in the group. They knew such a request was asinine, the result of an eighth-grade girl’s confused wanting to be seen mixed together with her dread of being watched.

And they did fine! There was the one young lady who hit herself in the mouth with the baton as she ran, but other than that everyone was smiling when the meet finished a couple of hours later. Many of them surprised themselves with their times, jumps, and throws. They didn’t think they were capable, but they found out that their ability was greater than their apprehension.

The next day, one girl who had won every event she competed in wanted to know how many points she had scored for her team. She wasn’t trying to brag. It was actually a revelation to her to realize that there was something that defined her, something that she’s good at. Her older siblings each have their areas where they excel. She had been the uncertain and undefined youngest sibling, a bit discouraged at not standing out in any way. Now her new discovery had traced a smile on her face.

Friday was a day of giggles and the absence of anxiety. They had made it through and not felt out-of-place. They are happy and anxious for next Thursday’s meet. The one girl who was hoping no one would be watching is even okay with momentary glances as long as nobody stares!