Archive for July 2017

Richie Bibelheimer…38 Years Later!

July 30, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                July 30, 2017

                               

A couple of weeks ago I was at church camp as…well, I’m not sure what my title position was! I think I was the “Whatever Person.” When someone said “whatever” it was my responsibility, unless it was a high school girl being flippant and obnoxious when she said the word!

So…as the Whatever Supervisor I was able to float from session to session. At our camp week we have elementary, middle school, and high school camps going on at the same time, so I roamed around making sure things were going okay.

The surprise of the week was reconnecting with an old seminary classmate of mine named Richie Bibelheimer. When I heard that name as the pastor for the middle school camp I knew it was my old seminary classmate. I mean…how many Richie Bibelheimer’s can there be, right? It took me a year of seminary just to learn how to pronounce it, and now 38 years later our paths were crossing again!

Here’s the thing about seeing someone 38 years after the last time you saw him! Your picture of him is still the one from 1979! You still remember him from the era of leisure suits, thinner waistlines, and Chuck Taylor high-tops.

He walked right past me at dinner Sunday night in the camp dining hall. After he passed he called my name clothed in question form. “Bill? Bill Wolfe?” I turned and looked at the white-haired senior citizen who had just passed me by. “Richie, is that you?”

“Yes!”

“Good Lord! Richie Bibelheimer!” There’s one thing about seeing someone almost four decades removed! You don’t want to come right out and say it, but you’re thinking it! “Man, do you look old!”

And the thing is, he’s thinking the same thing about you! The last time you saw each other you were in your mid-twenties. You could still jump and run like a gazelle, you had all your hair, and you didn’t have to travel with a pharmacy everywhere. Now your knees hurt, your face sports a couple of age spots, and the only thing progressive about you are the lens in your glasses.

Time keeps going even when we slowly journey through each day, and all of a sudden you meet an old friend and you realize just how far you’ve journeyed since your last conversation.

The other side of that is our reluctance to think that people change, that they will always be who they were back in the day…some obnoxious, some attractive, some hard to figure out, and some who seem to have it all together. People change, however, despite our tendency to firmly implant them in a distant past understanding. The physical changes are easy to see, despite the attempts to hide them or pretend they don’t exist. It’s the inner changes, the emotional upheaval, and the chaos of life that get blanketed from our view. The double chin is easier to see than the broken marriage. The wrinkled face is much more evident than the loss of a child a decade earlier.

Richie and I looked at one another, came to grips with the march of Father Time upon our lives, and enjoyed the blessing of renewed friendship…38 years later as a Whatever Supervisor and a Middle School Camp Pastor.

38 Years!

July 28, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             July 28, 2017

                                         

38 is a weird number…illegal for any basketball jersey except the NBA! Rarely…okay, never requested by one of my middle school football players! I went and asked Google who was the best NFL player to wear the number 38 and got George Rogers of the New Orleans Saints. A good player, but not exactly someone who easily comes to mind! #39 is Larry Csonka, that one I could remember!

But today is a special 38. It’s our 38th wedding anniversary. On July 28, 1979 Carol Falettu and I joined hands at the front of the sanctuary of Community Presbyterian Church in Clarendon Hills, Illinois. Much of the day was a blur for me. I knew what I was doing…and yet, I didn’t know what I was doing! You know what I mean? Kind of like when a young boy goes in for his first kiss. He knows what he’s doing, and yet he doesn’t…and back in my day there were no YouTube videos for instruction!

I met her at the front of the sanctuary. My seminary roommate and friend, Randy Saunders, performed the ceremony. Two weeks later I officiated at his wedding. Unfortunately, a few years later he and Marlene split up.

My six groomsmen lined up to my left as I looked down the aisle. David “Hugo” Hughes stood beside me as my best man. A year later I’d preside over his wedding ceremony. A couple hundred people were there…I think! Doug Loomer sang and played his guitar, like we were two flower children merging together. I remember Don Francisco’s “The Wedding Song”, a Summer of ’79 wedding favorite!

Carol was radiant as her dad escorted her down the aisle. I could tell she was nervous and excited, and maybe wondering what in the world she was doing marrying a Baptist minister who was going to move her to Michigan? Just three years before she had been teaching pre-school deaf children in a Victoria, Texas school. She couldn’t have envisioned this day three years later when Rev. William D. Wolfe would promise her the moon…or, at least, his devotion!

I brought…not much into the marriage. A ’66’ Chrysler Newport given to me by my parents, a bunch of seminary books, leisure suits, and a toaster. When I had graduated from Northern Baptist Seminary about seven weeks earlier I didn’t even have to rent a U-Haul to transport my belongings to my first full-time ministry position in Davison, Michigan. Carol was the one with the wealth! She even had a couch, a twin-size mattress, and a twelve inch black-and-white TV! She was loaded! Her Mustang Fastback was hot, just like she was! In essence, we were a two-car family. We didn’t have two of anything else except toothbrushes and forks, but we had two vehicles!

On that wedding day we looked into each other’s eyes, glistened over with moistness, and vowed words to each other that dealt with devotion, perseverance, wanting the best for one another, and journeying hand in hand for the rest of our life together. We were naive’ and completely in love, but not completely naive’! I was marrying the third daughter of an Italian-American father and North Dakotan Mom. In my family “whine” was prominent at the dinner table growing up as we surveyed the dinner of neck bones, green beans, and boiled potatoes. In Carol’s family “wine” was prominent at dinner, and I don’t think she ever had to look at a pot of neck bones!

An unusual union, the two of us, but it’s worked in the midst of church drama and church celebrations, being surrounded by saintly people and people who ain’t! One of those saints, Rex Davis, loved a certain restaurant in Colorado Springs. When he passed away last fall at 95 and I was asked to do the funeral service, his family gave me a gift card to that favorite restaurant. We’ll celebrate our anniversary there tonight, thinking of him and all the other people who have graced our lives in this journey that has more often than not resembled Lake Wobegon comedy instead of Chicago drama!

Three kids, all grown and pursuing their purposes in life…three grandkids, who seem to have more energy than Colorado Springs Utilities…and an abundance, a multitude of friends who we cherish and love!  Marriage is not just two people. It is two people taking the lead in a caravan of hundreds who have journeyed with them.

Both Carol and I would undoubtedly say we have been, and are, blessed! We have now been married sixty per cent of our lives to one another! There will be no “whine”, or neck bones, at our table tonight, but perhaps a bit of “wine!”

Up Yours: Colonoscopy Highlights

July 27, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                July 27, 2017

                 

I had procrastinated more than a frantic income tax filer looking at his empty forms on April 15. There’s just something about having someone stick something up your butt that is a little uncomfortable to my personal space! And so instead of waiting ten years since my last venture into Wonderland it had been almost twelve years since I shook hands with my gastroenterologist! As he extended his hand to me I hesitated for a moment. I had memories of a story my dad has told me several times of an equine veterinarian back in Kentucky who always walked around with a cigar in his mouth. Some men had called him about a horse that was having problems. The horse doctor knew right away that the animal was just plugged up…in other words, constipated… and he reached his hand “up there”, helped the horse get cleared out, and then, with the same hand, took his cigar out of his mouth to say a few things before sticking it back in his mouth. The men who needed his assistance promptly went around to the side of the barn and threw up.

And so with that memorable story in my mind I hesitated for a moment before shaking hands. His right hand looked clean so I shook it!

When we leave on vacation we prep for it by packing our suitcase. For a colonoscopy I had to “unpack.” 128 ounces of Powerade with a bottle of powdered laxative called Miralax. Their parade down to my inners was preceded by taking four pills that must have been like “scouts” going ahead of the fluid army to scope out the territory.

Being a smart and wise person I had bought a pack of ultra gentle toilet paper earlier that day!

Before the scout pills and the fluid army began their assault, I had spent the previous day abstaining from pretty much anything that I would classify as normal food. Carol fixed a bowl of lime jello, which I stared at as it sat in the refrigerator. It is still sitting there in the refrigerator, firmly anchored away from my interest. I had a cup of chicken broth and pretended I was sipping won ton soup…minus the won ton! Always being a cream and sugar coffee person I drank two cups of coffee that morning…black! Just about everything in our refrigerator and freezer had received amnesty from being consumed by me! I could hear the package of Nathan’s hot dogs mocking me: “You’re no Joey Chestnut, that’s for sure!”

And then the first wave of the Powerade force marched through me with a vengeance. I played Word With Friends as I awaited the next assault.

A 4 A.M. initiative was planned for the second wave of Powerade infusion! The last remnants of whatever the assault fluid ounces were meant to clear out finally gave up the ghost. By 7:30 A.M. I was thanking God for the invention of ultra gentle TP! Feeling light on my feet we walked out to the car to make the journey.

As we entered the office of the gastroenterologist I noticed that they had a little merchandise section…kind of like Cracker Barrel, but without the smell of bacon in the air…with various memorabilia to buy to help you remember the experience. A tee shirt with the words “Up Yours!” was prominently displayed. A beer mug with “Bottom’s Up!” didn’t seem to be a threat to disappear from the shelf. I like jigsaw puzzles, but the one of the GI tract did not peak my interest! Neither was the for sale DVD on “The Inner Workings of a Colonoscopy!”

You can only window shop for so long in a place such as that, and when I was called to come on back to one of the waiting rooms I breathed a sigh of relief. And then they gave me presents! A sweet little pair of shorts with an opening in the back. For some odd reason it made me think of that classic movie, Rear Window! They also gave me a nice pair of “no slip” socks that I decided I didn’t need. But, hey! Our wedding anniversary was just two days away so I had Carol’s present taken care of! Awesome!

And then they rolled me back, gave me an awesome anesthetic that put me out in fifteen seconds. Before I knew it I was back in my waiting room and it “was all behind me!” I had made it!

But (one “t”) now for the most important and the only serious part of the adventure! The doctor discovered a good size polyp in my colon. Because of that I’ll need to have another colonoscopy in two years, and he said this. “It was pre-cancerous! In another five to six years, if you hadn’t taken car of this, you’d be looking at colon cancer!”

So in July of 2019 I’ll gladly welcome another invasion of “Powerade and friends”, drink black coffee, stare at lime jello, and put another sweet little pair of shorts on…and I’ll consider myself blessed!

Suggested Stop Signs

July 24, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                 July 24, 2017

                                   

I’ve noticed it more and more…like a bad body rash that keeps spreading! It’s called “The Suggested Stop”!

A “suggested stop” happens when a driver approaches a stop sign and slows and goes! There is not a stop in the process, because…it is only a “suggested stop.”

Stop signs have not changed with the times. They are as old-fashioned as they’ve always been. No modernization, or fancy new lettering. Not even a more up-to-date word or saying like “Easy” or “Have a nice day!” Not even an image like a smiley face! Just the same old four lettered word with a flaming red background as always.

STOP!

What has gotten lost in the Master Drive instruction somewhere is that STOP usually has a reason attached to it, like some possible negative repercussions if someone decides not to stop.

I noticed it this past year at a four-way stop close to the middle school a half mile from our house. At 7:15 in the morning it is a busy intersection. The crossing guard, a sweet lady that I’ve known for years, has considered wrapping herself in bubble wrap and developing waistline bumpers as she escorts students across the street with her STOP sign raised high for people to see. And yet she has very few days where she doesn’t have to deal with drivers from the “suggested stop” school of thought!

This morning as I headed towards my first cup of coffee at Starbucks I came to another four-way stop. As I slowed a BMW on the right approached the STOP sign, reduced his speed from 30 to 25, and then turned left in front of me while holding a cigarette out the window and sporting NASCAR sunglasses.

I’ve thought a lot about suggested stoppers and have decided that the whole idea fits with our culture of entitlement. People feel entitled to drive the way they want, to not take road signs literally. Kind of like those stone tablets that Moses carried down! You know the ones I’m talking about…The Ten Suggestions!

We simply live in a world where it is to your advantage…more than that, for your well-being and health…to follow the instructions and obey the signs. We seem to do that only when it’s convenient, like when the gas gauge has a red “E” on it. Very few of us see that and say to ourselves, “Oh, that’s just a suggestion to stop at a gas station and get some fuel!” Those who believe such logic are called “walkers” and “hitchhikers”!

With all the sophisticated new car technology perhaps the auto industry could put in some kind of automatic stopping device that reacts when the vehicle approaches a STOP sign. If a car can now be parked without the driver having his hands on the steering wheel surely an automatic stop technology can be invented for new cars!

Of course, if that happens the 1982 Chevette will blow right past you!

Wedding Guests

July 23, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               July 23, 2017

                                       

A week before her wedding was to take place Sarah Cummins and her fiancee called it off. A blow to the ego and a stab to the heart, but it was over! Wedding guests were contacted to alert them to the news. A host of details were scratched off the list that no longer had to be worried about, and a few were added as happens whenever something gets canceled.

But…Sarah was still on the hook for the wedding reception at an upscale reception location, and she did not want the $30,000 to go to waste, so she did something that drew national attention. She invited the homeless for a dinner party.

The venue booked for a plated dinner for 170 featured bourbon-glazed meatballs, roasted garlic bruschetta, and wedding cake. Several local businesses and residents donated suits, dresses, and other items for the guests to wear.

Sarah greeted and welcomed each of her guests when they arrived, including a dozen veterans.

And they partied!

Cummins made this comment. “For me, it was an opportunity to let these people know they deserved to be at a place like this just as much as everyone else does.”

Matthew 22 has a story about a wedding banquet. Although it has a few twists and turns, and disturbing points that Jesus puts into the parable to make a point, it ultimately gets to the same place that Sarah Cummins came to. As it says, “So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good and the wedding hall was filled with guests.” (Matthew 22:10)

     How do you turn a wedding reception into a non-stuffy party? Invite the people that are usually pushed to the side so that the reception can take place. Invite the people who live outside the margins of the acceptable, the ones who are expected to wait in the shadows and not be seen.

I wish there was a follow-up story on Sarah Cummins…like, maybe a year from now, because I’m curious how this unanticipated act of generosity impacts her life more than her bank account balance? What will be the ripple effect of her valuing of the disadvantaged?

And in one of those parallel ways, isn’t this a picture of the gospel? That those who had been distanced from God by the judgment of the righteous or, if you will, the original invited, are invited to join the party because the love of God is for everyone, not just a few!

In the heartache of a broken engagement I pray that Sarah Cummins will experience and abundance of blessings, that the smiling faces of the simple folk will continue to make her chuckle, and the tears of joy of the down-and-out will drench her sorrows and warm her soul.

Helping Each Other Up The Hill

July 21, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                July 20, 2017

                               

At Quaker Ridge Camp there is a peak high above the camp called Soldier’s Peak. Each year the kids at camp make the climb to the top where they encounter an incredible view of the wooded forest areas around it, and the other mountain peaks in the distance. Down below they can see the grounds of the camp and pick out the building they sleep in at night, the dining hall, the swimming pool, and other spots of activity.

But getting to the top is a struggle for many of them. They aren’t used to the hike, the elevation, and the physical exertion. Some begin the adventure with eager anticipation, but then realize it requires more than a video game controller and gradually lose their desire to reach the summit. Others begin to display the characteristic that usually rises to the surface when they meet a challenge that requires effort. They whine!

And then there are the Daniel Boone’s who blaze the trail, enjoying these moments in life to the fullest, ready to head across the valley to that next peak over that they can see after they reach the top.

And then there are the encouragers who want the whiners and the weak to accomplish what they know they will accomplish. They want all of their camp friends to make it up the hill, no matter how long it takes.

I was listening to our elementary camp pastor, Rev. John Mark Brown (Yes, he’s got half of the gospels in his name!) talk to his camp kids about the journey…kind of a debriefing session! He had been talking to them about what it means to serve in Jesus’ name…what might that look like? It was encouraging to me to hear a number of these young campers talk about helping each other up the mountain. That sometimes it’s not how fast YOU get up the hill that’s most important, but rather what each person does to make sure everyone gets to the top!

There’s a valuable lesson in there for all of us, not just eight, nine, and ten year olds. The church, when it is being the church, is a community of believers helping each other up the hill! And you know something! There are a lot of whiners who journey with us, and there are a few who are weak and aren’t sure they can go much further, and there are the trailblazers who look to run ahead and get to a location that will take the majority of the flock a long time to get to, and there are the encouragers who understand the celebration of having everyone standing on the peak…no matter how long it takes to get there!

It seems to me that the church needs to catch some of that understanding of the journey. It is a snapshot of what being in community with one another is all about!

Where Do Children See Hope?

July 17, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           July 17, 2017

                             

      One eight year old boy sees it at school!

The shoes that he wore to school each day were so worn out that they were held together by duct tape that was wrapped around them. His mom didn’t seem to be that concerned about it. The school social worker called me and told me about the situation, told me his shoe size, and I went to a shoe store and bought him a new pair of shoes. He didn’t know that the shoes had been purchased by our congregation…and that was okay! To this day he believes that the shoes came from the school…and that gave him hope! He saw that his school hoped for his best!

My six year old granddaughter sees hope in her mom!

Each night her mom kneels beside her bed and prays with her. Her mom reads her stories and tells her stories. Her mom tells her that she is very talented and very intelligent and whatever she does when she grows up she knows that she will do it well. Hope echoes from her mom’s words and actions. When our granddaughter hits a wall of uncertainness and apprehension her mom helps her climb over it and step up to a new level of accomplishment that hope has been a foundation for.

Where do our children see hope? Seeing is a bit different than finding. Seeing hope is the introduction for believing hope. They say that seeing is believing, but what are our children seeing?

One friend of mine made the point that our kids see or don’t see hope in us…the grown-up generations. They watch our reactions, they monitor our language, they investigate our consistency. How does my life convey hope to them?

Let’s be honest, our news stories and our Facebook posts quite often communicate cynicism, sarcasm, and negativity. When I watch the national news on TV in the early evening I usually am blasted with 27 minutes of what’s bad in the world, followed by a 3 minute feel good story. I’m thankful for the 3 minutes, but I wish that there were a few more stories of hope that inform my spirit.

How do children see hope in churches? Jesus gets talked about as being the hope of the world, but how do kids see that in the flesh and in action? Last Sunday at the small town small church I speak at most weeks a married couple gave five dollar bills to each of the four kids who were leaving for church camp that afternoon. The kids were told to use it however they wanted, and for whatever they wanted at camp. It was a gesture of their generosity that hoped for a great week for each of the campers. Their church is becoming a place of hope and blessing for them, not a place that mandates and controls.

I have to ask myself that question also: how do children see hope in me? Does my life paint a pitiful picture of what it means to be a follower of Jesus? Have the brush strokes of my days left a canvas of grace, peace, and hope or a rough portrait of bitterness, hatred, and spite?