Archive for February 2018

6:30 A.M. 7th Grade Basketball Practice

February 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 28, 2018

                                     

There usually are loud moans and groans when I make the announcement, but I expect it. The pained expressions on the faces of my 7th Grade basketball team are the result of finding out that most of our practices will be held before school at 6:30 in the morning.

The eyes get big and the mouths drop open. There is a momentary weeping and gnashing of teeth…and then they accept it for what it is.

For the past several years I’ve made that unpopular decision for a few reasons, which none of the players think are good are to begin with. When we practice after school we have to share the gym with the 8th Grade team. Our middle school has two gyms, one a full-size court and the other a small gym that resembles an elementary school facility. When both teams practice at the same time we get 30-45 minutes in the larger gym and 30-45 minutes in the small gym.

6:30 A.M. practice…problem solved! And it helps the 8th Grade team, also!

Some of them come dragging to the front doors of the school looking a bit disheveled. I greet each one of them with words like “Good morning, handsome!” and “Looking good this morning!” Some snap out of their weariness and smile. Others are not yet to the conversational level of their day.

As they’ve gotten used to the the fact that practice is that early most of them have adjusted. There’s more spring in their step and a few more smiles as they head to school long before anyone else does.

The blood gets flowing and by 6:40 they are at full speed and wide awake. Last week I asked them if they would rather practice before school or after school. All but one said before!

Amazing! Thirteen players and five others who are designated the practice squad, and seventeen of the eighteen said 6:30 rules!

A couple of teachers have commented to me that they’ve noticed how my players are wide awake and ready for class on days we practice early. I’m sure that when the season ends in a couple of weeks that they’ll revert back to their usual school wake-up schedule, but for a few weeks they are learning what it means to be early risers.

It’s one way that I make sure they are committed to what we’re about. It’s one way to make sure they know I have higher expectations for them, and it’s one way I emphasize discipline. I wait at the front doors for each of the boys to arrive, but at 6:30 I head to the gym. You arrive late…too bad!

Tomorrow we have a game. It’s tie day. I’ve told each one of them to dress up for school tomorrow…shirt and tie. I’ll wear one for the game, also! When I told them that the teachers would be impressed they just stared at me, but when I said the young ladies would suddenly see how handsome they were…they grinned!

Seeing The Cousins

February 26, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          February 26, 2018

                                     

Cousins are cool!

I grew up living two to three hours away from most of my cousins. Most of them lived in the Paintsville area of eastern Kentucky. My grandparents on my mom’s side had a farm a few miles outside of town. It was on that farm that cousins got together to run around the yard, explore what was on the other side of the creek, and jump from the barn loft onto bales of hay.

We chased the barn cats, made noises at the hogs, and swung in the front porch swings as if they were their own playground.

John Jerry Whitt taught me how to play chess. About five years after he taught me the game I was runner-up in our high school’s tournament as a freshman.

Matthew Helton and his sister Kelly Michelle were three or four years younger, but fun to play with. I remember that they had cool toys, toys that I longed for but never received!

Judith Annette Helton was the feisty one. She was just as willing to kick you in the shins as to look at you. I was scared of her, but I was faster than she was. I idolized her brother, Danny Michael, because he played high school basketball. I never actually saw him play, so I’m not sure if he could walk and chew gum at the same time…but he played high school basketball.

There were Uncle Doc’s kids who all lived in California. They got back to Kentucky once every five years or so. I thought they were celebrities, being from California and all! Johnny Carroll, Barbara Gale, Suzanne, and Scott, they were the ones people craved to see. My first love crush was a cousin crush on Barbara Gale, but it was not meant to be. A cousin with a shaved head and freckles was not who she had in mind to hang around with. Three days later she was back in California anyway.

These were my cousins on the Helton side, and I have great memories of the occasions we were able to be together.

A week ago I saw a few of them again at my dad’s funeral and the visitation time the night before. In the midst of the grieving there was the reconnecting with one another.

Now, years later, we have shed our middle names. I’m no longer Billy Dean, but simply Bill. The others had abbreviated their cousin names and are now John, Judy, Matthew, and Kelly. Part of the maturing process in eastern Kentucky is to no longer be referred to by your first and middle names. Billy Ray Cyrus is the exception!

Seeing the cousins was like being back on the farm, and yet it was also a bit sad. I wished we could be together more, play John in another game of chess, get into a conversation with Matthew about American History (he being a high school teacher in that area), have Annette try to pinch me again, and be delighted by the warm personality and conversation with Kelly.

We’ve moved to different parts of the country, but the mental video of swinging in those front porch swings is still vivid in my mind.

Dad’s Bible

February 25, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         February 25, 2018

                                               

I brought Dad’s Bible home with me this past week. Laurence Wolfe passed away on the fifteenth of February four months shy of his 90th birthday. His Bible has been speaking and reaffirming to me who Dad was and is.

A Bible often does that…communicates who the owner is! It shows his search for truth and the value he placed on wisdom and revelation. Sometimes it also reveals the lifeline that the person held on to in facing difficulties and weaknesses.

My dad’s book of scriptures has verses underlined on most of the pages. Not a single verse in the Book of Psalms is underlined, but Proverbs is well-used. “Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.” (Proverbs 3:13)

“He who despises his neighbor sins, but blessed is he who is kind to the needy.” (Proverbs 14:21)

“Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil.” (Proverbs 16:6)

Wise counsel would be a term people would associate with Dad. I remember the number of phone calls he would receive at home after he retired from the Social Security Administration. People would call him for advice and guidance on how to approach a situation with his former employer. He would listen and offer…wise counsel. I’ve got a feeling that Proverbs was a book he read often to help ground him in the area of wisdom. The Book of James echoes that belief. Underlined in the first chapter are these words: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt…” (James 1:5-6)

And then a bit later. “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” (James 3:13)

Paul’s letter to the Romans seems to have been a favorite book, as well as the Gospel of John. In the midst of the gospel one verse gets emphasized. “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” (John 14:24)

Dad’s Bible tells me other things about him as well. Any verse that is emphasized is underlined with great care to make sure the line is straight. It reminds me of a father who was always organized. A task worth doing- even underlining a scripture verse- was worth doing well!

And then there is the prayer list! It was tucked between pages in the midst of Nehemiah. The list held the names of friends, family, his pastor, his church, and his country. Some of the names were of people who had been struggling with health difficulties, and others who were struggling with spiritual difficulties.

In the coming months Dad’s Bible will be the Bible that I read, discovering in the midst of the Word of God the man of God that my father was. In a way it will be like a continuing conversation with Pops, visits that I am extremely grateful for.

Really…Airlines!

February 23, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            February 21, 2018

                                                  

The first time I was on an airplane was in 1974 when I flew from Chicago O’Hare to Rock Island, Illinois. It was a short trip, but no one told me that the conveyor belt that I put my suitcase on DIDN’T go all the way to the plane. I didn’t know! No one told me…and I wore the same clothes the whole weekend in Rock Island.

That’s a symbolic picture of my relationship with various airlines. Confusing and not on the same page communication-wise!

We flew back from West Virginia Tuesday night…and Wednesday morning!

There are more people flying these days than ever before, creating competition between the airlines and heightened anxiety and new levels of stress for the passengers. Last night I asked my wife where she would like to go for spring break. Her answer, dripping with frustration from the recent trip to West Virginia and back, was “Anywhere that does not involve an airplane!” It is a comment that signals a trend. Kind of like when you see a picture of a delicious looking entree in the restaurant’s menu, order it, but when the plate comes it does not come close to resembling the menu pic! Airline commercials are filled with smiling passengers, courteous flight attendants, and scenes of joy-filled peace, and then there is the reality!

One of the things that every airlines seem to do these days is push their credit cards. Sign up and receive so many flying miles that usually equals a “free ticket.” Free is a skewed term. It usually means an annual fee of just under $100.

It seems that on every flight I’m a passenger these days there is “the smoozing moment” of welcoming the elite, premier, gold, platinum, platinum plus, platinum pro, and other upper crust people who have paid the extra money to be recognized on every flight. Listen! Do we really need to give them a special welcome and have the flight attendants slobber all over themselves? I wonder if they did that on the Mayflower ship…gave a special welcome to those of the Puritan Premier club? If the plane goes down will the elite have a softer landing?

I know, I know, I’m cynical! It comes fairly natural after being squeezed up to the window of Seat 14A for three and a half hours. This is my rant!

I also know that every airlines has to contend with some people who are so obnoxious and demanding that even the Baptists wouldn’t take them. They are the entitled who could possibly be a part of the elite.

What’s the answer? In regards to obnoxious passengers, I have no clue, but in regards to how the airlines treats its customers…ask Chick-fil-A to come in and do some training for you!

Dad’s Things

February 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 19, 2018

                                             

It’s a small apartment located at the end of the first floor in the Wyngate Senior Living Complex. Dad has lived there for about the last three years, making new friends and acquaintances with other travelers of life’s final chapters.

Later on today and tomorrow my sister and I will spend some time over there going through some of his possessions, and breathing in the memories.

Dad passed from this life to the next on February 15 at the age of 89 years and 8 months. His was a life well-lived!

His apartment is a testimony to who he was and what had become entwined in his life.

There are the oxygen tanks that testify to his health limitations. Like a changing autumn landscape, I had noticed the changing interior of his apartment when I would come for one of my visits to southern Ohio from Colorado. Medications, the medical supplies a diabetic would need, blood pressure monitor, and (Sorry, Dad!) a good supply of adult diapers, his apartment spoke about that winter season of life that most of us will arrive at.

Scattered through the living room, bedroom, and closet are numerous items with the initials “U.K.” on them. Dad graduated from The University of Kentucky. He was proud of his Wildcats, suffering through many a football season and much happier most basketball seasons. There are UK shirts, hats, mugs, plates, flags, and the 1951 UK Yearbook. He had attended Kentucky after getting out of the Navy, but it wasn’t easy. He had married Mom, welcomed Child #1, our brother, Charlie, and provided for his growing family as he wore the hats labeled student, employee, husband, and father. Things were not easy during his UK years, and yet those years shaped him with the elements of resolve, perseverance, and organization.

Come to think of it, using the word “scattered” to begin that last paragraph would be the antithesis of who Dad was. His apartment is organized. His papers are organized. His cupboards are organized. By golly, his dresser drawers are organized!

There are Rotary remembrances. The service club had been a part of Dad’s life for close to forty years, joining the Ironton, Ohio chapter not long after our family moved to the town in 1969. Service defined Pops! He fit well in the organization that was sewed into the community’s fabric. But he also served the church, served his neighbors, and served our mother in their sixty-five years of marriage. He served as her caregiver in the last few years of her life, and at Wyngate he did those little acts of service. I remember my sister telling me that Dad tutored a woman who lived in the apartment next to him on how to give herself an insulin shot. She was scared to death, but Dad was able to bring down her anxiety about being poked and help her jump over that hurdle.

Pictures and pictures! Photo albums filled with pictures…framed pictures…pictures attached to his refrigerator…pictures with meaning and memories. The pictures give “snapshots” of his journey…family, church, laughter, friendships.

Going through Dad’s things, I realize, is important for my walk of grief. It’s ointment for my aching soul as I cry out for my father to come and sit beside me. Most of the things in his  apartment will end up going to Goodwill or to someone else who needs furniture or dishes, but for now I need to be amongst “his things”. It’s a part of letting go and finding peace.

The Hand Grasp of My Father

February 16, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                February 16, 2018

                             

“Dad, look who’s here to see you!”

I entered his hospital room and caught sight of the elderly man, withered and worn out. His dinner tray, that he hadn’t the least bit interest in, was in front go him. Perhaps a six year old should be made to eat his peas and carrots but not an 89 year old man in his last hours.

He mumbled a few words when he caught sight of me. I think he said, “Well, hi, son!”

And he grasped my hand with firmness and purpose.

That hand had grasped me a number of times over the course of my life. Sometimes it conveyed discipline and disappointment, and at other times it told me of a father’s pride in his son’s accomplishments and decisions.

I remember that hand on the back of the bicycle I was learning to ride. I’d be wobbling like a Saturday night drunk riding it down the sidewalk. Dad would be jogging along behind me keeping me propped up, firmly grasping the back of the seat. From the front it must have looked like a car in serious need of the wheels being aligned, but from the back it was a view of the youngest child taking another step in the long ride of growing up.

“Dad, I can’t get the lawnmower started.”

Dad came out to the garage where I was struggling with the machine. His hand firmly grasped the handle on the end of the pull cord and he pulled. On the second pull the motor took off and he looked at me with a slight smile that non-verbally communicated “You’ve got to put a little muscle behind it.”

“Thanks!” I sheepishly replied.

I remember the grasp of the hand at the end of my ordination service on June 24, 1979. I had just been given the charge to ministry, been prayed over, and congratulated…and then there was Dad’s hand grasp telling me how proud he was of me, but also the importance of the calling.

Last summer we stood in a side classroom of Beulah Baptist Church. The worship service had ended a few minutes before that and there was a woman who had requested that the deacons pray for her. A serious medical condition had been discovered. They invited me to join them in the prayer circle around the lady. I stood next to my father, Deacon Emeritus of the church, grasped his hand, and then listened to him and others pray for the woman. His hand hold was firm, just as his faith in the power of prayer was strong.

Within an hour we held each other’s hands around the dinner table as he prayed for the blessings of God upon our meal and family.

When I would come from Colorado to visit him in the past few years he would reach his hand towards me at meal time, grasp it with care, and pray the dinner grace.

After several minutes in the hospital room he finally releases his grip and allows my sister to feed him the chocolate pudding from his tray. Unlike the peas and carrots he eats all of the pudding. It’s the last food he will partake of, a taste of sweetness that describes the effect of his life on so many others.

Less than a day later he passes on…and it’s okay! Like his hand grasp, he is a man who had a firm grasp on what is important in life.

That last grasp of the hand. I’m extremely thankful that God allowed me to have it. In my memories of Pops i’ll hold on to that moment for a long, long time.

Going To See Dad…Probably for the Last Time!

February 14, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          February 14, 2018

                       

I’m sitting in the Denver airport waiting for an early morning plane that will jet me across the country, hurry me off it in order to find another plane that will then come part of the way back in the other direction. It’s a hard trip, not because of the stress of flying, but rather because of the reason for the journey.

Dad is failing. It’s not unexpected. His second home this past year has been St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia. He’s inching towards his 90th birthday. Each week seems to bring a new health concern. Last week my sister was by his side for a consultation with a hospice counselor.

Today’s flight is punctuated with memories and uncertainty.

I remember how my dad stood by my mom’s side in her final days as the Parkinson’s gradually took away her ability to use her hands and legs, and her ability to speak. It was a painful journey.

I remember his journey to Colorado to attend our youngest daughter’s wedding. While there he brought Lizi to tears with the gift of a special piece of jewelry that had been my mom’s.

Since I didn’t eat breakfast this morning, I’m remembering my dad’s hamburgers. Honestly, I have never tasted another hamburger that rivaled his. Even though I got the recipe and instructions from him I could never come close to the distinctive flavor. When you ate two of Dad’s burgers you were sorry that you couldn’t handle a third!

I remember the sadness we experienced when he couldn’t attend our oldest daughter’s wedding because Mom’s health was not good, but I also cherish the memories of his visit about four years ago and how he bonded with our granddaughter Reagan, who was three at the time. I remember her coming into the house one morning and yelling, “Papaw, Papaw!” She paused for a moment and then she said to me, “I know he’s here. I can smell him!” (His after shave announced his presence.)

As the plane flies through the clouds I can’t see anything around me or below me. It’s a metaphor for Dad’s situation. There is not a clear picture of what is and what will be. Somewhere in front of us the clouds will part and the picture will be seen.

My emotions are close to the surface. A few times this morning the potential for tears was heightened, and yet they haven’t erupted as I expect they will. My father’s best emotion was laughter-laced joy. I can hear the echo of his chuckle as we fly over Kansas. I can see his body shaking in rhythm with the laughter. If it was a story that he was telling for the hundredth time he’d close the tale with his hand slapping his knee in total appreciation for the memory.

Death is not a fear of Pops. He’s prepared himself for it. A number of times over the past four and a half years since Mom passed he has taken the hour and a half drive over to Johnson County, Kentucky to visit her grave. His name is already etched on the grave marker beside her. A few feet away are the resting places of my aunts and uncles, and a wee bit further is where his mom, Grace Wolfe, has long since been lowered into the ground. Dad is ready to once again be laying next to my mother. There is sweetness and love in the known destination, just as there is a mixture of grief and peace within me as I consider what is to come.

Being Deacon Emeritus of his church, Beulah Baptist, death is simply a part of the faith journey. Dad looks forward to the reunion of the saints, and the glory of the Eternal Gathering.

“How’s it going, Pops?” That has been my Sunday night greeting to him for the past several years. “Well, hi, son!”

And we’d talk about this, that, and the other…the ladies at Wyngate (his senior independent living complex where he has resided for three years) who have been giving him the eye and considering the possibilities; the Kentucky Wildcats (he being a UK grad in the early 50’s); the latest fire alarm at Wyngate set off by one of the residents who wanted to cook up some bacon on a Friday night in his apartment; how his friend, Bill Ball, was doing (Bill passed away last August); and the weather.

I’ll miss the way we could make each other laugh, and at the thought of it I can sense the rumblings of the tears rising up.

Last weekend thousands of people attended a funeral in Colorado Springs for Micah Flick, a Sheriff’s deputy who was killed in the line of duty. A father, he leaves behind a wife and twin toddlers. It is a story about the cruelty of life, a senseless shooting by a man who did not value the life of someone else. Micah, in fact, took a bullet to save someone else’s life. He will always be remembered as a hero, even in the midst of tragedy.

My dad’s journey gets placed on the other end of the spectrum, a life that has been longer than anyone expected, a life that will be celebrated with tears of thankfulness and the smiles of many.

Things will not be the same, and that’s okay!