Archive for March 2018

Revisiting Sizzler

March 31, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        March 31, 2018

                                    

We were approaching Flagstaff, our destination for the night after a long drive that day from Colorado Springs. As we were getting close to our place of lodging for the night the question bounced back and forth between us: Where shall we eat dinner?

And then there was the sign!

Sizzler!

Sizzler was part of our courtship history. It was the steakhouse where I had taken Carol in Downers Grove, Illinois to make good on a bet we had made on the Oklahoma-Ohio State football game that was played on September 4, 1977. I had Ohio State and she had Oklahoma, and the loser bought the winner a steak dinner.

Uwe Von Schamann kicked a game-winning field goal and Oklahoma won 29-28 in front of a stunned Buckeye home crowd. About fifteen months later I opened the door to Sizzler for Carol Faletti. I don’t remember what either of us ordered that night- probably, steak…you think?- but we dined over laughter and A-1 sauce. After dinner my romantic tendencies continued as I took her to watch a Downers Grove North High School basketball game. I’m sure she was thinking “I’ve got to make sure I don’t lose this guy! He’s a real catch!”

Two months later we were engaged, and less than seven months after that romantic Sizzler evening we said our wedding vows to one another.

And now I see a sign for Sizzler on the southeast side of Flagstaff, and it seems right to reminisce about what was. I’ve got the gleam in my eye as I look across the front seat at Carol. She looks back at me with the other important question broiling in her mind: Does Sizzler have a Senior Menu?

And so we take the correct Sizzler exit and let Siri navigate our vehicle towards dinner. We’re driving a Honda CRV this time around. Back in January of 1979 I pulled into the Sizzler parking lot in a 1966 Chrysler Newport, which got about nine miles to the gallon!

Something must be wrong this time around. It’s 7:00 on a Saturday night and the restaurant parking lot has about a half-dozen vehicles parked in it. The Downers Grove Sizzler was packed back in the day.

My optimism, however, brings the thought to my mind, “Hey! We beat the crowd!” And so we enter, revisiting our memories like two people doing a remake of one of those old black-and-white films.

And it is…not good! We’re a bit sorry that we weren’t vegans before entering the front doors.

I realize that sometimes it is best to let the sweetness of some memories stay wrapped up in a photo album of the past; that to try to recreate them is like trying to replicate Mom’s famous fried chicken recipe. It’s just not the same…doesn’t taste the same, and is missing one important ingredient…either the person, the place, or the same circumstances.

And now we know! We recognize the treasured memory of that Friday night meal back 39 years ago that will not be equaled again.

Three nights later as we vacationed in Tucson we went to another steakhouse, Fleming’s, and created a new memory. I can’t remember the last time we were at a restaurant that has someone come by the table every few minutes and clean any bread crumbs off the tablecloth! It was the first restaurant we had been to where our server gave us a business card at the conclusion of the meal. Usually we’re dining at places where someone is sweeping the floor right by our table as we’re eating!

A new memory in a new time of life for us. We’ll treasure the past, but, at least in this case, not try to relive it.

The Few Seconds Visitor

March 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    March 28, 2018

                                     

I had lunch last week with a friend of mine who needed to vent some…and laugh! He had just spent the previous thirty minutes with someone who had stopped by his office and asked the question:

“Got a few seconds?”

Being someone who is responsible for a workload that is enough for two people, as well as being a nice guy, he said yes. The few seconds extended past a few minutes and into one long rant. It took a few minutes to bring him back down to the humor involved in just being human, but a long lunch later he was ready to return to work.

I remember those days of having an unscheduled visitor stop by the church office and, with a smile on his/her face, ask me that question. One man who was a representative of a mission organization would cause me to grind my teeth as I struggled with the spiritual dilemma fueled by my deeply-rooted Baptist guilt of telling him I was unavailable. That internal wrestling match had come as a result of several experiences with this man of God, and several of those “Got a few seconds” pop-ins!

People who ask for a few seconds usually have no concept of time. In their minds time is infinite. A few seconds could mean a decade in the vastness of time.

In my 36 years of pastoring the only productive meetings I had with someone who asked me if I had a few seconds was when another staff person approached me. Since we were working in the same building it meant that there was something vitally important for me to hear. Otherwise, the person who would stop by, like I was a Starbucks coffee stop, would produce anger, frustration, and cost me a half-day. The half-day cost would be because of how difficult it would be to shift my mind back to one of the other tasks I had to get accomplished that day. After the unannounced visitor left I was still dealing with the frustration of what had just been talked about.

If it was the week leading up to Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday I could expect someone to grab my ear for a while. It, of course, was “something that just couldn’t wait!”

“The Few Seconds Visitor” was usually a single-issue person, thinking that the whole church was also disgruntled about the same thing. He/She often saw himself/herself as being the mouthpiece for a larger contingent, like an elected senator speaking for the voters.

In ministry the pop-in person usually has an issue that could and should be handled by a committee or staff person, but the visitor doesn’t like how the team or staff person is handling it. Forget about process and rules of procedure! If he can bend the ear of the pastor/director/principal/administrator for a while to get his way then so be it!

If Jesus had been stopped by someone who wanted just a few seconds of his time he would have said “Get behind me, Satan!”, or perhaps he would have performed an exorcism of the one-issue demon the person was afflicted with.

Let me get to wisdom! The wise person is one who identifies the few people who he trusts, and who, when asked, tell him the truth and advise him on the decisions to be made. The wise person is the one who seeks to receive “a few seconds” of thoughts from people such as that. The wise person knows he needs those trusted few who he can filter situations, assumptions, ideas, and perceptions through. He needs those few people who can lead him to the right decision through clarifying questions.

My youngest daughter would often come to me with a request of something she wanted me to buy her. As she reached her high school years, when her requests seemed to grow in the size of their price tags, I would ask her the question, “Is this a want or a need?” She hated that question because it put things into perspective.

The person who wants just a few seconds of your time is usually someone who has a want not a need. The healthy organization, and effective leader, is one that is able to separate personal wants from organizational needs, personal agendas from organizational priorities, and personal rants from absolute truth.

Thanks for taking a few seconds to read this!

Teacher-Parent Conference

March 26, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           March 26, 2018

                                 

Dear Mrs. Jones,

It was very considerate of you to offer to have a conference with our teaching teammates, but we have decided not to take you up on your offer. Meeting us at the fitness club at the conclusion of your workout before you even have a chance to go for your spa treatment and shower was a strong indication of your desire to fit us into your schedule.

But then to offer a second possibility of a conference at your favorite Starbucks sometime between two and four o’clock so you can get double your Starbuck’s rewards…well, that was taking self-sacrifice to a new level!

I know you have concerns about how we have been teaching Johnny Junior the essential knowledge and skills necessary for him to be successful next year when he enters 8th Grade. Believe me, we understand that pre-algebra is a challenging subject to master, but most students need to pass it before they take algebra. We understand the difficulty of that task, especially when Johnny Junior has missed so many days of school because of the two different five-day suspensions and your family’s twelve day vacation to Disney World during the two school weeks preceding the week-long Thanksgiving break.

We understand your opinion that the first five-day suspension because of the sexually explicit remarks and inappropriate physical contact he made on several occasions to a female student was excessive, but it followed school policy and guidelines. I’m sure it was comforting to find out the family decided not to press charges.

And the second suspension also followed school discipline guidelines. It’s unfortunate that the bottle of whiskey was mistakenly placed in Johnny Junior’s backpack. I’m sure his father felt terrible when he realized that he had accidentally placed it in the backpack as opposed to his suitcase for the business trip he was about to embark on.

We recognize, as Johnny Junior’s teachers, what a burden such events and family vacations have placed upon him. We apologize for being underachieving teachers. We really do want Johnny Junior to be successful, and we will try to adjust to the challenges ahead. We know you’re seeking to accommodate us as much as you can, letting us know ahead of time of Johnny Junior’s absence the week after Spring Break because he will be at the NCAA Hockey Frozen Four games in Minneapolis.

We will try to do our best. With his suspensions, vacations, and also sick days he’s been out of school almost forty days so far. We’ll try to step it up as his educators and overcome that challenge. After all, being in class sometimes get overrated. If you do the homework assignments you’ll get the jest of things.

Speaking of homework, we’re missing a number of Johnny Junior’s assignments. We know you suggested that he turned them in and that we were not very responsible teachers in losing them, but our team of teachers has talked about it. Ms. Morton, his social studies teacher, distinctly remembers when one day she asked for the homework assignment to be handed in, gathered them up, and Johnny Junior looked at her and said he hadn’t done it. Could it be that there were other occasions when he didn’t do the assignment also? We know that’s an assumption on our part, but we were just asking.

We hate to bring this up at this time, but Johnny Junior may be facing another suspension, although this could just be a three day instead of a five day! The assistant principal will probably be calling you today to give you the details and consequences. Johnny Junior was having a bad morning probably as a result of skipping breakfast and relying on the nutritional value of a Venti Vanilla Bean Frappuccino from Starbucks to get him through the tough grind of Science class followed by Language Arts. He probably didn’t mean it, but he called Mrs. Case a couple of derogatory names. More specifically, “a big fat pig”, followed closely by a comment heard by the whole class about the size of her back side. Since everyone heard at least the second derogatory remark Mrs. Case really had no choice but to send him to the office. The good news is that the office staff knows Johnny Junior well so they don’t have to fill out a lot of personal information sheets all over again. His is on file…right in the front so that it’s easily accessible.

Thanks for your understanding about not being able to meet with you at your request. Sometimes Johnny Junior will have teachers who just aren’t with it. Between the four of us on our teaching team we’re now at seventy-four years of classroom teaching. That means a lot of things, but one of the downsides is that we just don’t seem to adjust that well to special cases like Johnny Junior. Perhaps in another ten years or so we can acquire those extra needed skills and quantity of patience to be able to handle things better.

If, by chance, you would like to meet with us during the two days of parent-teacher conferences provided for parents please let us know. There are still several open slots available and it would only require twenty minutes of your time here in one of the actual classrooms that Johnny Junior comes to.

Expressing My Opinions…and Knowing People Disagree!

March 22, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       March 22, 2018

           

Crotchety…that’s what we would call old embittered men who walked around with scowls on their faces, mad at the world, and complaining about today’s youth.

I think I’m becoming crotchety! I seem to be shaking my head a lot these days, not necessarily at today’s youth, but the world in general. If you would like to draw a scowling face beside the page right now to characterize me, go ahead! If you are using an iPad do not use a Sharpie!

Opinion #1- Adults are pulling kids out of childhood like it’s a disease! Ever seen one of those TV show episodes about child “pageants” where a six year old is made to look like she’s twenty-six? As my Papaw would say, “Lord, have mercy!” Too many parents have bought into the lie that if little Johnny plays baseball year-round and gets expensive extra personal instruction from a hitting coach that he will receive a college scholarship down the road. Meanwhile, little Johnny would just like to play with his Lego’s for a while! Adults have minimized the importance of letting kids grow up gradually. The same development of a seed that becomes a bean plant should be used for our children. One day at a time and one stage at a time.

Opinion #2- The NCAA Basketball Tournament selection process is fixed! If money is connected to every tournament win, how much is the selection committee listening to the West Coast Conference versus the ACC? If strength of schedule is a deciding criteria for mid-major conference teams to be invited, how many Power Five conference teams turn down games with Western Kentucky and St. Mary’s in favor of Bethune-Cookman and Houston Baptist? Arkansas-Pine Bluff gets invited to play AT other arenas (Their first 13 games this season were on the road!) not because they’re expected to win!

Opinion #3- The public library has become a noisy place! Remember when you were expected to be quiet in the public library so people could focus? Last month the guy two seats away from me was doing a job interview on his cell phone! This week three people were gathered around a nearby table having a meeting. Where have the cranky librarians gone off to who elicited fear in those present? AND, half the time as I’m approaching the entrance or leaving afterwards there is someone trying to get me to sign a petition or Girl Scouts selling cookies. I know what you’re thinking…I’m really, really crotchety, but I’ve put on five pounds in the last month!

Opinion #4- My mom used to throw away blue jeans with holes. Now someone gets paid for putting holes in them! Actually, my mom would turn my jeans with holes in the knees into shorts! I don’t understand fashion, but I guess I prefer jeans with holes over sagging pants any day!

Opinion #5- Teens can’t go to the bathroom without their cell phones! With that exceedingly crotchety statement I’ll conclude my rant.

I had a student in a class this past week who asked me how old I was? I asked her how old she thought I was, thinking she’d mention a figure that began with a 4 or a 5, and she replied, “I dunno…70!”

The Pursuit of Happiness

March 21, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 21, 2018

                           

National Geographic did a feature article in their 2017 November issue about happiness. What are the happiest places around the world, and what raises their level of happiness? Are there common threads between them?

Although evaluating happiness is similar to deciding what success means and how it looks, the article brought out three strands of happiness that when weaved together brought the prospects of leading a happy life to a much higher level.

The strands are pleasure, purpose, and pride. 

Pleasure is a term that gets boxed in with our personal assumptions as soon as we say the word. The hints of my Baptist upbringing immediately insert the word “guilty” in front of it. Pleasure, however, is defined as “the feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment.” We use it in a remark after serving another person in some way. When the person responds with a word of thanks the reply is often “It’s my pleasure!”

Pleasure, then, has as many categories as amazon.com. However, pleasure as a part of the pursuit of happiness is connected in some way to the community around us, the people we share life with, and a sense of harmony. Pleasure that is simply self-serving leads not to happiness but to a sense of detachment from the very vehicle that drives us towards happiness.

Purpose as a part of the happiness pursuit, in my opinion, is re-emerging. For a long, long time in the American culture we bought into the idea that more was better, that happiness was at the end of the rainbow that included a massive bank account, summer home on the lake, and Oil of Olay bubble baths (I’m not sure why that one popped up into my mind!).

Purpose means that I’m a part of something bigger than myself, that what I am about today matters not only for this moment, but for the days to come. It’s the teacher who understands and believes that what he/she imparts to the students today is important for who they will be in the tomorrows to come.

As a follower of Jesus I link purpose with the two greatest commandments that Jesus teaches in Matthew 22…”to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind…and to love your neighbor as yourself.” Purpose in my life is seen in how I love God and love others. My life needs to be geared in those two ways and, as a result, it will fuel my pursuit of happiness.

Pride is the feeling of satisfaction in a person, group, community, and culture over achievements and shared values. Once again, it is far less about me and far more about the others on the journey with me. Parents say they are proud of their children not for what the parent has done, but rather what the child has achieved or attempted.

National pride rises as Olympic athletes go all out for the glory of the country. Community pride increases as it pulls together to address a major crisis or catastrophe.

The pursuit of happiness is like our local Thanksgiving Day 5K Turkey Trot. It’s 3,000 plus people of different sizes, ages, and abilities running (or walking) together from the start to the finish. Although some people finish quickly and many others finish slowly, the goal of everyone is to finish…and to enjoy the experience! Some people dress up like turkeys or even pilgrims and take on an amusing look in the pursuit. Others are more serious about the pace. Whatever one’s approach the post-race gathering in the parking lot around long tables of fruit, granola bars, juice, and bottles of water is a community celebration of the pursuit. Massage therapists give rubdowns, ice packs soothe aching calves, and friends jabber about the journey. There’s a sense of accomplishment…a feeling of happy satisfaction, purpose, and pride.

I don’t want to give the impression that a the pursuit of happiness can be summed up by a 5K road race, but it is, in my opinion, the perfect pictorial metaphor for how that pursuit can be understood. So, grab some hands around you and pursue it…together!

Sixth Grade Apology Letters

March 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 20, 2018

                                  

They walked into the classroom, three boys looking like they were headed to the gallows. Their math teacher led the procession of the condemned, faces downcast inspecting the carpet design. One of the three had visible body tremors.

They had committed the unforgivable sixth grade math class sin; they had detoured off the road of the teacher’s behavioral requirements for a substitute teacher and done some off-road free wheelin’ stupid stuff. Warnings, changing seats, and more warnings had not brought them back to the right path and so my end of the day written report to the teacher included their three names.

Now they stood before me. They had already been sentenced to make the trip to the seventh grade classroom I was guest teaching in that day. Their punishment, handed down to them by their six foot four inch teacher, was to write apology letters to the afflicted party…me!…come to my classroom, read them, hand them to me, and shake my hand.

They tried their best to be sincere, but how sincere can sixth grade boys be about never, ever, ever straying from what they know is appropriate. Sincerity is a momentary commitment that gets forgotten as easily as the jackets and water bottles left behind as they hurry out of a classroom. “Staying focused” is a higher learning skill safely untouched by the male members of this class.

“Mr. Wolfe, I am sorry for making inappropriate noises during your class. I am very sorry for causing the whole class to be distracted…Next time you substitute in my class I will listen at my best!”

I controlled the chuckling that was bubbling up inside me. The forlorn looks would surely be replaced with sighs of relief within thirty seconds of leaving my classroom.

I remember being in sixth grade! I had so much energy, or as we said “ants in my pants”, that I couldn’t sit still. School was hard, recess was easy! My teacher, however, was Mr. Cooper, an imposing giant of a man who was not hesitant about using a paddle on your behind. Witnessing a couple of classroom criminals receiving their judgments early in the school year caused most of us to quiver in our seats. And…except for music and physical education, Mr. Cooper taught ALL of my classes! He was the shepherd of our class herd for the whole school day…everyday! The fact that his younger brother was a classmate of my older brother at Williamstown High School did not buy me an ounce of grace. I learned out of fear that whole year.

A couple of days after the three “wiser” boys came to me I passed one of them in the hallway. He saw me coming and instantly started inspecting the hallway tile he was about to step on.

“Good morning!” I greeted him, also using his first name.

He looked up, a bit startled. “Good morning, Mr. Wolfe!”

It was a moment of grace in a school hallway, a peace offering towards one who had already made restitution. Perhaps…just perhaps, he will realize that he has not been judged and labeled for life, but rather understands that he is seen as valued regardless of his slip-ups.

After all, he is still in sixth grade!

Chumming Around With My Pre-School Granddaughter

March 18, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 18, 2018

          

Corin Grace Hodges turns three on March 24. If there are any two year olds around who are not using their word quota for the day she has snatched them up. She talks so much you’d think she was getting compensated on a “per word basis”!

Last week Granddad (That’s me!) hung around with her for two days to fill in a gap in child care. It was entertaining, amusing, revealing, bonding, and exhausting. Like a fresh-baked apple pie in front of a hungry kid home alone she had me all to herself and she enjoyed all of me. Big brother and sister were at school so Corin felt a responsibility to not let me get bored!

We played with her Barbies! Actually, I think they were mostly her sister’s, but what her sister didn’t know…would never be revealed to her. When I say that we played with Barbies you’ve got to realize that it was a whole storage bin of Barbies…ballerina Barbies, mermaid Barbie, roller skating Barbie, going to a party Barbie, flight attendant Barbie, Dr. Barbie, veterinarian Barbie, modeling Barbie, Barbie in a formal gown…Good Lord! it could have been one of those weird Twilight Zone episodes where Rod Sterling would say the words “This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area that we call…the Twilight Zone.” 

I didn’t think at age 63 that I could play with Barbie dolls for a solid hour and a half, but my “boss” for the day dictated that I was going to! And it was sweetness for my soul, not so much because of the over-populated Barbie basement, but because I was with the one informing me all about them.

The morning coffee got to me and I had to excuse myself to go to the bathroom. After thirty seconds she came to check on me to make sure I was okay. A minute later when I came out she greeted me with the parental question: “Did you wash your hands?”

A not-quite-three year old making sure her granddad was following the rules of hygiene! In the two days of chumming around with Corin she asked me the same question every time I emerged from the bathroom.

We watched a couple of episodes of P.J. Masks, played the game Monkeys On The Bed, and went to the park where we played church, or as she pronounces it…”chuch!” She guided me to the “cwass” I was to go to, and scolded me when she saw me start to leave my “cwass” without her permission.

We talked about her “bithday” coming up. She informed me what was going to happen at her party, as if she had planned the whole experience herself. In the car on the way to the park she told me to turn up the music! She wanted to rock it with her granddad!

By noon I was counting down the minutes until nap time, scheduled for around one o’clock, not so much for Corin but for me! I needed some rest.

Little kids are amazing. Like just about any other grandfather would comment on their grandchild, I’m pretty sure that Corin Grace Hodges is an almost-three year old genius, but the most satisfying part of the two days with her was to see her emerging personality…and to realize how blessed I am to be called “Granddad!”