Archive for June 2018

Dad’s Day Without Dad

June 17, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                June 17, 2018

                                 

It’s a weird feeling this morning! Today is the first Father’s Day I’ve experienced without Dad! He passed away four months ago at the wise old age of 89. Tomorrow would have been his 90th birthday. there’s

Dad has always been there. Though we were separated by five states his presence never seemed to be far away. Our Sunday night phone chats became our routine. When he didn’t answer his phone I worried…so I’d call my sister to see if he was okay. More times than I can remember he’d call me back as I’d be talking to her. I’d switch calls over to him and after answering he’d give his customary reply: “Well, hi son!”

“Did I get you at a bad time, Pops?”

“Well, I was on the pot!” He would say it like it was an unusual occurrence. 

Today, however, things have changed. It’s Father’s Day without Dad. It has the feel of eating fried chicken without also having mashed potatoes and gravy. Kind of strange and empty. 

My dad was a consistent man of faith, an even-paced Jesus journeyer. Through all his radiation treatments for cancerous growths on his ear, nose, and bladder, he never lost his humor and lightheartedness. The radiation technicians at St. Mary’s Hospital loved on him, enjoyed him, and treated him like their own father. When his name was called to come on back from the waiting area for his radiation “zap moment” of the morning he would always have a word for the attendant that would bring a chuckle and a smile. It’s how he was. His bouts with cancer weren’t seen as being setbacks, but rather moments in his journey.

When I became a father back in 1981, like any first-time dad, I had the deer-in-headlights look. What do I do? What don’t I do? I had taken a class back when I was a student at Judson College, taught by Professor Ted Hsieh, entitled “Marriage and The Family”. I still have the notes from that class, and I was tempted, when Kecia Corin Wolfe arrived, to get the lecture notes on parenthood back out and do a quick review. Instead, however, I looked into the mirror of my memories of Dad. What would Dad do? What did Dad do? How I fathered my own three children had the imprint of his parenting impression of us.

And so today I’m living with his memories, impacted by his personality. I’ll go out for a run this afternoon and wear the University of Kentucky hat that was his. As I’m huffing and puffing it will seem like he is close at hand. As my feet trudge along I’ll recall some of my favorite “Pops Stories” that I listened to numerous times, and yet, never tired of the warmth they would bring to my soul. 

It’s just weird! Dad’s Day without Dad…it sounds like the title of a horror film! In essence, it’s simply where I am on my journey, a place of wonderful memories and an aching grief.

From Here To There

June 15, 2018

In my quest to run 200 miles by mid-August I’m in the midst of it! One third of the way in and making “significant strides”, so to speak! It is the point of commitment…either stay the course or convince oneself of the lunacy of continuing to go forward. It’s the in-between…the “Kansas”, if you will, of decision roads. Getting from here to there is the challenge that often derails the pursuits of life.

In regards to my running, I’ve noticed that I encounter several quitting points each day in the journey. I question why I’m doing what I’m doing and plant seeds of doubts into the pace every time a stiff head wind offers more resistance to the effort. The quitting points never happen at the beginning or towards the end. They always invade my thoughts in the midst of the run, that tipping point where I’m the most vulnerable.

“Staying the course” is not something our culture is passionate about these days. We are addicted to the better deal and prone to give up because that’s the easier road to take. These days people are not convinced that perseverance has value and that resolve is a great quality to have.

When we’re between the here and the there retreat gains a following…or whining! I see it with a lot of children and youth these days. In the midst of the school assignments the student’s whining begins with a great sense of injustice…and the parent takes up the cause in support of their child’s lack of staying the course.

Getting to “there” was never meant to be a comfortable experience that demanded nothing. I’m getting “there”! Slowly, but I’m getting there!

Last Stool On The Right

June 13, 2018

There are certain habits in our lives that bring comfort and consistency. They are the frame that support the structure of our life. Like the links of chain for a playground swing, habits bring a swaying rhythm to our life.

One of my habits involves a stool, a laptop, and an early morning cup of coffee. Where I write my Words from W.W. blog almost without exception occurs at the Starbucks in Colorado Springs on the corner of Union Boulevard and Briargate Parkway from the last stool on the right, facing out with a view of Pike’s Peak. It is where I ponder, create, and edit, sometimes slowly and other times at a frenzied pace.

Kathy Buchanan, who is one of the writers for the Focus on the family long-time series, Adventures In Odyssey, sits on the last stool on the left with six stools between us. We joke with one another about our ingrained habit for our writing. When someone is in one of OUR spots we give a look of dismay to one another.

“You going to be able to function today?” I’ll ask her. She sighs deeply and replies, “I’ll try!”

MY stool is the launching pad for discovering. It’s even come to a point now where some of my friends know where they’ll be able to find me at 7 A.M. on mornings I’m not substitute teaching. Some days my writing takes a series of breaks for stop-by conversations. My stool, however, draws me back to why I’m there.

I sip the coffee as I search for the right word. A second sip is required when I’m slow in figuring and finding. My third cup means I’m approaching the finish.

Jim Ryun, the famous track and field miler, once said “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going!” My stool is my habit.

Afraid To Answer My (i)Phone

June 12, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   June 12, 2018

 

The heat is on! Not the Colorado summer heat, but the political primaries…that kind of heat! 

Last night I flipped between three local TV stations at 5:30 to see the local news. Each station was airing a political advertisement at the same time, but for three different candidates!

When I went outside and got the mail out of the mailbox I had to search between all the political postcards and propaganda to find the car insurance bill. I wonder if State Farm would see that as a valid excuse for not paying my monthly premium- that I couldn’t find it in the midst of all the campaigning candidates’ mail? 

But the worst so far has been the unbelievable number of calls I’m getting on my iPhone. Now, I have to admit that I’m assuming they are political calls, but why else would I be getting calls from Shoreline, Washington; Jamesburg, New Jersey; Pueblo, Colorado; Oklahoma City; East Tawas, Michigan; Newton, Massachusetts; Leota, Minnesota; Portland, Maine; and Oyster Bay, New York.

“No!” to all the questions that are being asked right now by moms! I do not answer the incoming call if I do not recognize the number. 

I’m listening to Amazon Prime Music on my iPhone as I do my morning run and Mercy Me’s song I Can Only Imagine is interrupted by an incoming call from Boynton Beach, Florida!

I’m at my writing spot at the public library, deep into my book rewrite, and someone from Waltham, Massachusetts is trying to get my ear!

And so now I have this fear that an important call is going to be ignored simply because someone wants to convince me of the evils of a certain candidate for office. 

Political callers are the new telemarketers! In the last week out of 27 incoming calls to my phone 3 OF THEM were from people I knew…two from Carol, my wife, and the other from Amy Teten, who we financially support with The Navigators ministry! The other 24 calls were from phone numbers I did not recognize. None of those callers left a message! Perplexing, isn’t it?

I realize the importance of electing the best officials. In fact, I’ll probably take my ballots to the drop-off box at the library today. (Colorado’s primary is June 26!) My voting decisions are based on summaries from neutral publications on the political positions of each of the candidates. 

In the mean time I’ll hear my iPhone ringing in a few calls this morning as I’m running my four miles. They will come just as my pace has increased listening to the song “The Greatest Show” from The Greatest Showman. Suddenly I’ll slow down to a turtle’s pace!

Ugh!

Running and Thinking

June 11, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                              June 11, 2018

                            

This morning I’ll get my four miles of trudging done around ten o’clock. Some days, I swear, the miles have been lengthened like a taffy pull, and other days (infrequently!) they seem to go by faster. However, on the days when the miles seems to speed by and then I check my watch I’m brought back to the reality that I’m running just as slow as ever.

The key seems to be my thinking! I run, therefore, I think! I go deep inside to thoughts and ideas. With music playing from my ear buds I ponder events from the past, like races I ran back in my high school days. There was the Fourth of July race around a recreational lake area outside of Ironton, Ohio. Fellow classmate Pat Boggs and I ran neck to neck around the lake and then I out sprinted him in the last hundred yards. As I run I relive those moments, the congratulations he extended to me after the race, the sound of our breathing and footsteps, it all seems to become real again.

I think about the story narrative of my book, reconfiguring scenes, and envisioning how my characters look and how they sound. I think of ideas for blog posts and how I might present an experience or interpret a scripture. 

As the laps get clicked off I’m not just running, I’m contemplating.

I’ve started praying more as I run. The granddaughter of a good friend of mine keeps coming to my mind as I make a turn into the wind. A couple of women that we know who are in complicated battles with cancer cause me to reach down deep and keep going a bit further as I pray that God would impart strength to them. I pray for friends and family, that God would walk closely with them in the coming day. I pray for a nephew who pastors a church, and one of his sons who faces a surgical procedure. 

Prayer seems to minimize the aching in my knees and hips…for a while, that is! 

As I begin my last mile and consider the possibility of quitting, I think of a young lady named Kayla Montgomery who won several state cross country and track titles even though she battles MS. Her ESPN profile brings me to tears and it carries me through the last mile, as well. 

As my 64 year old body runs I try to focus on the struggles of the distance. In two months I’ll be coaching a bunch of middle schoolers doing similar workouts. I want to be able to identify with the groans and the doubts. If I can push through the quitting points I’ll be able to come alongside them during those tough training runs. 

And I think of some of the guys I used to run with back in high school and college…Stan Brown, Duane Young, Jim Fay, Larry Crane, and Kevin Kelly from my cross-country team at Judson College; and Cecil Morrison, G.P. Markins, Greg Byington, Jim Thomas, Greg Harding, and Randy Justice from the Ironton High School team. I think of Eugene Smith climbing trees and waiting for the rest of us to pass him on our return to the high school. 

In essence, these days my four mile runs deal with the past, the present, and prayer. It isn’t until later on in the day that my knees scream at me, “What were you thinking?”

Encouraging the Untalented

June 10, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          June 10, 2018

                                

In all my years of coaching multiple sports I’ve had numerous athletes who were extremely talented…and I’ve also had numerous athletes who were incredibly untalented!

-Kids who get positioned in right field

            -Kids who play a forward in soccer because you would rather play great defense than score goals.

-Kids who can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

-Kids who you could use a sun dial in timing their 100 yard dash.

-Kids who have great attitudes and no athletic skill.

In our sports-crazed world there seem to be more non-athletic, untalented participants lacing up the sneakers and putting on the pads.

I remember one young man on the middle school football team I coached. In practice one day he was playing defensive cornerback. He was about as far away from the action as he could possibly be and still be standing on the field. I suggested that he move in closer since there wasn’t even a wide receiver on his side of the field. All five feet one inch of him looked at me and said, “No, I’m okay!”

Or there was the foreign exchange student one year on the Girl’s JV team I coached. She had never played basketball, plus she had gotten out of line the day God passed out athleticism. If she shot the ball it had a better chance of getting stuck in the rafters than going in the basket. Her accuracy never improved during the season, although she did come to understand that the team with the ball was on offense and the team that didn’t have the ball was on defense. Running down the court without dribbling the ball meant that you suddenly would no longer be on offense and once again be…on defense! She came to realize this from personal experience.

I had a young man who would be the first one to show up for open gyms but couldn’t make a layup if his life depended on it. When he asked me if he was improving I replied, “Well, I can’t fault your effort!”

Every coach has the untalented kid who wants to be on the team. It becomes an exercise in patience as they struggle through the simplest drills that focus on fundamentals. Often they are the also the nicest, most well-behaved kids. They are the ones that you grieve over cutting, but know “there ain’t no way” you can keep them on the basketball team!

I try to find ways to encourage students who fall into this category, engaging them in conversation that shows I see them as persons of value. At the end of a tryout practice I may ask one of them to “get us a team break”.” I applaud their effort. When I post the basketball roster I try to be ready to give an evaluation to anyone who asks for it, what they can work on as well as a couple of positive points. I also try to communicate the importance of being a team manager or someone who keep stats. This past year I had one boy who didn’t make my basketball team, but I convinced to keep game stats. He’s a great kid who was disappointed in not making the roster, but saw how he was valued in a different role.

Often I encounter kids who are not as invested in athletic success as their parents are. There’s the parental pressure to change Lenny into LeBron…and Lenny would prefer to just be Lenny! 

There’s a lot of pressure on kids these days to be someone that they aren’t. It seems that only certain roles and specific achievements are valued, while others are ignored. 

As a coach, however, I hold to a certain principle: It is not necessary for an awesome kids to have a ball in his/her hands to still be great!

Front Porch With the Uncles

June 9, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                               June 9, 2018

                             

Dewey Helton was my farming grandfather who lived a few miles outside the sprawling metropolis of Paintsville, Kentucky- population 4,000 and a few! Some of my best childhood memories are from my time spent on the Helton farm, jumping from the hayloft of the barn onto bales of hay, drinking the cool well water, exploring in the woods and fields, and making up games to play all by myself or with the cousins who might be around. 

When my aunts and uncles came for a Sunday afternoon meal I’d sit on the front porch with the men, listening to the stories…both made-up and true…and soak up the time with them. It was back in the day of front porch smoking: Uncle Bernie with his pipe and cigars, Uncle Milliard with his chewing tobacco, and Uncle Junior, Uncle George, and my dad with their cigarettes. Chuckles filled the air as much as the smoke. 

There was a hint of oneupmanship present. The next story needed to be as much of a “knee-slapper” as the previous story, or better. The common sense wisdom of my uncles was inserted into stories that featured doofuses and knuckleheads in order to elevate the appearance of Helton intellect. I still remember some of those stories fifty-five years later…like the story of the boy whose father had not been educated. He brought home his report card filled with “D’s” and “F’s” and told his papa that a D was short for “darn good” and an F meant “fantastic!” 

I’d sit there with the uncles soaking in the cultural education. Uncle Junior had a tendency to pinch me on the leg if I sat next to him so I always hoped for a seat a safe distance away. I’d usually try to sit beside Uncle Bernie because I loved his soft chuckle and the smell of his cigar. 

Stories had to be punctuated with statements to emphasize the tale being told. Phrases like “Lorrddd, have mercy!” and “God is my witness!” were uttered often. Inserting God into the story raised the story’s believability! The narrative might come from past military experience, county politics, or something that happened in the course of a typical afternoon.

“Let me tell you boys something!” my Papaw Helton started in. “There was a man stopped hur (here) the other day and he was selling these things called…ahhh…satellite dishes…big ole’ things! Said they get as many as thirty TV channels! Lord have mercy! And then I asked him how much a dish like that cost and he says “Nineteen-ninety-five!” Good Lord, he made it sound like a twenty dollar bill!”

“Boys, let me tell you! I’ve never worked so hard in my whole life!” my Uncle Millard exclaimed, telling about his career change from town barber to owning a Dairy Queen. Think Floyd from Mayberry and you’d get an accurate picture of him. “One night around dinner time I looked out and there was this long line of people and I just yelled out, “Doesn’t anyone eat at home any more?” Lord, have mercy! I’ve never cooked so many hot dogs!” 

Sit and have a smoke. Sit and laugh. Sit and be together. Sit and be educated about the things of life that you couldn’t learn from a textbook. It was the first men’s group I was a part of…at the age of eight!