Archive for January 2019

Too Old, Too Young

January 16, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       January 16, 2019

                                      

I ventured to see my Physician’s Assistant this morning about my back muscle spasms. Two months ago when I saw P.A. Mark Smith for my annual physical he said I was doing well, looked healthy, and all my vital signs and blood tests were great!

And then he told me that I’m at an age where the impact sports and activities need to be lessened and it would be wise to switch to exercise activities like swimming, stationary bike, tiddilywinks, bridge, etc. (Okay! I paraphrased the last two!)

Last Wednesday I played early morning basketball at the YMCA, and by Thursday the spasms had arrived. Soooo….I saw Mark Smith again this morning. He looked at me and my chart. 

“So, Bill, you were playing basketball and now have muscle spasms in your lower back?” He gave me the parental look! 

“Yes, Mark!” I said, leaning towards repentance. 

He talked about treatment and then took on his fatherly expression, even though he’s the age of my son. “We talked about steering away from impact activities, didn’t we?”

“Yes!!!!”

“You need to work on your core strength, as opposed to activities where you’re doing a lot of twisting and turning. At your age there’s some things that are going to adversely affect you physically.”

In other words, someone who is getting daily advertisements in the mail about his approaching entry into Medicare may be too old to hoop it up! Back in college I could touch the rim! Now I’m being told I’m too old to touch a basketball! 

But I’m too young for other things, like senior water aerobics, bridge, and scrapbooking! I’m too old to hoop it up with the high school varsity, although I can dominate the freshmen and sophomores (I think!). I’m too old to run the Pike’s Peak Ascent anymore, but I’m too young to join a walking club. 

I’m a ‘tweener’! Too sophisticated for rotary dial telephones, but too dumb for my own smart phone! It’s an uncomfortable age because you realize that most of your life is now in the rearview mirror and the rest of your life has a degree of uncertainty about it.

Too old, too young! Been there, done that! And not sure I’m ready for that! I’m ready for the Icy Hot muscle ointment, but not quite ready to be covered up with a blanket!

Maybe I’ll start playing pickleball!

Getting Followers

January 15, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    January 15, 2019

                                

Getting a book published these days is as complicated as that Latin final exam I flunked back in college. I was better at “Pig Latin” than I was at Latin, but the college didn’t offer that alternative. 

I’m better at writing than I am at doing all the other “stuff” that publishers are looking for, like establishing your “platform” and summarizing your 100,000 word book in one paragraph. They use words like “hook”, “genre”, and “synopsis” like they were jelly beans that are so easy to pop into your mouth.

Another element they’re looking at is how many “followers” you have! Who reads your blog (Like you are right now!) and how many people would be interested in your book?

And so the quest for more followers happens! Getting followers feels a little bit like panhandling! There’s some pleading involved. All I can say is “I think you’d enjoy reading my blog, so please, please, please be one of my followers!” And on the other side of the sign the words “God Bless!” It’s not like I can offer a discount or a tip on what stock to buy. Almost all of my followers have some kind of relationship with me. 

Jesus had a few disciples and a number of followers. Disciples left their fishing nets and tax collecting table to follow him. There was no turning back. They were all in. Followers listened to his teachings and then returned to their homes and work. They were interested, but their levels of commitment differed, some all in and some Sabbath attenders.

Sounds a bit like church attenders! There are those who are all in with the church’s mission and ministry and others, sadly the majority, who have one foot in and one foot out. They are “the interested”! But they are also interested in sushi, Hallmark movies, and clearance sales at Dilliard’s. 

Commitment is another matter! What are they committed to? Very little! Their interests are fluid and their commitments are minimal! 

So I’m trying to attract followers, who I know are kinda’ following, to impress publishers who will then see that I’m worth being committed to! 

Did you follow that?

Down In the Back

January 13, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   January 13, 2019

                                   

I’m preaching this morning. Could be a short sermon!

As my Papaw Helton would say, “I’m down in the back!” The muscle spasms in my lower back came on Thursday night. I could blame it on the 20 missed free throws my boy’s basketball team…17 for 37! That makes me flinch just thinking about it, and when I flinch…Ouch!

Back problems are no fun! I’ve had them on and off for twenty years now. A herniated disc afflicted me back in 2001, and since then I’ve noticed the warning signs of the possibility of spasms before they arrive.

This time I had played early morning basketball at the YMCA on Wednesday. That must have lit the fuse! On Thursday night as I coached I could tell the back wasn’t doing well. When I coach during a game, I’m usually in a squat position, like a baseball catcher. By the second half on Thursday night I couldn’t do that!

And so I’ve become cozy with a heating pad, and closely attached to the recliner. Last night I watched “Enemy of the State” with Will Smith and Gene Hackman for about the seventh time. In other words, it was an unproductive evening.

I believe that God sometimes puts us on our back to teach us something. Most of us learn best in the midst of uncomfortable situations and personal pain. The story of Jonah’s time spent inside a big fish comes to  mind! 

It’s when we’re “down in the back” that our listening needs to be even more acute. Years ago a man from our church had a serious heart situation that put him flat on his back for several weeks. Afterwards he told me that it was a life-defining moment for him. He had been slowed down enough to have long chats with God. If he hadn’t ended up on a hospital gurney he would have kept going full steam ahead and been oblivious to the presence of the Almighty.

After I preach this morning to the saints in Simla, Colorado, I’ll drive back home and spend the rest of the day  with “R’s”…recliner, reflection, rest, heated up RICE BAG, and reading. I’ll pick up my “One Year Bible” and perhaps get ahead in my reading of the scriptures. 

Maybe I’ll skip ahead to the Books of Job and Lamentations! 

Looking Back: Rookie Substitute Teacher

January 10, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          January 9, 2019

                           

Today is the two year anniversary! On January 9, 2017 I entered Room 306 at Timberview Middle School- a classroom in a portable structure outside the building, mind you! I would be teaching 7th Grade Social Studies for at least a month and maybe the rest of the school year. 

There had been a sudden resignation during the Christmas break and the other three teachers on that team (math, science, and language arts) had requested me for a long-term sub.

Carol and I had flown back from Phoenix the previous Wednesday and there was a message on our voicemail from the principal’s secretary to call them. It was too late to call that day and then the next day school was cancelled because of the weather. Friday, January 6, I drove over to the school and met with the assistant principal.

“Bill, we’d like you to consider doing a long-term substitute position for 7th Grade Social Studies.”

“Okay!”

“And we’d like for you to start Monday!”

“Ooo…kaay!

That next Monday was the beginning of one of the best months of my life. I went into it like someone who has never tasted coffee suddenly working as a Starbucks barista. I was about as raw and wide-eyed as a rookie can be.

And I admitted it! Each class knew that this guy in front of the class could be seen as being fresh meat to chew on or the new guy to simply enjoy and even teach. Thankfully they took the second approach. They enjoyed me as much as I enjoyed them.

On that first day there were high winds in the area that measured up to 109 miles an hour at Cheyenne Mountain. A window blew out of the library at a high school two miles away from Timberview. Afternoon buses were cancelled because of the fear of them tipping over…and here I was in a portable classroom! I remember the windows sounding like they were doing a drumroll as they rattled, but inside the classroom I was teaching kids about the meaning of “Coats of Arms”. 

I put two headings on the board…DON’T KNOW and KNOW. Under DON”T KNOW I drew about 20 lines, and under KNOW I put two! 

“This is me! I’m going to be your teacher for at least the rest of the month, and maybe longer, and this is about how much I know in terms of teaching a class. And all these lines under DON”T KNOW, that tells you how not-with-it I am in regards of your culture, words and sayings you use, and stuff. So…you’re going to teach me each day just as much as I’m going to teach you!”

Each day when some new term was mentioned that I was unfamiliar with I’d add another line under DON”T KNOW. For example, several students used the term “memes”. I had no idea what a meme was. They were astounded. Was I really a person? Had I just been unfrozen from the Ice Age? 

My cluelessness extended into their music world. I didn’t know what song was being sung by what singer or group. On the other hand, when I mentioned “Three Dog Night”, “Steppenwolf”, or “Jethro Tull” they were as clueless as I had been about their music. 

I gave them nicknames. Kids who did not have nicknames would come to me whining and say, “Mr. Wolfe, I don’t have a nickname!”

I taught them about inflation, using a DuckTales video clip. I had them look at the different kinds of taxes that would be added onto a purchased plane ticket, and also a rental car at the airport. We talked about how different things are valued differently by different people and why that is. Each day was a journey into discovery…for all of us!

I don’t think I’ve worked so hard in my life. After the school day I’d be preparing for the next day, and then I’d go to officiate a high school basketball game, come back home, finish getting ready for the next school day, and then fall into bed.

I loved it! When Jenn Dilger was hired to be the next teacher, beginning in early February, I was disappointed. She is an awesome teacher, who, in fact, recently I subbed for the last week before Christmas break,break, and am subbing for her three days this month. I just missed the kids, the students, who had taught me so much. I missed the day-to-day interaction and humor. Laughter was a part of the educational adventure for each of my classes.

A couple of weeks ago Carol and I went over to watch a Liberty High School basketball game and three of those students I had on January 9, 2017 met me by the bleachers. We relived those days once again. One of them said, “Coach Wolfe, those were the most fun classes I’ve ever had!” 

“For me, too! I’m not sure how much you all learned, but I had a great time.”

“I still remember when you showed that DuckTales video. And do you remember Abby’s flying lego car? And when Dominick couldn’t answer any of your questions about Iran, the country he was doing a presentation about? And Jonah telling you that you could just call him “G.O.A.T”, greatest of all time?” 

I nodded my head. I remembered and I was very, very blessed to have been a part of it…and still miss it!

Coaching ‘Likes’ and One-Liners

January 6, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    January 6, 2018

                             

I pushed the door to the locker room open. My Junior Varsity basketball team had ended the first half with several critical mistakes and our 11 point lead had been cut to 3. I was not happy and I let them know about it.

And the “like” comment just flowed out unrehearsed. 

“Our cuts to the basket on offense…it’s like watching a geriatric ward playing basketball! (I’m sure some of my players didn’t know what “geriatric” meant, but, oh well!) I’m about to fall asleep on the bench, they’re so slow!” The varsity coach was in the room and he told me afterwards that he had to stifle himself from having a laughing fit . We went on to lose the game in triple overtime, so far our only loss of the season!

My coaching gets peppered- seasoned, if you will- with one-liners and “like” comparisons. Most come from somewhere in the back of my brain and squeeze themselves into my speech. Some come from Don Fackler, who was my coaching mentor. 

Coach Fackler: Lauren, you owe me five dollars!

Lauren: Why, Coach?

Coach Fackler: After you threw the inbounds pass you stood there. You owe me five dollars for the popcorn!

I’ve used that one with the boys a couple of times.

My players aren’t sure what to expect next. Sometimes I get things confused. Last week in practice two players weren’t executing a sideline screen well so here it came from my lips…a little distorted.

“You look like two ducks passing in the night!”

“Coach, do you mean ships?”

“Whatever…ships, ducks…I don’t care! Just do it right!”

At our last practice I didn’t like the slowness of play. “Listen! This is like watching a bunch of people at Cracker Barrel sitting in those rocking chairs out front. Mammy and Pappy just rocking back and forth. So pick it up!”

And also last week. “Why did you throw it to him in the corner?”

“Coach, he was open!”

“So’s your mom in the bleachers, but you don’t throw it to her, do you?”

“No, Coach.”

“Where do we begin our offense? In the corner?”

“No, Coach.” 

And to a freshman who is right-hand dominant.

“I saw you holding hands with your girlfriend after the last game, and it was your left hand.”

Turning red. “Yes, Coach!”

“You saving your left hand for her, because you don’t seem to use it during the game?”

And still another. “You boys are so right-handed I swear the court is starting to tip to the right!”

I just can’t help it. They just come out! Last game we had two free throw points taken away because the shooters stepped on the foul line after they shot. “Listen to me! They don’t care if you step on the line in the YMCA Kindergarten League, but they do in high school basketball.”

And another!

“Hey! Bobby, you need to guard him on defense so close that you can tell me what kind of deodorant he uses…if he uses any!”

And!

“Hey, Bobby! Did you get his number?”:

“What, Coach?”

“Did you get his license plate number when he blew past you on offense last time?”

Don’t get me wrong! I love my players! I enjoy every day, practice, or game I have with them. And I know they love me! And they’re never sure what I’ll say next! 

High school basketball is a long season. From the first day of tryouts to the last game of the season covers about 16 weeks. It’s a journey where the coach spends a lot of time with his boys. Humor and sarcasm become fuel for the journey. 

It’s like…

Mentors For the Journey

January 4, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 4, 2019

                                      

I’ve been blessed to have a number of mentors in my life that have allowed me to try and fail, hone certain skills, and pointed out my strengths and weaknesses. 

Dr. James Payson Martin, senior pastor of Arlington Heights (IL) First Presbyterian Church was my first mentor when I joined a church staff. He was gentle but firm. Grace-filled, but demanding. I was between my second and third years of seminary, looking for a summer ministry experience that would stretch me…and it did. Loved it and learned from it! Grew as I groaned! 

Jim Martin was the catalyst for my growth. His daughter, Cyndi, remains a long distance friend of mine (She still lives in the Chicago area). I get choked up thinking about her and her dad. Jim passed away suddenly the week of Easter about 30 years ago. 

And then there is Chuck Landon, my first mentor in a church ministry after I was ordained and on a church staff full-time. I had been on the staff of another church for about 15 months after seminary graduation and it did not go well. I was defeated and discouraged, wondering if I was really called to ministry. The senior pastor was rarely around to guide me. The rumor was that he spent more time on the golf course, which had one of its fairways rolling right behind his backyard. This “Wolfe” often felt like he was being fed to the wolves!

Lansing First Baptist Church rescued me from leaving ministry, and Chuck Landon taught me more about being a pastor than anyone else I have known. His work ethic flowed out of his passion for Christ, pursuit for excellence, and love for the people he pastored and community he served in. When I was willing to settle for less he let me know it was unacceptable. When I did something well he affirmed the excellence and effectiveness of it. When I wore my softball cleats (They were rubber cleats, okay!) to a Diaconate meeting in the pristine church parlor, he read me the riot act the next day! He taught me responsibility, and he taught me that perception, no matter whether it is accurate or not, is the reality.

Those two men mentored me to become a good pastor. They prepared me to mentor others to be good pastors, and hopefully those people will mentor others.

I’ve had other mentors through the years also in other areas of life. Don Fackler mentored me to a good basketball coach. When I assisted him in coaching the Mason (Michigan) High School Girl’s JV team, he laid the foundations in my life on how to coach. Now, more than 20 years later, I still find myself using some of those same learnings, and speak some of the same terms that he spoke. 

As I write more these days there have been a few mentors to bring my writing quality up. God has blessed me to have my life path converge with Ed and Diana Stucky. They’ve pressed me to not settle for less, to reach for quality and to be a wordsmith in conveying ideas. 

Mentors are essential for our development and success. If we learn in isolation we will experience the storms of being isolated. If we realize that we are “not all that!” and allow others to speak truth into the rough edges of our lives we will be better, and we will be better prepared to be vessels that flow with purpose!

Old Friends in A New Day

January 3, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   January 3, 2019

                              

“Friendship knows no barriers that it will not make its way through, knows no distance it will not travel, knows no time that will bring its end except the end of life itself.”

                                                                                                        -Me

A friend of mine once said that he had many acquaintances, but few friends. He was profoundly wise in his view of friendship. Many of us have an inconceivable number of Facebook “friends”. I just checked my FB page and found out that I’m at 1,043! That doesn’t mean I’m popular, it just means that there’s a lot of people I know. Sure, some of those are immediate family and relatives near and far. My cousin Suzanne lives in Park City, Utah. I haven’t seen her in a few decades, but it’s good to see what’s going on in her life.

I digress from my point, however! 

Carol and I spent New Year’s Eve in Charlotte, North Carolina with our friends Tom and Diane Bayes. Their son, Brandon and his wife Mary, and their two young kids came over for dinner. Brandon is reading this blog so I’ll detour for a moment just to say this to him- ”Hee, hee, hee!” It’s an inside joke that brings a memory back to him of the Holy Land tour he, his dad, and I were on years ago.

Back to Tom! Both Tom and I are now retired American Baptist pastors. For about 15 years of our ministries we served as pastors at two churches in the Lansing, Michigan area. The two of us, plus another American Baptist pastor, Chuck Moore, met for lunch at Finley’s restaurant on the southside of Lansing every other Wednesday for about 7 years. We formed friendships that have carried through. We called our threesome “The BMW Group” (Bayes, Moore, Wolfe). We figured it was as close to a BMW that any of us would get. 

We differed theologically, and yet we respected each other’s views and beliefs in an uncommon way- we listened and didn’t belittle!

Carol and I arrived at the Bayes house about 2:00 in the afternoon and for the next eleven and a half hours we talked, laughed, ate, toasted the new year, and finally went to bed at 1:30 in the morning. It was as if we had never been apart.

Friendship is like that. It doesn’t struggle to chat, and yet is comfortable with the moments of quiet. It doesn’t need to impress, yet it willing to wade through the waters of discouragement that one or the other is trudging through. It congratulates and consoles. 

Both Tom and I…and Chuck have traveled through tsunamis of church ministry. Each of us has been at one time or another the solid post that the friend in the midst of the storm has grabbed onto in the dangerous ministry times of being swept away. Each of us has also been the one who has grasped for that post. It’s what friends do for one another! 

Brandon pressed the issue with us during dinner. “You two are both retired. Why don’t you meet up with Chuck in Chicago sometime?” (Chuck pastors in Champaign, Illinois now.) 

So we will! I texted Chuck about the idea and meeting and going to a Cubs game, but we really don’t even need a baseball game. We just need each other! Location is secondary! That’s what friends do. We don’t need an event to meet around. I’ll say it again…we just need each other!