Archive for March 2021

The Testing of Patience

March 31, 2021

Being pulled into a full year of teaching seventh-grade language arts has been an interesting and energizing experience for me. I’m an almost-67-year-old rookie who hangs out with 12 and 13 year olds five days a week. Some of my students when discovering my age have ribbed me with comments like “Forget your walker today, Mr. Wolfe?” and “Don’t fall and hurt yourself!” They say things like that with smiles on their faces, not really intending to be disrespectful. Bottom line, it’s been a good journey that I’m glad to be a part of.

Education this year is more about the journey and not so much about the content. Knowledge and understanding are happening, but awareness of the emotional, mental, and social aspects of our student’s lives have risen to the top of the priority pole.

One of the dilemmas that schools face this year that has become another aspect that is out of their control is the mandating of assessment testing. Irregardless of all the other stressing situations and despite the fact that some school districts are still not back to in-person learning, the edict has come down that states and their school districts will be required to administer assessment tests. There is much debate, discussion, and heated dialogue as to the need for it. In a stressed-out school calendar year it means taking two to three days to find out where students are most deficient. For many school districts across the country that means testing will happen shortly after students have finally come back to in-person learning.

Our school is expecting that the parents of about half of our 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students will opt their children out of the testing. In essence, the data from those who test will be incomplete and inclusive. In my view of those who have opted out so far, it seems that parents who are more engaged in their child’s learning consider testing to be an unnecessary and ill-timed intrusion into the education journey for this school year.

But schools have been mandated to do it…even when half won’t be there. For those in our school who opt out, they will be given assignments to do asynchronously those days at home.

The arguments in support or opposition bring out the passion in the opinionated. Those who support testing seem to say that we need the data to see how much ground we’ve lost. It’s an indicator, a tool to help guide the next school year. Those opposed say that it’s not what is good for kids right now. It’s the pull of the structure versus the sanity of our students. Preserving the structure has a tendency to take on a sacredness to it, kind of like cursive writing. Or better yet, the placement of the letters on our laptop keyboard that was determined back when typewriters had all of those annoying arms that would become entangled if someone typed too fast. The letters were arranged to slow down the typist. Guess what we still use in this age of laptops? The slowest keyboard design known to mankind! That’s the firmness that structure can sometimes have.

Evaluating what has been has value to it. Assessing has merit. Sometimes, however, you just need to take the extra garments off because the temperature doesn’t warrant them being worn. Wrap the sweater around your waist and use it next time.

Drywall and Thankfulness

March 28, 2021

The call came from my oldest daughter, Kecia. Carol and I had left Colorado Springs Friday morning for a few days of vacation in Arizona, where her four siblings were rendezvousing. It was a welcome break from the snowstorms and blizzard we had recently had.

On Monday morning, my cell phone rang indicating that Kecia was calling me. Her first words stunned me: “Dad, I’ve got some bad news!” Her voice had an emotional tremor to it, and my first thought was that something had happened to one of the grandkids. I waited in the two-second pause that crept by. “There was a leak in your upstairs bathroom and it’s flowed down into the family room. The drywall has water coming out from it and the carpet and couch are soaked.”

“Oh, okay!” She was relieved at my unemotional response. “That’s fine! I’ll call my insurance agent and talk to them about what we need to do.”

“I’m sorry, Dad.”

“Honey, it’s only drywall and stuff. I thought you were going to say that something happened to one of your kids. We can replace drywall, but we can’t replace Jesse, Reagan, or Corin!”

Perspective. Sometimes it’s hard to keep the right one. “Stuff” becomes our focus so often. The commercials I watch on TV usually try to tell me that my life needs more “stuff”…well, that is if I had a TV to watch right now, since the one in the family room got baptized. I guess that would have been a Methodist baptism…it just kept getting sprinkled!

Life situations happen that bring us back to what is important. Saying goodbye to my friend Lessley was more important than picking up sale items at the store. Being about to fly back to Ohio ago to spend my dad’s last day with him was far more important that the inflated plane ticket price. Having a phone conversation with my friend, Dave Volitis, is far more valuable than the time I take to talk with him.

“Stuff” doesn’t amount to a hill of beans when it comes to the inconvenient events of our journeys. The joy and celebration of our family opening Christmas presents will be remembered far, far longer than what the actual gifts were that got unwrapped. People are the gifts. Conversations are the seasoning.

And so I said to Kecia, “Oh, okay!” It was not our idea as to how to get rid of the popcorn ceiling in the family room, but I guess that’s a ripple-effect blessing that will come from this unexpected baptism.

The Coming and Going of Friends

March 16, 2021

A few days ago I wrote about a friend of mine named Lessley Ellis, who was in the last days of his life journey. He had discontinued dialysis and was ready for that transition into Glory. He passed away last Tuesday night, March 9th. No immediate funeral gathering has been planned, but I hope to organize a celebration of his life in a few weeks. After all, he asked me to do his funeral and I said yes! It’s the least I can do for a man who I’d say did “the most he could despite his lack.”

It’s gut-wrenching to say goodbye to friends that have given you so much. With Lessley there was the hard reality of having to step back from his life when I retired from being the pastor of his church. It necessitated an ethical distance that is often misunderstood. Our paths would cross once in a while, but not the 4-5 times a week like it was when I was his pastor. He was one of those people who never stopped tugging on my heartstrings, never stopped being in my thoughts. His passing is almost like a second separation; the first from being his pastor and the second from stepping back from his bedside.

The interesting thing is that I reconnected that same Tuesday night with two former college classmates of mine, Jim and Lynn Fay, who I hadn’t seen in 44 years. Carol and I drove over to Aspen, where they were visiting for a few days of skiing. Jimmy and I ran cross country and track together at Judson College, in Elgin, Illinois. Lynn was the good-looking young woman that had a number of suitors vying for her attention.

We spent two and a half hours together and it was as if we hadn’t missed a day, although our physical appearances had altered just a tad. Jim expressed a desire to put together a reunion this summer of our old cross country teammates back in Illinois. What a hoot that would be! We shared stories of what was and talked about what is, laughed, hugged, and laughed some more.

Friends are blessings that can sometimes disappear for a while, but reappear in our memories or for another few moments. Friends are people we’re blessed to say goodbye to as we hold their bedside hand, or embrace in a hug punctuated with laughter after missing them for most of your life.

There’s a bittersweetness to friendship. We so often don’t realize the sacredness of it until it has walked by us into the past.

Be Still (Stop Whining!) and Know That I Am God!

March 7, 2021

“Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)

Each day in my seventh-grade classroom I begin the class with a short saying called “Wolfe Wisdom”. Once in a while I purposely rename it “Wolfe Whine”, like last Friday when I shared this one: “I lost my mood ring and I’m not sure how I feel about it!” I knew I was showing my age when several students, during the course of the day, asked “What’s a mood ring?”

Someone else said, “Mr. Wolfe, you always whine!” In a whiney voice, I replied, “I do not!”

Whining is just one extra letter away from wining, and there seem to be a lot of people who are intoxicated with it. Complaining seems to be an exceptional talent for them. I’ve thought about putting together the top ten whines I heard in my 36 years as a pastor, but someone would probably grumble about the fact that they didn’t make the list.

Of course, in Exodus and Numbers we have multiple whining crescendos from the Hebrew people about the lack of water, lack of food, lack of meat, lack of security. If you’ve ever been in a pre-school room where every small body is talking, crying, or screaming you might get a sense of God’s level of perturbed.

In these crazy days we’re living in, whining has spread like locusts. When you are in the midst of a whine-fest, you can’t hear the whisperings of God. Stillness is something our energy-drink saturated culture doesn’t do very well. We whine about our situations, expecting the solution to come from those who are as clueless as we are, instead of pausing to be still.

However, it’s to be expected. There has been an eroding belief in the One who is the Solution and holds the keys to our struggles. Faith requires that I believe in something outside of myself and beyond our institutions and structures. Faith nudges at my ribs and asks me to be still for a while and watch what our Resolving God will do.

Is that difficult? Yes, it is. Our attention spans are as short as 15 second commercials now…unless the attention is on ourselves, and then we can go all day like we’re our own reality TV show.

Be still. Be settled. Zip the lips and confine the whine.

The Quakers hit one something when they wait in silence on a word from the Lord. Maybe we need to become a bit more Quaker-ish! I’m sitting in stillness and thinking about that. Hmmmm!

When Your Friend Is About To Cross Over

March 4, 2021

Lessley Ellis is a friend of mine. I know, that doesn’t sound that unique, but you see Lessley is about to cross over from this life to the next, from this world where his walking was sometimes painful for his tired legs, to the next world where he envisions streets of gold and a new spring in his step. He lays in a bed right now of a local hospital hospice ward, his kidneys failing him and no longer desiring to continue the journey of dialysis and just simply feeling lousy. He’s ready to move on, even though he’s only 62 years old.

The first time I met Lessley was on a February Saturday morning at our church. The day before had brought several inches of snow. After our Bible Study a few of us men grabbed snow shovels and headed out to clear sidewalks around the building. Suddenly, Lessley pulled into the parking lot in his red Honda Civic Hatchback, popped the hatch and pulled out a small snowblower. He started clearing the walk without asking permission…just did it! Then he started coming to church on Sundays…and that men’s bible study group on Saturdays…and we became friends.

Some would say that our friendship was an unusual match. You see, Lessley couldn’t read but a few words. Ben Dickerson, our associate pastor, took him under his wing and started teaching him how to read. Roger Mollenkamp picked up the challenge. Flash cards can work even with a fifty-year-old. I remember a while later when Lessley read part of the scripture that we were studying on one of those Saturday mornings. He was far from fluid, but he was so happy. In his eyes, he had scaled a mountain that had seemed unclimbable for a long time.

He had come from Detroit, lived a hard life growing up, dropped out of school, fled the demon of drugs that surrounded him, and come to Colorado. He worked as a custodian and then for several years tossed trash cans for Waste Management. The physical labor wrecked his body and probably hurried the onset of his kidney problems. At church, however, he’d do what needed to be done…picking up a vacuum cleaner, taking out the trash after a church dinner, helping wherever.

Life was sometimes confusing to him. He didn’t understand why some people were the way they were. We’d have a cup of coffee together or go out for lunch. Sometimes he’d drop by my office and we’d sit and talk. He’d get emotional. I know there were more than a few times when he felt slighted and minimized because of his lack of education, his job, and even the color of his skin. The combination of the three could result in a person treating him like he didn’t matter. It may not have been intentional, but a few times I witnessed a 6’2″ inch African American man feeling like he was about five feet tall.

We’d talk through it, or I’d just listen to his questions about the insensitivity of humanity. Most of the time, he didn’t expect an answer, but just appreciated that he had someone who would listen.

When he worked for Waste Management he’d bring me things. Like a water dispenser that produced hot or cold water. It still worked fine, but someone had tossed it to the curb. It became a part of my office attire. As did a Michael Garman art piece, tossed to the curb because a tiny article of it had broken off. I didn’t even know something was missing and it sat on top of a bookshelf in my office until I retired.

That kinda described one of the things I loved about Lessley. Something that might be tossed to the curb for the trash guys to pick up, he could still find value in. Something seen as being useless, he saw as still having some life in it. He taught me a lot of things that I could never learn in a book.

I’ll always remember that smile of his, half his front teeth missing but still able to grin. He had dreams that never panned out, like going to barber school (but getting taken by the people who ran it), buying an old pickup truck thinking he could earn some money hauling things like scrap metal, and a few other ideas that I’d try to offer him some guidance about but never discouraging him.

Some of the people in our lives that bless us the most are the ones that our world says have the least to offer us. Lessley had little, in terms to worldly possessions, but offered so much. I admit, as I type this I’m fighting back the tears that are causing me to rely on Grammarly to correct.

When Carol and I saw him this afternoon he clung to our hands as we were saying our goodbyes. The tears came to him when his strength was waning. We ached in the valley of that room on the sixth floor. He asked me if I would do his funeral and I said “I would be honored!” I’m not sure I’ll be able to hold it together, but I’m sure he’d be smiling.

And to think! It all began on a Saturday morning with a snowblower.

Is God Nice?

March 1, 2021

There’s this theologically-shallow belief that is treading through people’s lives that God is nice. It’s as if people are saying, as one of the senior ladies at church would say about so-and-so, “He’s so nice!” There would be a look of satisfaction on the white-haired lady’s face in saying that about someone. That opinion of God is also saturated with misguided satisfaction.

You see, God is gracious, but niceness is an adjective taped to Him by a world that wants to see Him as a “Yes God”, a happy-face deity, sprinkling angel dust upon His children and answering our dreams and wishes because He’s…nice!

In my reading of the Bible this year I’m almost finished with the Old Testament book of Numbers. If you were looking for a word to describe the Lord Almighty in Numbers, nice would not jump to the top of the list. I’d say He’s loving and demanding, offering blessings and judgments, forgiving and disciplining. He demanded atonement for wrongdoing.

Holiness is not the same as niceness. Perfection is on a different level than mostly-good. Most of us want our life to be filled with nice things, people who treat us nice, nice feelings, nice times, and echoes of “Nice!” being mentioned to us about our decisions, our accomplishments, and our creations. A holy God, however, does not operate on the basis of whether we are satisfied and secure. That’s not saying that He’s mean and prone to sending lightning bolts upon the heads of unrepentant sinners. After all, His grace and love is shown in Jesus, and Jesus surrendering His life so that we might live.

So where does this idea of niceness in describing our Creator come from? It comes from the book of our hopes, and how we wish things in this world operated. It develops in our minds as we adjust our theology to balance on top of a see-saw of good and bad. It comes from that idea that if God is a loving God He will not send anyone to eternal darkness. In other words, a nice god only does nice things.

Some people only want to hear half the story, the nice half…the half that includes no negative repercussions. Here’s the thing! A God who operates on grace and forgiveness is much more demanding of Him than a god who is just nice.