Archive for the ‘children’ category

The Back Story

May 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            May 20, 2018

                                       

Why am I the way I am?

Why do I always drink my coffee with cream and sugar?

Why do I always put my left leg into my pants first?

Why do I hate beer?

Questions that may intrigue no one else but myself! They are questions that hint at something from my past that caused me to think, act, or feel in a certain way in the present. 

It’s my back story reemerging. For example, I drink my coffee with cream and sugar because that’s how both my mom and dad drank it. It’s a family practice. Once in a great while I’ll drink a cup of coffee black, or with only one of the additions, but it feels strange…it feels off, like I’m putting my pants on backwards and wondering where that zipper went!

“Back Story” is a term writers use to illuminate a character’s past, like telling the story of how the main character received the scar that ran down the side of his face. It’s a glimpse into why someone is the way he is. 

Everyone has Back Story! It’s what we’re rooted in, for good and for bad. 

When tragedy happens, something unexpectedly evil, we ask questions about the perpetrator. We search for some kind of explanation for the unexplainable. Why would Dimitrios Pagourtzis kill students that he went to school with each day? I’ve noticed that there have been several rumored reasons set forward already. What’s his Back Story? What pushed him to do something so evil that it would break the heart of a community and send more shudders throughout the nation?

That question will trouble Santa Fe High School for generations to come. “Why” will continue to rumble through the minds of the students and faculty each time they look at the building or walk down the hallways. A mass shooting will become their Back Story.

If I was pastoring a church in Santa Fe, Texas, what would I say this morning to a sanctuary of confused and troubled faces? What would I tell them on this Sunday that is also Pentecost Sunday?

It is the “Back Story” in our faith journey that I would bring forth. Pentecost is that holy moment when the Holy Spirit descended upon the disciples of Jesus. In a world that is exhausted by its unrest, Pentecost is part of our Back Story of hope. It is why we believe that good can overcome evil. It’s the reason each follower of Jesus believes that lives can be redeemed, that light can shine into darkness. 

Pentecost is the Greek name for “Shavuot”, the spring harvest festival of the Israelites, which was happening at the time of the coming of the Holy Spirit. If you could find more than a couple of Christians out of a hundred who would know the spring harvest festival part of Pentecost you’d be doing good. Our Back Story is now connected to the promise of the Spirit. 

We may never know, and probably, never understand why Dimitrios Pagourtzis opened fire on people he knew and had been educated with? Whatever was going on in his past may never make any kind of sense to us. Our culture minimizes the idea of “The Evil One”, until the Bible tells us he comes to deceive and destroy. It’s his M.O., his Back Story that continues in the present and on into the days ahead.

But followers of Christ know their Back Story, too, and that it leads us on to be agents of change, and lovers of all people. It’s my Back Story that causes me to fear no evil, and have the assurance of future hope!

Report From A Rookie Writer

May 18, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May 18, 2018

                               

Day 3 of the Christian Writer’s Conference is upon me. There are a lot of people here just like me, hoping and praying that some editor or agent likes their manuscript or idea for a book so much that they hand them a business card and say, “Send it to me!”

That happened in my first appointment yesterday, and I could sense the rising up of tears. Not all of my 15 minute appointments ended up like that, but a couple did. I have two more today and one tomorrow.

It was encouraging to hear the leader of our Fiction Intensive Clinic say that there were many more who applied to be in that group who were sent letters saying “Sorry!” He told the six of us that were accepted that although each of us had things to work on there was potential in each of our writings to be taken to the next level. 

The group spends an hour on each of the admissions, which are usually about the first 10-14 pages of the manuscript. My turn comes Saturday morning and then I will have a half hour Saturday afternoon with the instructor.

This conference is about learning- learning to write more effectively, learning that there are other aspects to getting a book published besides pecking out 100,000 words on my AirBook, learning new terminology, and learning many of the little things that raise a writer’s readability level. 

I’m also learning that it’s necessary to risk. Coming here is risky, because you may get trampled on. Years ago, my fiction clinic instructor was ready to walk out of the same conference because he was so discouraged, but the conference coordinator got a hold of him and gave him a word of encouragement. Years later he’s now the fiction class leader, and author of a number of books. 

There are other conference first-timers here, just like me, but the bulk of the attendees have been coming to this conference for years. They know what to do and where to go. There’s been a few times where I’ve looked like a new freshman standing in the hallway of his new highs chool trying to figure out where the Band Room is.

We all come with stories that we think are the best thing since sliced bread. They are our babies that we want to protect. Having someone suggest that a writer might change the story or the wording sometimes feels like another person telling you to change the way you parent your baby.

Through it all, I’ve become more thankful for the God who leads and guides us and the people he brings along the path to walk with us. 

Writer’s Conference Anxiety

May 15, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     May 15, 2018

                              

The Estes Park Christian Writer’s Conference is one day away and I’m feeling like a jittery five year old about to hug his mom and walk with shaking knees into his kindergarten class for the first day of school. What will happen? What if I have to go to the bathroom? What if I fall on the playground and skin my knee, or tip over the building blocks accidentally? What if my teacher doesn’t like me and makes me stand in the corner?

Kindergarten questions simply get redressed into grownup worries. As I head to the conference the questions cloud my mind like the halo on top of Pike’s Peak this morning. 

What if my clinic teacher tells me that my writing really sucks? What if they use literary terms that I have no clue about? What is the people there are about half a bubble off center…you know, the elevator doesn’t go to the top floor? What if I have to go to the bathroom really bad? (As you can tell, I’m a bit concerned about taking care of “my business!”) What if I get asked a question and my mind goes as blank as a stare? What if I get Gordon Ramsay for an instructor, complete with English accent and expletives? 

When you have never experienced something you begin to let your mind wander to dark places. 

I WAS accepted as one of six people in the Fiction Intensive Clinic. I had to send my book synopsis and first chapter to the clinic teacher about two months ago and the six of us that were accepted were notified at the end of April. Each of us now has the first chapter and synopsis of the others in the group. There will be some major critiquing and, hopefully, encouragement as we learn about writing tendencies and bad habits. 

I will have appointments with a few literary agents, with hopes that someone will be interested in my book enough to express desire in getting it in front of some publishers. In the midst of this is some personal pride about the story I’ve created, the characters I’ve come to love, and the value of the message that the book brings. My stomach becomes a bit queasy thinking that I’ve written four hundred pages that might get trashed. Actually, I’ve written eight hundred plus pages, because the sequel to the first book has already had its first draft finished. The third book has already been started. Through the pages of type I’ve come to love the characters like the ninth grader, Randy Bowman, and his seventh grade neighbor and friend, Ethan Thomas. It hit me a while ago that I WAS Ethan Thomas in seventh grade and I wanted to be Randy Bowman when I was a freshman. In the course of the first two books Randy helps Ethan become more than he ever thought he could be, a kid easily unseen in the midst of his school who is mentored and befriended towards the discovery of potential and value. 

And, that is also why there is anxiety about this new experience. I’m all in with the story! Like a fourteen year old who discovers his name is not on the list of players who made the basketball team, I’m trying to brace myself for the possibility of disappointment, but also hold out hope that…something just might happen!

Regardless, I believe that God has orchestrated this moment. I’m just hoping that it doesn’t sound like a harmonica in the midst of a wind ensemble!

Cross-Country Return

May 13, 2018

 WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              May 13, 2018

                          

I received the good news this week. Next school year I’ll be coaching middle school cross-country. It’s a return, in many ways, to my roots!

When I was a junior in high school I started running cross-country. My path had been pre-determined by the previous school year’s track program. At a cold early April triangular meet at Fairland High School in Proctorville, Ohio, the Ironton High School head track coach, Bill Trent, had asked if anyone was interested in running in the two mile race that day. Our team needed another runner to compete, or at least jog. Although I had been the Wood County, West Virginia, eight year old 50 yard dash champion…that had been almost eight years in the rearview mirror. This was my chance to run varsity…as a sophomore!

“But it’s Twwwooooo Miles!”

And it was cold with a chilling rain mist making it even more miserable! 

“I’ll run, Coach!”

“Okay, Billy! Do the best you can!”

I don’t remember my time that day…something like fourteen minutes! I remember that I wasn’t last, beat a couple of other runners, endured the wet wind on the back stretch, and scored a point for our team with a fourth place finish. 

And suddenly I was a distance runner! My time dropped three minutes in the next few weeks and I finished the season with a fifth place finish at the league meet in Athens. It paved the way for the fall cross-country season, and a summer of running on top of the flood walls of Ironton. 

Lance Clanton was the cross-country coach. I don’t think Coach Clanton had much experience with running, but IHS needed someone to keep a pack of running fools in line. During the school day he was the industrial arts teacher. He is the only industrial arts teacher I have ever met who was also a cross-country coach! 

We were a mediocre team not quite understanding the race tactics and practice ideas of the new school sport. Our home course include one part where we ran down into a dump area next to the school, affectionately called “the Sand Pit”, and back up again. Interval training was a foreign concept. One goofy runner named Eugene would climb a tree and wait for everyone to come back past him on a route we would run from the high school down to the cemetery and back. Actually, we were all a bit goofy, a few nerds before that term became commonplace, a couple of athletes, and a few others thrown into the mix who had nothing better to do after school.  

Two years after that I was wearing a t-shirt that had Miami of Ohio on the front of it. I was 16th man on a sixteen man roster, which means I was able to wear the t-shirt, run in the home meets, and endure the exhausting practices. Miami finished 7th at the NCAA nationals that year. I was not a factor in their success, but it did teach me a lot about what cross-country is and isn’t!

Two years later I was arriving on the small campus of Judson College in Elgin, Illinois to complete the last two years of my college education. Soon after I arrived I met Don Kraus, the cross-country coach, and his assistant, Ed Allen. They welcomed me with open arms, although I would not be eligible to compete that first year. Judson didn’t have a track, but cross-country fit well there, and we would run through campus laughing and sporting our Eagles’ warm-ups. At Judson I came to value the importance of relationships of my teammates. I can still remember each one of them…Stan Brown (who was one of my groomsmen), Jim Fay, Duane “the lumberjack” Young, Larry Crane, Kevin Kelly, Tom Randall, Mark Diehl, our manager, Tim “Ratman” Etternick, our coaches, and our trainer, Dr. Stuart Ryder…professor of English by day and “ice and bandage guy” by night.

We were a decent team, finishing sixth at the NCCAA nationals my senior year. Notice I put an extra “C” in there. The NCCAA stands for National Christian College Athletic Association, a bit less prime-time than the other organization with one less letter, but not nearly as plagued by scandal and populated by cheaters either!

And now…forty-two years after that I’ll be returning to the sport I always enjoyed and the challenges of training young runners, many whom are totally clueless about how long the race is that they will be expected to complete. I prepared for this return by coaching the distance runners at the same middle school, Timberview, this spring. The whining of seventh and eighth grade runners is like sweet music to my ears. It will be awesome to encourage the runners this coming August that they CAN do it, they CAN succeed, they CAN be something more than they thought they could ever be. 

Baristas and The Bible

May 12, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      May, 12, 2018

                                

It feels a little bit like “Baptist Mom Guilt” (BMG) is being laid upon me, and yet there is sad truth to it!

In The American Bible Society’s 2018 State of the Bible, Barna Research announced that 37% of Americans say that coffee is a daily necessity for them. The Bible was viewed by 16% as a daily necessity. Between java and Jesus were “something sweet” (28%) and social media (19%).

I’m feeling an altar call for repentance! I’m sitting on my usual last stool on the right at my local Starbucks as I write these words! I know the names of my baristas better (Cody, Rhea, Sara, Katie, Steph, Chase, Viv, and Kallie) than the order of the Minor Prophets (Hosea, Joel, ehhh…)! My Keurig gets more use than First and Second Kings!

I too often fall into the category of those who say, “I’ve heard it all before!” I admit that there are times I look at my Bible like it’s a replaying of It’s A Wonderful Life. Nice, heartwarming, great story, and…flip it over to the Kentucky basketball game and see what the score is?

Surprisingly, my generation and the generation older than me are the two generations more likely to say coffee is needed. Baby boomers (47%) and those 75 years of age and older (46%) put the dark roast as the best part of waking up. Millennials and Generation X are both in the low 30%’s. 

What is even sadder (Hear the BMG again!) is the plethora of Bibles of different versions and reading levels that are available. Go to a Mardel’s and there is a long, floor-to-ceiling, wall of the Word! There’s Bibles for seniors, youth, single people, divorced folk, people in need of healing, military, moms and dads, young couples, and pentecostals. There has been market saturation of scripture, and yet for more and more folk it’s lost it’s appeal, kind of like Rocky 7. 

And I guess if there’s going to be change it needs to start with me! Am I willing to pray for the centrality of the Word of God in my life? Will I allow my spirit to sip through a couple of Psalms today just as much as my Pike Place medium roast? Will my Bible speak to me today as much as this morning’s barista, the warm and friendly, Cody? Will I be as concerned about what God would reveal to me in Philippians today as I am about getting the right mixture of cream and sugar in my brew? 

As the patronage of Starbucks increases the interest in scripture decreases. Barna found that the percentage of people who said they wished they would use the Bible more is lower than it has been in seven years. 

The interesting thing that I’ve noticed at Starbucks is the number of people who read their Bibles here while sipping on a latte. I’ve noticed groups of three or four engaged in bible study. Maybe in some weird way a coffee shop can be a “brewing ground” for increased use of those leather-bound books of God’s story!

I’m pulling out my iPad right now to take a couple of gulps!

(Statistics from Lifeway Facts and Trends, May 11, 2018)

Middle School Lunch Detention

May 9, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          May, 9, 2018

                      

It’s the card that you hold in your teaching hands that has the power to raise a student’s eyebrows, the corrector of the uncorrectable…the threat of lunch detention!

For most students it holds the same level of dread as being grounded for a day, or having to write “I will not act like a fool ever again!” fifty times on a sheet of notebook paper. Only the threat of execution or taking the student’s cell phone away holds more power.

Last week I used the trump card three times. For one student I could see the fear of God in his eyes when I hinted that the consequence was close at hand. He would have run through fire to avoid it. For the other two students, however, their intelligent responses had taken siestas and left them unprotected from momentary stupidity.

After pronouncing sentence the first convicted thirteen year old tried to convince me of my unreasonableness. Too late, my man! Since you gave me a bunch of baloney, you’ll be eating your baloney sandwich at that desk!

The second charged, tried, and convicted was like a repeat offender. When the threat of detention revealed its ugly head he acted like it was a good thing…kind of like wearing a pair of “tighty whitie” underwear that’s a size too small! That’s never a good thing! His insolence caused me to propose two days of lunch detention. He still mistook cockiness for courage.

“Would you like a whole week of lunch detention?” He gave me a thumbs up.

“Okay! You’ll have it all next week.”

He is the exception. 99% of middle school students, if given a choice, would choose taking a shower after P.E. class- a place in the locker room that collects cobwebs because of how often it gets used- rather than lunch detention.

When the consequences were rendered there were gasps throughout the classroom. It was seventh grade newsworthy! Word would spread through the other seventh grade classrooms as quickly as a spring thunderstorm cloud burst.

The young man who is serving “the five” saw me in the library yesterday. He looked at me and said, “I’m still mad at you!”

“Understandable! When you stop being mad at me and start being mad at yourself you will have taken a step towards maturity.”

One of his eyebrows raised as if he was thinking about it. If nothing else I got him to that point…thinking!

A 6, Followed By A 4!

May 6, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    May 6, 2018

                                

I’ve usually associated the  number “64” with the interstate between Charleston and Huntington, West Virginia, a road that often has the feel of the Monaco Grand Prix, populated by tensed-up drivers and speeding coal trucks.

Yesterday, however, I hit 64 in birth years. My former high school classmate, Tanya Citti, hit it a day earlier. I should have called her up to get a scouting report on its impact.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever had as a wild a birthday as number 64! I’d better clarify what “wild” means in case anyone thinks I took a roll of quarters to a casino slot machine, or went to a local bar and downed a series of Woodford Reserve Kentucky bourbon shots.

“Wild” began with about eighty middle school track team members meeting to travel to the league meet at 7:30 in the morning, our final meet of the year. Being the 7th Grade Girls coach I was responsible for about twenty-five of those students, all giddy and giggly for the day ahead. I layered on the sun block because it was…wait for it!…hot! Snow had canceled our last home meet two days before!

At noon the first hint of weird and wild appeared on my cell phone screen. It was a text from my youngest daughter, Lizi. The text said, “Not a good day over here! What time are you done with the meet?”

“Huh?”

I called. “What’s up?”

“Well, Mom fell in the front yard at Kecia’s house (our oldest daughter), hurt her shoulder, and is at the doctor.”

“Ohh, how did she do that?”

“She stepped in a divot or something…and then-“

“And then?”

“Yes, and then while she was there Reagan (our seven year old granddaughter) fell off the monkey bars at the park a couple blocks away from the doctor’s office and got a gash beside her eye so I had to take her to the Emergency Room at Penrose-St. Francis Hospital.”

“What!!??”

“So she’s probably going to get some stitches and then Mom’s doctor is sending her here to have her shoulder x-rayed.”

“Her doctor is sending her to the same ER as Reagan?”
“Yes! Oh, and happy birthday, Dad!”

Middle school track meets can sometimes seem like they go on forever. Saturday’s seemed to go on forever…and ever…and ever, as the three ladies close and dear to my heart spent their afternoons populating the emergency room! Lizi and Reagan were able to leave about 3:00, but Carol was still there…waiting! When I got home at 4:30 I dropped my stuff, changed clothes, and headed to Penrose to be with her. A new Time magazine came in the mail so I threw it in the car. Murphy’s law says that if you take nothing to read with you you’ll end up being there forever, but if you take a book, the newspaper, or a magazine you’ll never get a chance to open it. Sure enough, when I checked in at the ER Security desk Carol texted me, “Ready to leave!”

The security person took me back to Room 8 and there was my wounded warrior, struggling to get her pants on. I helped her get her right foot through the correct hole, the foot that she informed me had also been sprained in her fall that morning.

A few minutes later, with a boot on her foot, I helped her hobble out to the car, got her buckled in, and headed home.

Lizi and Kecia arrived a little while later, Kecia driving Carol’s car that had still been parked at her house. She, and her husband, Kevin, had been at the Spartan Race that morning and afternoon, an eight mile run with a 100% possibility of getting muddy and dirty as the participants encountered various obstacles and challenges.

They all wished me a happy birthday, and then apologized.

“It’s all right! I’ll have another one next year!”

Next year…65! And my mind went to another highway, I-65, the interstate I traveled numerous times from Chicago to Indianapolis. A road that does not seem nearly as treacherous and intense as 64, and I thought to myself, hopefully number 65 will more resemble that road than the wild ride 64 was!