Archive for the ‘children’ category

What’s My “Jesus Word”?

January 7, 2021

Cary Nieuwhof wrote a blog recently as a result of the Washington protest/unrest. Although written with church leaders and pastors in mind, it had several great points to make about the power of our words. I love it when I read something or hear someone speak that results in causing me to think and ponder the words of the author/speaker.

Cary makes this statement: As Jesus so clearly said, out of the overflow of the heart your mouth speaks.

Word issues are heart issues. The only way to really fix your words is to fix your heart. Sometimes we get so tired of the words we’re hearing that we retreat to silence or irrelevance. Last night, for example, my wife and I got so tired of the reports of what was happening in Washington that we switched channels and started watching the Tennessee-Arkansas basketball game. For someone who grew up as a Kentucky Wildcats’ basketball fan, watching Tennessee play was almost sacrilegious, but we needed a break from the “words”!

Words carry power and influence. They are impactful expressions of our mindset. However, they can be used to lead folks to a place of greater understanding deeper peace, and broadened hope; or they can be used to lead the herd to the edge of the cliff.

The question that came to me, being a Christ-follower, is what’s my Jesus-word for this time? What communication of Christ will inspire me, instead of causing me to change the channels? What word will emerge from my mouth that will be an reflection of my heart?

I think of Jesus sayings at the beginning of the fifth chapter in the Gospel of Matthew. We refer to them as His Sermon on the Mount. He talks about people of mercy and peace, people whose life-priorities are God-glorifying, people who are caring and loving, and people who may be poor in the world’s views but rich in spirit. There are Jesus’ words about grace and forgiveness, servant-minded, and giving. He teaches about inner beauty as being delightful in the eyes of God versus outward piety.

I must do self-inspection of what word my heart is echoing before inspecting the lives of others. We live in a time where criticism has dominated the tapestry. The darkness that shades our hearts affects our vision of our surroundings. For me, I must ask myself why I react with bitterness to a person whose perspective is different than mine? Why am I apathetic toward someone’s passion for a just cause? On the other side, why do I get emotional when I see a child who is seeking to befriend a lonely elderly person?

What Jesus-word will be a guiding force for me in these coming weeks?

Billie Dean Wolfe

January 4, 2021

I was born in Kentucky, close to J. D. Vance’s roots of Hillbilly Elegy fame. Everyone I knew went by two names, first and middle. If someone was referred to only by their first name– aunts and uncles excluded– they were viewed as an outsider or highfalutin. My sister went by Rena Lou, my brother Charles Dewey, and I was Billy Dean.

Except to my aunts! To my Aunts Cynthia and Irene I was Billie Dean. The only other Billies that I knew were all of the opposite gender: Billie Johnson in my high school class, Billie Holiday, Billie Jean King. I never got an explanation as to why my aunts thought I needed an extra vowel to spell my first name, but it appeared on every birthday card they sent me or Christmas present they blessed me with. It may have even been on our wedding present: Mr. and Mrs. Billie Dean Wolfe. I was such a deer-in-headlights during that event that I didn’t notice.

My grandmother, MaMaw Helton, pronounced my first name in such a way that it seemed to warrant more than one letter at the end of it. And then she would roll right into the middle bridge that held the first and last together.

Names were important to us. It connected us to the past and rooted us in the present. I bore the nameplates of a great uncle and an uncle. I was almost a Silas Dean, but, for some reason, my parents yielded to what they stamped on me. Perhaps because Billie Dean flowed better than Silas Dean. Too many “s’es” can cause a lot of spitting. My Uncle Millard (Vance, mind you) chewed Mail Pouch. “S’es” were risky. He even steered away from saying his last name very much!

Still, Billie Dean! It didn’t infuse much manliness into me. I was relieved when I arrived in Ironton, Ohio my sophomore year of high school that some of my classmates connected the closeness of Beowulf, that we happened to be reading, with “Bill Wolfe.” Quickly the new kid was christened with the name of the Scandinavian hero of literature. I became Beowolfe, which was soon shortened to “Beo”!

In a way I had finally shed my aunt-bestowed name, Billie Dean, for a simple three letter replacement. It wasn’t me, but it sounded slightly more heroic. Since I was 5’2″ in 10th grade, I needed all the help I could get.

Fill-in Pretenders and Fake Applause

December 26, 2020

In some ways, it’s been a year of pretend! There’s been the more consequential pretending, such as pretending people are immune from contracting the Coronavirus, pretending it’s a conspiracy, and pretending it’s not real. There’s the passive pretending, such as believing that life is going to go on like normal, we can still line up outside Best Buy with a mass of other pretenders hoping to get a PlayStation 5 (I’ll still confused by PlayStation 1 and The Sims!), and pretending that no one has been affected by COVID-19 except people in far away places that don’t concern us.

A lot of pretending!

Some of the pretending, however, has been more on the humorous end of the meter. For instance, when Major League Baseball began their shortened-season in late July, there was the ingenious creation of fake fans- cardboard cutouts sitting in the seats of the stadium- and fake applause from the pretend crowd. What a hoot to see the image of Ricky Henderson sitting in the seats behind home plate at an Oakland A’s game, still wearing his A’s uniform!

The NBA bubble caught on to it with virtual fans, whose images could be seen watching the game. My cynical nature wondered how over-priced one of those virtual seats ran a person, and whether it was pretend money they used to buy that make-believe seat?

In the meantime, I was called into the middle school I have coached at for the last actual 20 years, and, more recently, substitute taught at for the past five years, to see if I would teach a 7th grade language arts class at the beginning of the year. There was an immediate need and the principal was hoping I could help them out for the first month. The first month turned into the first quarter, and then the second quarter, and now I’ll be there for the year. In some ways, I’m like a pretend teacher teaching a real class! It’s almost like a Hallmark Christmas movie plot-line…Mr. Wolfe teaching at a school whose mascot is a Timberwolf and giving secret gifts to all the students, who don’t realize he’s Santa Claus until the last scene of the movie when he suddenly has a full white beard and a wife whose full name happens to be Christmas Carol Wolfe! Wow! That idea took just as many weird turns as some of the actual stories the 7th grade students were assigned to write!

And then our school went to remote learning two weeks before the Thanksgiving break. Suddenly, all of my students were looking at me from the other side of a computer screen, wondering if this was really happening. A young lady in my first class each day, who sat at the desk next to my desk, was no longer actually in my room. I missed her giggle and chatter, told her I was going to make a cardboard cutout of her and sit it at her desk, but I didn’t want to buy a new refrigerator just to make that happen.

So I found a Cabbage Patch Doll in our basement, leftover from our daughters’ growing-up days and brought her to school. Redianca, as I called her because of her red hair, was propped up at that desk beside mine as my first pretend student. I showed each of my classes, turning my laptop so they could greet the new kid, and causing giggles, some head-shaking, running commentary, and smiles.

And then I thought “Why not add a new pretend student each day?”, so I did! Our basement contained a whole student body of pretenders, teddy bears, “Tobo” the giant teddy bear that had been our daughter’s since she was 3 (and now is 39), the Three Christmas Bears, Goldilocks the scary doll, Woof the Wolfe Dog, Piggie, Pumpkinhead, Kitty the Koala, and on and on. Each day I introduced the new student to their classmates. The language arts textbooks have been put to good use as seats, props, and terraces as a way to bring, ironic as it sounds, some crazy normalcy to this unreal school year.

On the last day before Christmas break, my virtual students were wondering if their “replacements” would still be there when they are scheduled to return in mid-January? I replied that I would clear them out for the real kids to have their seats back. The real kids replied, “No, Mr. Wolfe! Keep them there! You can sit them on the counters by the windows!”

So, that’s what I’ll do! It will be a return, in some ways, to the fake fans filling the seats of a sports stadium; pretend fans watching a pretend teacher instructing real students! I still can’t figure out, however, how to make the fake applause happen!

A Light (Or Strand) in the Darkness

December 24, 2020

On Monday, Carol called for me to come outside and see The Christmas Star, as it’s referred to– Jupiter and Saturn in line with each other, something that won’t happen again for about 800 years (which is about the time that all of the styrofoam trash will breakdown).

I stared up at a speck of a star and tried to contain my excitement. A telescope would have raised my enthusiasm, but Apple has not yet figured out how to put one of those in my iPhone. I mean, to be able to see Saturn’s rings would have been pretty cool, but my progressive eyeglass lens would not enable my vision to make that happen.

The next night the two of us decided to go for a car ride and view the Christmas lights in the neighborhoods around us. Carol had found some kind of email or web site that told where the most awesome displays were and we headed toward one of the street addresses a couple miles away. When we turned onto the drive we were greeted by a long line of cars waiting, as if it was rush hour L.A. traffic. Up ahead (way up ahead) we could see the flashing lights of the front yard production of one of the residents. The lights moved in time with the music that played, as opposed to the cars that moved-not! After a few minutes of staying in the same distant spot we turned around and left. Neighborhood light productions draw ooh’s and aah’s from mesmerized crowds. The two of us, however, were simply searching for some light displays that conveyed peace and hope.

Traveling down a few more streets unclogged with waiting vehicles brought us that sense of contentment. There were simple displays that echoed the hope of the season, and then we returned to our own house where an unimpressive strand of lights goes along the top of our garage and front porch. Believe me, there is not a traffic jam on our street, except for the neighbors a couple of houses down who have too many vehicles and no place to put them but the street.

Our “light experiences” made me think about the birth narratives and also some of the beginning words of the Gospel of John. The birth of Jesus was anything but a production. It was unattended, except for sheltering livestock and distant visitors who made not have been there for a long, long time. No symphony provided background music for the song of angels. Like this week’s Christmas Star, it was unimpressive unless you had a way of seeing what it really was. John testified to its significance: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1:5)

It was a single light in a dark time, a single light that did not command the attention of the crowds. That light, that single light was the most significant light. As John writes, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” (John 1:4)

Tonight I think I’ll stand in front of our house, looking at our strand of lights bought at a summer garage sale and give thanks to the Creator for His hand in the simplicity of life and how His peace so often comes to us in the ordinary moments

Car Wash Timing

December 20, 2020

Galatians 4:4-6

 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,  to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.  Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,[c] Father.”

Carol and I decided to take our CRV to the car wash yesterday. We had received an email from the business that had just opened, offering a free wash. Since the CRV was resembling a middle-school boy who hadn’t showered in a month, we thought the timing was right on. What a surprise to arrive at the place and find out that it was their grand opening and that we could keep the digital coupon we had received for another time. Yesterday the wash was on the house.

Remarkably, there was only one other car in front of us that was about to take the turn into the drive-thru wash. A minute later we pulled onto the conveyor belt, put the car in neutral, and gave control of the work to the brushes, sprayers, soapers, and dryers. The cleaning was thorough and now I’m tempted to park the CRV in the garage for the next month.

As I reflected on the words of Paul in Galatians about “right timing”, that car wash journey made me think of the importance of patience and allowing things to happen when they’re suppose to, not when we want them to. I know what you’re thinking. “A car wash? Come on, Bill!”

Well, there’s a reason why the automatic blowers come last in the car wash, and why the brushes come after the soap has been applied. Need I go on?

Patience is in shorter supply than toilet paper these days. I’m reminded of the absence of patience whenever I drive that now clean CRV anywhere. The other day a vehicle behind me in the merge lane on Powers Boulevard whipped around me as I’m driving in the merge lane- a solid white line to my left- gaining speed to merge. The other driver threw safe driving out the window like a used hamburger wrapper in order to gain at least five seconds in his journey.

The idea of God waiting until the time had fully come was not received well by many people in pre-Jesus days. There had been revolts, invasions, Roman soldiers inhabiting Jewish cities, oppression, and still no messiah. How long would God wait until he merged his planned birth into the mainstream? How many would decide to take things into their own hands, kinda like Saul and the burnt offering in 1 Samuel 13. He’s confronted by Samuel and offers the excuse of impatience.

1 Samuel 13:11-13 Saul replied, “When I saw that the men were scattering, and that you did not come at the set time, and that the Philistines were assembling at Mikmash,  I thought, ‘Now the Philistines will come down against me at Gilgal, and I have not sought the Lord’s favor.’ So I felt compelled to offer the burnt offering.”

 “You have done a foolish thing,” Samuel said.

We have a nasty habit of thinking the timing is right when it’s beneficial for us, but when we have to wait the gum-chomping and jaw-tightening quickens. As far as I know, the Almighty does not chew gum and exercises the patience and perseverance of the champion in a staring contest.

Perhaps that should also be a word of encouragement for many of us. Remember that child that has wandered away like a prodigal kid, or the suffering relationship that has been in need of healing for a very, long time? Maybe you’re about to have all the grime washed away and God is about to blow you away with the timing of his intervention. Just let the merge lane run its course!

Wolfe Wisdom

December 14, 2020

Sometimes it’s more stupid than wise. Sometimes it’s wisdom that’s a bit too deep for seventh grade minds to grasp. And sometimes it’s simply an observation that I’m king about middle school behavior.

Whatever it is, I begin my seventh-grade language arts class with it each day. It’s “Wolfe Wisdom”. Truth be told, many of the wise sayings that take me about five seconds to read and fit on one Google Slide come to me as I sit in our hot tub the night before. As I soak the questions about life and language arts come to me and I formulate them into a sensible sentence.

Like tomorrow’s: If Hershey’s made a deodorant stick, middle school boys would smell a lot sweeter!

Or this one that made them think: To often gratitude doesn’t emerge in our lives until what or who we are grateful for is no longer around.

Or as we head toward Christmas: Don’t allow the “stuff” (possessions) of your life define who you are, instead of the substance of what you’re about. The stuff will disappear, but the substance of who you are will be remembered.

One of my students told me– in a respectful way, mind you– that I couldn’t call it Wolfe Wisdom if I quoted someone else. I had just quoted Groucho Marx when she said that.

Once in a while I do a play on title words and all it Wolfe Whine or, like one day last week, Wolfe Wish-dom. “All I want for Christmas is for all the missing assignments to be wrapped up and submitted by December 18! No ribbon and bow necessary!”

One observation I made recently was this: I don’t understand how a student with $200 ear pods and a $700 cell phone doesn’t seem to be able to remember to bring a pencil to school!

Some days my students recognize that Wolfe Wisdoms are the ramblings of a senior citizen separated from them by at least two generations and a ton of technology. I’ve never played Minecraft, Fortnite, or any of those finger-cramping video games, but I betcha’ I can take anyone of them in a game of chess or foul-shooting competition.

I’ve got to think about that. There may be another Wolfe Wisdom hidden in those words that I’ll discover as I sit in the hot tub tonight.

Remembering Those Passed On

December 6, 2020

Today, December 5, would have been my mom’s 93rd birthday. She has moved on to walking on the streets of gold, a glorious sight for me to imagine since she had mobility problems the last several years of her life.

My mom’s name was Virginia. Yes, and she married Laurence Wolfe, therefore becoming Virginia Wolfe. We used to humor ourselves with the question, “Who’s afraid of Virginia Wolfe?” and then answer “We are!” She was loving, giving, and devoted to excellence. She also expected her three children (I was the baby) to be respectful, use our common sense, and not to just to anything haphazardly.

The week before Thanksgiving I told my students at school that gratitude too often doesn’t emerge in our lives until those we are grateful for are no longer around.

Yesterday my cousin Annette passed away from complications from a kidney condition. She was 59 and the first of my cousins to die. A strange feeling, since the last two times I saw Annette were at the funerals of my mom and dad.

Tonight Carol and I found out that one of our neighbors passed away a few weeks ago. They were quiet reserved people that kept to themselves and, consequently, kept the passing of the family patriarch to themselves.

Death seems to be something that just happens around us and we keep on going because we’re in a hurry to live. Our focus is mostly on the living that we can still laugh with and talk to, those who can watch the kids when we need to take a trip to the grocery or sit down with and play a game of chess.

The thing is…who I am now is because who they were. Virginia Wolfe shaped me. Laurence Wolfe put his mark on me. Those I pastored over the years put their impressions on me. I carry the physical features of my family and the cultural preferences of my roots.

If Mom was here tonight she’d be asking my dad what a six-letter word for desired could be. He’d find out if any of the letters in her crossword puzzle were filled in and then figure out that the word she needed would be missed.

They are, every day!

Am I Too Nice?

November 29, 2020

Carol and I went through the drive-thru lane of Culver’s recently for some pick-and-go-home dinner. I ordered at the brightly lit marquee and said thank you to the voice that repeated my order back to me. I pulled ahead, waiting for the two cars in front of me to pay before offering the next young lady my payment.

She thanked me for dining with them that night, took my cash, and I said a heartfelt thanks back to her. We moved to the next spot where we waited for another employee to bring our carry-out bag of food to the car. When a young man hustled to us carrying our dinner I thanked him before driving off. Then I turned to Carol and asked, “Am I too nice?”

“No, dear. You’re fine!”

“Carol, sometimes I wonder if I’m just too nice. I said thank you three different times, once to someone I couldn’t even see.”

“You’re polite, Bill.”

“It’s how my dad was. I can’t help it! If someone opens a door for me, I have to say thank you. Sometimes I think I should be…I don’t know…less nice. Nice-less, if you will!”

She let me voice my questions. Since it was dark inside our vehicle as we drove home, I couldn’t tell if she was rolling her eyes or not. After all, she’s very…nice to me!

I realize I probably get taken advantage of sometimes because I’m too nice, like when one of my students turns in an assignment two weeks late. I need to develop a crotchety attitude about that time. A teaching friend of mine made two of his students cry when he scolded them about how they had treated the substitute teacher for his class…me! I can’t remember the last time I made a student’s knees shake with repentant fear.

I was even too nice during parent-teacher conferences about six weeks ago. Instead of telling a parent that their perfect child made me grind my teeth and break out in a rash, I’d talk about their “unrealized potential” and my confidence that he/she was going to wow us in the coming weeks of school. Listen! If a teacher talks about your child’s unrealized potential it’s a hint that he’s driving them crazy, but they’re too nice to say so!

Like I said earlier, my dad was nice. He was polite and gentlemanly, treated everyone with respect, and sought to serve my mom for 65 years, even the last few years of her life when she wasn’t able to get around and then became bedridden. He modeled niceness for me. I’m cut from the prime!

I realize that most of my friends are also nice. Cranky people make me constipated. If someone can’t see the humor in life my niceness is not going to change them. So I hold the door open for little old ladies with canes heading into the doctor’s office, make my Starbucks baristas smile with comments about how awesome they are and a thank you as I leave with my Pike Place, and yield at the four-way stop for any car that is even remotely close to having arrived at the same time that I did.

Niceness. I guess it’s a curse and a blessing! Come to think of it, it may be the reason why Carol married me. All these years I’ve been thinking it was because of my nice looks and chiseled 120-pound frame (when we got married, mind you!), and now I’m wondering if maybe it was just because I was nice!

Smile, Students!

November 24, 2020

Since I’m a fill-in teacher this year, kinda a fake instructor, I do some things that are a little bizarre and lacking in academic seriousness. Like last week when I started adding stuffed animals to flank the Cabbage Patch doll that was neatly arranged at the desk close to my classroom desk. I refer to the troupe as my fill-in students, since in-person students won’t be in the classroom until January.

On my back wall I had the word “Laugh” for a couple of weeks, the letters formed by Far Side cartoons. Last week I rearranged the letters, inserted some new Far Sides, and spelled out “SMILE”. Unfortunately, our school went to remote learning before my students had a chance to see it, but I’ll keep it pinned to the wall until they come back.

It’s difficult for them to smile much these days, being partially in class and partially virtual until now, and now they are totally remote. My teaching teammates and I started doing virtual lunches with them to help keep the connection. As they sit and eat their PB&J, they can log into one of our communication channels and converse with other classmates and teachers. It’s like an online cafeteria.

I want them to know that it’s okay to say they aren’t okay, to say they don’t enjoy this distant educational experience. If, in the midst of that, I can bring a smile or a chuckle I’ll have led them toward a moment of normalcy. If I can make comments about their on-screen backdrop or mention that they’re looking awesome that day, perhaps they will let their defenses and reservations down for a few moments.

This year education is more about instilling a calmness in the midst of the pandemic storm. It’s about getting these adolescents to trust in the belief that it’s going to turn out okay.

It’s getting them to rediscover their ability to smile.

The Popularity of Extremists

November 22, 2020

They make me cringe and want to floss my teeth for no apparent reason. The extremist views of the right and the left are…well, extreme!

And popular! Not popular, because mega-number of people agree with them, but they attract attention because they are so “out there”. They are the political versions of The Real Housewives of Wherever, another cultural favorite that makes me run for the bathroom cabinet.

Being a moderate, I have to shake my head and go for a walk. And yet, as I think about it, extreme views and personalities are apparent in most areas and arenas of our world. Football players, and the whole offensive line, now make it an end zone production after a touchdown is scored. It seems like no one now scores and simply hands the football to the nearest official. Broadway has to make a showing. Speaking of Broadway, that brings back the memory of Joe Namath from the 60s and 70s, the quarterback whose nickname was Broadway Joe.

Even religion goes for the extremes, from Benny Hinn smacking people in the forehead to extreme conservative churches that frown on smiling.

In politics we’ve had the Moral Majority and the Tea Party and, on the other side, there’s the Progressive “Pack” and “The View”.

The thing is…those of us in the middle are very uncomfortable with the extreme views in just about any area. We don’t frequent marijuana dispensaries and we’re likely to have a beer in our refrigerator. Our sense of what is right is more resembling of a Norman Rockwell painting than a protest march. We don’t believe everything should be free and that work is not a four-letter word (although it has four letters).

We don’t attract a lot of attention and don’t garner the kind of Nielsen ratings that make us appealing. We’re more comfortable with farmers and the town square barber than we are with techies and fashion statements. We understand how blessed we are to be Americans, but also are willing to help those in other parts of the world who need food.

We drive Hondas and Chevys at reasonable speeds and reach for the floss as the red BMW speeds by us, weaving in between three lanes of moderates.

And we know that we’ll probably never be popular! We’ll just be average, or better yet, normal!