Archive for the ‘children’ category

Life In The Shadow of Death

March 7, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          March 7, 2020

                                 

The long lines at Costco hit the evening news. Shoppers were stocking up on a year’s supply of bottled water, hand wipes, and facial tissues. When an illness is still shrouded in mystery, history has told us over and over again that people rush toward any possible remedy or, at least, look to take any precaution possible. 

At Starbucks this morning I could not use my own reusable cup. For the immediate future, they are serving coffee in their disposable paper cups, and when you want a refill they give you a new cup. 

The shadow of death that looms over our lives right now is scary…and revealing. There is the fear of death that rings true for many of us, but, more than that, the uncertainty of death is what scares most of us. 

Not to trivialize the coronavirus concern in any way, but I can’t help but compare these tensions in the uncertainty with an amusement park ride at Cedar Point in northern Ohio called “Top Thrill Dragster”. Several years ago my kids convinced me that I needed to ride it with them. I wasn’t sure, but they dragged me to the ride. When we finally reached the front of the line, two of the ride workers were hosing out the front car…a bad sign! However, it was the uncertainty of what I was about to experience that caused me to shudder. That racing into the unknown is what is causing us to be wary of large crowds, wash our hands more, and be more observant.

The shadow of death has that effect. 

As a follower of Jesus, I also go forward with the assurance of Psalm 23 echoing in my mind. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and staff they comfort me!”

Back in first-century Rome when the plague went through the city, the sick were discarded from their homes, left to live and die on the streets and in the shadows in their final moments of life. It was the followers of Jesus who embraced the diseased and cared for them in their final hours, often willingly becoming infected themselves. 

They loved Jesus, and it was the love of Christ that brought their compassion out for others. Understandably they did not have the knowledge about diseases and spreadable viruses that we have today, but there was peace within them as they stood in death’s path. In the midst of the virus concerns, the evening news also showed scenes from Tennessee’s recent tornadoes…and the long lines of people coming to volunteer in any way they can!

Whatever these next few days may bring us— more long lines at Costco but short lines at movie theaters, cancellations of commitments and even reduced attendance at Sunday worship— may we always be reminded of the Holy Presence that walks with us in the shadows!

Updating My Book

March 1, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          March 1, 2020

                                        

My recently released book Red Hot: New Life in Fleming received its first review a few days ago. The reviewer gave it 5 Stars. Here is what was written:

I just finished reading this book and I enjoyed it immensely. I would consider this book light reading and to me that is definitely a plus! It deals with bullying and also pressures that are sometimes put on students that we as parents are sometimes not aware of. It has a homespun feel to it and it took me back to my childhood on several occasions. The two main characters show us what true friendship is all about and how they maintain that friendship through adolescent struggles. Most of us can relate to this while looking back on our own teenage years. I highly recommend this book for readers of all ages. You won’t be disappointed.

That was cool!

Okay, true confession! I know the person who wrote the review, although I’m not related to her. She attends the same church my sister does in southern Ohio and is probably reading these words. BUT she was sincere in what she said in her review! That’s just how she is!

On Friday, one of the language arts teachers at the school where I’m teaching read the first chapter of the book to each of her classes. I had kids coming up to me between classes and telling me how much they enjoyed the first chapter.

So now to just get people to read it! My youngest daughter is counseling me to get on Instagram and do that whole thing! She will have to guide me! My sister-in-law has bought a couple of copies and taken them to her town’s public library in Clarendon Hills, Illinois. The Timberview Middle School library has three copies of it for students to check out.ng, In

Going through Kindle Direct Publishing is easy in many ways…until you get to the marketing part of the equation. It’s a whole new experience at that point. 

And while I’m trying to get the first book known, I’ve been revising the second book in the series, Red Hot: New Grace in Fleming. There’s a student at my middle school who read the draft of the first book and has been salivating about the second book. I print off 40-50 pages at a time and take it to her at school. Whenever I’m handing her the new folder of print she breaks out in a grin and receives the newest additions as if it’s food for a starving person. In some ways, it has inspired me to be more disciplined in my revising in order to satisfy her appetite.

A couple of other people I know who have read the first book have been eagerly awaiting the sequel. Well, …their comments are more like…”We’re waiting!!!” I envision folded arms and impatient teacher-types, staring at me with consternation.

So…today I’ll revise 2 or 3 more chapters and push the dogs toward the finish line!

(The first book is available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle. From March 22-29 is it free on Kindle. Otherwise, you’ll have to fork over $2.99! The paperback is $11.99! Save your pennies!)

Moments

February 29, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  February 29, 2020

                                         

“Lord, protect me in the moments of life that can bring devastation, nudge me in the moments where something extraordinary is about to happen, and remind me of those moments that brought blessings into my life.”

They can last a second, maybe a few of them strung together. They come when you’re taking a walk around the block that ends up being much more than a stroll, or in the midst of a concert when a song is sung that brings you back to a family memory burying deep inside you. They come upon a mountaintop and also in the overwhelming darkness of a valley.

Moments are sometimes like stop signs thrown up in front of you to bring the tires to a screeching halt. They can be either collisions or proposals spoken from one knee. Either one changes things, changes the course, brings in a detour to the plans, or new energy to the idea.

There was a collision a couple of days ago and a former student of mine was tragically killed. It was one of those moments that will bring heartbreak to friends and family. A car turning too late…another car broadsiding it…and then the chaotic seconds where life evaporates into death. I was talking to a teaching friend of mine about it, who had also taught the student the same year I did, and he told me of a similar event he had experienced in his life about fifteen years before that. In his situation, however, the collision was followed only by a visit to the ER. And yet, the memory of that moment is still fresh in his mind.

On the other side of life’s emotional spectrum, a former basketball player of mine posted her engagement picture on Facebook last week. It had been a different kind of moment, preceded by her fiancee’s planning and prep and followed by tears, laughter, and passionate kisses. 

The thing is, each one of us has moments in our life that resemble a garden bed of flowers, varied and pretty, with a few uninvited weeds thrown into the plot. 

We review our lives and are able to identify each of the moments in the assortment. Birth of a child, death of a friend; a cardiac situation and the completing of a marathon road race; when your best friend shows up unexpected at just the right moment, and the time you rescued someone from disaster. The list is different for each one of us, but each list becomes a summary of our defining moments.

I’ve always envisioned those moments when Jesus healed someone, like the leper or the blind man; or the woman who had a bleeding problem or his encounter with the man who lived in a cemetery. They were moments of transformation in so many ways. 

I’ve come to pray for the kind of special eyesight that helps me see those God-given moments of life, to approach each day with a kind of anticipation and expectation. 

Lord, what might come into my life’s path today that I hadn’t planned on!

“Mr. Wolfe, Your First Name Is…William?”

February 22, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  February 22, 2020

                      

The class was about to begin and I was fiddling with my laptop, trying to get a connection with the classroom projector. (Using the term “fiddling” is a hint of my advanced age. It’s not often associated with computers and other technology.) I finally am able to display the image from my laptop to the screen at the front of the classroom, and then the question is asked.

“Your first name is…William?” There’s a tone of disbelief in how he asks it, turning his head from side to side looking at the screen and then back at me sitting behind my desk. 

“What?” I ask, not sure what he’s getting at.

“It says your first name is William.”

I stare at the screen and then notice in the upper right hand corner that my name appears on the slide I’m projecting: William Wolfe.

“Yes, it is,” I say with a calmness.

“I didn’t know that was your first name!”

“What, did you think my first name was Mister or Coach?”

“No, but I didn’t think it was William!” He draws out the pronunciation of the seven letters like a bungee cord. “Why is it William?”

“That’s like asking why the sky is above us?”

“I just never thought…you’d be William!”

He walks away amazed and dazed. Kids are often perplexed when their teachers are possessors of “normal things”, like hiking boots, trumpets, contact lenses that never get worn in the classroom, and families. They’ve associated their teachers with a classroom, a school, and an academic routine. 

Suddenly, they meet their science teacher in the produce section of the local supermarket and their life equilibrium is thrown off. As Ms. Brown is checking out the peaches they stand there perplexed and, depending on the teacher, happy. Their teacher is being seen in another place! The student has a sudden release of endorphins that tells him he has been blessed in some odd way.

My oldest daughter, who teaches third grade, experiences this quite often when she goes to the mall and sees one of her students. It’s like a rare bird sighting for the youngster. Mrs. Hodges actually goes shopping!

My student remains amazed for the first few minutes of our class period together. It’s almost like his teacher is…human!

Learning The (7th Grade) Language

February 20, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 26, 2020

                            “Learning The (7th Grade) Language” 

I never was very good at foreign languages. Being from Southern Ohio/Eastern Kentucky was like learning a second language in some ways, y’all know what I mean? It still was close enough to normal English that made it understandable. Spanish and Latin were my other attempts at learning a new language in high school and college. Let me just say that neither of them did much for my grade point average…well, except lower it!

Now I’m about to begin a new course of foreign language study: 7th Grade Language Arts. Okay, maybe it’s not technically a foreign language, but it is 7th Grade! That’s like a trip to a country located on the equator, full of smells and perspiration, unpredictable lunch combinations and wardrobe mistakes.

On Monday I begin an eight week teaching assignment with this interesting tour of kids that Triple A hasn’t created a road map for yet. I’ve substitute taught several days in the past three years for seventh graders, but they’ve been mostly one-and-done experiences. If I can learn this seventh grade lingo quickly I’m sure this will be an awesome experience, but I need to learn and translate at an accelerated rate. For instance, I need to learn all of those cultural symbols, like when a boy is wearing a scrunchy on his wrist. What does that mean? Evidently, it means that he has a girlfriend. Back in the old days a guy might give his class ring to his “squeeze” and she would wear it on a necklace chain around her neck. These kids entering adolescence do scrunchies, all fluffy and sometimes even pink!

So the conversation might proceed like this?

“Hey, you’re not wearing that polka-dotted scrunchy today.”

“That’s right!”

“Forget to put it on this morning or what?”

“We broke up!”

“Oh, sorry about that.”

“It’s all right. I’ve got someone else in mind. She’s probably going to scrunchy me at lunch today.”

“Why’d you break up?”

“She was too into herself, self-absorbed, you know what I mean?”

“Explain.”

“Yesterday she wouldn’t even share any of her Dorito’s with me. Had to have them all to herself.”

“That’s a killer to a long-term relationship. This new girl, is she more of the understanding and sharing type?”

He nods. “She asked me if I wanted one of her carrot sticks yesterday.”

“That’s a sign!”

All of that situation because of a scrunchy worn on a boy’s wrist! It’s just one of the “new world” learnings I need to cram for.

There’s also the hallway culture, a few crazy-eyed students who look like bulls released from the rodeo pins as they charge into the school in the morning; the espionage emphasis of others who look to sabotage the boy’s locker room with smeared deodorant sticks on the floor and walls; the “bourgeoisie” students who leave their trash for those of the lower class to pick up from the hallways and lunchroom tables; the silent minority who seem to walk in the shadows and not be noticed; the fashionistas who are more current with their wardrobe selections than their homework assignments; and the badge of honor kids who carry their band instruments to let people know that they are committed to horn-blowing and the jocks who wear the same pair of athletic shorts with a different Nike tee shirt everyday.

I will watch and learn, commit to memory new terminology and ways of rephrasing the same thoughts we’ve had, but in new ways. Maybe I’ll start talking in a new language, also, and then when I come home each day and see Carol she’ll tell me to “take a chill pill” and talk to her in our usual “AARP” language!

Yo! That’s what I’m talking about, Dawg!

Missing Pieces…in My Classroom

February 16, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       February 16, 2020

                             

There is a designated area in our middle school that is over-populated most of the time. It’s the school’s version of the Goodwill drop-off container, located in the parking lot of our supermarket, always overflowing with whatever people want to discard.

At our middle school, however, our crowded area is called “Lost and Found”. The name is mis-leading because rarely does the loser go to find their lost items there. Coats get left in classrooms on twenty degree temperature days and never retrieved. There are so many water bottles at the Lost and Found that the student council should consider opening a hydration supplies store. 

T-shirts, mittens, stuffed animals, notebooks, eyeglasses and eyeglass cases, backpacks, shoes, sandals, pens and pencils, lunch containers, wristbands, headbands, and on and on.

At the end of one of my classes this week I noticed a jar of Vaseline under one of the tables. The top part of the jar lid had been cut out so that the opening was uncovered. I’m not sure if I want to know why a 7th grader has a jar of Vaseline in class. I put the jar on my desk and waited to see if anyone would claim it the next day. When I saw Sherri, our evening custodian, I brought her into my classroom and explained to her that the Vaseline was not mine so she wouldn’t think I was weird…well, maybe just weirder!

No one owned up to losing the jar so I tossed it. Even the Lost and Found shouldn’t have open Vaseline jars in it!

One thing that students don’t lose in my classroom: Candy! I have yet to find a Snickers bar left behind, or a half eaten bag of Cheetos. What they do leave behind are the wrappers. A couple of classes will lose their eating privileges next week because of a couple of students who consumed rolls of Smarties but weren’t smart enough to dispose of the wrappers. 

I suppose losing items in middle school is one thing that hasn’t changed since I roamed the halls fifty years ago. I left jackets behind but, as I remember, I was more concerned about the wrath of my parents than I was with actually looking for the missing garment. I simply tried to avoid detection, sprinting out the door in the morning when Mom wasn’t looking. Discovery Day, however, would come at some point and I’d be asked the feared question: Where’s your jacket…your new jacket that we spent our hard-earned money to provide for you?

I can’t remember if I had used the time between lostness and being found out to come up with an excuse, like someone stole it or cafeteria catsup was dumped on it and it became unbearable, but the bottom line is that keeping track of my possessions was not a skill that I possessed. 

Parental guilt didn’t make it better. Putting my name on everything from shirts to underwear didn’t seem to help either. At some point, I just became more responsible, or at least there were glimpses of responsibility. 

This past Friday there were a few items left behind at the end of classes that were not lost. A few students had placed candy on my desk…Valentine’s Day candy! 

What a treat!

What Any Coach Would Like To Hear At The end Of The Season

February 15, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                     February 15, 2020

           

A good friend of mine, Leo Swiontek, who I’ve known ever since he was my son’s high school JV basketball coach twenty years ago, is coming towards the finish line of his basketball season. He is the varsity boy’s coach at The Classical Academy on the north side of Colorado Springs.

Leo is an incredible coach. He is high energy, enthusiastic, cares about his players, and has taught me a lot. Even with a 14-5 win/loss record this year, following a 17-7 record last year, you can see the weariness in him. High school basketball is almost a year-round sport, taking breaks for April and July, but otherwise filling up the schedule with camps, open gyms, weekend tournaments, and individual evaluations. 

When Leo gets finished in as little as two weeks or as much as four, he will look back at what was and know that he put everything into it. What I hope he hears from his parents and players is how he impacted them and guided them.

I recently completed my middle school girl’s basketball season, a quick two month-long experience from beginning to end, and I received a letter from a grandparent of one of my players. It was like ointment for a tired body. I carry it in my backpack in the envelope it arrived in. It contains words that any coach hopes to hear at the end of a season.

I’d like to share just some parts of it.

“I’m the proud grandparent of one of your players and have had the privilege of watching her play basketball for many years. Her Grandpa and I watched her play under your guidance and I think your coaching skills are the best…I didn’t hear you raise your voice a single time at any of the players or the referees. You handled everything with such professionalism. All the girls played, regardless of their skill level, and I heard you when you had your chats with them. I was impressed with how you handled everything. Her team is so lucky to have had you as their coach!”

Those words, not forced but volunteered, took me by surprise. As a coach, you hope you’re making a difference, not only in the lives of your players but also in the impression you’re communicating to their parents…and grandparents. 

I’m not a hall of fame coach. I’m just a coach who’s been given the opportunity to use a game to teach his players about life. 

I’ll see Coach Swiontek this morning and I’ll applaud his example. I’ll tell him what a great job he has done and is doing, and I’ll look into his tired eyes and remind him that the prize is in sight. He deserves it!