Archive for the ‘Christianity’ category

The Pursuit of Happiness

March 21, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 21, 2018


National Geographic did a feature article in their 2017 November issue about happiness. What are the happiest places around the world, and what raises their level of happiness? Are there common threads between them?

Although evaluating happiness is similar to deciding what success means and how it looks, the article brought out three strands of happiness that when weaved together brought the prospects of leading a happy life to a much higher level.

The strands are pleasure, purpose, and pride. 

Pleasure is a term that gets boxed in with our personal assumptions as soon as we say the word. The hints of my Baptist upbringing immediately insert the word “guilty” in front of it. Pleasure, however, is defined as “the feeling of happy satisfaction and enjoyment.” We use it in a remark after serving another person in some way. When the person responds with a word of thanks the reply is often “It’s my pleasure!”

Pleasure, then, has as many categories as However, pleasure as a part of the pursuit of happiness is connected in some way to the community around us, the people we share life with, and a sense of harmony. Pleasure that is simply self-serving leads not to happiness but to a sense of detachment from the very vehicle that drives us towards happiness.

Purpose as a part of the happiness pursuit, in my opinion, is re-emerging. For a long, long time in the American culture we bought into the idea that more was better, that happiness was at the end of the rainbow that included a massive bank account, summer home on the lake, and Oil of Olay bubble baths (I’m not sure why that one popped up into my mind!).

Purpose means that I’m a part of something bigger than myself, that what I am about today matters not only for this moment, but for the days to come. It’s the teacher who understands and believes that what he/she imparts to the students today is important for who they will be in the tomorrows to come.

As a follower of Jesus I link purpose with the two greatest commandments that Jesus teaches in Matthew 22…”to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind…and to love your neighbor as yourself.” Purpose in my life is seen in how I love God and love others. My life needs to be geared in those two ways and, as a result, it will fuel my pursuit of happiness.

Pride is the feeling of satisfaction in a person, group, community, and culture over achievements and shared values. Once again, it is far less about me and far more about the others on the journey with me. Parents say they are proud of their children not for what the parent has done, but rather what the child has achieved or attempted.

National pride rises as Olympic athletes go all out for the glory of the country. Community pride increases as it pulls together to address a major crisis or catastrophe.

The pursuit of happiness is like our local Thanksgiving Day 5K Turkey Trot. It’s 3,000 plus people of different sizes, ages, and abilities running (or walking) together from the start to the finish. Although some people finish quickly and many others finish slowly, the goal of everyone is to finish…and to enjoy the experience! Some people dress up like turkeys or even pilgrims and take on an amusing look in the pursuit. Others are more serious about the pace. Whatever one’s approach the post-race gathering in the parking lot around long tables of fruit, granola bars, juice, and bottles of water is a community celebration of the pursuit. Massage therapists give rubdowns, ice packs soothe aching calves, and friends jabber about the journey. There’s a sense of accomplishment…a feeling of happy satisfaction, purpose, and pride.

I don’t want to give the impression that a the pursuit of happiness can be summed up by a 5K road race, but it is, in my opinion, the perfect pictorial metaphor for how that pursuit can be understood. So, grab some hands around you and pursue it…together!

Sixth Grade Apology Letters

March 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 20, 2018


They walked into the classroom, three boys looking like they were headed to the gallows. Their math teacher led the procession of the condemned, faces downcast inspecting the carpet design. One of the three had visible body tremors.

They had committed the unforgivable sixth grade math class sin; they had detoured off the road of the teacher’s behavioral requirements for a substitute teacher and done some off-road free wheelin’ stupid stuff. Warnings, changing seats, and more warnings had not brought them back to the right path and so my end of the day written report to the teacher included their three names.

Now they stood before me. They had already been sentenced to make the trip to the seventh grade classroom I was guest teaching in that day. Their punishment, handed down to them by their six foot four inch teacher, was to write apology letters to the afflicted party…me!…come to my classroom, read them, hand them to me, and shake my hand.

They tried their best to be sincere, but how sincere can sixth grade boys be about never, ever, ever straying from what they know is appropriate. Sincerity is a momentary commitment that gets forgotten as easily as the jackets and water bottles left behind as they hurry out of a classroom. “Staying focused” is a higher learning skill safely untouched by the male members of this class.

“Mr. Wolfe, I am sorry for making inappropriate noises during your class. I am very sorry for causing the whole class to be distracted…Next time you substitute in my class I will listen at my best!”

I controlled the chuckling that was bubbling up inside me. The forlorn looks would surely be replaced with sighs of relief within thirty seconds of leaving my classroom.

I remember being in sixth grade! I had so much energy, or as we said “ants in my pants”, that I couldn’t sit still. School was hard, recess was easy! My teacher, however, was Mr. Cooper, an imposing giant of a man who was not hesitant about using a paddle on your behind. Witnessing a couple of classroom criminals receiving their judgments early in the school year caused most of us to quiver in our seats. And…except for music and physical education, Mr. Cooper taught ALL of my classes! He was the shepherd of our class herd for the whole school day…everyday! The fact that his younger brother was a classmate of my older brother at Williamstown High School did not buy me an ounce of grace. I learned out of fear that whole year.

A couple of days after the three “wiser” boys came to me I passed one of them in the hallway. He saw me coming and instantly started inspecting the hallway tile he was about to step on.

“Good morning!” I greeted him, also using his first name.

He looked up, a bit startled. “Good morning, Mr. Wolfe!”

It was a moment of grace in a school hallway, a peace offering towards one who had already made restitution. Perhaps…just perhaps, he will realize that he has not been judged and labeled for life, but rather understands that he is seen as valued regardless of his slip-ups.

After all, he is still in sixth grade!

Chumming Around With My Pre-School Granddaughter

March 18, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         March 18, 2018


Corin Grace Hodges turns three on March 24. If there are any two year olds around who are not using their word quota for the day she has snatched them up. She talks so much you’d think she was getting compensated on a “per word basis”!

Last week Granddad (That’s me!) hung around with her for two days to fill in a gap in child care. It was entertaining, amusing, revealing, bonding, and exhausting. Like a fresh-baked apple pie in front of a hungry kid home alone she had me all to herself and she enjoyed all of me. Big brother and sister were at school so Corin felt a responsibility to not let me get bored!

We played with her Barbies! Actually, I think they were mostly her sister’s, but what her sister didn’t know…would never be revealed to her. When I say that we played with Barbies you’ve got to realize that it was a whole storage bin of Barbies…ballerina Barbies, mermaid Barbie, roller skating Barbie, going to a party Barbie, flight attendant Barbie, Dr. Barbie, veterinarian Barbie, modeling Barbie, Barbie in a formal gown…Good Lord! it could have been one of those weird Twilight Zone episodes where Rod Sterling would say the words “This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area that we call…the Twilight Zone.” 

I didn’t think at age 63 that I could play with Barbie dolls for a solid hour and a half, but my “boss” for the day dictated that I was going to! And it was sweetness for my soul, not so much because of the over-populated Barbie basement, but because I was with the one informing me all about them.

The morning coffee got to me and I had to excuse myself to go to the bathroom. After thirty seconds she came to check on me to make sure I was okay. A minute later when I came out she greeted me with the parental question: “Did you wash your hands?”

A not-quite-three year old making sure her granddad was following the rules of hygiene! In the two days of chumming around with Corin she asked me the same question every time I emerged from the bathroom.

We watched a couple of episodes of P.J. Masks, played the game Monkeys On The Bed, and went to the park where we played church, or as she pronounces it…”chuch!” She guided me to the “cwass” I was to go to, and scolded me when she saw me start to leave my “cwass” without her permission.

We talked about her “bithday” coming up. She informed me what was going to happen at her party, as if she had planned the whole experience herself. In the car on the way to the park she told me to turn up the music! She wanted to rock it with her granddad!

By noon I was counting down the minutes until nap time, scheduled for around one o’clock, not so much for Corin but for me! I needed some rest.

Little kids are amazing. Like just about any other grandfather would comment on their grandchild, I’m pretty sure that Corin Grace Hodges is an almost-three year old genius, but the most satisfying part of the two days with her was to see her emerging personality…and to realize how blessed I am to be called “Granddad!”

The Box

March 8, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                March 8, 2018


It arrived yesterday, filled with familiar scents and memory items that no one else would see with any value.

It’s been three weeks since my dad passed away. My sister and brother-in-law have been sorting through his belongings after moving everything out of his apartment. It was a major task just to get it moved, but, for starters, she simply was moving it from one place to another…her house. The last week for her has been a time of sorting through the items that are reminiscent of our father.

In sending me “The Box” she was bringing part of Dad to our house. The box did not contain items that I necessarily need, but it contained some of who my dad was- kind of like a small museum!

I was looking at some of the contents this morning and pondering Pops.

I now have four University of Kentucky ball caps. One of them- a blue cap with a large letter “K” on the front- was worn by Dad, a UK grad, to the UK basketball game back in December of 2016 against Valparaiso. My sister took a picture of him in the lobby at Rupp Arena that night alongside former UK coach, Joe. B. Hall. Each of them had their “hurry-canes” by their side as the camera snapped the photo.

In the box are my mom’s Bible and one of Dad’s old Bibles. Each have their names scripted into the lower right corner leather.

There’s his personal calculator from about thirty years ago. He had not transitioned to using the calculator on a smart phone, because he didn’t have a smart phone. He had one of those flip phones that resembled the walkie talkie’s on Star Trek.

There’s a tube of Brylcreem! (“A little dab will do ya!”) That takes me back! Most of my uncles, plus my dad and grandfather, used the hair cream. That was the thing back in Eastern Kentucky. Dad didn’t need to worry about his hair blowing all over the place. The cream kept it firmly matted in place. When he started having some skin cancers on his scalp, ears, and nose he had to ease up on the Brylcreem. I’m not sure if Brylcreem has an expiration date!

There’s a trophy recognizing his achievement of finishing last in a euchre tournament back in 1975. Mom and Dad went to Florida with three other couples from our church, enjoyed the sun during the day and played euchre each evening. The trophy features a gold horse’s rump! I remember Dad telling me about it in detail. It always elicited a chuckle, remembering the razzing but mostly remembering his friends.

There’s a shoe horn still in mint unbent position. Putting his shoes on properly was an indication of my father’s emphasis on doing things correctly and not in a hurry.

There’s the photo album with the title on the cover “Our Son’s Wedding.” Yes, it’s our wedding from almost 39 years ago. As I look at our youthfulness, and who my parents were back in 1979 all I can say is “Wow!”

There are a few of my mom’s Longaberger baskets. She collected them like baseball cards!

And a stapler! And replacements blades for his electric shaver! And a cookbook put together by people from his church!

And handkerchiefs folded neatly, like they were a part of a J.C. Penney’s catalog display.

I’ve experienced families that descend like vultures on the possessions of the deceased. It’s an occasion where the lust for someone’s valuables devalues the life of the one who has passed on. My dad’s valuables are on the other end of the spectrum. I am like Don Quixote as I look at them, seeing rich memories in a shoe horn and value in a tube of Brylcreem.

I stare at the collection that brings stories and moments back to my mind. Saying goodbye to someone is never painless, but recalling the shared times and conversations…that’s priceless!

Living Longer, Living With Purpose

March 3, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W                                                         March 3, 2018


My father passed away two weeks ago three months shy of his 90th birthday. He lived a long life, and for that we are thankful. Carol and I are now the oldest generation of our family. There is no one above us and two generations below us.

Death makes a person ponder and think about where he/she is in the living of their life. I turn 64 in two months and, although I’m fairly healthy and active, I understand that I’m closer to entering the pearly gates than I am to the memories of those high school days.

There’s more research and study being done of the longest-living people around the world. Are there common themes? Are there communities that have a higher percentage of people who are a hundred years of age or older? Are there certain aspects of our world’s opportunities that tend to decrease the possibilities of living longer?

Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones and The  Blue Zones solution draws out some secrets of living long in his books. Blue Zones are places that he has identified in different places around the world that have a high number of people who live long lives. It’s interesting that Loma Linda, California is the only Blue Zone he mentions in his sharing of information with TIME magazine in the February 26, 2018 issue. Loma Linda is a haven for Seventh-Day Adventists, a denomination that avoids meat; eats plenty of plants, whole grains, and nuts; and emphasizes community and a day of rest (Sabbath) each week. Loma Linda Adventists live 10 years longer than their fellow Americans.

This is not to convince everyone to become Seventh Day Adventists, but rather to note a few of the trends that seem to be “preaching” to us.

Community, rest, diet, and (I’m putting this one in there as well!) purpose. Howard Friedman, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside also draws out the importance of some of the values that are a part of a faith community and our religious traditions: respect, compassion, gratitude, charity, humility, harmony, and meditation. Of course, when a faith community becomes more about power, bickering, discord, and being judgmental the opposite can happen. People can lose their spiritual relationship in the midst of the chaos of congregational dysfunction.

Although I grieve that my dad has passed on, I rejoice in the fact that he lived a long life that had purpose. All of those values that Friedman draws out as a part of a faith community were also evident in Dad’s life.

And the thing is…people are more and more wondering how to live longer and seeking to live longer, but living longer just to live longer is kind of like hitting the golf ball twice as many times during a round of golf. It’s not really what it’s about! Living with purpose and, hopefully, longer…like my father, is where I seek for my life to follow!

Dad’s Bible

February 25, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         February 25, 2018


I brought Dad’s Bible home with me this past week. Laurence Wolfe passed away on the fifteenth of February four months shy of his 90th birthday. His Bible has been speaking and reaffirming to me who Dad was and is.

A Bible often does that…communicates who the owner is! It shows his search for truth and the value he placed on wisdom and revelation. Sometimes it also reveals the lifeline that the person held on to in facing difficulties and weaknesses.

My dad’s book of scriptures has verses underlined on most of the pages. Not a single verse in the Book of Psalms is underlined, but Proverbs is well-used. “Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.” (Proverbs 3:13)

“He who despises his neighbor sins, but blessed is he who is kind to the needy.” (Proverbs 14:21)

“Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil.” (Proverbs 16:6)

Wise counsel would be a term people would associate with Dad. I remember the number of phone calls he would receive at home after he retired from the Social Security Administration. People would call him for advice and guidance on how to approach a situation with his former employer. He would listen and offer…wise counsel. I’ve got a feeling that Proverbs was a book he read often to help ground him in the area of wisdom. The Book of James echoes that belief. Underlined in the first chapter are these words: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt…” (James 1:5-6)

And then a bit later. “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” (James 3:13)

Paul’s letter to the Romans seems to have been a favorite book, as well as the Gospel of John. In the midst of the gospel one verse gets emphasized. “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.” (John 14:24)

Dad’s Bible tells me other things about him as well. Any verse that is emphasized is underlined with great care to make sure the line is straight. It reminds me of a father who was always organized. A task worth doing- even underlining a scripture verse- was worth doing well!

And then there is the prayer list! It was tucked between pages in the midst of Nehemiah. The list held the names of friends, family, his pastor, his church, and his country. Some of the names were of people who had been struggling with health difficulties, and others who were struggling with spiritual difficulties.

In the coming months Dad’s Bible will be the Bible that I read, discovering in the midst of the Word of God the man of God that my father was. In a way it will be like a continuing conversation with Pops, visits that I am extremely grateful for.

Dad’s Things

February 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           February 19, 2018


It’s a small apartment located at the end of the first floor in the Wyngate Senior Living Complex. Dad has lived there for about the last three years, making new friends and acquaintances with other travelers of life’s final chapters.

Later on today and tomorrow my sister and I will spend some time over there going through some of his possessions, and breathing in the memories.

Dad passed from this life to the next on February 15 at the age of 89 years and 8 months. His was a life well-lived!

His apartment is a testimony to who he was and what had become entwined in his life.

There are the oxygen tanks that testify to his health limitations. Like a changing autumn landscape, I had noticed the changing interior of his apartment when I would come for one of my visits to southern Ohio from Colorado. Medications, the medical supplies a diabetic would need, blood pressure monitor, and (Sorry, Dad!) a good supply of adult diapers, his apartment spoke about that winter season of life that most of us will arrive at.

Scattered through the living room, bedroom, and closet are numerous items with the initials “U.K.” on them. Dad graduated from The University of Kentucky. He was proud of his Wildcats, suffering through many a football season and much happier most basketball seasons. There are UK shirts, hats, mugs, plates, flags, and the 1951 UK Yearbook. He had attended Kentucky after getting out of the Navy, but it wasn’t easy. He had married Mom, welcomed Child #1, our brother, Charlie, and provided for his growing family as he wore the hats labeled student, employee, husband, and father. Things were not easy during his UK years, and yet those years shaped him with the elements of resolve, perseverance, and organization.

Come to think of it, using the word “scattered” to begin that last paragraph would be the antithesis of who Dad was. His apartment is organized. His papers are organized. His cupboards are organized. By golly, his dresser drawers are organized!

There are Rotary remembrances. The service club had been a part of Dad’s life for close to forty years, joining the Ironton, Ohio chapter not long after our family moved to the town in 1969. Service defined Pops! He fit well in the organization that was sewed into the community’s fabric. But he also served the church, served his neighbors, and served our mother in their sixty-five years of marriage. He served as her caregiver in the last few years of her life, and at Wyngate he did those little acts of service. I remember my sister telling me that Dad tutored a woman who lived in the apartment next to him on how to give herself an insulin shot. She was scared to death, but Dad was able to bring down her anxiety about being poked and help her jump over that hurdle.

Pictures and pictures! Photo albums filled with pictures…framed pictures…pictures attached to his refrigerator…pictures with meaning and memories. The pictures give “snapshots” of his journey…family, church, laughter, friendships.

Going through Dad’s things, I realize, is important for my walk of grief. It’s ointment for my aching soul as I cry out for my father to come and sit beside me. Most of the things in his  apartment will end up going to Goodwill or to someone else who needs furniture or dishes, but for now I need to be amongst “his things”. It’s a part of letting go and finding peace.