Archive for the ‘Community’ 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!

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!

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!

Praying From the Past To the Future

May 1, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         May 1, 2018

                        

“Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You’re in charge!” (Matthew 6:13, The Message)

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the Evil One!” (Matthew 6:13, NIV)

When I pray I have a habit of praying about the “not yet” right away!

“Lord, give me strength to get through a day of teaching sixth grade language arts!”

“Lord, help me to deal with that person when I have to see him next week!”

My prayer life has been dominated by situations and events that are in my future path. I noticed, however, when Jesus taught his followers how to pray and gave them a modeling prayer to help them understand he talked about the past and the present before he got to the future.

He suggests that we pray about our present needs and our past failures. The present is about the simple and uncomplicated…”bread!”…the essential for now!

The past is about the moments that haunt us, the ill spoken words, and the inaction in those situations where a response was needed. As a Baptist I don’t enter a confessional booth and reveal my transgressions to a priest, and yet that may be a missing element of my faith journey. It becomes too easy to race blindly into the future! When we don’t deal with our past it clouds the clarity of the future.

There are wounds in our memories that haven’t received the treatment of grace and forgiveness. The peripheral vision of our faith walk is lacking because of the blurring of our past. I think Jesus is leading us to get a grip on our past in preparation for our future. Many of us “avoid” the past as if it never happened. My understanding of how God will lead me from here, however, is influenced by the trail of my steps behind me.

This is true for churches, also! If a congregation hasn’t dealt with its past- how it mistreated a staff member, how judgmental it was towards a family dealing with a relational failure, or demeaning it he’d been towards women- it will most assuredly mis-step into its future.

And so Jesus advises us to deal with our history as we pave the path in front of us.

The Value Of Being Told You Aren’t All That

April 29, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     APRIL 29, 2018

 

In seventeen days I’ll be pulling out of our driveway and heading to Estes Park, Colorado for the Christian Writers Conference. For me it has the feel of a rookie arriving at spring training camp…the anxiety of being the new kid, the uncertainty of what I’ll find out, and the fear of being told my writing sucks the wind!

I received the good news this past week that I was accepted into the Fiction Intensive Clinic, a group limited to six that will spend a number of hours together during the three day conference affirming, questioning, and dissecting the synopsis and first chapter of each other’s book.

In preparation for the conference, a friend of mine arranged a luncheon meeting with him and a man, who works for the same Christian publishing company, to discuss my book and offer me some guidance. At Estes Park I will have the opportunity to meet with several literary agents, but each of those appointments are only 15 minutes long.

We sat munching on our lunch and chit-chatting and then my lunch partner asked me a question: “Tell me what your book is about in one sentence.”

I pondered for a moment between bites and then offered something that didn’t make much sense, and was more than one sentence.

Followup: “Would you say the book is character-based or a plot-based?”

“Well, I think it would be character-based, although there is the building to a climax and…”

A couple of other followup questions and then the bad news.

“If I was a publisher I don’t think I would be interested in pursuing the book.”

Gulp! My sweet beverage suddenly had a sour taste to it.

It was hard to hear, but probably what I needed to hear. Not that the book isn’t good enough to be published, but rather that I need to be clearer on my understanding and presentation about it. A fifteen minute appointment is not a long time and in those brief moments the presenter needs to communicate what the story is about, its audience, and why I wrote it. My critic did me a favor. He showed me that after you write a double-spaced 400 page book you have to do the hard work of being able to present it.

Part of who we are, our DNA personality if you will, is the desire to “be all that”, to think that we have it…the next Hemingway, or Missy Franklin, or Taylor Swift. We want whatever our performance is to be awe-inspiring and jaw-dropping.

Words of reality are needed to bring us back to who we really are and what we need to do. I officiated high school and small college basketball for sixteen years, and I saw my share of officials who never raised their level of performance because they wouldn’t listen to the words of their evaluators. I was only able to raise my level because I listened to people who were willing to tell me where I needed to improve, questioned me about certain whistles I had during games, and quizzed me on “what if’s”.

There is value in being told that you aren’t all that! In Estes Park I’m sure I’ll hear variations of those words a number of times, but there will also be words said in a way that will spur me on towards a desired outcome.

Middle School Track Knowledge and Reluctance

April 28, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          April 28, 2018

                      

One week from today our middle school track season culminates with our big league meet that draws 12 schools together.

Let me say this: I love coaching middle school track! Every day is a story that’s about to be created and lived. Each of our coaches is in charge of a certain group. This year I have 7th Grade girls…38 bundles of confusion and giggles! I also am in charge of training all of the distance runners, a Dairy Queen Blizzard of personalities and varying levels of talent…and non-talent! One boy still wears his sweat pants underneath his uniform shorts…in the meets, even when it’s seventy degrees!

Last week one of the 7th Grade girls came up to me in the midst of our home meet and said, “Coach Wolfe, where do I get a ‘bonette’?” I asked her to say the word again. “The bonette.”

“Do you mean the baton?”

“Oh, yes, the baton!”

It is an example of the unpredictable. As the coach, I am never quite sure what is going to be asked and what direction the question is seeking to lead me in.

“Coach Wolfe, we aren’t going outside for practice today, are we?”
“Sure, why wouldn’t we?”
“It’s cold!”

“That’s why we gave you a pair of sweats.”
“But I forgot mine.”

“Wow! That’s too bad! Okay, let’s go!”

Coaching tip: In middle school track it’s important to know when to look void of any hint of empathy and when to be extremely sympathetic. If someone is having a hard time breathing it’s essential to make sure the runner is okay, but when someone is just being “middle school-ish irresponsible” keep a facial expression that communicates disbelief in their decision-making.

Second coaching tip: Raise the bar of expectations!

“Hey! I’ve charted out your 1600 race and if you stay on this pace you’ll run this time.”

Dismay running across her face! “I can’t do that!”

“Oh, yes you can! And I’ll help you.”

“But-“

“Would you like to run this time?”

“Yes!”

“Then you’re going to!”

And she did! There are some middle schoolers who got in line twice when confidence was being handed out, and there are others who forgot to get in that line! They have to be spoon-fed the confidence to do what they don’t think they will ever be able do. At our next meet I’ll lower her time once again, get the same look of dismay, and help her achieve her “impossible” once again!

Coaching tip #3: Treat each athlete equally and coach every athlete to succeed no matter their talent level.

Seventh Grade girls want to relate to the coach. They want to know you care and are willing to hear their goofiness and forgive their goofs. From the girl who will win you four events to the girl who may throw a negative distance in the discus they are all important, and when my #38th most talented athlete runs up to me and says that although she still finished last she beat her personal best the coach gives her a high five and a “whoot whoot!”

Middle school track is more about conquering mountains and easing fears than it is about times and distances. It’s more about the laughter of thirteen year olds than the yelling of their parents.

It’s more about teaching them about track than winning medals and ribbons. Case in point, at the beginning of each track practice I ask my seventh grade girls a track trivia question. The winning answer gets a roll of “Smarties!” Last week I asked them what event in the Olympic track and field competition includes water. The answer is the steeplechase, but that event was like a foreign concept for the girls. The first girl who thought she knew the answer raised her hand and I called on her.

“Is it water polo?”

“No, they play water polo at…water polo!”

Bonettes, water polo, personal bests…it’s all good!