Archive for the ‘Grace’ category

Trying to Remember My Virtual Students

September 19, 2020

For the past four and a half weeks I’ve been teaching 7th Grade Language Arts virtually and now in-person. Half of my students stare at me from a computer screen and the other half stare at me from their seats in the classroom.

I am very much an in-person teacher, comfortable talking to the live bodies in front of me. Obviously that comes from 36 years as a church pastor preaching to the live people in front of me…and a few who could be evaluated as dead!

There is multi-tasking, which I’m not that good at (except walking and chewing gum at the same time), and now there’s multi-audiencing, which I’m really, really not good at.

This week I paused my last class of the day to take 3-4 minute “mask break” outside. By the last class of the day they are squirrelly and doing unintentional impersonifications of the Tasmanian Devil cartoon character. They whined enough that our 4 minute break grew into 7, before we went back inside. As I came around to my desk I saw 12 faces staring at me- the 12 virtual students!

Let kids at Disney World who had gotten separated from their parents, they had the deer in headlights looks.

“My bad!” I apologized. “I totally forgot about you all!”

They looked slightly hurt by it, but extended grace to me. Some of them were probably feeling guilty about missing assignments that I keep asking about, or the video game controllers they have hidden in their laps. Others may have taken the opportunity to get a “power nap.”

Most of the in-person students thought it was hilarious. After all, they had lured me into the squirrel trap of extra down-time and discovered one of my weaknesses. Mr. Wolfe loses track of the virtual students. It brought back memories of a high school teacher who could have played the leading role of an absentminded professor. When he wasn’t looking, students would escape from his class out one of the classroom windows. Others would even enter through the windows when he was distracted. I don’t remember learning much in that class, although his name is burned into my memory.

And now it hits me! Maybe I’m the new absentminded virtual teacher! Maybe 30 years from now the students I have now will talk about the pranks they pulled on me and how clueless I was.

And then, horror of horrors, I consider the possibility that they will remember nothing that I have taught them…just my name!

Deceptive 7th Grade Virtual Students and Clued-In Teachers

September 13, 2020

Teaching a virtual learning class of 7th graders has been rewarding, challenging, and…revealing! I have found that a teacher doesn’t necessarily have to have students in an actual classroom to discover their personalities, strengths, and tendencies.

Back in my eastern Kentucky neck of the woods, we used to say “I didn’t just fall off a turnip truck yesterday” to make the point that a person wasn’t as naive as someone else was thinking. In my classroom, I need that a bushel basket of turnips displayed.

Most of my students are awesome and on task. Some have been prone to even doing more than what is asked of them. A few have been very helpful in explaining a technology glitch to one of their virtual classmates or…me!

But there are those who think I’m fooled by the fact that there is a screen between us. They believe that I can’t see very much, that I can’t see their eyes drifting to the right or left, or their tendency to, evidently, look down at their pants every few seconds.

I’m sure I’ve helped the Fortnite score for a few of them. Although they are clueless about what a dangling participle is, they know where the nearest zombie is coming from on their game screen. Next week when students return to their real in-person classrooms two days a week, some of them may have video game withdrawal. Maybe if i throw a few zombies into the discussion they will stay attentive.

There’s also a few of the eLearning Einsteins who seem to always have internet issues. “Mr. Wolfe, that page isn’t coming up for me.” “Mr. Wolfe, I can’t see that assignment on my screen.”

“Wait a minute! You mean the assignment that we’ve been doing for the last 45 minutes, and you’re just now saying something to me?”

And then there are the “muters”! When they accidentally unmute themselves you hear the loud chaotic music in the background of some artist who recorded immediately after having half-a-dozen Red Bulls. Or there’s the sound of the video game crash and the bash action. Or the conversations of a few other people who are in the same room with my lonesome student.

I’m okay with the security blankets that several of them cuddle up with. I’ve even seen a few stuffed animals auditing the class.

The big one, or most blatant example of someone’s belief that I took a spill from that railroad turnip train car is when the student consistently clicks his/her camera off. One student’s camera clicks on and off so many times I wonder if he’s checking with his attorney to see what view might incriminate him.

And then we have the late-arrivers, always the same ones, with always the same excuses- poor connection or their laptop was having issues that day. On the other hand, it always seems to be the same faces who arrive first for class.

One of my classes has almost everyone waiting in the virtual “lobby” for me to admit them when I finally arrive. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that every student in that class still has an A+. I asked them the other day if their grade performance was because they’re all awesome students or I’m being too easy on them? They told me it was because of their awesomeness. I felt my right foot slipping on a few turnips.

Tomorrow begins the new frontier- half of the students in-person in-class and half virtual. This week there will be no more hiding of the truth. I’ll find out who are truly amazing and who are more resembling of the zombies.

The Blotches I Suddenly Could See

September 12, 2020

It was late in the evening, which is anytime after 7:00 for me, and I was sitting in a quiet moment of reflection. I thought about the day that had been, the conversations and challenges. The end of another teaching week was just another day away. Day 17 had proceeded without too many glitches and I was anticipating the Friday plan of tired eyes and distracted twelve-year-olds.

As I gazed at my hands I saw them, a couple of age spots, blotches, AARP markers on the backside of my hands that had not been there when I was twenty, or even thirty, but now, at 66, I suddenly could se them.

It’s not that they had suddenly appeared like the Colorado September 8 snowstorm the day after it was 97 degrees in Colorado Springs. No, I realized that the journey of time had slowly developed the indications of my advancing elderliness.

Perhaps it was a God-sign for our times that the thought came upon me. Like so many things in life, the differences and injustices in our culture and in our world that have been there for so long suddenly catch out attention. We see them where we didn’t really notice them. And I realize that events such as pandemics, and 9/11 terrorist attacks, race relations and tensions, financial heartbreak, closed churches, and the hyping of political fears cause the blotches of our world and aged issues of the past decades to stand out.

Like the imperfections on the backs of my hands, the imperfections and imbalances of our world have been there for a long, long time, but in a short focused look we suddenly see them with disturbed eyes.

The thing is they won’t be corrected or erased quickly. Noticeability is simply the first step in redirection. Unlike my skin blotches, however, the bruises of our times can be healed, perhaps slowly and painfully, but they can be “unwounded”.

Return to the Stool

September 7, 2020

It was open! No sign was in front of it saying it was still temporarily closed.

My Starbucks stool– to be specific, the last stool on the right looking out toward Pike’s Peak– went back on the coffee cafe’ market. So, I planted myself into it and started typing…this!

Writers like writing spots, like children like a certain teddy bear or blanket. We become attached to it. It becomes our place of inspiration and creation. My Starbucks stool has been the home for the writing go many of my blog posts. It’s also where I met Kathy Buchanan, who used to sit on the last stool on the left. Kathy has been a writer/producer of the “Adventures in Odyssey” series for several years. She encouraged me to go to the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference in Estes Park, where I learned a mega-amount about the craft of writing, literary agents, publishers, and editors.

The absence of the stool has been an ongoing reminder of the pandemic’s dark cloud hanging over us, like the rain cloud that always seemed to follow Charlie Brown.

The baristas at my Starbucks know of my stool devotion. The last few weeks I’ve been sitting outside on the patio, arriving at about 7 AM and going to “the last table on the right”. (Notice a trend here?) It was all right, except when it started resembling a dog park more than cafe patio. This morning when I noticed the vacancy sign flashing over my stool I asked barista Destiny if it was true.

“Is IT really available?”

She nodded and probably smiled underneath her mask. She was already preparing my cup of Pike Place before I even arrived at the counter. I was like a hog wallowing in penetratingly cool mud on a hot summer afternoon.

Of course, since I’m teaching 7th-grade munchkins five days a week, my visits to the stool will be few and far between for the next few weeks. It will make the writer’s heart grow fonder and perhaps I can discover a few new adjectives to bring redolence to this space.

The Patience of a Virtual Teacher

September 6, 2020

I’ve heard that saying, “He’s got the patience of Job!”, for years. Sometimes it’s been used to describe me and at other times it’s been said in connection with someone who is having to deal with me.

We use the saying in referring to the character in the Old Testament who abstains from exploding on people who keep offering him lame advice in response to all of his adversities. I’ve thought about Job a lot these past couple of weeks as I’ve been teaching 7th Grade Language Arts virtually, shepherding about eighty students toward greener writing and literature pastures.

Each day has been an adventure, punctuated with misadventures.

Did you find that next activity we’re going to be doing?”

“Mr. Wolfe, my screen is blank.”

Okay, try refreshing your Schoology page and see if that fixes it.”

There’s a pause as the lost lamb seeks to be found.

Okay, I think I’ve got it.”

Multiply that conversation a hundred fold and you discover what my day usually is. Add to that my side of the difficulties…technological illiteracy, forgetting to do Step 23# in the twenty-five step assignment process, trying to figure out is little Johnny is still with me virtually or is playing Fortnite on his game system set up right beside him.

Patience is the word- patience with my students, patience with my own inadequacies, patience with slow internet service, and patience with students who are a bit more like a turtle in their learning pace than the other thoroughbreds who sprint to the end of an assignment.

And then God, in his patient wisdom and compassion, puts this verse in the midst of the scripture passage I’m preaching on this Sunday. “Be patient with everyone.” (1 Thessalonians 5:14)

I might add “everything” to that. Patient with CenturyLink, patient with myself, patient with things that don’t make sense, patient with my eLearning dyslexia.

Getting through these COVID-19 days requires a heavy patience medication. Impatience looms in the next meltdown.

And then, right about the time, I’m ready for a hair pulling episode, one of my students guides me to the solution of a technology problem and all is well again. It causes me to rediscover another gift from God that often is attached to patience.

Grace.

My First Virtual Teaching Week

August 29, 2020

Like a lightweight boxer going back to his corner, I survived the first round of my virtual teaching week. My trainer mopped up the perspiration on my virtual face and checked for technology cuts and scrapes as I stood in front of her counter. She patted me on the head and gave me some quick instructions.

“Watch out for the clueless expressions you see. They’re just trying to catch you off-guard. And be aware of the faders, the ones who suddenly only are showing the top part of their head and hiding their eyes from being seen on the screen. That’s the student who’s probably eating a Chipotle burrito. Since his sound its muted, you can’t hear the munching! Or, even worse, he’s holding a video game controller in his hands and playing Fortnite!”

She sent me back out to face Schoology and Google Drive. I thought they had me in the opening moments, but as the first-round week of classes progressed I gained more confidence, a little swagger in my virtual dancing and dodging.

“What about the kid who figured out how to mute me? What do I do about him?”

“Don’t worry about him! We’ll take care of his disrespectful attitude and just when he thinks he’s causing you to pull your hair out and he puts his guard down, he’s going to take a fall!”

“You’re doing great! You don’t act like an eLearning rookie teacher. You’re impressing some of these kids, but don’t get cocky! You lose your focus and all of a sudden you’re in some no man’s land screen and there’s no going back. Stay with the game plan, stay with the assignment! Remember, this is going multiple rounds. The first round is just to get you breathing hard, but not to the point that you hyperventilate.”

The bell was about to ring to indicate another round of going at it.

“What if there’s a multi-punch attack? Should I cover up, protect myself, stay on the defensive for a moment?”

“No! That’s when you dance around and tell one of the thousands of stories that calms the swell. Be smart! Revert back to that story about the kid who could never remember to bring a pencil to class with him. These kids still remember the pencil days. Use that to your advantage! Dance around with that episode for a few moments, that will settle down their aggressive natures and put you back in control.”

“Gotcha’!”

“Schoology is going to try to throw an uppercut at you. Stay focused and stay sharp. You get through this next round and you can get another cup of coffee!”

“I could use that caffeine right now.”

“Suck it up, buttercup! You’ve got to earn it!”

There was fire in her eyes. I clapped my gloves together and faced my next screen filled with 12-year-old faces. “I’ve got this…kinda’!”

Responsibility In The Crosshairs of Freedom

August 12, 2020

There are certain situations in our everyday lives that demand that freedom be put on the back burner. For example, the speed limit on streets and highways is meant to keep every driver and vehicle safe. A crash caused someone driving recklessly not only threatens their life, but the lives of those in other vehicles. And, oh my, most of us have experienced the frustration of backed-up traffic because of one speed demon crashing miles ahead of us!

America is a free country. We say those words and stretch the elastic in the waist band to the breaking point. Pardon the expression, but we try to fit a size XXX of freedom into a 28 waist with no apologies for the cultural bulginess is creates.

Responsibility seems to be a word that we use to overkill with our kids and place in storage for our own lives. It’s more than an issue about wearing masks and washing your hands. It’s a personal and corporate value that is being viewed by more and more people as a relic of The Andy Griffith Show era.

When freedom and responsibility co-exist and work in rhythm with one another like an Olympic figuring skating duo, it’s a beautiful thing. Most of the time, common sense and community benefit join hands with them, and the local newspaper must rely on news stories like whose house did Billy Bob and Joann Rice have dinner at after church on Sunday, or which 4-H’er was awarded the grand prize for her winning pig at the county fair. The teamwork of freedom and responsibility seldom makes good headlines, but, seriously, wouldn’t we like a few days that would be ho-hum and un-sensational?

It seems in these times, however, that responsibility is often in the crosshairs of freedom. Freedom drives a car smack dab into responsibility’s front window and takes off with items that don’t belong to it.

Freedom gone crazy is like a bear in a honey store. Look out! there’s going to be a lot of licking, broken glass, and beastly entitlement. I can understand bears. It’s the crazies who have mistaken free reign for freedom that I cringe about.

Realizing What We No Longer Have

April 2, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        April 2, 2020

                        

When I recently taught 7th Grade Language Arts for 8 weeks, I noticed somber-faced students entering the building at 7:30. Although some were excited about being at school for another day of broadening their educational experience, most were as excited as a skateboarder at a geriatric bingo night.

Many of them longed to be anywhere but a classroom. Some of them had arrived at the notion that their purpose in life was to drive teachers looney. 

And now they are just one example of a long, long list of realizations of how good we, and they, had it! E-learning has been more taxing than their 57 minute class times in the school building. Teachers expect them to still be students and most of them can no longer be convincing when they say to their parents that they don’t have any homework.

Sometimes we don’t realize what we had until we no longer have it. No workouts at the Y! No booth at Red Lobster! No library to browse amongst the rows of books! Our routines have been knocked down like Lego blocks that we assumed were firmly in place, and now new routines, less certain and more like a Jenga tower, are being assembled.

Last Sunday I attended three worship services in different parts of the country- southern Ohio; Champaign, Illinois; and Pleasanton, California. Of course, all three were streamed into my study at home. It was a unique experience, and it made me realize how much I miss the “community of presence” when a church congregation meets together. I was fed the Word and yet I missed the fellowship that touches my spirit.

Grandkids miss grandparents and vice-versa. Waving to one another from the other side of a car window doesn’t do it. In some ways, it elevates the loneliness. 

I miss my writing stool at my local Starbucks and the baristas who I would joke with each day, giving each other new first names that began with our first initial, like Bartholomew for my “B” and “Catastrophic” for the barista whose first name begins with “Cat.” 

I miss the days when you didn’t look at people with suspicion— Does he have it? Shouldn’t those young people not be hanging around there?— or cut a wide berth around an elderly couple walking in the opposite direction.

We realize that things will never, in our lifetime, be what they once were. Our future plans are on hold. Our questions about when we might take a vacation have no clear answers. Our special events just lose some of their specialness when we participate by Zoom.

And I also think, in the midst of these cataclysmic changes, that many of us have come to realize how much of our lives have been revolved around things and events that, in the larger scheme of things, really aren’t that important. Many of us are coming to the discovery that our lives don’t have much depth to them at all. We’re shallow, like multiple text messages that just keep saying “Hi!” and “What’s up?” Perhaps, in the midst of this journey, we’ll dig deeper roots into things that matter…relationships, purpose, and spiritual nourishment. 

I think of the story of Job in the Old Testament. It’s painful, in many ways to read. Job has the good life, things seem to be in perfect harmony for him. And then it all comes crashing down…wealth, health, the respect people showed toward him. But at the end of the story, after Job has everything else stripped away from his life, he finds that nothing and no one can strip away his relationship with God.

Realizing what we no longer have may help us understand what we do have and can’t be taken away! 

Being Out-served

March 27, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      March 27, 2020

                                    

A young woman, consumed with the number of her followers on Instagram, was interviewed by Dr. Phil about her self-centeredness in relation to the coronavirus pandemic. She had partied and been apathetic toward the idea of taking safety precautions to protect herself and, more importantly, others from contracting the virus.

When Dr. Phil directed his anger at her about putting others at risk through her carelessness, she responded that it wasn’t her problem. In fact, she indicated that Baby Boomers, like Dr. Phil, were the problem. 

He had a few things to say to her!

Her perspective, based on narcissism and arrogance, is at the opposite end of the spectrum from those who proclaim to follow Jesus. Instead of placing ourselves on the throne, Christ-followers seek to serve the One who is on the throne. Sometimes that serving is clumsy and misguided, like buying your wife a weigh scale for her birthday thinking it will help her be more healthy, but the mindset is right— seeking to benefit someone else’s life.

In these uncertain times, if too many people with the same attitude as the young woman are populating one side of the world’s see-saw and too few people are helping at the other end we will all suffer from the imbalance.

I still remember a message conveyed almost 25 years ago at a Promisekeepers conference in the Pontiac Silverdome by an African-American pastor named Efrem Smith. He encouraged us to out-serve our spouses. The same principle could be used in regards to out-serving our parents, our neighbors, our friends, our co-workers. His point was that our tendency is to think about ourselves, our wants, our needs, who’s going to wait on us, who’s going to bring us satisfaction, instead of figuring out how we can help others to know that they are valued.

In Paul’s letter to the church at Philippi, he wrote these powerful words that indicate what Jesus’s mindset was:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,

    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing

    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,

    being made in human likeness.

  And being found in appearance as a man,

    he humbled himself

    by becoming obedient to death—

        even death on a cross!”        (Philippians 2:5-8)

I’ve been blessed to have seen this picture of selflessness modeled for me by numerous people who have been parts of my life. My dad served my mom with patience and care. In her last few years of life when Parkinson’s was limiting her mobility, Dad waited on her as his calling. When Mom was bedridden and the disease had impacted her ability to formulate words, Dad cared for her without grumbling. He did not do it out of obligation, but rather out of his desire to show her that he still loved her. 

That character was evident in many of my professors at Judson College and Northern Baptist Seminary. The willingness to sit and listen to students at lunchtime in the student commons or continue conversations after class over a cup of coffee was the norm, not the exception, as our teachers sought to help us toward maturity of mind and meaningfulness in life.

Serving one another, and seeking to go the extra mile for one another, has become a key ingredient of our marriage. Truth be told, it is so ingrained in our relationship that we don’t think about it when we’re in the midst of it.

Since we’re confined to our surroundings for the foreseeable future, having the nature of a servant is crucial. In fact, the idea for this Words from WW came from Carol. She had remembered me talking about this message by Efrem Smith so long ago. I’m hoping that, in the midst of my failures and shortcomings, that she has felt loved, cherished, and served. 

The Battle Within to Stay Within

March 25, 2020

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        March 25, 2020

                            

The governor of Colorado spoke, a mixture of anger and pleading in his voice. He was asking people to stay at home, practice social distancing, wash their hands, and watch out for one another. As news of the number of infected New Yorkers alarmed us, more alarming were the scenes of people congregating together to play full-court basketball, lay on the beaches, and crowd into Costco.

In New York Governor Cuomo’s press conference, his arteries were about to pop out of his neck he was so angry at some of the citizens of his state. For many, it seems that the pandemic is something that will pass from the news in a few days. No biggie! 

It tells us of the battle within each one of us, the struggle to do the right thing versus our strong-willed determination to do what we want. Each one of us faces it multiple times each day. 

Yesterday was our granddaughter Corin’s fifth birthday. Carol and I drove over to our daughter’s house with presents, but we stayed a few feet away from our grandkids as we celebrated in the driveway in front of their house. Our desire was to hug and embrace the little birthday princess, but our greater hope is and has been, that all of our family is safe and remains healthy. The battle was evident. We’re accustomed to hugs and loving touches, but we had to blow kisses to one another instead.

Scripture talks about that internal struggle…frequently! The Apostle Paul does a personal tug-of-war in Romans 7, where he goes back and forth trying to understand why he has a tendency to do the things he knows he shouldn’t do, while also recognizing his desire to do what is good. 

There’s Simon Peter, who would do anything for Jesus, and then denying he even knew the man. There’s Paul’s categorizing of the sinful nature (“the acts of the flesh) and then the fruit of the Spirit (the characteristics of someone allowing the Holy Spirit to lead him/her) in Galatians 5.

There’s the conversation that Jesus has with a young man in Matthew 19. The young man asks Jesus what good thing he must do to get eternal life? When Jesus narrows the focus of the discussion down to the man’s obsession with his wealth the line was drawn in the sand. It was a line that revealed what the struggle and, consequently, what his priorities were. The scripture says that “he went away sad, because he had great wealth.”

The battle is different for you than it is for me, but it is still that inner tussle for following the ways of God, following what we know is right, versus giving into our hunger to satisfy ourselves in the moment.

The current pandemic has clearly shown examples of self-sacrifice. A 72-year-old Italian priest named Don Giuseppe Berardelli, infected with COVID-19, gave up his ventilator for a younger person who was sick. The priest had been suffering from a respiratory condition for some time and his church had bought the ventilator for him previously. Father Don died two days ago, a week after giving his ventilator up.

Volunteers are helping gather and deliver food, neighbors are checking neighbors, people are praying for one another. The good acts of humanity have been frequently needed harmonies of sweet music.

But our propensity for dumbness and deceit has also been evident. New scams are suckering in desperate people. People are stealing toilet paper from places of business. Stubborn self-centered folk are thumbing their noses at following protective guidelines. 

Crazy people in crazy times!

Let me tell you what my hope is. My hope is that the God of heaven changes hearts in these coming days, causes people to look into the mirror and discover who their number one foe and number one advocate is, and brings us into new and deeper realizations of how precious the gift of life and our loved ones are.