Archive for the ‘Grace’ category

The Troubling of Sports Officials

August 8, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  August 8, 2018

                          

It’s a situation that basketball game assignors started dealing with a few years ago: too many games and not enough referees to cover them safely and effectively. So a trend started! Games on heavy volume days began to be rescheduled…or, in a few cases, officials had to cover three games in one day…often at two different locations. 

It was a warning sign that most wanted to pretend wasn’t happening; that the number of people officiating basketball games was gradually decreasing while the number of games being played gradually had been increasing. A few people saw the impending crisis, but most went on like there wasn’t any problem. After all, how do you fix the part of the basketball game that is best seen but not heard. That is, officials long to run up and down a court where the participants with numbered uniforms play the game fairly and under control, to the point where a whistle rarely needs to be blown.

I still remember a girl’s varsity game I officiated several years ago at St. Mary’s High School in Colorado Springs. St. Mary’s was hosting Trinidad. Two excellent coaches, George Dasko and Mike Burkett, led their teams. I can even remember my officiating partners for that game: Rachel Martinez and Kevin Kizewski. We rarely had to blow our whistles in a contest that was well-played and close the whole way. I remember that, even with the ten minute halftime and the uncertainty of the outcome down to the last few seconds, the contest was finished in an hour. 

Unfortunately, most basketball games are not like that! And that hints at the problem. It gives us an inkling of why the number of people willing to put on a striped shirt, run up and down a court with a whistle in their mouth, and have their intelligence questioned is slipping.

I’ve been on both sides of the sidelines, wearing a black and white striped shirt inside the lines and a shirt and tie on the other side of it. I’ve asked coaches to stay in their “box” (the designated area in front of their team bench that runs now from the baseline to the 28-foot line) and also been the one standing in the box.

Sixteen years as a basketball official and twenty plus years as a basketball coach. After the 2017 high school basketball season I decided to hang up the striped shirt. I made that decision for several reasons. 

The first two were quite simple; I wasn’t getting any younger, and I enjoyed coaching much more than officiating. Two good reasons…except for the acknowledgment of my advancing age as an AARP member!

The other reasons, however, were troubling. 

Parents! How do you fix parents, specially parents of young athletes? In the increasing of games that need to be covered, youth basketball games are like a locust storm. In helping out our game assignor in the covering of some of these games I had to deal with parents that were belligerent, unrealistic, and obnoxious. One mom, who I asked to relocate from underneath one of the baskets to the side of the court because of her language during a 5th-6th grade game, told me she had paid admission to get in. Since I heard her urge her son (I’m assuming it was her son!) to kill one of the opposing players I moved her and informed her that we weren’t going to start the game again until she relocated. She had lost perspective! She forgot that this was a game that was being played by young boys and it was for their enjoyment, not for her “revenge on life” attitude!

How do you fix parents? I tell the parents of the players I coach to keep perspective on what it is we’re about. If anything needs to be said to an official I’ll say it, not them. 

In saying that let me also say that most parents are great! They understand that having their child’s team beat the archival is a great moment, but not life-defining. Finding a cure for cancer would be life-defining for the discoverer and the people helped by it. Being a community peacekeeper would be life-defining. Walking with a family through struggles and heartaches would be life-defining. Most parents understand that and help their adolescent athletes develop a balanced view on life.

Here’s another reason! The blurring of authority. That is, the minimizing of the respect for the ones blowing the whistles. The disrespect comes from fans, coaches, and players. For every coach with integrity like Mike Burkett there’s a coach on the other side of the fence who sees the referees as the enemies. In recent years the number of assaults on referees has increased. A recent basketball game between two club teams ended with players from one of teams physically attacking the officials. Physical assaults happen just as much at contests between teams of younger-aged players as they do with high school teams.

In other words, those wearing the striped shirts have become the targets to aim at for frustrated players, coaches, and fans. People have forgotten what the purposes are for there to be people wearing the stripes. Perhaps it’s simply a smaller arena example of how authority has become blurred in our culture. 

Ask public school teachers if changes have occurred in regards to the respect of their authority during their teaching career! 

Ask coaches about the attitudes of their athletes. Even though the size of the ball has remained the same the way they coach their players has to now contend with some attitude warts.

The examples of the abuse of authority has contributed to the disdain of authority. 

As a coach I keep perspective on how things are. Last year I coached two middle school basketball teams and a freshman team. The officials we had were often new officials who still make the same boneheaded decisions that I made in my first few years of refereeing. So I would tell my players that new officials need to start someplace, and we’re the place they usually start…so it is what it is! Let me be the one to ask them questions! My players saw that I wasn’t contentious or abrasive, but rather that those wearing the striped shirts and I each had a role and a purpose and we, in most situations, tried to work together to be participants of a great athletic contest. 

After all, if there aren’t any people to wear the stripes and officiate the games who will do it? 

The parents?????

Hearing My Papaw Helton Again After 30 Years

July 27, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            July 27, 2018

                    

I only knew one of my grandfathers. The other, my dad’s dad, died in a mining accident in the southeast corner of Kentucky long before I was even a possibility. 

My Papaw Helton, however, was distinctive in personality, the governor of his family’s domain, and the source of various opinions that were mostly anchored to common sense…mostly!

My sister made me a DVD copy of an interview Papaw Helton had done with my cousin, Matthew Helton, back in 1989. Papaw was 89 at the time of the interview and lived another couple of years. He had been born on the eastern Kentucky farm in 1898 where he lived almost his entire life. In fact, the front sitting room where he was delivered was also the same room where each of his six children were born. Knowing my Mama Helton she went to the chicken coop and killed a chicken for a celebration dinner a few hours after delivering. No epidurals were used in Oil Springs, Kentucky back in those days, although there was probably a bottle of bourbon whiskey somewhere close…for medicinal purposes!

When you haven’t heard your Papaw’s voice for thirty years it’s causes a flood of emotions to rise up from the reservoir of memories. My Papaw was a proud and stoic “feller” (his pronunciation). He was suspicious of any new inventions that were meant to improve the quality of a person’s life. (I think I was ten years old when he and Mamaw decided to finally get indoor plumbing! Until then you battled the spiders in the outhouse, which caused you to “hold your water” a bit longer before seeking relief!) 

I remember the story of a salesman stopping by the farmhouse looking to sell a satellite dish…one of those huge ones that stuck out like a sore thumb! He explained what the dish could do, how many TV channels it could pick up, and all. Back in those days Mamaw and Papaw had a little TV that could pick up two stations, and one of them so fuzzy you weren’t sure if you were watching a baseball game or “The Price Is Right”!

The salesman thought he had a good prospective sale and then my Papaw asked him how much this “deesh” cost? 

“Mr. Helton, it’s only nineteen ninety-five!”

“Nineteen ninety-five?” He relayed that conversation to us with the comment, “Good Lord, son! He made it sound like a twenty dollar bill!” No sale was made and my grandparents continued to receive two television stations. They never ever saw Ed Sullivan with good complexion on TV!

On the DVD Matthew keeps peppering Papaw with questions about politics, life, his siblings, where he worked, who his favorite president was, his only plane ride ever, and the fearlessness of Matthew’s father, my Uncle George, on the trip they all took together by auto to California and back. 

“Your daddy wanted to stop at every place we came to on the way!” Papaw exclaims, not in an affirming way. “And he wanted to go to the top of Pike’s Peak. Lord God, there weren’t any guardrails along that road and I just about put my foot through the floorboard on the way down and wore out my britches! I said, Lord God, if you get me down from here I’ll never go up again!”

The sound of his voice is like eating comfort food. It’s satisfaction for the soul, a return to an earlier time that was uncomplicated and certain. With Papaw life wasn’t gray. Things were mostly black and white. Either you were or you weren’t…there wasn’t any “almost.” A person was either right or wrong, and, of course, what was right depended on my Papaw’s view of things. 

And I realize that who I am today still has his definite imprint upon it, and that’s a very good thing!

Rants, Raves, and Wonders

July 26, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        July 26, 2018

                                 

I’m not a complainer. I whine a little bit about the heat, overcooked beef, and wimpy water pressure in the shower, but other than that…and a few other things, I’m pretty mature and rational.

And so I let things simmer inside me…thoughts, rants, unanswerable questions, things that prick at me like when you find out that pinching in your butt was a wood splinter all along! (And then you start wondering “How did a wood splinter get inside my underwear?”)

My ranting and wondering this time around was ignited by recent experiences with American Airlines. In all of my checking in and gate experiences I never experienced a smile. In fact, I thought I had been transported back in time to the lunch room aides at Williamstown Elementary in Williamstown, West Virginia in 1961. They were ladies devoid of happiness and consumed with straight student lines as we walked towards our executions by way of the consumption of the worst mac and cheese ever created. 

Perhaps they had flunked out of flight attendant college and had been offered positions terrorizing passengers before they boarded…I don’t know! All I know is they looked like they had been sucking on lemons.

That was a rant!

On my first flight from Colorado Springs to Dallas (The first of three flights! It takes some doing to get to Huntington, West Virginia!) I was amused by the instructional video that was shown before we departed…you know, how to put your seat belt on and what to do if the plane crash lands in water. The video was well-done, but what plane were they on? There was like three feet of space between each row! And no one in that video had ever been through a buffet line! They were all slim and orderly and probably don’t even eat pie ever. On my last flight back last night my seat was next to a man who flowed over on my side because of his size. He was a nice guy, but he definitely had not been in cast as a passenger in the pre-flight safety video. This morning I’m leaning to the right out of habit!

That was a rant with a small wonder!

My brother and I went to church last Sunday at the Southern Baptist church we were raised in back in Winchester, Kentucky. One question! Why do so many churches, Southern Baptist and other flavors on the conservative side, only have females in staff positions that deal with children or hospitality? The church we revisited (The last time I had been there was when I was 8!) had four pastors for pastoral care, youth, worship, and teaching…and then one female name at the bottom of the list for children’s programs!

That was something I was wondering about, albeit a confused wondering! 

This morning a lady in front of me at Starbucks mentioned to Rhea, one of the baristas, that it seemed warm and humid in the place. I wanted to correct her, but I held back. I wanted to say “Honey, you don’t know what humidity is until you’ve been in Proctorville, Ohio, situated on the banks of the Ohio River, in late July. It’s so humid there I could squeeze juice out of my face!” 

I didn’t say that, however. I just looked at her and smiled.

One last thing! Why does Bob Evans sausage taste so good? I had sausage patties and sausage gravy yesterday on the way to the Huntington airport. Before I met another round of American Airlines employees with sour dispositions I wanted to leave Huntington with a good memory- breakfast at the restaurant where Dad and I would dine. Bob Evans is also the only restaurant I know of where I can get fried cornmeal mush! Yum, yum!

And that, my friends, is a rave!

Muttering and Complaining About Church

July 20, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            July 20, 2018

                         

My friend, Ed Stucky, recently preached a sermon on the “First Church Business Meeting.” Coincidentally, the small town small tiny congregation where the two of us speak and worship was scheduled to have a church business meeting that morning after the worship service. 

Ed used the text from Acts 6 that tells of the crisis that the first congregation in Jerusalem had to contend with: the taking care of a group of widows who were “different from the rest of us!” These widows were Jewish, but had come to Jerusalem from other cultures and regions. At some time and place they had become followers of Jesus. One of the repercussions of that was the loss of a care system that the Jewish synagogue provided to its widows. The Jews took care of their own. Now…what about the new Christian church? And these women weren’t even native born! They were transplants…immigrants, if you will!

And there’s a lot of them! 

And the group of immigrants that the widows are a part of are “murmuring and complaining” against the native Hebrews. That is, the newbies are complaining about the people who have always been there! Today we’d describe the native Hebrews in this story as the people who would say something along the lines of “This is OUR church!”

It is the fertile soil for a cultural battle. I can hear the excuses.

“We’ve only got so much food.” 

“We can only do so much.” 

“We’ve got to take care of our own first!”

“Y’all eat different kinds of food than we eat!”

“It’s not our responsibility!”

And so the Grecian Jewish Christians muttered and complained, and the Twelve said let’s figure out a solution to this problem! 

The process was quickly defined. 1) A meeting was called of all the disciples. 2) The problem was identified. 3) It was determined that what was happening went against the core values/beliefs of the church. That is, it needed to be solved, not neglected! 4) The solution was found, put into practice, and the way the church functioned was changed accordingly. 

Huh! How ‘bout that!

The thing is this first century crisis could have torn the church apart. Just imagine a new church plant today that has half of its attenders wanting to meet on Saturday night and half who are firmly anchored to Sunday morning. Or half the people who mutter and complain about having a woman as the lead pastor for the congregation and half who believe she is who God has called to be the leader, that gender has no bearing on God’s calling.

The disciples decided that the widows of the Grecian Jews had a legitimate complaint and took care of the matter. They didn’t let it fester. Shortly before this they had witnessed the “drop dead” experiences of Ananias and Sapphire. That was an awakening moment for the Jesus followers, just as the two deceivers crumpled to the ground. It was a moment when the church got serious about this Kingdom business.

Let’s be honest! There have been numerous churches in recent times that have exploded because of muttering and complaining attenders/members who don’t feel they are being heard; and there’s churches that have people rushing for the exits because of complainers who want it their way or the highway. 

We live in a culture of entitlement, and that has filtered- sometimes like a flash flood- into the church. Some followers of Jesus feel entitled, while others are prone to discount anyone who differs from them. 

We’re like a bunch of dysfunctional Baptists! Oh, wait! Dysfunctional is not a term that has to be used with Baptists these days. It’s now just implied!

And yet the first church was able to figure it out! Huh! How ‘bout that!

Oh, and by the way! Our church business meeting right after Ed’s message that Sunday was productive, punctuated with laughter, and…short!

Is It Okay To Feel Okay About Life?

July 16, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      July 16, 2018

                               

People have gripes! I won’t list them here because of space, time, and the fact that I don’t want to be a “Debbie Downer!” Our days are peppered with people who look at the glass as being half-empty…with a good chance of leakage!

It’s gotten to the point that I ask myself if it’s okay to feel okay about life? Is it not okay to feel okay about where one’s life is right now? Should I feel guilty about not having issues that would have me sitting in one of those high chairs on Dr. Phil’s stage?

This does not mean that I have it all together and live a life void of any problems. I have physical therapy for my knee and hip pain later on this morning. I frequent the bathroom more than a bored eighth grader escaping math class. I read two paragraphs in a book and fall asleep. I have about five prescriptions! I often talk to speeding cars that rush by me on the highway, even to the point of showing them my middle finger…in my mind! Lord, forgive me!

But there is a wholeness in my life, a happiness…dare I say, a joy! The sadness in my soul is connected to the loss of loved ones…Dad back in February and Mom almost five years ago now, all my aunts, uncles, and Carol’s parents, dear friends and mentors who have gone on like Rex Davis…Greg Davis…Don Fackler…Ray Lutz. 

I’m okay with the goals in my life that I did not reach, or have not yet reached…officiating a high school state tournament basketball game, running a marathon in my sixties, owning an ice cream truck, hiking the Grand Canyon, slam-dunking a basketball. 

It’s the rhythm in my life that gives me a sense of peace and satisfaction. My life is spiced and seasoned with opportunities to impact young people. I’m blessed to be able to coach four teams in three different sports. I get all giddy at the opportunity to substitute teach middle school students. I have a good amount of time to write and (fingers crossed!) hopefully publish a novel in the next few months. I’m allowed to speak at a wonderful small town church that has about 20 saints each Sunday morning. I’m married to a wonderful woman. We’ll celebrate our 39th anniversary in a few days. We’ve got three great kids, but (Sorry, kids!) enjoy our three grandkids now even more!

The “feeling okay about life” is also connected to that deep sense within a person that he/she is in the midst of what God desires for him/her to be about. There is not any sense of unrest or frustration. The peace-within-myself understands that it’s not all about me. As I serve others and serve God, joy makes a home within my life.

Many people detour around contentment in their life because they think there should be more. There is grumbling about missed opportunities, usually blamed on something or someone else. Our culture seems to have been injected with a dose of disgruntlement, supplemented with pills to heighten a sense of entitlement. 

I guess for me the glass is half-empty because I’ve enjoyed the beginning and will continue to be blessed by the ending. I’ve been used by God and still have some left in the tank to be used!

And I’m okay with that!

Church Camp Journal

July 15, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                           July 15, 2018

                              

SATURDAY

Dear Journal,

I arrived at church camp safely this afternoon. Things looked normal. 

SUNDAY

Dear Journal,

Normalcy disappeared about 2:00. Kids of different sizes and ages arrived, most with their parents. Some parents were tearing up at the idea of missing Little Missy and Mini-Mike for a week. Others teared up at the temporary freedom they would be experiencing. One set of parents were taking a week’s vacation since the kids were gone. They would go back to work once the kids returned to the roost!

Young campers stared into the uncertainty of a whole week of following the instructions and schedule of adults who were strangers to them. What bizarre things would they be forced to do…eat roasted bugs, eat all of their vegetables, take a shower and brush their teeth every day?

Anxiety seemed to spread over the registration area like peanut butter on sliced bread! 

MONDAY

Dear Journal

It’s amazing how easily it is to figure out which of the middle school boy campers has reached puberty and which haven’t! A couple of the boys have been following a group of girls around like flies on honey. Other boys are more interested in figuring out mathematical equations and different Rubik’s Cubes.

One boy, who has spent the first day salivating over the girls, wears tee shirts around that announce the fact that he’s a wrestler…a Samson in the midst of the group of Delilah’s, muscle mass more important than mental capacity.

I grabbed the attention of the middle school campers in my first talk to them by microwaving an egg that was still in the shell. A couple of other things done for shock value communicated to them that this was going to be a different week. I even got Salivating Samson to sit there with his mouth wide open out of disbelief.

TUESDAY

Dear Journal,

  A couple of the boys are starting to smell like…middle school boys! They have not familiarized themselves with the showers in their dorm. The buzzing of flies around them is a clue that they aren’t picking up on. Thankfully we have a swimming time this afternoon. We just need to make sure they get in the pool and go all the way under the water…for a while!

I used shock value again this morning by throwing a full glass of milk on one of the counselors as I began a talk on serving others. She knew it was coming, but didn’t realize how cold it was! Oh well!

WEDNESDAY

Dear Journal,

Today we go rock climbing. For several of the campers who have never rock climbed before they’re wondering if it is going to be like climbing the monkey bars at their old grade school playground. 

And then they saw the red rock formations at Garden of the Gods that they would be climbing up and there was a lot of gulping and eyes wide opened! Samson saw it as an opportunity to impress the Delilah’s who pretended to be interested. 

A good number of campers who didn’t think they could do it were completely pumped when they DID do it. 

THURSDAY

Dear Journal,

Today we climbed Soldier’s Peak…all of us! No one was left behind! One boy’s nickname is now “Crockpot” because that’s about how fast he gets things done. He would be the kid at the mall whose parent has one of those “kid leashes” attached to him so he doesn’t get lost. 

But even he made it and delighted in the view from the top. I talked to all of them about mountain and valleys, and the fact that if there weren’t valleys we wouldn’t appreciate the mountain top experiences, and that God is closely beside us as we travel through the valley experiences of our lives.

Crockpot made it back down in time for lunch!

FRIDAY

Dear Journal,

The week is coming towards the finish line. A moose wandered through camp this afternoon and cooled off for a few minutes in the pond smack dab in the middle of camp. 

At certain times during this week it seems like we’ve also wandered into a strange place, but then the cool waters of God’s grace have saturated our uncertainties. 

In our last evening together the tears begin again. This time, however, they are tears because of departure, tears of sweet sorrow. They’ve become a “group of kids on a journey together.” Now they’re being asked to say goodbye. 

Samson gets hugs from the Delilah’s he’s been hoping for all week. Crockpot gets bombarded with hugs so fast he can’t keep up. The Rubik’s Cube boys seek me out. They’ve always been seen as being weird and nerdy, but this week they were loved and valued. The middle school boys who had not frequented the showers smelled of Old Spice and Axe as they gave me high fives. 

SATURDAY

Dear Journal,

And then it was over! The dust trails of the vans and wagons marked the departure of the campers. It was a week of memories, of laughter and tears, of hopes and the squelching of fears. The hopes were that everyone would be back together a year from now. Amen!

Hide and Slowly Seek!

July 5, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                              July 5, 2018

               

                                          

“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith- and this is not from yourselves-it is the gift of God.” (Ephesians 2:8, NIV)

I played “hide and seek” with my granddaughter a couple of days ago. Corin, who turned three at the end of March, doesn’t quite get the strategy of the game yet, which made it even more fun and funny.

She went to hide as I counted. As soon as I tromped up the steps to the second floor of her family’s house I could hear the giggling. She was hiding underneath the covers of her parents’ bed. Three year olds have a very difficult time not making any movements. The bedspread kept moving like a fan was blowing on it. I slowly made my approach, talking the whole time, until I lifted the covers to a bundle of screams and laughter.

And then she hid again! I went downstairs to count to some random figure. 

“Ready or not here I come!”

Distant giggles.

My heavy feet thundered on each step to indicate my ascent up the stairs. “I wonder where she might be?” She was hiding…under the covers in her parents’ bed…again!

What does a granddad do when his granddaughter makes it so easy to find her? He pretends to not see her, to loudly announce that he’s looking in other rooms and places which causes her to giggle even more.

Slowly I narrow down my search to her special spot, and then I make mention of the lump underneath the bedspread (pause for more giggles) before throwing the covers back to reveal her again. 

Third time…same hiding place!

Fourth time…you guessed it!

Fifth time…yes! Each time I tried my hardest to be blind. I even became more creative in my ability to not see, checking inside toilets, taking a peek inside a lamp shade, and gazing behind a picture hanging on the wall. Each look was announced to the giggler, before discovering her for the fourth time…fifth time in the exact same spot, even the same side of the bed!

That. not occurred to me, is a picture of the  grace and forgiveness of God! He sees our hiding tendencies, our covering up of our secrets, and he still graces us with his forgiveness.

Never once did I say to Corin, “Again! You’re hiding in the same place again! This is getting monotonous!” I searched and found. When we hide our hearts God seeks.

Although God does not enjoy our hiding from him he will always seek us, always forgive us, and always respond to our staying away with grace-filled drawing close…even when we return to the same dark place again and again.