Archive for the ‘marriage’ category

The Pain in Laughter

August 10, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     August 10, 2019

                                      

Last week I wrote about the tragic loss of a father of five (“Answering the Why”, August 4; WordsfromWW.com) in a road accident. The family was in the midst of a move from our city to another community. It was a new beginning, new challenges and opportunities, new friends to make and schools to attend…and then in a few seconds everything changed. My blog post focused on the “why” questions of life that we strive to answer and yet we can find no answer.

Yesterday I attended the funeral of the father. During the course of the service there was pain and there was laughter…and there was laughter, acting like a blanket, bringing some warmth to cover the chill of the deep, deep pain.

The laughter was healing. It drew the gathering into the story, the person. It swung like a grapevine from the heartache of loss to the loss of opportunities to the emptiness of Dad’s chair at the table.

Every chuckle about a past encounter or a humorous saying was tempered with the realization that it would never occur again. And yet the laughter was ointment for the aches of the journey.

I’ve thought a lot about this tragedy in the past week. In the midst of the accident details there’s a sense of injustice and a rising amount of anger. The laughter helps simmer the unrest that has been planted in people’s souls.

My mom’s last few years were filled with the afflictions that Parkinson’s Disease can bring. The loss of mobility and the devastating effect on her ability to speak. My sister and I recently retold “Mom stories”. It’s been five years since she passed and, although we remember the pain, we shared the stories of who she was, experiences we shared and conversations we had…and we laughed. The humor brought her back to us. We could see her sitting in her chair, watching “Dancing With The Stars” and working her crossword puzzle. We remembered how she would use her “Baptist Mom Guilt” on us to make us do things we didn’t want to. 

We could envision the times when she would grab on to Dad and say her classic line of romance to him: “Kiss me, slobber lips! I can swim!” We would pretend we were grossed out by the dining room affection, but it really caused us to chuckle…and still does.

There is pain in life and laughter in the pain. It is not an escape from the grief, but rather footwear for the journey. The steps begin with the uncertainty of a tightrope and gradually gain a steadiness as we balance our mourning with the memories.

Our souls cry out. Our laughter helps us to keep going.

The 40 Year Hitch

July 28, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            July 28, 2019

                                          

It’s been 40 years since we exchanged vows. Crazy! Doesn’t seem that long! It occurred to Carol and me last night that several of our aunts and uncles attended that wedding ceremony, conducted at Community Presbyterian Church in Clarendon Hills, Illinois on a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon. We thought they were old! We figured out last night that we’re now OLDER than they were when they listened to a couple of 25 year olds covenant to love one another. Yikes!

We were two different people in many ways. I had deep roots in eastern Kentucky. Think J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy! Carol was “big city suburban”. Both of our fathers had served in the military in very different ways, my dad as a cook in the Navy and her dad as a pilot with the Army Air Corps. Her family was a bit more affluent than mine, but both of our families had a closeness that stays rich in our minds.

Carol had been raised in the Catholic church. I had always been a Baptist, first Southern Baptist and then American Baptist. Growing up Catholic, she had heard about a Baptist seminary in Lombard, Illinois, and she assumed that the students there walked around dressed like Franciscan monks, wearing robes, sandals, and sporting shaved heads. I assumed she liked fried fish since it seemed like all Catholic churches had Friday night fish fries. 

We quickly learned that our assumptions were wrong, and discovered what was right about each of us that seemed to mesh us together in a comfortable relationship of laughter and shared life.

In our first year of marriage we learned about grace and forgiveness. We were like two rookies heading into our first season together. Carol knew that I loved pecan pie and she made one for me, an expression of her love for her new husband. I ate a piece of pie and expressed my gratitude to her. It was very good! Let me emphasize that! It was very good! But then the next day went by and the next day after that. Late meetings and softball doubleheaders kept me from eating the second piece of the pie. About five days later when I finally thought about having another piece, Carol stopped me. Some green stuff has started growing on the pie crust! She was crushed and I experienced what it means to “eat humble pie”. Forgiveness was extended. Forty years later if I have a desire for pecan pie she points me in the direction of the local Village Inn and suggests that I go there and have a piece.

She learned the privileges of being the spouse of a pastor, but, more often than not, she experienced the unjustified expectations of it. People blessed us in so many ways and people brought heartache and frustration to us. She listened to me on numerous occasions as I came home from a church meeting that had been frustrating and left me questioning my calling as a pastor. On the other side, I listened to her deep sighs after being with the three kids all day. I was her chance to talk to an actual adult, her opportunity to tell someone the funny stories of the day and the new sayings our kids would spring on her.

We supported one another as we went through the deaths of each of our parents, never an easy journey. We cried tears of joy as each of our daughters walked down the aisle with their new husbands. We experienced the joy of grandparenthood together. 

When you walk with someone for 40 years you realize that it’s difficult to remember when you weren’t walking together. Roughly two-thirds of our lives have now been spent eating meals at the same table, taking walks around the neighborhood together, and being in love.

In the midst of our journey it occurs to us that the improbableness of our relationship has flowed into the inconceivable thought of not being married to one another.

As I’ve said before, sometimes we don’t think about being blessed when we are in the midst of the blessing. I have been, I am, and, God willing, I will be for a long, long time!

Laughers, Lamenters, and Losers

July 13, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  July 13, 2019

                        

I was telling my sister a story from my middle school substitute teaching experiences of this past year. It probably was the one where a seventh grade boy tried to hide in the library and play video games on his cell phone. 

She laughed and said, “Oh, Bill, you make me laugh every time you come to visit us!” 

Shortly after that we drove past a section of run-down houses and properties along the banks of the Ohio River that made us shake our heads and I said, “I’ve come to realize that there are those people in life who make you laugh, those you make cry, and those who just make you shake your head.”

Laughers, lamenters, and losers.

I’m in the laughing category. I had enough lamenting during my 36 years as a Baptist pastor. There was plenty a Sunday where someone who looked like they had been sucking on lemons before they arrived at church, continued siphoning the joy out of the congregation. When I retired…kinda’…at the end of 2015 laughter moved back in with me. 

Being a coach and a substitute teacher with middle schoolers brings multitudes of laughter into my life. 

Like the kid who decided he wanted to sit under his desk one morning as school was beginning. My advice to sit IN his seat went unheeded and so he found himself in the principal’s office before we had even said the pledge of allegiance.

Or the young lady who noticed that I was giving nicknames to several other students and she wanted one. So I named her “Beano”, which was just a slight variation from her real name. I heard her grumble to her friend, “Oh, great! He gives me a nickname that deals with farting.” The next year I changed it, after discovering what a great young lady she was and her level of intelligence. She became “Braino”. She liked that better.

I love to laugh. In most situations of life (Notice I said most!) I can find an avenue towards laughter.

Lamenters are those who have endured the traumas and trials of life and you feel for them. Long illnesses, tragedies, unfair circumstances, heartaches…the list of life events leaves the listener saddened and empathetic. 

There are some lamenters who feel almost at home in the residence of drama. They wear the moments like a dark sweater that fits well. 

Lamenters sap our energy. We hurt for them, try to walk with them, and offer encouraging words to them. 

My dad was a laugher and my mom was a lamenter. Through 65 years of marriage he encouraged her and walked with her. He loved her dearly and they were about as devoted to one another as a couple can possibly be. 

Lamenters aren’t bad people. They tend to simply be more pessimistic. Laughers are, more often than not, optimists.

But then there are the losers! That is, those people who just make you shake your head. They are the ones who after hearing what they did, you mutter to yourself, “What was he thinking?” They are folk who overslept the day common sense was being distributed, and tend to think that the solution to their financial debts is just one more lottery ticket away. 

Like the man in Oregon who burglarized a house, along with his cat. (Does that make his cat a “cat burglar”?) He was caught INSIDE the walls of the home. He had eaten two and a half cupcakes that were in the refrigerator, and had put on a “onesie” that belonged to the woman who lived in the house. The cat was wearing a tee shirt. It’s a story that you read and you just shake your head…”what was he thinking?” 

Laughers, lamenters, and losers, that pretty much sums up people. I suppose I could have come up with a few other “L’s” for categories like “Lame”, “Laid Back”, and “Leave Me Alone!”, but I’ll just LEAVE it at that!

The Last Third

May 5, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     May 5, 2019

                                     

I hit Medicare-eligible age this morning! Age 65, Day 1!

You never really think about someday being 65 when you’re in high school. It’s like Bulgaria, over there but not relevant to your life.

But today it is relevant! It’s real! My “Bulgaria” just landed!

Being an optimist, I believe I’m at the two-thirds mark of my life! Yes, I see the finish line tape around 97 or 98! I said I’m an optimist!

So what do I hope for in the last third of my life? What do I hope defines it? Since I believe God still has a purpose for me to breathe on this planet, what will stand out as points of emphasis…and, perhaps, areas that will keep be focused.

1) Relationships- This morning as I was showering I suddenly had thoughts about my dad, and had one of those moments of grief that comes out of nowhere. I miss him! It brought to the surface the importance of relationships. Family and friends are the blessings of God upon us. Carol and I are about to celebrate 40 years of marriage. We’ve been blessed with three children, three (soon to be four) grandchildren, and two son-in-laws. It’s the spice of life for me! 

When I travel back to Ohio and Kentucky I try to always go by the cemetery outside of Paintsville, Kentucky to visit the grave sites of Mom and Dad, uncles and aunts, and grandparents. I can hear their accented voices and remember the long-ago conversations. There are people in this world who focus on the wrong “R’s” as their focus for life. But “Riches” and “Religion” just don’t bring depth and joy. Notice I said “Religion”! Faith, or “right religion”, if you will, comes out of a relationship with Jesus. I see a lot of lonely, unhappy rich folk; and I also see a lot of disgruntled uptight religious people, who always seem to wear their underwear a little too tight! 

2) Work as Play- I’m retired…kinda’! After 36+ years as a church pastor, I retired at the end of 2015. Better said, I transitioned! I still pastor, I just don’t get paid for it! Today I’m speaking at First Baptist Church in Simla, Colorado, something I do about twice a month now for the 15 Salt of the earth that show up. 

Work is now like play for me. When I substitute teach I enjoy it. They pay me to do it, but the pay is more like a token of appreciation. Last week the principal, Mr. Smith, said to me, “Coach Wolfe, we need to put your picture on the staff listing in the main hallway. My grandson keeps telling me that!” I took it as a compliment! Each day when I go to be the guest teacher in a classroom I fill my baggie with candy and dish it out to kids as the day goes on. One 8th Grade girl seems to smell my presence in the building, like she’s a bloodhound! I enjoy it! I enjoy coaching! I enjoy writing, and someday I might even get paid for writing something…maybe!

Work is now like play for me. Funny how that is! I can’t remember too many church council meetings that could have been defined as play!

3) Be Used by God- I will continue to ask that question in the last third of my life. How does God want to use me? Carol and I now support several missionaries in various ministries and locations, most of whom we have known in either churches I’ve pastored, or been a part of team I’ve coached, or is a family member. We look to where we can help and be partners with those called to ministry. 

Being used by God, however, is much more than writing a check. How can I use what I’ve learned in life to lead others? How can I be an advocate for someone who needs encouragement to stay the course? How might my life wisdom speak to those who are green behind the ears? 

Although I am open to new experiences and opportunities, by the time someone turns 65 he/she is pretty well defined in regards to talents, gifts, and strengths. I know who I am, and yet am open to new leadings. In essence, I don’t HAVE to do anything, and that’s how a lot of retired folk view their last third…and they don’t! My view is a bit different. I have the freedom to be used by God in extraordinary ways, large and small- reading a book to my grandkids at bedtime and writing a book for thousand of kids to read at bedtime. Buying a cup of coffee for someone at Starbucks and having a cup of coffee with Wendell and Heather Garrison at a coffee shop close to their church camp in British Columbia.

4) Seeing Each Day As an Opportunity- Having the right perspective is something that defines our view of life. Yes, we all have people in life that cause us to grind our teeth at night, but those are few and far between. Mostly, our lives are saturated with opportunities to better the world around us. 

65! I’ve been blessed! Lord, make me a blessing!

Recovering From Vacation

March 31, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 March 31, 2019

                        

Vacations are tragically funny! We long for the excitement and happiness that the advertisements seem to convey and come back home exhausted in our search for them.

Let me say this up front! The best parts about vacations are either the deepening of relationships or the experience of being embraced by peace. 

When I reflect on journeys that are the most memorable I think of being with either family or friends. The destination was secondary in importance. Memories of conversations and humorous happenings rise to the top. For example, three years ago my wife, Carol, and I took a road trip from Colorado to southern Ohio. We went to a couple of Presidential Libraries (Eisenhower and Truman) on the trip east, which were interesting, but what we’ll remember is surprising our nephew, Eric, on Sunday morning when we showed up in worship at the church he pastors In Bethalto, Illinois, and then surprising my brother at the Woodford Reserve Bourbon Distillery outside of Frankfort, Kentucky where he is a tour guide, and then being in Proctorville, Ohio for my dad’s 88th birthday celebration. Those are the moments that stand out. 

And peace! Like the sound of ocean waves as a person stands on the shore is the embracing of peace that some vacations offer. It’s the feel of a gentle breeze touching your soul, an absence of noise and clutter that allows the person to hear the whisperings of God and the beauty of silence. In our culture quiet moments are under appreciated and yet vitally important!

We returned from our most recent vacation late last night. We went to The Magic Kingdom where peace and rest are like alien creatures. Once again, the best part involved the deepening of relationships- going with our oldest daughter, son-in-law, and grandkids. The magical moments were connected to them: seeing the grandkids playing in the pool with a couple of children from Brazil and listening to how they connected across Portuguese and English language barriers, watching the personalities of the grandkids emerge in their distinctive differences, and taking long walks around the Orange County Convention Center with Carol.

The frustration of air travel, the crowds of people, the price gouging of $25 just to park at Disney, and the spike in Disney food prices were all dampers on the experience. I mean…really, do I need to pay $6.00 for an ice cream bar shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head image, or $9.00 for a plain hot dog?

So why is the Magic Kingdom so popular, so overcrowded? Perhaps it’s because many of us think there is something offered there that our lives are lacking. Or perhaps it’s the other way around…our lives are lacking and we are hoping that a visit to a place that features a castle with stardust above it will fill that void.

The other interesting thing I noticed at Disney revolved around the number of people who had their faces buried in their cell phones as they waited in line or as they walked through the park. It’s as if we want to go on a magical journey, but can’t quite let go of the world we live in.

And so we arrived home last night- actually 12:30 in the morning- to recover from the crowds and the chaos and return to the “ho-humness” of our routines. We return from vacation to our vocations remembering…not the rides and attractions, but rather the conversations and chuckles.

The chuckles, however, will end when I received my next credit card statement! It will tell me we can’t afford another vacation for a long, long while, and there’s something, like I said in the first sentence, tragically funny about that!

Privileged People and the Privilege of Money

March 16, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          March 16, 2019

                    

A few years ago a mom was upset with me. Her son had tried out for the 7th Grade basketball team and I hadn’t chosen him. He, along with about 25 others, didn’t make the cut.

She was visibly angry.

“He played on a club basketball team!” she informed me. 

“Well, good! I’m sure there’s other opportunities for him to join into, if he wants.” It was not the answer she wanted, but it didn’t seem like an appropriate moment to give her an analysis of her son’s fundamental deficiencies- didn’t have a left hand, couldn’t shoot, and was about two steps slow on defense. 

What she was saying is that she had paid money for him to be a part of a club basketball team. Money should count for something! 

And there it was! A fundamental flaw in the understanding of what money’s purpose is. Using it to help someone hone their math skills, or perfect their singing voice, or dribble with their left hand…those are several worthy uses of a family’s finances, if they have extra funds. But this mom’s understanding of money was that it opened doors that would otherwise remain closed. Money entitled her and her son!

It painted a mindset of a person who felt privileged, a person who expected things!

We all have that mindset in some ways; maybe not with financial funds, but with similar thinking. When I wrote my first novel I figured people would be lining up for the privilege of publishing it. So far I’m still waiting…and waiting. At least, however, I did write it!

Esau felt privileged, as many other first-borns do. David felt entitled to another man’s wife. Ananias and Sapphira didn’t seem to think twice before deceiving the first church by not disclosing all of their financial information. 

Sometimes privileged people forget that they put their pants on just like the rest of us do. 

And so we shake our heads at the news of people, who have money, using it for ill gain! We mutter to ourselves, “That’s just not right!” We often ponder what would happen if we had a pot load of cash? What would happen if the monthly inflow was always more than the outflow and we wouldn’t have to fear the sudden expense of a car repair or the news that one of the kids needs to start wearing braces? We think it would be a breath of fresh air, and we inhale the dream!

Money, however, has a way of taking someone down a glittery path towards distorted reality and an elevated view of their importance. 

If a person doesn’t know who he is then he will allow money to define him. But if he knows who he is- his virtues, thoughts, and routines- whether he has financial resources or not will not matter. 

So…one mom walked away angry and disappointed. Her dream for her son’s life in basketball had been detoured by an old coach who had seen too many wanna’ be’s who never would be.

Teaching Sixth Graders Manners

February 22, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         February 22, 2019

  

“Mr. Wolfe, can I use the restroom?”

“I’m assuming you can. I mean, you’ve got some real issues if you aren’t able to use it!”

“What?” he whispered with confusion.

“If you aren’t able to use the restroom there could be some serious repercussions.”

I point to the white board that explains the difference between asking questions that begin with “Can” versus “May”. On the board I’ve written examples:

         CAN= Am I able to…

-“Am I able to eat healthy?”

-Am I able to do the Incline?”

  

         MAY= Do I have permission to…

– “Do I have permission to get a drink of water?”

Understanding invades the inner space of the sixth grader’s mind. “Ohhh!” he exclaims as his eyebrows elevate. “May I use the restroom?”

“Yes, you may!”

Teaching sixth graders good manners and the proper way to act has become a passion of mine…sorta’! Let’s be honest! Good manners to a lot of people is as relevant as my cassette tape collection. Right before I wrote this a girl’s notebook fell off her desk and scattered papers across the classroom floor. A boy who had just returned from the restroom (“Can I go to the…I mean, may I go to the restroom?”) stepped over the papers as if they were wet paint as he returned to his desk…right next to the girl’s!

I saw the empty stares of a few others around her, blind to her plight, so I went to help. “I noticed your neighbor here just stepped over and didn’t attempt to help.”

He knew I was referring to him. “I didn’t see it!” he exclaimed as his defense.

“You stepped over it, like it was a mud puddle on the sidewalk.”

Back to honesty, however, there are a number of adults- kids in grown up bodies- who either never learned manners, or don’t really give a crap! Politeness got stuffed in a box and put in the basement about the time reality TV made its entrance.

A few days ago I was standing in the school hallway talking to two teachers as a student- actually a 7th grader!- walked right between us.

“Excuse me!” I bellowed after him.

“Huh, what?” He looked stunned and frightened, although it could have been the lighting.

“You walked right between us as we were having a conversation.”

“Huh?”

“When people are having a conversation it’s not polite to walk right between them.”

“Ohhh!” This was new information for this kid, a new kind of education and the opening bell hadn’t even sounded.

Perhaps my generation was raised by parents who placed a higher value on good manners. They seemed to make learning good manners an essential part of developing good character and keeping order in the universe.

My mom would say, “Keep your mouth closed as you’re chewing!” I’m not sure why, but she made it seem like the right thing to do. Open-mouthed chewers probably didn’t get good jobs and had to go to night school, so we kept the lips tight as we ground up the pork chop between our teeth.

“Don’t interrupt me when I’m talking to you dad! Be patient!”

Having patience seemed to be tied to politeness and we struggled with that growing up. In today’s world patience gets buddied up with whining and irritation. Most sixth graders think having patience means not being able to eat their fruit roll-up until they take the wrapper off. It’s like the sixth grade student last year whose shoes were untied. “Tie your shoes!” I commanded him.

“Why? They’re just going to come untied again!”

I wanted to say “Well, why zip your pants up? You’re just going to unzip them again next time to need to take a whiz!”

BUT… he was wearing sweat pants! 

Probably hadn’t learned the word “May” either!