Archive for the ‘Story’ category

Negative Feast or Negative Fast

October 14, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     October 14, 2018

                          

Years ago an amazing woman named Jeannie Dohner came to our church and talked about “The Negative Fast”. Jeannie had dealt with cancer on two different occasions and in the midst of our struggles she had noticed how negative her viewpoint had become about many things that were really blessings. During that second bout with cancer God impressed upon her the idea of “fasting” from the negative. She would not say that the negative fast cured her, but it did set her mind and attitude in a better direction. 

There are plenty of people in this world who feast on the negative. They can see the bad in anything and anyone. They would have found something to gripe about when Jesus fed the 5,000! They get tired of days that are sunny and 72 degrees. Everything in the world is too expensive, even items in the free pile!

Negative people consume our energy; they dent our zest for life. I’m not sure how they got that way. Perhaps some of life’s problems and struggles pounded them for so long that they could no longer see anything positive. Maybe they’re a spitting image of either their mom or their dad! That is, their negativity is a learned behavior. They may even complain about how negative their dad was!

In our political climate there is a buffet of negativity. How many of us have grown tired of the negative political ads that paint one candidate as being the incarnation of evil and the other candidate as the new messiah? Don’t you just want to grind your teeth when one of those TV ads comes on? 

And yet those ads are effective in changing people’s minds! That’s why there’s a never-ending flow of them! “Negative Nellie” wins more times than “Positive Peter”.

Which points to a sad truth! That we are more effected or influenced by the negative than we are by the positive! We tend to believe negative news more than upbeat stories. 

What if we took a fast from the negative this coming week? What would that do for us? What would that do for the people around us? Perhaps, just perhaps, it might even cause the naysayers to stutter on their thoughts.

Maybe, just maybe.

Too Quiet To Think

October 13, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   October 13, 2018

                                         

   My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…”   (James 1:19, NIV)

Yesterday I substitute taught for a 7th Grade Language Arts teacher. The lesson plan for each class consisted of taking attendance and then taking the class to the school library (now called the LMC, which stands for Learning Media Center). The school librarian would then tell the students about a few new books the LMC has and they would spend the rest of the class period silently reading. 

Tough day! What did I do? Read some and did some rewriting on my book manuscript…plus, made sure the students were reading, not goofing around- a task that required considerable energy!

Libraries are not the same as they were…45 years ago. When I went to the Briggs Public Library in Ironton, Ohio you could hear a pin drop…and that pin better not drop again! It was quiet, studious, a fine place to locate one of the back wrenching volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica and do research on such interesting subjects as the Hoover Dam, mollusks, and the North Pole. 

Libraries today are gathering places, social settings in the midst of books and magazines, and gaming rooms. A place in Colorado Springs where I do much of my book writing is called Library 21C. It’s a great place…as long as you have earbuds! A few weeks ago I was sitting in one of the seats at the long window counter on the lower level. A man three seats away was doing a job interview on his cell phone. Good Lord! The librarian at Briggs Public would have grabbed him by his ear lobe and marched him to the door.

Things are different! Silence is no longer golden! It’s been devalued!

One of the 7th Grade girls, who is energized by the social aspect of life, didn’t seem to be reading the book in front of her yesterday. 

I’d scan the room and when my radar caught sight of her she would suddenly look down at her book. Thirty minutes into the class’s silent reading and she was on page 2. I walked over to her and said, “Hey! Let’s get busy!”

“What?”

I glanced at her book. “You’re on page 2!”

“No, page 3!”

“Okay! Page 3 and we’ve been here so long you should have read the book and written a book report on it already!”

Her eyes opened wide. “We have to do a book report!”

“No, no, no! I was exaggerating, but if you had really been reading you’d be further along than page 3.”

“I can’t think!”

“Why?”

“It’s too quiet in here!”

“What?”

“It’s too quiet! I can’t concentrate when it’s too quiet!”

“Are you serious?”

She nodded, and I realized that we were realizing- Okay, maybe I was realizing!- one of our generational differences. I read while I’m sitting in the swing on our back deck, or in my study, or at bedtime…all places where quiet and peace can follow me. This young lady operates in a world of chatter, instant communication that could better be named instant distraction, and noise. 

Noise has replaced silence as the new golden. Silence is now an indication that something’s wrong. Silence also indicates that we’re listening, and in a noisy world we no longer listen very well. 

And so what do I do in the midst of a culture that now values loudness and multiple mouths speaking at the same time? What do I do? I put my earbuds in and listen to the rhythmic noise of music to block out the noise of the other voices. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that it is my new silence.

The Hang Arounders

October 10, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   October 10, 2018

                                     

At the middle school where I coach and substitute teach there are a few students who are like fertilizer. When you have them in class you can feel the gray hair growing in abundance!

They are the students who don’t function well in a structured classroom situation, or relate well to teachers and authority figures. They are the ones that consume 90% of a teacher’s attention during a class period, but refuse to do more than 50% of the assigned work. 

It’s not that they’re bad kids and prepping to be juvenile delinquents. They just don’t have a problem with being the problems!

When I substitute teach in a class where there is a student who falls into this category I don’t go easy on him or her. I’ve sent a few to the office or had them join me for lunch that day away from their peer group. BUT…I always seek to greet them in the hallway in a welcoming manner. In other words, no matter what their transgression has been they’re still kids to be valued. The educational journey with some students just has a few more bends and curves in it than the rest! Some students don’t slide easily from A all the way to Z!

In the last few weeks I’ve noticed some of these students who scowl each morning as they arrive at school…hanging around after school! When the 80% of the student body who aren’t involved in after-school activities has exited the building and headed quickly away as soon as that dismissal bell sounds, these few students DON’T leave! An hour after school, if they can avoid notice, they’re still roaming the hallways or hanging out somewhere on the building perimeter. For kids who dread entering the building at 7:30 in the morning they seem to have a hard time exiting by 3:00.

They hang around. 

I’ve gotten to know some of them, their histories and stories. The story is never the same. It would make for a good read if all of the personal episodes were combined together. There are students from single-parent families and students who would be going home to an empty house. There are students who live in two different households, one week with dad and one week with mom; and there are students whose parents would prefer that they stay at school for as long as they are allowed so that the parent doesn’t have to deal with them at home. 

School has become their safe place and their place of consistency. In a good way it doesn’t change. It can be counted on when the rest of their lives are in chaos. 

The teachers that they seem to enjoy terrorizing during class periods after 3:00 become the trusted adults that they gravitate to. A teacher that one of the “hang arounders” wouldn’t add two plus two for in class suddenly becomes the teacher the student is willing to run errands for, wipe down classroom tables, and share a snack with.

I don’t have any substantiated research data for this statement, just a feeling…an inkling…that school is where they feel valued and safe, that school is the place they can count on in their worlds where they’ve been disappointed and discarded too many times. 

And so they hang around for an hour, an hour and a half, not wanting to leave and, oddly enough, in a few hours not wanting to come back. 

Well…come back for class, that is! There’s work to do, new gray hairs to create!

Married To A Spontaneously Kind Person

October 7, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      October 7, 2018

                          

We were sitting in Cracker Barrel enjoying an unscheduled dinner out after a hectic day of substitute teaching and coaching (me) and watching the grandkids (Carol) for our oldest daughter and teacher, Kecia, who had parent-teacher conferences. Our conversation traveled through the wanderings of our days…the things the kids said, the players for the 8th Grade basketball team that I was deciding on, and national news items.

And then she was up!

A table of three sat behind us and to my left. I had noticed people sitting there on our way in, but I hadn’t given it another thought. Carol had! She went back to their table as they were finishing their meal. They were three senior citizens, one in a wheelchair, one with a cane, and the third now pushing the wheelchair as they began to leave. I heard conversation and thank you’s, but I didn’t know what exactly was happening. 

And then Carol brought their meal check back to our table and put it on top of our own check. “We’re paying for their meals!” 

“Okay,” I agree, knowing that it really isn’t a vote that she’s asking for. It is just how it is!

The three people are hobbling out as I say to Carol, “Well, I’d better go pay this so they don’t think they’re trying to sneak out (An impossibility taking into account their lack of speed and that they have a wheelchair!). I’ll be right back!”

The three thank me again as I come up behind them. The looks on their faces are priceless. Someone had done something really, really nice for them that had taken them back. I could tell that they’d be talking about it for the rest of the evening.

My wife is like that. She is spontaneously kind. She’ll give a quarter to a kid who is short on change for the candy he wants to buy at 7-11. She will ask someone who looks like they might be confused or lost or both if she can help them in some way. When our daughter calls at the last minute to see if Mom can watch one of the grandkids who has suddenly become ill Carol is out the door before she ends the cell phone call. 

Her kindness is sometimes scheduled, but, more often than not, is spontaneous…lived out in the doings of the day. She would tell you that the Lord led her to pick up the check for those three people. It just happened. In the midst of eating her bacon and eggs God cleared her vision to see what she needed to do. 

When I say “cleared her vision”, what you probably don’t know is that she had a cornea transplant operation thirty years ago because of a disease called “Keratoconus”, which is a gradual deterioration of the cornea. Her vision will never be good. She now plans her driving trips with “an eye” on when sunset is scheduled to occur because she does not like to drive in the dark anymore. 

Side note: Her vision at sporting events is always 20/20 however! She sees things that the officials miss all the time!

Spontaneous kindness! It’s who she is! She will open doors for people, and always say thank you to someone who opens the door for her. She’s also not afraid to give a piece of her mind to a middle school student who has someone be kind to him, but does not acknowledge it.

And the thing is, I see that tendency towards spontaneous kindness filtering down through the next two generations of our family. Kecia goes over and above for her third grade students and her school. I remember David, our middle child who is a restaurant chef, stopping at Chick-fil-a one morning on his way to work and buying a bag of chicken breakfast biscuits for his cooking staff just to say “Thank you!” Lizi, our youngest, works with families whose children qualify for Head Start and other resources. 

And now the three grandkids are showing tendencies towards being kind, not coerced to do so but rather out of the doings of daily life.

The three people walking out of Cracker Barrel with smiles as full as their satisfied tummies is just the latest blessing from the woman I married, and for the woman I married!

When Someone Invades Your (Starbucks) Space

October 6, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                            October 6, 2018

                        

It’s a dilemma that is rapidly becoming a problem! Someone has been sitting on my stool at Starbucks, the last stool on the right at the counter that looks out towards Pike’s Peak!

It’s where I almost exclusively write my blog post! It’s my space to create, my stool to be cool!

What should I do? The man who has been sitting there doesn’t understand the history. It’s like the three bears coming home and finding Goldilocks eating their porridge!

I’ve thought about yellow caution tape wrapped around the seat, but, of course, the Starbucks corporation would probably frown on that idea. I wouldn’t want it to become another national news story about putting someone in his place…that is, anywhere that is not my space!

I mentioned it to one of the baristas who knows of the guy’s error in java judgment. She knows that stool is where I sit and gives me a look of disbelief and sympathy each morning it happens. 

“Can you tell him to move?”

She looks at me with concern and compassion and says, “No.”

“Well, what time did he get here this morning?”

“I don’t know,” she responds. “He was here before I got here!”

Perhaps that’s what I’ll have to do…arrive earlier, be standing at the door as Starbucks opens at 4 A.M. Then I could take note of when the trespasser arrives and snicker! Of course, I’d have to go to bed about 8:00 the night before and Carol would be asking what in the world is going on with me?

“I’ve got to get to Starbucks when it opens. There’s a guy who’s been sitting on my stool!”

Carol will look at me like a DMV license renewal clerk. “What is this, Bill? Some kind of coffee version of Black Friday? Are you going to rearrange your whole life around the need to sit on a certain stool at Starbucks?”

“Yes!”

“Just find a different stool!”

I gasp at the idea. “That’s like me telling you to find a different husband!”

“No, it’s not even close, but if you go looney over a coffee shop stool it might be a possibility! Doesn’t this sound a little bit like when one of the grandkids is playing with a toy that one of the other grandkids wants to play with? All the one without can think about is that one toy, even though she’s surrounded by a roomful of other toys.”

“No, doesn’t sound like that at all.”

So I guess I need other options! Perhaps I could carve my name into the wood on the counter with the words “Space Reserved For” etched in before it. 

Here’s the thing! I’m substitute teaching 3 to 4 days a week, so I’ve become inconsistent in my occupying of my spot. I’ve just come to expect that it will be there when I’m there, like a college student returning home on break and expecting his old room to still be the same, and to be his!

Next week, however, I’m teaching Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Wednesday is the only day, except for the weekend, where I can get to my stool. HE will probably be there, and I’ll sense the creative juices draining some my existence.

We humans are creatures of habit, some good habits and some bad…and some just plain weird!

The Penalty For Ignorance…the DMV!

October 2, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      October 2, 2018

                           

Carol and I were driving to Simla on Sunday morning. I was scheduled to speak to the Simla Saints, as I do many Sundays. I was ready to tell them the story of Simon Peter, who, after a night of catching no fish, is told by Jesus to cast his nets one more time. I went through the message in my mind as we drove down the road.

And then the flashing lights appeared behind me.

“I wasn’t speeding was I?”

“I don’t think so,” encouraged Carol, as she reached for the car registration.

The law enforcement officer approached my vehicle. “Good morning! Sir, you’re driving with tags that have expired. I checked a couple of places and it came back the same result. 

I looked at him with bewilderment and a quick search in my mind for understanding. I went into the vault of my memory to find some evidence that I had taken care of the renewal that had expired at THE END OF MAY!…exactly four months in the rearview mirror!

Seriously, I did not remember getting the reminder card that they send you in the mail. Perhaps it got mixed in with the political ad recycle pile, or perhaps the U.S. Postal Service was to blame! Yes, that’s probably what it was!

Or perhaps I was just stupid and didn’t do it!

Innocent or ignorant, didn’t matter! It was time to pay the piper disguised as…the DMV!

My personal list of dislikes is not that long…arrogant athletes, itching hemorrhoids, speeding BMW’s, seventh graders who think they are entitled, and…going to the DMV! It’s the adult equivalent of after-school detention!

It is my penance for negligence, for being totally clueless to the fact that I hadn’t noticed something I should have for 120 days!

The DMV looks like a crowded airport terminal where several flights have been delayed. An expressionless lady greets me…kinda’…at the front counter and asks me why I have come to the DMV on the first day of October with the masses that have gotten there before me.

“To renew my tags, ma’am!” She gives me a number. I look to see if it says, “Come back tomorrow!” It doesn’t! Instead, it says that I’m number 658. I’m not quite sure what that means until I see the lit board on the wall that could double as a Bingo number board. They are now serving number 560. I’m only a hundred away!

But there are other numbers on the board as well! There’s 131, 322, and A8. It could be that I’m four hundred away, but they are trying to fool me into believing I’m close. It’s another part of the punishment strategy of the DMV. I’m convinced they have goal-planning retreats to dream up new ways to inflict pain on the mental and emotional state of those who enter its doors. In the backroom I’m envisioning their mission statement in bold script writing:

“Our mission: To test the patience of our customers who have no choice but to sit and wait!”

And so I wait! I find a seat wedged between a hefty guy wearing Old Spice and a young man focused on playing a game of some kind on his cell phone. I’m the traditionalist who has brought a book with him, Patterson and Clinton’s The President Is Missing. Ironic that I’m reading this book in the DMV, a place that is missing compassion and concern because I was missing that little sticky tag. 

Two hours later my number gets called by the automated Bingo caller and I make my way, number 658 in hand, to counter number 19 where a middle-aged woman gives me a suspicious look. She reminds me of my third grade teacher who was suspicious of anything any boy in her class ever did. The memory makes me shrink into a moment of confession.

“My tags are expired. I don’t remember ever getting a card in the mail!” I plead in a pitiful way. She looks at me with disdain. I have a memory of being sent to the principal’s office and wonder if there is also such a place in the DMV. Perhaps it’s another room where you take another number and are told you can’t eat lunch that day. (I’ve noticed a sign with big bold letters as you enter that tells people that no food or drink is permitted in the DMV! People leave the place dehydrated and nutritionally depleted!)

She takes my information and tells me the total. I repeat the total to her as I begin to write my check.

“$160.43?” That’s not bad I tell myself.

“No.” She repeats the figure again. I’m $300 off! “$460.43!”

“Oh!” 

I swear I hear a chuckle resonating from her. I think I see her lips whisper the words, “Sucks to be you!”

The total includes a fine for being ignorant and negligent, and to make sure you never come back to the DMV ever again!

And, you won’t believe this!…in the mail that afternoon is the renewal notice for our other vehicle. It needs to be renewed by the end of October.

I immediately renew it on line! The DMV has taught me my lesson!

Playground With the Granddaughter…Just The Two of Us!

September 30, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         September 30, 2018

            

Corin Grace Hodges is three and a half with limitless energy! I’m 64 with limited energy! Without calling me a wimp she scolded me into submission last Friday. It was as if she was saying “Keep up with me, Granddad!”

After she met me at the door at 7:30 in the morning ready for action, we had breakfast, and went to her kid’s gym, which is called “My Gym”, went by Grammy’s school and spent some time saying hi to people, and went to Culver’s for lunch, we stopped at a park playground. There was a bench there. It looked appealing, like a cool cup of water in a desert of exhaustion. I went to sit down and watch her play.

“Come on, Granddad!”

“Huh?”

“Come on!” she repeated as she stood at the top of a playground creation. “We’ve got to get the fish!”

“The fish?” asked the clueless aged one.

“Yes, the fish! Get the fish and put them in the bucket!”

I watched her cup her hands together and carry an invisible fish back up the steps to an invisible bucket on a pretend boat. I pulled my weary body up from the comfortable bench to slowly join the rescue effort.

“Come on, Granddad! Get the fish!”

I followed the drill sergeant’s commands, cupped my hands together, and picked up a fish. “What kind of fish are these?”

“Rittle fish!”

“Are we going to have them for dinner?”

She gave me a look of disbelief, like I had said a cuss word in the midst of a silent school assembly. “The bad guys are going to get them! Hurry up!”

I didn’t realize there were bad guys in this playground drama, a playground that we had all to ourselves, which made it an even greater imaginary adventure.

“The bad guys are coming! Come on, Granddad! It’s your turn to steer the boat.”

“Oh, okay!”

“There’s some more fish!” She went down the slide and cupped her hands together again. “Come on, Granddad!”

“Do I have to come down the slide?”

A look of dismay at my stupid question. “Yes!” And she was off to the other playground apparatus twenty feet of sand away. “The bad guys captured me, Granddad!”
“Oh, no! I’ll come and save you!”
“No, you can’t!”

I’m a playground rookie, unfamiliar with a three year old’s rules of imagination, so I’m not sure what I’m suppose to do. “Steer the boat, Granddad!”

“And come and get you?”
“No!” said emphatically. A few seconds of uncertainty. “Okay! I escaped from the bad guys and there’s more fish!”

Back to cupping the hands! I’ve seen this movie before, so I begin to cup my hands. “No, Granddad! You’ve got to steer the boat! I’ll get the fish!”

“Okay!” I answer, confused and dazed.

Thirty minutes of rescuing fish, escaping bad guys, and confusing Granddad later we hop back in the car and head to our house for an afternoon nap. Did I mention that Corin Grace Hodges is competitive, determined, and a bit stubborn? I say to her, “I bet I can fall asleep before you do!”
“No, you can’t!”

And she’s right! After humming one chorus to herself she is…out! She beats me by at least twenty seconds!