Archive for the ‘Story’ category

Having a Teacher’s Third Eye

December 7, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 7, 2019

               

In many ways I’m clueless.

Don’t ask me about who is singing what song. I can recognize Bing Crosby singing “White Christmas”, but I’m a loser in identifying Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Same goes for the whole gaming area. If you ask me about “Fortnite”, I’ll look as lost as a child in the Chicago Futures Exchange.

But one thing I’m pretty good at is figuring out who to keep an eye on in any middle school classroom. My third eye, that is! I don’t have to actually keep my first two eyes on the student, it’s the invisible eye that knows and sees. 

Most of us who have been around the block a few times can still remember teachers we had in school who we couldn’t fool, and others who seemed to be oblivious. One of my high school teachers was so clueless that when he’d leave the classroom for a moment, students would climb out the first floor window and leave, while other students would climb into the classroom. 

Having that third eye is essential for classroom survival and control. Recently I was sitting in on a class who’s teacher I would be subbing for a few days later. The teacher told me that the class was made up of great kids, but there was one student who I’d have to keep an eye on. She said to me, “See if you can figure out who it is.” Even before the class had officially started I knew who the suspect was. She looked at me and I motioned with a slight nod of my head in the direction of the young man. She smiled and nodded back to indicate the accuracy of my choice.

Yesterday I had two classes of sixth graders in the afternoon. Same thing, my third eye knew who I had to be aware of. 

On the other end of the spectrum, a teacher can usually figure out who the students are who will help him steer the class in the right direction. It’s almost like having teammates who are on the mission with you. Whereas some kids will lead the herd to the edge of the cliff, the students who you praise God for will help the teacher in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding.

There are the kids who seem to think the world revolves around them and there are the students who have a desire to help make the world right. 

Oh, there’s been a few times where someone has gone undiscovered in their antics…like the boy a couple of years ago who was handing out Flamin’ Hot Cheetos that he had also doused with a hot sauce called “The Devil’s Blood”. I didn’t catch on for a few minutes. When  the fifth student came to me and asked if he could get a drink of water, as tears ran down his cheeks, I finally figured out something was up. 

Most of the time, however, I’m like a wise ole’ cat fully aware of the mouse trying to get a nibble of the cheese nearby. In each of the sixth grade classes yesterday I knew who had the potential to some day be on the FBI Most Wanted list before I had even finished taking attendance…and they lived up to their potential!

The Scent of Remembering

December 4, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                          December 4, 2019

                                   

I had a dream the other night that, strange as it sounds, caused me to tear up. In the confusion of the moment perhaps it was as I awoke from the dream that the tears came, but, whatever the progression, it was an emotional moment.

The dream centered on those who have passed on. Some of the saints whose funerals I’ve officiated at— Charles Slusser, Rex Davis, Ralph Kothe, Jim Newsome, Ben Dickerson, Rita Morris, Phyllis Smith, Greg Davis— came back to my mind in the dream. 

And then my mom and dad. In the dream I could not discern whether my parents were still on this side of eternity or had crossed over. They seemed to be speaking to me as I sat in a church parlor talking to Charles Slusser’s son-in-law and daughter, Dieter and Tina. 

This morning I made the connection between the vividness of the dream and why I experienced it. On Thanksgiving Day our oldest daughter, Kecia, opened a container of my mom’s that had been handed down to her after my dad passed away almost two years ago. When she opened it she remarked on how the scent reminded her of my mom. Or, as Kecia refers to her, MaMaw Wolfe. She hovered over the container and inhaled several times.

My mom’s possessions—dishes, linens, clothes closet— had a distinctive scent that I can only describe as smelling like a combination of southern, cared for, and homey. Kecia closed the container after a couple of minutes in order to preserve the memory. MaMaw has been gone five years and the scent still blesses us.

I lingered over the container for a few seconds myself. Visions of family dinners and savory casserole dishes came back to me. The memory of my mom always greeting our kids with the words, “Give me some sugar!”, and then the giggling when Kecia brought her two sugar packets as we arrived on one visit.

The sweetness of those memories triggered the “deep into the night” emotions. I miss my parents, the Sunday night phone conversations with Dad, Mom’s questions that sought to find a five letter word for “fast” to fill in on her crossword puzzle, her pickiness and my dad’s patience. I miss their practices and their peculiarities.

It’s interesting how a scent from a container can bring the blessings of memories, and life back to those who have long since been lowered into the ground. 

The sense of smell comes out as a strong theme in scripture. Some of the sacrifices that the Jewish people offered God are described as being aromas pleasing to God. The Magi brought gifts to the newborn King, Jesus, and two of them had strong scents that communicated something about who Jesus is.

Kecia closed the container back up and put it away until the next time our family gathers at her house for a special event. When that takes place the scent of remembering will descend upon us again and we will experience the blessings of those who have been pleasing aromas in our journeys. 

Thanks-Living

November 28, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      November 28, 2019

                                

Today is our son’s 36th birthday. Unreal! Oh, and it also happens to be Thanksgiving Day, a day where we offer thanks, become more cognizant of thanking people, and, for many of us, join hands with others around a dinner table and say grace.

As I do a life analysis the immensity of the blessings in my life are overwhelming. It causes me to live my life out of a heart of gratitude. That is, “thanks-living”!

This morning I’m sitting on my Starbucks stool where I have written almost everyone of 1,100 posts. I’m tipping my baristas who know me by name, who know that I almost always get a tall Pike Place coffee, and know which stool I always sit on unless there’s an intruder. They will thank me for my tip, but they won’t quite understand how they bless me by setting the right mood for me to write in. Unless I’m substitute teaching I’m on this stool to start the day, facing out towards Pike’s Peak. That’s right, looking at Pike’s Peak drinking my Pike Place!

I notice that we live in a world— perhaps culture is a better term— where ungrateful people seem to be as common as the rabbit and squirrel populations in our neighborhood. There may be a connection between the level of ungratefulness and the epidemic of entitlement. 

I wish I could do a research project (but since I flunked Sociology 101 my first term of college I would be at a loss as to how to go about it) that could figure out the correlation between entitlement and ungratefulness. That would be interesting! An entitled person might respond that he’s entitled to feel ungrateful.

Back to thanks-living! Each day I’m aware of the grace of God upon me, his compassionate love. 

           Psalm 9:1 says “I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.” Life is lived out of a heart full of gratitude. 

I realize that who I am today and how I live today has been greatly influenced by those in my past…my parents, both gone to glory…my wife, Carol, who calculates the cost of decisions with careful consternation ( A lot of “C” words in that statement!)…kids and grandkids, who bring the blessing of laughter to my life…and friends and mentors who have walked with me for parts of the journey. 

I see the handprints of James Payson Martin and Chuck Landon, my first two ministry mentors, upon how I practiced pastoring. I can hear the wisdom of my ministry colleagues, Chuck Moore, Tom Bayes, and Mark Sommers, as they advised and encouraged me through the years. I can count myself blessed to have friends like Dave Volitis, Ron McKinney, Ed and Diana Stucky, and Janet Smith, who bring a richness to my life.

Grumpiness is not an adjective that people would use in describing me. I wasn’t even grumpy when I was drinking the 128 ounces of liquid in preparation for my latest colonoscopy. I’m the reflection of my dad, who approached life with optimism, a smile, and a warm greeting. Perhaps that’s also why I’m a proponent for thanks-living.

And now, like tipping my baristas this morning, I seek to live out my thankfulness. It comes out uncomplicated most of the time, like saying “Good morning!” to each student who walks down the hallway at Timberview Middle School; taking Carol to 7-11 for her morning Diet Coke with crushed ice; and chuckling during the verbal exchanges with four year old granddaughter Corin that may cover the subjects of ballerina outfits, bugs, and building blocks all within a five minute time frame.

I’m completely consumed with thankful-living!

The Spilled Eggs of Life

November 24, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 November 24, 2019

 

I’m into that phase of life that includes the word “spilling”. Spilling the shampoo, spilling the garbage, spilling the beans, spilling the gas as I put it in the lawnmower…you get the idea. I could insert another word in there like drop, fumble, miscalculated my grip, etc.

A couple of days ago I had prepared an awesome breakfast— hash browns cooked nice and crispy, bacon, toast— and I was ready to fry the eggs, sunny side up for Carol and over easy for myself. When I took the egg carton out of the refrigerator top shelf I erroneously grazed the side of the carton with the door and lost my grip. The full dozen validated the law of gravity and made a crash landing on the wooden floor. The styrofoam carton popped open as it hit and all twelve were thrown onto the floor. 

I kneeled down, hoping for survivors…well, survivors to cook up, I guess…but every single one of them had been broken. No yolk! (Sorry, bad pun!)

The runny egg whites had splayed across the floor, even splattering back onto the refrigerator door, like they were grasping for life. Carol came to look and she started laughing. I, on the other hand, did not have that initial reaction. After I cursed myself for having bad wide receiver hands, I debated whether breakfast could still be “scraped together.” (Bad pun #2.)

Four eggs, like a used car lot, looked driveable. Sunny side up and over easy were no longer options, but scrambled still worked. 

Carol was still laughing, and she soon brought me to the place of humor. “I wish I could have taken a picture before you cleaned them up,” she said with a chuckle. I was glad I had rushed to erase the evidence.

We’ve all spilled the eggs, in one way or another. That is, we’ve all fumbled situations and put on the coat of embarrassment. There are just some life-spills that you need to discard any thoughts of keeping your dignity and allow yourself to laugh. 

Like the time when I walked through an airport terminal to meet my friend, Artie Powers, and he let me know that I had left my barn door open. Several women who had passed me had smiled at me. I had been thinking that my manhood must have been looking pretty impressive. When I realized the smiles were because of a lowered zipper I turned red…and then laughed!

Sometimes you just have to laugh at the spilled eggs. What a crack up they are! (Bad pun #3)

So I scrambled up the best-looking four, placed them on our plates alongside the bacon, hash browns, and toast, and we feasted. 

My only unanswered question was wondering how those dark specks got into the eggs, because I know I hadn’t peppered mine!

Five Words

November 19, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      November 19, 2019

                                             

You are never too old to learn! 

We’ve heard those words a boatload of times. Recently, I learned the truth of them in a humbling way. My learned lesson was, in the future, to consider the ramifications of my words before sending them into social media cyber-space.

A friend of mine had told of an accomplishment in his life that few people ever even come close to achieving. When he posted it on social media I made a five word comment that was a bad grasp at humor. Instead, he read it as a negative comment, an insult. 

Five words. 

We have since made amends and I’ve apologized for my insensitivity.

I’m at the age where I don’t screw up that much any more, but, this time, five words cast the shadow of embarrassment over me.

It was a lesson well learned. There’s a lot of talk these days about being careful what you post on social media. The talk, however, is usually being given to middle and high schoolers by adults who look like they would never be that stupid.

And then this 65 year old dinosaur writes five words that, if said in person, may have been viewed as sarcastic humor, but on social media, where there is no hint of voice tone and non-verbals, it felt like a punch.

One of the things I have worked on in recent years has been to think through my blogging thoughts, edit and check for spelling mistakes, and not send out “Words From WW” until I’m satisfied with the flow and conveying of the subject matter. 

Sometimes, however, it isn’t the long read that messes our message up; it’s the few words, the slighting in a comment.

It’s interesting that I can comb back over my life and think of a few other screw-ups or, better said, errors in judgment. 35 years ago I sent a birthday card to someone from my congregation who I had not seen in Sunday worship for a few weeks. My birthday greeting included a perceived jab at her lack of presence on Sundays. I still remember the confrontation in my office that next Sunday with her grandfather. I turned eighty shades of red. In a matter of minutes I had gone from preaching the Sunday sermon to being preached to, and there was more fire and brimstone in the grandfather’s words than my sermon.

Going further back, I can recall the church history professor back in my seminary days (1976-1979) confronting me about the material in a paper I had written. He could have been a lot harder on me, because sections of the paper were simply copied from a book…okay, I’ll say the dreaded word! It was plagiarism! I rewrote the paper and learned a valuable lesson.

More recently…well, about ten years ago!…I said a few words to Carol that were insensitive and hurtful. Our two daughters were with us when it happened, and they had never seen us say angry words towards one another. They were almost as shocked as much as I was embarrassed. It was out of character.

I take some solace in that last statement. That screwups are out of character. I am not a potential “Dr. Phil” episode. What I am is someone who has experienced the grace of God on innumerable moments of my life.

That last statement includes five other words— better words, mind you— that are the beginning of a powerful truth: I am saved by grace…

The Shadow Over Grace

November 17, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                  November 17, 2019

                                       

This morning I’m witnessing an incredible view of Pike’s Peak “peeking” through the low hanging clouds around it. It’s almost as if the mountain has battled to be seen, struggled to rise above and take a breath of air.

The interesting thing for me is that, as I viewed this sight, I was pondering a statement made in a sermon recently. The pastor said that we begin to value righteousness and lose sight of the graciousness. Righteousness, or our leaning towards it, has a way of pushing grace under the clouds. It becomes smothering.

One reason for that is that righteousness, the striving to do what’s right, is much easier to define. What is the right thing to do is often much clearer than the gracious act of caring.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d much rather be around people who do the right thing, the wise thing, than people who do the stupid deed. Followers of Jesus, however, have a way of endearing themselves to his righteousness and relegating his graciousness to the footnotes. Sometimes we forget that one of the reasons Zacchaeus was up in a tree, besides his small stature, was because the people were short on grace. They wanted to see Jesus, but not a despised tax collector. 

Church folk have a tendency to be like that also. The scenario and names of the characters have been changed, but the plot is the same. Someone shows up in Sunday worship who has had sin in their life (Like…that’s not true for some of the frozen chosen!) and the great separation begins. I’ve seen some people, who have committed life-errors, be treated like a swollen joint by the righteous, iced out.

A friend of mine told me of a church he attended that was very accepting and friendly. After a few Sundays he decided he would let his adult Sunday School class know about some of the struggles of his past. The room temperature suddenly dropped to freezing.

Truthfully, it is difficult to balance righteousness and graciousness. Some folk are so excessively gracious they inadvertently cheapen it. Others are so wary about grace they treat it like the family valuables, locked up in a safety deposit box only to be brought out for a moment and then put away for another six months.

And so we have the story of Zacchaeus, who climbs above the inflexibility of the righteous to be able to experience the grace of Jesus…and then a new way of life!

By the time I finished writing these words Pike’s Peak had climbed completely above the clouds, looking freed and beautiful. I wish it was as easy and natural for grace to do the same.

When Your Older Brother Turns 70!

November 13, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                    November 13, 2019

 

Today my brother, Charles Dewey Wolfe, turns the big ‘7-0”! I can’t quite get my mind around it! 70 was the age of our aunts and uncles. It seemed really old to us when we were growing up. The thing is…they were only like…50, but we just figured they were 70 like aunts and uncles are suppose to be.

And now Brother Charlie hits the tape as well! My brother is a Vietnam Vet, retired Associated Press news correspondent, former speechwriter for the Governor of Kentucky, and now an entertaining tour guide for the Woodford Reserve Bourbon Distillery outside of Frankfort, Kentucky.

He’s the opinionated sibling, much like our mom was, and, to his credit, much needed in the career path he chose. 

We only see each other once or twice a year since I’m in Colorado and he in Kentucky. We send each other birthday cards that cause each of us to laugh, and then we add snarky remarks on the inside card cover. When we’re able to get together, his sarcastic humor comes out in a dry and witty way that the slow of mind have a hard time catching up to.

My brother is a storyteller, the family historian in a way. Our aunts and uncles all stay alive in his retelling of the family folklore and saga. Charlie can go to the cemetery where many of the passed on reside and recount conversations and stories as we stare at someone’s grave marker.

I was the recipient of many of his hand-me-downs as I grew up…bicycle, all beaten and lacking shine, suit coats, bow ties, baseball glove, building blocks. His imprint was like a path that I followed. In Williamstown, West Virginia, his friends, who I thought were cool at the time, gave me the nickname “Carlos Pequeno”.

I was in his wedding and he was in mine. His oldest son is a month younger than our only son. He’s a staunch Democrat and I’m a wavering Republican. We both love history, and yet neither of us excelled in school. 

And now he’s…like our uncles! 70, and getting older! My birthday card to him this year suggested that he’s now cranky. I’m sure he will find a suitable come back for me next May when I hit 66!

Happy Birthday, Big Brother! Hope you have an awesome day!