Archive for the ‘Story’ category

My Varsity “I” Jacket

December 29, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        December 29, 2018

                               

I had saved my money up, mowing lawns all summer for people like Mrs. Unrue at the end of Thomas Street. She paid well…$4.00 for mowing and trimming! With her weekly payment and the money from a couple of other “cheaper” customers I finally had enough. The Varsity “I” Jacket was ordered from Bob Lynn’s Sporting Goods. In the summer of 1970 it cost me just a hair under $30!

I had earned it- that is, earned the right to have it- by lettering in track the previous sophomore season for Ironton High School, the pride of Ironton, Ohio. My 5’6”  (if I stretched out when being measured) and a hundred pound body had run a lot of laps around ovals during that season. I had expected to be a sprinter, but at our first meet at Fairland High School, Coach Bill Trent had said, “Hey! Does anyone want to run in the two mile. We need another varsity runner!”

All I heard were the words “need another varsity runner!” I didn’t even know how many laps two miles would be. I soon discovered it was eight! Eight…that’s about seven more than I wanted to do!

The day was rainy and the wind was blowing…and I never took my black sweats off even during the race! Lo, and behold! I finished 4th…out of 5! Someone else from Fairland with less desire than me trudged even slower than my feet! But I had gotten 4th in a triangular meet, and that meant 1 point for the Flighting Tigers and, more importantly, one point towards earning my varsity letter. As I remember it, a runner needed to average a point each meet and there were about ten meets that season.

By the end of that track season I had dropped my two mile time from “just behind the sloth” to 10:56, finished 5th in the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League meet at Ohio University…and had earned my varsity letter! 

When my orange jacket with dingy white sleeves came in at the beginning of September I looked at the calendar to figure out what coming event I needed to wear it to. That next Friday night was the first home football game at Ironton’s Tank Memorial Stadium. It was 80 degrees humid and, but I wore my jacket. The growling tiger head on the back of it was cool, but the capital “I” on the front meant that I was one of the athletic elite!

Perspiration flowed down my face that night, but I sensed that several young ladies were looking at me with new eyes and considering my potential. I felt sticky inside the heavy garment but kept wearing it. If I took it off I might appear to, once again, be one of the commoners. I hadn’t been mowing Mrs. Unrue’s lawn for the last four months for my status to be taken off so quickly!

I toughed it out!

I still have that jacket! It hangs in the closet of our guest bedroom, impressing no one and being worn by…no one! I tried it on a while ago. It didn’t fit! The sleeves stop about three inches above my wrists like they’re afraid of going further. The snaps in the front keep their distance from one another.

In  1970 I really had to still grow into it. In 2018 I’ve long since grown out of it. So now it hangs in the closet, befriending other garments from the past, like a nostalgic museum of a long gone era.

The Simla Saints

December 24, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                       December 24, 2018

                                        

Yesterday I gave the morning sermon at First Baptist Church in Simla, Colorado. It was good! Not the sermon, but rather the fellowship of the saints, the Simla Saints. 

The parking lot was not crowded. There is no parking lot!

There was not a greeter at the door. Everyone greets each other just like a family would.

No one had a Starbucks coffee cup in their hand. The nearest Starbucks is 45 minutes away, and the pot of (weak) coffee brews during the service for consumption afterwards.

There is not a screen or a projector..or an organist or pianist. But there is something like a music machine that plays background organ music that the congregation is rarely in rhythm with. The machine plays 3 verses of a hymn that the hymnal has four verses of…or vice-versa.

Simla First Baptist is one block off of the main road through town, but by the time a car leaves the main road it hits dirt. Dirt is cheaper than those highfalutin big city streets that are blacktopped! Simla is a town that does not desire a lot of attention!

Each pew of the sanctuary has a blanket at the end of it. If you’re cold, wrap up! The thermostat is not going to be adjusted when you’ve got a readily accessible blanket right there. One Sunday the batteries had gone dead sometime during the week in the sanctuary thermostat. No one had replacements, so the saints moved closer together, covered themselves with blankets, and we worshipped together in a 40 degree chill. Singing “Breathe on Me, Breath of God” had a visual addition to it that Sunday in front of each singer’s lips.

When I retired from pastoral ministry at the end of 2015 I got a call from the church moderator at Simla, asking if I was available to speak the first Sunday in February? I was so I did! At the end of that February service he came up to me and asked if I was available the next Sunday. I did three Sundays in a row before my friend, Steve Wamberg, spoke a couple of Sundays. Steve and I then started filling in every week, usually in two week rotations. 

Now, almost three years later, Ed Stucky and I handle the bulk of the Sundays, riding out together from “the big city” each Sunday morning.

Simla First Baptist was my second salvation. Jesus was the first! When I retired from ministry, however, I needed a second salvation. I needed for a church, so to speak, to save me from the church. 36 years of ministry had whipped me. I needed a rescue of sorts! Pastors can become disillusioned after a while, a long while. A pastor, who is the messenger of hope for people on a faith journey can come to a point where he/she feels hopeless.

The Simla Saints picked me up. Grace became more important than grandeur, simplicity the norm instead of splendor! 

And so yesterday Carol and I drove out to see the Saints once again. Almost all of them were there…all 16 of us!…ranging in age from nine months to 74. A dear widow lady who runs the family farm lit the advent candles. Two 7th Grade boys took up the offering. The nine month old had been carried down the block from the Methodist Church to her second service of the morning, after being the Christ-child in the Methodist children’s church program. Her brother, now four, had been Jesus the year before. His baby sister was a sorta’ “second coming”!

One mom brought homemade cookies. Two army veterans munched and talked about their service during the Vietnam years. Everyone had a purpose and a place. Everyone had their struggles to share and blessings to trumpet. 

When we got back in the CRV and headed back on the dirt street to the main road I had a sense that I had been used to minister to others…and had been ministered to by the Saints!

I had not only been to church, I had been a part of the church! 

What To Give To Someone Who Doesn’t Want Anything”

December 23, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                        December 23, 2018

                   

My wife is an amazing woman, great mom, blessed grandmother, who agreed to journey with me almost 40 years ago.

She is also frugal in her spending habits, including the multiple fake wedding rings she lays by the kitchen sink, none costing more than ten bucks, but all looking like the real deal from Helzberg Diamonds.

Carol is a challenge to buy a Christmas present for. She has already waved a spatula in my face several times and said, “Don’t buy me anything for Christmas!!!” 

“Yes, dear!”

“I mean it, Bill Wolfe!” When she uses my first and last names it’s like I’m standing in front of the judge, receiving conditions of my probation. 

She’s like her mom, who when asked what she would like for Christmas would reply, “Well…ahhh…I could always use a new spatula!” Spatulas seem to be a big thing in Carol’s family…for cooking and warning!

So I’m in a quandary! Do I risk a spatula spanking and buy something, or adhere to her demands and not buy her a gift? Is there a third option, like buying a gift but pretending it’s from a mystery person? It could come from Amazon Prime, with no name attached!

Carol’s birthday occurred just two weeks ago. It creates another challenge. She accepted the new John Grisham novel as a birthday present, but Grisham has not written another book in the last two weeks to fill the Christmas void. 

So what are my other options? 

I could invite her to watch Hallmark Christmas movies all day…and actually watch one with her. But should my personal pain be a part of the gift-giving? And I’m not sure I could watch the movie and not make sarcastic comments!

I could take her out for dinner, but we usually go out for dinner once or twice a week as it is. It’s not a gift, but rather our routine.

So what could I give her that she would appreciate and enjoy?

A hug and a kiss would be a start. A hug with meaning and commitment, not too tight because of our increasingly fragile bodies, but an embrace that says “I am blessed to be your spouse!” And a kiss, preceded by a Tic-Tac to cancel out my coffee breath! She would see that as a gift!

A walk around the block, punctuated by conversation about things that interest her and thoughts that keep filtering through her mind. 

Help in the kitchen preparing for the family to gather on Christmas afternoon. That would be seen as an appreciated gift, as long as I take directions from her and don’t free lance too much! 

And maybe the best gift would be to sit back in the midst of the family and just be with them, watching the three grandkids discover the hidden treasures in Uncle David’s cellophane-wrapped ball (Now a Wolfe tradition each Christmas!), enjoying dinner together, and seeing surprised looks on young children’s faces as they open a pile of presents one by one.

Those are the things that will be gifts to Carol, moments and pictures that don’t take up space in the house, but space in her heart!

Maybe I can sneak a spatula in there somewhere!

Seventh Grade Test Personalities

December 21, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 December 21, 2018

                                 

I’m substitute teaching today in a seventh grade social studies class. It’s test day, an unfair educational challenge in the opinion of most of the students, since it’s the last day before Christmas break. 

I’ve observed the different “test personalities” emerging as the day has gone on. They’ve been covered up by various facial distortions and deer-in-headlights looks.

There’s the “clueless wonder”, the kid who thinks he’s all that but can’t remember his middle initial. Taking a test is his worst nightmare. He would rather gargle vinegar. Some of his classmates think he’s cool, but his intellectual stimulation is restricted to the depth of the latest  SnapChat.

“The questioner” arises in the midst of my test information questions. When I say that each student is to complete the whole test and turn it in to the class basket, the questioner raises her hand and asks, “Do we have to complete the whole test?” A nod to answer. “And then what are we to do with the test when we complete it?” I point to the class basket. “Is that where we are to put the test when we’re done with the whole thing?” 

I just stare as an answer. She gets the idea! The questioner may someday be on a Senate review panel asking 800 pages of questions to someone who will plead the fifth!

“The annoyer” makes sounds to distract people from the mission. He will drop his books, intentionally choose candy that involves loud noise-making wrappers, and disturb any sense of quiet and calm. It’s his purpose in life, or at least in seventh grade. As other students are trying to remember what the capital of Pennsylvania is he’s making squirrel sounds in his corner of the room. 

“The Ivy Leaguer” focuses on every question and quickly remembers the correct answer from the twenty pages of notes that she has studied in preparation. Seventh grade is not a challenge for her. Her challenge is spending time with seventh graders.

“The nose picker” absentmindedly inserts his finger into his nostril and digs for treasure, which he then wipes on whatever is closest to him…pants, shirt, desk bottom, or flicking off onto the floor. His classmates rarely offer him a high-five!

“Miss Probation” is not adverse to being sent to the office. In fact, the office has a chair with her name on it. She knows everyone there on a first name basis. Next year in eighth grade her locker is likely to contain some forms off contraband.

“Mr. Bored” thinks it’s important to communicate his lack of enthusiasm about whatever it is he is studying. In his opinion, if it is studied at school it must be unimportant. If a cure for cancer was discovered and then studied in science class he would label it as boring. But have someone send him a 30 second video of a snowboarder wiping out on a 360…that is crucial entertainment for him!

“Miss Awkward” is at that age where nothing seems coordinated in life. She’s unsure of herself, and some of her classmates make her nervous. She’s afraid of being the butt of their jokes and the attention of their discussions. If she could disappear into the carpet she’d feel better. She kinda’ likes tests because each classmate is focused for a few minutes on their own work, not somebody else’s business.

“The Organizer” guides the class in doing a get well card for its teacher. She makes sure the chairs are stacked at the end of the day and helps the class get over the hurdles caused by the annoyer and Miss Probation. If the classroom was filled with students like her they might be able to cure world malnutrition. BUT there’s only one of her and the teacher is bummed out by that. The hope is that some of her classmates might see the purpose and passion in how she lives, but most of them can’t see past their cell phone screen.

BUT no one cheated, and that’s different from when I was in high school! Seventh grade test personalities are as diverse as the jelly belly’s in the teachers candy jar. It makes it…very interesting for the substitute!

A Good Rejection

December 19, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                December 19, 2018

                                  

Thursday afternoon one of the seventh grade teachers at the middle school I substitute teach and coach at exclaimed to me, “We love your book!” I sent her the book draft in a Word Document and she had been reading a chapter each night with her two kids, a fifth grader and a sixth grader.

I replied, “That’s great to hear, because I got the rejection letter from the publishing company two days ago.” Her face announced her surprise.

That afternoon the seventh grade counselor, who I had given the first seven hard copy  chapters to came to me and said, “I really like it!”

“That’s great to hear since I got the rejection letter two days ago.”

She frowned in disappointment.

The letter came from the managing editor who had given me his business card at the Colorado Christian Writer’s Conference last May and told me to send the book. It had taken them this long to get it to the top of the pile. (Publishing companies are piled high with submissions and only a trickle ever being published.)

I showed my rejection letter to my Starbucks friend, who is one of the writers and producers of Adventures In Odyssey. She read it and, in a matter of fact way, said, “As rejection letters go…this is a good rejection letter!”

“Huh???”

“It shows that they actually read it and he’s giving you three suggestions as to what to do to improve it and bring it to a point where it’s ready to be published.”

“Ohhh!” My self-esteem came back up from the basement. “Have you ever gotten a rejection letter?”

“Sure!” This writer/creator of the series, that my grandkids love to listen to, had also been rejected. Several other people have told me about J.K. Rowling, who got numerous turndowns before Harry Potter became a household name. 

Rejections are stings that can make us strive for something better. After I had submitted my book draft to the publisher I went back through and revised it again. Since the rejection letter I’ve gone through and done another revision. My dear friends, Ed and Diana Stucky, are going through it again…for the third time helping with the editing and their ideas. Ed has reached out to a couple of friends in the publishing world for advice and suggestions.

Rejections can sometimes show us who will be there to help us keep moving forward. They can make us stronger, more determined, and more focused. 

One of the suggestions from the managing editor of the publisher was to cut it down to between 80,000 and 100,000 words. I was at 114,000. After going through it again I’m down to 101,000 and figuring out what the next cut might be that will not effect the quality or flow of the story.

If nothing else comes from this writing I will always remember getting a phone call one night from my ten year old grandson.

“Granddad!”

“Yes, Jesse.”

“We like it! We like your book. Mommy just read the last chapter to us tonight, and we really like it!”

“Thank you, Jesse!” 

Three months later I got another call. 

“Granddad!”

“Yes, Jesse.”

“We finished your second book tonight and…we really liked it!”

And now they are waiting to read the third book, which I’m 20,000 words into, as I also continue to revise Book 1 and Book 2.

I may never get a letter from a publisher saying “We’d like to pursue this with you!”, but two late night phone calls are all the acceptance I really need!

The Why’s of Christmas

December 16, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      December 16, 2018

                              

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem it changed things!

When Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843 it REALLY changed things! That’s not meant to say Dickens was more important than Jesus, but rather to make a point about what we have done to Christmas.

Before the British author wrote the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, Christmas was not viewed as a major holiday. In fact, in the early part of the 1800’s very few American Protestants celebrated Christmas because it was seen as being “too Catholic!” 

Dickens’ tale of greed turned to generosity brought a different spirit and perspective to the season. It helped that he was already a recognized author with novels like Oliver Twist, and The Old Curiosity Shop. 

Christmas now dominates our calendars. I asked the children during a recent Sunday morning worship what they knew about the Season of Advent. One boy’s response was “Isn’t that when we do a calendar where a piece of chocolate pops out for each day?”

Yes…and it’s also the season that has become populated with other yearly sweets…like fruitcake, fudge, and candy canes. It’s the time of the year when our mailbox gets product advertisements for almond toffee candy, over-priced pears and apples, and popcorn in a tin! 

I know…I know, I’m sounding like a “Bah! Humbug” withered old man who doesn’t wasn’t to part with his nickels and dimes. Actually, I love Christmas! I love it even more now that I’m not a full-time pastor. I can now actually enjoy the season and meditate on its message, as opposed to planning extra services, and taking care of all the church-related extra details.

Sometimes, in all our busyness about the business we forgot to think about the why’s of what we’re doing. Celebrating the Christ-child becomes a short-term sermon series…and then we move on. Christmas is seen as an emphasis, complete with decorated sanctuaries, children’s programs, and star-shaped cookies (There’s that sweet thing again!). 

But the coming of Immanuel was a foretold event that was meant to change things forever. It signaled God’s love for his created, and reconciliation then and now. That has been, and should always be, the why of the event.

Charles Dickens raised the popularity of Christmas by writing a story about a man who was visited by three ghosts, who MADE him see his past, his present, and what was yet to be. In essence, it had nothing to do with the birth of Jesus but rather of personal revelation of how one man’s deeds and misdeeds affected others. 

It’s a great story, but not THE story. Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in six weeks. God has been and still is writing the story of grace, forgiveness, and new life.

Spiritually-Addicted Christians

December 14, 2018

WORDS FROM W.W.                                         December 14, 2018

                  

“It’s spiritually dead here!” explains the middle-aged woman to me.

“How so?”

“Nothing ever happens here!” she says, using her hands to exaggerate the point.

“Nothing of God ever happens here. Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yes, Pastor! It’s dead!”

“I’d beg to differ with you.”

“You’re the pastor. I would expect you to disagree!”

“Like last Saturday morning when the men’s bible study group prayed for a problem that Bobby was dealing with, and then we gathered around him and hugged him, and gave him encouragement! Or last week when I was out changing the letters on the church sign, and I got into a conversation with an 84 year old lady who lives a block away from our church. A few of us are going to walk up to her house and trim her bushes and fix her screen door next Saturday! Or last Sunday when Patty brought out something from the scripture story we were studying that caused a light bulb to go on in the minds of a few of us. I’m not sure what criteria you’re using to determine whether God’s involved or not, but those were all signs to me.”

She looked at me and bit her lip.

“Say it!” I urged her.

“Those things just aren’t very exciting, pastor! I’m looking for miracles and people who love the Lord, and I’m just not seeing much of that here.”

“So…have you been to see Widow Samuels? Because, even though she is in a care center now, whenever I go to visit her I experience a spiritual blessing and marvel at her love for the Lord.”

“I don’t really like those kind of places.”

“And last week I was sitting beside Joe Skinner’s bed and talking about the end of his life, his looking forward to experiencing the glory of the Lord in heaven, and how God has walked with him through a multitude of life valleys.”

“Those aren’t the things I’m talking about, Pastor. I’m talking about spiritual highs!”

“So you’re an addict?”

“Excuse me!”

“You’re a spiritual addict, whose addiction can only be satisfied by an experience that is high energy and high emotion.”

“I knew you’d blame me!”

“I’m not blaming you for anything. I’m just stating what the situation is. You don’t seem to see God working in our midst unless something awesome happens. What is awesome, however, has to be defined by your standards. Am I right?”

“No, you aren’t right!”

“Then we will just agree to disagree. The spiritual life I’m seeing is different than what you’re looking for. I mean no disrespect in saying this but there are some people who go to an amusement park and define its impact by how many roller coasters it has and how thrilling they are. When I go to an amusement park I evaluate it on being able to ride the merry-go-round with my grandkids. Different perspectives, neither which is wrong.”

“I’m not addicted, though!”

“And I’m not spiritually bored! So, I guess we’re both where we need to be!”

She smirks, starts to say something, but then turns and walks away. She has moved on to the next church down the road. 

Five years after the conversation she has moved on three other times. Sometimes, it seems, we minimize the power of God by not allowing him to be involved in our rhythms of life. There is a hunger- an addiction, if you will- to wanting to see smoke on the mountaintop while missing the nearness of His presence.