Defining Pro-Life

Posted May 15, 2022 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

Frequently in the gospels, Jesus got into conversations that resembled grill sessions. For example, in Matthew 12, the Pharisees confronted Him about His disciples who were doing what was unlawful on the Sabbath by picking the heads off the grains in the field as they walked by because they were hungry. Jesus brought up a story from their past that they were familiar with.

“Haven’t you read about what David and his companions did when they were hungry?” (Matthew 12:3, NIV)

In another encounter, a bunch of religious leaders and pious men were ready to stone a woman caught in adultery. They tell Jesus what the Law says and Jesus responds, “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.” Gradually the condemners slip away, confronted with the big picture that cast a dark shadow on each one of them.

Jesus brought the whole context of the issue into the dialogue, not a singular moment that could only be interpreted from one incident. Jesus saw the whole book– its individual pages, front and back covers, binding, table of contents, beginning and ending– not just the view of the front cover, the only aspect that can be seen from a straight-on look.

I’ve thought about that a lot as the fervor over the leaked Supreme Court document dealing with Roe vs. Wade has erupted. It has caused me to ponder the implications, the responsibilities, and the opportunities. In other words, the whole book, not just the front cover that is viewed.

At the risk of some deciding not to read any further, I admit that I am an advocate of life. What I’ve come to realize, however, is that being a true life advocate means more than holding a position on abortion. It carries with it the rest of the picture. If I advocate for the sacredness of life I must consider how that affects other pages in my life journey. What are the implications of believing in the sacredness of life as it pertains to the hungry, the afflicted, and the elderly? If I believe in the sacredness of life I must look at all of life or risk being a like the accusing Pharisees, nearsighted and shortsighted.

What responsibilities am I committing myself to by saying that life is sacred? In a culture that is very focused on the self, am I willing to look in the mirror and see the inconsistencies in my life, and in seeing them, am I willing to make the changes that would be God-honoring and Christ-consistent? After all, following Jesus means following the One who promised new life. There’s that word again. Life.

Jesus had a way of causing both his naysayers and also his disciples to stop and consider the stumbling points of their views. They wanted to come back at Him with “Yes, but!” responses, but in the end they would realize the inconsistencies in their views. I feel that way about both sides as the venom spews out about the Roe vs. Wade case. There are inconsistencies on both sides, but no one wants to admit that. Admitting that there needs to be more pondering and praying about a position is too humbling for most of us.

And I’m still thinking about the what it means for my life. In essence, every time I turn to a new page in the story, I discover another part of the journey that causes me to realize there’s something new to consider.

Athletes With Character

Posted May 13, 2022 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

One of the main reasons I have written three books about a high school boy with bright red hair is to set forth an athlete who has talent, but more importantly, character. Randy “Red Hot” Bowman treats everyone with respect, doesn’t believe the world revolves around him, and shows humility in the midst of times when other want to put him on a pedestal.

As I come close to 30 years of coaching middle and high school kids in basketball, the need for athletes like Randy have never been more evident. After a year where athletic competitions were limited or non-existent, I see the warts and blemishes coming out in middle school kids whose only models for the past months have been the make-believe athletes on their video games or professional athletes who strut their stuff in front of the cameras.

During the past two weeks, my coaching buddy, Ron McKinney and I have been conducting a basketball camp after school for sixth-graders at our school. I brought in a couple of my former basketball players, one junior male and one sophomore female, to help us. Both os them are talented players who have character. This week I talked to the campers about the vitalness of having character on the court and in the classroom. In fact, I emphasized that when I evaluate players who are trying out for one of the school’s basketball teams, I place character above talent in importance.

Coach McKinney and learned that over the years. In his evaluating of players that his professional football team was considering drafting, former NFL coach, Tony Dungy, would sometimes puts the letters “DNDC” beside a prospects name. It stood for “Do Not Draft- Character!” They determined that an athlete who had great talent but was lacking in character had more potential to be a problem in their team concept than a potential player.

That also means that coaching 12 and 13-year-olds has to include guidance, mentoring, and modeling. The coach must model what being a person of character looks like and, in a short amount of time, needs to talk and teach about it. What does it mean to be an honorable seventh-grader? What does it mean for a second-string player to take ownership in what the team is emphasizing? What does it mean to work hard and have a great work ethic? What does it mean for an eighth-grader to show positive leadership? In an era where bullying often gets talked about, what does it mean for a team member to strive for a safe environment for his/her teammates?

At our sixth grade camp, Coach McKinney and I can already see that there are a few kids who will need to be reeled in some, others who have the seeds of a good character foundation, and others who need to be guided toward becoming awesome young people. That has made the inclusion of the two high school athletes so important. They model who these kids have the potential to become.

In a culture that exalts winners and laughs at losers, thee needs to be a committed effort to teaching the fundamental skills of the sport, the principles of and how to function as an effective team, and being a teammate and student with character.

I am who I am as a coach because of awesome coaching mentors. Don Fackler, Leo Swiontek, Ron McKinney, Steve Achor, Scott Shattuck, Jim Chapman, and Kevin Wenger have all impacted my life n not just game strategy but also modeling character and integrity.

I’m at the point in my life where an opposing coach talking about how great my kids were in sportsmanship and hustle brings a smile to my face more than a win.

Hitting 68 With 8th!

Posted May 7, 2022 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

Yes, on May 5th I hit a 6 followed by an 8. 68, sixty-eight, seis-ocho (My high school Spanish wasn’t bueno!)

I spent most of the day with about 90 eighth-graders, none of them aware of it being my birthday…which I was happy to keep secret. If they would have found out I would have had to endure hearing a number of high shrilly voices tramatizing my hearing.

I was ending a long-term substitute teaching assignment for a great teacher who had gone on maternity leave back in mid-February. She returns next Monday! Thank you, Lord! It’s has been an enjoyable experience. I love spending time with the same students each day, coaching a group of students for a season, and deepening those relationships that are so precious and important.

Reaching 68, however, makes a person think long and hard about what is and what is yet to be. It’s where I am in my journey. Back at the end of 2015 I retired after 36 years as a church pastor. I didn’t need to, but I knew it was time. Substitute teaching became a transitional point for me and I found out the kids usually smiled when they realized I was their sub.

And then last year (August 2020) Timberview Middle School needed help. There wasn’t a teacher for 7th grade language arts to start the year. Would I begin the year until they could find the year? Sure! And then they never found anyone to take the class, so my first two weeks became ten, and then twenty, and finally, it just went for the whole year. Loved it!

And then the 8th grade language arts teacher called me last summer to ask if I would fill in for her when she had her first baby in February. Sure! And then the school called to see if I would begin the year teaching the same 7th grade language arts class until they could find someone. Sure!

And now I’m 68 and pondering if it is time to consider stepping to the side. Being a person of faith, I seek guidance from the One I anchor my life to. “Lord, is this where you want me to continue serving, or is there something else you are transitioning me to?”

Sometimes we get into “the comfort zone” of living and become blind to new possibilities. I love working with young people, and always will, but I’m a dinosaur in a Marvel Comic heroes time period. Just call me Dagwood…or maybe Jughead!

Substance and Style

Posted May 1, 2022 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

Hanging around middle-schoolers has acquainted me with styles, trends, and despite attempts to look cool. A student walking down the hallway with white AirPods in his ears is on the same level as my classmates wearing penny loafers down the high school corridors of fifty years ago.

Having the hood of the hoodie covering your head is also a sign of extreme coolness. In fact, having the hood on plus having one’s classmates being able to see that an AirPod is sticking in at least one ear borders on over-the-top coolness.

My mom worked at Penney’s, so my level of coolness was resembling of lukewarm milk. She received substantial discounts for working there on anything that smacked of ordinary but suitable. I had a suitable haircut, suitable socks, geeky-looking glasses, and clean underwear in case for some odd reason I lost my pants during the school day. My mom was a stickler about making sure my tighty-whitey’s were clean!

Most middle-schoolers are drawn to style. In a time of masks and weirdness, they believe style defines them. If given a choice between substance and style, most would fall with their full weight toward style. Substance is not a high priority. It doesn’t rise up the chart until sometime later.

And yet, there are some kids who have discovered it. There are those examples of students who have come to understand that what’s inside is more important than what is on the outside. Tony Dungy remembers a story from his growing up years when he went with his dad to buy a new pair of basketball shoes. The Chuck Taylor’s (the equivalent of today’s Air Jordans) was $7.99, but the Kmart shoes were $3.99. His dad showed him that both pairs were made of the same material. Tony told his dad that might be true, but the Chuck Taylor’s were cool and it was important to look cool to his friends. His dad said that might be somewhat true and if Tony wanted to spend his own money to make up the difference between the Kmart brand and the Chuck Taylor’s, the extra $4.00, that was his choice. His dad wanted him to know that it was what was inside that counted. In the end, substance says more than style.

I have some students in class who have discovered that. It’s not that their lives are void of style, but character defines them and will be the reason I remember them for years to come. In fact, there are a few of those students who I will grieve over their departure to high school.

It has been a year of extremes. Many of the students who have missed a year of consistency as a result of last year’s pandemic are searching for something to hold on to, something to wrap their life around. They need an identity, a way to define their personhood. Style is the easy go-to. Substance and a comfortableness about who the student is something that only a few have discovered.

Tony Dungy concludes the Chuck Taylor’s story by saying that soon after his Kmart shoes purchase, ironic as it was, Converse came out with the new slogan, “It’s what’s in inside that counts!”

The Cell Phone Trade-Off

Posted April 30, 2022 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

It’s an issue that seems to be growing as rapidly as my monthly T-Mobile bill: the intrusion of student cell phones into the classroom, distracting and grasping the attention of young minds that can’t seem to resist their lure. If there was a court case, cell phones would be used as evidence to prove that a whole generation of youth are ADHD. Students resemble squirrels as their attention span on subject matter lasts as long as the time gap between text messages.

I wonder what gaps there will be in the understanding of math formulas and scientific calculations because Johnny was focused on reaching the next level of his video game he was playing on his cell phone?

I’ve tried the “face up-face down” method, where students can use their phones to look up information or even do an assignment. When they aren’t using their phones for academic purposes, they are to stay facedown. But…it is too tempting for them…like a chocolate chip cookie that is calling their name, they can only resist for so long.

I’ve used threats of having them take their cell phones to the office, thus increasing the workload on the office staff that is already trying to fit 10 hours of work into 8, but that only works for so long.

Seriously, some students might forget to put shoes on in the morning, but they won’t forget their cell phones. I’ve had frantic students pleading to their classmates for someone to loan them a charger because their “special friend” is down to 1% on its battery life. The urgency is resembling of a 9-1-1 call.

In our schools, it has not been unusual to see students walking down the hallway, in the midst of passing periods, focused not on their classmates but rather on their cell phone screen. Recently, one student was so absorbed by the video he was watching while he walked that he went into the wrong classroom before he realized where he was. Last week, one student texted another student during class, as if what they were doing for the class was secondary in importance to what was texted to the other classmate.

So, even though I only have one week left in my 8th Grade language arts journey, I tried a new strategy this past Thursday. If a student was willing at the beginning of class to bring their cell phone and place it in the basket, affectionately known as “the cell phone daycare center”, I’d contribute a piece of Hershey’s chocolate to their sugar-hyped diet at the end of class. The seed for the idea came during our recent state assessment testing days. Students were not allowed to have cell phones, Apple Watches, or other devices. They were encouraged to leave them in their lockers, but most of them couldn’t say parted for that long so they brought them into class, powered them down, and placed them in the basket.

When I made the offer of a chocolate temporary experience of personal satisfaction you would have thought it was a “Billy Graham Crusade altar call”. The masses came forward. I went through Hershey’s Nuggets like they were candy, which they are, as the cell phone daycare center reached maximum capacity.

I was somewhat dumbfounded. The price of a class period void of cell phone temptations is the offer of a piece of chocolate. I felt like Monty Hall on “Let’s Make A Deal”, offering a contestant $100 for a hairpin or something else that might be in their pocket.

I know, I know, it’s like a bribe, an undesired reward, but maybe it will be a short-term fix (at least for one more week) to help them stay more focused on classwork. It’s like an educational t-shirt wrapped in a layer of Gucci entitlement. I’m sure if I would be there for more than one more week there would come a point where they would be expecting a chocolate reward regardless of whether their phone was in the daycare basket.

For five more days, however, and for the past two, they’ve discovered that they can survive 60 minutes without their best artificial buddy in their lap. It’s possible.

The Emotions of My Life

Posted April 24, 2022 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

I can’t explain it. It just happens. I hear a speech, I watch a kid struggle in a race, I watch a student helping another student deal with a crisis…the situations are various and diverse and the tears rise up from the bottom of the well and threaten to be a gusher flowing out my eyes and down my cheeks.

I’m experiencing the emotions of my life experiences. It’s okay and yet it’s unpredictable. Yesterday I watched a video of an old friend of mine from my middle school days in Zanesville, Ohio. Terry Kopchak is in the midst of some serious health situations. The video was of him being helped as he walked down a rehab hallway using a walker. I teared up as I watched my old friend who I chummed around with and played basketball with almost 55 years ago.

Last night I was sitting in a middle school cafetorium watching the performance of Annie. My grandson Jesse played the part of Rooster. As he danced with two girls on stage I could feel the volcano of tears building within me. I mixed the eye moisture with chuckles as I watched his amazing performance.

A few weeks ago in my language arts class I was listening to an oral presentation by one of the students. As she gave her speech, that dealt with a life situation she had no control over, the mist began to invade the boundaries of my eyes. I was on the verge of that moment resembling the emergence of our lawn sprinklers, suddenly rising above the turf and spraying in all directions.

Emotions rise within me. At a middle school track meet a few days ago, my deep heaves of tearful joy began as I watched a seventh-grader, who has struggled in his running of the 1600-meter run, put it into a different gear and cut forty seconds off his time. He’s a kid who has a big heart that makes up for his limited athletic ability, the kind of kid I love to coach. Anyway…here comes the rain!

Some might say I’m softhearted. I’m not sure. I was still able to ream a student for moments of arrogant impoliteness last week. I still feel the rage when I hear middle schoolers using profanity as if they’re just munching on popcorn. I turn red with rage when a team I’m coaching is going through the motions in practice or playing with no energy.

As long as I can wipe my eyes with my hands like windshield wipers in the midst of a misting rain, I’ll be okay. If I get to the point where I’m like a sixth-grader who has been summoned to the principal’s office for what he believes is some form of execution or to be hauled down to the school dungeon, then I hope someone steps in and shakes me back to somberness.

If given a choice between someone who looks like he’s been sucking on lemons or resembling a fountain, I’ll gladly take the latter.

The Side Board

Posted April 23, 2022 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

I’ve reached the two-month mark of my long-term guest teaching gig for 8th-grade language arts. The students has taught me volumes about their culture, their creativity, and their uniquely diverse views on life.

On the side wall of the classroom there is a white board that Ms. Stedman, the maternity-leave teacher who asked me to fill the gap for her, has used for students to put comments, dry-erase marker drawings, and gibberish on. I had a brain flash one day as I was looking at the board. Why not put a question on the side board each day for students to put their suggestions/guesses/favorites on?

The result has been a loaded-with-comments wall by 2:45 each school day. Some comments are 14-year-old attempts at the ridiculous. For example, one day I put the question “What is Mr. Wolfe’s favorite movie?” There were the usual superhero suggestions, but one student has anonymously written “Barbie’s Dream House”. In fact, it doesn’t seem to matter what the question-of-the-day is, one student always seems to put “Barbie’s Dream House” as an answer. It’s been the answer to what my favorite book is, my favorite TV show, my oldest child’s name, and where I’d like to go on vacation.

Some days the side board question asks for their suggestions on school issues. For instance, one day this week I asked what ides they had for a new exploratory class at the school. Some of the responses were fantastic, such as “Money Matters and Understanding”, “Home Economics” (A blast from the past there!), and “Basic First Aid”. Others were the usual suggestions that prompt snickers such as “Napping”, “Gaming in Class Without the Teacher Knowing It”, and “Doing Nothing”.

One day I asked them for one suggestion on what might be a change/addition in the school cafeteria. I knew I was opening up a can of worms, which a few of them think the food tastes like, but I put it out there. When it comes to cafeteria food and practices, eighth-graders have many suggestions, few that are positive. In reality, it’s a stigma that has stayed with school cafeterias for decades. I can still see the “hair-netted ladies” from my high school cafeteria plopping the lumps of food on our trays fifty years now in the rearview mirror. Present-day eighth-graders are no different in their disdain. Constructive comments such as “bring back the sandwich and salad bars” were few, but words in bold capital letters such as “Fire all the workers”, “Stop serving pizza on cardboard crusts!”, “Solve the Long Lines Problem!”, “Serve food that actually tastes good!”, and “Bring in Chick-Fil-A!!!’ dominated the board. Middle school students elevate their cynicism when it comes to food.

One day I asked them what they thought my parents almost named me. The answer is “Silas”, but the suggestions went from “Wilbur” to “Robert” to “Clyde” to “Benjamin”. But guess what? At some time, the phantom side wall writer had scribbled in blue marker “Barbie!”

Making Teachers Take Assessment Tests

Posted April 17, 2022 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

This past week students in our school district spent a major part of their time taking CMAS tests. CMAS stands for Colorado Measures of Academic Success. Students are tested in subjects such as math, science, and language arts. School districts get anxiety shivers considering what their CMAS test scores will be…or won’t be.

On Day Two one of my eighth-grade students suggested, maybe more in a pouting sort of voice, that teachers be made to take the CMAS tests and that students would be the proctors. I tried to assure the student that teachers are not the ones who have decided that students should be subjected to the excruciatingly long exams, that it has come from the higher, higher ups. Having served on a school board in Michigan years ago, I am acutely aware of certain elected officials who seemed to be suspicious of teachers, that they were freeloaders who only worked nine months out of the year but got paid for twelve.

Anyway, the whining student had gone deaf to my insights. Teachers should have to sit and be quiet for…like an eternity! (Her words.) Here’s the rest of our conversation, some of it told in the tradition of Paul Bunyan and his blue ox named Babe, and some of it true. You’ll have to determine where the truth ends and the imagination begins.

I asked the pout-faced eighth-grader what she thought they should be tested on?

“I don’t know, but they should have to write essays and do maths problems that make no sense whatsoever.”

“Anything else?”

“Yes, they should have to listen to long, boring speeches that cause your eyelids to close and then have to write down what was just said…and get no restroom breaks or be allowed to listen to music.”

“And what would the tests prove?”
Stumped. “I don’t know, but they should have to take them.”

“Could they opt out?”

“Absolutely not!”

“But there are about twenty-five students in each class. Would all twenty-five be the test proctors for the one teacher?”

“Why not? It makes me nervous when you watch me take the test. Why shouldn’t all of us watch you take it?”

“And it seems like I rewarded each one of you with chocolate at the end. Would each of you reward me?”

“Now you’re being ridiculous!”

Nellie’s Mission

Posted April 16, 2022 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

There is a third-grader named Nellie who is on a mission. That mission hasn’t taken her to some faraway country or even to an inner-city shelter or soup kitchen. Nellie’s mission has taken her to a work station in her home, a spot in the basement or the quiet of her bedroom, to create sets of earrings.

You see, Nellie received a jewelry-making kit when she was 7, has honed her craft in the last two years for such a time as today. She is creating sets of earrings to help a cause.

I wrote about my son-in-law, Kevin, last week and the serious accident he had. It’s going to be a while for Kevin to recover from the injuries, skull fractures and affected vision and hearing, but the emergency room personnel that attended to him were surprised he had not been killed in the accident.

Nellie’s family and our daughter’s family are close friends. In fact, the two families plus three other families had just returned from a “friend-cation” to Orange Beach, Alabama a week before Kevin’s accident. Nellie is one of three kids and our daughter’s family has three kids. The middle child in each family have proclaimed for several years now that they will one day get married. Friendship runs deep in the families.

When Kevin sustained his injuries, Nellie made helping his family her mission. She sells her earrings for $3 dollars a pair and is giving all the money from her sales to help with Kevin’s financial costs. As word has spread, supply has not kept up with demand. She’s working diligently to craft new pairs. Sometimes when a person is called to mission it doesn’t occur to us that perseverance is a part of the calling. Nellie’s “stick-to-it-ness” is evident. For a third-grader, she has an unusual sense of urgency. I doubt that she understands what the ongoing costs for Kevin’s physical therapy, doctor appointments, possibly hearing aids, and work reduction mean, but she’s going to do what she is able to do.

I asked my eighth-grade language arts students if they would try if they knew it would only result in a single drop in an enormous bucket. The question seemed to perplex many of them. Some, without hesitation, said no. Some responded yes. The perplexed were thinking about the circumstances, how many others were involved in helping, whether it was fun or not, and how long it would take them?

That’s what amazes me about Nellie’s story. She doesn’t know how big the bucket is or how many others are pitching in. She just knows that a dear friend of her family is in need, she has learned these last two years how to create something that has simple beauty, and she has an ache in her soul to help. There are an enormous number of people who never discover a mission for their life. They are satisfied with existence and focusing on their own personal pleasure. Sometimes it takes the perseverance of a child to make us look in the mirror at who we are and who we have failed to become.

Sometimes it takes a child to lead us. Sometimes a third-grader doesn’t worry about obstacles and complexities. This third-grader named Nellie just goes to her creative space and works on another pair of $3.00 earrings…and then another.

It’s what friends do for each other.

When Life Falls On You

Posted April 10, 2022 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

About a week ago my son-in-law had a seventy to eighty pound capstone fall from eighteen feet and hit him in the back of the head. Kevin and his dad have a plumbing business and he was working on the lower level of a house that was being renovated.

Needless to say, the accident could, maybe should, have been fatal. Two days in ICU and another two days in the hospital after that, he was then discharged to return home and rest. The rest and recovery will take weeks and there will probably be ongoing repercussions from that one moment that will affect the rest of his life.

Each one of us has those moments, those accidental encounters, that result in struggles, regrets, or questions that begin with why. Kevin is an awesome person, great dad, follower of Jesus, and great son-in-law. If fairness were the determining factor, the capstone would have landed close by but made no contact. But sometimes life isn’t fair. It’s a journey through jungles, and deserts, mountains and valleys. Ask just about anyone of the families who lost one or more loved ones to COVID-19. Ask the families who lost their homes in the fire a few months ago that ravaged part of a Colorado community. Ask the people who endured a December tornado in Kentucky. Or, thinking globally, the millions of Ukrainian refugees who fled their homes and what they were accustomed to simply because a tyrant has decided he wants their land.

In the midst of life’s falling moments however we learn several important lessons. We find out what our life is based on and what it is anchored to. We find out who is willing to walk the confusing walk with us, who’s willing to let us lean on them as we struggle along. We learn that there is an inner strength that is a part of our being that we didn’t know about. We’re able to discern that there a great amount of clutter in our lives that is either unnecessary or hindering the pursuit of our purpose.

Last fall a young lady on my middle school cross country team was struggling to finish the race. She stopped with less than a quarter-mile left in the race and vomited. One of her teammates who was a few yards in front of her heard the concerned comments of a few spectators, turned around, and went back to her teammate. She helped her, almost carried her, to the finish line. A few days later the helping teammate passed out when she was overcome with heat during a practice run. The teammate who she had helped returned the care in a situation where paramedics had to be called.

Sometimes life falls on us and sometimes we’re the ones who pick up the fallen. I’m overwhelmed by the stories of the fallen people that Jesus picked up, from a blind man, a cripple, and a diseased outcast to grief-stricken sisters and a friendless tax collector. My hope is that when life falls on me someone who is like Jesus-with-skin-on is there to pick me up; and, vice versa, I’m able to be Jesus-with-skin-on for another fallen brother or sister.