Past Wisdom For Present Success

Posted December 11, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Novels

Tags: , ,

In my Red Hot novel series, the middle school bully, Timmy Little, never seems to learn from his past mistakes and keeps finding himself facing the consequences of his bad decisions. In fact, he frequents the principal’s office so much there is a chair with his backside imprint on it.

Real life middle school is not too far removed from fiction. When I walk through the waiting area outside the offices of our assistant principals, there seem to be a few faces that frequent the area so much they should pay rent for the spots. Yes, we all make mistakes, but some people just seem to have a way of making them over and over again. Their derailed actions are like train tracks that just seem to follow the same path toward destruction each day.

In our middle school most of the classes have this thing called “re-accessing”. A student who doesn’t do well the first time on a quiz is offered an additional opportunity to correct his/her errors. On most quizzes the teacher is even able to see how much time was spent by the student answering the questions. If a student took two minutes to answer the ten questions and received a score of three out of ten, the instructor could see if the lesson of “slowing down” sunk home in the student’s den off common sense as the student re-accessed.

We either learn from our mistakes and we continue to commit them. Our past mis-steps are best used to teach us about striding with success in the present. Most students learn that, while a few can’t seem to escape the temptation of walking on the edge of the cliff that borders the office of handed-out consequences.

My daughter, an elementary school educator, was recently grieved by a tragedy that happened to one of her former students, now in his latter teen years. When she had him as a student she could see the possible troubles ahead in his future. He often made the wrong decision, but she gave him extra attention and encouraged him whenever the opportunity presented itself. After she had him as a student she would continue to greet him with smiles and hugs each day she saw him in school. When he went on to middle school she’d only see him about once a year, always giving him a hug and asking how he was doing. The other influences on his life began to take over more and more. Whether there were others who tried to steer him back in the right direction and encourage him on the right decisions, we will never know. The tragedy of his life, however, will always rumble in the sorrow of our daughter’s soul.

As an optimist I believe that deeply-entrenched tendencies always have the potential to be ironed out. Like the frozen ice of the rink scarred by the deep cuts of the skates, the Zamboni smoothes out the rough parts and returns the surface to an appealing shine. I believe the past can be used to navigate a present productive reality.

No One is Worthless! Everyone Has Value!

Posted December 8, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Novels

Tags: , , ,

In my novel series, Red Hot, one of the main characters, a seventh-grader named Ethan Thomas, has no one who believes in him. His thick-lensed eyeglasses, short hair, short in height, and freckles don’t help matters. Even most of his teachers don’t believe he can be successful.

Thankfully, a new boy with bright red hair moves to Ethan’s small West Virginia town and gradually convinces Ethan that he’s not worthless and can achieve things that he didn’t think were possible. Having someone believe in him makes all the difference in the world for Ethan.

In any middle school or high school there are numerous Ethan’s trudging down the hallways, struggling with the uncertainty of their worth, their purpose. They hide in the shadows, avoid certain people who enjoy making fun of them, and count down the minutes until they can escape the corridors and classrooms again. To have someone tell a kid something different than he has always heard is a God-send. Hearing positive words in a negative environment is like a fresh spring rain on a dried-out soul.

I love speaking encouraging words into young people who had resigned themselves to the fact that they were losers, nothings, not to be seen or heard. There was one young boy last year who was not doing well in class. His absences made it difficult to connect subject matter that built from one day to the next like building blocks. And then we had a section on short stories. Each short story was followed by a discussion or a quiz, so the day was self-contained. He did well, and I told him that. He’d contribute his thoughts and opinions when we’d have a discussion. He did well on the quizzes. In other words, he had the potential to do well, to excel, to do work that was deserving of an A or a B.

Unfortunately, his family system didn’t put much value into his schoolwork or time at school. Suddenly, he’d miss a day or two and the residue from his past struggles would reappear. The doubters in his life far outweighed those who believed in him and, although he kept being reminded of his potential, the depth of his personal lack of belief was a rocky journey filled with stumbles and missed opportunities.

He’s just one example of a young person who needs the cheers of many who drown out the jeers of a few. Value is more than there ability to throw a ball well or dress like a million. It’s more than being like by a lot of people or coming from a family of prominence. Value is in anyone. It sometimes simply needs to be cultivated and uncovered.

Hallway Drama

Posted December 4, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

Yesterday out middle school did the play production of “Beauty and The Beast”. It was a rousing success, filled with great performances and the little snickering moments of a middle school play. As I thought about it, the idea came to mind for another production that has potential. First there was High School Musical. Now there could be Middle School Hallway Drama.

Between classes as students stroll, roam, and occupy the school corridors, it is entertaining and revealing to watch their behavior, conversation, and avoidances. I notice the squirrel-ish sixth-graders, the beagle-ish seventh-graders, and the fowl-ish eighth-graders. It’s the school version of the animal kingdom.

There is more communication, verbal and non-verbal, in the five minutes of hallway occupation between class periods than there is in the sixty minutes of classroom instruction. Girls who refuse to say a word in class suddenly explode with a fountain of conversation, intermingled with gazing at their cell phones to see if any incredible messages have arrived in the last ten seconds. Boys assert their manhood by banging into lockers and talking about anything that is not connected to academics.

Hallway drama includes the revealing of secrets. Mr. Brown yelled at Johnny Thompson for falling asleep in class. Jimmy Green was caught cheating on the math quiz and sent to the office. He didn’t come back! Probably suspended for like a month! Judy White’s new hair style makes her resemble a ferret. The mac-and-cheese they served in the cafeteria at lunch tasted like lumpy paint.

Hallway eighth-graders are revealing of the class Casanovas and their romantic targets. Certain boys are in search of hugs from young ladies that they long to be close to…for longer periods of time! Hallway hugging may be the source of more middle school kids passing along infections than any other cause amongst their age group. There is minimal concern about breath so bad it could kill a cow as there is for the need to be embraced.

Less romantically-interested students congregate together to watch Billy Ray conquer level 368 on his cell phone video game. It’s amazing to see six boys following the action that is occurring on a screen that is 3×6 inches. Instructive tips are shared by the viewers to the gamer, as well as ridicule and laughter about gaming failed moves.

A few students actually talk to their teachers in the hallway. That is, to the teachers who aren’t in need of a five minute break from a community of adolescence. Students talk to me because they know I have a stash of Smarties available for students who deserve a few moments of sugar. I get asked questions such as, “What are we doing in class today?” Answer: Stuff. And, “Mr. Wolfe, I’m one of your favorite students, aren’t I?” Answer: “Yes. You’re in my top 500!”

Areas that are rarely visited during the five-minute passing periods are the restrooms. The urge for a student to do his/her necessary business is reserved for class time. Why waste valuable hallway time to do something as meaningless as emptying one’s bladder?

Hallway drama…or comedy reveals the kids who see the school setting as their primary social environment, the students who don’t want to be there, and the emerging teens who are trying to figure out who they are. There are tears of betrayal and rejection, and laughter caused by antics and funny sayings. There are kids rushing to get to their next classroom and others who lounge around until the last possible moment. There are fashion statement and misunderstandings, boys who have over-indulged on the Axe body spray and others who have not yet discovered what deodorant is.

Hallway drama is an experience that entertains all of the scents and causes the teaching staff to smile, frown, and shake their heads in disbelief.

Yes, this has major theatrical production possibilities!

The Gap In Athletes

Posted December 1, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

The middle school girls’ basketball team that I coach began on Monday. Three days of tryouts will be followed by the posting of an 8th-grade team roster. The team that I have this year has the potential to be very good.

That’s the upside. The downside is the gap that has appeared this school year amongst athletes. Since there was a minimal amount of middle school sports in our area last year, many of our participants lost a year of skill development and game understanding. It showed during the recent 7th-grade boys’ basketball season (We play it early in our area!). In our first game three different players ran right onto the court when I told them to go into the game. They didn’t realize that you needed to go to the scorer’s table first. It looked more like a line change in hockey!

The athletes that were a part of a club basketball team last year are now a year ahead in game understanding, skills, and maturity. Sure, there are other factors like some kids are naturally more athletic and others have growth spurts or develop coordination later on. Those have always been uncontrollable factors. When Jimmy is beginning to have a five o’clock shadow in seventh grade, it usually means two things: he’s physically and athletically more developed than the others and…he ain’t getting much bigger!

However, this year’s gap made more evident by last year’s lack of opportunities has amplified the gap between those who have the resources to pay fees for their child to be on a club team and those who can’t afford such an expense. Club team fees can range from several hundred (Cheap!) to several thousand. A family with more than one child playing club ball incurs incredible expenses. In most situations the coaches of club teams are able to bring the athlete to a higher level of performance and understanding of the game.

Thus the gap!

What I’ve also noticed is a hint of arrogance that has seeped into some of the club players attitudes. It comes out as they play alongside of participants who missed that year of development. They know they’re better. Sometimes their frustration is evident as they are told to play on the same court or field as lesser-talented teammates. In some cases, their parents have told them how much better they are than the others. The child is encouraged to shoot and dribble the ball more and pass it less.

Thus, a significant challenge for me as a coach this year is helping my players understand what it means to be a team, develop the concept of teamwork, and value each of their teammates. The challenge, more evident than usual, is creating an equality among players who are unequally talented. It’s not a new situation, just one that, like a picture hanging crooked on the wall, needs to be straightened out.

And maybe, just maybe, the gap between the haves and the have-nots will be narrowed a little bit, and things more important than statistics and the won-lost record will be learned and taken to heart.

The Blurring of Wrong

Posted November 28, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

By now most of us have seen the film footage of an organized mob storming a Nordstrom’s around closing time and making off with merchandise worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. An estimated 80 thieves hit the store fast, blocking off a city block, grabbed whatever they could get, and fled.

Now it’s happened in other cities as well, causing shoppers to think twice before heading to a place of business. Add to that neighborhood thefts of Amazon packages delivered to front porches. Packages, mind you, that the thief has no idea what is inside!

There has always been crime, and waves of crime, but it seems that we now have a new classification of crime. That is, unlawful acts that some folk don’t consider unlawful. Perhaps we could call it “entitled crime”! Some blame it on the pandemic. Others say it’s a ripple effect of our culture’s addiction to drugs. In other words, there are a lot of excuses for why it occurs. The Bible calls it what it is…Sin! Sin is an assorted deck of offenses and neglects. If it isn’t pleasing to God it’s probably sin. If it causes a sigh to sound in the heavens it’s probably sin. If I knowingly do something that I know is not right…it’s probably sin.

In our time, however, what is considered wrong has been blurred. It’s like my annual eye exam where my optometrist places a device in front of my eyes and asks me to say what I see. He intentionally makes my vision unclear to begin with. I can only guess as to what the right answers are. That’s how it is with our current view of right and wrong. It’s blurry and subject to a person’s opinion.

However, scripture makes something crystal clear. “As it is written, there is no one righteous, not even one…All of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:10 and 23)

If, in this unsettling time, our culture does not accept that we’re all fallen creatures, then our starting point of what is wrong has no anchor. It’s subject to how a person feels in the moment, to circumstances, and even to individual interpretation.

We shake our heads when we see a band of hooded thieves stealing sledgehammers and power tools from Home Depot, but we’ve inched our society toward that action in the blurring of what once was clearly wrong.

Being The Answer…Or Not Being The Answer

Posted November 27, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

Sometimes I kid some of my middle school students who demonstrate moments of entitlement. I point my finger at my imaginary dot and say “This is you.” I then draw an invisible circle around that dot and say, “And this is the world. What you’re telling me is that the world revolves around you.”

Usually that comment causes giggles from others and a smile on the face of the entitled one, followed by a few moments of sputtering and stammering.

Our culture has a high opinion of itself these days. It’s a grown-up version of that “the world revolves around you” image. As if what I do, or you do, will affect the rotation of the sun.

Stop! That last statement caused some nervous twitching amongst the Christ-followers…and it should! As a follower of Jesus I DO believe that what I do and say does have a ripple effect. My essence and my confidence is rooted in Jesus. I’m referring to the other side of confidence. The side that thinks I…me, myself, and I can do anything. Bottom line, that I am the answer to the problem and the one who can do it better than anyone else.

Case in point! Howard Stern its considering a run for the presidency. I’m sure a big part of his consideration is connected to receiving publicity and self-promotion, but it also follows the thread of thinking that our culture is filled with examples of people who believe they are the answers to situations. They are difference makers, not exasperaters of the problems.

It speaks to character, for lack thereof. Humbleness rarely causes someone to think they are well-qualified. I am acutely aware of situations in my life where humbleness was non-existent and I thought I was the answer for a particular position. When I receive a rejection letter from a publishing company or a literary agent I feel that twinge of indignation. How could they take a pass on an incredible book manuscript?

One thing about being a writer! If you aren’t a humble person, it will cause you to head in that direction!

Sometimes it takes a few head thumps for me to remember that I’m not the answer, but I follow the One who is the Answer. In fact, with no hint of arrogance Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Instead of being influenced by one of our culture’s influencers, I remind myself daily that He is the Light, the Bread, the Vine, the Living Water, and the Good Shepherd. In essence, He is the real Answer to our needs in the clattering of voices that proclaim their greatness.

Thinking About Thanking

Posted November 23, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

In a couple of days most of our family will gather for Thanksgiving conversation, chaos, and casseroles. Part of that experience will include groans associated with the Detroit Lions and abdominal discomfort. It will also include moments of sharing what we’re thankful for. Our oldest grandson will say something absurd that will cause his mom to groan even more, like being thankful for the three hours of a certain video game that his parents are going to let him play. That would be a dream, not what will be the reality!

Our granddaughters will say something about being thankful for family and friends and turkey…and pie. The adults will mention similar things and there will be a collective sign as we consider how blessed we are.

Thanksgiving offers us the opportunity to think about the different reasons we have thankful hearts. The list begins to be formulated, with each item resulting in a rippling effect of other things that come to our mind.

Relationships and relatives.

Homes and home cooking.

Freedom and free spirits.

The list keeps growing and it conjures up memories of Aunt Cynthia’s raisin pie, front porch conversations with MaMaw and PaPaw, childhood friends Terry Kopchak, Mike Bowman, Dave Hughes, and Mike “Fairboy” Fairchild.

Thanksgiving gives us the opportunity to reflect and allow the depth of our thankfulness to rise within us. As we walk down the path of our ponderings we see how even the valleys and defeats can edge us toward gratitude. Without that disappointment after a job interview we wouldn’t have ended up in a better place and better position. Without that sudden loss of a friend we may never have reconnected with five other friends we had lost track of.

Gratitude is more than a moment or even an attitude. It is periodic debriefing of what has been and what we are in the midst of. It clears away any thoughts of being entitled to something and takes us to having gratefulness for everything.

And so my list is long and diverse from a dear friend being brought back from a close glimpse of death… to a family that is always available for hugs…to unplanned on encounters and conversations with people that cause my insides to chuckle.

Even in the Detroit Lions dismal football season there is a note of thankfulness. They are destined to receive the #1 pick in the next NFL Draft. Silver linings every where!

The Dissatisfaction of Excess

Posted November 22, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

My wife and I just returned from a vacation road trip to Las Vegas and Phoenix. One of her sisters and brother-in-law live outside of Phoenix, as does one of our nephews, thus our trip culminating with a sliding further south.

We had other friends from Michigan who had moved to the Las Vegas area about a year ago that we wanted to reunite with, as well as their daughter who used to be one of our kids’ babysitters. The rest of our time in Las Vegas was spent walking, walking, and walking. We strolled through The Bellagio and stared at the ceiling, The Venetian and watched the gondolas, and the shopping area at Wynn’s where you had to make an appointment to be able to enter and look at the extremely overpriced merchandise. Everything in Las Vegas is about excess and unnecessary. It whispers the possibility of obtaining what is outside a person’s personality and lifestyle.

And there lies the dilemma and the deception! The Las Vegas sale that lures the crowds is an image, a dream, of people bathing in the riches of their winnings and the depravity of their fallen nature. The truth that gets detoured around is that what is excessive never satisfies. It’s simply the next rippled ring in the splash of the new experience.

There is something about us that leads us toward decisions that have not been thought all the way through. What looks dazzling seems to demand our attention. There is also something about the way God created us that longs for a holy fullness, an intimacy with the divine. The world (and the Deceiver), however, continues to lead us in a bypass around our hunger for God and caused us to settle for the thirst of the unnecessary.

In Las Vegas we saw people who were on a constant search for something that would satisfy and they never found it. And they won’t! The brightness of the lights and hopes written on marquees however will keep them searching, longing, and wondering why happiness is so elusive.

The Comedy of Seventh Grade Boy’s Basketball

Posted November 13, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

My seventh grade boys’ basketball team finished its season this past week. Yes, I know it’s only mid-November, but our league fits five different sports seasons into a school year. Boys’ basketball begins the first week in October. Girls’ basketball gets rolling the week after Thanksgiving.

Seriously, the time of the year did not make any difference. Our team of 13 boys, several unknowingly wearing some of the girl’s uniforms because the boy’s uniforms were too large for them, struggled at times to understand offenses, defenses, press breakers, presses, inbounds plays, and how to rebound…Wait a minute! That’s pretty much the whole game of basketball!

But they also struggled to keep track of their uniforms, where their water bottle was, not jumping over the free throw line, keeping their shoes tied, and not just running onto the court when they were told to sub in for someone during a game.

After all, they are seventh-grade boys. They are just beginning to experience underarm deodorant sticks, considering the value of combing their hair, and trying to figure out why the Mary Janes are always staring at them and giggling.

Basketball is like a 2,000 piece jigsaw puzzle for most of them. They can figure out what the border pieces are and gradually which of the four sides each piece belongs on, but the overwhelming bulk of the picture is a mystery that will take a long time to figure out.

Consider this confusing puzzle. With 17 seconds left in the game and trailing by double-digits, one of my players tried to shoot a three-pointer on the opponents pass. The inbounds pass came from underneath the other team’s basket. Thankfully, the shooter didn’t connect on a three-pointer the whole season– and maybe his whole life– and wasn’t close this time either. But after the final seconds clicked off the question occurred to me, why had our four other players on the court also been lining like it was an inbounds play? In other words, all five had been led like lambs to the slaughter into believing they were shooting at the basket 94 feet away from the one they should have been heading.

Consider this confusing, misplaced piece. An hour before our last game one of our smaller players came to me and, with fear in his eyes, said, “Coach, I can’t find my uniform!”

“You mean this uniform that was left on the floor of the locker room two days ago?” Since his assigned number was on the uniform, I knew it was his.

Sheepishly, “Yes.”

Consider this very clear corner piece of the puzzle that is self-explanatory. In our last game, a very close game, the other team had the boy out-of-bounds underneath their basket. Number 40 was killing us all game and our main player had four fouls. At a timeout the other coach and I said to one of our players, “You have #40. Play him man-to-man, Number 40! That’s a four followed by a zero! Number 4-0! That’s who you have!”

The game resumed and number 40 received the inbounds pass right by the basket and laid it to put the other team up by two points with less than a minute left. We called timeout and said to our player, “You were suppose to guard number 40.” He looked at us and with sincerity written all over his face replied, “I forgot!”

It’s a puzzle and it’s puzzling…but I’m chuckling as I think about it.

Our 40-Year-Old Oldest Child

Posted November 8, 2021 by wordsfromww
Categories: Uncategorized

Forty years ago plus one day ago, my wife said “It’s time!” I helped her down the steps to our Toyota Corona and we drove to St. Lawrence Hospital on the west side of Lansing, Michigan to begin a few tense and, for her, painful hours of labor and delivery. At 1:21 A.M. on November 8th, Kecia Corin Wolfe arrived and immediately gave us a scare as she struggled to breathe.

Forty years later we struggle to contain our emotions of thankfulness for her and pride we feel because of her. It is a bit strange to realize that you have a child who now has a four in front of her age, even stranger than that moment Carol and I realized we could order off the Senior Menu at the restaurant.

Kecia followed the trend of her mom and also gave birth to three kids. Besides that, she “mothers” and instructs a classroom of third-graders each year, sees their potential, applauds their efforts, and deals with the nonconformists. She has always been a self-motivator, striving to reach that challenging bar that seems ominous.

But more than her grit and punk, Kecia’s character is what brings tears to our eyes and smiles to our hearts. She is a woman of integrity, deeply-committed to her family, dependable for her friends. She has a soft spot for the struggling, shows an urgency in her praying for the afflicted, and strives to be available to listen to the hurting.

In my opinion, her patience is numbing. She goes to great lengths to help her students grow in their learning and also their maturity. Sometimes, however, she has to contend with parents who stepped out of line when common sense was being handed out. She sees down the road and what is best for the student, striving to hold her ground when she can see the ripple effects of bad student decisions on the distant horizon.

She is a person of faith, understanding that there is a strength that is not her own but available to her, an Encourager that walks closely beside her while, at the same time, dwelling within her. She knows Jesus in a very personal way and models Christlikeness for her kids.

As Carol and I look back over the years, we can see how God has shaped her into who she is. We can remember heartaches that wounded her and yet caused her to be sensitive to the stumbles of others. We remember the few times her friends failed her and can see how it has caused her to latch on to the principle of authentic friendship. We remember her successes and see how they instilled in her the excitement of applauding the successes of others.

She has lived a life well for the past forty years and, we pray, as she celebrates this milestone that she will see the coming years as being a continuation of the impact she is having on those around us. Happy birthday, Oldest Child!