Posted tagged ‘Relationships’

Stories That We Remember

May 30, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                May 30, 2016

                              

Yesterday was an amazing day for Carol and me. The second Air Force Academy cadet that we have been a sponsor family for is graduating this week. Justin Katzovitz went to the same high school that Carol did, Hinsdale Central in Hinsdale, Illinois. Justin is Jewish. His parents were a little apprehensive about having Justin being hosted by an American Baptist pastor and his wife, but Justin said he wanted us. We’ve learned a few things about one another the past four years, like when we took him to Walmart on a Sunday night to buy Hanukkah decorations for a meal that next week. He had been assigned that task of decorating the meal table. And we realized that Hanukkah is not high on the list of products being sold at Walmart. Justin settled for a couple of strings of lights. Yesterday we attended the Jewish Baccalaureate service in the lower level of the Academy chapel. It was a warm and inviting gathering of those of the Academy Jewish community and their guests.

The speaker was a man named Joel Grishaver, a Jewish writer, teacher, and storyteller. Joel must be in his seventies and is afflicted with some form of mobility affliction that requires him to use two canes that are braced around his forearms. He told us a wonderful story about a rabbi who had died, and at a gathering for him people told story after story of how he had affected their lives.

Joel then made the point that stories connect us. Keep telling the stories. Stories draw us together in deep relationships. It was a talk that I have continued to ponder ever since I heard it.

Last night a number of young ladies that I coached in basketball at Liberty High School between 2008-2013 came over to our house for a cook-out. One of them is about to enter graduate school. Another takes her LSAT exam next month. One of them graduated college and is now in that anxious period called “job search process.” Two others are entering their final semester, or year of college. Three are about to begin college, and another will be a second-year Cornhusker.

We ate around our patio table on the back deck, laughed, laughed some more, and we told stories. Stories of past events and things that were said that will always be remembered. The story of Katie Cahn getting her two front teeth knocked out in practice, which wasn’t funny at the time it happened, but was described in detail with laughter last night. The huge mouth guards that Katie Upton and Amanda Dix wore in vivid red and blue colors, and especially wore them after Katie Cahn lost her teeth! The picture of the female Goliath that Alex Rivas had on her cell phone that she was suppose to try to tackle in a women’s rugby game at Colorado University. Kayla Childs’ stories from her incredible trip to Cambodia. Kira Comfort’s stories of breaking bones and learning the game of golf… a non-contact sport! Emily Aldrich’s story of a less than friendly verbal exchange with a Palmer Terror player one game.

We sat and shared stories, and laughed, and exaggerated, and laughed, and then told stories of others who weren’t with us last night at the gathering.

Stories connect us and deepen the depth and strength of the roots of the relationships. By the end of the evening people were shivering with a mixture of chills and chuckles. As Joel Grishaver had told the Jewish cadet graduates that morning about the power of stories, I saw it being experienced last night.

A Friend Who Is Closer Than A Brother

January 24, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         January 24, 2016

    “One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)

Last weekend I was blessed by…friends! One of my best friends, David Volitis, and his wonderful wife, Donna, drove up from San Antonio, Texas. Rich and Casey Blanchette drove in from Goodland, Kansas. Ron McKinney, Roger Mollenkamp, Steve Wamberg, Andy Brooks, Greg Davis, Rick Banier, Tom McBroom, and Mark Miller all made it a point to come alongside me for part of the day.

There were many others from my congregation who celebrated with me, and my clergy colleague friends who I’ve grown close to…many, many friends!

The occasion was my last Sunday at the church I’ve pastored for the past sixteen plus years, and an afternoon reception. I had a long list of people who I invited to come. Some of them had been a part of our congregation and had decided to switch churches. For a pastor that is perhaps the most painful experience, when you care for, invest, walk alongside someone and their family, and then they decide it is time to move on. But I’ve learned…after many sleepless nights…that our friendship has stayed on solid ground.

As the verse in Proverbs says, there are unreliable friends and friends who stick close.

I am extremely blessed to have many friends who stick close.

I used to do something with the youth of our church called the “Trust Fall” or the “Faith Fall.” It was simply having a group stand around one person, who was standing on a chair or ladder a few feet above the ground and having the person fall backwards. He had to trust that his friends had to catch him. They had to be there for him.

A person who is blessed knows he has a group of friends…reliable friends…who will not let him fall, who will be there for him.

My friends in ministry that I’ve known for years, Tom Bayes and Chuck Moore, both called me to congratulate me and to let me know they are with me…even though they’re located in Dayton, Ohio and Charlotte, North Carolina. When I had those times in ministry when it was tough going I would call them. And if one of them was struggling they would call the other two of our triangle. That is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Someone who is a friend simply to get something from you is one refusal away from being an adversary. There are numerous “friendships of convenience.” The question is whether or not this friend will walk through the fire with you. Will they be there with you in the shallow waters, but stay safe when you enter the uncertain waters of the deep?

Some Sunday Carol and I will drive to Woodland, Kansas to attend First Baptist Church where Rich Blanchette pastors…because he is my friend. Some time in the next few months we’ll head down to San Antonio to see Dave and Donna….because they are our friends. Our separation by distance increases the yearning within us to be with them again. This morning I’m worshiping with Mark Miller and his family…because he is my friend.

A friend sticks closer than a brother.

Feeling Blessed

January 10, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                      January 10, 2016

                                         

It’s January 10, nineteen degrees outside, but I’m sitting inside a warm Starbucks sipping my Pike Place.

It’s a day when I’m feeling blessed!

Understand that I’m not feeling blessed because I feel good. My neck and shoulders have been tight and “feeling old” since last night, my nose is as congested as LA morning traffic, and my knees are feeling the effects of officiating a Friday night college game and four 5th grade instructional league games Saturday morning.

In essence, my body says go back to bed with three heating pads.

But I am feeling blessed because of the realization of what really is important and the understanding of what isn’t.

Family is important. This past week I got to hang out with my nine month old granddaughter. You know…read some books, played with a plastic piggy bank that makes music and swine noises, shared some food and bottles…normal stuff! I got to take my wife out for dinner last night, sit across from one another and talk about our days. She had been to a funeral for a seventeen year old, and I had coached fifteen year olds. We sat sharing the pain and the laughter.

Faith is important. I’m not listing it after family because it is less vital. It’s almost one of those things that doesn’t even need to be said, but I’ll say it anyway. Faith is important. Faith that God has this crazy life under control. That he doesn’t need a million Facebook “likes” to proceed with his plan, and be about his ways. I’m blessed because he is faithful regardless of how I’m feeling, and for many of us our faith fluctuates according to how emotionally up or down we are. In recent weeks I’ve had a number of conversations with people who have been on faith journeys for long periods of time. My soul has been blessed by the words and experiences of their faith journeys.

I’m blessed because of the relationships I have with so many people. I know that if I had a need for a listening ear, a heartache to share, or a celebration to toast that there are numerous folk I can dial up and they would be there. I’m blessed because I see that same quality of being present in my wife. The funeral she attended was for a son of a lady she has worked with. The empathy for her friend was obvious. Relationships bless us!

I’m blessed because, simply said, I’m the recipient of so many blessings. So often we fail to consider that.

So I sit in Starbucks #1 (my primary Starbucks hangout place), sipping on my second cup, staring at Pike’s Peak, and understanding the depth of my blessings.

Retiring or Being Reconditioned?

October 16, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                          October 16, 2015

                                               

On December 31 I will retire from full-time ministry. Yesterday I was at a retirement seminar put on by our denomination’s pension plan. So many questions…what if’s…and shall be’s!

I’m getting a lot of questions like “Retiring already?” and “What are you going to do?” I also gets comments and insinuations that pastors have a lifetime calling and, therefore, I can’t retire.

I agree with the lifetime calling aspect. I’m simply retiring as the pastor of a church where I have been for the past sixteen plus years. I’m still a pastor, I just won’t get paid!

Wednesday night I met with a young lady…who is suddenly fifty-five, who was in the youth group I led back in the late seventies. We talked for three hours and I was blessed to hear about her continuing spiritual journey. In many ways…in those three hours…I was her youth pastor again. In some ways I have been her pastor/encourager/mentor for about four decades.

Through social media I’m still a pastor in undefined ways for numerous people who have been a part of my life in some way over the past forty years. I offer encouragement to a woman who was a part of the first youth group I led back in Marseilles, Illinois. She is waging a courageous battle against cancer.

This past summer I invited young ladies I had coached in basketball at Liberty High School over a five year span to come over a Sunday night cook-out. The igniting fuse for that event was the death of a couple of months before that of a young lady I had coached, and who was their teammate. Even though I am “Coach Wolfe” to these young ladies I was a little bit their pastor that night…as we grieved…as we laughed…as we celebrated friendships and shared experiences.

I could go on and on, but my point is that retiring as the pastor of a church doesn’t mean that I am retiring from being a pastor. There is a huge difference. It means that I won’t be on a schedule to “to receive a word from the Lord” each week for the next Sunday’s sermon, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t receive a word from the Lord.

It means that I no longer will be pushed to get over to see one of the seniors who is in poor health, but it does mean that I will go see a senior friend who is in poor health because I love him dearly.

It means I won’t feel the urgency to spend time in the Word, but it does mean that I will spend time in the Word because I have a desire to be enriched and spiritual nourished.

It means that I won’t have to write a sermon each week, but I’ll not stop writing. Perhaps…cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye…perhaps I’ll be able to have a greater impact through written words more than spoken words. The power of a “shared word” can have a ripple effect.

So I’m moving out of a role that has certain job description responsibilities and into a similar role that will become clearer as I travel on the road. I’m like my old softball glove that I’ve had since 1979. Carol gave it to me as a birthday present that year…even before we were married! I used that glove again this past summer as a part of our church softball team. It still catches, but has a couple of broken strings and is looking…”weathered!” It still catches, if the softball hits in certain spots, but just needs a little reconditioning to be used in more effective ways.

That’s me! I’m like an ole’ softball glove with a couple of broken strings just in need of some reconditioning!

Driving Miss Lizi

September 8, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                  September 8, 2012

 

Several years ago there was a movie entitled Driving Miss Daisy about an elderly Jewish lady and her black chauffeur in the South, starring Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman. It was based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Alfred Uhry.

I lived a variation of that film the past two days. It was called Driving Miss Lizi, and it was a story about a dad and his youngest daughter driving to Albuquerque and back for his daughter’s job interview and looking for an apartment.

Unlike the original Driving Miss Daisy play, this one probably won’t win any awards or be featured in the previews of upcoming movies, but it will be remembered by at least one of the main characters- me!

It included the basic details: quick bite at Arby’s in Raton, New Mexico (2 Beef and Cheddars for $5!); gas up in Bernadillo, New Mexico (I drive a hybrid! I can go a long way! My car and hold it longer than my bladder!); stay at a Senior Citizen hotel in Albuquerque (I swear there was a convention going on!); Lizi complaining about snoring; finding a Starbucks.

But what I’ll remember about the journey was the conversations, the seeking of my input about apartment possibilities, the laughter, the singing or humming along to the music on XM radio.

I’ll remember the glimpses of her mom that came out- the fears and worries, how she drives, her grace.

Sharing a journey with your child is a precious time. You wouldn’t necessarily think of driving to Albuquerque and back in a 26 hour window as precious, but it was.

Sometimes we allow our lives to get in the way with our relationships.

Too often sharing in the moment becomes secondary to the moment. For instance, how many NFL fans will become oblivious to the world and everyone else this Sunday as they sit in front of the TV? Playing video games becomes more important than who it is you are playing with. Getting the yard raked becomes more important than teaching a six year old daughter how to rake. Writing a sermon becomes more important than the people it will be preached to.

I’ve been reading through the Gospels in the past two weeks. Whereas the disciples of Jesus were usually task-oriented, Jesus had a nice mix of taking care of Kingdom work and caring for Kingdom people. He seemed to always have time for a conversation, a discussion, a walk.

I recognize that I am more like the disciples than Jesus. This evening I will probably mow the lawn because… The urgency of it will somehow center itself in my mind as the day goes on. I am task-oriented in a profession that requires work to get done, but also people to be cared for. Finding the balance is often like finding the accurate point on the weigh scale that is the balance point.

It occurs to me that driving Miss Lizi became an exceptional time because we were together in a car mostly on cruise control. Airport terminals are much more stressful…unless you fly into Huntington, West Virginia, complete with white rocking chairs.

We were in a shared, uninterrupted space. In fact, perhaps the most meaningful times I’ve had with family and friends this summer have involved driving: Going with Carol and Lizi to Telluride; driving with Carol to Vail; and driving on-road and off with the group of young guys I lead to a remote camping spot so off the beaten path that even wild animals can’t find it.

In another month or so I’ll make another trip with Lizi and Carol to the same city in New Mexico. This time, however, Carol and I will return without her.

There will be tears…and Carol won’t let me stop at Long John Silver’s!

If Jesus Were To Be On Undercover Boss

April 19, 2012

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                      April 19, 2012

 

The King will reply. ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40)

 

A current show on TV that is pretty interesting is Undercover Boss. The plot revolves around a company CEO, or similar, going into one of the company’s business locations as a “bottom rung” employee and getting a new perspective on how things get done, the attitudes of the employees, how customers get treated, and the frustrations of the lowest level positions.

I was at a Long John Silver’s restaurant last night in Huntington, West Virginia, and I left there muttering to myself “I wish an Undercover Boss would visit this establishment!” After standing in front of the disinterested employee for a good minute, and there was no one else in line before me or after me, she then acknowledged my presence with a pseudo-interested “How are you today?” Having just read Lencioni’s The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, I wanted to ask her “What is the purpose of your job?”…but I didn’t!

As I left the restaurant and headed to CVS for some Pepcid, I thought of Jesus! After all, eating a sampler platter at LJS probably brought me a few steps closer to meeting Jesus…for eternity! (I wonder if they have Friday Night Fish Fries in heaven!)

I thought about Jesus doing an episode of Undercover Boss in one of his churches. What would that look like? I’m imagining conversations. Our church is small enough that any visitor stands out, but also there has developed a deeper interest in recognizing one another. That is, if you are in attendance at one of our worship services everyone gets greeted. In fact, restoring order after the time of greeting is like herding cats. So, I’m pretty confident that Jesus would be inundated with greetings and handshakes.

But Jesus, being the One who knows the truth, the way, and the life…since he is…would also, I’m sure, discover the dirty little secrets that are a part of every congregation. I don’t think he’d ask much about programming and curriculum, or even about the songs that were sung or the organ that wasn’t used. I think he’d focus on the church’s relational life- how the church communicates the love of Christ to one another, how the church “cross-generations” itself in conversations, how much talking it has about “God things” and “Christ-learnings.”

How does the Body find out that Betty is in the hospital?”

How does the church specifically pray for Jim’s job situation?”

How does the Jones family sense the church’s concern for their eleven year old son who was just discovered to be diabetic?”

How does the Body keep talking about their “new life” experiences?”

And I think “undercover Jesus” would focus on how the faith experience is meshing with life. In other words, his discoveries would be made just as much outside the walls of the church building as in it. Dare I say, even more of the “aired episode” would be in the out-and-aboutness of “the church”!

I could see Jesus “shadowing” the fourth grade teacher into her classroom.

Why do you bring extra snacks with you to school?”

I’ve got a few students who very seldom are able to bring a snack with them. They know that there will be something for them if they have nothing. “Nothing” is more their norm, and it’s because that’s how it is with their family’s situation.”

Jesus Undercover would reveal the connection and disconnections between faith and life. Lived-out faith, if you will!

Finally, I think Jesus would focus on “hope.” How does his church give signs of hope and words of hope to the community? How does hope become a part of the proclamation of the Gospel? How much does the church buy into the message?

The young woman at Long John Silver’s had not bought into it. She was getting some things out of it- a pay check and an attitude of indifference- but if the deep fryer at LJS malfunctioned and the restaurant burned down today her response might more likely be “Thank God! A free night!”

Of course, in regards to the faith community and our faith, the Word tells us that our love for Jesus is lived out in how we love one another. The living out of our faith is intimately connected with how we treat one another.

For the record, don’t get the fried shrimp at LJS. I think they put in an order for the smallest possible shrimp available! Why do they always look so much bigger on the menu board?