TBT: The VW Clan

Vander Well Family Picnic

Speaking of Dutch heritage, for Throwback Thursday let me show you this rare gem of the clan hanging with their homeys on the farm in northwest Iowa circa 1938. The white-haired gentleman under the tree is, I believe, Walter Vander Well Sr. born Wouter van der Wel in Piershil near Rotterdam in the Netherlands. He came to the states as a young man by himself. The gentleman just to the right with the stylin’ white shoes and the baby on his lap is my grandfather, Herman Vander Well. The baby is my father, Dean. The other kid standing on the right of the photograph is my Uncle Bud.

My grandpa always had a penchant for ice cream and would often have a bowl before bed. I have to imagine that the fact that they’re all eating ice cream cones in this picture means they’d just made it for the occasion.

Hangin’ with the Homeys

“But now, our God, what can we say after this? For we have forsaken the commands you gave through your servants the prophets when you said: ‘The land you are entering to possess is a land polluted by the corruption of its peoples. By their detestable practices they have filled it with their impurity from one end to the other. Therefore, do not give your daughters in marriage to their sons or take their daughters for your sons. Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them at any time, that you may be strong and eat the good things of the land and leave it to your children as an everlasting inheritance.’”
Ezra 9:10-12 (NIV)

I grew up in a great neighborhood on the northwest side of Des Moines. The neighborhood was packed full of young families, not only on our block but on the surrounding streets. There were a lot of kids running around the area, but you tended to hang with your homeys on the street you lived. You’d stick close to the kids on your own block. They were the nearest to you, you knew them well, and more importantly your parents knew their parents.

On occasion, kids from another street would migrate over to play and hang out. I can remember the rare occasion when my mom would tell me that certain kids were “bad news” and she didn’t want me hanging out with them. In fact, I was to steer clear of that kid altogether. Looking back, I know exactly why mom gave me the order and it was a wise thing to do. Some of those kids were, in fact, bad news.

In the melting pot of modern America, reading a chapter like today’s regarding the strict commands the Hebrews had not to intermarry with neighboring peoples can feel strange and prejudiced. “Pureblood” wasn’t an idea J.K. Rowling dreamed up for the Harry Potter series. The truth of the matter is that history is full of examples of peoples and socio-economic groups desperately trying to remain homogeneous; Sometimes rabidly so.

Ancient Egyptian royalty, who believed themselves divine, would sometimes only marry their own immediate family members to keep the bloodline pure. European royalty, who would only marry their children to other royals, became so intertwined that to this day the royal families of Europe are all related to one another. Living in a small Iowa town settled by a handful of Dutch families, I experience the same thing at any community social event as people constantly play a game we call “Dutch Bingo” discovering how community members are related to one another (and, they usually are).

I found it interesting, however, that as I read today’s chapter Ezra pointed to the motivation God had for telling them not to intermarry. Just like my mother back in the ‘hood, Father God knew that some of these other tribes were bad news. In many cases, the area religions were glorified excuses for sexual indulgence and got into some really nasty stuff including child sacrifice. The command not to intermarry was not some elitist attempt to keep bloodlines pure but about cultural and spiritual self-protection.

This morning I am once again reminded that reading ancient sections of the Great Story is often difficult in light of the immense changes of culture and civilization over time. As an adult, my parents would never tell me who I can and can’t hang out with, but as a child they knew that hanging with the homeys from our block was a wise thing and that I needed help in discerning that some kids were bad news. So it is that I believe God’s relationship with humanity changes as civilization matures and as the relationship itself has changed between God and humanity through the person and work of Jesus.

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featured photo: adwriter via Flickr

A Change of Plans

On “Remember When Wednesdays” I look back at a post from yesteryear and re-blog one for newer readers. This past week Wendy and I have been  watching Taylor apply for jobs and assisting as we may. It’s an exciting time as she ends one stretch of her journey and begins another.

I originally posted the following in August 2008. It was actually a repost from Taylor’s blog when she was at another crossroad in her life journey, and things took an unexpected turn. Come to think of it, life has taken a number of unexpected turns since then. C’est la vie.

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Dear friends, family, associates, and fans of Jesus,

There comes a time in life when high school seniors must choose the next step in life and, as many of you know, my choice was to attend the University of Iowa this fall. I was registered for classes, rooming with my best friend, and buying laundry detergent for the first time; I had everything ready to roll. After returning home from my mission trip to Romania (thank you everyone for all your prayers and support) my parents heard from my youth pastors that they had been praying, and wanted me to go to the Desperation Conference in Colorado Springs. So I headed out on the glorious twelve-hour bus drive.  It’s really quite funny how just when you think you have life planned out, God shows up and says, “Just kidding!” and messes everything up (but I guess it’s in a good way).  While at the conference, I had the chance to hear someone talk about YWAM (Youth With A Mission) Discipleship Training School, and immediately I felt God tugging at my heart to be a part of this team. After many restless nights, visiting Iowa City again, and lots of prayer, God made it very clear that this is what He wants me to do. God sometimes asks us to do things that require making uncomfortable adjustments, and for me, this is one of them. However, at the same time, I’m excited to watch my faith soar and let Him use me on the mission field once again.

Now, If You’ll Excuse Me…

So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayerEzra 8:23 (NIV)

Before setting out on the long journey from Babylon back to Jerusalem, Ezra had the people fast, pray and commit themselves and their journey to God.

Today, I come out of my quiet time without great insight. Rather, I am struck by a simple reminder to begin my journey, each day’s journey into life, by taking time to petition God.

Now, if you’ll excuse me…

Top Five Things I Love About the Twin Cities

I’m headed to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul today. I’ve been going to the Twin Cities for many years and have had many clients there over the years. Wendy and I try to make a habit of spending at least one or two weekends a year enjoying all that the area has to offer.

Here are the Top Five things I love about the Twin Cities:

  1. Cool summers. Yes, the winter can be brutal, but the other three seasons of the year are absolutely spectacular. I love that when it’s sweltering back home I can feel crisp, cool air in the Minnesota mornings.
  2. Vikings! As a life-long Vikings fan I love going to see my favorite Purple People Eaters play. And, even when I’m not going to a game I get Vikings chatter on the local sports stations.
  3. The Guthrie Theater. The best regional theater in the midwest with three amazing stages, world-class productions, and a facility that truly lets you experience what an evening of theatre should be.
  4. The Minneapolis Children’s Theatre. Trust me, it’s not just for children. I have never attended a play at MCT that didn’t leave me inspired, entertained, impressed, and wanting more.
  5. Al’s Breakfast. (pictured) The hole-in-the-wall diner in Dinky town has been a family favorite for many years. It can’t adequately be described. It just has to be experienced.

The Significance of One Word

For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.
Ezra 7:10 (NIV)

One of the things I’ve learned in the process of writing scripts is that words are not chosen idly. When writing what a character says, the writer is trying to capture and communicate that character’s voice. With an eye to what the story is trying to communicate as a whole, the author often chooses a word very carefully for a foreshadowing or subtle thematic effect. Actors, myself included, are notorious for playing fast and loose with the script (e.g. “I know it’s not word perfect, but I got the gist of it!“). Writing has made me a better actor as it’s made me pay more attention to the script and to be more honoring of the words the playwright crafted.

So it is that over the years I’ve increasingly found that when I’m reading God’s Message in the morning I experience a word jumping off the page at me. I try to pay careful attention when this happens because it generally leads me down important paths of thought and meditation. This morning it was the word devoted that jumped off the page at me.

Devotion is not just about duty or obedience. Devotion carries with it a component of the heart. There is a yearning and desire that comes with devotion. I thought what a great legacy Ezra left behind to be known as a person who devoted himself to studying, living, and teaching the earliest chapters of God’s Message.

This morning I find myself asking the question, “to what or whom am I devoted?”

Tom is devoted to _________________________.

When others observe my life, if they are asked to fill in the blank, what would they say? Am I devoted to things that matter? Things that make a positive difference in the lives of others? Things that are eternal? Or, am I devoted to silly things that are temporal and of no consequence? To what or whom am I devoted

Two Lives; Two Memories; Two Outcomes

Yesterday morning in worship a friend shared with us about her family’s own difficult journey of late. I have known Deb and her family for a long time. Her brother, Dan, was a high school classmate of mine. We were all in youth group together and, while a teenager, I hung out at their house on  frequent occasions.

Deb shared about her younger brother, Doug, who is in the VA hospital losing his battle with brain cancer. Deb shared that Doug was exposed to some nasty gas on the battlefield while serving in Desert Storm. I have followed Doug’s story from afar as I have followed the family’s Facebook posts for the past few years and have quietly kept them in my prayers.

As Deb shared yesterday, my heart and mind were awash in my own personal memories of Doug. He was just “a little kid” in that seemingly huge age gap when you’re sixteen and have to endure the presence of a ten year old. The bulk of my memories of Doug are of him and his friend, Jon, who were constantly dressed in camouflage and playing army. Doug followed his boyhood passion and grew up to be a good soldier. Now, the lingering consequences of what he encountered and endured on the battlefield are having their undesired, terminal effect.

I find it ironic that last night Wendy and I attended visitation for another soldier; A soldier who came home from World War II and lived a blessedly long life. My memories of this gentleman across the eleven or so years that I knew him were all of a gentle man, advanced in years, continuing to faithfully serve his community.

Two lives of service. Two very different sets of memories. Two very different outcomes.

This morning I’m praying for Doug and his family as they continue to praise God together despite the difficult path they’re walking. I pray for another family who bury their father and praise God for being blessed to have him in their lives for so long. In the midst of my own memories, I find my heart asking the same questions and mulling over the same thoughts as the author of Ecclesiastes.

However many years a man ay live, let him enjoy them all….”

featured photo: elphs_rule via Flickr

Just another wayfarer on life's journey, headed for Home. I'm carrying The Message, and I'm definitely waiting for Guffman.

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