Tom Vander Well, meet Tom Vanderwell

Tom Vander Well and Tom Vanderwell

When I started blogging many years ago, I learned to set up Google alerts which would notify me if anyone mentioned my name on the web. Since people regularly spell my name incorrectly, I set up alerts for both “Tom Vander Well” and “Tom Vanderwell.” So it was that I learned of the existence of my name’s doppleganger, Tom Vanderwell, who was blogging on the subject of mortgage banking at the time.

It did not take long for Tom and me to make connection and over the years we’ve chatted online via Facebook, have exchanged e-mails and have even spoken on the phone. So, when I found out Wendy and I were going to be in Tom’s neck of the woods this week I immediately arranged for a face-to-face meeting. It was a lot of fun. While refilling my coffee this morning, a friend of Tom’s stopped to chat with him. I had so much fun walking up to the stranger, sticking out my hand and saying “Hi, I’m Tom Vander Well” to which he hesitated and did a double-take to look at Tom Vanderwell who laughed and said, “No, really, he is Tom Vander Well.”

We’ve not been able to establish a direct family connection. The difference in the spelling of the last name is likely from differences in the way the Dutch “van der Wel” was Americanized to either “Vander Well,” “Vanderwell,” or similar spellings. My great-grandfather came by himself in 1885 and settled in Boyden, Iowa. Tom’s grandfather came to the U.S. with a boatload of family in the early 1900s and settled in Michigan. If we go back far enough we may be able to find some connection, but at the very least we’re connected by both faith and the web.

Tom left the banking industry at the beginning of this year and has been working full time for God’s Littlest Angels orphanage in Haiti.

Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 30

"I chose not to choose life: I chose some...

I call Heaven and Earth to witness against you today: I place before you Life and Death, Blessing and Curse. Choose life so that you and your children will live. Deuteronomy 30:19 (MSG)

Each day I make a myriad of choices. Most days I don’t think much about it because the day is largely spent in mindless, habitual behaviors. But even the habitual behaviors are a choice. Long ago I chose to do this thing or that and then chose to behave that way each day until I did so without much thought.

We have choices. Some choices breathe life into my day, my week, my marriage, my relationships, my work, and my very being. Other choices suck life out of me, my day, my week, my marriage, my relationships, my work, and my very being.

Each day I am faced with choices that lead to life, and choices that lead to death.

I choose…

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Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 29

getting arrested in Knoxville, Tennessee
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…lest some poisonous weed sprout and spread among you, a person who hears the words of the Covenant-oath but exempts himself, thinking, “I’ll live just the way I please, thank you,” and ends up ruining life for everybody. Deuteronomy 29:18 (MSG)

Much of the life-pain any of us experience can be traced back to the type of covenant breaking attitude expressed in this verse from today’s chapter. Moses was dealing specifically with the laws God gave him for the nation of Israel, but in any society the laws and social constructs are a covenant between the people and the community around them. I have both experienced this pain due to the wreckless attitude of others and have heedlessly broken covenant which has created considerable pain to others.

  • “I’ll live the way I please, thank you” breaking covenant with my community by getting drunk and then getting behind the wheel of a car to the endangerment of everyone in my path.
  • “I’ll live the way I please, thank you” breaking covenant with spouse by sleeping with another, thus wreaking havoc in expanding concentric circles of family, friends, community and society.
  • “I’ll live the way I please, thank you” breaking covenant by ending another human life, thus denying the being and the community to benefit from the touch and limitless potential good of that life, permanently diminishing my own soul and respect for life on the whole of the community.
  • “I’ll live the way I please, thank you” by refusing to work and contribute to society when I am perfectly capable of doing so, choosing to drain the society of resources as I drain my own soul of purpose and dignity.
  • “I’ll live the way I please, thank you” breaking covenant by turning a selfish eye away from the needs of others to focus on myself, thus expanding societal problems while reducing the health of my own soul.
  • “I’ll live the way I please, thank you” breaking covenant by cheating on studies, taxes, time cards, and/or responsibilities, thus slowly eroding my own character and breaking covenant with the community as a whole.

Our penchant for breaking covenant, in small ways or large ways, hurts ourselves, our loved ones, and our community. And still, we choose to do so. God made a covenant with human beings who could not, would not keep covenant with Him. Covenant, and our breaking of it, reminds us all of our need for grace and forgiveness – and our need of a saviour who will save us from our own selfish attitudes, words, and actions.

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Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 28

Cannibalism, by Leonhard Kern, 1650
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And you’ll end up cannibalizing your own sons and daughters that God, your God, has given you. When the suffering from the siege gets extreme, you’re going to eat your own babies. The most gentle and caring man among you will turn hard, his eye evil, against his own brother, his cherished wife, and even the rest of his children who are still alive, refusing to share with them a scrap of meat from the cannibal child-stew he is eating. He’s lost everything, even his humanity, in the suffering of the siege that your enemy mounts against your fortified towns. Deuteronomy 28:53-55 (MSG)

Things like cannibalism tend to stand out in today’s culture. Perhaps that’s why this passage stood out in today’s chapter. We can’t fathom an act so inhuman and grotesque. Yet, for the people following Moses, the idea was not foreign. Child sacrifice was common among the religions of the region and the seige warfare described in today’s chapter had become common in Moses time as more and more cities created walls to protect themselves from invaders.

What is very scary to me about today’s chapter is the way it perfectly describes the events witnessed and recorded by Jeremiah both in the book of Jeremiah and in the book of Lamentations, where the prophet records in verse what he witnesses in the seige of Jerusalem by the Babylonians:

“Look at us, God. Think it over. Have you ever treated anyone like this?
   Should women eat their own babies, the very children they raised?”

The very things that Moses warned were the very things that happened, cannibalism and all. Today I am reminded that these chapters I read are not just from any book; They are part of God’s Message and God’s story from the beginning to the end of all that we know. What Moses predicted came to pass in the days of Jeremiah, what Jeremiah predicted came to pass in the person of Jesus, what Jesus predicted….

Lord, have mercy on us. 

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Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 27

Moses and the Levitical priests addressed all Israel: Quiet. Listen obediently, Israel. Deuteronomy 27:9 (MSG)

I came back from a business trip to Grand Island last week with a nasty little head cold. The cold did a number on my energy level and for the past four nights I’ve slept particularly long and hard. The result is that I’ve risen an hour or two (or three) later than normal and that has thrown my routine off significantly. My body is recuperating, but I feel my soul getting out of sorts.

I’m a morning person. I always have been. I drove my parents crazy because I wouldn’t sleep in. For years, I have channeled my early rising nature in positive ways. I normally spend a couple of hours each morning in my home office in uninterrupted quiet. I pray. I read. I write my chapter-a-day post. I listen.

The cacophany of noise around us continues to grow unabated. Television, cell phone, radio, iPods, DVDs, Netflix, YouTube, iTunes, MP3 players, and Blu-Ray discs. We are plugged in, tuned in, surfing, chatting, texting, and tweeting. Not one of these things is a bad thing. I sometimes wonder, however, about the cumulative effect of all the noise around us.

My time of quiet each morning is like a way-station in the journey. It recharges my spiritual batteries as I unplug from the noise and take the time to listen for God’s still, small voice whispering to my soul deep within. When I don’t have that time of quiet in the morning, I begin to notice in the way my spirit gets brittle and edgy during the day.

I believe that we all need regular doses of quiet in our lives. It’s as important, if not more important, today as it was when God demanded it of Moses’ followers thousands of years ago. Quiet doesn’t happen regularly unless I make it happen. Sometimes, like the past few days, my bodies need for recuperative rest takes precedence over my morning quiet time. It’s only reminded me, however, how much I need it.

Shhhhhh. Listen.

Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 26

Laughing couple.
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And today God has reaffirmed that you are dearly held treasure….” Deuteronomy 26:18a (MSG)

When I teach customer service skills to my clients, one of the skills I talk about is the importance of using the customer’s name in your conversation. Names imply relationship, and you want your customers to feel that they are more than just another “customer,” “account,” or “call” you have to deal with that day. They are a person who is known. You communicate that by calling them by name.

The truth of the matter is that as a relationship grows and becomes more intimate we not only use each other’s names but nicknames and pet names emerge that speak to an even deeper level of knowing and being known. The opposite is also true. As a relationship breaks down, people stop using one another’s names and refer to each other with simple pronouns like “they.” Then, derogatory nicknames emerge that communicate our negative perceptions of the person.

In today’s chapter, God tells Israel that they are “dearly held treasure” and it immediately reminded me of my own dearly held treasure: my wife, and my daughters. In fact, “treasure” is a special word between Wendy and me; It has incredible depth of meaning in our relationship. What makes it special I will leave between the two of us, but suffice it to say that when I read that God affirms that His children are “dearly held treasure” I feel something very deeply because of the connotations that “treasure” make with the most intimate human relationship I’ve ever experienced.

Today, I am thankful for dearly held treasure. I am thankful that I can treasure my wife, my children, my family and my friends. I am grateful that God treasures me.

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Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 25

This a picture of one of the survivors of Ande...
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If the guilty one deserves punishment, the judge will have him prostrate himself before him and lashed as many times as his crime deserves, but not more than forty. If you hit him more than forty times, you will degrade him to something less than human. Deuteronomy 25:2-3 (MSG)

In a sleepy cemetery not far from where I live stands a grave marker with the name Andersonville on it. I would imagine that most who pass that way have no idea what the name means. The man memorialized with that marker was imprisoned in an infamous prisoner of war camp where the conditions and treatment were incredibly inhumane. The picture in this post was taken of one of the few who survived encampment at the prison. But this camp was not in Nazi Germany or in the Middle East. It was located in Andersonville Georgia during the American Civil War.

Our culture likes to pride itself in our sense of freedom and justice, and so we should. But names like Andersonville and Abu Ghraib should not be forgotten. They should stand as constant reminders, along with the dictates God gives in today’s chapter, that in trying times – especially times of war – the line between human and inhumane becomes easily blurred.

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Day 24: Things You Want to Say to Five Different People

30 Day Blogging Challenge Day 24: Things you want to say to five different people.

To President Obama: I’m very sorry, but with all due respect – it’s not working.

To Rafael Nadal: Could you please get different underwear or shorts or whatever it is that keeps you picking at your butt between every point. It’s both gross and annoying.

To the person driving the speed limit or slower in the left lane (especially you old people driving Buicks): MOVE OVER TO THE RIGHT LANE! The left lane is designated for PASSING other cars, not camping out and holding up traffic.

To my grandparents: I never knew, nor did I appreciate, how much of an impact you made on my life or how much I would regret conversations that I never took the time to have with you.

To my parents: I know I’ve told you before at different times and in different ways, but I can never tell you enough how grateful I am for your unquenchable love, your unyielding faith and your constant provision of things material, emotional and spiritual. All with which I am blessed stands as testament of your good and precious gifts over the past 45 years.

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Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 24

When a man takes a new wife, he is not to go out with the army or be given any business or work duties. He gets one year off simply to be at home making his wife happy. Deuteronomy 24:5 (MSG)

Having been through a long-suffering marriage that ended divorce and having walked beside friends in their own marital struggles, I’ve found that the issues which plague a marriage are often present at the very beginning of a relationship. I’ve both experienced and heard many others say they could look back and see the problems which eventually grew to choke the relationship surfaced in the honeymoon and quickly spread through the early years of the marriage.

The first steps are critical to the success of the marital journey. The relational roles and patterns which are formed in those initial months very often set the course for the direction the relationship will take and the destination to which it will eventually arrive. This is not to say that couples can never overcome a rocky start to the marriage, but the truth of the matter is that they often do not.

How fascinating that God’s direction, given in ancient days, was for the groom to take a year off of work or war to spend at home with his bride. God makes it clear that time and proximity are crucial ingredients for the success of any relationship, especially that of marriage. Women are complex creatures in which men find eternal mystery. Unlocking that mystery requires our own God given sense focus, strength, and tenacity. If we go AWOL at the beginning of the relationship, it is very likely we will have lost the keys forever in our flight from responsibility.

It is said: “happy wife, happy life.” We men would do well to remember (and by that I mean we need constant reminder) that a woman’s happiness begins with a partner who is present, engaged and attentive. These ingredients do not guarantee the success of the relationship, but without them the odds of failure become a sure bet.

Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 23

My own Work کار شخصی
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When you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want until you’re full, but you may not put any in your bucket or bag. And when you walk through the ripe grain of your neighbor, you may pick the heads of grain, but you may not swing your sickle there. Deuteronomy 23:24-25 (MSG)

Readers of my personal blog may not know that I write a professional blog, as well. I have been blogging about our business in customer satisfaction research and quality assessment in contact centers for several years. The blog is a way of establishing our presence in the marketplace and developing potential clients. The idea is simple. I share a few morsels of wisdom and knowledge for free with the hope that companies may appreciate what they’ve been given, respect the knowledge and experience, and pick up the phone to give us an opportunity when they need the services we provide.

What has been interesting over time is to be faced with those who expect me to give everything away. I gave them an inch of advice and they want me to give them a mile of my experience without charging them for it. I find it highly disrespectful when people refuse to realize that I’ve got skin in the game here. I’m sometimes amazed at the incredulity I face when I tell people I’d be happy to give them a proposal for my time. I don’t mind sharing, but I’ve got to make a living.

What’s been even harder for me over the years is to watch both churches and para-church ministries do the same thing in taking advantage of their own members, followers, and supporters. If  you do something for a living, we’ll be happy to have you give us your services free in the name of the Lord. In fact, we’ll expect it of you. I’m sure it’s not a big deal for you. You’re good at it. It’s what you do for a living, for crying out loud. It shouldn’t take too long and it won’t be hard for you. Come on, give us your time, energy and talent for free (but please don’t expect anything in return – it’s all for God). There’s a tipping point at which gratitude for gifts freely given turns to expectation that takes advantage of others.

I thought it fascinating that God made it very clear in today’s chapter that we are to be careful not to take advantage of others. If they give you a inch, don’t ask them to give you a mile. They may share a grape from their vineyard, but don’t expect them to give you a bucket to take some home. Be careful with your expectations, compensate people for what they give you, and don’t take advantage of the goodness of others.

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