For Throwback Thursday I’m going all the way back to 1980. Much of my love of photography took root while I in the Photography Club at Meredith Junior High School in Des Moines led by my guidance counselor, Mr. Stearns. Several years ago Mr. Stearns, who happened to go to the same church as my folks, was going through a bunch of old photos and happened upon these photos and gave them to my parents to pass on to me.
We were experimenting with “bulb photography” in these photos which were taken in the school’s dark room. That light spot in between my hands in the top photo is the flame from a lighter. The white lines around me in the second photo was made using a pen light. Basically, with bulb photography you get in a pitch dark place and open the shutter of the camera and keep it open. Then you use a pen light, flame or some other light source which is imposed on the negative. You set of the camera’s flash to impose the rest of the image in the scene.
I used the same technique with a young Taylor in the basement one morning. In the shot below, I told Taylor to put out her arms and hold still in the pitch black basement. I opened the shutter using the “bulb” feature on my camera and then moved behind Taylor and used a pen light to outline her and wrote her name backwards in the air. I shut of the pen light, made my way in the darkness back behind the camera, set off the flash, and closed the shutter.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior— from violent people you save me. 2 Samuel 22:2b-3 (NIV)
Anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time knows that I’m a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. If you pick up a copy of the final book of his Lord of the Rings trilogy and quickly page through it, you’ll find something rather interesting. There are hundreds of pages of supporting documentation and appendices at the end. These aren’t necessary to the main storyline, but provide those who want to explore the world of Middle Earth with a ton of extra information. For example, in the Lord of the Rings films there is a romantic storyline between Aragorn and Arwen that is only hinted at in Tolkien’s narrative. The story of Aragorn and Arwen is actually found tucked into the appendices at the end.
The final few chapters of 2 Samuel are similar in nature to the appendices at the end of Tolkien’s trilogy. David’s storyline starts in 1 Samuel, continues in 2 Samuel and basically ends with the restoration of the kingdom after Absalom’s rebellion. For the next few chapters we are given some supporting documentation including, in today’s chapter, a copy of the lyrics to one of David’s many songs.
As I read David’s song lyrics I wondered why this one was chosen for the appendix to David’s story. I asked myself in what ways this song is a good summation of David’s life and experience. One of the things I noticed about it was the way David bookended the song with the metaphor of God as rock, fortress, stronghold, and refuge. So much of David’s life journey hinges on those many years living in the caves in the wilderness of southern Israel and, in particular, in the cavernous fortress known as the Cave of Adullam. For David, the word picture of God as rock, fortress, stronghold, and refuge is very personal to his own journey and experience.
But what about me? I appreciate David’s word picture, but rocks, caves, fortresses and strongholds have not been party of my personal journey living in Iowa. If I were writing a song and wanted to paint a word picture of God that is personal to my own journey how would I fill in the blank at the end of the lyric “God is my __________” ?
That’s what I’m pondering today. Check back with me in a day or two and I’ll tell you what I came up with. (Feel free to think of your own and share it with me, btw)
Once again there was a battle between the Philistines and Israel. David went down with his men to fight against the Philistines, and he became exhausted. 2 Samuel 21:15 (NIV)
I had my annual physical earlier this month. My doctor has been my family’s physician since I was about 10 years old and Doc was a young man fresh out of medical school. The first time I saw him was when a large sliver from my the wooden skateboard, which I had received for my birthday, lodged deep in my thigh and required a little surgical extrication and a lecture about being careful with my toys. That was almost 40 years ago. Now he’s lecturing me about fiber, cholesterol and prostate health.
One of the things I love about Doc is his blunt and honest way of giving it to you straight. He doesn’t mince words, though he may add a little colorful verbiage. Once when were discussing a minor procedure I needed done he simply said. “Get ready. It’s gonna hurt like hell.” It did. Two years ago I wrenched my knee in a waterskiing accident at the lake. He stormed into the examining room after reading my chart. His first words were an exclamation spoken so loud the the people the waiting room had to have heard it: “WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?! WATERSKIING?! AT YOUR AGE?!”
Thanks, Doc. Nice to see you, too.
He was half-joking with me, but only half. The truth is, every season of the journey comes with its own threats and opportunities. I can’t do some of the things I could do physically ten years ago. At the same time, experience and maturity afford me the opportunity to do some things better than I ever have before. C’est la vie. I might as well embrace it because I can’t change it.
One of the things I appreciate about the story of David is that we get to follow his story from a young boy to an old man. Unlike many biblical stories in which a life span can be reduced to a sentence or two, we have two entire books and part of a third that are dedicated to his biography. We started with the young shepherd boy slaying Goliath with his sling. In today’s chapter, David discovers that he can’t wield the sword like he once could. His men, speaking like predecessors of my family doctor, gave King David their own “WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?!” lecture. He’d reached that age. It was time for him to hang up his sword.
A few weeks ago I wrote a post about the threat of early retirement. On the surface it may seem contradictory with today’s post about about not trying to overdo things once you reach a certain age. As with so many things in this life journey, truth is found at the point of tension between the two extremes. I’m discovering that wisdom lies in channeling your available resources in the most constructive, efficient and effective ways. Where you best channel them changes at different waypoints on your life journey.
For me, summer is always the season between Memorial Day and Labor Day. At the lake, the two three-day weekends are the bookends of the busy season. This past winter was brutally long, cold, and snowy. I have been really looking forward to Memorial Day weekend this year and, with it, the unofficial start of summer.
It was a busy weekend for the Vander Wells. Saturday was Suzanna’s high school graduation open house. Wendy was in high gear last week baking and making preparations. I spent a lot of time at the end of the week getting the yard and patio cleaned up and ready for the throng of guests. It was a gorgeous day on Saturday. Mom and Dad Hall came down from Boone to help with the festivities. Mom and Dad Vander Well also came down from Des Moines along with Taylor. We also had sister-in-law Bonnie and the kids make the long trek from Arizona to celebrate Suzanna. Suzanna was, indeed, celebrated. The last of the seven Hall kids to finish high school and head off on life’s road.
By the time Wendy and I got things picked up and cleaned up it was about 9:30 Saturday evening and we passed out on the couch. The plans was to head to the lake on Sunday to meet the VLs who had headed down to the lake on Friday evening. Wendy and I went to church and took the morning and early afternoon to get things packed. We finally headed out mid-afternoon and arrived at the lake in the early evening hours. The wonderful VLs had the lawn mowed, the house prepped, wine poured, and a steak dinner ready for us! Talk about spoiled! 🙂 After getting the kiddos to bed, the adults sat and talked late into the night.
Memorial Day morning was spent with coffee and conversation on the deck, playing with the kids, and taking a little walk. Wendy and I headed into town mid-day to run some errands and catch a matinee of the new X-Men movie (it’s good, btw). By the time we returned it was supper time and the VL crew had vacated the premises to head to their time share down on Table Rock Lake. Wendy and I grilled some salmon and concluded Memorial Day on the couch in front of the final few episodes of the second season of Homeland.
We’re working remotely from the lake this week and looking forward to having the Roose’s here with us next weekend!
One troublemaker is all it takes to bring ruin on an entire group. I have experienced this on teams, in a cast/production, in churches, in civic organizations and in business. Years ago I witnessed a business suffer from the schemes of a troublemaker who happened to be the son of the owner. The father refused to discipline or deal with his son while the son connived to gain more and more power within the company. Eventually the father sold the business to his friend. When the transaction was completed and the new owner was in place, the former owner advised his friend to fire the son. The new owner thought to himself, “Even though he told me to fire his son, my friend will surely hold it against me if I actually do it.” So the new owner refused to deal with the troublemaker for many years and the son continued to be a source of contention and strife within the organization.
I thought about that business this morning as I read the chapter. Like the father in my example, David refused to acknowledge and deal with his troublemaker son, Absalom, until it was almost too late. Still stinging from Absalom’s coup d’etat, David appears to have learned his lesson. He moves swiftly to deal with the troublemaker, Sheba.
When Sheba flees to hide in the town of Abel Beth Maakah, David’s army surrounds the town and lays siege to it. A wise woman in the town arranges for a parlay with the general, Joab, and learns that the entire village is being threatened with destruction because of one troublemaker, Sheba. The wise woman quickly surmises that it would be better for the whole city to expel the trouble maker than face possible ruin. Sheba’s head is cut off and hurled over the wall to Joab and the army and the threat is eliminated.
The further I get in life’s journey the more intolerant I have become of troublemakers and crazymakers. I have discovered that there is a difference between a reasonable person with whom I am having conflict and a trouble maker who cannot be reasoned with. Wisdom an discernment are required, but once it is clear that I am dealing with a troublemaker or crazy maker, I have found that acting quickly to cut that person off is in my best interest and the best interest of the group.
Then Joab went into the house to the king and said, “Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines.You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead.Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come on you from your youth till now.” 2 Samuel 19:5-7 (NIV)
One of the most fascinating aspects of my day job is the opportunity I have to work with many different companies and to interact with people at diverse levels of the organization from the front-line to the executive suite. Long ago I realized that the culture of a company is a trickle-down affair that begins with the man or woman at the very top. I remember one client whose CEO ran the company by fear and intimidation. No one would stand up to him, even when he is clearly mistaken or making a wrong move, for fear of losing their proverbial heads in a board meeting (and, perhaps, their jobs). The result was a highly dysfunctional organization which mirrored the CEO. The entire corporate culture was one of intimidation, fear, and c.y.a. which permeated virtually every level of the operation.
One of the things I’ve observed about David as we’ve been reading his story the past few months is the fact that David had a select group of men in his life who could get in his face and call him to account even if they had to be careful about how they did it. In today’s chapter, David’s general and right-hand man Joab confronts David about the grave danger he’s putting himself in by allowing his grief for Absalom overshadow his duty as king. The kingdom was in a precarious political situation and David was close to losing it all. Joab lost no time in getting in David’s face and speaking the truth to him. To his credit, David listened to his long-time trusted general and advisor.
I have a handful of people in my life, people with whom I have intentionally surrounded myself, who have carte blanche to get in my face whenever necessary. These are people with whom I talk about and share life with on a regular basis. We talk about business, church, family, friendships, finances, and relationships. If they think I’m screwing something up, then they have permission to question me or call me out, and they would expect the same from me.
This journey through life can be a long hike. The first rule any child learns about hiking in the wilderness is “buddy up.” To go it alone is to put yourself in danger. Ironically, our greatest danger often resides within ourselves. Without faithful companions who can catch it and call us out, we may not realize it until it’s too late.
Today, I’m thankful for my faithful companions on this life journey.
The Vermeer Mill is about three block from our house, and during Pella’s annual Tulip Time it is a huge attraction. I’ve taken a lot of pictures of the mill over the years. This year Wendy and I were only in town for the final evening of Tulip Time and a storm had rolled through in the afternoon. I was standing in line to get a plate of poffertjes from one of the stands just below the mill and I snapped this picture with the storm clouds above. A little digital enhancement brought out a dramatic effect which I liked.
The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”2 Samuel 18:33 (NIV)
A few years ago I ran into some old friends of the family whom I had not seen since I was a teenager. When the gentleman looked at me he exclaimed, “My goodness, there’s no mistaking who you are. You look just like your old man!” As I get older, the more comments I get about looking like my father.
“Chip off the ol’ block,” they say of children who become like their parents. My brother and I have even joked about it. “I may have the Vander Well nose,” he said to me this past year, “but at least I didn’t get the receding hairline and the bad hearing.” I think he feels he got the better end of the deal.
It is interesting the ways we are similar and dissimilar from our parents. This morning I found it interesting to think about, not at the similarities, but at the contrast between David and his rebellious, prodigal son Absalom:
As a young man David was the anointed king, but refused to take the life of Saul or take the throne by force. He waited and suffered for years to let God’s plan unfold. Absalom schemed and plotted to take the throne and kingdom away from his father in a coup d’etat.
David was a warrior with blood on his hands, but he also stayed opportunities to kill his enemies, and he even ordered his generals to afford Absalom the respect and gentleness his son, a prince. Absalom, on the other hand, was more indiscriminate. He killed his own brother out of revenge and arguably would not have afforded his old man the same courtesy his father sought to afford him.
David made his share of mistakes, but he also acknowledged his failures when confronted with them. While not perfect, David’s self-awareness led to humility and he was constantly aware that even the king was subject to a higher authority. Throughout the story, Absalom’s actions appear to have been motivated out of anger, pride, and hatred. His actions were a pursuit of vengeance and ultimately, the pursuit of personal gain.
I was struck this morning as I pictured David mourning for the son who had caused him and his kingdom so much injury. I imagined what Absalom would have done had he been successful at stealing the throne and confronting his father. I can’t picture Absalom being as gracious and forgiving.
As a parent I am fully aware of the ways our daughters have inherited my DNA, and how they’ve been affected by my words and actions both positively and negatively. I believe David was aware of this, as well. David understood that the seed of Absalom’s rebellion took root in the wake of David’s own moral and relational failures. It did not absolve Absalom of his poor choices, but it afforded David the ability, much like the father in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, to be gracious in his attitude toward his son.
This morning I am thinking about motivations, character, family, and choices. We don’t get to choose our family. We must all play the hand that we’re dealt. As I’ve progressed in my own life journey I’ve discovered that there is a fine line between acknowledging and understanding the ways our parents and family system affected us and using that knowledge as an excuse for our own poor choices. I think David and Absalom, father and son, lived on opposite sides of that line.
But Absalom said, “Summon also Hushai the Arkite, so we can hear what he has to say as well.”2 Samuel 17:5 (NIV)
It is said that one of the aspects of great stories are their timelessness. When I was in college studying theatre there were entire sections of study devoted to Greek tragedies like Antigone and Oedipus Rex and, of course, the complete works of William Shakespeare. It was the late 20th century and in many classes I spent more time studying plays that were hundreds and thousands of years old than contemporary works.
As I read ancient stories like the story of David we’re wading through now, I can’t help but hear echoes of other timeless stories and make connections between them. Power plays for the throne, human failures, and the intrigue of family rivalries are the stuff of which classic stories are made. Today as I was reading the chapter, I thought of The Godfather films and the saga of the Corleone family, which is a timeless classic in its own right. As they led their mafia family, Vito and Michael Corleone always tried to have a guy, loyal to the family, on the inside of a rival family or faction. Luca Brasi dies while trying to convince the Tataglias that he wants to betray Don Corleone. Michael sends his brother Fredo to Las Vegas which not only serves to get Fredo out of his sight but also plants his own brother inside of an operation he doesn’t trust.
A few days ago we read that the last thing that King David did before fleeing the palace was to plant his man, Hushai, inside of Absalom’s inner circle. It proved to be a cunning move. Absalom took the bait hook, line and sinker. In today’s chapter, David’s scheme comes to fruition and Hushai sets the hook which will be the undoing of Absalom. Absalom was a cunning young man and had planned his moves against his brothers and father well. In the end, however, he underestimated all the wisdom and experience his father had gathered while running for his life in enemy territory for many years. In addition, Absalom’s self-seeking motivation was about revenge, anger, hatred, and personal power. The repentant David may have been facing the tragic consequences of his own failings, but his heart was still humble before God.
In The Godfather III, Michael Corleone’s son confronts his father about the “bad memories” he has of his family and childhood. “Every family has bad memories,” Michael replies. And, so they do. Another appeal of great stories are the connections we make to our own lives and experiences. We are all part of the human experience. Even in my own family there are true tales of tragedy and intrigue. Times change, but people are people and our common human flaws source similar tales in our own lives and families. We each play our part in the story. The cool thing is that we get to choose our character and influence the story with our daily choices of word, relationships, and deeds.
How will I choose to influence my story, and the story of my family, today?
Note: I wrote this post this past Friday and then realized that it was probably what I should share at her Celebration of Life service which was held last night. I refrained from publishing it until after I read it there.
My friend, Dottie, died this week. After fighting and surviving two battles with cancer, her heart failed her unexpectedly. I find that ironic because, in my experience, Dottie’s heart never failed anyone who knew her.
I first met Dottie in 2004 when I was cast as the gruff and somewhat foul-mouthed Captain Brackett in the musical South Pacific. I met Dottie as she worked in the Costume Shop helping get me costumed for the show.I cannot claim to have been particularly close friend, but she was a friend, and she was dear to us all. We were both part of the theatre and arts community. Having been president of the local community theatre for the better part of a decade, I worked with Dottie and helped oversee the costume shop that she founded and managed. When she first learned of her struggle with cancer, Dottie came over to our house, sat on our couch and told us; She, Wendy and I cried together. Today, she is absent in body while Wendy and I continue to cry.
The top five things I loved about Dottie:
She did what she loved, and she loved what she did. Dottie loved costuming. It was her passion, and she followed that passion. When our community theatre began a decade ago, Dottie started storing costumes in her attic. Within a few years her attic was overflowing and the community theatre decided to rent space and start a costume shop. Dottie managed and ran the costume shop, pretty much single handedly, for years. She didn’t do it for riches or fame or notoriety. She did it because she loved it and it made her happy. More of us need to follow that example.
She laughed…alot. Perhaps it’s because she was always doing what she loved that she almost always had a smile on her face and was constantly laughing – even through her tears. I loved her laughter and the way she made me laugh.
She threw a mean Christmas party. Many people throw parties. Few people throw them well. Dottie and Mike’s Christmas parties were legend. Wendy and I often could not attend because of conflicts (especially with performance nights), but I will always remember the warmth of her home, the quality of the spread, and the joy of the host.
She was courageous. Dottie feared cancer. After defeating it once, she feared its return. When it did return, she feared the second battle. She defeated it a second time. It is said that courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to do what needs to be done in spite of it. Dottie found her strength in the midst of her fear. I admired her for that.
Love. Anyone who is around the theatrical community for any length of time knows what a dysfunctional lot we can be. It’s no more dysfunctional than any other gathering of flawed human beings, we just have the ability and training to be capably dramatic about it all. Dottie, like all of us, experienced her share of conflicts. I was a witness to a few of them, yet I never witnessed Dottie holding a grudge. I never observed her being unkind, rude or mean. I did see her being forgiving and kind to individuals who had not been particularly kind to her. I witnessed her love for Mike. I watched her selflessly and capably raise her granddaughter. I observed her being a good friend, and I had the privilege to experience a little taste of that myself.
The last time I saw Dottie was as she exited one of the performances of my play Ham Buns and Potato Salad this past month. She was laughing, which was no surprise. One of the lines in the play which Dottie loved most of all was when one character says, “That boy is so dumb he has to get naked to count to 21.” Dottie came up to me and simply said, “Twenty-one” and continued laughing. She then whispered “I can’t believe you wrote that!”
Dottie knew that I was a person of faith. And, while I am a follower of Jesus, I am no prude and will give true and authentic voice to the characters I portray and pen as an actor and playwright, even if the words they say may not necessarily be the words I would choose to come out of my own mouth. Having said that, please know that I do not have to channel Captain Brackett from South Pacific in order to say what I know to be true: Dottie was one helluva dame, and my life is better for having her in it.