As Wendy and I journeyed back from the lake this past Friday, we had some good conversations about our own life journey. The past 10 days have been a bit of a hiatus for me, as those who follow my blog regularly may have noticed. I worked remotely last week, but the focus for Wendy and me was on getting our summer place cleaned up, supplied, and organized for the season. I was out of my normal routine, and that’s sometimes good for the soul. Getting out of routine can often lead to new perspectives.
The conversations on the ride home centered a lot around where we find ourselves on life’s road and where we see ourselves going. We cannot predict the future, but we can certainly plan our steps. It was good for me to step back, look forward, and get my bearings. I’m getting back into my routine this morning with greater clarity regarding my aim.
In today’s chapter Paul continues to illustrate his point from the previous chapter: though he has a right to certain things, he chooses not to exercise those rights for the good of the whole community of believers. While he had a right to expect the fledgling community of Jesus’ followers to help provide for his material needs as payment for his spiritual leadership, he chose not to exercise that right. Paul had made this decision because he had a clear aim. He did not want issues of finances and material support to be a distraction or obstacle to his spiritual purposes.
This morning I exit a holiday weekend and enter a new week and a new month. I don’t want to slip aimlessly back into routine, but apply the clarity of aim that my hiatus has afforded me.
Wendy and I typically spend a long weekend or two each March or April getting the Lake House cleaned and ready for the busy summer season. With our involvement in Almost, Maine taking precedent in March and April, followed quickly by our responsibilities at Pella’s Tulip Time in early May, we haven’t spent nearly as much time in the Ozarks as we would have liked. This week we made up for lost time.
Last weekend, after Chad and JP had facilitated replacing the decking on our swim dock and gangway, our two faithful friends headed home late Sunday morning. Wendy, meanwhile, made her way to the lake. She stopped in Osage for supplies and then joined me on a gorgeous Sunday evening. We celebrated our reunion by heading to Captain Ron’s for pizza, and to watch the Cubs.
The weather forecast for the week made it clear that Monday was the only day we would get by without rain. After taking care of a few work related responsibilities, we proceeded to make the most of a good day to work on the Playhouse. I mowed and trimmed the lawn, then proceeded to power wash the entire exterior of the house and windows, the entire deck (top and bottom) the lower patio, the sidewalk to the dock, and the entire dock. I also cleaned up the boat and the Waverunner.
Wendy, meanwhile, busied herself giving the interior of the house a more thorough cleaning than it’s perhaps ever had. By the end of the day we were really tired, but we still made a point of jumping in the boat in our grubby clothes for our first boat ride of the summer together.
The rest of the week was, indeed, rainy. We certainly had periods of sun, but every day was punctuated by showers. In many cases, we got some pretty strong thunder showers. At one point we lost power for a couple of hours.
We continued to work remotely each day, but then took the opportunity to continue cleaning and organizing. I cleaned out the store-room and shed. We checked all of the air beds to make sure they still held their air (2 of 3 did). We went through boxes and tubs and did a general purging of things we no longer wanted or needed. We also made our annual seasonal run to Walmart to stock up on supplies for the summer. It felt really good!
With the rain dampening our opportunities to get on the water a lot, we worked on a jigsaw puzzle and listened to the Cubs each afternoon/evening. On Wednesday evening we were surprised with a visit from old friends. Jim and Judy Halvorsen were parents of two wonderful friends from my high school youth group days back in the early 1980s. They happened to be nearby visiting Judy’s mother and made contact with me on Facebook. Wendy and I invited them over for burgers on the grill and we enjoyed a really nice evening of conversation on the deck. It was so good to catch up.
On Thursday morning we treated ourselves to a huge breakfast at ChancesR, a local greasy spoon. That afternoon we had a window of glorious sunshine and made the most of it. We jumped in the boat and enjoyed a leisurely ride to a quiet cove. We anchored and then read in the sun, enjoying the cool breeze and a cold beverage while getting our first sunburn of the season.
We were glad we got out in the sun. Very heavy rain descended late in the afternoon and continued all evening. On Friday morning we picked up, cleaned up and were on the road for home by noon. Our lawn at home had become a jungle in the 10 days I’d been away, and my first duty upon arriving back at VW Manor was to break the mower out. Afterward we cleaned up and headed to Mat and Anne’s for drinks and dessert. Keven McQ joined in the festivities and we enjoyed conversation late into the evening.
Yesterday was a busy day in Des Moines. Wendy made five cheesecake’s for our niece, Emma’s, graduation party. We headed into town about 9:00 a.m. and dropped the cheesecakes off with Lydia and Sam, who would then transport them to the event. Wendy and I then ran (too many, for my liking) errands. By 2:00 we were in Adel at Emma’s party.
It was great to celebrate Emma’s graduation. She’s the last of the nieces and nephews on the Vander Well side to graduate from high school. My folks were at the open house and we got to chat about what it was like to watch all your grandkids graduate. So fun to share with them in that blessing. Taylor joined us later in the party and we got to catch up briefly.
Taylor is headed back to Scotland in a month to go through her own graduation ceremony for her master’s program. She plans to work at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival in August, and is applying for a job there. We’re excited that she has an opportunity to go back to Scotland, perhaps long-term, but not excited about the prospect of not seeing her again for a long time.
Our friends Kev and Beck enjoyed a weekend visit from Becky’s sister, Joy, and Joy’s boyfriend, Eddie. We met them at Emma’s graduation party. While Kev and Beck went on to two other parties, Wendy and I played host to Joy and Eddie back at Kev and Beck’s house. We spent the evening on Kev and Beck’s deck. Kev smoked some ribs for a scrumptious dinner, and we really enjoyed getting to know Joy and Eddie. It was very late by the time Wendy and I made it back to Pella last night.
Today marks the first full day I’ve spent in Pella in almost two weeks. A gorgeous Sunday began on the front porch with a cup of hot coffee watching the “W” flag wafting in the breeze and enjoying the peaceful quiet of Utrecht Laan.
It seems a long time since I’ve posted “the latest.” Tulip Time feels like it was ages ago despite it only being two weeks. After getting through our performances of Almost, Maine and then our Pella Tulip Time duties, Wendy I were ready to get our heads back into some semblance of normal routine. We did have one more appearance to make as the Dominie and Mareah Scholte for a meeting of Pella Corporation executives and board members at the Scholte House.
It was wonderful to have Madison and her boyfriend, Matt, with us at Tulip Time. Matt left for his return trip to Colorado on Sunday and Madison spent Sunday with her mother. On Monday I drove to Des Moines and had lunch with Madison before she was to fly out to her new home in South Carolina. Taylor joined us at Palmer’s Deli with her nannying charge, Joel. We all headed over to Grandpa Dean and Grandma Jeanne’s for a visit before taking Madison to the airport.
I will admit that Wendy and I spent the week after Tulip Time decompressing. There were things at home and at work that required attention, but our evenings were blissfully quieter than they had been in a long time. It’s been an enjoyable time for Wendy and me to reconnect and spend quiet evenings in one another’s company sans the responsibility of doing this or that for Union Street Players or Pella Historical or Third Church or whomever. We even had a date one night, just the two of us. Dinner at Kaldera followed by a movie at Vander Well Pub [sigh]. It’s been wonderful.
Our new lawn is growing like proverbial weeds and I feel like I’m mowing every 2-3 days to keep up. Between the frequent rain we’ve received and my work/travel schedule, I have to “make hay while the sun shines.” I mowed last Sunday. Afterwards I relaxed on the patio with the last of my contraband Cuban cigars that were a gift from a dear friend while enjoying a long phone conversation with Madison.
This past week was hectic work-wise. I have two different training programs that I delivered in three presentations. Then it was off to Minnesota for a long day and a half of call coaching and training. When I returned from “The Land of 10,000 Lakes” on Friday I barely had an hour to unpack, repack and jump in the truck with friends Chad and Justin for a jaunt to the lake.
We are so blessed with friends who have joined us in embracing our little Playhouse as an annual retreat. It was JP who suggested last fall that we have a guys weekend to resurface the swim dock. The platform desperately needed some new treated lumber sans the rusty old nails that have held the current swim dock together since, seemingly, the age of Noah.
The guys and I arrived at the lake late on Friday and woke early on Saturday to begin a very full day of construction. A trip to Menards in Osage Beach was required to get the necessary lumber and then work commenced pulling up the old decking and replacing it with the new. Chad took care of the meals for us over the weekend and earned the worthy nickname “Cookie” as we were capably well-fed. The white chocolate raspberry cheesecake Wendy sent along was frosting on the cake for our menu. Not only was the swim dock resurfaced, but the gangway to the dock received new decking!
The boys were very tired by the time Saturday evening rolled around, but we had been really blessed with a perfect day to “git ‘er done.” It was a gorgeous evening and we enjoyed grilled chicken breasts and rice on the deck as we listened to our beloved Cubbies drop a game to the San Francisco Giants. We started a movie, but everyone was quickly nodding off.
It was another gorgeous morning this a.m. and we enjoyed coffee and rest on the deck as the sun climbed a cloudless sky and the lake presented a mirror-like calm. The guys took off for home late morning and left me to do some pick-up and cleaning around the Playhouse. Wendy drove down and arrived late in the afternoon.
We’re looking forward to a week of working remotely from the lake.
A couple of weeks ago we were blessed to have Madison home for Tulip Time. Taylor’s sudden bout of stomach crud meant that Wendy and I did not get to spend time together with the four of us, but before Madison flew back to South Carolina Taylor joined us at Grandpa and Grandma Vander Well’s apartment and I got to capture this lovely moment with my iPhone.
As our girls have left the next, it seems that these little family gatherings are increasingly rare. Therefore, I find them increasingly precious…priceless really.
Many years ago I ran into a pastor in a coffee shop in Des Moines. He was a charismatic and persuasive teacher and had been on the staff of a large church in the area until he and a small faction of his followers led a coup against the senior pastor and elder board. The church broke asunder.
This young pastor led a small group to form their own church that was predicated on his own brand of arcane, intellectualism that split people into a spiritual version of Dr. Seuss’ Sneetches. If you agreed to his personal list of spiritual criteria then you were part of the small few who “get” the “truth.” In his eyes you then had an acceptable star on your heart and were among the chosen few. If you disagreed with him then you were pitied, ignorant, and his version of the spiritual star on your heart was woefully missing.
I make it my intention to love everyone and treat everyone with deference. So, when he recognized me and offered to sit down for a chat over coffee I invited him to join me. Over the next half hour I listened as my friend gave me the most subtle and insidious dressing down I’ve ever received in my life.
With a smile on his face and in the most gentle, patronizing tone my friend proceeded to inform me of all the ways I did not measure up to deserving his version of the Sneetches spiritual star. My education was woefully inadequate and poorly sourced. My belief system and theology did not include his requisite knowledge and acceptance of various teachings and “isms” that were necessary to elevate me to the minimum state of knowledge that he, and therefore God, clearly required.
I listened quietly as he waxed his own profundity over our cups of dark roast (at least the coffee was good). I said very little, as I’d quickly learned that any thing I said only earned me a new line of insult cloaked in arrogant, spiritual intellectualism. By the time we shook hands and he departed to his booth with his backpack of books, my soul felt coated in thick, sludgy, spiritual slime.
I thought about this experience as I read Paul’s words today. I have no idea where this gentleman is today. His own church seemed to fall apart over a short period of time and he seemed to fall off the map. For all of his own impressive knowledge, his brand of belief appeared to me not to be structured on foundation of love that builds others up, but rather on a foundation of knowledge that separated and diminished all but the few who followed him blindly and, therefore, he deemed acceptable.
This morning I’m getting ready to train and coach some wonderful people on the principles of customer service, principles rooted in the teachings of Jesus (who understood and exemplified humility and servant-heartedness better than anyone). I have a lot of knowledge built on a quarter century of experience in my industry, but my knowledge is nothing if I use it simply to prove to my clients how much I know and how little they know. I will only be successful if I build on a foundation of love and use my knowledge as a tool for building them up to be better at serving others.
“I wish that all of you were [unmarried] as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” 1 Corinthians 7:7 (NIV)
Paul was unmarried, and in his letters to the followers of Jesus in Corinth he expresses his appreciation for being “undivided” in his loyalties. He means, that as an unmarried person he could devote himself fully to the work of God without having to invest time, energy, and resources into a marriage relationship. I understand the common sense in his reasoning. Marriage certainly takes work and a large investment of time and energy.
Over my earthly journey I have observed that we as humans tend to err on the extremes of many earthly issues. I have come to believe that my culture often does a disservice in fostering a pervasive expectation of marriage for all young people. Marriage is a great thing when it is right, but many young people walk into marriage thinking it will solve problems when it actually creates more problems (with greater complexity) than it solves.
The traditional marriage vows of the church state that “marriage should not be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but soberly, deliberately….” but I’ve observed that this is what happens more often than not. If the church wants people to heed that advice, then I think we need to do a much better job of communicating that singleness is a healthy, acceptable, and advisable life choice.
On the other end of the spectrum, it’s clear that some find celibacy and singleness to be a better spiritual choice. While I appreciate much about the Roman Catholic traditions, I have always thought the blanket prescription of celibate priests a silly idea. Just as it is wrong to think that everyone would be better off getting married, it is equally wrong to think that everyone is better off spiritually by staying single. I understand that the Roman church wants their priests to follow Paul’s example and be fully dedicated to their work, but I’m not convinced that celibacy is universally better for serving God.
This past Sunday I delivered the morning message in two services among my local gathering of Jesus followers. While I could have done it without Wendy, I am much better off with her by my side. She takes care of my needs in the morning (all the time, really) so that I can be prepared. She is a sounding board for my thoughts and ideas and helps me refine my message. She is quick and adept at helping me get wired for sound. She is constantly by my side providing relational and emotional support. She runs and gets me water or coffee if I need it. She gives me flawless and on-target critiques between services to help me improve. She is my greatest cheerleader and my strongest prayer supporter. After the service, she helps me debrief. Paul may have been better off serving God without a wife, but I am certain I would not serve God as well were it not for Wendy.
This morning I am thinking of my unmarried friends and family, some of whom struggle constantly with the cultural (or personal) perception that there is something wrong because they are not married. I’m thankful for them, and happy for the good things in this life that they enjoy with their freedom. I am also thinking about Wendy this morning. Like all marriages, ours has its constant challenges. Nevertheless, I am constantly aware of the many ways she makes me a better human being and a better servant of God.
When I was growing up there was premium placed on personal responsibility by my parents and grandparents. You took responsibility for your own needs, your own debts, your own responsibilities, and your own actions. Looking back, I believe that some of it was motivated by their spiritual principles and some of it was motivated by social pressure. No matter the motivation, there was a self-respect that simply came from doing what had to be done to make your own way and not be dependent on others.
It seems to me that the social pendulum has swung in the past fifty years. I perceive that the rugged individualism and value of personal responsibility that seemed rather pervasive in my youth has given way to a spirit of entitlement and a “take what you can get” mentality. A few weeks ago I spoke with an employer who was behind because a part of the work force on which he depended was choosing to be unemployed as long as possible in their off season to collect as much “free money” as possible. I recall a friend who was quite capable of providing for he and his family, but chose to manage their lives to get as much welfare as possible. “The money’s just sitting there,” he said. “If I don’t take it someone else will. Might as well be me.” I’m afraid that our world has become adept at taking for ourselves while shifting the cost to others.
In today’s chapter, Paul is addressing a parallel thought process among the believers in the city of Corinth. There were those who were acting out of a claim that they had a right and freedom to act in ways that were having a negative effect on themselves and the whole of the community. Paul points out that having a right and freedom to do something does not make it beneficial for yourself or for the whole.
This morning I’m doing a little soul searching of my own. I’m asking myself a few hard questions. Where in life am I cost shifting? Where in life am I exercising rights and freedoms in ways that are ultimately not beneficial to me, my family, my fellow believers, or society as a whole? In what ways am I acting out of self-centeredness that may ultimately be detrimental to everyone else?
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 1 Corinthians 5:9-10 (NIV)
For my entire life’s journey I have belonged to a local church. I’ve actually belonged to many churches of different sizes and denominational affiliations. One of the patterns of behavior I have noticed among believers is referred to by some as “the holy huddle.”
The “holy huddle” is a group of Jesus’ followers who huddle together in life to the general exclusion of anyone else. The huddle worships together, socializes with one another, spends free time together, gathers on holidays, vacations together, and pretty much keep to themselves.
I have, at different times of life, been part of holy huddles. I get the allure of it and understand why it’s easy to fall comfortably into the pattern. We all like socializing with people with whom we share common thoughts, opinions, and socio-economic status. Followers of Jesus also tend to desire the avoidance of both temptation and conflict. As a young man, hanging out almost exclusively with members of my youth group meant being around an environment of positive peer pressure. That’s not a bad thing.
I’m reminded this morning, however, that the “holy huddle” was never God’s paradigm. Yes, those who follow Jesus are encouraged to meet together regularly. Yes, we need to be in relationship with our fellow believers to encourage, comfort, confess, and build one another up. This is not, however, to the exclusion of those outside our spiritual sphere.
In today’s chapter, Paul makes a very clear distinction that is important for any of us who follow Jesus. When Paul had told the believers in the city of Corinth that they were not to associate with immoral people, he was not talking about non-believers in their community. He was referring specifically to those individuals in their local gathering who claimed to follow Jesus but also considered God’s forgiveness as a license for doing whatever they wanted. These people boasted that they could do whatever they wanted morally because Jesus’ forgiveness covered it all, and they encouraged others to join them in their “freedom.”
This morning I’m reminded that I can’t make a difference in my world if I’m not living in it and fostering relationship with those who are not in my holy huddle. Jesus washed His followers feet and encouraged them to do the same. The word picture is both clear and powerful: “Your whole body is clean,” Jesus said, “but your feet get dirty when you’re out walking in a dusty, dirty world. So, you’ll need to wash each other’s feet on occasion.”
My feet will never be dirty if I confine my journey within the “purity” of my holy huddle.