All posts by Tom Vander Well

Wayfarer, husband, father, consultant, thespian, writer, thinker, and back porch musician. Pressing on through the journey one step at a time.

The Path to Contentment

But godliness with contentment is great gain.
1 Timothy 6:6 (NIV)

Our friend Tony Harris published a book this past year entitled FADS Marketing. Tony is an expert marketer and his book is a fascinating insider’s view of the world of big marketing. The book opened my eyes to the way I am being sold a bill of goods every day with regard to food, alcohol, drugs, and sex (F.A.D.S. Get it?). If I’m blind to it and if I’m not paying attention, then I will fall for it over and over and over again. What big marketing does is take the field of my basic human appetites and then sows discontent.

Contentment is a recurring theme in Paul’s later writing. I find it interesting that it seems to have become a more important topic the further he got in his own spiritual journey. He takes a rather balanced approach. “I know what it is to have plenty,” he writes, “and I know what it’s like to be in need.” In either circumstance, in whatever circumstance we find ourselves (because it can change rapidly in ways we don’t control), we should seek to be content.

That’s hard to do if I’m blind to the fact that every advertisement and marketing ploy (and they’re all over the place) is trying to stir my appetites’ discontent until I have what they tell me I want and need.

The further I get in my life journey the more I find myself pursuing contentment. I’m not perfect at it by a long shot. I confess that. Like most paths to growth and maturity, the road to contentment often finds me repeatedly taking one step forward before falling two steps back. Looking back, however, I can see the progress. More and more the things of real value to me are relationships, conversations, laughter, time, quiet, a shared meal, life together.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself once again honestly taking inventory of my wants and also taking inventory of my haves. Along the path to contentment, I’ve discovered that if I focus myself on gratitude for, and enjoyment of, the latter then the former takes up less room in my heart and mind.

And so, I contentedly enter another day of the journey.

Responsibility and Need

If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need.
1 Timothy 5:16 (NIV)

Early in my life journey I worked at a number of different churches and different denominations. One of the common struggles I observed was how each church handled those who would regularly come to the church asking for a handout. In every church I served there was a sincere and loving motivation to help those in need, but there was also the realization that responsible generosity also required  wisdom and discernment. While some individuals were people truly in need, others were not. There were individuals who were perfectly capable of getting a job and supporting themselves, but they were more than happy to avoid the work and simply make the rounds of every church in town seeing how much money they could talk the churches into giving them.

Along the way I’ve observed a simple reality of human nature. If you create a system of welfare there will be those who will try to take personal advantage of the system. Even Jesus encountered this when He fed the multitudes by turning a few loaves and fish into to a  miraculous Filet o’ Fish fest. He quickly recognized that many were following Him simply for the free lunch. John 6 describes Jesus confronting the crowd and questioning their motivation. He appears, at that point, to have shut down his miraculous fish sandwich program on the spot.

It’s so easy for me to get stuck thinking about “church” in context of what I have known and experienced “the church” to be in my lifetime. I default to thinking of buildings and denominational institutions with varying takes on theological issues.  It’s critical as a reader of Paul’s letter to Timothy for me to understand how different the circumstances were then. There was no institution, no denomination, and no church buildings. Small groups of Jesus’ followers were “the church.” It was a flesh and blood organism. Followers of Jesus gathered in homes where they ate together, worshipped together, and shared life together. They were loosely structured and yet they quickly gained a reputation for collectively caring for those in need who were marginalized and outcast by society of that day: widows, orphans, the sick, the diseased, and the disabled.

And, true to human nature, there were those more than willing to take personal advantage of the corporate generosity.

There is a theme woven throughout Paul’s life and letters that I rarely hear discussed today. It’s threaded through the entire chapter today. Until late in his life Paul always worked for his living and supported himself. His family were tentmakers by trade and no matter where he went he could pull out his tools and ply that trade. He expected Jesus’ followers to take personal responsibility for the needs of one’s self and one’s family so that generosity could be given to those “truly in need.”

In the quiet this morning I’m whispering a prayer of gratitude, as I recognize that I am blessed to have been raised in a culture and a family system that taught and modeled personal responsibility, hard work, and generosity. My gratitude extends to giving thanks for my job, my clients, and my colleagues. Finally, I’m thankful for the reality that, thus far in my entire life journey, I have never known what truly means to be what Paul described as “really in need.”

featured photo courtesy of IIP Photo Archive via Flickr

Two Kinds of Fitness

…train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.
1 Timothy 4:8 (NIV)

It was last year’s annual physical that motivated me that I needed to do something to improve my physical fitness. I was having some heart concerns and my doctor put me on meds and told me to “get moving.” As I’ve mentioned in these posts, I began going to a local CrossFit class. It’s been just about a year now, and, while my work and travel schedule regularly interrupt my routine, I’m still going at it. Early on, one of my instructors asked me if I had a goal. Without hesitation I answered, “Yes. To keep showing up!

Last week I once again had my annual physical, and I was anxious to get my results. My blood work revealed that I still have to watch what I eat and be cognizant of my cholesterol levels. The big difference was my heart rate and blood pressure. My resting heart rate was very low and my blood pressure was down. My doc told me to go off of the meds for a few weeks and see how I do. So far, so good!

This came to mind as I read today’s chapter. Paul tells Timothy to “train yourself to be godly,” adding that physical training is valuable, but godliness is profitable for all things. This, of course, got me to thinking about the meaning of godliness which I believe our contemporary culture would ascribe some notion of moral purity and a puritanical life.

The Greek word Paul used, which is translated into English as “godliness” is the word eusebia which comes from two words meaning “well” and the other meaning “venerate” or “pay homage.” The lexicon gave this definition of the word: “someone’s inner response to the things of God, which shows itself in reverence.” In other words, godliness isn’t pointing toward some set list of moral purity, but rather it’s spiritual cardiac training. It’s the spiritual heart response to the things of God. I couldn’t help but think of David of whom God called “a man after my own heart” despite having a less than stellar morality scorecard.

In the quiet this morning I’m thinking about working out today, which I have to force myself to do when I’m away from home and can’t get to CrossFit. I’m also thinking about what it means to “train” in my “inner response to the things of God.” What am I doing to keep my spiritual heart healthy? What am I putting in? Am I being aware of the Spirit connection to everything in my life? Am I taking time to rest my soul, to spiritually breathe? Am I making time for conversation with God and for contemplation of spiritual things? Am I concerning myself at all with the effect that my daily physical, relational, and moral choices are having on my spiritual heart?

As I enter this week, I’m mindful of the importance of training both my body and my spirit, that I can stay holistically healthy.

The Latest… June 2019

It is a beautiful June evening at the lake as I sit to write this post. The forecast for the weekend called for rain, rain, and a little more rain. Instead, we were treated to plenty of sunshine and only a few minor episodes of precipitation. That’s a nice change of pace. This spring and early summer have been rainier than I can remember for some time. The lawn tractor has been getting a lot of work as I’ve been mowing 2-3 times a week to keep up.

The rain has been definitely good for growing things. Wendy and finished phase 3 of our landscaping plans. We had new beds put in around the back of the house and around the patio. We still have one section we need to finish on the north side of the house, but it feels great to have it done. I planted some more roses and they have really been going to town.

Speaking of flowers, Wendy has been planning for many years to have a tat reworked. She was never really happy with the original and fixing it has been a topic of discussion for a very long time. Molly at Creative Images in Des Moines did her masterful work, as usual, and the result was just what m’love wanted.

Before and after.

We got our first I-Cubs game of the year in these past few weeks, and we kicked off the summer with what’s become a traditional Memorial Day Weekend at the lake with the VLs. Our arrival at the lake was delayed as I officiated the wedding of Joel and Kara (Zondervan) Larson at the Scholte Gardens in Pella. It’s been a while since I’ve officiated a wedding. Ironically, I received a surprise message on Facebook from the couple who were my very first wedding over 30 years ago. How cool to know that they are still together and happily married. I take no credit, of course. Asking the questions is the easy part.

The rest of the weekend at the lake was fun, as always. It’s so much fun to watch the VL kids enjoying themselves and having watched them grow up right here at the Playhouse over the years. As the kids have gotten older and now entertain themselves quite nicely, it also affords the adults more time and space for conversation and that was wonderful.

Wendy and I stayed a few extra days and worked from the lake, but we had to buzz home as our friends Kevin and Linda were making a rare, brief appearance in Iowa. We met them, along with our friend Cyndi, for dinner at Cooper’s in Valley Junction and then for an after dinner drink at the Hall. Can’t tell you how much we miss having them living across the street.

The following weekend was another rare treat as all of Wendy’s siblings came home for a Hall family gathering. It was the first time that the entire Hall crew were in the same room since 2010. The agenda was very simple: be together, eat together. We got to meet our nephew, Asher, for the very first time and found out that we have another niece or nephew due to arrive by the end of the year as Wendy’s brother Luke and his wife, Brooke, announced that there was a bun in the oven. It was so much fun to be together as a family again.

It was back to the lake this past weekend for our annual early summer pilgrimage with our friends, Kev and Beck. Again, it was nice that we had better weather than was forecast. We enjoyed lunch and a leisurely few hours in the pool at the Redhead on Friday, along with some sun and relaxation on the dock on Saturday. As usual, the real focus of the weekend was sharing life, great food, great drinks, and endless conversations that move us all further up, and further in.

Hope you’re having a great summer wherever your journey finds you. Play ball!

The Source Makes All the Difference

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
He appeared in the flesh,
    was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
    was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
    was taken up in glory.
1 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)

Cleanliness is next to godliness,” the old saying goes.

That is not in the Bible, by the way. Scholars say it originated as a proverb in ancient Hebrew and Babylonian texts. It was first quoted in modern times by Charles Wesley in a sermon in 1778.

That’s the thing, though, isn’t it? What human traditions grow up around spiritual themes that actually take focus away from the Spirit to whom I’m supposed to be connected?

The Dutch protestant culture from which I spring has always been fastidious, clean, and hard-working. We memorialize it every year during Tulip Time as we first scrub the streets before the parade can begin. Eventually, however, the social and religious pressure to keep up clean and orderly outside appearances with all we are and all we own takes precedence over a Life-filled inner Spirit. The result is what Jesus described of the religious people of His time:

“Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.

“Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.

Along my life journey I’ve been taught many ways to godliness; Spiritual disciplines, rule following, and following the trending spiritual fad hawked by Christian marketers (looking to make a buck) and the spiritual gurus they put on pedestals for us to idolize. I found myself struggling for so long. On the outside I appeared the poster chid of spiritual health as I dutifully kept up with all the outside rules, disciplines, and exercises. Inside my life was dark and out of control.

In today’s chapter Paul writes to his young spiritual protégé about the mystery [“Mystery is not something we can’t understand, but something we endlessly understand.” – R. Rohr] from which true godliness springs, and it has nothing to do with tidying up a la Marie Kondo. Paul goes on to quote what was an ancient poem or hymn about Jesus. True godliness is sourced in the person and work of Jesus. That’s it.

Paul has just finished giving Timothy multiple lists of qualifications for those who will lead the local gathering of Jesus’ followers. He then ends by reminding Timothy that all of these qualifications are not sourced in religious rule keeping and the keeping up of appearances, but in the endless pursuit and discovery of deep Spirit connection and Life-giving relationship with the resurrected Christ. Paul never wrote “I want you to know how to be good religious rule followers,” but he did write “I want you to know Christ, and the power of His resurrection.”

The source from which I seek godliness makes all the difference.

“All People” and “Those People”

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people….
1 Timothy 2:1 (NIV)

A while back I was giving the message among our local gathering of Jesus’ followers. I asked everyone in the room to close their eyes with me. I then asked each of us to identify who came to mind when I uttered the words “those people.”

Over the last few years, as I’ve been making this chapter-a-day journey through God’s Message, I’ve been struck more than ever how inclusive the Message really is. It’s inclusive to an often uncomfortable degree. Consider the following blanket instructions and teaching Paul gave for followers of Jesus in this morning’s chapter. The phrase “all” is repeatedly used:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people… (not just the ones I like and with whom I am socially, culturally, politically, economically, and morally comfortable)

…for kings and all those in authority… (not just the ones on my side of the political spectrum)

This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved… (not just the ones who look like me, think like me, believe exactly like me, and live within my comfort zone)

Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people (that even includes “those people“)

As I ponder in the quiet this morning, I am once again struck by how inclusive and expansive the love of Christ is. I find myself needing to honestly confess how exclusive and restrictive I have been, and still am, with my prayers, my kindness, my patience, my gentleness, my faithfulness, my love.

Lord, have mercy on me.

I enter this day with the reminder that if I exclude “those people” from the “all people” for whom Christ died and gave ransom, and the “all people” I am supposed to pray for and love, then I have entirely missed the heart of Jesus’ Message that I’m supposed to be exemplifying.

Amusement in Absurd Conversations

When caring for someone with Alzheimers or Dementia, you learn  that conversation is a lot like an improv exercise in theatre. You can’t control what the other person is going to say or do. You simply say “Yes, and” then go with the flow no matter where the absurdity takes you. As a care giver you can let it bother you, or you can choose in to the amusement.

Our daughter, Taylor, is working and writing for a company in the UK that provides web applications that help Dementia and Alzheimer’s care facilities called Storii Care. The following is a post she wrote on their blog that I’m reposting here with her permission.

Confessions of a Carer: Finding Amusement in Absurd Conversations

I used to work as a CNA in the dementia unit of a long-term care home, located in a small town in Iowa. 

I haven’t worked as a nurses aide for many years now, but have continued to be around people with dementia both personally and professionally. 

If you are reading this, you probably already know that having a conversation with someone in the later stages of dementia can be completely nonsensical. In the moment, inside their mind, they are often in a completely different time and place than you. 

The fact that I sort of delight in having these wacky conversations feels like something I must confess (as opposed to simply telling you), because I am fully aware that the confusion and distress that someone may be experiencing in their mind is real and concerning. It is sad when someone endures the loss of their memory and grows increasingly disoriented from reality. There is no doubt about that. There is a time and place for indulging in illogical chat and there is a time and place for redirecting. One has to know when to make that judgement call. 

But, why not meet people where they’re at? That’s all I’m saying. It can be refreshing. Even fun. Especially if you have a flair for the dramatic arts. 

Scene I

Case in point…one time working as a CNA, I passed by the TV room where Lois beckoned me to come over. 

When will the valet bring the car around?

The valet? You see, this is like being in an improv scene where the situation and your identity is provided only through prompts. 

You car should be here shortly, ma’am. 

Oh, wonderful. Thank you, sweetie. And the luggage? Will they bring the luggage down?

Ah, it appears we are in a hotel. 

Yes, I will make sure every item is loaded in the vehicle for you. 

Even the two horse saddles?

Horse saddles?! Alright, then…

It might be a tight squeeze, but we will do our best to make it fit. 

Yes, Gerald spent a pretty penny on those, you know.

Oh, that Gerald. Has to have the best of them, doesn’t he? 

She touches my arm. 

Isn’t that the truth? 

Then Lois chuckled and turned toward the TV, seemingly happy to know everything was in order and would be just fine. 

Scene II

Another time, a different resident approached me. 

Excuse me, could I ask you something?

Sure, what can I do for you? 

She brings my head down so that she can whisper in my ear. 

Do you happen to have any sanitary pads? You see, I’ve just gotten my period. 

There is absolutely no way this 82 year-old woman is still getting a visit from Aunt Flo, but I go along with it.  

Don’t worry, dear. I have some in my purse. I’ll just go grab you one. Would you like some ibuprofen as well?  

She nods and winks at me, mouthing a silent “thank you”. Sisterhood.

I come back with a pad and she stuffs it in her cardigan pocket with the stealth of covert ops mission. 

Later, when I went into her room to start the bedtime routine, I found the pad open and stuck to her nightstand with an oatmeal raisin cookie lying on top. Well, you know, I’m glad she found a use for it. 

A New Perspective 

Sure, these exchanges are illogical. However, at the time, I was invited into someone else’s present reality. Even though it involved being a bit off the wall on my part, the result is that these women stopped worrying. Their demeanors shifted. All was right once again. Who wouldn’t find a little joy in that? 

Building up life stories is such a large part of what care staff focus on in senior homes. When the opportunity presents itself, perhaps you can be part of a resident’s life story by acting out a scene with them. You both might like it.

AuthorBio: Taylor Vander Well heads up Best Practice + Communication for StoriiCare. She lives in Edinburgh, UK with her partner and son.