For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…. Ephesians 2:14 (NIV)
It’s quiet in my home office this morning. A steady rain is falling and resonating off the roof and window as I sip my coffee. Today marks the end of my 53rd year on this life journey which has me in a particularly introspective mood as I mull over today’s chapter.
For the past year our local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been studying the book of Acts. In this chapter-a-day journey I’ve been making my way through the letters of Paul in, more-or-less, chronological order. As a twenty-first century westerner, I’ve come to accept that it is virtually impossible for me to understand the racial, social, and religious division that existed among the first century believers. There was a giant, black-and-white dividing line between those of Jewish heritage and non-Jewish heritage. For centuries they had lived highly segregated lives. Now they were suddenly trying to live together as followers of Jesus.
The conflict within those early groups of Jesus’ followers was very real, and often intense. It was the reason for the first major “Council” of leaders of the Jesus Movement (Acts 15). Most local gatherings struggled with the division. I believe the political divide in our current era provides a hint of the divisive emotions percolating within the two groups, but I believe even that parallel falls short of the divide that Paul is addressing.
In today’s chapter Paul continues to focus his readers on the eternal, cosmic, Level Four spiritual realities in which both Jewish believer and non-Jewish believer stand on common and equal footing. All knew and experienced lack of control with our human appetites (lust, greed, pride, sloth, anger, and etc.). All had been saved by grace (unearned merit) through faith, not in who they were or what they had done to earn God’s favor, but in what Jesus had done on the cross and through His resurrection.
Having established that Level 4 reality, Paul then moves on to address the conflict that was being felt in individuals (Level 1), between believers (Level 2), and in society (Level 3) between these sharply divided two ethnic groups. He repeatedly speaks of the “two” being “one” through what Christ had done on Level 4. Hostility is transformed into peace, division gives way to unity, and that which is separate becomes whole.
I can’t help but notice the direction and flow of thought. Paul’s focus on, and acceptance of, Level 4 reality flows down and transforms the very human conflict and struggles of Levels 1 through 3. As I look back across my 53 year journey I realize how often I have done the exact opposite. I allow my Levels 1-3 realities to flow upward and dictate my Level 4 perspective. I essentially transform my perception and belief system on Level 4 to justify and defend my entrenched prejudices on Levels 1 through 3.
This morning I contemplate 19,359 days on this Earth, and quietly wonder about however many I have left. I can’t change any of those nearly 20,000 yesterdays, but I want to make sure today, and moving forward, that I get the direction and the flow right. I want the eternal Spirit realities to transform my daily life and relationships here on this terrestrial ball. Not the other way around.
When Wendy and I married, December suddenly became much more than just a Christmas holiday. Wendy’s birthday is December 21, and we married on New Year’s Eve. That means that I have, arguably, the three most important gift-giving days of the year in an 11 day stretch. After 12 years (a number rife with Biblical significance) trying to find balance in this celestial conjunction of celebrations, our first grandchild unexpectedly, like the star of Bethlehem, appeared on the horizon last year and plotted his arrival on December 11th. An already crazy month just got crazier.
Milo and his parents (I state it this way because, let’s be honest, it’s all about the one-year-old) arrived home from the UK in early December. I picked up them up and drove them home from MSP. The kids made our house command central out of which “Operation Celebrations” would be conducted. Milo has four sets of grandparents, a full contingency of living great-grandparents, and at least one great-great-grandparent. Long story short: There’s a lot of people needing a Milo fix.
Our celebration of Milo’s first birthday happened the night of the 12th. We had a small cadre of family over for a relatively small affair. Ya-Ya Wendy made Milo both a chocolate cupcake and a white, funfetti cupcake. He seemed to prefer the funfetti cupcake, proving that his taste bud genes are inherited from his paternal DNA coding.
The rounds of family visitation continued on the 19th when Taylor, Milo, and I stopped by my folks retirement community to have lunch with the folks. Milo was, of course, a huge hit. Milo also had a fascination with all of the various walkers with wheels. As he is in training to get the whole “walking” thing down (we’re up to about six consecutive steps without falling at this point), it was a huge discovery for him that there are devices designed and manufactured to assist in this basic human motor skill (special “thanks” to Mary for letting Milo run free with her walker).
Wendy and I began celebration of her birthday on the 15th when we headed to the Twin Cities. On the 16th we went to our first Vikings game at their new “mother ship” stadium. An annual trip to see the Vikings had become a bit of a tradition for us until it was announced that the new stadium would be built. Wendy and cold get along like Hamilton and Burr, so we skipped the seasons they were playing at the U of M’s outdoor stadium. We finally decided to all the trigger on our old tradition. It was a lot of fun. We’ll be back.
Wendy’s birthday was otherwise fairly quiet except for the doorbell ringing incessantly. She got a trifecta of flower bouquets on her big day. The florist here in Pella was grateful for the business, though they somehow couldn’t get the deliveries consolidated. On the following weekend our friends Kevin and Becky came to Pella to celebrate Wendy. A pint at the Cellar and a pizza from George’s was in order with the rest of the evening relaxing at Vander Well Pub.
Maddy Kate flew in from her home in South Carolina on Christmas Eve day. We visited Grandpa Dean and Grandma Jeanne before I drove her back to Pella. She joined Wendy and me at Christmas Eve services at church while Milo and his entourage were making an all day tour stop at Na-Na Brenda’s.
Christmas day, I’m happy to say, was an all-out, love-and-laughter, food-and fun, lazy lounge-fest with just the six of us. Wendy made her traditional Christmas morning cinnamon rolls, along with an awesome breakfast. I threw French Dip into the crock pot for the evening meal. Lunch was a charcuterie menagerie for all. We opened gifts together after breakfast, then moved a mattress into the family room next to the sectional for a blissful day of binge watching (This is Us took up the entire afternoon), eating, and napping together.
“The stockings were hung by the stairway with care…”
Aunt Maddy and Milo.
Wendy and Rudolph, er, Milo.
Gotta love the Nutcracker apron!
Milo and Ya-Ya Wendy.
Nothing like a tunnel for your birthday!
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo….”
Chocolate or Funfetti cupcake. Which will he choose?
A mountain of gifts.
Maddy napping on Christmas day.
Tom & Wendy at Vikings game.
Tom and Milo.
Helping grandma cook.
Not just one, but TWO cupcakes from which to choose!
Milo and Ya-Ya Wendy.
Great-Grandpa Dean with Milo.
First time at the Vikings’ “Mother Ship”
Whiskey Stones for Christmas!
Milo, Papa Tom, and Great-Papa Dean
Madison and Milo.
Milo, Tom, and Great-Grandma Jeanne
Thanks for the push, Aunt Maddy!
“Skol! Vikings! Let’s win the game!”
“Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer, had a very tired mom!”
It has been a while since I’ve posted anything but my chapter-a-day. Forgive me. I’m feeling good just to get that done most days. Nevertheless, I’m well overdue to, at the very least, post a brief synopsis of all the events of autumn.
Summer ended and our fall began with what has become an annual adult weekend at the lake with the VLs and JPs. It’s so much fun with this crew and there is never a dull moment when the six of us get together, which we did again a few weeks later with dinner in Ankeny for JP’s birthday.
A quick update on the girls. Madison continues living and working in Columbia, South Carolina as an area sales and training coordinator for Laura Geller cosmetics. She loves it there and we don’t foresee getting her back to the midwest without an act of God. She’ll also be home for a week at the holidays, which we’re ecstatic about. She and her boyfriend, Garrett, made quite a turn as “The Incredibles” for Halloween this year.
Taylor, Clayton and Milo moved to Edinburgh, Scotland early this fall. Clayton is finishing up his Doctorate from the University there. Taylor was hired part-time by Storii, a fabulous company helping senior care centers tell, and utilize, the stories of their residents who are struggling with dementia. They’ve had a busy few months with travels to Sweden, Denmark, London and the Scottish highlands. Thankfully they will be home for a few weeks in December for the holidays, and we can’t wait to have them here.
Sadly, the kids weren’t the only ones we had to say good-bye to this fall. Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, left for Mazatlan, Mexico where she is attending Discipleship Training School with YWAM (Youth With a Mission).
We also bid farewell to our dear friends Kevin and Linda as they moved to Palm Springs, California. While the snowbirds promise to come back and spend summer in Iowa, it was hard to watch them pack up all their belongings and head west (though we are headed there to visit them soon!). I was also glad I was able to enjoy Kevin’s turn as host of the Pella Opera House’s first-ever Scotch and Cigar night. Almost 50 men attended, and Kevin did a fabulous job.
Farewell lunch with Suzanna. We’re so much fun, our server wanted to get in on the photo!
Scotch & Cigar night at Pella Opera House. Greeted by a piper.
Kevin hosting Scotch tasting.
I have been kept busy in leadership of my company including a major rebranding from C Wenger Group to Intelligentics. There will be more responsibility transferred my way with the start of 2019. I’m excited to see where it all leads.
Wendy and I stepped down completely from leadership in our community theatre after nearly a decade and a half. We’re taking an indefinite hiatus from community theatre with all the other things going on in life. That said, Wendy was honored by Union Street Players for her years of service by being inducted to their Walk of Fame during the group’s annual Awards Night on October 6th. Here’s a little clip I put together of some of my fave photos of Wendy over the years at USP. I’ve also, for posterity sake, posted a video of my introduction and her acceptance speech.
We were scheduled to be part of an independent production of Freud’s Last Session in October at Central College with our friends Kevin and Linda. We were forced to pull the plug on the production at the last-minute because of unforeseen and ultimately insurmountable scheduling obstacles placed in our way. It’s a long story both sad and frustrating. Not only for us, but also for the Central theatre students and professors who were looking forward to being involved in the show and with whom we were excited to work on the production. We are discussing an attempt to resurrect the project next year.
You know what fall means? Vikings football!! SKOL!
Chocolate always makes her smile. Celebrating Chad’s birthday at Malo.
Me and the ladies, out for Chad’s birthday.
Pella Opera House Gala
Autumn at the lake with Kev n Beck.
Or Pella. It’s a regional thing.
The fall included some annual events such as a fall weekend at the lake with our friends, Kev and Beck. Fall means you’ll find Wendy and me in purple and gold every Sunday afternoon cheering on the Vikings. We also enjoyed the annual fundraising gala for the Pella Opera House. And then there was an evening out with the VLs and JPs to celebrate Chad’s birthday. A wonderful dinner at Malo and nightcap in Des Moines.
Our support of Pella Historical Society included a couple of new experiences this fall. Wendy and I once again found ourselves portraying our town’s founding couple, H.P. and Maria Scholte, in a cemetery walk. There were a number of costumed actors stationed around the local cemetery portraying historic individuals from our town’s past. As visitors approached we delivered a short monologue. It was a cold, blustery fall day, but at least the sun was shining to provide a little warmth.
Just this past weekend I had the honor of being Master of Ceremonies for the annual Tulip Queen Announcement Party. Twelve young ladies were finalists in the annual festivities that select a Tulip Queen and four members of the Tulip Court who will preside at Pella’s annual Tulip Time festival in May. As M.C. I spent Friday evening and Saturday morning in rehearsals, then got to join the candidates at a special luncheon on Saturday. At the Saturday evening event I introduced and interviewed all of the candidates before a packed audience in the high school auditorium. Each candidate did a three-minute presentation and were interviewed by a panel of over 30 judges representing a diverse cross-section of our community. It was a tough decision as all twelve of the young ladies were exceptional and would have been great representatives of the best our community has to offer. Then I got to make the big announcement at the end of the evening. It was a lot of fun, and I’ve already been asked to M.C. next year’s event, so I guess I did okay.
Wendy and I have also been focusing on getting some projects done around the house this fall. We finally completed a DIY project that’s been in the works for a couple of years. We made a console table out of old dock wood from the lake to sit behind the couch downstairs in the Pub. We also designed a sign for the pub and actually had one made by the local sign company.
A house full of Vander Harts.
With the world progressing at breakneck speed, it’s nice to know some things never change 😉
No one starves at a Vander Hart gathering.
The Vander Hart name lives on!
Wendy and I also enjoyed playing host to her mom’s family this past weekend. The Vander Hart clan descended on us Sunday afternoon. There were 20+ of them for a potluck lunch and hanging out. Wendy’s cousin, Ethan, and his wife, Kim, recently gave birth to the only Vander Hart male to carry the family name into the next generation, so it was fun to meet him and celebrate.
Of course, then there’s the regular activities of both physical and spiritual exercise. I’m more involved than ever as a teaching leader. Wendy and I were asked to present at a fall retreat on our experience with the enneagram, which prompted another opportunity coming up in December. Wendy has been faithfully doing yoga and I continue to show up at CrossFit.
Wow. Writing this post reminds me just how busy we’ve been. But, life is good and we are blessed. Next week the holidays begin, and Wendy and I both have hearts full of gratitude ready to give Thanks.
I had a great birthday celebration this year. But, I have to be honest. Since the arrival of our first grandchild last December all of our family gatherings are “all about Milo.” I’m totally cool with that. The greatest gift I received was having Madison, Taylor, Clayton and Milo with us on Sunday. The whole brood under one roof to share in a family meal. It happens so rarely any more, and for it to happen to coincide with my birthday was awesome.
Madison flew into Des Moines on Saturday morning, and we knew that number one on her list was spending some time with her nephew. So we dropped her off to get some cuddle time with both her nephew and her sister.
Meanwhile he headed to our friends’ house. Kev and Beck both have April birthdays as well and a few years ago we started a tradition of celebrating together. This year is was low-key affair as we ordered pizza and spent the afternoon on their deck enjoying the spring sunshine. Kevin and I enjoyed a couple of fine cigars that had been a gift to me from a team member.
We picked up Madison and headed back to Pella, then enjoyed the evening together. Madison joined us for worship on Sunday morning. We grabbed George’s pizza after church and got home in time to welcome the trio from Des Moines.
Wendy outdid herself making a fabulous chicken parmesan dinner that we enjoyed with an equally fabulous wine. Wendy gave me my pick of desserts and while I love her Cheesecake and Chocolate Lava cakes, I chose to go with one of my childhood favorites: Grandma & Grandpa V’s lemon cake.
My friend, Kevin, and I have April birthdays. His is before mine. This year I told him, “For your birthday I want to treat you to a boys’ night at the Iowa Cubs.” On my birthday he told me, “For your birthday I want to treat you to a boys’ pub crawl in downtown Des Moines.” Why not kill two birthday birds with one stone?
It took three months to arrange, but this past Saturday Wendy and I met Kev and Beck at Exile Brewing in Des Moines for lunch. The ladies then took off to do shopping and other things that ladies do. Kev and I spent the afternoon sampling some of the best craft brews that Iowa has to offer (and Iowa has a lot to offer in this arena), along with a few stand-bys.
After Exile we hit the tap room at Confluence Brewing and then headed to Peace Tree Brewing’s new location in Des Moines’ East Village. It was a tortuously hot summer afternoon, but we persevered as only courageous old men can do in these situations. From Peace Tree we walked the 251′ (thanks Google Maps) to the Iowa Tap room where we found their 160+ taps of exclusively Iowa brews.
After quaffing the best the stylish East Village has to offer, we drove to the ball park and got an early parking spot. We headed north to the High Life Lounge which is a shrine to beer I remember from my youth (you know, the beer my dad and older brothers drinking). I actually talked Kevin into drinking an actual Miller High Life from the tap (he was scared). I felt so nostalgically at home that I could have easily decided to spend the rest of my weekend there. But, there was more to be experienced! We headed next door to El Bait shop where we watched the Chicago Cubs finish off the Cardinals (call it a belated birthday present). We finished our pub crawl with a stogie at 300 Rooftops.
It was a short walk to Principal Park where we grabbed the requisite ball park grub and watched the iCubs take out the Oklahoma City Dodgers. It was a great afternoon. Yes, I remember all of it. (Old dudes learn the value of hydration, moderation!)
The crawl began with lunch with the wives at Exile.
Exile. My fave was Gigi.
So packed at Peace Tree we had to sit in the sun on the patio!
My fave? Over the Ivy Czech style pilsner.
I talked Kevin into drinking a Miller High Life, and he lived to tell the tale.
Great pic to take right after the Cubs beat the Cards.
Last year I turned 50, which was a big deal because the number had a zero at the end. Admittedly, 50 does feel a bit monumental. It’s half of a century. It’s the golden anniversary of life. It’s the U.S. Grant of birthdays. So, Wendy went all out and we had a great party with good friends and enjoyed celebrating to the max.
When Wendy asked me what I wanted to do this year, I told her that I wanted it to be low-key. I honestly didn’t even think about receiving presents. 51 is anticlimactic, and I’m zen with that. Let’s keep it small and push through.
God seemed to bless my wishes with weather to match my mood. It was cloudy, cold, rainy and dreary. All the better to keep the damper on things.
On Friday night Wendy and I were invited to the DMCS musical Charlotte’s Web to see our friends Harry and Kennedy perform. They did a spectacular job and we were proud of them. We went out with their folks after the show for a night cap.
Saturday was a work day around the house. I worked most of the day in the home office and Wendy busied herself cleaning. We then had dinner with friends Matthew and Sarah at Kaldera. It was great to see them as life has conspired to keep us from connecting over the last couple of months. They came back to V-Dub Pub for a night cap after dinner, but we kept it an early evening because…
On Sunday morning I gave the message in both the auditorium services among our local gathering of Jesus followers. I woke up early to go over my notes and prepare and was overjoyed to connect with Maddy Kate by phone. We talked and caught up for about 45 minutes (now that’s what I call a good birthday present). My folks came down from Des Moines with Taylor in tow. It was awesome to have them come down to celebrate with me.
Dad has been working on a project for me for the last couple of years. I’ve been wanting a bar shelf for our pub, and pops delivered on Sunday. He did a fantastic job with the shelf. It fit like a glove in the space and it’s even lit from underneath. The Vander Well Pub feels even more official now! Thanks, dad!
We ordered George’s pizza for lunch and then hung out together in the afternoon. I opened gifts (yes, I even received gifts!). Wendy got me DVD set of the Cub’s World Series games and some World Champion cuff links. Taylor ordered some books I’ve been wanting. Maddy Kate gave me another in the set of St. John’s Illuminated Bible. Everyone was really tired and feeling the naps coming on, so they left mid-afternoon. In the evening our friends Kevin and Linda swung by to watch the Cubs lose to the Red Sox (dangit!).
My birthday weekend officially ended on Monday. Wendy sent me and Kevin to Principal Park for an I-Cubs game. The weather continued to be rainy and cold, so Kevin and I lasted through almost four innings before we snuck down to The Bottom of the 5th, a small pub on the concourse behind home plate, where we sat at a high-top and watched the rest of the game on the monitors. It’s my birthday. I deserve to stay warm 😉
Another year in the books. The weather’s changed just in time for Tulip Time, which starts today. Wendy and I are doing our bit again this year. Stay tuned for the requisite pics.
“For three sins of Judah, even for four, I will not relent….” Amos 2:4a (NIV)
Yesterday was my birthday. Weather-wise it was an awful day. It was rainy, cold, and windy; A good day to stay inside and enjoy some quiet with family and friends. My folks came down from Des Moines and brought Taylor with them. We enjoyed lunch together around the warm fireplace and then enjoyed conversation into the afternoon. It was a nice birthday, and it was wonderfully uneventful.
The quiet gave me some time for reflection throughout the day. I thought about the past year, the past 13 years in Pella, the past 23 years in my profession, the past 50 years of life. My life journey has been full and has taken me fascinating, unexpected places. I have continued to explore, continued to grow, continued to press further up and further in. I look back at where I was in my journey just ten or fifteen years ago, and I can see how I’ve progressed.
In this morning’s chapter the ancient prophet Amos, writing his poems from his small town, begins his small volume of prophetic works by taking aim at seven regional nations (Israel is a divided kingdom, so he addresses both Israel and Judah). Amos starts with Israel’s neighbors, drawing his Hebrew readers in with prophetic curses on their enemies. He was likely getting a lot of nodding heads and affirmations through the first six sections. Then things suddenly change for his contemporary readers.
Amos saves his final prophetic rebuke for his own people. The spiritual charges he brings against them come down to two basic things. First, the life and blessings they’ve been afforded haven’t resulted in a progression of spirit, of life, love, faith or wisdom. Second, their regression into indulgence of their appetites has resulted in a wide array of spiritual and social problems which they are choosing to ignore.
This morning, as I begin my 51st year of life, I find myself continuing to meditate on my journey. As much as progress as I’ve made along the way, Amos reminds me to not be ignorant or blind myself to ways I may have regressed. Where have I blinded myself to unhealthy indulgences? Where have my choices actually been detrimental to others? Where do I need to make changes as I begin another annual trek through the calendar? The journey isn’t finished until it’s finished. I’ve still got a long way to go, and a lot of progress yet to be made. It’s out there; Further up and further in.