Tag Archives: Gathering

Thanksgiving Thoughts

“Only a few years will pass
    before I take the path of no return.”
Job 16:22 (NIV)

Wendy and I enjoyed our Thanksgiving yesterday. We were up early to put turkey in the crock pot and a loaf of bread in the bread maker. We headed to Des Moines with our contributions to the Thanksgiving meal and arrived at my folks’ house just before noon. The house was full. Tim and Kumi drove up from Texas. Terry, Bonnie, and Ellie made the trek from Chicago with their two Rhodesian Ridgebacks in tow. Our nephew Sam had to work the weekend and was unable to accompany his parents out east, so he joined us as well.

This was the first Thanksgiving meal, the first real family gathering, since my mom was diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s. Many things yesterday were, to quote the Talking Heads, “same as it ever was.” And yet, beneath the visible surface of our traditional Vander Well Thanksgiving meal, afternoon conversation, and family game time around the dining room table, there had been a major shift in the tectonic plates of life. Some things will never be the same again in this lifetime.

In this morning’s chapter, Job makes his next speech. After dismissing the poor comfort of his friends, Job draws inward and becomes introspective about his plight. He contemplates the reality of the end of this life journey that each one of us will reach. I believe that most of us spend our days filled with the minutiae and urgent details of daily life to the point that there is no room left for looking too far head. The end of the journey for ourselves or our loved ones is not a comfortable subject. There are, however, certain way-points along life’s road that remind us where the path leads. And, having reached the way-point and looking back, we realize there are certain places to which we will never return in this journey.

Today, I’m thankful. I’m thankful for family who gathered and prayed and feasted and laughed and played and hugged and loved. I’m thankful for a lifetime of Thanksgiving memories. I’m thankful for parents whose deep faith leads and comforts them on a the murky path that lies before them. I’m thankful for our daughters, both off on their own journeys, who had good friends and companions with whom to give thanks. I’m thankful for Jesus, whom I follow, who promised “I am with you always – to the very end.”

Fifth Annual JP-VL-VW SummerFest

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On Labor Day weekend Wendy, Suzanna and I traveled down to the lake to play host to the JPs and VLs for a jam-packed holiday weekend of fun in the sun. This is the fifth straight year that the three families have gotten together, and the fourth year in a row that the festivities have been at our Playhouse (for the record, I think 2010 was more about working on the basement than having fun in the sun). It’s fun to think back to how quickly the little ones grow and how life changes from year to year.  The social dynamics change with the shifting complexities of the numbers, both the sum total of people and the respective ages involved. Nevertheless, there is incredible blessing in friends and families sharing the journey of life together as we get together each summer to re-create.

Everyone arrived on Thursday evening. Wendy and I generally like to get to the lake a day in advance of the invading armies to clean, prepare, and arrange for the impending encampment. We couldn’t exactly take Suzanna out of school in order to make that happen, so we found ourselves all arriving within minutes and hours of one another. C’est la vie. When you vacation together every year, there’s a familiarity that allows for flexibility.

Friday was a laid back day at the Playhouse. The kids had a blast swimming off the dock. Wendy and I got the waverunner gassed up and running. We took it for a little spin to work the cobwebs out of it and ran over to Bulldog’s for an afternoon drink, only to have the waverunner decide not to start when we wanted to head back home. Fortunately, the folks at Bulldog’s ran us over to the neighboring marina where the generous mechanic loaned me some starting fluid. We were soon on our way back home.

Saturday was our big outing to the waterslides at Bear Bottom Resort along with a bite of lunch. We returned home for more swimming off the dock and a fantastic steak dinner together. Of course, great meals together is one of the hallmarks of our annual get together and this year was no exception. Once the meal was over and the kids headed to bed the adults enjoyed continued the feast (generally over playing cards) drinking “Tom’s coffee” and eating Wendy’s cheesecake. I don’t even want to know how much weight I put on over that weekend. It felt like a lot! Saturday evening the adults played Quelf with the usual hilarious results.

The only bad weather we had all weekend came briefly on Sunday morning. The kids jumped in the lake to get a quick swim in before the worst of it hit. I will never forget the vision of little Aaron standing on the top rung of the ladder on the swim dock looking up at the ominous dark clouds. Then as the wind began to blow he started screaming “STORM” at the top of his lungs as if he was some Shakespearean harbinger of doom. When the rain started they all ran for the cover of the house to play and watch movies while we waited for the sun to come back out. It did come out in the afternoon and we all headed down to Captain Ron’s for a swim at the beach, though the huge crowds led us all to quickly agree that we preferred the quiet (and inexpensive drinks) back at the Playhouse. So, we took the party back to the dock.

Props to Suzanna who became nanny for the weekend and with positive attitude took excellent care of the kids, providing the adults with more peace and quiet than we probably realize. Everyone headed home late Monday morning and conversation already began regarding next year’s gathering of the three families.

Theme from the Photos

2013 08 19 VW Pizza Night Collage Most often we look at and contemplate photos one by one. One of the things I’ve come to realize over time, however, is that when I import a large batch of photos and rifle through them, I often catch a theme from the event that one single photo doesn’t quite convey.

Last night three generations of my family gathered at my folks’ house for an evening of pizza. We did nothing more than have some pizza together and sit around the table and talk for a couple of hours. As I looked through the photos this morning I realized how many of the photos were of my family members smiling and laughing.

I know plenty of people who have never experienced this kind of love and laughter at a family gathering. The theme that arose from all of my photos last night was a reminder to be grateful and to enjoy these moments.


Razing the Walls of Social Convention

2012 12 23 VH Family GatheringWhen you meet together, you are not really interested in the Lord’s Supper. For some of you hurry to eat your own meal without sharing with others. As a result, some go hungry while others get drunk. 1 Corinthians 11:20-21 (NLT)

This week has been a veritable plethora of Christmas gatherings and feasts. On Sunday, we enjoyed a huge multi-generational family gathering here at VW Manor. Our cozy little brick house was packed with family of all ages, from two to 85.

It’s always interesting to see what happens socially at large gatherings whether its family or community. Some people hang tight with certain people seem to avoid others. Some people are social butterflies while others are wallflowers. I spent a good part of the afternoon Sunday with the younger generation at the dining room table while most of the adults kept to themselves in the living room. It was fun to hang out with and talk to younger family members I don’t see or often speak with, especially as many of them are making the transition from young people to adults. It was great conversation and I enjoyed my time with them.

In today’s chapter, Paul was addressing similar social situations that were negatively affecting the local church potluck in Corinth. The early gathering of believers had a tradition called “love feasts.” All believers would gather and share a meal together, then end with serving the “Lord’s Supper” a which ceremoniously imitates the eating of bread (metaphor for Jesus’ broken body) and drinking of wine (metaphor for Jesus’ shed blood) which Jesus instituted the night before he was crucified. In the early church there was a huge social disparity at these Love Feasts. There were rich and poor, slaves and free peoples, Greeks and Romans and Jews.

Because of the diversity of peoples in the church, social tensions arose as people gathered in their cliques. The  wealthier believers brought good food and hoarded it for themselves, eating quickly while less fortunate believers waited for what amounted to the leftovers. In many cases, by the time everyone had eaten and the church was ready to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, some had consumed too much wine and were visibly inebriated.

People are people. As much as some things change, human nature doesn’t change all that much over time. I see shadows of the same social struggles at a church potluck or a family gathering today as the situation we read about in Paul’s letter. Today, I’m thinking about the gatherings yet to come this holiday season and social gatherings in which I regularly participate. I don’t want to passively regress into comfortable social conventions, but let love motivate me to tear down walls between peoples, generations, and social groups.