Tag Archives: Iowa

Humiliating Defeat

Humiliating Defeat (CaD 2 Ki 14) Wayfarer

Jehoash king of Israel replied to Amaziah king of Judah: “You have indeed defeated Edom and now you are arrogant. Glory in your victory, but stay at home! Why ask for trouble and cause your own downfall and that of Judah also?”
2 Kings 14:9-10 (NIV)

There are certain things that one simply experiences and knows from growing up and living in Iowa. For example, there’s the sport of wrestling. For whatever reason, the sport of wrestling is a thing in our state. Our major universities have long histories of success in the sport, and they’ve produced some of the most dominant wrestlers in history.

When I was growing up, wrestling was part of the required P.E. curriculum in the Middle School years. When you’re the youngest of four children, that means that older siblings came home and taught what they’d learned. I had never really wrestled in any official capacity, but I knew a few things from what my siblings taught me. I remember being paired up with partners in P.E. class and whoever my partner was, I had a pretty easy time of it.

Then we were allowed to challenge others in the class while the entire class looked on. I chose to challenge one of my classmates who was about my size. I figured I would at least be able to hold my own. What I didn’t know is that the guy I chose was already an accomplished wrestler and would go on to be a formidable wrestler in high school. It took less than five seconds for him to pin me. It was total humiliation.

It’s funny the things that I remember, and that still come to mind, over forty years later. There have been moments along my life journey when I experienced humiliating defeats and crashes of different kinds. Moments of shame are hard for me to forget. They have definitely served a purpose, however.

In today’s chapter, King Amaziah of Judah finds himself flying high after defeating the army of Edom. Feeling good about his victory, he challenges the Kingdom of Israel to a battle. Jehoash, King of Israel, tells Amaziah to reconsider and gives him the opportunity to withdraw the challenge, but Amaziah will have none of it. It does not go well for him. It ended up a humiliating defeat and Amaziah’s own people eventually turned on him and killed him.

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about the seasons of life. In the ebb-and-flow of the journey, I have experienced seasons of victory in which I felt on top of the world. It’s easy for me to think I’m going to stay there or fly even higher. Eventually, life always hands me a loss.

I also wrote yesterday that I’ve learned to embrace every season for what it is. Seasons of loss, defeat, shame, or humiliation are good soil for growing faith, humility, perseverance, and proven character. The “mountain-top” soil isn’t suited to grow those things.

In the quiet this morning, I’m praying a word of gratitude for the defeats, losses, and humiliating moments along my life journey. They’ve taught me a lot, including when to be content with life’s victories and appreciate how transient they can be. I’m also saying a prayer for my classmate who humiliated me on the wrestling mat (Yes, Wendy, I still remember his name!). I hope he’s in a good place on his own life journey.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Difference a Dinner Makes

So [the king of Israel] prepared a great feast for the [Aramean soldiers], and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory.
2 Kings 6:23 (NIV)

As Wendy and I sit each morning over breakfast and peruse the news of the day, we will often discuss different politicians or other individuals making headlines. Of course, there are always certain individuals for whom we have a certain affinity but we don’t always have the most glowing impressions of other individuals.

I’m not sure how and when this happened, but Wendy and I will commonly discuss the notion of having said individuals over for a meal. I think this idea began during a Presidential campaign years ago. A few months ahead of the Iowa Caucuses you can’t spit without hitting a visiting presidential candidate. One year when the number of candidates was off the charts, Wendy and I discussed the idea of how nice it would be to actually have each of the candidates (from any/all parties) over for dinner one at a time. It’s easier to really get to know a person over a good meal and good table conversation. Somehow, the idea stuck and now it comes up quite regularly in our conversations, what it would be like to have so-and-so over for dinner.

Today’s chapter is filled with extreme events from the miraculous to a horrific human tragedy. I have no recollection of this quiet little episode stuck in the middle. The kingdom of Aram shared a border with the kingdom of Israel, and bands of Aramean soldiers were constantly raiding the towns of Israel. Elisha miraculously blinds one of these raiding parties and leads them straight into Samaria, the capital city of Israel. When the king of Israel suggests killing them, Elisha instructs him to treat them to a feast instead.

So, the king of Israel treats the enemy soldiers as honored guests. They sat around the table and enjoyed a feast together. I imagine they swapped stories, laughed together, and got to know one another to a certain degree. The Arameans, knowing they could have been killed, were treated the way Jesus would later instruct His followers to treat our enemies, by blessing those who intend to persecute us. The result? The border raids stopped.

In the quiet this morning, I am reminded of the conference Wendy and I attended this past week that addressed some of the most controversial and divisive topics of our day. One of the most powerful things that the conference accomplished was to share the complex and intimate stories of individuals struggling at the heart of the issue. When issues are translated into human stories, it changes both my perceptions and understanding of the issues themselves. It’s the same principle that the king of Israel and the Aramean soldiers discovered. They came to bust heads and instead broke bread. It changed their attitudes and behavior toward their enemies.

(BTW: Another Presidential election cycle begins later this year. For any candidate who happens to read this, there’s an open dinner invitation here at Vander Well manor! 😉)

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Land of Entitlement

Land of Entitlement (CaD Jos 17) Wayfarer

But Joshua said to the tribes of Joseph—to Ephraim and Manasseh—“You are numerous and very powerful. You will have not only one allotment but the forested hill country as well. Clear it, and its farthest limits will be yours.”
Joshua 17:17-18 (NIV)

The land of Iowa that has always been my home in this life journey is among the most abundant farmland in the world. Even though I grew up in Iowa’s largest city and there were no farmers in my immediate family, farming is a part of life when you grow up here. Saturday mornings were all about watching cartoons as a kid, but I had to endure the U.S. Farm Report before the cartoons started.

As an adult, I’ve been friends with many people who did grow up on farms and in multi-generation farm families. Listening to their stories, I began to appreciate some of the larger issues that farm families have to deal with. Perhaps the largest issue for any farm family is the land.

Along my life journey, I have heard so many stories of families torn apart by disputes over the family farm and land. I’ve heard more than one person tell me that their family dutifully went to church every Sunday, but the land of the family farm was the idol, the god, that the entire family system worshipped. I’ve watched grown men weep as they talk about the relational carnage and emotional scars they carry because of the way the inheritance of the family farm was handled. Others have told me about close relatives who have harbored lingering hatred towards them over family land disputes.

The Teacher of Ecclesiastes wisely said that there’s nothing new under the sun. So, I shouldn’t be surprised that as the Promised Land is divided among the twelve Hebrew tribes that there would have been conflicts that arose over the division of the land. In today’s chapter, the tribes of Joseph grumble and complain that they haven’t been given enough land.

As I sat and pondered their complaint in the quiet this morning, I couldn’t help but wonder at the brashness of the complaint. Among the twelve tribes of Israel, Joseph had two of them (his sons Ephraim and Manasseh, Jacob’s grandsons, whom he adopted as sons). In essence, the two tribes of Joseph already had twice the inheritance as any of Jacob’s other sons. What’s more, they were given preferential treatment. After Judah, they were the first to receive their allotment. Other tribes have yet to be allotted any land yet, and the Joseph tribes are already complaining that they don’t have enough. Beyond that, they complained that the land allotted to them had fortified Canaanite cities that had chariots that were technologically advanced in their day and they didn’t want to have to deal with driving them out. So, I translate their request as “give us more land that will be easier for us to settle.”

Joseph was the favorite. It leads me to wonder if the family pattern was that his descendants retained the attitude and sense of entitlement that often accompanies favored children.

This makes Joshua’s reply to Joseph’s tribes even more fascinating. In essence, he tells them that they’re stuck with the land allotted, and they can have all the land they want beyond their allotment, but they have to conquer it and claim it for themselves.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself grateful that I and my family have never had to deal with internal inheritance and land disputes. At the same time, I have to confess that as I point my finger at Joseph’s tribes this morning there are three of my fingers pointing back at me. There are many ways that selfishness and entitlement reveal themselves in life. There are many other things in life that become just as much of an idol as farmland.

Jesus taught a lot about being content with one’s circumstances on this Earth. It’s a subject I rarely hear talked about or discussed in a culture of entitlement and an economy fueled by discontentment. But, as a disciple of Jesus, I can’t ignore the lesson.

And so, I enter another day of labor choosing on this day to be grateful, diligent, and content.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Wrestling

Wrestling (CaD Gen 32) Wayfarer

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”
Genesis 32:28 (NIV)

Growing up in Iowa, one learns that wrestling is a big thing. Our state universities typically have nationally top-ranked programs. Most Iowans know the names of our state’s wrestling heroes. When I was growing up, wrestling was a mandatory class in P.E. during Junior High. For the record, I was really bad at it.

But that was just physical wrestling. With other types of wrestling, I’m quite adept: wrestling with fear, wrestling with shame, wrestling with the past, and et cetera.

Today’s chapter contains another mysterious, ancient story. Jacob, having left his Uncle Laban and returned to his home country, first finds himself in a potentially tough spot with his brother Esau. Jacob fears that his brother will kill him, and he comes up with a strategic plan to appease Esau’s anger and position himself in such a way to reduce his potential losses should Esau attck.

That night, Jacob finds himself in an all-night wrestling match with God. Having successfully gone the distance, God asks to “tap out.” Jacob, however, says he won’t give up until God blesses him.

God responds by saying, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

From the stories we’ve read about Jacob, he’s always been wrestling with life. He came out of the womb wrestling with his twin brother. He wrestles with Esau for power and position within the family system. He wrestles with Esau for his father’s affection and then wrestles with his father to steal Esau’s birthright. Jacob then wrestles ceaselessly with his Uncle Laban for the right to marry Rachel, and then for his wages. God has repeatedly told Jacob that he will inherit the blessing God gave to his grandfather Abraham, and his father, Isaac. Yet, there seems to be something in Jacob that doesn’t believe it despite all the evidence of his flourishing. Jacob is still wrestling with God and petitioning God for the blessing that’s already been given.

Perhaps that the deceiver, Jacob, having lived a life of deceiving and being deceived, has projected onto God his own shortcomings. Perhaps he can’t trust God not to be a deceiver, too.

Perhaps Jacob is bogged down in the shame of his own failings and, deep down, he doesn’t believe that God would bless a deceiver like him. He’s done nothing to deserved God’s blessing and favor.

Perhaps God knew that the only way Jacob would truly understand and embrace the blessing that had been freely given was to wrestle for it.

As I mulled this over in the quiet this morning, I found myself wrestling. I, too, have experienced blessings I know I really don’t deserve. I, too, struggle to embrace blessings freely and graciously given. Instead of gratefully receiving them, I find myself pessimistically assuming that they will be withdrawn, withheld, or will turn out to have been some kind of mistake. I have to confess to my own internal wrestling match with God, for which I might just have Olympic-worthy talent. And, that’s not a good thing.

I believe it’s time for me to tap out and forfeit this wrestling match to God.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

The Journey

The Journey (CaD Gen 12) Wayfarer

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”
Genesis 12:1-2 (NIV)

In early 1889, a young man from the small town of Piershil, in South Holland, boarded the ship P. Caland of the Holland America Line (featured photo on today’s post) sailed across the Atlantic, arriving in New York on April 20th. He made his way to a Dutch settlement in northwest Iowa. His name was Wouter van der Wel, and he was 22 years old. He promptly found employment and Americanized his name to Walter Vander Well. Four years later he married a daughter of the owner of the local furniture store and funeral parlor.

Walter came to America alone. Family speculation is that he was angry about his widowed mother marrying an older man who had once been her teacher when she was a girl. Walter’s daughter, Kate, told me that later in life Walter wrote his mother and expressed a desire to return home to see her. “If you’re not coming back to stay,” she replied, “then don’t come. I’ve lost my son once in my life. I’m not going to go through that again.” He never made the trip.

Walter was my great-grandfather, and for the rather small, widely spread-out Vander Well clan in America he is our patriarch. He’s the one who made the journey and crossed an ocean and half a continent to start a new life, and the family from which we sprang.

Today’s chapter marks an important shift in the Great Story. The first eleven chapters lay the foundation in establishing humanity’s bent toward disobedience (Adam and Eve), violence (Cain), chaos (the time of Noah), and pride (Tower of Babel). Today’s chapter is an inflection point. The narrative shifts from humanity’s continuous and repetitive descent toward a promise and hope of redemption. It begins with one man named Abram, who will be known throughout history as Abraham.

Along my spiritual journey, I’ve found followers of Jesus to be largely ignorant of the larger narrative of the Great Story and of the importance of Abraham, the patriarch, from whom the redemptive work of Jesus and the hope of eternity ultimately springs. Abraham was a historical person who is still playing a role in history some 4,000 years after the events of today’s chapter. In August of 2020 the state of Israel and the United Arab Emirates agreed to a peace accord along with the United States. It was called the Abraham Accords. Abraham, we will learn, is patriarch of both the Jewish and Arab peoples.

Like Walter, Abram’s story begins with a faith journey. God calls him to leave his tribe and follow towards a destination defined loosely as “the land I will show you.” God then makes the first of three covenants with Abram. It is a seven-fold covenant of blessing which begins with God telling Abram that he will be the father of a great nation and ends with the promise that “all peoples on the earth will be blessed through you.”

God’s blessing from one person to “all peoples.” Abram is the patriarch.

What is odd about God’s choice of Abram is that his wife, Sarah, was barren and in her sixties. This is yet another instance of God going against the grain of human inclination; Another reminder that “My ways are not your ways.

Abram sets out on his faith journey following God to who knows where based simply on belief in the promise God had given him.

In the quiet this morning, I can’t help but think about Walter and what it must have been like to leave everything and everyone behind, to board a ship, and to head west toward a land he didn’t know. I can’t help but think of my own life journey and places to which I have been led. I can’t help but think of the journey of being a follower of Jesus who says to each and every follower, “If you would come after me, then lay down your life, take up your cross, and follow.” Like Abraham, the destination of the faith journey following Jesus is not identified or defined in the call other than the rather audacious clue of bearing the instrument of your own execution.

Which brings me back to being a wayfarer. I am a wayfaring stranger traveling through this world of woe and simply believing a promise. Just like Abram. Just like Walter. Just like our daughters and sons and our grandson, Milo, who can’t even comprehend it as of yet. We spring from wayfarers who stepped out on a journey in faith. We make our own respective journeys on this earth. We carry the Story forward as we press on one unpromised day at a time.

May the road rise up to greet you today, my friend. Enjoy the journey.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Trouble and Peace

Trouble and Peace (CaD John 16) Wayfarer

They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God.” 
John 16:2 (NIV)

The little Iowa town where Wendy and I live has a fascinating history. It was founded and designed by a pastor who was escaping persecution in the Netherlands. That sounds odd to most people since the Netherlands is known for being a place of tolerance. In the early 1800s, however, the King of the Netherlands, and the government, controlled the church of the Netherlands. Pastors were told what to preach, and were threatened and punished if they disobeyed.

There was a group of rebellious young pastors who led an organized secession from the state church. Some were imprisoned for it. The leader of the secessionist movement was H.P. Scholte, and it was during this period of conflict with the state church of the Netherlands that he decided he wanted to experience the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech guaranteed to all Americans. In 1847, he led hundreds of followers to the Iowa prairie and created a town out of nothing.

In America, Scholte fully exercised his freedoms. Always a maverick, he refused to join any denomination and eventually built his own church which he led as a local, independent, non-denominational congregation. He practiced his freedom of speech by publishing his own paper, loudly speaking out for the abolition of slavery, and getting involved in the political process. He became a friend of Abraham Lincoln. The faith and spirit that Scholte and his wife imbued in this town is still evident for those who have eyes to see it.

Today’s chapter is the third of four chapters that John dedicates to all the things Jesus told His followers on the night before His crucifixion. Almost 20% of his biography is dedicated to those few hours on a Thursday evening.

Two chapters ago, I observed that all of the players present in the “fall” in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3) are represented and/or referenced on this fateful evening. Again in today’s chapter, Jesus references the “prince of this world.” Jesus points to the fact that the events of this evening are part of a larger story; They are part of the Great Story.

What fascinated me as I, once again, read Jesus words to His followers this morning was both the warning and the promise with which today’s chapter is bookended. Jesus begins by warning His followers of the difficulties they will soon face: institutional persecution and the threat of death. Jesus wasn’t lying. All but one of the eleven disciples listening to these words (Judas was, at that moment, carrying out his betrayal) would be killed, martyred, for carrying out Jesus’ mission. At the end of the chapter, Jesus reiterates the “trouble” that they will experience in this world adding that “in Him” they would find peace amidst the conflict.

As I contemplate this, I am reminded of three things:

First, that when Wendy and I attended our local gathering of Jesus’ followers yesterday, it was the result of a legacy of believers who literally risked life and limb to escape “trouble” to carve out lives in the freedom of America.

Second, I am reminded of the “trouble” that many followers of Jesus face this day. I recently read that in Nigeria, 43,000 followers of Jesus have been killed in the past 12 years. An additional 18,000 have permanently disappeared. 17,500 churches have been attacked. There are 49 other countries in which the risk of “trouble” for being a follower of Jesus is rated “very high” to “extreme.” Those are dangers a follower of Jesus in America can largely ignore because it’s not my reality.

Which brings me to my third thought. In recent weeks, almost 60 churches have been attacked and burned in Canada, and last week a group of followers exercising their right to freely assemble and publicly worship were physically attacked by Antifa while police allegedly stood by and did nothing. “Trouble” is suddenly hits closer to home in ways I never expected to see in my lifetime.

In the quiet this morning, I’m reminded of Jesus’ promise which was a very direct contrast statement: In this world you will have trouble,” He stated, while In me you will have peace.” The latter was never intended to negate or escape the former. Rather, it was intended as the means to endure it.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

Sow What?

Sow What? (CaD Mk 4) Wayfarer

Again [Jesus] said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”
Mark 4:30-32 (NIV)

It is spring in Iowa, arguably the best place to grow things in the world. Growing up, our state used the tag line: “A place to grow.” I always found this a great tag line full of metaphorical layers. I’m sad it got buried under slogans like “You make me smile!” and “We do amazing things with corn.”

Spring brings my perennial desire to plant something and make it grow. I have to confess that when it comes to being a child of Iowa I’m a bit of a prodigal. Growing things has never come naturally to me. I’ve done okay with my rosebushes, but I think it’s because they do well on their own despite me. Last spring we planted some herbs on the patio. I even got to use them to make fresh seasoning a few times before they died.

It’s a beautiful thing about the cycles of life, isn’t it? It is perennial. Hope springs eternal with Easter. Every spring the Cubs have a chance to win the World Series and I have a chance to successfully grow something. It doesn’t matter that the odds are 1:108. There’s still a chance, and each spring the hope is intoxicating.

Last year, Wendy and I bought actual herb plants. Undeterred by their premature death, I decided that this year we’re going to grow them from seeds. If I’m going to commit serial herbicide, I might as well make it more difficult. So, we got three grow-kits with pots, dirt, and seeds.

What struck me as I planted the seeds was how minuscule they were. Seriously, I felt like I was sprinkling dust particles in the dirt! I followed the instructions for watering and a week or so later Wendy and I went to the lake for a long weekend. When we got back, there were actual plants growing in two of the three pots. What did I do wrong with the third plant? I’m telling you: I can kill a plant before it even sprouts! When I contacted the grow-kit company I was told that sometimes you can get “bad seed.” I’m not sure what that means, but it felt like a pardon from the Governor. I sanded out a couple of notches off the handle of my garden trowel.

I thought about my little herb garden as I read today’s chapter. Jesus uses planting seeds as a word picture of God’s Kingdom. The seed can be as small as a speck of dust, but it can sprout and grow into something huge. Which is why earlier in the chapter Jesus told another story about a person who was sowing seed as they journeyed along. The seed was sown everywhere, which got me mulling this over.

Jesus told His followers that the seed is the Word. In the Great Story, I learned that Jesus is the living Word and also incarnate Love. So, one way I sow the Word along my life journey is by sowing love that is joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, gentle, faithful, good, and self-controlled. In doing this, I’m scattering that hopeful possibility of spring that the seed might happen to fall upon a soul that it good soil for that seed to germinate and grow into something exponentially huge in relation to that little seed sown in a gentle word, a gesture of forgiveness, a random act of kindness, or a timely hug.

Of course, the Great Story also talks about bad seed that can equally be sown. The seeds of hatred, anger, malice, chaos, violence, rage, jealousy, envy, selfishness, dissension, and division. Bad seeds don’t grow much of anything.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself once again looking within and without. What am I sowing in my thoughts, words, actions, reactions, posts, tweets, replies, and comments? I look outward at the things I see in the media, on social media, and the people I “follow.” What is being sown? Good seed? Bad seed?

I don’t want to be judgmental, but I do want to be wise.

I can’t control others, but I can control myself.

I am embarking on yet another day. Day number 20,088 of my earthly journey.

It’s spring in Iowa. A place to grow.

What am I going to sow today?

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

A Dentist on a Mission from God

On this Wayfarer Weekend (WW) podcast I welcome Dr. Eric Recker to the Vander Well Pub for a conversation about his mission from God that sprung out of the COVID-19 pandemic and one of the most difficult days of his life. On our conversational journey, we intersect on exceptional situations, finding relationships, and how essential it is to have good companions on this earthly trek.

(WW) Dentist: On a Mission from God Wayfarer

Lessons in the Landscape

Lessons in the Landscape (CaD Ps 125) Wayfarer

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
    so the Lord surrounds his people
    both now and forevermore.

Psalm 125:2 (NIV)

I have always had a touch of seasonal affect issues. The long, dark nights and confining temperatures of deep winter in Iowa tend to easily put me into a funk. The past few days, the sun has been rising noticeably earlier and with it the temperatures have been rising, as well. The thick, white blanket of winter snow is almost gone. I can feel my endorphins kicking into gear like seeds buried underground in spring.

Yesterday, Wendy and I had appointments late in the day and found ourselves driving down the highway starting at a bright sun and seeing the Iowa landscape uncovered, ready for the resurrection we get to witness around this time every year. The further I’ve gotten in this life journey, the more I’ve come to appreciate the metaphors of creation. Anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time knows that Romans 1:20 has become a recurring theme in these posts:

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

I have found that the spiritual truths that God wove into creation increasingly come into focus and gain clarity as my eyes weaken and my vision fades with age.

My chapter-a-day journey is trekking through a series of ancient Hebrew songs that the editors compiling this anthology put together because they were all “songs of ascent.” They were songs commonly sung by thousands and thousands of pilgrims heading to Jerusalem for seasonal religious festivals.

Of the six songs of ascent I’ve read in recent days, three of them begin with references to “lifting my eyes” and “mountains“:

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains” Psalm 121:1
“I lift up my eyes to you” Psalm 123:1
As the mountains surround Jerusalem” Psalm 125:2

Just as I drove through the Iowa countryside noticing the spiritual lessons embedded in the spring landscape, so the songwriters of the the songs of ascent were writing from the perspective of rural pilgrims hoofing it to Jerusalem. For many, it was a trip that took days or weeks to complete. What do I do when I’m on a road trip and heading to a particular destination? I look to the horizon for that moment I can see my destination and know that I’m almost there.

The lyrics of these songs of ascent use this common human behavior for spiritual purposes. Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple sat at the crest of a mountainous range. Viewed from a distance there are even taller mountains in the “surrounding” landscape. As a road-weary pilgrim finally seeing Jerusalem and those mountains in the distance, I would find myself still miles from my destination. My soul still has hours with which to meditate on the spiritual truths that God wove into creation.

As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
    so the Lord surrounds his people
    both now and forevermore.

In the quiet this morning, I’m feeling gratitude for the sun rising earlier and staying out later. I’m grateful for the sun’s warmth and the promise of the new life ahead. I’m also mindful of the spiritual lessons that creation has to teach me and remind me during this season each year; Lessons that Jesus pointed out to His followers:

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

From the Archives: Wendy’s “Walk of Fame” Intro

In the fall of 2018, m’luv Wendy was inducted into our local community theatre’s Walk of Fame. She gave me the honor of introducing her that evening. As I was going through some old files this weekend, I found the text of the introduction that I prepared and delivered that night. Please indulge me. I’d like to post this tribute to Wendy so that it will be preserved on the world-wide interweb until, and perhaps beyond, the apocalypse. She deserves that.

“I have taken a billion photographs of Wendy. I take a lot of photographs period, and over the years I’ve noticed that I have this mysterious internal catch in my spirit when a certain photograph rises to the level of a personal favorite. I don’t always know why. I just know it’s special, and I have to spend time with it to figure it out. This photograph of Wendy is one of those. I’ve meditated on why it’s special and I’d like to share a few reasons why.

The first time I saw Wendy Hall was in the same place this photograph was taken. Our daughter Taylor and I were new residents of Pella and had been cast in USP’s South Pacific. We sat at the back of the Joan Kuyper Farver Auditorium as Wendy, Prop Master for the show, made her way to the front to make an announcement. I saw her from behind just like this photograph as she strode with purpose and intensity up the aisle toward the stage. First impressions. Oh my, that hair – which I’ve come to love as metaphorical of the wild-child, the explosion of passion tinged with red.

Wendy stood on that stage and gave the well-known rule for all large cast shows filled with children and teens: “Look!” she said, “Rule number one! If it’s not yours, DON’T TOUCH IT!” That little bit of a thing with the wild, red-streaked hair spoke with such assured, intense authority. I knew in that moment I was NOT going to touch a prop that wasn’t mine. I was a little scared.

In this photo, we see Wendy in the off-stage darkness, which is where I first got to actually know Wendy Hall during South Pacific. What I learned about Wendy back stage is that she knew theatre, she cared about doing theatre well, and in her arena of responsibility things were going to be done well down to the minute details. While on-stage as Captain Brackett, I had to eat a sandwich.

“What kind of sandwich do you like?” she asked me in one early rehearsal

“Why?” I asked honestly, caught off-guard by the question.

“If you have to eat a sandwich on stage it might as well be something you like,” she responded as if it was the most logical question in the world. 

But as a stage veteran, it wasn’t the most logical question in the world. Anyone who’s been involved in theatre of any kind, especially in community theatre, knows that props are thrown together at the last minute using whatever is expedient by half-hearted volunteers who aren’t sure what they’re doing. I expected a sandwich that was two slices of cheap white bread hastily purchased at the Dollar General before tech rehearsal two weeks ago and by opening night it’s dry and crusty with hints of mold.

But Wendy Hall was in charge. She was Prop Master. You’re going to have a freshly made sandwich, a real sandwich that is something you like. Because, I was Commander Bracket (dammit!), and Commander Bracket would eat a sandwich he wanted prepared for him by the mess cook. 

In one of my South Pacific scenes, I had to sit on stage for a period of time while action and dialogue were focused elsewhere. During the final weeks of rehearsal, each night I found on Captain Bracket’s desk clipboard different things to read. A Shakespeare sonnet one night, a list of corny jokes the next, a Robert Frost poem. Prop Master Wendy Hall figured if you have to sit there on stage looking at a clipboard you might as well have something interesting to read. I’d never met a Prop Master or Stage Manager who cared about the actors and their experience down to the smallest of details. 

An unknowing person looking at this photograph is likely to see only a dark, contrasting figure. A two-dimensional shape: “Female figure in black.” Over the years I’ve observed that people who don’t really know Wendy, this is what they see. A simple figure contrasted by her intensity, her strong opinions, her kick-butt and take-charge attitude which is so easy to dismiss just as simply: Female figure in black. 

I look at this photo and observe she is not in the spotlight but in the shadows off-stage because Wendy, the amazingly capable and talented leading lady, has no need for the spotlight. In fact, she does her best work on-stage during the rehearsal process. Her best work off-stage is in the shadows where she is intensely focused on what’s happening on-stage and thinking of every detail that will make this production sing – not just for the audience but for the actors and the crew members. She cares, not just for the show that takes place on stage but the experience of the entire production from the first audition to the post-production cast party. Those who only see and hear an oft intense director demanding exactly what she expects and exactly the ways she wants it do not see her on the couch at home obsessing about actors not having to be at rehearsal if they don’t have to be, parents being able to count on a well-thought-out rehearsal schedule that will make for worry-free planning, or people having a great experience from first to last.

When I look at the woman in this photograph I see someone who knows what she’s doing. She’s standing tall, intensely focused, doing the work, orchestrating the action; Pen in one hand and the other hand open and ready to edit the show and the production if they are the right changes to advance the quality of the show and the good of the whole.

From 2003 through 2017 Wendy has been credited with 43 roles in USP productions, only 12 of them as an actor. Seven of those 12 roles I had the privilege of playing opposite her, and there is no one I would rather be on stage with than Wendy because I’ve rarely met another actor who shares my passion for the process of bringing a character to stage. Thirty-one of Wendy’s roles were off-stage roles: Producer, Director, Assistant Director, Front of House, Make-up, Costumes, Props, Publicity – she’s done it all and that doesn’t count some 15 years of continuous service on the USP Board of Directors, organizing Award Nights, helping organize Drama Camp registrations, Picnics,  Costume Shop help, and of course making lots-and-lots of cheesecake.

The final thing I want to point out in this photo is the mystery it makes me feel. You don’t see this woman. You don’t really see her. You see just an impression of her. When I look at this photo, I both enjoy the mystery and experience the selfish satisfaction of being a secret keeper. I do know her. I have been granted the privilege of seeing what no one else sees. 

My theme song for Wendy, and I’m not sure I’ve ever shared this with anyone, contains these lyrics:

Tonight as I stand inside the rain
Ev’rybody knows
That Baby’s got new clothes
But lately I see her ribbons and her bows
Have fallen from her curls
She takes just like a woman, yes, she does
She makes love just like a woman, yes, she does
And she aches just like a woman
But she breaks just like a little girl

In this journey of theatre with Union Street Players I have shared her public triumphs and wiped away her private tears. I can tell that both spring from love: love of God, love of doing things well, love of theatre, love of this crazy organization, and most of all love for each of you with a depth and passion you likely know not – from this two-dimensional, female figure in black.

May I present to you my leading lady, my best producer, my life director, my muse, and my partner on Life’s journey. M’luv! And the newest member of Union Street Players Walk of Fame, Wendy Vander Well...”