It’s a new year, and it is very common for individuals to use the transition from one year to the next to hit the “reset” button on life in different ways. So, it’s a bit of synchronicity to have today’s chapter, Psalm 96, start out with a call to “Sing a new song.”
In ancient Hebrew society, it was common to call on “new songs” to commemorate or celebrate certain events including military triumphs, new monarchs being coronated, or a significant national or community event.
Throughout the Great Story, “new” is a repetitive theme. In fact, if you step back and look at the Great Story from a macro level, doing something “new” is a part of who God is. God is always acting, always creating, always moving, always transforming things. When God created everything at the beginning of the Great Story, it was something new. When God called Abram He was doing something new. When Abram became Abraham it was something new. When Simon became Peter it was something new. When Jesus turned fishermen into “fishers of men” it was something new.
“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26
“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “New wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills…” Amos 9:13
“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined.” Luke 5:37
“A new command I give you: Love one another.” John 13:34
..after the supper [Jesus] took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” Luke 22:20
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. Revelation 21:1
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Revelation 21:5
Along my life journey, I’ve observed that most human beings struggle with real change. A new gadget? Cool! A new release from my favorite author? Awesome. A new restaurant in town I can try? I’m there! But if it comes to a change that messes with my routine, a change that requires something from me, or a change that brings discomfort, then I will avoid it like the plague. Why? I like things that are comfortable, routine, and easy.
What I’ve observed is that “new” is always considered better as long as I think it will makes things easier or better for me. If it will rock my world, create discomfort, or expect something of me outside of my comfort zone, then I think I’ll cling to the “old” thing that I know and love, thank you very much.
And thus, most New Year’s resolutions sink down the drain of good intentions.
In the quiet today, I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Great Divorce, in which a bus full of people in purgatory visit the gates of heaven. There they are given every opportunity to accept the invitation to enter into the new thing God has for them on the other side. One individual after another finds a reason to stick with the drab, gray, lifeless existence they know and with which they are comfortable.
As a follower of Jesus, I embraced the reality that I follow and serve a Creator who is never finished creating. “New” is an always part of the program. It may not always be comfortable, but it’s always good.
As long as I am on this earthly journey, I pray that I will choose into and embrace the new things into which God is always leading me.
A few months ago I posted about the chaotic season of travel into which Wendy and I were entering. Don’t get me wrong. It’s all good stuff! Nevertheless, the coming and going have left us grasping for even a few nuggets of normalcy and routine. We are on the downhill side of our gauntlet of travels. It’s been a while since I’ve posted an update. So, away we go…
Two weeks after our daughter, Madison’s, wedding weekend in South Carolina, Wendy and I flew to Mazatlan, Mexico. Wendy’s sister, Suzanna, got married to Emmanuel (a.k.a. Chino) in a gorgeous sunset wedding right on the shore of the Pacific. It was an amazing, multi-cultural event. Chino’s family speaks little or no English. Our family speaks very little Spanish. Nevertheless, there was no shortage of love, laughter, and warmth as we celebrated their wedding.
Our family rented a large condo right on the beach with lots of bedrooms and living space. I will say that the accommodations were in desperate need of updating, but it was still very comfortable. There was a lovely view of the ocean and the sounds of the surf resonated non-stop. When we opened both the doors to the condo and the patio doors to the balcony there was a constant ocean breeze that blew through the living area. It was really lovely.
On Friday evening we hosted the wedding rehearsal in our condo. A large contingent of both family and friends from Suzanna and Chino’s YWAM (Youth With A Mission) base gathered. Chino’s mother made an amazing, authentic Mexican meal for everyone. There was lots of love, laughter, and joy as Suzanna and Chino blended their worlds and prepared for their big day.
One of my favorite memories of the weekend was making multiple Walmart runs with my father-in-law. He desperately wanted some heavy cream for his coffee, but how do you say “heavy cream” in Spanish? We were shown the shelves of Coffee-Mate creamers (sorry, that’s not it) and found several cream products in the dairy case, but which one is the right one? It was a hoot.
The wedding day dawned and the condo was overrun with females. Cakes, flowers, dresses, and various other wedding accouterments were being baked, decorated, assembled, judged, revised, and improvised (rinse and repeat). I slipped onto the balcony with a cup of coffee and stayed out of the way.
The wedding venue was the courtyard of a home along the pacific shore north of Mazatlan. Wendy had joined Suzanna and the wedding party in getting their early. I joined my in-laws, including Aunt Barb, in a YWAM people mover with lots of young people (some of them holding cakes on their laps). As the people mover took off my mother-in-law pointed to the driver and asked me, “Does he know where he’s going?” I remember thinking, “I certainly hope so because I definitely don’t know where we’re going and I don’t speak Spanish!” All was well.
The outdoor venue was beautiful and the wedding began as the sun was setting in the Pacific Ocean behind the wedding couple. I had very little do to with anything, but Suzanna did ask me for suggestions of music to play as the bridesmaids and groomsmen entered. Suzanna asked me for something kind of moody and bluesy. I immediately suggested a song which she immediately loved. What she didn’t realize was that the song (I am Yours by Tracy Chapman) was one of the songs Wendy and played at our wedding. Suzanna was in our wedding, but I forgive her for not remembering. She was, like, ten years old. Anyway, it was awesome that the song began just as Wendy and her groomsman escort started towards the front. I got some nice looks from Wendy. She and I enjoyed the moment, for sure.
After the ceremony, we enjoyed a lovely catered meal as the sunset behind the wedding party. Wendy gave her sister a lovely toast (by that time she needed a little iPhone flashlight to see her notes). The dance was really a lot of fun. There may be cultural differences between the U.S. and Mexico, but everyone loves a wedding dance whether the music is Tejano or R&B. I even was blessed to get in a step or two with the beautiful bride that I’ll always treasure.
Here’s a gallery of photos from Mazatlan (Keep scrolling! There’s MORE afterwards!)
Christmas in London, New Year’s in Dublin
It seemed that we had no sooner gotten home than we were packing again. This time we were heading across the pond for Christmas with Taylor, Clayton, and our grandson, Milo. Taylor’s friend, who lives in London, offered her flat to us for the holidays. Wendy and I flew out of Des Moines on the 23rd (DSM-ORD-DUB-LHR) and arrived in London early on the 24th.
It was really a wonderful week together. We went to the annual Christmas concert at Royal Albert Hall and Milo was transfixed… for about ten minutes. It really was a cool event. We made it just past intermission before Milo throwing his cars at fellow concert-goers prompted us to beat the rush and head home.
We went for walks. We played in the park. Taylor made a wonderful Christmas meal complete with figgy pudding (ugh!) and brandy butter (yum!). We played Christmas games (balance an orange on your forehead for a minute), and binged the second season of Fleabag.
A lot of the week was simply spent enjoying one another’s company, but Taylor did a nice job of planning an itinerary that included about one event per day. We went to see the Christmas lights at Kew Gardens (spectacular). The adults got away for the Harry Potter studio tour at Warner Brothers (fantastic), and also got away for a show on the West End (The Play that Goes Wrong). Wendy and I found a pub that was playing the Iowa State vs. Notre Dame bowl game (depressing). It was a great week of just getting to spend time together with this trio that we miss so much.
Wendy and I flew out of London City airport on the 30th and made the short flight to Dublin. Our anniversary is New Year’s Eve, so we figured it would be a lot of fun to celebrate our 14th year of wedding bliss with a pint o’ Guinness on the Emerald Isle. Regretfully, our time there was far too short. We were blessed to have a room at the Westin, which is an old bank building. The hotel bar was in the old bank vaults in the basement. It was really pretty cool.
We didn’t arrive until late afternoon on the 30th. After settling in we took a stroll up Grafton Street and stopped to buy Wendy a charm for her bracelet to mark the occasion. We enjoyed a pint at the Stag’s Head pub, a place I’d enjoyed when I was in Dublin twenty years ago. We had dinner at the Exchequer before making our way back to the hotel for a night cap.
On New Year’s Eve day we took a hop-on hop-off bus tour of Dublin which allowed us to get a good overview of the sites. It also allowed Wendy to start planning our next trip to Dublin (“We are coming back here,” she informed me). We ate lunch at the Brazen Head Pub (which opened for business in the year 1098… that’s not a typo). We ended up back in the old bank vaults for a nibble and great conversation with the eclectic patrons sitting with us.
Just before midnight, we walked the block or two up to the River Liffey where thousands of revelers crowded the streets and we kissed in the year 2020 as fireworks exploded overhead.
Then we quickly high-tailed it back to the hotel and went to bed.
The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too. Genesis 3:6 (NLT)
It is early January and we’re just coming out of the holiday season. The holidays are a time of feasting and I while I am happy to feast as much as the next bloke, I entered the holidays with a different mind set this year. Over the past year I’ve worked hard to drop a little weight and develop some healthy habits. One of the things that has changed for me in the past year is my appetite for food. Over time I’ve found contentment with much smaller portions and far fewer sweets.
Entering the Christmas and New Year’s holiday this year, I was mindful of how quickly the feasting could derail the good habits I’ve tried to establish. On top of Christmas and New Years we celebrate Wendy’s birthday (Dec 21) and our wedding anniversary (Dec 31). So along with all the Christmas gatherings with family and New Year’s parties with friends was the celebratory dinners out to celebrate Wendy and our wedding.
The food looks so delicious. The plates full of colorful cookies and handmade candies. The huge spreads of food at family gatherings. Look at all the goodies that you get only once or twice a year. Live a little. Have a little nibble. Take a little taste. It’s amazing how quickly the heart, mind and body can react to the cravings of our natural appetites. Once you start pushing the boundary markers, it’s hard to pull them back in.
According to God’s Message, it was our human appetites that got us into trouble in the first place and the human condition hasn’t changed. I talked about it a month or so ago in a message I gave. We are told that there are three core cravings. Our other appetites flow out of them.
Lust of the eyes (“She saw that the tree was beautiful…”)
Lust of the flesh (“…its fruit looked delicious…”)
Pride of life (“…she wanted the wisdom it would give her [to be like God].”)
In retrospect, I didn’t fall completely off the wagon during the holidays. I did, however, let my appetites get the best of me on more than one occasion. I think about the past few days, I think about my choices, and I realize how slowly and subtly I can give in to my cravings until my appetites are once again controlling me.
It’s hard to believe the holidays have come and gone. It was an enjoyable time for Wendy and me. In fact, Wendy commented the other day that these were the most enjoyable holidays for her in many years. For the archives, here’s a run down of what we did this year.
On Sunday the 23rd, Wendy and I hosted the Vander Hart clan (that’s Wendy’s mother’s family) at our house in the afternoon. Eighteen people are a lot to squeeze into Vander Well Manor, but it’s a loving bunch so everyone rubbed elbows and enjoyed appetizers and goodies while we chatted the afternoon away. I enjoyed hanging out with a bunch of the other kids (I’m still a kid, aren’t I?) and catching up on where they are and what they’re doing.
Christmas Eve Day was quiet for Wendy and me. There was nothing on the calendar except for helping video tape the Christmas Eve service at church in the afternoon. Wendy was in the Director’s chair while I helped on camera. We spent the rest of the day cleaning up the house, preparing the Christmas meal ahead of time and wrapping a lot of gifts we’d left until the last minute. We were nestled all snug in our bed when Taylor and Clayton arrived in the wee hours. Taylor worked until late and they drove down to be at our house on Christmas morning.
With children coming and going, we haven’t had the chance to make really firm Christmas traditions, but Christmas breakfast is the closest we’ve come to it. This year, Wendy made homemade cinnamon rolls and breakfast casserole. We enjoyed having Clayton and Taylor with us. After breakfast Madison joined us on FaceTime. We’d sent her gifts back to Colorado with her and we all opened gifts together.
Taylor and Clayton headed to Clayton’s mother’s house while Wendy and I cleaned up and headed to Des Moines. We’d made crock pot French Dip and took that with us to the Vander Wells. We had lunch at my folks and then opened gifts in the afternoon before Wendy and I headed back home.
On the 26th, we picked up Wendy’s sister, Becky and her husband, Court, and headed north to the Hall family gathering at Mom & Dad Hall’s place in Boone. It was small gathering as most of the seven siblings and their families were unable to attend. Lucas’ girlfriend Polley joined us from Tennesse, however and maybe it was a good thing that she didn’t get overwhelmed with the entire crew all at once! We had a wonderful Iowa meal of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn, stuffing and homemade bread. I piled everything together on my plate swirled it together and dug in! Mmmmmmm.
On Friday night, Dec 28th we went to Des Moines for the afternoon to peruse the after Christmas sales. We then met our friends Kevin and Becky at Chuck’s restaurant where we enjoyed celebrating our anniversary and hearing our friend Heather singing. I was also surprised to find that the piano player was a guy I went to high school with and we enjoyed a nice conversation. It was one of those evenings of sitting down at the table a little after six then enjoying a drawn out meal and entertainment. We didn’t get up from the table until 10:30.
The weekend was fairly quiet. On Saturday Becky & Court drove to Pella and we dined at the Windmill Cafe with Grandma VH, Uncle Mel and Aunt Linda. Becky and Court stuck around and chatted the afternoon away. On Sunday, Wendy and I sat on the couch and cheered the Vikings into the playoffs with a victory over the Packers!
On New Year’s we headed to Chad and Shays for appetizers and wine along with friends Matthew and Sarah. Dinner at Kaldera and then back to our house for Wendy’s cheesecake. Then, it was back to Chad and Shay’s to relieve the babysitter. Chad, Shay, Wendy and I popped the cork on the bubbly and the four of us quietly rang in the new year.
New Year’s Day was when the decorations came down and we worked to clean up the house. Things are back to normal and the routine has already begun to set back in, but it was a restful and loving time with family and friends this year.
Wendy and I celebrated our seventh wedding anniversary on New Year’s Eve. It was a wonderful occasion and celebration that makes the holiday extra special for us. On New Year’s Day we celebrated by taking down our Christmas decorations and returning Vander Well Manor back to it’s normal daily appearance. The holidays, the celebration of our anniversary, and the extra time we have to be together during the holidays always gives me opportunity to think about our relationship.
Wendy and I have a lot in common when it comes to our interests, but those who know us well will tell you that we are opposites in temperament. I am laid back and tend to go with the flow while Wendy is very particular and highly organized. After seven years of marriage, I realized yesterday that our annual taking down of the decorations was as efficient and stress free as we’d ever experienced. I believe that this was due in a large part to an unspoken understanding of one another and how best to attack the process in a way that played to our strengths.
No matter what our individual bent, the strength of our personal temperament always comes with a corollary weakness. Being laid back and able to go with the flow helps me to weather change and to bring flexibility and stability to rapidly changing circumstances. At the same time, I tend not to sweat certain details and give little thought to the long term implications of my momentary decisions. The result can often create frustration since Wendy’s bent is to give careful thought to each decision in order to anticipate the future chain of events to where it will lead.
Today’s chapter is all about similar differences in the way the followers of Jesus in Corinth were going about their meetings together. Conflict arose because the meetings had become a bit of a laid back free-for-all and Paul was trying to address some of the specific issues the local group of believers were experiencing. I thought Paul’s bullet at the end of the discussion summed things up nicely: Do things properly and in order. I can hear Wendy’s voice in my head lending a hearty “Amen.”.
I’m not one for formal New Year’s resolutions, but as we put away decorations yesterday and cleaned up the house I told myself to make 2013 a year of “getting my house in order.” I find it interesting to wake up this morning and, in a little moment of synchronicity, read Paul’s succinct directive. We don’t make much progress in our personal journey unless we consciously choose to address areas of needed improvement. For a easy going person like me, that means consciously doing a better job of sweating the details, doing things properly, and going about my day in a more orderly fashion.
(Which means I need to end this post and get ready for my day. Happy New Year.)
In my mother’s family, my great grandma Daisy was the undisputed matriarch. Divorced during a time when it was both scandalous and humiliating, she refused any money from her ex-husband and determined to raise her five children on her own. Relying on faith, hope, and love, she made ends meet and became a living example to her children and grandchildren. Grandma Daisy died when I was five years old, but her imprint on my family has become clearer to me throughout my life.
When Taylor left for Uganda last summer, I sent with her a box of crayons that I discovered in a tub of family mementoes that languished in my basement. They were Grandma Daisy’s crayons and I figured that Grandma Daisy herself would rather have them being used for art therapy projects in Uganda than gathering dust in my basement.
On Christmas Day, we gave my mother a set of three photographs showing Taylor with some children from Uganda, of a picture colored by a young girl there, and a picture of a woman drawing with Grandma Daisy’s crayons. On the back of the picture was an explanation of the photo triptych. As my mother read about Grandma Daisy’s crayons being sent to Uganda with Taylor she began to weep.
I thought about that moment this morning as I read this amazing chapter. My great Grandma Daisy had little or nothing of earthly value in this life. Her life and her legacy were not about getting more, keeping up appearances, or getting ahead. Her life and legacy were about simple faith, eternal hope and tangible love. I know that, not from having known her personally, but from the testimony and evidence given by her children and grandchildren in countless stories, anecdotes and family treasures.
Today’s chapter says that faith, hope, and love are the only three things that last for eternity. As I watched my mother’s reaction to her gift and the deep meaning it held for her, I caught a glimpse of the truth of it. As New Year’s Day approaches and I weed through bags of trash, piles of broken down cardboard, and a host of new stuff to place in our house, my thoughts are given to the coming year. I’m thinking more than ever about where my time, energy and resources are invested, and about Grandma Daisy’s legacy. I’ve never been one for big new year’s resolutions, but I think this year is about decreasing my investment in a lot of things and increasing my investment in just three.
“The People of Israel did everything that God commanded Moses. They did it all.”Numbers 1:54 (MSG)
I was listening to a critically acclaimed author being interviewed on the radio yesterday. When asked what she had learned in her experience at the University of Iowa’s famed Writer’s Workshop, she mentioned that she gained an appreciation for reading well and the importance of a prologue and an epilogue.
Many people skip the brief sections at the beginning and end of a novel. Prologues set the scene and they give you a foreshadow of what follows. Epilogues tie things together and contemplate the story at its conclusion.
As I read today’s chapter, I remembered the author’s words because I felt like I was reading the prologue to the Book of Numbers. The scene is being set. Around two million former slaves are living in tents in the wilderness of the Sinai peninsula. In two years and two months time they’ve been organized into their twelve tribes and taken a good census to know who they have and how many are present. Through Moses a rule of law has been established along with a religious system revolving around a large tent sancturary which can be torn down to travel with them.
This prologue to the book of Numbers ends with the statatement that the people had done everything God asked of them. In other words, they were off to a good start.
Starting well is not an issue for most of us. We can start most anything. Each New Year’s we can pen a prologue about the good start on our diet, exercise, weight loss, organization, debt reduction, savings, project, etc., etc., and etc. Getting off to a good start is the easy part. Most people start life with cute baby pictures tucked in sweet baby books filled with cuddly memories and loads of promise.
The real question is this: when my body is laying in a casket and the final chapter of my life story has been written, what will be said in the epilogue?
"And you? Go about your business without fretting or worrying. Relax. When it's all over, you will be on your feet to receive your reward."Daniel 12:13 (MSG)
I've felt a heaviness all week. I'm not sure if I feel this every year during the holidays, but I've felt it acutely this year.
That's what I feel. What is the coming year going to hold? Will we prosper or suffer? Will God realize our desires or not? Will Taylor and Clayton build a strong foundation for their marriage? Will Madison make the right decisions about school? Will it be a good year for our business, or will we find ourselves having to scale back? Will this be the year for the Cubs? I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. I'm uncertain. I woke up feeling the uncertainty gnawing at my heart.
And then, I got out of bed, made the commute upstairs to my office, and read today's chapter. Some days it's as if the chapter was meant only for me. "Mind your business, Tom," Holy Spirit whispers as I read. "Live wisely. Live well. Relax. When it's all over, you will be on your feet to receive your reward."
It's a pretty good note on which to end one year and being the next.