Tag Archives: Thanks

Muted By 2020

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You crown the year with your bounty,
    and your carts overflow with abundance.
Psalm 65:11 (NIV)

I sincerely wonder if there’s an individual in America who isn’t ready to put 2020 behind us. It continues to be the strangest, most turbulent year the world has experienced during the stretch of my life journey. And, it’s not over, as we all know well. Which made this morning’s chapter, Psalm 65, feel almost incongruent.

The editors of the compilation of Hebrew song lyrics we call the book of Psalms put psalms 65-68 together. They are all psalms of “thanksgiving” and how ironic that this chapter-a-day journey has me wandering my way through them in the weeks leading up to our Thanksgiving holiday in America this year.

I have a confession to make this morning. As I read through the lyrics of Psalm 65, I found that my weariness of current events make my heart cynical. My spirit is grumbling.

I read:

“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders.”

My heart cried, “yeah, like the production of viruses.”

I read:

You crown the year with your bounty,
    and your carts overflow with abundance.

My heart cried, “just not on the ledger sheet of my business this year.”

I read:

“The hills are clothed with gladness.”

My heart cried, “While I’m clothed with a mask.”

Along this life journey, I’ve learned that it’s critical for me to be conscious of the silent conversation my heart, soul, and mind are having with Life. That private inner dialogue is a leading indicator of the state of my spirit.

It isn’t doing so well this morning, and perhaps I needed Psalm 65 to both reveal my need, and provide me with the antidote.

One of the things I’ve done a little reading up on in the last year or so is that of resonance and frequency. I’ve learned that all matter constantly vibrates and emits sound waves at different frequencies. When two objects have a matching frequency they resonate.

I am hearing impaired because certain parts of my auditory system have died. When sound waves vibrating at particular frequencies reach my ears, they no longer resonate with me. I can’t hear those sound waves. Because the consonants in human speech (the hard sounds like a “t”, “g”, “b”, “s”) often vibrate at the frequencies my ears can’t hear, my brain scrambles to try and connect the combination of vowel sounds it heard (the “a”, “e”, “i”, “o,” and “u” which are frequencies my ears can hear) and figure out all the possibilities of the words you might have just said to me.

Welcome to Wendy’s world. By the way, if you’re wearing a mask it’s very likely I won’t understand 90-95% of your words. But, I will smile and nod and pretend I totally got it. I’m a trained actor.

My point is this. When David writes that the fields, the hills, and the valleys of creation shout and sing for joy, and when Jesus told his critics that the rocks would cry out and sing praise, they were correct. Creation is constantly vibrating, shouting out their frequencies in songs we simply don’t hear with our human ears. All of God’s creation continually sings its praise. And here’s the thing…

The coronavirus doesn’t stop the song.
Masks don’t stop the song.
Political rhetoric won’t stop the song.
Social media can’t stop the song.
My personal circumstances have no effect on the song.

Creation has no choice but to sing the creators praise. Only I have that freedom of will.

In a few weeks, Vander Well manor will welcome family for Thanksgiving dinner. The majority of family members present have already survived their bouts with COVID. We will feast, we will love, and we will give thanks. A few weeks later, I will hug my grandson for the first time in a year. God willing, our daughters and sons will be home together from the distant locations they call home. It will be the first time everyone will have been in our home together since Garrett joined our family and became our son. My heart will vibrate with joy. My mouth will offer praise and thanks.

I have written before about the Chain Reaction of Praise. In the quiet this morning I realized something important. I, as a follower of Jesus, am told to “give thanks in all circumstances.” I think I’ve allowed 2020 to mute my thanks and muffle my praise like one big, thick spiritual surgical mask.

I hear you fields. I’m listening rocks. You don’t have a choice.

I do.

Hey God? Praise you. I’m so thankful you can hear me through my mask.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Praise-to-Plea Ratio

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Great triumphs he gives to his king,
    and shows steadfast love to his anointed,
    to David and his descendants forever.

Psalm 18:50 (NRSVCE)

I was just shy of middle school when the classic rock tandem We Will Rock You and We are the Champions came out. I’ll never forget playing them pretty much non-stop (Because they must be played together!). It became the song everyone broke into after winning a game of kick-ball on the playground or basketball during “Rec.”

As we’ve spent a couple of weeks now in our journey through Psalms, there’s definitely been a pretty strong blues theme in David’s lyrics. We’ve had the “Why me?” blues and the “How long?” blues. David has lamented sickness and hardship.

Reading Psalm 18 this morning there were two things that jumped out at me. First, it’s a long song compared to most of David’s ditties we’ve been read so far.

Second, the theme of this psalm is not the blues but David’s own version of We are the Champions. The liner notes of the song state that David wrote this song after a victory of his enemies and, in particular, his royal predecessor Saul who had been relentlessly trying to kill David for a long time.

What is different between King David’s ancient victory anthem and Queen’s contemporary victory anthem is where the attribution lies in the triumph. Queen’s anthem is all ego, bravado, and self-congratulation. David, however, spends 50 verses giving God credit for basically everything in his life: his life, the battles he’s won, the times he’d escaped his enemies, deliverance from calamities, all the blessings of his life, his strength, his royal position, his successful navigation of political strife, and the blessings of his family. David gives all the credit to God.

So that has me thinking this morning about my own attitude and conversations with God. I’m really good at reaching out to God when I’m singing the blues. When times are tough and life is not going my way, I’m quick to bend God’s ear with my frustrations, exasperation, confusion, and needs.

But what about the good things in my life? What about the countless ways I have been and am blessed? My life journey reads like a dream in so many ways. Great family, great place to live, great education, great community, great friends, good health, and a great job. God has been so good to me. How often do I stop to give credit where credit is due? The blessing in my life far outweighs the struggles in my life, and I’m asking myself in the quiet this morning: Does my praise and gratitude to God outweigh my self-centered pleas when I’m singing the blues?

David’s “Why Me?” Blues (Psalm 7): 17 verses long.

David’s “How Long?” Blues (Psalm 13): 6 verses long.

David’s victory anthem today giving God all the credit: 50 verses long.

That’s a “praise” to “plea” ratio of 2:1.

I think the ratio in my conversations with God are honestly opposite that.

I need to fix that.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

Thanksgiving Thoughts

It’s early Thanksgiving morning. As usual, I’m up before the ladies. In a couple of hours the house will be bustling with preparations. For now, it is so quiet that my increasingly deaf ears can hear the wind and rain hitting the house.

It’s a very different holiday this year. In that past 15 months my mom and dad were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and cancer, respectively. This summer they moved into a retirement community. We have so much for which to be thankful despite present circumstances. Medication has slowed progress of mom’s illness. While dad’s cancer will require ceaseless cycles of oral chemotherapy, tests show that the cancerous proteins in his blood are now held at bay. They are in a wonderful retirement community filled with warm and enjoyable new friends. We are so thankful.

It has been a huge year of transition. Madison, sadly, will be flying the friendly skies today and is unable to join us. She has been working tirelessly and will graduate from UCCS in a few weeks. Taylor returned from Scotland with a master’s degree and diligently continues the job search. Suzanna is kicking it in her first year of college. Wendy and I sold a house, built a house, and moved. We’ve been more intentional with our local gathering of Jesus’ followers and stepped down from leadership in the community theatre. There has been so much movement on everyone’s respective life journeys.

All that said, I find my heart struggling to find equilibrium in the pre-dawn hours of this Thanksgiving. I am so thankful for everyone being relatively healthy and happy, yet I acknowledge the intense and painful struggle required for some of us to be able to report that. I am grateful for the blessing of family to be together, and still feel the heartache of missing family I have not seen for far too long. I am giving thanks for our wonderful new home where 16 of us can gather comfortably, and at the same time grieve the passing of family traditions that have been woven into the tapestry of our lives for so many years.

Yesterday I read about the relatively unknown story of Squanto. The native American who became a miraculous life-line to the Pilgrims in that first year in America had actually been abducted and sold as a slave in Europe. Given his freedom by Catholic friars in Spain, he lived in London for a time. He found his way back to America on a trading ship, agreeing to provide his interpretation skills in the new world in exchange for passage. When he returned, however, he found his tribe had been wiped out, likely by disease. He found his way home only to find himself alone in the world.

When Squanto wandered into the Pilgrim’s camp, he was uniquely prepared to help them. He had lived in London longer than some of the Pilgrims. He spoke their language. He understood their ways. He was uniquely qualified to teach them the skills they would need to survive the American wilderness. The Pilgrims had been through hell on their voyage and that first deathly winter. They were unprepared for life in the new world. Having lived through enslavement and a decade of struggle to get home, Squanto needed a tribe and a family. Having lived through the struggle of voyage and a terrible year of death, the Pilgrims needed someone to teach them how to survive in the New World and to communicate with their new neighbors. How miraculous that they found one another.

This morning in the quiet I find myself thinking about that first Thanksgiving. I find it fascinating that the gratitude for both Pilgrim and Native came at the end of a period of incredible challenges, struggles, defeats, and transition in their respective life journeys. And yet, they stopped to feast and offer God thanks in the midst of it all. They’d found each other, and in one another they’d found God’s gift of hope. It seems oddly familiar this year.

I hear Wendy in the kitchen. The rattling of pans has begun, and it’s time for me to start preparations for the feast and for family. Thanks to all who join me on this blogging journey and who, from time to time, take a moment to read my early morning rambling and meandering of heart. I’m grateful for you.

It’s time to roast a turkey. Blessings to you all.

After Dinner Blessing

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.
Deuteronomy 8:10 (NIV)

The harvest here in Iowa is in full swing. Gorgeous, dry fall weather means that the corn and bean fields are full of combines and grain trucks bringing in the land’s bounty. When you live in Iowa, even if you have nothing to do with farming, you feel a keen connection to the land and the seasons of cultivating, planting, growing, and harvesting. It’s part of the fabric of daily life in the heartland.

Wendy and I love our meals with family and friends. We love setting the table, making a good meal, opening the wine, and sharing long hours of laughter and conversation over the food and drink. Especially during the harvest season there is a extra sense of gratitude I feel for God’s provision, the land which produces the abundance we enjoy, and those who labor to produce it.

The verse above is one that I have memorized and, quite regularly, at the end of a good meal it will come to mind as we sit in the contented afterglow of our feast. It is tradition at our table to say a prayer of blessing at the beginning of our meal, but this verse has taught me that it is every bit as appropriate to say a word of thanks and gratitude after “you have eaten and are satisfied.”

chapter a day banner 2015

A Lesson in Gratitude

TenLepers

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:15-19 (NIV)

On the refrigerator at our lake house you’ll find some sweet “thank you” notes left by guests. Taylor and her friends used the place for a weekend last month, and when we arrived we found that all them had signed a hand-made and artistic thank you note (and included a bottle of wine with it). My favorites are always the thank you notes left by children. You know that the child’s note was prompted by a mom or dad who was teaching the kid about manners and gratitude, but they are always so endearing.

I have learned so many spiritual lessons by having our little place at the lake. Wendy and I have always had a sense that our job was to steward the place well, and to be generous with it. God has blessed us and we’re paying it forward. What I didn’t expect was the inherent lesson it has been in generosity and gratitude. It’s been fascinating to see how people treat that which is generously given. Some show their respect and gratitude simply by the visible care with which they treat that which is not theirs. Others not only treat things with respect, but also express their gratitude in creative and tangible ways that warm our hearts. Occasionally, a guest will be neither respectful or grateful. What are you gonna do? People are people.

My joy at receiving simple expressions of thanks has really prompted a lot of personal soul searching in recent years. I look back on my journey and realize that, more often than not, I have been like the nine lepers who accepted Jesus’ generous healing but never thought to go back and simply say, “Thank you.” God’s blessing has been so abundant and I have to admit that I’ve been guilty of being neither respectful nor grateful. I now have a greater sense of what Jesus felt when He asked the thankful cleansed leper, “Where are the other nine?” I get it. I don’t ever want to counted among the nine again.

Today, I’m expressing my gratitude for all the ways God has abundantly blessed me and my family.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 3

Hammer365: 108/257 Grandma's Mantle Clock
Hammer365: 108/257 Grandma’s Mantle Clock (Photo credit: David Reber’s Hammer Photography)

I lay down and slept,    
     yet I woke up in safety,    
     for the Lord was watching over me. 
I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies    
     who surround me on every side.
Psalm 3:5-6 (NLT)

I’ve never been a great sleeper. When I was a little tike I was that kid. At 5:30 a.m. I was at my parents bedside.

Come on. Mom? Dad?
I’m awake.
Somebody get up.

I remember my dad marching me into the dark living room. There was an antique mantle clock on the shelf. It chimed the hours. My dad pointed to it.

“Until that clock strikes six. I don’t want to see your face!”

Point taken.
But, it doesn’t change the fact that I’m awake at 5:30.
And, you didn’t say I couldn’t get up. You just said you didn’t want to see my face.

So, I would get out of bed each morning and scamper down the steps to the dark living room where I hid behind the gold rocking chair in the far corner (you never know if Dad might get up early; Can’t let him see my face). From there I could peek around the chair and keep my eyes glued to the mantle clock. I could listened to it tick…tick…tick…tick. I waited…for…it…to…chime…six.

I’ve gotten better about sleeping, though I still have bouts with insomnia. I appreciate the blessing of a good night’s sleep. This morning’s chapter makes me think about the millions of people who sleep each night in terror or in hunger or in anxious thought for how they will survive another day. I think about waking in safety and hope of a new dawn and a new day of uncounted blessings. I think about the joy of seeing the faces of those I love and through whom I am loved (after six o’clock, of course; well, with Wendy make it seven o’clock…or eight).

Today, I’m grateful for sleeping in safety; God watching over me. I’m thankful to be able to enter the day with hope and assurance.

Chapter-a-Day Luke 17

Cleansing of the ten lepers
Image via Wikipedia

Jesus said, “Were not ten [lepers] healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.” Luke 17:17-19 (MSG)

Ten things for which I’m thanking God this morning:

  1. An amazing wife and life partner I get to kiss backstage
  2. Loveable, valuable, & capable daughters who, daily, make me proud to be their father
  3. A loving family (who get along & love one another)
  4. Daily phone calls with Kevin
  5. Coffee and conversations with Chad and with Matthew
  6. A job I love, that fits me, with a great team of co-workers
  7. Getting to be involved with the stage
  8. Playing bass in worship
  9. Quiet nights at home with a glass of wine
  10. Quiet mornings and coffee with God

What about you?

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