It all started….

(This was originally written for the “Reaching Out” newsletter at my church, Madison Square Church in Grand Rapids, MI.)

It all started with a bulletin announcement…..
Soul Food Sunday will be held on July 29…….. It sounded like a good thing – some good food, a chance to talk to friends, a little bit of worship, a little bit of wisdom from Pastor Darrell. Yeah, I think I might like this……
We came early. You see, my teenagers are interns at church this summer and they had jobs to do. So, we had plenty of time. I think we showed up 45 minutes early – and for Madison, that’s early!
As I walked in the back door, something strange happened. There were people sitting down at the tables already! They were waiting patiently and were talking to each other and greeting others and all seemed very friendly and happy to be there. Comfortable, yeah, that’s the word – they seemed comfortable. I didn’t recognize any of them.
As it got closer and closer to 5:30, more and more people showed up. The noise level grew but there was something really cool about the noise – it was all upbeat, all positive, all happy to be there. As you looked around, you couldn’t tell who knew each other for a long time and who just met. Who have been members of Madison for years and who was living at Mel Trotter? They all just blended together.
And the people kept coming. And coming. You remember the story in the Bible about the king who threw a party and many of his “friends” were too busy to come? And so he sent his servants out into the “highways and the by-ways” urging anyone and everyone to come. Remember that story? Well, it turns out that Madison Church’s efforts on Wednesday nights brought them in.
And the people kept coming. And coming. And the tables were all filled – no problem, we’ll get more tables out. And those tables were filled – and there was no more room on the floor – no problem – we’ll put tables up on the stage.   
And the people kept coming. “I hope we don’t run out of food,” said one. “I hope we don’t run out of plates,” said another. And we didn’t. And many many people enjoyed good old fashioned soul food – ribs, cornbread, greens, you name it, it was good!
But that was only the beginning. The Gospel choir led us in songs that are still resonating through my subconscious. And then God opened the doors and handed Mrs. Kia (Pastor Darrell’s wife) the microphone. Was it an amazing story? (If I were reading this to you, I’d be asking for “Amens!”). Yes, it was. But it wasn’t amazing because Mrs. Kia is amazing. It was amazing because God is amazing and God uses broken people and tough situations for His purpose. God spoke through His servant and I know that many lives were touched. Many people who might not feel comfortable in a regular church setting came, enjoyed the food but also were touched by God’s hand through it all.
Soul Food Sunday – way more than just a church dinner. It was a coming together of people – the neighbors, the church members, the forgotten ones in the shelters – they were not forgotten. Everyone’s story mattered but none of the stories mattered. We were all there because God loves us – imperfect, screwed up, messed up people that we are.  
And that’s what I had for dinner Sunday night. 

Soul Food.

Tom

Boy, was I Naive……

If you had asked me before we started this adoption journey what it would look like, I probably would have told you something along the lines of this:

• We’d figure out where we were going to adopt from.
• Then we’d work with the people in charge and eventually figure out who we were going to adopt.
• We’d bring them home – and things would be noisy and crazy and full of adjustments.
• But after a while – maybe a year, maybe two – we’d settle into the new normal and life would go on pretty much as it was – just with more kids and more noise.

Boy was I naive’.

If our adoption story had gone that way, here’s a sampling of what I would have missed:
• I would have missed hearing Haitian roosters who couldn’t tell time – and crowed at 2:00 in the morning.
• I would have missed the sounds of Haiti in the night. It truly is musical.
• I would have missed getting to know some truly amazing people who have given and currently still give so much of themselves to help others.
• I would have missed the privilege of sitting with others in their pain and sadness – a privileged place that few are allowed to enter into.
• I would have missed a lifetime of learning about poverty, corruption, the 3rd world, racism and problems that are worth fighting against.
• I would have missed getting to know some great kids – Michno, Sonia, “Small Man” Peterson, Kenbe, Judith and Kerby and many more.
• I would have missed out on seeing some miracles – and not only did I see those miracles, I got to, I get to see those miracles as they turn from children without a future to children who healed and have a future and are a blessing to many. Elli, Roselaure, Danny – you are just a few of them.
• I would have missed out on conversations with an 80 year old lady in the hospital who told me that God gave her a second chance at life through a successful heart surgery and I gave her a chance to make a difference for kids in Haiti. There is a building at the orphanage named after her.
• I would have missed the opportunity in 2011 to sit on the porch at the orphanage late at night – in shorts and a t-shirt – while messaging with my wife who was at home in the middle of a major snow storm with wind chills approaching 30 degrees below and well over 2 ft of snow falling in 2 days time. I missed the storm and I’m still grateful.
• I would have missed out on being uncomfortable.
• I would have missed out on getting to know people at my current church – people like Christy and LeMaar and Susie and Pastor Darrell and Laura and…….
• I would have missed out on learning about and getting to know the people at Potter’s House School.

Boy was I naive’. Boy am I glad I was wrong. Has it been easy? Not a chance. Would I trade? Maybe for a day or two every now and then.

But not a chance.

TJV

Why Haiti? And why International Adoption?

If I got $5 for every time someone has asked me that question, well, I’d have a lot more than $5, that’s for sure.

Why did we choose Haiti?

We didn’t.

God did.

Shortly after that Christmas, we were on a cruise and got to know a couple. In talking to them, we mentioned that we were trying to figure out what God had planned but were thinking of adopting. Her boss had recently brought home a child they adopted from Haiti.

My brother runs a local Christian youth camp. He was talking with one of his camp counselors and it turned out that counselor grew up as a missionary kid – in Haiti. Actually, it turns out that his parents were good friends with the orphanage director and her husband.

Our oldest came home from school one day and said, “Hey guess what – the B_______ twins have a younger brother and sister they just got home from Haiti.”

At the same time that these and other instances all seemed to be pointing towards Haiti, we were going to adoption information meetings and learning about adopting from different countries. None of them felt like a good fit.

And then there’s Karen Kingsbury – we did actually get to meet her later – but while we were attempting to discern what God had planned my wife was reading one of her books and discovered that Karen had recently adopted.

From where?

You guessed it.

From Haiti.

Finally it was like, okay God, we get the picture.

Everything was turning up Haiti. Everything we knew and everyone we talked to, it all kept pointing to this little impoverished country south of Miami.

That’s why we chose Haiti. Actually, we didn’t. That’s why God pushed us to Haiti.

We were about to take the first steps into becoming a transracial family.

Boy was I naive……..

Tom

How Did It All Start?

I’m not going to take you back to the high school sweethearts going to see “Raiders of the Lost Ark” on their first date.

I’m not going to take you back to borrowing my Dad’s car because my 1967 Volkswagen Beetle had absolutely no heat and the aforementioned sweetheart didn’t like that.

I’m not going to…….

Oh wait, never mind.

Instead, I’m just going to go back to let’s say 2002. We had three girls and they were all in the “double digits” age and were doing well.

And then we started hearing a whisper. No, it wasn’t the voices in my head.

It was a whisper that was calling us to consider “more.”

But it didn’t really make clear what “more” was.

Until one Sunday in October of 2002, we were sitting around on a Sunday afternoon and one of those “unspoken” conversations happened between my better half and I. And we realized that we could do “more.”

Or at least we had to find out what “more” was.

For real. Not hypothetical but let’s actually find out what God’s nudging was leading us to. What is the more that he wanted to show us?

We had no idea what we were getting into.

Some days we still don’t.

But we knew it was time to try to figure out what God was up to.

How do we tell the kids?

So, we decided that we’d write a letter.

And we’d give it to them at Christmas. Sort of like Gideon’s fleece – if they all ran to their rooms screaming in terror, well God, now what?

After all of the presents were opened, we told them all to sit down on the couch and I got three envelopes from the top of the Christmas tree. I gave them each one with specific instructions;
• Open it and read what is inside.
• Because you all read at different speeds, do not say anything until all three of you are done reading.

In the letter, we talked about how they were great girls (still are) and that we felt God was calling us to do “more” but we didn’t know what more was. It could be:
• Being foster parents
• Doing medical fostering
• Adopting domestically
• Adopting internationally
• We didn’t know but we felt God was calling us to find out.
And then we ended the letter with the “Starfish Poem.”

It made a difference for “that one.”

Reactions?
⁃ the oldest – I want a baby brother!
⁃ the middle – Please not a boy – my friends all say their brothers are so annoying!
⁃ the youngest – I’m not going to be the baby of the family any more!

Okay, God, it’s a go.

And boy was and is it a ride.

Tom

Time – Wait for It

I’ll be writing more about it in the future (see what I did there – a reference to time?) but I wanted to share a couple of things about time and 2018 and how that has impacted my life.

2018 has not gone the way that I expected it would. I started out the year finishing up a long term substitute teacher assignment that I expected would last longer. While I agree on the reasons why they transitioned to substitute teachers who were experts in that field, it was still disappointing. If you are so inclined, add Mary Dornbos to your prayer list. She’s the teacher I filled in for and she’s still struggling with cancer.

The end of January, I had a medical procedure (more on that later) that I expected miight take a week or two to recover from. That was my anticipated time schedule based on what the doctors anticipated time schedule was.

God’s timing is different. As I’m writing this a number of months out, the recovery time has changed significantly. There looks like there will be long term, if any, recovery from some of the side effects.

That’s not the time frame that I wanted.

But God’s timing is not always our timing. And God’s ways are not always our ways.

So, as Laura Story wrote in her book, “When God Doesn’t Fix It” there is a time where you need to switch the question. You need to switch from asking, “Why God?” Or shouting, “Why God?” To asking, “How God?” “How are you going to use this, use this mess, use this pain, use what happened to your glory?” “What’s your plan?”

What’s your timing, God?

Waiting for God’s timing is hard. We want to be in control.

But the sooner we realize that we aren’t, the sooner we can hand that part over to God.

God’s timing is good. Sometimes it’s so good we can’t understand it.

Sometimes it’s so hard we can’t seem to stand it.

Sometimes the clock is facing the other direction so we can’t see his time.

What time is it? “Don’t worry, my son, I’ll take care of that.”

But what time is it? I just want to know!

“Don’t worry about what time it is, let me worry about that. Just follow my Iead.”

Okay God, you’re on.

Me