An Open Letter to My Dad

Hey Dad,

It’s been a while.

Too long.

But it only seems like yesterday.

While we didn’t talk every day, we talked enough during the week that the silence is often deafening.

Today is 6 months.

6 months to the day when God said, “Come home, my good and faithful servant. Come and see the place that I have prepared for you.”

And you did.

6 months from when your family surrounded your bed and sang, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

And it is.

And it still is. Even when you are There and we are here.

Memories flood my soul and my eyes as I think back……

A friend from kindergarten (I can’t do that much math – how long ago was that?) waiting to be one of the last ones at the visitation.

A hug from a seminarian, “Your dad is the perfect blend of “grandpa” and “professor” that we seminarians needed. He is already and will be missed.”

Sitting in church on Father’s Day morning with tears rolling down my face, texting my wife who was taking her turn caring for really sick NICU babies, “I miss my dad.” Knowing that I couldn’t go over to see him or call him or hug him that day.

Sitting at the next generations’ Dr. Vanderwell’s graduation knowing that we missed having Dr. Vanderwell and Dr. Vanderwell together by 33 days.

But then the memories flood in from farther back……
⁃ the phone call to let him know he was probably less than 36 hours from being a grandpa (I’ve never heard him that startled before or since!)
⁃ Throwing three surprise 60th birthday parties for him in one week (yes, I think he was clueless). Looking back on it, I think it really helped him realize that age is just a number – it’s what you do with it (that’s part of why he never retired) – and was working at the Seminary two weeks before God called him home.
⁃ Hearing from people what a difference he made in their lives.
⁃ Learning by example that there are things that are more important than yourself. And that putting the needs of others ahead of your needs can often make you a much better and deeper person.

But you know what I miss most?

I miss the every day little things. The forwarded e-mails about things that went well. The questions about what the doctor said. Meeting for coffee and asking for input on this or that or just shooting the breeze. I remember him telling me one time that he didn’t believe it when he was told it but one of the biggest privileges of being a dad happened when the roles switched from parent/child to friends.

Dad, while you will always be my dad, you are more than that.

And Dad, I think I miss more today than I did 6 months ago. The reality of it has hit – I’m not going to see you again until such time as God chooses.

But I frequently picture you up in heaven and you are doing one of your favorite outdoor activities – walking. But you aren’t walking around the neighborhood, you are either walking with Peter, Paul, David, Solomon or a host of others and soaking up the knowledge that they have and can share. I can’t imagine, “Hey David, How’s it going?” Answering questions that you’ve wrestled with all of your time here on earth. Or, I can also see you meeting new people and walking and talking with them and sharing what you’ve learned. One thing I’ve learned in my time as a preacher’s kid is that almost everyone knows “Howie” so there’s no shortage of people in heaven who want to talk to you, I bet.

And Dad, I can see you smiling, from ear to ear and can’t wait to share heaven with more of us.

Dad, you fought cancer 5 times (and yes, I know you didn’t count the skin cancer on your finger – but guess what – the doctors did – so I’m going to) and you beat it. You beat it soundly and in the process of beating it, the scars, well, let’s just say the scars led to complications that ended the fifth fight with a glorious entry into heaven.

I wish you were “here” to walk with us on the medical journey that I’m currently on. But I know that even though you aren’t here, you’re watching and you’re here.

And I thank God for the way you’ve been here for me, for my wife, for my kids our entire lives. I miss you Dad. But I’m blessed by you every day.

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