Hospitals and Schools and Airports

I find myself fascinated by Hospitals and Schools and Airports.

“That’s really odd,” I can hear you thinking that already. Don’t deny it. 🙂

Why?

What do they have in common?

No, it’s not the size of the buildings.

No, it’s not where they are located.

It doesn’t have anything to do with how much money they make.

Or with how many cool toys there are at each one.

Or whether it’s run by the government or run by a private organization.

That’s not what fascinates me.

“Well then, tell us!”

It’s the stories.

Most of them you don’t know.

But.everyone.has.one.

And they are almost always not nearly as pretty of a story as it looks. And they are always significantly deeper and more varied and complicated than they look.

The “very successful business man” getting on an airplane while carrying his briefcase and talking on his phone (usually too loudly). You can’t see underneath to understand his true story. Maybe he isn’t successful but is trying to look the part. Maybe he’s off to visit another location of his business and eliminate 60 jobs at their plant in California. Maybe he’s…. or maybe he’s going…….

The young mom traveling with two little ones – is she going to visit Grandma? Or Dad? And what has led to this trip?

The family with “similar” looking winter gear on, obviously heading to somewhere with bigger hills than we have to do some winter activities together.

And the doctor walking down the hall at the hospital, she has 7 significantly younger staff (probably residents) following just barely behind her; she’s got a story. A story of good, of sleepless nights wondering if she did “it” right, of successes, of failures. A story of explaining to her kids that she couldn’t do …… Because she had to tend to the needs of someone who……..

The mom being pushed down the hall in a wheelchair holding a new born baby. So much happiness, so much wonder and a good bit of nervousness too. Dad follows behind carrying all of the flowers and balloons while trying to get used to the new name, “Dad.”

The older man with the stooped shoulders trying to navigate how to get to his wife’s hospital room. Worry worn very obviously heavy on his heart.

The elementary school students all full of energy and chaos and questions. What do they take home with them? What stories outside of school impact the way they “do” school?

The middle school students – that awkward phase where you are trying to figure out who you are and what your place in this world is, let alone what place in your school is “your fit.”

You can’t forget the high school students. A conundrum of conflict between the kid that I was and the adult that I think I’m going to be. A time where parents need to work themselves out of a job – and let them grow and think and do for themselves. And that involves pain and struggle and skinned knees and bruised egos and it involves big steps and small steps and closing doors and knocking on new ones.

High School – I’ve heard it said that the only people who like high school are the teachers and staff. I’m not sure that’s true but many of the former high school students I know (present company included) would agree with it.

And then there’s the teachers – Did you know that a math teacher doesn’t really teach math? And a Spanish teacher doesn’t teach Spanish?

That’s right, what they really teach is life. Sure, it’s life through the window of Math, or life through the lens of a foreign language or life through the thoughts and ramblings of Atticus Finch or Shakespeare or Dante. But it’s life they are teaching and the stories they get to see a glimpse of as they do that, it’s an amazing privilege and an awesome experience to see the “lightbulb” go on.

Stories – a multitude of stories. Some happy, some sad. Some strong, some weak. Some simple, some complex. Some wet with tears, some overflowing with laughter.

I look around and I see a whole bunch of people. But even more, I see stories. Everyone has a story. Many of us have many different chapters to our stories.

Most of us aren’t willing to share our stories, and so we keep them stuffed down inside. Sometimes that’s good, other times, if our stories aren’t told, that leads to deeper scars and harder stories.

And each of our stories has something to offer, something to teach, something to encourage others with. But they won’t, if we don’t share them.

That’s why the Facebook page for Humans of New York has over 17 million followers the last time I checked.

17 million – that’s like the entire population of New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago combined.

So share your story. Even if it’s only with one person.

Even if it’s only one chapter of your story. You just might be the boost that that one person needs.

TV

Where are we going?

“Are we there yet?”

Haven’t we all either said that or heard someone else say that. It would probably rank up there pretty high in a poll for the “most annoying thing ever said in a car.”

As I’m beginning this Spiritual Journey, I’ve been doing a good bit of wrestling with the question, “Where are we going? And also the question, “Are we there yet?”

The answer that I’ve come up with can work for both of those questions and can be spelled out in three words:

I

Don’t

Know

I don’t know where we are going on this spiritual journey. If my Dad were still here and I could ask him if his ministry went in the direction he thought it would, I know he would say that it hasn’t. There are many things that happened during my dad’s ministry that far exceeded what he originally thought they would when he was back in Seminary.

So, I don’t know where we’re going, and I don’t know when we’ll get there.

I don’t even know if there is a “there” here.

The journey is the goal. The destination is not somewhere to go, the destination is to be on the journey.

I hope you’ll join me.

Tom

What is this?

What is this Spiritual Journey? Maybe I should start by telling you what it is not…..

This journey is not:

  • An effort to find my faith. My faith in God remains strong, in many ways it is stronger than it has been. But more on that later.
  • An effort to follow in my father’s footsteps. I greatly respect my Father and in the 53 years that I was able to do this thing called life with him, I was blessed in many ways to be “that” preacher’s kid. However, I am not my father, I am not intending to try to be my father. Instead, I’m attempting to take the blessings and the wisdom that he has shared over the years and tell the stories and share the insights through the lenses of my life, my experiences and the impact of things and people who have influenced my spiritual journey.
  • A recopy of what he wrote, preached and shared during his ministry here. It will be very deeply influenced by his work and will be extensively quoted, but it will be my writings in response to what The Bible and my Dad say and have said.

This journey is:

  • A journey back through the spiritual life and the work of a man who followed Jesus his entire life. Through it I expect to see many things. Some of them that we knew were important. Some of them we didn’t remember them as important then and we probably don’t recall them now. God used his words time and time again and I believe that God will continue to use them.
  • The Pastor at my church has said that God is wanting all of us to ask ourselves what we have to do to make more space and listen to Jesus more. My prayer is that God uses this and the time people spend reading it to open hearts and to allow us to see God – even through tough times. Especially in tough times.  But even more, my prayer is that God uses this in me.  Because I know I need to hear it and live it more.  I suspect we all do.
  • A study of the Bible through the sermons of Howard Vanderwell. I will be taking each of his sermons, reviewing them, pondering them and writing about them. I’m not going to attempt to set a goal as to how many I’m going to do a day or anything else like that. Why not? Because this journey isn’t being led by me. This journey is being led by the Holy Spirit, and if I set a goal on how many I’m going to do a day, I’m limiting God. I’m learning not to do that.

How will it come “out”? The plan at this point is that they will show up on http://tomvanderwell.net and there will be a sign-up form on there soon where you can have them delivered straight to your e-mail and can read them there. Eventually, someday, we hope to be able to publish them as a devotional book or series of devotional books that people can continue read and to live into and learn from God’s word through this effort.

So, if you want to be notified every time a new one gets posted, sign up on the A Spiritual Journey sign up form and that will keep you informed.

I feel a bit like a hiker who is about to head into a beautiful forest. We know it’s beautiful, we know that we will see some amazing and wonderful things. But we also know we might stub our collective toes. We might get lost and wander off the path. We might get chased by a wild pig running loose. But in spite of this, we can move forward because we know:

“I am not my own but belong, body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful savior Jesus Christ.” Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 1

I hope you’ll join me on this journey.

Tom

Another Lap Around the Sun

As we move forward, I look in the rearview mirror, what do I see?

⁃ I see church people being the hands and feet of Christ. In real.tangible.immediate.ways.
⁃ I see an ICU nurse who still asks how I’m doing every time she sees my daughter, the pharmacy tech, at the hospital.
⁃ I see “not so random” acts of kindness that can never be repaid but will someday be paid forward.
⁃ I see many people who think they can “make it better” by saying something (Hint – you can’t – but more on that later)
⁃ I see many people who know that the best thing they can do is “sit with you” in your pain. Whether it’s pain over medical issues or pain/grief over the death of a Father or a combination of both. Those who just were there and said, “I hear you.” They are more valuable than gold.
⁃ I see the silent hug of a church friend in the church aisle while I walk back from an emotional communion service and feeling the pain of it all.
⁃ I see a society with a lot of hidden pain. There’s a lot of visible pain but there’s a large amount of hidden pain that people rarely allow out to see the light of day.

I could go on and on about all of the ways that I’ve seen God at work since then. Frankly, one of the ways I can see God at work is by the fact that I’m here.

We all have a story. This AVM has been a part of my story for the last 40 years. In many ways I didn’t truly appreciate how much of an impact it had on my story, how big of a part it is in my story. It has been woven throughout my story and yet in many ways it’s possible to see God working through it and impacting our lives.

I’ve mentioned it on here before, but the musician TobyMac shared a quote that has been extremely meaningful to me:

“God is still writing your story. Stop trying to steal the pen.”

In the last few days, I’ve told you a brief overview of some of the chapters of my life. I have been blessed beyond measure and those chapters do not define who I am.

The chapter called 2018 is one I don’t want to come back to, but I also believe that we’re going to eventually see that God uses the events in a way that we’ll look back and say, “Okay, God, I see……”

It’s one thing to know that, it’s another thing to wait and wait and wait for the answers.

It’s going to be an interesting journey.

TV

January 30, 2018 – A Day of Good and a Day of Struggle

It’s hard to believe it’s a year already.

It’s hard to believe it’s only a year.

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since the doctors reduced my risk of a brain bleed
And for that I’m grateful

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year since the doctors greatly increased my opportunity to grow old with my wife. And for that I’m grateful.

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year that we’ve been dealing with the side effects that rarely ever happen. And for that I’m often frustrated, often disappointed, definitely closer to God and a lot more aware of the struggles other people face.

It’s hard to believe it’s been a year and I still feel like I’m getting used to living with “it.”

It’s hard to believe how incredibly complex and intertwined our brains and nervous system are. And for that I’m amazed at the God who created them.

I could go on and on but I won’t, at least not now.

On January 30, 2018, I went into the hospital to get the AVM in my neck and brain treated. I expected to be back on my feet and moving in at most a week or so.

When I came to in the recovery room, I could tell something wasn’t right. I was in a post anesthesia fog but as that cleared, a couple of things became obvious:
⁃ I could not hear anything out my left ear.
⁃ I had a nasty headache (something I’ve never had coming out of anesthesia before)
⁃ My throat was really sore. I mean really, really sore.

Over the next days and weeks, there became a growing realization that the problems weren’t temporary and weren’t going to go away – at least not soon and not on their own.

For a while, I could say that pretty much every week I felt better than I did the week before. Often it was small things but it was still improvement. About 3 to 4 months into the recovery, that pretty much stopped.

So where do I stand right now?
⁃ With approximately 40% of my hearing in left ear and that hearing is distorted so if I hear something only in my left ear, it sounds like Alvin and the Chipmunks.
⁃ Noise in my head. The technical term is tinnitus – I prefer to describe it as 3 hours at a Rolling Stones concert 10 ft from the speaker.
⁃ My left vocal cord, part of my throat and left side of my tongue are paralyzed. This gives me swallowing, speech clarity, speech volume and speech quantity issues.
⁃ Virtually non-stop headaches. I say virtually because I don’t know if they go away when I sleep. They vary in intensity depending on a lot of factors – mainly what I’m doing, how noisy, busy, visually distracting things are.
⁃ With eyes that are attempting to adjust to the “mixed signals” that they are getting.

I’ve got a great and very large team of medical people that I’m working with trying to get as much improvement as possible. But realistically, as we cross this one year mark, the odds of a major change lie less in modern medicine and more in God doing something outside of the scope of modern medicine.

Where does that leave me?
⁃ Grateful to be here. Pastor Darrell often says from the pulpit, “God woke you up and brought you here for a reason. Let’s figure out why.”
⁃ Grateful for my wife – you know that “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health” part of marriage vows? Yeah, that’s her. I wouldn’t be here without her.
⁃ Grateful for the kindness and the prayers of people known and people not known.

January 30. I don’t think I’ll ever look at that date the same again. Much was lost on that day. But much was also gained. I have learned to see the battle between the devil pushing the “much was lost” attitude and Jesus pushing the “much was gained” attitude.

God is at work.

Jesus hasn’t finished writing our stories. Not yours. Not mine.

On January 30, he turned a page. A lot of the next page I can’t read yet.

But I know he’s got the pen.

TV