Comfort Zone? Uh, yeah, I didn’t pack that…..

In June of 2003, my wife and I got on a plane in Miami bound for Port Au Prince, Haiti.

We forgot to pack our comfort zone. Left that back in Michigan.

Our intention at that point was to spend a week volunteering at an orphanage and eventually adopt from them.

I had never been in a third world country before.

I’m sure if I could come up with a list of the “firsts” from that week, it would be a very long list. Maybe some day I will write a book about that week and what it did to me.

But what I saw and what I heard and what I (insert all of the other senses here) made my heart hurt. Not my physical heart, but my emotional heart.

Our first full day there, I spent three hours helping the orphanage director’s husband rewire a Chevy Blazer that was donated by the US Military in 1994 when they left Haiti the last time. If we had been in the US, a 15 minute trip to an auto parts store would have solved the problem and then maybe 30 minutes to install the part. But the closest auto parts store was an hour and a half away and there was no guarantee, actually a pretty high probability, that they wouldn’t have the part that was needed.

If I had to narrow it down to the top three things that changed me, I’d say that our first trip to Haiti had three major impacts on my life:
• It stunned me that there was such poverty and struggle this close to middle class America and that most of the middle class in the United States didn’t even know that Haiti was less than a 2 hour flight from Miami.
• It bothered me that people in the United States didn’t seem to be bothered by the struggles of one of our neighboring countries.
• Holding a 20 month old baby who weighed 12 lbs (and I thought she was maybe 6 months old) made me realize how many children in our world struggle – many times struggle for their very lives. I was no longer comfortable with not doing anything about that.

That week in 2003 changed my life. I’ve often said, “If you can go to Haiti and spend a week (or at least more than 4 hours) and not come back a changed person, then I feel sorry for you.”

Comfort zone – many people in Haiti don’t know the term.

Comfort zone – many people in Haiti would LOVE to live there – but they can’t.

They can’t, because living in the comfort zone requires an education – (read the next post about that.)

They can’t because living in the comfort zone requires a job – and the last I heard, unemployment in Haiti was well over 60%.

They can’t because living in the comfort zone requires a certain amount of material wealth.

And they don’t have it. They might want it, but corruption, poverty, malnutrition and many other things keep them away from the comfort zone.

We’re going to be talking a good bit in the future about the things that keep people out of the comfort zone and what those of us in the comfort zone should think and do about it.

And also what being the ones in the comfort zone means to us.

But stay tuned, I’ve got a story to tell you about 200 high schoolers – coming up soon……

Tom


I Wish…..

That Today was just a “normal” Sunday.

I wish that we didn’t “have” to have a day to say thank you to the Dads who show up every day.

I wish that showing up was considered the norm and not an exception.

I wish that today wasn’t so hard for those whose Dads didn’t show up.

I wish that more Dads would show up for those whose Dads didn’t show up or can’t show up.

I wish that church didn’t feel that it needed to celebrate fathers in a way that often hurts those who don’t have a good father figure in their lives.

I wish that more Dads would admit that they don’t know everything.

I wish that more Dads would realize that it’s okay to not be okay – and it’s okay to admit it.

I wish more teenagers knew that their Dads want them to succeed.

I wish more teenagers knew that their Dads love them.

I wish there were less kids in foster care and orphan care wondering about their Dads.

I wish that nurses didn’t have to work on days like this because I wish there weren’t Dads whose children are in the hospital today.

I wish it wasn’t so hard for many to understand the God as Father image because of the strain in their relationship with their Dad.

I wish that I had had more than 53 years to spend with my Dad. 

I miss him.

But I’m glad that my children had anywhere from 14 to 31 years with their grandpa in their lives.

And I’m grateful for the time I’ve had to spend with him.

TJV

The Devil Isn’t Happy Tonight……

See, there’s this “kid” (yeah, I’m old enough to call someone in their 20’s a kid). He’s a preacher’s kid and a preacher’s grandkid.

He’s grown up “in the church” but his preacher dad wasn’t a stereotypical preacher. He planted a church – out west in this state called California. This kid grew up with a passion for others – a caring about those who are “the least of these.” While in college, this kid spent time living and working in places where he was in the minority. His passion for those who are in the minority has always been very evident.

While this kid was in college, he met a girl. Not just any girl, but a girl who shared his desire to make the world a better place. Not the easy life, not the simple life, but the life that God wants her to live.

Boy meets girl, before long, boy realized girl was someone special. Girl realized boy was someone special too. You know how those stories play out. This one did too.

Today, boy and girl went to church. In front of family and friends, they listened to a minister (who happened to be boy’s dad). Dad talked about what a special day this was because it was the blending of two stories. His story and her story became their story.

But it wasn’t really their story. It was God’s story. It is God’s story. It’s not a story about them, it’s a story where they play a role but God writes it.

The entire time at church revolved around that theme – that this wasn’t his story and her story, this is about what God’s up to in their lives. And as evidence that it’s God’s story, the time at church ended with a time of worship. No special music, a time spent worshipping God and reminding us all that God’s got this. All of this.

Tonight, Adam and Maddie said, “God, we’re going to join our stories and make them part of your story. God, we know that together, you can use us as part of your story.”

The devil isn’t happy tonight. Because there’s a team on God’s side. A team that together will do more to advance God’s story.

And that makes the devil a bit grumpy, don’t you think?

Adam and Maddie, thank you for blessing all of us with a time of worship and a focus that reminded all of us that God’s bigger than us but He’s also calling us all to be part of his story.

Uncle Tom is happy for you both and Maddie – welcome to the family.

TJV

From Words to Numbers? For 20 Years? Really?

As I write that title, I can’t help but smile and think that some of my classmates in my English classes at Calvin might think that spending 20 years dealing with numbers would be something along the lines of “cruel and unusual punishment.”

How in the world did I end up getting there? Well, that’s a long story. Probably too long for this space – so we’ll just hit the highlights……

It had to do with growing up a substantial drive away from grandparents – both my wife and I did.

It had to do with living a very short distance (but long enough) away from both my parents and my parents in law.

It had to do with a newborn baby who is, gulp, into her 30’s already. (What happened?)

It had to do with a teaching job market that was really tight.

So what does that give you?

It gives you a young married couple with a newborn baby who had to make a choice – either move away and get a job as a teacher and have our baby only see her grandparents a couple of times a year. Oh and my wife would have to find a different job in a different place – and she had the job she had wanted since before I had the privilege of asking her out on our first date.

Or…..

We stay in town, my wife keeps her job (and 32 years later, she’s still at the same hospital still caring for moms and babies) and my daughter (and her 4 siblings that came later) were able to grow up knowing their grandparents. Oh and then I figure out something else to do with that English Degree.

Guess which one we chose? And all four grandparents and all five kids are better off for it.

My dad has preached a sermon entitled “God Moves in Zig Zag Lines.” Well, through some of those zig zag lines, I found myself in banking. Not just in banking, but in residential lending. And guess what?

The communication skills that Mr. Fondse and Professor VandenBosch instilled in me? Those skills served both my customers and I very well as I was able to help many many people through the often confusing labrynth of mortgage terms and procedures.

Did my English degree serve me well in banking? I believe it did.

Do I ever regret putting my family before my career? No, God had a plan and I just followed it.

So, I thought I was going to be an English Teacher – God “urged” me into banking for 20 years.

And then in 2003, I stepped on a plane in Miami and everything changed…….

(Stay tuned)

Tom

Martin Luther King Jr. vs. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders

“Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.


We should  never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country’s antireligious laws.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

from Letters from a Birmingham Jail

“Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13 to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” Sessions said. “Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”

From Attorney General Jeff Sessions while defending the US government’s policy of separating families at the border.   https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/immigration/sessions-cites-bible-defense-breaking-families-blames-migrant-parents-n883296

In the brief session Thursday, CNN correspondent Jim Acosta asked Sanders about the practice of separating children from their parents as they arrive at the southern border of the United States: “The attorney general earlier today said that somehow there’s justification for this in the Bible. Where does it say in the Bible that it’s moral to take children away from their mothers?” Sanders had no good reply, insisting she wasn’t aware of Jeff Sessions’s comments.

From Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/erik-wemple/wp/2018/06/14/youre-a-parent-reporter-presses-sarah-huckabee-sanders-on-immigration/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.f221ad8af4b0