“The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.” Psalm 139:16

Think about it.

Not kind of planned out.

Not “hope it will go this way.”

All prepared.

Like eating Thanksgiving Dinner at Grandma’s house. It’s all prepared.

Places are marked – reserved for Dad, for Mom, for Aunt Deb, all the way around there’s a place for everyone.

And there’s a place for every platter of food. It’s all marked out. All prepared.

But, in your grandma is like my mother-in-law, she started planning Thanksgiving in September.

Not God. That’s too small for him.

Before I’d even lived one day.

Can you imagine that?

As crazy as life is – with economic numbers that are truly mind-blowing.

Health issues on everyone’s minds.

Before all this……


Before political grandstanding and fact twisting and name-calling and confederate flag-waving

Before all this……


Before funerals, sometimes more than one in a family at one time, before ICUs and respirators.

Before all this……


Before my grandpa heard the words from his parents, “come with us, we are going to America.”

Before we knew where in America

Before two of grandpa’s brothers died “on the boat” on the way here.

Before all this…..


Before gangs and thugs and cartels.

Before guns and cocaine and heroin and more.

Before it became too risky to stay home, they left and walked to America.

How long will it take? What will we eat? Where will we stay?

Before all this…..


Before this virus

Before the staggering losses

Before the emotional pain and the helplessness.

Before all this…..




An interesting thing happened on the way to church yesterday.  (Don’t worry, I didn’t violate the social distancing or the stay at home – I went from the kitchen to the living room).

On the way, something changed.   I didn’t know it because our Pastor hadn’t shared it yet.   But as he started getting into his sermon, suddenly it hit me.   In previous weeks, most of the sermons I’ve heard (and from well beyond our church – podcasts) have focused on providing comfort and care in very hard times.   I get that and I need that – just ask my wife and my counselor.

What changed?  The message that was delivered had a much more blended purpose.   Now if you ask me, most of the time when you blend two flavors together, both of them lose some of what they were.   Strawberry and Banana Yogurt,  coffee with cream, chocolate and peanut butter (well, maybe if it’s Trader Joes Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter cups it doesn’t).  

Pastor Darrell’s message was Trader Joe’s Dark Peanut Butter Cups.  It was both.  Both comfort and challenge.   Both a reassurance that God’s bigger than this along with a challenge to be God’s hands and feet to the hurting.

The message yesterday was focusing on two main things:

  • How do we make it through this difficult time


  • How do we go about making this less painful for others, less stressful for others?  How do we go about making this an opportunity to show God’s love even when we are in the basement with the blinds shut?  In other words, how do we go on offense?

Pastor Darrell had 10 points to his sermon, I’m not going to go over all of them.  That’s too long to do in one blog post.   But I do think I will share more of my thoughts on them in separate blog posts later.

And Then…..

I was reading the Bible in my personal devotions and came to Psalm 1:6 which says:

Psalm 1:6 (The Message) God charts the road you take.

Raise your hand if  on April 20, 2020 the road you’re on is where you thought you’d be……

Yeah, I’m not raising my hand either.

But that’s okay, because God charts the road you take.

And the road I take my neighbor takes, or your neighbor, or the guy who walks down your street.

God charts the road YOU take.

So, in spite of all of the bad news, in spite of all of the unknown…..

GOD charts the road you take.

And that makes all the difference in the world.  In this world, and in His world.

Remember that.


P.S.  There’s only one time I can remember ever personally being involved in a protest and that involved Teddy Bears, a coup in Haiti and a Senate Briefing room in Washington.   A story for another day.

But I do want to say that a well focused, well organized, coherent strategy and message is a very advantageous to the cause that you might be protesting for.  If you question that, read “Letters from a Birmingham Jail” by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sometime.  I did and it was an awesome opportunity to see more of the “people” and not just the “public figures” in the Civil Rights movement

I am a firm believer in the First Amendment and my ability to write whatever I want on here.   But I also believe that when you show up to a protest about pandemics, viruses, hospital supplies, staff and keeping everyone safe – even those with compromised health prior to this – and you do so carrying rifles and waiving confederate flags – you aren’t really showing up to protest Gov. Whitmer’s “stay home rules.” 

Be nice to everyone you meet today (from at least 6 feet away).  We could all use a little extra kindness in our days during all of this.

TV (again)

Are We?

“You’re not at all like the wicked, who are mere windblown dust— Without defense in court, unfit company for innocent people.”

‭‭Psalm‬ ‭1:4-5‬ ‭MSG‬‬

Okay, I want to take a look at this a minute (or maybe a few minutes). What’s God saying in this section?

• He is say that you are not liked the wicked. And then he gives some very grim explanations of what is going to happen to the wicked.

◦ Mere wind blown dust. When I was a kid growing up, we lived 4 houses away from some real good really deep farm land. When the wind blew in the wrong direction, we had to hurry up and scramble and get all of the windows closed so the “muck” didn’t blow in the house. What happens is this tiny dust? It get squeezed and blown around and it gets everywhere. On window ledges, on shelves, on tile floors, on kitchen counters, in bathrooms, on pillow cases, on computers, on phones, everywhere. This fine black annoying dust spreads everywhere and because of that texture, it is so difficult to get rid of.

◦ Without defense in court? Oliver Wendell Holmes is the first to say it, “A man who is his own attorney has a fool for a client.” In other words, if there is ever a reason for an attorney, a wise man will hire one and the wicked will say, “Nah, I can handle it.” And that’s foolish.

◦ The wicked – unfit company for the innocent people. This says two things:

‣ The wicked are unfit company for the innocent people. That’s fairly obvious. The drug dealer and the IRS cheats should not be the ones that the innocent people hang around.

‣ Not only are they unfit but the innocent are supposed to know better and avoid those type of situations where they would find themselves hanging out with the wicked.

• But now wait a minute – avoid the wicked people? Isn’t that exactly the opposite of what Jesus tells us to do? He has dinner with tax frauds and prostiutes, isn’t that the company that God says is unfit for us?

How do we reconcile those two? The ability reach out to those who need God’s help through us and the ability to at the same time not get sucked into their world of wickedness? That’s a hard one. And it’s one that we need to wrestle with more.

But as you go out into the world, whether you go out to care for the sick, or you go out to spread some cheer to families who need it, or you stay home to care for those God has placed in your care. A paraphrased edition of Pastor Darrell’s blessing…..

“God woke you up today. He didn’t have to, but he did.

“God didn’t bring you to church, but he said, “you all are my people where ever you are.”

“God sent you home. He sent you to the hospital, the delivery truck, the warehouse sorting boxes of “essentials.”

“God sent you to the research labs and the doctor’s offices. God sent you to the fire departments.

“God didn’t send you anywhere, he sent you home. Home, because there are kids who need a parent so the other parent can go be a first responder.

God woke you up today. He woke me up today. What are we going to do with that gift?


Grief 2.0

If you’re on Facebook, you know how Facebook does that “memories” thing where each day it gives you the opportunity to look back on something you did, pictured, wrote about or whatever 1, 2 or however many years ago.

On April 16, 2014 – so 4 years and 3 days ago, I wrote this post about grief –

At that point, we were dealing with some big issues – my daughter’s heart condition, the loss of some of her dreams, her changing reality, our changing reality.   In addition to that, my career seemed to be at a crossroads – not a cross roads that we wanted or encouraged.

Now we’re in what I’m calling Grief 2.0.   What does that entail?

Life – I’ll be writing about him more in the future, but on March 23 of this year, my dad, Howard Vanderwell, passed from this life into eternal life in heaven.   He fought pancreatic cancer for 15 months, it was his fourth major battle with cancer, and in the end, it was complications from chemo and radiation (some from previous battles) that took him home.

I wrote a piece on his CaringBridge page that last week called “Painful Peace.”   That’s what this last month has been.   It’s been grief, it’s been pain but it’s also been peace.   Peace that in the end, he went home surrounded by his family and without struggle or pain.   Peace that he is now spending time and eternity with the One who he devoted his entire career and life to.   Peace that he is spending time with my grandparents and my younger sister.

But it’s also pain.   It’s a loss not only of a family member, but a church leader, a supporter, a friend, an encourager and a believer – a believer in Christ but also a believer in his kids and grandkids. 

Yesterday, my daughter defended her doctoral project and became the second Dr. Vanderwell in the history of the Vanderwell family.

And the first Dr. Vanderwell wasn’t there to share it with her and with us.

Next week Saturday, she’ll go through the actual graduation.   My dad wanted very much to be there – but God said, “Come home, Howie.  You’ve been faithful, your time on earth is done.”

And then there’s the grief of medical issues gone “not quite right.”   I’ve been battling a condition with the blood vessels in my left neck, shoulder and such called an Arterio Venous Malformation (Google AVM if you want to know more).   It’s been a part of my life and my reality for 40 years and I’ve had surgeries and treatments for it numerous times.  

January 30, 2018 was the most recent one.  The treatment was successful but it brought up some nasty side effects.   I lost most of the hearing in my left ear, I am now extremely sensitive to noise, especially loud noise and my left vocal cord is paralyzed so my voice is significantly impacted in terms of volume, clarity and, well, it sounds like I have a nasty case of laryngitis all of the time.

Grief 2.0

It’s different.

But it’s the same.

Dreams changed.

Plans altered.

Losses experienced.




There’s also God 2.0

God is still here in our grief.

God is still here in our questions.

God is still here with our changed dreams.

Our unfocused dreams.

Our losses.

God is still here.

And just like we did 4 years ago, when we held faith that God was there (here), we do now too.   Some of the same issues carry over – my daughter’s heart condition hasn’t gone away, my career path is in many ways murkier than ever, and then there are new challenges.

God never said believing in Him would be easy.

But  he’s here.

In our grief.

In our sorrow.

In our blessings.

In our peace.

And so, I say, “God, I don’t get it.   I don’t understand.”

“But I’ve got you.”

And then focus on the peace rather than focusing on the pain.

God is good. (All the time)

All the time.  (God is good)


Is Your Social Media a Light?

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”
‭‭Matthew‬ ‭5:14-16‬ ‭MSG‬‬

Jesus says he’s putting us on a light stand. He’s making us into light bearers. He’s urging us to be generous with our lives (just as He is with his.)

There’s two ways that this can play out in social media that are at opposite ends of the spectrum but have similar end results. Let’s look at them briefly…..

If you are on social media and you let your light shine in the way that someone uses a flashlight to point out all of the mouse droppings and the big scary spiders and the other “stuff” that shows up in a garage that never gets used, then you are letting your light shine – but it is shining to show the faults in other people. It’s shining to expose the skeletons in someone else’s closet. Do you think that’s what God wants us to do?

On the other side, if the social media profile that you share with the public or even with your friends is exactly the opposite, that’s a problem too. If all you show and share is the good things, then you don’t have to keep up with the proverbial Mr. & Mrs. Jones, you are them. You send a picture of them (of you) as someone who has everything right, has no problems, no doubts and their kids all get straight A’s and are the star of their respective athletic team.

You and I both know that is often the way people are portraying themselves and their family on social media. Do you think that’s the light that Jesus wants us to be? Do you think he wants us to send a message that says, “I’m a believer and everything is going great for me?” (With the unspoken message that you can have everything go right too, if only you believe as well as I do).

I don’t think so.

Actually, I know that if Jesus were to be your or my social media advisor, he would probably include a couple of “guidelines:”

1. Stand up for what is right, stand up against what is wrong, but don’t do it in a way that makes it appear you are attacking the person.
2. Share the good things in life – it’s good to know when your cousin who lives in Hong Kong got a promotion. It’s good to know when your Uncle in Florida had a good vacation. It’s good to know when your niece’s graduation went well.
3. But also share the tough parts of life. Be vulnerable. Be transparent. Don’t always answer the “How are you?” With a “doing well” comment if you aren’t.

It does others so much good to see that you are hurting, that your kid is struggling, that work is tough.  Why?  Because they are too.   I can guarantee it.   They have struggles, it’s an imperfect world so we are all struggling with something. 

It’s good to know when good people are not having good times. It’s good to know when your friend in Scotland who used to work in Manchester can tell you that while it hit hard, none of her friends were wounded or killed.

It’s not good that it happens, but it’s good to be able to share our struggles with people who can support us in our struggles.

If Jesus and Mark Zuckerberg had sat down and talked before Facebook came to be, I believe that Jesus would have said, “Mark, if you are going to build Facebook, build it in a way that allows people to connect, to show their good things that happening in life but also to share challenges and be a witness to others about the love that I bring.”

Now that would be a Facebook that would do some real good.

Tom Vanderwell