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

The Text of My Life

The Text of My Life/The Book of my Heart

Psalm 18:24 (second half – The Message) – “God rewrote the text of my life when I opened the Book of my Heart to His Eyes.”

Let’s think about that for a few minutes because there is a LOT to it.

God rewrote the text of my life. Isn’t that the truth? I look at so many things that happen, decisions that we make (or don’t make), priorities that shift because God rewrote the text of my life. And your life. The people I know, the things I care about. They have all been rewritten because of God.

And then I think about crises – I think about my Dad getting pancreatic cancer. I think about my Mom falling and breaking four ribs in multiple places – and the fact that she’s been in the hospital 4 times because of complications from that fall and broken ribs. I think about the chronic health issues that I have been dealing with for decades. I think about the earthquake in Haiti and the life ending but also life changing impacts that has had on so many people in the 7 years since it happened.

And I wonder – how could someone make it through these things without knowing that God rewrote the text of their life? How could someone find purpose, find meaning, find life amid the pain of so many things? Many people wrestle with why God “allows” bad things. I choose to wait until I can ask God directly, face to face, in Heaven, “God, why did ……….?”

There’s a requirement in this verse though. In order for God to rewrite the text of our lives, we need to do something. It’s something very simple yet very difficult.

“I opened the book of my Heart to his Eyes.” I wrote earlier about the Casting Crowns concert I was blessed to go to. It was called, “The Very Next Thing” tour and I didn’t really understand what that meant until Mark Hall explained it there.

God wants us to open the book of our Hearts to His Eyes. That means we need to be willing to do “the very next thing” that God leads us to. If we open our hearts to God’s very next thing, God will rewrite the text of our lives.
And then the struggles, while many of them won’t go away, lose their spiritual significance. My Dad’s cancer isn’t going to defeat his faith and it isn’t going to defeat the faith of our family. Because we know God is writing the text of our lives. The text might be different than we wanted.

But God is bigger than we are,

God is bigger than cancer is.

God’s got this.

God’s got my Dad and my Mom.

God’s got me.

Does God have you?

Walking in the Fog…..

Even though I don’t live in London or any other place that has a lot of fog, I feel like I have spent a very long time lately walking in the fog.

Trying to figure out where God wanted me to be.

Trying to figure out who God wanted me to be.

Trying to figure out who God wanted me to help.

I would be foolish to say that the fog has lifted, completely.

It hasn’t.   I don’t think it ever will.

But I know this.  Part of the fog has lifted and I can see more than 6 inches in front of my face.

Part of the fog has lifted and I can see that there are people I can impact who live outside of my nice little 117 year old farm house.

It was on Facebook yesterday but let me tell you here.

I’ve joined the staff of The Apparent Project.  

I’ll have a lot more going forward, but let me tell you two things about The Apparent Project:

1. Their goal is to keep Haitian children with their families and out of orphanages through jobs, training progress, child care, a pre-school and more (the more is where I come in).   Throughout all of this, the goal is to inspire independence, develop the skills and the mindset that works towards self sufficiency and do it with the utmost respect for the children and families we work with.   It’s a hand up, not a hand out.  Is it easy?   Absolutely not.   Is it crucial?   Yes.  Do we do it right all the time?   Hah, anyone who thinks that any charity does things right all the time needs to think again.

2. There are many more things that we’d like to do, that the Haitians need us to do, so that they can truly generate a spirit of independence and the pride that comes from being self reliant rather than needing to look to the “blan” (white guys) for help.  

It’s a long road.   It’s not nearly as easy as “adopt an adorable two year old” appears to be (until they become teenagers and beyond).   But it’s a road that I’m excited to travel down.

I hope you’ll join us and keep in touch.

There’s a box right next to this post where you can sign up to keep up anything I write on my personal blog.   I will be doing even more writing about helping, hurting, building, supporting and changing at the Apparent Project blog.

Thanks for coming along on this adventure!


A Sad Happy

Last week was a hard week. 

For many people.

For many communities.

For many families.

Violence ruined lives and crushed families.

Hope was lost and sadness took over.

Teenagers faced the loss of a classmate – at her own hands.


Why God?

And right before Christmas!?!

Why are things so ugly right now?   Why can’t we just enjoy the waiting for Christ?

Enjoy the time of Advent?

Enjoy the family time?   The church services that lift us with joy?

Because this is not our home.

This is not where we belong.

This is a sad and imperfect world.

A sin filled world.   A violence filled world.   An anger filled world.  

I shared a story on Facebook that a black art professor told of his encounter with the police.    Bam! Anger, frustration, discontent and racism blow up all over in reaction to his telling his perception of what happened to him.  

Christmas has the potential of being something extra special this year.   In a year and a week and a month filled with hate, violence and discontent, Jesus comes and shares light and love.

In a year filled with terror, Jesus comes and says, “Peace.”

In a year filled with sadness and heartbreak, Jesus weeps with his people.

In a year and a week and a month filled with so much anger, so much violence, so much political stupidity, we have the opportunity to be God’s light.

To spread the news.

To be the shepherds and share the good news that even in the violence and the sadness and the anger, God is.

God is.

God is coming.

God is here.

May we cling to that fact even when others try to sabotage that joy, sabotage that happy.

They can’t touch my Jesus and even through the tears, they can’t touch the joy of knowing Christ is coming.

Christ is here.