It’s Not Just for Funeral Homes

What isn’t?


It comes at different times and different places.

It’s never the same for two people – even if they are grieving the loss of the same person.

Some of the times are “somewhat” predictable – like your Dad’s 81st birthday that came 15 days after he went home to be with Jesus.

Like the day your daughter became the 2nd Dr. Vanderwell (

Some of them are totally unpredictable. 

Like when you’re having devotions and there’s something that you aren’t clear on.   “I think I’ll ask Dad……”

Oh wait, I can’t ask Dad.   I can’t ask him about that Bible passage. 

I can’t…. 

I can’t……

There’s a lot of things I can’t do because there’s a lot of things my Dad can do right now that he couldn’t. 

Like sit down and talk with John, the author of Revelations.

And ask him what I was going to ask my Dad.   In Revelations 20:11-15, it talks about the dead being judged by what they had done.   What does that mean?

Does “what they had done” mean whether or not they chose to believe?   Because if it means the works they did, isn’t the thief on the cross totally screwed over?   I mean think about it, he was a Christian for maybe 10 minutes before he died?

I think “what they had done” has to mean whether they chose to believe and chose to live for Christ.   It’s really the only way any of us have a chance at Heaven – and I believe that’s what John means.

Hey Dad – can you ask him the next time you see him?

In the mean time, any of my minister or seminary friends who want to chime in with your thoughts, please do so.


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)


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.


Coming out of the Fog……

So, yesterday I shared with you some thoughts about grief and the struggles that I and my family are facing right now.   If you didn’t read it, you can read it at

An amazing thing has happened since then.   No, the grief is still there, the struggles are still there, but so many people have reached out, God has spoken in many ways and has said, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this.   And I’ve got that.   Oh and the other thing that might come up, I’ve got that too.”

Have the troubles gone away?   No.   Is the path clearer?   No it’s not.

But God has stepped up through many of you and said, I’ll lift the cloud, I’ll clear the path, I’ll show you the way.   Just trust me and wait for me.

So, this week, this coming Good Friday and Easter and even going beyond that, we wait.

God’s got Good Friday.

God’s got Easter.

He’s got the kids in Haiti.

He’s got me and you in his hands.

Thank you for showing the grace and mercy of our heavenly Father.

Thank you for waiting with me.


Grief – It’s Not Only About Dying……

I’ve been thinking about grief a lot lately.

Fortunately it’s not been the grief that you feel because of the loss of a loved one.    All of my loved ones are currently healthy or at least relatively so.

But there’s another kind of grief that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

It’s the grief that comes when things fall short.

If you are friends with me on Facebook, you’ll  already know that a week and a half ago, we spent a few days at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital with my 12 year  old.    She was diagnosed with a heart condition that will most likely put her on meds for the rest of her life and will also significantly impact her ability to engage in strenuous exercise.    

Grieving over what’s lost.    Grieving that she’ll never be able to do gymnastics.   Grieving that she won’t be able to do the annual school 2 mile fund raiser run.    Grieving that she’ll be “different” than the rest of the kids at school during PE class.     Different is hard in middle school.

We are very grateful that the scoliosis doctor noticed things and caught this.    The outcome would/could have been a lot worse.    But it’s still an adjustment to things that have fallen short.

It’s also the grief that comes from dreams that go unfulfilled and doors closing.   

Any of you who have  known me for any length of time know that I’m passionate about kids who have no one else.   

In June, it will be 10 years since we brought our adopted kids home from God’s Littlest Angels.   It’s been 8 years since I joined the board for GLA and in January it was 3 years that I’ve been working full time on behalf of the kids at GLA.   It has been a distinct privilege to be involved in matching people in the 1st world with needs at GLA.

As of May 11, that door is closing as the management at GLA has decided to eliminate my position due to finance/budget constraints.   Dixie explained that in the most recent newsletter.

Dreams that I thought God had planned for me are not going to be fulfilled.  

There’s grief in that.  A lot of it.   A lot more than I expected, to be quite honest with you.

So, as that door closes and the grief flows, what does God have planned?   I certainly hope and pray that He has good health and a good future for the kids at GLA.     They have had more struggles than anyone should and I hope you’ll join me in praying for the kids in Haiti.

What door is God opening for me?    I don’t  know yet.   I’m confident that 3+ years ago, He pushed me out of the mortgage world and into working at GLA.   He’s got a plan already lined up.   

He’s just asking me to be patient as I wait and search for what that plan is.

I hope you’ll join me in praying for the kids at GLA, for the parents in Haiti who are struggling to care for their children, for those who care for the kids and for the adoptive parents who wait for the kids and that God would heal the grief and open the right doors in the right way.

He’s got a plan with all of this grief and all of these changes.   

He might not show us the entire path, but He will light the next step when it is needed.