”Quit Trying to Steal the Pen” by Toby Mac

“God is still writing your story.
Quit Trying to Steal the Pen”

Quit – Stop – don’t do it.

Quit trying – It doesn’t usually work, but you can try.

Steal – it doesn’t really belong to you.

The Pen – the thing that makes your story the work of art that it is.

So what does that leave you with?

God holds the pen.

God is the artist in charge of writing our stories.

If we attempt to steal the pen from the artist, we’re going to mess up the story.

If we attempt to steal the pen, we’re messing up God’s work of art – which is you and me.

Don’t mess up the Master’s work of art. Instead, ask the Master, “how can I help you write the story?

But if you do ask that, be prepared for what he might ask you to write about.

It will be a great story if you write it with God’s lead…..

Tom

I went out for Dinner last night…..

It was at the Frederick Meijer Gardens – the food, the atmosphere, everything was wonderful.

It was a gathering of people, many of whom knew my Dad. Many of whom worked with my Dad these last 15 years during his “retirement career.” Many of whom knew my dad either because they had him in class, they were in class with him or their friends and family told them what they learned from my Dad.

This was the first year in the last 16 years that my Dad wasn’t there.

In person, that is. But it was so obvious that his impact lived on through his words.

Through the books that he’s written.

Through the classes he has taught.

Through the valleys he has walked – both his own valleys (our valleys) and also the valleys he has helped students and others walk through…

So, while he wasn’t there, I saw him in many ways and in many faces.

But that wasn’t the only high point. The other high point was the stories from three of the seminarians – in their own word. One of them was talking about the work she was doing on her internship. There was a lady who kept coming back to her bible study with a “troubled” past. She spent significant time with her and eventually Susie got to the point where she believed and then she went around and told the whole town – including everyone in the bible study, everyone at the group home, “This stuff is real!” “You got to read this bible thing. This stuff is real!”

As I was listening to her story, and unfortunately “Susie’s” time on this earth didn’t end well, I thought, that’s what makes a seminary and the training of future pastors so important.

This stuff is real.

Jesus is real.

But evil is also real.

And so is sickness and heartache and pain.

And Trauma and violence and racism and cynicism and

And we could add more and more and, but we won’t.

Because even though this stuff is real,

I went to a dinner last night with a whole bunch of people who are fighting to make sure that we all know that “this Jesus stuff” is real.

And it wasn’t just the food that was good.

TJV

An Open Letter to My Dad

Hey Dad,

It’s been a while.

Too long.

But it only seems like yesterday.

While we didn’t talk every day, we talked enough during the week that the silence is often deafening.

Today is 6 months.

6 months to the day when God said, “Come home, my good and faithful servant. Come and see the place that I have prepared for you.”

And you did.

6 months from when your family surrounded your bed and sang, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

And it is.

And it still is. Even when you are There and we are here.

Memories flood my soul and my eyes as I think back……

A friend from kindergarten (I can’t do that much math – how long ago was that?) waiting to be one of the last ones at the visitation.

A hug from a seminarian, “Your dad is the perfect blend of “grandpa” and “professor” that we seminarians needed. He is already and will be missed.”

Sitting in church on Father’s Day morning with tears rolling down my face, texting my wife who was taking her turn caring for really sick NICU babies, “I miss my dad.” Knowing that I couldn’t go over to see him or call him or hug him that day.

Sitting at the next generations’ Dr. Vanderwell’s graduation knowing that we missed having Dr. Vanderwell and Dr. Vanderwell together by 33 days.

But then the memories flood in from farther back……
⁃ the phone call to let him know he was probably less than 36 hours from being a grandpa (I’ve never heard him that startled before or since!)
⁃ Throwing three surprise 60th birthday parties for him in one week (yes, I think he was clueless). Looking back on it, I think it really helped him realize that age is just a number – it’s what you do with it (that’s part of why he never retired) – and was working at the Seminary two weeks before God called him home.
⁃ Hearing from people what a difference he made in their lives.
⁃ Learning by example that there are things that are more important than yourself. And that putting the needs of others ahead of your needs can often make you a much better and deeper person.

But you know what I miss most?

I miss the every day little things. The forwarded e-mails about things that went well. The questions about what the doctor said. Meeting for coffee and asking for input on this or that or just shooting the breeze. I remember him telling me one time that he didn’t believe it when he was told it but one of the biggest privileges of being a dad happened when the roles switched from parent/child to friends.

Dad, while you will always be my dad, you are more than that.

And Dad, I think I miss more today than I did 6 months ago. The reality of it has hit – I’m not going to see you again until such time as God chooses.

But I frequently picture you up in heaven and you are doing one of your favorite outdoor activities – walking. But you aren’t walking around the neighborhood, you are either walking with Peter, Paul, David, Solomon or a host of others and soaking up the knowledge that they have and can share. I can’t imagine, “Hey David, How’s it going?” Answering questions that you’ve wrestled with all of your time here on earth. Or, I can also see you meeting new people and walking and talking with them and sharing what you’ve learned. One thing I’ve learned in my time as a preacher’s kid is that almost everyone knows “Howie” so there’s no shortage of people in heaven who want to talk to you, I bet.

And Dad, I can see you smiling, from ear to ear and can’t wait to share heaven with more of us.

Dad, you fought cancer 5 times (and yes, I know you didn’t count the skin cancer on your finger – but guess what – the doctors did – so I’m going to) and you beat it. You beat it soundly and in the process of beating it, the scars, well, let’s just say the scars led to complications that ended the fifth fight with a glorious entry into heaven.

I wish you were “here” to walk with us on the medical journey that I’m currently on. But I know that even though you aren’t here, you’re watching and you’re here.

And I thank God for the way you’ve been here for me, for my wife, for my kids our entire lives. I miss you Dad. But I’m blessed by you every day.

Tom

Boy, was I Naive……

If you had asked me before we started this adoption journey what it would look like, I probably would have told you something along the lines of this:

• We’d figure out where we were going to adopt from.
• Then we’d work with the people in charge and eventually figure out who we were going to adopt.
• We’d bring them home – and things would be noisy and crazy and full of adjustments.
• But after a while – maybe a year, maybe two – we’d settle into the new normal and life would go on pretty much as it was – just with more kids and more noise.

Boy was I naive’.

If our adoption story had gone that way, here’s a sampling of what I would have missed:
• I would have missed hearing Haitian roosters who couldn’t tell time – and crowed at 2:00 in the morning.
• I would have missed the sounds of Haiti in the night. It truly is musical.
• I would have missed getting to know some truly amazing people who have given and currently still give so much of themselves to help others.
• I would have missed the privilege of sitting with others in their pain and sadness – a privileged place that few are allowed to enter into.
• I would have missed a lifetime of learning about poverty, corruption, the 3rd world, racism and problems that are worth fighting against.
• I would have missed getting to know some great kids – Michno, Sonia, “Small Man” Peterson, Kenbe, Judith and Kerby and many more.
• I would have missed out on seeing some miracles – and not only did I see those miracles, I got to, I get to see those miracles as they turn from children without a future to children who healed and have a future and are a blessing to many. Elli, Roselaure, Danny – you are just a few of them.
• I would have missed out on conversations with an 80 year old lady in the hospital who told me that God gave her a second chance at life through a successful heart surgery and I gave her a chance to make a difference for kids in Haiti. There is a building at the orphanage named after her.
• I would have missed the opportunity in 2011 to sit on the porch at the orphanage late at night – in shorts and a t-shirt – while messaging with my wife who was at home in the middle of a major snow storm with wind chills approaching 30 degrees below and well over 2 ft of snow falling in 2 days time. I missed the storm and I’m still grateful.
• I would have missed out on being uncomfortable.
• I would have missed out on getting to know people at my current church – people like Christy and LeMaar and Susie and Pastor Darrell and Laura and…….
• I would have missed out on learning about and getting to know the people at Potter’s House School.

Boy was I naive’. Boy am I glad I was wrong. Has it been easy? Not a chance. Would I trade? Maybe for a day or two every now and then.

But not a chance.

TJV

Why Haiti? And why International Adoption?

If I got $5 for every time someone has asked me that question, well, I’d have a lot more than $5, that’s for sure.

Why did we choose Haiti?

We didn’t.

God did.

Shortly after that Christmas, we were on a cruise and got to know a couple. In talking to them, we mentioned that we were trying to figure out what God had planned but were thinking of adopting. Her boss had recently brought home a child they adopted from Haiti.

My brother runs a local Christian youth camp. He was talking with one of his camp counselors and it turned out that counselor grew up as a missionary kid – in Haiti. Actually, it turns out that his parents were good friends with the orphanage director and her husband.

Our oldest came home from school one day and said, “Hey guess what – the B_______ twins have a younger brother and sister they just got home from Haiti.”

At the same time that these and other instances all seemed to be pointing towards Haiti, we were going to adoption information meetings and learning about adopting from different countries. None of them felt like a good fit.

And then there’s Karen Kingsbury – we did actually get to meet her later – but while we were attempting to discern what God had planned my wife was reading one of her books and discovered that Karen had recently adopted.

From where?

You guessed it.

From Haiti.

Finally it was like, okay God, we get the picture.

Everything was turning up Haiti. Everything we knew and everyone we talked to, it all kept pointing to this little impoverished country south of Miami.

That’s why we chose Haiti. Actually, we didn’t. That’s why God pushed us to Haiti.

We were about to take the first steps into becoming a transracial family.

Boy was I naive……..

Tom