Saturday, December 29, 2007


It was a wonderful Christmas day. It has been a wonderful Christmas season. With the additional families we are a part of this Christmas, there have been more celebrations to attend. That’s good. These gatherings have proven to be a good way for Lisa’s children and my children to get to know each other on a deeper level. I am thankful that God continues the work of bringing our families together. Any of the potential “rough areas” of our relationship, He seems to be making smooth.

One of the parties we attended on Christmas day was at my Mom’s house. It was basically my Mom, my sisters and their families and Lisa and her children, and the five of us. We had a great time and, of course, more fantastic food than we could consume in a week. We greeted each other. We exchanged some gifts. We played some games and had a great time. At one point during the day I was struck by the realization that nearly everyone there, if not everyone, had suffered through a loss, to death, of a very dear loved one. My Mom has lost all of her siblings and her husband, my Dad. My older sister’s husband has lost a wife to cancer. My younger sister has lost a daughter (18) to a heart defect. Lisa and her children have lost a husband and father, and the kids and I have lost a very dear mom and wife. Despite all of that, despite all the pain, the sadness, the fear, the questions, the loneliness we’ve experienced, we celebrated. We were able to celebrate what God has done through His Son, Jesus, entering this world.

I guess, through healing, I’ve come to believe life is for living, life is for the living. A year ago, I know I dwelt, almost continually, on what I had lost and knew I could no longer have. This year God has shown me that my life is still overflowing with blessings, I just needed to notice them and name them.

As we were “partying” on Christmas day, I could not help but think that our deceased loved ones, Julie, Phil, Dad, and Carol, were in Heaven above smiling as we celebrate with laughter and fun. This time of year must be a thrilling time in Heaven when our loved ones, who are truly now living, see us celebrating Christ’s earthly birth and know better than any of us what that birth truly means for humankind.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Once again I have failed to send out a single Christmas card (yet). But if I had, the following would be my info letter.....

Christmas 2007

Dear Friends and Family

It is my prayer that this letter finds you well and enjoying this advent season. This time of year is always exciting as we again focus on God coming down to humankind in the form of His Son.

With nearly all of 2007 now in the rear view mirror, I can look back and say that God is good. For me, 2007 was a ton better that 2006 turned out to be. As I look back I can see the hand of God working at putting my life and the lives of my children back on a positive path. Thank you for the ways that you have supported the kids and me in the last several months.

Following is a little recap of our year:
In April/May I had the opportunity to serve God in Liberia, West Africa. I traveled there with a group of men to work on a new building for the Kingdom Foundation Institute. It was an amazing experience that really softened my heart to the struggles of the good people of Liberia. Shortly after returning from that trip God blessed me with the gift of a relationship with Lisa Van Harn. We had met sometime earlier at a widowed person support group and over the summer our relationship grew into something very special. In late November I asked her if she would become my wife and amazingly enough she said yes! We are both very thankful for the opportunity to love, and be loved, again in our lives. Our wedding is planned for February of 2008.

After moving back home and living with Dad for a time, Amy bought a house this past summer. She received possession of it in late August. After that she and I and a host of kind volunteers completely renovated it. She was able to move into it in November. Amy is still working fulltime for Hillside Community Church as the Children’s Ministry Director. Her gifts of music and creativity continue to amaze me.

Love is truly in the air. My middle daughter, Sara, is also engaged. She and her fiancé, Josh Campbell, are planning a June wedding. Sara is in her final year of nursing school and is looking forward to being finished with that phase of her life. She continues to have a gentle nature and a heart for missions. Sara works for Spectrum hospitals and continues to work at the A/V dept. at Calvin College.

Matt is a film nut, (or pretty much just a nut). He is attending Compass Film Academy. Compass is a film trade school where students learn all aspects of making films, story telling, direction, and etc., all from a Christian perspective. He is enjoying it very much and is working very hard at it. In his “spare time” he is working at three part time jobs to try to keep up with his expenses.

We all wish you, our friends, a very special holiday season. Remember to let your loved ones know how special they are to you.

Best wishes for a GREAT 2008!

Fred Vail

Thursday, November 29, 2007

True Joy

“...I will turn their mourning into joy. I will comfort them. I will give them joy in place of their sorrow.” Jer 31:13

As the heading on this blog page indicates, my writings here have largely been about my “grief journey”. A little over a year and a half ago a process more painful than I could have ever imagined began. Many of you who have been, or are right now, at some point along this journey know what I mean. This process is often called a “journey” because there is a destination or “other side” that can be reached.

Approximately 6 months ago the Lord blessed me with the friendship of a fellow traveler. I met Lisa at a young widowed support group meeting long before either of us was ready for any kind of relationship with the opposite gender. Over the course of many months and many meetings we became friends. We learned a little more about each other’s story, about our beloved spouses. We learned that we shared many common values, interests, etc. At one of our meetings shortly after returning from my trip to Liberia the Lord spoke to me that it would be ok for me to ask Lisa if she would like to have dinner with me sometime. She said she would like that :) She was obviously too sweet to turn me down. The evening we were together gave us a chance to talk and share more of our life stories with each other. We immediately knew that we could be good friends but were not sure if we would be led beyond that.

Lisa and I continued to attend the support group meetings. We also continued to see each other outside of our group setting. We talked for hours about Phil, her late husband, and Carol, my late wife. We had so many stories to share. We talked about how happy and fulfilling our marriages were. We talked about our children and about how they are coping with the loss of one of their dear parents. Over time we began to see each other as more than merely friends. We talked about the “what ifs”. What if our relationship turned more into a “dating” kind of thing? What if we are not ready? What if it’s too early? What is too early? We fell in love!

Along the way we have talked to many couples who have traveled this journey before us. We so appreciate every minute they were willing to spend with us. Bob and Susan, our group facilitators, were very encouraging toward us regarding our relationship. We read books. We both knew that we certainly did not want to make a great mistake by becoming so attached to each other. At all times we held our children as our highest priority.

God is soooo good! Lisa and I are now engaged!! Our “Chapter Two” is now being written. God has delivered the both of us from the deepest pits of sorrow possible to a point where we are happy and joyful beyond what we would have thought ever possible. The above Bible verse from Jeremiah was e-mailed to Lisa by a friend of hers upon hearing of our engagement. This is exactly what God has done. Our mourning has been replaced with joy. As I was reminded again this past Thanksgiving Day by our pastor, true thanks, and true joy are only possible because of what Jesus has done for us. He is the very foundation of joy.

Lisa and I will always remember Phil and Carol. They are hugely responsible for who we are at this point in our lives. We learned, along with them, what a pleasure a good marriage is. I can truly say I have been extremely blessed to be so loved by two extra-ordinary women in one lifetime!

I can’t end this post without thanking all of you for your prayers for me and the kids. Thank you for all the wonderful ways you supported us along the way. Everything you did for us was very instrumental in our survival (that word again). Please keep both of our families in your prayers as we now blend our lives.

Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee...

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
may the name of the LORD be praised." Job 1:21b

Thanksgiving is just a couple of days away. This will be the second Thanksgiving holiday without Carol. I remember last year when there was still a lot of pain and hurt. I remember the praise band rehearsal at church the Wed night before. The kids and I were all there and I couldn’t help but think, with deep sadness, about Carol not being there. She had played the piano for our Thanksgiving service for several years. Again it just seemed so wrong to me that she was not there. This was just the first of the “big three” holidays that our family would have to “survive” (that word again).
This year, again, the four of us will be at the rehearsal Wednesday night. I will be thinking about Carol and I still think it is wrong that she will not be there, but by God’s grace, I have accepted her absence. God has given a large measure of healing to me and the kids also, I pray. God has continued to rebuild our lives. I have much to be THANKFUL for.
I remember one of the stories a friend told me the day of Carol’s death. His brother had been killed in a car accident. He remembered their Pastors visit and his Father saying “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away”. My friend said he will always remember what the Pastor said, “but do remember the second part of that verse? ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord’. Can you say that part as well?” I have to say it took me a while before I could add that second line. Our church sings a beautiful praise song with those very words in it. It was a long time before I could sing it without tears.
This life continues to be full of good gifts and abundant blessings! They are all around if we will slow down and notice. Take some time this year to note them with appreciation. Particularly your loved ones who will not always be with you.

Monday, November 12, 2007


I love weekends. I don’t want to say that I’m the type of person that lives for the next weekend, but I might be close. This past weekend was one that I both looked forward to with anticipation and in many ways was dreading. This past weekend was eventful. It was a weekend of more transition for our family.

In August, my oldest daughter Amy, took the big step and bought a house. The house was a trashed out repo and was a stinking mess (literally). She was able to “buy it right”. In the last three months she and I, along with many other kind volunteers, have worked very hard to restore this house to something that is inhabitable. She moved in this past Saturday! Amy and I sat down once and calculated that there have been approx. 450 to 500 man/woman hours put into this project so far! It turned out great! It was a pleasure working along side her on this project. She is thrilled and excited to be a new home owner. The sad part is that now she has moved out of “dad’s” house.

After moving Amy on Saturday, later in the evening I was chilling at home watching a movie with Lisa and Matt when my middle daughter, Sara, came home with an engagement ring on her left hand!! Wow – transitions!! I am very happy for her and Josh and obviously wish them all the happiness possible. I knew this engagement was looking more and more likely so it was not a total suprise but it is still very exciting and am thrilled for Sara.

I am extremely proud of both girls. They have continued to live and thrive. They have continued to make wise choices. I know they miss their Mother. I know Carol would be absolutely thrilled for both of them right now...

As we live our lives, seeking God’s will for them, things continue to change. God has blessed me/us with many new experiences and relationships. I am glad to see the kids “move forward” in their lives because, in a sense, that makes it more possible for me to do the same.

God continues to bless!

Sunday, October 28, 2007


“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

Lately I have been pondering my faith. I have been wondering how big of a role my “faith” has played in my life in the last 18, or so, months. Faith is an interesting concept. I think it has different connotations to different people. The word “faith” has many of its own clichés, “keep the faith”, “you got to have faith”, “oh ye of little faith”, “I have faith in you”. You can probably think of more. There seems to be an underlying theme to all of the connotations and that is that there is a belief, but we really don’t know for sure, there’s no proof. I guess if proof was involved, then faith would be unnecessary. This belief is the basis from which our faith, “being certain of things we do not see”, grows.

For me, my beliefs, the soil from which my faith grows, run very deep. I was born into a “religious” (another of those different connotation sort of words) family. My entire life I have been absorbing scripture, Sunday school stories, excellent sermons, etc. So many things make up who I am but these things are certainly part of the equation. I have heard about the “wise man building his house upon the rock“, for decades. I have sung the song about “will your anchor hold” for decades as well. The message has been consistent, when the storms of life come, as we know they will, will we be washed into the sea as the proverbial foolish man who built his house on the sand? I really believe my “solid foundation” is a result of my upbringing and a conscious decision to work at building a solid relationship with my Creator and Savior. Without that, without knowing that God is a God of mercy, grace and love, I’m not sure how I could have survived (there’s that word again) these last 18 months.

So is it real? Am I just trying to convince myself that somehow I’m better off today because I pray or I attend church? I’ve heard it said that religion, faith, Christianity is for the weak. There are those who say it’s a crutch. I know there is nothing I can write here that would convince those folks to think differently. I just know me. I know that I have needed crutches at various times in my life. They were real, they held me up. I believe in a good God. Where’s the evidence? There’s so much death, violence, disease. Why does God allow these things? I haven’t gotten that one completely figured out. I know it’s a fallen and broken world. I do believe God is at work redeeming the bad. In my life I can see God at work making something new and beautiful. I know it’s His handiwork. I’ve never met Shakespeare in person but I believe he existed because of the incredible works he created that bear his name. He is dead and gone and no longer produces such works. God, however, is not dead and the evidence of His existence continues to amaze me every day. We really just need to take notice.

Granted, this is easier to “state” now than it would have been 12 months ago. At that time I was hurting, and questioning everything. I thank God that during that stormy time, He held me close, my anchor held, and my house (life) did not wash into the sea.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


I remember reading something somewhere early on after the 7th of May 2006 about the difference between “moving on” and “letting go”. It struck me at that time as a concept that is likely true but seemingly impossible. The article explained that a widow/widower inevitably must move on. He must go back to his home and life. He must keep eating, sleeping, going to work. His life is shattered but he must carry on as best as possible. Healing begins one day at a time. “Letting go” is much different. It involves more of a release, or disengaging. It is said to be a “conscious choice; a mental act that requires free will and effort” Unlike “moving on” they say “letting go” is not something that has to happen, but they do say that “letting go” is “is vital to the healing of the bereaved beyond the mere functionality of moving on”.

When I look back, I remember thinking that this letting go process would be one of the most difficult tasks of my grief. How could I let go of a wonderful 30 year relationship. A relationship with the one person who knew me and loved me more than anyone else ever did or ever could. The concept seemed very undoable. I remember talking to another widower where I work about this. He said that he had reached that point, that he had let go of the pain of his past and was looking forward to his future life. I could only say that I wasn’t there. Inside I knew that for me to ever be happy again I would need to be able to do that. I could see the lives of many of the widowers I knew and could see that they must have been able to let go (or act like they had). So I knew it must be possible.

There are many “mental” choices to be made along this grief journey. Whether to go to someone’s home for a meal, whether to stay involved at church, whether to attend a support group, etc. To decide, to make the mental choice, to accept that my spouse is dead, will not be coming back, will not be “angry/hurt/mortified/disappointed” by my future, requires time and much healing. Experts say that many widowers never let go. They move on but never “let go”.

Here’s the deal, as hard as it is to do, “letting go” of the past is a critical step when starting a new relationship. I know “letting go” does not mean forgetting or denying the love that was shared but it means understanding that the past, that relationship, doesn’t exist any more. That’s where I am now. For some time, starting a few months ago, I have worked and worked at letting Carol go. I believe she would have wanted me to do that. Those who have “been there” know how difficult that is and for those who haven’t, they don’t have a clue! ....I have fallen in love again. God has brought another amazing woman into my life. She will not “replace” Carol. We are building a brand new relationship that is based on who each of us is and that includes our relationship with our first spouse. Some experts say that it IS possible for grief and love to co-exist. I believe the example of love multiplying, not being divided, as in when a second child is born to a loving Mom and Dad is true. They do not love their first child any less. God miraculously supplies more love for us to give. Some would say, also, that it is impossible to love a deceased spouse. What we love is the memories we have of them.

I am optimistic and excited about the kids and my future. There remains a huge whole in our life from when Carol died. We are working at engaging in life. I am eager to apply the lessons I’ve learned, many of them taught to me by Carol, to a new relationship. I can’t thank God enough for the years I was blessed to be Carol’s husband and now I am thankful, certainly not for losing Carol, but for finding life and love again.
God is good!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

There is that television ad that goes something like “life comes at you fast”. I don’t even know what or who it is an ad for but the saying has a lot of truth to it. It has been some time since my last post. That isn’t because nothing has been happening, but rather because so much has been going on in my life that I just haven’t been able to write. As busy as it’s been it has been all good.
My oldest daughter, Amy, bought her first house and got possession about 4 weeks ago. It was/is a real fixer-upper with tons of work needed. She and I and many other kind helpers have spent countless hours there already trying to make it into a nice little home for Amy. We have come a long way but have a long way and many hours of work to go yet before she can move in.
Also I have been blessed to be able to spend time with a beautiful, young lady that God have brought into my life. Many of you have met her. It is so thrilling to be building our relationship and looking to the future with excitement.
Life does come at us fast, in waves. The trick somehow is to stay up on the surf board and ride the waves, that’s when life’s fun. When we fall off and start getting overwhelmed by the waves, that’s when life is tough.
Truth remains: God is good and His mercies endure forever.

Thursday, August 30, 2007


I enjoy reading. I have read many books written to help with the grieving process and I have continued to read good old fiction novels as well. I recently finished reading a non-fiction book about the journey of three young men traveling north across the continent of Africa on motorcycles. The title is The Only Road North by Erik Mirandette. It tells a very incredible story. I highly recommend reading it if you get the chance. Briefly, this is the story: Erik, his just out of high school brother, Alex, and one of Erik’s friends, all of them very young, started in Capetown, South Africa and drove motocross bikes north some 5000 miles over the coarse of 4 months. They endured all kinds of adventures and made it to Cairo, Egypt. While sightseeing in a market in Cairo a suicide bomber blew himself up right near the boys. The explosion killed Erik’s brother, Alex.

That is why I think this book is noteworthy. As many of us know who have lost someone very dear to us, we long so much to have that person back. We spend days, months, years, always remembering. We never want to forget. We question why, what did I do to cause this. We think what could I have done differently that could have saved our loved one. As one who has recently been through the loss of a dear loved one, I can feel the pain in each word that Erik has written in this book. Erik offers no “pat” answers, only painful questions when talking about his brother’s death.

Following are a couple of excerpts from the book:
When talking about how he, himself should have died from his injuries, but survived them he says “But we are so much more than the air we breathe. A person needs more than just a heartbeat. He needs a purpose, he needs faith, he needs to know that he is not alone. I cannot figure out why God would protect the shell in which I reside but leave me completely alone when I need him the most. For the months of recovery following the explosion I try to pray to God but my prayers are nothing more than an empty voice echoing inside my head. Eventually I stop.”
This one is part of a conversation he had with a friend of his after he was back home and trying to get on with life “My fear is not that God doesn’t exist. I know God exists. My fear is that there is more to His nature than justice, peace, love and joy. Is it unreasonable to describe God as cruel, unjust, partial, fickle, egocentric . . .?” “If not, then what is there to differentiate heaven and hell? Nothing is certain, and no amount of thought will resolve my dilemmas. Thinking just leads me deeper down the tunnel, unleashing more doubts, calling more of what I know into question.”

I guess I am writing about this because these are the same feelings that most all of us have felt at some time in our life. If you have felt this way or perhaps going through something similar right now, know that you are not alone. These feelings are natural. When people we love suffer, and lose the battle to stay in this world, the pain is incredible. Time helps but it doesn’t heal. As with any deep wound, healing comes from within but the scars remain. I had a very dear Uncle who was near death at the time of Carol’s funeral. He made the 200 mile trip because I was like one of his own sons. His funeral was two months later. At Carol’s funeral he told me to look at his hand. It had a large scar on it. He said that was from an ice fishing spear accident form some 65 years earlier. The wound healed but he had the scar the rest of his life. But God is a God of Grace, just keep trusting!

So true.

Monday, August 27, 2007


For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the LORD... Jeremiah 29:11-14

The above Bible passage was one of Carol’s favorites. Among her things, I found a written testimony of her faith that included this passage. We included it on cover of her funeral service folder. In the past several months I have pondered as to how these “plans” worked out for Carol and her life. I’m not sure I know the answer. Can I consider her “unharmed”. I do know that she had always sought the Lord and her future is, indeed, secure where she will never be harmed again.

But what about us who remain on this earth, in this life? How does our faith stand up to the trials we face when a loved one dies young? I know, first hand, our faith shakes like a house of sticks amidst a powerful earthquake. There are some other “facts” I know as well. I am no theologian; on the contrary, I spend way too much time on the trivial and not enough time in God’s word. But I know and believe that God exists. He created, sustains and is redeeming this world. I see both the (very) good and the (very) evil that exists in the hearts and minds of man and have to believe that it is the battle for those very hearts by greater powers. So, in a way, in my mind, the existence of evil points to the existence of a good God! Here’s the good part, while the existence of evil wins a few battles and causes much pain and doubt, God’s victory is assured. Even so, our cries of “why”, or “how long” are legitimate.

I think the key word is “redemption”. Through out history God has been about the work of redeeming this universe. There is overwhelming evidence of God’s redemptive work in this world. God has been turning “wrong” into “good” ever since humans allowed evil to have a foot hold in this world.

I believe this redemption plan, the effects of it, the good that we see in this world, is just a foretaste of Heaven. The best of this life is a glimpse of the always of Heaven. That God allows us, and created us, to love, to be loved, and to love again after a disaster, is a bit of Heaven on earth.

To those who struggle, believe me, you are not alone. Remember God’s “plans to prosper and not harm” are rock solid and they are eternal. Pray for strength, pray for wisdom, and pray for redemption.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Another Widow
This past weekend was a very pleasant and special time. To me weekends by definition are always good. This one was better than most. I was able to spend more time than usual with family and a new very special person in my life. My company golf outing was Saturday then we went, practically, right from there to a wedding of a nephew of Lisa's. I got to meet a lot a very nice people who were gracious to me the entire time.
On Sunday, the morning worship service was again special. My three children each participated in the service, communion was served. My Mom was with me and Lisa and her family were there as well. Then we visited my sister and brother-in-law in Grand Haven for the afternoon and evening.
This is probably more info than you cared to know.
Why share all of this?
Once again reality hit hard when we returned Sunday evening. There was a message waiting for us on our answering machine. The father of a very close friend of my daughter Amy, was killed in a helicopter crash on norther Indiana. He was piloting the craft himself and was the only person on board. When we heard the news our hearts just dropped. More sadness, more grief, hasn't the world seen enough suffering? Now another family losses a father, another wife losses a husband.
There is another widow!
Before I joined these ranks (that none of us ever wanted to be a part of) I never knew there could be as many of us as now I know there is. As I have come to learn, healing is possible. The journey is long and difficult but one can get to the "other side". Memories become pleasant, but there is no forgetting.
Please pray for the Terpstra family. Many of us know the pain that is now present for them and the difficult path of what is still to come!

Saturday, August 04, 2007


The weekend including or near the dates of August 5 & 6 has long been my favorite weekend of the year. August 5 is the anniversary of the happiest day of my life, my wedding day. Then, our anniversary was always followed up a day later with my birthday. With the combination of days like that it always made it easy for me to remember our anniversary. I have many treasured memories about the ways we celebrated that day. When the kids were younger we would often take our summer vacation week to include these days. Carol and I would sometimes have an overnight get away but we would always go to a nice place for dinner. Good times! I was so blessed!

This weekend will be different, as all of life is different. I know I can survive it. (There’s that word again – “survived by”) I survived it a year ago. This is my second anniversary/birthday without Carol. Last year I stayed busy, the kids and I had a family reunion to attend, and I was pretty much numb to the pain. This year would have been our thirtieth anniversary. We had pointed to this one as the year we would take a trip or do something extra special. We shouldn’t have waited!

I am moving on. Letting go has been difficult but it is happening. After this sojourn in the “valley”, life is exciting again. It’s exciting to see growth in the lives of our kids. It’s exciting to build relationships with the new people God has placed in my life. It exciting to think of a future that holds the promise of happiness and not just sadness.

The memories of this weekend, of these celebrative days, at times, seem so distant. At times they seem like another life, a lifetime ago. At other times it seems like yesterday. It seems like just yesterday we did things like leaving the kids with Mom and Dad and spending the night on Mackinac Island.

All the memories, whether they seem distant or like they happened yesterday are very precious to me! Lord, let me keep them forever!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

I was recently tagged on a friend’s blog to reveal eight random facts about myself. (Thanks Marsha). As I am a pretty “random” kind of person this shouldn’t be too difficult. The difficulty is that then I am supposed to tag eight more individuals to reveal some facts about themselves on their blog. The problem is that I don’t have eight other people to send this on to, sorry! If any readers would like to send me their responses, that would be cool.
So here they are in no particular order:
RANDOM FACT # 1 - I played both football and basketball in high school and have to say I’m a football guy. My favorite sport to watch is NFL football. I’m a die hard Lions fan and seriously get depressed thinking about all the beautiful fall days I’ve spent in my life watching the Lions play like crap.
RANDOM FACT # 2 - I have lived in my current house for over 27 years. Carol and I bought this house and moved into it in 1980. It is the only home our children have ever known.
RANDOM FACT # 3 - I have worked in the building materials industry for thirty years, since graduating from college in 1977. In that time I have worked for only two companies.
RANDOM FACT # 4 - I am very much into the television series “LOST”. I can’t wait for the new season to begin.
RANDOM FACT # 5 - I was into contemporary Christian music way back at its inception. People like Larry Norman, Barry McGuire, Keith Green, etc, were on my favorite “8 tracks”.
RANDOM FACT # 6 - There were 18 kids in my high school graduating class.
RANDOM FACT # 7 - In high school I was 6’6” tall, as of my physical yesterday, I am now just under 6’5” tall.
RANDOM FACT # 8 - I stink at Guitar Hero, unlike my kids who are amazing at it.

- Yeah

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Remember the well known saying from the Forest Gump movie “Life is like a box of chocolates...”? Lately I’ve been thinking that life is like a box of jigsaw pieces. God has put all the parts and pieces that make up our life into “box” and says “this is the life I’m giving you”. It seems like then it is up to us to put it together and make something useful and even beautiful of what He has given us. In the box is our genetic make up, the legacy handed down from past generations, the people God puts in our lives, our schooling, our jobs, and circumstance, everything about us goes in the box. I believe the instructions for putting our life together are included, if we pay attention. We have guidelines and we have a picture to follow, but we can only see the picture through a clouded glass, which makes it tough. We try, we do the best we can, but sometimes, it seems, the parts don’t fit together all that well. Sometimes, it seems, we place some of the pieces in the wrongs positions and that makes our picture seem less “perfect”.
But what about when some of the pieces have been taken away or lost. No one likes a puzzle that has pieces missing. After all the work of getting everything right only to find a key piece is lost is frustrating and takes some of the fun away from the entire effort. When we lose a loved one, we’ve lost a major piece of our life’s puzzle. The picture we are working so hard to make into something special is now impossible to complete. It seems the only thing we can do is to try to make the picture turn out as best we can with the pieces that are left. We can make something, some sort of picture, but it is not the one we’ve been working so hard to get just right.
So here’s the question. Is it possible to take another puzzle, someone else’s box of pieces, someone who has also lost major pieces of their puzzle, and combine it with yours and construct a complete, new, picture? If there are two different boxes, two different pictures, which were in various stages of completion, can those pieces now make one picture? Can something beautiful be salvaged from two boxes with missing pieces by combining them? Can the new picture be anything like the originals were going to be. If any one were to ask me, my answer would be absolutely. It is possible, not because we are so skilled at putting puzzles together ourselves, but because the giver of the puzzle, the creator of the pieces, can do miracles! At certain times in our lives we see them happen. We are able see through the clouded glass a little more perceptively at times; at other times our Creator recreates our picture, miracles. We are able to see a new set of possibilities for the new picture utilizing the pieces of the new puzzle that is now mixed in with our original. With effort and our Creator’s guiding hand we are able to work at the new puzzle. We are able to see where the new pieces fit in with the existing ones. One of the special arrangements the Creator has with us is that we can ask if we are doing it right. We can ask for help throughout the endeavor. He will guide our puzzle solving efforts. Something new and beautiful can be completed.
I know this is true because I see it happening in my life!

Sunday, July 08, 2007


“The fact that someone this incredibly EXTRA-ordinary married me is, without question, my greatest source of pride. To have someone of such caliber, of such magnitude, say “I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you” goes beyond mere words. It’s a mitzvah, a blessing.” YWBB

The above quote was part of a post on the Young Widowed Bulletin Board that I frequently check in on. I thought it was so “right on” that I had to hang on to it and read it over and over. In these last 14 months or so I have come to realize what a blessing it was to have shared my life with Carol. To have received the gift of love that we shared was truly amazing. To have that gift removed when there was so much left for us to enjoy was the worst possible outcome I could have imagined. The kids and I were put in a role of being “those other people” who had to go through what we did.
What do you do? What choice do you have? We leaned on our church family, we leaned on relatives, we leaned on our friends, co-workers, and anyone who offered a hand (and still do). Most of all we leaned on God. My faith has remained strong. Even while questioning what He was thinking, how could this happen to the best person I knew and her loved ones, I knew we were held in God’s hands. I knew Carol was loved and we were/are loved by the very creator God that loved us into existence. I found out that this horrible thing happens to more couples than I ever imagined. I knew that I had a “journey” ahead of me and that if I was going to experience any sort of healing, it would require work. I couldn’t expect God to just make me whole again. It would require active participation on my part.
I am thankful for the books that I’ve read, that some of the people who’ve experienced this sort of loss themselves have written about their experiences and thus helped others of us. I am thankful for Widowed Person Services in this area who kept sending me invitations to their meetings even when I was not brave enough to go to the meetings. Those monthly invitations also convinced me that I needed something like that to go to, to fellowship with other widows who, now, I had this one thing in common with. Our area is extremely blessed to have a young widowed group facilitated by Susan Zonnebelt-Smeenge and Bob DeVries, themselves widowed early in their marriages and authors of several books on surviving the death of a spouse. The meetings, the talks, the wisdom of those who have “been there” have been a tremendous help to me. Even writing in my journal and on these blog pages have helped me “work out” many of my feelings. I am thankful that God has never let me go. He has held on tightly.
What now? Now the question is where I am now in this journey and how do I proceed? One of the books I’ve read has a section explaining the difference between resignation and acceptance. “Resignation is surrender to fate, Acceptance is surrender to God . . . “ I really believe I have reached a level of acceptance, of healing, such that I can be excited about the future. I still look back from time to time, and I think I always will, but I am interested in seeing what God has in store for me in the future. I feel that I have a lot of life to live yet while on this earth and I wish for happiness. One of the questions that I was thinking about a few months ago was, knowing that Carol would wish me to be happy, what would make me happy? The obvious answer is to have Carol back, but that is just not likely to happen so, other that, what will make me happy. The answer is nothing will make me happy. I have to pursue happiness; I have to choose to find happiness in other things, in other people God brings into my life. I pray that I am ready for that. I pray that I am ready to love and be loved again. I thank God for the people He continues to bring into my life. I am thankful that my winter is turning into spring before my very eyes.
Another of the books I have read is a book of poems. The title is March Before Spring. The very last poem in the book is titled Passage.


Suppose I moved your photo
from the bedroom into the hall—
would your eyes still be patient as I

hurried past you to answer the phone,
start the washer, rush out the door?

Suppose I wore my wedding ring
on my right hand? Would the nakedness
shame me, make me too available?

Suppose I liked the sound of his voice,
the way he kissed my shoulder?

Suppose I were walking on a bridge
that began to sway too much and I ran
to the other side instead of heading back.

-Stephanie Mendel
March Before Spring

The image of a swinging bridge over a deep canyon swaying in the winds is very fitting to where I have been. Suppose I run to the other side instead of heading back . . . . I remain in God’s hands.

"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning" (Psalm 30:5 NKJV).

Monday, June 25, 2007

Proud Papa

In the nearly twenty-nine years that Carol and I were married we were blessed with three beautiful babies. I believe that there is no greater joy that can come to a couples life that the birth of a child, the personification of their love. Our children have always been the focal point of our lives and the memories of their years are far more precious than gold.
These beautiful, precious babies that God entrusted to us are now emerging adults. They remain gifts from God to me. They are indeed temples of Christ, created in God’s image. In the past year+ they have been by my side steadfastly. We have continued to be a family. I believe the saying “home is where the Mom is” to be true but with the help and support of Amy, Sara and Matt, our house has remained a home. They have been responsible for bringing laughter, joy, friends, entertainment, drama and many other positive elements into my life this past year. They, each, have helped make healing possible for each other and me.
They are each so wonderfully talented. Amy has the gifts of music, organization, generosity, wisdom and more. Sara has gifts in music, wisdom, compassion, thoughtfulness and more. Matt is gifted in music, athletics, humor, intelligence and more. Perhaps you noticed the common thread of musical gifts. That’s a legacy from their mother. Music was, and still is, a very integral part of our lives.
Why am I writing about this now?
This past weekend I had the opportunity of seeing both the Friday and Saturday performance of the Caledonia Community Players production of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I must say I am beaming with pride. Amy and Matt were both essential performers in this production.
This is the fourth musical Amy has done with CCP. She accompanies all the vocal rehearsals and the performances on the piano. Her commitment to hours and hours of practice is amazing. As always she did an amazing job. BRAVO AMY!
After auditioning for his first show with CCP, Matt was given the role of the Beast. I believe that to be quite an accomplishment for his first step into Community Theater. He has worked very hard at being prepared. Singing, dancing, acting, flying, kissing, are a few of the talents needed for this role. He did a great job. BRAVO MATT!
How I wish with all my heart that Carol would be here to see her children grow. How I wish she could see them using their talents and spreading their wings and becoming the persons God created them to be. She would be the proudest Mama in the world, as I am the proudest Papa!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Over the past 13 months I have done a lot of reading. There are a few quotes that, I think, are notable. At different points of time all have been profound to me.


“when I look in the mirror all I see is sadness”
- Young widow bulletin board

“You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday”

“Death is the devil’s calling card” Bob DeVries

“Those who suffer loss live suspended between a past for which they long and a future for which they hope. “ A GRACE DISGUISED Gerald L. Sittser

It’s better to have loved… is not working for me.Why, if only to be given so fiercely, and then taken away.
Donna Michele Hill

"The act of living is different all through. Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything." C.S. Lewis

"They told me one day I would go twenty-four hours without thinking of my loss. I told them they were crazy.” Barbara Baumgardner

The worst thing about being a widow/er is the loss of love….When you have a great marriage, it becomes something that goes far beyond friendship. It's having someone who knows you.

If you're going through hell, just keep going." - Winston Churchilll

I hadn’t said it in so long. When death takes your mother, it steals that word forever.”
- Mitch Albom for one more day

"Just give it time," people say. That is misleading. Time alone will not heal your grief.” –

"I can't speak for the rest of you, but I feel like a different person. I'm not afraid of death or injury anymore.
I'm not afraid of failing or looking stupid. I don't take my career goals, money or my possessions as seriously,
and I don't take the people I love for granted." Tamsenita

“The range of things you need to grieve for may surprise you. Identify your losses and be prepared to grieve for each one.” –

Along the Road
I walked a mile with Pleasure; she chattered all the way.But left me none the wiser for all she had to say.I walked a mile with Sorrow and ne’er a word said she;But oh, the things I learned from her when Sorrow walked with me!
- Robert Browning

“Keep your heart right, even when it is sorely wounded” Unknown

The sweetest lesson I have learned in God's school is to let the Lord choose for me.- Dwight L. Moody

"Weep freely; share your anguish, your deep concern, but always with the joyful assurance that Jesus is with you. The Prince of Peace is with you, " - Dr. Bill Bright.

“Remember the good times; cherish the memories, but live each day moving forward. Focus your thoughts on what is before you and how you are going to get there.” –

“Should God place you on the anvil, be thankful. It means he thinks you’re still worth reshaping” -Max Lucado

“If you are no one's significant other, does that render you
insignificant?” -Tansinita

“Pain is inevitable, Misery is optional” – Barbara Johnson

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Who Am I

It’s been thirteen months
-since Carol was led to glory
-since our children became Motherless
-since I became a widower

Sometimes I feel like an old man
-remembering better times
-longing for Heaven

Sometimes I feel like a young man
-plenty of life ahead
-excited for the future
-longing for companionship

Mostly I don’t feel like a middle aged man

Who am I

In the musical Les Miserables, the character Jean Valjean asks the question “Who am I?”
These words are from that song:
“My soul belongs to God, I know
I made that bargain long ago
He gave me hope when hope was gone
He gave me strength to journey on”

This I know, I will trust God for what I don't know.

Thursday, May 31, 2007


There is the saying “the only constant is change”. I had the occasion to do a little reflecting on that this past week end. This was my second Memorial Day weekend since Carol’s death. Last year I merely went through the motions, still dazed and confused. A lot of changes have happened in the last couple of years and being back in Ellsworth for the weekend sort of forced me to think about them.
For years and years, Carol and I, then also the kids, would faithfully go to Ellsworth on Memorial Day weekend. We would attend the ceremonies at the local cemeteries and then enjoy a picnic with extended family and really get summer off to a great start. This year the kids and I went up and the changes were so very obvious. Carol was not with us. My Dad was not there. Uncle John was not there. U. John’s large garden is not there. The children are all growing up. The house I grew up in now belongs to somebody else, etc. etc.
Matt and I took a little walk down around my old home. It was sold two summers ago. It appeared like there was no one there so I looked around a bit. That was a bit sad. We walked along the lake that I used to swim and fish in, strolled the yard we played baseball and football in. I showed Matt the wall I used to pitch tennis balls against. Matt remembered a baseball game when he was pitching and I was batting and I batted the ball right at his head (it smacked him pretty hard). I remembered the surprise fortieth birthday party that everybody knew about except me. Now it’s all somebody else’s land.
Change! Nothing stays the same.
We travel this sod for such a short time. For me, it took a tragedy to really understand that fact. Like Peter says in 1 Peter 1:24 "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall. . . “. I know, this sounds very depressing, but here’s the encouraging part. God never changes. He is the creator and has been around from the beginning of time. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) He is eternal. We, who call Christ our Lord, are, by the grace of God, His children and thus heirs to eternity! We will enjoy an eternity with the saints from all ages and that includes Carol, and my Dad, and Uncle John and hopefully your loved ones also. On this present earth, in our life time, we can expect many “changes” and most of them not what we would call “for the good”. But what a comfort it is to know that God never changes and His love is constant.
As I was walking along the old “paths” of younger days, I could also reflect on the powerful LOVE of God and what a privilege it is to be called His child. Joy and evn happiness does not have to depend on our current "temporary" condition.
Perhaps the saying should be “the only constant is God”!

Saturday, May 26, 2007

The flight from Brussels to Monrovia was very pleasant. It was a big plane and was nearly empty. We could stretch out on the middle seats as on a couch and sleep. The flight over northern Africa was interesting because the weather was clear and we kind of followed the shoreline of the ocean. The contrast between the deep blue of the ocean and the dry, brown of the land was highlighted by the white surf. After about a one hour stop in Dakar, Senegal where we had to stay on the plane, we finally landed at Roberts International Airport. This wasn’t like any airport I’ve ever seen. The baggage claim area was a hornet’s nest of chaos. Two of the guys watched for or luggage to materialize while the others watched our pile of carry on bags. Someone tried making off with my carry on bag, but we were able to stop him before he actually grabbed it.
The airport has a lot of what Jonathon Enders called “local bums”. They would grab the luggage to carry it for you without asking but then want money. Or, they would just outright ask for money. We were warned to just try to ignore them. Jonathon and Pastor Payne were there to pick us up and we made our way to the guest house. I was all eyes! I was getting my first look at Africa. Clusters of huts, roads full of walkers, people pushing broken down cars, huts/houses with no chimneys just smoke coming out window openings, I saw a lot of Africa in just that first ride.
We stayed in a mission compound between the airport and Paynesville. It was called ELWA, which stands for Everlasting Love Winning Africa. By local standards it was a very nice place. We had electricity in the mornings and evenings, and we had a fan when the electricity was on.
We were taken to the new school construction site first thing Saturday morning. That was about a 10 mile ride but it goes right through the heart of Paynesville. Two traffic lanes right through an extremely busy market area. We were told to hang onto our things because they would reach right into the car and take things. (We never had that happen) When we got to the job site we had breakfast with Jonathon and Comfort and some other members of the school board. They conveyed their deep appreciation for ours and the other work teams that have come. I wish everyone could hear the passion in their voices when they speak of the school and their vision and the partnership that has developed between them and us.
After this the four of us kind of jumped in and tried to be of help to the crews of local workers that were already there working. The language barrier was much bigger that I anticipated. It seemed to me that they only use the first part of every work. In keeping with Carol’s tradition from Cuba, I wrote down a few of the expressions and some vocabulary:
“yu wal sma” = you walk small = you walk slow
“mo th whe” = move the wheel = keep moving we don’t have all day
Thr wi nai = 3” wire nail
Humu = hammer
Frelly = my name
“wawa” = “Uncle John” would have to explain that one to you.
Etc. You get the idea. It was such a joy to work along side the Liberian workers. There seemed to be a carpenter in charge of each crew and then some younger less skilled workers that were helpers. That’s where we fell in the pecking order. It was neat to see their trust and acceptance of me and my “carpenter skills” increase as the day wore on. It didn’t take long for us to need a break. The local workers worked from 8 till 5 with one 30-35 minute break for about $3-5.00 (American) a day. We worked for about 45 min and needed a water break. Hot and sweaty are the key words. There are no power tools; all cutting is done with a hand saw. Blisters happen!
Each night we were taken back to the guest house before dark (6:30 ish) and treated to a beautiful Africa sunset over the Atlantic Ocean.
Sunday was a treat as were attended the Ender’s church and then Jonathon took us into Monrovia (Liberia’s capital city) and pointed out some of the “sights”. He pointed out an area where in the early 90’s, he and Comfort were caught in the crossfire of a gun battle and had to run. The evidences of the wars are still very visible. Perhaps the most striking reminder I saw was a field with at least thee soccer games going on and every player was an amputee, playing with the help of crutches!!
Later in the week we got involved in some projects out in the community. I really enjoyed this because we met more people right in their home areas and it felt like I was actually helping someone specifically.
Various people have asked if one week is enough time to be there for having to travel so far, I think the answer is yes. The week was a total blessing and flew by but I was glad when it was time to head home. But, I would love to go back! There are tentative plans for a team going back in late August. We’ll have to see how the Lord leads. It gets in your heart. I took a part of them back in my heart and, hopefully, left a part of me in their hearts. The ministry there is not something one can walk away from and ignore once back in the states.
Thank you so much for your prayers and the other ways many of you have supported me in this. It was truly a blessing to be used by God in the way.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Liberia Part III

Many of you have likely seen the television reality show Amazing Race. On that show teams of people race around the world city to city, airport to airport. The prize at the end of the race is a large sum of money. Our trip to Liberia reminded me a lot of that TV show. The difference is that our prize wasn’t money; it was an opportunity to bring a little hope and encouragement to an area of God’s world that needs both desperately. Our gracious God directed our paths and we made all our connections and arrived in Liberia as planned.
There are many stories I could tell about my week but it starts with our trip to Africa. We were scheduled to leave Grand Rapids at 11:20am on Thursday, April 26. After prayers and farewells at the airport we boarded our plane as scheduled. Then we sat and sat. It seems O’Hare in Chicago was behind and not allowing our flight to take off. After about 1 ½ hours we finally took off. That made the connection in Chicago very close. We caught a shuttle to our next gate, did a little running and made it. Next was Dulles. We didn’t have a lot of time there but made it ok. The next flight was to Brussels. It was kind of strange flying into the sunrise. That makes for a short night. Also, as airplanes are not made for people that are 6’6”, I was like a sardine in my seat, so I didn’t sleep much. We arrived in Brussels at about 8am, that’s 2am GR time. Our flight to Africa was to board at around 10am, we had about 2 hours. We went directly to the ticket counter to get our boarding passes. The person there needed to verify our visas and she discovered a problem. The paperwork we had was quite vague and she suggested we would need to get something more official. She suggested that we get a taxi, rush to the Liberian embassy in downtown Brussels get our visa situation straightened out and hopefully make it back to the airport in time to catch the flight, a very unlikely scenario, unless God wanted it to happen. We raced around until we found the immigration line to exit the airport. We jumped in the queue for a taxi (maybe 100 people ahead of us) and finally were picked up. The taxi driver understood English and understood the urgency. We were zipping around Brussels like something from the movies. Our driver didn’t know where the address was specifically so as he was peeling around he was also trying to find the way from his telephone book sized street map book. After a few wrong turns he did get us there. We asked him to wait for us; he said he would if it wouldn’t be too long. We ran to the door and got there just as the lady there was opening up. She also understood the situation and said she could take care of us quickly. She did. She actually let us fill out some of the paperwork ourselves so it could be done simultaneously. She stamped and signed them all and we raced back out to our waiting taxi, then we sped back to the airport. Traffic was amazingly clear on our way back to the airport. We got there, however, only to find out at the ticket counter that the flight had boarded already. Ron (one of our group) explained that we had tickets and really needed to get on that flight and could she just check to see if we could somehow get on it. The next flight to Liberia would not be until Sunday. She checked with the gate and they said they would let us on. We got our boarding passes and, once again, hustled through immigration, ran to the gate and got on the plane. Was there ever any doubt? No, because God wanted it to happen.
I was thinking about Psalm 127:1, where Solomon writes “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.” Those builders currently working on the Kingdom Foundation Institute don’t need to worry about laboring in vain. The Lord is definitely building this house!
The other thought that struck me was that this whole Brussels adventure happened in the middle of the night back home. Our prayers support was likely sound asleep (maybe except for my Mom). Another of the Psalms I was drawn to prior to this trip was Psalm 121 and verses 3 and 4 really spoke to me of God’s provision in our lives. “(3.)He will not let your foot slip- he who watches over you will not slumber; (4.) indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”
The whole trip was a faith building experience. It was amazing to see God’s handiwork so evident in all aspects of our trip and in the building of this school. Praise God!
Wow! This is just the beginning. There is so much more to tell.
Stay tuned.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Pear Tree
We have a new pear tree in our front yard. It was planted about one year ago today, Mothers Day. There’s a story I would like to tell about how it came to be.
Our front yard is not large. We have a few shrubs and things around the front of the house and we had two maple trees spaced evenly in the front between the house and the street. Some time ago one of the maple trees started dying. We kept it as long as possible but finally 5 or 6 years ago I cut it down and pulled the stump out. Then I simply seeded over the spot so our yard did look a little unbalanced. We, Carol and I, always figured we would plant a new tree of some species in that spot.
A little over a year ago, the spring of 2006, we got a little more serious about choosing a type of tree to plant. Carol really wanted a flowering, ornamental type and was thinking about a pear tree. The week before she went into the hospital she circled an ad from the Sunday paper showing an ornamental pear tree. I figured she and I would go shopping and get one sometime soon. Then she went into the hospital.
That first week she was really feeling pretty well. We didn’t know what was attacking her and trusted God that in just a few days she would be coming home. One day she told me that it would be nice if I could get a tree and plant it for her homecoming present. That instantly became my job number one. I remember on Saturday morning before going up to the hospital I stopped at a retailer and looked at variety of trees. As God would have it, one of the workers there, and I didn’t know she worked there, attends our church. I told her about Carol’s request and she helped me. We looked at what was in stock and she showed me more pictures. All of which just confused me. I decided not to buy one at that time and when Carol got well enough we would make an outing to go “tree shopping” to get one that she really would be happy with. As most of you know God’s plans were different. Carol never came back to her earthly home at all. There would be no more outings with her. The tree was never purchased. On May 7th she died. That was Sunday, one week before Mother’s Day.
Our visitation for Carol was to start on Tuesday at 7pm. The funeral home people suggested we get there early to have a chance to, I guess, fall apart and get ourselves back together again before others arrived. When I arrived at the funeral home, I was overwhelmed by all the flowers, plants, expressions of love that people had sent. One stands out, there in the middle of the room stood a pear tree with a beautiful note attached. It was from Irene, the person who had helped me that Saturday Carol was in the hospital. Wow!
At the suggestion of my Sister, I planted it on Mothers Day 2006. It seems to be thriving. It’s probably doing better than I/we are. But when I remember these acts of gracious kindness by so many people I know God has never left us. I know He is using people to reach out to us, holding us up each and every day.
Mothers Day is one of those days that can be a real joy or it can hold a lot of sorrow for many varied reasons. I think of a quote from one of Mitch Albom's books that is something like "When death takes your Mom, it steals that word forever". I am sad for my children. They are missing out, for the rest of their lives, on a relationship with one of the most amazing people that they would ever know, their Mom.
Remember that the acts of kindness you show toward people are appreciated and never forgotten.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

It’s Still Wrong

It has now been one year since Carol’s death. For me the one year mark was just after midnight Saturday night. While that isn’t the May 7 date this year, that is the night I will never get over.
About the only thing I could verbalize that night in her room, when she was lying there dead, was “this is wrong”. It’s not my style to scream and yell and I didn’t know who to scream at. All I could do was cry and keep saying over and over “it’s wrong – it’s wrong”
Now it is one year later and I have to say “it’s still wrong”. I haven’t read or heard or experienced any thing that has convinced me that her death was “right”. I have to believe it is in God’s big plan somehow but I think it is wrong. It is wrong for so many reasons. The positive influence she had on this world is profoundly absent. God what were you thinking?
The timing of my trip to Africa has added an interesting dynamic to this one year mark. I am up and down like a yoyo (I know, that’s a pretty fitting analogy for me). There are so many stories and great memories of my trip then, whap, I wish Carol were here to share them with me. The reunion would have been so sweet. I know we would be spending hours talking about every minute of my trip. We would have had a great time comparing this to her trips to Cuba and it would have been fun trying to convince her that Liberia is hotter and more humid than the pleasant Caribbean island of Cuba. When I got off the plane Amy and Matt were there to great me, that was wonderful, but the other guys had there wives there to greet and wrap their arms around them. That was not lost on me.
I guess the thought that God doesn’t promise that everything will be easy, just that He will help you through all times, still applies.
I still rely on Him and His good people to help me through.
Thank you to all of you who are included in that group.
January 12, 1956 - May 7, 2006
Wife, Mom, Daughter, Sister, Aunt
You were the BEST of all of these.
We still miss you,
We still LOVE you,
You displayed the Love
To all who knew you,
What a legacy!
Your Loving Family

Monday, April 23, 2007

One Year Ago
Well it begins. One year ago about right now, Monday night, I remember standing in the kitchen with Carol and trying to decide whether to bring her to the hospital or not. Her doctor had made an appointment with a cardiologist for like two weeks from Thursday but emphasized that if she was noticeably getting worse to go in to emergency. She was really convinced that she was getting more and more short of breath and we decided to go in at around 10 pm. We really thought she would likely have her heart checked out and maybe medication or at most a heart procedure and in a few days she would be home and starting to recover. How wrong we were. The nightmare was just beginning.
These anniversary days of her being in the hospital and never returning to her earthly home will be difficult for all who know her. There are also memories of all the acts of kindness our family experienced during this time. The visits, the meals, the many ways that support was shown truly did help. The "why" questions are still not answered. She is missed every single moment I'm awake and many when I'm sleeping. I dreamt of her last night and pleaded with her not to leave this time. If only that were possible.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Liberia Part II

The day is nearly here when I will be leaving for Liberia. I definitely need to thank all of you who have made this trip possible. I would not be going if not for your prayers, your encouragement, your donations, and so much more. Your generosity is incredible and very humbling. God is good and I want to be used by Him.
I have talked with some of the folks who have been there on previous trips and that has made me even more excited to be going. That part of the world has suffered so much in the recent past that sometimes I think what I would be able do, or the impact that I can have, will be really quite insignificant, but I also know that’s how God works. He uses the hands and feet of humble servants to accomplish more than we can imagine. I have recently watched two movies set in Africa, Hotel Rwanda and Blood Diamond. I really feel seeing these dramatizations has softened my heart for these people. I hate to admit that it needed it.

Below is a poem from a book by Max Lucado. The books title is On The Anvil. As the title suggests, God sometimes reshapes us through tough times and forms us into instruments that can be used for His purposes. That is my prayer.

An Instrument For Noble Purposes - Max Lucado

Ah, to be your instrument, o God
like Paul to the Gentiles,
like Philip to the eunuch,
like Jesus to the world,
. . . to be your instrument.

To be like a scalpel in the gentle hands of a surgeon,
healing and mending.

To be like a plow in the weathered hands of a farmer,
sowing and tending.

To be like a scythe in the sweeping hands of a reaper,
gathering and using.

To be . . . an instrument for noble purposes.

To be honed and tuned,
in sync with your will,
sensitive to your touch.

This, my God, is my prayer.
draw me from your fire,
form me on your anvil
shape me with your hands,
and let me be your tool.

Please keep my family and me in your prayers as this is also the time leading up to the one year anniversary of Carol going to glory. It is always on our minds.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Two weeks from today I leave for Liberia. Carol has been my inspiration for much of my life and that hasn't changed. Following is the story of her involvement in the Cuban Music Ministry.
Thank You, Honey, for leading the way!!


A few years ago our church became involved in a ministry opportunity in the country of Cuba. Our church places a strong emphasis on contemporary worship. We generally begin our services with a time of singing led by a group of dedicated and talented musicians. Some of those in leadership in the CRC churches of Cuba approached our church about the possibility of sending a team of musicians to Cuba to begin a music academy to help train the people there to be able to play the instruments and to be able to use music as an outreach tool among the people of Cuba.

I’m pretty sure it was in the summer of 2000 when the first small group of musicians ventured to Cuba and laid the groundwork to what would be an annual trip that the Lord has blessed with great results. Each summer there is a youth retreat held in the city of Jaguey Grande, in the province of Matanzas. This is also the headquarters of the CRC in Cuba. Since that first year, one week of the youth retreat has been lead by musicians from Hillside, teaching lessons for piano, guitar, brass, drums, vocals, etc. The Lord has blessed this ministry and today many of those first students are performing and teaching others how to praise God and lead others in praise with their talents. There is a wonderful video of the Cuban music ministry on our church’s website at: The video is special to me because it includes an interview with Carol.

Carol and the kids have always been super involved in the music programs at Hillside so when the opportunity came to share some of their passion with the people of Cuba they became involved. Amy was the first to go. She went in the summer of 2001 and 2002. While there she taught keyboards and helped with the singing. After two years she decided to take a break. The next year, 2003, the team needed a piano teacher and Carol couldn’t resist. I remember her being so excited but also a bit scarred. She had such love for children and music that there was no way she could turn down the chance to serve God in this way. Another big reason Carol wanted to go was to meet Raidel’s family.

Raidel is a young man who joined our family in November of 2002. He grew up in Jaguey Grande. Although not a music student, he had worked with the youth retreats there and had become familiar with Hillside Church from our involvement there. He had a desire to continue his education in the US and specifically Reformed Bible College (now Kuyper College) in Grand Rapids. So the call went out for a host family for Raidel. Amy, because she had been to Cuba, knew of Raidel. We discussed it as a family and the girls, Amy and Sara, agreed to share a bedroom so we could free a room up for him. He has been a loved member of our family ever since. When he first came he spoke very little English. Carol, particularly, would spend time with him working on his language skills. On one of our trips to Ellsworth, Carol was driving, giving me a break, and concentrating so hard on communicating with Raidel that she got a speeding ticket. That was her first and only ticket and we all teased her about it. So, another big reason Carol was excited to go to Cuba was to meet Raidel’s mother and family. She just loved that prospect.

Carol left for Cuba on July 18, 2003. Typically the group would drive to Toronto and then take a direct flight to Havana. I remember her telling of how she was really nervous going through customs but God was good and she simply followed the lead of one of the Spanish speaking members of the group. Despite the heat, most everyone getting sick, the busy schedule, she had a great trip. She loved the people who were so grateful our group would come to help them. She remarked that the children were so excited to learn and worked very hard at it. She said the people were extremely friendly and gracious. She had the opportunity to visit and share a meal with Raidel’s family on a couple of different occasions. We have many pictures of Carol and Acela (Raidel’s mother). Each evening, after the daily schooling would wrap up, the group would travel to an outlying smaller town and participate in worship services. At these services the effect of good music was very evident. People came from all around when they would hear our group leading singing. People, churched and unchurched, would literally be standing out the doors and by the windows trying to get a glimpse of the “show”.

In one of my earlier posts, I mentioned that some the kids of our church referred to Carol as the “frog lady” and promised a later explanation, this is the story. Following are the words from Carol’s own journal she would keep of her trip:
“...headed west, went through Toriente around 7:20PM. We arrived in town (Zayas) at 7:50, another very primitive church and very small. We were all set up outside, guitars and me under the porch overhang and everyone else in the yard. We began to play around 8:15. The people were not as lively as the other churches but the mission towns aren’t as used to singing, don’t know the songs and were more observing than participating. We heard afterward that the people really loved the music and didn’t want us to stop. Many people were very dressed up – almost in evening gown type dresses.
Abner told a story about one mom who carried her 9 year old daughter (mentally disabled) from a town a few miles away. They wanted to be there so badly! What a story. About three-quarters through the program we took a short break and Eric pointed out a frog sitting on a beam in front of me. Oh boy! He started to work his way toward me and found a nice perch right above and slightly behind my head. I just told him, “just stay there pal and no one gets hurt!” It was then that I noticed his buddy peeking out of a fold in the roofing material in front of me! Now there were two to worry about. We finished playing around 9:25 and Obed was doing his closing comments when the froggie jumped right on top of my head (slightly back of center). I ducked over and Russ instinctively slapped me on the back, then said “oh, sorry, sorry,” and started going after him on my head – sort of flailing at him. He finally went flying forward off my head. By that time I was sure he had been squashed and I was probably covered in frog guts. Well, he actually made it off me fairly intact. (Although Ade + Deb said they did see slime spray) Very traumatic! ...”

Of course the “frog story” grew in legend throughout the remainder of the trip.

When she got back that year, some of her “anonymous” friends continued to shower her with frogs, plastic ones, stuffed ones, pictures, etc. She kept all these things on display in here office at church, including a candy bucket shaped like a frog. The kids soon found that the “frog lady” always had candy in her “frog room”.

As you can imagine she came back from her trip exhausted but on a spiritual high that lasted a long time. She was thrilled to be able to be used by God in such an evident way.

The following summer, 2004, she had the chance to again be the piano teacher with the Hillside group that again went to Cuba. This trip was memorable for her because our daughter Sara and our niece Melanie also were able to go. The three of them had a great time serving the Lord together in this way. Again there are many stories that could be told of their experiences while in Cuba.

Carol had decided to take a break from going in 2005. Sara and Melanie were again scheduled to go but there plans were change when a powerful hurricane hit the area pretty much straight on. The children’s retreat time was cancelled for that summer and the Hillside group did not go.

In 2006, Carol was so looking forward to going to Cuba again. The problem was that she had committed to playing the piano for the wedding of one of Amy’s friends. As it turned out the wedding day was at the same time the Cuba music team was scheduled to be in Cuba. One of the main reasons she was so wanting to be in Cuba is that Raidel was also going and was planning a wedding ceremony there in his home town. He became engaged over the winter and he and his fiancée, Marcy, were planning a wedding here in Grand Rapids on July 1 and then they were both going with the Hillside group to Cuba. While in Cuba, they would have another Cuban ceremony for his friends and family there. It seemed so perfect, so God ordained that Carol could be there, play the piano for it, and simply be there with Raidel’s mother. It meant a lot to Raidel to have his American Mom there along with his real Mom. She never got the chance to go. In April she entered the hospital and died on May 7, 2006. One of the causes we decided that donations could be given to in her name was the Cuban Music Academy. In July, when the group did go to Cuba, without Carol, our daughter Sara was able to go with them again. She was able to bring them a sizable amount of money and the kind people of Cuba blessed Sara and our family with condolences and prayers and mementos of their appreciation for what Carol had done for them and their native son Raidel.

This has been a long story and God bless you if you made it this far. I believe Carol can still intercede on our behalf. I believe she still intercedes for her beloved piano students in Cuba. My prayer is that God will continue to make His presence known in that area through the work of our Hillside Music Teams. I was proud to share in her Kingdom efforts. Her untiring work for God remains a model for all of us who knew her.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


Easter is only a few days off. I didn’t really think that Easter would be another of those “hard” days. It hit me that I was wrong about that a couple of weeks ago in church when an announcement appeared in our bulletin concerning flowers.
Each year, recent memory anyway, our youth group has sponsored a fundraiser in which people can purchase flowers/plants (lilies, hyacinths, daisies, tulips, etc.) in memory of a loved one. The plants are then set all over on and in front of the stage for the Easter services, making a beautiful (and smelly) display of spring time and life. Then after the morning service the plants can be taken home by whoever ordered them. Carol had ordered at least one plant most every year in the past. We have gotten them in memory of our niece,Julie, and of Carol’s Grandparents, possibly others. Last year we ordered one or two in memory of my Dad. This year, when I saw that announcement, wham! I hadn’t thought about that. I was going to have to order flowers in memory of my wife, lover, best friend, life companion; I knew I had to do it. I certainly wasn’t not going to do it. If I had ordered 10,000 plants and filled the entire auditorium it wouldn’t be enough to do justice to her memory. So I ordered one Easter Lilly. When I see her name on the sheet telling who each flower is in memory of, I will tear up and get a big lump in my throat.
I will try to keep in mind the wonderful meaning of Easter for those of us who believe. That Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and rising back to life has conquered death, that death has lost its sting (for now I have to say it stings a lot, but my faith is small), that victory is guaranteed and assured. I will try to remember the words of one of my favorite “Easter” songs where the Angel tells Mary “... Mary why have you come here, with your heart so sad with your eyes filled with tears, ...Why don't you run now, run now, tell your friends Jesus was dead but he lives again!...”.
Easter is about life. Our life span on Earth is just a speck compared to eternity where, because of what Christ endured on my behalf, I will be more alive than ever - with Carol.Maybe if I can remember that, I will not only look ahead to and long for eternity but also be more at peace in this present world.
I will try to remember these things!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


The following post will look familiar to many of you; it is essentially the same as the letter I sent to many family and friends explaining my upcoming trip to Liberia.

A year ago our care circle group from church studied a book entitled "If You Want To Walk On Water, You’ve Got To Get Out Of The Boat" by John Ortberg. This book encouraged us to get out of our “comfort zone” when it comes to serving God. We were challenged to actually do something for God’s Kingdom. When I thought about what I could do, using the gifts I’ve been given, my mind always came around to work projects, somewhere, wherever. Carol and our daughters, Amy and Sara, have each had the opportunity to serve God with their musical skills in Cuba, but, as I possess no musical skills nor do I speak Spanish, that would not be an option for me. Carol and I had actually talked about this often in the past and had looked forward to doing trips that are more “service” oriented together in the future. I guess we were waiting for the kids to be grown up so our vacation time would be more available.

One year later, God, in His wisdom, which I will never understand, has allowed Carol to be taken from us. This has led to much pain, much soul searching and many thoughts about “what do I do now?” I am actively trying to do the things experts tell those in my situation to do. One of these “tasks of grief” that is more outward focused is volunteering, or doing something to serve others. That is what I feel I am called to do at this time.

As many of you know our church has been involved in helping to develop a Christian School in the country of Liberia, West Africa. Through a relationship with
Partners For Learning Across Cultures, Hillside Community Church has already supported two groups that have traveled to Liberia. There is now another group scheduled to go and I have felt the Holy Spirit “nudge” me to be part of it. We are assisting in the work begun by Comfort and Jonathon Enders. Comfort Enders is a young lady from Liberia that came to the United States to further her education. She was an educator in her country and believed that for her country to progress providing an education to the youth is a key. While attending a college in our area she attended our church, Hillside Community Church, and everyone who got to meet her and hear her story came to appreciate what she was trying to accomplish. During the time she was with us was when Carol entered the hospital and died. Carol and Comfort had become good friends in the short time that they knew each other. That is another reason I am drawn to serve in this particular service project. Our group will be assisting Liberian construction workers as they continue to build a school building. In the process we can share our lives and faith with them. The school, Kingdom Foundation Institute, is already being used by God to educate the youth of the area recently devastated by civil war. It is exciting to be a part of a project where God is so absolutely involved. The dates for our trip are April 26-May 5.

I am excited about going on this trip. I feel it will help to heal some of the pain I’ve had to deal with. It will help to define who I am as a single person without Carol by my side. I definitely need your prayers. I need prayers for health, for strength, both physical and emotional, for proper preparation, and for a servant heart. I pray that I may come back from such a trip a better, more Christ like, person

You probably noticed that I put “part one” in my heading for this post. I will continue to post news relating to this trip.

Thank You for your prayers on my behalf!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

When I got up this morning I found a paper with this poem on it lying on the floor in my path. I don’t know if it tumbled down from my stack during the night or if one of the kids placed it in my room as I slept, but however it got there, it spoke to me today.


Courage is not a battle
Fought with banners high,
Forces gathered bravely
Against a threatening sky.

Courage is a quiet thing
With flags that do not show,
The going down a lonely road
You did not want to go.

It is the staying
When a brighter path may beckon,
Steadfastly held by duty
Where another man might weaken.

Courage asks commitment
Of a nobler, finer kind
When the battle fought and won
Is the conquest of the mind.

By Margaret Freer

Sunday, March 18, 2007

I wrote the following to preserve these memories for me, and perhaps for future generations. I have posted it now because it was thirty years ago this week that we became engaged.
The picture on the right was taken on our honeymoon.

A God Thing

You know how some things, some circumstances, are just so right that you know it must be a “God thing”? I’m not talking about the cliché “it feels good, so it must be right”, I’m talking about God arranging the circumstances and things come together in a perfect way. That’s how Carol and I were brought together.
Just a little over thirty years ago, we were both twenty years old and God brought ours lives together in a way only He could. Here’s the story.
I grew up in Ellsworth. Ellsworth is a small community in northern Michigan. My class had 18 kids graduate from high school. If one wanted to go to college you really had to leave home to do it. I had decided to go to Grand Rapids to attend Calvin College in the fall of 1974. I was 17 years old when I “went away to college”. There is a small CRC church in Ellsworth that was my home church. Our Pastor at the time was Rev. Marvin Vander Vliet. Pastor Marve and his wife spent a lot of time with our family and I considered him a friend and mentor. After one year attending Calvin College I transferred to Davenport College which is also in Grand Rapids. I moved off campus and my cousin, Stan, and I rented a very small house in the Grand Rapids area. In the summer of 1976 Pastor Marve took a call to a church called Cutlerville Hills CRC on the south side of Grand Rapids. I remember being bummed that we, Ellsworth, would be losing him. Through another set of circumstances (another story with God’s involvement) in the fall of 1976, Stan and I ended up renting a mobile home in the heart of Cutlerville. Stan was attending Calvin Seminary at the time and they started their fall semester some three weeks earlier that Davenport College did. So that year when I moved back down to the big city Stan had been down for a few weeks. In that time he went and got himself a girl friend. Yipes! That was really not high on my priority list, but it happens. Stan and I used to do lots of things together. We played tennis, handball, ping pong, basketball (intramural leagues at Calvin even though I didn’t go there), we bowled and golfed, went to movies, etc, etc. I was fine with that arrangement but apparently he felt something was missing in our relationship. So he found a girl. By the time I moved down that fall he was pretty occupied and I got lonely. I guess that’s when I started thinking about dating and courtship and girls and all that serious life stuff.
Also being in this new (to me) area of Cutlerville, I needed to find a church to attend on Sundays. I remembered that Pastor Marve had taken a call to one of the churches in Cutlerville. So I started attending the services there. At this time Pastor Marve had not moved to Cutlerville yet, but I knew he would be there soon. Of coarse, as a twenty year old male, one of my criteria for which church to attend was its “supply” (kind of searching for the right word to use here so as not to offend) of young ladies. Cutlerville Hills would do just fine in that regard as well, I soon confirmed.
Later in the fall, after Pastor Marve had been at Hills a while, he and I talked about starting a post high young adult group. Because he knew me and knew I was alone at the trailer most of the time, my place would be a good place to have the group meet. That sounded good to me. We put an announcement in the bulletin that a new post high youth group was going to be meeting at Fred Vail’s trailer at such and such address on Sunday night at 7pm or whatever. The fun part was that nobody knew who Fred Vail was and our trailer was in a park that did not have a good reputation at the time. So it wasn’t a sure thing that anyone would show up. We did meet and had a pretty good group of 8 or 9 faithful members. One of them was this sweet, shy, cute girl with a beautiful smile, named Carol. God literally brought her to my door and into my life. Carol told of how she almost didn’t come. She and her parents didn’t know me and, like I said, the trailer park was a little iffy, but she took the step to be involved.
Carol’s story, as I know it, goes something like this. She was shy but confident. She did not date a lot in high school. She was now in her third year at Calvin. I think she had her eyes on some guys that may have been “possibilities” but was not in a relationship with anyone at the time. I know she did not consider her situation to be desperate. She lived at home and commuted to Calvin. She was involved in a lot of the social activities at Calvin. She enjoyed the “rhythmic movement” (dare we say dancing) activities for students. She had her circle of close friends that did things together as well. But I think she was ready for a more serious relationship with a guy.
After a few meetings at my trailer, we all got to know each other better. I started looking for Carol at church and I think she started looking for me. I remember I would see her family come into church together and she would always sit next to this same guy. I thought “rats, she has a boyfriend” but I came to learn that that was her brother Dave. I found out that she worked at the local library. Now at that time I wasn’t a big library kind of guy but I did start visiting it more frequently. She was always friendly toward me and, from my dating history in which that usually wasn’t the case, I took that as encouragement. I found other reasons to interact with this sweet young thing. I remember calling her to ask if the copying machine at the library would copy erasable typing paper. Dumb question, I know, but if you remember erasable typing paper it is very thin and transparent so I thought that might be a problem. I really just wanted to talk to her. Around Thanksgiving time I got up the courage to ask her out. Our first date was in early December and was a South Christian HS (her alma mater) basketball game. I remember nothing about the game; I only remember we talked the whole time. If you know us, you know that neither of us are big talkers. It was like we just hit it off immediately. I told about my life and she listened. She talked about her life and I was enthralled. Something clicked right from the beginning and I definitely wanted to get to know her better. After that we were together a lot. It was hard leaving to go back to Ellsworth for the holiday break. I missed her. As it turned out she came to Ellsworth and stayed a few days with us. Wow!! She rode up with Stan and Barb on a slippery, winter night. She was very nervous about the trip but did so showing courage and faith. My family loved her, obviously. We did a lot of talking during that time she was in Ellsworth and already then we were starting to think (I know I was) that this is the person I want to spend the rest of my life with.
In the early months of 1977 we spent a lot of time together. I was invited to Sunday dinner with her family almost every week. She would bake pies and cakes for Stan and me to enjoy. She would spend a lot of evenings at our trailer. I remember watching the entire “Roots” mini-series with her. There is the story of her having three dates in one night. That was either December of 1976 or January of 1977. I think she wasn’t for sure about me yet and had a couple of guys from Calvin on the line. There was some event at Calvin that one of them asked her to, the other one had asked her to go to dinner with him early in the evening and I had asked her to stop by later in the evening, she did all three. The good thing is I had the opportunity to make the last impression, too bad for those other guys. I think that’s the last time she dated anyone other than me. We definitely fell in love.
Many times then, and all through our marriage, I could only praise God for bringing a wonderful person like Carol into my life. How could I be so fortunate? Why would such a uniquely wonderful person love me and chose to spend her life with me? I finished with an Associate Degree from Davenport after the winter term in 1977. I got my first full time job on the north side of Grand Rapids shortly after that. In March of that year we decided we would get married. I didn’t do a grand proposal. Our style was more like “what do you think about getting married?” We shopped for rings together. She didn’t demand an expensive ring. She knew neither of us had any money. She was always like that. She never needed the fanciest house or a brand new car. She was always content with what we could afford. The next few months were a blur. We set a wedding date of August 5, the day before my twenty-first birthday. We went from 0 to married in about nine months! As I’ve stated before, that was the most correct thing I’ve ever done in my life.
Our honeymoon was a brief trip to Mackinac Island. It was a glorious start to a wonderful marriage. I was so blessed to have been her husband. I think she would say that she was blessed as well. Never has a man loved a woman more than I loved her. On August 5, 2002 we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. As many friends told us “that’s just a good start” and that’s really what I believed. We were both healthy and active and we expected to have many more years together. We didn’t do a big trip or anything for our 25th we talked about doing something special for our 30th as the kids would be out of school, etc. This year, 2007, would have been our 30th obviously that anniversary trip will never happen.
I know many people have similar stories about how God has worked so intricately in their lives. I also know that many people long for that. They long for God to bring Mr. or Miss Wonderful to their doorstep. Even after they’re married there are those that wish God would bless their union and, for them, it doesn’t seem to happen that way. I am amazed at the way God blessed me by bringing Carol into my life. I’ve been asked by others “How do I know if this is the person I should marry? If this is who God has intended for me?” I am eternally grateful that God chose to make it beautifully obvious for me.

I was blessed!