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!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

10 Months Today
Today marks 10 months since my worst nightmare came to be. It certainly does not seem like it could be that long. But when I look back and remember some of the markers in this time I know it has been that long. I remember the visitation and funeral, I remember the Children's Ministry Lunch at church that her friends put on in her honor. I remember moving Amy back home after finishing the year in Mishawaka. I remember Memorial Day up north when my Uncle Fred was honored at the ceremony at the Norwood Cemetery. I remember seeing Uncle Johnny days before he died and asking him to tell Carol how much we all miss her when he would soon see her in heaven. I remember going ahead with the vacation we had planned together but now with the four of us and missing her every minute of it. I remember the back to back days of our anniversary and my birthday in August. I remember her birhtday in January. I remember all the other firsts, all the holidays alone, especially New Years Eve and Valentine's Day. I look back and remember the six monthly Young Widowed Support Group meetings I've attended after I finally got up the courage to go the first time. I remember some 300 mornings waking up alone. I remember countless meals and prayers and expressions of love that were sent in our direction. When I think of all these things and more, I know it's been ten months.
Seems like ten years!!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Music is such a gift to me. I believe music is one of the gifts God designed into His world for our pleasure. I believe that to appreciate music is also a gift. I am blessed to have been born into an extended family that always enjoyed music. Whether it was praising God with hymns and songs in church or playing the harmonica and accordion at family gatherings, my uncles and others demonstrated their love of music to us “younger” folk.
When I got a little older, “modern” music was just becoming popular in the mainstream. I remember the local radio station would have a program they called “music for moderns” that would air from 3-4pm on weekdays only. I would intentionally make time to listen to that program hoping to hear the latest from the Beatles or some of the “one hit wonders” of the era. Another influence on me was my cousin Jake. He is very musically gifted. He could (and still can) play many instruments, but when he took up guitar, that was way cool. I tried but never got to the point of playing anything but the radio. My sister is very skilled at the piano and I remember many nights Jake would bring his guitar to our house and we would gather around the piano and have a great time pretending we were John Denver or Cat Stevens or others.
It was at this time in my life when God stepped in and started using the music I was listening to as a way to reach me. A new “genre” of music was just developing right about then. It was “Jesus music” or “Christian rock”. It had many labels and is now lumped into the category called contemporary Christian Music. God used people like Randy Matthews, Larry Norman, Chuck Girard and a few others to break the ground and bring “rock and roll for Jesus” into the light. Because this was so “radical” at the time, many of these artists were criticized and worse for their ministries. My cousin, Jake, and I could not get enough of it. If one of us didn’t buy a new album when it came out, the other did. We couldn’t wait to get each other’s albums and record them onto our recordable 8-track tapes. I actually have a void in my knowledge of “classic” secular rock music because I pretty much only listened to the Christian artists. That was at a time when I was a new Christian and God used the words and music of these individuals to keep me close to Him.
When God so perfectly arranged for me to meet and marry Carol, I was then blessed with a wife who cherished music. She was a gifted musician and loved to use her gifts to praise and honor God. I warmly remember many times when just she and I would be at the piano singing hymns and praise songs together. Our neighbors would comment how they were glad when it was summer and the windows could be opened and they could take walks and hear Carol’s piano playing (not my singing) throughout the neighborhood as they walked. They told me at the funeral home how much they will miss that, yep-me too. When our children were little and Carol was a “stay at home” Mom, she was looking for a way to contribute to the family’s finances. She came up with the excellent idea of teaching piano lessons. By doing that she could combine her love for children, music and teaching. As you can imagine, she was a superb piano teacher. Many of her former students have expressed their appreciation and fond memories of those times they came to Mrs. Vail’s house for piano lessons.
I am now blessed that our children have a love for music like their parents. They are so gifted musically. I remember a few Christmas services at our church when Carol’s Mom was playing the organ and Carol and Amy would be doing a four handed thing on the piano. Three generations, playing the Hallelujah Chorus together, and praising God together with their talents. God continues to minister to me with music through our children. It is exciting to see how the love of music and skills that Carol helped prepare in our children has had an impact across generations and cultures. Carol and our daughters, Amy and Sara, have each traveled to Cuba to teach and share their musical talents at a youth retreat for the area churches of that island country.
Now it is 2007 and for some reason I will never understand, God allowed Carol to be taken from me. I am most certainly at the lowest point of my entire life as a result. But even through this deep grief I can sing. I still have a song in my heart. In a small way the songs in my heart work to neutralize some of the grief. At the funeral we sang a song Amy wrote called “In Your Presence” and others and even then God was using music to calm me and to speak to me. Since that day, when I listen to music, usually Christian music but not always, there are songs that just shoot right to my heart. As He did when I was a young Christian, God is still using the gift of music to keep me close to Him. God wove this thread of music into my life as a child and it has been a tangible lifeline to Him even now.

Thank You, Lord, for the gift of music in my life.