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 fiancĂ©e, 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!