Hike to Black Lake

I’ve been excited to get out in the Rocky Mountain National Park, whenever a gap in our summer Leadership Training (LT) program allows. It seems to be similar with many of the other seasonal workers at the YMCA of the Rockies, where LT is hosted. On Saturday, twelve of us hiked up to Emerald Lake. And today, there were a eighteen of us who decided to hike up to Mills Lake — including ten from H2O Kent.

The morning started out beautifully: pristine blue skies, warm sunshine, and hours of pleasant conversation as we hiked. We made it all together to Mills Lake well before noon. We skipped stones across the surface of the lake. We ate from our boxed lunches. We drank some extra water and reapplied sunscreen… And then twelve of us decided that we wanted to climb further, past Jewel Lake, all the way up to Black Lake.

The terrain was difficult, with snow up to our thighs in many places. Still, we persevered together and finally made it to Black Lake, just before a storm started gathering over the mountains. We were pelted with snow on the way back down. We were exhausted by the time we returned to the trailhead (eleven miles after we started!). Even so, it felt good to complete such a challenge, both as individuals and as a group.

I took a lot of pictures along the way, which anyone is welcome to access through the album I’ve set up on Flickr. What’s most exciting to me, however, is that the summer is just beginning.

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Pictures from Colorado

Would you believe that the photograph above was taken just five minutes before the photograph below?

We hiked from summer, through spring, into winter on a single trail. The sun was blazing. I was sweating through my shirt. And then, all of the sudden, snow was falling! I put on a coat with its hood and my gloves. And I loved every minute of it.

Nature is crazy here in Estes Park, Colorado, but I love it. I’m collecting pictures for the summer in an album on my Flickr account — fully accessible and downloadable for anyone who wants copies. I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I enjoy taking them!

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The Blind Will See

We set out from the YMCA of the Rockies at 4:15 AM, a single headlamp and a vague sense of direction among the ten of us. We walked due north for a mile, knowing that we needed to find a bridge across the raging waters of the river. But the trees and the hulking shadow of the mountain quickly overwhelmed us and confused us.

I was supposed to be one of the knowledgable ones, one of the experienced ones, a leader. But in truth, I was the blind leading the blind.

We wandered downstream in the dark until it became clear that we had missed our turn. We found ourselves walking along a highway toward downtown Estes Park instead of climbing a trail to watch the sunrise. We swung our headlamp back the way from which we came and walked upstream, hoping to find the bridge. After about half an hour of mounting anxiety, we found our bridge and started climbing the mountain.

The ascent was more difficult than we had expected. Our lungs and legs were not yet acclimated to the altitude. The group got strung out, some racing ahead, some straggling behind. One person said she was starting to feel light-headed, and then she stopped to rest — sitting down directly on top of a cactus. The clock kept ticking, closer to the sunrise we were all hoping to see on the opposite side of the mountain.

Fortunately, we worked things out together. About half of the group decided to stay at a picturesque rock formation, about half-way up the mountain, with a view up the valley where they could enjoy a different view of the sunrise. The rest of the group pressed onward, straining against gravity, breathlessness, and weary muscles. A dozen false summits promised us deliverance from our pain, but at 5:38 AM — precisely the moment marked out as sunrise — we reached the top of the mountain and soaked up the view.

It was magnificent. Transcendent, even. We fought through challenges. We worked together. We enjoyed the process and reveled in the reward together. And then we descended the mountain together, walking back into camp for the first day of our summer Leadership Training program.

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The Long, Slow Bleed of My Blog

Sheesh. It’s so quiet here. Just a quiet, sporadic drip of blood falling to the ground.

I didn’t manage a single post for the month of April. It’s only the second such quiet month since I started blogging in 2005 — but also the second out of the last six. Clearly, there’s a downward trend in my blogging.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I don’t write here very often, any more. Or use other forms of social media, for that matter. It’s kind of strange that I would go from such prolific posting (and consumption) to such quietude. Am I depressed? Disillusioned? Extra-busy or extra-bored? I’ve been contemplating this over the last week, and it actually seems like there are a number of different factors that have contributed to the long, slow bleed of my blog.

  • I’m closer to my closest people. My wife, my children, my parents, my oldest friends… All of these close relationships now reside within a one-mile radius of my house. The previous list doesn’t include all of my closest relationships, but still… My early blogging had something of a reporting function that’s just not needed as much, when I’m seeing so many of my closest people on a regular basis.
  • Things are changing at a different pace, at this phase in my life. I’ve settled into a familiar rhythm in a familiar environment. In addition, my kids are in a more complicated stage of development, which doesn’t lend itself to as many quick, cute anecdotes. My kids are also more conscious and verbal, telling their own stories, so I don’t feel as desperate to collect those stories for them.
  • I’ve found other outlets for story-telling. I maintain a personal journal. I talk with friends while running or sharing a meal. I manage a number of staff and interns, often using my personal experiences as points of comparison and contrast. Sometimes, I’m even asked to give workshops at ministry conferences! I have places for my words and my stories that didn’t exist ten years ago, in the zenith of my blogging.
  • I’ve gained editorial responsibilities for other story-telling outlets. This isn’t a huge burden, but sometimes instead of telling my own stories, I’m helping others shape theirs. H2O’s blog, The Stream, is the most obvious example, where various people from our church submit stories illuminating their spiritual journey at Kent State University. In addition to that, though, I feel like others regularly seek out my help in crafting their written communications. It’s a good development, I think, but I’ve noticed it does take away some zeal for my own written communications.
  • I’ve developed other hobbies that take my time and energy. Running is an especially obvious activity that didn’t occupy any space in my life until three and a half years ago. But it’s not just that. I feel like I also spend a lot of time watching my kids’ sporting events and musical performances. I have a larger home and yard to maintain. I have cable television covering American sports I enjoy to watch. All these different activities — plus others — choke out the time I used to commit to blogging.
  • The desktop computer in our family’s home is less available to me than it used to be. This one seems silly, given my access to campus computer labs and personal mobile devices, but I think it’s a genuine factor. All three of my kids (but especially the two in middle school) regularly need to use our desktop computer for their homework. Marci’s graduate school and work also necessitate hours behind the computer in our home office. I don’t resent it; I just notice it.
  • I’ve gotten a lot of my most meaningful stories out of my system. In particular, I believe that a significant act of catharsis occurred when writing my 75,000-word “Requiem for a Zolder” over the course of last year’s sabbatical. For years, I felt like I had a bunch of stories bottled up inside of me, and I never had the time or space to get them out on paper — until that six-month period in which writing was a primary focus. Years ago, I felt desperate for others to see, and know, and appreciate what was happening in and through me in Amsterdam, but ironically, now that I’ve gotten those stories out of my system — where at least I’m able to access them, as needed — I don’t feel much of a need for others to read them. At least not yet.
  • I’ve become less concerned with immediacy and more concerned with the bigger picture. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that it sometimes takes decades to discover what really happened in a given situation. Blogging and social media are not suited to provide such perspective– and they may even be inclined to cloud such perspective, with a rush to judgment. I recently re-read a favorite book called “Through Gates of Splendor.” It told a story that took place over the course of about three years, with an epilogue written two years later. But then I discovered that there was a second epilogue written forty years later, and this second epilogue provided insight that actually revealed the first epilogue to be misguided. Isn’t that likely to be the case with my life and ministry, as well? I feel myself being more mindful of these long-term, big-picture dynamics these days.

Does this mean I’m done with blogging? I don’t think so. I’m still not ready to shutter this site. But I do recognize that things change, for better, for worse.

I actually expect that my blogging will ramp up a bit over the coming months, as our family travels and some of the aforementioned dynamics revert for awhile. But long-term, I’m still not sure what will happen.

That’s OK. I’ll keep you posted.

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Glimpses of H2O

I’m a big believer in the power of visual storytelling. It’s why I studied video production in college and spent much of the first several years of my ministry roaming around with a camera on my shoulder or sitting behind an editing console.

Unfortunately, I haven’t touched the stuff since I handed off all the professional equipment and moved to Amsterdam, almost 15 years ago. I’ve found other ways to tell beautiful stories and experience meaningful ministry.

But I’ve still got a soft spot for video production.

That’s why it’s been especially exciting to see one of the students from H2O Kent producing some high-quality video vignettes of our ministry in Kent. His name is Scott Pedersen, and I’m embedding video to two of his recent pieces: one about our Family Sunday celebration, back in mid-April, and one about our Thirsty Thursday Outreach in downtown Kent.

I share them in the hope that you will enjoy these stories as much as I do.

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To Elliot, on the Occasion of His 14th Birthday

2002 - Arm-Sized Elliot

Happy Birthday, Elliot!

Fourteen years ago, you were just 4 pounds, 13 ounces. Only 18.5 inches long. Today, you’re buying your own running shoes that are about the same size you were back then (men’s size 10!). And you’re making the purchase with your own money, exercising your own judgment on the merits of cost versus quality, new versus used, Nike versus Asics… And you’re taking those shoes to run your own races (with the school track team), looking ahead to involvement in high school athletics next year…

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It’s just crazy to me how BIG you are now. Not just physically. Not just in terms of the responsibilities you carry. I simply can’t help but notice the way you take up an increasingly significant space in our home, in your school, in the community. You’re developing competence and confidence as a young man, and I’m super-proud of the ways you’re rounding into adulthood. We all still make mistakes along the way. But I think back on the last year, since the time we jumped into the freezing cold waters of Lake Michigan — and Manhood — and I smile to realize how you’ve really done a great job of rejecting passivity, embracing responsibility, leading courageously, and keeping your eyes on eternal rewards. We’ve got a lot to celebrate with this, your 14th Birthday.

Elliot's 13th

Still you’re at a very critical age. There is such amazing potential with your current phase in life! But also incredible pitfalls.

Do you remember the time about a month ago when we rented Star Wars, Episode II, Attack of the Clones? You guys were pretty excited to start the movie after we got home that afternoon, so you scrambled to get all the school stuff put away. At one point, you and Cor were both rounding the corner between the Mud Room and the Dining Room from opposite directions, and you collided with each other. Do you remember? Not that such collisions or moments of brotherly friction are all that exceptional. It’s what happened afterwards that stuck with me.

In the moment you responded with physical aggression: puffing out your chest, towering over your brother, raising your voice. Instinctively, I moved to intervene — to get myself between the warring factions — and that’s when you tried to push me away. And your size and strength were substantial enough that I couldn’t just brush off the contact. As far as I can remember, that was the first time you issued such a direct, man-to-man challenge. So, how did I respond? I called up my own primal power: puffing out my chest, towering over you, and raising my voice. My response was no more mature, no more measured. I responded like a silver-backed gorilla, a cagey old buck, asserting my dominance with the flash of my eyes and the breath of my nostrils.

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After a brief cool-down, we watched the movie we had been in such a hurry to see. And in it, an adolescent Anakin Skywalker starts coming to terms with his own rising power, for good and for evil. In particular, Anakin Skywalker demonstrated a tendency toward overwhelming emotions of anger and passion. So much so that when I saw the film the first time (probably around the same time that you were born!), I thought that the actor’s part was over-played. I couldn’t relate to the character or the story-line. This time around, however, Anakin Skywalker’s development seemed like such a vivid picture of the fulcrum upon which your life — and our relationship — balances these days.

I have no reason to believe that we’re headed for the Dark Side. On the contrary, I’m very thankful that our relationship is quite healthy. The dust-ups, the incidents of antlers clacking, are brief. They blow over quickly. We have open avenues for communication into friendships, romantic interests, physical development, sports involvement, academic pursuits, and so on. You seem to be generally open to God’s voice in your life, regularly moved by something you hear at Riverwood or H2O, spiritually-charged after a retreat, and so on. Still, I want you to know that I’m praying about your ongoing development. I’m not praying from a place of pure desperation, but I am appropriately desperate to seek God’s guidance through this season of parenting. I want to be wise and take advantage of opportunities.

So in that vein, I want to pass along a Bible passage that came to mind as I prayed for you today, on the occasion of your 14th Birthday. The passage is Hebrews 12:1-3. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

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Harness your power and passion to this race, my son: the race of faith. Take those man-sized shoes you’ve got, and run hard after God. I hope to be an example and a part of that great cloud of witnesses who can spur you on — but regardless of the ways you and I connect or clash, I pray that you will lean into your relationship with your Heavenly Father. And let Him guide you into glory.

I love you so much, Elliot. I’m pleased with you. I’m proud of you. And I’m praying for you.

Forever yours,
Dad

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Life Lessons from Birds, Lilies, and Chipmunks

My daughter has been struggling with some anxiety recently. There were actually two occasions, earlier this week, when she got so wound up at bedtime — worrying about school and about her inability to fall asleep — that she actually caused herself to throw up. I found myself feeling simultaneously concerned and annoyed, compassionate and angry at her, for letting her thoughts get out of control.

So one night, as we were dealing with her anxiety, having multiple conversations, dealing with the mess of vomit and such, my thoughts turned to the sixth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, with some minor modifications for Olivia’s situation:


Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear; or about your schedule, when you will sleep. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes; and God’s time more important than our time? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his or her life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

And when it comes to time, consider the chipmunks of the forest. They have neither clock nor calendar. Yet your heavenly Father causes them to rest and rise, hibernate and hurry about according to the times and seasons He sets forth. If God takes care of the chipmunks, don’t you think it’s reasonable to expect that He is taking care of you, too?

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we wear?” or ‘What shall we do when we find ourselves off-schedule and out of rhythm?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.


In truth, my daughter has probably gotten much of her anxiety and time-consciousness from — you guessed it — me.

I get concerned, annoyed, compassionate, and angry because of the ways my daughter’s issues reflect my issues. I’m all too prone to worry about travel times and training plans. I regularly wear two watches at the same time! (It’s because they each feed me different information about my times and tendencies). God used this interaction with my daughter to teach me to be mindful of the chipmunks.

I’m glad that God’s time is more important than my time. I’m glad that my daughter’s disturbances cause me to slow down and consider the deeper truths of our world. I want to live according to God’s (unannounced) agenda. I want to trust the Holy Spirit to guide me in the moment. That’s how I want to set my watch(es).

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Why I’m voting for John Kasich on Tuesday

I will most likely vote third-party in November’s general election — as I have in each of the last three Presidential elections — but with this Tuesday’s Ohio Primary, I’ve given careful consideration to my vote and decided that I will be casting my ballot for John Kasich.

Why would I vote this way? And why would I bother to share my voting decision with the rest of the world (when I rarely express political views in public)? My rationale is part ideology, part pragmatism, and part personal preference.

My ideological perspective is driven by grave concerns over the rhetoric of Donald Trump’s campaign for the presidency — and the way that other Americans are responding to that rhetoric. I’ve got serious, long-standing issues with the narrow choices promoted by the USA’s two-party system. You might even say that I feel an element of anger about the way that our government has been operating. Still I cannot abide the vitriol I’ve been hearing from Trump’s supporters — and from the candidate himself. I find my truest and best identity in Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and to even “Love your enemies.” I’m not hearing a lot of love from the Trump Campaign  these days. No amount of outsider influence will be able to truly reform the federal government, so I ultimately want to follow Jesus’ lead in examining the political climate of his day and said, “Give back to [the government] what is [the government’s], and to God what is God’s.” As much as I want to get away from the binary, “either / or” way of viewing political spectra, I’m ready to accept the idea that we may be in an “Anyone-but-Trump” situation.

My pragmatic perspective is driven primarily by Ohio’s policy for assigning delegates at the Republican National Convention. We’re a “winner take all” state. So even if all four of the Republican candidates were to pull roughly a quarter of the vote: say, 25.2% for Candidate A, 25.1% for Candidate B, 24.9% for Candidate C, and 24.8% for Candidate C — 100% of Ohio’s Convention delegates would be awarded to the candidate with the highest percentage of votes, even if it’s the narrowest of margins (Candidate A, in this hypothetical scenario). Consequently, there’s something to be said for voting for one of the front-runners. Kasich is consistently polling near the top of the field in Ohio, his home state. And while there are elements of the Cruz Campaign and the Rubio Campaign that I can certainly appreciate, I simply don’t expect they will be in the mix for a victory here on Tuesday.

My personal perspective is that presidential politics are an exercise in Public Relations as much as they are in policy. Call it cynicism, but my observations suggest that external circumstances — like international conflicts, broader social trends, and economic developments — play a far greater role in defining any administration than the individual on the top of the ticket. I don’t particularly object to Kasich’s policy positions, but more than that I think he may just present the best “face” of American politics to the world for the next four years (at least among the Republicans). I appreciate the way he’s conducted his campaign, up to this point.

Is there a clear path to the nomination for Kasich? I don’t know. But I’d rather empower Ohio’s delegates to the Republican National Convention to throw their weight behind him, or an eventual compromise candidate who comes closest to his position. That’s why I’m voting for John Kasich on Tuesday, and I would encourage my fellow Ohioans to do the same.

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Just Can’t Say “Tot Ziens”

Bouwmaat

I’m active and aggressive when it comes to unsubscribing from corporate e-mail flyers. I prefer to keep a clean inbox. So I excuse myself from as many of the mindless mountains of advertisements I possibly can…

Unless they’re in Dutch.

It’s weird, but I have a hard time unsubscribing from even the loudest, most garish Dutch advertisers. It’s not because I can’t figure out the language or the steps to take (in fact, the “Afmelden” button appears in the same place, size, and font as most American “Unsubscribe” buttons). It’s because of a sort of home-sickness.

Zucht… Heimwee…

It’s been almost four years since the end of our family’s decade in Amsterdam. A year and a half since our last visit. It was only at the end of 2015 that we were able to close our Dutch bank account — but now, our affairs are pretty much settled in that part of the world. We don’t talk about the Netherlands as much. We don’t think about the Netherlands as much. We don’t speak the Dutch language as much. We don’t maintain as consistent contact with our Dutch friends anymore, either.

We’ve moved on. That’s a good and necessary thing, in a lot of ways. But it’s also kind of sad. Hearing about the latest sales in hardware doesn’t necessarily do all that much to assuage that sadness — but then again, somehow it kind of does.

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Fresh Face

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I knew I wanted to get rid of my beard, but I decided to do it gradually. A little bit every day.

I didn’t adjust my shaving schedule for social concerns. I went ahead with a day of meetings on Tuesday, looking a bit like Doc Holiday.  I took Marci out for a nice dinner on Wednesday looking a bit like Freddy Mercury. I played a playoff game for my 35+ basketball league, looking a bit like Errol Flynn.

Some people laughed along with me. But it was also surprising to see how many people either didn’t notice or pretended not to notice. I can imagine it would be tricky, not knowing if one should laugh or take the person aside and whisper a word of caution, like helping out someone whose pants zipper is undone.

Anyway: the experiment is finished now. I’m back to normal. But for the sake of posterity, I wanted to post my day-by-day photos:

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Monday: 1990s-style Goatee

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Tuesday: Wild West Handlebar Mustache

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Wednesday: Straight-up ‘stache

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Thursday: Pencil-thin, Golden-Age-of-Hollywood Mustache

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Friday: Back to Normal!

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