I don’t know why it never occurred to me before. But I recently saw the newest Spider-Man movie with my kids, and it totally hit me on a different wavelength than any other time I’ve considered the Spider-Man story-line. As a middle-aged father, sitting in the darkened movie theater with my three adolescent children, it occurred to me:
Could it be that Spider-Man is a metaphor for adolescence?
Think about it: a young person is going along with his everyday life until one day he is bitten by a “radioactive spider.” All of the sudden, his body starts changing. He develops a heightened awareness, or “Spidey-Sense,” of the world around him. He feels icky and out-of-place until he masters his new powers. And then, he ultimately learns the lesson that “With great power comes great responsibility.”
I never really connected with this metaphor until I saw the interaction between Myles Morales and his father. (It’s really not all that different from any of the previous iterations of the dynamic between Peter Parker and his Uncle Ben). Both adult and youth are sympathetic characters. They both want to fight against the evil in the world around them. But they have dramatically different — even antithetical — approaches. Misunderstandings abound. Communication is a challenge. But in the end, they learn how to get along as adults.
I enjoyed the unique approaches to visual design and animation in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. I appreciated the fresh take on a familiar story (though honestly, the plot got a bit convoluted at times). But more than anything else, I’m grateful for the way this film got me thinking about parenting, pastoring, and passing along power and responsibility to successive generations, both in family and in ministry.
Honestly, the physical activity and the beauty of nature are enough. I would enjoy hiking for these elements alone. But to me, hiking provides so much more than lungs laboring to process fresh air. When I go out to the wilderness, it’s often to go hiking with ghosts.
The main ghost with whom I go hiking is the Holy Ghost. Perhaps “getting some extended time with God” is a less provocative way to say it. But seriously: most of my hiking happens when I purposefully set aside time for practicing spiritual disciplines like prayer, meditation, Bible study, silence, and solitude. These Hikes with the Holy Ghost, or Walks in the Woods, are a weekly discipline for me, usually on Friday mornings.
I feel the fullness of the Holy Spirit out on the trails, away from my desk or the campus where so much of my ministry takes place. The awe and serenity of Creation helps me to connect to the Creator Himself. The separation from normal, everyday stuff provides an invaluable perspective which is enhanced by natural beauty: God’s enormity, power, and timelessness juxtaposed against my human limitations. It’s reassuring to be reminded of Who God is — and who God says I am.
The Holy Ghost is a great hiking companion. In addition, I also carry with me relics of other ghosts that connect me to past people and experiences, where God demonstrated His care and concern for me.
When I hike, I wear a Colorado Rockies baseball cap that reminds me of summers at Estes Park Leadership Training: an exceptionally-beautiful ministry environment in an exceptionally-beautiful part of the world (the Rocky Mountain National Park). I remember feeling especially close to God in the summer of 2016, when our family spent the summer there, and I guess you could say that I still feel happily “haunted” by those experiences. The ball cap is a tangible connection to all those memories.
If the temperatures are below freezing, I will typically hike in an old set of coveralls that I inherited from my grandfather, Ezra Liechty. He lived almost all of his life on the plains of North Dakota, where conditions can be rather inhospitable. He toughed out the conditions, however, and built a business that still survives today, even though he died four years ago. The coveralls were made by a company called Key, and the particular model of coveralls I wear is the Imperial: “The Aristocrat of Outerwear.” And in a way, the coveralls are the perfect metaphor for my Grandpa Liechty: rugged, tough, insulating, and affording access and advantages in life that not everyone gets to experience.
Underneath the coveralls — or just under a regular jacket, if the temperature is a bit warmer, or as the only outer garment if the temperature is a lot warmer — I typically hike in a hooded, zip-up sweatshirt. It’s a convenient garment for hiking because it can be made quite warm (if zipped all the way up, with the hood pulled tight around my face) or relatively cool (if unzipped, hood off). But the three hooded, zip-up sweatshirts I have are all special because of the people who gave them to me. One was given to me by my mother-in-law, Louise. One was given to me by my best friend, Jason. And one was given to me by my wife, Marci. All three of these people represent key relationships in my life.
I hope I can continue my habit of hiking with ghosts for many years to come. This year, I’m taking aim at the 253 miles in the northeast Ohio loop of the Buckeye Trail. But wherever I go, for however long I’m able to keep going, I’m glad to walk with God.
We just finished three full days of meeting together to prepare for the Spring Semester at Kent State University. It was a lot of conversation, and I confess that things grew tiresome at times… But I kept thinking what a joy it was to be doing it with our team. Even the “boring” parts of our retreat were a privilege.
In addition to the conversation and prayer, though, we paired up and competed against each other in “Minute-to-Win-It” games every so often, to break up the conversation…
We drank lots of good coffee and ate lots of good food. We played pranks on each other and laughed a lot.
I’m just glad that God is building His Kingdom here in Kent. And I’m glad that He does it through community. We talked a lot this week about living out Jesus’ New Commandment to love one another (John 13), and I feel like we’ve already got a solid foundation within our leadership team.
Now we just want to go out there and see God’s love expounded and expanded, for His glory.
Crazy to think that we’re already nearly a week into the New Year! I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the possibilities presented by a new year… But “Resolutions” feel too strong for me. Like, “I do hereby firmly resolve to complete the following…” I do, however, have lots of ideas or hopes for 2019. Goals or quests can be motivating — and a fresh calendar year provides a good opportunity to take aim.
That being said, I’m learning that one’s hopes and goals are healthiest when they combine a balance of work and rest. It’s not just about trying harder or doing more. From the very beginning of time, going back to the first day humankind was established upon the earth, we can see that God made us to work from rest, not to rest from work. Jesus demonstrated the same truths when he walked and talked among us, and he also talked explicitly about a need to balance rest and work:
I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you.Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me.“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.
One of my emerging hopes for 2019 is to deepen my study of the Bible by continuing to learn the source language of the New Testament. And in the passage quoted above, everything seems to hinge on two key words in the original Greek, each of which contain shades of meaning that might be missed in translation.
The first word is an infinitive verb, pronounced something like “Ferro:”
To remain, to abide, to stay, to tarry, to remain in a place, to dwell, to live, to lodge, to continue
The second word has a symmetry with the first word that makes them both more memorable: also just two syllables, four letters, identical vowel sounds. It’s another infinitive verb, pronounced something like “Menno:”
To bring, to bear, to carry, to lead, to bear along, to carry forward, to endure, to produce, to be moved
The words underneath the Greek text, above, are some of the options for English translation of these two words, depending on their context. The aggregate gives a distinct feel for how the the two concepts compare and contrast to one another. Both have their place in the life of a Christian.
Ferro and Menno… Menno and Ferro. It sounds kind of catchy, doesn’t it? Ferro… Menno… Ferro… Menno… Ferro… Menno… Ferro… Menno… I’m hoping I can carry this refrain throughout the coming year.
I just finished reading Paul Collins’ book, “The Murder of the Century.”
I heard about the author on a podcast, and when I looked him up at the local library, the synopsis on the dust jacket of this one seemed interesting. So it inadvertently became my first read of 2019.
I enjoy history of almost any kind — and I’ve recently been particularly interested in the “Gilded Age” of American Industry, around the turn of the 20th Century.
The book centered around a murder mystery that gripped New York City in the summer and fall of 1897. The crime itself was not all that remarkable, in terms of the people involved (poor immigrants from the slums) or the circumstances leading up to the crime (jealous lovers, caught up in a love triangle). But the case took on historical significance because of the way that the newspapers of the day covered the story and competed against each other (and the law enforcement agencies) for angles and information on the murder.
The story of the obvious drama between William Guldensuppe (the victim), Agusta Nack, and Martin Thorn (the perpetrators) was interesting enough to keep me engaged. It felt like the narrative was drawn out further than necessary, to help the reader “get to the bottom of the case.” But I never felt bored or bothered to the point of skipping or skimming.
The real story, to me, was the behind-the-scenes drama between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. They captained rival newspapers — The New York World and the New York Journal, respectively — and the dynamics between these media moguls was shockingly similar to the battles that have been waged in the last couple of decades between cable news networks and social media platforms.
The power dynamics… the cut-throat strategies to dominate one’s opponent… the financial implications of the competition… and the ego-maniacal tendencies of the lead figures involved… These dynamics are all exactly the same as they were a century ago! Truly, there is “nothing new under the sun,” and I always appreciate the way that reading history helps me to understand the present.
I don’t know if I would necessarily put this book in the “strongly recommended” category, but I’m not sad I read it either.
I got an annual membership to the Kent State University Recreation Center for this year.
I know. Classic New Year’s move.
But I think it will be a sustainable part of my life and ministry throughout 2019.
I know. We’ll see…
So anyway: I went in to work out today, and I was surprised by how many students were around — even on the university’s winter break. The weight room was actually quite full. There were a number of (older) people swimming. And there were even a handful of students on the basketball courts.
When I went into the locker room. There were a couple of students who were carrying on like caricatures of fraternity guys. Their hats were on backwards. They were wearing cut off T-shirts, and talking about their chests and triceps. And they were speaking in accents that were almost Californian, dropping F-bombs every other word. I didn’t pay close attention to their “frat-boi” patter, as I got dressed for my exercise. But I thought they were kind of funny and interesting.
I was planning to get most of my exercise in the pool, but I thought I would start with putting up a few shots on the basketball courts to warm up. After about ten minutes of shooting around, however, a couple of other fraternity guys (not the ones from the locker room) asked if I wanted to play full-court basketball with them, so they could have a full five-on-five. I figured “Why not?” and trotted over to their court.
It took a while for us to get started, with everyone tying their shoes and putting up practice shots. As we prepared for the game, one of the guys started talking about his plans to go to “the Jack” in Cleveland that night.
His friend said, “I can’t play there, man. I went to Vegas for my 21st, and now all other gambling has been ruined for me.”
“Oh yeah,” his friend responded. “Vegas is pretty wild…” I couldn’t tell if he had ever actually been to Las Vegas, but he played it off as though he knew all about it. He didn’t mention anything further about “the Jack.”
“Pretty wild,” I thought, smiling to myself. I don’t get to experience life in the “wild” very often, at my stage in life. Now I’m not one to mourn that fact. But I recognize how insulated I can be from anyone who experiences any sort of thrill from those “wild” places.
Eventually, teams were formed, and we started playing. I was not an All-Star by any means, but I held my own. My team won the first four games. So suddenly my ten minutes of “quick warm-up cardio” had turned into over an hour of pounding up and down the court. My body groaned under the unfamiliar physical stresses, but I enjoyed the opportunity to mix it up with the students. And after a while, I got to know them better: Which high schools they went to… What they were studying at Kent State… Why they were around over winter break… What they did for Christmas… Nothing particularly deep or spiritual, but it was the beginning-of-relationship stuff.
When my team finally lost, I felt like I had gotten to know the other four guys on my team pretty decently. We exchanged handshakes and fist bumps as I left the court, and we said that maybe we would see each other some other time.
Of course, I only had the energy to swim about a dozen laps in the pool by the time I was finished with all that basketball, but as I swam I kept thinking about those guys from the basketball court. I don’t get many other opportunities to interact with students from fraternities. They are very busy people. They have their own very extensive, very involved social networks. They live in their own parts of town. They are almost invisible to me most of the time.
But not at the Rec Center.
God has been stirring my heart since that experience on the basketball courts. As a Collegiate missionary, I want to go “where the wild things are.” Even if it is just to remind myself that they are not all that wild. Even the “wildest” fraternity brothers and gym-rats are normal people, who struggle with insecurity, just like I do. They yell at themselves when they miss open shots, just like I do.
They need God’s love, just like I do.
So, I’m really hoping I can keep up some rhythms for spending time at the Rec Center. I feel like God has given me a broader vision for community and camaraderie this semester. So, I’m going to keep thinking about this and praying to see what will happen.
After posting my Top Ten Songs of 2018, Top Ten Books of 2018, Top Ten Hikes of 2018, and Top Ten Ministry Moments of 2018, I thought that I would conclude my lists with looking back on the Top Ten Family Moments of 2018. Like the ministry moments I recalled yesterday, family life doesn’t fit neatly into a summary like this. Even so, there’s really something to be said for the way that a retrospective exercise like this helps to heighten my awareness and appreciation of life as it goes by. So I’m giving it a try, even if the results might be imperfect…
So anyway — without further ado, here are my Top Ten Family Moments of 2018, in ranked order:
Binge-watching the Parks and Recreation television series in a tiny home in Lyons, Colorado
Laughing in the Face of Winter over Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend
Driving the Pacific Coast Highway with Marci in an Orange Mustang convertible for our 20th Anniversary
White-water Rafting in the Yellowstone River
Learning to cook in the tiny kitchen of our cabin in Colorado
Bedlam at the Q when LeBron hits an overtime buzzer-beater against the Timberwolves
Elliot getting his driver’s license
Graduation party for Marci’s TESL Cohort at Kent State
Early-morning Tennis Time
Wedding Celebrations for Tommy & Kairie, Zach & Naomi, and Kyle & Danielle
And again, for any who might appreciate more context, my explanations for each selection are included with the listing (reverse rank-order), below:
#10 – Wedding Celebrations for Tommy & Kairie, Zach & Naomi, and Kyle & Danielle
I’ve come to appreciate weddings more and more, as the years go on. Especially now that my kids are a bit older and able to fend for themselves in these environments, it’s just fun to get dressed up and celebrate the love of a newlywed couple. Reuniting with family and friends… worshiping God… feasting… dancing… Reminding ourselves of the love that started with God… Weddings are a joyous picture of God’s Kingdom. My work with college students (and recent graduates) means we get invited to a lot of weddings, and I’ve noticed a few trends recently: nobody gets married in church buildings anymore… barns and barbecue are popular for receptions these days… the time of day and day of the week for a wedding celebration is much more fluid than it used to be… and it’s become more common to exclude children from wedding festivities. But I’m really glad that our whole family got to attend three weddings this year — and we had so much fun celebrating with three couples we really admire.
#9 – Early-Morning Tennis Time
While we were at Leadership Training, we were housed in a cabin that was pretty close to four beautifully-maintained tennis courts. Consequently, we made it a habit to play regularly: sometimes as a family (all five of us trying to share one court, three versus two)… sometimes with friends (like the Clays and Chepkes, pictured above)… but most often with just Marci and me. We played enough to actually feel pretty comfortable with rackets in our hands and maintain rallies for at least a little while. I hope we make it a priority to keep playing tennis together in the year to come.
#8 – Graduation party for Marci’s TESL Cohort at Kent State
In the summer of 2016, without any initiative or effort on her part, Marci was offered a two-year assistantship at Kent State University that allowed her to get paid for earning her Master’s Degree in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL)! As a result, her part-time job / super-gradual education was significantly accelerated and intensified. Now that it’s over, we can fully recognize this as an amazing blessing and benefit for her (and our) lives. In the midst of it, though, we were challenged to maintain regular rhythms for marriage, parenthood, household chores, and ministry, so it felt like a deep sigh of relief when we made it to graduation. We hosted Marci’s cohort for a graduation party at our house, and it was a fun way to mark the end of this process. We’re proud that Marci has now been given the opportunity to work as a licensed instructor at Cuyahoga Community College and Kent State University.
#7 – Elliot getting his driver’s license
We’re so proud of the way our kids are growing up. Socially, academically, spiritually, physically… they’re really doing well (even though adolescence definitely puts one through the ringer). One key rite of passage and gateway to freedom was Elliot getting his driver’s license. He passed the exam on his first attempt, and he’s proved himself to be a pretty safe driver (at least as far as sixteen-year-olds go). But even more than that particular moment of “accreditation,” it just seems like he (and his siblings) are making steady progress towards full-fledged, independence — and as weird as that can feel on a certain level, watching family dynamics change, it also feels good to know that we’re working together towards the future.
#6 – Bedlam at the Q when LeBron hits an overtime buzzer-beater against the Timberwolves
Wow! What a game! Me and the boys love going to Cleveland Cavaliers basketball games under any circumstances, whenever we can. But this game was extra-special because of the way the game played out. In their last game before the Trade Deadline (when the team’s identity was pretty radically shaken up), LeBron James logged a triple-double with 10 rebounds, 15 assists, and 37 points — including a dramatic buzzer-beater in overtime. I don’t think I’ll ever forget bouncing around and screaming at the top of my lungs with Elliot and Cor (and 21,000 other fans) that night in what was likely LeBron’s last season in Cleveland.
#5 – Learning to cook in the tiny kitchen of our cabin in Colorado
As a part of our continued efforts to help our children prepare for adulthood and independence (see #7, above), Marci made it a goal to teach the children how to prepare and cook several different kinds of meals, while we were out in Colorado to help staff the Estes Park Leadership Training program this summer. Elliot, Olivia, and Cor weren’t always thrilled to practice these skills, but they definitely improved and gained confidence over the course of the summer. I have no pictures from the cooking lessons themselves (the kitchen was so cramped on those evenings that it may not have been possible, anyway) — but this picture of our mini-van crammed full of groceries from Longmont seems emblematic. The experience was not always comfortable, but it was significant to learn and grow together as a family.
#4 – White-Water Rafting on the Yellowstone River
Elliot and Marci had both done some white-water rafting, individually, prior to this summer — but we had never tried white-water rafting together until our visit to Yellowstone National Park. It was really fun! And this activity just seemed representative of all the outdoors activities we got to do together on our tour through National Parks in June: canoeing… hiking… swimming… wildlife spotting… I’m not typically one to buy the tourist photos offered after disembarking from an amusement park roller coaster or “official race photography” offerings from a marathon… But I couldn’t resist purchasing some pictures of our white-water rafting adventure.
#3 – Driving the Pacific Coast Highway with Marci in an Orange Mustang convertible for our 20th Anniversary
They totally up-sold us at the Rental Car desk… but it ended up being even more fun than I thought it would be to drive around in an Orange Mustang convertible for our 20th Anniversary in Northern California. We based ourselves in a little AirBnB north of the San Francisco Bay, in Mill Valley — within walking distance of stands of ancient redwood trees — and we had a lovely time exploring the region together. One of my favorite moments from that trip was driving north on the Pacific Coast Highway, spotting sea lions and pelicans along the way, doing a little bit of hiking along the coast, and then stopping for tacos from the Siren Canteen on Stinson Beach. The tacos were great, but the time together was even greater. We’re looking forward to the next twenty years together!
#2 – Laughing in the Face of Winter over Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend
The Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend was a cold one in 2018. A deep layer of snow covered everything in Northeast Ohio, and temperatures had been well below freezing for weeks — but instead of cowering inside on the kids’ day off from school, we laughed in the face of winter and traipsed about much in the same way one would do over a summer holiday weekend. We went to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and trudged through the snow to Deer Lick Cave, where we had a “picnic” of hot chocolate and challenged one another to icicle-saber duels. We walked along the shores of Lake Erie, as the winds howled inland, and we made snow angels on the beach. We got ice cream at Mitchell’s in Ohio City. And we made a lot of memories along the way. I didn’t expect much out of the day, when we started, but it ended up being one of the most special days out of the year.
#1 – Binge-watching the Parks and Recreation television series in a tiny home in Lyons, Colorado
It might seem kind of sad to make television a top family experience of 2018. But there was so much packed into this one moment. We had rented a tiny home in Lyons, Colorado, to join in the wedding festivities for our friends Zach and Naomi. And after a full day of catching up with old friends from Amsterdam, we returned to our tiny home — and it just so happened that a Netflix user named Rodney had forgotten to log out of his account on the smart TV in the living space. So we went on a binge, watching the television series Parks and Recreation — and it just felt decadent to be doing it on a school night, in the middle of the busiest season of the year, far away from Northeast Ohio.
After posting my Top Ten Songs of 2018, Top Ten Books of 2018, and Top Ten Hikes of 2018, I thought that I would turn my attention to things that might be considered more substantial, if perhaps not as tangible. Like ministry and family life. Ministry, in particular, is messy. The highlights of a year in ministry cannot often be represented by a single image (if indeed there are images at all) or a single paragraph, like the other categories I’ve considered. Still, I appreciate the way that a retrospective exercise like this helps to heighten my awareness and appreciation of everything God has been doing. So I’m giving it a try, even if the results might be imperfect…
So anyway — without further ado, here are my Top Ten Ministry Moments of 2018, in ranked order:
The Development of Daniel, AJ, and Lauren
The Revival of the Breakfast Club
Facilitating a time of Spiritual Solitude in the Wilderness with the Collegiate Mentoring Program
Huddling around Hunter
The H2O Freshmen Scavenger Hunt
Preparing and Preaching a Sermon on the Dividing Wall of Hostility (Ephesians 2:14-17)
Walking and Talking along the Old Settlers Trail with Daniel and Nick
Full Vacations for H2O Staff (including me)
Visiting the Rineharts in Stockholm
H2O Kent’s Ten Year Celebration
And again, for any who might appreciate more context, my explanations for each selection are included with the listing (reverse rank-order), below:
#10 – H2O Kent’s Ten Year Celebration
We celebrated the 10th birthday of H2O Kent in October, with a bunch of different activities including a 5K race, a brunch, a tailgating party, a banquet, and a worship gathering (I was also proud of the fact that I wore a different H2O Kent T-shirt to each activity!). I wrote about it at the time, but further reflection has cultivated a deep appreciation of everything God has done (and is doing) in this church. We’re certainly not perfect, but we’ve fostered a strong culture of plurality, humility, and family that has lent itself to slow, steady growth through the last ten years — and the weekend of celebration in October helped to cast vision and perspective for the next ten years to come.
#9 – Visiting the Rineharts in Stockholm
I’m super-proud of Aidan and Chelsea Rinehart. They were sent out from Kent in the Fall of 2017 to join a missional movement in Stockholm (Sweden) which seeks to establish outposts of Gospel engagement throughout the city. They’ve had their ups and downs, as should be expected with any cross-cultural move, but they’re doing really well: educating themselves, building relationships, and reaching out to the campus of the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) and others in the Östermalm section of Stockholm. They’ve also started praying more for the Södermalm section of the city, and I really appreciated the opportunity to visit these neighborhoods with them. I got really sick while I was there, but I slogged through and this visit ultimately resulted in some of my best social media activity of the year.
#8 – Full Vacations for H2O Staff (including me)
Some may not feel that “Full Vacations” should not be counted as “Ministry,” but I think they should. I felt convicted at the end of 2017, when I realized that I failed to use nine days of vacation time from that year. It was a signal to me that I was becoming more inclined towards self-reliance, workaholic tendencies, and “American” attitudes that felt so foreign when our family first moved back to the United States from our decade of ministry in Europe. I started talking with our Staff team about the Gospel proclamation that is inherent in resting well — trusting Jesus to be the Savior of the world, not ourselves. With some extended conversation and careful planning, I believe we succeeded in using up all our allotted vacation time in 2018. The church kept going through it all, and I’d like to think that we’re in an even healthier position, moving forward.
#7 – Walking and Talking along the Old Settlers Trail with Daniel and Nick
Spring Break is not really a “break” for those of us in Collegiate ministry. We recruit students to join us for mission trips that help us to serve those in need, expand our vision for Collegiate church-planting, and foster Spiritual Disciplines. This year, I worked with a couple of Staff and Interns to facilitate our Spiritual Disciplines trip in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. And while it was a good trip for all the students involved, those of us who worked to lead the trip were pretty burned out towards the end of the week. At one particular breaking point, I went for a walk with two of the key leaders. Over the course of this hike along the Old Settlers Trail of the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, we processed the week’s happenings, prayed through some relationships in crisis, and just generally encouraged one another in the Lord. It was an unscripted part of a heavily-scripted week, but I felt like it may have been the most strategic moment of ministry that I was personally able to facilitate.
#6 – Preparing and Preaching a Sermon on the Dividing Wall of Hostility (Ephesians 2:14-17)
In all my years of preaching, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more insecure going into, during, and immediately following a sermon. I learned a lot about the sin of Racism and the institutional justices to which I’ve been largely blind, as a person of privilege. I was very thankful for the support I received from my friends Eric and Darnell; still, it was challenging to address an issue as complicated and convicting as this one. I posted some of the notes from my message, online, so you can give it a look if you’d like. In any event, though, I feel like I grew a lot through that sermon — and I hope some others from the church were able to grow from it, as well.
#5 – The H2O Freshmen Scavenger Hunt
This was one of the wilder moments from a wild week of Welcome Activities, in August. Somehow, I ended up in a group composed entirely of freshmen who walked up while we were explaining the Scavenger Hunt organized by H2O Kent — and even though we were perfect strangers to each other when things kicked off, we ended up having a really fun time together running throughout campus, meeting more freshmen, and completing assigned activities such as the one pictured above, where a freshman allowed his body to be used as a surfboard for another red-headed freshman, on the Esplanade. I wrote a more elaborate story about things at the time — and there have been plenty of other outreach events since then — but that particular evening stands out in my memory as a good example of living on mission at Kent State University.
#4 – Huddling around Hunter
I’m very proud of everything God has done in the life of my friend Hunter. When I first met him, at the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, he was dealing with a lot of challenges including addiction, obstacles to his education, challenges to employment, strained relationships, and lack of community. I started sharing the Gospel with him late on a Thursday night, in downtown Kent, and eventually other friends like Nathaniel, Dylan, and Armand helped to live out the Gospel for Hunter to see. As a result, Hunter gradually started to follow Jesus and ultimately proclaimed new life in Christ through baptism. He has since joined the Army, and he’s currently preparing for his unit to ship out to Iraq — so he definitely needs our continued prayers — but it seems to me like Hunter has come a long way since that first night we met.
#3 – Facilitating a time of Spiritual Solitude in the Wilderness with the Collegiate Mentoring Program
Over the last three years, the Collegiate Church Network has developed a unique program for supporting and stimulating the staff from our churches. It’s coordinated with our summer Leadership Training program in Estes Park, Colorado, where the staff work to facilitate a transformative experience for college students — but this Collegiate Mentoring Program is designed to be a transformative experience for them. This summer was my second time helping to lead elements of this initiative, but it was the first time I took the reins for the group’s time of Spiritual Solitude in the Wilderness of the Rocky Mountain National Park. This year’s group had to overcome some unique challenges, such as a nursing mother and a completely uninitiated outdoors-man… But they ended up being a really fun group, and I pray that their experience fasting and seeking God helped to enhance their ministry effectiveness for this year and years to come.
#2 – The Revival of the Breakfast Club
When I was a college student at Bowling Green State University, one of the key inflection points for my spiritual development was a daily practice developed with other men on campus — where we made a point to spend deliberate time with God at the beginning of the day and then catch up with each other and process the things God was teaching us over breakfast on campus. This summer, I felt like God prompted me to revive this practice with some student-leaders; and we’ve made it a whole semester as a “Breakfast Club.” We meet at the Kent State University Library around 8:00 AM, and by 8:10 AM we’re off to different sections of the Library to spend time reading the Bible, journaling, and praying. Around 8:40 PM, we reconvene in the lobby of the Library, and then we hang out there or in the Hub of the Student Center until we have to leave for other obligations. There’s not much glitz or glamor in this type of ministry (much of the time it’s just me and one other student), but I’m really glad to be doing it. I’m praying that more may join us in the Spring Semester!
#1 – The Development of Daniel, AJ, and Lauren
I feel like our Staff team is in a really healthy place right now. We’ve got a fine crop of new Staff, just graduated within the last year or two. There are a couple of us, pastors, who have been doing ministry for the better part of two decades now. But I’ve been especially encouraged this year by the development of our Staff’s “Middle Class.” Three in particular — Lauren, AJ, and Daniel — have been doing ministry for a few years, now, and it seems like they’re really taking ownership within our ministry, each shouldering unique burdens according to their personalities and spiritual gifting. I meet with all three of these leaders every Monday morning, usually while drinking coffee — and I’m very excited to see how God is developing this next generation of leaders to take the church places we would never otherwise be able to go.
After posting my Top Ten Songs of 2018 and Top Ten Books of 2018, I decided to turn my attention to hikes that I’ve been privileged to enjoy in the past year. Hiking has become one of my favorite ways to experience the world, and to experience intimacy with God. And this year was special because I got to visit several different U.S. National Parks, plus several other places of exceptional natural beauty.
So anyway — without further ado, here are my Top Ten Hikes of 2018, in ranked order:
Flattop, Hallett, and Otis (FHO) with Family, on July 8th
Camp Manatoc “Laatste Loodjes,” on October 18th
Lawn Lake and Crystal Lakes, on June 28th
Phelps Lake (Jump Rock), on June 14th
Golden Gate Owl Trail, starting from Muir Beach, with Marci, on May 18th
Badlands Notch Trail with Family, on June 4th
Tinker’s Creek Promontory + Secret Fount of Sycamores with Olivia and Cor, on April 30th
Appalachian Trail to Charlie’s Bunion, on March 28th
Emigrant Peak Foothills, on June 8th
Towpath Trail – Northernmost Segment, on February 23rd
And again, for those who would appreciate more context, my explanations for each selection are included with the listing (reverse rank-order), below:
The hike itself was fairly unremarkable: mostly pavement and tightly-packed gravel on a trail that used to be used for livestock powering the transportation of freight by canal in the 1800s. The weather conditions, too, were forgettable: gray and dreary. But this hike was significant because it allowed me to color in the last of the trails on my official map of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, completing a quest that had allowed me to experience many other lovely hikes throughout the CVNP. I also got to see a muskrat on this hike.
Montana is marvelous. This summer provided my first opportunity to visit the Treasure State, and it quickly proved to be one of my favorite places on earth. On the morning of this particular hike, I went out by myself — carrying some water, a hammock, and some bear mace (recommended and provided by the proprietor of the place where we were staying) — and I didn’t cross paths with another human being for the rest of the morning. Most of this hike was bush-whacking across scrubby alpine terrain, not really following any prescribed path, but I kind of liked it that way. It was a glorious day to be out in God’s Creation.
I helped to lead a team of 60 people from H2O Kent to Great Smoky Mountain National Park for our Spring Break trip focused on developing Spiritual Disciplines. On a free day, ten of us (including my three kids) went hiking along the Appalachian Trail to a rock formation called Charlie’s Bunion. Our hike started in mist and mystery (getting to see, first-hand, why they’re called the Smoky Mountains), but conditions cleared just in time for us to see some dramatic vistas out near Charlie’s Bunion. There were some bumps in the road — both literally and figuratively — but it was a very memorable hike.
It was a beautiful spring day when Olivia, Cor, and I revisited a special place I had discovered on my own adventures a week or two earlier. The bluff overlooking Tinker’s Creek is pretty spectacular, on its own, but this hike was particularly special because we all discovered a “secret” waterfall just off the trail, where the water pools around a grove of Sycamore trees before falling off to join the creek below. This hike is a hidden gem in the northern part of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
It was blazing hot on the day we visited Badlands National Park, in South Dakota, but that kind of made the stark, desert landscape even more imposing and impressive. This hike wasn’t very far (just 1.3 miles, round-trip), but it was very worthwhile. Later on that day, we saw bison and antelope in a different section of the park. Pretty cool stuff for such a hot day!
Marci and I celebrated our 20th Wedding Anniversary with a trip to Northern California. We had some memorable hikes among the Redwoods and Sequoias that could have easily made this Top Ten list — but our hike along the coast, in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, was perhaps the most unique. It was cold and windy, but the views out over the Pacific Ocean were amazing.
Grand Teton National Park is spectacular: impossibly steep, snow-capped mountains jutting up from pristine mountain lakes. We didn’t get to climb to the top of any of those snow-capped mountains during our brief visit to the park — but our loop around Phelps Lake was my favorite hike that we got to do together. The highlight was leaping 20-25 feet through the air from the top of the appropriately-named Jump Rock into the icy cold waters of the lake. Elliot, Cor, and I all made the leap, and we’re glad we did.
I didn’t expect much from this hike in the Rocky Mountain National Park. It was suggested by my friend Clay, and I just went along with it for the sake of group dynamics — but it ended up being a really fabulous experience. It had a lot of the same elements as the popular Sky Pond (one of my all-time favorite hikes): hiking through waterfalls and across snowfields to get to crystal-clear alpine lakes… But we almost had the trail to ourselves! We had a great hike, and some great conversation along the way.
While Hike #10 on this list represented the end of my quest to hike every trail on the official map of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, this hike was special because it represented my completion of the last known trail of any sort within the boundaries of the CVNP. Camp Manatoc is owned by the Boy Scouts of America, predating the establishment of the National Park that completely surrounded it upon formation in the 1970s… But it feels like the National Park, and its trails are some of the most rugged and natural of all the trails in the area. So I really wanted to hike all of these trails, as well as the official National Park ones (as well as some county bike trails and city trails that were contiguous with the rest of the park). It was a beautiful fall day when I completed this hike in Camp Manatoc, and I got to see a few deer and a flock of wild turkeys while I was there. It was a great way to finish the “last little pieces of lead” (to borrow a Dutch phrase) weighing out the totality of my experiences in the Cuyahoga Valley.
Many of the other hikes on this Top Ten list were designed to prepare our family for this hike, in the Rocky Mountain National Park. I’ve done this hike a few other times, in previous years, but I was really excited for the whole family to be able to do it together — and everything came together beautifully, with only minimal complaining from the children. The mountaintop views (from three different summits!) were spectacular, and sliding down Andrews Glacier was a great way to start descending back towards the trail head. I’m really proud of this hike.