First Day of School 2016

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Today is the first day of classes for Kent City Schools, and this year we’ve got three kids in three different schools.

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Elliot is starting 9th grade at Theodore Roosevelt High School.

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Olivia is starting 7th grade at Stanton Middle School.

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And Cor is starting 4th grade at Walls Elementary School.

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I’m very proud of all three of our kids and the ways they’re growing up. They left for school with eager, enthusiastic attitudes, and it seems like there’s a lot of potential for good things to happen in the year to come.

Our family will likely be stretched at times, especially once the Kent State University academic year starts in another week and a half. But we’re mindful of the advice we’ve received from several friends to “Enjoy it while you can” — and we’re looking for ways to rejoice along the way.

Posted in Children, Family, Traditions | Comments Off on First Day of School 2016

Establishing an Accurate Sense of Ohio

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In Amsterdam, we got lots of visitors. They were prepared to be impressed. Inclined toward romanticism, if anything. Consequently, my inclination would be to show them “the real Amsterdam” that lay off the beaten path. I’d bring people along for the bicycle commute from our apartment to our kids’ school, winding through the busy bicycle paths of our working-class, immigrant-laden neighborhood. I’d take people to stand in line with me and the locals at the bakery which served the best raisin bread in town. Not that there was anything wrong with visiting the Anne Frank Huis, or watching the street performers on the Dam, or taking pictures of the windmills and 17th Century canal houses. I just thought that visitors could get a more complete, more rounded picture of the city by seeing the nitty-gritty, everyday stuff that couldn’t be found in the travel books.

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Kent, Ohio, however, is not as much of an international destination. If anything, northeast Ohio has a poor reputation or negative connotation for a lot of people. Certainly not much in the way of travel books that have been written about this corner of the world. So how does one show the subtle beauty and brilliance of “the real Kent” allowing a visitor to get a full picture that’s not just nitty-gritty, everyday stuff?

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These were the questions on my mind when we welcomed our dear friend Claire, from Amsterdam, to Kent for the weekend. We took her out to Handel’s for generous portions of Spouse Like a House ice cream, served in fresh waffle cones. We relaxed and talked about old times in our living room, while images of the summer Olympics played in the background and Marci and I folded laundry. We went for a hike up Brandywine Creek, in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. We had lunch at the local orchard as it hosted a Sweet Corn Festival. We worshipped together with a couple dozen friends from H2O and then went out for Claire’s first taste of Chipotle. And we putzed around at my parents’ house, along with my sister and her kids, doing home improvement projects and catching up on life. And then we took her on a long car ride through the state’s rolling farmlands, stopping for cheese samples at Grandpa’s Cheesebarn and milkshakes at Porky’s Drive-In.

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I felt insecure about what we had to offer (though it should be said that Claire was an absolutely lovely house guest). I wanted our friend to enjoy our corner of the world, even though we had nothing approaching the architectural wonders of Amsterdam or the majestic mountains of Colorado (where many others of our old friends from Amsterdam have settled). I don’t know how much I can control of other people’s perceptions, though. As I reflect on the weekend, however, I realize that those 48 hours really did include a lot of the elements that I’ve really come to love about Ohio: fun with family, living faith, peach pie, peanut butter milkshakes, and deep conversation with friends.

What more could a person want? Whether other people are able to see it or not — I’m glad that I can see the joys of life in Ohio. If other people can see it as well, so much the better.

Posted in Amsterdam, Culture, Introspection, Kent, Ohio, The United States of America, Travel | Comments Off on Establishing an Accurate Sense of Ohio

World Names

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Our family loves the Olympics (we even created themed snacks to mark the occasion!). They’re such an interesting study in cultural dynamics. For example, this year’s Opening Ceremonies, in particular, reminded me of a strange quirk of international protocol: Naming conventions.

Why do countries have to use different names for each other? Couldn’t we all use the names for each other’s countries, similar to the way we use each other’s first names? I’ve never been one to anglicize “Juan” or “Johannes” to “John,” so why would I do the equivalent for groups of people?

I thought of this more often when I lived in Amsterdam: Why can’t we all call it “Nederland” instead of “The Netherlands?” Or is “Italia” really that much harder to say than “Italy?” Why do we have to spell the Olympic host country’s name as “Brazil” when they clearly prefer the spelling “Brasil?” I know it gets a little more difficult when we step into other language groups that use different alphabets, but still… Why can’t we all call China “Zhōngguó?” Or Egypt “Misr?”

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Conceptual names like “The United States of America” or “République démocratique du Congo” may be some of the trickiest — but I think we could figure out some workarounds, like “USA” (universally pronounced “You-ess-ay”) or “RD du Congo” (universally pronounced “Air-day-doo-Congo”). Sure: we’d probably mispronounce each other’s names sometimes, but it seems like that would be preferable to the alternative we have now.

Posted in Culture, Language, Politics, Sports, Travel | Comments Off on World Names

Things I Miss about Colorado

It’s been a week since our family’s departure from Estes Park Leadership Training (EPLT), and I’ve noticed there are things I miss about Colorado.

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The people. Our family built some great relationships at Leadership Training, and already — after just a week of being away — we find ourself missing all the friends we made (as well as all the existing friendships we strengthened) out there. Fortunately, 16 of these LT friends will be coming back to Kent in a few more weeks. Even so, I imagine things will never be quite the same as they were over the summer of 2016.

Mountain Panorama with Outlines and Labels

The mountains. I’m actually not complaining about Ohio’s landscape. As a matter of fact, I think that the lush, leafy, green woodlands around Kent are absolutely beautiful. But there is something awe-inspiring about the mountains. It’s amazing to look out from the top of one mountain and identify all the other places one has visited, throughout the course of a summer. I didn’t understand it at the beginning of the summer — why others would ritually point out the mountains they could identify — but by the end of the summer I came to understand how there’s a unique personal story for each mountain that one gets to climb.

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The weather. I took it for granted a lot of the time — but the weather in Estes Park was ideal! We woke up to brilliant blue skies every morning. Seriously, I cannot think of a single overcast morning during the time we were there! High temperatures most days were in the 70s. When rain showers came, they would quickly blow through in the course of an hour or two. And my typical seasonal allergies were negligible, especially compared to the sinus-centered misery I’ve experienced in the last week since coming back to Ohio in full, late-summer bloom.

Colorado had a lot of things going for it, but to be fair there are also things I do not miss about Colorado.

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Communication problems. We had a hard time keeping in touch with people while we were out in Colorado. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit how nice it’s been — but the last week has allowed me to rediscover how lovely it is to have reliable access to mobile telephone and internet services. Phone calls… text messages… point-to-point directions… Wikipedia and IMDB at my fingertips at all times… Communication works much better without mountains and with a higher population density to motivate service providers. The battery in my smartphone lasts all day now, when it doesn’t have to exhaust itself searching for a signal! It feels like we’ve rejoined the 21st Century.

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Separation from neighbors, friends, and family. This goes along with the communication problems outlined above, but there were a lot of people who mean quite a lot to me — but with whom I did not have a lot of interaction over the last two months. I finally got to play basketball with my Dad again this morning. I talked to my sister today for the first time in months. And even though it’s funny how popular the last week of July seems for Ohioans to go on family vacations, I’ll have a lot more people with whom I can finally catch up when everyone else gets back from all their traveling!

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The beds. I have to admit that our lives are a lot more comfortable here in Kent, with our beds, our couches, our cooking implements, our dishwasher, our two vehicles (plus bicycles), a wider array of clothing choices, and a bunch of the other “creature comforts” that I tend to take for granted here at home. It may be shallow to rejoice in these shifts toward the more familiar and more comfortable — but I do rejoice in these things.

All in all, I’m really glad that we got to spend such a significant portion of our summer in Colorado; but I’m also glad that we’ve gotten to come home.

Posted in Nostalgia, Transition | Comments Off on Things I Miss about Colorado

Top Ten Pictures from Colorado

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The sun has set on our summer in Colorado, at the Collegiate Church Network’s Estes Park Leadership Training. I can hardly believe that the image above was our everyday reality! The chapel on the right was one of my primary workplaces, and the cabin where our family stayed is nestled in the shadows of those mountains, in the center of the image (if one knows where to look)! What a crazy-cool opportunity!

We’re back in Ohio now — still, we have a lot of photographs and a lot of memories that remain, and I wanted to share some of my favorite images (and their associated memories) before things stacked up here in Kent.

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The natural beauty of the Rocky Mountain National Park was truly breath-taking — and I took advantage of opportunities to get out in it as much as possible. I hiked almost 200 miles this summer (197.47, to be exact), in addition to quite a bit of running, cycling, and even some fly-fishing. Hiking was my favorite, though, and the view from the top of Powell Peak (pictured above) was probably one of the most unforgettable: my back pressed up against the cairn at the summit, taking short breaths, and laughing nervously with Nathan Ference about the precipitous drop in front of us.

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Just as much as the hikes themselves, however, I have fond memories of the people with whom I enjoyed those experiences. At the beginning of the summer, a group of us trudged through deep snows all the way up Glacier Gorge to Black Lake. Along the way, we marveled at the scenery around us and shared our life stories with each other. There were so many good hikes involving so many good conversations with so many good people.

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The crowning achievement of the summer was a ten-hour round-trip hike to the top of Longs Peak — the tallest mountain in the Rocky Mountain National Park (at 14,259 feet above sea level). Stephen Campbell, AJ Ozanich, and I started with star-studded skies above us, at 2AM, and joined a pilgrimmage of head-lamps drifting up above tree-line. The Milky Way faded as the skies started to color, and then we watched the sun rise over the Boulderfield, just below the Keyhole. Afterwards, we scrambled around the mountaintop until we climbed over the top and looked down at the world below us. It was truly awe-inspiring.

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One of the more enjoyable hikes of the summer was the one that Marci and I got to do — just the two of us — summitting Flattop Mountain, Hallett Peak, and Otis Peak, all in one morning, before descending via Andrews Glacier and hiking out through Loch Vale. It was such a privilege to be able to bring my family along with me on such adventures.

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Other hikes were memorable for different reasons — like the 45-60 MPH winds we faced on Mount Chapin, Mount Chiquita, and Ypsilon Mountain (a.k.a. “CCY”) — but they were all special in their own ways.

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We also got to see a bunch of old friends and make a bunch of new friends this summer —  from across the country and around the world. A “Top Ten” photographic compilation does not allow for anything approximating a true representation of all the relational experiences we had throughout the summer, but I loved this one particular image from the evening that we spent celebrating the birthday of our dear friend Naomi, together with a collection of other friends both old and new.

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Another unique experience of the summer was watching my favorite basketball team — the Cleveland Cavaliers — win their first championship. In some ways, I felt disappointed to not be in northeast Ohio for the experience. But in other ways, it was special to cheer the team on from afar: where the crowd was more mixed (equal portions Warriors fans and Cavaliers fans), where about 75 people crowded around one relatively-small television, and where the strange setting of the log-cabin-style Rustic Cafe allowed for a more-unique memory of the big win. Go Cavs!!!

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We saw some crazy stuff this summer, like the massive piles of snow on Trail Ridge Road in the second week of June (pictured above). We did some crazy things, like chasing after rainbows and catching hummingbirds.

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The most-meaningful parts of the summer experience, however, were also the hardest to capture on film: the Gospel conversations we developed with the guests and with the other seasonal workers at the YMCA of the Rockies… the friendships we forged with other missionary families from our network of churches… the deep work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the students who came out with us from Kent State University… the ways God impressed Himself upon me throughout the summer… It was a powerful spiritual environment — and even though the above image from our end-of-the-summer baptism celebration is not the greatest photograph, and even though it can’t come anywhere close to capturing the sounds of that moment, with all our voices singing and praying together in that building, it conveys at least a trace of the spiritual power of this summer.

We’re glad to be back in Kent, and we’re looking forward to everything that God will do here in the weeks and months to come — but we’re also glad for the experiences we got to have this summer.

Posted in Family, H2O Kent, Nostalgia, Photography | Comments Off on Top Ten Pictures from Colorado

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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