Things I Missed about Ohio

We got back to Kent late on Friday evening. It was sweet to be reunited with Elliot, who flew back to Ohio a week ahead of the rest of the family in order to participate in a Camp organized by his school’s Marching Band. As we’ve settled back into life here in Ohio, there have been other elements of “home” that I missed while we were away — and it’s been fun to take note of these little (or big) things that are otherwise taken for granted.

Here are a few of the things I’ve missed about Ohio:

  • Friends and Family: Of everything Ohio has going for it, the people of Ohio are really the best. They are my people. Salt-of-the-earth, hard-working, humble, fun people. I especially missed my parents and our church family at H2O Kent.
  • People saying “Sorry” for things that aren’t their fault: This bothered me when I first moved back to the United States in 2012. I assumed it was an American thing: offering a form of gentle interruption… accepting culpability for bumping into someone else who was being reckless… subtly throwing oneself under the bus for someone else’s mistake… Out west, though, I don’t think I heard as much of this sort of usage of the word “sorry.” I noticed it immediately upon our return to the Midwest, though. Cor forgot a part of his lunch order at the counter, and as we walked away the woman at the counter called after us and reminded us of the thing we forgot. We went back for it, said “Thank you,” and then she responded by saying, “Sorry about that.” It was an incorrect assumption of blame, but it felt somehow endearing.
  • A beautiful blend of Forested Hills, Farm Fields, and Factory Towns: Ohio has a variety of landscapes that were not as obvious in many of the other states that we visited this summer. The other places that we got to visit were absolutely beautiful… but it was nice to be reminded that Ohio is beautiful, too.
  • Reliable signal for telephone and mobile internet: The mountains in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona are wonderful for many reasons — but not for keeping in touch with the rest of the world. I couldn’t use a lot of my favorite smartphone apps (like Spotify and Gaia and Strava) unless I was anchored to a WiFi network. When we had troubles dealing with an errant charge on our credit card, or scheduling appointments for minor automotive repairs, we had to hike up to Bible Point or drive into Estes Park to use the telephone. Half-way across the Great Plains, though, we reconnected with our network’s infrastructure — and it felt like more of a relief that I thought it would.
  • Chipotles next to Paneras: I feel like such a Millennial, listing the internet-connectivity stuff above and the brand-identification thing here… But it’s true. I missed some of the brands that are more accessible here in Ohio than they are out west. And somehow, being away from the familiar commercial-system, I became more aware of the way that seemingly disparate businesses are so often found in close proximity to one another.
  • The Arm Chair in our Family Room: This is totally an “old man thing” to realize, but my arm chair in Kent is just a really comfortable arm chair. It reclines just the right amount. It provides support in just the right places. It feels like home to me. I missed it while we were gone.
  • Bigger parking spaces in bigger parking lots: You’d be surprised. I bet that parking spots in northeast Ohio are 25-30% bigger than parking spots in mountain communities like Estes Park (Colorado) or Flagstaff (Arizona). Way easier for navigating a mini-van.
  • Lightning Bugs: These insects are a true marvel that are really not as common in other places as they are here in Ohio. There were no lightning bugs (a.k.a. fireflies) in the Netherlands, when we lived there. There were no lightning bugs in Colorado, at least not in the parts we’ve visited. Yet here in Ohio, lightning bugs are abundant — and they put on a spectacular show every night throughout the summer time. Bio-luminescence is a miracle of God’s Creation. I love that Ohio gives me space to appreciate it.

This list is by no means exhaustive. But it points out a few of the things I’ve noticed and appreciated. It’s good to be back in Ohio now — and really, for the rest of the calendar year. I’m looking forward to blooming where I’m planted, among the Buckeye trees.

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The Best Way to Experience Northern Arizona (Or Anywhere, for that Matter)

I love seeing new places with old friends. It somehow enhances one’s enjoyment of both the people and the places to have familiar people with whom one can experience unfamiliar places.

On the relational level: Sharing a new experience together provides space to re-establish connection and catch up on life as friends. Experiencing another person’s world, first-hand, allows for understanding far beyond what could ever be established over the phone, or video conferencing, or through written communication.

And on the traveling level: Going out with a trusted friend allows for a deeper experience of the locale being visited. Of course, a local person knows all the best places to get the best food, see the best views, and experience the best experiences.

One of the main reasons we wanted to visit northern Arizona this summer was to experience it with our dear friend, Linda. Our family shared many meaningful moments with Linda in Amsterdam over the nine years that our lives overlapped in the Netherlands. But Linda moved to the Flagstaff area about a year ago, to care for her mother through the final stages of her battle with cancer. It’s been a tumultuous year for her. And since Linda has done such a good job of coming to inhabit our world on numerous occasions, we really looked forward to the chance to go and inhabit her world in return. Plus: northern Arizona was a new part of the world we’d never gotten to explore previously. So we were very glad this summer provided an opportunity to visit.

We met at a fairgrounds in Flagstaff and then drove together down into Oak Creek Canyon, catching up on life along the way.

At the bottom of the canyon, we visited Slide Rock State Park — where we entertained ourselves by sliding down some natural features that were reminiscent of water slides and jumping off sandstone ledges into crystal-clear pools of water.

We ate lunch in Sedona, a mecca for artists and tourists, and we enjoyed a more extended opportunity for conversation on a patio overlooking the beautiful red-rock landscape.

After lunch, we got to visit Linda’s home in Munds Park. My kids appreciated the opportunity to play with her cats, just like they did back in Amsterdam.

We took a hike in the Coconino National Forest, where we saw some beautiful views of the forested hillsides and some really unique trees called Alligator Junipers. And then we finished with a feast at a Munds Park barbecue place called Agee’s. With Linda’s expertise and enthusiasm, we made the most out of our day together!

By the time we made it to our motel that night — a couple of hours east, on Historic Route 66 — we were tired. But also happy. Northern Arizona was lovely, but especially so with our friend Linda.

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Our family took “the scenic route” back to Ohio at the end of my job assignment in Colorado. The most direct route would have been mostly east and slightly north. Instead, we started by traveling slightly west and mostly south — towards Utah and Arizona.

Our first destination was Arches National Park in Utah. Before we even got to the park, though, we marveled at the red earth, towering cliffs, and desert vegetation along Utah Route 128. It felt like we were driving through a cowboy movie or a Looney Tunes animation, yet we were a part of the landscape!

Arches National Park was beautiful, if perhaps a bit on the warm side (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit, even in the evening). The red-rock features stood out sharply against the pure blue sky.

The natural formations were enormous, but they were also accessible. We climbed on them and through them and around them. It was fun!

An hour before sunset, we started hiking towards the most iconic arch — featured on the state license plate, the state quarter, and some of the alternative branding by the Utah Jazz basketball team — Delicate Arch. We couldn’t see the arch at all until the final bend, about 1.5 miles from the trail-head. But the payoff was totally worth the wait. And as we hiked back to the parking lot in the deepening dusk, we watched the stars come out one by one. It was a pretty magical way to experience Arches National Park.

The following morning, I enjoyed a run up one of the canyons immediately adjacent to Arches National Park. It was one of the most memorable runs I’ve ever done in my life. I started to run out of energy about two-thirds of the way through the run, as the sun climbed over the canyon walls. So I felt pretty physically-depleted, as we started driving south from Moab, but also simultaneously emotionally-energized.

Our family hit the road by mid-morning, with our sites set on the Grand Canyon — but before we got there, we decided to make a slight detour to see a place where four states come together at a single spot. The “Four Corners Monument” is administered by the Navajo Nation, and they charge five dollars per person to see what is essentially a run-down rest stop in the middle of the desert. Still, it was kind of cool to get a family portrait with Marci standing in Utah, me standing in Colorado, Olivia standing in Arizona, and Cor standing in New Mexico.

By the middle of the afternoon, we made it to Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. And while the Grand Canyon bore some superficial similarities to the mountains of Colorado (in their vast grandeur) and the canyons of Utah (in their color and climate), it was set apart by its seemingly-infinite openness. It just felt like the empty space between the two rims of the Canyon went on forever! It was simultaneously awe-inspiring and fear-inducing. The environment didn’t lend itself to as much interactivity as Arches National Park, but it was still a wonder to behold.

From the Grand Canyon, we dropped due south to spend the night in Flagstaff — where Historic Route 66 would frame the rest of our road trip, zooming back to the Northeast. Our time in the Southwest was limited, but it was a special spot for a family vacation..

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The Knowledge of the Holy

I recently finished reading A.W. Tozer’s book, The Knowledge of the Holy. It was a second reading for me (though my memory of the first reading turned out to be more sketchy than I thought!). I read it again because it was included as part of the curriculum for the Collegiate Mentoring Program, which I helped to facilitate this summer.

Even though I’m a pastor, I don’t typically read a lot of theology. My inclination is to think of theological discourse as too ethereal, too impractical. It doesn’t often feel like there’s a clear tie-in from the study of God (theology) to the experience of God (theopraxis), so (I’m embarrassed to say) I often just glaze over the theology. This is a personal weakness, and I think some would say it’s a general weakness for the network of churches with whom I’m associated.

But what I appreciated about this book — and the group context in which it was digested — is the way that it genuinely created space for us to think about God, shape our thoughts about God, and enhance our experience of God. The chapters of this book are short — each one centered around a single attribute of God — and it could be tempting to clump them all together in one big reading on the day before our Group Discussions of the book. But we all encouraged each other (and provided a sort of implicit accountability for each other) to take in the chapters of this book slowly: ideally one chapter per day. And the chapters really did have much greater impact when they were given space to breathe.

The Knowledge of the Holy was written in 1961. Consequently, the language and style of Tozer’s writing felt old-fashioned: kind of a cross between King James’ 17th Century English and mid-20th Century Modernism. It seemed to me that Tozer harped on some themes that may have been more necessary for readers in 1961 (a thoroughly Modern generation) than they are for readers in 2019 (a thoroughly Post-Modern generation). At the same time, there were other elements of Tozer’s writing that seemed surprisingly fresh and contemporary — even though they were written almost 60 years ago.

When it comes to the real substance of the book, though, I really appreciated the perspective that seemed to drive Tozer’s writing: “We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God.” He said one of the most meaningful things about a person might be one’s answer to the question, “What comes to your mind when you think about God?”

My favorite chapters in this book were Chapter 3, A Divine Attribute of God: Something True About God (the end of Tozer’s introduction), Chapter 20, The Love of God, and Chapter 22, The Sovereignty of God. Really, though, I felt all of the chapters were useful — and I heartily recommend this book to any Christian who wishes to deepen their understanding and appreciation for the God of the Bible.

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Click with the Klunkes

We were married within a year of each other: Marci and me, Michelle and Mike. We went on staff with the same missions agency within a year of each other.

We each had our first child within a year of each other: Gillian and Elliot…

We each had our second child within a year of each other: Nathalie and Olivia…

And yes (the attentive reader probably saw this coming), we each had our third child within a year of each other: Luke and Cor…

There’s just a level of symmetry between our families that’s rare in our circles. And besides the circumstantial symmetry, we’ve just really come to love our friends: Mike, Michelle, Gillian, Nathalie, and Luke Klunke.

They love Jesus. They love collegiate ministry. They’re great listeners, story-tellers, game-players, fly-fishers, sports-fans, and ministry-practitioners.

We’ve appreciated every opportunity we’ve gotten to do life and ministry together: in Orlando, Amsterdam, Kent — and especially Estes Park. We hope that this summer won’t be the last time we’ll get to do this; still, with kids starting to graduate and go off to college, we don’t take summers like this for granted, either. For however long it lasts, we’re grateful for our click with the Klunkes.

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Running Up the Mountain Together

We’re coming up on the end of our time in Colorado.

I’m going to miss it for a lot of reasons — but particularly for (1) the mountains and (2) the cohort of young leaders with whom I’ve been privileged to work these last five weeks. This morning, I got to combine these two elements in a way that gave me personal joy and (I think) a deeper glimpse into some of the things God is doing in my heart, in the Collegiate Mentoring Program this summer, and in my current ministry context back in Kent.

It started when I made up my mind that I needed one more attempt at running up Bible Point.

All kinds of people go up Bible Point all the time because it’s a relatively short hike — less than a mile and a half — on the west side of the YMCA of the Rockies. It’s steep enough that it takes some real work to get up there, but the view from the top is spectacular enough that people are willing to put in the work. Over the past few summers that I’ve been here, though, I’ve become particularly intrigued with the idea of trying to run, nonstop, all the way from the sports field in the center of the YMCA of the Rockies to the top of Bible Point. Unfortunately, I’ve never succeeded in running nonstop, as the steep sections of trail limit my legs and thin mountain air limits my lungs. But I’ve gotten faster over time. And at one point, I even held the record on Strava (a social media platform for endurance athletics) for their segment titled “Bible Point (from the livery).” I lost my “King of the Mountain” classification last summer (kudos to John Grotenhuis, whoever he is!). And as I age, I’m not sure that I’m ever going to reclaim the crown. But still, I want to keep pushing myself — and I could see on Strava that there was another staff guy from our network’s church at the University of Missouri who was also regularly running up Bible Point (albeit typically a couple of minutes slower than I typically do it). He also happens to be one of the participants in our Collegiate Mentoring Program this summer, learning to play more and more of a lead role back in his home context. So I thought maybe it would be beneficial for both our relationship and our running pursuits to make a run at Bible Point together.

Last night, I messaged him: “Hey Mike! I’m thinking about taking another run at Bible Point tomorrow morning. Probably around 6:30 or 7:00 AM. Would you be interested in joining me?”

He responded, “Yes, let’s do it. I’m down for either time.”

So we made plans to meet at the playground in front of the Craft and Design Center. At the appointed time, we started stretching for the run as we looked up at the rocky spot that marked Bible Point. And then we started running. The first three-quarters of a mile was level enough that we were able to manage some conversation — but then we hit the steep sections of trail, and all our breath was focused on getting to the top of Bible Point.

At first, it seemed that I was stronger than Mike, in danger of pulling too far in front of him for the synergistic purposes. So I slowed down a bit and decided to conserve some energy for at least a little while. But after a couple more switchbacks, I reached the point where I felt like I could not keep running — and Mike pulled ahead of me by a couple of steps. For the next half-mile, the distance between the two of us varied as we took turns running (at a very slow pace) and walking with our hands helping to push our thighs up the mountain. In the last quarter of a mile, though, it became clear that Mike had stronger legs — and he pulled ahead to finish a twenty seconds ahead of me.

I felt kind of discouraged that my body had betrayed me and that I couldn’t hang with Mike for the whole climb. But between gasps of air at the top of Bible Point, Mike checked his watch and exclaimed, “That was… a full two minutes… faster… than I’ve ever… gone before!” He spat into the dust, doubled over with exhaustion, and looked over at me with a smile. “Thanks for the push.”

I congratulated him for his strong run and moaned about my own sense of exhaustion. My legs and lungs screamed for me to go nowhere and to do nothing but recover for a few minutes. So I sat on a rock and reflected.

Something about our run seemed like a metaphor for life and ministry.

I’m at an age where I’ve developed a good base of experience and endurance — even if my peak and performance may not be what it used to be. Younger men have a higher ceiling for what they can accomplish, but they don’t often realize their own strength until someone else pushes them beyond what they thought was possible. My pride may get wounded, as I watch the young legs surge ahead of me on the home stretch, as I see my name get lower on the list of Strava segment achievements… But there’s also a certain satisfaction that comes from seeing the next generation rise and realize their full potential.

Once we had fully caught our breath at the top of Bible Point, Mike and I took the easy job back down the trail to where we started. When I got back to my cabin, my watch uploaded the data from our run to my phone, to Garmin, to Strava — and I was delighted to discover that even though I had finished 18 seconds behind Mike, I had also beaten my personal record by 8 seconds (faster than the run that had once made me “King of the Mountain”)! I smiled to myself, realizing that Mike’s and my combined run was not just an act of sacrifice and “passing the baton to the next generation.” We saw a boost in both of our performances. And Mike had come within 6 seconds of being the new “King of the Mountain” on our run.

Later in the morning, at our group session for the Collegiate Mentoring Program, Mike and I talked about the Strava standings and Mike said, “Man, we need to try that again before you have to leave!”

I knew it might be a scheduling challenge, but I agreed that it would be fun to give it another try. “Seriously. We’re so close,” I smiled. “Next time, I think that record is yours for the taking.”

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Ranger Things

I totally binged this weekend on a new series (of experiences) called Ranger Things — and it was amazing.

Believe it or not, there was a time in my life when I seriously considered producing nature documentaries as a career — and it’s not too hard to see a world where I became a park ranger instead of a pastor. Not that I’m complaining about my current vocation or life circumstances! I really do love the way my life has turned out. Still, I really don’t know how to put words to the way the mountains, forests, lakes, and streams of America’s National Parks fill my soul with joy and wonder.

Friday afternoon, I got to do a solo hike up Eagle Cliff. The silence and solitude of the mountainsides were a sanctuary for some extended time with God, and the mountaintop provided a place to consider all the peaks and valleys of our summer experiences out here in Colorado.

Saturday featured a family hike to the top of Twin Sisters with the family, and we literally climbed through the clouds, getting to see the views from below the clouds, in amongst the clouds, and above the clouds. We also ran into some friends from 1500 miles away — on top of the mountain, of all places! So that was pretty fun!

And today, I hiked with some Kent friends to Chasm Lake (including an encounter with an actual ranger from the National Parks Service!). About half of the hike was above tree-line, with vast snow banks still clinging to the flanks of the Park’s largest mass of mountains. We hiked across glaciers, passed beside a glistening waterfall, and scrambled up some large rocks to reach a pristine mountain lake with large blocks of ice still floating beside the shoreline.

I’m aware that I might be susceptible to recency bias, but I might be inclined to put Chasm Lake as one of the Top Three Hikes in the Rocky Mountain National Park. I’m really glad I got to experience that hike (even if it meant I had to miss the Women’s World Cup match between the United States and the Netherlands).

Our time to enjoy hiking in the Rockies is quickly drawing to a close — but I’m glad we can make the most of it while we’re here.

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Physical Fitness Fourth

Something about Colorado makes me want to move: running, cycling, hiking, swimming, basketball, soccer, tennis, pickle-ball, kickball… The thin mountain air can complicate the cardio-vascular component of exercise; still, the clear skies and cool weather conditions beckon me to run and jump and play.

So, for the Fourth of July holiday, I took advantage of the opportunity to participate in a few special physical fitness festivities… starting with departing from my cabin at 3:45 AM to go run a half-marathon in Longmont. My friends Brooke and David (plus David’s friend Sam) joined me for the Longmont Half-Marathon. It was a unique setting, running mostly over prairie and farmland, with some river wetlands, and the beautiful Rocky Mountains in the distance. I didn’t know what to expect with attempting a half-marathon at 5,000 feet above sea level — but I was pleasantly surprised with how fast I was ultimately able to run, finishing the race in 1 hour and 40 minutes.

Later that evening, our family joined the rest of the staff at the Estes Park Leadership Training program for a picnic in Stanley Park, near Lake Estes. I was prepared to just sit in the shade, nibble on snacks, and enjoy conversation with colleagues. But with a basketball court directly beside our picnic pavilion, it was practically inevitable that a basketball game would break out — and I ended up being one of three 40-something pastors who ended up banding together to take on trios of younger staff… And we won more than we lost, so we had to (got to?) keep playing even longer.

It was a fun day of activity, but you can be sure that I slept well that night after exercising my freedoms for physical fitness.

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The Wonder of Ute

My children have long thought that they dislike hiking.

My observation is that they don’t actually dislike the activity itself; in fact, when we hike we usually end up having a lot of fun seeing new places, sharing new experiences, and enjoying conversation along the way. But they’re naturally inclined to dislike the idea of hiking; they think they’re going to get hot and tired and bored. And, of course, that can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But I work hard to counteract these misperceptions.

So I thought I’d ease them into the world of hiking possibilities at the Rocky Mountain National Park this summer. On our first free day since getting here, I picked a trail that was relatively short: the Ute Trail, just off of Trail Ridge Road. It’s an out-and-back route, which could allow us to go as long or as short as we would like. It’s an interesting drive to the trail-head, with dramatic mountain vistas and lots of opportunities for wildlife spotting. The trail itself stays relatively flat, even though it’s at a very high altitude, up above tree-line. And inch-for-inch, pound-for-pound, I can now confirm from personal experience that it’s a very high-reward / low-cost hike.

Still, old habits die hard — and the kids’ first instinct was to start with complaint. I knew better than to dwell with them in their complaint, though, and I overrode their objections with confidence. More quickly than expected, they shifted to a posture of acceptance — almost enthusiasm — and we packed up for the hike fairly quickly and cheerfully.

We had to deal with some traffic, getting into the National Park, but I probably grumbled about that more than the kids. By the time we started climbing Trail Ridge Road, all the grumbling was forgotten. We made it up above tree-line, and pretty shortly thereafter we came upon the parking lot for the Ute Trail. Within a quarter-mile of the place where we parked our minivan, we found a pile of rocks with a dramatic vista across a deep valley to a ridge of snow-capped mountains. We took a bunch of pictures — some proper portraits and some silly stuff — and then I thought we’d hike just up the next ridge to see what we could see and then assess how much further we wanted to go.

To my surprise, the kids moved to the front of our group and set a rather aggressive pace along the trail. They were talking and laughing and not complaining at all. We stopped for more pictures at a few different spots, but there never seemed to be any hint of a desire to turn around and finish the hike sooner rather than later.

At one point, I leaned over to Marci and whispered, with a sense of awe in my voice, “It almost seemed like the kids are enjoying the hike.”

We ended up doing a full two miles out and two miles back, with very minimal grumbling from the kids. The views were spectacular. The weather was lovely. And we just had a lot of fun together.

The experience made me realize that my kids really are growing up. They’re not just kids anymore; they’re youths. They’re opening up to new experiences, and it’s a wonder to behold the way they behold the world. This weekend’s experience on the Ute Trail gave me a moment to appreciate the wonder of Youth, and I’m very glad for that.

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The Collegiate Mentoring Program

For three out of the last four summers, I’ve been a part of a new initiative within our network of churches. It’s called the Collegiate Mentoring Program. This year, I get to make leadership of the Collegiate Mentoring Program my primary focus for the summer, and it really feels like something of a dream job.

The program is aimed towards the development of church leaders and church planters. It seeks to establish foundational truths and practices for the long-term health and sustainability of vocational ministry workers in our Collegiate Church Network. And from everything I’ve seen over the last few years, it seems to be having a great effect on staff retention, the health of staff marriages, the growth of well-adjusted children in staff families, the ordination of new pastors, the level of effectiveness in campus ministry, and catalyzing the multiplication of disciples and churches on college campuses across the United States and potentially around the world, as well.

We meet as a group four times per week: twice to interact with established ministry leaders about a variety of different areas of interest, once to strengthen our practice of the spiritual disciplines, and once to focus on theological training. In addition to these group sessions, each participant spends two hours each week in an individual mentoring session, where two experienced pastors provide space to process what God is doing in the individual’s life. And, wow! It feels like God has been doing some amazing work in these individual sessions!

This week, we had a special experience. I helped to lead a Wilderness Retreat, where I took everyone from the Collegiate Mentoring Program out into the Rocky Mountain National Park for two days of solitude, silence, fasting, prayer, reflection, and interaction with the Lord. It provided an opportunity to cement some of the things that have been coming up through our group sessions and individual sessions, and I’ve been really encouraged to hear about the ways that God met these young leaders out in the Wilderness. I’m praying for Chris, Mike, Andy, Kyle, Jason, and Ben, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in their lives over the rest of this summer and beyond.

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