Cuyahoga Valley National Park Coloring Project

I love the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP). I’ve come to know it as a place for exercise and rest. It’s a setting for fun with friends and family as well as spiritual solitude. It feels both very close and very far away from my everyday life here in Kent. And yesterday, I reached an important milestone in my relationship with the CVNP.

The official National Park Service (NPS) website for the CVNP says, “Over 125 miles of hiking trails are available for your hiking pleasure in CVNP” — and I can now say that I’ve hiked them all. At least all of the ones marked on the official map of the National Park Service.

I think the idea for coloring in all the trails on the CVNP map came from my friend, Chad. He once talked about trying to do it all in one summer, though I’m not sure how that worked out for him. In my case, anyway, it’s taken way longer than a summer to finish. I’ve been coloring in all the trails on my map with a red Sharpie. I’ve been at it for a couple of years, with a pretty persistent push over the last six months. So I was pretty excited when I got to walk the northwestern-most segment of the Towpath Trail yesterday afternoon — and when I got to color in my map today.

To quote again from the NPS website, “These trails range from nearly level to challenging, and pass through various habitats including woodlands, wetlands, and old fields. Some trails require you to cross streams with stepping stones or log bridges, while others, including the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail, are nearly level and are accessible to all visitors. A portion of Ohio’s Buckeye Trail also passes through the park.”

I definitely have some favorites, among all the different trail segments and landmarks I’ve experienced. In fact, I spent some time today thinking through something of a preliminary ranking of my “Top Twenty,” which I will list here below (both for my own reference, and for anyone else who might like a glimpse into some of my recommendations):

  1. Back Door entrance to the Great Falls of Tinker’s Creek off the Buckeye Trail in the Bedford Reservation
  2. Deer Lick Cave Trail in the Brecksville Reservation
  3. The segment of the Valley View Bridle Trail, starting from the barn and trails immediately to the north of the elbow on the closed-off section of Stanford Road
  4. The segment of the Valley View Bridle Trail, between its crossing with Riverview Road and the Vaughn Road trailhead (the western half of the linked map)
  5. Blue Hen Falls and the segment of the Buckeye Trail immediately to the north (the western half of the linked map)
  6. The segment of the Buckeye Trail between Snowville Road and Parkville Road, running roughly parallel to Riverview Road (the southeastern section of the linked map, plus a bit further to the south)
  7. Hike upstream through Brandywine Creek to Brandywine Falls
  8. Ledges Trail (probably one of the trails I’ve hiked the most!)
  9. Tree Farm Trail, especially a space I call the “Pine Cathedral”
  10. Wetmore Trail (I always seem to run into some great wildlife on this trail)
  11. Salamander Loop in Bedford Reservation
  12. The segment of the Buckeye Trail which runs alongside the falling waters of Tinker’s Creek in the Bedford Reservation
  13. Pine Lane disappearing brick road out of Peninsula up to Buckeye Trail
  14. Sylvan Pond Area around Plateau Trail and Oak Hill Trail
  15. Bridal Veil Falls in the Bedford Reservation
  16. Averill Pond, between Stanford House Trail and the Brandywine Falls Trails
  17. Old Carriage Trail (the eastern half of the linked map)
  18. Mars Quarry Trail in the Bedford Reservation
  19. Daffodil Trail, just off Brush Road (in a very out-of-the-way portion of the CVNP)
  20. Twin Sisters Falls, an unofficial trail off the Towpath Trail, just north of the Brecksville Train Station

As I list out these hikes and review my own memories of each experience, I’m filled with a desire to go back and try them all again to make sure that I’ve got my ranking right. But that may have to wait a little bit longer.

According to other sources available online (particularly through, there are still at least twenty other trail segments that do not appear on the official National Park Service map, which I have not hiked, but which nonetheless exist within the boundaries of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. It may still be awhile before I can get to all of them and officially claim that I’ve hiked every known trail within the park — but I don’t mind. I’m enjoying the journey.

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The Making of Men

It starts with me and Elliot: a 40-year-old pastor and his 15-year-old son. We pull out of our driveway and head to the gas station to fuel up for the drive to our church’s men’s retreat. Before hitting the road, I cue up the stereo system of our Honda Odyssey to play Kermit the Frog’s “Rainbow Connection” — and then we’re on our way to start assembling our motley crew for the journey from Kent to Columbus.

Our first stop is to pick up Alex. He’s a professional designer in his mid-20s, soon to be a first-time father. He slides into the passenger seat as the song switches over to “Movin’ Right Along,” and then we move right along, over the river, across town to the campus of Kent State University.

At a residence hall on the east side of campus, we pick up two freshmen — Hunter and Josh. As we pull away, I explain to the group why I’ve chosen to play the soundtrack from “The Muppet Movie” (1979) on our way out of town. It’s a film about origins and ambitions. It starts with Kermit the Frog plucking his banjo in the swamps of Florida, when a Hollywood talent scout happens upon him — paddling a canoe through the bayou, as of course Hollywood talent scouts are wont to do. Kermit gets the idea from this agent to give show-business a try and sets out for Hollywood, picking up a bizarre collection of bears, pigs, hippie-musicians, and ‘whatever’s along the way. They all learn about each other and their inner selves along the way — and I wish for us to be able to do the same.

Our last stop in Kent is to pick up Nick, a college senior planning to go on staff with H2O following graduation in May. He settles into the backseat next to Elliot — though we still have one seat to be filled on the far side of Akron.

After 35 minutes of westward progress, Phil completes the set as our “Gonzo” with his goofy jokes, overly-affectionate manner, and general wackiness that can make him both endearing and exasperating. As we head south on Interstate Route 71, I tell the guys to each think of a song to program into our Spotify playlist, which is individually-appealing but unknown to everyone else in the car. As a result, we end up with a delightful mix of soul, country, hip-hop, pop, and acapella choral music.

We hit Mansfield around dinner time, so we detour slightly from the interstate to get dinner at a classic diner I know called Porky’s. Five minutes after our arrival, we’re joined by another car-ful of guys from H2O: Josh, Jake, Dylan, and Steven. We mostly order cheeseburgers, french fries, and milkshakes, though some also order more obscure items from the menu. It’s fun to eat and talk and gear up for the weekend.

When we finish our meal, we load back into our cars and drive the last hour and a half to New Albany (just outside of Columbus). There we haul sleeping bags and pillows and duffel bags from our cars into a sprawling Baptist church, where we’ll spend 24 hours with 350 men from 9 different churches in our network. Musical worship… Bible teaching… team-building activities… sports… games… workshops… meals… informal conversations… small group discussions… and even a little bit of sleep. We fit a lot into 24 hours.

I think it’s crazy that everything works together the way it does — but it does. It works.

It doesn’t matter if we’re high school sophomores, college freshmen, college seniors, young professionals, middle-aged pastors, or Muppets! We all have something to offer each other. Men are motivated and mobilized by spending time with other men. There are unique elements of affirmation, challenge, and life-transformation that happen in this setting more than in any other. I believe that the foundation for solid marriages and families are laid in weekends like this. I believe that missionaries are mobilized in this weekend. I believe that churches are planted out of weekends such as this. I believe that men are made — or at least catalyzed — at this annual event.

I’m so glad that we organize these “ManMaker” weekends. They take a good bit of time and energy (and so, so much food!)… But they’re worth it. To see the way God moves all these lovers, dreamers… And me.

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How to Read a Book in One Hour

I’m a slow reader, by nature. I like to absorb every word and thought, as much as possible. I appreciate the ways things are written: the language, the pacing, the artistic imagery. I prefer to be thorough, when I read a new book. I’m also something of a rule-follower — and this also comes into play with my slow reading. If I’m going to say that I’ve “read a book,” I feel like I need to have read the book. In its entirety. Cover to cover. Because that’s how books work, right?!?

Well, the trick is that a lot of books don’t actually work that way! Especially in today’s publishing industry, relatively-large books are often designed to convey relatively-small ideas. Form is not as important as function, except perhaps when it comes to page count — helping consumers feel like they’re getting their money’s worth. “True literature” is not dead, of course, but it’s just one “genre” among many other types of books that tend to serve more mercenary purposes. This may sound like a cynical take on today’s book scene, but for me it’s more practicality than cynicism. I’ve simply realized that I need new rules to interact with the new (non-literary) books being put out.

That’s why I was especially interested to hear Mike Smith talk about how to read a book in one hour. He shared these “rules” at a conference for the Collegiate Church Network (really, as an aside), about a year ago, and they’ve stuck with me ever since:

  1. Read the Introduction.
  2. Read the Conclusion.
  3. Read the Table of Contents.
  4. Read the most interesting chapter.
  5. Read the first sentence of each paragraph.
  6. Never use a highlighter.
  7. Write your own summary of the book on the inside front cover.

When you’ve got a lot of material to absorb in a short amount of time — particularly when the material is more conceptual and didactic — these steps can be extremely helpful. I don’t use these steps when reading histories or biographies. I don’t follow these directives when I want to soak in a good novel or collection of short stories, over vacation. But for business and ministry reading, I’m incredibly thankful to know how to read a book in one hour.

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On the Towpath Trail

I spent yesterday afternoon introducing some young leaders to the idea of getting extended time with God in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. We had unseasonably warm and sunny weather, so that made the experience extra-pleasant. But honestly, I would have been excited even if the day would have brought freezing temperatures and overcast skies.

I got to the Botzum trailhead a half-hour before anyone else, and I took advantage of the opportunity to hike north on the Towpath Trail, past a series of frozen bogs, to the intersection with Ira Road. I can’t say that I settled quickly into a sense of deep and meaningful communion with God out on the trail — as I was checking weather reports and trail maps, thinking about how to set up the young leaders for success, and coordinating communication with everyone who was on their way (or thinking about making their way) to the Park. Even so, I enjoyed the sunshine, and I was happy to be out in nature. I was looking forward to sharing this experience with others. It was just a scattered, shallow happiness.

Just after turning around at the Ira Road intersection, Jake and Delaney sent word of their arrival in Botzum. I told them to start walking north, while I walked south, and we’d meet somewhere in the middle. Around the same time we met up with each other, Dylan let us know that he was on the trail, too. Just a little north of Botzum, we all intersected and walked together to the train station while starting to discuss ways that we might be able to use the next hour or so to connect with God.

I talked to them about cultivating disciplines of wonder… prayer… reflection… reading the Bible… resting… journaling… And then, we all prayed together to set the stage for our individual encounters with God. We took a quick picture together by the train station, and then we each went our separate ways, with plans to rendezvous around 3:30 PM (when we thought others might be coming to join us).

I walked south along the Towpath Trail, in hopes of making it all the way to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park’s southernmost border. It wasn’t the most pleasant pathway in the Park — at least not the first section, just south of Botzum — because it went directly past the City of Akron’s Waste / Water Treatment facilities: looking quite industrial and smelling quite organic (to put it delicately). Still, at this point in the afternoon, my thoughts were unsettled. I felt vaguely happy — to be out in the sun, away from Kent, together with friends — but I didn’t feel any profound sense of connection with God. The spiritual effect of the walk was pretty neutral.

As I kept walking, though, I thought more about Jake, Delaney, and Dylan. I prayed for them according to some of the concerns and questions they’d expressed back at the train station. And the more I walked, talked, and prayed, the more my heart welled up with a deep and abiding sense of affection for these friends. My superficial happiness from earlier in the afternoon shifted towards a truer, deeper joy. I felt increasingly thankful: for the blue skies and herons and beavers and sycamore trees… but especially for the people in my life. Eventually, my thoughts drifted to the other H2O leaders with whom I worked most closely, and then onto other people in other circles of acquaintance as well. I thought about my friend Dan and felt compelled to text him some words of encouragement. I prayed through some particular points of pain and difficulty others had shared with me earlier in the week and brought God into the conversation on these points. I felt God’s nearness — in that moment, but also in all the disparate moments that funneled into that time of prayer…

And then I looked up and noticed my surroundings.

On my right, the Cuyahoga River rolled north towards Lake Erie: bubbly, brown, swollen with melted snow and ice, wild and free and beautiful. On the left, a stone retaining wall rose up from beside the path and, beyond it, a large brown pipeline, perhaps 8’ to 12’ (2.5 to 4 meters) in diameter: the main sewer line from Akron to its Waste / Water Treatment facilities.

I was literally walking between a crap-ton of human excrement and a beautiful fountain of God’s Creation! It seemed like an apt metaphor for life and ministry. The way of love and faith must, necessarily, touch on both the mess of mankind and the glory of God. And as much as I often long for pristine wilderness, but in-between places — like that of the southernmost portion of the Towpath Trail in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park — are beautiful places to be. It was just what I needed to hear; there’s meaning in the mess and the majesty.

When our group reconvened in Botzum, it was encouraging to hear that God met the others in similar — but distinct — ways that afternoon. There really is something amazing that happens when we seek God, and I’m already looking forward to the next opportunity for this kind of experience.

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Remembering Frank Drown

Frank Drown died early this morning at a nursing home in the Kansas City area. He was my great-uncle. At 95 years old, his death took none of us by surprise. Still, I’m sad today. He was the last of his generation, and he was a good man.

You might not have heard of Frank Drown, but if you did it was probably because of his role as a missionary in the jungles of Ecuador.

He and his wife, Marie, moved to Ecuador in 1945 with the mission agency formerly called the Gospel Missionary Union (since renamed Avant) to engage unreached people groups in the Amazon jungle. They wrote a book about their experiences working there, among the Shuar and Atshuar peoples: Mission to the Headhunters.

One of his colleagues in the early years of his ministry there, Roger Youderian, eventually joined with four other young American missionaries to establish contact with another people group called the Auca, or Waorani. However, the lives of these five young men were tragically cut short, early in 1956. Even though the Americans had the means to defend themselves with fire-arms, they succumbed to their new “friends” who attacked their camp by surprise and killed all five with spears.

The incident made international news at the time, and my Uncle Frank featured heavily in the story because he led the search party to recover the bodies and establish the facts of the case — which ultimately resulted in others returning to the area and successfully re-establishing contact years later. The book on this incident, Through Gates of Splendor (by Elizabeth Elliot), has been widely circulated, and the story has served as an inspiration to many — including our own family, who named our first-born son after one of the heroes from this story.

I think it’s pretty neat that my great-uncle played such a key role in that period of history and global missions. But my admiration for him is not limited to the high-profile, globe-trotting, mid-20th Century kind of stuff.

After serving in Ecuador for 37 years (until 1982), Frank and Marie moved back to North America, where even in “retirement” they continued to stimulate interest and engagement in missions to unreached people groups. In particular, they worked to establish a radio outreach to the remote tribes of Native Americans in Canada. In 2002, Marci and I were greatly encouraged by a personal visit with Frank and Marie, just before our own move overseas (to Amsterdam). In the two decades since that visit, we’ve been in regular correspondence, through all the ups and downs of ministry. And when I last saw him face-to-face, at my Grandma’s funeral in 2011, he was a dignified and delightful patriarch, helping the family through a time of grieving and loss.

I respect the fact that Frank and Marie enjoyed 73 years of marriage. I admire the way that Frank and Marie demonstrated what a ministry lifetime could look like — through moving overseas, to moving back stateside, to retiring — running strong all the way to the finish. Now that he’s gone, I think it’s just important to say that my great-uncle Frank will be missed. He will not be forgotten.

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Picking Off the Scabs of Winter

We’re thankful for a bit of a thaw this weekend in northeast Ohio. We know better than to get too excited about such a temporary reprieve, but it is awfully nice to get some sun and snowmelt.

A week ago, we had an ice storm, followed by a snow storm, followed by a smattering of another inch of snow every twelve hours for the next few days. The result was a solid layer of snow and ice on every driveway and sidewalk in town. The picture above shows the treacherous inclined section of our driveway on Tuesday morning. Barely passable. And despite my best efforts to treat these paved surfaces with salt, sand, and the shovel — the snow-pack remained all week.

Until today.

The thaw provided an opportunity for all the neighborhood kids to get out and play, rolling multiple snow-persons and snow-pets from the soft, sun-kissed snow. And it provided an opportunity for me to shovel.

Sweet, sweet shoveling.

I genuinely loved the chance to hack away at the ice (see the video at the top of this post for a glimpse at that which was bringing me such intense satisfaction this afternoon). Some might ask, “Why not just wait a couple more days for the sun to do all your work for you?” But I say you could just as easily ask a pre-school child why he’s inclined to pick off a scab, when everybody knows that it’s probably healthier to just let the skin care for itself and slough off the scab when it’s ready.

There’s no rational explanation. It just feels so, so good.

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Winter Morning

I cannot decide if these winter mornings are terribly beautiful or beautifully terrible.

The air feels cleaner and more refreshing, but I’m not able to breathe it in as deeply.

The light is low, still it’s not dark. Illumination seeps both from above, reflected off the low gray clouds — and below, from the snowy surfaces.

The footing for my running shoes is not as sure, in all the ice and slush, but I have the city to myself.

It’s kind of awful. Kind of awesome. Ultimately, I’m glad to be doing it.

Here’s one strategy I’ve devised to cope with the cold: I prefer to start my runs with a tailwind and finish into a headwind. I stay warmer in the early going, when my blood is just starting to pump through my body — and I get the coolest conditions when my body is at its warmest.

One of my serendipitous coincidences about finishing with my face into the west wind is the way that the condensation from my lungs crystallizes onto my beard. It has to be 10° Fahrenheit or colder for this phenomenon to happen, but that’s part of what makes it so special.

It hurts to be so exposed to such cold temperatures. But somehow it makes me feel more alive.

As I run these winter mornings, I’m thinking and praying about new rhythms for the new year, just as my feet crunch their rhythm in the snow. It’s squeaky and awkward, but kind of neat in its own way.

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We Laugh in the Face of Winter

The air temperature was a brisk 10° Fahrenheit. A light snow fell from the sky. The weather forecast called for a high of about 20° Fahrenheit and another inch of snow. But we were undaunted.

We said, “We laugh in the face of winter!”

We made preparations to take our morning tea in the park, stroll along the beach at midday, and enjoy the finest of ice creams in the afternoon. When we pulled out of our driveway, we jammed to carefully-curated blend of Delta Rae, BØRNS, and the Zac Brown Band on our drive through the suburbs, past the highways, and out into the woods.

First stop: the Brecksville Reservation of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. After parking our car, we hiked about a mile through the snow to Deer Lick Cave. After climbing a frozen waterfall, we stopped within the shelter of the cavern to sip tea from our thermos. The kids plucked icicles as big as swords, as if extracting teeth from the mouth of the cave, and brandished them like skilled warriors. It was as enjoyable a morning in the park as any I could previously remember — but we couldn’t stay long. We still needed to make it to the beach and the ice cream parlor.

After a quick lunch in Independence, we drove through downtown Cleveland to Edgewater Beach. Surprisingly, the parking lot was not empty. Several others were there, leaning into the wind to walk dogs, take laps around the drifted trails, and gaze out across the frozen surface of Lake Erie from the pier. Still, it wasn’t crowded. The marbled gray sky met the marbled gray ice with an unconventional, austere beauty. We walked across the shallow ice. The kids made a structure that was half-sandcastle / half-snowman. But believe it or not, when we stepped back in the car we didn’t track in a single grain of sand with us.

After the beach, we made our way to Ohio City, where we capped off our adventures with some ice cream from Mitchell’s. It was a sweet finish to a fun day of laughing in the face of winter.

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2017 Top Ten

I haven’t been great at writing about events as they happened this year. Nevertheless, there have been some great moments in 2017. I’ve spent some time over the last couple of days thinking through the most significant happenings of the past twelve months, and I thought it would be fun and fruitful to distill the essence of them here.

Early in the new year, in February, I celebrated my 40th Birthday — and I did it in style (if I do say so, myself) with a Disco party fit for 1977. My beautiful wife worked hard to make that Saturday night a really fun, memorable occasion, so I thought out of all the fun pictures from that night, it was most appropriate to post this one of the two of us.

I’ve really been encouraged to watch God develop a team of people from Kent (Ohio, USA) to be sent out to Stockholm (Sweden) for the sake of making disciples and planting churches. I started praying in just such a direction way back before I ever moved to Kent (at least since 2011). I witnessed some of the first seeds of this particular initiative get planted in 2015. And now the lead couple — Aidan and Chelsea Rinehart — are on the ground in Stockholm, preparing the way for the rest of the team to hopefully join them in the year (or years) to come.

In early June, I got to take an epic road trip from Ohio, through Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Wyoming, to Colorado. The solitary drive time provided invaluable space for introspection, but I also got to meet up with some dear old friends along the way. The scenery along the way was spectacular — especially the wheat fields of Iowa, the rolling plains of Custer State Park in South Dakota, and the delightfully-desolate highways of Wyoming — and it all ended in four days with my co-pastors in the Rocky Mountain National Park, working through all our plans and prayers for the 2017-18 school year.

The summer was special, in general, because of all the extra time with family. Marci and I celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary with a trip to Ohio’s Hocking Hills in May. We took a family vacation by the shores of Lake Erie in late June. And we celebrated my Dad’s Retirement with an extended family gathering in late-July, featuring a party, a day at the beach, a baseball game, and lots of Handel’s ice cream.

Towards the end of the summer, I got to travel to Iceland with two of my oldest, dearest friends: Chad Frank and Jason Slack. The days were incredibly-long, and we packed them incredibly-full — but wow! What an experience! Iceland is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen with my own eyes. And to experience everything with Chad and Jason was especially meaningful.


All of my kids grew a lot over the course of 2017. With Cor, I think particularly about his recovery from a broken collarbone and the removal of his braces, at the end of August. He’s such a fun kid. He has such a warm heart. He endured his challenges like a champ, but it was fun to see him bounce back into full form as these constraints came off at the end of the summer.

In the last third of 2017, I found refuge and refreshment in new corners of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I feel like God spoke to me in deep, meaningful ways through my Friday ritual of “coloring in” a new section of trail on my map, week after week. It’s still amazing to me that this beautiful window into God’s Creation is so accessible here in Northeast Ohio. I sincerely liked all of the different places and seasons I experienced, but the “back door entrance” to the Great Falls of Tinker’s Creek might have been my personal favorite this year.

The Fall Semester at Kent State University was a doozy this year. Absolutely breath-taking: both in terms of the beauty experienced in ministry and in terms of the way I felt out of breath at times, in all the action and adventure. The H2O Fall Retreat was a particularly amazing experience. We had record numbers of students attend the weekend conference and demonstrate signs of genuine life transformation.

Elliot got his learner’s permit at the end of September — and seeing him behind the wheel of our family mini-van just seemed to be emblematic of all kinds of personal growth throughout 2017. He’s taken well to driving, and I have a lot of confidence that he will succeed in becoming a licensed driver in 2018. But in addition, he joined a missions trip to the Dominican Republic in the summer. He took a girl to Homecoming in October. And it just seems to me that he’s generally looking at the world with more adult eyes: offering help around the house, taking responsibility in his various spheres of influence, and trusting God for new areas of development.

We celebrated Olivia‘s entrance into adulthood with her 13th birthday in September, and we’re really proud of the young lady she’s turning out to be. She started singing in the school choir this year — a break from the path her brother had blazed for her in the band program — and she has already been featured with several solos and special parts, starting with her first concert at the beginning of October. Her future is bright — in music, in academics, in art, in social development, and in her heart for God.

It’s hard to narrow things down to the Top Ten images / events / developments that happened in 2017… But I consider that a blessing and a privilege. Life has a funny way of speeding up and slowing down. This year was definitely a fast one, but a good one. I’m already looking forward to seeing what God will do in 2018…

Posted in Family, God, H2O Kent, Introspection, Ministry, Nostalgia, Traditions, Transition | Comments Off on 2017 Top Ten

Holiday Dress Code

It’s been said that, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” And as much as I’m inclined to grumble about rain, slush, and cold (or high heat and humidity for that matter), I generally ascribe to this way of thinking.

I think about this quote when I decide whether to ride my bicycle (easily my preferred mode of transportation) or take the car. I think about this sentiment when I decide to visit the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (a favorite spot to get extended time with God) or sit in some cafe, instead, to practice spiritual disciplines.

Recently, though, I’ve been starting to think about “suitable clothing” for spiritual, emotional, and relational development. Especially these days, during the Christmas season.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I tend to live with one set of attitudes and behaviors that tends to be exhibited when the “weather” is fair (well-rested, happy, healthy, wealthy, and at peace with others), and another set of attitudes and behaviors that tends to be exhibited when the “weather” is foul (tired, stressed, sick, cash-strapped, in conflict with others). The trick with this way of thinking is that it assumes my ability to exude a pleasant demeanor is dependent upon my circumstances. It assumes that there’s such a thing as “bad weather.” But could it be that it’s actually an issue of “unsuitable clothing?”

The New Testament book of Colossians talks about this idea of considering — and intentionally changing — one’s spiritual, emotional, and relational clothing, in light of our faith in Christ. In the third chapter, verses 9-10 say it most clearly: “You have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

But what does this mean, practically? How should this dictate my thoughts, words, body language, and tone of voice in real-world situations? When I’m stuck in a long line at the store? When that one relative at the family holiday celebration does that one bothersome thing which has triggered me since my childhood? When I’m backed up in traffic? When other stressed-out people come at me with angry words or gestures? The preceding verses talk about unsuitable clothing: immoral behavior, self-centered actions and attitudes, varying levels of anger, and negative speech patterns… Honestly (embarrassingly), these verses read like a police report of all the negative actions and attitudes which characterize my typical response in these real-world situations.

Fortunately, there’s an alternative. More-suitable clothing. Almost like the spiritual, emotional, and relational version of a festive, warm Christmas sweater.

Colossians 3:12-15 says, “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”

Just think about this in light of the holiday season (perhaps a stress-reliever for some, but more likely current stressor for many): How amazing would it be if our actions and attitudes could be marked by this wardrobe change?!?

If someone says something mean to me, I can respond with kindness. If I end up doing more than my fair share of the household chores to keep all the “Christmas machinery” running, I can practice patience. If I’m challenged to an argument or face any kind of aggression (active or passive), God’s Spirit can give me everything I need to react with gentleness and forgiveness. Love and gratitude go so far at this time of the year! I need to be regularly seeking God in order to maintain a freshly-laundered set of suitable clothing for these situations — but that option is available to me! I just need to stop myself when I feel my emotions rising, yield my heart to God and ask for His Spirit to fill me, and then “rock the runway” with the new clothes God’s given me.

That’s what I’m asking for Christmas, anyway — and something tells me I’m going to get it, as long as I keep asking.

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