My kids and I have developed a tradition of “Laughing in the Face of Winter.” For five years in a row now, we’ve looked for the meanest, harshest, coldest, snowiest day that Northeast Ohio can conjure up… and then we try to pretend that it’s a lovely summer day. To spite the snow and ice. To Laugh in the Face of Winter.
In 2018, we hiked to Deer Lick Cave in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, strolled the beaches of Lake Erie, and got ice cream cones from Mitchell’s in Ohio City. For the 2019 edition, we hiked to Blue Hen Falls in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and got blizzards from Dairy Queen. In 2020, we had a picnic on the top of Gildersleeve Mountain, ate ice cream from Handel’s, and played frisbee in the park. And then last year, in 2021, we hiked to a waterfall, lounged on the shores of Lake Erie, played basketball and baseball in the park, and then went to get ice cream at Mitchell’s.
So it seemed like a pretty favorable coincidence this year when the kids got an extra-long weekend and we got a significant winter storm at the same time. But honestly, this time around, I’m not sure if we got the best of winter — or if winter got the best of us.
I don’t remember another time when we ever got as much snow in in Northeast Ohio as we did last night and this morning. I’d estimate about eighteen inches in Kent. And the snow kept falling all the way until mid-day. Our street didn’t get its first visit from a snow plow until 11:30 AM. And even after the snow stopped… even after the plow came through to liberate our street… we still had to dig out our vehicles in order to go anywhere.
It’s hard to move that much snow! It’s hard to even find places to put all of that snow! After more than two hours of shoveling, we only had one of our family’s vehicles freed from the snow. I was exhausted before we even left the house. But we were determined to persevere.
We decided to make ice cream our first stop and reload all those calories that were burned as we shoveled. But when we made it to Handel’s (our favorite ice cream place), it was closed! “Maybe Dairy Queen instead?” we thought. But nope: It was closed, too. “Surely, McDonald’s will be open!” we said. But it, too, was shuttered by the snow storm. We finally ended up getting milkshakes at Swenson’s Drive-In.
After we received our order, we started driving again. And as we drove, we wore sunglasses and listened to summer songs on the car stereo. I think that may have been the best part of the afternoon.
We eventually ended up at Towner’s Woods, where we spent a little bit of time sun-bathing on beach towels in a meadow. It was hard trudging through the snow, though — especially with Cor in a walking boot. So again, we were quite tired by the time we finished our “relaxed sunbathing session.”
When we got back to our house, we were thinking that we might build a fire out on the deck and make some s’mores… But we just didn’t have it in us. We were wiped out. So Marci made some white chocolate macadamia nut blondies instead, and we relaxed by an indoor fire instead.
I think winter may have laughed at us, just as much as we laughed at winter this year. But still, it was a memorable experience — and I’m grateful that I got to do it all with my kids.
On Wednesday morning, Cor started complaining about some pain in his forefoot. We didn’t think too much of it and sent him off to school like normal. When he came back from school, however, the foot pain was still problematic. We told him to take it easy for the rest of the day and get another solid night of sleep.
But on Thursday morning, the pain was increased, not decreased. So Marci set up an appointment with our primary care physician later in the day on Thursday, and Cor missed a little bit of school for the appointment.
The doctor was concerned enough that she ordered X-rays. And when the X-rays came back, they showed a fracture of the sesamoid bone beneath the first metatarsal (foot bone leading up to his big toe).
It’s such a small bone, about the size of a pea. But at Cor’s stage of development and level of activity, it’s serious enough that it needs to be treated. Today, we followed up with a visit to the orthopedic specialist at Akron Children’s Hospital, and the specialist said that Cor would need to be in a walking boot for the next four weeks.
It’s funny that we don’t even know how the injury happened! Our leading theory is that it happened when he landed a bit awkwardly after jumping down a flight of stairs (like he’s done a million times before). In any event, we were grateful that the injury wasn’t more serious. He doesn’t need surgery. He doesn’t need to get a full cast. And after four weeks, he should be ready to resume full activity — just in time for the start of his first high school track season.
We walked up to the designated meeting point at 8:00 AM. Cold gray skies and cold gray sidewalks stretched out in every direction. But we were there to bring color to the campus of Ohio University.
One of the staff workers for H2O Athens had created an informational template, an example, of what our team would replicate. But he encouraged us to use artistic license.
So we broke down into teams of three and spread out in four different directions.
The further we went, the more creative we got.
As different teams ran across the work of other teams and we sent pictures to each other of our progress, the designs became more fun and more arresting.
Some designs were small, and others were big.
Our hands grew colder as we worked on the sidewalk art, but our hearts grew warmer.
Some of my favorite designs don’t photograph as well because they’re serialized, like the old billboards from Burmashave. But this one particular series — on one of the longest staircases on campus — seems worth sharing.
I’m honestly not sure how effective a ministry chalking actually is. But it’s certainly worth a try. And we had fun in the process.
What a beautiful day in Athens, Ohio! Sunshine… temperatures nearly thirty degrees warmer than yesterday in Kent… a campus full of students, back from their Winter Break for their first week of classes… and an opportunity to help support the newest church in the H2O Network. What more could a man ask for? I’m only in town for about twenty-four hours; still, I’m so glad I get to play at least a small part in this week’s “Church Planting Field Trip.”
Our church leadership team in Kent figured this trip would be an instructional experience because we’re getting ready to send a team from H2O Church at Kent State University to start, or “plant,” a new church at Youngstown State University within the next year. And how better to learn the ropes than to watch those who are a year ahead of us in the process?!? So we brought a team of eleven people from Kent: a mixture of staff who are hoping to move to Youngstown, staff who are planning to stay in Kent, and students who are just eager to help make connections with other students. And we arrived today just in time to get some lunch in one of Ohio University’s large dining halls, and then follow up with a tour of the campus with some of the staff from H2O Athens.
After we got our bearings (and then got some coffee), we split into two teams for a quick scavenger hunt. It may sound kind of frivolous, but the scavenger hunt really helped to further familiarize ourselves with the campus and make some connections with OU students. Following that, we broke into six different groups to do spiritual interest surveys throughout campus. And even though it took us a little while to find our groove, we eventually ended up having a bunch of really interesting conversations.
I was particularly struck by a conversation that I had with a woman named Eesha towards the end of the afternoon. When I asked if she had time to stop and answer a few questions, she responded with great warmth and kindness. But very early in the survey, she told me that she strongly identified as an atheist. As we went on, I learned that she went to thirteen years of Catholic school, but she said that she believed Jesus was just an ordinary man with good intentions whose words were amplified and blown out of proportion by his followers. We clearly had different spiritual views. Still, the more we talked, the more I liked Eesha. And it seemed like the feelings may have been reciprocal.
After we finished the last question, she said she thought it was really cool that we were conducting such surveys. She appreciated the opportunity to share her perspective. She said it felt good to have someone listen to her. And when I asked if she might like to seek out our church-planting friends at H2O Athens and continue such conversations, she responded enthusiastically. I don’t know what might eventually come of our conversation, but it felt like something meaningful happened.
The whole experience has made me more excited for collegiate ministry. I’m excited to keep praying for the work at H2O Athens. I’m eager to see what will happen next with our team headed to Youngstown State University. And I’m excited to get back to Kent and start our own new semester next week.
Did you know that roughly three-quarters of patients with Parkinson’s Disease eventually develop some form of dementia? I actually did not know that until recently. My Dad has been living with his Parkinson’s diagnosis for almost seven years. And I’ve been kind of surprised by the course of the disease at each step. He’s never really had the tremors that I associated with famous Parkinson’s patients like Michael J. Fox and Muhammad Ali. He’s mostly dealt with fatigue, stiffening muscles, and a flat facial expression. A couple of years ago, he started having more difficulty finding his words. But over the last six months, he’s just been getting more confused. He still has good days and bad days, but over the last two months it’s become clear that it’s not just confusion. It’s dementia. And walking with him (and my Mom) through my Dad’s dementia has been harder than expected.
For most of his life, Dad’s been a thinker. He’s always interacted with the world around him in highly rational ways. And I’ve appreciated the way his rationality created feelings of safety and security in my childhood home.
Now, however, my Dad’s dementia has got him seeing things that aren’t there. His brain is having a hard time reconciling the fact that “Dave’s wife,” “Eric’s Mom,” and “Jan” are all the same person — so he imagines them as three distinct individuals, and he wonders if he’s falling into some polygamous scheme. He worries that people are trying to take his money or keep him from connecting with “his Jan.” At times, he’s suggested that the H2O Church staff is running interference for me, preventing him from communicating with me. And no matter how much we try to use ration and reason to work the problem, we can’t make any headway because my Dad believes his brain. Even when his brain is failing him. It’s been pretty unsettling for us all.
But I recently remembered an interaction from last summer that brings me reassurance.
Back in June, I noticed that my Dad was getting more confused about the difference between trash and recycling. So I helped sort through a bunch of stuff that had built up in the garage. I collapsed a bunch of boxes. I put everything in its place. Then I got a couple sheets of printer paper and wrote out lists of the most common items in brief, bullet-point fashion. I taped these lists to the tops of the containers. All in the hopes that my Dad could come out into the garage with a box and just put it into the container that included the word “boxes” on the top. Bubble wrap could go into the (trash) container that included the word “bubble wrap” on top. And so on.
I asked my Dad if the system made sense. He seemed unable to speak, but he nodded. And then he sang a couple of bars from an old hymn:
When we all get to heaven, What a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus, We’ll sing and shout the victory!”
I feel like crying every time I think about it now.
Dad has been painfully aware of his condition, even on days like the garage cleaning day, when I’d otherwise assume that his mind is in a more muddled place. He must be so frustrated (though I’m actually kind of hopeful that this frustration will fade as he gets deeper into his dementia). Above all else, though, I know that my Dad has given his heart to Jesus. Even if his mind is deteriorating, I believe that his soul is secure. He’s spent a lifetime living by hope and faith. And we’re all going to keep trying to do the same, together.
I spent a good bit of time thinking about entropy at the end of 2021. I blogged about it a few days before Christmas. And coincidentally, my brother Jay sent me a playlist for Christmas that included a song titled “A Glearing Sea” by Mario García Torres. The chorus of this song repeats the lyrics, “Come, come, O Entropy…” And again, coincidentally, it seems like I listened to Jay’s song right around the time that Jay read my post. And we both freaked out a little bit to talk about entropy. In the course of that conversation, I learned about a rather renowned monument to Entropy which is, coincidentally, right here in Kent, Ohio. Robert Smithson’s “Partially Buried Woodshed.”
The coincidences are so crazy that it actually makes me wonder about the most basic truths of the principle of entropy (everything moving from order to disorder). But then again, maybe that’s just the human thing to do in the face of entropy!
Anyway, the Partially Buried Woodshed has been the biggest surprise — and perhaps the most interesting story to share. Because it’s been practically in my backyard for years. And I’ve actually noticed it because the fitness app Strava draws its mapping information from some source that includes the landmark. In fact, coincidentally, a friend planned a route for this past Saturday that took us right past the site. I’ve run past this Partially Buried Woodshed and biked past it dozens, if not hundreds, of times — but I never really looked into it. Until the past week.
It’s right there, on the Southern edge of campus. About half-way between the Student Recreation and Wellness Center and the old blue track. Today, the site just looks like a small, wooded hill (see the picture at the top of this post). But, as a matter of fact, there’s a whole story behind that site. And it’s even significant that the story and the work of art currently rest in the obscure state in which they are. Because it’s all a continuing story about entropy.
The Story of Robert Smithson and the Partially Buried Woodshed
As I’ve come to understand the story, Robert Smithson came to Kent in January of 1970. He had developed a name for himself as a pioneer in the field of “land art” throughout the 1960s and 1970s. So the School of Art at Kent State University wanted him to be a part of their Creative Arts Festival. The original plan was to do some sort of mudflow sculpture, but the ground was too frozen. So Smithson improvised with modifying a structure and piece of land that the University had just recently acquired from an area farmer. Specifically, he used dirt (and presumably snow and ice as well) to partially bury a woodshed until the building’s structural integrity was compromised and then leave it to decompose and disintegrate.
Five years later, someone set fire to the structure. Details are sketchy, but I get the idea that it happened in the middle of the night. The fire consumed the graffiti inscription and significantly hastened the woodshed’s collapse. In 1984, the University decided to remove the remaining elements of the structure. Probably because of liability concerns. It seems like the University didn’t want to make a big deal out of its decision. Details are sketchy, again, but I get the idea that it happened in the middle of the night.
The site seems to have been mostly forgotten after that. If it wasn’t for the Strava maps, I don’t know if I would have ever heard of the Partially Buried Woodshed before the last week. Most other people in town and on campus seem to be similarly oblivious.
The only visible remnants of the Partially Buried Woodshed are some of the concrete foundations and the dirt that was piled up in that area (now overgrown with grass and trees). In 2016, the University installed a plaque to mark the site. But who actually stops and reads plaques, anyway?
What would Robert Smithson say?
I actually think that Robert Smithson would be thrilled by the way that his Partially Buried Woodshed has aged. Sure, his request for the University to let it be was disregarded: the graffiti… the arson… the construction equipment removing the remnants… Maybe Smithson would be furious. Maybe Kent State University should be ashamed of itself.
But I think Smithson would appreciate the fact that his Partially Buried Woodshed is a perfect demonstration of entropy. Including the inevitable drift into obscurity.
As I’ve reflected on this story, my own visit to the site, and my personal life experiences, I’ve started to see entropy everywhere. I suppose it’s an extension of my November musings on mortality. But I’m not the only one marching mercilessly towards death and disintegration. The same is true for all things. I know it’s dark, but there’s something powerful about acknowledging entropy in all its various forms. Biological entropy… Societal entropy… Moral entropy… Cosmic entropy…
Entropy is happening whether we acknowledge it or not, so we might as well acknowledge it.
But after acknowledging entropy, it can be even more powerful (and empowering) to deliberately decide to reorient oneself and one’s world to the hope of renewal in Jesus. I mean, think about it. An accurate assessment of entropy accentuates the wonder of the words spoken by King Jesus in his forthcoming triumphant return:
“Look! I’m making everything new!”
It seems impossible. It seems like too much to hope for, after all we’ve experienced through all our weary years. But I believe that the hope is real. The Bible describes the way that God’s perfect design has been interrupted by entropy, but it also describes the way He’s initiated a rescue mission. I’ve experienced it in my own life. I’ve watched others experience renewal in inexplicable, awe-inspiring ways. And I find myself praying, at the beginning of this New Year, that I’ll be able to keep walking by faith until His Kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
“What did you get for Christmas?” This question usually makes me uncomfortable. Like I’m an accomplice to the Great American Capitalist System. Like we’re all just measuring days, weeks, months, years — and even holidays — by the amount of units sold, inventory moved, profits made. That’s not how I want to live my life. Especially when it comes to Christmas! Still, I do recognize that the exchange of gifts is a traditional part of American Christmas celebrations… And I admit that I regularly take part in this tradition. And this particular year, I’m so excited about some of the gifts that I gaveand received this year that I want to write about it. So, go ahead. Ask me what I got for Christmas. And let me tell you about some old maps that were gifted to me by my mother-in-law.
National Geographic “Close-Up USA” Maps (1978)
The first set of old maps that I opened on “Christmas Morning” (December 27th, this year) were not a huge surprise (though still an absolute delight). I’d seen this vintage set of National Geographic “Close-Up USA” maps from 1978 in Marci’s family’s farmhouse earlier in the year. They’d been sitting, unused, on the shelves in their kitchen for decades. But I geeked out pretty hard when I saw them. I got so enthusiastic, in fact, that it triggered some sort of defensive mechanism in my father-in-law. His Alzheimer’s Disease can cause him to act strangely. So I wasn’t surprised or hurt when he grabbed the map set, cradled them to his chest like a little girl holding her baby doll, and walked to a different part of the house to get those maps away from me.
We had a good laugh about it at the time. But when my mother-in-law asked if I had any Christmas gift suggestions, I mentioned a few different possibilities for things she could buy… and I also suggested that those old maps could be a welcome gift. If Ross had forgotten about them.
So I had a pretty good idea of what was happening when Marci handed me the gift-wrapped package with a tag that said “From Louise, to Eric — Make sure to open when Ross is not around!” Still, it was so fun to open that present and start looking at those maps. I’m kind of crazy about cartography, and I feel like National Geographic makes some of the best maps around. The way they use colors, lines, and text just makes sense to me. The level of detail on these maps is fantastic. They use some kind of coating to make their fold-out maps waterproof and tear-resistant.
And I love the way that old maps like these capture a moment in time.
Even though the geographic terrain hasn’t changed much, our definition of it has. For instance, the Cuyahoga Valley National Park doesn’t make an appearance on these maps. But that’s because it wasn’t recognized as a National Recreation Area until 1974, and it didn’t become a National Park until 2000. The cities of central Ohio look small on these maps, compared to northeast Ohio. But that’s because much of the population shifts have only happened in the last 40 years. So I love these maps both as a contemporary reference and as a historical reference.
Geographical Publishing Company Maps (1911)
The second set of old maps were a complete surprise. I got these on “Christmas Afternoon” (December 31st, this year) at the Farmhouse. From the size and shape of the package, I thought they might be a rolled-up poster. But when I removed the wrapping paper, I found an antique set of maps intended for hanging on the wall. They were published by the Geographical Publishing Company of Chicago — get this — in 1911! My mother-in-law told me that they’d been sitting in the attic of the farmhouse for quite awhile. Maybe even 100 years. But when she saw them again recently and remembered how much I’d admired the other old maps, she decided to give them to me. I was flabbergasted. And honored, delighted, curious, anxious… all of that. It was such a unique gift!
The maps have a yellowed-but-shiny patina to them that makes them difficult to photograph. And they’ve been rolled up for so long that I need to put books on the corners when I want to look at them. But I hope to eventually frame them and hang them on the walls of our home. They are so beautiful, so different, and so interesting that they just beg to be seen and discussed.
Roughly 35″ x 27″, it seems like these maps were distributed by the First National Bank of Shelby, Ohio (proudly announcing themselves as the “Oldest Bank in the County”). I don’t know if they were given or sold to its customers (presumably including some of Marci’s ancestors) because the maps claim to provide “all and more than is usually contained on a $15.00 globe” (which would be about $439 in today’s economy). But regardless the back story, I think they’re amazing!
The first page of the set features a map of Ohio (without interstate highways and with alternate spellings to some of the locations). The map of Ohio is ringed by the seals of all the U.S. states and territories (including the territories of Alaska and “Porto Rico”). The back of the first page features a “1910 Census Gazetteer of Ohio” listing the area and population of every city in the state, ringed by portraits of every governor from Ohio up to that point. It also includes a “Wages Table, at Different Rates per Month, for 26 Working Days” (with the upper end of the income bracket pulling in $60 per month) and a listing of “Population of the Earth by Races.”
The second page of the set features a map of the United States and its territories. Portraits of every president up to that point surround the map of the 48 states. And the maps of the U.S. territories and “possessions” includes some curiosities including the colonial history of North America, “The Relative Sizes of the United States and the European Powers,” and the unique signals of the relationship between the USA and the Philippines at the time. The back of the second page features various tables related to “Official Figures of the Last Three Census Periods Showing Growth of Nation and States.” I thought it was particularly interesting to note that Cleveland was the sixth-largest city in the United States at that point in history.
The third page of the set might be the most interesting, though. It includes an unusual “Van Der Grinten’s Spherical Projection” of the earth’s surface. The map includes an astonishing amount of information. And I thought the map’s description of itself was highly entertaining:
This world map is the result of a new idea and the first original projection of the world produced during the last one hundred years. It is well to understand thoroughly that its discoverer is a mathematical geographer of the first class. It is not a novelty, nor a freak map, but possesses advantages over every other style of world map issued. Generally speaking, no one will be satisfied with the other styles if they understand the advantages possessed by this improved projection. One feature alone places it far above all other world maps, viz. : the showing of the poles. As a matter of fact, the Mercator map is not a world map, simply a portion of the world, and the Mollweide map is so compressed that it is impossible to do any mapping in the polar regions.
The land and water bodies, their sizes and shapes, and relative distances between them, are shown more accurately and more distinctly on this than on any other World or Hemisphere maps. A comparison with a Mercator, a Molleweide or other projections will quickly prove this fact.
Whereas every map of the world on a flat sheet must naturally show distortion of shapes, they average much smaller in this than in other maps and the amount of mapping surface is more favorable. So much for the projection. A glance at the map itself will prove the care that has been taken to crowd this new engraving with valuable and instructive data. As a reference map in the home and office, it will be unsurpassed. No map of the world of its size has ever attempted one-half as much; in fact, it shows all and more than is usually contained on a $15.00 globe.
More than these curiosities, though, I’m fascinated by the geo-political elements of this third map. Many of the flags around the outside of the map are different from today’s flags. The portraits of world leaders underneath the map show even greater differences. And the map itself shows radically different political boundaries in Africa, Europe, and Asia. The Turkish Empire was still intact at the time this map was published! Russia was ruled by a Tsar. And Central Europe shows a bunch of weird tensions between empires and monarchies. All of which points to the “Great War” coming just a few years after the publication of this map.
The back of the third page is all about the Panama Canal. Clearly, it was a much bigger deal for Americans then, compared to now. But I find that interesting, too. Everything was ships and locomotives in 1911. No airplanes. Very little automotive transport (definitely no interstate highway infrastructure). It was a different world, 121 years ago. But also, strangely, the same world. Where people in Shelby did their banking at First National… Where people were proud of their region… And where people tucked away old maps in their bookshelves and attics to be discovered and appreciated by successive generations.
After posting my Top Ten Songs of 2021, Top Ten Books of 2021, and Top Ten Hikes of 2021, and Top Ten Ministry Moments of 2021, it’s time to conclude my lists with looking back on the Top Ten Family Moments of 2021. Like the ministry moments I recalled yesterday, family life doesn’t fit neatly into a summary like this. Even so, there’s really something to be said for the way that a retrospective exercise like this helps to heighten my awareness and appreciation of life as it goes by. So I’m giving it a try, even if the results might be imperfect.
But enough preamble. Without further ado, here are my Top Ten Family Moments of 2021, in ranked order:
Fun in the Freeze (February)
A Restful Hour on “Beach 2” in Olympic National Park (June)
Santa Lucia Celebrations (December)
Meeting Up for Handel’s Ice Cream after My Parents were Fully-Vaccinated against COVID-19 (April)
Elliot Going Away to College (August)
Going for a Run with All Three of My Siblings in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (July)
Olivia’s Busy Holiday Season with the RHS Choirs (December)
Reconnecting with My Roots in the Upper Midwest (June)
Cor’s Breakout Performance in the JV Soccer Game versus Wadsworth (August)
Serendipitous Apple Chucking Reunion at Beckwith Orchards (October)
And again, for any who might appreciate more context, my explanations for each selection are included with the listing (reverse rank-order), below:
#10 – Serendipitous Apple Chucking Reunion at Beckwith Orchards (October)
Honestly, this was not a great year for apple chucking. Maybe something to do with the way that the apples ripened on the trees? I don’t know. I went out three or four times in October, and there just weren’t many apples on the ground. The ones that were on the ground were not easy to spear or chuck. And on the rare occasion when we got a successful chuck, the apples didn’t really explode all that much. Still, it felt super-special when Olivia, Cor, and I visited Beckwith Orchards in the last week of October — and it just so happened that Elliot was visiting with friends at the same time! We got to chuck a few apples together for old time’s sake. And even if the chucking wasn’t first-rate, the memory of that day in the orchards was.
#9 – Cor’s Breakout Performance in the JV Soccer Game versus Wadsworth (August)
In the same week as his 14th birthday, Cor and his High School (Junior Varsity) Soccer Team traveled to Wadsworth for a Saturday afternoon game. His Roosevelt Roughriders defeated Wadsworth 3-1. And Cor had an especially key role in the victory. He scored two goals, including a dramatic 80th minute Penalty Kick to pull ahead 2-1! And for the team’s third goal that day, he notched an assist to his close friend and teammate Carter. Cor had a really great soccer season. I’m really proud of the young man he is. (Note: the photo above is from later in the season, but it’s a far nicer picture than any of the ones I took in Wadsworth early in the season).
#8 – Reconnecting with My Roots in the Upper Midwest (June)
On our family’s big summer road trip to the Pacific Northwest, we made a deliberate decision to reconnect with family history in Minnesota and North Dakota. We stayed a night with my Aunt Jayne in the Twin Cities. We visited the graves of my grandparents in Long Prairie, Minnesota, and Jamestown, North Dakota. But we also ate in roadside diners and took pictures by the World’s Largest Buffalo. All sorts of things that feel connected to my family’s roots. It felt like a sort of pilgrimage, and I’m really glad we made it a priority to include these elements.
#7 – Olivia’s Busy Holiday Season with the RHS Choirs (December)
Now in her senior year of high school, Olivia plays a big role in the school’s choir system. She even got elected as president of the choir (which mostly seems to mean she does the announcement at the big concerts, but still)! Of all the ways that choir has become such a special part of her life, though, it felt like the biggest impact fell in the month of December. She and the other members of the ACEs Ensemble had so many gigs until a resurgence of COVID cut their singing season short. As a parent, I felt protective about the amount of time that the choir director asked of the students, but Olivia took it all in stride. I love her attitude, her voice, and her leadership. I love her.
#6 – Going for a Run with All Three of My Siblings in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (July)
We had something of a Post-COVID Family Reunion in July. My brothers came to Ohio from Texas and Minnesota, respectively, after everyone had been vaccinated. And it felt so freeing to gather together again, and share meals together again, and all that good stuff. Of all the things that happened in northeast Ohio that week, I think my favorite experience was going for a run together with my siblings: Jay, Anna, and Alex. We met in Peninsula (about half-way between my house and my sister’s house), and we just did a little out-and-back on the Towpath Trail. But it felt special to be just the four of us again, for a little bit. I’m very thankful for all the different levels of my family and the way we uniquely interact with each other, depending on the groupings.
#5 – Elliot Going Away to College (August)
Don’t get me wrong: I love having Elliot around. Still, it’s good for his life to continue growing in independence. And since his first year of college was so heavily overshadowed by COVID-19, it felt especially meaningful to help him move into an apartment near campus with some college friends. He’s doing really well in this more “pure college” environment: almost always socially-engaged, staying up until 3AM and sleeping until noon, playing intramural sports, and keeping up with his school work. But it’s fun to see that he’s also discovered a love of baking, keeping his apartment tidy (we never would have guessed that one, from the way he acts around us), and pursuing spiritual growth at Kent State University.
#4 – Meeting Up for Handel’s Ice Cream after My Parents were Fully-Vaccinated against COVID-19 (April)
The COVID-19 Pandemic created many distinct family moments. We had a round of sickness in March. Then we all got vaccinated in April, May, and June (punctuated by Cor getting his second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Seattle). And we ended the year with another round of sickness in December. But one of the more hopeful, happy pandemic moments for our family was the 15th day after my Dad and Mom got their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19. We celebrated by meeting up for ice cream at Handel’s in Stow — and it felt so good to hug and hang out again, after so long of being so careful. My parents have been one of the primary lenses through which I’ve experienced the pandemic, so it felt like a very significant celebration to get to that point.
#3 – Santa Lucia Celebrations (December)
Our family packs as much holiday cheer as possible into the month of December. We celebrate a sort of Dutch Christmas on December 5th, a sort of Norwegian Christmas on December 24th, and a classic American Christmas on December 25th. But it’s a sort of Swedish Christmas on December 13th that’s become especially significant to us. My mother-in-law helped to revive her family’s Swedish connections when Marci and her siblings were growing up. And the tradition has stuck with our family, as well. We prepare special treats and listen to special music. And we wake up early to open “stocking stuffer” presents together. It’s fun, and it feels like it’s “all ours.” Nobody else we know in Ohio celebrates Santa Lucia. And with all of the COVID disruptions we’ve experienced later in December, the weekend when Elliot came home and we celebrated Santa Lucia together feels extra-special.
#2 – A Restful Hour on “Beach 2” in Olympic National Park (June)
Back in the summer, I wrote about My Favorite Hour in the Pacific Northwest. And actually, I feel like my memory of that hour has only expanded over time. To take up a space in my heart as wide as the Pacific Ocean. Because it was simple. Spontaneous. And together as a family. This episode of our epic summer vacation may ultimately settle into family lore as “The Sea Otter Story” because at one point while napping on the beach, I woke up and looked out in the surf just in time to see a sea otter. So I signaled to the rest of the family and — miraculously — got them all to look in the same direction at the same time. We all got to see the sea otter! And it just felt like a lovely little exclamation point on a lovely little hour in the Pacific Northwest.
#1 – Fun in the Freeze (February)
We had a super-cold snap from the end of January through the middle of February. Consequently, all of the area lakes, ponds, and bogs froze much more deeply than they usually do. Fortunately, our family has a full set of ice skates. So we got to do a lot of ice skating! I have fond memories of a skating session with Olivia and Cor at West Branch State Park and a solo skate at Trail Lake Park. But the best memories might be two separate skating sessions at Kendall Lake in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, where we met others to skate together. The one time was with our friends, AJ and Jana, at the end of our annual “Laugh in the Face of Winter” adventures. The other was with my sister and her kids as heavy snow fell to cover the ice. It made for a memorable winter!
After posting my Top Ten Songs of 2021, Top Ten Books of 2021, and Top Ten Hikes of 2021, I thought that I would turn my attention to things that might be considered more substantial, if perhaps not as tangible. Specifically: ministry and family life. The very nature of ministry, in particular, makes it hard to summarize and hard to point out “finished products.” Especially in the second year of a global pandemic! It’s also challenging to represent ministry highlights with a single image (if indeed there are images at all) or a single paragraph, like the other categories I’ve considered. Still, I appreciate the way that a retrospective exercise like this helps to heighten my awareness and appreciation of everything God has been doing. So I’m giving it a try, even if the results might be imperfect…
So anyway — without further ado, here are my Top Ten Ministry Moments of 2021, in ranked order:
December Baptism Celebration on the Esplanade
Spiritual Conversations on the Descent from Mount LeConte
H2O ManMaker Weekend
Increased Diversity in the Centennial Life Group Region
Charting a Course to a New Church Plant at Youngstown State University
Walking with People through the Losses of COVID-19
The H2O Lunch Club
Local Spring Break Experience
Leading the H2O Internship Program Together with Jason
Welcome Week, August 2021
And again, for any who might appreciate more context, my explanations for each selection are included with the listing (reverse rank-order), below:
#10 – Welcome Week, August 2021
It felt so good to have the campus of Kent State University feel busy again! The 2020-21 school year was a faint echo of what the campus usually feels like — and its version of Welcome Week was especially weak. This year, though, the vibe was back to maybe eighty or ninety percent of a typical year. When we were outside, we didn’t even have to think too much about masks or other protocol. We just got to make human connections. Especially with first-year students. I’d estimate that we had at least some level of connection with maybe 2500 students. And by the end of the week, we had almost 600 interest surveys filled out.
#9 – Leading the H2O Internship Program Together with Jason
My co-pastors and I have been taking turns with leading the H2O Internship Program for the last eight years. It’s been a highly successful ministry initiative for us, and there’s been something beautiful and beneficial about the variety of leaders leaving their marks. It’s also been practical to have one pastor lead at a time, opening up bandwidth for the others to assume responsibility for other areas of ministry. At the same time, leadership of the Internship Program has become such a life-giving space where nobody wants to be left out. So in the Fall of 2021, Jason Slack and I decided to lead the H2O Internship Program together. And it’s been fantastic. We complement each other well, and we’ve gotten to develop another great class of interns. I hope we can keep this up for years to come.
#8 – Local Spring Break Experience
When Kent State University’s Spring Break rolled around in April, the pandemic situation was still precarious enough that we didn’t feel comfortable leading short-term missions trips to our usual, far-off destinations. Transportation and accommodations were particularly challenging. But one of our newest staff members had the idea to organize a “Local Spring Break Experience” where people could provide their own transportation and lodging — but we could still coordinate our schedules to learn and grow together. I helped Clay to develop and execute his idea. So that week, we talked about spiritual disciplines and global missions. We played games and volunteered together to clean up some public trails in Akron. And I’m proud to say that we found a way to redeem this week that has been such a special part of our ministry calendar.
#7 – The H2O Lunch Club
It used to be really normal for people to go get lunch together after the H2O worship gathering on campus. We’d finish at Bowman Hall sometime between 12:30 and 1:00 PM, and then we’d all walk down to the Hub in the Student Center. Sometimes as many as 30 or 40 people would be doing lunch together, and it felt like such a strong element of community for our church. But the University has been making a lot of changes to its dining services over the last few years. And lately, the Hub just hasn’t had to hours or the options to allow this H2O tradition to continue. So it just kind of died out… until this year! With the help of a few committed people from the Centennial Life Group, we’re reviving “Lunch Club” by rotating through a few of the fast food places on East Main Street, within walking distance of Bowman. It’s been really fun to build this culture again. I hope it can continue in 2022.
#6 – Walking with People through the Losses of COVID-19
It’s been a hard year for a lot of people. A few people in our church have had multiple family members recently die from COVID-19. A few others have been forced to grapple with their own mortality, through sickness. And almost every student has lost opportunities or experiences that they had hoped to include in their college years. So we’ve had to learn to lament and grieve over the last year. There’s been a lot of deep soul-searching and conversation and prayer through all of this. And even though it feels kind of weird to include this as a “Top Ministry Moment” for the year, I have to admit that it feels sacred, holy, to walk with people through this process of grieving. I can think of meals and walks and text threads that all provided unparalleled opportunities for growth and spiritual development through all of the challenges. I’m not thankful for COVID. But I am thankful for God’s faithfulness through COVID.
#5 – Charting a Course to a New Church Plant at Youngstown State University
We’ve been wondering about YSU since 2016. We’ve made many visits… talked to other ministry leaders… made connections on campus… talked as a church leadership team… and prayed to God for his guidance. Youngstown State University is such a unique campus, just 45 minutes away from Kent. It includes 11,000 students whose spiritual need is just as great as the students at Kent State University — but their opportunities for on-campus engagement are significantly less. So, after a long and careful process of trying to follow God’s leading, it was a thrill this summer when we finally decided that we’d attempt to start a new church on campus at YSU in the Fall of 2022. I’m very excited about the team that we’re sending out, and I’m curious to see what God will do in the coming months (and years)!
#4 – Increased Diversity in the Centennial Life Group Region
The Life Group that I coach is a quirky one. We don’t get the mobs of underclassmen clumped together that some of the other H2O Life Groups have. But there are some really unique and lovely things about our group. I’ve been especially appreciative this year of our Life Group’s diversity and connection to so many different communities on campus. We have a pretty significant contingent of graduate students (which has been rare for H2O in years past). There are connections to the Student-Athlete community… the Greek Life Community… the International Student Community… the Gay Community… the Disabled Community… and also the “church kids” that we typically excel at engaging. When I think about these people and the opportunities that lie ahead for us, I get more and more excited about the rest of this school year.
#3 – H2O ManMaker Weekend
This retreat in March felt like a “Coming out of COVID” party. Or at least a big gulp of fresh air in an otherwise suffocating season. We did almost everything outdoors (and the weather happened to cooperate beautifully), so it felt like we could relax a little bit. And the outdoor element added some extra fun to the established repertoire of teaching, worship, workshops, and free time. Particularly with building fires and hiking around the grounds of Camp Stony Glen. My favorite part of the weekend was a workshop I got to lead, provocatively titled “How to Start a Fire, Drink a Beer, and Please a Woman in Bed.” In some ways, I wish ManMaker could be like this every year!
#2 – Spiritual Conversations on the Descent from Mount LeConte
I love hiking. I love ministry. So you better believe that I love any opportunity I get to combine the two! On the way up the mountain, I got to talk with some of our newer Staff about church-planting and with some of the younger students about spiritual disciplines. On the way down, though, the conversation was especially rich as I talked with one young man through the process of realigning his life with the Good News of Jesus and proclaiming his faith through baptism. I also got to talk with another student about the possibility for going on staff. And it just felt like a very meaningful time of community, faith, and recreation.
#1 – December Baptism Celebration on the Esplanade
I wrote more extensively about this experience at the time that it happened, but my memory of the experience has grown even fonder over time. Seven stories of God’s grace… Back between Bowman Hall and the Esplanade (emblematic of our whole semester of getting to operate more freely on campus)… And some particularly special individuals taking this step of faith. It was a great way to close out the calendar year of ministry. God has been faithful through it all!
After posting my Top Ten Songs of 2021 and Top Ten Books of 2021, I’m following the pattern that I established in previous years, turning my attention to hikes that I’ve been privileged to enjoy in the past year. Hiking has remained one of my favorite ways to experience the world, and to experience intimacy with God.
The way that the COVID-19 Pandemic fluctuated throughout the year made it so we got to travel pretty extensively in United States. And America’s National Parks were kind of the perfect recreational destinations for this year, providing entertainment while still minimizing the risk of transmitting COVID-19. So this was a particularly good year for hiking!
In addition to some of the far-flung trails we got to hike, I also made it a goal to hike every public trail in Portage County over the course of 2021. And I actually met this goal earlier than expected, in August! Consequently, I also got to start in on my next quest to hike every public trail in Geauga County (just to the north of Portage County).
So anyway — without further ado, here are my Top Ten Hikes of 2021, in ranked order:
Paradise Skyline Spur (Mount Rainier National Park in Washington), on June 7th
Hoh Rainforest Spruce Trail (Olympic National Park in Washington), on June 12th
Spatter Cones to North Crater (Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho), on June 15th
Clatsop Loop to Tillamook Head (Ecola State Park in Oregon), on June 9th
Golden Valley Sunset Stroll (just outside of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota), on June 3rd
Chimney Tops Trail (Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee), on May 17th
Appalachian Trail to Dragon’s Tooth (just outside of Roanoke, Virginia), on April 30th
Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park (northeast section of Portage County, Ohio), on January 29th
Woodland Loop Trail at the Lucia S. Nash Preserve (central Geauga County, Ohio), on October 22nd
Easter Son-Rise Sunrise Hike at Towner’s Woods (Portage County Parks in Ohio), on April 4th
And again, for those who would appreciate more context, my explanations for each selection are included with the listing (reverse rank-order), below:
Towner’s Woods is a local favorite. I bet I visited these trails twenty or thirty times over the course of 2021, but my favorite visit was on Easter Sunday this year. I hiked out to the Hopewell Mound, where I’d have a good look at the sun coming up over the lake. While I was there, I saw a large animal (maybe a porcupine!) rustling in the underbrush. And after I finished watching the sun come up, I saw a bald eagle, too. So it was an interesting day for wildlife — and for spiritual reflection.
This place feels like buried treasure. It doesn’t appear on most maps. And even when you know that it’s there, it’s hard to find! The benefit of all this obscurity, though, is seclusion and stillness. It’s one of the most quiet places I’ve ever experienced in Northeast Ohio. I couldn’t hear car traffic, or trains, or even airplanes. Just pristine forests and wetlands, with well-maintained, well-marked trails. I hope to go back again someday and finish exploring everything that this nature preserve has to offer… as long as I can find it again.
We were in the middle of a deep freeze at the time that I made this visit to the Nelson-Kennedy Ledges. That made the experience all the more memorable, though. One of the park’s waterfalls was completely frozen. The other was partially-frozen. Everything was covered in snow and ice, which made the naturally-dramatic landscape even more dramatic. All of the caves and crevices of the area’s rock formations make for fantastic exploration and adventure. Especially when there’s no one else out there because of the cold.
Marci and I celebrated our 23rd wedding anniversary with a trip to America’s newest National Park in the New River Gorge of West Virginia. Our best hike, however, happened outside of the park after we did some window-shopping in Roanoke, Virginia. It was a brilliant Spring day, as we hit the trail. We got to see a bunch of wildflowers in bloom. And when we finally made it to the ridge that included the “Dragon’s Tooth,” we were impressed by just how rugged the landscape was. It was a special hike with a special woman.
I struggled to decide which hike from the H2O Smoky Mountain Retreat to include in this list. Our big group hike to the summit of Mount LeConte was the other serious contender. But I decided to select Chimney Tops as the Smoky Mountain representative for this list because it was a more subtle, sacred, solitary experience. I got there close to sunset, so I had to hike hard and fast. It was my evening off from H2O responsibilities, so I got to stop and look at the things that I wanted to stop and look at. The circumstances allowed me to maintain a very prayerful, contemplative rhythm on this hike. And the view from the Chimney Tops was amazing. I half-ran back to the parking area, in order to beat the darkness, but it was totally worth it.
This one barely qualifies as a “hike.” But we were traveling by foot over a rugged natural landscape. And I liked this spontaneous evening excursion better than any of the daytime hikes we did on the established trails within the National Park. It was cooler (daytime temperatures were close to 100° Fahrenheit). More casual, too. It felt like we were the only people within a 100-mile radius. It was just an epic evening — and we got some epic pictures of the experience by which to remember our time together in North Dakota.
I got to do this hike with my older two children, Elliot and Olivia. We kind of went the “wrong way,” where we started with a long, relentless, inland, forested, uphill slog and then ended up a little bit pressed for time on the meandering route with all the spectacular views out over the Pacific Ocean. Even so, it was a Top Five hike. If you’re thinking about doing this hike, though, I would highly recommend doing the loop “clockwise.” You’ll be rewarded with magnificent views of the rocky coast and the Tillamook lighthouse while you have to pause and catch your breath.
I don’t even remember how I heard about the Craters of the Moon National Monument. It’s definitely off the beaten path, in the middle part of Idaho. But I’m so glad we discovered this gem. It really did feel like a visit to the Moon! On one day in Idaho, I got to go running, hiking, spelunking, kayaking, and cliff-jumping! I hope I get to visit Idaho again sometime in the future.
Hiking through the Hoh Rainforest is like a hiking through a different planet. Everything is impossibly-vibrant green. Moss clings to every tree limb, and ferns the size of Volkswagens crowd the forest floor like a traffic jam. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it. Such a special place to visit together with my family! This hike was also special because of its proximity to my favorite hour in the Pacific Northwest.
We didn’t get to see the top of the mountain until we were on it. Even after several days in the region of Washington’s Mount Rainier, our family just couldn’t get a glimpse of the famous mountain. Because it was always covered by clouds. Still, my kids and I decided one day to explore a few sections of its National Park: the Grove of the Patriarchs… the Blue Hole of the Cowlitz River… and, after lunch, the higher elevation area called Paradise. Just as we were driving up to the parking area, the clouds parted enough for us to get our first look. We yelled in surprise and delight. Everything was covered with a thick layer of freshly-fallen snow. So we weren’t able to hike very far (just about a mile). Still, it was such a good memory with my kids.