McGuffey Wildlife Preserve

McGuffey Wildlife Preserve

I traveled to eastern Mahoning County this morning, to the McGuffey Wildlife Preserve. It was lovely, but not exceptional, as far as nature preserves in this part of the world. Pretty small. Mostly meadows, with a few sections of thin forest and one area that might be described as either a small pond or a marsh. I made a point of hiking every trail, as indicated by the Gaia app on my phone. And even then the whole hike came in just under two miles.

My main goal was just to rest and soak up the presence of God, out in Creation. But I was wondering if God might also provide some ideas for spiritual goals at the start of this New Year. And as I walked through the nature preserve, one of the early impressions that came to me was the continued priority of rest: to know my limits and regularly force myself to “let balls drop” and remind myself (and others) that “Jesus is the savior of the world, not Eric.”

It’s a theme to which I’ve returned again and again over the last decade. But I bit off more than I could chew in the first half of 2022 — and I really don’t want to make the same mistake again in 2023. So, I want to keep mindful of these things as I step into a new semester of ministry. Particularly one in which we’re going to be short-staffed and stretched in other ways. We’re all going to need to play good, solid, team “basketball.” No hero-ball.

McGuffey Wildlife Preserve

Then, about halfway through my time at the McGuffey Wildlife Preserve, I came across a large stone with a metal plaque saying, “William Holmes McGuffey Boyhood Home Site.” And the plaque made it seem like this was a big deal. Reason for a registered national historic landmark, posted by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1966. But I didn’t have the faintest idea of who this McGuffey guy was. So, of course, I looked him up on my smartphone and learned he was “a college professor and president who is best known for writing the McGuffey Readers, the first widely used series of elementary school-level textbooks. More than 120 million copies of McGuffey Readers were sold between 1836 and 1960, placing its sales in a category with the Bible and Webster’s Dictionary.”

“McGuffey Readers” sounded a bit familiar in my ears. Still, I’m a nerd. A history buff (especially when it comes to history with local connections). And I tend to remember obscure details like this. I can’t imagine that many people my age (or younger than me) would even have that flicker of recognition. McGuffey has drifted into obscurity — even though his books were “in a category with the Bible and Webster’s Dictionary” for more than a hundred years!

McGuffey Wildlife Preserve

By almost any measure, William Holmes McGuffey should have “achieved immortality.” He probably made a lot of money. He likely helped to shape the thinking of multiple generations. And he did it all in a format that should endure better than most. Countless books on countless shelves bearing his name. And yet, even when I encountered monuments designed to preserve the memory of this man, the name “McGuffey” did nothing for me. “McGuffey Readers” did only slightly more. And I can’t imagine it’s been much more than perhaps a dozen people who have even bothered to glance at that plaque in the last year. And even the number of people visiting the McGuffey Wildlife Preserve is probably negligible. It’s so small, so out of the way. Nature has reclaimed the territory that once belonged to him.

Even a quarter of the trails indicated by my Gaia app were grown over, unmaintained. Remembered only by the deer who have left a thin track to get from one part of the brush to another. It all just struck me as a stark reminder of entropy at play. (Crazy that it was almost exactly one year ago that the theme of entropy was brought to my attention!).

McGuffey Wildlife Preserve

It all reminds me of the folly of a person trying to “make one’s mark” on the world. The world is just too temporal. And I know this could be discouraging. But somehow, I’m actually reassured to know that our notions of “notoriety” and “mediocrity” are pretty short-lived. “The grass withers and the flowers fade,” along with all our human accomplishments. “But the Word of the LORD stands forever.” Hiking in the McGuffey Wildlife Preserve this morning, I felt compelled to capture this understanding. To hold onto it throughout the coming year. Not just in January. Not just in the Winter. But throughout the year and throughout my everyday life.

How, exactly? I’m still working on that. I want to figure out ways to keep living my life as a signpost, directing others towards Jesus. To keep proclaiming the Good News of His Kingdom come (and coming). Maybe to memorize the Romans Road (maybe even in multiple languages) as a way of directly acknowledging the permanence of God’s word, in contrast to the impermanence of my words (or ideas or accomplishments). I don’t know. I’m still working on the practicals.

McGuffey Wildlife Preserve

All I know is that we’re all going to go the way of McGuffey. At least as far as it concerns McGuffey 2023. Some of us may end up with a temporary level of recognition like McGuffey might have had in 1873 (the year of his death) or in 1966 (when they put up that plaque in the park). But even the “famous” people fade from memory, with time. All while God keeps faithfully working, day after day, year after year, century after century. The best parts of us, the most eternal parts of us, are all God. So why not live that way in 2023?

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Goals for 2023

New Year’s Resolutions seem to have fallen out of fashion. I can’t even remember seeing any articles or watching any video pointing to the tradition this year (though I guess I have been seeing more advertisements for businesses connected to exercise and dieting, which would seem to suggest that health resolutions are still a part of the cultural consciousness). Still, I often like to use the advent of a New Year to think about setting goals. And not just physical health goals — but multi-faceted goals for different areas of life. “Goals” feel better than “resolutions” to me because they’re more aspirational. Not as resolved. Since the New Year has rolled around, over the course of the last week, I’ve been thinking about my Goals for 2023. I’m zeroing in on a few possibilities.

And even though it’s kind of risky — putting things down in black and white and sharing such goals with others — I think it’s good for me to do stuff like this every now and then. I once heard a friend talk about thinking through goals using an acrostic: “PIES.” The “P” stands for Physical Goals. The “I” for Intellectual Goals. “E” stands for Emotional Goals. And “S” represents Spiritual Goals. So, here are my (tentative) PIES Goals for 2023:

Physical Goals

There are a couple of trail races coming up in 2023 that intrigue me. And I’m generally convinced that I need to work on flexibility and core strength, as I age. But the primary physical goal that I think I’m going to aim for in 2023 is to Drink More Water. Specifically: three liters per day. I think this goal will help to support all my other physical goals — and I like the specificity and measurability of the water consumption goal. A friend recommended an app called Water Llama, so I’m playing around with that. But in any event, I’m hoping that a habit of drinking more water will serve me well.

Intellectual Goals

Our family is hoping to travel back to Europe (for the first time in nearly a decade!) in the summer of 2023. So, I think that most of my intellectual goals fall along the lines of a general goal to Strengthen My Dutch Language Skills. But some of the specific ideas that I’m toying with include resetting the language preferences on several apps on my phone… using a new version of the Bible in Everyday Dutch for my personal study… checking news headlines on Dutch sites and apps… and maybe even reading a Dutch novel that’s been sitting on my shelf since 2012. We’ll see. Doing all of those things seems pretty ambitious. But even if I can just manage one or two of them, I feel pretty confident that I can strengthen my Nederlandsvaardigheid.

Emotional Goals

Generational dynamics are shifting: my children becoming more independent, my parents becoming more dependent. So, I feel compelled to Prioritize Family Connections in this new, 2023, phase of life. Marci and I will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary this year, so we want to make something special of that. Our family’s aforementioned trip to Europe should be a special way to connect with each other and with a part of the world that’s been very special to us. And I might even try to visit some of the younger generations in my extended family this year. We’re spread out across Texas, Minnesota, and Virginia these days. So, this could be a challenge. But maybe a fun challenge.

Spiritual Goals

My spiritual health is very important to me. Even so, this was one of the harder areas in which to come up with any meaningful goals for 2023. More regular journaling? Continued Bible translation projects? Sharing the Good News more regularly? I’m kind of still figuring this one out. But I’m currently leaning towards a goal to Memorize the Verses of the “Romans Road” to enhance my own appreciation of the Good News and to share it more readily with others. I’ve seen different versions of this “Romans Road.” And, of course, there are a hundred different Bible translations. But I think I’m going to work from this listing of the Romans Road verses, using the New Living Translation.

If any of you would like to join me in any of these goals, I’d love to have some company and some accountability. Either way, I’m excited to be cooking up these PIES goals for 2023 — and I wish all of you a very Happy New Year!

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My Top Ten Family Moments of 2022

Top Ten Family Moments of 2022

It’s that time of the year for retrospection.

After posting my Top Ten Songs of 2022Top Ten Books of 2022, Top Ten Hikes of 2022, and Top Ten Ministry Moments of 2022, it’s time to conclude these rankings with looking back on the Top Ten Family Moments of 2022. 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.

Furthermore, recognizing that “the universal is in the specific,” I’m going to try to really zero in on the best moments. Not just the best seasons, or days, or even hours (though occasionally a moment can last an hour). I want to distill the experience as much as possible. I’m especially mindful of the fact that our family dynamics are changing these days. Our kids are transitioning from adolescence to young adulthood. And as such, they’re more independent. Consequently, we get less time with all five of us together. But when we do get time together — either all together or in smaller contingents — it’s special.

But enough explanation and set-up. Without further ado, here are my Top Ten Family Moments of 2022, in ranked order:

  1. Hammocking in the World’s Largest Living Organism (July)
  2. Christmas Eve Projectiles (December)
  3. The Last Soccer Goal of the Summer in Estes Park (July)
  4. Thanksgiving Eve (November)
  5. Visiting the Spiral Jetty (July)
  6. Friday Feast with Friends and Family (October)
  7. Overnight Getaway to Indian Hot Springs (June)
  8. Olivia’s Graduation Party (May)
  9. Rockies Game with Jay and Brandi (June)
  10. Cross Country Meet at Stow (October)

And again, for any who might appreciate more context, my explanations for each selection are included with the listing (reverse rank-order), below:

Stow Invitational Cross Country Meet

#10 – Cross Country Meet at Stow (October)

I started noticing some themes, as I winnowed down my list of my Top Ten Family Moments. One: this was a busy year for our family, where we often seemed to run in several different directions at the same time. Two: it felt special when we could manage to get a few different elements of our relational network together at the same time. And three: the best moments often happened when we could find a moment of rest, amidst all the other activity. The finish line of the Stow Invitational Cross Country Meet in early October is a perfect example. Cor ran an exceptionally strong race. His brother Elliot and my sister Anna were there to celebrate his performance. Other friends from the Cross Country community were there, as well. And the sunshine coming through the leaves provided a great moment on a great Saturday in a great weekend.

San Diego Padres vs. Colorado Rockies

#9 – Rockies Game with Jay and Brandi (June)

My brother and sister-in-law are on a quest to watch a game in every Major League Baseball ballpark. And since we happened to be in Colorado this summer, they decided to book travel for a Rockies game and invite us to join them for the fun. Looking back, I marvel at the way we were able to thread the proverbial needle to make this happen — between Marci and I coming down with COVID the preceding week, a funeral for Marci’s grandmother the following week, Elliot’s work schedule, and such. But we made it happen, and things actually felt pretty fun and easy, at least while we were there at Coors Field.

Olivia's Graduation Party

#8 – Olivia’s Graduation Party (May)

Life was crazy at the end of May. I was out in Colorado to help with the launch of the Collegiate Church Network’s Leadership Training program. Elliot was in Israel on a special educational experience. Marci was doing the “single parent” thing with a full slate of end-of-the-school-year activities. But we all managed to converge for Olivia’s Graduation Weekend. And with some special help from our friends Lindsay and Eva, we managed to pull off a pretty amazing Graduation Party that Saturday. We didn’t have to make any crazy adaptations for COVID. We had guests from a broad cross-section of friends and family. And it just felt great to celebrate our Olivia! The last hour of the party was probably my favorite, as we could finally relax a little, out on the front lawn of our home.

Overnight Getaway to Indian Hot Springs

#7 – Birthday Getaway to Indian Hot Springs (June)

To celebrate Marci’s birthday in June, the two of us took a little getaway from our summer base in Estes Park, to Idaho Springs and Denver. We had a nice dinner and enjoyed a fun comedy show in the city. But I think the best part of that trip was our time at a 19th Century Bathhouse / Resort called Indian Hot Springs. It just felt really restful and relational. Marci and I are coming up on a quarter-century of marriage (which also included a lovely getaway to Charleston, South Carolina), and I feel exceptionally grateful for the experiences we get to have together.

Friends and Family Friday Feast

#6 – Friday Feast with Friends and Family (October)

We started a new thing this fall, recognizing that two-thirds of the next generation was out of our house, living increasingly-independent lives as college students. Marci adapted this idea from a friend, and then I dubbed it our Friday Feast with Friends and Family: or FFFF, for short. We plan a big meal every Friday evening, and we encourage our kids to invite their friends. Thus, we capitalize on (1) the drive for socialization among peers, common among adolescents and young adults, and (2) the hunger among college students for a home-cooked meal. It’s been a lot of fun. It’s hard to pinpoint one specific moment from one specific FFFF, but the above photo from October 28th seems as good a moment as any!

Great Salt Lake of Utah

#5 – Visiting the Spiral Jetty (July)

I didn’t know about Robert Smithson or his land art until January, when my brother and I had a fun long-distance connection about his work. That sparked something that stuck with me when we started planning our family vacation in Utah and Nevada. Circumstances aligned for us to visit Smithson’s Spiral Jetty in July, and that whole day stands out as a particularly surreal, but special, experience I got to have with Marci and Cor. Walking along the shore of the Great Salt Lake was bizarre, but beautiful. And even though we had a lot of amazing experiences on that vacation, it’s this moment by the Spiral Jetty that stands out in my memory.

Kent Bog with the Family, Looking for Cranberries

#4 – Thanksgiving Eve (November)

Generational dynamics are shifting. Elliot is now closer to his college graduation than he is to his high school graduation. Olivia finished high school in the Spring and then moved into student housing on the campus of Kent State University in the Fall. So, our “nest” is getting emptier. But COVID and cross-town college enrollment have made this transition fuzzier than it was for Marci and me, growing up. Anyway: the circumstances aligned this year that it really did feel like the “kids coming home from college” for Thanksgiving. And the best moment of this, I think, was a sort of “Thanksgiving Eve Feast” on the Wednesday night of that week. We prepared food together. We took a little walk together at the Kent Bog, looking for wild cranberries (perhaps my favorite moment). And then we ate our big meal together. It was great.

#3 – The Last Soccer Goal of the Summer in Estes Park (July)

Estes Park is a special place for our family, as we’ve returned there many summers through the years. This summer was different because Olivia stayed back in Ohio, and Elliot stayed in student housing (as a staff worker for the YMCA of the Rockies and as a participant in the Leadership Training program). Even with the different dynamics, we had a lot of memorable experiences. But perhaps none more memorable than the last “Soccer Sunday” before Marci, Cor, and I left. We had plans to get ice cream downtown with friends, so I gave Elliot and Cor a ten-minute warning… and then a three-minute warning. And in the very last minute, Elliot fed a perfect pass to his brother — and Cor punched it through the goal for a walk-off win celebrated with friends and family.

Christmas Eve at the Bryce House

#2 – Christmas Eve Projectiles (December)

I’m finally starting to understand why the holidays feel so special — and so challenging — for so many people. It’s so rare to get family together because our lives are increasingly divergent. And then when we do get together, the divergence creates dissonance. But I believe that gathering is worthwhile. A part of me wanted to just label “the whole holiday season” as a top Family Moment of 2022. But if I had to boil it down to one moment, I’d say it was the night of Christmas Eve, in our house on Bryce Road. My Dad was unusually sharp throughout our family celebrations that day, but it was especially fun to see him wad up wrapping paper that had been discarded from presents and thrown at other members of the family. Just like he might have done ten years ago — or thirty years ago.

Pando Aspen Grove

#1 – Hammocking in the World’s Largest Living Organism (July)

This was just an epic day of family travel! We started the day in Las Vegas. We were rolling through the canyons of northwest Arizona by dawn. By lunch, we had already finished a drive through Zion National Park and a hike through Bryce Canyon in Utah. And before the day was finished, we outran a flash flood warning through Glenwood Canyon, in Colorado, to enjoy some ice cream with our old friends and former-neighbors, the Stumpfs. But in the middle of the afternoon — the moment that I’m going to peg as the Top Family Moment of the year — we had a rest stop at Pando: a grove of Aspen trees that’s been identified as the world’s largest living organism. Honestly, it really wasn’t that much different than hammocking elsewhere, but it was a special thing we did on a special day of family travel.

Posted in Adolescence, Aging Parents, Children, Family, Home, Introspection, Marriage, Nostalgia, Photography, Recreation, Traditions, Transition, Young Adulthood | Comments Off on My Top Ten Family Moments of 2022

My Top Ten Ministry Moments of 2022

Top Ten Ministry Moments of 2022

It’s that time of the year for retrospection.

After posting my Top Ten Songs of 2022Top Ten Books of 2022, and Top Ten Hikes of 2022, I thought that I would turn my attention to things that might be considered more substantial, if perhaps also more intangible. Specifically: ministry and family life. The very nature of ministry, in particular, makes it hard to summarize and hard to point out “finished products.” 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 going to do my best, even if the results might be imperfect…

So anyway — without further ado, here are my Top Ten Ministry Moments of 2022, in ranked order:

  1. A Reminder from God to Faithfully Farm my Forty Acres
  2. Spiritual Conversations with Centennial Students
  3. Staff Cohorts at Estes Park Leadership Training
  4. The Inaugural H2O Youngstown Tailgate Party (September)
  5. Saul’s Baptism in Emerald Lake (July)
  6. H2O Akron Transition Weekend (April)
  7. Hearing Morgan Explain the Gospel According to “Spirited” (December)
  8. Prioritizing the Presence of God in Joshua Tree National Park (January)
  9. Milan Melon Festival with Centennial Life Group Friends (September)
  10. Watermelon Wedding (May)

And again, for any who might appreciate more context, my explanations for each selection are included with the listing (reverse rank-order), below:

Wedding for Jesse Setliff and Rylee Crowley

#10 – Watermelon Wedding (May)

When college students get engaged, I often tell them, “I know that there are a lot of moving pieces, when it comes to preparing for a wedding. But it only has to be as complicated as you want it to be. You don’t have to cave in to all of the pressures of the ‘Wedding Industrial Complex.’ Just file the required paperwork at the county courthouse, and then I will serve as the officiant for your wedding whenever and wherever you want. I’ll even bring along a watermelon — so I can be both your officiant and your caterer!” Nobody had ever taken me up on the idea, though, until Jesse and Rylee did in the Spring. I enjoyed officiating another, more-traditional, wedding in August, as well. But it was fun to see that “Watermelon Wedding” idea come to life in May.

Milan Melon Fest with Centennial Life Group Friends

#9 – Milan Melon Festival with Centennial Life Group Friends (September)

I love small-town festivals. And Labor Day Weekend is prime “real estate” for these small-town festivals where all the locals can see and be seen by other members of the community, while also providing a source of entertainment and economic activity for both insiders and outsiders. So, ever since I heard my friend Bri talk about the Milan Melon Festival, in her hometown, I’ve wanted to visit. And this year the stars finally aligned. We got a group of people from our H2O Centennial Life Group to go on a road trip together to see the Milan Melon Festival for ourselves in the first weekend of September. And it ended up being a great group bonding experience on the front end of a new semester, which couldn’t even be dampened by a little bit of rain.

Joshua Tree WilderneSS Experience

#8 – Prioritizing the Presence of God in Joshua Tree National Park (January)

In January, I got to travel to Southern California for an eight-day experience of practicing spiritual disciplines in the wilderness of Joshua Tree National Park. And I really did feel the Presence of God in the wilderness. But I was also impressed with the reminder that one doesn’t need a desert, or five days of solitude, or three days of fasting to enjoy and benefit from the Presence of God. Coming back from the wilderness, I felt especially compelled by the model of Moses in Exodus 33:7-11 — regularly carrying my gear just a small distance away from my community to pitch this small “tent of meeting” and commune with the Lord face-to-face, “as a man speaks with his friend.” For the rest of 2022, I stayed remarkably committed to this on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis. And I think this trip in January was a significant part of the reason why.

Morgan's Last Time at H2O Centennial Life Group Coaching

#7 – Hearing Morgan Explain the Gospel According to “Spirited” (December)

I’ve been working with a group of student-leaders this semester, trying to increase their “gospel fluency.” So we’ve practiced a few different tools for sharing the most essential elements of the Good News of Jesus. And every week, we’ve had a different person share this Good News, or Gospel, with the rest of the group. I think it’s been a really helpful exercise. For our last meeting of the semester, my friend Morgan shared the Good News through a PowerPoint presentation about the new Christmas musical, Spirited. There really do seem to be some interesting access points for the Good News in there. And this particular iteration of the Good News was extra-special because Morgan developed a profound personal understanding of the Good News during her time in Kent, and this meeting was Morgan’s last time with us before graduating in December.

H2O Akron Church Care and Celebration Retreat

#6 – H2O Akron Transition Weekend (April)

My friends at H2O Akron were grieving the end of their time together as a church. They’d cobbled together a patchwork leadership situation for several years, hoping for a viable, long-term leadership team to emerge. But when all the possibilities were exhausted, they decided the wisest course of action was to shut things down. So, they decided to pull together a special retreat to process this transition together, to practically prepare for transition, and to celebrate everything that God has done through the years. I was asked to serve as a facilitator for processing and preparing for transition; and as macabre as it may sound, it was an honor to be with H2O Akron for this weekend.

Sunrise Hike to Emerald Lake for Saul's Baptism

#5 – Saul’s Baptism in Emerald Lake (July)

Since the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Saul had been struggling with depression, to the point that it caused him to drop out of his studies at Purdue University. But something supernatural seemed to be calling him to Colorado for the summer. When some of his co-workers started talking to Saul about the Leadership Training (LT) program that had brought them to the Rocky Mountains, Saul felt like he was being led to join the program on the spot. He embraced the opportunity to follow Jesus over the rest of the summer in Colorado, and Saul eventually decided that he wanted to get baptized in the Rocky Mountains, among his LT friends. So, about twenty of us from LT did a sunrise hike to Emerald Lake and witnessed Saul’s public profession of faith in Christ.

H2O YSU Tailgate Party

#4 – The Inaugural H2O Youngstown Tailgate Party (September)

A group of us from H2O Kent traveled to Youngstown, on the first Saturday in September, to meet up with our friends who moved to Youngstown over the summer and work together to host a tailgate party outside of Youngstown State University’s Stambaugh Stadium before their home opener against Duquesne. And it was honestly a lot more fun than I expected it to be. What made it extra-special, though, was the way that it signaled the dawn of a new era for the H2O Church at Youngstown State University. We’ve been thinking and praying in this direction for years. And over the summer, the H2O YSU Team laid a lot of groundwork, settling in and making connections. The first week in September was special, however, because it served as YSU’s Kickoff Week. And the tailgate party provided the perfect space for planting a flag, staking a claim in YSU circles, and celebrating with newfound friends.

EPLT 2022 Staff Dinner

#3 – Staff Cohorts at Estes Park Leadership Training (June)

We experimented with a new initiative among the Collegiate Church Network staff who relocated to Estes Park, Colorado for our summer Leadership Training program. Once a week, we broke down into groups of four or five, and we spent a couple of hours doing a sort of Compare-and-Contrast exercise. “How does your church stay intentional about developing ethnic diversity?” one week… “How does your staff team manage conflict?” another week… And “If you could share one thing with the staff who are older / younger than you are, what would you share?” to name just a few examples. When I was asked to take on this assignment, I expected that these “Staff Cohort Conversations” would be somewhat helpful — but they ended up being far more meaningful than anyone imagined. And I hope we find ways to do similar things in the future.

H2O Centennial Life Group in the H2Olympics

#2 – Spiritual Conversations with Centennial Students (October)

This “Ministry Moment” is the hardest to summarize and to represent with a picture. But there were at least four significant spiritual conversations happening over the course of the Fall Semester with students from our Centennial Life Group. Four people who were completely uninitiated to the Christian faith… Four paths that converged in our Thursday night Bible studies and more irregularly scheduled coffee conversations… Four decisions to follow Jesus hanging in the balance. These four spiritual conversations really felt like some of the most meaningful ministry interactions I’ve had in a while! They’re still in process, but I’m praying that we’ll be able to see some of these students get baptized in the Spring.

#1 – A Reminder from God to Faithfully Farm my Forty Acres (July)

I bit off a bit more than I could chew in the Spring of 2022. So I feel like God called me back to the basics in the Summer of 2022. I was impressed with the phrase, “Faithfully Farming my Forty Acres” as a way to keep my focus on soberly and sincerely serving as a pastor, or shepherd, for the congregation in which I’ve been placed in Kent. Not trying to single-handedly save the world (because Jesus already did that). Not aggressively expanding to adjacent territory. And definitely not trying to seek fame or fortune for myself in the process. “Faithfully Farming my Forty Acres” speaks to consistency, season after season, year after year. Cultivating the fruit of the Spirit in my life, and in the lives of students at Kent State University. Sustaining our own operations and sending out surplus crops to market, as we’re able.

Posted in Church, God, H2O Kent, Ministry, Preaching, Small Groups, Traditions | Comments Off on My Top Ten Ministry Moments of 2022

My Top Ten Hikes of 2022

Top Ten Hikes of 2022

It’s that time of the year for retrospection.

I’ve posted my Top Ten Songs of 2022. I’ve posted my Top Ten Books of 2022. And now, 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.

I got to do a lot of amazing hikes this year! My summer of staffing the Collegiate Church Network’s Leadership Training program, alone, provided ample opportunities for hiking in the Rocky Mountains. And then we got to head further west, after that, hitting numerous interesting spots in Utah and Nevada. So it was hard to narrow down the list to just my Top Ten Hikes!

But it wasn’t just far-flung trails that I got to hike. I also finished hiking every public trail in Geauga County (just to the north of Portage County). I participated in the “Fall Hiking Spree” in Summit County (just to the west of Portage County). And I started my next quest to hike every public trail in Mahoning County (just to the east of Portage County).

So anyway — without further preamble, here are my Top Ten Hikes of 2022, in ranked order:

  1. Chief’s Head (Rocky Mountain National Park, in Colorado), on July 13th
  2. Navajo Loop (Bryce Canyon National Park, in Utah), on July 24th
  3. Eagle Point (Joshua Tree National Park, in California), on January 21st
  4. Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap to Charlie’s Bunion (Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in Eastern Tennessee), on March 29th
  5. Chasm Lake (Rocky Mountain National Park, in Colorado), on July 9th
  6. Cedar Falls, Ash Cave, and the Amerine Valley (Hocking Hills State Park, in Southeast Ohio), on April 9th
  7. Snow Lake Overlook (Lucia S. Nash Nature Preserve, in Geauga County), on October 10th
  8. Gorge Trails (Gorge Metro Park, in Summit County), on September 16th
  9. The Hunt for the Great White Stag along the Bear’s Dean Trail (Mill Creek Park, in Mahoning County), on December 2nd
  10. Bristlecone Trail (Great Basin National Park, in Nevada), on July 22nd

And as usual, for those who would appreciate more context, my explanations for each selection are included with the listing (reverse rank-order), below:

Great Basin National Park

#10 – Bristlecone Trail (Great Basin National Park, in Nevada), on July 22nd

Nevada’s Great Basin is such a weird and wonderful part of North America. It’s so remote that I’m not sure I’ll ever get back there again in my life. Still, I’m very glad that I got to go this summer with Marci and Cor. We dealt with sweltering heat for most of our time in the region, but it was amazing to see how quickly things cooled off when we got off the floor of the Basin and gained some elevation. The air temperature was in the low-70s (Fahrenheit) for this hike. It was amazing to see these bristlecone pine trees, as they represent some of the oldest living organisms on earth!

Mill Creek Park: Wick Recreation Area

#9 – The Hunt for the Great White Stag along the Bear’s Dean Trail (Mill Creek Park, in Mahoning County), on December 2nd

I wrote about this experience at the beginning of this month, but the adventure basically started when I found an albino deer in the forest. I texted a friend from the area to share the experience. And then he told me that he’s heard of others in Youngstown spotting a Great White Stag (presumably the fawn’s father?). So I spent the rest of my hike looking for this mythical, magical, legendary creature. I never succeeded in finding this Great White Stag. But just a little later, the forest transformed into a valley of bubbling boulders, all covered in vibrant green moss. And shortly after that, it seemed like the earth started cracking open — ledges, like in the Cuyahoga Valley or Nelson-Kennedy Ledges State Park — but, again, unusually-green moss covering everything, standing out brilliantly in an otherwise drab environment of gray and brown. It was an amazing experience!

Gorge Metropark

#8 – Gorge Trails (Gorge Metro Park, in Summit County), on September 16th

I firmly believe that the best month of the year in Ohio is mid-September to mid-October. And it just so happened that I finally decided to join the Summit Metro Parks Fall Hiking Spree (“the largest and longest-running event of its kind in the nation”) for this magical month. So, this hike represented the perfect place at the perfect time. It felt great to spend some extended time with God in the Gorge Metro Park on such a beautiful day. The cliffs, caves, and waterfalls of the Cuyahoga Valley refreshed my soul and provided invaluable space to reflect. And I really feel like God gave me some significant insight on this hike. But under any circumstances, this is a pretty special place — and it’s remarkably close to where I live. So, I’m especially glad that I know about it now.

Outing to Lucia S. Nash Nature Preserve with Eric, Dave, and Jan

#7 – Snow Lake Overlook (Lucia S. Nash Nature Preserve, in Geauga County), on October 10th

I blogged about this back in October, but this hike was extra-special because I got to do it with my parents. We wanted to crunch our way through the fallen leaves… to bask in the golden sunlight filtered through the thinning fall foliage… and to feel the wind on our faces, blown across the surface of Snow Lake. So we did. And it was glorious. Especially with my Dad’s Parkinson’s Disease and my Mom’s Multiple Sclerosis, it felt like a gift to enjoy a nearly perfect afternoon together at Snow Lake. The Lucia S. Nash Nature Preserve is also one of the most amazing, most quiet places I’ve experienced in Northeast Ohio, so even without the sentimental components, this ranks pretty high as a destination.

Hocking Hills Hike: Cedar Falls

#6 – Cedar Falls and Ash Cave (Hocking Hills State Park, in Southeast Ohio), on April 9th

I legitimately think that Ohio’s Hocking Hills State Park could be a National Park. It’s that special and spectacular. I appreciated the opportunity to take this hike during some scheduled “Free Time” in a retreat for H2O Akron. The church was in the process of shutting down, due to insufficient staffing. So, I was asked to share some of my experiences from Amsterdam. And sincerely, it was really good that I could take advantage of that ministry opportunity. At the same time, considering the emotional weight of the conversations we were having, it was also really good to get some free time on out the trails. Cedar Falls is amazing! Ash Cave is breathtaking! And it just felt hopeful to see some of the early signs of spring coming to Southeast Ohio.

Chasm Lake with Cor

#5 – Chasm Lake (Rocky Mountain National Park, in Colorado), on July 9th

I’ve done this hike before, and I remembered it fondly. But I was freshly blown away by the waterfalls, the mountain vistas, the lakes, and the general beauty of the Rocky Mountains this time around. I believe the hike to Chasm Lake is one of the top three hikes in the Rocky Mountain National Park. And the experience was made all the more special because I got to do it with my son, Cor. We had perfect weather, epic scenery, and the half-mile from our parking spot to the trailhead allowed us to hit double-digit mileage on our Garmin watches!

Smoky Mountains Retreat: Hike to Charlie's Bunion

#4 – Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap to Charlie’s Bunion (Great Smoky Mountains National Park, in Eastern Tennessee), on March 29th

Ridge hikes may be the best sorts of hikes. There’s less elevation change to wear you down, and you get clear mountain vistas on either side of the trail. And this ridge section of the Appalachian Trail is especially epic because you’re basically walking along the border between Tennessee and North Carolina. I did this hike with a large group of students from H2O Church at Kent State University. But it was also special because one of those students was my oldest son, Elliot. And my younger son, Cor, also came along for the adventure. The best viewpoint (and the best pictures) can be found at Massa Knob. But the geological feature known as Charlie’s Bunion is a little bit further up the trail.

Joshua Tree WilderneSS Experience

#3 – Eagle Point (Joshua Tree National Park, in California), on January 21st

Back in January, I got to participate in an eight-day experience of practicing spiritual disciplines in the wilderness of Joshua Tree National Park. It impacted me on many different levels. But purely from a hiking perspective, this ended up being a special experience because I had never previously spent much time in the desert. One day, I decided to attempt a summit of Eagle Mountain. But I ended up settling for a spot I called “Eagle Point” because I didn’t bring enough water, and I was already starting to feel the physical effects of fasting. Even so, it was a magnificent place to watch the sun rise and sit with God. I appreciated the desolation, but also the subtle signs of life in that teemed in that region.

Bryce Canyon National Park

#2 – Navajo Loop (Bryce Canyon National Park, in Utah), on July 24th

My favorite thing about this hike was how unexpected it was and how accessible it was. From talking with friends and researching things online, I had developed the impression that Bryce Canyon National Park was mostly a “drive-by destination.” Almost as if everything that there was to be seen could be seen from the parking lot at the rim of the canyon. And honestly, the view from the parking lot at the rim of the canyon is pretty astounding. But there are also relatively short, relatively easy hikes available from that same parking lot that drop you down into the canyon. And it’s such a surreal and sublime experience to hike among those hoodoos. Marci, Olivia, Cor, and I got to do this one together, and I’m so glad.

Chiefs Head Peak with Clay, Annie, and Marcel

#1 – Chiefs Head (Rocky Mountain National Park, in Colorado), on July 13th

Best hike of the year. And best hike of the Rocky Mountain National Park (significantly better than Longs Peak). One of my favorite thing about this hike is that it’s a loop, not an out-and-back. So, our group never saw the same section of trail twice. There’s also a really lovely variety of scenery on this hike: forests… rivers… lakes… waterfalls… alpine tundra… My favorite part of the hike to Chiefs Head, though, was the part where we hiked through meadows filled with wildflowers! The ascent towards Chiefs Head also provided us with dramatic views of Mount Meeker, Longs Peak, and Pagoda Mountain. I wrote a longer report with more pictures back in July, in case you want to read about this topmost of my Top Ten Hikes.

Posted in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Health, Hiking, Kent, Recommendations, Recreation, Sports, Traditions | Comments Off on My Top Ten Hikes of 2022

My Top Ten Books of 2022

Top Ten Books of 2022 (Revised)

It’s that time of the year for retrospection.

After posting my Top Ten Songs of 2022, I’m moving on to a list of my favorite reading material. At the beginning of this year, I set a goal for myself: to read five to ten books written by authors whose worldviews are significantly different from my own. A different gender, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, or so on. And I’m happy to report that I succeeded in this mission! Ten of the sixteen books (and counting) that I’ve read over the course of the last year have helped to diversify my worldview.

Along the way, I’ve been taking the time to reflect and write up a little “book report” on each one, shortly after finishing it, which I’ve discovered to be a really helpful practice. So, I’ll link to my full write-up for each book, in case you want to read more — but for the purposes of this retrospective post, I’m going to limit myself to five words for each book.

Anyway: Out of the sixteen books I read in 2022, here are my Top Ten Books of the year, in ranked order:

  1. Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry
  2. Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe
  3. The Memory of Old Jack, by Wendell Berry
  4. A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini
  5. Less, by Andrew Sean Greer
  6. The Pastor, by Eugene Peterson
  7. The Best of Me, by David Sedaris
  8. Remember Me, by Penelope Wilcock
  9. The Hidden Delight of God, by John Hever
  10. The Wonder, by Emma Donoghue

And again, for those who would appreciate more context, my five descriptive words (plus the links to my full write-ups) for each selection are included with the listing (reverse rank-order), below:

The Wonder

#10 – The Wonder, by Emma Donoghue

History. Irish “Fasting Girls.” Motherhood.

The Hidden Delight of God, by John Hever

#9 – The Hidden Delight of God, by John Hever

Identity Quest. Redemption. Exodus Exegesis.

Remember Me, by Penelope Wilcock

#8 – Remember Me, by Penelope Wilcock

Remembering: Opposite of Dismembering. Romance.

"The Best of Me" by David Sedaris

#7 – The Best of Me, by David Sedaris

Humor. Dysfunctional Family. Mortality. Humanizing.

The Pastor

#6 – The Pastor, by Eugene Peterson

Re-read. Language. Vocation. Sabbath Rest.

Less Book Cover

#5 – Less, by Andrew Sean Greer

Gay Despair. Loneliness. Aging. Love.

A Thousand Splendid Suns

#4 – A Thousand Splendid Suns, by Khaled Hosseini

Afghan Women. Powerlessness. Perseverance. Hope.

The Memory of Old Jack

#3 – The Memory of Old Jack, by Wendell Berry

Love. Loss. Legacy. Memory. Grief.

Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe

#2 – Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe

Nigeria. Colonization. Mixed Motives. Tragedy.

Lonesome Dove

#1 – Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry

American West. Friendship. Beauty. Danger.

Posted in Reading, Recommendations, Recommended Reading, Traditions | Comments Off on My Top Ten Books of 2022

My Top Ten Songs of 2022

My Top Ten Songs of 2022

It’s that time of year for retrospection.

Earlier this month, I shared some observations regarding my musical preferences and listening patterns from 2022, as recorded quantitatively, by Spotify. But these metrics are overly influenced by the time of year in which a song was released (or at least, by the time of year in which I discovered the music). And there are other factors that make me feel like my favorite songs are not exactly the same as the most-streamed songs from Spotify.

So I want to share my real Top Ten listing here, where I can provide more context and then (in the coming days) also segue into other “Top Ten” listings for 2022.

I’ll start with a simple listing. Here are my Top Ten Songs of 2022:

  1. On and On (Djo)
  2. KEEP IT UP (Rex Orange County)
  3. Glimpse of Us (Joji)
  4. Gentle On My Mind (Glen Campbell)
  5. The 1975 (The 1975)
  6. Hallelujah (HAIM)
  7. When We All Get to Heaven (Brad Paisley)
  8. Él Que Resucitó (Elevation Worship)
  9. The Gambler (Kenny Rogers)
  10. DEBO (Tobe Nwigwe, NELL, Fat Nwigwe)

And for anyone who might appreciate more context, my explanations for each selection are included with the listing (reverse rank-order), below:

My Top Ten Songs of 2022

#10 – DEBO (Tobe Nwigwe, NELL, Fat Nwigwe)

This is the second year in a row that Tobe Nwigwe has made my Top Ten list, and I have my brother, Jay, to thank for introducing me to his music. I have an on-again / off-again relationship with Hip-Hop (very “on” in high school, more intermittent since then). But there’s something very “old school” about Tobe Nwigwe — while also being fresh and inventive, just like Rap felt in the 1990s. It’s hard to describe, but I’ve enjoyed getting to know his stuff in the last couple of years. I hear this song as a critique of one’s super-ego, or perhaps a sort of warning to the rest of the world’s when one’s pride and self-centeredness is activated. The deeper meaning of the words is intriguing. But honestly, purely on the superficial level, this song just goes hard. It’s got some really clever lyrical phrases, and I find myself reciting bars from the song in everyday life when something triggers an association.

My Top Ten Songs of 2022

#9 – The Gambler (Kenny Rogers)

This is a very old song (released in 1978). But it became new in a way when the younger generation in our household was introduced to this song through this year’s summer playlist. We were looking for songs that connected to the essence of Utah and Nevada, where we’d be vacationing. This particular song has a more tangential association (it never explicitly mentions Utah, Nevada, or Las Vegas), but it was better than most of the other songs out there about that region. It just feels like the American West. Kenny Rogers’ voice is iconic. The chorus is infinitely sing-along-able. And through all our travels, while listening to this song, “The Gambler” came to feel like the sun, the dust, and the wide open spaces of North America’s Great Basin.

My Top Ten Songs of 2022

#8 – Él Que Resucitó (Elevation Worship)

I love my job as a pastor, and I love worship (in the purest sense of the word). But ironically, I don’t connect very well with “worship music.” I do it almost every week, on Sundays, and I’m not complaining. But I almost never seek out this genre for my own private listening. So: including this song on a Top Ten list is a noticeable exception to my normal mode of operations. But I was introduced to this song at this summer’s Leadership Training program in Estes Park, and it’s found a special place in my heart. The lyrics (entirely in Spanish) don’t exactly roll off my tongue, but I have a very visceral memory of observing the way that they hit some of our Latino and Latina participants and guests. They cried. They wrapped their arms around each other. And even in my own heart, the chorus just resonated deeply. I’ll probably always associate this song with Colorado, with the unique group of people who were out there this summer, and with many of the things God did over the summer of 2022. I love how music makes these connections.

My Top Ten Songs of 2022

#7 – When We All Get to Heaven (Brad Paisley)

This is yet another example of an atypical genre that still managed to make my Top Ten for 2022! I don’t really listen to the kind of Country music that plays on Country music radio stations (though I don’t mind the older, further-off-the-beaten-path stuff). But this song has grown to represent my father, as he declines in his struggle with Parkinson’s Disease. He sang it to me in one of the first moments when we both recognized that his cognitive function was slipping. And as things got worse and worse over the course of the last year, I found myself sampling different versions of this song that I could find on Spotify. This one ended up being my favorite. It’s not a new song, or a new recording of the song. In fact, it’s a song that I’ve known since childhood. But it has new meaning now, on the personal level. That’s why I treasure it as a part of the joy and sorrow of this past year.

My Top Ten Songs of 2022

#6 – Hallelujah (HAIM)

I was first introduced to HAIM through my brother, Jay. But I discovered this particular song through a television series (This Is Us). And somewhere along the way, the artist has come to be associated with my daughter, Olivia. As I reflect on this song, it occurs to me that this song also deals with themes of grief, death, and loss — which may have influenced me on the subconscious level (as noted in my explanation of song #7, above). But most of the reason I like this song, I think, it due to its vibe. It’s mellow. It’s beautiful. And it’s got that classic folk sound that I love. The instrumentation is mostly light, acoustic guitar. And the vocals are a hauntingly-beautiful blend of the voices of three talented young women. It’s not explicitly religious (despite the title). But it is meaningful and powerful.

My Top Ten Songs of 2022

#5 – The 1975 (The 1975)

Did you know that The 1975 starts each of their albums with a song called “The 1975?” I hadn’t really put that together until the release of this year’s album: Being Funny in a Foreign Language. The whole album is pretty good (maybe even in contention for album of the year, for me). But this song, in particular, strikes a strong note. It’s cultural commentary. It describes a world of chaos, disinformation, disconnection, and fear. And it regularly repeats the refrain, “I’m sorry if you’re living and you’re seventeen.” Man. Somehow, it feels exactly right in describing the heartache that I feel towards today’s college students and even my own children (ages 20, 18, and 15). They’ve had a rough draw with the COVID-19 Pandemic, the culture wars, and the distorted reality of the Internet Age. This song provides powerful context, and it captures the complexity of this cultural moment not just in words but in instrumentation and arrangement. It’s definitely worth a listen.

My Top Ten Songs of 2022

#4 – Gentle On My Mind (Glen Campbell)

This was another recommendation from my brother, Jay. It’s my favorite from his “All Killer No Filler” playlist gifted at the end of 2021. Again, it’s not a particularly new song (released in 1967); but it feels timeless. The sound is pretty distinctly Southern / Western / Country; but there’s something universal about it, too. I enjoyed listening to it in January, when I first started absorbing the music that Jay had sent my way. I enjoyed listening to it throughout the summer, after we decided to add the song to our Summer Playlist. And I enjoyed listening to it again here at the end of the year, when I started sifting through all the stuff I’d listened to throughout the course of 2022. I even briefly considered making “Gentle On My Mind” my song of the year for 2022, before it started settling later in the sorting process: ending up here at #4.

My Top Ten Songs of 2022

#3 – Glimpse of Us (Joji)

My oldest son, Elliot, loves Joji. He’s maybe his favorite artist, at the moment. So much so that he and a friend drove all the way to the northwest side of Chicago to see him in concert this fall. Anyway: Elliot has shared a number of Joji songs with me over the last year or two — but this one truly struck me as the cream of the crop, rising to the top. It came out this summer, while we were in Colorado, and I took to listening to this song at the tops of mountains, at the destinations to which I went hiking over the summer. I have a particularly strong memory of sharing the song (and learning to use the sharing feature of Apple AirPod headphones!) with my friend Saul at Sky Pond. As such, the song has an extra-ethereal, magical quality when I listen to it, paired with those memories. The waltzing instrumental break is my favorite section of the song. And again, there’s a sadness to this track. But also beauty. I’m glad this song was a part of 2022 for me.

My Top Ten Songs of 2022

#2 – KEEP IT UP (Rex Orange County)

I really struggled to figure out if this song should be #2 or #1. Spotify suggests that I listened to “KEEP IT UP” more than any other song in 2022. Even on the first day that I listened to the song and watched the music videoback in January — it felt like a strong candidate for song of the year. I even went to hear Rex Orange County perform the song live at the Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado. Because I just loved the boppy feel to the “WHO CARES?” album, and the optimistic endurance of “KEEP IT UP” in particular. And it really moved me, emotionally, too. Not just moving me in the dance-to-the-music sort of way. When allegations of sexual assault surfaced in the fall, however, I had to wrestle with the problem of differentiating between the art and the artist. But fortunately, the end of the year has brought some level of exoneration for the artist. Even so, in the end analysis, it felt more appropriate to make this #2 than #1 for 2022.

My Top Ten Songs of 2022

#1 – On and On (Djo)

Even if it were to stand alone, the bridge to this song may have been enough to make my Top Three list! Such a great sound! Such a keen critique of culture! This song works as something of a corollary to this year’s version of “The 1975” (see #5, above). It captures this cultural moment — this generational crisis — in a powerful way, but less on a systemic, societal level (like The 1975) and more on the personal, experiential level. The title refers to the process of scrolling on one’s phone while lying on the bed: “On and on and on and on. Scrolling on and on and on. Feed the algorithm some. On and on and on and on.” It suggests some level of peace and comfort and security in one’s own private (virtual) world. But it also suggests that “something is about to break.” And then it demonstrates the whole experience with music. The bass! The synthesizer! It’s brilliant. I learned about this song from my son, Elliot. And the more I listened to it, the more I appreciated it. The complexity and cool vibe of this track make it my favorite song of 2022.

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Christmas at the Farm

012912-R1-18-19

When I look back at old pictures, I notice that it’s often the littlest details that draw the fondest memories. The familiar building from 1951 with the unfamiliar embellishments… the make and model of the family car in 1994… the cut of the clothing in 1979… So, when we went back to Richland County to enjoy some time with Marci’s parents, I decided to try capture the look at feel of “Christmas at the Farm, 2022.”

Christmas at the Farm

Bowman Road has changed very little over the generations. Particularly the exteriors of buildings. Even on the inside, change is gradual and subtle. But I love the way that my mother-in-law Louise has made the farmhouse her own. Especially the kitchen.

Christmas at the Farm

She’s collected a lot of Swedish decorations, which are on display throughout the house. But especially in the bay window at the back of the farmhouse. Jultomtes (Christmas Gnomes) and Julboks (Christmas Goats), in particular. The eclectic fabric patterns on the cushions are also charming, if you ask me.

Christmas at the Farm

From the breakfast nook, I can see a sort of chalkboard affixed to the side of the refrigerator. I love the shopping lists: both in the “still to be purchased” category and the “already purchased” (imperfectly-erased). And I especially love the ongoing tally of mice killed since October 14th.

Christmas at the Farm

This piece of furniture along the adjacent wall in the kitchen is called Fleta’s Cupboard (which you may also recognize as the name of Marci’s furniture restoration business). It goes back several generations. But even more than the wooden structure, I love the knick-knacks around it: the hand-sewn nativity scene on the top… the Swedish Dala Horses in the window to the side… the collection of dishes to the other side… and even the miscellaneous clutter in the pen jars and such. It’s all in the details. It just feels like “Christmas at the Farm” to me.

Christmas at the Farm

Still, nothing is quite as iconic as the farmhouse’s kitchen sink. Again: more Swedish decorations around the window. The various jars of utensils on either side. And my mother-in-law Louise’s favorite mug on the counter. The extreme cold was causing some troubles with the pipes on this particular day (we could only manage to maintain a faint trickle of water). Even so, this was a gathering space before the dinner and after the dinner.

Christmas at the Farm

The stove was busy, too — which you can definitely see in the photograph above. However, I’m personally drawn to the side stuff: the towels hanging below the stovetop… the wear patterns on the cabinetry… the utensils strategically positioned around the periphery. Louise is a masterful cook and baker. So, all of these pictures from the kitchen feel like a reflection of her.

Christmas at the Farm

It really is the people who make the farm special. Still, the objects reflect the people in unique ways. So, I’m glad that we got to spend Christmas at the Farm this year.

Posted in Family, Home, Nostalgia, Ohio, Photography, Richland County | Comments Off on Christmas at the Farm

The Hidden Delight of God

I just finished reading John Hever’s book, The Hidden Delight of God. It’s an extended study of the biblical Exodus account, with some cultural analysis and adaptation. And I should probably admit that I received an advance copy of the book directly from the author, because I know him personally. He also wanted to pass on the thought of gifting the book as a Christmas present to friends or family. But he also wanted me to pass along a caveat. “I don’t think it’s the perfect gift for everyone, as I did not write it with spiritual seekers in mind… But for those who are on the journey of following Jesus, I believe this book imparts something we greatly need these days: Hope!” Just getting all of those disclaimers and public relations statements out of the way. Now I want to offer my sincere reflections on reading this book.

The Hidden Delight of God, by John Hever

I’ve finished reading it for myself since starting a sort of Winter Break. (Sorry it wasn’t sooner, if my reading timeline didn’t match up well with your Christmas shopping!). As much as it speaks to themes that are directly applicable to ministry (i.e. my job), it really comes across mostly as a personal devotional aid. So, I’m glad that I got the chance to read it over a stretch of downtime.

The author blends a slow, deliberate exegesis of the biblical Exodus account with anecdotes and illustrations. And in all of this, Hever plays to his strengths as a preacher and pastor. His personal stories have a particularly magnetic quality. But he’s also faithful to the story of Moses and the People of God.

At its core, The Hidden Delight of God is a book about identity. It describes the way that the individual of Moses and the nation of Israel can function as models for us. Particularly in our own process of redefining our relationship with God and the world around us. Moses had to go through a process, himself, where he purged all of the false narratives that he had built for himself. And in their place, he leaned into God’s story for his life. It didn’t take immediately. He had to relearn a lot of old patterns and rediscover his truest and best sense of self.

But even as he was completing this process for himself, Moses started to lead the People of God through this process on a collective level. The story of the Exodus plays this all out in dramatic detail. And I really appreciated the way that Hever’s exposition brought this to life. After all of the Bible study, Hever turns the corner to show how we’re next. Similar to Moses and the nation of Israel, we must give up the false narratives that run our lives. We have to embrace our identity as children of God. And then we get to live as examples of God’s ongoing process of redemption and renewal that can perpetuate this process in successive generations of faith.

It’s foundational stuff. And as such, I feel like I can wholeheartedly recommend it as a helpful resource for believers. But just to make sure that this doesn’t become a puff piece for my friend’s publishing project: it’s not a perfect book. I don’t love the term that the author coined for divine coincidence (“God-incidence”). Similarly, I worry that the phrase “living ‘2.0” is not going to age well. And in general, this book conforms to the Christian publishing standards that dictate two-hundred pages for of a concept that could be better in fifty or a hundred pages — or perhaps a sermon series, instead. But I really don’t want these points of critique to overpower the good things that this book represents.

I’m glad that I got the chance to read The Hidden Delight of God. I’m glad that John Hever is stepping into the world of writing and publication. The world is better for these developments. And I look forward to seeing what comes next from these developments.

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A Christmas Card (2022)

Merry Christmas from the Asps!

Season’s Greetings from Kent, Ohio! We’ve never been good at the Christmas Card thing. We do, however, try to provide regular updates about our lives through other channels. So, please let us know if you’d like to be included on any of those other communications!

Anyway: we’ve loved getting other people’s Christmas cards over the last couple of weeks. So much so that we wanted to try a sort of “electronic Christmas Card” this year. To supplement all the prayer letters, and blog posts, and Instagram images, TikTok videos, and BeReal posts. To say, “Merry Christmas” to you. Our lives are so greatly enriched by all of our family, our friends, and our neighbors. So, even if this is the only thing you read from us in 2022, we want you to know that we appreciate you.

We’re happy to report that we’re all doing relatively well, here at the close of 2022. But we want to be careful to not create some overly-simplistic “postcard” of our lives, in this space for updates. Life is full of both sorrow and joy. But in any event, we want to share it with you.

Eric

Thanksgiving at the Farm

Eric is now in his eleventh year of working with the Leadership Team for H2O Church at Kent State University. He likes working with younger generations, and could see himself staying at his current position for the rest of his career. At the same time, he regularly has to remind himself that “Jesus is the Savior of the World, not Eric.” This has also been a year of trusting God with providing increased care for his father, Dave, who’s dealing with more and more complications from his Parkinson’s Disease. Fortunately, they’re just a mile up the road in Kent.

Outside of day-to-day life and ministry, he tends to take the driver’s seat on family trips — like the summer’s work in Colorado and vacation in Utah and Nevada — but he’s even happier bicycling, running, or hiking as recreational activities.

Eric doesn’t enjoy thrift stores as much as everyone else in the family, but his favorite discovery of the last year was a VHS cassette copy of the original Top Gun film, purchased from a second-hand store in Elko, Nevada. Without air conditioning in temperatures near a hundred degrees, we sweated while watching the 1986 film in the cabin of a working cattle ranch further east in Elko County… But that made the next day’s experience of going to see Top Gun: Maverick at the air-conditioned downtown cinema all the sweeter.

Marci

Cooling Down by the Stream at the Hole in the Mountain Cabin

This year, Marci established a new business called Fleta’s Cupboard: giving new life to old furniture. As a result, she spends a lot of time in thrift stores (and their online equivalents), as well as trash-picking items from the curbs of Kent. She has monetized the old adage that “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure,” and she’s developed a steady source of family income through her skillful renovations. She loves the flexibility that comes with being her own boss. And it comes in handy on the family level, too. We’re also in the process of losing her father, Ross, to Alzheimer’s Disease. But we’re trusting God in this.

As the kids have become increasingly independent, she developed a brilliant new rhythm for bringing the family together for Friday Feasts with Friends and Family (a.k.a. FFFF). She gets to show off her culinary skills and her gift for hospitality. And as a result, our house on the west side of Kent is loud and full at the start of most weekends.

Her favorite second-hand discovery was a set of 1962 Broyhill Brazilia chairs. They were actually left on the curb as trash, but it turns out that they are highly sought after collectors’ items. She’s finished renovating them just in time for the holidays, allowing more places for guests to sit when they visit our home.

Elliot

Thanksgiving in North Royalton

Elliot is now twenty years old, in his second-to-last year of studying Business Marketing Management, with a minor in Digital Media, at Kent State University. He’s a dominant basketball player, a creative presence in online media and musical spheres, and he’s recently been learning the ropes of the dating world. The summer of 2022 was especially epic for Elliot. He got to participate in an all-expenses-paid learning experience in Israel in May. And then he spent June, July, and part of August at the Collegiate Church Network’s Leadership Training program in Estes Park, Colorado.

For the summer of 2023, however, he’s hoping to find an internship in the music industry. This could combine his people skills, his business education, and his love for music. He’s been teaching himself how to play piano, as well as more frequently singing and collaborating with friends on songwriting.

Most of Elliot’s wardrobe these days is retro-1990s clothing, so he’s a regular at all of the local thrift stores. He got his start in thrifting under the tutelage of his sister, Olivia, but he contends that “the student has surpassed the teacher.” In any event, his favorite secondhand scoop from this year was a USA Team Olympic Jacket from 1996.

Olivia

Smoky Mountains Retreat: Olivia on a Sun-Soaked Rock

Olivia is now eighteen years old, in her first year of studying Visual Communication and Design at Kent State University. She graduated from Kent Roosevelt High School in May. And then, she spent the majority of the summer living independently in Kent. She held down three jobs, while the rest of the family traveled west for June and July. In the middle of July, she joined her church youth group to learn about (and help alleviate) homelessness in San Francisco. Then afterwards, she narrowly dodged a COVID scare to rendezvous with her parents and younger brother in Las Vegas for a little bit of vacation time before making her way back to Ohio for the start of college.

Now that she’s living in the dorms at Kent State, she’s carving out her own niche within the H2O Church community. And she continues working at the Great Harvest Bread Company in Stow.

Olivia’s favorite thrift find of 2022 is a red leather jacket (as seen in the family portrait). She found it during a lunch stop in Nebraska. She may have the greatest passion and eye for fashion out of everyone in the family, and she uses it to assemble her own distinctive look — as well as to provide thoughtful consultation to her family and friends.

Cor

Towner's Woods with Cor

Cor is now fifteen years old, in his sophomore year at Kent Roosevelt High School. He’s still crazy about sports: especially the Cleveland Cavaliers, Amsterdam FC Ajax, and the Dutch National Soccer Team. He watched most of the 2022 World Cup, and felt like referees robbed Team Oranje in their quarterfinal loss to Argentina. But a silver lining in this year’s World Cup experience is that he has amassed about seventy percent of the stickers for the official collector’s album.

Interestingly, despite his ongoing love for the world’s favorite sport, he personally switched from playing on the school Soccer team to running for the school Cross Country team this fall — and he’s loved the switch. He also sings for the high school’s top choir. And within the next year, he should be driving! In the meantime, however, he loves the independence that he gets from using his bicycle as his primary mode of transportation.

Cor’s favorite thrift store discovery was an England 2006 World Cup jersey. He doesn’t actually care much for English footballers, but the jersey is a really clean, crisp, official replica.

Merry Christmas!

During this Advent season, we regularly try to pause after dinner, with lighting candles and reflecting on the power, the peace, the light, and the hope of this holiday season. God made a choice to include us in His family, through Jesus. And now, we can choose to participate in the blessings of that inclusion! What a miracle! It’s hard to wrap our minds around all the implications. But it’s worth contemplating. And celebrating. After our Advent reflections, we close with singing a song together. One of our favorites is “O Come, O Come, Immanuel” (even though it’s really hard to harmonize with this one). It carries a haunting sadness in the recognition of our day-to-day darkness, pain, and brokenness. But it concludes with words of hope: “Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel shall come…” And we pray that you will find Him and rest in Him this Christmas.

Much love,
The Asps

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