Lone Cowboy

Moraine Park

I love the Western United States. It really does feel like the “Wild West” — even though it’s far more populated than it used to be. The mountains… the plains… the Cowboys-and-Indians culture… it’s hard to explain. But unless you’re stuck in a traffic jam in Denver, things ”out west” just feel so open and free. It reminds me of my early childhood, playing on the prairies near my grandparents’ house and going on camping trips to the North Dakota Badlands. These landscapes of the Wild West are deeply embedded in my soul. Just driving through the area in a rented Nissan Versa is enough to make me feel like a lone cowboy riding the range.

Serendipitous Sunday Worship in the Bear Lake Area

So, it felt like a special treat to fly out to Colorado a week before my family, to help get this summer’s Leadership Training program off the ground. An unseasonably late snow storm shifted things around a little bit. But we were still able to get everything started! And when I wasn’t working, I had time to hike every day, and eat at interesting restaurants (often western-themed, in some way), and just generally soak up the Wild West scene.

Serendipitous Sunday Worship in the Bear Lake Area

On my last day in Colorado, before a brief Graduation Vacation back in Ohio, I decided to undertake some extra adventures. My friend Chad was also out west for the first week of the Leadership Training program. So he agreed to be the “Tonto” to my “Lone Ranger” (for at least part of these adventures). So we started by driving the Peak-to-Peak Highway from Estes Park to Idaho Springs, with almost two hours of spectacular mountain views. We got to Idaho Springs just in time for lunch at the original Beau Jo’s Pizza. And their ”mountain pie” was every bit as good as I remembered it.

Beau Jo's Pizza in Idaho Springs

Then, after lunch, we went to an old resort, originally established in the 19th Century, called Indian Hot Springs. I booked a room at the resort (for less than the cost of a room at the nearest Hampton Inn), which was strategic because of its proximity to Beau Jo’s and the famous Red Rocks amphitheater (more on that in a moment). But it also entitled me to two days of access to their natural hot springs.

Indian Hot Springs

The natural hot springs could be accessed through Geothermal Caves, a Mineral Water Swimming Pool, Outdoor Jacuzzis, and Indoor Private Baths. So Chad and I had a tough choice to make. We ultimately decided we’d try the Geothermal Caves. But the woman at the resort’s front desk warned us that we would need to drink lots of water because the Geothermal Caves were like a jacuzzi and a sauna all in one. And she said that if we felt like we wouldn’t be able to handle the heat, we could come back to the front desk and swap out our cave passes for something else. That got us wondering and worrying. But it still seemed so unique that we needed to try anyway.

As soon as we walked into the cave area, we felt the temperature creep up. We were buffeted by billows of warm, moist air, even in the locker room area. There we also encountered two completely-naked men lying spread-eagled on wooden drying racks. << Gulp. >> Even so, we weren’t prepared when we finally stripped down to our swimsuits and entered the caves. The air was so warm and moist that my lungs spasmed. The water was even warmer! And things just kept feeling weirder and weirder. The lighting was dim. Signs discouraged talking or making noise of any sort. The nudity was more overwhelming than I expected. So, after maybe ten minutes, Chad and I nodded and whispered to each other. We couldn’t take the heat. We were ready to trade in our cave passes.

Indian Hot Springs

We chose to switch to the Mineral Water Swimming Pool. And even though there’s a little bit of shame that this cowboy wasn’t tough enough for the Geothermal Caves, I must say that the Mineral Water Swimming Pool was lovely. Tropical plants bloomed under a greenhouse dome, fed by the warm, moist air. The water temperature was maybe 100° Fahrenheit. I swear that free-floating in the water felt like being back in the womb. It was amazing. Maybe not quite the ”Lone Cowboy” thing to do. But still. It was a ”Wild West” adventure.

Rex Orange County at Red Rocks

After our time at Indian Hot Springs, Chad and I parted ways. He had further responsibilities with the Leadership Training program back in Estes Park, whereas I was about to head back east for my daughter’s high school graduation. First, though, I had one more Wild West adventure: a concert at Red Rocks amphitheater.

Rex Orange County at Red Rocks

A couple of months back, I had figured out that one of my favorite contemporary artists, Rex Orange County, was going to be playing at Red Rocks. And even though the schedule wouldn’t allow me to attend with any of my kids (which would have been the dream scenario), there was just enough alignment of circumstances that I could attend the concert on my own. So, I did.

Rex Orange County at Red Rocks

It was an amazing show. And an amazing venue. I’ve watched enough Instagram stories from friends at concerts to know that the experience doesn’t translate well through another person’s smartphone. So, you’ll just have to take my word for it. All 10,000 seats in the amphitheater were sold out. And we had a lovely night together.

Indian Hot Springs

I went back to the Indian Hot Springs resort after the concert. And I had a decent (but not amazing) night of sleep in my room (which probably had not been renovated since the 1920s). In the morning, I got up, had another soak in the Mineral Water Swimming Pool, and then started out for the airport.

It was a fun week out in the Wild West. But it also felt surreal. Especially being disconnected from the rest of my family. I spent a lot of time thinking about my wife and my kids and my parents, wondering what they were doing while I was ”riding the range.” It was lonelier than I expected it would be. Surprisingly-long conversations with strangers don’t mean the same as ongoing day-to-day dialogue with loved ones. So, I was glad when it was time to ”hang up my spurs” and rejoin civilization back east.

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Back in Estes Park

Bible Point #1

I’m back in Colorado! It just so happens to be the land of my birth. But it feels like home for many different reasons. My family has made many special memories here. God has spoken to me here. And on the purely quantitative level: this will be my fourth summer in six years that I get to spend back in Estes Park. So it just feels familiar. I’m the weird inverse of the classic Ohio ”snowbird,” staying in the Midwest during the cold-and-snowy winter months and then traveling to Colorado (and its snow-capped Rocky Mountains) during the summer months! Suffice to say: Estes Park, Colorado feels kind of like a second home to me.

EPLT 2022 Staff Dinner

I’m out here helping to staff the Collegiate Church Network’s Leadership Training (LT) program in Estes Park. And the first week of LT is usually pretty intense. Like, a 70-80 hour work week. This week, however, we got slowed down by a significant weather system that pushed through the area right around the time when LT was supposed to be starting.

Bible Point #3

Temperatures plunged into the upper-teens and lower-twenties… we got a foot of fresh snowfall (some forecasts suggested it might be as much as three feet, which would have made an even bigger impact)… And with the winding mountain roads plus relatively-inexperienced drivers, we decided to postpone the start of LT by twenty-four hours.

RMNP Bridal Veil Falls with Clay

So, I got an unexpected, serendipitous day off today. And it felt like such a special, unexpected gift from God. It started with a far better night of sleep than either of the preceding two nights (almost none hours of uninterrupted rest). I woke up ten minutes before my alarm clock went off, so I still had time to get ready and scrape the snow and ice off of my car. And then I drove to pick up my friend, Clay.

RMNP Bridal Veil Falls with Clay

Clay and I drove past herds of elk as the sun rose. We found a parking spot at the Cow Creek Trailhead (a notoriously small parking lot). And then we hiked to Bridal Veil Falls as the canyon brightened upon a beautiful scene of meadows, forests, and flowing water. I appreciated the opportunity for quality time and conversation with Clay. And I appreciated the beauty of Bridal Veil Falls (which has been on my bucket list for some time).

After returning to the car, we drove down to Glen Haven for some of their famous cinnamon rolls and had a lovely breakfast bundled up on a picnic bench, while hummingbirds flitted overhead.

Serendipitous Sunday Worship in the Bear Lake Area

At his request, I dropped Clay off back at the YMCA of the Rockies. And then I checked my messages (just to make sure that my services were not required for the LT program). But after some very brief communication tasks, I discovered that my next scheduled activity was not until 6PM. So, I decided to see what was happening up around Bear Lake. It’s one of the most crowded parts of the Rocky Mountain National Park. And next week, the National Park Service is implementing its new timed, ticketed entry system, which will make access even more challenging. But since it was early in the season, I decided to gove it a try.

Serendipitous Sunday Worship in the Bear Lake Area

The parking lot at the Bear Lake Trailhead was only half-full. So, I started with a quick solo hike around Bear Lake (which I had actually never done before). I had so much fun at Bear Lake, though, that I decided to continue to Nymph Lake, Dream Lake, and Emerald Lake. It was spectacular, with all of the fresh snowfall!

It was so refreshing! Even though I logged about ten miles on trails through the Rocky Mountain National Park, my soul was lifted by the experience. It felt like the purest form of worship. And now I feel even more ready to start this summer of Leadership Training!

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A Glimpse of an Empty Nest

Our family is spread out by nearly 7,000 miles right now. Marci, Olivia, and Cor are at home in Ohio. Elliot is on a ten-day trip to Israel. And I’m in Colorado for work. We’re all doing well — better than usual in some ways, honestly. We’re riding roller coasters at Cedar Point… rafting down the Jordan River… and hiking in the Rocky Mountains. But it’s a strange, unfamiliar tension to be so far apart from each other in these adventures. It feels like a glimpse into the future. A glimpse of an Empty Nest, when all our baby birds have grown up and flown off. And even though that is the goal of raising children (to help them reach adulthood), it just feels weird.

Olivia and Cor with Starring Roles in POPs 2022

I miss my kids.

Olivia and Cor had a big choir concert this evening. They each had special parts, and it sounds like they did really well (getting my information through text messages from friends and a few video clips sent to me by Marci). Sometimes I can be kind of crotchety about obligatory parental attendance at school-sponsored extracurricular activities. But I truly ached to be in that auditorium tonight. The POPs Concert is probably the best musical performance of the year. And I was 1,300 miles away.

We’ve kept up a pretty lively banter on our family text messaging group. But I find myself wondering, “What is Elliot doing right now?” and “Why doesn’t he send more pictures?” I thirst for contact. In whatever form I can get it. But I have to remind myself that it’s good for my kids to not be glued to their phones. Especially when there are so many interesting things happening in the real world(s) around them. They should be singing and dancing and sand-surfing. They should be enjoying themselves. Like songbirds soaring and singing in the meadows.

But I’m definitely listening for that birdsong. And smiling whenever I can catch a snatch of their trill.

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Watermelon Wedding

Watermelon

Jesse and Rylee got engaged back in March. I saw it posted on Rylee’s Instagram. So when I saw them at Wendy’s, I offered my congratulations. And my standard “Watermelon Wedding” proposal, which is partly social commentary and partly Dad Joke. I’ve been floating the idea for more than a decade, without finding any takers. But that didn’t stop me from sharing the standard offer:

“I know that there are a lot of moving pieces, when it comes to planning and preparing for a wedding. But I just want to encourage you that it only has to be as complicated as you want it to be. You’ve got more power than you think you have. So you don’t have to cave in to all of the pressures of the Wedding Industrial Complex. The law requires you to submit some paperwork at the county courthouse, but if you get that taken care of I would be glad to serve as the officiant for your wedding in the park of your choosing on the date of your choosing. And I’ll even bring along a watermelon to serve as refreshment for whatever guests you choose to invite — so I can be both your officiant and your caterer!”

Sometimes I add that I’d be willing to pick a bouquet of whatever wild vegetation happens to be in season at the time, so I can add “florist” to the portfolio. Or offer to take pictures with the camera on my phone, to be “photographer” as well. But generally, it’s all just offered and received with smiles and nods. Valuable reminders left in the realm of the rhetorical…

Until Jesse and Rylee took me up on my offer.

Wedding for Jesse Setliff and Rylee Crowley

Maybe a week after our Wendy’s conversation, Jesse and Rylee said they wanted to talk. So we talked. And they said they didn’t want to wait until they could save up tens of thousands of dollars to throw the Big White Wedding. They just wanted to start their lives together. And even after considerable poking and prodding, their rationale checked out with my understanding of a wedding: that it’s much more about the start of a marriage relationship than the conclusion of a wedding event. And since Jesse and Rylee were ready to make sincere-and-serious promises to each other and to God, why wait?!?

We started with premarital counseling right away: four weekly sessions, in quick succession. They got their marriage license from the county courthouse. And then they decided to book a local church sanctuary, instead of a park. They also decided that they would rather get lunch at Laziza in downtown Kent, instead of watermelon. Still, they kept their guest list minimal (I was one of seventeen people, including the bride and groom!). A couple of the other guests doubled as photographer and videographer. The family graciously invited me to join them for lunch, but I said I’d prefer to be excused. So it only took about an hour and a half from the time that I started putting on my suit to the time that I put it back in my closet and went back to my Saturday.

It was amazing.

It wasn’t technically a “Watermelon Wedding,” since they went for a restaurant instead of my catering services. But it definitely had a “Watermelon Wedding” spirit. And I wonder if their wedding could be a hopeful model that other couples might follow. Jesse and Rylee say they might still choose to have a big party with friends and extended family to celebrate their first anniversary, or their third anniversary, or whatever. Much like what we typically think of as a “wedding,” which they can scale as big or as small as they want. And if they choose to invite me to such an anniversary celebration, I already know what I’m going to bring for either the dinner table or the gift table: a watermelon.

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Twenty-Four Years

Marci and I are celebrating twenty-four years of marriage this month. So we decided to mark the occasion by traveling to Charleston, South Carolina, for a three-day, two-night getaway.

Charleston is a lovely city, with a rich history, distinctive urban design, and interesting places to walk, shop, and eat. It’s almost-European in some ways; almost Caribbean in other ways. But also fully American. If that makes any sense at all.

That being said: our first ninety minutes in Charleston were pretty rough. We arrived more fatigued than expected, after a long travel day. So, we were looking forward to regrouping at our AirBnB. However, the accommodations we’d booked ended up being problematic (I’ll spare everyone the details). Anyway, we decided to go for a walk into the city center to regroup while getting some dinner. However, just as we got to Market Street, my Mom called us to say that my Dad had just wandered off again when she wasn’t paying attention. So, we called our kids and enlisted their help to help find him (fortunately, their mission was successful). And then we finally got to sit down for some dinner.

It wasn’t the most romantic meal, as we were both working the phones to resolve our stressful situations. But we had some delicious Low Country Boil while we sorted things out. So when we got up from the table, it felt like we had finally succeeded in regrouping for the rest of our time in Charleston.

Anniversary Getaway to Charleston

Those first ninety minutes in Charleston were emblematic of the last year of our marriage, the last year of our life. We’re working together to figure out new family dynamics. Generational shifts. It’s not always easy or enjoyable. But we’re in it together. And I’m so glad that Marci and I have been partnered together for these last twenty-four years.

Anniversary Getaway to Charleston

We’re going to have to keep reading and adjusting as we age. But if our time in Charleston showed me anything, it showed me that I’ve got a wonderful woman by my side. And I hope we get another twenty-four years to keep figuring things out together.

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The Pastor

I recently finished (re)reading Eugene Peterson’s memoir, The Pastor. It was my second reading (at least). But I especially enjoyed the reading this time around because it served to facilitate weekly discussions with two lovely young people who were doing paid internships with H2O Kent this semester. Many people know Peterson (in some cases, without knowing that they know!) through his translation of the Bible that’s come to be known as The Message. And I’ve observed that people usually have pretty strong opinions — either for or against —The Message because, well, Christians can be funny like that with Bible translations. Still, no matter what one’s feelings about The Message might be, I think it’s harder to dislike Peterson as a person. Or as a storyteller in The Pastor.

Peterson has a way with words. His writing really captures my heart. He sees the transcendent in the mundane. He sees the universal in the specific. And there’s this element of humility and gentleness to the way that he communicates. I guess you could say it’s pastoral (probably a good move for a book called The Pastor). I might also say that Peteron’s writing strikes me as Spirit-filled, modeled closely after the Great Shepherd, Jesus.

My favorite thing about The Pastor is its musings on the question of vocation. This is why I chose book for Intern Management Meetings this semester. Naturally, Peterson looks at the issue of vocation, or calling, from the perspective of his own story. But he’s not single-minded about his perspective. In fact, he points to many others as key indicators of how God guided him and directed him through decades of pastoral ministry. His mother… African students… Catholic nuns… Hippies… Atheists… Contractors… And he shows the way that God weaves together multiple personal narratives to create a grander, more beautiful communal narrative.

I like the way that Peterson thinks about Sabbath rest. He eloquently captures many of my own thoughts for why running and hiking feel like such serious spiritual disciplines. His views on the church and pastoral ministry flow from these understandings about rest. Working from a place of rest, rather than resting from a place of work. In some ways, the things that Peterson suggests seem very radical. Almost revolutionary. In other ways, the things that Peterson suggests seem as basic and elemental as possible. This might be one of my favorite ministry spaces, personally, so I found myself nodding my head and using my highlighter a lot while reading through the book.

Towards the end of the book, I appreciated the glimpse into how The Message came into being. It happened surprisingly late in Peterson’s career. And it came into being as a very direct outgrowth of his pastoral ministry. It fits many of Peterson’s other convictions and character qualities. And if more people understood the backstory to The Message, I think there would be less complaint or controversy about it.

I’m really glad that I got to read The Pastor again this semester. I’m glad that Jared and Meaghan got to read it, too. If they’re going to become full-time campus missionaries, the lessons from this book will serve them well for years to come.

Posted in Church, Culture, God, H2O Kent, Health, Introspection, Ministry, Prayer, Recommendations, Recommended Reading, The Bible | Comments Off on The Pastor

The Memory of Old Jack

I recently finished reading Wendell Berry’s novel, The Memory of Old Jack. It’s another installment in his series of fictional stories of fictional people of a fictional town called Port William, Kentucky. But I rarely encounter characters and places as real as the characters and places in this Port William series. Many years ago, my friend Bob Phillips recommended another book from the same collection: Jayber Crow. And I read another one last summer: Hannah Coulter. I’ve shared my love of these stories with my friends Mark and Stephanie. And they recently bought the whole collection. After reading The Memory of Old Jack, Mark suggested that I should read it. He even loaned me their personal copy.

Mark knew what he was doing when he handed me that book. But I didn’t fully appreciate it. Now I see, though. This book provided me with a powerful story that coincides with some powerful dynamics at play in my own life right now.

The title “The Memory of Old Jack” is a clever play on words. I didn’t notice it until about a quarter of the way into the book, but that phrase can be understood as either Old Jack’s memory of other things, or, the memory of Old Jack that remains with others who knew him throughout different phases of his life. It’s a brilliant twist of phrase. Better still, though, the book develops these themes of love, loss, legacy, and memory in ways that go far beyond the title.

The Memory of Old Jack is a very sad story, actually. Still beautiful, in ways that happy stories actually cannot replicate. Still with glimpses of hope and joy and meaning, along the way. But it’s heavy. “Young Jack” was a farmer with bright prospects. He had high hopes for marriage and fatherhood and prosperity. But at every turn, he experienced disappointment and the disintegration of his prospects. He kept figuring out ways to carry on. And he even experienced some element of prosperity. But when he started dealing with dementia, late in life, Old Jack had space to go back and process the disappointment. He let others do the farming, while he lived in a fog of resting and retreating to the village barbershop, or the store in town, or the dinner table.

Old Jack’s emotional processing was invisible to the outside world. But there seemed to be a sifting and settling, over time, that was made visible to us as readers. And it struck me as highly credible. Not contrived. It matched with experiences that I’ve been noticing in my family. Namely, my Dad. He was diagnosed with Parkinon’s Disease in 2014. And unfortunately, he has started to experience more and more dementia over the course of the last year. But it’s not a linear process. The “real Dave” seems to drift in and out. My Dad has good days and bad days. And sometimes, the bad days seem to entail elements of reliving and reworking his past. Still, I’m somehow comforted to think that his brain might be working things out on a certain level. Even if I can’t see it or understand it.

The ending of The Memory of Old Jack brings everything together in a powerful way. Not just describing the death of the old farmer. But especially the way in which others remember him. We must each grieve in our own ways. But we can also grieve together. And I appreciate the way that The Memory of Old Jack exemplifies this.

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Moving to Youngstown

Moving Day for the Chepkes

“The Great Commission” sounds great, doesn’t it? It feels exciting and meaningful. To “go and make disciples,” to start new churches from scratch, to change the world. One soul at a time, one city at a time. And I really do believe in the cause of Christ Jesus. Specifically through planting churches.

Moving Day for the Chepkes

However, when the moving truck pulls up beside the house, it hits different. When the rooms of the house in which a family has established a home start to empty out, it feels unsettling. Because it is unsettling. Literally. Pulling up roots from one settled existence to go and settle down in a new and different place.

Moving Day for the Chepkes

Consequently, both times I’ve done it (moving to Amsterdam in 2003 and moving to Kent in 2012), it’s felt pretty awful. As the house emptied out and the moving truck filled up, my stomach felt downright queasy. I asked myself “What am I doing here?!? Why would I trade everything that I know and love here for everything that I don’t know and don’t understand there?!?” It felt anything but great.

Moving Day for the Chepkes

Still, things did work themselves out over time. We grew to genuinely love Amsterdam (to the point that we felt sad when it was time to leave). And of course we love Kent, too. So, I’m glad that I got to be together with my friends Daniel and Halle as they started moving to Youngstown. I’m glad that we had a whole crew of family and church family to help with the actual moving day.

Moving Day for the Chepkes

We stayed remarkably on-schedule, as we loaded up, ate pizza, drove to Youngstown, and unloaded at three different locations. It will still be months before Daniel, Halle, and Lottie can truly settle into their new place in Youngstown. And those may be challenging months (if my experience of similarly-prolonged transitions are any indication). But they will also be months of discovery and character formation and dependence upon God.

Moving Day for the Chepkes

Ultimately, I believe that the transition period will help to set the stage for God’s ongoing work in them and through them. It will be the act of faith in persevering through this part of the Great Commission that becomes the greatest part of what God wants to do in Youngstown.

Moving Day for the Chepkes

We’re praying many blessings for all our friends who are moving to Youngstown and the church that will be established through their time in the city. So, please join us in prayer for them, as you think about them, as well!

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Geauga County Hiking Quest

think I might have just completed my most recent personal hiking challenge: walking every step of every trail in Ohio’s Geauga County. But then again, I’ve thought that before. Maybe you can help me in my quest and fill in any trails I might be missing.

Today’s hike in the Blue Heron Preserve may actually have been illegal. A sign at the entrance from Ohio State Route 44 said, “Property Closed.” But I’ve been driving past that sign for months, waiting to see if it might reopen. And when it became clear that it was the last thing standing between me and the fulfillment of my latest quest, I parked some distance away and walked along the highway to hike those trails. So now, again, I think I’ve hiked every step of every trail in Geauga County. But I’m not sure.

Can you take a look at my map and let me know if I’m missing any trails?

My working definition for a trail is any man-made path designed to facilitate interaction between people and their natural environment. Most roads and sidewalks work differently. That is, they’re designed to connect one point of the human-made world to another point of the human-made world. Trails, however, point people to the natural world. Some trails function more like roads or sidewalks because they’re built on top of old infrastructure. A prime example of this is the Maple Highlands Trail. Many parts of it used to be railways. And it’s designed to include cyclists. Still, I count it as a trail because it self-identifies as a trail. And such a trail system still works to increase interaction between people and their natural environment. And it excludes cars.

So here are some of the categories of parks and trails for consideration:

  • State Parks
  • State Nature Preserves
  • County Parks
  • Municipal Nature Preserves
  • Church Camps
  • College Research Stations
  • Local “Nature Centers”
  • Audubon Society Sanctuaries (for humans watching for birds)
  • Mountain Biking Trails (for humans on mountain bikes)
  • Bridle Trails (for humans on horses)
  • Snowmobile Trails (for humans on snowmobiles)

Just like I did with my Portage County Hiking Quest, I’ve decided to exclude the roadside sections of the Buckeye Trail in this quest. Even though they get the “Buckeye Trail” branding — including that key word “trail — they’re really just roads. I walked them once, and they’re fine. But they’re not all designed for interaction with the natural world. Those segments of “trail” simply connect a larger loop. And I know from personal experience that the Buckeye Trail Association itself wants more trail miles and fewer road miles.

So anyway: Do you know any trails that I might be missing? Please reach out if you do! Geauga County is a beautiful place. Totally worth exploring. As long as we can figure out where those trails run!

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Go ’Guins

Staff Send-Off for YSU Team

We’re saying good-bye to the YSU Team in stages. The big, whole-church, whole-Sunday Send-Off was great. I can see how it will also be important to help with actually moving boxes and furniture, starting this weekend. Both for practical reasons and for emotional closure reasons. But today was our last Staff Meeting with the team in its current configuration. And it felt like it might have been the most meaningful stage of the send-off for me, personally.

Part of this is because it Staff Meeting feels like the space in which I’ve had the most meaningful interactions with A.J., Daniel, Brooke, Griffin, and Jana. Part of this was because we gave ourselves the time and space for actual interaction. And part of this was because our time together came at the end of some extended time in reflection and prayer.

So I tried to make a biblical connection for each individual to serve as a benediction.


Brooke

When I think of Brooke, the biblical parallel that leaps to mind is David and his Mighty Men. Of course, Brooke is a woman. And the army of warriors that she’s assembled is an Army of WOGs (a phrase she has popularized for “Women of God”). Still, there’s something resonant in the way that Brooke and David chased have hard after God and instilled a similar passion and pursuit with others around them.

Smoky Mountains Retreat: Hike to Charlie's Bunion

I knew Brooke as a student and even as a student-intern. But I feel like she really distinguished herself in my mind when she joined the leadership team for the Life Group that I was coaching in the Fall of 2018. Even though she was brand-new to the Quad Life Group and to our Staff team, she impressed me with her ability to clearly articulate the ways that God was speaking to her and challenging her on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis.

In the last couple of years, I feel like I’ve gotten to know Brooke as more of a peer. I think particularly of some long, meandering conversations on some long, meandering runs in the gulches outside of Estes Park, as we both trained for the Longmont Half-Marathon in the Summer of 2019. Or even more recently, I think of some early morning coffee conversations in the Smoky Mountains, talking about life and ministry. She’s a wise WOG.

Anyway, my prayer for Brooke is that she will continually find her strength in the LORD (1 Samuel 30:6).


A.J.

When I think of A.J., the biblical parallel that leaps to mind is Samuel. Particularly his early and enduring heart for righteousness and the glory of God. Many people know A.J. primarily as a worship leader — and he is excellent in this role. But I think even more broadly; A.J. has a prophetic voice. He says the things that need to be said. He points people to God and God’s ongoing mission to redeem the world.

ManMaker 2022

A.J. first distinguished himself in my memory when he expressed interest in joining a European Leadership Training program in the Spring of 2014. He was just a student (maybe a sophomore?) at the time, but he jumped in with both feet. He may have even been the most committed member of our small group! (It didn’t end up gaining critical mass to continue). When that initiative was ultimately scuttled, he found another way to spend his summer on mission. And that’s just been the entirety of A.J.’s mindset since I first became aware of him. He’s been eager to proclaim the name of Jesus in many places, locally and around the world.

NL-LT Team Meeting - large

More recently, I admire the way that A.J. has helped to develop an initiative for H2O Kent that we’ve taken to calling the Antioch Project. With this, we try to stimulate continued and growing engagement with global missions — bringing something to the church at least once a month, in one way or another. It’s been creative. It’s been missional. And I hope that it’s been formational, too.

I pray that A.J. will to continue growing “in stature and in favor with the LORD and with men,” just like Samuel (1 Samuel 2:26).


Daniel

When I think of Daniel, the biblical parallel that leaps to mind is Elijah: both his brilliance and his pathos. Daniel knows how to be funny, but he also knows how to be sad. All of that to say: Daniel is a skilled emotional leader, and he regularly leans into the power of God. These natural inclinations will be a tremendous asset to the the team, as they work to establish a new church at Youngstown State University.

Smoky Mountains Retreat: Hike to Charlie's Bunion

One of the ways that Daniel first distinguished himself to me was through a heartfelt conversation in the Hub after a teaching in which I shared some of my sin struggles. He showed a remarkable readiness to relate with me: freshman to pastor. That was both of our first years in Kent (for me, after my decade of ministry in Amsterdam). And that sense of brotherhood has really never dissipated, through all the years.

Groningen Group on the Streets

Daniel still amazes me with his ability to connect with people. Just this past weekend, I watched Daniel conjure up a guest pass at the Rec with his charm and humor. He just asked the desk worker to check his membership to see if he had any unused guest passes. And then, while she was checking the computer, he just kind of hunched down on the counter, used one of his silly voices, and said, “And I’d like you to say ‘Yes,’ even if there aren’t any on there” — busting into a brilliant smile immediately after saying this. The desk worker smiled a genuine smile at this and said, “There are no more guest passes for this account. But you’re good to go, anyway.” She seemed like her day was actually brightened by the interaction. And it just showed how Daniel has a remarkable way of relating to people.

I pray that Daniel will listen to the LORD and serve others so that they will know “you are a man of God and that the word of the LORD from your mouth is the truth” (1 Kings 17:24).


Griffin

When I think of Griffin, the biblical parallel that leaps to mind is Solomon in his wisdom and generational greatness. Solomon possessed understanding and stature that were beyond his years, and Griffin is similar. He’s always ”punched above his weight class.” To borrow a line from It’s a Wonderful Life, he was ”born older” than his peers. And I think this supernatural maturity will serve him well in this upcoming transition to Youngstown.

H2O Welcome Week (2021)

Griffin first distinguished himself in my mind as a student-intern in the Fall of 2017. He was highly competent in the ministry duties to which he was assigned that semester. But what struck me the most was the way that he cared for his fellow interns during that time period. Both of the other interns that semester were learning and growing in distinct ways that Griffin seemed to intuitively sense and provide an appropriate ”big brother” response in gentle and understanding ways. It was pretty impressive.

More recently, Griffin has distinguished himself as a skilled servant-leader. He’s learned how to run the Production Team, in order to serve the new church plant. He’s taken the ”air traffic controller” role for our ManMaker event, to keep an overview of everything happening. He switched Life Group Coaching assignments, to better distribute our church’s human resources. And seriously: Everything that he does seems to succeed.

As he leaves Kent, I’m praying for Griffin that he will ”Trust the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your path straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6).


Jana

When I think of Jana, the biblical parallel that leaps to my mind is Abraham and his faith to step away from the familiar in order to embrace the promises of God. She’s an intensely-loyal friend, sister, and daughter — so it was really pretty remarkable for her to choose Kent State University (2.5 hours away from home in Northwest Ohio) in the first place. Then, to move another 45 minutes east for this church plant, stretching herself and her loved ones even further — it just seems like the way that God called Abram (later renamed Abraham) to leave Ur for Canaan. A step of great faith in order to establish a new family on a new foundation in a new place.

Leadership Table Send-Off Committee

In my experience, Jana first distinguished herself in conversations about marriage and missions. I didn’t know her very well when she was a student. But around the time of her graduation, she and AJ started talking about marriage. And because A.J. had been thinking about missions, she also dived headfirst into that conversation. It was a lot for her to process. But she expressed great faith in it all. They ended up deciding to get married and to engage in missions on more of the local level than the global level. But I saw enough of her heart in that decision-making process that I knew she was a keeper.

Jana has more recently distinguished herself as a Life Group leader and coach for the New Front region on campus. And in so doing, she has gained my oldest son’s trust and admiration. Even though I presumed that A.J. was going to be the more natural connection there, as the male and the more experienced Life Group leader, Elliot has developed an especially deep respect for Jana. As a parent (as well as a pastor), it just does my heart good to see the good that Jana brings into my son’s life. I’m looking forward to seeing how she will replicate this process in Youngstown.

As Jana makes the transition eastward, I pray that she will continually look “forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). 

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