My Top Ten Books of 2021

2021 Top Ten Books

It’s that time of the year for retrospection.

After posting my Top Ten Songs of 2021, I’m moving on to a list of my favorite reading material. I’ve had the privilege to read sixteen books (and counting) over the course of the last year. 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 2021, here are my Top Ten Books of the year, in ranked order:

  1. The Hawk and the Dove, by Penelope Wilcock
  2. The Long Fall, by Penelope Wilcock
  3. The Way of the Heart, by Henri Nouwen
  4. Hannah Coulter, by Wendell Berry
  5. Single Gay Christian, by Gregory Coles
  6. The Great Influenza, by John M. Barry
  7. The Measure of a Mountain, by Bruce Barcott
  8. The Hardest Thing to Do, by Penelope Wilcock
  9. Travels with Charley in Search of America, by John Steinbeck
  10. Tyler Johnson Was Here, by Jay Coles

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

#10 – Tyler Johnson Was Here (Jay Coles)

Racism. White Privilege. Systemic Oppression.

#9 – Travels with Charley in Search of America (John Steinbeck)

Travelogue. Slow. Observation. Montana. Steinbeck.

#8 – The Hardest Thing to Do (Penelope Wilcock)

Leadership. Transition. Faith. Compassion. Healing.

#7 – The Measure of a Mountain (Bruce Barcott)

Mount Rainier. History. Introspection. Ontology.

#6 – The Great Influenza (John M. Barry)

Eerie Echoes. Pandemic. Precedent. Misinformation.

#5 – Single Gay Christian (Gregory Coles)

Empathy. Insight. Identity. Calling. Memoir.

#4 – Hannah Coulter (Wendell Berry)

Wisdom. Time. Generations. Place. Characters.

#3 – The Way of the Heart (Henri Nouwen)

Mystery. Solitude. Silence. Prayer. Stillness.

#2 – The Long Fall (Penelope Wilcock)

Human Frailty. Mortality. Grief. Love.

#1 – The Hawk and the Dove (Penelope Wilcock)

Faith. Frailty. Transformation. Short Stories.

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My Top Ten Songs of 2021

2021 Top Ten Songs

It’s that time of year for retrospection.

Earlier this month, I shared some observations regarding my and my family’s musical preferences and listening patterns from 2021. But, those observations were heavily influenced by circumstances and frequency — and I honestly don’t feel like frequency automatically dictates favorites. At least, I’ve been thinking about my picks for this year, and I can verify that my Spotify Top Ten is not the same as my actual, all-things-considered, comprehensive Top Ten for the year.

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 2021.

I’ll start with a simple listing. Here are my Top Ten Songs of 2021:

  1. This Will Be Our Year (The Zombies)
  2. Through It All (Charlie Puth)
  3. Flesh and Blood (Half Moon Run)
  4. Summer Feelings (Lennon Stella, Charlie Puth)
  5. Crop Circles (Jon Bellion)
  6. You Put This Love in My Heart (Keith Green)
  7. EAT (Tobe Nwigwe, Fat)
  8. Northwest Passage (Stan Rogers)
  9. Broken (Jonah Kagan)
  10. Away in a Manger (Jon McLaughlin)

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

#10 – Away in a Manger (Jon McLaughlin)

You might think that I’m falling victim to a recency bias with selecting a Christmas song for my Top Ten. But I honestly thought about including this track in last year’s Top Ten. Furthermore, I noticed myself sneaking some listens in November (even though our family is pretty strict about waiting until after Thanksgiving to play Christmas music). And when we finally cleared Thanksgiving, this was the first song I wanted to hear. It’s a simple jazz-trio arrangement, and I’m a sucker for simple jazz-trio arrangements. And honestly, if it wasn’t so obviously a Christmas song it would probably be higher on the list than #10.

#9 – Broken (Jonah Kagan)

I discovered this song through TikTok. And yes: I know that sounds a little bit juvenile. But I really, really liked the song as soon as I heard it. The artist originally put it out with only half of the lyrics and vocals, suggesting that others use the app’s “Duet” feature to add their own touch to the song. Then, a few months later, he released his own version of the entire song. It doesn’t seem to have gotten too much traction in broader popular culture, but I still genuinely enjoy the song. It feels like it connects on an emotional level with some of the challenges that our family has faced this year with COVID-19 and Parkinson’s Disease… even though it’s not really about those topics at all.

#8 – Northwest Passage (Stan Rogers)

My kids hate this song. And I sort of understand why. It’s like some sort of Canadian lumberjack-voyageur chanson from a hundred years ago. It’s sung fully acapella by a men’s ensemble (with some rather pitchy tenors on the high harmonies). And the melody and lyrics are about as campy as the album cover (viewed above). But I connect this song very closely to our family’s trans-continental road trip to the Pacific Northwest. And in particular, I associate with the very loneliest sections of highway when everyone else in the car was sleeping or tuned into their own media. It’s a whole vibe, but I have fond memories attached to this strange song. So it makes my Top Ten.

#7 – EAT (Tobe Nwigwe, Fat)

This song came to me from my brother, Jay (a lot of great songs come to me from my brother, Jay). This one has a fantastic video that helped to increase my enjoyment of the song. But I just love the beat on this song, and I think it’s got some pretty clever lyrics, too. I find myself regularly quoting from this song in unusual situations.

#6 – You Put This Love in My Heart (Keith Green)

I’m pretty sure that I heard this song (or at least other versions of the song) when I was a kid. But I don’t really remember it from back then. Growing up in an Evangelical Christian household, Keith Green was a well-established name. But the song was suggested for me by Spotify at the end of some other playlist. It happened on a warm, spring day when my daughter Olivia and I were on our way to get some ice cream — and it honestly felt like a brand-new song to me. Kind of hard to tell if it was an old song or a new song in an old style. The lyrics make it hard to tell if he’s singing about a woman or about Jesus, but either way there’s a joyful, bouncy feel to it all. And now the song just sounds like springtime and sunshine and Jeni’s Gooey Butter Cake Ice Cream to me.

#5 – Crop Circles (Jon Bellion)

I was introduced to this song by my son, Elliot. He suggested it for our family’s annual summer playlist. It didn’t make the cut for that soundtrack to our summer — but I added it to my own favorites, and the more I listened to it, the more I liked it. I also thought about Bellion’s “Morning in America” for my Top Ten list (also introduced to me by Elliot), but in the end I feel like this one fits better into this year’s Top Ten. Both of these songs are pretty sad, but they’ve got really catchy beats. And this song rises to the level of my Top Ten for a lot of the same reasons that “Northwest Passage” did, in close association with our family’s time in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

#4 – Summer Feelings (Lennon Stella, Charlie Puth)

This song is an unapologetic grab for the top spot on the Popular Music Summer Chart, so I know I’m supposed to turn my nose up at it. It’s from the movie “Scoob!” for goodness sake! But I just love it. It’s so catchy! I heard it when I was driving with a group of people from H2O Kent down to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park for an end-of-the-school-year trip to learn and practice spiritual disciplines. We added it to our family’s Summer Playlist, too, and it really stands out as a favorite track from that playlist.

#3 – Flesh and Blood (Half Moon Run)

This song makes me think of zooming through wide-open spaces at high speeds. The vocals, the instrumentation, and the melody have something of the 1970s to them — but it all sounds contemporary at the same time. It’s a really extraordinary song. This was another recommendation by my brother, Jay, and it’s another song that made it onto our Summer Playlist.

#2 – Through It All (Charlie Puth)

I listened to a lot of Charlie Puth back in 2018, when this album first came out. He’s such a natural song-writer. It’s hard for me to explain, but he just intrinsically understands how to put songs together in a way that’s pleasing to the ear (even if they’re not all that inspired). Somehow, though, this song never registered… until this year. I discovered it late in the year (November, I think) — but then I could scarcely get enough of it. It also feels like an anthem for survivors, like all of us after 22 months of a global pandemic.

#1 – This Will Be Our Year (The Zombies)

Marci and I heard this song in the closing credits for one episode of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. I remember us looking at each other and immediately saying we liked the song and needed to figure out who did it. I expected some obscure artist from 2010. But it’s actually a recording from 1968 by The Zombies! It’s another jazz-trio arrangement, and again, I’m a sucker for jazz-trio arrangements. It also felt like a helpful and hopeful song for the summer of 2021, when it felt like we were all starting to come out of COVID (never mind the fact that COVID has since closed back in around us). It’s a great song, in any event, and I’m glad that I discovered it — even if my “discovery” was more than fifty years after its release.

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The Asp Family Christmas Anthology

For twenty-five years, now, I’ve developed and maintained a tradition of writing a new story for Christmas. So this year, with the 25th edition of this tradition celebrated on the 25th day of December, I gave each member of my family a hardbound book titled The Asp Family Christmas Anthology. And I thought it would be fun to share an electronic version of the compilation here, too.

It all started with a Christmas storybook I called “The Heavens Declare,” in 1997. This original edition was handmade on an ancient monochrome “laptop computer” (word processor). It worked well enough for simple printing tasks. But I had to outsmart the technology to create the half-page format in which this storybook was originally “published” for Marci. Upon completion of the story, I printed it out (on an old daisy-wheel printer). The cover was then hand-made from a piece of poster-board. I drew title free-hand, as well as the stars, with a permanent black marker. I stitched everything together by thread run through a sewing machine! It was a humble, painstaking beginning to the tradition… but it was the start of a new tradition!

At the time, we were five months out from our wedding day. Marci and I were talking a lot about developing our own unique family traditions. We wanted to blend Asp family traditions and Anderson family traditions, But we also wanted to create our own traditions. So this was my attempt to add something unique to our holiday celebrations.

And somehow, we’ve managed to maintain the tradition year after year for twenty-five Christmases now. There were definitely some years when the tradition was in jeopardy (2002 and 2009 especially). And most years, it seems like I’m printing the final draft of the story on Christmas Eve. This time around, though, I chipped away at the project for several months. I started compiling and standardizing previous years’ stories way back in the summer. In October and November, I wrote most of this year’s story. Shortly afterwards, I compiled the Christmas photos and designed the cover. And I shipped everything off for “publication” by November 15th, since I wasn’t sure how long it would take for the project to be printed, bound, and delivered.

Fortunately, it all came together in plenty of time! The books were actually the first presents wrapped and placed under our Christmas tree this month. So I’m very proud to share an electronic version of what each member of the family received on the morning of our Christmas celebration:

Is it “high art?” No. Will the stories even make sense to people outside our family? I’m not sure. But for any who might stumble across this corner of the internet and decide to take a look at this book, I might recommend starting with “The Frosty Frolic Five” (2019). I think “Airbags” (2014) and “Tales from the Fields” (2004) have also aged pretty well. So yeah. There you have it. If you get the chance to give any of them a read, let me know what you think.

Regardless of how these stories hit others, I’m very glad for my own record of family history. Writing helps me to process and understand the world around me — and within me. And while I really may not understand much, in the grander scheme of things, I do understand this: I love Christmas, and I love the way that the celebration of Jesus’ birth provides opportunities to intentionally connect with the people that I love the most.

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Puzzle Therapy

I still remember a high school science vocabulary word that sneaks its way into my consciousness on a regular basis. Entropy. A quarter century after memorizing the term in Mr. Terman’s class, I still remember the definition of entropy as “a lack of order or predictability; a gradual decline into disorder.” And I think the word is so sticky because the world is such a chaotic place. We always seem to be moving from order to disorder — and not just in terms of physics. Emotional entropy and spiritual entropy dominate everyday life. And I’ve recently been wondering if that’s why I so regularly appreciate some puzzle therapy over the holidays.

Puzzles start out in their most chaotic form. They’re a jumbled mess of a thousand different pieces that seem to have no rhyme or reason. But with time and perseverance (preferably while listening to Christmas music and sipping a favorite drink), the chaos coalesces into a coherent picture. Either as an individual project or as a group project, puzzles pass the time with a soothing sense of restoring order and harmony.

Completed Christmas Stamps Puzzle

And we really need some order and harmony these days. Just today, we got a phone and email blast from the City of Kent announcing that our area is experiencing an overwhelming number of new COVID cases daily. Our zip code is currently seeing 1,642/100,000 cases per capita weekly — which is more than fifteen times the CDC’s threshold for a “high” level of transmission. Higher than anything we’ve seen since COVID first burst onto the scene. Crazy, huh? A little bit chaotic, don’t you think?

First Day of Winter Vacation = First Completed Puzzle

So yeah: I’m really appreciating the therapeutic benefits of doing puzzles here at the end of the year. We need something slow and homebound, while we continue to work our way through our latest adventures with COVID. Olivia and Cor are both feeling much better these days, so it feels like we just need to bide our time. Marci and I both cleared protocols yesterday with no symptoms and negative tests. Olivia is on her last day of isolation, with no symptoms. And it’s looking good for Cor to also clear protocols on Monday — which we hope will become our “Christmas Observed.” But in the meantime, we just have to keep waiting and bringing what little order we can bring to our chaotic corner of the world.

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COVID Christmas Cheer

Well… It’s official that we’re going to have COVID for Christmas! Cor tested positive for COVID yesterday (Monday) morning. He started showing symptoms on Friday and started isolating on Saturday. So that means our new timeline for clearing this dang virus is tomorrow (Wednesday, the 22nd) for Marci and me, Friday (the 24th) for Olivia, and next Monday (the 27th) for Cor. In the meantime, we’re providing room service food. We’re wearing masks when we see each other. And we’re doing lots of hand-washing and sanitizing surfaces. Merry Christmas, am I right?!? So much COVID Christmas Cheer to go around.

It seems like a small likelihood that Marci or I will get COVID at this point. We’re vaccinated, boosted, and showing no symptoms after our exposure last week. But there’s still a small chance that we could transmit the virus. So Elliot is going to stay at his college apartment at least until tomorrow. When Marci and I get our rapid test results, we’ll reassess.

This morning, we also learned that my brother, Jay, has also tested positive for COVID. He’d been hoping to drive up from Texas with my nephews for Christmas. Now, unfortunately, that’s not happening (at least not on the originally established timeline). My sister’s household is also dealing with another round with the virus. And we know of lots of other people here in Northeast Ohio who are also dealing with COVID for Christmas.

There are no ideal scenarios at this point. But I’m still hopeful that we can figure things out. We found a way to enjoy some COVID Christmas cheer yesterday afternoon. Elliot came over for a (distanced, masked) visit. We got some special take-out treats. And then we took turns doing an audio reveal of each person’s Top Ten Songs of 2021 (I’ll be sharing mine online next week). Last night, we also brought Olivia and Cor some hot cocoa and some of our favorite White Chocolate Peppermint Bark and Milk-Chocolate Pistachio and Cranberry Bark. Then they watched a Christmas movie in Olivia’s Room, while Marci and I watched a Christmas movie in our Family Room.

Another off-the-wall idea that we’re currently considering (pending the outcome of future COVID tests) is basically shifting our Christmas calendar to the middle of next week, instead of this weekend. Jesus’ birthday is a guess, anyway, so why can’t “Christmas Eve” be on the 28th, with “Christmas Day” on the 29th? Or the 3rd and the 4th (if it comes to it)? Fortunately, our kids are old enough that they can wait patiently for presents. And we can keep doing our best to enjoy other elements of the holiday celebration in the meantime.

I wish things could be different. But again, I’m happy that all our cases of COVID have been mild so far. And I’m hopeful that we can overcome the challenges to spread COVID Christmas cheer.

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Top Ten Hikes in Portage County (Ohio)

It’s been a couple of months since I completed my quest to hike every trail in Portage County. But I haven’t been able to recapitulate and reflect on my 371.4-mile, 122-hour, year-long experience… until now.

The thing I appreciate most about this quest is the way that my familiarity with the character and geography of Portage County has grown exponentially over the course of this year. Not just its roads and trails, but also its restaurants and communities. I found some great places to go ice-skating and running. I discovered new Date Night destinations. And I got to spend a lot of time with God — and quality time with others — while exploring the area. In some ways, it feels unfair to “play favorites.” But then again, it’s also kind of fun.

By nature, this is a highly-subjective exercise. But I like to do things like this for the sake of my own reference. And if it benefits others who might be looking to get out and experience everything that northeast Ohio has to offer, so much the better.

So anyway: Here’s my list of my Top Ten Hikes in Portage County. This list offers a representative sampling of some of the best that this part of Ohio has to offer, ranked Letterman-style: from #10 to #1. Each listing includes a picture and a link to the trail maps.

#10 – Trail Lake Park

This is the newest park in the Portage County Parks system. And it also happens to be pretty close to my house. So it gets points in my book for just novelty and proximity. But it’s also a lovely place, with both paved trails and dirt single-tracks. There are also areas for picnicking, boating, and fishing.

#9 – Liberty Park

This trail is actually a part of the Summit County Metroparks system — but it’s in Portage County! It’s located within the Tinkers Creek State Nature Preserve, too, so it’s a weird geographic, bureaucratic anomaly. In any event, it seems to be something of a birdwatching mecca, as it has a couple of blinds providing cover for birders near the water and I happened to run into a few people with serious birdwatching equipment on the day I was there. I really appreciated the well-maintained trails, though, and I also happened to see a a couple of herons, several woodpeckers, and ducks, even without special equipment.

#8 – Aurora Audubon Sanctuary

Aurora has quite a few nature preserves that aren’t in the state system or county system. My favorite of them, though, is the Aurora Audubon Sanctuary. It was established as a birdwatching preserve, but there is also a beaver dam and several different trails through different sorts of landscapes: forests, meadows, wetlands, and lakes.

#7 – Glacial Esker Trail

I’d never heard of the word “esker” before running across this trail. But I saw a sign while exploring the bigger Headwaters Trail system in the northern part of Portage County. And then I needed to look it up. So in case that’s the case for you, too, an esker is a remnant of ancient glacial activity: usually a long, winding ridge of gravel or sand. And in this case, that winding ridge of sediment happens to run alongside the Upper Cuyahoga River, just south-west of Mantua. One side of the esker contains the river bed. The other side of the esker is made up of wetlands. And it’s a really beautiful, unique area. I found it especially mesmerizing in a state of deep freeze, when I happened to visit in January.

#6 – A New Section of the Buckeye Trail in West Branch State Park

West Branch State Park has way more trails than I’d previously imagined! The best trail discovery, though, was stumbling across a new section of the Buckeye Trail in the north-east section of the park. I learned this year that volunteers are continually expanding the Buckeye Trail system. Specifically, they’re trying to blaze more trails through wooded areas and not rely so heavily on roads to complete the loop. So it was great to find this new section of trail to help with my quest for 2021 and update my Buckeye Trail quest from 2019. It’s also just a lovely area, with thick forest, curving streams, and the big lake.

#5 – Hiram College JHB Field Station

This nature preserve doesn’t appear on a lot of maps. But I happened to stumble upon it, rather accidentally, on a bike ride late in the summer of 2020 — and when I went back to explore, I discovered more than eight miles of trails through pristine forests of maple and beech trees. It’s a really beautiful, quiet area. Hiram College uses the nature preserve for research projects, but it’s also open to the public.

#4 – The Mogadore Reservoir Trails (West of the Water)

The trails surrounding the Mogadore Reservoir are meandering and rugged, a far cry from my mental image of a “reservoir trail” based on the paved oval around the reservoir where I used to roller-blade when I was in high school. The west side of the reservoir is furthest removed from Ohio State Route 43, so it’s the quietest section of trail. There are some really lovely spots beside the water for sitting and soaking in the beauty of it all.

#3 – Towner’s Woods

Towner’s Woods is a very familiar place, and some might say that “Familiarity breeds contempt.” But I think the familiarity only adds to the place’s charm. Every time I go to Towner’s Woods reminds me of the dozens of times I’ve hiked with my friends Jason and Chad… or the handful of times I’ve gone sledding with my kids… or the time I visited the Hopewell Burial Mound with my Dad. My favorite visit to Towner’s Woods in the last year, though, was probably Easter Morning, when I went there to watch the sun rise and reflect on the fact that the Son rose.

#2 – Herrick Nature Preserve

I didn’t previously realize that Portage County is home to several bogs and fens — which are an exceptionally-unique examples of a unique ecosystem not commonly found in other parts of the world. These bogs and fens attract a wide range of plants and animals that are not found elsewhere in Ohio, including tamarack trees (which look really strange and out-of-place) and cranberry bushes. Frame Bog at the J. Arthur Herrick Nature Preserve a great example of the area’s bogs and fens, and it doesn’t show up on a lot of maps.

#1 – Nelson Kennedy Ledges State Park

I visited the Nelson Kennedy Ledges State Park several times over the course of 2021 (and in other years, previous). It feels like Iceland, mixed with Narnia, mixed with northeast Ohio. Two waterfalls, multiple caves, a million little nooks and crannies… What’s not to love?!?

Anything I’m missing?

This sort of quest has more vague parameters, with no central hub for information (at least not that I’ve been able to find). Let me know if you have any other experiences with public trails in Portage County, from which I (or others) might be able to learn. I hope that I get to keep exploring all the amazing opportunities for outdoor recreation that this part of the world has to offer for many years to come — but in any event, I’m glad for the way it’s enriched my life this year.

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COVID for Christmas (2021)

Olivia in Her Room with COVID

We’ve got COVID in the house. Again. Just in time for Christmas.

We’ve been monitoring symptoms, checking timelines, researching information, consulting with medical experts, and processing emotions. And we’re finally getting a handle on our current reality.

It seems like Olivia was exposed to someone with COVID on Sunday evening (though we didn’t know it at the time). She started feeling unwell in the middle of the week, so we decided to have her take an at-home rapid test on Wednesday morning. Unfortunately, it came back positive.

Olivia's COVID Test Result (Positive)

None of the rest of us have developed any symptoms. And so far Olivia’s experience with the virus is mild (she had COVID in March, and she was fully vaccinated in May). But we’re still not sure how all this might affect our family’s plans for Christmas. This week I’ve realized that it feels like COVID protocol has gotten more complicated and confusing over time. Partially because of different standards for different contexts. Partially because of more advanced testing available to different populations (like professional athletes). And partially because of the emotional fog of wanting a scenario that allows my plans to be as minimally-affected as possible.

But I think we’ve finally gotten things straightened out. At least for the moment.

  • Marci, Cor, and I need to minimize contact with the outside world (even though we’re vaccinated). We need to be diligent about wearing masks and keeping our hands clean whenever we do go out. And we need to keep this up for five days after our last known exposure to COVID. That means that if we’re still symptom-free and test negative for COVID on Monday (December 20th), we can go about our normal lives at that point.
  • Elliot hasn’t been exposed to COVID (as far as we know). So he can go about his regular life. He just can’t come home for Christmas until Monday (if the rest of our household is clear at that point).
  • Olivia, sadly, needs to stay isolated for ten days from the appearance of her first symptoms of COVID. That means that she’ll be free if she’s symptom-free and tests negative for COVID next Friday (December 24th).

We’re super-sad about the disruption to our holiday cheer. But with it being a week before Christmas and everything, we just don’t want to take any risks with other social events or family gatherings. We’re going to work hard to figure out creative ways to stay together while we’re apart. But hopefully, our separation can be a gift to each other and to the world around us. With any luck, we’ll all be able to get back into circulation on Christmas Eve.

Living Room Fireplace with Logs

Nobody wants COVID for Christmas. It feels so unfair. So sad. I’m as inclined as anyone to self-pity. But it does help to remember the fact that so many other families have it so much worse.

My uncle just got out of the hospital after a severe case of COVID, and one of his grandchildren is still struggling with pneumonia. I’ve been walking with one friend as she’s lost four family members within the last month: an uncle, an aunt, a grandfather, and a great-aunt. I just learned about another couple from our church who just had a second family member die from COVID. They’ve had eleven confirmed cases from their family Thanksgiving gathering (they were the only ones wearing masks — and presumably vaccinated — at their gathering, and they felt ostracized for doing so). And I still keep thinking about and praying for another friend who is still in the hospital, unable to speak to his family. Unable to be home for Christmas.

“COVID for Christmas” might sound like a Hallmark Christmas movie title, but it doesn’t play out that way. Our family’s situation is not ideal. But it could be so much worse. We’re trying to keep the faith, hold onto hope, and make the most of this holiday season. As weird as it may be.

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End-of-the-Year Celebrations

Centennial Life Group Holiday Fun

It’s been a week of End-of-the-Year celebrations here in Kent, as we come to the end of the Fall Semester. Last Thursday, our Life Group went ice-skating. Afterwards, we ate a meal together, and enjoyed a “White Elephant” gift exchange in downtown Kent. I went home with a set of pineapple stickers, a Magic Grow Lizard, and a Dollar Tree Lord’s Prayer Candle. And, of course, the satisfaction of another solid semester on the books building community and faith at the most grassroots level.

H2O Staff Christmas Party

On Monday evening, our H2O Kent staff team had its “Office Party” at Burntwood Tavern in Cuyahoga Falls. And it really was lovely — especially after cancelling all such celebrations because of COVID last year. It felt like a privilege to just be together with all of my colleagues and their spouses. They’re co-workers, but they feel like friends and family. We mostly just ate and mingled together, but we also did a “Secret Santa” gift exchange. And again, I went home with a few goodies that felt like a token of the goodness that we get to experience week-in, week-out, as a part of the H2O Church family.

H2O Internship Celebration at Henry Wahner's

Finally, this evening we got to celebrate the “graduation” of this semester’s class of H2O interns. We went to Henry Wahner’s just east of campus. It’s is a whole vibe. German-American food served in oversized proportions in outdated surroundings. These days, it’s only open from 4-7PM, Wednesday through Saturday. But it’s what the interns said they wanted. So we ate schnitzel and spaetzles, followed by creme schnitte. And even though I’m already starting to feel the heartburn from so much feasting, I’m glad that we could make something of this week and this semester. It’s been a good one.

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Moving Out

I never wanted an H2O Office in the first place. We didn’t really need it, in my opinion. I didn’t want us to spend the money. And I didn’t want to deal with the challenges that come with an office. They say, “Everybody’s responsibility is nobody’s responsibility.” And I’ve found that to be true with church office spaces over the years — especially when it comes to things like cleaning the bathrooms and taking out the trash. Not to mention the stuff. It just collects over time, even when most of it never gets used.

There are definitely some good things that come with having a central meeting point, an organizational hub, and a default launching point for ministry initiatives. But I’m just saying that there are bad things, too.

So you can probably imagine my emotions when it comes to moving from one church office space to another church office space. It makes sense when it means that we can get twice the space for half the rent. Still, moving is a lot of work. I felt tired before we even started moving out of the space we’ve been using at 110 South Water Street over the past seven years. Still, it needed to be done.

Fortunately, we got our whole staff team to help. They say, “Many hands might light work.” And while I don’t know if there was anything “light” about the nine-foot-long conference table or the 708-pound desk that we extricated from our old office space, I can at least say it was “lighter” with a whole team.

We had to do a lot of problem-solving to move the bigger pieces of furniture. Especially with the limitations of the 180-year-old building which housed our old office. We moved perhaps fifty percent of our “office stuff” to our new office. But we also gave away a lot of stuff to the ReStore and the Goodwill and individual households from people on our staff team. So that felt beneficial.

But perhaps the best part of moving out was the opportunity provided for community. Our team got into a story-telling mood, while we were having lunch together. We talked about tragedies and miracles and practical jokes that had characterized our time at 110 South Water Street. We recognized God’s provision for us: before we had the office, while we had the office, and (hopefully) after we move out of the office. The team got to solve our problems and overcome our challenges together, and in a way it felt like a metaphor.

Moving Day

I’m really glad for the work that I get to do with the people of H2O Kent. Honestly, it doesn’t matter where or how. I’m just happy that we get to walk by faith with each other.

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Winter Choir Concert

RHS Winter Choir Concert

Olivia and Cor had a choir concert yesterday afternoon. And they sounded great!

RHS Winter Choir Concert

Olivia had an especially prominent role in the concert, as a senior. She sings in the top choir and the top ensemble, but she also serves as the co-president of the choir — so she has some speaking roles and leadership roles during a concert. So it was fun to see her shine on the stage.

RHS Winter Choir Concert

Cor was great, too, in his role as a freshman in the lower choir. But one of the most amusing aspects of Cor’s performance was his invisibility. He chose to wear a Santa hat that went down below his brow. And he also had to wear a special choir mask that rides higher on his face than most other masks. So from the audience, it looked like he was wearing a black morph suit covered by a tuxedo and a Santa hat!

RHS Winter Choir Concert

COVID keeps finding a way to make things weird! Still we’re glad they can perform, in any event. They sure do make us proud, whether they’re visible or invisible.

RHS Winter Choir Concert
Posted in Children, COVID-19, Family, Kent, Music | Comments Off on Winter Choir Concert