I am so whooped. I honestly feel a little bit like I’ve been run over by a train. But I’m so proud of the work our team of staff and student-leaders put in tonight. We scattered a lot of Gospel seed on the campus tonight at Kent State University’s annual Blastoff event. Now I’m just praying that it sprouts, sends down roots, and grows into a beautiful harvest as the year progresses.
The survey work seemed to be harder than usual. But I’m really proud of our student-leaders who put themselves out there. They would ask, “Would you like to fill out a quick survey in exchange for some free pizza?” or something like that. And a lot of people would say “No” or just ignore them. So, it can be tough to keep going through so many micro-rejections. Still, 251 students expressed at least some level of interest in follow-up by the end of the night.
My favorite interactions from the night were the ones I got to have with international students. I met a particularly lovely group from Brazil by the food trucks. They expressed interest in potentially checking out some H2O events. And they also said they want me to come to their World Cup watch parties in November. In addition to the Brazilians, though, I also got to talk to people from Nepal, Uganda, and India. It just felt really encouraging to have more international students back on campus again.
So, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where we would ever turn down the opportunity to participate in an event where the University welcomes and encourages our participation. Yes: it’s exhausting. And its low-percentage ministry. Still, it’s a privilege to get a touch with so many students. I think the exhaustion is just what it feels like to “faithfully farm” during planting season.
Ecclesiastes 3 says, “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven… a time to plant and a time to harvest… a time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones… a time to search and a time to quit searching… What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has placed eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” So, I say “Amen.” Let’s trust God, and rest well tonight.
It’s the first day of the 2022-23 school year for students in the Kent City School District. That actually applies to only one person in our family, now. But he’s still a pretty special person. Cor is starting the 10th grade, his sophomore year, at Kent’s Theodore Roosevelt High School.
Believe it or not, Cor grew a whole shoe size over the summer (size 8.5 in May; size 9.5 in August)! Friends and family tell him that he’s noticeably taller these days (though it’s harder for us to see since the change has been incremental). Still, I expect that he’s going to grow another several inches in the coming school year. And I’m looking forward to seeing how he grows in other ways, too.
After losing his chauffeur / sister to college, Cor has decided that he wants to ride his bike to and from school as much as possible. It’s still a whole year until he will be able to get his driver’s license, so this is a way for him to enjoy some level of independence. Honestly, it creates some anxiety with him navigating the roads around the high school with so many teenage drivers around. Still, we’re supporting him in this decision. He’s growing up. He understands the risks and rewards of cycling, and he’s committed to doing things as safely as possible.
Growing up is tricky business. But I’m proud of the way that Cor is handling himself. From the first day of the school year until the last day of the school year, we’re looking forward to seeing what God has in store for him this year, and beyond.
The weather forecast was not looking good this morning. A 75% chance of thunderstorms for the entire afternoon. So, it felt kind of miraculous that we ended up staying dry the whole time (unless you count the sweat that came from our bodies, as we played volleyball and ultimate frisbee). The whole afternoon really felt like an answer to prayer! Some people just walked around and met new people on the sidewalks. Others played volleyball on the sandy court in front of Tri-Towers. But I was a part of the crew who planned to rustle up a game of ultimate frisbee on the Centennial Fields.
We only had four H2O people to start our game of ultimate frisbee. But that actually created the perfect context for inviting people to join us. For a solid fifteen minutes, we jogged around the edges of the field asking if anyone wanted to join us. Many declined the offer. But several people jumped right in, and a few others indicated a readiness to play after they changed into some more suitable clothing.
After awhile, our game swelled to twenty people! It was so much fun! I play ultimate frisbee perhaps once every two years, so I expect I’ll be sore for the rest of the week after a couple hours of diving after loose frisbees. Everyone seemed to have a good time, and it felt like we facilitated the formation of genuine friendships.
Our H2O crew had some quality conversations with our the recruits, too. One guy named Kevin hung around for quite awhile after we finished playing. He lives in Tri-Towers and seemed to connect really well with three of the student-leaders from the H2O Life Group that meets there. Kevin told me that went to church for a little while when he was little. And he visited a youth group occasionally in middle school. Overall, though, he seemed largely uninitiated when it comes to spiritual things.
But I have a feeling that it won’t be that way for long! It’s kind of amazing how something as flippant as ultimate frisbee can point to things of ultimate significance. We’re praying for seeds of the Gospel to sprout in the hearts of our new friends, as the new school year continues.
We helped Olivia move into her residence hall on campus at Kent State University this morning. She’s going to be living on the second floor of Clark Hall. And she seems to have a great set-up. She’s living on a floor with other students from the Honors College. Her roommate (Jessica) seems to be friendly. Their room gets lovely morning sunlight, filtered through large maple trees. And pretty much everything Olivia needs for her college studies is right at her fingertips. It’s kind of crazy to think that she’s a college girl now…
Then again, it’s really not all that crazy. Olivia has spent nearly eighteen years growing and developing into a strong, independent, young woman. She has a bright future. She’s intelligent and well-organized, with good social skills and a strong work ethic. Consequently, I expect she’s going to excel in the academic elements of college life, but also in the social elements of college life. We’ve got every reason to believe that our College Girl will succeed at Kent State University. And beyond.
Olivia’s brother, Elliot, had a very different experience when he started at Kent State University in August of 2020. He never ended up living in a residence hall on campus, as he went straight from an extra, unexpected year at home to an off-campus apartment with friends. He’s managed all of the challenges well. And he may even benefit (long-term) from some of the mental toughness that was developed through a transition to college in the height of a once-in-a-century pandemic. But still, it’s hard to escape the feeling that we were all robbed of some opportunities and experiences.
So, it felt special to walk around campus with Olivia, after she was (mostly) settled into her room. We walked to the Student Center and bought her one of those small wallets that adheres to the back of her smartphone, so she can have her Flash ID readily available for making her way around campus. We took some obligatory Kent State Student portraits around Risman Plaza. And we took her out to eat for lunch, before leaving her to a diet dominated by Kent State Dining Services cuisine for the next few months. It was just fun to be a “Kent State Dad” (and entrust the work of H2O Kent to my colleagues for today).
Even with all of the positive, hopeful circumstances, we all felt a little bit sad when the time came to say “Good-bye.” It’s going to be different with her living in a different place, her room at our house empty. Still, we’re glad that she gets this opportunity. And we’re excited to see what she’ll do with it.
I recently finished reading Andrew Sean Greer’s novel, Less. It was a recommendation from my brother, Alex. I asked him if he knew any particularly interesting books from the LGBT Community. And I actually would have started reading it back in June, during Pride Month. However, circumstances didn’t allow me to start in on the book until July. And I only just finished it now, in August. But that’s just because I’m a pretty slow reader. I’m honestly really glad that I read this book.
Less follows the story of Arthur Less, a San Francisco writer who found critical- and commercial success with his first novel… but then fell into something of a sophomore slump. For, like, a decade. His love life parallels his career, though the reader only gets bits and pieces of what transpired between him and his long-time partner Robert. They’re still friends, but no longer a couple.
In the meantime, Arthur got swept up in a relationship with a much younger man named Freddy. And as fate would have it, Freddy also happened to be the son of one of his Arthur’s rivals: Carlos. As one might expect, Carlos conspires to break up the relationship between Arthur and Freddy. And that’s basically where the action of the story starts: with Freddy announcing his engagement to another man. Leaving Arthur Less to figure out his own way forward, both literally and figuratively. Less ultimately decides to accept a number of speaking engagements in different parts of the world. In order to distract himself. And, of course, to make sure that he’s not able to make it to Freddy’s wedding. He travels everywhere from Central America to Western Europe to Northern Africa to South Asia.
And that sounds kind of fun and frivolous, right? But honestly, the first two-thirds of the book felt pretty vapid and unhinged. It was a lot of exposition… shallow relationships… bumbling career choices… awkward moments of cultural misunderstanding. It actually didn’t feel all that fun to read of the escapades of Arthur Less, as he was trying desperately to escape from the painful situation back home in San Francisco.
The last third of the book, however, became surprisingly real. And surprisingly powerful.
The pivot in the narrative happened when the protagonist himself suddenly came to realize his own flailing. (I felt relieved to discover that I wasn’t just missing the point!). It was the eve of his 50th birthday. He found himself increasingly alone, in the mountains of Morocco. And it was fascinating to follow the totally new ways in which he starts to grapple with his aloneness. His struggle felt startlingly resonant with my own life. Which is remarkable, considering the fact that I’ve never been to Morocco. I’m not a renown author, I’m not a gay man, and I’m not single.
Up until that point, I had basically been trudging through the narrative, dutifully completing my self-assigned homework… But then the story suddenly turned that corner and revealed something of myself. I was amazed to see the masterful literary labyrinth that had been laid out by the author.
Like Arthur Less, I’ve been recently intimidated to think of the bell-shaped pattern to life. The pattern involves complete and utter dependence at either end (to the point of diapers and liquid diets). And like Arthur Less, I came to realize that I’m past the mid-point. Maybe even a full decade past that fattest, fullest part of the curve, when our family had a full house and full schedules. It feels like our family took forever building up to a household of two… then three… then four… and then five. But now, in almost no time, our family has quickly trimmed itself back to a household of three. And even at that, Cor keeps getting busier and busier, more and more peer-focused, more and more independent. There are days now where I feel overwhelmed by a profound sadness that seems as though it will only deepen with time.
Arthur Less eventually overcame his struggles by leaning back on his innocence. By letting love come to him, instead of him desperately pursuing love (or deliberately running away from love). And in a similar way, I’m trying to trust God through these recent changes in my life, relying freshly on the Good News of Jesus that promises a restoration of innocence and a home within the love of God. My spiritual spin on things is different from the way that the story of Less resolved. But it feels similarly hopeful.
There may be more nights of flailing like Less. Feeling like Less. And worried that I’ve got Less and Less to work with. (the author loves to develop puns around his protagonist’s last name, so I feel free to do the same). Ultimately, though, I found Less to be a story of more hope, peace, and love.
Last August, I made a point of cataloguing the History of H2O T-Shirts. So, now that we’re on the cusp of a new school year, we’re releasing a new H2O T-shirt. So, I wanted to share the new design: both for the fun and anticipation of this new year of ministry and for the historical record.
We finally got our forest green T-shirts (supply chain issues limited our options last year)! My friends and colleagues, Hunter and Nick, did most of the work to develop these shirts. And now, we’re just excited to see how students will respond. Look out, Kent State University. Here we come!
The Bible talks about heaven as a wedding feast: A grand celebration of love… Where friends and family adorn themselves with their finest clothes and jewels… For a sweet reunion and affirmation of relationships: both old and new… Wedding guests fill themselves with fine food and drink… Revel in music and dancing… Give and receive gifts… All centered on promises to love and be loved. This wedding imagery is woven throughout the Scriptures. From Book of Genesis (the first book of the Bible) to the Book of Revelation (the last book of the Bible)… From the Song of Songs to the parables of Jesus. It’s such a powerful picture of fidelity and fulfillment!
So the more weddings I’ve attended, the more I’ve come to appreciate this biblical wedding imagery. This imagery weaves its way into every strand of the celebration. I had the honor of officiating the wedding ceremony for my friends Cam and Meg today. And even though I was supposed to be “The Professional,” the emotions completely overcame me several times. Watching Cam and Meg watch each other as she came down the aisle, my mind flashed back to my own wedding to Marci… My mind flashed forward to the weddings of my children… And, on some subconscious level, I thought about all the different faith-filled commitments I’ve witnessed through the years. Both commitments to spouses and commitments to Christ.
So even though I can’t explain exactly why, my emotions are accessible in a wedding in way that is unique. It’s like watching the unfolding of human history. Generational dynamics make more sense to me. The speeches, the music, the poetry… they all strike a nerve. The older I get, the more I appreciate the reunion aspect of a wedding. How fun it is to see old friends again! We don’t get to see each other much at all in our everyday lives. So when we see each other at a wedding, we smile true smiles and hug crushing hugs. We talk quickly, with animated faces and body language. We rotate from table to table to catch up on a thousand different conversations.
It’s heaven. Almost literally.
It’s almost like I hear the voice of the King shouting, “Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet!” It’s as if I hear the voices of the wedding guests singing: “Let us rejoice and be glad and give… glory [to our Lord God Almighty]! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.” Jesus is the Lamb, and we — the Church — are His Bride. We get to be together forever, for richer or poorer… in sickness and in health… through thick and thin.
I’ve been hearing college students talk about the Be Real app for months now. It’s supposed to function as something of the “anti-Instagram.” Instead of carefully-curated images depicting the perfect circumstances of the perfect life, it’s supposed to be more, well, real. Content is supposed to be generated within a two-minute window at some point during the day when all users get a presumably-random notification. Users are supposed to capture their current reality with pictures taken from both sides of their smart phone. And then these images are uploaded with very little context.
My friend Morgan pushed me over the edge, in a dinner conversation earlier this week. I’m not sure I’m going to love it. But it seems like a worthy experiment. I signed up for an account on the spot and recorded my first moment of Be(ing) Real right there, with her.
There are supposed to be (social) penalties for posting at more convenient times (the app adds a notice saying that a post is, for instance, “5 hours late”). Or for taking multiple attempts to capture an image “just right” (the app adds a notice for saying how many times the picture has been edited). And I actually really like these features. I don’t know how effective they are. Pretense is still possible. But it’s designed to be minimized. And my first few days of anecdotal evidence suggests that Be Real is indeed far more real than other social media platforms I’ve used.
So, anyway: I’m giving it a try. A link has been added to the right sidebar on this website (==>). I’m hoping to keep learning about Be Real as I use it. If you have pointers for me, though, please feel free to let me know.
Cor recently made a change in his life. He switched from playing on the school Soccer Team to running for the school Cross Country Team. In the grander scheme of things, the switch from one sport to another is not that big of a deal. Still, Cor agonized over the decision for several weeks this summer. He loved being a soccer player. He loved his teammates and his coaches. And there was a lot of momentum — established through youth leagues and through his first year of high school — for him to continue his involvement with the soccer program. However, he ultimately felt that the Cross Country program would be a better fit for him, going forward. And even though there are mixed emotions about the transition, I feel like this decision was an excellent opportunity for Cor to grow up. And I’m proud of the way he handled things.
For awhile, Cor thought about trying to do both Cross Country and Soccer. However, Marci and I felt that it would not be good for Cor, academically, to participate in two sports in addition to his studies. So we exercised our parental authority to take the two-sport option off the table… And then we left it up to him to decide. You’ll have to ask Cor, himself, if you want to hear all of the reasons for why he made the decision he did. But here is my parental analysis for the Costs and Benefits of his switch from Soccer to Cross Country.
The Benefit of Time
The time commitment expectations are pretty different for the two sports. Soccer requires two practices a day (5-6 hours per day), throughout the month of August; whereas Cross Country requires just one practice per day (2 hours per day). Especially for younger players, like Cor, the season schedule for Soccer often includes 6-8 games per week (divided among matches for Varsity, Junior Varsity A, and Junior Varsity B). Each game takes almost three hours (factoring in warm-ups, breaks in the action, and the game itself). So that’s 18-24 hours per week of game time, in addition to school. On the other hand, Cross Country meets only happen once or twice per week. And when Cross Country meets happen, we expect that the entirety of a meet (including Men and Women, Varsity and Junior Varsity) will be about three hours. So, just 3-6 hours of “game time” per week.
The effect is muted when practice times and travel times are factored in (roughly the same for both sports). Still, it seems realistic that Cor should gain at least ten hours per week that can be applied to his school work and other commitments. And that could make a big difference for him.
The Benefit of Stress Relief
In addition to the time savings, Cor seems like he will be saving himself some stress by joining the Cross Country team. Soccer is just a higher-profile sport, with a larger number of participants, so there feels like more pressure built into the activity. More pressure for teammates to outdo each other in order to earn playing time and more pressure for the team to win games. On the other hand, Cross Country seems like more of a collaborative sport. It’s mostly about each individual maximizing his own potential. Runners sincerely cheer for one another. And they just generally have more fun together. The group of long-distance runners on the Track team last spring became a close group of friends. And it’s appealing to create more space for those relationships to deepen.
The Benefit of of Contributing to the Team
In addition to all of the personal benefits, Cor’s switch to the Cross Country team also maximizes his opportunities to contribute to the team. Roosevelt’s Soccer Team is stacked with talent. Cor is really good at soccer, but he was probably going to be fifth or sixth on the depth chart at his position this year. The boys in our family tend to be “late bloomers” when it comes to physical development, and even at that he’s a full year younger than most of the other boys in his sophomore class (because of the way his academic level transferred when our family moved to the United States from the Netherlands). So with soccer, he’s always been fighting to overcome the perception that he’s “too small” for the sport.
With Cross Country running, however, Cor’s already (as a sophomore) looking to be fourth or fifth on the men’s depth chart — when most meets include four to seven Varsity runners from each team. So he stands to become an immediate contributor. He’s really good at running, too. He’s already proved himself in Track and in community races. And I think he’s only going to get better with time, training, and physical development.
The Cost of an Identity Crisis
Even with all of the aforementioned Benefits, there are still some Costs associated with Cor’s switch to Cross Country. In particular, Cor has always identified strongly with the sport of Soccer. He was born in the Netherlands, and he’s quite Dutch in his obsession with voetbal. He follows many different professional leagues. And he owns perhaps a dozen soccer jerseys from different teams. You might say it’s just part of “his brand.” But in the process of making his Fall sports decision, Cor came to realize that he can still be crazy about soccer even if he’s a Cross Country runner. He can still cheer for Ajax… and the Crew… and even for the Roosevelt Rough Riders.
Even though he’s had a long-standing relationship with Soccer, he’s always been something of a runner, too. He can be both a running guy and a soccer guy. And I expect he will be, too, for years to come.
The Cost of Relational Time
I think everyone in our family will miss the time we got to spend with other Roosevelt Soccer families. Those relationships have been forged over years of joy and pain. We’ve sweat together in the sun-soaked stands. We’ve shivered together in lawn chairs at weekend tournaments. I think especially of late-night indoor league games at NC Soccer Club… and post-game celebrations at Bellacino’s… and cheering at dramatic come-from-behind victories. Our boys have become young men together. And I’m sad that we just won’t have as much time together at Soccer stuff.
We still want to be friends with Soccer People! We still hope to come cheer for the team, whenever circumstances allow. And if anyone else ever wants to come and watch Cor at one of his Cross Country meets, his team schedule is online, too.
All in all, we’re happy for Cor with this new season in a new sport. All transitions have their Costs and Benefits, of course, but we’re looking forward to navigating this course.
We’ve got oppressive humidity. We’ve got Back-to-School advertisements. And — as of this week — we’ve got Handel’s Peach Ice Cream. It must be August in Northeast Ohio!
The ice cream itself is incredible. But I’ve got a story that makes Handel’s Peach Ice Cream even sweeter. And after a few recent conversations with people who’ve never heard the story before, I thought it might be a useful public service to put it back out there for everyone to read.