Sunday, December 31, 2023
2023 In Review
One picture for each month
That was the challenge. I cheated in June, but it was a big month! I also included the very end of 2022 but it really set the stage for our 2023. I hope you'll forgive my liberties. 2023 was fantastic and we're hopeful that 2024 is more of the same.
December 29, 2022
This was our second UHaul! We had taken a trip in November with half of our stuff and this was the second and final trip. Friends and family helped us pack and in the early hours of the morning, we set off for Ohio. After most of April's life and twelve year's of mine spent in PA, this move was the beginning of a very different adventure.
Juniper turned one! This picture was made into thank you cards for both our Pennsylvania and Ohio friends who supported us in our move or came to Juniper's party. She's playing on the floor in my parents' house where we lived for the first six months of our Ohio lives.
For years, April and I would make the trip to Ohio during the week of Thanksgiving. For years, we would meet my grandfather in the Wadsworth Burger King at 6:00 a.m. on Black Friday. He would be there with his buddies, the "usuals." The first year we had a hint from my mom and we surprised my grandfather. Every year after that was a "surprise," never spoken of, but always assumed. My grandfather died a little over a month before Juniper was born and while it breaks my heart that he never got to meet her, she does carry a dose of his spirit and to me, they will always be connected. Juniper's eyes might look heavy because I woke her up early and we made it to Burger King at 6:15 a.m. on a Friday. It was an emotional trip, but it was great to spend another morning with my grandfather.
Welcome to the world, Azalea Mae! This is the first time Juniper met her baby sister and one of my favorite pictures of all time. These three ladies have my heart and I can't imagine life without them.
Back to Pennsylvania! My job gave me a very generous time of family leave and we took advantage of that time off by introducing Azalea to the PA family as soon as we could! This is April's grandmother, Ruth Kromer, meeting her tenth great-grandchild (there's been an eleventh, and a twelfth is on the way; not ours!).
A message for all God's children. My job is awesome, and these kids are amazing. Here, I was telling them about the "Gum Man" from my childhood Sunday school days. And older man would hand out gum to all the Sunday school kids and I still remember that simple gesture thirty years later. He made a connection and I looked forward to finding him every week. Maybe we could be the kinds of people who do little things to let people know that they are seen, welcomed, and cared for.
We bought a house! Closing was May 18, but there was a ton of work to do. If you zoom in on the porch, you can see rolls of old carpet and padding that we pulled out of the whole house and the baseboards, window and door trim that we replaced in the entire upstairs. My brother helped me dig the post holes and hang the fence. My dad replaced the trim and ripped up flooring. My mom helped paint and clean up the flooring for the carpet install. April patiently watched the girls while we worked for weeks and eventually we moved in at the end of June. It was a family affair and we couldn't be happier with the house, the location, and all it allows us to do.
This trip. These girls. Incredible leaders. My first work camp with our students was incredible. The work we got done, the experiences we shared (Taylor Swift, say what!), and the depth of character in each of the ten girls we took has forever impacted the way I look at youth ministry. I'll never forget this trip and I'm so thankful I get to be a part of camps like this.
I recently told April that 2023 was one of the best years of my life. Pictures like this tell the story of why it has been so wonderful. We had lived in our house for almost a month and by then most things had their place. There was already a comfort and a sense of home. Juniper looks enraptured by whatever April is demonstrating. The sun coming through the window gives the image a timeless quality, not of time being captured or frozen, but transcended. There is a mother and her daughter, but there is also the mysterious beauty at the heart of reality. April is an incredible mother. Her patience, attention, wisdom, compassion, and her willingness to give so much to our girls is out of this world. I'm grateful and lucky to parent alongside her.
Akron's Pride March. Years ago, I left a church (job) and had a crisis of faith in large part because I felt that God affirmed and celebrated my LGBQ+ friends. The Christian circles I was in at the time did not see it that way and it was a dark and difficult period of my life as I attempted to navigate faith, belonging, theology, and my career in the fallout of job loss and faith deconstruction. To be at a church that participates in a Pride march is something I've longed for. It also doesn't hurt that we're pictured with two fantastic (and slightly competitive) kids in our ministry that bring joy and enthusiasm to everything they do.
April took Azalea to a friend's baby shower in Maryland. That left Juniper and I for a daddy-daughter weekend! We went to the lake, played on the playground, and ate Juniper's favorite fries from Cherry Street Creamery in Canal Fulton. Being a dad is so much fun.
Juniper and I had taken a similar picture on this date a year earlier and I wanted to see how much she had changed. In the original picture, we were in Vermont, on vacation and I had just started the conversation with The Bath Church about their open position. We didn't get the chance to get away this October, but the girls and I did start (and finished) the Summit County Metro Parks Fall Hiking Spree. I love being in the woods as the leaves are changing and Summit County's beautiful trails were incredible places to do so. This picture is in our yard and the red leaves in the background belong to one of our maple trees.
Thanksgiving. Need I say more? Since we've added the two little ones to our family, I've developed a crying habit. For someone who had not cried in years, this is a big change. If you play the right song or I see the right scene in a movie or show, it's almost guaranteed. On a recent drive to Columbus, April played one "right song" after another and I was nearly sobbing in the driver's seat as the girls slept in the back. The tears are good tears and I'm glad they fall. They represent a deep love. This picture conjures up the same.
Christmas morning. Last year, we were days away from moving to a new state and didn't have a tree up. This year we're more settled. The tree was up November 1. Our Christmas Eve service was so much fun, and after the girls went to bed, the chance to play Santa was absolutely delightful. Getting the gifts from the garage, wrapping, and placing them under the tree, and imagining their tiny hands ripping into the paper and the bags was magical. It was a Christmas I'll never forget.