Best of 2016 – The books

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After a couple of years of floundering in my reading, I finally was able to right the ship in 2016 and get back to reading really great books.

I have even bigger reading plans for 2017. My Goodreads challenge is to read 50 books, but I’m hopeful it might be more.

Here are my ten favorite books that I read for the first time in 2016, listed in no particular order.

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Twenty Thoughts, Twenty Years

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Note: Any resemblance in this post to a similar post by Matt B. Redmond is entirely intentional.

Today is the twenty year wedding anniversary with the wife of my youth, Nicole. After giving it considerable thought, here are twenty memories that come to mind over our twenty years together. It should be noted that a few of these memories spring from before we were married.

To my beloved Nicole. Twenty thoughts, twenty years.

1. In 1990 I was the director for the youth choir at First Bible Baptist Church in Wichita, KS. You were a young, musically gifted pianist/vocalist with a quick laugh and an ever-helpful attitude. You were also 14-ish at the time and I was a 23-year-old college student dating someone else. Romance betwixt and between the two of us was nowhere to be found.

2. Romance finally came onto both of our radars during the summer of 1995. I was scheduled to lead worship for a week at the First Bible Baptist youth camp alongside Mike & Kim Marie Folsom. You were a camp attendee. Our regularly scheduled keyboardist became ill and we quite literally faced an “is there a keyboardist in the house?” moment. You stepped forward, added your keyboard/background vocal wizardry, and saved the week.

3. That same week at Horn Creek. I know you know this one but, great googily moogily, whattamemory. As was our custom, the worship band would gather backstage to get in a huddle, put our arms around one another, and pray before leading worship. I had already begun noticing the then post-high-school version of you and made sure to situate myself next to you that day for the group hug/prayer. As the group huddled up and prepared to pray, I felt my arm go around your neck and fall onto your far shoulder. I’m pretty sure I saw fireworks and heard “My Girl” by The Temptations playing in the background (“I got sunshine on a cloudy day.”)

4. Many nights sitting alone with you on your parents’ porch looking at the moon and stars. The area where your parents live was a lot less developed back then so one could get out there and feel as if it was possible to gaze forever into the night sky and then turn and gaze in wonder at you. I never wanted those nights to end. In some ways, they haven’t. “The moon has never shown so brightly/The heavens have never shed such light on me/It’s so soon to be captured by your gaze/But your eyes have got me in a daze.” From this song by Wes King.

5. Our wedding day. I would love one day to see the Northern Lights, to visit St. Peter’s Basilica, the Louvre, Neuschwanstein Castle, and the Cliffs of Dover. However, I am quite certain that the beauty of those sights would pale to my seeing you as you entered our church’s sanctuary on the day of our wedding. I’ve never fully recovered. Thanks be to God.

6. The evening of the day of our wedding and eating our first meal out as husband and wife at (wait for it) the 21st & Rock Road Applebee’s. That chicken fingers platter never tasted so good.

7. Studying theology and listening to sermons in our first apartment. We were young and childless at the time, so devoting a whole evening of binge listening to Greg Bahnsen lectures or Steve Wilkins sermons was easy. Remember how we devoured Randy Booth’s Children of the Promise, R.C. Sproul’s Chosen by God, Michael Horton’s Putting Amazing Back into Grace, or Douglas Wilson’s Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning?

8. So many evenings spent up at Evangel Presbyterian Church trying to bring some semblance of order to the church’s lending library. I don’t know if we succeeded, but man that was so fun.

9. The dark days after our first miscarriage in 1998. The Reformed Faith and the doctrines of grace tasted so sweet back then. They held us, carried us, and helped us make sense of some very grim moments.

10. Our fall 1998 trip to visit Mike & Kim Marie in Nashville. Just because….

11. The healthy birth of our oldest daughter Abigail. How brave and amazing you were as you labored mightily against the effects of the Fall. I had been enraptured by your beauty for a long time but that day I stood in awe of your power, strength, and God’s glory in you. What a privilege that I’ve gotten to see it repeatedly as you gave birth over the years to Rebeccah, Natalie, Isabella, Greyson, Tallis, and Cecilia.

12. That moment after your first surgery to remove half of your thyroid where Dr. Donna held your hand and, with a heavy sigh, explained to us that, yes, it was cancer. Nothing before in our marriage had ever seemed so scary. I felt so small, frightened, and unable to say anything meaningful. I’m pretty sure we just held each other and cried after the doctor left. Later on, so many friends and family would visit and buttress our faith, but those initial hours spent alone trying to come to grips with your thyroid cancer diagnosis had many Garden of Gethsemane moments.

13. Discovering the music of John Mayer in my brother’s car during our triumphant 2004 trip to Kansas City following your cancer surgery. I still can’t listen to songs like “Why Georgia,” “Back to You,” and “3×5” without tearing up thinking of that trip.

14. The tidal wave of “oh my goodness, what have we gotten ourselves into” as the first service at Trinity Covenant Church began on Sunday, May 2, 2004 at 10 AM. It never seemed at the time like you and I were involved in “church planting,” but I suppose we were on some level. Looking back at the bulletin from that service, I see that the first congregational song ever sung at TCC was Psalm 46:1-6 (pg. 84) from the Cantus Christi. How fitting that first verse has been in the life of our church: “God is our refuge and our strength; in straights a present aid. Therefore, although the earth remove, we will not be afraid.”

15. Shepherding our children as they dealt with the loss of their grandparents and great-grandparents. Grandpa Herman, Grandma Hale (my mom), Poppy. Shepherding each other through those same trials. Even to this day, you still make time on your shoulder for me to cry on when the weight of my mom’s passing becomes too much. What would I ever do without you?

16. Looking up at that sonogram screen in 2011 and seeing…boy parts? What. In. The. World. We were a girl baby family. Making girls is what we did. Making boys is for other couples. Now we have two of them crazy critters runnin’ around the house and we can’t imagine life without their aggressive affection, endless inquiries as to whether their muscles are growing, and reminders that we need to worship the One True God because He is mighty and He hates bad guys.

17. That feeling on Monday, July 29, 2013 when, in the aftermath of a massive thunderstorm, we stood in awful puddles of water in what we thought was our (finally!) waterproof basement. Good gravy, the despair was thick in that basement that evening. I’m so grateful God gave us both such a settled peace that our version of the American dream wasn’t working and that there would life beyond 2432 N. Rutland Ct. “And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:12).

18. So many musical memories with you over the years. The “Pray & Worship” years, leading evening services at Evangel (especially the congregational version of “El Shaddai”), singing/playing together at various weddings and funerals, the Soroptimist brunch gigs, me watching your piano students perform, you watching me perform with Jack Korbel. Not to mention all of the Sundays that we have logged together with you accompanying God’s people from the piano and me leading singing in our church. So much time spent making music together. The mind just boggles, doesn’t it?

19. The dread I felt in calling you as I walked from my desk to my supervisor’s desk on Tuesday, March 1 of this year. I knew I was going to be laid off. There was a pall in the air at work that day and one could feel the heaviness as soon as you entered the door. Although I am sure you felt like it at the time, you never panicked, never freaked out, and supported me as I tried to make sense out of “what do I do now.” Which leads me to number 20….

20. What I ended up “doing now” is something that I was moving toward…eventually. We just didn’t know it was coming up so quickly. In His wise providence, God used year number 19 of our marriage to transition me out of “workin’ for the boss man down at the plant” to being in “full-time Christian ministry.” Most days I feel so ill-equipped in so many areas. But I also get the sense that, in some ways, I’m getting better at this and I know that God is using you mightily in ways that I don’t even understand to make me a better pastor for His people.

You make me a better man in every way, Nicole Hale. How grateful I am for you. Here’s to the first twenty years together. May God grant us many more years of wedded bliss.

The 2016 Zymurgy best beers list

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I look forward to the Zymurgy’s list of the favorite beers as chosen by the magazine’s readership. Some people slag the list for not having nearly enough “whale beers,” but that’s one of the reasons I actually enjoy this list over others (such as the “whale” heavy Ratebeer top 50 list). The Zymurgy list contains most of what I enjoy and can get, plus a few things I can shoot for if I ever make it to either coast.

I’ve actually tried 35 of beers on the 2016 Zymurgy list. Of that 35, I have had all of them more than once except for Russian River’s Pliny the Elder. Unfortunately, due to Russian Rivers’ inability to keep up with the insane demand for that beer (not to mention their scarcity in the Midwest) I have only tried PtE once. I blogged about that experience here.

Many of the 35 beers that I have tried would end up on my personal top 50 favorite beers, although my personal 50 would also include a fair number of imports (especially Belgian beers). Those beers are broken out into a different category on the Zymurgy list.

Here are some other random thoughts about the 2016 list:

A word about the image at the top: It is a stock photo of hipster/praise & worship leader type guys drinking tallboys full of “golden suds.” And the guy on the right is taking their picture with a selfie stick. The picture is so awful I had to use it.

Song of the Week – “Why Georgia” (2001)

In 2003 my wife was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Providentially, her doctor discovered the cancer very early on and so my wife had her thyroid removed and has been cancer-free ever since. Thank God for attentive primary-care physicians, skilled surgeons, and modern medicine.

A few months after the surgery I decided to take my wife to Kansas City for a weekend away. Just the two of us alone as we left our two girls with the grandparents. It was a sort of a post-cancer surgery celebration of the fact that my wife was alive, recovering, and had been given an excellent prognosis going forward.

As is our custom on nearly all trips to Kansas City, we spent a fair amount of time with my brother (who lives in KC). While driving around one night he asked, “Hey, have you guys ever heard John Mayer’s music?” At the time we had not and so my brother proceeded to play for us Mayer’s latest (at the time) album Room for Squares. Immediately my wife and I became fans and the song “Why Georgia” shot to the top of my list of all-time great driving songs.

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Song of the Week – “Late for the Sky” (1974)

It was almost like discovering a writer I’d never read–except we discover writers we’ve never read all the time, and only rarely, as adults, do we stumble across major pop artists with a decent back catalog: it is usually prejudice rather than ignorance that has prevented us from making their acquaintance, and prejudice is harder to overcome (indeed, much more fun to maintain). And yes, of course it was prejudice that had stopped me from listening to Jackson Browne. He wasn’t a punk. He had a funny pudding-bowl haircut that wasn’t very rock ‘n’ roll. He wrote “Take It Easy” at a time when I didn’t want to take it easy. And though I hadn’t heard any of the songs, I knew they were wimpy, navel gazing, sensitive–American in all the worst ways and none of the best.[1]

In so many ways I can identify completely with the above sentiments of writer Nick Hornby about Jackson Browne. In fact, replace the phrase “He wasn’t a punk” with “He wasn’t a heavy metal shred guitar god” and the shoe pretty much fit like a glove (or something like that). In the early 80s I was a young teenage know-it-all armed with my first electric guitar and was determined to become the next VanHalenVaiYngwie. Songs featuring Dungeon & Dragon lyrics and harmonic minor scales were in. Songs by world-weary “old dudes” about heartache were anything but in.

Although I have been happily married to the same wife for nearly 20 years, I’ve lived long enough to know marital sorrow many times over. I have watched many folks make a good start at marriage, only to wake up a few years later and realize that happily ever after is, for a myriad of reasons, simply beyond their reach. There but for the grace of God go I.

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Best of 2015 – The music

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In terms of music consumption, my 2015 was quite bass-centric. I blogged about that fact here so I won’t trouble you with a recap. What I couldn’t forsee was that my music consumption in 2015 would widen into areas that I really hadn’t visited since the 1990s, mainly the areas of folk-rock and Americana. It will be interesting to see how 2016 unfolds.

What follows are (in order) my favorite 10 music acquisitions of 2015. This means is that of all of the music I acquired this past year, these are the cream of the crop. Note that the some of this music was released before 2015 (oftentimes way before). In this case, for whatever reason, I acquired a copy of the music in 2015.

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Best of 2015 – The beers

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I am pretty sure I will never have another beer year like 2015. Looking back at my Untappd feed for the past year I find that I was able to imbibe multiple world-class beers. It is really quite staggering how many epic libations ended up gracing my palate.

This is list going to be ridiculously challenging to narrow down. In fact, to do my 2015 justice I’ve decided to do two lists. The first list is my top 12 (because beer drinkers love 12 packs) of the best of the best of the best that I tried for the first time this past year. The second list is the “honorable mention” list. The beers that made the honorable mention list could just as easily have made my top 12 list any other year.

As I said, 2015 was epic.

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