My Year Amid a Pandemic, Becoming a Future Father, and My Favorite Albums, Books, Reads and Other Things of 2020

Kevin Orris
12 min readJan 1, 2021

“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance — an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold — though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world.

You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.” — 1 Peter 1:3–10

These words greeted me in my own handwriting from last year’s New Year’s Eve journal entry. Having completely forgotten I was led to this passage a year ago, I was shocked, yet delighted to find it as I prepare for my annual recap. There have been many trials. I will let you define “a little while,” but in relation to eternity, yes, I suppose it has been only a little while. Praise God for Jesus and the day He will be revealed to the whole world.

All the while, it has been a year. After back to back “best year(s) of my life,” I struggle to say the same for 2020. We had a good run, calendar. But a global pandemic, deaths in the family via all forms of illness, no WNIT, and the fact I am not writing from The Bourgeois Pig entails too many low lows to qualify. (However, as I finish writing this in 2021, my day has started with Transatlanticism spinning, home-cured bacon provided by a neighbor, a cup of La Colombe coffee, a stroopwafel, and perhaps leftover Rice Krispy Treats … it is going to be a great year.)

There has also been plenty to celebrate in 2020. I am pretty much a seasoned veteran of a husband (18 months!), have a baby boy on the way (May 2020!), and own a home. My life practically revolves around ministry (Awana, Harbor Ministries, Rhythm Community Church, etc.), including enrolling in the Renovaré Institute, and my mornings remain mostly sacred. I have been fortunate to (virtually) bike all over the world thanks to NordicTrack. I have baked, eaten, and drank like a king.

One day, we rearranged our bedroom and when our dog, Zeke, noticed the change, he froze and wore a look I have yet to find the words to describe. It was my favorite moment of the year. Also, I have rediscovered my love for word puzzles in what I can safely declare as the cheapest form of paid entertainment. Pre-pandemic, I even made it to a few shows (Radical Face, Local Natives, Bon Iver). I completed an entire Field Notes of amateur poetry. I have much to be grateful for.

Before I share an exhaustive list of things for you to snicker at, I must ease myself with a disclaimer: I publish these annual recaps and lists for my own records, but I encourage you to explore them to find something you might like. Here are links to past recaps if you are so inclined: 2015, 2016, 2017’s albums, 2017’s articles, 2017’s books, 2018, and 2019. Enjoy!

Food of the Year

I know why most of you are here, so let us get it out of the way. A picky eater can only expand his palate so much. There was no food of the year. There will not be a food of the year in 2021. Instead, I am still trying to meal plan. Can’t you tell I am off to a great start?

Word of the Year: Simplify

Well, save for the fact we bought a house and filled it with furniture and knick knacks (Sam is better at design than I, which she famously pointed out last year), I did a decent job. I spent more time furthering existing hobbies (baking, poetry, reading) rather than adding new ones. My wardrobe is a steady rotation of XLT t-shirts from Eddie Bauer, caped in old flannels come winter. I cook/bake more and more from complete scratch. I try to use rosemary grown in our yard once a week. Rather than devour as many books as possible, I took on some big and slow ones. I am satisfied with my year of simplicity, though there is plenty of work ahead.

I do not quite have a word yet for 2021, though I have been sitting with this verse:

“When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.” Romans 1:12

We shall see what the Lord does with that.

My Favorite Albums

My 2020 Albums playlist features about 60 I indulged in throughout the year, proving my suburban husband, soon-to-be-dad lifestyle is further separating me from the life that was. Shucks (sort of).

Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers

It had to be number one. This is Phoebe’s fourth year in a row on my list (2017: #7 Stranger in the Alps, 2018: #1 boygenius self titled, 2019: #3 Better Oblivion Community Center self titled), an honor so cherished, she never aimed for it. Sam & I listened to this more than anything else this year. I have seen most, if not all, of the music videos, live online performances, and other things. I long to scream with a crowd of strangers soon.

Figure by Into It. Over It.

For better or worse, I find myself oscillating between adoring the life that was and one I expect years ahead. I crave walking a few cold blocks to Schuba’s for a small-room show (I have seen a good chunk of the artists on this list there). I also long to be a seasoned man with experience in my voice and stories to share. “A Lyric in My Head I Haven’t Thought of Yet” is my favorite (though definitely not the best) song of the year for this reason. The decade of repeated evenings. Armitage Avenue. Finally breaking out of the routine. It is all so familiar. This record dropped in the final weeks of my 20s, a perfect send off. I deeply appreciate the life I have now, but this time machine to what was is such a gift.

The Avalanche by Owen

I do not like that I am putting this here. This record is too sad and hits close to home in a year with so much hard loss. Sam & I listened to this less than anything this year since she turned it off two songs in. But it is interesting and when emotionally prepared to listen, I am captivated. I am sorry for all you have endured, Mike.

Someday I’ll Make It All up to You by Tyson Motsenbocker

Tyson released both a full and acoustic version of this album. Both are fantastic. If I wrote music, I think it would sound like Tyson’s.

Push Ups by William Wild

This record is like a warm blanket. It is a safe place I run to often. It works as an intentional listen or in the background. I waited a long time for this and it was all worth it.

Our Two Skins by Gordi

Earlier this year, a friend pointed out how readily available grief was. Loss was omnipresent. Sorrow and sadness were all too accessible. Marinating on this thought, I laid on a rug marked by flickers of candlelight and bushels of Zeke’s ombre’d hair.

“Do you see yourself

Do you see yourself unravelling?

Do you know, that these bones were always mine?

Where before this

Where before this was I travelling?

Was this always

Was this always by design?

’Cause I can’t get my s*** together

In this aeroplane bathroom

I’m wondering why

I haven’t seen myself before

In naked lights, and sleepless nights

I’m trying to remember

But the contents of my chest are down there on the floor”

It was the realest, rawest moment of my year. I finally stopped running. Grief set in. I needed that night.

Cannot Be, Whatsoever by Novo Amor

Kinda, sorta like Bon Iver.

Let The Ground Rest by Chris Renzema

My Spotify year in review is quick to point out how much time I spent with this record. It’s hands down the spiritual record I most connected with this year. Thank you, Chris.

Neon Skyline by Andy Shauf

Another warm blanket of an album.

Maybe I’ll Go Nowhere by Ethan Gruska

Beginners by Christian Lee Huston

These albums belong together. I enjoy them equally.

Free Love & WITH by Sylvan Esso

These quickly became go-to background records. Good memories tied to Sylvan Esso.

folklore/evermore by Taylor Swift

Sure. Exile is worth it.


Everything Will Change by The Postal Service, Likewise by Frances Quinlan, Peopled with Dreams by John Mark McMillan, Keeper of Days by Jon Guerra, Notes from Archive by Maggie Rogers, At the Moonbase by Slaughter Beach, Dog, Set My Heart On Fire Immediately by Perfume Genius, minor (EP) by Gracie Abrams

Nevertheless, the Ben Gibbard Live from Home shows were my favorite thing to listen to all year. I cherished each of these shows throughout the early days of quarantine. Thanks, Ben.

My Favorite Books

I read a healthy portion of books this year, but I am reserving this list for my favorites to save myself from reading for accomplishment (my wife would be proud). Enjoy!

Field Guide for SPACE by Tim Bohlke, Tracy Brester, Matt Fogle & Kevin Orris

That’s right … I helped write a book. The short story: God put this concept on my heart a few years ago and in January, I felt led to hand it over to Harbor Ministries. I pitched it to Tim, he quickly approved, and we were off to the races. I spent months ideating, organizing, writing, editing, finding stories, quotes, scriptures, etc. alongside a team of incredible like-minded companions. The end result is something I am proud of and am excited to build upon. You can purchase a copy here.

The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard

I knew I wanted to read this for a few years, but decided to wait for the right season of intentionality. I have rarely, if ever, exercised such patience with myself as I read a book. I think I spent two or three months with it. Each day and session was so worth it. This book helped reshape, affirm, and strengthen my faith beyond my expectations. Forewarning that it is a dense read, but I would highly recommend it to anyone looking to further explore the life and teachings of Jesus.

Devotions by Mary Oliver

I leaned hard into poetry this year. This is my favorite book by my favorite poet. I would buy each and every one of you a copy if I could.

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Hello, fiction! Wendell Berry is my dude.

Pappyland by Wright Thompson

I received this book from Sam for Jólabókaflóð and finished it within days. Wright is my favorite writer and I happen to enjoy the subject matter. Support your local library and rent a copy!

Domestic Monastery by Ronald Rolheiser

This book might take an hour to read, but will stick longer. It is weirdly expensive, but I enjoyed it on Kindle.

Silence, Joy by Thomas Merton

I found this little pocket compilation of Merton writings at a bookstore in Phoenix and have carried it in my backpack since. It is one of many books I read in short intervals to reflect on, but am unsure I have actually finished it.

Sacred Companions & The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner

Both of these books illuminated areas of my life and relationships that required deeper examination. I plan to revisit both frequently.

Beautiful Resistance by Jon Tyson

Invitation to a Journey by Robert Mulholland

Both great books and perspectives on various spiritual disciplines aimed at formation, but I made the mistake of reading these back to back and thus they blend together in my mind.

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

I never knew how much I didn’t know about trees.

My Favorite Articles

Here is enough content to get you through your weekend and then some.

The New York Times profiled the loss of redwoods, sequoias and Joshua trees in California. There is also a ‘Hillbilly Brigade’ that saved an Oregon town from raging wildfires.

Sheri Fink wrote a story worth remembering from inside a Brooklyn hospital as COVID ravaged New York City.

I loved Outside Magazine’s feature on Lynx Vilden, who lives as if we’re in the stone age.

Vivian Yee’s story of enduring the Beirut explosion will move you.

Dolly Parton is wonderful.

All of the Tony Hsieh death features were moving/captivating/sad, but I most appreciated this one.

I learned a lot about the history and state of Mormonism from McKay Coppins for The Atlantic.

The perspective of this man waiting for a vaccine inside a COVID-infected nursing home provided a needed perspective amid a raging pandemic.

The LA Times on a fire station near skid row.

The Atlantic published a piece on the possibility of ending down syndrome via prenatal testing, which I have not soon forgotten.

Read this Dunkin Donuts love story. What a dream.

We lost John Prine this year.

Remember Quibi?

The Times wrote about how Quakers gathered over Zoom amid a pandemic.

Here is The New Yorker’s profile of Phoebe Bridgers (who didn’t profile Phoebe this year?). They also profiled Richard Rohr.

Brad Griffin connected Billie Eilish and what we can learn about teenage anxiety for Christianity Today. Also, my friend Morgan Lee wrote a beautiful piece about her mixed-race identity and the Church.

Kanye West lives in Wyoming.

Robert K. Vischer on Eric Metaxas and conspiracies/politics. And Joe Forrest on the evangelical reckoning of Joe Biden’s win. And there is the Joe Biden stuttering story. And all of the Trump Facebook/data/online advertising stories.

I still do not know what to do with the John Ortberg story. Or so many other stories about prominent pastors this year. Or this story about a Bible that “oozed oil.

I think I am good for one chess feature a year … but does it belong in the sports category?

Sports Reads

Earlier this year I had a weird dream about Archie Manning. Weeks later, Wright Thompson profiled him. I want to be like Archie Manning. Wright also wrote about Michael Jordan.

Inside the Lakers plane ride as they learned Kobe passed away. Also, Ramona Shelburne curated Kobe stories. And the John Altobelli story. And Wayne Drehs’ story on the Kobe mural in the Philippines. And the church near the crash.

The Zack Grenke/Royals oral history is worth reading (and laughing at) five times over. Same with the Aaron Rodgers stories.

I cannot believe I forgot about the Madison Bumgarner rodeo alias story.

Michael Russo’s story about hockey broadcaster Mark Parrish overcoming alcoholism is worth your time.

I highly recommend reading this feature on Maya Moore and her quest for justice.

The Washington Football Team story about sexism, abuse, etc. needs to be shared.

Grant Wahl wrote a fantastic profile on Diego Maradona shortly following his death. And Jermaine Jones (who did not die).

Brian Straus also profiled Weston McKennie and his experience with racial injustice while playing in Europe. And Gio Reyna, who is a brilliant player with an inspiring story.

Ramona Shelburne wrote a story to partner with The Last Dance, which was soooo worth the wait.

Clayton Kershaw seems like a good dude both before and after winning the World Series.

Pierre LeBrun pulled off a solid feature on Seabsy.

Taylor Rooks penned my favorite NBA bubble behind-the-scenes story.

Is Mina Kimes the most likeable sports personality?

Fernando Tatis is good for baseball.

Ryan McGee’s story following the ban of confederate flags at NASCAR races is worth reading.

RIP Guthrie’s Tavern … my old neighborhood haunt featured in SI’s piece on the death of sports bars.

Erik Kramer has a story to share. So does Ben Roethlisberger. And Ben Gordon.

There are stories to share about Esteban Loaiza.

Mariners prospect Taylor Trammel wrote an appropriately named essay, “Baseball Is Not Black Enough.” Lauren Holiday also wrote a moving piece about racial injustice for The Players’ Tribune.

I could read all of the Theo Epstein stories. Joe Maddon also has stories.

The Mesut Ӧzil stories are wild.

Ron Washington is the best.

Tim MacMahon wrote about the rift between Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert.

TMac and Jermaine O’Neal became sports agents.

Remember when Gronk retired?

Props to Giannis for re-signing with the Bucks.

The Athletic curated an oral history of Air Bud.

In what is the last significant, but perhaps most fun statistical story of the year, Grant Grisbee revisits the time Bengie Bolina improbably hit for the cycle 10 years ago.

Other Things

Finally, I leave you with this dude who showed up at a mid-pandemic town hall meeting to propose Lincoln, Nebraska eliminates the name “boneless chicken wings” from all menus.

Happy New Year, friends.