Small Town Values

I grew up in a small town in the mountains of North Georgia.  The community was close-knit and in my youth, that close-knit feel is one of the things I hated most.

As a youngster, my mind equated those small town values with everyone knowing your business and getting into it.

In the summer of 1982, just after graduating High School, I left and didn’t look back.  My dream was to get as far away from that small town as possible and set a course for my own life.

I wanted to live in a large metropolitan city that would give me anonymity and allow me to explore who I was without the watchful eyes of a community “knowing my business.”

After college, I made my way to that large metropolitan community.  I made my way and slipped into the anonymity I thought was so great.

I made mistakes, I had successes and unbeknownst to me, I began to create my own community, that ironically mirrored those small town values that I had not yet learned to appreciate.

After 10 years in the city, I ventured out again.  This time to a transient community in south Florida that embraced the melting pot that people from around the world could create.

When I decided it was time to come home, back to my small town roots, I embraced those Small Town Values wholeheartedly, but quickly realized, they had been with me, and in evidence all along.

Small town values epitomize, faith, family, friendship, hard-work, love of country and taking care of your fellow-man.

As a child I was taught these cornerstones of life were what leads to success and happiness; those values are found not only in small town America, but in the small communities we create for ourselves in cities large and small, urban environments, suburbs and in the workplace.

FAITH – My parents instilled a faith in me that has carried through my life.  While in my early 20’s, I did what many people my age do.  I abandoned my faith and decided I knew what was best and I could forge my own path.  I soon realized I was wrong.  Once I found a faith community, within a large city, I quickly realized that this small community would lead me through life.

The community of faith, allows one to plug into a group of people who like myself, had grown up with this road map.

FAMILY – I have a strong family unit.  From an early child my father tattooed on the forehead of my brother’s and I “don’t ever do anything to embarrass your mama.”  I think if more of us held this as a family motto, we may be better off.

While my family, like most has our ups and downs, I know that when it comes down to it, we will come together and be one.  The family bond that I hold with those I love most is what brought me home, the place where I could find arms to hold me, celebrate my joys, and shoulders to cry on.

Love of family is a small town value that we all can relate to.  No matter the size of the town, or the distance we find ourselves separated by, this constant is one of life’s most precious gifts.

FRIENDSHIP – I have been blessed by friends at every stage of my life who have made me a better man.  Many of these friends, I equate to family.  Chosen family, establish bonds that support you during the good and bad times of life.

Friendships of community are the people who clean your house, replant your flower beds and make sure you come home to a place filled with love when your mom dies 500 miles away.  These are the people who gather on your front lawn on Friday evenings just to enjoy fellowship together and create silly memes for your birthday.  These friendships move far beyond a small town sensibility, if we are lucky, they incorporate every aspect of our lives!

HARD-WORK –  I don’t pretend the think the work I do is difficult.  In no way does my work equate to those who go out on a daily basis and put their lives on the line or develop callouses so deep that their touch feels like sandpaper.  What I do compared to others is easy, but I work hard at it and I learned this work ethic that has carried me through my career as a child.  I watched others dedication to their craft and knew that this was a key to success.

I haven’t always succeeded in my career.  As a City Commissioner for the Town of Lake Park, FL; I allowed petty differences to hold us back, this is my biggest regret during my time there.  We let the people down and I will always feel remorse for those years that we could have moved forward but remained stagnant.

Success however, has been with me through most of my career.  I learned to work hard and go above and beyond what was expected, this has allowed me to build a firm foundation that I am proud of.

LOVE OF COUNTRY – For much of my life our country has been at odds with itself.  I date this back to Watergate, but over the past 12 years the schism seems to have gotten larger.  Good intentioned people work to lead and unfortunately get so engrossed in idealism that the good of the country often times falls short.

We are a melting pot of humanity that sometimes erupts in ways that isn’t helpful.  However, when pushed America comes together.  No greater time in my life did I see this than when our nation was attacked, small town America and larger communities all came together to support our own.  This is the America that we all love, hopefully one day that same pride and patriotism will be a daily norm and not just an ideal found when we are broken by tragedy.

CARE FOR OUR FELLOW MAN – I learned early that when someone suffers, community rallies to support them.  When my brother died, our family was picked up and carried through our grief. I witnessed this when a friend’s young son passed away as a result of pancreatic cancer, and again when a young girl recently died in our community as a result of a horrific accident.

We are a good people and we take care of each other.  This care and compassion is what makes us great.  In our larger, yet shrinking world we find this through social media outreach when prayer circles or support pages pop up for people we don’t even know.  We care, we support and we love each other in ways that we learned from childhood through our adult life.

I was fortunate to be raised with small town values.  These values have carried me through my life, around the country and back home again.

The small town values of our lives make us who we are and I am proud to know that I have now embraced these full-force and in all aspects of my life.

Cricks and Cracks and Aches and Pains

Mama and Daddy used to complain about their aches and pains.  When I would ask why something hurt they would say, “I don’t know, it just hurts.”

Daddy would sometimes laugh and say “you will find out, it just comes with age.”

As usual my daddy was right.

Every morning when I roll over in bed and put my feet on the floor a new “ailment” seems to hit.  Cricks and cracks and aches and pains.

All winter my left knee bothered me, it would swell and throb, nothing major just an annoying pain.

This past week my right knee decided to get in on the fun and has been a constant nuisance.  It catches, it hurts, it makes me limp….. OK, I get it, I am old!

Sometimes I will get an ache in my shoulder or for no known reason a rib may hurt, it’s always something.  Nothing major, just a crick or a crack or an ache or a pain.

As I quickly race towards my date with morphine and a pain pump, I have decided what is wrong with me and quite frankly, these cricks and cracks and aches and pains are more of a blessing than a curse.

I have decided that the pains of being 50-something are much more about the joys of a fulfilled life than they are about a body that is catching up to too much weight and stress on joints.

The pain in my left knee that caused me to gimp around for large parts of the winter, I have decided that was caused by carefree days of summers past.

When I was a teenager, I spent most everyday on Lake Rabun, being pulled by my friend’s boat as we waterskied from one end to the other.

This nag in my knee has to be a way of reminding me of those carefree days being pulled and spraying and falling and jumping behind a boat being cheered on by friends and creating memories of sun-kissed skin on a scenic lake filled with glimpses in time.

If my left knee is about summers on the lake, it is only fitting that the pain in my right is a result of winters at Sky Valley, racing down hills of snow on skis that would give me a sense of freedom unlike anything else I had ever imagined.

Why would my neck hurt from time to time?  Of course that was caused by the endless hours of laughter spent with friends in Lake Park, Florida.

Those countless days with friends like Jorge and Leigh and Alyson, Donna, Dick, Joy and Sam, so many of us together, just spending time enjoying life,  throwing our heads back in laughter and celebration of lifelong friendships.

What’s a little neck pain, when it was caused by the joy of a chosen family that enriched my life in ways I can’t even imagine.

Could my backache be from the day Sam and Chelsea, Zack and I jumped from a plane fulfilling an item we all shared on our Bucket List?

If so, bring that pain on, it was worth the amazing feeling of floating through the air suspended in time as a parachute guided me towards land.

Those wrist aches….. dancing until dawn in Atlanta with friends who were learning about themselves the same way I was at the time.

My thigh, yes my thighs hurt sometimes too.  Oh, but the joy of holding countless babies on my lap and cherishing those newborn dreams.

Life gives us cricks and cracks and aches and pains, but it also gives us joy and laughter and love and friends.

I think it’s all worth it and next time my eyelash hurts or my grip fails, I’ll just look back at the blessings I received along the way that caused those cricks and cracks and aches and pains to bring me such joy.

It’s Time for a Good Old-Fashioned Ship Burning

This morning when I woke it was raining.  I made my way into the living room and sunk into my Lazy-Boy, wrapped in an afghan, watching the morning news, the last thing I wanted to do was get up and go to Church.

As I sat there, I debated with myself.  I could watch Church online, I could watch Church on TV, since the weather was bad no one would be at Church and I wouldn’t be missed.

Since the weather was bad, I needed to get up and go so that the Pastor and choir wouldn’t be in an empty church.

I debated and eventually got up and took a shower and left for Church.

Because of my morning debate, I arrived about 5 minutes late.  The sanctuary wasn’t as packed as normal, but a nice crowd had shown up.  I made my way into a row and joined with the others singing Praise and Worship music.

Over the past few weeks, we have been hearing a sermon series entitled “Obsessed.”  Pastor Adam has challenged us to live a life obsessed with the same things God is obsessed over.

I have enjoyed the series and as the finale, today’s message “Burn the Ship,” tied it all up in a neat bow.

Have you ever gone to Church and started listening to a sermon and thought “is he just preaching to me?”  Yeah, that happened to today.

As I explained in a recent blog post, I am at a Crossroads; my primary job is less than rewarding, the business I bought as an investment has become my joy and my passion is to write.

The sermon, based on scripture 1 Kings 19:21

21 So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant.

The basis of the sermon today is, when you are ready to begin anew, you must step out in faith with Plan A.  Plan B is just an excuse and shouldn’t be a fall back plan.

Back in the day, when explorers conquered new lands, they “burned their ships,” to symbolize their commitment to the ideals they were bringing forth.  This symbolism showing that they were “all in.”

When the time has come to make the journey that you feel the Lord is leading you towards, make that change with an EXPLANATION POINT…. not a period!

By burning the ship, you have eliminated the secondary option and prove you are “all in” with the new direction of your life.  Whew, that’s a lot to comprehend for someone who is at a Crossroads.

Ironically, I had a conversation with my Pastor on Friday, I told him about my Crossroads and where I felt I was being led.  As usual he listened and provided wise counsel.  Then today, he seemed to hit the nail on the head with points that gave direction to my heart.

I have made two big moves in my life.  Neither time did I know if it would work out, but I made those moves with faith that the Lord would show me the way.

When I moved to Florida in 1996, I didn’t know anyone, I didn’t have a job and had nothing but a movement in my heart telling me to go and faith that it would work out.

The move to Florida was the most courageous thing I have ever done, it worked out just fine.

I was enriched by people who will continue to impact my life until my last breath.  I developed my professional career with hard work, talent and determination and was rewarded with opportunities that I never saw coming.  And during my time in Florida I was given the opportunity by the residents of a small town to lead the direction of that town into the future as an elected official.

Most importantly, during those Florida years, my faith grew and became my guiding light through life.

The second big move was my decision to leave Florida and move back to God’s Country.   I had been being pulled back to the mountains of my youth by my heart for several years.

My fear in returning was that I wouldn’t fit in.  The friends I had known so many years ago wouldn’t accept me back and that I had been away from family for so long that a deeper connection wasn’t possible.

Those fears were quickly melted away by welcoming friends and family.  It hasn’t been perfect, sometimes it has been quite difficult, but like the move to Florida, the overwhelming results have been better than expected.

Now I am at a new crossroads and I am working hard to let my heart lead the course.

One of the points of Pastor Adam’s sermon today was that was we grow older and more comfortable we “stop living out our imagination and start living our memory.”

Who says that a certain age or level of comfort should lead our lives?  Why not keep living our imagination, an imagination that may turn away from what is comfortable and towards what is possible!

As I continue to evaluate the crossroads that sit before me, I will take these examples into account.  The faith I have employed when making major decisions hasn’t let me down in the past and I suspect it won’t in the future.

The kind words and prayers offered to me by many of you is appreciated as I evaluate my future.  While some may see this as a scary time, I am surprisingly calm and excited about the path ahead, I am at a crossroads, but the path ahead grows clearer by the day.

Imagination is a wonderful thing and sometimes when you put faith behind your imagination it may just come true!  I’m a firm believer that you are never too old to dream, sometimes you just have to burn some ships to get there.

One last thing about the rain that almost kept me home today…… it stopped while I was in the shower.  It’s interesting how the devil gives up when he loses.

I remain at a crossroads, but the direction signs are getting clearer,  When I step out in the direction it will bring me to the next stage of my life, I will do so in faith, excitement and an imagination knowing those “plan B” ships are better off burned.

Checks to the Bucket List….

Bucket Lists are like fingerprints, we all have them.  And like fingerprints, there are probably no two alike.

Over the past few years I have been checking off a few of the items on my list.

I went sky diving.

I rode a quarter-mile zip line over a deep ravine between a mountain range.

I wanted to hold political office and thanks to the people of Lake Park, Florida, I had that opportunity.

Believe it or not, I have even run a half marathon.

This summer, I am seeing a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Colorado.

I have many more items to check off my list, but this weekend I marked off one of my biggies.

Since I was a child I have been a fan of figure skating, I don’t know why, I just love it.

I remember where I was when Dorothy Hamill won her gold.  I remember Linda Fratianne, Katarina Witt, Debbie Thomas and every other woman to win a national, world or Olympic title.

I cheered when Scott Hamilton leapt to Olympic Gold and cried when he was diagnosed with cancer.  I wanted to be Brian Boitano, he was my hero during the Calgary Battle of the Brians.

Paul Wylie and Michelle Kwan made my heart soar.

Yes, ice skating has been a passion for many years.

Back in the summer I decided to check off another item on my list…….  I purchased tickets to the United States Figure Skating Championships in Kansas City, Missouri.

After months of anticipation, I arrived in town on Friday and have been in skater mecca all weekend.

Just approaching the arena gave me a rush of adrenaline and when I first saw the ice, I have to admit, I got a bit of a lump in my throat.

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Over a weekend of skating, I have seen the joys of victory, the fall of champions, the determination of finely tuned athletes and the free-spirited abandon of kids who had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

My trip to Kansas City has been a success.

When you are sitting in the same seats all weekend around the same group of people, you get to know them and their stories.

I met a lady who lives 50 miles from my house, she was there fulfilling her bucket list too.  There was the couple who go to the US Championships every year, their bucket list is to see an Olympic final.

Many of my skating idols of the past were at the Championships and it was fun to see them.  I met present day coaches and skaters and I made some new friends.

I’m glad I checked this item off the list, the next time I go to the Championships, it won’t be Bucket List, it will just be continued love!

I still need to see the sunrise over the Grand Canyon, write and see published the novel,  I want to do my Alaskan Cruise sooner rather than later, I want to cheer on competitors at the IRONMAN World Championships in Hawaii and swim the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia.

My list grows constantly and I enjoy striking items off the list.  One of the things I have learned in life is, it is too short not to dream and strive to make those dreams come true, I’ll keep doing just that!

Life’s Playlist…. Rise UP by Andra Day

For my friends in Florida who have been, and continue to be, affected by Hurricane Matthew.  RISE UP and know your backs are covered!

Love to all……..