What Makes a Family

Family.  We are taught from birth that “family” should be at the center of our lives.  For those fortunate enough to have a strong, tight-knit family unit this is one of the greatest blessings of life.

For others, families are made, sometimes the birth unit isn’t ideal and we seek outside circles to complete that all important bond.

I was fortunate to have both.  My birth family is tight-knit, I grew up with both parents in the home and while we experienced tragedy, our family remained strong.

Today, my inner-circle is my family, my brother, sister-in-law, nieces and nephew.

I also have extended family consisting of cousins that make for an idyllic picture.

When I moved away to Florida, I was fortunate enough to find a group of friends who became my Florida Family.  These people shaped my adulthood and have carried me through many of the happiest and most difficult times of my life.

I am blessed and I know I am blessed.

Families come in all shapes and sizes.  I have lesbian friends who adopted a beautiful daughter of another race when her mom died shortly after childbirth.  This family is as strong as any I have ever known.

A friend has guardianship of a distant nephew and makes sure he is raised in comfort and love.

Another friend has a home filled with children of multiple races, starting as foster parents and eventually adopting the children when they become available or often times being ordered by courts to return the kids to the people who birthed them.

Families can be strengthened by “The Brady Bunch” syndrome when parents of children marry after divorce or loss.  The blended families can be strong or difficult, it depends on the parents.

Many people don’t have this same gift that I do and unfortunately sometimes our system fails those who need it most, betraying the family unit created through love and responsibility.

I have no children, I will never have children and that is my greatest regret in life.  I think I would have been a pretty good dad, but alas that wasn’t in my cards.  I make up for it by trying to be a super Uncle or supporter of my friends kids.

Families come in any shape and form and unfortunately for the most important members of the family, the children, adults often screw it up.

Case in point…. a child I will call “Henry.”

Henry is a foster kid.  He came to live with his family when he was 5, he is now 7.

At five years old, when Henry came to live with his new family, he joined a large rambunctious, fun-loving home filled with support, kindness and love.

At five, when Henry came to live with this family, he received his first pair of socks……. EVER!  Yes, at 5 he had never even had a pair of socks.

I don’t know where the dad is, but the mom was addicted and in and out of jail.

Over the past two years, Henry has thrived.  He is an adorable little boy, a bit shy, but totally a love bug!

He has a sweet smile, he has participated in school and excelled, played organized sports and been an active member of the family he now calls his own.

Henry knows he is loved and spreads that love with his parents and siblings.

Several months ago, the woman who gave birth to Henry decided she could care for him and wanted him back.

The woman who gave birth to Henry has a mother who is financing getting him back.  She doesn’t want him, she wants her daughter to have him back, like a new doll to show off.

The family that Henry has become a part of knows that he is best served by being with them and fought to keep him.

After many court dates, some the woman who birthed him didn’t even attend, the courts ordered Henry be returned to her.

Next week, Henry will be returned to a woman he doesn’t know as a mother, a woman who will be raising him in a half-way house, a woman who lives hundreds of miles from his FAMILY.

While we like to think our court system has the best interest of those who are the weakest among us, it is hard to comprehend how this is the best for Henry.

A child who never even owned a pair of socks until he was five, is being stripped from a family that has showered him with love, taught him responsibility and provided him the only real family he has ever known, will now be given to a woman who birthed him simply because she birthed him.

Are Henry’s best interests being provided for?  We can only hope and pray that he will adapt and continue to thrive, but it is my fear that this child will again be lost, a victim of a system that was designed to protect him.

Henry’s family did all they could, I pray they will one day see him again and he will be able to remind them they are HIS family and they did their job well.

Henry is one of thousands lost in the system each year.

Families come in all shapes and forms, Henry has a family, unfortunately he won’t be allowed to continue living with them after next week.

I pray for Henry, and I pray for the thousands of other children like him who fall between the cracks.  I pray that Henry knows he is loved and part of a FAMILY.

 

Before Facebook…..

Yesterday, while doing my weekly grocery shopping, I ran into a friend I have known since childhood.

Her husband and pooch had recently been injured in a car accident and I caught up on how their recovery was going.

We went about our way and then I ran into her again in the bakery.  I asked about a mutual friend who had been undergoing some life struggles and she let me know that our friend was doing well and moving forward.

I laughed as we were talking and asked “what did we do before Facebook?”  You see, Facebook is where I found out about both of these ongoing life events.

She responded back, “we talked on the party  line!”  We laughed and went on about our shopping.

As I wandered up and down the aisles of canned goods and, meats and dairy, I pondered, what DID we do before Facebook?

For the sake of conversation I use Facebook to encompass all social media.  The term could easily be, what did we do before Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat or any of the other social media platforms that I am not cool enough to comprehend.

No matter the format, what did we do before Facebook?

  • We used our phones for talking.  We actually picked up the receiver, got a dial tone, punched in a number and talked to the person on the other end.
  • We actually looked at people when we walked down the street.  We sometimes even nodded or said hello!
  • When we went to the bathroom, we did our business and left.  With the inception of social media, my bathroom breaks have grown longer and longer.
  • We didn’t overshare.  I am COMPLETELY guilty of this, I get it, but we overshare now.  It seems as though we are more worried about what our next posts will be instead of living our lives.  When was the last time you went to a concert and just enjoyed the music?  Now, we try to make sure we can get the perfect shot or video.
  • Our computers and phones were used for computing and phoning.  In this social media world we now live in, my computer is open to Facebook from the time I get up until I go to bed.  When I am not with my laptop, I have my phone in my hand.
  • Our search for a fulfilled life now competes with other’s photos and posts.  Sometimes ignorance is bliss.  When I didn’t know that my friends were at the hottest club or movie premier, I could handle it, now I suffer from FOMO anxiety!
  • Emergency room visits for walking into walls and fountains were practically non-existent prior to social media overtaking our world.  Now when someone walks into a wall, you can be assured their faces were in their phones, finding out what excitement other people are experiencing in their world.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not a critic of social media.  I love it and utilize it to the fullest.  I know what you had for dinner and you know the same about me.  I know who loves Trump and who hates him.  I know when you have a kidney stone and you know when I feel excited or frustrated, it is all a part of social media.

What I fear is that, like you, our lives are becoming more about our social media posts and less about life.

Social media is a wonderful part of our lives, when we use it as a supplement, not a forerunner.

While social media has its downfalls, the benefits of these photos, posts and videos far outweigh the negatives.

Through social media, I stay in touch with family and friends around the world.  I celebrate their joys and cry for them when they suffer.

Our world has been made smaller through social media.  Prayer circles for loved ones who are suffering or being witness to the first kiss of a new husband and wife allows us to narrow our circle and become one humanity.

I love seeing your children on their way to prom, or first steps, words and life milestones from your bundles of joy.  My heart grows stronger when I see complete strangers stop in their tracks to honor a fallen soldier as his body is received back on American soil.

Our world is a complex place, filled with a humanity that moves at the speed of light.  This world is brought together through social media, so if I don’t hear from you by phone or a knock on my door, I don’t take it personally, I know you are out living your life, like I am.

Keep sharing, I enjoy watching your adventures and hope you will forgive my overshares, it’s a big beautiful world out there, let’s experience it together!

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.

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.

Crossroads…..

When I moved back to Georgia almost two years ago, I thought I had the rest of my life figured out.

I would work for home on a job that I loved.  I would reconnect with family and friends and grow old in the mountains of my childhood.

This new simpler life would allow me to write the story that had been gnawing at my heart and possibly achieve that lifelong dream of publication.

After a year of getting accustomed to my new life, a business venture presented itself and I jumped at it.  My niece expressed an interest in being partners and everything fell into place.

The plan was for it to be a side venture, I would work it as needed and then eventually sell it in a couple of years, making myself and my niece a nice hefty profit.

The story continued to gnaw at me, but with my full time job, and a new business venture it disappeared further and further into the background.

Today, I find myself at a crossroads.

The business venture with my niece has become my passion and my joy!  Every day is a new adventure and I thoroughly enjoy being with her and the other people we have working with us.  We do fun work and get to impact people’s lives in fun, silly, loving, insignificant, earth-shattering ways.

The job that allowed me to move back to God’s Country and take on more responsibility and play a larger role in a company that I loved has done a complete 360.

Over the past 3 years, the company has now been bought and sold three times, I have had five direct bosses and I have gone from being a major decision maker to someone who has no voice and is told by 30-somethings on a daily basis that I don’t know how to do my job.

And then there is the story that continues to gnaw at me.

I am at a crossroads.  I love the business that my niece and I are creating, but for now it cannot afford me the financial stability I currently have.

My job is tenuous and frustrates me in ways that I never imagined.  Seeing my generation pushed out and replaced by 30-something wunderkinds is disheartening and something I would not have expected when we were sold the first time or even the second time…… but you know what they say, “the third time is the charm!”

And then there is the story, I find myself thinking about these characters constantly.  I am getting encouraging notes and emails from people out of the blue who tell me I should write more.  My passion for the story grows daily.

I am at a crossroads and know the road I want to travel, now if I only had the guts to make that dramatic turn.

I will keep moving forward with a faith that my journey has many twist and turns yet to maneuver and a confidence that the story, the passion and the rest will all work out as intended.