Jun 27, 2012

4 for 20: Changes

[I would have posted this yesterday, but one of the souvenirs I apparently brought back was some sort of Subtropical Death Flu.  I was fevered in a chair all day yesterday.  Wheeee!  Welcome Home!]

During the reunion, I heard someone talking about how some people looked a lot different and others did not.  I was in the "you haven't changed a bit" category.  Several people were like, "You look just the same."  I could have taken a bit of offense to that.  First of all, I didn't have a goatee then.  I had an awesome teen moustache.  Second, I have lost a lot of hair.  Third, I look like I ate my high school self.  (Admittedly, it used to look like I had eaten two of my high school self, but still...)  But I took it instead that I have kept my youthful looks and still have (mostly) black hair.  What's my beauty secret?  Donut glaze and pizza grease.  They really fill in the wrinkles.  People pay all that money for botox when they could just wolf an apple fritter.

No matter how much we want to avoid it, things change.  After the reunion, I stuck around town for another day so I could see how things looked now.  I was very surprised by how different things were. For one, it appeared that the city was becoming a modern day Venice.  Half the roads were underwater and there was a lot of flooding.  "Man, these are NOT good changes," I thought.  Then I realized it was due to a storm.  Seriously, though, things had changed a lot.  I know that when I drive through Orlando, I will find things have been altered since I came to school in 1992.  It is kind of expected in a city like ours.  But West Palm Beach seemed like it was kind of stuck in time for the whole time I lived there - at least the places I frequented were things I could count on.  As I went through and looked for the memorable places from my past, I don't think any of them were the same as they used to be.  It was kind of disconcerting.  I should know this place, after spending so much time there.  But I honestly couldn't recognize large sections of it.

I started with the neighborhood where I grew up.  I had heard about the changes there.  When my mom sold the house, things were undergoing a massive overhaul in the community.  People had told me how different things were.  I was really clued in when one of my friends at the reunion told me they had driven through, looking for my house and couldn't find it.  She said she knew it was the right road, but couldn't find the house.  Our house was very familiar.  It was the big blue house on the corner.  That was how we identified it.  Shoot, that was how everyone identified it.  It was a very old house - built in the 1920s.  The neighborhood itself was all that old.  As we were growing up, it wasn't the best neighborhood, either.  I joked the other day about the local crack houses.  One friend asked what I knew about that? Well, there were all over the place.  There was a prostitution house about a block west of us.  There were crack houses a couple blocks north of us.  So, imagine my surprise when I drove up and found out that now it was Flamingo Park Historic District.  Uh, what?!?  Historic?  Like this is a fancy neighborhood?

The house itself was completely different, also.  Instead of the blue paint is now an off white.  There is Spanish tile on the roof and wrought iron balconies.  WHAT?  Balconies?  The snow-on-the-mountain hedges that surrounded the house are gone.  In their place are different bushes.  The back fence is now a big stone wall with a wooden gate.  And our house isn't the only once that had changed.  The house next door is completely different.  It used to be white with a red chimney.  Now it is yellow with a white chimney.  They even decrease the angle of the driveway.  I remember loving the steep driveway because it helped me build speed on my bike.  Every house on the block has changed.  It is such a startling difference that if someone had just dropped me on that street and asked me where I was, I wouldn't have even known.  People seem surprised when I say that, but there are no distinguishing characteristics remaining for me.  Oh, that house picture with the street sign isn't my old house.  I just wanted the sign.

I visited each of my old schools.  Well, I tried.  The King's Academy, where I went for K-6 (except for 5th grade), has completely moved its facilities.  I actually don't know where it is now.  The old place now looks like it is co-owned by the Sheriff and the local government.  There are a bunch of buses for the school district.  I didn't see an official sign for the place.  Belvedere Elementary, where I went for fifth grade, doesn't even look the same at all.  They have built all new buildings.  The same goes for Conniston Middle School.  All new buildings, nothing recognizable.  I attended Twin Lakes High School in ninth grade - but it relocated during that year.  I had no desire to trek out to that site which is like thirty minutes away.  The old site is now an arts high school.

Forest Hill High School has also completely changed.  I knew they had built some new buildings, but it looked like the entire campus had been redone.  There were all new signs, new buildings, new traffic patterns.  It all was very strange.  I supposed this is commonplace.  Older communities, like the one I grew up in, have to renovate and alter things.  The church we attended for most of my life is still there - but has a different name and new building.  Our old pharmacy is now an antique store.  And my grandfather's fishing supply store is now a fire department.

One of the more shocking changes was next to Conniston.  When I attended that school, there were dozens and dozens of homes across the street.  Now, every last one of them has been leveled.  I knew they had bought up some to deal with airport noise.  But the sight of entire city blocks empty was shocking.  Palm Beach Atlantic is supposed to be building an athletic complex there, from what the signs said.  That kind of wholesale change is very strange to me.  I know this is natural.  I moved from an older area to a very new area in Orlando.  The UCF side of Orlando had only been in existence since the 1960s.  My mom graduated from Forest Hill High School about the same time UCF opened.  Orlando was planned out with great precision.  West Palm Beach just kind of happened.  I never really appreciated just how different those two cities were.

Appreciation is a good topic to move to, actually.  I found myself time and again thinking how I didn't appreciate what I had in West Palm Beach.  As a kid and a teen, I didn't understand some things very well.  I had no clue that our house was literally four blocks from the Intercoastal Waterway.  I didn't think about how rare it was that we were ten minutes from the ocean.  As I have said several times before, I hated Cuban food growing up.  I didn't start enjoying it until living in Tallahassee about three years ago.  I had lived in one of the meccas of Cuban food and didn't even care.

This recent trip, my brother and I went over to Flagler Avenue and walked along the waterway.  I could totally picture me taking my kids there.  They would love to walk the trails, explore the piers, play in the parks.  They all love the beach and would think it was great to be so close.  The old library I spend many hours in as a child is gone, replaced by a park.  I found that a bit troubling until Chris took me by the new gleaming library a few blocks away.  The pool I used to go visit as a child is now an opera house.  There is a beautiful performing arts center, a convention center, an outdoor shopping village.  There was nothing like that when I was a kid.  I think of kids growing up there now and the opportunities they have.  Of course, they probably won't appreciate it either.  That's kind of a hallmark of people.  We are never happy with what we have.

I have always said that I hated West Palm Beach.  I have never even considered moving back there.  But, as I saw there at Havana Cuban Cafe drinking an incredible cafe con leche, or as I walked along Flagler Avenue, I found myself missing this place.  I can honestly say that was a very foreign feeling to me.  I love Orlando and want to stay there.  It is home.  But, for the first time probably in my life, I felt like I wanted to come back to WPB.  That just doesn't happen.  That town has never had any draw for me.  But, in the last few years, things have changed in me.  I have worked hard to look at life differently.  I am not so angry.  I am less negative.  I am less judgmental. (For those of you who know me know and are laughing, trust me.  Whatever you see in me now, I was far worse.)  It isn't just that I like Cuban food and drink coffee now.  It is that I want to make right the poor decisions I have made.

That was one of the goals I had in going back for this trip.  I wanted to work to rebuild relationships with people.  That takes time, just like it takes time to rebuild a city.  I am committed to that.  I have gone through over the last few years and made efforts to fix things with people.  It is a project that will take a very long time, but it is something I need to do.  My old classmates were not the only people who I needed to reach out to on my trip.  I have a lot of family there that I have been neglectful of as well.  And during this weekend I got to see many of them.  I stayed with my brother and my Uncle George.  I had dinner with my Aunt Dee and Uncle Mike.  I played cards with my Uncle Bill and Aunt Kathy and my cousins Kristin and Bryan.  I wasn't able to see Uncle Jim and Aunt Mary Jane as time just ran out.  I loved reconnecting with them.  There was a certain amount of pain in the fact I have missed so many years.  For the most part, though, I chose to enjoy the time I was having.

Perhaps the most shocking thing was I began wondering when I could come back.  I was a bit surprised myself at the reality of that thought.  I have never had a desire to be down there, but now I do.  I actually have begun making plans on when that can happen.  I want my kids to see where I grew up.  I want them to meet the family they don't know and get closer to the ones they do know.  I want to be a better cousin and nephew and brother and friend.  I was so glad for the chance to go because it afforded me the opportunities to at least start that process.  The change in the area was indeed amazing and great in scope.  But I came to realize that the biggest change may have been in myself.

*** Editor's Note.  We apologize if you found this series of post too sappy or self indulgent.  We promise that very soon this blog will return to its normal routine of mediocre sports posts, movie reviews, and lengthy neglect.  Thank you.

Jun 25, 2012

3 for 30: The Friendlies

I had some interwebs connection issues yesterday or this would have been up.  I had a great time at the reunion event.  Honestly, I wish it had included more events across the weekend.  There was a lot to take in, since I had not seen these people in twenty years.  I actually had trouble sleeping Saturday night.  I kept waking up and my mind would immediately be racing, processing everything.  I was able to reconnect with several of my close friends during the course of the evening.  Unfortunately, I missed out on seeing some others.  Like I said, it was a lot to do in four hours.  Plus, the room was very loud, so conversations took a lot of effort.  The outside option was eliminated by the arrival of Tropical Squall Debby.  All that aside, I am very VERY glad I came.

It is easy for me to dwell on negatives.  As I have written before, the fictional character I am most like is Eeyore.  This has been a problem most of my life.  As time passes, things and events and eras are distilled to simpler and simpler elements.  Instead of the nuanced layers that truly characterize a life, it is like we compress and archive the events.  It reminds me of when I use iPhoto on the Mac.  I separate all my pictures into "Events."  So everything is compartmentalized into these separate folders.  But then you have to pick one photo to be the thumbnail "key photo" for the whole event.  One picture that when you are scanning the hundreds of folders will jump up and grab your attention - jolting your brain into a remembrance.  That is what I do with the eras of my life.  High school is filed into a folder, with one picture popped up.  So as I kind of skim through my memories, that one thing is all I think.  I feel like, for some reason, a negative picture has been assigned to high school.

What I discovered at the event itself was the flood of wonderful memories that came back.  It could be the reunion version of "graduation goggles," where the only thing that a person can remember is the good stuff.  But for too long, I have forgotten a lot of those positive memories.  Instead of an excruciating walkthrough of the details of an evening that either a) you were at or b) you could care less about, I instead will share some of the fond memories I have of my friends.  I have taken some pictures that I will include.  Now, they are from my iPhone, so they may not be the best.  (Not that I am criticizing the iPhone.  God forbid that happens.)  If my pictures suck, I will shamelessly snag one from someone's Facebook page.  And not credit them.  [I am withholding last names because I don't want to unintentionally violate anyone's privacy - or what is left of it after Zuckerberg gets done trampling all over it.]

Mitchell and I were in so many classes together, you would think that we had done it intentionally.  I guess it was a good thing that we quickly became good friends.  From our love of Billy Joel to singing the same part in Chorus, we had a lot in common.  The thing I most remember, though, was movies.  In previous posts, I have talked about how I was not allowed to watch movies very often.  As I got into high school, I was allowed to start seeing more films.  Mitchell became one of my best movie buddies.  He always had passes to the local Cinema and Drafthouse.  But he also introduced me to some very important films - Godfather, Highlander, Die Hard, and Hudson Hawk.  "Whaaa???" you may say.  How dare I include Hudson Hawk in that otherwise illustrious list?  Admit it, we all have guilty movie pleasures.  This expensive Bruce Willis flop was ours.  For some reason, Mitchell and I loved Hudson Hawk when it came out in the theater.  We rented it several times on video.  It was stupidly hilarious (much like Arnie's Last Action Hero).  Watching movies with Mitchell was one of my favorite activities - some for the movies, some for the time spent hanging out.  

Tiffany was one of my very best friends in high school.  We hung out a lot, talked a lot on the phone.  She went with me when I got my ear pierced.  But, her friendship took a severe hit that day when she didn't try to talk me out of getting my ear pierced.  (Haha)  Tiffany is/was very smart, kind, and funny.  She also was very ballsy.  Our school was not a very large high school.  For example, we only had four AP classes offered at all.  Our sports offerings were pretty pathetic.  And the ones for girls were even worse.  (Remember Title IX wasn't really enacted in regards to sports until after we graduated from high school.)  So Tiffany tried out for the boys' soccer team.  And she made it.  And she played.  I always was very impressed at the guts required to do that.  Tiffany really meant a lot to me through high school and I appreciated her friendship throughout.

For much of high school, people thought Matt and I were twins.  Actually, they thought he and his twin were twins.  They thought I was the pathetic guy who followed them around all the time.  We hung out so much.  I would go play video games at their house.  They would come play pool at my house.  We went to church together.  His dad owned a body shop around the corner from my house, so it made our hanging out even easier.  One of my strongest memories with Matt was when we got in a wreck together.  He was driving his car, which was specially painted and everything.  It had been raining and we were driving down Dixie Highway.  The person in front of Matt slammed on his brakes.  Matt couldn't stop and our car slid into the guy.  I had always heard that you close your eyes when you get in a wreck.  But that wasn't true.  I had my eyes open the whole time and saw the hood crumple up towards us.  I was terrified.  I had already been very hesitant about getting my license; the wreck made my fear even worse.  Matt was obviously very upset about his car.  But a couple of days later, he came over and made me take him out driving - forcing me to get back into the process.

Glen was another member of the Forest Hill chorus mafia - along with Mitchell, Tiffany, Matt, and a bunch of other people in this post.  Glen and I got along great.  We both had strong religious convictions and were in a lot of the same classes.  Glen could sing lower than any teenaged boy had a right to sing.  I was stranded up in the tenor section and he was booming this bass across the room.  He also could grow a beard in like fifteen minutes.  It was ridiculous.  He would shave on Friday and then show up on Monday looking like Zach Galifianakis.  You may not think that is impressive, but to a teenager that was HUGE.  I had this lame little teenager moustache and Glen was the Bounty guy.  He also was a cheerleader.  Again, that may seem like a blight on his record.  But our school was Bizarro World.  In our school, the cheerleaders were superstars due to winning and placing at three straight national championships.  Our football team was horrible.  And our chorus was very well regarded by the students thanks to its consistent awards and the involvement of many popular kids.  The other really important thing about Glen is that he introduced me to The Princess Bride movie.  He tried to get me to watch it for months.  I ridiculed him for liking a girl's movie.  When I finally gave in and watched it, I realized it was one of the best movies ever.

One of the oddballs in this introspective, since he was not in chorus.  Matthew was my academic rival in high school.  He was first in the class for most of our time in school.  I was second.  And I wanted to be first.  It was an epic battle that literally went down to the final grade of the final class.  One of my biggest regrets through high school is how much that chase consumed me.  As I have realized later in life, high school class ranking doesn't matter in the least.  Matthew was a very true friend - something that everyone who knew him recognized and appreciated.  I also was envious of his dedication and hard work.  To me, the chase for class ranking was something that I needed to prove myself.  I found my identity in my grades.  But for Matthew it was just the natural outcome from his supreme commitment to excellence.  I was inherently lazy and it took great challenges to get me motivated.  Matthew was one of those challenges and he brought out the best in me.  I always admired him, and I still do as he continues to work hard and be excellent.

Hey, its another chorus member!  (For an activity I was only involved with for part of my senior year, it sure had an indelible impact on my life. To be fair, I hung out with all of these people before I joined the performing arts department.)  Sam and I were off in the tenor section together.  Our choral group performed a lot - including in Washington DC at the White House.  We had a lot of rehearsals and appearances.  I would drive Sam home a lot from those events.  He was another person who contributed to my video game delinquency as we played Street Fighter at his house.  One of the best stories I remember about Sam involved music, but not in chorus.  I have always had a (annoying) habit of singing songs wrong.  I have a rare ability to come up with strange lyrics on the fly that rhyme and make sense.  Must be the writer in me.  Anyway, one time we were driving along on Okeechobee Blvd and some dumb song came on the radio.  (Were there any other kinds in the early 90s?)  I changed the song up and he didn't expect it.  He started laughing so hard that he had an asthma attack.  He didn't have his inhaler and I was worried it wasn't going to stop.  Now that I think about it, that story wasn't so funny.  Must have come across differently to my 18 year old self.

Another one of my academic rivals, except this one stretched all the way back to junior high school.  As you may have noticed, I didn't have a lot of success in sports.  So the classroom became my playing field.  I loved participating in academic games, brain bowl stuff, all that.  I also wanted to get academic awards.  People like Matthew and Brian (and Mitchell and Adam Traill - who wasn't at the reunion) got in my way.  I have no clue if any of the others took this stuff seriously, but I most certainly did.  He was one of my intellectual competitors.  Ironically, though, Brian was the closest I ever came to a physical confrontation as well.  I have never ever gotten in a fight.  Most people mistook my massive girth for strength and so they figured I could hurt them.  At one flower party (don't ask), Brian was mouthing off about how awesome the Florida Gators.  I hate the Gators.  I am a Hator.  So I said something about wanting to smack that talk out of him - which I might have mentioned doing after the upcoming game.  At the first flower party (again, don't ask - we had a lot of those for Homecoming), he found me out in the street and asked me if I still wanted to fight him.  I had never even heard that question before and in a quavering voice answered in the negatory.  He said good and walked away.  We never talked about it again.  Well, until Saturday night.  It was a ridiculous blip on the radar of an otherwise good friendship.  But it still makes me laugh.

This is one of those classic reunion stories of how people change - in this case me.  Ian literally signed my senior yearbook, "Well, we weren't really that close."  True enough.  I thought it was a strange way to sign a yearbook, but it was accurate.  It was strange, though.  Ian was in chorus with us (of course).  He was good friends for years with a bunch of my friends.  But, for some reason, we didn't connect like a lot of others.  At the reunion, as I sat and talked with Ian, I realized that he is one of the nicest people I ever met.  He is kind and genuine.  He works with special ed elementary children.  And, truthfully, I can't imagine anyone who is better suited for that profession.  I had a great time talking with him and wish there had been more opportunity to chat.  It's funny how we change as people and the things that were so important kind of drift away.  I think my having kids, teaching kids, working with schools, working with parents has forever altered how I view things.  And I appreciate a man like Ian.  We could use more of him.

El Presidente.  It is kind of funny.  We are all 38 years old.  We have careers (well, most of us), families, successful lives.  But no one was taking control of the reunion planning until Liza stepped in.  Liza was our class president.  "What year?" you may ask.  All of them.  From seventh through twelfth grade, every single year.  I don't know if anyone even ran against her after the first few.  I asked her the other day if she had expected a high school position to be a permanent fixture.  She told me, "Well, that's what you get when you elect a Cuban as president.  They think it is a lifetime position."  Ha ha.  Seriously, though, I can't even imagine anyone else in that spot.  She has a natural charisma that people follow.  In our senior year, I was class Vice President and got to work with her a lot.  We had known each other since seventh grade, had some classes together.  The thing I appreciate so much about Liza - then and now - is how she makes every single person feel special and important.  She went overboard trying to get every person involved in the reunion, just like she tried to get everyone involved in school.  That is a special person.  As you can see, she is pregnant.  And I am confident that she is going to be a tremendous mom.

Another choral compadre.  We went to high school and junior high together. She was a good friend.  But the reason I included Kristie is something she did at the reunion.  I had posted online that I was going to be blogging about the reunion.  I'm always nervous about writing, I was nervous about the event.  I'm a nervous Nellie - or a nervous Davy.  I was sitting at the dinner table and Kristie walked in with her husband.  She came right over and said, "I am waiting for your next post."  Yes, I mentioned that story in the second installment of this series.  As a writer, those kind of encounters are vital.  Having someone seek you out to and encourage you means the world.  So, I am expressing my thanks to Kristie.  I enjoyed getting to chat with her and her husband.  I hope the series has been worth reading.

This is far from an exhaustive list, but it is a sampling of some of the people who have meant a lot to me over the years.  And I hope that I can continue to rebuild my relationships with them - and others.  Tomorrow I will finish this series by talking about some of the changes in West Palm Beach itself.  Some of those were bigger than I could imagine.

Jun 24, 2012

2 for 20: The Drive

As promised, I am keeping up with my reunion journey. Like many writers, I assume no one actually reads what I write. So I'm always a little surprised when someone mentions a post. Tonight at the reunion, one of my friends saw me and said that she wanted to make sure I actually posted about the event. She had read the original post and then read it to her husband. I couldn't back out now.

Before I get into the events of the reunion itself - which will have to wait until tomorrow - I wanted to write about the trip down. Now, having attended UCF in Orlando and had parents in West Palm Beach, I have made this trip a ton of times. I had the whole thing worked out and knew the fastest ways to get from point A to point B. in college, I used to try to beat my own traveling record. My shortest time was made late at night on a Sunday, when I went from my mom's house to my dorm in two hours and eight minutes. For those of you who know how ferociously I follow the speed limit, that may shock you. But I was dumb and in college.

Today I had a full schedule. We had a church wide service project in Orlando this morning. Then there was a church wide lunch after. Then I had to jet to the house and pack and race down to West Palm by six o'clock. I left at 2:30. According to Google, the trip would take 3:15. It would be close, but I should make it.

Now normally, this trip would be on autopilot. But I wasn't driving from UCF to my mom's house. It was from Winter Springs to the Omphony Resort in Palm Beach. So I rejected my good memory and went with Google maps. I was cruising on 528, jamming out to Mumford and Sons. Instead of getting off on 520 and taking it to I-95, I obeyed Google and kept going on 528 towards Cape Canaveral. I was driving and waiting to see when to get onto I-95. This was when I the first landfill.

Now for those of you who aren't from Florida, let me explain. There are no mountains in Florida. One of the tallest bumps in Florida is Space Mountain at Disney. We have a few hills, but mostly the state is flat or below sea level. It's a fact. So if you see a hill rising in the distance, it is probably a landfill. A dump. You'll get to experience it with all your senses too, because they stink to high heaven. Especially during the summer. The thing that amazes me is that, for some reason, we don't hide our dumps. They at usually parked right next to a major road. In this case, 538. Green hill, rotten eggs, dump.

So I keep on my merry way. Soon, I am near a big body of water. I don't remember this body of water or the bridge. But I know I didn't usually take 528 to I-95. This must be new or from the area I'm not used to. Off in the distance, I see the NASA vehicle assembly building (VAB). I know I've never seen that before. I must have been really out of it all those trips home. I snap a few pics with my phone out the car window and keep going.

Then I see some cruise ships out in the distance. Well, pretty close actually. I know for a fact that I have never seen cruise ships on I-95. My brain convinces me that they port wasn't as active then. It was twenty years ago. Disney didn't have a cruise ship then. So I snap a few phone pics and keep going. Then the speed limit drops to 45. I know that something is off. Interstates do NOT have 45 speed limits. Then there was a red light. This is where I finally completely realized that I was in the wrong place. I check my Google maps and it won't load. I think it knew it was in trouble. I keep driving, screaming at the phone. I'm in Merritt Island. I have completely missed the interstate and am on the coast and have lost thirty minutes of travel time.

I called Heather and was flipping out. I had no idea what had happened. She asked, "Did you fall asleep AGAIN?" I was offended. Except, she has good reason to ask this. One time I was driving a van full of college students from Orlando to Ridgecrest, NC. In Jacksonville, I fell asleep and actually exited I-95 and ended up on I-10 headed to Tallahassee. The kids all wondered what happened and I covered it by saying I got distracted by traffic. But I confessed later. So they made sure someone kept me awake after that. Anyway, I did NOT fall asleep this time. But I did miss my exit.

Now I am running late. Fortunately I have experience breaking the land speed record from Orlando to WPB. I did not follow posted speed signs and made up the time I lost. As I was driving, I saw two more landfills. Florida - the landfill state. Things were very familiar (now). I noticed that Palm Beach County has added a ton of lanes to I-95. Finally I got to my old stomping grounds. Again, instead of listening to the twenty odd years of driving in West Palm Beach, I followed Google Maps.

I'm not always a Google basher. Yes, I will side with Apple in the impending war bwteweem the companies. But Google has its benefits for sure. Today, though, I was glad Apple is ditching Google Maps. The directions take me onto Ocean Drive, which is supposed to dump me off at the resort. "Destination will be on the left." First, it didn't say that it would be five miles up on the left. Second, it didn't say that the freaking road was closed about a half mile up. Third, it didn't give me the more intelligent directions that would have had me get there in the most direct route from the interstate.

Anyway, I got there - no thanks to Google and my own stupidity. And I will leave the story there. Yomorrow, when I have a better Internet connection and don't have to type the entire post on my phone, I will write about the reunion itself. And Monday I will post about my driving around my old haunts on Sunday. I know you can't wait.

Jun 22, 2012

20: Reunions

My daughter, Natalie, had this friend in PreK named Hannah.  They were very good buddies, played all the time, couldn't wait to see each other.  Hannah was one of the handful of girls that Natalie invited to her fifth birthday party at a local tea house.  It was a nice friendship.  When we moved to Tallahassee, it was hard on both of the girls.  Natalie would complain frequently about missing Hannah.  When she started at her elementary up there, she kept wishing she could find a friend like Hannah.  She never really did.  [This past year, Natalie finally did find a friend at school that was as close as Hannah had been.  Naturally, she moved to Washington, DC after the school year.]

Three years later, Natalie still will ask about Hannah.  Last year, when we moved back to Orlando, Nat wanted to know if she would ever see her friend again.  We live in a pretty big city and I had no idea where this girl lived.  The chances were pretty slim.  On Monday, Natalie and Josiah went to the Vacation Bible School at First Baptist Church of Oviedo.  The church houses the preschool that Josiah, Natalie, and now Gabe, have attended.  We don't attend that church anymore, but I thought the big kids would have fun at the event.  Beforehand, Natalie went through her typical nervousness of entering a new situation.  I told her that it would be fun and that she would be with other kids.  And I reminded her we used to go to that church and the preschool, so she may see someone she knows.  "Like Hannah?"  "Sure, honey, like Hannah."

I walked Natalie to her class on the first day.  She peeked in the door and then popped back out.  "Daddy!  That's Hannah!"  I looked inside and saw the girl.  I wasn't sure, so I stole a glance at the roster.  Sure enough, it was Hannah.   Natalie was thrilled and raced inside.  When I picked her up, I asked how it went.  "She doesn't even remember me!"  I could tell Natalie was disappointed, but she also is a very strong willed young lady.  She had spent most of Monday trying to remind Hannah.  Then she continued it on Tuesday.  She missed Wednesday with some weird cold thing.  On Thursday, she returned with the ultimate trump - a picture of Natalie and Hannah at the tea room party.  When I picked her up, I asked what Hannah said.  "I showed her the picture and said, 'So, do you remember me now?!?'  Hannah said, 'OOOOhhh yeah.'"  I figured that started a day of catching up and reminiscing.  Nope.  "She still wouldn't really talk to me."

I could tell Natalie was disappointed, but when Heather and I were talking with her about it, I said, "It is probably good, though.  It brings Nat closure.  She's been hoping to find this girl again and now that she has, she can realize that she doesn't need to be thinking about it.  She can make some new friends.  Right, Nat?"  Natalie looked at me, scowled, and shook her head.  "Nope.  None of that what you said.  It stinks because I want my friend back."

I could have gone into a big discussion on how things change and all that, but I knew it wouldn't do any good.  I understood her feelings.  It is hard to move on and lose people along the way.  Compared to me and Heather, our children have had a pretty tumultuous childhood.  We don't own a home, so we move from rental to rental.  We have had to move to Tallahassee and back.  They have switched schools more than I wish they had to.  Part of it is today's society is more nomadic than in decades past; part is that we seem especially mobile in our living scenarios.  That makes it tough to make friends and keep them long term.  I have encouraged the kids to try to find some friends at our church, since we plan on staying there for the duration.  But, it is a long process when you only see the other kids once a week at the MOST.

All of this has been on my mind because this weekend will be my twentieth high school reunion.  I held out until the very end to decide to go.  I had dozens of reasons why I wanted to and dozens of others why I did not.  But I decided to because I knew if I didn't, I would regret it.  In preparation, there has been a Facebook group with the people all talking about the event.  Some of these people have stayed very tight in the last two decades.  Others of them I cannot even remember.  For me, I know that I am a part of this whole group, but I feel very disconnected.

If you remove Facebook temporarily from the equation, I have not kept up with people from high school.  When I think of how many of my classmates I have physically seen since we walked across the stage at the Auditorium, it is pretty pathetic.  I visited one in prison, ran into one in a completely random meeting in college, saw one at Pizza Hut when I was back in town visiting my mom, and had one visit my church in Orlando.  That may be it - four.  Facebook has changed this somewhat.  I have been able to connect with some of them.  I actually have worked to re-establish a relationship with a few that I really regretted losing track of over the years.  But I still feel like there has been a huge gap.  It was like one of those sci-fi movies where eighteen years pass in a moment.  One second we are all tossing our hats in the air, then we are married with kids and I don't know how anyone got there.

For some reason, when I left Forest Hill High School, I never looked back.  I didn't go back for Homecoming.  I didn't keep in touch with anyone over the summer. I didn't catch up with people over Christmas.  Truth be told, I didn't like high school very much.  I had some good friends and some great times. But it wasn't an era I cherish.  I always invested more time and energy in church and the relationships there.  But I didn't even stay tight with that group once I moved to Orlando.  There are intermittent contacts with some of them.  Most of the time, there is just a big gap in my friend circle from West Palm Beach.

I remember these people.  One of my friends who is going said she doesn't remember half of them and hopes we have to wear name tags.  That isn't the problem for me.  A couple of them cause me to draw complete blanks.  The vast majority of them I remember.  I have always had a bizarre ability to recall people.  I will see someone shopping at Publix and know they look familiar.  I'll think about it and realize they work at Target.  I'll see a waitress and remember that she used to work at a different restaurant.  One of my weird quirks.  Also, some of my activities in high school contributed to this.  I was copy editor of the yearbook, so I had to literally proofread every single page of the book.  You start to recognize people after that.  I also was on class board and was Senior Class VP, which helped me to know some of the popular kids I never would have hung out with.  Then there was the brainiac classes, nerd clubs, chorus, stuff like that.  So I had a wide spectrum of interactions.

I always used to say the reason I didn't like high school was because I didn't like most of the people I went to school with.  I realize now that wasn't true.  True, I didn't like a lot of the activities that they did and didn't participate with them.  But more than anything, I didn't like MYSELF from high school.  When I think back now, with a more mature understanding of things, I realize that I was just a big jerk in high school.  I was arrogant and judgmental.  I looked down on others for so many reasons.  They weren't as smart as me, or as ethical as me, or as moral as me.  I've realized over the years that this was all because, in reality, I felt so insecure and lousy about myself that I grasped at anything that made me feel better.  I wasn't as popular, I didn't dress as nice, I wasn't athletic, I wasn't attractive, I wasn't thin, I wasn't rich.  All of that made me feel so bad that I would find areas I "won" and made those super important in my head.

I hated West Palm Beach.  The weather was hot and muggy.  There was family history that made things uncomfortable.  I had no desire to dwell in that era.  So I ran.  I wanted a fresh start, which I got at UCF.  When I moved to Orlando, one person knew me.  But the pattern didn't stay in WPB.  I have battled it time and again with every "fresh start."  It took me a long time to realize that I was the problem.  By then, I had burned so many bridges and scorched so much earth that I had almost cornered myself.  It really hasn't been except in the past four years that I have started to get some of this stuff right.

A lot of people see Facebook as the tool of Satan, the way all of us will eventually become owned by some great multinational corporation.  That may be true.  But I am very thankful for FB.  It has given me a chance to go back and try to repair some of the damage I incurred as I blazed out of town.  I have at least gotten back in contact with some of those people I regretted abandoning.  I can't replace the lost years, but I can at least try to rebuild something.  I now have friends online from every era of my life - elementary, middle school, high school, college, Tampa, Orange Park, Orlando, Tallahassee, church AND school AND family.  Now that I am going, I am excited about the reunion.  I am looking forward to seeing some people that meant a lot to me.  I have not been back in West Palm Beach for EIGHT YEARS.  My youngest two kids have no idea what the city is like.  It will be interesting to revisit the part of my past that I have so desperately tried to erase.  No matter where I have moved, I have always gone back from time to time.  Except South Florida.  I make an actual effort to avoid it.  So this will be an interesting experience.

What I plan on doing is writing a series of posts about this trip.  It may mean much to anyone else, but I think it will be good for me.  This was the first entry.  I plan on taking pictures and posting on a variety of things.  The reunion is Saturday night.  On Sunday morning, I get to hang out with my brother, Chris, which rarely happens.  Sunday afternoon I plan on driving around and visiting the places I remember - my old house, my schools, old jobs.  I want to post on that time of discovery.  I wish my family could come with me, but Heather's schedule won't allow it.  In some ways, though, I think this may be for the best.  I may need to walk through this alone before I want to take anyone else through it.  So keep your eyes peeled for the 20 series.

Jun 17, 2012

Father's Day 2012

Father's Day is such a weird day.  When I was getting ready for church today, I noticed that one of the DJs on the local Christian station had posted something about the day.  It said that this is a day with so many emotions for so many people, so they would be playing songs of encouragement this morning.  I thought about it for a while.  Father's Day is not greeted with the same excitement as Mother's Day.  I was reading an article the other day that talked about how there is not a major uptick in retail sales around Father's Day.  In May, there is a huge bump.  Restaurants see a boom in attendance.  Churches enjoy one of their biggest Sundays.  But in June, there is no noticeable difference.  The day in and of itself was not even made a holiday for decades after Mother's Day.

I can understand all of this.  Father's Day is a hard holiday for me.  I loved my dad.  But he was a hard man and there are many very negative memories and emotions tied up in thinking about him.  It was always a big struggle to find a card on Father's Day that wasn't a lie and wasn't just cold hearted.  So I completely get the fact that there are mixed emotions.  As a father now, I get to have my kids get excited about getting me stuff (I got Legos and chocolate this year).  I explained how this is a tough day for a lot of people.  They sweetly told me how I was a great dad.  Inside, I just desperately hoped they would feel that way when they were in their 30s.

There is an epidemic of lousy fathering out there.  I recently developed a men's conference for Defender Ministries.  We put it on at three different churches.  At each one, I would ask the men there how many of them would say they had an absentee father or one they wished was absent - someone who was abusive, neglectful, harsh, unloving.  Among the three conferences, about forty percent of all the men raised their hands!  A lot of the younger guys out there don't know how to be a dad.  They haven't seen it modeled and they are just doing their best to figure it all out.  There are many older guys who also have had to transition through massive societal changes - including challenges that their parents never had to face and that they were never trained for.  Time and again when I teach at events, I have dads come up to me - begging for advice on how to deal with technology, media, easier access to sexually explicit materials.  They never expected to have to deal with that.  Shoot, I have gone from growing up when the predominant sport for kids was baseball, to seeing football usurp that, to now seeing football being identified as a dangerous choice.  Things change so quickly and dads are struggling to keep up.

It is easy to get discouraged by the picture.  As a dad, I know that I am worried about my kids.  Am I making the right choices?  Am I teaching them the right things?  Am I passing on my weaknesses and mistakes to them?  I don't know too many parents who don't stress about that stuff.  I hope that I am doing the best things for them - and I hope God is merciful enough to help them overcome where I fail (which, trust me, is a LOT).  I don't want them just to make it through - barely.  I want them to develop all the skills and talents that God has blessed them with and then change their world.  I want them to make a difference.  I want to equip my sons to become the dads they should be.  I want my daughter to be confidant and strong enough to choose a man who will be a good father and husband.  It is tough.

However, I am encouraged today.  Over the last sixteen years, I have had the pleasure to work with some fantastic people in various churches and groups.  Most of these have been college students.  And there have been a large number of guys who I have worked closely with, watching them grow from annoying freshmen to (somewhat) mature seniors.  [Face it, guys.  Many of you were very VERY annoying.]  Then I have had the great joy of keeping up with them as they got married and had kids.  I also have been thrilled to see them become extraordinary fathers and husbands.  In fact, many times I feel very inferior as I watch them parenting the children God given them.

They were not my children, but I felt that I had some investment in their lives.  I am not arrogant enough to believe I had anything to do with their becoming these wonderful men.  That doesn't change how much I have loved watching it happen.  This is where my encouragement comes from.  Some of these guys had great male role models, but some of them didn't.  Some of them fought an uphill battle in the process of becoming a man.  I am beyond proud of them.

As I learned from my recent graduation post, making a list is a dangerous thing because you will ALWAYS forget someone.  That is not going to stop me, though.  This is to the members of Chi Rho from FBC Temple Terrace, the USF BCM, the college department at FBC Oviedo and FBC Orange Park, and the many college speaking engagements I've had.  I want to wish those guys a happy Father's Day.  You are doing an AMAZING job!  It has been a pleasure to be a part of your lives.  And I have loved watching you and learning from you.  [If I forget your name, that doesn't mean I have forgotten you.]

So to Toney Sauls, Michael Carter, Joel Fauntleroy, Josh Saliba, Wayne Johnson, Tony Whitley, Ryan Biggs, Melvin McColloch, Jason Gray, Jeff Ramer, Benji Stultz, Joe Pardo, John Scanlon, Jon Peters, Patrick Bailey, Mike Cale, Carey Bonham, Jon Wood, Shaun Gyger, Chad Heinrich, Michael Howell, Ryan Bell, and anyone I forgot.  Happy Father's Day, guys.  You bring me hope for the future.

Jun 10, 2012

Sports Frustration

I have been frustrated as a sports fan of late.  In case you are not sure why, let me recap.  First of all, my favorite sport has always been football.  However, I am quickly becoming disgusted with it.  There was the stupid labor disagreement last year, with billionaires and millionaires fighting over who got more of the gigantic pile of money on the table.  Then the Saints - a team that I had somewhat gotten behind in recent years - was shown to be a bunch of cheating cheap shot artists.  And overreaching all of that, there is the concussion fiasco which (in my opinion) has a legitimate shot at ending the existence of the sport for good within a few years.  [Just for fun, you should go read this exchange between Bill Simmons and Malcolm Gladwell, especially page two.  The whole thing is interesting.  But the section about concussion is nauseating.  My favorite part?  The illustration about how the hits kids get in Pop Warner football being the same as having your child sitting in the front seat without a seatbelt and getting in repeated 25 mph accidents.  Go sign them up!]

In addition to this, I have apparently developed a nasty tendency to pick team that fail to live up to their potential.  This is played out in just about every sport with my beloved UCF Knights.  Our football team last year does great, wins its first bowl game, and comes back largely intact.  They start off the year great and then proceed to drop faster into the toilet than ... never mind.  Then there was the basketball team, which raced out to a stunning record - even beating UConn at one point.  They too decided to stink it up, ending up missing the NCAA tournament and getting waxed in the NIT.  Then in baseball, they team was ranked in the Top 10 at one point.  They actually went into the final month of the season with a chance at hosting a regional bracket.  Then after unexplainable losses to mighty Presbyterian and Memphis they starting to list to the side.  Then they went into the final weekend with the chance to take the conference title away from Rice - who had won it for 19 years in a row.  Keep in mind, this series was AT HOME.  Choke.  Then they got into the regional in Miami and promptly won their first two games.  First seed Miami got booted immediately, which meant UCF had to lose two games to Stony Brook - which, as far as I know, is an apartment complex in Tampa.  Now, they had already beaten Stonyfield Farms once in the bracket.  And they lost two in a row by a combined score of 22-11.  Go Knights.

I have tried to get into hockey.  This year I was fervently watching the playoffs.  Thanks to NBC's excellent coverage, I was actually able to see my Nashville Predators for all of their games but one.  They finally vanquished their nemesis, the Detroit Red Wings.  They were one of the hottest teams in the NHL.  They had a top-notch goalie playing out of his mind.  And they were an outside pick to go on a run and make it to the Stanley Cup (like the Kings ultimately did).  So, naturally, they got destroyed by Phoenix and went home early.  My other fringe sport hasn't done well, either, with the US Men's Soccer team missing the Olympics all together.  Combine all that with the fact that I can't stand baseball, only caring enough to keep track of the Rays, and it spells sports disappointment.

Then there's basketball.  For years I have been a Magic fan.  That comes with living most of my adult life in or near Orlando.  Apparently, being a Magic fan means you will never experience sports joy.  You will be teased off an on.  You'll have ridiculous luck with the lottery.  You will see your team grow and strive and blossom.  They will draw you in and get you to care about them.  There will be one superstar and several other good players.  You'll get close, but never close enough.  And then your superstar will jerk you around and toy with your emotions.  He will claim to be loyal and sneak around trying to find ways to leave.  He finally will get so irritating you, as a fan, will find yourself pushing him out of town.  As he lands somewhere else and wins a bunch of titles that should have been yours, you will wonder what just happened.  You will spend the next few years watching an AAU team wearing Magic uniforms.  Then you'll win the lottery again and start the process all over.

I've been pretty ambivalent about basketball for a while.  This year, I literally did not watch a single NCAA tournament game.  I think that hasn't happened since I was a baby.  Somehow one of my brackets won in one of my groups.  How I managed that is beyond me.  I would watch the occasional NBA game, but I didn't follow it much.  I kept up with the Magic soap opera because the local media covered it with the ferocity of the Casey Anthony trial.  [Side Note - what is it with Florida and bizarre trials and news items?  Bush/Gore, Anthony, now Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman and the Miami Zombie.  There must be something in the water.]  I found myself watching the playoffs, though.  I would put my usual kiss of death on a team.  Once I started cheering for them, they would collapse.  Exhibit A: Orlando.  Exhibit B: San Antonio.  Now we are sitting here, waiting for the Finals to start.

As with most sports fans, I will probably watch some of the series.  But I honestly don't have any idea who to root for in this matchup.  Between Oklahoma City and Miami, you have just about everything wrong with professional sports on display.  The natural villain is Miami.  I detest the Heat.  First of all, they are in Miami.  To my sports mind, if a team plays in Miami, New York, LA, or Boston they automatically are the "bad guys."  I can't stand any of the teams from South Florida.  Maybe it is because I have unresolved issues with growing up down there, I don't know.  Miami has geography against it.  The second reason I hate the Heat is because they highlight one of the biggest problems with the NBA - the officiating.  More than in any other sport, the refs in basketball can hijack a game.  The officiating is deplorable in basketball.  There are two sets of standards - one for regular players and one for stars.  Things like travelling, fouls, technicals are called differently depending on the name on the shirt.  It works both ways, though.  Dwight Howard has to get hit with a steel chair before the ref blows the whistle; Kobe Bryant gets blown on and he goes to the line.  I hate it when there are two sets of rules.  It is like Ancient Rome in the NBA.  If you are a player of high status, you can get away with anything.

People will always say that I only say this because I hate the Heat.  No, I say this because it is true.  This has been part of that team's history for years.  When they beat Dallas a few years ago for the title, Danny Ocean wondered how they pulled off that heist.  Once LeBron and Bosh showed up, it only got worse.  The foul discrepancy in the Boston series was ridiculous.  Wade travels on every play.  He and James draw fouls on just about every play they want to - and by draw, I mean they draw up an IOU for the ref for $50 after the game.  It drives me nuts.

The biggest reason I hate the Heat is LeBron James.  I grew up in the day when a player stayed with his team forever.  You liked a player and a team and couldn't separate them.  That hardly happens any more.  Yet, James had the right to go play wherever he wants.  And so did Shaq and so does Dwight Howard.  But in sports there has always been this agreement between the fans and the players.  The players play their hearts out and do their best and are loyal, and we will keep paying the money and heaping on the love.  That has always been the way.  But that isn't good enough now.  These player movements are not about getting a better chance to start or even make more salary.  Shaq took less to play with the Lakers than Orlando.  LeBron took less to take his talents to South Beach.  Howard will make less anywhere else.  It isn't even about titles.  It is about these other cities give them more opportunities - to act, to get endorsements, to build their brand.  That is hard for me as a fan to stomach.  I always felt that the way Miami went about getting James, Bosh, and Wade smelled funny.  There is no way it was on the up and up.  I didn't like the way James left Cleveland.  And I don't like the way he plays.  To me, he isn't a player I can get behind.  I know that there are huge LeBron fans, especially in Florida.  But I am not one of them.  Ordinarily, that would be enough to swing me into Thunder Country.


Let's not forget how Oklahoma City landed their team.  If Miami is the poster child for how poorly players treat franchises and fan bases, then the Thunder are the poster child for how badly owners do.  Seattle was a franchise with a great history.  They had won the title.  They had been there several other times.  There was a rabid fan base.  This wasn't some city that didn't support the team.  But the owner say an opportunity.  He got the NBA leadership to back his play.  And he bailed on the city right when they team was about to explode.  They had just scored Kevin Durant in the draft and had started to stockpile talent.  There was hope for the future.  And then they were gone.

I remember when the Colts left Baltimore in the middle of the night in Mayflower trucks.  I remember when Baltimore returned the favors and stole the Browns from Cleveland and left them with some pathetic expansion team - and then promptly won a Super Bowl.  Owners go to their home city and say, "I am a billionaire.  But I am not going to build my own stadium (unless they are Jerry Jones).  I want YOU to pay for it.  I want YOU to give me tax breaks and special considerations.  I want YOU to market my team and support it.  I want YOU to put up posters and banners.  I want your citizens to cheer for us.  BUT, if you don't do that, I will take my team and move to some other city who will."  How is that right? Again, going back to that trust between fans and their teams.  I will cheer for you if you will stay here and put out a good product.  There have been times in the not too distant past where the Magic threatened to move if they didn't get their huge new Amway Center.  The Bucs threatened to leave (to Orlando) if Raymond James wasn't built.  The Jaguars still are threatening it.  It happens everywhere.  It just happened with the Minnesota Vikings.  Can you imagine the Vikings playing anywhere else but Minnesota?  But it almost happened.

So the Sonics bailed on their fans.  Well, the players didn't; the owner did.  And now Seattle is looking on at this series, knowing that this should have been their team to support.  The worst part is that the Thunder are such a fun team to like.  They at least present themselves and market themselves in the right way.  As Bill Simmons said in that article I mentioned, they are the Anti-Heat.  Kevin Durant is the Anti-LeBron.  But their ownership is the other side of what is wrong with sports.  Basically, you have all three things that make it hard to love basketball at play in this series.  You have horrible officials who ruin games.  You have players who have no loyalty.  And you have owners who are willing to do anything to earn a few extra dollars.  Sure, I'm old fashioned and expect too much out of sports personalities.  But I'm not the only fan out there who feels this way.  Instead of being the highlight of the season, it makes me not want to watch.  I'm kind of burned out on being frustrated by sports.

Jun 4, 2012

To the Class of 2012

In August of 2008, I was asked to teach an Old Testament Bible class to the freshman (and a few other students) at International Community School.  I started after school had already begun.  Really, none of the students knew me.  Since they were splitting an enormous existing class, the students weren't that thrilled with the prospect.  So the administration came up with the idea of having half of the class with me for the first semester and half with "Mr. Willson" - the current teacher.  In January, we would swap classes.  I think that ICS figured that this way the class would only have to suffer through a half year of any potential idiocy I could muster and still get at least one semester of quality Bible teaching with Mr. Willson.  Fair enough reasoning, in my opinion.

I was terrified.  Even though I had a degree in education and had been a substitute for one semester up in Clay County, I never had actually been in charge of my own classroom.  I never had developed lesson plans, written tests, or been completely responsible for the education of a group of kids.  Plus, there was this looming old coot, "Mr. Willson," that the kids already loved and resisted leaving.  I had no idea how sharing a class and working together on an overall teaching/grading policy would go.

It turned out to be one of the happiest years of my life.  Mr. Willson, who I now just call Greg, turned out to be an awesome guy and is one of my better friends now.  In a bizarre case of "small world," he actually had been in band with my wife in high school.  The time teaching was challenging, but wonderful.  I loved it.  It helped that the students were just incredible.  I taught the class in a completely different way than Greg did.  Greg taught in an excellent manner, imparting the theological and doctrinal lessons from the Old Testament.  I tried to get the kids to think through WHY it was important to know these things - asking an overarching question about the passages we would cover that week.  It presented two different techniques to studying the Bible - both equally important.  The kids responded well.  It was awesome.

I wanted to keep teaching there, but we ended up moving to Tallahassee.  I have kept in touch with those students and with the school.  I still come back to teach chapels and parent workshops.  But I never have been able to have my own class there again - or even substitute teach.  It just never worked out that way.  What I have been able to do - thanks to the wonders of modern social media - is keep up with these students as they have grown.  Each year, a few of my former students would graduate or transfer off to other schools in the area.  The main core stayed though.  Tomorrow night, I will be at Northland Church to watch these amazing young men and women as they graduate and go into their next step of life.  I have spend a lot of time thinking about them lately.  I am so proud of what kind of people they have become.  If I could say one final thing to them - one final lesson - this is what it would be.

(Imagine this as a graduation address, if you will)

Class of 2012

We are not meant to live life alone.  This concept has become more and more real to me over the recent months.  Our pastor at church has talked about it frequently.  We are created to be social creatures.  We were supposed to live life together.  You can see this throughout the Bible.  God saw man at Creation and said it was not good for him to be alone, so He created a companion for him.  God Himself used to walk with Adam and Eve in the Garden, spending time together and talking.  When Israel was being established after the Exodus from Egypt, God's laws forced interaction as a community.  Their camp was situated that way.  Their religious ceremonies and sacrifices were not independent procedures.  There was no room for lone rangers.

Fast forward to the era of Nehemiah.  In the rebuilding of the walls of the city, it was essential that everyone worked together.  Their houses WERE the walls.  If one person didn't hold up their end of the bargain or keep their word, the city was compromised.  Jesus also promoted this concept of sticking together.  He surrounded Himself with friends, He sent the Disciples off in pairs.  The Early Church loved and supported each other - taking care of the weaker and less fortunate.  Paul repeatedly teaches us of the importance of caring for each other and supporting each other.

In America, we have created this bizarre archetype of the self-made man.  He's a lone ranger, a solitary hero.  He doesn't need or want any help.  He pulled himself up the bootstraps and made everything great happen on his own.  This is portrayed in movies and on television in the cop that doesn't need a partner, the hero who won't rely on anyone else, the loner billionaire.  And while that may seem like an exciting way to live, it is actually foolhardy.  What happens in those movies to the person left to defend themselves?  They meet the sharp end of the spear or the business end of a ray gun.  They get marooned on a desert planet.  It doesn't end well.

That isn't said to discourage you from striking out on your own and finding your destiny.  Rather, I encourage that.  Find out what makes you sparkle, what makes your passion flare.  See where your gifts and talents and love collides.  But do not try to do it alone.  Why?  It isn't because you aren't capable.  The one thing that I have learned over the last four years is to never underestimate this particular class of students.  You are extraordinary.  I am in constant awe of the things that you accomplish.  And I cannot even imagine where you will end up.  The sky is not the limit - that's dreaming too small.  You are brilliant - incredibly gifted with phenomenal brains.  You are athletically blessed.  You have the personalities that will win over the world.  And you have the biggest, most loving, amazing hearts.  You reflect the love of God in such a powerful way.

So it isn't that I think that you CAN'T do it alone.  It is that I know you SHOULDN'T.  It isn't wise.  It isn't best.  God has brought you together to do even more extraordinary things that you could ever do alone.  I have always been so impressed when I have watched you over the years.  I have been amazed at how rarely I would see any of you alone.  It isn't just Michael - it is Michael, Ben, and Matthew. Art and Kyle and Jonathan.  I don't just see Anna unless I also see Kaitlyn.  There's Jono and Seth.  Susan and Erika.  You are always together.  While this may be a comfortable way to go through life, it is also an incredible gift.  Some people go their entire lives aching for someone to love them.  You have been so blessed with many friends who care about you.  I love watching your groups interacting.  I know that God has brought you together to do incredible things.  That is part of His plan for you.

I love each and every one of you.  I have enjoyed watching you grow up and blossom into wonderful men and women.  And I have been truly honored that you have allowed me to be a part of your lives.  Sometimes I sit there and think about how I was involved in one class in one half of one year of your life. But somehow I was lucky enough to still be included for the next three years.  You may not realize it, but you all changed my life for the better.  You have blessed me in more ways that you can possibly know.  I think each and every one of you is so amazingly and uniquely gifted.  It has been awesome knowing you.  And I can't wait to see what will do in the future - especially as you do it together.