Monday, May 4, 2015

20 Years Later: Reflections of a Perennial Underdog (Part 3)

Faith is an amazing thing.  Faith in adolescence can be anything but.  Much of that faith that was shaped by our parents early on, is being shaped by and with our peers during this crucial stage of life. In fact, while we say that in adulthood our faith "becomes our own" I would argue that it is constantly being shaped, molded, and refined through social interaction.
That idea became important to me in my high school years.  I wasn't always sure of what I believed and was even less sure of what that meant for my identity.  I struggled in school to be the person of faith that I thought I was.  In fact my social identity often clashed with my spiritual identity at school.  This of course had to do with that deep internal need to fit in that I talked about earlier.  But on Sunday nights and Wednesday nights I found a place where both identities were strengthened.  
Once we started driving Joe and I were able to go to Pittsburg and hang out with the youth group at the Pittsburg church of Christ.  
During this time I made some great friendships.  And I learned some great lessons.  I found another kindred spirit in Brandon Lalli, the preacher's son.  It was nice to have someone who understood.  We didn't even have to have serious discussions.  It was just enough to know that there was someone else who felt the pressure of being a minister's son.  He and I are friends still and I'm still learning lessons from him.  (He's a great father.)  
Another great friend was Jason Dockery.  Dock was everything I wasn't.  He was tall.  He was an athlete.  He was quiet natured.  We clicked immediately.   With Dock it was easy to be me.  He didn't judge and was easy to talk with.  I spent a lot of time at his house in my late high school years. In many ways there's a part of me still trying to be like my friend.  
The youth group was great there and gave me some life long friends.  But there were some people who provided even more.  I'll forever be thankful for the lessons that learned from Monte and Lori Lalli.  Its pretty cool that these awesome sponsors have come full circle in my life.  I'm honored to be their daughter's major advisor and professor.  
I could go on and on about those great people. Sara Clothier, the older girl that I think every guy had a crush on, protected me from myself, especially during my first year of college.  Amanda (Souther) Haskew a good friend who has given her life to serving God in Vienna, Austria.  Doug Lalli, the cool older brother that you couldn't help but want to be like.  Shari Fouts, the cute girl that I didn't get the courage to ask out until the summer after my freshman year of college.  
Identity.  It's a complicated thing.  It is multifaceted.  It is fluid.  It is still developing.  My identity was shaped by a lot of major players, but there were also some great people who were very important for a very specific time and my friends from Pittsburg played an important role in me becoming who I am today.  Identity.  Who was I?  Who am I?  That's what I've been figuring out for the past 20 years.  I hope you are figuring it out too.  

Sunday, May 3, 2015

20 Years Later: Reflections of a Perennial Underdog (Part 2)

Home is an amazing place.  Home is where family is.  Family is everything.  Family is where we learn.  Family is more than biology.  Family is more.  After searching so long for a home, it was only fitting that when I found one, I found family too.
I was born into the family of a machinist and a home-maker.  By the time we made it to McCune I was the son of a preacher.  Mom was still the happy home-maker and a great one at that, but dad was now living out a calling he had to go into ministry.  I didn't understand that calling.  (I eventually figured it out, but I'll save that for another installment).
While I didn't understand Dad's calling, and understood it even less after the Sedan debacle, I am thankful for it.  It was that calling that lead us not just to McCune, but to the McCune church of Christ. It was that calling that lead me to my new family. There is absolutely nothing in the world like the bonds of people in a small town church.
The first weekend we were there, I hit it off with a kid who was a few years younger than me. Little did I know that the kid would become a pseudo little brother for me and one of the men I hold in my highest circle of esteem and respect.  Adam and I had some great times over the years.  There were countless campouts, spades games, and basketball games in the loft of the barn.  To this day, I hope he knows how proud of him I am.
Adam's family became a second family to me as well.  I probably spent as much time at the Bennett house as I did at mine.  Mark, Linda and Jacob welcomed me as one of their own.  The memories I have at the Bennett farm are some of my most cherished.  But it was the lessons I learned from Mark that are still at the front of my mind today.
Mark Bennett was also my Sunday school teacher.  Every Sunday for six years I was privileged to learn at his feet.  To this day, Romans 12:1-2 is the first verse I read every morning, and the way I try to live my life: not conformed but transformed.  When Mark's father passed away last year I was saddened, but I rejoiced because I know this family and I am confidant where Mr. Marion is now.  That confidence is in part because of the countless hours that Mark invested in my spiritual development.
If Adam was the little brother I never had, then Joe Ritchal was my long lost twin.  Joe was in my grade and we were friends from the beginning but over the years our bond grew and he became one of my most cherished relationships.  We drove to school together, wrecked those cars together, and even left home together to start a new adventure at Oklahoma Christian (more on that in a future installment too).  I don't see much of Joe these days, but I hope he knows how much he means to me. I mean the man saved my life.
No one outside of my dad, my baseball coach, and myself know this.  There was a time that the depression had set in pretty hard in my sophomore year of high school.  I was contemplating ending my life.  At a crucial moment when I thought I was making the decision to just end it, Joe called me.  I was in my room staring at a sharp pocket knife wondering what it would be like to just slide it across my wrist and that call came.  He didn't want anything, but to come over and hang out.  When he came over we talked.  I never confessed to him what I was thinking of doing, but somehow I think he knew.  I remember him saying to me that he was glad we were buddies, and glad my family moved to McCune a few years back.
That's all it took.  The next day I went in to talk with my baseball coach (again, I'll get to him in a later installment) and got everything off my chest.  I ended up doing some more counseling that year and I think things turned out okay.  
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the McGown family.  Gary and Cheryl are awesome people.  I still call Cheryl mom.  They were great friends to my family and I have so many memories of going to their house to play Sequence.  Well, the adults played sequence.  I got to pretend I was cool because their son Mike would actually hang out with me.  Their daughter Donielle was closer to my sister's age and they were friends.  I thought they were both annoying in the early years.  What is really awesome though is that we all grow up.  Doni and I are kindred spirits now.  We both have children with developmental disabilities and I think we learn a lot from each other as we navigate those waters.
There were so many others at that little church who helped to shape me.  Ms. Grace made me butterscotch pudding every time we had a church dinner, and Ms. Marguerite sold me her 66 Chevy II. I still remember where everyone sat in that building.  I remember games of hide and seek in the dark.  I remember grape juice with floaties in it.  I remember mowing that yard and stealing the communion juice on my breaks.  I remember puppet shows for VBS and board games in the fellowship room.  And although I would eventually have to come into my own when it came to faith and belief, I remember the undying love and encouragement that met me at the doors of that church every week.  Most of all, I remember family.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

20 Years Later: Reflections of a Perennial Underdog (Part 1)

Moving.  The thrill of the unknown.  The unexpected adventure.  When I was a little boy I bought into the adventure.  I thought the move from Topeka to Denver was going to be the greatest thing that ever happened in my six years of life.  To some extant it was.  Then two years later, a sequence of events began that completely changed that hopeless optimism of early childhood and left me on the brink of depression, sadness, and worst of all, puberty.  
When I was eight years old I was standing within arm's length of my dad when he was hit from behind by a car being driven by a sixteen year old driving for the first time.  Though I didn't know it at the time, this event would shape me more than anything else that I had ever or would ever experience.  In many ways, it is still shaping me today.  
I am fairly confident that it was after this life-changing event that I began to have security issues.  There is nothing like coming close to losing your father, and thinking that was your fault to make you feel insecure about yourself.  From that moment on I simply wanted to hold on to any friend or family member that I had.  And when things went wrong I personalized it.  I don't think anyone, including my parents ever really knew just how much burden I put myself.  
Then at ten years old we moved again.  I put on a brave face, but I was desperately scared.  I had lived in a shell for the past two years, but I had lived surrounded by people I knew, people I trusted.  We left Denver for Sedan, Kansas; a move I regret.  I acted as if nothing bothered me.  I tried to jump in and excel at small time life.  I tried to build quality friendships.  I tried.  And though I was great at feigning excitement, I was lost inside.  The only one I thought who ever really understood me was my Grandma.  While we were in Sedan she lost her battle with leukemia.  I was broken.  Ten years old and broken.  And then, in less than a year we moved again.  
This time we headed back to Topeka, and lived with my Grandpa.  I again put on my courageous mask believing in my heart that mom and dad could never know just how out of sorts I truly was.  That year I kept mostly to myself.  I didn't really develop any close friendships.  I kept people at arm's length.  Ironic since an arm's length it was changed me.  When my parents told me a year later that we were again moving, I just did not care.  Oh, I pretended to be excited.  I proclaimed my desire for a new adventure.  But inside, I was hollow.  I was numb.  Little did I know that the numbness would give way to a desire to just be needed, to just fit in.  
So, in the first month of my seventh grade year it happened that my family moved to McCune, Kansas.  When we arrived I was terribly out of my element.  I remember vividly that first day of school.  I had long hair and wore baggy jeans.  I must have looked like I came from another planet to those kids.  Inside I was a nervous wreck.  Here before me sat 13 of the scariest people I had ever laid eyes on.  I had attempted the small town transition before.  I knew that these kids had been in the same class since preschool.  I knew that they had friendships that went back as far as they could remember.  I knew that I wasn't one of them.  And it did not matter, because, I assumed we would be gone in a year anyway.  
I look back now at that 12 year old kid and I mourn for him.  He was so lost.  He battled the fear of being a nobody and the longing of needing anybody the only way he knew how: by overcompensating with loud, and obnoxious behavior.  That behavior distanced him from people who might have been close too.  He was able to be "liked" without having to be himself, without having to invest in others.  
Something unexpected happened within that first year though.  McCune started to feel like home.  Home.  I hadn't felt that in so long.  Home.  To this day, when I think of home I think of McCune.  We have a saying back home: Once an Eagle, always an Eagle.  I did not fully realize that at twelve years old.  I did not fully realize that at 22 or 32 years old.  However, this past year my friends and I buried one of our own.  I went back to McCune for Larry's funeral.  I cried with others in my class as we said our goodbyes.  I laughed with them as we sat at the McCune bar and told old stories.  
And in that moment, I finally fully realized what our saying meant.  You see I was home.  Home!