Words of Inspiration

I’d like to start writing more often. My “Southern Observations” have rekindled my love for writing, and I’d like to take that relationship to the next level so we can start seeing more of each other. I thought I would offer some words of inspiration from God’s word, and today’s verse is a great start.

“Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.” (Psalms 55:22 NKJV)

When I was in high school, a popular saying among Christians was “Let go and let God.” You could easily see dozens of churchgoers driving in cars with that bumper sticker and wearing t-shirts and bracelets with the slogan; however, it’s not just a catchy saying.

King David penned these words in a psalm expressing anguish. He was sorrowful because he was being hunted by his enemies. He cried out to God for help as he did many times in songs that truly pull at heartstrings and speak to many even today.

This was about a thousand years before the apostle Peter wrote: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6-7 NKJV)

Two men separated by a millennium were inspired by God to write similar messages of hope to their contemporaries. Why the repetition?  Could it be that even 2,000 years after Peter we still need to hear and accept this teaching?

How often are you stressed because of something at work/school/home? How many times do you feel like you just can’t handle it anymore? Honest answers only please: How many times have you wondered why God is doing this to you?

We (Americans) are a stressed people. Not because we are running from militant dictators or striving to survive in the jungle, but because we try to do everything ourselves. God did say that He would not give us more than we could handle; nonetheless, we do not have to do it all. If we admit that we are not God, accept that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God who loves us, and give control of our lives to Him, we will see many of our stresses go away. Those that remain will seem much simpler and less taxing.

So when you feel like pulling your hair out and screaming in frustration to the heavens, remember these somewhat trite but nevertheless true words: Let go and let God.

Peace. Love. Roll Tide.

Southern Responsibility

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.”

Galatians chapter six begins with these words. The apostle Paul is telling Christians to help one another, but he also talks about taking responsibility for one’s actions. This is a problem today.

As I have mentioned, I am a public school teacher. I teach English, currently to seventh and eighth graders, though I have taught ninth and twelveth grade English as well as a separate class of Mythology. This is my seventh year as a teacher, and I have noticed that kids have changed, or more accurately, have gotten worse.

I graduated from high school 13 years ago, and I will be the first, though certainly not the last, to say that I was at times a lazy kid. It is something with which I still struggle today. I had great parents and great teachers. I eventually learned that if I was going to get anywhere in life that I needed to work for that success.

Teenagers in general today want things given to them. They feel that they are owed certain things they see that others have, even if those others earned it. They go to school because the law requires it, and with the attitude that “School is a prison,” they mope through the day putting forth as little effort as possible. Some can’t even do that.

When given assignments, no matter the length, weeping and gnashing of teeth ensue. Students complain about having to actually “do stuff,” as though writing an essay is akin to working 12 hot hours in the tobacco field. *Disclaimer: I never worked in a tobacco field, but my grandparents talk about it as though it was awful.

Then, at the end of a grading period, the same students complain about the poor grades that I “gave” them. I always respond to this that I do not give grades. Each student earns his or her grade. I rarely ever give extra credit because if you put forth the effort on the original assignments, you would have all the credit you need.

The summer before I got my first teaching job, I had just graduated with my Master’s degree in Education. I had applied to several schools in the surrounding counties, but until I heard back from them, I needed to get paid. My future father-in-law got me a job working at the Federal Mogul auto parts distribution plant in Smyrna. This was a big warehouse where I worked 10-12 hour shifts five days a week on my feet, sweating profusely, unpacking and repacking car parts. As someone with an advanced degree in what is considered an “inside” job, I could have complained at the conditions and whined at the pay; however, I knew that I needed to work somewhere until I could get a more permanent job as a teacher.

More than half of teenagers today have never worked a job that features manual labor. I was never given an allowance. My dad told me that with everything he and my mom provided me that I was doing well enough. If I wanted extra money, I had to work for it. So I did. Not including mowing yards, I have been working since I was 16 years old. I have had just about any type of job you can think of from office work to food industry (kitchen and serving) to courier to warehouse work. When my wife, who is the primary earner in our house, had to quit work to go back to graduate school, I worked as a waiter and also as a cashier at Lowe’s at night while teaching during the day. I may not be the hardest worker in the world, but I take responsibility for myself and my family.

This doesn’t mean that I’m perfect. I make more mistakes in a day than most make in a week, but I own them. I don’t pawn off the blame on anyone else. This is a HUGE issue in today’s society. It’s always someone else’s fault. We keep pointing fingers. This problem has literally existed since the beginning of humankind. Genesis 3:11-13 shows the fallout of the first sin and the emergence of the blame game. “And He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?’ Then the man said, ‘The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.’ And the Lord God said to the woman, ‘What is this you have done?’ The woman said, ‘The serpent deceived me, and I ate.’ (NKJV)”

The correct answer to God’s question to Adam was “Yes, Lord, I ate of the tree of which You told me not to eat,” but instead Adam blames Eve. Then Eve blames the serpent. If you subscribe to the notion that the serpent was the Devil, then he would probably just smirk and slither away without pointing any fingers (if snakes had fingers at that point). Neither man nor woman accepted responsibility for his or her actions. Today, the fault lies with TV/the Internet, the Republicans/Democrats, the police, the teachers, parents, kids, etc. We need to do what we are supposed to do and accept the consequences if we don’t.

Is your life the way you want it to be? Who’s fault is it? When you point a finger at someone else, there are three more pointing back at you. Don’t pass the buck; accept responsibility. Bear your own load.

Peace. Love. Roll Tide.

Southern Procrastination

On a day celebrating the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I thought of this quote from his famous “I have a Dream” speech: “We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now.”

King was speaking of giving African Americans the rights they deserve as citizens NOW instead of gradually over time; however, this also can apply to every one of our lives.

Procrastination is defined as “the act or habit of procrastinating, or putting off or delaying, especially something requiring immediate attention.” 

God warns us about this is James 4:13-14 when the brother of Jesus writes: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit’; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.”

This is one of my biggest struggles. I have made myself lazy. Laziness was not a quality bred in me or taught to me, yet I have become such by my own choices. I prefer to put things off until later, knowing that I work well under pressure; however, this is a sin. 

Some of you might think that I’m being dramatic by calling this sin, but if God tells us to do something or not to do something, and we disobey, that is sin. Part of David Shannon’s message yesterday was to call sin what it is instead of masking it to make yourself or others feel better. God, through James, said in chapter 4 and verse 17 “Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.”

The fierce urgency of now should apply to anything in our lives that we need to do. Don’t put it off! Do it now! You may not have a tomorrow to do it. What do you need to do? Get up, and get it done!

Peace. Love. Roll Tide.

American Grit

Now, just about every self-respecting Southerner enjoys grits. Yankees are a bit confused at first as to what grits are, and we just know that we like them and find it difficult to define them. Grits is a food made from corn that is ground into a coarse meal and then boiled. It is a delicious dish that can be used for breakfast or any meal in the day, though typically prepared differently for dinner or supper.

A friend of mine used to work as a server at a small diner and had a customer come in from the North. The patron looked at the menu and asked my friend, “What are grits?” My friend replied that they were delicious, but when asked for the definition, he could not find the words but insisted that the customer would enjoy them for his breakfast. The man asked if he could just have one grit to try and see if he liked it. So, since the customer is always right, my friend went to the kitchen and came back with a plate of one singular grit for the man to taste. The customer did not think it funny, though my friend and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Amusing anecdotes and culinary conversation aside, grit is much more important than food. Grit is defined by Webster as “firmness of mind or spirit; unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.” This is also known as perseverance, resolution, or tenacity. It is the quality that a person has that does not allow him or her to give up before reaching a goal.

Yesterday was the birthday of a great American who was not born in America. Alexander Hamilton, the creator of the national bank among other things, is most known as “the guy on the ten dollar bill.” His life has had the spotlight shone on it in recent years due to a Broadway musical which was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and achieved international fame and popularity.

I confess that, though I am a lover and student of American history, I knew very little of Hamilton besides what was listed above until I saw the show, Hamilton. I have since begun reading his biography, on which the play was based, and have learned that the immigrant from the tiny Caribbean island of Nevis is an excellent example of grit.

To summarize, Alexander Hamilton was born out of the official bonds of marriage to poor parents. At the age of ten, his father abandoned Alex, his brother, and their mother. At the age of 12, Mrs. Hamilton died, leaving Alex and his brother orphans. They moved in with their cousin, who committed suicide after caring for them for a short time, leaving the boys alone again. The court split the brothers up, sending Alexander to work as an apprentice for a shipping and trading company. Within a few years, both of the owners of the company left the island, making teenage Alexander the boss. This largely self-educated young man had experienced more hardships than most of us can imagine and was now being forced into a man’s responsibility; whereas many would have given up, Hamilton thrived. He was determined to rise above his station and make something of himself.

At the age of 17, a hurricane destroyed his town on the island of St. Croix, where he and his family had been living. Alexander had always been something of a writer, so after this latest tragedy, he picked up a pen and wrote a sorrowful, poetic letter describing the destructive force of the storm and the effect it had both physically and spiritually on the people. His words were so stirring that the citizens of the town were moved to raise money to send Alex to America for education.

He arrived in New York City in 1776 just in time to join the American Revolution. He wanted to fight in the war to make a name for himself, seeing a battlefield as the only way someone in his position could rise up. He used his skill with the pen to write letters and keep a journal for General George Washington but constantly begged for a chance to lead men and fight. When he finally gets the chance, Hamilton leads a battalion under cover of darkness to help ensure victory at the battle of Yorktown.

Washington becomes the president and asks Hamilton to become Secretary of the Treasury. This nobody, this upstart now has to fight, not against the British, but against well-known and well-respected men like James Madison and Thomas Jefferson to give this country the financial system that helped America survive the years immediately following being cut off from British aid. Throughout this time, Hamilton had been speaking, writing, and debating to end slavery, though to no avail. Growing up in the Caribbean in the 1700’s and working for a trading charter put Hamilton in close proximity to the ugliness of the African slave trade. From childhood, he was appalled by the barbarism and fought to abolish it.

Day in and day out, Alex spoke his mind about his beliefs in order to make changes in society. Day in and day out, men of higher social status belittled him and sought to ruin him. But day in and day out, Alexander awoke only with the thought of achieving his goals no matter how difficult it became or how long it took. Nothing could extinguish the flame he had inside of him. He got to see few of his goals realized and his enemies succeeded in consigning him to the oblivion of being largely unknown to history, but his grit is what screams from beyond the grave. One of the repeated lines in the Broadway show was “I am not throwing away my shot.” This expresses the determination and tenacity that, though he could have taken a safer, easier route in life, hamilton employed as he refused to ever give up on his dreams.

This grit is what each of us needs in our lives. Hamilton, in his short 49 years wrote over 26 volumes worth of letters, papers, and essays. That was with quill and ink. We have laptops and keyboards and digital documents that have no physical limits, yet we do not write like this. We have the same number of hours in the day as Hamilton, yet we seldom use as many as we need to achieve our goals. Grit is formed by and composed of courage, intentionality, endurance, resilience, and the pursuit of excellence, not of perfection.

When the going gets tough, what do you do? The tough and gritty buckle up and do what needs to be done. So, do you have grit? If not, make the daily choices to be gritty and persevere. Remember that no matter who you are, “History has its eyes on you.”

Peace. Love. Roll Tide.

Southern Thanks

So I teach 7th and 8th grade English in Hendersonville, and I have what they call an Exploratory class during 3rd period. It’s where I can do extra English-related things like debates and creative writing.

Today, since tomorrow my students will be doing a project all morning and we are out the rest of the week, I had my Exploratory class make a list of the five things they are most thankful for and write a paragraph (at least five sentences) for each explaining why they are so thankful for that thing/person.

I decided I would also take the opportunity, so here is my list:

I am very thankful for my job as a teacher at Knox Doss. It is sometimes frustrating, always challenging, and never boring. The faculty here are so close that we are almost like family. Mr. Hayes and Mrs. Rogers are very understanding of the work we have to do as teachers because they have done the job, which makes them excellent advocates as principals. The community and parents are very involved, allowing for more activities for the students to be involved. It is a bit of a long drive, but it is worth every mile.

Music is my favorite non-human thing in this world. I am so thankful for the ability to hear, sing, write, and play music. Music has always been an outlet for my emotions as I am a person of strong feelings. The musical gifts God has given me have enriched my life immensely. I hope that I can use my gifts to enrich others as well.

My friends are very important to me. I have several good friends, but a small core group who loves and cares for my family and me as I do them. Life is rough, but my friends encourage me to push through the dark times until the sun comes back out. This type of support system outside of a family is paramount to living a successful life. “No man is an island,” the poet John Donne wrote, and I am connected to many great friends.

My family has supported me throughout my entire life in everything I have done. Whether it was drama, music, sports, or my career, my family has always been there for me. Whenever I need someone to talk to, I have so many ears to listen, hugs ready to give, and shoulders on which to cry. I am proud of my name because of the people who share it with me. Now that I’m married, my wife’s family is just as much of a support to me, and I love them for that.

Madelyn Brooke Dudley was born on May 6, 2015, and my life changed forever for the better. My daughter brings so much joy to every day that I cannot remember my life before her. I love watching her grow and learn, and I cannot wait to see the young woman she becomes. She is always happy and curious, and she wants to figure things out all the time. I hope to raise her well. Being a parent is an extremely difficult job, but it is enormously rewarding.

On May 4, 2009, I had my first date with the woman who I never knew I always wanted. Channing came into my life and made me want to be a better man to deserve her. We married on December 3, 2011, and our life has not always been easy, but it has been full of love. Without Channing, I am not sure what kind of person I would be today, but I am sure it would not be as happy. She makes me smile just knowing that she loves me, even though I do not know why. I am so glad that she made me a father, and I cannot wait to see what the rest of our life has in store.

On February 21, 1999, I was baptized into the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and my salvation is the thing for which I am most thankful. God has blessed me with all the things listed above and so much more. Without Christ in my life, all of these things would be meaningless. I can spend eternity with my God as well as my family, who raised me to be a Christian in a fallen world. I hope that I can make my Heavenly Father proud of the ambassador that I am for Him.

I have so many more things for which I am thankful, like living in a free country as well as the men and women who fight to keep it free, but this was my list. Yes, I know I did more than five, but I’m the teacher, so I make the rules! Think about the things for which you are most thankful. Remember them this week as well as every other week.

Peace. Love. Roll Tide.

Southern Business

“The chief business of the American people is business,” said former President Calvin Coolidge. This quote is often taken out of context to make it seem that “Silent Cal” as he was called was nothing but a one-dimensional business cheerleader. Most people think that President Coolidge wanted this country to be monetarily focussed and have no other aspirations than to get rich. Not so.

The quote is taken from a speech titled “The Press under a Free Government” where he showed the differences between the American press and that of a socialistic or autocratic government, which would be more likely to publish government-fed propaganda. A free press is more trustworthy.

Coolidge said, “There does not seem to be cause for alarm in the dual relationship of the press to the public, whereby it is on one side a purveyor of information and opinion and on the other side a purely business enterprise. Rather, it is probable that a press which maintains an intimate touch with the business currents of the nation, is likely to be more reliable than it would be if it were a stranger to these influences.”

Then, he added the line most people misquote. “After all, the chief business of the American people is business. They are profoundly concerned with producing, buying, selling, investing and prospering in the world. I am strongly of the opinion that the great majority of people will always find these the moving impulses of our life.”

I feel that this is true of “the great majority of people.” Most are only concerned with the almighty dollar; however, as Christians, we have a different business about which we should be.

When Jesus was a boy and his parents took Him to Jerusalem, they accidentally left Him there. When they returned and found Him, He was in the temple both listening to and teaching the scholars. The Bible says that “all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers (Luke 2:47).”

As most mothers would do, Mary began to scold her son because He had worried her and Joseph. Jesus answered confusedly, saying, “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business (Luke2:49)?” Christ’s Earthly parents did not understand this at the time, but as He began His ministry, it would become clear.

The Father’s business is spelled out simply in the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 when Jesus told His disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.”

It doesn’t matter your nationality. Whether you are American, Brazilian, Chinese, German, or Sudanese, if you are a Christian, you ought to be about the Father’s business. Instead of how much money is in your portfolio, worry about how many souls you have led to Christ. So, how’s business these days?

Peace. Love. Roll Tide.

Southern Purpose

Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose?

These are the fundamental questions that have plagued mankind since first he had an intellectual thought outside of “I’m hungry/thirsty/tired/cold. How do I fix this?”

So I ask you: What is your purpose? What is the meaning of life? Philosophers can pontificate for days on end about different moralities and theories about what you can do to give your life purpose and meaning, but it’s already been decided long ago.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

It’s that simple. No flowery speech needed. That’s all.

Peace. Love. Roll Tide.