Thursday, June 11, 2015


It has become a familiar refrain. As a parent helping two young boys process difficult and often overwhelming emotions it has proven invaluable. “Use your words,” I say often in response to the whining, amidst the stomping and screaming. I’ve seen the results – not immediately - but over time and with practice and patience, they are indeed finding their words.

And it can be easy to forget how truly difficult that can be – not just for children but for adults as well - to comply with this seemingly simple request. How often do I fail to use my words to express how I’m feeling, to ask for help, even when I have a pretty clear handle on what is troubling me? And, of course, many times still I, too, can’t actually find the words. This last few months has been one of those times.

We recently decided to move from Nashville to Charleston. And while Jill and I have both moved many times, this decision has been more challenging in a number of ways. Jill has commented that it’s the first time she’s decided to leave somewhere before it felt time to go – to which I’ve often quipped, “Yeah, I guess we’re ‘Seinfelding.’”

I think it’s been hard because it feels like an actual uprooting. We have grown to love this place. It is Nashville where we bought our first home together. It is Vanderbilt where we became a family of three and then four. It is East Nashville where family and friends helped us stumble into this new role of parent. It is 401 N. 16th St. – our “baker’s bungalow” - where we played “tickle-monster;” these Lockeland Springs sidewalks where we went on “super-hero patrol.” It is here where I found myself living out a great turn of phrase from a Rockwell Church song - I “stopped growing up and started growing in.” It is here where we together began in earnest to make a home.

It’s been hard because the dynamics have changed. Decisions are now made with someone and, at least for the time being, for our two little ones. I have been rather adventurous through the years but there is a new level of responsibility and accountability that I’m learning to balance along with self-interest.

It’s been hard because there is so much that I do not know. I do not know if I’ll be able to find another employer like Gilda’s Club Nashville; a special place that offers rewarding work and an all-too-rare work/life balance that allows me to be the husband and father I aspire to be. I do not yet know what house we will live in, if our neighborhood will have the same feeling of community, if the boys will make the transition to a whole-new-everything smoothly. And yet it is here, fortunately, that I have grown – through the exploration of theological education as well as the demands of parenting – to be more comfortable with uncertainty; more willing to release the illusion of control; more at peace with the unknown.  

Of course, amidst the unknown, here is what I do know. I know that I want my sons to know their grandparents well. I want to spend time with family and friends while the getting-is-good and be a go-to person when time is running short. I want to be planted firmly and deeply wherever I am. I want to know a place intimately, be able to recognize the subtle changes and appreciate the beauty that is only recognizable from deep familiarity. I want to contribute to a broader community beyond my personal network. I want to know and be known more fully. I want to be more at home in this world.

I do not know how long we will be in this new place despite our expectations that it will indeed be awhile. But I do know that I plan to be all in. We will unpack all the boxes and finally hang those pictures on the wall. We will meet our neighbors and invest in making our community a better place not just for our two sons but for those around us – particularly the less fortunate.

And I know, too, that I am good enough, that we have enough; that we will receive enough; not in some perfect-as-we-planned-it way but rather in a pretty-as-graffiti/this is our unique journey/make a mosaic out of our fragments sort of way. And I sense, somewhere deep down below the anxieties and uncertainties, that this move is the next important step in making a home.

And so, for us, this process of making a home involves replanting ourselves closer to family; it includes a renewed commitment to cultivating the meaningful relationships that have supported us along the way – that have been the water and soil and light we needed at each moment – and to nourishing some fledgling relationships that we hope will blossom further.

But this next step of making a home has been hard because it is drawing us away from a place that already feels so much like home. And so, for months it seems, it has been difficult to find my words. Instead, I’ve been grumpy and sullen, restless and impatient, leaving those around me to wonder what is wrong, what is brewing underneath.

So, now it seems high time that I use my words. I am sad to leave a community that embodies many of the values that I hold dear. I am anxious that we may not find a fit that feels so comfortable, so natural. I am uncertain if the boys will remember this place and just how special and formative it was for them. I am frustrated that doors have not opened as easily or quickly as I would have liked. I am grateful for the kindness shown our family; for neighbors who housed us during a renovation debacle; for classmates and colleagues who fed us to help ease the transition into parenthood; for child care providers and teachers who nurtured and challenged our boys to grow. I am eager to get a kayak to explore my new surroundings. I am excited about the wide-open possibilities of a fresh start. I am buoyed by the boys’ enthusiastic anticipation of being much closer to their cousins.

 Anderson and Nathan, this move has been  undertaken largely with you two in mind. It is  a commitment to building a family, it is  another step in making a home. Wherever  life will take you, will take us, we want you to  be deeply grounded in where and from whom  you have come – with all that that  encompasses. This is a gift we want to give  you; and also a gift we know we need, too. Poet Mary Oliver asks, “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” As for me, I will endeavor to live intentionally, give generously, experience fully, love wastefully. I will make a home. Thank you Music City for the song; we will be singing along for many years to come. And thanks to each of you – neighbors, friends, colleagues - that have made it special; have made it home. This is home, and yet we are now home-coming.

* Images courtesy of Anderson Design Group -  in Nashville of course

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Pointing Back to Coach Dean Smith

Late in his coaching tenure at UNC there was some hushed speculation regarding whether the game might be passing Coach Dean Smith by. I’m ashamed to admit that I occasionally entertained that possibility. Now I know differently.

As UNC and Tar Heel nation work to recover from a painful chapter in our storied history; as we reflect on the professionalization of college athletics and the rampant self-aggrandizement inherent in the “brand of me” & “an army of one;” it seems clear to me now. The game wasn’t passing him by, we were losing our way.

Now, I know we can’t go back to some naively idealized version of the good ‘ole days. But it is certainly possible to reclaim & recommit to values & virtues that have always served us well beyond the court or field. Let’s remember that sports are a powerful means to an end; not the end of wealth or fame although that comes for a very elite few. It is the means to the end of teamwork, determination, hustle, learning to celebrate with humility and deal with disappointment & failure with grace. It is a means for developing perseverance and resilience and a means for camaraderie & connection. It is a means for learning to be coachable while also honing your leadership skills.

Sports are indeed a great laboratory for learning how to win…in life. And Dean Smith kept his eye on that ball; that winning in life is more important than winning on the court and that winning in life is about so much more than money or immediate success. Winning in life is about relationships – about making a difference; whatever difference one can make…and then pointing back to whoever helped you score.

Despite our frequent desire to claim otherwise, there are no self-made people. Dean Smith understood, taught & modelled that so much better than most. Whether you are a Tar Heel or not, you’re part of a team. You have a role to play. And, like it or not, we need each other. 

My coaching will likely never take place on anything bigger than a little league field. But I hope that the way I coach and parent and mentor and live will reflect much of how Dean Smith coached; will reflect the Carolina Way which at its core is simply a way that leads to humility, growth, the intimate connections of community, generosity, and meaning from this precious gift we call life.