I am Not Returning My Diploma to Liberty University, Nor Did I Vote for Trump

Perhaps the truly most rebellious stance to have these days is to be neutral… about anything. We live in an undeniably polarized culture where being “outraged” by the behavior of other people is all the rage.

Meanwhile, my goal is to remove myself from a predictable system where I am forced to choose one side (and their ethnocentric agenda), then demonize the other side (along with their own ethnocentric agenda). I refuse to maintain a mindset in which I have to constantly have an emotional response ready for the half of the population…. who is perceptually wrong.

In case you are unaware, a growing number of Liberty University graduates are choosing to return their diplomas to Liberty University, on the basis that the current chancellor, Jerry Falwell Jr., has been openly supportive of controversial President Trump’s policies and responses.

The “Return Your Diploma to LU” movement, which currently contains more than 700 members, even has its own hashtag; which is #grandstander.

This is a buzzing story.

Journalists from secular publications have been quick to reach out to the members of the group. I know this because I’ve been keeping up with the comments on the closed group.

Meanwhile, I personally am proud to have graduated from Liberty University in 2005 with an English Degree. My attendance at Liberty University helped shape my views, my identity, and my future. I am proud, not ashamed, of my diploma from Liberty University.

Of all ironies though, the fact I did not vote for Donald Trump goes back to Dorm 15 at Liberty University back in 2003. It was during my years at LU that I secretly converted from a Republican to a Libertarian.

My friend Ryan, who lived in the dorm room next to mine, was able to convince me through his emotional intelligence, that America will only continue to be more divided and polarized if we continue to only choose one of two popular political sides (with its own non-negotiable agenda), opposed to the other side.

I do not condemn anyone participating in the “Return Your Diploma to LU”.

Nor did I actively support President Trump being elected; in fact, it was during my attendance at Liberty University that I retired my allegiance to the Republican Party.

But who knows, maybe had I not gone to Liberty University, I would still be a Republican today and would have voted for Trump?

Maybe the ultimately irony, though, is that in my attempt to remain neutral in a polarized society, I could still end up causing someone to be outraged.

 

 

Dear Jack: Our Unexpected Trip to Dinosaur World in Cave City, Kentucky

6 years, 7 months.

Dear Jack,

About halfway during our nearly 4 hour drive from our home in Spring Hill, Tennessee to the Louisville Zoo in Kentucky, we all turned our heads to the left, as we couldn’t help but notice the giant T-Rex statue.

He was surrounded by two billboard-sized signs, in red and yellow (which are the colors used by fast-food restaurants to get people to “slow down and stop”, as that color combo subconsciously reminds them of the meaning of the yellow and red traffic lights).

The signs read this enticement:

DINOSAUR WORLD

EXIT NOW

OVER 150 LIFE-SIZE DINOSAURS

While I didn’t immediately pull over our built-for-adventure 2017 Toyota 4Runner, Mommy and I did begin secretly muttering plans to stop there on the way back from our Louisville road trip to celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary.

After all, I pride myself in not being an “impulse shopper.” First, it must be a plan and placed on the schedule… then, it might become a possibility.

The thing is, I’ve been seeing that sign for over a decade. So to pass it by this time was more of a confirmation: Now that I have a 6 and a half year-old boy who is obsessed with dinosaurs, there has never been a more appropriate and necessary time to visit Dinosaur World.

And so we did!

You took great pride in navigating our family through the park, proclaiming the name of each new dinosaur the moment you saw it.

It was a glorious event for you. We definitely made the right decision in taking the family to Dinosaur World. And I have to admit, your 1 year-old sister loved every minute of it too!

Good thing for that giant T-Rex statue and the two huge signs right off of I-65 North. Otherwise, we would have never given it a thought.

Clever marketing on their part. It worked.

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: The Pirate’s Treasure and Saber Tooth You Found at Miramar Beach! (“Ride the Lightning” 2017 Toyota Prius Road Trip)

6 and a half years.

Dear Jack,

During the weeks leading up to our recent road trip to Destin, you had been telling me, “Daddy, I think we’re going to find treasure at the beach. Maybe even some bones. Maybe we can find a saber-toothed tiger skull because they’re the hardest to find in the whole world!”

I kept assuring you that if you looked in the right places, we just might find a buried something.

So during our 2nd morning at the beach last week, while your sister was out with Mommy and Grandma and Aunt Rebecca as they took the 2017 Toyota Prius Three to the outlet stores, you and I went out searching on the shore.

Just about 5 minutes into you playing in the sand as the water kept washing up and flooding your feet, I called you over to me, as I was just about 15 feet behind you.

“Jack, come over here. I think this would be a good spot to dig! The sand looks sort of different where this spot is.”

You rushed over.

After you dug down about 8 inches deep, there it was… a scratched up treasure chest!

With great excitement, you pulled the black metal box out of the sand. Fortunately, there was no lock, so you were able to open it right away.

Amazingly, there was a letter right there on top. We read it together:                                                                                          

July 1, 1733

To the Person Who Finds My Treasure,

If you are reading this, it is too late for me. This means my ship sank on the sea. I was keeping my gold safe in the sand, but now it is all yours. And one more thing, watch out for the dinosaurs and saber-toothed tigers…

Henry the Pirate

But you were more impressed by the gold coins inside the treasure chest. You counted them all: “Daddy, there’s 73 gold coins!”


This immediately inspired you to continue searching, as now you were becoming preoccupied with finding some bones in the sand. Just a few minutes later, a few feet away from where the treasure chest was buried, I started digging.

“Here, why don’t you take a turn now?” I suggested to you..

It couldn’t have been a minute later that you shouted, “Daddy, I found something!”

Without me having to explain anything, you figured it out:

“It’s a saber-toothed tiger’s tooth!”

And that tooth ended up being worth more to you than all that gold.

Love,

Daddy

This is 36: A Symbol of Our Love for a Decade, Broken and Restored

Travel back in time with me over a decade. On March 8, 2007, a month away from my 26th birthday, I walked into Kay Jewelers at the Cool Springs Mall in Franklin, Tennessee. A kind salesman, of Indian descent yet who spoke with an English accent, helped me find the perfect piece of jewelry.

I had only been dating this California girl for a month, but I felt compelled with all my being to spend $238 on a diamond bracelet as a gift to show her how serious I was about her.

It was simple: I knew she was the one. I knew that if she’d let me, I would promise the rest of my life to her.

This diamond bracelet would be followed by an engagement ring just 10 months later. But whereas the engagement ring (and wedding ring) would be taken off at times, like to wash the dishes and to get the rings cleaned, this special bracelet would ultimately never been taken off.

For the whole time we dated, then were engaged, then were newlyweds, then became parents the first time, then became parents the second time, then even saw our 2nd child turn a year-old and saw our 6 and a half year-old son prepare to graduate Kindergarten… my wife wore that diamond bracelet. For 10 years and 2 months.

And then, it snapped in two:

“Sad day—my heart bracelet broke after more than 10 years—I was playing with it on my wrist and then it snapped 😦   My arm already feels naked.”

The very next day I journeyed back to the same Kay Jewelers and happened to immediately see the very same kind man from a decade before, as if time hadn’t even passed. He was impressed that I remembered him from a decade ago, but he was even more impressed how well the bracelet held up for over 10 years.

He began looking at the snapped bracelet through a special microscope, confused on why a silver bracelet had not turned at all after so long. Then he began typing on his computer, searching the records on my purchase from March 2007.

Then he explained, “I figured it out… This isn’t a silver bracelet… it’s white gold. The price for white gold has greatly increased in the past decade. There is no way you could purchase a bracelet like this, for what you paid for it back then. Just no way. This would go for at least $700 or $800 today. At least that much…”

What did I know about buying jewelry back in 2006, as a 25 year-old? Well, just that this classy diamond bracelet seemed to perfectly match the special girl I was buying it for. I definitely had no idea that the investment I was making back then would transcend beyond a symbol of my love for her- that the investment would also be financial, as well.

So two weeks ago, I paid the nice man at Kay Jewelers $42 to send off the bracelet to be repaired, and just a few days ago, I picked up the bracelet- good as new.

That bracelet, and what it symbolizes, holds so much personal value to both of us. I’m very glad to see it back on my wife’s wrist.

This is 36.

Facebook Makes Close Friends of Acquaintances (and Acquaintances of People You Actually Know)

In 2017, the need to “catch up” with people has essentially become obsolete. We all mutually stalk each other on Facebook, on a daily basis, becoming instantly aware of each other’s highlight reels.

So really, what’s there to know about another person that’s not already on Facebook?

And even if it’s a bad thing going on in our lives, it’s almost a requirement; that you owe it to your Facebook friends to announce via prayer request or “send positive thoughts my way”, regarding what difficult time you are going through.

So not only do your close friends and family members already know everything going on in your life, but so does the guy who transferred to your school in junior high; who if you actually ran into him in person, you wouldn’t be able to remember his name… but you could probably tell him what movie he took his kids to see last weekend.

The level of intimacy that we used to have with the people we love the most has, by default, become cheapened to a fast-food version of the real thing; in which people we barely know can have the same concept of knowing us as our close friends and extended family.

It’s universal and it’s easy now. Scrolling Facebook doesn’t require much of us, yet it ironically can distract us from spending true quality time with the people we do love the most; with people we are physically in the same room with.

Perhaps the strangest irony is when people do gather together in person to visit each other, but then end up talking about what other people are doing and saying on Facebook… probably due in part to the fact everything else to talk about between them has already been said on Facebook.

It is as if our real lives and our online avatars have swapped places- and over time, we haven’t noticed. In fact, the abstract version of life has become more comfortable than normal life.

Isn’t it safe to say, that at least to some degree, the universal familiarity that Facebook provides for us also causes us to have to put forth more serious effort to maintain relationships with the people we are close with, but who we don’t actually see on a daily basis?

Don’t we all sort of miss actually talking to people and having something to say or something to ask?

I do. I miss the nostalgia.

Facebook is the modern day Tower of Babel and we continue to build it to the heavens,

with our “likes” and status updates.

This is 36: The CD Player in My Paid Off, 13 Year-Old Car Stopped Working… So I Now I Use My Shattered iPod from 2006

I have first world problems. And even then, the word “problems” is a ridiculous overstatement.

Two weeks ago, the CD player in my old (but paid off) 2004 Honda Element stopped working. I had just purchased every Metallica album for $5.99 on clearance at Best Buy… where they are apparently doing away with selling CDs now that most people just download or stream their music.

(In case you’re not aware of my premature mid-life crisis where I suddenly became a huge Metallica fan and legitimately taught myself to skateboard, read all about it here.)

So now, sitting in the cubby of my dash, there are several CDs that I have yet to wear out, including others I have kept in heavy rotation- until now.

It’s important to note that as a skilled driver in the Nashville area, I have accepted my fate that I will be in the car for a total minimum of 2 hours each day, to drive only about 38 total miles round trip for my daily commute for work.

Just me in the car with my thoughts for two hours, every day.

I depend on that solitude. It is good for my brain and good for my soul.

And that solitude has always been undeniably enhanced by the kinesthetic routine of physically placing whatever CD that I feel like listening to at the moment into the CD player to play through the speakers.

No streaming or digital files. Just a CD. Like in high school in the 1999.

But now, that American right has been taken away.

And it’s definitely not worth buying a new CD player for my car.

Hopefully, I won’t be getting a new car anytime soon. That’s right- hopefully, I won’t.

Last year between having a baby, paying cash for a new car for my wife, taking a big family vacation, and having multiple hospital stays for our kids… this year is all about saving our money to eventually buy me a new car in cash like we did for my wife.

I need my faithful Honda Element to hold up until we can buy me a new car, which will be well over a year. It’s almost like I pray every time turn I turn the key in the ignition, “Please don’t let this be the day it doesn’t start…”

With us being Dave Ramsey followers, I would feel horrible about myself if I had to finance a new vehicle. It goes against who I am as a person.

So here’s who I am as a person: I now proudly drive while listening to a busted iPod that has a battery that dies by the end of my 2 hour round trip commute, even though it’s fully charged when I leave the house.

Anything from before 2007 is on there, though. Time to get reacquainted with The Wallflowers and Sister Hazel.

This is 36.

That Moment You See an Old Photo and Remember the More Fun (Yet Less Responsible) Version of Yourself…

Earlier this week I received a Facebook notification that someone had shared a photo of me. I immediately found this odd, since I’m typically not in photos with other people unless it’s with my wife or kids, and it was my camera being used.

Then I looked and saw it:
“A little throwback for your Monday blues…”

Jeffrey A. Smith had shared a photo he had taken of me back in August 2005, from over 11 years ago, for my “moving to Nashville” photo shoot. I was 24 years old at the time. (See left.)

I immediately responded to his comment: “I don’t remember this guy! After nearly 9 years of marriage and raising 2 kids, I am far from the confused guy wandering out of the woods, ha ha!”

There’s something naturally funny about seeing an old photo of yourself, especially when it’s shared in real time like this.

To me, what is so humorous is not the long hair, the backpacker style pullover I bought while I was living in Thailand, or the really baggy jeans.

It’s not even the (angry?) look on my face which possibly seems to indicate I’m preparing to fight for my life in a Hunger Games scenario.

Instead, it’s the obvious reminder that who I was back in 2005 at age 24 is not who I am now in 2017, just weeks away from my 36th birthday.

I have been completely rewired since the day this picture was taken.

Sure, I do have vague memories of that guy in the picture. But that’s not me. I think of him as a guy I used to know back in the 2000s.

I don’t know, maybe I was more of a fun guy back then:

No real responsibilities. No real job. No family to support. Just dreams to pursue.

And now, nearly a dozen years later, I simply can’t relate to that guy in these pictures from that day in August 2005.

I am so grateful for how far I have evolved from that guy, actually. But if it weren’t for that guy, I could have never become who I am today. He had what it took to get me to where I needed to be.

It’s strange to think that people who haven’t been around me since high school, or college, or from when I first moved to Nashville, they knew that guy… not this guy.

I don’t know for sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing.

But I have to assume that most of us have a similar story. I have a feeling most people can understand how an old photo brings back memories of a former version of ourselves that immediately causes us to laugh- and to be grateful that we have been blessed with enough years to move beyond who we used to be, so that we could become who we are today.