I am blessed by a number of people in my life who inspire me.
Jesus inspires me to love. I start each day before everyone rises to spend time alone in prayer and with the scriptures. The words and example of Jesus comfort and challenge me. Jesus not only commanded me to love God and love my neighbor, he showed me how. When I read his story and pay close attention, I am inspired to love unconditionally and without expectation.
Carla inspires me to be my best. Feeling needed and appreciated is a feedback loop that has created a never-ending cycle in our marriage of wanting and trying to do better. She gives me honest feedback and helps me prioritize what is truly important. She helps me focus on elements of life beyond myself, helping me avoid a shallow and self-absorbed existence. Left to my own devices, I could become too insular and selfish. She engages me directly and pulls me out of my self-protecting habits to share my feelings, good and bad, and put effort into the best areas of my life.
Barron inspires me to persist. As the oldest, Barron has had to endure a lot of parenting missteps. He has developed a thick skin and a tolerance for hard work that continues to pay dividends. When he didn’t get any leadership roles in marching band at the end of his freshman year, he didn’t complain, and he asked us not to go to the band directors and complain on his behalf. Instead, he put his head down, went to work and spent his sophomore year leading by example, without a title. His work ethic and positive attitude combined with his mastery of conducting set up him up to serve as a drum major for his junior and senior year of high school. After attending drum major camp at the University of Georgia for two years, his heart was set on attending the state’s flagship institution and march in and eventually conduct their renown Redcoat Marching Band. Despite repeated attempts to get his SAT score up in the mid-range for UGA admissions standards, the best he could muster was to get wait-listed. When he was ultimately denied admission for fall semester 2019, he gratefully accepted his place at Kennesaw State University, auditioned and played trumpet in the Marching Owls. He auditioned for drum major as a freshman after learning how to handle a mace and master the high-step stadium entrance required of the Owls’ drum major, and he won the position. He maintained a perfect 4.0 grade point average through his first year, and within days of reporting to band camp for his second year at KSU, he received notification that he had been admitted to UGA for spring semester 2021. He is more than half way through his second season as a Redcoat trumpet player and was eyewitness to the national championship, had an opportunity to audition for drum major and is a rank leader in the trumpet section this year while the Dawgs pursue a repeat. That is persistence, and when I see how much effort Barron puts into reaching for his goals, I am inspired to do the same.
Harris inspires me to learn. As the middle son, Harris has carved his own niche, distinguishing himself from his older brother. He has his own personality, but he is continuing many of the positive habits of hard work and goal setting. Harris has an insatiable thirst for knowledge about history, public policy, leadership, government and the interplay among them. His ability to recall names, dates and events serves him well when making arguments, either in mock trial or negotiating an after-dinner trip to Bruster’s for ice cream. Even with the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic and his isolation in the basement for hours a day of online learning, Harris routinely put in five or six additional hours of study to complete assignments or go down rabbit holes to learn more about topics he wants to understand better. Whether it’s LEGO, Lord of the Rings, World War II or governors of Georgia, Harris’s obsessions are fed by an unquenchable desire to know things and understand how they work. Just half-way through his high school career, Harris has yet to make a “B” in a subject, and I have no doubt he will achieve his academic and professional goals, which are lofty. He has served as a band captain for three years for the Parkview Marching Band and led the Parkview Mock Trial team to the regional finals last year, the farthest the team had ever progressed. When I spend time with Harris and really listen to his verbal exploration of ideas, I am inspired to use my time and energy to be a life-long learner.
Carlton inspires me to create. As the youngest, he faces the greatest potential for becoming overwhelmed by his older brothers’ interests, achievements and pursuits, but his strong will and matching personality cause him to make his own way. When the omnipresent screens in his life are made to go dark, his mind reacts like flame to oxygen. His artistic instincts have found expression in drawing and painting, writing and storytelling, theater and the dramatic arts, singing, playing piano, and even baking and cooking dishes that please both his sweet tooth and his taste for the savory. He possesses a quick wit that can serve as his muse. When he exercises his creativity muscle, he becomes self-actualized in a profound way that he doesn’t fully understand or appreciate yet. When I have moments of clarity in my time with him, I am amazed at how his mind works and processes life around him. When I see him on stage belting out a ballad or pulling big laughs from the audience, I am inspired to make time for creative pursuits and recognize how much that contributes to my quality of life and feeds my need for creative expression.
My parents inspire me to display integrity. I believe character is taught more than inherited, and I have been blessed to have been raised by parents who placed high value on honesty, fairness, hard work and trustworthiness. Throughout my youth while I was under their roof, these principles were reinforced. Now that I am a parent and our interactions are largely reduced to one or two visits a year and weekly phone calls, I hear in their conversations a desire not only for my happiness and for the fulfillment of my family but a hope that I am contributing and making a difference in the world by being a person of character. They have often said that my title and level in the organizational hierarchy doesn’t matter to them nearly as much as that I am honest and work hard. They inspire me to do things the right way.
My mother-in-law inspires me to be kind. I’ve never heard her say anything bad about anyone, and whether she liked that person or not, she treats everyone she has dealings with kindly. I’m sure she has her moments, but she keeps them well hidden. I’m sure I have gotten on her nerves, too, but all I have ever received from her is generosity, affection, love and support. When I am in her presence, I am reminded that kindness is in short supply in this world and experiencing it from someone is a great gift. Cynthia inspires me to give people the benefit of the doubt and express genuine kindness rather than frustration or anger.
Bob inspires me to laugh. Bob Perkins and I have been friends since 1987 when he showed up as the fresh-out-of-Baylor University sports editor of The Lake Wales Daily Highlander. His rambunctious energy and sometimes over-the-top sense of humor pulled me out of my shell and helped me embrace the absurd in some of life’s most difficult situations. Over the years we have maintained a friendship through sharing brief conversations and enjoying periods when we lived near enough to each other that visits and lunches and ballgames were treasured times of distraction and amusement. Bob knows me well, and he reminds me to laugh when circumstances can feel overwhelming.
Brian inspires me to be healthy. It’s not just that Brian Greer is 15 years my junior and has not yet had to have any surgeries or prolonged layoffs from exercise because of injury. I respect his discipline in not eating a French fry in more than 20 years. He’s careful about what he puts in his body and how he takes care of himself. With a wife and four children, he understands that there are habits he can embrace now that will allow him to enjoy life longer as he ages. He also has wisdom beyond his years about the need for balance. He inspires me to embrace well-being in all the facets of life: spiritual, physical, mental and emotional.
Clyde Edgerton inspires me to write. There are many writers whose work I admire, but the author I consistently enjoy and relate to and derive inspiration from is North Carolina-born Clyde Edgerton. He so deftly weaves stories of family, faith, tradition, race, class, humor, and Southern identity, I marvel at his books and wish to find my own voice to reach others in a similar way. The opportunity I had back in 2011 to hear him speak at the Decatur Book Festival was a treat, and I reflect on it often when I’m stuck in the middle of the re-write of my book. I can’t imagine ever being mentioned in the same breath as Clyde Edgerton, but for now, it’s inspiring enough to know what I’m aiming for looks like.
Inspiration comes in many forms, and for me, these people all provide me with the fuel I need to make life fulfilling.