30 for 30 #16: Summers at the River

Since before I was born, my family has had a place on Lake Mitchell in Clanton. Until I left Clanton as a college student, I spent nearly every day of my summer vacation there, enjoying time on the water. As soon as we had our last day of school for the year, we would pack up and move to the river. Although our “regular house” was only about 10 miles away, we rarely lived there or even visited it during the summer. All of our time was spent at the river. Even as I got older and had events like band practice or youth camp, we would remain at the river house until the first day of school.

I loved those summers. There were no plans. We would wake up and simply see what the day held for us – swimming, fishing, boating, playing in the woods, or relaxing in the air conditioning. Sometimes, we had family visit and would have 10-12 of us in the house at one time.

The freedom we had on the water was amazing. While you have to be 16 to drive a car in Alabama, when I was younger, one could get a boating license at age 12. Therefore, at an early age, I was traveling from one side of the lake to other on my own.

Interestingly enough, Lesley had a similar experience in her youth as her family had a place on Lake Harding along the Alabama-Georgia border. For the first few months of our marriage, we were able to live in her mother’s lake house and enjoyed the ability to step outside and be on the water.

When we travel to Alabama during the summer these days, we try our best to spend a few days at the Lake. It’s relaxing, and our kids now have the opportunity to enjoy some of the same things we did as children.

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30 for 30 #15: New York Comic Con 2012

One of the best things about living in NYC is that this is the center of the comic book industry. Marvel and DC both have offices here, comic book movies are filmed (or at least based here), there are tons of comic book stores to visit, and there are lots of comic book fans in the area. As a result, there are many comic-related events during the year such as seminars, art shows, signings, and of course – conventions.

Since moving to NYC in 2008, I have attended many of these events. I’ve been to small shows, signings, art shows, and talks. However, the main event I enjoy each year is the annual New York Comic Con (NYCC). I’ve been to show each year I’ve lived here, and I’ve enjoyed each one. Sometimes I have worked with an exhibitor, and other times, I’ve attended as a professional (educator). While I have enjoyed each NYCC, this last year, 2012, was my favorite.

Here are my reasons:

  1. I was able to attend with my family. I have an amazing wife who is willing to attend with me each year as able, and this year, we included the kids. Although it was a hectic trip, heading into the city with two small kids, it was fun to dress up as a family and visit the con floor. My daughter, Sophia, loved seeing her favorite Superhero, Superman, in print, Lego, and human form.
  2. I attended with some great friends. The best part of a con is hanging out with your fellow comic book fans. Visiting the floor with Sophie, Luis, Matt, and Eric was great fun.
  3. I got to meet some of my favorite artists and writers. This year, I was pleased to be able to connect with Dustin Nguyen (Batman), Cliff Chiang (WonderWoman), Brian Azzarello (WonderWoman), and David Petersen (Mouse Guard) and have them sign some books and take some photos with me.
  4. I was able to be a part of a panel on using comics in the classroom. This was the best part of this year’s con experience. Joining two other educators and an editor from Diamond Bookshelf, I was able to speak about my experience in using comics to engage students and how to present this idea to reluctant administrators.

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30 for 30 #14: Final Surf in Australia

Noosa

The Sunshine Coast

During the summer of 2003, I had the wonderful opportunity to serve with the International Mission Board and be placed with a church in Buderim, Queensland (Australia) as a youth and children’s worker. The church with which I worked, Goodlife Church, was relatively new and employed a rather interesting ministry model in terms of their building. Rather than seeking to build a traditional church building, the church leadership and membership built a community center, complete with a basketball court, swimming pool, skate park, aerobics room, squash courts, seminar rooms, and cafe. During the week, the building functioned as a gathering place for people in the community, and on Friday nights and Sundays, it was a gathering place for the church.

Thanks to the generosity of the founding pastor, Doug, I was loaned a car to use. This allowed me to participate in almost every program offered by the church including weekly children’s and youth activities, touch rugby matches,  youth camp, Sunday services, and discipleship and planning meetings. It also allowed me explore the area – Mt. CoolumKondalilla falls, the Australia Zoo, and local beaches.

While all that was great fun, the best part of my free time was learning to surf. Buderim and the neighboring communites of Maroochydore and Mooloolabah are in an area called the Sunshine Coast. This area is beautiful. One of the couples from the church loaned me their longboard, and almost everyday, I went to the beach in the afternoon to surf.  Very quickly, surfing became a way that I engaged people and made friends. On the water, I met teenagers who I invited to youth activities. I also met a group of people my age from Goodlife would go surfing each Friday morning at sunrise and make breakfast on the beach – I was there each week, and these were good times.

There were many experiences I will always remember from that summer – going to youth camp, worshipping with a group of vibrant believers, handling logistics for the church’s missions expo, trying a skateboard for the first time, playing touch rugby each week, going to my first and only Australian rule football game (Brisbane Lions), fishing at Noosa, making French Toast for some close friends on a Saturday morning, SCUBA diving, seeing the Southern Cross for the first time, and watching the sun rise over the ocean from a longboard. Nevertheless, there is one that stands above the rest – my final surf.

On my last full day in the Sunshine Coast (7-28-2003) I gathered with a few friends, Russ, Kane, and Smiley, and we hit the waves one more time. I don’t fully remember the waves I caught or the times I crashed. However, I do remember sitting on my board, surrounded by some good friends and enjoying God’s Creation.

If God ever allows, I will return in a heartbeat. There will always be a special place in my heart for the Sunshine Coast and the people there.

10 Year Anniversary Celebration from Goodlife Community Centre on Vimeo.

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30 for 30 #13: Plant Ecology 2004

Learning about Imperata cylindrica

Mincy teaching us about Imperata cylindrica (Cogon grass)

Of all the classes I took at Auburn University, the Plant Ecology class I took with Dr. Bob Boyd in 2004 was my favorite. The class involved lectures that did provide a basic overview of plant morphology but further examined how plants were adapted to their environments and how they responded to changes in them. There were also weekly labs that taught field  sampling and assessment techniques as well as plant identification.

The course was tough. Exams were killer. But it was fun.

While I enjoyed the lectures – Dr. Boyd has a great sense of humor, and although the material was very difficult, he made learning exciting – the labs were my favorite part of the course. Each week, we would head to a different plant community such as a granite outcrop, a field of belly-plants, a dense hardwood forest, or a pine stand undergoing fire management to learn how to collect plant data and identify new plants, or as Dr. Boyd called them, our “friends.”

That semester, I met hundreds of these “friends,” and learned how to identify them by sight. While it did seem like drudgery at the time, many of those names have stuck with me, and it’s now somewhat fun to be driving along the road and recognize plants such as Oenothera speciosaTillandsia usneoidesPlatanus occidentalis, Fagus grandifolia, and others.

The highlight of the course was a weekend trip to Dauphin Island. A group of students along with Dr. Boyd and his Ph.D student, Mincy Moffett, left Auburn early in the morning and visited several habitats along the way: Black Belt, Bottomland Hardwood Forest, Red Hills, Citronelle Pond before finally seeing the coast of Alabama and the coastal Dunes, Maritime Forests, and Pitcher Plant Bogs. That weekend alone, we were introduced to approximately 100 new species of plants. Furthermore, after spending all day Friday and Saturday seeing new habitats, identifying new plants, and practicing data collection, we had a plant quiz on Sunday morning. I must say that one of my proudest moments as a student was making a 100% percent on that quiz. I worked hard, and it paid off.

Course Packet - Yep, I still have it!

Course Packet – Yep, I still have it!

The semester concluded with a research project in which I sought to see how long the seeds a riparian species of tree, Platanus occidentalis (America Sycamore), could survive submerged in water and later germinate. It was the culmination of everything I learned and practiced in the course.

I made an “A.”

Since then, Dr. Boyd and I have kept in contact. Not only was he a great professor during the course, but as I remained in Auburn, he was always  willing to meet with me and discuss my future endeavors whether my senior thesis, my desire to go to seminary, or my plan to teach science in NYC. Now, every time I visit Auburn, I try to visit with him, even if he only has a minute to spare.

If I had to do it all over again, I would not hesitate to take his class again. They were good times that I’ll always remember.

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30 for 30 #12: First Open Water Dive in the Keys

First Dive - 2003

First Dive – 2003

During the spring semester of 2003, while a student at Auburn University, I took SCUBA diving as an elective. I was studying Marine biology, and I thought learning to dive would benefit any future studies.

While the majority of the class took place in the university’s aquatic center, in order to become fully certified, the students had to complete a certain number of open water dives. To facilitate this, the instructors offered a class trip to the Florida Keys during spring break.

A Spring Break trip to dive in the Florida Keys? I was all in.

Much of that trip was a memorable experience – the bus trip from Auburn to Florida, the seafood we ate in the keys, the wreck dive, the Jesus statue, the crummy hotel in which we stayed, and seeing Key West for the first time.

However, the best part was my first dive – Looe Key – and experiencing seeing God’s underwater creation. It was amazing to see fish, corals, starfish, and anemones – things I had seen only in movies or books – up close and personal. It was truly worshipful.

That first dive was the beginning of many – more in the Keys, rivers and springs in Florida, Australia, and Thailand. While every open water dive has been fun and memorable, I’ll never forget my first one.

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30 for 30 #11: Camping with My Grandparents

One of my favorite activities  as a child was camping with my mom’s parents, Maw Maw and Paw Paw. Several times throughout the year, we would pack the RV and head off to a campground with their camping club.

They were always going somewhere with their group of camping friends, and when the school calendar allowed, I was with them. I have fond memories of campgrounds throughout the state of Alabama. Thanks to Maw Maw and Paw Paw, I had the opportunity to see the mountains of north Alabama, rivers, waterfalls, natural springs, huge lakes, hiking trails, and beaches.

I would spend numerous hours on my bike, exploring the campgrounds we visited, making friends along the way. I enjoyed the nights we stayed up late around the campfire. I remember listening to the older men tell stories. I loved watching Paw Paw cook breakfast outside in the cool morning air – making pancakes, eggs, and bacon on a griddle set on top of a picnic table.

Those were all great times that I will cherish forever.

Paw Paw and Me

Paw Paw and Me

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30 for 30 #10: Dating Lesley

Wow. So much could be said about this. Rather than writing about my wedding day or the day I proposed, which are obviously great memories, I want to write about my pursuit of Lesley. We met while members of the Auburn University Marching Band, and it was not long after we met that I knew that she was the one for me.

I am so thankful for the day that we were introduced by a mutual friend, Lauren (Kirk) Tyson. Lauren told me soon after introducing me to Lesley that I should spend time with her, that she thought we would get along well. Since I trusted Lauren, I took it as a sign from God, and I immediately began seeking to persuade Lesley to enter into a relationship with me.

Now, I would be lying if I did not state that there were some bumps in the road at the beginning. While I don’t have the time or space to describe all the issues we faced early on, I can say that most of it was due to the fact that I was just plain dumb at times. If you’ve ever seen a movie that shows a guy dumbfounded and speaking unintelligibly at the site of a beautiful woman – that was me. It’s only by God’s grace that she even gave me a second look.

So, here’s some of my best memories from our early days of dating…

I still remember the day I came home and told my roommate, Morris, about her. I was so excited about her, that I had to share it with someone.

I still remember the day when I was walking her to class after band practice, and I realized that I loved her and that I would storm the gates of Hell if it meant getting to spend my life with her.

I still remember her birthday in 2003 when I took her to the park for a picnic. The picture I took of her that day is in my wardrobe, and I see it each day.

I still remember the night, sitting on her porch, when we both shared our hearts with one another, discussing our pasts and pledging our love for one another.

I still remember attending the “Be thou my vision” conference at Lakeview and seeing first-hand her passion for missions and fully realizing that she was a woman of God.

I still remember having her join me at Study Partners in the AU Library and helping some Japanese exchange students learn how to converse in English, which led to friendships that endure to this day.

I still remember the night I took her to my fraternity formal – it was the first “real date” that we had.

I still remember ditching her to go snow skiing with Morris Bramlett and Graham Michael in Mentone, AL – only to later find out that she was planning on dumping me after our planned that weekend, but my absence gave her a chance to stop, think, and really seek God’s will, which resulted in the continuing of our relationship. That particular weekend is a story all on its own, which may be discussed later…

I still remember seeing her standing outside of customs at LAX upon my return from Australia, after we had spent the summer serving in missions on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean. I could see her from a distance and could not wait to get outside the gate to her.

I still remember the night I asked her to marry me, and she said, “yes.”

I still remember the day she said, “I do.” Every day since has been a blessing.

I cannot imagine life without her. I’m thankful for all the times we’ve shared together. It’s hard for me to remember living without her. I look forward to many more days with her.

Lesley Marie, I love you.

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30 for 30 #9: RA Campouts

While attending First Baptist Clanton as a child and a teenager, I was involved in a missions-education program called “Royal Ambassadors.” On Wednesday nights, we read RA lessons and learned about SBC missions emphases and offerings such as Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong. The main educational focus of this program was to train boys to be missions-minded men and developed followers of Christ, as expressed by the Royal Ambassador pledge:

As a Royal Ambassador I will do my best: to become a well-informed, responsible follower of Christ; to have a Christ-like concern for all people; to learn how to carry the message of Christ around the world; to work with others in sharing Christ; and to keep myself clean and healthy in mind and body.

As a participant in RA’s, one also had the opportunity to play in a basketball league, which attracted many boys to the program. While I did enjoy playing basketball, there was one yearly event that I looked forward to more than basketball – the annual RA campout.

Each year, the men of the church hosted a campout for all the boys involved in RA’s and their dads. We would go to someone’s land, set up a tent, build a campfire, cook all our meals outdoors, play tackle football (without pads of course…this was a man’s event), and enjoy the finale of the campout – capture the flag.

Beginning as soon as dinner was completed and darkness fell, we would dress in our black masks and camo, choose teams, and begin an all-night quest to protect our flag while conquering the other team. It was epic every time.

I’ll never forget some of those nights – hiding in a creek bed with Morris Bramlett and his dad while capturing invaders seeking to get to our flag, using a video camera with night vision to attempt to see possible enemies, and of course, the thrill of winning as you grabbed flag and returned to your base.

I hope that one day, Cornerstone Church has enough families where we can attempt a campout with our boys – having fun while also teaching them to become men of God.

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30 for 30 #8: Youth Camp in Panama City

Youth Camp

Youth Camp

When thinking about growing up in Clanton and being a part of the youth group at First Baptist Church, there is one memory that stands above the others: going toPanama City Beach for youth camp each summer. Throughout my entire time in the youth group, we would rent a retreat facility in PCB that was only a short walk from the beach. Our days were filled with Bible study, ping pong tournaments, pool time, beach time, and worship services. I always looked forward to going to see the beach, spend time with my best friends, and grow in my relationship with Jesus. I’ll always remember the walks to the beach for free time, the friends we made from Aliceville and Elba, and of course the night I sat on the beach and while pondering the words of Psalm 8, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” I truly made a decision to follow Christ with my life.

Those were good times.

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30 for 30 #7: Drumline Warmups at Jordan Hare

As a small child, I loved going to Auburn football games with my family. We would drive our RV to Auburn and camp near the corner of Thatch and Donahue. On gameday, we would do the same things many other fans would do: tailgate, go to Haley Center bookstore to get the week’s game button, attend Tiger Walk, and eventually, go to the game.

However, there is one thing that we would always do that really made an impression on me more than anything else: attending drumline warmups. Back in those days and even continuing through my tenure at Auburn, the drumline would gather in the lawn between the student gates and the eagle’s cage and play through their warmups. A crowd would gather and observe these Auburn men and women, dressed in their uniforms, as they sought to perform to the highest of their ability while simultaneously pleasing the crowd. Needless to say, it was awesome. I still remember looking at my mom and saying, “I want to do that one day.” I was likely in the 6th grade at the time, and had no idea what was to come…

Fast forward to the fall semester of 2001. I was a new member of the Auburn Drumline.  Being a member of the drumline was the fulfillment  of a childhood dream and years of preparation. On this hot late summer day, and I stood in that very spot again. This time, not as an observer, but as a participant. Our section leader “tapped off” and we began playing “8’s and Bucks.” One warmup exercise followed another. The occasional “War Eagle,” was yelled by the crowd. Children laughed and played in the grass. Alumni brought their children to watch as they reminisced. It was great. Shortly thereafter, we entered the stadium, and my first football season as an AUMB member began.

For the next three years, I spent every home-game Saturday repeating this experience. To be honest, it never got old. I loved every minute of it. It was so exciting to interact with friends, family, and fans in this manner.

Each time I walk by this location on campus, I think of those numerous warmup sessions, and I remember the friends I made along the way, the victories won in that stadium (and the losses), and the amazing feeling of playing in unison with a great organization.

To my Drumline friends, I’ll never forget those times…Shoney’s, scavenger hunts, building bridges, burning bridges, vibrating the Hill, and telling others “don’t mistake our intensity for anger.”

War Eagle.

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