I grew up in Snellville, GA, a booming suburb in Metro Atlanta. Snellville was situated on Hwy 78, right between Atlanta and Athens. A 45-minute drive west of Snellville landed you in the city, near the campus of Georgia Tech. A 45-minute drive east of Snellville landed you in Athens, near the campus of the University of Georgia. Most everyone I grew up with had an allegiance to one of those schools. Most families were GT families or UGA families. Of course, there were outliers, but for most, it was Go Tech or Go Dawgs!
I was raised in a Go Dawgs family.
I loved the friendly rivalry with other family and friends. The UGAvGT game was typically the Saturday after Thanksgiving every fall. There was always a lot of trash talk during that week. I had a close group of friends that I grew up with. They were real friends, and they made my life better. Nearly all of them were in my wedding. A few of them were loyal Georgia fans and a few of them were Georgia Tech graduates. The teasing and joking during football were fun because the relationships were deep. We loved each other and were loyal to each other. We never allowed anything to become greater than friendship.
But times have changed and so have relationships. We live in such a toxic culture that relational loyalty is shallow, while issue loyalty is much deeper. We have become a people and a culture that chooses issues above relationships. We surround ourselves with people who think and believe as we do on the issues that we find most important. It seems that many people would rather fight for their issues than for their relationships. I have talked with people who have adjusted their social media feeds, so they only connect with those who believe as they believe. We have become so shallow relationally that we feel our only real connection is with those who think just as we think.
Some of my deepest hurt in the last 18 months have been because of abandonment in relationships. Some friends haven’t spoken to me in over a year because of political and cultural issues. Some of them I talked with, and we shared our differences. Some I never had the chance to talk with, they simply moved on. Honestly, it’s been quite painful. I never imagined as a pastor that people would care more about my cultural beliefs than my theological beliefs.
Our toxic behaviors are crippling our relationships. Rather than being ambassadors for love and peace among one another, we have instead chosen to be apologists for deeply held cultural beliefs. We are sacrificing one another on the altars of temporal issues that will matter none in light of eternity. As a follower of Jesus, I am reminded of Colossians 3:12-14,
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and forgiving one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you are also to forgive. 14 Above all, put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
I hope things begin to change, and I hope I can be a catalyst for that change. I fall short and have made mistakes in relationships. God has given us relationships so that we can experience glimpses of the love that He has shown us. He has given us relationships so that we can encourage and build one another up. We can do better, and we can be better. Let’s care less about how we believe the current issues of the day and care more about how much we believe in each other.
I miss Saturdays in Snellville, GA. I miss good-natured trash talk with your neighbor about the game. Let’s get back to the days when the only thing that could divide us was our favorite teams playing for a few hours one Saturday in November.
I was riding around my hometown today, passing many of the places I remember as a kid growing up. Snellville, GA was a great place to grow up. It had a small-town feel even though it was in the shadow of the big city of Atlanta. The traffic was much heavier today than it was in 1993 when I was driving my 1985 Pontiac Firebird. That was a great car. I remember testing the speed on that thing when they were building the Ronald Reagan Parkway in 1994. It handled well on that fresh asphalt. I drove by the Applebee’s where Kerrie and I had our first date (sort of, long story) back in early 1998. I think my brother worked there at one time. I drove by the Donut King where my friends and I and would get donuts on Sundays. We still made it to Sunday school but often late. I drove by the place where my friend’s dad had a BBQ restaurant. It’s not there anymore and now an extra lane of the highway runs where the parking lot used to be. I can’t remember why it was torn down, I heard it may have been a fire. I loved that place, and it was where my crew would meet for breakfast every Friday. My friend Chad’s dad owned it and he would make us special biscuits on our birthday. I worked there one summer and had a good time. I drove by the First Baptist Church where I grew up and was married. Those huge white columns that face the highway still remind me of so many memories. I took the long way back to my parents’ house and passed Maple St. My friends and I raced our cars there more than a few times. I noticed today that they have installed those giant speed bumps. I passed old Briscoe Park and the pool was packed. There are 4 lanes now instead of 2, but the park looks the same.
As I turned on Pate Rd and made my way back to my parents, so many memories came flooding my mind and my heart. People and places that I haven’t thought of in decades suddenly were fresh in my mind as though I had just experienced them. I love being home and I love being in my old hometown. It’s not the same and so much has changed but being back has me in my feelings. I wonder what it is about home that is so therapeutic. Even as I write this, our entire family is gathered in my parent’s living room watching the Atlanta Hawks game. It is game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals versus the Bucks. Everyone is engaged and it is loud in here! I love being home.
As I begin a few weeks of vacation with family, one of my goals is to rest. My soul is tired. I don’t need to sleep late or take naps; I need an extended time for my soul to be at rest. I read recently that a tired soul is like a broken bone in that it needs time to heal. I didn’t realize it was happening, but a slow drive through my hometown today began the restoration process for my soul.
Good memories are therapeutic. They have a way of soothing your soul. A flashback of a good memory is like a whisper of hope to your soul. It reminds you of the people and things that are important to you. The Applebee’s brought back the memories of courting my wife and how our journey together began. The Donut King brought back memories of growing up in a great church with faithful friends. Those years in church were foundational to my life and my career. Thinking about the old A&J’s Barbeque reminded me of the joy found in a loyal circle of friends. A quick spin around Snellville was like a good session with a trusted therapist.
Memories are our most endearing friend or our most relentless enemy. They can soothe our souls, or can torment our minds. Today, my memories are a faithful friend. They took me back to a place that I had not been to in a long time. They reminded me of a simpler, happy time in my life when I was surrounded by great friends and loving family. Everyone walks a different journey of soul care. There are varied steps along the journey toward a healthy soul. An important step on my journey is remembering. Remembering the great places and great people that shaped my early years. Remembering where I came from and the values I unintentionally learned as I was living my life. Remembering that no matter where you go and how long you are gone, you can always go back.