I am a person with a strong sense of origin and place and story, and when I connect with those themes my life is enriched. I am in the middle of a little whirlwind road trip where I’ve visiting some places and some people who have been important in my life. “Important,” of course, is far too bland of a word choice, but an accurate word may not have yet been invented.
These people, these places, these stories — they made me.
One such place is my hometown, a place I’ve written about before and will again. It is the furnace in which I was forged. It was life boot camp. It was everything for me, from the age of 8 to 20 when I finally stopped coming home every weekend in college.
A similar piece as this was originally published in The Salem News, my hometown paper for whom I write a couple columns each month. I hope it reminds you of your place, your origin, and your story. I hope it reminds you of Good News in your own life.
Salem has always been home. My guess is that it always will be.
When my family moved to Salem, a town of nearly 5,000 in southern Missouri, I was eight and it was all new. There was a new school to acclimate to (Go Northwood R-IV Panthers), new people, new streets and new church. Now, nearly 30 years later, it’s all so familiar. I haven’t lived in Salem for 15 years, but it’s still home. That’s the funny thing about home: Where you live may change, but home stays the same.
Of course, Salem has changed. Folks looking to slow life down arrive, and people wanting to speed life up depart. Small businesses open and close, larger-than-life legends die (I miss Coach Mike Ruble) and new legends emerge (the local “chief,” who no joke is called Chief Wana Dubie and has run for state political office, comes to mind). Salem is the sort of place that some people grumpily settle on, while others happily settle in. It’s not for everybody. No place is. But it was always for me.
I don’t mean by that simply that it was the town I preferred, I mean that it was a town that was for me. It believed in me.
It made me.
I’ll never forget when my buddy James’ mom took us to Sonic after school one day. I hadn’t brought any money. She bought me a grilled cheese with bacon. Small gesture, but she believed in me.
I’ll never forget Rod Farthing casting a vision of my future. He was my preacher and mentor. He remains one of the first few people I share all big life news with. He’s the reason I’m in ministry. He believed in me.
I’ll never forget Dr. Wayne Bertz making sure I got braces before I went off to college. I don’t know what he charged my family for his services, but he didn’t charge me what they cost. He believed in me.
I’ll never forget coach and Mrs. Ruble teaching and coaching, and encouraging me all through elementary school. Not to mention all the other teachers and coaches I enjoyed at Northwood, and when I moved into town for high school. I was educated by some fantastic people. They believed in me.
I can’t even begin to articulate the contribution of my parents — that’s a whole other blog — who identified a place to raise a family and stayed there, even when things were difficult, because they saw how I was being shaped, changed, challenged and cared for. They (this is the understatement of the century) believed in me.
To my hometown I say thank you, but I also must add this: You believed in me, and I believe in you.
As is true many places, you’re changing. You’re struggling. The future may seem uncertain. A new generation is coming of age. Assumptions are being challenged. The status quo is being interrupted. How will you respond? Will you rise to the occasion? Will you crumble under the mounting pressure of rapidly changing times? How can you ensure ongoing success for the town so many call “home?”
I will let politicians and economists debate the best strategic moves, but allow me to frame their debate with some sincere, albeit unsolicited, advice.
Keep looking each other in the eye. Serve one another. Love each other deeply. Buy each other grilled cheese and bacon sandwiches. Teach, coach and encourage. Cast a vision that works for all, and don’t give up on one another — even when it’s difficult.
Nearly every day I think of Salem as I take stock of my life. As the gratitude washes over me again, I am so aware of this truth: Salem didn’t give up on me. It believed in me.
I believe in Salem, too.