I have spent the past week trying to communicate some of the stuff I wrote below because today I’ll pack everything I own into a Honda Civic and drive to Austin, TX. So I took a second (or rather a week) to reflect on my time in one of the greatest cities in the country.
I moved to Athens when I was 9 years old. So I’ve spent a little over a decade here. My most pivotal years were spent in this city. I am a product of the people I’ve met here and therefore a product of this city.
I’ve lived through thousands of “Saturday’s in Athens”, chugged gallons of Jittery Joe's coffee, and I’ve spent months in Two Story (rip) and Jittery Joe's coffee shops. I’ve logged a little under 80,000 miles on the roads of Athens and could probably get anywhere with my eyes closed at this point. I bought my first concert ticket at the Georgia Theater, my first college football game was at UGA, and my first bar experience was in downtown Athens.
I've made lifelong friends in Athens. Friends who piss you off and make you laugh till you cry. Athens became a place where I regularly saw people I knew. Whether running down Milledge or just buying groceries. I always said no place really feels like home until you run into someone you know. That was Athens for me. A place of safety and comfort. A place where the stakes weren’t so high if you failed. A place of community.
Just outside of Athens, I was apart of one of the greatest groups of human beings on the planet. I regularly attended Watkinsville First Baptist where I chose to follow Jesus, where I was baptized, and where I decided what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I learned what community was there. I learned that any group of people sharing life together are going to cause a lot of friction/drama. I learned not to give up or run away because of that, but love more because of those differences.
I learned what it meant to study the bible and dive deep into it like it’s a bottomless pool, and everything and everyone your soul could ever need is at the bottom of it. I learned how to teach the things I learned from studying the Bible and that they should probably have tighter qualifications for who they let teach it.
Here we go...
I was shaped and molded by some of the wisest, loving men I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. Men who would take time out of literally providing for their families just to talk through my little high school problems. Men who wouldn’t sugar coat what life would be like 10, 20 years down the road. Men who would wake up at 6am to walk you through a book, help you through a struggle, and most of all just be vulnerable. Something I have never seen outside of the church.
Men who would not only do that but who would invite you to watch their own life too. Watch them screw up and see how they apologize. Watch how they parent, how they love their wives, how to correctly handle anger, show mercy, and protect those who can't protect themselves. I am forever in debt to the guys I met at that church. I am forever in debt to that church in general. You couldn’t find something I would trade for the relationships I made at Watkinsville First Baptist.
You see I’ve learned a few things about community from my time in Athens. The first is that everyone needs it. Trust me I’ve tried going at this life alone and it sucks. 0/10 would not recommend. There is no excuse to not seeking out community. No amount of friction or differences should push you away from finding community.
The second thing I've learned is that the people I’m blessed with are what makes life bearable. You’re a complete idiot if you put the things of this world or your ego before the people in your life.
The third thing I’ve learned, and basically what I’ve been reminded of every day is that these things aren’t forever. Your friends aren’t forever. Your family isn’t forever. Most everything in your life has an appointed date and time to end. Well, aren’t we all happy now. But if you constantly find yourself longing for something this world can’t fulfill (which I have been a lot recently), maybe you were made for more than this world (wink to CS Lewis). Maybe you were made for a type of community that never ends. No matter where you are, that place has an expiration date. That’s not always a bad thing though because growth is synonymous with change. Also typically when a really great thing ends, another one begins.
I say all of this not to make Athens seem amazing (because it already is), but in hope that you slow down. You see, ever since I've had a date circled on my calendar of when my time here would end a feeling of helplessness came over me. There was nothing I could do but watch as the days slipped through my fingers. There's nothing any of us can do. So what I started to do was pause and take it all in. I started to take a second when I was hanging out with friends or just driving in Athens I would look around and just sit and exist in gratitude. A practice I will continue to do, or at least try to do, for the rest of my life.
Life is something most of us take for granted. I mean have you ever thought of the odds of you being geographically where you are on earth, when you are in history, and among who you're with now? Have you ever stopped to think about how limited your time is where you are now?My guess is if we did stop and think about that, we would start living more intentionally. My guess is we wouldn’t just watch as our time passes by, but we would squeeze every last minute out of it.
*Cue "Open Your Eyes" by Snow Patrol or "Rivers and Roads" by The Head and the Heart