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Training Begins

This blog captures my understanding of the world around me. I’ve come to a place in my life where I’ve begun to view the world differently. More and more it seems that this world amazing as it is, is only the beginning and that what we accomplish here is a precursor to what lies beyond it.

This view has led me to see my interactions with others in a different way and to find peace in my life that I’ve never known before. I continue to strive and my ambition still drives me, but for a new purpose that is more meaningful than the money I may make or power I may gain. It drives me to be better because that is what is intended for us all to be our best selves and share that with each person, every day.

My hard work and talents have not become less important in this new view of life, they have in fact become more important than ever. They have been given a greater goal, to help all those that I can, to be the best husband, father, son, brother, and friend in this world as I train for the next.

I hope you enjoy my story and will share your own as well.

 

Christmas Eve with my Grandmother

The air is crisp as the sun sets on a late December day. I walk up the familiar stairs, and the door is opened before me. Stepping over the threshold my senses are filled. I smell the cooking of turkey, ham, and all the sides. I hear the music of carols and the overflow of conversations in full swing.

As I enter the sitting room, I’m met with turned heads and wide smiles. Weaving through the crowds of kisses and hugs I make my way to my grandmother, her hug just a bit longer than the rest. She tells me she bought olives and pickles just for me and takes me to them. I enter the living room and am once again greeted by the many smiling faces of my family. Sitting in the corner, lit perfectly, ornaments hung with care is the Christmas tree with packages for us all.

All of the children are playing outside and the bells of reindeer are heard as we search the sky for Santa’s sleigh.

It’s Christmas Eve. It’s a powerful night full of laughter and love, sisters and brothers, nephews and nieces, grandparents and grandchildren, all celebrating together. It’s a night that draws our family together so that we are closer when we are apart. As a child the night seems so normal, so easy, so common. I never understood its impact until the celebration was over, and my grandmother’s tradition was no more.

My grandmother was a southern woman who was born and raised in one town. When she was married, she moved onto her family’s property where she and my grandfather built their home and grew their family. Through the years she raised five children and worked to put them through college. From those five came thirteen, and from those thirteen have come twenty-one more.

In her children she bestowed the truth that in this world you have each other before anyone else. That the love of your siblings is the basis from which all love will follow. When you speak, you speak well of one another and never let a harsh word pass your lips. My grandmother raised her children to look at the world and see its beauty, to live in the light of the day. So many have their eyes focused on the darkness that surrounds us, but if you affix your eyes on the red of a rose its thorns can not be seen. These are the lessons that she lived in her life, to be kind, to be positive, to be proud, and to live with purpose.

My grandmother’s purpose was to raise the best family in this world. To build in it the traditions that would ensure the relationships of her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. Traditions are created by the will of a person to see their family return and share in their lives. For my grandmother, Christmas Eve was her tradition and each year that we all gathered we grew closer as we grew older. We shared in the lessons that she gave to our parents and shared in the vision of what a family should be. It should be kind, positive, proud and live with purpose.

The last Christmas Eve we celebrated at my grandmother’s we told stories, we laughed, children played and someone heard the bells on Santa’s reindeer as they searched the night sky. In twenty three years of my life I watched our family grow around this graceful woman’s hope and love. That night we didn’t know it would be the last Christmas Eve we would share, but it was as special as the first I ever remember.

The last time I spoke to her, she gave me one last gift and showed me what it means to live with hope in this world. Standing in the hospital room, my cousin and I held her hands as she laid in bed, and as we both expressed our love to her, she told us that she knew we would live amazing lives. That she was proud of who we had become. She gave us her strength at a time when her body was weak, but her spirit was strong. Her tradition had come to an end and it was our time to build the traditions of our families to come. To learn from her example and by her example build kind, positive, proud families that live with purpose.

Following her passing the family gathered, her family. To have a final celebration, to tell stories, to laugh, to cry, to watch children play. And though no one heard the ringing of bells from reindeer that day, they continue to ring in the hearts of all her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Harvesting the seeds of my Grandfather

Helping another person is not always our first thought in this world. As individuals we magnify our own needs, and it allows us to overlook those who are truly hurting and need our help. Searching for opportunities to give someone aid is not a lesson you are taught in school, but it’s the cornerstone of working in a team, in a family.  When I was thirteen, I witnessed what it meant to truly need help, to be humble, to be selfless, and learned a lesson I have never forgotten.

The day I was born I was given into a family with two strong grandfathers. One raised to work in the mill and the other raised to work on the farm. My Papa Pounds was a man of southern living and strong morals. He was a part of a group that started their own church in town, one that my aunt plays piano in today.

Through the age of twelve he was a grandfather that could shoot any bird out of the sky, catch any fish in the pond, and name any snake in the grass. When I close my eyes and think of what growing up should look like, his house always comes into focus.

It was a place for Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and Matlock to be watched. The kitchen was filled with cinnamon toast, bacon, and olive balls. The gun case next to his chair was filled with his tools for hunting dove, quail, and Thanksgiving turkey.

His friendships were long and deep in the community. Growing up, I was introduced around town as his grandson or the son of my father. My grandfather’s life granted us friendships that extended beyond our age or ability. He provided what a southern reputation always provides, a chance.

For twelve years I lived in witness to this great man, not knowing how he could be greater. Then I turned thirteen, and my grandfather became something else, something more. One day that year my dad got a call at home and rushed out of the house down our dirt road to my grandparents. My mother was nervous, and my brother, sister and I didn’t know what was happening.

We learned that my grandfather had a stroke and was rushed to the hospital. The stroke was devastating; it took away all the feeling in the left side of his body and slurred his speech. It was a moment no one would want to experience or perhaps live through. On my first visit to the hospital, my grandfather’s face that had been a place for joy and laughter now gave refuge to a sadness I’d never seen.

But that was not the end, it was a new beginning. In the next four years, I sat in the presence of a man who struggled with living each day. Through that struggle I also saw an appreciation. I saw a man who shared with me his love in a new way, an emotional way. In those four years, when my grandfather told me he loved me, those words carried a new, deeper meaning. Where he once gave so freely, love, admiration, confidence; he now had to work to utter each word of praise. That effort was a larger gift than the words themselves.

I watched as he humbled himself in those years. Allowing his grandson to help him, to support him, when my grandmother physically couldn’t. It was in those moments I saw how messy this world is, and how important one helping hand can be to someone that truly needs it. I saw those moments were harder on him than they were on me, and that’s when I realized. Helping someone else can be inconvenient; it can be costly, but the higher cost is paid by those you are helping, just in their asking. I was told once, “It’s not about you, it’s about him and don’t forget that.” and I haven’t.

I will never know the pain of my grandfather in those four years. I pray no one would. But what I do know is when I think back about my grandfather now, I don’t only see the man I knew those last four years. I see the man from the first twelve who taught me how to be a boy in the country, and I see the man from the last four who taught me how to be a man in this world.

He taught me to put other’s first. To look beyond my superficial struggles and open my eyes to the true pain and suffering around me. To not sit by and let those who struggle, struggle alone. Live in support of them, give them my strength, my love, and my faith.

When my grandfather left this world, he left his broken body, and a stronger family.

Through the Wilderness

The night had come, the moon full in the sky. As I walked down the path, I could see the shadows thrown by the trees. I walked slowly but purposely; I knew where I was going, but knew better than to pretend I held dominion over this place. Winding through the forest by the river, I strode on until a light appeared ahead, as I walked the light grew and with it strange sounds that were just the other side of identifiable. Slowing so as not to surprise those ahead I carefully crept forward my senses widened.

Standing behind a tree I could feel the fire giving off the light I had seen, and around the fire sat three people each talking in hushed tones. I stood and stared at the people, taking in what can only be described as their presence, because though they were there, they also seemed to permeate everywhere.

Who are these people?

Staring I could make out their shape, lit by the fire the men seemed normal. But as I looked from one to the next, between them there was a slight haze, blurring the outline of their bodies. Their faces were clear but not familiar to me, I thought some where in my mind that they should be, that I must know them but I could not reach that memory.

Slowly as though being willed to, I stepped forward into the light.

As I approached the fire, the man in the middle looked at me and gestured for me to sit on the log opposite him. Sitting I stared at my host, my mind racing with what to say. I felt that there were questions I should ask, answers I must know, but why, who were these men but strangers in the woods?

Just as I was trying to speak, the man in the middle said, “Thank you for joining us, the fire is warm and you are welcome to share in its light.”

“Thank you,” I said. “Why are you here?”

“We are here each night. What has brought you here tonight?”

I thought about the question. It seemed innocent enough, but as I began to answer, I realized I didn’t remember. As I pulled on my memory it seemed to begin with that first step in the woods, no further. “I’m not sure,” I replied.

“Do not be scared. You are here now, let the warmth of the fire comfort you, with its light we shall remain safe in these woods.”

Are there three men or only one?

We sat in the quiet of the woods; the fire burned and its warmth spread over me. After what seemed like an eternity, but must have been only minutes the man asked again. “What has brought you here?”

Slowly I spoke, “I was walking through the wilderness feeling led to this fire. I was compelled to come, but I don’t remember from where I began. I’m afraid that I was lost before we met.”

Smiling the man across the fire leaned forward. “All are lost until they find their way, each path only becomes clear to those who are ready to walk it.”

Of course you are lost until you find the path, otherwise you wouldn’t be lost. 

As I thought this, something else filled me and with it concern began to flood my mind. If I was lost before I arrived, where did I lose myself?

“I can see the conflict in your eyes,” said the man. “Do not fear this, let it work through you, for only in this conflict can you find your answers. Focus on the heat of the fire, you are safe here.”

My mind was raging trying to remember, trying to put the pieces together of where I began.  What came before that first step in the woods, the minute before, the second before was just out of reach. What compelled me to walk through the woods? What led me to this fire? Why do I trust these men and why don’t the other two speak? On and on my mind worked, but answers were just on the other side of a veil I could not lift, could not tear!

Amnesia! It must be, but as I start to believe this, memories surface of my family and friends. I know who they are, I know they are all safe in their homes, sleeping though this night.  So why am I here, and why do I know so much and yet nothing at all?

At this I look at the man through the flames, and it’s then I notice that where three sat now sits only one. I know that seconds ago there were three men there, “Where did your friends go?”

“They are here, they remain among us.”

“But where did they go, have they left the fire?”

“They did not leave, they are here with me and with you. They were never separate from us. I sat here alone and among them.”

In disbelief my mind raced, I was not sure what I should do. How does one man live among two others without them next to him?

“Do you know my name? Do you know the name of the others of which you speak?”

Thinking, I was afraid to speak the names that are in my head. I fear that the man will think me insane or ridicule me. But after the events of the night there are few things that seem sane, yet I feel at ease when I finally speak. “You are Jesus.”

“Yes”

“There was no one beside you.”

“No. You only saw me as three, because you could not yet see.”

“So why am I here?”

“You were compelled here by the spirit, the fire of God lit your path, and brought you to me.”

“Why can’t I remember anything before?”

“Nothing before your first step on this path matters. All of your actions, your sins have been washed away so that you could come to me.”

“Have I died?”

“No, but you are reborn and from this day you will know me. You will remember the feeling of the Holy Spirit moving in you and the warmth of God’s protective fire.”

“What would you have me do?”

“Live your life. It’s the most precious gift that can be given. It must be cherished and shared. In knowing me, you can live a life with purpose. In knowing me, your works and your deeds will be in my name. It’s in these works and deeds that you can share my name.”

“What if I forget you as I’ve forgotten my life before?”

“I will always remain. Seek and you will find me. The Holy Spirit will guide you, if you will let it and God’s light shines brighter than the brightest star.”

“Where do I go now. Can I stay with you?”

“You will return and remember all things. I will never leave you and will always be at your side. Many will question you, criticize you, remember you know me and I know you. You are a reflection of my good will, share only that good will, so that they may come to know me as well.”

Sitting in the presence of Jesus, I was overtaken with his love. I felt the warmth grow around me; I became calm and smiled.

“Go now to your life, love others as I love you. Share God’s warmth in your heart and the Holy Spirit within you, so that it may move in them.

My eyes opened, I lay in bed beside my wife. I smiled knowing that I was forever changed.

History of a short story

Stories are the vehicle in which our histories travel. They carry the spark of our imagination from one generation to the next. Linking each person to the one that came before them. Through each story we are connected through time from this present to the most distance past.

Within in each of us, we have stories of our past, our lessons learned. We have stories from our dreams and our fears. They are begging to be released, to be shared, never meant to be caged.

Here is where I leave for the world my short stories. My creations fueled by the experiences of my past, the hopes of my future, and the reality of my elusive present.

– JP

Working with my Grandmother

We inherit many gifts of those from which we come, but the greatest gift my grandmother gave, she let us earn.

On my 8th birthday I was given a present that has shaped my life and driven my success.  I was hired by my grandmother. For four years I watched my brother return from her events exhausted, but paid, and it was finally my turn.

As an upcoming third grader I was given the job of unloading the van during the day, loading it at night and bussing the tables in between. My grandmother gave us jobs based on our age, so they were based on our experience. I didn’t just walk in and start carving the meat, it took years to reach that level. My oldest cousin was the only one at the time who had reached such heights, we were given something to aspire too.

We would work for hours setting up, serving, and breaking down the events. We would get dirty from the clean up and tired from the effort, but no one complained. We worked to meet the standards we knew our grandmother held for us and for her company. She pushed us to be our best simply by believing we would and giving our young effort real value.

As your job was decided by your age, so was your paycheck. With every birthday you earned five more dollars at each event and though we didn’t recognize it, you worked that much harder.

During the week and the weekend there were many events my grandmother catered, and I was not selected to work them all. She would choose who would come to each event and staff them according to their size. If chosen you joined her team of cooks and servers for the night. Since work was not a given, we often were asking my grandmother when we could work again.

My grandmother was an exceptional woman, I’m proud to be her grandson, but even more, I’m proud of the lessons she was willing to teach me. She took a chance on each of us to represent her company night after night. She showed us love through her confidence in us, and provided the chance for us to discover we had value in the world.

As adults we tell children all the time that they can be anything they put their mind to; that even if they never thought it possible, it can be a reality.

My grandmother gave us a gift that ran deeper. She showed us how we reach what may seem impossible, not through hopes and dreams, but through work and time. If you put in the effort needed and the time required you can do anything in this world. I know that my grandmother believed that for each of her grandchildren; she would believe it of her great-grandchildren and all children.

We earn what is truly in important in life; it can never be given.

In 3rd grade I earned my gift, wearing a cummerbund, with a tray in my hand, and a smile on my face.

A walk with my Grandfather

After a small accident on an afternoon at my grandparents house I found myself walking alone with my grandfather. My head was wrapped in a wet towel with his hat to keep pressure on the oversized dressing. My age at this time is a little fuzzy, probably due to the head wound I sustained.

We walked down the road and as is the tradition my grandfather began to impart his wisdom on to me. He comes from a time when credit was not as ubiquitous as it is now. When hard work meant working hard to the point of physical exhaustion and your work clothes rarely included a tie.

My grandfather told me as we walked how tough I was and how proud he was of me. He explained that there are times in life when you have to move past the pain and move on. We have to put one foot in front of the other and continue down the road. Eventually wounds will heal and pain will go away. As always he said “when you’re president” this skill will be very important. Then the story began.

When he was working at the mill one day a strike was called and everyone went home. The union was negotiating for more money and the company was holding out. Home he went to his family of five and searched for something to sustain them while the strike was resolved. He knew he couldn’t control the union or the company but he could find a way to take care of his family. He traveled to Daytona for work it wasn’t much and the drive was long, but on he went. He saw his family less but they all ate and he made sure his children would not feel the pain of this time.

The strike dragged on and one day he got a phone call from the mill. The leadership wanted to promote him to supervisor. This would mean he could go back to work but it would also mean leaving the union. He considered his options but his choice was clear, he chose the promotion and secured his families future. Some were upset by this and disagreed with him, but his conscious was clear. He made his decision based on what really matters, his family.

As he told me this story he said that when you take on responsibility you have to rise to its challenges. Your decisions are not based on the what’s best for someone else or even yourself, they have to begin with the family you support.

From this point his career grew eventually trading in his work clothes for the tie. With his success so grew his family. From that one decision among many he made before and would make after he helped foster a family of greatness.

Simply by moving past the pain, controlling what he could, and continuing to take the next step down the road.

 

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