The Christmas season has always been my favorite part of the year. I cherish time spent with close friends and family and love all of the festivities and holiday decor that it brings. For many of us, this is the time to pause our hectic schedules and remember the true meaning of Christmas, and also reflect upon the past as we look to the future.
The past 11 months have been very challenging for me. I lost my father very suddenly in January. Dad wasn’t just a parent. He was my guiding star, my mentor, my confidant and the person I have strived most to emulate in my professional and civic career. Certainly, my Mom played a critical role in my life raising my brother, sister and me. She purchased most of our clothes if she didn’t make them herself. Then she stitched them back together when we wore them out.
Mom nursed us when we were sick, comforted us when we were in distress, and loved on us even when we were bad. (Okay, mostly it was me who was bad!) And while I love my Mom to the moon and back, I was always a daddy’s boy. I admired how involved he was in our community. As a kid, I was so proud watching him play ball, stand up and give a talk in front of the church, and when called upon – serve as the president or chairman of so many different local civic groups.
Later in life, when I led some of the same organizations that my Father guided in prior years, he counseled me. Perhaps his greatest advice when I was faced with several controversial decisions was, “Do the right thing no matter how unpopular it may be. Don’t make a decision in the moment because you’re going to remember it for a lifetime.” He also shared, “We do not choose when we set an example!”
Dad was never an executive with a chamber of commerce, though he was involved with the Rock Hill Chamber. But he recognized how much I enjoyed civic service and encouraged me to pursue a career in association management. This year marks 27 years at the helm of a chamber of commerce helping businesses grow and prosper while making it a great community to live, work, and play.
The hardest thing this year has been going through the boxes and boxes of personal papers, mementos, pictures, and notes at our family farm. I thought I was a pack rat until I started going through Dad’s closets and storage areas and emptying the attic at his home. Among the many letters and papers I found was a copy of a note he wrote to my brother’s daughter who was joining the church. In the letter he cited two guiding principles he relied on. One was a scripture verse from the New Testament, Matthew 5 Chapter 16; “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”
The other was a line from the Jaycee Creed: “Service to humanity is the best work of life.” As I continued to read the letter, tears welled up in my eyes as I could hear his voice. The cadence of his words spoke boldly of his thoughts. The thoughts speaking to intention, and the intentions which were louder than the words. As I set the box of letters aside, I thought about how Dad’s life was a candle which burned brightly against the darkness. Before his flame flickered out too soon at the age of 81, he completed a lifetime of work, and left his community much better than he found it.
It was late as I finished for the night. I walked outside on the back deck and looked up at the twinkling stars. The moon was full, and I peered across the pasture to the old ragged barn silhouetted against the horizon.
I couldn’t help but think in this Christmas Season what those travelers from the East thought two thousand years ago as they followed their star. Those three wise men who left behind their life and followed the light. The journey they made and the legacy we remember.
As I stood in the crisp country air, I heard the sound of a young calf piercing the darkness and felt a warm rush against the nighttime chill. It was as if my Grandmother was throwing a shawl around my shoulder to keep me warm….as she had many times when I was a child. In that moment, I could feel the love that surrounded me and the lessons that Dad left. Among them, “It’s not just about the destination we seek but the journey along the way … and the many lives we touch getting there.”
In this holiest of seasons, I wish each and every one of you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!