Thanks Frank

It was so muddy.565b1b43bd639.image

It was kind of mud that weighs down your boots and waits for you to chip it away days later and it was clinging to my soles as I slide through the trees.

It was my first time walking through Stadium Woods. Previously my father had always led me through campus on game day, but he was away on a church trip and my grandfather had assumed his duties. We’d parked in a neighborhood and began this curious hike with me completely lost.

But all at once the trees parted and Lane Stadium smacked me in the face. This would become the path I would take friends on to get to games for years to come.

That day we witnessed what I believe to be the most important game in Virginia Tech’s history of playing football as the 0-2 Hokies defeated No. 17 Miami 13-7. It was the first time Tech had beaten the Hurricanes and the last Tech game my grandfather, 78 year old at the time, watched live.

More importantly, I believe it was the day many of us realized Frank Beamer had turned the football team we’d long followed into a football program.

Tech would of course not lose another contest that year and cap the season with a Sugar Bowl victory over Texas, the third bowl in what now stands as a streak of 23.

As Beamer heads towards bowl 23 and his finale as at the Hokies’ helm, plenty of folks have lined up to give thanks for his work at Tech. Others have questioned why a football coach, who earns a better paycheck than most, deserves such admiration.

Perhaps the latter is with good cause, I mean, Beamer has long since paid for his last drink in Blacksburg.

But it’s more than football program the fella from Fancy Gap built in Blacksburg. It’s more than a big stadium or an increase in local hotel bookings and restaurant sales each fall weekend. It’s an identity. Not just for a team or a university, but for an entire region. A region that needed something homegrown in which to take pride.

My earliest memories of Tech football don’t include Beamer. Actually, they don’t really even involve football.

My earliest memory is of hugging the Hokie bird in the East stands and the outfit not having gloves. I saw fingernail polish on the Hokie bird’s nails and was pissed no one cared to inform me the Hokie bird was a girl. They were so “ew” at the time.

My father, along with both his parents, had gone to Tech, so we always kept up with the football team. It wasn’t the way folks keep up with the team now though, it was much more like following the local high school team you just hope beats the cross-town rival each year.

When Beamer took over as head coach at Tech for us it was almost like an old family friend was running the show. My grandfather had worked with Frank’s father at the Virginia Department of Transportation and my father would later work with Frank’s brother in a similar role. So for a time, it less Coach Beamer and more that Raymond’s son had taken over the Hokies.

My fellow elementary school students didn’t wear Tech colors, I can’t remember ever seeing a Hokies flag in a yard and the local sports section was often dominated by that other school in Charlottesville.

A change began when Tech entered the Big East and I can clearly remember my dad video taping Tech 23-43 loss to No. 1 Miami in ’92. I didn’t really understand his excitement then, but maybe he knew something big was on the horizon.

We didn’t attend any games in 1993, but we listened to each on them on the radio as we would drive back to Christiansburg from fixing up a house we were trying to sell in Rural Retreat each weekend. We watched the Independence Bowl on the TV in my parents’ bedroom and my dad promised season tickets for the following year as a reward for my help with the house.

This began a long stretch of memories in Lane Stadium, which were much clearer, and much more football oriented, than my earliest ones.

I was there that Thursday night when Ken Oxendine announced himself against West Virginia. I was there when Tech beat Miami for the first time. And I was there when fans stormed the field and lifted Beamer up after beating Boston College to celebrate the first undefeated season in school history.

I can remember earlier in that ’99 season watching Michael Vick and Shayne Graham pull off the miracle in Morgantown and later my father being surprisingly happy about the fight the team showed despite losing to Florida State in the national title game.

Kind of like the Gospel of John, I suppose their might not be enough books in the world to record all my memories and feelings during Beamer’s tenure at Tech.

Would my life have contain such memories and bonds with family, friends and strangers without Beamer? Maybe, but probably not.

Would a kid who was made fun of in middle school for wearing a Hokies Starter jacket (the sweet pull-over kind) grow up to see such demand for apparel that a special Tech section in the local Wal-Mart was created? Doubtful.

Would we as southwest Virginians have stopped describing where we are from to outsiders in terms of our proximity to Roanoke or Bristol and instead just say, “Near Virginia Tech?” Not a chance.

So yeah, thanks Coach Beamer.

Tech will soon have another coach, but they will never have another Frank Beamer.

 

 

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Happy birthday, Dale Earnhardt

When I was little I really liked NASCAR. Looking back I can’t really explain this, I just have to accept it and attempt to move on as best I can.

My favorite driver was Bill Elliott, because “Awesome Bill,” duh.

On the other hand, the driver I hated, and I mean like worse than Skeletor, was Dale Earnhardt. In my mind he was mean, he raced dirty, and he didn’t seem to feel one bit bad about it.

I hated that dude so much I once got a die cast of his car and completely smashed it with a hammer to make it look like he’d wrecked.

That die cast is worth like $100 today. Go figure.

One Christmas I received all the die casts from the major drivers in a giant packet. It was like 25 cars, complete with driver cards that gave little facts about each guy behind the wheel. During this time I was also really interested in seeing in which month people were born. I have no idea why, I wasn’t really into horoscopes or anything, but perhaps I just wanted to feel connected to successful people.

So as soon as I got those cards I flipped through to see when Awesome Bill was born. His birthday is Oct. 8, just in case you want to send a card or something.

I continued through the other cards kind of hoping some other cool driver would at least be born in April, like me.

Then I got to Mr. Earnhardt, aka, Mr. Poop-mustache, according to 8-year-old Travis, and sure enough, Dale Earnhardt was born on April 29, 1951.

Not only was my sworn enemy born in the same month as me, he was born on the same freaking day. (This is a phenomenon that would later in life become known as, “Travis Luck.”)

Now, that sucked. I mean, how could I completely hate this guy now that I knew we were linked by birth dates? Now that I had realized we were kind of alike?

Truth be told, I couldn’t, and from that day forward my detest of the elder Earnhardt lessened. Granted, I still made fun of his mustache and driving goggles and I would never sport a “3” decal on my car, but my hate began to diminish.

It’s funny how that works.

It’s funny how the moment we allow ourselves to realize we have something in common with another person it becomes harder to hate him or her and easier to relate.

Maybe if we make our commonalities, rather than our differences, the foundation for our feelings about one another, we’ll spend a lot less time smashing up each others die cast cars.

— @TravisKWilliams

 

 

 

 

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Resolution no. 5: Do stuff

I write a lot about big concepts, ideology, and life philosophies.

That’s all well and good because I thoroughly enjoy thinking and discusses such topics, but the fact of the matter is that sometimes those thoughts are hard to put in place because of their complexity. Sometimes simply knowing where to begin when it comes to being a human being or valuing yourself appropriately is a challenge.

So for my final New Year’s resolution-themed blog I’m just going to write three things I want to do in 2015. This is an idea I totally ripped off from Donald Miller. In a post on his Storyline blog, Miller said he only aims to complete three projects each year to help eliminate the temptation to attempt to do too much.

I think that’s smart. Most of the time my life kind of resembles my efforts to clean up my house. I find myself bouncing between about 10 different tasks, never fully completing any of them, and eventually just giving up and watching Netflix.

So focusing on three things seems wise. Here are mine.

1. Clean, polish, edit, and submit my book to someone.

I spent much of my free time last year penning the rough draft of my book about Bible college. It might not be the greatest book ever, but it also might not be the worst. I owe it to myself to doll it up the best I can and find out.

2. Volunteer with something

I spent much of my early 20s volunteering. Most of it was church related and while it was fun, I think it got to be a bit too much for a very confused 20 something. I got burned out and then busy with grad school, so volunteering became more miss than hit.

I’d like to fine something to do, someone to help. I’m not talking anything huge, just something worthwhile that could ease me back into that mode of helping people. I’m also not sure exactly what this service will look like, but I’m going to do my best to be open to opportunities that come my way.

3. Take my professional writing to a new venue

I’ll be honest, I’m getting restless in my professional life. I would have never guessed I would end up a newspaper reporter, and not get me wrong, I really dig my job about 75 percent of the time, but there is a drive in me for something else. There is some need inside me to do something more creative, more big picture, and not so southwest Virginia centric.

Will it be getting back into the world of sketch comedy or maybe an attempt at stand-up? I don’t know.

Maybe a creative side project with a non-profit or an entire career move? I don’t know.

All I know is that I want to have tried something new by the year’s end and I’m all ears to suggestions.

So there are my three things to do this year. I guess maybe they are still a little vague in places, but I think it’s a good place to start, and sometimes that’s the hardest part.

–@TravisKWilliams

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Resolution no. 4: Invest me better

One time Jesus told a story about a man who gave three of his servants a whole bunch of his money and left on a journey.

When he returned, he called his servants to see how each of them had used this money in his absence. Two had invest the money and turned a profit, while the third got all terrified of life, buried his money in the ground, and gained nothing.

Investments are tricky like that. They’re all about taking calculated risks, which can be a scary proposition for many of us.

Thanks to my lucrative careers as both a writer and a teacher, I’ve never really spent much time dealing with monetary investments. I’ve instead spent a lot more time investing the far more precious and non-renewable currencies of life, and often doing so poorly.

Whether we realize it or not, each of us is born with a slate of  investable items. We’re born with a heart, a set of talents, and time, all of which we can invest in people, causes, or projects as we so choose.

A lot of responsibility comes with the decision of where to invest because these are all limited items. You only have so much of your heart to give away, your talents can only stretch so far, and you have less time to spend at this moment than you did when you started reading this blog.

Because of our limited resources deciding how we best put them to use is a critical task and can become quite daunting, and even terrifying.

That fear can lead us to burying our valuables in a coffee tin in the backyard, rather than putting them to use.

For me, it’s my past investments gone wrong that most often cause me to go running for the coffee tin. It’s the irrational idea that history will always repeat itself exactly, which is totally false because if so we’d never have a single scientific or cultural advancement. Sure, there are a lot of loses in life, but loses don’t negate the possibility of success.

But regardless me realizing this, when my investment terms begin to mirror those of past poor deals, I get scared and become cautious. Don’t get me wrong, caution is good when it comes to our valuables, but when the fear of failure overrides the calculation of success, we tend pull out, go hide, and waste our potential.

I think Satan loves it when we let our pasts rip away at our potentials. I think he takes joy in that paralyzing fear because he knows it prevents anything new and good from being produced.

So my fourth resolution for 2015 is to invest me wiser and without fear, in that order, and see where my potential leads.

What will the investments I make yield? I don’t know.

But I know exactly what I’ll have if I make none — nothing.

I just wasn’t made to be buried in the ground like that.

— @TravisKWilliams

 

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Resolution no. 3: Manage life’s losses

“Sometimes you win, sometimes you learn.”

I have no idea where that saying came from, but Christiansburg’s head football coach Tim Cromer was the first person I heard use it. It was in a post-game interview following a tough loss and I found it to be quite brilliant that the coach was able to see the game as a tool helpful in bettering himself and his team, rather than just a failure.

Truth be told, most of us are going to have more losses in life than wins.

Most of our lives will more closely resemble a professional baseball player at bat, rather than an NBA star at the free-throw line. If a batter succeeds in getting a hit a third of the time, he’s a great player, but a pro basketball player who succeeds at free throws even 70 percent of the time is considered mediocre at best.

Being that most of us are far more like the batter, we’re no stranger to striking out. We’re no stranger to losing, to failing, and to simply coming up short.

It seems we have two option when facing those failures; We can claim it was just a bad day and continue along the path that led us to the loss, or we can look at the failure as a tool for making us better people. We can learn from our mistakes and learn to see the pitfalls of failure and avoid them before we’re sunk.

I have, however, found avoidance to be a fine line and I’ve found it easy to use my failures as an excuse for sitting out life’s games altogether. If you don’t play, you can’t lose, right?

That seems to make sense at first, but in reality, it’s miserable because you also can’t win. I’ve learned that you can’t half-ass life like that and expect to be fulfilled. Life demands to be whole-assed.

Life can’t be lived on the sidelines for the fear of losing, that risk will always be present along side the possibility of winning. If by learning from our failures we become too paralyzed to go all-out for future victories, what we’ve learned is a waste.

“Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it…Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours.” — C.S. Lewis

Losing can be used as a tool, but the reality is that tool is no good unless someone is willing to put it to work and is at its best when the worker is fully dedicated to whatever job it’s being used to complete.

In the past I’ve done a poor job of learning from my losses in life. I’ve fallen into the trap of repeating my mistakes and I’ve fallen into the trap of removing myself from life altogether.

Neither have led to winning.

Along with my other resolutions in 2015, I want to manage my losses better. I want to see them as a tool I can use to better select the moves I make in life and to give me the confidence to go all-out when making them.

I know I won’t always be winning, but I want to always be working towards winning.

— @TravisKWilliams

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Resolution no. 2: I’m too valuable for a yard sale

Growing up, every now and then we’d have a yard sale.

Yard sales can be a pretty cool and a good way of generating a little extra coin by selling some of your less desired item.

But they can also suck, especially when you find that your life-size stuffed Alf doll is on the market for a cool 50 cents. Seriously, Alf for just 50 cents? That’s criminal at best, I tell you.

I was always fairly good at evaluating, or re-evaluating, the items my mom had tossed in with the yard sale lot. I’ve always been fairly good at realizing how much items are worth to me and the investment it would take for me to give them up.

I’ve never been that great, however, at evaluating what I’m worth and I’ve never even been close to good at realizing the value at which I should be sold.

As a result I’ve often gave myself away at a yard sale price. Whether it be in relationships, friendships, or work, I’ve very often allowed myself to become fully invested without even the hope of ever seeing close to my true market value in return.

I’ve sold myself short and gave myself away demanding very little in return. Of course the solution to this problem seems simple, I should just raise my price, right?

But I find that’s so much easier said that done. I find it hard to step back and honestly see my true value, to see all the qualities which should raise my price, and much easier to see the many scars and flaws that I feel depreciate my value.

It’s far easier for me to see myself more like the old stuffed animal worth 50 cents, rather than like the treasured relict from one of TV’s most underrated shows.

I can only imagine this breaks God’s heart and at the same time feels Satan with joy.

The God who created me with a brain capable of dreaming up impossible dreams, an ability to be creative and think outside of the box, and a heart that longs to use both of those to make the world a better place, is likely pretty pissed off to see giving myself up in exchange for 50 cents.

While Satan no doubt loves it because he knows the pain and scars that result each time that cheapening transaction occurs. He knows the debilitating effects such each sale has on God’s creation and I’m sure is stoked to see those effects hinder the creation’s ability to produce good works and find true joy.

I decided on New Year’s Day that in the coming year I need to spend more time simply being a human being, but along with that, I need to strive to embrace the true value of this human being.

I need constantly keep in mind my true worth and refuse to give myself away for anything less.

I need to embrace that God didn’t create me for a yard sale. — @TravisKWilliams

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Embracing being

10888438_10153529068163797_6648744941089957442_nThis morning I got to witness the first sunrise of 2015.

It a rather sporadic decision since I’m generally far more a “buy a picture of a sunrise” guy than the kind that chases them down for himself, but for some reason I really had a strong desire to watch the sun take it’s place on the first day of the year.

So I found a spot on top of a hill and watched as cool pink lines began to crawl across the blue sky just to be overtaken by the warm yellow glow of the sun as it peaked over the mountains. It was a scene I’m confident the world’s best artists would struggle to replicate.

And then I was hit with this thought: I didn’t have to do anything to make that happen. I just had to be there in the moment and soak it in.

I spent a lot of 2014 doing stuff. I worked hard to finally get bumped up to a higher status at work, I complied more than 60 new posts to this blog, and I spent the majority of my weekends writing a first draft of a book about my time in Bible college.

By summer, what I was doing had become who I was. I was a writer, so I wrote. That was my identity.

But around September, and with about 85 percent of my rough draft complete, I ran out of words. I’d never really experienced anything like it before, but I just felt dried up and struggled to continue doing stuff. I quit writing my book, almost never posted on this blog, and focused what little fuel I had left on my job because, you know, food and heat are cool.

Then the holidays came and with them some much needed vacation time. Two days ago I finally sat down and forced myself to churn out a conclusion of sorts for my book and here’s the gist what I came up with:

Sometimes in life we forget that we’re not human doers, we’re human beings. And until we learn to be, we’ll never really be able to fully do.

Oddly enough it was the same thought that resonated with me this morning. I wasn’t acting as a doer, I was simply being and watching as another year began.

In 2014, I tried to become a human doer. I made doing my focus and as a result ended up burnt out and unfulfilled.

Doing is tricky like that and it’s easy to get so focused on doing, you forget to be and even worse, that you see taking the time to be, as a waste.

But that’s a lie. Being is not about not doing, it’s about acceptance.

It’s about accepting and embracing who you are, everything you can do and, more importantly, that you can’t do everything.

And it’s about trusting that is enough.

Being takes faith and without it our doing will always eventually fall short.

So in 2015 my plan is to fully embrace my status as a human being because I’ve learned that’s the only way I won’t fail as a human doer.

— @TravisKWilliams

 

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What I learned about Jesus’ birthday when I turned 19

back porch theology

I’ve had some pretty awesome birthdays.

There was the 1987 “Ghostbusters” themed party, complete with proton pack and “Ghostbusters” logo cake. The 1991 birthday where I finally got a basketball goal. And who could forget the 1995 party where Virginia Tech basketball legend — at least in my mind — Shawn Smith attended fresh off hitting the final two foul shots to seal the NIT Title and played put-out with me and my friends.

I could go on and describe a few more good birthdays, or I could tell you about a few not so good ones, like the sweet-16 birthday urination clothes story (I’ll just keep that one in my back pocket for now) but instead I’m going to tell you about the weirdest birthday I’ve ever had — my 19th birthday.

I was in college at what was then Roanoke Bible College and is now the all grown…

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The common nature of the Christmas visitors

There are few events more exciting in life than coming home after you’ve been gone for a while.

I went to college about six hours from where I grew up, so I know this feeling well. It’s not as much going-to-Disneyland exciting as it is finding-$10-in-the-pocket-of-an-old-pair-of-pants exciting. And there is a difference, trust me.

Regardless, each time I returned, there was a short list of people I immediately wanted to see.

We all have those people in our lives, and whether we admit it or not, the great majority of us have our visits to those folks prioritized. It makes sense. I mean, there’s not chance I wasn’t going to see my grandpa or my best friends when I was in town, but my high school Spanish teacher? Eh, I might just catch up with her the next time I show up in town.

On Thursday, us Christians will celebrate the day Jesus first showed up in town and I think it’s very telling who the first people were God wanted his son to visit.

It wasn’t a king, or a governor, or even a priest.

It was a group of dudes who made their living by sleeping in a field watching sheep. Seriously, does any little boy or girl grow up dreaming of that career?

OK, maybe they do, who am I to judge their dreams, but regardless, I think it’s fair to say these were not Bethlehem’s A-listers, yet they were the very first people to get to spend time with Jesus. The very first people to get to encounter God in the flesh.

At the time this might have seemed a little surprising to Mary and Joseph. I mean, here they just witnessed a series of angel-laced miraculous events and the first person they get to share their story with is Jimmy the herder?

But as Jesus’ life went on, it became very clear, it was the herder Jimmys of the world with which he was most concerned.

Whether it was the woman at the well, the short guy in the tree, or the dudes he drafted to become “fishers of men,”(not fishmen, as they are occasionally mistaken to have been) Jesus seemed to value his time with those folks just as much, if not more, than any time he spent with the more high society type folks of the day.

Throughout history the church has too often lost sight of this characteristic of Jesus. It has too often overlooked the value of the common people in exchange for those the world views as more important.

It’s too often forgot that one of the best aspects of Jesus is his ability to put all people on a level playing field. The rich, the poor, the healthy, the sick, those who’ve sinned some and those who’ve sinned a lot. Everyone has an absolute 100 percent equal need for Jesus and he has an absolute 100 percent equal desire to fill that need.

The truth is, we’re all common people in Jesus’ eyes.

But the good new is, that’s exactly who he came here to visit.

–@TravisKWilliams

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Celebrating the game-changer

I had a family member die this week. It wasn’t someone that I was super close to, but it was someone I cared about and enjoyed.

It seems very reasonable a death during the holidays would hit extra hard. I mean, with all that time set aside specifically for  love ones, it seems the sudden absence of a person could cast a large shallow over the entire event.

But this really isn’t the case for me. In fact, outside of the impact this death has had on my other family members, I’m really not that sad about it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m not going to miss the guy and it’s not that I don’t see the sensitive nature of this time of year.

Quite the contrary. I think it’s because I do see exactly what we’re celebrating this season and it’s impact on our lives.

I see the game-changer.

When you’re writing about a sporting event you’re supposed to try your best to identify the game-changer. It’s that pivotal point at which one team takes control over the game’s outcome and never looks back. A blocked punt, a clutch three-pointer, or a pitcher fighting his way out of a jam. The type of critical moment a fan looks back on and says, “That was exactly when we started to win.”

For Christians, we’re currently in the midst of celebrating the beginning of our game-changer — the birth of Jesus.

Nothing after Jesus life, death, and resurrection would ever be the same. It was not only the pivotal point in God’s overall relationship with humankind, but it’s also the pivotal point in each of our individual lives.

Post Jesus, nothing is the same. Life is no longer just some brief inwardly focused experience and death is no longer the end of it.

The game has changed, the season extended, and though at times we might feel the pain of being down a few points, the truth of the matter is the win is already in hand.

It’s easy to get swept up in the celebration of a baby this time of year. It’s easy to focus on all 8 pounds and 6 ounces of baby Jesus laying in a manager, surrounded by some farm animals, some shepherds, three wise men, one mini camel, and an angel on the roof.

And there’s nothing wrong with that, but I think we’d be wise to not forget we’re also celebrating something bigger than that scene.

We’re celebrating the game-changer.

–@TravisKWilliams

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