What I have learned in 53 years: Reflection on my birthday

Most of the time I am running around with my hair on fire and I thought it might be wise to take a step back today and reflect upon what I think I have learned on the 53rd anniversary of my nativity.  Even my usage of that phrase has a linkage in what I will talk about this morning.

I remember as a young man that I would be about 41 at the turn of the century and that has come and gone.  Even though my mathematical skills are pretty strong, I have learned more about people in the many chapters and verses of my life.  Let’s look at a few chapters today to see if there is anything here that might be of value to you as you ready.

Chapter 1-Not everything that is “free” is a gift you ought to accept

This story goes back to my senior year in high school.  At that time I had the notion that my parents could not, or should not, pay for me to go to college.  In order to keep them from paying I chose to pursue a NROTC scholarship and an appointment to the United States Naval Academy versus attending a regular college.  Never did I consider that I might garner a scholarship at a public school.  What was I thinking?

I ended up with both the ROTC scholarship to the University of Illinois and also got the appointment to the Academy.  I was inducted on July 6, 1977 and was back in Illinois less than 45 days later, choosing to resign the opportunity.  It was just not the place for me.

This chapter taught me to look before you leap.  Both opportunities were great ones and I have the highest respect for the opportunity I passed up (even talked to a few of my classmates over the years), but God had a different plan.  I ended up at Murray State in Kentucky and the rest is history.

Chapter 2-The best gifts you will receive may also be some of the more painful ones

Experience is a great teacher.  I have had many and hope to have many more.  I can say that some of those I have gone through were quite painful at the time, but the long-lasting effects have been helpful, if not essential.

I graduated from college in 1981 and worked for a year before Gena and I chose to marry.  During that same time my father chose to retire from his career at the Postal Service.  He retired in August, we married on September 11, he and mom moved to Florida and then he was diagnosed with cancer in November.  He died the following April, but I lost my job one week prior to his death.  While losing a job is not a pleasant thing, it was by far the best blessing I could have received at the time.  Because of the freedom I had I was able to spend that last week with my dad and was even there the day he passed on to his heavenly reward.  I look back upon this years later and know it was God’s hand, but it felt like his slap at the  time.

Chapter 3-You never know how someone can change your life

Those of you who really know me understand that I am a geek, really, a geek.  My original degree is in Engineering Physics and I am essentially a low-voltage electrical engineer.  I have always been fortunate to be able to master math, science and people.  People are by far the most challenging and the most chaotic.  In 1990 I was given an opportunity to work with two other volunteers to investigate bringing the YMCA to our small community, Springfield, TN.  6 years later that YMCA opened to the public and I was the first executive director.  During that 6 year period I met two gentlemen who would change my life forever, make that three.

The first was Clark Baker.  At that time Clark was the CEO of the YMCA of Middle Tennessee and he was one of the most positive people I have ever met.  He also taught me how to say thank you, another story for another time.

The second was George Goyer.  George was really an angel placed her on the earth and he was the first to encourage me to consider the Y as a career.  Even though I spent just 6 years working for the movement, it has changed my life forever.

The third was Allan Silvio Williams, better known as “Dr. Al”.  Dr. Al was a professor at Austin Peay and he was one of the key parts of Gena’s masters program there.  We continued our friendship with Al and his wonderful wife, Martha, for many years until he passed on in 2011.  Al always referred to me as his “favorite Republican” and he was also one of the most positive and uplifting people I have ever met.  I cannot tell you how helpful he was for many years and we enjoyed many a lunch together at the Vanderbilt University Club when he and Martha would come down from Clarksville.

Chapter 4-The importance of family

I mentioned earlier that I married my college sweetheart in 1982.  She is the love of my life and I am extremely blessed to have her.  She puts up with a lot.

We also have two wonderful sons, Daniel and Matthew.  Daniel graduated from Vanderbilt in 2010 and Matthew graduated from Auburn (War Eagle) in 2012.  Both made it through in 4 years and they are a joy to deal with (most days).  I have so many memories of doing things with my family, especially the Scouting trips with the boys (both Eagle Scouts).  There is not much more I could ask.

Ryan Family 003
Molly, Daniel, Dan, Gena, Lauren and Matthew at Easter 2012

There you have it; four short chapters in a life that is overflowing with blessings.  I can honestly say that I have been so fortunate to have so many offer so much.

I try my best to offer as much in return as I can.

I hope each of you can pause and reflect on the anniversary of your nativity (an Al Williams phrase ).

Have a great day!