Some people say "Home is where the heart is". Other say, "Home is where I grew up". Still others might say, "Home is where I lived the longest."
Dave and I are going 'home' this week, back to Niceville, Florida. We are going back for just a week (likely not long enough, because, if you know the secret to the area, October is the most beautiful time of year there and the people are always beautiful) to visit friends and loved ones we lived alongside for 17 years of our so far 25-year marriage. So, when we say it's where we lived the longest, that is so much the truth.
Niceville is also a place where Dave and I both passionately loved the work we did. He worked for years on Eglin Air Force Base and I worked in Okaloosa County Schools, as a teacher, guidance counselor, and a principal. Niceville, originally called Boggy, is a small town by most standards but is situated near Destin, the Emerald Coast of the Gulf of Mexico, so it draws a pretty touristy crowd running through it.
For me, going back to Niceville brings to mind so many beautiful life, learning and loving moments:
1. Church: After being a cradle Episcopalian, my fractured family all strayed from church for many years (and forever, for some). In high school in San Antonio, a dear friend's family re-introduced me to the Episcopal church and when Dave and I moved to Niceville, I found such solace in re-re-introducing myself to St. Jude's Episcopal Church. I taught youth group (where I met some of the dearest youth who have become dear friends with their own children, and where I got in touch with my own soul through the lives of countless others), sang in the choir, served on the Vestry, and worshiped and praised God.
2. Serenity: Niceville is where I found the loving arms of spiritual guidance through a 12-step program that helped me decide that alcohol had become way too important to me. For over 14 years, I met with other folks on a daily and weekly basis who helped me become who I am today. As one of my sweet friends just said this morning, "I grew up enough to see that I still had a lot of growing up to do." For the first time, I began to feel comfortable in my own skin and I can't wait to go back and see some of those folks who were there for me when I began that journey. Dave and I went through some tough life lessons while in Niceville (not the least of which were the deaths of his parents, sitting beside by own mother as she died, and putting our dear first Labrador Retriever, K.C., to rest). But the serenity and peace I feel when I think back on those times does not cause me any "should have..., could have..., would have...'s" because of the serenity I learned about in Niceville.
3. Passion for education: Believe me when I say I knew I was going to be a teacher when I was six years old (lining up stuffed animals and trying to teach them to read---the stuffed frog made TOADal progress----sorry). But I could have never dreamed what all would happen to me and for me with regard to my own education and the education of others around me. While we lived in Niceville, I taught students with learning disabilities, I was a guidance counselor at a middle school, I became a guidance counselor at an elementary school, then I became the principal at that same elementary school. Through each of those experiences, I learned a bit more about teachers, teaching, students, learning, and, yes, more of my own passion for education. I earned my doctorate in education while living there and made lifelong friends through that program. Most of all, I tried to become the kind of instructional leader I felt God had called me to be. I made some mistakes, I made some good decisions, but the best part of being a principal at an elementary school in Niceville were the people and the relationships nobody can ever in a million years take away.
I talk in most of my blogs about relationships, communication and the power of working alongside one another (mostly in schools). Now that I have been an educational consultant for a few years and have had the opportunity to work in schools and districts literally across the world, I still believe the formative learning that impacted me the very most was from that elementary school in Niceville.
They say, "You can't go home again". This next week, Dave and I are going to give it a go.