Go West Old Men: A Travel Memoir. Part 4

Why I Got Derailed

This is Part 4 of the story, follow these links to see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

After being home from my summer missions trip for about a week, I embarked on a road trip, spending the last of my cash reserve.

I drove to Indiana to see a friend who was working on a production of Fiddler on the Roof. I’d also fallen in love with theater while in college and Tevye had become a bucket list role. While I’m writing this, I still haven’t played that part. But that story belongs in another book. And, at this point in my life, probably belongs to another actor. I’m okay with that.

The next stop was back in Kentucky to visit the campus and see some friends there in summer school. I secured a job delivering pizza for Domino’s and told them I’d be back in a couple of weeks. A friend and I rented a trailer in nearby Nicholasville and plans were falling into place.

Scott and I had both signed up to be youth counselors at Indian Springs Camp Meeting in Georgia. There for a week and a half we worked with the youth, helped in the kitchen, and attended the evening services.

Scott tells me that I talked about returning to the canyon and hiking it together. I’m a little fuzzy on that part. At the “missionary service” I announced my intention to go full time with World Gospel Mission.

After Indian Springs, I piled up everything I could fit into my Hornet station wagon. Yes, that was my first car, it was also brown, and drove to Kentucky. I worked for Domino’s, hung out with friends, and re-joined the choir at the United Methodist Church. I also spent a significant amount of money on car repairs.

It’s hard for me to explain to my sons how I lived at that point. A box of Kraft macaroni and cheese, and some tomatoes from a friend’s garden were a luxury dinner. A twenty-five cent ice cream cone from McDonald’s was a splurge. But I was there, and soon my friend would be joining me in the trailer.

I took Labor Day weekend off for a trip home. It was a bit of a celebration weekend at my home church as it was the anniversary of the pastor’s arrival. It was an emotional time with family and friends.

I knew where I was going. I knew what my plans were. But I asked for prayer to be certain that I was on the right path.

That’s when everything changed. Rather than an assurance, rather than an encouragement, the pastor let me know in no uncertain terms that he thought I was making the wrong decisions.

I wasn’t sure he was right, but then he said the phrase that haunted me for years. For the most part, my emotions had evened out since my father’s passing, but there were still moments of intense grief. Reality is that I still have those moments more than forty-five years later.

In the midst of his counsel, he looked me in the eyes and said “You’re Mother is lonely. She still cries in the night. You need to come home.”

Back in Kentucky, I couldn’t get away from those haunting words. I was struggling with money, my car needed major repairs.

By mid-September I was back in Southwest Virginia.

It took me years to get to the point of no longer resenting what the pastor said to me. I think he meant well. I think he was giving me what he thought was the best counsel and guidance.

It just wasn’t the path for me.

It’s temporary I told myself and I started making plans and looking for work that would allow me to eventually make the return to where I thought I belonged.

Suffice it to say that, three and a half years later, I was still there. I became an essential part of the ministry. Without being too unkind, I was being manipulated, I was being controlled. I was being stifled.

In early 1984 I began volunteering for a local congressional race. The husband of my cousin was running on the Republican ticket and one of my best high school friends was his fundraiser.

By mid-summer that year I was making choices and meeting with certain levels of disapproval. I felt trapped in my job, in my hometown, and by the church.

When I realized that I was considered to be having spiritual problems when I chose to spend my Saturday’s working for the campaign and not doing yard work at the pastor’s house, I left the church, quit my job, and joined the campaign full time.

That set in motion at nearly forty-year career in public policy and government. That was never on my radar at Asbury.

By the time the campaign ended, my Mother had remarried. I found myself moving to Richmond to work on another campaign, and later to DC. I spent eight years working for an association of state legislators where I became the convention manager. I traveled extensively in the states, making it to Arizona multiple times.

But never back to the canyon and never back to the mission field. At least not on a long-term basis.


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Photo by Emre on Unsplash

On occasion, I’ve been known to snark at the online gurus who want to tell you how to become and overnight success, write your best selling book in 24 minutes (roughly), and make a bazillion dollars during your next trip to the snack fridge.

And if you sign up today, you get eight million dollars off of the regular price.

Or something like that. I was never good at math.

If it’s working for them. Great. But a lot of them simply want to sell their program.

Not all of them. Some offer great content even if you don’t buy the plan.

I get regular emails from a few that I trust. But they don’t go for the hard sell. Sure, they have products to sell, but their free stuff is pretty amazing.

I will however, buy the occasional product or book.

One that I’ve followed for years now is Jeff Goins.

Jeff was the first one to convince me that I needed to stop saying “I want to be a writer” and instead start saying “I am a Writer.”

Jeff has been through some transitions in the last few years and he’s not quite doing the same amount of work. He recently wrote:

It may, then, come as no surprise that the inevitable word of the year for 2024 is “enough.” Whatever time I have to give, whatever energy is mine to offer, whatever money sits in the bank account—let it be “enough.”


That’s a good word. It sort of sums up where I’ve felt I am, or have wanted to be here in the first part of 2024.

Enough is enough. I don’t need those extra things or those extra projects.

I’m really working to rein in my ADD tendencies and focus on things that matter most.

Clearing out the office, or at least beginning the process, has made me think about what is important.

The Little Mermaid may want more thingamabobs, but not me.

I’ve already made some decisions about projects I’m not taking on this year. Pre-pandemic, pre-cancer, I might have felt that it was important to take them all on.

Not so much anymore.

I know I’ve written in the past about how I can’t do everything.

I need to take my own advice and focus on my writing and my art.

And maybe some day, another blogger will say “Hey, you should follow this guy.”

Speaking of who to follow, here are a few that are worth checking out:

Chris Brogan
Chris Brogan is Chief of Staff at Appfire.com. He is the New York Times bestselling author of ten books and counting. He’s an international speaker and he’s one of the ones who inspired me to choose my annual Three Words.

Rob Hatch
Rob Hatch, along with Chris above was the other inspiration for My Three Words. He’s a best selling author and coach for business owners and executives. He writes a weekly newsletter that is read by tens of thousands around the world. I’m one of them.

Steven Pressfield
Steven Pressfield is the author of the bestselling novels Gates of Fire and Tides of War, as well as The Legend of Bagger Vance. But I started following him after reading The War of Art. I look forward to his Writing Wednesdays.

Seth Godin
Seth is an entrepreneur, best-selling author, and speaker. In addition to launching one of the most popular blogs in the world, he has written 21 best-selling books, including The Dip, Linchpin, Purple Cow, Tribes, and What To Do When It’s Your Turn (And It’s Always Your Turn). Seth can say more in one brief, edited post than many can say in volumes.

Austin Kleon
Austin Kleon is a writer who draws. I’m not in his league, but that’s who I am as well. Austin is the bestselling author of Steal Like An Artist and other books.

James Clear
James Clear is the author of the #1 New York Times bestseller, Atomic Habits. I particular enjoy his 3-2-1 news letter.

The Art of Manliness 
The Art of Manliness is one of my favorite podcasts. It’s a one-stop recourse that covers almost every aspect of a man’s life including: character, career, relationships. Fitness, style, skills and more.

And finally (for now) one of my very favorite writers.
Sean Dietrich is a columnists, novelist, and stand-up storyteller known for his commentary on life in the American South. I connected with Sean during the pandemic when he wrote about my virtual appearances in Santa in November. He’s coming to the Richmond area in May and yes, I’ve got my tickets.

Oh, and me. Don’t forget to follow me.

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