Aug. 7, 2017, will always be a special day for me. On that date, I had my first conversation with Kerrville Daily Times Photo Editor Tom Holden. That conversation was what ultimately brought me to Kerrville.
At the time, I was in the process of trying to obtain my first grown-up job. I had already interviewed once with The Times. Tom conducted the second interview.
Tom must have found me tolerable enough, because then Managing Editor Lisa Walter emailed me a few minutes later with a formal job offer. I moved to Kerrville the next week.
If Tom had been my only Kerrville friend, I still would have considered myself blessed. That phone interview resulted in one of the most precious relationships I’ve ever had. Tom has been a dear friend, a father figure and a Christian role model.
Amazingly, I could say the same about so many other people I’ve met in the past three years.
They have all made it hard to say goodbye.
This will be my final column at The Kerrville Daily Times, as I am moving back to my home state of Tennessee to cover University of Tennessee football for the Maryville Daily Times. As much as I love Kerrville, I needed to be closer to my family during these uncertain times.
There are so many people I need to thank before I leave. I need to thank my best friend, Autumn Bernhard, for always being a constant source of support. I need to thank my work mom, Assistant Managing Editor Jeanette Nash, who not only made me laugh, but always found ways to improve my writing. I need to thank the local coaches for being great at their professions and thus giving me great players to interview. And I need to thank all the mothers (Michelle Layton, Brandy McCoy, Lori Brown, M’lissa Hayes, Meredith Stieler, Marguerite Westfall, Charlene Ford, Stacey Grimes, Tracie Reeh, Tracy Rhodes and Rachel Johnston) who correctly surmised I have minimal cooking skills and invited me over to family dinners.
I could easily expend 10,000 words thanking my Kerrville friends for making my time in the Hill Country such a blessing.
But no one has the patience or time to read that many words, so I believe the best way to say thanks is to share my testimony. My friends in Kerrville helped save my faith. I was spiritually lost when I arrived, but God used each one of them to lead me back to Him.
I was raised a Christian, but I hadn’t attended church for more than a year when I moved to Kerrville. I even remember telling my mom shortly after I moved that I didn’t plan on attending services anytime soon because I considered all Christians to be hypocrites.
I didn’t care at all about the community during my first few months as the sports editor. I only tried writing good stories because I hoped to impress an editor at a much larger newspaper in a much larger city. Such a mindset produced only loneliness and resentment.
I was still miserable on Oct. 6, 2017. Miraculously, that was the day I had my first interaction with Justin and Meredith Stieler. Like Tom, they became precious friends who transformed my life.
From there, I continued to befriend wonderful families in the community. More importantly, my friends’ Christ-like qualities directed me back to Christ.
All of them had attributes I wanted to emulate. Clay and Allison Robertson, for instance, were always so uplifting whenever I conversed with them at Tivy girls basketball games. I wanted to have their joy.
I interviewed Justin Stieler while I was writing a feature story on his son, all-state pole vaulter Andrew Stieler. Justin mentioned how Andrew was 4 years old when his biological father, Richard Eggleston, passed away from cancer. When Justin began dating Meredith a few years later, Andrew told Justin he didn’t want to play baseball, even though he loved the sport. He was tired of being the only player who didn’t have a father to toss the ball to during pregame warmups.
During the following baseball season, Justin consistently drove from Tomball to Kerrville to play catch with Andrew. He’s continued to be a supportive father to Andrew and his older sister, Kathryn Stieler, ever since.
I admire the love Justin has for his family and friends. It has inspired me to do a better job of loving others.
During the fall, Michelle Layton and her three boys — Trey, Zach and Jake — invited me to their house to watch Tennessee football games. They also fed me. Michelle, a Texas A&M alumna, even bought me tickets behind Tennessee’s bench when the Vols basketball team played Texas A&M in College Station last year.
And she remained friends with me despite my behavior during the game, a game that Tennessee easily won, in case you were wondering.
I hope to show that same kindness to others.
Whenever I felt sorry for myself and complained about my perceived misfortunes, my friend Mark Keller encouraged me to attend church again; he continually insisted that having a relationship with God was the most effective way of dealing with problems in life. I wanted to have Mark’s faith.
I realized there was only one way I could attain all these qualities. I found the answer in the final paragraph of C.S Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”: “Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin and decay. But look for Christ, and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.”
My first few months in Kerrville proved the first sentence of that statement to be undoubtedly true. But thankfully, my Kerrville friends confirmed the accuracy of the second sentence.
My Kerrville friends inspired me to begin attending church again and to start reading my Bible more frequently.
I have many other friends to thank for their love and kindness: Debbie Holden — who obviously has the patience of Job after being married to Tom for 38 years — Leticia Uballe, Donna Provencher, Mike Keith, Ty Taylor, Doug Robertson, Regan Robertson, Troy Robertson, Therese Schwarz, Gena Robertson, Claudia Royce, Tony Vela, Leslie Barnet and her son, Brock, Angie Barker and her son, Rody, Stuart and Ingrid Cunyus, Jeremy and Desi Hickman, David and Holly Jones, Kenneth and Sandra Voytek, Tim and Lori Brown, Grant and Beth Palmer, Chris and Megan Russ, Joe and Liberty Davis, the Hayes, the Fords, the Miears, the McCoys, the Grimes, the Pattersons, the Westfalls, the Reehs, the Jenschkes, the Johnstons, the Peschels, the Butlers, the Enloes, the Tulls, the Kleypases, the Scheidles, the Youngs, the Zirkels, the Molinas, the Morrises, the Motts, the Arnolds, the Abels, the Drakes, the Rhodes, the Mixons and my wonderful coworkers.
All of these wonderful people either welcomed me into their home for family dinners, sent me encouraging notes, delivered me food when everyone was quarantining in March and April or did a combination of the three.
Because of them, I am a better writer, better son, better brother and a better Christian.
I guess if there is anything I want people to take away from this column, it’s that I hope the community shows the same love toward the next sports editor that it showed me. And I hope all the people I’ve mentioned continue to use their many God-given virtues to transform other people’s lives.
They certainly changed my life. And for that, I will be forever grateful.