Publication Note: This column was first published in the November 8, 2017 edition of the Lonoke County Democrat weekly newspaper, linked HERE in its original format. It is the 24th installment of the “Look at Lonoke” column. Due to Thanksgiving Holiday publication deadlines, the next edition of the column will appear in the November 29 paper.
You may have noticed that there is a buzz in Lonoke. Perhaps you have read some things in this newspaper about people meeting together to mobilize for a new season of work ahead. This is the buzz of anticipation, of momentum, and of determination, and it is moving through our town, block by block and brick by brick. This is due, in large part, because a group of determined volunteer leaders have chosen to give up their personal time and leverage their individual skills to contribute to a growing movement of ideas and optimism here in Lonoke. The momentum we are now seeing has been generated because more and more citizens in our community have decided that the place in which they live matters. More importantly, people’s eyes have been opened to the reality that the lives of their neighbors matter.
For a town as small as ours, it is crucial that this enthusiasm and energy not be confined to a concentrated group of people, or a specific, short-lived window of time. The good currently being done in Lonoke must not be isolated among a few individuals. It is important that the influence of good work and ideas be expanded, in order that many more may participate, and that the burden of this work be lightened. A lighter burden makes for more enjoyable work. A lighter burden also ensures that good work is perpetuated and sustained for future investment.
The people of our town have decided that we will improve, and that we will do so, together. Now we must manage that decision. It is important that we remember that the heart of our improvement must be the improvement of our heart. In other words, let’s first embrace this unique opportunity for healing and redemption, and ensure that we have a strong foundation for all that is to come in our next five years together. If we do not first address our heart condition, I believe much of the work we do together will be superficial, and, I would suggest, pointless. As it has been said before, the goal is not change for the sake of change. In fact, the goal must be a strong, healthy community, which begins with strong, healthy people willing to evaluate new opportunities with discernment. That work is much more difficult than throwing money at aesthetic improvements. It takes time spent with others, it takes a sincere listening ear, and it takes compassion. However, if the physical improvements we see in our community are indeed the result of reconnected neighborhoods and a respectful dialogue, the visible progress will hold a greater potential for perpetuating meaningful enrichment for many years into the future.
Author Jon Acuff writes, “The world will never be changed by the things you don’t finish.” Don’t give up. We are only beginning. Lonoke deserves the better future that we are building together.
Don’t give up. Keep up your good work. Encourage others in their good work. The best ideas for elevating our community could very well come from our overlooked students and neighbors. Lonoke is a town filled with women and men who possess a skill set, training, or professional background to address the unique challenges that we face. Invite them to the table and persist in empowering them to contribute. Share your enthusiasm with someone nearby, and give them an opportunity to be a part of what you are working on. Don’t hesitate to receive or give an invitation. Don’t be shy about asking someone about their volunteer work, their passion, or their talent. Learn what drives your neighbor and join them, either as a fellow laborer, or as an encourager and supporter.
I am grateful for key leaders in my life, like Brian Dollar. Brian recently wrote on the subject of longevity, saying,
“It takes time to get ‘beyond the surface’ in relationships. The longer you stay, the more highs and lows you experience with people. The longer you stay, the more they trust you to ‘stick it out’ and be there for the long haul. When they trust you, relationships go deeper.”
Brian’s words inspired me to consider the reality of living in a small, rural community, such as Lonoke. Our town possesses a very real opportunity to be a healthy place where individuals and families may plant roots and cultivate a community over many season of life together, in which trust is tested and strengthened, and where shared experiences bridge differences. Decide now that your commitment to community will be a lifelong commitment, driven not by circumstance, but by Faith and the knowledge that you are not alone in your investment.
Don’t give up. It will get tougher in the months ahead. Some days “in the middle” may feel like there has been no progress, or that all of our work together has not moved the needle in any significant way. On those days, in those seasons, it is most important to keep on working. And when you feel like you can’t, share the burden. Your neighbors have come alongside and are determined to empower you. Believe in one another and in the power of everyday citizens who have humbly sat down together simply to listen and learn from one another. There has never been a better time to believe in Lonoke.
Ryan Biles is part of a diverse volunteer team of leaders called the Lonoke150 Executive Team who welcome and seek the involvement of all citizens in Lonoke in implementing a vision for the future of our community. Archives of this column with additional content are online at www.lookatlonoke.com .