A Place to Start Fresh

Publication Note: This column was first published in the January 10, 2018 edition of the Lonoke County Democrat weekly newspaper, linked HERE in its original format.  It is the 27th installment of the “Look at Lonoke” column, and the first of the new year 2018.

We have a tendency to intently focus on our weaknesses and address them with fresh determination at the start of a new year.  However, what if we thought of the “new year” as simply the “next year” within the context of a longer arc?  Rather than isolate these next twelve months on the calendar as a standalone time frame to begin and conclude a new set of goals, we should consider this moment within our larger context.  The progress that we have previously made and the lessons learned within the preceding months may be leveraged to continue building momentum toward the previously-identified  improvements we desire.

In Lonoke, we are not beginning the year 2018 from a sedentary, immobile position.  Instead, we are a resilient community that has taken great strides over the last twenty months to recognize and evaluate our strengths and weaknesses, honestly assessing our challenges, and volunteering to meet those challenges with intentionality.  We are a community in motion, and we have generated a hard-fought momentum as a result of our work together.  This new year is an important one in Lonoke’s multi-year journey to become a visible, attractive, and connected community.  Maintaining our progress will require a constant awareness of the bigger picture while we simultaneously develop new models for implementing the individual facets of our unifying vision.  We understand that the bigger “why” informs the individual facets of “the what” while the ever-changing “how” is renewed continuously.

The aspect of constantly alternating focus from long-range goals to accomplishing immediate tasks and necessities is part of our modern life.  The oscillation can be a challenge for many of us who may be more naturally bent to be either detail-focused or big-picture oriented.

While it seems paradoxical for a small town to embrace the “big picture,” that is the position in which Lonoke finds itself today.  

There is a certain necessity to strike a balance between the granular and the grand, in pursuit of health and growth.  For a small town founded in 1872 to embrace the opportunity to consider our position within both an historical and regional context says a lot about the people who live here.  It is almost as though there is a simultaneous contentment with who we are, coinciding with an excitement for what we are becoming.

Author Ace Collins wrote, “Where you’ve been is set in stone, but where you’re going offers you a fresh choice.”

In much the same way that a new year offers a fresh start, I believe our town offers young families, entrepreneurs, and students an opportunity to start fresh as well.  Lonoke is home to both lifelong residents whose families have been here for multiple generations, and newly-arrived families who have chosen our community as an ideal place to live small and simply.  That is just one blessing of living in a rural community.

To be sure, moving to a small community in which you did not attend the same high school or grow up with the same group of lifelong friends can come with its own set of barriers to relationship.  In this way, Lonoke is no different than any other rural community here in the Delta, or elsewhere around the state and country.  Yet, this is a challenge that we can address and perhaps create a resulting paradigm shift.  We here in Lonoke have the opportunity to model a surprising contrast to the stereotypical small-town mentality.  We are positioned to set aside the notion of “outsiders” once and for all and give attention to the overlooked and the marginalized in our community.  We are positioned to embrace our diversity, celebrating those who have chosen our town and encouraging others to look at Lonoke for a fresh start in a new hometown.

I think of my friends and fellow Lions Club members who have a legacy of decades of service to Lonoke.  What a privilege to gather on a regular basis and fellowship with a multi-generational group of women and men who exist to see and meet needs in our community.  Organizations such as Lions Club are an ideal place for new residents to engage and learn from the wisdom of longtime Lonoke residents and contribute to the cultivation of community with their unique talents and skill sets.

Lonoke Lions Club 2017 Christmas Parade Float
The treasures of the Museum of Lonoke County are located right on Front Street in Historic Downtown Lonoke

Lonoke also has accessible venues for learning and interacting such as the Lonoke County Museum and the Marjorie Walker McCrary Public Library, which offer one-on-one connections to learn more about the story of our place.  Our museum and library bridge barriers and create moments for shared experiences among neighbors old and new.

So, considering the long-range goals for progress and improvement that the citizens of Lonoke have embraced, it is very possible that we will find ourselves in a much different position at the end of this year than where we started.  It will take faithfulness to daily tasks, regular gatherings and constant celebration.  We must continue to encourage our neighbors to step out and make courageous choices.  There will be achievements and disappointments, but we must not give up.  We must continue to write the chapter.

What do we do with disappointments and missed opportunities?  What do we do when the things we work so hard and faithfully to create don’t quite materialize as we envision?  What do we do in the face of discouraging voices?  Keep going.  Keep the big picture in mind.  Pursue faithfulness in each moment, trusting that the cumulative result to come will be a better place for our children and neighbors.  In this way, perhaps there really aren’t “missed opportunities,” but instead only opportunities to be redeemed as eyes are opened to the passion, sincerity, and tenacity of outward-focused neighbors determined to serve this community.

The new year brings a new sense of determination that we will end better than we started.  Keep working for unity and connection.

Ryan Biles and his wife Natalie are raising three boys and will celebrate 14 years of living in Lonoke in 2018.  Archives and additional content are online at www.lookatlonoke.com .


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