Jackson County.

I had never even heard of Jackson County when I graduated college. But as I began to look for jobs, knowing I wanted to remain in Athens, KNOWING I didn’t want to teach in Clarke County, I printed off a map and started mailing resumes. And I ended up at West Jackson Intermediate School in Hoschton. “Hosch” rhymes with “push”, just so you know.

Within months, I loved it. I mean, all the boys in my class played on the same football team and the girls were the cheerleaders. It was as Mayberry as I’m ever going to get, I believe. I started to see the web that connected all the people. And as small town as Marietta can be, it doesn’t light a candle to this.

I LOVED my job. My second year in the county, I started coaching at Jackson Co. High School- volleyball and soccer. I’ve written about that before. And honestly, even as I link that blog from May, my heart tightens and my eyes water. My breathing shallows and I know I just have to keep typing. It’s still so close to my heart.

I love Jackson County. I love the people there, the atmosphere, the competition between East Jackson and West Jackson, the roads, the pastures, the schools, the history there. My history there. In fact, I usually cry from Exit 137 on I-85 all the way to 285 every time I leave- which as you local yokels know is about 30 minutes. A large chunk of my heart has remained there and it tears off anew each time I get on that exit ramp.

This is my dearest friend there, Heather. She is the PE teacher at WJIS, which is how we met, and then we coached volleyball together. I adore her. Our friendship is one of those things that reminds why I’m willing to make that drive for just one evening with them. Which is what I did tonight. I left Woodstock after school and headed straight up there for a basketball game- between East and West of course. Heather and her family would be there. A few of my old students would be playing, and the my other favorite family would be there. Tammy, leader of fav family who taught 5th grade with me, is also a dear friend. Tammy’s family and Heather’s family are the nucleus of my Jackson County world. And this photo is at my FAVORITE restaurant- I was so thrilled when it got picked tonight. Mike’s Grill. I’ve always and ever eaten only one thing there- mushroom and swiss burger. I bet I’ve ordered it 25 times. It is just that good, people.

Here are three of my kids that are now in the 8th grade. I wish you could have seen their faces when I walked in- only the girl, Macey (Tammy’s daughter), knew I was coming. The boys were shocked. It ruled.

Let me tell you about Macey. Get this- we memorized a scripture together when she was in my class. Proverbs 13:20. “He who walks with the wise grows wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” She said it to me tonight. Can you imagine being in 5th grade and deciding to memorize that scripture? Then putting it in to action and remembering it until 8th grade? Glorious. What wisdom. God has a plan for that girl. His grip on her heart and His hand prints on her life are evident. I’m glad I get to watch His best unfold for her.

I didn’t cry tonight when I left Jackson County. And I don’t really know why. I’ve been trying to put words to it, but it’s not happening. It’s not that I miss them less this time, or that I feel disconnected. It’s more that the firmness of the relationship with these two families reminds me that they remember me as much as I remember them. That when I leave, I don’t lose them. It’s been 3 years since I taught there- my freshman players are now the senior captains, my 5th graders are 8th and 9th graders. But when I went back tonight, it felt like I had never left. Maybe it’s the Mayberry-small-town-ness in them. Maybe it’s the love in them for me. Maybe it’s my love for them. But if I had to guess, I’d say it was a mixture of all those things, plus some of the mysterious ways of God, plus good ole fashioned friendship.

As I drove through Jefferson out to I-85, I told God how much I loved those years of my life and how much I love each of those people- Heather, Brandon, Brooklyn [Brandon and Heather’s baby, in pic], Jay, Tammy, Macey, and Jase (aka- Jase Jase Crazy Face) [cute fella in pic], my students, my players.

Then, as quickly as I could get it out, God reminded me that He feels all those same things- His best plan for me, for two years, was in Jackson County. And these friends are near and very dear to His heart.

And tonight, that was the only part that brought a tear to my eye.

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