“Okay,” I replied, as I veered from turning onto the street where the Sports Spectrum offices are located.
We needed to get away. It was deadline week at Sports Spectrum, which means sleepless nights, burning eyes, and a terribly strange aroma in my office that smells like Panera coffee and Little Caesars pizza. During these weeks, my editor and I often find it helpful to get out of the office and drive around.
We made our way down a country road just east of Charlotte, N.C. I have several favorite roads in Charlotte and this is one of them. Another is across the border in South Carolina. It’s on these roads that I can disappear from the clutter of life and city traffic and shout country lyrics out my sunroof. I find peace on these roads.
We continued driving and noticed a Christmas tree farm and tiny produce hut on the right side of the road.
“I want to smell a Christmas tree,” I told my editor.
“Okay,” he laughed.
We pulled over and I got out of the car and stuck my nose in the tree like my dog used to do in my mother’s garden, like I was sniffing for a squirrel. It sounds weird, but I experience God in little things like these, scents and such. I think if I ever meet a girl who smells like a Christmas pine, I may marry her.
My editor bought some boiled peanuts and a Christmas wreath. As he was about to pay, he saw some roses and bought those, too. I’ve noticed his flower purchases increase dramatically during deadline week.
“I better get these for my wife,” he told the clerk, this country-looking fellow with a snowcap and a beard that reminded me of Zac Brown. “Haven’t been home for a while,” my editor continued. Zac Brown laughed.
Turns out, Zac Brown and I started talking for a while, for an hour at least. He and his brother started their little produce stand when he was 13 years old. Now, he’s 30. He found excitement, not at the club in the flashing lights and pulsing beats, but here on the farm. He found enjoyment in the outdoors, in this business he had built, in nature-oriented things like studying exotic animals. He had a couple of hedgehogs once, and he sold them on the Internet.
I drew the conclusion he may be the simplest man I ever met. He said he worked in the city once because he was trying to “make it” in life, but then he realized he couldn’t explain what “making it” meant, so he went back to the farm. “Making it,” he defined, is a peace of mind, not dollar signs or a better résumé. I found Zac Brown wise.
Someone drove by and honked. He waved.
“That’s my aunt,” he said. “She has a barbershop across the street. My grandparents live over there, too. If you go over there, Grandma will probably offer you a cold Pepsi and ask you to sit on the porch.”
Everything that was a part of this man—his demeanor, his business, his family, the fact that our conversation seemed to be the most important thing in the world to him—breathed peace and simplicity.
I identified with him because we both love what we do. What was different about him was the peace he had throughout the process, with each and every conversation he had with a customer. Sometimes I don’t have peace until I complete a project…then I savor it for a moment, perhaps reward myself with a coffee…then I move onto the next one.
As I talked to Zac Brown, I was reminded of my interview with Carolina Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith, whose story is featured in this magazine. It’s titled “Peace In The Walls” because I felt like the quiet and open feel of Smith’s Charlotte home was a perfect metaphor to describe Smith’s personality. This may surprise people because of Smith’s intensity on the football field. But he says he has found a peace that only comes from the Lord. Sometimes, he just sits in his study in complete silence in reflection and prayer. I can’t tell you the last time I did that.
I identified with Smith because we had both found peace in Christ. What was different about us was the calm and quiet of his life.
One night, my mentor took me to a hole-in-the-wall, smoky, music venue in uptown Charlotte. It didn’t take long to notice a man in the mix of the people on the dance floor. He was dancing wildly but alone, significantly overweight, sweating profusely, and I think the poor guy even had suspenders on.
I felt bad for him as many pointed and laughed and whipped out their phones to Snapchat their friends. And yet, watching him was one of the most beautiful sights I’d ever seen. He had the biggest smile on his face, his eyes were closed, and he swayed his hips and pumped his fists and got lost in the soul of the saxophone. He lived for this. Nothing, not even the childish perceptions of those around him, could affect his peace of mind.
I identified with him because I wished I could be him, to have such a peace where perceptions did not matter and perceptions of my performance did not matter.
As my editor and I drove back from the farm that day, I thought about this peace I have found in Christ, and how I’m challenged to experience this peace more and more, to allow sanctification to run its course, to find peace in the process like the man on the farm, calm and quiet like the man who plays football, and content away from perceptions like the man lost in the music.
This column appeared in the December 2013 DigiMag and the Vol. 28, No. 1 print magazine. Stephen Copeland is a staff writer and columnist at Sports Spectrum magazine. His column tackles sports and faith from another angle, whether it’s humorous, personal or controversial. Follow him on Twitter-@steve_copeland or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.