Most of my life, I’ve been misunderstood and conversationally challenged. This is partly because sometimes I don’t know what I’m talking about, but mostly because my brain functions differently than the majority of humans. Many of you have had conversations with me in which I’ve responded to one of your statements or questions with a totally unrelated thought.
It was always difficult to find a place where people understood me…until I traveled to Knoxville last semester and found that the people there—mostly BYX guys—are just as eccentric as I am. And their jokes are funnier.
I got to thinking and I decided that last semester’s visit was so much fun that I had to get myself back up there in the spring. Come to find out, I’m required by my job to do so. Win-win-win. I planned to fly in for the weekend of their Island Party, which would pretty much guarantee me a heck of a Saturday. Plans changed, however, and I missed IP by a week. Fortunately for me, the Tennessee BYX guys could find a way to make churning butter at the DMV fun, so I wasn’t too worried about it.
My journey began as I flew in on Friday and was picked up at the airport by COR participant and Chaplain Preston Morris. As I was walking toward the airport exit, I saw a man dressed up in a black suit wearing a driving cap and holding a sign who had a strikingly comparable noggin circumference (large) to Preston’s. It wasn’t him, but I would not put something like that past him. I kept walking to find my man in his bright salmon Chubbies. That’s more like it.
I explained that if I was going to eat terrible food on this trip, it had to be worth the calories. He assured me our lunch would be, so we sped over to Sweet P’s BBQ and Soul House. Featured there were delicious BBQ burritos, fresh mac and cheese and banana pudding that left my hands involuntarily stuck making the “ok” hand gesture until the food was gone (this would prove to be a common theme for this visit.) Finally, we arrived at the BYX House and I was reunited with my Volunteer brethren.
The rest of the day was filled with officer one-on-ones, which showcased the heart of each officer for their position, their chapter and each other. Preston updated me on the state of cell groups, service project opportunities and their incredible outreach to the Greek community through events such as their “Second Thursday” worship nights, which are well attended. Treasurer Matthew Gooch answered every question I had about financials and showed me how sterling they are budget-wise. Secretary Adam Seal and I chatted about communication, which is a strength all around.
President Spencer Cochran, who is a COR 2014 participant and one of the chapter’s founding fathers, asked me a bajillion questions about how to make different aspects of the chapter better, and we spent some time brainstorming and problem solving together. As I said last semester, if this chapter never loses their passion for excellence, their heart for improvement, their humility and their attitude of gratitude for what they’ve already been provided, they cannot be stopped.
Relax time on Friday night was a group trip over to the Pratt Pavilion, where the men’s and women’s basketball teams get their practice on. I would like to note that I’ve never scored so many points in a pickup basketball game in my life. I also have to mention, unfortunately, that I’ve never had so many 3’s drained on me by Blake Hankins, or anyone. Naturally, we played full court basketball until 2 a.m. Eastern before I was able to make it to my hotel to pound some sleep.
Saturday morning I discovered Gourmet’s Market, yet another Knoxville gem that nobody took me to on my previous visit. I was pretty set on something sweet until our waitress told us what the special was. It was grits loaded with chipotle shredded chicken, cheese and a spicy sauce. Yes. But I had also been eyeballing the cinnamon raisin French toast, so I got a half order of that too. Just the name of the French toast doesn’t do it justice, so here is the description verbatim from the menu: “Italian bread soaked in our vanilla custard and grilled golden brown then topped with cinnamon icing and cream soda soaked raisins.” I’ll have twelve.
While I was enjoying my delectable meal, my hands spontaneously stuck into the “ok” position again. My breakfast was even accompanied by a serenade by Vice President Todd Daugherty. And of course, by serenade I mean an update on the social state of Tennessee BYX, which is every bit as delightful to my ears.
They’ve won four sorority philanthropy events in the past two months, held a killer IP Week and IP which got the whole UT Greek scene involved, planned a joint semi formal with the soon-to-be initiated UT-Chattanooga Chapter, mixed with and had Bible studies with a number of sororities, formed some solid relationships with other fraternities on campus and did it all with a standard of excellence as unto the Lord. The relationships formed in their social endeavors have allowed them to influence and minister to the Greek community extremely effectively through events like “Second Thursday.” Go Vols.
Speaking of the Vols, Saturday was also the Orange and White spring game, so the brothers took me to join about 88,000 other creamsicle-clad crazies to take in a showcase of the talent for the upcoming football season. I even got to see my old pal and UF BYX founder Ryan Peterman, since his little brother Nathan plays quarterback for the Vols. The game was followed by game day traffic, but no worries. Spencer, Gooch and I rolled the windows down, blared the tunes and pulled out our most ridiculous dance moves to entertain surrounding cars and pedestrians while we were all sitting bumper-to-bumper. We even got some folks on the sidewalk to sing along with us, proving that everybody’s a little bit crazy, as long as someone else leads the way. As I said, anything can be made fun with these guys, even sitting in traffic.
After finally punching through traffic, the officers gathered for dinner at Barley’s for some phenomenal pizza. Not a minute went by without a laugh and there was plenty of provocative discussion about the vision of BYX for the Alpha Zeta Chapter. I challenged these officers and the rest of the chapter to remain focused on the Lord in humility as they have done so well thus far through great blessing. The night was concluded with some ping pong domination (not by me, but by just about everyone who played me, including one ΚΔ) and volleyball.
Sunday brought on unexpected physical exertion, as I got to participate in ΧΩ’s football tournament with my brothers. BYX ended up winning second place overall thanks to the lofty contributions of a particular alumnus. Just kidding. I didn’t do much, but it was great to be out on a field for the first time since my back injury in the spring of 2013.
Chapter meeting on Sunday night was a true blessing to be a part of. On this night, I got to witness brothers unload with one another in an open floor forum. I got to give a chapter address, but the real main event was the men bearing their hearts. The leaders of the chapter gave great encouragements that stirred the room. Everyone left uplifted by the brotherhood on display, and by the boxes of Insomnia cookies that waited upstairs. Again, I stayed up way too late socializing and laughing with these awesome men, wishing I didn’t have to go to sleep and get up early to catch my flight.
The Alpha Zeta Chapter is a rather unique mix of personalities, gifts and quirks, but when pulled together toward the common goal of glorifying Jesus Christ on UT’s campus (and generating plenty of hilarity in the process), the result is a fraternity of men who I’m proud to call my brothers. Once again, they made me feel as welcome as any Gator could be in Knoxville. To say the least, I love the crap out of these guys, so much so that I can’t wait to wear my creamsicle overalls and sing Rocky Top with them again in the fall. And that’s saying a lot.