If anybody ever comes to you and says, "Hey, know what would be a great idea? Planning your own wedding," they probably aren't really your friend.
About two months ago, I put this column aside to deal with the rigors of a do-it-yourself wedding. For more weeks than I can remember, my weekends have been spent hunting down elusive, Navy-blue tablecloths, consulting cake makers and flower arrangers, and making countless trips to Hobby Lobby.
Despite a two-hour late caterer, and a disc jockey who played three of the songs in our nine-hour play list, my wife and I were happily married on Sept. 25. While the brief stay from my column allowed me to keep my sanity, I had no idea that it would mean that this would be the last column I write for the newspaper, at least for the time being.
As of Oct. 15, after nearly four years with the Clayton News Daily, I will leave the paper to assume a new job.
I don't know how my new employer feels about dropping names, but I can say that my new job is journalism-related and right here in Clayton County. I'll be working fewer hours than most reporters do, but I'll be making more money and have a lot of new responsibilities.
It was an unexpected opportunity, however, God has a funny way of making you go through a lot, then blessing you abundantly to remind you that He is in control.
In the three years and eight months I have worked for the Clayton News Daily, I've experienced my fair share of trials and upsets. On more than one occasion, I've worked an 18-hour shift after a rude official told me I was a hack, and that my writing would never amount to anything.
However, in the last year, God has given me a new car, the finances to afford my own apartment, a new wife, and a new career. The last two blessings happened only within days of each other.
I think that when God sees us gritting our teeth, he dumps a box of blessings on top of us to let us know that things aren't as bad as we think they are, but they can always be better.
While I can't say I've loved every single minute of working for the News Daily, I can say I've left the office everyday feeling like I learned something and made a difference in the community.
During my time at the paper, I've learned what a rich community Clayton County is. Under the headline-grabbing political turmoil, there is a lot that Clayton County has to celebrate.
While Clayton may be a small, backwoods blip to people living inside Atlanta's perimeter, I've learned that it is world full of worlds. Just within the county limits I've studied the way of Lao Buddhist monks, sat in trenches with Civil War reenactors, hunted for marsh hens with my camera lens in 532 acres of constructed wetlands, explored the sewers, and learned how to make cheese on a goat farm.
Despite having to write an unflattering story about an institution or an elected official, here and there, I have also made a lot of friends. Over the years, I've received more letters of support than I can remember from people's whose lives I have touched through my writing.
Those small words of encouragement I have received along the way have made all the difference in the world and have made the rough times a lot more bearable.
Starting, or ending anything is always hard, and right now I am having to do both. However, the skills and character I have gained at the Clayton News Daily will serve as a foundation I will always be able to proudly stand upon.
Thank you Clayton County for letting me into your lives to share your stories. It has been an honor.
Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.