Friday, April 29, 2011


You can drive down any number of secondary roads in Williamson County, Tennessee, and you will eventually come across a barn. Here is a photo of me in an abandoned barn near my house in Franklin, Tennessee.

Even in their eroded condition, some barns submit to the laws of gravity while beautifully maintaining their balance. 

Other barns need help.

Some barns have serious problems if viewed from a different angle.

Certain problems are not so obvious unless you examine the inside. This barn is in good shape. It looks like the owner has been working on it.

This barn has all but lost any internal structure.

Usually, dry rot or termites are culprit.

A combination of outside elements and serious, internal decay is the death knell of a barn, sometimes collapsing it altogether from both sides.

Families are similar to barns and other structures. In Grant Wood's American Gothic, the couple in the foreground impeccably resembles the farmhouse in the background: straight, sturdy, symmetrical.

Sometimes little things can indicate dry rot in a family. For every semblance of rigidity in this portrait, the artist chose to display a fallen, but telltale lock of hair. 

That is one of the reasons I love Sodium of Franklin, Tennessee. Nathan Estes, his wife, and their team have discerned the telltale signs of family erosion and have created a family coffee house, an exponentially larger layout of the family home, the "third option" for families who have no other place to go as a family without incurring great expense.

The family in Franklin, Tennessee, is limping through dire times. The cost of living is frighteningly high despite a recession that promises to be a decade long or more, putting families in jeopardy of losing their homes, closing their small businesses, or filing for bankruptcy. Jobs in real estate, education, marketing, finance, and entertainment industries are being down-sized on a frequent basis, increasing unemployment and leaving others out of work long enough to incur weighty debt. It has even been argued that like our nation, one out of eight people in Franklin, Tennessee go without regular meals. 

Economic problems have ramped up pressures upon the family breadwinners, forever increasing activity while diminishing productivity. The result has been anxiety-driven patterns of high-functioning behavior resulting in certain lacks: lack of money, lack of sleep, lack of nutrition, lack of exercise, lack of enjoyment, lack of humor, lack of family love, lack of purpose. 

It has also resulted in increases: increase of spousal arguments surrounding money, increase of domestic violence, increase of prescription drugs, increase of controlled substance use, increase of infidelity, increase of divorce, increase of flight, and an increase of stress-related suicide.

Considering these realities, Nathan Estes has put his finger on the problem that many local churches or charities have yet to realize: the home is no longer a haven. It is a place where bills are paid (or unpaid). It is the place where the utilities get turned off. It is the place where collection notices go. It is the place of the empty refrigerator. It is the place of the unused bed. It is the place of frequent arguments. It is the place with the carpet that has been worn from the incessant pacings back and forth during what used to be sleeping hours. It is a bombshell waiting to go off.

Escape seems to be the only short-term option to alleviate stresses related to the home. Dad can run off to the bar or office with his buddies. Mom can run off to the coffee shop or restaurant with her friends. The children can play at the neighbors, participate in an after-school program, join some extra-curricular activity. Nathan's solution is to have the family escape together. That is Sodium.

Sodium is a family community center created by a family for families. Designed to promote the integrated health of the family, Sodium is a hub where families can participate in activities that span the spectrum of the pensive to the aerobic. Sodium has it all, from a kids coral where your little one can run, and climb and socially interact within a safe environment while you observe from a chair in the coffee shop, sipping a latte. Your older children can play on the signature climbing wall, play ping-pong with friends, play pool, dance in front of the stage to the interactive video on the giant screen, join in an art class, or do homework on the couches. 

Dad can participate, too. Dad can sit with mom on the couches together or at a table together to talk and to relax. Dad can instruct the kids on how to shoot a pool ball, how to hit a ping-pong ball, how to climb to the climbing wall, help his child with homework, and even order inexpensive but delicious New York-style pizza for the family from Brother's Pizza (another service Sodium provides).

Sodium offers family classes on various topics, birthday parties, and rental of its facilities for fundraisers and other group initiatives. I recently went to Sodium for an adoption fundraiser which was a well-spent Sunday afternoon with my family. Sodium recently hosted a fundraiser for a child with cancer, which proved to be an outstanding success and unforgettable experience for all parties involved (Both fundraisers mentioned raised sizable donations). In addition, Sodium is a concert and entertainment venue, streamlined, again, for the entire family.

Nathan and I sat down recently to talk about the absolute necessity of visions like Sodium. For years, people will be talking about the Nashville Flood of 2010, an event that was bound to happen to anyone within a 100-year period. But it happened to us.

For many of us, this is what it looked like up close.

Help Sodium stop a similar thing from happening to our families. Sodium is in dire need of donations to stem the recessional tide for the months of May and June 2011.  Trusts, charities, and local churches, you should consider investing in this vital community asset. And don't take much time to consider!

Contact Nathan Estes at 615.591.1818 to give your volunteer and financial support. To learn more about Sodium and to make a donation through their site, go to

To conclude, listen to Nathan's vision:

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