The Flood Diaries, 2

(In my previous post, I began compiling Facebook posts that I made during Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. Here are the rest of those entries.)

 

Saturday, Sept. 9 – Back at the house in Orangefield. My brothers Jimmy & David & their team have done some amazing work, getting wet flooring, sheet rock, cabinets, and more removed and thrown out, and stacking up things that can be salvaged.

Job 1 over the next few days will be to go through all the salvaged stuff and continue the sorting/storing/disposal process. Kathy is washing dishes right now, and I’ve also been on the phone with FEMA and the insurance people. I foresee an immediate future of lots of organizing and sorting, and a lot of trips to Walmart and Home Depot. This will be a long process. So many others are in the same shape or worse. As always, your continuing prayers are deeply appreciated.

 

Tuesday, Sept. 12 – The work of cleaning, sorting, and boxing up what can be salvaged, continues here at the house. It’s a slow, tedious process with lots of little joys and much sadness – joys at finding unexpected sentimental items that were either undamaged, or else can be dried out and kept; sadness at so much that was soaked and cannot be kept. So many books – books that I have treasured – so many Bible study notes – all gone.

On the other hand, it’s just stuff. And we are still very blessed. My son Travis was able to get my computer going again! That’s a definite blessing. And so many friends, praying for us, encouraging us, sustaining us.

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.

 

(From my sister-in-law, Christy) Saturday, Sept. 16 –  I have to say that today has been ridiculously hard. For over 33 years this home has been an anchor for our family. I watched my kids grow up in this house and I can’t even begin to count how many dinners I had around her dinner table. I did not grow up in this house but it was my home too. Overwhelming is an understatement by far. We will restore what’s been lost and work to bring Dad home. We will have family dinners, holidays and reunions here again. We are strong, we are 1RG!! #1RGFamily

 

Saturday, Sept. 23 – I’m happy to report, it has been a fairly productive week. We have completely emptied out all of the closets and gone through all of the records, receipts, papers, keepsakes, and memorabilia that my mother collected / acquired / inherited over the years. This was a group project that several family members worked on together.

We found some absolutely fascinating material, such as:

  • A list of all the towns & villages in France where Grandpa Garison fought during World War I, including notes about which villages they marched to, and which ones they rode in trucks to reach.
  • Mom’s scrapbook from her senior year in high school, including souvenirs from attending the Texas Music Educators Association convention in Dallas in 1955. I never knew she had dreams of becoming a music teacher and band director!
  • The “bride’s book” that my grandmother Sallie had from her wedding in 1934.

And on and on and on.

Meanwhile, we have pulled all the sheetrock from the house. We still have to demo dad’s bathroom – it got a LOT of water behind the walls – and to finish taking out the upper kitchen cabinets. We’re planning to reuse some of those, but for now, they have to come out. And other work remains.

I am so tired. Tired from moving stuff from room to room. Tired of smelling the mildew stink from the enormous pile of rotten furniture and moldy building materials piled up out by the road. Tired of being tired.

But I know we are making progress. The piles of stuff to go through are getting smaller. Our family is closer than ever, I think. Friends are coming alongside us to help in ways big and small. God is faithful, and He promises that when we pass through the floodwaters, they will not sweep us away.

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.

#1RGStrong

 

Wednesday, Oct. 4 – Most of the work of sorting, packing, and throwing away is finished. On the upper shelves of five closets, my mom had saved box after box of photos, scrapbooks, old receipts, and more. Some of it has been wonderful to explore – but much of it, quite tedious. (Mom, did you really need to save your cancelled checks all the way back to 1957?)

Anyway, we have finished going through all that, and repacking what’s worth keeping. We have ripped out all the old Sheetrock and insulation from the whole house, except for one tiny bathroom that we’re still using. It’s next on the demo list. Then we can start to rebuild.

For my part, after several long conversations with my brothers, we have decided that I should go home to Abilene. There’s really not much for me to do here, and my carpentry skills are so poor, I usually tear up more than I fix. Fortunately, my dear wife Kathy also thinks it’s a good idea for me to come home. So, towards the end of next week, we will load up a truck with my stuff and schlep our way west across Texas.

Dad remains in a skilled nursing center in Lewisville, where my brother visits him twice a day, and where many of the grandkids and great-grandkids can come to see him. He’s getting excellent care. At some point during the rebuilding process, we may move him to a care facility closer to home. Our goal, of course, is to get the house back in a livable state, and get dad back in it. That is several months away.

I’m looking forward to being back in Abilene, and so many wonderful friends there, but I’m also going to miss being in Orangefield. I will miss the old friends that I have reconnected with, and the new ones I’ve made. I will especially miss the West Orange Christian Church where I’ve been preaching, and the wonderful folks there. None of us knows what tomorrow holds. Im planning to move back here in the spring, assuming that dad is able to come back home when the house is ready. God may have other ideas.

This will probably be my last update from the flood zone. It’s been just over a month now, and life goes on. But I have been reminded of how precious and tenuous life is, and how much we need our neighbors, family and friends.

Thank you to all who have shared so generously with your prayers, concern, your calls and emails, and your gifts. There’s a part of me that is thankful for having gone through this, because of what it has taught me about learning to depend on God. On the other hand, I’m ready for this chapter to be over, and to get back to ordinary things.

What’s next?

The Flood Diaries, 1

Longtime readers of this blog know that I took the summer off from writing – then came Hurricane Harvey. I broke my self-imposed exile from Facebook to post pictures and make comments and observations during and after the flood.

I thought I would gather all of those thoughts and pictures together to keep them as a record of this whole episode. I’m planning to edit these as minimally as possible.

Here’s my look back at Harvey and his aftermath, 2017.

Saturday, Aug. 26 – As of 3 pm CDT, Dad & I are fine. There are reports of tornadoes in the area, but we’re safe. Prayers appreciated for everyone being affected by these storms.

Monday, Aug. 28 – 15″ here & counting, so far. Many have received 2 or 3 times that much. The next round is starting.

Tuesday, Aug. 29 – As of 8 am Tuesday morning – we have received 18″ here at the house, including 2.5 over night, and it’s still raining. There is widespread flooding across the county, and rain is expected for at least another day or two.

We are fine here, thank the Lord – the house is dry, and we still have plenty of groceries, and electricity. We are all going a bit stir crazy from being cooped up together, but not bad, considering what so many others are dealing with.

Continuing prayers for everyone affected by this storm certainly appreciated!

 

Thursday, Aug. 31 – Okay, first things first – dad and I are safe. We started getting water in the house about 3:30 yesterday morning. By mid-morning it was 18″ deep & rising.

Dad's House

Dad’s House

House & yard

The house & yard from the road

Kitchen

The kitchen – the water is about 14″ deep at this point and still rising

We had quite an ordeal getting out, including waiting outside for over two hours in a cold, windy rain. But after 7 hours and 5 different transfers, we made it to the emergency shelter at Bridge City Elementary School. I hereby take back any snarky thing I may have ever said about Bridge City. Those people absolutely knocked themselves out to take care of us. God bless them for their kindness and generosity.

 

This morning we were bussed to Jack Brooks Airport (Beaumont/ Port Arthur), where we were transferred into the care of FEMA. We are not sure what is next. They’re telling us we’re going to be flown out to shelters outside the hazard zone, especially with new storms expected here this weekend. We’ve heard Dallas. We’ve heard Galveston, or perhaps Austin. I don’t think anyone knows for sure.

Dad is holding up pretty well. He got very wet & cold yesterday but was better once I got him warm & dry. And we are thankful to our friend Max, who was able to take in Chica, so we don’t have to worry about her.

I will try and post some pics when I can. Meanwhile, just know that we are safe & dry, and sooner or later will head to a shelter. I will update as I get the chance. Thanks to everyone for all the prayers, and please keep ’em going up.

Praise God for His care, and for the kindness of neighbors and strangers for the assistance they are continuing to give – sometimes at the peril of their very lives. God’s protection be over them.

PS – I forgot to mention – we received an ADDITIONAL 28″ of rain from Tuesday afternoon into Wednesday morning. Crazy.

 

Friday, Sept. 1 – Friday morning – My apologies for not being able to update before now. FEMA and the Air National Guard evacuated us last night to Dallas on a C-130 cargo plane. Buzzy picked us up at Love Field, and Kathy and Erin met us at Buz & Deb’s house.

Dad is fine, sort of. He’s absolutely exhausted. I think we’re going to have to admit him into an assisted living center, for the time being, which is not going to make him happy. I’m afraid his house will be unlivable for a while. Last we heard, the water had not even started to go down there. I have been involved with enough flood recovery to know that it will be a long process. We fully intend to rebuild and get him back home ASAP. We are going to start talking to FEMA and our insurance people today.

Chica is staying with our friend Max, who didn’t get flooded.

Lots of people have been asking how they can help. To be honest, we got out with not much more than the clothes we were wearing. I’m still a bit overwhelmed by it all, but thankful to the Lord for His help and for so many wonderful friends.

 

Friday, Sept. 1 – Lunch in Ft. Worth – Happy to be out of the aftermath of Harvey – heading back to Abilene for a while, and having lunch at .Whataburger

 

Saturday, Sept. 2 – First morning back in Abilene. Ate some great Mexican food last night. Going shopping for clothes. Filling out FEMA forms. Happy to be alive and out of SE Texas for a few days, but my heart aches for so many who have lost so much – ourselves included. Praising the One Who is close to the broken-hearted. Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever!

 

Wednesday, Sept. 6 – Exactly one week ago, dad & I were on the side of a canal levee, in the rain, waiting on a second boat ride, to get to some place dry. Today, I’m sitting on the patio of my favorite Mexican food place in Abilene, enjoying a delicious chile rellenos for lunch.

The contrast is surreal.

I have no words to express my gratitude for SO MANY FRIENDS who have blessed us with their prayers, phone calls, gifts, and so much more. Abilene – Haskell – West Texas – I cherish you. A thousand times, thank you.

Dad remains in a skilled nursing center in North Texas. It’s not where he wants to be, but it’s necessary for the time being. We plan to get him home as soon as feasible. Two of my brothers are going into the house today, to begin the cleanup & recovery phase of all this. Kathy & I are planning to head that way soon. So many of our family & friends in SE Texas are in the same situation as us, or worse. Your continuing prayers, along with other expressions of support, are definitely appreciated: prayers in protection against looters, especially.

Meanwhile, the truth of Isa. 43:2 has become very dear to me.

PS – In thanking our WEST Texas friends, I didn’t mean to leave out our EAST Texas friends who have also been so kind. We treasure you all!

 

Friday, Sept. 8 – “Once more unto the breach, dear friends…” I have cherished these days in Abilene with family & friends to rest up from our evacuation, but now it’s time to get back to work – heading back to Orange County, where my brothers and their team have already begun working on dad’s house. It will be a long process.

Words cannot express how moved and overwhelmed I have been by the outpouring of love and support from so many. You have refreshed my spirit in many ways, and I am deeply grateful.

Please continue in prayer for dad and our family through this time. And until I see you again, may the good Lord bless and keep you.

 

Adjustments

March 10, 2017 – Friday morning

As I write this, it’s been a little over two weeks since I’ve moved in to live with my dad as his caregiver. I knew this would be an adjustment in many ways, and certainly it has been. Some of those adjustments have been tougher than others.

I knew I was going to miss my family in Abilene, and I do. I miss our home, and especially my wife, Kathy, and her sweet smile and her gentle sense of humor. She is wonderfully attuned to hearing the Spirit of God, and I miss the blessings of just being around her. As many of you know, she also has an amazing singing voice, and I have always loved standing next to her as we worship, and hearing that beautiful voice offering up a sacrifice of praise in gorgeous harmony.

I miss my many wonderful friends. Many of them are from church and from our Bible class. Proverbs says as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another, and I am a better student of God’s Word because of the “sharpening” these friends have provided. It has been a privilege to study with them. Others have shared with us through life groups and other ways. Whether sharing from the bread of the Bible, or sharing Chinese food at Szechuan’s, the sweet friendships and fellowship have been a rich blessing.

As I said to some friends before I left Abilene, most blessings in this life are temporary, and when those blessings are gone, we can either be angry that we’ve lost them, or be thankful that we got to enjoy them for a season, and I choose to be thankful.

I don’t want to forget my friends from our model train club, and the fun we had running trains together and sharing that great hobby.

And that’s not all. Certainly, I miss the good friends and colleagues with whom I worked at CCC, and I miss the work of meeting neighbors and building a better neighborhood. Yesterday was the second Thursday of the month, which was the regular day for “neighbor lunch” potluck dinner, where I would prepare the main dish and the neighbors would bring the sides. I miss the good food, and the good conversation that we had together.

I miss my CCC co-workers, and the shared struggles that we had together. That’s what it means to be part of a team, so that “joys are magnified and disappointments lessened,” because we went through them together. And in shaping teenagers to become Young Leaders of Abilene, or in helping families move towards better financial stability, or just giving someone a ride to the store, they are still doing that work, and God knows, we need more good neighbors in this world.

So yes, there are people and things that I miss greatly about Abilene. But I am receiving many blessings as well.

I enjoy sharing time with my dad, and hearing stories about the interesting life he’s led, people he’s known, places he’s been. He has worked hard his whole life, and always put his family first. Imagine: all those years, I thought he LIKED the dark meat of the chicken! Turns out, no, he actually prefers the white meat, but he was letting his family have the first pick.

So now, if he needs a little help with the chores of everyday living, it’s my privilege to assist him with that. I figure he’s earned it.

Just the other day, he showed me a picture from his days in the army. He was about 23 or 24, a corporal in charge of a crew manning an anti-aircraft gun. The picture shows him, kneeling down, with the members of his crew all around him. They’re all smiling, and you can tell that these are young men in the prime of their lives, defending their country during the Korean War, but also ready to have a good time when they’re not on duty.

I’m learning other things too, and receiving blessings beyond measure. And I’m thinking that somehow, in some way, maybe this is what God has in mind for us. Not that we should all move in with our aging parents, necessarily, but that we should be more willing to care for each other, to give up some of our own conveniences and comforts when necessary, for the sake of helping someone else.

And just this morning, we got a phone call that my niece and her husband had just had their first baby, a little girl. Everybody is doing well, and the pride and love in my brother’s voice was special beyond words. It was a wonderful moment, being with my dad when he saw the first picture of his newest great-grandchild – this makes number eight. And thank You, Lord.

So there are compensations for the things I’m missing. Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; His love endures forever.

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye

No matter how much we try and plan for the future, none of us can know the twists and turns of “what’s next.” The truth of this principle has recently been reinforced to me. I have resigned from CCC, effective by the end of February. How this came about is a bit of a long story, but I think it’s a good one, so please bear with me.

My 88-year-old dad has been battling a crippling neuro-muscular disease for about 10 years. (Some of you may recall that I wrote a post about him back in the fall of 2016.) This disease has left him unable to walk, confined to a wheelchair, and essentially homebound. He lives in Orange County, Texas, between Orange and Beaumont, in the same house where I was raised, and on the same piece of land where he was born and raised. Recent events, including a visit last month to help care for him, have convinced my brothers and me that dad is simply no longer able to stay by himself.

My brothers and I have discussed this at length, and considered all the various options available – hiring an outside caregiver, relocating dad to live with one of us, moving him into a nursing home. For various reasons, none of these options can work for him, or for us. We have decided that the best course of action would be for me to move in with dad and serve as his full-time caregiver.

While I am looking forward to spending more time with my dad and serving him, I am overwhelmingly sad about leaving Abilene and the non-profit I work for, Connecting Caring Communities. In the nearly nine years since I joined CCC, I have been blessed to make some wonderful friends and see amazing things done, working with neighbors and others to better our community.

(I’m also going to really, REALLY miss our church, Beltway Park, and so many friends from our Sunday School class and our Bible Study life group. The folks in my Sunday class gave me a great send-off yesterday, with lots of prayers, hugs, tears, kind notes & cards, and even gifts of cash and more. Our Sunday night group had a farewell dinner for us last night. It was a very rich, full day of love and friendship, and one more thing I will miss about Abilene. But right now I’m talking about work…)

I have learned so much during my time with CCC – especially about what it really means to “love your neighbor as yourself.” The opportunity to meet some great people, to get to know neighbors from different backgrounds, different cultures, different religions, and to host them in our home – these have been priceless blessings that I will always cherish.

I think of friends I made who have passed away: people like sweet Sandy, a tattooed elderly lady that I met through Meals on Wheels. Sandy, you must have lived an interesting life in your younger days; I’m sorry I never got to hear the stories I’ll bet you could have told. People like David, confined to a wheelchair, yet always with a smile on his face. Rhonda; Jimmy; Paul; all of you blessed me with your friendship, and I thank you. I will continue to miss you, and remember you fondly.

I think of the kids who spent part of their afternoons with me and our volunteers at “Kids’ Club,” and the parents who trusted me to watch their little ones for a while. It was my honor, and my pleasure. We had a good time doing homework, drawing on the sidewalks, climbing trees, doing crafts, and more. And I remember the Bible stories we told – “they say stories like that make a boy grow bold, stories like that make a man walk straight.” The Fruit of the Spirit and the Armor of God, David, Deborah, Moses and Esther. Mary & Joseph, Peter and John and the boys, and best of all, Jesus, the manger, the parables, the miracles, and the cross. And the twelfth and final egg, which is, of course, empty.

I think of the meals, and all the laughs we had around the table and out in the yard. Easter egg hunts and Halloween carnivals. Banana boats and dirt cake, hot dogs and Frito pie. A dunking booth on a certain very cool October day, and kickball games. Swing sets and bluebonnets. The prayer walks and recruiting volunteers. Working with teens for the “Young Leaders of Abilene.” Finding unexpected skills, like the time I handed my neighbor Diego the spatula during a cookout, then couldn’t get it back, only to learn that he used to be a short-order cook! I wouldn’t trade a minute of any of it.

And I think of so many friends who have supported, and continue to support, our work through your prayers, your gifts and your financial participation, a huge and heartfelt “thank you.” We literally could not do this without your gracious assistance and partnership.

To the colleagues I’m leaving behind, past and present: Please know that I’ve enjoyed every minute of working beside you. It has been a privilege to serve with you. I’m praying for your continued success.

Working for CCC has been one of the greatest blessings of my life, and I shall always cherish the opportunity to live out the call to love our neighbors, to bind up the broken-hearted, and to seek the shalom of our city. Thanks to everyone who participated in this ministry, and may the Lord continue to bless and guide all of you, as you continue to work on behalf of CCC, our neighbors, and our community.

“Chains Shall He Break…”

The music of Christmas has always been one of my favorite parts of celebrating this season of joy. When I was a child, I remember my mom had Christmas music playing during the entire month of December. Christmas music continues to be special to me, both the serious and the silly, the sacred and the secular. I want to tell you the story behind my favorite of all Christmas songs.

The year was 1847. Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure was the commissioner of wines in a small French village who had some local fame as a poet. Although he was not a regular church-goer, the local priest asked him if he would compose a special poem for use at that year’s Christmas service, and Cappeau agreed.

With the Christmas story from Luke in mind, Cappeau began to imagine actually being in Bethlehem and watching the events of that night unfold, and he soon completed the poem, which he entitled, “Cantique de Noel.” But Cappeau felt that the poem needed to become a song, and so he turned to a musician friend, Adolphe Adams, for help.

Adams was a Jew, but he agreed to help his Gentile friend compose a song for a holiday that Adams did not celebrate, to honor a Messiah that he did not worship. The tune was finished, and three weeks later, “Cantique” was performed for the first time at the midnight Christmas Mass. The song found wide acceptance in churches across France.

But a few years later, Cappeau walked away from the church and became part of the socialist movement, and French church officials discovered that the tune had been written by an unbelieving Jew. They denounced the song as being unfit for worship services, lacking in musical taste, and “total absence of the spirit of religion.” (Personally, I think that’s a good thing, but I digress.)

Anyway, that might have been the end of “Cantique,” except the song found its way to America a few years later, and was given new life by a staunch abolitionist, John Sullivan Dwight. You probably never heard of him – frankly, neither had I – but he prepared and published a new translation of Cappeau’s poem into English. Dwight was especially moved by the third verse of “Cantique.”

Truly He taught us to love one another,

His law is love, and His gospel is peace.

Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,

And in His Name, all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy, in grateful chorus raise we,

Let all within us, praise His holy Name:

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever!

His power and glory, Ever more proclaim!

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever!

His power and glory, Ever more proclaim!

And so, “O Holy Night” became popular on this side of the Atlantic, at first in northern homes during the Civil War, and later, throughout the country.

There is a legend that says during the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, a French soldier on Christmas Eve stood up, exposing himself to enemy fire, and began to sing “Cantique de Noel.” The Germans held their fire, and when was finished, a German soldier began to sing “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come,” a Christmas hymn by Martin Luther. The story goes that troops on both sides observed an unofficial Christmas truce.

“O Holy Night” became involved in another Christmas miracle of sorts a few years later, in 1906. Reginald Fessenden was a 33-year-old university professor and former assistant to Thomas Edison. On Christmas Eve of that year, using a new type of generator, Fessenden began to speak into a microphone: “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed…”

Across the country, and far out at sea, wireless operators who were used to hearing only coded dots and dashes over their equipment heard a man’s voice, reading them the Christmas story! It was the first known radio broadcast. When he finished reading the story, Professor Fessenden did something even more remarkable. He picked up his violin, and began to play a Christmas hymn – “O Holy Night.” And so it became the first song ever heard on the radio.

(The above material taken from “Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas” by Ace Collins, Copyright (c) 2001, Andrew Collins. Published by Zondervan.)

I love this carol, and it always moves me to tears, in part because of its soaring melody, and also in part because it answers the “So What?” question of Christmas. Jesus came to Earth – so what? He taught us about the love of God – so what? This song reminds us that we must live out the meaning of Christmas in the way that we treat others, to love God by loving our neighbors, and to join the work of Christ in breaking the chains of sin and injustice.

One of my favorite versions of this hymn is by Point of Grace. I hope you enjoy it.

From our family to yours, Merry Christmas.

Hello, I Must Be Going

A little over two years ago, my family and I moved into a beautiful, spacious home on Abilene’s far north side, to continue doing the work of meeting neighbors, building relationships, and serving the community. It has been a very enjoyable time, we love this house, and we have made some wonderful friends among our neighbors in the North Park neighborhood.

npfh-sw-1And we’re leaving.

About a year ago, my colleagues and I at CCC began asking some very hard questions about ourselves and the work we are doing in Abilene neighborhoods; the result of those conversations was to decide that as an organization, we were not being as effective as we would like to be. The work of building relationships is great work, but relationships in and of themselves will not bring about the kind of community renewal that we all want to see. Creating the social capital of bringing neighbors together is great, but you have to then “invest” that social capital in ways that make sense.

npfh-se-2Part of the way CCC had been doing things was to have several community coordinators – that’s my “official” job title – and place each coordinator in a separate neighborhood. Some of those neighborhoods were small; some were enormous. Some coordinators enjoyed focusing on kids and families; some were more interested in working on “bigger picture” issues. All of us wanted to bring about the “safe, caring, whole community” our mission statement envisions – we just weren’t sure that the strategy we were following was going to get us there.

We talked with a lot of people. We read books from numerous experts in this field. We sought input and approval from our board. And at the end of that process, we decided that what was needed was for all the coordinators to live in the same neighborhood, so that we could more effectively work together – to share the load and to take advantage of our various gifts and talents, and also to support each other, so that one individual was not having to be responsible for an entire neighborhood by himself or herself.

From there, we naturally began to ask, “Which neighborhood?” And again, following a lot of discussion, we settled on College Heights as being the most logical choice. The irony, of course, is that College Heights is the neighborhood where my family and I lived for over six years, in the old Friendship House there, before we moved to North Park. For a lot of reasons, though, College Heights makes the most sense as the place to refocus our team efforts. We talked with our partners; we talked with our funders.

Then I had to confirm to my family that we were, indeed, going to have to leave this beautiful house.

There have been a lot of logistics in all this. Buy or rent? New or old? How large? Which section of the neighborhood? We searched for over eight months, until we finally found a small house in the southeastern part of College Heights that we think will work for us. It’s currently being re-habbed, and we should be able to start moving sometime by mid-October.

To be honest, we’re not sure what will be happening with the North Park Friendship House. It could become CCC’s administrative offices, and continue to serve as a venue for neighborhood events; there are other options as well. Certainly, we want to carry on the wonderful relationship we have had with Hardin-Simmons University, and CCC is definitely planning to have an ongoing presence in the North Park neighborhood.

This move will be an adjustment for our family, to be sure. Like many older homes, our new house has precious little storage space, so we’re having to downsize and get rid of a bunch of stuff. It’s a two bedroom home with a living room and dining room, but less than half of the square footage of our current home, and certainly without the large community room for hosting events. It will take some getting used to, but it will be fine, and I’m looking forward to renewing friendships with some of the neighbors in that immediate area, and to making new friends, too.

I’m especially looking forward to continuing to partner with my CCC colleagues, to loving neighbors in Jesus’ name, and to helping build a stronger, safer, better community by building relationships one neighbor, one home, one block at a time.

So, farewell, North Park. You have blessed us and welcomed us into your lives, and we’ve enjoyed being your neighbors for the last couple of years.  We look forward to continuing as friends. And hello again, College Heights. It’s good to be back.

Here we go.

 

 

 

Lessons from Dad

I hope you had a pleasant Labor Day holiday weekend, and that you were able to do something fun with family or friends. I spent the weekend with my dad.

Dad & me 9-3-16Harry Louis Garison, Sr., is a remarkable man. Known to his friends as “Buddy,” he was born at home on August 25, 1928. When he got married, his father gave him an acre of land across the road, where dad built a house for his new bride. He still lives in that house where we grew up. Other than the three years when he was in the army, he has lived on that property in Orange County, Texas, his entire life.

Almost six years ago, my mom passed away from a stroke, and it was a hard blow for him, but he was determined to stay by himself, and he has. Well, not quite by himself – he has a gentle giant of a dog, an old German Shepherd named “Chica,” who is his faithful companion. My dad is also blessed with some great neighbors and good friends who regularly check on him and sometimes even bring him food.

Dad had a long career as a mechanic and a business owner. When we were boys, my brothers and I took turns working for him, and watching him and the way he carried himself has gone a long way towards making me who I am today.

The most important thing I’ve learned from my dad is that Christianity is not something you just talk about; it’s how you live. Dad has lived his life in accordance with the scripture that says, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do” (James 2:18).

Dependability, honesty, hard work, loyalty – these are the principles by which my dad has lived his life. It’s how he operated his business and how he raised his family. To this day, he is a role model for my brothers and me.

Something else I’ve learned from dad: patience. Whether it was fixing some stubborn problem on a car or dealing with a difficult customer, my dad always modeled patience for us, even though he would probably say he didn’t do a very good job at it.

In recent years, dad has shown great patience in another way. Dad has non-diabetic neuropathy, which has destroyed his balance and left him confined to a wheelchair. It has also turned his hands into claws, and left him unable to use his fingers. But he still lives by himself, dresses himself, and cooks his own food every day. He has gotten very creative in finding ways of doing things he used to do without thinking about it. He still gets them done; it just takes longer. But he is patient enough (and stubborn enough) to keep working on the chore in front of him, until he finishes it.

There’s a lot more I could say about my Dad, but one recent story reveals a lot about him. Dad enjoys ice cream as a treat, and he buys frozen goodies from the Schwan’s truck that comes to his house. Just the other day, he had bought a box of ice cream sandwiches, and decided he wanted one right then, so after the truck left, he opened the package and took one out, and was putting the box in the freezer above the refrigerator. As he was stretching up in his wheelchair, he slipped and fell, and spilled ice cream sandwiches everywhere. Just at that moment, his home health nurse arrived, and came into the kitchen to find him on the floor. “Oh my goodness!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing on the floor?”

“Never mind that,” he said. “Help me get this ice cream in the freezer before it melts!”

That’s my dad.

The National Game of Texas

In 1887, in the tiny North Texas town of Trappe Spring, two young boys had a problem. Twelve-year-old William Thomas and 14-year-old Walter Earl both really liked playing cards – not games of gambling, but trick-taking card games similar to Bridge, Spades, Whist, and the like. The problem was, both young men came from devout Baptist families, and playing cards was absolutely forbidden. What to do?

Playing dominoes was allowed in their homes, but the boys found regular dominoes to be, well, boring. So they set out to invent a new game, using the strategy and skill of their favorite card games, but utilizing dominoes instead of the sinful pasteboards. After a few months of trial and error, they had their game, which they taught to their families. Their families enjoyed this new game, and taught it to their neighbors. They liked it, too.

When their families moved to Fannin County, they took the game with them, and taught it to their new neighbors. It caught on there, too, and gradually spread across the whole state. And thus was born “The National Game of Texas” – 42.

domino-square_0Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Texans of all backgrounds and social levels would meet to play. In rural communities and big cities, neighbors would bring covered dishes to someone’s house on Saturday nights after work, and eat together. Then, after the dishes were done and while the kids played outside, the grown-ups would sit and sip their sweet iced tea (these are mostly Baptists, remember!), and play 42. The game was played in homes, at churches, on picnics, and around campfires.

When the Texas boys went off to World War II, they took the game with them. There are lots of stories about G.I.s teaching the game to their buddies from New York and California. But at its heart, it was – and is – a Texas game, officially recognized by the state legislature as the “Official Domino Game of Texas.”

And although some think of it as a game for older people, it’s actually making a comeback among younger players. In fact, every year in Halletsville, there is a state championship, to crown the best “42” player in the state.

Like many great games, 42 is easy to learn and hard to master. The game is played with four people – two teams of two people each. You draw seven dominoes, then you bid on how many “tricks” you can take for your team. There’s a total of 42 points for each round – hence, the name. Knowing how to bid well is the key to being a good player.

winning 42If you want to know more about the history and strategy of playing 42, you need to get a copy of Winning 42: Strategy & Lore of the National Game of Texas, by Dennis Roberson. There are also online versions of the game, where you can practice against computer-generated players.

The competition, skill and strategy of a well-played game is certainly enjoyable. But for many, the real pleasure of the game is the time spent with friends – the fun of getting together with neighbors to talk, to visit, and to share life together.

We played “regular” dominoes in my family when I was growing up, not 42, but a few years ago, I got to play a few hands when I was visiting a friend at her nursing home. Then last month, the teenagers of our “Young Leaders of Abilene” group were helping out at Cobb Park’s monthly game night, and there were some folks there playing 42. As I sat and watched, I remembered how much fun the game was. I began talking with some of my neighbors, and sure enough, discovered that several of them are devotees of the game.

So, coming up on Saturday, April 2, (4/2 – get it?), several neighbors and friends will get together here at the North Park Friendship House. We’ll set up tables, get out the dominoes, choose up teams, and play 42. At some point, we’ll stop long enough to eat, then we’ll play some more. Are you a 42 player, or do you know someone who is? Come join us.

William and Walter would be proud.

Slow Down

(Thanks to Keith Roberson, North Campus Pastor at Beltway Park, for kick-starting my thinking along these lines.)

It won’t come as a galloping surprise to anyone if I say, we’re busy. We’re all busy.

Duh.

And that busy-ness only gets worse during the holidays. Here it is, the first week of December, and my family already has somewhere to be, every night this week. And it’s going to continue like that for the whole month, right up until the 25th. Of course, by the time Christmas Day actually, finally, mercifully, gets here, we’re so exhausted that we won’t be able to appreciate it. So Christmas becomes something to be endured, rather than enjoyed.

Stop this train. I want to get off.

Nobody WANTS to hate Christmas. The truth is, most people enjoy many of the things associated with the season, but we utterly despise – and absolutely reject – the crass merchandising of the holiday, the cynicism of too-slick marketing, the packaging of warm fuzzies as if they were so many beans for sale on a store shelf somewhere.

Slow down. Nobody said it had to be this way.

I’m not going to tell you that you have to stay home from the office Christmas party, or not to exchange gifts with cousin Freddie, or skip putting up the outdoor decorations. But I AM suggesting that we all stop and think about what we’re doing, and why we’re doing it. And maybe that DOES mean, simplifying our schedules and cutting back on some things, in order to focus on better things.

Almost everyone likes SOMETHING about Christmas. The music. The food. Spending time with family or friends. So, how about we focus on doing the things we enjoy, and skip (or at least, minimize) the rest of it?

If it’s Christmas music you like, give yourself permission to spend more time listening to it. Do you like Christmas movies? Skip one of the endless parties, make some hot chocolate and popcorn, and stay in with “White Christmas” or “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Or even, “A Christmas Story,” if that’s your thing. (Just don’t put your eye out!)

Do you like to cook or bake? Whip up a batch of your favorite holiday snack treat – chocolate chip cookies, peppermint bark, Chex mix, whatever – and enjoy. Share some with friends. And don’t forget to take some to your neighbors.

Do you have little ones, kids or grandkids, that you can spend some time with? Find a way to make some Christmas memories for them. Think back to your own childhood: what was most special to you? Many folks remember something fun and special that their family did. So now, it’s your turn to help your young ones have some special memories of their own. But it’s not about the stuff – it’s about the time.

I’m suggesting we skip maxxing out our credit cards and over-scheduling ourselves into a holiday frenzy, and instead, slow down, think about what this season is all about, and spend some quality time with the people who matter in our lives. Share a second cup of coffee with a companion. Reach out to a friend. Don’t just forward another mindless Facebook meme about “the reason for the season” – let the Spirit of the Christ-child living in and through you be evident to everyone.

We can start by spending a little time in the Christmas Story as found in Luke 2. Notice that after the shepherds come for their visit, verse 19 says that “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Treasuring memories. Pondering them. Works for me.

Welcome Home

My wife and I have very different TV habits, but there is one show that we both like, and it’s on the HGTV channel: “Fixer-Upper”

In case you’re not familiar with it, “Fixer-Upper” features the husband and wife team of Chip & Joanna Gaines, of Waco, Texas. Chip is a contractor, and Joanna is a designer and owner of a local boutique. Together, they operate Magnolia Homes.

Chip-and-Joanna-Gaines-HGTV-Fixer-Upper-with-kidsEvery week, a client hires them to help find them a home, which they then remodel to suit the client’s needs and desires. As Chip says in the show’s opening montage, their goal is to take “the worst homes in the best neighborhoods,” and turn them into their client’s dream home. The show is unabashedly, unapologetically, Texan.

One of the things I really like is that a lot of the renovations feature old “Craftsman” style homes. With their client’s input and approval, they will strip the old home down to the bare studs and original floors, then restore it to its original appearance – only better. Each episode demonstrates this husband and wife duo working together. Chip and his crew do the heavy demo work, taking out walls, opening up rooms, enlarging doors, in accordance with the vision that Joanna and the clients have developed. Then she takes over, directing the construction team as they install and make the house into the home the client wants.

Along the way, there’s lots of playful interactions between these two, and their chemistry together is really attractive. Many times, Chip will bring their kids over while mom Joanna completes the staging for the client.

On the day of the “reveal,” they will bring the clients, with their eyes closed, to the front of the house, and have them open their eyes – only to see a giant photo of the UN-restored front of their house. (This photo is in two parts, with each half mounted on wheels.) They will talk about why they selected that property, and what was wrong with it. Then Joanna will ask, “Are you ready to see your fixer-upper?” At that point, she and Chip will each take hold of a different end of the photo on wheels, and open it up to show them their house.

(Of course, this being television, they have to cut to commercial right before that happens.)

But then, they will look at the new and improved curb view of their home, and talk about whatever landscaping and other external work was done. They walk to the front door, Joanna opens the door and leads them inside. As she does, she says, “Welcome home.”

Then they walk through the house together. Chip and Joanna will show them all the features of the new house and point out all the little touches that were just for them. They will express their good wishes for the new homeowners, and how much they hope they will be happy in their new home for many years to come.

It’s good television, and I like that they’re restoring old homes and repurposing old items that would otherwise end up on a junk pile somewhere, but that’s not the best part, at least in my head. I think the best part is knowing that, in a spiritual sense, Jesus is doing the same thing for me.

Even now, in my life, He is ripping out old ideas and enlarging my way of thinking. He’s removing old habits and refurbishing broken parts. It’s going to be like new, only better. As C.S. Lewis once described it,

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.

And one day, when my room in the Father’s mansion is completed, Jesus will open the door for me and bid me enter, and He will say those words we all want to hear.

Welcome home.