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.

Throughout 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.

If 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. I discovered how much I enjoyed the strategy of the game, along with enjoying the fellowship of visiting with friends, old and new. I’m still not very good at it, but I do like the game.

During the past year, we’ve all been forced to spend too much time apart from others, but as we go forward from here, maybe we need to re-discover the simple pleasures of good friends spending time together, enjoying conversation and a good game.

William and Walter would be proud

My Coronavirus Vaccine

I got my Coronavirus vaccine the other day, and I feel fine. I’m also very thankful for it.

A little background: I’m in group “1-B.” That group is people who are 65 and older, or who are between 16 and 64 but have other health conditions that make them susceptible to having a more serious case of the virus. So even though I’m “only” 64, having Diabetes qualified me to get the vaccine.

Pharmacist Intern Bria Brooks, of The Drug Store, gives me my Coronavirus vaccine.

I’m a big believer in vaccines. To his dying day, my dad had a small, circular scar high up on his left arm, near his shoulder, where he got the smallpox vaccine when he was young. I remember in elementary school being given a sugar cube with the polio vaccine in it. I also remember almost dying when I was in the first grade from the measles; my fever was so high, I remember having hallucinations of snakes crawling up and down my bedroom wall. And I was terrified of snakes. So when our kids came along, I was very happy to get them vaccinated to protect them from measles. And mumps. And a host of other childhood diseases.

All of that to say, for me, getting a vaccine is a no-brainer. My faith tells me that all healing comes from God, but I also believe that God grants some people the gift of healing through the use of medicine, research, and yes, vaccines to help us not get sick in the first place. I get a flu shot every year because I hate getting the flu. I’ve had to be vaccinated for all sorts of diseases that we don’t even have in this country, so that I could be a part of the team for various overseas mission trips.

Coronavirus is serious stuff. It is NOT a hoax, NOT something that only happens on TV or in big cities, and it is NOT something you can ignore if you’re young and healthy. I have lost several friends to it locally, including my good friend and former boss, Ken Lane, along with a dear former pastor of mine in East Texas, Robley Soileau. (Yes, he was a Cajun.) My son Drew had two friends – both healthy young men in their 20s – who died from it in Dallas. My brother in Houston is in the hospital right now with complications from it. I have another friend in Abilene, a health care worker, who nearly died from it right after Thanksgiving; he was hospitalized for weeks and has still not fully recovered.

So I registered for my turn, and I was delighted the other day when I received a call from The Drug Store, telling me that I could come to the Haskell Civic Center and receive my shot. They asked me a few questions to make sure I was eligible and told me when to be there and what to bring. I showed up that morning; it was a reasonably well-organized and smooth process, and I was in and out of there in well under an hour.

I received the Moderna vaccine. It was relatively painless, and I have had no reaction from it. I will have to get the follow-up shot in a few weeks, but I’ve had other two-dose vaccines like that before, and it’s not a big deal.

Let me say this as directly as I can: Get the shot. Get it as soon as you can. We have buried enough people, lost enough time and money, cast enough blame, and made more than enough excuses about why we can’t / shouldn’t / won’t comply. Don’t believe the conspiracy theories – this vaccine is not going to implant a microchip in you or wire you into the 5G network. It doesn’t alter your DNA, it won’t give Bill Gates control over your mind, and ladies, it will not cause infertility.

Those theories are on the same level as wearing hats made out of aluminum foil, to prevent the government from doing secret radio experiments on your brain.

And for a while longer, until we have a majority of folks vaccinated, let us keep on wearing masks, washing our hands, avoiding big crowds, and observing all the proper protocols. Please.

I know we’re all tired of it. But too many loved ones have already died.

Come Before Him with Thanksgiving

Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord;
Let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before Him with thanksgiving
and extol Him with music and song. - Psalm 95:1, 2

Thanksgiving is one of my very favorite holidays, for a variety of reasons and sweet memories.

Some of my earliest memories of this day go back to my grandparents, Archie & Sallie McMillan. When I was a young child, for some reason, I wouldn’t call her “Grandma.” I heard other people call her, “Sallie,” which I tried to do, but she didn’t like that. I started calling her “Sa-Sa,” and the name stuck. So we would go to Sa-Sa & Pa-Pa’s house.

My grandmother, Sallie McMillan – “Sa-Sa”

I don’t really remember usually having turkey for that meal – I recall that she usually fixed a big hen, and usually in a pressure cooker to make it fall-off-the-bone tender. But what I REALLY remember about Thanksgiving at Sa-Sa’s house was her fruit salad. It had lots of big chunks of apples and bananas and fruit cocktail, along with chopped walnuts and coconut.

Of course, we had lots of other stuff to eat, and plenty of desserts, but I always loved her fruit salad. What was especially great was, if there was any left over, she would freeze it, and we would eat it at Christmas. Pa-Pa died in 1969, and Sa-Sa passed in about 1988, but I still remember them both, especially today. And I’m thankful for her, and for such sweet memories.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your
gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious
about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with
thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God,
which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your
minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:4-7

Thanksgiving also means football, of course; in our family, that meant the Cowboys. The greatest one was Thanksgiving, 1974, when George Allen’s “Over the Hill Gang” laid a vicious 3rd quarter hit on Roger Staubach and knocked him out of the game. The ’Skins were up 16-3 at the time, when an untested rookie from ACU came into the game as the Cowboys’ backup quarterback, Clint Longley. He had earned the nickname of “The Mad Bomber” from his teammates, because of his default tendency to throw deep in practice.

What happened next, Cowboys fans still talk about. And Redskins fans have never gotten over.

This rookie put together what might be the most improbably comeback in team history. After leading the ’Boys to two other touchdowns, with just 35 seconds to play, Longley found a streaking Drew Pearson racing down the sidelines, and he scored. We won 24-23. It’s still one of the greatest wins in Cowboys history.

Four years later, Kathy and I were celebrating our first Thanksgiving as husband and wife. I was a senior at Dallas Christian College, and she and I were in a singing group known as Revelation. Thanksgiving weekend, 1978, we were in the recording studio, cutting a record. (Do I need to explain what “records” were for any of the under 40 crowd?) Since we couldn’t go anywhere for the day, Mom & Dad came to Dallas, and we had Thanksgiving in our tiny apartment.

Fast forward to 2010. My mom had passed away just two months earlier, and we were sharing our first holiday without her. My brother David and his wife Gina hosted the whole wild & woolly bunch of us at their home in Spring. He fried a turkey, my nephew made some amazing cranberry dressing on the stove, and everybody fixed their favorite recipes. I made one of my Jack Daniels Chocolate Pecan Pies. We shared the day and the warmth of shared memories as we surrounded our dad and comforted each other and gave thanks for the legacy we shared and the sweetness of her presence still in our midst.

I am thankful for family, for friends, for sweet memories and for wonderful times together. I am thankful for my job and for all of the blessings we enjoy. I am thankful for Jesus. And I know that the blessings I have received are not mine exclusively to enjoy but have been given so that I can in turn be a blessing to others.

I hope your holiday is filled with everything wonderful, and that whatever the circumstances, you can give thanks with a glad and sincere heart. Happy Thanksgiving!

 Enter His gates with thanksgiving,
 and His courts with praise;
 Give thanks to Him and praise His Name.
 For the Lord is good and His love endures forever;
 His faithfulness continues through all generations.
 Psalm 100:4-5 

What’s Cooking?

Sometimes, if you stay open to trying new things, you’ll discover something about yourself that you never knew before.

Case in point: I’ve discovered that I love to cook.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’ve always loved to grill. I think most guys do – there’s just something about an open fire, and being outside, and sizzling meat cooking on a hot steel grill that appeals to a lot of men. But I’m talking about more than that.

Several years ago, my family and I moved into a neighborhood ministry called “The Friendship House,” on Abilene’s north side near Hendrick Hospital. Part of my job was to host regular block parties and other get-togethers where we would eat and visit and get to know one another – and that meant I had to fix a main course, and the neighbors would bring the side dishes.

So I learned to cook. And in the process, I also learned how much I enjoy planning and preparing the meals, trying out new recipes, and experimenting with different ingredients and techniques. (I’ve also discovered that sometimes, even failures can still taste pretty good!)

Then a few years later, when I resigned from that job and moved back to Southeast Texas to be my elderly dad’s caregiver, I was able to fix his favorite meals and make his closing days a little more enjoyable. It was a real treat for me, to share those dinners with him.

Enjoying a meal with family and friends has a number of genuine benefits. For one thing, food creates community. I’ve seen it more than once – people arrive as strangers and leave as friends. There’s something about the act of eating a meal together that helps people tear down the walls they’ve built and get to know others in a way that few other activities can.

It should come as no surprise that, in the Bible, one of the most common images God uses to describe heaven is a fabulous feast. For example, in Isaiah 25:6, we read, “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine — the best of meats and the finest of wines.” The prophet goes on to say that in that day, God will “swallow up death forever,” and He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

And speaking of creating community: in Revelation 3:20, Jesus says, “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with them, and they with me.”

Here’s another reason I enjoy it: cooking links generations together. My mom has been gone for over ten years, but when I drag out one of her recipes, in her own handwriting, and make that special item, it’s like she is right there with me. And when my kids eat it, they know that at some level, it’s with love from Maw-Maw. The same with that Roast Venison recipe from Grandpa Garison, or Aunt Bib’s Christmas Divinity. We tell the family stories about those loved ones, and it’s like they are with us again, in a very special way.

I have an Hispanic friend who told me about growing up in a home where they always fixed tamales for Christmas, and how multiple generations would be working together in the kitchen. Everyone had a specific job to do, she said, and one of the ways you knew you were getting older was that you were given a more important job to do in helping make the tamales. And as she talked about working with her beloved “Abuela” (grandmother) and her precious “Tía” (aunt), both long since deceased, it was obvious that this was more than just something good to eat.

My wife and I were talking the other day about what a significant part food has played in so many of our family gatherings. Everyone has a favorite dish, and so as we fix that item, a little extra love goes into it while we think about that family member. Sharing together in a good meal makes for very special memories that can span generations, and even lifetimes.

One final blessing: food connects us with our Creator. When we are cooking a meal from scratch, we know that there is more to it than just opening a can or removing the plastic and sticking something in the microwave. When we have handled those raw veggies, just the way they came from a green plant – whether we picked them out at the grocery store, or the farmer’s market, or our own garden – when we have peeled it and put love and time into preparing it, then we are reminded of God’s gracious bounty. When we have cut and cooked that meat, or scrambled those eggs, or whatever we’re doing, it’s an opportunity to be connected more closely with the “Giver of every good and perfect gift.” It’s also a good time to be thankful to the farmers, the ranchers, the grocers and others who were God’s partners in helping to grow and provide that food for us.

The holidays are coming, and even in this season of a terrible pandemic, even when we can’t be together, we can still be thankful for the blessings of food, family and friends.

Reflections on a Fire

It’s been said that fire is a wonderful servant, but a terrible master. The wildfires still burning in California and Colorado certainly prove that. But some of my fondest recollections of childhood involve being around a campfire with my dad and my brothers. It may have been a family camping or hunting trip, a Scouting event, or a church men’s retreat – but it seems like, we ALWAYS had a fire.

“The wonderful smell of burning piñon pine takes me back in my mind…”

Recently Kathy & I added a backyard fireplace, a chiminea, to our back porch, and I am really enjoying it. The wonderful smell of burning piñon pine takes me back in my mind, and the warmth certainly feels good on these cool evenings.

Fire has always held a fascination for people. When the ancient philosophers talked about the “Four Elements,” they were referring to Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. So what is it about fire that attracts so many of us, that makes us stop and stare into the flames?

In part, I think, it’s the attraction of home. Historically, anytime settlers would build a cabin or a cottage, there would always be a fireplace. It provided warmth for the home. It provided a means of cooking, and it provided light for those who lived there. Fire was pretty basic (and essential) to survival. And I think it was Louis L’Amour who once wrote, “No man is so poor that he can’t afford a fire.”

It was at one of the first Boy Scout camping trips I ever went on – I guess was in the fifth or sixth grade – that I remember building my own fire and cooking my own lunch over it. It seemed like quite an accomplishment to me at the time.

Besides cooking, fire was an essential component at blacksmith shops. Being able to heat metal, refine it, work and shape it into various tools and implements – these were needed skills on the frontier. They used to say that the two worst sins that a blacksmith could commit, were to not charge enough for his work, and to let his fire get cold.

But I think that one of the best things about fire is that it creates community. Many of us have had the experience of sitting around a campfire, with family or friends, and enjoying each other’s company. It’s a good time for telling stories (true or not!). More than that, it’s a good time to just be still – to sit and stare into the flames, to think and reflect, and just be.

When I think about good fires, it’s not surprising that God often uses fire as a symbol for Himself. It was in a fire – a “burning bush” – that God revealed Himself to Moses (Exodus 3:1-3). It was in fire, along with other signs, that God descended to the people on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 19:18). It was with fire that God answered the prophet Elijah against the false prophets (1 Kings 18:38). When God poured out His Holy Spirit on the disciples at the birth of the church, one of the signs that was given was “tongues of fire” (Acts 2:3). And when the Apostle Paul was teaching the Thessalonian church about how to treat one another, he advised them, “Don’t put out the Spirit’s fire” (1 Thess. 5:19).

In our crazy, hyper, noisy world, with social media, cell phones and the Internet all clamoring continuously for our attention, we can all benefit from just slowing down and enjoy the company of loved ones around a nice, warm fire – or just to be there, sit still, and be alone and quiet with God.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

I went to my first professional baseball game back in about 1968, when our family went to see the Astros take on the Pittsburgh Pirates at the unofficial “Eighth Wonder of the World,” the Houston Astrodome. (The Astros lost.) Since then, I’ve been able to go to a lot of ballparks, see some amazing baseball venues, and witness some terrific baseball players in action.

Now, I can add “Attend a playoff baseball game at a brand-new stadium” to that list.

Last week, my son Drew got us tickets to the new Globe Life Field in Arlington, to see a National League Championship Game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Atlanta Braves. (If you don’t keep up with baseball, all of these playoff games are being held at neutral sites – baseball’s version of a corona “bubble.”) This new stadium is next door to the Texas Rangers’ home for the last 25 years, originally known as “The Ballpark in Arlington,” but now known as Globe Life Park. (Yes, the names are confusingly similar.) It’s in the same general area with Six Flags over Texas and the Cowboys’ AT&T stadium, so it will be even more of a major entertainment destination.

Drew & I in front of the new Globe Life Field in Arlington.

Of course, there were no fans allowed to attend any of the pandemic-shortened regular season this year, nor any of the opening rounds of the playoffs, but MLB has chosen to allow the Championship Series and World Series games to be played before 25% capacity crowds. So, wearing masks and observing proper social distancing, we sat above third base and enjoyed the game. The Braves won the game, but the Dodgers went on the win the series and face Tampa in the World Series.

This new stadium has a retractable roof and seats just over 40,000 fans at full capacity. And while it’s not especially pretty to look at on the outside, once you go in, you’re overwhelmed with its size and grandeur. And if you’re a longtime fan of the Rangers and baseball (as I am), you will really appreciate all the little touches that salute great Rangers players and moments.

For example, when you first walk into the main entrance and go across the spacious hallway, immediately in front of you is left center field. All along the concourse to your left and right are beautiful brick archways that remind you of the gorgeous retro-brick at the old ballpark, still standing across the street. And along that brick promenade is a true “Hall of Fame,” with each column honoring a different player who has had his number retired by the team. On one column is #34, Nolan Ryan, with a jersey and his story; over there is another column, honoring #7, Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez. And here’s a column for #10, Michael Young. It’s a great way of connecting generations.

The salutes don’t stop there. Above one of the concession stands is a giant clock saved from old Arlington Stadium – originally known as Turnpike Stadium – that was the Rangers’ first home when they moved here from Washington, D.C., in 1972.  The big clock has the Rangers’ logo from the 1970s, a baseball wearing a cowboy hat, and the motto, “It’s baseball time in Texas.”

Each of the dimensions to the outfield has a meaning. For example, from home plate down the left field line is 329 feet, honoring Adrian Beltré, the Rangers’ great third baseman who wore #29.  The deepest part of the outfield is 410 feet, saluting Michael Young’s #10; to straightway center is 407’, for Pudge’s #7.

It’s 326’ down the right field line – a tip of the hat to former Rangers manager Johnny Oates, #26, who was their first skipper to take them to the playoffs. And from home plate to the backstop is 42 feet, remembering Jackie Robinson, whose number has been retired from all of baseball.

One of the last times we took our entire family to a Rangers game, it was late July on a Sunday afternoon, and the temperature at game time was 108°. Obviously, when you play in that kind of heat over the course of a season, it wears you down, and the hope is that future Texas teams will not wilt from the scorching summers in Arlington. We’ll see. But for the fans it will certainly be a more enjoyable experience, whether the roof is closed and the A/C running, or if it’s open, to enjoy a pleasant evening under the stars.

I’m looking forward to next spring, to go back to Arlington and once again hear those words, “It’s Baseball Time in Texas!”

Meet Archie McMillan

Paw Paw and me, about 1957

Let me tell you about a man I used to know. His name was James Archie McMillan. Most people called him Arch or Archie. I called him Paw Paw. He was my mother’s dad.

Arch was born in 1912 in Hardin County, Texas – that’s deep in the Big Thicket country of Southeast Texas, and he was the youngest of five boys born to James Duncan and Mary McMillan. As a matter of fact, Paw Paw was a Leap Day baby, born February 29, 1912. He married my grandmother, Sallie Walker, in 1934, and they had two children – my mom, Tommie Beth, and my uncle, Duncan.

My Paw Paw described himself as a “jack of all trades, and a master of none.” He was the first guy I ever heard use that phrase. During World War II, he was a machinist and worked at a shipbuilding plant in Beaumont. I still have the Vice-Grip pliers that he carried in the factory with his initials engraved in them. Later, he worked in the oil field as a driller; if you’re not familiar with oil field hierarchy, the driller is sort of like a shift supervisor, in charge of a crew of men working on the rig.

His ethnic heritage was Scots-Irish, except he always called it “Scotch-Irish.” Not a big surprise with family names like Duncan, Archie and McMillan. He was a big baseball fan and loved the Detroit Tigers because their farm club was in Beaumont. And he smoked two packs a day of unfiltered Camel cigarettes.

Paw Paw loved to tease and pick, and I loved to tag along with him. I used to go and spend a week with him and my grandmother during the summer, and I would ride with him to go places when he was home from the oil rig.

He died in January, 1969. He was 56. I was 12 and remember it like it was yesterday.

He had suffered a heart attack about three weeks earlier and was in Baptist Hospital in Beaumont. These days, they would put in a stent or two, maybe do bypass surgery, and he’d be home in a week and back to work in a month. But in those days, they couldn’t do much for him.

I remember going up to his room to see him on a Sunday afternoon. He couldn’t talk – I guess he had on an oxygen mask or something, and he was very weak – but I remember him squeezing my hand and looking deep into my eyes. I can still see those eyes. The next day, he had another heart attack and died. Later, I would learn that his own father – James Duncan McMillan – had also died in his mid-50s, when Paw Paw was only 4 years old.

I bring this up, because I had a birthday a few days ago. Now, I’m not superstitious, nor am I especially morbid about these things, but thinking about this brings up some questions. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow. If I knew this was going to be MY last year to live, what would I change about my life? Ask yourself: if you knew you were going to die within the next 12 months, how would YOU live? What would you do? Where would you go? With whom would you spend some of that precious time?

There’s a hard truth in this. Unless Jesus comes first, one of these days each of us will die. It may be when we are 56, or 66, or even 106, but it will come. So cherish the moments. Love deeply. Laugh often. Treasure each day.

Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” In other words, we need to live with eternity in mind. That seems like good advice, no matter how many birthdays you’ve had.

Thanks, Paw Paw.

When I’m 64

I was still a kid back in the 60s when the Beatles released their album, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.” One song on that album has recently become very personal to me – Paul McCartney’s “When I’m 64.” Assuming God lets me live a few more days, I will soon be turning 64.

I realize that that age may be in the rear-view mirror for lots of folks, but I’ve never turned 64 before, and in some ways, it’s quite a shock. I was just a kid when I first heard that song, and I couldn’t imagine how it would feel to actually BE that age. Turning 64 seemed so far away back then, and being that age seemed, you know, OLD!

Or so I thought at the time.

Looking back on the 50-plus years since the song’s release, I realize how far we have come as a society, and yet, how many things are still the same.

  • We have landed on the moon but still face numerous problems here at home.
  • We can get on the Internet, but often can’t find the specific information we need.
  • We have lots of “friends” on social media, but few meaningful relationships.
  • Most of us carry cell phones, but we still have a hard time with genuine communication.
  • Medicine has perfected cures for many diseases, but we have been hit hard by new ones.

Still, in spite of these difficulties, I am not discouraged. Nowhere are we promised that life will be easy, or that we will somehow be exempt from difficulties.

The legend about the song is that it was one of the first ones that Paul ever wrote, and that he was only 16 when he first composed it, trying to imagine growing old with someone he loved. That is one thing that I really like about the song: it values personal relationships as being the key to a happy life. Consider these verses –

You’ll be older too,
And if you say the word,
I could stay with you.

I could be handy, mending a fuse,
When your lights have gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside –
Sunday mornings go for a ride.
Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more?

Will you still need me, will you still feed me
When I’m sixty-four.

Give me your answer, fill in a form,
Mine for evermore

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four.

God has blessed me with a wonderful wife, and we’ve had many great years together, and raised four terrific kids. He has given me some really great friends and allowed me to be a pastor and to work in several other fulfilling and interesting occupations, including this one. And above all that, He has shown Himself to be faithful at all times.

And so, as I approach my 64th birthday – and however many more God chooses to bless me with – I will say with the psalmist of old, “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; His love endures forever.”

Missing Mom

Ten years ago today, I lost my mom. But in all the ways that count, she has never left me or our family.

It was a Friday that had started like any other day. Mom and Dad had gone to Beaumont from their home in Orangefield for an eye appointment, then they stopped at one of their favorite restaurants, IHOP, for lunch. As they were heading home, Mom said that she needed to use the bathroom, but she dropped her keys as she was trying to unlock the front door. She had already had the stroke that would claim her life.

Dad called the ambulance, and the EMTs promptly arrived. She ended up at Baptist Memorial in Beaumont. One by one, my brothers and I, along with other family, arrived as soon as we could get there – in my case, about 3:30 Saturday morning. The nurses were great, and the doctor was as gentle as he could be later as he explained that she had suffered a “terminal brain event.”

One of my brothers had been on a mission trip to Guatemala, helping drill a water well for a village that needed a new source of good water. Flights in and out of Central America have a somewhat loose connection to scheduled times, but he was able to get out on time – less than an hour before a Gulf hurricane came ashore and shut everything down for three days. He and his wife set a new record getting from Houston Intercontinental to the hospital in Beaumont.

An hour later, Mom was gone. Personally, I think she was just waiting on all her boys to get there before she left. One by one, we got to say our goodbyes, kiss her, hold her hand, and let her go. It was Saturday, September 25, 2010.

There were so many wonderful friends who supported us, at the hospital, with their cards and visits, and so much sharing of food, of laughs, of tears, of memories. My brothers and I got to preach her funeral, and that was a special time. The funeral procession was over a mile long going out to the cemetery. And even the funeral director felt the need to comment publicly at the graveside about what a remarkable woman she was.

This is one of my favorite snapshots of mom – it’s from Christmas about 2006, with a whole big, rowdy bunch of us crammed into their small kitchen, and her directing traffic and enjoying the chaos and noise of our family. And that’s not even all of us.

I still hear her voice in my head, and desperately wish we could have had more time together, but I’m thankful for many things. And so much of what she taught me, I still hold on to today.

  • I learned to love God’s Word from the countless Bible stories that she read to us every night.
  • I learned to be passionate about worship from hearing her strong, clear alto voice as she boldly sang out.
  • I learned to serve others by watching the way that she volunteered at church and in the community.
  • I learned to respect people who were different by the way she would never let us use hurtful words, even in jokes.
  • I learned to cherish the moments we have with family and friends, to laugh a lot, to forgive from the heart, and to say “I love you,” and always give “just one more hug.”

Because you never know when you won’t be able to anymore.

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?