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.

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.

First World Problem

This is one of those stories that, even as I tell it, I know some of you are not going to believe me. Or you’re going to say that this was somehow my fault. I know this, because I’m having a hard time believing it myself, and I am living through it.

It all started innocently enough. Back in March, I had to get a new phone. My old Android phone, which was supposed to last for two years, had lasted three, but it was fading fast. So, I finally broke down and bought an iPhone – a 5S, to be precise.

Now, I should tell you that my particular discount phone carrier requires me to buy my own phone, full price, right up front. This is a trade-off I accept, because it means that I get a great price on my monthly phone bill. So, I bought the new iPhone, and called their technical support service to activate this new marvel and get my service ported over to it.

I didn’t know it at the time, but evidently, that’s when the trouble started.

I rocked along for a full month, and everything was great. The new phone performed flawlessly until last Friday when, with no warning, it stopped working. Well, to be precise, the phone part stopped working – as long as I was connected to a Wi-Fi network, all the other functions worked just fine. Music all day long, but no calls. And up in the corner, where the signal strength indicator is, were the ominous words, “No Service.”

At first, I wasn’t too worried. I checked my credit card, and sure enough, there was no charge on the bill for the service. Some kind of a glitch, I thought. I thought it had been on automatic pay every month, but I figured, somehow, that got accidentally turned off. I’ll pay the bill, make sure to set the bill pay for “automatic,” and I’ll have my service back.

Nope.

I tried to use the automatic pay function. It wouldn’t let me in. I tried to go online, and use the “Chat” function to fix the problem. Forget about it. I called technical support. Thirty minutes later, I was still on hold. I was beginning to get annoyed.

I finally got through to a real person, and she told me that my service had been cancelled, and my number voided out, because I had asked to switch over to a different carrier. I tried to explain that that was NOT what I had done at all, that I had simply purchased a new phone, but that I wasn’t looking to change phone companies.

It was about here that the wheels came off.

For four hours, from one supervisor to another, we went round and round. I was getting more and more frustrated. They kept telling me that this was my fault, because I had asked to switch carriers. I kept assuring them that I had not. I finally managed to convince a supervisor that this was THEIR fault, to which she agreed. So I asked if we could please turn my phone back on. The answer was a polite, but very firm, NO. Evidently, my old number has gone into permanent retirement. Maybe it’s in Zihuatanejo, Mexico, with Andy Dufresne, I don’t know, but my number is now out of use, and I can’t have it back.

The best she could do for me was to arrange for me to receive a new SIM card for the phone, and give me a direct number to call her on. When that happens, I’ll get a new number, and my snazzy Apple device will once again be a phone, and not just an expensive portable radio.

I’m trying to learn from this experience. I’m thankful that, in the long run, this is only an inconvenience, and not a serious problem. I’m very grateful to have neighbors, friends & family that I want to keep in touch with, and a job that I enjoy and is fulfilling, and good technology to help me do that. I know that there are a lot of people around the world who would wish that the biggest problem they had was a cell phone that didn’t work. So I’m trying not to whine.

Meanwhile, does anyone know where I can borrow a tin can and some string?

The Christmas Guest

When I used to host my Sunday morning radio show, I had lots of requests for this reading during December. I’m not sure who wrote it. The earliest version I can find is a short story by the 19th century American author and poet Edwin Markham. The various poems and dramatic readings are listed as being written by Grandpa Jones, Mel Torme, Helen Steiner Rice, and others – nobody seems to know for sure. There’s a sense in which Jesus wrote it when He said, “Inasmuch as ye did it to the least of these my brothers, ye did it unto Me.”

But regardless of who wrote it, re-reading it is one of my favorite things about Christmas, and I wanted to share it with you. Merry Christmas!

THE CHRISTMAS GUEST

It happened one day near December’s end
Two neighbors called on an old friend
And they found his shop so meager and lean
Made gay with thousand bows of green

And Conrad was sitting with face a-shine
When he suddenly stopped as he stitched a twine
And he said, “Old friends, at dawn today
When the cock was crowing the night away
The Lord appeared in a dream to me
And said, ‘I’m coming your guest to be’

“So I’ve been busy with feet astir
Strewing my shop with branches of fern
The table is spread and the kettle is shined
And over the rafters the holly is twined

“Now I’ll wait for my Lord to appear
And listen closely so I will hear His step
As He nears my humble place.
And I’ll open the door and look on His face”

So his friends went home and left Conrad alone
For this was the happiest day he had known
For long since, his family had passed away
And Conrad had spent many a sad Christmas Day

But he knew with the Lord as his Christmas Guest
This Christmas would be the dearest and best
So he listened with only joy in his heart
And with every sound he would rise with a start
And look for the Lord to be at his door
Like the vision he had had a few hours before

So he ran to the window after hearing a sound
But all he could see on the snow covered ground
Was a shabby beggar whose shoes were torn
And all of his clothes were ragged and worn

But Conrad was touched and he went to the door
And he said, “You know, your feet must be frozen and sore
I have some shoes in my shop for you
And a coat that will keep you warmer too”

So with grateful heart the man went away
But Conrad noticed the time of day
And wondered what made the Lord so late
And how much longer he’d have to wait

When he heard a knock, he ran to the door
But it was only a stranger once more
A bent old lady with a shawl of black
With a bundle of kindling piled on her back
She asked for only a place to rest
But that was reserved for Conrad’s great Guest

But her voice seemed to plead “Don’t send me away
Let me rest for awhile on Christmas Day”
So Conrad brewed her a steaming cup
And told her to sit at the table and sup

But after she left, he was filled with dismay
For he saw that the hours were slipping away
And the Lord hadn’t come as he said he would
And Conrad felt sure he had misunderstood

When out of the stillness he heard a cry,
“Please help me and tell me where am I?”
So again he opened his friendly door
And stood disappointed as twice before
It was only a child who’d wandered away
And was lost from her family on Christmas Day

Again Conrad’s heart was heavy and sad
But he knew he should make the little girl glad
So he called her in and he wiped her tears
And quieted all her childish fears

Then he led her back to her home once more
But as he entered his own darkened door
He knew the Lord was not coming today
For the hours of Christmas had passed away

So he went to his room and knelt down to pray
And he said, “Dear Lord, why did You delay?
What kept You from coming to call on me?
For I wanted so much Your face to see”

When soft in the silence a voice he heard
“Lift up your head for I kept my word
Three times my shadow crossed your floor
And three times I came to your lonely door

“I was the beggar with bruised, cold feet
And I was the woman you gave something to eat
I was the child on the homeless street
Three times I knocked and three times I came in
And each time I found the warmth of a friend
Of all the gifts, love is the best
And I was honored to be your Christmas Guest”

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.