Reflections On A Birthday

From time to time, all of us have significant days – days when we realize that things have changed, that our lives are going to be different. Days when we pause to take stock of our lives, and perhaps think about some things that we are too busy to consider at other times. I’m talking about times such as, the birth of a baby. The death of a loved one. A wedding. A graduation. A child leaving home.

I had a birthday the other day.

Now, in the grand scheme of things, birthdays don’t necessarily rank up there with some of the other life events listed above, but I can’t seem to stop thinking about this one. Partly because of the age I have now reached: 58.

(Insert your favorite joke about getting old here. I’ll wait.)

It’s not that I’m feeling older, because I really don’t. But my grandpa Archie died of a heart attack when he was 56. His father had died at 56, and apparently, several other men in the McMillan family also died at about the same age, mostly from heart disease. I grew up very aware that men on that side of the family didn’t get out of their 50s.

So my first reflection after this birthday is, I’m thankful for good doctors and better medical care. I say this knowing that there are still far too many men in our culture who die of heart attacks in their 50s, or even younger. But I’m thankful for effective medicines to manage diabetes, and better understanding of diet, and all of those blessings. And I’ll tell you, it sometimes feels pretty sad to me to think about all that I still want to do with my life, and to think about my Pa-Pa dying at 56, and how young that seems now, and that I’ve already lived longer than he did, and how much he missed.

And not that this has anything to do with that, but here’s another thing: I’m blessed to be part of a church fellowship that is outward-focused. I have seen too many churches whose primary emphasis is nothing but member-care, and all the programs and activities are designed to pamper and tend to the folks on the inside. Beltway may not be perfect, but I appreciate their focus on missions and growing the Kingdom and reaching out to others. They prove it by the high percentage of their budget that they spend on missions, by their emphasis of projects in service to others – even by hanging on the walls the flags of the nations where we have partners at work.

At a time in my life where it’s easy to settle in, to pull back and become more inwardly-focused, I’m glad to be part of a group that is still going out.

By the same token, I’m honored to work for an organization that has a vision for community. I get to meet neighbors, to build relationships with them, and to help host events in our home that facilitate those things. Jesus said nothing was more important than loving God and loving neighbors, and I am so blessed to get to focus on those things 24/7.

One of the things I like best about my birthday is that it comes in my favorite month. I don’t love October only because of my birthday – that’s just one of many reasons. From cooler weather to changing leaves and so much more, autumn is my favorite time of year.

October means that the holidays are approaching. I’m not trying to rush the season – it still annoys me that Walmart is already playing “Jingle Bells” – but there’s no denying that Thanksgiving and Christmas are coming. Another year will soon be over. And in my head, somehow to me, at least, my birthday is kind of like the start of the holiday season.

The year is not over, but if there are things you need to get done before the end of the year, you need to be doing them. Which brings me to my final reflection –

I’m reminded of the need to make every day count. I’m 58. I hope to have a long time yet, but there is one undeniable fact: I’m one day closer to dying than I was yesterday. And so are you. Paul said we should “Redeem the time, for the days are evil.” In “Dead Poet’s Society,” Robin Williams reminded us of the old Roman adage – “Carpe Diem.” Seize the day. Make every moment count.

God bless us all for a good year.

Happy Birthday, Dad

Harry Louis Garison, Sr. – known to his friends as “Buddy” – was born August 25, 1928, in Orange County, Texas, the second son of Stanley and Mazura Linscomb Garison. While he was still a boy, his dad – my grandad – built them another house on the same piece of land, and that’s where my dad lived until he got married. He graduated from Orangefield High School in 1944 after completing the 11th grade – that was as far as they went in those days!

IMG_0003Dad served a hitch in the U.S. Army during the Korean Conflict. After his time in the army, he moved back home and went to work as an auto mechanic. He and my mom were married in 1957; Hurricane Audrey slammed into the Texas & Louisiana coast the same week. Dad was such a “confirmed” bachelor, his friends teased him that when he finally DID get married, it caused a hurricane!

(The picture is mom & dad & yours truly, all wearing matching shirts that my grandmother made for us.)

He and mom moved into the house when my brothers and I all grew up; it’s the house he still lives in today. It’s literally within a quarter of a mile of where he was born and raised. He’s quite proud of the fact that, except for his time in the service, he has lived on the same land his whole life.

Mom & dad raised the four of us boys, and later, became “unofficial” step-parents for my brother David’s girlfriend, who would eventually become his wife. The whole time we were growing up, there was one bathroom. THAT will teach you some patience!

As I mentioned, dad was an auto mechanic. For a good number of years, he was co-owner of a Texaco station there; later, he opened a shop where he could just work on cars, and not have to worry about pumping gas.

What I remember about my dad as a working man was how diligent and focused he was at work, but when the working day was over, he had that special gift of being able to shut it off and come home to his family, and not think about it. He was that most rare of breeds – an honest mechanic. And I wish I could put into words how proud it made me whenever I would meet someone who would say, “Oh, you’re Buddy’s boy. You know, your dad is the only man I trust to work on my car.”

I was in elementary school when my dad got serious about his faith. He had been baptized as a teenager, but later, as an adult, he came to believe that he needed to commit his life to God in a more intentional and personal way, so he was “rebaptized.” And he has stayed faithful to the Lord ever since.

He has truly set an example for my brothers and me to follow, and given us some big shoes to fill. Always tell the truth. When you give someone your word, follow through, even if it’s not easy. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Give a fair day’s work for a day’s pay. Do it right the first time.

50thAs I was looking for some pictures of my dad to include with this article, I began noticing that in nearly every picture I have of him, he is either with my mom or some of his kids or grandkids. That’s typical. This is a man who truly put his family ahead of himself. He has lived for his God, his family, and his country, and is not ashamed of a bit of it. (This picture is from their 50th wedding anniversary.)

Dad is slowing down these days. Of course, we lost mom almost four years ago, and I know he still grieves for her. And yet, he tells me, without a shred of embarrassment, that he’s not alone in their house, because he can feel her presence all around him, and he is surrounded by so many wonderful memories.

Even though his health is failing, and he can’t walk, Dad still lives by himself – well, okay, along with his faithful German shepherd, “Chica.” He manages to get around pretty well with his electric wheelchair. He still has a garden in the back yard – he uses a golf cart to inspect it – and he can still climb on and off his riding lawn mower to keep the grass cut. His faith, his courage and his gritty determination continue to inspire me, as I think they do everyone who knows him.

Thanks for letting me tell you a little about my dad. If you’re a praying person, please say a prayer today for my dad, Buddy Garison, and please tell the Lord thank you for giving our family such a wonderful gift.

Happy Birthday, Dad. I love you.