Note: this is part of an ongoing series of blog entries centered around my recent trip to Texas. I'm publishing it as a series because it's too long to publish as one article. If you come to this in the middle, I will post links to the first, previous and next articles each week.
If you missed Part 1, here's the link: My Texas Odyssey: Part 1
If you missed Part 1, here's the link: My Texas Odyssey: Part 1
For Part 2, here's the link: My Texas Odyssey: Part 2
For Part 3, here's the link: My Texas Odyssey: Part 3For Part 4, here ya go: My Texas Odyssey: Part 4
Chapter 6: The Vision of J.C.'s House
There is much about my trip to Texas that brought joy to my heart, and there is much in writing this recounting of my love for Texas and the people there that continues to do so. But there is no joy more full and complete for me than this part of the journey.
On Thursday, September 27th, my second full day in Dallas, I actually went about an hour and a half southwest of Dallas, to Cleburne, an unassuming small town. It is also the heart of a vision bigger than Texas and as timeless as eternity. It was birthed, in human terms, in the hearts of my cousin Chris, and his wife Deb, who live in Cleburne.
But, as with all the people of whom I write in this series, their story doesn't begin on this trip. It actually begins over 30 years ago in the little town in Georgia where I grew up . . .
I didn't grow up around my cousin Chris very much of our childhood. His Daddy, Jackie, was in the Army, which carried him to far-away places for long periods of time. One of my favorite people in the world, my great-aunt Mary (Chris's grandmother; “Granny” to him), went to those far-away places also.
But, occasionally, they would come to Georgia, and it was during those times that Chris and I became as close as brothers, the best of friends.
It was during one of those visits that Chris taught me to play chess, a game which I love to this day, but which I am still very lacking in for skill. No doubt, he could still beat me easily.
During that same visit in the 1970's, between his living in Okinawa and Maryland, we created memories which we still love to recount again to this day.
Chris's little brother, Shane, whom I also dearly loved, was about 5 on this particular trip to Georgia. Chris and I discovered a wonderful secret about Shane: he would repeat anything we told him to say, without reservation or fear. And, since both Jackie and Mary were no strangers to casual cursing, we couldn't get him to repeat much of anything he hadn't already heard. So Chris and I thought how hilarious it would be to send Shane into my Nanny's house, where all the adults were playing Aggravation (a board game that was a hallmark of any typical day in my Nanny's house back then), and repeat one of these witty curses which we had been having private fun with all morning long. Chris and I would be free of blame, and we figured they probably wouldn't get after Shane too much because of his age.
I never said we were geniuses.
We made sure Shane had it down what he was supposed to say, and then we sent him in the house to make his pronouncement. We hid in the back yard behind the storage shed, and Shane ran across the back yard, flung open the back door, went in and yelled, “Shut yer damn mouth!”
For a rare moment, there was silence around the table. Then, Aunt Mary, who by-God wasn't gonna hear something like this from nobody's kid, especially not one of her damn grandkids, pushed the chair back. Shane knew the wrath of God Almighty was about to descend upon him, so he did what any intelligent boy would do in that situation. He blamed Chris and me (which happened to be the truth, but we all know that wouldn't have mattered in any case).
Chris and I were laughing at the cleverness of our little scheme when we heard the back screen door slam open. Uh-oh.
“Chris! Allan! Git yer asses up here NOW!” It was Aunt Mary.
I don't remember what we said, but it was something approximating, “Oh, shit”. As my Nanny might say, “Y'all just as well as signed your death warrant to git Mary riled up like that.”
The mind has a way of blocking out traumatic events, so I can't say for certain what happened after that. But I know we didn't ever tell Shane to repeat anything ever again.
Another memory from that time: my Daddy had given me an old Sony reel-to-reel tape recorder to play with. And Jackie had scores of old 45 rpm records from the 60's that we somehow got access to. So, sitting in the floor of the living room at my Nanny's house, we created our own radio shows, with us as DJ's. We'd spin records, do interviews, commercials, all on tape, which we would then play back with much delight.
Yet another memory: I had gotten a replica of the bridge of the starship Enterprise from my favorite TV show Star Trek, along with dolls for Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Dr. McCoy, and Mr. Scott, for Christmas. Chris and Shane came over to spend the night with me several times, and during those visits, we loved to act out scenes from our favorite Star Trek episodes. And we created our own episodes . . .
Mr. Spock approaches Captain Kirk on the bridge. They are alone.
Spock: “Captain, I've got to admit it! I can't hide it any longer! I've always loved you, Jim!”
Captain Kirk: “Oh, Spock, I've been waiting for years to hear you finally say it. And it's true for me, too, you handsome pointy-eared Vulcan, you. Come here.”
At that point, to our 10-year-old-perverse-delight, the Captain and Mr. Spock would come together in a sloppy-kiss embrace that could rival anything in any romantic drama ever to come out of Hollywood.
On one of those periodic visits also, in 1977, Chris's mom Bobbie (whom I still love to this day), took Chris, Shane and I to see the original Star Wars movie.
At some point when they were older, Chris and Shane went to live with their mom in Fort Worth, and they were all still living in Fort Worth part of the time I was in Dallas, so we got to see each other occasionally, and I took the kids there more than once on a visit.
That was another thing, among many, that Chris and I had in common: we both loved Texas, and came to adopt it as our home of choice in our young adult days.
Perhaps the most important thing we discovered about one another was that, around the same age, we had both gotten serious about our faith, and we shared a sense of God's call on our lives for ministry and service. To discover that we were not only cousins and best of friends, but brothers in our faith, was a joy and delight to both of us that remains so to this day.
One thing that will always mean a lot to me is that when my granddaddy Boe passed away in March, 1988, Chris was there at Nanny's, along with our cousin Kristi, giving what comfort and care they could in Boe's last hours. I will always be grateful that Chris was there that day, and that was one more thing that cemented my love and appreciation for Chris over the years.
Another point of memory for me: I had come from Dallas to visit in the summer of 1991, before I lived on the streets of Fort Worth, and before I moved to Chicago and Jesus People USA. Chris was living in Rome at the time, but was moving back to Texas. So, in the pretense of helping him move, I got a ride with him back to Texas. That was a special time for me that I will always treasure.
In 2002, when I made my visit to Texas during one of the darkest periods of my own life, I met Deb for the first time. And, from that first meeting, she wasn't just married to my cousin Chris: she was my cousin, as much as if we were knitted together by flesh and blood. I love and admire my cousin Chris, who is a great man, but I will have to admit that this is one of those cases, as I have experienced in my own marriage to Charlotte, where Chris married above himself in this precious woman named Deb. She is a treasure in the earth if there ever was one.
I discerned in both of them a love and partnership rooted in their faith and passion for people that was far more than just chance and choice; they bore the mark of destiny, a shared destiny, an eternal partnership.
During our visit, the encouragement, strength and hope I received from them renewed my own hope and gave me strength for the hard days that were yet before me. I will always be grateful to them for their friendship and love during that time.
So, on to the present. Chris and Deb both work full-time jobs, but their real vocation and passion is the ministry they have to teenagers. I have seen teenagers at their home and when they are there, it is their home, too. And they know it. They are just as comfortable in this home (perhaps moreso) than any home they name as their own.
Chris and Deb love their kids, and the kids know it. Chris and Deb are literally giving their lives – all that they have and all that they are – for the vision they have to be a place of refuge for teenagers in need, whatever the need.
Their name for this vision: J.C.'s House.
As Deb has told me more than once, if they had the room, they'd move every teenager they know who needs a safe place into their house now. And, over the past few years, there has never been a time when they were not providing a home for at least one of their youth group, and many times more than one.
On this last visit that I enjoyed, along with Chris and Deb, there was Chris's daughter Maegan, a young man from their youth group who has lived with them several years, and a precious woman of God from their church named “Little Eagle”, who blessed me with her contagious humor and love of God and people.
Cleburne, Texas, doesn't seem like a place that would warrant much attention from people who are not from there. But it is truly a bright spot in the earth that is the focus of heaven itself, and where a work of eternal significance is taking place.
I'm just glad I'm getting to watch it happen.
Next time, I will talk about someone named Henry, and what it is about him that could make me drive 200 miles just to spend a couple of hours with him . . . I hope you will join me.