It’s Thanksgiving Day here in the States. So maybe it’s a good time to tell you about something that had a major influence on my life when I was growing up that I’m very thankful for.
I’m from Texas. When I lived abroad for 36 years and someone would ask me where I’m from, often I’d say “Texas”, rather than the US. Why? Most of the time I’d be in places where the USA, because of its foreign policy, is sometimes not really liked. But no one ever was hateful towards me because I said I was from Texas.
So let me tell you about some Texas people I’ve know and come from. In the picture above are my parents and my grandparents at my first birthday party. This will mostly be about my grandparents, especially my dad’s parents. Probably to many people they would seem like the most non-descript, plain, ordinary folks you could think of. They were born in the 1890’s and lived to their 60’s and 70’s. They never did anything really “great” or noteworthy in the way most people think. But they had a tremendous, fundamental influence on me when I was growing up, like Jesus said of some people of His day, “the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13)
They were kind. They were friendly. I never saw them argue or be mean in any way. In fact, that whole side of my family were some of the nicest people I ever met. And in my heart I just knew at an early age that this was the way people were supposed to be. When we went to their house, we “said grace”. That’s what you call it when folks pray and thank God before the meal. We always did that there. They were Christians. Not loud, in-your-face Christians but just simple, sincere country people Christians.
We used to go to family reunions of my dad’s mother’s side of the family. There were 6 sisters and one brother and of course by the time I came along, these folks were in their 50’s or pushing 60. There would be these big get-togethers out on the central Texas countryside at someone’s house with lots of food and fried chicken, potato salad with general milling and mixing, talking and chatting.
“Lots of fights?” Never even close. “Lots of bragging, boasting and chest puffing?” Nope. I guess I’m a little sensitive to that kind of thing because in Texas you do run into a lot of rather proud, tough, assertive people.
But my relatives weren’t like that. They genuinely liked each other and had almost continual harmony; you didn’t feel threatened around them, you felt safe and welcomed.
Probably back then I wouldn’t be able to describe it the way I do now. I wouldn’t be able to verbalize what I was experiencing. But on the inside, it was really affecting me. I just knew that these were the best people I had ever met. “Lots of money and plenty of university degrees?” No. Mostly farmers, small businessmen and middle class folks with high school diplomas, which was pretty normal for their generation.
But there was wholesomeness; I’ll even use a seldom used word in our times, a purity about these people. They were “without guile” (John 1:47) , as Jesus described one of His disciples. Somehow to me it just made common sense that this was the way everyone should be. But of course they weren’t.
As I grew up, I realized more and more that many, if not most, people were not like my grandparents’ generation. They didn’t have the sincere and unfeigned faith in God that they did. They didn’t live their Christianity in their relationship with other people as my grandparents did.
By the time I was twelve, I had pretty much become an atheist. My dad’s father had passed on and we’d moved away from the town where my dad’s mom lived. And probably I’d lost some respect for her and those folks as I became more “educated” and “modern” and strived to be cool and intelligent.
It was only after I had my near death experience in university and then became a Christian that I remembered again what an impact those folks had on me. I’d been given an incredible sample of what it means to be a sincere, simple, unfeigned Christian. This is the type of Texas person that almost no one ever hears about. You’ll hear about mass murderers, hard-hearted haters or raunchy movie stars and rock band heroes from Texas.
But I can tell you that there were some humble shining lights of faith and simplicity here when I was a kid. Unknowns and unsung heroes, the kind of people that God blesses and wants us to be. If there were more folks still like that, perhaps this world would be a better place and we wouldn’t be overwhelmed with the daunting problems we’re faced with today. Thinking about it, they remind me of that famous verse in Ephesians, “And be kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
Kindness, humility, brotherly love, a lack of hatred, an aversion to pride, genuine friendliness and warmth. That’s what I saw in those folks when I was growing up. And I know that’s the way we should be and the way I want to be, God helping me. Texas people. I know there are still some of them around.