The Story of Us

It all started in the Fall of 1992. I was just starting my freshman year of college and not real clear of where life would lead me next. It was a Monday afternoon when it started. I remember it like it was yesterday. I remember it clearly and each time I think about it, my heart races just as it did that day. It was the beginning of the Story of Us.

As I entered Daniel’s room with James and a video tape of the latest Dallas Cowboys game, I saw someone who I had not yet met. I saw a girl, no a woman, who I may not have known but someone who I did want to meet. As Daniel introduced everyone, I could not help but think, “Why is she here?” What I was really thinking was, “Why is she here to see Daniel?” Not giving my friend enough credit or whatever, I could not help but think she’s too, well, too pretty, nice, sweet, too everything for him!

As I sat and visited, I couldn’t help but wonder what she was thinking. Why was she here? Is she Daniel’s new girl? Has he kidnapped her? Or does she feel sorry for him that he has a broken collarbone? Honestly, it didn’t matter because I knew what I saw. I saw a beautiful, loving person who I wanted to get to know. Who I met that afternoon was an angel named Christy.

A person who, as I got to know much better over the next few months, would make me better as a person, never question God’s plan or love for us and someone who, I wanted to spend forever with.

As the next few weeks and months past, we finally got together and started dating. I was so nervous I forgot her name on our first date. We went to a movie and ran into my Uncle Wayne and Aunt Eveline. I couldn’t remember her name so I didn’t introduce her to them. I just kind of stood there and talked to them with my back to her. As they left, I could see it in her eyes. What the heck man? Rude boy. Oh boy, this first date could be the last.

But as the night drew to a close, we set another date and then another and another. It was a get to know you time and it was great. Again, I was so nervous that it took me about 3 dates and as many weeks to finally give her a kiss. It wasn’t either of our’ first kiss but it would the last kiss that lasts a lifetime. There have been kisses since this day but only with each other.

As fall turned into winter in 1992, we grew closer and closer. As 1992 drew to a close, we both knew this was going to last. It would not turn out like the others had. It might be hard but everything great is supposed to take hard work.

Over the next few years, we continued dating and really started talking about marriage. Our plan was to get married in the summer of 1996 but instead and against the advice of our parents, we set on July 22, 1995. It was a great day and a time to join two families into one. And what a great family it has become!

Since that date, we have added much to our story. We have added 2 beautiful children, a home, many great fiends, 2 college diplomas, great careers, a business and 4 dogs. We have also been able to watch our family change so much over the years. We have celebrated the births of nieces, nephews and cousins. We have celebrated and welcomed new family in through marriage. And, we have celebrated the lives of 4 Grandparents, 2 uncles, a cousin and too many friends who have gone to be with the Lord well before we were ready for them to go.

We have loved each other enough to say forever and mean it. We have made mistakes and been so mad at each other it would be easy to say enough is enough. No, it hasn’t been perfect all the time but that’s okay. As long as each day we wake up and know how much we love each other, it will be okay.

Our story is just 18 years old. It’s a high school senior if you look at it that way. It started out with baby steps, grew into learning more and more about each other and life, grew into a marriage, then with kids and it’s still growing. This story, I pray isn’t near over. We have lots to see, lots to do and lots to learn.

On this day, I pray for each of you no matter where your story is right now. Many are happy, many are hurting and many are searching. It’s okay. Life may throw you a curve now and then but it’s just part of your story. Learn from it and carry on like you know you can.

I look forward to many more years of seeing our story written. I love my wife, my kids,my family and my friends. The Story of Us would not be if it weren’t for each of you. Thank you and know we love you all!

I love you all!

Daddy, let’s talk

“Daddy, let’s talk.” Three little words from a young lady that will just absolutely make you stop in your tracks. One phrase said so simple and sweet you almost miss hearing it. Three simple words, said so boldly, you can’t help but wonder what’s wrong. Three words my daughter said to me one evening after a great day with her. One phrase every parent longs to hear but is scared when they hear it.

But as she said it, I could tell, there wasn’t anything wrong, it was all good. You see, it was right after our game at College Station and we had been together for the past 24 hours. Sleeping, eating, watching football, cheering on the Aggies and much more. I could tell throughout the day there was something on her mind. Something she wanted to say or do but just didn’t know how. And as we sat at the Cotton Patch restaurant in College Station, she simply said, “Daddy, let’s talk.”

I wasn’t sure what about but I was sure it was something. Could it be boys? It always seems to be boys. Could it be school? It never seems to be about school. As I looked into her eyes, I said, “Yes, we can talk.” There was time and that’s all we had that night. Nowhere to be and only about 2 hours ahead of driving for us. As she talked, I realized what she wanted. She wanted me. Nothing more, nothing less. She wanted time to ask her Daddy about growing up.

How were times “back-then” she would ask. All kinds of things she wanted to learn about and I was plenty happy to tell her about it. As we continued talking, I could tell she had a peace about talking to me. I could tell this was her first attempt at opening up and seeing how much she could trust me when asking me questions. I could tell this was the beginning, not the end.

Over the few months since this conversation, there have been countless times I’ve picked her up at school and heard, “Daddy, let’s talk.” We’ve talked about how dumb boys are and about how important school is. We’ve talked about problems with friends and who the best friends are. We’ve talked about God and His plans. We’ve talked about cancer, divorce and what hurts us. But mostly, we’ve just talked. Daddy and daughter talk. Things maybe she shouldn’t hear at times but at least she heard it from me. Time for us to grow closer together and build on what God wants us to build on. Talking. That’s it. No expectations, no demands, no pretending.

As I think about our conversations I can’t wait for Garrett to open up more and more. To me or his mother, it doesn’t matter. But I’ve also realized that I haven’t fully said these words all the time to my “Daddy” as much as I need to. Not my earthly Dad, we talk all the time but to my Heavenly Daddy. Why? I have no idea. I can talk about good things, bad things, dumb things or just nothing and He’ll listen. He won’t judge and I may have to wait to hear His advice. But through it all, He will listen. He cares more than I’ll ever comprehend and loves no matter what. He’s the One I need to say “Daddy, let’s talk,” a lot more often to. Three words, one short phrase we need to say more often. Daddy, let’s talk.

I love you all!

Moving

Just in the past month, we moved into a new house here in Amarillo and it got me doing some thinking. Thinking about the past few years in our old house and how moving to this new house is not only a new beginning but a closing to so many other things.

When we moved into our house on 39th 5 years ago, Garrett was barely a year old and Elisabeth hadn’t started Kindergarten. Now Elisabeth is headed into 3rd grade and Garrett into 1st. It’s amazing the changes over the years in the kids in that house.

But it’s not just the kids that changed over the past few years. We have also changed. As I look back at every move we’ve made in the past 15 years as a married couple, it’s been during a time of change in more than the literal sense of moving houses.

For many of us, moving is a headache. It’s a time of stress, confusion on where things are, packing up your things, selling some stuff, giving some stuff away and possibly just throwing stuff away. It’s a time when we can sit and think about this and that and memories come back, one at a time and rush through us like a strong wind.

Moving is hard but necessary at times. It can release us or bind us, depending on the situation. But it should always allow us to start again. To wake up in a new place, wether it’s across town or across the world. New people to meet, new places to get used to and remembering where to go, home, not a house.

But for us, moving this time seemed a bit easier. I’m not totally sure why but I do believe it’s because this time, it wasn’t us moving. It was God moving in us. Leaving our “dream” home behind wasn’t hard because of the freedom it is bringing us. Freedom for Christy to quit teaching and concentrate on her business. Financial freedom of no debt. Freedom to do what we need to do, not have to do for the first time in a long time.

As I think back and now that we have moved and with the closing of our house very near, our “dream” home brought us many memories. Garrett learned the joys of walking, talking and playing in that house. Elisabeth made many friends at her school and started growing into a young woman right in front of our eyes there. We saw people grow in our house spiritually and personally. We had many people bless our home in small groups and we will always remember those times. I was able to see a life transformed on my couch there as a young man went from at wanting to end his life, to accepting Christ in a few hours of prayer, talking, loving and sharing.

It was a great home but those things won’t stay. They’ll move with us to our new home. That’s what makes a home. It’s not the house but the memories within the walls.

I’ve been blessed so much during this move and I ask that you take a look at where you are. Maybe you don’t need a literal move but a move in yourself. Maybe it’s time to pack some of the stuff away or throw the crap out. Maybe it’s time to go through the dust and cobwebs of life to see the beauty that is beneath. Maybe you haven’t seen or used some of your stuff (talents/gifts) in a while and it’s time to use them again before you have to throw them away.

I don’t know where you are but wherever you are today, I pray that you aren’t there this time next year. Sometimes growth is hard and there are times we have to pack up and move to get where we need to go next. Are you ready to move? I was and I did. What a blessing!!

I love you all!

Two Different Men – One Common Theme

Being born into a very large family is a blessing but it’s hard at the same time. Having parents with many friends who love you like family is also a blessing but it’s also hard. It’s hard having to say goodbye and tomorrow, we will say goodbye to two men who mean the world to me.

Just about every memory I have has my Uncle Clark and Walter Johnson in it. These two different men, always treated me the same. Joking, laughing, loving and at times, correcting. 

Uncle Clark – Thanks A Million

Clark E. Wooldridge, had a way with me. I don’t know what it was but he could always make me smile and I especially liked getting to talk to him about many things. My earliest childhood memory of Uncle Clark came in Las Vegas, NM at the Hillcrest Inn Restaurant.

We were on our way to the mountains and I ordered french toast. (That was my favorite as a kid) When the french toast came, Uncle Clark told me not to eat it. It had powdery white stuff on it and he told me it was maggots. You can’t believe what that will do to a little kid. I not only freaked out and didn’t eat it then; I didn’t eat french toast with powdered sugar on it until well into my teenage years! That’s the kind of stuff Uncle Clark and I got to laugh about.

Uncle Clark was a great husband to my Aunt Barbara, a loving and correcting father to Ted, Tracey and Christy and a wonderful grandfather for his grandkids to look up to. He proudly served our country in World War II while in the Navy and loved being on the water. I can remember times at the lake in his sailboat and I always wanted to sail the ocean with him. What a time he’s having today sailing in heaven!

Uncle Clark also loved taking pictures and has quite a library of our family history in pictures. He and Aunt Barbara have so very greatly photographed our family and it has allowed us all to look back at easier times, harder times and loving times. Thanks for that Uncle Clark, you and Aunt Barbara have captured our family history forever.

You will never know how much you meant to me and those Yankee Dimes you and Elisabeth shared are still with her. As we told her of your passing, she, like all of us, was very sad. Elisabeth thought of you as more than an uncle. She and Garrett looked to you as a grandfather and someone who loved them very much. 

I will never forget our times together. Your pictures are here forever but more importantly, the lessons you taught us are with us forever. You’re already missed but we know you’re in peace. Thanks for everything and never forget we love you!

Walter Johnson – What A Damn Mess!

I was introduced to Walter Johnson as a very young boy and I was terrified of him. He was tall and had a deep voice that carried for miles. It frightened me and to tell you the truth, there was no reason for me to fear this gentle giant!

My earliest memory of Walter happened at Camp RYLA in Summerlife, NM. As we were leaving RYLA, Walter asked me what I had in my grasp. I had been given a ping-pong ball, I know, no big deal to you but a very big deal to me, by one of the campers. Walter took the ball from my grasp and put it in his mouth. Once again, I freaked out and as he gave me back a squished ball, he said, you’ll never forget this Denny. Well, as you can see, I didn’t forget it.

Walter was a jokester to all and always had a new story, new song to play on his harmonica or some sort of life lesson to leave with you. Walter was a sportsman and it still amazes me as to what he did in his life. He talked to everyone crudely and had a nickname for everyone. He called my dad Mudd, my wife, well, I won’t say and me, the ultimate rug rat!

He loved being around all people and it seems as everyone in the world knew Walter. He taught me life lessons and showed me enough love every time I saw him to leave my heart full. From frightful times like my dad breaking his neck and Walter driving 90 to nothing around the New Mexico mountains and just being there for my mom at times of need, we are forever thankful.

We will miss our friend but know he’s playing jokes up in heaven and walking from mountaintop to mountaintop he never got to walk here on earth.

Tomorrow will be hard as we say goodbye forever and celebrate the lives of these two different men. But my heart is full because these two men had a common theme in my life. Love, Love, Love. That’s all these men had and that’s all they leave with us.

Thanks Uncle Clark and Walter. This world has been forever changed by your lives and so I am. I love you both and can’t wait for our reunion!

I love you all!!

More than an Uncle

Over the past week, I’ve had a chance to sit and think about someone who’s really been on my heart. His name is Wayne Rivers, better known as Uncle Wayne to me. I have cried, laughed, pondered but mostly just thought about the great times we had with him and what he means to our family.

Uncle Wayne has always been larger than life to me, well, mainly because he’s a rather large man. But one thing that’s always been great to see is that while he is a large man, his heart has always surpassed his frame in size. I’ve remembered back this week to family reunions at Thompson Park, birthdays, times at lake Fryre, Thanksgiving and Christmas. To me, Uncle Wayne has been more than an uncle.

From as far back as I remember, Uncle Wayne has been the guy who has given me a hard time about stuff but always said he loved me when I left. He’s always been the loud, large uncle who may have yelled at me for doing wrong but the first to give me a hug after explaining to me why he was so upset. Uncle Wayne was the first to give each of my kids a taste of coke and you know what, I didn’t mind because it was his way of showing the kids they could come to him for what we wouldn’t give them. He’s the type of family member you wish everyone had and then when I sit and think, he’s my uncle, you thank God for him.

As much as he means to me as an uncle, he’s always been much more than an uncle. He’s a son, brother, husband, father, grandad, uncle, friend and just full of God’s love for everyone to see. God has definitely used you Uncle Wayne and our family is so much better off for it. Upon the death of Grandad, you filled in so gracefully as the patriarch and you have done an amazing job in Grandad’s shoes.

You and Aunt Eveline together raised 3 amazing children and poured your love and knowledge into 7 amazing grandkids. You have touched so many’s hearts in our family and in this community. Our family and community will be forever touched with your generosity and love.

We will never have another Uncle who will give the “Wayne Balance Test” to our kids when they are just a few months old. Your time on earth may be short now but your memory will last forever. You have done the job God had for you and from my point of view, you did it well. Thanks for everything and know you are loved and your memory will live on in our hearts and minds. I love you Uncle Wayne!

Love you all!!

The Journey – The Search

Jack was the first one awake in the house the next morning and as he fixed breakfast, he couldn’t stop thinking about his time with Jose the day before. He was still trying to figure out what he knew and today was the first day in trying to find out what Jose was so upset about. Jack was packed and ready to head into the jungle he spent so much time in during his first 8 years.

But this time was different. When he was younger, he thought about his family, future and dreamed of teaching in the village with his parents. But now it was a search. A search for the truth of what happened 20 years ago and a search for who he truly is. Jack never could figure it out in Kansas City and he thought coming back here would help. But as the hope built, so did the questions about his past.

Jack finished breakfast, wrote a note to Shelly and took off on his search. It was a warm, humid morning and the sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon. As Jack entered the jungle, he thought about his dad. This was a place where he and his dad went as a refuge from it all. John had spent many years in this jungle and Jack just couldn’t believe someone had taken him and his mom deep into the jungle for harm. Yes, Jack had fear of what he might find or what might happen but he knew he had to go.

The terrain was easier than he remembered and he was very happy he remembered the jungle so very well. As Jack walked further into the jungle he heard someone behind him. He stopped to see who it was and it was Jose. Jose knew Jack would come out here and wanted to tell him why he couldn’t speak the day before.

Jose knew where the tribe who took his parents settled. He had gone deep into the jungle about a year after they went missing with his father and they spotted them. As they left to go tell Miguel and their village leaders, Jose’s father was shot and killed for trespassing. This so shook Jose that he could not tell anyone what they had found. All he did was lead the leaders to his father’s body and had them carry him back. They thought a hunter had accidentally shot Jose’s father but Jose knew what had happened.

As he told Jack this, Jack stood in disbelief and pain. Pain for Jose because of what he had seen and disbelief his parents were alive a year after their kidnapping. Jose warned Jack of trespassing on this land but Jack had to go and see if he could find what happened to his parents. Jose gave him a map but told him he couldn’t go any further. “Good luck Jack,” Jose said. “Please know I love you and I hope the best for you.” Jose turned and walked away from Jack.

Jack knew he had to press on but was a bit worried about what he might find. The tribe’s settlement was about a 10 day hike and Jack knew it was risky. But he felt the reward outweighed the risks. If he lost his life while searching for the truth then so be it. But if he died knowing he got so close and didn’t search for the truth, then he would never be able to forgive himself. As day turned to night, Jack pulled out his sleeping bag and got some sleep. He needed to make it to the tribe fast and rest was something he needed.

As Jack continued hiking deeper into the jungle, he began to wonder if there was a real chance his parents were still alive. If they survived 1 year, why not 20 years he thought. Jose’s map was spot on and on day 8, Jack arrived to the edge of the tribe’s settlement. Jack surveyed the land like a good hunter and found what looked to be a cemetery.

Jack looked around and found the names of many Americans. Was this was a cemetery where the tribe buried their captives? As he searched for his parents names, he grew weary and was having a hard time thinking about moving forward. He had been in the jungle for 8 days and to this point, he knew a little more truth but nothing that overwhelmingly pointed to the total truth. Jack decided to hide out and sleep for the night because he believed tomorrow would be the day he learned the truth.

To be continued….

The Journey – Hope Arises

After being back home for a bit over a week, Jack finally started to realize how special this place was to his family. The school was the place where he learned to read and started one of the most precious friendships someone could ask for. As a first grader, Jack met his buddy, Jose. Jose was someone Jack thought of often and never thought he would see again. After Jack left the village for America, he cried for and wondered about Jose.

It didn’t take long for Jack and Jose to reunite after Jack’s return. Jack always knew Jose was special to his family but in a new way now. Shelly took Jack over to Jose’s house one afternoon and she explained to him that they had been dating for about 2 years now. Jose wanted to see Jack because he loved and missed him but he also wanted to ask Jack if it would be okay for him to marry Shelly. Jack was taken by surprise but really couldn’t say no to his friend from so many years ago. His only reservation was this was defenitely going to keep Shelly here forever.

After talking to Shelly and Jose, Jack gave them the family blessing and they all started talking about good times from so many years ago. Jack wanted to know about everything that had happened since they last saw each other. Jose was nervous at first but as soon as he started talking, everything came out. He told Jack and Shelly about how after they left the leaders of the tribe who had taken their parents came back to search for them. They knew there were children to be found but could not find them.

Jose explained to them how the tribe leaders searched every home there and when they could not find the children they were looking for, they ravaged the village, especially the school. Miguel and Mary’s place was the hardest hit and that’s why they moved into Jack and Shelly’s old house. The tribe knew Miguel and Mary had hidden them and  had sent them to Amercia with family.

Then Jose started to cry. Jack and Shelly were confused and asked Jose if he was okay. Jose tried to talk but couldn’t. He was silent. Jack feared Jose had seen something or knew something about their parents. Jack continued to try to talk to Jose but he couldn’t talk. Or wouldn’t talk in Jack’s mind. Please he would beg. But it just wasn’t changing anything.

As Jack and Shelly left Jose’s house, Jack was even more confused than before. Why did he just go silent? Was there something he knew or was he just so shaken up from talking about the past? Jack just didn’t know what to think of his soon to be brother in law but one thing was certain in his mind. He was going to find out very soon.

Jack got back to the house and found Miguel on the front porch listening to music. Miguel tried to act as if he were sleeping but Jack just wanted to talk with him. He explained what had happened at Jose’s and wondered if Miguel knew anything.

After spending over a week here, Jack finally started to feel comfortable enough to search on his own and he told Miguel he would be gone for the next few days searching for the truth. Miguel tried to stop Jack but knew he was too much like his dad and there was no stopping him once his mind was set. “Please take every precaution you can Jack,” Miguel said. “I just want you to be safe. You and Shelly are all Mary and I have.”

With those words, Jack went into the house, went to his room and started packing for the search that would begin in the morning. Jack didn’t know if he would find the truth or more dead ends. But one thing was certain, he had 20 days left until he was to return to Kansas City. He was going to search for the truth but he had also made up his mind he wasn’t missing that flight.

Hope was really beginning to flourish in Jack’s life and he had 20 days to find what he had lost 20 years ago. He was back home and ready to find it. Finding family, friends and time lost was one thing. Finding the truth was another. Jack had no time to waste. The jungle awaited him and welcomed him after 2o years. But the question still remained. What would he find?

To be continued…..