Driving down the country road, air conditioning blasting and country music blaring, I forgot everything that happened in the past six months. I forgot about my brothers, probably annoyed at my music choice. I forgot about my shoebox apartment in New York City. And, I forgot about the incredible sadness that continued to come at me in waves throughout the last 24 hours. During all this forgetting, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “This is where I belong and this is where I want to be.”
There’s a kind of peace that comes with driving on a hot Texas highway in the middle of August. In fact, it may sound weird, but one of my absolute favorite feelings in the world is getting into a hot car before the air conditioning is turned on and just basking, for a moment, in the suppressive heat.
The speed limit was 75 MPH, and I was going 80. To my left, I could see the trees of the Woodland’s and to my right I could see a poster with Christ hanging on a cross and words that let the whole state of Texas know “Jesus Saves.”
“Nothing like that is ever seen in New York City,” I laughed to myself, perplexed at the immense sense comfort I felt among all the uncomfortable feelings flooding my senses. Tears began to flow from my eyes as I thought back to the previous morning and my reason for driving an hour into Texas’s countryside.
“Now faith is being sure of what we cannot see, and Allen displayed that faith above all else,” the minister said earlier this morning. He was talking about my grandfather, Allen Alford, who passed away on August 20, 2015 after losing a five-year long battle with Leukemia.
He went on to describe my grandfather’s faith and attitude during his treatment, remission and re-diagnosis of Leukemia throughout the years he knew him. My grandfather’s attitude was one of a true Texan, tough and praising God until the end. Even though he went to Texas A&M, something I have struggled to forgive him for ever since I accepted my admission to Baylor, I admire his tenacity and ferocious love for Christ throughout his struggle more than any man I know.
In fact, the last song my grandfather ever sang was, “Jesus loves me this I know. For the bible tells me so.” He probably sang off-key, nevertheless I am sure it was marvelous. I hope when I pass one day, this is the last song that comes to my mind as well, because no words are more true than John 3:16.
There is something strong and spiritual about Texas that is more difficult to find in New York City. Maybe it’s the fact that everyone is more open about their faith, maybe it’s the fact that almost everyone HAS a faith of some sort, or maybe it’s just that Texans aren’t afraid to share their faith with those around them, like the billboard on the highway or the men who played Amazing Grace on the fiddle and guitar as we sat graveside, crying and sweating in the 100 degree, Texas heat.
I have never liked Houston. Actually, it is probably my least favorite city in all of Texas. Combine the size with the humidity, heat, traffic and lack of public transportation, and you basically get my idea of a miserable time. There really isn’t another city that I can go out for a run at 5:30 a.m. and come back looking like I dove into a lake filled with my own sweat. There also probably isn’t another city where you can get fire ant bites standing in the middle of the road. Yet, at the same time I can see why so many people come here and choose to stay.
It was difficult to leave Texas once, but leaving it again and again is starting to take its toll on me, especially when I realize how amazing the people of Texas are. Even the TSA officials at George Bush Intercontinental Airport were friendly, laughing and smiling as they asked me to re-scan before I entered the terminal; believe me, you really don’t find that a lot of places, especially not LaGuardia Airport. Just 24 hours earlier a TSA official in New York City was yelling at me for not turning my trays the correct way before they were scanned.
Nothing compares to the peace that can come from driving down a tree-lined road with country music blaring and bare feet on the dashboard, or, the moment of pure bliss that comes from stopping at a hole-in-the-wall, family owned gas station to pick up some roadside barbecue before continuing in a funeral procession. It’s the little things that make Texas, and Houston for that matter, a place that keeps a firm hold on the heart.
All weekend people told me how great it is that I live in New York City, how exciting it is that I am able to live there, and how fun it must be. But, in all actuality, I am more proud of the Texan in me than of the New Yorker in me. While I lived in Texas I thought New Yorkers were the epitome of class and everything I wanted to achieve, but now I am not so sure. Now, I know at the end of my life I want to go down tough and praising God like a true Texan, like my grandfather, Allen Alford.
Sometimes it takes a little distance to realize the aspects we love so much about a place. Sometimes it takes a close death to realize how sweet and wonderful life really is. And, sometimes it takes a weekend in Texas to make you re-establish your faith and fight the grit life throws your way. I am not sure where life will take me in one, five or even 50 years. But, no matter where I am or what I am doing I know the Texan in me will remain unchanged.