Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Come to Hobart

Veterans and their families will flock to Hobart, Oklahoma this weekend to spend the time with retired, four-star Gen. Tommy Franks for the third, annual Celebration of Freedom.

The event has a host of sponsors dedicated to providing activities for parents, grand parents and children of all ages. The parade down Main Street will be led by a Native American color guard and will feature everything wonderful about small town, America, including Miss Oklahoma 2010, Emoly West, as Grand Marshall.

The Freedom Motorcycle Rumble parade through downtown Hobart will take place around 2:30. Onlookers will see Franks leading hundreds of motorcycle riders through town stopping at the Tommy Franks Leadership Institute and Museum.

Sunday night will host a concert featuring country-western singer Aaron Tippin.

Since Franks’ 2003 retirement Franks and wife Cathy have put together a stunning museum displaying scenes from Franks’ military career and much education about Middle East countries. In association with the museum, Franks has begun a leadership institute to bring together youth of varying countries to learn to debate, and discuss the tough issues of multiple cultures on the same planet.

The General Tommy Franks Leadership Institute and Museum has grown exponentially since its “soft” opening for Veterans Day weekend Nov. 8, 2008. Friend of the Franks have come from around the world at various times to attend a Celebration of Freedom and to tour the museum.

Franks is a leader revered by privates as well as colonels. He as wounded in Vietnam and led the Allied forces to Baghdad in 2003 before his retirement in July. When he autographs his book “American Soldier” for Vietnam veterans, he almost always writes “Welcome home” because a large number of Vietnam veterans did not have the experience of a joyful homecoming.

The small town of Hobart, Oklahoma will transform itself for the Memorial Day weekend to host thousands of folks who come to celebrate freedom with the general whose troops call him “a Soldier’s General.” Hobart will also be celebrating its heritage and honoring local veterans. It’s a place with patriotism is common and military individuals revered.

Hobart is located in the heart of southwest Oklahoma, 40 miles south of Interstate 40 on U.S. Highway 183 and about 40 miles north of Vernon, Texas.

For a schedule of events or more information about the festival, visit the Website at

Monday, August 23, 2010

Back to school

I did a similar story that ran Monday in the Herald Democrat

Recent stories we ran in the paper about the first day of school triggered flashes of my own first day more than 50 years ago.

I went to a parochial school in Toledo, Ohio and my first day was for kindergarten. I remember other kids in the classroom crying and I didn't understand the why of that. There were mothers out in the hallway peeking through the glass window in the door to get one last glimpse of their little prince or princess, all grown up for kindergarten. I'm not sure if my mom was one of those.

As I recall, I was pretty "matter of fact" about the event. I was excited because I was going to learn to read. I couldn't wait.

Up to that time, my dad read to me. It was especially fun on Sunday mornings before church when he read the Sunday comics from the Toledo Blade. I stood behind him to follow along with the pictures in the comic strip. When I saw a frame that looked more interesting that the one he was one, I would point to it and say "Read that one, Daddy," in the middle in the middle of whatever he was trying to read.

If he was reading a book to me, I sat in his lap but whenever he was reading the comics, I stood behind him and sometimes combed his hair. It strikes me as I write these words, my dad was a really patient man when I was little.

For weeks I told my brother and sister, 12 and 13 years my senior, over and over that I was going to school and I would be able to read. I'm sure I gloated to my younger sister by one year, the same brag to let her know I'd have something she wouldn't have.

I was dressed in a little pleated skirts with matching suspenders, a white blouse, little white socks and black patten shoes and so was each of the other girls. We wore uniforms. But that never bothered me. That day, everything was right for me because I was going to learn to read.

The disagreeable part of the day for me and my big disappointment, came when I went home from school that first day and I still couldn't read. My parents hadn't understood that I expected to be able to read as soon as I went to school until they were trying to reason with a wailing 5 year old to help me understand -- it's a process.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A special father

I wrote the following for the Herald Democrat Life section for last Sunday:

When I think about Father’s Day, I always remember my own father first. Luckily he was serious about his role in raising my brother and two sisters and me. He spent time with us, shared himself with us and taught us about life and more. His last words to me came as I was leaving his hospital room before he had surgery from which he never recovered. “I’m going to love you all of your life,” he called to me. He was my special knight in shining armor who could fix anything for me.

I know another special father who lives in Van Alstyne. You might think I’m going to write about my husband Billy Wayne here, but although he is a special father, he’s not the subject of this writing.

This special father is younger and has more children — all girls. He always thought he would have a son and teases about it now, because he has four beautiful girls who were born to him and others he’s adopted emotionally.

I’ve been blessed to be close to this family almost from their beginning. When Griff and Kristi Servati came to Van Alstyne, they were two youngsters themselves just starting out. Kristi was a coach and teacher at the high school and Griff was the youth minister at First Baptist. They made a difference in the youth of Van Alstyne almost immediately. My daughter is one they influenced.

I remember her saying she wouldn’t get married until she found someone just like Griff. She eventually found her Griff, but that is another story.

Over the next 13 years or so, Griff became a father to Raigan, then Kerrigan, then Jaidan and finally Kailan.

One special thing I remember is a Valentine surprise Griff orchestrated for Kristi. It was nothing elaborate, but he did it all himself. It was a portrait he had made of the girls, I think there were three of them then. He had to fix the girls’ hair for the picture, and although he didn’t do it as well as Kristi would have, he did it for his family.

He says now, he’s happy having just girls. A boy child in their house might upset their balance at this point. As Raigan began to participate in youth league sports, Griff always stepped up to be a coach for softball and then soccer. He didn’t know anything about soccer when he started, other than he wanted his girls to play because it would be good for them. So he set about teaching himself. He has coached Raigan’s team and Kerrigan’s team and will, no doubt, coach Jaidan’s and Kailan’s teams if they decide to play.

All of the things I’ve mentioned are wonderful, but there’s more.

Griff and Kristi have both mentored countless teenagers over the past 13 years. Some of the young men who’ve grown up watching the Servatis have said they know how to be a father by watching Griff.

One young woman who is about to have her first baby told me just the other day that she wouldn’t be the person she is without the Servatis’ influence. They took her into their home for her last few years of high school and she learned by watching them. She said doesn’t want to think about who she might be now if not for the way she was influenced during those years. Now she knows how she wants to raise her children.

This year the Servatis have opened their home to a foreign-exchange student. JaJa has been a wonderful addition to the family and they will all miss her when she leaves for Thailand this week. So will I.

There is yet one more dimension to Griff’s fathering abilities. He will say he’s not doing anything special. He will say he’s just doing his job, and that’s right. But one of the things that impresses me is his faithfulness to his mission. There is no fanfare, he just does what needs to be done. He will never know how many lives have been changed because of the lifestyle demonstrated to and shared with the teenagers in Van Alstyne. When Raigan was little, she referred to the youngsters in Griff’s youth group as “Daddy’s kids.”

That’s exactly what they are.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter morning brings Christians together

Charlie and Gloria Morton of Denison will go through the motions many of us go through on Easter morning. Wake up, maybe have breakfast and probably take in a church service before heading back home to take care of regular duties at the Inn of Many Faces in Denison.

But this Easter will be like no other for the Mortons. No matter what they do, they will not be able to nor want to let go of thoughts of their son Airman 1st Class Dimitri Morton, who is on the first day of his deployment to Iraq.

I know Gloria because she and I are in Bible study together so we, as a group, have prayed for Dimitri the past couple of years — this is not his first tour to a war zone.

The Mortons are not the only family in this area with loved ones in dangerous areas. There are many young men and women from Texoma who serve proudly and whose families are proud of their service, just as the Mortons are. 

Gloria has the worried heart of a mother whose child wakes up every day in danger, and it’s likely, she won’t draw a relaxed, free breath until her son is back on U.S. soil. But she has faith in a redeemer who takes care of our lives here on earth and so do her children.

This day (Easter) is the most important in the Christian faith because it celebrates the day Jesus emerged from the tomb after being laid there three days before. Jesus suffered three hours on the cross, gave up His life, spent three days in the tomb and rose again for the next chapter of His earthly ministry.

Last week our study was in John 17 where we saw how Jesus understands what we feel and our difficulties because He came from glory to live in an earthbound body. He suffered and died as the redeemer of mankind.

This faith is often what helps people get through tough times whether it be the loss of a loved one, a long illness, any illness, the struggle with finances and more.

The Morton family will have ups and downs in the months Dimitri is away and they’ll rely on a strong faith to carry them when they’re down. Today, I’m praying for the Mortons and all the families in our area with empty seats at the dinner table and I’m worshipping the Prince of Peace and Risen Redeemer on this holiest of holy days.

Happy Easter.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday worship at the Boot Camp

Sunday morning had a different start for the Godwins than usual. Instead of attending our home church, we were out the door and on the road by 7:30 a.m. to join the young cadets at the Grayson County Juvenile Boot Camp.

Billy Wayne and I were among a small group of adult volunteers granted admission to participate in a church and worship service with 50 or more young men.

Our group of volunteers was organized through the Air Chapel Academy, a non-profit agency in Grayson Couny that, among other things, appeals to local ministries and churches to help with the religious services every Sunday and Wednesday at the boot camp. 

Sunday it was Pastor Sammy Garcia of Iglesia Bautista Camino Real Church in Denison who spoke to the boys while music was provided by Paul Garland of Sherman.

We were there to help serve those young men, but we were the ones who were blessed. One of the highlights of the morning was a loosely organized choir of cadets who came to the front of the room and stood behind Paul as he led the group in a song called “Peace Speaker.” Some of the boys played percussion instruments while others simply used their voices. The result was spine tingling.

The song talks about experiencing storms in life. “But even in the storm, I can feel the calm, and here’s the reason why,” sang this group of about 15 young men. “I know the Peace Speaker, I know Him by name...

“There’s never been another man with the power of this friend; by simply saying ‘peace, be still’ He can calm the strongest wind...

“And that’s why I never worry when storm clouds come my way... I know the Peace Speaker...”

As I watched these youngsters sing loud and strong and thought about the lyrics, I considered this special group. Each one is there because of storm clouds in their own lives. They are there because of legal problems of many levels and the boot camp program is their last chance to turn around.

In a small prayer group, some of the young men shared feelings of being homesick, one asked for prayer to help him stay focused on the goal to make the achievements necessary to get out and go home. Another shared concerns about his family.

It was a special time for us and we’re looking forward to going back.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sledding down memory lane

Recent photos on Facebook, a popular Internet social network, of several Van Alstyne families sledding on our snow-covered hill, brought back fond memories of when I was little and living in Toledo, Ohio.

My dad, like the three Van Alstyne dads in the picture, took my sister and me, and often as many of our friends who wanted to go, to area hills when the snow was right. We had a long 4-person sled that you could steer. My dad would get us situated on that sled and then give us a rousing push to help us get the most out of our run (because it was a long walk back to the top). There were usually others sledding on the hills so a certain amount of etiquette was needed. Of course, since we were only about 8 or 10, sometimes the other sledders suffered because we weren’t really good about knowing or practicing the necessary etiquette.

I still have a picture in my head of an older teen-age boy who did all he could to get out of our way. We could steer our sled — just weren’t very good at it. The picture I have is that young man resting on his toboggan in front of us and as we went through the place were he had been, he was suddenly in the air above us to avoid us running him over.

My dad took us ice skating during those times, as well, and taught us how to skate. He didn’t ice skate but somehow, he was able to teach us. I always marveled at that. Lake Erie was at the end of our street, so we often walked down the street to go ice skating. Sometimes, the winters were so bad, we could simply put our skates on sitting on the front step of our house and then ice skate down the sidewalks to the lake. It also was pretty common for a neighbor or two to flood their vacant lots so everyone in the neighborhood could go ice skating. It was a Norman-Rockwell-style event, minus the music. 

I remember that we went to school no matter how much snow fell. We didn’t learn about snow days until we moved to Gainesville, Texas. I was 12, and that was a long time ago.

We may all get another shot at playing in the snow this year because snow is predicted for Tuesday. I hope to see all those Van Alstyne youngsters having fun on our hill again. I may join in this time.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Have you ever had a song stuck in your head?

I attended a church service last week and one of the songs we sang was “Marching to Zion.”

Well, the tune stuck in my head. I was humming it, singing it and hearing it in my head constantly. So much so that by the end of the week, I was ready to catch a new song.

I shared that with the music minister at my church, Ron Ethredge, who assured me there would be a snappy line up of music that Sunday so I might catch on to a different tune. He was true to his word, and when I left church, I was humming a new song. This was great.

On my way home from church, I admired some of the beautiful yard decorations on display in the front yards of homes around Van Alstyne. In one of those I saw a penguin. I think it caught my eye because, the night before, I watched the movie “March of the Penquins” — and, by the way, loved it. If you haven’t seen that movie, you should. The photography is stunning and the story engaging. It gave me a new concept of parental dedication and sacrifice for the sake of offspring.

The story is about thousands of Emperor Penquins in Antarctica that walk 70 miles over ice to their breeding ground every year. One particular detail caught my attention and made me wonder how scientists can believe in the theory of evolution. The penquin father is the only parent present when the chick hatches. He has had no food in months and there is no food available near the breeding ground. The mother has not yet returned from her walk back to the ocean to be able to feed and store up food for the chick before wallking a third time over ice to the breeding grounds. The chick needs to be fed but sometimes the mothers don’t return for a couple of days after the hatching.

The creator in all His wisdom provided for the new chick to be able to get life-sustaining food while waiting for the mother’s return. There is a small compartment in the back of the father’s throat that holds just enough nourishment for the chick to have one feeding that sustains him until the mother returns. I marvel at the details our creator has built into all our lives.

But, back to my original story. After seeing the penguin yard art, the movie title went through my mind.

Once I heard the word “march,” the whole morning of reprogramming my brain for a new song was gone, gone, gone. In an instant, I was again singing “Marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion. I’m marching onward to Zion...”

I’m delighted to think about seeing the “beautiful city of God,” but I REALLY need a new song. I’m taking a different route home from church this Sunday.