Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 31, 2015

Hiking to Gorman Falls

Gorman Falls is one of the Lone Star State’s best tucked away treasures — a hidden gem of a site. Located along a remote section of the Colorado River, the falls are a part of Colorado Bend State Park. Although the falls are located a little more than a mile from the trailhead, getting there requires a semi-strenuous hike along a rugged but scenic trail. The last hundred yards of the trail require cautiously working your way down a steep descent along slick outcroppings of rock toward the Colorado River.

Clorado Bend State Park
Hiking to Gorman Falls was worth every step. As Cheryl and I started our descent toward the falls, we were excited to hear the sound of the water in the distance. Although we were anxious to get there, we made sure every step was well-placed. We held on to the cables placed there by the park rangers as an extra security measure for hikers. When we took our final steps into the heavily shaded bluff next to the Colorado River we felt as though we had entered an outdoor cathedral.

IMG_5233
These falls, fed by Gorman Springs, are absolutely beautiful. Cascading down from a 60-foot high limestone cliff, the calcium deposits in the water have created what look like window drapes. These formations are covered by green moss and ferns, adding a calming beauty to the picturesque scene. We sat in silence for the longest time, enjoying the sound of the falls, the shade of the trees, and a hint of a breeze. This, I thought to myself, is good medicine.

IMG_5239
After enjoying the falls for a good half-hour, we started the slow hike back to the trailhead. Cheryl and I took our time, stopping to sit and chat along the way. No hurry. No rush. We had our hydration packs and plenty of snacks. Hiking to Gorman Falls was not about hiking fast. It was about enjoying our time together in a rugged but beautiful setting. This too, was good medicine for us.

IMG_5241
When we returned to the trailhead, we were both happy that we had taken the time to hike to this hidden Texas treasure. According to my hiking app, we hiked 3.2 miles round trip. More importantly, Cheryl and I shared a fun personal adventure together and made a good memory at Colorado Bend State Park — one that we will enjoy for years to come.

IMG_5246
This week’s Texas summer road trip has, in fact, been a week of making good memories together. Cheryl and I have traveled some 1,500 miles. Along the way we have enjoyed lots of great conversation, eaten some really good burgers, and visited some of the most beautiful parts of Texas. We know that it will be a while before we can get out and do another road trip together and that’s ok. Until then we will enjoy reflecting on our hike to Gorman Falls and all of the other fun adventures we experienced together this week.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 30, 2015

Why I Love Bridges

Bridges. I love bridges. There is something inherently beautiful about these structures that are designed to connect people and places. Over years of traveling the world, I have crossed some of the most beautiful bridges on the planet. I have also cautiously ventured across more than my share of rickety old bridges.

IMG_5230
The word bridge is important in our vocabulary. It’s the word we use when we talk about making connections or working toward reconciliation with others. We’ve all heard the admonition to “not burn our bridges.” And, when we advise someone to deal with a problem only when and if it arises, we often tell them to “cross that bridge when you come to it.” That’s good advice!

IMG_5220
Building bridges is the antithesis of building walls. Walls tend to separate and protect. I have visited the Great Wall of China almost a dozen times. It’s impressive. The Chinese built the Great Wall to keep the Mongol hordes and other invaders at bay. Imagine if some ancient culture had built a great bridge — a lasting structure designed to bring people together.

Tundra on Regency Bridge
Our world needs more bridges — the kind of bridges that can connect us to those who are different from us and that span the deep chasms of prejudice that divide and separate people. A bridge is a symbol of peace, an invitation for people to move toward one another in the hope of cultivating deeper understanding and more wholesome and charitable views about one another.

Regency Bridge Tundra
Building and crossing bridges is important. Doing so connects people who are separated by geographical and cultural distances that can lead to prejudice fueled by misinformation. Because of the diaspora of nations among us, it is more important than ever that Christ-followers build cultural bridges of love and understanding that will enable them to connect with neighbors who hail from the four corners of the planet.

IMG_5226
I have thought a lot about bridges today. As Cheryl and I continue our Texas road trip, we traveled to the Regency Bridge. This beautiful bridge spans a remote section of the Colorado River on the Mills-San Saba County line. Of the more than 52,000 bridges in the Lone Star State, the Regency Bridge is the last suspension bridge in Texas that is open to automobile traffic. I’m glad that we took the time to find and drive across this bridge.

IMG_5213
Built in 1939, the Regency Bridge continues to serve ranchers and farmers who live in the area. The bridge no longer gets much traffic because it has been bypassed by newer paved farm to market roads. Even so, it continues to do what bridges are designed to do — to give people access to people and places that would otherwise remain divided. May we always look for ways to build bridges that span the things that separate us from others. And, like the Regency Bridge, may these bridges outlast us.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 29, 2015

The Caprock Canyons

On my short list of affordable adventures in the Lone Star State is to bike the Caprock Canyons Trailway. This 64-mile hiking, biking, and equestrian trail stretches from South Plains to Estelline along an abandoned spur of the Fort Worth and Denver Railroad. The trailway is a part of the Rails to Trails Conservancy, an organization that is creating a network of trails around the country from former rail lines.
IMG_5182The Caprock Canyons Trailway runs through one of the most scenic areas of Texas and skirts Caprock Canyons State Park, home to the State’s bison herd. The bison herd is the legacy of Charles Goodnight. This famous cattle rancher rescued several plains bisons in 1876 at the urging of his wife at a time when bison were being slaughtered by the thousands.

IMG_5139
Cheryl and I spent a good part of the day exploring Caprock Canyons State Park. Like Palo Duro Canyon, the vistas at this park are absolutely beautiful. And, the presence of bison lends an Old West charm to the views. We visited several locations in the park where we took short hikes to scenic overlooks. There is indeed something therapeutic about sitting in silence while looking at scenery that just makes you smile.
Caprock Canyons PicsI received helpful advice from park rangers on how to prepare to bike the trailway, including the importance of caching water along the way and carrying lots of spare bike tubes. After visiting the park, we drove to three of the trailheads to get a feel for the terrain. After gazing at the long stretches of trail, I am more excited than ever about carving out some vacation time to make this adventure a reality.
IMG_5129Of course, another thing we are doing on our summer road trip is looking for the best hamburger in Texas. Today we stopped for lunch at Galvan’s Restaurant in Turkey, located a short distance from one of the trailheads. Good choice! We enjoyed a delicious homemade burger in a small restaurant that was so clean you could eat off the floor. The walls are decorated with autographed pics of famous TV western stars. Pretty cool. I recommend Galvan’s if you are ever in this you-got-to-be-going-there part of the Lone Star State.

Processed with Moldiv
This evening we stopped at Heff’s Burgers, voted the best hamburger in Abiline. We had to take this detour to check out this place for ourselves. Absolutely a good choice! And absolutely the best hamburger we have eaten on this trip … or perhaps ever! No kidding, this was one of the best burgers I have ever eaten. If you are ever in Abiline, make it a point to try a burger at Heff’s. Not a fancy place as far as burger joints go, but definitely in a league of their own.

Our adventure continues tomorrow as we venture to San Saba to see the Regency Bridge featured in the opening segment of Texas Country Reporter and then on to hike at Colorado Bend State Park.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 29, 2015

Texas | The Musical

If you live in Texas, you should add Palo Duro Canyon to your Texas bucket list — not only to enjoy the magnificent beauty of the canyon, but to see the outdoor drama “Texas.” Now in its 50th season, this musical romance of Panhandle history will fill you with Texas pride. Now in its 50th season, “Texas” is even better than I remember when I first saw it in its 5th season.

Texas Booklet
This musical drama set in an outdoor amphitheater dwarfed by the thousand-foot walls of Palo Duro Canyon was born in the heart of Margaret Harper. After reading an article in Reader’s Digest about a playwright named Paul Green who specialized in telling the history of a region in magnificent outdoor settings, Harper wrote to Green about the beauty of the Palo Duro Canyon. The rest is history.

The musical is a high-energy production filled with all of the things that make a story interesting, including conflict and romance. From the start, you are drawn into the story by a lone rider carrying a huge Texas flag, riding at full gallop along the edge of the canyon. And then it begins, the dancing and singing and unfolding story of how the Panhandle was settled. I thought it was really cool that Benny Tahmahkera, the actor who plays Quanah Parker, the last Chief of the Comanches, is an actual descendent of Quanah Parker.

At one point the wind picked up and we could smell the coming of rain. It’s happened before in this outdoor setting. As the nervous audience looked at the stage and at the dark clouds overhead, the actors on stage were lamenting a West Texas drought that threatened their crops. And then, the first drops of actual rain fell from the sky at the exact moment that Calvin Armstrong, a young homesteader, received word that it was raining and the drought was over. Pretty cool timing, God!

Texas Musical
There is so much more to tell about this beautiful story. I’m glad that Cheryl and I had the opportunity to enjoy it together. Cheryl absolutely loved it. Although we had talked about this amazing drama so many times over the years, our road trips took us all over the country — everywhere but the Texas Panhandle. And now, 35 years after we first talked about it, we finally made it to Palo Duro Canyon. And we are very glad we did!

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 28, 2015

Hashtag Texas Road Trip

Texas has no shortage of interesting places to visit and fascinating people to meet. That’s why Cheryl and I enjoy our wish-we-could-do-them-more-often Texas road trip adventures. We are excited to be in the Texas Panhandle this week, wandering highways and byways in the vast expanse of the high plains.

Processed with Moldiv

We spent much of the day exploring the majestic Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the country. This canyon is indeed a Texas treasure and certainly worth the drive from anywhere in the Lone Star State. Palo Duro is Spanish for “hard wood” — a reference to the Rocky Mountain Juniper trees found in the canyon. Shaped by centuries of erosion, the canyon offers amazing vistas in every direction. We enjoyed a little bit of walking, mostly to take photos. We definitely want to return again to camp, hike, and bike.

Processed with Moldiv

From Palo Duro Canyon we ventured to the Golden Light Cafe along old Route 66 in Amarillo. This cafe was established in 1946 and is the oldest restaurant in Amarillo and perhaps the oldest restaurant continuously operating in the same location anywhere on Old Route 66. We first learned about this cafe and their famous hamburgers on a recent episode of “The Texas Bucket List” television show. We knew we had to visit to enjoy a burger. And we are certainly glad we did. One of the best hamburgers I have ever eaten!

Cadillac Ranch Pics
Of course, since we were in the neighborhood, we had to make a visit to Cadillac Ranch to see what may be one of the quirkiest tourist attractions in the Lone Star State. Folks up here know it as one of the world’s first roadside sculptures — featuring 10 Cadillacs buried nose down in a field. Today, tourist are encouraged to bring their own spray paint to add their personal tag to the roadside oddity. One guy even spray painted the words #RoadTrip on the hard-packed ground leading to the cars in the field. You never know what interesting things you might see on a Texas Road Trip.

This evening, we are headed back to Palo Duro Canyon to see the renowned “Texas” musical. This outdoor musical drama has been performed each summer for the past 50 years in Palo Duro Canyon State Park. Hard to believe that I first enjoyed this musical in its fifth season. We can hardly wait for tonight’s performance in Palo Duro’s outdoor amphitheater under the stars.

# Road Trip
Any Texas road trip offers plenty of attractions to satisfy almost every taste. Whether you are attracted to the great outdoors, by the promise of a tasty meal along a historic highway, or to a quirky oddity in a rancher’s field, Texas has plenty to offer those whose wanderlust leads them down our highways and byways. Cheryl and I are happy to be spending these days together enjoying the great state of Texas.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 27, 2015

The Road to Canyon

I first visited Canyon, Texas forty-five years ago and fell in love with the wide-open spaces of the Texas Panhandle. For a boy from the Rio Grande Valley, the uninterrupted vistas of the Panhandle were absolutely mesmerizing. As I traveled by bus, I imagined cowboys driving their herds to market, enjoying a hot meal in the shadow of their chuck wagon, and sleeping under a blanket of stars. This, I thought to myself, was Texas! I would return to the Panhandle two additional times before graduating from high school.

Texas Musical
My Panhandle adventures also introduced me to Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the country. I visited the canyon to see the outdoor musical named for the Lone Star State. When Cheryl and I married almost thirty-five years ago, I promised to one day take her to see the musical. Well, tomorrow I will finally make good on that promise. We have our reservations to see “Texas” at the outdoor Pioneer Amphitheater in the canyon. More on that in my next blog on our Texas summer road trip.

IMG_5013
The road to Canyon took us through Lewisville where we stopped to visit our son Jonathan and daughter-in-law Aubrey. We are blessed to have Aubrey in the family. Of course, I had a thousand questions for Jonathan about his recent fourth Texas Water Safari finish. Cheryl and I also had an opportunity to visit the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas where Jonathan is doing an internship. Pretty cool stuff going on there.

The Tubbs and Omar
From Lewisville we traveled to McKinney to visit our dear friends Joe and Nadine Tubb. This sweet couple knew me before I was a Christ-follower, nurtured me when I came to faith in Christ, opened the door for me to serve in full-time ministry, and helped me to meet Cheryl. I will forever be grateful for how God used them to love and guide me into a lifetime of service to Christ. I am a part of their spiritual legacy and they share in everything that God has allowed me to do for the kingdom over the past thirty-seven years of ministry.

Panhandle Windmill
From McKinney, Cheryl and I continued our journey to the Texas Panhandle. We are both easy to please. Just having windshield time together on the road to Canyon was a huge blessing. We have needed this white space on our calendar and time to recharge. Tomorrow we will visit an old hamburger joint in Amarillo that has been around since the 1940’s and then head to Palo Duro to do a little exploring before the musical. Looking forward to the coming week as we enjoy this part of the Lone Star State on our Texas summer road trip.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 22, 2015

What I Learned From Iraqis

Reflections on Serving Iraqi Christians Displaced by ISIS

Almost a week has passed since I returned from Jordan where my team and I served Iraqi Christians displaced by ISIS. Every person we met chose to stand firm for Christ even though doing so cost them everything they owned. Over the past few days I have reflected on what I learned or was reminded of by the families I met. I offer these reflections here for your consideration.

1. Evil is real. | The displaced Iraqi Christians I met in Jordan all attested to the same thing — evil is real! They know this for a fact. Every family had a story to tell about the darkness that descended upon their neighborhoods when ISIS came near. The presence of evil changed everything.

2. God is sovereign. | Regardless of what evil may touch our lives, God is in control. And, regardless of appearances to the contrary, God is still in control. Never doubt that, even if you don’t understand why or how or when!

3. God’s ways are beyond ours. | God’s wisdom is infinite. He is moved by considerations far beyond the scope of our human comprehension. Whenever we do not understand why God is allowing us to be afflicted, we must trust Him fully and give Him the benefit of the doubt!

Processed with VSCOcam with s3 preset

4. Allow yourself to grieve. | The Bible never instructs us to be stoic when our lives are touched by afflictions. In every home we visited, the tears flowed freely. It’s ok to cry when our lives are turned upside down by circumstances beyond our control. God understands our tears.

5. Don’t allow your circumstances to obscure your view of God. | The clouds of affliction can easily obscure our view of God. When our lives are torn apart by things we do not understand, we should believe what we know about God rather than what we feel about God. He will never leave us nor forsake us.

Rami and Bible
6. Look to God for wisdom.
| Human wisdom is never enough. However God’s wisdom, contained in His Word, can give us the hope and perspective we need in order to hang in, hang on, and come through.

7. God is able. | There is absolutely nothing that can touch our lives apart from God’s knowledge. God is never surprised or baffled by anything that troubles us. And, He knows exactly what to do with everything that touches our lives. God is able!

8. Forgive, even when it’s hard to do so. | Forgiveness is a distinctive of the Christian faith. Forgiving those who have harmed us releases us from the pain of the past and allows us to move toward a brighter future. Forgiveness is not always easy, but it is absolutely essential to our spiritual and emotional well-being.

9. We will understand it better by and by. | We will not always understand why God has allowed certain things to touch our lives. But, one day God will make it all clear. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part,” wrote Paul, “but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). In the words of the old Gospel song, “We will understand it better by and by.”

10. Love and serve God, anyway. | In the book of Job, Satan said that people tend to serve God only because of the personal benefits they receive. “Remove those blessings,” said Satan, “and the fabric of people’s devotion will quickly unravel.” God is worthy of our love and devotion, even apart from His blessings to us.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 16, 2015

In Desert Places

Petra and Wadi Rum in Southern Jordan

The past week has been beyond emotionally intense as our team has met with more than a hundred Iraqi families who had to leave their homes under threat from ISIS. We have been on the front lines of a war waged by a demonic worldview lacking even an ounce of regard for the sanctity of human life — a worldview that ushers in darkness and death wherever its toxic presence appears.

Our students have had a front row seat to the unfolding history of the Middle East. Never again will they casually listen to news reports about what is happening in this part of the world without reflecting on the refugees they have met here in Jordan. They have seen the depths of the pain inflicted on individual families by those whose agenda is to steal, kill, and destroy those who hold a contrary worldview to theirs. They now know people who have lost everything for the sake of Christ.

Team at Wadi Rum
When possible, I try to schedule time to give team members an opportunity to learn about the history of the places where they have served. I believe that we gain some of the best insight about people and places by being onsite. An important component in building cultural bridges of love is to understand how people have been shaped by what has happened in their own geographical context.

IMG_4627
To that end, I planned some intentional detours this week — quick stops between here and there when we could take an hour to learn about the history of Jordan. Last week we visited the Dead Sea, one of the oldest churches in Jordan, and Mount Nebo, the place where God allowed Moses to survey the Promised Land. Those who are biblically literate know that Mount Nebo figured into the sermon entitled “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” that Martin Luther King Jr. preached only 10 hours before he was assassinated.

IMG_4751
Yesterday, we visited Petra, Jordan’s most valuable historic treasure hidden away in the southwestern corner of the country. This world heritage site is the legacy of the Nabataeans, an industrious Arab civilization that settled in this area during the time of Christ. Petra was a thriving place until trade routes changed and it was eventually forgotten. Today it is one of Jordan’s most visited historical attractions.

IMG_4880
Yesterday afternoon, we drove from Petra to Wadi Rum, a piece of geography so magnificent that it will take your breath away. Our team enjoyed a fun desert safari and tea in a Bedouin camp. We ended the day by climbing a craggy sandstone formation to watch the sun set in the desert. Later that night, we gazed at billions of stars bisected by a very milky Milky Way as we reflected on David’s words in Psalm 8.

Desert places figure prominently in many Bible stories. God used lonely and difficult places as the context to prepare individuals for leadership and His people for facing greater challenges. In the context of desert places, God helped His people understand their smallness, His bigness, and the need to always depend on Him.

In some ways, the Iraqi Christians we met this week are living in a desert place. Like desert wanderers, they are in a vulnerable position with limited resources and dependent on the hospitality and kindness of others in order to help them survive. I’m thankful that we had the opportunity to show kindness to them and for all that we have learned from them. And I am confident that God will eventually lead them through their desert of pain and loss to a better place.

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 14, 2015

A Strong Finish

The 2015 Texas Water Safari

For those of you who are following my journey to serve Christian Iraqi refugees in Jordan, please allow me to depart from my field reports for one night. I have just returned from speaking to hundreds of Iraqi believers and had to write a quick post to congratulate my son on his fourth Texas Water Safari finish.

As those of you who follow my blog know, I was bummed about missing this year’s Texas Water Safari. The grueling 260-mile ultra-marathon canoe race was postponed twice because sections of the race course were at or above flood stage. Because the second postponement pushed the start date into July, my race partner Doyle and I had to withdraw. I was already scheduled to be in Jordan and Doyle had plans to be on another adventure in West Texas.

Processed with Moldiv

I was especially disappointed to miss the race because I was looking forward to sharing this adventure with my son Jonathan and other friends in the paddling community. But, thanks to SpotTracker technology, I was able to follow the race in real time all the way from Jordan. The SpotTracker device that all teams are required to have sends a signal to a satellite that transmits it back to a map accessible by smart phones, giving ground crews valuable info on the location of their respective teams.

TWS Checkpoints
I confess that I have hardly slept the last three nights. I have stayed up to follow Jonathan and Ben and other friends on the SpotTracker map. I found myself growing more and more excited as I watched Jonathan and Ben beat their estimated split times and move faster than expected. While the faster current may account for some of their speed, it can’t account for all of it. As Doyle said in a phone conversation, “Jonathan and Ben are two young and determined guys who paddled hard because they had their eyes on the finish line.”

Processed with Moldiv

Racers are required to finish the course in one-hundred hours or less. They are also required to arrive at the ten checkpoints between the start and finish lines on or before the cut-off times. Jonathan and Ben reached each checkpoint far ahead of schedule. Early this morning (Tuesday in Jordan and Monday evening at home) Jonathan and Ben reached the finish line. They logged a time of 59 hours and 30 minutes and slept only ten minutes the entire time.

2015 TWS Finish
I was able to call and talk to Jonathan at the finish line and later at the awards ceremony where he found out he and Ben had placed 32nd overall and 3rd in their class. Jonathan and Ben both beat their best times. Jonathan beat his previous race time by about 23 hours. And, he beat the time he and I raced together in 2012 by almost 36 hours. That is impressive.

I am proud of my son and thankful that he and Ben, the multi-safari finisher who introduced him to the safari years ago, did so well in this year’s race. Congratulations guys. And special thanks to Constance, Ben’s mom, for doing a fabulous job as team captain. Hope to share this adventure with you again in the future. I want a third finish!

———-

Photo Credits | Ashley Landis, Patty Geisinger, Constance Harris

Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | July 13, 2015

We Forgive ISIS

Amman, Jordan

To say that we have met some remarkable families this week would be an understatement. After a week of visiting Christian families from Iraq who suffered unimaginable losses at the hands of ISIS, we are all a bit emotionally exhausted. And yet, we are also encouraged because of the resilience and determination of these families to move on with their lives. They know that their homeland will never be what it was before ISIS moved in their direction. “ISIS,” one man said, “has set my country back hundreds of years.”

IMG_4616
This morning we visited with a family that is happy to be in a safe place in spite of all they lost. In Iraq, they owned a grocery store, some land, and had just completed construction of their dream home. They had just moved in to their new home, the dad told us, when ISIS moved in to their town. As with so many other Christian families, they chose to lose everything rather than deny their faith in Christ. They walked away from all of their material possessions taking with them only the clothes on their backs and the faith in their hearts.

As we sipped on small cups of strong coffee, the dad related another version of the same terrible stories we have heard all week. He talked about the violent persecution of Yazidis, one of Iraq’s oldest minorities, by ISIS. Thousands of Yazidi women and girls have been kidnapped by ISIS and sold as slaves for as little twenty-five US dollars. He told us that he especially feared what might happen to his own wife and daughter at the hands of these heartless thugs.

And then this strong man with a soft-spoken voice said something that caused all of us to lean forward. “We forgive ISIS,” he said, “and we pray for them daily.” He said that he knows that his family will never recover any of the material riches they lost but that they will never lose their faith. “When we left our home,” he continued, “we carried high the cross of Christ.” Although they are starting again with nothing, he is not worried and knows that the Christ they love will care and provide for them.

As we continued our conversation, the man’s words — “We forgive ISIS” — echoed through every chamber of my heart. I leaned over to my friend Jamal and whispered, “This man has graduate level faith.” When you listen to a man like this say words like those you are forced to examine your own heart. I want to have that kind of faith.

As I thought about this man’s sincere confession of forgiving those who had turned the life of his family upside down, I reflected on how often people who have suffered petty-by-comparison-kind-of-stuff are unwilling to forgive. Some prefer to hold on to their hurts rather than forgive and experience healing. Graduate level faith is not easy to come by. We can never hope to reach that level of maturity if we refuse to forgive those who trespass against us. Jesus, after all, instructed us to forgive even when doing so is difficult.

We Forgive ISIS
Our team came to Jordan to bless and encourage Iraqi Christians displaced by ISIS. In reality, what has happened is that these families have blessed us. They have taught us so much about a deeper faith in Christ — one that has been tested and refined in the crucible of persecution. They have certainly given us all much to think about, especially the next time we stubbornly hold on to stuff that should be forgiven, forsaken, and forgotten.

Older Posts »

Categories

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 503 other followers