Meet the Real Gene Tate

It’s been almost five months since I spent two weeks in Jinja, Uganda with my sister Gretchen and her husband Gene Tate.  I actually find it amazing that it has been that long as the experience is still fresh in my mind yet at the same time it seems as though it happened so long ago and is but a memory.  I think reality is that it is somewhere in-between the two.  Recent enough to still have an impact on my thinking and long enough ago that it is more of a fuzzy peaceful memory and not a sharp pressing urgency to deal with.

Gretchen and Gene recently came down to visit us.  We had a great time, relaxing and it was enjoyable in every way.  It was Easter weekend and we went to church, enjoyed a pot-luck breakfast and then had the entire family for lunch.  My husband heated the swimming pool so the grandchildren could swim and it was a raucous good time in the back yard.  We realized it had been two years since they’d been to our home and when I thought back to the previous visit I realized that thanks to Africa I now see my brother-in-law in a whole new light.

The last occasion of their visit was our youngest daughter’s wedding.  Now anyone who has been through the wedding of a child, especially a daughter will understand that it is a time of hustle, bustle, stress, run here, run there, trauma and drama.  Although I thought I had it “all together” with this being my fourth child to marry (and third daughter).  I’m sure that I actually was a frazzled mess.  I do recognize that I am a tad bit of a controlling personality.  I hear my children scoffing at the label “tad bit”.  Weddings that I am planning seem to bring it out in me.  Not that I’m a total control freak but I often have a plan and like to make lists and stick to them and not have my lists or plans disrupted.  Gretchen and Gene have helped with all my daughter’s weddings.  I have to say they have been amazing.  Gretchen has cooked, cleaned, organized and Gene has been a total “go-to get it done” guy.  BUT there comes this little issue of lists.  Before they arrived for the most recent wedding my oldest daughter, who is a scheduler for a large machinery shop, had sat down with me and made a list of what needed accomplished, who needed to do it, when it needed completion etc.  This is what she does for a living and she’s really good with it.  I had typed it all up, all organized, it was in order and it was how I wanted it.  Gretchen and Gene showed up and jumped right in to help but Gene picked up my list.  Ohhhhhhh… my precious perfectly not written on, in order list.  And then he proceeded to WRITE ON IT!!!!  He started to change it and add to it, and make notations and….. well, it made it messy.  Now I can look back on it and laugh, I must have been so stressed to have this bother me at the time but yes, it did.  My daughter just told me to breathe and don’t worry about it because Gretchen and Gene had things in control.  Which was the problem.  I realized that I had always looked at Gene as a person a “tad bit” driven and controlling (sorry Gene).   I never quite understood Gene’s need to know and set every specific detail, I was like “hey, let it go and flow with it baby.”  lol  I know, this is like the pot calling the kettle black.

Africa changed all that.

I went to Africa a bit hesitant for only one reason.  I didn’t know if I could handle Gene and who I thought he was for two whole weeks.  Gene and Gretchen were probably thinking the same thing about me but we were all determined that it would work.  I honestly figured I could go out and take a long walk or escape if need be.  I told Gretchen I was a bit worried and didn’t know if I could handle Gene and his “do it my way” for two weeks and she laughed and told me not to worry.  She said the real Gene came out in Africa and I would be surprised.  So I began to pray that God would show me the real Gene Tate and, well honestly, for me to survive the Gene Tate I thought I knew.

The very first night we arrived in Entebbe, Uganda I should have immediately gotten a clue.  I was pretty tired, having traveled about 25 hours to get there but it was instantly obvious that the Gene that met us at the airport wasn’t the same Gene I saw at their farm in Texas.  No rush, no hurry, just a happy “how was your trip,” and relaxed greeting.  Relaxed.  I hadn’t seen Gene this relaxed in years.  In that one moment outside the airport, I saw a Gene Tate I’m not sure I’d ever met before.  Or wait, maybe I’d met him, I’d just never recognized him because of my own issues.  (A separate post that will probably never get written unless my sister or Gene takes over my blog)

In the following two weeks I watched my brother-in-law and my sister impart great wisdom and knowledge to many people.  They did this with great passion and excitement and humility.  I watched Gene teach his classes and interact with people on a level I’d never seen before.  I always knew Gene was knowledgeable on his subject.  I never had any doubt about his passion, I just hadn’t seen it in action before combined with the calmness that he exhibited in Africa.  Gene was …. not stressed.  Yup, that it was it.  He didn’t show any great stress.  He didn’t fuss when things didn’t go the way he wanted them to or had planned.  He didn’t rush to get things done as fast as possible, or faster.  He would sit and talk.  The Gene Tate I had always known was more direct, he was more controlling, more insistent upon his way or his opinions.  Who was this guy?  Are you sure this is the same guy who wrote on my pristine list and made it his?

The Gene Tate I got to know in Africa was all about relationship.  Relationship with God and relationship with man.  As the days passed I learned that this is the real Gene Tate and unfortunately our American society and personal history has masked this truth from me.  Now I know that many people know the relational Gene Tate.  They’ve worked with him and experienced the “African” Gene here in the states.  I just hadn’t.  I met Gene back in 1979 when he married my sister and wasn’t a Christian.  I have watched him throughout the years with long-held ideas of who he is without really knowing him.  Now that’s not to say that we haven’t had a great time as family.  Gene is a lot of fun, we laugh, we talk, we have struggled together to raise families.  It’s been good.  My relationship with Gene has always been good.  It’s my self-imposed idea of who Gene is deep down that was wrong.  And wrong on my part.

My sister has told me that our American culture does drive them in a different way as it also does me.  We live in a technological society that pushes us.  We drive 70 mph.  We want instant results and instant answers.  We have the world at our fingertips.  As much as we expect our world to serve us instantly our world in return demands us to behave as expected.  Everyone wants answers quickly and wants communication instantly (text messages have replaced answering machines which replaced the person calling back).  The world is impatient and we react to it by being driven and stressed ourselves.  Gene is American and in the states he does fall prey to our society’s drive as much as I do.   In Africa the world slows down.  We didn’t have internet because someone had stolen the cable.  We had to wait for dinner because, well it just wasn’t done (no fast food drive through!).  We had to walk places or wait for a driver to go into town.  Life isn’t instant in Africa.  Some people I’m sure react with frustration to this but Gene reacts with slowing his life and focusing on what is important.  God and people.  The food will cook, the driver will arrive, the people will show up for class eventually.  I know Gene had his frustrations with some things (I shared the same frustrations many times) but Gene was quick to accept that cultural differences were simply that, not an insult to him or lack of interest.  They were just cultural differences.  Watching how he time and time again turned things over to God and didn’t stress over them because he knew he couldn’t control them was pretty awesome.  I just hope Gretchen and Gene survived getting to know the “real” me or the “African” me as much as I did them.

The “African” Gene Tate is the real Gene.  Just as the “American” Gene is the real Gene.  Together they form a complex individual who cares first and foremost about God and applies that great love of God to people.  I had for years looked at Gene through eyes of family and family history without ever considering that what I saw was just an illusion and not a solid truth.  Going to Uganda shattered my preconceived ideas, which was really good.  But it took Africa to do it.  For that I am sorry.

For more information on the work Gretchen and Gene Tate do go to Living Seeds Initiative or find them on Facebook.

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A New Year means …

a new flowerbed!

Sitting in on the Living Seeds Designed for Life Workshop in Uganda was quite motivating for me. Although I’ve always loved the outdoors, even if not to the same degree as my sister, and loved gardening, even if not with the same success as my sister, I lacked motivation and new ideas. The workshop was a catalyst for action. I came home, thought through my yard and garden situation.  I came up with some serious changes and a plan of action. I wrote them down, mulled them over and then set them aside. Okay, so maybe I’ve only had them really solidified for six weeks but that seems like forever. Every time I’d head out to get started something would come up. I’d get sick. I’d need to do something more pressing. I often over-committed myself.  I had a thousand and one excuses but today, the first day of the year seemed as good a time as any to start.

My sister,Gretchen added to the motivation factor by sending a cutting from my grandfather’s rose-bush to me a couple of weeks ago.  I planted it in a pot for the winter but it needs a permanent home.  I have always loved growing roses and actually have always had excellent success with them. Here in Houston I have never gotten a good rose bed started. My grandfather’s rose-bush gave me an extra push to get my rose bed built.

I decided to do it the “Gene Tate method”. Okay, a modified “Gene Tate method.” Where Gene would say just start piling stuff on top of the ground where I wanted my flower bed I instead chose to remove the top 1-1/2 inches of grass and roots first. I fight grass too much as it is and a little extra effort now helps guarantee that I’ll have less of a problem this summer. I know my grass!  I then added about three inches of wood chips to the bed.

Last summer I had a tree cut down.  It was a Sweetgum tree, what I call a trash tree.  Sweetgums are not bad-looking trees but they produce “gumballs”, little seed pods that cover the ground everywhere in the fall.  In addition this particular tree had a hollow at its base that was collecting water which made it a breeding ground for mosquitoes.  The hollow also was creating a weak trunk and since we live in a hurricane area we didn’t want the tree to go down in a strong wind.  The tree came out and I had the stump ground down.  It made a huge pile of wood chips/sawdust.  This pile was about eight feet in diameter and stood about four feet high.  It was a huge stump and created a lot of sawdust and chips.  I just let it sit there for about four months and it slowly settled to about two feet in height.  When I dug into the wood chips/sawdust to put it on the new bed I found that nature had done its job and the wood chips under the surface had turned into a lovely compost!  There are still a few bits that haven’t decomposed but most of it was a rich dark compost that nature had produced all on its own.

I had to stop and wonder… just why hadn’t I been making compost all the time?  If it’s this simple in our climate what has kept me from doing it?  A new lesson for the new year.  Sometimes things you think are hard and time-consuming are not.

I haven’t finished the flower bed yet.  I need to add a few layers of “stuff” to it.  I’m going to add a little soil, some leaves, and mulch to hold it all in place over the winter then it will sit and “prepare” for this spring when I plant my grandfather’s rose-bush and others in it.

The next project…. real compost bins.  In my neighborhood we have “standards”, those Homeowner’s Association Rules, that we have to abide by.  A pile of leaves and “stuff” won’t pass muster but nicely organized bins will.  I’m thinking a little effort and organization and all those leaves that fill my yard will become rich organic compost.

Going to Uganda was an adventure for me.  It changed my perspective on much of my life.  It showed me a different part of the world, a different culture, and  made me reevaluate what I found important in life.  I know many people go on mission trips to help save the world, to help the “poor people.”  I honestly didn’t go with those purposes or those expectations.  Having had children and many relatives go on mission trips I knew that the experience was going to change me more than change the world.  I expected the mental challenges, the spiritual challenges and all the other internal changes that I have experienced.  I expected the trip to change me in the spiritual sense.  I didn’t expect it to change me in the practical daily life ways.

A bonus change.

I wonder what the next one I discover will be.

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The Invincible Future

I still use an old-fashioned paper date book.  It divides into months that present the current month at a glance and then each week of the month spreads out over two pages to allow for more detailed planning.  I bought a new book for the coming year and I sat down to transfer all the important dates for the coming year.  This coming year will make 34 years of marriage for my husband and I.  My oldest grandchild will turn six this year and at some point in February I’ll add grandchild #8 to the mix called family.  As I looked through my 2011 book for these dates I realized that these date books are a nice compact presentation of my life.  I had to wonder if I had more to show for my year than a book full of scribbles, meeting dates, travel times and birthdays.

Today the devotion from My Utmost for His Highest had the Bible verse from Isaiah 52:12 as its foundation.

“You shall not go out with haste … for the Lord will go before you, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard.”

Taking time to look back on this past year has been good.  The last day of 2011.  The year flew by with great speed.  It seems like yesterday that I was welcoming the new year in.  Now it is gone and with it go many opportunities, some taken and some missed, some good choices, some bad choices, happy times, not so happy times.  Maybe looking honestly at this past year allows me to do some real soul-searching.  Then I look at my new book.




A clean slate lies before me, a life/calendar free from complications and obligations.  Okay, mostly free from complications and obligations.  What about opportunities?  Will I take them?  Will I look at my past year and learn from it and step out when I should, and stay back when I should?  The verse in Isaiah is a good reminder that we don’t hasten out of a year without reflection on it.  But we go forward knowing that God goes before us AND he remains behind us to keep the past from condemning us.

It’s new

It’s good

“Leave the broken, irreversible past in His hands, and step out into the invincible future with Him.”    ~ Oswald Chambers

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Isn’t it funny how relationships have their ups and downs.  Their good days, their bad days.  Good hours, bad hours.  Who am I kidding, sometimes they have their good years and their bad years.

I grew up in a very loving family.  I always felt that I had a perfect childhood, a rather idyllic one by today’s standards.  Raised by loving Christian parents on a ranch where we had both great freedom and still had expected responsibilities that helped us grow up into strong mature  adults.

I was born the fourth and last child in the family.  My brother was born first, followed by my oldest sister and then my sister Gretchen.  I followed Gretchen with a three-year gap between us.  I don’t know how things were when I arrived, having no real memory of the event, my mother told me I was “the doll” and my oldest sister, who liked to mother me, claimed me as hers.  I will admit that I never felt unloved by anyone in my family but that didn’t mean that the sister relationship was always smooth sailing.

We spent our early childhood playing, building houses in the rocks next to the old chicken-house and running around the barnyard collecting treasures.  We would ride our bikes around the ranch and the big challenge was to see if we could make it the entire way around the place, a journey of several miles.  In the summertime we would make boats to race on the irrigation ditch and when we got a little older we would use whatever we could find to make floats down the irrigation ditch near the house.  We all learned to swim in that three feet of water.  Sometimes we chose poorly for our floats.  My father had shut the ditch off to get that 55 gallon drum out of the ditch one year.  🙂  We also discovered that straw bales tended to get saturated and either sink or break apart.  Life was an adventure that was always fun, a bit of work and even had its share of danger, usually in the form of rattlesnakes and falling off a feisty horse.  As we got older more chores and jobs became more of our daily life.  We had 4-H projects that we had to care for.  Steers to feed and walk.  Hay to help haul and cattle to work and move with our dad.  I joke that my father didn’t have hired hands, he had children.  Working the hay-field, branding cattle and driving tractors were just a way of life.  It wasn’t different from the life every other ranch kid we knew lived.  It was good.

We went to church every Sunday and I can’t remember a time when Christ was not part of our lives.  Dad and Mom didn’t preach at us but they made sure we had knowledge of Christ and mostly a good understanding of the theology of the denomination we attended.  Tuesday night school was a ritual we all went through from first grade through eighth grade when we became confirmed as members of the church.  We always prayed before meals, prayed before bedtime and I remember seeing my dad reading his Bible.  He just didn’t talk a lot about his faith unless pressed.  I’ll never forget when a new Baptist preacher in town took it upon himself to visit all the people in the area who he thought might not know the Lord.  Dad was standing in the yard when he drove up and the preacher introduced himself.  He said, “Otto, if you were to die today would you go to heaven?”  and Dad replied, “I sure will, I have no doubt, but will YOU be there?”  I’m pretty sure the preacher didn’t expect such a strong answer because he was quite flustered and replied with something about of course he’d be there because he was a Baptist.  I remember Dad laughing and saying that there would be a lot of people in heaven who weren’t Baptist and Hell would be occupied by quite a few who were Baptist.  That preacher turned a bit red in the face and left.  I think the Baptist church labeled us heretics after that.   I have to admit that through the years I have had very similar conversations with folks who are more focused on denomination than Christ.  But I digress…

Despite this nice loving family and upbringing rich with values and work ethics, Gretchen and I struggled with our relationship.  Like many sisters we had our issues.  We fought each other and honestly we didn’t really get along much of our childhood.  We weren’t at each other’s throats but we didn’t really enjoy the others company.  We really were/are so different.  Gretchen and our older sister thrived on all the outdoor work.  I did it but I was probably more drawn to work in the house.  I loved my 4-H sewing projects and although they learned to sew and enjoyed it to a degree I always got the idea they didn’t like it as much as I did.  They loved horses.  I really did not love horses.  In fact I was afraid of horses.  Give me a cow any day, not a horse.  My sisters used to call me “houseplant”, a well placed insult that would make me cry because I so wanted to be like them.  We were just different.  Neither good nor bad, just different.  Different likes, different dislikes, different interests.  Unfortunately as siblings will do we didn’t exactly accept the differences and instead tended to belittle them.  Our differences helped create a divide between us, a chasm that really was nothing more than lack of knowledge and understanding of the other one.

Seeing your sister through the eyes of Christ is a challenge.  We tend to have our siblings cubby-holed into an idea of whom we think they are when they actually are not that person at all.  We see them through the past, the hurts, the unintended slights they might not even be aware of, the patronizing moments and yes, the joys and happy times too.  We see them through our own view of history and not through God’s view of things.  I have a letter that my sister wrote to our family back when they started into missions.  Before I went to Uganda I read this letter again and it reminded me of my sister’s heart.  Part of the letter deals with their call to missions and how it is different for each person.

“If God called everyone to the same thing, some method of evangelism, same call – how would He reach a lost world?  God’s call on you cannot be the same as ours and God is very specific in Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12 that all parts of the body are very necessary and not elevating one part over another.”

In other parts of the letter she talks about how God prepared them for their call to missions through the earlier years.  Even in their upbringing.

Those differences that we had…you mean they had a purpose God?

Gretchen is in her calling.  She is serving God in a ministry that fits her.  Rather God made her to fit the ministry.   The girl who loved to help mom with the gardening.  Loved the outdoors.  Loved new situations.  Thrived on challenges.  Loved social situations.   Loved being with the animals.  God gave her the interests, the love, the desire and the training she needed to serve Him.  And she heard and answered with a yes.

Uganda clearly showed me how these differences that God put in us, the differences that caused friction and strife when we were young, are for His glory.  Gretchen is amazing with the people she is serving.  She truly loves them without qualification.  She is more than informed on her subject, she loves her subject.  She is passionate about it.  She is truly awe-inspiring and I can say that when I grow up I want to be like my sister.

Through the years Gretchen and I have come to understand many of the underlying issues and forces that aggravated our early relationship.  Gretchen and I will both admit that we really didn’t like each other until we were both adults, married and with children.  I don’t know exactly when the change from dislike to like happened.  Familiar love was always there but our love for each other now is very real and tangible to me, it goes well beyond being just family.  It has been a journey of time to reach the point to where I can now say that my sister is one of my best friends.  I would have never thought that would be possible growing up.

God is amazing.

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