Anyone who sits with me long enough is bound to hear a story or two about my upbringing in the church. Some of my best memories as a child are of times spent there with my family. One of my absolute favorite memories is of our church’s Fourth of July picnic at Odom Lake.
It was one of the grandest events of the year for our church, and all the families would come. In total, about 400 or 500 of us turned out. The ladies all brought coleslaw, potato salad and other side dishes, and the church provided the fried chicken or barbecue. And every single family had their White Mountain ice cream maker in tow. I remember how my brother Greg and I would take turns making the ice cream – he’d sit on top while I cranked, and then we’d switch. We always made either vanilla, banana or peach ice cream.
I loved how generations of families were there – grandparents, parents and all the kids. We’d play softball, volleyball and horseshoes, and it was just a really good time. One of the parts that amazed me most was what happened after dinner. As the sun set, Brother Hugh Bumpas, our pastor, would wade into the water, as the entire congregation gathered along the banks of Odom Lake.
Brother Bumpas would give a sermon, always acknowledging our courageous military men and women, and we’d sing patriotic songs before he began the baptisms. He would baptize about 25 or 30 people every year, right there in the lake on the Fourth of July, and I always thought that was pretty awesome.
Then once it was dark, the fireworks show started. Everybody settled down on their blankets with their families, and we’d watch the fireworks light up the sky and crackle down over the lake. The show went on for about an hour, and it was the best ever. Celebrating the Fourth of July is one of my best childhood memories. The fireworks, the families, the friends … the freedom to fellowship just as we pleased. It’s something I think about every year as we acknowledge our country’s Independence Day.
My family joined hundreds of other Baptist families by that lake to celebrate in a way that was special to us. And all over the nation, every year, other families celebrate this same holiday in countless ways that are meaningful to them. That’s one of the strengths of our great nation. We were founded on principles of freedom. The freedom to dream and to pursue what’s important to each one of us. And our country became great because we grew into a place where dreams could be fulfilled in a way that they could not be elsewhere. Our founding fathers pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor in support of these freedoms.
Texas Children’s Hospital began in much the same way. Our founding fathers, Jim Abercrombie and Leopold L. Meyer, committed a generous amount of their fortunes to found Texas Children’s in 1954 with the conviction that every sick or hurt child could come here for care, regardless of race, religion or ability to pay. More than 60 years ago, they had the vision and embraced the freedom to create a place where healing was not limited, where all would be welcome. And to this day, we are still deeply rooted in this belief.
Every day, we advance that legacy by pledging our sacred honor to care for all the children, women and families who come to us for help and healing. So when I think about the Fourth of July, my mind immediately goes to the food, fun and fellowship we enjoyed by that lake so many years ago. But what settles in my heart today is a deep appreciation for the freedom we all enjoy to strive for whatever we define as the American dream.
Happy Fourth of July and God bless.