Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Holiday of Thankfulness {The Evans}

This is my husband, Chris (on the left).  And this is one of his best friends, Ben Evans. 

Chris and Ben have been friends since 2005.

I'm thankful for Ben.  He is an answer to my fervent prayer that God send Chris a friend that sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). 
(In fact, God answered my prayer abundantly  by sending Chris TWO friends that stick closer than a brother.  These are the "three amigos"--Ben, Chris, and Jeremy.  These guys have been meeting every Wednesday morning for 7 years to study the Bible together.  They call each other almost daily for advice, counsel, and prayer;  they hold each other accountable in all things.) 

Ben is funny.  Loud.  Positive.  Joyful.  Energetic.  He loves Jesus.  He loves God's Word.  He loves his wife (Ashley) so beautifully.  And he is an amazing daddy to their 4 kiddos.
 Ben and Ashley 
(photo:  Heather Yingst)

Ben is from Louisiana.  Ben has a lot of people in his family.   Ben invited us to spend Thanksgiving with his (fun-loving, Jesus-adoring, Southern, man-can-they-cook!) family.  Of course we agreed.
Ben's daddy, Mr. Ken, is the pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Grayson, Louisiana.  He and his wife, Ms. Debbie, live in the parsonage behind the church.   Ms. Debbie is a 7th grade math teacher at the local junior high school.

Ben's parents:  Ken and Debbie Evans

Every Thanksgiving Eve, Grace Baptist Church has a worship service where people come and sing joyful hymns of gratefulness to God.  The Evans' family tradition holds that on this Thanksgiving Eve, immediately following the service, the men in the Evans family have a cook-off in the church's kitchen.  Attendees of the worship service get to enjoy the goodies prepared by the men and vote for their favorite.  

And these Evans fellows are a tad  competitive.  

As soon as we arrived on Wednesday afternoon, Ben jumped out of the car, kissed his mama, and he and Chris, who earned an honorary invitation to participate in the cook-off, went to work in the church kitchen.

Mr. Ken immediately invited my camera and I to his back porch where he was preparing these:
Grilled bacon-wrapped venison with pork sausage, cream cheese, garlic, and jalepenos.

And lucky for you (and me), Mr. Ken gave a demo. 
Start with a strip of bacon.  Lay a 3" piece of venison backstrap over it. (I really think one secret to this delicious recipe was the venison.  The deer was killed and processed 4 days prior.  And guess what Mr. Ken used as a marinade?  Coca-Cola.  The venison was tender; not at all gamey or tough.)

Next, add a bit of pork sausage.

Followed by some cream cheese and a jalapeno.

Roll together and secure with a toothpick.  Add a jalepeno slice and a clove of garlic to the exposed toothpick.

And then grill them.  (I'll have to ask Mr. Ken for the grilling time.)

Here's another secret:  you must drink black coffee and eat peanuts while you cook.  :)

An unspoken Southern rule:  4 PM is coffee time. 

 Y'all.  These were good

Meanwhile, in the front yard, the kids were quite happy to be out of the car after our 8-hour trek.

Mr. Ken and Ms. Debbie have 13 grandchildren.  And another one is on the way.  My boys were sweetly adopted by "Mammy" and "Pappy" for last week's celebration. 

Back in the church kitchen....the men were hard at work.
Ben made apples stuffed with cornbread dressing.  (These are Arkansas Black apples.)

(Southern boy or Russian sailor?)

He also made Turnip Green Stew.
Chris made my stuffed mushrooms.  (I was really proud of him.  He held his own among these chef-men and their fierce competition.) 

Ben's brother-in-law, Matt, made this crazy-good Crawfish, Shrimp, Andouille Sausage and Cornbread Dressing.  I think I cried a little when I ate it.  :)

(Seems like the best food always begins with a hand-written recipe.)

Meanwhile, back at the parsonage, Mammy kept the 15 children entertained.

She played the piano.  Every kid had a musical instrument.  I counted at least 5 wind instruments.  They were singing "Jesus Loves Me".  It was a joyful noise, indeed!

And then Aunt Tafta (Ben's sister) made a request that they play Journey.  Every. single. child.  busted out with "Don't Stop Believin'!"  They've clearly sang it many times.

Let me tell you something:  you simply haven't lived  if you've never heard 15 children playing musical instruments simultaneously in a cozy space.  It was so (loudly) precious.

6:30 PM.  Time for the worship service and sing-a-long.

My daddy's daddy, Papa Pete, was a preacher in tiny churches all across East Texas from the 1950s through the '70s.  Daddy told me many stories of growing up in small churches: the upbeat, wonderful hymns they used to sing, the warmth and generosity of the church members, and of his antics as a mischievous young preacher's kid.  Daddy told me of the time he and his buddy, Troy-Dale Cane, climbed up into the rafters of church during a service, subsequently got stuck, got noticed by Papa Pete as he was preaching, and got into (big) trouble.  

Sorry it's out of focus; this is Brother Randy leading the church in a rousing chorus.  

This hymn in particular spoke volumes to me.  The chorus:

Leave it there, leave it there,
Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.
If you trust and never doubt, He will surely bring you out.
Take your burden to the Lord and leave it there.

That "never doubt" part is hard.  
But God can handle my burdens and He is faithful to always bring me out.

Mr. Ken can SING.  I sat in the pew and cried as I listened to him sing the tenor line in perfect harmony.  Man, I miss my daddy.

But I quickly dried my tears and consoled myself with happy thoughts.  Like the food that was lining the counter in the church kitchen, just waiting for the church folks to taste and see that it was GOOD.

Let me show you some of the wonderful folks in the church:
This is Miss Mattie.

I also met Miss Laura Mae.  

(How darling are these names?  I love the South.)

The votes started rolling in and I'm proud to tell you that Chris' stuffed mushrooms won 3rd place in the cook-off!

Mr. Ken won 1st place.  And rightly so.

I'm going to begin wrapping it up here because I could go on forever about the delicious food, wonderful family, and the many, many lessons I learned during our 4 days in Louisiana.  I think I need to do an entire post on the child-rearing tips that I learned from watching Ms. Debbie love on and guide all the grandkids.  She is a wise and wonderful woman indeed.

Thanksgiving dinner was fantastic.  I watched Ms. Debbie cook most of it.  The woman NEVER used a recipe.  Amazing.

Thursday night, Chris and Ben camped out with some of the kids.  At one point that evening, sitting around the campfire, our Timothy incredulously smacked himself in the forehead and exclaimed, "Isn't this just amazing, Daddy?  This is the most fun I've ever had in my whole long life." 

On Friday morning, after all the campers had returned to the house and Ben and Chris were fueling up on much-needed coffee, Riggs (9), Ben's oldest child, laid down on the living room sofa.  He wasn't acting like his usual highly energetic self; we chalked it up to a late night around the campfire and to not sleeping well in the tent.  But as Ben and I sat visiting in the living room, Riggs began to have a seizure.   Ben, unsure of what was happening at first, said, "Riggs?  RIGGS.  What are you doing, son?"  

"Ben!" I exclaimed. "Riggs is having a seizure!" 

Ben says he felt completely helpless as he sat there holding his boy tightly as he convulsed.  Chris leaned over Riggs and prayed for God's help.   It was the longest 45 seconds of everyone's life.  

After the seizure stopped and Riggs was resting peacefully, Ben and Ashley loaded him up in their van and drove 4 hours north to Little Rock's Children's Hospital.   It would appear that seizures, while so incredibly frightening, are more common than one would think:  Riggs' physical and neurological exams revealed he was OK.  The Evans' continued home to Northwest Arkansas and they all got much-needed rest.  Riggs will be evaluated further this week by his pediatrician.  His parents are still (understandably) rattled and are making some big changes to ensure the little guy doesn't get overly worn out (exhaustion can be a factor in some seizures).     

I left my camera in the bag for the remainder of our time in Louisiana.  The adults were in a mild state of shock on Friday after Riggs' seizure, and the last thing I felt like doing was being the annoying guest who was snapping pictures of everyone on such a glum day.  And on Saturday morning, after a hearty breakfast, we loaded up our boys and Ben & Ashley's other three children for the trip back to Arkansas.  Have you ever taken an 8-hour road trip with 5 children?  I am not lying when I say this:  Chris and I had so much fun.  We stopped at 3 restaurants along the way partially because little Dez (3) was "hungwee" every 15 minutes, and--y'all aren't going to believe this--but we have declared our car to be a food-free zone. (We're trying to make it last a long time without getting gross from small children eating while unattended in the back seat.)  We have withstood much ridicule and ribbing for our crazy rule.

I haven't written this much in a long time.  Thanks for journeying to the South with me!

And to the Evans family, thanks for caring for my family and for treating us like one of your own.  God bless you for loving people so well. 



Tracy said...

Thanks for sharing. It looked like an amazing Thanksgiving and I'm glad that the little boy is ok. Seizures are scary (my daughter had one while we were on a vacation and it was terrifying).

Caneel said...

Ginny! I LOVE this post. I laughed and cried. And cried. And cried. And laughed. Your daddy was an awesome man. What an amazing trip you had and a great job you did in capturing it with both photos and words. Love you, my friend.

Anjie Fitch said...

The Evans are a sweet family!!

Unknown said...

Aww..loved your post!! It was so nice to meet you (though very brief). I am an only child so the Evans' were culture shock to me in the beginning!! lol But what an amazing blessing they are now!!! And I do believe you described my mother-in-law quite well!!!

P.S. I LOVE the "no eat in the vehicle" rule!!! And the logic behind it!!!

Loni Parker said...

The Evans seem like an awesome family! It sounds like you had an excellent Thanksgiving, it's nice to spend important holidays with a great bunch of people, it's what life is all about. The food looks absolutely delicious and you can't go wrong with a little campfire, it keeps you warm and you get to see the raw element of fire up close (but not too close). I also love how all the kids started singing Journey, I love that song too, everytime we get the Sing To The World karaoke machine out, I can't help but put that song on at least once, it's definitely a crowd pleaser!