Houston is not a pretty city. On the surface it’s a sprawl of congested freeways, strip malls, and apartment complexes, which is exactly why I was opposed to moving there five years ago. I also wasn’t too sure I’d like living amongst Texans either. And I certainly wasn’t going to start saying “y’all”.
But now, y’all, I’m here to say that I love Houston. I still don’t appreciate the sprawl or the more recent obsession of tearing down older houses to make room for brand new townhomes. I don’t like sitting in traffic and dread to think what’s in the air I’m breathing (although that smoggy air does create some splendid sunsets). It’s what’s underneath the ugly surface. It’s the beautiful people and fantastic food! So I keep going back. Oh, it’s other things as well, but the people are why I went back for ten days last month.
I’ll admit I was a little nervous about visiting this time around since the close friends from college who I normally stay with had just moved. Did I have other close enough friends to ask to stay with for at least a week? Yes, people were more than willing to open their homes to me (and lend me a car)! And I spent ten solid days doing what I love doing – visiting, talking, conversing, dialoguing. It was exhausting to pack so much into a short period of time but at the same time refreshing and fulfilling to discuss stresses of Texas public schools over tea at Taft, the migration of humans and development of Africa over tortilla soup at La Mexicana, the challenges of marriage over margaritas at Taco Milagro, the similar educational needs of students in Houston to students in Moz over homemade pasta in a friends’ dining room, to laugh at a friend’s young daughter splashing in a fountain in a new park downtown, to question and pray about vocational challenges and relationship heartache in a friend’s living room. These moments of sharing friends’ lives are blessings to me.
On my last Saturday, I woke up in the morning with a wide open day except for hopefully a coffee meeting in the morning and a bubble tea break in the afternoon. I planned for the rest of the time to sit/nap in a park, have quiet time with God and prepare for my radio interview the following day. I also planned to get to sleep early that night since every night previous had been well past midnight (I’m a person who is typically in bed by 10).
I met my friend in the morning for a couple hours. Then I tried to get a little bit of work done at the coffee shop but ended up chatting for awhile with a new friend who invited me to a BBQ that evening at another new friend’s house. The BBQ was at 7 which meant I could still get a good night’s sleep. I left from the coffee shop to meet my other friend for bubble tea. She let me know that a group was going to a country dance hall that evening. I love country music and dancing! (Yes, something I unashamedly picked up while living in Texas.) After bubble tea, I thought I would go home and sleep for the rest of the afternoon before the BBQ and dancing. Sleep was a pretty high priority that day.
When I got back to the friends’ house where I was staying, another friend was there trying on Indian clothes for a Bollywood party she was attending that evening. Of course we all got to talking and then sharing photographs and talking some more. Then my hosts had to go out, so my other friend and I continued to talk and talk. We both said we had planned to spend time with God that day, but I think He was right there in that conversation, especially when we took the conversation to Him in prayer. Better than an afternoon by myself, better than personal quiet time with God, better than a nap.
Shortly afterwards, as I was getting ready to go to my BBQ, I received a message that some friends I hadn’t really seen yet were hanging out and did I want to join them. Yes! So I went to the BBQ, then to Onion Creek, then to Wild West. What a great Houston evening enjoying food outdoors in someone’s backyard, then a patio bar conversation at a picnic table, and finally a little bit of two-stepping. At 2am I finally crawled into bed.
I sometimes question why I left Houston. I also question if I could ever move back there permanently. God only knows. He knew I needed that time there in July with those people and those moments, those interactions, those conversations. And as long as Houston will have me, I hope to keep going back for more.