90th Birthday (Major Abel Vela)

It's always a privilege to honor someone you love. On Sunday, July 3rd, 2016, we celebrated my grandfather, Abel Vela's, 90th birthday. He's a World War II and Vietnam Veteran. Part of the greatest generation!

As I was considering what to share, a story by Pastor Kris Vallotton came to mind. In a message he spoke called "Writing Into Eternity", Kris shares a moving vision he had in a time of prayer. In the vision he saw an older man, among a group of family members young and old, sharing some stories with his family. Kris didn't recognize the old man or the family members at all. Then the old man pointed to a portrait over the mantle of the fireplace in the room where they were all gathered. Everyone was somewhat distracted and disinterested, but all of a sudden, they began to pay close attention as he told a story about the couple in the picture. In Kris' vision the image panned over so he, too, could see the couple in the picture. To his amazement, it was him and his wife. In an instant, a flood of emotion and inspiration came to him as he realized future generations, family members he hadn't even met, were telling his story. They were remembering his life and legacy.

While I was listening to this message, the presence of God touched me so deeply, I began to weep. I too began to contemplate what kind of legacy I was leaving for my children and future grandchildren, I haven't even met. What are they going to be thinking and saying of me, when I'm long gone into eternity. When I'm just a memory or a picture on the wall, will they remember my love for Jesus and my love for them? From there, Kris went on to passionately share how we all have a once in a lifetime opportunity to write down our experiences with God and express our love for our children. Don't leave them guessing about the gift of life that God gave you, write it down, so they can feel the depth of your love and receive your guidance from eternity.

With this vision at the forefront of my mind, I could easily see my grandparents picture over my parents or my fireplace, one day, and all of us gathered in a few years telling their story. But fortunately my grandparents are still with us. Hopefully for a few more years. They are clearly weary warriors, as they've been suffering with the physical challenges of aging. Never the less, I don't want them going into eternity with any questions or doubts about their children and grandchildren's appreciation and affection for them. With this in mind, I asked the Holy Spirit for a blessing to speak over my grandfather. The morning of the party, this is what He gave me.

Opa and Oma, we want to give you a preview of what your children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and future generations will be saying about you and your legacy once you've gone on to your eternal reward.

There's a scripture in Psalm 35:18 that reminds me of you Opa:

"You have given me your shield of victory. Your right hand supports me; your help has made me great."

I want to say before all of your family and friends, today, on your 90th birthday celebration. We think you're a great man!

We love you and we are proud of you, Opa!

We truly believe that God's help has made you great at so many things and in so many ways.

When I began to consider how the Lord has shielded you and supported you for many victories -- there were too many to count.

Many people in life, especially young Hispanic men, never quite make it to the other side; but you did Opa and we've been following your lead.

You were never satisfied with one victory, you were always looking for the next one.
- You didn't stop at picking cotton.
- You didn't stop at shinning shoes.
- You didn't stop at washing dishes at Earl Abel's (In fact, you were probably thinking, one day I'm going to own a place like this).
- You didn't stop when Angie Haager won your heart. You married her and started a beautiful family.
- You didn't stop with an accomplished military career or when you nearly died and suffered injury.
- You didn't stop when you had an opportunity of owning a McDonald's franchise, so you could finally be close to the family you loved so dearly.
- You didn't stop! (Everybody say - He didn't stop!)

Even now Opa, you're a victorious warrior, a little weary, but you're a great man!

Still victorious, not stopping, as you go to dialysis 3 days a week.

We know you're still fighting for your family and for Jesus, who you sacrificially serve.

We love you Opa, we are proud of you, and more victories to come!

90th Birthday (Theodore Pete Thevaos)

Back about 10 years ago in 2006, I was asked by my Aunt Maria to share some thoughts for my Grandfather's 90th birthday celebration. Maria put it together at Noble's Restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina. Many family and friends were in attendance. The last thing Aunt Maria told me when she asked me to share was, "Keep it lite!" So, I tried to make it a little comical. This is what I shared that evening.

I’ll always remember our two-week, every two years, vacations to North Carolina to visit Papou and Yiayia.

I’d find myself many mornings waking up on the green sofa in the den having conked out the night before sometime during the 10 o’clock news that Papou and Yiayia watched religiously. I’d wake up to the sounds of footsteps coming down the hall, shaking what seemed like the whole house, a door squeaking open and then shuffling around the kitchen.

Well, it was none other than Papou making his morning coffee and sitting down to read the Charlotte Observer.

You can imagine, by this point, I only had two choices. Try to ignore him and all the commotion or join him. I certainly wasn’t going to interrupt his daily routine, even if it were only for 2 weeks every 2 years traveling nearly 2000 miles to see him. It was definitely my fault for falling asleep in a noisy place, every morning at 7am. So since changing his routine wasn’t an option and trying to ignore him was impossible, most mornings I decided to join him.

I’d sit down and he’d pour me a cup of S&D coffee (OK, maybe it was Folders). I’d watch him pour half and half to the brim, so I poured half and half to the brim. He’d add one spoon, two spoons and a whopping three spoons of sugar, so I did the same. He’d stir for what seemed like forever and then lean over and take that first sip of perfection.

Well, when I took my first sip after following Papou’s secret recipe I was hooked. It tasted more like a desert than a beverage. I tell ya, He’s been doing Starbuck’s long before they became big. Hey Papou, maybe you should have gone into the coffee business.

So now I’m a little over thirty, thirty-one to be exact, and I was thinking. You know, I spent the first ten years of my life enjoying coffee with Papou for two weeks every two years, then the next ten years wondering if it stunted my growth. This was especially true when I was trying to make the jump from jv basketball to varsity. Of course, Papou was there to add a little humor to one of my jv games back in San Antonio. On one occasion, he shouted from the bleachers “Get’m Mugsy, Get’m”. All I could think was, “You’re the one who gave me the coffee!” And finally, I spent the last ten years wondering if, somehow, maybe that coffee did more than stunt my growth, it may have stunted my hair growth too.

Just kidding! I think coffee is great. I still have a cup every day like Papou. And look Papou, it helped you live until 90 and beyond.

Papou, I appreciate and respect your enjoyment of living, your discipline, hard work, commitment to your family, your Greek heritage, and it goes without saying; your sense of HUMOR. God bless you on your 90th and I pray many more. We love you, Papou!

Papou went on to live to the age of 95. Hi died on Saturday, December 3, 2011. In God's providence, it just so happened that, his funeral service was held on Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 2011. Not too shabby for a World War II veteran who was part of the greatest generation. I wrote the eulogy "Man of Honor" as a tribute to my grandfather.

I remember my father, Pete Thevaos, driving me to the Charlotte Douglas Airport the day after the funeral. I was headed back to San Antonio, Texas, to return to life with my family. In an emotional moment, on the Billy Graham Parkway, the thought came to my father and he said, "Yesterday was Pearl Harbor Day. Papou's funeral was on Pearl Harbor Day!" Tears weld up in both of our eyes with the feeling that God had shined his face on an honorable World War II veteran.