The Clark’s Story

Generosity is hinged on the belief that, on the other side of sacrifice, there is a blessing.

The blessing returned to the generous party can be, I suppose, financial — if I were a betting man I would put money on the greatest return being peace, but sometimes money comes back around. Now some preach generosity as a lifestyle for the sake of the return, specifically a financial one. I say to that Ok. (Who made me judge?) If the overall result is that more people are generous, then fine by me.

I, however, am interested in peace.

My son and I planted ryegrass seed in our backyard this month. I did most of the work; my son is 16 months old, but he did throw around some steer manure over the seed, and his grip on the rake seems to be consistent with what I’d expect from someone who poops his pants every day. This is my first venture into sowing grass seed, and I was genuinely nervous before I began this project, a project that I was told at my local home improvement store by a nice man named Phil that planting grass in a backyard is “almost impossible to fail at”. I said Hello. You and I have obviously never met before. But Phil assured me over and over that I’d be fine if I just put in the work.

I am not a farmer. I am not skilled at growing things. Houseplants parish under my care, despite my best efforts. Actually, I’m surprised that I am allowed to have a kid in the first place; thankfully the kid sort of grows on his own. I do, however, want to become a gardener and a grower and a cultivator, and I am learning, but it’s not natural to me. It is tied into my desire to become a generous man — if I work hard at whatever I do and make sure that the bowl of my neighbor has enough in it, then a blessing will come on the other side of the sacrifice. Peace will be at the door. This is why I bring my kid into our yard when I am sowing seed. Put your hand on the rake and learn alongside me and together we’ll see what comes from our work.

I know a family in Dumas, Texas, the Clark family, and they exemplify generosity to me, and I thought about them a lot as I was planting that ryegrass in my yard. Partially I was thinking about the Clark’s because they are farmers and I wanted to download their expertise into my brain. They also came to mind because they are generations deep in living generous lives; they are generous with their finances, with their time, and in their labor. And in the little time I’ve spent with them, I could not get away from how much peace seemed to exude from every member of the family.

During the depression in 1930s in Oklahoma a boy named Chester Clark was the eldest brother of 7 children. In young adulthood Chester’s mother and father died within 2 years of each other, leaving Chester to take care of his 6 siblings. Chester had married a woman named Inez and they had 5 children of their own, and so the Clark family grew to 13 children with Chester as the father-figure to his brothers and sisters and his own children, and Inez marrying into the clan and becoming the matriarch.

All 13 of the Clark’s would survive the depression and a few of the boys would go on to farm the land in Oklahoma and, a few years later, own and farm land down a bit south in Texas. Jimmy was the 2nd to the youngest of the initial 7 children, which included Chester as a brother who led them as a dad. Wayne was the son of Chester and Inez, making Wayne a nephew to Jimmy, even though they were roughly the same age. Wayne and Jimmy would have sons, Brent and Gordon respectively, and now Wayne and Gordon and their families farm and are in the insurance business in Dumas.

If you’re confused, then that’s fine. Actually I think it’s kind of good to get a bit turned around with this family because nothing about them is all that conventional; they have a complex family system and they live lives that involve the kind of risk that most people stay as far away from as possible. I had to have a number of the family members go through the tree for me, and I still feel like I never quite got it down.

There are two things that are important in this web. First, in the last almost 100 years, whether or not things were tight financially, this family has always had a focus on giving. Emma Lee, the daughter of Brent and granddaughter of Wayne, told me, “If you are blessing others then God is going to take care of you.” She said it with such confidence and laissez faire that you’d think it was genuinely in her DNA.

The second thing to know is this: almost everyone in the Clark family, when asked about their history, would talk about Inez as the spiritual rock of the clan. Inez held the influence that would eventually impact the entire family as well as the town of Dumas.

One of the primary ways that their value of generosity takes shape is at The Refuge in Dumas. The Refuge was started by the Clarks and it is something of a 1/4 way house, as they call it — it’s a center for recovery. The Refuge is, structurally, in a former retirement home that was bought by the Clark’s and renovated to house adults who are suffering from addiction. There are 20 to 25 adults staying there at any given time, all of whom are in recovery. There is no financial cost for those in recovery to live there.

The requirements, though, are that every adult who lives at The Refuge attend daily recovery meetings and works, either as a volunteer or in a paid position somewhere in the Dumas community. Everyone attends meetings. Everyone works. Other than that, anyone in recovery can be there; the only requirement is faithfulness to their own recovery. In their 10 years of providing space for recovery The Refuge has had over 1000 adults through their doors. Most stay 6-8 months. Lots of them leave after the first week. A few have been there for years.

I talked to a few people who lived there. One guy told me that he was living in a cave for awhile before he showed up at The Refuge. I said, “A cave?” and he said, “Yeah.” I asked him how he ended up at The Refuge and he said that one day he was walking into town with his water jugs to get water and a woman who was living at The Refuge having a cigarette on the front porch and yelled to him with the sort of nonchalance of someone who lost everything and found it again and now had nothing to hide or be afraid of. She asked if he wanted to come live with them. He said that was something like 7 years ago.

I talked to another guy who has a wife and a kid in another town. He said he was at The Refuge to get his life together so he could go back and be a dad and a husband. He told me about his addictions and the work he was doing to get clean — lots of dirt under his nails. Story after story of use and abuse. He has this picture of his wife and kid on his desk and a note from his kid that said something like we love you written in a big fat marker.

There aren’t many places like The Refuge. It exists because of the generosity of one family, not for financial gain or name recognition, but simply so that those on the margins, those with less in their bowls, get a chance to find peace.

The Refuge exists in part because a woman, someone who truly believed Jesus when he said to love everybody, brought a foundation of kindness and generosity and care to a family of ragamuffins back in the 1930s. Her influence has carried on through decades, and now impacts the likes of a man walking through town to get some water to take back to his cave and the likes of a dad sowing grass seed with his 1 year old son in their yard.

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