“In a good friendship each member often feels humility towards the rest. He sees that they are splendid and counts himself lucky to be among them.” ~C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves
I spent three days this week in DFW spending some significant time with some of the very most important people in my life. I had lunch with Rick Atchley at a Fuzzy’s Taco a few blocks from The Hills. I spent a few hours with our youngest daughter Carley at their brand new house in Flower Mound. I had dinner with David and Shanna Byrnes, Dawson and his wife Mallory, Dakota, David’s mom Paula, and their three (four?) dogs.
But the absolute highlight of my trip was dining with Dan-O and the other Horsemen.
Dan Miller is one of my dearest and oldest friends and one of the fabled Four Horsemen. If you’re relatively new to me and/or to this blog, you might not know about the Four Horsemen. These three men and their families form a mutual alliance of love, support, and encouragement for me and my family that’s impossible to describe (you can read about our origins together by clicking here or you can search “Four Horsemen” on this site to get a glimpse of what these guys mean to me).
We four made vows to each other around my kitchen table in 2001, before two of us were preachers, before any of us had married kids, before any of us got cancer or lost jobs or moved across the state. Since then, for the past 22 years, we’ve taken an annual three-day camping trip together at Tyler State Park. We pray together via Zoom once a month. We’ve traveled to Tulsa and Abilene together for church conferences and workshops. We’ve helped each other move (they’ve helped me more than I’ve helped them). We’ve attended every one of our kids’ weddings. And we keep in very close contact.
A little over two years ago, Dan was diagnosed with Parkinson’s — it was just after we had moved to Midland. We had noticed his shaking for about a year before that, but he can be really stubborn. I think he’s so optimistic and hopeful by nature, he refused to believe anything was wrong. A few months after his diagnosis, they added another huge uppercut to the gut punch: Lewy Body Dementia.
I’ve seen Dan in person only twice since then. So it was a gracious gift from the Lord to be able to round up the Four Horsemen this week for some quality time together at a couple of Dan’s favorite spots.
First, it was the El Fenix in Casa Linda, a neighborhood in East Dallas that was always just a little more upscale than my Pleasant Grove community to the south — we had a Pancho’s in Pleasant Grove. When we were kids, we only drove north on Buckner Boulevard to Casa Linda if our church was doing something with the White Rock Church of Christ. I remember eating at this El Fenix with my friend Todd Adkins and his family when I would spend the night at his house on Telegraph near White Rock Lake. When I was 14, Glen and Becky Burroughs took my sister and me to see Raiders of the Lost Ark at the Casa Linda Theater across the street from the El Fenix. That theater is now a Natural Grocers, which is really weird; the movie poster boards out front now contain grocery store ads.
When I moved to Arlington and, later, to North Richland Hills, the Horsemen made it a point to eat a long lunch together on the last Friday of every month. The almost-halfway point was the El Fenix in North Dallas at LBJ and Forest Lane. We did that together for years until I moved to Amarillo and the monthly lunch became a monthly prayer via conference call. So, it was nostalgic on several fronts to eat together at the Casa Linda El Fenix on Tuesday. It’s not as cool as eating at the original El Fenix at McKinney and Pearl Streets in downtown Dallas, the one that opened in 1918. But this El Fenix in Casa Linda opened in 1956 and, at the time, boasted the first and only completely stainless steel kitchen in the restaurant industry. Clean!
Beef fajitas. Tortillas. Chips and salsa and queso. Sopapillas AND churos and ice cream. And a lot of laughing.
Then yesterday we got together for breakfast at the Goldmine in the historic Ridgewood area of Garland. It’s just a generic diner, a little rundown cafe. I had never been to the Goldmine before, but it’s super close to Dan’s house, so it made sense. Little did I know that all three of these guys have stomped through the Goldmine over the past five decades: Kevin as a freshman at Eastfield College, Jason as a Garland police officer, and Dan over the past few years living near Centerville and Duck Creek Drive.
Eggs and sausage. Hashbrowns and country potatoes. Biscuits and gravy. Diet Dr Pepper! And a lot of laughing.
The Parkinson’s / Lewy Body Dementia combo is brutal. My great friend Dan-O Miller is suffering. He shakes. He hurts. He can’t straighten out his fingers. He can’t stop the leg cramps. Hallucinations. Bone pain. Overall weakness and fatigue. Side effects. Doctors visits. New medications. No more driving. Forgetfulness. Delayed reactions and slower response times. Dizziness. Loss of balance.
Yet, Dan continues to think of others more than himself. He still considers the needs of others more important than his own. He still jokes and laughs with an abounding and limitless joy. And he still sees the very best in every person and in every situation.
Dan Miller speaks with such confidence about our Lord and his plans for each one of us. He encourages me. He lifts me up. He sees things in me that I never have — good things, holy things. He speaks over me things I have never thought — eternal things, Gospel things. He sees beyond the urgent to the bigger picture truths of love and unity and charity. He is secure in his saving relationship with God through Christ Jesus. He talks about it and he lives it. He always has. He still does. He has less time now for skirting around difficult issues and less patience for Christians who know better. But he is still able to see our God very clearly in every person and in every place.
I am a better person because I know Dan. I’m a better Christian, a better husband and dad, a better preacher. I’m paying close attention to Dan now, watching him, listening to him, learning from him as he navigates this incredibly difficult journey. I want to be more like him. I want to love and forgive and serve others the way he does. I want to be faithful like Dan, faithful to friends and family, faithful to our God even in the middle of hardship.
Dan reflects the glory of our God in his compassion for others, his love for all people of all kinds, and his capacity to encourage. Even now. Especially now.
I thank God for Dan Miller.