Sunday, December 21, 2014

Celebrating Dad Serna

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." This is how Dickens opens his famous Tale of Two Cities and is the perfect way to open this blog post. Though we have had great joy this month in finally meeting Faith and making her ours, we also had great sorrow as only a few days after our return from China, Byron's sweet father passed away. In just one short month we have experienced the best of times and the worst of times, a time of new beginnings and a time of endings.

Dad Serna will be so missed by so many people, but especially by those of us that were the closest to him. His passing leaves a vacancy in our hearts that no one else can fill. But his legacy and the memories of his soft voice, his kind and beautiful eyes, his chuckle and his determination will live on with each of us that knew and loved him. 

Byron gave the most beautiful Eulogy at Dad Serna's services. I am going to share it with you here: 

Nicolas Serna July 24, 1944 – December 8, 2014
Today, we celebrate the life of Nicolas Serna. He had many titles. Some of which includes son; beloved brother, uncle and cousin; loving husband; a respected and caring father and grandfather. Other roles he played included: manager, director, leader, advocate, encourager, counselor, servant, poet, overcomer--one who knew no limitations.
I would like to spend some time this morning highlighting just a few of the roles he played. I think we would all agree that we do not have time enough in a day, a week, or even more to cover all the ways he touched our lives. That is the type of legacy he leaves behind. As we recall, reflect and recount the ways he touched our lives, we have the opportunity to speak a good word, a eulogy, in the months and years to come and for the rest of our lives.
From this point on, I will refer to him as “Dad.”
After spending a little jail time as a teenager, Dad worked in a watch repair shop under a man whom, as he shared, he looked up to as a father. It was this man who helped Dad get him on the right track. A few years later, he met the love of his life, Bettie. He and Mom married in 1963 when they were 18 and 19 years old.
Having dropped out of school in the 8th grade, Dad went back to get his GED, but he didn’t stop there. He went onto college to receive a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. But, he didn’t stop there. He went onto the University of Houston where he received his Doctor of Jurisprudence.
Life happens along the way. During that time of schooling, he and Mom welcomed Nick and Nicol into the world. After finishing Law School, Dad worked at Legal Aid in Houston. In 1978 (while Mom was pregnant with me), he moved the family to Temple to startup a new practice in Belton in early 1979—then called Legal Aid of Central Texas—now called Lone Star Legal Aid – Belton. Since then, Dad has called Bell County his home. Having served here for over 36 years, Dad’s fingerprints are everywhere including, but not limited to, the Texas Supreme Court where he tried 2 cases. This is the court of last resort for civil matters.

Dad’s education and work history is important and quite impressive. What is more, was his impact and influence he had with everyone that knew him both in his professional and personal life. I think all would agree that Dad was one whom others sought him out for counsel—for advice. Dad possessed an ability get to the heart of issues and identified ways to solve complex problems. I believe this skill—this characteristic along with a drive for excellence propelled Dad to succeed in anything he set his mind to.
It is here we transition into the legacy he leaves behind. Have you noticed that I have not even mentioned his disability? Dad lived a life full of challenges—a life that the world would say that “he has no chance, he’s poor, he is a troublemaker—a juvenile delinquent, [or later] he has no voice, what can he do? He’s in a wheelchair!”
A disability is clearly defined as an impairment in a person’s ability to function. What was Dad’s disability? Standing? While he could not physically stand, Dad stood for those of who were poverty-stricken and needed legal representation in civil matters. Not able to stand? He stood for what was right.
Was his disability not having a voice? While he may not have had a projecting voice, Dad was the megaphone for his clients in the courtroom—amplifying what was right for those he represented. No voice? He was the voice of thousands of low-income Texans.
Was his disability not having access to facilities? Most, if not all, of the handicap accessible facilities in the Bell County Expo Center was a result of Dad’s work. That work extends into many other places in the City of Belton. No access to facilities? Not if Dad had something to say about it.
Was his disability about mobility? We’ve shared stories about family trips to Houston, Louisiana, San Antonio and many other places. Just the other day, Sylvia from the office recalled days when she would help Dad get out of the white Cadillac he had—even in the rain. I said, “Yeah, and how do you think he got in the car? It was raining at home, too!!” What about when he couldn’t drive a regular car anymore? He found a way—he would just get fitted for a van and be able to drive from his wheelchair. He did that for over 20 years until just a few months ago. When he couldn’t drive the van, he decided to convert his van with him being a passenger. He was still able to get around. Mobility? He was all over the place.
Dad was driven. He was driven to serve others in the community at large and he did so with class. Judge Rick Morris described Dad as “…a perfect example of his service to the community…” speaking about Dad starting up a legal clinic for those representing themselves for non-criminal cases. Belton attorney Jon McDurmitt described Dad as a “crackerjack,” a “gentleman’s gentleman.”
I could go on and on about Dad’s long and distinguished career. I could talk about his important work with United Way, Families in Crisis, and countless other service organizations he served as member, board member or president. But I haven’t even gotten to the good stuff, yet. His personal life.
As you can see, he lived out a life in which no one has an excuse of not persevering—no excuses for not facing challenges. He set an example for all who called him Cousin, Uncle, Brother, Dad and Papa to identify the goal, get a plan and get it done. He taught us strong work ethic, he taught us how to commit to a work that is not about us, but about others. He inspired us to always aim high. Brad Stutzman from the Temple Daily Telegram opens his 2003 article about Dad with this: “Man conquers poverty, muscular dystrophy. Former juvenile delinquent helps those who need legal assistance in Bell County.”
A part of Dad’s legacy is his placing a high value on education. Dad viewed education as almost redemptive in nature. Get a college degree and doors will open, get a college degree and opportunities will present themselves. Learn how to think for yourselves and challenge the status quo.

Dad believed there were no impossibilities. Only challenges to overcome. His entire life is testament of overcoming challenges.
The wisdom Dad possessed was nothing short of awe-inspiring. Friends and neighbors knew it, family knew. I remember people coming over all the time just to talk to Dad. Whether they were in a bad place in a relationship, a bad place emotionally and have suicidal thoughts, having financial trouble, whether they needed some legal guidance or if they had a business idea. They ran it by Dad. [Business idea….I haven’t even mentioned the antique shop that he and Mom had.] For us kids, if you wanted to talk with Dad about something serious, where did you go? The office. Dad was definitely in his element when we was there. If there was big news you wanted to share, you called him up at the office and first asked, “Dad, are you sitting down?” He was say “wait a minute-wait a minute…ok go ahead.”
Dad had a sense of humor. While he had a serious side, Dad saw the lighter side of life. Whether in people’s speech or their behavior, or events that occurred, he would see the irony or the humor, capitalize it and tell a good story.

Dad loved to talk of politics. Whether it was PBS, CNN, Headline News, the news was always running. You know its bad when you’re 10 years old and you watched the 1988 Democratic National Convention. What is worse is that I remember the speakers of that Convention. Governors Bill Clinton and Ann Richards with Richards saying “Poor George [referring to George H. W. Bush], he was born with a silver foot in his mouth.” I remember Dad laughing so hard at that statement. [I think Dad would be proud I threw that in there.] I believe he recorded that convention on VHS. Growing up I thought we all knew the presidents personally. Dad would refer to them as his buddy in Washington, or it was a off-term for him, your buddy up in Washington.
Dad had keen introspection. He had a skill by which he was able to relate to others in a way that brought them comfort and understanding. He always had the right words to say. I remember at Aunt Della’s funeral visitation, he went to the front, turned around and shared about her faith and how she was one of the pillars of faith in the family. He encouraged the family to follow her lead in faith so they may take solace in her passing.
In just a little bit, Jonathan, one of the grandsons, will show a short documentary clip of how energy sustained Dad’s physical life. After that, Michelle will be singing about the grace that sustained his spiritual life. That leads us to another legacy that Dad leaves with us….his faith. Dad’s journey, as he has shared, began and ended with being active in the Catholic Church. He has shared that it was our mom’s faith journey that allowed him to believe again. After our mom’s passing, Dad found himself pressing on and attending mass—bringing back the faith that he once knew. Last Saturday, Michelle and I brought our new little girl home from China. Her name is Faith. Dad got to meet Faith face-to-face. Today, we celebrate that Dad’s personal faith is now sight. He is with the Lord. He is now singing and rejoicing before the Lord—along with his family gone before. His brothers and sisters and his “Dear Bettie.”

To close friends and neighbors:
Dad kept in touch with friends and neighbors from Houston as well as from Cedar Creek Road. When we would visit, he would ask about them. Since being in Moody, I think he has meet every neighbor in a two mile radius and can tell us a little something about them.
To the Legal Community:
It’s been through the practice of law that has provided the context by which Dad was able to serve others. It has been through close working relationships with each of you here today and those who have preceded him in death that he was able to make a difference in the community he served. At the risk of not mentioning a few folks, I know Dad would be honored to have mentioned a very close and dear friend to him and that is the late Bob Gammage, former member of the Texas House of Representatives, Texas State Senate, United States House of Representatives and Texas Supreme Court. Dad cherished his relationship with Bob and others who worked together to bring about what was right in civil matters.
To Paul, Phyllis, Kathy, Charles:
Dad spoke fondly and frequently about his memories of his family. From playing cards to going on fishing trips to the coast, from Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas gatherings and Family Reunions, Dad recounted the ways in which he cherished his relationships with each you. He loved you all so very much.
To Nieces and Nephews:
Dad was a father figure to many of you. He loved it when you would come to visit, because he had a list of things to do for you. Don’t worry we had a list, too. I didn’t realize it then, but I realized it later. Dad provided us an opportunity to learn whether it was about responsibility or learn how to till a garden or repair a mailbox. Dad was always teaching.
To my cousins whose parents had muscular dystrophy:
Dad’s passing marks the end of an era of active muscular dystrophy in this family. That doesn’t mean that MD is gone from our lives. You are honoring your parents by supporting the advancement of research and education with this neuromuscular disease. I encourage you to continue in that cause.
Cousins, due to the nature of the disease, we shared in the sufferings of our parents. Caring for them in the most personal and dignified way allowed us to have a unique and intimate relationship with them that no child would otherwise ever experience. The Bible teaches about sharing in the sufferings of the Lord. There is a reward in heaven for those who have trusted and have shared in those sufferings.
To Nick and Nicol / Brandy and Michelle:
After Mom’s passing , we were the closest to Dad. We knew his “must-haves,” his “nice-to-haves,” and things he “didn’t want to have.” As our families grow, as they mature, we have the responsibility to pass along what Dad taught us. We have a responsibility to pass along the legacy he leaves behind, the stories he shared, the memories we created as a family.
To the Grandkids:
You represent Papa’s legacy. You have a responsibility of heeding what Papa taught you, what he shared with you, the memories he pass along to you. As your parents continue to share his life lessons…take note.
Today, we not only celebrate, but we honor and admire the life of Nicolas Serna.

As Dad always like to get the last word, let me conclude by quoting him from the same news article from 2003. He said, “It’s still your typical muscular dystrophy. It’s a gradual weakening of the muscles. Fortunately, it does not affect my mind. Although it has weakened me, it has not limited me. I’ve seen it as a challenge to overcome and I feel like I’ve overcome the challenge.”
Dad, you’ve more than just overcome a challenge. You have set a standard by which your colleagues, friends and family can only hope to achieve. I believe we are all better off having known you and being touched by your love, compassion, your guidance, wisdom and the important work you set your heart to.
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