The following article is based on an Aug. 11 interview with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at the state Capitol in Austin. Two weeks later, Hurricane Harvey hit, causing record flooding, multiple deaths and physical destruction across a large swath of Southeast Texas.
In the aftermath, Gov. Abbott has been prominently featured in media interviews, often expressing his faith and asking for prayer on behalf of the people of his state. The governor has overcome his share of personal adversity, only to emerge stronger spiritually than before.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse—which have been active in chaplaincy and disaster relief in the areas affected—encourage our readers to continue praying for Gov. Abbott and the people of Texas during the ongoing recovery from Hurricane Harvey.
God humbles everyone. The difference, says Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, is that some people recognize it.
For Abbott, that recognition came clearly, painfully, forcefully. The first-term governor, elected in 2014 after serving 12 years as Texas attorney general, leads the nation’s second-most populous state with the same quiet tenacity he once marshalled to win almost all of his races as a middle-distance runner at Duncanville High School near Dallas. Only now he does it from a wheelchair.
Abbott joked on the campaign trail that politicians often brag that they have spines of steel. “I actually have one,” he would say.
It certainly wasn’t in his plans. In the summer of 1984, Abbott was 26, fresh out of Vanderbilt Law School. He and his wife, Cecilia, whom he met at The University of Texas at Austin, had been married three years and were looking forward to a big family and a successful career. The boy voted most likely to succeed in high school seemed to have it all coming together.
“As with many 20-somethings, my life at that time was heavily me-centric,” Abbott says.
That July, as Abbott was prepping for the bar exam with a friend in Houston, the two decided to break the monotony with a jog. Running through a neighborhood where stately oaks and giant magnolias dot the sidewalks, they heard a loud boom while approaching an intersection. A second later, Abbott was flat on the street, clinging to life from injuries that included broken vertebrae, broken ribs and punctured organs. A 75-foot oak had snapped and fallen, striking him.
Abbott doesn’t hesitate to reflect on the suffering he endured in the months that followed. His life and faith are richer because of what he endured, he says, smiling at the irony that such tragedy could move one closer, not farther, from God.
Thirty-three years later, he can see the blessings woven through his life. Cecilia, the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants, is the love of his life and the state’s first Latina first lady. Their daughter, Audrey, whom they adopted at birth, is now a college student. His career has spanned private law practice, two elected terms to the state Supreme Court, then the attorney general’s office and now the governor’s office.
But lying in a hospital bed three decades ago, that tapestry was obscured by pain and misery. What was clear to Greg and Cecilia Abbott was that their life’s plans were going to change. The doctors were emphatic that Abbott would not walk again. His active, athletic lifestyle was gone, and he was relegated to being a spectator of many things that he had once loved.
“Suddenly, inexplicably, all that was stripped away,” he said, “and I went through very challenging circumstances—physically, mentally and emotionally—where my world was turned upside down. And for something that occurred seemingly by chance—that a tree would fall on me—it causes someone to question God, question the will of God, to go through the process of ‘why me?’ ‘how?’ and ‘why did this happen?’ All of that.”
Through that long process, I found that I actually felt a closer presence of God in my life. It’s almost as if God was reaching out to me. When we hit what may be considered a low in our lives, that’s when we are most vulnerable and most dependent.
Abbott was raised in a Christian home and had professed faith in Christ as a youth. His grandfather, A.G. Abbott, pastored a country church. But like many youths, he drifted once he got into his teens. During those years, his father died of a heart attack, and Greg and his brother, Gary, now a retired Navy commander, mowed yards and stocked store shelves as their mother took on a job to support the family.
After he started dating Cecilia in college—she played classical piano in the dormitory commons and he was the guy who always carried a football under his arm—the couple regularly attended church. But the accident shaped the faith of the future governor in an unprecedented way.
Through many months of rehabilitation, Abbott recalls “many days of great frustration and anger.”
And questions. Would his law career be possible? What would his and Cecilia’s lives look like? What about the family they hoped to raise together?
“But the interesting thing is that through that long process, I found that I actually felt a closer presence of God in my life,” Abbott told Decision. “It’s almost as if God was reaching out to me. When we hit what may be considered a low in our lives, that’s when we are most vulnerable and most dependent. I found that when I had the greatest sense of vulnerability and dependence, I could actually count on God more. In the aftermath of the accident, my relationship with Him was tested, it was challenged, and it came out stronger than it was before.”
Instead of being me-centric, Abbott emerged from his recovery and rehabilitation determined to be God-centric, and that has carried forward in his personal and political life. The prayer he has prayed daily for years hasn’t changed much from his long tenure as attorney general to the weightiness of the governor’s office.
“First, it’s a prayer that God would fill me with the Holy Spirit, so that I might be guided according to His will as opposed to my will. I seek discernment, wisdom, guidance and strength. Those have always been cornerstones of my prayer, in addition to family members or other people who have particular concerns,” Abbott says.
“Prayer causes me to move forward every day in my political capacity, in my personal capacity, almost with a sense of no fear, because I know that if I’m always committed to discerning and trying to fulfill the will of God, I have nothing to fear.”
He finds great devotional value in the poetic books of the Old Testament. “The Psalms and Proverbs are particularly good,” he says.
Throughout his political career, Abbott has been an unwavering defender of the right to life, as well as constitutional guarantees on religious liberty. One of his landmark achievements as attorney general, in 2005, was the successful defense of a Ten Commandments display at the State Capitol. In Van Orden v. Perry, Abbott argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the state of Texas in what turned on a 5-4 decision.
He also supported and defended House Bill 2, a sweeping law that increased health and safety requirements in Texas abortion clinics. HB2’s provisions included, among other things, that abortion doctors have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. First passed in 2013 when Abbott was attorney general, the bill quickly drew legal challenges from the Left. But according to the Texas Tribune, it effectively saw the number of abortion clinics in the state drop from 40 to fewer than 20, and overall abortions drop by some 63,000 from 2013 to 2014.
In 2016, when the Supreme Court struck down significant safety requirements in the bill, including the admitting privileges provision, Abbott was quick to respond.
“The decision erodes states’ lawmaking authority to safeguard the health and safety of women and subjects more innocent lives to being lost. Texas’ goal is to protect innocent life, while ensuring the highest health and safety standards for women.”
The Supreme Court notwithstanding, Abbott has signed multiple bills aimed at protecting human life.
In June, he signed legislation that outlaws so-called “dismemberment abortions,” a common procedure in the second trimester; bans the sale of baby body parts; and requires fetal remains to be buried or cremated. In August, Abbott signed four more pro-life bills, including one that prohibits coverage of elective abortions in all health insurance plans, and another that strengthens abortion reporting requirements to prevent abortion-friendly attorneys and state judges from misusing a law in a way that allows teen abortions without parental consent.
And as with North Carolina and the so-called “bathroom bill,” which former N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory supported and signed in 2015, Texas has continued to attempt passage of a similar bill requiring the use of bathrooms and locker rooms in government buildings and public schools to correspond to gender as listed on birth certificates.
Abbott has publicly supported the legislation, despite clamoring taunts and threats from big corporations and professional and collegiate sports interests. The bill died during a special session in August because of several socially liberal Republicans in the Texas House, but conservatives have promised to bring it up again.
The waves of the sexual revolution continue to hit every year in different ways, Abbott says. “Our job is to not cave into whatever may be the new trend, but instead to stand for principles that are tested over time, that are God-established principles and constitutionally based principles of what is right.”
Abbott feels blessed to govern one of the most economically vibrant states in the union; but Texas, like most other states, is also suffering from broken family structures and an opioid epidemic that burdens its social services. Churches, businesses and government all have a part to play.
But in Abbott’s view, prayer must undergird all of it.
“Whether people are praying for me or other government leaders, we need them to pray that God would guide us,” he says. “That we constantly seek His wisdom and discernment. And that we make our decisions based upon core values and principles that are timeless—and the only ones that are timeless are God-based core values and principles.” ©2017 BGEA