LEAGUE CITY, Texas -- Outside a brand new house in a brand new subdivision in League City, a small crowd broke out in applause as a young man rolled his wheelchair up the driveway.
Chris Sullivan smiled and didn't say much as he positioned himself between a podium and an American flag, right in front of a couple of NFL cheerleaders. His mother, his wife and his three-year-old son sat in folding chairs as a succession of speakers voiced their gratitude.
"We just want to thank Chris for your service," said Murphy Yates of Harbour Classic Builders, the homebuilder who led the construction project. "And we hope you like your new home."
With that, someone handed Sullivan's mother the biggest Christmas gift of his life: The keys to a four-bedroom, three-bath house worth an estimated $275,000, complete with a huge shower large enough to accommodate his wheelchair and a closet big enough to host a small party. The event fulfilled a promise made at a Houston Texans game a year ago, when a stadium packed with roaring football fans cheered the news that the quadriplegic young veteran would receive a new home in League City.
We have witnessed many ceremonies like this one in which wounded warriors arrive at newly-built homes , but none of those soldier stories has ever been quite like Chris Sullivan's. This young man served his country, returned home safely, and then fell victim to gunfire in his homeland.
"Things happen for a reason," Sullivan now says.
Sullivan served in Kandahar with the U.S. Army's 101st Infantry Division in 2010 when he was wounded during a suicide bombing attack. He suffered a cracked collar bone and brain damage, but he survived and returned to recuperate in Kentucky where he was stationed. He planned to finish his military service and got to college.
Two years ago, he traveled to his home in California on leave. During a homecoming party on Christmas Eve, a fight broke out between a couple of people at the party -- police described it as a squabble over football -- and Sullivan intervened to protect his brother. A guest pulled a pistol and opened fire, shooting Sullivan twice and severing his spine.
"It's the hardest thing I think a mother would have to do -- during Christmastime," said his mother, Suzanne Sullivan.
For the last two years, his family has focused on caring for the warrior wounded in his home country. They moved to the Houston area so he could undergo treatment at Houston's Veterans Administration hospital.
Operation Finally Home, a locally-based group that helps wounded soldiers, organized the effort to build the family a home in League City. The effort culminated with the ceremony outside the new house on Wednesday morning.
"And I couldn't think of a better time to do it," said Daniel Vargas, the group's executive director. "This happened to him on Christmas Eve. And to be able to put him in his home and to be able to celebrate Christmas here after everything that's gone on, is a miracle."
Sullivan rolled his wheelchair around the new house, trailed by cameras and volunteers, admiring the home's features -- especially the bathroom. And he vowed to hang a huge television on the wall in the bedroom.
"This is awesome," he said.
His mother wept, but Sullivan didn't. He spoke quietly, laughed easily and seemed genuinely beyond self-pity.
"I cried here and there," he said. "I've been in pain, but you can't be in that forever. I mean, there's no point of it. It's not going to get you anywhere."