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Murals and Toads…

It’s been busy the last few days. Spring planting is in full swing at the farm. New areas are being plowed and tilled making for a full acre expansion to Opal’s Farm. Meetings, continuing education classes, and discussion groups have filled my evening schedule. It’s all good stuff, mind you, but then the rain came…

Work is great therapy, but eventually the rain comes. It slows me down long enough for my mind to wander into places I’d rather not visit. Unfortunately, I must. It’s part of the grieving process. I only mention it because I got a text today that Jeremy’s mural at Manana Land will be taken down at the first of April. It’s to be replaced by one of Deborah Peoples, a local candidate for Mayor, to encourage folks to vote. A worthy replacement most times – getting out the vote, even in local elections, is a great endeavor – but not so much right now. I simply don’t want to let go.

Jay Wilkinson’s mural of Jeremy at Hop Fusion Brewery is the one I spend the most time visiting. Jay was Jeremy’s long-time friend and art partner. It means more to me a Jay wasted no time in getting the mural done. It was an incredible effort by someone who knew Jeremy well and painted as such. Still, I drive by the one at Manana Land on the way home some days and wave hello to my son. I won’t be able to do that much longer.

I didn’t want to hear that right now. I’ve been a ball of feelings the last couple of weeks. I’m not even sure how to label them as they change so rapidly. Grief is like that. I’d love to define them and to put them into words, but everything seems to fall short – shallow and meaningless.

The other day I was out at the farm. Roman, our Volunteer Coordinator was out there with me. He tilled one last row before he headed on to other obligations. I stayed behind to seed the newly turned soil. About halfway down the row I saw a toad that had been hit on the shoulder (do frogs have shoulders?) and was bleeding. I took him to the side of the bed and put him in a cool shady spot to rest. When it occurred to me that it might be a fatal wound I began to sob uncontrollably – over a dying toad.

It seemed like it the weeping would never end. What was wrong with me? “It’s a damn frog Greg! Get over it. It’s part of farming, right? He didn’t mean to hurt it. It was an accident.”

I don’t when it happened but suddenly, I realized that the tears weren’t only for some old frog. They were for my son. They were for the folks in line at the food bank up the street. They were for all the broken people in a broken world that no one sees nor tries to help.

They were for George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, for Armaud Aubery, for Tamir Rice, and the list goes on and on and on.

They were for the 500,000 plus people that have died from COVID and the over 81,000 people that died from overdoses in the wear prior to May 2020. The tears were over the families of those lost – the fathers and mothers that lie awake at night, tears rolling down their cheeks, asking God why – why their child, their parent, their brother, or sister.

They were for Sandy Hook, for Columbine, for Parkland and all the schools, places of worship, or public spaces where mass shootings have taken so many.

All of that because of a bleeding Texas Toad…

Sometimes I simply need to let go, to cry it out, and even question the God, the Abba, who loves me more than I can possibly imagine. Why’d you let it get this way? Why, why, why? “My God, why have you forsaken us?

My sobbing eased and the tears began to slow. I slowly gathered myself together and resumed planting. The smell of freshly turned soil filled the air around me. The sun felt a little brighter and warmer. I remembered the days Jeremy came out and worked with me. God, I miss that, but at least I have that memory. My grandkids will soon be out here more when school is out and I get to see Jeremy in them.

My sadness and anger had passed. God didn’t make or let any of this happen. We did. Perhaps that’s where the anger comes from. I’m not doubting God as much as I’m doubting myself and doubting people. People let us all down at some point. That’s what all humans do. No one’s perfect, right?

Then I remember all the people I’ve met along the way that work diligently, often with little or no reward, to make our community a better place. I have faith God will set all things right one day. I dream of the promised “new heaven and new Earth”, but what’s my part today? God can create universes. I’m sure He could straighten this earthly mess out right away, but He invites me to be a part of the solution. He reminds me that we can do this so just do it…

We must use our lives to make the world a better place to live, not just to acquire things. That is what we are put on the earth for. Solitude with God repairs the damage done by the fret and noise and clamour of the world.”

– Dolores Huerta

I looked back on saw that everything had been planted before the forecasted rain for the next day. I felt strong, no longer defeated, and hopeful. My tears washed away the frustration and grief that had been building up inside. Now I had a little more clarity. Vision returned. All of this because of an old toad…

I walked back to where I had laid the toad. He wasn’t there but I could see a place where he’d burrowed into the planting bed. Maybe it wasn’t a fatal wound after all. He may end up scarred like me, but we’d both be out there doing out part at the farm. That’s all we can do…

Photo by Lucas van Oort on Unsplash

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“There are sufficient resources in the world for the needs of everybody, but not enough for the greed of even a significant minority.”- Millard Fuller, The Theology of the Hammer (1994)

God has taught me the true definition of enough. Let us labor together to provide enough for everyone…

Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash
Acceptance, Bad Weather, Community, Creation, Emotional Health, Gratitude, Neighbors, Opal's Farm, Prayer, Relationships, Simplicity, Spirituality

What I’m Grateful for Today…

I had planned to be posting regularly for both myself and Opal’s Farm since I wasn’t at the farm this weekend. Unfortunately, the Texas weather decided I could wait. We, along with about 13,000 other electric customers in our zip code, have been without power for almost two days. The temperature hasn’t been above freezing for the last week and isn’t predicted to be until the coming weekend. It was three degrees when the power went out and hasn’t been above twenty degrees since then.

This probably doesn’t sound like a big deal to people living in more northern climes. However, Texas – statewide – is totally unprepared for this. It simply doesn’t happen here. Not like this anyway. Our power grid is not built for such extreme temperatures. I was doing late winter planting for early Spring veggies two weeks ago. Governor Abbott declared a disaster emergency for all 254 counties! We are not alone in this and my heart breaks for those who are so often overlooked and left behind.

We are fortunate. I got my generator from the farm and ran a couple of space heaters in one room – and most importantly, our coffee pot. Our neighbors have looked out for one another, our animals are safe (we had a three-dog night for the last two nights…), and our tummies are full. Our son, Paul, brought hot meals and coffee from across town (the roads are icy and treacherous) for us and our neighbors. Hardship often brings out the best in communities.

There’s been an unusual camaraderie with complete strangers – people in the same boat sharing stories, telling each other who still has power, and where the find goods in short supply. We’ve been able to charge our cell phones in my truck. I’m amazed by the network of calls that have gone back and forth between friends and family.

Being truly “off grid” has awakened a spirit in our community that we often don’t get to see. It reminds me that humans – God’s kids – aren’t designed for “rugged individualism no matter how hard we try to act like it. It also makes gratitude for the simplest of things shine through. Our prayers over the last few days have been for things like lamps that turn on with the flip of a switch, furnaces that keep the house toasty warm in the dark night, and a hot meal (and not just cold cuts!). We’re usually annoyed when our three large dogs take up so much of the bed at night. Now we offer prayers of thanks for all that body heat!

The power outage also reminded me that I don’t have to depend on the computer to write and reading by candlelight isn’t all that bad. I may not be able to post anything online, but I have lots of pen and paper. That makes writing all that much more enjoyable.

I’m not going to make this long. The power may go out yet again, just as quickly as it came on. We had a brief thirty-minute spurt of electricity yesterday before it flickered out. I just wanted to say I hope and pray everyone is warm and safe on a frigid February day. Pray for each other and thank God for the little things. You never know when you might need them more than ever.

Acceptance, Belief, Children, Coronavirus, Courage, Depression, Emotional Health, Faith, Gratitude, Grief, Pandemics, Persistence, Prayer, Thoughts From the Porch, What Can I Do

There is Much to be Thankful for Even When It Feels Like There Isn’t…

We finished our Thanksgiving Dinner a couple of hours ago. Our two younger kids, Paul and River, took care of preparing the meal and cleaning up afterward this year. It was the greatest gift of the holiday (They did a bang-up job by the way!) Margaret wasn’t up to all the physical activity and I was, well, blah.

The holidays are harsh reminders of the loss of my son Jeremy this year. I used to wonder why some people had such a difficult time during the holidays. Now I know.

The week hasn’t been conducive to thankful feelings. On Tuesday, we were finally allowed to clear out Jeremy’s apartment and Art Studio. Everything’s been on hold as he died intestate – no will and minor children – and the court finally ordered the necessary letters to the apartment management. The owner is a local Fort Worth real estate developer that denied us access until we had a court order despite pleas from our family. We still wonder if any of Jeremy’s art is missing. Oh well. Everything is in storage now and out of their hands.

I was flooded with memories and emotion as I went through his belongings. I’ve tried to be strong throughout this process, but I haven’t done well. I feel and function. That’s it. I miss my son and the holidays are a cruel reminder of loss rather than a season of joy and gratitude.

I had to spend time today writing down the things for which I’m thankful because I know I have much to be grateful for even during this crazy, wild-ass year. Gratitude is a verb, not a noun. Sometimes I simply put it in black and white, make it tangible and concrete, and say thanks even when I don’t feel particularly grateful. It makes the whole grief thing a bit easier.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

The first thing I wrote down was my breakfast this morning with my oldest son, Adrian. We started a holiday tradition of having breakfast at Old South Pancake House every Thanksgiving and Christmas morning. Our time together can be lost juggling holiday schedules with adult children, grandchildren, and blended extended families. It’s a time just for us and it’s even more special this year. It was risky going out in public even with social distancing, masks, and hand sanitizer. Covid numbers are surging upward here, but my time with him was worth it.

I’m thankful for family and friends that love me and don’t try to fix my broken heart. They occasionally remind me that God’s got this when I get in a deep, dark place, but they still allow me the room to grieve. Not everyone does that. Well-intentioned people say some screwed-up things to grieving parents. I’m grateful my close friends and family allow me to be where I am emotionally, even when it’s uncomfortable for them. We’ll all get through this together.

This has been a messed-up year, but in the middle of the madness I’ve found something to be grateful for. That gives me hope. It won’t always feel like this…

Acceptance, Children, Choices, Community, Depression, Emotional Health, Faith, Gratitude, Grief, Letting Go, Parents, Prayer, Relationships, Spirituality, Thoughts From the Porch

The Journey…

The birds are uncharacteristically quiet this morning. There are few cars on the distant freeway and aside from the occasional angry squirrel chatter, a golden silence fills the day. I love mornings like this. The coffee goes down a tad smoother and tight muscles slowly unwind in the morning air. God has blessed me once again with another day on “the right side of the roots” as my friend Railroad Charlie would say.

I try to soak up moments like these. They’ve been few and far between the last four-and-a-half months. The farm has been a lifesaver but there’s been a constant cloud of grief since Jeremy died. I still have difficulty with the word “died”. It reminds me of the finality of the whole situation. I usually talk about his “passing” rather than his “dying” as if to hold on to the opaque hope that this has all been a bad dream. The word choices don’t change reality though. Death is part of life so call it what it is.

I’m glad I get to work the farm. Work provides focus, but I always second guess myself and wonder if it’s a way to avoid dealing with the loss. We have many terrific volunteers that come out regularly to help, but I leave it to Stacey, our Volunteer Coordinator, to deal with them and pass out work assignments. I put my head down and try to stay as faraway as possible. I pray they don’t consider it unfriendly. Other folks are simply overwhelming right now.

 The Kubler Ross Grief model names five stages of the grieving process – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I feel stuck in the depression stage these days. Honestly, the stages come and go daily – even acceptance – but depression is terrifying. Those who have suffered from depression know what I’m talking about.

I’m fortunate. I suffered from the chemical imbalance that causes depression. Medication worked for me. It wasn’t a quick fix. It took working with my doctor until I had the right dosage and medication to pull me out of the dark depths of depression. Now it seems to be taking over again – the irritability, the clouded thinking, the attention deficit, and sadness. This time it’s not something that can be fixed. I get that it’s situational – it’s not a quick fix, but a natural process – but that doesn’t make it any less frightening.

I’m blessed to have a circle of love and emotional support around me. I’m not confused – some people don’t have that. I have faith in a loving God who I know is carrying me through this. I don’t have to be afraid, but I am sometimes. I’m so grateful for the folks in my life, even if I tend to isolate lately. I’ve even been able to find gratitude in my world despite my loss. I know that one day I’ll look back and see the beautiful tapestry of life God is (and has always) woven for me.

I’m thankful I’ve been given the tools to work through this. I’m extremely grateful I haven’t had to make many amends for talking out the side of my neck. I’m grateful for the WordPress community – I’ve been able to begin reading (and comprehending!) again those of you I follow. Your writing has often done more for me than you know.

I’m finally able to begin writing thank you notes (without freezing up) to the many friends have been so kind and supportive to my family. Above all, I’ve been able to sit down and begin writing again. I may not do it well, but I’m able to have “Thoughts From the Porch” again.