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Obituaries…

Thoughts From the Porch: After putting the brakes on Spring for a couple of days we’re returning to normal here in North Texas. The sun is shining, temperatures are far more Spring-like and my time on the porch was punctuated by competing bird songs and a woodpecker in the closest tree. The bluebonnets are gathering force with the other wildflowers waiting in reserve to make April a month of vibrant color. All is well in our corner of the world.

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An article in the Daily Good (you can read the article at https://www.good.is/articles/mean-obituary-daughter?utm_source=thedailygood&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dailygood ) caught my eye this morning. Whenever I see “brutal honesty” in a headline I must click it and see. Honesty is rare these days, and brutal honesty is usually code for hateful opinions. I had to laugh at someone getting the last word in with one’s obituary. While some may find such an obituary inappropriate, I hope whoever writes mine when the time comes will tell the truth – good and bad – and will get both a good laugh and a new respect for the grace given so freely.

Several years ago, I remember an assignment I was given by my mentor and friend, Jim. He told me to write my own obituary. Then write it from the perspective of a family member or friend. Finally, write it like someone who knew little about me. (I want to note that this little assignment came from a speaker he had heard many years ago, but I don’t remember which one. This wasn’t unique to him and I sure don’t want to take credit away from the originator.) The one thing he asked was that I be brutally honest with myself in how each was written.

The bottom line was how I see myself, how does my family see me, and how does the world see me. Jim was always big on introspection. He would always tell me “self-examination coupled with prayer and meditation produces favorable results”. I wasn’t too happy with the results at the time. Fast forward the clock a few years and the exercise became a lot easier and far more friendly for me.

I made a lot of mistakes. Scratch that (brutal honesty, remember?). I hurt a lot of people: myself, my family, and everyone I met through my selfishness and self-centeredness. Even when I was “doing good” it was usually to manipulate others and meet my own desires. The process of looking inward and being honest with myself revealed the real me – not the “me” I wanted to be and sure not how I wanted to be remembered.

As I’ve grown older, I still go back to the assignment Jim gave me periodically. I try to keep stock of myself daily. Periodically, I need to go through a full-blown inventory and take stock of my life. Now that I’m “in the last quarter of the game”, as my friend Gary says, I’ve become more aware of the legacy I leave. I believe others see me far differently from before. I know I’m not the same man as I was when I started this process. I trust that others see me far differently as well. I still make mistakes and have failures, but they no longer define who (or who’s) I am.

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Professionally, I worked many years as a Process Manager and Engineer building process improvement teams and finding ways to increase productivity for the companies I worked for. Writing and revisiting my own obituary has been “process improvement” for my life. It goes on today…

I’ve been blessed with the “favorable results” Jim always promised. I was fortunate to find a life of service to others. It’s the nature of what I do today, both as a writer and as the Farm Manager for Opal’s Farm. I ‘get’ to have a wonderful marriage, a loving family, and good friends. I ‘get’ to sit on the porch each morning and think about the amazing world I live in. I ‘get’ to say thank you to my Creator constantly for the grace I’ve received. I say ‘get to’ because it’s an opportunity I never had while wrapped up in self-centered blindness.

Each day is a new opportunity to rewrite my obituary, to leave a legacy of love and a servant spirit for my family, friends and community. I don’t think I could ask for more so maybe I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.

I’d urge each of you to take on the same assignment. If you already have then please share your results with me!

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“Schadenfreude – pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.”

I have a standing meeting on Sunday morning from 9AM to 10PM. I love to listen to National Public Radio on the way home because “Hidden Brain” is on air with the host, Shankar Vedantam. I’m fascinated by the topics and most all, by the science of why we do the things we do. More importantly, the things we have in common are far more numerous than anything that divides us. Today’s topic, envy, was no different.

Envy has a poor reputation. It made the infamous ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ list. Depending on who makes up the list, it usually ranks second or third on a scale of one to seven. No one wants to admit feeling envious, but we all do it from time to time.

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There are instances envy can have positive consequences. When used for social comparison it can motivate action leading to positive change that brings about happiness – ‘I wish I had what you had so I’m going to do what you did in order achieve it’. This is benign envy. It may be frustrating at times but leads toward action that is generally positive. It’s upside of the very human emotion of envy.

The other side is the one we are most familiar with: malicious envy. It’s the kind of envy that wants to pull a superior person down. That’s where schadenfreude, envy’s evil cousin, comes in – pleasure at another’s misfortune, laughing at another’s failure.

I could go into all the science, psychology, and sociology that explains envy, especially schadenfreude, but I’ll leave that to the experts. I couldn’t help but think about the Biblical story of Cain and Able. The story explains, either parabolically or literally, how envy reared its ugly head in human society.

The book of Genesis tells of two brothers, Cain, the older brother, and Abel, the younger of the two. Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd. Cain would offer the first fruits of his produce in sacrifice to God. Abel would offer the “firstborn animals of his herd, choice cuts of meat”. For whatever reason God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s. I often cited this story as the reason I didn’t like vegetables growing up! God obviously is not a vegan.

Anyway, Cain was peeved that he didn’t measure up (there’s the social comparison thing – kind of like ancient Facebook). He headed for his room and sulked. “God spoke to Cain: Why this tantrum? Why the sulking? If you do well, won’t you be accepted? And if you don’t do well, sin is lying in wait for you, ready to pounce; it’s out to get you, you’ve got to master it.” (Genesis 4.6-7 The Message).

I can only imagine what Cain was thinking, but I’ve been there, as much as I hate to admit it. We all have at one point or another. Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian denomination I get it. I know what it’s like to ‘never measure up’. I could never be ‘good’ enough to get on God’s good side. It wasn’t until many years later I discovered that there was absolutely nothing I could do anyway, nor did I have to. God’s good side is called grace and it is totally free. It can’t be earned, but that another story…

Most of us know the rest of the story. Cain experiences a severe case of schadenfreude. He not only wants to pull Abel down: Cain kills his own brother. Envy, malicious envy, puts Abel in the ground. Cain tries to deny his involvement, but ultimately faces the consequences of his action. I’ve been there.

In my younger years I chased a lot of pipe dreams out of envy and delighted in schadenfreude when those I viewed as competitors failed. I’m glad Facebook and social media wasn’t available back then. Comparison to the projected images on social media would have killed me. There’s no way I could ever measure up.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve experienced envy and schadenfreude far less than I used to. It may simply be the result of getting older and hopefully, wiser. Robert Fulghum once wrote that one day he walked out to the mailbox in his old bathrobe, bunny slippers, and bedhead hair and didn’t care what others thought of him. He said it’s either “going to seed” or “the beginning of wisdom”. I can relate.

It’s not that I don’t care what others think of me. It’s that I have no energy or time left for chasing images. I’m content with reality these days. Life is simpler, full of gratitude, and drama-free. My quiet time on the porch and my days at the farm are filled with peace and serenity. Life is good…

Ultimately, it’s not important what you think of me or even what I think of me. The most important thing is what God thinks of me. Because of his grace, I know He not only loves me, but He’s especially fond of me. I don’t have to compare myself to anyone else, because He’s especially fond of all His kids.

I maintain a presence on social media. I have a business and Opal’s Farm. Heck, my blog even gets posted on them. I simply wish others well when they get to have fabulous vacations to exotic places. I don’t get the check-ins and pictures of dinner, but I still get envious when I see someone eating a pint of Bluebell Chocolate ice cream…

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MLK Day 2019

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is the holiday commemorating Dr King’s birth. Festivities are planned in Downtown Fort Worth later this morning. My grandkids have the day off from school. Government offices are closed, although not only because of the holiday. Some have been closed for a while. Thirty-one days to be exact…

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No Resolutions…

Thoughts From the Porch: I typed 2019 for the first time this year and actually got it right the first time! Hang on to the little life triumphs wherever you can, right? Starting off the year with a victory sets the tone for the whole year!

I hope each of you had a wonderful New Year’s celebration. Margaret and I celebrated by falling asleep before the 10:00 o’clock news ended. I woke up to a whole new year. I finally feel like I got enough sleep…

I hope each of you had a wonderful New Year’s celebration. Margaret and I celebrated by falling asleep before the 10:00 o’clock news ended. I woke up to a whole new year. I finally feel like I got enough sleep…

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I do not make New Year’s resolutions, but there are some changes forthcoming this year. For one, it might be more accurate to call this blog, “Thoughts From the Desk”, at least for the first couple of months. I moved my quiet time to my office for a couple of reasons, least of which is the early cold temperatures that hit North Texas early this year. I’m not usually affected by the cold. I spent seventeen winters in Colorado, several of them quite severe, but I don’t ever remember feeling this cold. It’s a bone-chilling, wet, blustery cold that cuts through everything and numbs the brain. I don’t need any help in that regard…

The main reason I’ve retreated to the desk is I’ve decided to quit smoking (again). It’s coincidence rather than resolution that it’s also the start of a new year. I’ve never had much luck at resolving to stop annoying habits. Usually I need to have all sense of resolve and ability knocked out of me. Desperation is a wonderful impetus for willingness. I’ve reached a new level of willingness to quit; hopefully before the consequences are dire. It also helps that I closed out the books on 2018 and saw how much I had spent on tobacco. Seeing the dollar amount in black and white makes it all too real. I’ll keep you posted. Not that it’s newsworthy as much as there’s some sense of accountability in making a public statement.

Besides, smoking is no longer in vogue. More and more places ban smoking. It’s not good for those around me and, to be honest, I feel like an idiot doing it. I feel even worse when I’m driven to sneak away from my grandkids or a dinner party just to have a cigarette. It sets a lousy example. To continue smoking requires a lot of excuses and justification. Things like, “I gave up all my other bad habits, so allow me one bad habit”, just don’t hold water anymore.

So here I sit. You all may have to bear with some strange posts over the next few days. I tend to ramble and get extremely irritable when I’m “detoxing”. I know I tend to ramble anyway, but it’s especially bad during nicotine withdrawal.

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I’ve stopped smoking before. I should be able to do this, right? My friend Edgar reminded me that “my problem wasn’t stopping, it was staying stopped”. I’ve encountered this situation before and found that the answer isn’t mere willpower or a lack thereof. Like those annoying habits and shortcomings of character, the power to remove them tends to lay beyond my grasp. I keep hearing Jim, my friend and mentor’s voice reminding me one more time; “Cowboy, lack of power is your dilemma.” Ask any smoker who wants to quit and hasn’t (and can’t).

If I stop there, I’m left feeling hopeless, but experience has taught me that my greatest strength lies in my greatest weakness: I can ask for help. Help comes in a variety of ways. Sometimes it’s through friends and acquaintances. Other times it comes from complete strangers. Most of the time it comes through prayer. For me, faith has proven itself time and time again as the vehicle by which some of life’s greatest dilemmas are resolved.

So here I sit at the trusty old desk that was my father’s. I’ll stay here for the bit just to break the pattern. In doing so I might just stay stopped. Besides, the weather folks say it’s going to be yucky outside for a while. I’ll take all the help I can get.

I hope 2019 is absolutely amazing for each of you! As for me, I’ll suck down another Gummi Bear and stay inside… ���:

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What defines us?

Thoughts From the Porch: I’ve spent a great deal of time in reflection over the last couple of days. I’ve experienced a lot of gratitude this weekend. Quite honestly, I wondered whether I should share it with a wider audience.

Saturday, December 1st was the thirtieth anniversary of Worlds AIDS Day. The theme this year was “Know your status”. According to the World Health Organization, over a million people a year die from AIDS because they either didn’t know their status or started treatment too late. HIV/AIDS doesn’t need to be a death sentence. Advances in treatment have made HIV/AIDS a treatable chronic condition. AIDS patients know that adherence to treatment regimens help them lead long, productive, happy lives. But that doesn’t happen is one doesn’t know their status.

You can only address the problem when you recognize the problem.

AIDS rarely makes the news anymore. Lack of coverage doesn’t mean it’s gone away. In fact, in sub-Saharan Africa, a girl between the ages of15 and 24, becomes infected with HIV every minute of every day. Every minute. Every day.

Mark World AIDS Day 2018 by “knowing your status”.

Having said that, December 1st also marks thirteen years since my personal rebirth. On that day I began a journey I thought impossible for someone like me. I’m one of the few who get to live “two lives in one lifetime” as Margaret often reminds me. It was ironic that it was also World AIDS Day, but I wouldn’t see the irony until five months later…

Professionally, I refrain from discussing the events of all those years ago for a couple of reasons. One, to do so is somewhat suicidal in the business world. Self-disclosure, particularly of one’s failures, even when followed by success, is frowned upon in the professional community. Secondly, many misconceptions and fear lead to conscious and unconscious prejudices that are somewhat detrimental to business owners such as me.

However, I have difficulty separating my professional life from my personal life. The events of my sixty years, and particularly the last thirteen of them, have shaped who I am today.

 Saturday marked thirteen years of my recovery journey, and more importantly, my relationship with God. That may not be a big deal to many folks, but it is to me. I never thought it possible. Looking back, I’m incredibly grateful for the “gift of desperation”.

 I remember when I celebrated my first year in recovery, I proudly told my mom I hadn’t used any mind-altering substances for a year. She looked at me and said, “So, I haven’t used them in seventy-seven years”. She always had a way of putting things in perspective. Seeking recognition for something that most people do normally seems kind of foolish when I think about it.

However, to diminish the miracle of recovery would be just as unwise. I still remember the hopelessness, degradation, and desperation I felt the day before I began the recovery journey. I also know what it is to experience the depth of God’s infinite grace. To refrain from sharing it would be quite selfish, and selfishness is not something I wish to entertain any longer. Besides, the more I share, the more there is to receive. Go figure. The more I give the more I have. Let that one sink in…

Life didn’t stop showing up just because I began the recovery journey. I’d been clean and sober for about five months when the consequences of my past caught up with me. I was diagnosed with AIDS. Not HIV positive, mind you, but full-blown AIDS.

The level of CD-4, or T-cells, those wonderful components of the immune system the HIV virus attacks and destroys, determines whether one receives an HIV or AIDS diagnosis and thus, the treatment protocol. Simply put, AIDS patients have a CD-4 count of less than two hundred, while HIV positive individuals have a count above the two hundred mark.

Everything I knew at the time about HIV/AIDS was that people who had it died. Thirteen years later, I see it a little differently. I learned my status and I could do something about it.

 I live a pretty marvelous life these days. My wife Margaret and I are what’s called a “magnet couple”. She’s negative and I’m positive, HIV speaking. I’m a good husband, father, and grandfather, at least I hope so. I have a wealth of wonderful relationships that I didn’t think possible all those years ago. I’m not defined by my failures, but rather, refined by them. No one should be. Think about that next time you look in the mirror or think about the person in front of you…

 

 The irony of having the same clean date as World AIDS Day isn’t lost on me. It’s a constant reminder that choices have consequences. It enables me to make better choices (at least I hope so…). It’s also a daily reminder of “who’s” I am and that His grace is what defines me today…

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Just Vote…

Thoughts From the Porch: Yes, folks. This is another voter turnout post. I’m sure you’ve been bombarded by political ads, voter turnout robocalls, and every conceivable mailer you can imagine, from applauding your voting record to shaming you for apathy. Please bear with me, though. This is an issue close to my heart. It matters!

white and grey voting day sign
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I questioned my role in voter participation as a Jesus-follower. I know where my true citizenship is. I may be entitled to U.S. citizenship by virtue of birth, but I follow my Rabbi first and foremost. I realized just how privileged I am to live here, especially in Texas. This is my earthly home, where my friends and family are, and where I’ll more than likely stay until I leave this world. I’m not confused, though. One’s spiritual beliefs are not an excuse for not voting. However, they change my motivation for voting.

The Gospels reflect Jesus’ concern for the neglected and marginalized. He went as far to say that how we treat them is how we treat Him. Pretty powerful words. In an election year that will affect the poor, the elderly, the immigrant, and the disenfranchised, your vote does matter. How you vote is also a reflection of how you see them.

While elections are always about how we see our political leadership, this year is also a reflection of how we see ourselves. What are our values? Are our decisions based on fear, class distinctions, and exclusion or they ones of faith, the common good, and inclusive of all? Everyone will answer those questions for themselves. Elections are important. How we vote matters to us all…

I took advantage of early voting and a rainy Wednesday last week to place my ballot. I was thrilled by the diverse crowd that was there on a Wednesday afternoon. I spent time in prayer and reflection about the matter before me and performed one of the privileges of my physical citizenship. It should be done with reflection.

I’m overjoyed when I hear the reports that voter turnout is exceeding expectations. I’d love for everyone to vote for my choices, but that’s unrealistic. The bottom line is that they were there casting their ballot.

Results will be in Tuesday evening. There will be winners and losers. Some of you will be elated by the results and others frustrated and disappointed. That’s how it works.

My friend Edgar always says, “Chop wood and let the chips fall where they may”. Go out there and vote. The chips will take care of themselves, but you won’t have chips if you don’t chop the wood…

person dropping paper on box
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Telemarketers, Plumbers, and Nazis

Thoughts From the Porch: I have a great deal of respect for people who perform dirty jobs. Last month our plumbing backed up. It was a simple fix. The back-flow valve and broken and stopped up the drain. The difficult part of the solution involved the raw sewage that needed to be drained to fix the valve. I can stomach a lot of things, but raw sewage isn’t one of them. Fortunately, we had a plumber friend who helped fixed it in no time. I have no complaints about their hourly rate. Plumbers are paid well for a reason: dealing with ugly, and disturbingly aromatic drainage issue.

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I truly respect people who perform jobs they’d rather not have to do. My friend told me that he’d rather be doing something else, but plumbing had provided a good living for he and his daughter. I know how he feels. I’ve worked jobs I didn’t like because I need to keep a roof over my family’s head and provide food on the table. A lot of people do. Willingness to do what it takes is an admirable trait.

My dad used to tell me that it didn’t matter what I did for a living. Work hard. Try to be the best at whatever job I had. Wise words from a man who grew up during the Great Depression. He understood the value and importance of work. All work was honorable, and one should be grateful to have it. He also grew up prior to the age of telemarketing…

As phone technology advanced from party lines to individual land lines, the telephone became a great marketing tool for business. Telemarketers scheduled their calls around when people would be at home, so they usually called during family dinners (and yes, there was a time when the whole family sat down to dinner…) or when one was in the middle of something. Telemarketers developed a unique knack for interrupting and being a general pain in the you-know-what.

Now that we have cellphones, they can be annoying anytime. One company representing USA Auto Care and some savings club, calls my cellphone at least six times a day. I’ve even counted ten calls from the same company! I’ve tried to block their calls, but they are able to call from different numbers each time. So, I answer the phone, hear the same mispronunciation of my name, and the beginning of the same annoying script. I try to refrain from questioning the caller’s maternal lineage, but I’m not always successful.

In fact, they called again this morning during my ‘porch’ time. I‘ve begun plotting some form of revenge. I’m convinced that even Jesus would have a hard time loving a telemarketer. I told my wife I should get an airhorn to sound of in response to the telemarketers. Her reply was “they are just doing their job”. Isn’t that the same defense used by the Nazis at the Nuremberg trials…

As a freelance writer and a business owner, I know that cold calling is a necessary evil. Telemarketing companies wouldn’t exist if it didn’t turn a profit. Someone out there is staying on the line, right? It’s a numbers game.

I know to that I offer a service and a solution to my client’s problems. I only hope that I’m more sensitive to my prospect’s needs when I cold call.

I’ve gotten it together a bit more since this morning. I’m not getting an airhorn. I wouldn’t like it if someone did that to me. Telemarketers don’t compare to Hitler’s SS, even if they are “just doing their job”. They’ll call again. That’s just what they do. I’ll reply with a firm, “not interested, thank you” and hang up.