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Be Where Your Feet Are…

Thoughts from the Porch

Things in our world have changed drastically in the last few days. Don’t worry, I shan’t become one of the voices bemoaning the current toilet paper shortage. I’ve heard enough about that. The shelves are still empty and may be in the coming days. We’ve had to be a bit more resourceful about such matters – although I need to remind our family members not to throw baby wipes down the toilet.

I also need to remind everyone that COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, not a gastro-intestinal one. It’s unrealistic to believe that you’ll use up that truckload of toilet paper you bought in this lifetime, much less during a two-week quarantine. Please use your head, exercise a bit of common sense, and leave some for the rest of us. That’s all I will say about that…

I am trying, like everyone else, to adjust to the rapidly changing situation with the coronavirus pandemic. As I drove to my regular 9:00 Sunday morning meeting I noticed how few cars there were on the road. It’s never heavy at that time and day but it was eerily quiet this Sunday. State and county health departments are following Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and limiting indoor gatherings to ever smaller numbers of people to prevent the spread of the virus. First, it was crowds of 500, then 250, and now 50. Moments ago, the White House said to avoid crowds of more than ten people and old folks should stay at home, period. Many churches were empty, opting for online or remote services instead. No wonder it was so ghostly quiet.

Social distancing has become a new normal.

One’s personal space just got larger. All I have to do to get through a crowded grocery store aisle is sneeze or cough – both of which are consequences of springtime pollen – and everyone gets out of the way. Sometimes allergies are a good thing. The absence of hugs and handshakes are painful though.

If it seems I’m being a bit flippant about this whole pandemic thing, I can assure you that nothing is farther from the truth. I’m taking very seriously. I check all the boxes for being at risk of becoming gravely ill if exposed – I’m over sixty, a borderline diabetic, and have a compromised immune system. I’m cautious around others but I refuse to allow fear and misinformation make my decisions for me. God knows, there’s enough of that already.

I hope to exercise a little common sense and get through this physically unscathed. It’s possible that most of us will do likewise. Unfortunately (and realistically), some will become ill and some will die. That’s what just the way this virus operates.

Then there’s the other consequences to be borne by people who can’t afford fifteen days or more of childcare, business shutdowns, and lengthy quarantines. Statistically, the vast majority of folks live paycheck to paycheck with little, if any cushion, for times like these. There will be some of you for whom this is extremely inconvenient. For most though, it will be life-altering and in many cases, devastating.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The physical, mental, emotional and economic outlook is bleak, and not only because there’s no toilet paper to be found – given the severity of the situation, you’d think cleanliness in one’s nether regions would be of less importance – but all is not lost.

I’ve been spending time monitoring social media and the comings and goings around my community. I discovered that for every tale of bare supermarket shelves, panicked hoarding, and greedy resellers there are ten or more stories of the coronavirus bringing out the best in people. Here’s what I mean:

  • My “Next Door” neighborhood app is blanketed with messages of people wanting to help those who are older or immune compromised with getting groceries, medicines, etc. One of my neighbors living on Social Security put a “Need help” post up ad I’ve watched the constant stream of cars come to her home to deliver assistance.
  • People offering to help with child-care for those who are required to work even though their kid’s Spring break has been extended in most districts.
  • Companies like Apple that are still paying their employees while their stores are closed for the next two weeks.
  • Each of the countless churches and other organizations that open their food pantries for anyone struggling with the current crisis.
  • I was speaking with my ex-daughter-in-law yesterday and she told me of simply checking on the kid’s friends who were having to stay home alone due to the extended break and parents who couldn’t afford to miss work.

Thankfully, the list continues. I don’t know if it’s the same elsewhere. I would like to think so.

This pandemic and how to deal with it is uncharted territory for most of us. We’ve had scares in the past – bird flu, swine flu, and SARS/MERS (also in the coronavirus family) – but we haven’t seen a true pandemic in our lifetime. Despite the current Administration’s inept handling of the crisis and the plethora of wild conspiracy theories, lies, and minimalizations accompanying it, people show a resiliency that offers a glimmer of hope for human beings in general. My prayer is that we’ll fan that flame and take care of one another.

So, my friends, be kind to one another and yourselves. Don’t panic. “Be where your feet are”, as my wife often reminds me. Don’t rush or hoard. Wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough, and think of others. Step back, take a deep breath and we’ll all walk through this one together. It may not eliminate COVID-19 but it sure can’t hurt…

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Running In the Dark

Thoughts From the Porch

It’s a beautiful late winter morning here in North Texas. After a few days of rain and cold the sun slowly warms the day as it rises higher in the sky. There’s much to be done today and I’d love to take time to pass on deep spiritual thoughts from the porch but truthfully, such thoughts are elusive over the last few days. I struggle to write, to put thoughts to paper, and a cloud hangs over me even on a bright, sunny morning. I get frustrated, I pray, and try to listen, but it feels like God has put me on hold while He’s busy attending to other things…

My wife likes to remind me that there are times when no amount of spiritual awareness will take our pain or fear. My friend Jim used to say that “in the meantime, it’s a mean time”. There are times when God seems silent and I need to act as if He’s not. It’s the old “fake it ‘til you make” thing. I’m thinking I might be going through one of those times.

I don’t hesitate to tell of God’s unfailing love and grace in my life. Hindsight tells me that God has always, one hundred percent of the time, taken care of me (even when I was far from Him doing my own, self-destructive thing). Unfortunately, the lens through which I look forward can be awfully opaque at times (we walk by faith, not by sight, right?). I speak the truth when I share about God’s provision and care, but I’m surprised at how quickly I forget that when life feels overwhelming.

Margaret and I are going through some difficult financial times right now. Almost two years ago, I made a commitment to the mission of Opal’s Farm and made it my full-time endeavor. We knew this would be difficult because we’re dependent on donations for my salary. Unfortunately, winter is a slow time for both the growing season and for contributions to our non-profit. Although Spring brings a wealth of opportunity for market sales and donations that doesn’t pay this month’s bills.

I mention this is not to whine about it – we took this on after prayerful consideration and eyes wide open – but to say that finances are one of the toughest areas in my life to turn over to God. Margaret is far better able to do that than I am. It may be because as a man, I sometimes feel I’m not doing my part to take care of my family. To Margaret’s credit, she’s my biggest cheerleader and reminds me I’m on the right path.

I begin to doubt I’m where God would have me be and think I should throw up and hands and go find something else. The little committee inside my head begins to tell me how foolish I am. Negative self-talk and doubt of God’s blessing fill my days. Honestly, I feel like a hypocrite at times. I’ll tell everyone of God’s faithfulness while my mind tells me I’m a fraud, that God isn’t really taking care of me.

That being said…

You might notice that the word feel is in italics. There’s a reason for that. You see, it took me years to learn to separate my feelings from my reality. That lesson may have come much easier for others, but it was a long, painful, and often frustrating journey for me. When I began to see what was going on around me for what it is rather than what it feels like it is, I began to understand that doubt was an essential part of my faith journey.

That may sound a bit oxymoronic – doubt and faith are mutually exclusive terms, right. Still, it’s possible to doubt and still be faithful. It’s a painful process to walk in faith through doubt and darkness. We can’t see in the darkness. St. John of the Cross, a 16th century Spanish mystic and Carmelite priest, called this “the dark night of the soul”.

The journey through the darkness leads us to shed all our preconceptions about God. We begin to let go of our ego, our perception of our self, and rest in “unknowing”: the unfathomable spirit of God. The journey can be long or short. For me, it’s often been a case of “two steps forward, three steps back”. In the darkness I find my union with the Father deeper each time. My petty worries and struggles seem a tad easier. Trust begins to return. I just keep walking…

St. John of the Cross

Sharing the journey, the struggles, the fear, and “the dark night of the soul” is frowned upon in many churches. We don’t like to talk about it. We write off what we fear or don’t understand so it won’t “wash off” on us. It’s dangerous to around a “doubter”.

Honest lament is frequently met by simple answers and platitudes. Things like “we’re praying for you” just have faith”, don’t doubt God’s promises” – that do little to illuminate the path.  

Some give up, retreating to the relative safety of sameness. Others throw up their hands, utter “what’s the use?” and leave behind the very community that God created for us. I don’t think that’s what Abba intended…

A Few Days Later…

I began writing this last Saturday. Yesterday was a great day at the farm – a special visit by Mailik Yakini from the Detroit Food Policy Council, getting to spend time with other local farmers, and getting a lot of planting done. The financial worries slipped away, replaced with feelings of fellowship and connectedness. At the end of the gathering, Ms. Opal pulled me aside. She whispered, “the Lord is so good, and He’s provided again. We received a check from a donor and there’s a check for you at the office.”

We’re able to pay all our bills for this month. One more time, like countless other times before, Abba has provided for all our needs. I used to beat myself up for doubting God. Today my doubts are merely one more opportunity to demonstrate God’s goodness and care. Hindsight reveals even my darkest periods, those which God felt so absent, have been the greatest blessings in my life.

What I thought was bad turned out good. What I thought was good wasn’t always so great (if you know what I mean). It reminds me that I don’t know what’s best for me, but Abba does.

We will encounter difficulties once again (especially financial ones) and I’ll begin to question God about His sense of timing. I’ll have some fear, but it seems to be a little less each time life shows up. God’s promises always hold true, even when my faith wavers so I’m just not going to worry about the process anymore. In the darkness I discovered a light that never goes out. I don’t always see it, but my vision is becoming clear with each step in the journey.

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Give a Wave and Change the World

Thoughts From the Porch

Wednesday was a long day. It was like any day really, but especially long when one spends it driving around DFW. Margaret is unable to get in my truck since it sits too high. We have been fortunate to use our kid’s car for her doctor appointments and such. It’s a KIA and sits low enough for Margaret to be able to get in and out. I’m not complaining mind you, but while a small car is great for her it’s not so great for me.

I’ve driven a pick-up truck for most of the last 30 years. In fact, I can’t remember the last car I owned. A ¾ ton truck is perfect for a guy who’s 6’3” and weighs in at 230 pounds. Heck, I even have enough head room for my beat-up old farm hat on. I like sitting above most of the other drivers. There’s a sense of security in that. You know, the ‘above the fray’ kind of thing.

Change doesn’t typically disturb me too much, but switching to a 2-door sub-compact car? It’s a bit like moving from a big rig to a go-cart. However, I’m grateful I still have the flexibility to fold and unfold myself in and out. Once I’m in it’s not so bad…

The other drawback in using our kid’s car is that I make the sixty-mile roundtrip twice a day to drop them off at work and pick them up. I haven’t driven in rush hour traffic in a long time. The farm is only fifteen minutes from the house: just hop on the freeway and there’s one stoplight between here and there. Any other time I work from home.

Photo by Jahoo Clouseau on Pexels.com

It’s not quite the same when you commute in a DFW rush hour and the closer you get to Dallas the worse traffic gets. It starts slowing on the east side of Fort Worth and by Arlington and Highway 360 it’s stop-and-go. That’s aggravating enough but something transpires once you cross the Dallas County line. Apparently, it’s a black hole of sorts that sucks any common courtesy and driving ability out the window.

I think I understand why our kid goes to bed so early. I was worn out after four hours of stop-and-go driving. If I had to do that daily my spirituality would fade into one-fingered salutes, horn honking, and yelling. I understand road rage much better, although shooting at someone is still a bit extreme for me…

After my dad was transferred to Colorado, our family returned to Fort Worth a couple of times a year. Every time I crossed the Texas state line, I was greeted by “Welcome to Texas” and beneath it was the line “Drive Friendly”. As we travelled up and down Highway 287, slower travelers would pull over to let us pass. We would do likewise for those who came up in our rear-view mirror. Once past, my father would raise his hand and wave as a thank you to the driver behind us.

If we were on a two-lane country road, each driver would raise a hand in a “howdy” to each other as they passed. People would hang back to let you merge on the freeway. When I came of driving age, I was taught that courtesy was as much a part of driving as the ability to handle a vehicle safely.

One of the things I’ve always loved about Fort Worth is its small town feel and friendliness. Common courtesy was paramount in social situations with others. Driving was a prime example. One spends a lot of time on the road living here. Even rush hour, albeit less tedious and congested than our neighbor to the east, was reasonably friendly. At least it was…

I’m quite willing to acknowledge that my perceptions may have become a bit nostalgic as I’ve grown older. The demographics of Fort Worth have changed. North Texas has grown faster than the infrastructure for America’s 16th largest city. Frustrations abound when construction delays are constant. Driving is a microcosm for what’s happening around us. As driving has become more frustrating and common courtesy less common, so too has the society around us.

All of this started me thinking. What if everyone could slow down, take a deep breath, and offer a friendly hand wave when someone lets you in on the freeway? What if you take a moment to acknowledge your neighbor with a hand wave as you drive down your neighborhood street? What if you wave an apology to the guy you just cut-off by accident?

I don’t know. Perhaps I’m a dreamer, but I think one little hand wave could change the world (or at least my little part of it!). When I exercise common courtesy on the way to the store, I’m more likely to hold the door for the person coming in or out. They say thank you and I’m more likely to be patient with that slower driver in front of me. I let that guy in on the freeway or simply wave a thank you to the person that let me in.

That simple hand wave set of a chain reaction of “niceness”. I’m not as stressed on the road. I become just a bit more relaxed. I’m nicer to the next person I meet. I smile more. In turn, maybe they’re a bit nicer to the next driver, the next store clerk, or the next coworker. In turn, who knows? Maybe world peace…

I’m so sure a simple way is the key I believe it could even change our neighbors to the east. Why not give it a try…

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A Quick Update…

Ah, Monday morning… I haven’t been on the porch much for the last week. I’ve alternated between the hospital and Opal’s Farm and had a few late nights, so the porch has been a bit lonely. I was able to catch a breather this morning and so, here goes…

As most of you know, Margaret has been in the hospital for the last week. I’m not going to share the details. Her condition has been moved from critical unstable to critical stable. Things have been up and down: on several occasions the doctors thought they had the problem solved only to erupt again. However, after several tests and procedures they believe it may be taken care of. We’re in a wait and see mode today. We’re praying all is well and the final option of surgery is no longer necessary.

While there’s never a good time for a medical crisis, this one came right in the middle of fall planting at the farm. We are so blessed to have friends and family as well as a short distance to the farm from the hospital. I’ve been able to spend some time watering the new seed and finishing preparations for the next round. Thanks to Charlie Blaylock for helping us out. We’ll be able to plant the next phase by Tuesday.

The farm has been a saving grace during this situation. A couple of hours working the soil here and there gives my mind a break. It provides time to speak with God (I’m sure the cyclists and runners on the Trinity Trail wonder who I might be talking to…) and most importantly, clear my mind and change my perspective from fear to hope. It’s difficult not to be hopeful working in a garden.

I had a long stream of thoughts this morning: far too many to share. It’s time to go back to the hospital and down to the farm. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers. Hopefully, we are on the upside of Margaret’s situation and I’ll see you all at Cowtown Farmer’s Market next Saturday.

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In the sorest trials God often makes the sweetest discoveries of Himself. — Author Unknown

A quick note to my friends: I’m posting quickly this morning so I can get to the hospital to be with my wife, Margaret. I don’t want to go into details, but I do want to ask my friends for prayers. She’s having a test today which should (hopefully) give us some answers. Not knowing is difficult. I hope to keep everyone updated.

The greatest fear most of face is the unknown, the “what ifs”. Please pray we walk through the fear with acceptance and trust that God has got this (as He has everything else in our lives!). We know we are blessed beyond measure even when life comes barging in with its friend, fear.

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Spiders and Clarity

I haven’t written from the porch for the past couple of weeks. Time has been short. I’m playing catch up from a recent two-day stint in the hospital (long story but everything’s okay). They couldn’t figure out what was going on. I guess that’s why doctors only “practice” medicine…

I could use the whole hospital thing to explain my lack of recent communication, but I won’t. The truth is a bit uglier than that. The reality is there’s been some doubt and depression going on the last few days. When I started writing “Thoughts From the Porch”, my intent was to only write positive, encouraging words. God knows there’s enough negative crap out there!

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Unfortunately, life isn’t always happy, joyous, and free. Life shows up in some awful ways. Even when I feel I’m on the path God has chosen for me it can have some serious rough spots. I would be dishonest if I didn’t share those as well. I may not write in a manner comparable to great authors or even my fellow writers on WordPress, but I’ve learned to be truthful, to be authentic, and to be myself regardless of how I’d like to be.

The truth is that I haven’t liked myself very much the last few days. Sometimes, the truth sucks. As my friend Edgar always tells me, “The truth will set you free, but it’ll really piss you off first.” Quite frankly, I’ve been pissed.

Margaret and I have struggled financially over the last few months. Work has been slow as most of my time is spent on the urban farm project, Opal’s Farm. Most of you know my passion for the project. Margaret and I prayed diligently before taking on this task. We went into it with eyes wide-open. We knew money would be tight until we gained sponsors and had our first harvest. Looking back over the last few months, hell, even over our lifetime, we can see God’s thread all the way through. He stands with us through all the difficult times. Bills get paid, we eat regularly, and most of the time life is good despite the setbacks that come with our chosen path. However, there are times when an awareness of God’s providence is insufficient to stave off the blues.

In lieu of our smaller income we’ve been forced to put off needed home repairs and tighten our money belt in ways neither of us have experienced, at least in our lives together. Add to that Margaret’s chronic pain, limited mobility, and the depression that rears its ugly head as a result. Frustration and stress mounts despite our faith in the Almighty. It’s a recipe for doubt, fear, and self-loathing, for me at least, and it has been simmering for quite a while. Yesterday it came to a boil…

A serious case of the “F..k Its”.

Yes, folks, expletive laced prayers, lamentations of “poor me”, and drowning in a cesspool of comparing myself to everyone else. I threw a temper tantrum! Why me?

I imagine some of you can relate. It felt as though my world had fallen apart and God was nowhere to be found. He always seems to be playing ‘Hide and Seek’ when I need Him: just like with everything else in my world. I immediately decided to quit the farm, stop writing, and start looking out for Number One. I’d probably have to become a greeter at WalMart (no offense intended – all work is important). A career in bank robbery seemed a viable alternative to the present financial hardships. You must take it, because no one’s going to give to you, right?

If it sounds a bit extreme, it is. I tend to go for extremes. A friend once told me that “balance is the beam I trip on while running between extremes”.  Yep!

I always feel like such a spoiled brat after these not-so-little tantrums. It doesn’t take as long as it used to getting over these fits of doubt, frustration, and fear (that’s really what the tantrum is about…). I find relief in the fact they don’t happen very often anymore, but I sure hate it when they do. I’m sure I’m not the only one who can identify with this temporary insanity…

Fortunately, sanity returns, I own my behavior, make amends for the harsh words and actions, and find forgiveness and gratitude for everything I do have. First and foremost, I have a Heavenly Father who appreciates my authenticity. I’m sure most church folks would be shocked by how I “pray”. It’s not always pious and formal. Still, God allows me to express my doubts and fears. He listens. He understands and He loves me right where I’m at – expletives and all. He allows my rants and then holds me close to remind me that I’m loved and it’s okay to be human. I’m His child.

Somewhere in this process I find peace. The situation hasn’t changed at all, but I have.

Healing the Blind…

My tantrums always begin with tunnel vision and outright blindness. The world is out of focus, blurred with pain and frustration, and I can only see myself, my needs, and my wants. When I finally grow tired of emotional blindness, I hear Jesus’ question to the blind man at the Pool of Siloam, “Do you want to be healed?”

It sounds like a simple question doesn’t it? Sure, I want to be healed, but… I tend to find excuses, much like the guy at the Pool, until finally, I can see again.

Restoration of sight, healing, takes place in miraculous ways for me. It happened the other night. Blinded by my self-centered fear and doubt, I stormed out to the porch to be alone. I stood there, blindly staring into the night, when a tiny spider and his (or her – I’m not sure how to tell the difference) web began to take focus.

As my vision sharpened, the intricacy and size of the web grew. I saw his tiny legs shooting across the web with new silken strands. The minute strands vibrated in the wind but never strayed apart. It seemed impossible.

It sounds silly to be so intrigued by a simple spider web, but I’m kind of a simple guy, I guess. However, this tiny spider is building his web in the same place on our porch every Spring. He’ll stay until Fall, building his net every evening and waiting for the meal he knows will come. I’m no expert on spider species identification, but it’s always appears to be the same species year after year. It’s always a smaller version that grows to be the same as the one last year.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

While I’m no Arachnologist, our little eight-legged friend is probably last year’s offspring. I had the privilege of seeing all the little ones bursting from their egg sac last year. Their home and ours are one in the same. I get to watch the intricate, complex beauty of this tiny creature every evening. Clarity had returned.

Our hardships and my frustration faded into the darkness of the evening. I could see, and more importantly, see that our difficulties were nothing, that God was still (and always is) faithful. Life may have its difficulties, but grace changes how I see them. Difficulties become opportunities to grow in ways I can’t even imagine.

If a tiny spider ca open a world of grace and heal blindness, how much more can I be a vessel of grace?

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Shootings and Shock

Thoughts From the Porch: I stepped out on to a dark porch this morning. The Mockingbird sang his morning song, and all was peaceful. Our little cul-de-sac is far removed from the rest of the world on mornings like this. While I enjoy the respite of the porch, I’m not immune to the world around me. I know how blessed I am. Others are not so fortunate.

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I watched the news in horror as another hateful display of violence and white nationalism resulted in the death of 49 people and 20 others wounded in Christchurch, New Zealand. My heart goes out to our Muslim brothers and sisters who were doing nothing more than practicing their faith. It seems to be a story often repeated: Sikhs in Wisconsin, Christians in Charlottesville, Jewish worshipers in Pittsburgh. It even happened a couple of hours south of me in a small church in Texas. All mass shootings motivated by hate, racism, and insanity.

While I’m deeply saddened by what happened in Christchurch, I’m saddened far more by the fact that I feel no shock whatsoever. Mass shootings are no longer exceptions to the norm. According to www.massshootingtracker.org there have been 65 mass shootings as of March 16th in the United States alone.

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I was living in Denver, Colorado in April 1999 when the Columbine shooting occurred. While there had been earlier mass shootings, Columbine hit home. Maybe it was the scale of the violence or that the news coverage was so immediate, but I was completely shocked by the event. Moreover, my oldest friend had friends at Columbine. It was all-to-real.

I’ve lost count of how many mass shootings there have been since. Maybe that’s why I’m no longer shocked to hear of yet another one. I despise the fact that I’m no longer surprised. It feels like giving in and giving up. People die, it causes an uproar in the media for a couple of days, and everyone goes back to life as if nothing has happened. It’s just the way things are.

I don’t pretend to know how to fix the problem. I’m not here to debate gun control or the other policy decisions that might prevent, or at least mitigate, mass shootings. Prayers and sympathy might help but they aren’t enough. They’re usually lost in a twenty-four-hour news cycle that dulls the senses anyway…