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Bluebonnets and New People

Thoughts From the Porch: I got to see the sunrise this morning. Big deal, you say? It is after several days of rain and overcast skies. I know we’ll be praying for rain in a couple of months, but I have way too much to do to stay at the desk.

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A slight chill hangs in the air as a reminder that the official start of Spring, the vernal equinox, is still a week away. Still, the birds are singing and I even saw Bluebonnets peeking through the grass. For those unfamiliar with Texas, Spring comes with an explosion of bright color along side our highways and bi-ways. I know it happens elsewhere, just not like here. Bluebonnets bring vibrant blues, followed by the orange and black of the Indian Paintbrush. Yellows and deep greens fill in the blanks and everywhere is awash with blooms. It makes up for the winter months and reminds us to truly “stop and smell the flowers”.

Facebook will soon be plastered with pictures of people sitting in fields of blue. That’s a big thing here in Fort Worth. Taking pictures of loved ones, especially kids, amongst the wildflowers is a tradition for many folks here in North Texas. Nature provides the perfect background for the best portraits. The photographs are constant reminders that life is always fresh and new, even during the coldest of winters.

Each Wednesday I attend the Fort Worth Development Group (FWDG), a business networking and development group that seeks to “Bridge the gap between Business and Ministry through cultivating meaningful relationships in the workplace.” I knew that I needed to network for my writing business even though I’m painfully shy in new situations. I picked the FWDG because of their Mission Statement and quite frankly, it was close to my house. Maybe I’d be more comfortable with like-minded folks despite my fear they would engage in “religious speak”, but hey, I didn’t have to go back, right?

What I found was a group of business people who really do seek to cultivate meaningful relationships and help each other grow. It’s not simply lip service. I’ve come to look forward to my Wednesday meeting, knowing I will leave feeling stronger in my faith and in my business. Life is fuller and richer when I step out of my comfort zone. I find new friends and new resources for living well.

My friend Edgar always reminds me that “self-sufficiency is a lie”, we need something beyond ourselves to live life well. We need each other. I’m happy to be surrounded and supported by the myriad of people God has brought into my life. What’s your circle?

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Grace and Granddaughters

Thoughts From the Porch: I intended to spend the weekend catching up on all the outdoor stuff I’d put off due to last week’s weather. I ended up cleaning house and spending time with my oldest granddaughter instead. The house was a disaster from a wet week (three big dogs make for three times the mess) so I spent Saturday with broom, mop, and vacuum cleaner. Sunday had big plans, but they were cast aside when I was able to spend time with Baillie. She’s a freshman in college and we don’t get to see each other as much.

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I’ve thought about Baillie a lot over the last few weeks and especially this morning. It’s hard to believe the same little girl who rode in my old work truck to church with me every week is now a beautiful young college student. It’s so cliché to say, “it seems like yesterday when we (fill in the blank)”, but that’s the way it is. It was four trucks and a lifetime ago.

I originally sat down to write a Monday morning treatise on grace. My mind was full of all kinds of theologically deep thoughts about “unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary – italics mine). Fortunately, my mind kept going back to my sweet granddaughter and the grace that’s filled our lives.

When Baillie was three or four, I was told that I’d never be a part of my granddaughter’s life. My life was a mess; a tornado roaring through the lives of everyone I touched. Looking back, I can’t argue with those who kept me away from her. Fortunately, things began to change around the time she turned five: I found recovery from the hopeless state of mind that made up my life. I found grace.

I’d love to tell you of this magical, mystical moment when I latched on to the wellspring of grace and life changed, but I can’t. It was a process of receiving and accepting progressively deeper levels of grace – from God and my fellows. Over time, I’ve come to realize that all is grace. My life has changed; has been transformed.

The relationship I have with my granddaughter today is a constant reminder of the grace, and subsequent gratitude, that fills my life. I still remember the first time she came to spend Christmas with me. Those early visits were often short but the highlight of my day. Weeks passed and the visits became more frequent. Months later, we were off together in my old truck, laughing and spending days together.

Things have changed through the years. She’s graduated high school, works hard in college, and has a host of friends her age that she hangs out with. Even though time our time together has become less frequent, it’s become more valuable. I’m always amazed and incredibly grateful when she comes running up to hug me and spend time with Pops. Grace is an amazing thing.

I’m convinced that those who have experienced the depths of God’s grace and the love of a child understand grace better than most. They rely on it and their lives are transformed. Their lives overflow with grace and gratitude and it touches everything around them. That’s been my experience anyway.

I wish you all a grace-filled Monday; grace that pours out into the world. I’m off to my granddaughter’s house…

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Grackles and Dreamers

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s been a gray, dreary, and cold weekend here in North Texas. There were rumors of sleet around us, but here in Fort Worth it was a constant drizzle. I spent several winters in the Colorado High Country and I’ve never felt the cold like I do here. It’s the kind of bone-piercing cold that feels like thousands of tiny needles poking you all at once. Of course, I’m much older now and maybe it was simply youthful exuberance that made the cold more bearable. Today is to be warmer and it’ll be seventy in the next couple of days. I’ll quit complaining now…

I had to run to the grocery store yesterday afternoon. It wasn’t nearly as busy as usual. Everyone must have opted for Netflix binging rather than dealing with the weather. When I got home, I paused on the porch to enjoy what gray light remained of the day. I’d love to tell how I got tom enjoy the quiet at the end of a long, dismal day, but that wasn’t the case. The caterwauling of hundreds of Grackles in the surrounding trees put an end to any idea of quiet enjoyment of the porch. It was so deafening I couldn’t even hear my inner voice, much less the next-door neighbor saying hello as he walked to his vehicle.

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Some of you might be unfamiliar with Grackles, so allow me to explain. The “Great-tailed” or “Mexican” Grackle is a medium-size bird originally native to Central America. According to Wikipedia, they’ve increased their range by over 5500% and can be found through much of the United States. I’m convinced however, that the greatest concentration of them are in my trees…

I don’t wish to offend bird lovers, but I don’t like Grackles. If we lived outside the city limits, I would have no problem declaring open season with the shotgun. Don’t get me wrong. I love birds. They bring color and song to our quiet little cul-de-sac. Grackles, not so much. They are, like city pigeons, flying rats. Noisy, flying rats…

Please don’t judge me if you’ve never experienced a flock of Grackles. They are incredible foragers and they have little fear of humans. They mock efforts to shew them away. They fly together in huge flocks, often darkening the sky and even been known to interfere with traffic.

Several years ago, the Grackle problem got so bad in downtown Fort Worth that a noise cannon could be heard going off in hopes of driving them out of the city center. Sundance Square, the jewel in the crown of Downtown Cowtown, was so noisy and covered in bird droppings it was difficult to find a safe place to sit and enjoy a summer evening outdoors. The city sought to drive them away lest they deter commerce and conspicuous consumption. Unfortunately, they ended up in quiet little neighborhoods like ours. You wouldn’t believe I wash my vehicles and sidewalk regularly.

That being said, I noticed something somewhat unique to our Grackle population. They were all yelling (it can’t really be called ‘singing’) over one another creating incredible dissonance when all the sudden it was eerily quiet. I’m not talking about the noise fading out. It was as if someone yelled, “lights out” and the entire flock stopped at once. It went from a din to silence in the flick of a switch. Looking up I couldn’t see a one.

I guess I’m a bit simple. Little things really intrigue me. The Grackles may be flying rats but they’re awesome flying rats. Now I know there’s several scientific and biological reasons for their unique abilities, but to go from unbearable dissonance to complete silence in a second is pretty darn awesome. It’s not as though there were a few birds here. We’re talking about a flock of hundreds of birds acting as one. Sometimes I wish people were like that…

I sit at my newsfeed every morning, only to be greeted with all the dissonance around me. Everyone yelling at everyone else. Everyone shouting how right they are. Everyone screeching to be heard. Everyone screaming out for their self-interests. Sounds a lot like the Grackles to me.

Imagine if whole neighborhoods, whole communities, acted as one. You know, for the best interest of the ‘flock’. Imagine if my selfishness was replaced by concern for my neighbor, my community, heck, for my planet. Imagine if, instead of yelling to be heard, everyone got quiet together, changed the manner of discourse and talked to one another. I don’t really expect it to happen, but what if…

You’re right, I’m a dreamy-eyed idealist. Maybe the world needs more idealists. It tends to get beaten out of children in favor of being a practical, rational adult. It’s a little ironic that Jesus said we should “become like little children” if we really wanted to live out the Kingdom of God. Like John Lennon sang, “People say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…”

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Holy Moments

Thoughts from the Porch: Holy moments. If you’ve experienced them, I don’t need to explain them. You know. They are the moments when time stands still, vision and hearing sharpened, and the wonder of the universe pours over you. In a brief instant, everything fades away, but we momentarily touched eternity and saw beyond our little world.

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I’ve experienced them before. They always come on the cusp of change, as if God says, “watch this”. It happened a couple of nights ago. I stand in anticipation of what to do next…

I had finished dinner with Margaret and was cleaning up the kitchen. Terribly mundane stuff I might add. A song, “Lead Me to the Cross”, played from the other room causing me to stop what I was doing and retire to the desk to listen.

A wave of emotion rolled over me. Sometimes I forget just what grace cost the Creator and grantor of unending grace. Sometimes I forget that worship and praise for the God of my limited understanding is the only response to the miracles in my world.

The song ended, and I retreated to the porch. Darkness had fallen, yet everything appeared brighter, the stars more visible even in the city lights. I could, “a mouse pee on cotton” as Uncle Carl used to say. Yet, everything was perfectly still. I was struck by the stillness while being amazed and overcome with awe. Even in the windless, motionless quiet of the evening, everything around me was in constant motion: bound together by a mass of whirring atoms. All was well. Nothing had changed, yet everything had changed.

A holy moment can come anywhere, at any time. Ironically, they rarely happen in churches…

I’m not sure how long I sat there. Cleaning up, working on the next appeal letter or blog post, the things that make up daily living – they all faded away. There was nothing to do but stay in the moment. Maybe that is what God meant when He said to “be still and know that I am God”. I couldn’t help but be keenly aware of the holiness of this precious moment.

Slowly, the world began to spin once again. The sound of cars on the nearby freeway began to creep in. My first thought was to write about this incredible experience. I rushed to the desk and stared at the keyboard for several minutes. I realized there was absolutely nothing for me to say. To anyone who shared such an experience my explanations would only deal an injustice to the moment. To anyone who hadn’t, well, they just wouldn’t understand.

Ironically, the song that started it all, “Lead Me to the Cross” was extremely short-sighted. I’m grateful it was the impetus for my holy moment, but the path doesn’t stop at a cross. It leads to an empty tomb, a resurrection, and a new life of abundance, joy, and a whole new definition of what constitutes common sense.

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Margaret often reminds me of how blessed we are to get “to live two lives in one lifetime”. Holy moments are reminders of that. Resurrection people know what I mean. They know what it is for the self-centered ego to die and be reborn – to emerge from the tomb, so to speak.

I’d love for you to share your “holy moment” or moments. What inspires you to live better? that.

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An Attitude of Gratitude

Thoughts from the Porch: I wasn’t going to write today, my thoughts anyway. I have a ‘to-do’ list a mile long. It’s a blustery, chilly morning so ‘porch time’ was brief. The coming days bring more pressing matters to the ‘to-do’ list. It’s all good stuff, mind you, but suddenly there seems to be a shortage of hours in the day.

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Even though our time on the porch was brief, my wife made it a holy moment for us both. She recounted a phone call yesterday from a friend. The gist of the conversation was how much her friend appreciated my wife. Both of us were a bit teary-eyed by the gratitude we felt. Prayer came easier afterward, even if all we could muster  was “thank you God”.

I write of gratitude often. Probably more than anyone wants to hear if I get honest. I remember a friend told me several years ago there were only two topics worth talking or writing about: grace and gratitude. It’s taken a few years, but today I know what he meant. I hope that you, gentle reader, aren’t bored by my seeming lack of topical diversity.

In my interactions with other folks I’ve noted that those who have experienced the depths of God’s grace have one common denominator: gratitude. Gratitude seems to be directly proportionate to grace. The deeper the experience of grace the more gratitude one feels and lives out.

Gratitude changes the way I see the world. I’m more patient, courteous, and giving when I’m grateful. I’m more honest when I admit my own faults and in turn, more tolerant of other folk’s faults. I experience far less conflict and greater serenity. I don’t feel obligated to have “my” way as often. “Enough” is word I understand today.

I don’t always stay there. I still slide into worry, morbid self-reflection, and stubbornness at times. I’ve also come to acknowledge my own humanity with all its imperfections. It doesn’t take me as long to get back to an “attitude of gratitude”. That usually is the result of an awareness of grace. Funny how it all works…

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What’s For Breakfast?

Thoughts from the Porch: I don’t get to see the sun breaking above the horizon due to the way the houses sit around our little cul-de-sac. Light slowly comes over the roof of our next door neighbor’s house and the porchgrows brighter. It’s much faster now that the trees have shed their leaves forthe winter. Something about watching dawn break makes me feel more alive, more awed by the God of creation. What a way to start the day…

  I used to dread seeing the sunrise, especially on Mondaymornings. The weekend was over. It was back to work. ‘Work’ was a four-letter word. It’s not that way anymore, though.

  Things have changed over the last ten or fifteen years. I lookforward to Mondays. I know you may find that hard to believe, but I really do. In fact, I like most mornings.

 Dawn dispels the night and reawakens the world for anotherday. I’m reminded that I “woke up on the right side of the roots”, as my friend Charlie says. I’m here for another day, another opportunity…

That wise old sage, Winnie the Pooh, was having a discussion with his friend, Piglet, about the first thought they had in the morning. Piglet told himself, “I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?”

Pooh, being the practical bear that he is, said he asked himself, “what’sfor breakfast?” I like that…

“What’s for breakfast?” has become a mantra of sorts. Itreminds me to take care of what’s immediately before me, to “do the next rightthing”, whatever that may be. Most of the time, it’s routine – crawl out of bed, the morning toilette, and make a pot of coffee. By the time I get to the porch, I have an idea what needs to be done today. I also know God often hasother plans.

I’ve heard the phrase “do the next right thing” for years. If I’m honest, I don’t always know what the “next right thing” is. It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘to-do’ list, head off in another direction, and miss the ‘next right thing’ there in front of me.

 I think that’s why my ‘porch time’ has become so important. My friend Edgar likes to remind me that when I take care of the spiritual man, the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of being tends to take care of themselves. Funny how that echoes Jesus’ admonition, “Love God and love others. Do that and everything else will take care of itself”.

The porch gets me ready for the day. Conversing with God keeps me centered and gives me clarity of vision. It’s much easier to see the “next right thing” when it appears. Sometimes that means altering my plans in order to follows God’s…

I hope I become more like Pooh Bear as I grow older. I hope I always ask the right question, “What’s for breakfast?” When I focus on that I don’t have to wonder what exciting things are going to happen. They just happen: a natural consequence of taking care of breakfast first.

So, what’s for breakfast today?

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Stardust

Thoughts From the Porch: I listened to an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air last week. It was with Brian May; one of the founding members of the band, Queen. I was on my way to a meeting, so I only heard a brief segment, but I’ve thought about it all weekend.

I didn’t know that following Freddie Mercury’s death and the band dissolved, Mr. May went back to university and earned his PhD in astrophysics. His thesis, put as simply as possible, was about the velocity of star dust. He went on to explain some of his thesis, but I was driving and somewhat distracted. I didn’t catch all the interview. That is, until right before I shut off the engine…

I was getting out of my truck when I heard him say, “we’re all composed of stardust from the beginning of the universe”. He went on to say that when Joni Mitchell sang, “We are stardust. We are golden…” she hit the nail right on the head. Not only do I have a “Woodstock” ‘brain worm’, I’ve thought about our ‘stardust DNA’ all weekend.

person sky silhouette night
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I’m in absolute awe and amazement – we’re made with the very dust present at the beginning of the universe. The stars formed our DNA!

I grew up in an extremely fundamentalist Christian home. The Bible was taken quite literally. If it says God created the Earth in seven days, then by God, he did. Science was incompatible with religion. To many it still is. I’m not going to enter in to a debate over science versus biblical literalism. I’ll leave that to the dogmatist on both sides. Apparently, they know God, or lack thereof, much better than I do…

red and orange solar flare
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I believe I’m connected to time, space, and people – all of creation – through this ‘star DNA’. When I’m in tune with that connection, I’m able to love better and a be a better human being. I’m a better steward of the gifts God has given me. I’m able to bring light into the darkness around me. Maybe that’s why I was created with stardust…

It’s easy to forget how marvelous and ‘wonderfully created’ I am. I get caught up in the minutiae of the day, rushing about the business of living. Suddenly, I hear or see something that stops me in my tracks, reminding me of the miracles around me.

“We are stardust, we are golden…”