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6:00 AM on Christmas Morning

6:00 AM on Christmas morning…

The sun hasn’t yet begun to rise. The darkness is silent and still – “not a mouse was stirring”. Even the freeway sounds are absent this morning. The temperature dropped below freezing last night in honor of Christmas I’m sure. It was seventy degrees here in North Texas last Monday and the weekend promises more of the same: but that’s tomorrow and this is today. I’ll pull my coat a little tighter, have another sip of steaming coffee, and relish the quiet.

I think back to Christmas 1982. At 4:00 AM my ex (she wasn’t my ex then just so you know…) shook me awake. “I think I’m in labor”.

I turned over and asked, “how far apart are the contractions?”

“I haven’t timed them yet”.

“Oh okay. Let me know when the next one comes”, I said sleepily.

I had awakened enough to know I needed to head upstairs to the bathroom. As I walked past the picture window along the stairs, I saw the snow coming down hard. Only about half of the chain link fence was visible. “This is not good”, I mumbled. When I returned to bed, she told me she thought it was a false labor. I crawled back in bed and fell back asleep.

I awoke a couple of hours later and once again slid out of bed and headed upstairs to make coffee. As I passed the window once again, I noticed that only the pointed tops of the four-foot fence were visible. I opened the back door to check on my car. All I could see was its blue roof poking through the snow. The driveway and the alley were covered in three feet of snow and even larger drifts. This really wasn’t good…

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Adrian, our oldest, woke up and he and his Mom came in the kitchen. She put down and he promptly ran to the living room to see what Santa had brought. I poured the coffee and went into the living room. My Christmas morning excitement was tempered by the realization that my ex might really be in labor.

The snow continued to fall – and fall and fall and… You get the idea. Denver was in the middle of a “hundred year” blizzard.

About 9:00 in the evening my ex looked at me and said, “I really am in labor now”. The contractions were now seven minutes apart. I knew there was no way we could get my car out of the drive. I called 911 and explained our situation. Apparently, labor is not an emergency. It would be a four to five hour wait for an ambulance and we were told to go the nearest hospital labor and delivery rooms. I figured I’d been through one birth already. I mentally prepared to deliver a baby at home. I prayed – a lot!

There was a knock at the door about thirty minutes later. A gentleman had responded to the pleas for citizens with four-wheel drive to ferry paramedics around. Three paramedics greeted me as I opened the door.

We gathered go-bags and our son together and filed out through the path the paramedics had made to the door. They assisted my poor wife who, at 5’3”, was trying to make her way through the four feet of snow. Once to the care, the 6 of us (and all the paramedic kits) piled into an old Jeep Waggoneer. The driver informed my very pregnant wife that between contractions she would have to reach outside and keep the snow of the windshield as the wipers didn’t work. Of course, they didn’t…

We found ourselves in a strange hospital with a strange doctor who had obviously been there long past hi original shift (he was a bit cranky). We were just getting settled into the labor room when the nurse said, “it’s time”. My wife was wheeled down to the delivery room and I changed into scrubs. Less than an hour later I was holding a brand-new bundle of joy – Jeremy Alan Joel.

I slept in a nurse’s lounge that night. When I returned to my wife’s room, I was greeted with a Christmas gift that I’ll never forget – Jeremy in a red stocking with a Santa hat on.

When Adrian, my oldest son, was born, parenting didn’t seem as difficult as we thought. Then we had Jeremy. We’ve often joked (kind of…) that Jeremy made his appearance in the world with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other demanding to be fed NOW. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

Sitting here on Christmas morning I’m reminded how blessed I am. For thirty-seven years I was given the gift of a son I miss dearly today. I was also given a Savior – God With Us – to walk me through the grief I have today. I’ve been fortunate to have people in my life who know what losing a child is like. I have a God that knows my grief even more so – “This is how much God loved the world: He gave His Son, His one and Only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to the trouble of sending His Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help and put the world right again” John 33.16-17 (The Message).

My son was a brilliant artist (our first home had the marker and crayon marks to foretell this), but his greatest achievement was threefold – Baillie, Izabella, and Lucas. Today I will think of the wonderful gifts he left us. The gift I offer him is honoring his gift to me.

Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday Jeremy

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“The common Christian understanding that Jesus came to save us by a cosmic evacuation plan is really very individualistic, petty, and even egocentric. It demands no solidarity with anything except oneself. We whittled the great Good News down into what Jesus could do for us personally and privately, rather than celebrating God’s invitation to participate in God’s universal creative work.” – Fr. Richard Rohr

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Why Advent Means More This Year

Advent wasn’t recognized as a season in the religious tradition I grew up in. I was always taught Christmas was a secular holiday since the Bible didn’t name Jesus’ birthday. God knows we didn’t want to be adding to the Good Book. I knew little of the Advent season or the liturgical calendar many Christian denominations celebrate. Shoot, I didn’t even know what Advent was until I married a woman from a different Christian tradition.

My journey with Jesus has taken a different course as I’ve grown older. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas has always been a reflective time for me. Advent makes it especially so. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus meaning “coming” – a translation of the Greek word parausia. In turn, parausia denotes a coming, arrival, or physical presence. Most of Christendom thinks of it as the Second Coming of Jesus. I prefer to focus on the first coming, the birth of Emmanuel – “God is with us”.

This year will not go on my Top Ten List of favorites. I lost my son, Jeremy, in May. COVID found its way to our home. Margaret is still suffering the long-term effects even though her symptoms were relegated to her oxygen levels and none of the other ones. We count ourselves blessed in that regard. Many of our friends have experienced the loss of loved ones due to COVID. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economy causing so much anxiety and stress. More devastating is the emotional damage it’s caused.

Moreover, the social fabric seems broken almost beyond repair. The divisiveness, hatefulness, systemic racism, and social injustice feel unsurmountable. The election may be over, but the selfish narcissism of the orange-haired baby currently in the White House seeks to destroy anything that may benefit the incoming administration. Even more troubling is the fact that so many of his followers chose untruths over reality. Communication lines are non-existent, and fear runs rampant. This year has made hope feel out of reach.

Photo by Greyson Joralemon on Unsplash

Advent is more important than ever in 2020. It’s the reminder that God is indeed with us even in the brokenness and pain. Advent allows me to look backward: to acknowledge the hurt, the pain, and my shortcomings that holds God at bay. It reminds me of my own powerlessness without God with me. It opens my eyes and my heart to the God that has been there through all of it

It certainly doesn’t feel like it at times, but Advent reminds me that feelings are not reality. This Advent season I hope and pray for the recognition of God’s presence right here, right now. I pray for the constant reminder that God is with us – plural. If God is with you, I pray for the vision to see God in my fellows.

“If God is for us then who can be against us?” Romans 8.31

Note: I discovered a great resource for this season of Advent –

“Low: An Honest Advent Devotional” by John Pavlovitz (www.johnpavlovitz.com)

Maybe we can take the season’s journey together…

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Thank You Jeff!

Good Morning Everyone! I am deeply honored to be nominated by my friend Jeff for the Mystery Blogger Award. I’m equally embarrassed by my slow response time. Spring is a busy time for our farm. I’ve failed to take time to write over the last couple of weeks!

I recently began to follow Jeff at http://www.jeffonamission.wordpress.com. His tagline – “Chef, Writer, Janitor” grabbed my attention right away. I love people who wear the hats of a servant…

What is the Mystery Blogger Award?

“Mystery Blogger Award” is an award for amazing bloggers with ingenious posts. Their blog not only captivates; it inspires and motivates. They are one of the best out there, and they deserve every recognition they get. This award is also for bloggers who find fun and inspiration in blogging; and they do it with so much love and passion.

– Okoto Enigma

Rules:

  1. Put the award logo/image on your post.
  2. List the rules.
  3. Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blogging sites. https://jeffonamission.wordpress.com/
  4. Answer their questions.
  5. Mention the creator of this award (Okoto Enigma)
  6. Tell your readers three things about you.
  7. Nominate 10-20 bloggers
  8. Notify nominees by commenting on their blog post.
  9. Ask your nominees five questions of your choice.
  10. Share a link to your best post(s). https://gregoryjoel.com/  

My nominees for inspiring blogs are listed below:

https://peacehacks.com

https://valeriecullers.com/

https://mitchteemley.com/

https://chelseaannowens.com/

https://refarmer.ca/

https://fracturedfaithblog.com/

https://gcdiaries.wordpress.com

https://seekingdivineperspective.com/

https://feedingonjesus.com/

https://hegavemeamelody.com

Three Things About Me:

  1. I get to do what I love every day! God asked (He’s always the gentleman) me to be a farmer and I said okay…
  2. I’m “no good at being bad”, as my friend Jim would say. It only took me 48 years to figure that out…
  3. I believe that grace and gratitude are as necessary as food and water.

Questions From Jeff:

  1. What’s your favorite go-to Bible verse? – Geez, talk about a tough one. You don’t mess around do you Jeff? I’m not sure if I can name one. It seems to change on any given day. I guess the most frequent verse that comes up is Philippians 4. 11-13 from The Message version: “Actually I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether I’m full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.”
  2. Where did you grow up? – I was born in Fort Worth, TX. My Dad was transferred to Denver, CO when I was nine and I went to high school and university there. I returned to Fort Worth in 1986 and haven’t left since.
  3. How long does it take you to compose a post? – It varies (wildly at times). It depends on whether it’s for a client or personal and how much research I need to do.
  4. Would you consider guest-blogging if asked? – I would be honored to do so if asked.
  5. If someone you love is dying and has yet to know Jesus, what’s your best one-liner to bring them to Christ? (Obviously this would be Spirit led, but just play along) – I sat and thought about this for a very long time. Honestly, I don’t know what I’d say. I’ve tried to imagine various scenarios and I come up empty. This is truly one of those questions I leave to a prompting of the Spirit. I’ve sat with several friends and family through the end of their lives. Each needing Jesus to be shown through different actions. I believe that at times like these, there are few words to say. One of my favorite quotes is from St. Francis of Assisi, “Preach everywhere. If necessary, use words”.

You all are amazing! I’m so happy to be a part of the WordPress community!

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Roll Away the Stone…

Thoughts From the Porch

Happy Easter! The rain passed last night, and brilliant sunshine filled our quiet cul-de-sac. The trees are almost a neon green reflecting the bright light. There’s an unusual silence these days. The birds are still singing but the distant interstate is void of traffic. The ‘stay at home’ order applies to Easter church services so there’s few people going anywhere, particularly on an early Sunday morning. Such is life during the coronavirus…

Today’s Easter service came via Facebook Live. It was typical of most church Easter services – a time of praise and worship followed by a message about the cross. I wondered how we came to see the cross as the symbol of Christianity. I get the sacrifice and atonement ideas, but the cross was absent from the early Church. The cross was an ugly symbol of Rome’s occupation and violence. The persecuted Christian minority didn’t exactly see it as a religious icon.

It wasn’t until 318 C.E. that Christianity became an accepted, and then state, religion. According to legend, Constantine the Great had a vision of a cross and the words in hoc signo vinces (“in this sign you will conquer”). He promised to pledge himself to Christianity if he could defeat his rival, Maxentius, for the throne. Though outnumbered by Maxentius, he won the battle and became Emperor decreeing Christianity to be the state religion. The cross became an icon for the Church.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I often wonder what the early Christians thought about all this. They had every reason to be suspicious of the Emperor’s edict. Previously persecuted and reviled (‘Christian’ was a term of derision) tends to lead to suspicion. Moreover, I wonder how they viewed the new iconography of the cross.

I’m not trying to diminish the power of Jesus’ death on the cross, but I’m wondering if we haven’t concentrated on the wrong symbol. The cross has become so commonplace its lost meaning. It’s just a nice piece of jewelry most of the time. Hey, I’ve worn one…

Maybe I should wear a rock instead. You know, the stone that was rolled away (it’s a bit difficulty to wear an empty tomb…). It reminds me that I met the resurrected Jesus: the one who gives life “abundantly” (John 10.10): or as The Message puts it “real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of”. The resurrected Jesus brought me into a life better than I could ever had imagined. That, my friends, is truly good news. Living life to the full…

Jesus summed it up well in his first recorded public speaking engagement:

“When he stood up to read (at his synagogue), he was handed the scroll of Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place it is written,

God’s Spirit is on me;

He’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,

Sent me to announce pardon to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind,

To set the burdened and battered free, to announce, ‘This is God’s year to act’!”

(Luke 4.17-21)

That sounds like a pretty good life to me…

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