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Always Remember

It’s a brilliant, sunny late Spring day here in North Texas. Soon I’ll head off to Opal’s Farm. It’s been incredibly busy. Our first harvest of French Breakfast Radishes came in. We have about a hundred pounds bundled for sale and another hundreds pounds still to harvest. The beans and peas are in full bloom and squash is getting almost big enough to pick.

I haven’t had a great deal of time to write this last week with all the goings on. This week marked the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion that turned the tide in the Allies favor during World War Two. Those who know me might find it peculiar I’m memorializing warfare. My faith calls me to be a non-violent peacemaker. Still, I know my calling is not shared by everyone and I honor the veterans who fought for their beliefs and each other.

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Tom Brokaw coined the term “the greatest generation” when speaking of my parents peers. As a history student I was always intrigued by the men who fought so gallantly during “The War” as it came to be known. I grew up on the great epic movies about WWII- “Patton”, “The Battle of the Bulge”, Guns of Navarrone”, John Wayne and “The Fighting Seabees” and so forth. I saw “The Great Escape” at the long since demolished Gateway Theater twice a day on three successive Saturday matinees (for 50 cents admission I might add). Steve McQueen was my hero…

Things changed and I grew past the illusions I was taught. After all, “history is written by the victors” and subsequent wars proved to be void of morality. It’s no longer about defense but about gain. War is usually started by men who have never served. They were wealthy or powerful enough to worm their way out of military service. They’re quite content to let your young men fight for their wants while they talk about how patriotic they are; but enough said or I’ll get started…

Still, those WWII vets always held a special place of honor above all others. Perhaps its because of my father and my uncle’s (one of whom died at Anzio, Italy) service. It’s a way I hang onto them as well. They never spoke of their service. They did what they were called to do and now they’re gone, like so many of their generation. I miss them.

There are only 1.7 million WWII vets alive today. Their time is growing short. The “greatest generation” will pass away and become memory. That’s why it’s so important (for me anyway) to cherish the time I’m given with some of the men who served. They’re more likely to share about it today if you ask. I encourage you to ask. Not only will you be riveted to their stories, you’ll pay them honor and respect as well.

This is my small tribute to those men that leapt of the boats at Normandy seventy-five years ago. Thank you for being part of my life and sharing your stories.

“I cherish the memories of a question my grandson asked me the other day when he said, ‘Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?’ Grandpa said, ‘No, but I served in a company of heroes.'” —Major Richard Winters

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Kids…

Thoughts From the Porch: Saturday was Margaret’s birthday. Yesterday was my oldest son’s birthday. April is a good month! I pay little attention to the whole horoscope thing, but I sometimes wonder why my life is filled with so many Aries signs. Could be something to it but who knows?

Sitting on the porch this morning, enjoying the sunrise, I thought back to the day each of my boys were born. My memory isn’t so great anymore. I can’t tell you specifics like the weather and surroundings, unless of course it’s my youngest son. His birth was rather unforgettable. He decided to make his appearance on the very day a hundred-year blizzard hit Denver in 1982. We went to the hospital in a Jeep Wagoneer someone had volunteered to haul the paramedics since the ambulances couldn’t get around. The snow was so deep it took a week to dig out. You don’t forget something like that.

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Adrian, my older one, had the misfortune to be born in Dallas (that’s the only hospital that honored our insurance). We were concerned that friends and family wouldn’t recognize him as a native Texan and hence, his birthright. We’re not real sure Dallas is really part of Texas. However, he overcame that disability in quick fashion. After much legal (and family) wrangling, his birth certificate mandates his Texas citizenship…

The boys are as different as night and day, and the differences were apparent early on. The standing joke is that Adrian popped out of the birth canal asking if he could rest and get something to eat if that was no problem. He was laid back and easygoing, even as a baby. His brother, however, was the complete opposite. When he made his appearance almost two years later, he instantly demanded to be fed and have the nursery redone to suit his tastes. Anyone who knows them today will see the humor in that.

A father sees their children differently than the rest of the world sees them. Fathers lack objectivity in the perception of their kids: every one of them has the best kids in the world. That’s the way it should be. I don’t want to start an argument with anyone. Please know that since I have the best kids in the world, that doesn’t mean you don’t. Most of us have a perception problem when it comes to our children and despite what our culture tells us, it’s not a competition.

I got to spend some time with Adrian yesterday. That’s two weekends in a row and that’s a miracle of biblical proportions. He works a lot and his schedule rarely fits mine. Our times together are few and much farther between than I like. He recently started dating a young lady who is far more attractive and interesting than his old man. I appreciate that she receives more attention than I do. I’d probably be a bit worried if it were otherwise…

Thank you, Son for a great weekend. I hope you enjoyed your birthday. I know I did. Funny thing is though, I received the birthday gift – getting to spend time with you.

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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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Super Sunday… not

Thoughts from the Porch: It’s the last day of January. It felt like it on the porch. Still, I can enjoy my porch time unlike our neighbors to the north. The record low temperatures remind me how lucky I am to be a Texan where we complain about the cold when the high is in the forties, not forty below. Prayers of warmth are being sent up for the folks in the Midwest. Hang in there, guys…

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Being from Texas, I’m genetically predisposed to be a football fan. Football is most certainly a religion here. Our football fervor has inspired countless books, several movies and even a television series, “Friday Night Lights”. Visit any small town on Friday nights in the Fall and you’ll see what I mean. In the big cities there are multi-million dollars high school stadiums filled with frenzied fans. Winning coaches and star players are often held in the same worshipful regard as Davy Crockett and the heroes of the Alamo. Fans know the stats of every player on the home team. For a few months of the year, football is king.

When I moved to Colorado in my early teen years, I was baffled that high school football seemed to take a back seat to basketball. My dad informed me that football wasn’t revered by the heathens north of the Red River. Though that might have been true about high school, it didn’t seem to apply to pro ball. Denver Bronco fans were intense! Colorado had some redeeming qualities after all!

For many years, my Sunday afternoons were spent at either the stadium or in front of the television. I was happy to play Monday morning quarterback with coworkers and friends. God forbid that I ever miss a Super Bowl, regardless of whether my teams were playing. I was a football fan!

This coming Sunday is Super Bowl LIII. It’s unlikely I’ll be tuning in except to see the new crop of Super Bowl commercials for the year. They’re far more entertaining even if they are about rampant consumerism. Things have changed over the years. I may see part of one or two games per season, if I think about it. Watching for a few minutes seems to be a waste of time. It’s just not the same.

I still make high school games. I love the school spirit, the energy, and the love of the game. High school players still play ball because they enjoy it; for the most part anyway. People still fill the stadium because that’s what we do: support our kids, yell at the opponents, and then go out for dinner with them after the game. There’s a certain purity to that.

I don’t follow professional football much. Not only are the Dallas Cowboys (my favorite team) absent from the playoffs most years, watching a bunch of prima donnas do put on end zone theatrics, kind of turns my stomach. It’s far more about money and celebrity than it is love of the game. Real players and role models are few and far between.

I have mixed emotions about the sport today. The medical community has begun to understand the long-term consequences of the game. It’s not just bad knees and back problems anymore. There’s traumatic brain injury and early onset dementia to think about. I sometimes wonder if allowing my son to play was in his best interests. His college scholarship hopes were cut short by an injury during his senior year.

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Despite his injuries, I still believe in high school football and the purity of the game. He learned a lot about teamwork, sportsmanship, and perseverance playing ball. Watching most (not all, mind you) pro players today those things seem to be absent. I have no desire to give my time or my dollars to such foolishness.

So, this Sunday will find me working around the house, catching a movie on Netflix, or sleeping in my recliner. You won’t find me watching the “Big Game” but, if it’s a Friday night in November, you might just see me under the Friday night lights.

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Beat up Bibles…

Thoughts From the Porch: I try to avoid writing on Saturdays. I really do. I try to avoid anything having to do with work or sitting in front of the computer so I can tinker about the house. I believe in “Sabbath” rest. Ironically, rest seems more work at the time. I’m not good at it yet…

Here in Fort Worth, the Stock Show and Rodeo is going into its second week. I was coming home from the farm on Interstate 30 and saw the long line of trucks and livestock trailers waiting to exit and set up shop. Most of the trailers were marked with various Future Farmers of America (FFA) signs from various small towns in the area. Someone unfamiliar with rural life won’t appreciate it the way many of us in Cowtown do.

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Every time the Stock Show comes around, I spend more time than usual thinking about Mom and Dad. After Dad died, my brother-in-law finally accepted a job promotion in Atlanta. My sister’s family moved off to Georgia and I don’t get to see her as much as I’d like. He’s since retired, and they built a house on some acreage outside a small rural town near the Alabama-Georgia state line. I’m so thankful for cell phones and email even if their reception is sometimes spotty.

She emailed me a song a few days ago that really hit home, especially now. “Beat up Bible” must have been written about Mom and Dad. I wanted to share the link https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JvPBUH65EzI. I hope it brings the same joy, the same sweet memories to you.

No family is perfect. I butted heads with Mom and Dad often. I had to work through some resentments I had held onto over silliness on my part. I’m so grateful that those things were worked out when Mom passed. They weren’t when Dad died in 2002. Grief changes us, at least it did me. I’ve since come to a place of peace. My heart is refreshed by knowing my father was the best example of God’s love here in this place. Walking through my grief has left me with only the wonderful memories of the parents I love so much.

In his latter years, Dad would sit on the back porch with me and share about our family. He grew up without a father in his life. I think that’s why my own failed marriage worried him so much. He missed having his dad there. Maybe that’s why he was so good at loving my sister and me. I’d like to think so…

My sister and I are both adopted. Mom and Dad never ceased to remind us of how special and how loved we were. We were wanted desperately. I know today that I was blessed far beyond anything I could imagine having the parents I did. That isn’t always the case for everyone…

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the song. I hope it brings back happy memories. If it doesn’t, I hope it helps you make happy memories for your kids. Happy Saturday everyone!

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Cemeteries and Rodeos

Thoughts From the Porch: Yesterday would have been my father’s ninety-third birthday. He passed in 2002 and nary a day goes by that I don’t miss him. Even after sixteen years there are days when grief feels overwhelming. I often stop by the cemetery on my way to and from so I can sit and “talk” to him. It’s a great way to work through the grief I feel some days.

One can argue that the cemetery is a resting place for the body only. For those that share my religious faith it’s understood that Dad’s spirit probably left that place to go wherever it is that our spirits go after death. It may sound childish, but I believe it’s a place for our spirits to be together.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead says something to the effect that when one with a great soul passes, a strong wind will begin to blow. I remember stepping outside the hospital to have a smoke after he had passed. A blustery wind made it almost impossible to light my cigarette. I was so overcome with grief that I didn’t put two and two together until a cemetery visit some time later.

On that particular visit, I had come to read my father a letter I’d written acknowledging the fact that I had caused a lot of harm while in my active addiction. In my program of recovery, it’s called “making amends” a cleaning up of the wreckage of my past. Some may doubt that amends, the process of amending or righting a wrong, can be made to someone who has passed away. My experience that day says otherwise.

I stood in front of the headstone, wiping away the tears, and reading my letter. The details of my letter are deeply personal and between Dad and me. Suffice it to say that my father was an incredible man who loved me dearly and I never gave him much to work with as a son. It wasn’t until he was gone that I realized his greatness.

People often said that he was my chief enabler and, while that may be true, it was his love that showed me what God’s love was all about. As frustrated, and oft-times angry, as he could become with me, he never stopped loving (or forgiving) me. I can’t think of a better example of how the God of endless grace loves me…

I finished my letter. The tears began to subside. I looked up and the wind began to swirl around me. It had been still just a moment ago.

Our family plot is in an older part of the cemetery surrounded by beautiful old oak trees. I mention this because as the wind swirled about, I could see that none of the tree limbs were moving. That’s when it hit me: “when one with a great soul passes, a strong wind will begin to blow.” Dad was telling me one more time, “It’s okay. I forgive you and I love you more than you can ever know. Keep doing what you’re doing.”

I think of that day often, especially when life shows up with all its occasional difficulties. If Dad, a mere human, can love me that much – how much more so can the Creator of the Universe love me?

I’ve been thinking about Dad a lot this week. Not only was it his birthday, but the Stock Show and Rodeo opens on Friday. After Dad retired from the railroad, he would work the Harley Street gate for the Stock Show every year. He would be there a week before the show and a week after, so for a month straight he worked twelve-hour days. We usually didn’t celebrate his birthday until afterwards because he just came home, ate, and went to bed. As tired as he was, especially as he got older, he wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

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Since 1918, the Fort Worth Stock Show was called the Southwestern Exposition and “Fat” Stock Show. Now it’s just the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. I’m not sure why they changed it. I guess it’s no longer politically correct to call livestock fat. Maybe “weight-challenged” is more acceptable. I’m not sure Dad would approve. Cows are supposed to be fat and it violates tradition. Dad was big on tradition…

Saturday I’ll watch the annual Stock Show Parade and I’ll think of Dad. Afterwards, I might go by the cemetery on the way home. It’s no surprise that Saturday is supposed to be a really windy day…