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Maybe the “New Normal” is Not so New After All…

Thoughts From the Porch…

The rain returned to North Texas along with cooler weather for the day. Fortunately, it’s a brief visit and the weather looks clear until late in the week. The Prairie Verbena is casting purples all around Opal’s Farm. It’s almost April and the highways and byways are bursting in color. The Bluebonnets came early this year, but now the blues are accompanied by the oranges and yellows that make even rush-hour pleasurable.

Of course, there isn’t much of a rush hour these days. We’re well into the “shelter in place” order as the coronavirus lurks about Fort Worth searching for a host to devour. I’ve been unable to hug my kids and grandkids for a couple of weeks now. I’m starting to feel a bit weak…

My heart goes out to everyone during these trying times. I have the privilege or the misfortune, depending on how you view it, of being an “essential business” so I’m not stuck at home unless it rains. Everyone still needs food, especially healthy, fresh food, so I’m glad I can do something to contribute, even if it’s only a small part.

(By the way – the Cowtown Farmers Market is still open every Saturday morning from 8AM until Noon. Thank you to all the folks at Cowtown, both farmers and customers, who follow CDC guidelines and provide fresh, local produce during this crisis.)

Fortunately, the farm is a place folks can eliminate some of the boredom of “shelter in place” and help others at the same time. Social distancing isn’t an issue with well over an acre and there’s plenty to do. I’m just throwing that out for you all in case you’re wondering. I think I’ve seen more people on the adjacent Trinity Trails this weekend than I’ve seen in the past year.

I have a dear friend who had a serious surgery last week. The coronavirus situation has kept me from visiting the hospital and I can only receive updates from his wife. I shouldn’t complain. They’ve even prevented her from being there. She sat in the parking lot all day while her husband was in surgery. I can’t even imagine what that would be like if it were my wife. Sometimes it seems that prayers are not enough. COVID-19 has stolen so much more than physical health.

The pundits talk about our “new normal”. This is not normal. It may be what we do to take care of each other and ourselves, but it’s far from normal. However, there are some things from all of this I hope become the “new” normal. A friend told me of seeing his son playing catch with his grandson in the backyard. Sounds normal, right? Then he told me that his grandson was nine years old and had never done that before. They did other things together – his son’s a great parent – but they’d never simply thrown a ball back and forth. Maybe the “new normal” will see more of the “old normal. Maybe we’ll have less screen time and more play.

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I would be remiss if I didn’t share the rest of the story about my friend in the hospital. Many of use prayed throughout the day. That’s what friends do for one another. During the surgery one of the nurses called her every hour, on the hour, to let her know how her husband was doing. Those phone calls made the long wait somewhat bearable. Above and beyond is what so many of our healthcare folks do for us each day, virus or know virus. Please take time to say a prayer, make a phone call, or just say thank you. Maybe that kind of “new normal” isn’t so bad…  

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Chevrolet Heaven

Thoughts From the Porch: Sometimes I wonder if my memories of childhood are mine or they were my father’s. His recall of the past was beyond my understanding. Heck, I find it difficult to remember what I had for breakfast a couple of hours ago, but Dad – he remembered everything. On more than one occasion I’d wish his recall didn’t work so well. Embarrassment is one emotion I’d rather not deal with.

I sat on the porch this morning, drinking my coffee, watching the rain fall, and letting my mind wander across my memory landscape. It always seems cloudy the farther back I walk. The mental pictures become blurred and I don’t know if the memory is real or a story my father told me. They must be real. Dad would never had lied to me about anything. Still, everything in my experience seems just out of reach.

The one thing I’m sure is real is the green pickup truck my father had. The picture is crystal clear. It was a ’52 Chevrolet Apache, hunter green with high sideboards my father had made and put on. He had a second job delivering a Sunday paper called “The Shopper” and the sideboards were to hold all the newspapers. The papers would come off the press around two o’clock in the morning on Sunday. He’d fill the truck bed with papers and two assistants and off they go to throw the paper on their assigned route.

I was almost always asleep when Dad went to work so I don’t recall his absence, I remember the truck. I loved that truck. It always seemed to me that the truck didn’t belong in the city. It belonged on a farm – a big farm with wide, open meadows, horses, cows, and chickens – the kind my uncles and cousins had.

Suddenly remembering that truck this morning seemed so random, but little in life is random. Experience has shown that there’s usually some pattern, some order to life that can only be understood in hindsight. To quote Soren Kirkegaard, “Life can only be understood looking backward, but it must be lived forwards.”

I miss Dad. He passed away in 2002. Eighteen years later I find myself thinking of him regularly. It’s happy thoughts most days – he was quite special – but sometimes it’s a deep sadness that he’s no longer here. Today is one of those days.

When Dad passed, my life was total chaos – in and out of jail, unemployment, and degradation. It was a downhill slide for the next three years, until I hit bottom. I hurt my father in so many ways. He only wanted the very best for me and it was gut-wrenching to watch his son self-destruct. I know. I hurt when my kids hurt. Call it co-dependent if you’d like. I call it parenting…

Life changed for me on December 1st, 2005, and with it came the sadness that Dad wasn’t here to see it. He, above all people, deserved to see the change. I would give anything to hear his embarrassing and oft repeated stories one more time. I’d give anything to have him enjoy the peace that life offers today.

Thinking about that truck doesn’t seem so random anymore. It was always meant to be on a farm. Today I know Dad and I would be driving down to Opal’s Farm, working side by side, and telling stories. We’d laugh together and maybe he’d sing one of his silly songs. The dogs would be piled in the back. It’d be a gorgeous Spring morning. Life would be how it was meant to be.

It’s funny that old green Chevrolet shows a glimpse of the promised “new heaven and a new earth”. Sadness has turned to joy today thinking about that truck and Dad. I’m pretty sure he’s got her gassed up and ready. We’ll hop in and take for a spin around the farm. Life how it’s meant to be…

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“The purpose of the divine therapy is the healing of the roots of all our problems and to transform our attitudes and, indeed, the whole of our human nature into the mind and heart of Christ.” —Thomas Keating

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Time to Celebrate

Thoughts From the Porch

I came home from my Sunday morning meeting and spent a long time lost in thought. Today is a special day of celebration in my life: probably more important than all the other holidays combined. I reflected on the friends who made it all possible. I cannot begin to come close to expressing my love and appreciation for them. You see, fourteen years ago I surrendered to God’s infinite grace and began an incredible, mystical journey with these people. Life began again. Dreams became. Miracles happened. In fact, I’ve come to depend on them. I’m living proof. I celebrate fourteen years free from the bonds of addiction, selfishness and self-obsession.

I don’t often speak of my recovery on social media. For most of my life I’ve been an example of what NOT to do. I wouldn’t want anyone to judge the recovery process by my actions. I chose a program of recovery that taught me how to rely on the God of my understanding to break the cycle of addiction, to correct my oft repeated shortcomings, and be of use to others. It has worked for me for a while now.

It gave me a relationship with God that grows more intimate each day. It offered me a new set of glasses through which I see the world as God would have me see His creation (most of the time at least). Where there only existed failure, depression, and endless desperation before, my life is filled with light and infinite possibility. I never dreamt that life could be this way. I know what joy and freedom are today. I’m recovering the life God intended for daily. Pretty damned amazing if you ask me…

Photo by Adonyi Gábor on Pexels.com

I thought of my friend and mentor, Jim, who walked alongside me throughout much of the journey. He followed an eternal path almost two years ago. Not a day goes by that his voice doesn’t speak to me, either in my head or through my friends. One friend in particular, Edgar, frequently quotes “Jimisms”. He always seems to know when they’re truly needed.

I thought about my brother Craig who opened his home when I needed it most. I spent five years sitting in his woodshop, sharing coffee, prayer, and spirit. No man is more blessed than me. I always wanted a brother. I had to wait fifty years to get one!

Perhaps most of, I thought about the woman in the next room who shares life with me; the woman that God (and recovery) gave me. Most of you know my wife Margaret. Most of you know Margaret broke her leg a few weeks ago. It’s been non-weight bearing and will be for several more weeks. It has been my honor and privilege to be her legs these last few weeks; to bring coffee, to help her to the chair, and push her wheelchair. Recovery taught me what it means to love someone else, to be in a relationship with God and the love of my life. It made it easy to exchange vows and really mean it. She is the light of my life and brings me joy on this walk together.

Blessed more than I deserve

I would be remiss if I failed to tell you how important each of you are in my life. I once told my friend Rusty that I could finally count my true friends on more than one hand. He told me I was blessed: most people can’t say that. From a life of isolation and loneliness I been brought into a life that almost feels too full at times. I somehow make room for it though. When I don’t God helps me make it bigger.

Above all, I know all is grace. I don’t deserve any of the blessings I enjoy today. I’m unbelievably thankful I didn’t get what I deserve – clean or using. What I received was an endless supply of love and grace instead. As my brother Craig reminds me, “God is especially fond of me” (and you, too!).

One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received is waking up each day to a new and bright world full of hope and possibilities no matter what the newspaper (does anybody still read those?) may say. I get to “live creatively” as the Apostle Paul would say.

Thank you for being a part of this wonderful journey…

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Enjoy the Feast!

Thoughts From the Porch

Today is the Thanksgiving holiday here in the good old USA. To my friends here I wish a happy feast day filled with family, good friends, and food. We’re having an intimate family dinner here at the Joel home.

As our family has grown, so to has the amount of scheduling going into the holidays. Kids and grandkids balance time with in-laws, other grandparents, and our extended family. Thanksgiving becomes several days long. The final get-together for our family will be on Saturday. In-laws and outlaws, you know…

Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

I will be joining my oldest son for breakfast. Over the past year we’ve grown closer than we’ve been in a long time. He calls every morning on his way to work. It’s one of the joys of my morning. I can’t think of a better way to start the day.

Have a blessed and Happy Thanksgiving. I’m off to the diner…

Photo by Saif Selim on Pexels.com
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Happy Belated 4th of July

I wish all my friends a very, very happy 4th of July, albeit belated. This has been an unbelievably hectic week despite the holiday. Between harvest at Opals Farm, working on a new client’s project, and accompanying my oldest son the another 5k race, I haven’t had much time to write down my “thoughts from the porch”. I haven’t given up my porch time though. Prayer and meditation are essential to healthy work and play…

Margaret and I have five grown children between us. We decided from day one that we wouldn’t have stepchildren, only “our” children. Margaret and I didn’t date long before we married so she had never met my oldest son until our wedding day. When they finally met, Adrian introduced himself with, “Hi, I’m Adrian”, to which Margaret replied, Hi, I’m your stepmom”…

Adrian and Jeremy are the oldest of the five. Margaret loves to remind me her three are younger because, after all, she’s still in her fifties and I’m, well, not. We may consider them all our kids, but I have to admit, I beam a little brighter when one of “my” boys have their moments of special achievement or success. In no way does this diminish the achievements of the other three. I’ve simply had a longer and closer relationship with my boys. We’ve shared the ups and downs that came with our tiny family unit (I was a single dad) and I’ve rejoiced even more so in their success as was far from the perfect father growing up.

On Thursday, I met my oldest, Adrian, and rode with him to Dallas to watch him run in the “5 for the Fourth” 5k race. Notice I said watch. I’m not sure my old knees can partake in such endeavors. They might handle a bicycle race but definitely not pounding the downtown Dallas pavement. Besides, my 5k was simply leaving the house before 6 AM and leaving Texas to go to Dallas…

Almost to the Finish Line…

The only reason I mention any of this is because of the amazing things God is doing in my son’s life. I’m a very proud father and want to brag on my son. You see, Adrian and I haven’t been able to spend a lot of time together until several weeks ago. He was constantly working and rarely had time to hang out. We talked every week or so, but time together was beyond few and in between. Like it or not, that’s how it was.

That began to change a two or three months ago. Adrian was dealing with an extremely uncomfortable situation in his life. I won’t go into detail but I had been there at one point as well. While I don’t wish that on anyone, especially my son, I’ve come to see it as another of God’s lavish gifts. I began to spend more time with Adrian. I began to see how God moves in his life and what a good man he is. I’ve always known that, but there was something special, something spiritual in nature, shining a light on God’s grace for all of us.

My son has always had a relationship with God, and for that I’m grateful. Yet, watching it grow into a daily walk with Jesus has been one of the pleasures in life that only a parent can fully appreciate. Moreover, work, while still important, has taken a back seat to matters of the heart and spiritual growth. I guess that’s one reason I get up early on a holiday to watch him run. His running successes are outward reflection of his inward growth. I’m awed and, quite frankly, bursting with pride. That’s my boy!

After a long hiatus from competition of the physical kind, he started running again. I’ve shared with you his first 5K and his first Spartan race. When he finished Thursday’s race he had shaved 5 minutes off his previous time. To a longtime runner this may not be a big deal; but to someone who only started running on a daily basis a few weeks ago this might as well be a gold medal!

Am I bragging? Yes, I am; and no, I won’t apologize for it. Am I living a bit vicariously through his success! More than likely, but I think all parents do as our children grow older. God allows those of us fortunate enough to be parents to revel in our children’s glory, even when our (or at least my) parenting skills were less than stellar. If we’re lucky, we not only get to brag but become closer to them, and filled with pride and joy at the grown-ups they’ve become…

That’s MY boy!

*** In no way do I wish to overlook the success of Adrian’s younger brother and my son Jeremy. So here’s an unashamedly plug for him – Jeremy, is a emerging artist in the art scene. He both curates shows and has his own exhibitions. In fact, for those of you here in North Texas, his next exhibition will be on July 12th at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center!

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Spartans and Teamwork

Thoughts from the Porch: Summer is officially here. The summer equinox is in the rear-view mirror. The days will grow shorter though no one will notice (or care) for the next three months. While we normally experience summer drought, this year has kept the rains coming into June. We had another huge thunderstorm last night. It’s the third Sunday in a row for North Texas. I am eternally grateful for the rain as we’re still working on irrigation for the farm. I could do without the straight-line winds though. I’ll be clearing out tree limbs for the next couple of hours…

I had the privilege of attending my first Spartan race this Saturday at AT&T Stadium (Home of the Dallas Cowboys or “Jerryworld” as it’s known locally). I didn’t realize what a big deal a Spartan race is. The fact they were holding it at the stadium should’ve been a clue. There were folks from all over the country racing Saturday. The first competitors started early in the morning and they were still starting racers when I left at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon.

The Second Obstacle – makes me dizzy thinking about it…

My oldest son, Adrian, started running and working out regularly again. Last month he ran his first 5K in twenty years and finished first in his age group. I was proud of him and quite impressed! Saturday he was more concerned about simply finishing and helping other team members than where he placed in the race. I’m far more impressed by his heart than I am by his race time.

Over the first wall…

He formed a team with several other guys that shared the same race coach for the day. Although they hadn’t meet each other before the race, they bonded as a team and helped one another through a grueling race and obstacle course. One of the team members struggled and fell farther behind than the others. Finally, the rest of the team had to press forward, leaving him behind with the team coach. The other members went on to complete the course.

Finished the First One!

Adrian crossed the finish line and we celebrated together. Then he returned to the field to join the rest of his team look for the one runner still on the course. When he entered the field from the punishing run up and down the stairs at AT&T Stadium his team members were there to cheer him on.

Then an amazing thing happened…

The other team members joined him on the course to complete the final obstacles alongside him. It may not seem like a big deal, but understand, these guys had already completed the course. They were tired and sore. Most importantly, they didn’t have to do it. They ran through the remaining three obstacles and crossed the finish line together – as a team!

None of these guys had met before Saturday. The only thing they had in common was the Spartan coach they’d each paid extra for. Still, they became a real team. They were there for each other; the perfect example of sportsmanship.

Running and racing is generally thought of as an individual, not a team, sport. Adrian and his fellows reminded me one more time of the importance of teamwork. No one is left behind and forgotten simply because “I” finished. It’s about finishing together and relying on each other. I truly am my brother’s keeper and not just at a Spartan race…

I will remember Adrian’s example more than I’ll ever remember his race time. Thank you, Son for the reminder of what’s truly important. Individual accomplishments are great, but team accomplishments, what we do together as a community, mean the most. I’m proud of you, Son!