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Good Friday

Thoughts From the Porch: The wind is a bit frisk this morning, but all is well on the porch. It’s still too wet to work on the farm so I’m enjoying the quiet solitude of our little cul-de-sac and my second pot of coffee.

Today is Good Friday. I’ve always been curious how it came to be called “Good” Friday. I get the idea that Jesus’ crucifixion led to a Good Sunday (Easter), but there’s really nothing good about hanging someone on a cross. Maybe Christians would do well to change their iconography for the cross to a stone. I’d rather constantly remember the resurrection than a barbaric and humiliating form of capital punishment. I want to be a resurrection disciple.

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Those who have experienced God’s grace on a deep level tend to be aware of the price paid for their redemption. They know spiritual death. They know what the proverbial “end of the rope” is. They know what it’s like to have nowhere and no human being to turn to. They know that accepting God’s grace is the only thing that will bring us back to life and there’s no doubt how costly that grace was and is. They eagerly cling to Easter and resurrection.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to stay stuck on the crucifixion, to live in the past, and forget that the real joy in life comes from the resurrection. God did, and does, the impossible. He often does for us what we cannot, and sometimes will not, do for ourselves. That’s where the real power lies. Not in the cross, but in the rolled-away stone…

“I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of”. John 10.10 (The Message)

Today, I’m living in the present, enjoying the resurrected life I’ve been given…

“Yes, all the things I thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant”. Phillipians 3.8 (The Message)

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Daylight Savings and Brothers

Thoughts From the Porch: I survived the Daylight Savings time change. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this oddity a bit of history is in order. It seems that the practice came about during World War I to extend daylight in the Spring and Summer months to conserve coal for the war effort. It has remained in effect off and on in the years since. While the US and most European countries observe Daylight Savings Time, most of the rest of the world does not. I wish we’d get on board with them.

Daylight Savings Time (DST) has its benefits. I’ll be the first to admit that I enjoy the longer periods of daylight, especially working on the farm. Unfortunately, it has its drawbacks as well. I don’t simply miss an hour of sleep. I tend to lose a whole day. Maybe it’s best that it falls on a Sunday since I can always take a nap.

The Center for Sleep Medicine at the Mayo Clinic says the effects of time change last more than one day though. The effects last five to ten days. Since DST happens twice a year, almost a month is affected. It not only alters sleep patterns, it leads to memory and learning problems, increased heart attack or stroke risks, poor social interaction, and affects overall cognitive performance. If I’m having cognitive issues today, I at least have a temporary excuse. I’m not sure what I can say about the other eleven months…

Daylight Savings Time (DST) has its benefits. I’ll be the first to admit that I enjoy the longer periods of daylight, especially working on the farm. Unfortunately, it has its drawbacks as well. I don’t simply miss an hour of sleep. I tend to lose a whole day. Maybe it’s best that it falls on a Sunday since I can always take a nap. The Center for Sleep Medicine at the Mayo Clinic says the effects of time change last more than one day though. The effects last five to ten days. Since DST happens twice a year, almost a month is affected. It not only alters sleep patterns, it leads to memory and learning problems, increased heart attack or stroke risks, poor social interaction, and affects overall cognitive performance. If I’m having cognitive issues today, I at least have a temporary excuse. I’m not sure what I can say about the other eleven months…

Spring’s on the way to Opal’s Farm!

The cognitive issues were obvious this morning. I had a great morning on the porch. Margaret is still sleeping so I extended my porch time today. A lone Mockingbird serenaded me from the top of the street lamp; announcing the coming Spring in song. He (or his kids) always show up when everything gets ready to bloom and hangs around until the following Winter. I was so excited I came to write about him and my morning thoughts. I did so until I hit something on the keyboard that deleted my whole story. Definitely a cognitive issue!

Ss here I sit rewriting this morning’s post. I’m extremely aware of my occasional Attention Deficit Disorder on mornings like this. I’m not sure I remember what I wrote in the first place. “Squirrel!” Don’t laugh. Some of you know exactly what I mean. Oh, I remember now…

I got to spend some time with my brother Craig this weekend. I don’t get to do that as often as I’d like. I’m often asked why our mother would name us Craig and Greg, so let me explain.

About eleven years ago, I suffered a couple of cerebral hemorrhages that left me unable to work. Without health insurance or income, I ended up losing my house after several months and was staring at imminent homelessness. I frantically searched for housing programs for people in my position but had found nothing by move-out day. My friend Craig (he wasn’t my brother yet, but I’ll explain that in a bit) offered to let me stay at his place for a couple of weeks while I looked for housing. I left five years later…

Craig and I spent our mornings on his porch or in his workshop having coffee, praying together, and talking. After a couple of weeks, Craig asked if I wanted to be his roommate. The coming years led to so much more.

Men do not often have the kind of relationship Craig and I have. I have good friends. My parents have passed away, but I have family: my sister and her family in Georgia whom I love dearly. Still, the bond Craig and I have is beyond mere friends. I think it hit home when Craig gave me a tobacco pipe that he handmade in the shop (he’s amazingly talented with wood). I still have the note that accompanied his gift. It’s taped to my desk so it’s the first thing I see when I sit down to write. It says,

“Like David and Jonathan, you are my best friend. This pipe is a token of my love for you. Enjoy it my friend.”

Before David became the King of Israel, he had come to live in then King Saul’s house. Jonathan, the King’s son, felt an immediate bond with David and they became fast friends. King SauI and David went on to become enemies, but it never changed the friendship between David and Jonathan. Samuel 18 tells us that Jonathan was “totally committed to David. From that point on he would be David’s number-one advocate and friend.” Later, “Jonathan, out of his deep love for David, made a covenant with him. He formalized with solemn gifts: his own royal robe and weapons…”    

I know how richly I’m blessed to have my relationship with Craig. Many people, especially men, fail to foster such deep relationships with others. I won’t pretend to know all the answers why. I’m no relationship expert. Still, I’m filled with gratitude for one who has gone beyond friend to my brother. In the five years that I lived at Craig’s house , we never had a cross word with one another. Not to avoid conflicts, mind you. Peace and serenity are the natural by-products and love and respect.

My sister and I are both adopted. We know what it is to have a family desire and love you so deeply that you become part of them. I was in my fifties before I knew that I had an adopted brother. We may not share the same parents, but we share the same Spirit. I’ve got the pipe to prove it…                                                 

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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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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…”

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Straight From the Horse’s Mouth

Relief is in sight for the beleaguered! The forecast for the day is for cooler temperatures, at least for the next two or three days. Only in Fort Worth would we be excited by temperatures in the mid-nineties. Such are summers in Texas…

The last few days have been hectic, so I thought I’d take a break and catch the online sermon from church last Sunday morning. I’m still questioning the idea of worship in the corporate setting, so my ‘attendance’ remains online. I value the thoughts of our preacher, even if I’m still uncomfortable with how we do ‘church’ in our culture. Unfortunately, the livestream of the sermon kept disconnecting. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. I can relate to that. For the last two or three days, my prayers have been few and far between. I’ve been feeling a little low and my connection with my Higher Power is in a constant cycle of cutting out and reconnecting. I’ve felt like I’ve been in a constant ‘buffering’ state and I can’t quite reach 100%.

Connection problems can and do happen. God’s end may always broadcast a strong signal, but my reception gets spotty from time to time. The connection difficulties are always on my end. When it happens I often have to stop and clean out my ‘antennae’. Occasionally, I get far too busy, over-tired or just plain lazy and my mind gets clogged with self-pity, resentment, and self-centeredness. I begin to sound much like Eeyore in A.A. Milne’s, Winnie the Pooh – “Woe is me, I can’t find my tail…”

I’m not unique. Some of the most spiritual people I know feel a disconnect from their Higher Power on occasion. The sixteenth century Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross, called this disconnect, “the dark night of the soul”. For those of us who pray, who converse with the Spirit of the Universe, we know what he’s talking about. There are times when it feels like prayers fall on deaf ears. We listen intently for answers that don’t come. God is silent. We feel alone, left to our own devices.

When I feel isolated and disconnected, I begin to wonder where God is. I start to question my faith. I’m filled with doubts: little ones at first that multiply into crisis of faith. I used to think this was anathema to me. My upbringing had taught me that questioning one’s faith destined me to the fires of hell. That haunted me for many years, but today I know that faith without questioning is not much of a faith at all. God is much bigger than my doubts. If I continue to pray and listen I will hear God’s response in the most extraordinary, yet simple, ways.

I do some work at a stable not far from my home. Don’t tell anyone, but I’d do it for free just because I love being there. There are three horses, Dollar, Lightfoot, and Trooper (‘the boys’ as I call them). Dollar is the oldest, at seventeen. The other two are two or three-year-old rescues; adopted wild mustangs from herds in Arizona and Utah.

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Now I am no ‘horse whisperer’ by any means, but I’ve developed quite a relationship with Trooper and Lightfoot. I was warned they were skittish around people, but that hasn’t even been close to my experience. They have loved and ‘hugged’ on me since the day we met. When I pull up to the stables, they amble over to say hello and let me love on them.

They are one of the ways I find reconnection with my Higher Power. I leave the stables with my spirit more in tune with the universe. There’s a buzz, a vibration, and I begin to hear God whisper. Decisions come easier. Heck, life becomes easier. My mind is free to explore the realm of possibilities, to work and play again. Most importantly, I begin to feel a sense of belonging, of being a part of something far bigger than I. My gratitude grows, and my doubts are erased. All of this happens by simply allowing God to love on me through others, whether they have four legs or two.

I’m basically an introvert. I find the company of my dogs and the horses to be my safe, comfortable place. My beautiful wife, on the other hand, is extremely social and extroverted. She loves to be on the go and around others. I often joke that I’d been more places in the first year of marriage than I had in the previous ten. For that reason, the last almost three years since her back surgery have been hard on her. I’m thrilled when she’s able to get out. I know it’s her way of reconnecting, of hearing God’s voice.

God’s voice becomes clear through our relationships with people and the world around us. When I’m aware of the beauty of creation, I strive to be a better steward of God’s world. I believe that God’s silence is simply His way of reminding me of the importance of relationships, whether they be with dogs and horses or the people in my life. His silence reminds me of the spirit of all things that connect me to the universe. His silence reminds me to be grateful, to be awestruck, and to drink in the beauty of all things.

Most importantly, His silence is a reminder He’s still there, loving me through ‘the dark night of the soul’. Those days, whether measured in weeks or years, will come for all of us. Feelings of doubt and even futility, but they will pass eventually, and probably do so in the most unlikely of ways. It might even come straight from the horse’s mouth…