Acceptance, Christianity, Chronic Illness, Community, Courage, Emotional Health, Faith, Gratitude, Health, Hope, Monday Mornings, Recovery, Self-Acceptance, Service to Others, Sobriety, Spirituality, Stories, Thoughts From the Porch, Transformation, What Can I Do, World AIDS Day 2018, Writing

What defines us?

Thoughts From the Porch: I’ve spent a great deal of time in reflection over the last couple of days. I’ve experienced a lot of gratitude this weekend. Quite honestly, I wondered whether I should share it with a wider audience.

Saturday, December 1st was the thirtieth anniversary of Worlds AIDS Day. The theme this year was “Know your status”. According to the World Health Organization, over a million people a year die from AIDS because they either didn’t know their status or started treatment too late. HIV/AIDS doesn’t need to be a death sentence. Advances in treatment have made HIV/AIDS a treatable chronic condition. AIDS patients know that adherence to treatment regimens help them lead long, productive, happy lives. But that doesn’t happen is one doesn’t know their status.

You can only address the problem when you recognize the problem.

AIDS rarely makes the news anymore. Lack of coverage doesn’t mean it’s gone away. In fact, in sub-Saharan Africa, a girl between the ages of15 and 24, becomes infected with HIV every minute of every day. Every minute. Every day.

Mark World AIDS Day 2018 by “knowing your status”.

Having said that, December 1st also marks thirteen years since my personal rebirth. On that day I began a journey I thought impossible for someone like me. I’m one of the few who get to live “two lives in one lifetime” as Margaret often reminds me. It was ironic that it was also World AIDS Day, but I wouldn’t see the irony until five months later…

Professionally, I refrain from discussing the events of all those years ago for a couple of reasons. One, to do so is somewhat suicidal in the business world. Self-disclosure, particularly of one’s failures, even when followed by success, is frowned upon in the professional community. Secondly, many misconceptions and fear lead to conscious and unconscious prejudices that are somewhat detrimental to business owners such as me.

However, I have difficulty separating my professional life from my personal life. The events of my sixty years, and particularly the last thirteen of them, have shaped who I am today.

 Saturday marked thirteen years of my recovery journey, and more importantly, my relationship with God. That may not be a big deal to many folks, but it is to me. I never thought it possible. Looking back, I’m incredibly grateful for the “gift of desperation”.

 I remember when I celebrated my first year in recovery, I proudly told my mom I hadn’t used any mind-altering substances for a year. She looked at me and said, “So, I haven’t used them in seventy-seven years”. She always had a way of putting things in perspective. Seeking recognition for something that most people do normally seems kind of foolish when I think about it.

However, to diminish the miracle of recovery would be just as unwise. I still remember the hopelessness, degradation, and desperation I felt the day before I began the recovery journey. I also know what it is to experience the depth of God’s infinite grace. To refrain from sharing it would be quite selfish, and selfishness is not something I wish to entertain any longer. Besides, the more I share, the more there is to receive. Go figure. The more I give the more I have. Let that one sink in…

Life didn’t stop showing up just because I began the recovery journey. I’d been clean and sober for about five months when the consequences of my past caught up with me. I was diagnosed with AIDS. Not HIV positive, mind you, but full-blown AIDS.

The level of CD-4, or T-cells, those wonderful components of the immune system the HIV virus attacks and destroys, determines whether one receives an HIV or AIDS diagnosis and thus, the treatment protocol. Simply put, AIDS patients have a CD-4 count of less than two hundred, while HIV positive individuals have a count above the two hundred mark.

Everything I knew at the time about HIV/AIDS was that people who had it died. Thirteen years later, I see it a little differently. I learned my status and I could do something about it.

 I live a pretty marvelous life these days. My wife Margaret and I are what’s called a “magnet couple”. She’s negative and I’m positive, HIV speaking. I’m a good husband, father, and grandfather, at least I hope so. I have a wealth of wonderful relationships that I didn’t think possible all those years ago. I’m not defined by my failures, but rather, refined by them. No one should be. Think about that next time you look in the mirror or think about the person in front of you…

 

 The irony of having the same clean date as World AIDS Day isn’t lost on me. It’s a constant reminder that choices have consequences. It enables me to make better choices (at least I hope so…). It’s also a daily reminder of “who’s” I am and that His grace is what defines me today…

Autumn, Awe, Bible, Business, Christianity, Chronic Illness, Communication, Community, Culture, Dogs, Emotional Health, Faith, Fall, Family, Friendship, Gratitude, Health, Listening, Neighbors, Prayer, Recovery, Relationships, Simplicity, Spirituality, Texas, Thoughts From the Porch, Uncategorized, Unity Unlimited, Inc., What Can I Do

Who’s Your Village?

black metal armchair
Photo by Michael Morse on Pexels.com

Thoughts from the Porch: The leaves are starting to cover more of the yard more quickly than they did a couple of weeks ago. The blades of grass, which would shoot toward the sky after every rain last month have slowed to a crawl in their growth. Mowers scurrying along the freeway right-of-way signal colder weather is on the way. Despite the above-average temperatures, Fall is on its way to North Texas.

This week has been hectic (in a good way, for the most part) and the time on the porch is treasured beyond imagination. Margaret and I have been able to get out more, for which I’m grateful. I love to her out and about. The tender’s been stoked, and the brakes are off on Opal’s Farm. The wheels are turning faster now and building speed toward the ribbon-cutting ceremony ahead. The only blot on the week has been a persistent plumbing problem here at home. At least I’m able to be here to take care of it.

As I started my day with a cup of coffee, I felt intense gratitude for the day I’ve been given. I get to meet and work with some amazing people. I’ve often said I prefer the company of dogs and horses to most humans, and that seems to follow on days that I pour over my newsfeed and read about the pervasive anger and divisiveness in our society. I could go on a major rant about it all, but why?

Sometimes I feel a little like the Old Testament prophet, Elijah, in 1 Kings 19. He had seen so much of the selfish decadence of his world that he felt like he was totally alone and persecuted. Lord knows I’ve been there. Events can be overwhelming. I feel isolated, cynical, and sad. Depression clouds my view of the world. It often feels like, “What’s the use?”.

(side note: continuing feelings of “what’s the use, worthlessness, sadness and isolation are nothing to be trifled with, especially when nothing seems to help. It may be something for which relationships, gratitude, and spiritual pursuits aren’t enough. Please seek professional guidance)

Fortunately, Elijah’s story didn’t end there. Yours and mine doesn’t have to, either. God reminded him that he wasn’t alone. First, by speaking in a still, small voice so he was reminded he wasn’t spiritually alone. Second, by reminding him he wasn’t physically alone. In fact, God pointed to all the other people, 7,000 in his case, who had the same desire to make things better. That’s what God does and, continues to do for me on a regular basis.

Over the last several weeks many fantastic and selfless people have crossed my path: people who look to the common good and seek how to be of service. Opal’s Farm is the pathway God has granted me. Beginning with Ms. Opal, the farm’s namesake, I’ve met a succession of people who have blessed me in ways they’ll probably never know. God hasn’t left any of us alone. The world is filled with people who strive to make our community a better place by serving other, but I fail to take them into account. “You can’t see the forest because of all the trees…”

I write a lot about the people in my life and relationships. Probably more than you want to read, but I stress their importance, whether it’s personally, professionally, or spiritually. Mom used to tell me she could tell who I was by who my friends were. I didn’t appreciate her wisdom until I was older, but she was so right. The more I surround myself with great relationships, the better I become as a person.

My personal relationships keep my perspective positive, my business relationships sharpen my focus and service professionally, and my relationship with God expands my spiritual life. What are your relationships doing for you today? Are they a priority in your life? Are you grateful?

Anxiety, Autumn, Awe, Christianity, Chronic Illness, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Generations, Gratitude, Growing Up, Honor, Jesus, Love, Marriage, Monday Mornings, Prayer, Preparation, Relationships, Seasons, Stories, Thoughts From the Porch, Trust, Uncategorized, Weddings, Wellness, Writing

Never-ending Honeymoons…

Thoughts From the Porch: Yesterday was the big day for our son and our new daughter-in-law. We welcome Amanda into the family with tons of love and gratitude. She’s a beautiful, remarkable young woman and incredible addition to our family. We pray continued blessing and happiness for the Brandon and Amanda.

close up of wedding rings on floor
Photo by Megapixelstock on Pexels.com

It was a beautiful ceremony with pastoral surroundings. Despite the rain and grey skies, the wedding and reception went well, and a good time had by all who attended. We received a text from the happy couple this morning as they boarded the plane bound for the honeymoon. The best thing about the whole affair? It’s over!

I’m not a crabby old man mind you. I love weddings. I’ve had the privilege of performing many wedding ceremonies over the years. Couples, especially the brides, look more stunningly beautiful than ever, and I get to see the love in their eyes up close. There’s something incredibly holy about that moment. I’m always awed by the power and beauty I witness. It was no less holy seeing it from the attendee’s point of view.

However, I’m happy it’s over. The lead up to the big day was stressful for everyone in the family. It feels like a pressure valve a has been released and we can all breath again. No more worry about invitations, dresses, and food choices for the reception. After yesterday, Margaret and I slept in this morning. I can’t remember the last time I slept until 9:30! We spent an inordinate amount of time on the porch this morning. As I write this morning my thoughts are more about binge watching Netflix than finishing this post, so you may not be seeing this until Monday…

And so, it is Monday…

Monday has arrived, and it feels beautifully normal. Up early, coffee on, and time on the porch. I shall not bore you with the details. It feels like Fall though. For that I’m unbelievably grateful.

autumn autumn leaves blur close up
Photo by Vali S. on Pexels.com

Looking back at this weekend, I was reminded of my own marriage and how blessed I am. It will be our sixth anniversary in March. I know that doesn’t sound like a long time to folks who have been married for much longer, but it amazes me. I’m sure I’m not always the easiest person to live with.

Margaret and I had been friends for several years before we dated. I always wanted to go out with her, but quite frankly, I figured I was out of her league. I had been single for a long time and, because I had chosen to be public about my HIV status, I thought I’d remain that way. Being positive kind of screws up the whole dating thing. I’m not complaining, mind you, because looking back, I know God was preparing me for what was to come. I had to learn to love myself, and by His grace, my willingness, and an incredible group of men, I did. Loving myself allows me to love others fully. Maybe that’s why Jesus placed such importance on “loving others as you love yourself”.

During that time, He was also preparing Margaret. I guess it was no surprise that our courtship was short – only ninety-one days. Thanks to our many friends who banded together to pull off a gorgeous wedding in only eight days (many of you know the story), two became one. If such haste seems foolhardy, each day since has reaffirmed our (or at least my) decision. Apparently, we became a ‘magnet couple’ – I’m HIV positive and she’s is, and remains negative…

We’ve had some hurtles since our wedding day, most of them physical. A month after our wedding, I ended up in intensive care behind a post-operative meningitis infection for a month. It was touch and go. Margaret worried about planning a funeral a month after planning a wedding. Then a couple of years later, Margaret had complications from back surgery leading to chronic pain and decreased (and sometimes extremely little) mobility. Neither of us planned on these challenges, but it is what it is, right? All they are is speed bumps on this wonderful journey we began together.

Sometimes the challenges we face cause self-doubt. We’re not exempt, nor is anyone I know of. While Margaret isn’t an invalid by any means, there are days when she’s really hurting and needs more of my attention. I’m grateful that I work from home most days and can be there to help. She apologizes and wonders if I’m second-guessing getting married. I can say with absolute certainty that I’ve never had second thoughts. Yet, I can tell you that on the days I’m irritable, frustrated, or depressed I wonder if she’s rethinking this whole deal. Sometimes my brain is not my friend…

For both of us, self-doubt is fleeting, erased by the love we share. Feelings are one thing and, at least in my case, rarely have anything to do with reality. The reality is that I’m still awed that God could have blessed me so richly. I still get giddy when Margaret walks in the room. When I look into her eyes, I see the love there and I come back to reality quickly. I still can’t believe that she said yes…

I know that Saturday was Brandon and Amanda’s special day, but I need to tell you, it was truly special for me, too. Margaret stepped out of the bride’s room as we prepared to walk down the aisle. I was floored. She’d been locked away all day with the bride and bridesmaids getting ready for the ceremony. I saw my bride. She looked even more beautiful than the day we wed. I truly am the most blessed man in the world…

I hope that our kids have the same joy and love that Margaret and I share. If the vows they wrote for one another are any indicator, then I’m certain they will. If I could offer any advice to the newlyweds, it would be this: never lose you sense of wonder that your spouse chose to spend the rest of their life with you. When in doubt, remember how they looked at you on your wedding day, and perhaps more importantly, how you looked at them.

My prayer for you all is that you feel the butterflies and the awe every time the love of your life walks in the room…

animal beautiful biology bloom
Photo by Cindy Gustafson on Pexels.com

Choices, Christianity, Chronic Illness, Class, Culture, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Friendship, God's Economics, Grace, Gratitude, Neighbors, Prayer, Recovery, Relationships, Responsibility, Social Ranking, Spirituality, Transformation, Uncategorized, Wealth, Writing

Car Wash Economics

(You have the unedited version today! My ‘editor’ is out with another one of her friends today and I’m so happy she’s having a good time…)

I limited my time on the porch Saturday morning. Margaret’s friend, Mary, came over early after she got off work for the Friday overnight. They were going shopping at the upscale resale shops in Dallas to find a dress for Margaret to wear to our son’s wedding. It does my heart good to see her get out and about. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the high dose of estrogen in the conversation on the porch so at sought the solace of my office…

I love Saturday and Sunday mornings. I take time to catch up on the reading I missed during the week. The coffee always seems to taste just a wee bit better than on weekdays. The newsfeed has more ‘feel good’, human interest stories since it’s a slow news day. The mood is much more relaxed, and the hurry of the weekday work schedule is absent. The ‘To-Do’ list will get attention in due time. On the weekend things will either get done or they won’t, if you know what I mean…

Margaret managed to last all day and into the evening on Saturday. She was anxious to tell me of their adventures and believe me, ‘resale-ing’ is an adventure for her. I’m thankful for her friend Mary, and her patience in helping Margaret get around – getting the wheelchair in and out of the truck, previewing shops, wheeling her across rugged parking lots, and so forth. We are richly blessed by the people in our lives.

Margaret and I live simply. The quiet little cul-de-sac where we reside is peaceful. When we first bought our house, the westside of Fort Worth and the suburb was nowhere on our radar, but we’ve decided our house was a gift just waiting for us to move in. We’re not well-to-do, but we are rich in friends and family. We have issues like everyone else. They just don’t seem to be a big deal anymore. I’d like to think that we’re becoming wiser as we age, but I’m not sure that’s the case. It simply doesn’t require much to be happy.

Finances grew tighter after her back surgery three years ago. Going from two incomes to one hasn’t always been easy, but the money situation doesn’t stress us out like it used to. My friend Jim used to tell me that true happiness comes from ‘wanting what you have and not just having what you want’. We have a happy life, even when the shadier side of life rears its ugly head. Things and ‘stuff’ aren’t so important to us. If there’s any extravagance in our lifestyle it’s that we spend more than we should on eating out with our family and friends. I guess that’s why Margaret’s tale of yesterday’s adventures was so revealing about the life we live.

Apparently, they sought out some ‘upscale’ resale and consignment shops in North Dallas as the dress they were searching for was something between an evening gown or cocktail dress. Now I’m no stranger to classy occasions but I lean toward practicality. Our son, who wanted to buy a dress for Margaret, didn’t want her to have something used. She explained to him that there was no sense spending a small fortune for something that would only get worn a couple of times (we don’t get that fancy very often either…). A pretty dress is pretty whether you’re the first-time owner or the second. Still, when they ended up running into our son in Big D, they managed to find their way to a fancy, dress boutique. I won’t give all the details, but it was obvious some people live far more extravagantly than us. North Dallas is a different beast than what we’re used to…

Their shopping trip started me thinking about an experience with a friend of mine sometime back and how I look at the world around me. I was doing some work at his house and as I was finishing up, he asked if I would mind running his BMW to the car wash for him. Quite frankly, I was happy to, especially since I’m a truck kind of guy. I was extra careful driving to the car wash. When I arrived I asked for the wash package he wanted. I was shocked by the thirty-dollar price tag, but hey, I wasn’t paying for it. When they were finished, I said thanks and drove off. On the way back, it occurred to me that maybe I was supposed to tip the car wash guys.

I didn’t say anything about it until I got home and asked Margaret if I had been ‘one of those customers’, you know, the ones that don’t tip. I’ve been in the service industry. I’ve lived on tips.  I strive never to be ‘one of those guys’ and probably tip too much. I had to admit that in all my sixty years I’d never been to a car wash before. Margaret was amazed. Even though I was slightly embarrassed I kept thinking why would I pay somebody thirty bucks to do what I could do myself?

I get it though. Sometimes you pay for convenience. I’ve been there. I’ve been known to do the same on occasion. Even when I can afford to do so, I find myself feeling somewhat uneasy about paying for it. I’m not a tightwad by any means but if I feel a little irresponsible with our finances when I do so. I’ve thought a lot about why I feel this way and others don’t.

My friend with the sports car says it’s about a poverty mindset and how I look at money. He gave me a book called Money Drunk Money Sober by Julia Cameron and Mark Bryan. I was struck by many of the traits indicative of a ‘poverty drunk’. I was raised in an upper middle-class home by two parents who struggled and survived the Great Depression. Although I never went without, there was an attitude of scarcity pervading our home. The pantry was always stocked, and we never bought anything that wasn’t on sale (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), but there was a constant ‘what if’ in the air. I guess that’s why I chased the big money for so long in my career. According to Cameron and Bryan, this is also characteristic of poverty addicts.

Looking back, I was driven by the idea of fear and scarcity. I lived waiting for the proverbial ‘other shoe to drop’. If my upbringing started it, the constant media bombardment added some rocket fuel to the mix. The message that I wouldn’t be good enough unless I had this or that new car, house, or thing-a-ma-jig was constant. No wonder I always wanted more – more money, more ‘stuff’ – and if I didn’t have those things, I could always dull the pain of inadequacy with either chemicals or self-righteous judgement of others (a form of manufactured saintliness and feigned higher moral values). Old patterns are hard to break.

I’m grateful that my self-worth is no longer contingent on my acquisition of wealth. I don’t find any virtue in poverty either. I’ve been with and without money. Believe me, I’d rather have it – it buys convenience – than not have it, but I’ve learned to be happy either way (most of the time). I still struggle with undervaluing my work and have difficulty asking customers for money that I worked for. As much as I’d like to think it’s because I’m introverted and socially awkward, the reality is my much deeper fight for self-worth. Some of you know exactly what I mean…

The more I pondered this idea of poverty drunkenness and addiction, the deeper I had to go inside myself. Did I believe I was more spiritual or virtuous if I had less stuff than others? It isn’t more virtuous or spiritual to be poor than it is to be wealthy. Money and what it can buy may be society’s metric for success, but it is based on the idea of scarcity – there just isn’t enough to go around. There’s always going to be the ‘haves and have not’s’? That’s only true if economics is based on the law of scarcity. When the basis for my economics changed, my metrics changed.

The deeper and more intimate my relationship with God has become, the more my perception of scarcity began to change. Looking back over the years, God has always taken care of me, 100% of the time, despite my efforts to do otherwise. Slowly, I’ve moved from a position of worry and ‘what ifs’ to a place of trust. My value comes from outside myself. It’s no longer about who I am, but whose I am. My economic perceptions slowly shifted to God’s economics, the economics of abundance, the idea of ‘enough’. There’s enough to go around. Life has become much simpler, and far less worrisome as a result. What’s wildly ironic is that the more I give away, the more I have…

Having said all this, I’ve come to a place where, at least for the most part, I don’t judge according to one’s pocketbook or social standing nor do I particularly care if others judge me that way or not. The measure of a man is not in what he has but what he gives away. It doesn’t matter where he falls on the wealth scale. I know of incredibly wealthy folks who greedily hang onto to every penny and people without a proverbial “pot to piss in’ who give outlandishly.

After hearing tales of Margaret and Mary’s adventure in North Dallas I still find it a little incredulous that one would be upset by the idea of used clothes, especially when a new dress is marked down from $700 to $100 (seriously, true story…). Then again, I’ve become a jeans and tee shirt kind of guy. Dressing up is a good pair of ironed and starched blue jeans with a button-down dress shirt. Comfort seems to exceed to need for fashion statements. I’m okay with that

After our morning coffee and the recollection of their adventure Saturday, I got up, cleaned house and worked on a shelf I’m building out of recycled lumber. As I was waiting on the stain to dry, I went out and washed my truck, in the driveway, by myself. I need to tell you that it looked pretty good and I didn’t have to tip anyone…

Christianity, Chronic Illness, Communication, Community, Courage, Culture, Dogs, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Friendship, Grace, Gratitude, Grief, Growing Up, Hope, Listening, Love, Marriage, Pets, Practice, Prayer, Recovery, Relationships, Simplicity, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Writing

I Don’t Know…

The rain started on Thursday. It was brief that first day, only thirty minutes or so, but enough to clean the air and drop the temperature. Then it rained for most of the day on Friday, off and on Saturday, and I have awaken to wet streets and dripping eaves each day since. Another day of wet, wonderful rain is predicted, and the heat won’t return until the end of the week.

Such things don’t usually happen in North Texas in August. It’s a welcome relief to the brutal heat of summer, especially this year. Drought, with all its attendant problems, has left us with falling, dry leaves and the almost winter-like brown of the grass. Finding relief in the middle of summer is a gift from God. I’ve never been so grateful for having to mop the floors because of the dogs’ muddy feet.

The biggest blessing of the week came Friday night though. I drove to our friends’ house in Oklahoma and returned with my lovely wife. She remarked that she was thankful I didn’t get upset by her week-long absence. How could I be upset? I’m simply happy she was able to get out and about, especially with her physical limitations and dealing with chronic pain. Getting out for the day is a little victory. Getting out for a week is a miracle. I missed Margaret, yet the solitude was nice, even though it was interrupted by the kids coming and going. I had a lot of time to work, write, and do projects I’ve been putting off. Still, it’s definitely true that “absence makes the heart grow fonder…”

Our life together is overflowing with blessings I often wonder why I, of all people have received so much grace. I certainly don’t deserve it. Much of my life has been an example of what not to do, and yet, here I sit basking in the glow and freedom of God’s grace. I’ve come to believe that everything in life is about grace, still I have moments of doubt, both in God and myself…

I, like so many others, was taught to accept articles of my faith tradition without question. That may work for those that need easy, simplistic answers, but it can foster judgement, self-righteousness, and false piety. The fragility of faith without doubt and question was a contributing factor to my long trek away from the God I know today. God invites questioning and doubt. Faith grows in the crucible of doubt. Despite my questions, doubt, and periodic low self-esteem my faith has grown, matured, and transformed into an intimate relationship with the Creator.

I finally accepted questioning and doubt as part of the human condition, especially in these times, and life experience has transformed my belief into faith and faith into trust. God has my best interests at heart even when I doubt and question his course for my life.

God really is control. He cares for me deeply, even when it feels like he’s absent. I’m not immune to grief, sorrow, and disappointment. While there’s no easy answer to these feelings, I find myself guilty of offering trite and somewhat cliché answers to others going through their own periods of such feelings. I don’t intend to, but that still doesn’t mitigate the damage they cause to the one asking the questions. I’m beginning to learn the admonition of Jesus’ saying, “Let your no be no, and your yes be yes”. My dad used to tell me to “say what you mean and mean what you say”. When in doubt the honest answer is always “I don’t know”.

Three little words free me. I’m able to listen, really listen, to others’ views and understandings and even the “still, small voice” of God himself. Moreover, they provide much fodder for further conversation with God. He seems to actually enjoy our conversations. I know I do…

It takes a lot of courage to say, “I don’t know”. It requires putting aside my false pride, false self, and ego. It requires a certain vulnerability not to know the answer, to be judged by others as lacking in some way. Ironically, the more I say, “I don’t know”, the more assured I am of the things I am certain of, the more I become the man I was meant to be. I’m not the best, the smartest, or the wisest, but I am uniquely loved and equipped to be part of the human family.

I don’t know why bad things happen. That’s just how life is. I know when my dad passed away in 2002, and when last year my mom died, I didn’t want to hear how “they’re in a better place”. I wanted them here and now. I didn’t want the clichés and yet, when the shoe was on the other foot, I often responded the same way. I do believe in the “new heavens and new Earth” that God promised, but it does little to comfort me in my grief. I’m sure others feel the same.

Today, I’ll quit offering trivial sentiments to people who are going through hurt, pain, and disappointment. I’ll let them question God just as I often do, and trust that they are in the same process I am. Rather than offer trite slogans and clichés, I’ll simply answer, “I don’t know” and offer my presence and empathy, because we all share the same emotions, the same struggles, and the same questions. Today, I’m okay with “I don’t know…’

Christian Mysticism, Christianity, Chronic Illness, Communication, Dogs, Emotional Health, Faith, Freelancing, Gratitude, Growing Up, Health, Hope, Horses, Listening, Love, Patience, Prayer, Relationships, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Writing

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.

IMG_2039

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…

Chronic Illness, Communication, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Gratitude, Letting Go, Listening, Marriage, Patience, Relationships, Uncategorized, Writing

One Man’s Trash…

It’s a bit warm out here on the porch this morning. We’ve been under an excessive heat warning for the last week and the forecasted high today is 110 degrees. The answer to ‘how are you doing?” is, simply put, HOT. I feel like all I do anymore is complain about the heat. Still, I’m grateful I’m able to get the things done, especially outside, that need to be done despite our heat wave. At least I’m not one of the ambulance statistics I hear on the news each night that has succumbed to the high temperature…

Margaret is doing much better after her procedure last week. I got up and made coffee this morning and she came in the kitchen and made breakfast. That probably doesn’t sound like big deal to most folks, but it is for us. Her mobility has been diminished by the pain in her hips and back and she’s really been struggling the last few weeks with the pain. Prayer, a great pain doctor, and an even greater God has worked wonders. It helps that Margaret is one of the most persistent, patient, and courageous people I know. After five-and-a-half years of marriage I still wonder how I ended up sharing life with such an incredibly wise and wonderful woman. She married me so maybe I need to rethink the ‘wise’ part…

Our normally quiet life has been somewhat upended over the past week. Our granddaughter has been here for the last week, along with our friend who is our ‘adopted’ granddaughter. Our son is moving out of his house and thought he’d have to move in with us, so I’ve been clearing out the third bedroom we use for storage. That may not sound like much, but believe me, it is. There were boxes (and boxes and boxes…) of stuff that haven’t been opened since we moved in five years ago. Once I had almost everything out of the room and started to go through them, he announced that he’d found a house and wouldn’t be moving in after all.

I was relieved he wasn’t moving in. He’s a grown man and needs to be in his own home, for his sake and ours. However, I’ll tell you I was a bit pissed that I’d spent all weekend going through the endless stream of boxes coming from the bedroom. I swear they were reproducing in there. Still, I tackled a project I’d been putting off for the last five years, waiting for my wife’s decisions on what stays and what goes. Because we rarely go in that bedroom there hasn’t been any urgency in getting it done, at least on her part. I get antsy, but, hey, ‘Out of sight, out of mind…’.

The third bedroom has served as a reminder that even though Margaret and I are united in marriage, we still have our unique personalities and sense of self. I am a minimalist in many ways. Margaret is not. While she’s not a hoarder by any stretch of the imagination, she and I differ on keeping things. My approach to stuff is that if it hasn’t been used, worn, or looked at in the last year, it probably needs to find its way to the trash, recycling bin, or be donated – unless it’s tools, music, or books. I’ll give away tools I haven’t used in twenty years only to need one of them the next day. I have a few things that have sentimental value, but for the most part, stuff is an annoyance. Maybe it’s simply a reminder that so much has been lost to my bad decisions and personal demons…

One of my shortcomings is that I tend to organize my surroundings to fix what’s going on internally. Let me get ‘writer’s block’ or become frustrated and I have the most organized and dust-free office you’ve ever seen. I guess keeping a minimal amount of stuff helps me to be more introspective and stay the course, wherever it may lead. She reminds me that even shortcomings can become assets that allow me to grow.

We’ve accomplished a lot this weekend. The trips to the donation station and the stuff on the curb speaks volumes (although my trash service probably wishes we were a little quieter…). There’s still a way to go before we’re finished, but life feels a little less cluttered. We accomplished it together. That’s what’s most important.