Business, Citizenship, Communication, Community, Elders, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Freelancing, Generations, Grandchildren, Gratitude, Growing Up, Honor, Hope, Listening, Neighbors, Opal's Farm, Recovery, Relationships, Spirituality, The Future, The Holidays, Thoughts From the Porch, Writing

Tell Me About the War Daddy…

Thoughts from the Porch: It was a bit chilly on the porch this morning, just enough to make the coffee taste better. The sun is obviously up but the overcast lends some doubt to that fact. The rain is coming once again, according to the weather folks. Although it’s not forecast to last more than a couple of days, heavy rains impede work on the farm. It looks like I’ll be mopping up after the dogs here at home for the next couple of days…

 Margaret reminded me that today is December 7th, theanniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It led to the US entrance into World War Two seventy-seven years ago. Growing up, it was huge part of history classes. Movies celebrating America’s victory over the Axis were common, the age-old tale of good triumphs over evil. Things were more clear cut then. We had a sense of purpose.

I lost an uncle in the European theater and another who served in the Pacific. We all had fathers and uncles who had fought in “the war”. There was no need to refer to it as the Second World War. We knew what war one was talking about.

I’m a Baby Boomer, one of the generation of children born when GIs came back from the war. Over time, our parents came to be known as the“Greatest Generation” – people who had survived the Great Depression and emergedfrom the world’s largest and most deadly conflict as heroes. We all need heroes…

Today, Pearl Harbor day is more significant than past ones. It’s the climax to an eventful week, ever reminding me of time’s passing.

I lost my mother a little over a year ago. My dad and my uncle passed over fifteen years ago. I have one aunt left, my mother’s younger sister, and she’s seventy-nine. I realized that the “Greatest Generation” will soon be gone, and with it, a store of wisdom that has been often forgotten.

 As my generation has grown older, we’ve come to appreciate ourparent’s generation a little more. Perhaps that’s because we’re aging ourselves. Time seems to erase the negative memories and replace them with only happy ones. We become a tad more willing to listen to our elders now that we wish our own children would listen to us. Life has a way of doing that.

 I certainly didn’t want to listen to my parents when I wasyoung. Given the tumultuous earlier years of my generation, I’m confident I’m not the only one. Foolishness and youth tend to go hand in hand. If you had told me that my parents were part of the “Greatest Generation” some thirty years ago, I’d have angrily pointed out all the mess of the sixties and seventies.. They were the problem and wehad the solution.

The last week also marked the passing of President George Herbert Walker Bush at the age of ninety-four. I could go on and on about our political differences and my extreme opposition to his policies. I didn’t respect the man in that sense, but I did respect the values he exuded.To be honest, it’s not the man I mourn, as much as it is the reminder that the “Greatest Generation” is soon to be no more. What I felt this week has been a sadness for those I respected, loved, and lostto the passing of time.

 However, I was able to spend some time this week with anicon of the “Greatest Generation”, Ms. Opal Lee. She’s not only the namesake ofour urban farm. Ms. Opal, at ninety-two, has long been a community activist, teacher, and humanitarian. Her love of others radiates. She’s a wealth of wisdom of the generation I’ve come to respect and love. We attended the Fort Worth Development Group together on Wednesday. It couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.

Wisdom has been the theme of the group for this last quarterof the year. One of our members, Joseph Lockhart, Jr., a business owner and Pastor, spoke on the topic. He reminded us of the value of wise counsel. Ms. Opal’spresence was just that. I was reminded one more time of the experience and thewisdom of those who have walked this journey of life longer than I have.

Things change. That’s the only thing certain in life. I’m not who I was thirty or forty years ago. Nor are my friends. The only constant in life is the wisdom we leave to the next generation. Unfortunately, I often been an example of what not to do. Wisdom doesn’t choose sides. It prefers experience.

 Sometimes I’m not too optimistic about the future. I’m notsure “Baby Boomers” have done such a great job and “Millennials” don’t appear to be great listeners. My pessimism can probably be attributed to getting cranky and overly nostalgic as I get older. I’m sure our parents said the same of us.Kids can be pretty hardheaded. It’s the cycle of life…

 December 7th doesn’t mean as much to our kids andgrandkids as it did to us and our parents. Pearl Harbor Day is quickly becoming just another date in the history books as more of the “Greatest Generation” pass. It serves as a reminder to me how important it is to hand down the lessons learned and the wisdom of our predecessors.

 So, I urge you on this December 7th, in thisholiday season, spend some time with your elders. Listen and glean the wisdom from those that ventured down the path before us. Maybe, just maybe, we get to do the same with our kids and grandkids. Maybe, just maybe, we can be heroes too…

Activism, Citizenship, Climate Change, Community, Consequences, Creation, Environment, Food Deserts, Food Insecurity, Gardening, Non-Profits, Opal's Farm, Public Policy, Seasons, Service Organizations, Simplicity, Stories, The Future, Thoughts From the Porch, Transformation, Unity Unlimited, Inc., Urban Farming, What Can I Do, Writing

#24hoursofreality

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s a bit chilly this morning. We’ve been having below average temperatures all season long. Last Spring, it was above average temperatures. Ask most folks and they’ll tell you that’s just North Texas weather: eighty degrees one day and twenty the next. Weather has always been a wild ride here. That’s just the way it is, right?

 The reality is that our changing weather one of the consequences of global climate change. Stories of extreme weather – devastating storms, overwhelming floods, intense droughts, – fill the news regularly. While a tiny minority denies the science of climate change, most folks agree action must be taken.

Acknowledging and understanding the problem is the first step in leading to the solution. Today is 24 hours of climate reality, a broadcast from aroundthe world about climate change and a good first step. You can tune in via https://www.24hoursofreality.org

Opal’s Farm is one step toward a broader solution. Taking advantage of urban areas to grow food locally doesn’t seem like much in the grand scheme of things. However, gardens and farming by organic methods are one small thing each of us can do to contribute to our planet’s health.

 Taking care of the soil, protecting our watershed fromharmful toxins, and putting carbon back into the soil is a by-product of the fresh produce we grow. We strive to be good stewards of the creation we livein. It may be one small step, a two-acre project, but it provides a model for others.

 We invite you to listen to Climate Reality’s broadcast andto be a part of Opal’s Farm. Be a part of the solution.

Acceptance, Activism, Christianity, Citizenship, Class, Community, Listening, Neighbors, Politics, Public Policy, Service to Others, Texas, Thoughts From the Porch, Uncategorized, Voting, What Can I Do, Writing

Just Vote…

Thoughts From the Porch: Yes, folks. This is another voter turnout post. I’m sure you’ve been bombarded by political ads, voter turnout robocalls, and every conceivable mailer you can imagine, from applauding your voting record to shaming you for apathy. Please bear with me, though. This is an issue close to my heart. It matters!

white and grey voting day sign
Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

I questioned my role in voter participation as a Jesus-follower. I know where my true citizenship is. I may be entitled to U.S. citizenship by virtue of birth, but I follow my Rabbi first and foremost. I realized just how privileged I am to live here, especially in Texas. This is my earthly home, where my friends and family are, and where I’ll more than likely stay until I leave this world. I’m not confused, though. One’s spiritual beliefs are not an excuse for not voting. However, they change my motivation for voting.

The Gospels reflect Jesus’ concern for the neglected and marginalized. He went as far to say that how we treat them is how we treat Him. Pretty powerful words. In an election year that will affect the poor, the elderly, the immigrant, and the disenfranchised, your vote does matter. How you vote is also a reflection of how you see them.

While elections are always about how we see our political leadership, this year is also a reflection of how we see ourselves. What are our values? Are our decisions based on fear, class distinctions, and exclusion or they ones of faith, the common good, and inclusive of all? Everyone will answer those questions for themselves. Elections are important. How we vote matters to us all…

I took advantage of early voting and a rainy Wednesday last week to place my ballot. I was thrilled by the diverse crowd that was there on a Wednesday afternoon. I spent time in prayer and reflection about the matter before me and performed one of the privileges of my physical citizenship. It should be done with reflection.

I’m overjoyed when I hear the reports that voter turnout is exceeding expectations. I’d love for everyone to vote for my choices, but that’s unrealistic. The bottom line is that they were there casting their ballot.

Results will be in Tuesday evening. There will be winners and losers. Some of you will be elated by the results and others frustrated and disappointed. That’s how it works.

My friend Edgar always says, “Chop wood and let the chips fall where they may”. Go out there and vote. The chips will take care of themselves, but you won’t have chips if you don’t chop the wood…

person dropping paper on box
Photo by Element5 Digital on Pexels.com

Christianity, Citizenship, Communication, Consequences, Courage, Culture, Domestic Violence, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Grace, Grief, Jesus, LGBTQ, Listening, Marriage, Recovery, Relationships, Sexual Trauma, Survivors, Thoughts From the Porch, Uncategorized, Wellness, What Can I Do, Writing

I Can’t Remain Silent

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

It’s probably a good thing I’ve been too busy to post anything this week. I’ve struggled over today’s post and it’s been on my mind since last weekend. It’s hard to write and even harder to put it out there on social media and in the blogosphere. You see, as much as I enjoy writing of God’s infinite love, grace, and mercy, there are times when I fall far short in extending the same to others. This is one of those times. Please allow me to explain.

Margaret and I each had grown children when we wed nearly six years ago. Our daughter, who has come out as transgender and changed her name to Gael, moved in with us a couple of years ago so it would be financially easier to complete her college. I only mention her identification as Gael, so you’ll know who I’m talking about. I’m still new to speaking and writing of our kid in the third person, but that’s the accepted means by which to refer to transgender individuals and what they have requested of family and friends. Moreover, I’m not sharing anything that Gael hasn’t already made public their self.

Perhaps because our children were young adults when we married, blending families went a bit smoother for us. Margaret and I have no ‘step’ children, just our kids and grandkids, and we love them to death. So, when Gael asked about moving home to finish school there was no thought of saying no. I’ve become closer to them as a result.

Margaret has been open about Gael having been sexual assaulted by their uncle when they were twelve years old. What I didn’t know until the last couple of years is how deeply that affected them. The confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the highest court in the land after sexual assault accusations probably triggered Gael’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) last weekend. As a result, we had an emotionally volatile weekend. I saw, and see daily, the lingering results of emotional pain caused by perpetrators such as their Uncle Phill. Although he, and people like Mr. Kavanaugh, go on about their lives without a care in the world, victims like Gael and their families live with the consequences of such heinous acts for a lifetime.

Needless to say, I’m angry: so much so that I want to lash out in revenge. I have a special place in my heart for women and children, but especially when it’s my kid. I wasn’t part of the family when it happened, but I am now and I see their lingering pain regularly. I see the tears and pain of remembrance. They, like all survivors, bear the scars of their trauma daily. Their uncle, like so many abusers, has never shown remorse and prefers to sweep it under the rug, ignoring the harm he has caused. Unfortunately, that happens in families and society as a whole. Part of me wants to make sure he pays a consequence, and quite frankly, I’d like to ‘kick his ass’, but that isn’t the answer. My first thoughts about anything like this are usually wrong…

It’s not my place to act as judge, jury, and executioner. God has freely granted me grace and mercy, not justice. I’m so glad I didn’t get what I deserved. So, who am I, having been lifted from the depths of addiction and self-centeredness, to withhold grace and mercy from others? That isn’t how my life works today. Revenge and ill-will only lead to resentment and bitterness, neither of which are appealing to me.

That being said, an acknowledgement of the wrong would allow some healing to take place, and that is what Margaret and I want for our kid. I’ve learned the importance of taking responsibility for my actions, acknowledging the harm done to someone else, and being willing to go to any lengths to make it right. Such an admission made it possible to receive the love, grace, and mercy waiting for me. I have no illusions that it’s not the case for men like their Uncle Phill or Brett Kavanaugh. Ironically, much can be forgiven when the crime is acknowledged. That’s when the healing begins…

So, what am I to do? Three things come to mind. First, I will love my kid through this and, though I wasn’t able to protect them then, I will do my best to protect them now. That means keeping my kid away from their perpetrator even if he shares DNA. That, too, has lasting consequences for others far beyond my kid or their uncle. They affect family get-togethers and holidays. Even when forgiveness is involved, it doesn’t mean forgetting. I will not allow my kid to be victimized over and over, placing them in the same room as their assailant and acting as though it’s all in the past so it’s okay re-traumatizes them.

Secondly, and probably more importantly, I can pray and seek God’s guidance through this whole mess. I truly believe in Jesus’ teaching. When he said that there is a better way than “an eye for an eye”, I believe him. I trust that his is a radically different view of the world than anything I’ve ever seen. It’s uncommon sense that leads me to live and love better, to be a better human being, and to be there for my kids, especially Gael.

Finally, I need to listen. I need to put aside preconceived notions about someone and listen to survivors of sexual trauma. I need to be empathetic and be there. Trevor Noah said that,

“People struggle to understand that two things can be contradictory and true at the same time. You could know somebody as a great person, and they could also be doing something that you don’t know about that makes them someone who you wouldn’t recognize. With Bill Cosby, people were like ‘that’s not the Cosby I know,’ and yeah, it’s not the Cosby you know. Unfortunately, it’s the Cosby somebody else knows.”

Just because somebody puts on a good guy image doesn’t exempt them from scrutiny when accusations are made. The past year and the emergence of the #metoo movement reminds me that ignoring the issue of sexual assault and harassment is to sanction it. To sanction it is to be a part of the problem. Like Dad used to say, “Son, you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution…”

Last weekend, Gael used social media to speak out against her perpetrator. The week before Christine Blasey Ford spoke to the world about her abuser. I applaud their courage and unwillingness to remain silent. Sexual assault, harassment, and, in Gael’s case, the assault of a child, is not a once and done crime. It has long lasting effects that plague survivors, their families, and society as a whole. Thank you Gael for speaking out and being an example. I can no longer be silent either. I hope you, gentle reader, won’t either.

Adoption, Children, Citizenship, Community, Emotional Health, Family, Gratitude, Growing Up, Immigration, Ireland, Letting Go, Love, Patience, Relationships, Simplicity, Texas, Uncategorized, Writing

Bucket lists…

I haven’t posted for the last couple of days. There’s a great deal going on at our household. Mostly, it involves trying to stay cool while getting things accomplished. Our poor air conditioner is having difficulty keeping up with the heat wave we’re experiencing and I feel a bit wind-blown from all the fans in our house.

Even with the triple-digit heat, the porch has provided some respite from the heat in the early mornings. I was able to enjoy conversation and coffee with Margaret for quite a while before the perspiration beading up on our foreheads said it was time to go in. Our conversation wandered around for a bit, talking about our kids, with their unique (and sometimes frustrating) personalities and what the future holds in store. I shared a blog from another writer in Northern Ireland and the pictures he posted from Belfast this morning. I’ve had a trip to Ireland at the top of my ‘bucket list’ for many, many years. His post this morning stoked that fire once again.

I’m not a ‘travel’ kind of guy. I’m quite content to live vicariously through the photos my friends post of their travels and prefer to stay close to home. Besides, I could spend a lifetime traveling around Texas and never see the same thing twice. Aside from the mountains in Colorado, I haven’t gotten around to very many other places. Still, I would travel to Ireland in a heartbeat.

The first time I entered a drug and alcohol rehab hospital I went through an assessment with the doctor on staff. He asked me if there was any history of alcoholism or addiction in my family. I told him that I came from a very conservative Christian home and even my great-grandfather was a circuit preacher in Texas, so I didn’t think so. I wasn’t sure it made any difference anyway since I was adopted. All I know about my birth parents is that I’m Irish. Without missing a beat, the doctor looked at me and said he’d just answer yes to the history question. I’m not sure how I felt about that, except it seems awfully stereotypical and extremely politically incorrect…

I’ve often thought about trying to locate my birth mother. I’d love to know something of my ancestry, as well as the family medical history. Now that I’m pushing sixty it’s growing unlikely that it will happen. Sometimes though, I wonder if I have half-siblings out there. I guess a lot of adopted kids from ‘closed’ adoptions have the same questions. I have an adopted cousin who found her birth mother and discovered she had nine brothers and sisters! It makes me wonder…

My mother and I were driving down from Fairplay, Colorado and out of the blue, she asked me if I’d ever thought of finding my birth mother. Although I was a grown man, I was a little freaked-out by the question. It was something that had never been discussed at home. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings because she was my mother, regardless of who gave me birth. Finding my biological parent wouldn’t change that. As I paused, she immediately followed up with, “Why haven’t you? I would.”

I remember telling her that it just wasn’t a big deal to me. I may have meant it at the time but that’s not an honest answer today. The reality is that I don’t want to be disappointed. Somewhere deep inside, that feeling of abandonment that has always been present comes u8p every time I think about trying to get court records unsealed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m eternally grateful to the mother with whom I share DNA. I know somethings about her from the profile my parents gave me when I turned twenty-one. I know that she was only sixteen. In the pre-Roe v. Wade years of the Eisenhower Administration, young women who were ‘in a family way’ were often shuttled off somewhere else to avoid familial embarrassment, to have their baby, and give it up for adoption. I know it had to be difficult for her. I often wonder whether she was forced by her parents to give me up. I prefer to think of her as courageous and wise; that she made the decision to adopt out of concern for my welfare. If I can’t ever ask her that question, I never have to believe otherwise…

If I were to meet her I’d like to tell her thank you for giving me up to such a loving home. My adoptive parents wanted a child desperately and I was loved by the very best. Dad always told me that everyone else had to “take what they were given, but that I was handpicked and specially chosen” to be their son. I came to know what they meant when they brought my little sister home six years later. She’s quite the women, my sister. I’ve led a charmed life, despite my adult struggles, and I couldn’t ask for anything better. I can’t tell you how grateful I am. God is so good…

The only negative I can find in the Joel family tree is that they are English. I have a friend who reminds me that “at least they weren’t French”, but he’s British and that’s another story. I truly would like to know about where I come from and how I ended up in Fort Worth, Texas. According to immigration records, most Irish immigrants in the 19th century came through the Port of New Orleans. What we know of the defenders of the  Alamo, the holy shrine of Texas Independence, is that most who sacrificed their lives were Irish and Scottish immigrants. I wonder when, and if, that was the case for my ancestors. Do I have an extended family I don’t know about? Do I need to know, for that matter? Who knows? Maybe there’s a genetic longing taking place…

I guess I’ll just have to keep saving until I can cross Ireland off my ‘Bucket List”…

 

Activism, Christianity, Citizenship, Faith, Family, Freedom, Gratitude, Hope, Immigration, Neighbors, Prayer, Relationships, Simplicity, Spirituality

Freedom Party

The easterly winds gusted through here last night and left a bunch of fallen limbs throughout the yard. They dropped the temperature by a few degrees, even if it only fell into the eighties. This time of year, it’s much the same. It’s just plain hot, so I’m relishing in the cooler morning. I couldn’t help but notice that the Northeast is under a heat advisory since they’ll be above ninety degrees for seven days in a row. Even though heat advisories are no laughing matter, I still chuckle a bit. I guess it’s like when they laugh at us for closing school because we received a dusting of snow…

Like many of you, I’ve been watching the unfolding story of immigrant families on the border. News reports come out everyday that always seem to reflect the inhumane and confusing treatment of the people there. There were marches and protests in all fifty states over the weekend. The only positive thing I can find in all this mess is that people finally said ‘enough’ and took some action. It galvanized the public in a time of extreme divisiveness. At least we can agree on how human beings should be treated. How long it will be sustained is anyone’s guess. I hope it won’t fade away quietly when the media finds new sensational headlines.

Over the last few weeks, my time on the porch always seems to come back to the questions of ‘who are we’ and what is ‘patriotism’? I ran across a recent Gallup poll that reported only 47% of Americans feel ‘extremely proud’ of being American. That’s the first time that it’s no longer a majority since Gallup began asking the question some eighteen years ago. In looking at the polling, it seems that it’s been in a sharper decline since Trump was elected. I can understand that. I’m embarrassed at times, too…

One of my favorite recording artists is Jackson Browne. There’s a song on his 1989 release, World In Motion titled “I Am a Patriot”, and the bridge of the song sums up my ‘patriotism’, given this week’s Fourth of July holiday:

“And I ain’t no communist

And I ain’t no capitalist

And I ain’t no socialist

 

And I ain’t no democrat

And I ain’t no republican

I only know one party

And it is freedom

 

I am, I am, I am

I am a patriot

And I love my country”

Because my country is all I know”

 

‘Patriot’ is not a label many of my more conservative friends would assign to me. I’m okay with that because I believe my true citizenship transcends man-made boundaries. Yet, on this Fourth of July holiday, I feel a little patriotic when I see the polling numbers about civil embarrassment and the thousands of people that marched this weekend in support of keeping immigrant families together. Maybe others are questioning ‘who we are’, as well. I hope so.

To all of my American friends I wish you a Happy and safe Independence Day holiday.  Enjoy your day off with family and friends, eat lots of hamburgers, and enjoy the fireworks. To the rest of my friends around the world – I am truly embarrassed. Be patient with us. We’re still under construction…