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Change is Possible

I’m home this morning. I went for my check up yesterday. While everything went well – I’m blessed with good health – I received my third COVID vaccine, my shingles vaccine, and my flu shot. I made it through the first two COVID vaccine, but that’s not the case with this one       I’m feeling it a bit this morning so here I sit. Much has run through my mind the last few days, so I’ll take a moment to share some things with you.

I haven’t been able to do that very often – Opal’s Farm has had a busy Fall. Add to that my fantastic Thanksgiving week with my newfound family in Kentucky and I’m swamped with work. Writing, whether it’s read or not, is one of the greatest joys in my life. Every now and then God says slow down, rest, and write. Enjoy the morning. Today I may be feverish with the chills but I feel intense gratitude for my life, my family, and my friends.

I celebrated sixteen years clean on December 1st – my rebirthday. I had a friend who always said we were such blessed people to live two lives in one lifetime. Looking back, I can appreciate that statement more than ever.

My story isn’t that much different from any other recovering person. I spent a long time believing the lie that I could successfully drink and drug while living a life for everyone else. I fell deeper into the hole I was digging until there was no way to climb out. I’ve heard it said by those in recovery that God provides the ladder. Quite frankly, if He did I didn’t even have the strength to climb it. As I look back today, I can see that a loving God reached down and lifted me to freedom. The life I have today is simply grace and mercy from a God that loves His kids fiercely.

This time of year is always a time of reflection for me – probably even more so this year. I got a call earlier in the Fall from the folks organizing the Annual Erma C Johnson Hadley Awards Dinner. Ms. Hadley was the first women and first African American to serve as Chancellor of Tarrant County College and brought the college to one of the premier county colleges in the nation. She was a trailblazer and fine educator. The dinner is held annually in her honor since she passed away.

I thought they were calling for volunteers – I had worked one pre-COVID – but Dr. Jackson informed me that I was receiving the Community Leader award and she needed a short bio and headshot for the program. I was overwhelmed. How could this happen to me. I called my dear friend Edgar and all I could ask was why. Do they have any idea who they’re talking to? Don’t they know I’m simply a farmer?

Edgar reminded me that I need to share that. I’m nothing special. I grow food for people and help marginalized neighborhoods. I try to honor my calling in very simple ways. Who I was before December 1st, 2005 is not who I am today. My relationship with God has brought about a radical transformation. His will was my own true will for myself all along. He lovingly and patiently waited until I was ready to surrender to Him.

I only bring this up as a reminder to myself and others that one’s past doesn’t dictate one’s future. My addiction defined who I was some sixteen years ago. God defines who I am today. I simply had to let it. From an ex-felon and drug addict to a community leadership. Hmm. Change is possible…

“That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good” Paul’s letter to the Romans 8.28

Connection, Dogs, Emotional Health, Family, Gifts, Grief, Love, Pets, Rescue Animals, Thoughts From the Porch, Writing

Remembering Maggie

“I want to be the man my dog thinks I am” – Anonymous

I’m not sure how much more I can take. My “Coyotahoula”, Maggie, laid by my side as she breathed her last this morning. She wasn’t feeling well this weekend. She didn’t even come when the microwave beeper went off Saturday, so I knew she was under the weather. She spent Sunday evening curled up next to me at my desk. I thought I’d best take her to the veterinarian on Monday, but she couldn’t wait. She came by my side as I drank my morning coffee and never left. I knew. I laid down on the floor next to her and loved on her as she slowly passed on.

I’ve spent most of the day sad and exhausted. I buried her in the garden near her favorite spot. It probably violates some city code but quite frankly, I don’t care. This is where she belongs. If you’re not a dog person this probably doesn’t seem like a big deal – hey, it’s just a dog – but if you are you know the deep sense of loss that comes with losing your best friend.

We have two other dogs, Jameson (the Opal’s Farm dog!) and Sadie. They know Maggie’s gone. Sadie didn’t even bark at the lawn mower as I rolled it to the front yard. Maggie wasn’t there to bark with her. Some say we anthropomorphize our dogs. Animals are somehow absent human feelings. I’ve watched them all day and seen their sadness and grief and it’s as real as mine. I’m sure that there’s a reason “dog” is “God” spelled backwards.

Maggie keeping an eye on things…

All our dogs are rescues. Maggie was not even weaned when the previous owners took her mother and siblings to the shelter. We managed to rescue Maggie from the pound. Maggie was half coyote and half Catahoula. Her fate was in doubt at the shelter as a hybrid canine. We bottle fed her until she could do solid food. In fact, that’s how she got her name. She would suck on the bottle like Maggie on The Simpsons – the rest is history.

One month old!

Maggie made it quite clear that she was my dog. She was always quite the “daddy’s girl” and intensely jealous of the other two receiving any of my attention without first loving on her. She could sense a peanut jar opening from three rooms away and knew the I would always save a bite for her.

I could go on and on about Maggie. Pet parents know what I mean. I’m embarrassed to admit that I have as many, if not more, pictures of Maggie than I do my grandkids. Maggie, Jameson, and Sadie became our kids. Dogs are family and spoiled family members at that!

Maggie’s passing brought up all the loss of the last year-and-a-half, especially when it comes to my son Jeremy. He used to tease me all the time about how he was going to steal Maggie. He constantly tried to get me to let him have her. I’m not surprised. Maggie and Jeremy had a lot in common.

In fact, Maggie was my “Jeremy”. She had the same streak of wildness and freedom that Jeremy had ever since he was a baby. She was often too smart for her own good just as he was. She was independent, stubborn, and as sweet as he was. I think she made his passing a bit more tolerable. She always reminded me of him. I’d like to think they’re running around together today…

Today I lost my dog. It’s another reminder of the continual losses since this pandemic began – even when COVID isn’t responsible. I’ve lost my son, my best friend, and other folks that I miss daily. I guess Maggie brought it all to a head. Grief is a bitch…

Adoption, Connection, Emotional Health, Events, Faith, Family, Generations, Gifts, Gratitude, History, Kentucky, Relationships, Stories, Texas, Thoughts From the Porch, Writing

Home At Last

We drove all night last Monday evening – or rather, my son Adrian drove all night. I sat in the passenger seat trying to process the events of the previous three days…

I’ve shared with you, gentle readers, that I’m adopted and after sixty-three years I found my birth mother. Last Saturday, Adrian and I went to Kentucky for a couple of days to meet her and my brothers and sisters (Mom says we don’t have “half” siblings, just family…).

I’ve spent this week reflecting on our visit. In a four-day trip my life came full circle. Everything makes sense. I call my birth mother “Mom”. It felt weird calling her by her name. “Mom” naturally rolls of my lips and Mom she is. I’m not confused by this. I’m doubly blessed to have two amazing mothers.

Adrian, Mom, and I

My mom was at the front door before I even got out of the truck last Saturday evening. I don’t know who smiled bigger – Mom or me. We hugged tightly for a long time, as though we had to make up for the years that had passed us by. She held me back and said, “I thought I’d seen a ghost. You look exactly like your Uncle David. You even walk like him”. No one has ever told me I have a family resemblance to anyone. That’s one thing adopted kids rarely hear. It was proverbial “music to my ears”.

My brother, Danny, lives with Mom and I met him right away. If families have “chemistry” then ours was strong. I watched Danny all weekend. The way he takes care of Mom is wonderous. His gentle spirit is what I always wanted in a little brother.

My sister, Dana

My sister, Dana, came by shortly after we got there. We had texted each other that we were both looking forward to meeting in person, but that it’s a little weird meeting your sixty-three-year-old sibling for the first time. I can’t speak for my sister, but any discomfort faded immediately. I belonged…

Belonging was always an abstract concept for me. I was as much a part of the Joel family as one could dream. My parents and Grandmother Joel made sure of that. Still, there was always that lingering question – “Where do I really come from?”

It hit home when I was tracing the Joel family tree on a well-known genealogical website. No matter how much I want to belong or how proud I am of my Joel family tree, the lineage isn’t truly mine. It in no way means I don’t take pride in the Joel history. In fact, I’m surprised by how many times it overlaps with my birth family.

The family all came together on Sunday for lunch at Mom’s house. My youngest sister, Anne, sat down at the kitchen table with us and promptly announced she had looked me up on the internet. I think I passed muster. One never knows what the internet has to say. Thankfully it wasn’t a mugshot that came up!

My brothers, Mark and Danny

Brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and their kids filled the house. I stopped many times during the day to simply be amazed by the chorus of voices and endless activity around me. Family spoke loudly and Mom was the matriarch. Repeatedly I heard, “I wish you could have been here when…” I’m still feeling elation at being part of this family, albeit a recently recognized addition.

My sisters, Anne and Becky I have a beautiful family!

My brother-in-law took Adrian and I on a tour of town and our family farm. He’s a history buff like me and every place we stopped, I learned more and more of my family’s long history in Logan County. So much so that I still can’t completely process it all. The family has been there a long time and shares a multitude of cousins in Texas as well. The farm has stood since 1804. I know who my ancestors are. It’s a dream come true.

I’ve thought a great deal about the whole “nature versus nurture” argument this week. I’ve concluded that, for me at least, nature plays a huge role in growing up. There were always little things that couldn’t be explained in my life – missing pieces of a big puzzle, things that I knew and had no reason to know. There are simply some things in life that are handed down through DNA: no other explanation is possible.

My siblings all returned to Mom’s house Monday to say goodbye. This was a short, but necessary trip. Opal’s Farm was anxiously awaiting my return to Texas. It was hard to say goodbye after the last two days. I had sixty-three years of life to catch up on. To do so in a weekend was impossible.

Pictures were taken, numbers and hugs exchanged. One by one, my brothers and sisters left for their respective homes. It was time to go, but I wanted to stay just a bit longer. Adrian and I had a long drive ahead of us and time was growing short.

Mom and I hugged for what seemed like hours. Neither wanted to let go of the other. I got in the truck and watched her as we pulled out of the driveway and drove away. Part of me would love to come home, load up Margaret and a moving van, and head for Kentucky. The other part, and somewhat more rational one, tells me that Opal’s Farm is waiting, and God has important work to do in Fort Worth, Texas. Besides, Mom would want me here doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m sure I just need to take more vacations…

The drive home was marked by sporadic conversation and total silence: partly because of driving through the night, but mainly because there were so many emotions to process – both for Adrian and me. I called Mom to let her know we’d arrived home safely. The overall consensus among my brothers and sisters was that we are family. I couldn’t imagine anything better.

Adoption, Connection, Faith, Family, Generations, History, Hope, Monday Mornings, Parents, Relationships, Spirituality

My Old Kentucky Home

(Disclaimer – I do not speak for all adopted folks. I need to make that clear from the start. The process of adoption was much different in 1958 than it is today. I don’t ever recall hearing about “open” adoptions with other adopted people my age. Everything was “closed” – court records, original birth certificates, anything that might indicate who the birth parents were. Adopted kids had little to no information to go on when it came to the birth parents.)

Photo by Amy Reed on Unsplash

I recently wrote about finding my birth mother after sixty-three years. I haven’t named locations, names, or siblings out of respect for family privacy. No one ever knew of her first pregnancy, and I waited to share the details until she said it was okay for me to do so. That changed a week ago. She had lunch with some of my siblings on Friday. She wanted them to know about me.

I was on the tractor Friday morning and just happened to idle down so I could talk to one of Opal’s volunteers. I heard the phone rang. It was a Kentucky number with no ID. I thought it might be my insurance company since they’re in Kentucky, so I answered. “This is Greg. May I help you?”

“Hello, this is your sister Dana. Mom told us about you, and we can’t wait to meet you” (I now have two sisters named Dana). An explosion of joy burst in my gut. We’ve spoken, texted, and messaged several times since.

I found out I have two brothers and three sisters. My youngest brother, Danny, sent me a message Saturday morning telling me how excited he was to have an older brother and to come be part of my family in Kentucky.

I’ve learned so many things that overlap my birth and adopted families. In fact, it’s almost a little eerie when I think about it. My sister and her husband farmed until her husband couldn’t anymore. My other sister, Becky, writes for the local paper and has the old family farm place.

I won’t take up your time, gentle reader, with all the stories and conversations that have taken place in the last couple of days. It’s been a lot for me to process and I’m not sure I could anyway. My wife, Margaret, and I were sitting out on the front porch last night enjoying a quiet summer evening. She told me how happy she was for me. I feel a bit of guilt though. She would love to see the child she had to give up for adoption so many years ago.

Like my own mother, she thought that would never happen. I recently purchased a DNA test for her so maybe, just maybe…

Margaret asked me how I feel about this blessing. I had to pause. I fell silent for a couple of minutes. Finally, I had to admit that I was at a complete loss for words. It’s something I can’t explain. It’s as though my life finally came together. The pieces of the puzzle fell into place, and life makes sense.

I could never have asked for a better family than my adopted parents and sister. I loved my parents (both are gone now) more than I can say. My sister, Dana, is and will always be my sister. I was so grateful when my birth mother asked if I had a good life. The answer was an emphatic yes. Far more than I deserve I can assure you.

My parents may have let me know how special I was to them, but the rest of the world doesn’t usually think so. I once asked my maternal grandmother why she treated my cousins so much better than me. She promptly, with bitterness in her voice, informed me that they were blood, and I was not.

(Aside – I found out in my adult years that Mom had once told her that our family would no longer attend family functions if I wasn’t accepted as their son. Thanks Mom!)

I always thought being adopted was special so most of my peers knew it. I remember having an argument with another kid back in elementary school. I don’t recall why we were arguing but the words “at least my mother wanted me” haunted me for years. Kids say the cruelest things…

I began to make up stories about where I came from. Imagination is the answer to not knowing. I could be whoever you wanted me to be. Fear of rejection or abandonment led to a chameleon approach to living and the addiction and co-dependency that often accompanied it. It took recovery and a loving God many years to deconstruct the lies I told to and about myself. But that’s another story…

Words fall short of explaining the emotions going on. This search could’ve gone in an entirely different direction – one leading to the fear I’ve spent so long overcoming. I’m more comfortable with facts and actions than I am words and feelings. So, I’ll be leaving for Kentucky in the next couple of weeks. The journey continues…

Photo by Joshua Michaels on Unsplash