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Sabbath Rest?

I grew up in a religious home just like many others. My family attended church the prerequisite three times a week for “salvation” – Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday evening. Sunday nights were rarely fun for me. Service started at the same time as “The Wonderful World of Disney”. If my parents took us to dinner with their friends afterwards then count on missing “Bonanza” too. I seemed to get sick a lot on Sunday evenings. I could even “will” myself to have a low-grade fever just so I wouldn’t miss the Sunday night TV lineup. Seriously, I learned how to drive my body temperature up just enough that Mom would stay home from church with me. I found out later they call it biofeedback…

Although I always had to sit through a service designed to create a Hyperactive Attention Deficit Disorder in children, I liked Sunday morning “Sunday School” before the worship service and Wednesday night Bible Class. It was a chance to be with my friends and there were great activities to learn all the old Bible stories. Being “Bible believing” Church of Christ members, each of stories were taught as indisputable historical truth and the Bible was how God spoke period! Such teaching became Christian “evidence” by the time I reached my teenage years so that I could certainly argue with any sane, scientific, rational person out there…

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I don’t see my faith, or the Bible, the same way today. In fact, some of the things I learned were a detriment, causing all kinds of shame and self-hate. Grace was some abstract theological term that really didn’t apply to me. If personal piety is a prerequisite for heavenly salvation, then I’m so screwed. Still, I’m grateful that Mom and Dad “raised me right”, as we say in Texas. Those stories laid the foundation for the relationship I have with God today. Grace has brought healing to my human brokenness and gratitude sustains me as I walk through life today.

Just so you know… God didn’t go silent after the Bible was finished and canonized by the state church at the Council of Nicaea. He actually speaks quite regularly if I (and we) take time to listen. He still needs shout with an occasional head slap at times to get my attention, but I’m much better at hearing him than I used to be. Let me give you a recent example…

Opal’s Farm is growing (both literally and figuratively) by leaps and bounds this year. Our new partnership with Tarleton State University, the “Time Served is Not Time Wasted” program, our SSARE (part of USDA) Research Grant with TCU, serving as the flagship for urban farming here in Fort Worth, and having both an Assistant Farm Manager and part-time farm apprentice have opened new opportunities to grow as an organization and serve our community better. It’s an exciting and busy time. In addition, continuing education and serving on a couple of local committees rapidly overfills the days. I, and my Assistant Farm Manager put in many hours trying to make things happen.

However, in the midst of this work, I made a point to save more time for reading and continuing education on a personal level. I read a lot – whether it be books, fellow bloggers, or newsletters – and I began to notice a pattern slowly emerging in each of them. The words Sabbath rest repeated regularly; especially as I became more tired and honestly, cantankerous. I began to lose patience with those closest to me and became constantly restless, irritable, and discontented. Even my reading dropped off. Who has time to read AND comprehend? All the while the pattern of Sabbath rest became louder and stronger. I had too much to do to rest. I’ve always known the importance of Sabbath rest. It’s in the creation story and it’s one of the Ten Commandments. I’ve simply been extremely lax in practicing it.

In Genesis 2.2-4, it tells us that after six days of creation, God finished His work and rested from all His work. As The Message translation puts it, “God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day because on that day He rested from His work, all the creating he had done.” Later, in the Book of Exodus, at Mt. Sinai, God speaks what we call The Ten Commandments, or The Decalogue, and states that His people are to “Observe the Sabbath, and keep it holy”. He goes on to restate that even he rested on the seventh day after creating the Earth.

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I never took those words at face value, but the final straw caught up to me in the form of a republished Walter Bruggeman’s “Deliver Us”. I won’t take this opportunity to expound on the text, but it caused me to see how I become a self-made slave when I forget that God is one of abundance and not scarcity that drives me (and us) to constantly seek enough.   

I learned many years ago that God is “enough”. My problem though, as my friend Jim told me, is “not that I’m a slow learner, its that I’m a fast forgetter”. I subtly fall into an endless chase for “enough” – enough finances, enough savings, – and “more” – more people helped, more work at Opal’s Farm, more of (fill in the blank). It’s no wonder I become restless, irritable, and discontented…

The problem is that when you know, you know, or as my mentor would say, “Once you’re aware you can’t become unaware. I know that God is enough, and it’s been proven in my life time after time. God has spoken quite clearly. If He needs to rest maybe I should follow his lead. Maybe I should take a Sabbath rest. Maybe I need a Holy day to stop, see where I’m at, and rest in his presence. Maybe we all do…

I decided that Amber and I, as the two full-time employees at the farm, were no longer going to work seven days a week as we often do. We are going to take a “Sabbath”, not literally mind you (it doesn’t have to be the “seventh” day), but a day off where the farm is somewhere else, and we can rest and “re-create” to do what we love in the coming days with new energy and possibility.

It’s not easy. I’m sitting at my desk, writing this, and constantly reminding myself that Opal’s Farm is in good hands and fighting the urge to go and “just see how things are going”. Farming is a full-time job. New seed needs water and new beds must be ready for the rest of Spring planting. Bad weather slowed everything down through the Fall and early winter. Now unusually mild and dry weather has required daily irrigation. Volunteers are scheduled to be there on the weekends. Someone needs to be there, right?

Someone is! We’ve worked out a schedule that allows one of us to be there each day, but we each have our figurative Sabbath. Just as importantly, we each have days we can work alone. We’re both introverts by nature and need some “me” time away from other people.

I intend to stay home today and relish the day I’ve been given. I already feel better. I didn’t set the alarm clock and slept until 7:30! Sabbath rest is also about liberation. Liberation from a system of scarcity, of oppression (and depression) and basking in the freedom of “enough”.

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Christmas Feelings and Wishes

The sun is shining brightly reminding us that warmth is on its way after the brutal Arctic front plunged the thermometer for the last couple of days. We took the holidays off from Cowtown Farmers Market for the holidays so we could spend time with family and friends. The fifty-mile-an-hour wind that accompanied the freezing temperatures may have caused a longer absence from market – the low tunnels and bed coverings couldn’t stand up to the wind – but we won’t know the full extent of the damage until next week. At least we haven’t lost power and haven’t had to sleep with four big dogs and in insulated coveralls to stay warm!

I haven’t been able to muster a whole lot of Christmas spirit this year. Grief comes exceptionally strong this time of year – Jeremy was born on Christmas Day – and I associate the holidays with loss. I had planned to go to Kentucky to spend Christmas with Momma and the weather quashed that plan. Upon awakening this morning, I summoned all my energy to fight pulling the covers over my head and sleeping (or at least feigning sleep) until December 26th. I got up, brushed my teeth, and made coffee. I made breakfast for my wife and sat down and stared at the computer screen for a long while.

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There are some things I’ve learned about grief, mainly that it never goes away. The stretch of good days begins to become longer with time, but grief will rear its ugly head at the most inconvenient of times – a song, a scene in a movie, the holidays – the list goes on. This year it began early with an art show that was a tribute to Jeremy. Then came Thanksgiving and now Christmas.

Grief may never go away but difficult moments always pass. It will always go to sleep or at least retreat for a time. The retreats last longer than they did after Jeremy died. Greif may be overwhelming at times, but life still goes on. It only feels all consuming. I must no longer let feelings run my life, but I do have to feel them.

As I sat staring at the computer this morning it dawned on me that my grief has consequences not only for me but those close to me as well. I may not want to do Christmas, but my family does. Christmas is Margaret’s favorite holiday. I used to get the tree and Christmas decorations out early so she could wrap the house in decorations and Christmas spirit. Then her mobility became so limited. This year it fell on me to get everything out of the attic which I managed to put off until last week. My step kid was going to do the decorating, but it kept getting put off until finally my wife told me last night that I should put everything back in the attic. “Nobody else thought Christmas was important.” She didn’t say it with malice or sarcasm, but I could feel her disappointment.

So… I’m only going to sit here long enough to tell you that I’m off to set up the Christmas tree and decorate our home for tomorrow.

I want to wish each and every one of you a blessed and Merry Christmas. If you’re having a hard time with the holidays as so many do, please know that you’re not alone. My prayers go out to those for whom Christmas is a reminder of loss and pain. If you’re having a really tough time, I suggest what my friend Jim told me long ago, “If you’re wrapped up in your painful feelings, then go help someone else.” That’s what I’m going to do today. It’s always worked well in the past…

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Jeremy and I

I got up early this morning to study for the final in a course I’m taking in Indigenous Religion and Ecology. Unfortunately, the coffee hadn’t kicked in and I fell down a rabbit hole and cleaned up my personal email instead. I apparently stopped doing so on May 29, 2020 – the day my son Jeremy died. Life seemed to take a different path after that day.

I wrote about the grief and the loss for a few weeks after he died. My public blog became my personal journal in the hope it would be cathartic for me and somewhat hopeful that it would shorten, or at least make bearable, the grief process. It didn’t. It simply became easier to write about Opal’s Farm and passing on quotes I came across that meant something to me than to speak of the pain of grief.

So, I’ve been silent the last few weeks unless it’s about Opal’s Farm. Spring planting has taken up most of my time. It’s hard to stay on top of all the great things happening at the farm – and there are some fantastic things happening there this Spring. I’m grateful for all of it. I wish I had more hours in the day so I could tell you all about it, but I don’t so I do the best I can business-wise.

When it came to writing anything else I found myself relying on the old “writer’s block” excuse -and that’s just what it was – an excuse. The reality is grief has reared its ugly head and clouded my thinking for some time now. It started around Christmas – that’s my deceased son’s birthday – and hasn’t let up.

I told my wife that I may need to finally see a grief therapist. This was becoming somewhat debilitating, but I didn’t want to spend a hundred dollars an hour for someone to tell me grief and loss sucks. I get it.

I also get that people don’t want to hear about my loss anymore whatever their reason may be.

Grief is incredibly isolating. People who haven’t lost a child don’t get it. They may have the best of intentions, or they may think it’s time (it’s been a year-and-a-half) to just “get over it” and move on. I understand. I’m ashamed to admit it but I’ve treated others the same way. Not because I want to but because of the discomfort, and often fear, I feel being around grief. We all do it…

This morning I read once again all the emails and articles written about Jeremy after his passing. He was loved by many. Although his talent as an artist lives on through his body of work, I find myself wondering if at best, he’s thought of from time, and at worst, if he’s been forgotten – everyone’s moved on. COVID robbed us of the celebration of life he wanted should he pass. We honored one of his requests at the small family homegoing we had for him – we had honey buns but couldn’t have a taco truck. I’m still waiting on that one.

Several years ago, Jeremy and I were headed out to a remodeling job we were doing. I miss our time in the truck together – the conversations, the laughter – although I must admit that working with Jeremy was rarely easy. We’re both pretty set in our ways! Still, we had a lot to laugh about. He told me that we should write a book together. I asked him why he thought that. His reply still haunts me today – “We could write about you and me. It’d be so crazy no one would believe it. We’d make the non-fiction bestseller’s list.” I can’t argue with that…

Jeremy 2019

There were several things that Jeremy wanted from me that I just never got around to while he was here. Some of them I’ve done, some I haven’t yet. He always wanted me to find my birth parents. He loved my adopted parents, especially my dad, but he always wondered about who were really were – where and who did we come from. I found that out last year when I met my birth mother – his grandmother – and learned so much of our family history. When I go to Kentucky in May I’ll be taking some of his ashes to lay at the family cemetery on the family farm we will be having our reunion at. My brother’s sons look so much like Adrian and Jeremy. Part of Jeremy belongs there too.

I’ve also begun the book he always wanted. I realized that Jeremy had a private persona and a public one as an artist. While most people know Jeremy the artist, few know Jeremy the man. It’s time for a broader (and crazier) picture of he and I both.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress and maybe post a chapter here and there. I don’t know if it will be a bestseller. In fact, I don’t even know if you’ll read it. I do know that what will happen will happen and maybe his loss and the pain I feel will mean something to me and the healing will begin…

This song plays almost everyday on my streaming station. It has become my song for Jeremy.
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Not Today…

Today was supposed to be the big day for my wife, Margaret. She’s dealt with severe, chronic pain in her neck and her back for quite some time. Her long awaited surgery to relieve some of the pain was supposed to take place today, but COVID reared its ugly head and has put it off once again. We got the call late last night that her pre-surgery COVID test had come back positive, and the surgery would have to be rescheduled.

This was a devasting blow to us both. The surgery was scheduled in September of last year – that’s how long it took to schedule a surgical suite. COVID pushed many “elective” surgeries off schedule – just because it isn’t life threatening means it’s elective. “Elective” loses its meaning when it comes to living in constant pain and drastically limited mobility. There’s no telling how long this will take to reschedule.

We had both prepared ourselves emotionally and physically for this surgery. All the pre-op steps were followed and now plans are again on hold. Any time we’re talking about an 8-10-hour surgery there’s some degree of emotional preparedness. It’s scary and stressful even though the hoped-for results are beneficial. All Margaret could do was cry when the call came last night.

We are mightily disappointed, but our faith has made this somewhat easier to bear. God’s timing is always perfect. We know that, but it doesn’t take away the frustration and stress the situation creates. The sad thing about all of this is that Margaret and I are fully vaccinated and boosted. I’ve tested a couple of times in the few weeks leading up to the 1st just in case. We’ve been extremely careful to wear masks and maintain social distancing. Unfortunately, we live in a place where very few people follow the CDC safety protocols maintaining that it’s their “right” to be inconsiderate of others.

I suppose that’s why I feel so angry right now – so much of the death and misery of COVID could have been prevented. Margaret could be on her way back to pain relief if simple measures could’ve been taken by us all. Vaccination, masking, and social distancing should never have been a “rights” issue. It should have never been a political issue. It should have always been a public health problem addressed by scientific fact and more than anything else, should have been a cooperative effort by our community to save lives and save us from the tyranny of the pandemic. Knowing this could have been prevented but there are those who think it’s their “right” to be selfish fools and refuse common sense and care for others infuriates me – especially when they choose to wear the moniker of Christian.

“Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of status no matter what. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and the died a selfless, obedient death – and the worst kind of death at that – a crucifixion.” Phillipians 2.5-8 (The Message)

What you do today doesn’t only affect you…

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Don’t Be an A-hole

It’s cold in my office today. I left the bar up on the patio door and Sadie, our lovable, sweet dog, decided something was important enough to warrant exterior investigation. She’s incredibly bright. She can open the door if she bends her paw just right. Unfortunately, she hasn’t figured out how to close it. The door was open this morning. The overnight low was twenty-one degrees. The coffee is appreciated more than ever…

I figured I’d warm up the fingers by writing an update on what’s happening at the Joel household I finally received my COVID test results back and they were negative. I figured they would be but it’s possible to be asymptomatic and still pass it on to others. My wife is having major surgery on February 1st, so I’ve been extra careful to avoid bringing COVID home. It took almost five months to get an open surgical room. COVID would put it off again and we definitely don’t want that.

My work is not just the food. It’s ultimately about unity between all people regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual preference, gender identity, and abilities. So, I’ve weighed heavily on writing something that’s divisive. The whole of our culture is divided right now. The last thing everyone needs is another divisive rant. Sometimes loving others requires saying what needs to be heard. Even Jesus got pissed-off about the moneychangers in the Temple.

I’d like to think I’m accepting (albeit begrudgingly at times) of everyone, but that would be a lie. Lately, even begrudgingly doesn’t work anymore. Case in point: Margaret and I have had all our COVID vaccinations, I always wear a mask, and maintain social distance when I do have to go into a store (usually Home Depot – it’s been my toy store for years…). We try to do all the things recommended by doctors and epidemiologists to stop the spread of COVID – for both ourselves and others in particular.

Last night I had to go in to pick up a dinner order that we’d ordered for carry-out. It wasn’t ready and I had to wait. An unmasked gentleman (and I use the term loosely) came up behind me – right behind me mind you – I’m not sure there was even two feet between us. He was close enough to feel his breath on my shoulders. I moved over to the corner to put some space between us. When he finished ordering he also moved into the corner, crowding me again.

I’m irritated when anyone gets in my personal space even in pre-pandemic times, but even more so now. I moved again and he moved closer to speak with his son. I moved once again. So did he. That’s when I could take no more. I looked at him and said, “Sir, you need to back off”.

He looked surprised. I continued, “I need you to maintain some social distance please. My wife is having surgery and I can’t risk taking anything home”.  Everyone was looking at me. Two of the folks that had masks on and nodded approval (two people in a room full of employees and diners). His son murmured “what a dick” and they took a couple of steps back – not six feet though. My food was ready so I got out of there as quickly as I could.

My wife was watching National Geographic documentary called “The First Wave” when I got home. It’s about the first months of pandemic when New York City was the epicenter for COVID. It followed doctors and patients through overwhelmed hospitals during the first wave. We ate dinner and I continued to watch (even though I had a ton of work to do). I became both saddened and angry to watch the death rate soar while healthcare providers shared the emotions that come with helplessness and over-work. Their valiant efforts could not overcome the effects of the disease and they watched friends and patients die and the grief of loved ones who couldn’t even say goodbye. I wept at the loss and frustration.

Sadness quickly turned to anger when I thought of that yahoo at the restaurant. Two years after “The First Wave” we’re still fighting COVID because so many refuse to mask, get vaccinated, or maintain social distance – all the things that would have slowed the pandemic, saved lives, and made of everyone safer – and their refusal is based on their “right” not to do so. Right-wing politicians in many states, like our Governor “COVID” Abbott, have made mask or vaccination mandates illegal. Playing to the Republican-Trump base is more important than saving lives…

This isn’t about politics, our “rights” or “the mark of the beast” people. It’s about having some concern for the common good, for all our friends and neighbors. It’s about not being an ass-hole and “thinking of others more highly than yourself (I read that in a book somewhere). I don’t like wearing a mask, but I do – not even so much for me but for others. I don’t like having to stand back from friends that I normally hug when I see them. If I’m honest, I’m a sissy when it comes to shots. I hate them, but guess what? I’ve had ALL my vaccinations – COVID and everything else as well. Follow the science people and exercise some common courtesy…

Facts no longer change minds and there is little communication, real communication, going on between those on either side of the issue (unless yelling at each other is considered communication. Common courtesy is not that common anymore. The one hope I have is that there are many others choosing to do the right thing – the courteous, wise, and selfless thing. That’s personal choice that’s good for everyone. Remember, don’t be an a-hole

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A side note: The new Omnicron variant is far more infectious although early data shows it may not be as deadly – at least for the vaccinated. Many doctors are now saying it’s not if you catch the virus, it’s when.