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It’s Almost over

Monday marked the official beginning of winter – the winter solstice. The first day of winter was sunny and seventy degrees. It doesn’t look like a White Christmas is in the plan. The winter solstice is also the longest night of the year. That sums up the whole year – one long, dark winter night.

In January there were reports of a new virus spreading in China. On March 11th, the World Health Organization declared it a global pandemic that’s taken almost two million lives since then. The economy shut down in March. Even when states began reopening economic recovery remained questionable at best. To top it all off, people lost all sense of sanity and decency over simple masks. Apparently, the right to go without one and violate common sense precautions trumps (yes, folks – pun intended…) everyone else’s right to health and safety. Don’t get me started. I have friends who have lost fathers, mothers, aunts, and uncles – many times in rapid succession. Please folks – this is serious so please be kind enough to respect your neighbors…

In February, the primary election season started. By August, candidates had been nominated and the real dogfight began. We were constantly bombarded with negative ads, blatant lies, bitter division, and juvenile behavior. We prayed for November 3rd to finally shut it all down, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. Donald Trump threw a hissy fit over his loss like a petulant child. His insanity and inability to deal with reality continue to stoke divisiveness and hate. Sometimes it feels as if we’re on a downward spiral that never ends.

In May, George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis Police officer, who stood on his neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds setting off a summer of mass protests. Black people, especially Black men, are killed all too frequently by white police officers. The growing list of people of color who died at the hands of white officers has often faded in public awareness as the news cycle changes to something shiny and new. Although there have been many media reports in the past about police killings and people of color, this one was different. The video showing Floyd’s murder was particularly heinous. It got everyone’s attention. Summer of 2020 came to be known as the summer of “racial reckoning. We can only hope…

Opal’s Farm lost one of its best friends on September 7th. Chuck Briant, or “Food Truck Chuck” as many called him passed away suddenly and left a void in the hearts of all of us at Opal’s Farm. His passion for feeding people and healthy eating was contagious. He brought more people to the farm than anyone could have hoped. He was one of our biggest fans and a friend of mine. I miss him and can’t help but get a little teary-eyed when I’m watering the farm. That was Chuck’s job. It’s hard to picture Chuck without a water hose in his hand.

Personal tragedy hit on May 29th, 2020. My son Jeremy was found dead in his apartment. This has been the darkest five months of my life. Jeremy’s was born on Christmas Day in 1982. My holiday spirit is understandably lacking. There are days when the grief seems too much to bear. I get to spend a lot more alone time at the farm during the winter. Most days are sans volunteers. That’s both good and bad emotionally. The winter solstice reminds me of the “long, dark night of the soul” St. John of the Cross wrote about.

Today is a new day. The winter solstice has passed. The light will stick around a little longer with each passing day; at least for the next six months. Then the cycle will begin all over after the summer solstice in June. That’s the way it is with the seasons and it’s that way it is with life – up and down, round and round…

I don’t know what 2021 has in store, but I have faith that, like the day after the winter solstice, the light will last longer with each passing day. COVID vaccines recently became available and perhaps they will help end, or at least diminish the destruction of the pandemic. Maybe we learned a few things over the last few months. We might even discover a better “normal” when all is said and done. We can certainly hope…

On January 20th, a new Administration will begin and maybe some civility will return to our socio-political discourse. I’m not overly optimistic but anything is an improvement over the last four years, even Washington as usual. The faces change but the song remains the same…

The racial protests of this summer start real conversations that lead to real changes. The Juneteenth caravan this summer was a diverse group of people celebrating Juneteenth. Onlookers – white people – held signs “We are listening”. Listening, not simply hearing, real listening and building new diverse relationships is the beginning of change. My friend Jim always told me that “once you’re aware you can’t become unaware”. I pray the solstice has come and the light will get longer and brighter on our struggle to build a just society.

I know I’m not the only parent to lose a child (and yes, Jeremy may have been 37 but he’ll always be my kid). I’ve joined “a club that no one wants to be a part of”, as my friend Edgar says. Grief doesn’t have an expiration date. 2021 will not be “better”. It will be “different”. I’m blessed and tremendously grateful for the friends I have today – friends who have allowed me the space to grieve and are still there to offer love and support. Some people are left to grieve in isolation. No one should have to do that.

Christmas and New Year’s will be emotionally onerous this year, but it doesn’t take away what Christmas represents – the birth of Immanuel, “God with us”. Each time I think of the gift God gave us I find hope. Despite all the hardships this year I know God is with us. He hasn’t given up on His kids. After all, the winter solstice reminds us of the light – the light that’s always there.

To each of you I wish a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Photo by Marissa Daeger on Unsplash
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The Trifecta

I celebrate fifteen years clean today, it’s World AIDS Day, and it falls on Giving Tuesday this year. The stars aligned to grant a day of lightness at the end of a onerous year. I hit the Trifecta! My Advent meditation yesterday was about the intersections in life – those places we encounter strangers, friends, family, and most importantly, God. I am deeply grateful for the intersections in life that brought me to this day.

Today’s meditation was about choices; especially how we choose to see the world. Fifteen years ago, I had a moment of clarity in the darkness around me. I had a choice – stay in the darkness or venture out into the light. The world (or at least my perception of it) has changed dramatically since then.

I’m not foolish enough to say, “Look what I did!”. I didn’t do squat. My previous intersections with people should have left me where I was. Yet, it was those same people who surrounded me with love until I could fully realize the gift of grace – theirs and God’s…

People familiar with the disease of addiction know what I’m talking about. Those that aren’t can’t appreciate the value of “a new set of glasses”. There are times I share my recovery epiphanies only to have people look at me and silently say, “Duh”. It took me a long time to become aware, to grow up. I just hope and pray that everyone appreciates the depth of God’s grace. I hope that your “grace moment” was gentler than mine.

Addiction has consequences. Mine was AIDS. The bad choices I made became physically evident on April 17, 2006. I was devasted and extremely fearful. Today is different. I’ve chosen to be public about my status despite the stigma that still exists. Secrets die in the light. I always find it ironic that my clean date fell on World AIDS Day.

It’s become more of a chronic disease rather than the death sentence I believed to be initially. My wife tells me we are a “magnet couple” – she’s negative and I’m positive. However, UNAIDS reports that globally, almost a million people died from AIDS-related illness in 2019. Moreover, there were as many as 220 million new AIDS infections in 2019. Those number get lost with the current coronavirus pandemic and lowered fear of the disease culturally. It hasn’t gone away folks!

I get to celebrate Giving Tuesday today as well. Fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t have even heard of “Giving” Tuesday. I knew about “taking” and that certainly wasn’t limited to one day a week. Today I understand the importance and true value of giving. That doesn’t simply mean money (although I’m going to ask you to donate to Unity Unlimited. Inc. and Opal’s Farm in a bit!). It means being present and serving our community and one another.

I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by people who believe in service to their community. They’ve shown me the joy that comes from being a servant and helped me experience it myself. I am incredibly fortunate to work at Opal’s Farm and practice servanthood each day. What we do – the produce we grow, the food we provide – is serving our local community and helping end food insecurity one vegetable at a time.

We can’t do it alone. We depend on the help of our community to expand and grow and serve even more folks. That’s where “the ask” comes in! Please celebrate Giving Tuesday and this Holiday season by giving a gift to Unity Unlimited, Inc. Cash donations are not the only way to give and to serve. Maybe it’s your time and energy (we LOVE our volunteers!) at the farm our with Unity’s other programs (Secret Santa is upon us y’all!) and Juneteenth. Maybe it’s just coming by the farm to say hello or purchase our tasty, healthy produce. Whatever you can do is truly appreciated – on this Giving Tuesday!

Please go to www.unityunlimited.org.

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There is Much to be Thankful for Even When It Feels Like There Isn’t…

We finished our Thanksgiving Dinner a couple of hours ago. Our two younger kids, Paul and River, took care of preparing the meal and cleaning up afterward this year. It was the greatest gift of the holiday (They did a bang-up job by the way!) Margaret wasn’t up to all the physical activity and I was, well, blah.

The holidays are harsh reminders of the loss of my son Jeremy this year. I used to wonder why some people had such a difficult time during the holidays. Now I know.

The week hasn’t been conducive to thankful feelings. On Tuesday, we were finally allowed to clear out Jeremy’s apartment and Art Studio. Everything’s been on hold as he died intestate – no will and minor children – and the court finally ordered the necessary letters to the apartment management. The owner is a local Fort Worth real estate developer that denied us access until we had a court order despite pleas from our family. We still wonder if any of Jeremy’s art is missing. Oh well. Everything is in storage now and out of their hands.

I was flooded with memories and emotion as I went through his belongings. I’ve tried to be strong throughout this process, but I haven’t done well. I feel and function. That’s it. I miss my son and the holidays are a cruel reminder of loss rather than a season of joy and gratitude.

I had to spend time today writing down the things for which I’m thankful because I know I have much to be grateful for even during this crazy, wild-ass year. Gratitude is a verb, not a noun. Sometimes I simply put it in black and white, make it tangible and concrete, and say thanks even when I don’t feel particularly grateful. It makes the whole grief thing a bit easier.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

The first thing I wrote down was my breakfast this morning with my oldest son, Adrian. We started a holiday tradition of having breakfast at Old South Pancake House every Thanksgiving and Christmas morning. Our time together can be lost juggling holiday schedules with adult children, grandchildren, and blended extended families. It’s a time just for us and it’s even more special this year. It was risky going out in public even with social distancing, masks, and hand sanitizer. Covid numbers are surging upward here, but my time with him was worth it.

I’m thankful for family and friends that love me and don’t try to fix my broken heart. They occasionally remind me that God’s got this when I get in a deep, dark place, but they still allow me the room to grieve. Not everyone does that. Well-intentioned people say some screwed-up things to grieving parents. I’m grateful my close friends and family allow me to be where I am emotionally, even when it’s uncomfortable for them. We’ll all get through this together.

This has been a messed-up year, but in the middle of the madness I’ve found something to be grateful for. That gives me hope. It won’t always feel like this…

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It’s Only Two Days Away…

Honestly, I should have been posting and building up to this coming Thursday since the first of September. It’s been so busy at Opal’s Farm getting the Fall crops in that the 17th almost flew by me! Why this important? Because this Thursday, 9-17-20, is North Texas Giving Day. It’s a special day set aside for giving to local non-profits serving the North Texas community. This year is especially important.

At Opal’s Farm our mission – Building vibrant local communities through regenerative urban farming, faithful gathering, and lasting fellowship – is even more vital during these uncertain times. Food insecurity and access to healthy, nutritious food is difficult in normal times, but the coronavirus has made life far from normal.

On this special North Texas Giving Day you have an opportunity to make a difference right here in Fort Worth. Your donation to Unity Unlimited, Inc/Opal’s Farm on North Texas Giving Day will be matched dollar for dollar; providing fresh, locally grown produce for more of your neighbors. Please give what you can this Thursday, 9-17-20.

Go to www.northtexasgivingday.org and look for Unity Unlimited, Inc to donate. Early giving is now open. Thank you for supporting Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm!

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Lessons Learned?

Good morning my friends. It’s been a hectic week at Opal’s Farm. We’ve planted, harvested, and been to Cowtown Farmers Market. A special thanks goes out to all our loyal customers who braved Saturday’s rain to shop at Cowtown. Every dollar you spend with Opal’s Farm turns into another person with access to fresh, healthy produce.

Side Note…

NBC5 News was out Saturday to do a story on the new SNAP Program, Double Bucks, the Blue Zones Project rolled out here in Fort Worth. Now SNAP shoppers can double their SNAP benefits on every purchase of fresh, nutritious produce. Thank you, Blue Zones Project Fort Worth, for all you do for our community.

Meanwhile…

While everyone else might’ve seen a gloomy, rainy day Saturday, I saw liquid gold and a weekend off! I even slept in this morning and didn’t get up until 6:45. I spent most of yesterday afternoon with Margaret and honestly, didn’t do much of anything. Sabbath rest is such a blessing. Maybe I’ll reach the point I don’t have to be forced to rest by the weather…

I sat on the porch this morning drinking coffee and basking in the sunlight that filled our quiet little cul-de-sac here. Our neighborhood woodpecker was hard at work on the Arizona Ash above me. The Blue Jays were unafraid of my presence and brazenly fed on the cat food nearby. I don’t mind. Our cat Wallace will be telling me the bowl is empty soon enough.

Sunday mornings are always peaceful on the porch, but even more so since this whole coronavirus mess started. Churches are still closed despite the governor’s gradual reopening guidelines, opting for continued online services. Margaret and I will still limit outside contact – grocery stores, restaurants retail outlets, and such. We are in the high-risk category due to our age and compromised immune systems. I still go to work at the farm, but social distancing is easy on an acre-and-a-half. Market is outside and people are respectful of distancing for the most part. Masks and hand sanitizer are norms for the vendors.

The coronavirus has changed life here in Fort Worth (and everywhere) in so many ways I can’t even begin to list them. COVID-19 is no joke. Most folks have sense enough to take it seriously, but isolation and economic pain is growing more frustrating and some have begun to let their guard down. Some, like the Dallas salon owner who put on such a show for reopening despite stay-at-home orders (another story for another time), have openly rebelled for their “right” to carry on like normal because it infringes on their freedom. Unfortunately, they present a clear and present danger to the rest of us who think personal and community safety is best. I shan’t linger on the subject, so it doesn’t turn into a rant. Most of you will appreciate that.

Anyway…

Life may be all turned upside down these days but there has been, and may be, some good things that come out of the pandemic. For one, isolation has raised social consciousness somewhat. Hopefully, we’ve come to value social contact more than before; that we’re somewhat more aware of the value of our relationships. I know it has for me. Contact with friends and family over Facetime and Zoom just isn’t the same and quite frankly, virtual hugs suck!

I’ve seen our volunteers at Opal’s Farm and the families sharing time together on the bordering Trinity Trails valuing their time together more than ever. I’ve seen more people on Trinity Trails in the past two months than I’ve seen in the last two years. It used to be it was solitary runners, dog walkers, or bikers. Now it’s family groups and friends out there regularly (maintaining social distance where appropriate).

The number of shoppers at Cowtown Farmers Market has gone up as well. Some of our vendors are still between growing seasons so they haven’t started Saturday markets. Although the market’s not full of vendors, it’s growing in customers. I have a glimmer of hope that folks will realize that buying local benefits all of us in the community. Not only are people able to purchase fresh food – not something that spent days or weeks in a railcar or a ship’s hold – their dollar stays here making a difference for all of us. Not only is local produce more nutritious – fresh food tastes better…

There’s a multitude of good things that can come out of this crisis and I’m not going into them all. However, I hope the biggest takeaway is our perception and treatment of “essential” workers. Maybe our definition of ‘hero’ will include not only our brave healthcare workers and first responders, but delivery drivers, grocery workers, packing plant workers, and service workers as well – people traditionally overlooked by most of us and people who, more often than not, are overlooked by our economy. I pray that maybe, just maybe, we’ll begin to see how valuable these folks are to each of us and treat them with greater respect and value.

One Final Word

Stay safe, use common sense, and be respectful of others. If you get bored, we’d love to have you come out and join us for a day at Opal’s Farm. We love you all and appreciate your support!