Acceptance, Anxiety, Awe, Belief, Christian Mysticism, Christianity, Connection, Depression, Environment, Faith, Grace, Gratitude, Patience, Peace, Persistence, Prayer, Recovery, Self-Acceptance, Simplicity, Spiritual Deserts, Spirituality, Stories, Thoughts From the Porch, Trust, Writing

Spiders and Clarity

I haven’t written from the porch for the past couple of weeks. Time has been short. I’m playing catch up from a recent two-day stint in the hospital (long story but everything’s okay). They couldn’t figure out what was going on. I guess that’s why doctors only “practice” medicine…

I could use the whole hospital thing to explain my lack of recent communication, but I won’t. The truth is a bit uglier than that. The reality is there’s been some doubt and depression going on the last few days. When I started writing “Thoughts From the Porch”, my intent was to only write positive, encouraging words. God knows there’s enough negative crap out there!

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Unfortunately, life isn’t always happy, joyous, and free. Life shows up in some awful ways. Even when I feel I’m on the path God has chosen for me it can have some serious rough spots. I would be dishonest if I didn’t share those as well. I may not write in a manner comparable to great authors or even my fellow writers on WordPress, but I’ve learned to be truthful, to be authentic, and to be myself regardless of how I’d like to be.

The truth is that I haven’t liked myself very much the last few days. Sometimes, the truth sucks. As my friend Edgar always tells me, “The truth will set you free, but it’ll really piss you off first.” Quite frankly, I’ve been pissed.

Margaret and I have struggled financially over the last few months. Work has been slow as most of my time is spent on the urban farm project, Opal’s Farm. Most of you know my passion for the project. Margaret and I prayed diligently before taking on this task. We went into it with eyes wide-open. We knew money would be tight until we gained sponsors and had our first harvest. Looking back over the last few months, hell, even over our lifetime, we can see God’s thread all the way through. He stands with us through all the difficult times. Bills get paid, we eat regularly, and most of the time life is good despite the setbacks that come with our chosen path. However, there are times when an awareness of God’s providence is insufficient to stave off the blues.

In lieu of our smaller income we’ve been forced to put off needed home repairs and tighten our money belt in ways neither of us have experienced, at least in our lives together. Add to that Margaret’s chronic pain, limited mobility, and the depression that rears its ugly head as a result. Frustration and stress mounts despite our faith in the Almighty. It’s a recipe for doubt, fear, and self-loathing, for me at least, and it has been simmering for quite a while. Yesterday it came to a boil…

A serious case of the “F..k Its”.

Yes, folks, expletive laced prayers, lamentations of “poor me”, and drowning in a cesspool of comparing myself to everyone else. I threw a temper tantrum! Why me?

I imagine some of you can relate. It felt as though my world had fallen apart and God was nowhere to be found. He always seems to be playing ‘Hide and Seek’ when I need Him: just like with everything else in my world. I immediately decided to quit the farm, stop writing, and start looking out for Number One. I’d probably have to become a greeter at WalMart (no offense intended – all work is important). A career in bank robbery seemed a viable alternative to the present financial hardships. You must take it, because no one’s going to give to you, right?

If it sounds a bit extreme, it is. I tend to go for extremes. A friend once told me that “balance is the beam I trip on while running between extremes”.  Yep!

I always feel like such a spoiled brat after these not-so-little tantrums. It doesn’t take as long as it used to getting over these fits of doubt, frustration, and fear (that’s really what the tantrum is about…). I find relief in the fact they don’t happen very often anymore, but I sure hate it when they do. I’m sure I’m not the only one who can identify with this temporary insanity…

Fortunately, sanity returns, I own my behavior, make amends for the harsh words and actions, and find forgiveness and gratitude for everything I do have. First and foremost, I have a Heavenly Father who appreciates my authenticity. I’m sure most church folks would be shocked by how I “pray”. It’s not always pious and formal. Still, God allows me to express my doubts and fears. He listens. He understands and He loves me right where I’m at – expletives and all. He allows my rants and then holds me close to remind me that I’m loved and it’s okay to be human. I’m His child.

Somewhere in this process I find peace. The situation hasn’t changed at all, but I have.

Healing the Blind…

My tantrums always begin with tunnel vision and outright blindness. The world is out of focus, blurred with pain and frustration, and I can only see myself, my needs, and my wants. When I finally grow tired of emotional blindness, I hear Jesus’ question to the blind man at the Pool of Siloam, “Do you want to be healed?”

It sounds like a simple question doesn’t it? Sure, I want to be healed, but… I tend to find excuses, much like the guy at the Pool, until finally, I can see again.

Restoration of sight, healing, takes place in miraculous ways for me. It happened the other night. Blinded by my self-centered fear and doubt, I stormed out to the porch to be alone. I stood there, blindly staring into the night, when a tiny spider and his (or her – I’m not sure how to tell the difference) web began to take focus.

As my vision sharpened, the intricacy and size of the web grew. I saw his tiny legs shooting across the web with new silken strands. The minute strands vibrated in the wind but never strayed apart. It seemed impossible.

It sounds silly to be so intrigued by a simple spider web, but I’m kind of a simple guy, I guess. However, this tiny spider is building his web in the same place on our porch every Spring. He’ll stay until Fall, building his net every evening and waiting for the meal he knows will come. I’m no expert on spider species identification, but it’s always appears to be the same species year after year. It’s always a smaller version that grows to be the same as the one last year.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

While I’m no Arachnologist, our little eight-legged friend is probably last year’s offspring. I had the privilege of seeing all the little ones bursting from their egg sac last year. Their home and ours are one in the same. I get to watch the intricate, complex beauty of this tiny creature every evening. Clarity had returned.

Our hardships and my frustration faded into the darkness of the evening. I could see, and more importantly, see that our difficulties were nothing, that God was still (and always is) faithful. Life may have its difficulties, but grace changes how I see them. Difficulties become opportunities to grow in ways I can’t even imagine.

If a tiny spider ca open a world of grace and heal blindness, how much more can I be a vessel of grace?

Belief, Choices, Community, Connection, Depression, Emotional Health, Faith, Gratitude, Hope, Peace, Practice, Prayer, Recovery, Relationships, Serenity, Simplicity, Spirituality, Thoughts From the Porch, Writing

3 Easy Steps to Better…

I’m as voracious reader. I keep up on the news. I read articles and books that help me professionally: that hone my writing skills or help me learn to be a better farm manager. Above all, I love reading books and articles that nurture my spirituality and find simple pleasure.

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I receive several newsletters each week about issues important to me, especially those that help me help my clients better. Recently, one of them reemphasized the basic marketing concept of successful titles in catching the reader’s attention. From a marketing standpoint, classic titles saying things like, “How to do XYZ, Five Easy Steps to a better ABC”, and so forth, invite the reader in and are more likely to be read. Basic copywriting and Marketing 101. I do it for clients all the time.

However, it occurred to me while I was reading another “Five Easy Steps” article that it’s rare for such articles to exceed the number five. It may on occasion be “Seven Easy Steps to” but that always seems to be the limit. There’s a myriad of reasons why smaller numbers elicit attention: psychological, neurological, and social. Everyone wants to solve their problems in a few quick, easy steps. Unfortunately, it rarely works out that way; at least in my personal experience…

For years I sought quick solutions to life’s pressing problems, but “Five Easy Steps” never seemed to work. I always found myself in the same state as before. It wasn’t until I discovered a recovery program from my “seemingly hopeless” condition of mind and body my condition began to change. It was going to require more (and steeper steps) if I were to become the man I wanted to be. In fact, I found it to take twelve of them.

People tend to have a love-hate relationship with twelve step programs. What can’t be denied is Twelve Step recovery programs have helped thousands of people through the years, no matter what the specific problem might be. It should come as no surprise there are around 240 such programs today; each dealing with specific issues – alcohol, overeating, addiction, gambling, sex, shopping, ad infinitum… I don’t know if it’s the solution to everyone’s problems, but the twelve steps of recovery were for mine. I have been transformed in mind, body, and spirit by taking all twelve steps. I have a relationship with God today. Moreover, I’ve witnessed the change in countless others as well.

I tried many times and countless ways to solve my dilemma. If I just work harder, if I do it this way or that way. Hey, I’m a reasonably intelligent guy. I can handle this. I should be able to reduce twelve steps to something more manageable like five or seven, right? It wasn’t until I was completely beaten that I decided my way didn’t work. I’d take the steps like those before me had. Maybe, just maybe I could achieve the same results and move toward positive change.

The stories the same for so many. The evidence is (and was always) right in front of me. So why did it take so long to believe it?

It may have to do with the number of steps involved. Maybe twelve is overwhelming. Maybe it’s difficult to see past three, five, or seven of them. Maybe it’s just poor marketing on the part of all the people involved. I don’t know.

The bottom line for me is in the results. I’m not who I used to be. I’m becoming the man God meant for me to be. Had I been able to see into the future all those years ago I probably wouldn’t have cared how many steps I had to take to get here today. It’s easy to say that in hindsight though.

The payoff has been far greater than any investment on my part. If I were developing a marketing campaign for such programs, I’d eliminate the whole “Twelve Step” thing. Too many steps. Won’t attract enough readers, you know? I’d break it down to what has become a bit of a mantra to me: “I can’t, He can, and I think I’ll let him”. It’s the cycle of threes seen in all twelve and, hey, it’s only three easy steps, right?

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Activism, Bible, Christianity, Community, Depression, Emotional Health, Faith, Freelancing, Generations, Grace, Gratitude, Hope, Jesus, Listening, Neighbors, Non-Profits, Opal's Farm, Patience, Practice, Prayer, Recovery, Relationships, Service Organizations, Service to Others, Simplicity, Spirituality, Thoughts From the Porch, Uncategorized, Unity Unlimited, Inc., Urban Farming

Remnants…

Thoughts from the Porch: We had another Arctic visitor yesterday. It’s the time of the year for frequent, though thankfully short-lived, visitations from our far northern neighbors. I awoke to a chill in the house. When the wind chill drops the thermometer, our heater takes a while to catch up in the morning. Jumping out of a cozy, warm bed to shut off the alarm is a bit of a shock on days like these. Such is January in North Texas…

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This week was one of the few Wednesday’s I missed my Fort Worth Development Group meeting. Ms. Opal and I had a meeting causing a time conflict. The good news is that I got to spend the drive time with one of my heroes for two days in a row. That doesn’t happen often enough for me. Sometimes I just need “Ms. Opal time”.

We were able to spend some time together yesterday discussing business and having good conversation. I brag about Ms. Opal only because she lives the kind of life that I hope to lead: one full of love and service for others. It’s one of the main reasons I’m so passionate about Opal’s Farm. It’s a reflection of the loving service of Ms. Opal and the realization of a dream and doing something tangible for the community.

We were speaking about the events of Martin Luther King Day. It’s not simply a commemoration of Dr. King, but a National Day of Service as well. She told me that, according to the Fort Worth Star Telegram, over 800 people showed up at her small church to meet prior to going out and serving various non-profits throughout Tarrant County. Over 800 people giving up their day off to serve others!

Many of you know that I’m a bit of a politics junkie. I usually spend some time on the newsfeed after my morning quiet time. Sometimes I’m not sure why I do. It’s a long string of cultural insanity, full of stories of human suffering, violence, and hatefulness, particularly as it pertains to our current administration in Washington, D.C. While it usually spurs me on to action, it’s often overwhelming and leaves me feeling a bit hopeless. The future is bleak at times. But…

Then I read or hear things like 800 people that gave their time to serve others. Despite all the negativity that bombards us about society, there is an amazing amount of goodness out there. I forget that sometimes…

It reminds me of the biblical story of the prophet Elijah in I Kings 19. It seems that speaking the truth to a corrupt King wasn’t a good idea, even if it was the right thing to do. In fact, the King was so angry he put a price on Elijah’s head. Poor Elijah ran for his life until he was hiding out in a cave, crying out to God that he was the only good guy left in the world.

I get it. Doing the right thing can be tiring at times and it can feel terribly lonely. Frustration keeps me from seeing any good in the world. Fortunately, that wasn’t the end of the story for old Elijah. You see, God answered him in a still quiet voice, assuring him there was still a remnant of good, godly people in Israel: seven thousand to be exact. He wasn’t alone. It just felt that way.

That isn’t the end of the story for me, either. I guess that’s why I love my “Ms. Opal Time” so much. She reminds me of the goodness in people. God hasn’t spoken to me in a cave (at least not yet), but He always sends me someone like Ms. Opal. I’m not alone. I know of at least 800 other folks working to make our little world a better place…

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Still Thankful

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s the day after Thanksgiving. Myinbox was filled with a multitude of emails announcing ‘Black Friday’ sales anddonation appeals. It pains me to know I can’t take advantage of either one this year.

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It’s been a difficult few months for Margaret and I, at least where finances are concerned. Business has been slow since my hospitalization in May. The up side is that it’s freed up more time to devote to the farm. The down side is that the farm doesn’t pay the bills, at least not for a couple of more months. Unfortunately, the mortgage and the bills won’t wait that long.

We’re not unique in this regard. A May 18, 2018 New York Post article cites data fromthe United Way Alice Project that, “Some 50.8 million households or 43% can’t afford a basic monthly budget for housing, food, transportation, child care, healthcare, and a monthly smartphone bill.”That’s almost half our population that is one Emergency Room visit or carrepair away from being on the street. Knowing we’re not alone is bothencouraging and disheartening…

Last night, we shared a Thanksgiving meal with family. I struggled to remain mentally present. I had to constantly remind myself to “be where my feet are”. The Cowboy game was a welcome distraction and appreciated more than usual. It relieved my financial anxiety for a couple of hours.

We had a marvelous dinner. Everyone had contributed their own unique piece to the meal. Each had been prepared with love. Everyone ate their fill. I couldn’t help but think of how a few loaves and fishes multiplied to feed five thousand folks. My mood began to lighten.

Following dinner and prior to desserts, we have a family tradition of going around the table and sharing what we are grateful for. If I’m honest, I wasn’t looking forward to this part. I wasn’t feeling very grateful. Yet, something happened as we began our way around the table.

As each of our family shared their gratitude, I gained a little more clarity. Here I was sitting around a table with a full tummy and the people I love and appreciate. That’s something that many folks don’t have. The holidays can be a terribly lonely time for some. Going to bed hungry is a reality for a lot of people. Here in Tarrant County, one in five kids go to bed hungry.

It became a little easier to see my blessings when it was my turn to share. I might have learned the power of ‘Gratitude Lists’ years ago, but sometimes I feel so overwhelmed and fearful that I forget it. When I lose gratitude, I lose vision. When I lose vision, I lose touch with reality.

What I know this morning is that I’m grateful for the life I’ve been granted today. I never thought I’d see forty and I’m still here at sixty to share my thoughts with you. (I know that may not be such a blessing to others at times…) I have a roof over my head and food to eat. Even when the proverbial financial wolf is at the door, I’m safe inside. It will be okay. I can’t think of one single time when it hasn’t. God has been faithful, even when I’m overwhelmed with fear and doubt. Sometimes I don’t see it until I’m well past the problem, but it’s always been that way.

I am so grateful for the people in my life. Our friend Mary, (who doesn’t cook) made amazing dishes to enjoy; all the while being a valued friend and presence for Margaret. Adam, our ‘adopted’ son who reminds us regularly of the importance of sharing life together. Amanda, our new daughter (to say in-law would just be wrong!) who is such a loved part of our family. A great wife to our son, Brandon and mother to our granddaughter, Levi. They were just some of the folks around last night’s dinner table…

I’m even grateful for the current struggles we find ourselves in. For one, I have the gift of Margaret by my side. She has a much better grasp on faith than I do. I’m convinced that’s why God looked at Adam and said, “it’s not good for man to be alone”. I’m so grateful that he felt that highly of me and blessed me with her. She shows me how to love, live, and laugh better…

All in all, life brings its struggles to us all. Our current difficulties are nothing compared to many folks. In fact, they are far more pervasive than most of us would like to admit. Faith doesn’t exempt us from them, but it does provide the sustenance we need to get through them. Gratitude is the first bite of the spiritual food that gives that strength.

If you’re struggling this holiday season, whether it’sfinancial, physical, or far more internal, take a bite of gratitude. 

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Have You Had Your Vitamin D Today?

red flower rose
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Thoughts From the Porch: I haven’t posted much this week. North Texas has seen the wettest October since recordkeeping began. The area lakes are one hundred percent full and dams are opening their floodgates to keep them from flooding. We’ve experienced some localized flooding, but the folks in to our south have been devastated by it. It hasn’t been one of our best months here.

People have been joking about swimming everywhere. If one more person makes a “Noah’s Ark” or webbed feet comment I might  run off screaming. Keep smiling, right?

time lapse photography of river
Photo by Irina Kostenich on Pexels.com

Work on Opal’s Farm has been at a standstill. The water level of the Trinity River made me a little apprehensive. Yet, it’s remained well below the levee height. The Water District cannot begin to disc and till the soil until it dries out for several days. We’ve gotten get a sunny day here and a day there, but the soil; is super saturated. We need at least a solid week of sunshine to even think about further progress.

It’s all been a bit much. To top it off, business has been slow enough that I took on a couple of indoor construction jobs to keep some income coming in. I’m thankful for the work. I do what needs to be done, even when doing so wears me out too much to write. I’ve sat down at the desk several times, but the words are stiff, like my body.

Thus, procrastination has reared its ugly head. I set aside writing for the next day and go to bed early. It’s the perfect escape mechanism for dealing with the miserable weather. Sometimes sleep will change the way I feel. My mood had begun to mirror October’s gloomy weather. I didn’t want to inflict myself and my dismal mood on anyone else.

Sleep is an amazing thing. Sunshine even more so. Sunlight on the human skin triggers a human’s ability to manufacture Vitamin D, “the sunshine vitamin”. Vitamin D is essential for overall health. Studies show it helps decrease high blood pressure and protect against inflammation. It helps muscles and even improves brain function. Lack of Vitamin D is a contributing factor in osteoporosis, muscle weakness, cancer, and depression. Given the last month, I can understand the depression aspect.

Unfortunately, few foods provide adequate amounts of Vitamin D. That’s why sunshine is so important.

The sun was already shining when I awoke this morning. I’m usually get up early enough to greet the sunrise, but not today. I slept in and awoke to my dog’s wet tongue and sunlight beaming through the window. I noticed my mood was much lighter. I was excited to get out of bed, rush through the awakening routine, and get to the porch.

My vision was clearer, my mind freer than it’s been in days. My coffee tasted better. Conversation with Margaret was lighter. Problems didn’t seem so overwhelming. The leaves fell more frequently, and the yellows and reds of autumn were more vibrant. I was filled with a sense of awe and gratitude once again. All brought about by a good night’s sleep and brilliant sunshine…

I often forget how simple life really is. The dispiriting, gloomy days of October will always give way to brighter days. Life’s like that. Sometimes it rains, sometimes it shines. Even when the rain seems like it will never cease, the sun will eventually return. Without the rain, I forget the incredible value of the sunshine.

My world mirrors the God I’ve come to know. There may be times it seems like the rain will never end. Yet, the sunshine always returns. The sun is always there even though its light is sometimes hidden behind the cloudy, dark skies of fear and self-doubt. Every time I quite trying to control the or wish away the weather, the light returns: ever reminding me that it’s all okay.

My friend Jim used to tell me things like, “It will all be okay when it’s over. If it’s not okay, then it’s not over” and “In the meantime, it’s just a mean time”. I used to hate hearing that when I was in the middle of a storm, but sure enough, the sun came out, the storm was over, and it was always okay. I come out a little battered but better able to weather any coming difficulties…

I’ve also come to know that I need God like I need Vitamin D. He’s “essential to overall health”. My “muscles” – physically, mentally, and above all, spiritually – are stronger. I’m no longer depressed, feeling overwhelmed by whatever bad weather life sends my way. His light prevents the cancer of resentment and unforgiveness. His light improves my thinking and especially, my vision. I can see the simple beauty of falling Autumn leaves and be at peace.

I’m going to get on with the day now. Now that the sun is shining there’s much to do and many things to see. Besides, I’ve had a Vitamin D deficiency lately…

Have you had your dose of Vitamin D today?

Anxiety, Christianity, Community, Courage, Depression, Emotional Health, Faith, Gardening, Grace, Gratitude, Non-Profits, North Texas Giving Day, Patience, Persistence, Prayer, Recovery, Spiritual Deserts, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Work, Worth, Writing

Tuesday at Two

(Today’s post is unedited. My ‘editor” is hard at work on another project today…)

 

It’s only partly cloudy out here on the porch this morning. It seems it’s rained or drizzled every day for the last week. I’m terribly grateful for the rain and the cold front that triggered it. We’ve had a hot, dry summer and I’m not sure we can afford another huge electric and water bill. The air conditioners been off for the past few days and there’s no need to water the garden. It’s greened up and grown immensely in just the last couple of weeks. It never ceases to amaze me what rain, versus watering, can do. I can water the garden regularly and, while it may keep it from dying, it does little to promote production. Yet, end a bit of rain and all the sudden new blossoms and tomatoes abound. There’s simply something special about God’s touch. Still, I need a break from the rain, at least long enough to dry out for a couple of days and plant the Fall produce.

That being said, I haven’t posted much this week, nor have I had a chance to. North Texas Giving Day is coming up next week (please visit them at https://www.northtexasgivingday.org/). It’s a huge day for local non-profits, especially for Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm. I’ll be posting links to each over the next couple of days. If you can help in any way, please let us know! Anyway, that’s what has limited my time on the porch this week and quite frankly, I’m glad.

My thoughts have been far too scattered to share this week. I’ve been grateful for a project to focus my efforts on. It’s been a relief from the dissonance between my ears. Some of you know what I mean. I offer a prayer of thanks for those of you that don’t. I’m sure I’m not the only one who experiences this, but it sure feels like it. It’s beyond mere ‘writer’s block’. It’s far more devious. It creeps in and tells me that I don’t have anything to say, and if I did, nobody gives a rat’s ass anyway…

If the voices are loud enough for long enough, it begins to be a crisis of faith. Do I really believe what I say I believe? Am I doing ‘enough’? Am I stuck in willfulness and missing the point? Am I wasting my time on the unimportant? What was I thinking anyway?

There are times when no amount of faith, positive thinking, or intellectual knowledge of one’s worth to God, self, and others can hold self-doubt, worry, and sadness at bay. St. John of the Cross called it, “The dark night of the soul”: my friend Jim used to say, “in the meantime, it’s a mean time”. I used to think I was the only one who felt this way. Experience has shown the opposite to be true. Some people are simply better at hiding it than others.

I’d love to post only the good stuff, like gratitude, grace, and the awesomeness of the life I get to live today. All of those things are true mind you, but I’d be dishonest if I didn’t tell you about the times I feel God’s absence, when things don’t go according to plan, and it feels like I’m not coping so well.

I’ve been blessed to walk through many a ‘dark night’, only to find an even brighter day. I know that “this too, shall pass”, because I’m still walking. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Just keep walking.

There are times though when I feel stuck. That’s probably why “Groundhog Day” is one of my favorite movies. I keep repeating the same old day, over and over and over, but redemption is right around the corner. One day you wake up, the calendar has changed, and the world looks brand new. That’s just the way it goes…

My friend and confidant, Jim, always told me that “it’ll get better Tuesday at 2:00”. He’d never tell me which Tuesday, or whether it was 2 two AM or 2 PM, but it would get better. Looking back over the last sixty years I can attest to the correctness of this statement. Sometimes I need to remind myself that today’s Saturday – Tuesday’s right around the corner…