I was at the desk for a long time last night catching up on paperwork and phone calls. I had a great head of steam and was crossing items off the “to-do list” right and left when my internet radio station hit a string of songs that stopped me dead in my tracks. I had no choice but to push the papers aside, crank the volume, and sing along to Van Morrison, Jimmy Buffet (anything before “Margaritaville”), the Eagles, and a host of other tunes that reminded me that growing up wasn’t all bad; even if it felt that way…
It felt that way a lot. Years later I’d ask my friend and
mentor, Jim, why I felt so different from everyone else growing up. What was
wrong with me and how did I get here? Why was I so uncomfortable being me? He’d
smile and reply with one of those West Texas sayings that used to drive me
batshit crazy like, “Son, it ain’t important how the mule got in the ditch, it’s
how are you gonna get him out”. I’d like to believe I’m a reasonably intelligent
individual, but it took a long time to understand what he was saying.
You see, the why didn’t matter. It wasn’t important. “Why” could never change the outcome. I was always asking the wrong question. When the question became “how” as opposed to “why” I began to crawl out of the proverbial ditch I found myself stuck in. I may not have been responsible for falling in the ditch, but I was responsible for getting out. As a result, the climb has been faster than I imagined and slower than I’d like, but the view from the top is well worth it…
Every now and then I’m reminded I’m on this amazing
journey called life, replete with mountains, valleys, obstacles, and wide-open
meadows. I wouldn’t be where I am if I hadn’t been where I’ve been. Duh, right?
Music, like what I heard last night, transports me to the mountaintop where I
have a 360-degree view. I can see the past and present and am delighted to
revel in the present.
Is there a song (or songs) that take you to your “happy place”?
What makes you stop, crank up the tunes, and relish the
Thoughts From the Porch: Saturday was Margaret’s
birthday. Yesterday was my oldest son’s birthday. April is a good month! I pay
little attention to the whole horoscope thing, but I sometimes wonder why my
life is filled with so many Aries signs. Could be something to it but who
Sitting on the porch this morning, enjoying the sunrise, I thought back to the day each of my boys were born. My memory isn’t so great anymore. I can’t tell you specifics like the weather and surroundings, unless of course it’s my youngest son. His birth was rather unforgettable. He decided to make his appearance on the very day a hundred-year blizzard hit Denver in 1982. We went to the hospital in a Jeep Wagoneer someone had volunteered to haul the paramedics since the ambulances couldn’t get around. The snow was so deep it took a week to dig out. You don’t forget something like that.
Adrian, my older one, had the misfortune to be born in
Dallas (that’s the only hospital that honored our insurance). We were concerned
that friends and family wouldn’t recognize him as a native Texan and hence, his
birthright. We’re not real sure Dallas is really part of Texas. However, he
overcame that disability in quick fashion. After much legal (and family)
wrangling, his birth certificate mandates his Texas citizenship…
The boys are as different as night and day, and the
differences were apparent early on. The standing joke is that Adrian popped out
of the birth canal asking if he could rest and get something to eat if that was
no problem. He was laid back and easygoing, even as a baby. His brother,
however, was the complete opposite. When he made his appearance almost two
years later, he instantly demanded to be fed and have the nursery redone to
suit his tastes. Anyone who knows them today will see the humor in that.
A father sees their children differently than the rest of
the world sees them. Fathers lack objectivity in the perception of their kids:
every one of them has the best kids in the world. That’s the way it should be.
I don’t want to start an argument with anyone. Please know that since I have
the best kids in the world, that doesn’t mean you don’t. Most of us have a
perception problem when it comes to our children and despite what our culture
tells us, it’s not a competition.
I got to spend some time with Adrian yesterday. That’s
two weekends in a row and that’s a miracle of biblical proportions. He works a
lot and his schedule rarely fits mine. Our times together are few and much
farther between than I like. He recently started dating a young lady who is far
more attractive and interesting than his old man. I appreciate that she
receives more attention than I do. I’d probably be a bit worried if it were
Thank you, Son for a great weekend. I hope you enjoyed your birthday. I know I did. Funny thing is though, I received the birthday gift – getting to spend time with you.
Thoughts From the Porch: A line of thunderstorms is knocking
on our door this morning. The wind, called an outflow boundary, is the
precursor to the storm that will barge in any second. Jamison the Farm Dog is
huddled beneath my feet, making writing difficult by distancing my fingers from
the keyboard. Thunderstorms are anathema to him. He pants and paces or hides
under my desk to escape the noise. All I can do is reassure him we’ve got it taken
care of and we’d never let anything harm our Jameson.
Today is Margaret’s birthday. Please join me in wishing
my beautiful wife a very happy birthday. I think of myself as one of the most
blessed men in the world. It can’t be easy being married to me, although Margaret
tells me constantly that I’m not difficult. Some days I’m not so sure. I find
myself preoccupied with the daily goings-on of life and fail to stop and enjoy
the company of the best woman I know.
Sometimes I’ll be out and hear other people talk about
their difficulty in relationships. It makes me want to run home and kiss my
wife and tell her how much I love her. I realize what a gift she is in my life.
Our marriage isn’t perfect by any means. We each have our little idiosyncrasies
that cause friction. I’m acutely aware of mine, but to be honest, I can’t think
of any of Margaret’s. I’m sure they are present. They all seem to fade away
when I’m with her.
I used to think that wasn’t normal, that our relationship was too comfortable. I’d hear others speak of their struggles in their marriage or cohabitation. People would talk about how much work their relationship. Everyone talked about “working” out their marriage. Maybe we were doing something wrong because, quite frankly, I can count on less than one hand the number of issues we’ve had to deal with over the years. I’m sure that they each centered around miscommunication or misunderstanding.
I used to believe we were an anomaly, a blip on the
screen that couldn’t be explained. I thought there was no way anyone would
believe how good our marriage was (and there may not be…). However, I’ve observed
the marriages of our friends and acquaintances, and I’ve seen first hand we’re
not so different after all.
There seems to be one or two constants throughout them
all. The first one is the one my friend Jim told me about. Many years ago, he
asked me if I knew what honor was. The Good Book says to “honor your wife”. What
does it mean? I offered the proper dictionary definition and he laughed. He
said that was nice but didn’t come close. The real definition was… and he drew
in a quick, deep breath. I waited patiently for him to add his definition, but
he just sat there, silent.
“Come on Jim. What’s your definition of honor?”
He again inhaled sharply, “h-h-h-h-h” and fell silent. I was
beginning to get a bit perturbed and asked again to which he gave the same
reply. Now I was ticked off.
I guess he sensed my aggravation because he looked me square
in the eye, took another deep breath, and said “that’s what honor is”.
I sat there a bit perplexed. He went on to explain that
honor was seeing your wife walk in the room and she takes your breath away. It
wasn’t until years later that I really understood what he meant.
Fast forward to March 2nd, 2013 and Jim’s
definition of honor became crystal clear. I was standing in front of many
family and friends next to my Best Man, Edgar, with my brother Craig, the
pastor for the day. Everyone stood and turned to watch Margaret start her walk
down the aisle. She was radiant in her wedding dress, her face beaming. I
inhaled sharply and deeply. She took my breath away…
Fast forward again to April 6th, 2019. Margaret
walks in the room and she still takes my breath away. I can’t believe I am
married to such an incredible woman. I want to honor her in every way possible.
What surprises me is the honor she bestows on me. She makes me a better man.
I’m no marriage counselor but what I know for certain is that
honoring my wife is easy. As a result, our marriage is easy as well. If we are
an anomaly, then so be it. I could spend the rest of my life being different…
So, I wish my wife an unbelievably Happy Birthday. I look forward to sharing many more. I’m not confused my dear – you truly are “my better side” (I hate “half” as we were complete when we joined together) and my best friend. Today I honor you and wish for you a beautiful, joy-filled birthday!
“Simpler solutions are more likely to be correct than complex ones.” – Occam’s Razor
Do you ever get so busy with a project that you overlook the bedrock of its success? Things have been moving quickly at Opal’s Farm: over 30,00 square feet of beds have been prepared and compost is coming. We are busy! We’ve been blessed with good Spring weather and we hope to take advantage of every moment to prepare the acreage for a bountiful harvest.
However, one of the TCU students
working with us this semester sent me an email that brought me to a grinding
halt (by the way, thank you Paris!) She asked a simple question, “Why?”. Why
would someone want to volunteer at the Farm? Why would someone want to be a
sponsor, a partner, or a “farmer” at Opal’s Farm?
Even as passionate as I am about
Opal’s Farm, I had to stop and think hard about the question. In my work as a
writer, it’s my job to write a clear concise message and show how a product or
service will benefit others. If I’m honest, I’ve done a poor job of
communicating that to you. I ask for your forgiveness. Sometimes the simplest
question is the simplest solution…
There’s a plethora of reasons one
should join us in the task at hand. When Paris asked me the “why” question was
specifically regarding “why volunteer?”, so we’ll start there.
Why volunteer at Opal’s Farm? The simple answer: it’s “Dirt Therapy”. What do I mean by that? If you love to tend your own garden, you know exactly what I mean. Something happens to us when we work with the soil. Study after study has shown improved mental health and relaxation are some of the immediate benefits. The increased physical activity and its benefits are obvious, but “dirt therapy” is something, something deeper.
According to The Immune Advantage (Ellen Mazo and the Editors of Prevention Health
Books with Keith Berndtson, M.D.), “a
simple gardening project at the University of Texas in Galveston produced
uplifting findings among 24 volunteers ranging in age from 63 to 90” that included
not only an overall feeling of well-being” but a far deeper spiritual
component; one of community.
The book goes on to share
the story of Dr. William Thomas, M.D. and founder of the Eden Alternative. He “has proof that people live healthier and longer
with daily access to plants, animals, and children”. In the 300-plus nursing
homes across the country that follow his program allowing residents their own
pets, till their own gardens, and participate in programs with children…
residents have fewer infections, fewer falls, and fewer skin wounds”.
Moreover, the amount of medication each resident required dropped.
Something happens when
people work the earth together, sharing stories and childhood memories. A
feeling of well-being and contentment feeling of well-being, of a spiritual
connection, takes place. Moreover, the UT-Galveston study showed that “there was no physical decline among the
volunteers after 4 months”. Working the soil may not be the proverbial
“Fountain of Youth”, but it sure helps.
“Dirt Therapy” is an amazing reason
to come down to the farm and join us. We’ll be posting “work days” and someone
is usually at Opal’s Farm daily except for Wednesday. We love our volunteers
and want to be as flexible as possible to meet varied schedules. It’s always
best to call ahead so we’ll be looking for you. The south end of the farm
offered the best soil available so we’re often away from the front
office/storage container at the north end. If you’d like to schedule a group or
simply show up on your own, please know you’re welcome and appreciated!
As I mentioned before, there’s a
myriad of reasons “why” you should be a part of Opal’s Farm – far too many to
write about here so I’ll be following up with reason number two on Monday. I
bet your “why” is on the list…
Thoughts From the Porch: After putting the brakes on Spring for a couple of days we’re returning to normal here in North Texas. The sun is shining, temperatures are far more Spring-like and my time on the porch was punctuated by competing bird songs and a woodpecker in the closest tree. The bluebonnets are gathering force with the other wildflowers waiting in reserve to make April a month of vibrant color. All is well in our corner of the world.
An article in the Daily Good (you can read the article at https://www.good.is/articles/mean-obituary-daughter?utm_source=thedailygood&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dailygood
) caught my eye this morning. Whenever I see “brutal honesty” in a headline I must
click it and see. Honesty is rare these days, and brutal honesty is usually
code for hateful opinions. I had to laugh at someone getting the last word in with
one’s obituary. While some may find such an obituary inappropriate, I hope whoever
writes mine when the time comes will tell the truth – good and bad – and will
get both a good laugh and a new respect for the grace given so freely.
Several years ago, I remember an assignment I was given by
my mentor and friend, Jim. He told me to write my own obituary. Then write it
from the perspective of a family member or friend. Finally, write it like
someone who knew little about me. (I want to note that this little assignment
came from a speaker he had heard many years ago, but I don’t remember which one.
This wasn’t unique to him and I sure don’t want to take credit away from the
originator.) The one thing he asked was that I be brutally honest with myself
in how each was written.
The bottom line was how I see myself, how does my family see
me, and how does the world see me. Jim was always big on introspection. He
would always tell me “self-examination coupled with prayer and meditation
produces favorable results”. I wasn’t too happy with the results at the time. Fast
forward the clock a few years and the exercise became a lot easier and far more
friendly for me.
I made a lot of mistakes. Scratch that (brutal honesty,
remember?). I hurt a lot of people: myself, my family, and everyone I met
through my selfishness and self-centeredness. Even when I was “doing good” it
was usually to manipulate others and meet my own desires. The process of
looking inward and being honest with myself revealed the real me – not the “me”
I wanted to be and sure not how I wanted to be remembered.
As I’ve grown older, I still go back to the assignment Jim gave me periodically. I try to keep stock of myself daily. Periodically, I need to go through a full-blown inventory and take stock of my life. Now that I’m “in the last quarter of the game”, as my friend Gary says, I’ve become more aware of the legacy I leave. I believe others see me far differently from before. I know I’m not the same man as I was when I started this process. I trust that others see me far differently as well. I still make mistakes and have failures, but they no longer define who (or who’s) I am.
Professionally, I worked many years as a Process Manager and
Engineer building process improvement teams and finding ways to increase
productivity for the companies I worked for. Writing and revisiting my own
obituary has been “process improvement” for my life. It goes on today…
I’ve been blessed with the “favorable results” Jim always
promised. I was fortunate to find a life of service to others. It’s the nature
of what I do today, both as a writer and as the Farm Manager for Opal’s Farm. I
‘get’ to have a wonderful marriage, a loving family, and good friends. I ‘get’
to sit on the porch each morning and think about the amazing world I live in. I
‘get’ to say thank you to my Creator constantly for the grace I’ve received. I
say ‘get to’ because it’s an opportunity I never had while wrapped up in self-centered
Each day is a new opportunity to rewrite my obituary, to leave
a legacy of love and a servant spirit for my family, friends and community. I
don’t think I could ask for more so maybe I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.
I’d urge each of you to take on the same assignment. If you
already have then please share your results with me!
Thoughts from the Porch: The world beyond the porch is still. Light is just beginning to peek over our neighbor’s roof to the east. I greet the sunrise with my first cup of coffee and some Miles Davis. I’m not sure life gets much better than this. In a couple of hours, I’ll be incredibly busy at Opal’s Farm, but for now, I’m doing absolutely nothing and savoring the moment.
I have a standing meeting on Sunday morning from
9AM to 10PM. I love to listen to National Public Radio on the way home because
“Hidden Brain” is on air with the host, Shankar Vedantam.
I’m fascinated by the topics and most all, by the science of why we do the
things we do. More importantly, the things we have in common are far more
numerous than anything that divides us. Today’s topic, envy, was no different.
Envy has a poor reputation. It made the infamous ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ list. Depending on who makes up the list, it usually ranks second or third on a scale of one to seven. No one wants to admit feeling envious, but we all do it from time to time.
There are instances envy can have
positive consequences. When used for social comparison it can motivate action
leading to positive change that brings about happiness – ‘I wish I had what you
had so I’m going to do what you did in order achieve it’. This is benign envy.
It may be frustrating at times but leads toward
action that is generally positive. It’s upside of the very human emotion of
The other side is the one we are most
familiar with: malicious envy. It’s the kind of envy that wants to pull a
superior person down. That’s where schadenfreude, envy’s evil cousin, comes in
– pleasure at another’s misfortune, laughing at another’s failure.
I could go into all the science,
psychology, and sociology that explains envy, especially schadenfreude, but
I’ll leave that to the experts. I couldn’t help but think about the Biblical
story of Cain and Able. The story explains, either parabolically or literally,
how envy reared its ugly head in human society.
The book of Genesis tells of two
brothers, Cain, the older brother, and Abel, the younger of the two. Cain was a
farmer and Abel was a shepherd. Cain would offer the first fruits of his
produce in sacrifice to God. Abel would offer the “firstborn animals of his
herd, choice cuts of meat”. For whatever reason God accepted Abel’s sacrifice
and not Cain’s. I often cited this story as the reason I didn’t like vegetables
growing up! God obviously is not a vegan.
Anyway, Cain was peeved that he
didn’t measure up (there’s the social comparison thing – kind of like ancient
Facebook). He headed for his room and sulked. “God spoke to Cain: Why this tantrum? Why the sulking? If you do well,
won’t you be accepted? And if you don’t do well, sin is lying in wait for you,
ready to pounce; it’s out to get you, you’ve got to master it.” (Genesis 4.6-7
I can only imagine what Cain was
thinking, but I’ve been there, as much as I hate to admit it. We all have at
one point or another. Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian denomination I
get it. I know what it’s like to ‘never measure up’. I could never be ‘good’
enough to get on God’s good side. It wasn’t until many years later I discovered
that there was absolutely nothing I could do anyway, nor did I have to. God’s
good side is called grace and it is totally free. It can’t be earned, but that
Most of us know the rest of the
story. Cain experiences a severe case of schadenfreude. He not only wants to
pull Abel down: Cain kills his own brother. Envy, malicious envy, puts Abel in
the ground. Cain tries to deny his involvement, but ultimately faces the
consequences of his action. I’ve been there.
In my younger years I chased a lot of
pipe dreams out of envy and delighted in schadenfreude when those I viewed as
competitors failed. I’m glad Facebook and social media wasn’t available back
then. Comparison to the projected images on social media would have killed me.
There’s no way I could ever measure up.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve experienced
envy and schadenfreude far less than I used to. It may simply be the result of
getting older and hopefully, wiser. Robert Fulghum once wrote that one day he
walked out to the mailbox in his old bathrobe, bunny slippers, and bedhead hair
and didn’t care what others thought of him. He said it’s either “going to seed”
or “the beginning of wisdom”. I can relate.
It’s not that I don’t care what
others think of me. It’s that I have no energy or time left for chasing images.
I’m content with reality these days. Life is simpler, full of gratitude, and drama-free.
My quiet time on the porch and my days at the farm are filled with peace and
serenity. Life is good…
Ultimately, it’s not important what
you think of me or even what I think of me. The most important thing is what
God thinks of me. Because of his grace, I know He not only loves me, but He’s
especially fond of me. I don’t have to compare myself to anyone else, because
He’s especially fond of all His kids.
I maintain a presence on social media. I have a business and Opal’s Farm. Heck, my blog even gets posted on them. I simply wish others well when they get to have fabulous vacations to exotic places. I don’t get the check-ins and pictures of dinner, but I still get envious when I see someone eating a pint of Bluebell Chocolate ice cream…