Adoption, Awe, Children, Connection, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Generations, Grandchildren, Gratitude, Grief, History, Kentucky, Listening, Love, Marriage, Parents, Relationships, Spirituality, Spring, Summer, Thoughts From the Porch

Family Reunions With a Brand New Family

North Texas has been in various stages of drought since last summer. Rain has been sparse this Spring, but timing is everything – it came just in time to relieve my anxiety about leaving town (and the farm) over Memorial Day weekend. I attended a family reunion at the family farm in Kentucky and quite frankly, I’m still feeling overwhelmed by this family I never knew I had.

A little backstory – you need to know that I’m adopted. I was blessed to have the most wonderful parents one could ask for. Mom and Dad always told me that I was special because I was chosen – hand-picked if you will. Dad passed in 2002 and Mom passed away in 2017. Rarely a day passes without thinking about them.

I had taken a DNA test sometime ago and last Spring I got serious about finding my birth mother. I found an incredible Facebook group called DNA Detectives. I asked for some help and was amazed at how quickly they found my biological parents. I sent a letter to my birth mother, and she called a few days later. At sixty-two years old a new chapter of my life began. I have been doubly blessed with Mom and Momma.

We talked weekly and learned that I had five half-siblings, two younger brothers and three sisters. My eldest son, Adrian, and I went to Kentucky in September to meet them in person. Margaret and I returned to Kentucky in November and spent Thanksgiving week with my newfound family. I spent a few days in Kentucky over Memorial Day weekend for the family reunion and met a plethora of cousins, nieces, and nephews that came from Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas, Colorado, and Kentucky to be with my Momma at Flint Ridge, our family farm.

Flint Ridge – the McCuddy family home – the house was built in 1804 and purchased by Napoleon McCuddy in 1829
The old smokehouse at Flint Ridge – the cracks in the walls were from the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812

I introduced myself to one of my cousins and the response was “Oh, so you’re the subject of all the conversations the last few days”. I think it was meant positively though given the welcome I received from the family.

I can’t explain what it feels like to be among a crowd of people who look like you. I’m told that I favor my grandfather, and I look just like my Uncle David, both of whom passed away before I knew them, but the pictures are awesome. I apparently also look like my cousin Tommy because I was mistaken for him a couple of times.

I believed what my father had always told me about being special until I found out the rest of my world found being “special” really being “different”. I guess that why I felt at ease with all these people. I wasn’t different. I was like a whole room full of people that looked like me and felt a part of.

I talked, laughed, and did a lot of careful listening to the stories of my family. I think nurture is way overrated as a major influence in development. This last year has taught me that genes are far more responsible for who I am than my environment ever could be. Momma told me that when she visited Flint Ridge many years ago that something happened when she crossed the Tennessee River – it was where she belonged. I knew exactly what she meant.

One of my happiest moments of the weekend is when my cousin Brian said He wished I grown up with them. My cousins knew how to have fun. My brother Mark and I have talked about this. He always wanted a brother and so did I. Between talking to him and talking to Momma I’ve concluded that three boys with the same appetite would’ve put Momma in the poor house. Mark and I would have been good for one another or really, really bad…

I’ve learned that I am my mother’s son. I am just like her in so many ways, even down to the foods we like and dislike. I’ve come to know how blessed I am to have a momma who loves me and has for the sixty-two years we were apart. Last August I received my “first” birthday card from Momma.

I’m blessed to come from “good stock” – I could listen to the story of my grandparent’s relationship for hours – how my grandfather turned his back on fortune and chose love instead. Someday I’ll be able to share that one, but not today.

During a lull in the festivities, I walked off by myself to the family cemetery. I looked at the headstones. The names and dates told a rich history of the McCuddy family, my family. I reached in my pocket and pulled out a small container that held some of my son Jeremy’s ashes. Jeremy led me to this place. He often asked me why I didn’t put more effort into finding my birth mother. It was his sudden death that pushed me to share my DNA results with total strangers on Facebook and find my momma. It was somehow fitting that some of his ashes rest at Flint Ridge among his ancestors – his blood.

May 29th was the first day of the reunion and the second anniversary of Jeremy’s death. God has a way of holding broken hearts close to his heart. That day will always be bittersweet – a reminder that God wraps us all in arms of love and family.

Awe, Choices, Connection, Creation, Emotional Health, Fall, Gratitude, Miracles, Practice, Regeneration, Serenity, Simplicity, Spirituality, Thoughts From the Porch, Writing

Spiders and Miracle Cures

I came home Saturday from dinner with my wife at the rehabilitation hospital. She’s made incredible progress since her back surgery and should be coming home soon. My step-kid is out with her friends for a birthday celebration. The house was quiet. The dogs were happy to see me but quite content to remain comfortably splayed on the love seat and sofa. I made a pot of coffee and headed out to my chair on the front porch to enjoy the cool May evening brought to me by the cold front that blew in this afternoon. The northerly breeze chased away the record-breaking ninety-degree heat that made the last fifteen days drag on and on…

I sat on the porch for a long time. I was captivated by what turned out to be a tiny spider that seemed to hang in mid-air from my porch facia. He was so small I initially thought it to be the remnants of yesterday’s dinner for a much larger arachnid or maybe just a bit of leaf debris from the wind that had gotten caught on a strand of spider’s silk. I’d noticed it yesterday but let it be. Not so today though.

Photo by Anton Darius on Unsplash

I went to clean the speck of hanging debris when suddenly it began moving across a very fine web draped across the expanse of the front porch. I stopped and was immediately intrigued by the tiny creature before me. He couldn’t have been more than a quarter-of-an inch in circumference even with his miniature legs fully extended. As he settled into the new spot on the web, he pulled his legs up close to his body and remained motionless; waiting for a dinner that may take hours to come.

I sat back down in the chair. This tiny speck had been hanging there for the last couple of days and I’d never taken time to see it for what it was – an intricate web wholly spun by a creature so minute I’d thought it to be airborne trash. It occurred to me how much wonder I miss in an average day. I’ve prided myself on being able to stop and see the magnificent creation God has made but lately I’ve suffered from a serious case of “busyness”. Busyness is a terrible sickness.

The last month has been filled with meetings, the hospital, classes, presentations, and struggling to keep the farm irrigated during the hottest start to May on record and severe drought. Add to those the normal farming duties – harvesting and selling at Cowtown as well as a new farmers market – and there’s little time to sit, write, and notice the beauty that’s just waiting for me. While all those things are important, I’m convinced human beings were never meant to multitask…

Take my teensy little spider friend. I’m not sure how long it took to create his engineering masterpiece. All I know is that it wasn’t there one day, and it was the next. It was singleness of purpose that brought about a small miracle. Spiders may measure time differently than people, for all I know, but I don’t know of any humans that could build such a marvel in one night. The world has an abundance of such marvels. Many of them right outside my front door.

This morning I decide to take a moment to sit, enjoy my coffee, and put all else to the side. Busyness fights me all the way, but I need the medicine of quiet and relaxation to stop and take in this day that the Lord has made. Listening and watching one of God’s tiny, overlooked creatures put things in perspective – at least for today. What’s on your front porch?

Adoption, Children, Choices, Consequences, Courage, Emotional Health, Family, Generations, Gifts, Grace, Grandchildren, Grief, Honor, Hope, Music, Parents, Peace, Relationships, Songs, Spirituality, Stories, Thoughts From the Porch, Truth, What Can I Do, Writing

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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Run, Maggie, Run

I came home a little early today to get stuff together for Earth Day at the Health Sciences Center tomorrow. I have a large volunteer group coming and a doctor appointment for Margaret as well. My brain has been running like crazy – at least until a moment ago.

My wife sent me You Tube link (attached below) and the tears have slowed enough to sit down and write.  Every now and then a song comes along that you swear was written for you. Maybe it’s about your life, your loved ones, or your friends, but it’s like the songwriter was inside your head. That’s the case with this one…

My Maggie was a ball of fur that I bottle fed until she ciould eat solid food. Her mother and the rest of the littler were taken to the shelter. She grew into sixty pounds with a beautiful gray merle coat and a raccoon mask across her face. Maggie was half Catahoula and half coyote – rebel was an accurate adjective, and her wild side was endearing to anyone who met her. Squirrels knew better than to set foot in our yard!

Maggie was my dog. She tolerated everyone else, and could even be affectionate toward them, but she loved me, and I loved her. She would curl up beside my desk and follow me everywhere I went – especially if I was going to the kitchen. We learned quickly not to leave anything we intended to eat on the counter. She assumed it was hers – even the birthday cake Margaret made for a friend. Maggie had an incredible radar for food. She could be outside and no matter how quietly I crept into the kitchen she would be sitting there waiting before I had a chance to finish opening whatever I was going to cook or eat.

On the Monday before Thanksgiving last year, she walked in and laid by my feet. I reached down to pet her and noticed her eyes didn’t look right. I knelt and took her head in my hands to love on her. She started to have a seizure and died right there in my hands. She was only five years old. We suspect she had an aneurysm.

I wrapped her in a blanket and gently carried her out to a place by the garden close to wear my Sheltie, Missy, is buried. I cried quietly as I laid her to rest. Sadie, our other rescue was her “sister”. I looked out the window later and saw her sitting and staring at Maggie’s grave.

I’m trying not to get tears on the keyboard as I write this. The last two years have been marked by some devastating losses – my son, my best friend, and others who I came to know and love over the last twenty years or so. Maybe Maggie’s Song will lead me through the grief even if it doesn’t fill the hole in my heart.

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Life Symbols

I was looking for something else when I found this article I wrote four years ago before I was blogging on WordPress. The days mentioned may be a bit off. Time moves the dates to the past but the feelings are still the same…

Thoughts From the Porch: Tomorrow is the astronomical first day of Spring. It’s the unofficial birth certificate for a new season of green grass, new blooms, and, if you live here in Texas, the coming of the bluebonnets. I keep hearing the tender voice of the Teacher saying “behold, I make all things new”. I love Spring…

Today started slowly for me. Not because it’s the dreaded “Monday morning” mind you. Today begged for a slow awakening with the coos of the morning doves and the chatter of the mockingbird on the streetlight across the way. I lingered on the porch a little longer than usual and reveled in the day. Spring Break is over here in Fort Worth. Kids are back in school. I could hear the Star-Spangled Banner and morning announcements playing over the speakers from the school down the street. I may have a long “to-do” list today, but I lingered anyway.

I suppose it’s because Easter will soon be here, the celebration of resurrection came to mind. It’s ironic that the cross became the dominant symbol in Christianity. Historically, it’s based on the vision of the cross that Emperor Constantine claimed led him to victory; and thus, led to conversion and Christianity as the state religion of Rome. That’s probably more information than you needed but suffice it to say that early Christians didn’t focus too much on it. Just saying…

I’m not saying crosses are bad. They make an attractive piece of jewelry and great art. They’re a good reminder of how much God loves us and the sacrifice Jesus made for us. Yet, I wonder if folks concentrate on the wrong symbol. I’d much rather concentrate on life than death. Maybe I should have a stone necklace or empty tombs as artwork on the wall. You know, to remind me I’ve been reborn: that I don’t have to live like I used to; bound up in a self-made prison of resentments and fears. Still, I guess stones around my neck would be too heavy and empty tombs would leave holes in the wall.

It’s easier to remember the crucifixion than the resurrection. I choose to remember resurrection today. I celebrate new life today. Maybe that’s why I’m out on the porch so long today. It’s a pause for the quiet celebration. This morning is a reminder of grace.

I probably harp on grace and its natural outcome, gratitude, far too much. The more I experience God’s grace, the more I experience gratitude, and the more I want to share that grace. So please bear with me, gentle reader, but I can’t help it. Besides, life seems so much simpler when experienced with grace and gratitude. Simple things for simple people…

I guess I’ve come to see different symbols of grace in my life today. The empty tomb of Easter morning is more indicative of my life today than a cross. I want to be a “resurrection person” today. I want to be full of the joy and freedom that comes with this new life. I want to “have life abundantly”. I believe it’s possible.

My prayer this morning is that because I’ve received this new life, this grace, I will in turn become more “grace-full”: less judgmental and more forgiving, less sarcastic and more affirming, less fearful and more vulnerable.

I’m not going to wait to celebrate Easter. I think I’ll start today…