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Hurry Before It's Too Late…

Down On the Farm:

Today’s post is a bit of “Down on the Farm” and “Thoughts From the Porch”. It’s been raining for the last nine days. I’ve had more time on the porch and less time at the farm as a result.

This much rain is a mixed blessing

Even when I can’t be busy planting, weeding, and prepping beds I tend to spend time thinking about each of those things and how to make Opal’s Farm bigger and better. More people can be served and maybe, just maybe, the farm makes life better for all of us.

During down times such as these I get to post on social media and keep everyone updated. My hope in doing so is that you all will want to donate and/or volunteer at Opal’s Farm. We desperately need the donations and we’re able to get so much more accomplished with our volunteers.

The infographic offers some great reasons to volunteer at Opal’s Farm. The events of the last week have caused me to pause and reflection on the importance of Opal’s Farm right now. Opal’s Farm has become an essential business. It was before – farming, growing food, is essential any time – but even more so now.

The last few days have seen rapid and monumental changes in our daily routines due to the COVID-19 crisis. It was working from home if possible and no gatherings of more than 250 people just a few days ago. Now it’s multiple business closures and no gatherings, either inside or outside, of more than ten people. Sunday evening, Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins announced a “shelter in place” order for everyone residing in Dallas County. Other North Texas counties probably aren’t far behind.

If a “shelter in place” order is issued for Tarrant County volunteer opportunities may not be available. I will continue to work as Farm Manager and an employee of Unity Unlimited, Inc. but I’m unclear as to volunteers at the farm. We’ll keep you updated. I hope that anyone who’s having a bit of cabin fever will come down and spend some time with us while you still can.

To sign up or donate go to www.unityunlimited.org

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Chevrolet Heaven

Thoughts From the Porch: Sometimes I wonder if my memories of childhood are mine or they were my father’s. His recall of the past was beyond my understanding. Heck, I find it difficult to remember what I had for breakfast a couple of hours ago, but Dad – he remembered everything. On more than one occasion I’d wish his recall didn’t work so well. Embarrassment is one emotion I’d rather not deal with.

I sat on the porch this morning, drinking my coffee, watching the rain fall, and letting my mind wander across my memory landscape. It always seems cloudy the farther back I walk. The mental pictures become blurred and I don’t know if the memory is real or a story my father told me. They must be real. Dad would never had lied to me about anything. Still, everything in my experience seems just out of reach.

The one thing I’m sure is real is the green pickup truck my father had. The picture is crystal clear. It was a ’52 Chevrolet Apache, hunter green with high sideboards my father had made and put on. He had a second job delivering a Sunday paper called “The Shopper” and the sideboards were to hold all the newspapers. The papers would come off the press around two o’clock in the morning on Sunday. He’d fill the truck bed with papers and two assistants and off they go to throw the paper on their assigned route.

I was almost always asleep when Dad went to work so I don’t recall his absence, I remember the truck. I loved that truck. It always seemed to me that the truck didn’t belong in the city. It belonged on a farm – a big farm with wide, open meadows, horses, cows, and chickens – the kind my uncles and cousins had.

Suddenly remembering that truck this morning seemed so random, but little in life is random. Experience has shown that there’s usually some pattern, some order to life that can only be understood in hindsight. To quote Soren Kirkegaard, “Life can only be understood looking backward, but it must be lived forwards.”

I miss Dad. He passed away in 2002. Eighteen years later I find myself thinking of him regularly. It’s happy thoughts most days – he was quite special – but sometimes it’s a deep sadness that he’s no longer here. Today is one of those days.

When Dad passed, my life was total chaos – in and out of jail, unemployment, and degradation. It was a downhill slide for the next three years, until I hit bottom. I hurt my father in so many ways. He only wanted the very best for me and it was gut-wrenching to watch his son self-destruct. I know. I hurt when my kids hurt. Call it co-dependent if you’d like. I call it parenting…

Life changed for me on December 1st, 2005, and with it came the sadness that Dad wasn’t here to see it. He, above all people, deserved to see the change. I would give anything to hear his embarrassing and oft repeated stories one more time. I’d give anything to have him enjoy the peace that life offers today.

Thinking about that truck doesn’t seem so random anymore. It was always meant to be on a farm. Today I know Dad and I would be driving down to Opal’s Farm, working side by side, and telling stories. We’d laugh together and maybe he’d sing one of his silly songs. The dogs would be piled in the back. It’d be a gorgeous Spring morning. Life would be how it was meant to be.

It’s funny that old green Chevrolet shows a glimpse of the promised “new heaven and a new earth”. Sadness has turned to joy today thinking about that truck and Dad. I’m pretty sure he’s got her gassed up and ready. We’ll hop in and take for a spin around the farm. Life how it’s meant to be…

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Be Where Your Feet Are…

Thoughts from the Porch

Things in our world have changed drastically in the last few days. Don’t worry, I shan’t become one of the voices bemoaning the current toilet paper shortage. I’ve heard enough about that. The shelves are still empty and may be in the coming days. We’ve had to be a bit more resourceful about such matters – although I need to remind our family members not to throw baby wipes down the toilet.

I also need to remind everyone that COVID-19 is a respiratory illness, not a gastro-intestinal one. It’s unrealistic to believe that you’ll use up that truckload of toilet paper you bought in this lifetime, much less during a two-week quarantine. Please use your head, exercise a bit of common sense, and leave some for the rest of us. That’s all I will say about that…

I am trying, like everyone else, to adjust to the rapidly changing situation with the coronavirus pandemic. As I drove to my regular 9:00 Sunday morning meeting I noticed how few cars there were on the road. It’s never heavy at that time and day but it was eerily quiet this Sunday. State and county health departments are following Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines and limiting indoor gatherings to ever smaller numbers of people to prevent the spread of the virus. First, it was crowds of 500, then 250, and now 50. Moments ago, the White House said to avoid crowds of more than ten people and old folks should stay at home, period. Many churches were empty, opting for online or remote services instead. No wonder it was so ghostly quiet.

Social distancing has become a new normal.

One’s personal space just got larger. All I have to do to get through a crowded grocery store aisle is sneeze or cough – both of which are consequences of springtime pollen – and everyone gets out of the way. Sometimes allergies are a good thing. The absence of hugs and handshakes are painful though.

If it seems I’m being a bit flippant about this whole pandemic thing, I can assure you that nothing is farther from the truth. I’m taking very seriously. I check all the boxes for being at risk of becoming gravely ill if exposed – I’m over sixty, a borderline diabetic, and have a compromised immune system. I’m cautious around others but I refuse to allow fear and misinformation make my decisions for me. God knows, there’s enough of that already.

I hope to exercise a little common sense and get through this physically unscathed. It’s possible that most of us will do likewise. Unfortunately (and realistically), some will become ill and some will die. That’s what just the way this virus operates.

Then there’s the other consequences to be borne by people who can’t afford fifteen days or more of childcare, business shutdowns, and lengthy quarantines. Statistically, the vast majority of folks live paycheck to paycheck with little, if any cushion, for times like these. There will be some of you for whom this is extremely inconvenient. For most though, it will be life-altering and in many cases, devastating.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

The physical, mental, emotional and economic outlook is bleak, and not only because there’s no toilet paper to be found – given the severity of the situation, you’d think cleanliness in one’s nether regions would be of less importance – but all is not lost.

I’ve been spending time monitoring social media and the comings and goings around my community. I discovered that for every tale of bare supermarket shelves, panicked hoarding, and greedy resellers there are ten or more stories of the coronavirus bringing out the best in people. Here’s what I mean:

  • My “Next Door” neighborhood app is blanketed with messages of people wanting to help those who are older or immune compromised with getting groceries, medicines, etc. One of my neighbors living on Social Security put a “Need help” post up ad I’ve watched the constant stream of cars come to her home to deliver assistance.
  • People offering to help with child-care for those who are required to work even though their kid’s Spring break has been extended in most districts.
  • Companies like Apple that are still paying their employees while their stores are closed for the next two weeks.
  • Each of the countless churches and other organizations that open their food pantries for anyone struggling with the current crisis.
  • I was speaking with my ex-daughter-in-law yesterday and she told me of simply checking on the kid’s friends who were having to stay home alone due to the extended break and parents who couldn’t afford to miss work.

Thankfully, the list continues. I don’t know if it’s the same elsewhere. I would like to think so.

This pandemic and how to deal with it is uncharted territory for most of us. We’ve had scares in the past – bird flu, swine flu, and SARS/MERS (also in the coronavirus family) – but we haven’t seen a true pandemic in our lifetime. Despite the current Administration’s inept handling of the crisis and the plethora of wild conspiracy theories, lies, and minimalizations accompanying it, people show a resiliency that offers a glimmer of hope for human beings in general. My prayer is that we’ll fan that flame and take care of one another.

So, my friends, be kind to one another and yourselves. Don’t panic. “Be where your feet are”, as my wife often reminds me. Don’t rush or hoard. Wash your hands, cover your mouth when you cough, and think of others. Step back, take a deep breath and we’ll all walk through this one together. It may not eliminate COVID-19 but it sure can’t hurt…

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Spring Has Sprung

Down On the Farm: It started raining in the pre-dawn hours last Friday. It’s been off and on rain, heavy at times, but without the severe thunderstorms that are so frequent in North Texas this time of year. The above-average temperatures we’ve had often contribute more damaging weather.  I may not be able to work at the farm, but I can enjoy the morning a tad longer from the porch.

All around Fort Worth, Dogwoods, Bradford Pears, and Texas Redbuds are bursting with pinks, whites, and reds and emerald greens dots shine throughout the woods. Bluebonnets dot the roadsides. All the other Spring wildflowers are close behind. The vernal equinox may be a few days away, but the flora announces Spring is already here.

Photo by nagaraju gajula on Pexels.com

Down on the farm the green peas are coming along nicely and almost ready to pick. The sugar snap peas aren’t far behind. The carrots need to be thinned and weeds are always an issue no matter what time of year it is. Thanks, Kiersten for all your help weeding!

The early Spring planting is completed. The turnips, beets, spinach, and green onions went in the ground and the rain is a welcome guest. There’s something about heaven sent rain that makes everything grow better. Jamison the Farm Dog is hard at work protecting our new crops from pests!

Jameson hard at work

We added an herb garden this year. We set aside a couple of smaller beds for tarragon, cilantro, and sage so far. The rest – basil, oregano, parsley, and thyme – will go in later this month.

We’ll also be preparing to expand into our second acre. A huge thanks goes out to J. Davis Tree Care Solutions for all the wood chips they’ve dropped off. We’ve been mulching our walkways and furrows. Brandon Hendrickson at Zimmerer Kubota, is delivering a tractor after this rain clears out. We’ll be able to plow and cover the new acre with a thick layer of wood chips and cover crops (thanks to Jay Schmigdall!). It will hold down some of the weeds and provide excellent compost and nourishment for new planting.

We also need to give a huge shoutout to Lauren Hickman at the Tarrant Area Food Bank. She provided us with two flats of celebrity tomatoes they raised at their Learning Garden. She’s also been a wonderful help with arranging composting and a great source of wisdom for Opal’s Farm.

The rain meant rescheduling some of our volunteers. Farming, whether urban or rural, is dependent on the weather. Thanks to all for being so understanding. We’re looking forward to seeing you soon.

For those of you who haven’t been out or would like to volunteer at Opal’s Farm please sign up at www.unityunlimited.org. Go to the Opal’s Farm page and click on the sign-up button. Feel free to find a time that works best for you and come join us!

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Looking For An Out

Thoughts From the Porch

Like most kids, I put a lot of energy into pushing the boundaries imposed by my parents. Being a people-pleaser by nature, I constantly sought ways to do what I wanted to do while keeping the appearance of being the good son. I was always looking for an “out”. I became so good at it that my mom would frequently suggest I become a lawyer when I grew up. After all, lawyers are experts at finding loopholes, at rationalizing behavior. Might as well get paid for it, right…

I’m not unique in this ability. It tends to be a common trait among human beings. Everyone looks for an out: a way to bend societal rules for their benefit, to make unacceptable, self-centered, or somewhat dubious behavior okay. Some are just better at it than others. I know. I have kids…

The whole process is about justification. The dictionary defines justification as “attempt to explain or justify (one’s own or another’s behavior or attitude) with logical, plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate.” For example, I still smoke (cigarettes, not weed. I live in Texas, not Colorado). I am once again in the process of trying to quit. I know they’re bad for me. Everyone knows they’re unhealthy. It’s a nasty habit. They stink, they cost way too much, and constant smoke breaks up my productive time (I don’t smoke in my office so I have to go outside). Everything screams out “stop smoking”!

Knowing all these things I will still try to find my out; the loophole that cosigns my bulls**t. I remember reading an old Rolling Stone interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. They were into healthy living – good diet, exercise, good rest. The interviewer asked them why they still smoke if they’re so into health.

Their response always stuck with me – “We’re macrobiotic people”. What in heaven’s name does that mean?

The dictionary defines macrobiotic as “constituting, relating to, or following a diet of whole pure prepared foods that is based on Taoist principles of the balance of yin and yang.” Now I’m not judging, but what does that have to do with the unhealthy habit of smoking?

It’s a prime example of justification, of how we find an “out”. It may be plausible. It sure sounds good, but smoking is unhealthy no matter whether you’re macro or micro-biotic. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve used this excuse (and a myriad of other justifications) on occasion . Hey, I gave up my other bad habits. I’ve got to have one vice, right?

The truth is that I’m unwilling to go through nicotine withdrawal. I’d rather justify my actions than quit. I can ask God to help me quit a multitude of times but, if I’m honest with myself (and you), I’m unwilling to do my part. Justification always tends to center around my unwillingness (or outright refusal) to change or dishonesty with myself.

What’s your “out”?

In Luke 10, a religious scholar comes to Jesus with a question (and questionable motives): what do I need to do to receive eternal life? Jesus responded in His oft-used way of answering a question with a question.

“What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”

The religious scholar answered:

“That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence – and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself. ‘Good answer’ said Jesus. ‘Do it and you will live.’

Here it comes:

Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define neighbor?” (from Luke 10. 25-29 The Message Bible

Jesus goes on to tell the story we know as the “Good Samaritan” and the lesson of being a neighbor we usually focus on. Yet, the words “looking for a loophole” jumped out at me the most, because that’s what I do – look for a loophole, an “out” to get my way, a way to justify my actions. It’s been that way for a long time…

Loopholes, and those searching for them, seemed to frustrate Jesus the most. In Luke 11.42, Jesus tells all the religious bigwigs hanging around that:

“I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but manage to find loopholes for getting around basic matters of justice and God’s love.”

The takeaway is that Jesus meant what He said – love God with all you’ve got and love other people like you love yourself. If we do this, everything else takes care of itself. We don’t have to look for loopholes (I still do anyway…). My actions speak much louder than my words.

Image credit Study for the Visitation Jacopo Pontormo

I want to be all in on this Jesus thing. I don’t want an “out”. I want to become better simply being me – to be a better husband, father, brother, friend, and to love and serve others, not just as I love myself (I still have days when I’m not so loving to Greg!), but as God loves His kids.

Being all in isn’t easy. Jesus takes “common sense” and turns it upside down. If you don’t believe me, have a look at the “Sermon on the Mount: Jesus’ manifesto for living. Things like ‘turning the other cheek’ and thinking of others more highly than one’s self run counter to everything in me. If I really believe Jesus meant what He said though, then I can stop looking for loopholes. After all, I didn’t see any “except when” or “buts” after His statements…

When I became a disciple, a student of “the Rabbi”, I slowly began to face the justifications that cluttered my life. Slowly but surely, they were eliminated one by one. Some I still cling to (like smoking) and try to justify their place in my life. Yet, the deeper I step in to the whole faith thing, the more difficult it becomes to hang onto them. It’s easier to find the willingness to escape them and see life as it really is.

Today I trust the process. Today I want to be all in. Maybe, just maybe, one more layer of justification will be peeled away and I come closer to the man I was always intended to be…

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Songs About Spring

Thoughts From the Porch: A stunning late winter sunrise started my morning. I drank my first cup of coffee to the varied songs of our resident Mockingbird. Nesting season has begun and my little friend sings once again, reminding me that spring in almost here. He brightened my morning even more that the rising sun.

Sometimes I can’t offer anything more than a simple thank you in my morning prayers. I see mornings like this, and I hear God speaking quite clearly. It’s time to just sit here and listen, to bask in His glory and miraculous creation.

The Mockingbird fell silent around the time of our first early frost. I’ve missed my little friend who greeted me in song each day as I set abut my porch time. This winter has been mild – eighty-degree days in January – and I would’ve thought he’d come by now and then, but his internal timing told him to wait until now. He saved his melodies for me and this very morning. Thank you my little friend…

  

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Running In the Dark

Thoughts From the Porch

It’s a beautiful late winter morning here in North Texas. After a few days of rain and cold the sun slowly warms the day as it rises higher in the sky. There’s much to be done today and I’d love to take time to pass on deep spiritual thoughts from the porch but truthfully, such thoughts are elusive over the last few days. I struggle to write, to put thoughts to paper, and a cloud hangs over me even on a bright, sunny morning. I get frustrated, I pray, and try to listen, but it feels like God has put me on hold while He’s busy attending to other things…

My wife likes to remind me that there are times when no amount of spiritual awareness will take our pain or fear. My friend Jim used to say that “in the meantime, it’s a mean time”. There are times when God seems silent and I need to act as if He’s not. It’s the old “fake it ‘til you make” thing. I’m thinking I might be going through one of those times.

I don’t hesitate to tell of God’s unfailing love and grace in my life. Hindsight tells me that God has always, one hundred percent of the time, taken care of me (even when I was far from Him doing my own, self-destructive thing). Unfortunately, the lens through which I look forward can be awfully opaque at times (we walk by faith, not by sight, right?). I speak the truth when I share about God’s provision and care, but I’m surprised at how quickly I forget that when life feels overwhelming.

Margaret and I are going through some difficult financial times right now. Almost two years ago, I made a commitment to the mission of Opal’s Farm and made it my full-time endeavor. We knew this would be difficult because we’re dependent on donations for my salary. Unfortunately, winter is a slow time for both the growing season and for contributions to our non-profit. Although Spring brings a wealth of opportunity for market sales and donations that doesn’t pay this month’s bills.

I mention this is not to whine about it – we took this on after prayerful consideration and eyes wide open – but to say that finances are one of the toughest areas in my life to turn over to God. Margaret is far better able to do that than I am. It may be because as a man, I sometimes feel I’m not doing my part to take care of my family. To Margaret’s credit, she’s my biggest cheerleader and reminds me I’m on the right path.

I begin to doubt I’m where God would have me be and think I should throw up and hands and go find something else. The little committee inside my head begins to tell me how foolish I am. Negative self-talk and doubt of God’s blessing fill my days. Honestly, I feel like a hypocrite at times. I’ll tell everyone of God’s faithfulness while my mind tells me I’m a fraud, that God isn’t really taking care of me.

That being said…

You might notice that the word feel is in italics. There’s a reason for that. You see, it took me years to learn to separate my feelings from my reality. That lesson may have come much easier for others, but it was a long, painful, and often frustrating journey for me. When I began to see what was going on around me for what it is rather than what it feels like it is, I began to understand that doubt was an essential part of my faith journey.

That may sound a bit oxymoronic – doubt and faith are mutually exclusive terms, right. Still, it’s possible to doubt and still be faithful. It’s a painful process to walk in faith through doubt and darkness. We can’t see in the darkness. St. John of the Cross, a 16th century Spanish mystic and Carmelite priest, called this “the dark night of the soul”.

The journey through the darkness leads us to shed all our preconceptions about God. We begin to let go of our ego, our perception of our self, and rest in “unknowing”: the unfathomable spirit of God. The journey can be long or short. For me, it’s often been a case of “two steps forward, three steps back”. In the darkness I find my union with the Father deeper each time. My petty worries and struggles seem a tad easier. Trust begins to return. I just keep walking…

St. John of the Cross

Sharing the journey, the struggles, the fear, and “the dark night of the soul” is frowned upon in many churches. We don’t like to talk about it. We write off what we fear or don’t understand so it won’t “wash off” on us. It’s dangerous to around a “doubter”.

Honest lament is frequently met by simple answers and platitudes. Things like “we’re praying for you” just have faith”, don’t doubt God’s promises” – that do little to illuminate the path.  

Some give up, retreating to the relative safety of sameness. Others throw up their hands, utter “what’s the use?” and leave behind the very community that God created for us. I don’t think that’s what Abba intended…

A Few Days Later…

I began writing this last Saturday. Yesterday was a great day at the farm – a special visit by Mailik Yakini from the Detroit Food Policy Council, getting to spend time with other local farmers, and getting a lot of planting done. The financial worries slipped away, replaced with feelings of fellowship and connectedness. At the end of the gathering, Ms. Opal pulled me aside. She whispered, “the Lord is so good, and He’s provided again. We received a check from a donor and there’s a check for you at the office.”

We’re able to pay all our bills for this month. One more time, like countless other times before, Abba has provided for all our needs. I used to beat myself up for doubting God. Today my doubts are merely one more opportunity to demonstrate God’s goodness and care. Hindsight reveals even my darkest periods, those which God felt so absent, have been the greatest blessings in my life.

What I thought was bad turned out good. What I thought was good wasn’t always so great (if you know what I mean). It reminds me that I don’t know what’s best for me, but Abba does.

We will encounter difficulties once again (especially financial ones) and I’ll begin to question God about His sense of timing. I’ll have some fear, but it seems to be a little less each time life shows up. God’s promises always hold true, even when my faith wavers so I’m just not going to worry about the process anymore. In the darkness I discovered a light that never goes out. I don’t always see it, but my vision is becoming clear with each step in the journey.