Thoughts From the Porch: The wind is a bit frisk this
morning, but all is well on the porch. It’s still too wet to work on the farm
so I’m enjoying the quiet solitude of our little cul-de-sac and my second pot
Today is Good Friday. I’ve always been curious how it came to be called “Good” Friday. I get the idea that Jesus’ crucifixion led to a Good Sunday (Easter), but there’s really nothing good about hanging someone on a cross. Maybe Christians would do well to change their iconography for the cross to a stone. I’d rather constantly remember the resurrection than a barbaric and humiliating form of capital punishment. I want to be a resurrection disciple.
Those who have experienced God’s grace on a deep level
tend to be aware of the price paid for their redemption. They know spiritual
death. They know what the proverbial “end of the rope” is. They know what it’s
like to have nowhere and no human being to turn to. They know that accepting
God’s grace is the only thing that
will bring us back to life and there’s no doubt how costly that grace was and is.
They eagerly cling to Easter and resurrection.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to stay stuck on the crucifixion,
to live in the past, and forget that the real joy in life comes from the
resurrection. God did, and does, the impossible. He often does for us what we
cannot, and sometimes will not, do for ourselves. That’s where the real power
lies. Not in the cross, but in the rolled-away stone…
“I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of”. John 10.10 (The Message)
Today, I’m living in the present, enjoying the
resurrected life I’ve been given…
“Yes, all the things I thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant”. Phillipians 3.8 (The Message)
I must apologize for the delay in posting the third reason to become an Opal’s Farm volunteer or sponsor. It’s been quite a week at the farm. Over an acre of beds are finished and several hundred feet of landscape fabric were laid around the perimeter to help deter the infamous weeds from encroaching on the finished product. Unfortunately, the weekend storms ripped the fabric from the landscape staples requiring repair just in time for more severe weather. Such is the farm life…
A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a
young man named Brendan O’Connell regarding Opal’s Farm He had seen a news
story about the farm on KERA 90.1 and reached out to me for a farm tour. He has
become a volunteer for Opal’s Farm and exemplifies a big “why” for anyone. So,
without further ado I turn the spotlight on Brendan.
Brendan graduated from Fort Worth Country Day
School last year. He decided to take a “gap year’ after high school and will
start at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in
August. However, he isn’t using the gap year to take it easy. He’s volunteered
at a local low-income clinic as a Nurse’s Assistant and started at the farm
this past week.
His interest in urban farming began six years when
he started his own garden and raising food for his family. He told me he developed
an interest in “the relationships between agriculture, public health and
medicine, and the economic dynamics” that affect marginalized communities and
food deserts. He’s thrilled that an urban farm has come to Fort Worth wants to
learn as much as he can while he’s here.
He has been invaluable since he started. I can’t
begin to tell you how much we’ve been able to accomplish in short order. He
goes well beyond interest in the farm. I asked him about his “why”. I mean no
offense, but he’s not your typical nineteen-year-old.
His original email offered some insight as to his motivation, but it goes beyond mere intellectual curiosity. He’s genuinely concerned about the common good; about our community. He sees Opal’s Farm as a solution to the issues of access to fresh, nutritious food and the health and well-being of neglected neighborhoods. An urban farm enables all our community to thrive and become a better place to live.
His interest will help in his future studies.
Beyond that, it fills a desire to be part of the solution for food justice and
the health of each of us.
I often tell Brendan how grateful I am for his
service. What I’ve failed to communicate though, is the gratitude I feel for everyone
who looks beyond themselves to the community and the common good. I’m hopeful
for the future of my hometown, and by extension, my world, when I see young
people like Brendan committed to the solutions.
If you’re still searching for your “why” I have
some more ideas coming. In the meantime, if you can’t volunteer at this time
please go to www.unityunlimited.org
today and make your secure donation to the future of Fort Worth’s
I spent last Friday morning at the
farm with a prospective donor. We talked about the mission and purpose of
Opal’s Farm for over an hour. The farm is about more than simply providing
access for fresh produce to a largely forgotten neighborhood. It’s about
building a better Fort Worth and serving our community. While that’s a worthy
mission, the means by which we accomplish that mission is the tangible “goods”
that the local community receives. What makes Opal’s Farm so special and why
should you be a part of it? This is the second reason “why”.
Last Friday, we talked about “dirt therapy” and the physical and emotional well-being that comes from working the soil. The sense of community, of connection, and the increased physical activity shared with others of like mind is amazing. Even though that’s reason enough for anyone to come out and work or support the farm, your “why” might be as simple as providing food for your neighbors.
When I was talking to our
prospective donor the other day, I mentioned that Ms. Opal had been late for a
dinner meeting the evening before because she had to drive a long way to get
lettuce for the salad. He looked at me with a bit of confusion, “Why couldn’t
she go to a store around here?”, he asked.
I told him that there was no store
around here. The closest one was several miles south of the neighborhood. I
explained to him that United Riverside, our neighborhood, is a food desert. The
USDA defines a food desert as anyplace were access to fresh, healthy food is
more than one mile away. He was a bit shocked that there were over forty food
deserts listed in Tarrant County alone.
Honestly, I’m not surprised.
Everyone touts the great economy and growth Fort Worth has experienced over the
last few years. Politicians and business leaders point to the success Fort
Worth and the growing economy has had. We often don’t hear the grim statistics
and the reality for many of our neighbors. I’ve thrown them out there many
times before, but statistics are often abstract and overwhelming.
In Tarrant County, one in four
children go to bed hungry each night. One in four, 25%! For blacks and Latinos,
the number is even more staggering – one in three children face hunger. That’s
33% of kids right here in Tarrant County!
What can you do about it? Now that
you know the numbers it’s overwhelming. When a problem is of a scale that’s
overwhelming it can foster inaction. It’s easy to say, “I can’t help everybody”
and so no one gets help.
One of my favorite quotes comes
from Mother Teresa. It’s at the bottom of every email I send out. It says, “If you can’t feed a
hundred people, then feed just one.” We do what we can, and Opal’s
Farm provides the “why”. Through a simple farm we begin tackling the issues of
food success and food scarcity. We can’t feed all of Fort Worth, but we can
bring health and vitality to a neighborhood through each season’s harvest. You
have to start somewhere…
Maybe you’ve been a bit overwhelmed by the size of
the problem. Maybe you feel like you don’t make a difference. Maybe, just maybe,
you do. Helping at Opal’s Farm, whether by donating or volunteering is the
first step. It’s something tangible.
Mother Teresa said something else that always comes to mind, too. She said, “We can do no great things; only small things with great love.” I’m no math genius but I’m pretty sure a whole bunch of small acts with great love constitutes a big thing.
If you’re wanting to make a real, tangible
difference in the lives of others please consider your donation or volunteer at
Opal’s Farm. If you’re still not sure, I’ll give you another reason “why”
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:
Wednesday is my busy day, especially at the end of the month. I have a group
meeting every Wednesday morning and try to schedule as many meetings as
possible on that day, so I have more time available at Opal’s Farm the rest of
the week. The last Wednesday of the month is the Grow Southeast meeting and a
chance to work with other urban farms and growers.
Our Wednesday morning meeting, Fort Worth Development Group, is a group seeking to “bridge the gap between ministry and business through cultivating meaningful relationships in the workplace: allowing our character and integrity tom minister God’s love to others through our daily business practices.”
I attended the first time
thinking it was another ‘networking’ group. Networking does take place. That
tends to happen whenever business people are gathered together. However, it’s
far more than that. That’s why it’s a development group. Each quarter we have a
theme that guides our speaking and discussions. This quarter that theme has
been gratitude. The coming quarter will be on grace. It seems you can’t really
have one without the other. Grace and gratitude have this whole “chicken and
egg” thing going on. I’m not always positive which came first…
Next week, I’ll be
delivering the ‘Hot Topic’ on grace. I’ve submitted a title and catchy tagline
for my talk (after all, business appreciates good content). It’s called “Simply
Grace – 100% natural with no additives”. I have about 15 to 20 minutes to speak
on grace. One of the most difficult things I’ve done is try to squeeze grace
into 20 minutes. I have a newfound respect for the preachers I’ve heard speak
on the subject. God forbid they go past 20 to 30 minutes and make their
worshippers late for lunch…
I’ve spent a lot of time
preparing for next week. I’ve finally managed to get my ideas within the time
limit but believe me, it hasn’t been easy because everything in my life; every
action, every deed, and every experience is about grace.
The older I get and the
deeper my relationship with God becomes the more I realize just how much grace
I’ve received. My successes and my failures have taught me that grace is
enough, and everything is grace – “an unmerited gift”.
Some of you know exactly
where I’m coming from. Experience has taught me that a simple prayer, “God,
help me”, opens the door to receive the grace that was waiting there all along.
Ironically, it was grace that my prayer possible. I couldn’t even muster up the
strength to do that on my own.
Life has since become a
process of learning to accept the grace I’ve been so freely given. Gratitude,
the natural consequence of accepting and living a “grace-full” life. Gratitude
makes it easier to set aside old mental tapes and put to death the tired, old
lie of self-sufficiency. I see clearly the importance of my fellows and the
value of each and every individual I meet. Through gratitude I’m able to share
the grace that was so freely given to me.
That’s not to say that I
still don’t have my moments: moments when all thought of God’s marvelous gift
of grace takes a backseat to my worries and problems. I have moments of self-absorption
and self-centered expectations, of myself and others. I still have times when I
feel woefully inadequate and undeserving of grace. I always seem to come around
though. You see, I am undeserving of
God’s grace (Heck, I’m undeserving of grace from most people if I’m honest
about it). There is absolutely nothing I can do to earn it. If it could be
earned, it wouldn’t be grace. Funny how that works…
I’m fortunate to have
daily reminders of God’s grace. I have an amazing family. I get to work with
some truly awesome people in my business and with Opal’s Farm. I’m not confused
by these reminders. I surely didn’t deserve them. Quite frankly, I’m in awe
that I’m even still around. Self-care was not something I was big on until late
in life. Some of you know what I mean. I’ve heard it said that God has a big
heart for kids and fools. I often fall into the latter category, in case you’re