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The Trifecta

I celebrate fifteen years clean today, it’s World AIDS Day, and it falls on Giving Tuesday this year. The stars aligned to grant a day of lightness at the end of a onerous year. I hit the Trifecta! My Advent meditation yesterday was about the intersections in life – those places we encounter strangers, friends, family, and most importantly, God. I am deeply grateful for the intersections in life that brought me to this day.

Today’s meditation was about choices; especially how we choose to see the world. Fifteen years ago, I had a moment of clarity in the darkness around me. I had a choice – stay in the darkness or venture out into the light. The world (or at least my perception of it) has changed dramatically since then.

I’m not foolish enough to say, “Look what I did!”. I didn’t do squat. My previous intersections with people should have left me where I was. Yet, it was those same people who surrounded me with love until I could fully realize the gift of grace – theirs and God’s…

People familiar with the disease of addiction know what I’m talking about. Those that aren’t can’t appreciate the value of “a new set of glasses”. There are times I share my recovery epiphanies only to have people look at me and silently say, “Duh”. It took me a long time to become aware, to grow up. I just hope and pray that everyone appreciates the depth of God’s grace. I hope that your “grace moment” was gentler than mine.

Addiction has consequences. Mine was AIDS. The bad choices I made became physically evident on April 17, 2006. I was devasted and extremely fearful. Today is different. I’ve chosen to be public about my status despite the stigma that still exists. Secrets die in the light. I always find it ironic that my clean date fell on World AIDS Day.

It’s become more of a chronic disease rather than the death sentence I believed to be initially. My wife tells me we are a “magnet couple” – she’s negative and I’m positive. However, UNAIDS reports that globally, almost a million people died from AIDS-related illness in 2019. Moreover, there were as many as 220 million new AIDS infections in 2019. Those number get lost with the current coronavirus pandemic and lowered fear of the disease culturally. It hasn’t gone away folks!

I get to celebrate Giving Tuesday today as well. Fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t have even heard of “Giving” Tuesday. I knew about “taking” and that certainly wasn’t limited to one day a week. Today I understand the importance and true value of giving. That doesn’t simply mean money (although I’m going to ask you to donate to Unity Unlimited. Inc. and Opal’s Farm in a bit!). It means being present and serving our community and one another.

I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by people who believe in service to their community. They’ve shown me the joy that comes from being a servant and helped me experience it myself. I am incredibly fortunate to work at Opal’s Farm and practice servanthood each day. What we do – the produce we grow, the food we provide – is serving our local community and helping end food insecurity one vegetable at a time.

We can’t do it alone. We depend on the help of our community to expand and grow and serve even more folks. That’s where “the ask” comes in! Please celebrate Giving Tuesday and this Holiday season by giving a gift to Unity Unlimited, Inc. Cash donations are not the only way to give and to serve. Maybe it’s your time and energy (we LOVE our volunteers!) at the farm our with Unity’s other programs (Secret Santa is upon us y’all!) and Juneteenth. Maybe it’s just coming by the farm to say hello or purchase our tasty, healthy produce. Whatever you can do is truly appreciated – on this Giving Tuesday!

Please go to www.unityunlimited.org.

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Why Advent Means More This Year

Advent wasn’t recognized as a season in the religious tradition I grew up in. I was always taught Christmas was a secular holiday since the Bible didn’t name Jesus’ birthday. God knows we didn’t want to be adding to the Good Book. I knew little of the Advent season or the liturgical calendar many Christian denominations celebrate. Shoot, I didn’t even know what Advent was until I married a woman from a different Christian tradition.

My journey with Jesus has taken a different course as I’ve grown older. The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas has always been a reflective time for me. Advent makes it especially so. The word “Advent” comes from the Latin word adventus meaning “coming” – a translation of the Greek word parausia. In turn, parausia denotes a coming, arrival, or physical presence. Most of Christendom thinks of it as the Second Coming of Jesus. I prefer to focus on the first coming, the birth of Emmanuel – “God is with us”.

This year will not go on my Top Ten List of favorites. I lost my son, Jeremy, in May. COVID found its way to our home. Margaret is still suffering the long-term effects even though her symptoms were relegated to her oxygen levels and none of the other ones. We count ourselves blessed in that regard. Many of our friends have experienced the loss of loved ones due to COVID. The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the economy causing so much anxiety and stress. More devastating is the emotional damage it’s caused.

Moreover, the social fabric seems broken almost beyond repair. The divisiveness, hatefulness, systemic racism, and social injustice feel unsurmountable. The election may be over, but the selfish narcissism of the orange-haired baby currently in the White House seeks to destroy anything that may benefit the incoming administration. Even more troubling is the fact that so many of his followers chose untruths over reality. Communication lines are non-existent, and fear runs rampant. This year has made hope feel out of reach.

Photo by Greyson Joralemon on Unsplash

Advent is more important than ever in 2020. It’s the reminder that God is indeed with us even in the brokenness and pain. Advent allows me to look backward: to acknowledge the hurt, the pain, and my shortcomings that holds God at bay. It reminds me of my own powerlessness without God with me. It opens my eyes and my heart to the God that has been there through all of it

It certainly doesn’t feel like it at times, but Advent reminds me that feelings are not reality. This Advent season I hope and pray for the recognition of God’s presence right here, right now. I pray for the constant reminder that God is with us – plural. If God is with you, I pray for the vision to see God in my fellows.

“If God is for us then who can be against us?” Romans 8.31

Note: I discovered a great resource for this season of Advent –

“Low: An Honest Advent Devotional” by John Pavlovitz (www.johnpavlovitz.com)

Maybe we can take the season’s journey together…

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My Prayer Today

I found this jewel this morning…

“My Lord God,

I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,

and the fact that I think I am following your will

does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you

does in fact please you.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,

though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore, I will trust you always though

I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me,

and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

– Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

Photo by Dziana Hasanbekava on Pexels.com
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There is Much to be Thankful for Even When It Feels Like There Isn’t…

We finished our Thanksgiving Dinner a couple of hours ago. Our two younger kids, Paul and River, took care of preparing the meal and cleaning up afterward this year. It was the greatest gift of the holiday (They did a bang-up job by the way!) Margaret wasn’t up to all the physical activity and I was, well, blah.

The holidays are harsh reminders of the loss of my son Jeremy this year. I used to wonder why some people had such a difficult time during the holidays. Now I know.

The week hasn’t been conducive to thankful feelings. On Tuesday, we were finally allowed to clear out Jeremy’s apartment and Art Studio. Everything’s been on hold as he died intestate – no will and minor children – and the court finally ordered the necessary letters to the apartment management. The owner is a local Fort Worth real estate developer that denied us access until we had a court order despite pleas from our family. We still wonder if any of Jeremy’s art is missing. Oh well. Everything is in storage now and out of their hands.

I was flooded with memories and emotion as I went through his belongings. I’ve tried to be strong throughout this process, but I haven’t done well. I feel and function. That’s it. I miss my son and the holidays are a cruel reminder of loss rather than a season of joy and gratitude.

I had to spend time today writing down the things for which I’m thankful because I know I have much to be grateful for even during this crazy, wild-ass year. Gratitude is a verb, not a noun. Sometimes I simply put it in black and white, make it tangible and concrete, and say thanks even when I don’t feel particularly grateful. It makes the whole grief thing a bit easier.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

The first thing I wrote down was my breakfast this morning with my oldest son, Adrian. We started a holiday tradition of having breakfast at Old South Pancake House every Thanksgiving and Christmas morning. Our time together can be lost juggling holiday schedules with adult children, grandchildren, and blended extended families. It’s a time just for us and it’s even more special this year. It was risky going out in public even with social distancing, masks, and hand sanitizer. Covid numbers are surging upward here, but my time with him was worth it.

I’m thankful for family and friends that love me and don’t try to fix my broken heart. They occasionally remind me that God’s got this when I get in a deep, dark place, but they still allow me the room to grieve. Not everyone does that. Well-intentioned people say some screwed-up things to grieving parents. I’m grateful my close friends and family allow me to be where I am emotionally, even when it’s uncomfortable for them. We’ll all get through this together.

This has been a messed-up year, but in the middle of the madness I’ve found something to be grateful for. That gives me hope. It won’t always feel like this…

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“When unity is evolved out of diversity, then there is a real and abiding national progress.” – Manhar-ul-Haque

From all of us at Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm:

Have a blessed and Happy Thanksgiving