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Still Thankful

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s the day after Thanksgiving. Myinbox was filled with a multitude of emails announcing ‘Black Friday’ sales anddonation appeals. It pains me to know I can’t take advantage of either one this year.

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It’s been a difficult few months for Margaret and I, at least where finances are concerned. Business has been slow since my hospitalization in May. The up side is that it’s freed up more time to devote to the farm. The down side is that the farm doesn’t pay the bills, at least not for a couple of more months. Unfortunately, the mortgage and the bills won’t wait that long.

We’re not unique in this regard. A May 18, 2018 New York Post article cites data fromthe United Way Alice Project that, “Some 50.8 million households or 43% can’t afford a basic monthly budget for housing, food, transportation, child care, healthcare, and a monthly smartphone bill.”That’s almost half our population that is one Emergency Room visit or carrepair away from being on the street. Knowing we’re not alone is bothencouraging and disheartening…

Last night, we shared a Thanksgiving meal with family. I struggled to remain mentally present. I had to constantly remind myself to “be where my feet are”. The Cowboy game was a welcome distraction and appreciated more than usual. It relieved my financial anxiety for a couple of hours.

We had a marvelous dinner. Everyone had contributed their own unique piece to the meal. Each had been prepared with love. Everyone ate their fill. I couldn’t help but think of how a few loaves and fishes multiplied to feed five thousand folks. My mood began to lighten.

Following dinner and prior to desserts, we have a family tradition of going around the table and sharing what we are grateful for. If I’m honest, I wasn’t looking forward to this part. I wasn’t feeling very grateful. Yet, something happened as we began our way around the table.

As each of our family shared their gratitude, I gained a little more clarity. Here I was sitting around a table with a full tummy and the people I love and appreciate. That’s something that many folks don’t have. The holidays can be a terribly lonely time for some. Going to bed hungry is a reality for a lot of people. Here in Tarrant County, one in five kids go to bed hungry.

It became a little easier to see my blessings when it was my turn to share. I might have learned the power of ‘Gratitude Lists’ years ago, but sometimes I feel so overwhelmed and fearful that I forget it. When I lose gratitude, I lose vision. When I lose vision, I lose touch with reality.

What I know this morning is that I’m grateful for the life I’ve been granted today. I never thought I’d see forty and I’m still here at sixty to share my thoughts with you. (I know that may not be such a blessing to others at times…) I have a roof over my head and food to eat. Even when the proverbial financial wolf is at the door, I’m safe inside. It will be okay. I can’t think of one single time when it hasn’t. God has been faithful, even when I’m overwhelmed with fear and doubt. Sometimes I don’t see it until I’m well past the problem, but it’s always been that way.

I am so grateful for the people in my life. Our friend Mary, (who doesn’t cook) made amazing dishes to enjoy; all the while being a valued friend and presence for Margaret. Adam, our ‘adopted’ son who reminds us regularly of the importance of sharing life together. Amanda, our new daughter (to say in-law would just be wrong!) who is such a loved part of our family. A great wife to our son, Brandon and mother to our granddaughter, Levi. They were just some of the folks around last night’s dinner table…

I’m even grateful for the current struggles we find ourselves in. For one, I have the gift of Margaret by my side. She has a much better grasp on faith than I do. I’m convinced that’s why God looked at Adam and said, “it’s not good for man to be alone”. I’m so grateful that he felt that highly of me and blessed me with her. She shows me how to love, live, and laugh better…

All in all, life brings its struggles to us all. Our current difficulties are nothing compared to many folks. In fact, they are far more pervasive than most of us would like to admit. Faith doesn’t exempt us from them, but it does provide the sustenance we need to get through them. Gratitude is the first bite of the spiritual food that gives that strength.

If you’re struggling this holiday season, whether it’sfinancial, physical, or far more internal, take a bite of gratitude. 

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Forget Black Friday. It’s Thanksgiving

Thoughts From the Porch: I slept in this morning. I didn’tbother setting the alarm since it was a holiday. I awoke to sunshine streamingthrough the window and it was 9:15 in the morning. It’s not often I miss thesunrise, but I’m grateful for the rest and a lazy morning on the porch.

I’ve had a plethora of text messages this morning. Everyone was announcing their contributions to our Thanksgiving feast. Margaret, Gael, and Mary are busy in the kitchen. Friends have come in and out. Work is on the back burner. The tradition of watching the Cowboys Thanksgiving Day game will be fulfilled. God is so good to us…

Yesterday, Think with Krys Boyd, one of our local NPR shows, interviewed Anthropologist Jack David Eller, about his book, “Inventing American Tradition: From Thanksgiving to Cinco De Mayo”. I was surprised to learn that many of holiday traditions weren’t intended to be traditions at all. What didn’t surprise me is that retailers had a huge part in making them so.

For instance, the Dry Goods lobby tried to have Thanksgiving moved back a week. Then they could have an extra week of the Christmas selling season. I guess since it didn’t happen, they came up with the whole ‘Black Friday’ thing. It became the biggest retail day of the year. It’s since morphed into ‘Black November’ with advertising starting well before Halloween. At least they wait until November First to put the Christmas decorations out…

I don’t get as excited as I used to about the holidays, especially since Mom and Dad are gone. Dad was a big Christmas fan and it just isn’t the same without him. I’m more of a Thanksgiving guy myself. Other than turkey sales, it’s avoided most of the rampant commercialism of the season. We cook a lot, eat a lot, and watch a lot of football and we do with family and friends. What better holiday is there?

The only drawback to Thanksgiving is that it’s only celebrated once a year. I long for the day when communal gratitude is expressed daily. It’s hard not to get along with others when I stay in gratitude. Despite commercial claims, life goes better with gratitude than it does with fizzy drinks…

I could go on and on about the benefits of gratitude and thankfulness, but it’s Thanksgiving and the aroma coming from the kitchen makes it hard to concentrate. I’m feeling a bit inclined to sample the wares there…

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. Take today to take stock of all the blessings. We’ve received. Most of all, take a moment to say thanks for the people in your life.   ff

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Telling a Better Story

It’s another Monday morning here in North Texas. Thanks to Daylight Savings Time, I was up well before sunrise. That may not be the case when we fall back an hour next weekend. I love the sounds of the world awakening around me. They are more pronounced on Mondays. The quiet of weekends replaced by the stirrings of a busy world slowly going about its business.

antique birch classic daylight
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I’m not a big television watcher. Occasionally it’s nice to curl up in bed, relax with my wife, and watch old TV shows on the cable. Sunday nights we watch reruns of the old Johnny Cash show. It was pretty edgy for the time, and in a way, for the place it was recorded as well.

The show originally ran from June 7, 1969 to March 31, 1971 on ABC, and was recorded at the Ryman Auditorium. Guests included rock, pop, and folk artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell and The Monkees, a bit surprising coming from the home of country music, the Grand Old Opry. I guess only Johnny Cash could have pulled off such a guest list there.

The “Man in Black” was the consummate storyteller. He related the changing world of Vietnam Era America in a way that few could. I appreciate it even more now that I’m older. His stories take on new meaning.

Storytelling, especially folk tales, seems on the brink of becoming a lost art. Looking back just isn’t as popular as running forward. Sometimes it’s nice to take a breather. Hearing those old stories is a reminder that “no matter how much things change, the more they remain the same”. My kids may not relate to his tales of towns left behind because of a new interstate highway being built, but if you change the words they still apply. Today it’s the town left behind by jobs being outsourced overseas and young people stranded in a sea of student debt…

When I returned to writing copy and content, I chose conversational writing and storytelling as my ‘market niche’. Not only is it important professionally, it’s important personally. Everyone has a story to tell and together we can write a better one. Helping tell, and live, a better story is what we were all created for…

Stories remind me of how connected I am: to the past, present, and future. They are a constant reminder that I’m part of something bigger than me. My story is a part of your story, and vice-versa. Together we can write a better story.

How can I help?

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Have You Had Your Vitamin D Today?

red flower rose
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Thoughts From the Porch: I haven’t posted much this week. North Texas has seen the wettest October since recordkeeping began. The area lakes are one hundred percent full and dams are opening their floodgates to keep them from flooding. We’ve experienced some localized flooding, but the folks in to our south have been devastated by it. It hasn’t been one of our best months here.

People have been joking about swimming everywhere. If one more person makes a “Noah’s Ark” or webbed feet comment I might  run off screaming. Keep smiling, right?

time lapse photography of river
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Work on Opal’s Farm has been at a standstill. The water level of the Trinity River made me a little apprehensive. Yet, it’s remained well below the levee height. The Water District cannot begin to disc and till the soil until it dries out for several days. We’ve gotten get a sunny day here and a day there, but the soil; is super saturated. We need at least a solid week of sunshine to even think about further progress.

It’s all been a bit much. To top it off, business has been slow enough that I took on a couple of indoor construction jobs to keep some income coming in. I’m thankful for the work. I do what needs to be done, even when doing so wears me out too much to write. I’ve sat down at the desk several times, but the words are stiff, like my body.

Thus, procrastination has reared its ugly head. I set aside writing for the next day and go to bed early. It’s the perfect escape mechanism for dealing with the miserable weather. Sometimes sleep will change the way I feel. My mood had begun to mirror October’s gloomy weather. I didn’t want to inflict myself and my dismal mood on anyone else.

Sleep is an amazing thing. Sunshine even more so. Sunlight on the human skin triggers a human’s ability to manufacture Vitamin D, “the sunshine vitamin”. Vitamin D is essential for overall health. Studies show it helps decrease high blood pressure and protect against inflammation. It helps muscles and even improves brain function. Lack of Vitamin D is a contributing factor in osteoporosis, muscle weakness, cancer, and depression. Given the last month, I can understand the depression aspect.

Unfortunately, few foods provide adequate amounts of Vitamin D. That’s why sunshine is so important.

The sun was already shining when I awoke this morning. I’m usually get up early enough to greet the sunrise, but not today. I slept in and awoke to my dog’s wet tongue and sunlight beaming through the window. I noticed my mood was much lighter. I was excited to get out of bed, rush through the awakening routine, and get to the porch.

My vision was clearer, my mind freer than it’s been in days. My coffee tasted better. Conversation with Margaret was lighter. Problems didn’t seem so overwhelming. The leaves fell more frequently, and the yellows and reds of autumn were more vibrant. I was filled with a sense of awe and gratitude once again. All brought about by a good night’s sleep and brilliant sunshine…

I often forget how simple life really is. The dispiriting, gloomy days of October will always give way to brighter days. Life’s like that. Sometimes it rains, sometimes it shines. Even when the rain seems like it will never cease, the sun will eventually return. Without the rain, I forget the incredible value of the sunshine.

My world mirrors the God I’ve come to know. There may be times it seems like the rain will never end. Yet, the sunshine always returns. The sun is always there even though its light is sometimes hidden behind the cloudy, dark skies of fear and self-doubt. Every time I quite trying to control the or wish away the weather, the light returns: ever reminding me that it’s all okay.

My friend Jim used to tell me things like, “It will all be okay when it’s over. If it’s not okay, then it’s not over” and “In the meantime, it’s just a mean time”. I used to hate hearing that when I was in the middle of a storm, but sure enough, the sun came out, the storm was over, and it was always okay. I come out a little battered but better able to weather any coming difficulties…

I’ve also come to know that I need God like I need Vitamin D. He’s “essential to overall health”. My “muscles” – physically, mentally, and above all, spiritually – are stronger. I’m no longer depressed, feeling overwhelmed by whatever bad weather life sends my way. His light prevents the cancer of resentment and unforgiveness. His light improves my thinking and especially, my vision. I can see the simple beauty of falling Autumn leaves and be at peace.

I’m going to get on with the day now. Now that the sun is shining there’s much to do and many things to see. Besides, I’ve had a Vitamin D deficiency lately…

Have you had your dose of Vitamin D today?

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Who’s Your Village?

black metal armchair
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Thoughts from the Porch: The leaves are starting to cover more of the yard more quickly than they did a couple of weeks ago. The blades of grass, which would shoot toward the sky after every rain last month have slowed to a crawl in their growth. Mowers scurrying along the freeway right-of-way signal colder weather is on the way. Despite the above-average temperatures, Fall is on its way to North Texas.

This week has been hectic (in a good way, for the most part) and the time on the porch is treasured beyond imagination. Margaret and I have been able to get out more, for which I’m grateful. I love to her out and about. The tender’s been stoked, and the brakes are off on Opal’s Farm. The wheels are turning faster now and building speed toward the ribbon-cutting ceremony ahead. The only blot on the week has been a persistent plumbing problem here at home. At least I’m able to be here to take care of it.

As I started my day with a cup of coffee, I felt intense gratitude for the day I’ve been given. I get to meet and work with some amazing people. I’ve often said I prefer the company of dogs and horses to most humans, and that seems to follow on days that I pour over my newsfeed and read about the pervasive anger and divisiveness in our society. I could go on a major rant about it all, but why?

Sometimes I feel a little like the Old Testament prophet, Elijah, in 1 Kings 19. He had seen so much of the selfish decadence of his world that he felt like he was totally alone and persecuted. Lord knows I’ve been there. Events can be overwhelming. I feel isolated, cynical, and sad. Depression clouds my view of the world. It often feels like, “What’s the use?”.

(side note: continuing feelings of “what’s the use, worthlessness, sadness and isolation are nothing to be trifled with, especially when nothing seems to help. It may be something for which relationships, gratitude, and spiritual pursuits aren’t enough. Please seek professional guidance)

Fortunately, Elijah’s story didn’t end there. Yours and mine doesn’t have to, either. God reminded him that he wasn’t alone. First, by speaking in a still, small voice so he was reminded he wasn’t spiritually alone. Second, by reminding him he wasn’t physically alone. In fact, God pointed to all the other people, 7,000 in his case, who had the same desire to make things better. That’s what God does and, continues to do for me on a regular basis.

Over the last several weeks many fantastic and selfless people have crossed my path: people who look to the common good and seek how to be of service. Opal’s Farm is the pathway God has granted me. Beginning with Ms. Opal, the farm’s namesake, I’ve met a succession of people who have blessed me in ways they’ll probably never know. God hasn’t left any of us alone. The world is filled with people who strive to make our community a better place by serving other, but I fail to take them into account. “You can’t see the forest because of all the trees…”

I write a lot about the people in my life and relationships. Probably more than you want to read, but I stress their importance, whether it’s personally, professionally, or spiritually. Mom used to tell me she could tell who I was by who my friends were. I didn’t appreciate her wisdom until I was older, but she was so right. The more I surround myself with great relationships, the better I become as a person.

My personal relationships keep my perspective positive, my business relationships sharpen my focus and service professionally, and my relationship with God expands my spiritual life. What are your relationships doing for you today? Are they a priority in your life? Are you grateful?

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Labor Day…

The air is thick with humidity this morning and ragweed season has begun. I’ll spend as much time on the porch as my allergies will allow, but it tends to be somewhat shorter in duration this time of year. It’s a little frustrating because Fall is absolutely my favorite time of year, and a perfect chance to enjoy the quiet of the porch. Spring is nice, everything coming back to life and all, but Fall beckons me to introspection and reflection on the past year. It begins slowly and reaches a crescendo by the Christmas holidays, just in time to look forward to the New Year.

Fall in North Texas may be different from others’ experience of the changing seasons. Fall officially begins on the autumnal equinox and occurs around September 22nd each year, although it may not feel like it until late October or November. Even then, it may only last a couple of days or weeks until the cold of Winter moves in. Now that the average temperature for each year seems to be one for the record books, the seasons can’t be forecast accurately anyway…

Fall, or at least the timing of it, brings a sense of urgency to living fully and enjoying the blessings in life on an even deeper level. Looking backwards, I can see missed opportunities and instead of regrets, I learn to be more vigilant. It’s easy to fall prey to tunnel vision and miss the doors that God has unlocked along the way, especially when it comes to family and friends. Fall brings clarity and renewed purpose to live life well.

I turned sixty a couple of weeks ago. It’s probably not as big a milestone as I’ve made it out to be, but it feels like it to me. Last year, I decided to step away from the contracting business, go back to school, and re-start my writing career. The last year hasn’t been easy, at least financially. Although I’ve stayed busy, starting a business is never easy. It takes a lot of grit, determination, and perseverance, especially for introverts like me. Although I’m far better at being social when business is involved, I still have difficulties, especially cold-calling and networking. Fortunately, most of my work is from home.

Most of stem from internal issues like believing I’m worthy. I’ve struggled with that for a very long time. I typically don’t like the word ‘self’ in front of things like esteem or worth. Not that healthy self-esteem or valuing one’s self is a bad thing, mind you. It’s just that I tend toward an inflated sense of self if I’m not careful. Holding myself in high regard tends to add the words ‘ish’ and centeredness after the hyphenated ‘self’. I begin to think of my own abilities rather than the gifts I’ve received from God. I forget where ego and pride have taken me in the past.

My friend Edgar often tells me that “I’m not a slow learner, I’m a fast forgetter”. I’ve always known I was reasonably intelligent. Given that it took so long to learn how valuable I am to God, I’d he nailed me down well. It’s easy to forget my successes are the direct result of plugging in to a far greater power than myself.

I may have issues when it comes to self-esteem, but I know without a doubt, that God sees me differently. When I remember who’s I am and how much He treasures me, I begin to accept myself for who I am a bit more and everything becomes easier. I treat myself a little better, forgive my failures a little more, and experience far less fear of the outside world. It didn’t happen overnight, but it’s sure gained speed as I progress further in life.

Remembering who I am makes me ‘right-sized’, as my dad used to say. I used to run from one extreme to the other: either I was the better than anyone else or I was a piece of crap. Today, I’m okay being human. I make mistakes, try to learn from them, and move on to the next thing in front of me. It also makes me far more capable of doing that both personally and professionally. I’m certainly not the best, but I do it well and perform in my own unique way.

When I was a child, my father used to tell me how special I was. I was adopted – a chosen baby. As I ventured out into the world I found out that no one else thought I was that special, and that proved to be a disappointment. I was well into my adult years before I knew what he meant. I was just like everyone else, but I was special to my father, whether it was my adopted father or my heavenly one…

So, as Fall approaches I have the opportunity for another season of introspection and reflection, not that it’s seasonal, mind you. My friend Jim (I really miss him…) always told me that’ “Self-examination, coupled with prayer and meditation, followed by vigorous action, produces favorable results”. I’ve learned just how right he was. I’m ready for Fall…