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Shootings and Shock

Thoughts From the Porch: I stepped out on to a dark porch this morning. The Mockingbird sang his morning song, and all was peaceful. Our little cul-de-sac is far removed from the rest of the world on mornings like this. While I enjoy the respite of the porch, I’m not immune to the world around me. I know how blessed I am. Others are not so fortunate.

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I watched the news in horror as another hateful display of violence and white nationalism resulted in the death of 49 people and 20 others wounded in Christchurch, New Zealand. My heart goes out to our Muslim brothers and sisters who were doing nothing more than practicing their faith. It seems to be a story often repeated: Sikhs in Wisconsin, Christians in Charlottesville, Jewish worshipers in Pittsburgh. It even happened a couple of hours south of me in a small church in Texas. All mass shootings motivated by hate, racism, and insanity.

While I’m deeply saddened by what happened in Christchurch, I’m saddened far more by the fact that I feel no shock whatsoever. Mass shootings are no longer exceptions to the norm. According to www.massshootingtracker.org there have been 65 mass shootings as of March 16th in the United States alone.

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I was living in Denver, Colorado in April 1999 when the Columbine shooting occurred. While there had been earlier mass shootings, Columbine hit home. Maybe it was the scale of the violence or that the news coverage was so immediate, but I was completely shocked by the event. Moreover, my oldest friend had friends at Columbine. It was all-to-real.

I’ve lost count of how many mass shootings there have been since. Maybe that’s why I’m no longer shocked to hear of yet another one. I despise the fact that I’m no longer surprised. It feels like giving in and giving up. People die, it causes an uproar in the media for a couple of days, and everyone goes back to life as if nothing has happened. It’s just the way things are.

I don’t pretend to know how to fix the problem. I’m not here to debate gun control or the other policy decisions that might prevent, or at least mitigate, mass shootings. Prayers and sympathy might help but they aren’t enough. They’re usually lost in a twenty-four-hour news cycle that dulls the senses anyway…

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Daylight Savings and Brothers

Thoughts From the Porch: I survived the Daylight Savings time change. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this oddity a bit of history is in order. It seems that the practice came about during World War I to extend daylight in the Spring and Summer months to conserve coal for the war effort. It has remained in effect off and on in the years since. While the US and most European countries observe Daylight Savings Time, most of the rest of the world does not. I wish we’d get on board with them.

Daylight Savings Time (DST) has its benefits. I’ll be the first to admit that I enjoy the longer periods of daylight, especially working on the farm. Unfortunately, it has its drawbacks as well. I don’t simply miss an hour of sleep. I tend to lose a whole day. Maybe it’s best that it falls on a Sunday since I can always take a nap.

The Center for Sleep Medicine at the Mayo Clinic says the effects of time change last more than one day though. The effects last five to ten days. Since DST happens twice a year, almost a month is affected. It not only alters sleep patterns, it leads to memory and learning problems, increased heart attack or stroke risks, poor social interaction, and affects overall cognitive performance. If I’m having cognitive issues today, I at least have a temporary excuse. I’m not sure what I can say about the other eleven months…

Daylight Savings Time (DST) has its benefits. I’ll be the first to admit that I enjoy the longer periods of daylight, especially working on the farm. Unfortunately, it has its drawbacks as well. I don’t simply miss an hour of sleep. I tend to lose a whole day. Maybe it’s best that it falls on a Sunday since I can always take a nap. The Center for Sleep Medicine at the Mayo Clinic says the effects of time change last more than one day though. The effects last five to ten days. Since DST happens twice a year, almost a month is affected. It not only alters sleep patterns, it leads to memory and learning problems, increased heart attack or stroke risks, poor social interaction, and affects overall cognitive performance. If I’m having cognitive issues today, I at least have a temporary excuse. I’m not sure what I can say about the other eleven months…

Spring’s on the way to Opal’s Farm!

The cognitive issues were obvious this morning. I had a great morning on the porch. Margaret is still sleeping so I extended my porch time today. A lone Mockingbird serenaded me from the top of the street lamp; announcing the coming Spring in song. He (or his kids) always show up when everything gets ready to bloom and hangs around until the following Winter. I was so excited I came to write about him and my morning thoughts. I did so until I hit something on the keyboard that deleted my whole story. Definitely a cognitive issue!

Ss here I sit rewriting this morning’s post. I’m extremely aware of my occasional Attention Deficit Disorder on mornings like this. I’m not sure I remember what I wrote in the first place. “Squirrel!” Don’t laugh. Some of you know exactly what I mean. Oh, I remember now…

I got to spend some time with my brother Craig this weekend. I don’t get to do that as often as I’d like. I’m often asked why our mother would name us Craig and Greg, so let me explain.

About eleven years ago, I suffered a couple of cerebral hemorrhages that left me unable to work. Without health insurance or income, I ended up losing my house after several months and was staring at imminent homelessness. I frantically searched for housing programs for people in my position but had found nothing by move-out day. My friend Craig (he wasn’t my brother yet, but I’ll explain that in a bit) offered to let me stay at his place for a couple of weeks while I looked for housing. I left five years later…

Craig and I spent our mornings on his porch or in his workshop having coffee, praying together, and talking. After a couple of weeks, Craig asked if I wanted to be his roommate. The coming years led to so much more.

Men do not often have the kind of relationship Craig and I have. I have good friends. My parents have passed away, but I have family: my sister and her family in Georgia whom I love dearly. Still, the bond Craig and I have is beyond mere friends. I think it hit home when Craig gave me a tobacco pipe that he handmade in the shop (he’s amazingly talented with wood). I still have the note that accompanied his gift. It’s taped to my desk so it’s the first thing I see when I sit down to write. It says,

“Like David and Jonathan, you are my best friend. This pipe is a token of my love for you. Enjoy it my friend.”

Before David became the King of Israel, he had come to live in then King Saul’s house. Jonathan, the King’s son, felt an immediate bond with David and they became fast friends. King SauI and David went on to become enemies, but it never changed the friendship between David and Jonathan. Samuel 18 tells us that Jonathan was “totally committed to David. From that point on he would be David’s number-one advocate and friend.” Later, “Jonathan, out of his deep love for David, made a covenant with him. He formalized with solemn gifts: his own royal robe and weapons…”    

I know how richly I’m blessed to have my relationship with Craig. Many people, especially men, fail to foster such deep relationships with others. I won’t pretend to know all the answers why. I’m no relationship expert. Still, I’m filled with gratitude for one who has gone beyond friend to my brother. In the five years that I lived at Craig’s house , we never had a cross word with one another. Not to avoid conflicts, mind you. Peace and serenity are the natural by-products and love and respect.

My sister and I are both adopted. We know what it is to have a family desire and love you so deeply that you become part of them. I was in my fifties before I knew that I had an adopted brother. We may not share the same parents, but we share the same Spirit. I’ve got the pipe to prove it…                                                 

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“Us” and “Them”: Part Three – The Wright Brothers Were Wrong

Thoughts from the Porch: It’s frigging cold! I huddled over the trusty old desk in a long-sleeved shirt, hoodie, and the space heater turned on high as close as I can get it without burning myself. Did I ever mention my office is the coldest room in the house?

Our home was built in the 1960s. Back then, builders in North Texas weren’t concerned with energy efficiency and insulation. Since Margaret and I moved in we’ve made improvements slowly as the money has come. Rare cold days like today put a strain on the heater and thus my office is simply damn cold. Anyway, the rant is over. On to other things…

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Experience has taught me to look for the positive in every situation, albeit hard at times. It’s usually easier after the fact. I may be wrong, but I believe it was Steve Jobs who said something to the effect that “life is meant to be lived forward but can only be understood looking backward”.

There are times when our ability to believe a lie is a positive thing. My wife has dealt with back issues and chronic pain for most of her life. She’s had many surgeries and some post-operative infections over the years. The doctors have often given little hope of keeping her out of a wheelchair and are always surprised when we walk into a new appointment. Her philosophy through out her lifetime has been “don’t tell me what I can’t do”.

Doctors base their truth on the evidence at hand. We tend to call it an opinion rather than a truth, but it’s an opinion based on facts. The facts indicate Margaret should not be ambulatory, but don’t tell her that. She doesn’t believe it. She pushes through and is still, albeit with a cane, walking today. Her refusal to accept the facts lead her to live a better life and she’s not alone.

Whether you believe man left a garden, or the African savannah doesn’t really matter. Either way, I can imagine those early humans sitting around the tribal campfire after a long day of hunting and gathering. Autumn has set in. There’s a chill in the night air. As they laugh and chat about their day, a flight of geese heading south for the winter passes overhead.

One of the guys looks up and says, “I wish I could fly south and get away from this winter. Maybe I can find a way to do just that”. His other buddies crack up with laughter and tell him how goofy he is. He becomes the object of ridicule. After all, man doesn’t have wings and can’t fly like a bird, right?

Fast forward many centuries to the Renaissance. Leonardo Da Vinci is busy drawing a flying machine. Man is still thinking of ways to “head south for the winter”, to fly like bird. If you fast forward to a hill at Kitty Hawk in 1903 and the Wright Brothers finally the first airplane flight. Just a few decades later and we’re walking on the moon. Go figure…

Now the truth is man can’t fly. No matter how fast one runs across the meadow flapping man-made wings, they fail miserably. I know. I tried it, but that was back in the seventies and involved hallucinogens which is another story all together. The fact, the truth, is that man can’t fly.

Before you deem me simple of mind take a moment to think about it. Have you ever known a man to fly? I haven’t but I have seen man create new and better airplanes and forms of flying machines. They fly; sometimes without a human pilot aboard. I know it’s all semantics, right? Still, I’m thankful old Wilbur and Orville believed in the lie that man could fly. Because of their belief in a lie, I can hope a jet for Jamaica in the winter (which I really wish I were able to do today…), soak up the sun, and take a dip in tropical waters. You see, there’s something positive in everything.

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By now you’re probably asking what this has to do with “Us” and “Them”. The truth is humans were created to live in community, to live life together, and what’s inside each of us is inside all of us. This sounds so cliché, so trite, but it’s the truth. The truth is there is no “them”, there’s just us.

My friend Edgar always said, “Show me how you act, and I’ll tell you what you believe”. If I believe the “Them” lie, I can justify all kinds of bad behavior toward others. My belief system is faulty. I believe a lie. Sometimes I think it’s easier to be a duck, but I’m not, so today I’ll try to be the best “Us” I can be and act accordingly.

What do you believe?

“Show me how you act and I’ll tell you what you believe…”

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Happy Anniversary My Dear

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s a wee bit chilly on the porch this morning. Overcast skies make for a dreary opening for the month of March. The good news is that I saw my first Robin this week. They tend to be a more accurate predictor of Spring. It may be cold but today is the unofficial beginning of Spring in my book. It’s time to get busy.

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I’ve been a bit reflective of the last six years. You see, tomorrow Margaret and I will have been married six years. It’s hard to believe. It’s sounds so cliché to say it seems like yesterday, but in a way it does. On the other hand, my life without my beautiful wife seems like eons ago. That’s a good thing. I can’t imagine life without my bride.

I love telling the story of our “whirlwind” relationship. We started dating on December 1st and got married three month later. I tend to leave out the part that we’d been friends for many years prior to dating. It’s more romantic that way.

I also tend to leave out the part about my proposal. It wasn’t so romantic. Fortunately, when you get married in your fifties, practicality has its own rewards. I debated whether I should include that part in this post, but since many of our friends know about it anyway, here goes…

Margaret and I were at my house getting ready to go out to a recovery function. We were running late so both of us were in the bathroom getting ready. We were in rather inglorious positions, she was getting ready and me shirtless, shaving away. It felt a bit like an old, married couple. I laughed to myself, looked at Margaret and said, “You want to get married?”

She looked over and said, “Are you serious?”

I looked back at her. She looked radiant, despite the awkwardness of our locale. “Yeah, I think so”. The rest my friends, is history.

She still teases me to this day about my ‘romantic’ proposal. I freely admit it wasn’t one of my stellar moments, but it was the most important question I ever asked in my life. The trajectory of my life changed in the bathroom that day and it definitely changed for the better.

There are a couple of reasons I’m sharing this story today. One is that we both had been single for many years prior to our marriage. Each of us had reached a point where we thought that’s the way it would be, and we were each okay with it. Life was good, but companionship would be great and love even greater. We were both complete human beings loving the gift of life and recovery as precious children of God. We were happy and content just the way we were. We didn’t need someone to feel whole. Had we started dating earlier (and believe me, I thought Margaret was hot and way out of my league), neither of us would have been ready for the relationship we have today. It was on God’s time and not ours.

Sometimes it feels like God’s time passes far too slowly. I always want answers to life’s questions now, but it rarely works that way. I knew how to fail in marriage, but I had no clue as to how to have a successful one. If I’m honest, the only thing I knew for sure was what I didn’t want in a relationship. Experience was a great teacher in that regard. Like Tom Petty sang, “the waiting is the hardest part”.

Looking back, I had so much to learn and it took a lot of growth, both personally and spiritually, to even be ready to meet someone special like Margaret. I had to be led through the process of “becoming”. By the time we began dating I had grown in my relationship with God and, consequentially, was ready for someone like Margaret. Patience truly is a virtue. What I’m trying to say is that Valentine’s Day may not be your favorite holiday when you’re single, but it becomes one when you learn to treat yourself as worthy of love.

Secondly, even the simplest, most awkward of times can be holy moments. I often think of how I would’ve liked to have proposed to Margaret. I really can be romantic at times. Still, I wouldn’t change a thing if it meant life would be any different. Margaret and I married eight days later. I was scheduled for a craniotomy to remove an AVM that was bleeding in my head. Even though it was to be a routine brain surgery by one of Fort Worth’s most respected neurosurgeons I couldn’t fathom the idea of passing away without Margaret being my wife. Our friends came together and planned a beautiful wedding in that time. Over a hundred of them came to our wedding and we love each them dearly.

Thinking about tomorrow I find myself wishing to shower Margaret with gifts, kisses, and thanks. I can do the wishes and the thanks, but the gifts are going to be slim. We are struggling financially right now so I can commit all my efforts to our non-profit for the farm. We prayed about it and know this is what God wants us to do. That never would have happened in my past life – the prayer that is. God orders our steps today. That’s what makes ours a wonderful marriage – God is the center of it. The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “a rope of three cords is not easily broken”. Thanks to my beautiful, thoughtful, and loving wife for making a home of three cords: God, Margaret, and I…

One of my favorite pictures
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Grace and Granddaughters

Thoughts From the Porch: I intended to spend the weekend catching up on all the outdoor stuff I’d put off due to last week’s weather. I ended up cleaning house and spending time with my oldest granddaughter instead. The house was a disaster from a wet week (three big dogs make for three times the mess) so I spent Saturday with broom, mop, and vacuum cleaner. Sunday had big plans, but they were cast aside when I was able to spend time with Baillie. She’s a freshman in college and we don’t get to see each other as much.

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I’ve thought about Baillie a lot over the last few weeks and especially this morning. It’s hard to believe the same little girl who rode in my old work truck to church with me every week is now a beautiful young college student. It’s so cliché to say, “it seems like yesterday when we (fill in the blank)”, but that’s the way it is. It was four trucks and a lifetime ago.

I originally sat down to write a Monday morning treatise on grace. My mind was full of all kinds of theologically deep thoughts about “unmerited divine assistance given to humans for their regeneration or sanctification” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary – italics mine). Fortunately, my mind kept going back to my sweet granddaughter and the grace that’s filled our lives.

When Baillie was three or four, I was told that I’d never be a part of my granddaughter’s life. My life was a mess; a tornado roaring through the lives of everyone I touched. Looking back, I can’t argue with those who kept me away from her. Fortunately, things began to change around the time she turned five: I found recovery from the hopeless state of mind that made up my life. I found grace.

I’d love to tell you of this magical, mystical moment when I latched on to the wellspring of grace and life changed, but I can’t. It was a process of receiving and accepting progressively deeper levels of grace – from God and my fellows. Over time, I’ve come to realize that all is grace. My life has changed; has been transformed.

The relationship I have with my granddaughter today is a constant reminder of the grace, and subsequent gratitude, that fills my life. I still remember the first time she came to spend Christmas with me. Those early visits were often short but the highlight of my day. Weeks passed and the visits became more frequent. Months later, we were off together in my old truck, laughing and spending days together.

Things have changed through the years. She’s graduated high school, works hard in college, and has a host of friends her age that she hangs out with. Even though time our time together has become less frequent, it’s become more valuable. I’m always amazed and incredibly grateful when she comes running up to hug me and spend time with Pops. Grace is an amazing thing.

I’m convinced that those who have experienced the depths of God’s grace and the love of a child understand grace better than most. They rely on it and their lives are transformed. Their lives overflow with grace and gratitude and it touches everything around them. That’s been my experience anyway.

I wish you all a grace-filled Monday; grace that pours out into the world. I’m off to my granddaughter’s house…

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Thanks for Being Part of my Journey

“It may be true that he travels farthest who travels alone, but the goal thus reached is not worth reaching.” — Theodore Roosevelt

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Super Sunday… not

Thoughts from the Porch: It’s the last day of January. It felt like it on the porch. Still, I can enjoy my porch time unlike our neighbors to the north. The record low temperatures remind me how lucky I am to be a Texan where we complain about the cold when the high is in the forties, not forty below. Prayers of warmth are being sent up for the folks in the Midwest. Hang in there, guys…

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Being from Texas, I’m genetically predisposed to be a football fan. Football is most certainly a religion here. Our football fervor has inspired countless books, several movies and even a television series, “Friday Night Lights”. Visit any small town on Friday nights in the Fall and you’ll see what I mean. In the big cities there are multi-million dollars high school stadiums filled with frenzied fans. Winning coaches and star players are often held in the same worshipful regard as Davy Crockett and the heroes of the Alamo. Fans know the stats of every player on the home team. For a few months of the year, football is king.

When I moved to Colorado in my early teen years, I was baffled that high school football seemed to take a back seat to basketball. My dad informed me that football wasn’t revered by the heathens north of the Red River. Though that might have been true about high school, it didn’t seem to apply to pro ball. Denver Bronco fans were intense! Colorado had some redeeming qualities after all!

For many years, my Sunday afternoons were spent at either the stadium or in front of the television. I was happy to play Monday morning quarterback with coworkers and friends. God forbid that I ever miss a Super Bowl, regardless of whether my teams were playing. I was a football fan!

This coming Sunday is Super Bowl LIII. It’s unlikely I’ll be tuning in except to see the new crop of Super Bowl commercials for the year. They’re far more entertaining even if they are about rampant consumerism. Things have changed over the years. I may see part of one or two games per season, if I think about it. Watching for a few minutes seems to be a waste of time. It’s just not the same.

I still make high school games. I love the school spirit, the energy, and the love of the game. High school players still play ball because they enjoy it; for the most part anyway. People still fill the stadium because that’s what we do: support our kids, yell at the opponents, and then go out for dinner with them after the game. There’s a certain purity to that.

I don’t follow professional football much. Not only are the Dallas Cowboys (my favorite team) absent from the playoffs most years, watching a bunch of prima donnas do put on end zone theatrics, kind of turns my stomach. It’s far more about money and celebrity than it is love of the game. Real players and role models are few and far between.

I have mixed emotions about the sport today. The medical community has begun to understand the long-term consequences of the game. It’s not just bad knees and back problems anymore. There’s traumatic brain injury and early onset dementia to think about. I sometimes wonder if allowing my son to play was in his best interests. His college scholarship hopes were cut short by an injury during his senior year.

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Despite his injuries, I still believe in high school football and the purity of the game. He learned a lot about teamwork, sportsmanship, and perseverance playing ball. Watching most (not all, mind you) pro players today those things seem to be absent. I have no desire to give my time or my dollars to such foolishness.

So, this Sunday will find me working around the house, catching a movie on Netflix, or sleeping in my recliner. You won’t find me watching the “Big Game” but, if it’s a Friday night in November, you might just see me under the Friday night lights.