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Hi Mom

Happy Mother’s Day to everyone! I hope your day is filled with love, laughter, and joy. Treasure your mom. Take time on this special day to honor her. Moms are such gifts.

My mom passed away a couple of years ago. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think of her. I’m sure she sees to that. She always loved butterflies. There’s always butterflies at the farm. I usually say ‘hi Mom” every time one passes by. There are days when the work is more difficult than others; days when I’m just a bit more tired, more achy than usual. Those are the days when the butterflies spend the most time with me.

I know. It sounds a bit silly. There are always butterflies around. It’s a farm, right? Maybe I’m a bit foolish to make Mom assumptions about butterflies. Then again, maybe not…

Spring is an incredibly busy time at the farm. The days may be growing longer but the time seems to be much shorter. There’s so much to do!

The other day, I was tilling a new section of the farm. The sun felt more like a summer day than a mid-Spring one. Temperatures in the 90s usually hold off until later in the month. I was hot, tired, and feeling more than a of bit of inadequacy and frustration. My “To Do’ list kept growing and the time felt shorter and shorter.

About that time, a beautiful tan and yellow butterfly (I’m not expert on identifying species) lit on my shoulder. I stopped for a moment and admired the creature, fully expecting it to take flight once I resumed tilling. I increased the engine speed and took off down the row. The butterfly stayed. I came back on the next row. The butterfly stayed. In fact, it stayed for five more rows before taking flight to wherever butterflies go.

If you haven’t farmed or used a large rototiller tractor before then the idea of a butterfly remaining in place may not seem like such a big deal. The tractor is loud and heavy to turn around as one bed is completed and the next one begun. Add to that the sweat and the constant body movement and it becomes a bit clearer that normally this would be the last place for a butterfly to lite.

It dawned on me that Mom was “paying me a visit”. She stayed there on my shoulder to remind me that she always had (and has) my back. She stayed there to let me know I was doing good work, to see it through, and do what I can today. The ‘to-do list” will get done. It’s okay. After all, those are lessons she preached all the time. It just took me a while to figure out how valuable those lessons were and just how much I was loved…

I don’t ‘know’ if it was mom that day. What I can tell you, is it’s not the first time a butterfly has chosen my shoulder as a resting spot. There may be a myriad of scientific reasons why a butterfly chose to use my shoulder for a resting place. It may be normal butterfly behavior, but I chose to believe it’s one more reminder that Mom is never far away and is always looking out for me…

I’ll go to the cemetery later today. I picked a nice assortment of flowers to leave by her headstone. It’s a small way of saying how much I love, honor, and treasure Mom. I pray we all do the same…

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Life’s Soundtrack

I try to write every day, whether I feel inspired or not. I’m told that such a practice will make me a better writer; that quality content will become more frequent. Lord knows I need that. Some nights though – after a long hard day at the farm – I come home, turn on the stereo (the computer actually), and sit down to do paperwork and answer emails. That’s not happening tonight though; the paperwork and emails I mean. Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”, The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, and Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” put an end to that. There’s nothing left to do but lean back, breath deeply, and enjoy the music.

I never fit in. It’s the oft told tale of being on the outside looking in. I’m not sure why really. I was blessed to have a great family. My sister and I are both adopted – wanted and loved dearly by the couple that became our parents. I didn’t come from a broken home. Mom and Dad celebrated fifty-three years of marriage before Dad passed. There’s no abuse that I know of; at least not physically or emotionally. Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian home I went to church three times a week, learned about a rather arbitrary God, and tried to live up to impossible standards of piety. That is spiritual abuse, but that’s another story…

The one vivid and undisputable memory was the music. It was always present. Saturday evenings were devoted to Lawrence Welk (my Dad’s favorite) and country music shows like “Live from Panther Hall” and Porter Waggoner (featuring a young Dolly Parton; my Mom’s favorite). Perry Como, Mitch Miller’s Sing-along, and Andy Williams filled the rest of the week.

My earliest and fondest memories were of singing in the car while on the way to South Texas to visit my uncle’s ranch each summer. My Dad would prop me up on his lap and let me take the steering wheel of our ’64 Oldsmobile 88 as we rocketed down the highway (there were no such things as seat belts and the car seat consisted of his arm across my chest when we had to come to a sudden stop…). Man, that car would fly. We would be running at ninety miles an hour and Dad would be singing all the way.

Dad had varied tastes. He’d belt out 1940s Big Band hits on minute, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, or bluegrass hymns the next. Many years later he told me that my Uncle Bynam, who was killed in World War Two, was the singer in his family. After hearing Dad, I respectfully disagree…

Melodies filled the car, the miles faded into the rearview mirror, and all was perfect in my little world. Dad’s lap, my driving (okay, steering – I couldn’t reach the pedals), and the songs made that Oldsmobile a piece of heaven on Earth. I can still hear him sing “I love you, a bushel and a peck, a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck…” or “Mares eat oats and does eat oats…”  some five decades later.

I outgrew Dad’s lap and at sixteen, found my own seat behind the wheel of a ’68 Chevy Impala Sport Coupe. Dad’s singing was replaced by an eight-track tape deck blasting everything from The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Steely Dan to Jackson Browne, Neil Young, and Cat Stevens. My tastes were as varied as Dad’s. My part-time job was next door to Independent Records (the Top 100 albums were on sale for 3.99!). When I got paid on Saturday mornings, I made haste to cash my check so I could buy new albums. My purchases were always dependent on whatever adolescent challenges I was facing that week. Some of you know what I mean…

The eight-track gave way to cassette tapes, CDs, and later to MP3s and streaming services. The ‘67 Chevy has been replaced by my old farm truck. I drive the speed limit most of the time. My feet have reached the pedals for fifty years or so. Every now and then you just have to crank it up to ninety, crank up, the stereo, and keep an eye out for State Troopers, even when you’re sitting at your desk…

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Maybe the “New Normal” is Not so New After All…

Thoughts From the Porch…

The rain returned to North Texas along with cooler weather for the day. Fortunately, it’s a brief visit and the weather looks clear until late in the week. The Prairie Verbena is casting purples all around Opal’s Farm. It’s almost April and the highways and byways are bursting in color. The Bluebonnets came early this year, but now the blues are accompanied by the oranges and yellows that make even rush-hour pleasurable.

Of course, there isn’t much of a rush hour these days. We’re well into the “shelter in place” order as the coronavirus lurks about Fort Worth searching for a host to devour. I’ve been unable to hug my kids and grandkids for a couple of weeks now. I’m starting to feel a bit weak…

My heart goes out to everyone during these trying times. I have the privilege or the misfortune, depending on how you view it, of being an “essential business” so I’m not stuck at home unless it rains. Everyone still needs food, especially healthy, fresh food, so I’m glad I can do something to contribute, even if it’s only a small part.

(By the way – the Cowtown Farmers Market is still open every Saturday morning from 8AM until Noon. Thank you to all the folks at Cowtown, both farmers and customers, who follow CDC guidelines and provide fresh, local produce during this crisis.)

Fortunately, the farm is a place folks can eliminate some of the boredom of “shelter in place” and help others at the same time. Social distancing isn’t an issue with well over an acre and there’s plenty to do. I’m just throwing that out for you all in case you’re wondering. I think I’ve seen more people on the adjacent Trinity Trails this weekend than I’ve seen in the past year.

I have a dear friend who had a serious surgery last week. The coronavirus situation has kept me from visiting the hospital and I can only receive updates from his wife. I shouldn’t complain. They’ve even prevented her from being there. She sat in the parking lot all day while her husband was in surgery. I can’t even imagine what that would be like if it were my wife. Sometimes it seems that prayers are not enough. COVID-19 has stolen so much more than physical health.

The pundits talk about our “new normal”. This is not normal. It may be what we do to take care of each other and ourselves, but it’s far from normal. However, there are some things from all of this I hope become the “new” normal. A friend told me of seeing his son playing catch with his grandson in the backyard. Sounds normal, right? Then he told me that his grandson was nine years old and had never done that before. They did other things together – his son’s a great parent – but they’d never simply thrown a ball back and forth. Maybe the “new normal” will see more of the “old normal. Maybe we’ll have less screen time and more play.

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I would be remiss if I didn’t share the rest of the story about my friend in the hospital. Many of use prayed throughout the day. That’s what friends do for one another. During the surgery one of the nurses called her every hour, on the hour, to let her know how her husband was doing. Those phone calls made the long wait somewhat bearable. Above and beyond is what so many of our healthcare folks do for us each day, virus or know virus. Please take time to say a prayer, make a phone call, or just say thank you. Maybe that kind of “new normal” isn’t so bad…  

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And God Said It Was Good…

Thoughts From the Porch

It was unusually quiet on the porch this morning. The birds were still singing, kept in time by the staccato beat of our neighborhood woodpecker, but there was no city sounds in the background – only a peaceful silence. Some would attribute to the “shelter in place” order we’re presently under. I prefer to believe that God quieted the noise so I could hear the beauty of birdsong and bask in the joy of a new morning.

I’ll exchange online church services for working at the farm this morning. A big rain is predicted for tomorrow and there’s tomatoes to get in before it comes. Besides, farming is its own worship service in so many ways. There are lessons to be learned from the never-ending process of life, death, and rebirth that only a garden can give.

From the very beginning in the Genesis creation story, God thought a garden was a good place for man to start. He planted a garden and gave it over to the care of the human beings He created in His own image:

“God spoke: ‘Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, yes, the Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of the Earth’.

God created human beings; He created them godlike, reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female.

God blessed them: ‘Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of the Earth.” (Genesis 1.26-28 – The Message- emphasis mine)

Working at the farm is a reminder of God’s instruction to be responsible for the Earth He gave us. I grew up hearing that passage as one of “having dominion over” rather than “taking care of” the gift of creation. I understand the difference today. Working in the soil, watching the crops grow, and seeing the happy faces of the ones who receive our produce is what was intended all along – be responsible and help others…

I take that responsibility serious at Opal’s Farm. That’s why I practice regenerative farming. I want to nourish and replenish the soil and leave it better than I found it. I take care of the gift entrusted to me. That’s what responsibility (and gratitude) is all about. I can’t take care of everything, but I can easily be responsible for my little place in the word. My prayer is that we’ll all do the same.

Photo by Markus Spiske temporausch.com on Pexels.com
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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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The Best Sermons I Ever Heard…

I’ve been taking a personal writing hiatus for the last couple of weeks. It’s been quite busy with Opal’s Farm and client requests. When life gets a bit too hectic I’ve learned the value of a Sabbath rest…

Fortunately, it’s been gloomy and rainy here for the past two days. Thursday’s downpour and yesterday’s off-and-on showers allowed me to complete many of the projects I have going. I woke up this morning to a glorious sunrise, bright skies, warmer temperatures, and a brain worm…

Jonathan Edward’s “Sunshine (Go Away Today)” kept echoing through my head even though the last thing I want is for the sun to leave. It’s a great song from my younger days though. It led me to look it up on You Tube. I couldn’t help but listen to the subsequent playlist – Greg Allman, Jackson Browne, Jimmy Buffet – and my favorite from the morning, Arlo.

Now I know some of you have no idea who Arlo is. I know I’m dating myself, but Arlo and his father, Woody (as in Guthrie) shared a musical wisdom few possess. (Aside: I still follow the ritual I started some forty years ago by playing “Alice’s Restaurant” each Thanksgiving Day at Noon!).

As I was watching the video from one of Arlo’s more recent performances I was struck by the fact that some of the best sermons I’ve ever heard of not come from preachers and pastors, but from artists. There’s a spirituality in art, particularly music, that I’ve never found in a church service.

I hope you enjoy the clip. It’s rather long. Then again, most preachers go on a lot longer. (Another aside: When I was a kid we always found on preachers who went past the allotted twenty-minute sermon time – the Baptists would beat us to Luby’s…)

Anyway, I found it particularly meaningful on a bright, sunny day. By the way, Sunshine don’t run off…

Have a great weekend!
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Sorrow and a Few Regrets?

Thoughts From the Porch

Winter officially arrived at 10:19 Saturday night. That must be why it’s not cold enough to freeze but still a wet cold that pierces the skin and settles in the bones. Such is winter in North Texas. I’ve been here all, but seventeen years, of my life and I’m still not used to it. At least it’s warming up for the rest of Christmas week…

A box with Christmas floral arrangements arrived the other day. My sister in Georgia sent them. She asked me to place them at the cemetery for Mom and Dad. My sister is far better at remembering things like that than I am. It’s not that special days aren’t special. It’s usually because I’m so forgetful. I never seem to think of birthdays and holidays until the day before or the day of. If I’m totally honest then I must admit sometimes the day passes and it doesn’t dawn on me until two or three days later. I’d love to blame it on my past neurological issues. The reality is that I’ve always been that way with holidays.

Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com

I go to the cemetery regularly. Sometimes it’s just a quiet place to pray and meditate, but mostly I go to talk to Mom and Dad. I’m quite sure they hear me loud and clear although their place in time and space limits my ability to hear them. I can only settle for memories of conversations long past.

I took the flowers to the cemetery. I went to place them in the vase above the headstone only to find the vase broken again. It had cracked once before and I guess I need a different epoxy glue for the marble marker. There were two arrangements, one for Mom, one for Dad. It didn’t seem right to only acknowledge their markers. After all, it’s a family plot. I certainly couldn’t overlook Grandmother, so I placed the two arrangements at opposite sides of the family headstone and stepped back to check the placement. Now everyone was honored…

I wished them each a Merry Christmas and tried to leave but I could not. I felt the tears well up and erupt in a sudden explosion of grief. Honestly, I was a bit shaken by it all. It’s been seventeen years since Dad passed and seven years of Christmas without Mom. My sister moved her to Georgia five years before her death since she required more care than I could offer here at home. At least I had some time to ease into the holidays without either of my parents.

“All my life’s a circle, sunrise and sundown…” – Harry Chapin

The cycle of life goes on. Birth, life, death. Rinse and repeat, right? It is what it is. We all die and experience the death of those close to us. I’m generally in acceptance of the whole affair. Grieving is something we all do. I still think about my parents on almost a daily basis, but it’s usually happy memories and I’m at peace. I guess that’s why I felt so blindsided by the sadness that poured over me. I simply wasn’t expecting it. Grief has a way of doing that…

When Mom passed in 2017, I walked through the grieving process with the help of family and friends. The strong relationship with God, forged by recovery, afforded me that opportunity. Mom got to watch the miracle of my recovery unfold in her later years. Staring at the headstones for the rest of those in our family plot, I realized no one else could say that (except for Uncle Bynam, who died at Anzio in World War Two – born at the end of the “War to end all wars” and died in the next one – the irony isn’t lost on me, but that’s another story for another time…). Sorrow and regret washed over me.

My life, for the most part, is free of regrets. Acceptance and a relationship with a loving God helped me deal with the demons of the past; especially those of my own creation…). Life doesn’t allow “do-overs” and I’m okay with that. I made amends where I could, accepted those I couldn’t, and received and gave forgiveness to others and myself to the best of my ability. Most days, I live in the present and the future is bright. It is what it is…

Standing there in front of the family plot reminded me of what I do regret, what I wish could have been different. I wish with all my heart my Dad, not to mention my uncles and Grandmother, could see me today. My faith says they do, but it’s not quite the same as having them physically here.

Contrary to popular belief, “time doesn’t heal all wounds”. It merely closes them up, scars over, and aches from time to time It’s like my knee surgeries. I’ve recovered from the injury, but they still hurt from time to time. Grief will come at unexpected times and with no expiration date stamped on it.

When it does it’s often accompanied by regret, but my perspective has changed. Instead of the old “if only” inner dialogue, I’m reminded I can’t correct the past, but I can change my future: a future I’m pleased to live out under the gaze of those I love.

I stood there until the tears subsided. I said my goodbyes and wished those I love a Merry Christmas. I would’ve wished them a Happy New Year as well, but I’m convinced that has little meaning for them now. God’s time is measured differently.

As I turned to leave, the wind, which had been absent a moment before, blew fiercely through the surrounding trees. The Tibetan Book of the Dead says that when a great a soul dies the winds blow mightily. It happened on the night of my father’s death and every time I’ve visited the cemetery since. I like to think it’s his way of saying, “I’m proud of you, Son. Keep doing what you’re doing”. The tears began again. This time they were tears of gratitude and joy…

“That’s why we can be so sure that every detail of our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” Romans 8.28