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My Own Mind…

There are sometimes when I’m glad there is nobody else at the farm with me. Don’t get me wrong. I love our volunteers and they take a huge burden off my back. Still, there are times when it’s just me and the farm. Everything else seems far away. The soil becomes a part of me. The plants are greener, the pace slower, and all is right with my world.

It probably helps that we finally received some measurable rain after sixty-eight days without. It wasn’t much and it didn’t affect my work – the tractor hardly threw up any mud after the sun came out – but the cooler temperatures and the sprouts of green across a sea of drought-brown reminded me of the ever-present circle of life at the farm. Drought and intense heat bring a sense of hopelessness with it. It begins to weigh heavily and it’s easy to simply go through the day without noticing the wonder of God’s creation.

I was talking to a friend yesterday whose father farmed tobacco in Tennessee. His father always told him that farmers loved the rain and had to appreciate droughts because it gave them the opportunity to find new ways of growing. Opportunity instead of problem – where have I heard that one before…

The more I thought about it though, the more I became convinced that I too, can be grateful for drought. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything (even drought), by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present you requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4.4-7).

This summer helped me find new processes to make Opal’s Farm more successful and get more healthy, fresh produce to our community. God sends everything in it’s time. The rain came just when we needed it the most. The farm is a constant reminder of the ebb and flow of life, of nature. I’ve forgotten that at times. It was okay before I got there, and it will be there when I’m gone…

I take care of the plowing, planting, and building new beds when I’m by myself. I relax, stick on the headphones with some great music (and the Bluetooth to hear the phone over the tractor), and go with the flow of the day. I heard a Lyle Lovett song that I’ve decoded to make my own. I get it and it sums up my days pretty well. Hope you enjoy it…

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Tired, but Hopeful…

Spring and summer leave little time for writing. There’s planting, harvesting, replanting, and constant irrigation going that must be moved manually each hour. The heat came so early to North Texas that everything is bone dry the next day. We’re also facing severe drought here so it’s a constant battle just to keep the crops watered properly. The long string of 100-degree plus weather makes for a long day and early bedtime. Although there’s been no shortage of topics to write about, I’m a bit frazzled and brain-baked by the time evenings roll around. Such is the life of a farmer…

Opal’s Farm held a Volunteer Appreciation Cookout for the 4th of July. It was well-attended, and everyone ate their fill of burgers, hot dogs, and grilled veggies from the farm. The farm is one of the best places in Fort Worth to watch the annual fireworks show and a crowd came in from the neighborhood to watch and share in the festivities. Unfortunately, the fireworks show only lasted a couple of minutes this year. The fireworks set off huge grass fires on the banks of the Trinity River and officials cancelled the rest of the show. Some kids threw fireworks off the train trestle by our gathering, and we had to rush to put out the grass fire they started. It was an eventful evening all the way around.

The cancellation of the big Fort Worth fireworks show seemed a fitting end to the 4th of July this year. Independence Day was either a birthday party celebrating America’s birth or a funeral for American democracy. I haven’t failed to keep up with the news. A funeral is more likely. Shall we go down the list: the January 6th hearings, an attempted coup, the recent slate of restrictive Supreme Court rulings, the 300 plus mass shootings so far this year, massive voter suppression and on and on…

I’m not big on labels, especially political ones. However, I read an article by Adam Russell Taylor of Sojourners Magazine that spoke of the “exhausted majority” (https://sojo.net/articles/pastoral-letter-exhausted-majority). He pointed out the polling showing the majority of Americans feel left out and tired by the continuous division that dominates our political and civil discourse. Most Americans have “flexible views that don’t fit consistently in the Left/Right binary”.

Somebody finally put a voice to my thoughts. I get it. I’m exhausted. I dread even talking to people some days, so I just turn off the news, crank up the music, and cover my head so I don’t get hit with all the verbal and political crap flying by from both extremes. Exhaustion often leads to cynicism. I don’t like cynical people, especially when the cynic is me, so what do I do?

  • Take a break. I need to remember it’s okay to rest. Rest is necessary. It seems even God thought one should rest. He took a break after His work creating the universe and asked the Jewish nation to take a day to do the same. The Gospels tells us that Jesus often withdrew to “a lonely place” to pray, reflect, and recharge his spirit. I’m pretty sure it’s okay to do the same…
  • Pray. A lot. I’m not talking about the “God bless America” prayers of politicians and the religious right. Keep it simple. The Lord’s Prayer is a great place to start – “Your kingdom come your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven”.
  • Vote – My true citizenship lies in God’s kingdom but my participation in the political process here asks that I vote for “the least of these”. Which candidate reflects the policies that will most benefit the poor, the marginalized, and the immigrant. (Yes, I said immigrant – God constantly reminded His people to care for the immigrant – the foreigner – among them). Speak for the voiceless. (Side Note – We will be registering people to vote at upcoming markets and events. This year reflects the need to vote more than ever.)
  • Act in love – Some years ago it was fashionable among Christians to wear little bracelets that said “What Would Jesus Do, or WWJD.  The fashion trend passed but the question remains. If I’ve prayed for God’s will to be done here as it is in heaven than maybe, just maybe, I need to live a kingdom life here instead of waiting around for some mystical eternity. Maybe it means I need to see the world as Jesus as sees it, to see its people as those created in the very image of God, and to agree with the Creator – “it is good” – not perfect mind you, but good.

It’s much easier to find common ground when the Creator is evident in each of us, especially when we know how much God loves us. It becomes impossible to hold His love to ourselves. It must be shared.

Today, I’m taking a rest, enjoying the air conditioning, and asking to God to simply help me love others better. I don’t feel exhausted. I feel hopeful. There’s a lot to do…

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Don’t Be an A-hole

It’s cold in my office today. I left the bar up on the patio door and Sadie, our lovable, sweet dog, decided something was important enough to warrant exterior investigation. She’s incredibly bright. She can open the door if she bends her paw just right. Unfortunately, she hasn’t figured out how to close it. The door was open this morning. The overnight low was twenty-one degrees. The coffee is appreciated more than ever…

I figured I’d warm up the fingers by writing an update on what’s happening at the Joel household I finally received my COVID test results back and they were negative. I figured they would be but it’s possible to be asymptomatic and still pass it on to others. My wife is having major surgery on February 1st, so I’ve been extra careful to avoid bringing COVID home. It took almost five months to get an open surgical room. COVID would put it off again and we definitely don’t want that.

My work is not just the food. It’s ultimately about unity between all people regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual preference, gender identity, and abilities. So, I’ve weighed heavily on writing something that’s divisive. The whole of our culture is divided right now. The last thing everyone needs is another divisive rant. Sometimes loving others requires saying what needs to be heard. Even Jesus got pissed-off about the moneychangers in the Temple.

I’d like to think I’m accepting (albeit begrudgingly at times) of everyone, but that would be a lie. Lately, even begrudgingly doesn’t work anymore. Case in point: Margaret and I have had all our COVID vaccinations, I always wear a mask, and maintain social distance when I do have to go into a store (usually Home Depot – it’s been my toy store for years…). We try to do all the things recommended by doctors and epidemiologists to stop the spread of COVID – for both ourselves and others in particular.

Last night I had to go in to pick up a dinner order that we’d ordered for carry-out. It wasn’t ready and I had to wait. An unmasked gentleman (and I use the term loosely) came up behind me – right behind me mind you – I’m not sure there was even two feet between us. He was close enough to feel his breath on my shoulders. I moved over to the corner to put some space between us. When he finished ordering he also moved into the corner, crowding me again.

I’m irritated when anyone gets in my personal space even in pre-pandemic times, but even more so now. I moved again and he moved closer to speak with his son. I moved once again. So did he. That’s when I could take no more. I looked at him and said, “Sir, you need to back off”.

He looked surprised. I continued, “I need you to maintain some social distance please. My wife is having surgery and I can’t risk taking anything home”.  Everyone was looking at me. Two of the folks that had masks on and nodded approval (two people in a room full of employees and diners). His son murmured “what a dick” and they took a couple of steps back – not six feet though. My food was ready so I got out of there as quickly as I could.

My wife was watching National Geographic documentary called “The First Wave” when I got home. It’s about the first months of pandemic when New York City was the epicenter for COVID. It followed doctors and patients through overwhelmed hospitals during the first wave. We ate dinner and I continued to watch (even though I had a ton of work to do). I became both saddened and angry to watch the death rate soar while healthcare providers shared the emotions that come with helplessness and over-work. Their valiant efforts could not overcome the effects of the disease and they watched friends and patients die and the grief of loved ones who couldn’t even say goodbye. I wept at the loss and frustration.

Sadness quickly turned to anger when I thought of that yahoo at the restaurant. Two years after “The First Wave” we’re still fighting COVID because so many refuse to mask, get vaccinated, or maintain social distance – all the things that would have slowed the pandemic, saved lives, and made of everyone safer – and their refusal is based on their “right” not to do so. Right-wing politicians in many states, like our Governor “COVID” Abbott, have made mask or vaccination mandates illegal. Playing to the Republican-Trump base is more important than saving lives…

This isn’t about politics, our “rights” or “the mark of the beast” people. It’s about having some concern for the common good, for all our friends and neighbors. It’s about not being an ass-hole and “thinking of others more highly than yourself (I read that in a book somewhere). I don’t like wearing a mask, but I do – not even so much for me but for others. I don’t like having to stand back from friends that I normally hug when I see them. If I’m honest, I’m a sissy when it comes to shots. I hate them, but guess what? I’ve had ALL my vaccinations – COVID and everything else as well. Follow the science people and exercise some common courtesy…

Facts no longer change minds and there is little communication, real communication, going on between those on either side of the issue (unless yelling at each other is considered communication. Common courtesy is not that common anymore. The one hope I have is that there are many others choosing to do the right thing – the courteous, wise, and selfless thing. That’s personal choice that’s good for everyone. Remember, don’t be an a-hole

Photo by Yaroslav Danylchenko on Pexels.com

A side note: The new Omnicron variant is far more infectious although early data shows it may not be as deadly – at least for the vaccinated. Many doctors are now saying it’s not if you catch the virus, it’s when.