Thoughts From the Porch: The wind is a bit frisk this
morning, but all is well on the porch. It’s still too wet to work on the farm
so I’m enjoying the quiet solitude of our little cul-de-sac and my second pot
Today is Good Friday. I’ve always been curious how it came to be called “Good” Friday. I get the idea that Jesus’ crucifixion led to a Good Sunday (Easter), but there’s really nothing good about hanging someone on a cross. Maybe Christians would do well to change their iconography for the cross to a stone. I’d rather constantly remember the resurrection than a barbaric and humiliating form of capital punishment. I want to be a resurrection disciple.
Those who have experienced God’s grace on a deep level
tend to be aware of the price paid for their redemption. They know spiritual
death. They know what the proverbial “end of the rope” is. They know what it’s
like to have nowhere and no human being to turn to. They know that accepting
God’s grace is the only thing that
will bring us back to life and there’s no doubt how costly that grace was and is.
They eagerly cling to Easter and resurrection.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to stay stuck on the crucifixion,
to live in the past, and forget that the real joy in life comes from the
resurrection. God did, and does, the impossible. He often does for us what we
cannot, and sometimes will not, do for ourselves. That’s where the real power
lies. Not in the cross, but in the rolled-away stone…
“I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of”. John 10.10 (The Message)
Today, I’m living in the present, enjoying the
resurrected life I’ve been given…
“Yes, all the things I thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant”. Phillipians 3.8 (The Message)
Thoughts From the Porch: After putting the brakes on Spring for a couple of days we’re returning to normal here in North Texas. The sun is shining, temperatures are far more Spring-like and my time on the porch was punctuated by competing bird songs and a woodpecker in the closest tree. The bluebonnets are gathering force with the other wildflowers waiting in reserve to make April a month of vibrant color. All is well in our corner of the world.
An article in the Daily Good (you can read the article at https://www.good.is/articles/mean-obituary-daughter?utm_source=thedailygood&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dailygood
) caught my eye this morning. Whenever I see “brutal honesty” in a headline I must
click it and see. Honesty is rare these days, and brutal honesty is usually
code for hateful opinions. I had to laugh at someone getting the last word in with
one’s obituary. While some may find such an obituary inappropriate, I hope whoever
writes mine when the time comes will tell the truth – good and bad – and will
get both a good laugh and a new respect for the grace given so freely.
Several years ago, I remember an assignment I was given by
my mentor and friend, Jim. He told me to write my own obituary. Then write it
from the perspective of a family member or friend. Finally, write it like
someone who knew little about me. (I want to note that this little assignment
came from a speaker he had heard many years ago, but I don’t remember which one.
This wasn’t unique to him and I sure don’t want to take credit away from the
originator.) The one thing he asked was that I be brutally honest with myself
in how each was written.
The bottom line was how I see myself, how does my family see
me, and how does the world see me. Jim was always big on introspection. He
would always tell me “self-examination coupled with prayer and meditation
produces favorable results”. I wasn’t too happy with the results at the time. Fast
forward the clock a few years and the exercise became a lot easier and far more
friendly for me.
I made a lot of mistakes. Scratch that (brutal honesty,
remember?). I hurt a lot of people: myself, my family, and everyone I met
through my selfishness and self-centeredness. Even when I was “doing good” it
was usually to manipulate others and meet my own desires. The process of
looking inward and being honest with myself revealed the real me – not the “me”
I wanted to be and sure not how I wanted to be remembered.
As I’ve grown older, I still go back to the assignment Jim gave me periodically. I try to keep stock of myself daily. Periodically, I need to go through a full-blown inventory and take stock of my life. Now that I’m “in the last quarter of the game”, as my friend Gary says, I’ve become more aware of the legacy I leave. I believe others see me far differently from before. I know I’m not the same man as I was when I started this process. I trust that others see me far differently as well. I still make mistakes and have failures, but they no longer define who (or who’s) I am.
Professionally, I worked many years as a Process Manager and
Engineer building process improvement teams and finding ways to increase
productivity for the companies I worked for. Writing and revisiting my own
obituary has been “process improvement” for my life. It goes on today…
I’ve been blessed with the “favorable results” Jim always
promised. I was fortunate to find a life of service to others. It’s the nature
of what I do today, both as a writer and as the Farm Manager for Opal’s Farm. I
‘get’ to have a wonderful marriage, a loving family, and good friends. I ‘get’
to sit on the porch each morning and think about the amazing world I live in. I
‘get’ to say thank you to my Creator constantly for the grace I’ve received. I
say ‘get to’ because it’s an opportunity I never had while wrapped up in self-centered
Each day is a new opportunity to rewrite my obituary, to leave
a legacy of love and a servant spirit for my family, friends and community. I
don’t think I could ask for more so maybe I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.
I’d urge each of you to take on the same assignment. If you
already have then please share your results with me!
Thoughts From the Porch:
Wednesday is my busy day, especially at the end of the month. I have a group
meeting every Wednesday morning and try to schedule as many meetings as
possible on that day, so I have more time available at Opal’s Farm the rest of
the week. The last Wednesday of the month is the Grow Southeast meeting and a
chance to work with other urban farms and growers.
Our Wednesday morning meeting, Fort Worth Development Group, is a group seeking to “bridge the gap between ministry and business through cultivating meaningful relationships in the workplace: allowing our character and integrity tom minister God’s love to others through our daily business practices.”
I attended the first time
thinking it was another ‘networking’ group. Networking does take place. That
tends to happen whenever business people are gathered together. However, it’s
far more than that. That’s why it’s a development group. Each quarter we have a
theme that guides our speaking and discussions. This quarter that theme has
been gratitude. The coming quarter will be on grace. It seems you can’t really
have one without the other. Grace and gratitude have this whole “chicken and
egg” thing going on. I’m not always positive which came first…
Next week, I’ll be
delivering the ‘Hot Topic’ on grace. I’ve submitted a title and catchy tagline
for my talk (after all, business appreciates good content). It’s called “Simply
Grace – 100% natural with no additives”. I have about 15 to 20 minutes to speak
on grace. One of the most difficult things I’ve done is try to squeeze grace
into 20 minutes. I have a newfound respect for the preachers I’ve heard speak
on the subject. God forbid they go past 20 to 30 minutes and make their
worshippers late for lunch…
I’ve spent a lot of time
preparing for next week. I’ve finally managed to get my ideas within the time
limit but believe me, it hasn’t been easy because everything in my life; every
action, every deed, and every experience is about grace.
The older I get and the
deeper my relationship with God becomes the more I realize just how much grace
I’ve received. My successes and my failures have taught me that grace is
enough, and everything is grace – “an unmerited gift”.
Some of you know exactly
where I’m coming from. Experience has taught me that a simple prayer, “God,
help me”, opens the door to receive the grace that was waiting there all along.
Ironically, it was grace that my prayer possible. I couldn’t even muster up the
strength to do that on my own.
Life has since become a
process of learning to accept the grace I’ve been so freely given. Gratitude,
the natural consequence of accepting and living a “grace-full” life. Gratitude
makes it easier to set aside old mental tapes and put to death the tired, old
lie of self-sufficiency. I see clearly the importance of my fellows and the
value of each and every individual I meet. Through gratitude I’m able to share
the grace that was so freely given to me.
That’s not to say that I
still don’t have my moments: moments when all thought of God’s marvelous gift
of grace takes a backseat to my worries and problems. I have moments of self-absorption
and self-centered expectations, of myself and others. I still have times when I
feel woefully inadequate and undeserving of grace. I always seem to come around
though. You see, I am undeserving of
God’s grace (Heck, I’m undeserving of grace from most people if I’m honest
about it). There is absolutely nothing I can do to earn it. If it could be
earned, it wouldn’t be grace. Funny how that works…
I’m fortunate to have
daily reminders of God’s grace. I have an amazing family. I get to work with
some truly awesome people in my business and with Opal’s Farm. I’m not confused
by these reminders. I surely didn’t deserve them. Quite frankly, I’m in awe
that I’m even still around. Self-care was not something I was big on until late
in life. Some of you know what I mean. I’ve heard it said that God has a big
heart for kids and fools. I often fall into the latter category, in case you’re
The test of love is in how one relates not to saints and scholars but to rascals — Abraham Joshua Heschel
Thoughts from the Porch: A very happy Monday to everyone! A thunderstorm passed through our little village last night, so I had a bit of time for the porch this morning while waiting for the sun to dry the topsoil a bit. It’s hard to plow mud! I’d prefer the rain waited until we finished the beds for planting, but in North Texas we take what we can get (most of the time anyway…)
I have a standing meeting on Sunday morning from
9AM to 10PM. I love to listen to National Public Radio on the way home because
“Hidden Brain” is on air with the host, Shankar Vedantam.
I’m fascinated by the topics and most all, by the science of why we do the
things we do. More importantly, the things we have in common are far more
numerous than anything that divides us. Today’s topic, envy, was no different.
Envy has a poor reputation. It made the infamous ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ list. Depending on who makes up the list, it usually ranks second or third on a scale of one to seven. No one wants to admit feeling envious, but we all do it from time to time.
There are instances envy can have
positive consequences. When used for social comparison it can motivate action
leading to positive change that brings about happiness – ‘I wish I had what you
had so I’m going to do what you did in order achieve it’. This is benign envy.
It may be frustrating at times but leads toward
action that is generally positive. It’s upside of the very human emotion of
The other side is the one we are most
familiar with: malicious envy. It’s the kind of envy that wants to pull a
superior person down. That’s where schadenfreude, envy’s evil cousin, comes in
– pleasure at another’s misfortune, laughing at another’s failure.
I could go into all the science,
psychology, and sociology that explains envy, especially schadenfreude, but
I’ll leave that to the experts. I couldn’t help but think about the Biblical
story of Cain and Able. The story explains, either parabolically or literally,
how envy reared its ugly head in human society.
The book of Genesis tells of two
brothers, Cain, the older brother, and Abel, the younger of the two. Cain was a
farmer and Abel was a shepherd. Cain would offer the first fruits of his
produce in sacrifice to God. Abel would offer the “firstborn animals of his
herd, choice cuts of meat”. For whatever reason God accepted Abel’s sacrifice
and not Cain’s. I often cited this story as the reason I didn’t like vegetables
growing up! God obviously is not a vegan.
Anyway, Cain was peeved that he
didn’t measure up (there’s the social comparison thing – kind of like ancient
Facebook). He headed for his room and sulked. “God spoke to Cain: Why this tantrum? Why the sulking? If you do well,
won’t you be accepted? And if you don’t do well, sin is lying in wait for you,
ready to pounce; it’s out to get you, you’ve got to master it.” (Genesis 4.6-7
I can only imagine what Cain was
thinking, but I’ve been there, as much as I hate to admit it. We all have at
one point or another. Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian denomination I
get it. I know what it’s like to ‘never measure up’. I could never be ‘good’
enough to get on God’s good side. It wasn’t until many years later I discovered
that there was absolutely nothing I could do anyway, nor did I have to. God’s
good side is called grace and it is totally free. It can’t be earned, but that
Most of us know the rest of the
story. Cain experiences a severe case of schadenfreude. He not only wants to
pull Abel down: Cain kills his own brother. Envy, malicious envy, puts Abel in
the ground. Cain tries to deny his involvement, but ultimately faces the
consequences of his action. I’ve been there.
In my younger years I chased a lot of
pipe dreams out of envy and delighted in schadenfreude when those I viewed as
competitors failed. I’m glad Facebook and social media wasn’t available back
then. Comparison to the projected images on social media would have killed me.
There’s no way I could ever measure up.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve experienced
envy and schadenfreude far less than I used to. It may simply be the result of
getting older and hopefully, wiser. Robert Fulghum once wrote that one day he
walked out to the mailbox in his old bathrobe, bunny slippers, and bedhead hair
and didn’t care what others thought of him. He said it’s either “going to seed”
or “the beginning of wisdom”. I can relate.
It’s not that I don’t care what
others think of me. It’s that I have no energy or time left for chasing images.
I’m content with reality these days. Life is simpler, full of gratitude, and drama-free.
My quiet time on the porch and my days at the farm are filled with peace and
serenity. Life is good…
Ultimately, it’s not important what
you think of me or even what I think of me. The most important thing is what
God thinks of me. Because of his grace, I know He not only loves me, but He’s
especially fond of me. I don’t have to compare myself to anyone else, because
He’s especially fond of all His kids.
I maintain a presence on social media. I have a business and Opal’s Farm. Heck, my blog even gets posted on them. I simply wish others well when they get to have fabulous vacations to exotic places. I don’t get the check-ins and pictures of dinner, but I still get envious when I see someone eating a pint of Bluebell Chocolate ice cream…
Thoughts From the Porch: I got to see the sunrise this morning. Big deal, you say? It is after several days of rain and overcast skies. I know we’ll be praying for rain in a couple of months, but I have way too much to do to stay at the desk.
A slight chill hangs in the air as a reminder that the official start of Spring, the vernal equinox, is still a week away. Still, the birds are singing and I even saw Bluebonnets peeking through the grass. For those unfamiliar with Texas, Spring comes with an explosion of bright color along side our highways and bi-ways. I know it happens elsewhere, just not like here. Bluebonnets bring vibrant blues, followed by the orange and black of the Indian Paintbrush. Yellows and deep greens fill in the blanks and everywhere is awash with blooms. It makes up for the winter months and reminds us to truly “stop and smell the flowers”.
Facebook will soon be plastered with pictures of people sitting
in fields of blue. That’s a big thing here in Fort Worth. Taking pictures of
loved ones, especially kids, amongst the wildflowers is a tradition for many
folks here in North Texas. Nature provides the perfect background for the best
portraits. The photographs are constant reminders that life is always fresh and
new, even during the coldest of winters.
Each Wednesday I attend the Fort Worth Development Group
(FWDG), a business networking and development group that seeks to “Bridge the
gap between Business and Ministry through cultivating meaningful relationships
in the workplace.” I knew that I needed to network for my writing business even
though I’m painfully shy in new situations. I picked the FWDG because of their Mission
Statement and quite frankly, it was close to my house. Maybe I’d be more
comfortable with like-minded folks despite my fear they would engage in “religious
speak”, but hey, I didn’t have to go back, right?
What I found was a group of business people who really do seek to cultivate meaningful
relationships and help each other grow. It’s not simply lip service. I’ve come
to look forward to my Wednesday meeting, knowing I will leave feeling stronger
in my faith and in my business. Life is fuller and richer when I step out of my
comfort zone. I find new friends and new resources for living well.
My friend Edgar always reminds me that “self-sufficiency is
a lie”, we need something beyond ourselves to live life well. We need each other.
I’m happy to be surrounded and supported by the myriad of people God has
brought into my life. What’s your circle?