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Time to Celebrate

Thoughts From the Porch

I came home from my Sunday morning meeting and spent a long time lost in thought. Today is a special day of celebration in my life: probably more important than all the other holidays combined. I reflected on the friends who made it all possible. I cannot begin to come close to expressing my love and appreciation for them. You see, fourteen years ago I surrendered to God’s infinite grace and began an incredible, mystical journey with these people. Life began again. Dreams became. Miracles happened. In fact, I’ve come to depend on them. I’m living proof. I celebrate fourteen years free from the bonds of addiction, selfishness and self-obsession.

I don’t often speak of my recovery on social media. For most of my life I’ve been an example of what NOT to do. I wouldn’t want anyone to judge the recovery process by my actions. I chose a program of recovery that taught me how to rely on the God of my understanding to break the cycle of addiction, to correct my oft repeated shortcomings, and be of use to others. It has worked for me for a while now.

It gave me a relationship with God that grows more intimate each day. It offered me a new set of glasses through which I see the world as God would have me see His creation (most of the time at least). Where there only existed failure, depression, and endless desperation before, my life is filled with light and infinite possibility. I never dreamt that life could be this way. I know what joy and freedom are today. I’m recovering the life God intended for daily. Pretty damned amazing if you ask me…

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I thought of my friend and mentor, Jim, who walked alongside me throughout much of the journey. He followed an eternal path almost two years ago. Not a day goes by that his voice doesn’t speak to me, either in my head or through my friends. One friend in particular, Edgar, frequently quotes “Jimisms”. He always seems to know when they’re truly needed.

I thought about my brother Craig who opened his home when I needed it most. I spent five years sitting in his woodshop, sharing coffee, prayer, and spirit. No man is more blessed than me. I always wanted a brother. I had to wait fifty years to get one!

Perhaps most of, I thought about the woman in the next room who shares life with me; the woman that God (and recovery) gave me. Most of you know my wife Margaret. Most of you know Margaret broke her leg a few weeks ago. It’s been non-weight bearing and will be for several more weeks. It has been my honor and privilege to be her legs these last few weeks; to bring coffee, to help her to the chair, and push her wheelchair. Recovery taught me what it means to love someone else, to be in a relationship with God and the love of my life. It made it easy to exchange vows and really mean it. She is the light of my life and brings me joy on this walk together.

Blessed more than I deserve

I would be remiss if I failed to tell you how important each of you are in my life. I once told my friend Rusty that I could finally count my true friends on more than one hand. He told me I was blessed: most people can’t say that. From a life of isolation and loneliness I been brought into a life that almost feels too full at times. I somehow make room for it though. When I don’t God helps me make it bigger.

Above all, I know all is grace. I don’t deserve any of the blessings I enjoy today. I’m unbelievably thankful I didn’t get what I deserve – clean or using. What I received was an endless supply of love and grace instead. As my brother Craig reminds me, “God is especially fond of me” (and you, too!).

One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received is waking up each day to a new and bright world full of hope and possibilities no matter what the newspaper (does anybody still read those?) may say. I get to “live creatively” as the Apostle Paul would say.

Thank you for being a part of this wonderful journey…

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Enjoy the Feast!

Thoughts From the Porch

Today is the Thanksgiving holiday here in the good old USA. To my friends here I wish a happy feast day filled with family, good friends, and food. We’re having an intimate family dinner here at the Joel home.

As our family has grown, so to has the amount of scheduling going into the holidays. Kids and grandkids balance time with in-laws, other grandparents, and our extended family. Thanksgiving becomes several days long. The final get-together for our family will be on Saturday. In-laws and outlaws, you know…

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I will be joining my oldest son for breakfast. Over the past year we’ve grown closer than we’ve been in a long time. He calls every morning on his way to work. It’s one of the joys of my morning. I can’t think of a better way to start the day.

Have a blessed and Happy Thanksgiving. I’m off to the diner…

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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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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.

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Beat up Bibles…

Thoughts From the Porch: I try to avoid writing on Saturdays. I really do. I try to avoid anything having to do with work or sitting in front of the computer so I can tinker about the house. I believe in “Sabbath” rest. Ironically, rest seems more work at the time. I’m not good at it yet…

Here in Fort Worth, the Stock Show and Rodeo is going into its second week. I was coming home from the farm on Interstate 30 and saw the long line of trucks and livestock trailers waiting to exit and set up shop. Most of the trailers were marked with various Future Farmers of America (FFA) signs from various small towns in the area. Someone unfamiliar with rural life won’t appreciate it the way many of us in Cowtown do.

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Every time the Stock Show comes around, I spend more time than usual thinking about Mom and Dad. After Dad died, my brother-in-law finally accepted a job promotion in Atlanta. My sister’s family moved off to Georgia and I don’t get to see her as much as I’d like. He’s since retired, and they built a house on some acreage outside a small rural town near the Alabama-Georgia state line. I’m so thankful for cell phones and email even if their reception is sometimes spotty.

She emailed me a song a few days ago that really hit home, especially now. “Beat up Bible” must have been written about Mom and Dad. I wanted to share the link https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JvPBUH65EzI. I hope it brings the same joy, the same sweet memories to you.

No family is perfect. I butted heads with Mom and Dad often. I had to work through some resentments I had held onto over silliness on my part. I’m so grateful that those things were worked out when Mom passed. They weren’t when Dad died in 2002. Grief changes us, at least it did me. I’ve since come to a place of peace. My heart is refreshed by knowing my father was the best example of God’s love here in this place. Walking through my grief has left me with only the wonderful memories of the parents I love so much.

In his latter years, Dad would sit on the back porch with me and share about our family. He grew up without a father in his life. I think that’s why my own failed marriage worried him so much. He missed having his dad there. Maybe that’s why he was so good at loving my sister and me. I’d like to think so…

My sister and I are both adopted. Mom and Dad never ceased to remind us of how special and how loved we were. We were wanted desperately. I know today that I was blessed far beyond anything I could imagine having the parents I did. That isn’t always the case for everyone…

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the song. I hope it brings back happy memories. If it doesn’t, I hope it helps you make happy memories for your kids. Happy Saturday everyone!

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No Resolutions…

Thoughts From the Porch: I typed 2019 for the first time this year and actually got it right the first time! Hang on to the little life triumphs wherever you can, right? Starting off the year with a victory sets the tone for the whole year!

I hope each of you had a wonderful New Year’s celebration. Margaret and I celebrated by falling asleep before the 10:00 o’clock news ended. I woke up to a whole new year. I finally feel like I got enough sleep…

I hope each of you had a wonderful New Year’s celebration. Margaret and I celebrated by falling asleep before the 10:00 o’clock news ended. I woke up to a whole new year. I finally feel like I got enough sleep…

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I do not make New Year’s resolutions, but there are some changes forthcoming this year. For one, it might be more accurate to call this blog, “Thoughts From the Desk”, at least for the first couple of months. I moved my quiet time to my office for a couple of reasons, least of which is the early cold temperatures that hit North Texas early this year. I’m not usually affected by the cold. I spent seventeen winters in Colorado, several of them quite severe, but I don’t ever remember feeling this cold. It’s a bone-chilling, wet, blustery cold that cuts through everything and numbs the brain. I don’t need any help in that regard…

The main reason I’ve retreated to the desk is I’ve decided to quit smoking (again). It’s coincidence rather than resolution that it’s also the start of a new year. I’ve never had much luck at resolving to stop annoying habits. Usually I need to have all sense of resolve and ability knocked out of me. Desperation is a wonderful impetus for willingness. I’ve reached a new level of willingness to quit; hopefully before the consequences are dire. It also helps that I closed out the books on 2018 and saw how much I had spent on tobacco. Seeing the dollar amount in black and white makes it all too real. I’ll keep you posted. Not that it’s newsworthy as much as there’s some sense of accountability in making a public statement.

Besides, smoking is no longer in vogue. More and more places ban smoking. It’s not good for those around me and, to be honest, I feel like an idiot doing it. I feel even worse when I’m driven to sneak away from my grandkids or a dinner party just to have a cigarette. It sets a lousy example. To continue smoking requires a lot of excuses and justification. Things like, “I gave up all my other bad habits, so allow me one bad habit”, just don’t hold water anymore.

So here I sit. You all may have to bear with some strange posts over the next few days. I tend to ramble and get extremely irritable when I’m “detoxing”. I know I tend to ramble anyway, but it’s especially bad during nicotine withdrawal.

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I’ve stopped smoking before. I should be able to do this, right? My friend Edgar reminded me that “my problem wasn’t stopping, it was staying stopped”. I’ve encountered this situation before and found that the answer isn’t mere willpower or a lack thereof. Like those annoying habits and shortcomings of character, the power to remove them tends to lay beyond my grasp. I keep hearing Jim, my friend and mentor’s voice reminding me one more time; “Cowboy, lack of power is your dilemma.” Ask any smoker who wants to quit and hasn’t (and can’t).

If I stop there, I’m left feeling hopeless, but experience has taught me that my greatest strength lies in my greatest weakness: I can ask for help. Help comes in a variety of ways. Sometimes it’s through friends and acquaintances. Other times it comes from complete strangers. Most of the time it comes through prayer. For me, faith has proven itself time and time again as the vehicle by which some of life’s greatest dilemmas are resolved.

So here I sit at the trusty old desk that was my father’s. I’ll stay here for the bit just to break the pattern. In doing so I might just stay stopped. Besides, the weather folks say it’s going to be yucky outside for a while. I’ll take all the help I can get.

I hope 2019 is absolutely amazing for each of you! As for me, I’ll suck down another Gummi Bear and stay inside… ���:

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Christmas Spirit…

Thoughts from the Porch: It’s become harder to get in the Christmas spirit this year. The exact reason has proven elusive. It could be that Christmas music starts blaring the day after Halloween, but It probably has to do with the fact that Mom and Dad are both gone now. This is the second Christmas since Mom passed and the sixteen of them without Dad. You’d think I’d be past it by now, but grief is what it is. It wasn’t until this morning that the season rushed over me and my soul felt revived with Christmas spirit.

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I have a scheduled meeting every Sunday morning at 9:00AM. It’s one of the highlights of my week. I get to carry a simple message of hope to hurting people. I don’t know who benefits more – them or me. The spirit of giving tends to do that. Uncommon sense again – the more you give, the more you receive. But I digress…

I drove to my meeting yesterday morning somewhat short of my required coffee quota. I wasn’t paying attention to the radio or much else until I heard an angelic rendition of “Silent Night” come flowing from the speakers. I wish I could tell you who the vocalist was, but I had to hop out of the truck and get to my meeting before it finished. All I know is that I felt different. I was more “Christmas-ee”…

My family never celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday. Being good fundamentalists, we couldn’t celebrate something that the Bible didn’t state for certain. To most folks that sounds silly. Now that I’m older I can’t say that I disagree. Still, we celebrated Christmas as a secular holiday of giving and family. Santa Claus was alive, and Jesus’ birthday was up for debate.

Ironically, Christmas carols were always in order even if they were religious in nature. The Sunday church service before Christmas always included religious carols, and mentioned the birth of Jesus (you know, since the rest of the world was focused on it) but it was “to celebrate the season”, not the birth of our Savior. I never quite got the logic in that. Anyway…

I no longer hold to the strict religious traditions of my youth. Jesus may or may not have been born on December 25th. It makes little difference. This is the season which people have chosen to celebrate his birth. I can’t find anything wrong with that. The point is that he was born. Emmanuel – “God is with us”.

Listening to “Silent Night” this morning it hit me full force; “God is with us”, and just like us. Just like me. Just like you.

My sons may be adults now, but I can remember the day each was born as though it were yesterday. I didn’t need a manger, livestock, shepherds, or wise men to make both moments holy, just as that moment some two thousand years ago. Maybe that’s why God chose to enter in to our world the way he did. I’d like to think so.

The authors of the four Gospels tell of the man and his teachings, but they record little of Jesus’ life growing up. I’d like to believe that he wasn’t much different from my boys. I don’t know what was comparable to spaghetti in First Century Palestine, but I’m sure that most of it ended up everywhere but his mouth. Mary probably had to give many an after-dinner bath during those first couple of years.

At the risk of sounding a bit sacrilegious, I would like to think that Jesus ducked out of Hebrew school to go fishing with his buddies. After all, He had an affinity for fishing and hung out with his fishing buddies…

The only reference we have to Jesus’ young life is an incident when he was twelve years old. Instead of going home with the rest of his family he hung back in Jerusalem. I can only imagine the panic Mary and Joseph felt when they realized he was missing. I freaked out when one of the boys hid behind a clothing rack at the store…

I’m no Biblical scholar, but I’m pretty sure that Jesus was “just one of the guys” for most of his life: content to live like everyone else in his town. It’s telling that the townsfolk response to his first recorded teachings in the Gospel of Luke is “Isn’t this Joseph’s son, the one we’ve known since he was a youngster?” (Luke 4.22).

It’s easy to concentrate on Jesus as divine, as perfect, and forget that Jesus was one of us. That, above all, is the miracle of Christmas. God chose to enter His creation through Jesus, an everyman, dirty diapers and all. He lived and worked among us as an ordinary guy. He laughed and hung out with his buddies. When all was said and done, He stepped up to announce that,

                “God’s Spirit is on me;

he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor.

Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind.

To set the battered and burdened free,

To announce, “This is God’s year to act” (Luke 4.16-21 The Message)

The rest, as they say, is history.

So, I’m in a bit more of the Christmas spirit this morning. If Jesus could walk among us, “Loving God and loving others” then I’m inclined to follow in his footsteps. It isn’t always the popular thing. After all, he tended to upset the proverbial apple cart. “You’ve heard it said… but I say to you” tends to rub some people the wrong way. I guess we all tend to do that…

I’m so glad that God chose to enter the world the way he did. “Emmanuel” – God is with us.

Happy Birthday Jesus!

Merry Christmas y’all!