It’s a brilliant, sunny late Spring day here in North Texas. Soon I’ll head off to Opal’s Farm. It’s been incredibly busy. Our first harvest of French Breakfast Radishes came in. We have about a hundred pounds bundled for sale and another hundreds pounds still to harvest. The beans and peas are in full bloom and squash is getting almost big enough to pick.
I haven’t had a great deal of time to write this last week with all the goings on. This week marked the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion that turned the tide in the Allies favor during World War Two. Those who know me might find it peculiar I’m memorializing warfare. My faith calls me to be a non-violent peacemaker. Still, I know my calling is not shared by everyone and I honor the veterans who fought for their beliefs and each other.
Tom Brokaw coined the term “the greatest generation” when speaking of my parents peers. As a history student I was always intrigued by the men who fought so gallantly during “The War” as it came to be known. I grew up on the great epic movies about WWII- “Patton”, “The Battle of the Bulge”, Guns of Navarrone”, John Wayne and “The Fighting Seabees” and so forth. I saw “The Great Escape” at the long since demolished Gateway Theater twice a day on three successive Saturday matinees (for 50 cents admission I might add). Steve McQueen was my hero…
Things changed and I grew past the illusions I was taught. After all, “history is written by the victors” and subsequent wars proved to be void of morality. It’s no longer about defense but about gain. War is usually started by men who have never served. They were wealthy or powerful enough to worm their way out of military service. They’re quite content to let your young men fight for their wants while they talk about how patriotic they are; but enough said or I’ll get started…
Still, those WWII vets always held a special place of honor above all others. Perhaps its because of my father and my uncle’s (one of whom died at Anzio, Italy) service. It’s a way I hang onto them as well. They never spoke of their service. They did what they were called to do and now they’re gone, like so many of their generation. I miss them.
There are only 1.7 million WWII vets alive today. Their time is growing short. The “greatest generation” will pass away and become memory. That’s why it’s so important (for me anyway) to cherish the time I’m given with some of the men who served. They’re more likely to share about it today if you ask. I encourage you to ask. Not only will you be riveted to their stories, you’ll pay them honor and respect as well.
This is my small tribute to those men that leapt of the boats at Normandy seventy-five years ago. Thank you for being part of my life and sharing your stories.
“I cherish the memories of a question my grandson asked me the other day when he said, ‘Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?’ Grandpa said, ‘No, but I served in a company of heroes.'” —Major Richard Winters
I haven’t written from the porch for the past couple of weeks. Time has been short. I’m playing catch up from a recent two-day stint in the hospital (long story but everything’s okay). They couldn’t figure out what was going on. I guess that’s why doctors only “practice” medicine…
I could use the whole hospital thing to explain my lack of recent communication, but I won’t. The truth is a bit uglier than that. The reality is there’s been some doubt and depression going on the last few days. When I started writing “Thoughts From the Porch”, my intent was to only write positive, encouraging words. God knows there’s enough negative crap out there!
Unfortunately, life isn’t always happy, joyous, and free.
Life shows up in some awful ways. Even when I feel I’m on the path God has
chosen for me it can have some serious rough spots. I would be dishonest if I
didn’t share those as well. I may not write in a manner comparable to great
authors or even my fellow writers on WordPress, but I’ve learned to be
truthful, to be authentic, and to be myself regardless of how I’d like to be.
The truth is that I haven’t liked myself very much the last
few days. Sometimes, the truth sucks. As my friend Edgar always tells me, “The
truth will set you free, but it’ll really piss you off first.” Quite frankly,
I’ve been pissed.
Margaret and I have struggled financially over the last few
months. Work has been slow as most of my time is spent on the urban farm
project, Opal’s Farm. Most of you know my passion for the project. Margaret and
I prayed diligently before taking on this task. We went into it with eyes
wide-open. We knew money would be tight until we gained sponsors and had our
first harvest. Looking back over the last few months, hell, even over our
lifetime, we can see God’s thread all the way through. He stands with us
through all the difficult times. Bills get paid, we eat regularly, and most of
the time life is good despite the setbacks that come with our chosen path.
However, there are times when an awareness
of God’s providence is insufficient to stave off the blues.
In lieu of our smaller income we’ve been forced to put off
needed home repairs and tighten our money belt in ways neither of us have
experienced, at least in our lives together. Add to that Margaret’s chronic
pain, limited mobility, and the depression that rears its ugly head as a
result. Frustration and stress mounts despite our faith in the Almighty. It’s a
recipe for doubt, fear, and self-loathing, for me at least, and it has been
simmering for quite a while. Yesterday it came to a boil…
A serious case of the “F..k Its”.
Yes, folks, expletive laced prayers, lamentations of “poor
me”, and drowning in a cesspool of comparing myself to everyone else. I threw a
temper tantrum! Why me?
I imagine some of you can relate. It felt as though my world had fallen apart and God was nowhere to be
found. He always seems to be playing ‘Hide and Seek’ when I need Him: just like
with everything else in my world. I
immediately decided to quit the farm, stop writing, and start looking out for
Number One. I’d probably have to become a greeter at WalMart (no offense
intended – all work is important). A career in bank robbery seemed a
viable alternative to the present financial hardships. You must take it, because no one’s going to give to you, right?
If it sounds a bit extreme, it is. I tend to go for
extremes. A friend once told me that “balance is the beam I trip on while
running between extremes”. Yep!
I always feel like such a spoiled brat after these not-so-little
tantrums. It doesn’t take as long as it used to getting over these fits of
doubt, frustration, and fear (that’s really what the tantrum is about…). I find
relief in the fact they don’t happen very often anymore, but I sure hate it
when they do. I’m sure I’m not the only one who can identify with this
Fortunately, sanity returns, I own my behavior, make amends
for the harsh words and actions, and find forgiveness and gratitude for everything
I do have. First and foremost, I have a Heavenly Father who appreciates my
authenticity. I’m sure most church folks would be shocked by how I “pray”. It’s
not always pious and formal. Still, God allows me to express my doubts and
fears. He listens. He understands and He loves me right where I’m at –
expletives and all. He allows my rants and then holds me close to remind me
that I’m loved and it’s okay to be human. I’m His child.
Somewhere in this process I find peace. The situation hasn’t
changed at all, but I have.
Healing the Blind…
My tantrums always begin with tunnel vision and outright
blindness. The world is out of focus, blurred with pain and frustration, and I
can only see myself, my needs, and my wants. When I finally grow tired of
emotional blindness, I hear Jesus’ question to the blind man at the Pool of Siloam,
“Do you want to be healed?”
It sounds like a simple question doesn’t it? Sure, I want to
be healed, but… I tend to find excuses, much like the guy at the Pool, until
finally, I can see again.
Restoration of sight, healing, takes place in miraculous
ways for me. It happened the other night. Blinded by my self-centered fear and
doubt, I stormed out to the porch to be alone. I stood there, blindly staring
into the night, when a tiny spider and his (or her – I’m not sure how to tell
the difference) web began to take focus.
As my vision sharpened, the intricacy and size of the web
grew. I saw his tiny legs shooting across the web with new silken strands. The
minute strands vibrated in the wind but never strayed apart. It seemed
It sounds silly to be so intrigued by a simple spider web, but I’m kind of a simple guy, I guess. However, this tiny spider is building his web in the same place on our porch every Spring. He’ll stay until Fall, building his net every evening and waiting for the meal he knows will come. I’m no expert on spider species identification, but it’s always appears to be the same species year after year. It’s always a smaller version that grows to be the same as the one last year.
While I’m no Arachnologist, our little eight-legged friend is
probably last year’s offspring. I had the privilege of seeing all the little ones
bursting from their egg sac last year. Their home and ours are one in the same.
I get to watch the intricate, complex beauty of this tiny creature every
evening. Clarity had returned.
Our hardships and my frustration faded into the darkness of
the evening. I could see, and more importantly, see that our difficulties were
nothing, that God was still (and always is) faithful. Life may have its
difficulties, but grace changes how I see them. Difficulties become
opportunities to grow in ways I can’t even imagine.
If a tiny spider ca open a world of grace and heal blindness,
how much more can I be a vessel of grace?
I’m as voracious reader. I keep up on the news. I read articles and books that help me professionally: that hone my writing skills or help me learn to be a better farm manager. Above all, I love reading books and articles that nurture my spirituality and find simple pleasure.
I receive several newsletters each week about issues
important to me, especially those that help me help my clients better.
Recently, one of them reemphasized the basic marketing concept of successful
titles in catching the reader’s attention. From a marketing standpoint, classic
titles saying things like, “How to do
XYZ, Five Easy Steps to a better ABC”, and so forth, invite the reader in
and are more likely to be read. Basic copywriting and Marketing 101. I do it
for clients all the time.
However, it occurred to me while I was reading another “Five Easy Steps” article that it’s rare
for such articles to exceed the number five. It may on occasion be “Seven Easy Steps to” but that always
seems to be the limit. There’s a myriad of reasons why smaller numbers elicit
attention: psychological, neurological, and social. Everyone wants to solve
their problems in a few quick, easy steps. Unfortunately, it rarely works out
that way; at least in my personal experience…
For years I sought quick solutions to life’s pressing
problems, but “Five Easy Steps” never seemed to work. I always found myself in
the same state as before. It wasn’t until I discovered a recovery program from
my “seemingly hopeless” condition of mind and body my condition began to
change. It was going to require more (and steeper steps) if I were to become
the man I wanted to be. In fact, I found it to take twelve of them.
People tend to have a love-hate relationship with twelve step
programs. What can’t be denied is Twelve Step recovery programs have helped
thousands of people through the years, no matter what the specific problem
might be. It should come as no surprise there are around 240 such programs
today; each dealing with specific issues – alcohol, overeating, addiction,
gambling, sex, shopping, ad infinitum… I don’t know if it’s the solution to
everyone’s problems, but the twelve steps of recovery were for mine. I have
been transformed in mind, body, and spirit by taking all twelve steps. I have a
relationship with God today. Moreover, I’ve witnessed the change in countless
others as well.
I tried many times and countless ways to solve my dilemma.
If I just work harder, if I do it this way or that way. Hey, I’m a reasonably
intelligent guy. I can handle this. I should be able to reduce twelve steps to
something more manageable like five or seven, right? It wasn’t until I was
completely beaten that I decided my way didn’t work. I’d take the steps like
those before me had. Maybe, just maybe I could achieve the same results and
move toward positive change.
The stories the same for so many. The evidence is (and was
always) right in front of me. So why did it take so long to believe it?
It may have to do with the number of steps involved. Maybe
twelve is overwhelming. Maybe it’s difficult to see past three, five, or seven
of them. Maybe it’s just poor marketing on the part of all the people involved.
I don’t know.
The bottom line for me is in the results. I’m not who I used
to be. I’m becoming the man God meant for me to be. Had I been able to see into
the future all those years ago I probably wouldn’t have cared how many steps I
had to take to get here today. It’s easy to say that in hindsight though.
The payoff has been far greater than any investment on my part. If I were developing a marketing campaign for such programs, I’d eliminate the whole “Twelve Step” thing. Too many steps. Won’t attract enough readers, you know? I’d break it down to what has become a bit of a mantra to me: “I can’t, He can, and I think I’ll let him”. It’s the cycle of threes seen in all twelve and, hey, it’s only three easy steps, right?
I haven’t had time to write the last couple of weeks.
Opal’s Farm takes up most of my time. Things are moving full steam ahead. Spring
is in full bloom in North Texas and I maximize the warm sunny days because rain
is inevitable and unpredictable this time of year. Wednesday’s 2 inches of rain
and the subsequent mud may have allowed me to play catch-up on tasks best
suited to office work, but the lingering wetness is getting old.
A farm volunteer work day was scheduled for Saturday but was rescheduled to Sunday afternoon because it was still too wet to work. Now it’s Sunday and another storm came last night. It wasn’t bad, but it was enough to cancel today’s events. I’m going to take it as a message from the universe to stay home today. It’s the perfect opportunity to catch up on “me time” and write about something other than work.
Reading is an essential part of what I do, but I read more than I should. Sometimes I read well into time that should be given to other things, but the WordPress community is often too engaging to shift gears. One more story. Just one more article. My morning news feed is filled with your thoughts and stories. You inspire my own thoughts. You challenge me to become a better writer (although the jury is still out on that one…) and all-around decent person. I’m thankful for each one of you. WordPress is a great village!
Thoughts From the Porch: Another beautiful Spring Day here in Fort Worth so it’s off to the farm. No time to write this morning. Before I go, I just wanted to say I hope you all had a wonderful Easter. We did here at the Joel household! Any time you spend you get to spend a whole weekend with close friends it’s a great weekend!
“Our prayers are answered not when we are given what we ask but when we are challenged to be what we can be.” — Morris Alder
“Easter says to us that despite everything to the contrary, his will for us will prevail, love will prevail over hate, justice over injustice and oppression, peace over exploitation and bitterness.” — Desmond Tutu
Easter symbolizes resurrection and rebirth. May we all live as Easter people today.