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It’s Almost over

Monday marked the official beginning of winter – the winter solstice. The first day of winter was sunny and seventy degrees. It doesn’t look like a White Christmas is in the plan. The winter solstice is also the longest night of the year. That sums up the whole year – one long, dark winter night.

In January there were reports of a new virus spreading in China. On March 11th, the World Health Organization declared it a global pandemic that’s taken almost two million lives since then. The economy shut down in March. Even when states began reopening economic recovery remained questionable at best. To top it all off, people lost all sense of sanity and decency over simple masks. Apparently, the right to go without one and violate common sense precautions trumps (yes, folks – pun intended…) everyone else’s right to health and safety. Don’t get me started. I have friends who have lost fathers, mothers, aunts, and uncles – many times in rapid succession. Please folks – this is serious so please be kind enough to respect your neighbors…

In February, the primary election season started. By August, candidates had been nominated and the real dogfight began. We were constantly bombarded with negative ads, blatant lies, bitter division, and juvenile behavior. We prayed for November 3rd to finally shut it all down, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. Donald Trump threw a hissy fit over his loss like a petulant child. His insanity and inability to deal with reality continue to stoke divisiveness and hate. Sometimes it feels as if we’re on a downward spiral that never ends.

In May, George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis Police officer, who stood on his neck for eight minutes and forty-six seconds setting off a summer of mass protests. Black people, especially Black men, are killed all too frequently by white police officers. The growing list of people of color who died at the hands of white officers has often faded in public awareness as the news cycle changes to something shiny and new. Although there have been many media reports in the past about police killings and people of color, this one was different. The video showing Floyd’s murder was particularly heinous. It got everyone’s attention. Summer of 2020 came to be known as the summer of “racial reckoning. We can only hope…

Opal’s Farm lost one of its best friends on September 7th. Chuck Briant, or “Food Truck Chuck” as many called him passed away suddenly and left a void in the hearts of all of us at Opal’s Farm. His passion for feeding people and healthy eating was contagious. He brought more people to the farm than anyone could have hoped. He was one of our biggest fans and a friend of mine. I miss him and can’t help but get a little teary-eyed when I’m watering the farm. That was Chuck’s job. It’s hard to picture Chuck without a water hose in his hand.

Personal tragedy hit on May 29th, 2020. My son Jeremy was found dead in his apartment. This has been the darkest five months of my life. Jeremy’s was born on Christmas Day in 1982. My holiday spirit is understandably lacking. There are days when the grief seems too much to bear. I get to spend a lot more alone time at the farm during the winter. Most days are sans volunteers. That’s both good and bad emotionally. The winter solstice reminds me of the “long, dark night of the soul” St. John of the Cross wrote about.

Today is a new day. The winter solstice has passed. The light will stick around a little longer with each passing day; at least for the next six months. Then the cycle will begin all over after the summer solstice in June. That’s the way it is with the seasons and it’s that way it is with life – up and down, round and round…

I don’t know what 2021 has in store, but I have faith that, like the day after the winter solstice, the light will last longer with each passing day. COVID vaccines recently became available and perhaps they will help end, or at least diminish the destruction of the pandemic. Maybe we learned a few things over the last few months. We might even discover a better “normal” when all is said and done. We can certainly hope…

On January 20th, a new Administration will begin and maybe some civility will return to our socio-political discourse. I’m not overly optimistic but anything is an improvement over the last four years, even Washington as usual. The faces change but the song remains the same…

The racial protests of this summer start real conversations that lead to real changes. The Juneteenth caravan this summer was a diverse group of people celebrating Juneteenth. Onlookers – white people – held signs “We are listening”. Listening, not simply hearing, real listening and building new diverse relationships is the beginning of change. My friend Jim always told me that “once you’re aware you can’t become unaware”. I pray the solstice has come and the light will get longer and brighter on our struggle to build a just society.

I know I’m not the only parent to lose a child (and yes, Jeremy may have been 37 but he’ll always be my kid). I’ve joined “a club that no one wants to be a part of”, as my friend Edgar says. Grief doesn’t have an expiration date. 2021 will not be “better”. It will be “different”. I’m blessed and tremendously grateful for the friends I have today – friends who have allowed me the space to grieve and are still there to offer love and support. Some people are left to grieve in isolation. No one should have to do that.

Christmas and New Year’s will be emotionally onerous this year, but it doesn’t take away what Christmas represents – the birth of Immanuel, “God with us”. Each time I think of the gift God gave us I find hope. Despite all the hardships this year I know God is with us. He hasn’t given up on His kids. After all, the winter solstice reminds us of the light – the light that’s always there.

To each of you I wish a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Photo by Marissa Daeger on Unsplash
Acceptance, Belief, Children, Coronavirus, Courage, Depression, Emotional Health, Faith, Gratitude, Grief, Pandemics, Persistence, Prayer, Thoughts From the Porch, What Can I Do

There is Much to be Thankful for Even When It Feels Like There Isn’t…

We finished our Thanksgiving Dinner a couple of hours ago. Our two younger kids, Paul and River, took care of preparing the meal and cleaning up afterward this year. It was the greatest gift of the holiday (They did a bang-up job by the way!) Margaret wasn’t up to all the physical activity and I was, well, blah.

The holidays are harsh reminders of the loss of my son Jeremy this year. I used to wonder why some people had such a difficult time during the holidays. Now I know.

The week hasn’t been conducive to thankful feelings. On Tuesday, we were finally allowed to clear out Jeremy’s apartment and Art Studio. Everything’s been on hold as he died intestate – no will and minor children – and the court finally ordered the necessary letters to the apartment management. The owner is a local Fort Worth real estate developer that denied us access until we had a court order despite pleas from our family. We still wonder if any of Jeremy’s art is missing. Oh well. Everything is in storage now and out of their hands.

I was flooded with memories and emotion as I went through his belongings. I’ve tried to be strong throughout this process, but I haven’t done well. I feel and function. That’s it. I miss my son and the holidays are a cruel reminder of loss rather than a season of joy and gratitude.

I had to spend time today writing down the things for which I’m thankful because I know I have much to be grateful for even during this crazy, wild-ass year. Gratitude is a verb, not a noun. Sometimes I simply put it in black and white, make it tangible and concrete, and say thanks even when I don’t feel particularly grateful. It makes the whole grief thing a bit easier.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

The first thing I wrote down was my breakfast this morning with my oldest son, Adrian. We started a holiday tradition of having breakfast at Old South Pancake House every Thanksgiving and Christmas morning. Our time together can be lost juggling holiday schedules with adult children, grandchildren, and blended extended families. It’s a time just for us and it’s even more special this year. It was risky going out in public even with social distancing, masks, and hand sanitizer. Covid numbers are surging upward here, but my time with him was worth it.

I’m thankful for family and friends that love me and don’t try to fix my broken heart. They occasionally remind me that God’s got this when I get in a deep, dark place, but they still allow me the room to grieve. Not everyone does that. Well-intentioned people say some screwed-up things to grieving parents. I’m grateful my close friends and family allow me to be where I am emotionally, even when it’s uncomfortable for them. We’ll all get through this together.

This has been a messed-up year, but in the middle of the madness I’ve found something to be grateful for. That gives me hope. It won’t always feel like this…

Children, Choices, Depression, Faith, Family, Grief, Love, Music, Relationships, Songs, Songwriters, Thoughts From the Porch, Uncategorized

Revival

My sons and I went to an Arbor Day festival back in 1992. The concert that day featured Jimmy LaFave. It only took two songs into the show to send me hurrying to the table where I could purchase his then-new release, Austin Skyline. I’ve been a fan ever since.

I was tinkering around the house when I heard his familiar voice come over the stereo. I remembered that day long ago and how much fun the boys and I had. Today it brought a sadness I can’t put into words no matter how hard I try.

Thinking about you Son…

Acceptance, Children, Choices, Community, Depression, Emotional Health, Faith, Gratitude, Grief, Letting Go, Parents, Prayer, Relationships, Spirituality, Thoughts From the Porch

The Journey…

The birds are uncharacteristically quiet this morning. There are few cars on the distant freeway and aside from the occasional angry squirrel chatter, a golden silence fills the day. I love mornings like this. The coffee goes down a tad smoother and tight muscles slowly unwind in the morning air. God has blessed me once again with another day on “the right side of the roots” as my friend Railroad Charlie would say.

I try to soak up moments like these. They’ve been few and far between the last four-and-a-half months. The farm has been a lifesaver but there’s been a constant cloud of grief since Jeremy died. I still have difficulty with the word “died”. It reminds me of the finality of the whole situation. I usually talk about his “passing” rather than his “dying” as if to hold on to the opaque hope that this has all been a bad dream. The word choices don’t change reality though. Death is part of life so call it what it is.

I’m glad I get to work the farm. Work provides focus, but I always second guess myself and wonder if it’s a way to avoid dealing with the loss. We have many terrific volunteers that come out regularly to help, but I leave it to Stacey, our Volunteer Coordinator, to deal with them and pass out work assignments. I put my head down and try to stay as faraway as possible. I pray they don’t consider it unfriendly. Other folks are simply overwhelming right now.

 The Kubler Ross Grief model names five stages of the grieving process – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I feel stuck in the depression stage these days. Honestly, the stages come and go daily – even acceptance – but depression is terrifying. Those who have suffered from depression know what I’m talking about.

I’m fortunate. I suffered from the chemical imbalance that causes depression. Medication worked for me. It wasn’t a quick fix. It took working with my doctor until I had the right dosage and medication to pull me out of the dark depths of depression. Now it seems to be taking over again – the irritability, the clouded thinking, the attention deficit, and sadness. This time it’s not something that can be fixed. I get that it’s situational – it’s not a quick fix, but a natural process – but that doesn’t make it any less frightening.

I’m blessed to have a circle of love and emotional support around me. I’m not confused – some people don’t have that. I have faith in a loving God who I know is carrying me through this. I don’t have to be afraid, but I am sometimes. I’m so grateful for the folks in my life, even if I tend to isolate lately. I’ve even been able to find gratitude in my world despite my loss. I know that one day I’ll look back and see the beautiful tapestry of life God is (and has always) woven for me.

I’m thankful I’ve been given the tools to work through this. I’m extremely grateful I haven’t had to make many amends for talking out the side of my neck. I’m grateful for the WordPress community – I’ve been able to begin reading (and comprehending!) again those of you I follow. Your writing has often done more for me than you know.

I’m finally able to begin writing thank you notes (without freezing up) to the many friends have been so kind and supportive to my family. Above all, I’ve been able to sit down and begin writing again. I may not do it well, but I’m able to have “Thoughts From the Porch” again.

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Be Like Chuck

This is a difficult update to write today. Yesterday we learned that our friend, Chuck Briant, passed away unexpectedly on Monday. We are heartbroken by his passing. Chuck was a huge supporter and advocate for Opal’s Farm and I’m proud to call him my friend. Our prayers are with his family during this difficult time.

Chuck and I met early last summer. Our mutual friend, Harrison had brought him out to the farm. Chuck fell in love with Opal’s Farm right away. He made it a point to stop by the farm frequently, even during the extreme heat of the Texas summer and the blustery chill of winter. He helped harvest, prepare beds for Spring, and keep everyone in line. The only time we didn’t see him was when he went out of town to visit his kids and grandkids.

During the lean times of our first year it was Chuck that helped us through. More than once it was his words that kept me from giving up when it seemed impossible to make our dream of an urban farm a reality. He had an uncanny ability to say just the right thing at just the right time. I can’t tell you how much his encouragement and wisdom helped me grow as not only the Farm Manager, but as a person.

He had an incredible servant’s heart – particularly when it came to making sure everyone had food, healthy food, on the table. His passion was contagious. Most importantly, he served with a humble spirit, often asking to remain anonymous in matters of service. He gave freely – something we should all aspire to.

I think we were all in shock yesterday when we heard the news. Today was a mix of tears and “Chuck stories”. It’s fitting that I was watering in new seed when I got the call yesterday. Chuck was always intent on watering everything in good – sometimes to a fault. He’d always ask if I needed to get some water down. “Those plants look like they need some water”. I could never convince him that they were going to be okay (especially since I’d watered earlier in the day. As I worked the tomato beds today, I could see him standing there with hose in hand.

We’re convinced that Chuck knew everyone. His network of friends was unbelievable, which isn’t surprising given who Chuck was. We used to joke that when we all get to heaven Chuck will be deep in conversation with Jesus and somebody will walk by and ask who that is over there talking to Chuck…

Chuck touched each one of us who knew him in a unique way and helped us all be better people. He is missed more than words can say. We wish everyone could “be like Chuck”. We’d all be better for it.