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Predeccessors

Thoughts From the Porch: All is quiet and peaceful on the porch this morning. Everyone else is sound asleep and I get to indulge in extra cups of coffee all to myself. It may sound selfish, but moments like this are few and far between in family life. I intend to relish in the moment, enjoying the quiet and a sunrise hidden by the overcast skies.

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Ms. Opal and I were invited to speak to a university class about Opal’s Farm. It went well. You all know I love to talk about the farm. As such, I’m rarely intimidated by public speaking. I must admit I was a bit nervous as the class filled. Things have changed drastically since I was a university student. There wasn’t an overhead projector to be found. It may sound silly, but I felt really old. I still remember how cutting edge it was to type my term papers on a gold old IBM Selectric typewriter. Heck, I didn’t even bring a Power Point presentation. Yes, things have changed.

As Ms. Opal and I were walking back across campus to our vehicle, we spoke of sharing our experience with young people. The students at TCU were attentive, interested, and engaging. Not all young people are. That’s a shame.

I am under no illusions. Young people are better navigating the technologies available and I’m glad. If it weren’t for my grand-kids I may never have gotten my phone to work right. Some of you know what I mean. Still, young folks today tend to neglect the wealth of wisdom that comes from our elders and that makes me a little sad.

I’m not saying I have any wisdom to impart mind you. Most of my life has been an example of what not to do. I didn’t start growing up until I was in my late forties. It wasn’t until then that I began to truly appreciate my elders.

Appreciating my elders meant I had to spend more time with them. It began with my Mom and kind of spread out from there. Dad had already passed, and Mom was in an assisted living facility here in Fort Worth. I stopped by to check on her several times a week and see if she needed anything. I met the ladies who sat at her table in the dining room and several of the other residents, particularly those who didn’t have frequent visits from outside the facility.

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I saw the sheer delight in their eyes as they began sharing their life experiences and memories with me. It dawned on me that having someone to listen was all-to-rare for many of them. I’ve found that listening is not only a gift to them, it’s filled my own life with a wealth of joy.

Try to spend some time with your predecessors today. They have a wealth of knowledge and experience to impart. Who knows? You might just make their day, and yours will be blessed beyond imagination…

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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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Cemeteries and Rodeos

Thoughts From the Porch: Yesterday would have been my father’s ninety-third birthday. He passed in 2002 and nary a day goes by that I don’t miss him. Even after sixteen years there are days when grief feels overwhelming. I often stop by the cemetery on my way to and from so I can sit and “talk” to him. It’s a great way to work through the grief I feel some days.

One can argue that the cemetery is a resting place for the body only. For those that share my religious faith it’s understood that Dad’s spirit probably left that place to go wherever it is that our spirits go after death. It may sound childish, but I believe it’s a place for our spirits to be together.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead says something to the effect that when one with a great soul passes, a strong wind will begin to blow. I remember stepping outside the hospital to have a smoke after he had passed. A blustery wind made it almost impossible to light my cigarette. I was so overcome with grief that I didn’t put two and two together until a cemetery visit some time later.

On that particular visit, I had come to read my father a letter I’d written acknowledging the fact that I had caused a lot of harm while in my active addiction. In my program of recovery, it’s called “making amends” a cleaning up of the wreckage of my past. Some may doubt that amends, the process of amending or righting a wrong, can be made to someone who has passed away. My experience that day says otherwise.

I stood in front of the headstone, wiping away the tears, and reading my letter. The details of my letter are deeply personal and between Dad and me. Suffice it to say that my father was an incredible man who loved me dearly and I never gave him much to work with as a son. It wasn’t until he was gone that I realized his greatness.

People often said that he was my chief enabler and, while that may be true, it was his love that showed me what God’s love was all about. As frustrated, and oft-times angry, as he could become with me, he never stopped loving (or forgiving) me. I can’t think of a better example of how the God of endless grace loves me…

I finished my letter. The tears began to subside. I looked up and the wind began to swirl around me. It had been still just a moment ago.

Our family plot is in an older part of the cemetery surrounded by beautiful old oak trees. I mention this because as the wind swirled about, I could see that none of the tree limbs were moving. That’s when it hit me: “when one with a great soul passes, a strong wind will begin to blow.” Dad was telling me one more time, “It’s okay. I forgive you and I love you more than you can ever know. Keep doing what you’re doing.”

I think of that day often, especially when life shows up with all its occasional difficulties. If Dad, a mere human, can love me that much – how much more so can the Creator of the Universe love me?

I’ve been thinking about Dad a lot this week. Not only was it his birthday, but the Stock Show and Rodeo opens on Friday. After Dad retired from the railroad, he would work the Harley Street gate for the Stock Show every year. He would be there a week before the show and a week after, so for a month straight he worked twelve-hour days. We usually didn’t celebrate his birthday until afterwards because he just came home, ate, and went to bed. As tired as he was, especially as he got older, he wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

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Since 1918, the Fort Worth Stock Show was called the Southwestern Exposition and “Fat” Stock Show. Now it’s just the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. I’m not sure why they changed it. I guess it’s no longer politically correct to call livestock fat. Maybe “weight-challenged” is more acceptable. I’m not sure Dad would approve. Cows are supposed to be fat and it violates tradition. Dad was big on tradition…

Saturday I’ll watch the annual Stock Show Parade and I’ll think of Dad. Afterwards, I might go by the cemetery on the way home. It’s no surprise that Saturday is supposed to be a really windy day…

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Steppin’ out….

Thoughts From the Porch:

“When you come to the end of all the light you know, and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things will happen: Either you will be given something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly.” — Edward Teller

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One of my favorite scenes from the “Indiana Jones” movies where Harrison Ford’s character must step out in faith over a giant chasm in order to reach the Holy Grail. With his nemesis holding him and the people he loves at gunpoint, he’s at wit’s end and out of options. He steps out into the darkness of the abyss. As he takes the first step a narrow bridge begins to come into view. Unfortunately, it can only be seen with each successive step, one step at a time. Each step requires more courage, more faith, than the one before. I can’t recall how many steps it took to get across the dark abyss, but I’d like to think it was twelve. I can relate…

That scene’s been on my mind a lot lately. Margaret and I are experiencing some difficulties as late. Finances have been tough since my hospital stay earlier this year. Business has been slower than projected. Opal’s Farm still has a way to go before all the start-up costs are in hand and planting is scheduled for February 15th. How are we going to do this? It’s a little overwhelming at times (OK, a lot overwhelming…) The chasm looks awfully vast at times…

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If I get honest, I’m a lot like Indiana Jones (well, except for the whole “dashing adventure hero” thing…). I usually need to be backed into a corner with no options or solutions in sight. I know there’s absolutely no way I can get out of the situation before I’m willing to step out into the darkness. I forget the fact that in looking back, a path has always been carved through the darkness and it’s always illuminated. If the path isn’t clear, I learn to fly before I crash into the bottom of the abyss. Always! Though I usually don’t see it until later…

You’d think that with such a proven track record I’d push right through whatever obstacle was in my way. It doesn’t always work like that. Taking that first step into the abyss isn’t my first choice. I temporarily forget God’s faithfulness. As my friend Edgar likes to remind me, “I’m not a slow learner, just a fast forgetter”.

“Trials are not enemies of faith but are opportunities to prove God’s faithfulness.” — Author Unknown

Ironically, my memory gets sharper as I grow older: at least in matters of faith (in other areas, yeah, not so much…) It doesn’t take as long to remember God’s faithfulness even when mine is absent. One of my favorite reminders is Psalms 119.105: “Your word for my feet and a lamp for my path”. The funny thing about a lamp is that it only shows what’s immediately ahead. I can only see the path if I keep stepping out, one step at a time…

I’ve spent far too much time stressed out about things beyond my control, so I’m stepping out. Whether I’ll be walking or flying, I’m not sure yet. What I do know is that I’ll see you on the other side…

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What’s For Breakfast?

Thoughts from the Porch: I don’t get to see the sun breaking above the horizon due to the way the houses sit around our little cul-de-sac. Light slowly comes over the roof of our next door neighbor’s house and the porchgrows brighter. It’s much faster now that the trees have shed their leaves forthe winter. Something about watching dawn break makes me feel more alive, more awed by the God of creation. What a way to start the day…

  I used to dread seeing the sunrise, especially on Mondaymornings. The weekend was over. It was back to work. ‘Work’ was a four-letter word. It’s not that way anymore, though.

  Things have changed over the last ten or fifteen years. I lookforward to Mondays. I know you may find that hard to believe, but I really do. In fact, I like most mornings.

 Dawn dispels the night and reawakens the world for anotherday. I’m reminded that I “woke up on the right side of the roots”, as my friend Charlie says. I’m here for another day, another opportunity…

That wise old sage, Winnie the Pooh, was having a discussion with his friend, Piglet, about the first thought they had in the morning. Piglet told himself, “I wonder what’s going to happen exciting today?”

Pooh, being the practical bear that he is, said he asked himself, “what’sfor breakfast?” I like that…

“What’s for breakfast?” has become a mantra of sorts. Itreminds me to take care of what’s immediately before me, to “do the next rightthing”, whatever that may be. Most of the time, it’s routine – crawl out of bed, the morning toilette, and make a pot of coffee. By the time I get to the porch, I have an idea what needs to be done today. I also know God often hasother plans.

I’ve heard the phrase “do the next right thing” for years. If I’m honest, I don’t always know what the “next right thing” is. It’s easy to get caught up in the ‘to-do’ list, head off in another direction, and miss the ‘next right thing’ there in front of me.

 I think that’s why my ‘porch time’ has become so important. My friend Edgar likes to remind me that when I take care of the spiritual man, the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of being tends to take care of themselves. Funny how that echoes Jesus’ admonition, “Love God and love others. Do that and everything else will take care of itself”.

The porch gets me ready for the day. Conversing with God keeps me centered and gives me clarity of vision. It’s much easier to see the “next right thing” when it appears. Sometimes that means altering my plans in order to follows God’s…

I hope I become more like Pooh Bear as I grow older. I hope I always ask the right question, “What’s for breakfast?” When I focus on that I don’t have to wonder what exciting things are going to happen. They just happen: a natural consequence of taking care of breakfast first.

So, what’s for breakfast today?

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Tell Me About the War Daddy…

Thoughts from the Porch: It was a bit chilly on the porch this morning, just enough to make the coffee taste better. The sun is obviously up but the overcast lends some doubt to that fact. The rain is coming once again, according to the weather folks. Although it’s not forecast to last more than a couple of days, heavy rains impede work on the farm. It looks like I’ll be mopping up after the dogs here at home for the next couple of days…

 Margaret reminded me that today is December 7th, theanniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It led to the US entrance into World War Two seventy-seven years ago. Growing up, it was huge part of history classes. Movies celebrating America’s victory over the Axis were common, the age-old tale of good triumphs over evil. Things were more clear cut then. We had a sense of purpose.

I lost an uncle in the European theater and another who served in the Pacific. We all had fathers and uncles who had fought in “the war”. There was no need to refer to it as the Second World War. We knew what war one was talking about.

I’m a Baby Boomer, one of the generation of children born when GIs came back from the war. Over time, our parents came to be known as the“Greatest Generation” – people who had survived the Great Depression and emergedfrom the world’s largest and most deadly conflict as heroes. We all need heroes…

Today, Pearl Harbor day is more significant than past ones. It’s the climax to an eventful week, ever reminding me of time’s passing.

I lost my mother a little over a year ago. My dad and my uncle passed over fifteen years ago. I have one aunt left, my mother’s younger sister, and she’s seventy-nine. I realized that the “Greatest Generation” will soon be gone, and with it, a store of wisdom that has been often forgotten.

 As my generation has grown older, we’ve come to appreciate ourparent’s generation a little more. Perhaps that’s because we’re aging ourselves. Time seems to erase the negative memories and replace them with only happy ones. We become a tad more willing to listen to our elders now that we wish our own children would listen to us. Life has a way of doing that.

 I certainly didn’t want to listen to my parents when I wasyoung. Given the tumultuous earlier years of my generation, I’m confident I’m not the only one. Foolishness and youth tend to go hand in hand. If you had told me that my parents were part of the “Greatest Generation” some thirty years ago, I’d have angrily pointed out all the mess of the sixties and seventies.. They were the problem and wehad the solution.

The last week also marked the passing of President George Herbert Walker Bush at the age of ninety-four. I could go on and on about our political differences and my extreme opposition to his policies. I didn’t respect the man in that sense, but I did respect the values he exuded.To be honest, it’s not the man I mourn, as much as it is the reminder that the “Greatest Generation” is soon to be no more. What I felt this week has been a sadness for those I respected, loved, and lostto the passing of time.

 However, I was able to spend some time this week with anicon of the “Greatest Generation”, Ms. Opal Lee. She’s not only the namesake ofour urban farm. Ms. Opal, at ninety-two, has long been a community activist, teacher, and humanitarian. Her love of others radiates. She’s a wealth of wisdom of the generation I’ve come to respect and love. We attended the Fort Worth Development Group together on Wednesday. It couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.

Wisdom has been the theme of the group for this last quarterof the year. One of our members, Joseph Lockhart, Jr., a business owner and Pastor, spoke on the topic. He reminded us of the value of wise counsel. Ms. Opal’spresence was just that. I was reminded one more time of the experience and thewisdom of those who have walked this journey of life longer than I have.

Things change. That’s the only thing certain in life. I’m not who I was thirty or forty years ago. Nor are my friends. The only constant in life is the wisdom we leave to the next generation. Unfortunately, I often been an example of what not to do. Wisdom doesn’t choose sides. It prefers experience.

 Sometimes I’m not too optimistic about the future. I’m notsure “Baby Boomers” have done such a great job and “Millennials” don’t appear to be great listeners. My pessimism can probably be attributed to getting cranky and overly nostalgic as I get older. I’m sure our parents said the same of us.Kids can be pretty hardheaded. It’s the cycle of life…

 December 7th doesn’t mean as much to our kids andgrandkids as it did to us and our parents. Pearl Harbor Day is quickly becoming just another date in the history books as more of the “Greatest Generation” pass. It serves as a reminder to me how important it is to hand down the lessons learned and the wisdom of our predecessors.

 So, I urge you on this December 7th, in thisholiday season, spend some time with your elders. Listen and glean the wisdom from those that ventured down the path before us. Maybe, just maybe, we get to do the same with our kids and grandkids. Maybe, just maybe, we can be heroes too…