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Looking For An Out

Thoughts From the Porch

Like most kids, I put a lot of energy into pushing the boundaries imposed by my parents. Being a people-pleaser by nature, I constantly sought ways to do what I wanted to do while keeping the appearance of being the good son. I was always looking for an “out”. I became so good at it that my mom would frequently suggest I become a lawyer when I grew up. After all, lawyers are experts at finding loopholes, at rationalizing behavior. Might as well get paid for it, right…

I’m not unique in this ability. It tends to be a common trait among human beings. Everyone looks for an out: a way to bend societal rules for their benefit, to make unacceptable, self-centered, or somewhat dubious behavior okay. Some are just better at it than others. I know. I have kids…

The whole process is about justification. The dictionary defines justification as “attempt to explain or justify (one’s own or another’s behavior or attitude) with logical, plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate.” For example, I still smoke (cigarettes, not weed. I live in Texas, not Colorado). I am once again in the process of trying to quit. I know they’re bad for me. Everyone knows they’re unhealthy. It’s a nasty habit. They stink, they cost way too much, and constant smoke breaks up my productive time (I don’t smoke in my office so I have to go outside). Everything screams out “stop smoking”!

Knowing all these things I will still try to find my out; the loophole that cosigns my bulls**t. I remember reading an old Rolling Stone interview with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. They were into healthy living – good diet, exercise, good rest. The interviewer asked them why they still smoke if they’re so into health.

Their response always stuck with me – “We’re macrobiotic people”. What in heaven’s name does that mean?

The dictionary defines macrobiotic as “constituting, relating to, or following a diet of whole pure prepared foods that is based on Taoist principles of the balance of yin and yang.” Now I’m not judging, but what does that have to do with the unhealthy habit of smoking?

It’s a prime example of justification, of how we find an “out”. It may be plausible. It sure sounds good, but smoking is unhealthy no matter whether you’re macro or micro-biotic. I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve used this excuse (and a myriad of other justifications) on occasion . Hey, I gave up my other bad habits. I’ve got to have one vice, right?

The truth is that I’m unwilling to go through nicotine withdrawal. I’d rather justify my actions than quit. I can ask God to help me quit a multitude of times but, if I’m honest with myself (and you), I’m unwilling to do my part. Justification always tends to center around my unwillingness (or outright refusal) to change or dishonesty with myself.

What’s your “out”?

In Luke 10, a religious scholar comes to Jesus with a question (and questionable motives): what do I need to do to receive eternal life? Jesus responded in His oft-used way of answering a question with a question.

“What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”

The religious scholar answered:

“That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence – and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself. ‘Good answer’ said Jesus. ‘Do it and you will live.’

Here it comes:

Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define neighbor?” (from Luke 10. 25-29 The Message Bible

Jesus goes on to tell the story we know as the “Good Samaritan” and the lesson of being a neighbor we usually focus on. Yet, the words “looking for a loophole” jumped out at me the most, because that’s what I do – look for a loophole, an “out” to get my way, a way to justify my actions. It’s been that way for a long time…

Loopholes, and those searching for them, seemed to frustrate Jesus the most. In Luke 11.42, Jesus tells all the religious bigwigs hanging around that:

“I’ve had it with you! You’re hopeless, you Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but manage to find loopholes for getting around basic matters of justice and God’s love.”

The takeaway is that Jesus meant what He said – love God with all you’ve got and love other people like you love yourself. If we do this, everything else takes care of itself. We don’t have to look for loopholes (I still do anyway…). My actions speak much louder than my words.

Image credit Study for the Visitation Jacopo Pontormo

I want to be all in on this Jesus thing. I don’t want an “out”. I want to become better simply being me – to be a better husband, father, brother, friend, and to love and serve others, not just as I love myself (I still have days when I’m not so loving to Greg!), but as God loves His kids.

Being all in isn’t easy. Jesus takes “common sense” and turns it upside down. If you don’t believe me, have a look at the “Sermon on the Mount: Jesus’ manifesto for living. Things like ‘turning the other cheek’ and thinking of others more highly than one’s self run counter to everything in me. If I really believe Jesus meant what He said though, then I can stop looking for loopholes. After all, I didn’t see any “except when” or “buts” after His statements…

When I became a disciple, a student of “the Rabbi”, I slowly began to face the justifications that cluttered my life. Slowly but surely, they were eliminated one by one. Some I still cling to (like smoking) and try to justify their place in my life. Yet, the deeper I step in to the whole faith thing, the more difficult it becomes to hang onto them. It’s easier to find the willingness to escape them and see life as it really is.

Today I trust the process. Today I want to be all in. Maybe, just maybe, one more layer of justification will be peeled away and I come closer to the man I was always intended to be…

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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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Dogs Don’t Just Eat Homework

I have no idea why this posted as “Auto Draft” but here’s the real headline…

Thoughts From the Porch: Last night filled with great music, hot coffee, and a chance to check the emails filling my inbox from the last few days. It may not be most folk’s idea of a great Saturday night but it’s fine by me. To sit and get caught up, especially in air-conditioned comfort, is a golden opportunity indeed.

I get a LOT of emails. Most get a quick scan and deleted but there are a few newsletters I read religiously. Pet MD sent their weekly update. Anything benefitting our fur babies is of utmost importance. We strive to be the best pet parents possible and always look for helpful tips to keep our pets in good health.

As a writer of content and copy I know the value of a great headline. This week’s Pet MD had one of the best I’ve seen – “What Should I Do If My Dog Ate Weed?” It got my attention right away. I’m not sure I would’ve been asking that question publicly. I did notice that it said weed and not “my” weed. You know, just in case…

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To be honest, I never thought of asking that question, but apparently, marijuana toxicity in dogs is on the rise; especially in states where it is now legal. Although I no longer indulge in THC (I’m in recovery, not judging), I imagine I would be mildly pissed if my dog ate my weed. From what I understand, the dime bag is a thing of the past…

How do you know if your dog ate your weed? According to PET MD, Clinical signs include:

  • Incoordination
  • Sensitivity to loud noises
  • Low heart rate
  • Dribbling urine
  • Dilation of the pupils
  • Low or high body temperature”

I would personally add to the list empty packages of Oreo cookies and Hostess Twinkies scattered about the house, a lack of motivation to chase the squirrel ten feet away, and an abnormal fascination with the television. Just saying…

During my younger and far more foolish years I had a Golden Retriever who once ate half a pan of THC-infused brownies (where they came from, I’ll never tell!). Had I known the potential for life-threatening illness I might not have had such a good laugh (after my initial anger over the lost and somewhat expensive brownies, of course). The THC made her quite content to lay on the edge of the porch and watch the cars pass by. I assume she enjoyed the rest of her evening. I know I did.

If I’d known then, what I know now…

Fortunately, my dog survived her momentary intoxication without any ill effects. In fact, she slept it off until the next afternoon. However, I did notice she was unusually attentive to the sound of storage baggies opening. Had I known about weed toxicity back then I might have been a bit worried, but all’s well that ends well…

The take-away from all this is don’t get your dog high, no matter how much they enjoy it, either intentionally or unintentionally. It’s not good for them. Store your weed (and your cookies) out of reach. Keep your weed and your pet safe and secure.

Have a great weekend my friends…

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Happy Birthday and Thank You…

Thoughts From the Porch: I slept in an extra hour this morning. You see, I turned sixty-one years old at about 2:58 AM. Happy Birthday to me, right? It had more to do with my body feeling my age rather than any secret celebration. It’s been brutally hot for the last couple of weeks. It simply caught up with me last night. Such is life…

I’m unsure of whether it was the oppressive heat or completing another trip around the sun that made me a bit reflective this week. I’m not where I thought I’d be, but I am right where I’m supposed to be.

I never thought I’d be farming in triple digit temperatures in my sixties. My goals were much different in my youth. But life has come full circle. Dreams have come true in ways I never imagined. My friend Charlie says I’ve found my ikagi: my reason for being and the thing for which I get up for in the morning.

I was born on the tail end of the Baby Boomer generation. The sixties, and unfortunately, the seventies and eighties, shaped much of my perception about success. I wanted to change the world when I was in college. Idealism isn’t all that unique for college-age. However, idealism doesn’t make one wealthy and that’s what everyone else deemed success. So, I traded idealism for pragmatism and chased whatever I thought was pleasing to others. I got lost somewhere along the way.

I won’t bore you with the details. I will tell you I was in my fifties before life ever began to make sense. That’s only because God began to make sense. Not the judgmental, punishing God of my youth, but a loving, forgiving God: one whom I could trust to have my back. The relationship I have with God today is the foundation for the life I get to live. It’s changed my perceptions and made me whole.

If the metric for success is salary, celebrity, or how many followers one has on social media, then I surely missed the mark. If, on the other hand, it’s about doing what you love and the people in one’s life, then I am rich beyond measure. I get up in the morning and know the day is a success even when it doesn’t feel like it, and it doesn’t at times. I’m still responsible for the bills. There’s usually more month than money…). I rarely understand how we make another month financially…

That being said, I trust God will take care of us even when I can’t possibly see how it’s going to be done. I show up, plant seeds, and water what comes up. It’s like that at Opal’s Farm. It’s like that in my life. I’m always surprised by the harvest.

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Always Remember

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.

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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

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Happy Anniversary My Dear

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s a wee bit chilly on the porch this morning. Overcast skies make for a dreary opening for the month of March. The good news is that I saw my first Robin this week. They tend to be a more accurate predictor of Spring. It may be cold but today is the unofficial beginning of Spring in my book. It’s time to get busy.

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I’ve been a bit reflective of the last six years. You see, tomorrow Margaret and I will have been married six years. It’s hard to believe. It’s sounds so cliché to say it seems like yesterday, but in a way it does. On the other hand, my life without my beautiful wife seems like eons ago. That’s a good thing. I can’t imagine life without my bride.

I love telling the story of our “whirlwind” relationship. We started dating on December 1st and got married three month later. I tend to leave out the part that we’d been friends for many years prior to dating. It’s more romantic that way.

I also tend to leave out the part about my proposal. It wasn’t so romantic. Fortunately, when you get married in your fifties, practicality has its own rewards. I debated whether I should include that part in this post, but since many of our friends know about it anyway, here goes…

Margaret and I were at my house getting ready to go out to a recovery function. We were running late so both of us were in the bathroom getting ready. We were in rather inglorious positions, she was getting ready and me shirtless, shaving away. It felt a bit like an old, married couple. I laughed to myself, looked at Margaret and said, “You want to get married?”

She looked over and said, “Are you serious?”

I looked back at her. She looked radiant, despite the awkwardness of our locale. “Yeah, I think so”. The rest my friends, is history.

She still teases me to this day about my ‘romantic’ proposal. I freely admit it wasn’t one of my stellar moments, but it was the most important question I ever asked in my life. The trajectory of my life changed in the bathroom that day and it definitely changed for the better.

There are a couple of reasons I’m sharing this story today. One is that we both had been single for many years prior to our marriage. Each of us had reached a point where we thought that’s the way it would be, and we were each okay with it. Life was good, but companionship would be great and love even greater. We were both complete human beings loving the gift of life and recovery as precious children of God. We were happy and content just the way we were. We didn’t need someone to feel whole. Had we started dating earlier (and believe me, I thought Margaret was hot and way out of my league), neither of us would have been ready for the relationship we have today. It was on God’s time and not ours.

Sometimes it feels like God’s time passes far too slowly. I always want answers to life’s questions now, but it rarely works that way. I knew how to fail in marriage, but I had no clue as to how to have a successful one. If I’m honest, the only thing I knew for sure was what I didn’t want in a relationship. Experience was a great teacher in that regard. Like Tom Petty sang, “the waiting is the hardest part”.

Looking back, I had so much to learn and it took a lot of growth, both personally and spiritually, to even be ready to meet someone special like Margaret. I had to be led through the process of “becoming”. By the time we began dating I had grown in my relationship with God and, consequentially, was ready for someone like Margaret. Patience truly is a virtue. What I’m trying to say is that Valentine’s Day may not be your favorite holiday when you’re single, but it becomes one when you learn to treat yourself as worthy of love.

Secondly, even the simplest, most awkward of times can be holy moments. I often think of how I would’ve liked to have proposed to Margaret. I really can be romantic at times. Still, I wouldn’t change a thing if it meant life would be any different. Margaret and I married eight days later. I was scheduled for a craniotomy to remove an AVM that was bleeding in my head. Even though it was to be a routine brain surgery by one of Fort Worth’s most respected neurosurgeons I couldn’t fathom the idea of passing away without Margaret being my wife. Our friends came together and planned a beautiful wedding in that time. Over a hundred of them came to our wedding and we love each them dearly.

Thinking about tomorrow I find myself wishing to shower Margaret with gifts, kisses, and thanks. I can do the wishes and the thanks, but the gifts are going to be slim. We are struggling financially right now so I can commit all my efforts to our non-profit for the farm. We prayed about it and know this is what God wants us to do. That never would have happened in my past life – the prayer that is. God orders our steps today. That’s what makes ours a wonderful marriage – God is the center of it. The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “a rope of three cords is not easily broken”. Thanks to my beautiful, thoughtful, and loving wife for making a home of three cords: God, Margaret, and I…

One of my favorite pictures
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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…