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Spartans and Teamwork

Thoughts from the Porch: Summer is officially here. The summer equinox is in the rear-view mirror. The days will grow shorter though no one will notice (or care) for the next three months. While we normally experience summer drought, this year has kept the rains coming into June. We had another huge thunderstorm last night. It’s the third Sunday in a row for North Texas. I am eternally grateful for the rain as we’re still working on irrigation for the farm. I could do without the straight-line winds though. I’ll be clearing out tree limbs for the next couple of hours…

I had the privilege of attending my first Spartan race this Saturday at AT&T Stadium (Home of the Dallas Cowboys or “Jerryworld” as it’s known locally). I didn’t realize what a big deal a Spartan race is. The fact they were holding it at the stadium should’ve been a clue. There were folks from all over the country racing Saturday. The first competitors started early in the morning and they were still starting racers when I left at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon.

The Second Obstacle – makes me dizzy thinking about it…

My oldest son, Adrian, started running and working out regularly again. Last month he ran his first 5K in twenty years and finished first in his age group. I was proud of him and quite impressed! Saturday he was more concerned about simply finishing and helping other team members than where he placed in the race. I’m far more impressed by his heart than I am by his race time.

Over the first wall…

He formed a team with several other guys that shared the same race coach for the day. Although they hadn’t meet each other before the race, they bonded as a team and helped one another through a grueling race and obstacle course. One of the team members struggled and fell farther behind than the others. Finally, the rest of the team had to press forward, leaving him behind with the team coach. The other members went on to complete the course.

Finished the First One!

Adrian crossed the finish line and we celebrated together. Then he returned to the field to join the rest of his team look for the one runner still on the course. When he entered the field from the punishing run up and down the stairs at AT&T Stadium his team members were there to cheer him on.

Then an amazing thing happened…

The other team members joined him on the course to complete the final obstacles alongside him. It may not seem like a big deal, but understand, these guys had already completed the course. They were tired and sore. Most importantly, they didn’t have to do it. They ran through the remaining three obstacles and crossed the finish line together – as a team!

None of these guys had met before Saturday. The only thing they had in common was the Spartan coach they’d each paid extra for. Still, they became a real team. They were there for each other; the perfect example of sportsmanship.

Running and racing is generally thought of as an individual, not a team, sport. Adrian and his fellows reminded me one more time of the importance of teamwork. No one is left behind and forgotten simply because “I” finished. It’s about finishing together and relying on each other. I truly am my brother’s keeper and not just at a Spartan race…

I will remember Adrian’s example more than I’ll ever remember his race time. Thank you, Son for the reminder of what’s truly important. Individual accomplishments are great, but team accomplishments, what we do together as a community, mean the most. I’m proud of you, Son!

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Honor Your Wife…

Thoughts From the Porch: A line of thunderstorms is knocking on our door this morning. The wind, called an outflow boundary, is the precursor to the storm that will barge in any second. Jamison the Farm Dog is huddled beneath my feet, making writing difficult by distancing my fingers from the keyboard. Thunderstorms are anathema to him. He pants and paces or hides under my desk to escape the noise. All I can do is reassure him we’ve got it taken care of and we’d never let anything harm our Jameson.

Today is Margaret’s birthday. Please join me in wishing my beautiful wife a very happy birthday. I think of myself as one of the most blessed men in the world. It can’t be easy being married to me, although Margaret tells me constantly that I’m not difficult. Some days I’m not so sure. I find myself preoccupied with the daily goings-on of life and fail to stop and enjoy the company of the best woman I know.

Sometimes I’ll be out and hear other people talk about their difficulty in relationships. It makes me want to run home and kiss my wife and tell her how much I love her. I realize what a gift she is in my life. Our marriage isn’t perfect by any means. We each have our little idiosyncrasies that cause friction. I’m acutely aware of mine, but to be honest, I can’t think of any of Margaret’s. I’m sure they are present. They all seem to fade away when I’m with her.

I used to think that wasn’t normal, that our relationship was too comfortable. I’d hear others speak of their struggles in their marriage or cohabitation. People would talk about how much work their relationship. Everyone talked about “working” out their marriage. Maybe we were doing something wrong because, quite frankly, I can count on less than one hand the number of issues we’ve had to deal with over the years. I’m sure that they each centered around miscommunication or misunderstanding.

My Favorite Picture!

I used to believe we were an anomaly, a blip on the screen that couldn’t be explained. I thought there was no way anyone would believe how good our marriage was (and there may not be…). However, I’ve observed the marriages of our friends and acquaintances, and I’ve seen first hand we’re not so different after all.

There seems to be one or two constants throughout them all. The first one is the one my friend Jim told me about. Many years ago, he asked me if I knew what honor was. The Good Book says to “honor your wife”. What does it mean? I offered the proper dictionary definition and he laughed. He said that was nice but didn’t come close. The real definition was… and he drew in a quick, deep breath. I waited patiently for him to add his definition, but he just sat there, silent.

“Come on Jim. What’s your definition of honor?”

He again inhaled sharply, “h-h-h-h-h” and fell silent. I was beginning to get a bit perturbed and asked again to which he gave the same reply. Now I was ticked off.

I guess he sensed my aggravation because he looked me square in the eye, took another deep breath, and said “that’s what honor is”.

I sat there a bit perplexed. He went on to explain that honor was seeing your wife walk in the room and she takes your breath away. It wasn’t until years later that I really understood what he meant.

Fast forward to March 2nd, 2013 and Jim’s definition of honor became crystal clear. I was standing in front of many family and friends next to my Best Man, Edgar, with my brother Craig, the pastor for the day. Everyone stood and turned to watch Margaret start her walk down the aisle. She was radiant in her wedding dress, her face beaming. I inhaled sharply and deeply. She took my breath away…

Fast forward again to April 6th, 2019. Margaret walks in the room and she still takes my breath away. I can’t believe I am married to such an incredible woman. I want to honor her in every way possible. What surprises me is the honor she bestows on me. She makes me a better man.

I’m no marriage counselor but what I know for certain is that honoring my wife is easy. As a result, our marriage is easy as well. If we are an anomaly, then so be it. I could spend the rest of my life being different…

So, I wish my wife an unbelievably Happy Birthday. I look forward to sharing many more. I’m not confused my dear – you truly are “my better side” (I hate “half” as we were complete when we joined together) and my best friend. Today I honor you and wish for you a beautiful, joy-filled birthday!

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Daylight Savings and Brothers

Thoughts From the Porch: I survived the Daylight Savings time change. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this oddity a bit of history is in order. It seems that the practice came about during World War I to extend daylight in the Spring and Summer months to conserve coal for the war effort. It has remained in effect off and on in the years since. While the US and most European countries observe Daylight Savings Time, most of the rest of the world does not. I wish we’d get on board with them.

Daylight Savings Time (DST) has its benefits. I’ll be the first to admit that I enjoy the longer periods of daylight, especially working on the farm. Unfortunately, it has its drawbacks as well. I don’t simply miss an hour of sleep. I tend to lose a whole day. Maybe it’s best that it falls on a Sunday since I can always take a nap.

The Center for Sleep Medicine at the Mayo Clinic says the effects of time change last more than one day though. The effects last five to ten days. Since DST happens twice a year, almost a month is affected. It not only alters sleep patterns, it leads to memory and learning problems, increased heart attack or stroke risks, poor social interaction, and affects overall cognitive performance. If I’m having cognitive issues today, I at least have a temporary excuse. I’m not sure what I can say about the other eleven months…

Daylight Savings Time (DST) has its benefits. I’ll be the first to admit that I enjoy the longer periods of daylight, especially working on the farm. Unfortunately, it has its drawbacks as well. I don’t simply miss an hour of sleep. I tend to lose a whole day. Maybe it’s best that it falls on a Sunday since I can always take a nap. The Center for Sleep Medicine at the Mayo Clinic says the effects of time change last more than one day though. The effects last five to ten days. Since DST happens twice a year, almost a month is affected. It not only alters sleep patterns, it leads to memory and learning problems, increased heart attack or stroke risks, poor social interaction, and affects overall cognitive performance. If I’m having cognitive issues today, I at least have a temporary excuse. I’m not sure what I can say about the other eleven months…

Spring’s on the way to Opal’s Farm!

The cognitive issues were obvious this morning. I had a great morning on the porch. Margaret is still sleeping so I extended my porch time today. A lone Mockingbird serenaded me from the top of the street lamp; announcing the coming Spring in song. He (or his kids) always show up when everything gets ready to bloom and hangs around until the following Winter. I was so excited I came to write about him and my morning thoughts. I did so until I hit something on the keyboard that deleted my whole story. Definitely a cognitive issue!

Ss here I sit rewriting this morning’s post. I’m extremely aware of my occasional Attention Deficit Disorder on mornings like this. I’m not sure I remember what I wrote in the first place. “Squirrel!” Don’t laugh. Some of you know exactly what I mean. Oh, I remember now…

I got to spend some time with my brother Craig this weekend. I don’t get to do that as often as I’d like. I’m often asked why our mother would name us Craig and Greg, so let me explain.

About eleven years ago, I suffered a couple of cerebral hemorrhages that left me unable to work. Without health insurance or income, I ended up losing my house after several months and was staring at imminent homelessness. I frantically searched for housing programs for people in my position but had found nothing by move-out day. My friend Craig (he wasn’t my brother yet, but I’ll explain that in a bit) offered to let me stay at his place for a couple of weeks while I looked for housing. I left five years later…

Craig and I spent our mornings on his porch or in his workshop having coffee, praying together, and talking. After a couple of weeks, Craig asked if I wanted to be his roommate. The coming years led to so much more.

Men do not often have the kind of relationship Craig and I have. I have good friends. My parents have passed away, but I have family: my sister and her family in Georgia whom I love dearly. Still, the bond Craig and I have is beyond mere friends. I think it hit home when Craig gave me a tobacco pipe that he handmade in the shop (he’s amazingly talented with wood). I still have the note that accompanied his gift. It’s taped to my desk so it’s the first thing I see when I sit down to write. It says,

“Like David and Jonathan, you are my best friend. This pipe is a token of my love for you. Enjoy it my friend.”

Before David became the King of Israel, he had come to live in then King Saul’s house. Jonathan, the King’s son, felt an immediate bond with David and they became fast friends. King SauI and David went on to become enemies, but it never changed the friendship between David and Jonathan. Samuel 18 tells us that Jonathan was “totally committed to David. From that point on he would be David’s number-one advocate and friend.” Later, “Jonathan, out of his deep love for David, made a covenant with him. He formalized with solemn gifts: his own royal robe and weapons…”    

I know how richly I’m blessed to have my relationship with Craig. Many people, especially men, fail to foster such deep relationships with others. I won’t pretend to know all the answers why. I’m no relationship expert. Still, I’m filled with gratitude for one who has gone beyond friend to my brother. In the five years that I lived at Craig’s house , we never had a cross word with one another. Not to avoid conflicts, mind you. Peace and serenity are the natural by-products and love and respect.

My sister and I are both adopted. We know what it is to have a family desire and love you so deeply that you become part of them. I was in my fifties before I knew that I had an adopted brother. We may not share the same parents, but we share the same Spirit. I’ve got the pipe to prove it…                                                 

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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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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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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…