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It’s already May!

It’s difficult to believe it’s already May. April flew by in a scurry of activity. What’s even harder to believe is that all the Spring planting is complete except for the okra that goes in next week. Opal’s volunteers stepped it up and made early Spring a huge success!

April showers showed up just in time to give all the veggies a huge growth spurt. We closed out the month moving into “abnormally dry” as opposed to “moderate drought” status that started the month. The official rainfall total was four-and-a-half inches, but we over five inches at Opal’s Farm. The last few days of rain made access and work onerous but also allowed us some time to catch-up on some things we’ve put off due to Spring planting (like this blog…).

On April 24th, we had a group from my son Adrian’s church, The House Fort Worth, come down to the farm. They have regular “Love Your City” workdays and provide volunteers for projects all around Fort Worth. They did an amazing job getting furrows mulched and ready for the coming summer heat! Thanks to each one who came and Pastor Mark Ortiz for getting us on the list!

The House Fort Worth volunteers!

Our National Resource Conservation representative for urban farms, Mr. Michael Higgins put us in touch with two exciting new endeavors for Opal’s Farm. The first one is with Bashira Chowdurry, a native Houstonian working at Auburn University. Bashira is helping us develop new produce such as Bottle Gourd and Bitter Melon, which are staples in South Asian food. The seeds she sent are growing in our test beds. We’re trying them out to see how they work in North Texas. If all goes well, we’ll be able to grow produce for our South Asian community here in Tarrant County.

The second new project is with new immigrants from East Africa. We eagerly gave a third of an acre plot to Sylvia, Christian, and Gerard, new urban farmers here at Opal’s. They have been hard at work preparing beds and getting Spring planting in. It’s exciting to see the passion of our new farmers. My heart jumped a bit when Sylvia said it reminded her of home! We hope to be a part of making them successful as they meet the needs of the East African community and all our neighbors in Fort Worth.

This Spring has brought new volunteers to Opal’s Farm. We’re so happy to share this journey with other people who want to help us address food insecurity and food apartheid here in Fort Worth. Food brings people together. No one should have to be food insecure or denied access to healthy, fresh produce. No one should have to go without the sense of community that we have at the farm. Visit our website and sign up for your time to farm with us.

If you don’t have time to volunteer right now, please help us with your financial support. Every dollar you contribute goes to helping your neighbors get access to nutritious fresh produce!

P.S. Cowtown Farmers Market is getting busier with all the Spring crops coming in. The varieties of fresh, local produce may sell out so come early every Saturday so you don’t miss out!

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Words That Pull the Trigger

Thoughts From the Porch: We sold out early at the farmer’s market Saturday. We sold much of the week’s harvest on Wednesday, so we were a bit light for Saturday’s market. Our normal crowd was a bit smaller due to the rainy morning. Even a few of our farmers took the day off for other pursuits. Hopefully, everyone enjoyed a much-needed break from summer chores. I know I did.

Our friends Melvin and Janice called Friday night to invite us up to Lake Murray for a camping weekend. It was a perfect Saturday morning to leave market early and head to Oklahoma. Cell service is almost non-existent there. Spending a couple of days unplugged from everything is a periodic necessity. A couple of days in a quiet campsite with good friends is just what the doctor ordered!

Life is full of small pleasures. My Sunday morning meeting was covered by someone else, so I slept in for a change. Upon awakening I made the coffee and headed for some serious porch time. I made the mistake of checking out my CNN app and discovered twenty-nine people had been killed in two mass shootings just hours apart: one in El Paso and the other in Dayton, Ohio. It was difficult to separate the horror and sadness I experienced from the rising fury toward the hatefulness of the crimes.

Photo by Ivandrei Pretorius on

 I wanted to write about it but growing older (and hopefully wiser) has allowed me to hit the pause button on such occasions lest I speak or write out of anger. I tend to say things I later regret or that are misunderstood. It makes apologies and amends to others for my emotional outburst extremely difficult. So, I’ve mulled this over for the last couple of days before sharing my thoughts.

Same story, different day…

The storyline has become all-to familiar. Another mass shooting. The news covers all the vigils held to honor the dead. Finding relatives of the fallen or hospital room interviews with survivors are a ratings bonanza. There’s an outcry against gun violence. Politicians and political pundits from both sides of the aisle pontificate on how to prevent this from happening again, just as they did the last time and the time before that. What happened Sunday will happen again today, tomorrow, and so it goes.

According to data collected by the non-profit organization, Gun Violence Archive, (as of August 4th, 2019) a mass shooting is defined as “an event where at least four people, not including the gunman, were shot”. By this definition, there have been 292 mass shootings in last 219 days of this year alone. I’m no math wizard but according to my calculations, that’s 1.3 mass shootings a day.

We simply don’t hear about most of them. It seems only a large body count is newsworthy. Maybe we’ve become numb to “average” shootings. Many occur in communities most folks ignore anyway. Sadly, if this weekend’s events are like previous mass shootings, the media will play with the story for a few days until another ratings booster comes along…

Words can kill just like bullets

The FBI is unsure as to the motive of the Dayton shooter, but are treating the El Paso event as an act of domestic terrorism based on white supremacy. The shooter’s motives were clear so he several hundred miles to carry out a planned attack on immigrants because of the “Hispanic invasion of Texas”.

The “Hispanic invasion”. “Those people”. “Go back where you came from”. All words and phrases coming from the highest office in the land. All words that spark hate, division, and most of all, fear. When asked what we can do about the problem with those people, someone shouted, “shoot them” and everyone present laughed. Except for one 21-year-old from North Texas. He took those words literally…

I don’t know what to do about gun control, red flag laws, or mental health issues and gun violence. I don’t know if the present occupant of the White House will change his words, but maybe we should hold him accountable for those words. Words kill. They accounted for at least 22 of the deaths this weekend. Hateful words, attitudes, and divisiveness pulled the trigger as much as the gunman did. Donald Trump is as complicit in the El Paso shooting as the gunman.

What I do know is to counter hateful words and actions with love and grace, despite my anger and sadness. The grace shown to me by a loving Abba will guide my actions. I’ll not allow hate and division to interfere with loving and uniting others, especially “the others”.

What I know for certain is, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke (in a letter addressed to Thomas Mercer). I won’t be quiet, nor will I sit still.

Will you?

Anxiety, Christianity, Community, Culture, Emotional Health, Family, Gun Violence, Hate Crimes, Immigration, Peace, Prayer, Racism, Relationships, Survivors, Thoughts From the Porch, What Can I Do, Writing

Shootings and Shock

Thoughts From the Porch: I stepped out on to a dark porch this morning. The Mockingbird sang his morning song, and all was peaceful. Our little cul-de-sac is far removed from the rest of the world on mornings like this. While I enjoy the respite of the porch, I’m not immune to the world around me. I know how blessed I am. Others are not so fortunate.

Photo by Ivandrei Pretorius on

I watched the news in horror as another hateful display of violence and white nationalism resulted in the death of 49 people and 20 others wounded in Christchurch, New Zealand. My heart goes out to our Muslim brothers and sisters who were doing nothing more than practicing their faith. It seems to be a story often repeated: Sikhs in Wisconsin, Christians in Charlottesville, Jewish worshipers in Pittsburgh. It even happened a couple of hours south of me in a small church in Texas. All mass shootings motivated by hate, racism, and insanity.

While I’m deeply saddened by what happened in Christchurch, I’m saddened far more by the fact that I feel no shock whatsoever. Mass shootings are no longer exceptions to the norm. According to there have been 65 mass shootings as of March 16th in the United States alone.

Photo by Ivandrei Pretorius on

I was living in Denver, Colorado in April 1999 when the Columbine shooting occurred. While there had been earlier mass shootings, Columbine hit home. Maybe it was the scale of the violence or that the news coverage was so immediate, but I was completely shocked by the event. Moreover, my oldest friend had friends at Columbine. It was all-to-real.

I’ve lost count of how many mass shootings there have been since. Maybe that’s why I’m no longer shocked to hear of yet another one. I despise the fact that I’m no longer surprised. It feels like giving in and giving up. People die, it causes an uproar in the media for a couple of days, and everyone goes back to life as if nothing has happened. It’s just the way things are.

I don’t pretend to know how to fix the problem. I’m not here to debate gun control or the other policy decisions that might prevent, or at least mitigate, mass shootings. Prayers and sympathy might help but they aren’t enough. They’re usually lost in a twenty-four-hour news cycle that dulls the senses anyway…

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Bucket lists…

I haven’t posted for the last couple of days. There’s a great deal going on at our household. Mostly, it involves trying to stay cool while getting things accomplished. Our poor air conditioner is having difficulty keeping up with the heat wave we’re experiencing and I feel a bit wind-blown from all the fans in our house.

Even with the triple-digit heat, the porch has provided some respite from the heat in the early mornings. I was able to enjoy conversation and coffee with Margaret for quite a while before the perspiration beading up on our foreheads said it was time to go in. Our conversation wandered around for a bit, talking about our kids, with their unique (and sometimes frustrating) personalities and what the future holds in store. I shared a blog from another writer in Northern Ireland and the pictures he posted from Belfast this morning. I’ve had a trip to Ireland at the top of my ‘bucket list’ for many, many years. His post this morning stoked that fire once again.

I’m not a ‘travel’ kind of guy. I’m quite content to live vicariously through the photos my friends post of their travels and prefer to stay close to home. Besides, I could spend a lifetime traveling around Texas and never see the same thing twice. Aside from the mountains in Colorado, I haven’t gotten around to very many other places. Still, I would travel to Ireland in a heartbeat.

The first time I entered a drug and alcohol rehab hospital I went through an assessment with the doctor on staff. He asked me if there was any history of alcoholism or addiction in my family. I told him that I came from a very conservative Christian home and even my great-grandfather was a circuit preacher in Texas, so I didn’t think so. I wasn’t sure it made any difference anyway since I was adopted. All I know about my birth parents is that I’m Irish. Without missing a beat, the doctor looked at me and said he’d just answer yes to the history question. I’m not sure how I felt about that, except it seems awfully stereotypical and extremely politically incorrect…

I’ve often thought about trying to locate my birth mother. I’d love to know something of my ancestry, as well as the family medical history. Now that I’m pushing sixty it’s growing unlikely that it will happen. Sometimes though, I wonder if I have half-siblings out there. I guess a lot of adopted kids from ‘closed’ adoptions have the same questions. I have an adopted cousin who found her birth mother and discovered she had nine brothers and sisters! It makes me wonder…

My mother and I were driving down from Fairplay, Colorado and out of the blue, she asked me if I’d ever thought of finding my birth mother. Although I was a grown man, I was a little freaked-out by the question. It was something that had never been discussed at home. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings because she was my mother, regardless of who gave me birth. Finding my biological parent wouldn’t change that. As I paused, she immediately followed up with, “Why haven’t you? I would.”

I remember telling her that it just wasn’t a big deal to me. I may have meant it at the time but that’s not an honest answer today. The reality is that I don’t want to be disappointed. Somewhere deep inside, that feeling of abandonment that has always been present comes u8p every time I think about trying to get court records unsealed. Don’t get me wrong, I’m eternally grateful to the mother with whom I share DNA. I know somethings about her from the profile my parents gave me when I turned twenty-one. I know that she was only sixteen. In the pre-Roe v. Wade years of the Eisenhower Administration, young women who were ‘in a family way’ were often shuttled off somewhere else to avoid familial embarrassment, to have their baby, and give it up for adoption. I know it had to be difficult for her. I often wonder whether she was forced by her parents to give me up. I prefer to think of her as courageous and wise; that she made the decision to adopt out of concern for my welfare. If I can’t ever ask her that question, I never have to believe otherwise…

If I were to meet her I’d like to tell her thank you for giving me up to such a loving home. My adoptive parents wanted a child desperately and I was loved by the very best. Dad always told me that everyone else had to “take what they were given, but that I was handpicked and specially chosen” to be their son. I came to know what they meant when they brought my little sister home six years later. She’s quite the women, my sister. I’ve led a charmed life, despite my adult struggles, and I couldn’t ask for anything better. I can’t tell you how grateful I am. God is so good…

The only negative I can find in the Joel family tree is that they are English. I have a friend who reminds me that “at least they weren’t French”, but he’s British and that’s another story. I truly would like to know about where I come from and how I ended up in Fort Worth, Texas. According to immigration records, most Irish immigrants in the 19th century came through the Port of New Orleans. What we know of the defenders of the  Alamo, the holy shrine of Texas Independence, is that most who sacrificed their lives were Irish and Scottish immigrants. I wonder when, and if, that was the case for my ancestors. Do I have an extended family I don’t know about? Do I need to know, for that matter? Who knows? Maybe there’s a genetic longing taking place…

I guess I’ll just have to keep saving until I can cross Ireland off my ‘Bucket List”…