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Resolution, Smezalution…

It finally feels like January here in Cowtown. It went from seventy degrees early yesterday afternoon to a wind chill eight degrees by midnight. This morning brought brilliant sunshine, calmer breezes, and crisp, clean cold air. I finally traded the shorts and t-shirts for sweatpants and long-sleeves as I sit here drinking my coffee. I may have to buy new thermals for the expected series of cold fronts coming this week. As it is I’m perfectly contented to look out the window whilst enjoying the delights of central heating…

The New Year is supposed to a time of resolutions. I’ve never been big on them. Most are broken before February. If resolutions are to be made, they should only be made for today. Several years ago, my mentor and friend Jim once suggested (Actually, he told me. I’m not sure he ever “suggested” anything…) that I take a piece of note paper and tape it to my bathroom mirror. The note should ask one simple question: “If you were absolutely positive that today would be your last day on Earth, would you be happy with the way you spent it?”

I followed his instructions. The note was placed on the mirror. I thought of it frequently until I didn’t. I moved several times since that day long ago. The note never survived the moves. It crossed my mind a few times, but I never put it on another mirror.

Sitting here this morning I thought of his “suggestion”. Maybe it’s time to remember that it was more than a suggestion. When Margaret and I bought our home several years ago I told her that the next time I move out of this house it would be in an urn or a pine box. I can’t think of a better place to put that note up again. It won’t get lost in a move…

My life is drastically different from the life I was living when Jim told me to do this. I was new to recovery. Addiction has its ways of hurting everyone I loved and even those I didn’t. It was a constant reminder that I didn’t have to live that way. I needed that constant reminder and I do now even though my addiction is in remission, and I’ve gone on to a life that I never could never have imagined possible.

Life isn’t perfect. It still shows up in ways I’d rather not have to deal with. I’ve learned what real grief is over the last year-and-a-half since my son Jeremy died. I’ve lost close friends. I’ve cried, been irritable (truthfully, I’ve been a real pain in the ass) and withdrawn from people close to me. I’ve often substituted work for the drugs – usually with the same consequences. “The more things change, the more they remain the same…”. Fortunately, they’re only moments now instead of a constant way of life. Jim also reminded me that life is about “progress, not perfection”.

When I get up from here, I’ll take my note to the bathroom. I’ll take a good look and think about how I can spend my day – not my year. I’m going to be more loving to my wife. I’ll spend some time with her. I’m going to pick up the phone and tell my friends and family how much I love and appreciate them. I’m probably going to be irritated that there’s dirty dishes in the kitchen but remember that the dishes are not what’s important. The person that left them there is – imperfections and all.

I’m going to think about Jeremy. I’m also going to remember the gift he left for me – three beautiful, smart, and in my book, perfect grandchildren. I’m going to cry if need be and let someone know I’m hurting. I’m also going to let those grandkids know how much they’re loved.

I’m going to love better and accept that I don’t always do that to the best of my ability. I’m going to find the joy in the little moments that every day brings – that is if I look for them. The glass of a calm river by the farm, the coyotes that visit every morning, the flowers blooming in the winter…

On the way to my Kentucky Home

I’m not going to be so hard on myself. One of the things Opal’s Farm has taught me is that nature has its own time and it’s not mine. I tell that to others all the time. Yet, I’m the first one to forget that when the “To Do” list is staring me in the face.

I’m going to find the joy in the little things that fill my day. I may or may not leave the house today. Joy surrounds me here…

Resolutions don’t quite cut it for me. I’m not sure they work for anybody – at least not those I’ve observed. However, I know that looking at what I can enjoy and do better on January 2nd does work. It’ll work again on January 3rd, on January 4th, and everyday after if I simply remember that simple question – If I was “absolutely positive that today would be my last day on Earth, would I be happy with the way I spent it?”

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Kentucky is our Neighbor…

Fridays and Saturdays are the two busiest days of the week. There’s produce to be harvested, washed, and packaged on Friday for Cowtown Farmers Market on Saturday morning. I rarely make it through the ten o’clock news without drifting off to sleep (that is if I’m lucky enough to be finished by then). I don’t often get to keep up on news happenings until Sunday night…

That changed this weekend. I had left my phone on the desk while I was at Market (which I’m prone to do a lot lately). I saw a text from my sister Dana in Georgia asking if my family in Kentucky was okay given the tornado that hit Friday evening. What the…?

It was then I learned of the massive tornado that had hit the Midwest, much of it through Kentucky. I checked my newsfeed and saw the pictures and the over two-hundred-mile path of destruction through south central Kentucky. I called Momma immediately.

She told me everyone was okay. That most of the devastation was north of them. Flint Ridge, our family farm, had suffered some broken windows and roof damage. I let go a sigh of relief, still horrified by the devastation and loss of life.

She called back a short time later to update me on what new information she had learned. Momma and my brother Danny huddled in the hallway for two hours after the sirens went off. My brother-in-law had left his work trucks at a new home they were working on. The home and the truck were both destroyed. There was quite a bit of damage around Russellville, but Adam’s truck (and job) and the smaller damage at the farm were the only losses suffered by my family. Still, it had destroyed the lives and property of so many in the area.

I watched the news later. The devastation was catastrophic. Governor Beshears had declared a state of emergency and the loss of life trumped the scenes of mayhem on the news. Sitting here some seven-hundred-miles away I felt the pain of loss and helplessness for all those folks so far away. My heart was heavy. I said a prayer of thanks for my family and a prayer of lament for those whose lives had been destroyed.

I had planned this morning as a time to update you all on my Kentucky Thanksgiving. Somehow it doesn’t seem appropriate to do so today. Please pray for Kentucky this morning. The death toll from Friday night’s storm is forecasted to rise. There is never a good time for such things to happen, but I can’t imagine a worse time – the pain that comes from such a tragedy at Christmas. It will take years to recover from the loss.

It’s times like this that remind us of the importance of community – of building the common good. The outpouring of assistance coming from not just Kentuckians but from around the country reminds me that community still exists. It’s unfortunate that tragedy often must be the reminder.

Please keep everyone affected in your prayers. Hold your family a little closer. Take time to love them better. We don’t know what tomorrow brings…

Severe Weather Kentucky
The candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky following Friday’s tornado
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We’re Back!

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving with family and friends. I took a week to travel to Kentucky and spend the holiday with my family. Stacey Harwood, our Volunteer Coordinator, looked after Opal’s Farm in my absence and did a stellar job. Our Opal’s volunteers and our Grow SE apprentices got plenty of fresh produce to the community.

I spent this afternoon sorting tomatoes – I’m through the first four hundred pounds – and checking the progress of our Fall crops. I can’t wait to see you all at Cowtown Farmers Market this Saturday morning!

I can’t believe we still haven’t had our first freeze here in Fort Worth. The near freeze Thanksgiving night killed off some of the weaker tomato and pepper plants, but the bulk of the plants are still blooming and loaded once again. I never dreamed we’d be bringing fresh tomatoes in December! We’ll also have purple top turnips, bak choi, lettuces, spinach, mustard greens, and winter squash. Come on out and load your baskets!

I also want to remind everyone that Tuesday is the International Day of Giving – Giving Tuesday. The first Tuesday after Thanksgiving has become a time to come together and support local non-profits during the holiday season. It gives us each the chance to practice radical generosity.

The ice storm in February and fifteen inches of rain in May affected our Spring production. We need you more than ever to continue our work bringing fresh, healthy produce to underserved and neglected communities. You can donate through our website, www.unityunlimited.org, through our Opal’s Farm Facebook page, or at Cowtown Farmers Market on Saturday mornings (I know – it’s not Tuesday but…).

Thank you all and Happy Holidays to each of you!

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Happy Early Thanksgiving!

Margaret and I will be leaving in the morning for Kentucky to spend Thanksgiving with my family. Wow! I never dreamed I’d be writing that one. (If you’ve followed my family journey at www.gregoryjoel.com you know why I say that…) Momma told me last night that she hoped Margaret won’t be overwhelmed by the crowd descending on Momma’s house for the holiday (I have a BIG family – never thought I’d say that one either!). Rest assured Momma – Margaret’s ready! I can’t even begin to put into words the joy I’m feeling.

We’ve spent the last couple of weeks getting Opal’s Farm ready for Thanksgiving and my vacation – and I mean “vacation” – haven’t said that one in ten years…). I’ll be unplugging from phones and computers for the next nine days. Stacey Harwood, our Volunteer Coordinator, will be handling everything at the farm. She may be in desperate need of volunteers if we get a freeze warning next week. We have a ton of tomatoes on the vine that we’ll need to pick quickly. Stacey can be reached at opalsvolunteers@gmail.com. Also, please remember that #GivingTuesday, a day of global giving, coming up after the holiday!

We’ll also be taking a break from Cowtown Farmers Market for the next two Saturdays. We’ll be back in force throughout the remainder of the holiday season so come get your fresh, local produce for Christmas!

I won’t be able to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving next week, so I’ll say it today. I hope our friends and family have a great Thanksgiving. I hope this holiday season brings joy and gratitude for the blessings we have received. Sometimes those blessings are disguised by the obstacles that we find along the way. The pandemic and the losses that have accompanied it have been brutal, but like Opal’s Farm, we’re getting past those to find the joy and peace that come from God’s awesome creation.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Love each other a little better and be thankful. Take care!

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com
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Home At Last

We drove all night last Monday evening – or rather, my son Adrian drove all night. I sat in the passenger seat trying to process the events of the previous three days…

I’ve shared with you, gentle readers, that I’m adopted and after sixty-three years I found my birth mother. Last Saturday, Adrian and I went to Kentucky for a couple of days to meet her and my brothers and sisters (Mom says we don’t have “half” siblings, just family…).

I’ve spent this week reflecting on our visit. In a four-day trip my life came full circle. Everything makes sense. I call my birth mother “Mom”. It felt weird calling her by her name. “Mom” naturally rolls of my lips and Mom she is. I’m not confused by this. I’m doubly blessed to have two amazing mothers.

Adrian, Mom, and I

My mom was at the front door before I even got out of the truck last Saturday evening. I don’t know who smiled bigger – Mom or me. We hugged tightly for a long time, as though we had to make up for the years that had passed us by. She held me back and said, “I thought I’d seen a ghost. You look exactly like your Uncle David. You even walk like him”. No one has ever told me I have a family resemblance to anyone. That’s one thing adopted kids rarely hear. It was proverbial “music to my ears”.

My brother, Danny, lives with Mom and I met him right away. If families have “chemistry” then ours was strong. I watched Danny all weekend. The way he takes care of Mom is wonderous. His gentle spirit is what I always wanted in a little brother.

My sister, Dana

My sister, Dana, came by shortly after we got there. We had texted each other that we were both looking forward to meeting in person, but that it’s a little weird meeting your sixty-three-year-old sibling for the first time. I can’t speak for my sister, but any discomfort faded immediately. I belonged…

Belonging was always an abstract concept for me. I was as much a part of the Joel family as one could dream. My parents and Grandmother Joel made sure of that. Still, there was always that lingering question – “Where do I really come from?”

It hit home when I was tracing the Joel family tree on a well-known genealogical website. No matter how much I want to belong or how proud I am of my Joel family tree, the lineage isn’t truly mine. It in no way means I don’t take pride in the Joel history. In fact, I’m surprised by how many times it overlaps with my birth family.

The family all came together on Sunday for lunch at Mom’s house. My youngest sister, Anne, sat down at the kitchen table with us and promptly announced she had looked me up on the internet. I think I passed muster. One never knows what the internet has to say. Thankfully it wasn’t a mugshot that came up!

My brothers, Mark and Danny

Brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, and their kids filled the house. I stopped many times during the day to simply be amazed by the chorus of voices and endless activity around me. Family spoke loudly and Mom was the matriarch. Repeatedly I heard, “I wish you could have been here when…” I’m still feeling elation at being part of this family, albeit a recently recognized addition.

My sisters, Anne and Becky I have a beautiful family!

My brother-in-law took Adrian and I on a tour of town and our family farm. He’s a history buff like me and every place we stopped, I learned more and more of my family’s long history in Logan County. So much so that I still can’t completely process it all. The family has been there a long time and shares a multitude of cousins in Texas as well. The farm has stood since 1804. I know who my ancestors are. It’s a dream come true.

I’ve thought a great deal about the whole “nature versus nurture” argument this week. I’ve concluded that, for me at least, nature plays a huge role in growing up. There were always little things that couldn’t be explained in my life – missing pieces of a big puzzle, things that I knew and had no reason to know. There are simply some things in life that are handed down through DNA: no other explanation is possible.

My siblings all returned to Mom’s house Monday to say goodbye. This was a short, but necessary trip. Opal’s Farm was anxiously awaiting my return to Texas. It was hard to say goodbye after the last two days. I had sixty-three years of life to catch up on. To do so in a weekend was impossible.

Pictures were taken, numbers and hugs exchanged. One by one, my brothers and sisters left for their respective homes. It was time to go, but I wanted to stay just a bit longer. Adrian and I had a long drive ahead of us and time was growing short.

Mom and I hugged for what seemed like hours. Neither wanted to let go of the other. I got in the truck and watched her as we pulled out of the driveway and drove away. Part of me would love to come home, load up Margaret and a moving van, and head for Kentucky. The other part, and somewhat more rational one, tells me that Opal’s Farm is waiting, and God has important work to do in Fort Worth, Texas. Besides, Mom would want me here doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m sure I just need to take more vacations…

The drive home was marked by sporadic conversation and total silence: partly because of driving through the night, but mainly because there were so many emotions to process – both for Adrian and me. I called Mom to let her know we’d arrived home safely. The overall consensus among my brothers and sisters was that we are family. I couldn’t imagine anything better.