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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…

Autumn, Awe, Bad Weather, Christianity, Consequences, Courage, Depression, Emotional Health, Faith, Fall, Freelancing, Gifts, Grace, Gratitude, Health, Hope, Jesus, Letting Go, Opal's Farm, Patience, Prayer, Recovery, Simplicity, Spirituality, Storms, Texas, Thoughts From the Porch, Uncategorized, Urban Farming, Work, Writing

Have You Had Your Vitamin D Today?

red flower rose
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Thoughts From the Porch: I haven’t posted much this week. North Texas has seen the wettest October since recordkeeping began. The area lakes are one hundred percent full and dams are opening their floodgates to keep them from flooding. We’ve experienced some localized flooding, but the folks in to our south have been devastated by it. It hasn’t been one of our best months here.

People have been joking about swimming everywhere. If one more person makes a “Noah’s Ark” or webbed feet comment I might  run off screaming. Keep smiling, right?

time lapse photography of river
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Work on Opal’s Farm has been at a standstill. The water level of the Trinity River made me a little apprehensive. Yet, it’s remained well below the levee height. The Water District cannot begin to disc and till the soil until it dries out for several days. We’ve gotten get a sunny day here and a day there, but the soil; is super saturated. We need at least a solid week of sunshine to even think about further progress.

It’s all been a bit much. To top it off, business has been slow enough that I took on a couple of indoor construction jobs to keep some income coming in. I’m thankful for the work. I do what needs to be done, even when doing so wears me out too much to write. I’ve sat down at the desk several times, but the words are stiff, like my body.

Thus, procrastination has reared its ugly head. I set aside writing for the next day and go to bed early. It’s the perfect escape mechanism for dealing with the miserable weather. Sometimes sleep will change the way I feel. My mood had begun to mirror October’s gloomy weather. I didn’t want to inflict myself and my dismal mood on anyone else.

Sleep is an amazing thing. Sunshine even more so. Sunlight on the human skin triggers a human’s ability to manufacture Vitamin D, “the sunshine vitamin”. Vitamin D is essential for overall health. Studies show it helps decrease high blood pressure and protect against inflammation. It helps muscles and even improves brain function. Lack of Vitamin D is a contributing factor in osteoporosis, muscle weakness, cancer, and depression. Given the last month, I can understand the depression aspect.

Unfortunately, few foods provide adequate amounts of Vitamin D. That’s why sunshine is so important.

The sun was already shining when I awoke this morning. I’m usually get up early enough to greet the sunrise, but not today. I slept in and awoke to my dog’s wet tongue and sunlight beaming through the window. I noticed my mood was much lighter. I was excited to get out of bed, rush through the awakening routine, and get to the porch.

My vision was clearer, my mind freer than it’s been in days. My coffee tasted better. Conversation with Margaret was lighter. Problems didn’t seem so overwhelming. The leaves fell more frequently, and the yellows and reds of autumn were more vibrant. I was filled with a sense of awe and gratitude once again. All brought about by a good night’s sleep and brilliant sunshine…

I often forget how simple life really is. The dispiriting, gloomy days of October will always give way to brighter days. Life’s like that. Sometimes it rains, sometimes it shines. Even when the rain seems like it will never cease, the sun will eventually return. Without the rain, I forget the incredible value of the sunshine.

My world mirrors the God I’ve come to know. There may be times it seems like the rain will never end. Yet, the sunshine always returns. The sun is always there even though its light is sometimes hidden behind the cloudy, dark skies of fear and self-doubt. Every time I quite trying to control the or wish away the weather, the light returns: ever reminding me that it’s all okay.

My friend Jim used to tell me things like, “It will all be okay when it’s over. If it’s not okay, then it’s not over” and “In the meantime, it’s just a mean time”. I used to hate hearing that when I was in the middle of a storm, but sure enough, the sun came out, the storm was over, and it was always okay. I come out a little battered but better able to weather any coming difficulties…

I’ve also come to know that I need God like I need Vitamin D. He’s “essential to overall health”. My “muscles” – physically, mentally, and above all, spiritually – are stronger. I’m no longer depressed, feeling overwhelmed by whatever bad weather life sends my way. His light prevents the cancer of resentment and unforgiveness. His light improves my thinking and especially, my vision. I can see the simple beauty of falling Autumn leaves and be at peace.

I’m going to get on with the day now. Now that the sun is shining there’s much to do and many things to see. Besides, I’ve had a Vitamin D deficiency lately…

Have you had your dose of Vitamin D today?

Autumn, Awe, Children, Christianity, Community, Creation, Donations, Emotional Health, Environment, Faith, Grace, Grandchildren, Gratitude, Growing Up, Hope, Jesus, Letting Go, Non-Profits, North Texas Giving Day, Prayer, Service Organizations, Stories, Thoughts From the Porch, Uncategorized, What Can I Do, Work, Writing

One Down, One to Go

autumn autumn colours autumn leaves beautiful
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Thoughts From the Porch: I shared the porch with my lovely wife this morning. The sun was just rising though its efforts were thwarted by an overcast September sky. A southbound cold front and a northbound low-pressure system promise rain for the next couple of days. I’m enjoying the porch in advance of our son’s wedding tomorrow (we don’t have step-kids, Brandon). The rehearsal dinner is tonight and judging by the level of stress and anxiety of all involved, I’m sure everyone will be sleeping in Sunday morning. I’ll have some real quiet time then. As for now, the whispered conversation Margaret and I share is broken only by the squirrels, who started early, chasing each other through the trees in our front yard.

North Texas Giving Day is over, the wedding soon will be, and I can go on to other things I’ve been putting off due to time constraints. I watched the 10:00 o’clock news last night and the total one-day contributions for North Texas Giving Day were over $43,000,00.00 and counting. I can’t tell you how many local charities will be helped. It restores my oft-waning faith in human beings…

Astronomical Fall begins tomorrow. I’m so ready for it. It’s my favorite time of year. We have five Pecan trees and several other trees in our yard. As Fall moves forward and they prepare for Winter, they tend to make mowing a little difficult. Still, that can be remedied by blowing the fallen leaves into big piles that the grandkids (and Pops!) can jump into and crush into a fine mulch.

forest meadow leaves autumn
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Fall brings out the kid in me, at least I think so. I only have fleeting glimpses of childhood. It’s not because I have middle-aged memory lapses. It’s always been that way. Others share about their childhood and I’m at a loss for mine. Ironically, I can remember most of the years I drank and drugged my way to the bottom. There’s something wrong with that picture…

Maybe that’s why I long to jump in a big pile of leaves. I’ve been given the opportunity to create new childhood memories. Jumping into the leaves isn’t really an adult thing. It requires letting go of some adult inhibitions. I keep hearing that one enters a second childhood when one gets older. If that’s true I hope I live a long while…

The Rabbi once told his disciples that “unless you return to square on and start over like children, you’re not even going to get a look at the (spiritual) kingdom”. He went to say that life is about becoming “simple and elemental, like a child”. Sounds like good advice to me.

Awe, Beatitudes, Choices, Christianity, Community, Emotional Health, Faith, Friendship, Grace, Gratitude, Letting Go, Listening, Practice, Prayer, Recovery, Relationships, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Writing

Old Friends…

I spent some quiet time on the porch this morning and retreated to my office to check out the newsfeeds and my various social media accounts. I was shocked to find that my good friend and mentor, Edgar, underwent heart surgery and is in ICU recovering. For those of you that know the power of prayer I ask that you offer prayers of healing and continued grace for him and his family. I would not be the man I am today had it not been for the love and guidance he offered when no one else wanted much to do with me. Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about.

I firmly believe that when I’m barraged with the same message from various places that it’s probably something I should give some thought to and, if necessary, write about. Edgar told me that if one person tells me something, I should just acknowledge it and go about my business. If two people say the same thing, I might want to give it some serious thought. If three people bring up the same subject, God might be trying to tell me something…

In the quiet of the porch this morning I kept hearing something Jesus said in what we know as the ‘Sermon on the Mount’. It was his manifesto for life and so I try to follow it as well. I particularly like Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message. It brings out the fullness of the original Greek and Aramaic of that time. What I kept hearing can be found in Matthew 5.5,

You are blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.”

I thought about it a while and went on to enjoy my coffee and go about my morning routine. After the initial shock of what happened to my friend, I settled into my day. The first article I read started with a quote from Queen Latifah that said,

Be bold, be brave enough to be your true self.”

That was twice now I heard about being one’s self, one’s true self. It was followed by a third, fourth, and fifth time as many of the blogs I follow were about the same thing. I can be pretty thick-headed at times, but I heard this one loud and clear. Be true to your ‘self’…

When I met Edgar some twenty-plus years ago, I didn’t have a clue who I was, much less what my true self was about. Poor decisions, bad choices, and a moment of clarity brought us together, and started me on an inward journey to finding who I really am. I wish I’d followed directions better during those early years of our friendship. It wouldn’t have been near as frustrating for either of us. Still, I thank God today for a friend that stuck by me despite my stubborn, hard-headed ways.

When I started following the suggestions he offered me, things began to change. I began to see myself differently and quite frankly, I like the man I am becoming. It’s definitely a journey. I’m not confused. I know God’s grace is the power that truly transforms me into who I was meant to be all along, but His transformation is meant to be accomplished with my cooperation and the people in my life. I’m grateful for all of them, but especially my friend, Edgar.

I spent many years trying to meet others’ expectations, or at least what I thought were their expectations. Today I strive to live honestly, be myself, and recognize that I’m just another thread in the tapestry of life. There are still times I get all turned around. My life looks like the back of a tapestry – a confusing mess of color and wild threads – but I’ve learned that it is really a small piece of the greater, beautiful picture on the front. Most importantly, the picture would be lacking something if it weren’t for my thread.

Edgar’s mentor, and our mutual friend, Jim, used to say that “self-examination, coupled with prayer and meditation, followed by vigorous action, produces favorable results”. That’s been my experience. He also told me that “obedience to spiritual principles shortens the distance to my hopes and dreams”. That, too, has been my experience. In the process, I’ve become “the proud owner of everything that can’t be bought”.

Chronic Illness, Communication, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Gratitude, Letting Go, Listening, Marriage, Patience, Relationships, Uncategorized, Writing

One Man’s Trash…

It’s a bit warm out here on the porch this morning. We’ve been under an excessive heat warning for the last week and the forecasted high today is 110 degrees. The answer to ‘how are you doing?” is, simply put, HOT. I feel like all I do anymore is complain about the heat. Still, I’m grateful I’m able to get the things done, especially outside, that need to be done despite our heat wave. At least I’m not one of the ambulance statistics I hear on the news each night that has succumbed to the high temperature…

Margaret is doing much better after her procedure last week. I got up and made coffee this morning and she came in the kitchen and made breakfast. That probably doesn’t sound like big deal to most folks, but it is for us. Her mobility has been diminished by the pain in her hips and back and she’s really been struggling the last few weeks with the pain. Prayer, a great pain doctor, and an even greater God has worked wonders. It helps that Margaret is one of the most persistent, patient, and courageous people I know. After five-and-a-half years of marriage I still wonder how I ended up sharing life with such an incredibly wise and wonderful woman. She married me so maybe I need to rethink the ‘wise’ part…

Our normally quiet life has been somewhat upended over the past week. Our granddaughter has been here for the last week, along with our friend who is our ‘adopted’ granddaughter. Our son is moving out of his house and thought he’d have to move in with us, so I’ve been clearing out the third bedroom we use for storage. That may not sound like much, but believe me, it is. There were boxes (and boxes and boxes…) of stuff that haven’t been opened since we moved in five years ago. Once I had almost everything out of the room and started to go through them, he announced that he’d found a house and wouldn’t be moving in after all.

I was relieved he wasn’t moving in. He’s a grown man and needs to be in his own home, for his sake and ours. However, I’ll tell you I was a bit pissed that I’d spent all weekend going through the endless stream of boxes coming from the bedroom. I swear they were reproducing in there. Still, I tackled a project I’d been putting off for the last five years, waiting for my wife’s decisions on what stays and what goes. Because we rarely go in that bedroom there hasn’t been any urgency in getting it done, at least on her part. I get antsy, but, hey, ‘Out of sight, out of mind…’.

The third bedroom has served as a reminder that even though Margaret and I are united in marriage, we still have our unique personalities and sense of self. I am a minimalist in many ways. Margaret is not. While she’s not a hoarder by any stretch of the imagination, she and I differ on keeping things. My approach to stuff is that if it hasn’t been used, worn, or looked at in the last year, it probably needs to find its way to the trash, recycling bin, or be donated – unless it’s tools, music, or books. I’ll give away tools I haven’t used in twenty years only to need one of them the next day. I have a few things that have sentimental value, but for the most part, stuff is an annoyance. Maybe it’s simply a reminder that so much has been lost to my bad decisions and personal demons…

One of my shortcomings is that I tend to organize my surroundings to fix what’s going on internally. Let me get ‘writer’s block’ or become frustrated and I have the most organized and dust-free office you’ve ever seen. I guess keeping a minimal amount of stuff helps me to be more introspective and stay the course, wherever it may lead. She reminds me that even shortcomings can become assets that allow me to grow.

We’ve accomplished a lot this weekend. The trips to the donation station and the stuff on the curb speaks volumes (although my trash service probably wishes we were a little quieter…). There’s still a way to go before we’re finished, but life feels a little less cluttered. We accomplished it together. That’s what’s most important.

Adoption, Children, Citizenship, Community, Emotional Health, Family, Gratitude, Growing Up, Immigration, Ireland, Letting Go, Love, Patience, Relationships, Simplicity, Texas, Uncategorized, Writing

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”…

 

Christianity, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Gratitude, Growing Up, Health, Hope, Letting Go, Neighbors, Prayer, Recovery, Relationships, Simplicity, Spirituality, Trust, Work, Writing

Looking at sixty…

I know everyone is getting ready to celebrate the 4th of July but my Independence Day began at 9:15 this morning. My doctor pulled my PICC line and I’m free from my little IV buddy. You all are probably relieved as well. No more having to read about me being under house arrest. I still need to keep the dressing dry for another eight hours. Then, I can officially sweat again. That should be easy as the weather folks are saying it’ll be another 100-plus degree day. I stand in defiance and yell, “Bring it on”. “Free at last”…

Since I went to the doctor, I didn’t get to spend much time on the porch this morning. It’s probably just as well. The heat’s already difficult to deal with and the air seems very still and humid. It didn’t keep me from making another pot of coffee and perusing the newsfeed though. Through the dissonance of all the Monday morning news I found one article worthy of attention. The headline was something like “The One Thing People Over Fifty Regret Most”. I emailed it to myself for later and then the link didn’t work. I truly regret that I didn’t read the whole thing first…

Anyway, I did some research and found another list of the fifty things people over fifty regret the most. I’ll be fifty-nine for another month, so I guess I still qualify. As I read I began to feel better about my emotional and mental health. Of course, it could also be sociopathic behavior, but I prefer to think positively.

According to the MSN Lifestyle section, the number one regret among people my age is “ending a relationship with someone you loved”. I was a little surprised, but I can see that. There’s something about ‘the one that got away’ that seems to stay with us a long time. That hasn’t been my experience though. My first marriage didn’t work out so well. It was mostly my fault, but there’s no regret there. I stayed single for many years afterward. I dated and had a couple of long-term relationships that bring fond memories, but I can’t think of any regrets. I did for a long time but five-and-a-half years ago, I found out that God had something (or more accurately, someone) in mind for me all along. I married my best friend and the love of my life. Scratch off resentment number one…

The number two resentment listed was “not being more adventurous”. If I have any regret about this one, it has more to do with being too adventurous in my younger years. Then again, I could easily substitute ‘being adventurous’ with acting stupid. That’s far more accurate. I did a lot of stupid, and often insane things, now that I look back. In case my look backwards becomes cloudy, I have aches and pains (and the medical bills) to remind me of the foolishness of my youth. Boring is much easier on the body. Every now and then I get a wild hair and think I’m twenty-something again, and I’m quickly reminded I’m not…

As I went down the list, I realized that recovery, a relationship with the God of my understanding, and the love of friends and family has helped me come to terms with what were once regrets. I won’t lie and say I have none. I don’t think anyone can be totally free of regrets, but they’ve become manageable as I grow older.

What really surprised me about the Top Fifty Regrets was that kids and parents were way down on the list. Even though a lot of healing went into my relationships with my parents and children, I wish the damage had never occurred in the first place. My father passed in 2002 and my mother just last year. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of them and I often wish I had been a better son. I’m a hardhead and I know I was a handful. So, I try to live each day in a manner that makes them proud. I’m not sure if it constitutes a regret. I’m sure they smile on me today.

I know most parents wish they had done things differently. I sure do. Unfortunately, kids don’t come with instruction manuals and sometimes they pay dearly for our struggles as parents. I know mine did. I’m not confused about that today. I’m truly grateful when my boys go out of their way to show their love for me as their often imperfect father. My oldest came by the other night with a belated Father’s Day gift, a picture of Roger Staubach and Tom Landry on the sidelines back in 1969. If you know how I felt about the old Dallas Cowboys, you’d know how much it meant to me. Grace is such a wonderful thing…

Thankfully, my regrets list is small, although I could really understand number thirty-four on the list, “being ungrateful”. It took a long, long time to find gratitude in my life. I wish I had been more grateful for the life God gave me. An old friend used to always say “you lead such a charmed life”. I was in my late forties before I understood what she meant. I do lead a charmed life, despite a lengthy list of bad decisions and deplorable actions. That’s why, for me, everything is about grace and gratitude.

I think that the deeper one experiences the grace of a loving God, family, and friends, the easier it is to be grateful. That’s been my experience and observation anyway. When I’m honest enough to admit my failures and find forgiveness anyway, I can’t help but be grateful, and that gratitude leaves me with very little regret. Go figure…