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Kids…

Thoughts From the Porch: Saturday was Margaret’s birthday. Yesterday was my oldest son’s birthday. April is a good month! I pay little attention to the whole horoscope thing, but I sometimes wonder why my life is filled with so many Aries signs. Could be something to it but who knows?

Sitting on the porch this morning, enjoying the sunrise, I thought back to the day each of my boys were born. My memory isn’t so great anymore. I can’t tell you specifics like the weather and surroundings, unless of course it’s my youngest son. His birth was rather unforgettable. He decided to make his appearance on the very day a hundred-year blizzard hit Denver in 1982. We went to the hospital in a Jeep Wagoneer someone had volunteered to haul the paramedics since the ambulances couldn’t get around. The snow was so deep it took a week to dig out. You don’t forget something like that.

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Adrian, my older one, had the misfortune to be born in Dallas (that’s the only hospital that honored our insurance). We were concerned that friends and family wouldn’t recognize him as a native Texan and hence, his birthright. We’re not real sure Dallas is really part of Texas. However, he overcame that disability in quick fashion. After much legal (and family) wrangling, his birth certificate mandates his Texas citizenship…

The boys are as different as night and day, and the differences were apparent early on. The standing joke is that Adrian popped out of the birth canal asking if he could rest and get something to eat if that was no problem. He was laid back and easygoing, even as a baby. His brother, however, was the complete opposite. When he made his appearance almost two years later, he instantly demanded to be fed and have the nursery redone to suit his tastes. Anyone who knows them today will see the humor in that.

A father sees their children differently than the rest of the world sees them. Fathers lack objectivity in the perception of their kids: every one of them has the best kids in the world. That’s the way it should be. I don’t want to start an argument with anyone. Please know that since I have the best kids in the world, that doesn’t mean you don’t. Most of us have a perception problem when it comes to our children and despite what our culture tells us, it’s not a competition.

I got to spend some time with Adrian yesterday. That’s two weekends in a row and that’s a miracle of biblical proportions. He works a lot and his schedule rarely fits mine. Our times together are few and much farther between than I like. He recently started dating a young lady who is far more attractive and interesting than his old man. I appreciate that she receives more attention than I do. I’d probably be a bit worried if it were otherwise…

Thank you, Son for a great weekend. I hope you enjoyed your birthday. I know I did. Funny thing is though, I received the birthday gift – getting to spend time with you.

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“Schadenfreude – pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.”

I have a standing meeting on Sunday morning from 9AM to 10PM. I love to listen to National Public Radio on the way home because “Hidden Brain” is on air with the host, Shankar Vedantam. I’m fascinated by the topics and most all, by the science of why we do the things we do. More importantly, the things we have in common are far more numerous than anything that divides us. Today’s topic, envy, was no different.

Envy has a poor reputation. It made the infamous ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ list. Depending on who makes up the list, it usually ranks second or third on a scale of one to seven. No one wants to admit feeling envious, but we all do it from time to time.

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There are instances envy can have positive consequences. When used for social comparison it can motivate action leading to positive change that brings about happiness – ‘I wish I had what you had so I’m going to do what you did in order achieve it’. This is benign envy. It may be frustrating at times but leads toward action that is generally positive. It’s upside of the very human emotion of envy.

The other side is the one we are most familiar with: malicious envy. It’s the kind of envy that wants to pull a superior person down. That’s where schadenfreude, envy’s evil cousin, comes in – pleasure at another’s misfortune, laughing at another’s failure.

I could go into all the science, psychology, and sociology that explains envy, especially schadenfreude, but I’ll leave that to the experts. I couldn’t help but think about the Biblical story of Cain and Able. The story explains, either parabolically or literally, how envy reared its ugly head in human society.

The book of Genesis tells of two brothers, Cain, the older brother, and Abel, the younger of the two. Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd. Cain would offer the first fruits of his produce in sacrifice to God. Abel would offer the “firstborn animals of his herd, choice cuts of meat”. For whatever reason God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s. I often cited this story as the reason I didn’t like vegetables growing up! God obviously is not a vegan.

Anyway, Cain was peeved that he didn’t measure up (there’s the social comparison thing – kind of like ancient Facebook). He headed for his room and sulked. “God spoke to Cain: Why this tantrum? Why the sulking? If you do well, won’t you be accepted? And if you don’t do well, sin is lying in wait for you, ready to pounce; it’s out to get you, you’ve got to master it.” (Genesis 4.6-7 The Message).

I can only imagine what Cain was thinking, but I’ve been there, as much as I hate to admit it. We all have at one point or another. Growing up in a fundamentalist Christian denomination I get it. I know what it’s like to ‘never measure up’. I could never be ‘good’ enough to get on God’s good side. It wasn’t until many years later I discovered that there was absolutely nothing I could do anyway, nor did I have to. God’s good side is called grace and it is totally free. It can’t be earned, but that another story…

Most of us know the rest of the story. Cain experiences a severe case of schadenfreude. He not only wants to pull Abel down: Cain kills his own brother. Envy, malicious envy, puts Abel in the ground. Cain tries to deny his involvement, but ultimately faces the consequences of his action. I’ve been there.

In my younger years I chased a lot of pipe dreams out of envy and delighted in schadenfreude when those I viewed as competitors failed. I’m glad Facebook and social media wasn’t available back then. Comparison to the projected images on social media would have killed me. There’s no way I could ever measure up.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve experienced envy and schadenfreude far less than I used to. It may simply be the result of getting older and hopefully, wiser. Robert Fulghum once wrote that one day he walked out to the mailbox in his old bathrobe, bunny slippers, and bedhead hair and didn’t care what others thought of him. He said it’s either “going to seed” or “the beginning of wisdom”. I can relate.

It’s not that I don’t care what others think of me. It’s that I have no energy or time left for chasing images. I’m content with reality these days. Life is simpler, full of gratitude, and drama-free. My quiet time on the porch and my days at the farm are filled with peace and serenity. Life is good…

Ultimately, it’s not important what you think of me or even what I think of me. The most important thing is what God thinks of me. Because of his grace, I know He not only loves me, but He’s especially fond of me. I don’t have to compare myself to anyone else, because He’s especially fond of all His kids.

I maintain a presence on social media. I have a business and Opal’s Farm. Heck, my blog even gets posted on them. I simply wish others well when they get to have fabulous vacations to exotic places. I don’t get the check-ins and pictures of dinner, but I still get envious when I see someone eating a pint of Bluebell Chocolate ice cream…

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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…

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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?

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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.

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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.