Friday, May 29th, was the most difficult day of my life. I received a phone call around noon. It was my daughter-in-law. She said, “I’m so sorry Pops, but they found Jeremy (my youngest son) and”. She couldn’t finish. The sobbing swept the words away and I knew…
I had filed a “Missing Persons” report the day before. No one had heard or seen him since the previous Friday, and friends and family were concerned. Honestly, I had a picture in my mind of Jeremy popping in with that big grin of his and asking what all the fuss was about. Then he’d be mad about the fuss. He’d been known to disappear for a couple of days before. He’d get a wild hair and go camping without telling anyone. Everyone would be angry with him for not letting anyone know. His response was always, “Why is everyone all bent out of shape?” This time it was different…
His apartment manager found him the following morning. I don’t feel up to answering questions or discussing his death right now. I can’t even begin to describe the depths of my sadness and grief. Every time I look into the faces of my grandchildren – Baillie, Izzabella, and Lucas – my heart breaks down even more. He loved his children so much.
Fortunately for me, there’s much to do when a loved one dies – funeral arrangements, legal stuff, and so forth – busy is good. It keeps the grief from becoming completely overwhelming.
Parents are not supposed to bury their children. They shouldn’t have to tell their grandchildren that Daddy isn’t coming home. I never thought I’d have to deal with this. Their adult children are. That’s the way it’s designed to work.
Unfortunately, designs and plans fly out the window when they meet the real world. I know I am not the first to lose a child (grown or not), nor will I be the last. That’s reality, but it’s my child, my son, and my heart has been ripped has been ripped from my chest…
In the coming days, or perhaps the coming weeks, I will write about this. That’s what writers do, right? I need to tell you about Jeremy – about his impish humor, his incredible artistry, and the bravado that hid the tender soul that he was. Unfortunately, I’m unable to do so right now. There’s no timetable for grief. I’ll know when I know…
Right now, there are no words to convey the sense of loss our family feels. The family funeral is today. The local art community is planning on a huge outdoor celebration of Jeremy’s life when more of the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and it’s safer for everyone. Thank you to those who were close to Jeremy for helping the family through this.
We are so grateful for the outpouring of love and support so many have given. There will come a time for the thank you letters and emails. As it is, we can only put one foot in front of the other and wander through the dark days that are no longer filled by Jeremy’s smile.
It’s a beautiful late winter morning here in North Texas. After a few days of rain and cold the sun slowly warms the day as it rises higher in the sky. There’s much to be done today and I’d love to take time to pass on deep spiritual thoughts from the porch but truthfully, such thoughts are elusive over the last few days. I struggle to write, to put thoughts to paper, and a cloud hangs over me even on a bright, sunny morning. I get frustrated, I pray, and try to listen, but it feels like God has put me on hold while He’s busy attending to other things…
My wife likes to remind me that there are times when no amount of spiritual awareness will take our pain or fear. My friend Jim used to say that “in the meantime, it’s a mean time”. There are times when God seems silent and I need to act as if He’s not. It’s the old “fake it ‘til you make” thing. I’m thinking I might be going through one of those times.
I don’t hesitate to tell of God’s unfailing love and grace in my life. Hindsight tells me that God has always, one hundred percent of the time, taken care of me (even when I was far from Him doing my own, self-destructive thing). Unfortunately, the lens through which I look forward can be awfully opaque at times (we walk by faith, not by sight, right?). I speak the truth when I share about God’s provision and care, but I’m surprised at how quickly I forget that when life feels overwhelming.
Margaret and I are going through some difficult financial times right now. Almost two years ago, I made a commitment to the mission of Opal’s Farm and made it my full-time endeavor. We knew this would be difficult because we’re dependent on donations for my salary. Unfortunately, winter is a slow time for both the growing season and for contributions to our non-profit. Although Spring brings a wealth of opportunity for market sales and donations that doesn’t pay this month’s bills.
I mention this is not to whine about it – we took this on after prayerful consideration and eyes wide open – but to say that finances are one of the toughest areas in my life to turn over to God. Margaret is far better able to do that than I am. It may be because as a man, I sometimes feel I’m not doing my part to take care of my family. To Margaret’s credit, she’s my biggest cheerleader and reminds me I’m on the right path.
I begin to doubt I’m where God would have me be and think I should throw up and hands and go find something else. The little committee inside my head begins to tell me how foolish I am. Negative self-talk and doubt of God’s blessing fill my days. Honestly, I feel like a hypocrite at times. I’ll tell everyone of God’s faithfulness while my mind tells me I’m a fraud, that God isn’t really taking care of me.
That being said…
You might notice that the word feel is in italics. There’s a reason for that. You see, it took me years to learn to separate my feelings from my reality. That lesson may have come much easier for others, but it was a long, painful, and often frustrating journey for me. When I began to see what was going on around me for what it is rather than what it feels like it is, I began to understand that doubt was an essential part of my faith journey.
That may sound a bit oxymoronic – doubt and faith are mutually exclusive terms, right. Still, it’s possible to doubt and still be faithful. It’s a painful process to walk in faith through doubt and darkness. We can’t see in the darkness. St. John of the Cross, a 16th century Spanish mystic and Carmelite priest, called this “the dark night of the soul”.
The journey through the darkness leads us to shed all our preconceptions about God. We begin to let go of our ego, our perception of our self, and rest in “unknowing”: the unfathomable spirit of God. The journey can be long or short. For me, it’s often been a case of “two steps forward, three steps back”. In the darkness I find my union with the Father deeper each time. My petty worries and struggles seem a tad easier. Trust begins to return. I just keep walking…
Sharing the journey, the struggles, the fear, and “the dark night of the soul” is frowned upon in many churches. We don’t like to talk about it. We write off what we fear or don’t understand so it won’t “wash off” on us. It’s dangerous to around a “doubter”.
Honest lament is frequently met by simple answers and platitudes. Things like “we’re praying for you” just have faith”, don’t doubt God’s promises” – that do little to illuminate the path.
Some give up, retreating to the relative safety of sameness. Others throw up their hands, utter “what’s the use?” and leave behind the very community that God created for us. I don’t think that’s what Abba intended…
A Few Days Later…
I began writing this last Saturday. Yesterday was a great day at the farm – a special visit by Mailik Yakini from the Detroit Food Policy Council, getting to spend time with other local farmers, and getting a lot of planting done. The financial worries slipped away, replaced with feelings of fellowship and connectedness. At the end of the gathering, Ms. Opal pulled me aside. She whispered, “the Lord is so good, and He’s provided again. We received a check from a donor and there’s a check for you at the office.”
We’re able to pay all our bills for this month. One more time, like countless other times before, Abba has provided for all our needs. I used to beat myself up for doubting God. Today my doubts are merely one more opportunity to demonstrate God’s goodness and care. Hindsight reveals even my darkest periods, those which God felt so absent, have been the greatest blessings in my life.
What I thought was bad turned out good. What I thought was good wasn’t always so great (if you know what I mean). It reminds me that I don’t know what’s best for me, but Abba does.
We will encounter difficulties once again (especially financial ones) and I’ll begin to question God about His sense of timing. I’ll have some fear, but it seems to be a little less each time life shows up. God’s promises always hold true, even when my faith wavers so I’m just not going to worry about the process anymore. In the darkness I discovered a light that never goes out. I don’t always see it, but my vision is becoming clear with each step in the journey.
Thoughts From the Porch: I’m posting this on my business
website as well as the Opal’s Farm Facebook Page. Please bear with me as it has
a bit more to do with Opal’s Farm than just produce. It’s a personal note on
what the farm and working for Unity Unlimited, Inc. has meant to me for the
It’s been two weeks of running! Harvest is coming in at Opal’s Farm. Saturday was the big celebration at TCC South campus with the parade, the entertainment, and seminars and activities all day long. One of our partners and sponsors, the Tarrant Area Food Bank, gave away a semi-trailer full of food to the community.
The Juneteenth events over the last ten days will
culminate with “Juneteenth: The Play” at Will rogers Auditorium tomorrow
evening. Tickets are still available, and proceeds benefit Opal’s Farm. Go
to Opal’s Farm Facebook page or to www.juneteenthftw.com
for details and tickets. It will be a delightful, entertaining, and educational
evening. Most of you know that the Fort Worth Juneteenth celebrations are a
huge part of what our parent non-profit organization, Unity Unlimited, Inc.
does each year.
For those of you who have no idea what Juneteenth is…
“Juneteeth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.” www.juneteenthftw.com
Some Back Story…
One of my favorite authors is Donald Miller. My minister
friend, Rusty, had mentioned him in passing one time. I was browsing through
the bookstore and came upon Miller’s book, “Blue Like Jazz”. After
reading the author’s note at the beginning I bought a copy. I read it through
in a couple of sittings the first time. I read it much slower a couple of times
after that. I found someone who vocalized much of my spiritual walk; things I
always wanted to say and simply could not find a way to do so. I think I own
the whole Donald Miller catalogue these days…
In “Blue Like Jazz”, Miller tells the story of a
“confession booth” he and his friends built at Reed College. A Google search of
Reed College will say three main things about the school. First, is its
academic reputation as one of the best liberal arts schools in the nation.
Second, its liberal political reputation. Third, its permissive policy toward open
drug use and parties. Long story short – it doesn’t harbor a large “Christian”
student population. Intellectual pursuits (and a bit of drug-induced fun) are
often at odds with religious belief.
Miller and a few of his like-minded followers of Jesus had
an idea: set up a “confession booth”, not to take confessions but offer them as
evidence of Christianity’s failings and crimes against humanity – things like
the Crusades, slavery, and Native American genocide. I won’t bore you with the
details (you really should read the book!), but I’ve always loved the idea.
Maybe if much of Christianity was honest enough to admit they’ve screwed up
horribly, genuinely attempt to make amends, then they might have some real good
news to share. (Disclaimer: The
Christian “right” doesn’t speak for many followers of the Rabbi) Just saying…
I mention it because I’ve thought a lot about confession
this morning. In the Twelve Step tradition, introspection, ownership of one’s
actions (good or bad), and admission (confession if you will) to God and
another human being are essential to grow spiritually. Spiritual growth and
building a solid relationship with a Higher Power are essential to recovery.
Moreover, confession allows us to make amends, or make things right, so forgiveness
and recovery (and in this instance, community) can take place. It’s essential
to recovery, our spirit, and the humility that’s as critical as food and water
are to the body.
My work with Unity Unlimited, Inc, Opal’s Farm, and Ms.
Opal herself has led to deep introspection over the last year. I haven’t always
liked what I’ve seen. I’m acutely aware of how old tapes play in my head. I’ve
also learned the value of listening. My Dad used to tell me that I was given
one mouth and two ears so I could listen twice as much as I speak. I must confess
I don’t do that well.
Please forgive my unwillingness to truly listen. Today I
will listen and be a friend and an ally. I’ll seek to learn from other’s
struggles so that I too can walk the path toward freedom. Fannie Lou Hamer once
said that none of us are free until all of us are free. I guess that’s why the
last week of Juneteenth celebrations have affected so deeply. When I fail to
listen, I rob myself of the chance for emancipation from old ideas and blind
myself to new possibilities.
I believe in the old saying that “confession is good for the soul”. I look forward to taking our walk together.