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Monday by Myself…

It’s a beautiful morning out on the porch. Margaret left in the pre-dawn hours to stay with a friend who’s four-month-old is undergoing a procedure this morning. In respect for HIPPA laws, I won’t name her friend, but I will ask that all lift them up in prayer for a successful outcome.

One of the things that always attracted me to Margaret (we knew each other for several years before we married…) was her love for others. In the years since we married, I’ve been blessed to see it up close. She’s much better at it than I am. I’m grateful for the example she shows me every day. She is truly an amazing lady and the very best of God’s gifts to me.

Her absence left me more time on the porch this morning than usual. I watched the sun rise and enjoyed a rare warm January morning. The birds were particularly soulful in their songs today. They were probably enjoying the mild weather as much as I was. The weather will change later this morning so I’m sure they’re soaking up the sunshine as much as I am. One learns to relish in the warmth anytime they can here in North Texas since it will change in an instant – a reminder that nature can never be tamed to our liking…

Three Dog Morning…

I get the rare opportunity to enjoy the solitude of the day and an empty house. Our dogs ran outside to send Margaret off earlier, but they didn’t hesitate to run back inside so they could have the bed all to themselves. I couldn’t even make the bed.

The “To Do” list is long today. After all, it is Monday, but the unusual quiet is nice. My thoughts seemed to be about everything but the day’s business ahead of me. Sometimes that’s a good thing…

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Beat up Bibles…

Thoughts From the Porch: I try to avoid writing on Saturdays. I really do. I try to avoid anything having to do with work or sitting in front of the computer so I can tinker about the house. I believe in “Sabbath” rest. Ironically, rest seems more work at the time. I’m not good at it yet…

Here in Fort Worth, the Stock Show and Rodeo is going into its second week. I was coming home from the farm on Interstate 30 and saw the long line of trucks and livestock trailers waiting to exit and set up shop. Most of the trailers were marked with various Future Farmers of America (FFA) signs from various small towns in the area. Someone unfamiliar with rural life won’t appreciate it the way many of us in Cowtown do.

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Every time the Stock Show comes around, I spend more time than usual thinking about Mom and Dad. After Dad died, my brother-in-law finally accepted a job promotion in Atlanta. My sister’s family moved off to Georgia and I don’t get to see her as much as I’d like. He’s since retired, and they built a house on some acreage outside a small rural town near the Alabama-Georgia state line. I’m so thankful for cell phones and email even if their reception is sometimes spotty.

She emailed me a song a few days ago that really hit home, especially now. “Beat up Bible” must have been written about Mom and Dad. I wanted to share the link https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JvPBUH65EzI. I hope it brings the same joy, the same sweet memories to you.

No family is perfect. I butted heads with Mom and Dad often. I had to work through some resentments I had held onto over silliness on my part. I’m so grateful that those things were worked out when Mom passed. They weren’t when Dad died in 2002. Grief changes us, at least it did me. I’ve since come to a place of peace. My heart is refreshed by knowing my father was the best example of God’s love here in this place. Walking through my grief has left me with only the wonderful memories of the parents I love so much.

In his latter years, Dad would sit on the back porch with me and share about our family. He grew up without a father in his life. I think that’s why my own failed marriage worried him so much. He missed having his dad there. Maybe that’s why he was so good at loving my sister and me. I’d like to think so…

My sister and I are both adopted. Mom and Dad never ceased to remind us of how special and how loved we were. We were wanted desperately. I know today that I was blessed far beyond anything I could imagine having the parents I did. That isn’t always the case for everyone…

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the song. I hope it brings back happy memories. If it doesn’t, I hope it helps you make happy memories for your kids. Happy Saturday everyone!

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Cemeteries and Rodeos

Thoughts From the Porch: Yesterday would have been my father’s ninety-third birthday. He passed in 2002 and nary a day goes by that I don’t miss him. Even after sixteen years there are days when grief feels overwhelming. I often stop by the cemetery on my way to and from so I can sit and “talk” to him. It’s a great way to work through the grief I feel some days.

One can argue that the cemetery is a resting place for the body only. For those that share my religious faith it’s understood that Dad’s spirit probably left that place to go wherever it is that our spirits go after death. It may sound childish, but I believe it’s a place for our spirits to be together.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead says something to the effect that when one with a great soul passes, a strong wind will begin to blow. I remember stepping outside the hospital to have a smoke after he had passed. A blustery wind made it almost impossible to light my cigarette. I was so overcome with grief that I didn’t put two and two together until a cemetery visit some time later.

On that particular visit, I had come to read my father a letter I’d written acknowledging the fact that I had caused a lot of harm while in my active addiction. In my program of recovery, it’s called “making amends” a cleaning up of the wreckage of my past. Some may doubt that amends, the process of amending or righting a wrong, can be made to someone who has passed away. My experience that day says otherwise.

I stood in front of the headstone, wiping away the tears, and reading my letter. The details of my letter are deeply personal and between Dad and me. Suffice it to say that my father was an incredible man who loved me dearly and I never gave him much to work with as a son. It wasn’t until he was gone that I realized his greatness.

People often said that he was my chief enabler and, while that may be true, it was his love that showed me what God’s love was all about. As frustrated, and oft-times angry, as he could become with me, he never stopped loving (or forgiving) me. I can’t think of a better example of how the God of endless grace loves me…

I finished my letter. The tears began to subside. I looked up and the wind began to swirl around me. It had been still just a moment ago.

Our family plot is in an older part of the cemetery surrounded by beautiful old oak trees. I mention this because as the wind swirled about, I could see that none of the tree limbs were moving. That’s when it hit me: “when one with a great soul passes, a strong wind will begin to blow.” Dad was telling me one more time, “It’s okay. I forgive you and I love you more than you can ever know. Keep doing what you’re doing.”

I think of that day often, especially when life shows up with all its occasional difficulties. If Dad, a mere human, can love me that much – how much more so can the Creator of the Universe love me?

I’ve been thinking about Dad a lot this week. Not only was it his birthday, but the Stock Show and Rodeo opens on Friday. After Dad retired from the railroad, he would work the Harley Street gate for the Stock Show every year. He would be there a week before the show and a week after, so for a month straight he worked twelve-hour days. We usually didn’t celebrate his birthday until afterwards because he just came home, ate, and went to bed. As tired as he was, especially as he got older, he wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Since 1918, the Fort Worth Stock Show was called the Southwestern Exposition and “Fat” Stock Show. Now it’s just the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. I’m not sure why they changed it. I guess it’s no longer politically correct to call livestock fat. Maybe “weight-challenged” is more acceptable. I’m not sure Dad would approve. Cows are supposed to be fat and it violates tradition. Dad was big on tradition…

Saturday I’ll watch the annual Stock Show Parade and I’ll think of Dad. Afterwards, I might go by the cemetery on the way home. It’s no surprise that Saturday is supposed to be a really windy day…

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Feeling Revived!

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s beautiful Fall morning on the porch.I had an incredible weekend at the Red Letter Revival in Dallas. I couldn’t goFriday, but I was able to attend Saturday. What a Sabbath! The workshops wereamazing. The worship service Saturday night was what I always imagined ‘church’to be. The presence of God’s spirit was overwhelming! A huge thank you toeveryone who worked so hard to make the weekend possible.

The weekend fulfilled the promise of its name – revival. I feel revived, refreshed, and renewed. Going into this weekend I found myself tired and worn down – physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The months since my hospital stay have been arduous, especially financially. Work, paying work, has been slow. Financial fear and frustration creep in despite my faith.

Most of my energies have been focused on Opal’s Farm. Compensation won’t start until later next year, but the initial footwork still must be done. Doing the “next right thing” can be scary at times. The only reason I mention this is because this weekend I received a reminder of God’s faithfulness.

I attended a workshop led by Rev. Edwin Robinson on “Undoing the Theology of Racism”. He started the workshop by singing and talking about ‘wading in the water’. He drew an analogy with Moses’ parting of the Red Sea as recorded in the Book of Exodus.

You see, Jews understand the event differently than most Christians. Moses didn’t simply put his foot in the water and the sea parted. He waded all the way in. It wasn’t until the water was up to his neck that the water began to part. Salvation from the pursuing Egyptians and the sea in front of them came when the water almost covered them, when they couldn’t see it coming.

That’s stuck with me all weekend. I’ve been feeling like the water’s up to my neck lately, the future unsure. That’s the feeling anyway. But that’s not the reality. Let me explain…

If I look back on my journey to this point in life, I can see that, God has always ‘parted the waters’ for me. Not just on occasion, but every time. Unfortunately, while I see clearly looking backwards, I’m flying blind while looking forward. Maybe that’s why they call it faith…

This weekend renewed my faith. Financially, there’s more month than money right now. Physically, I feel refreshed and ready to greet the day. Mentally, I’m still fearful but somehow less stressed. Most importantly, I feel revived spiritually. I’ve struggled with the whole idea of ‘church’.  I take the words of the Rabbi literally. Sometimes I think I’m one of the few when I see what others do in Jesus’ name.

I believe that Jesus “meant what He said”. I believe that following His instruction can help me become the man Idream of being: of loving God and loving others with all my heart, mind, and spirit. I believe that He really did bring good news of the Kingdom of God and I want to share it.

My heart and my spirit tell me that Opal’s Farm is a tangible way for me to share that good news. Not by words, but by example. Jesus feed the hungry, why shouldn’t I? The Apostle James said that “faith without works is dead”. In other words, walk the walk. If you believe it, act like it.

Finally, this weekend reminded me that I’m not alone. There’s a multitude of wonderful people of faith, Kingdom people who seek God’s will “on Earth as it is in Heaven”. I really needed that reminder.

So, thank you Red Letter Christians for putting together a great weekend. To learn more about the Red Letter Movement, visit www.redletterchristians.org . Colorful

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Never-ending Honeymoons…

Thoughts From the Porch: Yesterday was the big day for our son and our new daughter-in-law. We welcome Amanda into the family with tons of love and gratitude. She’s a beautiful, remarkable young woman and incredible addition to our family. We pray continued blessing and happiness for the Brandon and Amanda.

close up of wedding rings on floor
Photo by Megapixelstock on Pexels.com

It was a beautiful ceremony with pastoral surroundings. Despite the rain and grey skies, the wedding and reception went well, and a good time had by all who attended. We received a text from the happy couple this morning as they boarded the plane bound for the honeymoon. The best thing about the whole affair? It’s over!

I’m not a crabby old man mind you. I love weddings. I’ve had the privilege of performing many wedding ceremonies over the years. Couples, especially the brides, look more stunningly beautiful than ever, and I get to see the love in their eyes up close. There’s something incredibly holy about that moment. I’m always awed by the power and beauty I witness. It was no less holy seeing it from the attendee’s point of view.

However, I’m happy it’s over. The lead up to the big day was stressful for everyone in the family. It feels like a pressure valve a has been released and we can all breath again. No more worry about invitations, dresses, and food choices for the reception. After yesterday, Margaret and I slept in this morning. I can’t remember the last time I slept until 9:30! We spent an inordinate amount of time on the porch this morning. As I write this morning my thoughts are more about binge watching Netflix than finishing this post, so you may not be seeing this until Monday…

And so, it is Monday…

Monday has arrived, and it feels beautifully normal. Up early, coffee on, and time on the porch. I shall not bore you with the details. It feels like Fall though. For that I’m unbelievably grateful.

autumn autumn leaves blur close up
Photo by Vali S. on Pexels.com

Looking back at this weekend, I was reminded of my own marriage and how blessed I am. It will be our sixth anniversary in March. I know that doesn’t sound like a long time to folks who have been married for much longer, but it amazes me. I’m sure I’m not always the easiest person to live with.

Margaret and I had been friends for several years before we dated. I always wanted to go out with her, but quite frankly, I figured I was out of her league. I had been single for a long time and, because I had chosen to be public about my HIV status, I thought I’d remain that way. Being positive kind of screws up the whole dating thing. I’m not complaining, mind you, because looking back, I know God was preparing me for what was to come. I had to learn to love myself, and by His grace, my willingness, and an incredible group of men, I did. Loving myself allows me to love others fully. Maybe that’s why Jesus placed such importance on “loving others as you love yourself”.

During that time, He was also preparing Margaret. I guess it was no surprise that our courtship was short – only ninety-one days. Thanks to our many friends who banded together to pull off a gorgeous wedding in only eight days (many of you know the story), two became one. If such haste seems foolhardy, each day since has reaffirmed our (or at least my) decision. Apparently, we became a ‘magnet couple’ – I’m HIV positive and she’s is, and remains negative…

We’ve had some hurtles since our wedding day, most of them physical. A month after our wedding, I ended up in intensive care behind a post-operative meningitis infection for a month. It was touch and go. Margaret worried about planning a funeral a month after planning a wedding. Then a couple of years later, Margaret had complications from back surgery leading to chronic pain and decreased (and sometimes extremely little) mobility. Neither of us planned on these challenges, but it is what it is, right? All they are is speed bumps on this wonderful journey we began together.

Sometimes the challenges we face cause self-doubt. We’re not exempt, nor is anyone I know of. While Margaret isn’t an invalid by any means, there are days when she’s really hurting and needs more of my attention. I’m grateful that I work from home most days and can be there to help. She apologizes and wonders if I’m second-guessing getting married. I can say with absolute certainty that I’ve never had second thoughts. Yet, I can tell you that on the days I’m irritable, frustrated, or depressed I wonder if she’s rethinking this whole deal. Sometimes my brain is not my friend…

For both of us, self-doubt is fleeting, erased by the love we share. Feelings are one thing and, at least in my case, rarely have anything to do with reality. The reality is that I’m still awed that God could have blessed me so richly. I still get giddy when Margaret walks in the room. When I look into her eyes, I see the love there and I come back to reality quickly. I still can’t believe that she said yes…

I know that Saturday was Brandon and Amanda’s special day, but I need to tell you, it was truly special for me, too. Margaret stepped out of the bride’s room as we prepared to walk down the aisle. I was floored. She’d been locked away all day with the bride and bridesmaids getting ready for the ceremony. I saw my bride. She looked even more beautiful than the day we wed. I truly am the most blessed man in the world…

I hope that our kids have the same joy and love that Margaret and I share. If the vows they wrote for one another are any indicator, then I’m certain they will. If I could offer any advice to the newlyweds, it would be this: never lose you sense of wonder that your spouse chose to spend the rest of their life with you. When in doubt, remember how they looked at you on your wedding day, and perhaps more importantly, how you looked at them.

My prayer for you all is that you feel the butterflies and the awe every time the love of your life walks in the room…

animal beautiful biology bloom
Photo by Cindy Gustafson on Pexels.com

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The Pause Button

It’s going to be a hot one today, but the westerly breeze across the porch felt so good I stayed a little longer than I should. There’s much to do today. The farm project moved to the front of everything and events are travelling faster than I imagined. A shout-out to the Tarrant Regional Water District (which I wrote erroneously as ‘Trinity River’ Water District yesterday… please accept my apologies because you all are wonderful….) for jumping on this so quickly.

I’ve been so excited about this project that I dove in with both feet over the last three days. In all my excitement, it dawned on me that I’d failed to spend time thanking God for the blessings, of which this project is only a small part. If I believed prayer life required formal prayers and a pious stance I’d be seriously remiss. Prayer has become more of a conversational process with God. I’m sure people think I’m crazy since it looks like I’m talking to myself all the time, but that’s not the case. I converse regularly with the God of my understanding and I’ve even learned to listen better, which has been a major accomplishment given my tendencies toward self-obsession…

However, things have been moving quickly. Then it occurred to me that I hadn’t stopped to thank God for granting me the desire of my heart (of which this project is a part). I’d probably done it mentally (I’m not confused where the blessings originate), but I hadn’t done so verbally. So, I spent the extra time on the porch today making a mental gratitude list and thanking Him aloud for each of them, one by one. Before I knew it, my list had multiplied exponentially, and time had flown by. Hence, the late start to the day.

It’s easy to get caught up in the plethora of daily projects, both personally and professionally. In the process I often forget to thank the one who made it all possible. There are times busyness consumes me. I forget that the only reason I have so much to do is because a loving God extended His unbelievable (and undeserved) gift of grace: spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. That grace has transformed me. Today I like the face I see in the mirror, and believe me, that hasn’t always been the case. It relieves me of the oppressive thoughts and feelings of ‘never doing enough’ and never being enough.

I know all-too-well the danger in moving too fast, of forgetting the source from which all blessings flow. It doesn’t take long to become filled with a sense of self-accomplishment and the ungrateful spirit that comes with it. That’s shaky ground for those of us who suffer from an exaggerated, often unrealistic, sense of self. When it becomes all about me – what I did, and what I’ve accomplished – I’m not far from the inevitable self-sabotage that follows, especially when I finally realize my self-deception.

In the book of James, the brother of Jesus (called “Old Camel Knees” for his devotion to kneeling in prayer), says, “Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of Heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light” (James 1.16 from The Message). That’s been my experience as well. It is all grace. It’s not about me. God invites my cooperation in the grand scheme of things, but it’s His grace that enables me to live freely and joyously in a world that often tries to wear me down. Grace is what reminds me that God is especially fond of each of us. Grace leads me to treat others, and myself, better. Grace is so overwhelming that I must share it with others. Imagine that: me of all people living a life of grace, and grace leads to a life of gratitude and service.

I’m going to keep this brief. I have a lot (and I mean a lot) to do today, but I’m extremely grateful I pushed the ‘pause’ button this morning and talked to the giver of all “good and perfect gifts”. The funny thing about gratitude is how it increases and seems to overflow into everything in my day. I feel a deeper love for my wife, for my kids, and all the people in my life. I’m better able to see the ‘big picture’ and look to the bigger community of which I am a part. Most importantly, I’m able to tackle the difficulties life throws my way, be a part of that community, and walk in the light. That, my friends, is a pretty good way to live…

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Hotter than hell…

I’ve written a lot (probably too much!) about the hundred-plus degree temperatures we’ve experienced here in North Texas. It’s always hot in Texas in the summer, but this year the thermometer began to climb earlier than usual. Heat-related illnesses make for crowded emergency rooms and everyone seems a little worn down by it all.  One local municipality even passed an ordinance against leaving pets outside. The heat is hard on everything and it isn’t limited to North Texas.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Global Climate Report for June 2018, states that 2018 is on track to become the fourth hottest year on record. The previous three years account for the top three. Somini Sengupta, International Climate Correspondent for the New York Times, reports in an August 9, 2018 article, that “17 of the 18 warmest years since modern record-keeping began have occurred since 2001”. I get it…

In California, where excessive heat and dry conditions led to one of the worst wild fire seasons and the largest wild fire in state history, ‘the new normal’ has become a staple of official vocabulary.

Unfortunately, the term is incorrect. This is not the ‘new normal’. I wish it was. That’s not what the data suggests. Reaching a plateau now would be a relief, but the fact is that we’re still trending upwards in average temperature. We haven’t reached ‘normal’ yet.

I wonder what ‘normal’ will look like for my grandchildren. Like every other parent and grandparent, I want the very best for my kids but I’m not as optimistic as I used to be. When the changing climate alarm bells began to go off, we either hit the snooze button or turned the alarm off altogether. We went right on sleeping, oblivious to everything around us and, at the risk of sounding crass, sh** got serious. I hope our kids are forgiving…

It’s not like we didn’t see it coming. According to a 1912 article in the Rodney and Otamatea Times. Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette, scientists foresaw the continued burning of coal leading to climate change. It wasn’t an immediate concern, so why be inconvenienced? Besides, our brilliant minds and emerging technologies would take of it! So, we ‘kicked the can down the road’ and carried on, charging ahead full of denial and greed. That’s the reality of it. We stuck our heads in the sand and left it to the business and political powers that be and left it to posterity. To our chagrin, our kids pay the price for our willful ignorance, laziness, and neglect…

In the Hebrew Bible, God says that the sins of the father will “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ Children, in their innocence, bear no guilt on their own, but they suffer the consequences of their parents’ choices. We chose to delay action and failed to heed the warnings. Now our children face an uncertain, and possibly even hellish future. Again, all I can do is hope our kids are forgiving…

I’m not sure about the whole ‘heaven and hell’ thing I grew up with, but the older I get, the more I’m convinced that a loving God didn’t create hell; nor does he wish it on any of his kids. However, I firmly believe he loves us enough to allow us to make our own choices (you know, the ‘whole free will’ thing), and whether they’re good or bad, they all have consequences; sometimes reaching into future generations.

I don’t know what the future holds for this wonderful planet we live on. Though the prognosis is bleak, I’m hopeful about our ability, and particularly our kids’ abilities, to adapt and change course. I believe in redemption. I believe in grace. I believe in ‘repentance’ – that change of thinking, perspective, and direction that leads to positive change. That’s my personal experience and I’ve witnessed it in the lives of countless others. Amazing things happen when I take responsibility for my actions and begin to make better choices. I hope my kids harvest the positive seeds I sow today. Maybe then their future won’t be so hellish after all.

In recovery, there’s much talk of ‘breaking the cycle’, whether it’s of alcoholism and addiction, abuse, or a myriad of other downward spirals in one’s lineage. Yet, only I can choose to break the cycle by the choices and actions I take today. It doesn’t matter what the issue is. I may not be able to stop climate change on my own and save the planet, but I can save my tiny space in the world and urge others to do the same. I can grow a garden, love my neighbors, and do something because it’s the right thing to do, not just for my family, but for the common good of the community around me.

Despite the fires, droughts, melting ice caps, and rising seas, I have faith and a hope today that my kids won’t have as much to forgive me for. Just as poor choices and short-sightedness leave its mark on the next generation, so too, do good choices and right actions. Today, I’m looking beyond myself, toward the future my kids will inherit, and pray my actions only pass on good things to ‘the fourth and fifth’ generation’.

What will you do?

What’s the one thing you will do to make your world a little better today?