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Teachable Moments

I enjoyed the sunrise a tad more than usual today. The birdsongs were louder and more melodic today. Perhaps it’s in anticipation of another delightful autumn day in Cowtown knowing that by the time this is posted it will be a a couple of days of record-breaking arctic chill…

Most of you know that my wife, Margaret, broke her leg in one of the worst spots possible. The good news is surgery wasn’t required. It was a clean break and will heal without pins, plates, and various orthopedic hardware. The bad news is that Margaret can’t put any (as in none, zero, zilch) weight on her left leg for the next eight weeks or so.

That means that her already limited mobility is now reduced to sitting, standing, and pivoting on one foot to make it from the bed to the wheelchair. From there she can go to a living room chair and sit. She watches TV and works on one of her many artistic endeavors involving crotchet hooks and tatting needles. She’s presently working on a baby blanket for our grandson. She says she now has time to get it finished well before the projected due date in February.

It’s beyond difficult for Margaret to get around. We moved the kid’s bed into the living room since she can’t get in and out of our bed. A few inches in height make a huge difference these days. The kid’s sleeping in our room as a result. Our world, our more accurately, our routine, has been turned on its head.

I hate to admit just how much I’ve become a creature of habit. I catch myself falling into patterns reminding me of my father. Not that it’s a bad thing. My Dad was a loving, caring man so I intend no disrespect. It’s simply one more reminder I’m growing older. It’s just a part of life but I’m not quite ready to take on senior airs.

My routine has been completely broken and I’m a bit scattered as of late. The demands have increased as well. Margaret, the house upkeep, and the farm swallow each waking moment. Quite frankly, I get worn out by the end of the day. I’m far from clear-headed in the morning which significantly alters my “porch time” and writing time.

I become irritated and get “put out” with everyone at times. Then I feel guilty for feeling the way I do. It’s not a great place to be. I feel in conflict with my feelings and my values. I do what I do out of love right? Why do I feel this way?

The answer came as I prepared another cup of coffee for my wife.

Margaret and I knew each other for almost nine years before we ever dated. The night before our friend Stan’s memorial in 2012, we met several friends from out of town and all went out to dinner (IHOP may not be known for great food but it holds a special place in my heart). Afterward, Margaret and I went out front to smoke and ended up out there talking for four hours. That led to our first date a week later (and marriage three months after that!).

During our conversation, Margaret said she often felt like no one wanted to date a woman who they would have to push her in a wheelchair if they went downtown for coffee or dinner. I told her that I didn’t understand why anyone would feel that way. “It would be an honor and a privilege to push your wheelchair”, was my immediate response and I meant it.

I tell you this because it occurred to me this morning what an honor and a privilege it is to “push my wife’s wheelchair”, to serve the one I love. You see, I’d allowed all the flurry of activity to distract me from the truly important thing in my life – the honor to have Margaret as my wife.

An Honor and a Privilege

My friend Jim once asked me if I knew what honor was. I responded with a flat, somewhat emotionless, dictionary definition. He said that’s not it and then drew in a short quick breath; the kind you have when you’re suddenly startled or awed by something. He smiled and said, “that’s honor”.

I was confused. “What’s honor?”

He drew another short, quick breath and again said, “that’s honor”.

Jim had a way of using metaphors in a way that often irritated me. “What in the world do you mean?” and I imitated the breath he’d taken.

He said that honor was like that breath. Honor was seeing your wife come into a crowded room and seeing her takes your breath away. Honor was about keeping that breathtaking moment in your memory. I began to see the dictionary definition in a whole new light.

Used as a noun, honor means “high respect; great esteem”. It also is “adherence to what is right”. Thus, honor is an attitude whereby I hold my Margaret in “high respect” and “great esteem”. It’s about my perception of my wife.

Honor, as a noun, is my intention. Unfortunately, we are never judged on our intentions, only our actions. To honor someone is to “regard with great respect” and to “fulfill (an obligation) or keep (an agreement).

Revelation…

As I was going to get Margaret another cup of coffee this morning it dawned on me – the occasional frustrations, and yes, even selfishness I felt on occasion was simply an opportunity to learn to love, cherish, and honor my wife better. Suddenly, serving didn’t feel like a chore, an obligation. I remembered March 2nd, 2013 when I said those vows to love, honor, and cherish the woman I married.

The words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians came to life:

Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church – a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring out the best in her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor – since they’re already ‘one’ in marriage.” (Ephesians 5:25-28 – The Message)

I’ve yet to meet anyone who lives this out perfectly, but I have been privy to long, loving marriages that are an example of what to emulate so,

Margaret, if you’re reading this, know that today I will honor you in every way possible. It is my privilege to be your husband (and I still think you got the short end of the stick…). I cherish every moment with you, and I’m honored you allow me to be of service. I would gladly push you in a wheelchair or walk beside you and hold you up. And by the way, you still take my breath away every time you enter the room…

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A Quick Update…

Ah, Monday morning… I haven’t been on the porch much for the last week. I’ve alternated between the hospital and Opal’s Farm and had a few late nights, so the porch has been a bit lonely. I was able to catch a breather this morning and so, here goes…

As most of you know, Margaret has been in the hospital for the last week. I’m not going to share the details. Her condition has been moved from critical unstable to critical stable. Things have been up and down: on several occasions the doctors thought they had the problem solved only to erupt again. However, after several tests and procedures they believe it may be taken care of. We’re in a wait and see mode today. We’re praying all is well and the final option of surgery is no longer necessary.

While there’s never a good time for a medical crisis, this one came right in the middle of fall planting at the farm. We are so blessed to have friends and family as well as a short distance to the farm from the hospital. I’ve been able to spend some time watering the new seed and finishing preparations for the next round. Thanks to Charlie Blaylock for helping us out. We’ll be able to plant the next phase by Tuesday.

The farm has been a saving grace during this situation. A couple of hours working the soil here and there gives my mind a break. It provides time to speak with God (I’m sure the cyclists and runners on the Trinity Trail wonder who I might be talking to…) and most importantly, clear my mind and change my perspective from fear to hope. It’s difficult not to be hopeful working in a garden.

I had a long stream of thoughts this morning: far too many to share. It’s time to go back to the hospital and down to the farm. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers. Hopefully, we are on the upside of Margaret’s situation and I’ll see you all at Cowtown Farmer’s Market next Saturday.

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In the sorest trials God often makes the sweetest discoveries of Himself. — Author Unknown

A quick note to my friends: I’m posting quickly this morning so I can get to the hospital to be with my wife, Margaret. I don’t want to go into details, but I do want to ask my friends for prayers. She’s having a test today which should (hopefully) give us some answers. Not knowing is difficult. I hope to keep everyone updated.

The greatest fear most of face is the unknown, the “what ifs”. Please pray we walk through the fear with acceptance and trust that God has got this (as He has everything else in our lives!). We know we are blessed beyond measure even when life comes barging in with its friend, fear.

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Honor Your Wife…

Thoughts From the Porch: A line of thunderstorms is knocking on our door this morning. The wind, called an outflow boundary, is the precursor to the storm that will barge in any second. Jamison the Farm Dog is huddled beneath my feet, making writing difficult by distancing my fingers from the keyboard. Thunderstorms are anathema to him. He pants and paces or hides under my desk to escape the noise. All I can do is reassure him we’ve got it taken care of and we’d never let anything harm our Jameson.

Today is Margaret’s birthday. Please join me in wishing my beautiful wife a very happy birthday. I think of myself as one of the most blessed men in the world. It can’t be easy being married to me, although Margaret tells me constantly that I’m not difficult. Some days I’m not so sure. I find myself preoccupied with the daily goings-on of life and fail to stop and enjoy the company of the best woman I know.

Sometimes I’ll be out and hear other people talk about their difficulty in relationships. It makes me want to run home and kiss my wife and tell her how much I love her. I realize what a gift she is in my life. Our marriage isn’t perfect by any means. We each have our little idiosyncrasies that cause friction. I’m acutely aware of mine, but to be honest, I can’t think of any of Margaret’s. I’m sure they are present. They all seem to fade away when I’m with her.

I used to think that wasn’t normal, that our relationship was too comfortable. I’d hear others speak of their struggles in their marriage or cohabitation. People would talk about how much work their relationship. Everyone talked about “working” out their marriage. Maybe we were doing something wrong because, quite frankly, I can count on less than one hand the number of issues we’ve had to deal with over the years. I’m sure that they each centered around miscommunication or misunderstanding.

My Favorite Picture!

I used to believe we were an anomaly, a blip on the screen that couldn’t be explained. I thought there was no way anyone would believe how good our marriage was (and there may not be…). However, I’ve observed the marriages of our friends and acquaintances, and I’ve seen first hand we’re not so different after all.

There seems to be one or two constants throughout them all. The first one is the one my friend Jim told me about. Many years ago, he asked me if I knew what honor was. The Good Book says to “honor your wife”. What does it mean? I offered the proper dictionary definition and he laughed. He said that was nice but didn’t come close. The real definition was… and he drew in a quick, deep breath. I waited patiently for him to add his definition, but he just sat there, silent.

“Come on Jim. What’s your definition of honor?”

He again inhaled sharply, “h-h-h-h-h” and fell silent. I was beginning to get a bit perturbed and asked again to which he gave the same reply. Now I was ticked off.

I guess he sensed my aggravation because he looked me square in the eye, took another deep breath, and said “that’s what honor is”.

I sat there a bit perplexed. He went on to explain that honor was seeing your wife walk in the room and she takes your breath away. It wasn’t until years later that I really understood what he meant.

Fast forward to March 2nd, 2013 and Jim’s definition of honor became crystal clear. I was standing in front of many family and friends next to my Best Man, Edgar, with my brother Craig, the pastor for the day. Everyone stood and turned to watch Margaret start her walk down the aisle. She was radiant in her wedding dress, her face beaming. I inhaled sharply and deeply. She took my breath away…

Fast forward again to April 6th, 2019. Margaret walks in the room and she still takes my breath away. I can’t believe I am married to such an incredible woman. I want to honor her in every way possible. What surprises me is the honor she bestows on me. She makes me a better man.

I’m no marriage counselor but what I know for certain is that honoring my wife is easy. As a result, our marriage is easy as well. If we are an anomaly, then so be it. I could spend the rest of my life being different…

So, I wish my wife an unbelievably Happy Birthday. I look forward to sharing many more. I’m not confused my dear – you truly are “my better side” (I hate “half” as we were complete when we joined together) and my best friend. Today I honor you and wish for you a beautiful, joy-filled birthday!

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Obituaries…

Thoughts From the Porch: After putting the brakes on Spring for a couple of days we’re returning to normal here in North Texas. The sun is shining, temperatures are far more Spring-like and my time on the porch was punctuated by competing bird songs and a woodpecker in the closest tree. The bluebonnets are gathering force with the other wildflowers waiting in reserve to make April a month of vibrant color. All is well in our corner of the world.

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An article in the Daily Good (you can read the article at https://www.good.is/articles/mean-obituary-daughter?utm_source=thedailygood&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=dailygood ) caught my eye this morning. Whenever I see “brutal honesty” in a headline I must click it and see. Honesty is rare these days, and brutal honesty is usually code for hateful opinions. I had to laugh at someone getting the last word in with one’s obituary. While some may find such an obituary inappropriate, I hope whoever writes mine when the time comes will tell the truth – good and bad – and will get both a good laugh and a new respect for the grace given so freely.

Several years ago, I remember an assignment I was given by my mentor and friend, Jim. He told me to write my own obituary. Then write it from the perspective of a family member or friend. Finally, write it like someone who knew little about me. (I want to note that this little assignment came from a speaker he had heard many years ago, but I don’t remember which one. This wasn’t unique to him and I sure don’t want to take credit away from the originator.) The one thing he asked was that I be brutally honest with myself in how each was written.

The bottom line was how I see myself, how does my family see me, and how does the world see me. Jim was always big on introspection. He would always tell me “self-examination coupled with prayer and meditation produces favorable results”. I wasn’t too happy with the results at the time. Fast forward the clock a few years and the exercise became a lot easier and far more friendly for me.

I made a lot of mistakes. Scratch that (brutal honesty, remember?). I hurt a lot of people: myself, my family, and everyone I met through my selfishness and self-centeredness. Even when I was “doing good” it was usually to manipulate others and meet my own desires. The process of looking inward and being honest with myself revealed the real me – not the “me” I wanted to be and sure not how I wanted to be remembered.

As I’ve grown older, I still go back to the assignment Jim gave me periodically. I try to keep stock of myself daily. Periodically, I need to go through a full-blown inventory and take stock of my life. Now that I’m “in the last quarter of the game”, as my friend Gary says, I’ve become more aware of the legacy I leave. I believe others see me far differently from before. I know I’m not the same man as I was when I started this process. I trust that others see me far differently as well. I still make mistakes and have failures, but they no longer define who (or who’s) I am.

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Professionally, I worked many years as a Process Manager and Engineer building process improvement teams and finding ways to increase productivity for the companies I worked for. Writing and revisiting my own obituary has been “process improvement” for my life. It goes on today…

I’ve been blessed with the “favorable results” Jim always promised. I was fortunate to find a life of service to others. It’s the nature of what I do today, both as a writer and as the Farm Manager for Opal’s Farm. I ‘get’ to have a wonderful marriage, a loving family, and good friends. I ‘get’ to sit on the porch each morning and think about the amazing world I live in. I ‘get’ to say thank you to my Creator constantly for the grace I’ve received. I say ‘get to’ because it’s an opportunity I never had while wrapped up in self-centered blindness.

Each day is a new opportunity to rewrite my obituary, to leave a legacy of love and a servant spirit for my family, friends and community. I don’t think I could ask for more so maybe I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.

I’d urge each of you to take on the same assignment. If you already have then please share your results with me!

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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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Happy Anniversary My Dear

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s a wee bit chilly on the porch this morning. Overcast skies make for a dreary opening for the month of March. The good news is that I saw my first Robin this week. They tend to be a more accurate predictor of Spring. It may be cold but today is the unofficial beginning of Spring in my book. It’s time to get busy.

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I’ve been a bit reflective of the last six years. You see, tomorrow Margaret and I will have been married six years. It’s hard to believe. It’s sounds so cliché to say it seems like yesterday, but in a way it does. On the other hand, my life without my beautiful wife seems like eons ago. That’s a good thing. I can’t imagine life without my bride.

I love telling the story of our “whirlwind” relationship. We started dating on December 1st and got married three month later. I tend to leave out the part that we’d been friends for many years prior to dating. It’s more romantic that way.

I also tend to leave out the part about my proposal. It wasn’t so romantic. Fortunately, when you get married in your fifties, practicality has its own rewards. I debated whether I should include that part in this post, but since many of our friends know about it anyway, here goes…

Margaret and I were at my house getting ready to go out to a recovery function. We were running late so both of us were in the bathroom getting ready. We were in rather inglorious positions, she was getting ready and me shirtless, shaving away. It felt a bit like an old, married couple. I laughed to myself, looked at Margaret and said, “You want to get married?”

She looked over and said, “Are you serious?”

I looked back at her. She looked radiant, despite the awkwardness of our locale. “Yeah, I think so”. The rest my friends, is history.

She still teases me to this day about my ‘romantic’ proposal. I freely admit it wasn’t one of my stellar moments, but it was the most important question I ever asked in my life. The trajectory of my life changed in the bathroom that day and it definitely changed for the better.

There are a couple of reasons I’m sharing this story today. One is that we both had been single for many years prior to our marriage. Each of us had reached a point where we thought that’s the way it would be, and we were each okay with it. Life was good, but companionship would be great and love even greater. We were both complete human beings loving the gift of life and recovery as precious children of God. We were happy and content just the way we were. We didn’t need someone to feel whole. Had we started dating earlier (and believe me, I thought Margaret was hot and way out of my league), neither of us would have been ready for the relationship we have today. It was on God’s time and not ours.

Sometimes it feels like God’s time passes far too slowly. I always want answers to life’s questions now, but it rarely works that way. I knew how to fail in marriage, but I had no clue as to how to have a successful one. If I’m honest, the only thing I knew for sure was what I didn’t want in a relationship. Experience was a great teacher in that regard. Like Tom Petty sang, “the waiting is the hardest part”.

Looking back, I had so much to learn and it took a lot of growth, both personally and spiritually, to even be ready to meet someone special like Margaret. I had to be led through the process of “becoming”. By the time we began dating I had grown in my relationship with God and, consequentially, was ready for someone like Margaret. Patience truly is a virtue. What I’m trying to say is that Valentine’s Day may not be your favorite holiday when you’re single, but it becomes one when you learn to treat yourself as worthy of love.

Secondly, even the simplest, most awkward of times can be holy moments. I often think of how I would’ve liked to have proposed to Margaret. I really can be romantic at times. Still, I wouldn’t change a thing if it meant life would be any different. Margaret and I married eight days later. I was scheduled for a craniotomy to remove an AVM that was bleeding in my head. Even though it was to be a routine brain surgery by one of Fort Worth’s most respected neurosurgeons I couldn’t fathom the idea of passing away without Margaret being my wife. Our friends came together and planned a beautiful wedding in that time. Over a hundred of them came to our wedding and we love each them dearly.

Thinking about tomorrow I find myself wishing to shower Margaret with gifts, kisses, and thanks. I can do the wishes and the thanks, but the gifts are going to be slim. We are struggling financially right now so I can commit all my efforts to our non-profit for the farm. We prayed about it and know this is what God wants us to do. That never would have happened in my past life – the prayer that is. God orders our steps today. That’s what makes ours a wonderful marriage – God is the center of it. The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “a rope of three cords is not easily broken”. Thanks to my beautiful, thoughtful, and loving wife for making a home of three cords: God, Margaret, and I…

One of my favorite pictures