Belief, Children, Choices, Christmas, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Generations, Grandchildren, Gratitude, Grief, Letting Go, Love, Monday Mornings, Opioid Epidemic, Parents, Recovery, Relationships, Spirituality, Thoughts From the Porch, Truth, Writing

Quitting Smoking, Grief, and Christmas

I finally rained here in Fort Worth. I’m not sure how much. It’s still dark outside but the weather folks are calling for light rain and possibly sleet throughout the morning (it is forecasted to be eighty degrees by Thursday…), so I thought I’d take advantage of the stillness and wet weather to catch up on “Thoughts From the Porch”.

I haven’t shared many thoughts from the porch lately. I haven’t been on the porch to do much thinking. I quit smoking two weeks ago (two whole weeks so far!) and the porch is a trigger for me. I guess I shouldn’t be overly concerned. Everything is a trigger these days – being alone at the farm, volunteers who still smoke, my kid who is recently out of college for Christmas break, the grief that seems overwhelming this time of year…

Jeremy was my Christmas present in 1982. His death and the absence of the grandkids since Thanksgiving leaves me bereft of Christmas spirit. Climbing in the attic to get Christmas decorations is the last thing I want to do, but my wife loves Christmas and I’ll do it for her later today. Doing for others makes the pain a little easier to bear.

The triangle could always be found in his artwork – Baillie, Lucas, and Simone (Iza)

The morning weather report was followed by a news story about opioid overdose deaths this past year. It’s become the leading cause of death for people eighteen to forty-five – more than suicides, COVID deaths, and car crashes – almost 79,000 in the past year. The statistics seem overwhelming and abstract. My son was one of the statistics. He’s one of the 79,000 other faces behind each of those numbers.

I’ve shared much about my son over the last year-and-a-half, but this is the first time I’ve talked of his cause of death. I simply haven’t been able to talk about it. His friends and family have known all along and I’m sure those in the art world of which he was a part have their suspicions if they didn’t know it for a fact. His art was often a reflection of his struggle with addiction – both his and mine. I still wonder how things would be different if he hadn’t grown up with an addict parent. I still wish I could trade places with him.

It wasn’t always that way. Jeremy became a recovering addict shortly after I did in 2005. He stayed clean for six years and became a respected member of the local recovery community. He had two more children and his oldest lived with him during a difficult time for her mother and grandmother. He worked fulltime and found time to paint and create. Still, there was always the underlying fear that his art would suffer without the drugs to fuel his creativity. Seeing the art he created proved that to be an unrealistic fear.

Life showed up -work, kids, parenting, bills – all the things everyone lives with. Time spent with others in recovery became short. He gradually and unintentionally moved farther and farther away from the recovery community and the support that held his addiction in check.

I won’t go into all the details. This isn’t about war stories or moralizing a disease. Addiction can cover up the heart of the addict and Jeremy’s heart was never defined by addiction. We had many “f*** you fights” over the last couple of years before his death – addiction wreaks havoc among families – but they were always followed by moments of kindness and love. That was my son.

I often wonder if he knew what lie ahead. In the last few months of his life, he struggled to make amends and heal relationships with so many family members and friends. In our last phone call, he asked if we could make a recovery meeting the following week.

I’m sitting here this morning and my heart hurts. Grief is a bitch. It comes unannounced whenever it wants and usually at the most inconvenient time possible. I never asked to join this club of parents, sons, daughters, husbands and wives, and the hundreds of friends and family left with the emptiness in their souls – a deep, aching, grief that never goes away. That’s something statistics don’t measure. They may tell of the deceased, but they never measure the sorrow and brokenness that’s left behind.

I wish I had more hopeful words to share this morning. There are so many things I’m truly grateful for. We’re about to celebrate the greatest blessing of all – Immanuel “God with us”. Still, loss is overwhelming, and we’ll celebrate the second Christmas without Jeremy. Please remember that 79,000 other families with face Christmas without the one they love. Keep us in your prayers and be kind to one another…

Business, Choices, Communication, Community, Culture, Emotional Health, Family, Generations, Monday Mornings, Relationships, Seeing Others, Simplicity, Technology, Thoughts From the Porch, Writing

Technology? Yes and No…

(portions are rebloged from October 2018)

I was sitting here sorting through the various business cards and it occurred to me that I need a new Rolodex. Some of you know what I’m talking about: that circular file that holds your contacts, addresses, and phone numbers. I’m not sure people use them anymore. Everyone else seems to organize such things online. I guess my friend Gary was right. I’m a dinosaur…

It’s not that I’m technologically illiterate, mind you. Heck, I write and post a lot on social media for Opal’s Farm. It’s just that keyboards and screens feel so impersonal at times. Heck, I lost my phone one time and couldn’t call friends or family because their numbers were stored by the phone’s contact list. I can still remember my very first home number – GL (short for the Glendale exchange)1-0249 (and yes kids, there was a time when they had letters instead of numbers). I could tell you what part of town someone was calling from by the prefix, which was sort of Caller ID in the sixties. One memorized the important numbers in one’s life, wrote them in a phone and address book, or filed them on a Rolodex for future reference. Nowadays, they all go to the phone by name instead of having to dial. I was married two years before I could tell you my wife’s phone number. It was filed away by name on a contact screen. Sometimes smart phones make me feel dumb…

Don’t get me wrong. I love emerging technology and all the new toys. They make life, professionally and personally, so much easier. The world has become much smaller as a result, too. It’s nothing to be able to communicate, both audibly and visibly, with folks on the other side of the world at a moment’s notice. I usually find research on the internet (ever careful to check facts and sources) preferable to the long hours spent in the library, but the library smells of books and newsprint unlike the sterile internet. Unfortunately, technology is frightfully impersonal at times and that can be brutal on relationships.

As I’ve grown older I’ve come to believe that everything in life is about relationships. For all the connectedness technology enables, it inhibits real relationship. One night shortly after Margaret and I started dating, she asked me to come to ‘family night’ at her house. As we all found our seats in the living room and turned on the movie, it became apparent that no one was either talking or watching the movie. Instead, everyone’s face was buried in a phone screen. I think they were texting each other across the living room. Just so you know, we have great, loving relationships with all our kids, but after that evening I became increasingly aware of the downside of technology – stifling relationships.

I’m not a big ‘phone guy’. I value ‘face time’, and not the iPhone kind, over phones calls, texts, and emails. One of the best pieces of advice Jim, my mentor ever gave me was to spend more time watching and listening. The experts say that much of our conversations are non-verbal. We say more with our body language and actions. Just ask my wife. She hates it when I sigh or roll my eyes and still say okay…

Something special takes place between people when they sit and share together. The closer my relationship, the more one is aware of the non-verbal cues between one another. My non-verbal cues often indicate a far deeper meaning than what I say. They often turn my “everything’s okay” into “what’s really going on”. As a result, my relationship with others, and with myself, deepens.

The ultimate face time takes place over the dinner table. In certain cultures, a meal is the most intimate offering one can give to another. To paraphrase another friend, “I don’t get to choose who I am kind to, but I do get to choose who I have dinner with”. Many of my best memories are of meals shared and friendship enjoyed. I guess it’s no wonder that Jesus spent a lot of time hanging out with people over the dinner table…

I’m okay being a dinosaur. What all the great technology doesn’t do is help me be a better human being. I need other folks to help me get there. I need relationships and they are difficult to find inside a cell phone of computer screen. So before I get to the meeting, I think I’ll try the office supply store and see if they have a Rolodex…

Photo by Mike on Pexels.com
Bible, Christianity, Community, Faith, Food Equality, Gifts, God's Economics, Grace, Gratitude, Humility, Jesus, Miracles, Monday Mornings, Neighbors, Opal's Farm, Peace, Prayer, Relationships, Serenity, Simplicity, Social Justice, Spirituality, Unity Unlimited, Inc., Worry

A Vision Check Up

I have “senior moments” – those times of forgetfulness that are becoming all-too frequent as I get older. I’ve tried organizing my life with lists, calendars, and self-help books on ordering my world. Unfortunately, I usually forget where I put the list, leave the calendars on my desk, and the books find their way back to the shelf in favor one something more compelling. I need to apologize for my forgetfulness; more often than I care to admit.

Fortunately, the “to Do” lists still get done, I manage to get to the necessary appointments on the calendar, and I constantly re-read books I already have which cuts down the cost of new ones (I’m blessed to have an extensive library). I’ve found that repeated reading shines new light on things. I see it differently than I did and often, I find things I never saw before.

I was talking to my friend Charlie the other day about one of the miracles mentioned in the Gospels called “The Feeding of the Five Thousand”, and the one most people are familiar with. I’ve read the story hundreds of times over my life, but Charlie shared a perspective I’ve never thought about – the miracle of self-lessness.

The feeding of the five thousand is one of the miracles found in each of the Gospels. Each of the authors found this to be important. My favorite, and the one that started my discussion with Charlie, is from the Book of John, Chapter 6:

“After this, Jesus went across the Sea of Galilee… the crowd followed him, attracted by the miracles they had seen him do among the sick…

When Jesus looked out and saw that a large crowd had arrived, he said to Phillip, “Where can we buy bread to feed these people?” He said this to stretch Phillip’s faith. He already knew what he was going to do.

Phillip answered, “Two hundred silver pieces wouldn’t be enough to buy bread for each person to get a piece.”

One of the disciples – it was Andrew, brother to Simon Peter – said, “There’s a little boy who has five barley loaves and two fish, but that’s a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this.”

Jesus said, “Make the people sit down “… about five thousand of them. The Jesus took the bread, and having given thanks, gave it to those who were seated. He did the same with the fish. All ate as much as they wanted.

When the people had eaten their fill, he said to the disciples, “Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted.” They went to work and filled twelve large baskets from the five barley loaves.” (John 6.1-13 The Message – paraphrase mine)

I’d always believed the miracle was the five loaves and two fishes being enough to feed five thousand people. That certainly is a miracle, but after my conversation with Charlie and a fresh reading of an old story, the real miracle is much deeper than that.

Photo by Eva Elijas on Pexels.com

Imagine five thousand hungry people – the other Gospel’s say it was late in the day and the disciples were concerned enough to ask Jesus to send them away. In fact, they interrupted his teaching to bring this matter to his attention. Jesus’ response – “Nope, you feed them.”

I can only imagine the look on Phillip’s face when Jesus handed the problem back to him. He must’ve been thinking Jesus had been in the sun too long. Andrew, ever the one bringing people to Jesus, brings him a young man with 5 loaves and two fishes and says, “This is what we have to work with.” I’d like to think Andrew’s faithfulness came into play, but I have a feeling it was to say “This it. It’s all we could find.”

Traditional teaching focuses on Jesus’ blessing and the multiplication of a miniscule amount of food to feed the crowd but a deeper look reveals an even more miraculous occurrence. A crowd of hungry people take just enough and everyone has their fill.

Let that one sink in a moment. A large crowd of mostly strangers has been out in the sun all day to hear this new prophet. They haven’t eaten all day and suddenly a basket of food comes by. Without ever looking in the basket they take enough and pass it on. Sounds simple enough, right?

The Miracle I Never Noticed

It was a miracle that five thousand hungry people didn’t try to take everything in the basket. Had they looked inside they would have seen the small amount and yet the Gospel writers tell us everyone was fed. They didn’t record any instances of hoarding (they couldn’t say the same of pandemic era consumers!). Everyone passed the basket along. It was assumed there was enough for everyone.

That is a miracle indeed. For a moment in time, no one looked through the lens of scarcity. Jesus’ world was a world of “enough” – enough for me and enough to go around. It runs counter to the prevailing world view of scarcity -get it before it’s all gone. Everyone should have a slice of the pie, but there’s never enough pie. Even if there is, my slice needs to be bigger than your slice. Economists call this capitalism, which is a fancy, more politically correct way of saying selfish and self-centered.

That’s why I’m captivated by stories of people who step out of “scarcity” and into “enough”. Scarcity demands competition. It separates and divides people into “Us” and “Them”. It’s credo of “Do unto others before they do unto you” sows seeds of superiority and distrust. Fear is at its root and discord, violence, and strife are its fruit. The Apostle Paul put it this way:

“It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all of the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic show religion (can anyone say TV evangelism and prosperity gospel… my thoughts added); paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming, yet never satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on”. (Galatians 5.16-20 The Message)

“Enough” on the other hand, drives people to be self-less and kind towards everyone. “Enough” says just that – enough – “there’s enough to go around so why don’t I enjoy what’s here and pass some of it along to someone else who really needs it?” Again, the Apostle Paul says it much more eloquently than I:

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a basic conviction that holiness permeates (all) things and (all) people (even those we don’t like or don’t like us… my thoughts again added…). We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”  Galatians 6.22-23 (The Message)

“Enough” is the lens through which we see the world as it was meant to be. “Enough” is God’s gift to His kids.

Sometimes I forget to put on my new glasses, or the lenses get fogged up with “stuff” (a nice word for fear and worry) and I begin to see a hostile world of scarcity out there. Sometimes I forget for a long while. I make myself miserable until I remember my new lenses and my vision becomes clearer.

For example – when I came to work at Opal’s Farm and Unity Unlimited, Inc. I quit taking new clients in my writing business. The farm would take all my time to make it successful. I had a contract salary with Unity, but I also knew that there was little to no funds for the farm. As Ms. Opal often reminds me – “we’ve done so much for so long with so little that we can do anything with nothing”. Donations and consequently, my salary were small and intermittent for the first year.

My wife and I are fortunate enough to have retirement income. It covers our living expenses – sometimes – but we count on my work to provide for the shortfalls with our bills. We burned through what little savings we had those first few months. By October that first year I finally had nothing to pay the mortgage with. I was in a deep depression. I was sure I’d made the wrong decision and announced to my wife one evening that I had really screwed up, that I should give up a go get a job that paid even if it paid a little. Her response threw me a little…

“Greg, we prayed about this, and I know this is where God wants you to be.”

“I know, but (another case of being a know-it-all and a “but” head as my friend Jim would say) is we don’t pay the house payment tomorrow they’re going to start foreclosure’. Where will we go then?”

She was silent for a moment. “You’re right, but we’ll go somewhere. Why don’t you give it one more month and we’ll decide then.”

“Okay, but we’ve got to do something, and I don’t see anything we can do (echoes of the disciple Phillip?)”.

I didn’t sleep well that night – there was too much on my mind – but I got up, dressed, and off to the farm. The phone rang as I drove (Relax folks, I have a hands free phone system). It was our Executive Director, Dione. “Guess what? We just received a grant from one of our donors. Come by my office today and pick up a check.” When I got there, I was in shock. The check was just enough to pay all our bills through the end of the year.

I got home, shared the joyous news with Margaret, and went back outside to have a little chat with God. I had to confess my thickheadedness and distrust. After all, how many times in life have I been on the receiving line of blessings I most certainly don’t deserve (It’s that thing called grace). In hindsight I know that God has had my back 100% of the time. I told God, “I get it. I won’t worry about how we’re going to make it anymore.”

I haven’t worried about the bank balance since that October night three years ago. Somehow there’s always enough – the bills get paid, seed gets planted, and crops grow (rinse and repeat). We don’t have all the things I used to think we wanted, but we live simply, have everything we need, our home is peaceful, and life’s storms just don’t seem that bad anymore (Yes, Virginia, it still gets stormy…).

How do you see the world – through scarcity (there’s never enough) or through God’s “enough”? When we have enough,” we always have “enough” to share. If you have “enough” already, please be sure to pass it on. If you don’t, give me a call. I bet we can do a better job on those lenses if we work together…

Adoption, Connection, Faith, Family, Generations, History, Hope, Monday Mornings, Parents, Relationships, Spirituality

My Old Kentucky Home

(Disclaimer – I do not speak for all adopted folks. I need to make that clear from the start. The process of adoption was much different in 1958 than it is today. I don’t ever recall hearing about “open” adoptions with other adopted people my age. Everything was “closed” – court records, original birth certificates, anything that might indicate who the birth parents were. Adopted kids had little to no information to go on when it came to the birth parents.)

Photo by Amy Reed on Unsplash

I recently wrote about finding my birth mother after sixty-three years. I haven’t named locations, names, or siblings out of respect for family privacy. No one ever knew of her first pregnancy, and I waited to share the details until she said it was okay for me to do so. That changed a week ago. She had lunch with some of my siblings on Friday. She wanted them to know about me.

I was on the tractor Friday morning and just happened to idle down so I could talk to one of Opal’s volunteers. I heard the phone rang. It was a Kentucky number with no ID. I thought it might be my insurance company since they’re in Kentucky, so I answered. “This is Greg. May I help you?”

“Hello, this is your sister Dana. Mom told us about you, and we can’t wait to meet you” (I now have two sisters named Dana). An explosion of joy burst in my gut. We’ve spoken, texted, and messaged several times since.

I found out I have two brothers and three sisters. My youngest brother, Danny, sent me a message Saturday morning telling me how excited he was to have an older brother and to come be part of my family in Kentucky.

I’ve learned so many things that overlap my birth and adopted families. In fact, it’s almost a little eerie when I think about it. My sister and her husband farmed until her husband couldn’t anymore. My other sister, Becky, writes for the local paper and has the old family farm place.

I won’t take up your time, gentle reader, with all the stories and conversations that have taken place in the last couple of days. It’s been a lot for me to process and I’m not sure I could anyway. My wife, Margaret, and I were sitting out on the front porch last night enjoying a quiet summer evening. She told me how happy she was for me. I feel a bit of guilt though. She would love to see the child she had to give up for adoption so many years ago.

Like my own mother, she thought that would never happen. I recently purchased a DNA test for her so maybe, just maybe…

Margaret asked me how I feel about this blessing. I had to pause. I fell silent for a couple of minutes. Finally, I had to admit that I was at a complete loss for words. It’s something I can’t explain. It’s as though my life finally came together. The pieces of the puzzle fell into place, and life makes sense.

I could never have asked for a better family than my adopted parents and sister. I loved my parents (both are gone now) more than I can say. My sister, Dana, is and will always be my sister. I was so grateful when my birth mother asked if I had a good life. The answer was an emphatic yes. Far more than I deserve I can assure you.

My parents may have let me know how special I was to them, but the rest of the world doesn’t usually think so. I once asked my maternal grandmother why she treated my cousins so much better than me. She promptly, with bitterness in her voice, informed me that they were blood, and I was not.

(Aside – I found out in my adult years that Mom had once told her that our family would no longer attend family functions if I wasn’t accepted as their son. Thanks Mom!)

I always thought being adopted was special so most of my peers knew it. I remember having an argument with another kid back in elementary school. I don’t recall why we were arguing but the words “at least my mother wanted me” haunted me for years. Kids say the cruelest things…

I began to make up stories about where I came from. Imagination is the answer to not knowing. I could be whoever you wanted me to be. Fear of rejection or abandonment led to a chameleon approach to living and the addiction and co-dependency that often accompanied it. It took recovery and a loving God many years to deconstruct the lies I told to and about myself. But that’s another story…

Words fall short of explaining the emotions going on. This search could’ve gone in an entirely different direction – one leading to the fear I’ve spent so long overcoming. I’m more comfortable with facts and actions than I am words and feelings. So, I’ll be leaving for Kentucky in the next couple of weeks. The journey continues…

Photo by Joshua Michaels on Unsplash
Adoption, Aging, Children, Choices, Culture, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Gifts, Grandchildren, Gratitude, History, Monday Mornings, Patience, Prayer, Relationships, Respect, Responsibility, Stories, Thoughts From the Porch, Truth

She is My Mother…

It was a typical hot July morning last Wednesday at the farm. The heat and humidity was already oppressive and it was only nine AM. I’d just set up the pump and started the irrigation going. I drove down to the section I’d be irrigating and got out to move the hoses, muttering all the while about the sweat that had already soaked my t-shirt. It was going to be triple digits that day. “Summer’s finally here!”, I exclaimed and started down the walkway between sections. That’s when the phone rang.

Normally, I won’t answer a number from out of state and with no identification. However, my insurance is in the same area code as the one on my screen. “This is Greg. May I help you?”

“Hello. This is ******. I received your letter. I am your birth mother”. (I’ll explain the ****** in a moment.)

I had to take a second to let it sink in. “Wow. Thank you for calling me”. Words left. Her voice. I heard her voice. I heard my mother’s voice. Sixty-two years of wondering. Sixty-two years of not knowing and dreaming about where I come from stopped with those words, “I am your birth mother”.

“I want you to know I’ve often thought about you, especially in August (my birthday month). I’ve hoped and prayed you’ve had a loving family and a good life.” Her voice was sweet and soothing, chasing away the doubt I often felt about being wanted.

Tears filled my eyes. My face flushed. Emotions went wild. She cared. She thought about me. I had no idea how much it meant to me.

I regained my composure and told her how blessed I was to have been adopted by two loving parents who wanted me so desperately. They told me I was adopted, that my birth mother loved me enough to give them a wonderful son. From the earliest I can remember, they read The Chosen Baby, a popular book among adoptive parents back then, to remind me how special I was to them. I couldn’t have asked for better parents. I hoped she understood what a priceless gift she had given me.

We talked for over an hour. She told me she had looked me up on the internet. People run so many scams on older folks I can’t rightly blame her. She must’ve seen an old newspaper article which quoted my mom about my gardening experience. It turns out I inherited some of my birth mother’s DNA for gardening as well. She’s no longer to work outside due to her health and she misses it dearly.

I asked about my birth father. She confirmed what I’d figured out through DNA Detectives, the folks that started me on this journey. I suppose I have a half-sister in Southeast Texas.

I asked if her family knows about me – that a child was given up for adoption. She told me that no one has ever known except one of her sisters. The pregnancy was hushed and never spoken of again. She was sixteen, Catholic, and it was a different time. Such things were best left secret. Add her father (my grandfather) to the equation and it all makes sense. He was an alcoholic. She never wished to upset him. I understand completely. That’s for the best in an alcoholic home. Apparently, addiction and alcoholic DNA skip a generation, but that’s another story…

She raised a family of her own. I have half brothers and sisters, but time and circumstances prohibit me from contacting. If things were different…

For this reason, my birth mom shall remain nameless for now. I’m careful to omit any details that might reveal who or where she is. It’s out of respect for this sweet woman who gave me life. I tried to have no expectations when I began this search. It could have gone in directions I’d rather not go. My letter could have gone unanswered or worse, I could’ve heard “please don’t ever contact me again”. Like my friend Edgar always tells me: “Pray for the best and prepare for the worst…”. My prayers have been lovingly answered.

Now I know. I wasn’t discarded or placed for adoption because I wasn’t loved. I was given a chance at a wonderful life by sweet, probably scared, sixteen-year-old girl because that’s just how it was sixty-plus years ago.

This might not make sense in today’s culture or to someone who isn’t adopted. What does it matter if anyone knows about it? For one thing, it was a closed adoption. Neither party knew little, if anything, of each other. That’s the way the system kept it. It was 1958. There were few open adoptions in post-WWII America and even fewer in 1950s Texas. Besides, adoption agencies often painted a pretty, but blatantly false and misleading, picture of the biological parents so the baby would be more appealing to the new family.

I had a Zoom meeting getting ready to start so I had to get off the phone. I had to ask, “May I call you?”.

“Of course, please call”. Her voice cracked just a bit and I heard, “May I call you, too?”

My heart leapt out of my chest. She wants to call me! “Yes, yes, of course. Please call me anytime”.

She softly said, “I love you”.

I managed to blurt out, “I love you, too” before I hung up the phone. The tears flowed freely. “I love you, too…”

I immediately called my wife. “You’ll never guess who I talked to for the last hour. My mother.”

“Wow”. She said all she could say was wow. I get it.

I’ve had some time to think about my next steps. In fact, I’ve thought of little else. I’ve started a list of questions. I also want her to know how blessed my life is and I have her to thank for it all. After all, she put the ball in motion…

Photo by Liv Bruce on Unsplash