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Thanks for Being Part of my Journey

“It may be true that he travels farthest who travels alone, but the goal thus reached is not worth reaching.” — Theodore Roosevelt

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Remnants…

Thoughts from the Porch: We had another Arctic visitor yesterday. It’s the time of the year for frequent, though thankfully short-lived, visitations from our far northern neighbors. I awoke to a chill in the house. When the wind chill drops the thermometer, our heater takes a while to catch up in the morning. Jumping out of a cozy, warm bed to shut off the alarm is a bit of a shock on days like these. Such is January in North Texas…

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This week was one of the few Wednesday’s I missed my Fort Worth Development Group meeting. Ms. Opal and I had a meeting causing a time conflict. The good news is that I got to spend the drive time with one of my heroes for two days in a row. That doesn’t happen often enough for me. Sometimes I just need “Ms. Opal time”.

We were able to spend some time together yesterday discussing business and having good conversation. I brag about Ms. Opal only because she lives the kind of life that I hope to lead: one full of love and service for others. It’s one of the main reasons I’m so passionate about Opal’s Farm. It’s a reflection of the loving service of Ms. Opal and the realization of a dream and doing something tangible for the community.

We were speaking about the events of Martin Luther King Day. It’s not simply a commemoration of Dr. King, but a National Day of Service as well. She told me that, according to the Fort Worth Star Telegram, over 800 people showed up at her small church to meet prior to going out and serving various non-profits throughout Tarrant County. Over 800 people giving up their day off to serve others!

Many of you know that I’m a bit of a politics junkie. I usually spend some time on the newsfeed after my morning quiet time. Sometimes I’m not sure why I do. It’s a long string of cultural insanity, full of stories of human suffering, violence, and hatefulness, particularly as it pertains to our current administration in Washington, D.C. While it usually spurs me on to action, it’s often overwhelming and leaves me feeling a bit hopeless. The future is bleak at times. But…

Then I read or hear things like 800 people that gave their time to serve others. Despite all the negativity that bombards us about society, there is an amazing amount of goodness out there. I forget that sometimes…

It reminds me of the biblical story of the prophet Elijah in I Kings 19. It seems that speaking the truth to a corrupt King wasn’t a good idea, even if it was the right thing to do. In fact, the King was so angry he put a price on Elijah’s head. Poor Elijah ran for his life until he was hiding out in a cave, crying out to God that he was the only good guy left in the world.

I get it. Doing the right thing can be tiring at times and it can feel terribly lonely. Frustration keeps me from seeing any good in the world. Fortunately, that wasn’t the end of the story for old Elijah. You see, God answered him in a still quiet voice, assuring him there was still a remnant of good, godly people in Israel: seven thousand to be exact. He wasn’t alone. It just felt that way.

That isn’t the end of the story for me, either. I guess that’s why I love my “Ms. Opal Time” so much. She reminds me of the goodness in people. God hasn’t spoken to me in a cave (at least not yet), but He always sends me someone like Ms. Opal. I’m not alone. I know of at least 800 other folks working to make our little world a better place…

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Steppin’ out….

Thoughts From the Porch:

“When you come to the end of all the light you know, and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things will happen: Either you will be given something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly.” — Edward Teller

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One of my favorite scenes from the “Indiana Jones” movies where Harrison Ford’s character must step out in faith over a giant chasm in order to reach the Holy Grail. With his nemesis holding him and the people he loves at gunpoint, he’s at wit’s end and out of options. He steps out into the darkness of the abyss. As he takes the first step a narrow bridge begins to come into view. Unfortunately, it can only be seen with each successive step, one step at a time. Each step requires more courage, more faith, than the one before. I can’t recall how many steps it took to get across the dark abyss, but I’d like to think it was twelve. I can relate…

That scene’s been on my mind a lot lately. Margaret and I are experiencing some difficulties as late. Finances have been tough since my hospital stay earlier this year. Business has been slower than projected. Opal’s Farm still has a way to go before all the start-up costs are in hand and planting is scheduled for February 15th. How are we going to do this? It’s a little overwhelming at times (OK, a lot overwhelming…) The chasm looks awfully vast at times…

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If I get honest, I’m a lot like Indiana Jones (well, except for the whole “dashing adventure hero” thing…). I usually need to be backed into a corner with no options or solutions in sight. I know there’s absolutely no way I can get out of the situation before I’m willing to step out into the darkness. I forget the fact that in looking back, a path has always been carved through the darkness and it’s always illuminated. If the path isn’t clear, I learn to fly before I crash into the bottom of the abyss. Always! Though I usually don’t see it until later…

You’d think that with such a proven track record I’d push right through whatever obstacle was in my way. It doesn’t always work like that. Taking that first step into the abyss isn’t my first choice. I temporarily forget God’s faithfulness. As my friend Edgar likes to remind me, “I’m not a slow learner, just a fast forgetter”.

“Trials are not enemies of faith but are opportunities to prove God’s faithfulness.” — Author Unknown

Ironically, my memory gets sharper as I grow older: at least in matters of faith (in other areas, yeah, not so much…) It doesn’t take as long to remember God’s faithfulness even when mine is absent. One of my favorite reminders is Psalms 119.105: “Your word for my feet and a lamp for my path”. The funny thing about a lamp is that it only shows what’s immediately ahead. I can only see the path if I keep stepping out, one step at a time…

I’ve spent far too much time stressed out about things beyond my control, so I’m stepping out. Whether I’ll be walking or flying, I’m not sure yet. What I do know is that I’ll see you on the other side…

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An Attitude of Gratitude

Thoughts from the Porch: I wasn’t going to write today, my thoughts anyway. I have a ‘to-do’ list a mile long. It’s a blustery, chilly morning so ‘porch time’ was brief. The coming days bring more pressing matters to the ‘to-do’ list. It’s all good stuff, mind you, but suddenly there seems to be a shortage of hours in the day.

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Even though our time on the porch was brief, my wife made it a holy moment for us both. She recounted a phone call yesterday from a friend. The gist of the conversation was how much her friend appreciated my wife. Both of us were a bit teary-eyed by the gratitude we felt. Prayer came easier afterward, even if all we could muster  was “thank you God”.

I write of gratitude often. Probably more than anyone wants to hear if I get honest. I remember a friend told me several years ago there were only two topics worth talking or writing about: grace and gratitude. It’s taken a few years, but today I know what he meant. I hope that you, gentle reader, aren’t bored by my seeming lack of topical diversity.

In my interactions with other folks I’ve noted that those who have experienced the depths of God’s grace have one common denominator: gratitude. Gratitude seems to be directly proportionate to grace. The deeper the experience of grace the more gratitude one feels and lives out.

Gratitude changes the way I see the world. I’m more patient, courteous, and giving when I’m grateful. I’m more honest when I admit my own faults and in turn, more tolerant of other folk’s faults. I experience far less conflict and greater serenity. I don’t feel obligated to have “my” way as often. “Enough” is word I understand today.

I don’t always stay there. I still slide into worry, morbid self-reflection, and stubbornness at times. I’ve also come to acknowledge my own humanity with all its imperfections. It doesn’t take me as long to get back to an “attitude of gratitude”. That usually is the result of an awareness of grace. Funny how it all works…

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A Simple Thank You

Thoughts From the Porch: I stopped for gas yesterday. I only had cash, so I had to go in and pay for it prior to pumping. I was putting my change and receipt away when the cashier informed me that I had “been the nicest customer in the last six hours”. I was flattered but somewhat taken aback.

“Thank you. Has it been a rough one?”, I asked.

 “Oh man, you wouldn’t believe it”, she replied. “Everyone’sbeen crabby and sometimes downright mean. I just wanted to thank you for beingso nice and polite”.

“You’re welcome”. I headed out to the truck, grateful for the compliment and a bit sad that I was the one pleasant experience in her day.

I’ve thought about our little exchange ever since. I’m saddened that engaging in polite behavior seems to be the notable exception rather than the norm, especially this time of year. I’m grateful that I had “proper raising”.Mom and Dad were big on manners. “Mind your manners!” was heard more than once in our house.

 When I was growing up, I used to look forward to the days myDad would take me to his office for a visit. I always felt so grown-up when I got to go. He worked for the railroad. Railroad folks are a pretty tight knit community. I learned the value of a firm handshake and a proper greeting. I was raised to say “please, thank you, yes sir, and no sir”. My elders were to betreated with politeness and respect. I remember meeting one of his bosses and him commenting on “how polite I was. A regular little man.”

Things have changed since then (and no I’m not just waxing nostalgic…). Social mores are different today. Words like ‘please’ or ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ are heard less and less. ‘You’re welcome’ has been replaced by ‘no problem’ (I still have difficulty with that one, especially from service providers – you took my money – no problem…). What hasn’t changed is the need for kindness and common courtesy.

Exercising common courtesy is so much easier when I see a ‘person’ instead of their position. I guess having been in their shoes it’s easier to reallysee them. I know that’s not everyone’s experience. Yet, when I see a person, Isee one of God’s kids, just like me, most of the time. It’s much easier to treat a person the way I want to be treated, than it is a when I see a server, a store clerk, or some guy who doesn’t look like me.

 I’m not perfect at it. There are some folks who are downrightunpleasant. It takes a lot of work and patience just to be polite. My friend Edgar reminds me that I can’t always be unconditionally loving, but I can always be unconditionally kind.

 Another thing I’ve learned about living by the old ‘GoldenRule’ is that reciprocity doesn’t always apply. It really doesn’t matter what you do. It matters what I do.  

I felt the ‘thank you’ I received from the lady at the gas station was heartfelt. Kindness made her day better. Kindness made my day better. I filled the tank and drove off with a big smile. The funny thing is, I was kinder to friends and family as the evening progressed. I wonder if her later customers benefitted in the same way. I’d like to think so.

The takeaway from all of this is that I seem to get as much from simple politeness as the person on the receiving end. Sometimes more so.

This holiday season remember that the crabby sales clerk or servermay have been on his or her feet all day. The holidays bring their own set of circumstances to us all. Maybe, they had a long line of irritating customers. Maybe it’s just a bad day all the way around. Life isn’t always sunshine and rainbows for any of us. Maybe, just maybe, your ‘please’, thank you’, and courtesy changes the trajectory of their day.

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Can a Tomato Change the World?

Thoughts From the Porch: I need to get a little personal here. I have an issue that’s close to the heart and after this week, I’m driven to share it with you. I haven’t spent much time on the porch. The early blast of Arctic weather has limited my time there. It must’ve delivered some silent signal to our trees last night. They seemed to release all their leaves at once. Except for the few bold ‘hangers-on’, the yard, sidewalk, and most of the porch is covered in dead and dying leaves.

My tomato and pepper plants succumbed to the freeze. I knew it was coming. The cycle of the seasons is inevitable. I know the time will always come to say goodbye to homegrown tomatoes for the winter. I had hoped we’d somehow escape the unusually early frost. It’s always difficult to say goodbye to tasty, fresh tomatoes, even if it’s only temporary.

I spent this last couple of weeks working on grant applications for Opal’s Farm. Everything met with our Director’s approval and I’m submitting them this morning. I haven’t written grants in many years, so there’s more than a little fear there. Did I do it right? What if they don’t come through? What if, what if, what if…

I want to do well: for the farm and as a writer. I guess I’ll find out how well I did when the grants are awarded.

I’d like to be offering a grand update on our progress, but the wet Fall weather has slowed tilling and bed preparation to a crawl. There’s still much to be done in this holiday (and giving) season. November 27th is the Global Day of Giving. I hope that you’ll keep Opal’s Farm in mind if such days are more convenient for you. Please remember though, donations aren’t contingent on special ‘giving days’, they are accepted 24/7, 365 days a year!

Professionally, I write strong appeal letters for non-profit organizations. Opal’s Farm is intensely personal to me and far more than just another job. For those of you who don’t know about the farm, our Mission Statement is:

Opal’s Farm restores hope and vitality to neglected communities through an agricultural intervention and education.”

Personal experience has taught me that ‘playing in the dirt’ has the power to change lives and communities and provide solutions to problems far beyond food deserts and food scarcity. If that were all it did it would be a noble undertaking, but it’s much bigger than that.

Several years ago, I was working on a community garden in a local westside neighborhood for B.U.R.N. Ministries. Some of the young men who were in the youth program came to help one day when harvesting had begun. One of the young men asked me what “those are” as I was picking tomatoes. The question kind of took me back. I just assumed everyone knew what they were.

You see, he had grown up in an urban food desert. Most of his diet had consisted of processed foods from the local dollar and convenience stores. He had no idea what fresh produce looked like!

I pulled a tomato off the vine, wiped it off, handed it to him, and invited him to try it. He was reluctant at first. He took a small bite. I watched as his face went from a turned-up nose to a beaming smile. “That’s really good”, he said as he devoured the rest of the tomato. “Can I have another one?”

I’m not saying that one tomato is going to change the world. But I couldn’t help but notice how it changed his face and his perception. It was like shining a light in to a dark place. Once he ‘saw’ the opportunity in front of him he was able to taste the goodness of God’s world. I’d like to think it provided more than simply a great taste sensation. I’d like to think it provided hope.

That’s why Opal’s Farm is so important: to people, to the community, and to the next generation. A simple tomato has the power to change everything. That’s why I’m so passionate about a couple of acres and some wonderful produce.

I could go on and on. Educating people, feeding folks, and empowering individuals for stewardship and the opportunity to leave things a little better than they found it leaves me humbled and in awe of God’s creation.

As a professional writer, I’m supposed to craft my words carefully and ask you to be a financial partner with Opal’s Farm. I’d love for you to be a ‘farmer’, right alongside us whether it be with financial support or digging in the dirt. Moreover, I’m not too proud to beg. My wife always reminds me, “A closed mouth doesn’t get fed”. This is a golden opportunity to make a difference; to do something tangible. Right here. Right now.

So, I implore you to join us! You can reach us at:

 

Opal’s Farm

C/O Unity Unlimited, Inc.

2119 Harrison Avenue

Fort Worth, TX 76110

 

Or contact us through my website:  www.gregoryjoel.com

On the “Contact Form” below

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Telemarketers, Plumbers, and Nazis

Thoughts From the Porch: I have a great deal of respect for people who perform dirty jobs. Last month our plumbing backed up. It was a simple fix. The back-flow valve and broken and stopped up the drain. The difficult part of the solution involved the raw sewage that needed to be drained to fix the valve. I can stomach a lot of things, but raw sewage isn’t one of them. Fortunately, we had a plumber friend who helped fixed it in no time. I have no complaints about their hourly rate. Plumbers are paid well for a reason: dealing with ugly, and disturbingly aromatic drainage issue.

business close up energy equipment
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I truly respect people who perform jobs they’d rather not have to do. My friend told me that he’d rather be doing something else, but plumbing had provided a good living for he and his daughter. I know how he feels. I’ve worked jobs I didn’t like because I need to keep a roof over my family’s head and provide food on the table. A lot of people do. Willingness to do what it takes is an admirable trait.

My dad used to tell me that it didn’t matter what I did for a living. Work hard. Try to be the best at whatever job I had. Wise words from a man who grew up during the Great Depression. He understood the value and importance of work. All work was honorable, and one should be grateful to have it. He also grew up prior to the age of telemarketing…

As phone technology advanced from party lines to individual land lines, the telephone became a great marketing tool for business. Telemarketers scheduled their calls around when people would be at home, so they usually called during family dinners (and yes, there was a time when the whole family sat down to dinner…) or when one was in the middle of something. Telemarketers developed a unique knack for interrupting and being a general pain in the you-know-what.

Now that we have cellphones, they can be annoying anytime. One company representing USA Auto Care and some savings club, calls my cellphone at least six times a day. I’ve even counted ten calls from the same company! I’ve tried to block their calls, but they are able to call from different numbers each time. So, I answer the phone, hear the same mispronunciation of my name, and the beginning of the same annoying script. I try to refrain from questioning the caller’s maternal lineage, but I’m not always successful.

In fact, they called again this morning during my ‘porch’ time. I‘ve begun plotting some form of revenge. I’m convinced that even Jesus would have a hard time loving a telemarketer. I told my wife I should get an airhorn to sound of in response to the telemarketers. Her reply was “they are just doing their job”. Isn’t that the same defense used by the Nazis at the Nuremberg trials…

As a freelance writer and a business owner, I know that cold calling is a necessary evil. Telemarketing companies wouldn’t exist if it didn’t turn a profit. Someone out there is staying on the line, right? It’s a numbers game.

I know to that I offer a service and a solution to my client’s problems. I only hope that I’m more sensitive to my prospect’s needs when I cold call.

I’ve gotten it together a bit more since this morning. I’m not getting an airhorn. I wouldn’t like it if someone did that to me. Telemarketers don’t compare to Hitler’s SS, even if they are “just doing their job”. They’ll call again. That’s just what they do. I’ll reply with a firm, “not interested, thank you” and hang up.