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What’s the Difference Between “Us” and “Them” (Part One)

Before I proceed with today’s post I want to wish my bride a very Happy Anniversary! I am one of the most blessed men in the world. When I was single, I didn’t think life could get much better. I was happy and content. My life was full, it was good, but it changed for the better on March 2nd, 2013. I love you, Margaret!

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This morning I’m awaiting what hopefully will be the last hard freeze of the winter. I’m enjoying the forty-degree weather in anticipation of the arrival of our Arctic neighbor sometime this evening with its accompanying wind chills in single digits. It looks like coveralls and wool hats are the proper attire for the next couple of days.

I try to stay away from my newsfeed on the weekend. It’s often difficult given my news addiction. I’ve tried to practice moderation in viewing such things, but I always look despite my best efforts. I feel like the rubber-neckers on the freeway when there’s an especially bad accident. I just have to look.

My friend Jim used to tell me that, “when you get hit by a train it’s not the caboose that kills you”. My newsfeeds a bit like that train. Usually it’s one of those positive stories like people being kind toward strangers or animals that draws me in and then BAM! I’m confronted with the chaos that makes up the news. After all, I live in Trump’s America. Enough said.

What really puzzles me is that, first, he actually won the election and two, that some people actually believe him. It got me thinking about human nature and an interview I heard the other day about animal consciousness and self-awareness. You’re probably wondering how we got here from news addiction, but stick with me…

I’ve often pondered what separates humans from the rest of the animal kingdom. I’ve heard all the theories – free will, self-awareness, etc. – and seen them cast aside by new evidence. Now I’m no expert or scientist, but I often wonder if the main difference is that humans can believe a lie, especially one about themselves. Hear me out here…

It began at the dawn in human history, at least that what the creation story tells us. It seems that God, the great cosmic artist, was extra busy one week (at least in His concept of time) and started creating this thing called a universe. There were stars and galaxies, planets and moons, and all kinds of beauty in the heavens. The cherubim and seraphim oohed and aahed at the artistry, but He wasn’t done yet.

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He picked one particular planet (that we know of anyway) to make oceans and mountains, savannahs and thick forests, all kinds of unique plants and animals. The angelic hosts were astounded by the majesty of the blue whales, the brilliance of the reef fish, and cunning of the sea otters. They laughed at the giraffes and the platypus and wondered what lit this creative fire in the Big Guy. After a few days of sculpting God announced that the grand finale would be tomorrow, and He wouldn’t disappoint.

The dawn of the sixth day broke. All the heavenly host gathered round. A hush fell over the crowd as God reached down and grabbed a handful of dirt. He spit on the mound of dirt and slowly began shaping and turning the wet pile. After some time, He closed his hand, cleared his throat, and addressed the assembly.

 “Can I have your attention please? I decided to create a creature in our image, one to love and take care of the rest of creation, and I’d like you all to help him out. Can you do that?”. Heads nodded in agreement and the anticipation was overwhelming.

God slowly opened His hand. “Behold, Homo Sapiens”!

A collective gasp resounded through the crowd. Some of the less reverent Cheribum snickered, wondering if this was another of the Boss’ jokes. Everywhere else there was stunned silence. The Archangel Gabriel leaned over to his cohort Michael and whispered, “He must’ve been working too hard. What was He thinking? This thing is next to worthless. Look at it, it doesn’t have claws or fangs and it obviously can’t run fast with just two legs. How will it survive out there?”

Even Jesus was heard to remark, “I don’t get it but if Dad asked me to die for them I would”.

Now I’m no theologian, but I think it’s at this point Satan turned in his keys to the executive heavenly washroom and stormed off mumbling “I’d rather be a snake in the grass than help those things out”. More on that later…

God leaned back on his heavenly throne and pronounced His creation was finished and it was good, not perfect, but good.

Fast forward a bit and God decides it isn’t good for His man Adam to be alone, so He knocks him out, takes a rib, and forms a woman for him to hang out with. Then He puts them in a garden, so they have a great place to live and all their needs are met.

Now if I’m Adam, I have it pretty good. I get to frolic around naked with this gorgeous woman called Eve and hang out with God in the evenings. There’s no such thing as shame or guilt. I can pretty much do anything I want to except eat off this one tree. Talk about paradise…

Everything is going long fine. Adam’s off doing whatever Adam did back then. Eve’s lounging in the shade when a snake slithers up and strikes up a conversation. Now a talking snake might have set of warning lights for most folks, but Eve didn’t think anything about it.

“S-s-s-o Eve, how do you like the garden?”, the serpent asked.

“This place is pure heaven”, she replied. “Every day is a new adventure.”

“I-m s-s-s-sure it is”, he hissed. “Well, I best be on my way”.

“Wait, snake. Are you hungry? Want to join me in a little snack?”

“What are we having?”, he asked as he turned back toward Eve.

“I don’t know. There’s so much to choose from. What’s your favorite?”

“How about some of that fruit there?” he asked excitedly.

“Oh, not that one. God said we can eat anything except fruit from that tree”, Eve replied innocently.

“I’m not s-s-s-surprised”, said the serpent. “It’s just like God to keep you away from that one. He doesn’t want any competition”.

“Competition. What do you mean?” Eve was puzzled.

“It’s obvious isn’t it? That fruit will make you like God. No wonder he made it off limits. Oh well, I got to go”, and he slithered off into the underbrush.

Eve pondered his words and a frown came on her face and an irritability she hadn’t experienced before. She wasn’t happy and it probably had something with being told no. She looked at the fruit and turned to look for Adam. She was overcome with desire and indecision.

Please understand I’m not here to expound on ‘original sin’, assign blame to Eve, or any of that stuff, but I have a pretty good idea what happened next. Adam came back and wondered why Eve looked so different. He wasn’t sure what to think, but he somehow knew he had to fix it. Men have been trying to ‘fix’ things ever since.

To make a long story short, they discussed what the snake had said and made a decision to “just take a bite” and see what happened. Man has been trying to be “God” all through history.

I don’t know which was worse – eating the forbidden fruit or believing they could become like gods. In either case, the results are the same: paradise is lost, living in the real world is often difficult, and the human possess the ability to believe in something that just isn’t true. I’m just saying…

(Part Two tomorrow)

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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
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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.