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What Can I Do?

“If you choose, you can end homelessness. If you choose, we can end hunger. If you choose, everybody can have healthcare…We are traveling around from community to community to build up that will. We don’t want to just shout into the darkness. We want to birth some light.”
— Reverend Liz Theoharis

It all begins with a decision. What will I do today to bring the light?

Choose wisely…

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You Give Us Freedom to Grow

This is a bit of “Thoughts From the Porch” and “Down on the Farm” combined so please bear with me. I haven’t written much over the last couple of weeks. Quite honestly, I haven’t wanted to. When I do, the words don’t come. I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by circumstances.

Most of you know that my wife, Margaret, spent a couple of weeks in ICU last month. The good news is that she’s well on her way to recovery from the issue that landed her there. However, less than a week after she got home, she had to return to the hospital once again.

We were going out to enjoy our evening on the porch. Maggie, our “Coyotahoula”, saw a chance to romp in the front yard and zipped out the door in a flash, knocking Margaret over as she flew by. Unfortunately, Margaret fell one direction and her leg went the opposite way resulting in a broken leg.

Maggie “I’m so sorry!”

Margaret always excels in everything she does. The break was no exception. Apparently, a break in the tibial plateau accounts for less than one percent of all breaks. Probably because people don’t typically survive skydiving accidents, falls from high buildings, or high impact car crashes. She really exceeded expectations. I wish she wasn’t such an over-achiever…

Margaret spent a week in the hospital followed by a couple of weeks in a rehab facility. She comes home today. She’ll have to stay off her leg for a minimum of 12 weeks so making our home more handicap accessible has eaten up writing (and if truth be known, brain) time.

This has been an insanely stressful time for us. Between the hospital stuff, the Fall activity at the Farm, and extreme financial difficulties I’ve leaned on our friends and family more than ever. Part of me wants to apologize. The other part simply wants to say thank you over and over and let everyone know what a blessing it is to be part of such a wonderful “village”. While money is usually in short supply, we are wealthier than most because of the people that fill our lives.

That’s why this is difficult to write. Opal’s Farm has wrapped up it’s first growing season. The Fall planting is done, and harvesting has started. Many great things are in the works – experimental cover crops, building new beds and rebuilding old ones, improvements to the irrigation system. However, the farm needs your help more than ever at this immensely important time.

As of today, Opal’s Farm has one acre under cultivation. The farm generated almost two tons of locally grown fresh produce in our first season. We’ve been able to donate to area foodbanks, set up a farm stand in local neighborhoods, and sell at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market. I hope this doesn’t sound like bragging, but we started with virtually nothing but an idea. Cash flow was nonexistent, and we moved forward in faith that if we “build it, they will come”. It’s been our own little “Field of Dreams” and come they did.

The turnips and radishes are almost ready…

None of this would’ve happened if it weren’t for the Tarrant Regional Water District. They believed in Ms. Opal’s dream and granted Unity Unlimited, Inc. the acreage for an urban farm. They have walked with us each step of the way and been incredible supporters. From the Board of Directors to the landscape crews,; everyone has been incredible. There’s no way to say thank you enough.

Several more fantastic sponsors quickly came along beside us. Container King (our very first supporter! Thanks Paula!), the White Settlement Home Depot store (we love you Natasha and Jeff!), Zimmerer Kubota (you’re awesome Brandon Hendrickson!), the Alta Mesa Wal-Mart (I’m still sorting seed packs Anthony), the Marty Leonard and Rainwater Foundations – and of course, Charlie Blaylock of Shines Farmstand (anyone who is familiar with urban agriculture and the Tarrant Food Policy Council knows how invaluable Charlie is to us al)l. Nothing could’ve started had it not been for the seed money (no pun intended), the tractors, the container (our barn), the tools and supplies necessary to begin operation of Opal’s Farm.

Along the way there have been many volunteers who have lightened my workload and enabled me to move forward with our mission of fighting food insecurity and easing access to healthy, nutritious produce in Tarrant County. Dr. David Aftandilian’s Food Justice class at TCU helped us through Spring with some amazing interns, our volunteers from Taste Project, Grow Southeast, Blue Zones Project, and all the individuals who wanted to simply make a difference made the summer harvest and Fall planting possible. I can’t forget our first (and hardest working) volunteer and “co-manager”, Brendan O’Connell. I hope your first semester at Cornell is going great my friend.

“Something out of nothing” is how God has blessed Opal’s Farm. The credit goes to each and every one of you who became farmers alongside us. We are so unbelievably grateful for you all. That’s why I feel a bit guilty to ask you for more.

While we have had amazing support provide seed, tools, supplies, and labor over the Spring and Summer we’ve had a precarious cash position since the beginning. We knew this would be an issue. It is for most non-profits and especially for start-up programs. Please allow me to be a bit personal here…

When I joined Unity Unlimited last year, Margaret and I spent time in prayer and meditation about the job of Farm Manager. We knew finances would be tight, we’d be dependent on donations and the uncertainty that comes with them, but we knew that this is where I, or rather we, were supposed to be. We made the decision to step out of our comfort zone, knowing that God has never let us down and that serving our community was exactly what God called us to do.

For the last year, salary as the Farm Manager has been erratic at best. Cash donations are always needed and appreciated, but never more so than right now. Our personal financial position has never been more precarious. Our business finances must grow if the farm is to do likewise.

We firmly believe in the mission of Opal’s Farm and trust that God will provide but I also know that a “closed mouth never gets fed”. That’s why I’m being a bit personal about our struggles, both business and personal.

Business, especially farming, requires planning for the coming growing season. Consistent donations make this possible; especially as we expand our production area to the full acreage available. Moreover, improved soil health – the addition of soil amendments and organic fertilizers – mean increased yields per acre. In turn, more people are fed, the retail side grows, and the farm becomes economically sustainable. Reaching that point requires an initial capital investment that requires cash flow as well as the great in-kind donations we’ve received from our sponsors.

Personally, your donation goes to make sure Opal’s Farm grows as well as pays myself and our future employees. Margaret and I would certainly be eternally grateful. We are fiercely committed to the success of Opal’s Farm and ending food insecurity in our community. We can’t do it without your support. We know this is a “we” project.

I’m asking you today to please help as we enter this season of giving. Your Opal’s Farm stays right here in Fort Worth. Whether $25 or $2500, each dollar goes to your neighbors, to your community. It’s never been more urgent to help Opal’s Farm

 Please go to www.unityunlimited.org today and click on the Opal’s Farm page to donate today.

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Thank You, Thank You, Thank You…

Thoughts From the Porch: I’m told the best way to blog is to post something regularly and preferably, on a scheduled basis. Unfortunately, I’ve failed to live up to that standard this month. I was looking back over my July posts and realized this is only my third one so far.

Opal’s Farm is booming. Fall planting is underway and we’ve been blessed by all the volunteers helping us harvest and get our irrigation going. Our Saturday sales at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market seem to increase each week we’re there. We’re in the process of looking at a new partnership with a couple of local restaurants and non-profits that will serve a broader community. Things are moving in the right direction.

Unfortunately, the flurry of activity at Opal’s Farm has limited my writing time. I still have my moments on the porch; my quiet time with God and my beautiful wife. Porch time sets the tone for the rest of the day. It’s as necessary to well-being as food and water are to physical life. Quiet time in the morning refreshes my body, my mind, and most of all, my spirit. I’m better able to greet the day’s business with gratitude and grace.

Most days there’s no time for writing on in the morning unless it’s business. I come back from the farm with every intention to sit down and write, but evenings have their own struggles – fix dinner, do dishes, respond to messages and emails. On top of that there’s the long day in the Texas heat. Some evenings I forget dinner, drop the work clothes, and lay down in front of the air conditioner until the next morning. If you work outdoors in Texas, then you know what I mean.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t have much to say this morning. One of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, says that her prayers fall into two simple categories – “Help me, help me, help me” or “Thank you, thank you, thank you”. I get it. Lately my prayers have been of the “thank you, thank you, thank you” variety. I have little to say other than thank you. If I were to make a list of all I’m grateful for it would fill a legal pad and then some. I shan’t bore you, gentle reader, with my list…

Most days, as of late, are filled with quiet gratitude for the grace I’ve been given. I can’t believe I get to live the life I live today. I get to do the very things which were the desire of my heart all along. I work with amazing people working toward a godly, incredible mission. I spend my days “playing in the dirt”: a constant reminder of stewardship and Jesus’ parables. When I come home at night, I enjoy time with my wife and drift off into a solid sleep, ready to “rinse and repeat” another day.

I could go on and on, but I won’t. I simply needed to touch base with you all before heading to the farm for another day. Have a super Friday and a wonderful weekend! See you soon…

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Happy Belated 4th of July

I wish all my friends a very, very happy 4th of July, albeit belated. This has been an unbelievably hectic week despite the holiday. Between harvest at Opals Farm, working on a new client’s project, and accompanying my oldest son the another 5k race, I haven’t had much time to write down my “thoughts from the porch”. I haven’t given up my porch time though. Prayer and meditation are essential to healthy work and play…

Margaret and I have five grown children between us. We decided from day one that we wouldn’t have stepchildren, only “our” children. Margaret and I didn’t date long before we married so she had never met my oldest son until our wedding day. When they finally met, Adrian introduced himself with, “Hi, I’m Adrian”, to which Margaret replied, Hi, I’m your stepmom”…

Adrian and Jeremy are the oldest of the five. Margaret loves to remind me her three are younger because, after all, she’s still in her fifties and I’m, well, not. We may consider them all our kids, but I have to admit, I beam a little brighter when one of “my” boys have their moments of special achievement or success. In no way does this diminish the achievements of the other three. I’ve simply had a longer and closer relationship with my boys. We’ve shared the ups and downs that came with our tiny family unit (I was a single dad) and I’ve rejoiced even more so in their success as was far from the perfect father growing up.

On Thursday, I met my oldest, Adrian, and rode with him to Dallas to watch him run in the “5 for the Fourth” 5k race. Notice I said watch. I’m not sure my old knees can partake in such endeavors. They might handle a bicycle race but definitely not pounding the downtown Dallas pavement. Besides, my 5k was simply leaving the house before 6 AM and leaving Texas to go to Dallas…

Almost to the Finish Line…

The only reason I mention any of this is because of the amazing things God is doing in my son’s life. I’m a very proud father and want to brag on my son. You see, Adrian and I haven’t been able to spend a lot of time together until several weeks ago. He was constantly working and rarely had time to hang out. We talked every week or so, but time together was beyond few and in between. Like it or not, that’s how it was.

That began to change a two or three months ago. Adrian was dealing with an extremely uncomfortable situation in his life. I won’t go into detail but I had been there at one point as well. While I don’t wish that on anyone, especially my son, I’ve come to see it as another of God’s lavish gifts. I began to spend more time with Adrian. I began to see how God moves in his life and what a good man he is. I’ve always known that, but there was something special, something spiritual in nature, shining a light on God’s grace for all of us.

My son has always had a relationship with God, and for that I’m grateful. Yet, watching it grow into a daily walk with Jesus has been one of the pleasures in life that only a parent can fully appreciate. Moreover, work, while still important, has taken a back seat to matters of the heart and spiritual growth. I guess that’s one reason I get up early on a holiday to watch him run. His running successes are outward reflection of his inward growth. I’m awed and, quite frankly, bursting with pride. That’s my boy!

After a long hiatus from competition of the physical kind, he started running again. I’ve shared with you his first 5K and his first Spartan race. When he finished Thursday’s race he had shaved 5 minutes off his previous time. To a longtime runner this may not be a big deal; but to someone who only started running on a daily basis a few weeks ago this might as well be a gold medal!

Am I bragging? Yes, I am; and no, I won’t apologize for it. Am I living a bit vicariously through his success! More than likely, but I think all parents do as our children grow older. God allows those of us fortunate enough to be parents to revel in our children’s glory, even when our (or at least my) parenting skills were less than stellar. If we’re lucky, we not only get to brag but become closer to them, and filled with pride and joy at the grown-ups they’ve become…

That’s MY boy!

*** In no way do I wish to overlook the success of Adrian’s younger brother and my son Jeremy. So here’s an unashamedly plug for him – Jeremy, is a emerging artist in the art scene. He both curates shows and has his own exhibitions. In fact, for those of you here in North Texas, his next exhibition will be on July 12th at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center!

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Thistles and Wheat…

Thoughts From the Porch: I was just looking back over the last three or four weeks and noted that I haven’t posted much this month. I’ve tried to keep everyone updated on Opal’s Farm, but I spend far more time at the farm and less time at the desk (or on the porch). June is an incredibly busy month for everyone at Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm. The Juneteenth celebrations and programs, harvesting our Spring crops, and preparing for Fall planting keep us hopping. It has been a fantastic, yet tiring, month.

We’ve been blessed here in North Texas with below average temperatures and abnormally late rainfall. The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting rainfall into July, which is extremely rare on the southern plains. We haven’t even had a one hundred plus degree day yet (I’m knocking on my old oak desk as you read this). It’s still hot (this is Texas), but the farm is doing well. We had our first public sale to the neighborhood last Sunday. We hope to be at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market tomorrow (we’ll keep you posted!).

I was weeding the watermelon and cantaloupe rows yesterday and had to be somewhat gentle in my approach to some tall weeds. Tall weeds, especially the Johnson grass, are the inevitable consequence or good rainfall. Still, I’ll gladly trade tall weeds for abundant amounts of rain.

If you’re familiar with melon vines you know they put out small tendrils that grab onto anything in their path. The vines were tangled among many of the weeds making it impossible to remove one without damaging the other. I decided to let vines go crazy through the weeds rather than damage the growing melons.

It reminded me of a story Jesus told of a farmer who planted good seed in his field only to discover someone snuck in during the night and planted thistles among his wheat. The farmhands wondered how to resolve this dilemma. The head farmer told them to leave it alone. If they tried to remove the thistles, they’d pull up the wheat as well. “Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvester to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn” (Matthew 13. 29-30, The Message).

Jesus said God’s kingdom is like that. The good (wheat, or in my case, melons) are often intertwined with the bad (the thistles and Johnson grass). Sometimes I simply accept that my field, and my life, are filled with both good and bad things, but the end always results in a harvest. If I don’t try to have my way (I don’t like weeds, nor do I wish the discomfort of the negative things in life) it seems the harvest is always bountiful. Opal’s Farm is a reminder that watermelons and cantaloupes always win out over thistles and Johnson grass. I just have to take gentle care of the field…

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Spartans and Teamwork

Thoughts from the Porch: Summer is officially here. The summer equinox is in the rear-view mirror. The days will grow shorter though no one will notice (or care) for the next three months. While we normally experience summer drought, this year has kept the rains coming into June. We had another huge thunderstorm last night. It’s the third Sunday in a row for North Texas. I am eternally grateful for the rain as we’re still working on irrigation for the farm. I could do without the straight-line winds though. I’ll be clearing out tree limbs for the next couple of hours…

I had the privilege of attending my first Spartan race this Saturday at AT&T Stadium (Home of the Dallas Cowboys or “Jerryworld” as it’s known locally). I didn’t realize what a big deal a Spartan race is. The fact they were holding it at the stadium should’ve been a clue. There were folks from all over the country racing Saturday. The first competitors started early in the morning and they were still starting racers when I left at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon.

The Second Obstacle – makes me dizzy thinking about it…

My oldest son, Adrian, started running and working out regularly again. Last month he ran his first 5K in twenty years and finished first in his age group. I was proud of him and quite impressed! Saturday he was more concerned about simply finishing and helping other team members than where he placed in the race. I’m far more impressed by his heart than I am by his race time.

Over the first wall…

He formed a team with several other guys that shared the same race coach for the day. Although they hadn’t meet each other before the race, they bonded as a team and helped one another through a grueling race and obstacle course. One of the team members struggled and fell farther behind than the others. Finally, the rest of the team had to press forward, leaving him behind with the team coach. The other members went on to complete the course.

Finished the First One!

Adrian crossed the finish line and we celebrated together. Then he returned to the field to join the rest of his team look for the one runner still on the course. When he entered the field from the punishing run up and down the stairs at AT&T Stadium his team members were there to cheer him on.

Then an amazing thing happened…

The other team members joined him on the course to complete the final obstacles alongside him. It may not seem like a big deal, but understand, these guys had already completed the course. They were tired and sore. Most importantly, they didn’t have to do it. They ran through the remaining three obstacles and crossed the finish line together – as a team!

None of these guys had met before Saturday. The only thing they had in common was the Spartan coach they’d each paid extra for. Still, they became a real team. They were there for each other; the perfect example of sportsmanship.

Running and racing is generally thought of as an individual, not a team, sport. Adrian and his fellows reminded me one more time of the importance of teamwork. No one is left behind and forgotten simply because “I” finished. It’s about finishing together and relying on each other. I truly am my brother’s keeper and not just at a Spartan race…

I will remember Adrian’s example more than I’ll ever remember his race time. Thank you, Son for the reminder of what’s truly important. Individual accomplishments are great, but team accomplishments, what we do together as a community, mean the most. I’m proud of you, Son!