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“Us” and “Them”: Part Three – The Wright Brothers Were Wrong

Thoughts from the Porch: It’s frigging cold! I huddled over the trusty old desk in a long-sleeved shirt, hoodie, and the space heater turned on high as close as I can get it without burning myself. Did I ever mention my office is the coldest room in the house?

Our home was built in the 1960s. Back then, builders in North Texas weren’t concerned with energy efficiency and insulation. Since Margaret and I moved in we’ve made improvements slowly as the money has come. Rare cold days like today put a strain on the heater and thus my office is simply damn cold. Anyway, the rant is over. On to other things…

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Experience has taught me to look for the positive in every situation, albeit hard at times. It’s usually easier after the fact. I may be wrong, but I believe it was Steve Jobs who said something to the effect that “life is meant to be lived forward but can only be understood looking backward”.

There are times when our ability to believe a lie is a positive thing. My wife has dealt with back issues and chronic pain for most of her life. She’s had many surgeries and some post-operative infections over the years. The doctors have often given little hope of keeping her out of a wheelchair and are always surprised when we walk into a new appointment. Her philosophy through out her lifetime has been “don’t tell me what I can’t do”.

Doctors base their truth on the evidence at hand. We tend to call it an opinion rather than a truth, but it’s an opinion based on facts. The facts indicate Margaret should not be ambulatory, but don’t tell her that. She doesn’t believe it. She pushes through and is still, albeit with a cane, walking today. Her refusal to accept the facts lead her to live a better life and she’s not alone.

Whether you believe man left a garden, or the African savannah doesn’t really matter. Either way, I can imagine those early humans sitting around the tribal campfire after a long day of hunting and gathering. Autumn has set in. There’s a chill in the night air. As they laugh and chat about their day, a flight of geese heading south for the winter passes overhead.

One of the guys looks up and says, “I wish I could fly south and get away from this winter. Maybe I can find a way to do just that”. His other buddies crack up with laughter and tell him how goofy he is. He becomes the object of ridicule. After all, man doesn’t have wings and can’t fly like a bird, right?

Fast forward many centuries to the Renaissance. Leonardo Da Vinci is busy drawing a flying machine. Man is still thinking of ways to “head south for the winter”, to fly like bird. If you fast forward to a hill at Kitty Hawk in 1903 and the Wright Brothers finally the first airplane flight. Just a few decades later and we’re walking on the moon. Go figure…

Now the truth is man can’t fly. No matter how fast one runs across the meadow flapping man-made wings, they fail miserably. I know. I tried it, but that was back in the seventies and involved hallucinogens which is another story all together. The fact, the truth, is that man can’t fly.

Before you deem me simple of mind take a moment to think about it. Have you ever known a man to fly? I haven’t but I have seen man create new and better airplanes and forms of flying machines. They fly; sometimes without a human pilot aboard. I know it’s all semantics, right? Still, I’m thankful old Wilbur and Orville believed in the lie that man could fly. Because of their belief in a lie, I can hope a jet for Jamaica in the winter (which I really wish I were able to do today…), soak up the sun, and take a dip in tropical waters. You see, there’s something positive in everything.

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By now you’re probably asking what this has to do with “Us” and “Them”. The truth is humans were created to live in community, to live life together, and what’s inside each of us is inside all of us. This sounds so cliché, so trite, but it’s the truth. The truth is there is no “them”, there’s just us.

My friend Edgar always said, “Show me how you act, and I’ll tell you what you believe”. If I believe the “Them” lie, I can justify all kinds of bad behavior toward others. My belief system is faulty. I believe a lie. Sometimes I think it’s easier to be a duck, but I’m not, so today I’ll try to be the best “Us” I can be and act accordingly.

What do you believe?

“Show me how you act and I’ll tell you what you believe…”

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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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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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Goodbye 2018…

Thoughts From the Porch: My body clock tends to get thrown of schedule when Christmas and New Year fall in the middle of the week. When I was in corporate America, I was always grateful for a holiday in the middle of the week. Now that I work from home, not so much. I’ve become a creature of habit. It takes days to get back on a regular schedule. I’m becoming my father…

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I wasn’t sure I should write this today. A “year in review” seems a little too cliché for me.. However, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks looking back and made some decisions about the coming year. It’s not about New Year’s resolutions mind you. I’ve paid for enough forgotten gym memberships and Blue Bell ice cream to know they’re pointless, no matter how well-intentioned. However, the post-Christmas, pre-New Year’s lull is the perfect opportunity to learn from the past, dive in to today, and look to the future. Year-long increments make it all easier to digest.

The past year hasn’t been the best of years as far as finances are concerned. Starting a new business in a field I’ve been away from for some time hasn’t been easy. There’s been a definite learning curve. I’m grateful for the ability to learn today.

There’s been some lean times where more month was left than money. Looking back, even those times afforded new opportunities for growth and trust in the God of my understanding. God has never let us down. I can say that without reservation! However, I tend to forget that when I’m in the middle of life’s difficulties. Forgetfulness causes a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety. Fortunately, I’m haven’t been as forgetful this year. I keep placing one foot in front of the other. Let the proverbial chips fall where they may…

Whatever difficulties may have presented themselves this past year, they fade in the light of God’s goodness to us. Many of you know about Unity Unlimited, Inc., Ms. Opal Lee, and Opal’s Farm. For me it was a dream come true. I’ve shared some of the events leading up to the farm. I see God’s hand all over it: one miracle after another. We ended the year by finalizing the Lease Agreement with the Tarrant Regional Water District and so it begins! You can learn more about Opal’s Farm by going to our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/unityunlimited or www.unityunlimited.org. Don’t forget that it’s the last day for a 2018 tax-deductible donation either…

I also want to take the opportunity to give a shout-out to the new friends this last year who have become a favorite part of my week – the members of the Fort Worth Development Group. I started looking for networking groups and I received so much more.  Thank you to Brenda Ryan and The Referral Resource Guide (https://thereferralresourceguide.com) for getting us all together.

I may not make New Year’s resolutions, but I plan on spending some time asking myself some of the same questions I ask my clients. I can easily get caught up in the minutiae of day-to-day work and lose sight of what’s important: to my family, my business, my clients, and myself. I encourage you to as well.

  • Who are you?
  • Who do you want to be?
  • How do you want people to see you?

I can’t think of a better time to ask these questions than at New Year’s. Knowing who, and most importantly, whose I am fills the coming year with joyous anticipation!

I also need to stop and say thank you to the WordPress community for making my first year with you all a blessing. I hope that you all have a blessed, prosperous, and Happy New Year!

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Build It and They Will Come…

Thoughts from the Porch: There is a line from the movie “Field of Dreams” that has become a mantra of sorts in my life. “Build it and they will come”. I’m not planning on building a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield, but I am part of building a farm in the middle of a city. While it’s not the same thing, a farm in the middle of a sprawling urban area makes as much sense as a baseball field in a corn patch.

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Kevin Costner’s character wondered why anyone would travel to a cornfield in the middle of Iowa to watch a baseball game. Investing in such a baseball field defied common sense. It meant using their acreage for cash crops and their life savings in a venture that seemed a failure from the start. But, they built anyway. The movie ends with traffic coming from all directions to the “Field of Dreams”.

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Success seemed unlikely, the future unsure. It made absolutely no ‘common’ sense, but our hero stepped out in faith and did “the next right thing”. God took care of the results and the results were amazing. Still, it too an action and a step into the unknown. It meant trading common sense for uncommon sense and doing it anyway because it was the right thing to do.

I was thinking about all of this when I returned from a budget meeting for Opal’s Farm. The good news is that the lease has been signed and everything is moving forward. The bad news is that we’re still well short of our initial start up needs. There are materials to be purchased, employees to be trained and paid, and time and money to meet those needs has suddenly grown shorter. Still, I keep hearing this still, quiet voice repeating, “Build it and they will come.”

I look back at all the events that have brought us to this point. Just like the baseball players in “Field of Dreams”, each of the right people have appeared at the right time to create Opal’s Farm. One by one we’ve partnered with the right people and organizations to take the right steps in building Opal’s Farm. Like the old baseball heroes in the movie, they’ve appeared at just the right time and just the right place. Organizations like Grow Southeast, Silver Creek Materials, the Tarrant Regional Water District, Charlie Blaylock with Shines Farmstand, and our County Extension office have stepped in one by one to lead and guide us toward our common mission.

My own involvement came about as a bit of a fluke. I found out about the farm through my son, Jeremy. He had talked to some people about an art collective project in another part of Fort Worth. They also expressed an interest in what was to become Opal’s Farm. I contacted them and though they soon stepped out of the project, I began attending Grow Southeast, a collaboration between a number of local farmers and organizations dedicated to bringing healthy food to Tarrant County. Through Grow Southeast, I contacted Ms. Opal and the process began.

Although an urban farm has long been a dream for both Ms. Opal and I, dreams require action to become reality. The time was right to step out in faith, to build it without the assurance that funds would be in place. I can’t tell you how many days I’ve felt like a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there. But everything has come together, and Opal’s Farm is moving forward.

Experience has taught me to step out of my comfort zone, to take chances knowing that I’m responsible for the action and leave the results up to a power far greater than me. “Build it and they will come”. Common sense becoming uncommon sense…

 The people are in place. The land is in place. Building starts now. With your help, we can build it one step at a time, doing ‘the next right thing”. leave the

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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