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This Year I Resolve to… Oh, Never Mind…

Thoughts From the Porch

New Year’s Eve is usually a big party. I prefer to save celebration for New Year’s Day itself. Maybe I’m simply getting older, but I tend to leave the New Year’s Eve celebrations to younger folks. I don’t do the big crowds and the midnight countdowns anymore. Besides, it’ll be 2020 when I wake up right?

I greet the New Year with a group of great men who get together for an annual 8:00 AM breakfast meeting. Later, I get to enjoy some home cooking at Ms. Opal’s house with a multitude of friends. I can’t think of a better way to start the New Year.

The breakfast was great. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to participate in the lunch portion of the day. We opted for an emergency room visit instead. Margaret was getting out of the car at Ms. Opal’s and turned the wrong way causing a loud click and immediate swelling on the leg still healing from October’s break.

Prior to running off to the ER we were able to eat a bowl of black-eyed peas. I’m not sure any medical emergency supersedes eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. They must’ve brought good luck right away. The ER visit found only a sprain rather than a break (the whole “good news, bad news” thing). Please keep Margaret in your thoughts and prayers. Sprains are still painful…

An aside… Did you know that sprains involve ligaments while strains involve muscles? I never knew that… Anyway…

New Year’s Day always felt like the opportunity for a “do-over”. Each year I would resolve to change the negative thoughts and behaviors of the past year. I’d quit smoking, I’d make better use of my time, I’d start going to the gym, etc. You know the routine. January 1st was a restart date, a reinvention of myself. In my younger days, my resolutions would last at least a couple of weeks. Later, they were lucky to last until lunch.

I’m not big on resolutions anymore. I’m not saying I’ve given up or life changes don’t need to be made. I still set goals – targets to aim for. I’ve also learned I tend set some goals as if I still had a twenty-somethings body instead of an older slower version of myself. Although I find that, more often than not, I set my targets far too low. About the time I think I’ve achieved my goal God steps in and reminds me how short-sighted I can be.

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I’m reminded of a story my friend Edgar passed on to me many years ago. There was a man who died and went to heaven. Saint Peter was conducting the new arrival’s orientation and showing all the great things there were to see. It truly was heavenly. Towards the end of the tour, the man noticed a fenced in lot containing all kinds of fancy cars, yachts, and expensive ‘toys’.

“What’s that over there?” he asked.

Saint Peter looked where he was pointing. “Oh, that. That’s God’s junkyard”.

“Junkyard! What do mean? That stuff is incredible”.

Saint Peter shrugged nonchalantly. “That’s just unused junk. It’s stuff people prayed for and didn’t want.”

“Didn’t want?” the man asked incredulously. “Who wouldn’t want things like that?”

Saint Peter pointed to a beautiful Mercedes Benz sedan. “See that. That one was yours, but you didn’t want it”.

“What do you mean I didn’t want it? I would’ve loved it”.

Saint Peter smiled and said, “Do you remember back in 1982, when you had just started a new job after being unemployed for so long. The unemployment checks had run out and they were going to turn off your utilities when you found that job, but then our car blew up after just a couple of weeks. You thought you’d lose the new job since you had no way to get there. It was looking awfully hopeless”.

“Yea. I remember that. I sure didn’t get a Mercedes though”.

“Well, that was the car God picked out to replace it until you prayed “even a ’73 Pinto is okay if I can get to work…”

I think of that story every time I begin to pray for specifics or start thinking I know what’s best for me: the goals I’ve set; resolutions I’ve made.

Instead of making resolutions this year I’m going to let go of my small-minded thinking and allow God to take me where He wants me to be.

 “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart”. (Psalm 37.4)

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"God's Spirit is on me…"

Sunrise was pretty awesome this morning. The wisps of clouds reflected incredibly bright orange streaks against the budding blue sky. Maybe it’s simply because it’s Christmas, but everything seemed brighter and full of joyful praise for creation. God seemed to call everything to celebrate His presence, His son…

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I want to wish each of you a fantastic, joyful Christmas Day. On this day that many in the world celebrate the birth of our Savior, please remember that the Christ-child was to be called “Emmanuel”, God with us”.

I found this prayer today. I thought I’d share it with you in a year of uncertainty and division.

A prayer for peace on this Christmas Day

Let us pray for the world in which the
Prince of Peace took flesh
and form, saying,
Hear us, O God; your mercy is great.

We give you thanks, Holy One,
for the light that has come into the
darkness of our world,
for the truth illuminated,
for the pathway that has opened,
for the rejoicing of your people.
Hear us, O God; your mercy is great.

We give you thanks for the feet of those
who bring good news, friendship, comfort,
food, shelter, and medicine for healing.
Hear us, O God; your mercy is great.

We give you thanks for the church of Christ Jesus
and for all people of faith
whose attention to the way of peace
tears down walls that keep us apart.
Hear us, O God; your mercy is great.

We give you thanks for this country
and for every nation where wisdom reigns,
where leaders work for the well-being of the poor,
so that no one is hungry or homeless,
and every child is valued and nourished.
Hear us, O God; your mercy is great.

We pray for the knowledge and courage
to be good stewards of all that you have given us:
ourselves, our neighbors, the strangers among us,
the oceans and rivers, the air and soil,
creatures large and small,
that we may continue to be blessed with health and life.
Hear us, O God; your mercy is great.

We pray for those whose flesh is harmed
by poverty, sickness, and cruelty of any kind,
that the Word-made-flesh may so fill your world
with the power to heal that all people
would be made strong and whole.
Hear us, O God; your mercy is great.

We commend all these things to you
and offer our thanksgiving,
trusting that what we have left unsaid,
your holy wisdom can unearth;
in the name of the One who came among us
in the power of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Amen.

– Adapted from: David L. Bartlett, Barbara Brown Taylor & Kimberly Bracken Long. Feasting on the Word Advent Companion: A Thematic Resource for Preaching and Worship (p. 125). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

Emmanuel has come. Let us celebrate…

God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of Good News to the poor,

Sent me to announce pardon to the prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind

To set the burdened and battered free,

to announce, this God’s year to act.”

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Sorrow and a Few Regrets?

Thoughts From the Porch

Winter officially arrived at 10:19 Saturday night. That must be why it’s not cold enough to freeze but still a wet cold that pierces the skin and settles in the bones. Such is winter in North Texas. I’ve been here all, but seventeen years, of my life and I’m still not used to it. At least it’s warming up for the rest of Christmas week…

A box with Christmas floral arrangements arrived the other day. My sister in Georgia sent them. She asked me to place them at the cemetery for Mom and Dad. My sister is far better at remembering things like that than I am. It’s not that special days aren’t special. It’s usually because I’m so forgetful. I never seem to think of birthdays and holidays until the day before or the day of. If I’m totally honest then I must admit sometimes the day passes and it doesn’t dawn on me until two or three days later. I’d love to blame it on my past neurological issues. The reality is that I’ve always been that way with holidays.

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I go to the cemetery regularly. Sometimes it’s just a quiet place to pray and meditate, but mostly I go to talk to Mom and Dad. I’m quite sure they hear me loud and clear although their place in time and space limits my ability to hear them. I can only settle for memories of conversations long past.

I took the flowers to the cemetery. I went to place them in the vase above the headstone only to find the vase broken again. It had cracked once before and I guess I need a different epoxy glue for the marble marker. There were two arrangements, one for Mom, one for Dad. It didn’t seem right to only acknowledge their markers. After all, it’s a family plot. I certainly couldn’t overlook Grandmother, so I placed the two arrangements at opposite sides of the family headstone and stepped back to check the placement. Now everyone was honored…

I wished them each a Merry Christmas and tried to leave but I could not. I felt the tears well up and erupt in a sudden explosion of grief. Honestly, I was a bit shaken by it all. It’s been seventeen years since Dad passed and seven years of Christmas without Mom. My sister moved her to Georgia five years before her death since she required more care than I could offer here at home. At least I had some time to ease into the holidays without either of my parents.

“All my life’s a circle, sunrise and sundown…” – Harry Chapin

The cycle of life goes on. Birth, life, death. Rinse and repeat, right? It is what it is. We all die and experience the death of those close to us. I’m generally in acceptance of the whole affair. Grieving is something we all do. I still think about my parents on almost a daily basis, but it’s usually happy memories and I’m at peace. I guess that’s why I felt so blindsided by the sadness that poured over me. I simply wasn’t expecting it. Grief has a way of doing that…

When Mom passed in 2017, I walked through the grieving process with the help of family and friends. The strong relationship with God, forged by recovery, afforded me that opportunity. Mom got to watch the miracle of my recovery unfold in her later years. Staring at the headstones for the rest of those in our family plot, I realized no one else could say that (except for Uncle Bynam, who died at Anzio in World War Two – born at the end of the “War to end all wars” and died in the next one – the irony isn’t lost on me, but that’s another story for another time…). Sorrow and regret washed over me.

My life, for the most part, is free of regrets. Acceptance and a relationship with a loving God helped me deal with the demons of the past; especially those of my own creation…). Life doesn’t allow “do-overs” and I’m okay with that. I made amends where I could, accepted those I couldn’t, and received and gave forgiveness to others and myself to the best of my ability. Most days, I live in the present and the future is bright. It is what it is…

Standing there in front of the family plot reminded me of what I do regret, what I wish could have been different. I wish with all my heart my Dad, not to mention my uncles and Grandmother, could see me today. My faith says they do, but it’s not quite the same as having them physically here.

Contrary to popular belief, “time doesn’t heal all wounds”. It merely closes them up, scars over, and aches from time to time It’s like my knee surgeries. I’ve recovered from the injury, but they still hurt from time to time. Grief will come at unexpected times and with no expiration date stamped on it.

When it does it’s often accompanied by regret, but my perspective has changed. Instead of the old “if only” inner dialogue, I’m reminded I can’t correct the past, but I can change my future: a future I’m pleased to live out under the gaze of those I love.

I stood there until the tears subsided. I said my goodbyes and wished those I love a Merry Christmas. I would’ve wished them a Happy New Year as well, but I’m convinced that has little meaning for them now. God’s time is measured differently.

As I turned to leave, the wind, which had been absent a moment before, blew fiercely through the surrounding trees. The Tibetan Book of the Dead says that when a great a soul dies the winds blow mightily. It happened on the night of my father’s death and every time I’ve visited the cemetery since. I like to think it’s his way of saying, “I’m proud of you, Son. Keep doing what you’re doing”. The tears began again. This time they were tears of gratitude and joy…

“That’s why we can be so sure that every detail of our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” Romans 8.28

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Time to Celebrate

Thoughts From the Porch

I came home from my Sunday morning meeting and spent a long time lost in thought. Today is a special day of celebration in my life: probably more important than all the other holidays combined. I reflected on the friends who made it all possible. I cannot begin to come close to expressing my love and appreciation for them. You see, fourteen years ago I surrendered to God’s infinite grace and began an incredible, mystical journey with these people. Life began again. Dreams became. Miracles happened. In fact, I’ve come to depend on them. I’m living proof. I celebrate fourteen years free from the bonds of addiction, selfishness and self-obsession.

I don’t often speak of my recovery on social media. For most of my life I’ve been an example of what NOT to do. I wouldn’t want anyone to judge the recovery process by my actions. I chose a program of recovery that taught me how to rely on the God of my understanding to break the cycle of addiction, to correct my oft repeated shortcomings, and be of use to others. It has worked for me for a while now.

It gave me a relationship with God that grows more intimate each day. It offered me a new set of glasses through which I see the world as God would have me see His creation (most of the time at least). Where there only existed failure, depression, and endless desperation before, my life is filled with light and infinite possibility. I never dreamt that life could be this way. I know what joy and freedom are today. I’m recovering the life God intended for daily. Pretty damned amazing if you ask me…

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I thought of my friend and mentor, Jim, who walked alongside me throughout much of the journey. He followed an eternal path almost two years ago. Not a day goes by that his voice doesn’t speak to me, either in my head or through my friends. One friend in particular, Edgar, frequently quotes “Jimisms”. He always seems to know when they’re truly needed.

I thought about my brother Craig who opened his home when I needed it most. I spent five years sitting in his woodshop, sharing coffee, prayer, and spirit. No man is more blessed than me. I always wanted a brother. I had to wait fifty years to get one!

Perhaps most of, I thought about the woman in the next room who shares life with me; the woman that God (and recovery) gave me. Most of you know my wife Margaret. Most of you know Margaret broke her leg a few weeks ago. It’s been non-weight bearing and will be for several more weeks. It has been my honor and privilege to be her legs these last few weeks; to bring coffee, to help her to the chair, and push her wheelchair. Recovery taught me what it means to love someone else, to be in a relationship with God and the love of my life. It made it easy to exchange vows and really mean it. She is the light of my life and brings me joy on this walk together.

Blessed more than I deserve

I would be remiss if I failed to tell you how important each of you are in my life. I once told my friend Rusty that I could finally count my true friends on more than one hand. He told me I was blessed: most people can’t say that. From a life of isolation and loneliness I been brought into a life that almost feels too full at times. I somehow make room for it though. When I don’t God helps me make it bigger.

Above all, I know all is grace. I don’t deserve any of the blessings I enjoy today. I’m unbelievably thankful I didn’t get what I deserve – clean or using. What I received was an endless supply of love and grace instead. As my brother Craig reminds me, “God is especially fond of me” (and you, too!).

One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received is waking up each day to a new and bright world full of hope and possibilities no matter what the newspaper (does anybody still read those?) may say. I get to “live creatively” as the Apostle Paul would say.

Thank you for being a part of this wonderful journey…

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Sacred, not Cheap…

“When I use the word spiritual, I am not contradistinguishing it from the material. I have little patience with any philosophy or religion that seeks to transcend the material realm. Indeed, the separation of the spiritual from the material is instrumental in our heinous treatment of the material world. So when I speak of meeting our spiritual needs, it is not to keep cranking out the cheap, generic, planet-killing stuff while we meditate, pray, and prattle on about angels, spirit, and God. It is to treat relationship, circulation, and material life itself as sacred. Because they are.” – Charles Eisenstein

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Brain Worms

Thoughts From the Porch:

Do you ever get brain worms? You know, those pesky little musical ditties that play over and over in your head. No matter what you’re doing the song or musical rift won’t go away. In fact, the more you try to think of something else the more persistent the song becomes. Sometimes they’re simply the last song you hear on the radio and other times it comes out of nowhere. Sometimes they come from the most unlikely sources.

Let me explain…

After an early freeze it’s been a string of beautiful Fall days here in North Texas. The sun was bright, trees have turned to true Fall colors, and the birds celebrate the morning in song. The coffee was fuller in flavor and I relished in the November morning in shorts and a t-shirt. Truly a blessed morning…

I was reading about Jesus’ first recorded miracle at a marriage feast in Cana: turning the water into wine. About halfway through I started humming a Kevin Fowler song, “The Lord Loves a Drinking Man”. Honestly, it isn’t the most spiritual thing to pop up during my prayer and meditation time. Click on the link and you’ll see what I mean.

Jesus turned the water to wine and “any man who can do that is a good friend of mine”. Yep…

Changing Water into Wine

John’s retelling of the miracle at Cana offers a brief glimpse into his kingdom. He says time and time again the kingdom of God is like a wedding feast and the Jews in Palestine knew how to throw a wedding feast. Family and friends came together from all over the region. The finest food was prepared, and the best wine was brought out first. The party was going to go on for a while so serve the best wine first and “after the guests have had their fill bring in the cheap stuff.” John 2.10 (The Message).

It was a big deal. Scholars say their wedding parties lasted for days. I got a taste of this when I was a groomsman in an Irish Catholic wedding. The reception was in the Coors Brewery Workers Union Hall if that offers you a clue. They prefer Irish whiskey to wine and that’s probably a story for another time, but I digress…

I’d like to think that God’s kingdom is a big celebration. The idea of sitting around singing angelic hymns for eternity sounds a bit boring. God’s kingdom is one of love, joy, and a heck-u-va party. I can’t think of anything better to celebrate.

Wine into Water

Ironically, for people like me Jesus seemed to have worked His miracle in reverse. He changed the wine into water. For me this is the most amazing miracle of all. Trapped in a swirling whirlpool of cheap wine (among other things) and total self-obsession, He lifted me to a life I never dreamed possible. He invited me into the feast (an analogy He uses often). I know longer settle for scraps of life. I have a seat at Abba’s table: and what a party it is.

I can only imagine that if this party is so good now, then how much more so will the big feast be?

I’m unbelievably thrilled and amazed at just how much He loved this drinking (among other things!) man. I’m happy His miracles aren’t contingent on my false piety and spiritual correctness; that His love is unconditional. He always works the right miracle whether it’s wine into water, or water into wine. Whatever you’re drinking, come on in and join the feast…

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