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The Trifecta

I celebrate fifteen years clean today, it’s World AIDS Day, and it falls on Giving Tuesday this year. The stars aligned to grant a day of lightness at the end of a onerous year. I hit the Trifecta! My Advent meditation yesterday was about the intersections in life – those places we encounter strangers, friends, family, and most importantly, God. I am deeply grateful for the intersections in life that brought me to this day.

Today’s meditation was about choices; especially how we choose to see the world. Fifteen years ago, I had a moment of clarity in the darkness around me. I had a choice – stay in the darkness or venture out into the light. The world (or at least my perception of it) has changed dramatically since then.

I’m not foolish enough to say, “Look what I did!”. I didn’t do squat. My previous intersections with people should have left me where I was. Yet, it was those same people who surrounded me with love until I could fully realize the gift of grace – theirs and God’s…

People familiar with the disease of addiction know what I’m talking about. Those that aren’t can’t appreciate the value of “a new set of glasses”. There are times I share my recovery epiphanies only to have people look at me and silently say, “Duh”. It took me a long time to become aware, to grow up. I just hope and pray that everyone appreciates the depth of God’s grace. I hope that your “grace moment” was gentler than mine.

Addiction has consequences. Mine was AIDS. The bad choices I made became physically evident on April 17, 2006. I was devasted and extremely fearful. Today is different. I’ve chosen to be public about my status despite the stigma that still exists. Secrets die in the light. I always find it ironic that my clean date fell on World AIDS Day.

It’s become more of a chronic disease rather than the death sentence I believed to be initially. My wife tells me we are a “magnet couple” – she’s negative and I’m positive. However, UNAIDS reports that globally, almost a million people died from AIDS-related illness in 2019. Moreover, there were as many as 220 million new AIDS infections in 2019. Those number get lost with the current coronavirus pandemic and lowered fear of the disease culturally. It hasn’t gone away folks!

I get to celebrate Giving Tuesday today as well. Fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t have even heard of “Giving” Tuesday. I knew about “taking” and that certainly wasn’t limited to one day a week. Today I understand the importance and true value of giving. That doesn’t simply mean money (although I’m going to ask you to donate to Unity Unlimited. Inc. and Opal’s Farm in a bit!). It means being present and serving our community and one another.

I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by people who believe in service to their community. They’ve shown me the joy that comes from being a servant and helped me experience it myself. I am incredibly fortunate to work at Opal’s Farm and practice servanthood each day. What we do – the produce we grow, the food we provide – is serving our local community and helping end food insecurity one vegetable at a time.

We can’t do it alone. We depend on the help of our community to expand and grow and serve even more folks. That’s where “the ask” comes in! Please celebrate Giving Tuesday and this Holiday season by giving a gift to Unity Unlimited, Inc. Cash donations are not the only way to give and to serve. Maybe it’s your time and energy (we LOVE our volunteers!) at the farm our with Unity’s other programs (Secret Santa is upon us y’all!) and Juneteenth. Maybe it’s just coming by the farm to say hello or purchase our tasty, healthy produce. Whatever you can do is truly appreciated – on this Giving Tuesday!

Please go to www.unityunlimited.org.

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“Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” – Nelson Mandela

“If life knocks you down nine times you get up ten”, Edgar would always tell me. The greatest compliment I’ve ever received was “there’s no quit in him”. Despite failures (and there have been many!) I’ve kept pressing forward. Thank you to all those who stand up again. You’ve shown me what persistence means.

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Chevrolet Heaven

Thoughts From the Porch: Sometimes I wonder if my memories of childhood are mine or they were my father’s. His recall of the past was beyond my understanding. Heck, I find it difficult to remember what I had for breakfast a couple of hours ago, but Dad – he remembered everything. On more than one occasion I’d wish his recall didn’t work so well. Embarrassment is one emotion I’d rather not deal with.

I sat on the porch this morning, drinking my coffee, watching the rain fall, and letting my mind wander across my memory landscape. It always seems cloudy the farther back I walk. The mental pictures become blurred and I don’t know if the memory is real or a story my father told me. They must be real. Dad would never had lied to me about anything. Still, everything in my experience seems just out of reach.

The one thing I’m sure is real is the green pickup truck my father had. The picture is crystal clear. It was a ’52 Chevrolet Apache, hunter green with high sideboards my father had made and put on. He had a second job delivering a Sunday paper called “The Shopper” and the sideboards were to hold all the newspapers. The papers would come off the press around two o’clock in the morning on Sunday. He’d fill the truck bed with papers and two assistants and off they go to throw the paper on their assigned route.

I was almost always asleep when Dad went to work so I don’t recall his absence, I remember the truck. I loved that truck. It always seemed to me that the truck didn’t belong in the city. It belonged on a farm – a big farm with wide, open meadows, horses, cows, and chickens – the kind my uncles and cousins had.

Suddenly remembering that truck this morning seemed so random, but little in life is random. Experience has shown that there’s usually some pattern, some order to life that can only be understood in hindsight. To quote Soren Kirkegaard, “Life can only be understood looking backward, but it must be lived forwards.”

I miss Dad. He passed away in 2002. Eighteen years later I find myself thinking of him regularly. It’s happy thoughts most days – he was quite special – but sometimes it’s a deep sadness that he’s no longer here. Today is one of those days.

When Dad passed, my life was total chaos – in and out of jail, unemployment, and degradation. It was a downhill slide for the next three years, until I hit bottom. I hurt my father in so many ways. He only wanted the very best for me and it was gut-wrenching to watch his son self-destruct. I know. I hurt when my kids hurt. Call it co-dependent if you’d like. I call it parenting…

Life changed for me on December 1st, 2005, and with it came the sadness that Dad wasn’t here to see it. He, above all people, deserved to see the change. I would give anything to hear his embarrassing and oft repeated stories one more time. I’d give anything to have him enjoy the peace that life offers today.

Thinking about that truck doesn’t seem so random anymore. It was always meant to be on a farm. Today I know Dad and I would be driving down to Opal’s Farm, working side by side, and telling stories. We’d laugh together and maybe he’d sing one of his silly songs. The dogs would be piled in the back. It’d be a gorgeous Spring morning. Life would be how it was meant to be.

It’s funny that old green Chevrolet shows a glimpse of the promised “new heaven and a new earth”. Sadness has turned to joy today thinking about that truck and Dad. I’m pretty sure he’s got her gassed up and ready. We’ll hop in and take for a spin around the farm. Life how it’s meant to be…

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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.”