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Thanks Dad…

Today would have been my dad’s 96th birthday. I found my biological father earlier this year and learned from his obituary that he died on January 16th, 2021. Hmm. One man was the most loving, selfless man I’ve ever known. The other didn’t even know I existed. I haven’t even tried to contact the half-sister I apparently have in southeast Texas. I think it’s better that way. Besides, I have a whole new family to get to know up in Kentucky.

I miss Dad this morning (my real or “adopted” father for clarification). When he retired from the railroad (early retirement at 57 and 40 years of service!) he stayed home for a couple of months and found retirement lacking many of the things he loved (Plus Mom couldn’t stand having him around the house all day). People for one, work another. So, he went to work for another ten years for a local developer and construction company.

He agreed to go back to work with the understanding that he would take a month off every January into February to work the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo (FWSSR). He and one of his oldest friends, Jesse, worked security at the vendor’s and exhibitor’s gate. They’d go to work the week before the show started and work twelve hours a day, seven days a week, and for minimum wage, until the stock show was over. For one month he was no longer a Human Resources professional for a big firm in East Fort Worth – he was the guy in the Stetson hat that greeted you at the entrance.

Dad loved the Stock Show. It was a constant stream of people in and out and he knew them all. He used to bring huge amounts of food from the bakers, caterers, and food vendors for the show. I don’t think Mom had to go to the grocery store for a month! We never celebrated his birthday until the show was over, but he never minded. He was always the happiest working the FWSSR.

The FWSSR or “the Stock Show” as it’s more commonly called, began in 1896. The Southwest Exposition and Livestock Show (formal name) is longest running stock show in the country. It’s always been a big deal here in Fort Worth. I know few Fort Worth natives that haven’t been to the FWSSR. If attendance records are any indicator, even the new transplants to Fort Worth come in droves. I’m not sure if Dad would’ve liked that. He was the man who had one bumper sticker his entire life and it read: “If you love New York take I-30 East”. He was a bit “Texophobic”…

When I was young, the Stock Show was the highlight of the year. The Fort Worth schools even gave a day off for students to attend. We went every year to tour the livestock barns (especially the horses), the exhibit halls, and the show arenas. Dad would get us tickets to the Saturday matinee rodeo. Paradise was three weeks long on an annual basis. Attending the Stock Show was one of my first (and happiest) memories.

 My Grandmother was a seamstress for “The Army Store” downtown (they sold army surplus and work clothes – I could wander the store for hours!). Her boss, Mr. Wimberly, owned champion Appaloosa Horses he both would show and race. His top show horse, Rustler Bill, pulled in awards from the stock show (and nationally I might add) every year. He was a beautiful horse and I wanted more than anything to ride him.

My father and I walked to the horse barns to look for Mr. Wimberly. I stared at this incredible stallion ignoring the conversation between Dad and Mr. Wimberly. My trance was broken by Mr. Wimberly. “Do you want to ride him son?” If I had died that moment, I would have died the happiest kid on Earth. I almost yelled “of course” and he helped me up onto the horse’s back. Handing me the reins, he said to walk him around the barn. I walked him slow so I could stay on him longer.

from the Rustler Bill website

It’s been fifty-plus years since that day. I continued to make the FWSSR every year until the boys grew bigger. They weren’t interested in the cows, horse, and other livestock anymore. They’d grown out of it they said (My oldest son worked training cutting horses for a few years though). I took the grandkids several times, but they too, have lost interest as they’ve grown.

As for me, Opal’s Farm and family keep me busy. I never seem to have the time. I don’t do large crowds well anymore, especially during the pandemic. I thought about going this afternoon It’s tradition after all, but I’d rather have my memories than current experience. It’s just not the same if Dad’s not there…

A bit of Irony…

I mentioned learning of my biological father this past summer. According to the information and the obituary I found, he was quite the cowboy. He coached a local high school rodeo team in steer wrestling and team roping. He was a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Gold Card member, Original Team Roping Association, and the Texas Rodeo Association. The irony of his passing on January 16th isn’t lost on me. Could it be genetics…

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What Are Your Four Words?

It’s a cold, windy morning here in Cowtown. The “feels like” temperature won’t get out of the low twenties but by Tuesday we’ll be back in the seventies. The rollercoaster continues…

A friend posted a word puzzle on social media that said the first four words you saw were going to be your mantra for the new year. I’m the perpetual skeptic when it comes to things like this, but I looked anyway. I must say I’m pleased with the words I found. The order was:

The first one was love. I can’t think of a better way to begin the mantra. I strive to love better each day, but I fall woefully short sometimes. Fortunately, I have tremendous role models, mentors, and friends who help me along the way. My wife, Margaret, is my main role model. Her patience and acceptance of others is wondrous. Then there’s Ms. Opal. Maybe when I get to her age, I can love others as she does, but I have a feeling it’s something she’s been doing for a lifetime.

The second word was peace. Our home is a place of peace. We prayed over our home since we bought it eight years ago. We wanted our home to be a place where the spirit of peace abides for us and our friends. We live a predominantly drama-free life. We have our moments, but they are few and far between. I’m infinitely grateful God has blessed us with his peace.

I’m in dire need of having peace as part of my mantra when it comes to looking beyond our home. There is division and strife everywhere I turn these days. I sometime think of the words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”. It’s as simple as that, but it’s certainly not easy. I think of Jesus’ teaching, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God”. I pray that I become a peacemaker – not a peacemaker: one who exercises power over others to simply maintain order or someone who gives on everything just keep the peace.

Peacemaking is an arduous task and that brings me the mantra’s third word – strength. It’s not physical strength I need (although I might say different at the end of a long day at Opal’s Farm…), but spiritual strength to be the man God made me to be. Honestly, there are some days when my strength is completely absent and then I find the strength to do the next thing in front of me. I became acutely aware of this when my son died in 2020. God held me up then and still holds me up in many ways today I need strong emotional shoulders for others to better serve them. I need strength of character to be there for others and, to be a peacemaker.

The final word of the mantra was change. I had to think about this one for a while. Change is so difficult for folks to deal with. There was a time in my life I was sure nothing was going to change – but that had more to do with my fear, addiction, and depression – that life was a problem with no solution. I’ve learned differently since then.  

I know longer fear change (most of the time), but welcome it. My walk with God encourages me to grow, to change, and to be the special, unique man God made me to be. I look back over a lifetime and the only constant has been change – some good, some bad – but always know that the God of my understanding has walked me through each one. He always has my back, so I don’t have to fear. Maybe that’s why “Be not afraid” is mentioned so many times in the Bible…

I also pray to be an agent of change – to be part of the world around me no matter how big or small that world may be. I have a quote from Mother Theresa at the bottom of each of the emails I send, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then just feed one”. I may not be able to do for the hundred, but I can be the agent for change for one person. I may never know that I was, but each of our actions has influence and consequences. You just never know how you can change the trajectory of someone’s life.

The mantra now made complete sense. If I walk in peace, rely on God’s strength, and be an agent of change, then I will automatically love better.

“But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.” 1 Corinthians 13.13 (The Message Bible)

Photo by Shamia Casiano on Pexels.com
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Quitting Smoking, Grief, and Christmas

I finally rained here in Fort Worth. I’m not sure how much. It’s still dark outside but the weather folks are calling for light rain and possibly sleet throughout the morning (it is forecasted to be eighty degrees by Thursday…), so I thought I’d take advantage of the stillness and wet weather to catch up on “Thoughts From the Porch”.

I haven’t shared many thoughts from the porch lately. I haven’t been on the porch to do much thinking. I quit smoking two weeks ago (two whole weeks so far!) and the porch is a trigger for me. I guess I shouldn’t be overly concerned. Everything is a trigger these days – being alone at the farm, volunteers who still smoke, my kid who is recently out of college for Christmas break, the grief that seems overwhelming this time of year…

Jeremy was my Christmas present in 1982. His death and the absence of the grandkids since Thanksgiving leaves me bereft of Christmas spirit. Climbing in the attic to get Christmas decorations is the last thing I want to do, but my wife loves Christmas and I’ll do it for her later today. Doing for others makes the pain a little easier to bear.

The triangle could always be found in his artwork – Baillie, Lucas, and Simone (Iza)

The morning weather report was followed by a news story about opioid overdose deaths this past year. It’s become the leading cause of death for people eighteen to forty-five – more than suicides, COVID deaths, and car crashes – almost 79,000 in the past year. The statistics seem overwhelming and abstract. My son was one of the statistics. He’s one of the 79,000 other faces behind each of those numbers.

I’ve shared much about my son over the last year-and-a-half, but this is the first time I’ve talked of his cause of death. I simply haven’t been able to talk about it. His friends and family have known all along and I’m sure those in the art world of which he was a part have their suspicions if they didn’t know it for a fact. His art was often a reflection of his struggle with addiction – both his and mine. I still wonder how things would be different if he hadn’t grown up with an addict parent. I still wish I could trade places with him.

It wasn’t always that way. Jeremy became a recovering addict shortly after I did in 2005. He stayed clean for six years and became a respected member of the local recovery community. He had two more children and his oldest lived with him during a difficult time for her mother and grandmother. He worked fulltime and found time to paint and create. Still, there was always the underlying fear that his art would suffer without the drugs to fuel his creativity. Seeing the art he created proved that to be an unrealistic fear.

Life showed up -work, kids, parenting, bills – all the things everyone lives with. Time spent with others in recovery became short. He gradually and unintentionally moved farther and farther away from the recovery community and the support that held his addiction in check.

I won’t go into all the details. This isn’t about war stories or moralizing a disease. Addiction can cover up the heart of the addict and Jeremy’s heart was never defined by addiction. We had many “f*** you fights” over the last couple of years before his death – addiction wreaks havoc among families – but they were always followed by moments of kindness and love. That was my son.

I often wonder if he knew what lie ahead. In the last few months of his life, he struggled to make amends and heal relationships with so many family members and friends. In our last phone call, he asked if we could make a recovery meeting the following week.

I’m sitting here this morning and my heart hurts. Grief is a bitch. It comes unannounced whenever it wants and usually at the most inconvenient time possible. I never asked to join this club of parents, sons, daughters, husbands and wives, and the hundreds of friends and family left with the emptiness in their souls – a deep, aching, grief that never goes away. That’s something statistics don’t measure. They may tell of the deceased, but they never measure the sorrow and brokenness that’s left behind.

I wish I had more hopeful words to share this morning. There are so many things I’m truly grateful for. We’re about to celebrate the greatest blessing of all – Immanuel “God with us”. Still, loss is overwhelming, and we’ll celebrate the second Christmas without Jeremy. Please remember that 79,000 other families with face Christmas without the one they love. Keep us in your prayers and be kind to one another…

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Kentucky is our Neighbor…

Fridays and Saturdays are the two busiest days of the week. There’s produce to be harvested, washed, and packaged on Friday for Cowtown Farmers Market on Saturday morning. I rarely make it through the ten o’clock news without drifting off to sleep (that is if I’m lucky enough to be finished by then). I don’t often get to keep up on news happenings until Sunday night…

That changed this weekend. I had left my phone on the desk while I was at Market (which I’m prone to do a lot lately). I saw a text from my sister Dana in Georgia asking if my family in Kentucky was okay given the tornado that hit Friday evening. What the…?

It was then I learned of the massive tornado that had hit the Midwest, much of it through Kentucky. I checked my newsfeed and saw the pictures and the over two-hundred-mile path of destruction through south central Kentucky. I called Momma immediately.

She told me everyone was okay. That most of the devastation was north of them. Flint Ridge, our family farm, had suffered some broken windows and roof damage. I let go a sigh of relief, still horrified by the devastation and loss of life.

She called back a short time later to update me on what new information she had learned. Momma and my brother Danny huddled in the hallway for two hours after the sirens went off. My brother-in-law had left his work trucks at a new home they were working on. The home and the truck were both destroyed. There was quite a bit of damage around Russellville, but Adam’s truck (and job) and the smaller damage at the farm were the only losses suffered by my family. Still, it had destroyed the lives and property of so many in the area.

I watched the news later. The devastation was catastrophic. Governor Beshears had declared a state of emergency and the loss of life trumped the scenes of mayhem on the news. Sitting here some seven-hundred-miles away I felt the pain of loss and helplessness for all those folks so far away. My heart was heavy. I said a prayer of thanks for my family and a prayer of lament for those whose lives had been destroyed.

I had planned this morning as a time to update you all on my Kentucky Thanksgiving. Somehow it doesn’t seem appropriate to do so today. Please pray for Kentucky this morning. The death toll from Friday night’s storm is forecasted to rise. There is never a good time for such things to happen, but I can’t imagine a worse time – the pain that comes from such a tragedy at Christmas. It will take years to recover from the loss.

It’s times like this that remind us of the importance of community – of building the common good. The outpouring of assistance coming from not just Kentuckians but from around the country reminds me that community still exists. It’s unfortunate that tragedy often must be the reminder.

Please keep everyone affected in your prayers. Hold your family a little closer. Take time to love them better. We don’t know what tomorrow brings…

Severe Weather Kentucky
The candle factory in Mayfield, Kentucky following Friday’s tornado