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Labor Day…

The air is thick with humidity this morning and ragweed season has begun. I’ll spend as much time on the porch as my allergies will allow, but it tends to be somewhat shorter in duration this time of year. It’s a little frustrating because Fall is absolutely my favorite time of year, and a perfect chance to enjoy the quiet of the porch. Spring is nice, everything coming back to life and all, but Fall beckons me to introspection and reflection on the past year. It begins slowly and reaches a crescendo by the Christmas holidays, just in time to look forward to the New Year.

Fall in North Texas may be different from others’ experience of the changing seasons. Fall officially begins on the autumnal equinox and occurs around September 22nd each year, although it may not feel like it until late October or November. Even then, it may only last a couple of days or weeks until the cold of Winter moves in. Now that the average temperature for each year seems to be one for the record books, the seasons can’t be forecast accurately anyway…

Fall, or at least the timing of it, brings a sense of urgency to living fully and enjoying the blessings in life on an even deeper level. Looking backwards, I can see missed opportunities and instead of regrets, I learn to be more vigilant. It’s easy to fall prey to tunnel vision and miss the doors that God has unlocked along the way, especially when it comes to family and friends. Fall brings clarity and renewed purpose to live life well.

I turned sixty a couple of weeks ago. It’s probably not as big a milestone as I’ve made it out to be, but it feels like it to me. Last year, I decided to step away from the contracting business, go back to school, and re-start my writing career. The last year hasn’t been easy, at least financially. Although I’ve stayed busy, starting a business is never easy. It takes a lot of grit, determination, and perseverance, especially for introverts like me. Although I’m far better at being social when business is involved, I still have difficulties, especially cold-calling and networking. Fortunately, most of my work is from home.

Most of stem from internal issues like believing I’m worthy. I’ve struggled with that for a very long time. I typically don’t like the word ‘self’ in front of things like esteem or worth. Not that healthy self-esteem or valuing one’s self is a bad thing, mind you. It’s just that I tend toward an inflated sense of self if I’m not careful. Holding myself in high regard tends to add the words ‘ish’ and centeredness after the hyphenated ‘self’. I begin to think of my own abilities rather than the gifts I’ve received from God. I forget where ego and pride have taken me in the past.

My friend Edgar often tells me that “I’m not a slow learner, I’m a fast forgetter”. I’ve always known I was reasonably intelligent. Given that it took so long to learn how valuable I am to God, I’d he nailed me down well. It’s easy to forget my successes are the direct result of plugging in to a far greater power than myself.

I may have issues when it comes to self-esteem, but I know without a doubt, that God sees me differently. When I remember who’s I am and how much He treasures me, I begin to accept myself for who I am a bit more and everything becomes easier. I treat myself a little better, forgive my failures a little more, and experience far less fear of the outside world. It didn’t happen overnight, but it’s sure gained speed as I progress further in life.

Remembering who I am makes me ‘right-sized’, as my dad used to say. I used to run from one extreme to the other: either I was the better than anyone else or I was a piece of crap. Today, I’m okay being human. I make mistakes, try to learn from them, and move on to the next thing in front of me. It also makes me far more capable of doing that both personally and professionally. I’m certainly not the best, but I do it well and perform in my own unique way.

When I was a child, my father used to tell me how special I was. I was adopted – a chosen baby. As I ventured out into the world I found out that no one else thought I was that special, and that proved to be a disappointment. I was well into my adult years before I knew what he meant. I was just like everyone else, but I was special to my father, whether it was my adopted father or my heavenly one…

So, as Fall approaches I have the opportunity for another season of introspection and reflection, not that it’s seasonal, mind you. My friend Jim (I really miss him…) always told me that’ “Self-examination, coupled with prayer and meditation, followed by vigorous action, produces favorable results”. I’ve learned just how right he was. I’m ready for Fall…

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Car Wash Economics

(You have the unedited version today! My ‘editor’ is out with another one of her friends today and I’m so happy she’s having a good time…)

I limited my time on the porch Saturday morning. Margaret’s friend, Mary, came over early after she got off work for the Friday overnight. They were going shopping at the upscale resale shops in Dallas to find a dress for Margaret to wear to our son’s wedding. It does my heart good to see her get out and about. Still, I wasn’t prepared for the high dose of estrogen in the conversation on the porch so at sought the solace of my office…

I love Saturday and Sunday mornings. I take time to catch up on the reading I missed during the week. The coffee always seems to taste just a wee bit better than on weekdays. The newsfeed has more ‘feel good’, human interest stories since it’s a slow news day. The mood is much more relaxed, and the hurry of the weekday work schedule is absent. The ‘To-Do’ list will get attention in due time. On the weekend things will either get done or they won’t, if you know what I mean…

Margaret managed to last all day and into the evening on Saturday. She was anxious to tell me of their adventures and believe me, ‘resale-ing’ is an adventure for her. I’m thankful for her friend Mary, and her patience in helping Margaret get around – getting the wheelchair in and out of the truck, previewing shops, wheeling her across rugged parking lots, and so forth. We are richly blessed by the people in our lives.

Margaret and I live simply. The quiet little cul-de-sac where we reside is peaceful. When we first bought our house, the westside of Fort Worth and the suburb was nowhere on our radar, but we’ve decided our house was a gift just waiting for us to move in. We’re not well-to-do, but we are rich in friends and family. We have issues like everyone else. They just don’t seem to be a big deal anymore. I’d like to think that we’re becoming wiser as we age, but I’m not sure that’s the case. It simply doesn’t require much to be happy.

Finances grew tighter after her back surgery three years ago. Going from two incomes to one hasn’t always been easy, but the money situation doesn’t stress us out like it used to. My friend Jim used to tell me that true happiness comes from ‘wanting what you have and not just having what you want’. We have a happy life, even when the shadier side of life rears its ugly head. Things and ‘stuff’ aren’t so important to us. If there’s any extravagance in our lifestyle it’s that we spend more than we should on eating out with our family and friends. I guess that’s why Margaret’s tale of yesterday’s adventures was so revealing about the life we live.

Apparently, they sought out some ‘upscale’ resale and consignment shops in North Dallas as the dress they were searching for was something between an evening gown or cocktail dress. Now I’m no stranger to classy occasions but I lean toward practicality. Our son, who wanted to buy a dress for Margaret, didn’t want her to have something used. She explained to him that there was no sense spending a small fortune for something that would only get worn a couple of times (we don’t get that fancy very often either…). A pretty dress is pretty whether you’re the first-time owner or the second. Still, when they ended up running into our son in Big D, they managed to find their way to a fancy, dress boutique. I won’t give all the details, but it was obvious some people live far more extravagantly than us. North Dallas is a different beast than what we’re used to…

Their shopping trip started me thinking about an experience with a friend of mine sometime back and how I look at the world around me. I was doing some work at his house and as I was finishing up, he asked if I would mind running his BMW to the car wash for him. Quite frankly, I was happy to, especially since I’m a truck kind of guy. I was extra careful driving to the car wash. When I arrived I asked for the wash package he wanted. I was shocked by the thirty-dollar price tag, but hey, I wasn’t paying for it. When they were finished, I said thanks and drove off. On the way back, it occurred to me that maybe I was supposed to tip the car wash guys.

I didn’t say anything about it until I got home and asked Margaret if I had been ‘one of those customers’, you know, the ones that don’t tip. I’ve been in the service industry. I’ve lived on tips.  I strive never to be ‘one of those guys’ and probably tip too much. I had to admit that in all my sixty years I’d never been to a car wash before. Margaret was amazed. Even though I was slightly embarrassed I kept thinking why would I pay somebody thirty bucks to do what I could do myself?

I get it though. Sometimes you pay for convenience. I’ve been there. I’ve been known to do the same on occasion. Even when I can afford to do so, I find myself feeling somewhat uneasy about paying for it. I’m not a tightwad by any means but if I feel a little irresponsible with our finances when I do so. I’ve thought a lot about why I feel this way and others don’t.

My friend with the sports car says it’s about a poverty mindset and how I look at money. He gave me a book called Money Drunk Money Sober by Julia Cameron and Mark Bryan. I was struck by many of the traits indicative of a ‘poverty drunk’. I was raised in an upper middle-class home by two parents who struggled and survived the Great Depression. Although I never went without, there was an attitude of scarcity pervading our home. The pantry was always stocked, and we never bought anything that wasn’t on sale (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), but there was a constant ‘what if’ in the air. I guess that’s why I chased the big money for so long in my career. According to Cameron and Bryan, this is also characteristic of poverty addicts.

Looking back, I was driven by the idea of fear and scarcity. I lived waiting for the proverbial ‘other shoe to drop’. If my upbringing started it, the constant media bombardment added some rocket fuel to the mix. The message that I wouldn’t be good enough unless I had this or that new car, house, or thing-a-ma-jig was constant. No wonder I always wanted more – more money, more ‘stuff’ – and if I didn’t have those things, I could always dull the pain of inadequacy with either chemicals or self-righteous judgement of others (a form of manufactured saintliness and feigned higher moral values). Old patterns are hard to break.

I’m grateful that my self-worth is no longer contingent on my acquisition of wealth. I don’t find any virtue in poverty either. I’ve been with and without money. Believe me, I’d rather have it – it buys convenience – than not have it, but I’ve learned to be happy either way (most of the time). I still struggle with undervaluing my work and have difficulty asking customers for money that I worked for. As much as I’d like to think it’s because I’m introverted and socially awkward, the reality is my much deeper fight for self-worth. Some of you know exactly what I mean…

The more I pondered this idea of poverty drunkenness and addiction, the deeper I had to go inside myself. Did I believe I was more spiritual or virtuous if I had less stuff than others? It isn’t more virtuous or spiritual to be poor than it is to be wealthy. Money and what it can buy may be society’s metric for success, but it is based on the idea of scarcity – there just isn’t enough to go around. There’s always going to be the ‘haves and have not’s’? That’s only true if economics is based on the law of scarcity. When the basis for my economics changed, my metrics changed.

The deeper and more intimate my relationship with God has become, the more my perception of scarcity began to change. Looking back over the years, God has always taken care of me, 100% of the time, despite my efforts to do otherwise. Slowly, I’ve moved from a position of worry and ‘what ifs’ to a place of trust. My value comes from outside myself. It’s no longer about who I am, but whose I am. My economic perceptions slowly shifted to God’s economics, the economics of abundance, the idea of ‘enough’. There’s enough to go around. Life has become much simpler, and far less worrisome as a result. What’s wildly ironic is that the more I give away, the more I have…

Having said all this, I’ve come to a place where, at least for the most part, I don’t judge according to one’s pocketbook or social standing nor do I particularly care if others judge me that way or not. The measure of a man is not in what he has but what he gives away. It doesn’t matter where he falls on the wealth scale. I know of incredibly wealthy folks who greedily hang onto to every penny and people without a proverbial “pot to piss in’ who give outlandishly.

After hearing tales of Margaret and Mary’s adventure in North Dallas I still find it a little incredulous that one would be upset by the idea of used clothes, especially when a new dress is marked down from $700 to $100 (seriously, true story…). Then again, I’ve become a jeans and tee shirt kind of guy. Dressing up is a good pair of ironed and starched blue jeans with a button-down dress shirt. Comfort seems to exceed to need for fashion statements. I’m okay with that

After our morning coffee and the recollection of their adventure Saturday, I got up, cleaned house and worked on a shelf I’m building out of recycled lumber. As I was waiting on the stain to dry, I went out and washed my truck, in the driveway, by myself. I need to tell you that it looked pretty good and I didn’t have to tip anyone…

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Ms. Opal’s Dream and the Best Birthday Ever

I sat on the porch this morning, thinking about yesterday and making a mental list of today’s lengthy ‘to-do’ list. I turned sixty years old yesterday and it was the best birthday ever! I spent it with some incredible people. The new project I’ve mentioned in previous posts has become a reality. I’ve been looking forward to the day I could tell you all about it and that day has arrived.

To understand the importance of yesterday’s events, you need to know what ‘food insecurity’ is. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. … Hunger refers to a personal, physical sensation of discomfort, while food insecurity refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the level of the household. In Tarrant County, one in four children, and one in three if they are African-American or Hispanic, go to bed hungry or face food insecurity. One does not have to live under the Federal Poverty Threshold of $24,858 per year to experience food insecurity. Over 25 % of households facing food insecurity live at or just above the poverty guidelines and fully 36% receive no federal or state benefits. (further information is available through the Tarrant Area Food Bank and Feeding America websites)

The bottom line is that there’s a problem with hunger and the myriad of health problems that are a consequence of food insecurity. It’s not just an economic issue, but an availability issue as well. Food Deserts, which the USDA defines as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.”, which  mean that there’s no local grocer or farmers market within one mile of an urban neighborhood. Tarrant County alone has over forty food deserts according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service. Often the only food available is at local convenience stores and is often of little nutritional value. Processed, convenience foods are one of the largest contributors to childhood obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

The magnitude of the problem can be overwhelming. What can I do? My friend Edgar once asked how would I eat an elephant? One bite at a time, of course. Yesterday, a meeting with some fantastic people took a bite of the proverbial elephant. Sometime back, Ms. Opal Lee, a long-time activist from Fort Worth and founder of Unity Unlimited, Inc. (a 501(c)(3) non-profit) was granted use of vacant acreage in Fort Worth by the Trinity River Water District for the express purpose of creating an urban farm. Yesterday, that first bite, her dream of building an urban farm providing farm-fresh, nutritious food for residents of the community, moved into action.

I am blessed and unbelievably excited to be a part of Ms. Opal’s dream. I was familiar with Ms. Opal some time back, particularly because of her “Walk to Washington” and lobbying to make Juneteenth a Federal holiday. Although I was formally introduced to her only a few months ago, she has quickly become one of my heroes. At 92 years young, Ms. Opal’s energy and selfless-spirit is contagious.

The farm will initially encompass five of the sixteen acres available and preparation for planting will begin shortly. The farm uses the model provided by Bonton Farms in Dallas: an agricultural intervention as a means of eliminating the local food desert and contributing to the health and overall, both physical and spiritual, well-being of the community. The farm will be 100% organic. Planting will be based on the needs of customers and the community. Long-term plans include goats, chickens, and beekeeping as well. Above all else we want the farm to provide local jobs, job training and new entrepreneurs and neighborhood Fort Worth.

The meeting yesterday started the wheels turning and I’m so blessed to be a part of it all. This has been not only Ms. Opal’s dream, but mine as well. I’ve always wanted to be a ‘farmer’. I’ve prayed often that God would open the doors of service to others. Yesterday was simply another of God’s answered prayers. We could use yours as well.

I’m looking forward to sharing the progress of our urban farm with you as we move forward. We plan for development to proceed quickly enough to have the initial planting later this year with a winter crop. If we have any doubt about our success, we need to remember that Ms. Opal’s already prayed about it and that’s pretty good assurance….

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Hotter than hell…

I’ve written a lot (probably too much!) about the hundred-plus degree temperatures we’ve experienced here in North Texas. It’s always hot in Texas in the summer, but this year the thermometer began to climb earlier than usual. Heat-related illnesses make for crowded emergency rooms and everyone seems a little worn down by it all.  One local municipality even passed an ordinance against leaving pets outside. The heat is hard on everything and it isn’t limited to North Texas.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Global Climate Report for June 2018, states that 2018 is on track to become the fourth hottest year on record. The previous three years account for the top three. Somini Sengupta, International Climate Correspondent for the New York Times, reports in an August 9, 2018 article, that “17 of the 18 warmest years since modern record-keeping began have occurred since 2001”. I get it…

In California, where excessive heat and dry conditions led to one of the worst wild fire seasons and the largest wild fire in state history, ‘the new normal’ has become a staple of official vocabulary.

Unfortunately, the term is incorrect. This is not the ‘new normal’. I wish it was. That’s not what the data suggests. Reaching a plateau now would be a relief, but the fact is that we’re still trending upwards in average temperature. We haven’t reached ‘normal’ yet.

I wonder what ‘normal’ will look like for my grandchildren. Like every other parent and grandparent, I want the very best for my kids but I’m not as optimistic as I used to be. When the changing climate alarm bells began to go off, we either hit the snooze button or turned the alarm off altogether. We went right on sleeping, oblivious to everything around us and, at the risk of sounding crass, sh** got serious. I hope our kids are forgiving…

It’s not like we didn’t see it coming. According to a 1912 article in the Rodney and Otamatea Times. Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette, scientists foresaw the continued burning of coal leading to climate change. It wasn’t an immediate concern, so why be inconvenienced? Besides, our brilliant minds and emerging technologies would take of it! So, we ‘kicked the can down the road’ and carried on, charging ahead full of denial and greed. That’s the reality of it. We stuck our heads in the sand and left it to the business and political powers that be and left it to posterity. To our chagrin, our kids pay the price for our willful ignorance, laziness, and neglect…

In the Hebrew Bible, God says that the sins of the father will “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ Children, in their innocence, bear no guilt on their own, but they suffer the consequences of their parents’ choices. We chose to delay action and failed to heed the warnings. Now our children face an uncertain, and possibly even hellish future. Again, all I can do is hope our kids are forgiving…

I’m not sure about the whole ‘heaven and hell’ thing I grew up with, but the older I get, the more I’m convinced that a loving God didn’t create hell; nor does he wish it on any of his kids. However, I firmly believe he loves us enough to allow us to make our own choices (you know, the ‘whole free will’ thing), and whether they’re good or bad, they all have consequences; sometimes reaching into future generations.

I don’t know what the future holds for this wonderful planet we live on. Though the prognosis is bleak, I’m hopeful about our ability, and particularly our kids’ abilities, to adapt and change course. I believe in redemption. I believe in grace. I believe in ‘repentance’ – that change of thinking, perspective, and direction that leads to positive change. That’s my personal experience and I’ve witnessed it in the lives of countless others. Amazing things happen when I take responsibility for my actions and begin to make better choices. I hope my kids harvest the positive seeds I sow today. Maybe then their future won’t be so hellish after all.

In recovery, there’s much talk of ‘breaking the cycle’, whether it’s of alcoholism and addiction, abuse, or a myriad of other downward spirals in one’s lineage. Yet, only I can choose to break the cycle by the choices and actions I take today. It doesn’t matter what the issue is. I may not be able to stop climate change on my own and save the planet, but I can save my tiny space in the world and urge others to do the same. I can grow a garden, love my neighbors, and do something because it’s the right thing to do, not just for my family, but for the common good of the community around me.

Despite the fires, droughts, melting ice caps, and rising seas, I have faith and a hope today that my kids won’t have as much to forgive me for. Just as poor choices and short-sightedness leave its mark on the next generation, so too, do good choices and right actions. Today, I’m looking beyond myself, toward the future my kids will inherit, and pray my actions only pass on good things to ‘the fourth and fifth’ generation’.

What will you do?

What’s the one thing you will do to make your world a little better today?