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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)

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Larger Than Life

While everyone can be a role model, not everyone can be larger-than-life. I think of those that are “larger” than the rest of us as the positive role models to role models. We all have larger than life heroes.

The kind of hero they are changed as I’ve grew. It was John Wayne, Superman, and John F. Kennedy when I was growing up in the sixties. My definition of a hero changed by the time I was in college in the seventies – it was more of an anti-hero. If you were against the establishment, I was with you! I even had a Che Guevarra poster in my dorm room and a “Question Authority” bumper sticker on my car (both by the way, were a burr under the saddle of the administration of the Christian college I attended for a year where piety and strict obedience were the norm).

I’m not sure who my heroes were in the eighties and nineties. Those were lost decades in many ways. I think I thought of anyone who could stay clean and sober was my hero. I sure wasn’t hanging around anyone like that. The new century brought about the recovery I’d longed for and my definition of “larger-than-life” changed once again to those that looked beyond themselves to serve the common good and make this a better place to be.

It I’d be willing to wager that we’ve all wanted to be a hero. I’ve even met folks who believe themselves to be one (a little clue – larger than life people don’t think of themselves as heroes, or even think of themselves at all, really – at least not mine…).

What is larger-than-life?

“What creates such larger-than-life people? Their altruism is hard to understand by almost any psychological definition of the human person. I believe such people have built their lives on the reality of union with God, Reality, or What Finally Is.” – Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (New York: Convergent Books, 2019), 161–162.

“Surrender is the strongest, most subversive thing you can do in this world. It takes strength to admit you are weak, bravery to show you are vulnerable, courage to ask for help.” – Holly Whitaker

“Your ordinary acts of love and hope point to the extraordinary promise that every human life is of inestimable value.” – Desmond Tutu

“Whatever that you do, you begin from the premise that you’re human together.” – Musimbi Kanyoro

“I’m not sure it even matters what the artist thought they wanted when they sat down to create the work. The art itself seems to want something, to make a change in the world. And the ability to create art like that belongs to each of us.” – Seth Godin

“If someone can be taught to hate, they can be taught to love. – Dr. Opal Lee (the Grandmother of Juneteenth)

I asked Ms. Opal if I needed to start calling her Dr. Lee. She laughed and told me Ms. Opal is fine. That’s what larger-than-life heroes do…

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Resolution, Smezalution…

It finally feels like January here in Cowtown. It went from seventy degrees early yesterday afternoon to a wind chill eight degrees by midnight. This morning brought brilliant sunshine, calmer breezes, and crisp, clean cold air. I finally traded the shorts and t-shirts for sweatpants and long-sleeves as I sit here drinking my coffee. I may have to buy new thermals for the expected series of cold fronts coming this week. As it is I’m perfectly contented to look out the window whilst enjoying the delights of central heating…

The New Year is supposed to a time of resolutions. I’ve never been big on them. Most are broken before February. If resolutions are to be made, they should only be made for today. Several years ago, my mentor and friend Jim once suggested (Actually, he told me. I’m not sure he ever “suggested” anything…) that I take a piece of note paper and tape it to my bathroom mirror. The note should ask one simple question: “If you were absolutely positive that today would be your last day on Earth, would you be happy with the way you spent it?”

I followed his instructions. The note was placed on the mirror. I thought of it frequently until I didn’t. I moved several times since that day long ago. The note never survived the moves. It crossed my mind a few times, but I never put it on another mirror.

Sitting here this morning I thought of his “suggestion”. Maybe it’s time to remember that it was more than a suggestion. When Margaret and I bought our home several years ago I told her that the next time I move out of this house it would be in an urn or a pine box. I can’t think of a better place to put that note up again. It won’t get lost in a move…

My life is drastically different from the life I was living when Jim told me to do this. I was new to recovery. Addiction has its ways of hurting everyone I loved and even those I didn’t. It was a constant reminder that I didn’t have to live that way. I needed that constant reminder and I do now even though my addiction is in remission, and I’ve gone on to a life that I never could never have imagined possible.

Life isn’t perfect. It still shows up in ways I’d rather not have to deal with. I’ve learned what real grief is over the last year-and-a-half since my son Jeremy died. I’ve lost close friends. I’ve cried, been irritable (truthfully, I’ve been a real pain in the ass) and withdrawn from people close to me. I’ve often substituted work for the drugs – usually with the same consequences. “The more things change, the more they remain the same…”. Fortunately, they’re only moments now instead of a constant way of life. Jim also reminded me that life is about “progress, not perfection”.

When I get up from here, I’ll take my note to the bathroom. I’ll take a good look and think about how I can spend my day – not my year. I’m going to be more loving to my wife. I’ll spend some time with her. I’m going to pick up the phone and tell my friends and family how much I love and appreciate them. I’m probably going to be irritated that there’s dirty dishes in the kitchen but remember that the dishes are not what’s important. The person that left them there is – imperfections and all.

I’m going to think about Jeremy. I’m also going to remember the gift he left for me – three beautiful, smart, and in my book, perfect grandchildren. I’m going to cry if need be and let someone know I’m hurting. I’m also going to let those grandkids know how much they’re loved.

I’m going to love better and accept that I don’t always do that to the best of my ability. I’m going to find the joy in the little moments that every day brings – that is if I look for them. The glass of a calm river by the farm, the coyotes that visit every morning, the flowers blooming in the winter…

On the way to my Kentucky Home

I’m not going to be so hard on myself. One of the things Opal’s Farm has taught me is that nature has its own time and it’s not mine. I tell that to others all the time. Yet, I’m the first one to forget that when the “To Do” list is staring me in the face.

I’m going to find the joy in the little things that fill my day. I may or may not leave the house today. Joy surrounds me here…

Resolutions don’t quite cut it for me. I’m not sure they work for anybody – at least not those I’ve observed. However, I know that looking at what I can enjoy and do better on January 2nd does work. It’ll work again on January 3rd, on January 4th, and everyday after if I simply remember that simple question – If I was “absolutely positive that today would be my last day on Earth, would I be happy with the way I spent it?”

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The Headline I Wish It Wasn’t…

The last thing I wanted to see tonight was the news of another hero of the faith passing on. I was flying through personal email when a headline caught my eye just as I clicked “delete”. I hurriedly went to the deleted folder only to discover that Archbishop Desmond Tutu passed away today at ninety years old.

I first came to learn of Archbishop Tutu through his work to end apartheid in South Africa. He received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in 1984. When apartheid finally ended in South Africa, Archbishop Tutu went on to help start the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to bring healing to the country. His was a heart for restorative justice for the perpetrators and the victims of apartheid’s senseless violence.

He spoke to injustice anywhere regardless of color or status. In 2004, he accused post-apartheid President Mbeki of catering to the South African elites and forgetting the people he was elected to serve. He wasn’t afraid to call anyone out.

He reminded us that silence in the face of injustice was not an option. During my college years he said something that has stayed with me all these years – “If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality”. Silence may appear neutral, l but it’s really consent to the oppressor.

I could go on for pages about Archbishop Tutu’s work. He was indeed a true hero of the faith. May we follow his example. The world is a little quieter without his voice.

“Easter says to us that despite everything to the contrary, his will for us will prevail, love will prevail over hate, justice over injustice and oppression, peace over exploitation and bitterness.”

– Desmond Tutu
courtesy of CNN