Thoughts From the Porch: I’m told the best way to blog is to post something regularly and preferably, on a scheduled basis. Unfortunately, I’ve failed to live up to that standard this month. I was looking back over my July posts and realized this is only my third one so far.
Opal’s Farm is booming. Fall
planting is underway and we’ve been blessed by all the volunteers helping us
harvest and get our irrigation going. Our Saturday sales at the Cowtown
Farmer’s Market seem to increase each week we’re there. We’re in the process of
looking at a new partnership with a couple of local restaurants and non-profits
that will serve a broader community. Things are moving in the right direction.
Unfortunately, the flurry of
activity at Opal’s Farm has limited my writing time. I still have my moments on
the porch; my quiet time with God and my beautiful wife. Porch time sets the
tone for the rest of the day. It’s as necessary to well-being as food and water
are to physical life. Quiet time in the morning refreshes my body, my mind, and
most of all, my spirit. I’m better able to greet the day’s business with
gratitude and grace.
Most days there’s no time for
writing on in the morning unless it’s business. I come back from the farm with
every intention to sit down and write, but evenings have their own struggles –
fix dinner, do dishes, respond to messages and emails. On top of that there’s
the long day in the Texas heat. Some evenings I forget dinner, drop the
work clothes, and lay down in front of the air conditioner until the next
morning. If you work outdoors in Texas, then you know what I mean.
To be perfectly honest, I don’t
have much to say this morning. One of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, says
that her prayers fall into two simple categories – “Help me, help me, help me”
or “Thank you, thank you, thank you”. I get it. Lately my prayers have been of
the “thank you, thank you, thank you” variety. I have little to say other than
thank you. If I were to make a list of all I’m grateful for it would fill a
legal pad and then some. I shan’t bore you, gentle reader, with my list…
Most days, as of late, are
filled with quiet gratitude for the grace I’ve been given. I can’t believe I
get to live the life I live today. I get to do the very things which were the
desire of my heart all along. I work with amazing people working toward a
godly, incredible mission. I spend my days “playing in the dirt”: a constant
reminder of stewardship and Jesus’ parables. When I come home at night, I enjoy
time with my wife and drift off into a solid sleep, ready to “rinse and repeat”
I could go on and on, but I won’t. I simply needed to touch base with you all before heading to the farm for another day. Have a super Friday and a wonderful weekend! See you soon…
Thoughts From the Porch: We had a series of precipitation events this weekend; at least that’s what the weather folks called them. I thought it was just rain. Regardless of what you call it, the result is it’s too muddy to do a lot at Opal’s Farm. Brendan and I will harvest radishes tomorrow, but weeding will have to wait. Oh well. It means a little more time on the porch.
I re-read “Jesus Wants
to Save Christians: A Manifesto for the Church in Exile” by Rob Bell and Don
Golden. I re-read many of my good books. After two brain surgeries and the
trudge through middle age I get to enjoy them almost as much as I did the first
time. I gain new insight and reaffirm old ones from re-reading some of my
I appreciate Don Golden for his work as Executive Director
of Red Letter Christians (https://www.redletterchristians.org/).
I had the opportunity to attend the Red Letter Revival last Fall in Dallas.
Being around other disciples who strive to live out the radical, and often
subversive, teachings of Jesus was the highlight of my year.
Rob Bell ( https://robbell.com/)
has always ranked high on my list of favorite authors; especially since his
book, “Love Wins” put him on the outs with the evangelical community. He
was labelled an apostate and a universalist (God forbid!) and exiled in the
truest sense of the word. Questioning long-held doctrine and institutional
religion is risky. Jesus can attest to that. I guess that’s where the sub-title
A brief tangent…
I purchased “Love
Wins” at my old church’s bookstore (a Starbucks-looking “seeker-friendly
kind of place). I had seen it in the store the previous Sunday but could no
longer find it anywhere on the shelves. It turns out that “Love Wins” had generated too many questions for the church. The
Senior Pastor had asked that it be kept underneath the front counter. It was
available only by request. I can assure that when the last copy was sold no
more were reordered.
I asked for a copy and my purchase was quickly placed in a
plain brown paper bag. It was like buying Christian pornography. Forbidden
wisdom there, Don and Rob…
There’s a current trend among many churches to be
“seeker-friendly”. Contemporary services with great bands constitute the
worship experience now. Sometimes it seems like they should be taking tickets
at the door. The experience is more one of entertainment than worship; for me
I retain a church home in name only. I’m not okay with
sitting in the same place every week only to have the same people ask me if
this is my first time at the church. This tends to happen a lot in
mega-churches. It’s not the worshipper’s fault. Large groups tend to be
My old church has a plethora of Pastors and staff members:
so much so that a large portion of the budget goes to administrative costs.
They do some wonderful and amazing things for the local community and in
missions, but I can’t help but wonder what the early Jesus followers would
think. Just saying…
I used to work on quite a few service projects the church
took on, many of them having to do with community gardens and almost always
working with young people. I was invited to go with the Youth Group on a
service project to New Mexico. When they ran a background check (yes, a
background check!) they learned I had a felony conviction from my old life
involving bouncing paper. Suddenly, I was unfit to work with the young people
I’d been working with for over five years. They said it was a question of
liability, but I think they were afraid I’d teach the teenagers how to pass bad
Honestly, I was pissed. I felt betrayed. Church was supposed
to be a place of forgiveness and healing, not a business concerned with
liability and self-protection. I tried to move past my feelings. I continued to
attend for a while, and probably well past the expiration date…
My friend and mentor, Rusty, taught a class I enjoyed and corporate spiritual growth took place within our small, class-sized community. Unfortunately, the class was cancelled, and he was made the ‘Online’ Minister. Churches have gotten tech-savvy in the pursuit of new converts (and additional dollars? – I know, I’m a bit cynical). Quite frankly, the online community simply isn’t the same for me. I spend enough time in front of a computer screen.
I don’t think I’ve attended a service at my old church in
three or four years. My spiritual appetite has been fed in other places:
“being” the church instead of “going” to church. I get to do that daily. I’m
blessed to work with a non-profit, Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm, that
is faith-based and inclusive of everyone. Its mission is to provide for and minister
to (serve) oft forgotten and marginalized communities in Fort Worth. Jesus
called them “the least of these”. I get to be of service daily. My vocation is
the same as my avocation.
I was relieved to hear that others struggle with the same
issue. In his book, “Scary Close”, Donald Miller said something to the effect
that he was a “Christian writer who hadn’t been to church in five years.
Lately, there’s been a nagging longing for spiritual
community. I’ve been missing a home church, or more accurately, a church home:
a place where I belong, where I can have community with other believers, and
where I can celebrate and incorporate the Eucharist, the body and blood of
Jesus, in my life.
I’ve been blessed to have stepped out of my comfort zone.
Stepping out is never easy, but over the last few months I visited several
churches outside my long-held religious tradition. I’ve discovered how much I
miss corporate worship of the Creator and the community of other disciples. There’s
a huge difference in being a Christian and being a disciple.
This past Sunday I visited a church my friend attends. The service was beautiful, the people friendly, and the Eucharist was celebrated in a way that reminded me of the beauty of community. Our time together was holy. I left feeling far less alone in my faith. That’s a good thing…
I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know my faith was never meant to be exclusive of other Jesus followers. The writer of Hebrews urges the Hebrew Christians to remain faithful to gathering together. It’s for their benefit and growth. It’s time for me to revisit this advice.
How About You?
What is your experience with this? I’d love to hear from
others who struggle with this issue and how its resolution (of suggestions
I’m as voracious reader. I keep up on the news. I read articles and books that help me professionally: that hone my writing skills or help me learn to be a better farm manager. Above all, I love reading books and articles that nurture my spirituality and find simple pleasure.
I receive several newsletters each week about issues
important to me, especially those that help me help my clients better.
Recently, one of them reemphasized the basic marketing concept of successful
titles in catching the reader’s attention. From a marketing standpoint, classic
titles saying things like, “How to do
XYZ, Five Easy Steps to a better ABC”, and so forth, invite the reader in
and are more likely to be read. Basic copywriting and Marketing 101. I do it
for clients all the time.
However, it occurred to me while I was reading another “Five Easy Steps” article that it’s rare
for such articles to exceed the number five. It may on occasion be “Seven Easy Steps to” but that always
seems to be the limit. There’s a myriad of reasons why smaller numbers elicit
attention: psychological, neurological, and social. Everyone wants to solve
their problems in a few quick, easy steps. Unfortunately, it rarely works out
that way; at least in my personal experience…
For years I sought quick solutions to life’s pressing
problems, but “Five Easy Steps” never seemed to work. I always found myself in
the same state as before. It wasn’t until I discovered a recovery program from
my “seemingly hopeless” condition of mind and body my condition began to
change. It was going to require more (and steeper steps) if I were to become
the man I wanted to be. In fact, I found it to take twelve of them.
People tend to have a love-hate relationship with twelve step
programs. What can’t be denied is Twelve Step recovery programs have helped
thousands of people through the years, no matter what the specific problem
might be. It should come as no surprise there are around 240 such programs
today; each dealing with specific issues – alcohol, overeating, addiction,
gambling, sex, shopping, ad infinitum… I don’t know if it’s the solution to
everyone’s problems, but the twelve steps of recovery were for mine. I have
been transformed in mind, body, and spirit by taking all twelve steps. I have a
relationship with God today. Moreover, I’ve witnessed the change in countless
others as well.
I tried many times and countless ways to solve my dilemma.
If I just work harder, if I do it this way or that way. Hey, I’m a reasonably
intelligent guy. I can handle this. I should be able to reduce twelve steps to
something more manageable like five or seven, right? It wasn’t until I was
completely beaten that I decided my way didn’t work. I’d take the steps like
those before me had. Maybe, just maybe I could achieve the same results and
move toward positive change.
The stories the same for so many. The evidence is (and was
always) right in front of me. So why did it take so long to believe it?
It may have to do with the number of steps involved. Maybe
twelve is overwhelming. Maybe it’s difficult to see past three, five, or seven
of them. Maybe it’s just poor marketing on the part of all the people involved.
I don’t know.
The bottom line for me is in the results. I’m not who I used
to be. I’m becoming the man God meant for me to be. Had I been able to see into
the future all those years ago I probably wouldn’t have cared how many steps I
had to take to get here today. It’s easy to say that in hindsight though.
The payoff has been far greater than any investment on my part. If I were developing a marketing campaign for such programs, I’d eliminate the whole “Twelve Step” thing. Too many steps. Won’t attract enough readers, you know? I’d break it down to what has become a bit of a mantra to me: “I can’t, He can, and I think I’ll let him”. It’s the cycle of threes seen in all twelve and, hey, it’s only three easy steps, right?
Life loves to grant opportunities for introspection and
growth. Sometimes they come from unexpected, and often, unpleasant places.
Sadie, our Rottweiler/we’re not sure what else, is the happiest dog that has ever graced our home. She’s the smallest of our three rescue pups but has been known to take on a pit bull that made the mistake of jumping into our (more appropriately “her”) backyard. She’s sweet, gentle, and incredibly smart. The “smart” part can sometimes be a problem…
She recently discovered a space where she can jump the fence into our neighbor’s yard and escape to the front yard. She loves to explore, and our cul-de-sac offers endless opportunities. Our other two dogs, Jameson and Maggie, are bigger and I just assumed she had found a hole somewhere to crawl through. After several attempts to block any small holes she might have found, our neighbor informed me where she was jumping the fence. Our neighbor went on to explain that he didn’t want her in his yard. He has a two-year old daughter and was fearful of Sadie. I dutifully affixed a guard to prevent her from jumping in the same spot.
Did I mention Sadie was incredibly bright? She apparently
found another spot. I put her in the house and tried to figure out where she
was jumping the fence. It wasn’t long before the White Settlement Police came
knocking on my door asking about the “dog problem”.
I’m somewhat ashamed of my initial response. While I was quite friendly to our local law enforcement (who threatened us with “doggie jail”), I wasn’t so gracious thinking about our neighbor. I fantasized all the possible ways I could make his life miserable. After all, we had put up with the chaos coming from their house – the noise, the loud swearing at the kids, and the dog who stayed on our front porch rather than in their backyard (a cute little cuss who ate our cat’s food) and never said a word. They, they, they! Mouthing off to anyone who would listen (sorry Son for interfering with the hockey game), I made for a great self-righteous, pompous victim…
Self-righteous anger doesn’t serve me well. I had time to
calm down and go on to bed. Sleep is amazing. I awoke with a far calmer
attitude: that is until my morning routine was broken by having to take time to
take Sadie out on her leash. Agitation quickly returned.
I finally grabbed my coffee and greeted the morning in my usual way with morning prayer and meditation on the porch. However, thoughts of the previous evening’s police visit kept interfering with my prayers. Suddenly, I remembered Jesus’ words:
“If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you
suddenly remember a grudge a friend (or in this case, a neighbor) has against
you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make
things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.”
(Matthew 5.23-24 The Message)
I didn’t think it wise to go to my neighbor at six o’clock in the morning. I pondered the situation further. I began to look at the incident from God’s perspective, forcing me to look inward rather than outward toward my neighbor. To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with what I found.
A little back story is in order…
We live in a well-kept, older working-class neighborhood.
Most of our neighbors have lived here for years. They are either retired
military or retired Lockheed Martin employees. The only time children are
playing outside is when grandkids (or great-grandkids) come to visit, so it
tends to be quiet.
The neighborhood demographics are changing. There’s far more diversity even in the few years we’ve been here. There’s more younger people, families, and racially and culturally diverse residents. Several of the older residents on the block have passed away over the last couple of years. Their children, who already have places of their own, usually put the homes up for sale. The housing market is tight in our area, so a couple of the houses have been purchased by investors to either “flip” or keep as rental properties. There’s far more diversity even in the few years we’ve been here.
The house next door is one such property. It’s always been
bit more run down than other homes on the block. It’s been bought and sold a
couple of time in the last year and a half. The first owners did little in the
way of improvements so when the present owners began working hard to bring it
up to current building code, we were thrilled.
We watched with a degree of trepidation as the new family
moved in next door. They were loud and seemed to have a hundred people helping
them. After they settled in, we learned all the “helpers” were family members.
It turned out they had ten children and one on the way. So much for our quiet
The solitude of my evening porch time has often been broken
since they arrived; by the younger one’s screaming and crying and the parents
yelling at them with a variety of swearing and threats. The two and
three-year-old kids have repeatedly been found walking around the block without
parental supervision (or clothes). The older ones often block the street
playing basketball daring neighbor’s vehicles to interrupt them. It goes without
saying that our new neighbors are difficult to live with. No wonder I felt
justified in my anger about the dog incident.
Unfortunately, justification only goes so far. It’s a great substitute for reality. Was I mad because they called the cops on my dog or was it because I couldn’t stop Sadie from getting out? Who was I upset with? What was I afraid of? It always seems to come down to fear.
The questioning began growing deeper and deeper. The guy had told me he was concerned about his two-year old. I know Sadie wouldn’t hurt a fly, but does he? Could I not see he had a point? The deeper I looked inside the less I could point fingers at him. I hate it when that happens!
One of my favorite prayers is the “Saint Francis Prayer”,
especially when the line asking to “understand, rather than be understood”.
It’s amazing to me how quickly I forget it when things don’t go my way. While
I’m grateful my perception, my thoughts, and my actions are less self-centered
than they used to be, I still have days when the world just needs to “do as I
say”. Father may know best. I do not.
I probably won’t be running next door and apologize for my
ill thoughts. Thank God for the pause button between my thoughts and my
actions. I tend to re-act slower and think a bit more before acting these days.
I don’t appear to step on as many toes and quite frankly, making amends and
corrective action is not on my favorite list of things to do. As my friend Jim
used to say, “Crow is best eaten fresh…”
What I will do is pray to “understand, rather than be understood” and stay here on the porch enjoying my morning coffee. It’s funny how much easier it is to bask in the peace and solitude that follows a bit of understanding…
Thoughts From the Porch: The wind is a bit frisk this
morning, but all is well on the porch. It’s still too wet to work on the farm
so I’m enjoying the quiet solitude of our little cul-de-sac and my second pot
Today is Good Friday. I’ve always been curious how it came to be called “Good” Friday. I get the idea that Jesus’ crucifixion led to a Good Sunday (Easter), but there’s really nothing good about hanging someone on a cross. Maybe Christians would do well to change their iconography for the cross to a stone. I’d rather constantly remember the resurrection than a barbaric and humiliating form of capital punishment. I want to be a resurrection disciple.
Those who have experienced God’s grace on a deep level
tend to be aware of the price paid for their redemption. They know spiritual
death. They know what the proverbial “end of the rope” is. They know what it’s
like to have nowhere and no human being to turn to. They know that accepting
God’s grace is the only thing that
will bring us back to life and there’s no doubt how costly that grace was and is.
They eagerly cling to Easter and resurrection.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to stay stuck on the crucifixion,
to live in the past, and forget that the real joy in life comes from the
resurrection. God did, and does, the impossible. He often does for us what we
cannot, and sometimes will not, do for ourselves. That’s where the real power
lies. Not in the cross, but in the rolled-away stone…
“I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of”. John 10.10 (The Message)
Today, I’m living in the present, enjoying the
resurrected life I’ve been given…
“Yes, all the things I thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant”. Phillipians 3.8 (The Message)
Thoughts From the Porch: A line of thunderstorms is knocking
on our door this morning. The wind, called an outflow boundary, is the
precursor to the storm that will barge in any second. Jamison the Farm Dog is
huddled beneath my feet, making writing difficult by distancing my fingers from
the keyboard. Thunderstorms are anathema to him. He pants and paces or hides
under my desk to escape the noise. All I can do is reassure him we’ve got it taken
care of and we’d never let anything harm our Jameson.
Today is Margaret’s birthday. Please join me in wishing
my beautiful wife a very happy birthday. I think of myself as one of the most
blessed men in the world. It can’t be easy being married to me, although Margaret
tells me constantly that I’m not difficult. Some days I’m not so sure. I find
myself preoccupied with the daily goings-on of life and fail to stop and enjoy
the company of the best woman I know.
Sometimes I’ll be out and hear other people talk about
their difficulty in relationships. It makes me want to run home and kiss my
wife and tell her how much I love her. I realize what a gift she is in my life.
Our marriage isn’t perfect by any means. We each have our little idiosyncrasies
that cause friction. I’m acutely aware of mine, but to be honest, I can’t think
of any of Margaret’s. I’m sure they are present. They all seem to fade away
when I’m with her.
I used to think that wasn’t normal, that our relationship was too comfortable. I’d hear others speak of their struggles in their marriage or cohabitation. People would talk about how much work their relationship. Everyone talked about “working” out their marriage. Maybe we were doing something wrong because, quite frankly, I can count on less than one hand the number of issues we’ve had to deal with over the years. I’m sure that they each centered around miscommunication or misunderstanding.
I used to believe we were an anomaly, a blip on the
screen that couldn’t be explained. I thought there was no way anyone would
believe how good our marriage was (and there may not be…). However, I’ve observed
the marriages of our friends and acquaintances, and I’ve seen first hand we’re
not so different after all.
There seems to be one or two constants throughout them
all. The first one is the one my friend Jim told me about. Many years ago, he
asked me if I knew what honor was. The Good Book says to “honor your wife”. What
does it mean? I offered the proper dictionary definition and he laughed. He
said that was nice but didn’t come close. The real definition was… and he drew
in a quick, deep breath. I waited patiently for him to add his definition, but
he just sat there, silent.
“Come on Jim. What’s your definition of honor?”
He again inhaled sharply, “h-h-h-h-h” and fell silent. I was
beginning to get a bit perturbed and asked again to which he gave the same
reply. Now I was ticked off.
I guess he sensed my aggravation because he looked me square
in the eye, took another deep breath, and said “that’s what honor is”.
I sat there a bit perplexed. He went on to explain that
honor was seeing your wife walk in the room and she takes your breath away. It
wasn’t until years later that I really understood what he meant.
Fast forward to March 2nd, 2013 and Jim’s
definition of honor became crystal clear. I was standing in front of many
family and friends next to my Best Man, Edgar, with my brother Craig, the
pastor for the day. Everyone stood and turned to watch Margaret start her walk
down the aisle. She was radiant in her wedding dress, her face beaming. I
inhaled sharply and deeply. She took my breath away…
Fast forward again to April 6th, 2019. Margaret
walks in the room and she still takes my breath away. I can’t believe I am
married to such an incredible woman. I want to honor her in every way possible.
What surprises me is the honor she bestows on me. She makes me a better man.
I’m no marriage counselor but what I know for certain is that
honoring my wife is easy. As a result, our marriage is easy as well. If we are
an anomaly, then so be it. I could spend the rest of my life being different…
So, I wish my wife an unbelievably Happy Birthday. I look forward to sharing many more. I’m not confused my dear – you truly are “my better side” (I hate “half” as we were complete when we joined together) and my best friend. Today I honor you and wish for you a beautiful, joy-filled birthday!