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It’s hard to believe that we were seeing record cold temperatures only a month ago. The last couple of weeks have been in the seventies and even eighties. I sit on the porch at night in shorts and a t-shirt. In the early morning darkness I was greeted by the sound of the Mockingbird outside. The official start to Spring is only four days away. God is good…

The tree next door is in full bloom

I’ve taken to sitting at my desk in the mornings as opposed to the front porch. I am halfway through my fourth week of quitting smoking and the front porch is a bit of a trigger. The double wide patio door is just outside my office though so I still get the morning air when I open the sliding door. It makes for enjoyable quiet time.

Roman’s been hard at work!

I had no idea what I wanted to write about when I started this blog in 2017. Blogging experts said find a niche to write about. Center it around your niche and turn it into a money-making endeavor. I never could figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up. How could I find a “niche”?

Most of my career was about doing the work I never intended to do. Trying to gain a father’s acceptance (which was already there regardless of what I did for a living) instead of pursuing one’s own passions have a way of doing that. The downward spiral of alcohol and addiction doesn’t help either.

Over the years I’ve been a Real Estate Investor and Broker, a Process Engineer, an Operations and HR Manager. I’ve drifted through professions. I’ve played rock and roll in the clubs, worked briefly in radio, and DJ’d at sketchy bars. I’ve worked as a bartender and a food server. I’ve worked in manufacturing and construction jobs. From 2006 to 2017 I had my own landscape and remodeling business. Employment options are limited for folks with felonies so starting my own business made perfect sense.

It was a good living, but I knew there was always a nagging feeling that I was supposed to be doing something else with my life. I spent many off and on years in business documentation – writing business plans, employee manuals, training manuals, etc. I had learned to speak “bureaucrat-ese” and proper business writing, using it often in my professional corporate work – and I got good at it. Maybe that was it…

I shut down the business, signed up for a couple of copywriting and marketing courses, and set off to be a writer full-time. I had a few jobs, and I even got paid for writing. I guess that qualified me as a “writer” (Like that makes a difference?).

Unfortunately, I discovered I’m not cut out for the whole copywriting thing, I don’t like trying to manipulate people with the whole marketing deal and I’m a bit of a dinosaur in the corporate world. I still believe in the whole “the customer isn’t always right, but they are always the customer” thing. Customers should be treated accordingly. That’s not always the case anymore.

That’s okay though, because it led to my relationship with Ms. Opal, Unity Unlimited, Inc., and becoming Farm Manager for Opal’s Farm. I’m blessed beyond measure. I get to wake up each morning and go the farm, work hard, and tell the Opal’s Farm story to anyone who’ll listen. I get to be around amazing people. I even get paid for doing what I love and serving others which is the antidote to addiction’s self-obsession – helping others helps me. I’ve found my center, my passion, and God’s direction for my life. If I’ve found a niche, it rests in the fact life is a story – a story about grace I surely don’t deserve and something I could never find on my own despite my best efforts.

The things I’ve learned to blog about over the last three-and-a-half years have little to do with “5 Ways to Success” or “How to Make a Million in a Month by Telling People What They Want to Hear”. They don’t have to do with the number of followers (except the one’s about Opal’s Farm!) or a great comments thread. They don’t require everyone’s approval to prove success. They have to do with the one person who, perhaps only by chance, reads something that helps them to help others. There’s not much money in that, but it’s the success I only dreamed of.

Be patient with others. Sometimes it takes fifty years to figure out what you want to do when you grow up…

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My Prayer Today

I found this jewel this morning…

“My Lord God,

I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself,

and the fact that I think I am following your will

does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you

does in fact please you.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,

though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore, I will trust you always though

I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me,

and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

– Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

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Several of our farm volunteers have asked if we will be working today, Memorial Day. The answer is a definite yes – if the weather cooperates. It didn’t. I woke to sounds of raindrops hitting the air conditioner. The farm doesn’t grant many days off or holidays this time of year. There’s too much to do. Add to the mix COVID-19 and social distancing and typical holiday get-togethers are out of the question. However, I will take a moment, rain or no rain, to stop by the cemetery today to honor my father, grandfather, and two uncles who served in the military during a time of two world wars.

My Grandfather fled an abusive homelife at the age of fourteen, lied about his age, and became a “Doughboy” at the tender age of fifteen. He soon found himself on the front lines of World War One. His experiences there left him skeptical of a government that asked him to risk his life in combat and promptly forget about him when he came home. That’s probably why he was a life-long Democrat and ardent Republican hater.

He became a contractor and later owned a nursery and landscaping business. I found one of his old business cards from the fifties. He had spared no expense on the color, double-sided card. The back of his business card said:

LANDSCAPING—GRASS SODDING—I NEED A JOB

Eisenhower is my shepherd. I am dire in want. He maketh me to lie down on park benches. He leadeth me beside still factories. He restoreth my doubt in the Republican Party. He guideth me in the paths of unemployment for his party’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the alley of soup kitchens, I am still hungry and do feel evil, for he is against me. His Cabinet and his senate discomfort me. Thou didst prepare a reduction in my wages, in the presence of my creditors. Thou anointest my income with taxes; my expense runneth over. Surely hard times and poverty shall follow me all the days of the Republican Administration, and I will dwell in a rented house forever.

Loan Me a Dime – eh. “Me” no wineo, Thanks.

Shepp’s Nursery

I have a feeling that he contributed to my leftist leanings…

I remember sitting in his old work truck as a kid, listening to his stories, and watching him chew his White Owl cigar to a nub (and wondering why he never spit…). He’d survived a gas attack during the war and couldn’t smoke. It was lip cancer, not lung cancer, that took him in 1972. Dad told me many years later that we sat in his old work truck because he didn’t want to be in the house with that crazy old woman (my mother’s mother), but that’s another story…

My Dad was the youngest of three boys. He didn’t get drafted until the war was over and served in the Army Air Corp stateside. However, his brothers were not as fortunate. Uncle Don served in the Army Air Corp as well – a Bomber Ordinance Unit in the South Pacific – while Uncle Bynam, the middle brother was in the Army in Europe. Uncle Don came home. Uncle Bynam did not. He and his entire squad were killed at Anzio, Italy in 1944. The invasion at Anzio, called Operation Shingle, was one of the most ill-conceived operations of the war. Risk-taking is always easy for officers in the rear…

I did not serve. By the time I was of draft age, Selective Service registration was suspended. Everyone wanted to forget the Vietnam debacle that had cost over 58,000 American lives. They also wanted to forget the veterans who came home with wounds that couldn’t be seen. I know. As a college intern in a congressional Veteran Service office I heard stories from forgotten, broken young servicemen and tried to help them navigate a Veterans Affairs system that could care less. Don’t get me started…

My father and uncles are part of what has come to be known as the “Greatest Generation”, and rightly so. They lived through the Great Depression and the horror of World War Two. They saw the burst of economic growth that followed the war. They handed my generation a better life (at least for some of us) than they had lived. Their war seemed to make some sense. It’s no wonder we romanticize them as the “greatest”.

The rain looks like it’s going to stick around for a while. I’ll grab my jacket and head over to the family cemetery plot. My Grandmother Joel purchased the plot on her meager seamstress’ salary when Uncle Bynam’s remains were returned from Italy in 1947. It took over fifty years, but Grandmother and her boys are all together again. It was just my Grandmother and her three boys from the time my Dad was ten. They were extremely close knit family.

I’ll stand quietly for a moment looking at each of the gravestones. Uncle Bynam and Uncle Don both have military markers. My mother opted to have matching markers for her and my dad. She joined him a couple of years ago.

One of the things that always gets me is the dates on Uncle Bynam’s gravestone. He was born at the end of “the war to end all wars” and died in the next one. How many more lives are gone in the hundreds of conflicts since then? I pray for the day when young men no longer die for old men’s folly and self-interests; when no one serves in the military because it’s no longer needed. “Thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven”.

I probably won’t stay to chat like I usually do – the rain is falling harder – but I will take a moment to remember their service and sacrifice. I hope that each of you do the same. It sounds oxymoronic to say “Happy” Memorial Day, but it’s pure joy to honor the ones we ones we do today.

Happy Memorial Day to everyone…

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Pain is Inevitable…

“In this time of suffering we have to ask ourselves, what are we going to do with our pain? Are we going to blame others for it? Are we going to try to fix it? No one lives on this earth without it. It is the great teacher, although none of us want to admit it. If we do not transform our pain, we will transmit it in some form. How can we be sure not to transmit our pain onto others?” – Fr. Richard Rohr 

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And God Said It Was Good…

Thoughts From the Porch

It was unusually quiet on the porch this morning. The birds were still singing, kept in time by the staccato beat of our neighborhood woodpecker, but there was no city sounds in the background – only a peaceful silence. Some would attribute to the “shelter in place” order we’re presently under. I prefer to believe that God quieted the noise so I could hear the beauty of birdsong and bask in the joy of a new morning.

I’ll exchange online church services for working at the farm this morning. A big rain is predicted for tomorrow and there’s tomatoes to get in before it comes. Besides, farming is its own worship service in so many ways. There are lessons to be learned from the never-ending process of life, death, and rebirth that only a garden can give.

From the very beginning in the Genesis creation story, God thought a garden was a good place for man to start. He planted a garden and gave it over to the care of the human beings He created in His own image:

“God spoke: ‘Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature so they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, yes, the Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of the Earth’.

God created human beings; He created them godlike, reflecting God’s nature. He created them male and female.

God blessed them: ‘Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge! Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of the Earth.” (Genesis 1.26-28 – The Message- emphasis mine)

Working at the farm is a reminder of God’s instruction to be responsible for the Earth He gave us. I grew up hearing that passage as one of “having dominion over” rather than “taking care of” the gift of creation. I understand the difference today. Working in the soil, watching the crops grow, and seeing the happy faces of the ones who receive our produce is what was intended all along – be responsible and help others…

I take that responsibility serious at Opal’s Farm. That’s why I practice regenerative farming. I want to nourish and replenish the soil and leave it better than I found it. I take care of the gift entrusted to me. That’s what responsibility (and gratitude) is all about. I can’t take care of everything, but I can easily be responsible for my little place in the word. My prayer is that we’ll all do the same.

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