Friday, May 29th, was the most difficult day of my life. I received a phone call around noon. It was my daughter-in-law. She said, “I’m so sorry Pops, but they found Jeremy (my youngest son) and”. She couldn’t finish. The sobbing swept the words away and I knew…
I had filed a “Missing Persons” report the day before. No one had heard or seen him since the previous Friday, and friends and family were concerned. Honestly, I had a picture in my mind of Jeremy popping in with that big grin of his and asking what all the fuss was about. Then he’d be mad about the fuss. He’d been known to disappear for a couple of days before. He’d get a wild hair and go camping without telling anyone. Everyone would be angry with him for not letting anyone know. His response was always, “Why is everyone all bent out of shape?” This time it was different…
His apartment manager found him the following morning. I don’t feel up to answering questions or discussing his death right now. I can’t even begin to describe the depths of my sadness and grief. Every time I look into the faces of my grandchildren – Baillie, Izzabella, and Lucas – my heart breaks down even more. He loved his children so much.
Fortunately for me, there’s much to do when a loved one dies – funeral arrangements, legal stuff, and so forth – busy is good. It keeps the grief from becoming completely overwhelming.
Parents are not supposed to bury their children. They shouldn’t have to tell their grandchildren that Daddy isn’t coming home. I never thought I’d have to deal with this. Their adult children are. That’s the way it’s designed to work.
Unfortunately, designs and plans fly out the window when they meet the real world. I know I am not the first to lose a child (grown or not), nor will I be the last. That’s reality, but it’s my child, my son, and my heart has been ripped has been ripped from my chest…
In the coming days, or perhaps the coming weeks, I will write about this. That’s what writers do, right? I need to tell you about Jeremy – about his impish humor, his incredible artistry, and the bravado that hid the tender soul that he was. Unfortunately, I’m unable to do so right now. There’s no timetable for grief. I’ll know when I know…
Right now, there are no words to convey the sense of loss our family feels. The family funeral is today. The local art community is planning on a huge outdoor celebration of Jeremy’s life when more of the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and it’s safer for everyone. Thank you to those who were close to Jeremy for helping the family through this.
We are so grateful for the outpouring of love and support so many have given. There will come a time for the thank you letters and emails. As it is, we can only put one foot in front of the other and wander through the dark days that are no longer filled by Jeremy’s smile.
“A deeper enlightenment and wider experience than mine is necessary to explain the dark night through which a soul journeys toward that divine light of perfect union with God that is achieved, insofar as possible in this life, through love. The darknesses and trials, spiritual and temporal, that fortunate souls ordinarily undergo on their way to the high state of perfection are so numerous and profound that human science cannot understand them adequately. Nor does experience of them equip one to explain them. Only those who suffer them will know what this experience is like, but they won’t be able to describe it.” – St. John of the Cross The Ascent of Mount Carmel
It’s a beautiful late winter morning here in North Texas. After a few days of rain and cold the sun slowly warms the day as it rises higher in the sky. There’s much to be done today and I’d love to take time to pass on deep spiritual thoughts from the porch but truthfully, such thoughts are elusive over the last few days. I struggle to write, to put thoughts to paper, and a cloud hangs over me even on a bright, sunny morning. I get frustrated, I pray, and try to listen, but it feels like God has put me on hold while He’s busy attending to other things…
My wife likes to remind me that there are times when no amount of spiritual awareness will take our pain or fear. My friend Jim used to say that “in the meantime, it’s a mean time”. There are times when God seems silent and I need to act as if He’s not. It’s the old “fake it ‘til you make” thing. I’m thinking I might be going through one of those times.
I don’t hesitate to tell of God’s unfailing love and grace in my life. Hindsight tells me that God has always, one hundred percent of the time, taken care of me (even when I was far from Him doing my own, self-destructive thing). Unfortunately, the lens through which I look forward can be awfully opaque at times (we walk by faith, not by sight, right?). I speak the truth when I share about God’s provision and care, but I’m surprised at how quickly I forget that when life feels overwhelming.
Margaret and I are going through some difficult financial times right now. Almost two years ago, I made a commitment to the mission of Opal’s Farm and made it my full-time endeavor. We knew this would be difficult because we’re dependent on donations for my salary. Unfortunately, winter is a slow time for both the growing season and for contributions to our non-profit. Although Spring brings a wealth of opportunity for market sales and donations that doesn’t pay this month’s bills.
I mention this is not to whine about it – we took this on after prayerful consideration and eyes wide open – but to say that finances are one of the toughest areas in my life to turn over to God. Margaret is far better able to do that than I am. It may be because as a man, I sometimes feel I’m not doing my part to take care of my family. To Margaret’s credit, she’s my biggest cheerleader and reminds me I’m on the right path.
I begin to doubt I’m where God would have me be and think I should throw up and hands and go find something else. The little committee inside my head begins to tell me how foolish I am. Negative self-talk and doubt of God’s blessing fill my days. Honestly, I feel like a hypocrite at times. I’ll tell everyone of God’s faithfulness while my mind tells me I’m a fraud, that God isn’t really taking care of me.
That being said…
You might notice that the word feel is in italics. There’s a reason for that. You see, it took me years to learn to separate my feelings from my reality. That lesson may have come much easier for others, but it was a long, painful, and often frustrating journey for me. When I began to see what was going on around me for what it is rather than what it feels like it is, I began to understand that doubt was an essential part of my faith journey.
That may sound a bit oxymoronic – doubt and faith are mutually exclusive terms, right. Still, it’s possible to doubt and still be faithful. It’s a painful process to walk in faith through doubt and darkness. We can’t see in the darkness. St. John of the Cross, a 16th century Spanish mystic and Carmelite priest, called this “the dark night of the soul”.
The journey through the darkness leads us to shed all our preconceptions about God. We begin to let go of our ego, our perception of our self, and rest in “unknowing”: the unfathomable spirit of God. The journey can be long or short. For me, it’s often been a case of “two steps forward, three steps back”. In the darkness I find my union with the Father deeper each time. My petty worries and struggles seem a tad easier. Trust begins to return. I just keep walking…
Sharing the journey, the struggles, the fear, and “the dark night of the soul” is frowned upon in many churches. We don’t like to talk about it. We write off what we fear or don’t understand so it won’t “wash off” on us. It’s dangerous to around a “doubter”.
Honest lament is frequently met by simple answers and platitudes. Things like “we’re praying for you” just have faith”, don’t doubt God’s promises” – that do little to illuminate the path.
Some give up, retreating to the relative safety of sameness. Others throw up their hands, utter “what’s the use?” and leave behind the very community that God created for us. I don’t think that’s what Abba intended…
A Few Days Later…
I began writing this last Saturday. Yesterday was a great day at the farm – a special visit by Mailik Yakini from the Detroit Food Policy Council, getting to spend time with other local farmers, and getting a lot of planting done. The financial worries slipped away, replaced with feelings of fellowship and connectedness. At the end of the gathering, Ms. Opal pulled me aside. She whispered, “the Lord is so good, and He’s provided again. We received a check from a donor and there’s a check for you at the office.”
We’re able to pay all our bills for this month. One more time, like countless other times before, Abba has provided for all our needs. I used to beat myself up for doubting God. Today my doubts are merely one more opportunity to demonstrate God’s goodness and care. Hindsight reveals even my darkest periods, those which God felt so absent, have been the greatest blessings in my life.
What I thought was bad turned out good. What I thought was good wasn’t always so great (if you know what I mean). It reminds me that I don’t know what’s best for me, but Abba does.
We will encounter difficulties once again (especially financial ones) and I’ll begin to question God about His sense of timing. I’ll have some fear, but it seems to be a little less each time life shows up. God’s promises always hold true, even when my faith wavers so I’m just not going to worry about the process anymore. In the darkness I discovered a light that never goes out. I don’t always see it, but my vision is becoming clear with each step in the journey.
I haven’t written from the porch for the past couple of weeks. Time has been short. I’m playing catch up from a recent two-day stint in the hospital (long story but everything’s okay). They couldn’t figure out what was going on. I guess that’s why doctors only “practice” medicine…
I could use the whole hospital thing to explain my lack of recent communication, but I won’t. The truth is a bit uglier than that. The reality is there’s been some doubt and depression going on the last few days. When I started writing “Thoughts From the Porch”, my intent was to only write positive, encouraging words. God knows there’s enough negative crap out there!
Unfortunately, life isn’t always happy, joyous, and free.
Life shows up in some awful ways. Even when I feel I’m on the path God has
chosen for me it can have some serious rough spots. I would be dishonest if I
didn’t share those as well. I may not write in a manner comparable to great
authors or even my fellow writers on WordPress, but I’ve learned to be
truthful, to be authentic, and to be myself regardless of how I’d like to be.
The truth is that I haven’t liked myself very much the last
few days. Sometimes, the truth sucks. As my friend Edgar always tells me, “The
truth will set you free, but it’ll really piss you off first.” Quite frankly,
I’ve been pissed.
Margaret and I have struggled financially over the last few
months. Work has been slow as most of my time is spent on the urban farm
project, Opal’s Farm. Most of you know my passion for the project. Margaret and
I prayed diligently before taking on this task. We went into it with eyes
wide-open. We knew money would be tight until we gained sponsors and had our
first harvest. Looking back over the last few months, hell, even over our
lifetime, we can see God’s thread all the way through. He stands with us
through all the difficult times. Bills get paid, we eat regularly, and most of
the time life is good despite the setbacks that come with our chosen path.
However, there are times when an awareness
of God’s providence is insufficient to stave off the blues.
In lieu of our smaller income we’ve been forced to put off
needed home repairs and tighten our money belt in ways neither of us have
experienced, at least in our lives together. Add to that Margaret’s chronic
pain, limited mobility, and the depression that rears its ugly head as a
result. Frustration and stress mounts despite our faith in the Almighty. It’s a
recipe for doubt, fear, and self-loathing, for me at least, and it has been
simmering for quite a while. Yesterday it came to a boil…
A serious case of the “F..k Its”.
Yes, folks, expletive laced prayers, lamentations of “poor
me”, and drowning in a cesspool of comparing myself to everyone else. I threw a
temper tantrum! Why me?
I imagine some of you can relate. It felt as though my world had fallen apart and God was nowhere to be
found. He always seems to be playing ‘Hide and Seek’ when I need Him: just like
with everything else in my world. I
immediately decided to quit the farm, stop writing, and start looking out for
Number One. I’d probably have to become a greeter at WalMart (no offense
intended – all work is important). A career in bank robbery seemed a
viable alternative to the present financial hardships. You must take it, because no one’s going to give to you, right?
If it sounds a bit extreme, it is. I tend to go for
extremes. A friend once told me that “balance is the beam I trip on while
running between extremes”. Yep!
I always feel like such a spoiled brat after these not-so-little
tantrums. It doesn’t take as long as it used to getting over these fits of
doubt, frustration, and fear (that’s really what the tantrum is about…). I find
relief in the fact they don’t happen very often anymore, but I sure hate it
when they do. I’m sure I’m not the only one who can identify with this
Fortunately, sanity returns, I own my behavior, make amends
for the harsh words and actions, and find forgiveness and gratitude for everything
I do have. First and foremost, I have a Heavenly Father who appreciates my
authenticity. I’m sure most church folks would be shocked by how I “pray”. It’s
not always pious and formal. Still, God allows me to express my doubts and
fears. He listens. He understands and He loves me right where I’m at –
expletives and all. He allows my rants and then holds me close to remind me
that I’m loved and it’s okay to be human. I’m His child.
Somewhere in this process I find peace. The situation hasn’t
changed at all, but I have.
Healing the Blind…
My tantrums always begin with tunnel vision and outright
blindness. The world is out of focus, blurred with pain and frustration, and I
can only see myself, my needs, and my wants. When I finally grow tired of
emotional blindness, I hear Jesus’ question to the blind man at the Pool of Siloam,
“Do you want to be healed?”
It sounds like a simple question doesn’t it? Sure, I want to
be healed, but… I tend to find excuses, much like the guy at the Pool, until
finally, I can see again.
Restoration of sight, healing, takes place in miraculous
ways for me. It happened the other night. Blinded by my self-centered fear and
doubt, I stormed out to the porch to be alone. I stood there, blindly staring
into the night, when a tiny spider and his (or her – I’m not sure how to tell
the difference) web began to take focus.
As my vision sharpened, the intricacy and size of the web
grew. I saw his tiny legs shooting across the web with new silken strands. The
minute strands vibrated in the wind but never strayed apart. It seemed
It sounds silly to be so intrigued by a simple spider web, but I’m kind of a simple guy, I guess. However, this tiny spider is building his web in the same place on our porch every Spring. He’ll stay until Fall, building his net every evening and waiting for the meal he knows will come. I’m no expert on spider species identification, but it’s always appears to be the same species year after year. It’s always a smaller version that grows to be the same as the one last year.
While I’m no Arachnologist, our little eight-legged friend is
probably last year’s offspring. I had the privilege of seeing all the little ones
bursting from their egg sac last year. Their home and ours are one in the same.
I get to watch the intricate, complex beauty of this tiny creature every
evening. Clarity had returned.
Our hardships and my frustration faded into the darkness of
the evening. I could see, and more importantly, see that our difficulties were
nothing, that God was still (and always is) faithful. Life may have its
difficulties, but grace changes how I see them. Difficulties become
opportunities to grow in ways I can’t even imagine.
If a tiny spider ca open a world of grace and heal blindness,
how much more can I be a vessel of grace?
(Today’s post is unedited. My ‘editor” is hard at work on another project today…)
It’s only partly cloudy out here on the porch this morning. It seems it’s rained or drizzled every day for the last week. I’m terribly grateful for the rain and the cold front that triggered it. We’ve had a hot, dry summer and I’m not sure we can afford another huge electric and water bill. The air conditioners been off for the past few days and there’s no need to water the garden. It’s greened up and grown immensely in just the last couple of weeks. It never ceases to amaze me what rain, versus watering, can do. I can water the garden regularly and, while it may keep it from dying, it does little to promote production. Yet, end a bit of rain and all the sudden new blossoms and tomatoes abound. There’s simply something special about God’s touch. Still, I need a break from the rain, at least long enough to dry out for a couple of days and plant the Fall produce.
That being said, I haven’t posted much this week, nor have I had a chance to. North Texas Giving Day is coming up next week (please visit them at https://www.northtexasgivingday.org/). It’s a huge day for local non-profits, especially for Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm. I’ll be posting links to each over the next couple of days. If you can help in any way, please let us know! Anyway, that’s what has limited my time on the porch this week and quite frankly, I’m glad.
My thoughts have been far too scattered to share this week. I’ve been grateful for a project to focus my efforts on. It’s been a relief from the dissonance between my ears. Some of you know what I mean. I offer a prayer of thanks for those of you that don’t. I’m sure I’m not the only one who experiences this, but it sure feels like it. It’s beyond mere ‘writer’s block’. It’s far more devious. It creeps in and tells me that I don’t have anything to say, and if I did, nobody gives a rat’s ass anyway…
If the voices are loud enough for long enough, it begins to be a crisis of faith. Do I really believe what I say I believe? Am I doing ‘enough’? Am I stuck in willfulness and missing the point? Am I wasting my time on the unimportant? What was I thinking anyway?
There are times when no amount of faith, positive thinking, or intellectual knowledge of one’s worth to God, self, and others can hold self-doubt, worry, and sadness at bay. St. John of the Cross called it, “The dark night of the soul”: my friend Jim used to say, “in the meantime, it’s a mean time”. I used to think I was the only one who felt this way. Experience has shown the opposite to be true. Some people are simply better at hiding it than others.
I’d love to post only the good stuff, like gratitude, grace, and the awesomeness of the life I get to live today. All of those things are true mind you, but I’d be dishonest if I didn’t tell you about the times I feel God’s absence, when things don’t go according to plan, and it feels like I’m not coping so well.
I’ve been blessed to walk through many a ‘dark night’, only to find an even brighter day. I know that “this too, shall pass”, because I’m still walking. Sometimes that’s all it takes. Just keep walking.
There are times though when I feel stuck. That’s probably why “Groundhog Day” is one of my favorite movies. I keep repeating the same old day, over and over and over, but redemption is right around the corner. One day you wake up, the calendar has changed, and the world looks brand new. That’s just the way it goes…
My friend and confidant, Jim, always told me that “it’ll get better Tuesday at 2:00”. He’d never tell me which Tuesday, or whether it was 2 two AM or 2 PM, but it would get better. Looking back over the last sixty years I can attest to the correctness of this statement. Sometimes I need to remind myself that today’s Saturday – Tuesday’s right around the corner…