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Teachable Moments

I enjoyed the sunrise a tad more than usual today. The birdsongs were louder and more melodic today. Perhaps it’s in anticipation of another delightful autumn day in Cowtown knowing that by the time this is posted it will be a a couple of days of record-breaking arctic chill…

Most of you know that my wife, Margaret, broke her leg in one of the worst spots possible. The good news is surgery wasn’t required. It was a clean break and will heal without pins, plates, and various orthopedic hardware. The bad news is that Margaret can’t put any (as in none, zero, zilch) weight on her left leg for the next eight weeks or so.

That means that her already limited mobility is now reduced to sitting, standing, and pivoting on one foot to make it from the bed to the wheelchair. From there she can go to a living room chair and sit. She watches TV and works on one of her many artistic endeavors involving crotchet hooks and tatting needles. She’s presently working on a baby blanket for our grandson. She says she now has time to get it finished well before the projected due date in February.

It’s beyond difficult for Margaret to get around. We moved the kid’s bed into the living room since she can’t get in and out of our bed. A few inches in height make a huge difference these days. The kid’s sleeping in our room as a result. Our world, our more accurately, our routine, has been turned on its head.

I hate to admit just how much I’ve become a creature of habit. I catch myself falling into patterns reminding me of my father. Not that it’s a bad thing. My Dad was a loving, caring man so I intend no disrespect. It’s simply one more reminder I’m growing older. It’s just a part of life but I’m not quite ready to take on senior airs.

My routine has been completely broken and I’m a bit scattered as of late. The demands have increased as well. Margaret, the house upkeep, and the farm swallow each waking moment. Quite frankly, I get worn out by the end of the day. I’m far from clear-headed in the morning which significantly alters my “porch time” and writing time.

I become irritated and get “put out” with everyone at times. Then I feel guilty for feeling the way I do. It’s not a great place to be. I feel in conflict with my feelings and my values. I do what I do out of love right? Why do I feel this way?

The answer came as I prepared another cup of coffee for my wife.

Margaret and I knew each other for almost nine years before we ever dated. The night before our friend Stan’s memorial in 2012, we met several friends from out of town and all went out to dinner (IHOP may not be known for great food but it holds a special place in my heart). Afterward, Margaret and I went out front to smoke and ended up out there talking for four hours. That led to our first date a week later (and marriage three months after that!).

During our conversation, Margaret said she often felt like no one wanted to date a woman who they would have to push her in a wheelchair if they went downtown for coffee or dinner. I told her that I didn’t understand why anyone would feel that way. “It would be an honor and a privilege to push your wheelchair”, was my immediate response and I meant it.

I tell you this because it occurred to me this morning what an honor and a privilege it is to “push my wife’s wheelchair”, to serve the one I love. You see, I’d allowed all the flurry of activity to distract me from the truly important thing in my life – the honor to have Margaret as my wife.

An Honor and a Privilege

My friend Jim once asked me if I knew what honor was. I responded with a flat, somewhat emotionless, dictionary definition. He said that’s not it and then drew in a short quick breath; the kind you have when you’re suddenly startled or awed by something. He smiled and said, “that’s honor”.

I was confused. “What’s honor?”

He drew another short, quick breath and again said, “that’s honor”.

Jim had a way of using metaphors in a way that often irritated me. “What in the world do you mean?” and I imitated the breath he’d taken.

He said that honor was like that breath. Honor was seeing your wife come into a crowded room and seeing her takes your breath away. Honor was about keeping that breathtaking moment in your memory. I began to see the dictionary definition in a whole new light.

Used as a noun, honor means “high respect; great esteem”. It also is “adherence to what is right”. Thus, honor is an attitude whereby I hold my Margaret in “high respect” and “great esteem”. It’s about my perception of my wife.

Honor, as a noun, is my intention. Unfortunately, we are never judged on our intentions, only our actions. To honor someone is to “regard with great respect” and to “fulfill (an obligation) or keep (an agreement).

Revelation…

As I was going to get Margaret another cup of coffee this morning it dawned on me – the occasional frustrations, and yes, even selfishness I felt on occasion was simply an opportunity to learn to love, cherish, and honor my wife better. Suddenly, serving didn’t feel like a chore, an obligation. I remembered March 2nd, 2013 when I said those vows to love, honor, and cherish the woman I married.

The words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians came to life:

Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church – a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring out the best in her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor – since they’re already ‘one’ in marriage.” (Ephesians 5:25-28 – The Message)

I’ve yet to meet anyone who lives this out perfectly, but I have been privy to long, loving marriages that are an example of what to emulate so,

Margaret, if you’re reading this, know that today I will honor you in every way possible. It is my privilege to be your husband (and I still think you got the short end of the stick…). I cherish every moment with you, and I’m honored you allow me to be of service. I would gladly push you in a wheelchair or walk beside you and hold you up. And by the way, you still take my breath away every time you enter the room…

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What Can I Do?

“If you choose, you can end homelessness. If you choose, we can end hunger. If you choose, everybody can have healthcare…We are traveling around from community to community to build up that will. We don’t want to just shout into the darkness. We want to birth some light.”
— Reverend Liz Theoharis

It all begins with a decision. What will I do today to bring the light?

Choose wisely…

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You Give Us Freedom to Grow

This is a bit of “Thoughts From the Porch” and “Down on the Farm” combined so please bear with me. I haven’t written much over the last couple of weeks. Quite honestly, I haven’t wanted to. When I do, the words don’t come. I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by circumstances.

Most of you know that my wife, Margaret, spent a couple of weeks in ICU last month. The good news is that she’s well on her way to recovery from the issue that landed her there. However, less than a week after she got home, she had to return to the hospital once again.

We were going out to enjoy our evening on the porch. Maggie, our “Coyotahoula”, saw a chance to romp in the front yard and zipped out the door in a flash, knocking Margaret over as she flew by. Unfortunately, Margaret fell one direction and her leg went the opposite way resulting in a broken leg.

Maggie “I’m so sorry!”

Margaret always excels in everything she does. The break was no exception. Apparently, a break in the tibial plateau accounts for less than one percent of all breaks. Probably because people don’t typically survive skydiving accidents, falls from high buildings, or high impact car crashes. She really exceeded expectations. I wish she wasn’t such an over-achiever…

Margaret spent a week in the hospital followed by a couple of weeks in a rehab facility. She comes home today. She’ll have to stay off her leg for a minimum of 12 weeks so making our home more handicap accessible has eaten up writing (and if truth be known, brain) time.

This has been an insanely stressful time for us. Between the hospital stuff, the Fall activity at the Farm, and extreme financial difficulties I’ve leaned on our friends and family more than ever. Part of me wants to apologize. The other part simply wants to say thank you over and over and let everyone know what a blessing it is to be part of such a wonderful “village”. While money is usually in short supply, we are wealthier than most because of the people that fill our lives.

That’s why this is difficult to write. Opal’s Farm has wrapped up it’s first growing season. The Fall planting is done, and harvesting has started. Many great things are in the works – experimental cover crops, building new beds and rebuilding old ones, improvements to the irrigation system. However, the farm needs your help more than ever at this immensely important time.

As of today, Opal’s Farm has one acre under cultivation. The farm generated almost two tons of locally grown fresh produce in our first season. We’ve been able to donate to area foodbanks, set up a farm stand in local neighborhoods, and sell at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market. I hope this doesn’t sound like bragging, but we started with virtually nothing but an idea. Cash flow was nonexistent, and we moved forward in faith that if we “build it, they will come”. It’s been our own little “Field of Dreams” and come they did.

The turnips and radishes are almost ready…

None of this would’ve happened if it weren’t for the Tarrant Regional Water District. They believed in Ms. Opal’s dream and granted Unity Unlimited, Inc. the acreage for an urban farm. They have walked with us each step of the way and been incredible supporters. From the Board of Directors to the landscape crews,; everyone has been incredible. There’s no way to say thank you enough.

Several more fantastic sponsors quickly came along beside us. Container King (our very first supporter! Thanks Paula!), the White Settlement Home Depot store (we love you Natasha and Jeff!), Zimmerer Kubota (you’re awesome Brandon Hendrickson!), the Alta Mesa Wal-Mart (I’m still sorting seed packs Anthony), the Marty Leonard and Rainwater Foundations – and of course, Charlie Blaylock of Shines Farmstand (anyone who is familiar with urban agriculture and the Tarrant Food Policy Council knows how invaluable Charlie is to us al)l. Nothing could’ve started had it not been for the seed money (no pun intended), the tractors, the container (our barn), the tools and supplies necessary to begin operation of Opal’s Farm.

Along the way there have been many volunteers who have lightened my workload and enabled me to move forward with our mission of fighting food insecurity and easing access to healthy, nutritious produce in Tarrant County. Dr. David Aftandilian’s Food Justice class at TCU helped us through Spring with some amazing interns, our volunteers from Taste Project, Grow Southeast, Blue Zones Project, and all the individuals who wanted to simply make a difference made the summer harvest and Fall planting possible. I can’t forget our first (and hardest working) volunteer and “co-manager”, Brendan O’Connell. I hope your first semester at Cornell is going great my friend.

“Something out of nothing” is how God has blessed Opal’s Farm. The credit goes to each and every one of you who became farmers alongside us. We are so unbelievably grateful for you all. That’s why I feel a bit guilty to ask you for more.

While we have had amazing support provide seed, tools, supplies, and labor over the Spring and Summer we’ve had a precarious cash position since the beginning. We knew this would be an issue. It is for most non-profits and especially for start-up programs. Please allow me to be a bit personal here…

When I joined Unity Unlimited last year, Margaret and I spent time in prayer and meditation about the job of Farm Manager. We knew finances would be tight, we’d be dependent on donations and the uncertainty that comes with them, but we knew that this is where I, or rather we, were supposed to be. We made the decision to step out of our comfort zone, knowing that God has never let us down and that serving our community was exactly what God called us to do.

For the last year, salary as the Farm Manager has been erratic at best. Cash donations are always needed and appreciated, but never more so than right now. Our personal financial position has never been more precarious. Our business finances must grow if the farm is to do likewise.

We firmly believe in the mission of Opal’s Farm and trust that God will provide but I also know that a “closed mouth never gets fed”. That’s why I’m being a bit personal about our struggles, both business and personal.

Business, especially farming, requires planning for the coming growing season. Consistent donations make this possible; especially as we expand our production area to the full acreage available. Moreover, improved soil health – the addition of soil amendments and organic fertilizers – mean increased yields per acre. In turn, more people are fed, the retail side grows, and the farm becomes economically sustainable. Reaching that point requires an initial capital investment that requires cash flow as well as the great in-kind donations we’ve received from our sponsors.

Personally, your donation goes to make sure Opal’s Farm grows as well as pays myself and our future employees. Margaret and I would certainly be eternally grateful. We are fiercely committed to the success of Opal’s Farm and ending food insecurity in our community. We can’t do it without your support. We know this is a “we” project.

I’m asking you today to please help as we enter this season of giving. Your Opal’s Farm stays right here in Fort Worth. Whether $25 or $2500, each dollar goes to your neighbors, to your community. It’s never been more urgent to help Opal’s Farm

 Please go to www.unityunlimited.org today and click on the Opal’s Farm page to donate today.

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Quiet in the City

Down On the Farm: Fall has finally hit North Texas for real. The last few mornings were cool enough for long sleeves and the afternoons just warm enough to shed the flannel shirt and soak in the October sun. The turnips, radishes, and beets will be making their appearance at Cowtown Farmer’s Market next Saturday. The okra is still going strong (3 five gallon buckets this week so far!). Every time I think the purple hulled peas are ready to pull up another round of them appear. We’ll also have plenty of butternut squash.

I love the farm and wish all of you could experience it the way I do. Watching something grow, serving others, creating something wonderful in the middle of the city I love – all these things are amazing. I can’t believe I get to do this every day.

I was wrapping up for the day when I found another reason that I love Opal’s Farm so much. I had pulled the pump up from the river and was about to head back to the “barn”. I was about to out the tools in the truck when I noticed how still and peaceful the evening was. The river was punctuated with tiny circles as fish fed on the various insects flying too close to the water. The evening sun was beginning to sink in the west and rays of sunlight hit in ways I had previously failed to notice. Even the noise of cars on the nearby interstates seemed almost non-existent.

October Afternoons

It occurred to me how blessed I was to be in that moment, in that place. There, right across the river from downtown Fort Worth, I was in a place of amazing beauty and stillness normally reserved for places far from an urban center.  

It’s my hope you’ll join us at Opal’s Farm. Please go to our website, www.unityunlimited.org and sign-up today. Fall is the perfect time to experience the farm – not too hot, not too cold – and we’d love to see you.

As always, you can also use the website to donate to Opal’s Farm. We have much work to do finishing Fall and getting ready for Spring. We can’t do it without your help! See you soon!

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I Cast No Stones…

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s finally Fall in Texas. I was greeted by temperatures in the forties, a crystal-clear morning, and the song of birds that haven’t been around our area since last year. I haven’t put pen to paper or keyboard to screen in a bit. I had a tinge of disappointment when I realized this is the first October entry and there were only a couple for September.

It’s been a difficult couple of months. Margaret went to the hospital on Labor Day, came home two weeks later, and is back in the hospital again. The only good news is that this time it’s for a broken leg. We were heading to the porch when Maggie decided to bolt out the door, knocking her over, and breaking the tibial plateau. Apparently, this a rare break and she’ll have to keep pressure off the leg for the next twelve weeks. Leave it to us to try and be unique…

Anyway, my trips are once again between home, hospital, and Opal’s Farm. It’s an all-to-familiar cycle I hope to break (no pun intended Baby!) soon. We’d certainly appreciate your prayers…

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I found this gem in my morning meditation. Dorothy Day was the founder of the Catholic Worker movement. She spent her life ministering to “the least of these” – addicts, the homeless, the marginalized, and broken people. She often wrote in her diary of the temptation to give up. She also wrote of the reason that kept her going.

“Yes, I see only too clearly how bad people are. I wish I did not see it so. It is my own sins that give me clarity. If I did not bear the scars of so many sins to dim my sight and dull my capacity for love and joy, then I would see Christ more clearly in you all. I cannot worry much about your sins and miseries when I have so many of my own. I can only love you all, poor fellow travelers, fellow sufferers. I do not want to add one least straw to the burden you already carry. My prayer from day to day is that God will so enlarge my heart that I will see you all, and live with you all, in his love.”

Her honest look at herself – “the unwed pregnancy, her quick temper and often biting tongue – that allowed her to show grace to others.” (Phillip Yancey, What Good is God?). When I practice brutal honesty with myself I too, find grace much easier to extend to others.

I’ve often heard others quote Jesus, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” but all-too-often I fail to put those words into practice. When I do, however, I find a peace I never dreamed possible.