Adoption, Birthdays, Choices, Connection, Emotional Health, Family, Generations, Grandchildren, History, Persistence, Relationships, Stories, Thoughts From the Porch, What Can I Do

Are You My Mother?

I was perusing my email Saturday and a headline caught my attention – “Woman discovers star of favorite childhood TV show is her long-lost birth mother”. It was a beautiful story about a 54-year-old woman who found her birth mother through one of the DNA testing services – Woman discovers star of favorite childhood TV show is her long lost birth mother – Upworthy. Another feel-good story that went viral….

I’m adopted. I often think about my birth mother. It doesn’t diminish the love I have for my adopted parents. I couldn’t have asked for a better mom and dad (and they were my Mom and Dad). I’d just like to know where I come from. Do I have siblings? What is (or at my age, was) my mother like? Does she ever think of me? Is the profile the adoption agency gave my parents even true?  A recent NPR/Think interview with Gabrielle Glaser, the author of American Baby: A Mother, A child, and the History of Adoption, casts doubt on the adoption process during the post-war Baby Boom years.

I get all stoked up to find my own birth mother every time I hear of miraculous reunions of birth families. It quickly ends up on the back burner and is soon forgotten. The desire to know about my birth mother is real but, if I’m to be honest, is also terrifying. What if she was glad to send me away? Would she even want to meet me? Would it be too traumatic for her? Am I uncovering things best left buried? The list of questions goes on and on.

I’m told by those closest to me and, most importantly, by someone who has given up a child for adoption, that not a day goes by that the child is not thought of. I’d like to think that is the case with my birth mother. Like the story that caught my eye, I’d like to think that my birth aunts, uncles, cousins, and siblings have been looking for me; that I’d be welcomed with open arms. It’s a great fantasy, but reality can have a far different result. They are more likely to be somewhat apprehensive of someone claiming to be a long-lost family member. It would be for me.

The search for “bio-mom” didn’t feel right when my mom and dad were alive. They had provided me with the personality profile of my birth parents that was given to them at the time of my adoption. That should be enough. I didn’t want to cause them harm or unnecessary anxiety. That was more in my head than theirs. Several years before Mom died, she asked me why I hadn’t tried to find my birth mother. She let me know that it was perfectly fine with her. She wasn’t offended or stressed out. It would be perfectly natural to be curious. I’m good at offering excuses – adoption searches are costly financially, mentally, and time wise. Besides, I’m too busy right?

The quest became more important after my son Jeremy died last May. Jeremy was always frustrated that I wasn’t diligently searching for my birth mother. He wanted to know more of my past than I did. He loved his grandparents but never hesitated to remind me that we weren’t blood related. He wasn’t content knowing we were supposedly of Irish and Scottish descent. He wanted to know who we really were. Maybe it would answer other questions too like the addictions and depression that lived in our little family.

I’ve thought about this a lot over the last year. I joined Ancestry.com a few months back. Jeremy always reminded me how meaningless it was to look at the Joel family tree – it simply wasn’t us. So last year’s birthday present to myself was a DNA test.

It wasn’t unexpected when DNA matches began to arrive. We’re far more connected and similar to other folks than we’d like to think. We share 99.9% of our DNA with other human beings. The .1% sure seems to cause big problems for such a small percentage, but that’s another story…

I have a plethora of 3rd, 4th, 5th, and so forth cousins. You get the picture. There have only been three close family matches so far. I ventured messages to each, but I’ve never received a response. I’m not sure how to process that. It’s early in the journey so I’ll let it slide for now.

I’m finally stepping out Jeremy. Your brother and the three grandkids will keep me on task. So, this is how it begins…

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Murals and Toads…

It’s been busy the last few days. Spring planting is in full swing at the farm. New areas are being plowed and tilled making for a full acre expansion to Opal’s Farm. Meetings, continuing education classes, and discussion groups have filled my evening schedule. It’s all good stuff, mind you, but then the rain came…

Work is great therapy, but eventually the rain comes. It slows me down long enough for my mind to wander into places I’d rather not visit. Unfortunately, I must. It’s part of the grieving process. I only mention it because I got a text today that Jeremy’s mural at Manana Land will be taken down at the first of April. It’s to be replaced by one of Deborah Peoples, a local candidate for Mayor, to encourage folks to vote. A worthy replacement most times – getting out the vote, even in local elections, is a great endeavor – but not so much right now. I simply don’t want to let go.

Jay Wilkinson’s mural of Jeremy at Hop Fusion Brewery is the one I spend the most time visiting. Jay was Jeremy’s long-time friend and art partner. It means more to me a Jay wasted no time in getting the mural done. It was an incredible effort by someone who knew Jeremy well and painted as such. Still, I drive by the one at Manana Land on the way home some days and wave hello to my son. I won’t be able to do that much longer.

I didn’t want to hear that right now. I’ve been a ball of feelings the last couple of weeks. I’m not even sure how to label them as they change so rapidly. Grief is like that. I’d love to define them and to put them into words, but everything seems to fall short – shallow and meaningless.

The other day I was out at the farm. Roman, our Volunteer Coordinator was out there with me. He tilled one last row before he headed on to other obligations. I stayed behind to seed the newly turned soil. About halfway down the row I saw a toad that had been hit on the shoulder (do frogs have shoulders?) and was bleeding. I took him to the side of the bed and put him in a cool shady spot to rest. When it occurred to me that it might be a fatal wound I began to sob uncontrollably – over a dying toad.

It seemed like it the weeping would never end. What was wrong with me? “It’s a damn frog Greg! Get over it. It’s part of farming, right? He didn’t mean to hurt it. It was an accident.”

I don’t when it happened but suddenly, I realized that the tears weren’t only for some old frog. They were for my son. They were for the folks in line at the food bank up the street. They were for all the broken people in a broken world that no one sees nor tries to help.

They were for George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, for Armaud Aubery, for Tamir Rice, and the list goes on and on and on.

They were for the 500,000 plus people that have died from COVID and the over 81,000 people that died from overdoses in the wear prior to May 2020. The tears were over the families of those lost – the fathers and mothers that lie awake at night, tears rolling down their cheeks, asking God why – why their child, their parent, their brother, or sister.

They were for Sandy Hook, for Columbine, for Parkland and all the schools, places of worship, or public spaces where mass shootings have taken so many.

All of that because of a bleeding Texas Toad…

Sometimes I simply need to let go, to cry it out, and even question the God, the Abba, who loves me more than I can possibly imagine. Why’d you let it get this way? Why, why, why? “My God, why have you forsaken us?

My sobbing eased and the tears began to slow. I slowly gathered myself together and resumed planting. The smell of freshly turned soil filled the air around me. The sun felt a little brighter and warmer. I remembered the days Jeremy came out and worked with me. God, I miss that, but at least I have that memory. My grandkids will soon be out here more when school is out and I get to see Jeremy in them.

My sadness and anger had passed. God didn’t make or let any of this happen. We did. Perhaps that’s where the anger comes from. I’m not doubting God as much as I’m doubting myself and doubting people. People let us all down at some point. That’s what all humans do. No one’s perfect, right?

Then I remember all the people I’ve met along the way that work diligently, often with little or no reward, to make our community a better place. I have faith God will set all things right one day. I dream of the promised “new heaven and new Earth”, but what’s my part today? God can create universes. I’m sure He could straighten this earthly mess out right away, but He invites me to be a part of the solution. He reminds me that we can do this so just do it…

We must use our lives to make the world a better place to live, not just to acquire things. That is what we are put on the earth for. Solitude with God repairs the damage done by the fret and noise and clamour of the world.”

– Dolores Huerta

I looked back on saw that everything had been planted before the forecasted rain for the next day. I felt strong, no longer defeated, and hopeful. My tears washed away the frustration and grief that had been building up inside. Now I had a little more clarity. Vision returned. All of this because of an old toad…

I walked back to where I had laid the toad. He wasn’t there but I could see a place where he’d burrowed into the planting bed. Maybe it wasn’t a fatal wound after all. He may end up scarred like me, but we’d both be out there doing out part at the farm. That’s all we can do…

Photo by Lucas van Oort on Unsplash

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Birthdays and Anti-Racism

My youngest grandson turned a year-old recently. We were unable to have all the family gathered due to COVID, but six of us shared the day with him. No one should have to go without celebration for their first birthday! It was just my brother-in-law and his wife, my stepson and granddaughter, and my wife and I – and of course, Easton.

I always have a slight amount of tension around my wife’s family. They tend to be ultra-conservative and well, I’m not. They don’t hesitate to voice their opinions freely, much to my dismay. I cringe when I hear the references to Fox News and quoting right wing radio hosts. I try to hold my tongue with family members outside of my wife and kids as they degenerate from a discussion to an argument and hard feelings quickly.

The get-together was going smoothly with Easton the center of attention – but once gifts were opened, and he went down for a nap, things changed. A commercial talking about “Black History Month” came on. My brother-in-law commented, “What about white history month?”

My stepson remarked that “he and his daughter were just talking about that the other day”. In the background I could hear my sister-in-law saying something about special treatment and tearing monuments down. I was livid but held my tongue; taking a moment to ponder the consequences. I had to get up and go outside. Mom always said, “if you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all”.

I came back in later. The conversation had shifted, and my in-laws were preparing to leave. Good-byes were said and we got ready to go as well. My stepson wanted to go outside and smoke before we left. I saw this an opportunity to say something about the racist comments made. If we don’t talk about issues of white supremacy (“Why don’t we have a ‘white’ history month”) and why that’s a racist comment, then we can never teach each other how to love and how to overcome structural racism.

I explained to him that the history we’ve grown up with is white history – seen through the lens of white privilege and supremacy. My wife reminded him that “white” history is yearlong. That’s why Black History Month is so necessary.

There’s a huge difference in being a “non”-racist and an “anti”-racist. Non-racists still judge people of color by very white standards which is the subtle form of white supremacy that infects so many. Non-racists seldom take the time to step outside their comfort zone. Even if they’ve began to understand issues of white supremacy, guilt, and fragility they remain silent in the face of the very racism they claim to void of. Silence is complicity.

An anti-racist is someone who raises a voice in situations like my grandson’s party – opposing white supremacy and structural racism in its various manifestations. Anti-racism makes for some uncomfortable conversations, both with family and with friends who haven’t awakened to its depths among white society.

I missed an opportunity with my brother in-law and his wife. I’m not sure that it would’ve been a conversation as much as an argument. I was relieved when they left if I’m honest.

I spent some time with Ms. Opal Lee recently and I told her about what happened and how I felt about it. I felt guilty for the missed opportunity. She reminded me that “if people can be taught how to hate, they can be taught how to love”. This doesn’t happen in a classroom or a church. This happens one-on-one – we intentionally seek out one person and open the door to conversation – which requires seeing and hearing someone even if we don’t agree. “Each one, teach one…”

I’m honored to be surrounded by great teachers. Black History Month is a great opportunity to learn how to listen and how to love. It’s full of a richness that the predominant white culture has failed to share.

“There is no Jew or Greek. There is no slave or free person. There is no male or female… You are all one… Abrahams descendants…” Paul’s Letter to the Galatians 3.28 ff (NIRV)

Black History Month 2021
Celebrate Black History Month

Learn more about Black History Month, Juneteenth, and Unity at http://www.unityunlimited.org and www.opalswalk2dc.com.

From Globe News Wire

Ms. Opals will be at the National Press Club this Wednesday, February 25th to celebrate Black History Month. The celebration will be livestreamed at 11:00 AM (EST) at: To register for the in-person press conference email marketing@invnt.comTo tune in virtually via YouTube from 11:30am EST click here.
Click here to tune in virtually via Facebook from 11:30am EST.
To sign Ms. Opal’s Change.org petition visit her website.

About Ms. Opal Lee
Ms. Opal is the oldest living board member of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation (NJOF) that was founded and led by the late Dr. Ronald Myers, Sr., whose initiative is for Juneteenth to become a national holiday. To bring awareness to the cause, she started her Opal’s Walk 2 DC campaign in 2016, where she walked 2.5 miles to symbolize the 2.5 years that it took for slaves in Texas to know that they were free. Ms. Opal launched a petition to make Juneteenth a national holiday on Change.org, and in September 2020 delivered the 1.5 million signatures it had received to Congress. Ms. Opal believes that freedom should be celebrated from the 19th of June to the 4th of July. Head here for more.

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About Unity Unlimited, Inc.
Unity Unlimited, Inc. is a non-profit organization whose main mission is providing educational activities and resources to people, young and old, to foster unity and harmony within the community, the city, the state, the nation and the world regardless of race, culture or denomination. For more information visit: www.unityunlimited.org/

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6:00 AM on Christmas Morning

6:00 AM on Christmas morning…

The sun hasn’t yet begun to rise. The darkness is silent and still – “not a mouse was stirring”. Even the freeway sounds are absent this morning. The temperature dropped below freezing last night in honor of Christmas I’m sure. It was seventy degrees here in North Texas last Monday and the weekend promises more of the same: but that’s tomorrow and this is today. I’ll pull my coat a little tighter, have another sip of steaming coffee, and relish the quiet.

I think back to Christmas 1982. At 4:00 AM my ex (she wasn’t my ex then just so you know…) shook me awake. “I think I’m in labor”.

I turned over and asked, “how far apart are the contractions?”

“I haven’t timed them yet”.

“Oh okay. Let me know when the next one comes”, I said sleepily.

I had awakened enough to know I needed to head upstairs to the bathroom. As I walked past the picture window along the stairs, I saw the snow coming down hard. Only about half of the chain link fence was visible. “This is not good”, I mumbled. When I returned to bed, she told me she thought it was a false labor. I crawled back in bed and fell back asleep.

I awoke a couple of hours later and once again slid out of bed and headed upstairs to make coffee. As I passed the window once again, I noticed that only the pointed tops of the four-foot fence were visible. I opened the back door to check on my car. All I could see was its blue roof poking through the snow. The driveway and the alley were covered in three feet of snow and even larger drifts. This really wasn’t good…

Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash

Adrian, our oldest, woke up and he and his Mom came in the kitchen. She put down and he promptly ran to the living room to see what Santa had brought. I poured the coffee and went into the living room. My Christmas morning excitement was tempered by the realization that my ex might really be in labor.

The snow continued to fall – and fall and fall and… You get the idea. Denver was in the middle of a “hundred year” blizzard.

About 9:00 in the evening my ex looked at me and said, “I really am in labor now”. The contractions were now seven minutes apart. I knew there was no way we could get my car out of the drive. I called 911 and explained our situation. Apparently, labor is not an emergency. It would be a four to five hour wait for an ambulance and we were told to go the nearest hospital labor and delivery rooms. I figured I’d been through one birth already. I mentally prepared to deliver a baby at home. I prayed – a lot!

There was a knock at the door about thirty minutes later. A gentleman had responded to the pleas for citizens with four-wheel drive to ferry paramedics around. Three paramedics greeted me as I opened the door.

We gathered go-bags and our son together and filed out through the path the paramedics had made to the door. They assisted my poor wife who, at 5’3”, was trying to make her way through the four feet of snow. Once to the care, the 6 of us (and all the paramedic kits) piled into an old Jeep Waggoneer. The driver informed my very pregnant wife that between contractions she would have to reach outside and keep the snow of the windshield as the wipers didn’t work. Of course, they didn’t…

We found ourselves in a strange hospital with a strange doctor who had obviously been there long past hi original shift (he was a bit cranky). We were just getting settled into the labor room when the nurse said, “it’s time”. My wife was wheeled down to the delivery room and I changed into scrubs. Less than an hour later I was holding a brand-new bundle of joy – Jeremy Alan Joel.

I slept in a nurse’s lounge that night. When I returned to my wife’s room, I was greeted with a Christmas gift that I’ll never forget – Jeremy in a red stocking with a Santa hat on.

When Adrian, my oldest son, was born, parenting didn’t seem as difficult as we thought. Then we had Jeremy. We’ve often joked (kind of…) that Jeremy made his appearance in the world with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other demanding to be fed NOW. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.

Sitting here on Christmas morning I’m reminded how blessed I am. For thirty-seven years I was given the gift of a son I miss dearly today. I was also given a Savior – God With Us – to walk me through the grief I have today. I’ve been fortunate to have people in my life who know what losing a child is like. I have a God that knows my grief even more so – “This is how much God loved the world: He gave His Son, His one and Only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in Him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to the trouble of sending His Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help and put the world right again” John 33.16-17 (The Message).

My son was a brilliant artist (our first home had the marker and crayon marks to foretell this), but his greatest achievement was threefold – Baillie, Izabella, and Lucas. Today I will think of the wonderful gifts he left us. The gift I offer him is honoring his gift to me.

Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday Jeremy

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Be Like Chuck

This is a difficult update to write today. Yesterday we learned that our friend, Chuck Briant, passed away unexpectedly on Monday. We are heartbroken by his passing. Chuck was a huge supporter and advocate for Opal’s Farm and I’m proud to call him my friend. Our prayers are with his family during this difficult time.

Chuck and I met early last summer. Our mutual friend, Harrison had brought him out to the farm. Chuck fell in love with Opal’s Farm right away. He made it a point to stop by the farm frequently, even during the extreme heat of the Texas summer and the blustery chill of winter. He helped harvest, prepare beds for Spring, and keep everyone in line. The only time we didn’t see him was when he went out of town to visit his kids and grandkids.

During the lean times of our first year it was Chuck that helped us through. More than once it was his words that kept me from giving up when it seemed impossible to make our dream of an urban farm a reality. He had an uncanny ability to say just the right thing at just the right time. I can’t tell you how much his encouragement and wisdom helped me grow as not only the Farm Manager, but as a person.

He had an incredible servant’s heart – particularly when it came to making sure everyone had food, healthy food, on the table. His passion was contagious. Most importantly, he served with a humble spirit, often asking to remain anonymous in matters of service. He gave freely – something we should all aspire to.

I think we were all in shock yesterday when we heard the news. Today was a mix of tears and “Chuck stories”. It’s fitting that I was watering in new seed when I got the call yesterday. Chuck was always intent on watering everything in good – sometimes to a fault. He’d always ask if I needed to get some water down. “Those plants look like they need some water”. I could never convince him that they were going to be okay (especially since I’d watered earlier in the day. As I worked the tomato beds today, I could see him standing there with hose in hand.

We’re convinced that Chuck knew everyone. His network of friends was unbelievable, which isn’t surprising given who Chuck was. We used to joke that when we all get to heaven Chuck will be deep in conversation with Jesus and somebody will walk by and ask who that is over there talking to Chuck…

Chuck touched each one of us who knew him in a unique way and helped us all be better people. He is missed more than words can say. We wish everyone could “be like Chuck”. We’d all be better for it.