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Words That Pull the Trigger

Thoughts From the Porch: We sold out early at the farmer’s market Saturday. We sold much of the week’s harvest on Wednesday, so we were a bit light for Saturday’s market. Our normal crowd was a bit smaller due to the rainy morning. Even a few of our farmers took the day off for other pursuits. Hopefully, everyone enjoyed a much-needed break from summer chores. I know I did.

Our friends Melvin and Janice called Friday night to invite us up to Lake Murray for a camping weekend. It was a perfect Saturday morning to leave market early and head to Oklahoma. Cell service is almost non-existent there. Spending a couple of days unplugged from everything is a periodic necessity. A couple of days in a quiet campsite with good friends is just what the doctor ordered!

Life is full of small pleasures. My Sunday morning meeting was covered by someone else, so I slept in for a change. Upon awakening I made the coffee and headed for some serious porch time. I made the mistake of checking out my CNN app and discovered twenty-nine people had been killed in two mass shootings just hours apart: one in El Paso and the other in Dayton, Ohio. It was difficult to separate the horror and sadness I experienced from the rising fury toward the hatefulness of the crimes.

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 I wanted to write about it but growing older (and hopefully wiser) has allowed me to hit the pause button on such occasions lest I speak or write out of anger. I tend to say things I later regret or that are misunderstood. It makes apologies and amends to others for my emotional outburst extremely difficult. So, I’ve mulled this over for the last couple of days before sharing my thoughts.

Same story, different day…

The storyline has become all-to familiar. Another mass shooting. The news covers all the vigils held to honor the dead. Finding relatives of the fallen or hospital room interviews with survivors are a ratings bonanza. There’s an outcry against gun violence. Politicians and political pundits from both sides of the aisle pontificate on how to prevent this from happening again, just as they did the last time and the time before that. What happened Sunday will happen again today, tomorrow, and so it goes.

According to data collected by the non-profit organization, Gun Violence Archive, (as of August 4th, 2019) a mass shooting is defined as “an event where at least four people, not including the gunman, were shot”. By this definition, there have been 292 mass shootings in last 219 days of this year alone. I’m no math wizard but according to my calculations, that’s 1.3 mass shootings a day.

We simply don’t hear about most of them. It seems only a large body count is newsworthy. Maybe we’ve become numb to “average” shootings. Many occur in communities most folks ignore anyway. Sadly, if this weekend’s events are like previous mass shootings, the media will play with the story for a few days until another ratings booster comes along…

Words can kill just like bullets

The FBI is unsure as to the motive of the Dayton shooter, but are treating the El Paso event as an act of domestic terrorism based on white supremacy. The shooter’s motives were clear so he several hundred miles to carry out a planned attack on immigrants because of the “Hispanic invasion of Texas”.

The “Hispanic invasion”. “Those people”. “Go back where you came from”. All words and phrases coming from the highest office in the land. All words that spark hate, division, and most of all, fear. When asked what we can do about the problem with those people, someone shouted, “shoot them” and everyone present laughed. Except for one 21-year-old from North Texas. He took those words literally…

I don’t know what to do about gun control, red flag laws, or mental health issues and gun violence. I don’t know if the present occupant of the White House will change his words, but maybe we should hold him accountable for those words. Words kill. They accounted for at least 22 of the deaths this weekend. Hateful words, attitudes, and divisiveness pulled the trigger as much as the gunman did. Donald Trump is as complicit in the El Paso shooting as the gunman.

What I do know is to counter hateful words and actions with love and grace, despite my anger and sadness. The grace shown to me by a loving Abba will guide my actions. I’ll not allow hate and division to interfere with loving and uniting others, especially “the others”.

What I know for certain is, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke (in a letter addressed to Thomas Mercer). I won’t be quiet, nor will I sit still.

Will you?

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Thistles and Wheat…

Thoughts From the Porch: I was just looking back over the last three or four weeks and noted that I haven’t posted much this month. I’ve tried to keep everyone updated on Opal’s Farm, but I spend far more time at the farm and less time at the desk (or on the porch). June is an incredibly busy month for everyone at Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm. The Juneteenth celebrations and programs, harvesting our Spring crops, and preparing for Fall planting keep us hopping. It has been a fantastic, yet tiring, month.

We’ve been blessed here in North Texas with below average temperatures and abnormally late rainfall. The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting rainfall into July, which is extremely rare on the southern plains. We haven’t even had a one hundred plus degree day yet (I’m knocking on my old oak desk as you read this). It’s still hot (this is Texas), but the farm is doing well. We had our first public sale to the neighborhood last Sunday. We hope to be at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market tomorrow (we’ll keep you posted!).

I was weeding the watermelon and cantaloupe rows yesterday and had to be somewhat gentle in my approach to some tall weeds. Tall weeds, especially the Johnson grass, are the inevitable consequence or good rainfall. Still, I’ll gladly trade tall weeds for abundant amounts of rain.

If you’re familiar with melon vines you know they put out small tendrils that grab onto anything in their path. The vines were tangled among many of the weeds making it impossible to remove one without damaging the other. I decided to let vines go crazy through the weeds rather than damage the growing melons.

It reminded me of a story Jesus told of a farmer who planted good seed in his field only to discover someone snuck in during the night and planted thistles among his wheat. The farmhands wondered how to resolve this dilemma. The head farmer told them to leave it alone. If they tried to remove the thistles, they’d pull up the wheat as well. “Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvester to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn” (Matthew 13. 29-30, The Message).

Jesus said God’s kingdom is like that. The good (wheat, or in my case, melons) are often intertwined with the bad (the thistles and Johnson grass). Sometimes I simply accept that my field, and my life, are filled with both good and bad things, but the end always results in a harvest. If I don’t try to have my way (I don’t like weeds, nor do I wish the discomfort of the negative things in life) it seems the harvest is always bountiful. Opal’s Farm is a reminder that watermelons and cantaloupes always win out over thistles and Johnson grass. I just have to take gentle care of the field…

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Spartans and Teamwork

Thoughts from the Porch: Summer is officially here. The summer equinox is in the rear-view mirror. The days will grow shorter though no one will notice (or care) for the next three months. While we normally experience summer drought, this year has kept the rains coming into June. We had another huge thunderstorm last night. It’s the third Sunday in a row for North Texas. I am eternally grateful for the rain as we’re still working on irrigation for the farm. I could do without the straight-line winds though. I’ll be clearing out tree limbs for the next couple of hours…

I had the privilege of attending my first Spartan race this Saturday at AT&T Stadium (Home of the Dallas Cowboys or “Jerryworld” as it’s known locally). I didn’t realize what a big deal a Spartan race is. The fact they were holding it at the stadium should’ve been a clue. There were folks from all over the country racing Saturday. The first competitors started early in the morning and they were still starting racers when I left at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon.

The Second Obstacle – makes me dizzy thinking about it…

My oldest son, Adrian, started running and working out regularly again. Last month he ran his first 5K in twenty years and finished first in his age group. I was proud of him and quite impressed! Saturday he was more concerned about simply finishing and helping other team members than where he placed in the race. I’m far more impressed by his heart than I am by his race time.

Over the first wall…

He formed a team with several other guys that shared the same race coach for the day. Although they hadn’t meet each other before the race, they bonded as a team and helped one another through a grueling race and obstacle course. One of the team members struggled and fell farther behind than the others. Finally, the rest of the team had to press forward, leaving him behind with the team coach. The other members went on to complete the course.

Finished the First One!

Adrian crossed the finish line and we celebrated together. Then he returned to the field to join the rest of his team look for the one runner still on the course. When he entered the field from the punishing run up and down the stairs at AT&T Stadium his team members were there to cheer him on.

Then an amazing thing happened…

The other team members joined him on the course to complete the final obstacles alongside him. It may not seem like a big deal, but understand, these guys had already completed the course. They were tired and sore. Most importantly, they didn’t have to do it. They ran through the remaining three obstacles and crossed the finish line together – as a team!

None of these guys had met before Saturday. The only thing they had in common was the Spartan coach they’d each paid extra for. Still, they became a real team. They were there for each other; the perfect example of sportsmanship.

Running and racing is generally thought of as an individual, not a team, sport. Adrian and his fellows reminded me one more time of the importance of teamwork. No one is left behind and forgotten simply because “I” finished. It’s about finishing together and relying on each other. I truly am my brother’s keeper and not just at a Spartan race…

I will remember Adrian’s example more than I’ll ever remember his race time. Thank you, Son for the reminder of what’s truly important. Individual accomplishments are great, but team accomplishments, what we do together as a community, mean the most. I’m proud of you, Son!

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Always Remember

It’s a brilliant, sunny late Spring day here in North Texas. Soon I’ll head off to Opal’s Farm. It’s been incredibly busy. Our first harvest of French Breakfast Radishes came in. We have about a hundred pounds bundled for sale and another hundreds pounds still to harvest. The beans and peas are in full bloom and squash is getting almost big enough to pick.

I haven’t had a great deal of time to write this last week with all the goings on. This week marked the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasion that turned the tide in the Allies favor during World War Two. Those who know me might find it peculiar I’m memorializing warfare. My faith calls me to be a non-violent peacemaker. Still, I know my calling is not shared by everyone and I honor the veterans who fought for their beliefs and each other.

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Tom Brokaw coined the term “the greatest generation” when speaking of my parents peers. As a history student I was always intrigued by the men who fought so gallantly during “The War” as it came to be known. I grew up on the great epic movies about WWII- “Patton”, “The Battle of the Bulge”, Guns of Navarrone”, John Wayne and “The Fighting Seabees” and so forth. I saw “The Great Escape” at the long since demolished Gateway Theater twice a day on three successive Saturday matinees (for 50 cents admission I might add). Steve McQueen was my hero…

Things changed and I grew past the illusions I was taught. After all, “history is written by the victors” and subsequent wars proved to be void of morality. It’s no longer about defense but about gain. War is usually started by men who have never served. They were wealthy or powerful enough to worm their way out of military service. They’re quite content to let your young men fight for their wants while they talk about how patriotic they are; but enough said or I’ll get started…

Still, those WWII vets always held a special place of honor above all others. Perhaps its because of my father and my uncle’s (one of whom died at Anzio, Italy) service. It’s a way I hang onto them as well. They never spoke of their service. They did what they were called to do and now they’re gone, like so many of their generation. I miss them.

There are only 1.7 million WWII vets alive today. Their time is growing short. The “greatest generation” will pass away and become memory. That’s why it’s so important (for me anyway) to cherish the time I’m given with some of the men who served. They’re more likely to share about it today if you ask. I encourage you to ask. Not only will you be riveted to their stories, you’ll pay them honor and respect as well.

This is my small tribute to those men that leapt of the boats at Normandy seventy-five years ago. Thank you for being part of my life and sharing your stories.

“I cherish the memories of a question my grandson asked me the other day when he said, ‘Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?’ Grandpa said, ‘No, but I served in a company of heroes.'” —Major Richard Winters

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Living in Exile

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.

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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 favorite authors.

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 came from…

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…

“Trendy” Christians

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 anyway…

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 impersonal.

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 checks…

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.

Self-imposed Exile

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…

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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 anyway).

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Spiders and Clarity

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!

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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 temporary insanity…

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 impossible.

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.

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

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?

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Finding Your “Why”: Part Three

I must apologize for the delay in posting the third reason to become an Opal’s Farm volunteer or sponsor. It’s been quite a week at the farm. Over an acre of beds are finished and several hundred feet of landscape fabric were laid around the perimeter to help deter the infamous weeds from encroaching on the finished product. Unfortunately, the weekend storms ripped the fabric from the landscape staples requiring repair just in time for more severe weather. Such is the farm life…

A couple of weeks ago I received an email from a young man named Brendan O’Connell regarding Opal’s Farm He had seen a news story about the farm on KERA 90.1 and reached out to me for a farm tour. He has become a volunteer for Opal’s Farm and exemplifies a big “why” for anyone. So, without further ado I turn the spotlight on Brendan.

Brendan graduated from Fort Worth Country Day School last year. He decided to take a “gap year’ after high school and will start at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in August. However, he isn’t using the gap year to take it easy. He’s volunteered at a local low-income clinic as a Nurse’s Assistant and started at the farm this past week.

His interest in urban farming began six years when he started his own garden and raising food for his family. He told me he developed an interest in “the relationships between agriculture, public health and medicine, and the economic dynamics” that affect marginalized communities and food deserts. He’s thrilled that an urban farm has come to Fort Worth wants to learn as much as he can while he’s here.

He has been invaluable since he started. I can’t begin to tell you how much we’ve been able to accomplish in short order. He goes well beyond interest in the farm. I asked him about his “why”. I mean no offense, but he’s not your typical nineteen-year-old.

His original email offered some insight as to his motivation, but it goes beyond mere intellectual curiosity. He’s genuinely concerned about the common good; about our community. He sees Opal’s Farm as a solution to the issues of access to fresh, nutritious food and the health and well-being of neglected neighborhoods. An urban farm enables all our community to thrive and become a better place to live.

One Acre Down…

His interest will help in his future studies. Beyond that, it fills a desire to be part of the solution for food justice and the health of each of us.

I often tell Brendan how grateful I am for his service. What I’ve failed to communicate though, is the gratitude I feel for everyone who looks beyond themselves to the community and the common good. I’m hopeful for the future of my hometown, and by extension, my world, when I see young people like Brendan committed to the solutions.

If you’re still searching for your “why” I have some more ideas coming. In the meantime, if you can’t volunteer at this time please go to www.unityunlimited.org today and make your secure donation to the future of Fort Worth’s neighborhoods.