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Chevrolet Heaven

Thoughts From the Porch: Sometimes I wonder if my memories of childhood are mine or they were my father’s. His recall of the past was beyond my understanding. Heck, I find it difficult to remember what I had for breakfast a couple of hours ago, but Dad – he remembered everything. On more than one occasion I’d wish his recall didn’t work so well. Embarrassment is one emotion I’d rather not deal with.

I sat on the porch this morning, drinking my coffee, watching the rain fall, and letting my mind wander across my memory landscape. It always seems cloudy the farther back I walk. The mental pictures become blurred and I don’t know if the memory is real or a story my father told me. They must be real. Dad would never had lied to me about anything. Still, everything in my experience seems just out of reach.

The one thing I’m sure is real is the green pickup truck my father had. The picture is crystal clear. It was a ’52 Chevrolet Apache, hunter green with high sideboards my father had made and put on. He had a second job delivering a Sunday paper called “The Shopper” and the sideboards were to hold all the newspapers. The papers would come off the press around two o’clock in the morning on Sunday. He’d fill the truck bed with papers and two assistants and off they go to throw the paper on their assigned route.

I was almost always asleep when Dad went to work so I don’t recall his absence, I remember the truck. I loved that truck. It always seemed to me that the truck didn’t belong in the city. It belonged on a farm – a big farm with wide, open meadows, horses, cows, and chickens – the kind my uncles and cousins had.

Suddenly remembering that truck this morning seemed so random, but little in life is random. Experience has shown that there’s usually some pattern, some order to life that can only be understood in hindsight. To quote Soren Kirkegaard, “Life can only be understood looking backward, but it must be lived forwards.”

I miss Dad. He passed away in 2002. Eighteen years later I find myself thinking of him regularly. It’s happy thoughts most days – he was quite special – but sometimes it’s a deep sadness that he’s no longer here. Today is one of those days.

When Dad passed, my life was total chaos – in and out of jail, unemployment, and degradation. It was a downhill slide for the next three years, until I hit bottom. I hurt my father in so many ways. He only wanted the very best for me and it was gut-wrenching to watch his son self-destruct. I know. I hurt when my kids hurt. Call it co-dependent if you’d like. I call it parenting…

Life changed for me on December 1st, 2005, and with it came the sadness that Dad wasn’t here to see it. He, above all people, deserved to see the change. I would give anything to hear his embarrassing and oft repeated stories one more time. I’d give anything to have him enjoy the peace that life offers today.

Thinking about that truck doesn’t seem so random anymore. It was always meant to be on a farm. Today I know Dad and I would be driving down to Opal’s Farm, working side by side, and telling stories. We’d laugh together and maybe he’d sing one of his silly songs. The dogs would be piled in the back. It’d be a gorgeous Spring morning. Life would be how it was meant to be.

It’s funny that old green Chevrolet shows a glimpse of the promised “new heaven and a new earth”. Sadness has turned to joy today thinking about that truck and Dad. I’m pretty sure he’s got her gassed up and ready. We’ll hop in and take for a spin around the farm. Life how it’s meant to be…

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Those of us who live in the West and experience the privilege of being white tend to gloss over the important fact that Jesus lived in an occupied territory. He was not part of the dominant culture. – Fr. Richard Rohr

Thoughts From the Porch

Like many people, I probably fall into the “spiritual, not religious” polling category these days. I still claim membership to a large non-denominational church that used to wear the name “Church of Christ”, but I rarely attend anymore. Even though there are many things I love about my faith tradition, I find myself uncomfortable in a place where “white, suburban, middle-class” continues to be the dominant member demographic.

To be fair, my church tries to be inclusive and has always been welcoming of everyone. They serve both the local and global community. It’s just that for the most part, most of the congregants are white. That’s what happens when you’re located in a predominantly white suburb. It’s the whole “birds of a feather” thing. It’s not intentional, or is it?

The issue of race and racism in my church began to rise to the surface last year. Although it saddens me that it took so long to come up, the minister took a bold leap and preached a series on race. For most of those of the Caucasian persuasion this meant having to discuss racism and race, particularly in the church, for the first time. I applaud their efforts. Quite frankly, white people are extremely uncomfortable talking about such subjects. They deny the problem like an alcoholic denies their alcoholism. It requires a level of honest appraisal that most folks shy away from. Ripping off the intellectual bandages to reveal an ugly, festering wound is painful, but necessary to heal properly. That’s why I was excited to see them offer a seminar “Let’s Start Talking About Race”. At least they’re talking, right?

Excellent Resource @ http://www.tonycaldwell.com

“In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. that is, we are all in a common relationship with Christ. Also, since you are Christ’s family, then you are Abraham’s ‘descendant’, heirs according to the covenant promises”. Galatians 3.28-29 – The Message

My biggest fear is that my church will stop at ‘talking’ about the problem. My friend, Jim, always told me that “when all was said and done, more would be said than done”. Like the alcoholic who sees the reality of their alcoholism, the church is left with a choice: either continue the destructive behavior or take an active part in the healing process. Action is often simple, but far from easy. Honestly, most of us choose an easier way. That’s scary and a bit hopeless. The good news is we don’t have to do it alone.

I don’t pretend to have the answers. I know however, that relationships are the key, especially ones with people of color. Several years ago, I was working for a local ministry on a community garden on the heart of Como, a predominantly African American and neglected, low income community here in Fort Worth.

During the first days of tilling, building beds, and planting, a guy who rode his bike past the garden each day, stopped and asked why we were tearing up the vacant lot where old downtown Como used to be. I explained to him what we were doing – building a garden that would serve the community. His response was unexpected.

“You white folks come down here and tell us what’s good for our neighborhood as if you know better than us. Your white church comes down here for a few days to help us poor black folk so you can feel better about yourselves and tell everyone to look and see what you did. Then you go back to your nice comfy suburbs and leave us to clean up the mess”.

I thought for a moment, looked him in the eye, and said, “You’re right, but I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be here tomorrow and the day after that.” He grunted and rode off down the street.

What the gentleman passing by didn’t know was that I was working for a neighborhood ministry. Still, I learned something that day. Good intentions hide the fact that we’re still a part of the systemic racism that plagues our society. We don’t listen to communities of color because we think we know better. We think know better because of our implicit bias that says the dominant white culture is ‘normal’ so it must be right. What is that but white supremacy. Ouch…

Several days later, the same guy began to say hello as he rode past each morning. This continued for a few mornings until one day he stopped to ask what “that was coming up over there?” We began a conversation and he introduced himself as Stephen. I introduced myself and we talked about what else was coming up. A couple of days after that his stops became more frequent.

He spoke of the rich history of the land I’d planted, how the neighborhood movie house had been there and how the old downtown had been a vibrant gathering place for the community. He began to stop regularly and chat, asking how things were going. His initial combative attitude changed to one of neighborliness.

The lesson I learned from all of this is that we begin to see each other differently when we spend time with each other. People cease to be ‘them’ and divisions begin to break down. That’s hard to do in a place, especially a church, that lacks diversity – diversity of thought, color, and culture. Unfortunately, Dr. King was right – “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.” That lesson has been reinforced many times over the years. I’ve had to take a long, hard, honest look at myself in the process.

I’ve had to identify the old tapes and the old ways of thinking I grew up with. I had to be honest enough to admit my shortcomings and ask God to remove them. I had to repent, or rethink, my old ideas and actions.

I love the word repent. Acknowledging the problem is the first step to a solution, whether it be in spiritual or worldly matters. Jim always told me that once I identify the problem I’m halfway to the solution. Repentance is full of hope and possibility – for all of us.

As I have said, I don’t know all the answers and I’m certainly no expert on racial issues However, I know everything has a beginning. Honest conversation (and listening is the key to conversation) is a great place to start. Just don’t stop there and start walking…

Image credit The Angelus (detail), Jean-François Millet, 18571859, Musee d’Orsay, Paris, France.
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The Best Sermons I Ever Heard…

I’ve been taking a personal writing hiatus for the last couple of weeks. It’s been quite busy with Opal’s Farm and client requests. When life gets a bit too hectic I’ve learned the value of a Sabbath rest…

Fortunately, it’s been gloomy and rainy here for the past two days. Thursday’s downpour and yesterday’s off-and-on showers allowed me to complete many of the projects I have going. I woke up this morning to a glorious sunrise, bright skies, warmer temperatures, and a brain worm…

Jonathan Edward’s “Sunshine (Go Away Today)” kept echoing through my head even though the last thing I want is for the sun to leave. It’s a great song from my younger days though. It led me to look it up on You Tube. I couldn’t help but listen to the subsequent playlist – Greg Allman, Jackson Browne, Jimmy Buffet – and my favorite from the morning, Arlo.

Now I know some of you have no idea who Arlo is. I know I’m dating myself, but Arlo and his father, Woody (as in Guthrie) shared a musical wisdom few possess. (Aside: I still follow the ritual I started some forty years ago by playing “Alice’s Restaurant” each Thanksgiving Day at Noon!).

As I was watching the video from one of Arlo’s more recent performances I was struck by the fact that some of the best sermons I’ve ever heard of not come from preachers and pastors, but from artists. There’s a spirituality in art, particularly music, that I’ve never found in a church service.

I hope you enjoy the clip. It’s rather long. Then again, most preachers go on a lot longer. (Another aside: When I was a kid we always found on preachers who went past the allotted twenty-minute sermon time – the Baptists would beat us to Luby’s…)

Anyway, I found it particularly meaningful on a bright, sunny day. By the way, Sunshine don’t run off…

Have a great weekend!
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This Year I Resolve to… Oh, Never Mind…

Thoughts From the Porch

New Year’s Eve is usually a big party. I prefer to save celebration for New Year’s Day itself. Maybe I’m simply getting older, but I tend to leave the New Year’s Eve celebrations to younger folks. I don’t do the big crowds and the midnight countdowns anymore. Besides, it’ll be 2020 when I wake up right?

I greet the New Year with a group of great men who get together for an annual 8:00 AM breakfast meeting. Later, I get to enjoy some home cooking at Ms. Opal’s house with a multitude of friends. I can’t think of a better way to start the New Year.

The breakfast was great. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to participate in the lunch portion of the day. We opted for an emergency room visit instead. Margaret was getting out of the car at Ms. Opal’s and turned the wrong way causing a loud click and immediate swelling on the leg still healing from October’s break.

Prior to running off to the ER we were able to eat a bowl of black-eyed peas. I’m not sure any medical emergency supersedes eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. They must’ve brought good luck right away. The ER visit found only a sprain rather than a break (the whole “good news, bad news” thing). Please keep Margaret in your thoughts and prayers. Sprains are still painful…

An aside… Did you know that sprains involve ligaments while strains involve muscles? I never knew that… Anyway…

New Year’s Day always felt like the opportunity for a “do-over”. Each year I would resolve to change the negative thoughts and behaviors of the past year. I’d quit smoking, I’d make better use of my time, I’d start going to the gym, etc. You know the routine. January 1st was a restart date, a reinvention of myself. In my younger days, my resolutions would last at least a couple of weeks. Later, they were lucky to last until lunch.

I’m not big on resolutions anymore. I’m not saying I’ve given up or life changes don’t need to be made. I still set goals – targets to aim for. I’ve also learned I tend set some goals as if I still had a twenty-somethings body instead of an older slower version of myself. Although I find that, more often than not, I set my targets far too low. About the time I think I’ve achieved my goal God steps in and reminds me how short-sighted I can be.

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

I’m reminded of a story my friend Edgar passed on to me many years ago. There was a man who died and went to heaven. Saint Peter was conducting the new arrival’s orientation and showing all the great things there were to see. It truly was heavenly. Towards the end of the tour, the man noticed a fenced in lot containing all kinds of fancy cars, yachts, and expensive ‘toys’.

“What’s that over there?” he asked.

Saint Peter looked where he was pointing. “Oh, that. That’s God’s junkyard”.

“Junkyard! What do mean? That stuff is incredible”.

Saint Peter shrugged nonchalantly. “That’s just unused junk. It’s stuff people prayed for and didn’t want.”

“Didn’t want?” the man asked incredulously. “Who wouldn’t want things like that?”

Saint Peter pointed to a beautiful Mercedes Benz sedan. “See that. That one was yours, but you didn’t want it”.

“What do you mean I didn’t want it? I would’ve loved it”.

Saint Peter smiled and said, “Do you remember back in 1982, when you had just started a new job after being unemployed for so long. The unemployment checks had run out and they were going to turn off your utilities when you found that job, but then our car blew up after just a couple of weeks. You thought you’d lose the new job since you had no way to get there. It was looking awfully hopeless”.

“Yea. I remember that. I sure didn’t get a Mercedes though”.

“Well, that was the car God picked out to replace it until you prayed “even a ’73 Pinto is okay if I can get to work…”

I think of that story every time I begin to pray for specifics or start thinking I know what’s best for me: the goals I’ve set; resolutions I’ve made.

Instead of making resolutions this year I’m going to let go of my small-minded thinking and allow God to take me where He wants me to be.

 “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart”. (Psalm 37.4)

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Sorrow and a Few Regrets?

Thoughts From the Porch

Winter officially arrived at 10:19 Saturday night. That must be why it’s not cold enough to freeze but still a wet cold that pierces the skin and settles in the bones. Such is winter in North Texas. I’ve been here all, but seventeen years, of my life and I’m still not used to it. At least it’s warming up for the rest of Christmas week…

A box with Christmas floral arrangements arrived the other day. My sister in Georgia sent them. She asked me to place them at the cemetery for Mom and Dad. My sister is far better at remembering things like that than I am. It’s not that special days aren’t special. It’s usually because I’m so forgetful. I never seem to think of birthdays and holidays until the day before or the day of. If I’m totally honest then I must admit sometimes the day passes and it doesn’t dawn on me until two or three days later. I’d love to blame it on my past neurological issues. The reality is that I’ve always been that way with holidays.

Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com

I go to the cemetery regularly. Sometimes it’s just a quiet place to pray and meditate, but mostly I go to talk to Mom and Dad. I’m quite sure they hear me loud and clear although their place in time and space limits my ability to hear them. I can only settle for memories of conversations long past.

I took the flowers to the cemetery. I went to place them in the vase above the headstone only to find the vase broken again. It had cracked once before and I guess I need a different epoxy glue for the marble marker. There were two arrangements, one for Mom, one for Dad. It didn’t seem right to only acknowledge their markers. After all, it’s a family plot. I certainly couldn’t overlook Grandmother, so I placed the two arrangements at opposite sides of the family headstone and stepped back to check the placement. Now everyone was honored…

I wished them each a Merry Christmas and tried to leave but I could not. I felt the tears well up and erupt in a sudden explosion of grief. Honestly, I was a bit shaken by it all. It’s been seventeen years since Dad passed and seven years of Christmas without Mom. My sister moved her to Georgia five years before her death since she required more care than I could offer here at home. At least I had some time to ease into the holidays without either of my parents.

“All my life’s a circle, sunrise and sundown…” – Harry Chapin

The cycle of life goes on. Birth, life, death. Rinse and repeat, right? It is what it is. We all die and experience the death of those close to us. I’m generally in acceptance of the whole affair. Grieving is something we all do. I still think about my parents on almost a daily basis, but it’s usually happy memories and I’m at peace. I guess that’s why I felt so blindsided by the sadness that poured over me. I simply wasn’t expecting it. Grief has a way of doing that…

When Mom passed in 2017, I walked through the grieving process with the help of family and friends. The strong relationship with God, forged by recovery, afforded me that opportunity. Mom got to watch the miracle of my recovery unfold in her later years. Staring at the headstones for the rest of those in our family plot, I realized no one else could say that (except for Uncle Bynam, who died at Anzio in World War Two – born at the end of the “War to end all wars” and died in the next one – the irony isn’t lost on me, but that’s another story for another time…). Sorrow and regret washed over me.

My life, for the most part, is free of regrets. Acceptance and a relationship with a loving God helped me deal with the demons of the past; especially those of my own creation…). Life doesn’t allow “do-overs” and I’m okay with that. I made amends where I could, accepted those I couldn’t, and received and gave forgiveness to others and myself to the best of my ability. Most days, I live in the present and the future is bright. It is what it is…

Standing there in front of the family plot reminded me of what I do regret, what I wish could have been different. I wish with all my heart my Dad, not to mention my uncles and Grandmother, could see me today. My faith says they do, but it’s not quite the same as having them physically here.

Contrary to popular belief, “time doesn’t heal all wounds”. It merely closes them up, scars over, and aches from time to time It’s like my knee surgeries. I’ve recovered from the injury, but they still hurt from time to time. Grief will come at unexpected times and with no expiration date stamped on it.

When it does it’s often accompanied by regret, but my perspective has changed. Instead of the old “if only” inner dialogue, I’m reminded I can’t correct the past, but I can change my future: a future I’m pleased to live out under the gaze of those I love.

I stood there until the tears subsided. I said my goodbyes and wished those I love a Merry Christmas. I would’ve wished them a Happy New Year as well, but I’m convinced that has little meaning for them now. God’s time is measured differently.

As I turned to leave, the wind, which had been absent a moment before, blew fiercely through the surrounding trees. The Tibetan Book of the Dead says that when a great a soul dies the winds blow mightily. It happened on the night of my father’s death and every time I’ve visited the cemetery since. I like to think it’s his way of saying, “I’m proud of you, Son. Keep doing what you’re doing”. The tears began again. This time they were tears of gratitude and joy…

“That’s why we can be so sure that every detail of our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” Romans 8.28

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Listen to Your Elders

Down on the Farm

I admit I was a bit delusional after the fall harvest was over. I had this idea in my head that things around Opal’s Farm would slow down some for the winter months. The last couple of weeks have shattered such illusions. It’s going to be a race to get ready for Spring!

In spite of our busy season ahead, the last couple of days have provided both a break from farm labor and an extreme delight. I’ve been able to spend them with Ms. Opal, our namesake. On Tuesday we spent the afternoon delivering food boxes from the Community Food Bank. It’s a regular thing for her every week. She calls me to help on occasion and I’m honored she asked. I get to spend this afternoon with her as well.

Most of you know about Ms. Opal. Her “Walk to DC” to honor and request a Federal holiday for Juneteenth has been all over the media. She’s a legend in Fort Worth for her community and civil rights activism. Her image is depicted on the Black History mosaic mural at the Downtown Trinity Metro station (“I’m the little old lady in the white tennis shoes”). She holds a place in Fort Worth Independent School District’s “Wall of Honor”. She’s met with Presidents, whether it be the President of America, of various universities, or of corporations large and small, to spread her message of love, unity, and of course, Juneteenth. She lives out Dr. King’s words, “No man is free until all men are free”.

My lovely wife, Margaret, with our hero Ms. Opal
(sorry I’m a lousy photographer) at “Juneteenth: The Play”.

Yesterday, we met with Anthony Drake at the McCart WalMart (super center #2978). They have blessed Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm with incredible donations to Unity’s various programs. Yesterday, we were picked up apples and oranges for some 150 kid’s Christmas “stockings”. We had to wait some time for the extra busy store manager to come up front so we could check out. As Ms. Opal and I waited, our conversation was often interrupted when she would take off to hand out cards about her “Walk to DC”. She is the most purpose-driven lady I’ve ever known. There’s no such thing as idle time when Ms. Opal is around.

She started writing her thoughts down more formally lately under the title, “Musings of an Old Lady”. I loved what she wrote but I’m not sure about the title. Ms. Opal may be 93 but she’s certainly no “old” lady. Her endless energy and drive are hard to keep up with for anyone. I’ve never met someone who exemplifies Jesus’ teaching to “love God and love others” quite like she does.

As she told me more of her “musings” I thought what a great addition to our blog and social media. Sadly, younger people often ignore those who have been around for many years (I still don’t want to say old when Ms. Opal is involved…). I know this because my friends and I were the same way. Youth has two extremes: either “I know everything” or “why bother”. There are some are young people who are wise beyond their youth, but they’re a small minority.

Fortunately, as I’ve grown older, I’ve learned to listen my elders. I wish it had been sooner but, as my Dad used to remind me, “Wish in one hand, crap in the other, and see which one gets full first…”.

Older people possess a wealth of experience and wisdom: the proper application of their accumulated knowledge. They offer things no institution of higher learning can match. Getting to spend time with Ms. Opal has unlocked the door to a whole new world of history and experience. I often feel cheated when I realize the wealth of information I never received.

It was her vision that made Opal’s Farm (and my awesome job) possible. The thread running through everything Ms. Opal does is simple: get to know one another, particularly those who aren’t like you. Knowing someone different helps dispel the fear of the “other”. It doesn’t take a grand social program to do that. We can do it ourselves every day. Are we willing?

I think “Musings of an Old Lady” would be a perfect addition to this blog. Ms. Opal will be sending me her musings periodically. I can’t wait to share them with you…

You can read more about Miss Opal’s “Walk to DC” at www.opalswalk2dc.com. To learn more about Ms. Opal or to became a financial supporter of our work at Opal’s Farm please go to www.unityunlimited.org.

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Time to Celebrate

Thoughts From the Porch

I came home from my Sunday morning meeting and spent a long time lost in thought. Today is a special day of celebration in my life: probably more important than all the other holidays combined. I reflected on the friends who made it all possible. I cannot begin to come close to expressing my love and appreciation for them. You see, fourteen years ago I surrendered to God’s infinite grace and began an incredible, mystical journey with these people. Life began again. Dreams became. Miracles happened. In fact, I’ve come to depend on them. I’m living proof. I celebrate fourteen years free from the bonds of addiction, selfishness and self-obsession.

I don’t often speak of my recovery on social media. For most of my life I’ve been an example of what NOT to do. I wouldn’t want anyone to judge the recovery process by my actions. I chose a program of recovery that taught me how to rely on the God of my understanding to break the cycle of addiction, to correct my oft repeated shortcomings, and be of use to others. It has worked for me for a while now.

It gave me a relationship with God that grows more intimate each day. It offered me a new set of glasses through which I see the world as God would have me see His creation (most of the time at least). Where there only existed failure, depression, and endless desperation before, my life is filled with light and infinite possibility. I never dreamt that life could be this way. I know what joy and freedom are today. I’m recovering the life God intended for daily. Pretty damned amazing if you ask me…

Photo by Adonyi Gábor on Pexels.com

I thought of my friend and mentor, Jim, who walked alongside me throughout much of the journey. He followed an eternal path almost two years ago. Not a day goes by that his voice doesn’t speak to me, either in my head or through my friends. One friend in particular, Edgar, frequently quotes “Jimisms”. He always seems to know when they’re truly needed.

I thought about my brother Craig who opened his home when I needed it most. I spent five years sitting in his woodshop, sharing coffee, prayer, and spirit. No man is more blessed than me. I always wanted a brother. I had to wait fifty years to get one!

Perhaps most of, I thought about the woman in the next room who shares life with me; the woman that God (and recovery) gave me. Most of you know my wife Margaret. Most of you know Margaret broke her leg a few weeks ago. It’s been non-weight bearing and will be for several more weeks. It has been my honor and privilege to be her legs these last few weeks; to bring coffee, to help her to the chair, and push her wheelchair. Recovery taught me what it means to love someone else, to be in a relationship with God and the love of my life. It made it easy to exchange vows and really mean it. She is the light of my life and brings me joy on this walk together.

Blessed more than I deserve

I would be remiss if I failed to tell you how important each of you are in my life. I once told my friend Rusty that I could finally count my true friends on more than one hand. He told me I was blessed: most people can’t say that. From a life of isolation and loneliness I been brought into a life that almost feels too full at times. I somehow make room for it though. When I don’t God helps me make it bigger.

Above all, I know all is grace. I don’t deserve any of the blessings I enjoy today. I’m unbelievably thankful I didn’t get what I deserve – clean or using. What I received was an endless supply of love and grace instead. As my brother Craig reminds me, “God is especially fond of me” (and you, too!).

One of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received is waking up each day to a new and bright world full of hope and possibilities no matter what the newspaper (does anybody still read those?) may say. I get to “live creatively” as the Apostle Paul would say.

Thank you for being a part of this wonderful journey…