My heart is broken. My good friend, David Knight, passed away last night. I’m simply numb. The loss hasn’t hit fully. I can’t imagine what the days will be like without his oft bi-weekly visits to the farm and the looming silence of the telephone. I prefer not to even think about it today, but dwell on such a great loss makes that impossible.
I’ve written many times of my friendship with David. He holds a special place in my life. He and Nikki were the father and mother I could not be to my son Jeremy almost sixteen years ago. Jeremy lived with them for over a year while he got on his feet in life and recovery because I was unable to provide a home back then. David and Nikki were with our family when we gathered to mourn Jeremy’s passing last year.
I had a post-operative infection following brain surgery some eight-and-a-half years ago. I was in Neuro ICU for a month and friends and family worried about making the seemingly inevitable funeral plans. I was out of it for the first couple of weeks with only moments of consciousness. Yet, every time I woke up, I saw David sitting there in my NICU room. Later, when David found out about his cancer, I was given the honor and privilege of doing the same for my friend.
He beat the cancer and despite some lingering health problems (none of which were trivial by the way), he continued to be David – and for those who had the honor of knowing him you know exactly what I mean! He’d often visit me at the farm and Cowtown Farmers Market just to see what was going on. We shared about our lives and growing the best vegetables (both of us) in Fort Worth. We talked on the phone regularly. He’d often call just to say, “I love you brother”. It one of the highlights of my day.
I rushed to the hospital when Nikki called Friday. His survival odds were not good. He had received CPR earlier and was still unconscious until David Jr. arrived. He opened his eyes and looked at each of us. He couldn’t speak because of the intubation, but he knew we were all there. The greatest honor in my life was to have him know I was there. He slipped away on Saturday night.
I can’t tell you what I’m feeling right now. Loss, sadness, grief, numbness, extreme sorrow. I don’t know what I need to do next, but Nikki will need us more than ever. Right now, though, I think I’ll head to the farm and eat a tomato for David. I love you, my friend. Take Jeremy fishing again when you see him and keep our son In line…
Dropping in at our local big box retailer this weekend reminded me the Christmas season has begun in earnest. Despite the media prophecies of retail’s slow, painful death it was readily apparent that not everyone has switched to online shopping.
I try to avoid such visits any time of year but especially at Christmas time. They’re a reminder of all things negative about the Holidays: crowded stores, pushy and frustrated shoppers, rampant consumerism – the list goes on. In a season of giving, faith, and family I have a difficult time with all the hurried rudeness, impatience, and meltdown tantrums by parents and children alike.
That being said…
I got cover crops in at Opal’s Farm before the cold front and accompanying rain passed through yesterday. The rain meant I would have all day to catch-up on emails, callbacks, and write. All was going according to plan when I made a grave mistake. I walked through the living room to go out to my truck for a moment my wife was watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”. It was at the point in the movie where Jimmy Stewart’s character, a suicidal George Bailey, jumps off the bridge only to be rescued by his guardian angel, Clarence.
I won’t bore you with a retelling of the story. Who in the world hasn’t seen “It’s a Wonderful Life” anyway? It’s one of my all-time favorites. One can never see it too often. Suffice to say that all my plans immediately fell to the wayside. I sat down in the chair and didn’t get up until the end of the movie. I mentioned this mistake to my friend Charlie. He reminded me that it wasn’t a mistake, but time well spent…
In the movie, as in every good story, calamity strikes, and George Bailey is backed into a corner. He cries out, “I wish I’d never have been born”. I can relate. I’ve been there: that dark place where the proverbial ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ is a bullet train locomotive closing fast. Everything and everyone would be better off if I weren’t here. In George Bailey’s case (and mine) divine intervention says otherwise…
My favorite part of the film is when Clarence ends his “never been born” vision and an ecstatic George runs through town shouting Merry Christmas to people and buildings alike. He’s part of life once again and never has he been so grateful for his wonderful life. He knows that a warrant has been issued for his arrest. He doesn’t care. Sounds like surrender to me. All I want is to live. My life is incredible no matter what happens…
His surrender is met by a myriad of friends and family who come together to save him from disaster and the arrest warrant. By the time the bell rings (and Clarence gets his wings) and everyone breaks out in a joyful rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” I’m bawling like a baby (at least on the inside – I still don’t like to cry in front of people. It’s that old “guy” thing…). As one whose been rescued from a life of desperation and degradation I am flooded with gratitude no matter how many times I’ve seen the movie.
The Never Ending Story
Maybe that’s why “It’s a Wonderful Life” has become a Christmas tradition for so many people. Like Christmas itself, it shines a ray of light, a ray of hope, into an oft dark world. It reminds us that, while the war may not be over, hang in there because good will ultimately triumph. That’s the general theme in any good story. God has been telling and retelling that story throughout human history. Every writer, every good storyteller, simply puts a different spin on the story He’s been writing for eternity. It makes since to me since we were created in His image.
Sometimes frustration with the consumer culture that surrounds Christmas gets in the way. Sometimes I simply to hear another retelling of the eternal story. I get back on track. I remember the “greatest story ever told”. Suddenly, Christmas becomes alive again. God came down to live with us. He loves us and sent a reminder that a new heaven and a new earth is not only possible, but certain. Love will win out, and, as the Apostle John reminds us, what is God but love?
As I sit here at my trusty old roll top desk this morning I’m filled with an overwhelming sense of awe and gratitude. The creator of the universe came down as one of us! He lived among us and showed us what it is to truly love one another. He showed us that a new way was possible. He reminded us that Abba hears our cries even when we think He doesn’t. Above all, He reminds us that the story has already been written so we can enjoy life and enjoy abundantly. It really is a wonderful life I have today.
I’m going back to the big box store later. I don’t know if the craziness has changed but my perspective has. Christmas has a way of doing that, especially when I remember what Christmas truly means.
Thoughts From the Porch: All is quiet and peaceful on the porch this morning. Everyone else is sound asleep and I get to indulge in extra cups of coffee all to myself. It may sound selfish, but moments like this are few and far between in family life. I intend to relish in the moment, enjoying the quiet and a sunrise hidden by the overcast skies.
Ms. Opal and I were invited to speak to a university class
about Opal’s Farm. It went well. You all know I love to talk about the farm. As
such, I’m rarely intimidated by public speaking. I must admit I was a bit nervous
as the class filled. Things have changed drastically since I was a university
student. There wasn’t an overhead projector to be found. It may sound silly,
but I felt really old. I still
remember how cutting edge it was to type my term papers on a gold old IBM
Selectric typewriter. Heck, I didn’t even bring a Power Point presentation.
Yes, things have changed.
As Ms. Opal and I were walking back across campus to our
vehicle, we spoke of sharing our experience with young people. The students at
TCU were attentive, interested, and engaging. Not all young people are. That’s
I am under no illusions. Young people are better navigating
the technologies available and I’m glad. If it weren’t for my grand-kids I may
never have gotten my phone to work right. Some of you know what I mean. Still,
young folks today tend to neglect the wealth of wisdom that comes from our
elders and that makes me a little sad.
I’m not saying I have any wisdom to impart mind you. Most of
my life has been an example of what not to do. I didn’t start growing up
until I was in my late forties. It wasn’t until then that I began to truly
appreciate my elders.
Appreciating my elders meant I had to spend more time with them. It began with my Mom and kind of spread out from there. Dad had already passed, and Mom was in an assisted living facility here in Fort Worth. I stopped by to check on her several times a week and see if she needed anything. I met the ladies who sat at her table in the dining room and several of the other residents, particularly those who didn’t have frequent visits from outside the facility.
I saw the sheer delight in their eyes as they began sharing
their life experiences and memories with me. It dawned on me that having
someone to listen was all-to-rare for many of them. I’ve found that listening
is not only a gift to them, it’s filled my own life with a wealth of joy.
Try to spend some time with your predecessors today. They
have a wealth of knowledge and experience to impart. Who knows? You might just
make their day, and yours will be blessed beyond imagination…
Thoughts From the Porch: I try to avoid writing on Saturdays. I really do. I try to avoid anything having to do with work or sitting in front of the computer so I can tinker about the house. I believe in “Sabbath” rest. Ironically, rest seems more work at the time. I’m not good at it yet…
Here in Fort Worth, the Stock Show and Rodeo is going into its second week. I was coming home from the farm on Interstate 30 and saw the long line of trucks and livestock trailers waiting to exit and set up shop. Most of the trailers were marked with various Future Farmers of America (FFA) signs from various small towns in the area. Someone unfamiliar with rural life won’t appreciate it the way many of us in Cowtown do.
Every time the Stock Show comes
around, I spend more time than usual thinking about Mom and Dad. After Dad
died, my brother-in-law finally accepted a job promotion in Atlanta. My sister’s
family moved off to Georgia and I don’t get to see her as much as I’d like. He’s
since retired, and they built a house on some acreage outside a small rural
town near the Alabama-Georgia state line. I’m so thankful for cell phones and
email even if their reception is sometimes spotty.
She emailed me a song a few
days ago that really hit home, especially now. “Beat up Bible” must have been
written about Mom and Dad. I wanted to share the link https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=JvPBUH65EzI.
hope it brings the same joy, the same sweet memories to you.
No family is perfect. I butted heads with Mom and Dad often. I had to work through some resentments I had held onto over silliness on my part. I’m so grateful that those things were worked out when Mom passed. They weren’t when Dad died in 2002. Grief changes us, at least it did me. I’ve since come to a place of peace. My heart is refreshed by knowing my father was the best example of God’s love here in this place. Walking through my grief has left me with only the wonderful memories of the parents I love so much.
In his latter years, Dad would
sit on the back porch with me and share about our family. He grew up without a
father in his life. I think that’s why my own failed marriage worried him so
much. He missed having his dad there. Maybe that’s why he was so good at loving
my sister and me. I’d like to think so…
My sister and I are both adopted.
Mom and Dad never ceased to remind us of how special and how loved we were. We
were wanted desperately. I know today that I was blessed far beyond anything I
could imagine having the parents I did. That isn’t always the case for everyone…
Anyway, I hope you enjoy the
song. I hope it brings back happy memories. If it doesn’t, I hope it helps you
make happy memories for your kids. Happy Saturday everyone!
Thoughts from the Porch: It’s become harder to get in the Christmas spirit this year. The exact reason has proven elusive. It could be that Christmas music starts blaring the day after Halloween, but It probably has to do with the fact that Mom and Dad are both gone now. This is the second Christmas since Mom passed and the sixteen of them without Dad. You’d think I’d be past it by now, but grief is what it is. It wasn’t until this morning that the season rushed over me and my soul felt revived with Christmas spirit.
I have a scheduled meeting every Sunday morning at 9:00AM.
It’s one of the highlights of my week. I get to carry a simple message of hope
to hurting people. I don’t know who benefits more – them or me. The spirit of
giving tends to do that. Uncommon sense again – the more you give, the more you
receive. But I digress…
I drove to my meeting yesterday morning somewhat short of my
required coffee quota. I wasn’t paying attention to the radio or much else
until I heard an angelic rendition of “Silent
Night” come flowing from the speakers. I wish I could tell you who the
vocalist was, but I had to hop out of the truck and get to my meeting before it
finished. All I know is that I felt different. I was more “Christmas-ee”…
My family never celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday.
Being good fundamentalists, we couldn’t celebrate something that the Bible
didn’t state for certain. To most folks that sounds silly. Now that I’m older I
can’t say that I disagree. Still, we celebrated Christmas as a secular holiday
of giving and family. Santa Claus was alive, and Jesus’ birthday was up for
Ironically, Christmas carols were always in order even if
they were religious in nature. The Sunday church service before Christmas always
included religious carols, and mentioned the birth of Jesus (you know, since
the rest of the world was focused on it) but it was “to celebrate the season”,
not the birth of our Savior. I never quite got the logic in that. Anyway…
I no longer hold to the strict religious traditions of my
youth. Jesus may or may not have been born on December 25th. It
makes little difference. This is the season which people have chosen to
celebrate his birth. I can’t find anything wrong with that. The point is that
he was born. Emmanuel – “God is with us”.
Listening to “Silent Night” this morning it hit me full
force; “God is with us”, and just like us. Just like me. Just like you.
My sons may be adults now, but I can remember the day each
was born as though it were yesterday. I didn’t need a manger, livestock,
shepherds, or wise men to make both moments holy, just as that moment some two
thousand years ago. Maybe that’s why God chose to enter in to our world the way
he did. I’d like to think so.
The authors of the four Gospels tell of the man and his
teachings, but they record little of Jesus’ life growing up. I’d like to
believe that he wasn’t much different from my boys. I don’t know what was
comparable to spaghetti in First Century Palestine, but I’m sure that most of
it ended up everywhere but his mouth. Mary probably had to give many an
after-dinner bath during those first couple of years.
At the risk of sounding a bit sacrilegious, I would like to
think that Jesus ducked out of Hebrew school to go fishing with his buddies.
After all, He had an affinity for fishing and hung out with his fishing buddies…
The only reference we have to Jesus’ young life is an
incident when he was twelve years old. Instead of going home with the rest of
his family he hung back in Jerusalem. I can only imagine the panic Mary and
Joseph felt when they realized he was missing. I freaked out when one of the
boys hid behind a clothing rack at the store…
I’m no Biblical scholar, but I’m pretty sure that Jesus was “just
one of the guys” for most of his life: content to live like everyone else in his
town. It’s telling that the townsfolk response to his first recorded teachings
in the Gospel of Luke is “Isn’t this
Joseph’s son, the one we’ve known since he was a youngster?” (Luke 4.22).
It’s easy to concentrate on Jesus as divine, as perfect, and
forget that Jesus was one of us. That, above all, is the miracle of Christmas.
God chose to enter His creation through Jesus, an everyman, dirty diapers and
all. He lived and worked among us as an ordinary guy. He laughed and hung out
with his buddies. When all was said and done, He stepped up to announce that,
“God’s Spirit is on me;
he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor.
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the
To set the battered and burdened free,
To announce, “This is God’s year to act” (Luke 4.16-21 The Message)
The rest, as they say, is history.
So, I’m in a bit more of the Christmas spirit this morning.
If Jesus could walk among us, “Loving God and loving others” then I’m inclined
to follow in his footsteps. It isn’t always the popular thing. After all, he
tended to upset the proverbial apple cart. “You’ve heard it said… but I say to
you” tends to rub some people the wrong way. I guess we all tend to do that…
I’m so glad that God chose to enter the world the way he
did. “Emmanuel” – God is with us.