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Merry Christmas to Each of Us…

It’s going to be a record-setting hot Christmas here in Cowtown. Shorts and tee shirts will take the place of tasteless Christmas sweaters this year! I’m fighting the urge to go work at Opal’s Farm and enjoy this beautiful day…

I want to wish you all a very Merry Christmas from Opal’s Farm and good old Cowtown, Texas. The New Year is right around the corner and thanks to you all we have another great year ahead. We wish the same for you!

“Arise, your light has come! / Fling wide the prison door; / proclaim the captive’s liberty, / good tidings to the poor. / Arise, your light has come! / All you in sorrow born, / bind up the brokenhearted ones / and comfort those who mourn.”

Ruth Duck, “Arise, Your Light is Come” (1974)

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Heroes…

One of the best things about working at the farm is the time I have for prayer. It’s been a difficult season for me. Christmas wasn’t the same after my father passed in 2002. Dad was our family’s Christmas spirit. Then Mom passed in 2017. My sister and her husband live in Georgia so there wasn’t much family left. I had Jeremy and the grandkids but negotiating holidays with different families often meant a quiet Christmas with my son Adrian. When Jeremy died last year, I decided the best thing about Christmas was December 26th

My family never celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday. I was told that if Jesus’ birthday wasn’t mentioned by date, then we had nothing to celebrate. It was that old “we have the line on the truth” thing that the Church of Christ was known for. We didn’t celebrate Easter either even though the dates are obvious – even if it is on the Jewish calendar – but that’s another story. I feel a little cheated to be honest. Presents are nice but it wasn’t the same…

Anyway, I’ve grown and changed over the years. I may not have much Christmas spirit – the whole tree, family, and presents thing – but I feel a deep gratitude and joy over the birth of a Savior. I’m especially fond of Advent. It was thoughts of anticipation of Immanuel – “God with us” – that stayed in the fore front of my mind today as I worked and prayed.

My thoughts turned to the “heroes of the faith” – at least my faith. I thought of Ms. Opal (she said I don’t have to call her Dr. Lee…) and all the years of service as not only a civil rights activist, but as a Deaconess in her church. I thought of her mantra – “If someone can be taught to hate they can be taught to love”.

I thought about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker – “It would be foolish to pretend that it is always easy to remember [that Christ is present in the ordinary stranger] … If Mary had appeared in Bethlehem clothed, as St. John says, with the sun, a crown of twelve stars on her head, and the moon under her feet [Revelation 12:1], then people would have fought to make room for her. But that was not God’s way for her, nor is it Christ’s way for Himself, now when He is disguised under every type of humanity that treads the earth.”

– Dorothy Day, “Room for Christ,” Selected Writings: By Little and by Little, ed. Robert Ellsberg (Orbis Books: 1992), 96.

I thought of Father Daniel Berrigan. I had the privilege of being arrested with Father Berrigan at the Rocky Flats Nuclear Facility at a Plowshares demonstration. I don’t know why I thought of that: especially since I came to be very ashamed of all the times I went to jail for reasons I’d rather not recall – addiction sucks…

He was on my mind when I got home and went through email and found this in my inbox:

“So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ — the life of the world.”- Daniel Berrigan, “Advent

I may lack Christmas spirit this year, but I’m not confused by the gift given to God’s kids on that night a little over two thousand years ago. I’m waiting in quiet anticipation for the birthday of Jesus Christ – “the life of the world.

May you all be filled with the joy and peace of Jesus. May the new year bring justice and peace for us all.

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Quitting Smoking, Grief, and Christmas

I finally rained here in Fort Worth. I’m not sure how much. It’s still dark outside but the weather folks are calling for light rain and possibly sleet throughout the morning (it is forecasted to be eighty degrees by Thursday…), so I thought I’d take advantage of the stillness and wet weather to catch up on “Thoughts From the Porch”.

I haven’t shared many thoughts from the porch lately. I haven’t been on the porch to do much thinking. I quit smoking two weeks ago (two whole weeks so far!) and the porch is a trigger for me. I guess I shouldn’t be overly concerned. Everything is a trigger these days – being alone at the farm, volunteers who still smoke, my kid who is recently out of college for Christmas break, the grief that seems overwhelming this time of year…

Jeremy was my Christmas present in 1982. His death and the absence of the grandkids since Thanksgiving leaves me bereft of Christmas spirit. Climbing in the attic to get Christmas decorations is the last thing I want to do, but my wife loves Christmas and I’ll do it for her later today. Doing for others makes the pain a little easier to bear.

The triangle could always be found in his artwork – Baillie, Lucas, and Simone (Iza)

The morning weather report was followed by a news story about opioid overdose deaths this past year. It’s become the leading cause of death for people eighteen to forty-five – more than suicides, COVID deaths, and car crashes – almost 79,000 in the past year. The statistics seem overwhelming and abstract. My son was one of the statistics. He’s one of the 79,000 other faces behind each of those numbers.

I’ve shared much about my son over the last year-and-a-half, but this is the first time I’ve talked of his cause of death. I simply haven’t been able to talk about it. His friends and family have known all along and I’m sure those in the art world of which he was a part have their suspicions if they didn’t know it for a fact. His art was often a reflection of his struggle with addiction – both his and mine. I still wonder how things would be different if he hadn’t grown up with an addict parent. I still wish I could trade places with him.

It wasn’t always that way. Jeremy became a recovering addict shortly after I did in 2005. He stayed clean for six years and became a respected member of the local recovery community. He had two more children and his oldest lived with him during a difficult time for her mother and grandmother. He worked fulltime and found time to paint and create. Still, there was always the underlying fear that his art would suffer without the drugs to fuel his creativity. Seeing the art he created proved that to be an unrealistic fear.

Life showed up -work, kids, parenting, bills – all the things everyone lives with. Time spent with others in recovery became short. He gradually and unintentionally moved farther and farther away from the recovery community and the support that held his addiction in check.

I won’t go into all the details. This isn’t about war stories or moralizing a disease. Addiction can cover up the heart of the addict and Jeremy’s heart was never defined by addiction. We had many “f*** you fights” over the last couple of years before his death – addiction wreaks havoc among families – but they were always followed by moments of kindness and love. That was my son.

I often wonder if he knew what lie ahead. In the last few months of his life, he struggled to make amends and heal relationships with so many family members and friends. In our last phone call, he asked if we could make a recovery meeting the following week.

I’m sitting here this morning and my heart hurts. Grief is a bitch. It comes unannounced whenever it wants and usually at the most inconvenient time possible. I never asked to join this club of parents, sons, daughters, husbands and wives, and the hundreds of friends and family left with the emptiness in their souls – a deep, aching, grief that never goes away. That’s something statistics don’t measure. They may tell of the deceased, but they never measure the sorrow and brokenness that’s left behind.

I wish I had more hopeful words to share this morning. There are so many things I’m truly grateful for. We’re about to celebrate the greatest blessing of all – Immanuel “God with us”. Still, loss is overwhelming, and we’ll celebrate the second Christmas without Jeremy. Please remember that 79,000 other families with face Christmas without the one they love. Keep us in your prayers and be kind to one another…