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Punxsutawney Phil and Grace

It’s Groundhog Day! This is one of my favorite holidays – at least since I saw the movie. Some of you may remember Bill Murray and Groundhog Day. It’s a comedic delight with a powerful message of grace that rings true beyond the rom-com story it is. It’s also about second (and third and fourth and… well, you get the picture) chances, redemption, transformation, and grace.

The basic premise involves Bill Murray as a conceited, arrogant narcissistic weatherman who is sent off to do a story about Punxsutawney Phil, the famed groundhog that crawls out his burrow to see, or not see, his shadow thus predicting the duration of winter. Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania is far away from the big meteorologist’s job in New York that Murray’s character covets and his obnoxious attitude towards the town, its people, and its star resident is quite evident. Misogyny and cheap sex mark his initial attitude toward the female producer (Andie MacDowell) set to cover the story. Blizzard conditions force his little crew to find a hotel and stay in town until the roads are clear.

Photo by Steve Wrzeszczynski on Unsplash

The alarm goes off the following morning and he awakens to a repeat of the day before. The same thing happens the next day and the next until his transformation is complete and, as all rom-com movies go, he wins over Andie MacDowell’s character. It’s a happy ending. It’s kind of like grace…

I guess that’s why it ranks high on my favorite movies list. I can relate. I’ve been given chance after chance to leave self-centered ego behind and become more God-centered. Believe me, I spent a long time enduring the “same day” over and over again (most addicted people can relate) until I awoke to a new day and a life filled with new possibilities. That is grace, pure and simple.

I’ve gone through many changes since that first day of waking up and receiving the grace so freely offered. I’ve come from a place of coveting pleasure, control, and wealth all the time to seeking God’s steadfast love, justice, and righteousness. I still fall woefully short many days but each new day brings a closer walk with the God of my understanding and more grace…

“but let those who boast, boast in this, that they understand and know me, that I am the Lord; I act with steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says the Lord”. Jeremiah 9.24

By the way, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow this morning, but it’s in conflict with what all the long-term forecasts say…

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Sabbath Rest?

I grew up in a religious home just like many others. My family attended church the prerequisite three times a week for “salvation” – Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday evening. Sunday nights were rarely fun for me. Service started at the same time as “The Wonderful World of Disney”. If my parents took us to dinner with their friends afterwards then count on missing “Bonanza” too. I seemed to get sick a lot on Sunday evenings. I could even “will” myself to have a low-grade fever just so I wouldn’t miss the Sunday night TV lineup. Seriously, I learned how to drive my body temperature up just enough that Mom would stay home from church with me. I found out later they call it biofeedback…

Although I always had to sit through a service designed to create a Hyperactive Attention Deficit Disorder in children, I liked Sunday morning “Sunday School” before the worship service and Wednesday night Bible Class. It was a chance to be with my friends and there were great activities to learn all the old Bible stories. Being “Bible believing” Church of Christ members, each of stories were taught as indisputable historical truth and the Bible was how God spoke period! Such teaching became Christian “evidence” by the time I reached my teenage years so that I could certainly argue with any sane, scientific, rational person out there…

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

I don’t see my faith, or the Bible, the same way today. In fact, some of the things I learned were a detriment, causing all kinds of shame and self-hate. Grace was some abstract theological term that really didn’t apply to me. If personal piety is a prerequisite for heavenly salvation, then I’m so screwed. Still, I’m grateful that Mom and Dad “raised me right”, as we say in Texas. Those stories laid the foundation for the relationship I have with God today. Grace has brought healing to my human brokenness and gratitude sustains me as I walk through life today.

Just so you know… God didn’t go silent after the Bible was finished and canonized by the state church at the Council of Nicaea. He actually speaks quite regularly if I (and we) take time to listen. He still needs shout with an occasional head slap at times to get my attention, but I’m much better at hearing him than I used to be. Let me give you a recent example…

Opal’s Farm is growing (both literally and figuratively) by leaps and bounds this year. Our new partnership with Tarleton State University, the “Time Served is Not Time Wasted” program, our SSARE (part of USDA) Research Grant with TCU, serving as the flagship for urban farming here in Fort Worth, and having both an Assistant Farm Manager and part-time farm apprentice have opened new opportunities to grow as an organization and serve our community better. It’s an exciting and busy time. In addition, continuing education and serving on a couple of local committees rapidly overfills the days. I, and my Assistant Farm Manager put in many hours trying to make things happen.

However, in the midst of this work, I made a point to save more time for reading and continuing education on a personal level. I read a lot – whether it be books, fellow bloggers, or newsletters – and I began to notice a pattern slowly emerging in each of them. The words Sabbath rest repeated regularly; especially as I became more tired and honestly, cantankerous. I began to lose patience with those closest to me and became constantly restless, irritable, and discontented. Even my reading dropped off. Who has time to read AND comprehend? All the while the pattern of Sabbath rest became louder and stronger. I had too much to do to rest. I’ve always known the importance of Sabbath rest. It’s in the creation story and it’s one of the Ten Commandments. I’ve simply been extremely lax in practicing it.

In Genesis 2.2-4, it tells us that after six days of creation, God finished His work and rested from all His work. As The Message translation puts it, “God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day because on that day He rested from His work, all the creating he had done.” Later, in the Book of Exodus, at Mt. Sinai, God speaks what we call The Ten Commandments, or The Decalogue, and states that His people are to “Observe the Sabbath, and keep it holy”. He goes on to restate that even he rested on the seventh day after creating the Earth.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I never took those words at face value, but the final straw caught up to me in the form of a republished Walter Bruggeman’s “Deliver Us”. I won’t take this opportunity to expound on the text, but it caused me to see how I become a self-made slave when I forget that God is one of abundance and not scarcity that drives me (and us) to constantly seek enough.   

I learned many years ago that God is “enough”. My problem though, as my friend Jim told me, is “not that I’m a slow learner, its that I’m a fast forgetter”. I subtly fall into an endless chase for “enough” – enough finances, enough savings, – and “more” – more people helped, more work at Opal’s Farm, more of (fill in the blank). It’s no wonder I become restless, irritable, and discontented…

The problem is that when you know, you know, or as my mentor would say, “Once you’re aware you can’t become unaware. I know that God is enough, and it’s been proven in my life time after time. God has spoken quite clearly. If He needs to rest maybe I should follow his lead. Maybe I should take a Sabbath rest. Maybe I need a Holy day to stop, see where I’m at, and rest in his presence. Maybe we all do…

I decided that Amber and I, as the two full-time employees at the farm, were no longer going to work seven days a week as we often do. We are going to take a “Sabbath”, not literally mind you (it doesn’t have to be the “seventh” day), but a day off where the farm is somewhere else, and we can rest and “re-create” to do what we love in the coming days with new energy and possibility.

It’s not easy. I’m sitting at my desk, writing this, and constantly reminding myself that Opal’s Farm is in good hands and fighting the urge to go and “just see how things are going”. Farming is a full-time job. New seed needs water and new beds must be ready for the rest of Spring planting. Bad weather slowed everything down through the Fall and early winter. Now unusually mild and dry weather has required daily irrigation. Volunteers are scheduled to be there on the weekends. Someone needs to be there, right?

Someone is! We’ve worked out a schedule that allows one of us to be there each day, but we each have our figurative Sabbath. Just as importantly, we each have days we can work alone. We’re both introverts by nature and need some “me” time away from other people.

I intend to stay home today and relish the day I’ve been given. I already feel better. I didn’t set the alarm clock and slept until 7:30! Sabbath rest is also about liberation. Liberation from a system of scarcity, of oppression (and depression) and basking in the freedom of “enough”.

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Christmas Feelings and Wishes

The sun is shining brightly reminding us that warmth is on its way after the brutal Arctic front plunged the thermometer for the last couple of days. We took the holidays off from Cowtown Farmers Market for the holidays so we could spend time with family and friends. The fifty-mile-an-hour wind that accompanied the freezing temperatures may have caused a longer absence from market – the low tunnels and bed coverings couldn’t stand up to the wind – but we won’t know the full extent of the damage until next week. At least we haven’t lost power and haven’t had to sleep with four big dogs and in insulated coveralls to stay warm!

I haven’t been able to muster a whole lot of Christmas spirit this year. Grief comes exceptionally strong this time of year – Jeremy was born on Christmas Day – and I associate the holidays with loss. I had planned to go to Kentucky to spend Christmas with Momma and the weather quashed that plan. Upon awakening this morning, I summoned all my energy to fight pulling the covers over my head and sleeping (or at least feigning sleep) until December 26th. I got up, brushed my teeth, and made coffee. I made breakfast for my wife and sat down and stared at the computer screen for a long while.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

There are some things I’ve learned about grief, mainly that it never goes away. The stretch of good days begins to become longer with time, but grief will rear its ugly head at the most inconvenient of times – a song, a scene in a movie, the holidays – the list goes on. This year it began early with an art show that was a tribute to Jeremy. Then came Thanksgiving and now Christmas.

Grief may never go away but difficult moments always pass. It will always go to sleep or at least retreat for a time. The retreats last longer than they did after Jeremy died. Greif may be overwhelming at times, but life still goes on. It only feels all consuming. I must no longer let feelings run my life, but I do have to feel them.

As I sat staring at the computer this morning it dawned on me that my grief has consequences not only for me but those close to me as well. I may not want to do Christmas, but my family does. Christmas is Margaret’s favorite holiday. I used to get the tree and Christmas decorations out early so she could wrap the house in decorations and Christmas spirit. Then her mobility became so limited. This year it fell on me to get everything out of the attic which I managed to put off until last week. My step kid was going to do the decorating, but it kept getting put off until finally my wife told me last night that I should put everything back in the attic. “Nobody else thought Christmas was important.” She didn’t say it with malice or sarcasm, but I could feel her disappointment.

So… I’m only going to sit here long enough to tell you that I’m off to set up the Christmas tree and decorate our home for tomorrow.

I want to wish each and every one of you a blessed and Merry Christmas. If you’re having a hard time with the holidays as so many do, please know that you’re not alone. My prayers go out to those for whom Christmas is a reminder of loss and pain. If you’re having a really tough time, I suggest what my friend Jim told me long ago, “If you’re wrapped up in your painful feelings, then go help someone else.” That’s what I’m going to do today. It’s always worked well in the past…

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Whatever Happened to the Golden Rule?

Webster’s Dictionary defines nostalgia as “a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.” I usually associate nostalgia with the old guys who long for the good old days when there was little question of white supremacy, where anyone who wasn’t a white male knew their place, and women had no rights over their own bodies. This is not nostalgia. That’s called right-wing conservatism. Thus, I tried to avoid waxing nostalgic.  Besides, I was born at the end of the fifties and I’ve drawn a blank on much of the sixties and seventies…

Fortunately, I found the real definition was much closer to the way I’ve been feeling lately and that folks, is nostalgic. It hasn’t been a longing for my college days or the party life I enjoyed as a young person (which I try NOT to think of, by the way). It’s been something far more trivial in the grand scheme of things. I long for the days when people drove with some degree of civility.

I know that sounds silly, but when I learned how to drive, I was taught to “drive friendly”. That meant acknowledging someone coming the opposite way with a small hand wave, particularly in the neighborhood. It included things like letting people in on the freeway or pulling over to let them pass on a two-lane road (that happened a lot in the country) and thanking them when they did the same for me by waving appreciation. It also meant staying out of the fast lane if I wasn’t passing other vehicles. Fast lanes were “fast” lanes. Don’t slow them down. I don’t know if this was just a Texas thing or not, but civility seems to decline in direct proportion to the influx of new Texas residents moving here each year.

I was coming home from the farm the other day. Traffic was abnormally heavy, and people were more impatient than most days. They’re always impatient – got to get one car link in front of anyone else as if one car link is the difference between life and death. I’m the one who’s often impatient if truth be known. However, this day the Golden Rule popped into my head, and I found myself becoming more patient and at ease.

Most everyone is familiar with “The Golden Rule” – “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the prophets” (Matthew 7.12 – NIV). If you’re my age, we even learned it in school. That simple phrase was a guide for living that somehow came to mean do unto others only like they do unto you. I thought about how that had manifested in my own life and realized how such a misinterpretation made me angry and resentful. I’m at the point in life I really don’t have the time nor the desire to be like that.

I got home and pulled out my Message version of the Bible I like the simple “umph” that comes from a translation closer to the “umph”) of old Aramaic. “Here is a simple rule of thumb guide for behavior. Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them. Add up God’s Law and Prophets and this is what you get.” (Matthew 7.12 – The Message Bible).

I thought about that over and over. I was looking for some kind of caveat or exception, but I didn’t see one there. It was up to me to treat people the way I wished to be treated no matter what they did. I simply had to act how I wished others would. It’s rocket science. It’s my responsibility and no one else’s.

Ms. Opal always reminds everyone to be a “committee of one” because one person can be the catalyst for change and an example to others. I understand and do that in many areas of life, but I can’t manage it in even the simplest things like driving (Yes, I’ve been guilty of laying on the horn and flying a one finger salute…). It’s the simple things that make the more difficult things go easier. I decided then and there I’d start exercising this simple rule of thumb when I got behind the wheel. If I’m nostalgic for the “good old days” then maybe I can act like it.

An amazing thing has happened over the last few days. I’ve noticed that there are others who drive friendly – the Texas Way – and even appreciate me when I do the same. That makes me feel happy and much more at ease. Maybe it does the same for them.

If you’re new here – welcome. Hopefully, we can show you how to drive friendly too…