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Ups and Downs – New People and Thefts

I didn’t realize how long it had been since I’ve written a blog post until I saw there was no September posts. Here it is the 25th and the month is almost over. It’s not like nothing has been happening. In fact, it’s busier than ever – some good and some well, you know…

Opal’s Farm started September with hiring a new Assistant Farm Manager, Amber Carr. In three short weeks she’s come to be loved and appreciated by each of us. We have long been trying to grow into the next phase of Opal’s Farm and we finally can do just that. Amber interned with Charlie Blaylock at Shines Farmstand for the last year and brings a wealth of knowledge and incredible drive to Opal’s. We are blessed to have her with us.

Stacey Harwood, our Volunteer Coordinator is no longer a “volunteer” Volunteer Coordinator! We were able to hire Stacey on part-time thanks to a salary grant from the Rainwater Foundation and Grow Southeast. Stacey has been with Opal’s as a volunteer since Spring of 2020 and she is greatly appreciated.

We had a major glitch in operations last Tuesday. We found the fence down and the doors to our shipping container were wide open. About $15,000 worth of equipment was stolen. The thieves cut the fence and loaded everything on our trailer and took off. While it is fortunate that our new Kubota tractor was not touched, the BCS tractor and rotary plow that builds our beds is gone. We now park the Kubota off-site for security reasons. The police said that several sites were hit in the last couple of weeks. Apparently, these people are professional thieves. Given the tools necessary to cause the break-in damage it makes sense…

They weren’t messing around.

For this reason, we are setting up a Go Fund Me account to help replace the stolen equipment and install additional security measures. While no security systems are perfect, we try to give thieves reason to think twice before attempting to break in. You can always donate directly to Unity Unlimited and the Opal’s Farm page. Please be sure to mark what it’s for.

I know the North Texas Giving Day was last Wednesday, but we are asking to consider this a special, immediate need. This has hampered and slowed our operations in many ways. Anything you can give would be a great help and so appreciated.

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My Own Mind…

There are sometimes when I’m glad there is nobody else at the farm with me. Don’t get me wrong. I love our volunteers and they take a huge burden off my back. Still, there are times when it’s just me and the farm. Everything else seems far away. The soil becomes a part of me. The plants are greener, the pace slower, and all is right with my world.

It probably helps that we finally received some measurable rain after sixty-eight days without. It wasn’t much and it didn’t affect my work – the tractor hardly threw up any mud after the sun came out – but the cooler temperatures and the sprouts of green across a sea of drought-brown reminded me of the ever-present circle of life at the farm. Drought and intense heat bring a sense of hopelessness with it. It begins to weigh heavily and it’s easy to simply go through the day without noticing the wonder of God’s creation.

I was talking to a friend yesterday whose father farmed tobacco in Tennessee. His father always told him that farmers loved the rain and had to appreciate droughts because it gave them the opportunity to find new ways of growing. Opportunity instead of problem – where have I heard that one before…

The more I thought about it though, the more I became convinced that I too, can be grateful for drought. As the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything (even drought), by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present you requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4.4-7).

This summer helped me find new processes to make Opal’s Farm more successful and get more healthy, fresh produce to our community. God sends everything in it’s time. The rain came just when we needed it the most. The farm is a constant reminder of the ebb and flow of life, of nature. I’ve forgotten that at times. It was okay before I got there, and it will be there when I’m gone…

I take care of the plowing, planting, and building new beds when I’m by myself. I relax, stick on the headphones with some great music (and the Bluetooth to hear the phone over the tractor), and go with the flow of the day. I heard a Lyle Lovett song that I’ve decoded to make my own. I get it and it sums up my days pretty well. Hope you enjoy it…

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A Prayer For Today

“Love won’t be real or tested unless we somehow live close to the disadvantaged, who frankly teach us that we know very little about love.” – Fr. Richard Rohr

The was first thing I read this morning. It pierced my heart with its truth.

Opal’s Farm is close to the homeless missions and camps in Fort Worth. If I don’t make the light at Riverside and Lancaster Avenues, I’m going to have to deal with someone panhandling on the corner. I usually don’t carry cash and I feel bad that I can’t throw some money their way. I know what it’s like to be hungry. People say it just goes to drugs and alcohol, but that’s not always true. I’ve seen folks immediately walk to the convenience store across the street and come out with food instead of beer. Besides, I know what it is to need a fix, get sick without it, and be out of resources or credit.

I try to acknowledge the various characters I see while stopped at the light on most days. I know what it’s like to feel unseen and written off as inconsequential, to somehow be sub-human because of my status in the social hierarchy.  A pastor friend once told me that homeless folks told him over and over that they’d just like to be seen – to be acknowledged – to feel human.

Sometimes a simple “I’m sorry but I don’t have anything to give” can lead to some eye-opening conversations in the two minutes it takes for the light to change. A life story can be told in those two minutes. I’ve even found a couple of folks who I save a little cash for just so I can brighten their day a bit just as they have brightened mine. To paraphrase Ms. Opal, I can’t help everyone, but I can help someone.

Sometimes that same “I don’t have anything” can turn into an aggressive confrontation. The streets are ripe with mental illness and substance abuse that often leads to strange and threatening behavior from the street denizens. I find myself becoming jaded and cynical toward the very people with whom I had compassion for a moment ago. Fear does that. It’s times like these that remind me that I have a long way to go in loving others. It reminds me that love is a verb, an action word reflected in the things I do and not what I say.

I was always told that the opposite of fear was faith. I’m sure today that fear is not the opposite of faith – I can be fearful and still have an albeit small degree of faith. Fear is really the opposite of love when it comes down to it. Sometimes it keeps me from loving those that need to be loved the most. Maybe that’s why “Don’t be afraid” is found so many times throughout the Bible.

“Perfect love casts put all fear…”

When I remember the promise, it makes it easier to see people for who they are. Humans created in the image of a loving God, the image of love itself. I have so far to go but this has always been the starting point – trying to remember that there is no “other”, that we’re each a reflection of God- the imago dei. I can begin to escape the judgment, the separation, and the self-righteousness of the old tapes that play in my head.

Love and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up. If we love each other enough, we will bear with each other’s faults and burdens. If we love enough, we are going to light that fire in the hearts of others. And it is love that will burn out the sins and hatreds that sadden us. It is love that will make us want to do great things for each other. No sacrifice and no suffering will then seem too much.”

– Dorothy Day, House of Hospitality

Just for today, just for this moment, God please help me to see you in everyone I’ll meet today. Let me learn how to love with the same abandon as you. I’ll be leaving for the farm soon. I’ll be stopping at the light at Riverside and Lancaster. Help me be the light today…   

Photo by MART PRODUCTION on Pexels.com

                                                                                                  

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Tired, but Hopeful…

Spring and summer leave little time for writing. There’s planting, harvesting, replanting, and constant irrigation going that must be moved manually each hour. The heat came so early to North Texas that everything is bone dry the next day. We’re also facing severe drought here so it’s a constant battle just to keep the crops watered properly. The long string of 100-degree plus weather makes for a long day and early bedtime. Although there’s been no shortage of topics to write about, I’m a bit frazzled and brain-baked by the time evenings roll around. Such is the life of a farmer…

Opal’s Farm held a Volunteer Appreciation Cookout for the 4th of July. It was well-attended, and everyone ate their fill of burgers, hot dogs, and grilled veggies from the farm. The farm is one of the best places in Fort Worth to watch the annual fireworks show and a crowd came in from the neighborhood to watch and share in the festivities. Unfortunately, the fireworks show only lasted a couple of minutes this year. The fireworks set off huge grass fires on the banks of the Trinity River and officials cancelled the rest of the show. Some kids threw fireworks off the train trestle by our gathering, and we had to rush to put out the grass fire they started. It was an eventful evening all the way around.

The cancellation of the big Fort Worth fireworks show seemed a fitting end to the 4th of July this year. Independence Day was either a birthday party celebrating America’s birth or a funeral for American democracy. I haven’t failed to keep up with the news. A funeral is more likely. Shall we go down the list: the January 6th hearings, an attempted coup, the recent slate of restrictive Supreme Court rulings, the 300 plus mass shootings so far this year, massive voter suppression and on and on…

I’m not big on labels, especially political ones. However, I read an article by Adam Russell Taylor of Sojourners Magazine that spoke of the “exhausted majority” (https://sojo.net/articles/pastoral-letter-exhausted-majority). He pointed out the polling showing the majority of Americans feel left out and tired by the continuous division that dominates our political and civil discourse. Most Americans have “flexible views that don’t fit consistently in the Left/Right binary”.

Somebody finally put a voice to my thoughts. I get it. I’m exhausted. I dread even talking to people some days, so I just turn off the news, crank up the music, and cover my head so I don’t get hit with all the verbal and political crap flying by from both extremes. Exhaustion often leads to cynicism. I don’t like cynical people, especially when the cynic is me, so what do I do?

  • Take a break. I need to remember it’s okay to rest. Rest is necessary. It seems even God thought one should rest. He took a break after His work creating the universe and asked the Jewish nation to take a day to do the same. The Gospels tells us that Jesus often withdrew to “a lonely place” to pray, reflect, and recharge his spirit. I’m pretty sure it’s okay to do the same…
  • Pray. A lot. I’m not talking about the “God bless America” prayers of politicians and the religious right. Keep it simple. The Lord’s Prayer is a great place to start – “Your kingdom come your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven”.
  • Vote – My true citizenship lies in God’s kingdom but my participation in the political process here asks that I vote for “the least of these”. Which candidate reflects the policies that will most benefit the poor, the marginalized, and the immigrant. (Yes, I said immigrant – God constantly reminded His people to care for the immigrant – the foreigner – among them). Speak for the voiceless. (Side Note – We will be registering people to vote at upcoming markets and events. This year reflects the need to vote more than ever.)
  • Act in love – Some years ago it was fashionable among Christians to wear little bracelets that said “What Would Jesus Do, or WWJD.  The fashion trend passed but the question remains. If I’ve prayed for God’s will to be done here as it is in heaven than maybe, just maybe, I need to live a kingdom life here instead of waiting around for some mystical eternity. Maybe it means I need to see the world as Jesus as sees it, to see its people as those created in the very image of God, and to agree with the Creator – “it is good” – not perfect mind you, but good.

It’s much easier to find common ground when the Creator is evident in each of us, especially when we know how much God loves us. It becomes impossible to hold His love to ourselves. It must be shared.

Today, I’m taking a rest, enjoying the air conditioning, and asking to God to simply help me love others better. I don’t feel exhausted. I feel hopeful. There’s a lot to do…

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Family Reunions With a Brand New Family

North Texas has been in various stages of drought since last summer. Rain has been sparse this Spring, but timing is everything – it came just in time to relieve my anxiety about leaving town (and the farm) over Memorial Day weekend. I attended a family reunion at the family farm in Kentucky and quite frankly, I’m still feeling overwhelmed by this family I never knew I had.

A little backstory – you need to know that I’m adopted. I was blessed to have the most wonderful parents one could ask for. Mom and Dad always told me that I was special because I was chosen – hand-picked if you will. Dad passed in 2002 and Mom passed away in 2017. Rarely a day passes without thinking about them.

I had taken a DNA test sometime ago and last Spring I got serious about finding my birth mother. I found an incredible Facebook group called DNA Detectives. I asked for some help and was amazed at how quickly they found my biological parents. I sent a letter to my birth mother, and she called a few days later. At sixty-two years old a new chapter of my life began. I have been doubly blessed with Mom and Momma.

We talked weekly and learned that I had five half-siblings, two younger brothers and three sisters. My eldest son, Adrian, and I went to Kentucky in September to meet them in person. Margaret and I returned to Kentucky in November and spent Thanksgiving week with my newfound family. I spent a few days in Kentucky over Memorial Day weekend for the family reunion and met a plethora of cousins, nieces, and nephews that came from Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas, Colorado, and Kentucky to be with my Momma at Flint Ridge, our family farm.

Flint Ridge – the McCuddy family home – the house was built in 1804 and purchased by Napoleon McCuddy in 1829
The old smokehouse at Flint Ridge – the cracks in the walls were from the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-1812

I introduced myself to one of my cousins and the response was “Oh, so you’re the subject of all the conversations the last few days”. I think it was meant positively though given the welcome I received from the family.

I can’t explain what it feels like to be among a crowd of people who look like you. I’m told that I favor my grandfather, and I look just like my Uncle David, both of whom passed away before I knew them, but the pictures are awesome. I apparently also look like my cousin Tommy because I was mistaken for him a couple of times.

I believed what my father had always told me about being special until I found out the rest of my world found being “special” really being “different”. I guess that why I felt at ease with all these people. I wasn’t different. I was like a whole room full of people that looked like me and felt a part of.

I talked, laughed, and did a lot of careful listening to the stories of my family. I think nurture is way overrated as a major influence in development. This last year has taught me that genes are far more responsible for who I am than my environment ever could be. Momma told me that when she visited Flint Ridge many years ago that something happened when she crossed the Tennessee River – it was where she belonged. I knew exactly what she meant.

One of my happiest moments of the weekend is when my cousin Brian said He wished I grown up with them. My cousins knew how to have fun. My brother Mark and I have talked about this. He always wanted a brother and so did I. Between talking to him and talking to Momma I’ve concluded that three boys with the same appetite would’ve put Momma in the poor house. Mark and I would have been good for one another or really, really bad…

I’ve learned that I am my mother’s son. I am just like her in so many ways, even down to the foods we like and dislike. I’ve come to know how blessed I am to have a momma who loves me and has for the sixty-two years we were apart. Last August I received my “first” birthday card from Momma.

I’m blessed to come from “good stock” – I could listen to the story of my grandparent’s relationship for hours – how my grandfather turned his back on fortune and chose love instead. Someday I’ll be able to share that one, but not today.

During a lull in the festivities, I walked off by myself to the family cemetery. I looked at the headstones. The names and dates told a rich history of the McCuddy family, my family. I reached in my pocket and pulled out a small container that held some of my son Jeremy’s ashes. Jeremy led me to this place. He often asked me why I didn’t put more effort into finding my birth mother. It was his sudden death that pushed me to share my DNA results with total strangers on Facebook and find my momma. It was somehow fitting that some of his ashes rest at Flint Ridge among his ancestors – his blood.

May 29th was the first day of the reunion and the second anniversary of Jeremy’s death. God has a way of holding broken hearts close to his heart. That day will always be bittersweet – a reminder that God wraps us all in arms of love and family.