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Thanks for Being Part of my Journey

“It may be true that he travels farthest who travels alone, but the goal thus reached is not worth reaching.” — Theodore Roosevelt

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One at a Time…

Thoughts From the Porch: The last few days have been a preview of Spring in North Texas. It was shorts and tee-shirt weather and even hit the eighty-degree mark. Yesterday morning was a reminder that Winter won’t be leaving for a while yet. Today was the coldest day of winter so far: a mere 25 degrees. I know my friends in Chicago and the Midwest are saying, “what a wimp”, but it drove me to the desk in rapid time so here I sit, coffee at hand and Stevie Wonder on the stereo.

February is the shortest month of the year as far as the number of days goes, but it seems like it’s unending. Regardless of what a large furry rodent says about Spring’s timing, February will last for months. That’s what February does.

The good news about this February is that the ribbon cutting for Opal’s Farm is going well. Invitations are being sent and we’ve had a great response given those who have sent their RSVP. We secured tents in the event of inclement weather (it is Texas…). Thank goodness it fell in an interminably long month. Maybe we’ll get everything done…

As I write this it’s mid-morning here in Fort Worth. I rarely sleep in and never on a work day. However, I feel into bed quite exhausted last night. Apparently, I never set the alarm. Even without the alarm I’m usually up and about by 7 AM at the latest. Today it was well after 8:00. My body said “stop” and I must have listened, at least subconsciously. It’s taken several cups of coffee to clear the fog hanging around my head, but here I sit.

Yesterday, Ms. Opal and I had the opportunity to speak to a Food Justice class at Texas Christian University. Thank you, Dr. David Aftandilian, for asking us to make a presentation about Opal’s Farm. He also works with the Tarrant County Food Policy Council and I can’t begin to tell you how much that work is appreciated. My work with Opal’s Farm has brought me in contact with so many people who work diligently to improve food justice and access for the residents of Tarrant County and North Texas.

The greatest difficulty I face when speaking about food scarcity and access is the time limits imposed by everyone else’s schedule. I easily go on for hours about these issues for hours. That’s why I’m so passionate about Opal’s Farm. I have no doubt that everybody would love to resolve hunger and food injustices, not just in Tarrant County, but everywhere. Unfortunately, that problems so big that it often seems too abstract to solve. I’m under no illusions. Opal’s Farm won’t settle the entire problem, but it will make a dent in it. It’s something tangible. It puts the face of our neighbors, people who live right here in Tarrant County. It addresses their needs one person at a time.

I have a friend who’s been in the substance abuse and recovery field for over twenty years how she managed to stay so positive when the problem can be so difficult and frustrating. She said her focus was on the one, not the many, that made her work so important. Like her, I know I can’t “fix it all”, but I can do something. Farming is the first step.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” — Mother Teresa

Ultimately, Opal’s Farm isn’t about the food it produces nor the access it provides. Those are the means to an end. The end is serving people, of transforming lives by being of service, by offering opportunity, education, and simple human dignity, but it begins with a farm…

Thank you again to TCU for inviting Ms. Opal and I to speak. Thank you to the college students eager to learn and seek solutions. Thank you to all the folks who are working to find and create solutions to food injustices, poor nutrition, and hunger for all our neighbors. Thank you to all our fellow urban farmers who work diligently to ward the solution. Thanks to all of you who jump in and donate to become “farmers” along side all of us at Opal’s Farm!

“As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people

the permission to do the same.”

— Nelson Mandela

It’s a lot longer than it looks!

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Cemeteries and Rodeos

Thoughts From the Porch: Yesterday would have been my father’s ninety-third birthday. He passed in 2002 and nary a day goes by that I don’t miss him. Even after sixteen years there are days when grief feels overwhelming. I often stop by the cemetery on my way to and from so I can sit and “talk” to him. It’s a great way to work through the grief I feel some days.

One can argue that the cemetery is a resting place for the body only. For those that share my religious faith it’s understood that Dad’s spirit probably left that place to go wherever it is that our spirits go after death. It may sound childish, but I believe it’s a place for our spirits to be together.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead says something to the effect that when one with a great soul passes, a strong wind will begin to blow. I remember stepping outside the hospital to have a smoke after he had passed. A blustery wind made it almost impossible to light my cigarette. I was so overcome with grief that I didn’t put two and two together until a cemetery visit some time later.

On that particular visit, I had come to read my father a letter I’d written acknowledging the fact that I had caused a lot of harm while in my active addiction. In my program of recovery, it’s called “making amends” a cleaning up of the wreckage of my past. Some may doubt that amends, the process of amending or righting a wrong, can be made to someone who has passed away. My experience that day says otherwise.

I stood in front of the headstone, wiping away the tears, and reading my letter. The details of my letter are deeply personal and between Dad and me. Suffice it to say that my father was an incredible man who loved me dearly and I never gave him much to work with as a son. It wasn’t until he was gone that I realized his greatness.

People often said that he was my chief enabler and, while that may be true, it was his love that showed me what God’s love was all about. As frustrated, and oft-times angry, as he could become with me, he never stopped loving (or forgiving) me. I can’t think of a better example of how the God of endless grace loves me…

I finished my letter. The tears began to subside. I looked up and the wind began to swirl around me. It had been still just a moment ago.

Our family plot is in an older part of the cemetery surrounded by beautiful old oak trees. I mention this because as the wind swirled about, I could see that none of the tree limbs were moving. That’s when it hit me: “when one with a great soul passes, a strong wind will begin to blow.” Dad was telling me one more time, “It’s okay. I forgive you and I love you more than you can ever know. Keep doing what you’re doing.”

I think of that day often, especially when life shows up with all its occasional difficulties. If Dad, a mere human, can love me that much – how much more so can the Creator of the Universe love me?

I’ve been thinking about Dad a lot this week. Not only was it his birthday, but the Stock Show and Rodeo opens on Friday. After Dad retired from the railroad, he would work the Harley Street gate for the Stock Show every year. He would be there a week before the show and a week after, so for a month straight he worked twelve-hour days. We usually didn’t celebrate his birthday until afterwards because he just came home, ate, and went to bed. As tired as he was, especially as he got older, he wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

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Since 1918, the Fort Worth Stock Show was called the Southwestern Exposition and “Fat” Stock Show. Now it’s just the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. I’m not sure why they changed it. I guess it’s no longer politically correct to call livestock fat. Maybe “weight-challenged” is more acceptable. I’m not sure Dad would approve. Cows are supposed to be fat and it violates tradition. Dad was big on tradition…

Saturday I’ll watch the annual Stock Show Parade and I’ll think of Dad. Afterwards, I might go by the cemetery on the way home. It’s no surprise that Saturday is supposed to be a really windy day…

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Steppin’ out….

Thoughts From the Porch:

“When you come to the end of all the light you know, and it’s time to step into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things will happen: Either you will be given something solid to stand on or you will be taught to fly.” — Edward Teller

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One of my favorite scenes from the “Indiana Jones” movies where Harrison Ford’s character must step out in faith over a giant chasm in order to reach the Holy Grail. With his nemesis holding him and the people he loves at gunpoint, he’s at wit’s end and out of options. He steps out into the darkness of the abyss. As he takes the first step a narrow bridge begins to come into view. Unfortunately, it can only be seen with each successive step, one step at a time. Each step requires more courage, more faith, than the one before. I can’t recall how many steps it took to get across the dark abyss, but I’d like to think it was twelve. I can relate…

That scene’s been on my mind a lot lately. Margaret and I are experiencing some difficulties as late. Finances have been tough since my hospital stay earlier this year. Business has been slower than projected. Opal’s Farm still has a way to go before all the start-up costs are in hand and planting is scheduled for February 15th. How are we going to do this? It’s a little overwhelming at times (OK, a lot overwhelming…) The chasm looks awfully vast at times…

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If I get honest, I’m a lot like Indiana Jones (well, except for the whole “dashing adventure hero” thing…). I usually need to be backed into a corner with no options or solutions in sight. I know there’s absolutely no way I can get out of the situation before I’m willing to step out into the darkness. I forget the fact that in looking back, a path has always been carved through the darkness and it’s always illuminated. If the path isn’t clear, I learn to fly before I crash into the bottom of the abyss. Always! Though I usually don’t see it until later…

You’d think that with such a proven track record I’d push right through whatever obstacle was in my way. It doesn’t always work like that. Taking that first step into the abyss isn’t my first choice. I temporarily forget God’s faithfulness. As my friend Edgar likes to remind me, “I’m not a slow learner, just a fast forgetter”.

“Trials are not enemies of faith but are opportunities to prove God’s faithfulness.” — Author Unknown

Ironically, my memory gets sharper as I grow older: at least in matters of faith (in other areas, yeah, not so much…) It doesn’t take as long to remember God’s faithfulness even when mine is absent. One of my favorite reminders is Psalms 119.105: “Your word for my feet and a lamp for my path”. The funny thing about a lamp is that it only shows what’s immediately ahead. I can only see the path if I keep stepping out, one step at a time…

I’ve spent far too much time stressed out about things beyond my control, so I’m stepping out. Whether I’ll be walking or flying, I’m not sure yet. What I do know is that I’ll see you on the other side…

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Sustainable? Not Really…

My friend Jim used to remind me that “when you point the finger at someone else, there’s always three pointing back at you”. I know exactly what he meant. I tend to be judgmental when it comes to the use of words. Take” irregardless” for instance. It gets used all the time and it drives me nuts. It’s one of my pet peeves…

That being said, I have a confession to make. I’ve been misusing the word “sustainable” for the last few months.  When I began telling everyone about Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm last year I kept talking about being “sustainable”. I’m sorry, but that’s not completely accurate. Opal’s Farm is not simply sustainable, it’s regenerative. I beg your forgiveness because the difference is huge.

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“Sustainable” has become a popular adjective, the new buzzword, especially in marketing. Everyone wants to be “sustainable”. I jumped on the bandwagon, too. Perhaps I heard it so much that I used it over and over when writing about Opal’s Farm. I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong.

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According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the definition of sustainable is:

“Sustainable – adjective

1: capable of being sustained

2a: of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource    is not depleted or permanently damaged

//sustainable techniques

//sustainable agriculture

b: of or relating to a lifestyle involving the use of sustainable methods

//sustainable society”

Merriam-Webster goes on to define “regeneration” as:

“Regeneration – noun

1an act or the process of regenerating the state of being regenerated

2spiritual renewal or revival

3renewal or restoration of a body, bodily part, or biological system (such as a forest) after injury or as a normal process…”

Sustainability implies that we maintain the status quo. That’s not good enough. The soil needs to be regenerated: restored to the vitality nature intended. Commercial and residential development as well as traditional agriculture has failed to address the issue of soil health. Chemical fertilizers and land overuse destroy the soil. It doesn’t need to be sustained. It needs to be regenerated. That’s what Opal’s Farm does.

Regeneration goes far beyond maintenance. It’s the process of revitalizing and rebuilding the soil, making it better and healthier than before.  

Healthy soil, built through organic methods, produces healthier plants. In turn, healthy plants produce a better harvest, both in quantity and quality. That goes on to affect the health and vitality of the neighborhoods we serve.

If I make any resolutions this year, I resolve not to use the word “sustainable”, at least when talking about the farm. What we say – whether about ourselves, our society, or even an urban farm – matters. Words matter. This year I prefer to be regenerative: to renew and revive – both personally and for Opal’s Farm. You can learn more about the farm at http://www.unityunlimited.org/opals-farm.html.

As always, we invite you to become a “farmer” and join in the work at Opal’s Farm!

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No Resolutions…

Thoughts From the Porch: I typed 2019 for the first time this year and actually got it right the first time! Hang on to the little life triumphs wherever you can, right? Starting off the year with a victory sets the tone for the whole year!

I hope each of you had a wonderful New Year’s celebration. Margaret and I celebrated by falling asleep before the 10:00 o’clock news ended. I woke up to a whole new year. I finally feel like I got enough sleep…

I hope each of you had a wonderful New Year’s celebration. Margaret and I celebrated by falling asleep before the 10:00 o’clock news ended. I woke up to a whole new year. I finally feel like I got enough sleep…

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I do not make New Year’s resolutions, but there are some changes forthcoming this year. For one, it might be more accurate to call this blog, “Thoughts From the Desk”, at least for the first couple of months. I moved my quiet time to my office for a couple of reasons, least of which is the early cold temperatures that hit North Texas early this year. I’m not usually affected by the cold. I spent seventeen winters in Colorado, several of them quite severe, but I don’t ever remember feeling this cold. It’s a bone-chilling, wet, blustery cold that cuts through everything and numbs the brain. I don’t need any help in that regard…

The main reason I’ve retreated to the desk is I’ve decided to quit smoking (again). It’s coincidence rather than resolution that it’s also the start of a new year. I’ve never had much luck at resolving to stop annoying habits. Usually I need to have all sense of resolve and ability knocked out of me. Desperation is a wonderful impetus for willingness. I’ve reached a new level of willingness to quit; hopefully before the consequences are dire. It also helps that I closed out the books on 2018 and saw how much I had spent on tobacco. Seeing the dollar amount in black and white makes it all too real. I’ll keep you posted. Not that it’s newsworthy as much as there’s some sense of accountability in making a public statement.

Besides, smoking is no longer in vogue. More and more places ban smoking. It’s not good for those around me and, to be honest, I feel like an idiot doing it. I feel even worse when I’m driven to sneak away from my grandkids or a dinner party just to have a cigarette. It sets a lousy example. To continue smoking requires a lot of excuses and justification. Things like, “I gave up all my other bad habits, so allow me one bad habit”, just don’t hold water anymore.

So here I sit. You all may have to bear with some strange posts over the next few days. I tend to ramble and get extremely irritable when I’m “detoxing”. I know I tend to ramble anyway, but it’s especially bad during nicotine withdrawal.

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I’ve stopped smoking before. I should be able to do this, right? My friend Edgar reminded me that “my problem wasn’t stopping, it was staying stopped”. I’ve encountered this situation before and found that the answer isn’t mere willpower or a lack thereof. Like those annoying habits and shortcomings of character, the power to remove them tends to lay beyond my grasp. I keep hearing Jim, my friend and mentor’s voice reminding me one more time; “Cowboy, lack of power is your dilemma.” Ask any smoker who wants to quit and hasn’t (and can’t).

If I stop there, I’m left feeling hopeless, but experience has taught me that my greatest strength lies in my greatest weakness: I can ask for help. Help comes in a variety of ways. Sometimes it’s through friends and acquaintances. Other times it comes from complete strangers. Most of the time it comes through prayer. For me, faith has proven itself time and time again as the vehicle by which some of life’s greatest dilemmas are resolved.

So here I sit at the trusty old desk that was my father’s. I’ll stay here for the bit just to break the pattern. In doing so I might just stay stopped. Besides, the weather folks say it’s going to be yucky outside for a while. I’ll take all the help I can get.

I hope 2019 is absolutely amazing for each of you! As for me, I’ll suck down another Gummi Bear and stay inside… ���:

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Build It and They Will Come…

Thoughts from the Porch: There is a line from the movie “Field of Dreams” that has become a mantra of sorts in my life. “Build it and they will come”. I’m not planning on building a baseball field in the middle of a cornfield, but I am part of building a farm in the middle of a city. While it’s not the same thing, a farm in the middle of a sprawling urban area makes as much sense as a baseball field in a corn patch.

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Kevin Costner’s character wondered why anyone would travel to a cornfield in the middle of Iowa to watch a baseball game. Investing in such a baseball field defied common sense. It meant using their acreage for cash crops and their life savings in a venture that seemed a failure from the start. But, they built anyway. The movie ends with traffic coming from all directions to the “Field of Dreams”.

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Success seemed unlikely, the future unsure. It made absolutely no ‘common’ sense, but our hero stepped out in faith and did “the next right thing”. God took care of the results and the results were amazing. Still, it too an action and a step into the unknown. It meant trading common sense for uncommon sense and doing it anyway because it was the right thing to do.

I was thinking about all of this when I returned from a budget meeting for Opal’s Farm. The good news is that the lease has been signed and everything is moving forward. The bad news is that we’re still well short of our initial start up needs. There are materials to be purchased, employees to be trained and paid, and time and money to meet those needs has suddenly grown shorter. Still, I keep hearing this still, quiet voice repeating, “Build it and they will come.”

I look back at all the events that have brought us to this point. Just like the baseball players in “Field of Dreams”, each of the right people have appeared at the right time to create Opal’s Farm. One by one we’ve partnered with the right people and organizations to take the right steps in building Opal’s Farm. Like the old baseball heroes in the movie, they’ve appeared at just the right time and just the right place. Organizations like Grow Southeast, Silver Creek Materials, the Tarrant Regional Water District, Charlie Blaylock with Shines Farmstand, and our County Extension office have stepped in one by one to lead and guide us toward our common mission.

My own involvement came about as a bit of a fluke. I found out about the farm through my son, Jeremy. He had talked to some people about an art collective project in another part of Fort Worth. They also expressed an interest in what was to become Opal’s Farm. I contacted them and though they soon stepped out of the project, I began attending Grow Southeast, a collaboration between a number of local farmers and organizations dedicated to bringing healthy food to Tarrant County. Through Grow Southeast, I contacted Ms. Opal and the process began.

Although an urban farm has long been a dream for both Ms. Opal and I, dreams require action to become reality. The time was right to step out in faith, to build it without the assurance that funds would be in place. I can’t tell you how many days I’ve felt like a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there. But everything has come together, and Opal’s Farm is moving forward.

Experience has taught me to step out of my comfort zone, to take chances knowing that I’m responsible for the action and leave the results up to a power far greater than me. “Build it and they will come”. Common sense becoming uncommon sense…

 The people are in place. The land is in place. Building starts now. With your help, we can build it one step at a time, doing ‘the next right thing”. leave the