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Finding Your Why Down on the Farm: Part One

“Simpler solutions are more likely to be correct than complex ones.” – Occam’s Razor

Do you ever get so busy with a project that you overlook the bedrock of its success? Things have been moving quickly at Opal’s Farm: over 30,00 square feet of beds have been prepared and compost is coming. We are busy! We’ve been blessed with good Spring weather and we hope to take advantage of every moment to prepare the acreage for a bountiful harvest.

Jameson the Farm Dog takes a much needed break!

However, one of the TCU students working with us this semester sent me an email that brought me to a grinding halt (by the way, thank you Paris!) She asked a simple question, “Why?”. Why would someone want to volunteer at the Farm? Why would someone want to be a sponsor, a partner, or a “farmer” at Opal’s Farm?

Even as passionate as I am about Opal’s Farm, I had to stop and think hard about the question. In my work as a writer, it’s my job to write a clear concise message and show how a product or service will benefit others. If I’m honest, I’ve done a poor job of communicating that to you. I ask for your forgiveness. Sometimes the simplest question is the simplest solution…

There’s a plethora of reasons one should join us in the task at hand. When Paris asked me the “why” question was specifically regarding “why volunteer?”, so we’ll start there.

Reason #1:

Why volunteer at Opal’s Farm? The simple answer: it’s “Dirt Therapy”. What do I mean by that? If you love to tend your own garden, you know exactly what I mean. Something happens to us when we work with the soil. Study after study has shown improved mental health and relaxation are some of the immediate benefits. The increased physical activity and its benefits are obvious, but “dirt therapy” is something, something deeper.

According to The Immune Advantage (Ellen Mazo and the Editors of Prevention Health Books with Keith Berndtson, M.D.), “a simple gardening project at the University of Texas in Galveston produced uplifting findings among 24 volunteers ranging in age from 63 to 90” that included not only an overall feeling of well-being” but a far deeper spiritual component; one of community.

The book goes on to share the story of Dr. William Thomas, M.D. and founder of the Eden Alternative. He “has proof that people live healthier and longer with daily access to plants, animals, and children”. In the 300-plus nursing homes across the country that follow his program allowing residents their own pets, till their own gardens, and participate in programs with children… residents have fewer infections, fewer falls, and fewer skin wounds”. Moreover, the amount of medication each resident required dropped.

Something happens when people work the earth together, sharing stories and childhood memories. A feeling of well-being and contentment feeling of well-being, of a spiritual connection, takes place. Moreover, the UT-Galveston study showed that “there was no physical decline among the volunteers after 4 months”. Working the soil may not be the proverbial “Fountain of Youth”, but it sure helps.

“Dirt Therapy” is an amazing reason to come down to the farm and join us. We’ll be posting “work days” and someone is usually at Opal’s Farm daily except for Wednesday. We love our volunteers and want to be as flexible as possible to meet varied schedules. It’s always best to call ahead so we’ll be looking for you. The south end of the farm offered the best soil available so we’re often away from the front office/storage container at the north end. If you’d like to schedule a group or simply show up on your own, please know you’re welcome and appreciated!

As I mentioned before, there’s a myriad of reasons “why” you should be a part of Opal’s Farm – far too many to write about here so I’ll be following up with reason number two on Monday. I bet your “why” is on the list…

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Happy Anniversary My Dear

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s a wee bit chilly on the porch this morning. Overcast skies make for a dreary opening for the month of March. The good news is that I saw my first Robin this week. They tend to be a more accurate predictor of Spring. It may be cold but today is the unofficial beginning of Spring in my book. It’s time to get busy.

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

I’ve been a bit reflective of the last six years. You see, tomorrow Margaret and I will have been married six years. It’s hard to believe. It’s sounds so cliché to say it seems like yesterday, but in a way it does. On the other hand, my life without my beautiful wife seems like eons ago. That’s a good thing. I can’t imagine life without my bride.

I love telling the story of our “whirlwind” relationship. We started dating on December 1st and got married three month later. I tend to leave out the part that we’d been friends for many years prior to dating. It’s more romantic that way.

I also tend to leave out the part about my proposal. It wasn’t so romantic. Fortunately, when you get married in your fifties, practicality has its own rewards. I debated whether I should include that part in this post, but since many of our friends know about it anyway, here goes…

Margaret and I were at my house getting ready to go out to a recovery function. We were running late so both of us were in the bathroom getting ready. We were in rather inglorious positions, she was getting ready and me shirtless, shaving away. It felt a bit like an old, married couple. I laughed to myself, looked at Margaret and said, “You want to get married?”

She looked over and said, “Are you serious?”

I looked back at her. She looked radiant, despite the awkwardness of our locale. “Yeah, I think so”. The rest my friends, is history.

She still teases me to this day about my ‘romantic’ proposal. I freely admit it wasn’t one of my stellar moments, but it was the most important question I ever asked in my life. The trajectory of my life changed in the bathroom that day and it definitely changed for the better.

There are a couple of reasons I’m sharing this story today. One is that we both had been single for many years prior to our marriage. Each of us had reached a point where we thought that’s the way it would be, and we were each okay with it. Life was good, but companionship would be great and love even greater. We were both complete human beings loving the gift of life and recovery as precious children of God. We were happy and content just the way we were. We didn’t need someone to feel whole. Had we started dating earlier (and believe me, I thought Margaret was hot and way out of my league), neither of us would have been ready for the relationship we have today. It was on God’s time and not ours.

Sometimes it feels like God’s time passes far too slowly. I always want answers to life’s questions now, but it rarely works that way. I knew how to fail in marriage, but I had no clue as to how to have a successful one. If I’m honest, the only thing I knew for sure was what I didn’t want in a relationship. Experience was a great teacher in that regard. Like Tom Petty sang, “the waiting is the hardest part”.

Looking back, I had so much to learn and it took a lot of growth, both personally and spiritually, to even be ready to meet someone special like Margaret. I had to be led through the process of “becoming”. By the time we began dating I had grown in my relationship with God and, consequentially, was ready for someone like Margaret. Patience truly is a virtue. What I’m trying to say is that Valentine’s Day may not be your favorite holiday when you’re single, but it becomes one when you learn to treat yourself as worthy of love.

Secondly, even the simplest, most awkward of times can be holy moments. I often think of how I would’ve liked to have proposed to Margaret. I really can be romantic at times. Still, I wouldn’t change a thing if it meant life would be any different. Margaret and I married eight days later. I was scheduled for a craniotomy to remove an AVM that was bleeding in my head. Even though it was to be a routine brain surgery by one of Fort Worth’s most respected neurosurgeons I couldn’t fathom the idea of passing away without Margaret being my wife. Our friends came together and planned a beautiful wedding in that time. Over a hundred of them came to our wedding and we love each them dearly.

Thinking about tomorrow I find myself wishing to shower Margaret with gifts, kisses, and thanks. I can do the wishes and the thanks, but the gifts are going to be slim. We are struggling financially right now so I can commit all my efforts to our non-profit for the farm. We prayed about it and know this is what God wants us to do. That never would have happened in my past life – the prayer that is. God orders our steps today. That’s what makes ours a wonderful marriage – God is the center of it. The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “a rope of three cords is not easily broken”. Thanks to my beautiful, thoughtful, and loving wife for making a home of three cords: God, Margaret, and I…

One of my favorite pictures
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Still Thankful

Thoughts From the Porch: It’s the day after Thanksgiving. Myinbox was filled with a multitude of emails announcing ‘Black Friday’ sales anddonation appeals. It pains me to know I can’t take advantage of either one this year.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It’s been a difficult few months for Margaret and I, at least where finances are concerned. Business has been slow since my hospitalization in May. The up side is that it’s freed up more time to devote to the farm. The down side is that the farm doesn’t pay the bills, at least not for a couple of more months. Unfortunately, the mortgage and the bills won’t wait that long.

We’re not unique in this regard. A May 18, 2018 New York Post article cites data fromthe United Way Alice Project that, “Some 50.8 million households or 43% can’t afford a basic monthly budget for housing, food, transportation, child care, healthcare, and a monthly smartphone bill.”That’s almost half our population that is one Emergency Room visit or carrepair away from being on the street. Knowing we’re not alone is bothencouraging and disheartening…

Last night, we shared a Thanksgiving meal with family. I struggled to remain mentally present. I had to constantly remind myself to “be where my feet are”. The Cowboy game was a welcome distraction and appreciated more than usual. It relieved my financial anxiety for a couple of hours.

We had a marvelous dinner. Everyone had contributed their own unique piece to the meal. Each had been prepared with love. Everyone ate their fill. I couldn’t help but think of how a few loaves and fishes multiplied to feed five thousand folks. My mood began to lighten.

Following dinner and prior to desserts, we have a family tradition of going around the table and sharing what we are grateful for. If I’m honest, I wasn’t looking forward to this part. I wasn’t feeling very grateful. Yet, something happened as we began our way around the table.

As each of our family shared their gratitude, I gained a little more clarity. Here I was sitting around a table with a full tummy and the people I love and appreciate. That’s something that many folks don’t have. The holidays can be a terribly lonely time for some. Going to bed hungry is a reality for a lot of people. Here in Tarrant County, one in five kids go to bed hungry.

It became a little easier to see my blessings when it was my turn to share. I might have learned the power of ‘Gratitude Lists’ years ago, but sometimes I feel so overwhelmed and fearful that I forget it. When I lose gratitude, I lose vision. When I lose vision, I lose touch with reality.

What I know this morning is that I’m grateful for the life I’ve been granted today. I never thought I’d see forty and I’m still here at sixty to share my thoughts with you. (I know that may not be such a blessing to others at times…) I have a roof over my head and food to eat. Even when the proverbial financial wolf is at the door, I’m safe inside. It will be okay. I can’t think of one single time when it hasn’t. God has been faithful, even when I’m overwhelmed with fear and doubt. Sometimes I don’t see it until I’m well past the problem, but it’s always been that way.

I am so grateful for the people in my life. Our friend Mary, (who doesn’t cook) made amazing dishes to enjoy; all the while being a valued friend and presence for Margaret. Adam, our ‘adopted’ son who reminds us regularly of the importance of sharing life together. Amanda, our new daughter (to say in-law would just be wrong!) who is such a loved part of our family. A great wife to our son, Brandon and mother to our granddaughter, Levi. They were just some of the folks around last night’s dinner table…

I’m even grateful for the current struggles we find ourselves in. For one, I have the gift of Margaret by my side. She has a much better grasp on faith than I do. I’m convinced that’s why God looked at Adam and said, “it’s not good for man to be alone”. I’m so grateful that he felt that highly of me and blessed me with her. She shows me how to love, live, and laugh better…

All in all, life brings its struggles to us all. Our current difficulties are nothing compared to many folks. In fact, they are far more pervasive than most of us would like to admit. Faith doesn’t exempt us from them, but it does provide the sustenance we need to get through them. Gratitude is the first bite of the spiritual food that gives that strength.

If you’re struggling this holiday season, whether it’sfinancial, physical, or far more internal, take a bite of gratitude. 

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Forget Black Friday. It’s Thanksgiving

Thoughts From the Porch: I slept in this morning. I didn’tbother setting the alarm since it was a holiday. I awoke to sunshine streamingthrough the window and it was 9:15 in the morning. It’s not often I miss thesunrise, but I’m grateful for the rest and a lazy morning on the porch.

I’ve had a plethora of text messages this morning. Everyone was announcing their contributions to our Thanksgiving feast. Margaret, Gael, and Mary are busy in the kitchen. Friends have come in and out. Work is on the back burner. The tradition of watching the Cowboys Thanksgiving Day game will be fulfilled. God is so good to us…

Yesterday, Think with Krys Boyd, one of our local NPR shows, interviewed Anthropologist Jack David Eller, about his book, “Inventing American Tradition: From Thanksgiving to Cinco De Mayo”. I was surprised to learn that many of holiday traditions weren’t intended to be traditions at all. What didn’t surprise me is that retailers had a huge part in making them so.

For instance, the Dry Goods lobby tried to have Thanksgiving moved back a week. Then they could have an extra week of the Christmas selling season. I guess since it didn’t happen, they came up with the whole ‘Black Friday’ thing. It became the biggest retail day of the year. It’s since morphed into ‘Black November’ with advertising starting well before Halloween. At least they wait until November First to put the Christmas decorations out…

I don’t get as excited as I used to about the holidays, especially since Mom and Dad are gone. Dad was a big Christmas fan and it just isn’t the same without him. I’m more of a Thanksgiving guy myself. Other than turkey sales, it’s avoided most of the rampant commercialism of the season. We cook a lot, eat a lot, and watch a lot of football and we do with family and friends. What better holiday is there?

The only drawback to Thanksgiving is that it’s only celebrated once a year. I long for the day when communal gratitude is expressed daily. It’s hard not to get along with others when I stay in gratitude. Despite commercial claims, life goes better with gratitude than it does with fizzy drinks…

I could go on and on about the benefits of gratitude and thankfulness, but it’s Thanksgiving and the aroma coming from the kitchen makes it hard to concentrate. I’m feeling a bit inclined to sample the wares there…

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving. Take today to take stock of all the blessings. We’ve received. Most of all, take a moment to say thanks for the people in your life.   ff

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I Can’t Remain Silent

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

 

It’s probably a good thing I’ve been too busy to post anything this week. I’ve struggled over today’s post and it’s been on my mind since last weekend. It’s hard to write and even harder to put it out there on social media and in the blogosphere. You see, as much as I enjoy writing of God’s infinite love, grace, and mercy, there are times when I fall far short in extending the same to others. This is one of those times. Please allow me to explain.

Margaret and I each had grown children when we wed nearly six years ago. Our daughter, who has come out as transgender and changed her name to Gael, moved in with us a couple of years ago so it would be financially easier to complete her college. I only mention her identification as Gael, so you’ll know who I’m talking about. I’m still new to speaking and writing of our kid in the third person, but that’s the accepted means by which to refer to transgender individuals and what they have requested of family and friends. Moreover, I’m not sharing anything that Gael hasn’t already made public their self.

Perhaps because our children were young adults when we married, blending families went a bit smoother for us. Margaret and I have no ‘step’ children, just our kids and grandkids, and we love them to death. So, when Gael asked about moving home to finish school there was no thought of saying no. I’ve become closer to them as a result.

Margaret has been open about Gael having been sexual assaulted by their uncle when they were twelve years old. What I didn’t know until the last couple of years is how deeply that affected them. The confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the highest court in the land after sexual assault accusations probably triggered Gael’s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) last weekend. As a result, we had an emotionally volatile weekend. I saw, and see daily, the lingering results of emotional pain caused by perpetrators such as their Uncle Phill. Although he, and people like Mr. Kavanaugh, go on about their lives without a care in the world, victims like Gael and their families live with the consequences of such heinous acts for a lifetime.

Needless to say, I’m angry: so much so that I want to lash out in revenge. I have a special place in my heart for women and children, but especially when it’s my kid. I wasn’t part of the family when it happened, but I am now and I see their lingering pain regularly. I see the tears and pain of remembrance. They, like all survivors, bear the scars of their trauma daily. Their uncle, like so many abusers, has never shown remorse and prefers to sweep it under the rug, ignoring the harm he has caused. Unfortunately, that happens in families and society as a whole. Part of me wants to make sure he pays a consequence, and quite frankly, I’d like to ‘kick his ass’, but that isn’t the answer. My first thoughts about anything like this are usually wrong…

It’s not my place to act as judge, jury, and executioner. God has freely granted me grace and mercy, not justice. I’m so glad I didn’t get what I deserved. So, who am I, having been lifted from the depths of addiction and self-centeredness, to withhold grace and mercy from others? That isn’t how my life works today. Revenge and ill-will only lead to resentment and bitterness, neither of which are appealing to me.

That being said, an acknowledgement of the wrong would allow some healing to take place, and that is what Margaret and I want for our kid. I’ve learned the importance of taking responsibility for my actions, acknowledging the harm done to someone else, and being willing to go to any lengths to make it right. Such an admission made it possible to receive the love, grace, and mercy waiting for me. I have no illusions that it’s not the case for men like their Uncle Phill or Brett Kavanaugh. Ironically, much can be forgiven when the crime is acknowledged. That’s when the healing begins…

So, what am I to do? Three things come to mind. First, I will love my kid through this and, though I wasn’t able to protect them then, I will do my best to protect them now. That means keeping my kid away from their perpetrator even if he shares DNA. That, too, has lasting consequences for others far beyond my kid or their uncle. They affect family get-togethers and holidays. Even when forgiveness is involved, it doesn’t mean forgetting. I will not allow my kid to be victimized over and over, placing them in the same room as their assailant and acting as though it’s all in the past so it’s okay re-traumatizes them.

Secondly, and probably more importantly, I can pray and seek God’s guidance through this whole mess. I truly believe in Jesus’ teaching. When he said that there is a better way than “an eye for an eye”, I believe him. I trust that his is a radically different view of the world than anything I’ve ever seen. It’s uncommon sense that leads me to live and love better, to be a better human being, and to be there for my kids, especially Gael.

Finally, I need to listen. I need to put aside preconceived notions about someone and listen to survivors of sexual trauma. I need to be empathetic and be there. Trevor Noah said that,

“People struggle to understand that two things can be contradictory and true at the same time. You could know somebody as a great person, and they could also be doing something that you don’t know about that makes them someone who you wouldn’t recognize. With Bill Cosby, people were like ‘that’s not the Cosby I know,’ and yeah, it’s not the Cosby you know. Unfortunately, it’s the Cosby somebody else knows.”

Just because somebody puts on a good guy image doesn’t exempt them from scrutiny when accusations are made. The past year and the emergence of the #metoo movement reminds me that ignoring the issue of sexual assault and harassment is to sanction it. To sanction it is to be a part of the problem. Like Dad used to say, “Son, you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution…”

Last weekend, Gael used social media to speak out against her perpetrator. The week before Christine Blasey Ford spoke to the world about her abuser. I applaud their courage and unwillingness to remain silent. Sexual assault, harassment, and, in Gael’s case, the assault of a child, is not a once and done crime. It has long lasting effects that plague survivors, their families, and society as a whole. Thank you Gael for speaking out and being an example. I can no longer be silent either. I hope you, gentle reader, won’t either.

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Never-ending Honeymoons…

Thoughts From the Porch: Yesterday was the big day for our son and our new daughter-in-law. We welcome Amanda into the family with tons of love and gratitude. She’s a beautiful, remarkable young woman and incredible addition to our family. We pray continued blessing and happiness for the Brandon and Amanda.

close up of wedding rings on floor
Photo by Megapixelstock on Pexels.com

It was a beautiful ceremony with pastoral surroundings. Despite the rain and grey skies, the wedding and reception went well, and a good time had by all who attended. We received a text from the happy couple this morning as they boarded the plane bound for the honeymoon. The best thing about the whole affair? It’s over!

I’m not a crabby old man mind you. I love weddings. I’ve had the privilege of performing many wedding ceremonies over the years. Couples, especially the brides, look more stunningly beautiful than ever, and I get to see the love in their eyes up close. There’s something incredibly holy about that moment. I’m always awed by the power and beauty I witness. It was no less holy seeing it from the attendee’s point of view.

However, I’m happy it’s over. The lead up to the big day was stressful for everyone in the family. It feels like a pressure valve a has been released and we can all breath again. No more worry about invitations, dresses, and food choices for the reception. After yesterday, Margaret and I slept in this morning. I can’t remember the last time I slept until 9:30! We spent an inordinate amount of time on the porch this morning. As I write this morning my thoughts are more about binge watching Netflix than finishing this post, so you may not be seeing this until Monday…

And so, it is Monday…

Monday has arrived, and it feels beautifully normal. Up early, coffee on, and time on the porch. I shall not bore you with the details. It feels like Fall though. For that I’m unbelievably grateful.

autumn autumn leaves blur close up
Photo by Vali S. on Pexels.com

Looking back at this weekend, I was reminded of my own marriage and how blessed I am. It will be our sixth anniversary in March. I know that doesn’t sound like a long time to folks who have been married for much longer, but it amazes me. I’m sure I’m not always the easiest person to live with.

Margaret and I had been friends for several years before we dated. I always wanted to go out with her, but quite frankly, I figured I was out of her league. I had been single for a long time and, because I had chosen to be public about my HIV status, I thought I’d remain that way. Being positive kind of screws up the whole dating thing. I’m not complaining, mind you, because looking back, I know God was preparing me for what was to come. I had to learn to love myself, and by His grace, my willingness, and an incredible group of men, I did. Loving myself allows me to love others fully. Maybe that’s why Jesus placed such importance on “loving others as you love yourself”.

During that time, He was also preparing Margaret. I guess it was no surprise that our courtship was short – only ninety-one days. Thanks to our many friends who banded together to pull off a gorgeous wedding in only eight days (many of you know the story), two became one. If such haste seems foolhardy, each day since has reaffirmed our (or at least my) decision. Apparently, we became a ‘magnet couple’ – I’m HIV positive and she’s is, and remains negative…

We’ve had some hurtles since our wedding day, most of them physical. A month after our wedding, I ended up in intensive care behind a post-operative meningitis infection for a month. It was touch and go. Margaret worried about planning a funeral a month after planning a wedding. Then a couple of years later, Margaret had complications from back surgery leading to chronic pain and decreased (and sometimes extremely little) mobility. Neither of us planned on these challenges, but it is what it is, right? All they are is speed bumps on this wonderful journey we began together.

Sometimes the challenges we face cause self-doubt. We’re not exempt, nor is anyone I know of. While Margaret isn’t an invalid by any means, there are days when she’s really hurting and needs more of my attention. I’m grateful that I work from home most days and can be there to help. She apologizes and wonders if I’m second-guessing getting married. I can say with absolute certainty that I’ve never had second thoughts. Yet, I can tell you that on the days I’m irritable, frustrated, or depressed I wonder if she’s rethinking this whole deal. Sometimes my brain is not my friend…

For both of us, self-doubt is fleeting, erased by the love we share. Feelings are one thing and, at least in my case, rarely have anything to do with reality. The reality is that I’m still awed that God could have blessed me so richly. I still get giddy when Margaret walks in the room. When I look into her eyes, I see the love there and I come back to reality quickly. I still can’t believe that she said yes…

I know that Saturday was Brandon and Amanda’s special day, but I need to tell you, it was truly special for me, too. Margaret stepped out of the bride’s room as we prepared to walk down the aisle. I was floored. She’d been locked away all day with the bride and bridesmaids getting ready for the ceremony. I saw my bride. She looked even more beautiful than the day we wed. I truly am the most blessed man in the world…

I hope that our kids have the same joy and love that Margaret and I share. If the vows they wrote for one another are any indicator, then I’m certain they will. If I could offer any advice to the newlyweds, it would be this: never lose you sense of wonder that your spouse chose to spend the rest of their life with you. When in doubt, remember how they looked at you on your wedding day, and perhaps more importantly, how you looked at them.

My prayer for you all is that you feel the butterflies and the awe every time the love of your life walks in the room…

animal beautiful biology bloom
Photo by Cindy Gustafson on Pexels.com

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Today is the big day!Today is the big day!

 

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