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Bittersweet Moments

Down on the Farm: August is a busy month at Opal’s Farm. The Texas summer reaches its apex in August and the Spring garden crops are beginning to peter out. The summer squashes have about run their course and the purple-hulled and black-eye peas are slowing in the heat. We’ve been extremely blessed this year to have only had seven one hundred-degree days. The average number by this time of year is eighteen. We’re very careful in the heat: slow down, drink lots of water, and take more frequent breaks in the shade of our only tree. When the “feels like” temperature is in the triple digits it’s better to be safe than sorry. Heat stroke is no joke!

The high temperatures haven’t deterred our volunteers. A huge shout out to Harrison, Chuck, Becca, and of course, Brendan for helping with harvesting and helping plant the new Fall crops. As we transition to our fall planting there are beds to be cleaned out, prepared, and seeded with all the great veggies that come in the Fall. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I love and appreciate our volunteers and fellow “farmers”.

That’s why it’s difficult to write today’s blog post. Many of you know one of our volunteers (and my trusted assistant), Brendan O’Connell. Brendan has been with Opal’s Farm since we began building the first beds and planting the first seeds. Not only has he put countless hours of physical labor into the farm, he’s also shared ideas and opened doors that have made our first growing season a success.

When Brendan contacted me about volunteering back in March, I had no idea how important he would become to Opal’s Farm or how much I would come to value his input, appreciate his hard work, and depend on him. For the first four months, it was Brendan who was right in the thick of things whether it was plowing, planting, or marketing.

Our First Cowtown Farmer’s Market

One day he mentioned one day that his school needed a title or job description for his volunteer work at the farm. He wasn’t sure what to put down on the paperwork, and quite honestly, neither was I. “Farmhand” was an understatement. He was far more than another hand. I wasn’t sure what to tell him. Until it dawned on me: he was the farm co-manager! It would be unfair to call him anything else. His sense of commitment and dedication to the mission of Opal’s Farm is indescribable.

Couldn’t have done it without Brendan – getting ready for our first crop!

Unfortunately, I knew his time would come to an end. You see, Brendan leaves next week for the next step in his life at Cornell University. He’ll be stopping by Cowtown Farmer’s Market briefly on Saturday and leaving Tuesday. It’s a bittersweet moment for those of us who’ve come to know Brendan over the last few months. We are extremely happy (and a bit proud) for him and his new adventure, but it’s hard to see him leave (even if we do get to see him at winter break).

Part of me is jealous, Brendan. For those of you who don’t know, Cornell is in Ithaca, New York. Although Brendan will be studying hard, he’ll be enjoying much cooler weather than those of us here at the farm! Moreover, Ithaca has an actual Fall season and with it, the accompanying explosion of color that will awe any good old Fort Worth native.

Winter will be a bit different from Fort Worth (what’s that white stuff called again?), but I’m happy to hear you bought your winter coat online rather than here. There’s not much of a market here for the kind of coats one you’ll need in New York…

Brendan, thank you for everything you’ve done for Opal’s Farm and thank you Mr. and Mrs. O’Connell for sharing your son with us. God’s blessings upon you all. We wish you adventure, happiness, and success in the coming school year. We look forward to seeing you this winter but please know you will be missed and thought of often.

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Words That Pull the Trigger

Thoughts From the Porch: We sold out early at the farmer’s market Saturday. We sold much of the week’s harvest on Wednesday, so we were a bit light for Saturday’s market. Our normal crowd was a bit smaller due to the rainy morning. Even a few of our farmers took the day off for other pursuits. Hopefully, everyone enjoyed a much-needed break from summer chores. I know I did.

Our friends Melvin and Janice called Friday night to invite us up to Lake Murray for a camping weekend. It was a perfect Saturday morning to leave market early and head to Oklahoma. Cell service is almost non-existent there. Spending a couple of days unplugged from everything is a periodic necessity. A couple of days in a quiet campsite with good friends is just what the doctor ordered!

Life is full of small pleasures. My Sunday morning meeting was covered by someone else, so I slept in for a change. Upon awakening I made the coffee and headed for some serious porch time. I made the mistake of checking out my CNN app and discovered twenty-nine people had been killed in two mass shootings just hours apart: one in El Paso and the other in Dayton, Ohio. It was difficult to separate the horror and sadness I experienced from the rising fury toward the hatefulness of the crimes.

Photo by Ivandrei Pretorius on Pexels.com

 I wanted to write about it but growing older (and hopefully wiser) has allowed me to hit the pause button on such occasions lest I speak or write out of anger. I tend to say things I later regret or that are misunderstood. It makes apologies and amends to others for my emotional outburst extremely difficult. So, I’ve mulled this over for the last couple of days before sharing my thoughts.

Same story, different day…

The storyline has become all-to familiar. Another mass shooting. The news covers all the vigils held to honor the dead. Finding relatives of the fallen or hospital room interviews with survivors are a ratings bonanza. There’s an outcry against gun violence. Politicians and political pundits from both sides of the aisle pontificate on how to prevent this from happening again, just as they did the last time and the time before that. What happened Sunday will happen again today, tomorrow, and so it goes.

According to data collected by the non-profit organization, Gun Violence Archive, (as of August 4th, 2019) a mass shooting is defined as “an event where at least four people, not including the gunman, were shot”. By this definition, there have been 292 mass shootings in last 219 days of this year alone. I’m no math wizard but according to my calculations, that’s 1.3 mass shootings a day.

We simply don’t hear about most of them. It seems only a large body count is newsworthy. Maybe we’ve become numb to “average” shootings. Many occur in communities most folks ignore anyway. Sadly, if this weekend’s events are like previous mass shootings, the media will play with the story for a few days until another ratings booster comes along…

Words can kill just like bullets

The FBI is unsure as to the motive of the Dayton shooter, but are treating the El Paso event as an act of domestic terrorism based on white supremacy. The shooter’s motives were clear so he several hundred miles to carry out a planned attack on immigrants because of the “Hispanic invasion of Texas”.

The “Hispanic invasion”. “Those people”. “Go back where you came from”. All words and phrases coming from the highest office in the land. All words that spark hate, division, and most of all, fear. When asked what we can do about the problem with those people, someone shouted, “shoot them” and everyone present laughed. Except for one 21-year-old from North Texas. He took those words literally…

I don’t know what to do about gun control, red flag laws, or mental health issues and gun violence. I don’t know if the present occupant of the White House will change his words, but maybe we should hold him accountable for those words. Words kill. They accounted for at least 22 of the deaths this weekend. Hateful words, attitudes, and divisiveness pulled the trigger as much as the gunman did. Donald Trump is as complicit in the El Paso shooting as the gunman.

What I do know is to counter hateful words and actions with love and grace, despite my anger and sadness. The grace shown to me by a loving Abba will guide my actions. I’ll not allow hate and division to interfere with loving and uniting others, especially “the others”.

What I know for certain is, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke (in a letter addressed to Thomas Mercer). I won’t be quiet, nor will I sit still.

Will you?

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Thank You, Thank You, Thank You…

Thoughts From the Porch: I’m told the best way to blog is to post something regularly and preferably, on a scheduled basis. Unfortunately, I’ve failed to live up to that standard this month. I was looking back over my July posts and realized this is only my third one so far.

Opal’s Farm is booming. Fall planting is underway and we’ve been blessed by all the volunteers helping us harvest and get our irrigation going. Our Saturday sales at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market seem to increase each week we’re there. We’re in the process of looking at a new partnership with a couple of local restaurants and non-profits that will serve a broader community. Things are moving in the right direction.

Unfortunately, the flurry of activity at Opal’s Farm has limited my writing time. I still have my moments on the porch; my quiet time with God and my beautiful wife. Porch time sets the tone for the rest of the day. It’s as necessary to well-being as food and water are to physical life. Quiet time in the morning refreshes my body, my mind, and most of all, my spirit. I’m better able to greet the day’s business with gratitude and grace.

Most days there’s no time for writing on in the morning unless it’s business. I come back from the farm with every intention to sit down and write, but evenings have their own struggles – fix dinner, do dishes, respond to messages and emails. On top of that there’s the long day in the Texas heat. Some evenings I forget dinner, drop the work clothes, and lay down in front of the air conditioner until the next morning. If you work outdoors in Texas, then you know what I mean.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t have much to say this morning. One of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott, says that her prayers fall into two simple categories – “Help me, help me, help me” or “Thank you, thank you, thank you”. I get it. Lately my prayers have been of the “thank you, thank you, thank you” variety. I have little to say other than thank you. If I were to make a list of all I’m grateful for it would fill a legal pad and then some. I shan’t bore you, gentle reader, with my list…

Most days, as of late, are filled with quiet gratitude for the grace I’ve been given. I can’t believe I get to live the life I live today. I get to do the very things which were the desire of my heart all along. I work with amazing people working toward a godly, incredible mission. I spend my days “playing in the dirt”: a constant reminder of stewardship and Jesus’ parables. When I come home at night, I enjoy time with my wife and drift off into a solid sleep, ready to “rinse and repeat” another day.

I could go on and on, but I won’t. I simply needed to touch base with you all before heading to the farm for another day. Have a super Friday and a wonderful weekend! See you soon…

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Happy Belated 4th of July

I wish all my friends a very, very happy 4th of July, albeit belated. This has been an unbelievably hectic week despite the holiday. Between harvest at Opals Farm, working on a new client’s project, and accompanying my oldest son the another 5k race, I haven’t had much time to write down my “thoughts from the porch”. I haven’t given up my porch time though. Prayer and meditation are essential to healthy work and play…

Margaret and I have five grown children between us. We decided from day one that we wouldn’t have stepchildren, only “our” children. Margaret and I didn’t date long before we married so she had never met my oldest son until our wedding day. When they finally met, Adrian introduced himself with, “Hi, I’m Adrian”, to which Margaret replied, Hi, I’m your stepmom”…

Adrian and Jeremy are the oldest of the five. Margaret loves to remind me her three are younger because, after all, she’s still in her fifties and I’m, well, not. We may consider them all our kids, but I have to admit, I beam a little brighter when one of “my” boys have their moments of special achievement or success. In no way does this diminish the achievements of the other three. I’ve simply had a longer and closer relationship with my boys. We’ve shared the ups and downs that came with our tiny family unit (I was a single dad) and I’ve rejoiced even more so in their success as was far from the perfect father growing up.

On Thursday, I met my oldest, Adrian, and rode with him to Dallas to watch him run in the “5 for the Fourth” 5k race. Notice I said watch. I’m not sure my old knees can partake in such endeavors. They might handle a bicycle race but definitely not pounding the downtown Dallas pavement. Besides, my 5k was simply leaving the house before 6 AM and leaving Texas to go to Dallas…

Almost to the Finish Line…

The only reason I mention any of this is because of the amazing things God is doing in my son’s life. I’m a very proud father and want to brag on my son. You see, Adrian and I haven’t been able to spend a lot of time together until several weeks ago. He was constantly working and rarely had time to hang out. We talked every week or so, but time together was beyond few and in between. Like it or not, that’s how it was.

That began to change a two or three months ago. Adrian was dealing with an extremely uncomfortable situation in his life. I won’t go into detail but I had been there at one point as well. While I don’t wish that on anyone, especially my son, I’ve come to see it as another of God’s lavish gifts. I began to spend more time with Adrian. I began to see how God moves in his life and what a good man he is. I’ve always known that, but there was something special, something spiritual in nature, shining a light on God’s grace for all of us.

My son has always had a relationship with God, and for that I’m grateful. Yet, watching it grow into a daily walk with Jesus has been one of the pleasures in life that only a parent can fully appreciate. Moreover, work, while still important, has taken a back seat to matters of the heart and spiritual growth. I guess that’s one reason I get up early on a holiday to watch him run. His running successes are outward reflection of his inward growth. I’m awed and, quite frankly, bursting with pride. That’s my boy!

After a long hiatus from competition of the physical kind, he started running again. I’ve shared with you his first 5K and his first Spartan race. When he finished Thursday’s race he had shaved 5 minutes off his previous time. To a longtime runner this may not be a big deal; but to someone who only started running on a daily basis a few weeks ago this might as well be a gold medal!

Am I bragging? Yes, I am; and no, I won’t apologize for it. Am I living a bit vicariously through his success! More than likely, but I think all parents do as our children grow older. God allows those of us fortunate enough to be parents to revel in our children’s glory, even when our (or at least my) parenting skills were less than stellar. If we’re lucky, we not only get to brag but become closer to them, and filled with pride and joy at the grown-ups they’ve become…

That’s MY boy!

*** In no way do I wish to overlook the success of Adrian’s younger brother and my son Jeremy. So here’s an unashamedly plug for him – Jeremy, is a emerging artist in the art scene. He both curates shows and has his own exhibitions. In fact, for those of you here in North Texas, his next exhibition will be on July 12th at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center!

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Thistles and Wheat…

Thoughts From the Porch: I was just looking back over the last three or four weeks and noted that I haven’t posted much this month. I’ve tried to keep everyone updated on Opal’s Farm, but I spend far more time at the farm and less time at the desk (or on the porch). June is an incredibly busy month for everyone at Unity Unlimited, Inc. and Opal’s Farm. The Juneteenth celebrations and programs, harvesting our Spring crops, and preparing for Fall planting keep us hopping. It has been a fantastic, yet tiring, month.

We’ve been blessed here in North Texas with below average temperatures and abnormally late rainfall. The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting rainfall into July, which is extremely rare on the southern plains. We haven’t even had a one hundred plus degree day yet (I’m knocking on my old oak desk as you read this). It’s still hot (this is Texas), but the farm is doing well. We had our first public sale to the neighborhood last Sunday. We hope to be at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market tomorrow (we’ll keep you posted!).

I was weeding the watermelon and cantaloupe rows yesterday and had to be somewhat gentle in my approach to some tall weeds. Tall weeds, especially the Johnson grass, are the inevitable consequence or good rainfall. Still, I’ll gladly trade tall weeds for abundant amounts of rain.

If you’re familiar with melon vines you know they put out small tendrils that grab onto anything in their path. The vines were tangled among many of the weeds making it impossible to remove one without damaging the other. I decided to let vines go crazy through the weeds rather than damage the growing melons.

It reminded me of a story Jesus told of a farmer who planted good seed in his field only to discover someone snuck in during the night and planted thistles among his wheat. The farmhands wondered how to resolve this dilemma. The head farmer told them to leave it alone. If they tried to remove the thistles, they’d pull up the wheat as well. “Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvester to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn” (Matthew 13. 29-30, The Message).

Jesus said God’s kingdom is like that. The good (wheat, or in my case, melons) are often intertwined with the bad (the thistles and Johnson grass). Sometimes I simply accept that my field, and my life, are filled with both good and bad things, but the end always results in a harvest. If I don’t try to have my way (I don’t like weeds, nor do I wish the discomfort of the negative things in life) it seems the harvest is always bountiful. Opal’s Farm is a reminder that watermelons and cantaloupes always win out over thistles and Johnson grass. I just have to take gentle care of the field…

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Spartans and Teamwork

Thoughts from the Porch: Summer is officially here. The summer equinox is in the rear-view mirror. The days will grow shorter though no one will notice (or care) for the next three months. While we normally experience summer drought, this year has kept the rains coming into June. We had another huge thunderstorm last night. It’s the third Sunday in a row for North Texas. I am eternally grateful for the rain as we’re still working on irrigation for the farm. I could do without the straight-line winds though. I’ll be clearing out tree limbs for the next couple of hours…

I had the privilege of attending my first Spartan race this Saturday at AT&T Stadium (Home of the Dallas Cowboys or “Jerryworld” as it’s known locally). I didn’t realize what a big deal a Spartan race is. The fact they were holding it at the stadium should’ve been a clue. There were folks from all over the country racing Saturday. The first competitors started early in the morning and they were still starting racers when I left at 3:00 o’clock in the afternoon.

The Second Obstacle – makes me dizzy thinking about it…

My oldest son, Adrian, started running and working out regularly again. Last month he ran his first 5K in twenty years and finished first in his age group. I was proud of him and quite impressed! Saturday he was more concerned about simply finishing and helping other team members than where he placed in the race. I’m far more impressed by his heart than I am by his race time.

Over the first wall…

He formed a team with several other guys that shared the same race coach for the day. Although they hadn’t meet each other before the race, they bonded as a team and helped one another through a grueling race and obstacle course. One of the team members struggled and fell farther behind than the others. Finally, the rest of the team had to press forward, leaving him behind with the team coach. The other members went on to complete the course.

Finished the First One!

Adrian crossed the finish line and we celebrated together. Then he returned to the field to join the rest of his team look for the one runner still on the course. When he entered the field from the punishing run up and down the stairs at AT&T Stadium his team members were there to cheer him on.

Then an amazing thing happened…

The other team members joined him on the course to complete the final obstacles alongside him. It may not seem like a big deal, but understand, these guys had already completed the course. They were tired and sore. Most importantly, they didn’t have to do it. They ran through the remaining three obstacles and crossed the finish line together – as a team!

None of these guys had met before Saturday. The only thing they had in common was the Spartan coach they’d each paid extra for. Still, they became a real team. They were there for each other; the perfect example of sportsmanship.

Running and racing is generally thought of as an individual, not a team, sport. Adrian and his fellows reminded me one more time of the importance of teamwork. No one is left behind and forgotten simply because “I” finished. It’s about finishing together and relying on each other. I truly am my brother’s keeper and not just at a Spartan race…

I will remember Adrian’s example more than I’ll ever remember his race time. Thank you, Son for the reminder of what’s truly important. Individual accomplishments are great, but team accomplishments, what we do together as a community, mean the most. I’m proud of you, Son!

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Listen More, Talk Less…

Thoughts From the Porch: I’m posting this on my business website as well as the Opal’s Farm Facebook Page. Please bear with me as it has a bit more to do with Opal’s Farm than just produce. It’s a personal note on what the farm and working for Unity Unlimited, Inc. has meant to me for the last year.

 It’s been two weeks of running! Harvest is coming in at Opal’s Farm. Saturday was the big celebration at TCC South campus with the parade, the entertainment, and seminars and activities all day long. One of our partners and sponsors, the Tarrant Area Food Bank, gave away a semi-trailer full of food to the community.

Fort Worth Juneteenth Parade 2019

The Juneteenth events over the last ten days will culminate with “Juneteenth: The Play” at Will rogers Auditorium tomorrow evening. Tickets are still available, and proceeds benefit Opal’s Farm. Go to Opal’s Farm Facebook page or to www.juneteenthftw.com for details and tickets. It will be a delightful, entertaining, and educational evening. Most of you know that the Fort Worth Juneteenth celebrations are a huge part of what our parent non-profit organization, Unity Unlimited, Inc. does each year.

For those of you who have no idea what Juneteenth is…

“Juneteeth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.   Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation – which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.” www.juneteenthftw.com

Just a part of the Tarrant Area Food Bank’s Juneteenth contribution
A semi-load of free food for the community

Some Back Story…

One of my favorite authors is Donald Miller. My minister friend, Rusty, had mentioned him in passing one time. I was browsing through the bookstore and came upon Miller’s book, “Blue Like Jazz”. After reading the author’s note at the beginning I bought a copy. I read it through in a couple of sittings the first time. I read it much slower a couple of times after that. I found someone who vocalized much of my spiritual walk; things I always wanted to say and simply could not find a way to do so. I think I own the whole Donald Miller catalogue these days…

In “Blue Like Jazz”, Miller tells the story of a “confession booth” he and his friends built at Reed College. A Google search of Reed College will say three main things about the school. First, is its academic reputation as one of the best liberal arts schools in the nation. Second, its liberal political reputation. Third, its permissive policy toward open drug use and parties. Long story short – it doesn’t harbor a large “Christian” student population. Intellectual pursuits (and a bit of drug-induced fun) are often at odds with religious belief.

Miller and a few of his like-minded followers of Jesus had an idea: set up a “confession booth”, not to take confessions but offer them as evidence of Christianity’s failings and crimes against humanity – things like the Crusades, slavery, and Native American genocide. I won’t bore you with the details (you really should read the book!), but I’ve always loved the idea. Maybe if much of Christianity was honest enough to admit they’ve screwed up horribly, genuinely attempt to make amends, then they might have some real good news to share.  (Disclaimer: The Christian “right” doesn’t speak for many followers of the Rabbi) Just saying…

I mention it because I’ve thought a lot about confession this morning. In the Twelve Step tradition, introspection, ownership of one’s actions (good or bad), and admission (confession if you will) to God and another human being are essential to grow spiritually. Spiritual growth and building a solid relationship with a Higher Power are essential to recovery. Moreover, confession allows us to make amends, or make things right, so forgiveness and recovery (and in this instance, community) can take place. It’s essential to recovery, our spirit, and the humility that’s as critical as food and water are to the body.

My work with Unity Unlimited, Inc, Opal’s Farm, and Ms. Opal herself has led to deep introspection over the last year. I haven’t always liked what I’ve seen. I’m acutely aware of how old tapes play in my head. I’ve also learned the value of listening. My Dad used to tell me that I was given one mouth and two ears so I could listen twice as much as I speak. I must confess I don’t do that well.

Please forgive my unwillingness to truly listen. Today I will listen and be a friend and an ally. I’ll seek to learn from other’s struggles so that I too can walk the path toward freedom. Fannie Lou Hamer once said that none of us are free until all of us are free. I guess that’s why the last week of Juneteenth celebrations have affected so deeply. When I fail to listen, I rob myself of the chance for emancipation from old ideas and blind myself to new possibilities.

I believe in the old saying that “confession is good for the soul”. I look forward to taking our walk together.

Thanks to our partner for Opal’s Far – the Tarrant Regional Water District!