Thoughts From the Porch: Sometimes I wonder if my memories of childhood are mine or they were my father’s. His recall of the past was beyond my understanding. Heck, I find it difficult to remember what I had for breakfast a couple of hours ago, but Dad – he remembered everything. On more than one occasion I’d wish his recall didn’t work so well. Embarrassment is one emotion I’d rather not deal with.
I sat on the porch this morning, drinking my coffee, watching the rain fall, and letting my mind wander across my memory landscape. It always seems cloudy the farther back I walk. The mental pictures become blurred and I don’t know if the memory is real or a story my father told me. They must be real. Dad would never had lied to me about anything. Still, everything in my experience seems just out of reach.
The one thing I’m sure is real is the green pickup truck my father had. The picture is crystal clear. It was a ’52 Chevrolet Apache, hunter green with high sideboards my father had made and put on. He had a second job delivering a Sunday paper called “The Shopper” and the sideboards were to hold all the newspapers. The papers would come off the press around two o’clock in the morning on Sunday. He’d fill the truck bed with papers and two assistants and off they go to throw the paper on their assigned route.
I was almost always asleep when Dad went to work so I don’t recall his absence, I remember the truck. I loved that truck. It always seemed to me that the truck didn’t belong in the city. It belonged on a farm – a big farm with wide, open meadows, horses, cows, and chickens – the kind my uncles and cousins had.
Suddenly remembering that truck this morning seemed so random, but little in life is random. Experience has shown that there’s usually some pattern, some order to life that can only be understood in hindsight. To quote Soren Kirkegaard, “Life can only be understood looking backward, but it must be lived forwards.”
I miss Dad. He passed away in 2002. Eighteen years later I find myself thinking of him regularly. It’s happy thoughts most days – he was quite special – but sometimes it’s a deep sadness that he’s no longer here. Today is one of those days.
When Dad passed, my life was total chaos – in and out of jail, unemployment, and degradation. It was a downhill slide for the next three years, until I hit bottom. I hurt my father in so many ways. He only wanted the very best for me and it was gut-wrenching to watch his son self-destruct. I know. I hurt when my kids hurt. Call it co-dependent if you’d like. I call it parenting…
Life changed for me on December 1st, 2005, and with it came the sadness that Dad wasn’t here to see it. He, above all people, deserved to see the change. I would give anything to hear his embarrassing and oft repeated stories one more time. I’d give anything to have him enjoy the peace that life offers today.
Thinking about that truck doesn’t seem so random anymore. It was always meant to be on a farm. Today I know Dad and I would be driving down to Opal’s Farm, working side by side, and telling stories. We’d laugh together and maybe he’d sing one of his silly songs. The dogs would be piled in the back. It’d be a gorgeous Spring morning. Life would be how it was meant to be.
It’s funny that old green Chevrolet shows a glimpse of the promised “new heaven and a new earth”. Sadness has turned to joy today thinking about that truck and Dad. I’m pretty sure he’s got her gassed up and ready. We’ll hop in and take for a spin around the farm. Life how it’s meant to be…
Thoughts From the Porch: A stunning late winter sunrise started my morning. I drank my first cup of coffee to the varied songs of our resident Mockingbird. Nesting season has begun and my little friend sings once again, reminding me that spring in almost here. He brightened my morning even more that the rising sun.
Sometimes I can’t offer anything more than a simple thank you in my morning prayers. I see mornings like this, and I hear God speaking quite clearly. It’s time to just sit here and listen, to bask in His glory and miraculous creation.
The Mockingbird fell silent around the time of our first early frost. I’ve missed my little friend who greeted me in song each day as I set abut my porch time. This winter has been mild – eighty-degree days in January – and I would’ve thought he’d come by now and then, but his internal timing told him to wait until now. He saved his melodies for me and this very morning. Thank you my little friend…
I’ve been taking a personal writing hiatus for the last couple of weeks. It’s been quite busy with Opal’s Farm and client requests. When life gets a bit too hectic I’ve learned the value of a Sabbath rest…
Fortunately, it’s been gloomy and rainy here for the past two days. Thursday’s downpour and yesterday’s off-and-on showers allowed me to complete many of the projects I have going. I woke up this morning to a glorious sunrise, bright skies, warmer temperatures, and a brain worm…
Jonathan Edward’s “Sunshine (Go Away Today)” kept echoing through my head even though the last thing I want is for the sun to leave. It’s a great song from my younger days though. It led me to look it up on You Tube. I couldn’t help but listen to the subsequent playlist – Greg Allman, Jackson Browne, Jimmy Buffet – and my favorite from the morning, Arlo.
Now I know some of you have no idea who Arlo is. I know I’m dating myself, but Arlo and his father, Woody (as in Guthrie) shared a musical wisdom few possess. (Aside: I still follow the ritual I started some forty years ago by playing “Alice’s Restaurant” each Thanksgiving Day at Noon!).
As I was watching the video from one of Arlo’s more recent performances I was struck by the fact that some of the best sermons I’ve ever heard of not come from preachers and pastors, but from artists. There’s a spirituality in art, particularly music, that I’ve never found in a church service.
I hope you enjoy the clip. It’s rather long. Then again, most preachers go on a lot longer. (Another aside: When I was a kid we always found on preachers who went past the allotted twenty-minute sermon time – the Baptists would beat us to Luby’s…)
Anyway, I found it particularly meaningful on a bright, sunny day. By the way, Sunshine don’t run off…
Winter officially arrived at 10:19 Saturday night. That must be why it’s not cold enough to freeze but still a wet cold that pierces the skin and settles in the bones. Such is winter in North Texas. I’ve been here all, but seventeen years, of my life and I’m still not used to it. At least it’s warming up for the rest of Christmas week…
A box with Christmas floral arrangements arrived the other day. My sister in Georgia sent them. She asked me to place them at the cemetery for Mom and Dad. My sister is far better at remembering things like that than I am. It’s not that special days aren’t special. It’s usually because I’m so forgetful. I never seem to think of birthdays and holidays until the day before or the day of. If I’m totally honest then I must admit sometimes the day passes and it doesn’t dawn on me until two or three days later. I’d love to blame it on my past neurological issues. The reality is that I’ve always been that way with holidays.
I go to the cemetery regularly. Sometimes it’s just a quiet place to pray and meditate, but mostly I go to talk to Mom and Dad. I’m quite sure they hear me loud and clear although their place in time and space limits my ability to hear them. I can only settle for memories of conversations long past.
I took the flowers to the cemetery. I went to place them in the vase above the headstone only to find the vase broken again. It had cracked once before and I guess I need a different epoxy glue for the marble marker. There were two arrangements, one for Mom, one for Dad. It didn’t seem right to only acknowledge their markers. After all, it’s a family plot. I certainly couldn’t overlook Grandmother, so I placed the two arrangements at opposite sides of the family headstone and stepped back to check the placement. Now everyone was honored…
I wished them each a Merry Christmas and tried to leave but I could not. I felt the tears well up and erupt in a sudden explosion of grief. Honestly, I was a bit shaken by it all. It’s been seventeen years since Dad passed and seven years of Christmas without Mom. My sister moved her to Georgia five years before her death since she required more care than I could offer here at home. At least I had some time to ease into the holidays without either of my parents.
“All my life’s a circle, sunrise and sundown…” – Harry Chapin
The cycle of life goes on. Birth, life, death. Rinse and repeat, right? It is what it is. We all die and experience the death of those close to us. I’m generally in acceptance of the whole affair. Grieving is something we all do. I still think about my parents on almost a daily basis, but it’s usually happy memories and I’m at peace. I guess that’s why I felt so blindsided by the sadness that poured over me. I simply wasn’t expecting it. Grief has a way of doing that…
When Mom passed in 2017, I walked through the grieving process with the help of family and friends. The strong relationship with God, forged by recovery, afforded me that opportunity. Mom got to watch the miracle of my recovery unfold in her later years. Staring at the headstones for the rest of those in our family plot, I realized no one else could say that (except for Uncle Bynam, who died at Anzio in World War Two – born at the end of the “War to end all wars” and died in the next one – the irony isn’t lost on me, but that’s another story for another time…). Sorrow and regret washed over me.
My life, for the most part, is free of regrets. Acceptance and a relationship with a loving God helped me deal with the demons of the past; especially those of my own creation…). Life doesn’t allow “do-overs” and I’m okay with that. I made amends where I could, accepted those I couldn’t, and received and gave forgiveness to others and myself to the best of my ability. Most days, I live in the present and the future is bright. It is what it is…
Standing there in front of the family plot reminded me of what I do regret, what I wish could have been different. I wish with all my heart my Dad, not to mention my uncles and Grandmother, could see me today. My faith says they do, but it’s not quite the same as having them physically here.
Contrary to popular belief, “time doesn’t heal all wounds”. It merely closes them up, scars over, and aches from time to time It’s like my knee surgeries. I’ve recovered from the injury, but they still hurt from time to time. Grief will come at unexpected times and with no expiration date stamped on it.
When it does it’s often accompanied by regret, but my perspective has changed. Instead of the old “if only” inner dialogue, I’m reminded I can’t correct the past, but I can change my future: a future I’m pleased to live out under the gaze of those I love.
I stood there until the tears subsided. I said my goodbyes and wished those I love a Merry Christmas. I would’ve wished them a Happy New Year as well, but I’m convinced that has little meaning for them now. God’s time is measured differently.
As I turned to leave, the wind, which had been absent a moment before, blew fiercely through the surrounding trees. The Tibetan Book of the Dead says that when a great a soul dies the winds blow mightily. It happened on the night of my father’s death and every time I’ve visited the cemetery since. I like to think it’s his way of saying, “I’m proud of you, Son. Keep doing what you’re doing”. The tears began again. This time they were tears of gratitude and joy…
“That’s why we can be so sure that every detail of our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” Romans 8.28
Do you ever get brain worms? You know, those pesky little
musical ditties that play over and over in your head. No matter what you’re
doing the song or musical rift won’t go away. In fact, the more you try to
think of something else the more persistent the song becomes. Sometimes they’re
simply the last song you hear on the radio and other times it comes out of
nowhere. Sometimes they come from the most unlikely sources.
Let me explain…
After an early freeze it’s been a string of beautiful Fall
days here in North Texas. The sun was bright, trees have turned to true Fall
colors, and the birds celebrate the morning in song. The coffee was fuller in
flavor and I relished in the November morning in shorts and a t-shirt. Truly a
I was reading about Jesus’ first recorded miracle at a
marriage feast in Cana: turning the water into wine. About halfway through I started
humming a Kevin Fowler song, “The Lord Loves a Drinking Man”. Honestly,
it isn’t the most spiritual thing to pop up during my prayer and meditation
time. Click on the link and you’ll see what I mean.
Jesus turned the water to wine and “any man who can do
that is a good friend of mine”. Yep…
Changing Water into Wine
John’s retelling of the miracle at Cana offers a brief
glimpse into his kingdom. He says time and time again the kingdom of God is
like a wedding feast and the Jews in Palestine knew how to throw a wedding
feast. Family and friends came together from all over the region. The finest
food was prepared, and the best wine was brought out first. The party was going
to go on for a while so serve the best wine first and “after the guests have
had their fill bring in the cheap stuff.” John 2.10 (The Message).
It was a big deal. Scholars say their wedding parties lasted
for days. I got a taste of this when I was a groomsman in an Irish Catholic
wedding. The reception was in the Coors Brewery Workers Union Hall if that offers
you a clue. They prefer Irish whiskey to wine and that’s probably a story for another
time, but I digress…
I’d like to think that God’s kingdom is a big celebration. The idea of sitting around singing angelic hymns for eternity sounds a bit boring. God’s kingdom is one of love, joy, and a heck-u-va party. I can’t think of anything better to celebrate.
Wine into Water
Ironically, for people like me Jesus seemed to have worked His
miracle in reverse. He changed the wine into water. For me this is the most
amazing miracle of all. Trapped in a swirling whirlpool of cheap wine (among
other things) and total self-obsession, He lifted me to a life I never dreamed
possible. He invited me into the feast (an analogy He uses often). I know
longer settle for scraps of life. I have a seat at Abba’s table: and what a
party it is.
I can only imagine that if this party is so good now, then
how much more so will the big feast be?
I’m unbelievably thrilled and amazed at just how much He loved this drinking (among other things!) man. I’m happy His miracles aren’t contingent on my false piety and spiritual correctness; that His love is unconditional. He always works the right miracle whether it’s wine into water, or water into wine. Whatever you’re drinking, come on in and join the feast…
I enjoyed the sunrise a tad more than usual today. The birdsongs were louder and more melodic today. Perhaps it’s in anticipation of another delightful autumn day in Cowtown knowing that by the time this is posted it will be a a couple of days of record-breaking arctic chill…
Most of you know that my wife, Margaret, broke her leg in
one of the worst spots possible. The good news is surgery wasn’t required. It
was a clean break and will heal without pins, plates, and various orthopedic
hardware. The bad news is that Margaret can’t put any (as in none, zero, zilch)
weight on her left leg for the next eight weeks or so.
That means that her already limited mobility is now reduced
to sitting, standing, and pivoting on one foot to make it from the bed to the
wheelchair. From there she can go to a living room chair and sit. She watches
TV and works on one of her many artistic endeavors involving crotchet hooks and
tatting needles. She’s presently working on a baby blanket for our grandson.
She says she now has time to get it finished well before the projected due date
It’s beyond difficult for Margaret to get around. We moved
the kid’s bed into the living room since she can’t get in and out of our bed. A
few inches in height make a huge difference these days. The kid’s sleeping in
our room as a result. Our world, our more accurately, our routine, has been
turned on its head.
I hate to admit just how much I’ve become a creature of habit. I catch myself falling into patterns reminding me of my father. Not that it’s a bad thing. My Dad was a loving, caring man so I intend no disrespect. It’s simply one more reminder I’m growing older. It’s just a part of life but I’m not quite ready to take on senior airs.
My routine has been completely broken and I’m a bit
scattered as of late. The demands have increased as well. Margaret, the house
upkeep, and the farm swallow each waking moment. Quite frankly, I get worn out
by the end of the day. I’m far from clear-headed in the morning which
significantly alters my “porch time” and writing time.
I become irritated and get “put out” with everyone at times.
Then I feel guilty for feeling the way I do. It’s not a great place to be. I
feel in conflict with my feelings and my values. I do what I do out of love
right? Why do I feel this way?
The answer came as I prepared another cup of coffee for my wife.
Margaret and I knew each other for almost nine years before
we ever dated. The night before our friend Stan’s memorial in 2012, we met
several friends from out of town and all went out to dinner (IHOP may not be
known for great food but it holds a special place in my heart).
Afterward, Margaret and I went out front to smoke and ended up out there
talking for four hours. That led to our first date a week later (and marriage
three months after that!).
During our conversation, Margaret said she often felt like
no one wanted to date a woman who they would have to push her in a wheelchair
if they went downtown for coffee or dinner. I told her that I didn’t understand
why anyone would feel that way. “It would be an honor and a privilege to push
your wheelchair”, was my immediate response and I meant it.
I tell you this because it occurred to me this morning what
an honor and a privilege it is to “push my wife’s wheelchair”, to serve the one
I love. You see, I’d allowed all the flurry of activity to distract me from the
truly important thing in my life – the honor to have Margaret as my wife.
An Honor and a Privilege
My friend Jim once asked me if I knew what honor was. I
responded with a flat, somewhat emotionless, dictionary definition. He said that’s
not it and then drew in a short quick breath; the kind you have when you’re
suddenly startled or awed by something. He smiled and said, “that’s honor”.
I was confused. “What’s honor?”
He drew another short, quick breath and again said, “that’s
Jim had a way of using metaphors in a way that often
irritated me. “What in the world do you mean?” and I imitated the breath he’d
He said that honor was like that breath. Honor was seeing
your wife come into a crowded room and seeing her takes your breath away. Honor
was about keeping that breathtaking moment in your memory. I began to see the
dictionary definition in a whole new light.
Used as a noun, honor means “high respect; great esteem”.
It also is “adherence to what is right”. Thus, honor is an attitude whereby I
hold my Margaret in “high respect” and “great esteem”. It’s about my perception
of my wife.
Honor, as a noun, is my intention. Unfortunately, we are
never judged on our intentions, only our actions. To honor someone is to “regard
with great respect” and to “fulfill (an obligation) or keep (an agreement).
As I was going to get Margaret another cup of coffee this
morning it dawned on me – the occasional frustrations, and yes, even selfishness
I felt on occasion was simply an opportunity to learn to love, cherish, and
honor my wife better. Suddenly, serving didn’t feel like a chore, an
obligation. I remembered March 2nd, 2013 when I said those vows to
love, honor, and cherish the woman I married.
The words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians came to life:
Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church – a love marked by giving, not getting. Christ’s love makes the church whole. His words evoke her beauty. Everything he does and says is designed to bring out the best in her, dressing her in dazzling white silk, radiant with holiness. And that is how husbands ought to love their wives. They’re really doing themselves a favor – since they’re already ‘one’ in marriage.” (Ephesians 5:25-28 – The Message)
I’ve yet to meet anyone who lives this out perfectly, but I
have been privy to long, loving marriages that are an example of what to
Margaret, if you’re reading this, know that today I will honor you in every way possible. It is my privilege to be your husband (and I still think you got the short end of the stick…). I cherish every moment with you, and I’m honored you allow me to be of service. I would gladly push you in a wheelchair or walk beside you and hold you up. And by the way, you still take my breath away every time you enter the room…
This is a bit of “Thoughts From the Porch” and “Down on the
Farm” combined so please bear with me. I haven’t written much over the last
couple of weeks. Quite honestly, I haven’t wanted to. When I do, the words
don’t come. I’ve been a bit overwhelmed by circumstances.
Most of you know that my wife, Margaret, spent a couple of
weeks in ICU last month. The good news is that she’s well on her way to
recovery from the issue that landed her there. However, less than a week after
she got home, she had to return to the hospital once again.
We were going out to enjoy our evening on the porch. Maggie, our “Coyotahoula”, saw a chance to romp in the front yard and zipped out the door in a flash, knocking Margaret over as she flew by. Unfortunately, Margaret fell one direction and her leg went the opposite way resulting in a broken leg.
Margaret always excels in everything she does. The break was
no exception. Apparently, a break in the tibial plateau accounts for less than
one percent of all breaks. Probably because people don’t typically survive
skydiving accidents, falls from high buildings, or high impact car crashes. She
really exceeded expectations. I wish she wasn’t such an over-achiever…
Margaret spent a week in the hospital followed by a couple
of weeks in a rehab facility. She comes home today. She’ll have to stay off her
leg for a minimum of 12 weeks so making our home more handicap accessible has
eaten up writing (and if truth be known, brain) time.
This has been an insanely stressful time for us. Between the
hospital stuff, the Fall activity at the Farm, and extreme financial
difficulties I’ve leaned on our friends and family more than ever. Part of me
wants to apologize. The other part simply wants to say thank you over and over
and let everyone know what a blessing it is to be part of such a wonderful
“village”. While money is usually in short supply, we are wealthier than most
because of the people that fill our lives.
That’s why this is difficult to write. Opal’s Farm has
wrapped up it’s first growing season. The Fall planting is done, and harvesting
has started. Many great things are in the works – experimental cover crops,
building new beds and rebuilding old ones, improvements to the irrigation
system. However, the farm needs your help more than ever at this immensely
As of today, Opal’s Farm has one acre under cultivation. The farm generated almost two tons of locally grown fresh produce in our first season. We’ve been able to donate to area foodbanks, set up a farm stand in local neighborhoods, and sell at the Cowtown Farmer’s Market. I hope this doesn’t sound like bragging, but we started with virtually nothing but an idea. Cash flow was nonexistent, and we moved forward in faith that if we “build it, they will come”. It’s been our own little “Field of Dreams” and come they did.
None of this would’ve happened if it weren’t for the Tarrant Regional Water District. They believed in Ms. Opal’s dream and granted Unity Unlimited, Inc. the acreage for an urban farm. They have walked with us each step of the way and been incredible supporters. From the Board of Directors to the landscape crews,; everyone has been incredible. There’s no way to say thank you enough.
Several more fantastic sponsors quickly came along beside us. Container King (our very first supporter! Thanks Paula!), the White Settlement Home Depot store (we love you Natasha and Jeff!), Zimmerer Kubota (you’re awesome Brandon Hendrickson!), the Alta Mesa Wal-Mart (I’m still sorting seed packs Anthony), the Marty Leonard and Rainwater Foundations – and of course, Charlie Blaylock of Shines Farmstand (anyone who is familiar with urban agriculture and the Tarrant Food Policy Council knows how invaluable Charlie is to us al)l. Nothing could’ve started had it not been for the seed money (no pun intended), the tractors, the container (our barn), the tools and supplies necessary to begin operation of Opal’s Farm.
Along the way there have been many volunteers who have
lightened my workload and enabled me to move forward with our mission of
fighting food insecurity and easing access to healthy, nutritious produce in
Tarrant County. Dr. David Aftandilian’s Food Justice class at TCU helped us
through Spring with some amazing interns, our volunteers from Taste Project,
Grow Southeast, Blue Zones Project, and all the individuals who wanted to simply
make a difference made the summer harvest and Fall planting possible. I can’t
forget our first (and hardest working) volunteer and “co-manager”, Brendan
O’Connell. I hope your first semester at Cornell is going great my friend.
“Something out of nothing” is how God has blessed Opal’s
Farm. The credit goes to each and every one of you who became farmers alongside
us. We are so unbelievably grateful for you all. That’s why I feel a bit guilty
to ask you for more.
While we have had amazing support provide seed, tools,
supplies, and labor over the Spring and Summer we’ve had a precarious cash
position since the beginning. We knew this would be an issue. It is for most
non-profits and especially for start-up programs. Please allow me to be a bit
When I joined Unity Unlimited last year, Margaret and I
spent time in prayer and meditation about the job of Farm Manager. We knew
finances would be tight, we’d be dependent on donations and the uncertainty
that comes with them, but we knew that this is where I, or rather we, were
supposed to be. We made the decision to step out of our comfort zone, knowing
that God has never let us down and that serving our community was exactly what
God called us to do.
For the last year, salary as the Farm Manager has been
erratic at best. Cash donations are always needed and appreciated, but never
more so than right now. Our personal financial position has never been more
precarious. Our business finances must grow if the farm is to do likewise.
We firmly believe in the mission of Opal’s Farm and trust
that God will provide but I also know that a “closed mouth never gets fed”.
That’s why I’m being a bit personal about our struggles, both business and
Business, especially farming, requires planning for the
coming growing season. Consistent donations make this possible; especially as
we expand our production area to the full acreage available. Moreover, improved
soil health – the addition of soil amendments and organic fertilizers – mean increased
yields per acre. In turn, more people are fed, the retail side grows, and
the farm becomes economically sustainable. Reaching that point requires an
initial capital investment that requires cash flow as well as the great in-kind
donations we’ve received from our sponsors.
Personally, your donation goes to make sure Opal’s Farm
grows as well as pays myself and our future employees. Margaret and I would certainly
be eternally grateful. We are fiercely committed to the success of Opal’s Farm
and ending food insecurity in our community. We can’t do it without your
support. We know this is a “we” project.
I’m asking you today to please help as we enter this season
of giving. Your Opal’s Farm stays right here in Fort Worth. Whether $25 or $2500,
each dollar goes to your neighbors, to your community. It’s never been more
urgent to help Opal’s Farm