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“Jim-isms”…

Rain came to North Texas last night; everywhere except here in our little cul-de-sac. We may not have gotten wet (yet) but we enjoyed the benefit of a sweet, cool morning. Margaret’s still in Oklahoma so I spent extra time reading, praying, and meditating out on the porch today. This summer is on track to become one of our hotter summers and the relief of coolness and freshness in the air is more than welcome…

I thought about this morning’s blog for quite a while and how to approach it. I am in a twelve-step recovery program and have been for many years. By nature, twelve-step programs are anonymous in nature. As such, I generally do not post or repost anything about “the program”, nor do I wear my recovery publicly. I don’t put recovery-oriented bumper stickers on my car or wear my recovery on T-shirts and such for the same reasons I choose not to put “fish” emblems, crosses, or other Christian symbols on my vehicle or person, even though I am a follower of the Teacher. When I act up, and I do on occasion, I don’t want to set a poor example. It’s not dishonest. I simply don’t want to be a stumbling block to others. I don’t want to be their excuse to miss the opportunity to discover the same joy I’ve found in a relationship with God.

Although I grew up in a home of strong Christian faith, it didn’t take with me. That is how I ended up needing a twelve-step program. It’s ironic that my relationship with God (as I understand Him), didn’t flourish until I found recovery. Over the last twenty-seven years, I’ve been blessed with the wisdom of so many people that have been where I have been and recovered from a “seemingly hopeless state of mind” that wreaked havoc on my life and the lives of everyone around me. I may not wear my recovery on my sleeve, but I’m not ashamed of it either. As my friend Jim used to say (quoting Popeye, of course) “I yam what I yam and that’s all that I am…

I was thinking about my friend Jim a lot lately. He passed on last February and, like my parents, hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about him. I hear his voice throughout the day. A few weeks ago, I joked with a mutual friend that I should write a book of “Jim-isms”: all the little sayings that were so appropriate to the various events of the day. Although I wasn’t serious at the time, that began to change over the last several weeks. I spoke with his widow and she sent a list of “Jim-isms” that an inmate in their prison ministry had compiled. Jim’s voice grew louder as a result.

Jim’s wife said that he never would’ve been comfortable calling them “Jim-isms”. He was simply repeating the things that he had been told repeatedly by his elders. I always knew that “Jim-isms weren’t original, but they were timeless words of wisdom from a man who truly believed in helping others. I won’t go into his biography here. Suffice it to say, that Jim was definitely Jim – you either loved him or hated him as he loved those around him in his often acerbic, sarcastic way.

I have many of my own stories to tell about my friendship with Jim and how he mentored me through the various stages, and often, difficult times of life. I wondered if anyone outside of twelve-step recovery, especially here in North Texas, would even be interested and if I shared them, would I be breaking the tradition of anonymity? The more I prayed and thought about it, the more I realized that Jim’s own recovery was open to anyone, whether in ‘the program’ or not. In fact, as he matured in his own faith, he helped many others beyond the rooms of recovery. He exercised the same spiritual principles no matter what he was doing. Moreover, the twelve steps of various recovery programs came from the wisdom of Jesus’ teaching in the ‘Sermon on the Mount’ and the Book of James in the New Testament. Jesus didn’t exactly seek to remain anonymous and anyway, Jim’s wife gave me permission…

“Jim-isms” apply to far more than twelve-step recovery, although that’s where I first heard them. I was hard-headed, and recovery came about over the first few years I knew Jim. When I finally got on track, I thought my name was ‘Dumb-ass” for the first year or so. After that, I was excited to become “Cowboy”. Once you begin to hear “Jim-isms” that will make perfect sense.

Now that I’ve told you about “Jim-isms” I have a request to make. I’m compiling a complete list and would appreciate it if those of my readers who have their own “Jim-isms” or stories about Jim share them with me. Leave a comment or PM me if you’d rather do that. Please give me a day or two to respond as things are a bit hectic here with a new project starting.

The greatest examples of what it is to live a spiritual and joyous life of freedom are often disguised as old gruff cowboy, ex- Marines, who “love God with all their heart and love others”. I certainly learned not to “judge a book by its cover…”

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Porches and patios…

It’s quiet on the porch this morning. It’s always peaceful and quiet, but today is different. We went to Oklahoma yesterday to visit with our very dear friends, Melvin and Janice, and Margaret stayed behind for a few days. I returned to Fort Worth by myself, so it’s quieter than usual this morning. I’ll be ‘batching it’ for the week, which isn’t a problem, but it feels odd without Margaret here. Normally, I spend some time on the porch and then go to work for the day. Some days I write a blog posts and others I get straight to work. I have a couple of projects going now, one of which I’m going to be sharing over the coming days. Since I don’t have Margaret (and my editor) to share the coffee with this morning, a caffeine-fueled, unedited post is in order…

I love our time with Melvin and Janice. Quite frankly, I never thought I’d enjoy Oklahoma. It was the home of my hated college football nemesis, the University of Oklahoma. It was the butt of many jokes and good natured ribbing with my Oklahoma friends growing up (“why does the wind blow so hard in Texas? Because Oklahoma sucks.”), me being from Texas and all. Plus, the year at Oklahoma Christian University (back then it was ‘college’) wasn’t one of my better experiences. I went because mom and dad would pay for college there, but not at the University of Colorado. I figured it’d do me some good to sober up a bit, so I went. I paid for my own school after that…

Melvin and Janice moved to the family farm in southern Oklahoma a couple of years ago. It’s only a couple of hours away and we’ve visited several times. We’ve gone camping with them at nearby Lake Murray and visited areas in the ‘mountains’ (after living in Colorado for a few years ‘mountains’ has a slightly different definition…) to the north. I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. What I experienced in OKC was nothing like the beauty of the Oklahoma I’ve seen over the last couple of years.

Our friends share a fifty-acre farm with Melvin’s grandmother. Turning off the country road onto their drive, you cross the cattle guard and take a long drive up to their 19th century farmhouse, the old ‘family place’. There’s a few horses, cows, and chickens in the back yard. Across the whole of the house is a front porch overlooking the pasture and the road. I must admit that I’m a little jealous. I’m a country boy at heart. I’d even consider moving to Oklahoma…

My visit yesterday was brief. Margaret is spending a few days with Janice. Melvin and I visited for a while on the porch, leaving the wives to enjoy the air-conditioned comfort of the living room. It was still a bit warm, but still cool enough to enjoy. We sat back, immersed in conversation as we watched their grandkids play in the front yard. There aren’t many better ways to spend an evening. The world would be a better place all around if everyone had a front porch to sit on…

When I was growing up, most of the houses in the older sections of town had big front porches. They were inviting, as if asking the passer-by to come right in. It was common to see folks sitting in the shade of the porch, maybe with family or neighbors, shouting out, “Hello, how are you?” to whoever walked or rode past. My grandmother actually knew all of her neighbors (and usually had a dicey story to tell about them). People waved at one another as they drove down the street.

When I was six, we moved to a new house in a suburb of Fort Worth. While I was too young to think about it then, there was shift to smaller and smaller front porches. Home builders were subtly moving folks from their front porches to the patios and privacy of fenced backyards. Looking back, we began to know fewer of our neighbors and have a lot less conversations. The neighborhood wasn’t the same. Safe in the confines of our suburban backyard, we grew more isolated and our friends were people like us. Maybe that’s why diversity and tolerance are such contentious issues today. We shield ourselves from people different from us…

I must admit that I know few of our neighbors today, at least beyond our little cul-de-sac. As an introvert, I’m not comfortable socially. Besides, we rarely see our neighbors outside. We live in an older neighborhood. The older residents prefer to remain indoors while the younger ones seem to work all the time and they are always in a rush somewhere. The only thing reminding us of their presence is the occasional noise coming from the backyard.

I don’t know if such conditions hold true everywhere, but it seems we’ve lost something due to the sprawl of suburbs and their accompanying backyards. Margaret and I have been blessed with a diverse group of friends and family. Still, I miss the experience of neighborhoods and the connection with others that come with them.

For now, I’ll remain content with the solitude of my front porch. I hope that others join me from time to time. Maybe we can start a new social movement – the Front Porch Movement! As the movement grows, maybe we can even share a homegrown tomato together…

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“If I could talk to the animals…”

Just a couple of more days of triple digits. The weather folks predict a ten percent possibility of rain today. In Texas that means nothing is coming but cloud cover and more humidity. The Monday forecast of fifty percent chance of rain is more realistic. I’m sure the ten percent is just a ‘cover your butt’ caveat for local meteorologists. Weather people and baseball players are the only folks I know of who are financially rewarded for doing their job correctly thirty percent of the time. Just saying…

I was scanning the newsfeed this morning and came across a story that tore at my heart strings. According to researchers observing the orca (what we called ‘killer whales’ growing up) population near British Colombia, a female orca bore a new calf. The calf didn’t survive, and the grieving mother was seen carrying the dead calf on her back for the next two days.

The story stayed with me as my wife and I shared coffee on the porch this morning. We are pet parents, and like most pet parents, we ascribe human behaviors and emotions to our animals. Some would say we’ve lost our minds. In fact, my son told me I needed to get a friend after hearing me talk to our ‘Coyotahula’ (she’s half coyote and half Catahoula), Maggie. I’m lucky enough to have a friend already. In fact, I have several, but Maggie is part of the family. Pet parents will understand what I mean.

Margaret and I often put words in our dog’s mouth. We joke about the stories we come up with for the conversation that must be going on between them. We’ve thought about creating a video, but that’s another story, and you’d probably have to be here to get the humor.

I guess the point I’m trying to make, is that we aren’t that far off when we ascribe human traits to the animal kingdom. When I was growing up, the line between animals and people was more distinct. That line has dimmed as I’ve gotten older. I may be a bit anthropomorphic, but I find our friends in the animal kingdom to be more human than some humans…

The ancient Hebrew writings talk about our original relationship with the rest of the animal kingdom. I tend to forget that, though humans have a higher intellectual ability (and I’m not always sure of that – after all, look who is President…) we are still part of the animal kingdom. In the Book of Enoch, which wasn’t canonized into what we know as the Hebrew Old Testament, we’re told that we shared a common language with the rest of the animal kingdom. The whole “Doctor Doolittle” thing makes sense to me. After all, we share ninety-eight percent of our DNA with the greater apes. Why not the rest of the animals?

It seems to me that the Book of Enoch is a metaphor for our interconnectedness with all things. I’d like to believe that there will be a day when I can communicate clearly with all the denizens of the Earth. I have some questions I’d like to clarify. Do horses really sound like Mr. Ed (this may be lost on my younger readers – “Willlll-bur”)? Do donkeys sound like Eddie Murphy? I often wonder if snails and turtles could talk, would their speech be as slow as their movements? “Goooooooooooooood mooooooorrrnnnniiiiing…”

Since that day isn’t here yet, I’ll have to rely on personal observation and experience. If I ‘listen’ and pay attention to what they’re trying to tell me, my dogs, the horses, and I seem to communicate just fine. Maggie says ‘good morning the same way each day. Once it’s daylight I can count on her to jump on the bed, lick my face until I get up, and wait for her dose of morning loving.

When I remember how interconnected we are, I understand them better. When I remember how interconnected we are, I treat them better – more like I want to be treated. When I treat them differently, I begin to fulfill my intended role as a human – one of stewardship rather than domination – and act appropriately.

I guess that’s why the orca’s story made such an impact on me this morning. The mother orca was grieving, just like you and I do when we suffer a loss. I felt sad for her. I felt sad that the numbers of orcas, like so many species, are declining because we humans have failed as stewards and excelled at domination.

If we ever do develop the same language as the rest of the animal kingdom, I doubt I’ll find the words to tell them how sorry I am for the way human beings have treated them and their habitat. Like Dad always told me, “actions speak louder than words”. If I start acting differently, maybe I can start apologizing now…

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Straight From the Horse’s Mouth

Relief is in sight for the beleaguered! The forecast for the day is for cooler temperatures, at least for the next two or three days. Only in Fort Worth would we be excited by temperatures in the mid-nineties. Such are summers in Texas…

The last few days have been hectic, so I thought I’d take a break and catch the online sermon from church last Sunday morning. I’m still questioning the idea of worship in the corporate setting, so my ‘attendance’ remains online. I value the thoughts of our preacher, even if I’m still uncomfortable with how we do ‘church’ in our culture. Unfortunately, the livestream of the sermon kept disconnecting. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. I can relate to that. For the last two or three days, my prayers have been few and far between. I’ve been feeling a little low and my connection with my Higher Power is in a constant cycle of cutting out and reconnecting. I’ve felt like I’ve been in a constant ‘buffering’ state and I can’t quite reach 100%.

Connection problems can and do happen. God’s end may always broadcast a strong signal, but my reception gets spotty from time to time. The connection difficulties are always on my end. When it happens I often have to stop and clean out my ‘antennae’. Occasionally, I get far too busy, over-tired or just plain lazy and my mind gets clogged with self-pity, resentment, and self-centeredness. I begin to sound much like Eeyore in A.A. Milne’s, Winnie the Pooh – “Woe is me, I can’t find my tail…”

I’m not unique. Some of the most spiritual people I know feel a disconnect from their Higher Power on occasion. The sixteenth century Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross, called this disconnect, “the dark night of the soul”. For those of us who pray, who converse with the Spirit of the Universe, we know what he’s talking about. There are times when it feels like prayers fall on deaf ears. We listen intently for answers that don’t come. God is silent. We feel alone, left to our own devices.

When I feel isolated and disconnected, I begin to wonder where God is. I start to question my faith. I’m filled with doubts: little ones at first that multiply into crisis of faith. I used to think this was anathema to me. My upbringing had taught me that questioning one’s faith destined me to the fires of hell. That haunted me for many years, but today I know that faith without questioning is not much of a faith at all. God is much bigger than my doubts. If I continue to pray and listen I will hear God’s response in the most extraordinary, yet simple, ways.

I do some work at a stable not far from my home. Don’t tell anyone, but I’d do it for free just because I love being there. There are three horses, Dollar, Lightfoot, and Trooper (‘the boys’ as I call them). Dollar is the oldest, at seventeen. The other two are two or three-year-old rescues; adopted wild mustangs from herds in Arizona and Utah.

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Now I am no ‘horse whisperer’ by any means, but I’ve developed quite a relationship with Trooper and Lightfoot. I was warned they were skittish around people, but that hasn’t even been close to my experience. They have loved and ‘hugged’ on me since the day we met. When I pull up to the stables, they amble over to say hello and let me love on them.

They are one of the ways I find reconnection with my Higher Power. I leave the stables with my spirit more in tune with the universe. There’s a buzz, a vibration, and I begin to hear God whisper. Decisions come easier. Heck, life becomes easier. My mind is free to explore the realm of possibilities, to work and play again. Most importantly, I begin to feel a sense of belonging, of being a part of something far bigger than I. My gratitude grows, and my doubts are erased. All of this happens by simply allowing God to love on me through others, whether they have four legs or two.

I’m basically an introvert. I find the company of my dogs and the horses to be my safe, comfortable place. My beautiful wife, on the other hand, is extremely social and extroverted. She loves to be on the go and around others. I often joke that I’d been more places in the first year of marriage than I had in the previous ten. For that reason, the last almost three years since her back surgery have been hard on her. I’m thrilled when she’s able to get out. I know it’s her way of reconnecting, of hearing God’s voice.

God’s voice becomes clear through our relationships with people and the world around us. When I’m aware of the beauty of creation, I strive to be a better steward of God’s world. I believe that God’s silence is simply His way of reminding me of the importance of relationships, whether they be with dogs and horses or the people in my life. His silence reminds me of the spirit of all things that connect me to the universe. His silence reminds me to be grateful, to be awestruck, and to drink in the beauty of all things.

Most importantly, His silence is a reminder He’s still there, loving me through ‘the dark night of the soul’. Those days, whether measured in weeks or years, will come for all of us. Feelings of doubt and even futility, but they will pass eventually, and probably do so in the most unlikely of ways. It might even come straight from the horse’s mouth…

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Dinosaurs…

Today I was asked to repost this, and given the long list of things to do today, I’m grateful for the brevity required to put this up today. I wish all of you a wonderful and blessed day!

It’s raining today here in Fort Worth. It’s the kind of Spring rain I love: constant, but not too heavy, gently soaking the soil, and intensifying the vibrant greens of the trees beyond my porch. I’ll be picking strawberries this weekend! It’s the perfect morning for sitting here and simply enjoying the day. My thoughts stray and wander among the raindrops. All is well, except for the dogged determination of one little bugger that keeps asking me why good people do messed up things…

Many of you know that I tend to be a news junkie. It’s a habit I acquired in high school and college, long before the “24 Hour News Cycle” and the up-to-the minute “reporting” of the Internet. I was a student activist majoring in Political Science and had some pretty high ideals. I guess everyone thinks they can change the world when they’re young, but the reality of family, jobs, bills, and the often unfortunate drudgery of adult living hasn’t set in.

My motivations have changed over the years. I still watch the news (more than I should), it still drives me to some degree of activism and usually, insanity. The high ideals of my youth have come full circle. The difference today is in the lens that I view the world with. Today I see things differently because of my relationship with the God of my understanding. I’ve talked about that “lens” a lot. I apologize for any redundancy in my posts. Just think of a blind man suddenly seeing for the first time and maybe you’ll understand my obsession (one of the better ones that have dominated my life!) with visual clarity.

Seeing the world differently has enabled me to see all sides of the story. I say all sides because, as my friend Jim used to say, “There’s three sides to every story – yours, mine, and the truth”. I must confess that growing older, and hopefully a wee bit wiser, has helped broaden my vision as well. That’s probably why I understand “conservatives” better.

That being said, I hate political and social labels like conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, and socialist or libertarian. They seem to be ways of dismissing anyone who doesn’t agree with you. It’s just one more way we divide into “us versus them”. Moreover, they don’t really define who we are. Most, if not all, of us are not the labels we use to define one another.

I am not the labels you assign me, nor are you the labels I often find myself assigning to you. I still do that even though I know it’s not true for any of us. Changing one’s way of thinking is a difficult and most likely (for me anyway), an impossible task. It took a new relationship with a power greater than myself to transform my thinking and, more importantly, my actions. I’ve grown a little less judgmental as a result. My vision is beginning to clear.

I’ve come to re-prioritize my belief structure and activism. Things that seemed so important in my younger days have been put on the back burner, and more often than not, taken off the stove completely. Social justice and peace are fantastic things to work toward and my calling toward them hasn’t changed, but the locale has. I’m not going to change the world, but I am going to change my response to it. I probably won’t change my Senator’s vote (especially our Senators!), but the way I live may influence someone else to live a little more loving and kind right here in my neighborhood. I’m not going to impact Washington, D.C. but I am going to do things different right here in Fort Worth, Texas. I’m going to look beyond the labels and be a little kinder, courteous and, hopefully, a lot more accepting. Above all, if I’m to be labeled, I hope I’m thought of as one of those crazy followers of the Rabbi…

It’s a little easier to be an “us” today. There’s far less of “them’ today. I still have differences of opinion with people on political, social, and economic issues. Cultural differences are hard to get past at times. I continue for clarity, to see people as God sees them, and they become easier to understand. If the truth be known, becoming older has made it easier to understand people who want to “conserve” old ways of thinking and acting. Change is difficult at best…

When I came in from the porch, Margaret was watching old episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. I couldn’t help but think of how wonderful and idyllic a place like Mayberry would be. I know a lot of other people, at least Baby-Boomers like myself, who share in my feelings. Nostalgia, no matter how well-intentioned lacks any foundation. There never was a Mayberry. Even in the early sixties it was just a TV show. It may have mirrored a simpler time, but not reality. I grew up in the last few years of the Jim Crow South. I know. I still recall the resistance to civil rights and acceptance of horrors like Vietnam. The reality makes me wonder about one’s motivation toward conservatism. How can you” conserve” an illusion; something that never was?

I was meeting with a business mentor of mine a while back and he pointed out that I’m a dinosaur. I know he was referring to my lack of technological savvy (I can still create great content though!). I don’t need any reminders that I need to ask my grandchildren for technical support sometimes but, if I’m honest, I am a dinosaur and I’m okay with that. There are times I wish we lacked some of the communication, informational and mis-informational ability in our world today. Just because you saw it on the Internet doesn’t make it true, if you know what I mean. There’s enough crap out there to cement anyone’s convictions – real or imagined.

I have a long, long way to go in my journey toward the kingdom where God’s will “is done on earth as it is in heaven”. My experience is one that tells me to move forward down the path and don’t look back. I’ve made my fair share of detours and walked in a lot of circles. The cool thing is that you have, too. We’re far more alike than either of us would like to admit. Maybe we can set aside the labels, lending a helping hand and try to figure out how to help navigate to wherever both of us are headed…