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Who’s Your Village?

black metal armchair
Photo by Michael Morse on

Thoughts from the Porch: The leaves are starting to cover more of the yard more quickly than they did a couple of weeks ago. The blades of grass, which would shoot toward the sky after every rain last month have slowed to a crawl in their growth. Mowers scurrying along the freeway right-of-way signal colder weather is on the way. Despite the above-average temperatures, Fall is on its way to North Texas.

This week has been hectic (in a good way, for the most part) and the time on the porch is treasured beyond imagination. Margaret and I have been able to get out more, for which I’m grateful. I love to her out and about. The tender’s been stoked, and the brakes are off on Opal’s Farm. The wheels are turning faster now and building speed toward the ribbon-cutting ceremony ahead. The only blot on the week has been a persistent plumbing problem here at home. At least I’m able to be here to take care of it.

As I started my day with a cup of coffee, I felt intense gratitude for the day I’ve been given. I get to meet and work with some amazing people. I’ve often said I prefer the company of dogs and horses to most humans, and that seems to follow on days that I pour over my newsfeed and read about the pervasive anger and divisiveness in our society. I could go on a major rant about it all, but why?

Sometimes I feel a little like the Old Testament prophet, Elijah, in 1 Kings 19. He had seen so much of the selfish decadence of his world that he felt like he was totally alone and persecuted. Lord knows I’ve been there. Events can be overwhelming. I feel isolated, cynical, and sad. Depression clouds my view of the world. It often feels like, “What’s the use?”.

(side note: continuing feelings of “what’s the use, worthlessness, sadness and isolation are nothing to be trifled with, especially when nothing seems to help. It may be something for which relationships, gratitude, and spiritual pursuits aren’t enough. Please seek professional guidance)

Fortunately, Elijah’s story didn’t end there. Yours and mine doesn’t have to, either. God reminded him that he wasn’t alone. First, by speaking in a still, small voice so he was reminded he wasn’t spiritually alone. Second, by reminding him he wasn’t physically alone. In fact, God pointed to all the other people, 7,000 in his case, who had the same desire to make things better. That’s what God does and, continues to do for me on a regular basis.

Over the last several weeks many fantastic and selfless people have crossed my path: people who look to the common good and seek how to be of service. Opal’s Farm is the pathway God has granted me. Beginning with Ms. Opal, the farm’s namesake, I’ve met a succession of people who have blessed me in ways they’ll probably never know. God hasn’t left any of us alone. The world is filled with people who strive to make our community a better place by serving other, but I fail to take them into account. “You can’t see the forest because of all the trees…”

I write a lot about the people in my life and relationships. Probably more than you want to read, but I stress their importance, whether it’s personally, professionally, or spiritually. Mom used to tell me she could tell who I was by who my friends were. I didn’t appreciate her wisdom until I was older, but she was so right. The more I surround myself with great relationships, the better I become as a person.

My personal relationships keep my perspective positive, my business relationships sharpen my focus and service professionally, and my relationship with God expands my spiritual life. What are your relationships doing for you today? Are they a priority in your life? Are you grateful?

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I Don’t Know…

The rain started on Thursday. It was brief that first day, only thirty minutes or so, but enough to clean the air and drop the temperature. Then it rained for most of the day on Friday, off and on Saturday, and I have awaken to wet streets and dripping eaves each day since. Another day of wet, wonderful rain is predicted, and the heat won’t return until the end of the week.

Such things don’t usually happen in North Texas in August. It’s a welcome relief to the brutal heat of summer, especially this year. Drought, with all its attendant problems, has left us with falling, dry leaves and the almost winter-like brown of the grass. Finding relief in the middle of summer is a gift from God. I’ve never been so grateful for having to mop the floors because of the dogs’ muddy feet.

The biggest blessing of the week came Friday night though. I drove to our friends’ house in Oklahoma and returned with my lovely wife. She remarked that she was thankful I didn’t get upset by her week-long absence. How could I be upset? I’m simply happy she was able to get out and about, especially with her physical limitations and dealing with chronic pain. Getting out for the day is a little victory. Getting out for a week is a miracle. I missed Margaret, yet the solitude was nice, even though it was interrupted by the kids coming and going. I had a lot of time to work, write, and do projects I’ve been putting off. Still, it’s definitely true that “absence makes the heart grow fonder…”

Our life together is overflowing with blessings I often wonder why I, of all people have received so much grace. I certainly don’t deserve it. Much of my life has been an example of what not to do, and yet, here I sit basking in the glow and freedom of God’s grace. I’ve come to believe that everything in life is about grace, still I have moments of doubt, both in God and myself…

I, like so many others, was taught to accept articles of my faith tradition without question. That may work for those that need easy, simplistic answers, but it can foster judgement, self-righteousness, and false piety. The fragility of faith without doubt and question was a contributing factor to my long trek away from the God I know today. God invites questioning and doubt. Faith grows in the crucible of doubt. Despite my questions, doubt, and periodic low self-esteem my faith has grown, matured, and transformed into an intimate relationship with the Creator.

I finally accepted questioning and doubt as part of the human condition, especially in these times, and life experience has transformed my belief into faith and faith into trust. God has my best interests at heart even when I doubt and question his course for my life.

God really is control. He cares for me deeply, even when it feels like he’s absent. I’m not immune to grief, sorrow, and disappointment. While there’s no easy answer to these feelings, I find myself guilty of offering trite and somewhat cliché answers to others going through their own periods of such feelings. I don’t intend to, but that still doesn’t mitigate the damage they cause to the one asking the questions. I’m beginning to learn the admonition of Jesus’ saying, “Let your no be no, and your yes be yes”. My dad used to tell me to “say what you mean and mean what you say”. When in doubt the honest answer is always “I don’t know”.

Three little words free me. I’m able to listen, really listen, to others’ views and understandings and even the “still, small voice” of God himself. Moreover, they provide much fodder for further conversation with God. He seems to actually enjoy our conversations. I know I do…

It takes a lot of courage to say, “I don’t know”. It requires putting aside my false pride, false self, and ego. It requires a certain vulnerability not to know the answer, to be judged by others as lacking in some way. Ironically, the more I say, “I don’t know”, the more assured I am of the things I am certain of, the more I become the man I was meant to be. I’m not the best, the smartest, or the wisest, but I am uniquely loved and equipped to be part of the human family.

I don’t know why bad things happen. That’s just how life is. I know when my dad passed away in 2002, and when last year my mom died, I didn’t want to hear how “they’re in a better place”. I wanted them here and now. I didn’t want the clichés and yet, when the shoe was on the other foot, I often responded the same way. I do believe in the “new heavens and new Earth” that God promised, but it does little to comfort me in my grief. I’m sure others feel the same.

Today, I’ll quit offering trivial sentiments to people who are going through hurt, pain, and disappointment. I’ll let them question God just as I often do, and trust that they are in the same process I am. Rather than offer trite slogans and clichés, I’ll simply answer, “I don’t know” and offer my presence and empathy, because we all share the same emotions, the same struggles, and the same questions. Today, I’m okay with “I don’t know…’

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Of Cats and Cat Boxes…

I do not like cats. There, I said it. While I may prefer the company of dogs and horses to that of most people, I do not like cats! My dislike for the creatures ranks right up there with rats, venomous snakes, and mosquitoes. I realize that many people love them, even my wife, but I am a dog person through and through. I’m sure that the Hebrew word for ‘serpent’ was mistranslated in the Biblical story of the Garden. I’m sure that Satan took the form of a cat rather that a serpent. Cats are generally obnoxious, dirty little animals, leaving fur all one’s clothes They are lousy companions and usually have this demanding attitude showing their disdain for whole human race. Their only talent is that they know how crap in a box.

Now before all you cat people form a lynch mob, please allow me to explain. I’m allergic to cats. Moreover, I may not remember much from my childhood, but I remember that a cat ate my hamster one day when my dad left the garage door open. It’s one resentment I’ve never been freed of. I’m obviously traumatized for life. My Uncle Carl, on who’s ranch I spent many a summer day, told me the only redeeming value a cat had was the ability to keep the barn free of vermin. I’ve been of the same opinion to this day.

However, my wife loves cats. She loves dogs as well, but she had cats up until we got married. I was adamant about remaining ‘cat-less’. After all, we had our dog, Missy, but she was definitely my dog. Margaret missed having a cat companion, and about three years ago I caved in and we adopted a cat. I placed on huge qualification on the adoption: I wouldn’t clean the litter box. I have a major problem with cat boxes. That’s where I draw the line. Margaret had back surgery a couple of weeks after the cat adoption. Guess who has cleaned the cat box…

Because it was a male we insisted on it being neutered prior to coming to our house so it wouldn’t spray our furniture. He went to a local veterinary clinic for his procedure and came to live with us that very night. Neither of us could come up a name for our new family member. I suggested ‘furry little f***’ but that was deemed inappropriate. I joked we should just call him ‘Ball-less’ given that those parts of him had been severed earlier in the day. I was told that, though it was funny, it wouldn’t do for when the grandchildren were about. Fortunately, our daughter, who has some hearing loss thought we were saying ‘Wallace’ and the name stuck. It’s our little inside joke, especially when the kids are here…

Please understand that our pets are rescue animals, so I’m going to get on my soapbox for a moment: The folks at the Humane Society of North Texas, the Dallas SPCA, and the myriad of rescue shelters (and one in your area) have an abundance of animals needing forever homes. So, if you’re thinking of becoming a pet parent, please, please, please help your local shelter. Over the last three years, we have had a puppy and a kitten, but we prefer to adopt older animals. They need a forever home more than most of the pets in the shelter. Now I can step down…

Wallace was probably about two or three, and when he came to live with us, and he was the strangest looking cat I’d ever seen. His fur was bristled and coarse, his legs seemed way too long for his body, and he was extremely thin. We soon discovered that he was malnourished and that accounted for his strange appearance. Since that day, he has thrived and filled out into a beautiful (yes, I said it…) cat. Today we call him our ‘fat cat’…

Wallace was an indoor cat until we installed our doggie door. He figured it out quickly and after a while, we couldn’t keep him inside the house. We’ve tried to keep him indoors during the extremes of Texas weather, but he won’t have it. He insists on staying on our front porch, where he has a ‘cat house’ and his food and water. He doesn’t stray far from the porch, except to sleep on the roof of my truck. He’s basically well-fed and lazy. He doesn’t care about stalking birds and squirrels like the other neighborhood cats or else he suffers from a severe case of Attention Deficit Disorder. Either could be the case. Most of the time, we find him sleeping on his back in the shade…

I guess that’s why I was so surprised as I sat on the porch, enjoying my coffee, and thinking about the day ahead. Suddenly, a huge commotion next to my truck arose. A squirrel came flying out from underneath, chattering loudly as it scooted up the nearest Ash tree. Less than two inches behind him, right on his tail, was our Wallace. The squirrel climbed high enough to turn around cussing at Wallace. I’m not sure who was more shocked, me or the squirrel. Who knew that Wallace could move like that? I guess he wanted both of us to know he still holds his place in the food chain. I could only look on with admiration, and if truth be known, a little pride in our cat.

I still don’t like cats, at least everyone else’s, although I’ve learned to tolerate them. Our other one, Shadow, was raised by our Catahoula, Jamison, so she doesn’t think she’s a cat. She doesn’t ‘meow’, she ‘barks. I’m okay with that.

I swore I’d never own a cat. I swore, with every fiber of my being, that I’d never, ever clean a litter box. Then I got married to the woman my soul connected with, the love of my life and now I have two cats and emptied the litter box until they discovered the dog door (thank you God!). Love has the power to change even the hardest of hearts.

If truth be known, I kind of like the furry little beasts. We have a crazy neighbor who has been known to shoot neighborhood cats with his pellet gun. I would have some serious words with him if one of my cats were to fall victim to his crankiness. Go figure – maybe I even love the little guys…

It may be a bit of a stretch here, but if love can overcome my intense dislike, even hatred, of cats, it’s probably able to overcome a lot of other negatives in life – or at least let me see them differently. God, of whom the Apostle John said, is defined as love, has transformed far more than my distaste for cats. My heart, and my eyes, have opened to a whole new world. Transformation occurred as my relationship with him developed, just like in my marriage. I’m growing and learning how to love today (and yes, cats included).

I had much more to say, but Wallace won’t stop reminding me that his food bowl is empty and it’s well past nap time. I gotta go…