Children, Choices, Christianity, Communication, Community, Courage, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Friendship, Grace, Gratitude, Growing Up, Introverts, Listening, Marriage, Neighbors, Parties, Practice, Prayer, Recovery, Relationships, Simplicity, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Writing

Bridal Showers and Starbucks

Time and recovery has taught me to “stay where my feet are”. I’m not very good at it, but I’m better than I used to be. I’m having some difficulty with staying in the moment when I look ahead to the remainder of the day. Our son is getting married next month and today is the prerequisite wedding. His fiance is an only child and apparently this shower is a big deal for her and her mother, as well it should be. I’m told there will be around fifty people or so there. I feel , well, a huge sense of dread when I think of being part of such a large crowd, especially with people I don’t know.

If it were a recovery, church, or business meeting I wouldn’t have an issue. I know what to do, how to act, and what to talk about then, but being socially awkward and an introvert in a group of strangers is a whole different ballgame. The discomfort has already started, and the shower is still hours away.

Moreover, the shower is in Dallas. I am from Fort Worth. For as long as I can remember, there has been a tension between Dallas And Fort Worth.  When I grew up and spent time in other parts of our state, I discovered that Fort Worth was not unique. Dallas seemed to be at odds with everywhere else in Texas. In fact, most folks will tell you that I might as well be crossing state lines when I enter Dallas county…

Later that day…

Okay. I admit it. I ‘chickened out’. My wife is at the bridal shower while I sit here in a Starbucks down the road with my trusty laptop. It takes a lot to get me to sit in a Starbucks. I would much rather patronize a small, local place, where the coffee doesn’t always taste burned, unless it’s free and then it’s tolerable. It’s just that when we rang the doorbell and I saw all those young ladies between the front door and the back patio where far fewer men were congregating, I lost all nerve. So here I sit, drinking a ridiculously overpriced, pseudo-coffee drink, with my head stuck deep in my computer screen lest someone I know sees me…

I’ve been writing this blog for almost a year now. One of the things I appreciate most is the sense of community that exists in the “blogosphere’. When I decided to leave my contracting business and return to professional ‘business’ writing full-time, my peers stressed the importance of reading and writing everyday, whether it was professionally or not. It was an easy instruction for me as I’ve always been a voracious reader and kept a journal of my thoughts and feelings; privately, of course. I always tell clients that successful marketing includes regular blog posts and customer contact, so maybe I should try some of my own advice. Hence, Thoughts from the Porch was born.

I guess I’m a relative latecomer to the whole blogging deal. I never spent time reading things from the screen. I prefer something tangible, a book or a magazine, that I can hold on to and read at my leisure. However, over the last few months, I’ve discovered a whole world of great writers and incredible thinkers that I’ve been missing for a good while. Today, I follow many other bloggers and enjoy the diversity of words and thought. One of my favorites (which I recommend) is Stephen Black and his Fractured Faith blog site. He tends to end when a question inviting engagement. For me, feeling self-conscious and inadequate, this invitation to engage is sorely appreciated.  I often feel that whatever I have to say just isn’t that big of a deal to anyone but me.

This morning, he asked, “Do you write truthfully?” and I’ve been thinking about it all day. I sincerely hope I do.

When I write, whether it be personally (like here) or professionally (my business and marketing), I strive to be honest. I hope that it has some intrinsic value and offers something new and refreshing. Then I feel as I have nothing to say that hasn’t been said. Like it or not, that’s true. I read and listen to a wide variety of writers and authors and I haven’t discovered something that hasn’t been said before. The thousands of years of human existence leave little room for new experiences. Nothing I can think of or say is new and original. In fact, I feel a little silly when I’m excited by the things I discovered so much later in life than most folks and feel a need to tell everyone. I always was late to the party…

So I’m simply not that special or unique. Yet, nothing I say has ever been said in my voice, from my perspective, and in the way that I feel ( nor has it in everyone else I read or listen to) so maybe that makes it worthwhile, at least to someone. The more I read and listen to others, the more I feel a part of something far bigger than me, the more I feel a sense of community, and the less isolated I feel by my shyness and introversion. If I feel that way, could someone else possibly feel that way as well? The only way to find out is to speak and write honestly…

The next morning…

The thought train was off and running yesterday when I received a text that everyone at the bridal shower was asking where I was, there were more men than expected, and maybe I should come. I thought about it a bit (and prayed!), and mustered up the courage to put the laptop away and head over there. I sheepishly rand the doorbell and was greeted by laughter, a bit of chaos, and welcomed inside. I met some new people, saw some I already knew, and eased my way into the festivities. Honestly, I had a good time despite my initial discomfort. Life’s like that. Every time I walk past the ‘fear’ curtain it turns out things aren’t as bad as I thought. I have a lot more in common with folks than I thought…

 

 

Christianity, Chronic Illness, Communication, Community, Courage, Culture, Dogs, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Friendship, Grace, Gratitude, Grief, Growing Up, Hope, Listening, Love, Marriage, Pets, Practice, Prayer, Recovery, Relationships, Simplicity, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Writing

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…’

Christianity, Communication, Community, Faith, Freedom, Friendship, Grace, Gratitude, Grief, Hope, Listening, Positive Thinking, Prayer, Recovery, Relationships, Simplicity, Spirituality, Stories, Uncategorized, Writing

“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…”

Community, Culture, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Friendship, Gratitude, Neighbors, Simplicity, Stories, Texas, Uncategorized, Writing

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…

Christianity, Citizenship, Class, Community, Concervatives, Culture, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Friendship, Generations, Gratitude, Neighbors, Politics, Prayer, Recovery, Relationships, Simplicity, Spirituality, Uncategorized, What Can I Do, Writing

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…