Awe, Christianity, Community, Consequences, Courage, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Gifts, Grace, Gratitude, Hope, Listening, Love, Positive Thinking, Prayer, Recovery, Relationships, Service to Others, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Urban Farming, What Can I Do, Work, Writing

The Pause Button

It’s going to be a hot one today, but the westerly breeze across the porch felt so good I stayed a little longer than I should. There’s much to do today. The farm project moved to the front of everything and events are travelling faster than I imagined. A shout-out to the Tarrant Regional Water District (which I wrote erroneously as ‘Trinity River’ Water District yesterday… please accept my apologies because you all are wonderful….) for jumping on this so quickly.

I’ve been so excited about this project that I dove in with both feet over the last three days. In all my excitement, it dawned on me that I’d failed to spend time thanking God for the blessings, of which this project is only a small part. If I believed prayer life required formal prayers and a pious stance I’d be seriously remiss. Prayer has become more of a conversational process with God. I’m sure people think I’m crazy since it looks like I’m talking to myself all the time, but that’s not the case. I converse regularly with the God of my understanding and I’ve even learned to listen better, which has been a major accomplishment given my tendencies toward self-obsession…

However, things have been moving quickly. Then it occurred to me that I hadn’t stopped to thank God for granting me the desire of my heart (of which this project is a part). I’d probably done it mentally (I’m not confused where the blessings originate), but I hadn’t done so verbally. So, I spent the extra time on the porch today making a mental gratitude list and thanking Him aloud for each of them, one by one. Before I knew it, my list had multiplied exponentially, and time had flown by. Hence, the late start to the day.

It’s easy to get caught up in the plethora of daily projects, both personally and professionally. In the process I often forget to thank the one who made it all possible. There are times busyness consumes me. I forget that the only reason I have so much to do is because a loving God extended His unbelievable (and undeserved) gift of grace: spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically. That grace has transformed me. Today I like the face I see in the mirror, and believe me, that hasn’t always been the case. It relieves me of the oppressive thoughts and feelings of ‘never doing enough’ and never being enough.

I know all-too-well the danger in moving too fast, of forgetting the source from which all blessings flow. It doesn’t take long to become filled with a sense of self-accomplishment and the ungrateful spirit that comes with it. That’s shaky ground for those of us who suffer from an exaggerated, often unrealistic, sense of self. When it becomes all about me – what I did, and what I’ve accomplished – I’m not far from the inevitable self-sabotage that follows, especially when I finally realize my self-deception.

In the book of James, the brother of Jesus (called “Old Camel Knees” for his devotion to kneeling in prayer), says, “Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of Heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light” (James 1.16 from The Message). That’s been my experience as well. It is all grace. It’s not about me. God invites my cooperation in the grand scheme of things, but it’s His grace that enables me to live freely and joyously in a world that often tries to wear me down. Grace is what reminds me that God is especially fond of each of us. Grace leads me to treat others, and myself, better. Grace is so overwhelming that I must share it with others. Imagine that: me of all people living a life of grace, and grace leads to a life of gratitude and service.

I’m going to keep this brief. I have a lot (and I mean a lot) to do today, but I’m extremely grateful I pushed the ‘pause’ button this morning and talked to the giver of all “good and perfect gifts”. The funny thing about gratitude is how it increases and seems to overflow into everything in my day. I feel a deeper love for my wife, for my kids, and all the people in my life. I’m better able to see the ‘big picture’ and look to the bigger community of which I am a part. Most importantly, I’m able to tackle the difficulties life throws my way, be a part of that community, and walk in the light. That, my friends, is a pretty good way to live…

Activism, Awe, Christianity, Climate Change, Community, Conservation, Creation, Environment, Faith, Fighting Poverty, Food Deserts, Food Insecurity, Gardening, Gifts, Grace, Gratitude, Health, Neighbors, Non-Profits, Positive Thinking, Prayer, Responsibility, Service Organizations, Simplicity, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Unity Unlimited, Inc., What Can I Do, Writing

Ms. Opal’s Dream and the Best Birthday Ever

I sat on the porch this morning, thinking about yesterday and making a mental list of today’s lengthy ‘to-do’ list. I turned sixty years old yesterday and it was the best birthday ever! I spent it with some incredible people. The new project I’ve mentioned in previous posts has become a reality. I’ve been looking forward to the day I could tell you all about it and that day has arrived.

To understand the importance of yesterday’s events, you need to know what ‘food insecurity’ is. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as a lack of consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life. … Hunger refers to a personal, physical sensation of discomfort, while food insecurity refers to a lack of available financial resources for food at the level of the household. In Tarrant County, one in four children, and one in three if they are African-American or Hispanic, go to bed hungry or face food insecurity. One does not have to live under the Federal Poverty Threshold of $24,858 per year to experience food insecurity. Over 25 % of households facing food insecurity live at or just above the poverty guidelines and fully 36% receive no federal or state benefits. (further information is available through the Tarrant Area Food Bank and Feeding America websites)

The bottom line is that there’s a problem with hunger and the myriad of health problems that are a consequence of food insecurity. It’s not just an economic issue, but an availability issue as well. Food Deserts, which the USDA defines as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas. This is largely due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and healthy food providers.”, which  mean that there’s no local grocer or farmers market within one mile of an urban neighborhood. Tarrant County alone has over forty food deserts according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service. Often the only food available is at local convenience stores and is often of little nutritional value. Processed, convenience foods are one of the largest contributors to childhood obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

The magnitude of the problem can be overwhelming. What can I do? My friend Edgar once asked how would I eat an elephant? One bite at a time, of course. Yesterday, a meeting with some fantastic people took a bite of the proverbial elephant. Sometime back, Ms. Opal Lee, a long-time activist from Fort Worth and founder of Unity Unlimited, Inc. (a 501(c)(3) non-profit) was granted use of vacant acreage in Fort Worth by the Trinity River Water District for the express purpose of creating an urban farm. Yesterday, that first bite, her dream of building an urban farm providing farm-fresh, nutritious food for residents of the community, moved into action.

I am blessed and unbelievably excited to be a part of Ms. Opal’s dream. I was familiar with Ms. Opal some time back, particularly because of her “Walk to Washington” and lobbying to make Juneteenth a Federal holiday. Although I was formally introduced to her only a few months ago, she has quickly become one of my heroes. At 92 years young, Ms. Opal’s energy and selfless-spirit is contagious.

The farm will initially encompass five of the sixteen acres available and preparation for planting will begin shortly. The farm uses the model provided by Bonton Farms in Dallas: an agricultural intervention as a means of eliminating the local food desert and contributing to the health and overall, both physical and spiritual, well-being of the community. The farm will be 100% organic. Planting will be based on the needs of customers and the community. Long-term plans include goats, chickens, and beekeeping as well. Above all else we want the farm to provide local jobs, job training and new entrepreneurs and neighborhood Fort Worth.

The meeting yesterday started the wheels turning and I’m so blessed to be a part of it all. This has been not only Ms. Opal’s dream, but mine as well. I’ve always wanted to be a ‘farmer’. I’ve prayed often that God would open the doors of service to others. Yesterday was simply another of God’s answered prayers. We could use yours as well.

I’m looking forward to sharing the progress of our urban farm with you as we move forward. We plan for development to proceed quickly enough to have the initial planting later this year with a winter crop. If we have any doubt about our success, we need to remember that Ms. Opal’s already prayed about it and that’s pretty good assurance….

Awe, Christianity, Community, Creation, Emotional Health, Faith, Freelancing, Gifts, Grace, Gratitude, Growing Up, Health, Listening, Neighbors, Positive Thinking, Practice, Prayer, Relationships, Simplicity, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Writing

Awesome…

I sat on the porch for a long time this morning. Margaret slept in. The dogs were content to sleep in as well and I soaked in the solitude of the day. The air felt clean for the first time in weeks. An ever so slight breeze ran across my face as if God was saying, “relax and enjoy the moment”. My coffee tasted better, the chair was more comfortable, and all was right in the world.

According to the dictionary, awe is defined as a “feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder”. This is one of those days when everything is in focus and with clarity comes a reverential respect mixed with wonder – awe. The sun is a bit brighter, the chattering of the squirrels a tad sharper, and the grass has a tinge of green that wasn’t there yesterday. I’m in awe…

According to a April 27, 2017 article in Psychology Today, people who experience awe more frequently live longer and tend to have less health problems. In fact, the experience of awe leads to enhanced critical thinking and creativity as well as a feeling of connectedness to the community and physical world around us. It helps one ‘stay in the moment’.

The article cites Dacher Keltner, a leading theorist and scholar on the emotion of awe, as saying, “Seek out experiences that give you goosebumps”. Yes, it does, and it can be found in the smallest of things.

The kids tell me that Margaret and I lead boring lives. “You should get out more” they always tell us. In some ways I’m sure they are right. It’s not that we don’t want to get out at times, but there are days when Margaret isn’t physically able. Our twenty and thirty-something (and healthy, thank God) kids don’t realize how difficult it can. While Margaret is far more social than I am, we’ve both become homebodies, and not always due to physical limitations. We stay in a continual state of awe that we could be blessed to live the life we do. While our world may seem small to some, it’s filled with joy, wonder, and awesome incredible moments.

I start my mornings here on a front porch at the end of a cul-de-sac in Fort Wort, Texas. Not much changes, and yet everything changes. Most mornings, (even on the really hot ones) I’m greeted by the song of the little mockingbird that calls our yard home. Squirrels chase each other through the trees and stop only to chatter at our cat, Wallace. We even have a resident spider that graces our front porch with a magnificent, intricate web each day. They are all details of a world full of fascination and wonder.

Life does show up from time to time with setbacks and hardships that seem awful at the time. The irony is that both awesome and awful come from the word awe. Awe can be traced back to the Greek word, achos, for pain. That makes sense to me because life can be painful at times. It has its fair share of disappointments, sadness, and frustration, and each bear their own physical, emotional, or spiritual pain. Experience has taught me that walking through the pain leads me from awful to awesome – and both can leave me in awe…

I strive to be ‘awe-full’ (who you talk to depends on which spelling they use…). Seeing God in the minute details of the world and the lives of the people is a state I want to become accustomed to. Gratitude always seem to accompany awe, and gratitude changes the way I view my world. It’s a cycle I like being caught up in.

If people who experience awe more frequently really do live longer, then I’m pretty sure I’m going to be around for a while. To those that are disappointed by that, I say, “that’s awful…”

Christianity, Dogs, Faith, Family, Freedom, Gardening, Gifts, Grace, Gratitude, Hope, Marriage, Positive Thinking, Prayer, Recovery, Relationships, Simplicity, Trust, Writing

Mud on the floors…

Margaret and I were having coffee this morning when she spied the glimmering silver lines of a enormous spider web by the tree in front of the porch. When I say enormous, I mean huge. It extended from the lower canopy of the tree all the way to the ground. Although it was so large, you had to look carefully to see it as it waved in the spring-like morning breeze. It was the perfect trap for other insects and guaranteed our little eight-legged friend a hearty meal.

What truly amazes me about spiders is the seriousness and speed with which they work. We’ve had the privilege of watching one up close every evening for the last couple of years. I don’t know if it’s one of the offspring from the previous year, but it’s always the same species as far as I can tell. Then again, I’m no etymologist and Margaret’s content to watch from her chair, which is always a safe distance away.

We are always a bit awed by how quickly the little guy can get up, down, and across what looks like nothing but air. What’s amazing is that he does this night after night and in the same spot. In the morning the web will have disappeared somehow, and he must go about his business every night. It doesn’t seem to bother him that his fastidious work is needed each evening. He seems to have the idea of ‘one day at a time’ done pat. I could learn a lot from this tiny arachnid.

I came in the study and discovered it would be necessary to mop the floor before going any further into my day. We were blessed by a pretty good rain (for July anyway) yesterday afternoon. We haven’t yet figured out how to train the dogs to wipe their feet when they come and go through the doggy door. Thank God for laminate flooring.

In the spring, I tend to complain a lot about the continual mopping that comes with three large dogs and the springs rains. I begin to grumble over and over, forgetting that the day will come when I wouldn’t mind cleaning up after them at all. Today is one of those days! We’ve gone from above-average precipitation to moderate drought and burn bans in the span of two months. When the thunderstorm came yesterday, all I could do was sit on the porch, watch it fall, and say a prayer of thanks.

One of the few things I remember from high school science class is that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. I don’t know if that’s still true. It’s been forty-plus years and many changes ago, but it has sure been my experience. My dad always called it the ‘law of sowing and reaping’ and I can get with that. I love to work in my garden. If I sow good seeds, I get a good harvest – simple as that – and every blessing comes with a responsibility. We were blessed with rain and now I need to mop the floor…

I’m learning how to plant better seeds on a personal level, but I sometimes forget that responsibility comes with blessings. In the Torah of the Hebrew Bible, God asks Abram (later called Abraham) to pick up his belongings and head for a land where God says, “I’ll make you a great nation and bless you”.

Sometimes however, I overlook the end of God’s talk with Abraham, “All of the families of the Earth will be blessed by you”. Maybe I’m stretching a bit, but what I hear is “I bless you in order to bless others”.

Blessing with responsibility. Go figure…

Sometimes the word ‘blessed’ seems so ‘churchy’ and trite. I prefer words like ‘gifted’ or ‘graced’. I’ve been on the receiving end of a multitude of gifts and I’ve come to understand that everything in my life is grace. I can’t help but ‘re-gift’ or extend the grace I’ve received. ‘Re-gifting” has somewhat of a dubious reputation at times. I guess it depends on the gift. The one I’ve been given is priceless, so I don’t feel bad about re-gifting.

It is my responsibility to pass on what I’ve been given so freely. Not only is it just responsibility, but it’s a life lesson. I get to learn the joy that comes from giving, and the freedom from the lie of scarcity that seems so prevalent today. The more I give, the better I am. Life becomes different the more responsible I become.

The irony is that I receive so much more than I could ever give away. That’s the amazing thing about grace. I guess I’ll think about it some more while I mop the floor…

Christianity, Communication, Dogs, Emotional Health, Faith, Family, Gratitude, Immigration, LGBTQ, Marriage, Politics, Recovery, Spirituality

Foxes and protest marches…

Disclaimer: My editor, (Margaret) is out to a late breakfast and a movie with a friend of ours. It’s really hard to edit myself so please excuse any errors. I love you Margaret and your help is greatly appreciated. I love baby…

 

I slept in this morning. It was after nine o’clock when I was finally awakened by Miss Maggie giving me my morning bath. All you pet parents will know what I mean. Please understand that Maggie is half Catahoula and half coyote. She has her “wild” moments and she’s quite the huntress, catching birds in mid-air, and bringing dead rats and possums in the house. Her eyes are different from most dogs I’ve known. You would have to see them to know what I mean, but there’s an alertness and an awareness that’s goes well beyond that of domesticated dogs. I guess that what makes our bond so special. Our other two, Jameson and Sadie, favor Margaret, but Maggie is all mine…

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The porch was unbelievably pleasant this morning even though the sun had been up for a while. I sat with my wife for a while and got to speak to our kid before she left. I was curious as to why she was up so early. Classes are out for the summer and I know she was binge-watching Jurassic Park movies with friends last night. The only reason I was up early on Saturdays when I was twenty-seven was because I had kids by then.

 

I was extremely pleased when she told me she was off to the Families Should Stay Together march in downtown Fort Worth, protesting the insane, inhumane, and immoral immigration policies of Mr. Trump and his cronies. I’d love to be there, but I’m still tethered to my little IV buddy (only until Monday!) and can’t be in the heat. Margaret wanted to go as well. Even though she’s far more conservative than I am, she’s a mom and she’s outraged that families are torn apart. We asked Gael to please raise her voice a little louder and represent us as well.

 

Our daughter has officially `come out’ as transgender. Since she posted it on Facebook I don’t have a problem with saying it (or writing it) aloud. I’m not sure what all that means. She has asked us to refer to her in the third person. As a writer I have some difficulty with that. It’s just not proper English. However, out of respect for her I’ll refer to her in the third person for the duration of this post. I’m not sure how I feel about that if I’m honest with you and with her. It doesn’t make a difference though as I love our kid no matter how `they’ identify.

 

It’s taken me a long journey to reach that point. I was raised in a very conservative religious background, so I carried a lot of baggage into adulthood. Like everything else in life, it requires a lot of conversations, a lot of prayer, and a lot of meditation. I still don’t have all the answers, but I refuse to preach drivel when I know that all of us are God’s kids. If I’m wrong, and I don’t believe I am, God accepts us where and for who we are regardless of labels and identification.

 

I must admit that I don’t often understand all the labels. I know it’s important for people who have lived with discrimination and, often hate, to come out and let everyone know that they’re one of God’s kids just like everyone else. Growing up as a socially awkward introvert, I know what it’s like to bully to fit in with the crowd and be bullied because someone is different. I’m thankful that as time goes on, we’ve become more tolerant and less judgmental as a people. We still have a long way to go. I’m grateful for those who take a stand for dignity, equality, and what is right. I’m proud of who `they’ are.

 

When Margaret and I married five-and-a-half years ago, we decided that we had no `step’ kids. They were all our children, even if they were grown. So, when Gael asked if `they’ could move in with us, so `they’ could go back to college, we invited `them’ home, and this is `their’ home.  I emphasize that because we are known to have our occasional conflicts and frustrations. The reason has more to do with the fact that she’s so much like me than anything else. Even though I didn’t come to know her until she was a young adult, she’s like me in so many ways. She’s as passionate about loving others, social equality, and injustice as I am. It’s not surprising that we but heads from time to time…

 

So, that being said, `they’ probably don’t have a clue how special this morning was to me. I’m proud that `they’ are marching today, and a heartfelt thank you out to `them’. More than that, it was when `they’ were leaving this morning, Gael went in a brought me out a cup of coffee. I know that sounds incredibly trivial and unimportant. It’s what `they’ brought in that was super special.

 

When Gael moved in, `they’ had a coffee mug that was singled out as one we couldn’t use. It was `their’ `fox’ mug and had special meaning for her. We’ve always respected `their’ wishes and we’ve never drank from it before. When Gael brought my coffee, guess what it was in! I wouldn’t have been surprised if we were short on coffee mugs, but the dishes are done and there’s no shortage in our house, believe me. I don’t know whether it was intentional or not, but Margaret tells me it’s a big deal. Heck, I was just thankful `they’ brought me a cup of coffee. I didn’t know I was getting so much more.

 

So, Gael, I’m sure it’s hot and uncomfortable downtown this morning, but thank you for being there and for simply being you. I’m proud of you and want you to know I love and appreciate you – even when I’m a stubborn old fart…

Christianity, Emotional Health, Faith, Freelancing, Gratitude, Marriage, Service Organizations, Simplicity, Uncategorized, Work, Writing

Passion…

I had an early morning doctor appointment this morning, so my time on the porch was brief. By the time I got home the porch was getting a bit warm. According to the meteorologist on last night’s news, it looks like the upper nineties and triple digit heat will be here for a while. That leaves a smaller window for enjoying the porch (in comfort, at least).

I read a brief article this morning about how finding one’s passion isn’t always the best advice when it comes to employment. It seems it tends to create a certain degree of tunnel vision that may not allow one to see other possibilities and limit human growth. I’m not sure why, but that’s been bothering me all morning.

My wife and I have this conversation from time to time. One of my sons is an artist. He comes complete with all the personality one might expect when one thinks of an artist. He’s incredibly bright and, has what he calls, an extreme case of Adult ADD. He started drawing on the walls when he was a toddler and hasn’t stopped since. Many of his personal and collaborative murals can be found throughout Fort Worth

Jeremy is one of the ‘up and comers’ in the art scene. He’s curated several shows and exhibited in other cities. His gallery opening at Fort Works Art was a huge success. Last week he made the cover of Fort Worth Weekly, our weekly magazine and the headline said, “Inside Jeremy Joel’s Brain”. I must admit that the idea scared me a bit. After all, I’m his father and anyone with kids knows, eccentricities aren’t always pleasant to deal with. Still, I’m unbelievably proud of him, though I’ll be the first to tell you I’m not very objective.

I’m proud of all our kids and I don’t want any of them to think I’m singling out Jeremy for praise. I never wanted to stifle any of my children’s passion. They are all very different, with unique talents, interests, and careers. I mention Jeremy because he struggled with the question of art versus work and passion versus making a living. I haven’t always liked his decisions along the journey, but it appears he’s on track with the thing he loves to do.

I’m always a little jealous of those that seem to find a way to make their passion their living. It wasn’t that way for me. It took me almost fifty years to become passionate in my work.  Today, I ‘get to’ get out of bed, put the coffee on, and spend some time on the porch getting centered in my day. I step into my office where I often share some thoughts with all of you and spend the rest of the day working on writing projects and events that I’m extremely passionate about. I work mostly with non-profit and faith-based organizations. I feel like I make a difference in the world. I wish I’d done it a long time ago.

I’ll be sixty years old in a couple of months. I’ve worked since I was eleven years old. I started as a paper boy and went on to become a gas station attendant (do any of you remember them?), a cook, and a construction worker by the time I was ready to start my ‘career’. I won’t bore you with all the details, except to say that when I got to college (I went on the ten-year plan), all I wanted to become was a college professor or teacher. I tell you this because that was my passion, and that’s not what I followed…

I decided that pleasing my father was more important than doing what I loved. You see, my parents lived through the Great Depression. That experience shaped the way they viewed work. My Dad was fortunate enough to land a job with the railroad when he was seventeen. A railroad job was coveted employment back in the forties. Except for the months he was drafted, he worked his way up through the ranks and continued there until he took early retirement at fifty-seven, with forty years of service. That my friends, was the job he wanted for me.

That wasn’t the case for me. My parents lived back here in Fort Worth and would call me in Colorado every week (we still used landlines and got charged for long distance calls – I know! Crazy, right?). My Dad would ask about school and then ask me if “I was still going to teach or was I going to get a job”. He would often remind me that “those who do, work and those who can’t, teach”. I certainly didn’t agree with him, but I chose to please him rather than continue with teaching. It wasn’t long before I found myself a single father and had felt like I had no choice but to follow my father’s advice. I went on to work for various companies and, while I was good at my work, always regretted not pursuing my passion for teaching.

I guess that’s why I’m a little bit jealous of Jeremy. I wish I had followed my passion. I’ve heard it said that “do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life”. I’ve found that to be true over the last few years. So, when Margaret and I have these conversations I tend to lean on the side of passion. She tends to lean towards the ‘do whatever you have to for your family’. I’d like to think that maybe there’s a balance, but maybe balance is often just ‘the beam I trip on while running between extremes’.

One thing I know for sure is that ‘making a difference’, no matter what I’m doing, has become a core value in my life today. I’m inclined to think that maybe work, no matter what it is, should be a way of ‘making a difference’. Maybe if that’s the passion, we can all find jobs we love. Just a thought…