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Who’s Your Village?

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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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Rolodexes

 

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Thoughts From the Porch: It’s been a crazy week already and it’s only Wednesday. It’s all been ‘good’ crazy. My professional obligations have overflowed into my personal time. Combine them with whatever allergen blew in with the last cold front and I sniffle and sneeze my way through the day…

I was sitting here sorting through the various business cards and it occurred to me that I need a new Rolodex. Some of you know what I’m talking about: that circular file that holds your contacts, addresses, and phone numbers. I’m not sure many people use them anymore. Everyone else seems to organize such things online. I guess my friend Gary was right. I’m a dinosaur…

It’s not that I’m technologically illiterate, mind you. Heck, I write for a living and that includes the web and social media. It’s just that keyboards and screens feel so impersonal at times. Heck, I lost my phone one time and couldn’t call friends or family because their numbers were stored by the phone’s contact list. I can still remember my very first home number – GL (short for the Glendale exchange)1-0249 (and yes, kids, there was a time when they had letters instead of numbers). I could tell you what part of town someone was calling from by the prefix, which was helpful as caller ID was still years away. One memorized the important numbers in one’s life, wrote them in a phone and address book, or filed them on a Rolodex for future reference. Nowadays, they all go to the phone by name instead of having to dial. I was married two years before I could tell you my wife’s phone number. It was filed away by name on a contact screen. Sometimes smart phones make me feel dumb…

Don’t get me wrong. I love emerging technology and all the new toys. They make life, professionally and personally, so much easier. The world has become much smaller as a result, too. It’s nothing to be able to communicate, both audibly and visibly, with folks on the other side of the world in a microsecond. I definitely find research on the internet preferable to the long hours spent in the library or on the phone. Unfortunately, technology is often impersonal at times and that can be brutal on relationships.

As I’ve grown older I’ve come to believe that everything in life is about relationships. For all the connectedness technology enables, it inhibits real relationship. One night shortly after Margaret and I started dating, she asked me to come to ‘family night’ at her house. As we all found our seats in the living room and turned on the movie, it became apparent that no one was either talking or watching the movie. Instead, everyone’s face was buried in a phone screen. I think they were texting each other across the living room. Just so you know, we have great, loving relationships with all our kids, but after that evening I became increasingly aware of the downside of technology – stifling relationships.

I’m not a big ‘phone guy’. One of the biggest complaints a friend has about me is that I don’t answer my phone right away. I leave it in the truck when I’m meeting or working with a client. They aren’t paying me to answer my cell phone. I always return calls. I am not, and I refuse, to be tethered to my phone. Besides, I value ‘face time’, and not the iPhone kind, over phones calls, texts, and emails. One of the best pieces of advice my mentor ever gave me was to spend more time watching and listening. The experts say that much of our conversations are non-verbal. We say more with our body language and actions. Just ask my wife. She hates it when I sigh or roll my eyes and still say okay…

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Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Pexels.com

Something special takes place between people when they sit and share together. The closer my relationship, the more one is aware of the non-verbal cues between one another. My non-verbal cues often indicate a far deeper meaning than what I say. They often turn my “everything’s okay” into “what’s really going on?”. As a result, my relationship with others, and with myself, deepens.

The ultimate face time takes place over the dinner table. In certain cultures, a meal is the most intimate offering one can give to another. To paraphrase another friend, “I don’t get to choose who I am kind to, but I do get to choose who I have dinner with”. Many of my best memories are of meals shared and friendship enjoyed. I guess it’s no wonder that Jesus spent a lot of time hanging out with people over the dinner table…

Here in a bit, I’ll head off to a Development Group that meets weekly to discuss personal and professional development, how to be of service to others, and network with other professionals. It’s something I look forward to every Wednesday. There are no cell phones or computer screens present; only good food and good folks. We spend the time together trading business cards and the weeks news. I always feel uplifted and full of energy when I leave. That rarely happens when I step away from this computer screen.

I’m okay being a dinosaur. What all the great technology doesn’t do is help me be a better human being. I need other folks to help me get there. I need relationships. Technology is a great tool, but they are not the be all and end all. So, before I get to the meeting, I think I’ll stop by the office supply store and see if they carry a Rolodex…

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Hearings and listening…

Thoughts from the Porch: It’s officially dark when I take my coffee to the porch these days. The mornings are cooler, often in the low sixties, and quieter than usual. September is sliding into October, the lawn has a few more leaves on it each day, and rain comes more often and usually overstays its visit. We might have a Fall that lasts longer than a weekend this year…

I listened to Thursday’s Senate confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh and the testimony of his sexual assault accuser, Ms. Ford, even though I told myself I shouldn’t. After all, the outcome is predictable: wealth, privilege, and power will carry the day regardless of what’s right. That’s what the last couple of years have proven anyway. I used to get angry, now I’m simply sad. Still, I’m drawn to same-old, same-old like a moth to a flame, hoping this time it will end differently. That my friends, is the definition of insanity…

Life has taught me to look for the good, even when the situation says otherwise. Even though I think the Judiciary Committee’s majority and Mr. Kavanaugh’s confirmation to be detestable, some good things have already come out of it, believe it or not. Ms. Ford’s testimony was measured and truthful as she stood in front of millions and detailed her experience with Mr. Kavanaugh. I can only imagine the courage it took to sit there for all to see and hear. Whether her testimony sways the vote of those with wealth, power, and privilege remains to be seen, but maybe it will make us all look at our actions and attitudes toward women. I have…

In fact, the last two years, although politically horrendous, have one bright spot: they brought out all the racial strife, misogyny, and often, hate, hidden just beneath the surface of American life. We’ve all known it was there but did little to address it. If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that I can’t fix a problem unless I admit I have one. Until I do, the solution remains elusive. I keep doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. Where have I heard that before?

The up side is that once I admit my problem I’m already halfway to the solution. I can do something about it.  It works for me personally and professionally, maybe it works for others. The #Metoo and Black Lives Matter movements have made me look at my ideas about women, race, and culture in general. Honestly, I haven’t always liked what I’ve seen, but I have an opportunity to transform old ideas and attitudes. That changes my actions. The consequence is that I love others better, begin to think more about the common good, and grow closer to the man I want and God, wants me to be.

Even something as detestable as the current administration and the SCOTUS nominee can have positive results when it motivates one to look inside. Hopefully, it creates a desire for our better selves…

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Today is the big day!Today is the big day!

 

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Your donation today will help us continue to sponsor several community events and activities including:
• Healing the Broken – Domestic Violence Forum
• Diabetes Awareness – Walking for Wellness & Expo
• Opal’s Urban Farm
• Juneteenth Community Celebration

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Labor Day…

The air is thick with humidity this morning and ragweed season has begun. I’ll spend as much time on the porch as my allergies will allow, but it tends to be somewhat shorter in duration this time of year. It’s a little frustrating because Fall is absolutely my favorite time of year, and a perfect chance to enjoy the quiet of the porch. Spring is nice, everything coming back to life and all, but Fall beckons me to introspection and reflection on the past year. It begins slowly and reaches a crescendo by the Christmas holidays, just in time to look forward to the New Year.

Fall in North Texas may be different from others’ experience of the changing seasons. Fall officially begins on the autumnal equinox and occurs around September 22nd each year, although it may not feel like it until late October or November. Even then, it may only last a couple of days or weeks until the cold of Winter moves in. Now that the average temperature for each year seems to be one for the record books, the seasons can’t be forecast accurately anyway…

Fall, or at least the timing of it, brings a sense of urgency to living fully and enjoying the blessings in life on an even deeper level. Looking backwards, I can see missed opportunities and instead of regrets, I learn to be more vigilant. It’s easy to fall prey to tunnel vision and miss the doors that God has unlocked along the way, especially when it comes to family and friends. Fall brings clarity and renewed purpose to live life well.

I turned sixty a couple of weeks ago. It’s probably not as big a milestone as I’ve made it out to be, but it feels like it to me. Last year, I decided to step away from the contracting business, go back to school, and re-start my writing career. The last year hasn’t been easy, at least financially. Although I’ve stayed busy, starting a business is never easy. It takes a lot of grit, determination, and perseverance, especially for introverts like me. Although I’m far better at being social when business is involved, I still have difficulties, especially cold-calling and networking. Fortunately, most of my work is from home.

Most of stem from internal issues like believing I’m worthy. I’ve struggled with that for a very long time. I typically don’t like the word ‘self’ in front of things like esteem or worth. Not that healthy self-esteem or valuing one’s self is a bad thing, mind you. It’s just that I tend toward an inflated sense of self if I’m not careful. Holding myself in high regard tends to add the words ‘ish’ and centeredness after the hyphenated ‘self’. I begin to think of my own abilities rather than the gifts I’ve received from God. I forget where ego and pride have taken me in the past.

My friend Edgar often tells me that “I’m not a slow learner, I’m a fast forgetter”. I’ve always known I was reasonably intelligent. Given that it took so long to learn how valuable I am to God, I’d he nailed me down well. It’s easy to forget my successes are the direct result of plugging in to a far greater power than myself.

I may have issues when it comes to self-esteem, but I know without a doubt, that God sees me differently. When I remember who’s I am and how much He treasures me, I begin to accept myself for who I am a bit more and everything becomes easier. I treat myself a little better, forgive my failures a little more, and experience far less fear of the outside world. It didn’t happen overnight, but it’s sure gained speed as I progress further in life.

Remembering who I am makes me ‘right-sized’, as my dad used to say. I used to run from one extreme to the other: either I was the better than anyone else or I was a piece of crap. Today, I’m okay being human. I make mistakes, try to learn from them, and move on to the next thing in front of me. It also makes me far more capable of doing that both personally and professionally. I’m certainly not the best, but I do it well and perform in my own unique way.

When I was a child, my father used to tell me how special I was. I was adopted – a chosen baby. As I ventured out into the world I found out that no one else thought I was that special, and that proved to be a disappointment. I was well into my adult years before I knew what he meant. I was just like everyone else, but I was special to my father, whether it was my adopted father or my heavenly one…

So, as Fall approaches I have the opportunity for another season of introspection and reflection, not that it’s seasonal, mind you. My friend Jim (I really miss him…) always told me that’ “Self-examination, coupled with prayer and meditation, followed by vigorous action, produces favorable results”. I’ve learned just how right he was. I’m ready for Fall…