Dentalaphobia

She was terrifying.

The dental hygienist was a size zero but her protective gear doubled her weight. She wore a weird combination of hazmat suit, welder’s gear, and executioner’s hood. Her breathing would make Darth Vader proud. 

The dental chair jerked back as she thrust the interrogation lamp inches from my face. 

“Shall we begin?” she asked in a creepy whisper.

“Ok,” I said tentatively. 

She switched on the lamp and my face was enveloped with a zillion lumens of light. My eyes started to water. I wiped them quickly, hoping she wouldn’t think less of me.

She ignored my uncomfort and picked up an old spear from her rusty pile of tools on the floor. 

“Open up!” she commanded with the authority of a drill sergeant. 

I opened my mouth nervously and tried to move my lips and gums away from my teeth, even though they’re attached.

She laughed and shouted, “Wider!”

I may have pulled a muscle somewhere in my face as I obeyed. I opened my mouth wider than ever and then doubled it. I’m not sure because I was blinded by the light, but she may have actually stepped inside my mouth for the remainder of the examination.

She began the exam by jabbing the gums surrounding each of my teeth with a javelin used in the 1988 Olympic games. Then I was forced to remove all moisture from my head and upper torso by closing my mouth around her industrial strength straw vacuum. After using what sounded like a spin saw to coat my teeth in gritty goo, she rinsed my mouth with at least 20 gallons of water. Fortunately, she removed it once again with her liquid sucking torture device. Finally, she pulled out a large rope salvaged from the Mayflower and used it as dental floss. She jammed the rope (and probably a few chains) back and forth through the rows of my teeth as I wept silently and gripped the sides of my chair. 

Then, her verbal assault began.  

“You haven’t been flossing. You know you can get floss anywhere. Pharmacies, grocery stores, Walmart, Walgreens, Dollar General, they all have it. Even some gas stations sell dental floss. You have no excuse… No excuse.” 

Finally, my punishment, uh, exam was over and I was able to close my mouth and breathe normally. 

Suddenly, I heard upbeat 80’s music and the dentist popped in. 

“So, how’s it going, my man?” he asked too energetically. “Open wide and let me peek inside.”

I opened my mouth as before and he examined my teeth for approximately 8-10 seconds. 

“Looks great!” he cried as he shoved a plastic bag in my hand. Inside I found 6 inches of dental floss and a firm toothbrush that we’ll probably use to clean the grout between tiles.

“Thank you,” I replied to thin air, not realizing he had disappeared.

I crawled to the checkout desk and paid my copay, the most enjoyable part of my visit.

“See you in six months!” cried the clerk as I limped away.

I vowed at that moment to switch dentists, but I’ll probably forget, just like I forget to floss.

*Special thanks to Jonathan Borba and Unsplash for the image

Bougie Foods

Every so often, my wife proclaims that we (meaning me) need to eat healthier. This mostly happens on New Years Day, my birthday, our anniversary, and every morning. These proclamations are followed by conversations about water, produce and a lack of taste. Often, to help us (me) on our (my) journey to better health, we visit new grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and organic centers where you lose weight by spending all your money at the checkout.

Recently, we visited a bougie chain grocery store fairly new to our area. I learned the term bougie (also spelled bougee, boujee, boozhee, boojee…) from a coworker while visiting a local overpriced, groovy smoothie shop. I feel old and stale for writing this, but I learned more about the term from an old USA Today article. It comes from the word bourgeois and describes assumed high end tastes like driving your Tesla to get Root of Eggplant Juice after your Aqua Shiatsu massage. 

To protect the bougie store’s identity, we’ll call it Tater Toes.

After a short wait which stretched across the front of the building and halfway to the back, we entered Tater Toes. What we found amazed us:

  • Mashed Cauliflower
  • Banana Date Nut Bread Crisps
  • Organic Teriyaki Seaweed Snacks
  • Blood Orange Chocolate Chip Ricotta Cheese
  • Sriracha Air Fried Organic Avocado Bean Sprout Tomatillo Vegan Chicken Flavored Wafers on Dill Pickle Flavored Black Forest Grown Sticks.

You know, interesting things you wonder about but don’t buy unless someone makes you.

After walking down every row five or six times, we found two items we actually wanted to purchase: bananas and blueberries. We pushed them in our almost empty cart across the immaculately clean store to our enthusiastic cash register/checkout specialist. This guy was so friendly that I’m sure he must have turned down a management position at the Magic Kingdom in order to train for this job. After complimenting my wife’s jacket and offering to do our taxes, he asked if we had found everything we were looking for. 

“Yes,” said my wife as if our cart was full. “But I was also wondering about your seasonal food products.”

He smiled in an understanding way as if he had just learned that we were raised by wolves in Canada’s northwest territory and didn’t understand how human society works.

“I’m sorry,” he replied. “Our seasonal items are so popular, you should probably buy them nine months in advance. The good news is that they’ll be on our shelves in a couple of months.”

We walked out, produce in hand, feeling like cave people who just encountered the wheel. We’re determined to learn the ways of bougie food grocery stores, even if it takes several more visits. In the meantime, I guess I’ll be standing in line outside of Tater Toes and eating a lot of organic bananas and blueberries.

*Photo courtesy of Utsman Media and Unsplash

The Mr. Potters of My Life

I love the movie It’s A Wonderful Life. 

I love watching George Bailey grow up and struggle to help a town he desperately wants to leave. I smile when George and Mary fall in love and move into an old abandoned house, when he’s in the business of helping people move into new homes. I love seeing Clarence, Angel Second Class, jump into the freezing water because George would jump in to save him. I love hating the miserly Mr. Potter, especially when he keeps the $8,000 that belongs to the Bailey Building and Loan. 

Because It’s A Wonderful Life has become such a part of my Christmas traditions, I was surprised to learn that Jimmy Stewart almost declined the role of George Bailey. Having returned from his World War II military service, Stewart considered giving up acting as a career in lieu of something that might be considered “more important” to society. Conflicted over his decision, he sought advice from Lionel Barrymore, a seasoned actor in Hollywood. Barrymore encouraged Stewart to continue with acting and to accept the role of George Bailey, emphasizing the positive message of the movie. Fortunately, Mr. Stewart followed the advice of Mr. Barrymore and accepted the role of George Bailey. Ironically, Lionel Barrymore was also cast in the film as Mr. Potter, the evil rich nemesis of George Bailey.

Years ago, I wrote a paper on heroes and villains in movies, cartoons, and comics. In many fictitious worlds, heroes are all good and villains are all bad. If a villain repents, he often becomes all good (Like The Grinch, Scrooge, Anakin Skywalker, etc…) But in reality, only God is totally good and only Satan is totally bad. Most people in the land of the living are actually somewhere in between, even though their stories rarely create the conflict needed for best sellers and box office hits. So, how do we deal with this in storytelling? We create heroes and villains who are all good and all bad to continue the conflict to make the story interesting.

Unknowingly, we sometimes do the same thing in life. 

I know I do. 

I make people out to be all good or all bad because it enhances my own story. Life is just easier when there’s a villain. When there’s a bad guy in my life, it makes it easier for me to cast myself as the hero, the all good hero. Rather than striving for communication and understanding, it’s easier for me to blame my woes on those who are different from me, you know, the villains. When I’m struggling, I find myself creating Mr. Potters out of anyone and everyone who is an easy target. It’s a shame, because unlike the world of movie, cartoon, and comic book villains, behind the many Mr. Potters I’ve created are countless Lionel Barrymores, full of insight I just might need at just the right time.

Becoming a Preschooler

No one ever told me that passing 50 meant I would become a preschooler.

I’ll explain.

Recently, I felt I deserved an extra dose of happiness, better known as a chili dog. It was an hour before dinner so I figured it was an appetizer. It was also top secret, meaning my wife was never supposed to know about it. 

Big mistake. 

I purchased my extra dose of happiness from the cheapest fast food place available, pulled into the street, and took an enormous bite all the while trying to balance my food so it wouldn’t drip the overdone chili into my lap. 

My happiness turned to sorrow when my first bite got stuck in my esophagus.

I parked in front of a Burger King and stood to my feet, thinking that would help. It didn’t. 

I raised my arms over my head to help the food go down. It didn’t.

I took a big drink of soda thinking it would force it down. It didn’t. Instead, the drink mixed with the chili and I vomited it all over the Burger King parking lot which I’m sure was an appetizing site for those inside the restaurant window while trying to enjoy their Whopper.

Fortunately, I could breathe, but the food was still stuck in my throat. 

I drove home, stopping to spit up in front of various homes and businesses. Finally I walked through my front door, thinking that being home and seeing my wife would magically cause the food to go down. It didn’t. 

In between non productive vomiting spells, I explained the situation to my wife. Very calmly, she grabbed her purse and keys and said, “Come on, let’s take you to the doctor.” 

As she drove me to the nearest urgent care, I sat with a garbage pail between my knees and realized she wasn’t going to destroy me over this. 

Later, in the examination room, I managed to tell a doctor about what had happened. The doctor, who was at least 13, nodded without saying much. She left the room and came back with what she called an upper G.I. cocktail.

“Drink this,” she said. “It will relax your throat and help you swallow.”

“If I drink that, I’ll throw up,” I said.

“No you won’t,” she said. 

So, I drank the cocktail and instantly threw it back up in the small sink.

“Ooo, that’s pretty gross,” she said. Not sure I’ve ever heard a medical professional say that in front of a patient before. “Let me get you another one.”

Thankfully, the second dose relaxed my esophagus and my food finally found its home in my stomach. I thanked my doctor, wished her luck at her upcoming Jr. High Homecoming dance, and drove home.

The moment I parked the car, my wife went berzerk. Her eyes grew to the size of basketballs and stared straight into my soul. Her mouth opened wide enough to swallow giant watermelons. Her mouth moved so fast that I heard the boom of the sound barrier break. Our neighbors opened their doors to see if some sort of explosion had taken place. 

I deserved it. She was right. 

Now, in regards to food, I feel like a preschooler. My wife regularly reminds me what I can and cannot eat and does so almost daily. I get the privilege of trying to digest kale and passing on most fast food delights. I often get the stink eye when ordering in restaurants. Sometimes, I even have to change my order because I’ve made the wrong choices.

Yeah, it’s the little things that make you feel loved. And even though I complain, I have to admit that she loves me. I know it’s her way of showing me. 

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I just heard the recess bell ring.

Thank You…

It’s etched into my memory. 

From the back seat of our gold Chevy Impala, the small white tombstones seemed to go on forever. My daddy explained to me that these graves contained the bodies of Veterans who had served our country to protect our freedom.

“Did all of them die in the war?” I asked.

“Many of them did,” he said. 

“Ok,” I replied, looking out at the tombstones once again, thankful that one of them wasn’t marking my daddy’s grave.

Daddy served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 22 years. He spent two tours of duty in Vietnam and continued to serve his country even when he returned to less than honorable fanfare.

He didn’t do it for the fanfare.

He did it for me. He did it for my Mama and my sisters and their families. He did it for you and your family and for families across this nation.

He wasn’t alone. He served alongside countless others in the armed forces that we call our Veterans. Brave men and women, giving of themselves for the rest of us.

On this Marine Corps birthday (Nov 10th), on the eve of Veteran’s Day (Nov 11th), I echo the words of Pastor Rick Warren in honoring our Veterans. 

“It’s important for everyone to remember who it is who has secured the freedoms we enjoy.

It’s our Veterans, not reporters, who give us the freedom of the press.

It’s our Veterans, not poets, who give us the freedom of speech.

It’s our Veterans, not political organizers, who give us the freedom to assemble.

It’s our Veterans, not lawyers, who give us the freedom to have a fair trial.

It’s our Veterans, not politicians, who give us the freedom to vote.

It’s our Veterans, not preachers, who give us the freedom to worship publicly.”

To those of you who serve or who have served, especially my dad, on behalf of a grateful nation and a grateful son, “Thank you.”

*Photo courtesy of Suzy Turbenson

A Change In My Life

I’ve had a change in my life.

I’ve sunk to a new low.

I’ve switched to Vegetarian Hot Dogs. 

I’ve even roasted a meatless weiner over a fire.

Yeah, mind blowing. 

If you’re not familiar with Veggie dogs, just imagine a casing not made from tasty animal intestines but of some type of plant based propaganda filled with soy protein and sadness.

I should explain why I made this change. 

My wife made me do it. 

See a year ago, I had a bad case of gout where I could hardly walk. Since then, my wife and her cronies (better known as doctors) have me eating way less of anything that might contain uric acid (i.e. beef, pork, soda, and stress reducing happy thoughts). At least I have chicken. 

That being said, I was surprised that the vegetarian hot dog stayed on the stick. I don’t know if I expected soybeans to pop out and run for their freedom or what, but it never happened. 

My wife smiled as she watched me roasting my little piece of obedience until I asked her if we had any chili. She said she would check to see if there was vegetarian chili. 

I told her not to bother. That sounds like a crime against humanity.

So anyway, I’ve made a change in my life, hopefully not forever.

Sigh. 

At least the bun had gluten.

*Photo courtesy of Ross Findon and Unsplash

The Blessing

You know that song The Blessing? (The Lord bless you and keep you…)

I hate it. 

Well, maybe not fully hate, but we definitely have a love-hate relationship. 

I love that it’s a blessing we sing to others that’s almost straight from scripture. I love how it pops into my head throughout the day. I love how it speaks to people and how people across the nation are singing it virtually with others over cities. 

But I also hate the song because when I’m singing it in wholeheartedly in worship, surrounded by massive numbers of people, it thrusts me into my deepest wound during the bridge of the song:

“May His favor be upon you for a thousand generations, and your family and your children and their children and their children…”

The song reminds me that my family won’t go on for a thousand generations. It stops with me. And that sucks.

And every time I sing that lyric, the reminder haunts me. 

Every. Single. Time.

In a moment, I’m transported to the day, my worst day, when my fears became reality and my legacy was reduced to the unmentionable.

And that’s frightening.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “I never knew that grief felt so like fear.” He was right.

But then, in the midst of my mourning, I remember His presence. Even in my weakness, He is there. I recall that in my moment of loss, He was there, bringing comfort to my sorrow and glimpses of joy to my sadness.

And then, as the masses continue singing, I realize that they are part of my legacy along with a thousand other generations and my tears of my heartache mix with those of my rejoicing.

In the moment, I realize that the song has moved on, but He hasn’t. 

He’s still with me.

He’s been with me in my coming and going.

He’s been with me in my weeping and rejoicing.

He has blessed me and kept me.

He has given me peace. 

Amen.

*Image courtesy of Mauro Shared Pictures and Unsplash

Physical in a Month

I have a physical in a month. 

I don’t know many people who get excited about their physical exam: the questions, the poking, the prodding, the glove… Makes me cough just thinking about it. 

I always seem to go into a physical filled with shame, holding my head down, reliving a dream I had where I’m about to take a college final for which I didn’t study. I stare in disbelief at the first question which commands me to “diagram and discuss the anatomy of a beaver.” I try to remind myself what a beaver looks like. I start writing words furiously on my paper: rodent like, flat tail, big teeth… but then I get curious as to why this question is even on my music history test in the first place. I look around and I’m horrified when I realize that I’m not only in the wrong classroom, but in the wrong building, and at the wrong school. I begin wandering around the unfamiliar campus aimlessly asking people where I am and how I got there.

Yeah, that’s kind of how it is when I go for my physical. 

I sit in the waiting room until my name is called and suddenly, my inner dialogue begins:

“What were you thinking two months ago when you ate that donut? You said you were hungry. You could have eaten that celery stick just as easily, but no, you had to have something with powdered sugar because you were really hungry. And then you decided to have three more because you were having a bad day. Well, you’re about to see what a bad day really is, Mr. Hungry Man. And when you tell your wife about your physical results, celery sprinkled with kale is about all you’re going to see for decades. Do you like the sound of that, you sorry excuse for a little man? I sure you don’t. Oh, I don’t believe this. What is this I see coming down your cheek, a tear? Well you better get used to those, Buddy Boy, because they’re about to flow down your face like Niagara Falls…”

I have a physical in a month. 

I guess it’s time to cram.

*Photo courtesy of Kelly Sikkema and Unsplash

My Drinking Problem

I have a drinking problem.

But it’s not booze. Fact is, I’ve only had one drink of alcohol in my life. 

It happened in church (not my church) when I was on a mission trip (Indonesia) during communion (yep, it was real wine). So the only time I’ve consumed alcohol was by accident.

I learned two things that day:

  1. It’s ok to ask if it’s wine or juice.
  2. Some churches only let you get in the communion line 5 or 6 times.

I made a personal decision not to drink alcohol when I was thirteen. It wasn’t a spiritual revelation, a youth group vow, or even a moral decision. I made the decision because of Coke (meaning Coca-Cola, not the white powdery stuff).

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a minor, ok maybe not minor, addiction to Coke.

People have asked me if it’s the caffeine, the carbonation, or the sugar.

The answer is yes.

I love every part of Coke: the taste, the burn, and the sound of the bubbles when one is opened. The first drink creates a sense of Nirvana where stress is temporarily suspended and an inner sense of personal freedom partners with a personal departure from all negative feelings. Plus, it’s great with Mexican food.

I’ve met a few folks over the years with the same addiction. There are some who claim they have the same issue with Pepsi but they’re called marketers and they work for PepsiCo.

Someone once said, “Enjoy it in moderation. Just don’t drink too much of it.” What I’ve discovered is that it’s all or nothing for me. 

There’s a Blake Shelton song where he sings, If I have one, I’ll have thirteen. Naw, there ain’t no in-between. ‘Cause the more I drink, the more I drink.” That about sums it up.

So, my 13 year old self reasoned that if I went this nuts over Coke, I would be instantly hooked if I developed a taste for liquor. I could see myself becoming a raging alcoholic, damaging my life, family, and ministry. 

I didn’t want that for my life.

And I’ve stayed away from it for all of these years, except for that one mishap (which is a great story now).

But, and this is a gigantic but, it’s time for me to slow down on my Coke consumption. If I don’t stop my consumption, real damage can happen to my body. So, to ensure the end of my favorite form of stress relief, my wife has partnered with the medical community, some other really mean people, and a few corporate spies to ensure that I stop drinking Coca-Cola. They’re not afraid to rat me out or chew me out when they catch me drinking Coke. After I finish hating them, I usually appreciate what they’ve done. Usually.

I understand that too much Coke may lead to diabetes, higher blood pressure, heightened uric acid levels (which causes gout and kidney stones) and it can also make me fat.

As much as I hate to say this, I’ve decided to try to give up Coke for good. I’ve been off it for a few days as of this writing.

Someone said, “You probably won’t want one after the first day.”

May I just say, “They told an outrageously horrible falsehood and deserve to be severely punished and banished forever to a barren wasteland where there is no beauty or vegetation.”

Sorry, I’m a little out of whack because of the caffeine and sugar withdrawals.

*Photo courtesy of Giorgio Trovato and Unsplash.

Life Moves Pretty Fast…

(Disclaimer: Some have claimed that this post is basically recycled lines from a 1980’s movie starring Matthew Broderick. Those claims are outrageous and absolutely true.)

Radio Host: It’s a beautiful day in John’s body with a temperature expected to hover around 98.6. Morning workout and healthy breakfast enter his room and find him in bed long after it’s time to exercise eating packaged donuts and drinking a Coke. 

Morning Workout: Healthy breakfast!

Healthy Breakfast: What’s the matter?

Morning Workout: Oh, it’s John.

Healthy Breakfast: What’s wrong?

Morning Workout: What’s wrong? For Pete’s sake, look at him and what he’s eating.

Healthy Breakfast: (leans in close) John?

Morning Workout: He doesn’t have a fever, but he says his stomach hurts and he’s seeing spots.

Healthy Breakfast: What’s the matter, Buddy?

John: (looks down at his food) Oatmeal? Blueberries?

Morning Workout: Look at his tummy, it’s large and flabby. 

Healthy Breakfast: (Pats John’s stomach and makes a frowny face) Oooh.

John: Ok, I’ll get up and exercise. (Starts to get up)

Morning Workout and Healthy Breakfast: No! (Pushes him back into bed)

John: I have to eat something healthy. (Tries to get up again)

Morning Workout and Healthy Breakfast: (Pushes John back into bed) No!

John: I have to work out. I want to eat a good breakfast so I can have a healthy body and a fruitful life.

Morning Workout: You are not going to exercise in this condition. 

Proper Hydration: (Enters John’s room. Crosses her arms and taps right foot) Oh fine, what’s this? What’s his problem?

Healthy Breakfast: He doesn’t feel well.

Proper Hydration: Yeah, right. Look at what he’s eating and drinking in bed. I wouldn’t use that to fertilize the lawn.

John: Hydration? Is that you? Hydration? I can’t see that far. Proper Hydration? I… (falls back into bed)

Proper Hydration: No big breakfast or workout, Junior? Granola? Morning walk?

Healthy Breakfast: Go on now, Proper Hydration. (turns to comfort John) What he needs is a McGriddle and a Coke.

Proper Hydration: He gets to eat like that in bed? I can’t believe this. If I was bleeding out of my eyes, you guys would make me provide hydration for those who exercise and eat well. This is so unfair!

John: Hydration, please don’t be upset with me. You have your health. Be thankful…

Proper Hydration: That’s it. I want out of this health and fitness relationship. 

John: (Pulls blanket up to his neck). I’ll just sleep late. Maybe I’ll have a few slices of pizza around noon. 

Morning Workout: (Sits on the edge of bed, tucking John in) Now, I’m teaching about fiber to that new couple from Vermont today so my office will know just where I am if you need me, ok?

Healthy Breakfast: I’ll check on you too, Pal.

John: It’s nice to know that I have such loving, caring habits that look the other way at times. You’re both very special. 

(Morning Workout and Healthy Breakfast smile at each other)

Morning Workout: Now you get better Pumpkin.

John: Ok, Pumpkin…

Morning Workout and Healthy Breakfast: We love you sweetie.

John: I love you too. And it’s all about me me me me me. 

Morning Workout and Healthy Breakfast hold hands as they exit.

John: (Leans up in bed with donut crumbs falling down his chest, looks at the camera and smiles) They bought it.

John: (Stands up, opens a Slim Jim and cracks open a second Coke) Incredible. One of the worst performances of my career and they never doubted it for a second. How could I possibly be expected to exercise and eat healthy on a day like this.

Acting like I’m not feeling well in order to treat myself poorly and eat what I want is a little childish and stupid, but then again, so is exercise. 

Life moves pretty fast, but it won’t if you follow my example. If you don’t stop and really look at what you’re doing to yourself once in a while, you could miss it.

*Image by Toronto artists Sarah Keenlyside and Joe Clement