Truth from the 70’s

It was drilled into me as a child.

At school. At home. At church. On tv. Even in Comic books.

No matter where I went, someone was proclaiming, “You are what you eat” like they were the one who coined the phrase.

I’ll tell you a secret.

I never listened. 

But you probably already knew that.

So now, decades later, I get to hear it again from my wife, various health care professionals, and other mean people. Only now, they often follow the phrase with a question, “So, if you believe that, then what does that make you?”

When my wife asks me that question, I almost lose it. I hold my head high, stick out my chest, and say, “Listen here, woman! I’ll be the one asking the questions in this house! Now go and fix me something filled with sugar and gluten.”

I don’t really say that. I’m not stupid.

Instead, I smile sweetly and quote the food pyramid from the 1970’s: “Well Honey, I’m 4 servings of fruits and vegetables, 4 servings of grains, 3 servings of dairy, and 2 servings of meats.”

Ok, that doesn’t happen either.

Honestly, my head hangs in shame, tears well up in my eyes, and I reply, “I’m a large pizza, a half gallon of ice cream, a bag of microwave popcorn, a gallon of soda, and one serving of broccoli.”

She shakes her head, takes a deep breath, and says, “John…”

“I’m sorry,” I interrupt. “Was that your broccoli?”

She has never laughed at that. 

Never.

So I’m going back to the message I learned as a child. 

I am what I eat.

My body will be made up of the foods I put into it. 

If I consume healthy foods and water, I will see the benefits of eating healthy foods and water.

If I eat a lot of fat, greasy food, I will become a fat, greasy dude.

*Photo courtesy of Tim Mossholder of Unsplash

My Fate

There I stood in my kitchen, frustrated beyond belief. The task before me was daunting and try as I might, I was unsuccessful. My wife had long since retired for the night. After what seemed an eternity, I surrendered to the agony of defeat and dropped the fresh new garbage bag to the floor, unopened.

I have a malady, a disorder or deficiency if you will. No matter how hard I try, I simply do not possess the ability to open a new garbage bag. I just can’t seem to pull the plastic apart. It’s like, when the garbage bags see me coming, they all cry out, “Here comes the buffoon! Everyone, fuse your molecular agencies together and make his attempts to fill you with trash unsuccessful!”

It’s a completely different story with my wife and garbage bags. She calls them liners which is just weird and wrong. While I’m asleep or at work, she must charm the bags so they will open for her. I’m not exaggerating at all when I say this, but when she is within a ten foot radius of the bags, they fling themselves into her hands, fully opened, ready to do her bidding. They practically fly through the kitchen and the rest of the house, picking up trash items and emptying smaller trash receptacles into themselves. I kid you not, one day I saw one of them vacuuming while another was cooking dinner.

If anything ever happens to my wife, I’ll have no choice but to become a hoarder. My house will be filled to overflowing with used tea bags, microwave popcorn bags (which I can open), and pizza boxes from years gone by. I’ll roam the streets for hours at a time, simply looking for fresh air and pondering my inadequacy as a functioning adult. Adults will see me and shake their heads in disgust. Women will run from me because of the stench. Small children will point at me and cry out, “Look, there’s trash house man! Isn’t he stupid? He never learned to open a garbage bag. Now he can’t even get to his bedroom because of all the trash.” Then one day, I’ll just disappear. People will wonder if I just buried myself in my own garbage or relocated to the city dump. 

Yeah, I guess that’s my fate. Glad my wife is here to help me survive.

*Thanks to Dimitri Houtteman and Unsplash for the image

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