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.”
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.
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.
*Image courtesy of Mauro Shared Pictures and Unsplash
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…”
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:
It’s ok to ask if it’s wine or juice.
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.
(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
Today, one of my so-called friends looked me up and down and said, “You should practice mindful eating.”
“What’s mindful eating?” I asked.
“It’s a powerful way of personal thinking and self improvement,” she replied. “It will help you lose weight while also allowing you to cope with your emotions.”
“Do you think I need to lose weight?” I asked, somewhat taken aback by her boldness.
She laughed in my face.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she replied. “Of course you do.”
“How much is it?” I asked, trying to control my temper.
“Oh, no! no, no, no, no!” she snapped. “You can’t buy it! First, you have to buy into it.”
“Sounds like a pyramid scheme,”
She smiled at me with the confidence of a substitute health teacher and replied, “Mindful eating happens when you pay attention to what you are eating, why you are eating, and how fast you are eating.”
“You mean I have to think about what I’m eating instead of just enjoying it?”
“Let me ask you,” she continued. “Do you want to enjoy your food or do you want to be healthy?”
“I want to do both,” I replied.
“Good answer!” she said dramatically. “If (long pause) that is the truth and if (another pause) you put yourself under my supervision, I can help you,” (emphasis on the ‘you’) “do just that.”
“Ok,” I said. “Let’s pretend like I’m interested. What do I have to do?”
“First of all,” she said, “You have to start eating slower.”
“Eating slower? I grew up with three hungry sisters around the table. In my family, if you ate slowly, you didn’t eat much.”
“You are no longer growing up and you are obviously eating in more places than just at the dinner table!”
I looked down in shame. “How can you tell?”
“Isn’t it obvious,” she replied while pointing at my gut. “Can you at least try to slow your eating?”
“Well,” she answered. “Try chewing every bite thoroughly and thoughtfully.”
“You want me to chew thoughtfully?”
“Exactly,” she said. “Take time to focus on what you are eating.”
“How can I focus on it if it’s in my mouth?”
“This isn’t an eye test, John.” she replied. “Think about what is in your mouth. Chew eat bite 25 to 45 times to improve swallowing and digestion.”
“You’re joking right?” I asked.
“Chewing your food thoroughly allows for all of the flavor to be released into your mouth resulting in greater enjoyment.”
“You have all this memorized, don’t you?” I asked.
“Also,” she continued, “Set down your utensils between each bite and ask yourself, ‘Am I really hungry?’”
“But I’m always hungry.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Why would I be eating if I wasn’t hungry.”
“Because it’s the regular time for a meal or a snack.”
“Which is when I’m usually hungry!” I cried.
“Just try it,” she replied. “You’ll be amazed at the difference it can make.”
“Ok,” I replied. “Can we be finished now. I promise I’ll try to eat thoughtfully and mindfully.”
“Good,” she replied. “While you’re at it, you need to turn off the tv and put your phone away at least an hour before bed.”
“Get out,” I said.
*Photo courtesy of Henley Design Studios and Unsplash
Before the pandemic, I was a regular at the gym (Yeah, we’ll pretend that’s true). When the isolation period began, I had to find another way to exercise.
I thought about swimming, but I didn’t feel comfortable getting in the same water as other people. I’ve heard what people say about chlorine killing germs and whatever, but I’m still kind of paranoid about that.
I thought about bike riding, but all we have is a girl’s Cruiser. I could ride it, but I’m embarrassed to ride a granny bike around and I’m too cheap to buy a guy’s bike that I probably won’t ride anyway.
I thought about jogging, but then realized I couldn’t because it’s stupid and I hate it.
I finally settled on walking.
I’ve had some experience with walking and hiking over the years. When I was in college, I spent a summer at Devil’s Den State Park in Arkansas, working alongside the naturalists on the guided hikes. Years later, my wife and I even walked the entire Appalachian Trail (well, the width of it).
Walking has a lot of benefits. I learned a lot from this article by the Arthritis Foundation. It points out that regular walking improves circulation, shores up bones, improves your sleep, and slows down your mental decline (that’s a good one for me).
Walking also decreases your stress levels, which all of us need nowadays. Brisk walking produces stress busting endorphins, which reduce stress hormones and helps improve your mood and general outlook on life.
I also found that walking gives me time to talk with God. And since I’m walking between 5 and 6 in the morning, there are a lot less distractions.
I spoke with God this morning as I walked. It was actually more like I dumped a semi-truck full of worries on Him. I prayed for the victims of Hurricane Laura and Marco and told him about my own feelings of survivor’s remorse. I ranted about my old and new fears, grievances, and burdens. I vented about how hard it is to live today on the 15th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and still cope with the Covid-19 pandemic, natural disasters, racial tensions, social unrest, political discussions, poverty, hunger, unemployed friends, family relationships, work tensions, and church issues.
He listened to everything I said. He knew it all anyway. He’s God.
It may sound strange, but I just don’t care for the taste of acidic bitterness and anguish.
Ironically, I do like the smell of coffee. When I catch a whiff, I relive childhood road trips when my parents would crack open their thermos and pour themselves a cup. The aroma filled the car and it smelled like we were getting closer to home.
My parents love coffee. Real coffee. Industrial strength coffee. Folgers.
Not as many people drink regular coffee anymore. I guess it doesn’t cost enough. Or maybe it doesn’t take enough time to say “black coffee.” I guess they’d rather say something like, “I’ll take a Double Ristretto Venti Half-Soy Nonfat Decaf Organic Chocolate Brownie Iced Vanilla Double-Shot Gingerbread Frappuccino Extra Hot with foam whipped cream upside down double blended, one Sweet’N Low and One Nutrasweet and ice.*According to Google, that is the longest possible Starbucks order combination. I worked briefly at a cafe, but I never took an order like that.
People did tell me I made good lattes. I never tasted one so I couldn’t tell by taste. I just learned to make them pretty. That seemed to be what customers really wanted in the first place. I could understand that a lot more than wanting to drink something that tastes like coffee.
I think in most cases, it’s not really the coffee taste people are after, it’s the caffeine.
I don’t drink coffee, but I get plenty of caffeine through Coca-Cola, tea, and chocolate. These three items actually make up their own food group known as happiness.
However, some scientists, doctors, party poopers, and really smart people all got together and decided to make my life miserable. They say (too much) caffeine can lead to heart issues, gout, headaches, indigestion, allergies, and incontinence.
As much as I hate to say it, they may have a point.
You might not think it to look at me, but I can snore the paint right off a wall. My wife sometimes asks me if I had been dreaming I was Harley Davidson because that’s exactly what I sounded like. I called her on it, but she recorded me with her phone. She was absolutely right. If I had been with Joshua when he fought the battle of Jericho, my snoring would have made the walls come-a-tumbling down. Fortunately, I’ve been able to battle my snoring with weight loss, side sleeping, and chronic insomnia.
Restless legs syndrome, sometimes called the jimmy legs, is another story. RLS, as it is known by enthusiasts, is a nervous system disorder that causes an overpowering urge to move your legs. I must have a rare case because I don’t just have the urge to move my legs, my legs kick and move all by themselves. It’s totally involuntary. Some nights, it’s been so bad that I’ve stayed awake for hours on the sofa so I wouldn’t wake my wife with my incessant kicking and jerking.
I do periodically take prescription medication for my restless legs syndrome. Stretching and warm baths before bed seem to help as well. As home remedies, a few friends have suggested I drink tonic water and apple cider vinegar, rub coconut oil on my feet and legs, fill the air with muscle relaxant lavender oil, and squirt mustard on my toes. One person even suggested I cut out caffeine and screen time before bed. How ridiculous.
I have to admit, my wife and I do sleep better when I’m off of caffeine and when my stress level is lower. Since that is often not an option, I’m thinking of buying a bed, a really wide one where I can kick all night and my wife will never feel it (as long as I’m not kicking her). I think I’ll do that. I’m really tired of cleaning mustard off the sheets every morning.