BLACK LICORICE

There are only two type of people in this world; those of us who love black licorice and those misguided folks that don’t.

Everybody knows that Choo Choo Charlie was an engineer, but black licorice lovers understand better the mastery of the cartoon character behind every box of Good-N-Plenty black licorice candy.

black licorice

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As a kid, I’d devour anything black licorice, including black jelly beans, like a hungry dog does a piece of meat. I remember thinking that there really was justice for kids in a bossy world – once I discovered black licorice at the health food store. It’s not just every day a kid gets to put adults in their places.

With enough time, like Paul wrote about, I put away childish ways; Hot Wheels, skateboards, and eventually black licorice… until a few months ago.

My wife brought home my childhood favorite from Sprouts. Thick, about three-quarters of an inch across, and around an inch and a half long black licorice rope.

Now, in general, I don’t think much of advertisements, or advertisers for that matter, but a few of them were so effective their hook line is still stuck in my head… like a hook line and sinker is in the mouth of a greedy catfish.

I remember the potato chip pitch man’s proclamation; “Lays Potato Chips. You can’t eat just one”. Son of a gun if he wasn’t right. I tried it, more than once, and never mind one, or even two chips for that matter, I couldn’t stop until the whole bag was gone… including the crumbs that we’d tip the bag up like a bottle of soda to empty down our gullets.

Most things are like that for me… including black licorice. I devoured the bag of licorice and went to the store to restock my re-found habit personally.

Funny thing about everything in this life; even the things that are good for you, if done to excess, become bad for you… and yeah, that goes for black licorice too.

It took a trip to the hospital for heart issues, then some relapse symptoms the next week for me to put two and two together… after another ten piece licorice night.

Who knew? Black licorice is a natural stimulant… and somewhere along the way, with me paying zero attention, the F.D.A came out with a warning that black licorice could cause heart arrhythmia… and possibly death.

There’s wisdom in the old adage, “Everything in moderation” when we live it out.

I guess it’s not a coincidence that the things God’s word warns us about for the health of our spirit also pertains to the health of our bodies; the temples of His Holy Spirit.

I’ll use the black licorice incident to help remind me that in this flesh we can get too much of a good thing.

I’m gonna miss black licorice.

ANY DREAM WILL DO

Our youngest is artistic. That’s a double-edged sword, but it’s her’s to wield… and she’s not afraid to swing it. But if the passion is worthy, any dream will do.

Our kids change our world from before the day they’re born and never cease to again… for better or worse.

I never was much on plays or musicals, except that one time I played the Tin Man in our junior high school rendition of The Wizard of Oz. And that was just in our tiny English class with the desks shoved to one side of the room.

It was way more exciting, not to mention nerve-wracking, to watch our youngest sing and dance across the stage as Dorothy, in the same play we butchered as kids when she was in high school.

The two youngest, especially the last one, are drawn to plays and musicals like a bee is to a Hibiscus. She managed to find her way into theaters and auditoriums. She even convinced her parents to pop for tickets to see her favorite movie and play, along with her two big sisters, on Broadway in the Big Apple; Phantom of the Opera for her sixteenth birthday.

I had chances to see plays and operas across my life. I ducked them like a professional dodgeball player, but our children have a way of aiming for the heart with pinpoint accuracy.

I’d never heard the song before, which is pretty odd for me. The song was written in the late sixties when I was still a little kid. It would take our youngest to introduce the famous song to her simpleton parents.

Now I’m pretty familiar with the story in the Bible, it’s one of my favorites. I’d even heard of the Broadway production and its megastar, but I’d never seen or heard anything about the music itself.

In fact, I do recall silently scoffing the production… like unpolished folks do things they don’t understand. That is until my baby had a role in Joseph’s Technicolor Dream Coat.

Before the play was finished I had a new perspective and appreciation for the arts. And that song written in part by Andrew Lloyd Weber has been stuck in my head ever since.

I witnessed the months and hours that were equivalent to a full-time job put in by the cast, including our daughter, pay off big. The play ran for a couple of weeks to standing ovations nightly.

We root and cheer for our children. Sometimes silently, other times with clapping and wolf whistles… then we pray for them without ceasing.

Our children’s lives, at some point, begin to shape our world the way ours once did theirs… for better or worse. When they belong to the Father His sovereign hand tips the better side of the scale.

And Donny Osmond summed up what I’ve been trying to teach all of them their entire lives; when we know Him, “Any Dream Will Do”.

BURNOUT

It started innocently enough, just a simple game of playing catch, but inevitably the baseball would pick up more and more velocity. Pretty soon my buddies and I would be hurling the ball like Catfish Hunter. The baseball smacking the leather gloves sounded like gunshots playing the game called “Burnout”.

The game of burnout is like most activities; they take some skill, a fair amount of guts, but the sense of gratification from doing it is worth the risk.

Another kind of burnout we grew up with was one created by power, horsepower that is, and it was usually accompanied by the roar of a V-8 from Detroit back in the muscle car era.

burnout

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Drop the right foot, snatch the left one off the clutch, and presto; burnout, tires spinning, smoking, squealing, and little kid’s jaws hanging in awe. We were waiting for the years to roll like those tires so we could have our turn to a burnout… or two.

If a person lives long enough we all discover another type of burnout. The kind that longs for a break from whatever it is that has occupied us, possessed us and worn us down like back tires from too many burnouts.

All of us have participated in the game of burnout. Maybe not the stinging fastball that inevitably sneaks past the mitt. Or the kind where the rubber and pavement chew on each other, growling, screaming, and smoking.

Wisdom and intellect from God have a way of not just preparing us for burnout, but the keys to get it behind us.

I just finished a manuscript that I started over four years ago… the last forty thousand of the ninety-four plus words in the last two weeks… not to mention the twenty plus re-writes that are looming in the future.

None of us know when the ghost of writer’s block will pay us a visit. And because he’s hung his invisible hat around here so often in the past, I prepare for his always inopportune visits.

I write ahead. That’s why losing my briefcase with a different manuscript and three months worth of posts inside, a few months back, left me with instant mental burnout.

Of this I’m certain; none of us sit in the sweet spot between slothdom and over-achiever status in this fallen world. We’re either not doing enough or we’re doing too much… and beating ourselves up on both sides of the scales.

If it were up to me? I want… but give me what I want and I’ll toss it aside like a little kid ripping open packages at Christmas. And rest alone, without the soothing spirit of God can’t fix burnout. It’s that easy burden, that light yoke that our Savior told us about.

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He leadeth me beside still waters. He restoreth my soul.

Bye, bye, burnout. (sung to the tune “Bye Bye Blackbird”)

FRIED BOLOGNA SANDWICHES

Time out ran me this week so I’m posting the intro to a shelved manuscript.

They taught us the Golden Rule in what they called the House of God, but they didn’t let that interfere with the quest for their own pot of gold. We heard words like turn the other cheek almost as much as we did John 3:16, but we knew first hand that turning that other rosy cheek would eventually end up in ugly shades of black and blue.

You ever try to swallow a dragonfly? Don’t. It’s a struggle.

The truth is that it’s a battle for folks hardened by a calloused life to turn the other cheek. A lot of people are blinded by fear or pride and crave justice, even if it is their own brand of it. There are even those in society that wish bad things on others, even get a little bit giddy when they come to pass.

It’s a mighty conflict in this life to find a balance between pride and humility, to crave mercy instead of justice… the mercy we all hope to deserve.

imageIt took time, but a humble man taught me that it’s a sight easier to see life clearly when we’re peering at it with the eyes and heart of humility. I learned that it doesn’t make a lick-uh-sense to wish something on somebody that is going to happen to all of us eventually.

Bad times and disaster pay all of us an unexpected visit sooner or later. I heard that in church, too, but they told us to take heart, ‘cause Jesus had overcome the world. When a soul gets its turn being shattered, and the words of a humble man are pondered, pride begins to lose its ugly grip.

It doesn’t matter where we’re born or where we hail from, nor the color of our eyes or hair, and not our language or accent, not even grammar. There’s a secret spot inside all of us that determines how we’re gonna respond when our days of dread descend upon us.

I’m not completely certain that we’re really called to let someone smack both of our cheeks. Instead of turning our other cheek and asking for more, most of us are inclined to block the punch and deliver a haymaker of our own.

Reflections of my own family and their colorful lives have had some (well, maybe a lot) of impact on my perspective. They weren’t perfect. One could argue that many of them were fit for strait jackets, or better yet, jail cells, but I’ll let you be the judge of that. Even though they had next to nothin’, they had the stuffin’ that was measured by a more honorable means. But mostly, they weren’t hiding behind a facade built on insecurity. Oh, make no mistake, insecurity drove them to other things, maybe worse things, just depends on a person’s perspective, I suppose. That’s kinda the whole point; to wrestle with the weaknesses and tendencies that all of us possess. To examine our lives and our hearts and to consider our own levels of humility and see how it stacks up to our ego and a desperate pride.

There’s wisdom in looking back, pondering the lives of others, their actions, their motives, and ours too. It’s not always pleasant, like swallowing a pesky gnat. You can cough, but eventually, at least most of the time, you just gotta take a few hard swallows, “Take it like a man,” as my kinfolk would say. Hope your gnat goes down easier than my dragonfly.

FIRST CLASS

I’ve done a fair amount of traveling in my days, including the kind in the air, but in all my days, I’ve never parked my backside in an extra wide and plush first class seat. Our seats were the ones just behind first class.

I also never gave a whole lot of thought as to what happens on the other side of the magical line; the one that separates the privileged and the common, coach from first class.

The precious time spent amongst the clouds and above cell and computer signals is a precious commodity, one I rarely squander. I write. Sometimes like my pen and hand have a five word a minute governor on them, but sometimes, just now and then, it flows like the wind.

As the plane roared over the Pacific my fingers carried out the marchin’ orders laid down by my noodle. Me and my laptop were taking no prisoners… till the stewardess grabbed the almost sheer bluish curtain hanging peacefully against the bulkhead in front of us and ripped it closed. As if takin’ a peek into first class was illegal, or at least unethical.

The stern stewardess eyed the rest of us passengers, jammed like sardines behind the curtain, with angry disdain… which piqued my curiosity about life on the other side of the curtain, the first class folks.

first class

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The old Sawyer Brown song dropped onto the turntable in my mind, with the arm up, and kept playing over and over… like Crimson and Clover, (that one’s for you Bill). A portion of the chorus went, “Well I ain’t first class, but I ain’t white trash”.

Glancing into first class reminded me of the world of writing, the world of traditional publishing, the “haves” and the masses of “have-nots”. I’ve peeked into that world too. Got close to it a few times, but just when I got a good glimpse and taste of what life might be like on the other side of the curtain, it’s been yanked closed right before my eyes.

The keepers of the curtain that separate the first class, the admired, the respected, and the peasants on the wanting side of the curtain, pass along ugly words, many with angry disdain. As if it were illegal, or at least unethical, to dream, to wanna be on the other side of the curtain.

The first class dine on chef-prepared appetizers and entrees. They sip fine red wine from stemless razor-edged glasses, pinky’s out.

Those of us in coach, the commoners, strain for a peek past the curtain as we sip our sodas from plastic cups and nibble on twenty peanuts.

I’ve lived long enough to know the lines that separate folks are never magical… and on the other side of that curtain are just different sets of tests and problems.

We’re all on the same plane and our seat size or number has no bearing on our destination, but, if I do happen to land a seat on the other side of the curtain, in first class?

I’m ripping that curtain down… and passing back the caviar… I don’t like it anyway.