Random Thoughts

Sometimes I have no idea what to write about in this space.  Most of the time an idea strikes me when I sit down and see the blank sheet of paper on my computer screen. Today I had a hundred thoughts but none of them would make a good blog on their own so here are one or two that I thought you may find interesting.

First The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power starts next week on Amazon Prime. If you are a Tolkien fan you have been aware of this and you are either anticipating the show with joy or dread. What amazes me is the number of people who have decided to give a negative opinion on a show they haven’t seen.  The show is based on the side stories that are told in The Lord of The Rings and its appendices. There is a lot of good material there and The Tolkien Estate and Trust are involved in the production. I think we are in for a treat. I will never understand how anyone can be judge and jury on something that no one has seen.

I also read this week that schools in Florida are beginning to ban books.  Banning books in any place is very frightening to me. This is behavior that occurred under Hitler in Germany. The government of Florida is not allowing the public to consume what our free press is producing. Now the first I read of this there was a list of books attached.  That list was revealed to be bogus. The correction was down to two known books The Diary of Anne Frank and The Bible. Banning either of these books from schools is just stupid. Most of our laws are based on Biblical principles. The Bible has played an important role in U.S. history and students should have access to it for that reason alone. The Diary of Ann Frank seems to be the desire to forget what happened to the Jewish people under Hitler. It used to be required reading and now it’s being banned. Something is dreadfully wrong here. I know it’s only in Florida at the moment but how long until this spreads to other states?

I also want to take a moment and discuss something that gets little press but is slowly becoming a national issue with both men and women and that is porn addiction. Porn addiction or sex addiction or as it is referred to clinically Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder is now something that is being taken very seriously by the medical and psychological community. Globally the porn industry takes in 97 billion dollars a year. This is an industry that everyone says they never look at but let’s face it more people do than don’t. Pornography is addictive because when you orgasm the same areas of the brain get stimulated as when a person uses heroin. Some people can use small amounts of heroin and not get addicted. Sex is the same. You can have a healthy sex life and not be an addict. Sex, however, when used inappropriately can lead to addiction and its consequences can be just as severe as abusing drugs or alcohol. The sex addict opens him or herself up to danger when they participate in anonymous encounters.  There is always the threat of venereal disease or AIDS. For those who use pornographic material the law of diminishing return applies.

The pornographic industry is very smart when it comes to marketing its product. You can go on the internet and get almost anything you want to see at no cost. The problem sets in when the free stuff fails to satisfy in the same way. At this point, you begin to look for something a bit more graphic or exotic, you may still find some for free but slowly it will become less and less and then you begin to pay. Once hooked on the paid sites people begin to spend more and more money sometimes up to six or seven dollars a minute to get what they crave. The industry has you hooked and an addict is born. This is the law of diminishing return and it works the same way with drugs and alcohol.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there. For many people when pornography fails to satisfy they find themselves craving live encounters and employ male and female prostitutes. All of this can turn into hundreds and thousands of dollars a year for just one person. There is however hope for the addict.

Sexaholic Anonymous has been around for years recognizing the problem before the medical community did. Other groups have recently sprung up as well recognizing that this problem is more common than anyone wants to admit. The biggest problem and parents take heed, is the porn shop we have in our house.

In the year when I was growing up buying pornography was embarrassing. If you bought it at all, you went to a store that was nowhere near where you lived. You secreted it into your house and hid it from prying eyes. Now porn is available instantly on your phone, tablet, laptop, and desktop computers. Anyone and everyone is just a few clicks away from images they are better off not looking at. And this is both men and women.  According to the U.K.’s Daily Record, one in four women are admitting to using pornography. That’s 25% of the female population. Men’s usage is in larger numbers but women are moving up.

The reason I am bringing this to your attention is that these things need to be talked about. People need to know that there is help and that they are not alone in this battle. If you are caught in porn’s grip you are just as many clicks away from finding help on the internet as you are from finding your next hit.

Random thoughts. The things that run around in my head that need a voice. I’m sure you have thoughts about some of the things I wrote about today or maybe some thoughts about another topic all together feel free to leave your own ‘random thoughts” in the comments.

My Digestive Adventure

I have not written my blog for several weeks due to my health.  It’s been a rough month due to my need to straighten out my issue with constipation.  When I started my diet program a lot of what we used to call roughage and now we call fiber was left out of my diet.  Consequently, my bowels slowed down to the point of three days between bowel movements.  This was not good so I went to a G.I. doctor at Penn Medicine.  Penn Medicine is associated with The University of Pennsylvania and is considered one of the best levels of care in the area.  So I felt fairly confident in going there.  What a ride it has been.

I met with the doctor via Telemed as I got an appointment faster that way.  He had quite a program mapped out for me by the time we were finished and he told me that if I followed his advice I would begin to move my bowels at about the same time every day.  And no my doctor was not named Sheldon Cooper.  I liked that idea and got to work on what he wanted to be done.

Diet changes were necessary. I was to have a high fiber diet and try to get 25 grams of fiber in my body each day.  This is not as hard as I first thought, but it wasn’t easy either.  The doctor recommended prunes and prune juice, pineapple, apple and apple sauce, whole grain bread, corn and creamed corn, figs, raisins, beans, lentil soup, and a few others.

Gone went my Slim Fast Breakfast and nice dinner.  I now start my day with Refrigerator Oatmeal.  What is Refrigerator Oatmeal you ask?  I’ll tell you.  It’s delicious and only takes a few minutes to prepare sometime before you go to bed.

For one serving of Refrigerator Oatmeal, you need one half cup old fashioned or rolled oats.  And one cup of a liquid of your choice.  You also need a leak-proof lidded container.  A mason jar works well but some Tupperware-style containers also work just as well  You could use regular milk of any fat percentage, Almond Milk, Oatmilk, or any other liquid that you feel goes well with oatmeal.  I have a friend who uses water and he loves it.  Place the oats and liquid in the container and then add anything else you might like.  I had one-third cup of raisins, cinnamon, two teaspoons of cinnamon, and vanilla.  I have a friend who alternates frozen blueberries and cherries.  The fruit thaws overnight and the juice permeates the oatmeal.  Once you add all your ingredients put the lid on the jar and shake for about 30 seconds or so.  Then place it in the refrigerator overnight.  When morning comes take it out pop the lid and eat.  The oats absorb water in the same way they would if you cooked it only it’s a slower process.  I eat an apple with my breakfast which brings my fiber intake to 12 grams of fiber every morning.  That doesn’t include Sundays.  On Sundays, I have eggs toast, and sausages if at all possible.

Unfortunately, though the doctor’s diet advice was sound his other advice was not.  He first wanted me to take two medications daily.  One he said was a stool softener and the other an over-the-counter laxative called Miralax.  A third medication was what is commonly called GoLitely.  This medication is used to clear a person out the night before a colonoscopy.  It consists of a gallon jug that you fill with water. Some fowl-tasting powder that you mix into the water and drink over 24 hours.  I was to do this once a week.

I started the regimen on a Friday night by taking the laxative mixed in cold water.  I woke up the next morning and dislodged whatever was in my bowels and then some.  That afternoon I was to start the GoLitely.  I started it at two and by three pure water was coming out of me.  I drank half of the medication between two and six.  I was also taking the medication the doctor told me was a stool softener.  I had diarrhea for a week.  From that point on for more than a month, I never felt like I didn’t have to move my bowels.  I had diarrhea or I would have to strain to get the stuff out of me.  It was ugly and exhausting.  More than once I didn’t make it to the toilet and ended up messing myself and the bathroom floor.  I had to clean up as best I could whatever I had messed up and I had to hope I wouldn’t have to go again before I was done cleaning up.  This was my month between June 24th  and July 27th.  It was close to being the worst month of my life.  Scratch that.  It was the worst month of my life and I hope I never have another like it.

This past Wednesday, July 27, I fired the GI doctor.  I had spoken to either the doctor or a staff member almost every day of that terrible month. Things did get changed but the combination was never right.  The GoLitely was stopped after the first half gallon.  The Miralax was stopped next but I was still having diarrhea while taking only what I was told was a stool softener.  The dosage was reduced and that didn’t help.  I wanted to stop it and was told to keep taking it.  Finally, I realized I wasn’t being listened to at all.  At this point, I felt abused and decided it was just time to do things my way.  That Monday I did not take what the doctor told me was a stool softener.  I just ate the high-fiber foods and I began having regular bowel movements.  I tried to talk to the doctor and all I got back was misinformation and the orders to continue taking the stool softener.  It was at this time that I found out the stool softener wasn’t a stool softener at all but a laxative a fairly powerful one.  The doctor misled me.  He lied. I was angry, and hurt but determined.

I did a lot of thinking during that month.  What else did I have to do?  I realized something very important, that bothered me at the time, but I thought I was wrong.  The Gastrointestinal specialist never did what I would consider a proper intake evaluation with me.  He found out what my issue was, which was severe constipation, and went ahead and ordered all of the drugs that we already discussed.  Before I went to that first appointment I felt that my diet needed to be worked on.  I wasn’t sure how to do that and a nutritionist was not covered by my insurance.  So I went to an expert and, though he recommended a 25-gram-a-day fiber intake diet, He never once asked me what I was eating.  I felt that was what should have been discussed at least a little but it was never even brought up.

I worked in dialysis and in a doctor’s office for years and though I don’t feel intimidated by any doctor I do get a little scatterbrained when a lot of information is pushed at me at once.  I tend to forget to ask the questions I meant to ask or bring up the things I forgot to talk about.  I do believe that my diet was something that should have been discussed almost first and I lay that on the doctor.  On the other hand, I wish I had remembered to talk about it.

So what can we all take away from this?  First, if a doctor doesn’t seem to listen to you get rid of him or her.  You and I are the patients and we know what our bodies are telling us most of the time.  If a medication is too strong or seems to be harming us we have to decide on what to do.  There are other ways to find medication information.  Your pharmacist is a great place to start.  He or she knows a good deal about each medication and what it does or has great resources to help you out.  You can do a Google search on the medication.  Be careful here.  The internet is a wealth of information but a lot of it is wrong.  Go to websites such as the medication manufacturer’s page or a trusted medical sight like The Mayo Clinic.  Avoid reading people’s opinions that can lead to fear and disaster.  Foremost speak to your primary care doctor and find out what he or she thinks.  They know you better than the specialist and will be able to steer you in the right direction.

Speaking to my primary care doctor was my next step.  I thought out a plan that I felt would help.  My plan was first to stop all of the specialist’s medications and then simply concentrate on the foods I was eating attempting every day to get the correct amount of fiber into my diet.  I also knew I need to hydrate more.  I never drink enough water and that is a component of a healthy stool.  Also, movement of some kind was very important.  With a crippled foot, I am limited in exercise but I knew there was some stuff I can do.  Luckily I had some exercises my physical therapist asked me to do at home and so I called and asked if he would add a few more to that list.  I’ll go into this another time, but my Primary Care Doctor suggested that I begin following The FODMAP diet.  That is one word and is an an acronym for a bunch of words I can’t pronounce yet.  More on that later.

I really felt the fiber was the key.  So I made plans to eat as much of it as I could every day.  Some of this even involved happy memories.  I remember my mom making stewed prunes for us growing up.  I think we got them for dessert every once in a while.  I remember liking them and so was determined to find a recipe.  The internet came through for that.  Stewed prunes are delicious and taste much better than eating them dry.  The recipe is very easy and takes about fifteen or twenty minutes to make.  You take a standard package of dried prunes.  Put a cup and a half of water in a small saucepan.  Add the prunes and add 1 teaspoon of vanilla and one teaspoon of cinnamon.  Put the pan on the burner and set the burner at high until it comes to a boil.  When the liquid begins to boil cover the pan and turn the heat down to simmer.  Cook for fifteen minutes and then remove from the stove to cool.  Once cooled place prunes and the liquid, which has become a syrup by now, into a Tupperware container and refrigerate.  These can be eaten once they have cooled but I prefer them after they spend the night in the frig.  You eat five prunes in a serving and get I think six grams of fiber.  Other high-fiber foods that I love are figs, pineapple, corn, apples, and prune juice but add cinnamon and vanilla to this too, otherwise, it’s too sweet.  Oatmeal and raisins are also very high in fiber and make a great breakfast as mentioned earlier.

A few weeks back I attended a webinar given by Jerome Ludde and Mike Morrell.  Dr Jerome as he prefers to be called is a neuropsychologist and has written a book on the Enneagram (pronounced Anyagram) a personality test that helps you define why you act the way you do.  After taking the test, the results assign you a personality number.  The purpose isn’t used to define who you are as much as to see how you can become better.  The test that is the most accurate is The RHETI TEST.  It can be taken at The Enneagram Institute website which is https://www.enneagraminstitute.com .  The cost is twelve dollars and includes the test, which takes about forty minutes to complete, and the results that come to you in a PDF file.  Your results are in-depth and include your three highest numbered scores.  My scores were #4 The Individualist, #2 The Helper, and #9 The Peace Maker but the scores adjoining your main number are also important.  The two adjoining 4 are numbers 3 and 5.  #3 is The Achiever and #5 is The Investigator.  It is a great tool to help you learn about you.

The webinar was not actually about the enneagram but it was the enneagram system that led me to this webinar.  The webinar was titled HOW THE BRAIN AND HEART CREATE WHOLE LIFE COHERENCE.  I’m going to boil it down for you into the six essential things to gain coherence in your mind and heart.

The six are breath, eat, move, rest, sleep, and hydrate.  That’s it.  It’s pretty simple or is it?  Let’s go through them one by one.

Breathe.  Breathing is something that we all do all day every day.  In this case breathing means to breathe intentionally.  You do this by being still and breathing in for 3 seconds and then out for 6 seconds.  You should do this approximately 6 times in a row.  You can start once a day but ultimately you will get the best results if you do it once an hour.  I have experimented with this and I find I am generally feeling better and my anxiety has markedly decreased.  I have not made it to once an hour maybe twice a day at this time.

Eat.  Eating doesn’t mean just eating whatever you want but eating right and eating mindfully.  Mindfulness has become a common idea used in many ways to keep you in the present moment.  Eating mindfully means that you eat slowly savoring every bite.  Feeling the texture of the food and the taste.  Taking your time to eat this way does two things.  One, you enjoy your meal more and two, your body will signal to you sooner when it’s time to stop because it has the time to adjust to how much you have eaten.  Therefore you will eat well and not overeat as you’ll feel full sooner.

Move.  Move means exercise.  Some kind of exercise that you can do every day.  You do what you can do.  Keep it simple or complicated but do it.  This is hard for me but I had my physical therapist give me a list of exercises to do at home.  He asks me if I have done them or not so I know I must do them.  Moving can be a simple walk around the block once a day or training for a marathon.  It’s all in your hands.

Rest.  Rest is different than sleep.  Rest is when you stop for a few minutes each day and just be.  No screens, no books or magazines, no music.  Just you being quiet for a few minutes every day.  Phones and smart TVs are ruling our lives these days.  We need to regularly unplug or we will get overwhelmed just by the amount of sensory input we take in every day.  So find a quiet spot and just be you for 5 minutes every day.  Let peace enter your spirit and soul.  Breathe in the way discussed above.  Let your mind go where it will until you aren’t thinking at all just rest.

Sleep.  There is not much to say about sleep because we have no control over it.  Sleep is great and I love it but I can only ready myself to go to sleep my body decides when it happens.  I can will myself to do the other 5 things on this list but I cannot will myself to sleep.  Most people know now that you should have no screen time an hour before bed.  You should go to bed and get up at the same time every day.  You can do all of this faithfully and still not fall asleep as soon as you hit the pillow.  I have bouts of insomnia and have many times existed on one or two hours of sleep or no sleep at all.  I have learned to not fight insomnia but I have also realized that there are things that keep me awake.  So nothing personally exciting after nine o’clock.  No phone calls, no singing nothing that will stimulate my mind.  Light TV shows are best for before bed.  You can only help sleep happen but you cannot control it.

Hydrate.  Water is one the most essential things we can do for our bodies.  It helps regulate more than we can ever really understand.  The minimal amount of water to take in a day is 64 ounces.  On the other hand, new science is showing that the amount of water we should be taking in is half of our body weight in ounces.  So if you weigh 180 pounds you need to drink 90 ounces of water a day. That’s about 11.3 cups a day. That’s not impossible but it will get harder the more you weigh.  I have a very fit friend who believed that it was best for him to drink two gallons of water a day and he did.  I never knew him to even catch a cold so maybe there is more to this than we realize.  I know for a fact if your urine is clear you are hydrated if it is light to dark yellow you need to drink more.  That however is the bare minimum.

That’s it.  That’s the six.  I am just beginning to follow these.  There is a bit of a road ahead to implementing them into everyday life.  It is an effort to exercise.  Sometimes. in fact, all the time, movement, and deliberate exercise is the hardest thing in the world for me.  It brings my horror-filled gym classes where I couldn’t keep up with the rest of the kids back into my mind.  I’m not a kid anymore and these exercises I can do at home.  I don’t have to keep up with anyone and so since it must be done it can be done.

This is much longer than I usually write but I wanted you the reader to understand fully the last few weeks of my life.  Maybe it will help others in their quest to find, as some put it, gut health.

The weeks in all of this have not been a total loss.  I went from having lost 32 pounds to a loss of 38 pounds.  I have my eye set on the forty-pound mark as my next goal.  That’s it for now.  May God bless and keep you all.

How Can I Help; The Philosophy of New Amsterdam

For the last four years, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the television show New Amsterdam.  New Amsterdam is a fictional hospital in NYC but it is based on the very real hospital Bellvue also in NYC. The show’s stories are interesting and compelling.  The scripts are well written and the cast of characters well defined.

In the first season and for the last four years the show centers around Dr. Max Goodwin. In the first episode, Max takes over as what I believe is now called The Chief Medical Officer in a hospital.  In other words, Max was running the show.  In the first three and half seasons, Max stays in this position until he marries Helen the head of the oncology department and they both move to London Helen’s original home.  Max is back now trying to get the hospital back from the evil woman who the board elected to take his place.  The culmination of that will take place tonight, Tuesday, May 10, 2022. 

In his first season, Max is constantly asking the same question whenever a problem arises.  That question is, “How can I help?”  That attitude begins to take over the whole hospital as you begin to see the main characters more and more, some subtly some overtly begin to take on the characteristic of caring for each other and the patients of the hospital.

Now you would think patient care would always be the top priority of all medical facilities.  Having worked in medicine for 30 years as a dialysis technician and a medical assistant.  I have seen the level of care for patients being eroded by government rules and paperwork.  Hands-on care by nurses is now relegated more and more to technicians who sometimes do not have the experience or the education to take on that care.  Mandatory 12 and 13-hour days made people exhausted by the end of their shift, and basically useless on their days off in between shifts because of sheer exhaustion.  Let me tell you no one asked, “How can I help?” We were all too tired just trying to keep up with our own work.  I know this because I left dialysis while working under these conditions.  But that is not the point of this blog.

What is the point?  The point is how better the world would be if, when we are told about another person’s problem our first response would be, how can I help?

We live in a world where the rugged individualist has become something to aspire to.  “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” or “Do you have to have someone hold your hand?” are both cliches that tell us we are all to be self-sufficient.  That we shouldn’t need anyone else and to quote Dolly Levi from The Matchmaker that we should “Thank God that no one else’s life is tangled up with ours.”  In The matchmaker, which became the musical Hello Dolly, Dolly learns that living that way is ultimately unhappy and the play and musical is her attempt, “to rejoin the human race.”

I think it’s time for us all to rejoin the human race.

People were never meant to live life on their own.  It’s a Bible fact that says two are better than one and that’s not about marriage it’s about life.  No one should have to or ever feel like they have to go it alone.  And yet many people do.  If this weren’t the case songs like Elinor Rigby or Alone Again Naturally, or Dust in the Wind, would never have become popular.  Let’s be honest those are basically songs to commit suicide to, and I’m willing to bet that some people have.

Suicide is another problem which I believe stems from the idea that everyone has to make it on their own.  Now, that is not the only reason.  There are many other reasons people commit suicide.  If you grow up being taught that this is the ideal way to live, making it on your own, then the minute you realize you cannot live this way you have to consider yourself a failure or feel less because you have to ask for help.  Can you imagine with me a world that instead of chiding you for not making it on your own, asks, “How can I help?”

It would be a friendlier world.  People would no longer be looking only at their own interests but also at the interests of all the other people in their lives.  Dickens makes this perfectly clear through the character of Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol.  Marley was dead and in chains, eternally remorseful for all the times he “minded his own business,” and did not reach out a hand to those who suffer or are in need.  I call this part of Marley’s discussion with Scrooge, “Marley’s Lament.”

“Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know, that ages of incessant labour by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!”

“Life’s opportunities misused.”  Marley is not talking about opportunities to advance his career or to make more money.  He took advantage of all those opportunities and it led him to eternal torment.  Marley is referring to all the times he saw someone in need and walked away believing it was none of his business instead of asking, “How can I help?”

We are all, in many ways, self-centered these days.  First, it’s ourselves we look to and then our families.  After that, we may find time to help out a friend, but many of us don’t.  I’m thinking of myself as much as anyone else.

Today, for instance, I was just coming in from the doctor’s office, and a lady who I know just a little was coming in thru the other door.  I let her in so she wouldn’t have to scramble for her keys.  We said hello and I headed for the elevator.  While I was waiting she said a package had arrived that was supposed to help her with her TV reception.  She said she hoped she could figure out how to hook it up.  I responded that those devices are usually very easy to hook up and it should be no problem.  The elevator door was closing when I realized that she may have been actually asking for help.  I stopped the elevator door and said if you need any help come on up and get me.  I couldn’t just volunteer to come with her and set it up as I had to get out of the shoes I was wearing.  They help my feet but I can only wear them a little while each day.  I don’t have her phone number or apartment number so I can’t reach out and see if she needs help. I feel a bit bad for not saying outright, “how can I help?”

Most TV shows are entertaining very few are inspiring.  New Amsterdam is a show that I find both entertaining and inspiring.  It’s a rare breed of television show and I hope you all take some time to catch up with it.  It runs on Peacock and Hulu as well as NBC.  I don’t know where you can stream the whole series, although it may all be on Peacock.  I really encourage all of my readers to watch.

HEALTH UPDATE

I went to my Primary Care Doctor today and though he was pleased with me in general, the bottom line is I gained two pounds in the last month and lost none.  I wanted to avoid telling you this but when I began this journey I made a promise to keep you informed win or lose.

For me, I didn’t really lose this month.  Yes, I gained two pounds, but I gained those pounds while actively dealing with another health problem.  The stress of that problem influenced me to eat more than I was.  Previously I was never hungry at lunchtime, all of the sudden I was always hungry at lunchtime and I had only bad choices to eat.  And I ate them.  That health issue is now under control and I am back on the path I had been on.

That’s it for now.  Here’s my parting thought, if someone relates to you a problem they are going through, instead of offering advice first ask, How can I help?

The picture is the central cast of New Amesterdam from top left Dr. Iggy Frome (Tyler Labine) Head of Psychiatry, Dr. Helen Sharpe (Freema Agyeman) head of oncology, the big photo Dr. Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold) Bottom left Dr. Lauren Bloom (Janet Montgomery) Head of The Emergency Room, and last Dr. Floyd Ryenolds (Jocko Sims) Head of Cardiac Surgery.

Holy Week and Health

I have written extensively on Holy Week elsewhere.  I have, however, never taken the time to introduce the life-changing possibilities that are given to us because of this week.

Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday.  I wrote a little about Palm Sunday in my article on Lent.  Palm Sunday is the remembrance of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem where he is praised and palm branches are spread on the road before him and waived in the air around him.  This is a King’s entrance into a city even if that king is riding on the back of a donkey.

We know from scripture that many things occur during this week.  Jesus cleanses the temple from money changers and teaches openly in the temple.  We know that the Jewish leaders form their plot against Jesus and we know that Judas Iscariot agrees to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. With that background, we come to Holy Thursday.

Holy Thursday has two significant events.  Or maybe three, the last supper, Jesus’ betrayal by Judas, and then his arrest in the garden of Gethsemane.

The Last Supper is the time that Jesus is the most intimate with his disciples and gives them his last instructions.  Hel also gives instructions for those who would believe in him because of the disciple’s word.  He wants his church to be one.

The Church being one is something Christians have struggled with since the reformation 500 years ago.  The Church is not one.  It is splintered into denominations and sub denominations all believing that they have the correct view of the teachings of Jesus and the writers of The New Testament.  This is much to our shame.  We all live in the same house but we divide ourselves into separate rooms rarely venturing into the other rooms.  It will be a great day when Jesus comes back and reunites us all again.

Holy Communion is established during The Last Supper.  Jesus took bread and broke it and gave it to his disciples and said, “Take and eat this is my body,”  He then took a cup of wine and blessed it and sent it around to his disciples and said, “this is my blood.”  This was to begin to make the disciples understand what was about to happen.  Jesus’ betrayal, an unjust trial, a whipping or a scrouging, and his death on the cross.  Holy Communion is a reminder of all those things to all Christians no matter their denomination.

After the supper is over Jesus takes his disciples to a garden on  the Mount of Olives outside Jerusalem it is there that he prays to God that the events that are about to unfold could be passed on but he ends with “Thy will not mine be done.”  Judas then arrives with other men to arrest Jesus.  He betrays Jesus with a kiss and Jesus is led away.  Hid disciples scatter.

The illegal trial l being held in the dead of night is slow going.  No witnesses can agree.  Caiphas, The High Priest, eventually asks Jesus if He, Jesus, is the son of God, Jesus responds “I am.” This is all the disbelieving religious rulers of Jersusalem need to hear.  Caiphas proclaims blasphemy and hopes for Jesus’ death but that decision is not his to make.  Israel is held by the Roman Empire and only the Roman Governor can sentence anyone to death.  So Jesus now Jesus is brought to the Roman Quarters to find his fate which would be decided by Pontius Pilate.

Pilate can find nothing legally wrong with Jesus.  Not by Roman law.  Hoping to appease the Jews Pilate has him scrouged.  This is a whipping but the whip is made up of several leather cords.  Each cord has bits of metal and bone tied into it.  With every lash pieces of Jesus’ back start to rip off slowly exposing the muscles as his skin is shredded.  There is a belief that Jesus received only 49 lashes as Jewish law permitted fifty and the Jews stopped at 49 to not break the law.  This beating, however, was done by Romans who had no reason to obey Jewish law.  The number of lashes could have been less or more.

Jesus then appears before Pilate again and Pilate offers to set Jesus free but the Jews would have none of it shouting at the governor to crucify Jesus.  Usually a scrouging was enough.  But these people wanted blood.  When the Jews brought Caesar’s name into it saying that if Pilate did not have Jesus crucified he would be no friend to Ceasar.  Pilate had no choice it was between this man and being reported to the emperor.  Pilate washed his hands to show he had no desire to kill Jesus.  He then sent him to be crucified.

Crucifixion was a horrible way to die.  First Jesus was forced to carry the crossbeam to the place of crucifixion.  He was too weak to do this by himself due to the loss of blood and Simon was forced to help him.  When they got to the destination the beam was flung to the ground.  Jesus was roughly pushed to the ground as well and his hands were stretched out across the wooden beam and then his wrists were attached to the cross with large nails.  The beam with Jesus attached was then raised to fit into the vertical beam of the cross.  This had to be excruciating.  At this point one nail was driven through both of Jsus’ feet, which were placed one on top of the other, securing them to the cross.  The knees were left bent a little.

This happened at about the noon hour.  For three hours Jesus would hang from that cross.  In the position that he was in he couldn’t breathe and to get air into his lungs, he had to push up against the nail in his feet which hurt tremendously.  He would grab a breath and speak.  These were the seven times he spoke.  His last words were, “It is finished, Fathe into your hands I commit my spirit.”  And Jesus died.  This is Good Friday.

The Roman soldiers pierced Jesus’ side to prove he was dead and water and blood came out.  This indicated that Jesus died of a heart attack brought on by suffocation.  His body was released to Joseph of Arimathea and was placed in Joseph’s tomb in a garden not far away.  The tomb was then sealed with a huge stone and a Roman guard was posted to guard it.  Many would think this is the end of the story but it isn’t.  Jesus, on the third day in the tomb, rose from the dead.  The stone was rolled away and Jesus left the tomb and death behind him.  This is Easter Sunday.

Jesus’ death and resurrection were God’s plan to reunite the world to himself after the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.  All men sin and “fall short of the glory of God.”  God required a sacrifice to take on all of the wrath of God against sinful people.  He chose his son to make that sacrifice and in so doing set us free.  “Whoever believes in the son of God have the right to claim themselves to be children of God.”.

What to do with this.  First, you can’t dismiss it once you know it.  Jesus is either the risen son of God or a total fraud.  You can’t say he was a great teacher because of the many things he taught the central fact was he claimed to be the son of God.  He predicted he would be killed and that he would rise again.  Jesus fulfilled more than 300 prophesies from the Old Testament.  Bearing that in mind Jesus is either who he claims or he is insane but you can’t say he was a great teacher.

So the next thing to do is to decide what you will do with Jesus.  If you believe him a whole new life awaits you.  If you dismiss him you may find yourself in a place you do not want to be for all of eternity.

What does all of this have to with health and weight loss?  Quite a bit.  You see Jesus wants me to live my best life possible.  And part of that is living a healthy life. I have fallen into many bad habits that destroyed my health in many ways.  But Jesus not only saved us from our sins but he offers the inner strength to do the impossible because ‘Nothing is impossible with God.”  And I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Jesus died on the cross and was raised from the dead for me to be the best me.  He allowed himself to die so that I could live a good and happy life.  That life includes good health and a servant’s attitude.  Being healthy and also being able to say, whenever the opportunity arises, “How can I help?” to anyone who may need help.

My health journey continues.  I have been in physical therapy for the last six weeks at Advanced Physical Therapy and Aquatics.  I am being well taken care of by Josh and Steve and the rest of the staff.  They have developed a program for me to follow that has helped me gain strength and stability in my body.  I was evaluated on the first day I was there and reevaluated yesterday.  The reevaluation showed marked improvement from where I started.  I thank God for leading me to this place and for the expert guidance of the staff.  If you live in or around the Springfield Delaware County area of Pennsylvania and you need P.T. this is the place to go.

I went to see my primary care physician today and found that I have lost two more pounds.  At first, I was disappointed, but the nurse and the doctor pointed out that it was better than nothing which is another way of saying I took two steps forward and no steps back.

Easter is a time to rejoice and there are so many things to rejoice about.  You know God in one way or another tells over 800 times in The Bible to rejoice, to be glad to be happy.  In the book of Proverbs, it says that “A merry heart is good like a medicine and a downcast spirit dries up the bones.  I think this idea has been distilled down to “Laughter is the best medicine.”  And it is!  We all go through rough times.  Times that we think we will never laugh again, that joy is impossible.  But those times don’t have to last.  You can find joy again by turning to God and turning to others.  I have found this to be the truest thing in life.  Happy Easter and may God bless us, every one.  (This applies even more at Easter than Christmas)

Setbacks

Life is full of twists and turns.  It has surprises-both good and bad and can take you on roads you never meant to travel.  Hans Christian Anderson said Every man’s life is a fairy tale written by the finger of God.”  GK Chesterton wrote, “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist.  Children already know that dragons exist.  Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”  I think as adults we forget about the lessons of fairy tales.  Not the sanitized versions of fairy tales that Disney has given us.  (I do love those but they aren’t accurate)  The true fairy tales that were collected by the Brothers Grimm in Germany or the romantic French fairy tales or the stories written by Hans Christian Anderson and the ancient fables of Aesop are long forgotten as we enter adulthood and yet we need those lessons even more at this time in life.  CS Lewis said, “One day you will be old enough to read fairy tales again.”  For me, that time has come.

The last two weeks have been a heavy time for me.  Emotionally I fell into a deep depression that made me unable to write this blog.  My heart was so heavy with sorrow that I wasn’t sure I would ever write again.  When I disclosed this depression to my friend Richard he told me to write when I was ready and not before.  I took that advice and I stayed away from my keyboard secretly wondering if I would ever write again.  While in this depressed state I woke up one morning and got out of bed and when my feet hit the floor something happened to my left foot.  I could just barely walk.  There was a stabbing pain every time I took a step.  This was a Sunday morning and I dreaded going to the emergency room of any of our local hospitals so I stayed in bed and waited until the next day to call my foot doctor.

I felt very alone and abandoned during this time.  The depression hadn’t gone away and my injury of, whatever this was, just made things go darker.  Because of all of this and being afraid of falling I canceled a trip to NYC to see Hugh Jackman in The Music Man.  I had the tickets for three years.  It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience but I had to let it go.  Doing this, though correct, made things much worse.

I went to the foot doctor the following day and he did X-rays right there in the office.  My foot got a whole round of pictures taken.  I think to this day there are more pictures of my feet than my head.  The X-rays showed that there were no broken bones but a swelling of the bone occurred.  It was a flair-up of arthritis in my foot which is severe in both feet, but the left foot seems to take the brunt of everything.

I was told to go home and stay off of it as much as possible.  To ice it and cancel my physical therapy until the next week.  I was told it would take anywhere from 3 days to 21 days to heal.  So I stopped at the market loaded up on provisions and went home.

I was severely depressed, I was confined to my home, I had to cancel a trip that I had waited three years for, and I felt I had no hope.  What do you do when you feel you’ve lost everything that matters.  First, you eat.

I, without a doubt, have a comfort food addiction and I allowed that addiction to have full control.  I bought vanilla icing and spread it on Pop-Tarts.  I was eating ice cream and chocolate syrup.  I went to McDonald’s for the first time in 4 months.  I was binging eating and it was to make the pain I felt go away.  It didn’t do that.  It just made me feel worse.

This behavior only lasted a couple of days.  One morning I woke up and was reading my daily devotionals.  I receive, every morning, in my email, a paragraph or two by Henri Nouwen.  That morning’s writing was talking about entering the gate thru the narrow road.  And as we get to know Jesus through that narrow gate it can be painful.  But the pain is good because it helps purify us and changes us into the men and women God created us to be.  In other words, it molds us like a sculptor shapes a piece of stone into something beautiful.  In other words, God is like Michelangelo as he carved out David.

The email also talked about the Eucharist.  How we need communion for strength to get through the journey of our lives.  I thought about that.  I don’t believe, as the Catholics do, that The Eucharist is the actual blood and body of Jesus.  I do believe that something very important takes place when you receive communion.  I think God blesses you and his face shines on you and a divine something happens in that moment and a spark of who Jesus is, enters you.

With those thoughts, a peace that I have not felt in a very long time came down on me.  The peace that the Bible describes as being beyond our understanding.  I felt that everything was going to be alright and though both the road and the gate were narrow I could make it through despite the pain.  I began to follow my new diet regime again.  I threw out what was left of the Pop-Tarts and frosting.  I don’t think there was much more to get rid of.  My soul and my house had been cleansed.  I felt better.

I am back in physical therapy as of yesterday.  The pain in my foot remains but is not as severe.  I’m making good food choices and I feel emotionally well.  I am glad that I gave in but I didn’t give up.

I read a quote recently that I hope inspires you as much as it inspires me.  Life is full of hurdles that seem to be too high to jump and chasms that seem too wide and deep to cross, but we were made for these challenges. We were created to be in this world and to become our best selves despite adversity.  The quote comes from a book my friend Beaj recommended to me.  The book is called The Gap and the Gain and the quote is “The rule is simple: the person who fails the most will win.  If I fail more than you do, I will win.  Because in order to keep failing you’ve got to be good enough to keep playing.”  The Gap and the Gain is by Dan Sullivan and Dr. Benjamin Hardy.

I began this blog by talking about fairy tales and dragons. I am on a fairy tale adventure right now. The stories of Hansel and Gretel, Price Phillip slaying the dragon in Sleeping Beauty, and Frodo taking the ring to Mount Doom will inspire me to travel on the road I’m on and to stay with it. I will destroy the dragon of depression and will kill the witch of being overweight. That is my quest and my destiny.

Next week my new weigh-in results and Holy Week.

Ash Wednesday and Lent

Picture, in your mind, a beautiful ballroom.  Men in tuxedos and women in gowns.  An orchestra is playing beautiful music while the men and women dance the waltz and other folk dances.  There is a sumptuous buffet laid out with every kind of delicacy and delicious pastry that the mind of a master chef can conjure.  People are dancing and eating and talking and laughing.  Suddenly the bell in the high tower begins to chime midnight.  The orchestra stops playing.  The dancers standstill, the chattering stops, and forks and plates are placed on the nearest tables.  The last bell of midnight rings and the people with one voice recites, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.  Thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.  Give this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.  For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever amen.  The people all silently leave the ballroom.  Mardi Gras is over, and the Holy Season of Lent has begun.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of the season of Lent.  It is called Ash Wednesday because Catholic and Orthodox and some protestant denomination Christians receive ashes on their foreheads.

The origin of Ash Wednesday and Lent are not clear, but it is believed to have begun during the time of the Apostles but recognized officially at The Council of Nicaea in 325 CE.

Since that time Christians have received ashes on their foreheads as an act of repentance from sin.  Ashes themselves have been used to express sorrow for sin for centuries.  The old testament records in The Book of Job, Job saying to God “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.  Wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.  The prophet Jeremiah calls for repentance saying O daughter of my people, gird on sackcloth and roll in ashes.  Jesus in the New Testament refers to the use of ashes for repentance when he says in Luke 10:13 “Woe to you Chorazin!  Woe to you Bethsaida!  For if the miracles had been performed in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.”

The ashes received on Ash Wednesday are not any ash.  In many churches, the ashes come from the burning of the palm leaves harvested for the previous year’s Palm Sunday.

The receiving of ashes is a simple ceremony, although a whole service is usually wrapped around the tradition.  When it becomes time to receive the ashes the repentant person comes forward and the ashes are placed by the priest or minister in the form of the cross.  One of two lines are said by the celebrant while placing the ashes.  “Remember oh man that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.” or “Repent and believe the Gospel.”  With either thought, the participant is made ready to enter the Lenten Season.

The season of Lent is the forty-day before Holy Thursday for the Catholic faith or the Forty days before Easter Sunday for some protestant faiths.  Either way, Sundays are not included in the forty-day count as they are considered “Little Easters” and the fasting and other observances are suspended on Sundays.

Lent is a time of fasting and prayer as well as a time for the giving up of certain luxuries like desserts, the movies, television, or other things that may distract us from our pursuit of coming to know God more deeply.  Ultimately, knowing God better is the pursuit of Lent.

The forty-day time of Lent comes from the forty days Jesus spent in the desert before beginning his public ministry.  This event is recorded in The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  During those forty days, Jesus fasted and prayed, and in our following Him in this way we come to know Him better.

The celebration of Lent has become pretty simple for Catholics since the Second Vatican council.  Fasting has become a simple no meat on Fridays, though more rigorous fasts are not discouraged.  Prayer and attendance at mass and special services are still requested but not so much required.  This was very different in the past. 

According to Maria Von Trapp in her first book, The Story of the Trapp Family singers, Lent used to be quite the rigorous time.  Fasting was strictly observed and that meant no animal products at all.  No meat no fish, no cheese milk, or eggs, and not just on Fridays but for the full forty days.  The time spent on eating was used for prayer and the money spent on the food you would normally have had was given to the poor.

Mortifications or the giving up of certain items is a way of dying to yourself.  The scriptures say when we die to ourselves, we are raised up with Jesus and Lent is a time to put those ideas into action.  Many people use Lent as a time to give up things that they struggle with that are ultimately harmful.  Some folks stop smoking and this a real dying to the self.  In giving this up for Lent, it may, in turn, be given up for good.  The drinking of alcohol may also be stopped during this time and for those who have a problem with alcohol this could be life altering.  The same could be said for gambling or the consumption of fast food or unhealthy food that we have begun to rely on for self-soothing.  In giving up these things, which can be so hard, we truly die to ourselves and thus the term mortifications.

Some folks add practices during the time of Lent.  There are Lenten devotionals that will take a person on the forty-day journey by providing a Biblical reading and then thoughts and prayers as well as ideas for actions to be taken.  Many people who don’t regularly read their Bibles will make time to study the scriptures daily.  Those that do read their Bibles daily may take the time to read the Gospels and study the life of Jesus more closely.  There is a new idea for Lent that challenges us to go to our closets on each of the 40 days and look for a piece of clothing that is still in good condition, but that we no longer wear, and place that shirt, or pair of pants or dress into a bag.  At the end of the season, there will be forty pieces of clothing ready to donate to Goodwill or The Salvation Army.  This is also another dying of self.  Letting go of the things that we don’t need is a way of putting the things we own into proper perspective.

Lent is also a time of cleaning.  We don’t just get our hearts ready for the resurrection of Jesus but our homes too.  Spring Cleaning may come from the old Jewish custom of cleaning the house thoroughly so that not a speck of yeast could be found.  This was to make the house ready to celebrate Passover and the instructions to do this are found in the Old Testament.  We now clean our homes thoroughly in preparation for Easter.

This is the time of year when Spring is arriving.  Since Lent can begin as early as February it may take a little longer from year to year for the snow to melt and the weather to get a bit warmer.  But the weather does get warmer the days get longer, it is believed that the term Lent is shortened from the word length referring to the days becoming longer and the beginning of Spring, and we begin to open the windows and bring in the fresh air and get rid of the dirt that grime that accumulated during the cold months.

For some Spring cleaning is a week-long event.  Every drawer and cabinet and shelf get emptied and dusted.  This is another time that things that are no longer used can be gathered up and given away.  Toys, books, dishes, electronic devices, cooking utensils, and paraphernalia can all be given to those that don’t have what they may need.  The mattresses on the beds get turned.  The light fixtures get taken down and cleaned.  Every aspect of the house gets a good going over.

For those with lawns or gardens to care for, the outside gets as good as the inside.  The grass gets raked so the winter debris can be removed, and the new green grass can come alive.  Bulbs get planted as well as other flowers and shrubs.  Bushes and trees get trimmed and the outside of the house is made as clean and neat as the inside.  All of this is in preparation for Easter.

Palm Sunday is the first day of Holy Week and commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  On Palm Sunday the people of Jerusalem lined the way into the city laying palm branches on the ground for the donkey Jesus rode to walk on.

Palm Sunday Mass or Service is celebrated by the reading of The Gospel story of the event and in many churches, the celebration ends with the giving of palm leaves to the congregation to take home.  These palm leaves are then brought home and placed somewhere special in the house for the year.  Some people make decorative crosses from the palm and these crosses are placed throughout the house.  It reminds the occupants that though Palm Sunday was glorious it would lead to Jesus’ death and his resurrection.

Again, according to Maria Von Trapp, Palm Sunday was also a day when palmbuschn were brought to the church.  These were bouquets of pussy willows along with box wood and fir branches decorated with dyed colored wood shavings and fastened to a stick about three feet long.  On the stick was tied a small bottle of Holy Water and these bouquets were blessed by the priest during Mass.  After Mass, the bouquets were brought into the field and the woods each area of land getting its own thus the blessing of the church would come to the natural world so it could be protected from a flood, hail, and fire.

The customs of Ash Wednesday and Lent are thousands of years old.  They are as diverse and original as every area of the world that Christianity has made its way into.  But they continue to be celebrated because deep in our hearts we long to know God and to be known by Him.

Next Week:  The Batman

The Academy Awards

Let’s start by saying I am not, nor have I ever been, a big fan of award shows.  I do like the spectacle and the sometimes-amazing musical numbers.  When it comes to The Tony Awards, I enjoy watching the scenes from different nominated shows because it is unlikely, I will see them on Broadway.  It’s a glimpse into a place I get to less than once a year.  Award shows in general just don’t seem quite right to me.  One person’s art is another’s garbage so how can an award show be objective?  Who’s to say what makes any art form great?

The Academy Awards are also known as The Oscars, a term I will use from now on, used to be at least fair in their award shows.  These days I don’t see it as fair at all especially with our new world of political correctness.  Political correctness seems to be something everyone hates and yet no one wants to do anything about.

I believe in equal rights for every person on this earth.  I believe that we should all be able to pursue those things that make us happy.  I believe that we should work in the field that we are gifted in.  I believe that every person is entitled to dignity and respect.  And I believe that everyone should be able to believe in what they choose to believe.  Every person has to grapple with their beliefs and then live with the outcome of that battle.

I don’t believe that we should forget or erase the past.  I don’t believe Columbus Day should be replaced by Indigenous People Day.  I believe there should be an Indigenous People day it just shouldn’t cancel out Christopher Columbus, who though a flawed man, like we all are, still did an amazing thing that I am reaping the benefits of today.  You see for me it’s not either-or but and.

This brings me back to The Oscars.  In 1958 Auntie Mame was nominated for best picture.  Auntie Mame is a comedy about a madcap aunt raising her orphaned nephew.  It’s a great film was a terrific cast and great performances.  The movie didn’t win.  It was a comedy and it was rare for comedies to win an Oscar but it was in the running now you never see a comedy in the Academy Awards.  Making people laugh seems unimportant to those who make these decisions.

In 1966 The Oscar for best picture went to The Sound of Music.  In 1965 both My Fair Lady and Mary Poppins were nominated for Best Picture.  My Fair Lady won but Julie Andrews took The Oscar home for best actress.  All three of these movies were family-friendly and were beautiful films.  Could you see any of them winning an Oscar today?  Of course not.  Not many films today that win Oscars are family-friendly.  Very few even get nominated and that is a tragedy.  We keep talking about needing diversity in our culture and that is absolutely true but diversity does not have to be serious or violent or sexy.  It can and should be fun exciting and humorous.  We need serious films with strong endings to teach us about life and the fact that it’s hard.  No one gets out without some bumps and bruises but life is also funny and joyful and warm and cuddly we need our films to express all these things and those that do this well should be given an Oscar, After all, it was Auntie Mame who said, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”

This brings us to the nominees for this year’s Oscar for best picture.  This year’s nominations are not as bad as the last few years.  There really is diversity in tone and subject matter.  It was great to see West Side Story on the list and Dune, a Sci-Fi epic was a complete surprise to me.  The rest were films I am less impressed with but that is a matter of taste.  There is just one problem with this list.  One movie that checked every box that makes a movie great was snubbed by The Academy.

This movie was well written, filled with both action and suspense.  It has a great cast and had humor as well as tragedy.  The film was loved by almost everyone who saw it.  It got good reviews and ranked at 96% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes.  It has also won a Golden Tomato award.  It is still in theaters and is slowly overtaking the films that have grossed the most amount of money.  The film I am talking about is Spiderman No Way Home.

Spiderman No Way Home would have been up for best picture 60 years ago without a doubt.  It has everything a movie should have and then some.  Even surprises that no one was expecting but were wonderful to see as the story unfolded.  So what happened to us.  Why is this film not Oscar-worthy.  I’m not sure I know.  Still, I’ll take a shot at it.

I think the Academy has become a group of politically correct snobs.  They don’t see that life can be fun and that Superheroes, who are part of our modern mythology have a long-standing and respected place in our society.  There are college courses on comic book heroes and though originally a form of entertainment for children is now a form of entertainment for adults.  The characters are complex and interesting and the fact some of them have been around for more than eighty years proves that they have something that our world needs.  I think that is hope.

Today’s world doesn’t seem to have much hope.  This is reflected in some of our TV shows, our books, and our films.  Superhero movies provide hope because good always triumphs in the end.  Disney films do the same thing.  As did the Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings, and three films that were done in The Chronicles of Narnia.  Only one of these won best picture and that was The Return of the King the third part of The Lord of the Rings the first two parts were never even nominated.  Movies need to give us hope again.

It all comes back to story.  We are all a story have I have stated before.  We are our own story but we are also part of a bigger story that God began to write when he created the earth and everything on it.  Our movies and our books and TV shows and comic books are all ways for us to find our place in our own stories.  Are we the heroes or are we the villain?  Are we the one who disaster strikes or are we the one who saves the day?  The answer to these questions is yes, we are all of these.

Let me give you an example of how stories have affected my life.  Back in 1972, a television show premiered on the CBS network.  That show was The Waltons.  I was 11 at the time but the show became a family favorite.  The lead character John-boy the eldest son became a hero to me.  He had to wear glasses to read and I had just been given my first pair, he was creative and he wrote, and it was watching that series that inspired me to become a writer as well.  I wrote all kinds of things and for a little while in 6th grade started the first and only school newspaper my elementary school ever had.  The Primos Press.  I did this with my best friend Charlie Meo but behind all of it was John-boy Walton.

Stories shape us.  They help guide us and help us make decisions.  The process may not be conscious but it’s there.  We are formed by our own story and by the stories of others both fictional and real.  This is why we watch movies and it’s why we need those movies that are honored with an Oscar to be films that show the things we need to know.

Remember that movies are subjective so what I love will not always be what other people love.  But when a vast majority of people enjoy a film, that film deserves an Oscar nomination.  Spiderman No Way Home is such a film.  And it is a sad reflection on our culture that it was ignored.

To Everything, There is a Season

Solomon says in the Book of Ecclesiastes “To everything, there is a season and a time to every purpose under Heaven.  Charles Dickens wrote in A Tale of Two Cities, “It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.”  Stephen Sondheim wrote in Merrily We Roll Along, “It’s our time breathe it in worlds to change and worlds to win.”  And I am writing today it is my time.

After writing last week’s blog about letting go of people in my life who had become toxic for me I felt a new freedom.  The freedom to relax and be me but also to get on with life.  It has been said that the unexamined life is not worth living.  While I was feeling the need to constantly ask forgiveness from three people that had stopped caring about me, I was examining my life through their lens.  Seeing me as I thought they were seeing me trying to live up to something that didn’t exist.  After breaking free of that bondage, and bondage it was, I was able to see myself more clearly with a better lens and make the corrections in my life that needed attention.

And I did that.  I started going back to meetings that I had been neglecting.  I made phone calls to people whom I hadn’t been talking to but should have.  These folks encourage me and I can encourage them.  It becomes a give and receive, relationship as all relationships should be.  If you are in a relationship where you are always giving or are always receiving it’s probably an unhealthy relationship.

I have had a more peaceful life.  It’s amazing how much you calm down when you stop worrying about what someone else is thinking about you.  It’s good to feel calm.  I have also been able to read and concentrate on my reading.  Reading has become joyful again.  My spirit is lighter and I am smiling more.  I am in a much better place than I have been.

That’s not to say that I don’t have issues that need to be dealt with.  I saw my doctor today and he is sending me to another specialist to deal with my foot.  I fractured several of the bones in my foot back in April and though the bones healed the pain and swelling have not gone down.  It’s very difficult to walk but I do what I can.  Going to the market has been an achievement but I do it when I have to do. 

The saga with my ears continues and I need to see two doctors about that.  An ear doctor and neurologist.  All of the appointments are made.  I don’t know if I have written about my ear in this blog.  Let me get you up to date.  My ear has been leaking fluid for about four years.  The big question is what the fluid is.  The infectious disease doctor thought it was an ear infection and what was leaking out was a byproduct of the infection.  A doctor whose title I can’t spell but we’ll call him a super Ear Nose and Throat doctor thinks that what’s coming out of my ear is spinal fluid.  This guy tested the fluid in my ear and the test came back inconclusive.  He wants to do a radical surgery on me where he will cut a hole in my skull and dig down to where he believes there is a crack in my skull and patch the crack up.  Needless to say with a test that has come back inconclusive I do not want this surgery done.  I have been dodging seeing him until I can get another doctor to run the test on the fluid.

So as you can see life isn’t easy but it does have its moments of joy.  These come from friends that visit me or unexpected phone calls.  These come from the things that delight me like the latest Spiderman movie which was awesome or finding some of my favorite TV shows from the past are available to watch for free on YouTube.  These shows include Here Comes the Brides and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

Joy comes unexpectedly and it really should.  If we were full of joy all the time how could we possibly know what Joy is?  There will always be sorrow and sadness in our lives.  It’s been that way since Adam and Eve left The Garden, but if any of us only experience sorrow and sadness we will go mad.  We’d have to.  Or we would become angry and bitter a true Scrooge as Dickens describes him at the beginning of A Christmas Carol.

So when joy comes we take it to heart and remember it.  Our joy whatever it is will get us through the tough times if we remember it.  So write down what brings joy to you.  Journal your joy moments so when things do get black you can look back and maybe smile through the hardship.  Auntie Mame says, “Life is Banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  Eat the banquet that is in front of you.  Auntie Mame echoes Jesus who said, “A thief is only there to steal, kill, and destroy.  I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better than they ever dreamed of” (John 10:10 The Message Version)

And now an announcement that I was to make last week but had to put off because my doctor had to cancel my appointment due to Covid in his office.  I can make it now.  Since starting my new eating regimen on December 6, 2021, I have lost, drum roll please, 22 pounds.  What I am doing is indeed working and I intend to stick with the program.  A big thank you to everyone who has encouraged me.

Until next time may God bless you all.

It’s Not Where You Start…

It’s Not Where You Start It’s Where You Finish is not only the title of a great song it perfectly describes my life now.

It has been a crazy week.  Getting ready to move has many of its problems, but throw in a holiday and a Covid scare and you get quite the mess.

Last weekend I got a call from someone I had been hanging out with the previous Saturday that they had tested positive for Covid.  It would be a far stretch that I would have caught it from this person but the possibility was there so I went and bought a home Covid test.

Have you done a home test for Covid?  My understanding is that the home test for negatives ranges in the accuracy of the high 90s.  It seems they are less accurate for positive results.  The procedure for self-testing is a little hard.  There is a card that has to remain flat on the table the whole time.  Then you put 6 drops of reagent in a hole in the card.  Then with a long cotton swab, you swab out both your nostrils for 15 seconds each.  Then you slip the swab into a lower hole pushing it into the hole that has the reagent.  You then close the card and seal it and wait 15 minutes.  If a line appears in the lower half of the window of the card you are positive.  If it remains clear you are negative.  That’s it.  The kit comes with two tests.  I did them both and both came back negative. YEA!

Because Thanksgiving came less than ten days from my exposure it was prudent to stay home for the holiday.  There is no point in risking other people’s health until you are sure you’re not carrying.  At ten days out I took the second test and confirmed being clean.  Yea for modern science.

I don’t recommend spending Thanksgiving alone.  I wasn’t all alone, my housemate and I had breakfast together and I tried to make it festive.  We had fried eggs, Taylor Pork Roll, Buttered Toast, and Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls.  It was nice.  I wouldn’t see my housemate for dinner as she was working.  It was the last holiday we will spend together as housemates as my move has arrived.  I ordered Thanksgiving Dinner from a local diner and enjoyed it.  It’s not the same eating by yourself but the tastes were there and I had memories of Thanksgiving’s past and there will be more to come.

Friday it was time to organize as much as I could.  I have two rooms in the house that I live in now, an office and a bedroom.  I can cram a lot in a small space and it all had to be packed.  Statues and pictures and toys and ceramics and all other kinds of stuff went into box after box. 

Cleaning out the two closets were particularly interesting as I found stuff I thought I had lost buried under piles of other things.  Looking back it became a bit of a treasure hunt as both closets contained some wonderful items long-buried but now coming back into play.  I was Indiana Jones in my own house.

Right now the living room is filled with packed boxes waiting for Saturday when the movers come.  But that’s not all.

On Friday the movers will come and finish my packing.  Because of my disability what I could do the last time I moved I cannot do now.  My legs are in pain a lot and so are my feet.  I have an extensive library and the last time I moved I brought all the books and all the shelves over to the house myself.  I can’t do that now.  It’s just not possible, so the movers will come on Friday and pack the books up and my clothes, another item I moved in the past, and my large electronic devices.  They will be in charge of safely packing my stuff and then moving it the next day.

One of the things that this move has forced me to realize is my limitations.  I’m heading for 61 years old and my body doesn’t work like it used to.  Some things need to be changed, things that are in my power, and I intend to make those changes.  Still, there are other things that I have no control over like severe arthritis in my knees and feet and the neuropathy in my legs.  These are things whose influence will lesson as I take off weight but they will still be a part of me.  The pain will lessen but will not go away completely.  If I can get enough weight off my knees will be replaced and that will make some difference in my life.

I think the thing to keep in mind here is not that I have all these issues but that all the obstacles the issues have presented can be overcome.  With the help of family and friends, a very difficult move is made so much easier.  My niece and her husband were a tremendous help.  Yesterday my housemate, Lorraine, helped me clear out the bedroom closet. My legs being what they are I could not have done it without her help. My cousin John has come over every Tuesday and carted stuff over to the apartment for the last three weeks and is happy to help more if I need it.  My friends Rob and Gary have supplied boxes and support and Rob will be my wingman on Friday watching the guys as they pack and making sure the boxes are labeled correctly.  My sisters have also been a big help.  Even from Tennessee my sister Susan and her husband Kirk have given me encouragement and solid advice.  My sister Trish has helped with all the financial details and the stuff I didn’t know anything about as I never signed a lease before. My friend Manny has always been there for me for more than forty years. Though we are separated by miles he has been my greatest encouragement. A true Barnabus. A name meaning “Son of encouragement”   Lastly, my friend Bill has given me his whole Saturday to help me unpack and settle in. I’m very grateful to those I’ve mentioned as well as those I haven’t.

Moving is a great adventure and as the song says, it’s not where you start it’s where you finish and I’m going to finish on top.

The Holiday Season

The holiday season is now upon us.  If you are like everybody else you face the next 6 weeks or so with a mixture of Joy and Dread.  I hope that the joy will outweigh the dread but for many, this is not the case.

Why do we allow the most joyous time of year to become a burden?  Why do the stores dress for Christmas before we’ve gotten rid of the last bite of Halloween candy?  I blame President Roosevelt.

Before WW2 no one thought about Christmas until about a week before. The Holiday Season began on December the twenty-fifth, Christmas Day, and ended on January sixth, The Feast of The Epiphany, the celebration of when the Wisemen came to Bethlehem.  So all the fun stuff we do now, before the 25th, like Christmas Parties and multiple family visits were all done after the 25th.  There was even a party held on the eve of The Epiphany called a 12th Night Party and people would gather to play games and sing songs and enjoy themselves.  This 12th-night party is mentioned in Stave 3 of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol when Scrooge is visited by The Ghost of Christmas Present.  Twelfth Night should remind you of the song The Twelve Days of Christmas because those were the 12 days that are mentioned in the song.  The time between December 25th and January 6th.

President Roosevelt changed that with a very small snowball that rolled downhill and turned into a snow monster.  He asked that everyone do their Christmas shopping extra early so that packages being mailed to soldiers either here or overseas would arrive before Christmas,  This was a great idea for the soldiers but it turned into what we have now.  Roosevelt even tried to move Thanksgiving from the fourth Thursday in November to the third to allow people more time to shop,  Thankfully he did not succeed in this endeavor.

If you watch the I Love Lucy Christmas show you’ll notice that they don’t get a tree until Christmas Eve or decorate at all.  Black Friday, the big sale day after Thanksgiving, did not begin its yearly craziness until the 1950s and then grew stronger thru the 60s and seventies.  Now Black Friday can either make or break many businesses.

The history of Black Friday has nothing to do with retail.  How retail adapted the name seems shrouded in mystery.  Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving was given its name by Philadelphia Policemen.  In the early days of football, the Army-Navy game was played on the day after Thanksgiving.  This would bring many visitors and tourists to Philadelphia.  This caused the police departments to have their officers work overtime and pull extra shifts at a time when the rest of the country was taking a break.  So the Philadelphia cops named the day Black Friday.

And with a Bang Christmas is upon us.  If you live in the most typical of North American homes you don’t even get a chance to enjoy your Thanksgiving leftovers before the shopping frenzy starts.  As the years have gone by this frenzy has gotten worse.  This year the stores are claiming you’d better get all your shopping done immediately or the gifts you want to buy won’t be available with our current worker shortage.  In times past the big stores and malls were opening at Midnight on Black Friday or any early hour of the morning.  I remember back in the early days of early store openings going with my brother-in-law to Best Buy and waiting in quite a line for a 6 a.m. opening.  The doors opened and insanity struck.  People pushing and pulling and even slamming folks into other aisles to get to the sale item they wanted.  I never went to an early opening again.

The message seemed to be “Thanksgiving is over now let’s kill each other.”  This is not the message of Thanksgiving or the message of Christmas.

Maybe it’s time to start slowing down.  Yes, there is a lot of preparation for Christmas but do we have to begin that preparation on Black Friday?  I want our retail stores to have great Christmas sales, but they can get our money a few days or even weeks later.  We will buy gifts and shop just not that day.  I think we should have Blue Friday.  In fact, Sky Blue Friday.

On Sky Blue Friday we take up where we left off on Thanksgiving.  On Thanksgiving, we gave thanks to God and maybe to the people who made our lives a little better or helped us through hard times our focus was outward.  Not thinking about ourselves but of God and other people.  On Sky Blue Friday I believe we should look inward.  It has been said that an “unexamined life is not worth living,” yet many of us rarely take the time to examine where we are or who we are.  We don’t ask if who we are is who we want to be?

Self-examination can be hard but it is also a gift we can give ourselves.  In Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, Scrooge is forced to examine his own life by looking at his past, seeing his present, and getting a glimpse of what his future would be if he persisted in his present course.  On Sky Blue Friday we should do the same examine our past and present and see where our current, attitudes, beliefs, jobs, work ethic, relationships, and hobbies may be leading us.  If all is well then there is nothing to do if all is NOT well then we need to determine what changes need to be made and make them.

Black Friday being replaced by Sky Blue Friday can lead us right into the next part of the holiday season, Advent.  Advent is the four weeks leading up to Christmas Day.  It is celebrated in Churches as the four Sundays before Christmas.  More often than not the first Sunday of Advent will fall on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.  The traditional Advent Calendars that you buy in the store with the little windows that open up begin on December first but that is not the Advent season.

Advent is a special time.  At Easter, we go through Lent and in some way try to participate in the sufferings of our savior.  In Advent, we are looking forward to the coming of our Savior, and this is with great excitement and joy because we know what he brings will be good.  For the Christian, we look to the past for the birth of Jesus into this world and to the future for his promised return.

Advent is a time of preparation.  Many churches have Advent Wreaths as part of the season but this is also something you can do with your family or even by yourself.  Advent candles and wreaths are available on Amazon or you could easily make one yourself with fresh evergreen branches some wire and candle holders.  You can check out the Gospel for each day on the liturgical calendar.  Both Catholics and Protestants use this calendar.  On the first Sunday of Advent, you light the first candle read that day’s Gospel, and say a short prayer.  Maybe even sing some carols or turn on the Christmas Music.  Then each of the following days you do the same reading the Gospel for the day.  If you want to make it simpler there are many advent devotionals you can use if the liturgical calendar isn’t for you.

This is a great way to spend Advent it will slow you down and it will help you focus on what we are really celebrating.  If you’re reading this and you are not a Christian do this anyway.  There are a lot of bad things being said about Christians these days and most of them are false.  If you prepare for Christmas this way you’ll get a taste of who Jesus was and is and it may make your celebration even more joyful.  You may find yourself wanting to know more about Jesus.

Speaking of Joy, did you know that the song Joy to the World is not actually a Christmas song.  It’s not about Jesus first coming over 2000 years ago, although we sing it with that in mind.  The lyricist’s intention was this song to herald the second coming of Jesus.  This is the song we will be singing when Christ comes back as he promised he would.  Now we sing it in anticipation of that event.

There are so many ways to slow down in this upcoming season.  Take in a concert, See a production of A Christmas Carol.  There will be a whole lot about A Christmas Carol in an upcoming Blog.  Better yet read A Christmas Carol.  The book has so much more than any filmed version.  I haven’t forgotten Thanksgiving.  Here’s a last word.  God gives us the sunshine and the rain.  He makes the crops grow and so supplies us with food.  He gave us life and each of our lives is precious to Him.  When you sit down with whomever you share Thanksgiving with or if you are by yourself take one second, a moment and remember all He has done.

Thanks for reading and Happy Thanksgiving!