Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Hi. My name is John, and...

Let me take you back in time.  The date is April 10, 2006 BC (before children).  Lisa and I are living in the house we bought in Lawrenceville.  I'm working at Embry Hills UMC.  It's Holy Week.  Right in the middle of it.  Something snaps, almost audibly.  I'm convinced.  And I decide that I will not drink Coca Cola anymore.

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Coke's stock immediately plummeted.
I was drinking a lot of Coke.  When you add up the refills it was probably about a 12 pack a day.  I started with breakfast and ended with dinner.  Realizing that was too much, I tried to slow down, and I couldn't.  I realized that I didn't have control over my consumption.  In that moment, I guess I just became uncomfortable with the idea that I couldn't not drink it.  So I decided I needed to stop altogether.  I wrote a note on my Coca Cola whiteboard on the fridge: April 10, 2006.  A day that will live in infamy.

I told my brother about stopping.  He told me I would have to start drinking Diet Coke instead.  Gross.  I had no intention.  And then he said the thing that was probably the most helpful in quitting: "You will fail.  If you don't start drinking Diet Coke instead, you will fail.  The headaches.  It's what I had to do."  I was resolute: I would not drink Diet Coke (ew), and I would not fail, mostly because I HAD to be able to prove my brother wrong.  Those who have siblings will understand the intensity of that particular fire.

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I typically played the part of the brother on the left.
The first months were the most difficult.  Every time I ate a new meal, my body wanted and expected to have Coke as well.  When I gave it water instead...it was not happy.  Mac and Cheese.  Pizza.  These go well with a Coke.  I even left a Coke in the fridge, and every time I saw it, I heard my brother's words.  I closed the door.

A little more than a year later, Wesley was born.  I had successfully beat my Coke demon, but I was still significantly overweight and completely out of shape.  I needed to set a better example for my child.  I didn't want him to wait until he was 30 to decide that fitness matters.  So I started exercising and eating better.  I ate more chicken and less red meat.  More veggies and less fried food.  Not none, just less.  I tracked my calories.  I didn't snack as much, and when I did it was healthy food.  And over a period of the next couple of years, I lost 60 pounds.

Years, not months.  Because I was committed to doing it right.  I was committed to healthy living, not losing weight.  It had taken me 30 years to get that big, so I had to expect it would take a some time to get smaller.  I remember the first time I stepped on the scale and it read less than 200 pounds.  I took a picture of it.  It was a hugely triumphant moment for me.  Some time after that I had lost enough weight that Lisa actually asked me to put a little back on!  In consultation with my doctor, I arrived at an ideal weight for me.  I felt good.  I looked healthy.  All was well.

Addiction is a genetic trait, and it is prevalent in my family.  Across the years I have seen evidence that I am inclined to addiction myself.  It looks an awful lot like just being a creature of habit.  At various points in my life it has looked like playing video games too much or watching TV too much.  In April of 2006 I realized it looked like drinking Coca Cola.  The only way to beat the addiction, at least for me, was to name it and reject it.  Every. Day.  Forget weeks or months or years.  Daily I had to remind myself of who I was and (more importantly) why I was.  I was not here to drink Coke.  I was here to be a husband and father.  I was here to serve in ministry.

I won, y'all.  I won.  I beat it.

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Yeah.  It felt that good.
Fast forward a few years.  I had a Coke.  I didn't even like the taste of it.  But that's all it took to start a slide.  That's the thing about addiction. Your body remembers.  Your mind does too, if you think about it, but your body does whether you think about it or not.  It started innocently enough.  I'd drink Coke while I was on choir tour so I could keep the longer hours.  Caffeine is much stronger than people give it credit for.  While I'm usually not much use without 7-8 hours of sleep, I was able to function highly on 4 hours of sleep each night for that week (and sometimes even less).

Then I started drinking Coke on vacation.  Because I liked it...or that's what I thought, a nice little treat for the off time.  But now I realize it's because I liked how I felt when I drank it.  Awake.  Present.  Energetic.

Tour only.  Vacation only.  Then I added special occasions.  My birthday.  Someone else's birthday...

It's the 30th anniversary of Spaghetti Junction!
Choir rehearsals resumed in August.  They noticed I had a lot of energy in rehearsal (it actually worried some of them).  It was because I had progressed to the point of drinking Coke with dinner a few times a week...one of which was Wednesday night.  I'd drink a Coke at about 5pm, and I'd be wired at 7:30pm.

It won't last, though.  I know what will happen.  Over time, my body will adjust to the level of caffeine intake, and it will lose its ability to pick me up.  Instead, my body will feel a drag if I don't have it.  But it sure was nice to have all that energy!

In an undoing of all that work 10 years ago, the re-entrance of Coke into my diet brought with it a number of other bad habits.  Fewer vegetables.  More fried food (though in full honesty it's not like it once was).  I guess that's where I am right now.  I'm not as bad as I once was.  I've added about half of those 60 pounds back on.  I still don't drink as much Coke as I did.  I still eat more vegetables than I did.  It's just that I was thinking the other day about the trajectory of it all.  I'm moving away from what I need to be doing rather than toward it, and I'm afraid I'm accelerating in the wrong direction.

I.  Have.  Failed.

Four days ago, on September 22, 2017 CE (Children Era), I had a "come to Jesus" with myself in which I honestly evaluated my habits and realized that my addiction to Coca Cola had overcome me once again.  That was Friday.  I decided on that day, just like I did on April 10, 2006, that I will start moving in the right direction again...a direction that doesn't include drinking Coke.

Sunday, September 24, was hard, y'all.  I walked in the door at home at the end of the day and felt like crap.  Completely drained.  I had been tired in all my rehearsals that evening, and I think my choirs could tell.  It would be hard not to.  But I had done it without caffeine, and that's not nothing.

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Seriously, less battery life than an IPhone.
For the first couple of days I struggled to forgive myself for failing.  That was until Sunday morning, when I heard this sermon from Dalton Rushing.  Twice.  http://www.decaturfirst.org/sermon-archive/2017/9/24/september-24-2017  You need to hear it.  It was encouraging because it reminded me that failing doesn't make me a failure.  It got me in touch with my inner phoenix (perhaps my inner Phoenix Spirit?) and may be what propelled me through the evening of rehearsals.

I know this all sounds silly.  In the face of an opioid epidemic and alcoholism and other drug abuse, addictions that actually kill people, this is downright ridiculous.  But here's the thing.  If, when confronted by our own failing, we point a finger at people who are failing harder than we are, we are merely making excuses for not being the best we can be.  I can't accept that from myself.  All of us, every man, woman, and child, chooses every day to move in the right direction or the wrong one.

I'm not a racist, right?  I wasn't carrying a tiki torch and hurling slurs, right?  Well, no.  But I've laughed a racist jokes.  I've benefited from a tilted playing field.  Just because I'm "not as bad as those other guys" doesn't mean I'm not racist.  I am.  I am racist.  That doesn't make me a bad person.  It just means I need to forgive myself for failing in that regard and start moving in the right direction.

I can't tell you what the right direction is for you.  I can only tell you what it is for me.  For me, it's doing my best to be the me God created good.  To love.  And to forgive...especially to forgive myself when I mess up.


  1. Again and again and again and again.........
    (At least that what I have to do.)

  2. Your last little tidbit hit home. I'm not racist, but I could be. Today I had a reality check. Someone came into my work, and the kneeling, NFL controversy came up. They loudly exclaimed "No they are not making a point, they are just acting like what they are. A bunch of N*&&#$'s!" I looked at them and said "We don't use that word here." I was so angry, beyond angry. Their response "I don't work here, and I'm using MY freedom of speech." I didn't respond. I seethed. I hurt. I should have responded, because I'm the human resource dept. I failed, and then I thought: I'm no better than him. I have laughed at jokes that were entirely inappropriate. I do not take them to heart. I don't hate someone because of their skin color. Yes I am wrong for laughing, yes I have something to work on, but I do not hate. This person went on to say they hate them people. All of them. I hurt worse. I hurt for the Grandmother, who was sitting next to me. Her two newest babies are Haitian. I hurt for the young man, to the corner from me. His girlfriend's child is African American. I hurt for the mother sitting across from me, that did not correct their 50 yr old child for making such hate filled statement. So I learned something today. Yes I can be racist, but I do not hate or dislike someone for their differences. I don't think we are complete racist, but we can be. The potential is there, and the first step to change....stop laughing.

  3. I've come to believe that being racist doesn't require hate. It only requires the inclination to look away from injustice. Hence my self judgment.

  4. Great post John, thanks as always for your vulnerability and humility. It's so difficult to know how to respond to instances of racism. We are all taught (or most of us!) to stand up to it, and definitely agree, not to laugh, etc. But does shaming a racist heal the place racism comes from? Or do they just retreat under their rock, where, we now know, they can go online and get with all the other shamed people looking for someone to blame. Admitting how we struggle is a good first step though and it feels so hard to do that in our environment right now -- it seems you're either a hater or a lover, when most of us are both, daily, in some form or fashion. After the Charleston shooting at a church two years ago, I was attending a different church. The pastor, instead of preaching that Sunday, said that he instead wanted to turn the mic over to the people of color in the congregation, for anything about this incident they might want to share with the rest of us. I listened for an hour and a half as person after person stood up and shared their anger, their dreams, their disbelief, their awe at the forgiveness offered by the Charleston church elders. There were as many views as people. As a white person, I realized that one of the most powerful things I could do was listen.