The Tale of the $15 Big Mac

I love a good road trip! Load up the family, fill the SUV with a bunch of stuff you don’t

Thatcher Push Pop
Nicole has a family tradition on road trips. At every pit stop, you buy treats! Candy, soda…candy, pork rinds (if you’re my brother Allen). Thatcher is showing off his Push Pop, completely unaware that I should be greatly offended.

need, plus some clothes, and head off on an adventure. The only drawback is that sometimes you get hungry when you’re in the middle of nowhere. That’s when you get desperate. And when you get desperate, you eat McDonald’s. And when I eat McDonald’s, I typically regret it.

On a recent road trip down to visit my parents in Houston, we were in a small town in Oklahoma and we got desperate. “When are they going to start putting a Chick Fil-A in small towns?!” I asked with frustration as we pulled into a McDonald’s. I walked in with Thatcher to get a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, fries and an ice cold Sprite. I have eaten the exact same thing there for over twenty years.

I looked up at the menu and started ordering.

“I’ll take a 99 cent fries, a medium Sprite, and a FIFTEEN DOLLAR DOUBLE QUARTER POUNDER WITH CHEESE?!!!”

Panic set in as my eyes quickly scan the menu. Big Mac – $15! Quarter Pounder with Cheese- $15! Bacon Clubhouse Burger -$15! McDouble – $15!

“What the he…!” I stop just in time and look down at my 6 year-old son, Thatcher. He senses my panic, so now he’s panicked, even though he has no idea why.

“What’s wrong, Daddy?!”

“Every hamburger is fifteen stinkin’ dollars!” I reply, eyes still wide, staring at the menu. My mind starts racing back to old Twilight Zone episodes. “This is what it feels like,” I think to myself.

“So. You have more than $15, Daddy.” he says with a little levity coming back into his eyes.

“Yeah, but….it’s a McDonald’s hamburger!”

[Let’s pause here and provide some commentary.]

Completely unbeknownst to me, last week Congress passed the controversial “Burger Flipper Bonus Bill” to help provide a “living wage” for those working in the fast food industry. Its contents were uncommonly brief. “All burgers at fast food restaurants must cost a minimum of $15.00.”

[Resume “The Tale of the $15 Big Mac”]

“Can I just get a regular burger, Daddy?” Thatcher asks, still trying to wrap his mind around the situation.

McDonald's big mac beef burger
Ain’t no way I’m paying $15 for that!!

“No you can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because it costs $15!”

My confusion quickly turns to frustration, and quicker still to resolve.

“Do you know what we can get for $15?!”

“No sir.”

“We can get a heck of a lot more than a greasy McDonald’s hamburger for $15. The

government can change the cost of whatever they want, but what they can’t do is change its value. If I’m going to spend that much money, I demand far more than a low quality burger. And fortunately for us, we have a car and the freedom to choose, and we will choose something that is worth what we are going to pay.”

“It’s just as crazy as the government making companies pay a person with no experience

Strike for 15
Many restaurant chains around the country are installing kiosks to replace cashiers as a direct response to rising labor costs.

the same as they currently pay a manager. Since businesses have the freedom to choose what they spend their money on, they will choose a manager who is worth their $15 just like we will choose something that is actually worth our $15. Come on, Tiger. We’re going somewhere else.”

I grab his hand and we walk towards the door.

Thatcher and I walk out of McDonald’s determined never to darken their door again. A block down the road we find a Mexican restaurant and I get some delicious chicken fajitas for $8.99 and Thatcher gets a chicken quesadilla for $6.99.  Within a month, there were a lot of McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger Kings with “For Sale” signs on them…and a lot of burger flippers without a job.

 

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An Apron, a Sketch, and Everything in Between

“Everyone to whom much was given….” (Luke 12:48)*

What sets you apart from everyone else?

My wife Nicole is ridiculously talented artistically. And whereas most artists’ talents are

Nicole Drawing
I can’t even write words so people can read them, and Nicole can draw people…PEOPLE!!

restricted to one or two mediums, Nicole’s abilities know no bounds. In fact, she loves finding something that is completely new to her and figuring out how to do it.

We all possess something that no one else does. It is a big part of what makes us unique. Whatever that gift is, whether it is a physical possession, a talent that is exceptional, or a personality characteristic that makes us stand out, we basically have two options of what we can do with it.

The first option is that we can use that gift to set us apart from others as someone to be admired or envied. When we do this, odds are, we will have a few people who we call “friends”. They will tend to be others with some exceptional gift (perhaps similar to ours, but not necessarily so) and our common bond will be our exceptionalism.

This approach isolates and creates a context from which the “gifted” look down on the plebeians as people who possess less value. One great risk of taking this route is that the second your “gift” is gone, those you once thought were friends will immediately cast you out among the commoners you looked down upon. That means that at the very moment you need your “friends” the most, they will completely abandon you.

Apron
Nicole’s line of luxury aprons ended up all over the world. This is from a photo shoot in Canada. Oh, and she designed the first aprons before she even knew how to sew.

Then there is a second option. Rather than using that with which you were blessed to bolster your personal image, you instead use it primarily as a means of blessing others. One is not likely to reach this conclusion from outside of a Judaeo Christian worldview which teaches that “Every good and perfect gift comes from above….” (James 1:17)  From that perspective, we have been entrusted with our gifts and since the ultimate source is God, we have no right to feel arrogant about it.

This approach, you will quickly find, produces some amazing results.

People who live like this are magnetic. They

Pirate Decor
Did I mention that she does parties? Yep, even pirate ones.

bring people together and something more akin to community takes place, rather than the isolation created by Option A. Secondly, and perhaps even more amazing than the first, you will discover that you actually get more enjoyment out of your gift when you allow others to enjoy it with you. There is a reason we try so hard to teach our children to share when they are young, and that is because it is genuinely Good.When you do Good things with your gifts, is it any surprise that Good things happen?

Nicole could very easily use her gifts to look down on others as less talented than she is, because quite frankly almost everyone is less artistically talented than she is. But the thing is, she doesn’t. Instead of viewing life through the prism of her gifts, she views her gifts through the prism of her Christian life. As a result, her gifts give her an amazing opportunity to bless others in her own unique way.

Easter Egg Table
And sometimes Nicole just goes all out so a bunch of kids will have a day they will never forget.

And bless she does!

How can you use your unique gifts to be a blessing to others?

 

 

*This is merely one application of this verse, and I first thought of the principle then the verse, rather than reaching the principle from the verse via exegesis.

Smile! Your Life May Depend On It.

You haven’t lived until you’ve been surrounded by an ever-growing angry mob of West African criminals.

“Not that old phrase!” you’re probably thinking.

Brian (me), Ryan and Jed (from left to right) in The Ivory Coast with our friends in Oume.

I know. I’ll try to use less common sayings from here on out. It just fit too well with the story I am about to tell you.

It was during the summer of 1998 or 99 and we were traveling through the countryside in Côte d’Ivoire (The Ivory Coast) and spotted a picturesque roadside market on the…side of the road. (Dadgummit! I walked right into that one.)

It was quite busy, so we carefully pulled in and found someplace to park. I was with two of my good friends, Ryan and Jed, and our wonderful host, Kuami.

Kuami is a fascinating and brilliant man. He is native to West Africa and spoke fluent English. His use of the word “dilapidated” caught me off guard one day when were walking, hand-in-hand (a custom there when in conversation, even among men…it made me feel funny) and carrying on a conversation.

But his linguistic acumen did not stop there. He taught English and German

This is Kuami, sporting his beautiful smile.
This is Kuami, sporting his beautiful smile.

and spoke fluently a total of 16 different languages and dialects.

The four of us split up and starting looking at the various wares for sale. We found a couple of handmade knickknacks for souvenirs, took a few pictures and re-grouped as we got ready to depart.

Before we got back to the car, though, two agitated men, in their early twenties, approached us and confronted Kuami.

I couldn’t understand a word that was being said, but the angry tone told me enough to make me nervous. We three skinny white boys watched as the discussion got more heated, glances were being made at Ryan, and Kuami was…smiling?!

Not a grin, or a smirk, or a nervous twitch. He was beaming! Smiling from ear to ear!

“Give me your camera.” Kuami said forcefully to Ryan with a twinkle in his eyes.

“Why do you want my camera?!” Ryan asked.

“These men are criminals and they saw you take a picture of them. They are afraid you are going to take it to the authorities. Give me your camera.” The smile never left his face.

Oh, lordy!

The tension continued to mount and more and more people were crowding around us. Not one had any interest in helping to ease the conflict, either. They were all starting to get worked up, and the crowd kept growing.

Kuami grabbed the camera. “Don’t give it to them!” Ryan said. “Just give them the film!”

We all reached forward and multiple nervous hands tried to pry open his camera. The men were shouting at us. I still couldn’t understand a word, but it was probably something like “Give us the camera!”

Finally the camera snapped open, revealing a partially used roll of film. Kuami aggressively started pulling out the film, just like they do in the movies. I don’t think cameras like that very much.

And as he was pulling it out, he still looked like he was happy as a clam! Who is this guy?!

Kuami quickly handed the film to the angry men, the open camera to Ryan, spoke a few words to them, then turned to us. “Let’s go.”

We pushed our way through the crowd, Kuami smiling at every person he could. Nobody was smiling back.

After we got to the car and locked the doors, Kuami turned the key and we were all wide-eyed, staring out the windows at all of the people surrounding the car and shouting.

As the car slowly eased forward, the crowd parted, and we were soon back on the road. I looked at Kuami, who was not smiling.

“Kuami, why were you smiling the whole time?!” I asked.

I have always remembered what he said next. And even though I already respected him, after this I respected him more.

“It is much harder to be angry at a person who has a smile on their face. It could have gotten really bad back there, so I was smiling to keep their anger from escalating.”

Good grief! This guy must be pretty accustomed to highly tense situations to have the presence of mind to think of that. And fortunately, he did. And we were all fine as a result of it.

So, as you’re going through your day, SMILE! Not just if you’re happy, but even if you would like to alleviate the anger of some criminals you happen to run into at the market.

Smiley Face

To My Valentine: So Much More than All Right

Lovely Pasture
Part of the view from our bedroom of the pasture.

As the sun makes its way over the horizon, the dew shimmers in the pasture below. I look beyond the balcony and watch the horses graze and see a couple of deer frolicking in the distance. I then make my way into the bathroom and start brushing my teeth, completely unmoved by what I had just seen.

When you live every day in the presence of something that is exceptional, you grow accustomed to it. Intellectually, you appreciate it, but it ceases to move you as it once did.

It doesn’t have to be the case, though. There is a way to avoid this pitfall, and I use it regularly. And since you and I are pretty tight, I would be more than happy to share with you the trick I employ to ensure that I am regularly entranced…by my wife.

Pretty Nicole Cropped
See! I told you she was pretty! This is pre-kids.

My wife, Nicole, is beautiful. And by beautiful, I mean stunning. She’s the kind of pretty where she can walk into a room full of people and 50% of the guys turn and say to the other 50% of the guys, “Who is THAT?!” Then they sheepishly look over their shoulders to make sure their wives didn’t hear them.

And what’s even more amazing is that after 7 and a half years of marriage and two kids, she continues to get even prettier! I’m not just saying that to be nice, either. It’s the truth. If I was a rapper (and I most definitely am not) I would frequently liken her to fine wine. You know, the whole “better with time” sort of thing.

Do I catch a dubious glint in your eye? “That’s very sweet of you, Brian. It’s Valentine’s Day and you’re supposed to say things like that.”

“Besides, you’re just some tall, lanky guy who stands with his toes pointing outwards, looking kind of goofy. In fact, your high school basketball coach, Coach Jenkins (you remember…the weird muscular one who had 19 inch arms, but insisted on wearing shirts sized to fit a small girl, so he had to cut the sleeves to maintain circulation beyond his shoulders, and everyone said he was a male stripper at the very classy “La-Bare”) used to affectionately call you “String Bean”.”

“How would you ever manage to catch a babe like that?”

Well, now you’re getting plain rude! And thanks a lot for reminding me about Coach Jenkins! Eeeesh!

Truth be told, I have no idea. But evidently she saw something in me that made her think she was “landing the big tuna”. (I just learned that phrase yesterday and figured if I didn’t use it now, I’d never get to.)

This past Christmas, looking as pretty as ever, she is sporting her white elephant spoils.
This past Christmas, looking as pretty as ever, she is sporting her white elephant spoils.

She even says that after dating me for only 2 weeks, she knew she was going to marry me. They say love is blind, so maybe that played into the equation.

But I don’t spend too much time wondering how I got her. I’m just thrilled that I did! Oh yeah, I was going to teach you my little trick.

When we get to go out in public together, which happens pretty rarely now since we have two young kids, this is what I do. It works really well at malls or large department stores.

When she goes off to look at something on her own, I know she is most likely going to eventually return. Assuming that, as I am looking at clothes, or other wares, I keep looking out for her in the distance, among the other people in the store.

I then perform some sort of odd mental gymnastics and put myself in someone else’s shoes. I am then some stranger, who happens to be shopping at that place and time.

As I lift my head and look in the distance, I catch a glimpse of blonde hair, slightly above the heads of the others in the women’s shoe section.

“That’s pretty hair,” I think. I then follow some very complex logic only a male would be capable of and deduce that pretty, blonde hair is typically on top of a pretty lady. So naturally, I continue following the hair with my eyes.

She continues walking perpendicularly to me, blocked from my view. At the end of the display, she turns, comes into full view and BAM! “Who is THAT?!” I whisper. And she knocks me off my feet all over again.

This trick may or may not work for you. But it’s worth a shot. If you have someone as spectacular as I do, anything that helps you continually appreciate him or her is priceless.

So here’s to my beautiful Valentine: Happy Valentine’s Day, Nicole! Thank you for being the best wife, mom, business partner, and companion I could have ever asked for. I love you like crazy and hope that you always feel loved by me. And did I mention….you sure are pretty!

P.S. This is the song that inspired the title, and it pretty accurately conveys how blessed I feel.

How are you going to make your Valentine feel special today?

Sometimes too Much of a Good Thing is…Simply Delicious!

It’s confession time, and boy do I have something to confess.

Last week, my good friend Jeff and I sat down and did something that we immediately regretted afterwards.

I’ve tried to forget about it; pretend it never happened. I’ve used desperate psychological techniques to attempt to force it into the far recesses of my psyche, where it will only come out when my subconscious comes to life at night and I wake up in a cold sweat.

Nothing has worked, however, and I still have to feel the bitter pangs of regret Chick Fil A Buildingevery single Friday, when we go to Chick Fil-A. (It’s called “Chick Fil-A Friday” for a reason, my friends!)

I like to eat healthy, most of the time…during the weekdays, but not on Friday night. (That’s when my wife, Nicole, and I get Papa Murphy’s Pizza, Cheddar’s, or some other very high calorie meal.)

But starting Monday, up through, and including lunch on Friday, my diet is pretty strictly regimented…or so I thought!

“So what did you do?!” you ask.

Okay, I’ll come clean. Jeff and I sat down together, with an iPhone, to determine exactly how healthy our Chick Fil-A Friday outings were. The results were devastating!

Allow me to walk you through it. We’ll just pretend I’m ordering.

“I would like a spicy chicken sandwich please (490 calories)…deluxe, that is (+80 calories).”Chick Fil A Spicey Chicken

“Would you like fries sir?”

“Well, since you asked, yes. (400 calories) Oh, and why don’t we make it a large. I’m famished!” (+120 calories)

“And to drink, Brian?”

“I would like half Sprite and half diet lemonade, please.” (95 calories)  This drink they now affectionately call a “Brian Palmer”, which gives you an idea of how frequently I go there.

“Why don’t we make that a large.” (+50 calories)

“That’ll be $7.65, sir.” (Yes, that’s exactly how much it costs.)

I know what you’re thinking. “Brian, that’s not too bad. Plenty of people eat lunches that total one thousand, two hundred and thirty five calories!”

Thank you very much for your reassurance. But unfortunately, I’m not done. It’s the next question that really gets me.

“Would you like sauce with that?”

“I appreciate you asking, kind lady. I sure would! May I have three tiny Chick Fil-A sauces and three, seemingly innocuous BBQ sauces, please.”

“My pleasure,” she says, as she passes a 6-inch stack of sauces across the counter. (That stack of sauces just added another 555 calories to my otherwise “light and healthy” lunch. A small price to pay for so much deliciousness, though.)

Prior to this fateful day, I would then sit down and blissfully enjoy my meal. Little did I know, by the time I walked out the door, and ordered one refill for the road, (+145 calories) I would have consumed a total of 1885 calories.

That means that in less than half an hour, I ate 115 calories less than what the FDA recommends I consume in a total of 24 hours. But what do they know?! Pyramid, schmeeramid!!

Sometimes, I will get the Cobb Salad (which keeps me at around 700 calories). But this is still my big treat of the week. The service there is amazing, the employees are kind, and the food is always delicious.

Who’s up for some Chick Fil-A? See you Friday!

 

 

 

Intolerable Petroleum Preservation and Protection Apparatus…ses

gas-canWe really try to keep our blog fun and light-hearted…but sometimes, you just gotta vent. Oh, the title? I wanted one government-worthy, since they’re at the heart of the issue.

Have you ever seen one of these before? I don’t even need to ask if you’ve ever used one, because if you have it has already triggered the same visceral response you get when you realize your license is about to expire and you’ll have to go camp out at the DMV.

The first time you used one is still a vivid memory, because the intense frustration it causes sears it into your brain almost as vividly as the first time you see the beautiful woman you would eventually marry.

It’s called an “Auto Shutoff” and it’s a new kind of gas can safety device. I suppose it technically is, because the safest thing you can do with gas is, well…NOTHING! It’s best that you just leave it in the can. There’s no danger at all, if you don’t pour out a single drop. If you do manage to figure it out though, I hope you are wearing galoshes, because you’re about to pour it all over the frickin’ place.

Well, here is how my “first time” went:

I went down to the barn recently to…you guessed it: get some gas. I needed to mix up a gallon of fuel for the Weed Eater for the last “weed eating” of the year. I would say that, in total, we have about 16 different gas cans in the barn, ranging from practically antique to still red and shiny.

I noticed that one of them looked really new, but it had some crazy contraption built around the nozzle. I steered clear of that one, and started checking the other 15 to see which ones still had gas in them. I shook my head back and forth as I rattled the last gas can and didn’t even hear a minute splash. I really didn’t want to drive to the gas station for a single gallon of gas, so I was pretty pleased when I picked up the odd can and it was still full. (Now I know why.)

I took the nozzle (with no “safety features” at all on it, thank you very much) off of the one gallon and poured in the mix. Next, I looked over at ole’ red. “It looks like you press this down”, I thought. So I pressed a little lever down and it stayed. “Nice!”

I picked it up and started to pour. Nothin’!

I set it down and took a closer look at this new-fangled device that was obviously intended to keep me from somehow hurting myself. “Ahhh, I see!” It has a twisty part too. I didn’t notice that the first time. So, I made sure the lever was pressed down, then I twisted the green part and let go. It springs right back.

“I’m gettin’ this.” (These short phrases are my internal dialogue during this process. I edit out all of the expletives, though. Don’t worry.)

I see that I have to twist the green thing, pick up the 28 pound gas can, pour the gas, and try to make it into the other can all at the same time. I can assure you that at no point in the process did I think to myself, “Man, this sure is safe!”

I began the aforementioned task that requires a level of multi-tasking I rarely undertake and….not a drop.

“Well, for Pete’s sake!” (See, I told you.)

The next attempt, I was somehow pressing down the lever while twisting the green thing, as I am lifting, tilting, aiming and pour…nope! “What the…!”
I set it back down and tried for at least 5 more minutes to dream up some magical combination of twisting, pressing and pouring that would give me access to the necessary liquid. I never managed to get a single drop of fuel out through that wonderful safety nozzle. And you know what? I’m not the least bit ashamed. I’d like to see you try it.

At this point I was quite frustrated (so there won’t be any more internal dialogue quoted). I set the can down and simply took the entire nozzle with its magical frickin’ safety device off and poured straight out of that can into the other one. Did I spill some? Uh-huh. A good bit more than I would have if I had an “un-safe” nozzle? You betcha. But I got my mixed fuel made and went to do some weed eatin’.

What’s the moral of the story? There isn’t one. But I can tell you this: If I am ever president, (and it could happen) the first day I am in office, I am going to outlaw those safety devices in our country. I will then collect them, ship them overseas and replace all of our enemies’ gas cans with those dastardly safety cans, then sit back and relax.

I am convinced that those safety nozzles alone will so obstruct the day-to-day operations of any nation as to eventually result in its economic collapse. I think they have a better chance of increasing safety that way than any other.

The 4 Year-Old Theologian

Handsome Super Man

Do you know if “napping” is an actual spiritual gift? If it is, it would make sense. I mean…I am really good at it. And one’s passions and gifts are often aligned. You just try asking me about naps. My face will light up with joy as the discussion of one of life’s legitimate pleasures commences!

I plan on doing some research on it, starting by reading through the New Testament and writing down all of the passages where naps are mentioned. Then I’ll grab the concordance and do a word study, going through every instance where the word “pancake” is used. Based on my experience today, if that food is referenced, then “nap”, “napping”, “will soon nap”, “hath nappeth”, or some other conjugation of the Greek verb “nappos” will be right around the corner.

This afternoon at 3:30, Thatcher and I had just gotten up from our very pleasant Sunday afternoon nap. Nicole was out grocery shopping and we were relaxing and gradually waking up on the couch, he with his Ipad, and me with my Kindle. My brother, Allen, had just sent me a link to an individual’s web site and recommended I check it out. I was reading an article* he had written about his own conversion when this conversation between Thatcher and me took place.

Warning: The text of this conversation has not been altered in any way to protect the ignorant (me) or the innocent (Thatcher). This is exactly as it took place.

“Daddy, do you want to play one of these games?” Thatcher said as he looked up from his Ipad.

“Not right now, tiger. I’m reading an article in a magazine (on my kindle).”

Thatcher: “What’s an article?”

Me: “It’s like a story in a magazine.”

Thatcher: “I don’t like magazines, do I?”

Me: “Well, this is a story for adults. It’s about how a man became a Christian.”

Thatcher: “What’s a Christian?”

Me: “It’s a person who has dedicated their lives to Jesus.”

Thatcher: “Do I have it?”

Me: “Do you love Jesus?”

Thatcher: “I do.”

Me: “He loves you too.”

Thatcher: “But I don’t want to go to heaven. Do you Daddy?”

Me: “Yes, but not now. Right now, I’m here with you guys.” Daddy and Thatcher fist-bump.

Thatcher: “When, Daddy.”

Me: “That’s not for me to decide.”

Thatcher: “Who does then?”

Me: “God.”

Thatcher got pensive as he processed and then goes back to playing his Frisbee game on his Ipad.

It’s fun having a 4-year old who is inquisitive. Oh wait…every 4-year old is inquisitive. Oh well.

I do love my Thatcher.

*

The article I was reading was “The Golden Fish: How God Woke Me Up in a Dream” by Eric Metaxes
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2013/june/golden-fish-eric-metaxas.html