Strong Kids

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Several years ago my aunt Emily gave me the children’s books from her childhood, including one about Popeye the Sailor Man. Last week I read it aloud to two of our granddaughters. It was one of those joyous times that combined a sweet moment in the present with sweet memories from long ago.

Ray and I grew up watching the local Popeye show that aired on a Nashville television station with host “Captain Bob,” a.k.a. local weather man Bob Lobertini. Once I got to visit the show live. It was thrilling except when it was my turn to walk in front of the camera and squeeze the Popeye puppet’s nose. When I touched his nose, as I had seen so many other children do on the television in our living room, it didn’t squeak! His nose was hard and the sound came, not from his nose, but from some squeaker behind the puppet stage. Alas, I had just learned a lesson I would learn again and again: things are not always what they seem.

The theme of the Popeye book that belonged to my aunt was the same theme as every Popeye cartoon I remember. Popeye needed to save somebody who was in danger but he wasn’t strong enough. In the book, it was his friend Wimpy and his baby, Swee’pea, who needed to be saved from the sea. As always his girlfriend, Olive Oyl, came running with a can of spinach, poured it into Popeye’s upturned mouth, and . . . voila! Popeye triumphed again!

Crystal City, Texas,  “Spinach Capital of the World,” has honored Popeye with a statue. This South Texas city holds an annual spinach festival. Photo courtesy: Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.

I did a little clicking to find a bit of information about the history of Popeye. I found out that he was based on a real one-eyed man from the artist’s hometown, that his first appearance in a comic strip was in 1929, and that consumption of spinach rose significantly after the comic strip became popular. I also finally found out who Swee’pea is. Popeye found him one day on his doorstep.

I never expected to find a lesson in Popeye, but a recent conversation about the general state of affairs in our culture reminded me of Popeye and Wimpy. As Christians, God calls us to be strong and not wimpy. Jesus calls us to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Our salt will be more effective and our light will be brighter if we are strong in Him.

As God told Joshua after the death of Moses:

Have I not commanded you?
Be strong and courageous!
Do not be terrified nor dismayed,
for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Joshua 1:9

An important goal in rearing children is that they grow in strength, just as Jesus did when He was a child.

Now the Child continued to grow
and to become strong, increasing in wisdom;
and the favor of God was upon Him.
Luke 2:40

In the cartoon version of Popeye, he sang that he was strong to the finish ’cause he ate his spinach. Ray’s and my prayer for our children and grandchildren is that they and their children and their children and every generation and all of their spouses be faithful until Jesus comes and live with Him forever in Heaven. I know that this is your longing, too.

Your name, Lord, is everlasting,
The mention of You, Lord, is throughout all generations.
Psalm 135:13

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