“See you in the gloom.”

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I started working out again.

I wasn’t planning on writing about this so soon–perhaps I was afraid I’d jinx myself or something (not that I believe in such things). More likely, it’s that I don’t feel I deserve any kudos for doing this yet.

When I start to make some positive change in my life, my wife will sometimes tell me she’s proud of me. My knee-jerk response is, “Be proud of me later.” Maybe that’s the wrong response to give, but I know myself. I know how often I’ve begun new projects or habits or “life changes” and how quickly I’ve faded out, lost steam, and fallen away. I’d much rather that she’s proud of me for being faithful at something for a long time than for merely starting it.

Anyway.

I have some friends who are part of a fitness group called F3 (which stands for “Fitness, Fellowship, and Faith”). They have been encouraging me to take part in their early morning workouts for a year or two, but I’ve rebuffed their suggestions with various lame excuses about timing and schedule and energy levels.

The fact of the matter is I didn’t want to join for two very important reasons: 1) Most of the workouts are at 5:30 a.m. and I hate waking up early; and 2) I’m fat and lazy and don’t like to be uncomfortable.

I needed something to jolt me out of those excuses.

Embracing My Why

In conversations and coaching about lifestyle changes like weight loss and fitness, a common refrain is “find your why”–the bottom-line driving reason for you to make a change. The logic of this is that you have to want a certain outcome more than you want the bad-for-you momentary choices. If you can hold on to your “why,” you can say “no” to yourself enough to build a better habit.

Obviously, a big “why” for me is my family. I’m 40 years old, and I know (at least on some level) that I am shortening my lifespan by living at a very unhealthy weight. Nevertheless, I still struggle to break some of the habits that keep me at this weight. (We don’t need to get too deep into the psychology of why that is, at this point. But suffice it to say, unless something changes, I’m not doing myself or my family any favors.)

On top of that, at my current weight, I can only get a limited amount of life insurance, so if anything were to happen to me, my family would struggle financially for a while before they could get their feet under them. That’s not at all what I want for them.

In the past, thinking about my “why” has usually triggered at least some sort of short-term change that quickly burned out as I reverted to old patterns. Then something happened about 2 weeks ago that flipped the first switch.

One night at around 1:30 a.m., our newborn woke up crying–piercing screams rather than her usual slow build-up cries. She was totally fine–she had a gas bubble, which in her 6 weeks of life experience would fairly be called an emergency–but I realized that I was not fine. For some reason, her cries triggered a physiological panic reaction in me: heart racing, chest tightness, jaw tightness, arm/shoulder pain, difficulty breathing, headache. Even as my wife tended to our daughter and I laid myself back down to sleep, I still felt amped up. My mind buzzed.

What if this was it? What if this was actually the heart attack I’ve been warned of but pretended wouldn’t catch up to me? What would happen to my wife and daughters if I died right now?

I’ve had those types of thoughts before. And while I can always rest in the reality that ultimately God will watch over my family, it’s still my responsibility to provide for and protect them–which I can’t do if I’m not alive.

For some reason, this early-morning shock hit me differently, and it was enough to make me decide to take a leap I’d been putting off for months.

I was going to go work out with other people.

Friendly New Guy

There is a third reason I put off going to those early-morning workouts with my friends: I didn’t want to embarrass myself. I didn’t want to be the one really fat guy who couldn’t keep up and who spent the whole time sucking wind and sweating like a wounded buffalo, while all these other athletes were completing exercises I couldn’t get close to finishing. (Seriously, the “burpee” is a cruel, sadistic exercise that has no right having such a cutesy name.)

But I went anyway, willing to risk embarrassment to try it out. I didn’t think I’d like exercising with other people. I didn’t think I’d finish the workout. I didn’t know if I’d ever go back. But I wanted to give it a try. But here’s what I found.

The guys were really welcoming. I was greeted warmly and welcomed by several of the group that morning. Between very challenging sets of exercises, some of them took turns hanging back in the back of the pack with me to talk. I was a little surprised by how cool everyone was. I was obviously in the worst shape of anyone there (by orders of magnitude) but they were all working hard and encouraging each other and me. That was refereshing.

I did better than I thought. I had to modify most exercises (and was encouraged to do so), and I’m most definitely the last man to finish every set. But I didn’t quit and I didn’t puke. That’s a small victory. The group’s repeated encouragement was that I wasn’t competing against anyone out there except myself, and my goal should just be to get better. And that is definitely my goal. I want to get better each time.

I became part of the group, not just a tag-along. One of the cool things about F3 and the culture they build is that they give each person a nickname or call-sign. You show up as a “Friendly New Guy,” but by the end, the group gives you a nickname and you are invited back. This sounds corny, but I think this may be part of the secret sauce of the whole thing. The feeling I was dreading most of all, going into this, was of being seen as a poser, as not really belonging there. The way these F3 groups welcome new guys and build rapport is something special.

I felt way better than I expected. I was totally gassed, and my muscles were unbelievably sore the next day. But I came home after that first workout with a smile on my face, and even told my wife it was “fun.” I committed to myself to show up for 3 workouts a week (at least at first) and have only missed one in the last 2 weeks. Obviously, it’s still really early in the process, but no matter how hard the workout is each time, I’m always glad after I finish and looking forward to going back.

SYITG

This really wasn’t supposed to be an infomercial post for the F3 program (#NotSpon), but this is just a cool development in my life and I wanted to share a little bit about it.

If you’re a man in the US and you need some motivation to get healthier or get stronger or just get moving, check out their site and look for a group near you. It’s all free to participate and volunteer-led. If you think you’re too old/fat/slow/shy to join any kind of workout group, I’d say just give it a try. Do your best. Swallow your pride. Get after it.

And depending on the day, if you’re in a certain part of the Houston area, I’ll see you out there in the early-morning gloom. Because I’m not planning on stopping anytime soon.

Common Bond.

person shaking hands
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I was recently enjoying an overnight hotel stay with my very pregnant wife–a combination anniversary and “baby-moon” getaway. After breakfast, she went back up to the room to sleep a bit longer, while I stayed down in the lobby, drinking coffee and finishing up my day’s reading from the #SamePageSummer reading plan.

(Are you participating in this challenge? We’re reading through the New Testament this summer. It’s not too late to start–we’ve only read the Gospel of John so far!)

I had just finished reading John 19, the account of the Crucifixion, and was meditating on the commentary notes from Charles Spurgeon about the “ocean of meaning in a drop of text” (the word tetelestai). Suddenly, I noticed a gentleman approached me, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. “Hey, brother, what’s the word?”

The term “brother” tipped me off, so I hesitated just a moment and then said, “The word is ‘It is finished’.”

He broke into a wide grin. “Amen to that!”

This sparked a ten-minute conversation about the interplay between trusting in the finished work of Jesus and taking up the active obedience of His disciples, and how Christians use the “done-ness” of our salvation as an excuse not to walk as Jesus walked.

The man then told me a bit about himself: his name is Daniel and he’s the pastor of a local non-denominational church, married with older kids, and he previously worked with Chuck Colson’s prison ministry. I shared a bit about myself as well, including the fact that I recently became an elder and that my wife and I are expecting our second daughter very soon.

Then he said, “I know you’re busy, and I hate to interrupt your study, but can I pray for you?” We took turns praying over each other, praying for each other’s walk, family, and ministry. We then shared a warm handshake, and he left to join his family. We didn’t exchange info or anything. We just got to share a moment of fellowship and encouragement in a hotel lobby.

I share this as a reminder: Christian, you’re part of a big, big family. And you don’t agree with all your brothers and sisters on every point of theology. I’m sure there are probably things I would disagree about with my brother in the hotel lobby. But we shared the same Lord and the same faith, and that binds us together in a way that I will never be connected to my unsaved family members or friends, no matter how close we may feel. Because as far as I can discern, Daniel and I will both be there in that glorious throng on the Last Day, praising our King together.

So, even as we believers wrestle with doctrinal distinctions and rightly guard against error, we should also be quick to recognize that even among those with whom we disagree, there is still a bond of brotherhood and fellowship that gives us family and welcome, no matter where we are, all over the world.

Be encouraged, believer: we are a large and rambunctious family, but we are a family nevertheless. Amen and amen.

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Request: Please keep this week’s Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in prayer. This year, our denomination is wrestling with some big issues, such as how to deal with sexual abuse and cover-up in a way that is transparent and light-filled, and how to understand and promote a Biblical understanding of gender roles as it relates to church practice. Pray for wisdom, clear thought, and a deep sense of our brotherhood and common bond as believers.

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Your Turn: If you’re a Christian, have you experienced unexpected fellowship in an encounter with a fellow believer you’d never met? Tell us about it!

And if you’re not a follower of Jesus, I’m actually curious as to why, if you’re willing to discuss that–either in the comments or via email, if you prefer.  Hit me up.