Year In Hell

“Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside them was superior to circumstance.” —Bruce Barton

And so it begins: The next phase in my journey to spiritual, mental and physical strength.

On October 4, I hit my goal weight of 160. Actually I dropped below it, landing at 159.6. My intent at that time, and always, was to start a very intense weight lifting routine quickly following the attainment of my weight goal.

And on Wednesday, January 7, 2015, I began in earnest.

Little did I know at the time, but naming this particular phase Year In Hell, would prove to be strikingly appropriate.

Several months before hitting my weight goal, I started comparing different weight lifting routines. I looked at Bill Phillips’s Body for Life. I also looked at Tony Horton’s P90X. And then I came across a routine that sounded perfect: the tried and true 5×5 method.

Specifically, I came across StrongLifts 5×5.

In a nutshell, the 5×5 method was developed back in the 1960’s by a guy named Reg Park. It is a weight lifting routine that uses only five exercises: the squat, the bench press, the overhead press, the barbell row and, finally, the deadlift.

With the 5×5 method, you lift three times a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. And on each of your lifting days, you do three of the aforementioned lifts and rotate them back-and-fourth. In each case, you do five sets of five reps for each. The only exception is that when you do the squat and the deadlift on the same day, you one do one set of five reps on the deadlift, because they utilize very similar muscles.

Sounds simple, right? I thought so, too, and indeed, the routine itself is very simple.

The simplicity is what drew me to it.

I have experience with Body for Life. Back in 2002, I used Body for Life to hit my weight goal the first time. And while I believe it to be a good, solid and sound program full of great advice which will work for anyone who works it, the struggle I have with it is the sheer complexity of the weight lifting routine.

It is shockingly difficult to remember what you are supposed to do, when you are supposed to do it and how much you are supposed to do of what you are supposed to do when you actually can figure out what you are supposed to do and when you are supposed to do it.

Did that last sentence read rather jumbled? Good. That’s a great picture of the Body for Life lifting routine.

But not so with StrongLifts 5×5. It’s simple. It straight forward. It’s easy to remember. And it works!

And then came Wednesday, January 7.

I started lifting at about 6:00 AM. By about 2:00 PM, I was convinced that I would soon be dead.

All humor aside, it was perhaps the most demoralizing day in this fight since it began.

Starting Over

Last Wednesday, I learned something. I learned it right out of the gate and I learned it in a way that humbled me.

Nobody likes to be humbled and I’m no exception.

I can run circles around very nearly anyone in my gym on any piece of cardio equipment they can throw at me. I can climb a thousand steps on a step mill. I can walk up a mountainside on a treadmill. I can burn down my competition on an elliptical.

But my performance on the cardio floor has nothing whatsoever to do with my performance (or better said: my lack of performance) on the weight floor.

StrongLifts 5×5 is a beginners program and is designed specifically for people who have either never lifted or who haven’t lifted in many years. I fall into the latter category.

But make no mistake: “beginners program” doesn’t translate to “easy program.” In fact, the 5×5 method is a very difficult and very challenging (both physically and mentally) weight lifting routine that works nearly every muscle in the human body through a series of five compound, free weight exercises.

On your first day, you are told to lift only the weight of the Olympic bar (a weight of forty five pounds). Following that, you are to add five pounds each day to each lift unless and until you fail a rep.

I was bested by the Olympic bar. I was bested by forty five measly pounds. I couldn’t have lifted another pound and I couldn’t even hope to get my full five sets.

So here I am: back at square one. Back at the beginning. I liken it to graduating from High School as a senior and a few months later starting all over as a Freshmen in College.

As I dealt with my very literal physical pain and licked my wounds, I fell into a place of surprising despondence. Had I bitten off more than I would be able to chew? Did I belong on the weight floor?

All I wanted to do was run back to my cardio machines where I know what I am doing, where I am very good at what I do and where the routine is familiar and safe.

In other words: I wanted my comfort zone. But no one has ever changed in a comfort zone, and I am here to change.

The Sun Also Rises

I learned something last Wednesday.

I learned that I have more to learn. I learned that I haven’t arrived. I learned that I am still rising!

So, on Monday morning, I will return to the weight floor at my gym. I will lift forty five pounds on the squat. I will lift forty five pounds on the bench press. I will lift forty five pounds on the barbell row.

Why go back? Why not just stay in the comfort of the cardio floor where I can make my competition look like mince meat?

Because last Wednesday, I learned one other very important thing: I will not be beaten.


Tearing Down Neverland

On February 17, 2013, the pastor of my church offered perhaps the best definition of a Biblical stronghold I had ever heard. As a result of his sermon series–entitled “Mind Wars”–I finally understood what I had struggled to understand for most of my life.

I had of course heard the term “stronghold” many times. It’s tough to be a seeking Christian and not hear the term. But though the term is thrown around everywhere, it’s one thing to hear it and something else altogether to understand it. Whether I chose not to invest the time and energy to really understand the concept of a spiritual stronghold or whether no one ever adequately explained it to me, I’m not sure. But now, here I was, listening to my pastor finally put words to an incredibly important concept that had eluded me for decades.

Now that I had an understanding of what I was up against, I knew how to start fighting. Now that I knew that the things I was (and still am) facing were not merely part of being human, but were in fact physical manifestations of a very real (yet unseen) spiritual war, I knew that I had to fight not only physically, but more importantly, I had to fight spiritually.

And soon my stronghold would have a name: Neverland.

A Stronghold is Born

My childhood was…difficult. It was the perfect breeding ground for an adversary to plant seeds of doubt, fear and anguish into a very young mind.

I remember seeing pictures of myself at age eight in which my body weight was normal for an eight year old boy. By age nine, the weight gain in those photos was obvious. By age ten, I was obese and a “stronghold” (which I would later name “Neverland”) was firmly established.

I had learned to hate myself and–without knowing it–had become terribly self-destructive. My enemy had me right where he wanted me and he was attacking me without mercy.

But there was always, always that still small voice whispering to me in the darkness. It was constantly there, no matter how bad things were. No matter how terrified I was. No matter how dark the world had grown, there was someone there, counting every tear and preparing me to do battle with my enemy.

As the years dragged on, I became more angry and depressed and I withdrew deeper and deeper into myself. Decade by decade, year by year, month by month, week by week, day by day, hiour by hour, minute by minute, second by second, the stronghold was becoming ever stronger and more deeply entrenched.

But my God–the Commander of the Lord’s Army–had a battle plan.

By the age of twenty-six, I was barely employed, I lived in the basement of my parents home and at five foot, nine inches tall, I weighed 265 pounds and close to half of my body was made of fat. My enemy had me right where he wanted me: defeated, dreadfully fearful, desperately depressed and without hope.

In my way of thinking, that’s the worst thing of all: to be devoid of hope.

The stronghold at Neverland was now complete.

But this wasn’t me. This wasn’t the man who God had made. God had created me with great intelligence, with incredible talent, with deep compassion and with a heart full of love. And because of His sacrifice, the truth is, I was not without hope. In fact, I had all the hope in the universe. I just didn’t recognize it.

God gave me one more thing: the spirit of a fighter. But I wasn’t listening; I was looking for my own solution. I didn’t want to face the things that this God was asking me to face. I didn’t want to do the work that He expected me to do.

I didn’t want anything to do with this God. I was looking for a god I could see, hear and touch.

And then that god–a golden calf–came along.

Many of you reading this blog know the story that I told of September 14, a pivotal, truly life altering day in my life. It is a day which altered my life not once, but twice.

I will not belabor the point by re-telling that story here. But if you haven’t read that part of this story, it’s worth reading for a fuller understanding of how I came from where I was to where I am.

Suffice it to say that I saw my golden calf (a woman to whom I refer in the aforementioned story of September 14) as my salvation. By this point in my life, I had turned my back on my only real hope and had been shaking my fist at Him for over a decade.

The truth is that all humanity is looking for a power greater than themselves. We are all looking for God. Sometimes we find God, and other times we find…god, but we will always find something.

I was no different, and even though I knew the truth of who God is (after all, I was raised in the Christian faith) I chose to ignore that truth and find something else to replace Him: an idol who I thought could provide me with all those things that had been missing since the age of eight.

And the truth of the matter is, that false god did move me forward. My life improved greatly as a result of my relationship with “I.B.” (as I refer to her). I finally went to school and earned a degree; I started working real paying jobs and making real money; I eventually married that idol and moved away from my parents’ home.

I even lost 105 pounds.

In eight months, from July of 2002 to March of 2003, I dropped from 265 pounds and approximately fifty per cent body fat to 160 pounds and about 14.5 per cent body fat.

I was on top of the world even as my entire made-up, forced fantasy of a universe was just about to collapse around me.

Then, on September 14, 2003, Neverland roared and counter attacked with a vengeance. I never saw it coming and it would take more than a decade for me to roar back.

As the years following the fall of 2003 progressed, ever so slowly–so very slowly–I healed and as I healed, I gingerly looked up. And one day I finally realized that God really had counted every single tear that had ever fallen from my eyes. I gained strength and perspective from that knowledge and for the first time in my life I began to earnestly seek God.

In the summer of 2010–June 2, 2010 to be precise–I started to fight back.

Neverland would fall again, but it would take more than four years to see that dream realized; to see the war against Neverland won.

First allow me to explain what “Neverland” is, precisely.

No, I’m not crazy, and no, I don’t have a Peter Pan complex, though I’m sure many of you who have seen my posts on social media may suspect the former.

Neverland is a spiritual stronghold. In particular, Neverland represents the stronghold that is my struggle with the incredible weight gain that I experienced as a child and that I have struggled with ever since. Neverland is the stronghold that has dogged me since childhood, and Neverland is the mother of each and every other stronghold in my life.

Some of you have seen or heard me speak of Neverland in militaristic terms. This is because I firmly believe in the concept of spiritual warfare, and there is absolutely, positively a spiritual war being fought for me and for each and every one of us on earth. It is an unseen war, but it is literally fought every single day.

A stronghold is exactly that: it is an emotional and spiritual “place of power” in the human spirit that the enemy of God throws up in our minds to distract us with, to lie to us with, to falsely convict us with, to injure us with, and, if possible, to destroy us with, even to the point of taking our physical lives if he can convince us to fall that far.

Make no mistake: a stronghold is insidously powerful, and it takes a spiritual war to tear a stronghold to pieces.

Arguably my greatest stronghold has been Neverland: the stronghold of the condition of my body, which, as I mentioned, has prospered, fed and grown every other stronghold in my life.

I won the war decisively against Neverland back in 2002 to 2003, but the counter attack of September 14, 2003 was something that I never saw coming. I was not prepared for it. I had fought that original fight for all the wrong reasons. The concept of a spiritual stronghold was foreign to me. I had no idea I was even fighting a stronghold; no idea I was fighting an unseen but powerful enemy. So when the counter attack came, I fell hard and over the course of about two years, I had gained most of the weight back and Neverland was stronger than ever.

So why call it “Neverland”? Because after the fall of 2003, I thought it impossible to ever hope that I would defeat Neverland a second time.

Unstoppable: Never Say Die

Finally God had my attention.

I sat back and I waited on Him. I regrouped. I worked on myself. I sought Him. I cried out to Him. I challenged Him. I went out to the desert and I wrestled with God. And yes, I have a limp.

It took a great deal of time, but I learned to be okay with me; I learned to be okay in my own skin. I learned that I could survive. Most importantly, I learned that I would survive. Not because of some frail and temporal power in myself, but because of the power of God within me.

And then I was finally ready.

On June 2, 2010 I rallied against Neverland a second time.

Like any war–and make no mistake: this is a war, against myself, against a very real enemy and against the stronghold he established decades earlier–this war would have its ups and downs. Its gains and loses. I would take ground and lose ground and then take it again, over and over again. It was a back and forth that I hadn’t experienced the first time I fought this fight.

It was very discouraging. But I never gave up. I never quit. I never stopped fighting. I never, ever said die!

Finally, on the morning of Monday, March 17, 2014, I made a decision: It was time to end this war once and for all. And so, weighing 230.3 pounds with my body fat clocking in at 31.5 per cent, I went on the offensive. This would no longer be a defensive fight.

Most importantly, I set a very specific, time sensitive goal: I gave myself until my wedding anniversary, Tuesday, October 21, 2014 to achieve victory. I would win a decisive and total victory, or I would die fighting; there were no other options.

On October 4, 2014–four years, four months and 2 days after the war started and seventeen days before my goal date–I won phase one of my fight with Neverland. I had surpassed my goal when I weighed in at 159.6 pounds and a body fat per cent of 15.3. In the two weeks since, my body fat has continued to drop and now sits at its lowest point since I was eight years old at 13.6 per cent.

A Pilgrim On My Way: Year In Hell

So what’s next?

In the week that immediately followed the achievement of my goal, I vividly remember a feeling of what can really only be described as being in a state of shock. I wasn’t entirely sure of what I should be doing at that moment or of how to proceed forward.

I knew what needed to come next, but I was (and am, for a few more days) in a temporary holding pattern because resources needed to be moved around and redirected to support the next front in my fight.

When an enemy lays down his arms and surrenders, constant vigilance–and not boisterous celebration–is the order of the day and is absolutely critical to ensure that the enemy has no capacity to rise again.

And it is absolutely true that Neverland is only the first of the many strongholds in my life that must be brought into subjugation and made to bow the knee.

I have much important work ahead.

My fight with Neverland is far from over. I have completed the first of two phases: that was to achieve my goal weight of 160 pounds and a goal body fat of fourteen per cent.

In phase two, which I fully anticipate will take a full year to accomplish, I will take things to the next level. I will work harder than I have ever worked before with more persistence, more perseverance and more determination and more passion than I have ever shown.

It took only a few days for that feeling of shock to wear off and for the planning and preparation for the next phase: Year In Hell to begin.

In the coming days I will share more about where I am headed and how I intend to get there.

“Providence has prospered my endeavor.” –Annuit Coeptis

#AndHeFlew #BodyStrength #MindStrength #SpiritStrength

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Persistence. Perseverance. Determination.

“Winning is not normal and those who constantly win follow an ‘abnormal’ path. The discipline, dedication and sacrifices are incomprehensible to those thousands standing outside, looking in, who are capable of joining the winning team, yet unwilling to pay the price of admission. Winners win in a fair effort, on a level playing field; because they deserve to win…they willingly pay their dues in full, time after time, after time.” —Anonymous

“Providence has prospered my endeavor.” –Annuit Coeptis

My ResultsOn Wednesday, June 2, 2010, I declared a war. On Saturday, October 4, 2014 at 5:21 PM, I crossed the Rubicon.

Next: Year In Hell.

More to follow. Please stay tuned.

#AndHeFlew #BodyStrength #MindStrength #2Miles #YearInHell

Ten Years…and Change

Something very bad happened to me exactly ten years ago tonight.

In the past ten years, I have seen more, experienced more, learned more, grown more than in the previous 33 combined. Because this blog is all about physical, mental and spiritual growth, and because tonight is the tenth anniversary of the most profoundly life changing event in my life, I’ve decided to share the story of September 14, 2003. It was so long ago. But it may as well have happened yesterday.

After all, I remember that night like it happened yesterday.

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