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
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