Winston Churchill once said, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
And President John F. Kennedy once said, “We do these things, not because they’re easy, but because they’re hard.”
I have often quoted such sayings, seeking to inspire others, but have all too rarely imbibed and lived them myself. The year 2021 was my year, however, when, by the grace of God, I did not give in and when I did some things that are really hard.
Back story: In the fall of 2020, my school, Veritas Academy, had closed and my teaching career ended. Inspired by some military veterans who were seeking to call attention to the problems vets face, I began exercising with a few weights my son Nate left. Starting an exercise program is easy, but it is maintaining the discipline that is hard. So, I drafted the two young men who had originally inspired me. Father Steve Abbott, who is serving in Texas now, and Chaplain Zachary Jones, who was serving in Korea this past year, became my “Accountability Anglicans.”
Being conditioned to obey orders from the military and being graced to serve fellow Christians, both men willingly offered advice and lots of encouragement. What they didn’t know was that they were silently there every time I exercised and were silently rebuking me if I skipped out.
My first feat was in reaching 2 months of working out. I don’t think even my family knew yet that I was exercising. They were shocked and surprised. Then one day, I noticed a slightly defined bicep muscle in my arm as I was brushing my teeth. And I was surprised.
As the months continued, so did I. In late February, I decided that I would focus on March’s goal being “30 for 30,” meaning 30 pushups a day for 30 days. In April, it became “40 for 40,” which took me into mid-May. I was planning on increasing the number of pushups and trying to attain correct form by mid-summer.
Disclaimer: I was doing a variety of exercises, including using dumbells, an ab wheel, and a exercise band (a gift from my daughter TaraJane), but my pushups were from my knees. I simply lacked the upper body strength to do a real manly pushup. But my hope was always for seeing improvements.
THE OVERALL GOAL WAS 66 PUSHUPS ON MY DECEMBER 28, 2021 BIRTHDAY WHEN I WOULD BE 66 YEARS OLD.
Then the unexpected happened. A benign polyp in my colon had to be removed. This was then calculated in as a minor setback. I would go in for surgery one day and back home a few days later. Except, complications arrived in battalions. A second surgery was needed to correct the first one. All manner of tubes, antibiotics, and treatments were applied. For a time I was on a ventilator, but I have no memory of it. For 23 days, I was in the hospital, mainly ICU. Far from exercising, I was not even able to walk or take care of myself.
Two wonderful physical therapists began helping me. One of them, a body builder named Jim Spain, would ask, “Can you stand up at the sink and brush your teeth?” Halfway through the brushing of my teeth, I usually felt exhausted.
After that they would help me, with a walker and an oxygen tank. The first day, it was a slow walk down the hall and back. Day after day, we three were able to get a little further along in the process. Finally, I got to come back home to my family, my dog, my chair, my books, and I cried–a lot.
My summer was spent slowly recovering, continually going to doctors, and avoiding foods with salt/sodium. After a few heart tests, due to my having been diagnosed with congestive heart failure, I went to cardio rehab for a few days a week for a couple of months. As my stomach healed and I regained strength, I resumed my exercises, although doing less.
My battered up, underweight, and aged body didn’t inspire me to exercise. Still, I have continued. Inconsistent at times, discouraged constantly, and not sure if it was worth the effort, I pressed on.
And with my son Nick present and recording the event, on December 28, my 66th birthday, I did 66 pushups. I had to take a couple of breaks. My form was poor. I was still doing pushups from my knees. But the mission was accomplished.
1. The spiritual story is more important than the physical, even though I am telling that story here. One should not make too large a divide between the physical and spiritual aspects of life. My soul recovered alongside my body. My illness revealed many spiritual problems. My faith was weak, too weak to save me, but my salvation has always depended on Christ’s accomplished work, and not anything I contribute to it.
2. It is never too late to start a good habit or practice. I had long accepted being weak, out of shape, and satisfied with bad eating and exercise habits. Maybe I had already starting thinking it was too late back when I was in my 40s. Change as we grow older is much slower and much less impressive. My friends and son, Nate, who are gym and workout enthusiasts shame me with the mass and muscle they have. I won’t get there.
But accepting where I am, I can get to a better stage.
3. My exercises prior to surgery may very well have saved my life and hastened my recovery. Many thanks again to Steve Abbott, Zachary Jones, Tyler Gilliam, my family and others who encouraged me. My exercises had resulted in the loss of some 10 pounds or so that was excess weight. (I am blessed by being conditionally slim, but I was carrying a few extra pounds.) The cardiac benefits were helpful.
4. I am inspired by men whose physical fitness attainments are way beyond mine. I have to accept that I can never be like them, but I can be better than I am.
These guys are my heroes. The amazing thing about these men, and this group includes Dylan Ward, Michael Ulmer, Lex Hawthorne, Timothy Hawthorne, Paul Nix, Jim Spain, Nate House, and the funny and talented Andrew Smith, is that they are no condescending, muscular jerks. They write and speak to me like I really do matter, like my meager gains are real, and like strong Christian teachers to a weaker brother.
5. Apart from being right with God, it would all be meaningless. After all, even the strong, fit young bucks I know and follow are someday going to be old, weak men. And we are all awaiting death. A life of good exercise is a way to supplement God’s grace, but it is not itself grace.
My goals for 2022:
- Eat better. This is a hard one for me. I basically cut out soft drinks last year, but I will have to work to reduce both sodium and sugar.
- Learn to swim. I refer to Andrew Smith, shown above, as my swim coach. But he is far away. I can dog paddle, but I would really like to actually swim.
- Keep exercising with monthly goals.
- Do 1000 pushups in December of this year. I will do them over a period of 10 days. Like Andrew, I will do them in 10s, but at a rate of 100 per day. And I want them to be real pushups.
- Not neglect the things that matter even more, meaning faith and family.