When I was growing up, staying in good physical shape and avoiding over-eating were not things that I ever worried about... because these things kind of took care of themselves! Eating healthy and getting plenty of exercise was the norm in my life. Getting plenty of rest, now that may have been another story since my life was very full of activity.
I was a child in the 1960s and 70s, and we were a traditional family for that era: the whole family ate big hardy meals together, and the food was served starting with Dad, then passed to my mom to his left, then on around the table it went. My place at the table was next to my dad, on his right, so by the time the food went around, past my 10 siblings, 5 or so foster kids that were living with us at any given time, and a couple of strays that stopped in because they knew it was meal time, I was feeling pretty lucky to get anything other than some of the healthiest looking stuff that they passed up. We grew and processed all of our own food so it was guaranteed to be good for us. Junk foods, candy, soda, etc. were foreign substances to my family and they never entered our house.
My father grew up on a farm where he had to work long hard days from a very early age, so he was of the mindset that no day should end until his boys complete at least 3 hours (10 hours when school was not in session) of some sort of hard manual labor (maybe against today’s child labor laws). He owned a construction and painting company so there were always plenty of tasks that required a strong back and a weak mind, and he left a list on the breakfast table of things for us to complete before bedtime most days. I remember one particular occasion when my list only had one chore on it. That was a good sign! It went something like this:
You and Dave need to go over to the barn at the address below where 80 bundles of shingles have been delivered. I will have scaffolding and roof jacks set up so you can carry the shingles up and distribute them around the roof. Make sure you get this done today because tomorrow is Saturday and you will be shingling the roof then. Your older brother is in charge. Make sure he comes home from school and gets there too. Keep him working and on task. I’m counting on you.
My participation in school athletics also gave me an extremely high regiment of physical exercise. I was very competitive and sports were one of the joys of my life back then. I was that kid... the one that broke 10 track & field records, captain of the basketball team and always getting highest points and rebounds, best at football, baseball, tennis, swimming, and hockey. I was holding high school pole vaulting clinics for varsity teams at area high schools as a 7th grader and was moved up to the varsity basketball team as an 8th grader. Between work and sports, staying in tip-top shape was not something I needed to worry about.
Then, one day during my junior year in H.S., while practicing for the state high school track & field championships as the favored pole vaulter, I had an accident, falling and landing on my head. The fall compressed about a dozen of the vertebra in my neck and back and severed my spinal cord which left me completely paralyzed from the arms down. I spent 7.5 months in the hospital and most of another full year in bed. I lost 65 pounds of muscle (not a good weight loss program) and became very weak. For a time I could only move my eyes and spent weeks on a ventilator. My doctors didn’t expect me to make it through the ordeal. But eventually I began to recover and my inner athletic person finally came back to life and accepted my challenge. I ambitiously started on the road to health and exercise once again. My daily workout included weight lifting and at least one five mile “jog” in my wheelchair which I was able to consistently finish in under 45 minutes. I put the muscle back on in the places that I still had control of, and felt healthy and stronger than I ever imagined I could ever feel again.
This workout regiment became a regular part of my daily life over the next 38 or so years, although I did, however, decrease the mileage to a 5K (3.1 miles). I was told that the life expectancy of a paralyzed person like myself is 53 years, but I have gone quite a few years beyond that, and I contribute it to God’s gracious hand in my life, and to myself for taking responsibility for the way I take care of my spirit, mind, and body.
Now let me fast forward to more recent history...
On my birthday in 2011, I fell very hard once again. But, this time I didn’t fall down, and I didn’t break anything. I fell in love with this most beautiful, wonderful, and amazing woman living in Maryland while I was living in Michigan. Eventually, she became my wife and is the joy of my life; and she has made everything I have ever gone through all worth it. But she does, however, have just one quality that has been a challenge to me. She is one of the best cooks ever and I don’t sit at the end of the food line anymore. This thrills my soul, but it does require that I develop consistent self-control with how much I eat and how I exercise for the first time in my life.
My wife and I have a very busy life with our marriage, six children, careers, church life, and extended family, and although I have continued to exercise, it has fallen off and has become inconsistent over the last two years. The results of this have begun to show in places that I can no longer suck in and hide, so I know that this is the time to do something about it. Our oldest son, who lives in Michigan, is getting married this July, and I have resolved that “the father of the groom” will not be taking this “extra stuff” that I have collected back to Michigan to display in front of all of my family and friends. In my determination to get into better shape I announced my resolution to the office staff a couple of weeks ago and have asked them to hold me accountable to meet my exercise and weight loss goal: a taunting task which they joyfully accepted and have begun to exercise. They ride my back constantly. Oh, and this brings up another challenge that I am facing: it is not a TOTALLY positive thing to spend years praying for and sharing God’s Word with your co-workers in order for them to develop a relationship with the Lord, and to start coming to your church… because once they do, they will meet your spouse, and whenever you do the slightest tiny little thing wrong like open a can of Mt. Dew or try to sneak a candy bar, they threaten to go find her on Sunday and tell her that I am cheating on my healthy eating plan. I told them that this is strictly forbidden and that it says so very clearly in II Barnabas chapter 200, verse 1 that they should not do it. They’ve held off telling her for now and are still trying to find that passage!
I am very thankful for my family, friends, and now church family that is walking with me in the struggle that we all are likely to face at some point in our lives. Developing healthy eating habits and getting regular physical exercise takes a lot of planning, effort, and determination. Doing it with physical challenges and limitations such as the ones I face takes even more resolve. But I believe that we, as Christ followers, are called to live in such a way that we reflect positively on our Lord and to take care of the temples in which He lives. As we do so we demonstrate his power and self-control that is at work within us. I hold onto the promise that “We can do all things through him who give us strength”, and I invite, I challenge, all of you to join in with me as we encourage each other towards this goal.