Wanting to Weigh 200 Pounds to Wanting to Push 1500 Pounds: Journey from Ten Minute Ab Workouts to Competitive Powerlifting.

My initial decision to join the gym in town is a bit fuzzy. I think I just thought, “Well I am 23, out of school, working full time and I got kind of out of shape since college.”

Pizza, Ramen Noodles, Coke and Taco Bell will do that. I was starting my first full time job and finally had some regularity to my life, so I just thought I’d go for it. Plus I was getting married in a year and wanted to look good!

I made an appointment to check out the gym, signed up and had my first session with my trainer.

He had me walk on a treadmill for 10 minutes then we did a reasonably low key circuit in the gym with triceps extensions, curls, shoulder presses and a myriad of other isolated lifts. Afterwards, we went to the stretching room where he gave me my regiment, “Chest and Shoulders Monday, Legs on Tuesday, rest on Wednesday, back and biceps on Thursdays and legs again Friday. Do abs everyday. Eat salad everyday for lunch, quit drinking soda.”

“And you really think I could get down to 200 pounds?” I asked hopefully [At the time, I was about 225].

“Of course bud.” He responded condescendingly.

I got myself a coffee with two creamers and sugar from the café in the gym and went home. I did it!

I went back to my apartment and cleaned house, got rid of my pastas, potato chips, sugary drinks and cereals while blaring, “Eye of the Tiger” It was the first time step to a million mile journey. I had no idea where it would lead me but at least I had a direction.

For the next 6 months, I did the regiment suggested to me by trainer. I would go during my lunch break at work, listen to Tim Keller and Matt Chandler sermons and work out marginally, get my coffee with cream and sugar and go back to the office feeling like I accomplished something. My body toned up slightly, but I didn’t even get remotely close to weighing 200 pounds. I was frustrated and needed something new. This whole gym scene was not cutting it for me.

Late one night, I saw an infomercial for P90X, men with sculpted bodies banged out pull ups and curls and Tony Horton assured me, “90 days from flab to fit or your money back!” What did I have to lose? I ordered the DVDs, got a $30 pull up bar you hung up in your door and some dumbbells from Craigslist. Every day for 90 days I did P90X in the dark basement of the church I was working at. I ate 1800 calories a day [measured on my iPhone app] I got pretty lean and was feeling pretty good. Except for the whole part of being hungry all the time.

After that, I entered into marital bliss and like many newly married men, working out took a back burner for a few weeks, or months, OK, it was a year.

After a year, I thought its time to get back into this and I bought P90X’s cousin, Insanity. This was a cardio based program that well, didn’t do much for me. The workouts were mundane and predictable and I got bored pretty quick. I am kind of embarrassed writing about this as I can imagine you are picturing me in my living room doing jumping jacks and burpees with Shaun T yelling at me through a TV screen, it just seems so comical now, but I did it.

After hitting a wall of two frustrating months of home DVD workouts, I needed a change. I went back to the gym and tried to amp it up a bit, even started messing with free weights, squats, deadlifts, bench press. I didn’t know what I was doing, my regiment was inconsistent. I would just go until it hurt, never wrote anything down and just kind of did random machines that were open. I even went to Spin classes and BodyPump a few times. How embarrassing.

I remember seeing my old trainer there one day and he said, “You’re looking kind of soft, you alright?” As he smirked. What a jerk.

I don’t know what I was thinking, I didn’t know what I was doing, but I was desperate for a change.

A friend of mine told me about this crazy thing called CrossFit, an exercise program that is in a class and the workouts are so hard and intense, you want to puke. I thought, “Sign me up!”

I searched their website and the closest one was RedShed CrossFit in Netcong, about 40 minutes away. After watching Youtube videos of what CrossFit was, I couldn’t shake the thought that this could be a good option for me.

I e-mailed the owner who invited me to a free class on a Saturday morning. I remember it distinctly because it was the week before Christmas and my parents were coming to New Jersey to visit later that day. I drove out to the class and walked into a small strip mall building where men half of my size were throwing weight over their heads that I couldn’t even fathom, metal music was blaring, the people were built like Greek gods. I almost threw up before the workout just because of the intimidation.

After the class, the owner started me and another guy onto the workout. 5 pull ups, 10 push ups, 15 squats. As many rounds as possible [AMRAP] in 10 minutes. I thought, “What a stupid workout? 10 minutes? I drove 40 minutes to workout 10 minutes?” I couldn’t be anymore wrong.

The workout started casually enough. I struggled with the pull ups and after the second round and was given a resistance band to help, then instructed just to jump and try to get my chin over the bar because I couldn’t pull up with the band because my arms were so fatigued from the pushups.

I remember the last few seconds with my face on the ground, covered in sweat, grunting, almost crying, almost puking, trying to push my body off the ground with one more push up all while a complete stranger screaming at me, “C’mon Eric, push, push, push, push.” My arms were like jelly, I could barely move. I felt nauseous.

Then that guy had the audacity to get down beside me and start doing push ups too. The shame!

When that 10 minute buzzer went off, I laid there like a dead fish. Steam rose off my body as sweat poured from every inch of my frame. I sucked for air and couldn’t find my water bottle. I remember limping to my car to drive home and almost throwing up 2-3 times on the way. I walked into the house, legs barely able to move and told my wife, “I found it.”

For the next 6 months, I was a CrossFit junkie at Red Shed, going 4-5 times a week and finding incredible camaraderie with the athletes. I adapted a quasi-Paleo lifestyle and “drank the kool-aid” so to speak.

I began to look at exercising more than just “losing weight” but began to be more interested in performance. I wanted to do kipping pulls, I wanted to power clean 225 pounds, I wanted to RX a workout. I didn’t step on a scale once, but I remember looking in the mirror one night after a shower and seeing muscles in my chest, shoulders, back and stomach. I was changing.

I ran a Tough Mudder [a 12 mile military style obstacle course] and even felt good at the end. I had more energy in the day, and I was, in general, just a happier person. It was, I truly believe, a godsend.

A few months later, Cloud 9 CrossFit opened in Phillipsburg, which was only about 15 minutes away and I asked my coach if it was OK if I started training there in which he gave me his blessing. I found a great community there with Chuck and the other coaches and loved the emphasis on the lifts, though I wasn’t too fond on the cardio. [Go figure].

I remember one pivotal moment in my CrossFit experience was doing Fran. Fran is the mother lode of all CF workouts, 21-15-9 pull ups and thrusters. The first time I did it at RedShed, I could only do 2 pulls up, then 8 banded and the rest were jumping. I could only do 65 pound thrusters too. I did the Fran workout 2 years later and did it without any bands, did the 95 pound weight and beat my time! I was ecstatic; I even posted a photo on Instagram.

Going to Cloud 9 became my sanctuary, everyday at 5PM, I went and had a crew that was almost always there. It may sound ridiculous, but one of the hardest things about moving to a new state was saying goodbye to my Cloud 9 Family.

I remember very distinctly during a strength portion of a workout at Cloud 9, we were doing 5×5 back squats. I started off with 225, then 275, then 295, 315, 335. The last set, I struggled but got it done. Everyone else stopped their workout and watched me push through it, and encouraged me and cheered me on.

After racking the weight, Chuck, the owner said, “Eric you should try powerlifting.” I thought he was joking, maybe he was, but I took him up on it. Even though I had to go home and Google Powerlifting. I had a sense of what it was, but not really.

I entered my first PL competition this past summer, had a blast and even won a trophy! My first one since Little League. Since then, I’ve been bitten by “The Iron Bug” as its called and have been training for my next one in November.

There was something about the atmosphere of that meet that captivated me, maybe it was the metal blaring, or the camaraderie between the athletes or even just the general sense of savagery that we are doing something that dates back to classical antiquity. Nonetheless, there was no looking back for me.

This was my niche, not shoulder presses and ab workouts, not spin classes and condescending trainers. I stopped caring about “losing weight” and started only caring about having fun and pushing my body to its limits. There is nothing more satisfying than breaking your last PR [personal record].

My short term goal is to make a 1500 pound total [600 pound dead lift, 575 squat, 325 bench press] at my competition in November. My long term is to become one of the strongest drug free powerlifters in my weight class.

It’s funny looking back because 4 years ago, I had one goal, “Lose weight” but through events, people and time, I have much less interest in losing weight and much more interest in pushing weight. My body composition has changed, I actually have gotten bigger, but I am OK with that.

I never would have dreamed that walking into that gym four years ago wanting to lose a few pounds would bring me to a goal to become one of the strongest powerlifters in the country, but it has.

It took me several years but I have come to realize that the number on the scale is of much less importance than the passion in your heart. I can’t even fathom going through a boring workout again, just in the name of “wanting to lose weight.” Our bodies are incredible machines, and fueling them properly reaps rewards that I can’t even describe. May you take time to treat it well each day.

Thanks for reading, here’s to the road to 1500.

I’ve Given Up Going To Church.

I haven’t blogged in months, but felt compelled in light of several different conversations I’ve had in the past few weeks.

The conversation on this topic has dwindled down now but several months ago there was excessive chatter on the millennial generation and their relationship to the church. The research [and I use that word with a grain of salt as Christians are notorious for being awful at it] showed the numbers- young Christians are leaving the traditional church in droves, some leaving the Christian faith altogether but many nurturing their faith in community with friends in living rooms, coffee shops and *gasp* pubs.

As one commentator put it, “Real church happens in circles, not rows.”

Fair enough. Most of my meaningful faith formation experiences happened while drinking coffee, on long car rides or sitting around a campfire after singing Kumbaya [OK, I made that last part up] and I understand the attraction to ditch the traditional church model, form a band of brothers [and sisters] and crack open the Bible at home, forgetting about the steeple, choir and the professional preacher.

Can I speak candidly? I’ve been tempted to take that plunge.

It seems sexy, inviting and just so real. Even despite a life altering derailment in my own life caused by the hands of the institutional church, I still find myself worshiping in one every Sunday. Why?

Tradition? Maybe.

Guilt?  Perhaps.

Free Coffee?Doesn’t hurt.

But if I take the time to analyze why I still spend 2 hours a week singing songs under my breath, awkwardly shaking hands with strangers and listening to a sermon is because I still believe the church, operating correctly is the most powerful force for good in the world. Despite the flaws, quirks, issues, problems and sweaty deacons, it still is the bride of Christ.

I have found that more often than not, the reasons I rationalize to bail on the church has little to do with the church and most to do with me and my own flawed reality. I could go on and on about the church’s dysfunction, brokenness and depravity. Yet, if I am honest, my complaints are nothing more than me trying to mask my own pride and self righteousness under the pitiful guide of “truth”.

I can separate myself from that big, eccentric and eclectic family of God, yet the reality is, with or without my participation the church will go on.

What I have found to be the trend that runs through for those that leave church for the greener grasses of their own spiritual homogeneous enclave is an overwhelming attitude of consuming instead of contributing.

When we forfeit our right to be a part of the church, to be a force for good in the world, exchanging representing Jesus with our dysfunctional family to the sidelines of pews and free coffee, functioning merely as a consumer and not a contributor, we will end up let down, thus discouraged, thus vilify.

As one author put it, “Christians are the most cannibalistic creatures on the planet. They eat their own.”

How much of that is our own issue because we don’t put any value in the church? Instead of appreciating the glorious mess, choosing to prod from a distance.

A person is not going to endure trials in something that they have no value in. How many college freshman that are working their way through school fail out their first semester as opposed to those that are fortunate enough to have a third party finance their degree? So it is with one’s relationship with the church. If our posture toward, as one friend put it, “the religious animal” is to consume and not contribute, having our proverbial back scratched and needs met, we will become a statistic.

I had a comical moment several weeks ago while visiting another church for work. A woman came in and complained to the greeter that it was entirely too cold in the building and the church is wasting its tithe money on cranking the A/C and it needs to be turned down. A few minutes later, a man came in and complained that it was entirely too hot in the sanctuary and they needed to crank up the A/C. The greeter and I locked eyes. I smirked.

As trivial and germane as that story is, it is a small indicator of the attitude many of us posses in our lives that trickles into our church—you exist to serve me, you exist to meet my needs, make my happy or I am leaving you!

Yet the Bible clearly teaches the exact opposite.

Have you given up on the institution, the religious animal? Maybe you should reconsider and honestly ask yourself if your disappointment had less to do with the hypocrisy, the moral and social issues the church stands for or the sanctuary being too cold. Could it be that the problem is not them, but us?

Will we allow our generation’s caricature reigns true; entitled, narcissistic and self absorbed? Has that gotten in the way of us embracing the bride of Christ fully and loving our dysfunctional brothers and sisters?

Augustine said (paraphrased): “The church is a whore, but she is my mother”

You can be a part of a force for good, you can be part of the hands and feet of Jesus, you can be a part of a big, messy, dysfunctional family where every nut, flake and fruit shows up.

You can also drink coffee and sing Kumbaya.

You can also be a cynic, skeptic and critic.

You can do whatever you want, but the church will go on.

Don’t Marry the Number

I am three weeks into my new job at Nyack College and let me just say that I love it. It provides a new set of challenges which I enjoy. My coworkers have been welcoming and warm and I can’t help but feel an extreme sense of gratitude for finding a new position, particularly in such a short amount of time.

To give a brief snapshot of what I do; my job is to work with prospective students for Alliance Theological Seminary, learning their stories to higher theological education and assisting them into the application and enrollment process. It has been a joy to learn some of their stories, some of them all the way from India and South Korea. One as far as the strange land of Wyoming.

Part of my position is ensuring that a certain number of credits are enrolled in a given semester to make sure operating costs are covered. This gives a sense of pressure but is also a tangible way of measuring success. Coming from pastoral ministry, this is refreshing. As a pastor, you work in intangibles… unknowns, making it nearly impossible to gauge “success” and even the term “success” changes from what book, blog or podcast you get your hands on.

It’s no wonder the average pastor is burnt out, tired and overwhelmed.

The woman who has been training me and I had a particularly successful day. Credits were rolling in and I was kind of feeling like The Man. We were successful!

In a moment of candor and realism, my trainer must have saw my chest puffed out a bit too much and told me, “Eric, don’t marry the number.”

She continued, “Some people won’t ever come here, they’ll enroll but not come. Some will cancel, or just never show up. It’s just what happens.”

Yes, it’s exciting to have people enrolling into the school you’re representing. Just like it’s exciting to have your church or ministry grow numerically. Just like it’s exciting to lose 10 pounds [or gain 10 pounds for some bodies]. Just like it’s exciting to have a few more bucks in the bank.  We love numerical growth because its a concrete gauge of good. It gives us a rush, makes us feel alive and like we’re doing our jobs well.

That is OK.

Just don’t marry the number.

Things happen, stuff comes up, people flake and Thanksgiving comes and those 10 pounds are back. When our sense of living, joy and peace is based on our performance, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment as those items are fluid and likely to change.

May God grant us grace to find our worth in Him and the love He demonstrated and demonstrates for us. May our gauge for success be faithfulness and gratitude.

Performing well is great. Doing well is commendable. Achieving goals is honorable.

Just don’t marry the number.

I Will Put My Hand Over My Mouth

Several years ago, a good friend shared his testimony at our church’s Easter service. Part of his testimony was sharing of his job layoff. I remember smiling ear to ear as he exclaimed, “Pink is such a nice color, why do they give you a pink slip?”

He had a point.

He expressed a period of both frustration and disappointment yet in all of it, he was reminded of Job. Job suffered greatly, losing his children, livestock, servants and possessions all in a short time. He, if anyone has a reason to complain. As the story unfolds, and Job expresses his disappointment upward, God finally answers back, rattling off his accolades that humiliates Job. We find a verse of Job’s response coupled in the longest recorded message of God speaking in Job 40:4:

“I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth.”

My friend shared that in his time of trial, this became his life verse. When he was tempted to complain to God and others, he put his hand over his mouth. During the trying month that I just had, it became my life verse too.

The temptation came, in full force, to complain, to whine, to express disappointment and resentment. There was more than once where I wanted to stand on a mountain and scream at the top of my lungs, “Why God, why?”

I put my hand over my mouth.

There were mornings where I didn’t want to crawl out of bed, what was the point? Nowhere to go, no one to see, beat up and bitter with nothing to live for. I wanted to grumble under the sheets, “Why God, why?”

I put my hand over my mouth.

There were days, maybe even a week that I felt like a total zombie. No call backs for interviews, no promising prospects online, feeling worthless and despondent. I wanted to cry, “Why God, why?”

I put my hand over my mouth.

If I could go back in time and start over, would I have ever left Jersey? Would I have ever left a great church, community, friends and support system to wade the murky waters of the unknown? If I could start over, would I ever came to New York, only to be terminated within the week? Yes.

Why? Because I am confident that though my life circumstances haven’t shaken out the way I might have wanted them to or liked them to, I am receiving something greater than predictability and control and that is faith, hope and love. This short season of trial has produced in me a greater depth of understanding into the person of Christ, the suffering Servant and my love for Him is stronger than ever. 

This is not something you can learn in a seminary classroom or from an inspiring sermon. It’s something you must walk through.

He doesn’t promise us an easy life, a care free life or a safe life but He does promise He will be us, even to the ends of the earth.

I also thank God that I have been offered a job and start on Monday and that we get to stay in New York! This has been a wild 5 weeks but I am reminded at a level deeper than I have ever known this reality: great is His faithfulness. 

The problem with being young and passionate.

Recently my best friend texted me and expressed his frustrations of having been turned down from yet another ministry position. This guy would be the best pastor a church could ever ask for but he has two problems: he is young and passionate.

You might think, “How is that a problem?”

Let me explain.

Part of his application process, the search committee asked that he would respond to questions relating to his convictions on items like ministry philosophy- evangelism, counseling, preaching and the like. Far enough. He composed answers that shared his well articulated views with passion, vigor and enthusiasm. 

After spending several weeks waiting to hear back from the search committee, he was told in so many words that his views on missions and evangelism were dogmatic and harsh and he was no longer considered for the position. I read his answers, they were biblically sound views. They were no different than anything modernist like Francis Chan, John Piper or David Platt would articulate. They were no different than giants in Christian history like C.T. Studd, Charles Spurgeon or  William Booth would have said.

There’s just one problem.

My friend is young and passionate and for many in the church world today- that just doesn’t fly.

I one time heard one of my favorite preachers Paul Washer say that many American Christians honor, almost worship the George Whitefield, the A.W. Tozer, the John Wesley, the John Knox… but if they were alive today, they would never let them preach in their church.

I am afraid that sometimes we in the church want our leaders to be passionate, but not too passionate. To be excited about God’s word, but not too excited. To love Jesus but love Him, well, in moderation. In what fits into our cute, safe confines that we have built.

Why? Because if you get someone who is young and passionate that may disrupt the status quo. They may shoot the ornate religious elephants that has been built. That may challenge the church to think deeper about conviction, about the words of Christ, about what it means to follow Jesus. That is not an easy person to bring on the team when the church’s favorite phrase is, “It’s how we always did things.”

So people like my friend are stuck, their passion is seen as too much, too much intensity, too much passion, too much devotion and instead of taking a risk and bring that person on board, they find someone that won’t rock the boat, won’t question the tradition, that won’t ask “why?” That person is much easier to mold and shape.

The incredible thing about that is if my friend was 60, the same search committee would read his book, deem him inspirational and a giant of the faith among mere men. Since he’s just a young man, he is perceived as reckless and foolish, lacking wisdom and given the cordial e-mail that others candidates are being considered.

To my friend and those like him, don’t lose heart. Don’t succumb to what is perceived proper by the institutions put in place, keep your fire burning and know that God is pleased with your passion. You are a world changer.

Suffering is a Gift

There has been one thing that I have gained in the past 30 days which have been nothing shy of a whirlwind: be careful what you wish for.

That may sound anticlimactic in the grand scheme of things, but in my moments of solitude, it is that idea that permeates and saturates my thoughts. I wished for adventure. I longed for challenging the status quo. I wanted to grow in the deep things of God and knew that growth would require walking in faith, little did I know what that faith would look like. I thought I knew, but had absolutely no idea.

As most of my readers know by now, I have lost my position in the Bronx. What most don’t know is the emotional turmoil I wrestled with for the few weeks following, overwhelmed with deep anger, bitterness, jadedness and hurt, much of which I am still processing.

I couldn’t focus on my studies, looking for another job felt useless, my marriage was strained beyond levels it ever has been. I was tired, confused, burnt out and wished I could have crawled under a rock and die. I even googled communes to go live in– for a moment that seemed like a viable solution. I was desperate.

During that period, I was having breakfast with a friend, expressing to her some of my frustrations. She listened intently as she cut her waffles, not interjecting her opinion but just listening. It felt good to get it off my chest and I was grateful for a friend to listen. We all need friends like that sometimes.

At the end of my mournful monologue, she offered some perspective, all of which was good and demonstrating wisdom beyond her years. At the end though, she said something that almost made me cough up my bacon, she looked me square in the eyes and said, “Eric, suffering is a gift.” 

Those four words stuck with me like super glue over the next few weeks, haunting my thoughts whenever I was tempted to grumble. As I complained, harbored resentment, disdain and contempt, I was missing out on the reality that suffering is a gift, pain causes growth and if I truly wanted to go hard after God and develop into the man He wants me to be, it’s going to take much more than I myself am capable of. I was looking at my situation as criminal, an injustice plotted against me instead of viewing it as God’s pruning and shaping and yes His gift to me.

Like I said, be careful what you ask for.

I felt so defeated and broken down to what seemed like the bare minimum, the end of myself where I have no place to look but up and even in that seemingly desperate place, Jesus met me there. Not as a rushing wind or a trembling earthquake but the still small voice that you have to really listen close to hear. 

One of the realities that I have come to embrace in a deeper level than I ever have is that Jesus has a special place for hurting people.

I knew that, I lived in that helm in my whole adult life as a youth worker and missionary, however I was always the one working to unbind the captives, never being the captivated myself in need of a liberator. Yet, I came to realize that Jesus can unbind me and despite the brokenness I feel right now, He can identify with me for He suffered on this earth much greater woes than I can even fathom.

To Him, I thank. For though this was not the way I expected things to shake out, even in my wildest imagination, I trust Him. For suffering is a gift.

How my own stubbornness gave me a bike tour around The Bronx

It was a beautiful, crisp day [For all the southern readers, that’s 40 degrees and sunny]. Spring was definitely in the air, the skies were blue, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the brutal winter felt like it finally gave up its fight. I had a few free hours, wanted to get out of the house and decided to ride my bike to my gym, which is about 4 miles away, no big deal.

The ride there went great. I popped in my headphones with Google Maps on and Pandora playing my favorite tunes. I weaved in and out traffic, enjoyed the sights, sounds and smells of a sunny afternoon in the Bronx as my GPS gave me queues on where to turn. All in all, it was a great ride, about 20 minutes, mostly flat and not too much foot or vehicle traffic for New York City. I felt so cool riding my bike through the neighborhood, this was something I daydreamed about during every snowstorm this past winter when I was cooped up in my house watching the snow fall.

I spent a few hours in the gym, mostly socializing and doing a few lifts and mobility. Afterwards, I threw on my hoodie and track pants, popped in my headphones and began the pedal home.

On the way down, I realized that about 75% of my ride happens ride under the 6 train. For those that haven’t been to New York, or have been to New York but never out of Manhattan. In some of the outlying boroughs, the subway line runs above ground. I didn’t realize this until 3 years ago when I was visiting a friend in Brooklyn. Riding my bike under the subway line was nice, it provided shade and gave me a good lane to ride through, as long as I made sure I avoided the double parked cars, I was pretty set.

So, I thought for the ride home, I would just let my GPS take me the subway, then I would just follow the subway line all the way home. No big deal.

As I began the ride, sure enough in about the first 5 minutes I connected with the subway line. “I knew the way from here.” I was so sure, but I kept my headphones in just in case and let the GPS lead me back. During the ride, the GPS kept queuing me to turn right, this went on about 6-7 times but I was adamant. I knew the way back, surely this complex device developed over the course of several years didn’t know the way home, I did. Just follow the track. I stubbornly pedaled on.

After about 25 minutes and riding, and not knowing why I wasn’t home yet and recognizing no landmarks… I finally admitted defeat. But hold on, I see the entrance to the terminal there, let me just MAKE SURE I am following the right track. I pedaled over and didn’t my glasses on so had to ride right next to the terminal and say a bright green number 5! I need to follow the 6 to get home?!

Ok, I am lost.

I actually obeyed my GPS which ended up wanting me to go onto the interstate. I knew enough to know that wasn’t a good idea. I was standing on the side of the exit, cars whizzing past me laying on their horns. I pulled out my GPS, punched in my address to get directed home in which I was told “No route found” in bright red letters. Great.

To make a long story short, about 20 minutes later, twice the time it should have taken, I ended up home. A bit sweaty, a bit tired and a bit annoyed. At least I got a nice bike tour of the Bronx, even if it was unintentional.

I couldn’t help but wonder how often in our lives when we insist on our way, we get way off track. Even though we have guidance that is good guidance and knows the way better than we, we are convinced we’re on the right track. If we were to listen to and heed the advice of good advice, we’d be much less likely to end up sitting on our bicycle next to the interstate frustrated. 

Just something to think about.

The time I got invited to “Gay Men Night”

The workout at the gym went well. Burpees, Kettlebell Swings, Wall Balls and Double Unders. Felt good to get the heart pumping and blood flowing, and if I’m honest, felt good to have a defined focus of just pushing through a workout as opposed to the million emotions that have kicked in my head in the last 48 hours. KRS-One, Nirvana and Underoath blared on the loudspeakers. Encouragement from the other athletes was known. Felt so good.

The crew was small at the CrossFit Gym in the South Bronx, pretty typical for a Monday morning I can imagine [And no, I took Subway and didn’t drive, not making that mistake again.] Roberto, Michelangelo and Eric, felt a bit like the vanilla wallflower but that was my own fault. Everyone was welcoming and accommodating, and it was good to suffer together.

After the WOD, while we foam rolled, talked about The Open, and cleaned up our sweat spots on the gym floor. The owner begin telling me more about the gym, vision, branding, future, ethos.

Then the bomb dropped.

“We also hold a gay man night, if you ever want to come.”

I froze, blushed, smiled awkwardly, and picked my jaw up off the floor. Did he just say what I think he said? Didn’t I mention that I was married… to a woman? Why did I take my wedding band off to workout?

OK, Eric, have an open mind. Don’t be rude, it’s probably just some confusion, no reason to get annoyed. Maybe you should be flattered, as weird as that sounds.

He continued…

“Yeah, I thought we’d play some poker, chess, board games. Just give a chance for people to relax on a Friday night. People can bring their own snacks to share. Families are invited too! I think it could be fun.”

Then it hit me, “GAME NIGHT”

“Of course, I’d love to come.” I responded, “My wife would too.”

“You brought a bird feeder!?”

Blogging from The Bronx!

Can hardly believe we’re here. Excitement, awe, nervousness and joy filled Sarah and I as today was our first official day as residents of New York City and meeting our new church family!

But let me begin by here: we had a first great day, Sarah and I are both happy, grateful and excited. Tomorrow, I’ll drive her to the subway where she will begin her first day of orientation at New York Presbyterian. Proud of her.

Amidst all the minor adjustments we’ve experienced just in the past 24 hours, I thought I’d share some of the early observations.

1. Lots of BEEPING! Not even a minute on the road and you can hear horns left and right. It seems like if you hesitate half a second too long at a green light, BEEP. Turn too slowly, BEEP. Turn too quickly, BEEP. Take up two lanes [there is NO WAY in telling what is a lane and what isn’t], BEEP! Funny story, I was returning the UHAUL and Sarah was following me. At one point, we’re sitting in traffic [lots of that too] and I beeped at Sarah to get her attention, smile and wave. I beeped and she just sat there. Beeps lost their attention getting power within the first few hours.

2. It is QUIET at night. We came prepared bringing earplugs that we had from our first apartment where we lived beside a busy street with lots of tractor trailers late at night. However, we didn’t hear a peep all night, that was a pleasant surprise. We both slept like babies, we were exhausted.

3. We packed some DUMB stuff. We have never lived in a city before, we were as suburban as suburban gets. When we were packing, I texted the pastor and asked, “Do we need a weed whacker and lawn mower?” He wrote back, “DUDE! I am cracking up over here. No, you don’t need that.” For some reason, Sarah insisted we brought our bird feeder. This isn’t an ordinary bird feeder, thing is 8 foot tall cast iron with a hook for the feed. While unloading, one of the guys helping pulled it out of our truck with a look of confusion, “What is that?” His friend responded, “It’s a bird feeder! What? They brought a bird feeder?”

There was a moment of slight awkwardness and embarrassment, followed up by laughter. Maybe you had to be there, but it helped alleviate some of the stress.

So we decided this: first person to visit us from the suburbs gets the bird feeder. See you in The Bronx.

Until Next Time, Washington

The moment came. I knew that it would happen at this moment, I was doing all I could to emotionally ready myself. It was a moment of dread, mixed with excitement, mixed with anticipation, mixed with second guessing, mixed with joy. It was a moment that everything got real because up until then, “it wasn’t really happening.” That was what I kept telling myself. 

That moment was when that UHAUL truck came around the corner and I was driving it home and I knew I wouldn’t be returning it there.

I know, anticlimactic, but let me explain.

For the past several weeks, we’ve been sharing stories with friends and coworkers, planning our transition, packing, doing all we could to get ready to move to The Bronx. Up until the moment that UHAUL turned the corner, it just seemed like a dream, it didn’t sink in, surreal in its finest form. It’s like going to bed on the night before the day you graduate, or go to your prom, or get married, and you know that tomorrow your life is going to change. However it doesn’t hit you until you put on the cap and gown or put on the tuxedo or the moment you see your bride walk down the aisle dressed in white. 

Seeing that it is my last night in Washington, I felt it was only appropriate to share my heart a bit. I wish I could sit down and talk to every single person that filled mine and Sarah’s life here but that’s just not doable. The most important thing that I would want to communicate is that Washington is my home.

No, I didn’t grow up here, I was never a Warren Hills Streaker, I have no memories of playing in the park as a kid, going to the pool, playing football for the borough or watching the 4th of July parade on Broad Street and the fireworks at the Middle School. Those memories are tucked away in a small town north of Harrisburg called Selinsgrove but still, Washington is my home. 

Today, while having Leo’s Pizza for the last time with one of my former students, he made a comment that both surprised me but disappointed me: “Even though you were only here for 4 years, it felt more like 8-10. You just fit in here, people welcomed you. But let’s face it, you’re not really a Washington kind of guy.” 

I knew he was saying, but I told him the same thing I write here, Washington is my home.

And as of this time tomorrow, the Bronx will be my home. Just as I moved to New Jersey, so I will move to New York. I will learn the neighborhood, the people, the best place to get greasy food at midnight and who knows? Maybe 3 years from now, the coffee shop or convenient store I frequent will know me by first name basis too.

One thing that I have promised myself even as a teenager is that as I follow the call of Jesus wherever he may take me, where I live will become my home. I don’t want to look back and think that I was a mere community tenant, not an owner. Or to use the words of Christ who calls His people to be a shepherd, not a hired hand. Someone that lived in a community but just merely slept there, having no interest in the life of the community or the people in it.

Going to miss this town, and its residents, and my home for several important and formative years of my life. Sarah and I will forever remember the town in Jersey where we lived where we first got married, the church and the hospital we worked at, the relationships we built, the lives we impacted and impacted us and those hot dogs with the pickle on them.

Until Next Time, Washington 

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