This Is Not A Before And After Picture. This Is A Journey Worth Taking.

There was a reason for the photo I took on January 7th, 2016. But maybe there were two reasons, and the other reason would begin showing itself later as the calling collided with action.

I asked my roommate at the time to take the picture in 2016 because I was updating my LinkedIn profile and wanted something more professional looking. I never took pictures of myself back then.

I thought the 2016 photo and several others I took that evening looked great. And they did. They were some of the better intentional photos I took of myself in recent times back then. I had a fresh haircut earlier that evening. I had a nice pull over on. I was forcing a smile.

Not at all during that night did I consider this a before picture. It wasn’t just a poorly lit attempt at a more professional looking picture of myself. It would in fact take on the role of a before picture.

In the weeks following I began shedding my first few pounds as I was hitting the gym every day during the week. It was a lot of weight lost at first actually. That may have been all I needed for momentum, because I was addicted at that point. I was finally putting in the work in gaining energy. It’s all I wanted to do as a goal really. Workout, get the workout high with the oxygen flowing and the heart pumping. I certainly was putting in work to back up what I knew needed to happen for a long time.

But the ‘work’ to change happened a long time prior to this early 2016 picture. That’s kinda why it’s not really a before picture to me in some ways. It is an in the middle of picture.

The ‘work’ prior to what was about to unfold physically was ‘work’ instilling a sense of value, a sense of purpose, a sense of beloved-ness back into me. It was a small community of men going through life together, becoming vulnerable with each other, and coming alongside each other where my predicament was given a space to be voiced out loud, as funny as it sounded out loud to me.

In this group of guys they steadfastly, with immense compassion, allowed me to not only voice how I was aware I had gained a ton of weight (because its physical anyway, we can all see), but begin for the first time figuring out why. But more important than the why, more important and vital than the forensic analysis of figuring out and tracing and decoding the faults, shame, and lack of personal disciple was the compassionate message voiced out loud every time we would meet.

You are greatly loved by Jesus.

Of course I knew that growing up Christian. Of course that was a matter of fact. But little did I know how much I needed to hear it from friends out loud. Not just read it or ponder it or even hear it verbally from someone standing on a stage. I had no idea how much I needed to hear from people who I call friends say out loud in the same room to me ‘Father, Papa, Abba, Daddy, He loves you. He really does.’

The strength in this consistent message is profound when it comes from those you call friends. It is nothing to read about anymore. It isn’t a sermon to study notes from. It isn’t a study bible highlighted over and over. It was verbally communicated across a room from friends getting real with each other. And profoundly, getting real with their rescuing God, Who, lovingly wants us to know our value with our hearts and not just our heads.

That was the ‘work’ setting itself up for what follows. What follows is only a physical manifestation as well, like how you could see I was out of shape from the outside previously. The physicality changes dramatically and that’s what we get to see and celebrate in our culture and that’s it. Or so I thought.

I didn’t get back to where I was physically once before. I blew past it. The shirt I am wearing on the right in the January 2018 picture today, two years to the exact day from the before picture, is a shirt I bought ten years ago. And it sort of barely fit back then. It’s thermal wear, but it didn’t matter, it was going to be worn underneath anyways. Today though, it fits like a glove.

I also didn’t get back to where I was ten years ago mentally. I feel like I am 20 years younger actually. My mind is sharper than it’s ever been. It’s kinda scary how mentally focused I am now a days. Like good scary.

There is much ‘work’ still to be done. That is what life is for in the here and now. I don’t want to kid anyone in thinking everything is fine right now as I type this out. I don’t want to say hey, workout and that leads to healing. That was my story. It is my story. But even that is only a sliver of my story and merely a physical manifestation of my story.

But I know the following now more than ever. As Viktor Frankl maintains in his book Man’s Search For Meaning, there is profound meaning inside the suffering of life. There is redemption available from the suffering. And there is the opportunity to help guide others because of the sufferings we face.

Jesus offers a Love so strong it will go to the most amazing lengths and depths and heights to reach where you are.

I never knew it was going to be a before picture. That wasn’t it’s reason. Maybe it will serve many other symbolic ‘befores’ in my life.

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Prepared In A Way I Hadn’t Planned

I knew I needed to change. The reasons I set out to change were clear. Noble run of the mill variety reasons.

I wasn’t as productive as I should be.
I was lethargic.
I didn’t read as much as I would like.
I needed better hobbies with my downtime.

That’s cool. Good items to turn around for sure.

But never could I have imagined the lifestyle changes I began making were all going to help me withstand what was coming. Had I not changed when I did, there is no way I see myself coming out on the other side of events which were lying in wait ready to strike later on. Debilitating events. Crippling occurrences.

These negative events were ahead. They were going to happen regardless. Whether I was going to be a changed man or not, whether I was going to be prepared or not, whether I could take it or not, these events cared not. They were coming.

But prior to these negative turns ahead in my story, and of course without me knowing they were going to happen, I was building an incredible foundation of change.


It was late 2015, and I vowed to pivot from the person I was becoming. I began a process of change at a time marked by a significant number (I turned 30).

There was a faint sense of a new year’s resolution behind it, but I always like to describe how the specific changes were starting well before January 1st. At least momentum was building so I didn’t have to make a promise or resolution I knew would be abandoned. These were changes not to wait on come new year’s day but changes I started the months prior. When new year’s day did come around I’ll admit there was a little boost added.

2016 started off witnessing these changes: eating better; actually going to the gym; becoming infatuated with daily productivity schedules from the likes of Michael Hyatt, Donald Miller and others; reading a ton more on my own time.

And I was implementing all of this. Slowly and surely, some more than others, I began finding myself putting into daily practice incredible improvements. My mind was becoming sharper. My health was improving.

I was preparing myself to be better overall at all the things I already had in my life, the minor challenges I may have faced at the time, and the manageable responsibilities I had. Manageable now in comparison to what I see in my review mirror.

Sometimes in the midst of the great personal changes we commit ourselves to, disruptions bulldoze their way in, which not only should throw us off course, but destroy us all together.

I’ve heard it phrased as attacks. Some people will view these disruptions as inevitable challenges. Whatever the perspective, they came for me, they were furious, and they would have likely ended me otherwise.

But it is precisely because I started the lifestyle changes which allowed me to take on several upcoming blows. Discovering now that, if I had not committed to change when I did, and now in light of what was ahead, an incredibly humbling tone strikes deep within my core.

None of the negative story turns were what I was training for either when I set out to change. I was training within the lens of positive turns. When the negative turns came, there is no way I could have made it through if I had not already begun a path of change.


It’s a bad practice in general to play the mental game of looking backwards, trying to figure out how different things would be in the present if you hadn’t done X, or if Y hadn’t come along unexpectedly. Mainly because you were doing X, or Y did come along.

All I know is if you know you need to make a positive change in your life, there is absolutely no better time than within the calm right now. It’s wildly beyond cliche. It’s truth is life saving.

The changes you’ll have to make reacting to negative events, which will come, are merely survival changes.

The changes you make proactively while the opportunity is at hand for you to make them are changes rooting themselves deeply into you, preparing you to handle more than you ever planned to take on. They just are. Take heart and lay the better foundation today.

Confidence

As I surface from depths I never anticipated, I couldn’t help but notice I finally came-to somewhere I was never before.

Your expectations for me are expectations I never placed on myself, and never could I if I ever tried.

A world breaks in filled with nonsense to everyone not me but I can relate to this alien-rationale.

Anxiety mounts to perform in ways that will break me even as I finally breath the freshest of air and taste the most nourishing fruit.

As I justify my existence by the words others speak but don’t themselves practice, I suddenly realize no one knows what is coming out of their mouths.

I lean in further to the foreign land’s ways as I wash ashore now, not to be welcomed in the way I thought but instead further burdened.

The only sense I can make of it all is we are always never listening to others and we are always ever speaking to ourselves.

My only wish I have left is to speak as confidently about myself as others wishfully do for themselves.

The alien-rationale softly grips me tighter: Love your neighbor as yourself. As yourself. As yourself.

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The Pilgrimage

The rhythmic pilgrimage cycles back today,
A ritual imprinting itself onto my heart
Not as relief but as duty,
My life as I have known it depends on it.

Surrounded by others settling into the camp,
We will come with our burdens, our expectations,
Our hopes which were spilled out across the grounds,
And love will rise from shattered pieces.

If this is only an autumn occurrence
Somehow I was not told of its ending in the winter,
Nor last spring, nor this summer,
As the place I journey to on this day forgot to stay
Inside its autumn home and wandered with me
Through seasons I’d wish upon not a single soul.
This ritual, this holy event, it haunted all year.

This day, this pilgrimage, hitched a ride back with me
It journeyed with me to come to my holy place,
And never let me alone till I finally said:
“Here is my crushed self,
Here is my true self,
Take it, I hope others will take it too.”

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