Many errands to run on this busy Friday. "Inge" the Solara needs an oil change, and "Timmy" the Trek needs to go climb some hills in some unusually humid weather, so I will have to accommodate both of them.
And this afternoon, I’ve still got some paperwork to finish up with the Matilde Mission: Pet Homes for Ranch Chinchillas. Who knew that becoming incorporated as a 501(c)3 was so much work?
And yesterday afternoon, I treated myself to an hour of guided Pilates instruction with a trainer. Um, let’s just say that my inner thighs are sore this morning. There are some muscles biking and running don’t reach, and bless her drill instructor heart, the trainer found them.
I’ve been candid –perhaps too candid — on this blog about my passion for exercise. This summer, I’ve kicked it up a notch; I’m back to doing some form of training every day of the week. I’m fully aware that for someone with my personality, the line between healthy recreation/good stewardship of one’s body on one hand and narcissistic self-absorption/addiction on the other is a thin one indeed. I’ve written before about crossing that line into exercise anorexia; it wasn’t a pretty sight.
Several things are driving me to get back in shape this summer. One was my poor result at last month’s San Diego Rock n’ Roll Marathon. I ran a very slow time, and could feel my extra weight hampering me. After the race, I looked at the pictures that were taken of me during the event, and I winced. My fiancee had to talk me out of posting one particularly unflattering one on my refrigerator as inspiration! (I still sneak peeks at it, I confess). The discrepancy between how I "used to look" and how I looked in San Diego was a painful catalyst for an increase in exercise and a radical reshaping of my diet.
Since early June, I’ve dropped about eight or nine pounds and some excess body fat. Some of that has been a result of a real change in the diet. Dessert is now a once-a-week event, and even then in small portions. White sugar is almost gone; most enriched flour is gone as well. Lots of veggies, lots of legumes, lots of organic, unsalted nuts (for protein). Lots of water, too. No more carbonated drinks, except for a rare regular Coke (all artificial sweeteners, gone too.) I still have my morning mug of coffee — I’m not yet ready to surrender caffeine, but I’ve dropped my intake by 75% since the beginning of the year.
I’m hoping to get my running mileage up to 60-70 miles a week by late August, along with regular Pilates classes and time on the bike. This requires a more judicious use of my time; scheduling workouts around other more important responsibilities will be tricky. Fortunately, my fiancee is also athletically inclined. If one of us didn’t work out, it would surely put a huge stress on our relationship. After all, it’s hard to find someone who understands why you need to go to bed early every Friday night to be up before dawn every Saturday! (Of course, we are both well-aware of how radically a child will, Lord willing, impact our athletic lives! I’ve seen what fatherhood does to the fitness level of most of my friends!)
If you’re still reading through this narrative of self-absorption, let me get to the point. When I "came home to Christ" seven years ago, I turned my will and my life over to Him. I was an extraordinarily irresponsible and reckless individual who needed to learn important lessons about living sacrificially for others. By God’s grace, the love of friends and family, and hard work, my life changed. I don’t walk down the streets I once walked down; I don’t do the things I once did. I’ve still got a lot of growing up to do, but Lord knows, my heart and my life and my behavior have been transformed. I truly believe that I’m a safe, gentle, loving man today, and that’s a miracle. That my church community trusts me to help raise their kids is a tremendous blessing; that despite all that I have been, a remarkable woman is willing to marry me, trusting that the past does not predict the future — that is a gift greater than I deserve. And above all, the near-constant sense of God’s presence in my life is the island on which I stand in an often-overwhelming sea.
But though God has changed many things in my life, I still have what some would call a massive superficial streak! This desire for the best possible body, the best possible time in a race — that desire hasn’t been taken from me. I still devote far too much time and attention to my own perceived physical shortcomings. This sometimes makes it hard for me to be as effective a teacher and youth leader as I might be. You see, when my kids are struggling with issues about sexuality, or drugs and alcohol, or self-injurious behavior, or depression, I feel as if I have something to offer them. I struggled with all those things, but by God’s grace struggle no longer. In those areas of my life, there has been great healing and recovery. I can empathize with their pain, but can also point them towards help, and offer them — through my own experience — the promise that things can change.
When a kid says, "I’m depressed all the time" or "I’m afraid I might have a problem with drinking", I can remember when those were my problems — years ago. I have, I believe, something to offer them, both in terms of empathy and (ultimately) a solution. But when a kid says "I hate my body" or "I feel fat" (even when she or he is perfectly "normal"), then they are describing not just how Hugo used to feel, but how he often still feels. When we have cookies at youth group, and I refuse to eat any of them, saying "I’m on a diet", what am I role-modeling for my kids? What signal am I sending them when I, well over twice their age, make clear that I’m still anxious about my physique, perhaps just as anxious as they are?
Teenagers are long past the stage where they see adults as perfect. It would be absurd to require that our teachers and youth workers have no "issues" or "hang-ups" in order to work with adolescents. Our anxieties and our frailties humanize us; they make us accessible to those for whom we are committed to care. But at the same time, it’s nice to be able to reassure those who are struggling with body dysmorphia and poor self-image that things do get better! And while I no longer weigh 145 pounds, at 38 I’m still working out 2-3 hours a day and counting every calorie. And while I don’t often talk to my kids about my exercise regimen, it’s fairly hard to keep teenagers from discovering what really matters to the adults in their lives.
Much to think about. And I’ll think about it as Timmy Trek and I climb up and down Chevy Chase and Figueroa Boulevards in the Verdugos this afternoon in 90 degree heat.