A Different Type of Workout

No doubt you’ve read about my adventures in Zumba (if not, simply scroll down to the previous post), and you might be wondering one week later: “Did Jerry return to attend a SECOND Zumba class?”  The short answer is: “No.  He did not.”  In case the reason for that isn’t blatantly obvious, let me clarify something I merely eluded to in that post about my Zumba class.  I mentioned that I was expecting it to be a half hour long class, but it turned out to be an hour.  What I didn’t mention is that because it was an hour long class, it ended at 10:45 a.m.  What you also may not know is that I have a standing lunch date with my youngest son every Friday in his school cafeteria.  What time does that start?  Oh, around 11 a.m.  Believe it or not, last Friday I bolted out of my Zumba class, into the locker room for a quick shower, and got over to the school cafeteria in time for lunch with the greatest 7 year old I know.  I even impressed myself on that one.

So, today being Friday and even as I’m typing this it’s 9:44 a.m., Zumba starts in 1 minute.  I’m not going because I decided that I would have a different type of workout today.  Today, in order to get my cardio in, I would run a fitness trail through the woods at a nearby park. 

As I arrived, there were several other cars already in the parking lot at the edge of the woods.  I got out of my car and started walking toward the trail’s entrance some 50 feet away.  Parked just near the entrance to the trail was a car that had the windows down and some fairly loud music coming from it.  I noticed that a woman was sitting in the front seat of the car and as I got closer I saw that she had her right hand raised heavenward.  The music was upbeat, energetic worship music and this woman was having her own personal worship service in her car, obviously not caring what anyone else saw or thought of her.  I thought to myself, “That’s awesome.”

As I did my pre-run stretching of my calves, thighs and “hammys”, I listened to that music coming from that car and glanced over at that woman enthralled by the worship of her King.  Windows down, hands up, heart overflowing.  Yep, I’ll say it again: “That’s awesome.”

Psalm 22:3 tells us that “God inhabits the praises of His people.”  But praise isn’t always an easy task is it?  Just like the countless hills, valleys, and curves in the fitness trail I ran this morning–so life has its endless supply of ups and downs and downs and outs.  And in those moments where we struggle to understand what God is doing, or we struggle to understand why He would allow such a thing to happen to us or to that person we love, we also can struggle to praise Him. 

But praise is as much a discipline that precedes His blessing as it is a result that proceeds from a blessed life.  If we are holding out on praising Him waiting to see if He comes through, then we have not read about or understood the Biblical examples of Abraham, Isaac, Noah, Moses, David, Samuel, or Esther to name a few.  We have not understood the verse in Psalm 22:3 and its clear instruction to literally create a life of praise that God can be enthroned upon.  If praise is just a pat on God’s back for a job well done, I fear we are not doing our jobs well at all.

Watching, listening to, and being encouraged by that woman in her car this morning also served as a reminder to me.  Just as it was an act of my will to drive myself to that park and run myself through that course in those woods for the purpose of my physical health, so it must be an act of my will to praise God (regardless of how I’m feeling)  for my spiritual health.

The definition of awkward

With my February goals fresh in my mind, I headed out to the gym this past Friday morning.  My wife had gone to work, the kids had gone to school, and I was all alone.  So I spent a good chunk of time bouncing between the weight room and the “Nautilus” equipment room at our gym.  Not really sure what I was doing, but figuring doing something is better than doing nothing when it comes to exercise.

After 35-45 minutes of straight iron pumping, I remembered that there was a class starting soon in the aerobics room.  Let me pause here and tell you how I knew that.

Months ago (more than I care to admit), I decided that a first step I would take toward getting in shape would be to look at our gym’s website, pick one class for each day of the week (M-F) that I could see myself in (without dying) and plugging the details into my Blackberry so that I would be reminded an hour before each class that the class would be starting…and that I should be there.  Or at least think about it.  You gotta start somewhere, right?  And as an added bonus, I packed a gym bag and put it in the trunk of my car, thereby removing yet another excuse why I couldn’t just drive right to the gym from wherever I was at any given moment.

So, back to this past Friday.  I had a suspicion that there was a class starting at 9:45 a.m. (it was 9:30 when I suspected this), so I pulled out my Blackberry, flipped to my calendar screen, and saw that sure enough, there was a class that started at 9:45 a.m; just fifteen minutes away.  Oh, you want to know what class it was?!?  It was “Zumba“.

Now, I had precious little information on Zumba.  I only had scant memories of infomercials of undulating hips set to music.  I thought to myself, “Well, I have hips.  How hard could it be?”  As it turns out, “hard” wasn’t the word I should have used.  I should have asked myself “How awkward could it be?”  For THAT is what it turned out to be.

I sauntered up to a small group of ladies waiting outside the closed door of the aerobics room as they waited for the next class–the Zumba class–to start.  Innocently, I asked one woman, “Excuse me, do you know what class is next?”  “Zumba”, she replied.  I think she probably expected me to turn tail and run after hearing her answer.  I’m doubly sure she was perplexed that I stood in the same spot after hearing her answer as I had been before hearing her answer.  I know I was.

I continued, “Have you taken it before?”  She answered, “I’ve been to it a couple times.”  I added, “I’ve never taken a class before.  This one will be my first.”  She gave me a peculiar look and said, “You mean this is your first class ever, and you’re taking a Zumba class?”  What could I say but….”Yep.”  Other ladies began to congregate and it wasn’t too long before the aerobics room door opened and like a sheep to the slaughter I got in line and walked in.  The only guy.  I think I heard one lady whisper to another something to the effect of “My husband would rather die than…”

I found a place in the back row (sadly there was only a front and a back row) and went immediately to informing the 2 ladies on either side of me that this was my first class EVER and that I would do my best to not completely ruin their workout.  As if they were competing for the Miss Congeniality prize, they assured me that no one watches anybody but themselves.  I thought to myself, “Have they not noticed the 12 foot tall mirror wall at the front of the room? How can you NOT look at others?”  Keeping that thought to myself, I thanked them for their welcoming attitudes and assured them I would certainly be the class’s “comic relief.”

After the music started a teeny tiny instructor strode to the front of the room and among other things announced that she had decided that she was going to keep the lights on during today’s session.  My first thought: “Well, that’s perfect.”  Nowhere to hide.

Within moments, the rhythm of the music took control and my hips just seemed to flow effortlessly in time with the infectious Latin beats.  I was pleasantly surprised as I not only moved in sync with the instructor, but even caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror.  I was amazing!  Just kidding.  I was the Tin Man out there.  It was hideous.  My warnings to my two fellow classmates turned out to be gross understatements.

As the class went on and I moved more unnaturally to this song than I had the previous one, I thought to myself, “Well, at least its only a half-hour class.”  Have you ever thought a thought and then thought that you hoped that thought was right?  Well, the half-hour mark (10:15 a.m.) came…and went.  And there I was still trying to get my hips and feet to do anything that didn’t resemble a dead guy with no rhythm.  It was at about that time that I made a conscious decision: “I don’t care anymore what I look like.  I don’t care anymore if I’m going in the same direction as the rest of the class.  I don’t care anymore if my hands are up when everyone else’s hands are down.  I don’t care anymore that I’m absolutely positive that every woman in that room has been given enough material for every cocktail party they’ll go to for the rest of the year, thanks to me.  I don’t care anymore if I clapped at the same time as everyone else or just a few awkward seconds later.  I just don’t care anymore.”

Something happens when you stop caring what others around you think about you; about what you can do, can’t do, will do, or won’t do.  You find freedom.  You hear the music.  You feel the music.  You ARE the music.  Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get the idea.  And I spent the rest of the class (known as the bonus half-hour) with a much bigger smile on my face.

Put Love Above.

A year ago, it was the weekend of Valentine’s Day and I had thought ahead and bought my wife some roses a few days BEFORE the day I would give them to her.  Pretty smart, huh?  Well, my mistake came when I thought that the trunk of my car wasn’t that dissimilar to a florist’s fridge.  And the results were disastrous….completely dead roses I handed to my sweet wife for Valentine’s Day 2010.

I’m actually in the middle of Valentine’s Day 2011.  You may think it to be romantic suicide to turn for even a moment away from my sweet thang to type a blog post.  But I’m taking my chances.

We’ve spent a wonderful day together (I took the day off) and did more before 10 a.m. than most people do all day.  Okay, a bit of an exaggeration; we had breakfast at Chick-Fil-A and rolled 2 games of bowling all before 10 a.m.  Not too shabby, eh?  The chicken biscuit was heavenly (as usual) and the bowling alley was virtually filled with nothing but senior citizens (our kind of people).

After knocking down a few pins, we headed up to Short Pump to do some window shopping.  We enjoyed a shared dish at Maggiano’s and then strolled hand-in-hand through this rare warm February sunshine.  We decided to fore go the swanky dinner out (and the jacked up V-Day prices) and instead get some pizza and spend the evening with our kids, who after all are a direct result of our love for each other.  Yep, love is definitely in the air.

And while I likely won’t be getting her flowers tomorrow like I did today (which were completely fine, thank you very much), there is simply no way around it: about this woman I am absolutely crazy.  In fact, if you spend any time at all with my wife and I, I hope you’d see that’s true.  I try not to cross the “Schmoopy” line into obnoxiousness, but every chance I get I tell her and anyone who’ll listen just how I adore this woman.

I learned from my mentor and friend Len Kageler this priceless piece of wisdom: “If you fail at home, you fail.”  And I’ll add to it, “If you’re marriage isn’t right, ain’t nothing right.”  That’s why no matter how extensive and fruitful my ministry becomes, it will never eclipse the critical importance of the strength of my marriage.  It is from that relationship that I draw so much strength and joy and encouragement.  It is in that relationship that I find security found in no other relationship on earth.  No amount of “success” can outweigh the success of a rock-solid marriage relationship.

Love is a decision that we make, more than an emotion that we feel.  It is when we don’t think of love in these terms that romance fades and marriages fail.  While I do certainly feel emotions of love toward my wife that are “involuntary” (after all, I’m not blind), these emotions by no means make up the foundation of what we have together; they are only a part of it.  It is the voluntary decisions that I make, based on the commitment I have made to her that have helped carry us over 15 years of wedded bliss, and I am counting on 50-60 more.

So, here’s to Valentine’s Day–even though it is pretty much a holiday concocted by greeting card companies and florists.  On this day, I’m so glad that for me, it bears a beautifully strong resemblance to every other day of the year.

The Prayer Dare

I think its astounding that the only recorded request the disciples of Jesus actually made was for Him to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1).  Not to heal, not cast out demons, not walk on water, and not turn water into wine (I’d have thought that one would have topped the list!)  It’s as if they understood that Jesus’ prayer life was central to all else; that communication with the Father was the key to all else that happened.

Now, I won’t pretend to understand how Jesus (God the Son) talking with His Father God works.  But I do know that Jesus and His Heavenly Father shared and enjoyed a constant communication.  All throughout the Gospels we’re told that Jesus would get away to be alone and pray (Luke 5:16).  He also prayed publicly, and in the presence of His followers.  He prayed for others, for Himself, and for us to name a few.

In the life of those who follow Jesus today, prayer can be seen as anything from a chore to a delight.  Some view it was a “to-do” they must accomplish in order to stay on God’s good side.  Some see it as a routine, falling in the same category as brushing your teeth.  Some view it was a lifeline to reach for in times of crisis.  Others see it as I have heard it put: “Prayer is to the believer as oxygen is to the lungs.”  No matter where you are (if at all) on the continuum, there is one thing for sure: prayer is essential to the follower of Jesus.

The statement I’d like to make is that we may be in a place where we have idolized prayer, rather than seeing it as an organic result and key ingredient to a genuine relationship with God.  When we say “prayer” we tend to think of heads bowed, eyes closed, fingers interlocked, and solemn silence.  But what would happen if when we hear “prayer”, we think “conversation”.  Most people would say, “Thanks, Captain Obvious.” because we understand prayer to be communication with God and even conversation with God, but I wonder how many converse with God as they do with any other close friend?  What if I spoke with God as frequently as I speak to my wife?  And worse, what if spoke with my wife as frequently as I speak with my Creator, King, and Father?  Imagine going a day and NOT speaking to your spouse or that friend you can’t imagine going more than 24 hours talking to?  I’d dare say that by lunch both of you would be painfully aware that something was not right.  But I confess to you that even as as pastor, I can go much longer than a day without intentionally talking with the One who loves me more than anyone else does.

For the last several days, I’ve awakened with a conscious awareness of God’s desire to talk with me.  It’s as if He’s sitting next to my bed waiting for me to wake up.  My first thoughts after “Ugh, what time is it?” is along the lines of “Lord, I belong to you today. Let’s do this together. Use me however you want to. I’ll stick with you.”

When we view prayer more as conversation than sanctimonious pontification, we end up with a better view of a loving Father who is desperate to hear the sound of your voice…the voice He himself created.

A Follow-Up

With flowers in my hand and butterflies in my stomach, I stood on the Varner’s front porch. I thought for a minute about the girl on the other side of the door, and how I hope she’d like our date. I reached up my hand and rang the doorbell. The door opened to a bright-faced 13 year old girl that I am totally crazy about. At that moment, the butterflies turned into bricks and my stomach sank to know that this girl would be my companion for the evening. With a slightly cracking voice, I said, “I’m here to pick up Madison.” She let me in and I saw her Mom standing there. “Hello, Mrs. Varner. You look radiant this evening.” As Madison got her coat on, I assured her Mom, “I’ll have her home on time.”
With an approving smile from Mrs. Varner, Madison and I walked out the door and what can I say–the evening was absolute magic. Not because of the movie or that we had the best seats in the theater or that we laughed so hard joking together as we waited in line to get in, but because I think we really do like each other. And as her Dad, I like that a lot.

Being a Dad

I’m a Dad to 4 people.  I re-read that short sentence and cringe, chuckle, and almost cry.  I have four lives that are watching mine; first trustingly, then critically, then (hopefully) faithfully following.  I believe that we need to be able to say to our kids more than to anyone else: “Follow me as I follow Christ.”  (1 Cor. 11:1)  Believe me, this is NOT something I have attained but it is always something I’m reaching for.

Tonight, I’ll be taking my oldest daughter (13) out for a date.  As a pastor, I’ve been invited to a special pre-release screening of “Soul Surfer” a movie based on the story of Bethany Hamilton, a teenager surfer who lost her arm to a shark attack.  I’m definitely excited about seeing the film, but I’m even more excited about who I’m seeing it with.

I love my oldest daughter immensely and I love spending time with her.  We laugh a lot and I do my very best to speak God’s truth into her life.  I can see within her a blossoming young woman of God and the only thing I want for her is to be an unashamed lover of Jesus.  The rest of the details of her life take a second place to that one desire.

I think I’ll go get some flowers for tonight.

Another day in paradise…

If you know me, you know I’m serious about rest.  Let’s be clear: that’s NOT the same as being lazy (which to my knowledge I haven’t been called since my teen years).  Rest is critical for every living breathing human being (and most animals) because that’s the way God made us.  (This post will be a simple snippet on the topic of rest, but if you’d like a beefier stew, check out “The Rest of Us”; a post I did nearly 3 years ago on the issue of rest. You can go right to it by clicking here.)  It just amazes me how rest gets tossed aside as a victim of our circumstance, as if its not one of the ten commandments.

The church I serve (Southside Church) is a fantastic ministry that cares well for its staff.  That being said, I get a certain amount of vacation days per year.  Last month, I found that I had 13 days of vacation time remaining with no real plan for how to use those days; no big family trips coming up, no major surgery planned etc.  So, I decided for the most part to pepper my vacation days over the landscape of the next few months.  And in the month of February, I’ve taken the “every Monday off” approach.  Today was my first.  As suspected, I loved it.  My wife doesn’t work on Mondays, my kids are in school, and so its just The Hotness and I doing what needs to get done or whatever we feel like doing.  Pretty sweet.

For the next 3 Mondays, I’m looking at days just like today–days of “Idunnowhatdoyouwanttodo?” with my favorite person on the planet.  I’m sure we might conjur up some actual plans at some point, but what a nice thing its going to be every Monday in February.

When I have some time on my hands, my mind typically thinks these thoughts in this order:

1. What NEEDS to get done? (A closet to organize? A Goodwill dropoff run to make? A repair in/around the house that’s been waiting?)

2. What MUST get done?  (A kissing cousin of #1, but this might be of a more urgent nature, such as “If I don’t get those videos back to the library, I’m going to pay a fine. And I’ll be darned if I’m paying the library anything!”)

3. What WANTS to be done? (This is the stuff that has virtually no purpose but sheer enjoyment. I walk around Short Pump with my wife, sipping coffee and window shopping while chatting about anything & everything.)

And today we landed squarely on #3.  We drove where the wind blew us, strolled around, bought nothing but socks for our youngest and vacuum bags (oops, I guess there’s a little #1 in there), and ate Mexican for lunch.

Oh, and I broke my Dollar Tree “back-up” pair of shades.  I was using my back-up pair because I can’t find  my regular expensive pair of Dollar Tree shades.  Other than that, it was just another day in paradise.  And I’m already looking forward to next Monday.