Excuses are like armpits, everyone has them and most of them stink.

April 1, 2019. April Fool’s Day. As a jokester, this is one of my favorite days. But this day was different. On this day I found myself struggling to get out of a hospital bed in Philadelphia. A little after 10 o’clock on the previous evening, I was wheeled into surgery for what would be my second back surgery in two years. The first one was scheduled, this one was not; and this wasn’t a joke.

Just five months prior my physician told me I was on the fast track to a major health issue – a stroke or heart attack. I had heeded her advice and began to make some lifestyle changes – specifically, eating less and moving more. But now, that seemed to have come to a crashing halt. Yet again, I found myself struggling to walk. In fact, even as the days passed, I still had areas of my leg and foot that I could not feel. The neurosurgeon told me that my nerve was completely compressed for over 24 hours and caused significant nerve damage that will manifest itself in numbness and loss of feeling – in medical terms, “peripheral neuropathy.” And because of this neuropathy, I now was dealing with drop foot – it was difficult to lift the front part of my left foot high enough to walk normally. Not being able to gauge if my foot was high enough or not caused me to stumble, and sometimes tumble onto the ground (not in a graceful, gymnast kind of way either). For a few weeks after the surgery I was dependent on a walker to get around. For months after that, I had to use a cane.

So much for getting back into shape,” I remember thinking to myself. How am I supposed to run and lose weight when I can’t even walk without a cane? I cried – actually, I bawled – waiting for the ambulance to pick me up two days before the surgery. They were definitely tears of pain, but equally tears of frustration and of defeat. Those feelings of loathing and self-pity remained for quite some time even after the surgery.

The neurosurgeon said it would take up to a year, probably even longer in my case, for the nerves to regenerate and to regain feeling. There was also a possibility that I would never fully regain the feeling in my left leg along with the outer part of my foot. As I write this, 50 weeks post-surgery, while the feeling has gotten better, I still have a lot of numbness. My three toes are constantly numb, my whole foot feels like I’m wearing a wet sock, and there is a good portion of my leg where you could jam a fork into it and I probably wouldn’t feel it (no, you cannot try it). All this is to say that I had a choice to make: I could sit around and wallow in my misery, or I could begin a different kind of life – a life that would live into the one God had created me for.

Pastor Rick Warren in The Daniel Plan reminds us that “no matter what kind of change we want to make in our lives – mental, physical, financial, spiritual, social, whatever – the key to changing for the better is finding energy to make that change.” That energy is our motivation. We all need to be motivated, to have a source of energy to propel us for change, to move towards a goal and to better ourselves. For me, my motivation became my family. I no longer wanted to flirt with death because of my diet and sedentary lifestyle. I decided I wanted to live a healthy life so I could be on this earth with my family as long as possible. I began by making small lifestyle changes, and then adding upon them as time went on. It wasn’t a diet I was beginning, I was beginning a new way of living.

On a practical level what did that look like? I basically switched to the Mediterranean diet. I know I just said I didn’t diet, but this is a diet in the sense of what I planned on eating, on the food that would provide my body with sustenance. This meant cutting out red meats – although I still enjoy a steak or a taco from time to time – and eating primarily chicken and fish… a lot of fish (to the degree that my wife recently, playfully yelled at me, “Enough with the fish, I just want a burger!”). I snack on nuts (dry roasted) and protein bars (ones that aren’t loaded with sugar). I’ve cut out junk food and added sugars – so that means basically every processed food – and eat a lot of vegetables, especially in homemade soups. I drink one or two cups of black coffee per day, and drink at least 80 ounces of water daily. Those are the basics, and it seems to be working for me so far. I feel energized and can think more clearly, and I’m not always fighting those feelings of hunger because I’m eating whole foods that actually provide proper nutrition.

My personal challenge has been the exercise portion of my new lifestyle. It was hard to move beyond the “woe is me” mentality. And, in my opinion, the mentality that we’ve been indoctrinated to believe – that excuses are acceptable for not making positive changes in our lives. We’re led to believe – I was led to believe – that I had a reason to lay around, that my back was weak after having multiple surgeries, that I couldn’t walk as well as I once did, that it’s perfectly reasonable and understandable to sit back and say “the heck with it.” But Scripture says otherwise…

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:2 (NRSV)

I decided that I wouldn’t do what was expected – expected by the world and, quite frankly, what was initially expected by me. God wants us to live abundant lives, to discern a life that is good and acceptable and perfect. That doesn’t mean that we have to be Olympic athletes or look like swimsuit models (unless there is a “Dad Bod Issue,” then sign me up). But it does mean that we care for our ourselves, that we care for our bodies, in such a way that honors God.

So I walked. And then I walked some more. First with a cane and rather slow, often with some stumbles. Then I walked some more, eventually without the cane (too early according to my wife). Then I tripped and fell, but I got back up. After a couple of months, I returned to the YMCA and found myself on the treadmill. I began to jog short distances… then a little farther… then with some hills… then a little faster. This progression took months.

Last week I ran a 10k on the treadmill – that’s 6.2 miles which is more than three miles farther than I’ve ever run at any point in my life. It took me 68 minutes to complete – which according to healthline.com is the average time of a 60-year-old woman competing in a 10k race – but I’ll take it considering 11 months ago I was using a walker!

This also came during the same week that I met with my doctor to review my recent bloodwork results. She was so pleased with my lipid levels that my statin dose was cut in half. She also said that my blood pressure is “perfect” and so long as it remains low for the next six months, be able to stop taking the hypertension medication.

I am proud of myself, but not in a prideful, sinful kind of way. I have pride in the fact that with the help of God and the support of my family, I decided to change my life for the better. It wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen overnight, and the journey is far from over. Each day is a new battle as new temptations arise and old demons return. Yet, with God, all things are possible. They’re possible for me and they’re also possible for you.

I’d like to encourage you to think about the lifestyle changes that you want to make, those areas in your life that you need to make to live a life that God desires for you. What excuses have you been making? More importantly, what can you do to take that first step towards a healthier you? Don’t be overwhelmed; think small and build up from there. Just like my first steps and laps around the track were slow and with a cane, it took many months of training to be able to run, let alone for over an hour straight. With the proper motivation and God, you’ll get to where you want to be! God bless you on your journey as you throw away the excuses and make positive, healthy changes.

Daniel-Plan-FB-CoverDuring Lent, small groups at West Lawn UMC are studying The Daniel Plan by Rick Warren. Each Wednesday during Lent I will publish a post that coincides with the group discussion guide for The Daniel Plan. If you’d like to join a small group at West Lawn UMC, please contact the church office.