Aldersgate Men

Monday, July 31, 2006

My Belarusian Adventure...

For those of you wanting to follow along, I've been posting my experiences on MY BLOG.

You can find the specific entries here:

Installment One: New York to Warsaw
Installment Two: Warsaw Poland

Again, I invite you to leave comments at the bottom of entries that move you, inspire you or leave you asking questions. All the best, my brothers.

Friday, July 28, 2006

A three legged stool...

I sometimes post at a fitness bulletin board, and I reached a milestone post--3,000. I thought you might be interested to read this, so I'm posting it here for your consumption/questions/consideration.

I want to write, at this point, about balance. I am seeking to build a three-legged stool. Those three legs will be my body, mind and soul.

Almost ten years ago, I set out to change my lifestyle. I was, at that time, a pack-a-day smoker who found getting up in the morning to be a difficult task. On January 1, 1997 I gave up cigarettes (there’s going to be one heckuva celebration this year, boys and girls). As with most people, I substituted eating for the ciggies, took a more sedentary job and managed to gain quite a bit of weight. I ballooned up to 220+ on my six-foot frame.

A story that’s familiar to many: One morning I was shaving at the mirror and my wife looked over at me and asks, “Why are you sticking your belly out like that?” I wasn’t. OUCH! I made a decision that day that I needed to Fish or Cut Bait, and my moniker was born. I picked up my first copy of Men’s Health (thank you Lou Schuler, for then and for now) that day, about 4 years ago. I started working out, and gradually lost the weight. In those ten years, I’ve quit cigarettes, gained and lost weight (I now hang around 195), had a beautiful daughter (love you Katie Rose) who gets to hang out with her healthy dad, learned how to eat clean (thanks Karocka), lifted small and lifted big, logged countless miles running and riding (thanks Harrisburg Bicycle Club), competed in two triathlons (Got the Nerve?) and managed, along the way, to even inspire a couple of other people to live healthier (including my incredible wife, Joan, who also gave up smoking).

I have learned and continue to learn so much from the members of this board, their intelligence and their wisdom. It's not just fitness either, and those of you who have been around know what I am talking about. I’ve learned about plants (Gardener), kids (JP and Erika), outdoor fun (ODB), how to cook up a salmon and a clean cheesecake (Johnka), baseball (Lefty and Lou), and the likelihood of winning an argument if you’re a married man (it ain’t good…thanks Brad/Q). I‘ve discovered new ways of dealing with people in the gym who are rude or nasty (thanks Danny) and that humor (that’s humour to my international friends) is a great way to deal with many situations (Ninja) and that self-deprecating humor/humour is oftentimes the funniest, and is a sign of a humble spirit (for my money, no one here does it better than Bond, though JavaJunkie deserves a shout). I’ve learned that men and women can coexist in a "locker room" and it doesn’t need to devolve into a mindless morass of stupid-sex-talk, that intelligent, funny discussion can be the order of the day (thanks OT Forum self-policing, and especially JP for giving us a place and carte blanche to do so).

I’ve gained a deeper understanding and respect for people with different perspectives, backgrounds and experiences. I’ve always had this, as my mom came from Ireland and having a parent of foreign birth gives you a naturally broader perspective. Still, I’ve grown so much in this area from people here, (thank you so much, Kaiser and Ruma).

I’ve learned that you can build friendships and even a community online, and that you can, with a modicum of effort, take those relationships farther (thanks Mahler, Lefty, Lou, Q….I know I’m forgetting others—My apolgies). I’ve learned that the borders and barriers between these friendships are of our own creation, and their dismantling is equally of our own choice. Mostly, I’ve learned that no matter how you say “about” there’s still only one way to spell it, and this little lesson shows us that we should focus on the things that bring us together, while acknowledging and celebrating the things that make us unique. It’s how we develop, broaden and sharpen our minds.

In seeking the last leg of my stool, I found it in my church. About four years ago, my wife and I walked into Aldersgate United Methodist Church. It felt like home. It's the kind of place that meets you spiritually where you are, but doesn't let you stay there. Pastor Mark Webb does an amazing job, never shying away from tough topics or difficult ideas. I like watching the way he deals with people, and I’ve learned from his gentle approach (those of you who know me know that “gentle” is not generally in my nature). He takes the time. We also had a woman Pastor, Natalya Cherry who just moved on to a new church. I already miss her decidedly feminine approach to the gospel, her wit and wisdom, her love for God and how she expressed it by loving other people.

I have grown and continue to grow, deepening my relationship with God by improving my relationships with people around me, my "neighbors". The brothers and sisters I have met, the friendships I have grown at Aldersgate show me what a caring community of Christ is all about. I’ve become very active with the men’s group, and I am constantly amazed at how this group of men helps each other, other members of the church, and even members of the local community (they are currently involved in restoring and cleaning up a woman’s house in time for her husband’s return from Iraq.

I offer this, not as an attempt at braggadocio, but as shining examples of how I want to live my life: gently, boldly, helping others with the Spirit as my guide and my helper.

The Three Legged Stool
One of my favorite (favourite to Vern) things to watch is boxing. I am enthralled by the ability of the human body to take the punishment it does, round after round. I remember Ali, Sugar Ray, Foreman, Frazier, Lewis, and other great fighters like Roy Jones Jr., Spinks, lace>Hopkinslace>, and de la Hoya, and the incredible story of Cinderella Man Jim Braddock. All of these fighters, these survivors of incredible battering and beating, these champions who weathered the odds, the naysayers and the critics, have one thing in common. In between the beatings, the pummelings, the booing, the smashing, the cheering, and the disappointing rounds, they all sat down on a well balanced, properly designed three legged stool. They collected their thoughts, rethought strategies, evaluated opponents, rested their weary bodies, and waited for the bell to ring. And when it rang, they rose off that perfect, balanced three legged stool and went out to face their foe knowing they could not be beaten, could not be defeated, no matter what anyone did or said. They were born to be victorious.

Last year, many of you know, I went on a mission trip to work with the kids in an orphanage in Belarus. I went back this year to see them again. I offer this 3,000th post not as a full explanation, nor as a finishing point, but as the beginning of a deeper exploration of what it means to be a disciple, to build and strengthen the third leg of my stool, and what it means to get up off my stool and go out with confidence to face my foe, rising as a child/man/warrior of God, born to be victorious.

You can follow along at my blog, as many of you already do: At the bottom of each post is a "comment" area. If you see something that you like, or something you question, or if you're just curious about whether I read the comments (I do) and respond (ditto), feel free to leave your thoughts. You can even do it anonymously.

Now go forth and conquer, like the champions you were born to be.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Back from Belarus...

I just got back from the Aldersgate Mission Trip to Belarus. Reports from the trip, including people, places, miracles (large and small) will follow. I wanted to let you know, dear readers, that all went well. Stay tuned, and thank you for your kind thoughts and prayers that saw us through this trip...

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Child of God

I went to my friend Randy's funeral for his 3 year old son. It was hands-down the hardest thing I have ever sat through. It was also one of the most powerful testaments to the power of God I have seen. Randy's brother said a few words about how he didn't know Drew personally, only through videos and cards and letters and phone conversation. It made me feel like I was in the same place--not really knowing him, but knowing him by association. He showed a video he had of Drew as "The Heavyweight Champion of the World" with a Rocky theme which Drew used to love watching with his dad.

It was heartbreaking, yet amazing in capturing the joy and innocence of a child. Running, playing, doing cartwheels, just being a kid. I have the same videos of my daughter...if you're a parent, you probably have those pictures or videos, too.

Then Randy spoke. I honestly don't know how he found the strength to do it. Since I knew him, he has grown to know God in a similar vein as I have. It was amazing to see this man I had known as a carefree, easy going guy, now expressing his own relationship with God. He talked about many things, but these are the things I came away with. He talked about the day of the accident, and all of the amazing people he met, who helped him, his family and who tried to save his son. He talked about the people at the hospital, strangers who came in to pray with him.

The EMTs and ER doctors kept Drew alive while his mom was being flown in to the Emergency Room. Randy asked them to keep him alive so Marcie could say goodbye. While he was waiting with his son, Randy remembered the day of his son's baptism, how his Pastor, Troy, had taken him around to the congregation and even outside the church, and introduced Drew to the world: This is Drew Michael Taylor: A Child of God. And so, as the doctors, nurses, EMTs and others came to speak with Randy, he introduced them: "This is my son, Drew Michael Taylor, a child of God."

Finally, Marcie did arrive and she was told the news. In another display of strength, she asked the doctors if his organs could be donated. The docs said no, there was too much damage. She asked again, saying, please, there must be some way Drew can help one more person. Again, it took a strength and a courage I cannot even imagine, to even think of this at a time like this.

Randy and Marcie went in to say goodbye to Drew. And then he was gone.

Then Randy had to tell his eight-year-old daughter, Lauren, that her brother was gone. I don't know how I would have handled it. This is how Randy handled it. He got down on his knees and prayed. He asked God to give him the strength and wisdom he needed, because he recognized that this was going to be the most important moment in his life, the moment that defined him as a father. When he told his Lauren, he did it with the strength, the wisdom, the grace and the love of the Holy Spirit.

In the days that followed, people asked the questions one asks, the same ones I did: "How are you and the family holding up?" "Is there anything I can do to help?" One of his friends asked, "What have you learned from this?" At first, I thought it a harsh question. I don't know if Randy did or will experience the rage and disappointment I felt with God when I heard. I suspect it's impossible not to. The thing that struck me was his response to the question. What he learned is the meaning of life. Randy said it all boils down to three things:
The people you love
The people who love you
What can you do for God

...and with that, he left the pulpit, sat down with his family, waited to hear the preachers words, and went out to send Drew Michael Taylor, Child of God, home to Heaven.

Many things have occurred to me since then. I don't think that I take a lot of things for granted, and I have a good grasp on how much God has blessed me. Still, it gave me pause and made me consider how I could spend my time here loving my family and friends more, and better. The other thing that I saw was how God never allowed Randy to be alone. I think at times like this, the worst part is when we are alone in the midst of it. Randy didn't have that. The EMTs, the doctors, the chaplain at the hospital, a local congregation that showed up to help and pray with his family as they recovered from the wreck, the local community, the schools where Randy and Marcie teach, and especially his own church. In all of these people, God made His presence not just known, but felt.