Friday, May 31, 2013

They Might Not Have a Daddy

One day my dad and I loaded up in the old orange Nissan pickup truck he drove for the better part of my lifetime to go fishing at the Fayette county lake a few miles from my little home town.

As we sat along the bank and baited our hooks a young boy, perhaps just a little older than me, came over and took a keen interest in our fishing. Me, being painfully and shy and self-conscious as a child, sat quietly hoping he would lose interest and move along. My father, being the portrait of charity and kindness, invited the boy to have a fishing pole and fish for a while with us, which he did gladly.

My memory can't piece together many details of the number of fish we caught, or how we bid farewell to our stranger companion, I think his mother may have eventually come calling for him. But as we got back in my dad's old truck and drove home I remember telling my dad how I wish he hadn't invited that little boy to fish with us.

I remember he said something to this effect - "Son, that boy may not have a daddy that will take him fishing..."

It was about all he said the whole drive home, and it was all he needed to say. I've never forgotten lessons like that.

Tonight I stood on the banks of a lake out in the country with a half dozen or so Ukrainian orphans. They each had fishing poles in their hands.

I thought about the lessons I learned some 25 years ago, as I tied hooks, fixed reels, untangled lines, showed a few the perfect spot to throw to, and how if you slide your hand over a bream's head to hold him, his fins won't get you when you are taking the hook out... All things I learned because, you know, I had a daddy, and a good one at that.

We fished a while and then had some barbecue with other friends and families that had gathered along side Bridges of Faith to fellowship with this group of kids from Ukraine.

As we got in the car I thought about how in the joy of fellowship I had forgotten that there are eight or so of those children who won't have a family to take them home and tuck them in. Who belong to no one, and who after this grand adventure to America may not experience again the sweet fellowship of families or the joy of an evening out in the country... I won't stun you with statistics for the children who age out of Eastern European orphanages. But I urge you to pray for these kids, pray that someone will take them in and make them part of a family. I encourage you to consider donating to Bridges of Faith and making opportunities like these trips possible for orphans in Ukraine who stand little chance of a normal life after aging out of their institution. And also, I encourage you to be and extension of God's Grace to the children you come in contact with daily, you never know the lesson they learn that will stay with them for a lifetime.

I am forever thankful that I was shown what to do when I'm standing along side children who might not ever have a daddy.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Quiet House

The house is quiet. And I'm finding myself in the middle of all together unfamiliar situation as sit here in the silence.

My wife took the kids (sounds strange to say that, as now we have more than one) to her parents for the weekend while I was faced with the delight-less task of covering some open shifts in my schedule at work this weekend. So now I'm home alone for the first time in a long time and have a chance for some solitude.

I have become so accustomed to the the chaotic loudness of baths needing to be gotten, bottles to be prepared, diapers to be changed, and the frantic urgency with which my marvelous bride and I get the "kids" in bed so that we can steal a brief moment to talk about our life, it's events, and this blessed adventure we find ourselves on, that when the quiet house loses it's novelty I find myself waiting with a faint, peculiar anxiety for my blessings to be safely back under my watchful care.

But solitude is a necessary practice for a man. It's healthy, I believe it firmly. A desire assigned by our Creator. Deep down there comes a point when a man needs to withdraw for a short while and think, and pray, and plan, and prepare so that when the delightful chaotic loudness returns he smiles and embraces it with great joy, and has renewed strength to meet the demands of such a rigorous task, trying to be the best husband, father, and strongman God's grace will allow him to be.

I wish all men saw a quiet house as a gift for service, and not an end goal.

As I sat alone at the family table tonight, I couldn't help feeling anger and pity for the men who desire solitude above all, and in doing so have impaled the well being of their own family with the sword of abandonment as a bloody sacrifice for their personal freedom... Or sat apathetically by while others did the impaling for them.

I am convinced that nothing is more frightening to a weak-willed man than love that requires a great deal of self sacrifice. Nothing will cause him to draw the sword of abandonment more swiftly, nothing will make him wheel it more recklessly, and nothing, sadly, can prevent his own family from being the first of it's many casualties.

Please Lord, never me... Men, resolve is yet another product of wisely used solitude.

Ten years ago this June I watched my lovely bride walk down the aisle. We said "I do", and "I" still "do". We've been fortunate to stay "in love" through want and plenty. But marriage isn't about love, it's about covenant keeping, it's about service, it's about sacrifice, it's about resolve.

My beautiful wife and I are the proud adoptive parents of two children. Our family was no accident, it was intentional pursuit, divine appointment, and more miracles than I can recount. And I'll admit three years ago, I didn't know what I was getting into, but we've burned the ships and are here to stay.  My treasured girls came to me fatherless, and that fatherless-ness came to a dead stop when it ran into me.

Every night I spend a few moments lying on the floor after we turn out the lights while my oldest daughter tries to go to sleep. After about five minutes I lean over her bed, kiss her on the head and tell her "I love you, and I'm always going to be your daddy"...  I say it with such deliberate conviction it's as if I'm trying to pour those words like medicine into the wounds she has suffered in her short little life.

"I do" and "I'm always going to be your daddy" - Increasingly rare and precious promises that require sleepless nights, long days, unmet ambitions, strong constitution, a shortage of solitude, and drawing your sword to defend your family, not murder it for selfish gain...

I challenge you, be the rare man that finishes the course of kept promises. You will not miss your freedom, but you may just, instead, find it.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Thoughts on Strength and Training - Part 2

The year was 2001, the package came in the mail. The shape of the plain brown wrapper indicated my illicit contraband VHS tape had arrived. I carefully opened it and there on the label shining in all it's glory it said "Westside Barbell Bench Workout"....

Now, I had been reading Louis Simmons articles in Powerlifting USA for about two years leading up to this point. I used to read them over and over and over, because, let's face it, he had the goods. He had bands and chains and boards and boxes and a plethora of gimmicks and percentages that led me to believe that FINALLY, I had struck gold. I had sailed beyond Fred Hatfield's compensatory acceleration technique and landed on the golden shore of heavy banded box squatting barbell paradise sure to make pound after pound of easy weight land on the bar. I invested in some bands, Kaz's Fitness Center had some chains and I began training Old school Westside style in earnest. After a few months and a little progress, the next logical step in becoming a Westside disciple was, of course, order the videos...

The warm glow of the screen filled the room and there I watched the most poorly produced, low-budget, home video camera with Vaseline on the lens training video my eyes had ever beheld. It was glorious.

Back in that day, Louis pushed the accessory movements. You want a big bench, you gotta have strong triceps (which is true). And obviously if lying dumbbell tricep extensions with 65lbers. with 10 seconds rest between sets was good enough for Louis it was good enough for me (I was so naive ya'll).

So the course before me was set. Max out every week (just rotate the exercises, you'll be fine Mr. Raw drug free lifter), dynamic (nay almost plyometric) bench pressing every week and dumbbell tricep extensions until the cows come home... After all Louis said pushing the accessories was the key... And it works... especially if you add some testosterone, and 2 ply canvas gear... (so, so naive, ya'll)

It wasn't long before the too heavy tricep extensions (and a million other things I did) had caused this dreaded plague of medial epicondylitis (golfer's elbow) to find it's home in both my arms.  I tore my left hamstring doing another stupid exercise. Not only that, but the perpetual max effort work had left me stagnant and I had gotten stronger in all of my accessory lifts with little to show for it where it counted, on the barbell. I was about burned out before I even got started.

I took several weeks off from training after that, and started over, I start over a lot, that was about 2002... 11 years ago, wow.

I left the Westside training methodology behind, and I would give anything to have those days back with a copy of Starting Strength in hand. However, I still use bands and chains some, but they are not anything close to essential for strength (in fact they can be a huge distraction).

Now that I am older and minimally wiser I have learned a little about what works for me in the gym. Accessory movements are more about keeping healthy, correcting weaknesses, and hypertrophy than they are for pushing a heavier barbell. Do I want stronger triceps, biceps, hamstrings, ect., you bet, but I'm not so sure those things can be found in training those muscles soley in isolation.

So I've been doing a good amount of shoulder complexes with a mini band before I press.  I've been doing some upper body sled dragging for my ailing left elbow, and I've been doing some calf raises because lately I've had an irrational fear that I'm going to tear my Achilles tendon...  It's all extra bricks for the foundation. Are movements like these a secret ingredient? No, but they make me feel good, and keep things interesting.

A couple of months back I started a loose version of The Cube Method for Strongman by Josh Thigpen. I have a de-load week every 4th week and that is the week I do all the little silly exercises that I enjoy, and step away from the platform to make sure I heal up, spend time with my family and take Ferris Bueller's advice.  Curls in the squat rack, overhead squats, that grip/forearm exercise you've been wanting to try - they all land right there in the de-load week where you're healing up for what really matters - adding weight to the bar, log, or axle as the case may be.

Training for me will be a lifelong process, I'm settling into that notion. The point now is consistent, thoughtful training over a very long time. Lift heavy, do what keeps you healthy, do what gets you better... and every now and then, stop smells the roses until you're ready to lift heavy again.