“You and me? We don’t even have a choice. See, we’re born with a killer instinct that you can’t just turn off and on like some radio. We have to be right in the middle of the action cause we’re the warriors. And without some challenge, without some damn war to fight, then the warrior may as well be dead. So I’m asking you, as a friend, stand by my side this one last time.”
- Apollo Creed
Apollo wasn’t finished. His tank wasn’t empty. Some of you may remember that old scene from Rocky IV where he and Rocky were watching old films together and Rocky challenged Apollo’s motives for his next fight. His last fight as it turned out. Given Apollo’s age, his accolades, and his wear and tear, what more could he have to do? What did he have left to give?
PRODUCTS OF PLACE
Big Bear, California. The small town 100 miles east of Los Angeles is hallowed training ground. Resting 9,000 feet above sea level and surrounded by the San Bernardino National Forest, Big Bear Lake is seven miles long and half a mile wide. With more than 300 days of sunshine each year, the haven is above the pollution, the clouds, and the noise. And for many a boxer, the rare air is fertile terrain for the most rigorous of training schemes.
Aaron Cohen once wrote, "Fighters are products of place; inevitably where they come from is how they end up in the ring, and how they fight once they get there."
So true. But not just for boxers. Years ago I spent time training in an altitude chamber. As you may know, training at altitude helps you perform better at sea level. The more time you spend up high, the better you perform down low. As an old exercise physiologist, that makes good sense to me, but as someone who has fallen in love with a community of those impacted by disabilities, it's real. Because you're never closer to Heaven than when you're spending time with someone impacted by special needs.
The kind of traits (or fruits of the Spirit) that God wants me to demonstrate - things like peace, kindness and gentleness - weren't learned in the lowest, toughest, grittiest belly of the gym, but were displayed and woven into my heart by those impacted by special needs.
I think that’s why, after I leave Jordan's presence (Jordan if you recall is my best pal who happens to have autism) or when I say goodbye to all of his friends after a day of respite, the places I go and the people I encounter later in the day get the best version of me. I’m more patient in line at the supermarket or more forgiving on the road. I smile more and demonstrate more compassion at the mall or in restaurants. Why? Because joy doesn’t wear off that fast. You don’t get over it quickly. It takes time for my natural inclinations to return. I don’t know. I just fight a better fight when I’m full of the good stuff of life.
But fighters - as products of place - don't just fight better in the ring after being up high, but also after finding rock bottom. Trust me. I know about low places. It's where I met the real me.
“Suffering drags you deeper into yourself,” says David Brooks. “It smashes you through a floor you thought was the bottom floor of your soul, revealing a cavity below, and then it smashes through that floor, revealing another cavity, and so on and so on. The person in pain descends to unknown ground. Suffering opens up ancient places that have been hidden. When people are thrust down into these deeper zones, thrust into lonely self-scrutiny, they are forced to confront the fact that they can’t determine what goes on there. It shatters the illusion of self-mastery. It teaches gratitude. We realize how undeserving we are.”
Pastor Rick Warren enjoys telling a story that he had heard as a kid. You may have heard a version of it, but as the story goes, a group of 12 frogs were traveling together through a forest when two of them fell into a very deep, dark pit. The other 10 frogs gathered around the pit. When they realized how deep it was, they were certain that it was the end of their two friends.
The two frogs that had fallen into the pit started jumping with all their might in an attempt to get out. But from the perspective of safety, the other 10 frogs began to urge the trapped frogs to stop trying and just accept their fate. They kept yelling, “You’re in too deep! There’s no way you’ll get out of this! It’s impossible! Save your strength and die peacefully!”
But the two frogs at the bottom ignored the comments and kept trying to jump out, and still, the safe frogs kept yelling, “It’s no use! It’s hopeless! Save your energy!” Finally, one of the frogs in the pit got so discouraged by all the negativity that he gave up and died.
But the other frog at the bottom of the pit kept jumping harder and harder. And with every jump, he seemed to get stronger and stronger. It was an amazing effort to watch. Finally, he made it out to safety! The other frogs looked at him in astonishment and asked, “Why did you keep trying so hard when we were all urging you to give up?”
Interpreting what they said from their gestures, the frog explained, “Well, actually I’m deaf, so I couldn’t hear a word you were saying. But I could see you were all shouting vigorously at me. I assumed it meant you believed I could make it and were encouraging me to not give up. So I was determined to keep trying as long as you believed in me!”
Powerful, huh? Not shocking, but I can’t read that without crying. As a sentimental fool, I look at this story from so many angles. One angle that puts a lump in my throat is to consider the frog with special needs looking up and seeing his buddies rooting for him. He wasn’t gonna let them down. Maybe he never felt like he had pals before; never knew he was so loved. Unlike his counterpart, he would die before he would quit. Yeah, that gets me.
WALKING WITH GOD
In his book Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering, Tim Keller reveals countless concepts of the origins of suffering, its purpose, the byproducts, and more, but there are a few major points I will list here, as they are critical for our industry, our walk with God, our certain future of suffering and our current purpose of service to those in need here at PrayFit. He says:
- Suffering has the potential of giving us a more accurate appraisal of our own limitations.
- Suffering also leads us to examine ourselves and see weaknesses, because it brings out the worst in us. Our weak faith, sharp tongues, laziness, insensitivity to people, worry, bitter spirit, and other weaknesses in character become evident to us and others in hard times.
- Suffering changes the relationship to the good things in our lives. We will see that some things have become too important to us. It fortifies us against being too cast down by future reversals. It also brings us new sources of joy we were not tapping before.
SIGNIFICANCE > SUCCESS
I remember sitting in the office of the president of a very prominent charity. We had a great chat. He asked me about my life and career and after I had listed all the things I’d done, he said something that rocked me. He said, “Jimmy, you’ve had a lot of success, but what would your life look like if things really turned out well?” Talk about a blow to the ego. I had just listed my accomplishments, but he was looking for substance. Deaf to the sound of shallow things, his ears were conditioned to notice significance rather than success.
Fortunately for me these days, suffering and chronic, invisible pain, the re-arranging of my priorities and the exposure to those impacted by special needs have helped me realize what is significant and what is not.
You can take all the books and success and the silly kingdoms of goals away, because the joy of the gift of health will atrophy, decay and die if not expressed in the service to those in need. If we waste in on self, it will do just that. We have to serve. Our hard work won’t be satisfied without it.
In the end, fitness was not a friend. Not really. Oh, I tried. We met daily. Thought about him all the time. Did everything he wanted. Anything to keep him around. But then I shook hands with pain and illness—met the real me. Nice to meet you, Jimmy. You’re smaller than you look. Weaker than you can imagine. Those are some of your best traits. But it’s time to live. Suck it up.
Turns out that suffering is a friend. Suffering is that friend that introduces a man to himself—the reality that looks you up and down, spits and grins, and then tells you to put up your dukes. My faith is increasing with every goal I can’t reach.
It’s my diminishing capacity – not my progress – that allows me to see who I really am.
THE FIGHT FOR MOBILITY & RESPITE
If you’ve seen our latest video, you know that more than 70 million people live without the gift of mobility, which means, they have no way of getting from one room to the next. And of those 70 million, only 10% of them have access to the most basic of resources to help them make their way to the bathroom, or from their home to school, or to a friend’s house. The mobility crisis is huge, but solvable.
And when it comes to caregivers, research shows that even a few hours of respite a week can improve a caregiver’s well-being. Caring for a child with disabilities or severe health problems is a full-time job. It is easy to become overwhelmed with the needs of a child with a disability or chronic illness. That is why respite, as the word implies, is truly an interval of rest. But it's a staggering undertaking for churches and groups around the country.
That’s why I’m asking you – as a friend – stand by my side this one last time. Get in the ring with me. Be in my corner and let me be in yours. I hope you love the new site. We’ve made it easier than ever for you and your friends/family to get involved and to help serve kids and families in need of mobility (wheelchairs) and respite (rest).
- You may be a trainer who leads fitness challenges…set up a fundraiser page and get your clients involved and watch a wave of goodness crash down.
- You may be a runner who loves his or her local 5K or half-marathons…represent PrayFit through our runner’s portal and fundraise for caregivers and parents of children with autism.
- You may have a loved one who suffers with a special need or invisible disability, and you just want to come alongside us in big or small ways each month. We’ve made that safe and easy for you.
We didn't hear a bell at PrayFit. By grace, we're just getting up from the canvas. We have a few rounds left in us, but we need some fighters to find their way to the ring; fighters who have either come face-to-face with angels on earth to be taught what life is all about, and/or we need the kinds of fighters that have been crushed through the many floors of pain and suffering to meet their true selves. In the end, we just need a handful of selfless servants who want to dedicate their health and illness (and their life’s passions) for those that may be looking up from their own darkness to see you cheering them on.
We need those of you who are products of place. Because inevitably where you come from is how you ended up in this ring, and it's how you'll fight now that you're here. Without a challenge, without a war, the warrior may as well be dead.
You and me? We don’t even have a choice.