What Now? Part II : Where You Lead, I Will Follow

We boarded a bus with chickens and headed into the unknown. Finny, Xin, Bobo and I were off on a great adventure—to a small town in China that might as well have been the edge of the planet. We armed ourselves with nothing more than prayer God would use us to share the Good News with a town who had never heard the name of Jesus.

If the door on my mission’s team had not been slammed in my face, none of us would have been on that bus. My friend Elengi (a Chinese college student I had led to Christ 2 years before) never would have shared her heart for telling the people of her hometown about Jesus. I would not have gone to Thailand with Finny when she suggested we take a group of Chinese friends to do exactly what Elengi requested. So there we were—and I think we were all a little scared (after all, evangelism is illegal in China).

Fast-forward. Elengi, Finny, Xin, Bobo & I take a prayer walk around the dusty town with narrow alleyways & miles of farmland surrounded by mountains. We pray for God to open doors for our message. We make friends with four old ladies. My heart feels heavy both in remembrance of the pain of what happened just months before AND for the souls of the people of that town. Then it happens.

A woman in her forties walks up to us and asks, “Can you tell me about Jesus? I want to know!” Stunned. Shocked. None of us speak for 30 seconds in disbelief. She continues, “And I want you to come tell all my students, too.”

She was the town’s only English teacher and taught every class in the city. I suddenly felt very, very small. Small in realization that the mighty King was using ‘the least of these’ to write His story onto the hearts of children. All my ‘why’ questions about the past seemed insignificant. Ok, I trust you. Forgive me for my unbelief. Where you lead, I will follow. 

“Teacher Shi” led us to her school the next afternoon, fully aware our message was illegal. She was putting herself in a dangerous situation—there were children in her classes whose fathers worked for the government & the local police—but none of it fazed her. She had heard about Jesus in college and had a recurring dream that white people would  come to tell her more. Teacher Shi knew the Gospel was true even before we had said a word.

The five of us told classes full of students from 1st-6th grade about the story of God. We told them He loved them more than they could possibly imagine. We taught them “Jesus Loves Me” and I fought to maintain composure as they sung their hearts out in very broken English. We took a break for dinner and Teacher Shi and her teaching assistants accepted Jesus’ death as a payment for their sins. After some kind of unrecognizable food & lots of walnuts, we headed back to the school to tell the evening classes the Good News.

But this time there weren’t just students there. Chinese parents lined the wall of the back of the classroom as they too wanted to hear about Jesus.

Many trusted Christ during our time in the countryside town. A Buddhist monk left his life in the temple and started reading the Bible after Bobo told Him about Jesus. I spent time with one 93-year-old woman who lived in a concrete alleyway without a roof over her head. She had outlived all her children—except for her daughter who was serving a life sentence in prison.  She spoke a dialect and could not understand Mandarin. But 8 months later, my friend Natalie and I went to visit her. We sat with her every afternoon, but still could not communicate. One afternoon, we prayed for a miracle. We desperately wanted her to know Jesus. Not thirty minutes later, her nephew ‘stopped by’ her alleyways and offered to translate the Gospel. I spoke in English, Natalie translated to Mandarin, and her nephew translated into her dialect. She believed!  She did not stop smiling and saying ‘thank you’ as we placed a cross around her neck.  The first thing she said after praying, “My legs are not even good for kneeling and praying. I can’t believe Jesus will still take me to heaven with Him when I die.”

Don’t ever give up Hope. If all your plans have crumbled, cling to Jesus. Keep your head lifted high and ask, “Where are you leading?  Because where you go, I will follow.” God promises to transform your wrecked plans, shattered dreams, and pain for good.

Can you relate? Have you ever felt like God closed a door only to lead you on an incredible journey? 

What Now? | When Life Doesn’t Turn Out Like You Planned

Single way older than you ever imagined? Failed marriage? Dead-end job? Shattered dreams?

In 2008, I joined a missions organization and moved across the globe to the land of population overload: China. I envisioned a year that was challenging, but overall filled with joy and fun times with my team and our Chinese friends.

But nothing turned out the way I planned. My dream of pedaling around the crowded streets, serving those damaged by the severe earthquake and sharing Jesus with college students was quickly shattered when our missions team fell apart. And not just over a small argument or minor misunderstanding either.

I felt my entire world came crumbling down and I was in the wake of the fallout. I had planned to move to China for years. God led me every step of the way. I was trusting and walking with Him. Then, in the blink of an eye, everything changed. I was in a foreign country-alone-with a lot of why questions about  the door slammed in my face.

“What now?” Have you been there before?  When you head in a direction and nothing turns out like you planned?

With no prospect of joining back up with my team, most people suggested I come home and figure out something to do in the US of A. Heading home was the most logical solution at the time, but not the path I chose.

I am a Christian and have a relationship with God, which means I try to consult Him on every big decision I make. Why? Because I’ve tried to live life according to my own plans before and the result was disaster. When I prayed about what to do, it quickly became clear what God wanted for me. I was supposed to stay in China. Even when my circumstances seemed to speak the opposite.

I stayed in China, without an organization, and continue to study Chinese. That was as far as the plan took me. The rest would be up to the big man upstairs I was very disillusioned with at the time.

Emotionally? I was angry. I was confused. I was full of bitterness towards my former team members and if I was honest, towards God. I felt I deserved a good year in China. I had many conversations with God that sounded something like this: “Hello? Yeah, it’s me, Ruthie. The one who moved across the world to tell people about you. The one who gave up a career to be a minister of the Gospel. Did I do something to offend you? How could you allow this to happen? Am I missing something?” I wondered if maybe I wasn’t supposed to move to China in the first place and misheard.

Despite all my confusing emotions, I knew God’s plan was better than my own. I knew if He was telling me to stay in China — even if most advised against it  & even if I didn’t have a clue what was coming next- I needed to stay.

The first few months, nothing monumental happened. I dreamed about going home and giving up all-together. I looked at plane tickets. I tried all sorts of ways to convince myself it was ok to leave. But the conviction that I MUST stay was still ever-present — on my daily bus ride to class, on my prayer walks around the city, and in my two apartment moves. It was one of the darkest periods of my life {only highlighted by the fact it was winter and our city was the ‘city of stinky pollution and no sunshine’}. Not true, but it does turn your snot black. Ask my sister.

What is the point of this, God? I’m miserable, I’m in a foreign country without a team, I barely know the language. Why would you want me to stay here? Do you even care about me?

Silence. No answer. Not a word.

But — eventually — after all that silence, God led me on the greatest adventure my life had ever seen. He used my life to change the lives of a generation of others-starting with a dying woman in small, countryside town in China. To be continued…

Has a door recently been slammed in  your face? Have your dreams been shattered? What do you do when life doesn’t turn out like you planned?

Recommended Reading On Life, Marriage, and Christian Living

Several people have asked me to recommend books so I wanted to take a moment to share with you some of the best books I read in 2011. Also, since I work in a publishing house and hate to see the bookstores closing down-I’d like you to read more! In 2012, I have challenged myself to ‘read more’ because I do believe leaders are readers. Michael and I decided not to have a TV our first year of marriage and it has already promoted more reading time.

Marriage Books: Michael and I tied the knot in June of last year and we both read more marriage books than we really need around our house. (So we give them away). The best & most helpful were:

Love and Respect by Emmerson Eggerichs . This book proved to be the most tangibly helpful marriage book we read. The premise of the book is women want love and men want respect & most conflict in marriage arises because of a misunderstanding of these two desires.

Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. Author Thomas ponders the question, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy instead of happy?”

Real Marriage by Mark and Grace Driscoll. Takes a look at hard questions about sex, abuse, pornography and how these often play out in marriage. Mark and Grace didn’t do everything right in their dating life and their transparent style is great for struggling couples.

Sheet Music by Kevin Leman. A wonderful book on God’s design for sex & honoring Him in the bedroom. It also gives detailed advice for the couples who are really nervous about intimacy!

The Best Fiction Books I read:

The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Ok, who didn’t love this book? I wrote the back story (she was rejected by 60 agents before landing a book deal) here.

The Noticer by Andy Andrews. It’s a parable about how our lives can change with just a little perspective.

Need You Now by Beth Wiseman. A story of a family in crisis-where they learn to cling to the One who matters most. Beth deals with difficult issues of self-harm, grief, and extramarital temptations really well.

The Books that Changed Me:

The Furious Longing of God by Brennan Manning. I read this for a third time. God loves you, God loves you, God loves you. Not as you are supposed to be, but exactly as you are. A truly powerful portrayal of the never-ceasing, all-powerful love of God.

The Rest of God by Mark Buchanan. I’ve written about this book here & here.

Shame off You by Alan D Wright. The cover on this book is horrible (sorry Alan), but I read it for the 2nd time this year because it discusses shame in a very powerful and relevant manner.

The Best Memoirs:

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo. There is a reason this book has sold over 6 million copies! A must-read.

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott. One of my favorite books of all time. Ann discusses coming to faith in the most radical, unexpected way-and all her struggles along the way. It will make you laugh out loud (seriously) and cry. Note: a little “edgy” so if you are easily offended, probably don’t pick this one up. She talks a lot about forgiveness.

Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Cron. If you liked The Glass Castle, you’ll love this one!

A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg. A cooking memoir that is beautifully written. Molly writes an internationally read cooking blog & she recounts life through recipes. She met her husband online.

All Is Grace by Brennan Manning. Brennan finally penned his memoir! He will always stay on my favorite’s list as what he dedicated his life to preaching is “God loves you not as you are supposed to be, but exactly as you are.” A beautiful story of a man walking and falling in His Christian life, but never losing faith-because all is grace. 

What are the best books you read in 2011? Please leave your recommendations below! Let’s support authors and bookstores, shall we?

Story Time | Naked Americans, “Treats”, and Acceptance in China

Three years ago around this time, I was living in China and embarked on my first 24 hour train ride with my friend “Sky” to experience an authentic Chinese Spring Festival. It would be safe to say that I did not have the faintest idea of what those weeks would hold! I miss China and my wonderful friends there-how different my life would be if I never had met each of you. So for today, it’s story time. (And yes…this did actually happen).

“Where are we going?” I ask Sky in English, knowing her Aunt couldn’t understand.

“To take a shower.”

“But…” I paused. “Why do we have to walk across town to take one?” I knew she might think I was being difficult, but I felt it was a perfectly normal question. Culturally speaking, I already felt stretched (understatement) after the 23 hour train ride I just endured.

“There is no hot water, so my aunt will treat us to a shower outside.” she replied and hastily took off into the next room to grab her towel.

The word “treat” brought back memories of eating congealed pig’s blood (imagine that coming up in the dictionary) and chicken feet with my friend’s mom at a 5 star hotel. I had become weary of that word. I imagined myself in the town square naked, suds coming off my head, singing while pedestrians sold tickets to watch the ‘showering foreigner’.

We weaved our way around the street vendors, people, and honking taxis following Sky’s aunt and her nine-year old cousin. They made small talk about how big & ugly my shoes were (Uggs anyone?) and how the price of bananas had dropped to an all-time low in Kunming (a city I later discovered had the cheapest bananas in all of China). Who knew?

We arrived at a bathhouse of sorts that appeared relatively clean and no naked people greeted us at the door, which helped me breath. A little. I listened closely to Sky’s aunt as she talked with the girl at the reception desk, but could not discern an answer to my biggest question: would I have undress in front of hundreds of Chinese people who already stare at me when I’m fully clothed? Plus, let’s be honest, I hadn’t shaved my legs in weeks.

Sky kept telling me how nice it was of her aunt to “take us here” and “receive us so well” and what “a treat” it was. I don’t want any treats. The woman behind the reception desk led us down some stairs to a small locker room. Sky’s aunt told us to undress, put our clothes in the locker assigned to us, and go into the shower area.

I took off my thick fleece, and then went for my earrings wishing I wore more jewelry to delay the process. Could I really do this? Please God, if you were ever going to step in-now is the time. The three women stood naked waiting for me. I turned around and took all my clothes off and stuffed them in the locker.

We walked through the glass door into the shower area. No turning back.

It was packed with naked bodies; a group of women huddled in the sauna, some in the hot tub in the middle of the room, and others lathered up near the spigots. And then, they all stopped. And whispered. And stared. And thought about how huge my thighs were (I was sure of it).

God, please turn me into an Asian. You don’t even have to make me smart…promise. I just need the eyes & tiny frame. A hush fell over the room and for a moment I considered breaking into song or dance to ease the tension. We joined several other women in the sauna and discussed life in America and my perspective of China as if we were sitting in a living room drinking tea.

I excused myself and headed to the far wall to escape the eyes glancing in my direction. I started scrubbing my hair with my non-existent shampoo & scanned the room for a clock. How long have I been in here?  Then, a pregnant woman looking like she might have the baby right there on the floor of the shower room, addressed me.

“Ni keyi bang wo xi ma? Wo bu hui,” She said and pointed to her back. She wanted me to scrub her back. I stared at her with a I’m-white-and-don’t-understand-you-look, but she was on to me. She heard me talking to Sky and her aunt the the sauna.  I grabbed the pink wadded up rag and took a deep breath.

I scrubbed her back wishing I had red sparkly heels to tap together. I’d even take a shack in Kansas over standing naked (did I mention I was naked?) in front of all those women! Chinese communalism was great for society, but not when it came to showers. In ‘Merica, we take showers solo.

Slowly-ever so slowly-everyone lost interest & stopped starring. I chit-chatted with my new friend, told her to eat lots of eggs and “walk slowly”.  I reflected.  A Chinese woman addressed me like she would have any Chinese stranger that was standing next to her and asked for help. She didn’t judge me for my different skin, round eyes, and improper tones. And she didn’t seem to care that my thighs were twice the size of hers-she still wanted me to scrub her back.

I was accepted.

Have you ever lived in a culture different from your own? What challenges did you face?

“What Surprised You Most in Marriage?”

Sunday night, Michael and I took a pot of chili over to our pre-martial counselors’ house. David and Connie Thomas have three kids and we couldn’t have hand-picked a better couple to walk us through our engagement season, ask hard questions, and learn from. They have a beautiful historic home and something about sitting in their living room brings peace.

After Michael had successfully chased and wrestled the twin boys (he’s going to be a great dad!) & all the kids were in bed, David and Connie asked us questions about the first seven months of marriage. We talked about our joys, but also our arguments. It’s nice to be able to share openly & honestly without worrying about judgment. David asked us, “What has surprised you most in marriage?” and I sat down this morning to reflect on his question more & want to share with you today in hopes you will know you are not alone (married) or know more what to expect (single).

What surprised me in marriage?

Selfishness. I never knew how selfish I really was! When you’re single, it’s all about you-“what time I want to get up, when I want to clean the house, and what I want to eat for dinner.” This attitude doesn’t work in marriage and it was really challenging for me to fight against my selfish desires (and still is).

“I never knew how annoying I am!” I said laughing. Two months into marriage, Michael asked me to use ‘plastic’ bowls for morning cereal when I get up before him because he could hear my spoon hitting the side of the ceramic bowl and it was waking him up. Ha! And I was eating “2 rooms” away from our bedroom! Michael can be in 4 rooms at one time…if that tells you anything about the size of our duplex. We both get on each others’ nerves & that was something I didn’t expect before marriage.

Money. Even after all our book-reading and money-planning, money was still a source of contention. Joining a checking account with someone is harder work than I imagined. All of a sudden, I couldn’t just flippantly go out to lunch with a friend or pick up a new outfit—I needed to plan & talk to Michael first! Now you might ask, then why would you join your checking accounts? We did because we think it’s important to live as “One”—in unity— and not as two people sharing space & a last name.

Forgiveness. I was clueless about the importance asking for and extending forgiveness in marriage. And I didn’t know how often Michael and I would have to forgive each other! Living in close relationship with someone lends itself to selfishness and hurting the other’s feelings. I knew forgiveness would be important for big things, but never imagined how critical it is to the life of our marriage. We don’t ever go to bed angry. 

Just seven months ago, we said ‘I do’ and began the greatest journey of learning to love selflessly & fully. One of the best things we do to keep our marriage strong is we don’t sweep issues and feelings under the rug because we don’t want an explosion down the road. We have to daily ask forgiveness & share our hearts with each other-when sometimes it would be much easier just to bottle up feelings  and move on. We love to dream together & can’t wait to see what the future holds. Because we’re in this together, for the long-haul. Joy!

Singles…did anything on the list surprise you? Marrieds…can you echo anything I shared or add anything to my list? 

Falling in Love…Online?

“Have you ever “met” someone online and felt an instant connection? Why yes and now he’s my Mr.”

Molly Wizenburg writes in her NYT bestselling memoir A Homemade Life.  She fell in love with her husband over the internet. Upon finding her cooking blog, he emailed her expressing his love for cooking and enjoyment of her blog. They emailed, she called, he visited, and she baked her famous chocolate cake for their wedding. Beautiful story!

Michael and I have a similar story. A mutual friend tried to set us up while we were both home on furlough from Germany and China. I didn’t get his message until it was already too late to meet. I flippantly called him back thinking, “he’s probably just another one of those uber-Christians & I’ll make sure to be nice, but keep it short”. {I was a little disillusioned with Christians at the time.} We talked. He called again. He flew back to Germany, and I boarded a plane for China. We emailed. Skype chatting commenced. Then more phone calls-late ones, because China is 7 hours ahead of Germany.

I still remember crouching on top of dresser in a dirty hotel room in China {because I thought I saw a roach} and Michael very smoothly calling me “little darlin”. I would have launched off that dresser in excitement if it wasn’t for the mysterious creature. On October 12, 2009 I knew I loved him. We still hadn’t met, but had spent countless hours on the phone over the last  3 months. Of course, I didn’t tell him…but I just knew.

On December 6th, I had a really rough “China day” & he played and sang one of my favorite songs over the phone: In Christ Alone. I wrote in my journal that night, “I just know I will marry Michael Dean!” We still had never even shared a cup of coffee.

On December 18, after 4 months of late-night phone conversations & dreaming about what it would be like to actually meet-we met at my parent’s front door. I felt like there was a ghost standing before me & didn’t stop talking because that’s what I do when I’m nervous. We dated from Germany to China and then Atlanta to Germany and then Charlotte to Nashville. Michael and I did not live in the same city until last January-6 months away from our June 4 wedding date! And we didn’t live together until after our wedding. Are we crazy?

“Meeting” and falling in love online and over the phone was never how I pictured Mr. Right coming into my life. Although the distance was hard & I spent those two years counting down the days until we could be together again-it was a beautiful way to know my future husband. My wedding gift to him was an elegantly bound copy of every email and Skype conversation we’d had over the past two years.

I love the way our relationship started. We were both completely “ourselves”, as we didn’t have high hopes it would turn into anything. We had fun, laughed a lot, & shared our dreams and passions without worrying too much about what the other thought. We discovered our mutual love for overseas missions, kids, and the great outdoors. We were really able to get to know each better on many levels because most of our time was spent communicating. Not making out or watching movies. It’s easy to base relationships on chemistry, when chemistry will always fade down the road. But we didn’t have that option.  The important stuff like planning for the future, kids, jobs, religion, and money didn’t get swept under the rug and we were able to be upfront about these very important topics.

Online dating or emailing is a GREAT way to get to know people & protect yourself. Before you start going on blind dates or building your online profile, I would suggest having a list of “deal breakers”-that you absolutely will not settle on. Don’t put a hair or eye color on your ‘deal-breaker’ list, but you should put things about kids, jobs, education level, & religion. I suggest the list before you start meeting people online because when chemistry gets thrown into the mix oftentimes it’s too late to step away.

There are downsides to online dating. PLEASE BE CAREFUL and always meet someone in  a public place. Also, be aware that people can be deceptive online, i.e. “I’m a 23-year-old  swimsuit model…and I look hot in fuchsia!” 🙂

Would you be embarrassed to admit you are dating online? Why or why not? Do you think it’s a good way to get to know someone? What are some of your ‘deal breakers’? 

Rat Poison and Forgiveness

I still remember the boys in my 5th grade class who made fun of me for my uniform skirt that was below my knees (apparently my mom shouldn’t have been the determining factor for ‘cool’), how no one wanted to ‘go out’ with me (i.e. make me mixed tapes of Hootie and the Blowfish and No Doubt), and the real kicker was when they discovered I wasn’t aware a certain ‘celebrity’ existed.  The most famous murder trial in the 90s somehow slipped under my radar—probably because we didn’t have a TV—and the only connotation OJ had for me was “orange juice”. Yes, I was a little sheltered (ask Megan Rhinehart).

Now? It’s hilarious. Then? Painful. I am still fearful of ever being called ‘fat’ because I was ridiculed about my weight, too.

I recently re-read Traveling Mercies where Anne Lamott says she learned to forgive by starting with ‘enemy lites’ as she calls them, and work her way up the real enemies. She began with a mother in her child’s first grade class with a baking/exercise/latex pants disorder who seemed to rub in Anne’s forgetfulness—forgetting to read the handouts the teachers sent home, forgetting to pick up Sam on time, and forgetting to exercise.  Their interactions are hilarious, as Anne talks about mistakenly wearing her “fattest pants” whenever she would see this mother. Finally, Anne forgives this woman, her ‘enemy lite’, for criticizing both her and her son and she makes the astounding comment:

“Unforgiveness is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.”

Who comes to mind when reading this post? It may be a group of stupid 5th grade boys and be on the easier side. Or it might be someone who abandoned you. Used you. Either way—enemy ‘lites’ or serious enemies—the Bible says God will not forgive us if we do not forgive others. And that truth makes my stomach churn.

Michael and I have found asking for forgiveness from each other and quickly letting go of hurts really keeps our marriage strong. Because even holding onto little grudges causes bitterness—poisonous bitterness.

I’m in the process of learning about forgiveness all over again. It is scary when you start to examine your heart and see SO MUCH anger—but that examining process brings healing.

“Guess who is angrier about it than I am? God.” Pastor Perry Noble said after mentioning his childhood sexual abuse. Freedom came when I understood that God hates to see his children suffer (He is a good Dad). But He also hates to see us poisoning our hearts with bitterness and unforgiveness.

In 2012, I resolve to forgive. I want to extend grace and mercy freely and let go of grudges, past experiences, and stop hanging onto memories of wrongdoing. Human nature tells us to pursue justice-an eye for an eye sort of making things right. Culture tells us and shows us to remember what people have done to us and call them out. But Jesus says something completely opposite. He’s not against justice & retribution, but the Bible tells us in more ways than one to forgive those who cause us harm. Because forgiven people forgive. 

This was a hard post for me to write. What insights or thoughts about forgiveness come to mind?

The Courage to Change | A Weight Loss Journey

On September 18, 2011 a visit to the doctor revealed a shocking number when he stepped on the scale: 408 pounds.

Blake Mitchamore had battled his weight the majority of his life, but this was an all-time high. At 5’9″ the extra 200+ pounds he carried was threatening to kill him. He couldn’t stand up for more than 20-30 minutes without his back spazzing and needing to sit down. He was suffering from sleep apnea and most nights only slept between 3-4 hours. It was imperative that he dramatically change his lifestyle or else. 

Have you ever hit rock bottom? Do you know what it feels like to look yourself in the mirror and have a what-the-heck-have-I-done-to-myself moment? The fear of knowing you desperately need help and can’t keep going the way you’ve been?

Most people have reached a point where they know change is compulsory. And looked down the road to change and known it wasn’t going to be easy. I’ve been there and it felt like I was standing at the base of Mount Everest. But what do most do in these situations?

BLAME SOMEONE ELSE. “It’s my parents fault.” “It’s my spouses fault.” “It’s my friends fault.” “I wouldn’t be so messed up if ___________ hadn’t done what they’d done.” Or blame life’s circumstances-death, loss, pain, abuse-for the way you cope.

Pain. It’s a little four letter word that can cause all sorts of addictions and struggles. Someone like Blake doesn’t eat himself to 408 pounds without being all too familiar with pain. Blake buried his father at age 23 after a tragic accident. And he used a familiar friend to cope with the loss.

408 Pounds

Blake openly talks about his relationship status. He hasn’t had a relationship in 3-4 years-and weight wasn’t the main barrier. Self-hatred and condemnation took over and he said, “how could I open myself up to let someone else love me when I didn’t love myself?” He attended many of his friend’s weddings-and found himself longing for the same committed relationship.

Through a great deal of prayer, research, and after making a commitment to life-long change-Blake had gastric sleeve surgery on November 13th. But surgery wasn’t a quick fix. He accompanied the surgery with serious dieting and exercise. Since his initial doctor’s appointment on September 18, Blake has lost 123 pounds! Through eating right and exercise, he now weighs 285 pounds. He is training for the Nashville Country Music Half Marathon. Unbelievable!

Blake was standing at the base of a seemingly insurmountable mountain just four months ago. He could have continued to believe that change was impossible. He could have pointed to all his failed attempts at weight loss and not wanted to even try. He could have continued to believe he was just destined to be a ‘single guy’ and never have a family. He could have blamed his weight on his slow metabolism, his father’s death, or other sources of pain in his life. But he didn’t. He very boldly stated, “It’s no one’s fault other than mine that I am 408 pounds.”

And he knew no one was going to do the hard work for him.

After losing 123 pounds!

He needed to start by changing his mind about his situation. Every day, he’s making decisions-ones that cause pain (imagining lugging around all that extra weight on a run)- to pursue health and wellness.

Maybe you aren’t overweight, but maybe it’s a secret addiction in your life. Or maybe its a path you’ve been going down for a long time that leads to desperate places. Wherever you were in 2011 doesn’t have to dictate 2012 for you. You can have a fresh start. Will you step out in courage and start climbing? Will you have the courage to change? Change must start with you.

Blake started a blog about his weight loss journey in hopes to help others struggling with weight issues.  Check out his blog and come cheer him on at the Nashville Half Marathon this April. He will be the one with his hands in the air crossing the finish line with a big grin across his face. Because he did it. And so can you.

Michael and Blake worked at a Young Life camp in July 2010 when Michael was living in Germany. We encouraged him to run the half marathon, as we know crossing that finish line will be life-changing. I am inspired by his courage! Leave your comments for Blake below.