I’ve been on a journey. Some people know this.  Some don’t. Over the past year and 9 months, I’ve been on a journey to live a much healthier life.  I started on January 2nd, 2018 at a whopping 323.6 lbs.  By the time the holidays hit I weighed in, at my lowest, at 202.  That was Thanksgiving Day.  Needless to say, the holiday weight came fast and furious.  I left the Keto life behind for a few weeks, tried to be moderate which is almost impossible for me, and went on a cruise.  It wasn’t hard to put 25 lbs. back on immediately.

When 2019 rolled around, I thought it would be easy to switch right back into the Keto life.  I wanted to do it a little different without all the micros counting and weighing in.  Eat Keto 5-6 days a week, have a little fun on the weekends and I’d be hovering near 200 in no time.  If that was what happened, chances are I wouldn’t be typing this.  I’d probably be wearing every piece of clothing in my closet, feeling confident about how I looked in pictures, and filling everyone in on my menu every week.  Instead, I am struggling.

I can make excuses.  I could use our move from Georgia to Kentucky as an excuse.  We celebrated our friendships there.  I didn’t want to miss out on beer and pizza parties simply so I could reach some number on a scale that hadn’t be attainable in two decades.  When we moved, I didn’t want to introduce myself as the weird keto guy who won’t go out because he’s afraid of menu choices at new restaurants.  I wanted to make new friends, and living in a temporary house made cooking hard.  Like I said, I can make excuses.

I’ve done pretty well to maintain.  For most of 2019, I’ve sat between 230 and 240.  If I felt the jeans getting a little tighter or the belt not reaching the proper buckle I buckled down.  I returned the butter to my coffee, cooked up my favorite crustless quiche, and fasted intermittently just as I had when I was losing several pounds a week.  But there was a difference.  I wasn’t sticking to it like I had in 2018.

What I shouldn’t eat!

Something would come up. Heather and I would go away for the weekend.  I’d go out with new friends for a Kentucky adventure.  I wouldn’t prep cook like I had before because the arrangement of the kitchen is different here making it more difficult.  I’d eat later than intended or snack more than I needed.  Sometimes I would stick to the Keto friendly foods I’d come to love, but I’d ingest way too many calories.  I was just off my game.  And to be honest, I haven’t really gotten back on it since the holidays of 2018. I really can make excuses.

Which brings me to today, and the first time I stepped on a scale in over a month.  It wasn’t good and I knew it wouldn’t be.  Heather and I spent 3 days in Atlanta eating whatever we wanted.  We came home and I gorged on nachos at the first spouses club luncheon.  I wanted to get on track the next day, but Heather ended up having to fly to Florida and I let loneliness and boredom win.  I’m at 246.4 lbs.  That’s not acceptable to me.

It’s mid-September and the 2019 holidays are fast approaching.  We have a little more than 2 months until Thanksgiving, and I want to be better this year than I was last.  I don’t want holiday weight from this Christmas piling on top of the holiday weight I still have hanging around.  I want to get back to the program that helped me lose 100 plus pounds, so that I can finally reach that goal of being 199.8 lbs.  I just want to see a 1 as the first number.

I know a lot of people have told me the number on the scale doesn’t matter very much, but to me it does. Not because it is the ultimate marker of my overall health, but because it’s a tool to keep me on track.  There are other tools too.  Progress pictures are important.  Body measurements help.  But for me, the scale is the easiest indicator that I am doing the right things. Sure, there are ebbs and flows, highs and lows, but if you look at your progress over the course of a week, month or year you should see trends, and those trends can help you stay on track or adjust tactics if necessary.

I think part of my issue is that I forgot what helped bring me success last year.  I forgot the AIR I breathed.  I wrote about it in an earlier blog and I think I need  a reminder.

A – Accountability

I – Investment

R – Reward

Why write this blog, and put my struggles out there?  Because I need people in my life who will hold me accountable for my poor choices. Some people won’t like to hear this, but maybe we need to be called out when we are eating junk we know isn’t helping us get healthier.  Living your best life does not mean eating sleeves of cookies while binge watching Netflix.  Maybe we have to share our weight with someone every morning, as a reminder that we have to step on the scale whether we want to or not.

Why write this blog, and give you my goals?  Because I know I have to invest in myself and others if I am going to be successful.  I’m not the only one who wants to drop 25 or 30 pounds before the inevitable run of holiday parties and celebrations come with their once a year temptations.  I know I am not alone, and I want to invest in myself, but also in others who want to see the successes I’ve seen.

Why write this blog and share my heart?  Because there is better for us.  There are rewards to losing weight and getting healthier.  When I started this process, I would give myself non-food rewards in order to help me focus.  The largest reward was a brand-new car.  I lost 100 lbs and I bought a 2018 vehicle with less than 200 miles on it.  There has to be something out there you want, but are unwilling to buy.  Tell me what it is, let’s work on your goals and my goals and make it a reality.

Look, I’m not here to tell you what diet plan to follow, or what exercise routine to do.  There are plenty of better “experts” out there for that. You can and should talk to your doctor. Mine is totally on board with Keto, and my numbers earlier this year were great.   I’m here simply because I want others to hold me accountable.  If you see me out and about with a slice of cake or a doughnut, ask me about it.  I’m here because it’s time to invest in my health and my future just like I did last year. I’m here because I want to buy a 2019 Braves Post-Season Hoodie in a size Large.  I’m hoping it will be a World Series Championship hoodie.

I’m getting back to breathing my AIR on this journey.  It’s not easy, but it is worth it.  Join me! It’ll be fun!

I love that I get to bottle my own brandy. I don’t love the weight gain this picture shows.

 

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I thought I knew how to answer this question.  I mean, I have the experience.  I’ve called myself a member of the military spouse community for more than 18 years. I’ve spent time with hundreds of military spouses from all branches of service.  I’ve volunteered with military spouse organizations.  I’ve laughed, cried, and prayed with military spouses through all the challenges of this life.  I’ve faced deployments, health scares, and housing issues.  I worry about the same things military spouses worldwide are concerned with.  Yet, when asked by a civilian friend what a military spouse is, I couldn’t think of an appropriate answer.  Why is that?

Statistically speaking, it’s easy to tell you what a military spouse is.  According to a 2017 survey by Public Opinion Strategies, published in a report on uschamberfoundation.org, a military spouse is one of 640,000 women and men married to an active duty servicemember.  If you want the simple picture you would see that a military spouse first and foremost is a female.  92% of all spouses are women.  51% are under 30, but the average age for all military spouses is 31.5.  There are a lot of children in the military community, but only 41% of military spouses have dependent children.  Those dependents tend to be younger.  70% are under the age of 11.

I don’t know if these statistics are still accurate, but they do paint a picture.  They show that a military spouse is a woman in her late 20s to early 30s with the proclivity to have a family.  They give us a snapshot of what we might see when we walk onto a military base. For the most part, if you went to a group gathering of military spouses, this is probably what you would see around the room.  But, in my mind it doesn’t answer the question.  What is a military spouse?

Maybe that’s not the right question.  Maybe he should be asking something else?  “What” is too general.  What is a military spouse?  It’s a person married to a servicemember.  There’s no information in that.  If you asked my civilian friend to draw a picture, chances are you will get the statistical picture above.  You’ll get the young female that is pregnant or holding hands with a young child. Again, there’s very little information in that.  It doesn’t tell you anything about the actually military spouse.  Maybe he’s asking the wrong question.  Maybe he should be asking “Who” is the military spouse.

Who makes it more personal. Who makes you think about the individual person.  When I joined the Army in 2001 most depictions of military spouses were little old ladies who sent the Greatest Generation to Europe to fight Nazis in World War 2.  Even though they weren’t little old ladies back then, that’s how we were taught to see them.  But military spouses aren’t little old ladies, not even close.  Military spouses are everything.  That’s why I don’t think he can ask what a military spouse is.  I think he should have asked who each military spouse is.  Maybe, to answer the question my buddy is asking, I need to tell him who I am as a military spouse.

I am a former Soldier.  Heather and I joined the Army together, four months before 9/11.  I completed my enlistment contract, while she decided to reenlist and become an officer.  I am a military spouse who finds joy in supporting her career.  I like cooking, cleaning and doing anything I can to take tasks off her plate.  I am a military spouse who, after 10 years of marriage, realized that making the bed every morning can be therapeutic and life changing.  I’ve made it ever since, and I know how to fold a fitted sheet into a perfect rectangle too.  I’ll do whatever she needs whether it means taking the dogs to the vet or switching cars for her oil change.  It is absolutely the very least I can do

I am a military spouse who’s spent time trying to figure out who I am as a military spouse.  After my four-year stint as an Army Broadcast journalist I did a lot of different things.  I was a bar manager, a morning show radio DJ, and a direct sales consultant. I have a Masters in Religious Education, am an ordained minister, but I refuse to go to church.  I’ve tried stand-up comedy, performed in musicals, and written plays.  I’ve learned that I love volunteering especially when it comes to causes related to female Soldiers or other military spouses.

Today, I’m a military spouse who plans luncheons for the spouses’ club, and brunches for my friends.  I’m a military spouse who will take getting a cup of coffee with another military spouse over pretty much
anything else.  I love moving new places, but not leaving old friends.  I believe in learning from those who’ve been there before and teaching those who are new. I am a military spouse who knows I have to be available for others.  I want military spouses and their families to be able to count on me, and I hope I can count on them.  For the most part that’s been true.

The main thing, I’m a military spouse who is a pretty average American.  I like going to the movies and watching sports on TV.  I struggle with my weight because pizza and cinnamon rolls are delicious.  I believe politicians lie, the media is biased, but most people are good.  I’m a husband who doesn’t listen as well as he should, who wants to be left alone during the game, and who tries to avoid upsetting his wife at all cost.  It doesn’t always work because I don’t listen as well as I should and she sometimes needs things during the game.  I’m trying. In 19 years of marriage, hopefully I’ve gotten better.

In essence, who I am as a military spouse is exactly who I am as a person just with a military twist. That’s the community in which I live. If I wasn’t a military spouse, I’d still try a lot of different things to figure out who I was as a person.  I’d still fold the laundry so she wouldn’t have too.  I’d still want to watch the game in peace.  Being a military spouse adds certain challenges to that, but it doesn’t change me.  It just gives me a different reason for being who I am.

As I look over my social media contact list, I can see that same sentiment in the dozens upon dozens of women and three men who share this military spouse life.  They are moms and dads.  They are Christians, Jews, Wiccans and atheists.  They are gay and straight.  They are full time employees and stay at home parents.  They are who they are, with the added benefit and struggle that comes with living in a military community, and they can’t be put into a box labeled military spouse.  What is a military spouse?  It’s a person.  Who they are? Most likely, they’re folks you should get to know.

An Open Letter to the Private Housing Companies on Military Bases

Dear Housing People:

You seem to be in quite a pickle, because military spouses have found their voice. You thought you could contain the issues or cover them up with a quick coat of paint. You believed taking our Basic Allowance for Housing meant fixing things in the most basic ways which meant the cheapest ways and did nothing to keep us safe or secure on the most safe and secure installations in the world. Now all that is changing.

Leadership knows the truth. The politicians on both sides of the aisle, who can never agree on anything, agree on this. The American people see another group of greedy companies worried more about their bottom line than their customers. You are in the news. You are all over social media. You control none of the conversation. What you do next will define how military housing is run for decades. Like I said, times are changing.

Right now, around the country military leaders at the highest ranks are inspecting every home on every base. They are looking in every nook and cranny. If there is a molding so much as off center, they are going to discover it and have you pay to fix it. They are looking for safety and health hazards. They are holding townhall meetings your employees are no doubt attending and they are listening to the horror stories about mold and smells. They are taking pictures of the neglect. The truths are all over Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Nothing in this world is hidden anymore. Times are changing.

Personally, I’ve never experienced the atrocities I’ve seen displayed. I’m one of the lucky ones. I never saw mold. I never experienced moisture problems. My Soldier and I have lived on three military bases for a total of 7 years of our 18 years of service. After seeing the conditions my peers have posted, I feel blessed it hasn’t been more. But don’t think for a second that means I’m not just as angry as my fellow spouses that have had to watch as their children and families suffered while you made excuses.

However, I’m not one to complain without offering a solution and this morning it came to me. If you truly want to fix this, and make sure it never happens again there are two very simple things you can do.

1. Fix every problem and make our homes like new. Spend the money to make sure that whatever issues are there, never come back. And when they do, because issues always arise, promise to spend the money to fix things correctly the first time. Without fail, without question, without concern of whether your bottom line is going to be affected.

2. HIRE MILITARY SPOUSES!!! HIRE THEM FOR EVERY POSITION AT EVERY LEVEL WITHIN YOUR ORGANIZATION.

a. Hire a military spouse to run the leasing office
b. Hire military spouses to help new families integrate into their communities, and help families transition away from base with ease.
c. Hire and train spouses to fix maintenance issues.
d. Hire military spouses to inspect homes before families move in and once they move out.
e. Hire military spouses to clean the homes in between residents.
f. Hire military spouses as liaisons to your company and your contractors.
g. Hire military spouses in your corporate offices at the highest levels. With teleworking, the internet and working from home capabilities nothing is impossible for military spouses.

Yes, I know there are special circumstances with hiring military spouses, but any issue can be overcome. Hire spouses that will only be with you for a year or two. Hire spouses that can only work while the kids are in school. Hire spouses with children and then hire a spouse to watch those children too. Hire two part-time spouses when you really only want one full-time employee. If you want us to trust you, trust us to take care of your properties, because our real interest is in taking care of each other.

There is a push to find employment for military spouses. This would be a meaningful way to fulfill that push. As military housing companies you will constantly have new employees to help you take care of their peers. You will have a constant access to the best and brightest spouses who want to do something to help their other spouses, but also need to earn a living for their families. Yes, you might have pay to train them, but spouses who are trained in one location go on to work that training in others. And they teach others. You are staring at a win-win situation right in the face. Will you take it?

Times are changing. I have always believed being a military spouse is among the greatest honor of my life. And I love my fellow milspos. I will do whatever I can for them, their Soldiers and their families. A lot of us feel that way. We are hoping after all the scrutiny dies down, and you’ve fixed all the problems, you will feel that way too. Show us. Hire military spouses at every level. We won’t let you down.

Sincerely,
Steven M. Schmitt
Mr. Army Wife

Life is a Roller Coaster

Something significant happened to me yesterday.  I rode a roller coaster.  I know, not a big deal.  Yet, for me it was.  For me it was the culmination of a weight loss journey more than a year in the making. Sure, I’ve successfully lost 100 pounds in 2018, but the fact that I rode a roller coaster, and why that’s significant to my weight loss journey is a longer story that started in 2013 when I went to King’s Dominion in Central Virginia.

On that day, close to Halloween, Heather and I decided to spend time together visiting a new (to us) theme park.  Having grown up in Florida, near the best theme parks in the world, we don’t spend a lot of our free time at these venues simply because they never seem to measure up to the ones from our childhood.  It’s hard to compete with the mouse and the wizard.  Still, we do enjoy them from time to time, and decided to take the chance.

One thing that has changed as we’ve gotten older in regard to theme parks is our preferences.  When we were kids, it was rides, rides, rides.  Today, it’s the show schedule.  We want to navigate the park in such a way that we don’t miss the stunt spectacular or the dancing water.  If we happen to come upon a ride with a low wait time while meandering from theater to theater then great, but our goal is never to ride anymore.

So, as we walked into the park, and planned our way to see the limited show offerings they had we looked at the rides.  Since turning 30, roller coasters have had a way of making me queasy and I generally avoid them, but on this day, for some reason, I wanted to give it a try. Heather was up for it too and we got in line.  Before long we were at the platform where riders sat down, buckled up and let the fun begin.  That’s when I felt a new roller coaster experience, I never thought possible.

I didn’t fit.  When I sat, I could feel the fat spilling out the top of the seat.  That wasn’t unusual.  Those things are always small.  When the harness was pulled over my head, I could barely get it down.  Then the belt that connects the seat to the harness wasn’t long enough to buckle.  And it wasn’t too short by three of four inches.  It was a millimeter too short.  I was barely too fat.  The attendant came over and basically shoved the harness down into my gut until we heard the click and I rode the ride.  It wasn’t enjoyable, and it had nothing to do with the uneasy feeling in my stomach from all the twists and turns.

I spent the rest of the day feeling horrible about the fact I was too fat for theme park rides.  I told my best friend about my experience and vowed I was going to lose weight and get back on that ride with no issues. Instead, I just stopped getting on rides altogether.  Three years went by before we even visited another theme park.  When we did return to a park we hadn’t been to since college, we did so knowing I wouldn’t get on any ride that required a harness or seat belt.  We rode the “Cat in the Hat” children’s ride and watched as many shows as we could.  I wasn’t even going to take the chance that a repeat experience would happen.

That’s what made yesterday amazing.  I walked through the turnstile looking for a roller coaster.  Queasiness be damned.  I didn’t care if I puked all over everyone on the ride, as long as that bar came down with ease.  I was ready to stand in line for an hour as long as it meant no attendant would have to help push, pull or slam me into the seat.  I wanted the experience to be so mundane to everyone else, yet so exciting to me.

And it was.  When I stepped into the ride vehicle and put on the safety restraints no one was looking to see if it would fit.  No attendant walked over to make sure it was properly in place.  I just put down the bar, it locked into place and we rode the coaster.  I loved every second of it.  I loved the loops.  I loved the twists.  I loved the turns.  I loved sitting in that car, riding the ride, without worry that I was too heavy to fit. I could just enjoy it and enjoy it I did.

When it was over, Heather and I made our way to the animal adventures show.  There was no rumbling in my stomach and no marks from a seatbelt that was too tight.  I snapped a pic of us with the coaster I’d just conquered and walked away knowing that I could ride anything I wanted.  (We did ride a couple of other things, but still the shows are more our style.)

When I started losing weight in January, I really didn’t think about the roller coaster of the fact that I might be able to get on one with ease after losing the weight, but when it happened yesterday, I remembered that vow I made to my bestie.  I remembered how speaking that goal into existence gave it power.  It may have taken me a bit longer than intended, but after 5 years I’d done what I said I was going to do.  Now it’s time to do more.

My word for this week is aspire, because I want to aspire to be the best each and every time I do something. I also wanted to spend this week thinking about 2019 and what I want to aspire
too in the new year.  If 2018 was the year I aspired to lose weight, then 2019 needs to be the year I aspire to try new things I wouldn’t have at 300 pounds. They might not be things weight related at all, but things I can with confidence try because I’m not thinking about my size or limitations I might have because of the self-conscious attitude I was carrying.

In 2019 I want to continue this healthy journey I’ve been on by getting my body fat percentage down to healthier levels.  I want to publish a book and write a new play.  I want to use my passions for military spouses and woman warriors to engage those communities in new ways.  There are a lot of things I want to do; I aspire to do.  Now it’s time to get on the roller coaster and do them.

It has been said that life is a lot like a roller coaster ride, and it’s true.  Twists and turns, highs and lows, starts and stops.  There are sudden jolts that wake you up, and slow crests that allow you to take a look over the whole park and all there is to experience.  Yesterday, when the ride ended and the locks released allowing me to exit the ride, all I could think about was how I fit.  Isn’t that how we should look at our lives?  When its over, when the adventure is coming to its conclusion don’t we want to say that our lives “fit” into this world because we “fit” into our place the best we could?  Now that’s something to aspire too.

“Advent” ures

adventcandlesWe are in the season. That time of year between Thanksgiving and Christmas when holiday music graces our airwaves and decorations grace our homes.  That time of year when cookies and cakes become a little bit sweeter and a lot more festive.  That time of year when wrapping paper and bows make their annual appearance under a bedazzled evergreen tree.  It’s the holidays, and for most of it still is “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”

For Christian faith traditions this time period is known as Advent.  It’s best described as the time spent waiting and preparing for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.  I remember it as a time when special candles were lit at church. There were three purple ones and a pink one placed around an advent wreath.  Each week the priest would light a new wick until all four faintly flickered. That meant Christmas was close, as was the arrival of Santa Claus.  Hey, at least I was anticipating something.

As an adult Advent is much different.  While I love the holiday season with its festivities, I also dread some of the coming complications that always seem to lurk whenever Christmas is close.  My least favorite activity is gift giving and the entire process that comes with it.

“What do you want for Christmas?” my mother always asks.

“I want you to spend the money on your grandchildren.” I always reply.

I don’t really need anything, and if I do need something, I go and buy it before I think about the holidays and my mother’s desire for me to open a gift from under the tree.  In my mind the money is better spent on toys or books for my nephew and nieces.  Plus, as adults, gift giving has become mundane.  I get my brother a $50 gift card to his favorite restaurant.  He gets me a $50 gift card to my favorite clothing store.  Let’s just skip it and save the 50 cents it costs each of us mail the cards via the US postal service.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love giving gifts.  I spend hours mulling the perfect present for my wife.  If I see something while I am out and about that I believe anyone else might enjoy, I’ll buy it in a heartbeat, and there doesn’t have to be a special occasion or reason.  I know a spouse who likes llamas, and I saw a llama iPhone cover, so I bought it.  I thought she’d like it, and I didn’t need to wait until Christmas to let her enjoy it.

But Advent isn’t about the gifts, at least I don’t think it’s supposed to be.  To see if I could find out what it is really supposed to be about, I consulted the experts.  I asked “google.”  Here are what some people have said about advent.

“It is the beautiful task of Advent to awaken in all of us memories of goodness and thus to open doors of hope.”– Pope Benedict  XVI

Mark the season of Advent by loving and serving the others with God’s own love and concern.”– Mother Theresa

“It is now, at Advent, that I am given the chance to suspend all expectation…and instead to revel in the mystery.”– Jerusalem Jackson Greer

“The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment right before it happens. Advent is the name of that moment.”– Frederick Buechner

Thinking about that last quote reminds me of another one.

“Life is a journey not a destination.”– Ralph Waldo Emerson

As I look back at 2018, I see a year that was much more journey than destination.  I spent the entire year trying to lose weight; trying to get healthier.  I spent time this year, putting words on paper, writing the first draft for a book idea I’ve had for a long time.  I spent time reflecting on where I’ve been and wondering where I might go next, both literally and figuratively.

Which brings me back to Advent. In the religious sense, yes, we are preparing and waiting for a Savior. But everyone, no matter how they celebrate the holidays are waiting and preparing for something else.  They are already thinking about all the great things that will come next.  They are making resolutions.  They are thinking about words that will describe their new year.  They are looking at 2019 staring them in the face.

I’m no different.  When I set weight loss goals for 2018, I did it during Advent.  When I planned my diet and exercise plan, I did it while gorging on Christmas cookies and Egg Nog.  When I set “fitness” as the word I wanted to describe my 2018, I did it before Santa came. My 2018 adventure was set during Advent.

Wait a minute.Adventure.  Advent.  ADVENTure. That can’t be a coincidence. Advent is literally in adventure. Not only that, it’s the beginning of the word.  It’s practically the whole word.  What does that mean?  What does that say about life?  When I look closely, I realize, you can’t have an adventure without starting with an advent.  There has to be a time where you are waiting and preparing for what comes next.  Even if you aren’t actively prepping for an adventure, before something starts, you’re in a period of Advent.

Remember those candles I mentioned at the beginning of this.  It turns out they each represent an attribute we’re supposed to reflect on during this season.  They represent hope, love, joy and peace.  I don’t know about you, but when I think about those four things, I think about how I want my life, my adventure to look.  I want to find hope in where I am headed and what might come before me. I want to love others in the best way possible, so they might love others with the same possibilities.  I want to find joy in every adventure, even if it’s not in the happiest of circumstances.  And I want to have peace, knowing that my adventures are going to better me as a person and member of society.

The fact is that I want to be in a constant state of advent.  I want to always be waiting and preparing for life’s next great adventure. I want the attributes of hope, love, joy and peace to infuse their way into everything I do.  I want to awaken memories of goodness.  I want to serve others.  I want to suspend all expectations, and revel in the mystery that is life.  I want to remember that life is a journey, not a destination.  Life is an adventure.

This advent season, whether you are waiting and preparing to celebrate Jesus’ birthday, or waiting for Santa, take some time to prepare for whatever might be next in your life adventure. You don’t have to plan every step you’re going to take, or wait around for that step to find you, but being in a constant state of advent increases the odds that opportunities for adventures will arise.  Look for them.  Be aware that they will come.  Be ready. Adventures await.  Advent is here.

Moving the Finish Line

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On Thanksgiving Morning, before I gorge myself on smoked turkey and creamy mashed potatoes loaded with gravy, I’m running a 10 Kilometer race.  It’s a distance I’ve run before, but this time I’ve set the goal to finish the race in under an hour.  I’ve never done a 10K in under an hour, but I feel fairly confident that this time will be different.  I’ve trained. I’ve put in the miles on the road outside my neighborhood.  I’ve done stair climbs to help me with the two quarter-mile hill climbs I’ll face toward the end of the race.  My weight is down, and my speed is up.  All of this will help me look at a clock that reads 00:59:59 or lower when I reach the finish line.

That finish line will also mark the end of a journey that started on January 1st,when I stepped on a scale and logged a starting weight of 323.4 pounds. On that day, I decided to live life differently.  I started eating a Ketogenic diet, exercising on a regular basis, and tracking everything. I knew that if I didn’t change, I was already on the way to joining the ranks of the morbidly obese men and women who died early in life.  Sure, I had tried to lose the weight before, with varying amounts of success, but this time I was determined to spend 2018 setting goals, reaching those goals, and becoming a healthier person.  I even set my focal word for the year as #fitness.

Now, I realize that the finish line on my healthy journey isn’t over when I cross the finish line on Thanksgiving.  I realize that if I allow myself to fall back into old habits, I can just as easily regain the more than 100 pounds I’ve lost.  I realize that food is still a crutch for me in a lot of ways, and binging at a buffet is easy when you see all the food you haven’t had in months. I know that even after Thanksgiving, I’ll have to diligently watch what I eat, and how much I eat.  I’m just setting that finish line as the end of my 2018 fitness journey, so that I can enjoy the holidays.  There will be a new journey in 2019, and it will require my new smaller physique.

Still, I have a few days left in this race, and it occurs to me that starting my healthy journey in January actually did something with the finish line of life that you can’t do when running a fixed distance race.  It moved it back.  It made it longer.  At least that’s what I hope.  There’s a bible verse in Corinthians that talks about running the race of life with perseverance.  To me, that means living intentionally, and trying to live for as long as you can. Persevere.  Find ways to move the finish line further away from your birth. Does that mean I’ll get 50, 60, maybe 100 years?  Who knows. But my much healthier lifestyle should help me make the mileage of my life increase exponentially.

That’s exciting.  I’m going to live longer.  I’m going to do more.  I’m going to face opportunities I never thought I would and come upon challenges I would have had to walk away from in the past.  Heather and I are about to go parasailing while cruising the Caribbean.  The weight limit is 250 pounds.  I could never have done it before this year.  I could never have ridden on a zip line in Jamaica or gone swimming with dolphins in Grand Cayman. But I am about to do all of these things and more simply because I moved my finish line.

I think I figured out how I did it.  I think I realized why I was successful in losing weight and getting healthier this year, when I have failed miserably in the past.  I think I understand this better now because I’ve been training for the 10K.  My health journey this year, is a lot like that race.  They’re similar because they aren’t easy.  They’re alike because they both take me out of comfort zone.  They’re comparable because they both required me to do some things I had to talk myself into.  I didn’t want to give up burger buns and French fries, in the same way that I don’t want to put running shoes on while it’s still dark outside.  Yet, if I want to cross the finish line of one race and move the finish line of another, then I had to do these three things.

First, I had to accept the challenge.  I’m not talking about accepting the challenge of losing 100lbs or running 6.2 miles in under an hour.  Rather, I had to accept that losing that much weight or running that distance wasn’t going to be easy.  I had to accept the challenge that setting those goals represented.  It was going to be a struggle.  It was going to be hard.  It’s called a challenge for a reason, and I had to come to terms with the fact that I couldn’t just say I was going to do it and then sit back and relax as it happened.  I would have to do the work.

And doing the work meant that I had to take a chance.  In reality, it probably meant that I was going to have to take more than one chance. For me, that meant trying a new diet I’d never tried before.  It meant exercising in ways that would use muscles I hadn’t used in years.  I had to take the chance that I could stick with a plan, and that I could work through the soreness.  I had to take the chance that I wouldn’t injure myself or get so frustrated with the food that I would cheat on the plan.  Signing up for the 10K meant I had to take a chance that I’d stick with training and would be ready to run that distance when the race arrived.

Because I did these two things with sincerity and commitment, a third thing happened; I was able watch for change.  I was able to step on a scale and see daily affirmation that what I was doing was working. I was able to look at my fitness tracker and see my run times become faster. I was able to buy new clothes because the old ones wouldn’t stay on anymore.  I’ve been through five belts this year.  I was able to go to the doctor, get blood drawn and see the best cholesterol and fasting blood sugar numbers of my life.  I was able to watch my body and my life change.

For me, 2018 has been a year of change.  I’ve got my life back.  I’m no longer beholden to food, or the effects it has on my body.  I’m no longer looking forward to my next meal, or next snack. Instead I’m looking forward to pursuits rather than pastries.  I’m looking forward to challenges instead of chimichangas.  I’m looking forward to busting through obstacles not breaking through the buffet line.  I’m looking forward to moving my life’s finish line even further than I already have.

On Thanksgiving morning as I run 10 Kilometers I’ll be thankful for that challenge losing 100 pounds provided me this year. I’ll be grateful for chances I was able to take eating and exercising.  I’ll be blessed by the changes I’ve been able to go through.  I’m sure as I cross that finish line, in less than an hour, I think back to 323.4 pound Steve and wonder if he would have even tried to run this race. I’ll think about life and the race I’m trying to run with perseverance now, and I’ll know it’s a race worth running faster, stronger, and harder than it was in January.  It’s a race that’s helped me move my finish line.

AIR IN MY (Metephorical) Tires

We are one week in!  One week into a new year.  It’s the beginning of the end for most of the resolutions that people made just 7 short days ago.  The gyms will start emptying.  The credit cards will start coming out of the wallets a little more.  Cigarettes are lit.  Wine bottles are uncorked.  Still the world keeps spinning because none of this really matters, at least it doesn’t matter to the majority of us who have made resolution after resolution, year after year, only to see it fall into obscurity within the existence we behold.  We commit, until we don’t.

For most of us, there is a certain period of time where it is easy to commit fully to whatever endeavor we desire.  We can diet for a week.  We can quit smoking for a month.  We can give up electronics after 8 pm until 10 pm when that text comes chiming in.  Commitment is rather easy when the time frame is indeterminate and all we have are the best of intentions.  “I can do anything for 21 days, and then it will be a habit I won’t even want to stop.”  I can’t tell you how many times I have said this personally.  I don’t care if it’s 21 hours, 21 days, or 21 months, if something goes against my earthly desires long enough, I quit.

And that is what has put me where I am today.  I want to be a writer.  I want to put ink to paper and create a book, plays, lectures, blogs and anything else that may come into my head.  Yet, something that should be done all the time is neglected because I give up on the resolution to sit down without distraction and write something, ANYTHING, every single day.  I want to save more money.  I’d like to see my bank account grow so that when my wife and I are in our 60s and 70s we can do some of the things we haven’t done yet, and so that we can help others in ways we never thought possible.  Yet, we still eat out more than in.  We still buy whatever latest gadget catches our eyes.  We still refuse to sacrifice now, for the greater good later.  And I want to lose weight and get healthy.  How many other people can say this?  I want to eat right, exercise, and see a number on the scale, and in my pants, that make simple addition require a calculator.  And year after year, I resolve to do all of these things.  And year after year, I fail.  I FAIL.

However, as the Mythbusters said, “Failure is always an option,” and when asked about the disappointing results of his invention, Thomas Edison replied, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  Well that’s me, in a nutshell.  I’ve found dozens of diets that will not work for me.  I’ve found tons of ways of saving money that will not work for my life.  I have found distraction after distraction that stop me from success in writing a single page.  And in each case, I have finally realized that there is a valuable lesson to learn.  Resolutions are like life.  They need A.I.R. in order to survive!

Accountability

As a former Soldier and current military spouse I have learned one thing about the Army life.  Nothing ever gets done alone.  Soldiers have battle buddies.  Those buddies are part of a Squad.  That squad is part of a Platoon.  That Platoon is part of a Company, and so on.  They look out for one another.  They share goals.  Each Soldier has a vested interest in the health and well-being of every other Soldier because only together can the fulfill their missions.

Make no mistake, resolutions are missions, or at least should be treated as such if we want to see success.  Keeping them in the dark from others is just like making them Missions Impossible.  We need help.  I know I do.  Trying to eat better, put more in the bank, or give up distractions may seem simple when we think about it.  But if it was easy, procrastination wouldn’t be a word.  Quitting wouldn’t be considered.  Failure wouldn’t be seen.  Yet here we are, another year has gone by, and the resolutions are the same.  It’s time to get others on board with what we want to do.

This means we have to be held ACCOUNTABLE.  Accountability is one of those words I learned in church.  Preachers would tell us to find an accountability partner that we could call or count on when times got tough.  When we find ourselves going down the path of an evil temptation, our accountability partner would be there to reel us back in and save us from ourselves.  It’s not a difficult concept to grasp.  Find someone in your life who is going to walk you off the ledge when you are about to fall, or who will take you to task when a momentary lack in judgement causes the temptation to get the better of you.  And find someone who will do it with tough love.

It’s easy to find a friend who you can ask to hold you accountable for your actions.  I’ve had several accountability partners in my life.  The issue is that I don’t like to be held accountable.  So, after I mess up, tell the truth, and have a long talk with one of these friends, I find myself more than unwilling to fess up again.  It’s not in my nature to allow another person to point out why I’m failing.  BUT I AM FAILING.  Then, because I still want to do it without being chastised (which they are not doing, but I am taking it as such) when I mess up, I decide to try and go it alone.  That doesn’t work either.

Together we achieve, alone we quit.  It’s a rather simple acknowledgement isn’t it.  Can you tell me a time in your life when that isn’t true?  I didn’t get through college without the help of my parents, study partners, and (ahem) designated drivers.  I didn’t survive basic training without my wife’s encouragement, my battle buddies’ patience, and my drill sergeants’ coaching.  I have never done anything without at least one person being there to back me up or push me forward when needed.  Alone I quit.  EVERYTIME.

We need other people, and that is really what accountability should be all about.  It isn’t about having that person that calls us to the carpet.  It’s about having other people to share in our lives.  Sure, I need to be told to put the cookie down, or to not buy the newest version of the iPhone, but I also need to just sit, and talk, and listen to others who are struggling like I am.  Accountability isn’t about being guilted because you have to tell someone else your sins.  It’s about sharing in common life experiences with others who just want to see you reach your goals as you hope and pray and help them reach theirs.

To that end I am not just holding myself accountable, but I’m relying on a group of great individuals to help me.  We get together once a week or more just to talk about life.  We can confess struggles.  We can share successes.  We can be ourselves.  And I know that through their difficulties they can talk me through mine, and I can be there for them.  That’s what accountability is all about.  It’s about sharing life, completely, happily, even in the biggest of messes.  Without it,  the mess never gets cleaned up and you’ll still be alone.

Investment

The second component our resolutions need is an investment.  Look, if we think that resolutions are just going to be easy, well… ok, we don’t really think that.  If you still do, you haven’t been paying attention to all of the failure out there.  When we think something is going to be easy, we put very little into it, and then we quit when it isn’t as easy as we perceived.  There has to be an investment in our resolutions if we want them to pay off.  It’s simple economics.

I’ve heard it said that three most important things we can give in the service of others is our time, our talents, and our treasures (money).  I think this is true because they are three of the most important aspects of our lives.  We have a limited amount of time.  Our talents help shape who we are.  And money, well most of us dislike giving that away.  In fact, as we get older and learn more about where our place in the world actually is, we guard these resources as our own lifeblood.  We have to keep them, and keep them safe.  And if we are going to spend any of them we make sure we are getting something very valuable in return.

That’s where investments come in.  We invest in the stock market to make sure our future is secure.  We invest in our work or hobbies because we want to share our knowledge and our gifts with others in order to make our families, communities or the world a better place, and we invest our time in so many things, all in the hopes that it will make us happier, more comfortable and worthy of this life.  But have we ever thought about how we need to invest all of these things into our resolutions if we want to see success?

I can give countless examples about why each of these things should be invested into our resolutions but I won’t.  We all know that taking time to do something, using our talents to do it, and spending treasures on things that will help are parts of success.  What I will say is this.  Our willingness to invest in our resolutions whole heartedly are what will determine the level of success we actually want.  If I want to lose weight to be healthy, but aren’t willing to spend a little more for healthier foods, I may lose weight by eating less, but am I fixing the other health issues caused by processed junk?  If I want to spend less, but am unwilling to take the time to balance my checkbook or figure out things I can cut, am I ever going to really see the bank account grow?  If I hold back of my natural abilities, because of distractions or procrastination, am I ever going to see words on a page come to life?  Of course not, because I haven’t made the investment.

Personally, I want to be so committed to my goals for the year that I am willing to invest.  I’ve spent money.  I’ve taken the time.  And I have put forth the effort with my gifts to make sure that I have started on the right foot.  And even just one week in, I am seeing a return on that investment.  That makes me willing to invest more, hoping for a bigger return.  (in my case loss, wink, wink)  I hope we can all do this, and find the proper balance for our investments.  We can be successful but only if we are truly invested in what we want to achieve.

Reward

This is the one everyone is going to agree with me on.  Like Accountability and Investment, our resolutions need a reward if we are going to succeed.  Actually, I believe they need multiple rewards throughout the year.  Heck, each of us is different, so while I may need a reward every few months just to keep me motivated, others may need some small token every day.  The amount of the reward or the how often it comes varies, but the importance remains.  We all need something to focus on in order to continually fight in the pursuit of our goals.

What was that quote, “Virtue is its own reward?”  Well that certainly is nice in sentiment, but l want something else.  I want something stuck out in front of me that I can fight for each and every day.  Football players aren’t playing their best simply because playing their best is its own reward and it doesn’t matter who wins.  They are playing their best for a shot at the Super Bowl.  When it comes to resolutions I would be the first to admit that six pack abs and a great cholesterol level should be enough to wake me up for crunches every morning, but they don’t.  I need some boxed up gift waiting for me when I succeed.  A new car maybe?  Definitely new clothes.  Something I would never get on my own that would motivate me.  We all need this whether we want to admit it or not.  (I think we can all admit it.)

Rewards are great motivators because they can be used to help teach us habits.  I know it worked with my puppies.  When I was teaching them to scratch on the door to go outside I would give them a treat.  Soon I didn’t have to teach them to scratch on the door.  After that I didn’t even have to give them treat.  They just knew if they scratched I would let them out.  It works the same for us.  My wife and I have a deal that we will save a certain amount every month toward a vacation, and the amount we save will determine the vacation.  To this end, when we started the plan, I would put cash in a jar, and would get to add up how much was in the jar.  For me that was a reward because I could see the money grow.  After a couple months it just became habit to put the money in the jar.  I stopped adding it up because I knew it was growing, and didn’t need the reminder.

Another reason rewards are so helpful is because they give us something to reach for.  I remember back in 2nd grade my teacher decided that we should all have to learn who the 40 Presidents of the United States were.  That’s right 40!  Yes, America had only had 40 Presidents by the time I was in 2nd grade.  Anyway, we had to know them in order.  And whoever could remember the most would win this felt camel wall hanging that held colored pencils.  I remember studying hard.  I’m not sure why I wanted a felt, colored pencil holding camel, but I did and I wanted it bad.

Washington, Adams, Jefferson through Jackson were pretty easy.  Reagan, Carter, Ford, Nixon…through FDR were easy as well.  Those were at the beginning and end.  Then of course, Presidents like Lincoln, Kennedy and Garfield were easy to remember too.  (this was the height of Garfield the Cat’s comic success.)  It was the one term Presidents with no real place in a 2nd grade history book that was hard to remember.  I mean, even today, I have a hard time placing Presidents Harrison, Fillmore or Hayes.  Yet, when the time came, I spouted off as many as I could as fast as I could.  And I don’t remember the score, but I was sure I had won.  I was certain of it.

Thing was, I didn’t get the prize.  As time went on, we never heard who had won.  We didn’t see the camel either.  The teacher had either given it to the winner without fanfare or we had been duped into learning something.  Certainly, she wouldn’t have done that to us.  After all we were at a Catholic school.  Wouldn’t tricking children be against the law of God or something.  Yet, no prize was given.  What’s worse, though I never said anything, I think I was the only one who noticed.

It wasn’t until the end of the year when I found out.  Most of the students were gone, having left for their summer vacations.  But a few of us stayed on that last day to finish cleaning desks, stacking books and wiping chalkboards.  The teacher was also there cleaning out her desk too.  When she got to the bottom drawer she said huh, making each of us look up.  She pulled out that felt camel with the colored pencils, and puzzling said, “I thought I gave this away already.”  I was the first to reply, “WHO WON?”  I expressed, still as eager to win the prize.  “You did,” she exclaimed, and I finally got my well-deserved camel and colored pencils.

In that moment, I knew that the reward was the motivating factor in me learning the Presidents.  I haven’t forgotten them either.  I can still name 90% in order.  (A couple of the names sometimes slip my mind.)  I heard a fact that most Americans can’t name more than 8 Presidents.  Seems to me more teachers need to be giving away colored pencils.

Anyway, we need rewards if we hope to see our resolutions succeed.  We need something that will help us create habits that contribute to daily success and something that will causes us to focus long term on the goals we have created for ourselves.  Just wanting to do something isn’t enough. We have to have something we want waiting for us at the end.

And that’s the end of this piece.  We need AIR.  We need it to live.  We need it to breathe.  We need it to be all around us in order for the world to continue supporting us.  And our resolutions need AIR too.  They need us to be Accountable to others because life isn’t meant to be lived alone.  They need us to invest in them.  We have to put something on the line so we have a reason to fight for success.  And they need rewards.  Tangible things that will keep us focused day in and day out toward the goals we have set.  If we breathe these things into our resolutions, we can’t help but see positive change in 2018.