Gym Machines

He used to be a college professor. He taught math and was brilliant and articulate. That was before the stroke. By the time we met, his face sagged a little on one side. It was one of those you can’t help but love, so gentle and kind and guileless. Gentle, but sad.

I slid into the weight machine beside him at the gym. “How are you today, Cliff?”

With half closed hands and twisting hips he’d push another rep, then look up at me with a crooked smile. “About a seven.”

I asked him whenever I saw him there. We’d shake hands. He’d always answer the same thing: “a seven.”

“Are you sure?” I helped him move to the next machine . “You look like at least a 7.1 or 7.2”

“Nah.” He shrugged. “Just a seven.”

Laughter from the next station turned my head. I saw Matthew grinning at us.

I waved. “How are you today Matthew? About a seven?”

Matthew’s laugh was one of those loud irresistible invitations to be happy – even if it’s just for the moment. “Oh I’m always about an eight.” He nodded and laughed again. “At least an eight.”

Come to think of it, he’s right. I’ve never seen Matthew with anything but a smile on his face. He seems to know everyone’s name, and has a loud hello and a handshake for each.

Matthew is a war vet. He’s lost loved ones, suffered from depression, and struggles with PTSD. His life hasn’t been easy. I was going to ask him how he manages to always be an eight, but I already knew the answer.

He’d say “I choose to be an eight. At least an eight.” He’d follow up with his infectious laughter.

That day, I was feeling about a three. The business was struggling, the marriage was struggling, my book-writing creativity was struggling, I tried counting my blessings: I had good health, great opportunities, and money in the bank. But I was still a three.

I felt like St. Peter must have when he tried to walk on water; Jesus beckoning toward the impossible on one side, everyone else safely in the boat on the other, water up to his knees and sinking fast. In John, Jesus tells me, not to let my heart be troubled. It’s a strange command. That word, ‘let’, says I have a choice. It says, he’s doing his work and I need to do mine. He follows up with how I can do it. “Trust in God, trust also in me.”

For me a troubled heart has a lot to do with where my mind is. St. Peter started sinking when the wind and waves stole his attention away from Jesus. When I worry about things, it’s because I forget that the most powerful being in the universe is constantly doing little miracles around every little concern I have. I forget that he loves me so completely he’d do absolutely anything for me.

Don’t get me wrong. Terrible things still happen. But he always either fixes the problem or fixes me. And even when the loss is greater than can ever be recovered, he gives me love and comfort and strength and courage. I come out the other end stronger, wiser, and with a tender caring heart for others who are hurting.

Like St. Peter, no matter how the storm around me rages, or how completely I’m sinking, I’m never in any real danger. God is always right there. Afterward, I always wonder why I bothered to worry at all. Don’t ‘let’ my heart be troubled is really about whether I ‘let’ my focus drift away from him. I need to remember a few things: there’s no mistake I can make that he can’t fix; there’s no wrong people can do that he can’t make right; he has a destiny for me and he’ll give me everything I need to get there. If that doesn’t put me to at least an eight, nothing will.