The half dozen or so people were spread throughout the fitness center. Each one doing her, or his, own thing. Most were on some sort of cardio machine and only one other was over by the free weights of this Houston area Planet Fitness. I followed the unwritten rules of gym ettiquette (mostly because it wasn’t my regular gym) and worked out without engaging anybody in conversation.
It’s an interesting phenomenom, belonging to large nationwide gym. And with Planet Fitness’ “no gymtimidation” policy, most people work out in silence, with headphones on and only on occassion even making eye contact. Even then the eye contact is usually some sort of non-verbal communication around the use of a piece of equipment – not relationship…
Not here. Not Houston’s little PF on Fondren. Not with LeRoy.
Let’s face it, public locker rooms are always a bit awkward; and when you are leaving the shower area with your towel wrapped around your waist, you feel particularly vulnerable! Just saying… That’s how it was for me when I met LeRoy. Still sweating from my workout, but freshly showered before heading to the couple’s therapy training I’m in Houston for, I had my towel around my waist when I hear a southern accent say, “I don’ think I’ve seen you ‘roun’ here before?”
I look to my right and there before me is a tall, thin African American of about 60 years of age. He had a huge smile and held out his hand, “LeRoy.”
“Brian.” And inside my head there is only one word sreaming loudly, AWKWARD!!!
LeRoy asks when I moved to the area and I explained to him that I was here on sabbatical getting some training on couple’s therapy. LeRoy’s smile immediately is replaced with a look of deep regret.
While we both got ready for the day before us, LeRoy told me about his failed marriage, that he moved to Houston to try and rebuild relationships with his kids and grandchildren, and how much he regretted not working hard to make his marriage work. He was going to meet his two year old grandson for the first time later that day.
As I was getting ready to leave, he told me to learn a lot. Then he paused and asked, “Would you pray for me today? Maybe you have more pull with the Big Guy than I do.”
I’ve never prayed for anyone in a locker room before, at least I don’t think so, but I’m glad I did. I will probably never see LeRoy again. But I think our world is full of LeRoy’s. People, like you and me, going through life with its struggles and joys, hurts and pleasures, successes and failures.
And all of us longing to connect more deeply with one another and with God. Only very few of us will find the courage to step out of the unwritten rules of culture and become vulnerable enough to reach out and connect with others.
I’m really glad LeRoy had the courage to start a conversation in a locker room – even if it was awkward.
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October 31, 1996 (Halloween), two days after his birth, I drove him and his mother home from the hospital. During that drive I prayed. And I prayed what I thought to be the most profound prayer ever prayed by a new father. I prayed, God, don’t let me get in an accident and kill him on our way home! I don’t know how many times I prayed that prayer during the 15 minute drive from the hospital to our home, but it is a short prayer and I am sure I prayed it hundreds of times before pulling into the driveway while the neighborhood was filling with costumed children out trick or treating.
Married for almost 8 years, I barely knew how to be a husband (still…?) much less a dad, and the profundity of my prayer life continued. When he would be awake at night my prayer was, Lord, help him fall asleep already! I can’t keep my eyes open any longer! Then, after he fell asleep and I would be gently – oh so gently – placing him into his crib my prayers would deepen further into, Ok God, I putting him down now, keep him sleeping…
And, when his eyes would sometimes open after I laid him down I would have two very different, almost conflicting 3:00am thoughts/prayers that went something like this, God, I love this kid! God, do you hate me?!?!
As exhausting as those first years were, especially as sister and brother came along, they didn’t last long. And as Michael grew and developed, so did I. I grew up as a dad. Well, somewhat anyway. What I do know is this, my prayers grew. My prayers grew with him.
I prayed for his first day of school. I prayed for tests. I prayed for him when he got injured. I prayed for forgiveness when I blew it. I prayed he would forgive me when I blew it. I prayed for his friends. I prayed as the years went by.
My prayers grew from a starting place of praying for the immediacy of having his needs met (food, sleep, safety, love & shelter) in order that I might have some short term peace, to a place of learning to pray more deeply, for things of more significance and for the longview of his life.
My prayers grew in substance. Today Michael is an amazing young man enrolled as a freshman in college and my prayers for him are much different. I do pray for the immediate things still – that he would study hard, learn well, make incredible friends, be exposed to all sorts of great challenges that shape him, etc… But more than that, I pray for longterm fruit of the spirit in his life, for him to give himself to something significant, life giving and helps better the world God so loves. I pray for lasting joy that overcomes in hardship and trial. I pray that he would live in, and be a sharer, of the Shalom of God.
My prayers, they grew with him.
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