If you follow this silly little blog at all—or have nosed around it any when you have stumbled across it sometime, then you probably know that every summer I head down to Guayaquil, Ecuador for a week with a dozen other men, where in partnership with Hogar de Cristo (Homes of Christ), we build anywhere from seven to ten simple split bamboo homes for some of the poorest of the poor in the world.

It’s hard work, it is rewarding work, and the trip and experiences give men a chance to be real men, working with their hands, but also coming face to face with the devastation that extreme poverty brings to those who live in it. At any moment, while working, guys may be laughing their heads off at something that has happened or that someone has said, but by the same token, they may be in tears, looking in the eyes of a single mother with five children who has nothing—and I mean NOTHING—to feed her children that day. Looking out over the horizon, seeing hut after hut after hut, and passing hovel after hovel, we are struck by how richly blessed we are, and how we who have been thus blessed, are charged to serve the world, in God’s name. We are blessed, not so that we can say we are blessed—but so that we can be a blessing to others.

Haul lumber for a couple of days in a row; swing a hammer all day long for a few days; lift and carry materials, cut lumber, and do it all with no power tools, in the direct sun, two degrees south of the equator, and you’ll feel my pain.

So last year, after we returned, I talked to my friend (and Peachtree Presbyterian member) Randy Nicholson about an idea. Randy is a former World Kickboxing Champion (yes, you read that right: WORLD), and he owns and runs Fitness Firm Studio in Sandy Springs http://www.fitnessfirmstudio.com/). My idea was that Randy would design something for the guys going to Ecuador, to help us get ready—physically—for what we will face.

He agreed, and I talked him through what is involved in a build. Today—at 6:00 this morning—I showed up to go through the workout myself.

Now, I like to think that at 55, I’m in fairly good shape. Admittedly I am 40 pounds lighter than I was this time last year, thanks to my Doctor telling me to go on the Mediterranean Diet. I still cycle several days a week, jog a couple of days a week, and lift weights a couple of days a week.

And, in all candor, I rode about 7 or 8 miles on my bike early this morning before heading to Randy’s studio. Maybe not the best idea ever. Because he kicked my butt.

Not physically, as he could, given his kickboxing skills, but metaphorically, as I simply ran out of gas. At one point, doing squats while lifting a 15-pound weight over my head, I looked at Randy and said, “I’m lightheaded.”

Randy did not hesitate, but said, “OK, that’s it. You’re done. There’s no coming back from lightheaded. Go stretch.”

Nothing I did was particularly hard, but let me tell you, it was steady. Far different from the aerobic base stuff I am used to doing, and as I watched my heart rate, I was staying in the 135-145 range (like in the 80-90% of my range?!) I was working my core in ways I am not used to working it, and in a steady, consistent, wear-you-down, kick-your-*** manner.

Eight and a half hours later, and I’m still tired.

And I can’t wait to go back tomorrow and do it again.

I refuse to be beaten, and I am going to reach Ecuador in better shape than ever before.

I just hope I can finish the darn workout tomorrow!

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From time to time through the years, I have slogged through seasons of life when I struggled to get a good night’s sleep. Sometimes it was my own darn fault, like when I’d have a drink at night, and while that helped me to fall asleep, when the alcohol would wear off, it created a rebound effect, waking me with enough stimulant to keep me from sleeping well the rest of the night.

But sometimes what has kept me awake at night was a constellation of other things—problems, projects, worries, issues, etc. A number of years ago, while struggling through one of those seasons, I “broke the code” to come up with an idea that has been a help to me whenever that kind of thing comes along again.

By no stretch of the imagination am I an expert on this sort of thing. I’m not a doctor (OK, I am, but not the kind that will do you any good), and this blog should NOT be interpreted as a cure for insomnia. Well, maybe reading it will put you to sleep. But I’ve learned a lesson or two, and want to share the journey.

Years ago, when in the midst of one of these stretches, I got the idea. I sat down in my office one afternoon, and wrote on a legal pad, “What Keeps Me Up At Night.” Then I simply listed the things that were waking me up, or hitting my mind whenever I woke up in the middle of the night and could not go back to sleep.

Under each of those things, I then made a bullet list of the things I was doing to address each of the problems or projects.

I played with the list for a few days, tweaking it, adding to it, amending the bullets that I’d written under each of the primary entries.

Then after I felt I had pretty well nailed the list of the things that hit my consciousness in the wee hours (I’m unfortunately one of those folks who, when I wake up, I am instantly alert) and got me going, as well as the bullet points, I printed it out and took it home.

And I placed it on top of the refrigerator.

So when I would wake up, and my mind would kick in, and I’d suddenly be wide awake at 2:17 in the morning with no hope of rolling over and going back to sleep, I would simply get up, walk to the kitchen, and get a glass of water. I’d reach up to the top of the fridge, and pull the list down and read it. (I would NOT turn the kitchen light on, I would operate by way of the tiny light on the water dispenser on the fridge door. I would read the list, and look at the bullet points of the things I was doing to address whatever it was that got my mind going in the middle of the night. Then I would say to myself, out loud, “OK, I am addressing this in the daytime hours; there is no need for me to deal with it in the middle of the night.” Then I’d put the list back on top of the fridge.

And I’d walk back to the bedroom, climb into bed, and—believe it or not—go back to sleep.

Why this blog entry today? Well, you see, a little while ago, I wrote on a legal pad: “What Keeps Me Up At Night.” Right now, there are five primary entries. Bullet points to come.

Oh, that stuff? Ambien, NyQuil, Tylenol PM and the like? I’ll admit that through the years I have used them, but frankly, I’m at a point in my life when I’d rather have to get through a day based on raw nerve, in the expectation that my body is going to take over and give me a good night’s sleep at some point in time, than allow myself to develop the psychological dependence on a sleep aid. For me, while they may help me sleep through the night, I don’t get the deep rest I need, and too many of them leave me feeling too sluggish in the morning.

So for me it’s a list, raw nerve, and Vitamin B that keeps me going.