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Hamil R. Harris with his son after a recent football game.
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A health scare, prayer and a battle of the bulge

A heart attack and a homeless soul convinced minister, journalist to labor toward weight loss with God’s help.

I thought it was heat exhaustion. 

One day last summer, I had been at a football practice with a group of high school players. It was extremely hot.

Hamil R. Harris

Hamil R. Harris

As I left the practice, I experienced chest pains. I passed them off as gas. But as I got in my car and drank a Gatorade, I knew it wasn’t gas. 

I knew I was in trouble. 

I started to drive myself to the hospital. The pains increased, and I quickly decided instead to pull into the McDonald’s drive-thru, where I was well-known, asking them to call 911.

My heart attack was followed a few days later by a surgery to place a stent in one of my arteries. 

From my bed in the intensive care unit at John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore to the pulpit of the Glenarden Church of Christ, north of the nation’s capital in Maryland, I pledged to my concerned family and friends that I would do better. 

For weeks, I did. I lost nearly 40 pounds. But slowly, one doughnut and one order of french fries at a time, the weight crept back.

It took another medical scare to open my eyes. A few months ago, I looked down and realized my uncontrolled diabetes was causing an injury to my toe to fester. I have no feeling in my toes because of neuropathy, which is common for those with diabetes. 

A podiatrist sent me to the hospital where I had to be admitted for IV antibiotics and other treatments. I thought I would lose my toes. 

It reminded me of a homeless man I had once seen on the street. He had no shoes, and the image of his seemingly dead, charcoal-colored toes were stamped in my memory. I wondered if I would become like him in that I might lose my toe because I couldn’t bring myself to say no to sugar.

It was enough to motivate me to change. It motivated me to take my medication, drink more water and start walking.

After some tests, the doctors determined my toe likely would heal. It wouldn’t have to be amputated. 

I was ready to dance like David. 

I know that despite my ups and downs, my battle with weight is nothing to be ashamed of.

I’m still working to fully embrace low-carb dieting and exercise. I am eating salads with lean meat and drinking lots of water. There are no fancy before-and-after photos yet. The victories come one meal at a time. 

There are many Scriptures I could quote (Philippians 4:13; 1 Corinthians 9:24), but the passage that is most challenging to me is Ecclesiastes 9:11: I have seen something else under the sun: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all. 

I have read many commentaries on this passage, but I like what Joseph Benson writes — that while Solomon urges men to “labour with all their might,” the reality is “they must not be confident of their own strength … but must look up to God for his blessing,” otherwise their efforts are futile. 

Hamil R. Harris and his daughter Alana enjoy time at a Maryland beach.

Hamil R. Harris and his daughter Alana enjoy time at a Maryland beach.

In the last year, I have buried several healthy church members and friends who encouraged me in my battle against this weight. Sherry Condee. Geneva Mays. Walter, an Army veteran who loved to kayak. And Daisy Morgan, the first African American female stationed aboard the USS Lexington in Pensacola, Fla. I miss them dearly.

While they are gone, I cannot use their death as an excuse to fall back into my old habits. 

I know that despite my ups and downs, my battle with weight is nothing to be ashamed of. At one time, I weighed more than 410 pounds. While I made it to 359 pounds for a while, today I am around 380. I call this my Battle of the Bulge. 

My goal in this battle is to get down to 299. It’s a big goal, but I know if I turn to the Lord and focus on the gift of the Spirit, which I received when I put on Christ in baptism, then I have what I need to transform this 59-year-old body into the likeness of Christ. 

I believe it’s simply a decision I have to make at every meal, every snack, every step. 

I have to ask myself, “Did I do what I needed to do today to be more like Christ? It’s time to sweat!”

HAMIL R. HARRIS is a Christian Chronicle correspondent and veteran journalist. He preaches for the Glenarden Church of Christ in Maryland.

Filed under: Opinion Top Stories Views weight loss

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