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The Belt: Ollie’s Story

by Craig Gross on November 22nd, 2006 in The Haps

I spoke at Mars Hill this past weekend and was able to share a story of a guy
named Ollie. I met Ollie on the Starving
Jesus tour. You can download the message here or subscribe to
our iTunes Podcast and find it there. The talk was called “The Belt”. Here
is a copy of Ollie’s whole story. You can find out more information about the
church he is starting in Kiev @ www.lifepointkiev.com –
Craig

I’ve always been overweight, since I was a kid. And of course I
got all the crap from other kids (and even adults) my whole life, about being
fat.

From the time I was 12 I started trying different diets and exercise and
everything. But it was so much easier to eat than to have self-control. And,
even though I was overweight, I was still very athletic. I played sports
and could hang in there with everybody else, so I was like, maybe its not
such a big deal to be fat.

I always had lots of insecurity about my weight, plus I’ve always
had a slant towards depression and self-degradation and the weight problem
really added to that. I even got to the point of having suicidal thoughts
which were like a daily thing.

When I was a senior in high school, I was dating a girl, but she broke
up with me, telling me she didn’t want to date a fat guy. That really
added to my depression and all. Like I said, I would diet and exercise, but
it was really like I was addicted to eating (I kind of have an “addictive
personality,”and have to be careful with just about everything in my
life). I would seriously stay up all night and literally eat all night. I
can remember cooking and eating whole bags of fries, whole packs of hot dogs,
stuff like that, every night.

This kind of thing went on forever. I would sneak around and eat, I’d
hide and eat. It’s funny because it was like this big secret I thought
I had, but it was pretty obvious to everyone that I just kept getting bigger
and bigger. Every year I got progressively bigger.

But, I stayed really athletic, even in to my late 20s and 30s, I could
eat whatever I wanted and still play volleyball all day, play football, basketball,
whatever and I was cool.

But then, in the last few years, it was like my body just began to spiral
out of control, not to mention my depression. When I was 34 (I’m 37
now), I developed a heart condition called atrial fibrillation, it’s
not really some “major”heart condition, but I felt like crap
all the time and had no energy. All the sudden I was at the doctor’s
office everyday! I had high cholesterol, high blood pressure, sleep apnea,
atrial fibrillation. My weight got so high, that when I went to the doctor,
they couldn’t even weigh me. I went to a farmer’s market and
weighed myself…I weighed 410 pounds. I had all these doctors, cardiologists,
sleep doctors, everybody telling me I had to lose weight. It was like everyday
a different doctor was telling me to lose weight. I felt like I was being
picked on, but then I’d leave the doctors office, go to McDonald’s
and get 2 Big Macs and the biggest fries they had. I was still eating all
the time.

Even Cristi’s grandparents and a friend who is a pastor kind of “confronted”me
about my weight.

I spent a week in the hospital following the procedure to correct the
atrial fibrillation (heart problem) and then at a follow up visit with one
of the cardiologists, my blood pressure was through the roof. The doctor
told me I had to lose weight or I was going to die. I told him I had tried
my whole life to lose weight and never could. I asked him to sign off on
me having a gastric bypass surgery. I told him I was too fat to exercise,
and I knew I couldn’t lose weight without exercising. (The street we
live on is a circle that’s one mile long…if I walked the circle
once, I had to come in and sit down for a while). The doctor said I had to
wait one year. He said if I didn’t lose weight in a year, he’d
sign off on the gastric bypass. (I wanted that surgery, even though a family
friend had this surgery and died less than two years earlier.)

I didn’t really think that much about losing weight though. It was
so much easier to eat, than to work on losing weight.

In August of 2005 I went on a business trip and had to fly. I’d
never flown commercially before. I’ll never forget sitting in the seat,
and not being able to buckle the belt. I had to ask the flight attendant,
in front of other passengers, for a seatbelt extender. It was humiliating.
During this trip, I flew on three different planes and had to get the belt
extender on each plane. (the “before”picture I’m sending
is one just before boarding a plane during this trip.)

Now…in November of 2005, our pastor Joe and I met for a one-on-one
leadership meeting. Joe told me he really felt like the next year could be
the best year of my life, he said he thought God had told him that. That
day I sat down and made a list of things that would need to happen for to
have the best year of my life. One of those things was to lose 100 lbs. and
I told Joe I was going to do that. But I didn’t try to lose weight
right away…

In late February/early March of 2006, I was going through some stuff spiritually.
I just kind of felt like God was telling me he was going to do some new stuff
in my life, and that he wanted us to work on our relationship with each other.
Well, as long as I’ve been a follower of Christ, even with my weight
problem, I would always fast if I had a major decision or something big in
my life. But the longest I had ever fasted was 3 or 4 days, but I kept thinking
I should fast and fast for real.

I kept thinking about fasting, and praying about it, for a couple weeks.
On March 18th I officiated at a wedding, and after the wedding
I went to get Cristi and I some food. I took my Ipod because I wanted to
listen to this podcast from Mars Hill. I had heard of XXXchurch and you (Craig)
and this was when you were speaking at Mars Hill. In the podcast, you started
talking about Rob and JR going on this 40 day fast.

I was like, “Okay God, I keep thinking about fasting, I keep thinking
you’re telling me to fast, then I hear this guy talking about fasting.
Okay, I’ll do it.”

When I got home I told Cristi, I think I’m going to go on a fast
starting Monday. She asked how long, and I said, “Well, maybe a week,
but I’m thinking 40 days…”She kind of gave me a “whatever”look…

Oh yeah, I at the wedding, I wore a size 60 long suit with size 56 pants…and
it wasn’t very loose…

That Monday, March 20th I started the fast—and I was
MISERABLE! I spent half the day standing at our church secretary’s
door, whining and complaining about how bad I felt. But the next day, I felt
so good physically. And I really felt good for the whole fast. And spiritually,
it wasn’t like I was on my knees, praying non-stop day and night. But
it was like I was praying all the time. It’s like I was in this 24/7
mode of communication with God.

I’ll never forget one night I was walking down the stairs at the
church and God said, “You won’t be Children’s Pastor here
much longer…”It was so real, but I was like, “huh?”

I was scheduled to go on a mission trip to Kiev, Ukraine that July and
I spent a lot of time praying about the trip and what God wanted me to say
to the people there during this fast.

During this fast God was really teaching me about how he’s the creator
and I’m the creation. How he loves me and wants to be my daddy, but
also about how he’s sovereign and all. It was like I was able to make
this connection that I’d never been able to make in my life.

The fast ended on April 29th. Cristi was away working a retreat,
and man…it was almost depressing for the fast to be over. I really
thought about making the fast indefinite.

I had noticed that my clothes were getting kind of loose, but didn’t
really think that much about weight loss during the fast. I decided to see
what size pants I could get into. I was able to wear size 50 pants (from
a size 56 to a size 50 in forty days!!)

It hit me then, I’d always thought I had no self-control. I thought
losing weight was impossible for me, but God was like, see, you had self-control
for forty days, you can have self-control now…

I decided to start walking and just decided to eat really light, and pray
about the stuff I ate…kind of let God decide what I should eat.

That first week after the fast, I walked one mile per day. It was tough
at first, but then it got easier.

I started walking really fast, and then I started adding distance to my
walking. By the end of May, I was up to 5 miles of fast walking per day.
I had had a goal of getting to a size 42 pants by July 12th, the
day I left for Ukraine. Cristi went out and bought me a pair of size 42 jeans
at Salvation Army. Once a week I’d try them on. The first week, I actually
pulled them all the way up, but was like four inches from being able to button
them. The next week, it was a little closer. Then, on the third week, on
JUNE 12th, I actually buttoned the pants!! I had gone from a size
56 on March 18th, to size 42 on June 12th!

I kept exercising and eating better. In early June I added running to
my walking. I’d walk 4 miles, then jog two miles.

On July 12th, I left for Kiev. It was the most incredible feeling
to get on the plane, sit down, buckle the seatbelt, and even have to tighten
it up!!!

During the trip to Ukraine, God did so many incredible things! Before
I went I asked him what I should tell the people there, I asked him how to
be culturally relevant to these kids in Kiev. He told me to just hug them
and tell them that HE is their Daddy and he loves them. So that’s what
I did, and it was like pouring water on a dry sponge. Almost every kid there
told me they’d never got a hug from their dad. They said there dad
had never told them he loved them or was proud of them. They were so amazed
with the fact that GOD is their daddy and he LOVES THEM!

God told me while I was there that I was supposed to move back to Kiev
and start a church there.

I had planned to fast along with the Starving Jesus Tour for 40 Days.
Now it was like I REALLY had something to pray about during this fast.

On the weight thing, I’ve lost 150 pounds and I’m wearing
a size 38 pants.

On the Kiev thing, we know that’s where God wants us. I’ve
stepped down from my position on staff at Lifepoint Church and I’m
working on raising the money to move to Kiev.

On the spiritual thing, I know it’s not about me…I’m
the creation not the Creator, and I live like I’m dead. God never promised
me convenience and that’s cool.

With all this stuff happening in my life, it’s really been the best
year of my life so far.

And Craig, you know what’s weird? November 19th is one
year and two days after Joe told me the thing about having the best year
of my life…

Sorry this was so long…this weekend I’m giving some talks
on a retreat called Vida Nueva. I’m supposed to talk about my testimony
and I was wondering what I should talk about…I guess this is kinda
it, huh?

I love you guys. I’m praying for you and JR and your families. I’m
really proud of you guys and all you’re doing for the Kingdom.

Thanks also for this opportunity.

Ollie

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