I’m different today. But not because I woke at 4:50am. And not because I sweat through my shirt this morning.

It’s because of who I sweat with. Who I saw, what they told me and what I shared with them. I’m talking about men from a workout group called F3.

The difference is from the fellowship of 26 other guys in the early morning. It’s from following instructions from a guy who had never led a group in a workout before.

We struggled together. Held the plank position until we couldn’t anymore. We commented on the misery that we shared, the awkward cadence of a rookie, and picked on Frisco, always on Frisco.

I’m tired from lack of sleep. But I’m awake knowing that there is a loving God who guided me to a group of men who want the same thing that most everyone wants: A happy, healthy family; an occupation that they can excel at and enjoy; accelerating toward being a better man; and hope, great hope for the future.

Yet I sometimes fail at that. At any time in my life there are imperfections. My mother is sick, my job sucks, or my hope is diminished.

But by being in community with these men, by sharing with them and caring about their issues, I am wide awake to see that there is great hope. That others share the same burdens and that I can help with a word or a deed to encourage and give hope to these guys. I’m not in this alone. You’re not in this alone.

I couldn’t have done this two years ago. It was ‘too early’ to get up at 4:50am. I’d rather sleep until 6am and be alone in front of a TV sweating with Tony Horton. Boy, was I mistaken.

My wife asked me the other day, “Where is that quiet guy that I married?” I’ve grown in confidence, enough to speak up much more than I used to. I volunteer to make a presentation at work. I sign up to lead men in a workout or in a leadership study. To be surrounded by guys who care and support you makes you stronger. It’s made me stronger.

Others can tell when I’ve been with my F3 brothers. They can tell that spending an early morning with these men makes rest of my day significantly better. Some nights I can’t sleep because I am nervous or excited to see and share with these guys. Nervous if I’m leading, excited just to get out there with them. Strange – I didn’t know these guys a year ago and some I have just met or will meet for the first time in the early morning darkness.

I am what F3 refers to as a “Respect” (over 49 years old). I’m starting to wonder how long I can do this and pray for the stamina to keep my body strong enough to continue to be a part of this now essential part of my life. Even when I do break down physically, I’ve been made aware of my need for community and have learned how to have meaningful relationships with other men who are pushing me to grow as a person – physically, mentally, and spiritually.