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How to Walk Strong

  • Chantel Hobbs
  • Updated Sep 14, 2011
How to <i>Walk Strong</i>

Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Walk Strong, Look Up: The Most Powerful Exercise for Your Body and Soulby Chantel Hobbs (Revell Books, 2011).

It Pays to Advertise

As I waited for my Egg Beaters and whole-grain toast, an old man plopped down in front of me. At first glance, what to my wondering eyes did then appear but a grandpa whom I imagined had a part-time gig as a model—of Santa suits, that is. My first thought was, Well, the suffering economy wouldn’t affect him trying to get a job at the mall for the holidays. That is, as long as he liked kids, had a jolly attitude, and was talented enough to say “ho-ho-ho” while making his belly jump. But on this day he was sporting ordinary clothes, with the exception of an extraordinary hat. It proclaimed boldly, “Jesus is my boss.”

The breakfast joint we were in was very laid-back. In fact, the majority of the main dining area was filled by only one long table with benches. Strangers had no choice but to dine together. As I looked up and smiled to welcome this St. Nick look-alike to the table, I said, “Sir, please tell me about your hat.” Without any hesitation, he replied, “Well, all I know is it pays to advertise.”

I smiled again. He offered a handshake and said, “My name is Bill.”

By the scruffy looks of him and the oil-stained overalls he wore, I assumed this man was not a graduate of the Harvard School of Business or a fancy salesman. Yet the confidence Bill oozed as he said those words, “it pays to advertise,” displayed savvy to rival that of any stockbroker on Wall Street. Combine that with the earnest conviction in his eyes, and I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t be willing to buy whatever he was selling.

But the whole point was Bill wasn’t trying to sell anything. He didn’t need to beg others to buy Jesus. Instead, he wore a hat that basically said “He runs the whole show!” It was a great reminder to me on this day in particular. Just a few hours prior, the curtain had closed on my grandfather’s life.

I had received the call that my Pepa passed away just after midnight. For as long as I could remember, he had been there. He never missed a birthday or a holiday. His brilliant blue eyes and beautiful, wavy, silver hair were a hallmark at the Thanksgiving table. I don’t think this special day had passed even one year where he didn’t well up with tears as he said grace, always making the same humble request, “Good Lord, please keep us true and faithful to Thee.”

Just before Bill made his entrance in the restaurant that morning, I had been trying to imagine what I’d say when I spoke at my grandfather’s service. I’m not sure if it was the sincerity in the hat-wearing pseudo-Santa’s eyes, or the color of his eyes themselves that reminded me of my Pepa. But the fact they shared the name Bill did make me think our meeting and its timing was nothing short of divine.

My grandfather, William Brown, had a quiet and gentle spirit, more so than any man I’ve ever known. While he didn’t use lots of words to describe his faith, it was something I never questioned. His life spoke of God’s trust more than any words he could ever say. However, because he was a man of few words, I was having trouble trying to imagine what message more than any other he’d want to leave with us, his loved ones.

In just a matter of minutes after meeting Bill, my questions concerning what I should share were about to be answered. As we waited for our breakfast, I told him of my recent loss. I also let him know I had been wondering all morning about what my grandfather would want said at his funeral.

Bill responded with utter confidence as he looked straight in my eyes, “I’m going to tell you.” At this point, I knew I should take notes. Bill went on. “In John 14, Jesus is speaking to Thomas about His death, ‘Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. And where I go you know, and the way you know.’ Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’ There you have it.”

I knew in an instant this was the only message that mattered. And it was a true testimony to my Pepa’s character. While my grandfather had many wonderful qualities, his greatest legacy rested in knowing Jesus was his boss too. It went all the way back to him having survived polio as an infant. Then he spent four years of his childhood paralyzed from the disease. He was kicked by a horse as a youngster, and had a terrible scar on his face. Yet he managed to walk strong for his entire life—by looking up! Even after losing my grandmother to pancreatic cancer in the prime of their lives, he never wavered. The substances of my Pepa’s years on earth were defined by his acceptance of Christ. His death was an opportunity to celebrate the eternal life he was now experiencing, and to encourage others to accept Jesus as their boss!

As Bill and I finished our eggs, I felt like I had just received a kiss from God. This hand-delivered message was the perfect way for me to sum up my Pepa’s desire for everyone he knew. All I could do was cry, finish my meal, and hug Bill goodbye. I wondered if we’d ever meet again.

The service was beautiful. I shared the awesome story of meeting Bill over breakfast, and I read the passage from the book of John. I went on to remind everyone that Pepa was in heaven for only one reason: he believed in Jesus and lived his life with this conviction. I prayed seeds were planted into the hearts of those who did not have such certainty about their eternal home. A few months later, I began writing this book.

With my deadline approaching, I scheduled a conference call with the publisher to discuss the title. The morning of the meeting, I woke up feeling anxious. You see, a few weeks prior, the person in charge of this had sent me an email with a proposed title. I knew it was not the right one. Not because it was bad—it just didn’t capture the message of my book. After pouring my heart onto the pages, I needed to be sure the title was motivating, intriguing, and also hope-filled. 

I decided to go for a walk down by the beach to clear my head and try to come up with another title to share during the meeting. Five miles later, I had nothing. My mind was blank. I looked at my watch and realized I had ten minutes to get to my car and plug in my cell phone so I’d have enough battery for the call. Just before the parking lot was a little café. I noticed there were just a few folks sitting outside. Suddenly, I had to stop. What to my wondering eyes did then appear? 

Sitting at a table alone, wearing the hat that read, “Jesus is my boss,” was my friend Bill. I had not seen him since the first time we had met, nearly six months prior.

I was thrilled to find he remembered me. He asked how my family was handling everything. I told him we were doing well. Then I mentioned I had been working on a book about walking. Just before I said goodbye, I asked him if he had a word for me. Once again, he showed no hesitation. “To walk strong, look up,” he said. I was speechless. It was perfect! Bill had no idea he had just titled this book.

This was the perfect way to summarize the only way I have found to truly walk strong: it’s by looking up!

Trust me, coming up with a book title all parties agree upon can take months of going back and forth. So the fact everyone on the conference call got a kick out of hearing the story of how I met Bill—and also loved the title suggestion—was a sheer miracle! I knew it said it all.

Walking has become a great passion for me. I have never found any other exercise that has as much power as walking. Walking strengthens my body, renews my mind, and feeds my spirit. While running, going to the gym, using an elliptical machine, or taking a spin class are all things I enjoy, the benefits of each don’t begin to compare.

I know this sounds like a lot of hype for something we’ve all been doing for as long as we can remember, but I’m going to try to prove it to you on these pages. I don’t have a clue if you have very much faith in yourself or God at this moment. I know firsthand that trying to tackle a new plan for getting fit can feel daunting. However, if you’ll look up, heaven wants to help.

If you are desperate for answers—great, they’re here. I have seen God show up in my darkest hours, time and time again, and remind me I don’t need to look past what’s right in front of my face. You are holding this book in your hand for a reason.

In the following pages, I’m going to show you how to walk stronger than ever. I’m talking about how to use walking as the primary source for making deposits into your “wellness bank,” which will deliver great dividends. Sure, you’ll be feeling better than ever, but your faith is also about to explode as you look up and see God as the greatest workout partner of all time.

From my own story of weight gain, weight loss, and years of diet drama, I have learned that help from above is the only insurance I have. As long as I continue to walk with God, I am confident I can maintain a healthy weight and remain free from my old life of shame and misery. Sadly, many people don’t see that God wants to be at the center of everything we do.

I suppose it’s because most of the world is too busy looking back or looking around to look up. When it comes to self-improvement and meeting the needs of our body, soul, and spirit, society says we should compartmentalize all of our efforts. For your body, join a gym, buy a magazine, or step on a scale—and do whatever it takes until that scale smiles back at you. For your soul, go to dinner with a friend, read a good book, watch a movie, or find a bench to relax on in the park. And for your spirit, pray often and spend the rest of the time wondering why bad things happen to good people.

After taking the world’s well-known route to finding balance and contentment with my body, I was always exhausted and felt defeated, even after I began writing books and trying to help others. Walking changed all of this. Walking has taught me the power to simultaneously engage my physical need to expend energy, my soul’s need for quiet thought, and my spiritual need to feel connected with God and His creation. I’m certain there is no way I’d still be on the journey of weight loss and wellness if I had not learned the importance of satisfying all three areas of my life on a regular basis.

I hope this excites and intrigues you! On the following pages, I’m going to introduce you to a program I have created, “Walk with Him.” Over a period of one month, you’ll learn the how, the why, the weight, and the win “walking with Him” works. It humbles me greatly to have this opportunity, but there’s one more thing.

I’ve tried to be careful to present the Walk with Him program in such a way that anyone, from any walk of life, would feel comfortable using it. As with any exercise program, please consult with your physician to be sure you are physically able to participate.

My dear friends, here is my mission for this book: I pray I am able to be a mouthpiece of hope for anyone hurting, tired, frustrated, and feeling worthless who is ready to leave this all behind. With that being said, if this is you, it’s time. 

Let’s take a walk, shall we?

The Why

All I Heard Was “Get” and “Fat”

Twenty years ago, I was a clueless kid entering junior college who had a teensy weight problem (I was carrying around over 300 pounds at eighteen!). I’m not entirely sure how I got to be “obese” (such a terrible-sounding word) at an early age. I’m thinking as a toddler I may have watched too much Sesame Street. My life’s mantra had become, “Me . . . like . . . cookies.” There’s one thing I can assure anyone who asks about my career path to writing “diet” books: it certainly wasn’t the natural choice. Seriously, I would have picked this just after trying a stint as a heart surgeon. And I’m the chick who gets nauseous if I flip past a television show that has a hospital setting.

Yet, here I am, it’s three in the morning, and I’m wide awake as I dream about my latest opportunity to write a book about the most powerful exercise on the planet—walking! I won’t argue. My education is not conventional. Really, the only “real degree” I have is from the school of “Screw-ups Who Have Been Saved by Grace” (but don’t worry, I’m required to take refresher courses all the time). Yet I’m convinced my personal experiences deliver more to share with you than a boatload of degrees ever could.

I don’t walk these days because it delivers the “high of running.” I say this because after I started training to run marathons, people would constantly ask me about “the runner’s high.” I’m pretty sure this whole concept is a scam created by the running community to get us to drink their antiinflammatory-laced beverages. This way we can all support the orthopedic field while we keep trekking along believing there is a euphoric state that exists where pain is relative and enjoyment can be measured in miles. Come on, who are those runners kidding?

I admit, I have spent some time pounding the pavement as a runner, and running is still something I do on occasion. But I’ll let you in on a secret: the only thrill I get is after it’s over, and I celebrate another survived run. On the other hand, I have found a workout that’s anything but new—but renews me every time, in every way—walking! I realize it’s a bit old-fashioned, simple-sounding, and straightforward. However, walking has gotten me as “high” as heaven, many times. In fact, I remember the phone call that started my revelation.


It was a late afternoon in the summer of 2008 when Melissa, my publicist, called. She told me she had a request for me to participate in a story for the magazine First for Women. They had called her because they were doing an article on walking partners. The editor thought it would be a nice sentiment to include God as a partner—along with a spouse, a child, or even a dog. The editor wanted me to be the “God expert.” It’s kind of funny when you think about it. What gives me these credentials?

I was more than a little hesitant about participating. First of all, I had never really done much extensive walking for my workouts, and off the bat, I thought this might be an issue. Remember, it was an article on walking. Second, I am a marathon runner. This means I take pride in having run 26.2 miles. So for me, the idea of talking about walking as my primary source of exercise was like asking a baby to eat pureed carrots after she had been chomping away on French fries. Yuck! Lastly, while I consider God to be my friend, He had never been my workout buddy. Now, don’t hear me wrong. I’ve done some praying while exercising; however, up until this point, I wouldn’t have considered exercise to be time spent “hanging out with God.” Also, my prayers were often wedged between songs of loud, fast-paced music. Back then I certainly didn’t have sweet songs of worship on my iPod. However, despite all of these reasons, I did tell Melissa I would think about the article.

Within two or three days of the call from Melissa, I began to think about my potential contribution to the article. Strangely, that same week I began experiencing excruciating pain in my left foot whenever I tried to run. I’m talking real pain! Maybe not “pushing out a baby” pain, but pain like “want to rip off your feet” pain. It hurt.

My initial way of handling most things is the same as most other people. I’m a do-it-yourself kind of girl. So this meant that with a special shoe insert from the sporting goods store and 800 milligrams of Ibuprofen, I should be good to go. Wrong! The pain began to get worse after a few more attempts to work out. So I finally gave in and went to see my good friend Dr. Rob Nelson. Dr. Rob was the podiatrist I had run my first marathon with, along with a team for the Leukemia Society. I figured going to see him would help. If anyone knew how desperately I wanted to get on the road again, it was my old running partner.

When I went to see him, he wasn’t my buddy at all. Suddenly he switched to “Mr. Hippocratic Oath–taker.” He said he had to take X-rays, do an exam, blah, blah, blah! Then, when all that nonsense was done, he had the nerve to tell me my running career was over—for at least a while. In fact, Rob even “robbed” me of my dream to run the Boston Marathon. (I had already accepted I’d wait until I could qualify in the over-75 division.)

I was mad. Not at Rob, but at myself. My “more is more” mentality had stolen something I felt strong doing. So only half-listening, I chatted with my doctor (and dream crusher) about the options I had for continuing to exercise. Rob said two things to me: swim and walk. I heard two things: get and fat. To tell you the truth, I was terrified I’d never find any workout that had the intensity I enjoyed.

As I went home to feel sorry for myself, I began to think about the article on walking. Next, I said a simple prayer. I asked God to give me an exercise plan that would help me stay in shape, keep me out of pain, and make me want to do it all over again. Then I woke up the next morning while it was still dark and I hit the road as a walker, my feet no longer bouncing off the ground.

Within the first five minutes, I was really bored. My body was used to intense exercise. I didn’t feel challenged enough to focus. But I kept going, and eventually I powered up my iPod and began to listen to music that had a great beat and an even greater message. Then Kirk Franklin’s song “Looking for You” came on, and as I began to pick up my pace and swing my arms, I realized God was there. He was moving right along with me, encouraging me to push harder and move faster. The more I prayed and began to thank the Lord for giving me legs that worked, the more sweat began to drip down my forehead. 

I’ll admit I was a little surprised. Every person I had ever seen walking in my neighborhood looked to be on a Sunday stroll compared to this. I proceeded for the next forty-five minutes to pray, dance, sing, and keep moving. When the workout was over, I looked down at my heart-rate monitor and realized my heart rate had stayed strong the entire time. After I finished up I was exhausted and overjoyed, but most of all, I had recognized the power of walking. That walk, on that day, opened my eyes. Walking was not just a way to take care of my body; it was also a powerful time to hang out with my Creator, doing something He created me to do in the first place.

After spending so much time seriously stressed out about my foot issue, I was now beginning to feel relieved. And after five or six similar workouts, I let Melissa know I was ready for her to schedule the interview with the writer from First for Women.

It was near the end of one of my walking workouts the following week that my iPod lost power. I started singing some of my favorite hymns out loud. One of my all-time favorites is one that starts out, “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses,” and then eventually a beautiful chorus comes in:

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
He tells me I am His own.
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other 
has ever known.

I continued my concert, and with sweat dripping and all, I began to sob uncontrollably. Funny things can happen to your emotions when you exercise. Often, more feelings will rise to the surface. Maybe it’s the byproduct of letting stress out, who knows? In fact, back when I was training many people a day, I’d try to predict which client would have an emotional breakdown and need tissues.

Because it always happened, without fail.

However, on this day, during my own workout, it was me. Right on Lakeview Drive, as I was heading back home to get my gang ready for school, I was the one with tears streaming down my face, and I knew why it was happening.

As I belted the words, “And He walks with me, and He talks with me,” I had an amazing revelation! The greatest workout partner of all time was available to me, for free, and I had never properly invited Him to hang out until now!

From then on, my workouts were no longer only about me. My heart began to shift from having an entirely self-centered motive (remember the words I heard in the doctor’s office, get and fat) to now having the thrill of walking with my Creator and talking with Him about my life, my kids, my husband, my work, and my family. Best of all, I had a block of time devoted to doing something with Him, something He created me to do in the first place! Pretty awesome, huh?

When the writer from First for Women called, I’ll admit, I was still a little concerned about the possibility of misrepresenting myself as a “walking with God expert” (even though I was pretty sure that three weeks into it I was basically qualified). I’ll never forget how this fast-talking, youngsounding, Manhattan-based writer introduced herself to me. “Hi, Chantel. I’m really excited to be talking to you about God as a walking partner. As you may already know, I am planning to give several examples of walking partners in this article. I will be talking about taking a spouse, a child, a best friend, a neighbor, and of course God, out for a walk.”

I’m pretty sure God shows up anyway! But then she said something that still makes me smile. “Chantel, we can’t seem to figure it out. But whenever we put something of a faithbased nature in our magazine, they fly off the shelf.” And I think I responded by saying something cheeky like, “Yeah, that is a hard one to figure.”

The interview went really well. I gave her my ten reasons why God is the perfect walking partner. While the young woman took notes and laughed a little, I prayed she would hear more than my humor. I hoped I had properly conveyed how walking with Him could make a radical difference in anyone’s life, especially someone who has trouble making time to exercise, doesn’t enjoy it, or could use a little more faith. (Did I leave anyone out?)

After a photo shoot a few weeks later, the article hit the checkout stands in every major grocery store. They actually featured my story on the cover. What a thrill it was to have the assurance that, as someone opened up the magazine, they were also hearing of a God who wants to walk with them. Wherever, whenever, we can all show up sweaty and smelly and He’ll give us the belief and strength to continue.

Top Ten Reasons Why God Is the Greatest Walking Partner of All Time!

1. He’s never late (He created time)
2. He won’t slow you down (He’s faster than light)
3. He doesn’t let the weather affect Him (He makes it)
4. He hears all your problems (and keeps them a secret)
5. He encourages you to keep going (He doesn’t get tired)
6. He loves all music (He orchestrated sound)
7. He thinks you’re the best (you are His design)
8. He’s not competitive (He knows who would win)
9. He’ll help you to not become lost (He is a GPS)
10. He’ll whisper, “You’re my favorite” (you know He never lies)

Excerpted from Walk Strong, Look Up: The Most Powerful Exercise for Your Body and Soul, by Chantel Hobbs, Revell Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, © 2011. Used by permission.

Publication date: September 13, 2011