Wrestling with Blessing

I’ve often reflected how I tend to be doing the best when I’m writing the most. This is typically true of anyone when they are expressing themselves creatively. We usually are feeling our best when we are fruitful and multiplying, freely expressing our identity through our gifting’s as we believe those gifts to be blessings.

Rarely do we feel our best when we are being pruned (losing part of what we thought was ourselves) or refined  (having our edges or unclean parts exposed and burned away) or disciplined (being taught how to navigate away from wrong into the right)

As I’ve been reading through Genesis and coming up on 5 months in chaplaincy, I find myself still wrestling, perhaps still restless. But in the midst of wrestling with myself and God, I’m faced with my choice. And it’s not so much a choice for vocation or for status as much as choice for disposition. I must choose joy and happiness. Admittedly, that has been historically challenging for me.

I often pin myself under the weight of sadness and introspection and often find the confused muddy version of Jimmy or James or Jim, whichever name they are calling me nowadays, trying to hear what name God is calling me nowadays. Still beloved, I hope?

How did I become so fragile?

How did I become so stubborn?

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I ask myself as I’m coming up on a ford (see story of Jacob) and the Angel of the Lord has challenged me to fight awaiting to see if I will ask for a blessing. The Lord doesn’t punch or slap. God doesn’t seek the knockout blow for his children. But God does test endurance awaiting our appeal for mercy or victory or surrender.

Here’s the thing though: I’ve asked. I’ve asked for blessing, yelled for the cursing to go away, persisted for healing. I still feel my wounds and am tempted to inflict the worst ones on myself, and I can’t do it anymore. I can’t be my own affliction and expect to make it through, wrestling day in and day out hoping the blessing actually sticks. For those of us that are guilty of fighting with ourselves, there is a need to learn the rhythm of grace and self-compassion.

I have this assignment I earned myself: To write about my dreams, which is ironic because some of my friends recently told me they are making dream boards. When I think of the word dream, my gut reaction is anger, then sadness, then stuck.

I don’t know how to stop my nightmares, so how does anyone expect me to make my dreams come true?

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I’ve had so many dreams, believed so many promises, flooded pages with hopes lost:

lost the hopes, lost the pages, lost parts of myself, let go of the dreams.

 

But not God, God’s not lost in the wrestling. God is there in it, and God has overcome me, and I admittedly can do nothing without the Father.  Nor do I really want to.

I also want to dream even if it’s daunting. I want to serve Jesus even if the next step is un-seeable. I want to be able find romantic love even if  right now it’s latent. I want to be confident in Christ even if I capsize. I only want to wrestle with God if we both win. What I find in the love of God is: the dreams that come from the Lord are the ones that have staying power and are vivid. As a team we dream. I think God knew how much I’d like wrestling so God has incorporated it into my walk of faith. I find God won’t let go until He knows I am blessed and beloved.

 

Saying Bye to My Mistress Pro-Wrestling

Authors Note* In British English Mistress means teacher.

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Last Autograph I ever signed as Jimmy Pipes

On February 22nd, 2013 I began my professional wrestling training at Back Breakers Training Center in Scranton, PA. I was trained by head trainer and owner Justyn Glory, and at that time, assistant trainer Jon Redbeard. I started the same day as my training partner Claudio Taglianni.

Being a pro-wrestler was my dream from the ages 3-18 . I backyard wrestled with my friends Bill and Tim Maticic throughout high school. We moved furniture and mattresses to their backyard to wrestle for 2 hours after school and before their mom got home so she wouldn’t know we used the furniture. We filmed it. One time I taped over a one hour portion of my families cross-country road trip to California by accident.

My first memory as a child is pro-wrestling. I saw it on TV. My parents bought me a ring with action figures and that fueled the fire. We would vacation to Wildwood each year where wrestling shows would run on the boardwalk. At one show, I met King Kong Bundy and took a picture with him in the ring. At another show the now deceased Chris Candido took a trading card I had of his likeness and traded me a signed picture of his ring valet in a swimsuit. I’ve since thrown it away.

To be honest, I always preferred going to indie shows in gyms or outdside than to WWF/E events because I wanted to meet wrestlers not just watch them. I wanted to get in the ring not take a picture in front of it. As a teenager, I was obsessed. I wrestled in high school hoping it would get me in shape for when I began training.

In 2006, I went to an outdoor wrestling event at Burlington County Community College put on by the United Wrestling Coalition (UWC) because my friends Dave and Jen Puca’s aunt and uncle were the promoters. After the show, a wrestler body slammed me in the ring, and they let me run the ropes.

Ironically, my last match 12 years later was in a UWC ring.

But at 18, one conversation in my grandma’s basement while lifting weights with my brother had me decide I would go away to college instead wrestling school. When I went to college I stopped watching wrestling, gave up on the “dream” and occasionally checked in on my hobby.

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That time Keating painted my face

And I can say wholeheartedly, I was glad. I met Jesus in a new and powerful way, so my heart and entire life became spoken for. In many ways, I no longer needed wrestling.

In 2013, I wouldn’t say I needed wrestling either, but I needed to find myself. At that point in time, I was living clouded and made decisions from memory. Time and circumstance conveniently allowed me to train so I did. And for months I was depressed while I trained. I trained out of obligation not out of joy, convincing myself that as I committed to action the joy would come.

Wrestling gave me something to do and was a way to cope with pain. Wrestling became a teacher and a confidence builder. So I trained for 7 months and had my first match in August of 2013 with my training partner Claudio.

I wrestled while studying theology. I wanted to embrace pacifism but wrestled with the contradiction of engaging in a performance of fighting. I often questioned why I would pro-wrestle as a hobby while endeavoring to become a minister and was at times frustrated by the fact that it seemed to complicate me unnecessarily. At that time, my identity was fragile enough to confuse myself.

But I enjoyed improvising a story in 6-12 minutes. I loved the idea of portraying a character who was a lounge singer, who made lavish claims that he was a platinum artist but could not sing very well. I loved the idea of wearing a singlet backwards and painting a tuxedo pattern on it so it would look vaguely realistic under a sport coat and fedora.

I loved having creative freedom within the context of not having to decide how long of a story to tell or who won or lost. It works well with my personality because I am the type of person that colors in the lines not draws the picture. You give me parameters and I will push the creative boundary, but don’t give me a blank canvas.

Wrestling slowly helped me be able to dream again and was my creative outlet when my heart struggled to find an outlet.

But wrestling also reminded me that even as character who was arrogant, I couldn’t lay aside empathy. I think Jimmy Pipes was always accidentally endearing. Children and old people didn’t like seeing him get beat up or lose. But he also didn’t necessarily deserve to win.

Wrestling also taught me about love. I had countless friends and family support my hobby, even at times I did not expect them to. Some will never care about wrestling, but they care about me. I had a girlfriend who went to several shows with 20-25 people in attendance to see me even though she disliked wrestling.  Wrestling provided  opportunities for me to see that people who love me embrace some of my eccentricities.

Wrestling also taught me that I don’t have to matter on a platform. There is far more value to what happens behind the curtain than in front of it: showing respect to fellow wrestlers, thanking promoters and bookers for opportunities, helping each other improve, receiving criticism. There is also far more value to what is done outside the ring than inside: Signing autographs for kids, talking to fans, taking pictures with them so they have something to remember you by.

The things pro-wrestling taught me are in part the things that make it easy for me to walk away from it. Wrestling helped me to realize that all of the important things exist outside of wrestling. Because wrestling is just a performance. It’s not a lifestyle, it’s not the greatest thing ever. It was an outlet and there are better outlets. For me there are better causes and callings.

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The Jackson clan at Coplay, PA AWF

In my mind I’m leaving behind something I enjoyed in exchange for many somethings I will enjoy more and make a bigger difference with. I can say goodbye easily because I’m infinitely more excited about what I’m saying hello to.

So how do I summarize and highlight my last 5 years. With a list of fun facts:

 

  • I only wrestled 58 professional matches which is not a lot, nor is it an admirable accomplishment. A pro-wrestler that reads that would question how serious I was (I would answer not serious, I always called it a hobby).
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    Olde Wrestling Ohio Photo Cred: Jeff Colb Photography

    I wrestled in 2 states (PA, NJ), performed in 3 (OH).

  • I won 1 title, the UWC US title and held it for about 6 months. I lost it in UWC’s 1000th match for their promotion to my friend Definitely Donnie. I wrestled Donnie (Matt) 4 of those 58 matches.
  • My name Jimmy Pipes has appeared in at least 5 issues of Pro Wrestling Illustrated. This is a bigger deal to me than it should be, but I like things in writing so I get giddy thinking about it.
  • One of my matches on YouTube has over 3,000 views largely b/c of the “gay pro-wrestling fan community”, but only that one match because the other guy in it was more attractive than me… I’m guessing.
  • I got to perform for Olde Wrestling in Ohio, which was also a huge deal to me because I loved the originality of their promotion.  I love their graphic design (Check them out https://www.oldewrestling.com/)
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    Myself, Mr Ooh La La and his manager

    I wrestled Mr. Ooh La La, an indie wrestling veteran who once talked to me for an hour after a show in PA giving me advice, feedback and sharing his story. Our match was the easiest match I ever wrestled and was extremely fun.

  • My Godfather Jimi Beam, designed the logo on my trunks. I am so thankful for his life, he was one of the funniest, happiest people I have ever met.
  • Current WWE champion AJ Styles put me in an arm bar at a seminar while his sweatpants were falling way to low below his waist.
  • My last seminar was with the Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase, who also was the first wrestler I ever met when I was 7. His seminar was a waste of $60 but such is life. He loves Jesus so that’s enough.
  • I got booked once because someone said I could actually sing. I was booked to sing the national anthem which I sung part of. It was interrupted when a wrestler knelt during the anthem. It was in a church. It was the weirdest show I’ve ever been to.
  • My last match was with Fredo Majors for the UWC Heavyweight title. I lost, but it felt like I won with how many friends who came out and my dad being there. Fredo and Bobby Banks were hilarious and the crowd was phenomenal.

It’s easy for me to be done when I believe God is laying out so many more great things for me to walk into. But I still want to honor this part of the journey, mostly the people I met along the way. But I am also grateful to God for remembering my childhood dream and allowing me to live it out in some small way. But the next set out of dreams to live out… not something I can say goodbye too.