Pastrgrrl Press

I’ve been keeping journals since I was in second grade – back when my handwriting was barely legible. For me, a great day consists of a cup of coffee, a good pen, and blank pages. Thus, it’s only natural that over time I felt the desire to create some beautiful journals to share with others who also enjoy the joy and therapeutic properties of writing. “A Month of Hymns: A Journal for Prayer and Reflection” uses hymn lyrics as prompts for each day. Read the classic lyrics, reflect on your own life and the leading of the spirit, and write. There’s room to draw as well on the 8X10 pages. Order today at:

https://www.amazon.com/s?k=pastrgrrl+press&crid=1U55EFAKOW8N&sprefix=pastrgrrl%2Caps%2C240&ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_9

Keep up with new projects on Facebook:  Pastrgrrl Press

In the Bleak Midwinter

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

So far, what have I done that has made this Advent season different than any other?  Let’s see, I have been slowly feeding my “piggy bank” for ELCA World Hunger.  I found a five-dollar bill in the cemetery the other day and put it in the piggy bank instead of using it to buy myself a latte – so that felt like a step in the right direction.  However, we entirely forgot to light our home advent wreath this past Sunday. Plus, even though I vowed to myself to keep things simple and worry-free this year, I’m already stressing out a little bit about upcoming Christmas services at church and cooking for extended family on Christmas Day. So far, Advent is looking a lot like every other church season – a season of stops and starts, a time of victories and failures.  It turns out that I prepare about as well for the birth of Jesus as I prepare for anything – kind of last minute and haphazard – and please don’t look in my closet or under the beds because who knows the clutter and disarray you will find.

It is an imperfect Advent, an imperfect life.  I can’t take comfort in that because I wish I could always fully complete all the grand plans and sacred endeavors I begin.  If I could, I would have written five books by now (all bestsellers).  And yet, I do take comfort in this:  there is some One greater at work in my life than me.  There is a greater plan that has been devised than any I could dream.  In some mystical and miraculous way, God has chosen me and you to participate in this plan, God’s plan.  We won’t often understand how or why life unfolds as it does, and yet there are times we catch glimpses of the beauty and blessedness of it all.  Maybe that will happen for you sometime this Advent season, maybe it won’t.  Maybe Christmas morning will dawn with a fresh peace and renewed strength in your heart, or maybe you’ll wake up with the stomach flu and stay in bed all day.  Either way, all is well, because this story we live is about more than you and me, what we do or don’t do, rather, it is about God’s story. We are part of it – and it is an immense gift.  Our greatest task appears to be that we simply must open our eyes and see it.

Most afternoons these days I spend a little time sitting with a parishioner who is now on Hospice care.  His remaining time on earth appears short.  There is nothing fun about these days for him as his body and mind slowly fade.  I don’t even know if he hears me when I read the scripture to him anymore – but I still read it and I pray out loud for him.  It seems so stark and strange to walk past the festive lights and trees that are adorning the Sunset home these days and often the sound of cheerful carols coming from the chapel, to go into his quiet room where death is drawing near.  Yet it strikes me that it is precisely in these moments of stark contrasts that we often sense the Spirit’s presence more closely than ever.  Actually, I’ve come to realize that sitting in that room next to Joe and listening to him breathe with the sounds of the world going on outside has become what will set this Advent apart for me as blessed.  It wasn’t the ritual I planned or expected, but in it, I have felt God’s presence.  I’m so thankful for that.

Has God surprised you lately?

Jeremiah 29:11

11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

In the Bleak Midwinter

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, Whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, Whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him… give my heart.

 

Tripping Billies

Reflections on Shuffle Play (an exercise in which I write a reflection based on that morning’s run)

I wish I kept count of all the times that people talked about calories, points, diet, or weight over the course of our Thanksgiving festivities.

It was the first Thanksgiving of my life I was feeling comfortable in my skin and content. I had neither starved beforehand to prepare for the onslaught of calories nor was I intending to exercise more than usual the next day. I wasn’t afraid of the challenge of all the enticing food, just happy to be sharing a good meal with people I loved. For the first time, I could really focus on all I am thankful for: my children, my husband, the beautiful weather, living near enough to family to see them on the holidays, good health, the list goes on and on.

And because my vision was clearer this year and I wasn’t so distracted by my war with my weight and the scale, I was able to observe what a toll the weight-loss war takes on people. I observed how easily people talk about diet and weight, how often people called themselves “bad” for this indulgence or that. I observed it with compassion, because this is a journey all of us are on and it wasn’t long ago at all I was joining in on the poisonous self-talk. Furthermore, the ghosts of my life-long battle with food still loom large – even though I was feeling comfortable with the food in the room and my ability to trust how much my body wanted to eat, I still scanned each picture that was taken yesterday to see if I looked, “fat”. I may not be able to help doing that as long as I live. All of these habits are hard to break.

I think dieting is fine if it really makes a person feel better, however, I found after enough time and energy devoted to it that the benefits did not outnumber the costs. There were still small joys in it: being told I looked good, fitting into smaller sizes, etc., but I found it made my world feel very small. I began to resent the mental energy it took, the time it took. It made me feel boring.

When I was stuck in diet mode, there was always this sense of “just you wait and see.” If I felt bad about myself or incomplete, I thought, “just wait until they all see me after this next diet. I’ll look so good and everything will be so great.” When I stripped that away, I had to be okay with offering myself just as I am to the world. I had to be ready to be happy now, to be content now, to exist in present tense rather than future tense.

I found I like present tense.

However, there are still so many triggers that exist and I have to be careful when they appear. When I hear someone talk about so and so who just lost forty pounds, when I overhear someone mention a new diet they are starting, when I see a “before and after” picture, when I am having a day when I am not feeling so beautiful – any of these things can trigger the feelings that it’s time to change myself. I’m obviously not good enough as I am, time to shift, morph, become, alter.

But instead of giving any energy to those triggering feelings, these days I remind myself to counter all those feelings with the thought of, “maybe you are just fine the way you are.” It’s a small but oh-so significant shift in thought. When I focus all my attention on who I am rather than who I might become if I just change this or that, then I realize that the time is NOW to do all the things I love and care about. Do the writing NOW. Share the writing NOW. Take your kids out for a fun day NOW. Go out with a friend for coffee NOW. Live your life NOW.

So today, I had pecan pie for breakfast because it is delicious. Then, I ran for 30 minutes because it makes me feel amazing and accomplished as I start my day. These days I only use my fitbit as a timer for my runs, otherwise it sits on the little shelf of my treadmill. This Black Friday there is no trace of regret for the cheesecake I ate yesterday, no plan for starting over with a new healthy eating plan on Monday, there’s just me, happy. Now that is something to be thankful for.

 

Tripping Billies

By The Dave Matthews Band

we were above
you standing underneath us
we were not yet lovers
dragons were smoked
bumblebees were stinging us
I was soon to be crazy

eat, drink and be merry
for tomorrow we die
’cause we’re tripping Billies

we’re wearing nothing
nothing but out shadows
shadows falling down on the beach sand
remembering once,
out on the beaches we wore
pineapple grass bracelets

so why would you care
to get out of this place
you and me and all our friends
such a happy human race
’cause we’re tripping Billies

we are all sitting
legs crossed round a fire
my yellow flame she dances
tequila drinking oh our
minds will wonder
to wondrous places

so why would you care
to get out of this place
you and me and all our friends
such a happy human race

eat, drink and be merry
for tomorrow we die

 

Losing My Religion

Reflections on Shuffle-Play (the thing where I write a reflection inspired by a song from that day’s run)

Dieting is so much like a religion. Think about it:

It’s common in religions to have lists of actions that are permissible to do and not permissible to do. Diets are entirely made up of those kinds of rules.

Religion often uses the language of “clean” or “unclean” – dieting has begun to take on this language as well with the rage of “clean eating.”

Religion speaks of sinners and saints. We often refer to a decadent dessert as being “sinful” or call ourselves “bad” or “good” depending on how well we have followed our dietary rules on any particular day.

In fact, dieting has become a religion, at least in American culture. A religion that many people strive after and fill countless hours pursuing and perfecting.

I freely admit that long before I ever memorized the Small Catechism I knew the calorie values of most foods.  I pored over exercises in magazines that might give me the legs I wanted. I devoured book after book that filled my head full of information about this eating plan or that one.

And I found community within the dieting culture, too. It’s like a language that most women have all learned how to speak: “Oh, I shouldn’t be eating this.” “No, I’ll have a diet coke.” “I lost five pounds!” “Can you believe how she let herself go?” “Ugh, I feel fat today.” On and on we speak the dieting language – adding some new terms now and then: Whole 30, Cauliflower Rice, Pilates, FitBit, etc. – but it really is all some new lingo for the same old thing: monitor, restrict, try to shrink, rebound, binge, repeat.

I’ll admit as well that I’ve let the lines between dieting and religion get blurry – especially during the season of Lent. So many years I have decided to fast during Lent and have told myself it was for spiritual purposes, yet knowing that I was very excited about the idea of what the Lenten fast might do for my figure.

Some people find comfort in strict religion, just as some find comfort in a strict diet. In fact, when you consider some of the most popular religions, the ones which teach a prosperity gospel (just do this and this and this and God is going to bless you so hard!), they bear a striking resemblance to the most popular diet plans (just eat this and do this and you will look so good!). People like the prosperity gospel preachers because they give an easy recipe for how to live your “best life now!” But eventually reality sets in and people realize that life is full of ups and downs and no amount of faith or good works or good attitude is going to save you from the hard times. Rather, what is life-giving is faith in the One who is with us when times are good or bad, the One who loves us when we are good and when we are not so good.

I guess in the same way, I’ve realized that every diet plan is just another version of the prosperity gospel – full of empty promises, oftentimes repackaged or re-worded, but all just the same. I’ve put my faith in countless diet gurus and exercise moguls: Denise Austin, Bob Harper and everyone from the Biggest Loser, the P90X guy, the group leader at Weight Watchers – I wanted to trust in them and their advice. I built big dreams on their promises, but at the end of years and years of my efforts to fit myself into their tiny molds, I realized my salvation was not in trying so hard to follow someone else’s path. My salvation when it comes to me and my body is just to accept myself the way I am and listen to my body.  It is saying “no more” to dieting.

People get very nervous about the idea of getting off the diet treadmill, because as with any deeply ingrained belief system, it is painful to realize that something you once put a lot of faith in is smoke and mirrors. By the time I was ready to let go of dieting, it just felt like sweet relief, but I can tell that there are many others who aren’t yet ready to call it quits. “It’s all about health,” they say. “I want to live as long as I can so I have to lose weight and be healthy.” That’s all well and good, but I question how much life is really in the life of a dieting person. When I was in the thick of a diet, I was constantly thinking about food, anticipating the next meal or regretting the last meal. I couldn’t really enjoy going out on a date with my husband because the food was full of a land-mine of calories. I couldn’t eat with my children because they would never eat the bland, awful things I allowed myself to eat. My days were marked with checks and numbers on my calendar, calculating my efforts for the day. I was either rigidly eating just a few different “safe” foods each day, or I was in the depths of an all-out binge and absolutely hating myself, planning to get back “on track” the next day.

I grew so sick of tomorrow.

I grew so sick of tomorrow that I realized the only way out of it was to dedicate myself to today.

To be happy today.

To be good enough today.

To allow myself to eat today.

To believe that just as I am, I get to savor everything life has to offer – and I don’t have to wait until I lose those twenty pounds or until my pants are looser. I can have it all today: happiness, joy, movement, love, freedom, food, peace – all of it. NOW!

See, God gave us our appetites and our bodies. I’ve never been rigid when it comes to religion – because I know God is all about grace. So no wonder it has felt so alien all these years to be so rigid about my body. I was supposed to be loving it and treating it gently, not constantly trying to bend it to my will and shape it into something else.

If you are still on the dieting treadmill, it’s okay. I just want to tell you how good it feels to be off of it. I weigh no more now than I did when I was dieting, I just like myself a lot more now. Once I stopped dieting, the binging stopped and that has been life-saving. That isn’t to say that there aren’t still days when I want to eat my feelings, and sometimes I do, but I work especially hard then to be kind to myself. I don’t punish myself with exercise for hours, I don’t starve myself the next day to try to make up for any excess the day before. Instead, I eat and I move and I do things that make me happy. I treat myself grace-fully.

I feel healthier than I have in a long time and I eat better. I eat real food. I eat all kinds of food! I love my appetite and I love eating with my husband, my kids, my friends. I look forward to holidays finally after dreading them most of my adult life.

The religion of weight-loss proved to be a false god for me. The times I was thinnest I was so unhealthy – starving and smoking my way into smaller and smaller sizes. My life had no life. I was too hungry and self-absorbed to think about much else. If there is anything I have done that has been detrimental to my health, it has been the constant cycle of going up and down the diet rollercoaster. It’s been detrimental to my physical health and my mental health. So much anguish and energy and time I frittered away at the altar of diet culture.

I have a Facebook friend who is currently on some weight-loss regime and every few days she is going to her weigh-in place and then she posts online how much weight she has lost. She is so excited to see the scale go down. I have such compassion for her because I have been there so many times. I’ve felt that exhilaration, I’ve felt the envy of the people around me as I shrank, and I’ve been drunk on the feeling of power it brought. And who knows, maybe she will be one of the 5% who is able to keep off the weight with militant attention and self-control, measured portions and a couple meal-replacement shakes a day for the rest of her life. God bless her. It’s not for me. I took that road a thousand times and it never led anywhere good. This road, though? This road of being comfortable in my current skin, content in my current life, joyful in eating what sounds good to me, and the scale stashed securely in a back closet? It’s a journey I hope to continue for a long-ass time.

Losing My Religion

by REM

Life is bigger
It’s bigger
And you, you are not me
The lengths that I will go to
The distance in your eyes
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I set it up

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

Every whisper
Of every waking hour
I’m choosing my confessions
Trying to keep an eye on you
Like a hurt lost and blinded fool
Oh no, I’ve said too much
I set it up

Consider this
The hint of the century
Consider this
The slip that brought me
To my knees failed
What if all these fantasies
Come flailing around
Now I’ve said too much

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream
That was just a dream

That’s me in the corner
That’s me in the spotlight
Losing my religion
Trying to keep up with you
And I don’t know if I can do it
Oh no I’ve said too much
I haven’t said enough

I thought that I heard you laughing
I thought that I heard you sing
I think I thought I saw you try

But that was just a dream, try, cry, why, try
That was just a dream, just a dream, just a dream
Dream

 

 

Fancy

Reflections on Shuffle-Play (where I write a reflection each day inspired by a song from that morning’s run)

I was doing some cleaning and organizing at church and kept coming across items that had been tucked away in closets and corners.  Churches can end up having a strange assortment of odd stuff for a few reasons: first, people are often hesitant to get rid of anything at church because what if someone’s family member donated that item three decades ago? They might get upset if we just get rid of it, so let’s store it until there are no longer any living family members left.

Second, churches often end up with a bunch of weird stuff because when people no longer want things at their houses, they often decide maybe the church could use their weird stuff. A couple days ago, someone brought me a huge bag of books to donate to our church library. Now our library has a pretty good variety of books and it is a “little free library” – people can take a book and return it or take a book and keep it. I encourage people to donate books, however, I do monitor what gets donated. When I went to look in the bag, it was filled with books by a particularly offensive television evangelist. I would NEVER allow these books to be displayed in our church as the kind of theology they spout is dangerous! While it’s difficult for me to imagine destroying any books, I’m not convinced it is best that I even make the effort to bring them to the thrift store. I may simply make the effort to bring them to the dumpster.

Old typewriters, ancient mixers, boxes full of cloth and yarn from the house of a life-long smoker, old Christmas trees with branches missing, pieces of candles, you name it, I’ve seen it donated to the church because, as the usually well-meaning giver says, “maybe you can use it for something.” The worst was when I was at a church with a food shelf. It was frankly jaw-dropping to see people drop off boxes of food, near or well past its’ expiration date. It wasn’t hard to tell that they had been cleaning out cupboards and gave the church what no one in their house would eat for the last year. “Maybe the church can use it for something.”

It’s safe to say that if you don’t want it and it is worn out enough that you either can’t use it or get money out of it, the church can’t use it either. If it is a valuable item, please take the time to sell it yourself and then give the church the money instead. The church doesn’t have time or energy or people-power to be a dumping place for unwanted items. We’re thankful when people want to give, but I’m still learning how to say “no, thank you” when cumbersome, unneeded donations come our way.

It’s a skill to learn how to say “no, thank you” because I was always taught to just be grateful for any gift or request and to accept it with a smile. As time has gone by, however, I’ve come to learn that this all-encompassing kind of gratitude, this never-ending cycle of unquestioning acceptance, is exhausting. So, in time I have learned to say “thank you” but still stand firm. “Thank you, but no, I can’t preside at that wedding because I have a vacation already planned for that time.”  “Thank you, but no, the church doesn’t really need your mother’s collection of 50 nativity scenes.” “Thank you, but no, the couch that is too ugly and threadbare for your house is not something we are just dying to have in our youth room.”

If you want to give something to your church, please consider first exactly why you are getting rid of it. If it is tattered, expired, desperately out-of-date, it’s not likely to be of much use to us either.  If you genuinely want to give something to your church, ask your council president or pastor what is needed or donate funds to be used as needed.

In the same way that you want your home to have a pleasant appearance, churches want that, too. So, the time will come when we have to get rid of the books in the library with titles such as, “The Godly, Obedient Woman”, or the “1946 Directory of Lutheran Churches in America.”  We’ll need to get some new art on the walls, brighten up the dark brown paneling in the conference room that was added in 1970, and maybe even throw out some stuff to make room for the new.

As part of my reorganizing, I have been clearing out some space in my office at church. All the furniture I had was in there before I arrived and I’ve finally gotten to the point where I am tired of looking at so much in there I did not choose. So, I moved the little red couch and the oblong coffee table out and soon I’m going shopping for something new, something I like.  I’ve never done that before. In my 18 years as a pastor I have just made do with the castoffs of prior pastors and well-meaning parishioners. It honestly never bothered me – I’m not terribly fussy. However, maybe there comes a point when even the simplest pastor just wants to have some furniture that doesn’t look like it belongs on a frat house porch. I guess that day has come for me.

Fancy

by Iggy Azalea

First things first, I’m the realest (realest)
Drop this and let the whole world feel it (let them feel it)
And I’m still in the Murda Bizness
I can hold you down, like I’m givin’ lessons in physics (Right)
You should want a bad bitch like this (Huh?)
Drop it low and pick it up just like this (Yeah)
Cup of Ace, cup of Goose, cup of Cris
High heels, somethin’ worth a half a ticket on my wrist (On my wrist)
Takin’ all the liquor straight, never chase that (Never)
Rooftop like we bringin’ ’88 back (What?)
Bring the hooks in, where the bass at?
Champagne spillin’, you should taste that

I’m so fancy
You already know
I’m in the fast lane
From L.A. to Tokyo
I’m so fancy
Can’t you taste this gold?
Remember my name, ’bout to blow

I said baby, I do this, I thought that, you knew this
Can’t stand no haters and honest, the truth is
And my flow retarded, they speak it, depart it
Swagger on super, I can’t shop at no department
Better get my money on time, if they not money, decline
And swear I meant that there so much that they give that line a rewind
So get my money on time, if they not money, decline
I just can’t worry ’bout no haters, gotta stay on my grind
Now tell me, who that, who that? That do that, do that?
Put that paper over all, I thought you knew that, knew that
I be that I-G-G-Y, put my name in bold
I been working, I’m up in here with some change to throw

I’m so fancy
You already know
I’m in the fast lane
From L.A. to Tokyo
I’m so fancy
Can’t you taste this gold?
Remember my name, ’bout to blow

Trash the hotel
Let’s get drunk on the mini bar
Make the phone call
Feels so good getting what I want
Yeah, keep on turning it up
Chandelier swinging, we don’t give a ****
Film star, yeah I’m deluxe
Classic, expensive, you don’t get to touch (Ow!)

Still stunting, how you love that
Got the whole world asking how I does that
Hot girl, hands off, don’t touch that
Look at that I bet you wishing you could clutch that
It’s just the way you like it, huh?
You’re so good, he’s just wishing he could bite it, huh? (say what what?)
Never turn down money
Slaying these hoes, gold trigger on the gun like

I’m so fancy
You already know
I’m in the fast lane
From L.A. to Tokyo
I’m so fancy
Can’t you taste this gold?
Remember my name, ’bout to blow

Who that, who that, I-G-G-Y
That do that, do that, I-G-G-Y
Who that, who that, I-G-G-Y
(Blow…)

 

When You Were Young

Reflections on Shuffle-Play

The blog I wrote yesterday, “She’s a Beauty”, came on like a fever. I had to write it. I woke up with the thoughts needing to be come out. Like labor pains, it couldn’t be avoided or delayed, I just had to sit down and write.

Then, unlike most of my blog posts, I shared it on social media and it received a fair amount of responses. People understood what I was trying to say and many of them had their own stories to contribute – whether in the comments or by private message. I knew many would resonate with what I was saying about the endless battle so many of us face with loving/hating our bodies, but I wasn’t prepared to see even some of my friends whom I think are so thin and couldn’t possibly have body issues also resonating with what I wrote. It just further underscores my point: we are all so messed up about food and body image!

It felt good because earlier that morning I had been battling with the idea of starting another diet, but instead of giving any energy to that idea, I battled it: I wrote about it, declared my opposition to it, and then went and ate what I wanted to eat yesterday without another thought about it. No obsessing, no measuring, no tracking. I decided to have a great day yesterday at the weight I am at. I did everything and put off nothing until I lost a few pounds.

While I was running this morning, I had a vision of all the scales, fitbits, calorie-tracking apps, weight-loss books, diet pills, shakes, everything the diet industry tries to sell us being sucked down a giant vacuous hole. I imagined what the world would be like if there were no more Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, Jennie Craig…if all of it just disappeared along with all before and after pictures, Tab soda, and rice cakes. The world would miss none of it, and in fact, would feel so much more free.

And then in that same vision, I imagined if I got back every bit of time I ever invested in thinking about weight loss: all the time I spent planning the next diet, counting calories, weighing whether or not to eat something, weighing actual food items, entering calorie counts in a little notebook or an app, looking at my fitbit, reading weight loss books, reading weight loss stories in magazines or on the internet, feeling bad about myself for how much I currently weighed, and all the time I was forced to listen to cruel people make remarks about my weight when I was in elementary school and junior high. What if I could have back the time I wasted trying to find clothes that actually fit me when I wanted to shop in the stores the other girls shopped in back in the 1980’s? Imagine if I could get a refund on the time I spent trying to burn off the calories – all those miles around the track, all those hours on the stairmaster, every minute I spent at the gym out of self-hatred instead of self-love? I figure the first 30-40 minutes of most of my workouts exist because working out makes me feel good,  and if it goes much beyond that it is usually to punish myself for past transgressions or make up for future ones. What if I could have all that time back?

And the money! The money I spent buying food I hated, another exercise DVD, another book, another pedometer, another plan – what if I could have all of it back?

I would likely be ten years younger and ten thousand dollars richer.

And that is a modest estimation.

My first diet: For many years, since very early elementary, I had been bullied because of my weight. I was lucky I also had good friends, but it’s hard to describe how incessantly I faced name-calling and harassment because of my size. There were certain ‘mean kids’ I tried my hardest to avoid, but they were everywhere. The worst part was that this was before schools started cracking down on bullying and so most of the time the bullies were not punished and I just accepted it was all my fault. I slinked around the edges of the hallways and classrooms trying not to be noticed too much – because if I was noticed, I was so often ridiculed. When the meanest, most consistent bully of all ended up sitting behind me in eighth grade Algebra class, each day was torture. I think I ended up hating math mostly because of him. Every day he hissed insults at me and made me the butt of his jokes to his friends sitting near us.

In retrospect, how I wish I had simply asked the teacher if I could be moved to a new seat – but like I said, I blamed myself. Wasn’t it my fault for being too big, taking up too much space, existing? If I could just magically shrink and be able to wear those cute little jeans and sweaters my classmates wore, everything would be fine.

My mom knew how miserable I was. I talked about wanting to diet and she gave me a list she had gotten from the doctor of the calorie amounts of about 500 different foods. The doctor intended it for my dad since my father had gained a lot of weight in recent years, but I took that list and made it my bible. That whole summer, I ate no more than 1200 calories a day (usually far less) and exercised like it was my job. Mom bought me a little red track suit I wore as I starved and sweated. I lost weight. I laid in bed at night dreaming up elaborate fantasies of the reactions of my friends when they saw me again.

And it was as glorious as I knew it would be. People could hardly recognize me with my new figure that was still slowly shrinking and mom bought me some new clothes, too. It seemed everyone in the entire school needed to comment on my weight loss and suddenly the mean kids were mute around me. They weren’t outwardly friendly to me, but at least they weren’t being vicious mean anymore.

It was like a match to dry grass then, the way I took to dieting. To finally feel acceptable, pretty, even admired – there was nothing as intoxicating as that. I kicked the weight-loss efforts into beast mode. I was having a small nutrition shake for breakfast, a mustard sandwich (because mustard has no calories) for lunch, and maybe a few saltines and chicken noodle soup for supper.   I savored each bite, trying to make my meager meals last as long as I possibly could. I had an exercise routine I followed religiously after school for two hours: jumping rope, ‘toning’ exercises, situps, repeat, repeat, repeat.

It was all very satisfying for a while. I could ignore the hunger pains because the scale was heading in the ‘right’ direction and at the end of all my hard work I was going to look just like the models in the magazines and never have to worry about food or insults or fat ever again. It’s amazing what a person can do with the promise of something like that shining like a beacon out in front of you.

Except it was a false promise.

I did shrink and I got down to the size of my friends, but life wasn’t magically perfect. I was still shy and kind of a dork, just a thinner one. And then, on top of that, I was still SO HUNGRY! I was hungry to my core. I was so hungry that I felt on-edge, jittery, and weak all at the same time. I tried mightily to hold on to the starving, the small amount of calories I was ingesting each day, but eventually biology won out over self-control, and the binging began. Diet #1 over. A lifelong rollercoaster of weight-loss, weight-gain, and mental turmoil only just begun.

That is what is so maddening about it all when I look back over my journey with dieting – the promise was false.

While all along my body had been running perfectly, trying to tell me what it needed and to settle at a weight pleasing to it, I battled it in return. I believed what media and friends and ‘health experts’ and everyone else told me and promised me rather than just listening to what my body needed.  How else was my body supposed to respond to my starving it, except to binge?

I won’t get all the time, energy, and money back that I lost to the diet industry. It’s gone forever. And while I have always said I have very few regrets in this life, I am coming to understand that this loss is something I regret. I grieve for the girl I was who lost herself in the morass of diet culture.

But I am thankful for the woman I am who is finding my way out.

 

When You Were Young

By the Killers

You sit there in your heartache
Waiting on some beautiful boy to
To save your from your old ways
You play forgiveness
Watch it now, here he comes

He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus
But he talks like a gentlemen
Like you imagined when you were young

Can we climb this mountain
I don’t know
Higher now than ever before
I know we can make it if we take it slow
Let’s take it easy
Easy now, watch it go

We’re burning down the highway skyline
On the back of a hurricane that started turning
When you were young
When you were young

And sometimes you close your eyes
And see the place where you used to live
When you were young

They say the devil’s water, it ain’t so sweet
You don’t have to drink right now
But you can dip your feet
Every once in a little while

You sit there in your heartache
Waiting on some beautiful boy to
To save you from your old ways
You play forgiveness
Watch it now, here he comes

He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus
But he talks like a gentlemen
Like you imagined when you were young
(Talks like a gentlemen, like you imagined)
When you were young

I said he doesn’t look a thing like Jesus
He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus
But more than you’ll ever know

 

 

 

 

She’s a Beauty

Reflections on Shuffle-Play (a daily exercise to write a reflection based on a song from my morning run)

What antagonizes me is all the mental energy I have given it over the years. Even though I have worked hard to battle it, still, whenever anything is wrong or upsetting in life, my first reaction is to return to it – my crutch, my solution, my goal that I hate.

I’m referring to the rollercoaster that is dieting.

This is how the storyline goes:

On an otherwise unremarkable every-day, I decide that something in my life is uncontrollable or vexing and I feel the frustration in my body. Even if I had previously been totally satisfied and comfortable in my skin, a sudden loneliness or frustration or anxiety occurs and my knee-jerk reaction is to blame my stomach that is unacceptably rotund or my infuriatingly sturdy legs.

One way or another, I decide it is time to take control of the situation and monitor my caloric intake. Diet. I have called it other things: finding balance, cutting out the junk, being healthy, taking care of myself, eating clean – but ultimately it is all the same thing: dieting.

And I am really quite good at it. Why the heck wouldn’t I be? Anything a person has done most of their life since they were 15 they would be good at.

I know how to watch every morsel I eat.

I know what food has more calories and what food has less.

I know where the hidden calories are and how to avoid them.

I know how to ‘lighten up’ dishes and use smaller plates.

I know how to add in lots of greens and other veggies! Yes! (Because you’ll definitely lose all your taste for junk food forever if you just eat more greens!)

I know how to stay out of difficult situations or prepare for them by bringing along food.

I know how to remain satisfied so I don’t get too hungry and go off ‘the plan’.

And I know that within a few weeks, people will begin to notice, my efforts will begin to pay off, and the compliments will start to come – and they will feel like the sweetest, most savory reward. “Have you lost weight?”  “You look great!” And I smile a self-satisfied smile to myself.

By this time I might be starting to get rid of some of my old ‘fat’ clothes and spending a little more time in front of the mirror, admiring my shrinking shape. I’ll shake my head and think to myself, “I can’t believe I had let myself gain so much weight again.” Tsk Tsk. Never again. And I will feel such pure satisfaction and pleasure at my resolve, my courage, my tenacity, my ability to take up less space in this world now. Even though I banished the scale to the dark recesses of the closet a few years ago, I won’t be able to resist dragging it out to watch the numbers confirm what I already know. I’m slimming down. I’m trimming down. More acceptable, attractive, and positively tiny by the day.

And then I will start to weigh myself every day. Because why not? Isn’t this super fun? Isn’t this just the best time ever? To be obsessed with each morsel I am putting in my mouth, fixated on what fits me again, enchanted by my cheekbones reappearing, but never fully satisfied because there’s always more weight to lose. “Just keep working at it, Ruth. Just a few more pounds. Be patient.” And I settle in for the painfully slow, death dirge which is any weight loss that comes after the first 10-15 pounds.

But knowing it will never be enough. Never. Losing weight is the really un-fun game that never ever ends.

But back to how things go:  Then, I get hungry. Or shaky. Or tired. Or bored. Boredom is a big one: I can lose weight easily when I stick to a tiny menu of ‘safe’ things – but, like most living creatures, I adore food and flavor and after a while, usually about six weeks, I would rather pluck out my eyeballs than stick to the same claustrophobic eating plan day after day, week after week. I decide to give myself a break, and the break feels so good that I slowly slip away from worshipping at the altar of all my ‘healthy habits’. Even as I cower under the guilt of succumbing to my appetite yet again, I savor being able to enjoy pizza with my kids, cream in my coffee, a piece of the birthday cake at the party without worrying all the dang time about calories, fat content, the size of my rear-end…

Until I decide it is time to take control of the situation and monitor my caloric intake…

Put this cycle on repeat, to more or less degrees of freneticism, and you have the last 32 years of my life.

On good days, I can say I have put dieting behind me, that I am past all that crap and I no longer waste time on it – and that can be true for months and months at a time. I won’t weigh myself, I eat intuitively what sounds good to me, I exercise daily but just because I love it, I’ll soften all the incessant ‘rules’ about food and just live. I like being in that mental place. It is a relief, because then I’m able to focus my energy on things that actually matter: my family, my writing, work, travel, living and enjoying life!

But that seed of insecurity still lives in me and sometimes it still grows strong. I crave the affirmation, the self-satisfied weird pleasure that comes from giving in and just dieting a bit – shrinking into the ideals of the world around me.

In 2012, I finally received my doctoral degree after nearly six years of hard work (not to mention I did it while raising my small children, and while going through the sickness and death of my parents). While everyone around me knew this was a big accomplishment for me, any accolades or congratulations I received were sparse and lukewarm at best.

That same year, I lost a significant amount of weight…and you would think I found the cure for cancer with how people were in awe of me for that, constantly stopping me at church and on the street to compliment me.

I knew how lopsided it was – to be congratulated for counting calories, to be congratulated for not putting stuff in my mouth, for taking up less space in the world. I knew it was messed up that this seemed like my really big accomplishment that year – to others, and to me, too.

But this is the price we pay for the world we live in. This is what I get for growing up in this culture, a child of the 80’s, subjected my whole life to commercials featuring thin, thinner, thinnest. Heavier people being portrayed in media as punchlines, sexless, expendable, or just plain invisible.

Most of the time now I fight this ridiculous culture, I damn the word ‘diet’ to hell, and just eat when I’m hungry, stop when I’m full, and exercise for no other reason than it makes me feel good and I love it. But just yesterday I found myself lingering over the image of a new diet book on Amazon, wondering if I maybe ought to try it.

But I won’t! I won’t, because dear Lord, I don’t want to look back over my life someday and realize I spent most of this gorgeous existence on the hamster wheel of dieting. It would be different if the outcome was ever something new, but it is always the same – for me and for 95% of people who go on a diet: Yes, weight is almost always lost with dieting, but eventually the weight always comes back, and oftentimes more than what was lost in the first place.

I want my children to remember me as a person who was passionate about all sorts of interesting things, that I loved and lived extravagantly – not with my head buried in a little book where I tediously wrote down my calories and exercises for the day, not bound to a cycle of consistent, certain, repetitive frustration. Let me give my energy toward celebrating this strong body, this healthy body that has never had to be on medication for anything even though according to the body mass index charts I have been considered “obese” most of my adult life, this body that has borne two healthy children, this body that has climbed mountains and run marathons, and holds my brain which is full of good, kind thoughts.

It’s so hard to shake the seduction of dieting. She’ll always call out to me, promising all sorts of false glory, but I am so infinitely tired of her. She’s already stolen way too much of my time, energy, thought process, and money. Not a second, a smidge, a dime more.  Join me, for your sake and for the sake of the generations who follow us and say a huge, emphatic NO to the diet industry. Tell them to take their diet books, plans, monitors, pills, bands, meditation CD’s, exercise DVD’s etc. and shove them all. Join me in ceasing the effort to take up less space in the world.  You are never “bad” for eating the delicious cake. You are lovely – no matter if your pants are snug or loose today. You are so freaking beautiful, just as you are, in the body that God gave you.

She’s a Beauty

By The Tubes

Step right up and don’t be shy
Because you will not believe your eyes
She’s right here, behind the glass
You know you’re gonna like her ’cause she’s got class

You can look inside another world
You get to talk to a pretty girl
She’s everything you dream about

(But don’t fall in love) She’s a beauty
(She’s one in a million girls) She’s a beauty
(Why would I lie?) Why would I lie?

You can say anything you like
But you can’t touch the merchandise
She’ll give you every penny’s worth
But it will cost you a dollar first

You can step outside your little world
(Step outside your world)
You can talk to a pretty girl
She’s everything you dream about

(But don’t fall in love) She’s a beauty
(She’s one in a million girls) One in a million girls
(Why would I lie?) Why would I lie?
(But don’t fall in love) If you do, you’ll find out she don’t love you
(She’s one in a million girls) One in a million girls
(Why would I lie?) Now why would I lie? Uh

(Step outside your world)

(But don’t fall in love) She’s a beauty
(She’s one in a million girls) One in a million girls
(Why would I lie?) Now why would I lie?
(But don’t fall in love) If you do, you’ll find out she don’t love you
(She’s one in a million girls) One in a million girls
(Why would I lie?) Why would I lie?

(But don’t fall in love)
(She’s one in a million girls)
(Why would I lie?)