I’m not on a diet

I’m the only person I know who isn’t on a diet. (This doesn’t apply to women anymore. My brothers-in-law have been on special diets since the day I met them.) I’ve heard it said that people have always been like this, but I feel that it’s gotten worse in the last five years. I’ve overheard more conversations about Weight Watchers, calories, sugars, carbs, and work out routines now than I ever did in high school. I’m finding it increasingly harder not to care about these things, but I think it’s important that I continue to not care.

Let me explain.

As I went through high school, I suffered from low self-esteem and body image issues. (Big deal, some of you are thinking, Name a girl that hasn’t. Exactly my point! I’ll get to it in a bit). Mine is the kind of body type that doesn’t change. I’ve gone up 10 pounds and lost 10 pounds over and over again since I was thirteen years old. I tried my best in PE, I tried doing 30 minute workouts on my own, I cut my portion sizes (not by much but still, I made an effort), and I never seemed to weigh more or less than 10 pounds from my last recorded weight. It was very frustrating. Here was my older sister, all 130 pounds, 5 feet 9 inches of her, fitting into the cute pants and blouses without even trying. She could even pull off tight clothing without getting reprimanded by my parents because she had little to no curves. Man, I was jealous!

My parents would take one good look at me in the morning, point to my bedroom door, and say, “Change,” eight times out of ten. I didn’t dress provocatively or in an attention-seeking way. Half of the time, my clothes weren’t as tight as my sister’s. But because I had curves, I had to dress differently than she did. Now I don’t blame my parents. I know now that they were just trying to protect me, keep my body a mystery to everyone and teach me to dress conservatively. But it was hard enough finding something that I felt good while wearing, and to have them force me to change all those times, just made things worse.

It wasn’t until I was nineteen that I had an epiphany and realized that there was nothing wrong with me. My hair was curly and never seemed to fall straight. That was okay. I knew enough girls with straight hair by then to realize that most of them wished they had my hair. I had curves. That was okay, too. I learned that my sister was jealous of my body type and sometimes wished she could fill a pair of jeans the way I did! Slowly but surely, I put all the pieces together and came to the conclusion that God had intentionally made me this way. If I had turned out differently, I wouldn’t be me. (I’m pretty sure God also made me the way that He did so that I would be attractive to my husband. Just saying.) Finally, it seemed, I was starting to like myself.

So you can probably understand now why thinking about diets, work out routines, and scales is a negative thing for me. It’s just too easy to go back to that dark place, to looking at the things I don’t like about my body and feeling ugly. I don’t ever want to go back to that.

That’s not to say that I don’t care about being healthy, because I do. My husband and I are running together twice a week. I don’t drink coffee or soda very often and I never have energy drinks. Water is my favorite. I still try to watch my portion sizes, and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. My husband and I eat mostly chicken and lean beef, with shrimp and salmon dishes scattered in between. So I am trying; I’m just not working toward the goal of looking a particular way. My body looks like it belongs in a Renaissance painting instead of on the cover of Vogue, and that’s okay. I’m healthy. I’m happy. My husband thinks I’m hot. And I think that’s all that really matters. I’m not claiming that this attitude is easy. There are still times I glance at myself in the mirror and do a double take, eyes narrowing at that little bit of belly fat clinging to my hips and abdomen. But I can’t stay there. I know that now.

I wish there was some way I could spread this feeling, this certainty and confidence, to people all around the world. It’s not just single men and women or slightly larger men and women who suffer from this self-deprecating mentality. I know several married people, whose spouses love their bodies and tell them so, who still hate the way they look. There are smaller, thinner women I know who wish they could fill out their clothes a little more and just can’t gain weight. And I’m sure the taller, thinner men out there would love thick muscles and abs. Why? Where does this wishing-to-look-like-someone-else come from? What causes us to latch onto the lie that we’re ugly or not as attractive as so-and-so? When did looking-this-way become more important than being healthy? Who gave beautiful a definition, a body type? It’s 2017, the year of acceptance. Why is it still so hard to accept our own bodies?

It starts within us. No matter how many times my parents and family members told me I was beautiful, I just couldn’t believe it. (They loved me. They had to tell me that.) It took time and God’s gentle prodding to make me see myself the way He did; priceless, gorgeous, made on purpose. Stop looking at yourself in the mirror and obsessing about all the things you don’t like. Look for things you do like, accept the compliments people give you, try to see yourself through their eyes. Write notes to yourself, find inspirational quotes, encourage other people who are in the same boat you’re in. Continue eating the right foods and exercising, but be intentional about changing this negative mentality. It’s not good for you. Nothing can be gained by it, nothing except more internal criticism, dissatisfaction, and depression.

Remember…”You’re beautiful! You’re beautiful, it’s true!”

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Another stab at poetry

She sits in the corner, quietly, meekly

Listening, seldom contributing to the

Conversations, crashing, roaring like the sea

She speaks and all listen now

Patiently, reverently, as she plods

Through an analogy or brings their attention to

Another point of view.

Sweet, kind great grandmother, white-faced

And weathered by time, docile as a doe

But stronger than bullet-proof vests used

By soldiers, and brave as any of their

Commanding officers. We played in her yard,

Drew on her sidewalk, ate ice cream under the

Porch, walked down the street to the waves

And stretch of beach there. She followed along with

A smile and a cheerful heart, despite being weary

With age. She crawled over the floor on knobby knees,

Joining our dolls in adventures, enticing us to come

And play together, despite disagreements. Back

Oh, I’d go back if I could, fleeing from

This world without great grandmother’s

Driveway, a path through rose bushes tall as hills

Leading to sanctuary, leading to a place of

Laughter, food, and fun. Now she lives high

Up in the sky, away from the water,

The people, the places she loved.

She’s at peace, although, we all

Live with our grief, large

Ever-present clouds looming above.

Still, day by day I find

Those clouds dissipating.

Steadily they make their reluctant retreat,

Lightning seething across a sky after a storm.

And the memories, precious, heartbreaking,

Lovely, remain.

My worst nightmare

“I feel it physically—half of me turns to smoke. The corners of the room go dim, and from about the rig cage down, my body feels numb as the ghost limb of an amputee. It’s what happens when I’m about to write something that frightens me. Freaking yourself out is an occupational hazard for a horror writer. It’s also, if you rise to the challenge it presents, a great opportunity to hone your craft.” -Michael Marano


Something woke me up that night. To the day, I’m still not sure.

When I opened my eyes, the room was completely silent. It wasn’t until I rolled over that I saw the clown standing at the foot of my bed. He wore a pale white face mask with a big, red nose, pink cheeks, crazed blue eyes, a large eerie smile, and frizzy orange hair attached to the back. He was even dressed in large, colorful clothes. My heart leapt into my throat and still I managed to scream. I’d had this nightmare before, but this wasn’t a dream. The knife in his hand glinted in the moonlight, revealing a smear of blood. My first thought went to the children. Which one of them had been ruthlessly murdered in their sleep? But then I remembered the silence. The dog! The intruder must have killed her first to be sure she wouldn’t warn me.

My stomach turned at the thought of my Australian shepherd, but I couldn’t dwell on that. I had to act. I threw myself over the side of the bed, snatching my phone from the bedside table before I could hit the ground. The clown was on me in a second. His knees hit the floor as he straddled me and then proceeded to jab the knife at my face. I squirmed and screamed some more, releasing the phone to wrestle the knife out of his hands. We struggled, but not for too long. He was stronger than I was. The knife came down before I could stop it and nicked my cheek, burning like a deep paper cut. I twisted my hips, yanking his wrists down and away from my face. The clown crashed into the wall with a curse. I scrambled away, crawling as quickly as I could on my hands and knees until I reached the door. Then I jumped up and ran out of the room.

“Simon! Corey! Deliah!” I half-sobbed, half-shouted. “Wake up!” I dashed across the shadowed living room, almost tripping over the ottoman. I made it to my eldest’s room and threw the door open.

Simon sat up, instantly alert and afraid. “Mom? What’s going on?” 

I gripped him by the shoulders, heart hammering painfully against my ribs. “There’s someone in the house. I need you to get your brother and sister, and—”

Simon’s blue eyes bulged as he stared at something behind me. I spun around, arms out to my sides to protect my ten-year-old son. The clown’s mask was hanging crookedly on his face, revealing curly black hair and a sliver of pale skin. Despite his terrifying appearance, he was human and able to be reasoned with.

“We don’t have much, but you can take whatever you want,” I said, voice wavering. “Just, please, don’t hurt my children.”

“I don’t want any of your crap!” the clown growled. “Pedro Hernandez sends your husband his regards.” And then he lunged. 

I heard my son cry out and hoped he was diving out of bed. I tried to duck around my attacker, but he snatched me by the front of my nightshirt and threw me back onto the bed. The knife was coming down again. I blindly reached out, snatched the first thing my fingers touched (it felt like Simon’s batman alarm clock), and smashed it against the side of the clown’s head. He roared in pain and dropped the knife. I elbowed him in the face and kneed him in the groin as I wriggled to get free. My son was crawling frantically for the door once I had disentangled myself from the clown.

I raced after him, grabbed him by his armpits, and hauled him to his feet. “Get your brother and sister to safety, and call your dad!” Then I gave him a shove out the door.

The sharp end of the knife burst from my abdomen, splattering the back of my son’s shirt with blood. I gasped as my brain registered the pain. I stumbled forward.

Simon must’ve felt the wetness on his back because he turned and screamed. “MOM!”

I collapsed against the wall in the hallway, struggling to breathe, heart stuttering in fear. The knife was roughly tugged out from behind me. I tried to keep moving, tried to get away, but a hand grabbed a fistful of my hair and yanked me back. This time the end of the knife pushed through my chest. The world was growing fuzzy at the corners, my mind wild with panic and pain. My son stood frozen just a little ways away, face pale, mouth open in a silent scream. Then anger was twisting his mouth into a snarl and he came charging down the hall to take out my assailant’s knees. 

I wanted to yell at him, tell him to run away, tell him to find his siblings and run. Instead, I made a strange gurgling sound and slumped to the floor. I could hear them wrestling behind me, my son shouting, the clown swearing. Then two other pairs of feet were running toward me. I looked up into the faces of child number two and three. Deliah was crying as she fell to her knees and reached out to take my face in her little hands. Corey, dark hair falling in to his eyes, looked around wildly, as if searching for some way to help me.

“Get…Dad,” I managed to croak. “Simon…stop…”

“Call 911,” Corey told his little sister and then he was running over to help his brother.

“No.” I clawed after him but he was already out of reach. 

“Daddy,” Deliah sobbed as she jumped to her feet. “I-I’ll call Daddy.” She ran into the kitchen, bright pink Hello Kitty pajamas fading into the darkness.

It was getting increasingly harder to breathe. I knew at least one lung had to be collapsing or filling with blood. I coughed and wheezed and fought to remain conscious. I had to help my children. I had to do something. But then, quite suddenly, the darkness swallowed me up.

 

I came to when my husband called my name. I peeled my eyes open to see him sitting beside me, holding my hand, leaning in anxiously. He was still in uniform; his badge winked at me in the bright fluorescent light shining from above. He looked exhausted. There were stress lines across his big, handsome face, his blonde hair was askew, and the hazel eyes that were always so quick to smile were dark with worry. Wherever we were was rocking and rumbling. There were two other men in there with us, hooking me up to machines and pressing wads of gauze against my wounds. I could distantly hear the wailing of sirens.

My husband let out a choked laugh when he saw that I was awake. He kissed my forehead and managed to say, “You’re all right. Everything’s going to be all right.”

I couldn’t speak. They’d put a tube down my throat or something. I wanted to ask about the children. He must’ve read my mind because he added, “The kids are fine. One of the neighbors heard the screams and called 911. Some guys from the station got there just in time to pull Simon and Corey away from that creep. We got him, babe. We got the clown.”

That was all I needed to hear. I gave his hand a squeeze and closed my eyes.

On branches and weeds

“Babe?”

“Yeah?”

“Have you decided what you want to do about the yard?”

A casual glance through the front window. “Nope.”

“Okay.”

My husband and I had been having this same conversation for four months. The two trees in our front yard were so over grown that the leaves were only inches away from the ground. One exceptionally long branch was hanging over the street, waiting for a strong wind to knock it into one of our neighbor’s cars. Our yard was a hazard and an eye-sore. We both knew it and we both wanted to do something about it. We looked into hiring a landscaper. We had seen several trucks on our block and they had all very helpfully stuffed their cards through the screen door. Still, every offer seemed too expensive. In my eyes, the logical thing to do would be to trim the trees ourselves, but we didn’t have the tools or friends we could borrow the tools from.

“Besides,” my husband would always say. “Our trashcans are too small to fit that big branch and all of those leaves. They would just end up in a big pile in the back yard, and I don’t want to have to deal with that.”

I asked if he could borrow some tools from work since they sometimes have to do landscaping around their billboards. I volunteered to help him so that we could get the task done quicker. I suggested renting a dumpster to put the branch in. I did everything in my power to make the job sound easier than it was. There was always a good reason why he couldn’t ask his boss about the tools or why this weekend wasn’t a good weekend to take care of the yard or why renting a dumpster wouldn’t work. Meanwhile, the wind kept blowing and the rain kept coming and before we knew it, there was a jungle of weeds in our backyard tall enough to touch my hips. I started pulling them myself but the task was daunting, especially since four hours of pulling weeds had barely put a dent in the sea of plant parasites in our backyard.

I didn’t want to nag him. Nagging men doesn’t ever seem to work. I watched my mother do it and it only ever seemed to make my dad angry. He would make his decision/do that one chore/buy that one appliance/paint the fence/file that document/get rid of the clutter in the backyard when he was good and ready, and no amount of complaining or begging was going to change that. (He always did get it done, just not when my mother wanted it done.) I tried nagging my little brother about his chores in the years after my older siblings were out of the house, my parents were both still working, and it was just the two of us on Saturday mornings. Mom had given us both responsibilities and I had done my share. I didn’t think it fair that he got to laze around and told him so. It would take an hour of his day tops to do his laundry, clean his room, and take out the trash. But no! He didn’t feel like doing it right then so he wasn’t going to do it. I would yell and scream until I had no voice and no dignity, and he would still sit there, very calmly, and say, “Nope. Don’t wanna.” (My little brother and I get along great now, by the way.)

The same thing pretty much happens with my husband. Neither of us have ever gotten angry enough to yell at each other, but we’ve gotten frustrated and annoyed with each other when I ask him do to anything repeatedly and he doesn’t do it immediately. Every time, he has stated very clearly that he heard me the first time and he does indeed plan on doing that thing I asked him to do, just not at the exact moment I would like this thing to be done. At times, I’ve been able to remember that I love this man and I chose to marry this man and, with that choice, I also vowed to respect this man whether he drops what he’s doing to do what I want him to do or not. And at other times, I simply stew in the corner, muttering under my breath about the “stubbornness of dwarves.” (Hobbit reference to those of you who are raising your eyebrows right now.) As you have probably concluded, the former response is the more mature and loving response, and the one I think we should all strive to achieve in situations like these.

So I decided to be patient despite the fact that the yards made my stomach turn every time I looked at them. He knows it bothers me, I reasoned. To some degree, it bothers him too. I just have to wait until it bothers him enough to push him to do something about it. That’s not to say I didn’t gently prompt him now and then with the, “Have you decided what you want to do about the yard?” question. But I don’t think he considered that to be nagging because he never became frustrated or upset with me when I asked.

Finally, the blessed day arrived when I pulled into the garage and looked over at my husband’s truck to see heavy duty gardening tools. Once inside, I saw my husband sitting before the TV, playing his video games, with the curtains drawn away from the sliding glass doors. (Usually, he keeps the curtains closed because he claims the light from outside causes a terrible glare against his screen.) It was a wonderful sight to behold; a clean-cut back yard without any sign of weeds. I expressed my joy by falling into his lap, throwing my arms around his neck, and kissing him repeatedly. I might have been a tad overly dramatic, but I have no regrets.

He trimmed the trees the next morning. I raked up all the leaves and thinner branches for him and we filled our trashcan plus two large garbage bags. He took out the chainsaw and cut down that dangerously long branch. Then he cut it into smaller pieces and we loaded them into the bed of his truck. We took a little trip to the landfill and bid a very short farewell to that branch. Then it was off to Smashburger for a date we couldn’t afford. While I’m usually very frugal and disciplined about going out to eat when we really shouldn’t, I was happy to charge it to the credit card. And while I’m usually very self-conscious about the way I look in public, I sported a messy high pony tail, an old Spider-Man T-shirt, jean shorts, and my running shoes without a care. Because our yards were clean, our trees looked beautiful, my husband was in a good mood, and we were eating great food.

“In the sweetness of friendship, let there be laughter and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things, the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.” I don’t know who Khalil Gibran is, but he’s a wise man. I think sometimes I get so caught up in being a wife that I forget to be a friend. I could’ve said something along the lines of, “Finally!” or “It’s about time you finally got this done!” or “If you’d just listened to me four months ago, this would have been done by now!” but that would’ve changed the day completely. It would’ve led to an argument. Instead, we were able to work as a team and enjoy lunch afterwards, teasing and talking and just being together. As a couple but also as friends.

I’m so thankful that my husband and I can do things like that. We can work, run errands, do chores, even sit together in the same room (him playing his video games, me watching Gilmore Girls on the laptop), and be refreshed. Together. And I think it’s because of the way we choose to respond to one another in potentially upsetting situations. Did I have a right to be mad? I think so. Did he have a right to lay into me for asking him about the yards every so often? No matter how gentle or nice I was about it, I was still repeating myself so, yes, he probably did have a right to become frustrated with me. But I know my husband; he’s not a lazy, good-for-nothing, moocher who waits until I get tired enough to just do whatever it is I want done myself. He had a timetable that was different from mine, and respecting that brought forth good results. And he knows me; he knows my intentions are good, even if I sometimes let my emotions or other circumstances get the best of me. The key, I think, is remembering the truths about each other and using those truths to shape our responses.

I don’t pretend to know everything about marriage. After all, I’m still a newly-wed. (We’ll be celebrating our second anniversary at the end of May. Woohoo!) But I think we’ve got a good thing going on here, and if I can share it with others, maybe even be of some help, I will.