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Feeling Fat, Angst, and OH MY GOSH I AM NOW ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE!

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Notice: I swore I would never write about being fat and how much I hate it or start writing about a “weight loss journey” because I am NOT one of those people, except, OH MY GOSH NOW I AM ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE. I am doing it and I am both disgusted by myself and proud of myself for putting this out into the world. I did not write this to fish for compliments. I generally like myself and pride myself on being authentic and relatable. That said, I wouldn’t mind being authentic and relatable and also a swimsuit model. Of course, the good Lord knew this and knew I would shamelessly flaunt my assets, so to keep me humble, he made me too short, pasty skinned, and gave me the bone structure of a circa 1970s Little People toy, even when I was young and thin. I will never frolic on a Brazilian beach in a thong bikini, posing for Sports Illustrated, which annoys me, but God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…

Little People 2

I turn 40 this year.  That sounds so old to me, and yes, I am a little angsty over it.  In my head, I still feel like I’m 18, so it never fails to shock me when I see the dumpy, middle aged woman in the mirror.  Who even IS THAT? But I can’t even ask myself “How did this happen?” I know how it happened. My response to stress and big feelings has always been to eat. I am high strung and sensitive, despite my attempts to appear happy-go-lucky and chill, so I am always over-emoting one way or another. EAT ALL THE FOOD, GIRL! 

Over the years, I have sometimes dabbled and sometimes been serious about exercise and diet.  When I have been serious about it, as when I was training daily in Krav Maga and religiously counting calories, I dropped 23 lbs in four months, which was totally awesome. I was still heavier than I wanted to be, but I felt so much better. Then I got a concussion that prevented me from being able to work out for about six months.  It was awful.  And so I ate.  All the weight I lost, I regained, and then some.  Eventually, I started working out again (though not nearly as intensely as before, because the older I’ve gotten, the longer it takes me to recover) but I haven’t been able to push the numbers on the scale (or the pants size) down.  I am strong and I have pretty good endurance, and I know there are some awesome muscles under there, but I feel like I’m wearing one of those inflatable Sumo suits. I hover between a size 18 and 20, which is the largest I have ever been, even pregnant. I know I need to (again) couple my exercise with calorie counting.

sumo suit

My outward appearance does not match the me in my head.  It hasn’t for some time (like, 20 years) and I’ve just sort of tried to ignore it, or blow it off with some humor, or even Pollyanna my way through all the work it takes to look and feel half decent. But now I’m just mad.  I have reached the stage in life where it takes me longer to recover from everything from staying up late to walking the dog. I find myself saying things like “I’m just glad that everything is still working okay,” (which is true) and “I want to lose weight to be healthy, I’m not concerned about looking a certain way,” (which is a lie, because I want to look hot. I want a slim waistline, no belly flab, and perky butt and boobs again.  Is that so much to ask?) My kids  and their friends see me as the fun, but decidedly matronly mom. (I am not opposed to being seen as the FUN MOM, but the FAT MOM? Ugh.) I cannot wear the styles I like because my limbs end up looking like sausages about to burst their cases, or like I put on a circus tent.   I hate this. I HAAAAAATE this.  There is no amount of camouflaging, lighting, smoke and mirrors, or contouring that can hide this.  On the upside, I really do like working out.  A few years ago, Krav Maga classes helped me discover the joy of really moving and working my body. I love feeling muscles move and stretch and burn. I just wish they’d burn calories more efficiently, like when I was 24 or even 34. Come on, guys—get it together!

contouring

I know I’m fat because of my own choices, and I am working on this. Exercising more, but also (and more importantly) watching my calories and trying to make smart food choices. I don’t even like junk food much, I just like to eat A LOT of the healthy stuff, and apparently, eating A LOT of healthy stuff still makes you fat.  Stupid, man. That’s just stupid.  But, I am sucking it up and disciplining myself. I’ve done it before and I know it works.  I am beginning to see progress again but it is SO. SLOW.  And so easily undone.  I want results NOW, darn it!  This discipline stuff is hard. And annoying.  And why does my body want to cling to every pound harder now that I’m pushing 40? Why do my muscles and joints ache after two consecutive days of Krav Maga or kickboxing workouts? Or 45 stupid minutes on the elliptical?  Life is not fair. Wahhhh!!!

A few months ago, I printed off some inspirational quotes and stuck them to my bathroom mirror, so that every day, I’d see them and read them and be reminded that “I’m doing this for me” and “Nothing tastes as good as fit feels” and “I can get up and get scared or I can get up and get ready.” But this kind of inspo is not working. It is not me.  I have read these horrible quotes so much that now I greet my mirror and my Scotch taped messages with the scorn of a thousand Grumpy Cat memes. 

grumpy cat

 

I joined a workout group at my gym a little while ago, complete with a hard-nose personal trainer. I worked out for 12 weeks with this group and this trainer and while it was fun, I was in good enough shape (under the chub) that it wasn’t much of a challenge.  I couldn’t relate to the trainer at all.  She is fit and she knows her stuff, and she is no-nonsense, but she has never had children and has been a gym rat since high school.  She doesn’t get so bloated the week before and during her period that she doesn’t fit into her jeans.  In fact, she doesn’t wear jeans.  She told me this—she only wears compression shorts. (Occupational necessity, I guess.) Also, she’s 26.   I like her as a person, I admire that she knows 125 variations of squats and can kettlebell with the best of them, and has killer triceps and a butt you can bounce a quarter off, but does she get that just because she can bench press a billion pounds doesn’t mean she can take a hit from a guy twice her size and stay standing? Does she have to cross her legs when she sneezes so she doesn’t pee her pants?

I don’t know that there is a trainer for me in the real world (that I can afford.) So, I decided to make one up.  Yes, I have an imaginary personal trainer.  He (yes, he. I can’t bring myself to swear at a lady.) is a cross between Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson,Tony Stark, and Gru, from Despicable Me.  Make fun of me if you will. At least I finally figured out what motivates me.  Smack talk. Anger. Masochism. Macabre silliness. A vaguely Slavic accent. His name is Hulk Smash, because I am incapable of zealous earnestness.   He is the perfect trainer for me because he does not spout fitspo at me.  He barks at me to quit whining and stay on task.  When I swear at him and tell him to go to hell, because I’d rather eat that second helping or sleep in, he gives me a dead-eyed stare as he swats the muffin out of my hands, grinds it underfoot, and orders more time on the treadmill, more reps, more burpees. He is relentless.  When I am feeling discouraged or lazy, he calls me a pansy-ass sissy and reminds me how much I like to hit things. The angrier I get, the harder he laughs. The more he laughs, the harder I work.  When I’m done working out, he applauds me with, “That’s all you got, Hellcat? You better bring your A-game tomorrow.” At that point, I flip him a friendly bird and we call it a day.

 

go work out

My favorite bloggers

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I read a lot of blogs, because I am interested in how other people think and live.   I also just like to read good writers.  Here are some of my favorites:

 

Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

This blog was the first one I started following—my friend Ann turned me on to it because we both liked writing and good food and recipes.  My very first blog, www.wheresthebeefbaby.blogspot.com was very much a copy cat attempt at food writing.  I realized early on, however, that I like writing about lots of other stuff besides food, and enjoyed reading Mel’s food and recipe blog more than I liked writing my own.

 

Rage Against the Minivan

I stumbled onto Kristen Howerton’s blog when I was looking into adoption.  Knowing that if we adopted, we would likely adopt transracially, I wanted to gain some insight into that possibility.  Kristen adopted across racial and national lines and also had biological children. What I love about Kristen’s writing is that she doesn’t JUST write about her family and kids, but she keeps it pretty real, talking about frustrations and cringe-worthy experiences as much as the high points.  She uses self-deprecation and sarcasm to poke fun at herself, while remaining pretty upbeat and earnest about her goals to raise good, socially conscious kids.   Kristen is a Christian and pretty liberal in her political views, which I find refreshing and relatable.

 

JJen Hatmaker

I found Jen Hatmaker through Kristen Howerton and I cannot get enough of her writing.  Jen is a Christian writer, but unlike other Christian writers—she is so very real about her life and her foibles, while loving Jesus at the same time.  She is also very social-justice minded, and she is just hilariously relatable.

 

Livesay Haiti by Tara Livesay

Another blogger I found through Kristen Howerton. Tara is a midwife at a maternity center in Port Au Prince, Haiti, and I love her writing for her candid observations about life in a materially poor country, doing work that is so necessary and sacred, but so very, very difficult.  She wears her heart on her sleeve, but if she were calloused and clinical, she couldn’t reflect the beauty and mess that is specific to life in Haiti and universal in being a wife, mother, and woman.

 

Momastery

Written by a woman who overcame alcohol addiction and bulimia (along with a few other things) this a blog I didn’t think I would get into, but find myself turning to again and again.  Glennon Doyle Melton writes candidly about her own struggles in life—which makes her so incredibly relatable.  In being so open about her addictions, anxieties, trials, and triumphs, she has opened the door wide for everyone with insecurities and addictions to overcome them, or at the very least, manage them.  She has built quite a tribe, and through her writing and online activism, I have met and made friends with people (via Facebook) that have enriched my life—that I never would have encountered otherwise. 

 

Awesomely Luvvie

Another blogger I found through Kristen Howerton! Luvvie Ajayi is awesome. Born in Nigeria and raised there and in Chicago, Luvvie’s life is completely different than my own.  She is absolutely unafraid to say what’s on her mind and call people out for their stupid behavior.  She is a Black woman who is intent on building up other Black women, commenting on pop culture, and making fun of all that is ridiculous in the world.  She is hilarious and spot on in her observations. I don’t quite get some of her cultural references (pop, Nigerian, business, etc.) because those have not been my experience, but I’m learning!

Looking Good

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Yeah! Woooo!

I am glad it is 2017. I don’t have any grand plans or resolutions, I’m just continuing to chip away at what I’ve always been working on, but it does sort of feel like January is the “re-set” button on time.  I started homeschooling the kids in a January. Talk about a re-set! At the time, I had plenty of resolutions and grand plans, and none of them worked out like I expected—some things went horribly awry, and others went better (and more differently) than I could ever have imagined.  Homeschooling has been a fantastic lesson in how to live well, because it became a lifestyle rather than something we just “do.”

Midway

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I turn 40 in about seven months and I realize that this means I am likely about halfway through my life, and that from here on, I will slowly deteriorate physically and mentally. Already, I have learned that it takes me longer to recover from late nights and crap food and even exercise, than it did when I was younger. I find my brain sort of short circuiting when I’m tired, making it so I have a hard time remembering words and thoughts. I’m more easily distracted and have a harder time mentally getting back on track. I used to listen to older people talk about how annoying it is to get old and I would shudder inwardly and tell myself “I am never going to get that way!” Well, whether I want it to or not, it’s happening.

I have friends that are younger than me who quip “Age is what you make it!’ and “Age is just a number!” but they are fools, because there really is something ugly and unpleasant about getting older physically and mentally.

Now, I should say, to people ten or twenty years (or even only five year) older than me I am still a youngster in my prime, and have no reason to start moaning about old age yet, but it’s all relative, right?

I like to think that I’m as young and hip and elastic as I was in my twenties, but I’m not, and no amount of thinking and wishing will make it so.  Maybe with some plastic surgery…

This is the part where I should probably say something conciliatory, like even though I am no longer a slip of a young thing, I am, at nearly forty, really confident in who I am as a person and not all freaked out about what everyone else thinks—and this is true, but I still would like my 18 year old body back, thank you.

I would also like my idealism and sense of invincibility back. I would like to be taken seriously as a human being and not be relegated to “soccer mom” or “someone’s wife.” We praise the young and encourage them because they have their whole lives ahead of them and they can “be anything” they want to be.  One of my pet peeves at church is the focus on telling the kids how awesome they are. They don’t know a damn thing without the generation that came before them, and even thought my kids ARE awesome, they didn’t do it alone.  Sure, they came with proclivities towards kindness and industriousness and studiousness, but if I and my husband and a host of other people our age and older hadn’t nurtured that, my kids would probably be snaggletoothed little trolls. Let’s be real here.

Temptation and struggle don’t go away when you become a grown up and take on adult responsibilities. In fact, I think temptation and struggle intensify. Being a decent adult is hard. Attempting to be an exemplary adult is even harder. I want an A for effort. And a cookie.

Now tell me I’m pretty.

No Regrets

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How do you live so that you have no regrets? I don’t think it’s possible. We all make mistakes that impact ourselves and others, often in ways we may not be able to foresee, and unless one is a sociopath, we will occasionally regret the things that hurt others, especially loved ones.

When we have regrets, I think we need to find, if possible, a way to rectify the damage we’ve done, or the things we’ve lost. If we cannot do that, we need to find a way to forgive ourselves and others and move forward with more understanding and compassion and wisdom. If we can do that, we will truly live a full and meaningful life.

Praise me not, my work hath yet not warm’d me…

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In Shakespeare’s play, Coriolanus, the title character, a fearless Roman warrior then known as Caius Marcius, leads a battle in the city of Corioles, and is wounded. His men admire his ferocity, but worry he is too bloodied to return to the fighting. He shakes off their concern telling them:

“Praise me not, My work hath yet not warm’d me…the blood I drop is rather physical than dangerous to me; to Aufidius thus I will appear, and fight.”

And back he charges into battle.

 Flesh Wound

Though Aufidius escapes, Marcius captures the city of Corioles and is given the honorary title Coriolanus.

When I first read this play, I was training intensely in Krav Maga, and feeling a bit discouraged because I wasn’t physically where I wanted to be with training, after recovering from a concussion some months earlier.  As I do when I’m frustrated with anything, I turned to Shakespeare for some inspiration. I had never read Coriolanus before and was intrigued by the story of this fearless, proud warrior. He’s actually kind of a jerk to the citizens of Rome, whom he feels are weak and fickle, but he’s principled and unrelenting in his commitment to those principles. And he was one heck of a fighter.

I was wowed by his words after being wounded. Nothing was going stop him from getting the job done and taking over Corioles and taking on Aufidius. He wasn’t really doing it for Rome, he was doing it for himself.  Ultimately, his pride  and his disdain for his countrymen are his downfall, but I LOVED his stick-to-it-iveness in battle, because at the time, I was struggling with wanting to quit training and feeling kind of wishy-washy about other things in my life.  Coriolanus wasn’t going to let wounds or the negative opinions of others get to him.  He believed in everything he was doing and barely even acknowledged a gaping, bloody wound as a setback.

Ah, to have such singularity of purpose! To be so focused on a mission, so determined a will to succeed! To be so excellent a fighter! His words gave me courage and strengthened my will to continue in training and rally myself for the trials in life.  Coriolanus was not driven by the desire for power, but for excellence. For whatever reason, that resonated with me. The fact that his desire for excellence turned tragic because of his unbending pride in his own superiority is another topic for another day, and maybe I’ll examine that closer when I need to check my own pride. For now, I will merely focus on his dogged determination to see a task through, come what may.

shark cat

Cheer thyself a little

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Whenever I feel down, frustrated, or intellectually stagnant, I turn to Shakespeare.  His plays and characters fascinate me, as do his words.  I won’t pretend to be a Shakespeare scholar. A lot of what I read or see (in live performances or film adaptations) would go over my head without having read online synopses or dually reading the modern translations via the No Fear Shakespeare series, but I think that’s what draws me to it.  I love words, and I love how differently they can be interpreted by stressing different words or even different syllables, or by using different tones and emotions in one’s voice.

Reading Shakespeare, or better yet, watching one of his plays performed, requires me to focus on something outside myself while giving me the opportunity to analyze and internalize what I’m experiencing.  I have seen myself in Hamlet’s undecided anguish, in Coriolanus’ self righteous, unyielding pride, and in Cordelia’s insistence on pragmatism when others want their ego stroked, and in dozens of other ways shown through as many other characters.

Participating in Shakespeare makes me feel smarter than I am and gives me a chance to experience a magnified version of life from the safety of my couch…no real life poisons, betrayals, or mistaken identities needed!

This was a bad week

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Just a day after I posted about police brutality and the death of Alton Sterling, another black man, Philando Castile, was killed by an officer, while he was sitting in his car with his girlfriend and her daughter.  Then, the next day, an angry black man opened fire on police officers at a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, Texas. Eleven officers were shot and last I heard, four of them died—the death toll may be up to five by now—it’s hard to keep up.  And naturally, social media exploded.  Everyone is angry and scared and I spent most of yesterday and all of last night moderating heated debates over the validity of everyone’s points of view.  A couple of my Facebook friends really got into it with each other and finally, I felt it best to contact each of them privately to discuss respect and patience in regard to sharing their views.  One of those friends, who also happens to be my sister, had a LOT to say and tried to draw me in to an argument about something else.  (She openly admits she likes to debate for the sake of debate.)  Ultimately, we were able to move on, but the contention was electric, and I’m not eager to experience that again.

In talking to my kids about the state of affairs in the world, I commented that Satan is working really, really hard right now—but I’ve changed my mind. I’ve decided that Satan isn’t really working that hard—he just has to throw us a reason to be angry and we take over being ugly and horrible for him.

My heart is heavy for all the loss, for all the misunderstanding, and for the apparent lack of desire to put down our guard and our weapons (whether words or guns or whatever) and see each other as human beings—to acknowledge each other as children of God and to put our own interests and prejudices aside to understand other views, experiences, fears, hopes, and dreams. 

Since the Dallas shooting, there have been several more incidences of black men being killed by police, and angry black citizens shooting at officers and at white people.  I am ashamed of what our country has become.  A few weeks ago, I was on Facebook, reading a travel thread from a friend in Australia.  Many of her friends (also Australian) commented that they have no desire to visit the United States because it is such a violent country.  One person said “it’s like the Wild West over there. Lawless!”  I was embarrassed when I read that, and sad.  I wanted to explain that the US isn’t as bad as the media makes us out to be, but then there were all these shootings over the course of one week!

I am sad. I am angry. I am afraid—even though I live relatively removed from where the violence is occurring. There is trickle down from the violence that bleeds into the attitudes of those around me, and I’m afraid of what the angry fearful attitudes will produce in my own community.  I am fighting fear and anger by advocating for calm, kindness, and understanding, as we collectively sort ourselves out.

On police brutality and taking video of law enforcement interactions

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A couple of days ago, I saw the following Facebook post from blogger Kristen Howerton:

“Just witnessed a black man getting arrested. The police were kind and respectful, and very careful as they put him into the car. But I filmed anyway. And will always film. I will hope for the best and assume, as these guys were, that officers will act with integrity. But until our country’s issues with unnecessary police violence against black men is a thing of the distant past, I will film. Any time I witness police interaction with black men or women I will film, and God forbid my boys ever have such an interaction I hope someone will film for them. And I will hope that, like today, it’s uneventful footage that never makes the news.”

Normally, I enjoy and agree with Kristen’s posts, but this one stopped me short. It bugged me.  I felt it was a form of vigilantism on her part.  Cops have a tough job. They need to be able to assess and reassess situations instantaneously in order to protect the public AND themselves.  And while I’m certain there are bad cops who like to make peoples lives miserable, I’d like to think that most law enforcement officers are good men and women who are doing the best they can.  Sometimes they are wrong, and tragically so, but Kristen’s post rankled me. 

I’ve been pulled over a few times—and on a couple of those occasions, I was not at fault and the officer “had the wrong guy.” Whether I deserved a speeding ticket or was simply mistaken for someone else, the last thing I wanted was someone pulling out a cell phone and taking a video. How embarrassing.  How voyeuristic! “Move along! Nothing to see here!” I’ve also walked past the police interacting with other people, and while I may have been curious (sometimes very much so) it always seemed safer and more appropriate for me and mine to move along and stay out of the way of the officers doing their job and allow the others

And then….

Alton Sterling was wrestled to the ground and shot by two white police officers. There is plenty of video footage– from two different witnesses, a police dash cam, and body cameras one each officer.  Defenders of the police say they were just doing their job, subduing an armed felon.  Defenders of Alton Sterling say he was a nice and respected man whose gun was NOT in his hands and should not have been killed.

M questions are these:

Why did the two officers shoot a man they had already physically subdued? Alton Sterling was first thrown up against a car, tazed, and then wrestled to the ground, with one of the officers straddling him and the other at his shoulder. Between the two officers, they each had one hand free to access their firearms.

Was Alton Sterling attempting to reach his gun? If so, he didn’t even draw it before being shot and killed, as the officers had to pull it out of his pocket after they shot him.

Apparently, Alton Sterling was a felon, in that, he had, some years previously been convicted of possession of a firearm and controlled substances and served some time in prison.  If felons aren’t allowed to carry guns, and Alton Sterling was a nice and respectable person, why was he carrying a gun?

Why did he feel the need to carry a gun if he legally wasn’t supposed to have one?

People are using the “well, he was a criminal who shouldn’t have had a gun in the first place” argument to justify the shooting, but did the officers know he was a felon before they shot and killed him? And let’s get rhetorical for a minute—does having committed crimes in the past (that you have already been punished for) justify being killed later, when you are not then breaking the law?

Why are white people so quick to defend the actions of the police and assume the black shooting victim was guilty?

Why are black people so quick to insist on complete innocence on the part of the shooting victim and assume the white  cops were just trigger-happy racists?

WHY IS NO ONE PRESUMING INNOCENCE UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY ON EITHER SIDE?

I follow several black bloggers and several white bloggers with black spouses or children, across the country, and they are all horrified and angry by the treatment black people receive at the hands of white cops.  I also follow several white bloggers who think black people just have their panties in a bunch and should shut up and “quit playing the race card” or “trying to polarize us instead of uniting us.” 

My question is—if black people are telling us they feeling vilified, threatened, and frightened by the institutions and people that are supposed to be protecting them as they protect other Americans, why are whites not listening?  If we truly believe #AllLivesMatter, why are we not paying close attention to the people who are expressing their fear and anger and doing our best to understand their perspective?  At some point, we need to set aside the right to be right and explore the possibility that we may not have the whole picture…that our own experience and knowledge still limit us from knowing how someone else experiences and feels. 

Where fangirling can lead

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True confession: I am an opportunistic, screaming fangirl. Last year, on vacation, after a long day marshalling the kids around Disneyland, I decided to hide out in my room and scroll Facebook. As I thumbed through posts, I saw that my favorite blogger, Kristen Howerton, who happened to live near Disneyland, posted an open invitation to her HOME to participate in a discussion with Robi Damelin and Bassam Aramin from the Parents Circle-Families Forum, a support group for bereaved families on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that seeks reconciliation and a non-violent resolution to the conflict:

Kristen Howerton

I had no idea who these people were and knew next to nothing about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the PC-FF, but it was an OPEN invitation for anyone local to come to Kristen’s HOUSE, to hear these people, and I was “in the Orange County area,” so OF COURSE, I RSVPed. And then, so I wouldn’t come off as the shallow fangirl I was, I started Googling everything about Israel and Palestine. Talk about overwhelm. Fortunately for me, Kristen is a thoughtful writer who surely knows her American audience, and provided a link to the Crash Course in History video about the conflict for those of us who needed a primer.

The event was held on a Sunday, and right as we pulled up to Kristen’s house, I wondered aloud if there was a dress code for this kind of thing. Of course, if there was, it was too late for me. I was in standard “Vacation With Kids” attire: jeans, sneakers, and T shirt.

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Rockin’ the vacay threads with Neenie and Princess Tiana at Disneyland. Clearly I am in the Comfort over Style camp.

It was Kristen’s husband, Mark, who waved me into the house. He was barefoot, and clad in board shorts and thin T-shirt.  Dress code analysis: so far so good!  He was very nice, but I was too shy to introduce myself. It’s probably best that I didn’t say what was in my head in that moment: “Hi, I totally love your wife’s blog and know tons about you and your family, and I once made a trip all the way to Austin, Texas to hear your wife speak at a conference, because her work just really resonates with me,  and now I’m here because of her OPEN INVITATION ON FACEBOOK to come to your house, and listen to some people talk, and eat your brunch, and I GET TO MEET YOUR WIFE!”

Yeah…..no.  I mumbled a thank you and ducked inside.

Aaaannd, of course, the house was full of willowy, gorgeous women with flowing, sun-kissed hair and skin, all wearing breezy maxi-dresses, dangly earrings, and tall sandals. Dress code analysis: Everyone looked like they’d just come in from a beach photo shoot for Vogue.  And here I am in mom jeans and scuffed Nikes. Was I even wearing earrings? I checked. No. But…whatever!  I was IN Kristen Howerton’s house and now I would get to MEET HER! SQUEEE! I mean—ahem–what an opportunity to broaden my education and worldview about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict!

I saw Kristen in her kitchen, deep in conversation with three or four other people, and suddenly I realized just how out of place I was—these gorgeous women chatting and drinking mimosas were Kristen’s friends, or friends of friends. I was a hayseed interloper! I had introduced myself to Kristen in my head a hundred times, but now I panicked. I couldn’t waltz over and interrupt her conversation—that would be awkward.  Do I try to catch her eye and hope she comes over and introduces herself? Um….no. Too stalkerish. Now what?

I wandered into the living room, which I knew pretty well, having seen various angles of it in photos on Kristen’s blog over the years. Do I sit down? No, no one else is. I might look like I’m getting too comfortable. I could admire the decor….no, now I feel like I’m casing the joint. Do I try to make nice with some of the other clusters of ladies? How do I do that? Do I go get some food? What’s IN a mimosa?

Just then, Kristen’s husband breezed past me, headed for the back yard, where there were a few rows of folding chairs set up.  The chairs were in direct sun, and Mark was fiddling with some triangular awnings to provide shade.  Salvation! I’m a pro at setting up for events! I stumbled outside to see if I could help, but Mark winged me a smile and said he had a handle on it.  A couple of ladies followed me outside and made directly for the mimosa table set up on the side of the patio.  They noticed me bumbling around and kindly introduced themselves. They seemed genuinely interested in me (maybe they were just morbidly curious) but I was too tongue tied and awkward to provide them with much information—so I did the only thing I could think of—I deflected and tried to ask them about themselves.  They were both bloggers and authors, I realized I recognized them–I had read some of their stuff and enjoyed it.  I was about to say so, but then Kristen came out and they turned their attention to her.

By now, other people had filtered outside and were taking (now shaded) seats.  For some stupid reason, I dove for the seat closest to me—at the end of the front row—where the sun beat down between the gap in the awnings.  The other seats were filling up, and there were a couple offers from nice ladies to have me sit by them in the shade, but Mark kneeled on the ground in the walkway just behind me, adjusting a camera on a tripod, and I was afraid I’d bump it if I moved.  Turns out he was adjusting it because I was in the way.  By the time I realized this, it was too late to move—all the seats were filled.  Awesome. Whether it was the sun or my embarrassment that burnt my face that day, I’ll never know for sure.

When everyone had settled, Kristen introduced her guest speakers and for a millisecond, my embarrassment evaporated.  Robi Damelin was direct, passionate, a little impatient, and fascinating.  She was like a grandma that you love but are also a little afraid of.  And I could not get over how much she reminded me of Judi Dench. She thanked Kristen for the introduction and then insisted everyone assembled introduce themselves and tell why they had come, and what they hoped to gain from the meeting. 

Uh oh. I can’t very well be honest! “Hi, I’m Marissa and I just jumped on this amazing and totally unlikely opportunity to come meet Kristen Howerton at HER HOUSE!”  Nope. Nope, nope, nope. Almost everyone in attendance was a blogger, a journalist, an activist, or an artist, and were looking for ways to get educated about the Parents Circle-Family Forum, or learn more about the human side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, so they could in turn share with others. I should have tried harder to come up with something like that, but instead, I said something like:

“I’m Marissa, and I am just here to listen.”

This wasn’t good enough for Robi Damelin. She asked me a follow up question, but it escapes me now, what she asked—and what I responded, but her message was clear.  I mattered. She wanted to know more about me.

I fumbled through an answer…gosh, I wish I could remember what she asked me.  It was probably something very basic, but more than anything, I realized that I was NOT going to be anonymous in this little group. No, no. Robi Damelin don’t play. She saw me. She heard me. And she expected me to interact.  I felt both chastised and anointed.  We were going to have a DISCUSSION that day!

Following introductions, Robi Damelin (I can’t seem to refer to her by anything but her full name) asked the group at large, “What is forgiveness?”

Several answers were offered before Robi Damelin told us what it means to her.  She said the definition of forgiveness that most resonates with her is “giving up your just right to revenge.” Robi Damelin’s son David was serving in the Israeli army reserves when he was shot and killed by a Palestinian sniper.  Robi Damelin has every right to demand vengeance, but instead, seeks ways to reconcile with the people who have brought her only pain and loss.

No description of mine can thoroughly capture Robi Damelin’s words or presence at the meeting at Kristen’s house, but I found the following video in which she shares her story and her thoughts on forgiveness and the reconciliation organization she works with, The Parent’s Circle—Family Forum, a group of some 600 Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost an immediate family member in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Please watch it and be changed.

Much like in this video, Robi Damelin talked at Kristen’s house about forgiveness, about her son, and about how violence will never truly reconcile anything.  She spoke of the Parents Circle-Family Forum and their work to help people see the human side of the conflict and find ways to come to peace.  There are no answers yet, and there are big feelings on both sides, which Bassam Aramin, the other speaker at Kristen’s heartily affirmed, but there will NEVER be answers if people on either side of the conflict remain bent on destroying each other.

After Robi Damelin spoke Bassam Aramin got up to speak. He is younger than Robi Damelin and more soft spoken, but Bassam told his story with a simmering passion.  His voice was quiet and matter-of-fact, but his pain was palpable and our tears fell.  He told how he, a Palestinian, was raised to hate Israelis because they stole his homeland from his ancestors. He was arrested at age 17 for throwing stones and a grenade at Israeli tanks, and was jailed, beaten, and broken for seven years. He still suffers from the effects of the torture he endured. He spoke of his years in jail, his hatred and anger, and his desire for revenge. He told us how over time he and one of the Israeli guards befriended one another and he began to realize that their pain and anger was the same, their stories and their fears were so similar. He realized that violence only begets more violence and that only understanding another’s humanity is the only effective way to resolve conflict.  He never picked up a weapon again, even years later when his 12 year old daughter was killed outside her school by an Israeli soldier.

More than once, Robi Damelin took Bassam’s hand to steady him as he talked about his daughter and how much he missed her, how senseless was her murder. Witnessing the love and compassion between these two bereaved friends, I can only describe it as powerful and sacred.  Their power is in their pain and they work tirelessly for peace and understanding. Reconciliation. Beauty for ashes. This video shows Bassam  and Robi Damelin together. You can just feel their passion for their work, and their love and friendship for each other.

When they finished speaking, we were invited to ask questions, but there weren’t many. Several ladies admitted they didn’t know much about the conflict and were inspired to learn more and to do what they could with their social and educational platforms to share more about the Parents Circle-Family Forum.  All I could do is wonder that my shallow, self-centered desire to rub elbows with my favorite blogger had led me to a deeper, more profound experience of shared humanity. I knew I had just participated in something huge for me and I would need to process it for a while.

I sat for some time by myself, after the talks were over and people returned to socializing. Bassam disappeared inside and Robi Damelin was immediately surrounded by women wanting to talk to her.  I wanted to throw my arms around her and hug her and tell her thank you. I wanted to find Bassam and do the same, but I didn’t. Instead, I sat and thought.  I was only roused to move when one of the ladies asked for a group picture with everyone in attendance.  I wish I’d asked for a copy of the photo, but I don’t even remember who took it.

After the photo, Kristen invited anyone who wanted to, to come to her church, where Robi Damelin and Bassam were going to speak in an hour.  The guest speakers were driven away to the church and the rest of us stood around chatting and finishing up the brunch offerings for a few more minutes.  I fell in with a couple of women who were discussing religion and because my mind was still on Robi Damelin and Bassam’s words, I was more awkward than usual and didn’t contribute anything worthwhile. Eventually, it was time for everyone to leave, as Kristen had to head down to the church. She and the last few of her friends who had stayed to socialize, started closing things up. I still hadn’t MET Kristen formally, and for some reason, it felt inappropriate to march up and introduce myself to her as she flurried around closing drapes and putting food away.  I needed to get gone so she could move on to other things.  I was starting to panic again, because I needed to be out of her house, but Julio hadn’t yet arrived to pick me up, even though I had texted him while I was still sitting and pondering my experience. 

After lurking in Kristen’s entry for an eternity, waiting for Julio, I decided I’d better just leave so Kristen and her friends could get to church.  I called out a thank you to Kristen and bolted outside, trying to decide which way I should wander in the neighborhood until Julio showed up. I nearly ran over a couple of Kristen’s kids, who had set up a lemonade stand in the front yard.  I didn’t even have 50 cents to buy a cup. They were not impressed.  Fortunately, Julio pulled up then and I jumped in like it was a get-away car and I had just robbed a bank.

So, it’s taken me well over a year to be able to write about this experience.  I’ll admit, one reason for this is because I’m embarrassed to admit I’m such an awkward fangirl and was totally willing to essentially be a stalker. When I RSVPed to Kristen’s event, I had zero REAL interest in WHY she was hosting it.  I just wanted to meet my hero and walk around in her world for a little while.  But my experience with Robi Damelin and Bassam Aramin transcended my petty little dream of hobnobbing with my favorite blogger. I got to share in the very human, very sacred stories of these brave and determined people and I don’t take that lightly. I have spent the last year thinking on their stories and their words. I have tried to become more of a facilitator of peace and understanding in my own life and in my daily interactions. I’m not perfect and there are some reconciliations I am still not ready for, but I think often of Robie Damelin and Bassam Aramin, and I hope someday I can see the world like they see it, with an eye always towards reconciliation, understanding, and peace.  That’s better than living a fangirl dream, any day.