Fit to the bitter end.

So I haven’t posted in awhile.  I wish I could say it’s because of mothering duties, community service, or church obligations.  Heck, I wish I could say it’s because of housework.  But none of these worthy causes were (are) important enough to pull me from away from my keyboard and out of your ear.

Then what, you might ask, would?

Meet my new best friend.



I know tracking devices are all the rage now, but I resisted this new-and-improved fitbit for a long time, mainly because

a)  I’ve worn a fitbit before (the little clasp on your waistband) and eventually lost interest in it.

b)  This one would ruin my outfit.

c)  This one would ruin my outfit.

Besides these three (ish) reasons, I’ve also always prided myself on being something of a free-spirited exerciser.  Who wants to taint the euphoria of a good run with some all-knowing, all-seeing gadget counting your every step?  I run to clear my head, not pack it with more minutiae about what I did, didn’t, or should do.  You get me.

But that all changed two weeks ago when the Hub presented me with this ugly little black bracelet.  And before you call him a pig, you should know that he only gave it to me because he’d bought it for himself and then lost it.  After weeks of looking, he bought a replacement and then naturally found the original soon after.  So he asked me if I’d like to keep it.  Really, he didn’t call me fat.  (I don’t think.)  (Wait.)  (Did he?)  At any rate, I figured, what the heck?  With the big 4-0 loong behind me, it’s not like wearing this gizmo would be the the determining factor in spoiling my looks.

So I clasped it on, downloaded the app, and unwittingly said goodbye to my old life forever.  I was immediately sucked into something called the Workweek Hustle, a “friendly” weekly step competition among friends who, by week’s end, would morph into the worst kind of frenemies.  In fact, frenemies became too generous a term; these people were ruthless.  One in particular.

This particular competitor, who shall remain nameless, runs his own design business from home.  (He’s uber-talented, I’ll give him that.)  To avoid the sedentary lifestyle that comes with sitting at a computer all day, he purchased a treadmill, took off the top handrail, and replaced it with a hand-crafted computer desk thingamajig.  Consequently, this evil genius can now walk at a slow and steady pace for the full eight hours of his weekday while working; as long as he keeps his pace steady, the walking doesn’t interrupt his professional productivity.  His system is inventive, impressive, commendable even.  But it is hell for his fitbit competitors.

No matter how active one is in the early morning, late evening, or midday, one simply cannot outstep a person who’s walked steadily for eight to nine hours a day.  It’s just not feasible.  And this guy knew it.  Day after day, the rest of us watched the “dashboard” with bitterness as this man-turned-power-walker’s steps increased with each passing minute.  No matter how many steps we took outside, we were helpless to defeat him in our pathetically treadmill-less world.  He insisted that he was doing some of his running outdoors (we verified this with his wife—the honest one of the two—and in fact he was) but that offered little solace.  For every mile he ran outside he would walk five on his BigFancyTailorMadeTreadmill.  All we mortals could do was rage against the machine.

And yet despite his gross advantage, two weeks ago I almost had him beat.  For five days, I’d walked and ran and ran and walked until the spider veins on my calf had spun an actual web, culminating my effort with a ten-mile run at eight o’clock on Friday night.  I was exhausted but cautiously optimistic; according to the dashboard, I had pulled into a slight lead.  Everything depended on what would happen in the next four hours.  I was completely spent, so all I could hope was that he wouldn’t pull any last minute step shenanigans.  I sat down (oh, the pleasure of sitting!)  I panted.  I waited.  At ten o’clock—just two hours before the tallies were due and the contest closed—the phone rang.  It was my nemesis, calling—I thought—to concede.

“Wow Jen, what did you just run?  I can’t believe you pulled ahead so late…”  His voice was soft, and so raggedly sincere, I almost felt bad for him.  So in my signature blue-personalitied-middle-child fashion, I immediately tried to make him feel better.  I praised his persistence, his endurance, even his (freaking stupid) treadmill.

“It was so close,” I said, “And you know, that really is so cool that you built that treadmill.  I mean, all jokes aside, I have to give you props for it.  I really am impressed…”

“Oh, yeah, I know, I know!  Sure, yes, you’ve done a great job, but it’s really not about who wins…”  I laughed, short and loud.  “I just think it’s so great that we have this little thing to keep us motivated, don’t you?  And let me tell you, I won’t be able to keep this mileage up two weeks in a row; you’ll probably waste me next week!”

Okay.  Perhaps, in hindsight, my tone was a little condescending; I may as well have reached through the phone and patted him on the head.  But hey—I’d won!  What was the point of beating Treadmill Man if you couldn’t take a victory lap over the cellular?

I hung up the phone, opened my laptop, and sunk into a well-deserved Netflix coma.  I fell asleep quickly and woke with a smile on my face.  It was over.  I had won!  I packed up my daughter and left, at 5 am, for a volleyball tournament an hour away.  At seven my husband called me.

“Well, can you believe he won?”

“Um, what?”  Who had won what?  I had no idea what he was talking about.  Had an election transpired overnight in which I’d forgotten to vote?

“He beat you, Jen.  Didn’t you check the dashboard this morning?”

Wait.  WHAT?

“No!  No I didn’t check the dashboard, I was up at five to drive to the game!  I thought the contest was over; he called me last night to congratulate me on winning—”

“Well, what time did he call?”

“About ten.”

“Did he say he was giving you the win?”


“Are you sure?”

“Well, he called, and said I’d killed him that day, and that he was done…or, I think he said he was done…I don’t know, he sounded like he was saying I’d won!”

“But did he say:  ‘Jen, you won?'”

“Well, no.  But it was obviously implied; I told him I was done for the night and he told me ‘good job.'”

“Well, you know the contest goes til midnight.  He must have went for a long run after you went to bed.”  I grabbed the steering wheel for support as my stomach folded in half.  This couldn’t be happening, not after all I’d put my spider veins through.


As my husband went on, it all became clear:  this “friend” had called to offer a fake forfeit (he swears to this day that he made no such offer; to that I say whatev.)  He then used the last two hours of eligibility to lie to deceive cheat beat me.  He’d been so nice—humble, even—on the phone.  How could have been so gullible?

And so it was that Ian (oops, did I just tell you his name?) sold his soul to finish me off that fateful Friday night.  On Saturday morning, I flicked on my phone to find that he had, indeed, been awarded the glorious and coveted (if not exactly real) Workweek Hustle Trophy:



Beneath this image on my little screen a caption screamed, “Ian crushes it, and the crowd goes wild!”  You can imagine how I felt, reading that text all alone in my cold car with my cold heart on that dark and dreary March morning.  Oh, I felt it keenly, friends!  The agony of defeat.

Which is why, in the crux of that terrible moment, I made a decision.  I decided that following week, I had to—and I mean had to—win.  No, “win” is too limited a phrase.  I had to beat him.  I had…to beat…IAN!

I would do whatever it took.  I would walk early, I would run late.  I would turn off my bluetooth while I ran (competitors can’t see your step totals if you’re not synced), then turn it on just in time for him to witness my triumphant tallies.  I would scheme, I would plot, I would pray.  (But I wouldn’t fast.  I drew the line at fasting.)  Never in my life had I wanted to win anything as much as I wanted to win that gloriously golden (if not exactly real) trophy.

So come Monday morning, the race was on.

And with it, my Crazy.

End of Part One

(There are only two parts.)

(And then I’ll write about something else.)


My daughter’s ideal family

Last night, my thirteen-year old daughter showed me a project she’d finished for her Spanish Class.  The teacher asked the students to create an “ideal family tree” that included anyone they wanted as relatives.  They could choose their real family members, or come up with fantasy members of their own choosing, as long as their tree displayed what they considered their “ideal family.”

What a nice assignment, I thought, as my daughter explained it to me before showing her work.  Surely this would offer a moment of reflection for the kids; a chance to pause and recognize that the family they had been blessed with was, in fact, ideal.  I was about to share this very thought with her when she unveiled a large piece of yellow tagboard.  I stopped mid-sentence as my illusions blew like leaves off the branches of her “ideal family tree.”


And there it is.

Grandparents:  Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.

We watched Sound of Music last week.  Great show; I’ll give that one to her.

Parents:  Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise.

This is an improvement?  Really?


Aunt and Uncle:  Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock

Okay, that’s solid.  No offense to my siblings and in-laws, but these two are hard to beat (even though they made us suffer through The Proposal.)

Siblings:  Logan Lerman, Julianne Hough, Kenny Wormaid.

I have no idea who any of these brats are.

Cousins:  Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Cloe Moretz, Brooklyn Beckham.

I’ll admit I adore the first two.  The last two?  More unidentifiable brats.

Obviously, this entire episode was a bitter pill for my mother-heart (throat) to swallow.  But I think what hurt most was that after grilling my daughter, I learned that this Logan Lerman kid played the lead in the the cataclysmic remake of Footloose.  MY Footloose!  You know how I feel about that movie.  No one touches Kevin Bacon; he was a very, very important factor in my developmental years.  It’s bad enough that my little girl spat on my heart, did she have to spit on Ren McCormack too?

Look, I get it.  This is a much more attractive hand than the one my daughter was dealt.  But I told her:  don’t be fooled.  These people are surely a bunch of greedy, shallow, narcissistic heathens with nothing to offer but their botox-ed eyes and boob-jobbed bods.  I said as much to my daughter, beseeching her to reconsider the values upon which her “ideal family” was built.  Where was the commitment, the gratitude, the truth?  Where was the love, for the love?  I asked her these things pointblank, but she merely replied with a shrug.

“Whatev, Mom.”  And with that she scooped up her poster, turned her sassy self around, and bounced out of the room.

I hope she gets an F.

Three cheers for organized religion.

Last Saturday morning found me in my standard mode of listening to a podcast while scrubbing down the bathroom.  Although I was in beast-mode cleaning (as my son would say), I paused mid-Windex spray when I heard a friendly woman’s voice advertising a new “religious recovery” hotline that was recently made available to the suffering and deluded American public.

The concept is simple:  like a suicide or addiction recovery hotline, trained staff wait by the phones to help a doubtful believer in their moment of crisis.  What makes this hotline unique, however, is that instead of trying to talk the hurting caller out of destructive behavior (like a gun or a drink), the staff here try talk a caller into destructive behavior, like giving up on any religious belief whatsoever.  The end goal of each conversation, said the chipper promoter, was to help callers leave religion behind without the judgment or guilt that evolving disbelievers often encounter on their road to “recovery.”  When the show’s host argued that if nothing else, religion gave people an outlet for compassionate service, the woman replied that nothing could be more compassionate than helping someone find their way out of organized religion.

With all due respect (and by that, I mean with no respect whatsoever) I disagree.  I think the most compassionate thing you can do for a person is help them find their way into organized religion, because I think organized religion (with a few fragmented and fundamentalist exceptions) makes people—and people’s lives—better.

Here’s three reasons why:

1.  Religion requires belief in its doctrine.

I often hear people say, “I’m a spiritual person, but I don’t believe in organized religion.”  That’s a benign and well-intentioned statement, but it’s kind of like saying “I like learning, but I don’t believe in facts.”

We can dance around the deeper issues of life with nothing but our benevolent “spirituality” leading us and land in Happy Neutral Territory every time.  It’s a pleasant place; lots of company and little criticism.  But without religious doctrine—specific, non-negotionable teachings and expectations—our spirituality has no place to live and breathe.  It’s a book without binding, a heart without a spine.  Without religious doctrine and practice, our spirituality lies dormant as a lovely and passive idea.

The most toxic assumption made by our popular culture is that religion is somehow for the small-minded.  As usual, they’ve got it all backwards.  To even consider considering a belief system–reading and dissecting it’s doctrine, then thinking and praying about that doctrine’s truthfulness—requires the best and most of what our scrappy mortal brains can do.  When else do we find ourselves wide awake at 3 am, sweating in our sheets and staring out the window, trying to make sense of who we are and why we’re here?  When was the last time a piece of literature or a differential equation put you in that state?  Understanding religious doctrine—and understanding what it means for us personally—requires a whopping energy of thought, reason, and care.  The light-minded need not apply.

So intellectually grinding is this quest for religious understanding that many of us would rather skip it altogether (as is encouraged by our friendly hotline.)  Life would go on and it might even be easier.  But religion was never meant to be easy; that’s kind of the whole point.  So unlike the cynics claim, the narrow path of religious conviction—which is very different from the broader path of “spirituality”—is taken only by the strong, the thoughtful, the curious.  And the first step is confronting religious doctrine.

 2. Religion requires sacrifice.

Religious life has been on the decline in the West for decades, and I can’t quite believe that it’s all due to theological skepticism.  Religion is hard.  And it living it, harder.



For the casual participant, religion requires some things.  For the faithful, religion requires many things.  For the devout, religion requires everything.  Time, money (yes, money), reading, teaching, testifying, meeting with others, understanding others, putting up with others.  Sometimes it’s a pain.

But what religion asks us to do pales in comparison with what it asks us not to do.  Depending on our domination, we may be asked to refrain from:  smoking, drinking, eating certain foods, gambling, premarital sex, adultery, racy books, racy tv, racy movies, racy internet, racy clothing, racy language, racy cars.  (Wait.  I think racy cars are ok.)

And these thou-shalt-nots of the body are nothing compared to those of the heart:  greed, lust, envy, pride, self-centeredness, short-sightedness, materialism, narcissism, cynicism, and a whole lotta other -isms—all are forbidden, or at the very least discouraged, by the Mean ‘ol Grouch of Religion.  No wonder so many people ignore him.

Yes, religion is hard.  But isn’t everything that matters?

That’s the question that struck—and worried—me mid-Windex spray.  Honest doubt is one thing, the path of least resistance another.  And I have to wonder:  could our society’s spiraling disdain for any kind of restraint—food, sex, money—be hijacking our willingness to sacrifice for faith, too?  Is our current religious anemia due to enlightenment, or apathy?

 3.  Religion requires change.

Whoever said “religion is the opium of the people” must have been smoking some of his own.  Far from cocooning us in a misty haze that dreams of Life Beyond, organized religion gets you off the transcendental couch and into the real world of change.  We take a hard look at ourselves in unflattering light, and it hurts.   But it also makes us grow—which is what we religious types are all about.

Not a person alive can (honestly) say of themselves, “Yep, all done here.  No further improvements needed.”  Instinct tells us we should always be changing for good, but religion gives us the reasons to do it.  (There’s gotta be reasons.  Or else why bother?)  Religion is the original blueprint for positive change.  A religious person believes that by their very human nature they are deeply loved and deeply flawed, and that mortal life is the means to change into something better.  This is comforting and terrifying; the love part is great (think spirituality) but the change part is scary (enter:  religion.)  And so the hotline’s message rings glorious to our slothful and anxious ears:  you’re all done here, no improvements needed.  But we know that many improvements are needed, and our religious nature feels its way to those dark places where human nature is scared to go.

Yes, change hurts.  But doesn’t everything that matters?

So there you have it, my three big loud cheers for organized religion.  I did leave out one major benefit, though, which is the sense of community religious life provides.  I skipped it because, though our church families mean a great deal to us, they’re not enough to keep us committed to our faith.  If social support is why we attend church (as some critics suggest), then we’re as well off joining a country club or knitting circle.  Lots of worthwhile venues can provide us with a sense of family, and we are grateful for them.  But let’s not confuse dipping our toes in the waters of civic life with the sacrifice and change required for a religious life.  Which is, in my opinion, the good life.