(My dearest and oldest Texas friend, JDoug Foster, married Christal Harris on Saturday. And with so many of his friends and family in attendance, an opportunity just never presented itself for me to give a toast. Instead of regret, I plan to rectify. What follows is the toast I wish I had given.)
The urge is strong on this beautiful night, at least for those of us who have known JDoug seemingly forever and well, to joke about how we never in a million years thought he’d marry. This is not entirely accurate for me, though. I always figured JDoug for a husband and a father, just figured it would take somebody pretty amazing to help him see himself that way.
And so while I do not know you all that well, Christal, I know you are amazing. What I also know about you is you are extremely lucky.
You just married one of the best friends I have ever known, one of the best guys I know period.
I feel comfortable saying this because I once told JDoug “you are everything that is wrong with Texas” either right before or right after he informed me that “Planes don’t just land at D/FW. They take off, too, and if you do not like it here, you can get your ass on one.” We had known each other for about two months at the time, and to paraphrase Sheryl Crow, I realized he was strong enough to be my friend. What has followed in this past 16 years was an enduring and wonderful friendship where I only hope I gave as much as I got.
What I love about JDoug, what I am guessing all of y’all love about JDoug, why he has so many friends here that have known him 10 and 20 and 30 years, is his loyalty. I could tell him he is every thing that is wrong with Texas and, six weeks later, yes, six weeks, when my mom died and I was all alone in Texas with my grief, he’d come over and stay with me and help me find a way back to St. Louis. He’d be there for me when I returned. He arranged a Star-Telegram New Orleans trip with good friend Gene Menez and Darrin Scheid (and his then wife) to cheer me up. One of my favorite memories happened on that trip, sneaking onto the LSU football field where we assembled for a picture.
You can not see it from here but it was one of the first times after my mom died that I smiled. And therein is the power of JDoug. I have to be careful because I have 457 such stories of debauchery, trouble making, heart to hearts, the right words at the right time, fights, apologies, laughs and just being there of him and I and only so much time. I always was long winded and I could be here all night telling all of y’all what you already know—he’s exactly who you want to have your back in the case of crisis.
So that is what I mostly want to say, as y’all embark on this wonderful journey called marriage, I have y’alls backs. In good times and in bad. In sickness and in health. For richer for poorer. I will encourage y’all never to give up on the other, to always remember how much you love one another, to choose joy.
And this I learned from a really great friend who turned out to be everything that is right with Texas.
So raise a glass to JDoug and Christal, and a lifetime of happiness.
(This is what I wish I had said. I shared with y’all because I hope this pushes you to toast a friend, a parent, a kid, a husband next time you are together. It does not have to be a wedding and all you have to have in your hand is a bottled water, just let those you love know often and passionately. That is another lesson I learned from JDoug.)
I taught a yoga class on Friday. Me. All by myself. And this surprises me even now, four days later as I type. I know what you are thinking because I thought it, too. Why is this crazy pants surprised she taught a yoga class? Didn’t she go to Hawaii for a week to learn to be a yoga teacher? Did she not say she wanted to teach yoga? Isn’t she more than halfway through a 200-hour yoga teaching training at Indigo Yoga? And isn’t she the one always talking about burning the boats?
Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.
What I have noticed about myself (much to my self-flagelating frustration) is what I want and what I actually do do not always align. I am a phenomenal goal setter (if I do say so myself). I am good at starting, great actually. I am motivated. I rarely quit, on anything. On the count of seeing all of my goals (not simply those of a professional variety) to the end, though, I often stall. I end up with GRE study cards and no Masters. Or I have Rosetta Stone Spanish and only rudimentary speaking ability. Or I have 100 pages of a book (I do), or plans to get my father’s piano shipped down (I do), or a six-week diet plan, or an idea I read in a book that is going to help me forgive, or a 100-things-to-do-before-I-die list that is not even halfway complete, or a way to better recycle-save money-vacation-cook-sleep. What I lack is following them through to an end, or at least on enough of them.
The cumulative impact of all of this dreaming and starting and stalling is to make me wary of my dreams, to make me doubt (even halfway down a path to teaching yoga) that I will ever teach.
The choice, of course, becomes to dial back on my dreams. Have fewer goals. Declare them less, certainly stop declaring them publicly. Then I can carefully slink away when things get hard, or I am pushing against my comfort zone, or I am just exhausted from all of this trying. Or Option 2: I can stay, rest and do what I say matters to me.
I have been reading Baron Baptiste’s “Being Of Power” lately, which feels a lot like being at one of his boot camps. He writes exactly like he talks. And what he said in Practice #8, Defy The Lie, really resonated with me.
Insights, “aha!” moments, or even breakthroughs and epiphanies, make no difference in and of themselves, as they quickly become more knowledge, concepts and theories. It’s embodying them and putting them into action that brings about real transformation. In each moment, you’re either being intentional (living and creating from your new way of being) or going on automatic response (operating from your lie). The key here is choosing, moment by moment, to live deliberately instead of going on autopilot.
What this means to me is, if I say I want a balanced life, if I say I want to teach yoga, if I say I want to lose 20 pounds, if I read an article about balance, if I go to trainings, if I buy a diet book, none of this should be confused with embodying the change I want. My choices have to back up what I say I want, not simply at the point of decision but every. single. day.
So my new way of being is of bravery, bravery to live dangerously. Because what awaits me this year, what I really want for my life—TV appearances, teaching yoga classes, balance in all things, happiness—requires bravery and diligence and mostly daily choices to get me to and through moments like Friday.
I taught a yoga class. I loved every second. I loved seeing yoga from that perspective, of watching bodies in motion, of watching my words land, of seeing how yoga transforms a body. And that feeling, that moment, is worth every uncomfortable step along the way.
This is my year of living dangerously, and all that means is without fear and with authenticity
ps. Shameless plug time: My next teaching opportunity comes at 6:45 p.m. May 30th at Indigo Yoga. I’d love, love, love for y’all to join me.
My dear friend, Elena, celebrated her birthday Wednesday and a couple of us gathered for a lunch you’d have loved to attend. We lingered with cocktails and salad, giggles and a few tears. Moist eyes began when we started talking about moms; being them and having them. This is Elena’s first birthday since losing her mom to cancer; her first Mother’s Day since losing her in a couple of days.
What I wanted to give Elena, more than anything, on this birthday was a glimpse that losing your mom gets easier. But then I started to talk about you—15 years after your death from cancer—and I became choked up and started to cry. The truth is, losing you did not get easier. I grew stronger. I am better able to carry it now than I once was; the sadness of you not being here never quite going away.
Because you not being here means you never met my husband, or my 4yo. I am slowly creeping up on a day when I will have spent more of my life without you than with you. Of course, I missed you on my wedding day and when I gave birth, when I ran a marathon and when I ran with the bulls, when I wrote my first column and when I had my radio show. I am steeled for those, though, knowing those days will have just a bit of bitter in with the sweet. The days that knock the wind right out of me are random Tuesdays, when I want to call you and tell you about the funny thing Vivian said or those days when my heart hurts and I desperately need your advice or those days when I just long to hear your voice because it has been so long and I have forgotten what you sounded like or what you might say. Those days are hard, and it is impossible to explain to anybody because it has been 15 years and there is this feeling I should be at peace now.
What I told Elena, and I have to believe with all of my heart, is that you have been along for every step of this ride. You were my silent partner in my emergency C-section, my strength when sadness overwhelmed me, my cheering section on days when I seemed to be walking on air. Every time a friend reaches out at just the right time, a fortuitous bounce falls my way, I am braver than I think possible, I like to think of you doing what you always did so well with us, gently nudging.
I have seen you 1,000 times in this past 15 years—in sunrises in Paris, in wind as I whooshed down The Great Wall of China on a bobsled, in blooming azaleas and in raindrops. I know, even as I have missed you, you have not missed a thing. You were there because you promised you would never leave me and you always kept your promises. You were there because I brought you along, the big chunk of your morals and beliefs that you implanted in me always providing a guide, even when I fail to listen.
I feel you every time I write a thank-you note, every time I try to show a little grace, every time I try to treat others like I want to be treated. I learned all of that from you. Selfless grace was your calling card; radical kindness your approach to everything. And I know you were there Wednesday, because Elena is the same kind of wonderful you were and you would have wanted to celebrate her birthday.
And, though, it is hard, I know I am lucky to bear the burden of losing you. Better that than never knowing you at all. So happy Mother’s Day, Jane Frances Paoletti Floyd.
You are missed.
You are loved.
You are here.
And I will see you again, hopefully in about 50 years.
I felt fear Tuesday, real deep-in-my-stomach terror. While almost all of America celebrated with three Cleveland families whose daughters came home 10 years after being abducted and held against their will, my primary emotion was fear.
Animals like this exist.
Kids really do get taken.
Years go by, hope is lost, lives ruined.
So as I drove my 4yo to school on Tuesday, I found myself talking about what to do if a stranger (or really anybody not named Mom or Dad) tried to get her to go with them. Scream, I said. Scream, “I don’t know this person”. Kick and scream. Look for a mommy. Run. Do whatever you have to do, just do not go. And know, if you get lost, I will find you. Do not give up hope. I will never stop looking.
Tears were welling up in my eyes as I talked. My voice got shaky. She asked what was wrong. It was not until later when she told my husband “you’ll protect me, right Daddy?” as he tucked her in that I realized I had gone too far. Instead of protecting her, I had scared her. I know the value of balance. It is one of the primary tenets of yoga, and one of the things I am striving for in my life. The question is how to balance out the healthy amount of fear kids need to have to stay safe with the lack of it they need to thrive. I do not know the answer.
What I know for sure is we all need to do better in protecting our kids. Better to have a few embarrassing moments at a park, or at school, asking a screaming kid if they are alright, than to later learn that kid was taken. Better to do what Charles Ramsey did, be a yes and take a risk, lean in for a hand reaching out than let another day or year or 10 go by. Better to err on the side of kids. Every. Single. Time.
For Berry and the others to be rescued, in other words, two things had to happen: she had to never forget who she was, and that who she was mattered; and Ramsey needed to not care who she might be at all—to think that all that mattered was that a woman was trapped behind a door that wouldn’t open, and to walk onto the porch.
So this is what I plan to tell my daughter in the morning. This is who you are and who you are matters. If trouble finds you, I will never give up on you. Don’t you give up on yourself. And instead of being afraid, I need to be willing to walk onto a porch for a stranger. And hope a stranger would do so for me and mine if necessary.
Burn The Boats, and dare to walk onto a few porches,
We’re moving. All of us Fort Worth Engels will be packing up and moving a couple of miles away in a couple of weeks. Why is simple. Because in doing so, we pass a line of demarcation—from a neighborhood with a good public elementary school to another with what everybody says is a great elementary school.
Vivian is only 4; does not start kindergarten for another year but we I insisted on leaving a perfectly good house and neighborhood because education matters. And just when I thought I had jumped too soon, my Star-Telegram arrived with this news
The really short, short, short version: The school we I insisted on moving for was ranked 10th in the state. Boo-yeah. And this would have been amazing if I had stopped reading right then. I did not. I instead stumbled upon this paragraph further down in Jessamy Brown’s story.
The list of high schools that got failing grades included Arlington Sam Houston and three in Fort Worth: Wyatt, Dunbar and Eastern Hills. Wyatt ranked last on the list of 191 high schools in North Texas and next to last — 1,170th out of 1,171 high schools — on the statewide list.
O.D. Wyatt is a not all that far from our house, 10 miles at most, which really landed for me Sunday. We had just been to church, youth Sunday, and a youth had given his sermon on The Good Samaritan. The story here is actually the backstory, how a Samaritan had stopped when in that time Jews and Samaritans generally despised one another. The parable is not as much about teaching us to extend help as redefining who constitutes our neighbors and thereby who we should love as we love ourselves.
What I realized about halfway through this story was: The kids at O.D. Wyatt are my neighbors, and I need to care about their education.
Now how to help? Better yet, how to help like a neighbor instead of a do gooder?
Where I practice yoga and am studying to be a teacher, Indigo Yoga, already has an outreach program at Wyatt. And I plan to be involved. What I also know, from my time studying with Baron Baptiste, is I have to quit playing small. If I want to have a big impact, I have to put that intention out there.
Done. And done.
Now I am looking for help from you; ideas and suggestions and ways to really have an impact. This is just Step 1.
“Salt Sugar Fat” is a book where I enjoyed reading every single page; the journalism by New York Times reporter phenomenal, loaded with impossible-to-get interviews, never-seen-before information and secret files from food companies. What I hated about the book was the end, the moment I closed the book Tuesday and realized I had to change how me and my family eat.
Listen I know that Cheese-Its are not healthy, and yet I bought a box recently. It is in my pantry right now, alongside Welch’s 100-percent fruit fruit snacks and healthy applesauce. And I figured I was doing OK, right? I do not have Oreos or Ruffles. We have juice only on occasion, and Vivian never has had a Coke. We do not do McDonalds or Chick-Fil-A more than once a month. We have a two-bite rule on veggies. She loves fruit. So hardly perfect, yet OK for a 4-year-old.
Then I read “Salt Sugar Fat”. I am not doing OK, not even close. The scary part was not that these products—processed foods, convenience foods—contain scary amounts of these things. The scary part was not what these things do to your body. The scary part of what Moss details is how by introducing them to Vivian at this age I am training her taste buds to require this much salt, sugar and fat in foods as she grows.
In this book, Moss talks to University of Cincinnati professor of psychiatry Stephen Woods about what impact this type of food has on a body. He
compared eating to taking narcotics. Both, he wrote, pose a considerable challenge to the body’s fundamental goal of staying on an even keel. This balancing trick is known as homeostasis, and eating, like doing drugs.throws things out of whack. ‘Ultimately whatever you eat ends up in your blood, and our body wants the blood levels of everything to be constant. … When you eat you, you’re pushing all kinds of stuff into your blood, which goes against the concept of homeostasis, so your body basically responds to that by saying, ‘Holy smokes, what are you doing to me? I have to deal with this now.’ You have to get yourself back to some constant homeostatic level. Insulin is one of the things you release to push sugar out of the blood and into the cells. That is exactly what happens when you take drugs.’
Oh crap. Oh crap, crap, crap.
And just like the drug guys, the food guys have engineered this processed stuff so it is like a sugary-salty-fatty version of crack. We want it even though we know it is bad for us, for our kids, for our families.
Now the typical Jen Engel thing to do here would be to immediately declare I am cutting all of this out. And I kind of started down this path, Googling “real food” late Tuesday. I came up with Lisa Leake’s blog, and her 100 days of real food pledge. This sounded like a really good idea. It also sounded like something I’d start on Wednesday and quit by Saturday. I need to lean in. I need to enlist my mom friends to do this with me. I probably need to talk my friend Deirdre into moving in with us for a month and cooking for us, which her husband and two boys would probably veto. I mostly need to have a better plan than “Oh no, this book scared me to death”. I have to do something, though. The most convicting part of the book actually came early. It was a quote from a Washington Post editorial that actually defended the food industry.
Getting children to eat less sugar may be a laudable goal, the Post said, practically regurgitating the industry line that regulatory intervention was uncalled for, ‘but what are the children to be protected from? The candy and sugar-coated cereals that lead to tooth decay? Or the inability and refusal of their parents to say no? … The proposal, in reality, is designed to protect children from the weakness of their parents—and the parents from the insistence of their children.”
It is echoed again in the final lines of the book about choice, about how we decide what we buy and how much we eat. This absolutely is on me. So I am very interested in hearing from y’all, about what you feed your family, menu plans, balancing eating real food with real life, recipes, anything you have I’d love to hear and share.
Because I can not un-read this book. And I can not not act.
Burn the boats,
which detailed how reliant processed or convenience foods are
I had a weird experience Monday; a reader called me a fake Christian. His exact words on Twitter were: You’d be wise to read your Bible because you do not love Jesus and Jesus does not love you.
All of this began because I wrote I do not believe Jesus hates gays.
Actually I wrote a series of tweets about this in reaction to current NBA player Jason Collins becoming the first player in a major team sport to announce he’s gay, and the typical vitriolic reaction from Bible-quoting Christians.
@engeljen: Stop tweeting me Biblical justifications for your hate. Especially Leviticus. As my daddy says, people who get their salvation from the …
@engeljen: … The New Testament would be wise not to get all of their doctrine from Old. Jesus was clear, biggest charge is love one another.
@engeljen: And yes, I am a Bible-believing Christian, working on log in my own eye rather than spec in my neighbors. Bible pretty clear if you read.
@engeljen: The Bible says slaves need to obey masters, says eating shellfish a sin and you can kill disobedient child, too. You folo those?
@engeljen: So Emancipation Proclamation a sin? Loving v WVirginia? Civil Rights? All went against Bible.
@engeljen: We used to sing “they will know we are Christians by our love”. No longer. Now people demonstrate faith by condemning others to hell. SMH.
@engeljen: Hope all of y’all tweeting me speak out as fiercely about adultery, divorce. Bible has opinions on that, too. #crickets
@engeljen: Really? Why are people not fighting second marriages, third marriages, quickie divorces like gay marriage. #cherrypickingsins
@engeljen After reading so much ugly Monday, I am reminded of this quote: It’s not what they call you; it’s what you answer to #jasoncollins
In the moment, I enjoyed the back-and-forth, the fight. The more I have sat and thought about this, though, the sadder I have become. These people, the angry homophobic people who cherry pick and twist the Bible to justify their ugliness and hatred have become the face of Christianity and thereby Jesus in this country. I have to believe Jesus is somewhere saying “keep My name out of your mouth”. I base this on the fact that every time He is quoted in the Bible he is talking about loving one another and not judging lest we be judged and handling your own business. To use a sports term, he seems to be saying: Coach your own team. Yet again and again and again, we ignore the sin and sinners in our own lives and demonize gays.
It is hidden behind nice phrases like “Love the sinner; hate the sin”. It is a lie, though. It is judgement. It assumes something not in evidence. It assumes that God wants us deputized to enforce His laws here on Earth. This is comical because even good Christians differ on the Bible. There are some passages everybody ignores—most of Leviticus about beard shaving and not wearing cloths made of two kinds of fabric. What I keep coming back to is what Jesus said, and what He said again and again and again.
Love one another. Do not judge. Handle your own faith.
The question then becomes what if I am wrong? What if I reach the end of my life and God asks me why I did not speak more fervently about all of which the Bible calls an abomination (included in this is the death penalty, premarital sex, divorce, et al)? What I would say is I tried to err on the side of loving my neighbor rather than judging him. And I tried to preach the Gospel with my life, not my words.
What I know for sure is I am a Christian, that I love Jesus and He loves me.
So I am going to start being on TV in like four months, and I need to lose 20 pounds. I talk incessantly about losing 20 pounds. I hatch plans to lose 20 pounds—vegan, Paleo, running yoga. Do you think I have lost a fucking pound?
No really, hahahahahahaha.
If you asked me why, I’d say because (in no particular order): the BLTB I had at Brewed recently, wine, a crazy schedule, lack of willpower, I am going to start tomorrow/Monday/next month, mostly because I am a big fat failure when it comes to these 20 pounds.
I am ashamed to admit this is how I talk to myself. About weight. A lot.
Then Wednesday, I had my eyes opened by a friend also struggling with losing weight, blaming and shaming herself about an inability to follow through on that goal. I typed up a quick response when she talked about needing to be shamed by her number. This is what I wrote.
(Friend), I can not suggest Daring Greatly by Brene Brown enough. If you do not have time to read the book, she did a TedX talk on shame and it is eye opening.
Cliff notes of cliff notes version: Shame is the absolute worst thing for us.
Love you, but telling your husband your weight is not going to solve your problem. Your problem sounds like my problem. You do not love yourself as is right now—imperfections and all. Start there. It is easier to be kind and do the right thing for somebody (you) you love than somebody you hate and are ashamed of.
… and I realized after typing and hitting send I am a Fraudy McFraudster, giving advice that I so obviously do not follow. I have read Daring Greatly, watched Brown’s TedX talk, been inspired, highlighted passages and immediately retreated to my entrenched views of myself, of what qualifies as good enough and what is wrong with me.
And I am done with that, no really Done. With. That. Shit.
This is who I am right now: A good mom, a wife to an amazing man, an award-winning columnist, a yogi, a yoga teacher in training, a Christian, a striver, a dreamer, a doer, a volunteer, a friend to many, a daughter and sister to an amazing set of Floyds, a proud Mizzou grad, a speaker, an opinionated PITA at times, a loving and giving PITA at others and I have a jiggly middle and extra LBs.
This is who I am. And this is enough. As is. Right now.
As Brown wrote: “When we work from a place that says i am enough, we stop screaming and start listening. We are kinder and gender to the people around us and kinder and gentler to ourselves.”
This sounds good, right? A worthy endeavor. Feel free to join me in giving up being ashamed of whatever your 20 pounds happen to be.
I spoke to my husband’s journalism class at TCU last week. It was inspiring actually; all of that optimism and youth, all of those faces mostly yet unmarked by blood and sweat and tears, all of that potential.
My talk was less speech than Q&A, less journalism than motivational, more of what I wished I had heard while at Mizzou. We talked branding yourself (yes, just like Coke, Lululemon, Apple) and having a personal manifesto and then customizing a path that gets you to all of your destinations—work, family, health, love, travel, volunteerism. It defies mapping, requires detours and rewrites, takes into account dead ends and the need to turn around and works best if you are willing to ask for directions and advice along the way.
I think I did a good job of answering questions except one. How did you get so good at writing columns. My mistake was answering it like there was a Jen Engel answer instead of a universal one. There is only one answer to every version of this question.
Do the thing you want to be good at. Do it a lot. Do it now, not in a couple of days, not when your life slows down, not when you lose 20 pounds, not when your kids are older but right bleeping now. If you want to be good at it, do it now and every day after. And if you do not want to do it now, do it daily, you do not want to be good at it and it is probably not your passion. This applies not only to writing.
Ask a fit person how they do it and they will tell you. Daily.
Ask a celebrity chef how they got so good and they will tell you. Cooking daily.
Ask a entrepreneur how they turned their idea into a career and they will tell you. Doing something daily to get a step closer to their goal.
Daily, daily, daily So like I told those TCU kids, the only person who can get in the way of your dreams is you. Everything else is an excuse. Figure out what it is. Devise a path to get there. And start, preferably right now.
Burn the boats,
ps. This post was kind of, sort of inspired by Lean In. I promise a book report will be forthcoming, lots and lots of juicy nuggets in there for everybody.