Kids Against Hunger

I first heard of this organization in relation to the efforts to assist Haiti after the earthquake, and I’ve heard mention of them several times these past two weeks.  In visiting their website, I was struck by their goal:  eradication of hunger.  No high-falutin’ language — to the point.  And that is the impression I got of this organization, which packages highly nutritious meals at low cost using all-volunteer labor.  And because I was thinking about gender issues this week, I also liked that one of the first facts they mention in regard to why they do what they do, is that,More than 60 percent of chronically hungry people are women (Source: The State of Food Insecurity in the World, FAO, 2006) “.

In reading about this organization, it is obvious that many of those who participate in the Kids Against Hunger mission do so because of their religious beliefs.  However, I appreciated their statement: ” Kids Against Hunger is not affiliated with or restricted to a particular religious group and does not discriminate on any basis when distributing its meals. Some of the organization’s volunteers and affiliates are driven by their love of God and helping to feed all of His children, but all religions and non-religious groups are welcome to volunteer, donate, and help in any way.”

Title IX

On June 23, 1972, Title IX of the Education Ammendments was enacted, stating “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”  In June 1972 I was not quite eleven, living in Hastings, Minnesota (we had moved there the previous year).  In the summer, I rode my bike all over town, specifically to the city pool most afternoons.  In the winter, I loved ice skating — and the fact that in Minnesota there were rinks everywhere.  That June, I had a moment of glory I will never forget — the boys in our subdivision let me have a “try out” to play baseball with them, and I made a legendary catch which landed me a spot at first base, the only girl allowed to play (the others were allowed to watch and cheer). The next school year, I joined synchronized swimming, and in gym class the swim coach tried to recruit me to swim backstroke for the team. 

I didn’t know anything about Title IX.  Eventually, vague rumors reached us that a law had been passed which required boys and girls to have gym class together, something that mortified girls who, like me, were required to wear one-piece knit gym uniforms which were hideously unflattering on every shape.

In my eighth grade year, we moved to Loveland, Ohio.  While I still interacted with the other kids in the neighborhood, our activities were more sedentary.  In school, girls were neither encouraged nor expected to be physically fit, much less athletic.  I only remember one athletic team for girls at my junior high and, later, highschool — basketball.  There may have been others, but I distinctly remember that even the basketball girls were suspect — girls weren’t supposed to still be playing those games by the time they reached high school. It made them seem masculine.

Much later, during graduate school, I started working for the Women’s Athletics Department at The University of Iowa, where I interacted with elite women athletes — at one time I knew nearly the entire US Olympic Women’s Field Hockey team; I traveled with the Hawkeye women’s basketball team to their Final Four appearance under Coach C. Vivian Stringer.  And I was acutely aware that the world I lived in had changed dramatically in the 15 years since Title IXs passage with regard to women and sport.  The young women I was advising had opportunities I never did — opportunities to maintain their physical fitness and sports involvement without being unduly hampered by negative messages. Nike told them to “just do it”, but by that time in my life, I was overweight and thought I had missed my chance.

The other day as I signed in at the health club, the owner said, “Time to measure, Jenifer”.  It took me a minute to figure out that she meant taking my weight and body measurements.  When I joined Sisters Health Club in March, we took all of those measurements, but we hadn’t “measured” since.  Once she finished weilding the tape measure, the stats surprised me — I’d lost a total of 25 pounds, 14 inches overall, and my BMI had dropped 6%.  All of these “losses” pale in comparison to what I’ve gained, though.  For the first time in my adult life, I remember the joy I used to feel when, as a child, I mastered a new physical challenge — the day I could do 15 reverse crunches lying on the floor at Sisters may not exactly have rivaled my first dive from the high board but I was every bit as proud because I had accomplished something I thought I couldn’t do (and my trainer promptly assigned me to do 20).  I suddenly remember that I wasn’t always awkward and uncomfortable in my own skin.  I remember that some things really are worth sweating and hurting for.  I am so happy that the girls and young women I love will not live in a world where these things are undervalued for their entire gender.

Today, my friend Molly issued a challenge for us to participate in the Flood Run in June.  I haven’t run further than a few feet in decades, and Molly wants us to run 7 miles.  (Molly, by the way, competed in intercollegiate sports throughout college and is still a champion golfer — a Title IX success story!)  So, for the girl I once was who could run for hours playing “kill the man with the ball”, I said yes.

Getting Real

It seemed like such a simple idea.  People would sponsor me to lose weight — I’d have a way of holding myself accountable, there would be sacrifice involved for a good cause (hunger relief), and my sponsors and I would have the satisfaction of a bigger donation than we might be able to make on our own.  My confidantes and I discussed pros and cons and it seemed like we’d looked at the idea from all the important angles…so I wrote a letter  and hit send.

Since then, I’ve lost count of the number of people who have said they could never put their weight out publicly every week.  And I admit, it was daunting.  Is daunting most Thursday mornings when I roll out of bed and approach the scale with trepidation.  But here’s something that has surprised me — letting everyone I love, everyone who loves me, even everyone who has a passing curiosity, know exactly what the scale says has been freeing in a way I never expected. 

My father’s family has a history of keeping big secrets.  One of the biggest was that my Dad had a half-sister.  I was 17 when I learned that the woman I thought was his aunt was actually his sister.  And while her story is not mine to tell, I think I can say that this family secret, intended to prevent shame, created more shameful heartbreak than any truth ever could.  And that’s the thing with secrets kept out of a sense of shame — they are toxic.  Even secrets that are not all that secret, like the fact that I’ve been obese most of my adult life.  I’ve known the toxicity of secrets in my family, I learned about it in counseling courses and have seen it in my work with students.  But in a classic case of “physician heal thyself”, I never applied it to my own life, to the sources of my own shame.

Telling the “whole truth” does not automatically cure the shame.  But, like letting an open wound get some air, it does enhance the healing process.  Energy that was bound up in maintaining the secret can be spent so much more wisely.  For example, I can get dressed much more quickly in the mornings now that I’m no longer trying to make everyone think I’m 120 pounds slimmer than I am.  (I mean, get real Jen, no one was buying it anyway!)  And now you know what I really weigh.  Although I am still a far cry from wanting you to see me (or to see myself) in a bathing suit,  I finally understand how the contestants on The Biggest Loser can allow themselves to be seen on television with their fat showing.  Covering it up isn’t the same as hiding it — I didn’t always get that.

Getting back to my earlier comment about feeling freer, its nice to no longer have an elephant in the room no one is talking about (NOT calling myself an elephant, just using a common metaphor!).  Some days it seems like I do little but think or talk about that elephant — but in doing so, the power it had to hurt me is diminishing.  First, because it can’t hold me emotionally hostage by threatening to let the truth out.  Second, because I’m learning that it is ok to feel vulnerable — something I’ve worked hard to prevent for a long time.  Finally, because in sharing my ups and downs with others I’ve received the gift of compassion and loving support which makes it much easier to stay the course.


At the beginning of this challenge, the decision was to focus on organizations primarily operating in the United States, or the US branches of these organizations.  With the events in Haiti this week, I wanted to expand that focus a bit and include an organization that is well respected and has the resources to mobilize around the world.  CARE is already mobilized to respond to the disaster in Haiti and is accepting donations on their web site

“Last year, CARE supported more than 800 poverty-fighting projects in 72 countries to reach more than 59 million people. CARE not only feeds the hungry, we also help tackle underlying causes of poverty so that people can become self-sufficient. Recognizing that women and children suffer disproportionately from poverty, CARE places special emphasis on working with women to create permanent social change.” (from the CARE website)

In many of my reflections, I have focused on the spiritual and emotional aspects of this challenge as I am experiencing them.  I have not spoken about political issues because I have not wanted anyone to feel unwelcome if their ideas differ from mine.  However, a number of the organizations I have listed as possible recipients of our donation attempt to uncover and address the root causes of hunger — many of which are political in nature (using the broad definition of political, not the red vs blue definition so popular in our media).  The poverty and hunger endemic in Haiti are the result of complex political forces, and will serve to make this natural disaster that much more heartbreaking than it needed to be.

At least one famous televangelist has said that Haiti’s issues are the result of a pact the nation made with the devil, and there have been other commentators making similar, if more subtle, points.  It is important, I believe, that this type of nonsensical rhetoric be renounced by all.  Spiritually, none of us is served by allowing such crap to flourish in our hearts. 

I do believe that we have the power to effect real change in the world around us.  That happens best when groups of committed individuals come together and work toward a common purpose.  For this reason, I strongly encourage each of us to spend some time getting to know more of what is happening in the world around us.  The websites for the organizations listed on our Ballot of Organizations are a place to start learning about creative work being done for the betterment of our world.  There is a wealth of research and statistical information there as well.

I realize that a short blog entry oversimplifies issues — what is known about hunger, its causes and its interaction with other poverty-related and political issues is a staggering amount, and there is not widespread agreement on the best courses of action.  I am far from well-educated myself.  Please look into your heart and decide whether it is time to learn more.


When I thought about what I wanted to write this morning immediately after my weigh in, I wanted to use this forum to complain that I worked really hard to lose one measly pound this week.

As the day progressed, though, I began to feel better about the results.  After all, with 11 Thursdays still to go,  we have passed the $500 mark in our fundraising!  So, rather than sharing the grumpy “poor me” thoughts I was having at 6:00 this morning, I thought I would instead share some things you may (or may not!) be interested in hearing about the first 8 weeks of this journey:

  • I have eaten more canellini beans in the last 8 weeks than in the rest of my life put together.  Apparently, they’re visually appealing and toothsome, as well as healthy, so recipe creators and food stylists love them.  And so do I…they may be my favorite legume.
  • There is no cause for concern,  but I now keep a knife with a serrated edge in my office.  This is for use in slicing the one piece of fruit I am allowed to take from the dining room after a meal.  I love a sliced orange around 3:30 p.m.
  • I started working with a personal trainer this week.  She has me doing floor exercises…have any of you ever known me to voluntarily get down on the floor?!  I gave myself a bad rug burn this morning — getting back up is harder than it looks.  I’m sure I’ll become more proficient with practice.
  • I used to be a gasbag.  I mean, serious gas and bloating four out of five days.  Even with all the fresh fruits and veggies (and the beans, of course) that has gone away.  I now believe that my former favorite food — cheese — was the culprit.  Please DO NOT  correct me if food science doesn’t support this claim.  I am a reasonably happy person even without my daily cheese.
  • I’ve received a lot of questions about this, so I’ll say once and for all:  I go to City Looks for my pedicure.  I probably could do my own, but not nearly as well (nor would it feel so good).  My scale goes dark almost immediately when you step off of it, hence the feet in every photo.  I could have left the feet out of the Christmas Eve photo on my sister’s scale, but why deprive some of you of your fun?
  • It has come to my attention that the women I work with, my dear friends and support network, have been keeping track of who is mentioned by name in this blog and that there is a little competition brewing.   It is important for me to say to each and every one of you — those I see daily and those I rarely see — your love, support and encouragement mean everything to me.  Not a day has passed over this 8 week span that hasn’t included some word of encouragement, some message of care.  Many have arrived at just that moment when I was wondering what in the world I’d gotten myself into.  Every pound lost and every dollar won for hunger relief has been a huge team effort.

Finally, I received a small package in the mail today from Jan Crawford in California.  She included a bag full of little glass hearts and her card read, “Just a little BAG OF LOVE to remind you how many hearts are behind you…”  I have been handing out glass hearts to people this afternoon.  I know Jan will understand my impulse to “share the love”; so often we assume that others know we care without any outward expression of it.  Please know, whether you received a little glass heart today or not, you are loved.

Oxfam America

This week’s organization is Oxfam America, a nonprofit international development and relief agency and the US affiliate of Oxfam International. Oxfam works to end global poverty through saving lives, strengthening communities, and campaigning for change.

Oxfam has a variety of ways for people to contribute, and my friend Layne chose one way to make a difference via giving gifts in the names of her family for Christmas this year.  She made a short video for her family about these gifts, and she kindly agreed to let me share it with you.  The link is:

Pearl of Great Price

January 6 is the date celebrated around the world as the day the Magi paid homage to the baby Jesus.  In the US Catholic Church, that celebration is held the first Sunday after the 6th — today.  For this reason, I’d like to share a story about a wise man you may not have heard before.

When we were in high school, my sister Chris discovered the tale of Artaban, The Story of the Other Wise Man.  In this lovely little book (copyrighted 1895), Henry VanDyke tells of Artaban, a wise man of Persia who, like his fellow Magi, plans to travel under the light of a new star to seek out the newborn King of Israel.  Artaban has sold his home and worldly possessions in order to make the trip and to take a gift of three jewels fit for the King:  a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl. On the first night of his journey, Artaban stops to care for an ill man by the side of the road.  He misses his rendezvous with the other Magi, however, the man he has helped tells him he should seek the babe in Bethlehem, rather than in Jerusalem.  Artaban must sell the sapphire to outfit himself, then travels across the desert, arriving alone in Bethlehem.  Stopping at a home with an open door, Artaban receives the news from a young mother, cradling her infant son, that the other Magi and the Nazarene family all fled in the night.  Just then, a great disruption is heard, and soldiers enter the street.  The people are screaming that the soldiers are killing their babies.  As a soldier appears in the doorway of the little home, Artaban lies — claiming he is alone, and offers the ruby if the soldier will pass by this house.

Artaban is ashamed of his lie, but feels he had no choice if he wished to save the baby.  He is also distressed at having now used two of the jewels he brought for the King.  However, the woman whose child he saves blesses him, and tells him that the Nazarene family fled to Egypt. 

And Artaban continues his journey.  In Egypt, Artaban follows rumors of the little family he seeks.  A wise rabbi tells him the King will be found among the people, not in a palace, so Artaban seeks him in humble surroundings.  VanDyke says, “In all this populous and intricate world of anguish, though he found none to worship, he found many to help. He fed the hungry, and clothed the naked, and healed the sick, and comforted the captive; and his years went by more swiftly than the weaver’s shuttle that flashes back and forth through the loom while the web grows and the invisible pattern is completed.”

In the thirty-third year of his quest, Artaban comes to the city of Jerusalem in the season of Passover.  Artaban sees an excited crowd, and speaks to one of them.  He is told that a Nazarene man who has done great things is to be crucified  for claiming to be the King of the Jews.  Artaban begins to travel with the crowd, thinking he may have finally found the one he sought, only to watch him die.  Just then a slave girl breaks away from a group of soldiers who are dragging her through the streets and begs Artaban to help her.  Artaban pays for her life and freedom with the last of his jewels, the pearl he has carried next to his heart these many years while seeking the King.  There is a sudden earthquake, and Artaban is knocked down by a roof tile which hits him on the head.  God speaks to the dying Artaban, telling him that in caring for those in need, Artaban has indeed gifted the King.

The story is old fashioned in its language and melodramatic in its telling, yet (and this really won’t surprise you!) I love it.  I have neither Artaban’s faith nor his perseverance.  Over the years, though, I have often thought of Artaban’s pearl of great price and  I believe that I do possess such a jewel which I must spend well.  This life I have been given is my pearl.  I have not always appreciated its value, nor have I always chosen to spend it on the things that matter or that make a difference.  The tapestry of my days is being woven at an alarmingly fast pace, yet this story helps me to see that my daily choices create the pattern — and I do want it to be a beautiful one! 

Here’s to a week spent well and thoughtfully for us all!