No More Hashtags

No More Hashtags

To say the last week has been gut-wrenching and maddening is the understatement of the year. I created this blog as a platform to share what I am passionate about. And if you’ve followed me from the very start back in 2018, or you’ve ever read any of my posts, it’s likely that you’ve become somewhat familiar with my viewpoints on racism. In fact if you’ve spent any time on my page at all you would know that I am married to a black man. You’d also know that when I started this blog, I clearly stated on my “about” page that the entire point of me sharing my words is in my website name: relentless Sarah. So here’s a little excerpt about the guiding principal behind what I write and why.

“The title, relentless Sarah, stems from the direction I want to be moving in. It is my mantra for how I choose to live my life, and one that I take very seriously. Every day, I strive to be relentless. In my daily pursuit of my passions. To be relentless in loving others. Relentless in my advocacy for standing up for my beliefs. Relentless in sharing kindness and generosity. And to relentlessly spread the truth.”

The past week has sent me into a spiral of self-reflection, consumption of media (both good and bad), deep conversations with friends/family who do and don’t look like me, and research on how I can do better. Or perhaps do more. As I watched the world unfold this past week on the news and through my timelines this deep pit formed in my stomach. Am I doing all I can? What more can I do to help? I’m praying Lord, but it doesn’t feel like enough. How can I stay silent and still when so many of my brothers and sisters are hurting? I’ve donated, signed petitions, passed along helpful resources that have been enlightening to me and hopefully will be to another, showered my black husband and family with love, affection and support. But none of that has made a change.

I believe that in life, we are given gifts, or talents, predispositions, whatever you’d like to call them. And these gifts are anointed over us so that we may hone and utilize them to the best of our abilities. And as with gifts, they are meant to be given away, freely. From a young age, I’ve known what my gift was, and I’ve been reminded of it over and over again. My gift is my words, and the ability I have to articulate my thoughts, experiences and feelings sometimes before I even realize what I’m saying. Writing for me is a supernatural experience. Every time I write I’m reminded that my words and message are bigger and more far reaching than me.

Simply because we’ve been given a gift and know how to use it (most days) doesn’t mean that sharing your gift is easy. In fact most of what I share comes only after a back and forth inner battle to be vocal. But regardless of the fear I have to push back to speak up, I show up anyway. So here I am today, showing up. Speaking up and speaking out, because I have been compelled to do so.

I have friends on the front lines in D.C., Dallas, Houston, Austin, LA and New York marching for change, but that’s not where I’m called. I’m called right here to share my words in the hope and faith that they will benefit someone else. Right now, black people are hurting. This doesn’t negate your hurt and your struggles, but please don’t try and understand a pain you’ve never experienced and never have to. I’ve built a life with my husband. And while I have shared some of the negative and racist experiences, I can’t even begin understand and sympathize with my husband fully, because I’ve NEVER experienced what he lives through on a daily basis. I don’t know what it feels like to be racially profiled. To be called a “thug” simply because my skin is darker than yours. To fear for my life if I get pulled over. To be undervalued, underserved, under-protected and under-supported.

Last week I wrote a poem in reaction to the senseless murder of George Floyd. And I have read those words daily as a reminder to myself of what I must do in response. If you haven’t read it, I hope you will now. If you have already read it, I encourage you to read it again, because with each read, it rings truer and truer.

No More Hashtags

Using my words is more than writing a blog post or poem. Yes, I hope my words are able to facilitate conversations. Yes, I hope my words are able to offer a new or slightly different perspective. Yes, I hope my words drip with hope and encouragement. But I also hope they are more than that. I pray my voice joins in the chorus of enlightenment to affect change.

The reason that I have continued to reread this piece is because of the call to action in the last stanza. While justice can no longer be served for George Floyd, I’ve been mulling on how I can continue to honor and remember his name and the countless others before him. And this is what I came up with.

Screen Shot 2020-06-03 at 1.47.19 PM
No More Hashtags Shirt

I wanted to create something that would be a catalyst for dialogue. That when people see it, they will either open up a conversation about why I have so many names written on my chest or see it and know they are not fighting alone. Shying away from difficult and uncomfortable conversations is not it. Staying silent in the presence of evil is not it. Doing nothing when our brothers and sisters are in tremendous pain is not it.

While this post is an obvert nudge to do something, take some time to think about where and how your service can be most effective. If you’re a photographer, use your photos. If you’re a social media whiz, share resources and information. If you’re an artist use your art. If you’re a great purchaser, buy and donate necessary items for your local protestors. If you have margin, donate to one of the many organizations working tirelessly to affect change. Or maybe your eyes are truly beginning to open and your time is best spent right now reading, learning and soaking in all you can.

We are so quick to throw the word “love” around. But love is more than an emotion, love is a verb. So if you love your neighbor, friend, co-worker, relative, community members, show it.



If you are interested in purchasing a shirt, simply click on the link at the bottom of the photo and it will take you to the purchase page. I will not be taking individual orders, as I want you to be able to receive your shirt as quickly as possible. I am not making any money off of these shirts. All proceeds will be donated to the Black Lives Matter Campaign.

*I welcome dialogue about this topic and encourage any questions, comments and conversations. However, I will not tolerate hate or name calling. Just to come out ahead of this, please don’t comment or leave a message that “All Lives Matter.” Of course they do, but you’re missing the point entirely by focusing more on what you want to say rather than being open to listen. All lives cannot and do not matter until Black Lives Matter. 

Photo credit: Picheta, Z., 2020. Thousands Around The World Protest George Floyd’s Death In Global Display Of Solidarity. [online] CNN. Available at: <; [Accessed 3 June 2020].

I Pray We Do Better

I Pray We Do Better

I’m finding it difficult to unearth, let alone compose the right words. The words that will spur the desperate need for internal dialogue while also accurately capturing the turmoil we should all be experiencing. But as with most things in life, when it’s hard, in fact especially when it is hard, should be a guiding light that the work ahead is worth the difficulty.

If you haven’t heard the name Ahmaud Arbery by now, you will today. Arbery, a 25-year-old black male was accosted and murdered by two white males while he was out jogging. A man was murdered while he was out taking a run. I’m not going to explore the explicit and sickening details, because as a human, we should all do our part to seek out the truth. However, in your hopeful quest for truth and more information, I strongly urge you not to watch the video. I have been warned myself and reading the details of the video was more than enough to turn my stomach without having it visually seared into my brain.

As a human, it should always be heartbreaking and outrageous when another human is murdered. As a fellow human, regardless of age, religion, sex or race, it should ALWAYS impact us when another human being is senselessly killed.

My heart is so saddened that amongst the universal grief that should be enveloping us all, that people are arguing opposing sides. Explaining away, justifying a senseless and brutal crime. Ahmaud Arbery may not look like me, but he shouldn’t have to. He shouldn’t have to remind me of anyone black I’ve encountered in my life in order for me to feel a connection to him. We shouldn’t have to picture him as somebody’s son, somebody’s brother, cousin, relative, friend, teammate, or community member to be incensed by this unnecessary and heinous murder.

Ahmaud Arbery IS all on his own. Or he was because he was selfishly and ignorantly taken away too soon. I challenge you, to truly peer inside yourself and ask the question that needs to asked: are you moved in any way by this killing?

If your honest answer is yes, then do your part and open up the dialogue with others. Share the name Ahmaud Arbery to bring this darkness into the light. Speak his name and continue to do so until justice is served. Speak his name and continue to utter it because his life mattered. Black lives matter.

But if your honest answer is no, then a deeper question must then be asked: why not? Why are you not affected? Or perhaps why are you not affected enough to act?

I pray for the Arbery family and all those impacted by this tragedy. I pray for the black parents that have yet another reason to worry about the safety of their black children. I pray for the South Georgia community who are bleeding at the loss of a loved one and are so desperately deserving of long, 74 day-overdue justice and closure.

I don’t know exactly how to extinguish these types of horrific tragedies. However, right now in this moment, I’m speaking up in the best way I know how. And so I’ll leave you with this. A well-known Edmund Burke quote that rings especially true here;

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Edit: Since I first drafted this post, the father and son that took Ahmaud Arbery’s life have been arrested. And while this is good news, it’s difficult to celebrate an act that took 74 days to happen. An action that came only after so many people spoke up, took action and spread the news. But it shouldn’t take this long for what’s right. For the absolute bare minimum to occur. I pray that no other family or community has to endure the heartbreak of losing a loved one and then having to plead with those that are supposed to protect and defend you to do what’s right. I pray we do better, collectively.  

I See You

I See You

I wrote a poem the other day as an attempt to vocalize the undercurrent of emotions swirling beneath my surface. And while it helped to isolate and identify my feelings, as time has passed I realize I’ve only scratched the surface. I wanted to take a moment to not only honor what I’m feeling but to also connect with you as you might be experiencing some of these same emotions. 

I see you

First of all, can we all take a deep breath? I mean a legit, deep-belly breath that makes sound as you exhale all that built up tension right on out of your body. 

Breathe in and out…

It’s interesting how noticing something as routine and ordinary as your breath can catalyze such a shift in how your body physically feels. Let’s talk a little more about our breath, the life giving necessity that our body does on autopilot. Of course our breath is vital to our existence and like a well oiled machine, our bodies naturally breathe in and out. But the breaths we take are efficient; just enough air in to function and just enough air out not to wind ourselves. Our natural state of being runs on self preservation…essentially we operate in the realm of just enough. But if I take a conscious moment, or several, and reprogram what comes so naturally, I can feel a physical response. My heart beat slows, my chest rises and falls more slowly and my muscles truly relax. 

Let’s take this a level further and circle back around to my water analogy. If you’ve ever been in the ocean before, you’ve felt waves. Now if you’ve ventured out further than where your feet can touch, chances are you may have experienced an undercurrent. If you haven’t, consider yourself fortunate because getting caught in one is a scary scenario. 

When I was 12 my family took a vacation to Hawaii, so naturally we spent the majority of our time at the beach. This wasn’t my first experience with swimming in the ocean, so I ventured out. Deep enough where my feet were nowhere near able to touch or even find the bottom. I was enjoying what you would call body surfing, or letting the waves propel you forward while you float. I was thoroughly enjoying myself until I was caught between two crashing waves. 

Water rushed over me, sending me down beneath the water’s surface. Several full body tumbles later and I was completely discombobulated. I began swimming towards what I thought was the water’s surface only to realize I was in the middle of the ocean, unsure which direction was up. Frantically, I began swimming in the other direction trying to navigate the tumultuous waters. 

Another dead end. 

My heart was racing, my arms and legs were coursing with muscle tension, my breath was running on empty and my mind was terrified. 

What if I can’t reach the surface? 

What happens when my breath gives out? 

Can you still be revived after your lungs fill with water? 

After twenty more seconds of swimming in circles and what felt like my final few breaths, my mind stilled. I stopped thrashing and fighting the current. I relaxed my body completely. And you know what? I began floating towards the surface. 

I emerged still slightly panicked, but relieved to have survived. Feeling out of complete control of your life is chilling to the core. I eventually paddled my way back to the sand and collapsed in exhaustion.

But my adolescent self learned a valuable lesson. The waves are going to come. And keep coming. They’re not worth fighting against. Better to be still and ride them out. In a panicked state, I only hurt myself and almost jeopardized my energy and breath. 

It’s been awhile since I’ve been back to the ocean, but I remember that experience like I’m still covered in sand and saltwater. Yet during a time in our country, where the waves are crashing hard, our bodies naturally go into survival mode. We operate from a panicked and frenzied place and only further succumb to the waves. And I’m writing this from a person who learned this lesson the hard way, and even now has sunk beneath the waves. 

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been anxious. Felt the physical, invisible weight sitting on my chest, making it difficult to take in a full breath. Felt the haze that’s settled in over my mind making it difficult to think clearly. Felt the swirling of thoughts and emotions tumble in the emotional undercurrent; tossed around so viscously that I find it difficult to sleep at night. And then when the exhaustion takes over, finally, I’m not able to fully rest. I feel the overarching web of grief that we’re all collectively experiencing in one way or another. 

But I’m here to tell you, everything you’re feeling and experiencing is valid. But I don’t want the initial fear and panic to sit with you long-term. When we are in our survival mode, we are limiting and hindering ourselves. We are not able to process and receive information in a clear headspace, therefore our reactions/responses will differ and stem from a place of fear.

Don’t feel pressure to respond to this situation in a particular way. Don’t feel guilty for reading a “how to be productive from home” guide only to realize that none of those tips and suggestions are helpful. Don’t feel less than for not doing a daily at home workout. Don’t feel shame for not shopping completely healthily. Don’t feel embarrassed for snacking more than usual. Don’t feel lazy for slowing down and watching (or binging) a new Netflix show, I’m talking about you, Tiger King.

This time that has been placed in our laps does not have to be more productive, more purposeful, more creative, or more anything. In fact, I would encourage you to use this time in the opposite manner. For me what has felt the most beneficial and healing has been slowing down. Less hustle and bustle, less time on social media, less time in front of the television, less time rushing from one event/task to the next. Less time planning and more time being in the present moment. 

If painting is what helps you cope, then by all means, but don’t feel like you have to produce art daily for your day to count. If going for a run gets your heart pumping and makes you still feel connected to nature, then go for it, but don’t run because you’re afraid of putting on weight. If watching an episode or three, of mindless television helps your mind stop reeling, enjoy it, but please don’t use it as a bandaid to ignore your thoughts and emotions. 

There is no right way to respond. However, I truly believe that if we slow down our breath, encourage our bodies to relax, and choose to fill our days with at least one choice or activity that brings us joy, we’ll all come out of this on the other side in a better place than where we started. I also recognize and acknowledge that I’m writing this from my living room with working electricity and internet. I’m not diminishing the severity or ferocity or suggesting that times are not difficult. I’m merely sharing a life shaping experience that helped to reshape my perspective when responding to struggle. 

It’s my hope that this message is able to bring you peace and hope, even if only temporarily. You’re not in this alone. I see you. 


P. S. Since most of us are confined to our couches, I figured I’d upload a photo of me sitting on one of my favorite couches. In a field. In my wedding dress. Just a little different from what my daily routine looks like now, right?!

Radical Love

Radical Love

Every year, on MLK day I’m left in a reflective mood. We learn about who Martin Luther King Jr. was in school and see the same few quotes shared across social media platforms. As a white person, I’ve heard lots of remarks growing up about how white people “love MLK.” And it’s easy to look back at someone’s life 52 years after the fact and comment that you liked what he was doing because it was non-violent, it wasn’t as “radical” and he preached “love.” Yet these same people get outraged at a phrase like “black lives matter.” Responding with bigotry, lack of understanding and ignorance. “All lives matter!” is shouted back in retort instead of meeting hurting people in need with the same love MLK advocated and demonstrated and you post on your Facebook wall.

In general, I think as people we tend to stay in our own lane. If we don’t experience something first hand, we tend not to believe it.

Racism is dead.

I don’t see injustice.

It’s not like that in my neighborhood.

I’m not racist, I have a black friend/acquaintance/co-worker/neighbor/celebrity crush.

I love MLK.

I listen to rap music.

 I love watching football/basketball/(insert other sport here).

We compartmentalize an entire population and generalize their experiences and struggles and try to say that we have a grasp on reality. If we don’t see something, then it just simply doesn’t exist.

I was raised extremely sheltered. My life experiences were very controlled and I was not exposed to much going on in the real world. If it happened between the years of 1992-2010, then I didn’t have much awareness of it. My parents chose to limit my worldview with the intent to protect and shield me from all the pain, injustice and brokenness. And as an adult, I can appreciate that they were doing what they felt was best for me. However, because of my sheltered life, I had a very skewed worldview upon entrance of college. I grew up in a middle class, hardworking white family, and while of course we experienced struggles, my childhood was pretty close to perfect. It wasn’t until I made friends with people that grew up differently than I did that I began to truly open my eyes to all that was around me.

How many people have felt like the minority? Have you ever been the only person with your skin color, surrounded by people that look differently than you? Have you felt out of place because of your skin? Been looked at, or more so looked down on simply because of your genetic make-up? To be treated differently and worse because of how you look? I have. And let me tell you it was eye-opening. I’ve never really taken pride in being white or really given it much thought other than wishing I was tanner. (Welcome white privilege; I’m glad you finally decided to show up in the mix and call yourself by name). In Longview, where the population is much different than the places I’ve grown up, especially in certain areas I experienced a tiny miniscule drop in the bucket compared to what some individuals live with on a daily basis. I don’t know what it feels like to be profiled. To be viewed as frightening. To be presumed guilty even when innocence is proven. To be counted as less than, inferior, less intelligent. To be valued for what you can offer only athletically and nothing else.

Flash forward to dating and ultimately marrying a black man. You want to see how people really feel, be a part of an interracial couple. The comments I have heard on both ends of the spectrum are mind blowing. The racist comments certainly come from both ways. And while our love tends to magnify what was already in people’s hearts: either love, understanding and support or fear, ignorance and bigotry, I appreciate both outcomes. I’d rather know how you really feel than be friends with a façade.

From personal experience and experiences I’ve gained and learned through my husband, I can share that racism is not dead. It is just as destructive, hateful, deceitful and fear-based as it ever was. But now, it has evolved and learned how to hide better. It hides in complacency. It hides in affluence. Lurks around corners of mis-education. It burrows under lack of empathy.

So you share your MLK quote once again, one day out of the year. What have you done to put that quote into action? Have you taken the steps toward acceptance? Done your job as a free American citizen to attempt to understand a perspective outside your own? Watched any of the ground-breaking media shedding light on these stigmas that continue to be stifled?

Contrary to white-washed perception, Martin Luther King Jr was radical. The quality of life and the level of injustice during his time on earth was shameful. And in response, he radially and recklessly loved others. He spoke out for those who couldn’t. He marched for those unable or unwilling to walk forward towards progress. He shed light on the deepest and darkest ugly parts, exposing them with no regards for what it might cost him. All the while holding himself to the highest standard, when so many others would have complained, resorted to violence, acted out of revenge masquerading as justice, felt sorry for themselves and the list goes on.

It is because of MLK’s valiant efforts and the continued efforts of those after him that my husband and I can be husband and wife. Were able to obtain a residence together. Not be arrested and charged for loving and continuing to love one another. While some may categorize our choice to be “more difficult,” I count it an amazing privilege and responsibility. In the hollowed wise words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, “whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

You want to honor MLK day, do your due diligence and educate yourself. Start by viewing these necessary and illuminating pieces of work.

-When They See Us

-Fruitvale Station

-Just Mercy

-The Loving Story (Documentary and Film)


-A Time to Kill

-Mississippi Burning

Consume this media for what it is. These are not just movies and episodes. These are TRUE stories. People’s lives and experiences and realities. Not 100 years ago. Today. In our country. In our home cities. Open your heart and your eyes and see what happens.

I’m not claiming to have it all figured out, or that the answer to eradicating racism is as simple and contrite as watching a few movies. But why can’t the start be that simple? Once you have the awareness and understanding that we still have so much work to do, what you do next is up to you. As for me, I will continue to live my life in a way that puts this concept into action:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” –Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

  I plan to continue forward with love and light.





Decade Challenge

Decade Challenge

As 2019 came to a close and 2020 was eagerly ushered in, social media was influx with challenges, resolutions, and plans for the next decade. Images were posted of new intentions, then vs. now photos and greatest accomplishments. Let me be the first to say, that looking back to reflect is vital. Comparison is necessary – comparison of who you were, who you are, and who you are striving to be. But for whatever reason, I wasn’t feeling it this year.

At the start of this decade, I was a senior in high school. Filled to the brim with all the plans, potential and sparkle in the world. At 17 years old, I would hope that’s what you felt also. Yet somehow, at 27, I feel much differently. I feel tired. Exhausted, actually. Because I have spent the last decade striving. Achieving. Working my ass off. I’ve gone through a lot of changes. A lot of growing. To come back to a place that feels like myself again.

I’ve evolved from high school teenager, collegiate athlete and student, college graduate, ex-collegiate athlete, first year teacher, working adult, dog mom, single, girlfriend, fiancé, wedding planner, wife, graduate student, master’s graduate, back to graduate student again. I’ve lived in one house, two dorm rooms, three apartments, three cities. Worked in four different school districts. Taught elementary special education co-teach, middle school special education inclusion, high school self-contained special education and as a special education in-home/parent trainer. My name has even changed over the course of this decade.

And while that may sound like a lot of changing, why doesn’t it feel like it’s been enough? See if you’re like me, you have this picture in your head of what you expect your life to be like when you’re 17. But my picture has always been blurry. I can make out vague outlines and fuzzy shapes, but the whole picture hasn’t ever come quite into focus.

What this past decade has truly taught me is that all the planning in the world doesn’t equal a clear trajectory. Is my life anything like I pictured it would be when I was 17? Not really. And that’s okay. I think our lives are a continual progression, not some end point. I can’t even begin to calculate all the time I’ve spent planning, dreaming, writing down goals and imagining the future. So much wasted time and energy focused on what’s next, rather than embracing what’s now.

Plans and goals are great, but life doesn’t abide by our time tables.

You want to know how I welcomed in the new decade? On my couch, with my dogs watching mindless television. Because I am so exhausted from all the striving and grinding and spinning my wheels to make one inch of progress. Let me use an example, because when you know better, you do better. College Sarah would stay up late at night typing up papers, working on projects and end up working twice as hard because not only was I battling against time, I was also now waging war against my own exhaustion. My end result took twice as long and wasn’t half as good of quality as it could have been.

Wise 27-year-old Sarah (I’m being facetious here) learned, that by resting first, getting up early and working in small, manageable chunks produces a much better result in a lot less time. I’ve decided to apply this principal to this next decade. Prioritizing rest. Less focus on all the hustle and check boxes we’ve created for ourselves. Slowing down, being present and focusing on here rather than where I’m working towards tomorrow.

While I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions, I make my decisions in the spirit of the moment, not slipped around some pillar of time, I will set a few.

In the next decade, I resolve to give myself a break. I’m not perfect. I never will be. I never have to be. Someone else already has that covered!

I resolve to enjoy every season and stop praying for the next one. I want to enjoy the valleys and the mountains because there is beauty in both.

I resolve to focus on one step rather than envision all the others I might be taking. To focus on the present, for no one is guaranteed tomorrow.

I resolve to love more. Deeper, harder, with more ferocity. To give it freely and without abandon. Because we all could use more of it.

Maybe this is just my interpretation, but we are so often fed the lies that we aren’t good enough, thin enough, healthy enough, attractive enough, worth enough, that we’re forced into concocting these “resolutions” to convince other people of our worth. Because here’s the truth underneath all the fabricated lies we’re smacked over the head with on a daily basis: you are enough.

Losing those 20 pounds will not make you see yourself differently in the mirror if you don’t love what you see now. Making that next level of salary won’t equal more money in your savings, if you can’t manage the small amount you make now. Finding that person to spend your life with won’t make you happy if you can’t find happiness on your own. Buying more things to fill your house, closet and time with won’t fill that gaping hole in your heart. And setting resolutions to “fix” or “improve” material and superficial things won’t be effective in changing or improving your life.

The internal work that needs to take place to accompany those “resolutions” needs to happen first, every day for the rest of your life. No new year or new decade can solve that. There is no quick fix, special work out, fancy diet or surgery that can alter the hard, mundane work. But all of this is null and void if you don’t operate from the space that you are enough, you already have what it takes to do the work and there is no final destination. Life is a process and it’s all in the details. So as this new phase of life is inevitably upon us, I wish you success, happiness and peace. In whatever way it manifests itself to you.



No. 52 – Someone’s Always Looking

No. 52 – Someone’s Always Looking

I am a person who when working out, wants NO ONE else around. I don’t dress cute, style my hair or wear make up. My shoes and outfit don’t match or even coordinate for that matter. I wear loose, over-sized shirts, whatever pair of clean bottoms I can find, and strap myself down under three sports bras so I don’t knock myself out while jumping or moving. Some days are better than others, but usually I have to drag myself there, and I try to get in and get out as quickly as possible.

The past few months, I’ve been boxing. Which is completely empowering and makes me feel like an all around bad ass. Until I see myself in the mirror that is. In my head I’m much faster and more agile than I am in real life. Cue why I don’t like anyone else around while I’m practicing.

But for the past few weeks, it seemed anytime I frequented the gym, so did this middle-aged gentleman. He almost always attended with his two young daughters, neither looking to be over the age of five. Put out that other humans besides my husband and best friend could witness my total lack of skill and athleticism, I cringed every time they walked through the door. Not to mention that the young girls were full of energy and very talkative. My initial thought was “why would you bring these two kids with you while you work out? They’ll just get in the way.” But to my surprise, this stranger was exceptionally considerate and went out of his way to ensure neither he nor his daughters interfered with anyone else’s workouts.

One day, the man and his daughters were in the gym before us. Immediately after walking in, the man offered to leave if his daughters presence would be a distraction to us. I reassured him that they were not and we each went about our separate workouts. And in trying to avoid the mirror while doing some squat jump things, I observed the man interact with his two daughters. He was seated on a bench set up at an incline while doing some shoulder press moves. All the while, one daughter was propped on each knee. Giggling, smiling and interacting with each other and their father. It was an extremely touching encounter to witness.

It was apparent these girls adored their father. And he clearly reciprocated. Never seeming irritated or frustrated at the modifications he was forced into utilizing while trying to entertain his two young girls. Never scolding if they needed to be redirected. Keeping them close while making it appear they were getting just as much benefit of the the gym time as he was.

The more times I ran into this family, the more I looked forward to seeing them. Not really interacting much, but a definite positive impact on my day. We’d exchange pleasantries, and the father would always make sure their attendance didn’t put any inhabitance on our gym time. Which I assured him it didn’t.

About a week after I truly began to respect and admire this family, another third party observation shifted my perspective even further. Jess and I were rotating through some boxing circuit reps, taking turns working on different skills. I was yet again doing some fashion of squats and drifted away from the mirrors that seemed to surround me. Jess was on the boxing bag looking like a pro while doing some round kicks.

But what caught my attention was the father and his two daughters. Again, they were seated on his knees while he managed to do some dumbbell presses. The look of awe in the young eyes is what first zeroed in my focus. “Do you see those girls?” He questioned both his daughters. It was apparent they noticed, because their eyes were wide with curiosity. “These girls are strong. And when you get older you will be strong like they are too.” Grins flashed across their sweet faces and they looked in amazement as Jess continued to kick the bag.

Even throughout the remainder of my workout, I couldn’t shake that brief conversation. What an impact that father made on his children. Not only by showing them what a priority their health is by creating a positive relationship between his daughters and the gym. Even before they are old enough to work out. But also by pointing out a stranger as a positive role model. Not a pointing out a particular physique or workout method. This father recognized strength in another female and created a foundation of awe to support it.

Now, in the grand scheme of these young girls life, this encounter may be forgotten in a few weeks. But as a stranger who overhead a personal conversation by being a semi-creepy eavesdropper, I have a good instinct these types of conversations are not the exception. They are the normal for this father-daughter relationship. And what a beautiful lesson to be teaching young girls.

All this to say that you never know who’s watching. Or listening. You have no idea who is around. So to Jess, keep it up sis. Just by you working out like you do every week, you taught two young girls (and a girl a month older than you) that strength is awe-inspiring. You had no idea this family noticed you being your usual bad ass self. And yet just by showing up, made a positive impact.

And to this exceptional father, I am encouraged by your interactions with your daughters. You’re instilling traits in them before the age of five, that this 27 year old is still trying to sort out. What was most likely a brief conversation between a father and his daughters was also such a positive experience to a complete stranger.

Even though you may think no one notices all the little things you do. Someone is always looking. You may never see your impact on others, but you are making one just the same.

Be encouraged friends.


No. 50 – Holiday Perspective

No. 50 – Holiday Perspective

I looked at the calendar today and couldn’t believe that Mother’s Day is this Sunday. I find that most holidays are difficult for me to decipher emotionally. Some holidays are hard and gut wrenching. And in those moments, I don’t even want to be a part of this planet. Some holidays I feel indifferent and neutral. Just another regular day on the calendar. And other holidays I am able to reminisce and bask in good memories. Memories that make me laugh and brighten my spirits a little.

As my mind wondered, my fingers searched through old notes in my phone, hoping for some perspective. I was brought back to this reflection written three years ago. Obviously penned from a place of pain and grief. I’m instantly taken back to that pew, overwhelmed to the brink and feeling like the only person in the world suffering a strained relationship.

05.09.16 : I still struggle with the concept of forgiveness. Have you truly forgiven someone if it still brings you to tears? Have I really begun to heal when old scars continue to reopen?

Another Mother’s Day came and went leaving my heart entangled in emotion. As I sat in church listening to my pastor’s wife talk about a mother’s relationship with her children, even my greatest attempts couldn’t suppress the tears. The war within me had waged and regardless of the winner, I would be the one at a loss. I felt guilty for still having a broken relationship with my mother when I also had an opportunity to make amends. Meanwhile, others had lost their precious moms and I was letting mine go to waste. More often than not, I felt a lack in our relationship. It always felt incomplete; I was left in constant yearning. 

Social media in fluxed with sweet words and tender photos capturing the love between a mother and her children. I was jealous of the photos and statuses because I had never felt what was expressed: an unconditional love. I spent the entirety of my childhood, young adulthood, and college years striving for that genuine love. Time and time again I failed in my attempts. One of the most difficult lessons I am still trying to wrap my head around is that love without restraints cannot be earned. It is given freely. In my quest to seek out love, I neglected to embrace an important relationship. While I would never attain the unconditional love from my mother, I could freely give it to myself. 

Self-reflections are my favorite compass of growth for this very reason. My relationship with my mother has not changed. It has not improved and is virtually non-existent. Everything that I wrote in this entry three years ago is still a true feeling. But what has changed is my view on our relationship.

I am learning that emotions are endlessly complex. It’s okay to miss someone and be in a current state of upset with them. It’s okay to love someone and actively choose to separate yourself. It is okay to feel one million different ways about one person at the same time.

When you’re in a broken relationship it’s okay to feel everything and nothing simultaneously. It’s okay to not know how to feel. Or to experience feelings constantly shifting and by the time you pin a name on a face, the old one has morphed into something else entirely.

So if you’re someone who is currently in a strained, broken or geographically separated relationship, I see you. I see you struggling and wanting to smile. To be happy for everyone smiling around you, but you can’t. I see you trying to hold it all together and get on with your day like you do every other day. But today, in this moment, it’s just too much to bear. I see you locking yourself in the bathroom, burying your face in your hands not knowing what else to do. Because you’ve been holding it all together for so long that today it has to escape.

And that’s okay. You’re okay right here even in your mess. You don’t have to have it all together. You don’t have to have all of your feelings organized and sorted. The beautiful thing about being a human is that we are constantly changing. Growing, evolving, shifting. Learning.

I love my mom. I know she loves me. I have so many good memories with her and because of her. And our lack of a relationship now does not negate the good in the past. It does not mean I can’t laugh when a funny memory flashes through my head. Or savor a Riesen because I saw them in the store and they are her favorite candy. We can agree to disagree mutually. I can actively love from a distance with boundaries and peace. My relationship with my mom may never change. But I can continue to change my perspective.

Our human heart is marvelous. Able to withstand heartbreak. Rejoice in triumphs. To long suffer difficult situations while also possessing gratitude. So this Mother’s Day I hope you are able to find solace. Your feelings, no matter the depth and breadth, are acknowledged. Feel the entire gamut. No justifications, explanations or vocalizations necessary.

Sending you all a virtual hug.


No. 49 – Skin

No. 49 – Skin

Sitting at the nail salon on a Friday evening is usually the LAST thing I want to be doing. After a crazy week at school, I prefer to decompress at home with my dogs. Not in public, while I wear my week’s exhaustion. But, when you need to get your nails done, you suck it up and pay a visit to the nail salon.

I was greeted upon entrance and seated in the only empty manicure chair. I noticed the woman already seated in the chair to my left, but was too fixated on my color selection to pay anyone much mind. I mean that’s the most overwhelming part: too many options and usually none that quite match your Pinterest inspiration pic.

After selecting a color, I relaxed and naturally scanned the salon. I was mesmerized by the woman I was seated next to. Beautiful dark olive skin and deep black hair. She was stunning. Glancing back at my pale, sun forsaken skin I thought “I wish I was darker.” My entire life I’ve battled insecurity over being so white complected. Tanning under lights, over-exposing myself to the sun, and buying beauty products intended to aid in the process of self tanning. With nothing really working as a long term solution.

I glanced back at the bronzed beauty seated next to me and wished I had her skin.

Another female patron two seats down from me commented to the woman on my right what a pretty color she’d selected for her nails. I glanced at her nails that I hadn’t noticed before and chimed in as well. “That really is a beautiful color.”

To which she responded, “thanks, I can only wear soft colors like this with my skin tone. Other colors make me look even darker,” she said with a taint of self deprecation. And then her next comment completely caught me off guard. “I hate my dark skin.”

I surveyed her further to see what she could dislike. How she could hate her own skin? When just moments ago I was wishing to look more like her.

I didn’t miss anything her skin was still just as glorious as before.

I made light of the conversation by remarking that I faced the opposite problem. Only selecting colors that made my skin appear darker. We both laughed and made small talk about the television program playing on the giant screen in front of us.

After our brief yet impactful interaction, I glanced back at my own fair skin and breathed deeply. It seems that we all long for what we are not. Rather than embrace, honor and care for our genes, we grade ourselves against others. Playing the ever-losing comparison game. While it was comfortable to know that I wasn’t the only one who wished her skin looked differently, it was disheartening at the same time. One brief interaction had shed light on a dilemma much larger than myself. The sinking feeling that I was just a tiny string in a larger, darker tapestry overwhelmed me.

Here I was in a white shell wishing to be darker. Not for an instant did did it cross my mind what wearing a darker skin complexion might mean for this woman. How it might have made her life more difficult than mine. How maybe people treated her differently, less than, inferior. So caught up in the aesthetics of her pigment that I hadn’t even considered the context of her hatred of her own skin.

Our interaction sat heavy on me the entirety of the weekend. Weighing on my heart and my head. So I’d like to share my few takeaways from this brief interaction. An interaction that was minor and insignificant when juxtaposed in relation to the larger picture. But as with all change, it originates by opening the channels for reflection and open communication.

 Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Which also means it’s EVERYWHERE. Open to interpretation and popping up when you least expect it.

 Everyone has insecurities. Pieces of themselves they want to change and may even actively do so. Be understanding. Kinder. To others, and to yourself.

 You never know what someone else is struggling with. We all have a story. Things we battle that are so ingrained into our core.

 Stop comparing yourself to others. Physically, financially, with social statuses, likes, followers, relationships. Just stop. Stop trying to be someone else and be the person you were created to be. Step into your own body, own beauty, own circumstances and be grateful for where you are.

 Appreciate the beauty around you, but understand that it may come with a cost. Extend grace and understanding to others. And show that same compassion and empathy to yourself.

 Lastly, it’s often in times of inconvenience that we receive the most important messages. Be aware. Be open. Be present.

I hope in sharing my simple reflection on a personally impactful interaction is able to prompt a conversation and an awareness that while we may have differences, we all share similar struggles, pain and insecurities. Darkness that can only be combatted by pulling back our own curtains and allowing the light to illuminate our deep seeded feelings of shame.



No. 48 – Happy is a Side Effect

No. 48 – Happy is a Side Effect

We’ve all heard this phrase before. Seen it on art prints, t-shirts, coffee mugs, tattooed on our own bodies. What started off as a simple phrase has snowballed into a life mantra. A dangerous one at that: do more of what makes you happy.


All wrong.

The dictionary defines happy as this:

Happy (adj).

-feeling or showing pleasure or contentment

Feeling being the key word. Feelings are fleeting; they change and shift constantly. By fixating on the pursuit of a feeling, you’ll be left with a replacement feeling in happiness’ absence – emptiness.

It’s easy to believe this notion however. The notion that happiness is our North Star, our guiding light. Aiming our compass towards happiness actually leads us in the wrong direction. Our emotions are fickle, they come and go, sometimes at their own will.

I’ll be the first to own up to believing this fallacy. We’re pumped full of claims that living “this” way leads to happy. Rocking these shoes. Carrying that purse. Strutting in a body that looks a certain way. Mesmerized by this mirage and exhausting ourselves chasing a lie.

By placing happy on a pedestal as the end destination we de-value all our other feelings. One of the beauties in being human is our ability to experience the full spectrum of emotions. Sadness isn’t enjoyable but is a vital ingredient in a healthy life. We create out of sadness. It teaches us strength, perseverance, lessons we couldn’t grow from otherwise. We learn to be tender, gracious, understanding. And that it is okay to not feel okay.

Happy is a side effect NOT an end goal. Personally, I’d rather not be a stagnant robot that operates on auto pilot. I choose to live my life open to all emotions and willing to grow from the process. Embracing the chaos, accepting the bad and learning that life does not always have to look pretty.

No. 47 – Work of Heart

No. 47 – Work of Heart

Working as a teacher is tough stuff. No year has been easy, and I don’t expect it will ever be so. However, with the finish line in sight of my 5th year, I feel as if it has been my first all over again.

The classroom I’m in this year has shaken up my entire world. Teaching students with low incidence disabilities has challenged me beyond measure. The absolute sweetest humans in the world living in untraditional packaging. These students deserve nothing but the best and it often feels like my best isn’t enough. There are many limitations both between my students and myself: cognitively, physically, mentally and emotionally. And it is frequently discouraging. 

I’m constantly self-assessing, working on improving myself and my teaching styles so that I can meet these students in their needs. Consistent positive progress is few and far between as fluctuations are expected, but often blur the progression. It’s been a lot of trial and error; a constant journey. Wondering the whole way through if I’ve gotten a single thing right. 

Today, during my conference, one of my students walked in with several flowers in his hands and a grin on his face. “Mrs. Carter!” he exclaimed, “I got these for you!” 


My heart melted and all that worrying about my teaching performance melted with it. Oftentimes as a teacher we get so wrapped up in performance, data and if we’re checking all the boxes our campus and district requires that we satisfy. That it becomes easy to lose sight of why true teachers began in the first place: an innate calling to serve. To serve students through building relationships, providing a safe haven and acting as a catalyst that ignites the passion for lifelong learning. 

A precious student of mine reminded me of my reason behind teaching, students with special needs especially. I’m reminded that what I teach them couldn’t possibly compare to what they teach me. And keeping that at the forefront of my planning and instruction will guide everything else. 

I can’t fully control everything my students retain, but I can be sure of this: they’re hearing me. Hearing my call to serve them. Hearing my love for them and their quality of life. My dedication to give them my best, even if it will never feel enough. 

So if you’re a struggling educator counting down the days until summer while simultaneously not wanting to let this precious group of students go at the end of the year, be uplifted. They’re hearing you. Maybe not in a way that will necessarily show up on test scores or report cards. But your students are hearing you where it most counts- they’re hearing you from the heart. 

That’s all the feedback I need. 


No. 46 – Sun and Rain

No. 46 – Sun and Rain

The sky opens up

And soft tears pour down from it

Gently misting the earth below.

A cacophony of droplets

Dances in my ears.

Scents of the earth

Welcome my nose.

A light opens up slowly

Illuminating the grey clouds

Brightening the sky

Yet never revealing its light.

Rain and sun

Existing together

Yet separate somehow.

Reminding me of the human spirit:

Crying out in pain

While still shining.

Mourning and worshipping,

Peaceful and tumultuous.

There is a season for all things.

Especially simultaneous sun and rain.

Author’s Note: I find that the more energy I invest in the present, the more I receive back. Yet, it’s increasingly difficult to disconnect from the noise around me. My ears have been so tuned to hear noise rather than notes. 

It has only been recently, in moments I physically remove myself that my ears begin to truly open. Overwhelmed with music all around me. Soft melodies, intended to be the soundtrack of life. Only audible when intentionally dialed in. Songs of peace, contentment, encouragement. Uplifting without utterance of a single syllable. You know exactly of which I speak if you’ve ever been comforted by the rain. 

Wishing you all time to be fully present and hear the sweet symphony playing around you. 



No. 43 – Skin Deep

No. 43 – Skin Deep

Ever heard the saying, beauty is only skin deep? I vehemently disagree with that statement. I believe beauty is rooted in our core. Aesthetics may be only surface level, but true beauty has nothing to do with appearance.

Like most girls, I grew up with a warped perspective of my value, my body and its appearance and my role in my personal health. My parents raised me in a conservative household where makeup was not permitted until I was 14. I did not have the typical adolescence makeup experience – you know, bad eye liner, neon eye shadows and blush so deeply red you rival a clown.

After I turned 14, my mother took me to a Bare Minerals beauty counter, and the consultant helped me select a few items that would be appropriate for a 14 year old just beginning to dabble in the dark arts of makeup. I was so excited and couldn’t wait to transform the plain, boring version of myself that I viewed in the mirror into the knock-out I always imagined lay underneath an intense makeup application. One that would camouflage everything I thought I wasn’t.

As soon as the car pulled in the driveway, I bolted up the stairs to my room, ripping open the packaging on the way – eager to apply my transformation. First, foundation powder all over my face. Then some naturally colored blush on my cheeks. Swiping several different colors across my eyelids, hoping that would make them pop. And for the final touch, some mascara. As I applied the final coat of black mascara, I sat back to gaze at my final product, ready to drink my newly beautiful self in.

I blinked…in shock. I looked exactly the same, just with a little shimmer around my eyes. My face still looked too round, no definitive cheek bones, small eyes and thin lips. I rotated my head, observing it from all angles. Nope. I still looked the same. Well this was a complete flop! I went into the bathroom, wiped the gunk off my face and chalked up the makeup idea as a farce. I believed that I wasn’t enough, but that I was beyond help. The first time I remember feeling dissatisfied, truly with my appearance.

Fast forward several years to a 17 year old. A committed tennis player, training 4-5 hours a day. Sweat, allergens, dirt, weather elements as well as genetics, all contributed to the start of a severe battle with acne. One that plagued me until I was 22. I evolved from a girl who hardly ever wore makeup to a person who would not leave the house without it. Slathering it on, in hopes that it would conceal the painful bumps blanketing my face. But even with full-coverage foundation, in my eyes, my skin felt and looked like a topographical map of my face. Splotchy, bumpy, uneven and embarrassing. I had tried virtually every available acne-cleansing system on the market but nothing helped. On the tennis court, I felt invincible. But off the court, I hated what I saw when I looked in the mirror. But with each makeup application, I learned to cringe a bit less.

When I say, make-up was a necessity, I mean it. In college, my routine would go as follows. Wake up, usually after 5 unheard alarms and my roommate shaking me. Makeup application. Class. Lunch. Makeup reapplication/touchups. Tennis. Dinner. Shower. Makeup application. Study. Wash face. Bed. I wouldn’t go to class without. Couldn’t go to tennis practice without reapplying an additional coat. I wouldn’t go to study with my friends unless I had reapplied a third coat. It was a problem, but I believed the lie that without less flawed skin I was ugly and had no value.

Until one day, I was about to hang out with a particularly handsome man after tennis practice. I jumped in the shower, got all cleaned up and was just about to apply another coat of makeup. But my sweet, roommate Kayla, stopped me. She said, “Why are you putting make up on? You guys are just hanging out.”

I began to list my rolodex full of reasons why I needed another dose of makeup, especially because I really, really liked this guy.

“He’s going to have to see you without your makeup eventually. You’re beautiful with and without makeup on.”

My lips wanted to protest, but my heart softened. No one had ever told me that before. I glanced into the mirror perched on top of my desk. My eyes swept over my face, scrutinizing every discolored, red fleshy bump. My years of negative self-talk kicked into overdrive as I ripped myself to shreds.

No one thinks this bare face is beautiful without makeup.  

If he sees you like this, he will be so grossed out that he’ll never want to hang out with me again. 

But Kayla’s words echoed through my hardened exterior. The welcome sunshine after a hard winter of snow. Meeting up with Kendrae that evening without makeup petrified me to no end. And while I didn’t quite believe that I was beautiful without makeup or with it on some days, I wanted to. So I took the plunge. And was shocked when Kendrae didn’t seem to bat an eye.

I realized how wearing makeup had crippled me. So much so that I had extreme anxiety if I wasn’t wearing it. So the next morning, I got up a little later than I planned and made a sleepy-eyed decision not to wear makeup to my 8:00 am class. I was extremely nervous and anticipated some stares, but I could handle it.

I sat down at the long table and began to page through my notebook. Out of the corner of my eye, I felt a stare from a classmate a few seats down. I steeled myself, and raised my gaze to meet her. As I shot her a smile, she questioned: “Are you sick? You don’t look like you’re feeling well.”

My smile quickly faded and my face grew flush. I shook my head no, as I lied and told her I was just tired. Absolutely mortified that my initial suspicions were true, I vowed with tears in my eyes never to be caught without makeup on again. The rest of the class was a blur, and I jogged back to my room as soon as it ended, praying no one else would see me.

About a year after that, I finished up 9 months of Acutane treatment. A radical prescription used in the treatment of acne. It warrants intense side effects and came with a large price tag, one that mostly I absorbed. But I didn’t care how awful I felt while taking it, how difficult it made playing tennis and how inconvenient the monthly pregnancy tests and blood work were. If this drug could eradicate my acne, I would gladly pay any cost – financially, mentally, physically and emotionally.

And when I completed my final month of treatment, with a long-awaited clear face, I was relieved. I could finally live the life my acne had held me back from for so long. But after the newness of no longer popping pills and the range of side effects they brought with them, I still was not happy with what I saw in the mirror. My face no longer had bumps, but I continued to feed the need to consume makeup. I’m just covering up my redness and acne scars, I’d reassure myself. If I couldn’t bear to look at it, surely no one else could either. And the vicious cycle perpetuated. The acne was merely a magnifying glass enlarging the problem that was pre-existent. One that could not be remedied with a prescription.

Again, let’s skip ahead in the story to yesterday. I woke up not feeling well. And since it’s been so dry and cold lately, I felt like giving my skin a break. So I moisturized twice and went to work sans makeup. No foundation, no eye brow filler, no highlighter, blush, eyeshadow or mascara. My face was completely bare. And after about 30 minutes in my classroom another adult made a remark.

“You look sick. I didn’t want to say nothing, but your eyes look all glassy and your face looks puffy.”

I nodded, half-smiled and rolled my eyes on the inside. A comment similar to someone remarking that you’re sunburnt when you’re obviously acutely aware that you’re the color of a ripe tomato and physically hot to your own touch. Unnecessary, obnoxious and rude. And so I continued about my day. But it was during my lunch break that I unpacked the encounter from earlier.

While the comment about my lack of makeup was rude and uncalled for, I wasn’t negatively impacted by it. I didn’t run off to the bathroom and look in the mirror to see if she was right. It didn’t change how I felt about myself inwardly or outwardly. In fact, it didn’t affect my day at all. But it did allow for some reflection. When had I become more comfortable with my natural skin? There was no moment of revelation. In fact, it has been a long process over the past five years. A process of limiting my negative self-talk, reframing critiques from others and myself, intentionally speaking kindness and nourishing the skin I’m in.

True change takes time and effort. But most importantly consistency. If I had not chased after true change in myself years ago, I would have been devastated by that individual’s remark today.

Skin Deep 2

*I did not wake up like this. I didn’t even apply this myself, a professional did.*

There are some days I choose to wear makeup. But now it’s because I want to. I view it as a form of self-expression which allows me to be more playful and artsy. There are some days where I don’t wear any makeup at all. And I even leave the house looking that way. I have learned that what is or isn’t on my face has no true impact on the way I carry myself, my abilities or my heart. Beauty has nothing to do with appearance. Beauty radiates from the inside out.

Words–from yourself and others–only have power over you if you allow them to.

Author’s Note: Someone dear to me shared a personal experience the other day on social media. She discussed this inner war that teetered back and forth with her appearance. The things we say in our head about our own bodies that we would never speak to another human being. And in her moment of frailty, a stranger spoke words of love to her, shaking her to her core. Reminding her that what we think and say to ourselves matters. And this reflection touched me, and stirred a burning question in my mind. Why is it so easy to speak love over others, yet so hard to nurture ourselves in that same manner? 

In celebration of Women’s History Month, I wanted to touch on a subject that was near and dear to my heart. I too have suffered many barbed and poisonous verbal attacks, some of the deepest wounds coming from my own tongue. Comments laced to damage and destroy, yet ones that I would never utter aloud. Especially not aimed at another person. But time and time again I would lower the boom on myself and let loose.

Something has to change. The comparison game has to end. This idea of perfection is a mirage. A dreamt-up concoction that will leave you stranded in the middle of a desert.  

I’ve seen it happen in others and I’ve slowly started to witness the change in myself too. Words are insanely powerful. And over time, their power can increase. If you continuously berate yourself, you will not only believe those lies, you will become them. If instead, you nourish yourself with kindness and truth and love they will transform you, but also radiate through you in such a way that others will feel their warmth.



No. 41 – Masks We Wear

No. 41 – Masks We Wear

Why is it so much easier to put our “fake” face forward rather than our real one? Is social media to blame with its influx of filters and highlight reels? Is it Hollywood’s fault with our idealized celebrity lifestyles? Or perhaps it is a deeper issue that lies within – a heart problem. I do believe that there are many contributing factors, but at the core is a flawed heart. One that seeks gratification through the approval of others.

I didn’t grow up with social media and wasn’t much apprised on celebrities and Hollywood. In fact, I grew up sheltered, but aware of appearances. Not necessarily how people looked – attractive v. unattractive – but how a lifestyle appeared. Did the family appear happy? Christian enough? Conservative? Generous? As long as all appeared squeaky clean on the outside, that was all that mattered.

Yup, we appeared to be an ideal family. But underneath, issues ran amuck. Issues that were never addressed and continuously swept under the rug. And from a young age, masking became ingrained and innate. I did it without even realizing I was doing so. Feeling anything but joyful? Mask it up and smile so no one catches on. I mean I perfected this art! So much that I often fooled myself when I looked in the mirror. Forgetting my smiling mask still adorned my downtrodden face underneath.

This lens through which I viewed the world and myself was no different when I first embarked out on my own. Battling what was familiar, albeit wrong for me versus the fear of breaking out of my old mold and growing independently.

After almost nine months, I still lived in a state of shock that thiswas my life. Thisbeing the current state of my situation and well-being. The state of complete disconnection from what felt like my entire family. Living in my own apartment, working two jobs, barely able to pay my bills and afford groceries. Scraping through each day, wondering how it all changed so quickly and drastically.

This was not the life I had planned or pictured for myself. I felt I had done everything right.

Go to college

Find career with job security

Get my own place to live

Start career

Find amazing guy √√

Checking all these boxes=happy life, right? Wrong. I had followed the steps, but my equation did not add up. My life was a mess. What would others think of this colossal failure I turned out to be? Drowning in a position I felt underqualified to teach, a poor excuse for an “adult” and a sorry excuse daughter that was convinced to feel like nothing more than a disobedient wild child. It didn’t feel right to call myself a contributing member of society. I felt more like a black hole, obliterating anything that crossed my path.

But my mask? Vacuum-sealed across my face as soon as my eyelids witnessed daylight. Making me feel safer and appear as less of a fraud. As well as one of the most familiar items in my recently changing life. Well my mask and the incessant guilt I was also attempting to cover up.

When I embraced my alter ego – perfect Sarah – I felt better. Always temporarily though, until I was home, alone, in the dark. Checking twice to make sure no one was around to witness, in horror, my disfiguration upon removing the mask from my skin. And as soon as I removed my mask, my true reflection flashed back at me. For on the backside of my beautiful mask was a mirror, revealing my authentic self. And I’d grown to loathe what I saw looking back at me.

Because of the shame I carried around with me, I never felt comfortable in my own raw skin. Fearful of what others might think. Unsure if anyone could accept and embrace the real me. Torn between the debilitating guilt I felt for going against the grain of my family contrasted with this newfound freedom to grow into the person I was truly meant to be.

And yet…

I didn’t want to entertain my next thought. I tried to push it down, back into the depths of my stomach. But even the distaste it brought to my tongue wasn’t enough to keep it down. Like bile, it purged ever upward. I missed my family.My father, mother, sister, brother. My grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. The whole side of the family I had grown up with and into had so quickly been severed from my life.

It felt unnatural and perverse to miss the same people who rejected me. Rejected me and left me deeply wounded. How could I miss the environment that was so toxic for so long, that it clouded my view? That now, almost a year after I was still experiencing the aftermath.

A tragic scene played out before me. I stood on one side of the canyon facing the North, yet I couldn’t help but to look back, tears welling in my eyes. Scanning, even for the tiniest glimpse of a silhouette on the other side. But we were so far away now. All I could see was the tattered remains of the bridge that once connected both canyons. Now, limp, sliced to ribbons. The unstable bridge made of rope and slatted wood was a place I frequented. Often traveling between the two sides. While the bridge was meant to connect, it seemed to only further divide. For I was the sole traveler back and forth. Always compromising, striving to be who I knew I never could. Journeying to the other side, never met in the middle. And each trek, extracting more toll than the prior.

Still unable to grasp how I could hate and miss something simultaneously. I didn’t hate my family, not even in the slightest. Honestly, it would have made everything so much easier if I could. Because then I could make a clean break and move forward, uninhibited. But with every torturous step forward, a suitcase full of baggage drags behind me in the dirt.

I missed them. Flat out, missed my family. The familiarity they encompassed. The memories they consumed. The idea of being supported: much more present in theory than in action. Regardless of all the hurt and disconnect, I have and always will keep my family in my heart.

smile, maskfree, me

Author’s Note: This is me, Sarah, in an attempt to bare it all with you. No mask, just me.

I get asked often, in person and online how things are with my family now. And truth is I struggle, still, with my family dynamic, which at the moment in non-existent. It’s gone through ups and downs over the past five years, but has flat-lined for about the last 18 months. I wouldn’t say we don’t communicate, because a lack of communication is still sending a message. But we rarely speak. An occasional holiday text is sent, with the standard “thank you,” response. So much has been said in the past, and so much more still needs saying. But with a fundamental, absolute disagreement, commonality seems to go out the window quickly.

 After all this time, emotions are so barbed and intertwined with logic, that feelings are inevitably wounded any time real communication is attempted. Which only further irritates the wounds. So to be totally frank with you, I don’t know exactly how to categorize the relationship other than not good.

Not everyone has a similar family situation to mine, but there are many, many reasons why one might wear a mask. Some wear a mask to fill in the perceived gaps and areas of lack, believing to be incomplete. Others may adorn a mask to dull their full light, afraid of being too much. Or like me, you may garner a mask because it’s all you know how to do. But whatever the reason, don’t fall victim to the lie that you, exactly as you are this second – right now – or ever in the future are going to require a mask.

Somewhere down the road, we’ve rallied behind the notion that we have to shoot for perfection. And when we inevitably fall short, because news flash no one is perfect, we feel the need to fake it till we make it.




If you go through life pretending, all you will ever learn is how to fool yourself. I’ve done it. I’ve lived this lie for years. Merely surviving is no way to live. There is so much more for you, friend. And it’s waiting on the other side of that mask you’re hiding behind. Let me say this again, out loud as I write.

There is so much more life waiting to be lived after you remove your mask.

I know it’s petrifying. I know it’s new and unknown. And yes, it will require work. But that mask that you’re sporting hasn’t served or protected you; it’s been harming you. Stunting your growth, camouflaging your identity, clouding your judgement with the lie that you aren’t enough.

If you’re anything like me and dedicated your life chasing perfection, you must be exhausted. Exhausted and well aware that you’ll never be able to achieve your goal. So instead of presenting everyone with this concocted version of yourself, why not remove your mask and introduce people to the real you? You already know your old method has proven unsuccessful again and again. Give yourself some well overdue credit and just try it and see. I have been amazed at the freedom I’ve gained by stepping into the person I was created to be.

Now that I’ve gotten all rah-rah, I’ll put my pom poms down and leave you with this. You were fearfully and wonderfully made and should live your life in a manner that manifests this truth. You. Not the masked you, YOU.






No. 40 – Valentine’s Day

No. 40 – Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day and I have a history, I mean we go way back. In fact, I can remember our first introduction. My mother introduced us, and I was given a cardboard map of the US with slots for each state quarter to commemorate the occasion. A strange “nice to meet you” gift, but nevertheless, there it was. My parents weren’t much for celebrating, so it wasn’t until I grew older that I observed how others celebrated the day.

Flowers. Candy. Cards. Dates. Stuffed bears. Red and pink hearts galore circled around me, never making contact. I watched in awe, how one day could transform the world into hopeless romantics. Sweet words, kind gestures, affirmations of love-all concepts I was willing to embrace with open arms. And yet as I stood, arms sprawled apart into the wind, I was met with emptiness. And with each passing year, my inner 7-year old self, became less and less of a fan.

Growing up, I didn’t date. Didn’t have a boyfriend, or any prospects on the horizon. Some of that was due to me, and some was due to the fact that I wasn’t allowed to entertain the notion of a boyfriend until after my 16th birthday. And even after turning the golden age of 16, I still found myself without a suitor. It was then that my displeasure turned to intense dislike. Because I could no longer justify that my lack of a Valentine wasn’t my own doing.

What initially sparked a wild fascination had morphed into a state of denial and avoidance. I had fallen into the habit of ignoring the holiday completely. Because it was yet another reminder of how alone and undesirable I truly felt. Not really fitting in with anyone; always feeling like an outsider. So I anti-celebrated. Wearing black in protest of the red, pinks and purples. Avoiding social media at ALL costs. Because the only thing worse than feeling alone, is being alone and watching what seems like everyone else around you come together.

But deep down. Way deep down, all my protests were a feeble attempt at masking how desperately I wanted to find someone. I didn’t want any old valentine, I wanted my person. So I wrote about it, prayed about and yes even cried about it. Not about Valentine’s Day, per se. The 14thwas just a magnifying glass enlarging the bigger picture. And at the moment, I hated what that day forced me to examine.

So now that you are familiar with our backstory, me and V-Day, flashback with me to 2014. Back at the start of a budding romance. Back when Kendrae and Sarah were two young hearts, unsure if they had a real connection.

I’m seated on the couch in Kendrae’s living room apartment. Breaking Bad is streaming through Netflix on the television. And as the credits rolled across the flat screen, I could feel Kendrae’s gaze on me. I turned my focus from the television towards him. Our eyes locked and my mouth combusted into a smile. I just couldn’t help myself. I mean, try looking at him and not smiling – it’s impossible!

I snapped to my senses and broke his gaze, embarrassed at his obvious effect on me. Cheeks flushed, heartbeat staccato, palms dewy. As I was trying to regain my composure, I heard his dark chocolate voice. Rich, velvety texture, so smooth I barely grasped the words coming out of his mouth.

“Can I be your Valentine?” he questioned so sincerely.

“No,” I spat out quickly.

Then erupted with laughter after a second. Reassuring him that of course he could be my Valentine. And there was something about the way he asked. He didn’t ask if I would be his, he asked to be mine. Not assuming, so gentleman-like. My heart was doing front flips. A feat my body was incapable of.

After the initial shock of finally having a V date, the horror set in of actually having to participate in a holiday I knew nothing about. What kind of gifts do you give to a man on a holiday crafted with women in mind? Would just a card suffice? Would a gift be too much? I mean we weren’t even dating.

After talking with Kendrae, we settled on a game plan. A budget for gifts, a night in to avoid crowds and a home-cooked meal by me. Kay, so I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. I hadn’t ever cooked a full meal before, unless Mac & cheese counts. But I was so head over heels for this hunk, that I may have offered to cook without realizing the implications. So not only was this our first date, first V-day together or ever for me, but now it was my first time preparing a meal. Talk about nerves…I turned into one giant knot! What was I thinking? Oh, that’s right…it was overwhelmingly difficult to think clearly when in Kendrae’s presence. Half the time I could barely remember my own name around him. No joke.

The next day, I hopped on Pinterest and researched how to make one of my favorite dishes: chicken parmigiana. After a few hours and what felt like 100 recipes, I settled on a menu. Chicken parmigiana, spaghetti, salad and rolls. A little bold, but I was going for it. I convinced myself that if I was confident enough, I could absolutely pull this off. Plus, I studied the recipe like it was for one of my classes.

The day was now upon us. And festivities were beginning any moment. Just as soon as I finished applying my second coat of mascara, I heard a knock at my dorm room door.

Curious, I opened the door to the most handsome man I’ve ever laid eyes on. Dressed in all black, hands full with a candy bar bouquet. You know that expression, smiling ear to ear, well call me Exhibit A. I was so surprised to see Kendrae standing outside my door. He grinned as he declared, “your chariot awaits.”

The night was perfect, like a rom-com with no drama in the middle. To my absolute and utter shock, dinner tasted wonderfully. Our gift exchange was thoughtful but not too over the top. His card was so sincere and heart-felt. Just enough to let me know he cared, while still keeping things light. All my hatred for Valentine’s Day dissipated.


*Valentines Day, circa 2014. 

Author’s Note: V-Day garners some strong emotions. Love and hate. Not a lot of in between. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the festivities because of the faintly present theme of love that is really masquerading as gift giving. You can be left feeling that no valentine=no love. Which couldn’t be more off the mark.

Experiencing my first valentine’s day at the ripe ole age of 21, you can bet I was over the moon with excitement. The night was special, romantic and everything I had ever hoped it would be. It was our first official date, and it did NOT disappoint.

But as time went on, I had more and more experiences that matched or surpassed our Valentine’s Day experience together. And over time, something clicked. It wasn’t the day that was special. It was Kendrae and our relationship together that held all the magic. Sure, having someone to spend the holidays with is wonderful, but it’s all the non-Valentine days that are the most special. The occasions that don’t call for flowers, desserts or cards. The days that should be their own holiday they’re so phenomenal.

So if you’re in a season of waiting, don’t be like I was. Embrace it. I know, easier said than done. Believe me, I wasn’t very good at it. But being “picky” and not settling are so worth it. Don’t succumb to the pressure of feeling like you have to have a date or special someone. February 14this just a day, and you can choose to spend it however you want. Your day can and should be filled with love regardless of your relationship status.

So what if no one wrote you a card. Write a love note to yourself, then write one to your best friend too. Feeling lonely? Work on enjoying your own company. I mean it. Sit at home by yourself, without your phone, without the television, not even with any music playing. If you feel uncomfortable, well then you just need some more practice. It may be difficult, but the benefits far outweigh the original discomfort.

Bummed no one bought you any flowers? Go buy some for yourself. Pick out an arrangement you enjoy and get them. Flowers are just as beautiful if you buy them for yourself or receive them as a gift. And come on, like anyone even needs to justify buying their own chocolate. It’s chocolate!

But none of these material things are necessary or joy inducing. You don’t need anything to feel special or enjoy your day. Just like having a “valentine” does not equate to love or being whole. So whatever stage you’re at in life tomorrow, just know I’m sending mad love your way!




No. 38 – T-SHIRTS!!!

No. 38 – T-SHIRTS!!!

We’re ONE today. And I cannot believe this day is finally here! In celebration of this milestone, relentless Sarah is launching some merch! Some of you may have already seen and maybe even voted on my designs. Now, you are able to purchase them. Eeeek! Seriously so exciting. It was so difficult narrowing down my favorite, and same went for you. So I am offering five different shirt options. And you better believe I will be rocking every single one.

OG Blog Size-2

So let’s start with the OG shirt. This bad boy is called the OG for a reason. It’s my classic logo in black and a mustardy-gold. The shirt is Next Level and has a sueded finish for added thickness and softness. Like seriously, the softest t-shirt I’ve ever felt. The shirt is a uni-sex fit so it looks great on every body and runs true to size.

Script Blog Size

Next up is the Script Tee. This beaut is a Bella + Canvas tri blend material that is so soft and breathable. The heather texture adds dimension and sophistication all at the same time. Using my signature relentless font, but leaving off my name so that you can own what makes you relentless. The shirt is a uni-sex fit so it’s fitted, but not tight. You may want to size up if you like the look of a longer, looser fit.

Vertical Blog Size

The Vertical shirt. This shirt is also a Next Level with the sueded finish adding the thickness and softness you want in your favorite tee. Wear this shirt to the gym, running errands, and pretty much everywhere else too. This design is seriously my favorite. I love how classic and simple it is at the same time. You can dress it up or wear it casual. The options are endless. Shirt runs true to size.

Grey Blog Size

Grey Pocket Tee. Ummm…Comfort Colors. Need I say more. If you have worn this brand of shirt, you know what great quality and comfort they are. If you haven’t tried a Comfort Colors shirt, well here’s your chance! You’re welcome. Such great quality, vintage hand dyed look, and absolute comfort. I recommend sizing up and wearing this shirt in more of an oversized style.

Mustard Blog Size-2

Mustard Pocket Tee. Same goes for this shirt. The color is a soft mustard/golden hue. Appears darker on the screen than it does in person. Perfect color for Spring and Summer. Again, I would recommend sizing up if you’re looking to wear this in more of an oversized style.

*All prices include tax.

Shipping prices are as follows:

$4.00 for 1 shirt

$5.18 for 2 shirts

$8.00 for 2 or more shirts

Place your order by DM, email, or via comments. Tell me your style, quantity and size and I’ll take care of the rest.

Payments can be made through my PayPal link:

As always, thank you again for your unwavering support. I couldn’t be more grateful. And don’t forget to tune in later today at 2:00 where I unpack everything I’ve learned through blogging over the past year.





No. 37 – Poetry

No. 37 – Poetry


We’re all seeking what we cannot see,

Our future self- who we’re supposed to be. 

But with each step forward, 

My past keeps dragging me back. 


Split between two people:

The me I could be, 

And the version who couldn’t 

Let go. 


Shame. Disbelief. Fear. 

Overwhelming me. 

I watched myself on auto-pilot.

Less than a whole person 

Aimless and incomplete. 


And yet…


In the very same reflection: 

Embracing. Accepting. Kind. 

Love illuminated like I’d never known. 

I felt myself blossom and flourish. 

Realizing I am already whole. 


Torn down the middle.

Clutching onto my past, the familiar. 

While reaching forward, towards the unknown. 

In order to fully embrace one

I must let go of the other. 


If I know my past is hurting me,

Why is it still so difficult to let go?


Author’s Note: I decided to change things up this week. A lot. Rather than writing my traditional 1500-word post, I wanted to challenge myself to write less. Instead of aiming for 1500 words, I aimed for 150. Could I convey the same message with 150 words that I could in 1500? It was a challenge. I must have written and rewritten this same entry 15 times. Scratching and starting over. Tweaking and revamping. Then starting from scratch again. 

Why poetry? Besides the fact that I enjoy it, poetry is raw. It strips away all the noise and cuts to the real emotions. I want my message to be more than a word count. I don’t only want to tell my story through a rigid perspective. Part of the beauty in having my own blog, is that I’m able to dictate what I say and how I narrate. So I challenged myself creatively. A process I thoroughly enjoyed.  

I decided to write a poem expressing my emotions during the in between. In between the drama, the big moments, the “blog worthy” topics. This poem is about the development and challenges I had just living day to day during this phase in my life. It highlights the juxtaposition I think we all face when striving towards growth. Acknowledging our past and appreciating it in a way that doesn’t stagnate our potential. While also not apologizing for our internal struggle. 

Hope you enjoy it! 



No. 35 – Self Worth

No. 35 – Self Worth

Half a year had come and gone and it hadn’t felt as if I had time to blink. My days were filled with scrambling, and I wasn’t getting much rest. When I wasn’t teaching, I was working in the mall at a little clothing boutique called Francesca’s. Kendrae and I felt like ships passing by but never meeting. My work schedule was a muddled mess, and his hours consisted of early mornings and late nights. We would squeeze in time together as much as possible, but it didn’t feel like much. A robot on auto-pilot, I was set on survival mode. 

I was constantly on edge. Fearful of what might be lurking just around the corner. Always glancing behind me, slowly turning corners, eerie of any sound I heard while in my apartment. I had been there nearly six months and the place still didn’t feel like home. Perhaps because I had no means to make it feel that way. It felt like a echoic warehouse building. I had finally managed to scrape up enough money to buy a thrice hand-me-down couch, but it was so lived in before I got it, that the springs were out of place, and inflicted actual physical pain to any who dared to sit on it. I never got a table, or any chairs for that matter. The only place I could really sit down was the floor or the bed, Jessica had so graciously loaned me. 

Truth be told, I was so busy, I didn’t have much time to want for anything. Besides more time with Kendrae. If I would’ve invested in a couch, I wouldn’t have any free time to sit on it. Better to just keep the apartment empty so that it was easier to come and go so often. 

Over time the place felt familiar, but not like home. Maybe it wasn’t even the lack of furniture that had any influence over my current nomadic feeling; it was deeper than that. I never felt safe. My irrational fear that my parents would come banging on the door, demanding to take me back home was a reoccurring nightmare, waking and sleeping. Every time I pulled into the parking lot, I expected to see one of their ten cars waiting on me. No matter how many times I tried to rationally talk my fear down, it was no good. In fact, the longer it had been, the surer I was that they were going to pop up. Kendrae shared my fear and didn’t feel comfortable visiting my apartment. Another reason it was hard to see each other.

The only time I had felt safe in the last six months was when he was around. And when he wasn’t, which was most of the time, I battled a constant state of unease. Looking over my shoulder. Inspecting every shadow. Sitting in silence so I could hear even the slightest breeze. Never truly resting. Mind constantly reeling. 

But when Kendrae was around, the fears dissipated. My two extremities wreaked havoc with my emotions. I found myself clinging to him more tightly, and coming to tears when we would part. A complete and total wreck, sobbing uncontrollably without constraint or insight as to why. Even when Kendrae was near, he couldn’t be more than six inches away from me or I felt susceptible to danger. I knew my behavior and emotions were erratic, but it was as if I had no physical or emotional filter. 

And one January night, it all came crashing down on me. I had the night off from the boutique, and Kendrae was getting off of work around 6. Naturally I was excited, because this meant we could spend some actual time together. I would make us both dinner, and we could watch something on Netflix and just relax. Until I got a text message that knocked the wind straight out of me.

“Just getting off work. I’m tired, so I’m just going to go home.” It was a basic message, but sent me into a frenzied panic. A dozen questions flew through my head so intensely that I felt dizzy. And before I could even think of a response, I found myself calling him. 


“Hey, I just got your text. You’re not going to come over?” I said as my voice cracked. 

“Yeah, I’m tired and need some time to myself.”

“…Um…okay…” I said choking back tears. He’s tired of you. He doesn’t want to spend what little free time he has with you. You’re losing him, Sarah.

Trying not to sound as panicked as I felt, “I was going to cook something for us and then I thought we could watch a movie or something.” 

“Maybe another time. I just need some time. That’s all.” 

“Oh…okay,” was all I could muster. 

“Well I’m almost home now, so I’ll text you later okay?” 

“…alright. Bye.” 

Cue the waterworks. I crumbled onto my bed and felt my world collapsing. 

How could he not want to spend time together? 

We lived 20 minutes apart, and he didn’t want to see me? 

What was wrong with me? 

What did I do? 

What wasn’t I doing? 

My thoughts whizzed around me in a vicious circle and after completely eviscerating myself, I was left crushed and wounded. 

I attempted to type a message to Kendrae about 20 different times, but the words avoided me. Despair evolved into latent hostility. Fine. If he didn’t want to spend his precious spare time with me, then I didn’t need to spend my effort on him either. 

My faux feelings of anger quickly relented back to despair as my self-loathing ritual began again. After about two hours of wondering how I could possibly pick up the pieces of my shattered life, I received a text message from Kendrae. My heart jumped into the air and did a front flip. He loved me, he really loved me and was apologizing and was on his way over here. 

Quickly grabbing my phone, I typed in my password to view my digital love note. Or not…It was a picture of a yogurt parfait Kendrae had made with the caption: dinner. 

What? So he was just going to pretend that this massive wedge between us wasn’t there? That he hadn’t just dropped a massive bomb shell on my heart? My whole world hadn’t just been shattered? 

I played it cool. “Looks good.” I responded, trying to keep it brief as I tossed my phone across the bed. Letting out a mudled huff of frustration, I reclined back onto the mattress and rested my head on the edge, legs dangling off the opposite side. Gaze fixated on the static ceiling fan. Gravity tugged at my hair which slowly cascaded down the edge of the mattress towards the carpeted floor. I let out another deep breath as I felt my body sinking. And as my eyes focused, so intently on the fan blades, my mind explored. 

Where had I gone so wrong? What could I have done better, to make him want to stick around? Was I too vocal about my feelings for him? Too needy? Could I convince him to want to be with me? Or was his mind already made up? What would I do without him?

What would I do without him? 

The connotation of that question reverberated through my mind. What would I do without him? Really…Sarah? Had my life so completely revolved around one person that I was questioning how I could get by without him? Chills ran down my spine as realization set in. Somewhere between wondering if I would ever get out from underneath my parents and now, I had become co-dependent on Kendrae. So much so, that the thought of spending an evening apart sent me spiraling down the unworthiness worm hole. I felt sick to my stomach.

My eyes widened, so laser-like focused on the fan blades that they became blurry in comparison to my thoughts. And as I took a step back to see my own reflection, the picture became very clear. Losing my relationship with my family created a large void in my life. In my frenzy and vulnerability, I had cast Kendrae as the leading role of my life. Not only that, but signed him up for just about every supporting role too. He was now acting as my family, my closest companion, my security, confidant and sounding board. And that wasn’t fair. Nor right. How could one person live up to all those responsibilities and expectations? I know I wouldn’t want to occupy the end all, be all in his life. In fact, that was quite terrifying. 

And in the process of filling my life up with Kendrae, I was missing a part of Sarah. I had lost myself in our relationship because I so desperately wanted to be loved and accepted. Identifying myself as his partner, rather than a whole person. When was the last time I had just spent an evening with myself? Not because I had to, or because other plans fell through, but because I wanted to. My mind was blank. The last time I truly felt like Sarah had to be before everything blew up over the summer. But really before that I was so consumed with soaking in every minute with my friends, teammates, and new boyfriend before graduation that I wasn’t much of a factor then either. Actually, there had always been an excuse for why I was always my own last priority. I spent my entire life consumed with others, allowing everyone and everything to rank higher on my priority list. 

Serve others. Value others first. Think of yourself less. Put your wants and needs last. All notions that had been fed to me since I could remember. Notions, that in isolation serve a fine purpose, but together can also encourage and perpetuate the undervaluing of oneself. I had been trained that the only capacity in which I mattered was in my role to someone else. An ideology I had never given much thought, just robotically followed. 

Spending time solely exploring my thoughts, dreams and emotions seemed dirty and vainglorious. 

Was it possible to foster and value a relationship with yourself? If I gave myself the time, love and energy that I so desperately craved, would I lose Kendrae in the process? Or worse, had I lost him already? 

Author’s Note: We find ourselves at the start of a fresh, new year. A pausing point, inciting self-reflection. An act that I once undervalued and flat out misunderstood. What I once mistook for self-centeredness, I now recognize as a necessity. Constantly bombarded with blatant and subliminal messages, it is easy to lose yourself in the clutter. We intake so much, that if you don’t spend time sifting through it, you may not realize all the garbage that stacks up. Spending time alone was an occurrence I ardently avoided. Turning on music to drone out my thoughts, fearful of what I might hear. Watching mindless television to spare myself a rendezvous with my own mind. Believing that silence lead to self-absorption. A straight path leading only to loneliness and emptiness. 

And now, I crave the stillness. Yearning for even just a few brief moments of absolute tranquility. No distractions, no sound, just Sarah. A space where I’m encouraged to pray, dream, cry, think, explore and reflect. Where holistic clarity joins me. It is this steadfast priority to always believe in my value as an individual and to continuously explore and refine that propels me to be my best self. 

I want to be the best version of Sarah for me. Which also happens to spill out into my relationships. My work. My writing. My interactions with strangers. All of which were being stifled until I learned that I am important. My time is valuable. I can choose and not choose how I’d like to spend it. And if I’d like to spend quality time with myself, it is not vanity. It’s sanity. 

Often times, it is much easier to pour ourselves into others than it is to seek out what fills our own cups. But the danger in this lies with running on fumes. Starving ourselves and giving everyone less than our best. To paraphrase a fictional radio psychiatrist, “Like this camembert, I am at my most delicious when I’m not spread too thin.” 

No. 34 – It All Adds Up

No. 34 – It All Adds Up

Question number ten. Of the 250 sheep in a flock, 34% are white. What is the total number of white sheep in the flock?

  1. 85
  2. 216
  3. 165
  4. Not here.”

I read the last test question aloud to my small group of testing students and waited for them to work out their answers.

“Miss, where the times sign on the calculator again?” one of my students blurted out, loudly.

A grin crept across my face as I walked beside my student’s desk. “Remember if we have a question, especially during a test, we raise our hand,” I reinforced as I raised my hand in the air.

“Yes ma’am. Now, where’s the times sign?” J questioned again.

My black painted index finger nail pointed down to the multiplication symbol on J’s calculator.

“I knew it was that one!” he exclaimed. Then a moment later, his hands flew over his mouth as his eyes darted up to meet my gaze.

I pursed my lips together, attempting to restrain a smile, unsuccessfully. I shook my head gently at J as I began to weave my way between the students’ desks. Checking to see that they were working and keeping their eyes glued on their own tests. Zig-zagging my way through the desks I found myself standing at the front of the room again.

“Raise your hand,” I had to preface, “if you would like any of the test questions read again.”

“I need number fo” K shouted across the room, forcing the other students to look up from their papers.

I looked at K and waited for her to self-correct.

With an eye roll, lip pop and a lot of sass, K dramatically raised her hand with a wrist flip at the end. Just in case I hadn’t noticed.

I walked quietly and stood in front of K’s desk and responded to her gesture. “K, which question would you like me to read for you?”

“Number fo.”

I waited again. Giving her another opportunity to respond.

“Okay Miss………..question four” she over-emphasized, “……….please.”

I smiled, and nodded my head as I flipped to question four. I quietly read the question and returned to the front of the room again.

Five more minutes passed by and all my students had completed their tests. I dismissed them back to Math and I collected the three calculators that were left behind. Flipping off the light switch, I walked down the hall following my trail of students back to class.

Mrs. Math had quickly graded the tests within a few minutes of our return to class. She motioned for me to join her up at her podium where she had been grading. J’s test was at the top of the stack. She circled the 60 on top of his paper and smiled at me.

My eyes lit up as a full faced smile spread across my face. Now normally, a teacher wouldn’t typically be excited about their student making a 60 on a test. But this student, J, had been making 20’s all year. The same student who asked me to show him where the “times” button was on his calculator. He was incredibly intelligent, but had such difficulty showing it on paper. Mrs. Math and I had both been wracking our brains and resources to find ways to help him learn to better translate his knowledge to paper. So his 60 felt like 110.

I wasn’t sure if J would quite grasp the growth he was making, but I would do my best to convey it to him. Mrs. Math called up the students one by one so that they could see their test score. If they needed to make corrections, they could do that tomorrow during class.

I waited impatiently, just like the students for J’s name to be called. He sauntered up to the podium, taking his sweet time, then finally lowered his gaze on his test score. Mrs. Math whispered something to him, and I watched in awe as a smile crept across his face. Realizing he may have shown too much, J masked his smile quickly transforming his expression.

I was unable to mask my smile. I felt my grin consume my face. Right as it reached maximum capacity, J’s glance met mine. I couldn’t help but smile at him and nod in my head. Nothing too overt, or I might blow his cover of not caring about doing well. But a smile like the one I was radiating is contagious. Because as J swaggered back to his desk, I caught a glimpse of a suppressed tight-lipped smile.

My heart back flipped.

The bell rang soon after and all the students filed out. Mrs. Math and I exchanged hopeful yet tired glances and made my way to the next class.

Nothing could top the high I was riding the rest of the day. As the school bell rang indicating the day was over, I found myself still smirking. These kids were nothing like I could’ve imagined or prepared for. Perpetually exhausting, sarcastic, way too cool and eager to learn, but afraid to show it. My mind had never been so challenged before, yet so invigorated. Facilitating this type of authentic learning was the stuff movies were made of. My first taste of student success.

I unrattled my brain and called it a day. I was going to end on a high note. I deserved it. Most days ended with more work to do when I left than when I arrived in the morning. It regenerated and multiplied daily. Always more to do. But not today. I was going to bask in this victory. Revel in the moment in hopes of willing another like it into existence. I locked up my room and headed out to my car.

Strutting from my classroom at the end of the hallway, the furthest room away from the parking lot, I held my head high. Unlike most days where my eyes were buried into my phone screen as I responded to emails, typed out a to-do list for the next day or hung my head in utter exhaustion.

I exhaled deeply as I sat down in my car. This moment was too good to pass up; I wanted to share my victory. Pure joy is meant to be shared with others, not internalized. I dug out my cell phone to call my mom. Only to be sent into a screeching halt when my thoughts caught up to me. I gulped down a knot in my throat as the realization crashed over me. I hadn’t spoken to my mom in a month. Not since her unfriendly text message ordering me to disconnect from the family.

My mother and I certainly had no perfect relationship. We were not the pair that talked every day, or got mani/pedis together, and we often had differing opinions. But one role my mother had played in my life was my cheerleader. When I was down and frustrated, I could call her and be assured of myself. She would celebrate my victories, dust me off when I’d fallen and encourage me along the way. Oftentimes she felt like the only person I was able to truly talk to in my darkest moments.

However, this dynamic had feathered out over the past year or so. My senior year of college was a holistic growth spurt for me. Emotionally, mentally and spiritually I learned so much about who I was and what I believed. And through this growth, maybe I distanced myself a little. Or maybe, my mother anticipated my growing up and distanced herself. Maybe we both drew back simultaneously. But whatever the reason, the past year consisted of a rocky relationship, more disagreements, less heart-to-hearts and less communication in general.

Add the family explosion and my relationship with my mother seemed non-existent. I wanted to call her. In that moment, I longed to call her.

But I couldn’t.

I couldn’t call my mother. Too much time had passed in silence. Our lack of words, said more than any conversation could have. And just like that my moment of triumph on the hilltop crumbled into a puddle in the valley. Like a deflating balloon, I lost my air rapidly. Sinking further and further into my driver’s side seat. Call someone elseI urged myself. But it was no good. The moment had soured quickly and reminded me of the reality I had been unintentionally avoiding.

My life had changed drastically in a matter of months, and the dust had yet to settle. Today was simply the first day I had paused long enough to look up at my surroundings, only to be painfully greeted by chaos. The familiarity I had once possessed of my life was completely foreign to me now.

The ache in my heart was met with shame. Shame that it was my responsibility for the ever-growing fault in our relationship. Shame that I had a mother that I wasn’t communicating with when I had the capability to, while others didn’t have that option. Shame that I had let my guard down and self-inflicted this wound. Shame that I still cared, deeply.

So I sat in an empty parking lot while the my tear greeted the crease in my mouth that once housed a smile.

Author’s Note: I’m back! Did you miss me? I know I sure missed all of you. I would like to acknowledge that my sabbatical was unavoidable and imminent. To begin, I am fresh off one of the worst bouts of sickness I can recall experiencing. Three weeks it has taken me to feel completely well again. Five missed days of work, two doctor’s visits, two shots, one prescription and a lot of rest later and I am finally back to Sarah again. That was the unavoidable part.

Which brings us to the imminence of my silence. Yes, I was very sick. However, once my mind began to feel well, I had ample time to sit and write. In fact, it would have greatly behooved me to write. And yet, for the first time, I didn’t want to. Not because I was tired or busy or unable to. I truly did not want to write.

When sailing at sea and met with a vicious storm, you don’t think, you react. Everything happens to and around you, while you remain helpless to stop it. All you can do is respond to your environment. And the ocean can be a cruel creature. In my case, the waves obliterated everything in my life. My ship, my life preservers, my navigation and sense of direction. I was pummeled under the waves for so long that I couldn’t even swim. I was pushed, pulled, dunked, and overwhelmed so that my body stopped resisting. Because fighting the current was actually worse than succumbing to it.

I was on auto-pilot, survival mode. And that’s all I did-survive. So that when I resurfaced and was met with stillness and quiet, it sounded louder than the storm. I looked around me to find that I was isolated in the middle of the ocean, with nothing in sight. As my body descended out of survival mode, I was unsure what would happen next.  

When chaos becomes your normal, peace and tranquility are petrifying. I spent so much time and energy fighting to survive, to just merely not drown that by the time the storm had calmed, I didn’t recognize my surroundings. Because now, I would have to make a decision. Which direction would I go? Was I able to swim? Did I have the strength to rebuild my life? The daunting dynamic shift left me feeling paralyzed. Because while surviving the storm was the most difficult thing I had ever done. What would come next would be grueling and tiresome and painful and difficult – I would have to swim. All that lay ahead of me was hard work.

To be frank, while writing about the big events in my past was hard, incredibly hard, I was able to somewhat disconnect and record the facts. What happened is what happened, I just had to put it down. But the part of the story that comes next is the calm waters. No major events, just minutia. My deep thoughts and feelings. My experiences with a gaping wound in my heart that I tried to repair as I had to keep moving.

And as I write about these next months in my story, I know that greater healing will follow. But not without pain. Because now I will reconnect with my story in a deeper way than I’ve previously had to.

Rather than be discouraged that you haven’t made it and you still have pain from your past, I want to encourage you that healing is not a destination. Healing and rebuilding is a process and one that is fluid and ambiguous. Do the hard work and self-reflect. Show yourself unending love, grace and forgiveness. And then give yourself even more.

With much, much love,


No. 33 – Bruno Mars Said it Best

No. 33 – Bruno Mars Said it Best

I got paid on the 25thof September. (I know, it sounds like a moody rock song lyric). And being a newfound “responsible” adult, I decided to sit down, crunch the numbers and see how much my flexible income would be that month. So I factored in my rent, car payment, car insurance, cell phone bill, electric bill, internet bill, student loan payment and $500 alternative certification payment and subtracted the amount I spent on my new bedding set. The harsh reality of the amount of my paycheck set in with a quickness.

My eyes blinked as they focused on the remaining number. I must have mistyped. Let’s try that again. Once again, my eyes settled on the number I would be left with until the 25thof October. Not possible. I hadn’t even factored in food and gas. One more time, I slowly typed in my starting monthly rate, and subtracted one by one the items that would need to be paid this month. Purposefully hitting each number, double and triple checking to ensure my accuracy. I exhaled and hit enter a final time. Slowly averting my eyes to the remaining total. Heart beating heavily as my breath quickened. Hoping my reality would be different than the previous two versions.

My jaw dropped. With just my bills factored in and the purchase I had already made, I would be left with less than $50. How was that possible? There was no way that I could make $50 stretch for 28 days. My gas light was already on, so gas was a necessity and I had to eat. In all this time, the notion had never occurred to me that my cost of living could be more than my paycheck.

My naiveté assumed that you got a job, and it would cover your bills, as long as you were smart and didn’t spend on frivolous items. But this? This was outrageous. I had worked for a month and a half with no paycheck. Barely scraping by with the money I had saved over the summer. I had no savings left, nothing to fall back on. I had nothing of value in my empty apartment. No fine jewelry that could be sold, no furniture that could give me a little wiggle room. And I barely had enough professional clothing articles to get through the work week. Not an asset in sight. I was one giant liability.

And according to my calculations, I wouldn’t be able to purchase any furniture, no clothes for work, no money to do my laundry, barely enough for gas, and about $20 left over for food. I didn’t even have a dollar a day to work with. And wouldn’t be able to save a penny. I was tapped out the day after getting paid. Worse than tapped out, I was going to be in the negatives, if I purchased what I needed.

Tears overwhelmed my eyes and hung there, making the miniscule number on my calculator app blurry. Gaining volume, until plunging from the depths of my eyes and splashing on the screen of my illuminated phone. As water continuously flowed from my overburdened spirit through my eyes, my brain reeled with options. Running frantically in any direction that would lead to a solution. My initial thought was to return the bedding, I could do without it. But then I quickly realized that I could not return an already slept-in set of sheets and comforter.

Next, I thought of asking Kendrae for help, just a little. But then came to my senses. He was a college student, working to cover his own bills. And he was student teaching, so he was already maxed out. Maybe I could apply for a loan. Just enough to help absorb some of my initial costs. How would I be able to budget paying back a loan? If I couldn’t afford to pay my current bills, how would I be able to factor in an additional expense?

My mind went blank. It had run in every direction and come back empty handed. I had no idea what I was going to do. I had spent the past four years of college dreaming for the day when I could strike out on my own. Envisioning the long-awaited freedom I so desperately yearned for my whole life. And when I got what I had been so thirsty for, I found myself in the middle of a desert, more dehydrated than ever.

Kendrae and I had made plans to shop at Walmart together so we could both get what we needed and still spend some time together. His work hours were sporadic and consisted of a lot of late night shifts, my only free time. So a lot of our dates were completely unglamorous and involved grocery shopping. I honestly wasn’t sure what I would purchase as I had no budget to shop with. I might use the excuse that I left my list at home. Maybe I would blame it on being tired and I would come tomorrow on my own. Or I could be forthcoming with the information and be honest with my boyfriend. But I was embarrassed. So embarrassed at my lack of money management. I mentally kicked myself for being so stupid.

But then my heart told my head, that I did what I had to. I my apartment because it was the only one out of the ten I looked at with availability on such short notice. I needed a car, and got the one I qualified for with the lowest payment because I had no credit, no trade-in and no one to co-sign. I had to make so many arrangements quickly, before knowing my monthly budget because of the situation with my family. None of my bills were frivolous or extraneous because when you have one day to make arrangements, you do what you can. My choice to be independent came with a very high price tag. One that was almost unaffordable.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to tell Kendrae, but I knew that I needed to be honest with him. If anyone would understand why I was struggling, it would be him. He read the text messages, he experienced the conversations. He witnessed the extreme financial circumstances I was forced into for my “life choices.” And knowing his gentle, understanding demeanor, I could make a solid bet that my admission would be met with kindness, the way he dealt with everything else.

I would tell him after we got done grocery shopping. I would make us some dinner, and then break him the news. So I hopped in my car and headed to Walmart to meet Kendrae. My mind was elsewhere, so I opted for silence on my drive. I quickly spun the volume dial to low. Stuck somewhere between inaudible and a whisper as I made the short commute.

I pulled into a parking space in the Walmart parking lot and parked my car. I let the engine run as I shot Kendrae a brief text message to let him know that I had made it. As I hit send and leaned back into my driver’s side chair, a song sauntered through my speakers. Bruno Mars melodic intonation meandered from the car speakers to my receptive ear drums.

“I wanna be a billionaire so freakin’ bad
Buy all of the things I never had
Uh, I wanna be on the cover of Forbes magazine
Smiling next to Oprah and the Queen”

I laughed out loud at the song lyrics and the extreme notion. Billionaire, I just wanted to be able to pay my bills and buy some groceries. Where was the song for that? And then, loud and clear I was hit across the face with an idea. So forcefully that it was as if I heard the words audibly spoken to me in the car. Get a second job. I sat up straighter in my seat and looked around the Walmart parking lot. I leaned forward, chest pressed against my steering wheel and strained my neck to see if there was anyone around me. No. There was no one. And then, the phrase resonated again, even more clearly. Get a second job, Sarah. The idea presented itself to me as if it was an entity all its own.

Huh… A second job? That was something I could do. My school schedule was incredibly routine and wasn’t going to alter. I was free in the afternoon after 4:30 and never had any weekend obligations. If I could find a place willing to work around my day schedule, I might be able to pull this off. I began thinking of all the places that I could work that had reasonable hours.

I wouldn’t want to work anywhere overnight, because teaching would still be my top priority. This job couldn’t interfere or take anything away from my ability to teach my students. I would have to find somewhere that closed around 9 and would have the availability to work on the weekends. A place that would allow me to leave the work at work and disconnect when I went home. I always had my students on my mind. How can I help them better? How can I let them know I care? Am I making myself relatable to them? Are they getting what they need at home? I already brought this job home with me. I needed a part-time job that I could pick up when I clocked in and drop off when I clocked out. Making some extra cash would hopefully help me have a more reasonable budget for my minor weekly expenses. My paycheck from school would cover everything else.

A wave of relief washed over me as the probability of this new idea sunk in. This really seemed like the best solution to my money problems. Excitement at the idea of breathing room filled my lungs. I jumped out of the car as soon as I saw Kendrae’s truck backing into a parking spot near me. Before he could unbuckle his seat belt, I flung open his driver’s side door and pronounced: “I’m getting a second job!”

Without a beat or even a blink, Kendrae responded, “sounds good.” He stepped down from his truck and the two of us walked into Walmart together.

Author’s Note: I had a rough week. One of those where you feel like you’re in the middle of ten boxers and they’re all swinging at you. Jab in the ribs. Uppercut to the jaw. Front kick in the chest. I went through the emotional ringer. This match-up had been a long time coming. I could feel them brooding at me for a few weeks. They just waited until I let my guard down for a split second, and then pounced all at once.

It wasn’t one major event. It was the culmination of one hundred little things. Things that hadn’t been dealt with, but pushed to the back of my mind for a later date. Maybe it was just that I felt out of place lately. I found myself constantly feeling like a fraud. I felt like the child mistakenly seated at the grown-up’s table for dinner. But, I didn’t belong at the children’s table either. I was in between phases in life. I was supposed to be starting this new book, but was stuck in an unending preface. I kept turning page after page, only to feel stuck in the same place.

The irony of the title of my blog felt like a slap in the face. How can you call yourself relentless Sarah? You are nothing more than a relentless mess-up, I heard on repeat in my head. Each utterance holding more and more weight until I believed it was true. Sunk in my own pit of despair.

Until I reread the definition of relentless.

Relentless (adj) oppressively constant; incessant

synonyms: persistent, continuing, constant, nonstop, never-ending, unabating, interminable, unceasing, and so on.

Did anyone of those syllables suggest perfection? No. Did they imply not getting knocked down? No, quite the opposite in fact. The synonyms persistent and unceasing indicate that regardless of the circumstances, you won’t give up. No matter how many times life roughs me up, kicks me around, and slams me to the ground, I will continue to fight back.

So I will leave you with this message. One that I penned before ever starting my blog. It was one I needed to be reminded of, some 30 weeks later:

“I have misplaced so much time and energy on my pursuit of perfection and always trying to have it all together. Not only was it exhausting, but it was impossible. I found myself in a perpetual state of disappointment because I always seemed to fall short of my unreachable standards.

 In an effort to combat my own insecurities and shortcomings, I have dedicated this blog to my imperfections. To the pieces of Sarah that don’t have it all together. And to the pieces that do. Because both my assets and imperfections add up to be whole.

The title, relentless Sarah, stems from the direction I want to be moving in. It is my mantra for how I choose to live my life, and one that I take very seriously. Every day, I strive to be relentless. In my daily pursuit of my passions. To be relentless in loving others. Relentless in my advocacy for standing up for my beliefs. Relentless in sharing kindness and generosity. And to relentlessly spread the truth.

I hope that through my blog, my message of being relentless shines true.”

Yes, I am relentless, even in my struggles. And so are you.



No. 32 – Rest…Never Stop

No. 32 – Rest…Never Stop

My eyes blinked as I gazed upwards at the stagnant fan blades. My outstretched arms and legs reached further longing to uncoil. I pressed my body gently into the many plush cushions pillowing the mattress. The grandmother’s couch inspired floral pattern embraced my rigid frame. The soft whisper of relaxation rippled through my body as my tenseness began to loosen.

An exhalation followed by a realization that I had stopped climbing. These past six months had felt like a straight uphill climb. Wrought with jagged edges, vision-clouding fog, an unsurvivable drop beneath me and an unforeseeable end. I had been steady climbing without the slightest idea of what lie in wait for me atop Mount Everest. Was it physically possible for me to make this trek? Was my own peril inevitable?

Having no room or energy to dwell on doubts, I continued climbing. Sometimes resting, but never, not even once did I stop. I couldn’t. I knew if I stopped and looked any direction other than two feet in front of me, I would give up. I would realize how much further I had to journey and lose to disheartenment. Or if I looked down, I would see that one minor slip up and the drop would succumb me for sure. Without a carabiner, I had no guarantee of my safety. I was operating purely on the fumes of faith.

Faith that I had made the right choice. That all my struggle, lack, tears and heartbreak was for a reason. A reason that would serve me and hopefully bring about something that was even greater than just me. Maybe not today. Maybe not for five years. Maybe even longer than that. But I had to believe that none of this was in vein. Not the disarrayed chaos with my family. Not the daily roller coaster of emotions, the fear, the confusion, the exhaustion. Knowing that a divine purpose rooted beneath me propelled me upward.

And finally, after six long months, I had reached a crevice. A rock that was flat enough that I could rest on it. Stop climbing and enjoy my small victory before continuing my ascent. Rest, never stop, I reminded myself.

After my mental and emotional rest, I sat up. My climb would be there waiting for me in the morning. I deserved to celebrate this feat. Because as thrilled as I was to have my new-to-me mattress and box spring assembled, I was anxious to outfit it. After all, this was a monumental step for me; it deserved the most appropriate celebration. I just couldn’t dream of a better way to christen my bed than with some brand-new sheets, pillows and a comforter and the best night’s rest.

Where could I go on a week night and purchase a stylish and functional sleep set that wouldn’t break my bank? Got it! I sprung off my spring mattress and grabbed my keys as I floated out the door. Hmm…maybe adulthood had gotten a bad rap? Because this, this felt amazing.

I extended my fingers and delicately brushed against the diverse fabrics. From cool and silky to warm and plush. The differing textures danced on my skin. Delighting my mind with all the possibilities. The home good aisles of TJ Maxx were my creative wonderland. My spirit relished in the incredible process of dressing my apartment. Well not quite entire apartment, but at least my bed.

Next month, I could worry about the rest of the bedroom, but today, I would buy pillows, sheets, and a comforter. My mind reeled with the euphoria that awaited me tonight. My first time in months sleeping on not only a mattress, but in fresh new sheets, bountiful pillows, and blanketed in softness. I instantly felt like a queen at the thought of it. I could feel the sensations of comfort and joy as I hunkered down for my first night.

My hiatus of rest quickly coupled with reflection. Reflection on my life as a whole. Looking back I saw it completely differently than I did as I lived through it.

I had certainly taken having a bed for granted. Sure I’d been camping, I’d been to sleepovers where you get in where you fit in. And sometimes that meant sleeping on the couch or on a floor. But I had never imagined a reality that involved me sleeping on the floor because I had no other options. A day or two, fine. But going on two months? It was certainly a humbling experience. But today was a new day and that life was no more. My transition chapter was closed. Now that I had a real bed, I could conquer the world!

I completed my TJ Maxx shopping trip and came home a proud owner of a new bedroom set. I kept it simple; black comforter, light grey cotton sheets and two pillows. Buying home goods made me feel like a real adult. Believe me, nothing felt grown up about coming home to an empty apartment and sleeping on the floor. And being excited to make my bed? Who was this person controlling my body?

Whoever she was, I was beaming and couldn’t wait to show Kendrae my first official grown up purchase. After he finished his shift at Kroger, I was going to treat him to dinner. He had been phenomenal these past few months. Supportive always, encouraging, attentive, understanding, sweet, generous and stable. Knowing that he was there for me filled me with courage to press on and forge my own life. A life that he was celebrated to be a part of.

One dinner certainly couldn’t repay him for all his kindness, but Kendrae’s love language was definitely food. So it was a good start. It would give us a chance to go out and get to feel normal for a change. We could be that couple who was celebrating a victory, regardless of how small it may be. Giving us a chance to be young and carefree for a night. Forgetting the pain-streaked reality that clouded over most days.

So I got ready and waited for my real-life hunky boyfriend to knock on my door.

Today? Yeah, today was a great day. Tomorrow, my journey would resume.

Author’s Note: One of the many side effects to telling my story, is the opportunity to peer into the heart of my past. Rehashing each experience is often hard, but also allows me to relive each emotion now as a wiser version of myself (hopefully my wisdom and discernment has multiplied)! I’m now able to live vicariously and simultaneously in a way that provides a crystal-clear perspective. I’m able to see my mishaps and embrace them. I’m able to watch that girl struggle while encouraging my heart that she’ll make it. To feel the heartbreak with a heart that’s now whole.

This is a note to a specific individual, and no one at all. A note for me and a note for you. Self-reflection is such a powerful tool. It’s enabled me to view my life as a whole rather than one piece of the puzzle. Part of the art of looking back is being in a different space mentally, hopefully a better one. So if I could talk to myself four years ago, I would want her to know what I know to be true today. I see you. I hear you. I feel you. I value you.

 You are enough. Imperfectly flawed and all. Some lessons you’ll pick up quickly; celebrate your victories. Other lessons you’ll feel like you’ll never learn; give yourself grace. Get in the habit of resting, restoring, and then rising. My dear precious one, it is okay to not be okay. Again, it is okay to not be okay. If you’re sad, let yourself be sad. Your body knows better than your mind does, listen to it.

You don’t have to have your entire life figured out. Spoiler alert: you still don’t four years from now. And I’m going to branch out and say you never will. Situations will unfold contrary to your expectations. Unexpected changes are often the best surprises, so stoptrying to plan everything. Laugh at yourself, always. And work hard. When no one is looking. When no one is asking you to. Even if you don’t know what you’re working towards. Hard work is never something you’ll regret.

Start each day fresh. Give yourself the opportunity to start new each day. Wasn’t your best self yesterday? Fix it today. Not all your goals will be accomplished overnight. In fact, a lot of your dreams will change too. Don’t worry. You are exactly where you are supposed to be at this very moment. In whatever space you are currently in, you are there for a reason. You may not know why, but find peace in the truth that you are where you should be.

With love, 



No. 31 – The Wading Game

No. 31 – The Wading Game

The alarm on my cell phone jolted me from REM cycle to reality. Sitting fully upright, I frantically reached for my phone lying on the carpet next to me. It seemed that with each millisecond that you didn’t shut it off, the alarm grew louder and more frequent. I viciously tapped my phone screen, urgently seeking to shut the thing up.

Ahhh…tranquility. I exhaled as my sleep-laden eyes struggled to fully open. I grasped for my phone, checking to see if I had any notifications awaiting my perusal. As I nonchalantly glanced down at my illuminated phone screen, the day’s date registered in my foggy brain. It was September 25th! The day I would get my first paycheck! I couldn’t log into my Chase Bank app quick enough.

After mistyping my credentials a few times due to my still foggy brain, I successfully accessed my account. I blinked. Something must be wrong. There was still only $0.21 in my account. The same number that had remained for the past 3 weeks. Maybe it was too early and the money wouldn’t process until the banks opened their doors at 9:00. I mean there had to be some explanation for my lack of finances. I had been working for a month and a half…I certainly earned my check.

I was in dire need of some funds and had a page long list of items that required my financial attention. I HAD to get my money today. I had not budgeted for getting paid a day later than the 25th. I would be in some serious trouble if that was the case. But paycheck or no paycheck, I needed to get up and get ready for the day. But most importantly, I required some coffee. Way too much had gone on for 6:30 AM.

I had checked my bank account 5 times so far; and it was only lunch time. Every hour on the hour, and still zilch. Nothing! How was this possible? Did I misinterpret the payment date? Did the 25thmean at midnight that night? Maybe the funds wouldn’t disperse until 12:00 AM. Distraught on how the rest of my day would play out, I tried to shift my focus. Just make it through the day, and I could figure something out later.

A text message from my best friend Jess commanded my attention. Jess was a teacher also. She worked in a school district just outside of Fort Worth. It was her first-year teaching too. So she understood my struggle…kind of. I quickly typed up a message to her asking if she had gotten paid yet. I went in to vague detail about how tight my situation had been with having a new apartment and not having any furniture, “not even a bed yet lol,” I tried to downplay my desperation.

Moments later, my phone was vibrating. Jess was calling me.

“Hey! What’s up?” I playfully answered.

“Sarah, you don’t have a mattress?” She cut to the chase.

A long pause. “No. My parents didn’t bring mine. And the air mattress they did give me has a hole in it and won’t stay inflated.” I barely managed to choke out.

“Umm…why am I just now hearing about this? Why didn’t you say anything?” she questioned.

“I don’t know. I just figured I could make it a month or so and then once I got paid, I could buy a mattress. It’s no big deal.” Embarrassment laced through my tone.

“Well, I have a mattress that I’ve been storing in Longview from my old apartment. I haven’t needed it, but didn’t want to sell it. It’s at Coach T’s house in his storage shed. I’ll text him right now and let him know that you’re coming over to get it later today. It’s a mattress, box spring and bed frame. You can have it.” The kindness in her voice brought tears to my eyes.

“…are you sure…?” I fought hard to get out.

“Dude, of course. Take it, it’s just sitting in storage collecting dust,” she assured me. “I feel awful that this whole time you could’ve been using it. I can’t believe I didn’t know, Sarah.”

“I could have said something. But it’s not the most exciting topic to bring up,” I responded honestly. “Being so broke that you have to sleep on the floor isn’t the first thing I dying to tell you, you know?”

“I get it, but you still should have said something,” Jess replied. “But, you shouldn’t have that problem anymore, we got our first paycheck today. Finally, right?”

“See, I thought so, but the direct deposit hasn’t posted in my account. I’ve been checking all day!” frustration dripping.

“No, our first check is a physical check. Direct deposit won’t kick in until the next pay period. At least, it’s that way for my school.”

My jaw dropped. How had I neglected to remember that? “Duh! I completely forgot about that. I remember them saying that…now.” I exclaimed.

“So you better go check your mailbox, girl!” she teased. “And, I’ll text Coach and shoot you the details later about picking up the mattress.”

We said our goodbyes, and I thanked her what felt like 100 times, yet somehow still not enough. And then I bee-lined it for my school mailbox. My heart was thumping so violently that I was sure others could hear it. I flung open the teacher’s lounge door and scanned for the box with my last name. There it was. Moment of truth. Did I have an envelope with a check?

I grabbed the stack of papers in my mail box and shuffled through them, searching for one very important item. And then, my fingers felt it. The edge of an envelope. This was it. My golden ticket. I dropped the stack of papers on the counter next to the mailboxes, and gave the envelope my full and undivided attention. Slicing into the top fold with a key from my lanyard so as not to damage any of the precious contents.  My fingers grasped hold of the slim slip of paper. Gripping it gently, I shimmied the contents free from their casing. I unhinged the tri-folded piece of paper and let my eyes devour the contents. Tears quickly engulfed my eyes as the realization sunk in that this was, in my hands, my first adult paycheck.

The money that I had worked tirelessly for. The money that was fueling my race towards independence. The funds that were supporting me establishing a brand-new life for myself wholly on my own. Relief echoed through every fiber of my being. Resonating through my heart and into my spirit. Water welled in my eyes as I forced the lump down my throat. Trying to hold it together so I wouldn’t have a complete break-down in the teacher’s lounge at 11:23 in the afternoon.

I sniffled a few times before collecting myself and taking the plunge out into the hallway. Briskly walking with my eyes averted downward on the papers in my hand. This way I’ll look preoccupied, not rude.

Unloading Jess’s mattress into my apartment that afternoon made me feel like I had just won the lottery. I had been lying to myself about sleeping on the floor. It wasn’t helping my back stretch out. I was not able to get a sound night’s sleep. And I was waking up to muscle spasms at 2:45 in the morning, because my muscular quads and a hard, flat surface did not coincide.

After the frame was assembled and the mattress was in place, I drank it all in. My first piece of furniture. And my first paycheck. This hollow shell had just begun to feel like home. A glimpse of light penetrated the darkness.

Author’s Note:  

This photo was captured by my generous, artsy, talented and adventurous friend, Jess. The very same soul, who gifted me her bed four years ago. Who still to this exact day helps me in ways I didn’t know I needed to be helped. Slow to judge, quick to give and open to adventure, always.

 We set out to take some pictures a few Sunday’s back. I got all dressed up, decked out and was ready to shoot. Jess being incredibly generous offered to come with and take photos for me. On her one off-day as she is a high school coach and works all the time.

So we show up to this picture perfect location and it starts to rain after five minutes. My hair instantly poodle-izes and my dress gets wet as I slip trying to duck and cover. Hoping to salvage all the hard work I put into getting ready.

But instead of worry and chalk the day up as a loss, I decided not to simply splash in the puddles, but embrace the mess. I stripped off my shoes, got my hair wet and waded into the water. The water was cold, I got eaten alive by mosquitoes, my hair remained a frizzy mess, but I reveled in it. We had the most fun by simply stepping out into the water. An experience I would have truly missed out on had I only been willing to stick to my original plan.

I feel like this photo captured a facet I rarely see in myself. A glimpse seldom caught in my own reflection: adventurous. A quality I hope to pursue more.

No. 30 – Blinds

No. 30 – Blinds

I opened my eyes to find a brown wooden ceiling. Deep brown wooden panels that covered the length of the room. I blinked for a moment, absorbing the sights around me. My head was fuzzy and my eyes had difficulty focusing. I glanced around me and observed that I was surrounded by a sea of brown. Brown walls, brown ceiling, brown tile floor. The room was warm. I stood up and walked over to an air conditioning unit, resting in the window sill. I pressed the on button, noticed the green light illuminate, but it wasn’t functioning properly. All I could feel protruding from the vents was warm, moist air. Like a blow dryer, heating the room rather than cooling it.

I looked around again. Why did this room feel so familiar? My head hurt. My panning gaze stopped on a big, brown door, that I assumed was the portal out of here. I walked across the room from the faulty air conditioning unit and towards the door I hoped would lead me out of this eerily strange room. I jiggled the golden door knob, but it seemed to be locked. Locked from the outside. Strange.

Slices of light from the window to my left caught my attention. I quietly crossed the room, making my way to the opening. Stepping gingerly so as not to make any noise. Breathing softly, so as not to make a sound. Why was I being so intentionally quiet? Was I nervous?

My head really hurt.

I arrived at the window without making a peep. My fingers gently grasped the wooden tassel at the end of the pull cord. It was cool to my touch. An unexpected side effect because the room was warm, and gaining temperature by the minute. I rubbed my fingers on the wooden tassel and noticed the smoothness. I pressed my fingers into the wood and tugged the pull cord down until the slats ran parallel to the floor. Light penetrated the room causing me to avert my eyes momentarily while my pupils adjusted.

I surveyed my outdoor surroundings. There was a black roof that extended from the window over what looked like a patio. Beyond that was green grass running to a white, chain-link fence. Beyond the fence was more grass and then a section of trees. Tall trees that blocked whatever was lying behind them. I moved further to my left so that I could get a broader view. I strained my neck to glance further down the surface area of the roof. It looked like a road…or a driveway. It appeared I was in a house.

I couldn’t remember anything from before I woke up. Whose house was I in? What was I doing here? Throbbing in my head continued.

As if it magically appeared before my very eyes, I suddenly noticed another door. Right next to the very door that was locked. Perhaps this door led to my escape from this befuddling room. I approached door number two and tried the equally golden knob. The cool knob turned with my hand and I pulled the door away from the frame. My eyes settled on clothes, draped from multi-colored hangers. The apparent closet was full of clothes. And jewelry. Shoes. Belts. Scarves. The closet smelled fresh and clean. As if these clothes had recently been washed. Not musty from being cramped up in a closet while going unworn.

No, these were someone’s clothes. I stepped further into the closet and realized how large it was. There were more articles to both my left and right, invisible to me until I stepped inward. As I turned around to gaze back out into the room, a shimmer caught my eye. It was a mirror, mounted on the inside of the closet door. I looked at the reflection, and…

Gasp! It all came flooding back to me. I quickly spun back around to face the clothes. My clothes. This closet was full of my clothes. I flung through the hangers hoping to find something contrary to my epiphany, but only further confirmed it. My shoes. My jewelry. My everything.  I darted out of the closet and into the room. My eyes widened as I crumbled to the floor.

I sank further and further into the cold, brown tile. I was in my bedroom. In my parents’ house. Trapped upstairs with no way out. I suddenly recognized all my belongings filling the room that was closing in around me. How did this happen? And why couldn’t I remember anything?

No! This was not happening. I leaped towards the window and gripped the metal frame surrounding the glass pane. I pressed my feet into the floor and powered through with my legs hoping to open the window. But it wouldn’t budge. I repositioned and tried again. But still, nothing. Exasperated, I pounded my open palm on the wall, unconcerned about disclosing my presence. It was obvious, I was not here in secret.

Sprinting to the window with the air conditioning unit, I surveyed my options. Either try and lift the widow and let the air conditioning unit tumble down to the ground, or try and pull the unit out and maybe I could squeeze through the tight opening. At this point, I had zero concerns for the well-being of this old air conditioning window unit. It was the one obstacle standing between me and my escape. I positioned my feet close to the wall and took a firm grip on the window unit. Deep breath. On the count of 3, I’d pull with all my strength.

1, 2, 3…


All the strength I could muster was no match for this stubborn window unit. Alright. I was going to kick it out the widow then. Who cares if it plummeted and shattered.

In one powerful motion, I pressed up through my left leg and propelled my right leg forward and towards the window unit. Nothing personal, I just needed out. The force of my kick and the steadfastness of the unit collided and sent waves up my entire body. My foot throbbed in pain as I collapsed to the floor.

I composed myself and stood up. I crossed the room, getting as far away from the window unit as possible. A running start. That’s what I needed.

1, 2, 3…

I lurched forward gaining force as I encroached on the window unit. I powered through my last step and flung myself forward with all my energy. Again, my foot met the unmovable unit and I was sent reeling towards the floor. I flung my closed fists towards the ground in frustration. I had to get out of here!

I sprinted to door number 1 and viscously shook the knob. It was still locked. I couldn’t breathe. I was trapped. With no way out. I pounded on the door as tears streamed down my face. I opened my mouth to scream, but couldn’t muster a sound. Sheer panic overtook my entire body. And then…

I awoke with a rapid thump in my chest, gasping for air. Sitting fully upright in a matter of milliseconds. The oversized t-shirt I wore to sleep clung tightly to my skin. Beads of moisture covered my skin and plastered my shirt to my sweaty body. The neck was already stretched out and hung limply around my collarbone. I grasped at the neck of the gargantuan t-shirt yanking it downwards, ensuring that nothing was remotely close to the circumference of my neck. It didn’t help. I attempted to take deep breaths to sooth my petrified heart, beating more intensely by the second. Not effective. I tried to guide my mind in a new direction, shifting my focus. But nothing was assuaging the sense of sheer panic wreaking havoc through my body.

Moments after catapulting from dream to reality, my brain yearned for clarity. My eyes darted around my bed room that was flooded with light from my lack of curtains. My focus slowly sharpening as my gaze slowed. There was no one in the room but me. This was my bedroom. In my apartment. In Longview. The stillness crescendoed into a deafening silence. Penetrating the stillness making the lack of movement chaotic.

This was the third night in a row I had suffered through this nightmare. A reoccurring dream that haunted me several nights a week. They varied slightly, but all ended the same. With me being dragged back to my parents’ house and trapped with no escape. The worst part wasn’t even the dream, it was the reality that I awoke to. A heightened stage of panic. Crazy scenarios running rampant through my head. Was I being watched? Were my parents here to kidnap me and drag me back home? Was this my subconscious warning me of impending doom? I wasn’t in a position to take these dreams lightly, so I proceeded with precaution. First I needed to secure the perimeter.

Slowly lifting one blind, I peeked out my living room window. My heart beat becoming more noticeable as I examined my outdoor surroundings. Grass. Sidewalk. Street. Cars. A bird walking along the top of the short brick ledge running parallel to the grass embankment. My eyes fixated on the small, black bird as he paid no notice to me. He was being watched, but was completely unaware of that fact. My heartbeat quickened and my body felt tingly. I removed my finger tip from the edge of the blind and let it slide back into its rightful position.

My mind reeled as I began the daunting task to mentally prepare myself to step outside. I could not go back there. Memories of my parent’s house flooded my head. Again, my heartbeat quickened. My legs felt heavy and immovable. My Fear became almost paralyzing as the possibility of being taken back became more and more real. Breathe. I closed my eyes and took another breath. I quietly removed my keys from their hook to the right of the door. I selected the apartment key and readied my hand.

I exhaled and unlocked my front door. I pulled the door open and surveyed the outside. No one was there. Gulp. I stepped out of my apartment and pulled the front door closed. I locked the door, and checked the handle to make sure it was truly locked. I forced myself to take another deep breath, and took the first step towards my car. As I rounded the corner of my apartment building, I surveyed the parking lot, but I never stopped my stride. They weren’t here. I briskly continued the path to my car, unlocked the door and got inside.

I let out a deep sigh of relief. They weren’t here. I let that phrase resonate through my entire body. Relief washed over me, forcing Fear out of the car. Almost. I knew Fear would be right here waiting for me when I got home from my day of work. We would pick up right where we left off. We always did.

Author’s Note: Plans. Plans. Plans. We all have ‘em, and we all realize that it’s impossible to always keep them. Being a recovering perfectionist, planning was my safety blanket. If I knew what was coming, I could be prepared for it. If I didn’t know what was coming, I was left to my own, under-equipped devices. A situation I wanted to avoid at all costs.

What I have come to peace with, after many, many instances contrary to my natural instinct, is that you can’t spend your life planning everything. It’s an impossible battle to fight. Not one of those “its only impossible until its done” sort of things. No, it is not physically possible to plan everything. You can’t predict every outcome. Situations arise you couldn’t have dreamed up if you tried. And you know what, it’s a lot less exhausting rolling with the waves.  

Life is like surfing. I can look out at the ocean, and see there are waves. I can plan to surf those waves, but what I can’t plan for is the strength, magnitude, and frequency of those very same waves. I can see waves, paddle out to the surf and be met with stillness. I can also observe stillness in the water and be met with a gargantuan wave that knocks me off my board.

What I can do is to anticipate when a big wave is coming, put in the hard work to get myself into position for it, and then let the wave do the work. I cannot make myself ride a wave that isn’t there. I cannot will the waves to come. All I can do is realize that ultimately, I have no control over the waves, but if I relax, work hard, and learn to trust my gut instincts, then I can enjoy a beautiful ride.

*This was the first post I wrote when I decided that I wanted to start a blog documenting my experiences. Why this particular subject? Because palpable fear was something so raw and so present in my life for such a long time that this instance came to mind immediately. I’m glad to be in a place now where Fear is not my roommate anymore.

No. 29 – Driving Me Crazy

No. 29 – Driving Me Crazy

I was one step away from absolute independence. The only puppet string that I hadn’t cut was the one attached to my car. Well, I was told it was a “gift” and that it was mine. But I was also told that if I left the house in that car that the cops would be called and a stolen car would be reported. I was living in fear that one day, I would walk out to my car to find it surrounded by police officers waiting to take it away.

I couldn’t continue living in fear worrying that any day I could be without a car. Trading it in wasn’t an option either because the title was in my father’s name. That would require me asking him for a title change, something I wasn’t willing to do. I didn’t want any help or to attach any new strings. Knowing that I used the car they bought to purchase my own would suck any joy out of the experience.

No, I would have to purchase a car all on my own. Except that I was unable to put any money down and had nothing to trade in towards a new one. I hadn’t really put much thought into buying a car, it was not something I had ever worried about before. My father was a car connoisseur and I had never had to think about purchasing one without his guidance and expertise up until the past few months.

Add another item to the list of things I would have to handle on my own with zero experience doing so. I asked Kendrae to come with me to the car dealership for moral support. He knew less about vehicles than I did. But I felt that I should have someone to celebrate this milestone with me. Just because my situation wasn’t one that appeared to be ideal, didn’t mean that I couldn’t celebrate my own mini victories. Buying your first car is a big deal and should be treated as such. So I was happy when Kendrae agreed to support me.

We pulled up to McKaig Chevrolet in Gladewater, TX and I had a ball in the back of my throat. It was hard to swallow and my palms were moist. I was anxious. I felt like the salesmen could tell I didn’t have any collateral and no money in my bank account. I was unsure if it was even possible to purchase a vehicle with no money down, not much credit and nothing to put towards the first payment.

Walking into the dealership doors, I steeled myself and tried not to get my hopes up. I didn’t want a new car. I wanted something low maintenance, with great gas mileage and compact so it was easy to park. I didn’t want something in a loud color. I wanted a car that blended in – a common model that wouldn’t draw any attention. So if my parents decided to drive by my apartment complex, they wouldn’t be able to identify which car was mine. I wasn’t comfortable with them knowing where I lived, but by changing my car, I was adding an extra measure of security. A miniscule measure of security that eased my mind, even if only slightly.

I was greeted by a young woman named Alexus. Her smile consumed her entire face and instantly put my nerves at rest. Her face didn’t strike me as a salesperson who would try and get over on someone interested in purchasing a car. She struck me as warm and helpful, exactly the kind of person I was interested in car shopping with.

Alexus, Kendrae and I test drove three cars. The first two cars were total letdowns. Not at all what I pictured myself driving. Reality was beginning to settle in that maybe I had set the bar too high. It was true, I didn’t really know what my budget was and maybe all I would be able to afford was an even older model than I imagined. And then we walked up to car number three.

“This is it, Sarah,” Kendrae remarked, emphatically. “I can feel that this is your car.”

If this car was anything like the first two, I wasn’t so sure. But I kept my mind open. Maybe I needed to lower my expectations. I needed a car because each day that I kept the Honda Accord, was a day I risked having it taken away. I needed a car. So, I needed to find one today.

As I drove the 2013 Hyundai Elantra down the long stretch of road, I was surprised at how easy it was to maneuver. It rode smooth, had a quiet engine and I definitely took note of the great MPG it clocked on the highway. It was light blue with a soft tan cloth interior. Perfect for the excruciating Texas summers. It was small, with not much room in the backseat, but how often did I really plan to have more than one other person in my car for an extended period of time?

Kendrae was right, this was my car. So long as I could afford it. I crunched some numbers in my head and came up with a figure that was the absolute highest I could afford. If this car was over that number, I would have to find something else. A highly unfavorable option.

An hour later, I left the dealership driving my new car. The payment matched the figure I calculated in my head, I owed no money down and wouldn’t have to make my first payment for two months. An actual miracle! I was soaring. This was it, the last step required to get my affairs in order and begin my new life.

Suddenly my flight was sent hurtling down to the ground by a text from my grandmother from Ohio. A text completely out of the clear blue sky as we hadn’t communicated since I left her house in July.

“I can’t believe you never told us about what happened with your high school boyfriend. Being forcefully made to do something you didn’t want to do. You are damaged. You need to go to counseling. No wonder you ended up with Kendrae. Look what happened to you.”

My jaw fell open as I stared at my phone screen. My mind was blank, still in shock from her vicious words. All the moisture from my mouth instantly evaporated and my throat went dry. I swallowed in attempt to satiate my tongue and allow my brain to come back from that blow.


That was all I could compute. I read and reread that message what must have been a dozen times and still the shock was just as potent. Unbelievable. I saw it with my own eyes and couldn’t wrap my mind around the contents.

I certainly wasn’t going to respond to her message. I shuddered as the all too familiar feeling of guilt overtook my body. It was MY fault that I was taken advantage of? I did tell my mother about this situation about a year ago. And her response: “You know how to say no now though, right?” No concern, no anger, no solace. Just cold matter of factness. We never discussed it again after that one night.

And now, it was being used against me. It was my fault and just HAD to be the reason I was dating Kendrae, a man that they labeled as unsuitable for their daughter. Who now was also damaged goods.

This vicious cycle of guilt and manipulation had to stop. I couldn’t control what they said and did. But I could control allowing it to have an effect on me.

A few days later Kendrae and I decided it would be nice to take a trip to visit his family in the Houston area. Things had been tense for me and getting away sounded like a nice change of scenery. This also provided the perfect way to give my parent’s car back.

But I crafted a plan so that I wouldn’t have to see them to give it back. I didn’t want a fight. Or a guilt trip. Or anything for that matter. I just wanted to give the car back and move on. So I found a public place halfway between Longview and Van Alstyne. Kendrae would follow behind so that once I dropped off the car, we could make our way to Houston.

It seemed so cold and final, but I couldn’t think of any other way to give it back that wouldn’t rip my heart out.

I pulled up the pre-written text message and hit send.

“I dropped the car off at Walmart in Terrell. The key is under the back-passenger floor mat; the back-driver side door is unlocked. Thank you for providing me with a car for as long as you did. The Walmart address is 1900 West Moore Ave. Terrell, TX 75160.”

I stared at my screen as I sat in the passenger seat. It had been 30 minutes since we left that Walmart parking lot, but I wasn’t sure we had enough distance between us yet. Maybe in 15 more minutes, I would feel a little safer. Wrong. As each minute ticked by on the dashboard clock, I grew more and more anxious. Why did it seem like making any choice was so difficult? Why did every situation feel like I was the only one losing?

“Did you send it yet?” Kendrae asked.

I nodded my head yes. I sent it. Kendrae reached over and grabbed my hand. We sat in silence. Tears poured down my face as my body gently shook in resistance to my suppressed sobs. I kept reassuring myself that I was making the right decision. I shouldn’t feel guilty. But I did. I was so programmed to feel guilty, feeling any other emotion would seem foreign.

I was snapped back to reality by the vibrating of my cell phone. Dad read across the top of the screen. My heart sank. I anticipated that they might call in response to my recent text message. I stared at my screen and let it go to voicemail. It rang again, and I clicked the button on the side of my phone to silence the vibrations. There was no sense in answering. My text had said everything I needed to say. They had lost their privilege to speak to me in a non-controlled environment. And I wasn’t sure I possessed the strength to speak to them over the phone. Not yet.

A notification that I received a voicemail lit up my screen. I handed the phone to Kendrae. “You listen to it. I can’t,” I squeaked out, my voice quivering. I stared out the window, my eyes scanning as if there were answers in the grass. The sound of the road was the only audible sound in the truck as Kendrae listened to what I couldn’t.

“They’re confused why you dropped off your car,” Kendrae said.

I gave it back because I didn’t want it anymore. I didn’t want anything with a string attached to it that could be ripped out from under me at any given moment. A car that could be reported stolen because I wasn’t coming home. This was the only remaining string of the tethered rope of my parents’ hold over me. Any car payment in the world was worth paying for my independence. The knot in my stomach uncurled slightly, as I reassured myself this was a step in the right direction. I sat up straighter, gazed back out the window and let the feeling of ease wash over me.

I had started at the bottom. With absolutely nothing, but now I had taken one step forward. One slow, small painstaking step. But forward progress is progress all the same.

Author’s Note: We are all the same. Your struggles. Your fears. Your dreams. Your story. You are not in this alone. Of course no two situations are quite identical, but what you’re going through is not unique to you. You do not have to suffer in silence and think that no one knows what you’re going through. Don’t let your pride prohibit your healing process. Don’t believe the lie that you can handle it all on your own.

 True strength does not come from muscling through something, gritting your teeth and suffering through. Strength comes from identifying and admitting your struggles. Strength comes from allowing others to support you.

I spent so much time in my own head delaying my overall health and well-being. I was so worked up, stressed out, heart broken and lost. All because I believed that I had to handle everything on my own. Partly because I was embarrassed, partly because I was raised in a family dynamic that avoided confrontation at all cost and partly because I was prideful. I was more concerned with what people would think when they learned the truth that it prevented me from telling it.

So I struggled and struggled to find the surface of the water. Frantically panicking in every direction but up. Consumed in a sea of darkness and self-doubt. Only hurting myself. Only stunting my own growth. And not gaining any strength because of it. It was not until I vocalized my struggles that I was able to learn from them. Somewhere along the way we are fed this idea that we have to have it all together. We have to fix all our own problems, self-inflicted or not. We have to have all the answers on our own, without any help or guidance. When nothing could be further from the truth.

No. 28 – Taking Care of Business

No. 28 – Taking Care of Business

My first order of business was Step 1: Make sure Kendrae was alright.

So I quickly typed up a message asking how he was feeling. Kendrae responded that he was fine. That messages of hate had no effect on him, because he knew they were full of lies. In fact, he even messaged my mother back. A response that caught me off guard, but filled me with pride and a hint of jealousy. I was proud that Kendrae was able to stand up for himself. Jealous because that remained a feat I was unable to master. I had written, typed and vocalized a thousand responses to my parents. Some came out of spaces of anger, others came from places of brokenness and disappointment, others from confusion and guilt. And then most were a mixture of all of the above. But every single one, came from a place driven by emotion. And I knew, until I could remove my emotions from the situation and be objective, no conversation would better the situation. Anything I said, would only heap more onto the pile.

So I continued forward in silence. I believed that right now, the most impactful thing I could say, was nothing. My heart was too tender and still bleeding. Attempting to have a civil conversation was not only out of the question, but not safe for my well-being. And like I planned out, saying anything before I had taken care of the items on my mother’s list was a waste of energy.

Which brought me to Step 2: Get through the rest of the school day.This would most likely be the most difficult of the steps. I am a girl who naturally wears her emotions very openly. To survive the past few months, I had to fight against my natural tendencies and wear a mask. A task that drained me and left me feeling completely empty. But, I wasn’t out of the clearing yet. I would have to don my smiling mask, yet again and get through another day. Outwardly wearing a smile while inwardly suppressing tears.

The bell rang, indicating that I needed to join my students in their next class. Mrs. Vaughn’s 6thperiod. A dynamic class that engaged both students and teachers. A class that was going to be exceptionally difficult to fake it through. Mrs. Vaughn didn’t accept anything but the best from her students, and she would certainly notice if I was slacking in that department too. I was worried that she might notice something was wrong, and want to talk about it. She cared deeply for everyone; a trait that I very much admired normally, just not on this particular day. Because that would mean spilling the beans to my entire story. A fatal chink in my armor of surviving the school day.

So I pulled myself together, and glanced at my reflection in the glass window pane on my door before exiting. Smile,I told myself.Just two more periods. Even for a small glass window, my reflection wasn’t very convincing. So I closed my eyes, slowly breathed in. And out, then tried my smile again. Better, I thought. I could work with this.

I joined my students in the class and sat down in the back. Seeing their faces renewed and lifted my spirit. You can do this, I reminded myself again, a little more convincingly. And then Mrs. Vaughn and I made eye contact, and my cover was blown. She knew. She didn’t say anything, but I could tell that she knew something was up.

Oh please, God, don’t let her ask me any personal questions. I cannot handle any more right now.

I quickly moved to the other side of the room to check on two of my students. They were working quietly, but I stayed over there on the opposite side of the room. Maybe my acting skills weren’t up to par today, so my avoidance skills would have to kick it up a notch. I did a lot of floating around from desk to desk, a continual motion. Never stopping so that I really seemed engaged. I mean, I was, but still.

45 minutes passed by and the bell rang, bringing the class to a close. I shot Mrs. Vaughn a poor attempt at a half smirk as I quickly slipped out her classroom door. I passed through the busy hallway, making a bee-line to my classroom at the end of the hall. It was my conference period, the final period of the school day. I was in the home stretch. I used this time to google where an Allstate insurance office was located. I hoped there was an office in Longview. There was, thank goodness, 2.9 miles from my school. And they were open until 5:30. Perfect.

I had made it through the day without any hiccups. Which took me to Step 3: Go to an Allstate insurance office.After the final school bell rang, I gathered my belongings and followed the mass exodus of students out the doors. I kept my eyesight forward, not desiring to make eye contact so as to deter my crucial plans. I made it to my car without engaging in any conversations with co-workers or students. Pulled up the programed insurance office on my cell phone GPS and pulled out of the parking lot.

I was nervous as I pulled up to the insurance office. Not nervous to get on my own plan, but nervous about the payment details. I knew it would be embarrassing to admit that I had $0.00 in my bank account. Not even some change. And the couple bucks I had on me in cash would not be enough to cover the cost of an insurance plan. That if the agent asked me to prepay for a plan, I would have wasted their time and have to come back on a later date.

I composed myself and took the first step towards the office. I opened the door and was greeted by a friendly, dark-haired receptionist. She informed me that Mr. Gonzalez was with another client at the moment, but that I could wait in the lobby for him. I’m not sure how long I waited, but it felt like hours. And with each passing moment, my nerves only worsened. My mind running full speed towards the worst-case scenario. Not only did they expect a payment up front, they would need to speak to my parents to get me removed from their family insurance plan. I would have to have an awkward and overly personal conversation with my mother in front of a complete stranger only to be declined coverage. Or even worse…

“Sarah, Mr. Gonzalez will see you now,” the kind receptionist interrupted my crazy thoughts.

I exhaled, relieved that her timing stopped my crazy train dead in its tracks. But now my nerves were at an all-time high. I stood up and walked into Mr. Gonzalez’s office. I smiled nervously and sat down, absorbing all the details of his office. Motivational sayings, a picture of his young family, an award hanging on the wall. It was welcoming, but not too personal.

I explained to Mr. Gonzalez, or Eddie, as he insisted that I call him, that I had just gotten my first “big girl job” and that I wanted to get off of my parents’ insurance plan. I tried to keep the conversation light and polite, disclosing enough information to seem friendly, but not too much that would probe further in-depth questions. We talked about where I was teaching and a little bit about the special education field. Fine, I could handle these surface level questions.

As Eddie pulled up my current insurance plan, he noticed that my father was not tapped into all the discounts he could be receiving. With a few keyboard clicks, Eddie applied more discounts to my father’s policy. Not exactly on my seven-step plan for the day, but whatever.

After going through the rest of the details, and selecting the lowest coverage plan I could possibly manage, we reached the final step. Settling the payment.

“Card information please?” Eddie asked.

I swallowed hard as I reached down in my purse for my wallet.

“You are wanting to enroll in the automatic monthly billing, correct? It will lower the cost of your monthly plan, and ensure that you never miss a payment.” Eddie further explained.

“Sure,” I responded. My face must have matched the color of his office walls- white. I was sure all the color had retreated from my face.

“And your payment date?”

“I’m sorry”, I questioned, “payment date?”

“Yes, you have the ability to select the date that your payment is drafted.”

The color instantly rushed back to its rightful place under my skin. “Ummm, can we do the 25th? That’s the day I get paid every month.” Why I felt the need to explain my date selection, I’m unsure. But I was nervous.

“Not a problem! So your first payment will come out on September 25th. Anything else I can help you with today, Miss Sarah?” the kindness in his voice soothed my nerves.

“No, thank you Eddie. You have been very helpful.”

I smiled, a real smile, and thanked him again as I left his office. I said my farewells to the receptionist and made my way to my newly insured car. I placed my new insurance card in the glove compartment and glanced at my phone.

It was 4:45. Plenty of time to complete the next item on my list. Step 4: Visit a Sprint store. The store location was actually on my route home from the Allstate office. They closed at 8, and I wanted to make sure that I got everything squared away tonight.

I pulled up to the store and sighed as I saw the line of people ahead of me through the glass window storefront. I put my car in park, turned off the engine and walked into the store. I was greeted and instructed to write my name down on the paper sign-in sheet. There were five names ahead of mine that had not yet been crossed off. Great,I thought, more waiting. No, this time I was going to be productive with my time, not allow my mind to turn down the dark road it inevitably always turned down.

I paced around the store for at least 45 minutes, feigning interest in the different cell phone models and accessories. I was not interested in a new phone at the moment. I had just purchased the one I had this summer. I hoped that switching plans would allow me to keep my phone and my number.

“Sarah…” my name was called by gentleman wearing a black polo shirt with the yellow Sprint logo.

Finally, I wasn’t sure I could pretend to look at the new iPhone one more time. I smiled as I approached the counter. Halfway genuine, halfway out of politeness. I pretty much gave this guy the spiel that I gave Eddie. First job, wanting to get on my own plan. Can I please keep my same phone and cell phone number?

To my absolute surprise, I was! Same phone, same number, new plan. This was actually the easiest step so far, minus the long wait. Again, I was signed up for the automatic billing feature. Since I signed up in the middle of their billing period, I would not have to make my first payment until October 10th, well after my first pay check. Whew! What a relief!

I thanked Greg for his assistance and walked out of the store. Wow, now all I really had left to do was Step 5: Text my mother that everything has been taken care of. The most difficult step of all. Communication with my mother. I never knew how to phrase things with her. What I meant to say and what my mother actually heard were two completely different messages. As far removed from each other as Mercury was from Neptune, millions and millions of miles away.

I would have to be objective and succinct. Nothing about my message could be open to perception or interpretation. After about 15 drafts and over a half hour sitting in my car in front of my apartment, I had crafted the perfect message.

Got my own car insurance, switched over my phone line, and took care of the health insurance. Thanks for covering it all as long as you did.

It was to the point, it let my parents know that they no longer needed to spend a cent on my behalf, and was objective. I toyed with the notion of not even including the second sentence, but it felt too cold without it. I was appreciative that up until this point I didn’t have to worry about my own bills while I was still in school. I truly was grateful. We may have disagreed on some fundamentals, but none of that negated my gratitude for their providence.

I reread the text for the twentieth time. I couldn’t find any flaw with it, but I’m sure there was. There was bound to be something that wouldn’t be received well and would be added to list of things Sarah couldn’t do right. But it was late, I had an exhausting day and I was ready to be done with this whole mess.

So I copied the message from the notes in my phone and pasted it into the open text message. I entered my mother’s name at the top and hit send.

I wasn’t sure if I would get a response from her or not, but I didn’t have the emotional stamina to deal with it tonight. I turned my phone on silent and wouldn’t look at it again until the next morning, when my alarm woke me up.

Which brings me to Step 7: Get some sleep. Tomorrow is a new day, and you’ll be a few steps closer to true independence. This will all be worth it. Chin up.

I didn’t skip Step 6: Pray. That step was interlaced all throughout the other seven steps. I wouldn’t have been able to make it through any of the other steps if I hadn’t been praying along the way.

A big inhale. And an even bigger exhale. In all the commotion of the day, I hadn’t realized what a relief this all truly was. I had taken two huge steps toward absolute independence from my parents. All the puppet strings had been severed, except one. And I would take care of that string another day.

Author’s Note: I want to touch on the concept of gratitude. It’s a word that has been on my heart a lot lately, because I don’t know if was I truly grasping the concept. What I’ve come to realize is that living a life of gratitude does not mean you have it all together. It does not mean that you have no desires for anything else because your heart is already so full.

 Delving into these painful experiences from my life, I see a common thread of reaching and longing. A thread that is still present today. And for a most of my life I believed that in order to practice gratitude, it meant I had to be holly content with every aspect of my life. And if one area of my life was still in process, I wasn’t truly grateful, because I was still longing for something else.

Guilt overwhelmed me and I thought that if I was TRULY grateful, I wouldn’t be concerned with having a mattress. If I was truly grateful, I wouldn’t be worried about how I was going to eat. If I was truly grateful I wouldn’t be fixated on my broken relationship with my family.

 And it wasn’t until very recently that I was hit over the head with the concept of gratitude. Gratitude is not something that only presents itself when life is just peachy. Because, let’s be honest, when is life ever peachy? Sure, we all go through phases, but part of being human is growing, developing and moving forward. With that forward movement comes reaching and longing and pushing. To be a better individual, sibling, friend, partner. Gratitude is not the absence of want. Gratitude is not complacency. Gratitude is rather the overwhelming presence and acknowledgement of what we do have.

I can be grateful to have four solid walls around me with a roof over my head, and still long for a bed. I can have all my bills paid and still long for margin. I can be working at a job that I don’t love while still demonstrating gratitude that my needs are being provided for. Gratitude is not a destination or a complete lack of want. Gratitude is the warm wave that washes over us as we continue swimming.

No. 27 – The Message

No. 27 – The Message

My new life had begun to fall into a routine. Going without was normal. I didn’t find myself as hungry. My back grew accustomed to the floor. Without furniture, my apartment seemed much bigger. It was easy to keep clean. I didn’t have much to mess it up anyway. My sleep schedule was even adjusting because me and mornings…were not on the same team. This adulting wasn’t so hard.

I also began to get in the groove of this whole teaching thing. I had developed a positive rapport with my students quickly. Were my days utterly exhausting? Oh yes! Very much yes! But I felt like I was making a difference in my students’ lives. Seeing their eyes light up when I walked in the room to help them helped to give purpose to my exhaustion. And to my struggle.

I communicated with my parents about once or twice a week. Most of the conversations revolved around teaching. It was all very surface level and forced. I doubt that would ever change. However, the newest development was that my mother was coming down for the weekend to visit me. I wasn’t quite sure what we would do, but maybe this would provide an opportunity for my mother to see the state of my apartment that they left me in. Or maybe, just maybe it would allow us to have a mother-daughter interaction that doesn’t end in a fight, tears, or both. We hadn’t had one of those in a long time.

Maybe this weekend could set our relationship on a new, more positive track. I didn’t want to set my expectations too high, because that usually ended in heartbreak, but I was still hopeful. This could be good. We had some time and space apart so everything had to have settled down, right?

It was a Thursday afternoon and I had several students in my room to complete an assignment. I was walking around, monitoring. A buzz from my cell phone on my desk redirected my attention. I finished my lap and paused at my desk, picking up my phone. The screen illuminated as I glanced at the notification. It was a text message from my mother. She most likely wanted to pin down the plans for tomorrow.

I froze as I read the message.

“I’m not coming this weekend. Ask your boyfriend why.”

My stomach sank and my face was flushed. It felt as if one of my students had set the thermostat on 100 degrees, a vast difference from the usual “meat locker” temperature it remained set at. I tried to swallow the lump in my throat and stared at my screen. My fingers hovered above my phone’s keyboard, but they were frozen. Or maybe it was my mind that had come to a screeching halt. I set my phone back on my desk as I couldn’t steady my shaking hands.

I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding and walked back to the round table. “Good job,” I managed to blurt out as I nodded towards my student’s reading excerpt. The rest of the class period was a blur. I was glad the students were working on their own and needed little support to finish their assignment. Seven minutes seemed like 700 as my mind was reeling from the text I received from my mother. The bell rang, and my small group of students left. I remained seated at the table and blankly stared out the window. Maybe I had misread. Maybe there was another piece of the message that hadn’t come through yet.

I rose from the chair and walked back to my desk. My entire body was tingling, reeling with the intenseness from my mother’s message. Where was this coming from? Why out of the blue? And Kendrae? Had they talked to one another?

Upon reaching my desk, I gently picked up my phone and stared at the blank, black screen. My hands trembled as I unlocked the screen. I blew out a deep breath and re-opened the message. Eyes wide, ready to soak it all in.

“I’m not coming this weekend. Ask your boyfriend why.”

It was still the same. I hadn’t forgotten a single syllable. I screenshot the message and sent it to Kendrae. The alleged boyfriend in my mother’s message. Moments later, I received a screenshot of a different message my mother sent out.

“Tell your girlfriend she has a week to get her own cell phone plan, car insurance and health insurance. This is just as much your fault as it is hers.”

The feeling in my hands turned numb. I couldn’t feel the phone in my hands. The four walls around me started spinning and closing in at the same time. A lump formed in my throat, and as I tried to swallow, I couldn’t breathe. Cold beads of sweat percolated on the back of my neck. Glued to the screen, my eyes reread that same message over and over. And then one more time.

My mind was too frazzled to settle on one thought. I had hundreds bouncing around in there. Reverberating off the walls, knocking into one another, spinning out of control in circles.

Where did this come from?

What do I say?

What do I do?

How am I going to pay for all of that?

Did they bug my apartment?

Was there a tracker on my car?

Now what?

I sat in the chair behind my desk and handed over the control of my thoughts. Leaving me no more at ease because of it. I was actually more distressed than before. I felt as if someone dropped me in the middle of the ocean. I was underneath the waves, frantically swimming. Searching for which direction was up. Getting tossed and tumbled with each new wave, tiring more by the minute. The moment I stopped thrashing, stopped trying to make sense of everything was when I began to float up to the surface. The murkiness began to clear and the light penetrated the depths of the water. I emerged on the surface, gasping for air.

This was not something I could fix. This was not a problem I could out-think the solution to. Bottom line, I would have to do what the message said. Get my own phone plan, health insurance and car insurance. I was planning to do all of that in a few weeks, once I got paid, but it didn’t look like I had much of a choice. The logical portion of my brain took back the reigns and drove my thoughts to safety.

First, I would transfer my phone plan from my parents’ plan to my own. That shouldn’t cost anything up front, I could just be billed for all of that later. As far as car insurance, I would try the same thing. Transfer my insurance to my own policy and hope that I could pay the bill at a later date. After the 25thof September. But health insurance…I don’t think I would be able to take care of that now. I had already declined coverage with the school district because I was covered on my parents’ plan. I didn’t get sick often, I could handle a year without health insurance.

I could do this. Calmly, I could do this. I just had to breathe, and handle this situation one step at a time. Thinking about the situation in its entirety was too overwhelming. I had already been down that vortex, and it was paralyzing. No, I had to tackle this task in small, manageable chunks.

Step 1: Make sure Kendrae was alright. He did nothing to deserve a message dripping with disdain, guilt and shame. All he had done was love their daughter.

Step 2: Get through the rest of the school day. Which meant, closing this up for now and not allowing anyone to know what was going on. My students didn’t deserve to suffer because I was.

Step 3: Go to an Allstate insurance office and see how to get on my own plan. Make sure to double check that I could pay at a later date.

Step 4: Visit a Sprint store and get my own cell phone plan. Again, make sure that I could pay the bill at a later date.

Step 5: Text my mother that everything has been taken care of. Do not be tempted to text beforehand, it will do no good. Perhaps even make the situation worse.

Step 6: Pray that I don’t get sick because I certainly won’t be able to afford it.

Step 7: Get some sleep. Tomorrow is a new day, and you’ll be a few steps closer to true independence. This will all be worth it. Chin up.

Authors Note: Life can be overwhelming. We’ve ALL been there. Been through seasons, long and short, of struggle. Survived, barely, on the other side of a harsh reality. I will admit, I’m the first person to smile, nod, and say “I’m fine” when I’m absolutely not. I am the first person to sit and listen to someone else’s struggles, but never verbalize my own. Offer a helping hand to pull someone else up, when it feels like I’m the one falling. Focus all my remaining energy to brighten someone else’s day when I haven’t seen the light for weeks.

The recent tragedy of Mac Miller losing his life to drugs really hit home with me. Any death, untimely or not is tragic. Losing a loved one is never easy. But I was unsure why this particular tragedy really resonated with me. I didn’t listen to his music. Didn’t follow him on social media. Didn’t really know much about him. So I researched and consumed every article about him I could. He was 26, my age. And a common theme laced through each post and article I read was that he was kind. He was caring and a good friend. He was a positive person. Not the first adjectives that come to mind when hearing of an individual who suffered from a drug addiction.

But that’s the thing. EVERYONE has their own inner battles. Everyone is struggling with something. And it is often the ones with the biggest smiles and kindest hands that have the deepest wounds. How many people have I passed by and smiled hoping they don’t ask me how I’m really doing? How many people have I greeted and just went through the motions, not taking the time to truly see them? We need to do a better job of seeing those around us. Not just smiling and exchanging casualties because we’re too busy or too consumed with our own lives to care.

On the flip side of that, we need to do a better job of letting ourselves be seen. Allowing other people to be there for us, rather than trying to take on the world in solitude. Speaking from personal experience, my first response when I’m down is to shove that mess in the farthest corner of my brain and focus on anyone else but me. And while this might sound noble, it’s really not. Because how can I truly help someone else up if I won’t tend to my own broken arm? Life is messy. And hard. But don’t ever feel like you have to go through it alone. If you’re hurting, don’t minimize your pain. Because ignoring it, will never solve anything. It actually makes it worse.

I wasn’t able to truly move through my struggle because of my own grit. Did it help? Sure, but I came through this valley by the pure grace of God and because I leaned on those around me.

So in short, what I want you to gather from my post is this: you are not alone. Reach out to those around you. And if you have no one around you, reach out to me. I’ll welcome you in with open arms. See the people you come in contact with. And allow others to see you too. It always seems darkest before the dawn. Your light is coming, I promise.

No. 26 – Kindness of Strangers

No. 26 – Kindness of Strangers

My first week of teacher inservice was completely overwhelming. I knew no one and had no earthly idea or money to prepare my first classroom. I was hearing conflicting job descriptions in regards to what my day would look like and was disheartened to hear that even though I was starting work in August, I would not receive my first paycheck until September 25th! See, I was naïve to the knowledge that teachers get paid once a month. And new teachers, don’t see that first paycheck until the end of September. How was I going to make $78 dollars stretch that far? Especially when I had so many needs.

Just don’t think about it, I told myself. If you ignore the problem it will go away.

Food’s not that important…plus, you could stand to drop a few pounds anyway. This will be good. You’re just going on a diet for a month. Maybe your stomach will shrink, and you won’t need to buy many groceries anyway.

You don’t need paper towels, you have nothing to make a mess with. No mess, no cleanup.

Dish soap? If you have no food, you have no dishes to wash. You can do without that too.

Toilet paper…? I would have to be creative with that one. I would have to find a way to make my small supply stretch.

 Shampoo and body wash?  It’s better for your hair to skip daily washes. Maybe I could stretch my shampoos to three or four days. And my half empty bottle of body wash…I could dilute it so that I had more to work with. Adding a little water to your soap can’t hurt anything.

 Now gas, that was another story. I had to have gas to get to and from work. Fortunately, my commute was about 10 minutes, and my Honda Accord got decent mileage. But, I wasn’t sure how much money to set aside for my gas budget. Gas was not something I could make stretch. When my tank was on E, there was no ignoring that. I would have to limit my driving as much as possible. I set aside $40 for gas. Hopefully that would cover it.

That left me with $38 dollars. $38 dollars left from the check my father wrote me. Most of it dedicated to the rent due next week. I had nothing left for furniture. My living room remained a giant empty room. No couch, no dining room table, no chairs. I had one small, beat up, end table that served as a place to house my keys and purse next to the door. My dining options were to eat standing up in the kitchen, hovering over the sink or sit on the floor and use this strange, short, long table. Since sitting on the hardwood and scrunching down wasn’t very comfortable, I opted for kitchen sink hovering. On the rare occasions that I did eat.

In the bedroom, I used an old comforter that my parents brought that was mine from 8thgrade to make a pallet on the floor. Being that it was nine years old, it had an unpleasant distinct scent to it, and was lumpy. But if I folded it just right, I could match the lumps to the spaces with sparse cushioning so that it was almost flat. The old lumpy pillow with a different distinct smell had to be older than the comforter. I was able to fold and bunch it in a certain way so that it felt like my head and neck were supported. A small, decorative aquamarine blanket was used as my covering while I slept. The blanket was much too small for my long legs. So I would turn the blanket in more of a diamond shape, draw my knees close to my chest and tuck my feet in. Not the most ideal way to sleep, but it worked.

The shower had no shower curtain, so a towel next to the dual shower/tub sufficed to catch all the excess water that splashed out. It also doubled as a bath mat for when I stepped out of the shower. I had two towels. One for the floor, one for my body and hair. Washing them frequently was a problem, because I had no washer and dryer. The apartment complex had a laundry room, but it was expensive, and not in my tight budget. $1.75 to wash and $1.75 to dry? Plus, I had no laundry detergent. So that wasn’t an option. Instead, I would draw a bath, soak the towels in the tub, and scrub them down with my diluted body wash. Then hang them on the shower rod to dry out.

Kendrae’s apartment that he shared with two roommates was equipped with a washer and dryer, but I didn’t have the gas money to make the 15-minute drive every other day to wash my two towels. No, in about two weeks, after I had worn everything in my extremely limited closet, I would have to make the drive to his apartment to do my laundry. Then I could throw the towels in too, to get the thorough wash they so desperately needed.

Kendrae grasped that I didn’t have much, but I didn’t let him in on the severity of my living situation. In fact, because he was fearful of my parents, he did not want to step foot in my apartment. Which, honestly, was a relief. For one, I wasn’t entirely sure the place wasn’t under surveillance. So him staying away was to our benefit. And secondly, I didn’t want anyone to know how much I was struggling, especially Kendrae. He was going to school full-time and working as a Kroger cashier. He had to pay his own bills and was on an equally tight budget. I knew if he saw how much I lacked, he would insist on helping. But I knew he wasn’t in a position to do so. No, it was best if I kept my living arrangements to myself.

The first week of school wasn’t as wild as I anticipated. I spent most of the first few days familiarizing myself with paperwork, shifting student schedules around and praying no one asked me any personal questions. I was exhausted from being forced to live such an extreme façade the past few months just to survive. Now that I had taken a step away from that situation, I wanted to practice being myself. Or at least finally having a slight bit of freedom to rediscover who I was. So I kept my head down, and tried to keep conversations with others as surface level as possible. I smiled a lot and was always polite, but I learned how to avoid talking about myself or any facet of my life.

Under less extreme circumstances, I am drawn to people. I love human-to-human connections and feed off of other’s energy. But I was embarrassed. I was mortified at the thought of telling someone that I wasn’t close with my family. What was even more intimidating was trying to describe our relationship with one another. Estranged? Ex-communicated? Ostracized? Complicated? All adjectives that would just prompt further questions that I didn’t want to or know how to answer.

I ate my lunch in my classroom by myself because I was embarrassed at my lack of food. I didn’t want to raise any concern over my three crackers for lunch. Plus, lunch rooms can foster conversations about one’s personal life, so it was best if I just hid out in my room. I would just explain that I needed some down time or that I would be working through lunch if I was ever invited to eat with the others.

Once September 25throlled around, I would be fine. If I could just make it to that first paycheck, my living circumstances would improve. I could buy a mattress, half-way stock my pantry, buy a shower curtain. Then each month I would slowly furnish the rest of my apartment. I would purchase a table so I could sit down to eat. Then a couch so I could actually use my living room. Oh, and internet! I couldn’t wait to have internet installed. I could transition to my own cell phone plan so I could ditch that burner phone. Get on my own car insurance so I could be fully independent and earn the freedom I deserved.

I looked down at the large, free desk calendar gifted to all the JMS teachers and exhaled as I focused on the date: September 3rd.  21 more days until I got paid. How was I going to make my last few dollars stretch that far? I could feel my heart beating faster and the blood rush to my cheeks. My typical meat locker of a classroom suddenly felt like the outside Texas heat.

The question reverberated in my head again: how was I going to make my last few dollars stretch that far? My gas light was on and my pantry was bare. I had no necessary toiletries. The fact that I only had $14 remaining was starting to truly sink in. My throat was expanding and taking a breath transformed into an arduous task. Before breaking into a full-on panic attack, I pushed all my worries into the furthest back crevice of my brain. Worrying will get you nowhere, I chided myself. Plus, I didn’t have the time right now. I was due at the first staff meeting of the school year.

The meeting started off like you would expect a first-of-the-year-staff meeting to go. The room was filled with, happy you’re here’s, we’re going to have a great years, and are you as tired as I am after only a week and a half? The kum ba ya was interrupted as the principal called my name out loud. Again, the blood rushed to my cheeks and I’m certain I looked like a sunburnt strawberry. I stood up, mortified, as I was beckoned to a table displayed in front of the entire staff. Two more names were called and the trio of new teachers were awkwardly standing in front of the room.

Then, in a gesture I’ll never forget, Mr. Mitchell presented us with a new teacher care package. He stated, that everyone knows how difficult it can be to be a teacher. Especially when you’re just starting out and waiting for your first paycheck. So JMS wanted to help us out in a small way and gift us some vital necessities. All three new teachers were given two tote sacks with grocery store and essential items inside.

I was instantly embarrassed. Could they tell I was that hard up? Did someone notice my lack of lunch or heavily repeated attire? Was it plastered across my forehead? All I could do was smile nervously and embrace the kind gesture. I may have felt humiliated, but I wasn’t too proud to accept the offering. I needed it more than I was willing to admit.

I left the staff meeting hoping that my face hadn’t given me away. My cheeks were flushed and warm to the touch of my hand. Just smile big enough and no one will know. The mantra that ruled my life. Smile and nod. That method had been my go-to move for just about everything. Who could blame me, it had about at 98% success rate.

Back in my empty apartment, I set the sacks on my poor excuse of a dining room table. If I was honest with myself, I had to get over any insecurities about accepting this gift. Could they have just been trying to help out struggling new teachers? We all had received the items; I wasn’t singled out. Just be grateful, Sarah. You are working at a school that cares about the well-being of their staff.

As I unloaded the bags, I couldn’t suppress the tears. Four rolls of paper towels, eight rolls of toilet paper, trash bags, Lysol wipes, household cleaner and more food than I had eaten the whole last week. I was overcome with humility and gratitude. All of my major needs were taken care of. These people that I barely even knew and I had purposely been trying to avoid eye contact with, had come together and taken care of me.  They had provided for me in my most crucial needs, ones I hadn’t even expressed. Crossing my legs on the floor as I rested my back against the kitchen cupboard, I closed my eyes as the waves of kindness washed over me. Thank you, I expressed aloud. And my words echoed through the empty apartment and through my heart.

I learned that “just enough” is still ENOUGH. I may not have had a mattress, a full gas tank, or even a full stomach. But I had a heart, overflowing.


*Actual photo of my gift bag my first year at Judson Middle School. September 4, 2014.  

Author’s Note: As I sat and wrote this post, one message hung around the forefront of my mind. So I want to leave you with this thought as it has proven its autonomy in my life over and over. Financial wealth does not equate favor. Let me say it again. Financial wealth DOES NOT equate favor. When stuck in the middle of a circumstances that seem overwhelming, do not believe the lie that if you were on the right path, you should have smooth sailing with money rolling in. If I had taken my absolute lack of any material items as the compass for being on the right path, I would have turned and sprinted the other way.

Allowing material possessions and money in the bank to determine your validity, your direction, and your favor will only leave you empty. Money does not equal fulfillment. Money does not equal good life choices. Money does not equal happiness. I am not saying that possessing money is bad. But using money as lighthouse in the middle of the fog to guide your ship into the harbor will only end with a crash into the rocks.

Looking back, it was in this stage of financial famine that I felt the most fulfilled. It sounds backwards, but in my dire need, I was forced to rely only on the one true guiding Light. If I had taken my lack of money as any indication that I had made the right decision, I would be poorly mistaken. But instead, I continued to step forward in faith and have been reassured again and again and again that while the path I am walking is not easy, I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. So next time you find yourself in a phase of famine, take heart because it may just mean that you are precisely where you’re supposed to be.  

No. 25 – The Caged Bird

No. 25 – The Caged Bird

Slivers of light sliced through the white, wooden blinds. I turned over on my right side, and felt an ache through my back. The top of my hand rested on the plush carpet. Confused, I peeled open my eyes which quickly settled on the carpet directly beneath me. I was literally laying on the ground. As I sat up, I felt the strain in my muscles. My air mattress seemed to be lacking a crucial element – air.

Frustration rushed to the surface as I remembered yesterday’s events. I had a sinking feeling this air mattress was faulty. And I was disappointed to be right. This was not right. How could my parents give me a broken air mattress instead of my fully functional mattress? A mattress that would now only furnish an empty, extra bedroom. This was not an accident or slip of the mind. It was my main request in fact. No, this, was thought out and intentional.

My eyes scanned the barren bedroom. Then stopped on that awful dark brown armoire. This they managed to bring. The utterly unnecessary piece of furniture I made clear I didn’t want or need. I shook my head in amazement. Then thought better. At this point in time, nothing my parents did or didn’t do should shock me. All my expectations had been shattered months ago. Even if it felt like a whole other lifetime ago. Sarah pre-two months ago and Sarah now felt like two separate beings. Individuals who had nothing in common.

So this was how it felt like on the other side of the fence. I took in a deep breath and released it slowly as the changes settled in. My body yearned to relax, to let my guard down. But my mind had other plans. What if’s and extreme and crazy scenarios held my mind hostage, convincing me I hadn’t escaped captivity.

Paranoia grabbed hold of my throat and slowly choked my breath away. There was no way I had gotten out that easily; there had to be a catch. Why else would my parents trek out to Longview with none of my furniture? They hadn’t stayed long, weren’t interested in looking around much and really didn’t ask many questions about my new job.

Was their entire trip a hoax based on the ulterior motive of scoping the place out?

Did they just want my address?

Did they bug the dresser?

Was there now a tracker on my car?

Crazy, I know. Even for my wild imagination. But after you’ve been traumatized, your filter of what a person is and isn’t capable of doing goes out the window. Even someone you’ve known and loved your whole life. Nothing is labeled off limits. So while, yes, I felt like a crazy person for allowing my thoughts to run rampant, I also reminded myself that being cautions was my best bet.

Three hours of distance, my name on the lease, and I still felt trapped. The freedom I had dreamt about all summer turned out to be a mirage. No closer within my reach than it was two months ago. How had nothing really changed? Geographic relocation was just as it sounded. Simply a change of geography. None of my problems were alleviated with my family. My relationship was still forbidden. A secret trapped in my inmost vault so as not to mention to anyone that could somehow connect back to my parents. No pictures, no spending excess time in public, not sharing any information with my friends.

For these next few months, I would have to fly under the radar. Once I saved up enough to be completely financially free, then I could step out from the shadows, and into the light. But until I got my own insurance, car insurance and cell phone bill, I would be forced to keep our love tucked away. I would have to continue to use my burner phone to communicate with Kendrae. I knew my parents would continue checking my current cell phone record even though I was now out of their house.

All of their restrictions and judgements followed me to Longview. My big, empty apartment suddenly felt much smaller.

Trapped like a bird in her cage, I walked around the vacant apartment. Dragging my finger along the textured wall as I walked the inside perimeter. Wanting to familiarize myself with every minute detail. So if anything was slightly out of place, I would notice. I wanted to familiarize myself with the sounds outside my window, the hum of the refrigerator, the clunk of the ice dropping into the icemaker. I wanted to recognize the sound of the air conditioning cooling the wide-open spaces. And grow accustomed to the wind as it breezed across my patio. Because not only was I still on guard, anticipating a stealth attack at any moment, I was now in foreign territory as well.

I steeled my resolve and heightened my senses. This time, I would be ready. If I caught even the slightest glimpse of freedom, I was flying out of the cage without looking back.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams

his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream

his wings are clipped and his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

-Maya Angelou

Author’s Note: In the spirit of keeping it real, I’m going to do just that. Some of you may have noticed that a post didn’t go up last week. Which for me, was a pretty big deal. When I set out to begin this journey, I planned out a year’s worth of posts to get started. One post a week for 52 weeks. And I kept to that schedule for 24 weeks. For almost half a year, I committed to weekly open-heart surgeries. I committed to sort through my brokenness publically, which hasn’t been an easy undertaking.

Every week, I’ve benefited from this process and allowed myself to heal. But last week was different. Ironically enough my message from the previous week was that done is better than perfect. So what happens when you don’t even start? Is there an adage for that?

I’ve had a lot of life changes going on behind the scenes. Which is not to be used as an excuse. Bottom line, I didn’t set aside enough time required to write in the manner that I do. Sure, I could have scrambled and slung something together to post for the sake of posting on a scheduled timeline. Because after all, something is better than nothing, right?

Not always the case. Because I care so deeply about the message that I’m sharing, I take careful consideration in regards to the content. Are any of my posts going to be perfectly written? No. But do I intend to write each of them in a meaningful and well thought out manner in a way that hopefully serves someone else? Absolutely. One hundred percent, YES. So just know that I will never post for the sake of posting or meeting my own quota.

And while I don’t believe in sitting around and waiting for inspiration to write a powerful piece, often times there is a little magic that comes into play. It takes more than just dedication and making myself sit down to write. I can craft a post, and still lack quality. And other days, the lens through which to tell my perspective of this narrative flows right through me and I don’t stop typing for an hour straight.

All this to say that life should not only be measured by what we produce. True growth and wisdom come from the process, not the end result. And I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to accurately articulate how grateful I am to every single person who chooses to partake in this process with me. Thank you.

Anyway, back to your regularly scheduled posts!



No. 24 – Apartment 213

No. 24 – Apartment 213

The next phase of my life unfolded rather quickly. I now kinda, sorta, hopefully had a job – nothing had officially gone through Human Resources yet. I was moving into my own apartment. And two days later beginning teacher inservice for my first teaching assignment, 7thgrade Special Education.

I got the keys to my apartment on a Friday. Cassey was driving out that same day from Van Alstyne to bring some of my things, none of which were packed because I hadn’t anticipated everything happening so quickly. She was going to stay with me my first night. A relief so I wouldn’t have to spend my first night alone in an empty apartment. My mother and father were going to be driving out on Saturday to bring the rest of my clothes and other belongings. I had no apartment furniture, so there wasn’t much for them to bring, but I hoped they might gift me some of the extra items they had around the house. The carrot my father had been dangling out all summer was that he would help me furnish an apartment once I had landed a job. Maybe if they were in good spirits, they may even let me pick out a couch or something.

Signing the official lease to my own apartment was the most adult thing I had ever done. I had no co-signers, no help financially, it was just me. I had gone from a college graduate living in her parents’ house working as a waitress to a woman with a career and her own place. It felt good. Really good. Until I wrote out the rent check with all the deposits. Most of my savings were tapped out with one signature. My next few months were going to be tight, but my freedom was priceless.

I walked from the leasing office to my apartment. Put the key in the lock and opened the door to my future. I stepped in, closed the door behind me and took it all in. I breathed in and out. This place instantly felt like home. I surveyed the big, empty living room and imagined all the fun I would have decorating it. I could see myself now in a couple months lounging in my cozy living room, curled up on my stylish and plush couch reading a book.

I then stepped into the dining room and I could see my friends enjoying themselves as we played games and enjoyed each other’s company. The smell of all the amazing food I would be serving wafting through the air. Flashes of the faces I loved most feeling at home in my apartment filled my soul. I continued to walk through the apartment room by room envisioning the life I had been dreaming about all summer long. Each room further solidifying to me that my dreams were more than a vision, but my very close reality.

Just as my imaginative tour was wrapping up, my cell phone rang. It was Cassey. She was here. I ran out to meet her, excited to show her my new home. She had a small Chevy Cobalt and wasn’t able to bring much. I didn’t care, I was just appreciative for her company and support.

“I made sure that I brought your TV dude. Your dad didn’t want me to take it because he said they could just bring it in the morning. But I wanted to make sure you had your TV,” Cassey informed me.

I laughed and thanked her as we unloaded the TV and other items from her car. Cassey’s approval of my new apartment made me feel even better about my selection. I had never gone apartment hunting before and had to take care of all the details on my own. With no help from my parents and no experience. Sure I didn’t have a lot of options in my budget and on such short notice. But this place seemed to be perfect for my situation.

We met Kendrae for dinner at Texas Roadhouse and celebrated my new beginning. I could feel the love. And all the stress and tension from the worst summer of my life began to lift off my shoulders. I had willed myself to this point, and all my persistence was paying off. This was the first day of the rest of my life and I couldn’t wait to see what was in store.

Cassey and I finished the night with a glass of wine and some Carrie Bradshaw. We made a pallet on the carpet in the bedroom, had one pillow a piece and slept on the floor. I was exhausted, so I fell asleep quickly but peacefully.

My parents rolled in about 9 that next morning. Cassey and I were both surprised at the lack of furniture my parents brought with them. No couch, no dining table, no chairs. They brought two night stands, an end table, and a broken coffee table. And a dresser that I specifically asked them not to bring. Half of my clothes were missing along with some shoes, jewelry, and other personal items.

“Where’s my mattress?” I asked, confused.

“Oh we brought you this air mattress. I figured it would be more comfortable anyway,” my mother nonchalantly answered.

I stared at her. Then glanced at my father who hadn’t seemed to be listening. I shifted my gaze back on my mother, “So…you didn’t bring my bed? That was the main thing I asked for. That was kind of the point of you guys coming out here today. To bring my mattress and my clothes. Everything else I can do without.” I gazed at the long-bed trailer hitched to my father’s truck. The dresser and unnecessary tables took up about a quarter of the space. There was plenty of room for my mattress, box spring and bed frame.

It was clear neither my mother nor father were going to address my question. So I posed another. “Is the air mattress any good? I can’t remember the last time we even tried to blow it up.”

“I’m sure it’s fine, Sarah. Air mattresses are really comfortable. Plus we brought the frame you can put it on,” my mother said with a smile.

I glanced at Cassey and could see she shared my bewilderment at the items they chose to bring. And more so the crucial pieces that they left back in Van Alstyne. I kept my mouth shut, but couldn’t shake the question in my mind. Why didn’t they bring all my belongings? Was it because I was moving to Longview, the city where Kendrae also lived?

With the four of us moving the few items from my father’s truck to my empty apartment, we were done quickly. Cassey said her goodbyes, and headed out. My father offered to take me out to lunch and to the grocery store before they left. I was caught off guard by the gesture, but accepted.

After returning back home with some groceries and a few kitchen necessities, it was time for us to part ways. I found myself sad that they were leaving, and I couldn’t justify why. The entire summer all I could do was dream about my freedom and the day I could leave. And now that it was here, I was filled with sadness. Deep, overwhelming sadness. Maybe because now I was truly on my own, no longer a little girl, embarking on a new season of life. Or maybe because I still so desperately sought their approval, and hadn’t received it. Perhaps it was due to all the brokenness between us that had not shown any signs of improvement. Manifested in the scraps they brought me to “furnish” my apartment. Maybe it was all three.

The three of us stood in the parking lot outside of my apartment and shared a bittersweet moment. Regardless of the recent events that rocked our relationship, I was still their daughter. Even in my fury of emotions and confusion, I still loved my parents and wanted nothing more than to make them proud. A mark I had clearly fallen short of. In true family fashion, the three of us exchanged words that skirted around the truth. Expressing nothing of our true feelings.

“It’s a nice apartment, Sar,” my father reassured me. “Here’s some money so you can get a table and whatever.”

Tears welled up in my eyes as I hugged my father. “Thanks, Dad,” was all I could muster without bursting into tears. An emotion my father does not deal with.

“We love you,” my mother said as she hugged me. “We’ll text you once we make it back home.”

“I love you guys too. Thanks for everything,” I choked out, suppressing the tears as best I could.

I watched the truck drive away through blurry eyes. I waved goodbye and faked a smile. It all seemed so final. I tried to tell myself that I would see them again soon. But deep down, I didn’t believe it. This parting felt like an ending. I wrapped myself with my own arms and rushed back to my apartment. Keeping my head down so others wouldn’t see my streaming tears and snotty nose. I flung the door open and collapsed against the wall, hugging my knees. And I sobbed.

I mourned the ending of the worst chapter of my life. I mourned my tattered bond with my family. Fearful that even a defibrillator wouldn’t be able to resuscitate our pulseless relationship. I mourned my childhood as I was quickly becoming an adult. I panicked at the fact that for once, I did NOT have it all together. I was unsure about a lot in my life. And I was scared. So I let my tears splash on the floor and squeezed my knees tighter against my chest. I allowed myself to grieve all the things I had lost in hopes of being able to start fresh.

And somewhere in the midst of making a puddle on the ground and approaching dehydration, a closing line to a favorite movie of mine sounded in my head. I could hear Sandra Bullock’s voice billowing:

Beginnings are usually scary, endings are usually sad, but it’s what’s in the middle that counts. So when you find yourself at the beginning, just give hope a chance to float up. And it will.

I found myself at a simultaneous sad ending and scary beginning. My onslaught of emotions now made a little more sense. I forced myself to take a deep breath, and I slowly rose from the ground. There I was, giving hope a chance.


Author’s note: I found myself putting off sitting down to write this post. Excusing my lack of writing with I’m tired, I’m busy with other things, and I’m not feeling it. But I’m going to be completely transparent with you. At the root of it, I did not want to write this post because I did not want to sort through the painful emotions so tightly associated with this event in my life. I can still feel the ripping in my heart as my parents drove away. The wound is still there and continues to ache. Time certainly helps, but it doesn’t eradicate pain.

So this is me, showing up late, but showing up. In my pain four years ago and in my pain today. It’s okay not to have it all together. Grief has its own timeline and it looks differently for everyone. And just because something hasn’t bothered you for years, doesn’t mean it can’t creep up and catch you unexpectedly. Allow yourself to grieve and be sad. Don’t mask your sadness. Let it out. Sit with it. Give yourself time. Don’t set unrealistic expectations for dealing with the mess that comes with life. And if nothing else give yourself grace. We could all use more of it.

No. 23 – The Search Continues

No. 23 – The Search Continues

My job search continued, even though it felt hopeless. But I remembered seeing a job opening at a middle school in the Longview Independent School District when I checked all the openings last week. I had looked it over since it was in the forbidden application area set up by my parents. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. And at this point with about two weeks out from school starting, what did it hurt to send in an application? This late in the game, maybe I would actually be considered. I had already sent out 100 applications, what difference would 101 make?

Because of the location of this school, Longview, I didn’t want to apply for the job opening while at my parents’ house. I wanted to avoid any potential friction. I was nervous that if I was in the process of doing so and my mother or father walked in, it might spark a whole new argument. And I had reached my limit on lectures, arguments, disagreements, and disappointments with them. This entire situation was beyond uncomfortable. I did not like feeling like I had to sneak around and be elusive about applying for a job. I was doing the very thing my parents had been harping about all summer. But as usual, everything must be handled on their terms, on their time table and in their idealized reality of my life.

What were my alternatives? Play it their way, limit myself, live at home for a year and make all of us miserable. Or, do what I believed was best for my sanity, spread my wings and find a way out. Which ultimately, I hoped would leave both parties better off in the long run. I honestly couldn’t think of anything I had left to lose by taking one last stab at escaping. I had already lost everything. Everything except my sense of self, which would be stripped away if I didn’t get out. And soon.

A few days passed by and I found myself on a Monday afternoon at Cassey’s. I sat in front of the computer and filled out an application for a middle school Special Education teaching job. Middle School was not my first choice of grade level; my degree was in elementary education. But I needed to start somewhere, and the assignment was in Special Education which was what I wanted to teach. Plus, I doubted I would even hear back from this school. So I sent in my application and then sent a follow up email to the assistant principal.

Cassey and I spent the rest of the afternoon lounging by the pool and savoring the dwindling days of summer that remained.

The next morning, I went through my usual routine. I was cleaning out my email inbox which was 99% junk. Then an email subject grabbed my immediate attention: Special Ed Position. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest and through my shirt. My fingers couldn’t open the email quick enough. It was a response from the assistant principal at Judson Middle School, in Longview. The message read:

Hello Sarah,

We received your email about the Special Education position and would love to talk with you. We need to make a decision quickly since school is starting soon.

Could you come by the school today at 3:30 to meet with us and bring a copy of your application and resume with you so that we have your credentials? We are having registration today in 2 hour intervals until 7 pm tonight so I will not be in the office to check your response. You may call the front office and let the office staff know if the time is going to work for you.

Thanks for your interest!

I couldn’t believe what I just read. I read over the email again just to be sure. My eyes weren’t deceiving me, a principal at a middle school wanted to interview me for a job. For this year. Now my heart really felt like it would break free of my chest cavity it was beating so intensely. An interview. In Longview. TODAY. Accounting for the three-hour drive and getting interview ready on such short notice, I needed to get going. First, I would have to pass this whole thing by at least one of my parents. I guessed that my dad would be my best bet. His business brain would be more likely to approve a job in Longview as opposed to no job anywhere else.

I dialed my father’s phone number and waited nervously as I listened to the ringtone.


“Hello,” my father’s voice bellowed through the phone speaker.

“Dad, I got a job interview…today,” I nervously stated.

“That’s great. Where?” he questioned.

The moment I anticipated was upon me. Play it cool, Sarah. “A middle school in Longview.” I kept my answer as vague and relaxed as possible.

I’m not sure if the silence on his end was intentional or just my imagination. But after either a few seconds or about 30, my father spoke.

“Well you better get going. You want to make sure you’re there early.”

Half in shock and half in the spirit of excitement, I blurted out. “Yeah, thanks. I’ll let you know how it goes.”

“Alright. Love you.”

“Love you too,” I reciprocated.

I knew my father loved me. And I also knew that he was proud of me for landing an interview. I reveled in that feeling. Of him being proud of me. Approving of something I had done. Despite everything that had and hadn’t happened these past few months, I still desperately craved his validation. It was a driving force in my life, always. But it had even more recently peaked. Because even though I whole-heartedly disagreed with many of his actions, I still wanted him to be proud of me. And even more than that, I wanted to make him so.

I shook off the deep train of thought and proceeded to get interview appropriate as quickly as possible while still ensuring that I took my time. I grabbed a few cosmetic items for final touches that could be reapplied once I arrived at the school and headed to my car. I punched in the school address and pulled out of the driveway, Longview bound.

Two hours and 52 minutes later my Honda Accord rolled into the Judson Middle School parking lot. I was 30 minutes early, just as I prepared to be. I inhaled deeply and slowly released my breath back out calming my off the chart anxiousness. This could be it; my way out. A job that could financially allow me to branch out on my own. Allow me to start fresh, in a city I already knew well and felt safe in. Allow me to actually live in the same city as Kendrae. Whew! What a thought that was. I hadn’t even had time to process how wonderful that aspect would be for our relationship. Wait, I told myself. Focus on the interview first. Then after I clinch this position, I can enjoy all that benefits that come with it.

So I composed myself and walked into the front office with my head held high. I got this.

After about an hour I walked back to my car hopeful and confused. The interview had felt great. I met with the principal, who was new to the district, and the two assistant principals. The four of us really seemed to gel and the interview felt more conversational than question and answer. I found myself surprisingly relaxed and exuding confidence.

The interview ended on a vague note though. Mr. Mitchell, the principal, explained that if they should decide to recommend me for the position, HR wouldn’t be able to verify my credentials right now, because they were in the process of all the new teacher orientation. Which left me partially excited because that sounded like an indication that I might have the job, but if I couldn’t be processed, how could I get it? Either way, I was instructed to follow up with them on Thursday. Whomever they decided to hire would start on Friday.

The murkiness of my next steps overpowered the excitement of maybe landing a job. That left me with two days to try not to freak out about this potential job. And then, when the results were in I would either freak out at not getting it, or freak out because I would have to find an apartment, start teacher inservice and prepare for the school year. Before heading back to Van Alstyne, I had to see Kendrae. Seeing his face would calm my nerves, and strengthen my emotions. Plus, he had no idea I was in town. Everything had happened so fast, that I decided I would just surprise him.

As I pulled up to Kendrae’s apartment complex, more butterflies took refuge in my stomach than they did before my interview. At every encounter with Kendrae I found myself dizzy, weak at the knees and giddy with excitement. I didn’t know how this man could affect me this way, but I didn’t want it to ever stop. I knocked on his front door and waited with anticipation. I felt like a child in line to use the restroom, liable to burst at any moment. Just when I thought I couldn’t wait a moment longer, the door opened. And I was greeted with a look of utter shock, excitement and love.  A look and feeling I’ll never forget. All my anxiety about my maybe-job melted away there on the doorstep. The look in Kendrae’s eyes spoke more than his words ever could.

And in that moment, I knew. Just knew that Kendrae and I belonged together. I was going to get this job. I was going to move back to Longview. And we were going to make this work. I was claiming my future. And for the first time in the last six months, I was never surer of anything else in my life.

No. 22 – Testing…Testing

No. 22 – Testing…Testing

The day of my test was finally here. I felt like my future, my sanity, my well-being in general were all riding on one test. I had spent four long, hard years in college learning the skills necessary to be an effective teacher. But none of that mattered unless I passed this test. No pressure. Even though the likeliness of me finding a job at this point in the summer was nearly microscopic, I hoped that by passing I would be qualified to accept a position if something were to come available mid-year. Or maybe by filling in as a substitute who was certified, a principal would be more likely to offer me a job for the next school year. Regardless of how it would come about, I had to be certified, which meant I HAD to pass this test. Not to mention it was expensive, and I was not in a financial position to be throwing my money away.

I woke up before my alarm clock went off; a feat of nature for the anti-morning person that I am. I dressed quickly and headed down stairs to make myself presentable. In the words of Cassey, “you look good, you play good!” Or test well, in my case. So I applied some make-up, styled my hair and instantly felt a slight boost in confidence. I grabbed a breakfast bar from the kitchen pantry and headed out the door. I had a 45-minute drive to the testing center and wanted to get there early – alleviating any extra stress like running late, hitting traffic or getting lost. Even with a GPS in tow, I could still manage to get myself turned around.

I pulled into the designated parking garage 20 minutes before I needed to be present for check in. I briefly reviewed my study guide, touching on the objectives I wanted. After my quick refresh, I took the deepest breath my lungs could hold and let it out slowly. You got this,I assured myself. I gathered the few items I could bring with me, left my phone in the car and walked in to my destiny.

Two hours later, I exited the building and walked towards my car with a pit in my stomach. I was going to be sick. Each step further away from the testing facility sent a fresh wave of stomach pangs. I could hurl any second. Keep breathing, I instructed myself. Just make it to the car. I was going to burst. Into tears or with projectile. Either way it wasn’t going to be pretty. Finally, I spotted my car. I collapsed into the driver’s seat and buried my face in my palms. I dry heaved and dry cried simultaneously. A horrific blend of all my pent-up anxiety over this test. I could look forward to this torture for a whole week as I awaited my results.

Usually, I had an accurate gauge as to how I performed on tests, but this time I was clueless. One moment my natural test-taking confidence held the reigns and I was sure that I passed the test with ease. The next moment, my all familiar self-doubt creeped in and took control. Of course, you didn’t pass the test, Sarah. You’re never getting out of your parents’ house. This cyclical back and forth plagued my drive home. Stepping back into the palpable darkness didn’t help either. The presence of the house consumed my thoughts and poisoned any resolve I had left. I sunk into the couch and continued to sink into myself. I was a tiny speck in black hole that continued to suck me further and further downwards into the abyss.

The walls closed in on me, slowly, dragging out the painful reality that I might not get out this summer. I couldn’t take another year of being a disappointment. Another year of falling short of impossible expectations. Another year of wearing the façade that was killing me. The mask that left me feeling empty while still failing to please my parents. Chipping away at me each time I had to pry it off my face.

And what would come of my relationship? I couldn’t even begin down that road. The ONLY way we had survived this far was to take it one day at a time. Relishing the beautiful past. Trying to make the most of the present. And attempting not to zoom too far into the unpredictable future. At this point, we could make no plans, had no inkling of when we might see each other again, and my light at the end of the tunnel was blacked out.

I spent the rest of the day in a funk that I couldn’t shake. I didn’t want to be around anyone in the house, but my solidarity was only propelling my negative thought cycle. I decided after a shower and a brief conversation with Kendrae that it was best if I just called it a day and slept it off. In brilliant Sarah fashion, rather than relaxing my mind and falling asleep, I couldn’t shut it off. My mind was running rampant with question after question. I couldn’t quiet my racing thoughts and I lay awake for hours battling my incessant insecurities.

I woke up the next morning with a more positive outlook. Playing out all the ridiculously awful scenarios my tormented brain could concoct had done no good, and only made the situation worse. If I didn’t pass the test, I would figure something else out. I was nothing if not resourceful. If Plan A didn’t work out, there were an infinite amount of other options I could sort out later.

Sometime that afternoon as I was cleaning out my email inbox my heart caught in my throat. Was I reading that right?

Your score report for the following test…can now be viewed online.

I wasn’t expecting to get my test results back for another week. I instantly overwhelmed with dread. This could not be a good indication for passing. Results the next day? That must mean I completely bombed the test. A cold sweat covered the surface of my skin and my hands shook as I clicked on the link to see my score. Even after realizing that I was holding my breath, I still couldn’t let it out. The molasses slow internet in the middle of the country moved even slower than usual as my phone loaded the page.

The ringing in my ears grew louder by the millisecond. I rested my arms on my legs in attempt to steady the shaking. Now my entire body trembled with angst. This had to be the slowest page load time in the history of this internet.

The page finally finished loading and my eyes froze on the screen.

Oh, this was just the login page. A slight wave of relief washed over me as I typed in my credentials.

Then, even stronger than before, my intensity increased as I awaited another slow page load. This was it…

Seconds later, my screen illuminated. The page had loaded successfully.

As ready as I was to see the results, I didn’t know if I was ready to deal with the ramifications that would follow.

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

I swallowed my fear and forced my eyes towards my phone screen. My eyes began at the top of the page and stopped. My results boiled down to one word: PASSED.

Tears streamed down my face releasing all the feelings of unworthiness that had coated over me the previous day. My breath deepened as my nerves relaxed. The end of my tunnel was blindingly bright. I took off in a full sprint towards the light.


No. 21 – My Best Bet

No. 21 – My Best Bet

Public school teachers started in mid-august, which meant the time was really ticking on my job hunt. I had begun the process of an alternative certification program to gain my credentials to teach. Which was all well and good, but the process was contingent upon my passing a content test. Once I passed the test, I would receive a probationary teaching certificate enabling me to teach in a public school. Without this certificate, no schools would even give my application a glance. So it felt pointless to apply for a job knowing that I didn’t stand a chance of getting it.

When I wasn’t working, sneaking off to the bathroom to send virtual love notes to my beloved, or contemplating an escape plan, I was studying. In my eyes, passing that Special Education content test was my golden ticket to get out of here! Ordinarily I was a natural test taker. I loved school, so I absorbed the classroom knowledge like a sponge and had no difficulty transferring it to a test. But this test, was different. It had been at least a year since I had taken my prepatory classes and I was under extreme stress from all angles. Not an ideal testing environment. I found it hard to concentrate. I was not retaining the information and the test questions did not center around common sense.

These tests are crafted with a perfect society in mind – unlimited resources, involved and supportive parents, students with an innate desire to learn and succeed, and formulated to be answered with the opposite nature of your initial response. So all my innate testing strategies went out the window. Answering with your gut – not effective. The pressure was on, and I felt one push away from cracking.

I was late in the game. The soonest I was able to sign up for my test was August 7th. The results of your test usually took about five days to receive. Teacher in-service training started mid-August. So I basically had no time. By the time I would get my test results back, schools would already be staffed for the year. If I waited until after passing my test to apply, it would be too late. But by applying early, and saying that I wasn’t certified, I was guaranteeing myself out of a job. I made a choice to bet on myself. I believed that if I willed myself to pass that content test, I would pass it. So I applied for Special Education teaching positions like a madwoman. I filled out the applications as if I had a certification under my belt. This way, by the time I hopefully got an interview, I would have already passed my test.

Now, my madwoman application spree was placed under some restrictions. Teaching in the Dallas area was my first choice, but in huge districts with no connections, this had proven to be extremely unsuccessful. I actually would have preferred to get rejection emails as opposed to no response at all. At least I would know my application was going somewhere. So I had to widen my scope of applications. If connections were the key to getting an interview, then applying at school districts near LeTourneau would be my best bet. LeTourneau holds a certain level of clout in East Texas, and would hopefully catapult my resume to the top of the deck.

But, this came with its own problem: I was forbidden to apply to any schools within an hour radius of the Longview area. My parents were firm on this stipulation. There was no discussing it, no loopholes around it – it was out of the question. I wasn’t dying to go back to Longview, but at this stage in the game, I couldn’t afford to limit myself to one geographic location. I applied to Big Sandy Elementary School, about 30 minutes outside of Longview.

To my utter surprise, I got called in for an interview! Finally, I was starting to see the light at the end of my tunnel of darkness. As excited as I was to have earned an interview, I was equally as nervous to break the news of where to my parents. Fearful that they would forbid me from even going. I mulled all day over the best way to tell them, and felt that my father would be the most likely to agree that I should go to the interview. After all, he was a business man and had made it exceptionally apparent that he was ready for me to get off his “payroll” and be out on my own. My gut instinct was right. My father expressed genuine excitement that I had gotten an interview, and understood that maybe being at a school near LeTourneau University would be in my best interest in securing a job. So it was settled, I had my first big girl job interview.

I woke up the next morning with a sense of purpose and a newfound determination. This was it – my chance to break free. Except, I wouldn’t even have to escape. I would have a legitimate reason to walk right out of the front door, no questions asked. Hopefully, with me out of the house and with three hours driving distance between us, the dust would settle between me and my parents. Time and distance would eventually reveal that this had all been blown way out of proportion. They would realize the error of their thinking and everything would work out in the end.

Flash forward to one week after my interview. I felt that it had gone well, but I really didn’t have much else to compare it to. The principal had been polite and informative of the position, but I had to tell her that I wasn’t certified yet. I assumed that she wouldn’t ask someone to drive three hours to an interview if they didn’t stand a chance of getting the job. After a full week had gone by and I hadn’t heard a response to my follow up email, I decided to give the principal a call.

I was beyond nervous. I practiced my phone script at least a dozen times in my bedroom. Focusing on breathing evenly so I would sound professional and calm. It wasn’t working so well. With each repetition my nerves only increased. My face was flush. My palms were sticky, even with my window AC unit set on 70 degrees at full blast. My breath was short and rapid. This was my only chance at leaving. We were in the last week of July, and if I didn’t get this job, I had no other options.

I walked over to the full-length mirror secured on my closet door. Placing both hands on the edges of the door, I leaned in and looked at myself. “You can do this, Sarah,” I reassured my reflection. “You can do this,” I repeated four more times. Each time with more vigor and belief in my message. I breathed out deeply before turning away from the mirror and sitting on the edge of my bed. I dialed the principal’s phone number and forced myself to breath out as it rang.

“Hello,” I was met with a professional greeting.

My heart started racing, this had to be a good sign that I reached her rather than her voicemail.

“Hello, Principal Varnado; this is Sarah. I was just giving you a follow up call to see if you had made any progress on selecting a candidate for the 3rd grade position?” I said all the words correctly, but I was speaking much quicker than I practiced. I couldn’t help it. This was a pivotal moment and my emotions were anything but calm.

“Hello Sarah. I’m glad you called. We have selected another candidate for the position; someone with more experience teaching 3rd grade,” she said so smoothly. Almost as if she had been the one rehearsing her line for the past half hour. “I appreciate your willingness to interview and wish you all the best. Buh-bye.”

And just like that my resolve was shattered. I couldn’t even bring myself to respond. I just sat there on the edge of my bed, phone still pressed against my ear in shock. And just like a well-rehearsed performance, the tears took their cue. An instant gush of heartbreak streamed down my face. I had received an extended sentence: one more year in captivity.

All summer, my thoughts were consumed with getting out of my parents’ house. I had played out a thousand different scenarios and explored many different options. But never once did the thought occur to me that I wouldn’t find a job. I believed that if I applied myself and sent out my resume to enough school districts, one would hire me.

Not in my worst nightmares did I ever consider having to stay for another year. My mind went wild with new scenarios. None of which ended well. The walls of my bedroom were closing in on me and I was swirling down into a pit of darkness. All my thoughts halted at the newest question in my head. What about Kendrae? How could we make this long-distance thing last under these conditions for an entire year? My mind reeled, searching for a glimmer of hope. Anywhere. Anything that would ease this fall. But I couldn’t concoct a happy ending. And then an even more concerning thought chilled me to my core.

What if…I never get out?

No. 20 – Wild Heart

No. 20 – Wild Heart

It hadn’t taken me long to settle back into my previous routine after coming back from Ohio. Nothing had changed during my trip. Except maybe my bank account, that had declined. But the severed relationships – were exactly as they were when I left – broken. I hadn’t gained any newfound perspective. I didn’t really enjoy myself either. All the time away had accomplished was to stress me out more.

I did receive my cell phone back from my parents. So at least I was able to communicate with the rest of the world. But I knew my parents were watching my account like a hawk. My good friend Chris and I had a phone conversation in the mid-afternoon because, well, no one knew why I dropped off the face of the earth for an entire month! A few hours later, I was brought into questioning.

“Who is this Houston number you talked to for 28 minutes today?” my mother sternly questioned.

They could see the number and the call duration, but they couldn’t see who the number belonged to. “That was Chris,” I responded flatly.

“Let me see your phone,” my father instructed, while holding open his hand.

I handed the phone over to him and could feel the warmth surfacing on my cheeks and forehead. They weren’t going to find anything on that phone. I refrained from texting about anything that could slightly be taken out of context, and decided all my communication on that phone would have to be via calls. I had sense enough to know that I could never communicate with or about Kendrae on that phone. Because it was under severe scrutiny and could be confiscated at a moment’s notice.

After about ten minutes of searching, my father finally found his way into my contact book and matched Chris’s phone number to the phone call from earlier that day. My cell phone was returned sans apology and I was dismissed from the room. I was irritated and anticipated that this would be added to the list of my new norms. But scrutinized conversation was better than none at all. And at least I knew how to work around it.

Jess, my best friend from college reached out to me later that evening with a plan to reunite Kendrae and me. The alibi – I was going to help Jess get her new classroom/office set up for her teaching gig. She had just gotten a P.E. job in Fort Worth. The truth – Jess had some old apartment furniture in a storage unit in Longview. Some she needed to sell, some she was taking back with her. In between moving, and selling her washer and dryer, Kendrae and I could finally see each other for the first time since the big incident.

I was absolutely flabbergasted that my parents were allowing me to leave the house to go somewhere besides work. But knowing that I would get to see Kendrae kept me awake – the butterflies in my stomach danced all night. My mind couldn’t fathom seeing him again. This whole time, we had been running on fumes. Not knowing how or when we would be face-to-face again. Not knowing if I would ever be able to breath in his intoxicating cologne. Unsure if I would ever feel safely wrapped up in his strong arms again. Certain that my heart would never recover until I felt his eyes light up as they locked with mine.

I got up early that morning and made the drive to meet Jess in Fort Worth. From there, we hit the road and made the two-hour drive to Longview. Spending time with Jess always lit my soul on fire. She has an unassuming away about her that puts you at ease, but pushes you to experience more deeply. Whenever we were together, no idea was too big and dreams were absolutely possible. My mind, heart and spirit were spilling from the brim with gratitude for this friend who shook me out of my slumber and helped me see the light again.

We got to her storage unit and quickly took care of business. We emptied it out quickly and secured everything in her U-Haul. She would drop me off at Kendrae’s then sell her washer and dryer, catch up with a few of her former basketball teammates, then pick me up and we would head out. We would only get about an hour together, but I didn’t care. When it feels like you’ve been separated for an eternity, one hour suddenly seems infinite.

The ride from the storage unit to Kendrae’s apartment complex felt more like 100 miles than 10. I was beyond nervous. Would I feel the same? Would he feel the same? Would we feel the same? Had we built up our love to more than it was? Would he still look at me the same after everything that had happened? My whirlpool of what ifs had sucked in me too deep to escape. All I could do was gaze out the window and focus on breathing. Breath in. Breath out…

We were here. The car was moving in slow motion and my ears were ringing with silence. Jess pulled up in front of the apartment and said she’d be back in an hour. I slowly stepped down from Jess’s royal blue Jeep Patriot. I took a deep breath as I closed the car door and waved as she drove away. Breathe, Sarah. I truly didn’t know if I would ever see this view again. This modest three-bedroom apartment that housed Kendrae and his two roommates. I paused for a moment and stared at Kendrae’s apartment door. It was the most beautiful dingy white door I had laid my eyes on. I swallowed slowly in an unsuccessful attempt to settle my fiercely beating heart.

The first step towards the apartment door felt like the first step out of oblivion. Right foot. Left foot. Right. Left. Right. Until I found myself at the door. My nerves and excitement were racing neck and neck to see who came out victorious. The butterflies were in full flight and felt more like pterodactyls than delicate creatures. As I raised my closed fist and rapped on the door, my emotions were so intense I was afraid I might pass out before the door ever opened. I heard the feint click of the lock sliding out of its cave and saw the knob turn. My whole body was underwater and the weight of my storm of emotions was too much to bear. And then…I was greeted by the most handsome face and an instant calm washed over the shores of my emotions.

I found myself instantly wrapped in a warm embrace. Big arms braced me as my head fell into Kendrae’s chest. The warmth of his skin comforted me and sent chills down my entire body. The feeling I had been dreaming about for the past month. Safety. And the tears flowed from eyes as all my pain, grief and frustration quickly exited my body. I was going to be alright. We were going to get through this.

When I said an hour could be infinite, I was wrong. It felt more like a blink. Before we knew it, Jess was outside and I had to leave. It wasn’t enough time, but no time spent with Kendrae ever was. Like bookends on a book shelf, I ended my visit with Kendrae in his doorway with a tear-soaked hug. These tears felt different, because again, we had no idea when we would see each other next. The future was so foggy and neither of us had a compass handy.

That one hour, however brief, was more than enough time to reassure us that nothing had changed between us. In fact, we found ourselves more in love than ever before. I wasn’t imagining our relationship to be grander than it was, like we were the starring roles in a Shakespeare play. If anything, I was underestimating the depth of our love. For it was more complex than any love story I could have ever imagined. And even though our visit ended with a goodbye, Kendrae reassured me that this was just a “see you later.”

I joined Jess in the Jeep, and attempted to recompose myself. It took a good fifteen minutes before my eyes finally cleared up. The heart is a wild creature, able to feel multiple extremes simultaneously. But the emotion that continued to rise to the top was gratitude. Grateful for a ride or die friend who found a way to help two people rekindle their love. Grateful for a man who loved me so purely, even when he had so many reasons not to. And grateful for a heart that continued beating regardless of all the pain it endured. An honest smile found my face for the first time in the past month. The dawn was coming, I could feel it.

No. 19 – Forged Freedom

No. 19 – Forged Freedom

Freedom is not about the size of your cage or power of your wings or non-attachment to a person or thing. Freedom is about being so truly, madly and deeply attached to your own soul that you can’t bear – if only for a moment – a life that doesn’t honor it. – Andrea Balt

July 4, 2014 – a day that started no different than any other the past few weeks. Even though it was a holiday, Crow’s was still open for lunch. So I got ready for work and welcomed the escape from the house, however brief. On top of the small window of freedom, I enjoyed waitressing because it allowed me to interact with people who knew nothing of my current situation.

For a couple hours a day, I could take on the role of Sarah, the waitress. Exhaling kindness to strangers and more often than not, inhaling it back. A shift from the pollution I was forced to breath in my parents’ house. I didn’t feel looked down upon. In fact, people were grateful for my presence. Regardless of how surface-level my feelings of purpose were, I soaked them in nonetheless. Storing them away to sustain me through the trenches.

Quite a few people came to dine for lunch at Crow’s. I was appreciative of the amount of people because it helped the time pass smoothly and kept me busy. Focused solely on serving my guests. I wished we were open for dinner, because I’d rather be at work than stuck at home pretending not to be decaying away on the inside.

As I walked out from the kitchen and into the dining area…

“Sarah, phone for you,” my boss, Lee, shouted across the restaurant.

I blinked. “For me?” I questioned, confused why anyone would call me at work. Or who knew that I was working for that matter.

“Yes. Phone call for you!” he declared a little louder and with a hint of irritation as he crossed the dining room floor on his way to the back. Mostly likely headed to wash dishes.

“Okay,” I responded as I briskly stepped across the backside of the restaurant to the phone behind the bar.

“Hello, this is Sarah speaking,” I stated in my most professional tone.

“Hey man, it’s Cassey. I called your dad to ask if you could come over and hang out at my Mom’s house with us tonight for the Fourth. We’ll shoot off some fireworks and chill by the pool. He said you could, so you can just head over once you get off work.”

It was all I could do to keep my jaw from dropping. Besides the initial shock that the prisoner was allowed to leave the premises, this girl had called her 22-year-old friend’s father to ask if she could hang out. When I say that Cassey is a real friend, I mean it. Hell, she had my back more than my own family members did.

“What?” I said in surprise, “My dad is cool with me leaving the house?”

“Yeah man, so just grab your suit and head over later.”

I reassured her that I would, hung up the phone and went back to taking care of my tables. After my shift at work, I went home, changed out of my uniform, grabbed my swim suit and made the trip to Cassey’s mom’s house. This was the first speck of good luck I’d stumbled into all summer. My father had always been a fan of Cassey; he appreciated her bluntness and transparency. Ironic, because these were traits he didn’t appreciate in his own daughter. So I wasn’t completely surprised that he’d agreed to let me spend time with her. But then considering my current situation, I learned to eradicate any expectations for my family.

On the fifteen-minute drive from my parents’ house to Cassey’s mom’s I couldn’t help but feel my spirits lifted. I had forgotten how good the freedom I had been longing for felt. Even if my sense of freedom had a time frame, I embraced every second of it. I rolled down all the windows of my 2009 Honda Accord and savored the fresh air. No music, just the gushes of the wind in my hair and ears. I viewed this slice of freedom as the foreshadowing of what was to come in my near future. Maybe I was making something out of nothing. But in times of desperation, all you have to cling to is hope. Hope that what you’re enduring is temporary. Hope that you’ll emerge through the other side stronger, wiser and ready to thrive.

My time with Cassey and her family was just what my battered and worn out spirit needed. To be around a family that enjoyed each other. They laughed, teased and interacted with one another in love. I sat back observing that families could be warm and supportive and tender. This wasn’t to say that I had never experienced these same feelings with my own family, but I certainly hadn’t recently. I so desperately needed reminding that my new normal didn’t have to be this way forever.

We swam, ate, and set off fireworks. Simple and spectacular simultaneously. After the festivities, Cassey and I found ourselves relaxing in her room. Cassey’s mom joined us and asked how I had been doing. I was honest with her. Not well: I was hurt, confused and unsure. I was a captive in my parents’ house. I couldn’t trust anyone. And I missed Kendrae desperately. She may have been the first adult I felt comfortable around the past few months.

Her mom listened and responded in a way that I will never forget. She explained that as a mother, it was difficult to imagine what I was going through with my family. She comforted me with her kindness.  She went on to talk about her relationship with her three daughters and how she may not always agree with all their choices, but that she would much rather them be open and honest with one another. This two-way communication allowed her to share her mistakes with her daughters in hopes of preventing them from having to learn those same lessons. But it also allowed her daughters to come to her without fear of rejection when they did mess up. And rather than navigating their messes on their own, they could sort things out knowing that they had the undying support of their mom.

Cassy’s mom’s words felt like salve to my wounded heart. For once I didn’t feel judged and criticized. I wasn’t lectured or shamed for not thinking a particular way. The conversation was just that – a conversation. She listened to what I said and responded in a way that let me know she not only heard me, but sympathized with my pain. A reaction opposite of what I had been experiencing lately. Further confirmation that my situation was visible to those not a part of the nightmare.

I left their house that night appreciating the support from Cassey’s mom. I’m not sure she had any idea what an impact her kindness had on me. The taste of freedom left me salivating for more. I was determined to get out, sooner rather than later. I didn’t care if I had to sleep on the floor and eat 25 cent ramen noodles. I was willing to sacrifice minor comforts for my overall well-being. My freedom was worth fighting for.

No. 18 – Backyard Rain Drops

No. 18 – Backyard Rain Drops

My eyes inadvertently squeezed tighter as the morning light peeked through the window. Distaste for mornings and my lack of sleep did not blend well together. Placing my right hand over my eyes and forehead had no effect on the throbbing. I gripped the outsides of my face as I slid my hand downwards, a feeble attempt to wipe off my headache. It was unsuccessful.

I sat up in the slim, twin mattress set in the middle of the small upstairs bedroom. My eyes lost focus in the light breaking through the window slats as my mind wandered to last night’s events. No, it wasn’t a nightmare; it had all been real. The love of my life had told me that he didn’t think we could make this relationship work – that it was too hard. And in a simultaneous split second and an eternity, I felt my heart rip in two. I couldn’t breathe. I was paralyzed in agony and unsure how to cope. Yet somehow, a beacon of hope propelled me forward to respond in love rather than pain. The epitome of an out of body experience because in that moment I was not lucid enough to respond in that nature.

I know…I know. Do you really want to be with someone you had to convince to stay with you? No response to this question seems justifiable enough to be true. But these circumstances were different. And I wasn’t convincing Kendrae to keep fighting for our love. I was sending his fear on its way. Banishing it from ever returning in the space between us. Because even a 240-pound man of pure muscles can be overpowered by fear.

We had talked into the night, much longer than our usual thirty-minute window. But again, these were extenuating circumstances. Our relationship’s pulse had flat lined and I wasn’t going to let it die without a fight. For once, my brain had relaxed and let my heart do the talking. I acknowledged Kendrae’s fears and reassured him that I too had endured some crippling bouts of it. Fear attaches itself to powerfully exhilarating things. So if our relationship lacked any fear on either side, then I would be concerned. The unknown is frightening. Opening up your heart and allowing another person to hold it, is petrifying. Working through distance and family drama was no different. But I took all this as a good sign. It meant we had truly tapped into magic. If my life experiences had assured me of anything, it was that nothing of great value came with ease.

Running through our conversations from the night before my brain was processing on overdrive. Creating an entirely separate sub conversation occurring between the lines of what was really said. Unsure if it was my desperation or the depth of my love, but I was relieved my brain handed over the reins last night. Otherwise…

I shuddered at the thought. Unable to continue thinking it.

Kendrae and I had come to the agreement that we would wait this whole situation out. Emotionally taxing was an understatement. Neither of us wanted to split up and given a less toxic environment, these doubts wouldn’t be quite as palpable. We both believed that once I got a job and could stand on my own two feet, most of the tension would resolve itself. I wouldn’t be so stressed about getting out, and we could be open about our love. The conversation ended with a comment that we should just, “go with the flow,” and see how things played out. This, was perhaps my least favorite phrase in regards to relationships. It very much went against my nature and left me more anxious and insecure as ever. One half of me was attempting to take the phase to heart and relax. And the other half of me was in a complete panic. Alarms were sounded, barricades were in place and my mind was running rampant in a thousand different directions, none of which were helpful.

I let out a deep breath and thought it best that I conquer these inner demons in the light of day, outside. They never seemed so big and scary in the sunlight. So I walked down the stairs, through the kitchen and onto the patio deck. Spotting my sister out in the yard at the outdoor table, I decided to join her. I pulled up the metal chair and sat down, facing my sister and the deck behind her. The yard was at my back, and the sun warmed my skin.

My sister and I had an interesting relationship. We didn’t get along as kids, grew closer in our teen years and since I had been in college, gotten even closer. But now, I felt like I couldn’t be myself around her. I didn’t think she felt the same as my parents, but I also understood that she still had a few more years of living at home. I didn’t want to put her in a situation where she would have to choose sides. No. It was just better if I kept some things to myself.

We did talk about my relationship with my parents though-especially my mother. This was a common topic, because well who better to understand your twisted mother-daughter relationship than your own sister? I expressed my frustration with never being able to please my mother. How nothing was ever good enough for her unachievably high expectations. How we were always at odds with one another, yet my quest for her approval remained unrelenting. It was a vicious cycle that left us both upset.

The conversation started out fine, but as usual, I can’t keep my personal opinions, personal. I made a remark asking my sister how I could compete with her, the “golden child who could do no wrong.” I admit, I didn’t intend it as a compliment, but it was more of a jab about my mother’s vantage of me than my sister. But it wasn’t untrue. In fact, it was pretty spot on.

But my sister didn’t take too kindly to my observation, because she quickly spat back, “Don’t make me feel bad for listening to Mom and Dad. The Bible tells you to obey your mother and father, Sarah.”

I paused for a moment before posing a question. “Even if you don’t agree with them? I’m not like you. I can’t just go along with something that I don’t agree with.”

That only fanned the flames in my sister’s eyes. Visibly upset, she stood up from her seat, and walked back in the house. This was exactly why I couldn’t be myself around anyone in my family. I hadn’t intended to hurt her feelings. I was just so frustrated. With this mess. With my parents. With my relationship. With my life. How had everything spun so viciously out of control? And how could it continue to get worse by the day?

Ahhhhhh! I screamed inside my head.

Deep breath Sarah. You’re losing focus on the end goal here: freedom. All your thoughts need to be framed around getting out. But I couldn’t shake my sister’s words. They bounced around in my head all afternoon.

Later that evening after dinner, I used my sister’s cell phone to call my mother. Sure, we definitely didn’t see eye-to-eye, but I wanted to find some common ground. I wasn’t sorry for being with Kendrae, but I was sorry that our relationship was so strained. I hoped the physical distance between us these past two weeks would take some stress off our frayed relationship. I was sorry that I had been so terse with her. I could sincerely apologize for that.

Sister’s phone in hand, I walked out to my grandparent’s backyard for the second time that day. Physically incapable of sitting and talking on the phone, I began walking in a square pattern in the grass behind the garage as I dialed up my mother. Something about walking and talking was soothing to me. Especially when having a difficult conversation. I began my walking and the phone started to ring.


“Hey, it’s Sarah…I…wanted to call you and say that I’m sorry. I know things have been crazy lately, and I haven’t been the nicest to you. Actually, I’ve been really mad at you, and I don’t want to be. So, I just wanted you to know that I’m sorry.”

A long pause.

“Mad at me? I don’t understand why you would be mad at me?”

“Just from this whole situation. It’s been a lot, for everyone. And we don’t have to agree on everything…”

A little louder and more succinct, “So you still don’t agree with this, do you?”

I made the fatal mistake of pausing. My pause to search for the right words to diffuse my previous remark signaled to my mother that she now had the floor.

Thirty minutes later and my ears were still burning from her heat. I heard every word, but they slid in my right ear, curved around my brain, and oozed out of my left. Tears hung on the edge of my eyelids, so full it was all I could do to keep them from rushing over. This was impossible. We spoke two entirely different languages, and it was apparent no common ground was anywhere to be found.

The buzzing on the other end of the phone continued, but my frustration was too much. My tears tipped the balance and poured down my face. I looked up, towards the blackness above me in hopes of finding solace among the light of the stars. Just as soon as I had succumbed to the heavens, a splash met my forehead, right between my eyes. Then another found my cheek. And then my shoulder. And then the splashes fell closer, almost simultaneously and the splashes turned into a steady rainfall. I aborted my square pattern and darted to the backside of the garage, seeking cover. Pushing my shoes against the wood that outlined the dirt between the garage and the grass, I leaned up against the paneling. My legs locked and my back fleshed up to the white siding. If I was going to be stuck out here, I didn’t want to be stuck in the middle of this diatribe too.

“Look,” I interrupted, “I didn’t call you to get a lecture. I called you because I wanted to apologize and try and start over. This wasn’t supposed to turn into an argument…” Deep sigh. “I can’t even apologize to you right.”

Those pesky tears started welling up again.

This time much softer, “I’m sorry Mom. I love you. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, okay?”

“Alright, love you too. Good night.”

I pressed the end button, and slipped the phone into the back pocket of my jeans.

My fingers brushed my wet hair away from my face, tucking it gently behind my ears, and I stared out at the falling rain. When I was upset, nothing eased my pain, like a steady rainfall. Partly, because I garnered joy from the weather matching my disposition. And also, because rainfall is temporary. Another reminder that my storm wouldn’t last forever.

The thunder rolled in, and I knew that lightning wasn’t far behind. I braced myself and darted into my grandparents’ house.

This storm was far from over.

No. 17 – The Shower Ritual

No. 17 – The Shower Ritual

My communication with Kendrae had fallen into a routine. We were only able to communicate while I was fully alone, which wasn’t often. This usually happened in the bathroom. I know, a strange place to long to spend precious time. But nonetheless, bathrooms were where I longed to be. They seemed to be the only rooms with locks. And they required others to leave you alone. Since my contraband phone’s hiding place was in my bra, I did not want the off chance for my chest to light up or vibrate. So I couldn’t just text Kendrae sporadically throughout the day. No, I had to be intentional in carving out time where I could just focus on texting him unsuspiciously. But we had to plan this slice of time out in advance so he could ensure he was free to send forbidden virtual love notes as well. The time that naturally worked out the best for both of us, was in the evenings after 9:00. I could use the bathroom without interruptions and without drawing any unwanted attention.

Like an unruly child who didn’t want to take her bath, I would let the shower water run, while I sat, back pressed up against a wall, and wrote my love. I had my routine down to a science. After turning on the shower water, I knew I had ten minutes. Ten minutes to catch up and reconnect. ‘How was your day’s and I miss you so much’s were frequent in the first phase of communication. Then, after ten minutes, I would jump into the shower and cleanse myself so furiously, that I almost worked up a sweat while rinsing. Shampoo first. Then body wash. Condition. Then face wash. Rinse. And I was done. I would step out of the shower, don my towel and pick up my phone in one rhythmic motion. It was an act of beauty. Now, if I had to shave my legs…that was a completely different scenario. I didn’t dare infringe upon my precious time with Kendrae. That would take place in a completely separate shower, usually in the morning. No, my nighttime bathroom rituals were sacred and not to be sullied with leg shaving.

The lapse in my end of the conversation was precisely timed so that my last text was sent right before stepping into the shower, and Kendrae’s response tended to arrive right before my shower exit. Next, I had five minutes before turning on my hair dryer. This phase of our conversation usually consisted of dreaming of the future. A time where we could be open about our relationship and live in the same area code. Where our conversations were face to face rather than screen to screen. It was a treasured time and one that kept us both encouraged about why we continued to jump through all these hoops. The distant light at the end of the tunnel of darkness that propelled us to continually put one foot in front of the other and walk forward.

Next was the hair dryer phase. This usually lasted around twenty minutes and varied every night. I would blow dry my hair while keeping my eyes peeled for the glow of my phone so our conversation could remain constant. I would keep the dryer on for about five minutes longer than necessary just to squeeze in a few more precious texts. This initiated the wrap-up phase of our conversation. The sad portion of my evenings, because it bookmarked my pain that would continue for yet another day. Another day spent apart. Another day wished away. Another day with a broken heart.

I would then move to the final stage of preparing for bed. Teeth brushing, flossing and mouth washing. The last five minutes together. Filled with reassurances that neither of us knew were really true. Usually concluded with tear-filled eyes. As I read the final text, my forbidden phone would find its nest, tucked away, safely. I would dry my tears, and stare into the mirror. Lingering fog still dancing around the edges. I would attempt a tight-lipped smile in an effort to shake away my sadness. But as I gazed into the eyes of my reflection, their flatness gave me away. No twinkle or sparkle or depth. Just listless pools of blue. That weak smile wasn’t fooling anyone, not even myself. I broke my own gaze and hoped no one would be analyzing my eyes anytime soon.

These brief interactions were the most riveting parts of my day. They kept me lying awake at night, running through every word, and gave me something to look forward to when I woke up in the mornings. I would play our conversations over and over keeping our love at the forefront of my mind. Resolve strengthened, I could go about my day with a more positive outlook. Future focused, rather than present-minded, I continued my march through the trenches.

This particular evening had begun just like all the others. 9:00 on the dot, I slipped downstairs and into the bathroom. My grandparents had gone to bed, and my brother and sister were watching television in the living room upstairs. I locked the bathroom door behind me and jiggled the handle just to be sure. Yup, it was secure. Removing my phone from its holster, I began typing out a message to Kendrae. I slipped out of my clothes and into the plush, blue bath towel that was hanging to the left of the shower. I turned the C nozzle first to get the water running. I then turned the H nozzle, just slightly though because I didn’t want to waste hot water. I turned it just enough to mix with the cold water to make a lukewarm shower temperature.

I settled into my usual position at the right of the shower, on the tiled bench. Back pressed firmly against the wall, feet up with knees drawn into my chest. I pulled my towel tightly against my skin as if insuring an added security measure. My eyes found the screen of my phone illuminated and my heart started beating faster.

As an individual whose present life experiences had just shaped her less than optimistic mind frame, I often found myself surprised and thoroughly delighted at every message from Kendrae. The thought that he might decide all this effort wasn’t worth an outcome that neither of us had much control over. Not that any relationship comes with a guarantee, but ours seemed completely unpredictable. So throughout the course of each day, my heart and my brain battled. My brain reasoned that Kendrae was an intelligent guy who would come to his senses and leave. But my heart reassured me that our love was different. And that he wasn’t going anywhere. And then my brain would concoct another doubt and the battle would continue. My brain had pure intentions: protect her heart. But my heart cried out: I placed it in the best hands. Tumultuous to say the least.

But now, for 45 minutes my heart would claim victory and my brain could retract its weapons and focus on connecting with my love. I opened the new message and absorbed its entirety quickly. It was brief. It was dry. It was different. My heart began beating faster, but not in a good way.

“Is everything okay?” I typed, “You seem a little off.” Talk about a loaded question. Was there a good way for Kendrae to respond to this? Or maybe I was too sensitive, implying meaning where there was none?

All I could do was sit there, with my heart in my throat. Trying to avert the focus of my gaze on anything but my phone screen. Chills coursed through my veins and I noticed that wall behind me felt like ice on my spine. But my skin radiated heat, and it was getting hotter by the second. My stomach was in knots. I felt like I could re-experience my dinner at any moment.

A glowing sensation paused my downward internal spiral.

A new message. I was frozen. My eyes couldn’t focus. My muscles couldn’t move.

Deep breath.


Trembling, I picked up my phone and opened the message.

“I don’t know if I can do this anymore, Sarah. Your family is never going to accept us. You’ve been second-guessing everything. We can’t see each other or even talk. It’s too hard.”

Ringing sounded in my ears. Then progressively through my entire being. This was the kind of deafening ringing where the silence feels as if it will make your eardrums explode. Knocking the breath out of your lungs, forcing you to crumble. Tears gushed down my face and pooled on the bathroom floor. My body shook viciously as I pulled my towel up to my face to muffle my sobs. Heart pounding, I lay there helpless. An empty, broken shell.

The pain in my heart overwhelmed my mind, sending it into a state of numbing shock. My eyes in an ocean of tears, blinked and caught a glimpse of something. I focused on my left hip, at the upside down Latin inscribed on my skin. I ran my fingers over the faintly detectable letters. Amor vincit omnia: love conquers all. A tattoo I received before Kendrae was in the picture. A declaration that I believed to the core of my being. If what Kendrae and I had was love, and I believed it was, then we could get through this. Our love could conquer the fear manifested in his text. Our love conquered that same fear that hounded my thoughts on the daily.

I picked myself off the floor, sat down on the edge of the tile bench and grabbed my phone. I reread the text; this time through a different perspective, and I could sense the fear behind the message. This wasn’t Kendrae talking, this was his fear. The same fear I lived with so closely that I knew just how to send it on its way.

My brain passed the baton back to my heart and switched on the autopilot, a rare phenomenon in itself. My heart would know exactly what to say. A message birthed from a place of love, not a place of fear or panic. My heart poured out and my fingers took to the keys. I didn’t even know what I was typing, my fingers were just punching away. And when my fingers lulled, I glanced down at my screen, and read the message.

“I know that it’s been hard. And I know that it seems bleak. But, I love you. I love you, Kendrae, and that is more than enough to carry us through. This storm won’t last forever, and when we get through it, the other side is going to be so worth it. We’ll come out stronger, closer and more in love than ever before. Please don’t give up on us.”

I hit the send button, and set my phone down on the bench beside the shower. I dropped my towel, and turned the hot water nozzle up. I stepped into the shower and let the water wash my tears away. As I slicked my sopping wet hair back from my eyes, I noticed a bright light from my peripheral vision.

My phone screen was illuminated.


No. 16 – Swinging

No. 16 – Swinging

A week had gone by at my grandparents’ house, and I could not be more ready to go back to Texas. Not that my parents’ house was a desirable destination, but at least it would submerge me back into reality. Up here, it felt like I was swimming in a pool of gelatin. Every effort on my part was maximized, but my progress was minimized. In short, I was flailing yet going nowhere. But I did accomplish emotional exhaustion, that I had managed.

I never had a spare moment alone. It was as if the entire household had conspired to tag-team who was responsible for watching Sarah. I didn’t understand the perceived need to keep me consistently entertained with company. But it was infuriating and ever so frustrating. When I was alone, my thoughts could travel outside the confines of my limiting mind. Alone, my thoughts could rocket off into the unknown. And given enough time alone, I could sit in wait for my thought boomerangs to return. Coming back with new-found perspectives and information. But when deprived of this solitude and accompanied by another person, most of my thoughts never had a chance to escape the chasms of my mind. The few persistent ones that did escape, were prevented from coming back to me. It was as if a thought-blocking force field prevented any original thoughts to enter or exit my mind.

One afternoon, I caught a spare moment alone. I was in the living room, sitting on the couch with my sister, watching some uninteresting thing on the television. She had gone upstairs to retrieve her phone charger because her cell phone was running low on battery power. I sat on the couch for a moment, before realizing that I was by myself. I looked around the room and quickly got up from the couch. I slinked through the kitchen, stepped down a few stairs to the side door, and slipped outside. I gingerly closed the door so as not to alert anyone I had left the house. I walked alongside the deck, up the driveway, past the garage, and found the sliding, glider swing in the backyard. I surveyed my surroundings, and it appeared that I truly had carved out some time alone. I let out a sigh of relief as I crumbled into the seat.

I closed my eyes, lay my head back, and breathed deeply in the solitude surrounding me. The forest green and white striped chair cushions and matching metal frame blended in well with the greenery around it. The glider swing was stationed about the middle of the lot and was on the left side of the property. The chair backed up to the neighbors’ rectangular yard on the left and faced the neighbors’ rectangular yard lot on the right. No fences between any of the yards. A row of trees was at my back, outlining the plot lines between my grandparents’ yard and the neighbors’ property, and a big, open field of grass was to my front. Out of my peripherals I could see the white-sided garage, so I tilted my head just enough so that green saturated my vision.

The warmth of the sun peeking through the tree tops comforted me. I opened my eyes and allowed a moment for them to refocus on my surroundings. My thoughts had been so suppressed, that they bolted at the slightest opening of freedom. Some shot straight up in the sky. Others bounced off the tree tops. And some launched forward into the yard, taking off as fast as they could in every direction opposite of me. I sat back, amazed at the power I had within me. So many thoughts and ideas streaking through the air. Hoping that some would return, enlightening me with a clear plan with which I could move forward.

My right leg dangled off the seat of the stationary swing and rested on the ground while my left leg settled in between the angle of my knee and right thigh. My right foot pressed slowly into the earth and the swing began to sway. I continued the gentle motion, and my body started to relax. The tenseness in my shoulders lessened and my breath slowed. And then the sound of tires crunching on a cement driveway pulled my attention to my right, just beyond the garage. It was my grandmother, returning home from work. My guard reassembled and my breath intensified. My stomach dropped as I glanced back towards the empty yard in front of me. My thoughts! None of them had returned. Frantically, I glanced up at the tree tops. Nope, there was nothing. A lump formed in my throat as the sliver of my solitude blacked out completely. My gaze returned back towards the driveway, as I spotted my grandmother walking towards me. Alright, I thought to myself, be ready for anything.

“Hey Gram,” I greeted her as she reached the stationary swing.

“Why are you sitting out here by yourself?” my grandmother questioned as she joined me on the swing.

“Just enjoying the beautiful weather,” I fudged. Well, partially. I didn’t want to let on I came out here to think, because then we’d have to get into a discussion about what I was thinking about. So to avoid that whole mess, I attempted to keep our conversation on the surface.

Perhaps seeing through my murky answer and ignoring it, my grandmother dove right into the depths.

“You know, we all go through tough spots Sarah. When you’re young, you think you know what you want, and you’re open to so many ideas. As you get older, you learn that certain things aren’t meant to be. You become less open to everything and are more cautious of what you go along with.”

I sat there in silence, just listening.

She continued, “When I was your age, I was open-minded too. I believed in a lot of things that I don’t believe in now. Because now, I know better.”

My outward silence continued. Inward, my mind was reeling. Was she referring to my relationship with Kendrae, a black man, as being open-minded? And that in a few years, I would grow out of it, and know better? Don’t say anything, Sarah. Just keep it together.  

“We all love you, and we just want what’s best for you. Everyone makes mistakes. God wanted you to get caught Sarah, so you could fix it before you get in any deeper.”

That last bit, knocked the breath out of my lungs.

God wanted this?

God wanted this?

God wanted this?

Those three words echoed in my head. I felt dizzy. But I was afraid that if I tried to stand up, I would be sick. So I just sat there. Unable to move. Unable to speak. Barely able to breathe. How could people who appeared to mean so well, miss the mark so terribly?

Loving Day

Loving Day

I wrote this post a year ago and shared it on my personal Facebook. As I reread this emotional time capsule, I realized that I still feel exactly the same. The issues I wrote about a year ago are still just as prevalent now, if not more so. Because unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like much has changed in a year’s time. So I decided to reshare my old thoughts with some present day updates.

Loving v. Virginia. In 1958, two residents of Virginia, Mildred Jeter, a Black and Native American woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, were married in the District of Columbia. Richard and Mildred could not be married in their home state of Virginia because the state wouldn’t recognize their marriage. The couple traveled up North, to DC where their marriage could be legalized. The newlyweds returned to Virginia shortly afterward, but were charged with violating the state’s anti-miscegenation statute, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which prohibited marriage between people classified as “white” and people classified as “colored”. The Loving’s were found guilty and sentenced to a year in jail. Or they could leave their home in Virginia so long as they would not return together for twenty-five years. If they agreed to these terms, the judge would suspend their sentencing.

Mildred and Richard Loving decided that leaving their family in Virginia was a better alternative to serving jail time. I don’t blame them. But leaving the only home she ever knew and not being allowed to visit her family was not an alternative that sat well with Mildred. She reached out to a lawyer in hopes of being able to appeal their sentencing. And after nine years of waiting, the Loving’s case reached the Supreme Court.

June 12, 1967. The Supreme Court came to a unanimous agreement that outlawing interracial marriage was unconstitutional. The court stated:

“Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival…. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discrimination. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”

In 1967, there were 16 southern states with effective laws outlawing interracial marriage. Even after the Supreme Court ruling, several states made no changes to their constitution’s laws. South Carolina did not correct their state constitution until 1998, 30 years after the ruling. Finally, in 2000, Alabama was the last state to alter their constitution in regards to interracial marriage.

June 12, 2018. Today is the 51stanniversary of the declaration made by the Supreme Court pronouncing all state laws prohibiting interracial marriage unconstitutional. Fifty-one years. No, scratch that. Eighteen years. Meaning, that in the duration of my life, only eighteen of those years it has been legal in every state for me to marry Kendrae. While laws have changed, some of society’s viewpoints have not. Eighteen years later, and interracial couples are still plagued with shame, opposition and hatred.

In my four years together with Kendrae, we have certainly faced all three of these obstacles. Obstacles based solely on our outward appearances. We have been out in public and been treated notably different; we have heard from both ends of the spectrum some of the nastiest words and phrases that one can utter; we have faced rejection from family members and from total strangers; and received the full range of looks and insensitive comments. Fifty-one years later, in the year 2018, an interracial couple is still faced with the same recurring stigmas. We’re plastered with labels declaring our love to be less than and impure because we have two different skin tones. Our characters are attacked and we’re painted in unflattering light based on a difference in skin color. It is absurd and a concept I will never fully grasp, but it will not alter my view of myself, my partner, or our love.

All of these experiences have helped our relationship more than they’ve hurt. Sure, the words sting, being made to feel as inferior is certainly not pleasant, but we have made the choice to be even more intentional with our interactions with those around us. By Kendrae and I being kind to one another and maintaining a positive relationship in public and behind closed doors it helps to combat these contorted mentalities. In the past year alone we have seen racism flare its foul head with even more frequency and intensity.

Each day, now more than ever, we consciously choose to fight for true equality. We share the same dream. I am not so proud to think I could more eloquently convey a message that has rung true since the moment Martin Luther King Jr uttered it into existence on August 28, 1963; that we will one day live in a nation where we will not be judged by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character. Today and every day we fight to break the stigmas swirling around us by doing what comes so naturally: loving each other.

No. 15 – Houses

No. 15 – Houses

Another day’s worth of traveling and my brother, sister and I had arrived in Fairview Park, Ohio at my grandparents’ house. A house that had been a safe haven and the most consistent place in my ever-changing life. Our family had never truly set roots because we moved fairly frequently. In fact, I never attended the same school for longer than four years. My routine became my lack of a long-term routine. I never truly settled in anywhere because that made it easier for me to disconnect and uproot when the time inevitably came. So I learned to enjoy my many houses, but I never made them my home. I saw no sense in getting attached to a place that wouldn’t last.

The first two houses on my list, were not ones that evoked fond memories. Simply because I was so young that I don’t remember much of anything about my time there. House No. 1: Huntington Beach, California. The place where I was born, and lived for about three years. Besides photos of little Sarah there, I have no recollections of living in California. Which brings us to House No. 2: Streetsboro, Ohio. Shortly after my sister was born, our family of four moved from California to Ohio, where my mother had grown up. Streetsboro was a place I don’t much remember and was not much talked about. We lived here for about two years, before moving again.

House No. 3: North Olmstead, Ohio. We moved here to be closer to my mother’s side of the family. Her parents, grandparents, and many of her aunts, uncles and cousins lived within a short driving distance from our new house.  I have some great memories here. We lived four houses down from my great grandmother, and many of my relatives were close by. We had a large front yard that was ideal for baseball and kickball games. The backyard contained a swing set and playground built by my father. My brother was born in there. And I have nothing but fond memories of my first memorable house.  We stayed in this location for the next five years.

House No. 4Allen, Texas. Due to a new job, my family of five packed up all our belongings and moved to Texas. A place where we had no family or friends. As a nine-year-old, leaving her entire family behind and moving to an envisioned tumbleweed tumbling, tractor driving, horseback riding flatland was a scary adventure. Much to my surprise, all my notions about Allen, Texas were wrong. We moved into a two-story house with a salt water pool. My brother, sister and I each had our own bedroom with plenty of space to grow. Our house backed up to a small lake and greenbelt with a walkway circling the water. I fell in love with this house and its location; it was definitely one of my favorites. My family resided here for four years, until my parents decided it was best for us to move out of the suburban city and into the country.

Cue House No. 5: Van Alstyne, Texas. The last six weeks of my eighth-grade school year, my family moved 45 minutes North of Allen to Van Alstyne. We moved into a log cabin set in the middle of 20 acres of land. Instead of a pool, we had a barn and lots and lots of backyard. And front yard for that matter. I was against this transition since the idea originated. Moving to the middle of nowhere and living thirty minutes away from a real grocery store did not sound like my idea of fun. But I adapted and met one of my best friends while living there, but it was certainly not at the top of my list of houses. The entire house was brown and dark. Dark brown wooden walls, dark brown wooden ceilings, dark brown tile, and dark brown wood floor. The whole nature of the house was depressing to me and housed some dark days during high school. I couldn’t wait to graduate, leave that town and never look back.

Flash to House No. 6: Longview, Texas. Well, it was more of a dorm room than a house, but I can’t exclude the place where I spent four years in college. Longview is not a large city, but it is certainly more populated that Van Alstyne. It is packed with majestically tall trees and bursting with green life. It’s quiet-natured and lacks much traffic which gives it a definite plus in my book. Most necessities for a college-aged girl were readily available within a short driving distance. And it was here that I met some of the most wonderful people. I discovered who I really was. And in a series of incredible events, I met the man of my dreams. A lot of major life events took place during my college experience in Longview, Texas.

After living in six different houses in six different cities, I somehow found myself back at House No. 5trapped and stifled. I had never intended to go back to House No. 5. In my past 22 years, my input hadn’t mattered about where my family lived. But now, as a college graduate in search of a job, I could choose to live wherever I wanted. In theory, of course. I would require a job that covered the financial burden of living on my own, which I hadn’t quite worked out yet. I was doing everything in my power to add a House No. 7, to the list.

But through all the moving and uprooting, my grandparents’ house had remained the same. In fact, my grandparents had lived in that same house since my mother was a little girl. Do the math and that’s about 50 years. All throughout my childhood and young adulthood, my grandparents’ house had been a desired vacation destination, a central gathering place, a creative workshop, the most delectable goodie store and my favorite place to spend my time. Everyone was always welcome, and good times were never in short supply. When my family lived in Ohio, we naturally spent a lot of time at their House. It was about a ten-minute drive from ours. Even after we moved to Texas, we continued to make trips at least once a year to visit our Ohio family, usually staying at my grandparents’ house. Spending time there was a treat, and one that I never tired of. My grandparents’ house was my epitome of home.

Their House was two-stories high and complete with a basement. It sat on a long rectangular lot with tall trees at the front and back of the property like bookends. The garage had been converted into a workshop/garage so that my grandfather could run his printing business out of their house and still have room to park their Ford Explorer. The garage turned workshop was my favorite element of the entire house. It was carpeted, had a television set up with cable, outfitted with heat and air conditioning and was constantly stocked with any art supply imaginable.

My grandfather is an incredible artist and an even better art teacher. He took great joy in helping to instill a creative love within his grandchildren. Anything we imagined, he would help bring to life in his garage studio. I would spend hours out in the workshop dreaming and creating. None of which was very good, but I didn’t care. And neither did my grandfather.

As soon as I pulled the Pontiac Torrent into the driveway, I expected the all familiar feeling of home to greet me and welcome me in. But to my surprise, the welcoming feeling was nowhere to be felt. I felt nothing. The place looked the same, but the feeling was gone. I quickly glanced back at my brother and sister, but neither of them said anything. I looked closer. They didn’t seem to notice the missing feeling. Maybe I was just tired from two full days of travel. That’s all it was. I was tired. After some time settling in, home and I would be reunited.

Later that evening, after some light unpacking and a home-cooked meal, I found myself out on the covered deck, soaking in the cool night air.The deck was enclosed, but the windows were open so that the screens could let in the fresh air while still warding off the night creatures. I was seated on the porch swing and lightly rocked myself back and forth. The House felt the same, but I didn’t. I felt different. Everything around me looked familiar. Nothing was out of place. Except me.

What had changed? Could it be my newfound individuality and perspective? Could it be that I had grown into my own woman? Could it be that I was simply tired and had been through a stressful past few weeks? As I continued to sway myself back and forth, my grandmother joined me on the swing.

“It’s nice out tonight, isn’t it? The weather hasn’t felt this nice in a few days,” my grandmother disrupted the silence.

“It is a lot cooler here than it is in Texas,” I responded. I didn’t know what was worse. Addressing the drama head on or babbling on about trivial details pretending there wasn’t a giant elephant sitting on the porch with us. His grey, heavy trunk weighing on my shoulders, enhancing the internal pressure I already felt.

My stomach was in knots. There really wasn’t a good direction for this conversation. Of course I didn’t want to dissect my “former” relationship with Kendrae, I knew my grandparents felt the same as my parents. Attempting a conversation with someone who refuses to hear you out is infuriating, not to mention pointless. Neither side can find common ground, and all your energy is left spinning in circles. I was exhausted: from the past two weeks and from the past two days. But, by ignoring the obvious reason for my visit, it just left room for the conversation to present itself later. Leaving me in wait for the inevitable. Which almost seemed worse than just getting it over with.

Meanwhile our talk danced around the truth and consisted of fluff. Filler to appear as if a conversation was being held, but instead we were just living in denial. All the while, mister elephant just continued pressing his trunk on my shoulders. Increasing the pressure ever so slightly. I leered his direction and smirked. After my past two weeks, it was going to take more than a little pressure to make me crack.

Perhaps this was for the best. I was exhausted, out of place and a stranger in what I once considered to be my own home. Delving into my personal life tonight would only lead to more heartache. So I continued swaying on the swing, elephant trunk on my shoulders, and talked with my grandmother about the Ohio weather. The house was reminding me of a familiar feeling, but it didn’t feel like home anymore.


No. 14 – The Cycle

No. 14 – The Cycle

I was being shipped up to Ohio for a “fresh start.” Which meant two weeks taken off work. Two weeks away from my parents. Two weeks away from my problems. Well, not really. I was in for two weeks of a microscopic study session and discussion of them. Not to mention, I had to make the 22-hour drive with my younger brother and sister. I didn’t mind having them around, but I just wanted to be alone. Throughout this whole incident, it felt like I was being watched at all times. I was not interested in having company, because I couldn’t think straight unless I was in complete solitude. Which I think was the idea. If they ever left me alone, they feared I would come to my senses and bolt. They were right about that part. But my leaving had to be calculated. Because when I did finally leave, I wasn’t coming back.

I had to seize any possible sliver of solidarity so that I could vet my plan. Which at the moment was: GET OUT ASAP! I hadn’t had enough time to work out the details to get me to that point yet. I was hoping for a job offer that would give me the financial security to make that jump, but right now, that plan wasn’t looking too promising. So Plan B was to waitress as much as possible and save every cent. But with two weeks off work, that plan wasn’t progressing at the pace I’d prefer.

Regardless of my dissatisfaction with the timing of the trip, my brother, sister, and I awoke early that morning, loaded up the car and began the arduous trek to Fairview Park, Ohio. As I directed the car down the long winding driveway away from my parents’ house, my eyes were drawn to the sky rather than the gravely path. The skyline was deeply blue, not quite black. It was the early time in the morning where the nocturnal creatures had called it a night and the early risers were still in bed. It was silent and still. The air crisp and dark with an edge of chill. The crunch of the gravel underneath the tires fell into a rhythmic pattern and lulled my nerves to sleep. My brother and sister settled for a few hours of rest leaving me alone with the road and my thoughts.

As the tires of my brother’s Pontiac Torrent eased us away from Van Alstyne, my eyes continually found their way to the sky. The moment of day break was upon me. The pivotal point where the night turns to day. The point where the light slowly creeps into the darkness. The exchange was so gradual, that I didn’t notice the presence of the light so much as the absence of the darkness. The transition a gentle one, nearly unnoticeable until the light had totally consumed the darkness. The sky danced before my very eyes illuminated with beauty and radiance. Each color sauntering into the next, quietly edging out the darkness while blending together to create a colorful tapestry.

The exchange between the darkness and the light fascinated me as my eyes focused on the road. It gave my thoughts a chance to explore in a new direction. As the road moved us onward, my mind ran parallel to it as well: forward on a new path. Perhaps the action in the sky was prophetic of what was to unfold in my own life. I couldn’t help but hope the magnificent sunrise mirrored what was to come in my near future. Oranges, yellows, peaches and reds painted over the once dark sky in my mind to reveal that every period of darkness ends.

Then, as they often do, my thoughts drifted towards Kendrae. What was he doing? Was he thinking about me? Would he wake up tomorrow and realize this was all too much, and find someone else? No, don’t go down that road. I backpedaled as much as I could and went a different direction. Maybe later that evening after we stopped for the night, I could sneak a moment and give him a call. The sound of his voice would dispel all those nasty self-doubts and give me the strength that I needed to press on. Just the thought of Kendrae’s voice occupied my mind for hours as the sun slowly rose in the sky.

Our 22-hour trek paused for the night in St. Louis, Missouri. All three of us were grateful to have arrived at the hotel and get some rest from the road. The trip hadn’t been as awful as I expected. In fact, I had actually enjoyed the bonding time with my siblings. We didn’t discuss my current prison sentence and I feigned optimism and excitement of our potential “vacation” activities. Regardless of my own feelings towards this trip, I knew my brother and sister were looking forward to it. Maybe if I bought into the vacation idea, I might end up enjoying myself more. It was at least worth the effort for my siblings’ sake.

Three full stomachs later, we were ready to settle in for the night, stretch out and get some rest before another full day of traveling. My brother plopped down on one queen mattress and began surfing the screen of his cell phone, and my sister occupied the bathroom taking a shower.


I made up some excuse to go look for something in the car, and darted out to the parking lot. I quickly shimmied my burner phone out of my bra and punched in Kendrae’s number. I knew I wouldn’t have much time with him on the phone. Ring. As the phone rang, I walked to the trunk of the Torrent, opened up the rear door of the sport utility vehicle, and sat on the flat, carpeted floor. Ring.I positioned myself behind the head rest so that the hand holding the slim phone to my ear was camouflaged. I didn’t think you could see our car from the hotel room, but I didn’t want to risk being spotted. Ring.I hadn’t realized I was holding my breath until I heard Kendrae’s voice.

“Hello,” his molasses-smooth, melodious voice beckoned me in.

Every muscle and tendon in my body relaxed, even if only slightly. Because I could never fully let my guard down. Not while I was in survival mode at least. Wanting to ensure I captured every decibel of sound in Kendrae’s voice, I pressed the phone speaker closer to my ear. My senses heightened as the car pulling up three spots over caught my eye. Slam. The car doors closed and the couple flitted in, hand-in-hand into the lobby. The aroma of coffee from the diner in the next lot consumed my nose. And the simultaneous softness and prickle from the trunk’s carpeted floorboard danced on my legs.

I quickly updated Kendrae on our day’s progress. I also updated him on the depth of my longing to see him again. And how much I loved him, no matter my geographic location or duration of time between us. Much to my utter relief, Kendrae expressed feeling the same. With reassurance of our love, we daydreamed about when we’d be able to live in the same city and spend as much time as we wanted with one another. But those thoughts were short-lived as I knew I had to get back up to the hotel room. I didn’t want to give my brother or sister any reason to wonder why I was out of the room for more than a few minutes. We both clung to someday, as we exchanged goodbyes with one another, and I promised to text him when I could.

Pressing the red phone icon to hang up the sleek black phone filled my eyes with tears. Recently, I often found myself in an uncharacteristic state of sadness. Despair, depression, melancholy, heavyhearted. All words that better suited the depth of my feelings. But any emotional label other than sadness would have been too overwhelming. Considering myself just “sad” was the least sad emotion I could be feeling and  while still being true. It sounded less hopeless and not quite so far away from happy.

My eyes averted to the skyline above the diner across the parking lot, in hopes of finding the silver lining I stumbled upon that morning. As my eyes settled on the low-hanging light left in the sky, a lump formed in my throat. The darkness was overtaking the sky. Forcing the light out of it completely. Its presence was heavy and weighed down upon my chest. Knocking the breath out of my lungs. The victory this morning was a pyrrhic one. The darkness had reclaimed its kingdom in the sky, vanquishing the light. No matter how many times the light captured the sky, the darkness would always return. My epiphany this morning was nothing more than false hope. If the day’s light cycle was any indication of what my future beheld, the forecast seemed bleak.

But a still, small voice quieted my thoughts and whispered to my soul. A grain of peace sprouted in the depths of my heart. So I steeled my resolve, wiped my tear-streaked face and narrowed my gaze towards the sliver of light left in the sky. Sure, the darkness returned for the night, but it would be dispelled yet again in the morning. Day after day, this exchange of power occurred. The light never tired of battling the darkness no matter how many times it was forced out. Maybe my epiphany wasn’t what I originally thought, but I could still have a change of perspective.

I hopped out of the trunk, slipped my burner phone back in my bra and closed the trunk lid. I quickly checked my makeup in the car window reflection. Ehhh…it was good enough to pass an inspection at a distance. I locked the car and slinked back into the hotel room. My brother was engrossed in the screen of his cell phone, ear buds in mesmerized by another Breaking Bad episode. Bullet dodged there. And my sister was still in the bathroom. Shower off, but steam was seeping through the crack of the door. Another dodged bullet. I quickly gathered my shower toiletries and prepared to occupy the bathroom. I smiled to myself, because the number of obstacles in-between Kendrae and me didn’t matter. Our light would drive out the darkness every time.

No. 13 – The Burner

No. 13 – The Burner

I was standing in the grass outside the house, but not outside the fence that enclosed about half an acre that served as the front yard. Even at 6:00 in the evening, the Texas heat still pricked my skin causing a warming sensation that was both uncomfortable and reassuring. Uncomfortable as my pores opened up and released the perspiration that would cool my body, but dampen my clothes. But the heat was welcomed, as it drew my attention to something other than my current state of depression.

My father joined me in the grass and stood close enough to where I could feel his presence without him having to announce himself. The two of us stood there in uncomfortable silence. Until…

“What are you thinking about?” my father questioned, breaking the ice.

Everything and nothing, I thought to myself. A response that I knew would not be acceptable and only probe further unwanted questioning. One trait my father always appreciated was directness, so I decided to give him what he asked for.

“About how I can get out of here,” I stated as directly as I could.

“You’re not stuck here, Sarah,” my father responded.

As soon as his words hit the air, tears as warm as the sun on my skin began streaming down my face. Tears of frustration, despair, confusion and longing. Somehow, we always came back to the same issue: they didn’t understand. We were speaking two different languages and they refused to work with a translator. Of course, I was stuck here! I tried to leave but was forced to stay. My voice went unheard and my feelings dismissed. Every aspect of my life was controlled and twisted into what their vision of my life should look like. And still, neither party was happy.

“It sure feels like it. I can’t leave. I can’t talk to anyone. I can’t do anything but be miserably stuck here,” I managed to get out between deep breaths and tears.

“You’re making this more dramatic than it really is. It’s not like you’re a prisoner here,” my father made a stab at a reassuring response.

My father was the king of comments that were not intended to be hurtful, but were. I was the one being dramatic? Oh, but not approving of the person your 22-year-old college graduate daughter is dating, so you lock her in your house, take away all her freedom and expect her to thank you for it and be pleasant isn’t dramatic? Breathe Sarah. Bringing that up would get me nowhere and would just further escalate the current situation. I certainly did not want to explore how things could get any worse.

“Right now, it feels like I am a prisoner. I can’t talk to my friends. I have no freedom to do anything. I’m miserable…” I choked out in between more emotional tears.

My father paused for a moment before speaking. “Well, your mother and I are going out to run some errands tomorrow. Why don’t you see if Brad can meet up with us for lunch? He’s a good kid.”

Brad was a friend of mine since I was fifteen. We had met at church and our enjoyment of tennis coupled with our shared bond of being raised by strict parents had made us fast friends. My parents and his parents had never spent time with each other outside of church, but both sets approved of the friendship. We lived about 30 minutes apart, but when you live in the country, that’s as good as right down the road.

To my sincere gratitude, Brad was able to meet up with me and my parents for lunch. We met up at BJ’s Brewhouse and shared an interesting lunch. Brad hadn’t the slightest idea of what chaos my world was in, but he played along nicely. Any rude and sarcastic remarks from my father didn’t faze Brad. He could certainly hold his own. Much to my surprise, my parents decided that Brad and I could spend some time without their chaperone so long as he didn’t mind dropping me off back home.

Brad and I parted ways with my parents and headed towards his car. Before either of us could get our seatbelts on, I exploded. “I need to get a burner phone. Can you help me?”

Without so much as a hesitation, Brad responded, “Sure, I think there’s an AT&T right around the corner from here.” See, there was a reason we had remained friends for so long.

As Brad drove to the AT&T store, I spilled my guts about everything that had gone down. How my parents had broken up with Kendrae for me. How I was an actual prisoner in their house. With no phone, no freedom, no contact with the outside world, least of all with Kendrae. And now I was being shipped off to Ohio, to stay with my mother’s side of the family so that I could be supervised more closely. I think my parents were concerned that I would run away.

Brad was as shocked as I had been. Laughing at the sheer hilarity of it all, because it didn’t seem real. Over the course of our friendship, Brad had come to know my parents through personal interactions with them as well as recounts he had heard from me. He told me that even in the wildest interactions and bewildering stories, he had never expected a concoction such as this.

What a rush of relief I felt all throughout my body! This was the reassurance I had been longing for. That I was not crazy. This was not normal. And was certainly not right. Brad had been my first true contact with anyone in the outside world, and it felt SOgood! The fog from the Twilight Zone had not seeped into my pores yet. There was still a chance for me to escape with myself intact.

A short while later, I was the proud owner of a pay-as-you-go phone. A tiny little thing with unlimited text messaging and 250 minutes of talk time. I had selected the slimmest phone model I could find, because it would have to remain hidden on my body at all times. I paid all in cash, and filled in the home address with my college address, so that no paper trail could ever make its way back to my parents address. When the month was up, I would just come back to this store and pay for another month’s worth of calls and texts. A $40.00 phone and a $25.00 monthly plan was a price I was happy to pay for the slightest taste of freedom.

On the night that my world had been turned upside down, by some miracle I possessed some sense of foresight during utter chaos. After begging my parents to allow me to call Kendrae upon learning of the terrible text my mother sent him, I quickly looked up his cell phone number as I was pretending to dial. And I repeated the digits in my head to commit them to memory. I hadn’t quite known at the time, when I would be able to use his number, but I was hopeful that I would eventually.

As Brad kindly made the drive back to my parent’s house, I held the jewel of a lifeline in my hands delicately. I punched in the one number besides my own I knew by heart, and typed out a brief message.

Kendrae, it’s me, Sarah. I bought a burner phone so we are able to communicate. We’ll have to be careful when we talk and text, but anything is better than nothing. I’m sorry that we have to go through this, but being with you is worth it. I love you.

The second I pressed the send button, a thought caught in my chest and took my breath away. What if this was too much? What if Kendrae didn’t want to be forced to communicate sporadically with a girl whose parents hated him? He certainly wasn’t limited to being with me. There was a long list of girls just waiting for him to be single. In fact some of them, didn’t even care about him being single. What was to say that he hadn’t changed his mind since he agreed to wait?

*New Feature* Audio file of this post. 


No. 12 – My Twilight Zone

No. 12 – My Twilight Zone

Twilight Zone:

(n). A state of surrealism, where things that should not make sense seem to do so.

No other word could better suit the house I was confined to. Upon entrance of the house’s threshold, what seemed right was now wrong. What was once wrong was now right. Up was down. Left was right. And I was left tumbling around in the spin-cycle of miasma. Never have I experienced a more palpable feeling of downheartedness. It was as if the house was its own entity. Breathing confusion gas to all who inhabited it. Perpetuating the lack of clarity. Watching my every move. Hearing my every thought. Most of which were incomplete, because I couldn’t get a true sense of who I was in this labyrinth.

My only sense of liberation came from the runs I forced myself to take. My parents allowed me to step off the premises so long as I was going for a run along the winding country road the house was set off on. From the first step over the cattle guard I could taste the freshness in the air. I could breathe deeper. Think clearer. And feel the cloud lift from off my shoulders, and I embraced the sunshine. Each step on the gravel road assured me that I was still alive, and I could find a way out. The strength in my legs wouldn’t allow weakness in my thoughts. No tears or negativity allowed.

With the road at my feet and the wind at my back, the possibilities were endless. It was as if my mind opened up and allowed only positive thoughts to enter in. On the road, I believed that I could get out and that Kendrae would still be waiting for me. I was sure that I would be able to find a job that would lead me far away from my parents’ house. And I was hopeful that the growing strength in my body would translate to inner fortitude that would propel me to freedom. Each run brought me one step closer to anywhere but here.

But as soon as I crossed back over the cattle guard after one of my runs, a powerful haze clouded all sense of clarity I had found on the road. My hopes of escape all fled upon crossing the threshold that led into the 20-acre property. My despair, always awaiting me at the property’s gate, without fail. He had no problems with letting me leave, so long as he could greet me right where we left off once I returned. He’d lead me back down the long gravel driveway. And hold the front door wide open to ensure my entrance back into the house.

The air inside was stale and prevented me from ever receiving a full breath. Perhaps this element is what perpetuated the fog that never ceased to linger and stirred such turbidity. I was forbidden to have any contact with the outside world. My phone was held hostage by my father. My car was useless unless I was driving to work. I was a captive. All I knew was the longer I was kept prisoner in that house, the lower my chances of ever escaping became. As a result, I spent most of my time in solitude outside where the air didn’t seem quite so choking. Anything I could do to stay out of the house that seemed to slowly be killing any shred of me that remained.

My parents had decided that I was to be shipped off to Ohio for two weeks so that I could have a “fresh start.” They felt it would be in my best interest if I spent some time away. My best guess is that they worried if I stayed there too much longer I would either run away or try to meet up with Kendrae. By sending me off to Ohio, I could be better supervised and 1,123 miles away from Kendrae. But the distance in miles had no effect on me. At the moment, it seemed as if Kendrae and I lived in two different worlds.

Initially, the idea of putting a thousand miles between me and my parents was incredibly appealing. My battered heart could use some relief from the constant barrage of questions and pointless conversations that never ended well. Until I learned that my mother had discussed my current situation in detail with her parents, brother and sister-in-law. Now, rather than two people dissecting my private business and discussing it with me to no end, I would get to have the brutal discussions with four more people. Although, discussion is perhaps much too strong of a word. Lecture, guilt manipulation, sermon or reprimand are all much better suited to what was to come my way. And suddenly, my two-week Ohio retreat seemed much more like a punishment than a break.

Sure, I may have been getting some relief from my mother and father, but now the heat was going to be turned up tenfold. This was not my idea of an improvement to my current situation, but maybe the change of scenery could be beneficial. Neither situation was ideal, but there was nothing I could do either way. At least my Ohio trip would have a time frame. My stay here, had no end in sight. Before my brain took a trip down the rabbit hole of self-despair, I remembered something. I hadn’t checked my Facebook to see if Kendrae had written me back. A glimmer of hope broken through the abyss.

Again, I waited for the all too familiar feelings of guilt to seep in. But much to my surprise, I felt nothing. Nothing but excitement about the possibility that the love of my life had replied to my heartfelt and desperate plea.

Perhaps my lack of remorse stemmed from spending the entirety of my life unable to perfect the role of the perfect daughter. I had portrayed her so convincingly, that I even fooled myself for a while into believing that I could actually please my parents. But I couldn’t. My enough never matched their standards. So both my parents and myself were left discontented. Stuck in this perpetual cycle of unhappiness. I was tired of tumbling around exhausted from futile efforts that brought me no personal satisfaction and had clearly not appeased my parents either. If I could make decisions based off what would bring me joy, at least one of us would be satisfied. A seemingly better alternative than three unfulfilled participants in this losing game.

My decision was clear. No more imperfect “perfect daughter.” I was just going to be Sarah. So I anxiously waited until after 10:00 when most of the household was sleeping, or at least in their rooms. Biding my time in the downstairs living room, waiting for an opportunity so I could sneak into the office, grab my computer, and creep into the bathroom unnoticed. I turned on the shower and let the water run. With no intent of going in for several minutes. I opened up my laptop, logged into Facebook, and held my breath as I waited for the screen to load.

And then I saw it. A beautiful, little red circle with a white number one in the middle of it, hovering above the message icon. Kendrae had written me back! I exploded through the bathroom ceiling and through the second floor of the house and soared into the dark night air. The love of my life had seen my message and was willing to wait on our love.

But then, the house realized that I was flying above it. This could not be. So it launched an arrow, aimed directly for my heart. What if Kendrae doesn’t want to wait for you? What if his message is just telling you to leave him alone? Or, what if that message notification is not from Kendrae at all? I was hit. Wounded and unable to fly, I spiraled down towards the house. All the way back down to the bathroom floor. I found it hard to breathe again. My hands trembled as I moved the cursor over the little red circle.

I gingerly pressed on the red icon and held my breath as the screen loaded the new page. I closed my eyes in anticipation. I couldn’t watch the screen load. The whole day, the thought never occurred to me that Kendrae might not want to wait. That he may want to just cut his ties with me and move on with his life. And as devastated as I would be, I would understand. I knew I was asking for a lot. Eyes closed, I took a deep breath in and let it out. My eyes peeled open and focused on the name of the first message.

Kendrae Carter. My heart was racing. I clicked on the message. My eyes absorbed his words so quickly that my brain could scarcely digest it. I swallowed. Leaned my head back. Closed my eyes and let the tears stream down my face. Through the trail of tears, my lips spread and a smile overtook my entire face. Kendrae was willing to wait on us. He didn’t want to be with anyone else, and he knew that our love could carry us through to the other side of the pain.

I quickly undressed and stepped into the shower. I wanted to savor every drop of Kendrae’s message before crafting my response. With jewels few and far between these days, I was determined to make the most of this one. The water washed over my body and rinsed off the stench of the house. My issues would still be there tomorrow. The Ohio trip, the job search, the family dynamic, my fight for freedom. They would all be there tomorrow. But so would Kendrae.

*New Feature* Audio file of this post. 

No. 11 – Porcelain Thoughts

No. 11 – Porcelain Thoughts

I sat hunched on the lid of the toilet in the downstairs bathroom. It was somewhere around 4:00 AM. The door was locked and the lights were off. The only trace of light came from the glowing computer screen on my lap. I turned the brightness down as low as I could. So much so that I had to squint to make out the screen. My senses were heightened as I listened to every creak and moan of the old log house. Every decibel of noise would catch my breath in my chest. My brain hustled tirelessly to catch up with my senses, and to reassure me that creak was just a creak. And that moan was just a moan.

I was intent on typing a message to Kendrae. I wasn’t exactly sure what I was going to write, but I knew I couldn’t leave things as they were. I hadn’t been able to explain what had happened on our phone call. In part because I was wracked with heartbreak and because I still wasn’t clear on those details myself. My mind was still reeling from the series of unfortunate events just a few hours ago. The one thing I was sure of was that Kendrae must be just as confused and hurt as I was.

The cold porcelain of the base of the toilet chilled the skin on my calves. Goosebumps creeped up my skin, slowly, then all at once. The hair on the back of my neck stood at attention maintaining a sense of alertness that coursed through my entire body. I couldn’t get caught. My breath was slow and steady as I attempted to quiet the sound of my rapidly beating heart. The warmth of the laptop radiated through the tops of my thighs, drizzling beads of warmth past my kneecaps and down to my toes. The ebbs and flows of the coolness and warmth synced up with the cyclical thoughts in my head. What once seemed so clear to me would grow hazy within seconds. Only to return into focus moments after the haze.

How on earth could I find the words to explain to the man of my dreams that my family didn’t approve of him and our relationship? That I was given no option and was being forced to end things against my own will. How would I be able to accurately explain that none of what transpired the night before had changed any of my feelings towards him? That even after being dragged through what must have been hell on earth, I was surer of my decision of wanting to build a life with Kendrae.

I couldn’t think straight with my thoughts and emotions so scattered. I closed the lid of the laptop, gingerly set it on the sink and fixed my eyes on the space where I knew the wooden bathroom door set. The trace amounts of light were quickly sucked from the room. I allowed my eyes to adjust to the total darkness. So thick and overpowering that I could taste it. I was in the bottom of the pit. I looked up and saw nothing but darkness. To my left absolute darkness. To my right, more of the same.  I drew both of my legs up onto the toilet lid and pulled them tightly into my chest. As I hugged my own legs, I tried to deepen my breath in attempt at releasing the slightest bit of tension and uneasiness.

The longer I sat in the stillness of the dark, the more real it became. I’m not sure if I left my eyes open or closed, because the blackness was the same. Cloaked over my body like a damp and heavy blanket. Compressing on my skin and lungs making it hard to breathe. The sensation I felt wasn’t as if I was falling, but rather I remained grounded while the walls of the pit shot up higher and higher around me. I sensed I was trapped in the chasms of my own heart: dark, cold and empty.

The night before had been so loud; my ears were still ringing from it. There was so much noise in my head, but none of it came from my own voice. Where are you?I wondered, eager to learn what my own truth had to tell me. So I steeled myself and listened.

With no recollection of time in the pit of despair, I’m not sure how long I sat in wait. My heart rested while my mind roamed aimlessly, so exhausted from the tireless circles it had been running. Then, a soft mummer, like a whisper, spoke to my spirit. Wait.I focused my thoughts on the split second of clarity I had just encountered. What a notion. Just wait.

Just as quickly as my glimmer of hope had peeked through the veil of darkness, my mind quickly pounced atop the light. Could I just ask Kendrae to wait for me? For something that was not guaranteed?  Kendrae had shown me nothing but loyalty, support, transparency and love. Was that fair of me to ask of him?Fair or not, I had to ask. I had to fight for our love the only way I knew how in this moment. By buckling down and waiting out the storm. This would be the kind of waiting with no end in sight. The kind of waiting that would shake and rattle, while we would have to remain unmoved. This kind of waiting came with no security or precedence. It was the kind of waiting that would drive you mad, if you gave him the keys to the car.

I inhaled deeply, then grasped into the darkness for my laptop. The smoothness and warmth of it soothed my trembling fingers. Not quite sure how to begin, I lay my fingers on the keys and let the words flow out of me without thinking or restraint. I typed out a message explaining everything as best as I could. How my parents had seemingly exploded without any warning or provocation. How I was hurting and heartbroken.  How I wanted nothing more than to be in his reassuring arms. I made certain to express that none of my feelings for him had shifted. That I was not going anywhere. That we may have to operate under some new rules for the time being until I was able to get out. That I loved him and that I couldn’t be sorrier for how my parents had treated him. And then I asked him something absurd. I asked him to wait for me. To wait on our love.

I gave a once over to the Facebook message I had written in one foul swoop. The manifestation of my beating heart bled onto my computer screen. I took one final slow breath and hit send. I logged out of my Facebook account, cleared the computer’s browser history, and shut the computer off. I had to be sure that I left no trail, or all my efforts would be in vain. I was never one to disobey my parents. As an avid rule follower, I anticipated feelings of guilt for straying from the path that was so forcefully laid out for me. But there were none. In fact, after hitting send, I felt a slight ease of pressure on my chest for a moment. Yet still, the darkness lingered.

Our love had just begun to blossom. The roots still thirsty and seeking sustenance. Could our love grow through an extended period of waiting without nourishment and light?I thought questions the darkness seemed to have no answers to. So, I sat on the porcelain toilet and allowed fresh tears to warm my face.

No. 10 – Sticks and Stones

No. 10 – Sticks and Stones

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

I used to think this was a funny saying because it seemed so obviously overstated. Of course, sticks and stones being thrown at you could break your bones. And how could words hurt someone? They were just words…

I’ve come to radically change my opinion on this topic because of this very situation. I’ve experienced hurtful words before, but none that have pierced through my very skin and punctured my heart. Words that are branded into my brain that even to this day still ache. Words that are so saturated with emotion and so intent on drawing blood that I can still feel their impact. Words that can still bring me to tears. Words that to this day continue to make me sick to my stomach. Words that bring me back to the exact moment in time again and again and again. Words I will never be able to forget.

I remember everything about this day. I remember the warm Texas sun beaming through the open windows. I remember my forest green Crow’s Country Café t-shirt that I was wearing because I had just gotten off working the lunch shift. I remember that my sister had been exceptionally withdrawn that afternoon and seemed anything but interested in how amazing my weekend had been. I remember thinking how incredible my life was and how lucky I am. And then, I remember everything changing.

Kendrae and I were starting to get this long-distance thing down better. No, it wasn’t ideal, but it would do for the time being. We were going to be spending the entire weekend together. Kendrae didn’t have to work and we had actual couple-esqe plans. Friday evening, we decided upon the traditional date night and went to the movies. When I tell you I cannot remember what we saw, I truly can’t remember! I couldn’t concentrate on anything else but the skin of his hand intertwined with mine. Was my hand sweating? Oh God, please don’t let my hand start sweating!

All nervous hand sweat aside, I had never experienced the sheer romance that is holding hands. Perhaps because in a room full of people, your emotional bond with the person with whose hand you’re holding is expressed in the most organic of form. No words, no movement, just pure and utter stillness. That felt anything but still. Electric pulses were shooting up my veins and into my head. First the tingling started in my fingertips. Then it navigated ever so sweetly up my hand and through my arm. Before long, my entire body was intoxicated with the gentle warmth of Kendrae’s hand holding mine. The rest of the night was a blur, but that moment in the darkness of the movie theatre, surrounded by other people was one of the most intimate moments we shared.

The next day, Kendrae and I attended a wedding of one of his high school teammates. Besides the fact that the ceremony was outside in the dead of a Texas summer, I was excited to share a new experience together. Getting to meet some of Kendrae’s friends from high school would be a nice treat. Or maybe the heart of my excitement stemmed from getting to see my man all dressed up. But the other stuff was nice too.

The ceremony was heartfelt, the venue was breathtaking and the atmosphere was playful. The love in the place was palpable, and it was the first time I had been around sheer joy and felt that we existed on the same planet. I had met the kindred spirit I had waited in anticipation for my whole life – joy. A joy that was deeper than happiness that gave me a glimpse of what my future with Kendrae might look like. A wedding surrounded with friends and family that loved us. And a love for one another that was real enough as guest at the wedding.

I ended the weekend with Kendrae feeling better and happier than I could remember in a long time. Nothing remarkable had happened or changed, but his presence made me feel like I could just be Sarah. If I was feeling goofy, I could be goofy. When I was feeling unsure, he reassured me without even realizing that’s what I needed. I felt beautiful all the time around him, whether I was dressed in my wedding best or in a big t-shirt and no make-up with a messy bun on top of my head; it was all the same to him. I could see myself come alive in his eyes. Most of all, I felt safe. Safe to be myself, safe to be vulnerable, safe to fall deeper in love.

My fairytale weekend came to a close and my work week began. After my lunch shift at Crow’s, I came home to find my sister sitting in the family room watching television. We chatted sparsely. In fact, she didn’t say much at all. She didn’t make much eye contact with me either. This wasn’t necessarily unusual behavior for my sister, because she can be a reserved and shy creature. Exceptionally tender-hearted and only spoke when she deemed it absolutely necessary. However, most of this didn’t apply to me lately. Being home for the summer had really given us a chance to bond, and she had opened up to me more than ever. I found myself not thinking of her as my younger sister, but as my true friend. So, I found it odd that the conversation seemed so one sided and didn’t feign her interest in the slightest.

Then my parents both walked into the house at the same time. Not a few minutes apart, not one after the other, simultaneously. My mother sat down on the opposite end of the couch I was on, and my father sat in the big chair directly diagonal of me. Unusual behavior as my father usually went straight upstairs to his bedroom and my mother usually went straight for the kitchen. My sister immediately went upstairs without a word or prompting. I looked after her and wondered why she had left so quickly. As I turned my gaze back towards the direction of my parents…

“Sarah, we need to talk,” my mother declared. Perhaps the most loaded phrase in the English language.

I looked at both my mother and my father and blinked, waiting for what I was sure wouldn’t be a pleasant conversation. Here comes the job search talk…again, I thought.

“How serious is this, Sarah? Are you two talking about marriage?” my father barked.

“With Kendrae? Yes, we’ve talked about…”

“You told me you hadn’t! You lied to us. Why didn’t you tell us how serious this was?” my father continued, disapproval oozing out of his voice.

“You asked me when we had been together for like three weeks. Marriage hadn’t come up yet.” I stated defensively, confused why I was on trial for actually enjoying being with the person I was dating. I had no idea planning a future together would be an issue, I thought this would be good news.

My mother and father were both physically upset. Arms crossed. Stern mouths. Flushed faces.

I was getting increasingly more uncomfortable with each passing millisecond. I could feel that my face was flushed as well. I was completely ambushed by this double-team barrage of questions that seemed to have no correct answer.

Then as if I wasn’t caught off-guard enough, my father aimed his verbal AK-47 right at my heart and pulled the trigger.

“What makes you think he hasn’t cheated on you? You know he’s a player.”

Hit. The first draw of blood.

“Has he hit you yet?”

Hit. I was now stumbling backwards on the battlefield.

“He doesn’t want to marry you, he’s just telling you what you want to hear. You’re going to end up knocked up with a bunch of nappy-headed little kids running around, and then he’s going to leave you, just like they all do.”

Hit. I collapsed on the ground and gazed up at my father who now towered over me with the barrel of his gun pressed directly against my rapidly beating heart.

“He doesn’t love you, Sarah.”

Direct hit.

Each bullet had hit me harder than the last. What started as a beating heart full of love and promise was now a battered and empty shell. I could feel myself bleeding and had difficulty gasping for breath.

Completely speechless and stunned, my body was entirely frozen. Not even my thoughts could move.

I was absolutely frozen.

My state of shock quickly turned to intense pain. I was just regaining my eyesight as the smoke from the bullets settled. My eyes began to focus, just as I realized there was a grenade hurtling toward me.

“You either break up with him, or get out of the house.”

I had seen it coming and managed to duck for cover, but the aftershock still reverberated. The explosion left the air ringing.

My face was flushed and my body tense. I looked into my mother’s eyes and saw something I’ve never seen there before. I couldn’t place it, but something in me realized I didn’t want to stick around to find out what it was. Leave.My body was screaming at me. Get. Out. Now.

I stood up. “Fine. Then I’m leaving.”

I walked out of the living room and up the stairs to my room at the end of the hall. I opened my closet door. My whole body was shaking. I grabbed my belongings as quickly as I could, not bothering to even remove my clothing from their hangers. I took the first load downstairs and began a pile in the middle of the living room.

“You can’t take your car. If you leave with your car, we’ll call the police and report that its stolen.”

I turned my head and locked eyes with my mother. “Fine.”

“You can’t take you cell phone either. It’s on our plan.”

I ignored her response and made another trip upstairs to gather more of my belongings. I’ve never felt so many emotions at once. Confusion. Sadness. Anger. Uncertainty. Brokenness. Confusion.I felt as if I was watching this scene take place rather than acting as a participant in it. Maybe participant wasn’t the correct word, I didn’t choose this. I was dragged into it.

Three loads later, I was still confident in my choice to leave. My father called my best friend, Cassey, from my cell phone. “Come and pick up your friend. She can’t stay here,” he stated so matter-of-factly. The three of us sat in silence in the living room as we awaited Cassey’s arrival.

Cassey couldn’t have arrived quickly enough. My father explained to Cassey what a “slut” his daughter was and that she could not stay in the house so long as she continued to date Kendrae. Cassey, obviously caught off guard, tried to ease the situation. “Now sir,” she said in her most polite tone, “I think this seems worse than what it is, and is something we’re all going to be able to laugh about later.”

My parents were not convinced, and I certainly wasn’t laughing. I grabbed a handful of my clothes. “Alright, Cassey, let’s go. I’m not staying here,” I stated as dryly as I could, hoping my voice didn’t tremble as much as my insides were.

The next moments were a blur because what started out with my attempted leaving transformed into a crumpled shell of what once was Sarah on the couch sobbing uncontrollably.

I was not allowed to leave. I was given two options, and when I chose to leave, my choice was not accepted. Upon realizing that I called their bluff, my parents panicked and would not let Cassey and I leave the house. Two hours of mind-manipulation later, and I was worse off than ever.

Apparently, as I was hurriedly packing, my mother took it upon herself to send Kendrae a sharply barbed text message. “Don’t ever talk to my daughter, or anyone in our family ever again,” she sent him. She read me the text message and convinced me that even if I left, he wouldn’t want to be with me now. She had broken up with him for me. “What did you think you were going to do, Sarah? Go live with him happily ever after? He works at Kroger and you don’t even have a real job.”

The room started spinning again and I sunk deeper and deeper into myself. Mortified and heartbroken, both vast understatements.  I didn’t know what to do. But I begged for my phone back so that I could talk to Kendrae. He did nothing to deserve the rash and sudden break-up text that my mother sent him. I just needed to hear his voice.

As I dialed Kendrae’s phone number, I couldn’t suppress the tears. The pain in his “hello” ripped my heart to shreds. So deflated and lifeless, a side of Kendrae never revealed to me before. I was shaking so deeply from my sobs, that I could barely hold the phone up to my face. “I love you somuch Kendrae, and I’m sosorry.” I must have said those words fifty times. Our conversation consisted of little else, because I could not tame my sobbing. I couldn’t breathe it was so intense. “I love you too, Sarah,” Kendrae told me. Then he hung up the phone.

I collapsed completely and wept. Heartbreak wholly overtook my body to its core. As I laid there in anguish, Cassey stroked my hair. After what seemed like an eternity, I must have cried all the liquids out of my body, because my tears stopped flowing. Cassey left. My parents went upstairs to bed. And I couldn’t move.

The ferocity of the pain had numbed my entire body. Worn out from the most intense fight for my life, I drifted into what felt like unconsciousness. I don’t know if it was sleep, because when I awoke at four something in the morning, I felt anything but rested.

Then, as all survivors do, I had an idea.

No. 9 – The F Word

No. 9 – The F Word

Before embarking on the next part of my journey, I’d like to delve deeper into the “why” behind my posts.

Nine weeks in, and this hasn’t gotten any easier. Bearing my soul is just as difficult now as it was during my first post. Every Tuesday evening I get anxious as I pour over my post for the next day. Scrutinizing over every sentence and punctuation mark. Reading and rereading wondering if my message comes across as I’ve intended it to. But because of you all, I continue to quiet my inner demons, dance with my fear and post it anyway.

Much like Hester Prynne, I too am emblazoned with a giant, scarlet letter. But, unlike Hester, I had not willingly done so. A giant “F” is plastered across my chest, dripping down my spine, slit into my wrists and tattooed on my soul – my inner thoughts materialized on my flesh. The “F” represented Family that I was ashamed of, the Failure I had become, the Façade I masqueraded in, and the Fraud I believed I was. And perhaps the most powerful force the “F” represented was the Fear that had swallowed my life. But I was not brave like Hester, flaunting and owning my faults. Instead I forged an emotional fortress preventing anyone from getting too close. I believed that by concealing my faults and fears no one else would notice them. That if I kept these things clutched tightly enough against my chest, no one else would realize what a Fraud I truly was.

My thinking was so twisted. Rather than protect my heart and ultimately my pride, I was actually self-inflicting deeper wounds. What started out as a whisper in the back of my mind grew into a looming giant controlling my life. I fed these F’s without intention, and what transpired was their eventual feeding on me. They gnawed at my confidence and self-worth, they sucked at my joy and swallowed any scrap of truth left in my heart.

After years of soul searching and suffering in silence, I decided enough was enough. I was tired of existing rather than thriving, and I knew if I truly wanted a change, I was going to have to make one myself. My transition was not the flip of a light switch, and it is an evolution that continues to this day. And at the heart of all of this is my hope that by breaking my own silence and consistently bearing my soul, I can encourage others to do the same. Not by blogging or sharing their insecurities with the world, but at least with one person. Because through exposing my insecurities I thought were solely my own to bear, I heard a “me too.” Then I heard another. And then another. I was taken aback by the amount of people suffering in silence right next me. And I realized that on my journey towards healing, maybe I can be a support for others too.

But in order to truly heal myself, that meant reopening my wounds and exposing them to the light. In the process of my very transparent open heart surgery, I have come to redefine and repurpose the F’s scarred into my skin. What once signified Fraud, now represents Freedom in finding my voice. Failure and Façade have transformed into Forgiveness as I learn to give grace more freely to myself as I do to others. The negative connotations associated with Family have allowed me to be intentional in what types of energy I allow around myself and I now select which Family I invite to take part in my life and those I love from a distance.

The Fear has not changed. Fear is just as palpable now as it ever was, but what has shifted is my perspective. I no longer view Fear as a stealer of my joy and squasher of my dreams. Fear has become my catalyst for growth and my propellant towards chasing the desires of my heart.

As I learned to utilize my fear as a catalyst, I had a real-life epiphany. The parts of myself I considered faults and flaws no longer hold my shame. They have become the facets of my story that are most relatable, most teachable and most beautiful. So as this journey continues deeper into my experiences of pain and struggle, I hope that my message of being relentless in your journey of self-discovery shines through the brightest.

I’d like to end this chapter and begin the next on a note of my sincerest gratitude. In just a few short months since launching my blog, I have experienced more kindness and encouragement than I ever imagined. I have been honored to hear from so many of you about your own stories and struggles. That is a privilege I do not take lightly. So, thank you for investing in my journey, for sending love my way and for your time, week after week, to take a peek into my heart.