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.

Wrong.

Wrong.

WRONG!

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.

 xxx

Sarah

 

 

 

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

*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!

xxx

Sarah

 

No. 39 – It’s Our Anniversary

No. 39 – It’s Our Anniversary

It’s been one entire year to the day since I hit publish on my first post on relentless Sarah. So, what have I learned in the past year of blogging?

Anni Still (1 of 1)

Show up and keep showing up. People can’t support and engage with an absent account.

It doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it NEVER will. Post it anyway. The imperfect words, the flaw-full picture. Post it and move on. Don’t stress over what could have been better. Critique kindlyand apply next time. No one wants a robot. They want a real person.

Be vulnerable. It sucks. It’s hard. It’s scary. But it’s so important. Letting your guard down lets others in. While also opening up you to others as well. A fully guarded heart helps no one, not even itself.

You aren’t suffering alone. Even if you believe your situation is completely unique to you, it’s not. Someone else has or is currently dealing with something similar. Don’t hide out. Strength lies in numbers. It doesn’t come from muscling through, it comes from breaking down and building anew.

Seq1

Let yourself heal on your own terms. Don’t force it or rush it or fake it. It will progress naturally as long as you work to give yourself the time, space and mindset.

Be gentle. Gentle with others but especially with yourself. You can be your own harshest critic, and stand in your own way. Set realistic expectations. And when you fall short, because you will, treat yourself with grace.

While your pain may not be unique, your voice is. Don’t ever undervalue that. What you say, think and feel matters. Even if no one else ever hears it, your heart needs to say it. And that is plenty reason enough to speak up.

Seq2

Pain has a purpose, but so does joy. Don’t believe the lie that only out of pain can you produce. Pain is not the only catalyst. You don’t have to marinate in your suffering.

Be creative. Step outside of your own box of comfort that you created and placed yourself in. Don’t take yourself too seriously. This should be fun and creative, not a chore or a stressor.

Be open to change. You cannot grow otherwise. Yes, it can be scary, but so can a stagnant life. I’d much rather be open to new opportunities and try. Even if I fail, then to settle for complacency and mediocrity.

Seq3

Just start. The process is worth the effort. I didn’t begin this journey with an end in mind. I just started. My only plan was to post once a week. That’s it; I could figure out the rest along the way. I didn’t have some looming pie in the sky I was reaching toward. I was more concerned with the act than the result. And that’s okay. In certain situations focusing on the craft rather than the product can lead to possibilities we would have never dreamed of.

You can’t plan everything. As a natural-born planner, the unknown stresses me out. And while having an outline can be helpful, it can also stifle the creative process. Many times I had an idea for a post, spent hours trying to stick to the script, only to scrap it and write about something completely unplanned. And every time, I surprise myself. In the best possible way.

I spend lots of time, energy and finances on my blog. And up to date have yet to make a cent. Close up, it sounds like I have an expensive hobby. And if I only focused on a product like money as a gauge of success, I would be running a failing operation. But, because I measure success based upon outreach, internal personal growth, creativity and discipline, I’ve already earned far more than I ever thought possible.

Anni Still (1 of 1)-3

Reflecting back over the version of Sarah before the blog and the version of me today, the difference is remarkable. The lessons I learned from my blog are just as applicable in life. You can’t always control where you’re planted, but you can blossom just the same. Through the unfertile soil, droughts, storms and lack of affection and resources, you can still bloom. A flower in a garden surrounded by other flowers is indisputably beautiful. But a flower that blooms despite a rocky terrain is breath-taking.

Just like the confetti in my photographs, I have hand selected beautiful words and breathed them out into the universe. Unsure if anyone would catch even a tiny sparkle. And each week I am overwhelmed by the reception of my words and experiences. But what I didn’t expect was for so many of you to shower me right back.

Reaching this year milestone wells my spirit with gratitude. I only hope to continue this journey and see where my confetti lands. So from the depths of my soul, thank you for allowing me this great privilege and for receiving me and my words with utmost kindness.

Cheers to many more years of growth and encouragement together!

Seq4

xoxo

Sarah

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: https://www.paypal.me/relentlesssarah

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

Growth. 

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! 

xoxo

Sarah 

No. 36 – Redeeming Love

No. 36 – Redeeming Love

Here I was, a 22-year-old with a free afternoon. A moment of free time was few in far between in my hectic schedule. How should I spend it, I pondered? Being so busy and often weighted down with stress, I wanted to relax and relish my alone time. A recent priority that I needed work on. So I dug out an old book. A favorite that I have read every year since I was in middle school: Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. The title, a clear insight into the overarching message of the book. A love that is powerful beyond imagination and reason. A love that I desperately needed reassurance of. 

The sun was out, but the winter chill was still in the air, so reading outside was not an option. Turning my head from the window, I stared down my living room couch. You. It has to be you. I know we haven’t been much acquainted due to your extreme discomfort, but today, we are going to be friends. I had saved for three months to be able to afford you, and I was not going to let my hard-earned money be wasted. Not only a discomfort, but an eyesore at that. 

First, I was going to set the mood. So I pulled open the blinds, and let the sunlight cascade into the large room. Lighting the space on the couch perfectly. Ahhh…I sighed in satisfaction. That was all we needed, you and I, the right ambiance. We had just gotten off on the wrong foot, that’s all. This was all a big misunderstanding. With the sunlight illuminating your bold features, you were quite beguiling in your own way. Beckoning me to sit down and embrace the comfort you could offer. 

Gently easing myself into your firm pillows, I leaned back hopeful of your back support. I cracked open the pages of my book and delved in. Ah yes, this was hitting the spot. You must be romanced. You’re not the average couch, available to all. You’re unique, refined…ouch! 

I thought we agreed to be friends. If not friends, at least friendly. 

Okay, fine. I just need to rearrange myself. Should’ve known better than to find the perfect spot on the first try. 

Twist. 

Turn. 

Back to my book. No. Somehow, I was still being pinched or prodded no matter how I positioned myself on this behemoth of a couch. All this room, and there wasn’t one area of comfort that could be found.  

A light bulb. One last idea that might solve our couch sitting woes. I pressed my back up against the flimsy arm of the brown faux-suede coach. If you could even be called a couch. More like a pain inflictor.  

But after about 10 minutes of rereading the same paragraph and not having the slightest of inclinations what I had just read, contorting my body in every possible position and finding no comfortable one, I conceded to the throne of discomfort. 

You win. I scowled at the ugly, bulking thing. I could have just as easily lain across the top of my bed and read in comfort. But it was the principle of the matter. I was paying well over my budget to live in this apartment, and didn’t use the largest room in the place! Aptly named the living room, because it was intended to be the room in which its residents would spend the majority of their time. But at the moment, it was the room I occupied the least. 

Maybe if I sat on the floor, and merely leaned up against the couch, I would find the solace I craved. Baby steps. We could work this out, together, slowly. I planted my butt on the hardwood, and my back on the couch, resting my arms on my muscled legs. My nerves settled and my mind absorbed into the pages of the book. 

Ding! The text message notification sounded on my phone charging in the other room. Breaking my eyes from the sacred pages. I leaned over on my right side, straining to peek inside my open bedroom. As if I would be able to see whom the text was from. Alright, after I finish this chapter, I’ll go check my phone. 

After quickly finishing the chapter, I disconnected my phone from it’s place on the charger. The name illuminated on my screen caught me off guard. Aunt. I hadn’t heard a syllable from her since my extended time in Ohio over the summer. What could she want after all this time? 

After not speaking or communicating with someone for 9 months, igniting conversation can be a rigorous subject, especially when things weren’t left on the best terms. It’s difficult for me to decipher what the motive is for the sudden conversation. Small talk is made while the uneasy feeling doesn’t fade from my mind: what do you really want to know? Do you sincerely care how I’m doing, or is the small talk just a rouse for information that I intentionally keep private? 

After a few brief and forced text messages, just as I anticipated, you asked the question: are you & Kendrae still together? The question was sandwiched between fluff so that it didn’t appear so black and white, but I knew better. At the heart of the question, I’m left with the feeling of conditionality that I’ve been plagued with when dealing with my family.

If Kendrae and I are still together then another year of silence lay before me, but maybe, if I had been cheated on, abused, or grown tired of like my family believed would happen, then they would be there to comfort their broken little girl. Contrary to their statements of hatefulness, none of their predictions came to fruition. I was still with Kendrae and was certainly not ashamed of it, although, I was hesitant to disclose that information. If there was one thing I knew in my heart, it was that I wanted no part of a conditional love. 

The message still sits in my inbox without a response. Even though I opted to take the high road and not stoop down to their level, I couldn’t shake the text. 

Why after all this time did my family want to know if Kendrae and I were still together? Then I flashed back to a conversation my mother had with me right after the initial explosion. She had spoken on the phone with her brother, who lived in Ohio. He was not new to the situation, and in fact was well up to speed. 

My mother asked my uncle, “Would you continue a relationship with a girl if you knew her family was very against it?” Clearly, fishing for support on the decision to ostracize me from the world and control their adult daughter’s decisions. 

To which my mother told me my uncle responded, absolutely not. If he knew her family was against the relationship than the relationship would be over. Because family is too important. 

And then to further cement her stance, I was told that they both agreed “a good guy wouldn’t pursue a relationship with a girl if he knows her family doesn’t approve of it.” 

Was I supposed to agree with them? Thank them for helping me see the light? 

I sat on the couch across the room from my mother, surprised yet somehow not at her constant attempts at manipulation. The smugness in her face felt as real in my memory as it did in the moment. Most of her remarks didn’t warrant my honest response. And this time was no different. My eyes averted out the window to my left, losing focus in the white, tall grass gently billowing in the warm summer breeze. 

I flashed back to the recent text message and the feeling of the cool hardwood floor beneath my legs. How could she? I always felt that my Aunt was on my side. She made me feel comfortable to speak more candidly and open with her. And now she was being used as the bait. The feeler sent out to see if I’d bite. I’d fallen for this cheap trick before. I know enough to realize that not a drop of goodness would come out of a response. 

I felt betrayed. I was suspicious of the ulterior motive lurking beneath this surface level conversation. And I was disappointed to be right, but not shocked. Family, estranged or not was an ocean that even the most skillful sailor could have difficulty navigating. And I had a sinking feeling that the navigation wasn’t going to get any easier. 

Author’s Note: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” –Maya Angelou 

Believe it or not, the golden colored text in this post is my actual reaction to this text message conversation five years ago. 

I’m not sure that I thought I would be writing for others to read, but writing has always been my outlet. I love capturing little snippets in the moment. Not necessarily anything major, but something impactful for me. Sometimes I record voice memos on my phone, so that I can write them down later when I have time. Sometimes I scribble out a few thoughts on a scrap of paper. And most often, I’ll type out a note on my phone. Oftentimes they are unfinished thoughts, but enough to cement my emotions and reactions. 

I have hundreds of them. Even just little tidbits like these, because I want to remember how I am feeling, what I was thinking. And still to this day, I can read those little notes to myself and actually flash back to that exact moment in time. It’s even stronger than looking at old photos, because it’s a mental and emotional snapshot. Those exact same emotions surge to the surface and I feel exactly what I felt back then. While not all of the feelings are pleasant ones, it truly has been a gift to be able to revisit past pain and heartaches. Because the eyes looking back on that memory see it through a whole new perspective. I wish I could tell that Sarah what I know now. That all her pain, confusion and struggles are helping to shape her into a strong, fiercely independent woman. 

I truly believe that all pain serves a purpose. Sometimes to invoke change. Other times to solidify a choice. Refinement. New perspective. Clarifying a poor decision. Growth. And sometimes we may not know the reason for the pain we endure. But I choose to live my life knowing that in everything there is a purpose. A purpose much greater than me. And right now, when I look back, I can see a bigger picture. A pathway that has led me to more joy and contentment that I ever imagined in my state of hurt. 

There is a love redeeming beyond anything imaginable. I know because I’ve experienced it. Be encouraged friends. 

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. 

“Hello.” 

“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.”