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.

xxx

Sig

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: <https://edition.cnn.com/2020/06/01/world/george-floyd-global-protests-intl/index.html&gt; [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. 

xxx

Sig
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)

-Rosewood

-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.

xxx

-Sarah

 

 

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.

xxx

Sarah