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. 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. 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,

Sarah

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, 

Sarah

 

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.