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.  

No. 52 – Someone’s Always Looking

No. 52 – Someone’s Always Looking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be encouraged friends.

xxx

No. 39 – It’s Our Anniversary

No. 39 – It’s Our Anniversary

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

Anni Still (1 of 1)

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

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

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

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

Seq1

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

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

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

Seq2

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

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

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

Seq3

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

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

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

Anni Still (1 of 1)-3

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

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

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

Cheers to many more years of growth and encouragement together!

Seq4

xoxo

Sarah

No. 37 – Poetry

No. 37 – Poetry

Growth. 

We’re all seeking what we cannot see,

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

But with each step forward, 

My past keeps dragging me back. 

 

Split between two people:

The me I could be, 

And the version who couldn’t 

Let go. 

 

Shame. Disbelief. Fear. 

Overwhelming me. 

I watched myself on auto-pilot.

Less than a whole person 

Aimless and incomplete. 

 

And yet…

 

In the very same reflection: 

Embracing. Accepting. Kind. 

Love illuminated like I’d never known. 

I felt myself blossom and flourish. 

Realizing I am already whole. 

 

Torn down the middle.

Clutching onto my past, the familiar. 

While reaching forward, towards the unknown. 

In order to fully embrace one

I must let go of the other. 

 

If I know my past is hurting me,

Why is it still so difficult to let go?

 

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

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

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

Hope you enjoy it! 

xoxo

Sarah 

No. 35 – Self Worth

No. 35 – Self Worth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello.” 

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh…okay,” was all I could muster. 

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

“…alright. Bye.” 

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

How could he not want to spend time together? 

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

What was wrong with me? 

What did I do? 

What wasn’t I doing? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What would I do without him? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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