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. 50 – Holiday Perspective

No. 50 – Holiday Perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sending you all a virtual hug.

xxx

No. 47 – Work of Heart

No. 47 – Work of Heart

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

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

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

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

img_3636

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

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

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

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

That’s all the feedback I need. 

xxx

No. 42 – The Key

No. 42 – The Key

Two weeks ago, I dished on my first Valentine’s Day and how it was so perfect. It was easy to write about because it had a happy ending. But the first 21 years did not all turn out that way. Life was not a cake walk in the romance department. And consisted a lot of impatiently waiting for my other half to complete me.

After a rough break up, with a boy I wasn’t even dating, I had reached my tether with romance. Fed up with gauging my happiness through others. The male species specifically. It was the summer of 2013. I was out running errands and stopped at Panera Bread for lunch. I debated for several minutes in my car about whether or not to order my food to go or eat solo. I imagined all the glances and judgement my solo escaped would warrant. Until the irony of my inner debate while sitting in my car trumped any potential dining embarrassment.

I swallowed my pride, lifted my chin up and walked through the doors, determined to dine alone without fear or shame. After ordering, I selected a window-side table. Not too centrally located, but not ducked off in a corner either. As I awaited my lunch, I couldn’t help but notice a high-school aged couple that settled into a booth slightly to the left of my forward gaze. And as the girl went to slide into the booth, a shimmer on her finger caught my eye. Her hand slid across the top length of the booth as she scooted inwards. All the while my eyes fixed on the ring that bejeweled her finger.

Mug (1 of 1)

Being a James Avery fanatic, I could spot their pieces anywhere. This particular piece being no different. I had been ogling over this ring for some time. It was a key and heart intertwined together, signifying in my mind that the giver of the ring symbolically held the heart of the receiver. A concept that existed only in my day dreams. But one that frequented quite often.

An instant twinge of jealousy and disappointment constricted around my heart. This young girl was living my dream while I ate alone with absolutely no boyfriend or prospects on the horizon.

When would a boy buy me that ring?

Would I ever have what she had?

What was wrong with me?

Almost as soon as the thoughts came tumbling out of my brain, an arrow pierced my heart. And my common sense kicked me in the rear. You do not need someone else to buy you that ring, Sarah. In fact, you are completely capable of purchasing that ring yourself.

The server interrupted my train of thought as she brought my food to the table. I thanked her and smiled as I stared out the window. My eyes lost focus as I overlooked the parking lot and embraced the sunshine. Even in my state of what felt like hopelessness, the sun was still shining. I was only 21, with no clue how my life would play out. But I did possess a newly discovered revelation. My heart was not a commodity to be out in the open. My heart, precious and sacred, deserved safe guarding. It was not an item to be handed away so freely. All the energy I misplaced in holding my heart in the palm of my hands and hoping someone would find it worthy enough to pick up. When all along, it had always been worthy. And it was already in someone’s hands: mine.

Enough! I shouted in my head. From now on, I was holding the key to my own heart.

There was a James Avery store not too far from Panera, and I was going to drive straight there and buy that ring for myself. I was already worthy of that ring, and I didn’t need to wait on a man to give it to me.

Key (1 of 1)

Author’s Note: While this miniscule moment was perspective altering for me, it required and still requires quite a bit of ground work on my end. The ring wields no actual importance, but what it represents does. And much like a tattoo, serves as a visual reminder to recognize and embrace my own worth. To guard my heart and stop believing that I needed another person to complete me or feel valued.

If you’re at all familiar with my personal love story, you’ll note that while I recaptured my own heart in the summer of 2013, it was about a year later that my relationship with Kendrae began to bloom. Which leads me to point out two important items. The first being that I had to appreciate myself and nurture my inner dialogue before I could ever be ready to healthily add in another person. One of the reasons Kendrae and I were able to make our relationship work was because we understood the importance of vetting a potential partner before fully letting our guards down. We had both suffered heart-break in the past and learned to respect our own hearts in new light. 

Which brings me to my second point. Because I hadn’t practiced treasuring my own heart for very long before delving into a relationship, my learning curve continued. I was so wrapped up in the idea of being someone’s girlfriend, that I forgot to water myself. I submerged head first into this wonderful new relationship, but lost myself along the way. Consumed with tending to Kendrae and nourishing our relationship, that I neglected myself. I wanted to spend all my spare time soaking up Kendrae. So enraptured by him that I just handed him my heart after a few weeks. A gesture that Kendrae was not ready for, and quite frankly neither was my heart.

Just because I met this new person who I believed was better than any Prince Charming, did not mean that he deserved access to my heart so soon. And with time, and a lot of patience I did place my heart in Kendrae’s strong yet gentle hands. But by reclaiming the key to my own heart, I encouraged myself to be more careful with whom I allowed it to be held. So I want to encourage you to be cautious in matters of your heart. Treasure it and be selective of whom and what can gain access. You are a rarity and should treat yourself as such.

xxx 

Sarah

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 29 – Driving Me Crazy

No. 29 – Driving Me Crazy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What…?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Did you send it yet?” Kendrae asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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