No. 44 – Rest

No. 44 – Rest

Need a mid-week pick-me-up? How about a mid-chapter pick-me-up? That’s been me these past few weeks. I’ve been weary friends. Emotionally, mentally, and physically fatigued.

In this fast-paced society we live in were told we should always be striving for more. More work, mo money, more accomplishments, more self-care . And I agree, a stagnant life is a life unfulfilling. But at some point, I can’t take any more of anything. Trying to balance a full-time job, full-time marriage, side hustling, and writing a blog while also trying to better myself by working out, and stimulating my mind is exhausting. I got tired just typing it all out. When you’re in a season of growth it’s not easy, it’s uncomfortable and often tiring. I’m not writing this to say, don’t be so tired. Because reality is, sometimes we need to be tired as we work towards a better version of ourselves. I am writing this to acknowledge you in your season of striding.

A few days ago on my lunch break while sitting in my car with my windows open, absorbing the fresh air, I penned this love note to myself. And after writing it, I read it several more times that day and the next few days after that. And each time I read it, I feel rejuvenated. Its a reminder that even in the process of running after our dreams, we still need to prioritize rest. Not quitting, not abandonment, rest. So it is my sincere hope that these words encourage and rejuvenate you in the same way they have done for me.

When weary, dear one,Rest.

But never cease.

For there will be many times

Your aching muscles will be screaming

At you to give up

To lay down and wait for death.

But never cease.

Pause and catch your breath

Remember why you started

And fan that flame as you press onward

Gaze forward, head high

But never cease.

In those moments of defeat

You will gain your inner strength

Fortitude that is powerful enough

To propel you forward

When you believe there is nothing left.

When you grow weary time and time again,

Rest, but never cease.

In short, grab a coffee, or in my case a chai tea from Epic Gelato and take a moment to rest.

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. 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.” 

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. 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.

No. 27 – The Message

No. 27 – The Message

My new life had begun to fall into a routine. Going without was normal. I didn’t find myself as hungry. My back grew accustomed to the floor. Without furniture, my apartment seemed much bigger. It was easy to keep clean. I didn’t have much to mess it up anyway. My sleep schedule was even adjusting because me and mornings…were not on the same team. This adulting wasn’t so hard.

I also began to get in the groove of this whole teaching thing. I had developed a positive rapport with my students quickly. Were my days utterly exhausting? Oh yes! Very much yes! But I felt like I was making a difference in my students’ lives. Seeing their eyes light up when I walked in the room to help them helped to give purpose to my exhaustion. And to my struggle.

I communicated with my parents about once or twice a week. Most of the conversations revolved around teaching. It was all very surface level and forced. I doubt that would ever change. However, the newest development was that my mother was coming down for the weekend to visit me. I wasn’t quite sure what we would do, but maybe this would provide an opportunity for my mother to see the state of my apartment that they left me in. Or maybe, just maybe it would allow us to have a mother-daughter interaction that doesn’t end in a fight, tears, or both. We hadn’t had one of those in a long time.

Maybe this weekend could set our relationship on a new, more positive track. I didn’t want to set my expectations too high, because that usually ended in heartbreak, but I was still hopeful. This could be good. We had some time and space apart so everything had to have settled down, right?

It was a Thursday afternoon and I had several students in my room to complete an assignment. I was walking around, monitoring. A buzz from my cell phone on my desk redirected my attention. I finished my lap and paused at my desk, picking up my phone. The screen illuminated as I glanced at the notification. It was a text message from my mother. She most likely wanted to pin down the plans for tomorrow.

I froze as I read the message.

“I’m not coming this weekend. Ask your boyfriend why.”

My stomach sank and my face was flushed. It felt as if one of my students had set the thermostat on 100 degrees, a vast difference from the usual “meat locker” temperature it remained set at. I tried to swallow the lump in my throat and stared at my screen. My fingers hovered above my phone’s keyboard, but they were frozen. Or maybe it was my mind that had come to a screeching halt. I set my phone back on my desk as I couldn’t steady my shaking hands.

I let out the breath I hadn’t realized I was holding and walked back to the round table. “Good job,” I managed to blurt out as I nodded towards my student’s reading excerpt. The rest of the class period was a blur. I was glad the students were working on their own and needed little support to finish their assignment. Seven minutes seemed like 700 as my mind was reeling from the text I received from my mother. The bell rang, and my small group of students left. I remained seated at the table and blankly stared out the window. Maybe I had misread. Maybe there was another piece of the message that hadn’t come through yet.

I rose from the chair and walked back to my desk. My entire body was tingling, reeling with the intenseness from my mother’s message. Where was this coming from? Why out of the blue? And Kendrae? Had they talked to one another?

Upon reaching my desk, I gently picked up my phone and stared at the blank, black screen. My hands trembled as I unlocked the screen. I blew out a deep breath and re-opened the message. Eyes wide, ready to soak it all in.

“I’m not coming this weekend. Ask your boyfriend why.”

It was still the same. I hadn’t forgotten a single syllable. I screenshot the message and sent it to Kendrae. The alleged boyfriend in my mother’s message. Moments later, I received a screenshot of a different message my mother sent out.

“Tell your girlfriend she has a week to get her own cell phone plan, car insurance and health insurance. This is just as much your fault as it is hers.”

The feeling in my hands turned numb. I couldn’t feel the phone in my hands. The four walls around me started spinning and closing in at the same time. A lump formed in my throat, and as I tried to swallow, I couldn’t breathe. Cold beads of sweat percolated on the back of my neck. Glued to the screen, my eyes reread that same message over and over. And then one more time.

My mind was too frazzled to settle on one thought. I had hundreds bouncing around in there. Reverberating off the walls, knocking into one another, spinning out of control in circles.

Where did this come from?

What do I say?

What do I do?

How am I going to pay for all of that?

Did they bug my apartment?

Was there a tracker on my car?

Now what?

I sat in the chair behind my desk and handed over the control of my thoughts. Leaving me no more at ease because of it. I was actually more distressed than before. I felt as if someone dropped me in the middle of the ocean. I was underneath the waves, frantically swimming. Searching for which direction was up. Getting tossed and tumbled with each new wave, tiring more by the minute. The moment I stopped thrashing, stopped trying to make sense of everything was when I began to float up to the surface. The murkiness began to clear and the light penetrated the depths of the water. I emerged on the surface, gasping for air.

This was not something I could fix. This was not a problem I could out-think the solution to. Bottom line, I would have to do what the message said. Get my own phone plan, health insurance and car insurance. I was planning to do all of that in a few weeks, once I got paid, but it didn’t look like I had much of a choice. The logical portion of my brain took back the reigns and drove my thoughts to safety.

First, I would transfer my phone plan from my parents’ plan to my own. That shouldn’t cost anything up front, I could just be billed for all of that later. As far as car insurance, I would try the same thing. Transfer my insurance to my own policy and hope that I could pay the bill at a later date. After the 25thof September. But health insurance…I don’t think I would be able to take care of that now. I had already declined coverage with the school district because I was covered on my parents’ plan. I didn’t get sick often, I could handle a year without health insurance.

I could do this. Calmly, I could do this. I just had to breathe, and handle this situation one step at a time. Thinking about the situation in its entirety was too overwhelming. I had already been down that vortex, and it was paralyzing. No, I had to tackle this task in small, manageable chunks.

Step 1: Make sure Kendrae was alright. He did nothing to deserve a message dripping with disdain, guilt and shame. All he had done was love their daughter.

Step 2: Get through the rest of the school day. Which meant, closing this up for now and not allowing anyone to know what was going on. My students didn’t deserve to suffer because I was.

Step 3: Go to an Allstate insurance office and see how to get on my own plan. Make sure to double check that I could pay at a later date.

Step 4: Visit a Sprint store and get my own cell phone plan. Again, make sure that I could pay the bill at a later date.

Step 5: Text my mother that everything has been taken care of. Do not be tempted to text beforehand, it will do no good. Perhaps even make the situation worse.

Step 6: Pray that I don’t get sick because I certainly won’t be able to afford it.

Step 7: Get some sleep. Tomorrow is a new day, and you’ll be a few steps closer to true independence. This will all be worth it. Chin up.

Authors Note: Life can be overwhelming. We’ve ALL been there. Been through seasons, long and short, of struggle. Survived, barely, on the other side of a harsh reality. I will admit, I’m the first person to smile, nod, and say “I’m fine” when I’m absolutely not. I am the first person to sit and listen to someone else’s struggles, but never verbalize my own. Offer a helping hand to pull someone else up, when it feels like I’m the one falling. Focus all my remaining energy to brighten someone else’s day when I haven’t seen the light for weeks.

The recent tragedy of Mac Miller losing his life to drugs really hit home with me. Any death, untimely or not is tragic. Losing a loved one is never easy. But I was unsure why this particular tragedy really resonated with me. I didn’t listen to his music. Didn’t follow him on social media. Didn’t really know much about him. So I researched and consumed every article about him I could. He was 26, my age. And a common theme laced through each post and article I read was that he was kind. He was caring and a good friend. He was a positive person. Not the first adjectives that come to mind when hearing of an individual who suffered from a drug addiction.

But that’s the thing. EVERYONE has their own inner battles. Everyone is struggling with something. And it is often the ones with the biggest smiles and kindest hands that have the deepest wounds. How many people have I passed by and smiled hoping they don’t ask me how I’m really doing? How many people have I greeted and just went through the motions, not taking the time to truly see them? We need to do a better job of seeing those around us. Not just smiling and exchanging casualties because we’re too busy or too consumed with our own lives to care.

On the flip side of that, we need to do a better job of letting ourselves be seen. Allowing other people to be there for us, rather than trying to take on the world in solitude. Speaking from personal experience, my first response when I’m down is to shove that mess in the farthest corner of my brain and focus on anyone else but me. And while this might sound noble, it’s really not. Because how can I truly help someone else up if I won’t tend to my own broken arm? Life is messy. And hard. But don’t ever feel like you have to go through it alone. If you’re hurting, don’t minimize your pain. Because ignoring it, will never solve anything. It actually makes it worse.

I wasn’t able to truly move through my struggle because of my own grit. Did it help? Sure, but I came through this valley by the pure grace of God and because I leaned on those around me.

So in short, what I want you to gather from my post is this: you are not alone. Reach out to those around you. And if you have no one around you, reach out to me. I’ll welcome you in with open arms. See the people you come in contact with. And allow others to see you too. It always seems darkest before the dawn. Your light is coming, I promise.