Radical Love

Radical Love

Every year, on MLK day I’m left in a reflective mood. We learn about who Martin Luther King Jr. was in school and see the same few quotes shared across social media platforms. As a white person, I’ve heard lots of remarks growing up about how white people “love MLK.” And it’s easy to look back at someone’s life 52 years after the fact and comment that you liked what he was doing because it was non-violent, it wasn’t as “radical” and he preached “love.” Yet these same people get outraged at a phrase like “black lives matter.” Responding with bigotry, lack of understanding and ignorance. “All lives matter!” is shouted back in retort instead of meeting hurting people in need with the same love MLK advocated and demonstrated and you post on your Facebook wall.

In general, I think as people we tend to stay in our own lane. If we don’t experience something first hand, we tend not to believe it.

Racism is dead.

I don’t see injustice.

It’s not like that in my neighborhood.

I’m not racist, I have a black friend/acquaintance/co-worker/neighbor/celebrity crush.

I love MLK.

I listen to rap music.

 I love watching football/basketball/(insert other sport here).

We compartmentalize an entire population and generalize their experiences and struggles and try to say that we have a grasp on reality. If we don’t see something, then it just simply doesn’t exist.

I was raised extremely sheltered. My life experiences were very controlled and I was not exposed to much going on in the real world. If it happened between the years of 1992-2010, then I didn’t have much awareness of it. My parents chose to limit my worldview with the intent to protect and shield me from all the pain, injustice and brokenness. And as an adult, I can appreciate that they were doing what they felt was best for me. However, because of my sheltered life, I had a very skewed worldview upon entrance of college. I grew up in a middle class, hardworking white family, and while of course we experienced struggles, my childhood was pretty close to perfect. It wasn’t until I made friends with people that grew up differently than I did that I began to truly open my eyes to all that was around me.

How many people have felt like the minority? Have you ever been the only person with your skin color, surrounded by people that look differently than you? Have you felt out of place because of your skin? Been looked at, or more so looked down on simply because of your genetic make-up? To be treated differently and worse because of how you look? I have. And let me tell you it was eye-opening. I’ve never really taken pride in being white or really given it much thought other than wishing I was tanner. (Welcome white privilege; I’m glad you finally decided to show up in the mix and call yourself by name). In Longview, where the population is much different than the places I’ve grown up, especially in certain areas I experienced a tiny miniscule drop in the bucket compared to what some individuals live with on a daily basis. I don’t know what it feels like to be profiled. To be viewed as frightening. To be presumed guilty even when innocence is proven. To be counted as less than, inferior, less intelligent. To be valued for what you can offer only athletically and nothing else.

Flash forward to dating and ultimately marrying a black man. You want to see how people really feel, be a part of an interracial couple. The comments I have heard on both ends of the spectrum are mind blowing. The racist comments certainly come from both ways. And while our love tends to magnify what was already in people’s hearts: either love, understanding and support or fear, ignorance and bigotry, I appreciate both outcomes. I’d rather know how you really feel than be friends with a façade.

From personal experience and experiences I’ve gained and learned through my husband, I can share that racism is not dead. It is just as destructive, hateful, deceitful and fear-based as it ever was. But now, it has evolved and learned how to hide better. It hides in complacency. It hides in affluence. Lurks around corners of mis-education. It burrows under lack of empathy.

So you share your MLK quote once again, one day out of the year. What have you done to put that quote into action? Have you taken the steps toward acceptance? Done your job as a free American citizen to attempt to understand a perspective outside your own? Watched any of the ground-breaking media shedding light on these stigmas that continue to be stifled?

Contrary to white-washed perception, Martin Luther King Jr was radical. The quality of life and the level of injustice during his time on earth was shameful. And in response, he radially and recklessly loved others. He spoke out for those who couldn’t. He marched for those unable or unwilling to walk forward towards progress. He shed light on the deepest and darkest ugly parts, exposing them with no regards for what it might cost him. All the while holding himself to the highest standard, when so many others would have complained, resorted to violence, acted out of revenge masquerading as justice, felt sorry for themselves and the list goes on.

It is because of MLK’s valiant efforts and the continued efforts of those after him that my husband and I can be husband and wife. Were able to obtain a residence together. Not be arrested and charged for loving and continuing to love one another. While some may categorize our choice to be “more difficult,” I count it an amazing privilege and responsibility. In the hollowed wise words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, “whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

You want to honor MLK day, do your due diligence and educate yourself. Start by viewing these necessary and illuminating pieces of work.

-When They See Us

-Fruitvale Station

-Just Mercy

-The Loving Story (Documentary and Film)

-Rosewood

-A Time to Kill

-Mississippi Burning

Consume this media for what it is. These are not just movies and episodes. These are TRUE stories. People’s lives and experiences and realities. Not 100 years ago. Today. In our country. In our home cities. Open your heart and your eyes and see what happens.

I’m not claiming to have it all figured out, or that the answer to eradicating racism is as simple and contrite as watching a few movies. But why can’t the start be that simple? Once you have the awareness and understanding that we still have so much work to do, what you do next is up to you. As for me, I will continue to live my life in a way that puts this concept into action:

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” –Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

  I plan to continue forward with love and light.

xxx

-Sarah

 

 

Decade Challenge

Decade Challenge

As 2019 came to a close and 2020 was eagerly ushered in, social media was influx with challenges, resolutions, and plans for the next decade. Images were posted of new intentions, then vs. now photos and greatest accomplishments. Let me be the first to say, that looking back to reflect is vital. Comparison is necessary – comparison of who you were, who you are, and who you are striving to be. But for whatever reason, I wasn’t feeling it this year.

At the start of this decade, I was a senior in high school. Filled to the brim with all the plans, potential and sparkle in the world. At 17 years old, I would hope that’s what you felt also. Yet somehow, at 27, I feel much differently. I feel tired. Exhausted, actually. Because I have spent the last decade striving. Achieving. Working my ass off. I’ve gone through a lot of changes. A lot of growing. To come back to a place that feels like myself again.

I’ve evolved from high school teenager, collegiate athlete and student, college graduate, ex-collegiate athlete, first year teacher, working adult, dog mom, single, girlfriend, fiancé, wedding planner, wife, graduate student, master’s graduate, back to graduate student again. I’ve lived in one house, two dorm rooms, three apartments, three cities. Worked in four different school districts. Taught elementary special education co-teach, middle school special education inclusion, high school self-contained special education and as a special education in-home/parent trainer. My name has even changed over the course of this decade.

And while that may sound like a lot of changing, why doesn’t it feel like it’s been enough? See if you’re like me, you have this picture in your head of what you expect your life to be like when you’re 17. But my picture has always been blurry. I can make out vague outlines and fuzzy shapes, but the whole picture hasn’t ever come quite into focus.

What this past decade has truly taught me is that all the planning in the world doesn’t equal a clear trajectory. Is my life anything like I pictured it would be when I was 17? Not really. And that’s okay. I think our lives are a continual progression, not some end point. I can’t even begin to calculate all the time I’ve spent planning, dreaming, writing down goals and imagining the future. So much wasted time and energy focused on what’s next, rather than embracing what’s now.

Plans and goals are great, but life doesn’t abide by our time tables.

You want to know how I welcomed in the new decade? On my couch, with my dogs watching mindless television. Because I am so exhausted from all the striving and grinding and spinning my wheels to make one inch of progress. Let me use an example, because when you know better, you do better. College Sarah would stay up late at night typing up papers, working on projects and end up working twice as hard because not only was I battling against time, I was also now waging war against my own exhaustion. My end result took twice as long and wasn’t half as good of quality as it could have been.

Wise 27-year-old Sarah (I’m being facetious here) learned, that by resting first, getting up early and working in small, manageable chunks produces a much better result in a lot less time. I’ve decided to apply this principal to this next decade. Prioritizing rest. Less focus on all the hustle and check boxes we’ve created for ourselves. Slowing down, being present and focusing on here rather than where I’m working towards tomorrow.

While I’m not big on New Year’s Resolutions, I make my decisions in the spirit of the moment, not slipped around some pillar of time, I will set a few.

In the next decade, I resolve to give myself a break. I’m not perfect. I never will be. I never have to be. Someone else already has that covered!

I resolve to enjoy every season and stop praying for the next one. I want to enjoy the valleys and the mountains because there is beauty in both.

I resolve to focus on one step rather than envision all the others I might be taking. To focus on the present, for no one is guaranteed tomorrow.

I resolve to love more. Deeper, harder, with more ferocity. To give it freely and without abandon. Because we all could use more of it.

Maybe this is just my interpretation, but we are so often fed the lies that we aren’t good enough, thin enough, healthy enough, attractive enough, worth enough, that we’re forced into concocting these “resolutions” to convince other people of our worth. Because here’s the truth underneath all the fabricated lies we’re smacked over the head with on a daily basis: you are enough.

Losing those 20 pounds will not make you see yourself differently in the mirror if you don’t love what you see now. Making that next level of salary won’t equal more money in your savings, if you can’t manage the small amount you make now. Finding that person to spend your life with won’t make you happy if you can’t find happiness on your own. Buying more things to fill your house, closet and time with won’t fill that gaping hole in your heart. And setting resolutions to “fix” or “improve” material and superficial things won’t be effective in changing or improving your life.

The internal work that needs to take place to accompany those “resolutions” needs to happen first, every day for the rest of your life. No new year or new decade can solve that. There is no quick fix, special work out, fancy diet or surgery that can alter the hard, mundane work. But all of this is null and void if you don’t operate from the space that you are enough, you already have what it takes to do the work and there is no final destination. Life is a process and it’s all in the details. So as this new phase of life is inevitably upon us, I wish you success, happiness and peace. In whatever way it manifests itself to you.

xxx

Sarah

No. 48 – Happy is a Side Effect

No. 48 – Happy is a Side Effect

We’ve all heard this phrase before. Seen it on art prints, t-shirts, coffee mugs, tattooed on our own bodies. What started off as a simple phrase has snowballed into a life mantra. A dangerous one at that: do more of what makes you happy.

NOPE!

All wrong.

The dictionary defines happy as this:

Happy (adj).

-feeling or showing pleasure or contentment

Feeling being the key word. Feelings are fleeting; they change and shift constantly. By fixating on the pursuit of a feeling, you’ll be left with a replacement feeling in happiness’ absence – emptiness.

It’s easy to believe this notion however. The notion that happiness is our North Star, our guiding light. Aiming our compass towards happiness actually leads us in the wrong direction. Our emotions are fickle, they come and go, sometimes at their own will.

I’ll be the first to own up to believing this fallacy. We’re pumped full of claims that living “this” way leads to happy. Rocking these shoes. Carrying that purse. Strutting in a body that looks a certain way. Mesmerized by this mirage and exhausting ourselves chasing a lie.

By placing happy on a pedestal as the end destination we de-value all our other feelings. One of the beauties in being human is our ability to experience the full spectrum of emotions. Sadness isn’t enjoyable but is a vital ingredient in a healthy life. We create out of sadness. It teaches us strength, perseverance, lessons we couldn’t grow from otherwise. We learn to be tender, gracious, understanding. And that it is okay to not feel okay.

Happy is a side effect NOT an end goal. Personally, I’d rather not be a stagnant robot that operates on auto pilot. I choose to live my life open to all emotions and willing to grow from the process. Embracing the chaos, accepting the bad and learning that life does not always have to look pretty.

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. 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. 32 – Rest…Never Stop

No. 32 – Rest…Never Stop

My eyes blinked as I gazed upwards at the stagnant fan blades. My outstretched arms and legs reached further longing to uncoil. I pressed my body gently into the many plush cushions pillowing the mattress. The grandmother’s couch inspired floral pattern embraced my rigid frame. The soft whisper of relaxation rippled through my body as my tenseness began to loosen.

An exhalation followed by a realization that I had stopped climbing. These past six months had felt like a straight uphill climb. Wrought with jagged edges, vision-clouding fog, an unsurvivable drop beneath me and an unforeseeable end. I had been steady climbing without the slightest idea of what lie in wait for me atop Mount Everest. Was it physically possible for me to make this trek? Was my own peril inevitable?

Having no room or energy to dwell on doubts, I continued climbing. Sometimes resting, but never, not even once did I stop. I couldn’t. I knew if I stopped and looked any direction other than two feet in front of me, I would give up. I would realize how much further I had to journey and lose to disheartenment. Or if I looked down, I would see that one minor slip up and the drop would succumb me for sure. Without a carabiner, I had no guarantee of my safety. I was operating purely on the fumes of faith.

Faith that I had made the right choice. That all my struggle, lack, tears and heartbreak was for a reason. A reason that would serve me and hopefully bring about something that was even greater than just me. Maybe not today. Maybe not for five years. Maybe even longer than that. But I had to believe that none of this was in vein. Not the disarrayed chaos with my family. Not the daily roller coaster of emotions, the fear, the confusion, the exhaustion. Knowing that a divine purpose rooted beneath me propelled me upward.

And finally, after six long months, I had reached a crevice. A rock that was flat enough that I could rest on it. Stop climbing and enjoy my small victory before continuing my ascent. Rest, never stop, I reminded myself.

After my mental and emotional rest, I sat up. My climb would be there waiting for me in the morning. I deserved to celebrate this feat. Because as thrilled as I was to have my new-to-me mattress and box spring assembled, I was anxious to outfit it. After all, this was a monumental step for me; it deserved the most appropriate celebration. I just couldn’t dream of a better way to christen my bed than with some brand-new sheets, pillows and a comforter and the best night’s rest.

Where could I go on a week night and purchase a stylish and functional sleep set that wouldn’t break my bank? Got it! I sprung off my spring mattress and grabbed my keys as I floated out the door. Hmm…maybe adulthood had gotten a bad rap? Because this, this felt amazing.

I extended my fingers and delicately brushed against the diverse fabrics. From cool and silky to warm and plush. The differing textures danced on my skin. Delighting my mind with all the possibilities. The home good aisles of TJ Maxx were my creative wonderland. My spirit relished in the incredible process of dressing my apartment. Well not quite entire apartment, but at least my bed.

Next month, I could worry about the rest of the bedroom, but today, I would buy pillows, sheets, and a comforter. My mind reeled with the euphoria that awaited me tonight. My first time in months sleeping on not only a mattress, but in fresh new sheets, bountiful pillows, and blanketed in softness. I instantly felt like a queen at the thought of it. I could feel the sensations of comfort and joy as I hunkered down for my first night.

My hiatus of rest quickly coupled with reflection. Reflection on my life as a whole. Looking back I saw it completely differently than I did as I lived through it.

I had certainly taken having a bed for granted. Sure I’d been camping, I’d been to sleepovers where you get in where you fit in. And sometimes that meant sleeping on the couch or on a floor. But I had never imagined a reality that involved me sleeping on the floor because I had no other options. A day or two, fine. But going on two months? It was certainly a humbling experience. But today was a new day and that life was no more. My transition chapter was closed. Now that I had a real bed, I could conquer the world!

I completed my TJ Maxx shopping trip and came home a proud owner of a new bedroom set. I kept it simple; black comforter, light grey cotton sheets and two pillows. Buying home goods made me feel like a real adult. Believe me, nothing felt grown up about coming home to an empty apartment and sleeping on the floor. And being excited to make my bed? Who was this person controlling my body?

Whoever she was, I was beaming and couldn’t wait to show Kendrae my first official grown up purchase. After he finished his shift at Kroger, I was going to treat him to dinner. He had been phenomenal these past few months. Supportive always, encouraging, attentive, understanding, sweet, generous and stable. Knowing that he was there for me filled me with courage to press on and forge my own life. A life that he was celebrated to be a part of.

One dinner certainly couldn’t repay him for all his kindness, but Kendrae’s love language was definitely food. So it was a good start. It would give us a chance to go out and get to feel normal for a change. We could be that couple who was celebrating a victory, regardless of how small it may be. Giving us a chance to be young and carefree for a night. Forgetting the pain-streaked reality that clouded over most days.

So I got ready and waited for my real-life hunky boyfriend to knock on my door.

Today? Yeah, today was a great day. Tomorrow, my journey would resume.

Author’s Note: One of the many side effects to telling my story, is the opportunity to peer into the heart of my past. Rehashing each experience is often hard, but also allows me to relive each emotion now as a wiser version of myself (hopefully my wisdom and discernment has multiplied)! I’m now able to live vicariously and simultaneously in a way that provides a crystal-clear perspective. I’m able to see my mishaps and embrace them. I’m able to watch that girl struggle while encouraging my heart that she’ll make it. To feel the heartbreak with a heart that’s now whole.

This is a note to a specific individual, and no one at all. A note for me and a note for you. Self-reflection is such a powerful tool. It’s enabled me to view my life as a whole rather than one piece of the puzzle. Part of the art of looking back is being in a different space mentally, hopefully a better one. So if I could talk to myself four years ago, I would want her to know what I know to be true today. I see you. I hear you. I feel you. I value you.

 You are enough. Imperfectly flawed and all. Some lessons you’ll pick up quickly; celebrate your victories. Other lessons you’ll feel like you’ll never learn; give yourself grace. Get in the habit of resting, restoring, and then rising. My dear precious one, it is okay to not be okay. Again, it is okay to not be okay. If you’re sad, let yourself be sad. Your body knows better than your mind does, listen to it.

You don’t have to have your entire life figured out. Spoiler alert: you still don’t four years from now. And I’m going to branch out and say you never will. Situations will unfold contrary to your expectations. Unexpected changes are often the best surprises, so stoptrying to plan everything. Laugh at yourself, always. And work hard. When no one is looking. When no one is asking you to. Even if you don’t know what you’re working towards. Hard work is never something you’ll regret.

Start each day fresh. Give yourself the opportunity to start new each day. Wasn’t your best self yesterday? Fix it today. Not all your goals will be accomplished overnight. In fact, a lot of your dreams will change too. Don’t worry. You are exactly where you are supposed to be at this very moment. In whatever space you are currently in, you are there for a reason. You may not know why, but find peace in the truth that you are where you should be.

With love, 

Sarah

 

No. 26 – Kindness of Strangers

No. 26 – Kindness of Strangers

My first week of teacher inservice was completely overwhelming. I knew no one and had no earthly idea or money to prepare my first classroom. I was hearing conflicting job descriptions in regards to what my day would look like and was disheartened to hear that even though I was starting work in August, I would not receive my first paycheck until September 25th! See, I was naïve to the knowledge that teachers get paid once a month. And new teachers, don’t see that first paycheck until the end of September. How was I going to make $78 dollars stretch that far? Especially when I had so many needs.

Just don’t think about it, I told myself. If you ignore the problem it will go away.

Food’s not that important…plus, you could stand to drop a few pounds anyway. This will be good. You’re just going on a diet for a month. Maybe your stomach will shrink, and you won’t need to buy many groceries anyway.

You don’t need paper towels, you have nothing to make a mess with. No mess, no cleanup.

Dish soap? If you have no food, you have no dishes to wash. You can do without that too.

Toilet paper…? I would have to be creative with that one. I would have to find a way to make my small supply stretch.

 Shampoo and body wash?  It’s better for your hair to skip daily washes. Maybe I could stretch my shampoos to three or four days. And my half empty bottle of body wash…I could dilute it so that I had more to work with. Adding a little water to your soap can’t hurt anything.

 Now gas, that was another story. I had to have gas to get to and from work. Fortunately, my commute was about 10 minutes, and my Honda Accord got decent mileage. But, I wasn’t sure how much money to set aside for my gas budget. Gas was not something I could make stretch. When my tank was on E, there was no ignoring that. I would have to limit my driving as much as possible. I set aside $40 for gas. Hopefully that would cover it.

That left me with $38 dollars. $38 dollars left from the check my father wrote me. Most of it dedicated to the rent due next week. I had nothing left for furniture. My living room remained a giant empty room. No couch, no dining room table, no chairs. I had one small, beat up, end table that served as a place to house my keys and purse next to the door. My dining options were to eat standing up in the kitchen, hovering over the sink or sit on the floor and use this strange, short, long table. Since sitting on the hardwood and scrunching down wasn’t very comfortable, I opted for kitchen sink hovering. On the rare occasions that I did eat.

In the bedroom, I used an old comforter that my parents brought that was mine from 8thgrade to make a pallet on the floor. Being that it was nine years old, it had an unpleasant distinct scent to it, and was lumpy. But if I folded it just right, I could match the lumps to the spaces with sparse cushioning so that it was almost flat. The old lumpy pillow with a different distinct smell had to be older than the comforter. I was able to fold and bunch it in a certain way so that it felt like my head and neck were supported. A small, decorative aquamarine blanket was used as my covering while I slept. The blanket was much too small for my long legs. So I would turn the blanket in more of a diamond shape, draw my knees close to my chest and tuck my feet in. Not the most ideal way to sleep, but it worked.

The shower had no shower curtain, so a towel next to the dual shower/tub sufficed to catch all the excess water that splashed out. It also doubled as a bath mat for when I stepped out of the shower. I had two towels. One for the floor, one for my body and hair. Washing them frequently was a problem, because I had no washer and dryer. The apartment complex had a laundry room, but it was expensive, and not in my tight budget. $1.75 to wash and $1.75 to dry? Plus, I had no laundry detergent. So that wasn’t an option. Instead, I would draw a bath, soak the towels in the tub, and scrub them down with my diluted body wash. Then hang them on the shower rod to dry out.

Kendrae’s apartment that he shared with two roommates was equipped with a washer and dryer, but I didn’t have the gas money to make the 15-minute drive every other day to wash my two towels. No, in about two weeks, after I had worn everything in my extremely limited closet, I would have to make the drive to his apartment to do my laundry. Then I could throw the towels in too, to get the thorough wash they so desperately needed.

Kendrae grasped that I didn’t have much, but I didn’t let him in on the severity of my living situation. In fact, because he was fearful of my parents, he did not want to step foot in my apartment. Which, honestly, was a relief. For one, I wasn’t entirely sure the place wasn’t under surveillance. So him staying away was to our benefit. And secondly, I didn’t want anyone to know how much I was struggling, especially Kendrae. He was going to school full-time and working as a Kroger cashier. He had to pay his own bills and was on an equally tight budget. I knew if he saw how much I lacked, he would insist on helping. But I knew he wasn’t in a position to do so. No, it was best if I kept my living arrangements to myself.

The first week of school wasn’t as wild as I anticipated. I spent most of the first few days familiarizing myself with paperwork, shifting student schedules around and praying no one asked me any personal questions. I was exhausted from being forced to live such an extreme façade the past few months just to survive. Now that I had taken a step away from that situation, I wanted to practice being myself. Or at least finally having a slight bit of freedom to rediscover who I was. So I kept my head down, and tried to keep conversations with others as surface level as possible. I smiled a lot and was always polite, but I learned how to avoid talking about myself or any facet of my life.

Under less extreme circumstances, I am drawn to people. I love human-to-human connections and feed off of other’s energy. But I was embarrassed. I was mortified at the thought of telling someone that I wasn’t close with my family. What was even more intimidating was trying to describe our relationship with one another. Estranged? Ex-communicated? Ostracized? Complicated? All adjectives that would just prompt further questions that I didn’t want to or know how to answer.

I ate my lunch in my classroom by myself because I was embarrassed at my lack of food. I didn’t want to raise any concern over my three crackers for lunch. Plus, lunch rooms can foster conversations about one’s personal life, so it was best if I just hid out in my room. I would just explain that I needed some down time or that I would be working through lunch if I was ever invited to eat with the others.

Once September 25throlled around, I would be fine. If I could just make it to that first paycheck, my living circumstances would improve. I could buy a mattress, half-way stock my pantry, buy a shower curtain. Then each month I would slowly furnish the rest of my apartment. I would purchase a table so I could sit down to eat. Then a couch so I could actually use my living room. Oh, and internet! I couldn’t wait to have internet installed. I could transition to my own cell phone plan so I could ditch that burner phone. Get on my own car insurance so I could be fully independent and earn the freedom I deserved.

I looked down at the large, free desk calendar gifted to all the JMS teachers and exhaled as I focused on the date: September 3rd.  21 more days until I got paid. How was I going to make my last few dollars stretch that far? I could feel my heart beating faster and the blood rush to my cheeks. My typical meat locker of a classroom suddenly felt like the outside Texas heat.

The question reverberated in my head again: how was I going to make my last few dollars stretch that far? My gas light was on and my pantry was bare. I had no necessary toiletries. The fact that I only had $14 remaining was starting to truly sink in. My throat was expanding and taking a breath transformed into an arduous task. Before breaking into a full-on panic attack, I pushed all my worries into the furthest back crevice of my brain. Worrying will get you nowhere, I chided myself. Plus, I didn’t have the time right now. I was due at the first staff meeting of the school year.

The meeting started off like you would expect a first-of-the-year-staff meeting to go. The room was filled with, happy you’re here’s, we’re going to have a great years, and are you as tired as I am after only a week and a half? The kum ba ya was interrupted as the principal called my name out loud. Again, the blood rushed to my cheeks and I’m certain I looked like a sunburnt strawberry. I stood up, mortified, as I was beckoned to a table displayed in front of the entire staff. Two more names were called and the trio of new teachers were awkwardly standing in front of the room.

Then, in a gesture I’ll never forget, Mr. Mitchell presented us with a new teacher care package. He stated, that everyone knows how difficult it can be to be a teacher. Especially when you’re just starting out and waiting for your first paycheck. So JMS wanted to help us out in a small way and gift us some vital necessities. All three new teachers were given two tote sacks with grocery store and essential items inside.

I was instantly embarrassed. Could they tell I was that hard up? Did someone notice my lack of lunch or heavily repeated attire? Was it plastered across my forehead? All I could do was smile nervously and embrace the kind gesture. I may have felt humiliated, but I wasn’t too proud to accept the offering. I needed it more than I was willing to admit.

I left the staff meeting hoping that my face hadn’t given me away. My cheeks were flushed and warm to the touch of my hand. Just smile big enough and no one will know. The mantra that ruled my life. Smile and nod. That method had been my go-to move for just about everything. Who could blame me, it had about at 98% success rate.

Back in my empty apartment, I set the sacks on my poor excuse of a dining room table. If I was honest with myself, I had to get over any insecurities about accepting this gift. Could they have just been trying to help out struggling new teachers? We all had received the items; I wasn’t singled out. Just be grateful, Sarah. You are working at a school that cares about the well-being of their staff.

As I unloaded the bags, I couldn’t suppress the tears. Four rolls of paper towels, eight rolls of toilet paper, trash bags, Lysol wipes, household cleaner and more food than I had eaten the whole last week. I was overcome with humility and gratitude. All of my major needs were taken care of. These people that I barely even knew and I had purposely been trying to avoid eye contact with, had come together and taken care of me.  They had provided for me in my most crucial needs, ones I hadn’t even expressed. Crossing my legs on the floor as I rested my back against the kitchen cupboard, I closed my eyes as the waves of kindness washed over me. Thank you, I expressed aloud. And my words echoed through the empty apartment and through my heart.

I learned that “just enough” is still ENOUGH. I may not have had a mattress, a full gas tank, or even a full stomach. But I had a heart, overflowing.

KindnessofStrangers

*Actual photo of my gift bag my first year at Judson Middle School. September 4, 2014.  

Author’s Note: As I sat and wrote this post, one message hung around the forefront of my mind. So I want to leave you with this thought as it has proven its autonomy in my life over and over. Financial wealth does not equate favor. Let me say it again. Financial wealth DOES NOT equate favor. When stuck in the middle of a circumstances that seem overwhelming, do not believe the lie that if you were on the right path, you should have smooth sailing with money rolling in. If I had taken my absolute lack of any material items as the compass for being on the right path, I would have turned and sprinted the other way.

Allowing material possessions and money in the bank to determine your validity, your direction, and your favor will only leave you empty. Money does not equal fulfillment. Money does not equal good life choices. Money does not equal happiness. I am not saying that possessing money is bad. But using money as lighthouse in the middle of the fog to guide your ship into the harbor will only end with a crash into the rocks.

Looking back, it was in this stage of financial famine that I felt the most fulfilled. It sounds backwards, but in my dire need, I was forced to rely only on the one true guiding Light. If I had taken my lack of money as any indication that I had made the right decision, I would be poorly mistaken. But instead, I continued to step forward in faith and have been reassured again and again and again that while the path I am walking is not easy, I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. So next time you find yourself in a phase of famine, take heart because it may just mean that you are precisely where you’re supposed to be.