Everything is Important.”

— Walter Tirey Jr.

"I write because there are some stories
it would be a crime not to tell."

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Mirror Mirror, What Do You See? 

 

It was a hard thing to hear, especially from someone who knows me so well. It's easy for people who aren't close to you to miss the mark in their perception of you. But those who know you best? It's often a truth serum, I'm afraid. 

And I didn't want to drink it. 

"I think you can be hard to get to know. I don't think you mean to, but I think sometimes you give off the vibe that you don't want connection." My husband said to me during one of those car rides when you're jumping from topic to random topic and wondering how you landed there. 

Eeeww. And ouch. Who, me?  

But here's the stinger. There was no one else in the car or the coversation, and I knew deep down he was right.  

A few days ago, a friend and I talked about this concept of mirroring human behavior. It's this subconscious thing we tend to do in social situations where we mimic the person with which we are interacting. If you yawn, chances are I will yawn. If you're vulnerable, I am more apt not to feel as guarded. If you are displaying body language that is turned 180 degrees from the direction I am facing and talking to me over your shoulder, I am likely going to interpret that as you are moving away from me and the conversation, and I will probably be very brief and to the point. You get my drift. 

Here's the other truth serum that's sad. It's the one I can admit in this space, from behind the safety of my keyboard where I can edit and still have the option of deleting.  

If the vibe I'm giving off is that I don't want or need connection, there isn't anything that could be further from the truth. It's just that somewhere buried in the cellar of my heart is this fear that a person may not want a connection with me. That maybe I'm an interruption or a delay from something or someone more important. That perhaps what I have to say won't be valuable or interesting or witty enough or whatever. Ugh.  

I want to know your story and what you plan to eat for lunch and what your favorite childhood memory was and what hurt you the most. And I want to tell you mine.  

But even more than that, I want not to mirror anyone. I want to set the temperature when I walk into a room and a conversation, and not so readily adjust myself accordingly. I don't mean in the sense of throwing wisdom to the wind and ignoring non-verbal cues or being pushy. I mean, in the sense of being authentic to who I want to be in this world. 

To be vulnerable even when it's risky and uncomfortable and might be misinterpreted (always a risk my friend).  To be calm and collected and not anxious or fearful of whether or not I am accepted. To not allow others to rent space in my head. Meaning that I don't give too much thought to their perception of me (highlight that one and add a thousand exclamation marks). 

What will people see when they look into the mirror of you? What might you be unintentionally communicating? Let's lean in and listen, even when it's hard. It will be worth it, I promise.

A Conversation With a Stranger 

 

On more than one occasion, his apartment caught my attention as I drove by and noticed him out front cooking on the grill, surrounded by beautiful sunflowers that towered near the height of the building, a few Bird of Paradise plants and an array of cacti of various sizes. It was one of those houses that looks misplaced in its current surroundings, a seeming tropical oasis amid a bleak landscape of run-down buildings with drab colors, homes long-neglected and where you rarely see people outside. And there he was, smiling through the smoke off the grill, company sitting relaxed all around him, all appearing to be living their best life. I didn't know his story, but my curiosity peeked. 

But on this particular day, I just happened to be pushing my daughter's stroller in the persisting heat of early fall, and I just happened to have a question about a store down the street from where he lived and whether or not it was ever going to open. And Mr. Green Thumb just so happened to be the only one in my line of sight for the asking. So I asked. 

Over time and forging through the awkwardness, I have learned that sparking small talk with a stranger has led to some of the most interesting conversations I've ever had. I have also learned that people are often much kinder than you realize, much more willing to engage than you might expect, and much lonelier than you may know. 

So while I asked my question and pointed down the street, his dog barked and scratched furiously at the door as he filled me in on the latest news about this store mentioned above. Considering he lives near it and since word travels fast in cities with a small-town vibe, he seemed to be in the know. 

I thanked him as I continued on my way, and with a tip of his hat and a nod of his head, he said to me, "Peace be with you, and God bless you." 

And there it was. 

The secret to my curiosity revealed. 

Within a five-second conversation, I knew that was the posture in which he lived his life. "Peace be with you." I knew it from his kind and respectful demeanor. I knew it from his tender care of these plants that grew and thrived under the scorching sun. I knew by the way that he could still celebrate those he loves and create beauty no matter his surroundings. I knew it from his affection towards Fido as he was yapping his head off at the front door. I knew because he was willing to engage with a stranger and send me off with a blessing. 

"Peace be with you, and God bless you." 

I still don't know his story. I don't know the hard things he's been asked to endure and carry through life. I only know that if you've lived any amount of time, you've been asked to do so because no one is exempt. I only know that he has learned to carry the mix of beauty and sorrow well. 

There is a secret Paul speaks of when he says, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength." Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV) 

Maybe the secret is facing the hard stuff like grief, injustice, and unanswered questions and receiving the grace not to become embittered by it. Perhaps it's knowing (heart deep) that God is for me and not against me, even when life is falling apart, and my current landscape and future both look bleak. Maybe it's the ability to walk in peace during absolute chaos and a whole lot of unknowns. 

It's a secret and a sacred treasure that you only learn through living. The One who is the embodiment of goodwill towards humanity is with you and is with me. He is peace. Your heart can rest, and when your heart finds rest, you can live out that peace towards the broken world around you.

Living in the Tension 


Art exhibit from "The Returning Artist Guild,"
a network of formery incarcerated artists.

 

Last week I celebrated my thirty-ninth birthday. It was a "spectacular normal," meaning that I didn't do much out of the ordinary, but I've learned that the ordinary is sacred and even still, I felt ridiculously celebrated. Birthdays always feel a bit like New Year's to me. A time for reflection and another chance to grow into the person I want to be. This year, I'm going to self-edit less when I write. I'm going to get my daily cardio in (or 3x a week would suffice), and I'm going to get up earlier than everyone else in the house. I'm going to work towards better self-care. I'm going to make more time for things I love, and I'm also going to give more love away. I am not, however, going to strive to drink less coffee. Maybe next year. 

And that all sounds good, at least to me. But the reality is, sometimes my break-a-sweat cardio looks more like a patient walk with my three-year-old while she collects leaves without a care in the world. Sometimes waking up earlier than everyone else looks more like the fact that I can't wake up without hitting snooze five times. Literally cannot, and the cat who sleeps the other twenty-three hours of the day will be waiting with those eyes as I'm French-pressing my coffee. He's expecting his head to be scratched and his bowl to be filled. The truth is, doing more of what I love looks like moments that I happen to catch myself having fun in, not with intention or plan and loving people is hard work sometimes. Please tell me you agree. (I think Jesus agreed at times too. It's ok.) 

But the good of who I want to be when I grow up can be seen in glimpses of people all around me. I can see it in this older gentleman who comes every week without fail to play Rummy with the residents at the home his wife resided at before she passed away. It's in the book that shows up at my door from Amazon, sent by a friend who considered it too good not to share. I see it in my co-workers laugh and her ability to make people feel noticed and to say the right thing at just the right time. 

Listen. We are all living in the tension of who we are and who we long to be — even the people who appear to have arrived. 

We all struggle with feeling like we can't get it together at times. We all fail and strive and make tiny bits of progress and then mess it up again. That, my friend, is called being human, and that is universal. 

If only more writers would talk about how crippling self-editing can be. All you see is the published book, not how many times they hit delete, completely trash what they just wrote, or run into a wall of wordless writer's block. 

If only more public speakers would talk about how they felt like they were going to vomit the first one hundred times, that imagining people naked does not work at all, or how often they exit the stage feeling like they rambled and completely blew it. 

If only in our everyday circles and communities, we could let go of this enormous pressure to present the best parts of ourself and instead, embrace the gut-wrenching truth of where we are. I'm not suggesting throwing wisdom out the window and hanging all of our dirty laundries out to dry. No one wants or needs to see all of that. 

But you know what else no one wants to see? Your life free of humanness and doubt and fear and feeling failure or inadequacy at times. It doesn't make you less mature or less spiritual or weaker or less (insert your own) of whatever you think yourself to be. 

Gregory Boyle of Homeboy Industries says this, "Go where love has not yet arrived and love what you find there." But he wasn't the first to say this. This was a Jesus mantra if I've ever heard one. May I add a Sarah version? 

"Go where love has not yet arrived and love what you find there, and start with you.

There is not some future version of you that will be more loved or more worth keeping. You already are, and there is something powerfully wrecking and healing about letting that take root in your heart. 

We become fully alive in this tension of where we are and where we long to be by embracing our present reality and knowing that we could not be loved more. And as I wrote earlier this week in a micro-blog, when you know you're loved, it changes everything.

 

https://www.instagram.com/returningartistsguild/

 

 

 

I Almost Missed It 

 

Several years ago, I almost missed out on one of the best friendships of my life simply because she was different than me. On the day we met, we were handcuffed at the wrist on a bus headed to Dayton. I was looking out the window, lost in my head and processing the fact that I would never again see Marysville, Ohio on that side of so much pain, and there she was, boxing my ear with a litany of questions. What kind of music did I listen to and did I like horses? Horses? I had no idea where that one came from, but as a matter of fact, I did. I was fascinated by them. 

We ended up being roommates, as the irony and humor of life often go. In every way obvious to my narrow vision at the time, she couldn't have been more different than me, from her boisterous and energetic personality to her likes and dislikes, or political and spiritual beliefs. 

Despite her disbelief in the God I professed to love and follow, she taught me more about His love than I have ever learned in my all years of sitting in a church pew. 

The more I was willing to sit with her and listen, rather than striving to be heard. The more I learned to sit and eat popcorn while watching some mindless reality tv show together (don't act like you've never indulged). The more I allowed my heart to crack open and receive the gift presented to me, I began to realize that I was the one who had the most to unlearn. 

You don't have to fear someone just because they are different than you. You don't have to hold someone whose beliefs are different than yours at a distance. After all, if you knew the abuse she suffered at the hands of the one who should have nurtured and protected her, then you might understand why it was hard to believe in the unconditional love of the Father. 

There will be a chapter in my book, and I will call it "Diana." And there will never be a time that I will think about her and not feel like I could weep a massive puddle onto the floor. She has loved me so well, and she taught me how to love someone the way God does. Without forethought or condition. 

You can't impact someone's world that you aren't willing to enter. And in the entering, you might find your world changed too.

You Are Not the Only One 

 

I am a writer who connects through words that I am currently struggling to find. 

So here it comes — the hard truth. 

I often write about vulnerability and the power of a story, and even still, it is far from easy to be transparent enough to tell you that I'm currently in one of the darkest seasons of my life. I feel like I am trying to pour from reserves that are below the empty line. I am battling lies that I hear in my head about my present and my future, and there are days when my only prayer is to help me make it through the next hour. 

I have been in the pit of depression before. God and I have been through some things, to hell and back, or so it seemed at the time. Always together, since He so willingly lowers Himself into my darkest night, making His bed there until I've found the strength to hope again. 

I have a lot of questions, and I don't know for the life of me why some things happen. I don't understand why God seems so late to arrive at times, even though He is aware of how pressing our need is. And I think admitting that or confessing that I feel like I'm drowning over here is one of the hardest things for those in public arenas of writing, speaking, or leadership to admit. 

There is a fear of being judged since humans have this tendency to make unfair judgements based on fragmented pieces we see of a partial picture. There is the fear of being too messy, of appearing weak, or less spiritual, or less mature, or less whatever. All of which are lies that keep us in the suffering of silence and drive us further into the darkness and disconnection from the very people who help bring healing. 

The longing for some answers isn't going to be fully satisfied on this side of eternity. I only know that I can relate to Mary in John, chapter 11 when she hears that Jesus has finally arrived four days after she sent for Him and four days too late, and instead of going out to greet Him, she stays in the house. 

Was she bitter? Maybe. Confused? Probably. Depressed and apathetic? The One she trusted with everything seems indifferent to her need. Who wouldn't be? 

I am Mary, sitting in the house with my questions and whatever emotions feel more consuming than my ability to handle. 

But I also know something Mary didn't at the moment. I know the end of that story. I know that Jesus finally does arrive and not too late. I know that he asks for Mary by name because He noticed her absence. I know that He understood how she was feeling and the intricate web of the why's and He cared deeply. I know that He arrived and breathed life into death and grief and so much sorrow, the way that He always does. 

Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is to admit that you are not okay, or that you have doubt and that your faith feels fragile right now. 

"and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out." Isaiah 42:3 (NIV) 

It's okay to feel weak sometimes. It's okay to feel like you are a smoldering flame and one more slight blow might be the one that snuffs you out. You are not alone in that struggle. You are not more broken than the rest of us. There is not some inherent defect in you that makes you unusable, unlikable or less than. 

Reach out. Talk to someone who loves you and is a safe person for you. If you don't have that someone, write to me. 

Know that Jesus asked for Mary by name. And He's asking for me and He's asking for youEven still. No matter what you are sitting in the house with today.

A Love Story Written for You 

 

Shame has a way of spreading through the soul like mold spreads through a house. Shame is different than guilt. It isn’t just feeling remorse or regret about an event in your life, like when our internal moral compass tells us we are in the wrong and indicates a course correction should take place. Shame is the feeling that you are bad and that there is something inherently wrong with you.  

My husband encountered a recent disaster on the job site of a large and beautiful home in which he was working. There was a knob that broke off of a sink, followed by substantial volumes of water sprayed at high pressure. Picture a fire hose opened at full throttle in your Pinterest version of a refinished laundry room. The water damage was extensive, leaking through to the ceiling of a finished basement and requiring the ceiling to be ripped out and dried for hours upon hours with industrial fans. Without going to the length of ripping out the ceiling, there was a strong likelihood that mold would spread quickly in the dark and concealed spaces beneath it. 

I have come face to face with shame in my own life and have fought my way through the trenches of rediscovering my worth. I had to take a painful look at what was growing beneath the ceiling of my heart. It has been a long journey, and through that process, I have learned to identify shame in the lives of others because pain recognizes pain.  

If you’ve been following our journey this past year, then you know that my husband and I launched a church and a coffee house (coming soon) called “The Fringe.” There were several names on the table as possibilities when we were trying to decide. We chose that name because our hearts burn for those who feel on the fringe of society and life. 

One time after we first announced the launch, someone said something to my husband that I will never forget. He said this: 

“You may be called to the fringe, but you are not the fringe. I don’t see you that way.” 

I want to be a person who makes people feel like even though they may feel on the fringe, they are not the fringe. I want to be a person who leaves the light on for people who are wandering in the dark. Like when you’ve been driving for miles and miles in the middle of nowhere and there are no signs of life and finally, a gas station and a sigh of relief. For that person who has lost their way in life. For that person who feels like they don’t belong anywhere. For that person drenched in shame and regret, I want to be a person that the light and love of a Father who never gives up shines through. 

I want to be that reminding voice that even though you have made some mistakes in life, you are not a mistake.  

In Luke chapter 15, we see the story of the prodigal son who has left home and disgraced his family. When he comes to his senses and returns home, his father sees him coming from a long way off and pulls up his robe and runs to him. The father knew that if someone else were to get to his son first, they might beat him, send him away, or publicly humiliate him. He ran to his son to spare him the shame.   

We have a father who runs to us. We have a father who will stop at nothing to restore you to your position as the beloved. He tears down ceilings and runs to get to you first. May we be people who do the same to those we encounter in life. May we love so radically that it heals and transforms and silences the shame. May our lives tell this love story written with each of us in mind. 

A Voice on the Earth 

 

My phone rang while I scrolled the timeline, trying to avoid the awkwardness of standing elbow to elbow in line at the BMV at two p.m. on a Friday. Her voice was apologetic on the other end, regretting to be the bearer of bad news. She was calling to tell me that one of my sons had gotten in trouble. It was a little thing that could become a big thing. It was a path that if not diverted, could lead to a trajectory for his life that seized my heart with fear at the thought.  

I sat heavy in my seat on the ride home where I knew he was waiting for me and dreading my arrival at the same time. I started out the window and tried to find words as I fumbled my way through best attempts at a prayer for help in navigating the situation. When I walked into our home, I found him sitting in the kitchen with his elbows resting on his knees, and his head hung low. I sat across from him and allowed our eyes to meet in silence for a moment before asking him what happened.  And when the tears pooled in the corners of his eyes, I had to fight the urge to be the rescuer.  

What I have learned in going through that situation is this: Discipline is more painful for me as his parent than for him as the recipient. Not because he asked numerous times over the next week for his phone privileges back. Not because he fatigued my ears and my will asking "how long?" It's painful for me to inflict punishment because I know that it doesn't feel kind to him. I know this as he sits on the edge of his bed the following Saturday and pleads to go to an event he had been looking forward to all week with all of his peers and social circle. It hurts my heart because I know how important it is to him.  

So while it's the hard thing to say, "No. I'm sorry, but I can't let you do that," I remind myself that love without discipline is not loving at all. If I save him and don't allow him to experience the burn of touching the stove, he will likely continue on a path that will hurt him more in the future.  He will not learn the crucial lesson at hand. The hard thing is the loving thing. My heart feels the soberness of this wrecking truth: If I in all of my best efforts at being a good parent feel this pain, how much more does God when we are suffering because of our own choices? Does he feel that ache in His heart when His children that He loves more than life experience the discomfort?  

"Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the LORD. And he could bear Israel's misery no longer." Judges 16:10 (NIV) 

I would say He most certainly does. 

There was never a single moment in the aftermath of it all that I didn't want to draw near to my son. Truth is, that car ride home was painfully long. I couldn't get to him soon enough, and not because I wanted to scold him. I think about this as we walk through a crowded field a few days later at an independence day event. He lagged behind, much like my non-celebratory mood. My heart still felt heavy from the week we had faced, and from the concern, I felt over him. Yet, even in the moment of receiving the phone call and even when I was listening to him make excuses to justify his actions and avoid punishment, I only wanted to be near him. In spite of it all, I only wanted his presence and his smile and his humor.  

Perhaps our incorrect view of God causes us more misery than anything. Maybe our tendency to hide when we've screwed up is where we get it all wrong. We tend to withdraw and to isolate and to cover ourselves by checking out and distancing ourselves. But we have a Father who only wants us to come closer. He can't get to us soon enough. He is the One who pursued us first. He is the One who loved us even in spite of us. The One who searches us out in our fleeing and our hiding.  

My heart absorbs the moment, and the truth for my own life as my husband says this to our son. "You are made for so much more. You are meant to be a voice on the earth."  

That's what the Father does when we draw closer. Never shaming or condemning. He never reminds us of all of the ways we have failed or fallen short. Does He allow us to experience the pain of our choices? Absolutely, as a good Father should. But He also reminds us of who we are and what we are made for. Made for so much more. Meant to be a voice on the earth. 

Living in Your Prime 

Humidity.

 

I am returning home today after a few days away at the lake. A few days of respite from the busyness of life that we all experience where there are commitments and deadlines and loads of pressure. I have entered the much slower pace of life in the south, where my friend who is a southern native says the slower pace is because it's hotter in the south and people move slower to avoid sweating. We laugh when he says this and I think to myself whatever the reason, I'll take it in heaping doses. I'll accept the invitation to slow down and sit for a while on the porch with nowhere to be and good conversation while swatting away the mosquitoes. 

One of our conversations while floating with carefreeness in the lake involved the idea of being in your prime and what does that even mean? Society defines it as being at your best. Young, healthy, full of vigor, and ready to take on the world. 

I think about this for a moment as we are talking. I think about the elderly I have met who move slowly and have fewer years ahead of them than the younger generation, yet their perspective and zeal for life is palpable. 

I wrote once about aging with grace, and about an elderly woman, I had the pleasure of meeting. She wore a perfect shade of pink lipstick as she met us in her driveway with a smile and invited us into her home. The lines of time were etched on her face, but I would not have guessed her in her nineties. Time had been kind to her, or maybe she had learned to wear it well.   

Her eyes were young and danced in a way that held a lifetime of stories and a carefree spirit. We small talked while my daughter played on the floor by my feet, pulling vintage toys by a string with the contentment of her new found treasures. As the conversation evolved, I could hear the loneliness of being widowed in her words. "I don't understand why I had to be alone for so long," she said. It hung in the air for a moment. I thought to myself how our nagging questions don't discriminate who they haunt. They come to us all, and they don't always get answered with time. But she carried hers differently, and perhaps that's the reason she was able to play and dance with my daughter with a grace and agility that surprised me and made me want to get on the floor myself.   

I have also met young people whom time has not been kind to, and they have not learned yet how to wear it well. Young in years and ancient at heart. Aged before their time by bitterness with a resulting lack of longing for life, wonder, and adventure. 

So what does it really mean to be in your prime? And how do we measure it anyway when none of us really know how many days we are given in this life?  

"However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all " Ecclesiastes 11:8 (NIV) 

Maybe we have the whole thing backward. Maybe being in our prime is not measured by how many lines we have on our face, or how great or not great we look in our swimsuits (lifelong learning curve over here). Perhaps this realization will stop us from the lengths we are willing to go to preserve our youth. Maybe it will prevent us from wishing away the gift of added years to our life, from concealing our age when our birthday rolls around or resenting the effects of gravity and time that reveal themselves in the mirror.  

Maybe we will awaken to the realization that our quality of life is not measured by how great our life looks on social media. It's not determined by the likes a post receives, by the affirmation we get or don't get from the people we think we should. It's not dependent on someone else's stamp of approval or acknowledgment of our work. Did you know that Vincent Van Gogh only sold one piece of artwork while he was alive? But he kept painting anyway because it's what he loved to do. It wasn't until after his death that around 2,000 pieces of his art were discovered which are valued in millions today.  

I don't know what keeps you from living your best life right now. Maybe it's the worries of the day (all hands raised). Perhaps it's looking over your shoulder at the regret of yesterday. Or an area of healing that you need that interferes with your ability to show up and be fully present in the here and now. 

Whatever it is, I pray you will invite the Father into that space. Invite in healing and clarity to what keeps you from your best life. Truth is, you are in your prime today right in the here and now. There is no promise of tomorrow, and there is no return to yesterday. Being in your prime is being fully alive in whatever present moment you find yourself in, regardless of your age. It's taking whatever circumstance has been handed to you and choosing to live your best life in the midst of it. There is no better time than this moment to embrace your one and only life. 
  

 

The Journey Back to Joy 

 

There were smiling faces gathered on the front porch of that house on the corner as I drove by that day. The house long neglected, with peeling yellow paint, a missing screen door and the worn couch that sits outside on the bare dirt with patches of grass. It’s a neighborhood I pass through often, where poverty is generational, and hope seems out of town. The Christmas lights were strung across the porch, and the “Just Married,” sign caught my eye. A celebration, however simple and low budget it may have been, was underway, and something about it pierced my heart and made my eyes brim. The sun was shining on that spring day like it was invited to the party and accepted the invitation. 

It was a season of great difficulty in our lives. One where it seems like everything is coming against you and there is a conspiracy you are unaware of. I was starting to wonder if the hardship of the season had shown up to stay. Perhaps it had gone to the post office and changed its address to the same as mine. In the weariness of it all, I began to feel like joy was eluding me. Like the time I watched a yellow balloon slip from the chubby fingers of a little boy standing in front of me. Floating up and away as he stood on tiptoes and reached as high as he could. He added a little frustrated jump for extra measure, and although the balloon had only floated to the ceiling, that white string was still beyond his grasp. 

My life felt like an empty playground, where all the children have gone home, and the swing sits vacant with no one to swing. Where there are no sounds of laughter as little ones chase each other and squeal with delight. 

And deep within my heart, I knew it wasn’t supposed to be this way. I remembered the moments in my past when it felt like night would never end. I remembered the strength and peace I used to draw upon to help me get out of bed in the morning with the hopeful expectation of the day. A joy that was not dependent on my circumstances, and I wouldn’t settle until I found it again. 

What I am learning on my journey back to joy is this: Honesty is a really good place to start. There is nothing wrong with you because you are having a hard time experiencing joy right now. God knows the reasons, and He cares about those reasons deeply. Like when Jesus encountered the woman at the well in John 4 and told her all about herself. Not to shame her, but because she was thirsty and looking for water in all the wrong places and He knew her thirst could only be satisfied by the One who knew all her details and loved her still. Be honest with God about how you are feeling and invite Him into those spaces. 

Sometimes there is a ceiling to the level of joy you can experience because of an area of your life that still needs healing. Maybe it’s self-forgiveness and the inability to fully experience life in the present because you are still punishing yourself. Or perhaps it is someone else you need to forgive in order to set yourself free. Maybe it’s the need to surrender your unanswered questions of brokenness, anger, and pain to God, even if they don’t get answered on this side of time and eternity. 

I have also learned that joy is not a feeling, and if I wait for my emotions to show up to experience it, I might spend a lifetime waiting. 

“the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Nehemiah 8:10 NIV 

Not circumstances or destinations. Not determined by other people, or by how I am feeling in the moment. Everything I need to cultivate and experience joy is already inside of me. Like that person who sits there in the room smiling quietly because they know something I don’t. It’s an invitation that is waiting for my acceptance, to show up to that porch style wedding reception with the handmade sign and the lemonade that’s a tad too sweet and to drink freely and join the party. 

When I saw the balloon float away from the little boy in front of me that day, I grabbed the string and pulled it away from the ceiling and handed it back to him as I watched the light return to his eyes. Joy is not elusive. It hasn’t floated off to the ceiling. It hasn’t been carried away by the wind and beyond your ability to reach it or grasp it. It’s inside of you because “the joy of the Lord is your strength.”  

It’s being handed back to you today. May you open your heart to receive it.

Robbing Others of the Gift 

 

We sat on the front porch of the house as the quiet hours of morning made their transition into midday, when the heat begins to rise, and you have to swat the mosquitoes away. I followed my son outside after realizing he had quietly withdrawn and exited the house, his emotions at that moment feeling larger than his ability to process or handle. There was a whirlwind of outdoor activity around us. A guy who was smoking outside of a small business next door. Cars that were buzzing to and from on our street and two people were standing on the sidewalk saying goodbyes as they got into separate vehicles. Even with life happening all around us, it felt like it was just him and I sitting there unpacking big emotions, because nothing mattered to me more at that time than understanding what was on his heart, and nothing mattered more to him than my wanting to hear it. 

It's much easier to speak up and reveal the vulnerable stuff in our hearts when we have the attention of someone who is listening. Not just hearing in the sense of perceiving sound. The way I can hear the garbage truck outside my house right now, while simultaneously hearing my dog snore softly from his kennel and a train blaring its horn from a distance. The type of hearing that happens whether I want it to or not, but listening by consciously choosing to concentrate on what is being said. 

Like that person who puts their elbows on the table and leans in to absorb your words as you speak. They turn their phone over and opt not to check it for a moment. They don't interrupt you with their own thoughts and opinions until you are done speaking. And if they've really mastered the art of listening, they can discern when to give space to what was said by not offering the "right" response. How much easier it is to speak up in those moments. 

Brené Brown describes vulnerability as "the courage to show up when you can't control the outcome." 

The hard truth is that it's easier for me to be vulnerable from behind a computer screen where I can process and choose my words with careful forethought and consideration than it is for me to engage one on one or in a large social group setting. And while that gives the illusion of safety, it also feels unauthentic, restrictive and leads to silent frustration and the inability to be me and offer what I have inside of me to the world. I began to probe for the reason and pray over the why. Why is this my tendency? What lie do I believe about myself? 

Somewhere along the way, I began to believe that my voice didn't matter. That no one wanted to hear what I had to say. That when I spoke up, and someone spoke over me, it was because what I was saying didn't have value and couldn't possibly have been because of someone else's inability to listen. 

So without conscious intention on my part, I began to remain silent and blamed it on my introvert tendencies because it felt more comfortable than facing the rejection of not being heard. 

I heard a hostage negotiator say once that what a captor wants more than anything is to be heard. It stuck with me, the extremes people will go to to be understood, and also because, at that time, my daily job involved listening to irate family members express their concerns regarding their loved ones or being called to help deescalate a behavior or talk someone off the edge of a wrong decision. 

What I learned over and over again in that season is how quickly a person's anger returns to a neutral and rational level when they feel they are being listened to.  

Eye level. Listen. Validate. "To be heard." 

And in that space of listening, you will often hear what is silently begging to be heard. You will hear what is holding the captor-captive, which is usually the feeling that no one is listening. A sense of disempowerment and that they are not worthy of being heard or understood. I learned that it's not always about having the right answer. It's about listening for the answer. 

It can feel disempowering to feel like you aren't being listened to. It whispers the lie that you what you have to say doesn't matter, and no one wants to hear it. It will steal your voice and your opinion and cause you to remain silent when you have something worthwhile to say. I don't know what may have happened in your life that tried to steal your voice. I don't know what lie knocked on the door of your heart, and you allowed to come in, but I urge you to take another look at it today. 

When we choose to ignore that nudge in our heart to speak life and truth, and what we've learned, we rob others of the gift of our unique perception and experiences. Don't deprive others of your voice. There is someone who needs your words and your story. May you find the courage to show up, even when you can't control the outcome, knowing that you have value whether or not someone else has the ability to recognize it.

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  • Margie David

    Margie David Hamilton, Oh

    Sarah keep writing. I went to junior high or high school with you, not sure which one. I've read the first page and can't stop. Your writing speaks to my soul and I'd almost swear we were walking through some if the same wasteland. Thank you so much for writing and sharing

    Sarah keep writing. I went to junior high or high school with you, not sure which one.

    I've read the first page and can't stop. Your writing speaks to my soul and I'd almost swear we were walking through some if the same wasteland.

    Thank you so much for writing and sharing

  • Sally Lyons

    Sally Lyons Liberty Township, Ohio

    Sarah, what beautiful writing. I just was reading this and it all just touched me in just such a way! I can’t even explain it but truly enjoyed all of it!! Thank you for sharing and please continue with your beautiful and thoughtful writing! It made my night 😀. Thank you again.

    Sarah, what beautiful writing. I just was reading this and it all just touched me in just such a way! I can’t even explain it but truly enjoyed all of it!! Thank you for sharing and please continue with your beautiful and thoughtful writing! It made my night 😀. Thank you again.

  • becki hernandez

    becki hernandez las vegas

    I never cry. I cried. So beautiful. Keep writing.

    I never cry. I cried. So beautiful. Keep writing.