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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Ten Cakes for Monte 

 

I looked over my left shoulder to watch my daughter as she clapped with exaggerated excitement from the backseat. Her smile reached both sides of her face at the level of joy that she felt, and I felt my own smile mirror hers. I’ll tell you why in a moment, but for now, know that these are frequent occurrences for her. Like when we pull into the local ice cream hang out spot. Her enthusiasm doesn’t diminish in the line of ten cars ahead of us. The scoop of vanilla with sprinkles on top is worth the wait. Worth clapping for. Worth celebrating. Or when she sees the slide as we approach the park. The slide she used to be afraid of, but now squeals with delight as she goes down and runs to do it again and commands me to watch.The simple things.The things we lose our childlike appreciation for as we age and the wonder of it all grows dim. 

The wonder is still there, buried somewhere beneath the lie we’ve believed that these everyday moments are somehow ordinary. It is discoverable in brief glimpses, able to be tapped into when we lay aside our adult status for a moment and decide to take a turn on the swing set. The memory of the carefreeness returns much like the memory of riding a bike. With much ease. As close as the wind on our face, no matter how long it has been. 

In recent weeks, I sat in the nosebleed section of an auditorium built to hold thousands while attending the college graduation of a friend. Statistically speaking and if his past had a vote, we shouldn’t have been sitting there watching the event unfold. By this point in his life, he had overcome addiction and homelessness and the winding and messy road to recovery. So when his name was called, and he crossed that stage, I literally could have jumped out of my skin. Just mop me up off the floor over there in row fourteen. Tears for days. A heart that was exploding with pride and the fleeting feeling that the world is as it should be. A moment worth celebrating. Wonder and awe at this life and its beauty. 

Waiting with anticipation to hear his name called. 

Or like the time that Monte’s mom said she was going to make him ten cakes for his birthday this year. One for every year that he was gone during his incarceration. One cake for every year that he felt like he had missed the mark in life big time. For every year that he felt the weight of shame and failure and an unknown future. I will light these candles on these ten cakes, and I will celebrate you. I will celebrate your existence. I will celebrate the fact that you are home again and that your life is worth it. Even then. Even still.  

I will tell you why my daughter clapped that night. We were listening to a musician as he competed for his place on a popular show. She heard him strumming his guitar and the smooth melody of his voice, and she listened to the audience erupt in applause at the conclusion. What she didn’t know was the backstory. That his journey included so much heartache, making the bitter more sweet in this full circle moment as he sat on that stool under the stage lights and with a captive audience. She simply responded to the celebration already taking place. 

She clapped wildly as if she understood that something extraordinary had just taken place. I thought about how, as adults, we subconsciously make the determination of who is worth celebrating and who is not. We grossly underestimate who is capable of change and who is a lost cause. Who to fight for and who to give up on. We don’t take the time to get to know others who have different views and who have walked a different road than we have. We decide who is right and who is wrong and fail miserably to see ourselves in the person we think is nothing like us. No wonder we so often lose our wonder.  

We are too busy making judgments that are not ours to make.  

I lost a pearl earring the other day. Not just any pearl, but one from a set that my husband bought me. He knew how much I loved them when he chose them for me and wrapped them in silver paper that Christmas. I felt sick when I couldn’t find it and was relieved when the pearl rolled out from its hiding place on the tray I placed it carefully in. 

Here’s the thing though. A pearl has worth, regardless of whether or not I recognize its value.  

Maybe the invitation to our lack of wonder is just to respond to the celebration already taking place. Maybe the birds with their morning harmony know something we don’t about the wonder of this creation they inhabit. Maybe children still remember the secret knowledge of their Father that created them and entrusted us with shaping and molding them into people who value the people he does.  

Maybe there should be more standing ovations. Yes, for the friend you know that has overcome. Be the one who shows up and stands to applaud and screams like that obnoxious friend in the nosebleed section. It’s a moment worth celebrating. Don’t miss it. But don’t forget to cheer on the friend who is still stuck in failure and repetitive cycles of brokenness and struggle. Cheer for them too, because more often than not, you are the only one who will and it may be the very thing that pulls them out. 

Bake the ten cakes. Make every flavor and light every candle and be sure to take a picture too. Because people need to know they are worth it. Even in spite of their past and their worst moment. People don’t need to be reminded of their screw-ups. More often than not, they are overly aware, and there are enough people doing the reminding.

I'm going to decide to clap wildly because God says that every person is worth it and that is enough for me. I'm going to clap because even at my lowest, there were people still standing on the sidelines clapping for me.  

Don't overcomplicate the invitation to love people. Let's be people who bake the ten cakes. And light the candles too. 
 

SOS: Lessons From Open Water 

 

When we set sail from shore, we had no idea how long our course would be. It was not a calculated risk. We saw the need in the margins and felt the weight of their despair as if it were our own. And once you have seen, you can’t unsee. There is no moving forward in your comfortable existence and ignoring the point of pain, not with peace anyway. So we glanced again at that red brick Colonial that is still vacant one street over and decided it was no longer an option. Or at least not one we wouldn’t regret. We set our compass to North, sailing away from the shoreline and the illusion of safety that we once knew and out into the open sea, our destination being a future opening date on a dream placed in our hearts. 

Here’s what I didn’t know when I was still sitting on the shoreline with my toes in the water. I had no idea how dark it can get on the open sea. That there are extended periods when you cannot see your hand in front of your face, let alone what the next day will hold. I had no idea how adrift and lost at sea I would feel like maybe our compass was off by just one degree that would eventually land us miles upon miles from our mark and nowhere that we wanted to be. I had no idea how shark infested the water would feel in the form of opposition against our family, our finances, and ultimately, our hearts. I had no idea that I would feel so depleted from the scorch of the sun and almost void of any hope of ever seeing the shoreline again. 

So the distress flares went up and my panic began to rise. But this I remembered and clung to on the days and long nights when all I could hear was the lapping of the water that was holding us. When God places something on your heart, he only asks you to go. He doesn’t ask you to figure out the next ten steps or ten years. He doesn’t ask you to determine if the cause is worthy, because if it involves loving people, it always is. He doesn’t ask you to consider all the hypothetical scenarios or what if’s. A calculated risk is not a risk at all. And the only risk really lies in what you’ll miss by choosing to play it safe. 

Maybe you need to be reminded today. Perhaps you feel the knock at your heart, but you’re still sitting at the shore waiting on the opportune moment which is now. Maybe you answered the call, but now you are second guessing yourself because all hell has broken loose in your life. Perhaps you are feeling the blisters on your skin and your heart, and you didn’t realize the cost would be so high. Maybe your cries for help are only met with silence, and it feels like God is holding out on you. Perhaps you feel adrift and lost at sea.  

Hold fast. 

What your weary eyes can’t see is that it will be worth stepping into the water. It will be worth climbing into that boat and heading into a destination that feels unknown. And it’s okay to go afraid, so long as you go. What your weary heart doesn’t know is that the opposition that threatens to overtake and overwhelm is actually a good sign that you are exactly on course.  

Stay in the boat. Don’t you dare give up. What you also don’t know is that the shoreline is just on the horizon.  

You are going to make it to shore, and when you do, you just might find that your only regret will be that you didn’t set sail sooner. 

The Small and Sacred 

 

“Everything is important,” he kept saying as he folded and unfolded the tissue with repetition and laser focus like it was the most important task at hand. Dementia set in a few years before, first revealing itself through forgetting the same route he took for decades and purchasing more of the lunchmeat he just bought the day before. Sometimes he would remember my name. And sometimes he would not. Sometimes he could recall his daughters and his siblings. And other times he needed us to remind him of the life he had lived. But I watched his hands marked with the effects of age and a life well lived as they folded that Kleenex and I hung on his every word, knowing he was saying something I needed to pay attention to. 

“Everything is important.”  

It wasn't lost on me. It replayed in my pensive mind as I left the hospital that night and walked to the car. As I settled into pajamas and my bed and when I awoke the next morning, still forefront in my mind. Not only his words but the intensity with which he said them.  

There are no small things. It’s all relevant. It all matters with a sacredness that we are often dismissive of or disregard. If the great curtain of time and eternity were unveiled before us, I think we would weep at what we miss in the very moments we are in that are unfolding right before our distracted eyes. 

Small things like the time I noticed a change in Jasmine’s handwriting. She handed her writing assignment to my husband and proceeded to talk as it laid upon a stack of others. One front sided page of pink colored ink. It seemed like a small thing really. The fact that I no longer needed a magnifying glass to read her handwriting. Always neatly printed and written with the skill of poetic flow and the ability to express her heart in a way that would bring an audience to their feet, but too small and required you to strain your eyes to see. 

“I can actually read your handwriting,” I said to her with surprise, but not really thinking much more about it at the moment. A corner of her mouth lifted as her eyes briefly met mine before glancing away. “I know,” she said. “I felt like my voice was too small before.” Before

Before processing the trauma and years of sexual abuse. Before bravely seeking healing for the memories she used to escape through anger, violence and toxic relationships that only left her more wounded. Who knew that her healing and growth would reveal itself through such a little thing as a change in her handwriting. I almost missed it. 

 

  

Truth is, I almost miss a lot of moments. Like the quiet in a coffee shop, we are waiting to open to the public. “Will we ever arrive?” my heart often asks. My daughter plays quietly on the blue velvet couch as I wait for the floor to dry after being mopped and the Cranberries play softly on Spotify in the background. In that soft lighting of that quiet sanctuary, I imagine the day when the room will be filled with people. Some working silently on laptops while others chase children or catch up with a friend or a book. I imagine the noise and traffic and exchange of conversation that will fill the place. This moment of waiting and stillness exchanged for something else that is good. I will miss this, I think to myself. So I sit and watch my daughter as she plays and I linger in it all. 

“Everything is important.” So I decided to give my blog that name. And today is not the anniversary of the launch or the 100th post or anything seemingly extraordinary like that. It’s just on my heart and I wanted to share. 

Life is handing us an invitation to live fully in every moment. Don't merely wait for the "big" moments and miss all the small and simple and beautiful ones in between. Notice what goes unnoticed. Practice the art of paying attention. Wake up to your one and only beautiful life. Even if it's not the one you thought you would be living.  

I not only heard you, grandpa. I listened. And you were so right. 

The Courage to Stand Up Again 

 

It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say. In fact, quite the opposite. I had a lot to say. It’s just that my words got stuck somewhere between my heart and my throat as the memory of the verbal attack hung thick in the air around me. As the words played on repeat between my ears like an annoying chorus to a song I wished I hadn't heard. The words were out there and couldn’t be retracted. Launched like a ballistic missile designed to create a nuclear war and the target was my heart

At the moment, I retreated to a safe place somewhere deep within, took a deep breath and straightened my face and my spine as I listened to the unfurling of what I knew to be untrue about myself. I am a person who writes about being vulnerable and the importance of sharing your story and the truth that once you’ve made peace with your story, it no longer matters what other people think. But in this unwelcome moment, my vulnerability was being used against me causing me to question what I knew to be true. 

So like an automatic setting, my mind began to rehearse all of those mental practices in my mind. I reminded myself of all the things I claim to believe and encourage my readers to embrace and live out. But as the days turned into weeks, my posture began to slump a little. I began to have increased trouble getting out of bed in the morning and looking in the mirror became more of a side glance that I would steal. I stopped writing. I became reclusive. I didn't want to talk, even to those that I love the most. I stopped allowing my words to circulate into the world that I have no control of. 

The nagging fear that I couldn’t silence was that if one person felt this way about me, maybe that is the perception that others have too. My mind became amnesic of responses I received in the past from readers who connected with my words and the story I never wanted. Forgotten were the moments when I stood with eyes locked with another as they thanked me for being vulnerable and for giving them the courage, to be honest with their own story. 

I will protect myself, I thought. I will sit here in silence until it feels safe to come out again, even if that means for the rest of life.  

And then the knock came from the One who knows this heart and cares more about my reputation and my story than I ever could. It came in the form of a phone call like His hand was being held out to me with an invitation to stand again, even if my legs felt shaky and weak.  

“You must get up because there is someone else who needs your story.” 

Listen to what I’m about to say.  

You are going to have critics and naysayers.   
You are going to have people who misinterpret your words and your heart. 
You are going to have people who hear you talk for five minutes and think they really know you. 
You are going to have people say things about you that are brutal. Even if just behind your back. 
It's not an “if,” but a “when.” It is guaranteed. 

Tell your story anyway. 

There is someone out there who needs your story. There is someone who needs to know that you survived and what you learned along the way and that they too are going to make it through to the other side. 

Get off the bench. Stand up again. Come out of the silence. Get back into the ring. 

You are the only one who has lived your story from your perspective, and the bravest thing you can do in this life is to find the courage to tell it.

Where the Daffodils Still Bloom 

 

Once upon a time, the street was lined with newly constructed homes and manicured lawns and perennials that came back every year. With neighbors that greeted each other as they walked from their cars and up the steps into their homes. With vehicles left unlocked and front doors left open. With the sound of children playing and laughter as daylight receded and drew to a close. 

But that was some time ago. And now, those houses have chipped paint and tattered flags. Now the windows frame torn curtains and the roofs have Christmas lights that are falling off in spring. Now the flowerbeds are overgrown, and the leaves from fall gather on the steps even though it is summer, mixed with garbage all around. Now the laughter has grown silent, and the children have turned into adults with gaunt faces and eyes that lack hope. 

This is what it looks like when people have given up. I think to myself as my daughter pushes her doll in a stroller down this street of broken dreams.  

I wanted to give up too by this point. This wasn’t what we signed up for when we scribed our signatures on that lease and unpacked boxes and hung pictures on our walls. I didn’t know when we moved in that addiction owned the street. I didn’t know until it became apparent that all signs of life only appear after dark and until I saw someone using at the curb of my front lawn. 

And here’s the thing that I realized as I looked out my bedroom window and saw him sink onto the concrete step and drop his head into his hands. As a flicker of compassion began to invade my feelings of being inconvenienced. 

I may want to move out, but God does not. 

God moves in.  

I grow weary and annoyed, but he is compassionate

This is how she does naptime.

In Matthew 9:36, it says, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”  

It is all laid bare before him. The stories of the people who live behind these doors that stay closed. The events that happened along the way in their lives. The trigger that led Steve to pick up a bottle for the first time. The reason that Annie sells herself and has sad eyes. The memories that harass and leave them helpless, like a sheep that is lost and wandering in open pasture with no sense of direction. 

And on this street where it seems that dreams have been buried and have come to die, there I saw him that day as we took a walk. He was on his knees in his front yard digging his hands into the soil, weeding his flowerbed and planting new flowers. Like a picture of God himself. Right in the middle of this street where no one else looks up. Where no one picks up what has been dropped. Where no one cares to plant flowers anymore or even tries to change the landscape of what it has become.  

He had not lost his ability to care. He didn’t ask himself what’s the point. Instead, he drove his truck to the local garden center and loaded the bed down with peonies and thought to himself, I think I will plant some beauty here. He believed it was still worth investing in.

As we enter this weekend of Easter, may we remember that God does the same. He still resurrects what seems broken and beyond hope.  

May resurrection be something that we don’t just confess with our mouth, but something that we believe in our hearts and live out in our actions. When we walk in desolate areas, may we still see the daffodils that bloom in unlikely places and hear the wind chime that was hung and forgotten, but still plays its beautiful melody. May God resurrect us to the place in our hearts where childlike innocence still exists and our view of the world is one that refuses to give up hope.

Shedding Your Skin 

 

I learned more about reptiles than I ever wanted to when my middle son decided to purchase a Bearded Dragon with the money he earned one summer. I found myself immersed in routines of turning on a heated lamp for daily basking and making weekly trips to aisle three of the local pet store to purchase crickets. The things you do for love, I thought to myself. And yes, I eventually warmed up too and found myself standing at that aquarium in my son’s room having a monologue with that little lizard. He would turn his head at the sound of my voice, his beady eyes holding intelligence and curiosity. 

For the first few months after we brought him home, he would shed his skin on almost a weekly basis. The shedding, I later learned, was necessary for his rapid growth. 

And a recent conversation I overheard my husband discussing with a good friend has me thinking about all of this. “I’ve never felt more comfortable in my own skin,” he said confidently, and with a light-heartedness, I hadn’t heard from him before. 

Sometimes shedding is necessary to grow into that place of being comfortable with who we are. Of actually liking who we are as a person. I thought about all the times I’ve compared myself to someone else and came up shorter than enough in my measurement. The comparison of appearance, style, intelligence, creative ability, parenting. I could go on. Comparison is a quicksand that will swallow you whole and needs to shed off for us to grow. 

I thought about the times I’ve silenced my own opinion out of fear of how it might be perceived. About the times I should have spoken up, but didn’t, allowing someone else to make me feel inferior or believing that my own voice didn’t matter. I needed to shed giving other people that much power over my mind and my life. 

I once heard a writing instructor say that “once you’ve made peace with your story, it no longer matters what others think.” When I think of your story, I think of it in a broader sense. We tend to get focused on moments in our lives when sharing our stories, moments that are important but are only parts of the whole. Events on a timeline. Small concerning God’s perspective of time and eternity. I think of your story as being all of who you are as a person. With all of your character traits and quirks and uniqueness that makes you individual and the one and only you on the planet. 

The question is how do we get there? How do we get to that place of being comfortable in our own skin? 

photo cred: Steven Sites

I have worked in long term care for the last three years. There has been a wealth of wisdom gained from the elderly patients I’ve had the honor of knowing. One common observation is that they have finally reached the point in their lives of being true to who they really are. Without pretense. Without inhibition. 

“You wear black too much,” Hilda told me once. And what could I even say? It makes me look thinner, I thought to myself. So I smiled sheepishly and told her she was right and attempted to add more color to my wardrobe. Sometimes their unfiltered and frank words will scrape you a bit, as the truth sometimes does. But most of the time, it is beautiful and something I long to reach sooner rather than later in my life. 

Here’s what I am learning about the process of becoming comfortable in my own skin: (long and messy and still in process by the way) 

The more secure I become in who God sees me as, and the more I learn to rest in His approval of me, the easier it becomes not to compare myself. To not give other people’s opinion more attention than it deserves. To not over analyze and reread a text that I sent or overthink the way I responded to someone I interacted with that day. 

I know it seems like an elementary truth, but perhaps to grow and become more comfortable in our own skin, it’s the most important one that we have to revisit from time to time. A skewed perception of God’s unchanging love for you will have you running from yourself your whole life and conforming to who others think you should be. 

Being firmly rooted in the security of knowing that I am loved is the safest thing I have ever known. 

What are some areas of your life that you need to shed?

Young and Wild and Free 

 

I dusted off the box before I carried it up from the basement and unearthed its contents onto the dining room table. It was an attempt to organize the boxes we would soon load into a U-haul as we moved away from our house that held generations of memories. I became distracted with the task at hand and got lost in a spread of old yearbooks, birthday cards and hand-drawn stick figures with happy faces and big hair. 

Somewhere buried in the box was an autobiography written by my eight-year-old self at the request of my third-grade teacher. I smiled as I read the list of details that seemed to matter greatly at the time. About my cats, my favorite book, food, and even my favorite number. 

But I stood and paused, blinking long and hard when I read one line seemingly lost in the middle. 

“When I grow up I want to write books.”  

In my everyday life in the here and now, I am working on my first book and blogging my heart out, and you are reading it. So that probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise to you as the reader. But here’s the thing, it was a twenty-eight-year journey back to that desire. 

And somewhere along the way, I forgot the creative desire God had placed in my heart. Somewhere along the way, I lost the inhibition to freely voice what I thought I was capable of without fear of criticism or disapproval. 

Maybe I got lost in the starring roles of my life. In motherhood and my career. 

Maybe it was that moment in junior high when I looked at that girl who sat three rows over and decided I would never be as pretty as her. 

Maybe it was that summer by the pool when this guy commented on my weight in a manner that was unwelcome and not flattering and played on repeat in my head. 

Maybe it was the interview I bombed or the vows that got shattered or some other failure along the way. 

But that desire placed on paper so long ago returned and began to stir again in the most unlikely of places. I would sit on my bunk in that state correctional facility and enter my own sanctuary, and safe space through penning my words onto some lovely stationery my family kept me supplied with. The letters were my lifeline, scribed from that place within my own heart still untouched by the wear and tear of life and time. 

Even still, I would throw my head back and laugh when my husband would urge me to launch a blog, not taking his encouragement seriously and doubting my own ability to express myself in a way that others would connect with. He persisted, and each time I would stick my toe a little further into the water, curiosity eventually giving birth to the launch of my blog and consistent writing and the return to myself. The return to that eight-year-old version of me that was daring enough to give voice to her dream. 

 

  

I often watch my daughter as she twirls in her third wardrobe change of the day and pretends to be a ballerina. Uninhibited. Unashamed.  

And maybe it’s because I smile in adoration and she feels the safety of knowing she is loved. Or maybe it’s because she hasn’t been carried away from that place within herself that is young and wild and free.  

May God return us to those places. May He take us back to who He created us to be. 

 

A Conversation With Lamar 

 

Lamar was my Lyft driver on a sunny afternoon at the end of my workday. My request popped up in his cue of requested rides as he began his shift that Wednesday afternoon. Seven minutes later, he pulled up to the curb, and I climbed into the backseat and gave a friendly hello as I put my seat belt on and prayed he was a good driver. Lyft and Uber is a side job for most of the drivers I have met. And a perfect one if you like flexibility, or if human observation and awkward interactions are your things. Or opportunities for intriguing conversation. I guess it’s all about perspective. 

We were mid-route and all of those first moments of polite exchanges were out of the way. Yes, my day has been pretty good. (Mediocre really, but I think good is what he wants to hear, so that’s what I tell him.) Yes, the sunshine is nice to see. And now we have settled into the quiet part of the ride with the white noise of NPR playing at low volume in the background. The window is partially down, and the fresh air and warmer temperatures are welcomed after a long winter of cold and gray. 

And then Lamar interrupts the silence. “So how do you keep from becoming numb in your line of work? I mean, with all the hard stuff you see and have to deal with.” 

He is referring to the field of social work, where I still moonlight during the week. And I have an inkling suspicion he is asking for his own heart. Since Lamar has asked this million dollar question that has caught me off guard, I close my email and lay my phone in my lap. 

That’s the challenge of life, isn’t it? To walk through it and not become numb. To not lose heart. To age with grace and not become embittered. Not just in social work where you try to connect people with limited resources and where you are always buried in more work then you can manage. Not just in the medical field where you encounter unexpected illness and chronic pain and sometimes accompany a physician to deliver bad news. Not only inside the prison system where you hear stories that will break your heart and encounter people who are not ready to change and often revisit the system multiple times if they survive their addiction long enough. 

But in everyday life too. I wondered what Lamar’s daily life had been like. What hurt and disappointments had he encountered along the way? Who let him down or didn’t keep their word or possibly betrayed him? 

I will be learning to answer this question he has asked for the rest of my life, I think to myself. But one of the ways we keep our heart from becoming numb is by learning to see ourselves in the stories of others. There are universal needs that we all have, regardless of race or political persuasion or religious affiliation. Regardless of gender or economic status or where we are located on the map.  

 

  

  

We are all human at the core. Resilient and fragile, depending on the day. We are all prone to hunger, fatigue, fear, loneliness or questioning our own worth or belonging in this world. 

We become numb to protect ourselves from what we think we cannot handle. 

And sometimes we become numb because we forget. We forget to look for ourselves in the pain of others. I may not be the one receiving bad news, but I know what it feels like to fear it. I know what it feels like to not be able to stop the hand of time from stealing someone I wanted to hold onto forever. I know the sting of death. 

I may not need resources that are in short supply, but I know what it feels like to be worried about the future and to feel overwhelmed in the moment. 

I may not be returning to prison for the third time because of addiction and self-destruction, but I know what it feels like to fail and feel like I can’t get anything right and to have to live with regret.  

Don’t we all? 

Protect your own heart by learning to see and listen to others with compassion. Look for yourself in their stories. You may find that it will do your heart a world of good.  

 

Music and All the Things She Loves 

For Amber

 

My eyes caught a glimpse of her in the doorway and it took my heart a moment to register her presence in that place. Kind of like that moment when someone you’ve waited a long time to see finally walks down the terminal of the airport balancing the heaviness of their carry-on bag and a sweater, their face revealing the exhaustion of a long journey and a cramped flight. You don’t care what baggage they've brought with them. You are just so glad at the sight of them.  

The last time I saw her was in the free world. The one where she was not a ward of the state. The one where she wore a white hoodie instead of a blue button-up shirt made of polyester. Where we sat at the coffee house and talked about her dreams for the future over lattes and sandwiches.  

But she wasn’t free even then. A car accident and a prescription that turned into a habit led her into a vicious cycle of relapses, each failure driving her deeper into shame and self-loathing. Each time confirming the lie her past told her, that she was unworthy of love. That she would possibly never amount to anything more than addiction and the shallow places it had taken her.  
  
I tried to help in every way I knew how, talking her away from the ledge more times than I could count. Praying with her and for her. Rising before the sun to drive with her to rehab facilities she would later check out of. And then I realized that she had to want it for herself more than I wanted it for her. That my wanting it for her would never be enough. That even God would not override her will. So I did the difficult thing and tied my own hands, releasing her to the path of her own choosing. 

And I assure you that when she went down that path, she did not go alone. She took God's whole heart and a piece of mine too. The part that you give away when you walk with someone through tears and the hardest of times. When you see the best and choose to believe for more in spite of statistics and against all the odds. When you are street smart but are careful not to become jaded. 

I thought about her many times since that last time I saw her.  

So when my eyes fell on her in the doorway of that chapel, when she signed up for the program my husband and I lead inside the prison she was now confined in, her presence was a startling and welcomed sight. A flight bringing someone back home after they’ve been gone a long time. 

She sank next to me in the chair to my left and silence hung in the air for a moment before I broke it. 

“I am so glad you’re still here, in this life,” I told her, both of us with tears clouding our vision. 

Even if in the confines of a state prison. At least she had another chance at a life fully lived. At sobriety and being the mom she never had and running marathons and music and all the things she loves most. 

She was a welcomed sight to this heart very prone to compassion fatigue and burnout. An unwanted side effect of walking with people in the trenches of healing and through layers of pain and unwanted behavior. A good reason why rest and self-care and seeking the Father to realign my fickle heart is necessary and a critical part of continuing on this walk. 

  

I promise you that no one wakes up one day and decides "I think I'm going to ruin my life." At least not consciously. I know sometimes it seems the contrary. I know the race is long and the temptation is to give up. I know that sometimes the healthy boundary is to walk away. To tie your own hands. To release into the unknown what you never had control over anyway. 

But if and when a person returns, may our heart be one that embraces like the Father. May it get weepy and joyful and tearful at the sight of their return. "I'm so glad you're still here, in this life." In my life. I believe in you, even if it's the second, third, or fifteenth time.  

As long as there is breath, there is hope for change. And hope is a force to be reckoned with.

On Slow Walks and Being Out of Place 

 

I walked everywhere I went during my incarceration experience. Even after rolling off my top bunk and fracturing my ankle in the middle of the night, my walk becoming a limp for the longest time. We looked like a colony of ants wearing shades of blue on that compound of two-thousand women. And not a pretty shade of blue either. Not like cobalt or ocean or turquoise. Although, perhaps no shade would’ve been pretty in the fashion of a state uniform. I even walked to the infirmary once during a snowstorm for a pap smear. Miserable, and yet still a first world problem, but I retrieve that now from my memory bank when I am tempted to complain about cold temperatures. Or pap smears.  

My body acclimated during that time and I learned to adapt to being outdoors often in all of Ohio’s unpredictable weather. In the sweltering heat warnings of summer, I would long for air conditioning and relief, realizing how much I had taken for granted. In the crispness of Fall, I would dream about scented candles and my favorite sweaters and carved pumpkins for the porch and home. And once during Spring, when the sun began to show itself again and hope returned, I was on one of those everyday walks when I noticed something amongst a heaping pile of rubble.  

It was inside of a fenced demolition site. A former building that used to house women, now condemned and torn to the ground. A pile of rocks and debris and memories of what used to be, symbolic in the way of my own life and the lives of the women inside those razor-wired fences. 

It stood there between the rocks, and I couldn’t help but do a double take. The way one does when you spot something on your everyday route. Like a new billboard or a new park bench that wasn’t there before. I couldn’t help but linger for a moment, even though I wasn’t supposed to linger “out of place.” Ironic, because this wasn’t home and I always felt out of place. It was a dainty little thing, budding and pushing its way up into the light and into life. A small white flower with a yellow center growing right there in the middle of all that had been demolished. I am not a gardener so I couldn’t tell you what lovely type it was. Maybe it was even one of those weeds that grow wild and pretty. But regardless, I couldn’t help but do a double take and admire its beauty. 

I could go in many different directions with what I want to say next. I could tell you that there is so much good that is still present even in the most challenging seasons of life, and that would be true. 

I could tell you that endless beauty can come out of the most devastating and heartbreaking things you will go through in life, and that too would be true.  

I could repeat the saying “bloom where you are planted,” because you should. I knew a girl there who taught herself Spanish and French while incarcerated. Fluently. You should bloom. 

But this is what seems most pressing at this moment. It’s a Mexican proverb I heard once, and it goes like this: 

“They tried to bury us. But they didn’t realize we were seeds.” 

That’s why I couldn’t take my eyes off that little wispy flower blooming right there in the middle of all that rubble. Because I felt that I had been buried in my own life. Like the Sarah I used to know was gone, along with any hope for the future. 

 

Little seedling, there are things you will go through in life that will try to bury you. Sometimes just because life happens and life is hard. And sometimes, because of the mess you have made. One shovel full of dirt at a time, until eventually, it will seem and feel like it is over. Curtain call. Bad ending. Like nothing could come out of this wasteland of a situation. Like all hope for the future is lost. But I urge you to slow your walk and look again.  

Remember that just because you feel buried doesn’t mean it’s over for you. If you have breath and a pulse, it is not. You, my dear, are a seed. Keep pressing on. Learn a new language. Dare to believe that God has good things ahead for you. Don’t you dare not bloom.

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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.