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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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.

The Real Version of You 

 

I received a text from a friend the other night. “Thinking of you. Hope your day went well.”  

I sighed deeply at the memory of the day. At the way my feet waded through it like sandbags were tied to them. Each movement was feeling heavier than usual. The truth was that life felt incredibly hard at that moment. The kind of hard that feels like a dark night of the soul, lingering after the rise of the sun. When there are more questions than there are answers. Where there is no clearly marked direction of which path to take or what is next. No easy solutions. No quick relief. No exit plan. Leaving room for the wandering of the imagination into dark crevices with cobwebs and worst case scenarios. 

When I was a little girl, I used to have a red vintage suitcase that I loved. When I was upset (probably because I wasn’t getting my way), I would drag out my suitcase and pretend to pack as if I were going to leave home. My destination plan was actually to nowhere, other than to wallow in my feelings that felt much larger than my small self.  

And sometimes that little girl resurfaces. Sometimes her tendency is to run back to the closet and drag out the small red suitcase that is no longer there and avoid that which feels overwhelming. Parenthood. Finances. Leadership. Relationships. Responsibility. Life

 

  1980's vintage 

Like the coffee mug that says “I can’t even.” Or the t-shirt that says “I can’t adult today.” 

I could easily rock both on some days and yet, don’t own either. Raise your hand if you've been there before. If there were full disclosure and we were all together, you'd see a room full of hands in the air.  

So I responded to my friend's text by vomiting the truth all over her. 

The truth came out much like watching my husband heave into the bathtub earlier that morning. Yes…the bathtub, unfortunately, because sometimes that’s as far as you make it after an all-night venture with suspected food poisoning. I stood behind him reminding myself that I was once a nurse, although that version of me didn’t handle such scenarios well either. I. Can. Do. This. I straightened my spine, held my breath and offered a cold rag, a soft tone, and a brave face.  

And that’s what my friend also did. After I apologized for vomiting on her and told her that I know she didn’t want “all that" at nine p.m. on a Tuesday night when she has her own life stuff she’s dealing with.  

Because the lie we believe is that people only want the best version of us, when in fact, they want and even dare say “need” both versions. The one that has struggled with some stuff and can impart wisdom and strength and the one who is desperately in need of it.  

We answer that we are doing “good” or “fine” or “okay” because we think the person asking couldn’t possibly want the messy version of us. The unfine version. The person who doesn't have it all figured out. The person who doesn't have a good day every day.   

We fear to be too much when our too much is actually the thing that makes us relatable to others. It's how the world you interact with connects to you. It's how our children learn to manage conflict and what gives them permission not to be perfect. It's what makes us a safe space for our friends to struggle and not hide behind a mask. It's what gives you the mark of being human, not superhuman, not exempt from the hard stuff we all face.  

Be brave enough to admit it. You aren't meant to carry it alone. Someone out there needs the real version of you, not who you long to be or think you need to be. 

 

A Question Worth Asking 

 

I published my first blog in November of 2016. I remember the anxious feeling of letting my heart speak through my words and hitting that green button on the screen that would launch my words into the world of potential readers and social media. I heard someone say once that when you put something on the internet, there is no getting it back. Even if deleted, it’s out there forever traceable by someone somewhere who knows how to access it. Great, I thought. No pressure. But also a good bit of wisdom in being mindful of what to disclose. I had to overcome the fear of not knowing who would possibly be reading my content and had to release the care of how I might be perceived by others. Yikes. I assure you that it’s an ongoing process and some words get typed and then deleted. 

Vulnerability is a scary thing, but it does get easier over time and with practice. We like to present the best version of ourselves. Which is why our vacations and achievements and our post-salon visits fill our news feed. Not our worst day. Not the bed head and mismatched pajamas or the notice of an in-school suspension or the pet urine on the carpet. We present the socially acceptable version of ourselves that makes us look as though we at least half have it together. Whatever that means. 

We fear being rejected. And rightfully so. Some of us have experienced conditional love through parental fractures and people who should have stayed but left and by broken marriages with vows that should have said: "I love you until." Some of us have been ghosted in friendships or conditionally loved and rejected by a church, the one place that should be a haven of safety and enough grace and room for error. 

I was recently confronted with a new level of vulnerability through a video of my story. I wish I could tell you that I braved it courageously and without fear of public opinion. Not the case, and also not something you would know without me disclosing it to you. When I first saw the video, I cringed. I couldn’t even finish watching it. I was overly critical of myself. Like hearing yourself on voicemail and thinking, is that really how I sound? Nasally and pre-puberty. Come on. You know you’ve thought that about yourself before. I critiqued my hair. Why in the world would I wear it like that when I knew I was being filmed? But it was raining, and the messy bun seemed like the best option at the time. Why did I wear that outfit? Why did I say this or not say that? I could go on. 

I am sad to say I wrestled with it for several days before reaching out to two friends that I knew would speak truth to me because you know, one is just never really enough. (insert eye rolling) 

Their response was a unison of encouragement that I needed. “I’m honestly just not seeing what you’re seeing. I think it’s great. You should put it out there.” 

Also followed by a hard truth: “and you should take this time to pray and ask yourself and ask God why it matters so much what other people think.” 

Oh. Ouch. Why does it matter so much what other people think? 

 

Here is what I’ve learned after pressing through and being confronted with my own fears and insecurity.  Somewhere deeper than heart level is a core belief that maybe I am not worthy. Not accepted. Not unconditionally loved. Not enough. That perhaps someone else’s opinion determines these things.  

I have been loved well by many throughout my life and in my present life. And yet I have found that it’s not something that human love can settle in this heart of mine. 

Only God can settle that. I have also found that I am not alone in my struggle. That most people wrestle with the concept of being unconditionally loved by the Father. But the more I lean into that truth and lay all my brokenness before Him, allowing myself to be loved even still, the more I am able to face vulnerability. The more I am able to present myself authentically and not cover the areas I struggle with. The more I am able to be more human and more relatable and dare I say even more likable because other people can see themselves in my story. 

As I once heard a writing mentor say, “once you make peace with your story, it no longer matters what other people think.” Aha. Yes indeed. 

What is it that keeps you from being honest with where you are on your journey? It’s an important question for reflection. It’s worth learning the answer to. 
 

 

There Is Something I Need to Tell You 

 

I have a great poker face. And no, not learned through playing poker. I would lose my hand for sure. I don't know when I developed the ability, a gift from God, as a friend of mine labeled it. Maybe. Or maybe a side effect of incarceration and working with those in the prison system (where you hear it all and see it all and just when you think you can’t be shocked anymore, surprise again). I also worked for years as a nurse and in the field of social work, where tough conversations often take place. Where the most intimate thing you could disclose to a person often gets revealed. You learn over time not to let your face and your feelings communicate. 

So when she made her way sheepishly to the front of the room to talk to me and prefaced the conversation with “There is something I need to tell you,” my posture shifted just slightly with a silent reminder to prepare myself. She was about to disclose her “worst thing.” That moment from her past that she can’t leave there. The one she relives and replays like lyrics you’re sick of hearing, but can’t get out of your head. The part that causes her shoulders to slump and her eyes to hold sorrow that is visible even when she smiles. 

She needed to say it out loud and let it hang in the air between us. I could see the hint of fear in her eyes, and if the room had been a little more silent, I would have heard the racing beat of her heart. She thought she needed to tell me her worst thing. 

And the realization of what she really needed made my own eyes well with tears. It was the question behind the question. Not really about that terrible moment from her past. Deeper rooted. Carried from her childhood. Longing to be answered. 

Do you accept me? Am I still worthy of love? 

We live in a society of selective mercy. We subconsciously decide in our minds who is worthy of compassion and who is just a tad too far beyond it. And it’s a dangerous thing to decide something that is not ours to judge. 

I began to pray years ago that God would help me love people the way that He does and to break my heart for the things that break His. I will never perfect it in this lifetime. Not even close. There are times I wrestle with forgiveness. There are times I experience compassion fatigue. There are times I want to return evil for evil. Or to spew some venomous response when one is doled out to me or someone else. 

But I answered her question anyway. I responded from a place deep within that has already made up my mind that I don’t get a vote. A place that has firmly decided that it’s not my determination to make. There is no debating. No wondering. No dialing up a friend to consult. No tallying the wrongs to see if someone has crossed the line too far. 

It’s a place that God has answered in my own heart. When I fell too far from grace, or so I thought. When I had run too far from home, too far from warnings that I ignored, too far from the advice of my parents. I used to dislike the story of the prodigal son until I became the prodigal. Until I squandered the blessings I had been given and made a terrible mess of things. 

 

You see, that’s the thing I’ve learned. People often judge others with the same measure they use on themselves. Harshly and with little mercy. They perceive God’s posture towards them as one that is ashamed of their mistakes or their very existence, with His arms folded and His back turned. And nothing could be further from the truth. He is more like that parent that paces the floor waiting for the phone to ring. He leaves the porch light on and the door unlocked. He never ever even thinks of giving up on your return to the realization that you are loved and worthy and nothing could change that. Like the time I saw a photo of my son on social media and I could see his seeking of affirmation. The longing for everything he already is. Deeply loved and worthy.  And there is nothing he could do, or say, or think that will ever make me love him any less. 

So I looked her square in the eye and answered the question she was really asking. 

"There is nothing you could ever tell me that would make me love you any less." 

And contrary to what society thinks or what we've been taught to believe, that is how God feels about us all. Even that person who seems the least deserving of mercy.

A Letter To Yourself 

When we think about love (as one often does on a day like today when your social media feed is blown up with reminders), our mind usually goes directly to Eros love, the romantic type. Our mind equates that love is communicated with lavish gifts and dreamy proposals and bouquets of flowers. Movies like Sleepless in Seattle or The Notebook or the one-liner from Jerry McGuire that we all know, “you had me at hello.” 

And all of those things are great expressions of love and I would be lying if I told you that I don’t love gifts. This girl definitely does. But I have also learned through the great teacher of time and heartbreak and healing that true love is the kind that returns you to yourself. 

What do I mean by that? 

We do an exercise with the inmates in our music therapy program where we instruct them to write a letter to their younger self. In other words, if you could sit down with that six-year-old version of yourself with the bangs your sister cut and the missing tooth and eyes still full of optimism and hope, what would you say? 

 

What we often find in the responses is a love letter written to self. Gentle words are written from a place of compassion and remembering. A reminder of how beautiful and strong and capable you really are and always were, before life and the competing noise of the world told you otherwise. How often the things that happened to you were not your fault, and even if they were the result of your own choosing, the acknowledgment that you are human and what matters most is that you learn and try again. 

We live in a world full of people living from a well of their experiences. And it’s a mix of clear and murky water. A mix of some who were fortunate to have been loved well and to have felt emotional security and a large pool of those who were not. Of those who were dropped and bruised and cut and who operate out of those experiences.  

As the famous rapper Phora says in one of his lyrics: “I ain’t never had nobody love me. That’s probably why I don’t know how to love you.” 

Real love is the type that God operates from. A well of Agape love, unconditional and to which there is no ceiling, no bottom, no limit. Without prerequisite. Not a kind that says “I love you if…” or “I love you until…” but “I love you because I love you because I love you. And there is nothing you could do to make me stop.” 

I’ve sought love in the wrong places before. In relationships. In materialism. In my appearance. In my performance. In the opinion of others. All of those were dead-end places that only took me further away from my true self and into the shallowness of who I allowed them to tell me to be. 

Healthy love returns you to yourself. Back to that place of wholeness. Back from the places of lies and shame that you’ve wandered to and believed. Back to the realization that there is nothing you can do in this life that will make you any more or any less worthy of love.

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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.