Archives for January 2016

Life-Changing Words {I’ve Heard and Said}

Rip, cut, paste, repeat.  

We talk as we create collages that “define” us.  We laugh at one gal’s baby head cut out – she likes babies – as another searches page after page for some reference to her favorite TV show.   Our differences become apparent.  One girl clips makeup ads while another chooses lasagna.  One passes me a picture of rings; they think I need diamonds.

“Giving this world more guns is like pouring gasoline on a fire.”

“I love Pope Francis. He doesn’t act like he’s better than anyone else. He acts like he’s equal.”

“Anyone want this page?  The word school is neat… Anyone love school?” (Moans and groans)

“You know you’ll work the rest of your life, right?”

“Yes, and I would rather do that than come to school. I plan to be a truck driver…I’d like to be a translator; they make lots of money.”

Looking for Alaska is my favorite; I hope they make a movie of it.”

“I’d rather open at [the restaurant] than come here everyday…I am not smart enough for all this.”

I pause.  She does not believe in herself.  I know her.  I know she could go to college; she’s intelligent enough.  I know she’s capable of more than the job she plans to keep after graduation.  But, she doesn’t know.

Hope is absent.  Expectations are low. Life is hard.  No one can blame her.

I continue to listen, cut, and paste. I hear myself lamenting my lack of creativity and artistic ability. Their conversation bounces from topic to topic.

And I suddenly remember…

I am in elementary school.   I draw a large face complete with blond hair and eyelashes. I take pride in the detailed eyes and full lips.  Perhaps I will be chosen for gifted art!  I proudly show my face to…someone.  That part is fuzzy.  And that someone tells me I am not cut out for art.  I feel my chubby cheeks smush into a smile.  Of course the face is bad!  I am no artist! I don’t even like art.

I never draw again. That one person says I am not an artist, and I believe them.  I avoid art classes throughout school.

effect of words

Then, I am a freshman at Poca High School.  Pam Absten is my teacher.  I compose a compare and contrast essay of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables.  I note Hawthorne’s voice.  His style.  Ms. Absten asks me to stay after class. Sarah, you are a great writer and thinker. Keep writing.  

I grab those words as if they’re the gospel.

I write almost everyday for the rest of my life.  Why? Because I am a writer. Who said so? Pam Absten when I was 14, and that is enough for me.  I believe.

But, I do not remember the face and the criticism until I try my hand at art again.  Until I hear my student say she’s not smart…

“Yes, you are smart.  Someone along the way told you were not, but you are.  Trust me.”

“Ok, ok, I am smart, but I don’t care.”

“Yes, you do care….”

I am not sure my words can undo the words so deeply rooted within her.  But, I hope so.

Then I wonder…what words have flown from my lips, forever planted in a heart.  I know I have shut down dreams and limited abilities with my words. Sigh.  My students. My children.  My friends. My family. I have hurt with words.

And I truly aware of the effect more than ever.  Trajectories change when we think we can’t do something. Or think we can.

Today, friends, I am begging you to consider your words.  I am not asking you to lie.  I am asking you to consider that ALL things are subjective.  Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder.

In the words of my student who created this pasted poem…

Every day scared of 

War, disasters, time, money, and human.


Fear of beautiful life

We need change, rich or poor

Let’s change the world together.


What’s something you fear trying – or trying again -because someone once said you weren’t good at it or good enough for it?

Try it.  You get to define “good.”  Let’s change the world together.  

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body. Proverbs 16:24


The Dance {My Dad, Anne Frank, and Legacy}

They take the stage hand in hand.  A deep breath.  We hear the voice of Anne Frank.  Smiling, turning, and leaping, their faces look joyous and bright. Hopeful as they move across the floor.  The audience hears frantic yelling, “Anne, Anne!” Suddenly, they’re no longer wearing maroon, double-breasted coats, but gray, drab dresses. Their hopeful look replaced by sadness and heartbreak.

How to they do that? They can’t possibly understand Anne Frank’s plight, a Jewish girl hiding from German soldiers. One boy is 10. Another girl 14. And another girl 18 with ages between.  All born and raised in America.

So, how?

Because we all know joy, hope, sadness, and loss.

They don’t know Anne, but they know about divorce and mean girls.  They know about failure and success.  One has relatives living across the world that she’s not seen in two years thanks to war and prejudice.  Another struggles with her identity, who she is and how best to cope with hard. One is brave. One feels less than.One is always smiling.  Many are confident.  A few of them know the pain caused by parents – intentionally and unintentionally.

Something about their current story connects them to a Jewish girl hiding in an attic, hearing German soldiers come for her family, but escaping every time…until one time the soldiers find her hiding place.  She dies in the face of evil, but her diary remains for us to read. A gift, so we place a name and face on an event over which history teachers labor and test.

They dance it beautifully, earning award and award.




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And as I cheer (very loudly), I am struck by what these dancers have truly won. They know perseverance. Teamwork. Commitment.  Criticism. Praise.  They know about working through injuries and anger to accomplish something greater than themselves.  Something they can’t do on their own.

I watch my little one hold the Grand Champion banner.  A smile engulfing her face….while I know what today is.

Eight years ago on this day I was grocery shopping at Walmart with that same little girl when my phone rings, and I hear my mom tell me that weaning dad from the ventilator did not work.  His blood is septic.  She’s unplugging his machines.

Three hours later, I am by his side.  He’s holding on.  I tell him it’s ok to go.  And a little after midnight on the 9th – technically the 10th – of January, he leaves this world with one final gasp.

God awakens me a little after 12 last night.  I glance at the clock without even needing to.  I know by now that when God wakes me, sleep will return when I pay attention. I silently listen to the room’s hum and begin to review the day…compare my January 9th’s.

How different.

the dance

Our days don’t always look like victory. Some days look like death.  And vice versa.  These days we live are a mix of helplessness and hope.

I miss my dad today – most days.  But, I don’t live in the missing, the pain, the grieving.  I can’t and I won’t.  Not because I didn’t or don’t love my dad, but because I love my children and I want to honor my dad’s legacy.  His grandchildren can carry it well and honor it too if I love them and champion them.

Over the years pain and suffering have taught me that at some point – and that point is very different for every single person – I have to move forward. Sitting on the couch lamenting my dad’s death, or any other pain written in my story, is productive and healing for a season.

But, then I allow God to continue my choreography. To move me back into His song.

And it’s because of his grace and mercy that I sat in a hospital room eight years ago and then a dance auditorium yesterday. That I can understand the full weight of the dance – hope to helpless and back again – and again.

I think of the dance. The one on stage. The one of Anne Frank. The dance of my dad.  My dance each day.  And I do not want to miss one step.  I want to be faithful to tell my story – and my dad’s –  like Anne and her diary. I want to allow HIM to guide each and every step – forward and backward, side to side.

I want to twirl in the open field, light-hearted and happy.  I want fall to my knees with one last exhale when he calls me home. I don’t want to dance in fear and nervousness, but with confidence and abandon, knowing He is in the midst of every step.

I want my dance to outlive me – just like Anne and my dad.  

Dance well today, friends.  Inhale, exhale and take the stage. Be brave.  Turn and leap.  Fall on your knees.  Cry out.  And always:  follow HIS lead.  It matters. For you and for them.

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness. Psalm 30:11

A time to weep and a time to laugh; A time to mourn and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3:4

A Simple Pursuit {A Simple Life}

I wake up without an alarm, slip on my clothes, and splash in the creek. Overturn rocks and uncover hidden creatures.  Bask in the sunshine as I ride my bike across the bumpy gravel.  Walk to the tunnel or jump off the porch. Rest by opening a book, writing a story, or creating a play – with my Barbie’s as the actresses.

There’s nothing too complicated about life.  I am free to be me.

a simple life

Middle school comes, and I realize playing outside and reading aren’t everyone’s passion. Bummer. Girls have long hair and wear makeup. Clothes aren’t just for wearing; they’re for being fashionable. I hear of diets and hair color.  My teeth require braces. My hair a perm.  Grades are important – making C’s is frowned upon.

Simple living becomes complicated.  Achievement, beauty, and belonging are expected. By whom? I am not sure.  I just intuitively know that straight A’s, nice clothes, and popularity are important.

I am not so free to be me.  Wait, who am I?  Am I a reading, rock-collecting, Dukes of Hazard-watching, creek-wading tomboy? Or this new girl. Friend-making, popularity-seeking, grade-producing, diet conscious overachiever?

I go with the latter.  It seems best.

And it continues to seem best.  Somewhere in the preteen years I lose simple. Nothing is ever simple again.

So, 40 comes, and I fondly remember that chubby girl with short locks who splashed through the dirty water without a care in the world.  A know-it-all who had to be right and loved to be the boss. Confidence and stubbornness oozed from her pores. She loves to perform and tell jokes.  She thinks she’s a hoot.

Where did she go?

She went the way of culture.  She wanted to fit in and succeed.  So, she did.

And now? Now, she wants to find simple again.  While she can’t escape responsibilities  – her life is a lot of adulting – she can find simple…in her heart.

I have discovered a busy life can also be simple.  So can a life with goals. Simpleness isn’t always a state of doing – or not doing.  It’s more a state of being.

Stripping away all the barriers and bull to live in the moment.  A heart that notes the rhythms of each day, never missing a chance to see the divine or sacred in the ordinary.

So, while I have goals – and I am looking forward to learning, changing, and growing this year – I am most thankful for the ways I’ve learned to stop complicating life and move toward simple.

A simple meal.  A simple reading of God’s word. A simple task.  A simple word of encouragement or prayer. A simple invite. A simple change in daily routine or habits.  A simple hug or hello.  A simple smile.

These comprise a simple life that’s not complicated with popularity and producing. With drama and doing.  With being the best or like the rest.  And while these things may be born of the simple life, they are not the essence of it. They’re not the goal – Jesus is.  And that makes all the difference in the world.

(NOTE:  The music from this year’s Passion Conference was amazing; however, this song captured my heart most – A Simple Pursuit by Melodie Malone )