Inner Critics and Inherent Goodness

Monday, April 29, 2019

Photo by Nick Scheerbart on Unsplash

I named my inner critic Marv.

Marv never has anything interesting to say, but that doesn't stop him from following me around 24/7 and commenting on all of my decisions, achievements, and challenges. He's clingy that way.

Marv wears a pinstriped suit that ends just above his skinny ankles and dark-rimmed glasses around his watery eyes. He speaks in a nasal voice.

Marv discourages me from exercising my creativity and scoffs when I make a mistake. He thinks that my worth is defined by what I do and how well I do it, and he keeps relentless score of my days. He believes he knows what everyone else is thinking about me -- always negative things -- and delights in telling me so.

I wouldn't tolerate this kind of behavior from a real, substantial human being who behaved this way toward me, so why do I give Marv -- a mere figment of my imagination -- the time of day?

Well, he can be pretty convincing. Sometimes he disguises himself really well and sounds just like... me. And that's hard to ignore.

"That isn't you," my counselor reminded me during our session today. And then she asked me, "Who are you without that voice?"

In answer to her question, I reflected on Genesis 1, where, after creating humankind and the entire world, God looks everything He has made and calls it "very good" (Gn 1:31).

That means me, too.

I, too, am "very good."

Underneath Marv's voice, which tells me otherwise, there is this deeper, singular truth: I am good. 

And the One who speaks the truth of my goodness is gentle and kind. He smiles when He says my name and sings my identity over me in the sweetest of lullabies. He loved me into and holds me still in existence because He has entrusted specific work to me for the flourishing of His Kingdom -- souls to meet and hearts to help transform.

And He calls me very good.

Dear friend, I hope you, too, believe that you are very good, and that you let the promise of new life this Easter season usher you into a greater realization of your worth and His mercy.

You are loved.

And you are good.

We are the Brave.

Saturday, January 26, 2019


I've been wrestling with this word for a while now:

Brave. 

And its twin, a noun:

Courage.

I've been trying them on for size, seeing how they feel, struggling to become fluent in their cadences, to settle into their rhythms, to discern their nuances.

I'm a student of literature. I spend a great deal of time attempting to wrangle words into submission as I probe, analyze, and describe themes and theories. And when I can't find the words for something I want to say? When my sentences and the meaning they hold feel clumsy and confused? When there's no clear through-line between the emotion stirring inside me and a definition to give it shape?

I find it frustrating, to say the very least.

That's how I feel about the words brave and courage -- and it's compounded by the conviction that if I knew exactly how to define them, then I'd know exactly how to live them.

Because I'm in a season. A season of not knowing, exactly, who I am or where I'm going -- of feeling that I am, to quote St. Padre Pio, "a mystery to myself." And after nearly a year of therapy, I can't say that I'm necessarily any closer to solving that mystery, per se... though I do think the terms of it, and the fullness of my own complexity, have become clearer.

And there are things I am learning about myself, things I want to hold with care and share with others, that I am only just finding words for (those pesky words again!). But diving into the intricacies of my own story and giving someone else the book to read, unedited, are two different things.

And sometimes, the only word I have for that process is that it's just... hard. It's hard, and I don't have much patience, honestly, for the in-between. I preach the gospel of vulnerability and openness and honesty but am only just learning of the real courage that goes into sharing our hearts. And that it may take a while to develop.

And that's okay.

See, I've always regarded courage as something I either have or I don't. I'm either courageous or I'm cowardly. No middle ground. But when I voiced this to my friend Aura Lee over generously foamy chocolate chai tea lattes last week, she looked confused.

I was telling parts of the story, telling her some of what's been troubling me, line editing for concision and statements that get at the truth but don't probe too deeply, because it was all I could do in that conversation. And I was concerned that I was being a coward for not laying my whole heart bare on the table between us.

"No," she insisted, vigorously shaking her head. "When was the last time you accomplished anything meaningful right away?"

When I couldn't think of a single instance, she provided a poignant example: learning to read started with learning the alphabet, and the sounds that the letters made, before assigning meaning to single words and then, entire sentences.

She continued with something more pertinent to my current state in life: would I ever have dreamed of getting my master's degree in a single weekend, or even after a single class?

Her point being: it takes time to learn how to courage. It is born by degrees.

And the baby steps look like sharing bits and pieces here and there, and acknowledging that sometimes, there are things we aren't ready to share just yet. There are things that are perhaps, right now, only meant for quiet conversations with the Lord. And that's okay.

It's still courageous. It's still brave.

And so, I hope you remember this, the next time you are wondering if you are brave.

I promise, you are.

We are.

Brave.

New Year, New Soundtrack

Monday, December 31, 2018

Photo by Josh Boot on Unsplash

Well, just like that, another 365 days have come and gone. And honestly, 2018 was a challenging year for me. These nine ditties are the ones guiding me into the new year with hope, love, and courage. I pray they will do the same for you! A link to the full playlist on Spotify is available at the bottom of this post. 


"Open Up Let the Light In" by Steffany Gretzinger


The six words in the title of this song also happen to be its only lyrics, sung meditatively in repetition. It's a beautiful call to action at the beginning of a new year, inviting me to cast out whatever darkness is lingering from 2018, and open myself up to God's love and light ahead.


"Fear" by Ben Rector


I learned to dance with the fear that I'd been running from.

I've been trying to mature in my relationship to fear for some time now, wondering if it's really possible to ever be fearless, or even (more realistically) face my fear and do the dang thing anyway. I'm learning that courage without vulnerability is just bluster, and that, as Brené Brown says, "Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we will ever do." I'm starting to realize that owning our stories looks like acknowledging the presence of fear -- even understanding that it likely won't disappear completely. And that's okay, because real courage simply requires learning to dance with fear, leading it in the dance, instead of letting it own me.


"Glorious" by Macklemore (feat. Skylar Grey)


I feel glorious, glorious -- got a chance to start again. I was born for this, born for this. It's who I am, how could I forget? I made it through the darkest part of the night, and now I see the sunrise. Now I feel glorious, glorious..."

This power jam, in addition to making me feel like rolling down my car windows and singing at the top of my lungs (which I would 0/10 not recommend in subzero Colorado wintertime temps, in case you were wondering), also speaks to the beauty of strength, resilience, and living your life's purpose. This year, get. it. done.


"Not Home Yet" by The Gray Havens


All of your days, if it's well understood, will be working together, forever, for good.

I discovered the Gray Havens about a month ago and have more or less been listening to their album, "She Waits," on repeat ever since. This song in particular resonates with my current season, though, because for one thing, it testifies to the power of changing direction and starting over new. The line I've quoted above also provides some reassurance to me in particular, who has wondered, more than I'd like to admit, if I've been wasting my life. If I should have "arrived" wherever I'm going by now. If the pain has a purpose. The promise that all of my days have been working together for my good is everything my heart needs to hear as I wrap up the year.


"Freedom" by Francesca Battistelli


Break open the doors; You made me for freedom.

Marching into 2019 with the solid sense that I am made for freedom -- not for anxiety, sadness, and fear -- gives me the courage to push through those struggles as they arise in the future.


"Flashlight" by Hunter Hayes


It's funny when I realize all the places that Your miracles can hide. 

I honestly feel as if this song was written for me. One of the things that never ceases to amaze me about God is how He relentlessly pursues my heart, capturing it even when I'm ready to give up on Him, even when I'm doubting and confused and frightened. He is still there, always, shining His flashlight, illuminating things that somehow always lead me back to Him in praise and thanksgiving.


"Trip a Little Light Fantastic" by the cast of Mary Poppins Returns


So when life is getting scary, be your own illuminary, who can shine a light for all the world to see...

This playlist was pretty much done... and then I went to see Mary Poppins Returns with my mom and my sister when I was home for Christmas last week. And I knew I had to add the film's eleven o'clock number. Without risking too many spoilers, I'll share that this song is sung when things are looking pretty bleak for our protagonists. Not a problem, though, when they have a lamplighter for a friend, who can belt this out while literally lighting the city of London with all of his lamplighting friends. Not too obvious of a metaphor about how we should light up our own lives when we've stumbled upon hard times, though, right?


"joy." by FOR KING AND COUNTRY


The time has come to make a choice, and I choose joy!

Honestly, I feel a little weird about adopting well-intended mantras like, "Choose joy!" Because sometimes, when I'm feeling sad, joy is the last thing I want to choose. Moping around in sweatpants and eating all of the chocolate sounds like a much better option. But I think the reluctance I feel comes from equating joy with simple happiness, and the two are quite different. Happiness is often a fleeting emotional state, caused by circumstance. Joy, on the other hand, is a way of life that comes from trusting that God is good, no matter what. Now, I'm not saying that happiness doesn't have its place, or that I've got the whole "trust in God" thing down pat. I frequently fight sadness and anxiety, and I want to get better at reminding myself, in those moments, of God's faithfulness -- so as to build a joy that lasts.


"Something Big" by Shawn Mendes


Something big, I feel it happening.

I'm not sure what 2019 will bring. But I am sure it will help me grow into myself even more. And that feels... well, pretty big, honestly.

***

Here's a link to the whole playlist -- hope you find these songs as empowering, encouraging, and energizing as I do! Happy New Year, all! 

Merry Christmas (We are Loved)

Monday, December 24, 2018

Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash


I don’t always “get it,” Lord.
            But tonight, I did.
            Tonight, I got it when Fr. Joe spoke of the dual nature of gift-giving at the heart of our Christmas celebrations. Of Mary gifting our humanity to God by giving Jesus a physical body, and of God gifting Himself to humanity, so that they might share in His divine, blessed life:

God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength. He calls together all men, scattered and divided by sin, into the unity of his family, the Church. To accomplish this, when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son as Redeemer and Savior. In his Son and through him, he invites men to become, in the Holy Spirit, his adopted children and thus heirs of his blessed life. (CCC 1)

            I don’t often permit myself the space to roam this mystery, to wander the halls of its significance, to feel the weight of its life-changing implications settling, soothing, over me like a sweet perfume.
            I do not have to exist.
            And yet.
            I do.
            And not as if by happenstance. God willed me to exist. He has always wanted me.
            In a plan of sheer goodness, I’m told.
            And He loves me so much that He wants me to return to Him, wants me to give my heart back to Him.
But He doesn’t force me. Quite the opposite.
He comes as a baby, meek and mild, so needy He who is so needed, dependent on others He upon whom we depend for the very breath in our lungs.
He came that we would know Him.
Born to die someday.
And still, years later, at the Last Supper with His disciples, He gave of Himself. Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
He does so still.
In the Eucharist at every Mass, He willingly mingles His divinity with our humanity, humbling Himself again and again, hundreds of thousands of times each day in parish churches around the world.
All for the sake of knowing us, of loving us.
In the words of Fr. Joe, it’s awesome.
And I cannot, will not, keep silent about this reality.
I want to sing it from the rooftops:
We are loved, we are loved, we are loved!

Merry Christmas, dear reader. I hope you feel loved and hopeful today.  

No Use Crying Over Spilled Tomato Soup.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Photo by Heather Schwartz on Unsplash


...Even when you spill it all over your beautiful Blessed Is She planner.

Because it was lying open on your coffee table and you just couldn't wait until after lunch to watch the 2017 finale of the Great British Baking Show on Netflix.

I'm embarrassed to admit how angry I got with myself for my over-confident bowl handing. I leapt up, grabbed a paper towel, began desperately rubbing the stains out of the pages, all the while saying many unkind things to myself.

"How could you do this, Sarah?!"

"Dangit, Sarah. You're such a spazz."

For the next seven months (I'll get a new planner in August), I'll have to write on pages rimmed with orange, all sad and waterlogged. And all because I'd forgotten Mom's cardinal rule to be extra careful not to spill red things. To keep superfluous items off of eating surfaces.

I could have kicked myself.

But then.

I remembered how my therapist has been speaking with me recently about self-compassion -- about learning to be kind to myself in those moments when I move automatically toward self-criticism.

Moments like, um, this one.

So I changed the way I was talking to myself.

"It's okay. You're only human, and sometimes humans spill things! Besides, you can still write in it. And, you know, you do write a lot of things in it, but you only spend a few minutes with it at a time. This isn't something that will ruin the rest of your life." I even tried to laugh at myself.

And it's not like it brought about an instant transformation. But I can't change the past. I can only change the way I speak to myself about a completely human mistake.

And -- I also thought of this: God wants to meet me in my mess, in a general sense. But usually I don't want Him there. So sometimes He has to force Himself in in a very literal way, I guess.

God wants to meet me in the ordinariness of my daily life, which is one of the reasons I was drawn to a Catholic planner in the first place. And what could be more ordinary than tomato soup splattered on its pages?

Long (melodramatic?) story short, I'll be okay.

I'll even try to smile when I open my planner every day for the next seven months.

Because God is still there, in all my mistakes and humanness. And He's there for you, too.

Be Still and Know.

Monday, November 26, 2018


Photo by Namroud Gorguis on Unsplash

From the ages of about two to four or five, I would listen to a cassette tape each night while falling asleep. Because I lacked the punning capabilities and wordsmithery I currently possess as a young adult, and because the tape was chock-full of songs my mom sang, I called it "Mommy's Music".

"Mommy's Music" featured many songs from the Catholic Mass -- a variety of what my family has affectionately termed in the years since, "Catholic Top 40." If you attend Mass regularly, you likely know the ones I mean:

Here I Am, Lord. Blest Are They. Canticle of the Sun. City of God.

Since well over twenty years have passed since those days, and since cassette tapes are more or less archaic by now, I have these songs in my iTunes library now. And there's one I find myself returning to every time I need a gentle reminder that I am loved.

It's called "By Name I Have Called You," by Carey Landry. The prelude, refrain, and the first verse go like this:

Be still, be still 
And know that I am your God.
Be still, be still
And know that I am with you.

By name I have called you,
By name I have saved you.
By name you are mine,
you are precious to me.

By name I have called you,
By name I have saved you.
Forever with you 
I will be.

Before you were born
I knew you.
Within your mother's womb
I formed you.
I appointed you to speak
in my Name.

I get chills thinking about how this reminder was sung over me every night as a small child: these words of the Lord, sung by my mother, a lullaby of my worth and belovedness and purpose, gently inscribed in my heart.

But these days, I've forgotten. Mistakes and secret shames and imperfections and other struggles have squirreled away into my heart, burrowing into the space God longs to inhabit, stopping Him at the door when He knocks. "Uh, God, are You sure You want to come in? I'm a mess."

I frequently find it hard to just... let Him love me. To let Him sing over me again. To listen as He calls to me still.  

Because still, I am called. Saved. Chosen. Precious. Known. 

And Beloved.

Be still, friend. Be still a while, here, with me. 

Be still and know that the same is true for you. 

Called.
Saved.
Chosen.
Precious.
Known.

Beloved.

You are so loved, dear reader. Remember that today.




Thanks Giving

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

I'm not sure how this happened... but suddenly Thanksgiving is in a week!

I'm sure you've noticed. The commercials and storefronts and grocery store deals on turkey and stuffing are all dead giveaways. :)

I'm sure you've also noticed that in celebrating this particular holiday, and during the month of November as a whole, the emphasis is always placed on that first word -- thanks. We're always talking about being thankful for what we have. When we speak about giving, it's usually only in the context of giving thanks, i.e. sharing what it is we're grateful for.

Gratitude is a vital habit of the heart to cultivate.

But so is the habit of giving.

The deacon at my parish put it so well in his homily at Mass this past weekend. The Gospel was the story from Mark 12:41-44 about the widow who put everything she had, "worth a few cents," we're told, into the treasury. Jesus praises her for giving from her poverty rather than her surplus.

The deacon said that there are three types of givers:
  1. Grudge givers give because they have to.
  2. Duty givers give because they ought to.
  3. Thanks givers give because they want to.
If I'm honest, I'm usually a "grudge" or a "duty" giver. I give because someone else first gave to me and I feel like I owe them something. I give because I live comfortably and if I can afford to make some sacrifices for the sake of others, I feel like I should. I give because it's a requirement of the Christian life.

But more often than I'd like to admit, I don't give at all. I tell myself that on a graduate student budget, I don't have much of a surplus to give from.

But is that really all that Jesus asks for? My money?

I think we can interpret the widow's "poverty" in last Sunday's Gospel in a few ways. In a literal sense, she has limited financial resources. But what resources do I see myself lacking? Where can I give from my poverty? And where can I do so in joy?

The most resounding and all-encompassing answer for me involves time, that elusive resource we all seem to be running low on, constantly.

I don't have much. But I have fifteen minutes to be fully present with a student who is struggling, instead of working on my own projects.

I don't have much. But I have a half hour to call my grandpa, instead of indulging in a surplus of Netflix episodes.

I don't have much. But I have an hour to treat a friend to coffee and to receive her in her sorrow and joy.

I don't have much. But I can trade the surplus of time I spend surfing the internet in the morning and offer it to God in prayer instead.

...And, when the opportunity calls, I can even spend the $25 I was going to put toward a new t-shirt on donating to a charity instead. Even a graduate student budget can afford to do that. :)

Here's to giving, more often, from our poverty. Here's to giving, more often, from thankful, joyful hearts.

Here's to giving thanks.

And to thanks giving.