Here I am with my mother and my mother’s mother. I am okay with these genes.

Today, I turn 40.

I don’t particularly remember the year I turned 10, though if I were slightly less lazy, I’d go out to the garage, pull out my childhood diaries, and reflect on the similarities and differences of adult and child Sarah.

The year I turned 20, I was deeply depressed. The year I turned 30, I had a newborn. So this is the first “0” birthday in a while in which I have felt clear-headed and capable of reflection.

Turning 40 was supposed to be a really big deal. This was the last-stop year my high-school friend Matt and I picked as the one we’d get married if neither of us had done that by now (we both have). I thought I should mark the occasion with a 40 day trip, or 4 ten-day trips, maybe to Europe and South America, to cities and countries I’ve longed to visit but have never quite been able to get to.

But this was the year my kid needed braces. And the year I started spending more money taking care of myself on a regular basis. And the year I realized two of our animals are getting pretty old. So, an extravagant trip was out of the question.

This was also the year I took a real break from work, a five-week vacation, after decades of never taking more than a week or two off at a time (and those not being exactly restorative). It’s been the year of re-discovering how much I like my nuclear family, after fifteen years of living across a continent from them. It’s been the year of watching my kid start to develop into the kind of human who will love God and others, set and meet goals, and take brave risks. It’s been the year of seeing my husband build a business and a livelihood on his own terms. And it’s been the year that three people, three peers, who we were close to at different times of our lives, have died…far too early.

We grew food this year. We met with an accountant and our financial advisor. We kept up with laundry and dishes and meal planning and appointments. We had family dinners, morning coffee and chats with my dad; took a road trip to see my grandmother, uncle, and sister in Boise; showed Giehl’s parents the coast and mountains of Oregon. Went on hikes and bike rides and for swims. It’s been a year of pretty ordinary things, which I am finally starting to see as extraordinary.

I’ll mark the actual day of my fortieth birthday (today) by drinking coffee, doing the Sunday crossword (it’s a board game theme! so fun!), going to the gym, and playing piano at tonight’s worship service. This would have been my Grandpa Clyde’s 99th birthday, had he not also died way too young. So, I’ll also spend some time feeling grateful for the family who made me. It’ll be a pretty mundane day without much by way of orchestrated pomp. No breakfast-in-bed or fancy dinners or elaborate surprises.

But that’s okay. Everyday is okay. Mundane is hard and extraordinary and beautiful, if we let it be.

For a long time, I think I carried a lot of anxiety about my life, about its impact. I wanted to do good in the world, to make the world a better place, to make a difference. I’ve written books and am helping to start a nonprofit that may fundamentally change the way the church thinks about animal creatures. I think I was afraid that me, just being me, wasn’t enough, wasn’t good enough. And truthfully, this is still a daily struggle. But it’s changing. Easing. Being replaced with a (slightly…ohsoslightly) increased ability to breathe.

I don’t know what the next decade will hold. I’m still determined to backpack around the world for months on end. And I’m still determined to do what I can to foster a world “on earth, as it is in heaven.” But I’m starting to realize that one of the most powerful ways I can do that, and one of the most rewarding, is to simply try to love the people and other creatures around me well, to do what OA tried to teach me so long ago: “what I can, when I can.”

I’m going to fail a lot at that, so apologies in advance for the days and weeks I anxiously steamroll over whatever obstacle is in my path.

Here’s some good advice for this decade from Walt (Whitman, not Disney), courtesy of the wise and wonderful abby:

“This is what you shall do: love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning god, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem…”



A Big Change

In November of 2002, at my parent’s house on Corona Street in Eugene, Oregon, I packed two big U-Haul boxes. One contained my clothes and some bedding, the other contained supplies for my cat, Max. My dad drove Max and me and my boxes to the Portland airport, where I walked through security with her in my arms and tears in my eyes. Vicki picked us up in Norfolk, Virginia later that same night and thus began my life on the east coast.

Fifteen years later, I’m headed home. Back to Eugene, to that same street on which I packed my boxes all those years ago, albeit a different house. This time, I’ll make the journey with my husband, son, our two dogs, two cats, and a truck full of what-remains-after-the-necessary-downsizing.

It’s incredibly bittersweet. We’re going to be much closer to my family (most of them) and much farther from Giehl’s. Isaiah doesn’t remember living anywhere except Philadelphia, and is pretty crushed to be leaving his friends. I’ve assured him that with relative frequency, he’ll be able to accompany me on work trips back east, and FaceTime was made for situations just like this. We’re leaving behind a church community that felt like home from the first day. I’ll miss hiking and running in the Wissahickon with amazingly supportive neighborhood friends, carpooling with Kristyn, book club, being ladies-who-lunch with Beth, and much, much more (not necessarily in that order).

I’m grateful that I’ll be able to keep my job after the move, that I’ll continue to be able to do work that I love and that is much needed. I’m grateful that the friends I’ve been able to tell in person have been supportive and are making plans to visit. I’m excited to see what new connections I’ll make on the west coast, what people I’ll be able to meet and partner with who might have otherwise flown under my east-coast-focused radar. I’m filled with joy and anticipation knowing I’ll be just an hour away from the Oregon coast, the place at which my heart feels totally at rest. And I’m so, so happy that we’ll be able to share day-to-day life with my mother and brother.

But the joy and gratitude and overwhelm is tempered by a palpable, sharp grief, at least for now.

If we are east coast friends, I hope we can stay connected in a meaningful way. I hope we can have a meal together when I’m in town and that you will text me West Wing gifs in the middle of the day just because. And I hope you know you’ll always have a place to stay on Corona Street.

how sarah’s brain works (or…doesn’t)

  1. I wonder why I haven’t heard back from my professor yet about my book?
  2. Come on, Sarah, it’s only been, like, two hours. Give him time to get through traffic and get home, for crying out loud.
  3. Duh, of course. I’m being unreasonable.
  4. [a day passes]
  5. OK, but I would have expected, like, a text or something by now indicating something that he liked or, like, marking the number of times that he’s already cried. Maybe I’m too much of a Debbie downer? Maybe I was even snarkier and more obnoxious than I remember and it makes reading painful?
  6. Sarah, it’s fine. He told you once he’s a slow reader, remember? Plus, dude’s on sabbatical, has family that he enjoys spending time with, and a life. Plus, it was a really nice weekend. The world doesn’t revolve around you!
  7. (sigh) You’re right, you’re right, I know you’re right.
  8. [two days pass]
  9. Shit. Shit. Shit.
  10. What now? For crying out loud. Get it together.
  11. It’s just that…he’s clearly discovered that I’m an impostor and he’s trying to find the nicest way to tell me that I am fundamentally incapable of doing theology.
  12. I don’t think so, he seems to genuinely think you’re smart.
  13. No, for real. You wrote a lot, and it’s only been three days.
  14. Three and a half. Almost four. And he said he was going to read it right away.
  15. Seriously, get a grip, Sarah. He’s got other things to do.
  16. Maybe I should email him? Joke about whether or not he regrets agreeing to grant me a degree?
  17. Oh, please don’t. No one likes the smell of a desperate approval-seeker.
  18. (sniff) Is that what that is? I thought it was just my new deodorant…Do you think this is weirdly passive aggressive, or charmingly vulnerable and honest?
  19. It’s hard to tell. I give up.
  20. No, wait! I didn’t mean to make you mad! Come back!


When did I start to feel lonely in crowds?

Did it creep up on me? Is it related to the isolation that comes with depression? Am I just less friendly and adventurous than I used to be?

For years, I had a perception of myself as an extrovert. I thought I was fueled by being around people. I thought I feared being alone. I thought that fear might be hiding a fundamental spiritual or emotional deficient, so I did my best to be with people.

Looking back, I can see signs of my impending introversion. I spent every minute that I could with my nose stuck in a book. I calmed my anxious or angry heart by taking long drives along the Mackenzie River. When I finally moved into my own tiny attic apartment, at 24 years old, I relished my solo Saturday morning routine, walking to the Harris Teeter for breakfast or to Fair Grounds for a cup of coffee, reading the New York Times, sitting in the sun and quiet with my cats. No cell phone, no television, no internet or Facebook or laptop.

But last week, at a conference of like-minded Jesus-and-justice people, I found myself feeling very lonely. It struck me first in a crowded meet and greet for conference speakers, which I crashed with a friend of mine who was on the speaker roster. The hotel suite was packed with people speaking animatedly in groups of two or three and I was in a corner, wishing there was a ficus to hide behind, as I watched the conversations happen around me.

Maybe it’s because I find small talk hard to handle. When people ask what my organization does, I don’t want to tell them, “I think we’re having a bit of an identity crisis.” When people ask me how I am, I don’t think they will take it well if I reply, “Oh, you know, thanks to the pharmaceutical industry, I can manage to drag myself out of bed at ten am, but most days I feel like I’m walking through concrete.” I don’t know how to fake it, so I withdraw.

I don’t know how to make friends in groups of strangers anymore. This hasn’t historically been the case. I started a new school in the third grade, then in the middle of the year my family moved from Idaho to Oregon. I made friends just fine. Even in high school, when I started as a freshman at a different school than my middle school classmates, I managed.

In fact, my whole lovely high school experience started that first day of school, when I was brave enough to ask two girls if I could eat lunch with them. I had met Sarah once before, at a mutual friend’s house, but I didn’t know Amanda from Adam. They introduced me to their friends, who became my friends, too, and I managed to make it through the four years of high school with nothing but very happy memories.

Could I do that again today? In some ways, I have. I made friends at Circle of Hope and at Palmer Seminary. In both cases, I walked into rooms of strangers and, by the grace of God, walked out with dear beloved companions. So what’s the difference between the crowded mixer and a crowded classroom? Are the people in each space fundamentally different? Do mixers attract plastic people while the real ones congregate in classrooms?

No. I think all of these spaces are probably filled with people like me, who are choosing whether to be their authentic self or to project an image that helps them feel safe.

I think the difference in my experience is me. I choose whether to be real. I choose whether to try hard to be charming and funny or to just be myself (which is still pretty charming and funny). I choose whether to imitate fakery or display authenticity. And when I choose vulnerability, honesty, and openness, I make friends. Sometimes that authenticity might not work for other people. It might cause some discomfort. And that’s okay.

I still don’t know if I’m an introvert or an extrovert. I think that might change with the seasons. But I do know that I’m not the only one who feels lonely in a crowd. So maybe next time I’m standing in corner by myself, wishing for a ficus, instead of focusing on passing judgement on the plastic people, I’ll look in the nooks and crannies for other loners who might also be looking for someone with whom they can share.


I’m traveling tomorrow morning, early, to the west best coast, first to go to a conference and then to visit my family in Oregon.

I used to travel with abandon and without a care in the world. I’d throw a bag together and head out for an impromptu road trip, eagerly anticipated opportunities to go overseas, and relished the adventure of wandering through new places alone.

These days, that joyful excitement is tinged with a hefty portion of anxiety, particularly when I’m heading off without Isaiah in tow. I start to feel it in my belly weeks in advance – that crunching, churning, acidic fear. I feel my heart race. My sleep is restless and filled with disturbing dreams. I feel guilty for leaving my son so much, even though he’s here with his dad and a half-dozen surrogate parents who genuinely love and appreciate him. I know I’ll wake up the morning of travel, in the early morning hours, and feel a deep dread. I know when the plane takes off and lands, or hits a little patch of turbulence, I’ll cling to the arms of the tiny seats and pray “Please Jesus, please Jesus, please Jesus.” I’ll try to remember my friend Lily’s image of angels carrying the plane on their wings (even though I know, I know…physics). I know when my son and husband get on a plane a few days later to come meet me (forgetaboutit burglars, we have an awesome house-sitter), I’ll fret for their safety until I meet them outside of the security area in the airport. I know I have life-insurance and a living will and that if I do die, they’ll get through it. Life will go on.

I don’t want to be afraid of dying. I don’t want to dwell on the thought that my son might die before I do. But I do. I do.

And while some might say that makes me a bad Christian, I say it makes me pretty human. A human with a slightly defective brain who tries her best to use crushing anxiety and chronic depression as opportunities to learn to trust, to release the idea of control, in a world that wires us for FEAR! FEAR! FEAR! and to chase the lie that we are our own gods.

There’s been a lot of nasty weather around here lately (cough-climate change-cough). Earlier today, a little band of thunder and lightening rolled through the region. It was loud, and a little scary, but not catastrophic. As expected, the local 11:00 am news spent the bulk of their 30 minute newscast talking about the lightening-heard-round-the-city and showering us with information about the storm and its aftermath (one downed power line, from what I gathered).

Yesterday on my drive in to work, a local radio personality was interviewing an automotive writer about driverless technology in cars and during that interview she said, “Any technology that will keep us safer is a good thing.” Not to go all tin-foil hat on you or anything, but when we start thinking that way, we’re only a skip and a jump away from allowing technology (and the people and institutions who control that technology) to rule us. Safety is our god. Power is our lord. And information technology is our savior.

Gosh, does that sound familiar? I can’t help but think of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Genesis 2. God’s creative power has resulted in a peaceful, nourishing, cooperative paradise. Men and women are partners with other created beings. They are all cared for and in loving communion with the One who gave them life. But their desire for control, to “be like God,” outweighs their appreciation of these gifts. And so the story of human history is now the story of brokenness and longing. Longing for more power, but also for reconciliation and restoration. A constant tug-of-war.

That conflict is in me. I know that the illusion of control is dangerous and, ultimately, doomed to be disappointing. I know that I can’t predict the future, that my son or I or anyone I love could keel over dead at any point, anywhere, no matter what I do or don’t do. That wars ravage the globe and injustice runs deep and wide. My goodness, my preparedness, my checklists and procedures and precautions don’t add up to security.

“I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:1-3)

Security comes from the author of the universe. And we learn through Jesus that it doesn’t always look very secure. Jesus was crucified, many of his early followers were martyred. Jesus-followers today put themselves in harm’s way to be peacemakers and reconcilers. Think of this lone priest in Kiev, standing between police and protestors. That doesn’t look very secure to me. Think of medical professionals who enter countries ravaged by poverty, colonial rule, and war, called to minister through their vocation to those in desperate need. Think of the men and women who stand between warring gangs in the inner cities, trying to stop gun violence.

And think of the everyday people, like you and like me, who face everyday battles fueled by a culture of fear, violence, and injustice. Double- and triple-checking our doors and windows are locked at night, jumping a little bit every time the school calls in the middle of the day, choosing isolation over participation out of our fears of rejection or failure.

I hate to sound like a cheesy valentine, but I think the remedy for this fear is love. “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” (1 John 4:16b) God doesn’t abide in those who have it all together or get it all right. If you live in love, God lives in you. “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgement, because as he is, so are we in the world.” (v. 17) Bring it on, crappy, broken world. Bring it on. I’ve seen perfect love in Jesus, and I’m trying to live in love the best I know how. You can’t throw anything at me that love won’t absorb. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” (v. 18) I know I won’t reach perfection in love. It’s far off, but I know that love abides in me, and that if I listen to that love when fear is screaming at me, trying to get my attention…my heart rate drops, by breath calms, and my mind starts to focus on something besides the chaos I create.

So, tomorrow morning, I’ll try listening to love instead of fear. And we’ll see what happens.  And I might listen to this a couple more times, too.