Bite. Your. Tongue.

A photo by Oscar Keys.

A few days ago, my two oldest daughters had a disagreement with one another. For the life of me, I cannot begin to remember what started the verbal war between the two. (mainly because I’ve been floating in a state of little sleep and I don’t think chocolate—as a primary source of nutrition—is much of a memory preserver)

All I can recall, before my memory cuts off at the exchange of two words (idiot and moron) angrily lobbed at one another, was something about eggs. That was right before steam shot out of my ears like a locomotive and my head swiveled like Medusa. I highly doubt they said anything after my wicked transformation into pissed off Mama.

I could lie to you and tell you that discipline came in the form of them sitting in time-out for ten minutes. A solitary place where they both could think of ten uplifting things about each other. Then I made them recite those affirmations of character to one another while they held hands.

But that wouldn’t be the truth.

I got so mad that I burst out crying (Medusa cries, just so you know). And, once I calmed down, I went off the deep end about name calling being the ugliest form of a sucker punch. And as their Mama, I can’t defend a sucker punch.

It was a tirade—this episode of mine. And I’m not sure they heard what I was really trying to “teach” them. Maybe it was the tears, or my head swiveling on my neck, I’ll never know.

But now it’s been awhile; I’m more collected (basically, not an emotional basket case incapable of training up children). I feel strong enough to put into written word why I am so hung up on name calling.

First, I’d rather be slapped in the face than called a derogatory word. (Seriously, don’t slap me–I am fragile.) Call it a childhood hang up, but it’s my truth.

I can still remember the first time someone called me a name. The impact it had on me is one I won’t forget. I was in the sixth grade. My home life was weary and intensely stressful. My parents were only a few months shy of announcing their impending divorce. My childhood was on the verge of shattering.

One weekend, I’d been invited to a birthday party. The birthday party. The one where all the “cool” kids would be there. Rocking a too tight perm (that was awkwardly growing out and worse, an undercut), I’d never felt more accomplished, to be invited, at age 11. In my mind, I had made it to the proverbially inner circle of social hierarchy.

Little did I know, my fall from the “so-called top” would be swift and hurt like hell.

At this birthday party, we played ‘spin the bottle’ or maybe it was ‘truth or dare,’ I can’t remember. According to the spin or dare, I had to kiss a boy (who I will not name) who I thought had won the 1.6 (I’m not talking the measly 656 million, it was the record jackpot, mmmkay) billion dollar lottery of all genes. In my eyes, he was it–the. cutest. boy. in. all. the. land.

The peck was 2 seconds, pink cheeks and no eye contact for the rest of the party (and probably the rest of entire school year) followed. We were 11. It was the first “kiss” I’d ever had.

I’d return to school the following Monday, most likely skipping, with Cupid’s arrow surely still visible, like a love struck fool. I was standing outside the school, among a few friends, waiting for the bell to ring, when a girl walked straight up to me and stuck out her hand.

I was confused. This person was apart of that social hierarchy I’d perceived of my own free will; we did not talk. Did she want me to shake her hand?

Clearly not getting it, she reached out and took my hand and placed it into hers and then she rigorously shook our locked hands, before she said, “Congratulations. You’re a slut.” Everyone, after the initial shock wore off, laughed.

The image is one burned in to my memory. (I’d later learn that this boy, I’d barely brushed lips with, was “going out” with this girl’s friend.)

I stood there, shocked and humiliated. After the bell rang, I went into the bathroom and locked myself into a stall, sunk into the metal barrier and cried. An ugly cry.

Those words, for longer than I care to admit, clung to my fragile self-esteem. The adhesive was my own insecurities, my broken home life, and the blooming idea, amid my humiliation, that I held little worth.

It was the “bully” moment of my childhood and it changed me.

I think my emotions, upon hearing my daughters name calling with such vengeance, pulled me under an ardent tide because my oldest daughter will be 11 next year. We are encroaching on territory that holds a painful landscape of mine.

She could break someone, or be broken by someone.

I cannot change the past, nor do I hold any ill will against this memory, or any one in it. But this is my chance, Lord willing, to place power into changing my children’s culture.

What I told my girls, when I was ready to broach the subject again, was this.

“Death and Life are in the power of the tongue.” Proverbs 18:21

I told them I wanted them to understand the value of a word. A word is profound.  No matter the size.  It holds power, casted negatively or positively over, against, and for someone.

Even just a single, negative word can cause a deep-seated fissure upon someone’s heart; striking a negatively false belief in their self-esteem and their self-worth.

One. Single. Word.

Is all it takes.

I shared with them the responsibility we shoulder using words and the value of “why” we need to choose to communicate our frustrations versus the easy way out–the verbal sucker punch.

I want them to be cognizant their words could break a child’s heart, one who is suffering. Who feels unloved and lost. Who wants to desperately fit in, because there isn’t a fit in their home life.

Their words could scar someone, stranger or friend alike.

In truth, we never know where someone stands, in light or the shadows of darkness, but our universal culture has to be kindness mixed with a little bit of bite. your. tongue.

It’s easier biting your tongue, than eating your words. (Here’s where I tell you I had a mind to go to a speciality grocery store and find the most disgusting thing–sure to have the worst taste–and labeling it ‘idiot’ and ‘moron’ and then making them eat it.)

My Beloved.

I remember the first time I met Trav.

He was tall, lanky, freckled and his bowl-cut-hairstyle swished in an “only in the movies” halo motion when he walked. His electric blue eyes and mischievous, lopsided grin defiantly pulled you in, holding this notion that he held secrets–the kind you suddenly found yourself pining to be in on.

The setting was youth group at our local church. For several weeks, I tagged along with a friend on Wednesday nights–probably more intent on hopefully seeing Trav, than seeking God. (Sorry, Jesus. It was the hormones.)

One evening, group was cancelled (okay, honestly…we skipped—sorry parents) and my friend and I, along with Trav, crossed the street to the convenient store adjacent the church. Trav bought us Surges and we walked back, kicked rocks in the parking lot and drank our overtly caffeinated sodas. Oh, the innocence.

To this day, I can still remember hanging on to his every word the hour we all spent together. And looking back, I think in return, I mostly giggled like an idiot and only managed to speak two and half words total the entire sixty minutes. “Um. Th-thhhank. You.”

Instead of talking, I embarrassingly stared a not-so-secret hole into him, while mentally envisioning our future wedding. Or I made “I love him” or “dibs” eyes at my friend, while Trav wasn’t looking. He had to think I was strange.

Regardless, I went home that night (and ripped down all my Justin Timberlake and Backstreet Boys posters) and, in the most eloquent, bubbly handwriting I could master, scribbled “Sarah Black” or “Sarah loves Travis” on every piece of paper I could find until my hand cramped six hours later. The next morning I awoke nearly drowning in a sea of decorated notebook paper and pledged myself the sole follower of cult Travis. My mother might have thought of committing me when I started hanging the sketches I made of our future children on my bedroom wall. **sidenote—I have never claimed to be sane.

Needless to say, I was irrevocably mesmerized by Trav.

Like. School. Girl. Crushing. Hard.

Just call me a shameless fanatic.

When I transferred schools the beginning of junior high, I nearly combusted seeing Trav walk down the hall. There he was, my idol. We “went out” for a week in 7th grade and then he broke up with me (that whole scene: have your friend call, with you on three-way, and break up for you. I cried into my pillow for weeks). It probably went south when I started naming our imaginary, future children on day 2. (I’m kidding…a little)

We were great friends (and frenemies too) through junior high. But it wasn’t until we were fifteen that it would all come together. (think I put a spell on you…)

Really, though (he totally pursued me and said I love you first)…it just clicked and the rest is history…

We were crazy in love. And when we decided to get married straight out of high school it was hard for people to accept. “Are you pregnant? You’re not pregnant?  Then why are you getting married at seventeen, you crazy person?!”

The disbelief was strong and overwhelming, but nevertheless we clasped hands and jumped: said our “I do’s” and shoved our meager belongings into the smallest U-haul they made and hit the highway headed to the big City.

We arrived on the doorstep of our much too expensive apartment with sizable dreams and deflated, empty pockets. We probably held the belief as newlyweds that our love was tangible, capable of paying for the electricity and putting food in our bellies. Actually, I’m positive we did.

That very first month, when our first bills started to arrive addressed with our newly conjoined names stamped in a depressive font on the front, we found that love does not keep you cool in the summer, nor buy ramen and hot dogs (no, not even the chicken kind. Ew.)

We were so naive, silly, and broke…

Fast forward to today, three days shy of celebrating twelve years of marriage and our naiveté is mildly corrupted and we’re still eating ramen, thankfully, by choice. And I still find myself swept up in my desire for Trav; the fangirl within me is still alive and creepy, staring at him long before he wakes.

Only now, I’m caught up in the sight of this beautiful man, no longer the boy I relentlessly desired to make mine, who is the father of my daughters, the partner I’ve built a life with, a man who shares in the legacy I will leave one day.

Those teenage memories, so many years gone, are easy to recall, because desire is the easiest part of a relationship–strictly because desire only recognizes the most alluring attributes of a person.

But loving someone, truly loving them, ah…that’s the hardest part. (After a few years of marriage we learned why most are cynical, warning you of the hardship of marriage, which we completely scoffed at–with a definite eye roll for good measure–when we were seventeen.)

In the beginning, we couldn’t imagine not making it. Marriage was going to be cake—the strawberry kind with double icing and chilled to perfection.

Little did we know that we’d metaphorically shove that cake in each other’s faces during year one, two, three, four…you get the idea. And the best, most simple advice we received, a week before we got married that we totally did not take seriously either, from the very man who married us (and shares the same anniversary date as Trav and I) would come to be our marriage’s saving grace.

He said, “At some point, today, tomorrow, years from now…one or both of you are going to want to give up, but the key is that you don’t do it at the same time.”

It’s been a hard learned lesson, in maturity and pride, that loving someone demands the most noble part of you—because truly loving someone is a pure, selfless act. It’s putting them before you despite living in a world that leads with instant gratification and self-centeredness.  It’s not becoming victimized by the wayward belief that if we are not “always” being made happy than we deserve better.

Some days, I really don’t want to give Trav the last piece of jerky and it might secretly pain me to watch him eat it–this is a lie.  This never happens because he always gives me the last piece.  On others, I want to shout from Kilimanjaro how much I love him and our life feels like a Polaroid taken from the most beautiful Insta account ever.  And yes truthfully, I might have even had days where I thought about dressing him in a straight jacket and throwing him off the side of a cliff.  Yep, that’s anger for you.  Shit gets real.

Truth is nothing is ever all good, or all bad.

Over the course of our twelve years of marriage, we’ve been through the teenage years, college life, become parents four times over, moved nine times, continue to have over a decade career in one of the most cut-throat businesses, had family judge our marriage and us as people, dug through the lowest of our depths and the highest reaches of our triumphs, had money, lost money; we’ve failed and honored, fought and loved, and in short–walked the line for more than a mile about calling it quits.

This is our truth—it is a seamless union of all things grisly and gorgeous, because marriage is hard. It’s even harder than math for me (and we all know how hard that is…). Nobody is perfect at marriage, because being human is even harder.  And loving someone in such a self-serving world is the hardest.

But at our core, being human is also the most beautiful part of life. We all are able to choose: to fight for who we love, to forgive who we love, to better ourselves for who we love and the life we live together.

To write this in honor of our twelve-year anniversary feels like an accomplishment, a victory, a testament to our love for one another; despite the struggles of life, we are still choosing together–two imperfect, flawed people fighting to protect the boy and girl who fell in love at 15, so innocently mad for one another, who signed every handwritten note with “always and forever,” and safeguarded the belief that they are meant to be together…

“Choose your love, then love your choice.” –Unknown

To my man (my best choice in life), who has evoked immeasurable happiness in my life, my most treasured and favorite person, my beloved…

Happy 12th Annie, I love you…with a love that shall not die.


Therapy: The Music Kind.


A month ago, I went searching my through my binder—the kind that holds hundreds of cd’s. If you’re a millennial, you know what I’m talking about.

I even had the “cd visor” too. I sported that baby proudly in my black Ford Taurus (with fuzzy, zebra print seat covers).  I was legit.  More so, I miss those days.  Strictly because cd’s do not run out of battery, unlike my iPhone constantly knocking on death’s door.  It’s literally a running joke between Trav and I.

Trav: “I called, but it went straight to voicemail.”

Me: I can’t help but to laugh as I confess, “sorry, my phone died…again.”

Trav: Rolls eyes, before muttering, “shocker!”

I was on a mission, surfing through my collection, created and collected between the ages of 12-17 years-old, in search of Deana Carter’s “Did I Shave My Legs for This?”

Know it?  If not, iTunes search it, now. It is gold, at least when I was twelve I thought so (okay, I still do. And to this day, I can lip sync every word from that album).

Back then, I lived on an air force base and ran around with several girls from the neighborhood.  We had a club that met in a backyard playhouse and we even had club dues.  The last summer we spent together, we vowed (in blood—I’m kidding, it was probably fruit juice or red nail polish) when we turned sixteen, we’d get together and drink “Strawberry Wine”—the best song on the album.

Side note, we were 11. But even now, at the age of 29, listening to that cd makes my face split in two, my grin chasing after my ears.

My oldest daughter just turned ten. She is a year younger than I was that summer.  The realization makes me stop for a minute and consider how fast this life moves. Be. Still. My. Heart.

After I found that cd, I continued to rifle through my case.

Confession: I have a slight obsession with music. It fuels me. I listen to it while I get ready in the morning, while I drive (and secretly get annoyed when people want to talk in the car–just let me listen to the music, okay), and mostly when I write. I am a lover of words, which makes me also the person, who tells you, “listen to the lyrics…” and then I will stare you down making sure you are “listening” to the words. I’m insane, okay.

As I flipped page after page filled with pocketed cd’s, I was so overcome with eye glistening nostalgia.  Most of the cd’s I own were created, or bought by friends. Some of those friends, a decade and a half later, are still my great friends, some I haven’t seen in years and others, well, the cd living in my case is the only lasting proof of an old friendship long expired.

I was completely swept up in a heap of emotion because these plastic circles are more than cd’s with various music sealed in them; they are memories of my adolescence.

Nearing the end of my case, I was caught off-guard when my eyes landed on a red cd. If I were to pick one cd from that time in my life, that means the most to me, it would be this one.

Linkin Park: [Hybrid Theory] Try to remember your most angst filled moment of your teenage years—this cd encompasses that for me. I was fourteen, the age when you are awkwardly stepping into teenagedom, when this cd was given to me.  (I might have even borrowed it from my friend and later refused to give it back.)

At the time, my parents were moving on from their divorce, dating new people and I was lost somewhere in unchartered territory. These songs, loud and angry, connected to what I felt then.

After I found the cd and stared at it for longer than a reasonable amount of time, I raced up to my daughter’s room. I grabbed her Hello Kitty cd player (in the age of iPods and such, it’s the only cd player my family owns) and rushed down to my closet. I locked myself in there, not wanting the beauties listening to semi-mosh pit lyrics, and listened and half-cried, like an emotional lunatic, to a few songs on the album (and later that same day, my brother and his girlfriend came over and I made them listen to it, too).

I cried remembering that time in my life, when I truly felt like life was mean and dark. When I believed that love was all about taking and that people leave–even the ones you thought would stay. It was a time in my life when I felt broken, but these songs, this album in its entirety, gave me an outlet to place my hurt in to. It was cheap therapy.

And I listened to that cd for a solid year.  I probably scared my little sister, who shared a room with me.

I couldn’t see it then, like I can now, but I am thankful for the friend, who gave me Hybrid Theory (or loaned and I never gave back…).  Sometimes, friendships, whether they survive or end, serve greater purposes–leaving a withstanding impact on you, or just being a solid fixture when life seems so very heavy and scattered.

Reflecting I know, even if it felt incomprehensible at fourteen, that darkness does not last forever.  God is gracious and merciful.

And music is a priceless haven, a keeper of recollections both lost and found, a balm to confused, burning wounds, a non-judgmental companion and an eternal friend.