Sweet Thea

February 2022.

“Gift of God” were the words that sold it for me. Thea.

My gift of an angel, in dog form is heading into surgery today to have a tumor in her mouth removed. All the prep, vet visits and conversations, guide my memories back in time to our first weeks together. When this lifestyle was forced into our routine without an invitation. RSVP’ed to our lives, assuming the invite was lost in the mail or returned to sender. Thea and I have quite the unique story together, where times such as these tug at me to tell it…

I needed a gift from God. Then, more than ever. Following the days, weeks and months of graduating college, moving across the country 5 days later, embracing one of the most grueling teaching programs, my grandma passing, becoming grossly ill and starting my first teaching job, I would have settled for the gift of a hug and called it a day. But, on this stormy, muggy, Nashville afternoon, a gift of God was more than I could ask for or predicting on the horizon. Listening to the pitter patter of rain plop on the roof of my new house that was not yet a home, I began to itch at impatience researching the internet for names that would perfectly encompass who my new fur faced friend would be. I hadn’t met my new best friend yet, but wanted a name that would represent all I could want in the season I was currently living. My warm chin rested on my much -too- boney knee, barricading myself onto my chair, with my old sorority sweatshirt swallowing me whole, as I scrolled, and scrolled, praying the name and meaning would jump off the screen anytime now. Moments before I called it quits and shut my laptop, I saw the words “gift of God” appear across my screen. “Wow, God, you could’t be anymore direct with that one dude. Gee, thanks!” The name “Thea” was the home to this beautiful meaning. I did a bit more research on the name just to fact check, and considering all the sources, both the Greek and Latin meaning boiled down to the essence encompassed in the the phrase “Gift of God”. That’s exactly what Sweet Thea has been to my life since the day I brought her home in August of 2017.

I find it laughable and humorously frustrating that my “gift of God” just so happens to be a Pitbull. The breed that is the most bullied, feared, shamed and condemned by society. My gift is the world’s liability issue, and the best five dollars I’ve ever spent (YEAH CALIFORNIA, I’M LOOKIN AT YOU AND YOUR BREED RESTRICTIONS). So everyday I tell her “you’re my best girl, my best gift” because the world tells her the opposite. Thea has quite the story that continues to be lived out even after 4 and a half years of calling her mine. She stood out to me at the rescue shelter because she was the only dog in 3 rooms full of animals who was not barking. She was pretty beat up: Scars on her chin, evidence of a fresh liter of puppies, and extremely malnourished weighing at skeletal 46 pounds for a Pitbull, and her collar drooping off her neck. She looked like anything but a “gift”, which is why I knew she was the one for me. I looked at her and thought “there’s my girl.” Sweet Thea. I would learn very quickly that Thea was more than just a gift, she was a breathing miracle.

August 2017. The day I brought her home.

A week marking her first few days as mine, I came home from work to the image and of my floor saturated in blood. Tiny drops, and then puddles everywhere. Since I am a truth teller, I will not lie and say I totally remained calm, level headed, and peacefully escorted my pup into the car. No. I straight up panicked, yelled and screamed. The sight of the never ending blood, sent me into tears, as I haphazardly scooped her up and raced the rain to the first vet’s office I could find on Google Maps. This was were we found our beloved vets in Nashville, who fell in love with her just as I did, mess and all. While I felt taken care of there, we were transferred to a nearby animal hospital where they performed overnight emergency surgery on her. Through my blurred vision, I starred at the sterile floor, covered in blood mixed with my salt filled tears, and burst into the battle cry of “Why would you give me a gift just to take it away from me?! Why would you let me fall in love with this dog to take her away and destine me with loneliness!?” Hope was for suckers I thought. And so is love.

Battle shots seized the next morning to the sound of a 6:00 AM phone call with the news that it was touch and go (literally), but Thea was now stable. Drugged up, weak and in pain, but alive. Alive was all I needed. I could work with alive. Our new normal wasn’t normal for awhile. Thea couldn’t walk up our stairs, be without her cone, and required more medication than a drugstore could hold. We spent a plethora of sleepless, air mattress nights downstairs together, hand fed meals, and spent much of her time being carried in my arms. I thought the worst was over, but I turned my back unprepared for the sneak attack.

That Wednesday, I was on my way home to the same scene; Blood everywhere. My roommate called me with the reality, and I didn’t even get inside before Thea was in my car and we were on our way back to the ER.  That wasn’t enough this time. Thea’s loss of blood volume was excessive, and she had an alarming low red blood cell and platelet count. For the second time in two weeks, I watched her wince as she was whisked away in panic, leaving my scenery to reverberation of swinging doors, unaware of if I’d ever see her again.  

I very impatiently waited for the phone call that came at 1:00 PM the following day. Where the voice at the other end sucker punched me to my knees in a wail. “We’re so sorry ma’am, but Thea’s blood cell count has dropped to a considerably low level: 10%”. Thea had extreme vaginal bleeding following a spay procedure before I took her home from the rescue shelter, in addition to abdominal damage after exploration. Due to how she was treated before I adopted her, she was aggressively used as a breeding dog, and therefore, unfortunately resulting in a “prominent uterus” where tissues are much more friable. Considering all of this, and the damage, when Thea went in for her routine spay surgery, her uterine vessels slipped out of the ligature, causing the bleeding. Since Thea already went in for surgery a week prior to stop the bleeding from what was left of her uterus, the prognosis wasn’t looking or sounding promising. By the end of the phone call, I was left with the 24 hour ultimatum to find faith in the depths of my pockets to search for thousands of more dollars that my new teachers salary didn’t provide, or put her down. The words almost swallowed me whole.

The next day, I drove to the ER that Thea had now resided in for 3 days, with complete emptiness in my head and heart about my decision. The truest of truths was I had no idea what words were going to exit my mouth as a group of professionals stared at me and probed about my choice. I was fifteen minutes out when I received a call. I answered half expecting for the news that Thea didn’t make it through the night. But that day, hope wasn’t for suckers, hope was for me. “We’re not sure how to tell you this, or the explanation behind it, but a medical management procedure that is usually used to buy time, has worked for Thea on a more permanent level.” I’m fairly certain I stopped breathing as she continued: “This morning, a recheck focal ultrasound showed resolution of the blood within her vaginal vault, and her PCV showed that her red blood cell count is starting to regenerate (now up to 24%). Since Thea is no longer actively bleeding, we don’t have any reason to keep her. Please come take your girl home.” For the first time since moving to Nashville, I cried happy tears. An unexplainable miracle came knocking, and I couldn’t invite it in fast enough. I drove to the animal hospital the rest of the way as if I was a person who could afford a speeding ticket.

I made the most tear soaked promise to my gift of God that day. That she would always be my best girl, and it was her and I against the world. That God knew she needed me just as much as I needed her, and that we belonged to each other. The movie trailer version is, Thea has comforted me in one of the most heart wrenching shattering seasons of my life, has helped make 3 houses a home, drove cross country with me for a move and was the most well behaved of us all, sleeps and cuddles in my bed every night, licks my tears away, is too smart for her own good, takes her fetch game seriously, shares the same smile as me, now needs to lose weight and not gain it, loves to play in the snow and hates the water (baths are fun), will do anything for a belly rub, has been loved beyond measure by my favorite people, and has never dropped blood since.

Thea is my gift of God. She’s my best friend and my living miracle.  The only constant in my young adult life that is ever changing and never stable. The one who I can come home to for endless tail wags when the world steps all over me like a door mat. My choosen cuddler to lay on the floor with and lick away my life’s problems.   The one who stays when sometimes my life feels like a revolving door of friendships. Today, as she heads in for surgery I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a nervous wreck, but I smirk and feel like the two of us have the world’s best kept secret: That life is for us, and hope isn’t for suckers.  

Mollee’s Music

I live life on one volume. Loud. Loud pulses through every fiber of my being and every beat of my heart. I talk loud, I laugh loud, I love loud and my presence is loud. I’m loud when I walk, talk, teach, cry, type, and cheer. I dream on full blast, have a concert in my car each morning and dance to the music as it reverberates below my feet. For heavens sake, I’ve even been told I smile loud and whisper loud. Loud is the soundtrack that my world turns to. For 27 years, living alive is living loud. My truest self, my most sincere me has always danced through the world this way. No one needs to worry when I’m loud. No, nothing is wrong, no, I’m not yelling, no, I’m not angry, it’s quite the opposite. Everything is just right! I’m loving life so much it bursts at my seams in loud squeals of excitement and delight. It’s the absence of loud when the warning siren is the loudest.

This year has been the silent suffering of not being able to live loud. Something that has never served to be a hardship for me before, is now something I fight to see glimpses of everyday. Since March I’ve been struggling with intense and at times unbearable back pain. What once was just pain sitting in my lower spine has now poisoned its way down my legs, knees, ankles and feet. To the point where pushing on a gas pedal sends a crushing pain through my feet. My natural state of energizer bunny status now needs a nap and recharge by 8:00 A.M. I have found more revival in scorching, hot baths to alleviate pain and curling up in bed, than a happy hour drink with the dearest friends, dancing around my room and Friday night shenanigans. I’ve been a piece in the game of medical/ health care Jumanji, where each level is just as frustrating as the first. I am thrown from “Congrats! you have a disc disease! Move up two spaces”, to the wild card of “nope, not Sciatica, nope not a kidney disease” to a “oh no! The doctors scanned the wrong part of your body in your MRI, go back to start”. To only circle my way back to beginning all over again at level one with a round about session of how-many-departments-can-I-get-transferred-to-on-my-lunch-break- to-book-an-appointment…ready, set, go! What an adrenaline rush these days.

One by one, branches of what living loud means to me have been stripped away. Infamous surprise trips cancelled, bachelorette parties missed, dancing days dwindling to none, absent from weddings, and empty bleachers and sidelines of cheering on friends and students. I miss my loud, people-filled days while bouncing around from one passion to the next. I yearn for it with all of me. I ache for it everyday. Surprisingly enough, I’m not here to write a complaint letter, nor detailed play-by-play of my current standing with my health issues. I’m here with the testimony of who loved me…loves me loud through the silence.

I’m lucky enough to have been invited into the most welcoming, small group of humans at work to sister through life with. We are a collection of beauty, talents, walks of life, Jericho’s and the perfect blend of adventure seekers, life navigators through our 20s, birthday celebrators, loud life livers (ME) and quiet, graceful wisdom givers (NOT ME). They have been the best love-filled gift since moving back to San Diego.

I recall sitting at a happy hour in a booth at our home away from home, Slater’s 50/50 this past May cheersing over the last weeks of the 2020-2021 school year, while giggling over our students and dating. As the conversation shifted we went around the table and shared what our stone was.

CONTEXT PAUSE: What this meant for us was referring to when something is wrong, really, really wrong, how can us as friends identify this behavior when all we feel like doing is hiding.

I shared that my stone is isolation and quietness. They’ll know something is wrong, if my classroom door is closed during the day and I fall silent. I was the type of teacher who kept her classroom door open to shout “HI”, “HAVE A GREAT DAY”, HAPPY FRIYAY“ at anything passing by my door that breathed . So, for my door to be shut was a red flag. Soaking in that present moment, and sitting in gratitude of these ordained friendships, I assumed those days would be far and few between, and certainly far down the road from that May evening.

As the Summer took off, I busied myself with my loud life by tutoring, teaching summer school, vacationing to Chicago and two more jobs for the year, while my pain accompanied me without an invite. My symptoms grew more severe, more frequent and urgent care and ER trips were part of the routine some weeks. I tried living loud and loving loud to have that serve as my constant. My never-changing joy that made me feel well, me in a time I physically didn’t and don’t feel like me. By August, my loud living, was a crumbling skeleton I was grasping to by every disintegrating bone. I refused to let this be seen. I denied this part of my reality for as long as possible out of the sheer love I had for this part of me and what it brings to the table of life and relationships. Instead, I started closing my door.

I started closing my door more, then locking it, then turning off my lights inside as the the chaos of the year picked up. I went to work and like Cinderella bolted when the clock struck 3:00 PM to the next job or to-do, or doctor’s appointment, or bed. There was no more dancing, but there were many more “no, I’m sorry I can’t make it” e-mails and texts and last minute “no” RSVPs sent in. It was easier to pretend ride out the volume of last year’s loud living behind a door, than going to confession of this year’s struggle to find it at all. It was easier to bury myself in work than to walk down the hall to my sister fam and confess “I’m throwing my stone. The blend I brought to our friendship, the loudness within me, pain robbed me of it and I don’t know how get it back.” It felt like a significant piece of me was missing, it still does. However, serendipitously, as the loud always takes note of the quiet, the quiet notices the loud. More importantly, the absence. That’s when Mollee’s music played.

Amidst this beautiful group of friends I hold dear, you’ll find the sister of my soul, Mollee. The most radiant being who is keeper of the gentlest soul, yet touches the world with the most profound power. The softest heart with the strongest back to hold herself up tall against all. The epitome of carrying heavy loads with graciousness, living lightly, and makes it look like loving others is the most effortless thing she’s been doing her whole, dang life. Bearing witness to her move through the world with this power she harnesses is an honor that leaves me in awe. She quietly kicks serious ass, before anyone even has the chance to notice or blink and runs through walls for her tribe in the stillness of darkness. Her love is in the details- simply, purely, and drenched with humility and intentionality. She makes a big splash in this world, and doesn’t need to “turn up” the volume to do it. It’s the most captivating view to watch this play out and to marvel in as her friend. When it’s absent from our friend group, or my day, my heart is the first to take note. I notice something important is missing. Something that matters is lacking. I’ve internally labeled this greatness within her as “Mollee’s Music”. A song in my life I treasure so deeply, that when it’s not playing I’m searching for it. Parallel to my loudness, her quiet beauty is a sound I miss when I can’t hear it.

Mollee’s music is the gentle knock on my door on a random Monday morning dropping in to say “hello” and “I love you”. You’ll know it by the sounds of our much needed giggles on our classic date at Wings n Things. It sounds like after school quiet conversations about all of life’s greatest secrets we’re still trying to crack. It’s handing me a coffee on a Friday morning where I haphazardly burst through her door after a tough week, when the punchline is she doesn’t even like coffee to begin with. It’s planning my surprise birthday celebration, when hours earlier she welcomed me collapsing to my knees in her classroom and holding me through tears after a horrible teacher moment. Her music sounds like leaving post-it notes on my desk just because, and continuously inviting me to church despite the fact that 90% of the time I can’t tag along. Her melody sounds like being a life witness and safe haven on an impossible anniversary of conquering fears and days of laying on my classroom floor in crippling pain. Her chorus is a smile in the hallway and instructing her firsties to wish me to “have a great day Ms. Barnes”. Her lyrics are found in all of what she does, but the instrumentals are found in all of who she is. The lingering note is heard in her quietness that commands the world’s attention. Each hum of her harmony is found in her patience that never hurries or rushes. Nothing is an inconvenience, but everything yields at the convince of loving others well. Her tenderness is loud, but the delivery is soft. It’s the sweet sound of all of this compiled and mixed into the quietness and stillness of life. In the middle of the mundane, behind closed doors, on a random weekday, when there’s nothing to celebrate and no special occasion. When there is nothing to cheer about, no season of winning, merriment or triumphant milestone that calls for celebration. It’s in the lack of noise, I hear Mollee’s music the loudest. It’s her music that I find comfort and even peace in my absence of loudness. It’s her music that reminds me I’m not forgotten even though there’s a piece of me that still feels like a phantom pain of forgotten. Her presence is the sound that miracles are everywhere. I turn up Mollee’s music louder these days, and I’m just grateful she just keeps inviting me to hear her song.

I’m devastated to not being living loud (for now), and am still a little lost trying to navigate what loud looks like for me these days. Nevertheless, what I know is this:

I’m not sure if I wasn’t forced to stop living so loud, I would have been able to soak in and live out the bridge of Mollee’s music. The song she just calls her life, and maybe her own cover of living alive, but the album that I would title “love”. I’m not physically dancing much anymore, or at all, but I continue to twirl round and round to Mollee’s music, and the volume is up as loud as can be. Mollee heard me the loudest when I stopped being loud.

Keep singing your song Mols okay? I’ll keep playing it loud. I love you the loudest of all.


I don’t know much. Shhh, but don’t tell my students. I’m not ready for the jig to be up yet.  I only know what I know, and my most unfiltered, raw and authentic writing, that looks the most like me, that makes me go “there I am”, always comes from my truth.  This probably isn’t the most riveting or intellectual attention getter to start with in order to instill credibility, but it’s true, and true is not synonymous with perfect.  One thing I know is how to sister.  Which is ironic and hilarious considering I am biologically an only child.  I know, it’s confusing. Have I gained credibility yet?  Give me a chance though! What I know is  “sister” is a noun, but sistering is a verb. 

The word sister alone is a noun.  A female who shares one or both parents in common with each other.  When “sister” is a noun and stays a noun, it sounds like a club you have to be invited to.  You know, you have to be “on the list” to be a sister, but no one decides for you, not even you!  When you change the part of speech from a noun to a verb though, sister transforms into sistering. A verb.  An action humanity tangibly sees through life witnessing and love. 

When I was younger I LONGED for a sister.  When Santa Clause didn’t drop one off from his sled after leaving his cookie crumbs and place her under my tree after the second year I asked for one, I radically accepted that I would never gain the title of sister.  Disappointed as my 7 year old self was to not find my highly anticipated sister wrapped in a pretty bow under my lit up tree, I was more saddened by the reality that I would never have the opportunity to step into the role of being a sister.  It was a loneliness that even at 7 years old was able to sober me out of my day dreams of secret swapping, drying tears and slamming doors  through teenage years, eye rolling at what our parents said and speaking the language of facial expressions that only we would be able to translate.  I felt cheated from one of life’s greatest blessings and never fully understood why I was exempt from this piece of identity.   I was a deeply feeling human from the start, what can I say!

Fast forward 19 years later, I am 26 at a job I’m extremely passionate about, surrounded by people I am left awe struck by.  I am privileged enough to have a group of gals here who see me, know me, make me laugh until I cry (ALL the time) and love me well.  We were all unwinding from our day, strands of hair falling from our ponytails, slumped over on desks, laughing about something our sweet cherubs said or did that day.  Spring break is around the corner, (all the praise hands), and we pop-corned around announcing our plans.  When it’s my turn my eyes widen and my voice increased 5 octaves because trying the keep the excitement inside of me is just too much of an ask.  I report that I plan on surprising one of my dearest and treasured friends from college.  Now, if you know me literally at all, you know I take surprising people as serious and joyous as a football player takes the Super Bowl.  Imagining the prospect of hugging my friend tight in such a short time span after such a long duration apart has me on my toes (no, literally).  My reactions are nothing but the most genuine and authentic reflexes I can offer to my friends and the world.  I love my people so big.  I can’t help it, contain it or keep it in the confinement of just my heart. It overflows out of me.   One of my new friends turns to me and states “You know, it makes sense to me why you don’t have siblings.  You don’t need to have any siblings because you’re a sister to all, to everyone”.   This stops me in my tracks.  My heart has just been sucker punched by a love bomb.  A compliment that shook my core and awakened the light in that 7 year old disappointed girl on Christmas morning.  7 year old Samantha looked up from the kitchen table with the look of “wait, I am invited to be a sister?” I still soak in every word sweet Kayla spoke over me that day.  It has followed me weeks later and has me all wrapped up in the person who first taught me about sistering.  I RSVP’d a loud and exciting “HELL YEAH” to sistering when I met Kati.

There’s this heart melting and simultaneously almost eye-roll worthy, cheesy show titled “Alexa & Katie”. I haven’t seen the series myself, but recognize it by this audio clip that keeps sneaking on to my TikTok feed no many how many times I refresh it.  The words blare through my AirPods: “Four years later I am grateful for more than things than I could ever imagine. But mostly for the person who was by my side for all of it.  Some people are lucky enough to have a best friend, I’m even luckier…I got a Katie” I feel this sound clip with every fiber of my being because…

I have a Kati.  She taught me everything I know about sistering by being one to me. 

I am currently drowning in my favorite sweatshirt with the beautiful two words embroidered “You’re invited” on the front with a table above, while writing this.  I embrace and welcome this sweatshirt to swallow me up after every hard day.  It is one of my favorite forms of self care, as I feel like I’m letting Kati in, who is behind the creation of it.  I’m inviting her for a seat at the table that was my day.  I rarely sit down at my table without pulling up a chair for her to sit right beside me. We’ve been sitting at each other’s table for 7 years now.  Our tables have grown longer, look different, and have transformed throughout the years, as life and distance continues to yield us in opposite directions geographically.  We found each other at our table for the first time in the form of a frat party.  I was lost at said party, (that’s your cue to pretend to be surprised), and our table scenery quickly shifted from beer-soaked ping pong tables, to a popcorn covered carpet of a college house while pillow talk and laughter carried it’s sweet scent through the halls.  Having a sleepover the first night we ever met, we found an empty seat at each other’s table that night. Never to be left again.  With us graduating years later, being pushed into the world of adulthood,  moving states, and her traveling what seemed like every time I blinked my eyes. Us showing up to the table often looked, and still looks like love letters in the mail and the comfort of pulling this sweatshirt over my head taking the place of a temporary Kati hug until I get a real Kati hug.

My sister Kati  is the most extraordinary heart I know. I learn something from her everyday, even when she’s half way around the world.  Showing up is her logo, love is her aesthetic and sistering is her tagline. She knows it, she spreads it and she’s the best at it.    She talks a million miles a minute (just like me), her smile takes up her whole face and her laugh is one of my favorite sounds to this date.  In a season where my version of love looked an awful lot like trying to serve as a “fixer” or a “people pleaser”, Kati showed me how to be something even better….a person who shows up.  Sistering 101!  The problem I ran into was when I would show up, I didn’t know what to do without the fixing or throwing out a Hallmark card inspirational quote. Ugh.  My worst nightmare, and yet my greatest and favorite life lesson learned. Offering presence and togetherness is way better than fixing:

  1. You sit. 
  2. You listen. 
  3. You lean in. 
  4. Then, you love.
  5. Repeat forever.

When I did this, and received it graciously, I realized that sistering is both everywhere and an everyday choice.  It’s not in the big grandiose gestures, or defined by your bloodline. Sistering looks a lot like paying close attention to the little details.  Like how she knows the names of my students and prays for them, and me effortlessly being able to distinguish which photo she was behind the lens of when photos are posted on social media.   It looks like post-it-noting their front door or car with character compliments and love notes after their worst day.    It looks like inviting yourself over for a sleep over with a bottle of wine until your floor ugly cry has shifted naturally to serendipitous laughter crying.   It looks like surprise visits, presence and hand holding during seasons of crisis. Waiting for the sifting together.   It looks like knowing her address from memory to send “just because” mail, or to “ding-dong-ditch” her door for her to discover her favorite Pumpkin bread recipe and flowers on her porch. It looks like making a second home on her floor or her twin sized bed.  Because nights are hard, and sometimes the best way remedy to make it through is with your sister beside you.  It looks like making birthdays a national holiday. It’s differentiating cries.  Knowing which “no, you don’t have to come” means she’s going to be okay until morning, and which one means “you better already be on your way to her house”.  It looks like book swapping, song sharing and “I sent you this gift because it’s Tuesday”reflexes. It looks like paying for breakfast, coffee, dinner, drinks, lunch, dessert and not batting an eye at being payed back because love doesn’t keep score.  Knowing y’all, it’ll probably even out eventually in the end anyways. Who cares when. Kati taught me that sistering is just relentlessly showing up for your people.  Love is something you do, not just think about doing.  Sistering is not waiting for the opportunity to be a sister.   It’s taking what it means to sister and calling it an opportunity.

Kati and I are both identical twins and worlds different from one another, all in the same big, beautiful breath.  She looks fear not just dead in the face but directly in the eyes.  Fear is NO MATCH for Kati. It surrenders its’ white flag in defeat when she has an idea, vision or a dream.  She dives into fear with a sly smirk, a shrug, chuckle and lives her best life. Then, walks away with more stories lived in her pocket and with the upmost humility and grace while boldly yet seamlessly embracing her next adventure.  Next to her laugh, Kati talking about her new big idea, or plan for tackling her next dream is my other favorite sound.  Music to my soul.   Kati is the bravest person I’ve ever known, she feels the fear, all of it, and does it anyways.  If bravery was contagious, any ounce that I have I caught from her. I was not like this before I met Kati.  I am not fully like this now, but I try to practice courage a little more each day.  I learned to step into fearlessness by watching my sister.  Kati popped my safety bubble and said “you coming or what?!” The greatest choice was taking her hand  and letting her keep my bubble popped everyday since then.  The world is her teacher, and she is mine.  Sisters are my best teachers.

Bravery is vital to sistering I’ve learned.  Not just for the memory keeping and stacking up experiences to pull out when you’re old and gray, drinking in nostalgia and reminiscing over a glass of wine.  Because when you’re sistering, you have the gift of being a life witness. To fully see someone as they are.  To know their skeletons in the closet, their shame, and be fully present when their world drops from the atmosphere, all the lights blow out and neither one of you knows when the porch lights will go back on to call your lost souls back home.  It takes more than 10 seconds of insane courage to plant your feet on the ground and say “this doesn’t scare me. We can do this…together. Let’s keep moving. Walking is fine. Crawling is fine. Just as long as we’re moving together. ” Sisterining is staying. Becoming familiy is in the following.   Sistering is seeing the dark clouds rolling in and running full speed to clasp her hand, interlock fingers, before the sky grows dark and the storm rages on.  It’s opening her eyes when the clouds clear, the puddles dry up and the debris is gone and she looks down to see you still holding her hand.  Only this time it was because now you’re are celebrating her, with her.  You made it through together.  That’s what bravery looks like.  That is sistering, and it is the greatest honor, privilege and gift I could ever hold.  Much more  precious than I could ever just embrace with two arms.  Everything she has ever done, hurt through, loved fiercely, held her middle finger to, cried over, clapped in celebration for, overcame, risen to, poured her sweat and passion into, prayed through, broke through and  hugged tightly has and is always important to me.  In sistering it always will matter. 

We need our people always, but especially when life forges the hardest things in our hands and shoves them down into the depths of our hearts. Sure, I can do hard things,  but I can only do the hardest things alongside and hand in hand with my sisters. Through togetherness.  Through unconditional love.  Thorough our combined strength.  The people who choose to keep showing up when life gives great pain and see me raw are my sisters who choose to love every facet of my being.  This love shows no limits, and no conditions.  It exists despite distance, despite circumstances, season, longevity, and despite the weight of hurt.  That is the kind of love I want to walk side by side with no matter where I’m at in the world.  That is the kind of love I want and continue to strive to give no matter what place life takes me.  My sisters walk with me wherever I go, and I with them. In a world full of heaviness, that is the most beautiful comfort and gift I could ask for and simultaneously give.  

I got my sister and I was gifted the opportunity to step into sistering.  Santa Claus might have not been the one to drop this present off, and it may have been a little delayed, but this gift is one I reopen and wrap intentionally every single day. I am left better every day because of it.  Each time I hang up the phone, roll my eyes at tough love that I KNOW is true, turn away from them and towards the airport with a tear in my eye ( I ALWAYS CRY), laugh embarrassingly out loud at a text message, I learn a little more about sistering because I’ve been sistered (and continue to be) sistered by the world’s best, in all the best ways.  

To my sisters, the reason I sister, the keeper of my secrets, your sisterhood  is an answered prayer. We’ve not known each other our whole lives, but we’ve walked a whole lot of life together. We’ve wiped many a tears, prayed many prayers and celebrated life TOGETHER. What a joy, privilege and honor it is to witness the admirable person you continue to become and show up for you every day. Whether it’s on a couch sharing a glass of wine, at the beach, our hometowns, in our mailboxes delivering love from around the world, or on a FaceTime call time zones away. I pick to sister YOU any day, all the days and forever the days ahead. I won the lottery sistering you.

I am building a house where the floor is made of strength, where the walls are crafted in love and where the roof is built from bravery.  Much like sistering.  I am building myself and in the journey of self-discovery, I look around to see my sisters laying down the tile of the floor,  sanding the walls and up on the ladder inspecting the roof is strong enough to withstand the storm.  I am in their home and they are in mine.  The gift is that keeps giving and I get to experience it everyday.   If I could pick a favorite sport it would be sistering.  If I could pick a favorite team, it would be each other. 

Sister on, sister.  

I Know Where Your Secrets Hide…

Left to right: Last day of treatment 2015-6 years out of treatment (bottom right).

TRIGGER WARNING: The following discusses Eating Disorders and mentioning of some behaviors.

During my senior year of college, I wrote a “break-up” letter to my eating disorder in honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness week.  It was a very strong “It’s not me, it’s you” declaration of me initiating taking my life back.  In that season, I was two years out of treatment, and beginning to experience the fruits that were sown through all the heart work that is in congruency with recovery.  In that writing piece, I researched and crafted this statement: 

“ Somewhere in the world right now, you have eight million people held hostage in the grasp of your hands. Eight million people whose time is being wasted believing lies about them that isn’t true. Eight million people whose passions aren’t being pursued. Eight million people whose support system and friendships are crumbling before them. Eight million people who cry themselves to sleep. Eight million people who skip meals. Eight million people who lost their joy. Eight million people who don’t remember what it’s like to live without a fiery voice barking orders in your ear. Eight million people who have a false representation of what love is. That is eight million people too many”.

This year though, I couldn’t just repost that blog in honor of this week and call it a day. You see, that post is due for an update because the above statement I wrote is no longer accurate.  In fact, a statistic provided by the National Eating Disorder Association, as of January 2021 corrects my 8 million referenced and increased to 10 million.  One of those 10 million people included within that statistic was a girl I attended school with at one time in my life.  Only, this girl isn’t celebrating her healing this week like I am.   Instead, she lost her life to the disease that has the highest mortality rate among any other mental illness in women 18-24 (Source: Eating Disorders Coalition, Facts About Eating Disorders: What the Research Shows).  I am celebrating healing this week, she is not.  I simultaneously radically accept this and find my heart completely broken and hurting over it.  

It was a rare, rainy Sunday in San Diego and I was partaking in what every other young adult does…  browsing social media with a glass of wine to avoid the “Sunday scaries” of course!  I came across a name that took my breath away. One I once knew in what seemed like another life.  Right below the fifty thousandth engagement post I eye-rolled at, I was met with “name of girl obituary”…. My heart dropped.  I subconsciously held my breath and tension housed itself in my chest as I hesitantly clicked the link to reveal what I wondered all these years… “did she make it?”  I didn’t like the answer to my question: No.  She lost her battle.  The one we were fighting at the exact same time and no one knew about…but we did.  We knew it about one another, but we were the “secret keepers”.  The AP students and valedictorians of secret-keeping. In my experience, usually, people with big secrets are gifted in detecting the big secrets of others.  This turned out to be a secret I wish I never kept.  

Twice a week, I lead a small group with my 5th-grade gals and we talk about all things growing up.  One topic we’ve touched on is promises and secrets we keep, and promises and secrets we should NEVER keep.  Promises/ secrets you should always break are classified under if someone is being hurt, is hurting themselves, or is unsafe. As a teacher, my biggest hope is that my kids turn out FAR better than I am.  Please, surpass me in all areas, that’s what I want and dream for you.  This is a lesson I hope they carry with them in the depths of their being far longer than their time in my class is sentenced to be.  I would rather them experience having a “mad” friend than a dead friend. I hope they never know what it’s like the receive news that doesn’t just knock on your door but breaks it down only leaving you with the remorse of keeping a secret they never wish they did.  Because that’s what I was handed on that rainy Sunday.  The sky cried with me. 

This year, in honor of this week and the girl I once knew who isn’t celebrating with me, I wrote a letter to my treatment team. 

While I did an incredible amount of heart work,  I would be nowhere without the team of professionals I had.  The full circle life moment about this is I have to drive past the center I was in every day on my way to work.  A job I most likely wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for this team. As imaginable, there are several deep layers and elements to this letter I’ve crafted, but a section includes lessons I’ve learned and accomplishments I’ve made.  My sincerest and only reservation or agenda in sharing this intimacy in this blog resides in hope that a struggling ED sister or brother sees the tangible life and love that has the potential to lie ahead of them like it did for me.  You see, when I was struggling with ED, hopes for the future were clouded.  ED just unplugs all of the electricity for hope and I was trying to navigate myself to find candles, flashlights and turn the light back on in pitch-black darkness. Here’s what life can looked like when finally turned the light on:

Lessons I’ve learned: 

  • Reconnecting with life, is way better than rushing through it.
  • Saying “no” is loving yourself.
  • Treatment is where the worlds’ secrets to “success” were exposed.  I never listen to the world anymore. 
  • Let me eat cake!  Education and value in learning there no technical label “good” food or “bad” food…yes really! Go ask my kick ass Dietician!
  • I want my heart to weigh as much as possible.  
  • Drive life, don’t just survive it. 
  • Fat is not a feeling.
  • Feelings are not facts.
  • Anger is not a “bad” feeling.  Also, whoever told you to sweep anger under the rug to never see the light of day…was WRONG. 
  • There is a whole, complete separate person from your Eating Disorder. Get to know THAT person. 

Accomplishments I achieved, and experiences I lived WITHOUT my Eating Disorder and post-treatment: 

  • First-person in my family to graduate college!  
  • Moved to a city I never visited 5 days after graduating.
  • Built a life I loved in that city (Shoutout to you Nashville, I miss you).
  • Earned a teaching credential and license.
  • Taught Kindergarten in an underprivileged school.

  • Started a blog and writing more.
  • Had my story put in a college ministry book (HEY DELIGHT). 
  • Surprised my best friends MULTIPLE times.
  • Gained THE BEST friends.  Seriously, all the best friends in the world…I get to call them MINE! 
  • Was able to BE THERE for friends. Support them. Cheer them on. Love them. 
Surprise #1

Surprise #2
Surprise #3

  • Drove cross country with my dad.
  • Saw snow fall for the first time
  • Became a dance teacher.
  • Became and fell in love with being a 5th grade teacher. 
  • Rescued a pup. 

On this week every year, I am often met with “why are you so open about your Eating Disorder?” “Isn’t that personal?”  The answer is YES! This is not my favorite topic to pour out into the world. First, I cannot sit here and fail to acknowledge that people shedding their armor in exchange for vulnerability to share and let me into their own story is one of the strongest tools that empowered me to want to recover. Second of all, as I learned from this entire experience I just wrote about, look where keeping secrets got me.  Look where it got the girl I once went to school with. This is not a secret worth keeping. Having your hair fall out due to a lack of nutrients in attempting to exchange it for control, is not a secret worth keeping.  Having difficult moments breathing because your internal organs are working overtime, all the time to keep you alive is not a secret worth keeping. Crying yourself to sleep feeling like being “skinny” is the only aspect of life my mastery is found in, is not a secret worth keeping.  Everyone’s story is so unique, intimate, personal, and woven into the depths of their lives, and I honor that to the highest degree. This is a chapter of my story I personally don’t find value in keeping a secret.  Eating Disorders have secrets too. In fact, ED keeps the best secret of all from you: LIFE.  

Teachers are Superheroes

“By the way your grades look right now,  college isn’t looking like it might not be a very realistic goal right away.”-direct quote stated to 8th grade me by a middle school counselor.  It is 12 years later and remember everything about that day.  The disappointment looming inside me when I was leaving the room that day thinking “but, I really am trying, no one believes me” is a feeling I will never forget as long as I live. One I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.  I remember what I was wearing, what my hair was like, what classroom I was in, what time of day it was… everything.  How does a professional just hand a 13 year old a sentence for her future and get up and walk away back to her office?  I guess that was that,  no college for me.  “It’s just not fair, I didn’t even get a chance” I thought.  Why does my brain work like this?  I love learning why doesn’t my brain love it too?  Why can’t I understand?  Teachers told me there was no such thing as a stupid question.  Then, why whenever I built up the courage to raise my hand in class and answer a question did everyone laugh at me?  “I’m the exception”I thought.  “There is no such thing as a stupid question except when I ask.”  I vowed to stay silent in class from that day onward.  I might a well be mute, no one one would hear me utter a single word.  I rarely spoke in class for two or three years after that.  I barley asked for help when I really needed it and definitely not whole group.  It was isolating to hear my classmates talk about what they wanted to be when they “grew up” and what major they wanted to pursue college.  It was like every one was talking about the biggest party of the century that I would never be invited to.  I secretly wanted to be a teacher.  More than anything. How could a girl who wasn’t even getting an invitation to college become a teacher…what a pipe dream.

Here I am 12 years not only a college graduate but a 5th grade teacher.  How in the world did that timid, confidentless 13 year old get from there to here? 

Teachers.  Teachers. Teachers. Teachers. Teachers is the answer.  Teachers is my only answer.  There isn’t a day that goes by when I’m in classroom, that I don’t think about Ms. Karp, Ms. Amberg and Mr. Barnett.  Without them- I would certainly not be writing this in my almost-but-not-quite-yet-finished classroom on my lunch break. It’s not just the whole classroom teachers though.  It’s the one-on-one teachers too.  The one’s who know your struggles like the back of their hand.  The one’s who see you fail way more times than you ever succeed.  Those ones are special.  They see your tears, wipe them away and help you pick yourself back up to “just one more time.” They celebrate with you when you bring that test back they helped you study for.  They have a special place in your heart.  I have a spot in my heart reserved for my own one-on-one teacher.  One that showed up for me every Monday and Wednesday for two years straight.  Who saw me cry more times than I can count and got me through high school.  Who listened to me talk about dance and my dreams.  Who gave me an unlimited supply of grace and patience when I had none left for myself.  Michelle Phillips holds that special place in my heart-she has a home there.  

It’s been ten years since my last day at Michelle’s desk.  10 years since I said goodbye and what I thought would be my last “thank you”.  How do you properly thank someone who gave you everything when you thought you had nothing?  There are no words for gratitude like that.  If we’re lucky in this life, we have the opportunity to boomerang back around to humans who helped us get to where we are today.  To show them “YOU helped me get here. If life didn’t pass me to you, who knows where I’d be or what I would be doing.”  That once in a lifetime boomerang was gifted to me.

I started a new job August 3rd 2020.  I packed up the life I built and loved in Nashville, TN and moved back to my hometown San Diego, CA.  To say I love this job and the people there is the biggest understatement and disservice to my feelings EVER.  However, we’re not at this part of the story yet.  On my way to my first day I shot up a prayer “Heavenly Father, I need a green light. A green light that I made the right decision coming back here.  That this risk  I took has placed me right where I need to be.  I need my green light”.  I show up to work greeted by the friendliest faces, the warmest smiles and the most genuine hearts.  I get through half of my first day and am approached by a woman with the gentlest voice and sweetest soul:  “You’re Samantha Barnes”. I respond with my biggest smile smile and a resounding “Yes! It’s so nice to meet you!”  I’m met with the ultimate green light: “I don’t know if you remember me but I’m Michelle, I used to tutor you”.  My jaw about dropped a mile low that day.  My heart skipped a beat. I could have burst into tears on the spot.  One of the very people who helped me get to where I was in that very moment was now someone I GET to call my co worker?  My teammate? My friend?  My sister in Christ? My chosen family? Green light. Go.

My wondering seized and peace settled into its rightful spot.  I am exactly where I’m suppose to be, a place, with the right people in the right job.  As if this wasn’t enough,  not only do Michelle and I work at the same school, we’re on the same elementary team.  If THAT wasn’t enough, we are classroom neighbors.  Someone who loved me so well in a time I so desperately needed it, gets to see the fruit of what her love, investment and time did.  It changes a life.  The greatest words I’ve been able to say to someone since moving back here were to Michelle “I wouldn’t be here, in this job without you.  Thank you.”  

Teachers are superheroes, I work with mine every single day.  

Thank you Michelle, this one is for you ❤

Secondhand Friendship


Just like much of the world, COVID 19 turned my financial world upside down.  I can picture myself at my kitchen table mid-March scrambling through my finance book accompanied by a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.  For the first time, I was out of ideas on how I could make ends meet given the circumstances. Nevertheless, as always and yet always by surprise, amidst distress-love saves the days.  Just four days after my kitchen table meltdown,  I was packing for Chicago to stay with my aunt and uncle.   Not just any aunt and uncle-my chosen family.  See, my Aunt Diane and Uncle Bill are my dad’s best friends from GRADE school.  So, 50+ years.  They offered me a place to stay, home-cooked meals, a home for my four-legged best friend, and the comfort of safety for “however long I needed”.  I found it interesting that whenever I shared where I was staying, and the extent of the relationship, I was found with “oh so they’re not really your family”.  On the contrary, I believe the fact that they are my chosen family and not blood, made the offer all the more meaningful.  I was raised calling them Uncle Bill and Aunt Diane.  Uncle Bill and Aunt Carol.  Uncle Ray and Aunt Chris.  This is for all of you:

To my dad’s best friends,

I owe you a never-ending thank you for always being an extraordinary and authentic example of what true and sincere friendship looks like. Thank you for always treating me as family and demonstrating what unconditional love in friendship looks like. You’ve shown me since the moment I was born that distance is no match for true friendship.  When life happens, no matter what, show up for your people.  No matter if it is for comforting in hardships, or celebrating milestones. I could only hope to have this in my own forever friends. There are very few people I know who would fly thousands of miles to show up for their best friend’s daughter’s christening.  Then, her dance recital when she was the lead in a production a few years later.  After that, surprising their friend for his 60th birthday. Lastly, and most recently, taking their best friend’s girl without a hint of hesitation during a time of uncertainty.  Now being in my mid 20’s, I realize one of the greatest gifts I have carrying into adulthood is being able to experience second-hand friendship between my dad and all of you.  Even though you’re not my friends since second grade, your friendship with my dad and mom has affected how I nurture my own friendships. Being the main influencer in how I’ve cultivated my own value of showing up for your people.  Not making surprise visits an event that happens once in a blue moon, but a normalized part of life.  Not making visits into San Diego look like this big grandiose gesture, but a visit you make because of course you wouldn’t miss your best friend’s 60th birthday.  It’s a no brainer for all of you. A decision you make without a second thought, making your presence a fact and evidence not a wish or a longing. You were the people who showed me how to make friendship a verb.  You’ve taught me that home isn’t a house or a town on a map. It is wherever the people who love you are, whenever you are together.  Not a place but a moment, and then another. Building on each other like bricks to create a solid shelter that you take with you for your entire life, wherever you may go.

It is an honor to call you aunt and uncle and to be loved by you like I was your own. When I think of my own life long friends I have right now,  I hope my own kiddos feel the same way about them that I feel about you all. I hope they get just as excited when they come to town or we visit as I did when you came to see us and vice versa. I hope they talk about how much they love their Auntie Kati and her adventuresome soul. How kind and sweet their Auntie Maggie in New York is. How much fun their Auntie Kimmy and Auntie Maddie are in Chicago and how much they live for their stories. How funny their Auntie Shanna is in Idaho and how much fun they have with their Auntie Molleigh in California. How much they love Aunite Meesh’s heart and Auntie Abbey’s selfless disposition.  How they their moments with Auntie Lisa and all she has to teach them.  Just like I talked about how much I loved how funny my Uncle Bill was, how much fun my other Uncle Bill was, or how kind my Uncle Ray was.  Just like how much I loved talking with my Aunt Diane and how much I loved going places with my Aunt Carol.  How much I loved laughing at what Aunt Chris said. 

As I sit here days away from going back for a visit to California, I feel the anticipation building in my body for the reunions I’ll have with many of my forever friends.  How I won’t be able to sleep the night before because my excitement will dominate through my rest. How their hugs will feel like home and taking in the sweet presence of one another will mend how much we’ve been missing each other.  How sitting on the couch catching up and reminiscing with a glass of wine will be the only remedy to my community missing heart.  Distance has nothing on my long-distance friendships now-because I had the greatest example of how to love the people you love most from afar. Even though I have forever ache in my heart from missing them, I can still laugh at the miles between us because it is no match for love.  That is all thanks to you.  I could only hope to have friendships as strong as yours 50+ years from now.

I love you all like family,


…So, I Got Some Bangs

IMG_4777This past week and a half I have experienced a string of bad luck. Some would refer to the old saying “when it rains it pours” or the myth “everything happens in threes” to comfort and serve themselves a sliver understanding on a platter when the timing of bad events makes no sense. I’ve heard both of these as people have gently listened to me not-so-gently describe my past few days and how I feel about them. Now, I am no novice to pain. I’m not a first timer to a series of unfortunate events or sitting with uncomfortable situations for prolonged periods of time. I’m a seasoned veteran to the contents of “life happens” and more. So, why is this particular season sending me into panic, turmoil and impatience? As I sit on my flight back to Nashville reading “Love Does” by Bob Goff for the third time (no shame) and Hannah Brencher’s Monday morning e-mail about the season of Winter, my answer roars loudly over my headphones. Control and change.

Up to this exact hour, life handed me losing my grandmother, my car getting totaled, my doctor suddenly stopped renewing my daily medication, church hurt, adult friendships shattered, rent-a-car breaking down and scrutiny for charging to change my career path and then the other rocks, pebbles and stones. While this is all very frustrating, painful and anxiety provoking, I seemed to have forgotten where the core of my hurricane and emotions is rooted in. My need for control and anti-change lifestyle. I am guilty of being an addict for keeping things in my very grasp (like I am the actual master of control “HA” and “YIKES”…says the big man upstairs), and am obsessed with my scheduled, regimented routine that runs like clockwork. Some of my friends roll with it and are as calm as cucumber. I applaud you, but/and raise your hand if you are not one of these people (insert emoji of girl raising hand) c’mon, higher for the people in the front to see!

Being someone who struggles with mental health, specifically being a gal who has recovered from struggling with an eating disorder, lack of control is a MAJOR RED FLAG. Like the boldest, brightest, flashing flag in the world. Managing it is like trying to cover your ears and rock back and forth telling yourself “I am okay, I am safe, this will pass” and that bully on the playground yelling to remind you “HEY! NO IT WON’T. THIS IS NOT A DRILL. I’M STILL HERE, YOU STILL HAVE NO CONTROL, WHATCHA GONNA DO ABOUT IT?!” Putting a pillow over your head doesn’t help. Turning up your headphones won’t silence it, ignoring it CERTAINLY won’t shut it up it. It’s unavoidable. Screaming into a pillow only makes the voice speak back in mockery. I can’t outrun, out bully it, or out smart it. How incredibly frustrating is that am I right?!
I simply cannot cope and adjust to life of missing my grandma, afford a new car payment, insurance to go up (PLEASE COME THROUGH GOD), walk seamlessly through my day without my medication I’ve been on for 3 years, and stand in my own corner with a new, unpredicted calling in my hands without taking some of my control BACK. I cannot bring my grandma back for one more hug or kiss, I can not replace the top of my car and glue back the pieces of my shattered windshield. I cannot track down my doctor from Orange County who prescribed me this medication three years ago under different insurance. I cannot, will not fight people to force and persuade them to see that my change in career will be better and healthier for me. You know what I can do? I can go get some bangs. I can’t match the magnitude of change or drastic lack of control that’s been happening all around me. What I can do is build some change on my positive end of my spectrum and put even just my pinky back on control of my life. I can do something small to remind myself when I look in the mirror that sometimes, even though every fiber of my being tells me otherwise, change is good. Bangs are good. Tomorrow, I’ll wake up carless, grandmaless, medicineless, moneyless and I will look in the mirror at my bangs to remind myself that change can be good.

My therapist is the greatest, wisest, most bad ass woman I know. She taught me a truth perfectly suited for seasons like this; “At every moment of the day everyone is doing the best they can AND could be doing better all at the same time”. I struggled with this notion for a while because I was exceptionally too good at the “and could be doing better” portion. This is what part of the problem was this week. As these events were all unfolding I started a lot of sentences to myself with “I should have” implying already that I could have done better. I should have called my grandma more. I should have visited her more instead of taking those extra trips to see my friends. I should have saved up money for a new car earlier. I should have budgeted better. I should have refilled my prescription earlier or applied for a second job with benefits so I could just be re-prescribed medicine now. I should have just stuck with teaching for now to keep everyone else happy. I should have, I should have, I should have. The problem with “I shoulds” is that they get you nowhere except in circles. When “I shoulds” have you running in circles, it leaves no room or time to see the “I dids”. This is where the “everyone is doing the best they can” part of the truth comes in. I did call my grandma, I did visit her in her last days. I did take care of the car and couldn’t help what happened. I was just going to work. I did get myself into a job I really love. I did take my medicine Otherwise I would have never run out. I did make a “next steps” plan. I did my best to control what I could. Now that it’s “changes” turn to take the reins, one of the things I did to do the best I can was get bangs.

As the holidays are approaching I include this as a gentle reminder that some of your friends and family members are going through their own season of “Winter”. It’s storming, it’s a blizzard and there are no snow plows up ahead. Not everyone is living in Christmas music, holiday cookie, cozy up by the fireplace Winter. Hannah Brencher (my fave ever) talks a lot about this in her past Monday e-mail. I strongly encourage every single person on the planet to go read it, but, my point being is that her thoughts on “Winter” and how everyone is experiencing a different stage of Winter is right on the money. As you see your friends and family who are in their blizzard Winter. I encourage you to avoid conversations marinated in “I shoulds” or advice on how “they could be handling this better”, what they could be doing. Instead, be the one that sits with them in the storm. If you’re in your storm and see someone else in theirs too, grab a blanket and offer each other and hand to hold because sometimes the only way we can believe change is good is when we have someone who can discover that with us. So please, for love of all that is wonderful don’t “you’ve should’ve” your people, your tribe, your humans. Highlight the “You dids” because after all my therapist is (always) right: “Everyone at every given moment is doing the best they can, AND can do better”.

Stop Looking at me

Screen Shot 2019-09-16 at 11.42.40 AM
Have you ever read a book you loved so much it still forms tears in your eyes thinking about it? You know, you know, the ones you clutch so tight and hold each page as close as the next? I can recognize mine because they’re beaten at the spine, coffee splatters on the front and the pages creased over because it’s been loved on so much. I own many of these. Most of which, recycle in and out of laying on my bookshelf to being held in my hands. The one that recently had me gripped was Tuesdays With Morrie (Albom, 1997). Here’s the scene: I’m sitting in urgent care head pressed against the wall, all 6 feet of me curled in a chair that wasn’t built to hold half my limbs in the first place. But, I didn’t care. I had Morrie. Morrie made time pass as if it was nothing. A flicker, a blink, a snap of a finger. Page, after page, after page. In actuality my appointment was at 5:20 P.M. and it was nearing closing time at 7:00 P.M. Being curled up tight in that chair made me think less about my achiness and pain on the right side of my body. I couldn’t feel my groin throbbing and the headache pounding as I turn my head. Morries’ truths made me forget about how I kept circling back to if I “should” be at urgent care. Was I really in that much pain? Should I just wait it out? Is this what people classify as “urgent?” Am I just being a little dramatic? No time to sit with that uncertainty! Morrie was talking. Avoid, avoid, avoid! Surprisingly enough, this post isn’t about books or a shameless plug to go read Tuesdays With Morrie! I know, I hear all of your “what a lack of a topic sentence.” Give a girl a chance and keep reading. I was just painting a picture for you!

Morrie came to an abrupt stop when Jess came in the room. Well, Dr. Jessica to be formal, but, she wasn’t a formal kind of person. She pulled her chair up close and leaned in so naturally and just like that; that flicker, that blink and snap of a finger, she was all here. I was all hers, I had every ounce of her attention. Have you ever met someone like that? Who makes you feel like you are the most important person to them in that moment and nothing else matters? Jess is that kind of person and I took note. I began explaining my symptoms hesitantly, observing her reaction meticulously because remember, I wasn’t sure if my needs were urgent enough to be there. Half way through, she stopped me and touched my arm with gentleness saying “don’t worry, I’m going to take care of you. What do you need from me?” I exhaled the breath anxiety was holding and restarted the conversation with “I have no energy.” Now, if you know me even a little bit, you know how unnatural this is for me. “Every task wipes me out and when I turn my head I get an instant, shooting head ache. I still have a lump in my throat that is painful at fingers touch and my groin area aches most of the time.” Jess examined all the areas I was having sensitivity and discomfort to, then looked at me and said “we’re going to figure this out. I’m going to run all of the tests and check on them myself. I’ve got you.” I’ve got you. Three words that stormed my heart with a hurricane of emotions. When was the last time I heard that? I couldn’t remember. Don’t be fooled, I have great friends. Both in Nashville and other areas of the world. Who love me so deeply. But, recently I’ve had my hands messy from being in a little bit of everything you could possibly label as “busy” and so have they. The sincerity of Jess’s words and the tenderness of how she spoke them let me know, she meant it. This wasn’t a “I got your back fam” nonchalant confirmation, this was a I care for you “I’ve got you.” I know the difference between the two, do you?

I felt stripped in vulnerability. Jess saw, she knew. I didn’t feel as fine as I had just so eloquently summarized to her like I was the back of a latest novel. This not-as-awesome-as-Jess doctor came in (still good) to collect all the blood work. He asked me all the necessary questions, but, stone cold. Warmth was vacant. What the heck! I want Jess back. Where’s my girl? I felt a sudden yearning to have the comfort Jess gave. There was a word for that. A sensation that I longed for, but, I couldn’t place my finger on it…yet.

There I sat in my too-small-for-me chair, back to Morrie while the blood work was happening. I didn’t realize how much blood work was actually happening and I started feeling a little woozy. My arms felt like they had anchors tied to them and I felt I didn’t quite have my feet grounded. Soon, Jess was back (all the praise hands and hallelujahs), and she sat down close to me. The identical way she did when she originally came in. Then… I just started crying. Out of nowhere, all the tears came falling from my eyes. I don’t know about you, but, do you have a signature mannerism right before you’re about to cry? I do, and it’s a dead giveaway! I purse my lips to the right side of my mouth and that is the cue of my unraveling. In this moment, my lips were pressed so tight, the slightest alleviation of them transformed my eyes into a running faucet . I just crumbled. Yes, I physically was hot and cold with chills and I felt faint. Mostly though, I was just lonely and missing the comfort of the way someone cares for you when you’re sick.

Jess closed the door. That southern hospitality was alive and practicing in this doctors’ heart! The tears were followed by so many “bless your hearts,” and not the kind that you know….insinuates to be quiet. The “bless your heart” you tell that co-worker when they’re complaining about how it’s so hard the sky is blue today? Not that kind. The kind that let me know that hey, there, there. You’re seen, I’ve got you. She let me lay down, got me a blanket, a wash cloth, sat next to me and let me cry. Pause. Lets go back to the beginning of this story when I briefly shed light on the fact that it was almost closing time before I was even seen. By this point, it was well over an hour later and I was very much the last patient in the building. However, Jess didn’t seem to be concerned with any of that. She was fixated with what was right in front of her, not what was waiting for her on the other side of me leaving. She was present as I was allowing myself and body to be.

I’ve been struggling with that a lot lately. Living in the future and not the present. It seems recently that everyone else is too- living in my future. Yes, my future. So, I should be living there to then?.… With what I’m doing, how I’m going to lead in my job, with what I’m doing with my time at 3:30 next Wednesday afternoon because I “should” be doing x, y, and z. With who I’m dating, or not dating, where I should be in the depths of my faith, with what I should study as I got back to school and with what I am “doing all day long” because that means I “should” think about doing “blah, blah, blah, blah.” It seems people have been formulating their own concoctions of how I “should” be living in my future just by looking at me in the present. People are looking at me and the ways I’m not living up to the vision they’ve curated for me in the flesh. But, they don’t see me… they’re just looking at me. Jess was seeing me. She saw I physically didn’t feel well, I was overwhelmed, I needed to cry and I needed to feel cared for. Ah, there it is. That word and sensation I couldn’t put my finger on earlier-cared for. My heart in that moment was associating being seen with being cared for. The more I lean into that idea, the more I wonder and pose that maybe, they aren’t so different.

While Jess sat with me, she asked me about my life, who I dreamed to be, what I did to earn money, about my dog, what were the significance behind the rings I wore, where I live, what my roommate is like, all the things. When I felt better, she helped me to my feet and walked me out to my car (like what doctor do you know does that)? Just when I thought she headed back inside I lost my grounded feet for a moment and she yells back“ hey! don’t think I don’t see you, I’ve got you.” “I’ve got you” translated to “I care for you.” It translated that way because it was that way.

If Jess just looked at me after her long 12 hour shift, she would have saw that I looked very much content and enamored with reading Tuesdays With Morrie. She would have looked and heard that I was very confident in my classic symptoms of a cold or virus and wondered what I was doing there. Good thing she didn’t look at me. She sat close to see the heaviness my body was feeling. She was seeing how I kept avoiding eye contact when explaining my symptoms. She was engaged enough in me and not busy writing on a clip board to hear that I did have some hesitancy in my voice. I needed someone to stop looking at me.

As I sat on this experience and notion for the week, I reflected back on the times I was also just looking at people. I look at my dancers, I look at my roommate, I look at my friends, at the grocery store clerk and at the barista. I look at sunsets, traffic and Instagram. I could be looking at the sunset without seeing that it’s so beautiful. I can look at Instagram without seeing the filter, VSCO came edits and the fakeness. Y’ALL. Instagram isn’t real, but, that’s a different writing session for a different time. I can look at my dancers without seeing that school is hard and they had a long day already. I can look at myself without seeing that, I too had a long day. I look at so many people all day long and I wonder if I stopped looking and SAW what I would see. I wonder if they want people to stop looking at them as much as I want people to stop looking at me. I wonder if they need to feel cared for too. I’m sure they do. We all do. I think back to Tuesdays With Morrie and wonder what is drawing the main character and author, Mitch Albom, back to his old professor? Maybe, it was because Morrie saw Mitch when the rest of the world just gave him a look. What was drawing me to Jess as my doctor and not blood work doctor? Being seen and not looked at.

Jess and Morrie aren’t so different. There’s that tying back to the topic sentence! I told y’all, just give this girl a moment.

What would people see if they stopped looking at you?

If people stopped looking at me, they would have seen I needed rest and restoration. I needed to be spared the gossip and belittlement and exchanged encouragement and a prayer. If people saw me they would have seen that maybe, today is not the best day to mention how they feel I should be living my future.

What would you see if you stopped looking at you?

If I stopped looking at me and actually saw me before Urgent Care, I would have seen how I’ve been yearning to feel well cared for. I would have stopped looking at future me and started seeing present me. I would have saw how present me needed some good, rich, Jesus time and a lot less screen time. I would have seen present me needed more community within my friends and my church and not just within work (even thoughI love work). I would have seen that I probably should have went into Urgent Care three weeks ago when I thought symptoms were allergies and the adjustment of new, more physical routine. I would have seen a lot. I’m very thankful for Jess who saw all the things I didn’t, while I was too busy looking.

I’ll tell you what, I’m going to stop looking at you and I’m going to see you instead. I want to see you in your PRESENT. Not in your future. I want to see your heart, not look at your plans. I want to see what God’s doing through you, today. Right now. Not what the people vision you doing in the future. I don’t want to look at their blue print of you days, weeks, months or years from now.


Because right now I’m here with you, seeing you.

So please,

Stop looking at me.


As a young girl, I spent many of my Summers in Chicago. I distinctly relish in one or two memories of each Summer…thunderstorms. My San Diego raised self loved a big Mid-west, rumbling, striking thunder and lightning storm that lit up the sky. I reach back in my mind and replay my cousins and I outside swimming, playing kick the can or baseball when we watched the sky go from one hue of bright and blue to dark and black. I remember our faces lighting up as we all scurried to clean up our outdoor activity and race inside to seek refuge. I can still hear the sound of my sparkly sketchers as they hit the pavement racing my cousins inside with excitement building in my little body with each stride. We would always come together as a team to plan what we we’re going to do to keep each other safe. We would run down to the basement and investigate any potential cracks or opening where the storm could possibly get us and barricade them off. We grabbed flashlights, blankets and of course all the food. Chips, dip, popcorn, candy, soda pop, anything we could get our sticky little fingers on. We were the big super heroes saving the day. We were simply saving each other from being the damsels in distress in the middle of a storm. We would create shelter also known as a blanket fort, bundle up close together, turn on our flashlights and favorite movies. One hour after another, sitting there being with each other giggling, sugaring up, and talking as the soundtrack of the big storm played in the background. Thinking of how lucky we were to be safe together.

Being from Southern California, I didn’t know much about thunderstorms. All I knew was that inside was SAFE and outside was UNSAFE. Outside was dangerous. Outside was where even the strongest tree branches fell. Where the wind pushed down everything that was deemed stable and the darkness was a big scary unknown that you don’t dare make eye contact with. The louder the storm, the closer it was and the deeper you bury yourself in your shelter and clench your eyes shut. When the power went out, or when the lighting strikes a little too close for comfort is when you lean in closer and come together to keep each other protected. That’s all my nine and ten year old self knew. Maybe, it wasn’t actually the storms themselves that I was captivated by. Maybe, it wasn’t the awe I felt watching the sky be painted from blue to black in just one stroke. Maybe, I was entranced by storms because I fell in love with the people I built shelter with. Just maybe, as a young girl thunderstorms were my catapult where I would learn how to tie people close when darkness came. That when thunder raged louder and scarier, that was my cue to bring the light in closer. To hug the love for people tighter. I discovered that when armoring up for a big storm, we can prepare by hoarding all the flashlights, the junk food the blankets we have, but, if you forget your people, you have nothing. No amount of junk food is going to validate your feelings stirring in fear and uncertainty when lightning strikes. Not even the biggest or softest blanket in the world is going serve you reassurance, hold your hand and whisper “you’re safe, I’m right here.” The brightest flashlight cannot compare to the light and warmth that togetherness radiates. Only people can do that. Thunder storms is where I learned seeking people is the best refuge amidst the biggest storm.

That ten year old girl who once ran towards physical shelter when raindrops pounded against her face is now 24 and sprints past the houses and towards the people. Instead of using my hands to gather flashlights, blankets and food, these days, I use my hands to reach for other hands. Mid reach for these hands, I find I only need to reach about half way before they grasp mine right back. Standing together, hands clutched in the middle of the storm doesn’t mean one person has their shit together and the other one is falling apart. Sometimes, it may look like that, but, not always. Actually, more times than not both of you are broken but need one another for reassurance to know you’re not alone. Other times, the hands you’re holding are carrying the same pain you are, the same experience and you’re walking together to discover the next right thing. Before you know it, you’re not just clutching one or two hands. You look up from the sadness, you uncover your ears you unclench your eyes. If for only but a moment and see you have the most grandiose shelter you could have ever imagined; a whole army of love warriors around you. What is special and unique about having a shelter of love warriors is that you experience how everyone holds your hand differently. Sometimes, people see the storm approaching before you do and start running for you. Others, come after it’s been raining hard and the wind is blowing. They grab your hand when the clouds turn dark. Sometimes people are holding your hand and they don’t even know it. That’s my favorite! The storm is still raging on all around you, but, you’ve stopped running and hiding. There’s no need to run anymore when your shelter is surrounding you.

The end of 2018 and 2019 thus far has been biggest storm I saw coming but never wanted to unleash. I kept running and running, rain kept hitting my face harder and harder as I continued to pass shelters. The intensity of the storm increased so gravely that I collapsed. My feet couldn’t carry me any longer. I fell to my knees and reached for hands instead and you know what? Shelter showed up. Isn’t it amazing that we get to reach for a shelter who will meet us where we’re at?

I unclenched my eyes and saw my sister warriors, my sweet dancers, their gracious families, my favorite dance choreographer, a church who loved me, my treasured new life witnesses and professionals whom I don’t know where I’d be without. My shelter is built on a foundation of love letters. Sweat, hope and inspiration from Wednesday night dance classes. Hugs and “I did it” faces from my favorite dancing souls and invitations from their families to holidays. Safe hands of professionals and doctors who held me tight in the place I was in and loved me through it (and continue to do so). It’s a pretty damn strong shelter if you ask me.

My sisters were and are my flashlights. My best friends Kati, Maggie, Shanna, Abbey and so many others caught the cue to bring the light in closer when it got dark. Holding my hand and stepping with me when I couldn’t even see where the next step was. Sending love in the mail after particularly trying weeks. Reminding me what my next right thing was when the wind tried to blow me away. Shinning their light in the direction of strength and love when the power went out. Replaced the batteries when they had to shine the light for a prolonged period of time. Only to reassure me they were still there through FaceTimes, phone calls and everyday texts. I didn’t know hugs could be felt or light could be seen from a thousand miles away but, that’s how strong my chosen sisters are.

My every week Wednesday dance classes were and still is my soft blanket. A sanctuary that wraps me up tight in inspiration and truth telling. A familiar comfort of mine reminding me “its okay, you’re safe here.” Navigating a storm while trying to be where your feet are is incredibly frustrating and tiresome. It’s almost impossible to do without guidance. Almost. But, I found the guidance. Or I should say the guidance showed up, because she was the one facilitating the class. This is one of those strong pieces of shelter that is particularly special. One I couldn’t have predicted or foreseen coming, didn’t even know I needed, but, just fell into my lap. When I lost sight of the floor, or my feet got tangled or my body said “quit”, Joy said “sometimes we get wrapped up in just the moves, but, just listen and tell your own story.” Before, I could tell my own story Joy showed me how to listen. She showed me listening is not waiting for your turn to dance or story tell. Listening is using your ears to hear the story behind the lyrics. The musicality and accents that might otherwise be lost. Your eyes to see how other people tell their story and grab on to their movement almost to dance in response and say “yeah, me too.” In order to listen I needed to stop moving. Just, like how I had to stop running to seek refuge.
When I just stopped moving and reminded myself to listen first, I found the floor. The floor of my shelter that would keep me safe. The only way I was able to do that was being able to decide that the shelter was safe. Dance doesn’t make the space safe, only people can do that. Joy makes the space safe, she made it safe to dance my story week after week. She deemed my storm safe and “all cleared” to experience in a way that was comforting. She’s a human who tossed me the blanket reminding me that it’s important to be seen and it’s important to be known. My feelings from the storm-the fear, the loneliness, the uncertainty, the anger came out on the dance floor every Wednesday because the foundation of my shelter was safe. Without even realizing it, Joy watched me dance out my storm every week and was a keeper of the story that brought me to it. She looked and listened to the storm raging on and used it as a soundtrack that authentically matched her choreography. Without Joy, I don’t know how long it would’ve taken me to unclench my eyes and look up at my shelter and see I have a big ole blanket around me to keep me warm. I didn’t know when the storm would end or where the lights would come back on but I had Wednesdays with Joy.

The food my cousins and I used to collect as a nine year olds I no longer had to search for. My shelter was always in full supply thanks to my favorite dancing gals. These hearts kept me fueled to ground my feet and stand in the storm. Their little, but, mighty hands grasped mine and their power reminded me of my own. Dancing the stories of their hearts and storms with such raw conviction, nourished my soul and cleared my sight to see I’m not the only one standing in the middle of a storm. Their innocence and honesty reminds me to reach my hands outside of my own shelter and be a shelter. With these dancers, I was supplied with the whole food pyramid. Sweet and energized on life that laughter sent us all on a sugar high. Hugs, high fives, notes and thank yous that left me craving more and more, just like the fattier foods do for me. Team work and execution that served as the nuts and bolts our time together. The technique and partnership that kept us strong, the meat of it all. Style, expression that kept us always captivated by one another. The little something extra or the side dish we all got to indulge in with one another after training so hard. There’s something different about this supply of “food” then the food my cousins and I reached for in a storm. That food kept my stomach full, this nourishment keeps my heart full.

In physical thunderstorms, we need to search for, or build shelter. We need to seek out the resources; Go to the store, buy the flashlights, purchase the food and get that blanket off the top shelf. In life’s thunderstorms we are in abundant supply to both give shelter and receive shelter. This time around, I received shelter. Everything I needed couldn’t be found at the store, or in the basement. It could only be found in people. I was fully stocked from the love of people. The flashlights, the blankets and the food I didn’t need to search far for. It was in the hearts of people where I found refuge. It was building shelter together that made this storm so bearable, almost sweet.
To this day I’m still in love with thunderstorms. The darker the clouds, the louder the thunder, the brighter then lightning, the better. It’s God’s reminder to me that He graced me with the best and sturdiest shelter I could imagine…


The Reason Behind my Photo of the day 2017.

New Years Eve is one of my favorite holidays.  I would be so bold to even say it is one of my favorite days of the entire year.   I know, I know, not the first holiday most people claim as their “favorite day of the year” but hear me out.

I don’t like New Years Eve for the parties.  I don’t like it for the “midnight kisses” and clinking glasses.  I don’t like it for the ball dropping at midnight, or the cliche,“ugh” and eye rolling worthy slogan “new year, new me”.  I’m not changing at the stroke of mind night, I am not Cinderella.  I am still Samantha Athena Barnes at 11:59 PM and 12:00 AM.  Thank God for that.

I love New Years Eve for my 3 R’s:

  • Reflecting
  • Revisiting
  • Rejoicing

My soul is fueled when reflecting on the year and all it had to offer me.  When it handed me joy, I rewind and replay those memories over again.  Each time I revisit those adventures with my humans, my outsides match my insides.  I am glowing, warm, energized, barley able to contain my myself and authentically smiling ear to ear.

I am empowered by reflecting back on the hardships and battles life threw at me.  To say “HEY! LOOK AT ME I DID THE DAMN THING!  I SHOWED UP, DID THE NEXT RIGHT THING AND STAYED ON MY MAT!”  Gold star, gold star, gold star.

I rejoice in all the growing pains I overcame, tears that once soaked my face now serve purpose, struggles and healing God introduced to me this year.

Phew.  Y’ALL I MADE IT! And…another freaking gold star.

On December 31st, 2016 I played back my year like a movie.  The highlight reel  featured more scenes of disappointment, defeat than triumphs, and heartfelt memories.  I remember crying more than smiling, my heart feeling anxious more than excited and feeling more uncertainty than ever before.  How could it be? How could I not remember more collections of love and joy?  I know they happened but the moments of darkness over powered them.  It consumed my light.  Where was my light?  Where were my 3 R’s?  I am a being that gravitates more towards looking through an optimistic lens2, but for the life of me,  I couldn’t remember where my collective joy was that year.

So, on January 1st, 2017 I started my photo of the day challenge.  It was my only new year goal.  I don’t like calling goals for the year “new years resolutions”.  I am not planning on resolving anything, that’s too much unattainable pressure for one human.  My only goal for every year is to grow in every facet I need to.  If I resolve something, all I’m doing is limiting my own capacity to never stop growing.  Wheres the fun in that!?

My photo of the day was a challenge for me to take a picture every day for year of the best thing that happened to me that day.  I was proving to myself that I can find gratitude in every single day.  That’s right. Every.Single.Day.  That every day there was a glimmer of kindness, hope, love that flashed across my life.  Some days they were long glimmers of beaming love and others the tiniest speck of light.  No matter how teeny tiny or massive my light was, it was deeply rooted, and saturated in love.  Love for people, from people, love from nature, kindness from the world, grace, and experiences.

There were probably more days than not this year where this deeply feeling 23 year old warrior was lost in this big, bright, messy, beautiful world.  There were other days where this deeply feeling 23 year old warrior was THRIVING.  Dancing on cloud nine, smiling until my cheeks hurt, laughed until I couldn’t breathe, energized off of natural love within the world.

2017 threw me an extreme hand of cards.  Periods of only extreme highs and extreme lows.  My heart experienced selfless, undeniable, unconditional love, deepened friendship, baptisms, milestones, a new fur faced piece of my world, a new home to live in, 20 little hearts to serve, new passions, a new church to worship, new people to hug, more hands to hold and old hands to hold tighter.

2017 also threw at me grave darkness that seeped into my heart and mind.  Darkness I didn’t even know existed.  Pain that runs deep in my being, enough tears to fill a sea, betrayal that took (is taking) a huge toll on my soul, anger that I didn’t (don’t know) what to do with, a significant loss that my heart is still recovering from, important friendships that are lost and now out of my hands reach and a mental health crisis.  It gave me lies from people I trusted and judgment-assumptions from humans who don’t know the first thing about me and never bothered to ask about my story.

2017 handed me two extremes.  Sometimes God gave me people in these moments, sometimes He didn’t, and sometimes He took them away so the only thing I could stand on was my own two feet and my faith.

Despite this, my photo of the day project serves evidence that 2017 gave me…

God painted beach sunsets on Life guard tower 61 at Newport beach.  It gave me glasses of wine and beer to share with friends exchanging laughter, secrets, and storytelling.  2017 launched my passion into education, life gave me a pup whom I rescued and she saved me-we belong to each other.  2017 gave me a College degree.  Not just me, but my family (Shout out to those fellow first generation college students!!).  Hell yeah, we did it!  2017 gave me trips where I saw snow fall for the first time, I pranced around unfamiliar cities consumed by people who shape me.  2017 gave me 13 new books to read.  Books filled with rich wisdom, raw authenticity and honest, humbling insight.  2017 reminded me I have people who would jump on planes and fly across the country just to simply be.  2017 gave me the greatest gift I have yet to discover-sistering.  The opportunity to sister and be sistered by those whom I see as they are, they see me and we love each other anyways.  I am known, they are known and are the family I choose every day, all over again, every time. This year showed me the massive bond and power the love of a family holds.  To conquer together what people say is not possible.  2017 gave (and continues to give) the art of forgiving.  2017 introduced the skill to stand up bruised, dirty, messy, lost, beaten, hopeful and feel every emotion knowing because of faith I can do hard things-we can do hard things together.  I believe this with every fiber of being so deeply I permentantly engraved it on my foot to always prove I walk with people and they walk with me.  I walk with God and He walks with me.

Because while all the loss, pain, betrayal, change, anxiety , failure, devastation and confusion was going on…

so was this;

Screen Shot 2017-12-30 at 10.55.32 PM.png

Step 1: Reflect

Step 2: Revisit

Step 3: Rejoice

Happy 2017.

Belonging in a Bar

You know where I’ve seen the most belonging since moving Nashville? In a bar. Sober.

Yes, in a bar downtown, on Broadway where there is a trillion bachelorette parties happening all at once, every Saturday night and most likely I know a solid three people out of three thousand. A place and scenario that usually screams out lack of belonging and ABORT MISSION, PUT DOWN THE BEER AND GO BACK TO YOUR SAFE PLACE. However, for me I found to be the total opposite.
I look around in the sea of people and I see sideways dancing,more drinks spilling on the floor than in mouths, making out against walls and yelling the lyrics to Wagon Wheel. From a birds eye view, it truly just looks like your average bar scene. But if I hone in a little closer I see people pounding down the drinks faster than they can say “I’ll have another”. I see tears. Streams and streams of tears. I hear “fighting words”. I see fighting period. I see people trying to put on their “I’m having the best night of my whole life omg wow” face when in reality they look miserable and that they might find themselves on the bathroom floor at any moment. I see people being ditched by their friends, I see people find their friends after three hours. I see misplaced punches being thrown, and women looking in the mirror longer than they’re actually in the bar. I look and I look and look some more it becomes so apparent to me that being in a bar is the most vulnerable environment I’ve been in since moving here.

Who would have thought that Honky Tonk Central and Tootsies is where I see that I’m not the only one who is broken. I’m not the only one who wants to be heard, I’m not the only one who wishes someone would just lie down in the darkness for a while and hold my hand. I’m not the only one. There are three thousand “me toos” in the room who are all just crying out for belonging using different filters. Being in this bar scene is a lot like my reality. Just a bunch of people putting on fronts to act like we all have our lives together or to make x,y, and z happy. The difference at the bar is people struggle a lot more to keep their fronts together.  If the glue that holds us all together comes crashing down, people are more likely to sit with the pain for a bit instead of scrambling to put the pieces back together before anyone sees.  People are more willing to be seen for the place and state they’re in.

A new favorite thing of mine when going out downtown is not to get drunk. I know, the exact opposite response most Uber drivers and bar tenders usually get. It’s having real conversations with people who are just trying to find belonging like me. Someone is crying? All I have to do is walk up to them and ask them if they’re okay and ask what they need. You know what happens? They cut the bullshit and they tell the truth. They say “no I’m not okay, my friends left me and I’m upset.” They say “no I’m not okay, I had a really shitty week at work and l’m dreading the week so I’m going to forget about it for the night.” They say “no. I just moved here, I know no one and I’m lonely.” They say “My girlfriend of 3 years just broke up with me and I don’t know what to do.” Honesty happens in a bar. The yearning for belonging is just disguised by Blue Moons, shots of Fireball, and long Women’s bathroom lines. Ask a person if they’re okay and they’re in shock. They’re in shock that someone wants them to be heard as much as they want to be heard. From my own observation people want to be truth tellers. I don’t know about you, but I want to be a truth teller all the time, everyday. But out in the real world sometimes, when people don’t always care to ask the hard questions, being a truth teller is really, really scary. Especially when no one else is doing it. As Glennon Doyle Melton said it best, those moments when you put yourself out on the ledge of vulnerability and admit “actually I’m not fine” only to be shut down and realize “oh we’re not doing that here”. But in a bar when people have a hard time keeping their glue together, and just let it be when it falls apart, it’s easier to be a truth teller when you SEE you’re not alone. I guess we are doing that here in a bar. When we do that honest thing, stories and longing for belonging pour out faster than the alcohol.

In my experience, I have found the three most powerful sentences in a bar are not “can I buy you a drink?”, “Let’s get out of here” or “Rock me mama like a wagon wheel” (only in Nashville). They are “That’s so hard, I know what it’s like”, “Me too” and “What do you need right now?”

I found for me, it’s not the most powerful words just in a bar, it’s the most powerful words in this particular season in my life. Those three and a genuine “I love you”. I’m thinking maybe, just maybe I’m not the only one.

To the many new warriors I’ve met in the bar, had a life talk with, shared a beer with and a genuine hug….

Me too. This one’s for you. For me. For finding a moment of belonging in the midst of utter chaos.

Where I Found Hope, I Found Teachers.

I am in fifth grade. For the first time in what seems to be forever in the eyes of a ten year old I am genuinely proud of my recent completed project.  The task? To research a college I could potentially see myself attending in seven or eight years.  I walk up to the front, report in hand, pony tail swishing back in forth, dressed in my all time favorite Limited-Too ensemble for good luck and confidence inflected in my voice.  Here I go.  As I finish speaking with the feeling of accomplishment pouring out of me, my teacher takes off her glasses and poses the question “Do you know what kind of grades it takes to get into UCLA?” Accepting the question I stand up straight, respond enthusiastically with “All A’s and B’s!”  She heads to the overhead projector (long before the invention of Docu Cameras) and writes down the grade percentage I would need to achieve to be accepted by UCLA in front of my entire class. She proceeds to ask another question “Do you really think you can earn these grades for the next 7 years?” At this point my smile is upside down and my feeling of accomplishment has been substituted for embarrassment.  I reach for my pony tail to find comfort in something and respond with a whisper of “I think so” and in a matter of moments my ten year old dream is shot entirely by her following response: “Oh Samantha, I think you need to think of a back up plan.  Researching a different college would probably be best in your case.”  I race back to my seat and felt my face burn of shame in my hands and hot tears flood my eyes.

I am in seventh grade.  Twelve years old at this point, with my parents sitting in my fourth teacher conference of the school year.  Its only December.  The school counselor opens my file, which is a novel and poses a question I don’t know the answer to… “Samantha do you know what grade colleges start looking at your test scores?”  I respond with a glimmer of hope in my voice that I thought it was tenth.  Looking at my records she states “that’s a mistake most students make, it’s actually right now.” If fear, disappointment, and defeat could all be reflected synonymously, it would be in this moment.  If she were right there is no way someone like me would be going to college.
I felt my face burn of shame in my hands and hot tears flood my eyes.

I am a Sophomore. Fifteen years old now and present for yet another meeting.  Don’t worry, I’ve drafted a few more professionals on my team besides my teachers and school counselor.  Now invited to these riveting meetings I have the School Psychologist, Special Education Specialist, Guidance Counselor, the Principal, all six of my teachers and the true MVPS-mom, dad and sometimes grandma. If there were an award for the most parent-teacher conferences to have in one year, I would’ve won first place.  By this point in my life I have established three common ground rules for myself during these meetings: Don’t look at your file, don’t speak unless spoken to and cry later.  This meeting was unlike any other meeting because one thing was present that was absent in every other meeting: Hope.  Instead of the broken record speech about how my IQ was too high to receive Special Education accommodations for my learning disability, I was told “I think there is something we can do, I think I can help.”  To this day that statement is music to my ears and words I hold very close to my heart.  Thank you Ms. Karp for your belief in me in this moment and beyond.
I did not feel the burn of shame in my hands.  Hot tears did not flood my eyes.

I am now a senior in college. Twenty-two years old, a month away from graduation and four months away from pursuing my dream career as a teacher.  How did I get from that hopeless fifteen year old teenager to here?  My answer is simple.  My teachers.

To every single one of my teachers- The good, the bad, the damaging and the inspiring,

Thank you.

Thank you to the teachers who told me to “consider other colleges.” Who reported to my parents that I was lazy, did not try and who suggested my parents take dance classes away.  Thank you to the education “professionals” who told me my IQ was too high for Special Education accommodations.  Who didn’t believe in my capability or capacity to process complex information and who limited my future and dreams as a result of my learning disability.  Thank you to the teachers and professionals who were responsible for my tears, who told me “I can’t” more than “I can” and who crushed my confidence.  Without you, I would never have been able to wholeheartedly appreciate the value of compassionate teachers and fathom the power a teacher’s unconditional love for their students.  Without you, I wouldn’t have found my passion to serve as an advocate for student’s with disabilities.  Without you, I never would have found my internal drive to fight against your words and prove them wrong.  Without you, I never would have pushed myself as hard as I have and continue to do.  Without you, I wouldn’t have a model of teachers I will never be for my future students.  A statement that may sting and drip with anger but raw and some of the most important life lessons I’ve discovered as an aspiring future educator has been reflecting on having you as a teacher.  I never would have fallen in love with teaching as much as I have without the experiences in your class.  I never would have developed a deep, limitless and unconditional love for inclusion and for children who struggle, learn differently and have disabilities.  Someone needs to to be their support system, their source of comfort, tell them “they can” and celebrate their victories.  Someone needs to tell them that people like you who tell them “they can’t” are wrong.  Someone needs to stand with them when life is dark and be the light.  That someone, who you once degraded is me.  I advocate and believe in them because teachers like you don’t.  It is a strong passion of mine that I never would have discovered without you.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart because I would not be where I am today without you.  My biggest thank you is for being the teachers you were, because without you I never would have meet my all time favorite teachers who have forever impacted my heart.  It was because of you, I was led to them.  It was because of you I needed them.

Thank you to the teachers who fought for me when no one else wanted to stand beside be in battle.  To the teachers who saw me as a human with feelings, passions, dreams and goals instead of seeing me as a test score, statistic or a grade.  Thank you to the teachers who stayed hours after school helping me prepare for tests, presentations and papers due.  Thank you to the teachers who wiped my many tears shed during math class and took the time to know me as a learner and reteach lessons that was catered to my dominant learning style.  Thank you to the teachers who cared deeply about my being far beyond the classroom.  Who came to my dance recitals, kept in touch after graduation and wrote letters of recommendation for potential jobs.  Thank you to the teachers who taught me how to be my own best friend, how to self-advocate and who helped me find my voice.  Thank you to the teachers who celebrated my first semester of straight A’s with me, who applauded progress over perfection and saw mistakes as an opportunity for growth.  Thank you to the teachers who showed me getting to college was an attainable goal not out of my reach when society told me otherwise.  You are the role models who have constructed and shaped my own expectations of what a successful teacher is.  You are my life evidence and visual when I think of success, selflessness and servant leaders.  You were the face of advocation for myself and others when no one else was. You went above and beyond to ensure I had access to everything I needed to not only be successful for one, two or three years, but to be successful AND HAPPY long after my time in school ends.  I strive to be the teacher you were to me for my future students.  If I am half the teacher you are then I can authentically say one of my dreams came true.  Thank you for demonstrating that unconditional love is not an adjective but a verb and is the most important thing a student can take away from a classroom.  Thank you for emulating unconditional love every single day.  Thank you for being tangible hope in my life so that I can now be tangible hope for others.

I think about all the teachers I’ve had quite often.  When I’m sitting in classes I’m passionate about,  when I’m up until all hours of the night working on homework, when I receive an A and when I receive a grade other than an A.  I think of them when I’m organizing my tasks for the week, when I’m studying for an exam, when I’m in tears over stress and when I feel like I could rule the world.  I think of them most when I tutor the forty children I’ve fallen completely in love with over the past two and a half years.  Most of all, I think of them when I fall more and more in love with teaching and when I adopt children’s struggles, triumphs, goals and defeats as my own because that is what they did (or did not do) for me.

Thank you to all my teachers who relentlessly showed up for me and my potential with open hands nothing but love to offer.  This one is for you, all you are and all you do.  Where I found hope, I found you.

Samantha Barnes

An Open Letter to my Eating Disorder

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

Dear ED,

You stole part of my life for years. Robbed me of dance classes I couldn’t participate in, dismantled friendships, borrowed only to never return my confidence, self-esteem, and happiness. The worst part is, I was proud of you. I took a sense of pride in working out twice as hard as anyone else beside me, finding the resistance to refuse that piece of pizza, and being thin enough that people thought I was a model. I thought having an eating disorder was the only thing I would ever be “great” at. The only thing I would ever amount to.

I will never get those years back that you took from me. I will never get to re-dance those dances I missed, attend all the social outings you talked me into ditching, gaining back those friendships lost, and catching up on the hours of sleep I lost. Or gaining the time I spent in therapy, doctors appointments, and crying over how I wish that your voice would spare me that day.

What no one tells you about having an eating disorder is how exhausted you are. Conditioned to follow your demands dripped with hatred; destruction was draining physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. No one tells you what happens behind closed doors-the amount of tears shed, the internal battles fought between your heart, mind and soul, the repetitive calorie counting, the secret exercising after everyone else has long drifted to sleep, the feeling of my hip bones piercing through my skin and the never ending voice whispering “it’s not enough, you’re not enough.”

You used to scare me, but not anymore. In fact, I owe you a thank you.

Without you, I would have never understood how to celebrate what my body has the capability to do. Without you, my heart would have not experienced the love and support of true friendship. Without you I would have not been able to fathom what it felt like to really fight for happiness. Without you I would have never been exposed to the art of vulnerability and authenticity. Without you I never would have rebuilt my passion for dance. For these things I thank you, because it has helped shape me to who I am today.


Here I am two years out of treatment reflecting on the life I have right now in this moment and appreciating the place I am in as a human being just as I am. I made choice to live life without you but you sneak back into my life every now and then. Sometimes for a day, sometimes for a week, sometimes for a month disguising yourself as perfection, anxiety, and people pleasing. I have my own moments of relapse, I am not perfect nor would I ever want to be. But no matter the facade you play, I can recognize your voice anywhere and proceed to kick you out of my life. My mind is not a vacant space for you to rent. There is no room for you at my inn because my mind is already booked with my dreams, my goals, my memories, my friendships, my valid fears, my hopes, my creativity, my motivation and my love. There is not an ounce of space for you, you can’t have a spot. To be honest eating disorder, I haven’t even fully figured you out yet, but I have figured out how much better life is without you. I have figured out what happiness feels like without you, what friendship feels like without you and what love feels like without you.

Somewhere in the world right now, you have eight million people held hostage in the grasp of your hands. Eight million people who’s time is being wasted believing lies about them that aren’t true. Eight million people who’s passions aren’t being pursued. Eight million people who’s support system and friendships are crumbling before them. Eight million people who cry themselves to sleep. Eight million people who skip meals. Eight million people who lost their joy. Eight million people who don’t remember what it’s like to live without a fiery voice barking orders in your ear. Eight million people who have a false representation of what love is. That is eight million people too many.

 Recovery is a life long commitment and sometimes I forget that. However I promise I will fight you today, tomorrow, next Tuesday, ten years from now, any day because I know my love and strength will kick your booty any day!

To those who pull the covers over your head and cry yourself to sleep, those who can’t get themselves out of the gym, the people who deprive themselves meals, the dancers and athletes who only see fat in the mirror, the patient frustrated, drained and exhausted in treatment—something ED doesn’t tell you is recovery is worth it. You will find your worth in something much greater than anything your disorder can give you. I’ve been in your shoes, some days I’m back right there with you but the greatest weapon we have against ED is each other and our love.

The girl who found her joy again