Sarah Anne Hayes

claddagh rings & open hearts

RelationshipsSarah Anne HayesComment

My heritage is pretty varied. My mom's family came to the United States in 1642, so over the last 375ish years, people from a lot of different countries got pulled into the mix.

I visited Ireland — the land of some of my ancestors — for the first time in 2007. I had just graduated high school and, instead of going to college right away, went gallivanting off on a three-month singing tour that took me all over the United States, parts of Canada, and the entirety of the United Kingdom.


It's doubtful that my wanderlust will ever be fully satiated and I will forever be exploring new cities and and states and countries, but there is something special about visiting the place where your ancestors once lived, before the country of your birth was even a country.

I can still see the gorgeous rolling hills, beautiful landscapes, fascinating architecture, rich history, and breathtaking views off the coast of the beautiful country. In so many ways, Ireland took my breath away.


While in Ireland, I learned about the Claddagh — a traditional Irish symbol representing love, loyalty, and friendship. There is some confusion about who created the original design, but Claddagh rings have been produced in Galway since the 1700s and were used locally as engagement and wedding rings. However, it was not until the 1800s that Galway jewelers began to market them beyond the local area.

Though Claddagh rings are occasionally given as a form of friendship, most often they are passed down through generations and still worn as engagement and wedding rings. And like a traditional engagement or wedding ring, the positioning of the Claddagh is important.

If worn on the right hand with the point of the heart facing outward, it indicates the wearer is single and looking for love. If worn on the right hand with the point of the heart facing inward, it indicates the wearer is in a relationship. Similarly, if worn on the left hand with the point of the heart facing outward, it indicates the wearer is engaged and married if pointed inward.

A little over four years after I visited Ireland, I got a Claddagh ring of my own — a simple sterling silver one I have worn every day for the last five years. For nearly all of those five years, the ring has remained on my right hand, facing outward.


I've spent the vast majority of my life single, and while I vacillate back and forth (sometimes on a daily basis) between being perfectly content to continue remaining single and woefully lamenting my singleness in a melodramatic fashion, the fact of the matter is it would be my preference to no longer be single sooner rather than later. It's something I don't really have control over, but a request I bring before the Lord in prayer often, nonetheless.

And every day, whether I am content and not so content in my singleness, my Claddagh sits on my right hand, heart facing outward.

It might seem weird to wear a physical reminder of your relationship status when it's the opposite of what you want it to be. When my last relationship ended almost five years ago, when I had to put the ring on facing outward instead of inward, I briefly considered not even putting it on. It's possible there were even a few days I did just that.

But more than a reminder of my singleness, the ring I put on my finger each day is a reminder, even in my single, sometimes bitter and frustrated and cynical state, to keep my heart open. To remember that the Lord works and moves in mighty and mysterious ways. To remind myself that when I close my heart to hope in the possibility of something like a future marriage, I often unintentionally close my heart to hope in so many other good and wonderful things.

As singles, especially in the Church, we often rebel against anything and everything that reminds us of our single state. It's culturally acceptable to rail against the establishment, proclaim love and romance dead, and just plain give up. It's hip to be cynical and acceptable to be angry. We let sermons on marriage make us feel isolated, boycott holidays that celebrate love, and perhaps even consider declining wedding invitations because we can't stomach the thought of going to another one alone.

It's easy to let this happen — to become cynical, bitter, and jaded. It's easy to swear off love, label dating as a waste of time, and determine to live out the remainder of our days in a cabin in the woods or on a deserted island. I've certainly been guilty of this attitude more than once in my lifetime.

And yet, what is it they say about like attracting like? Now, I'm not one to subscribe to all those philosophies that what you put out into the world is what comes to you or the universe feels your intentions or anything like that, but I do know this — you miss what you aren't looking for. And not just in the area of romance.

Our feelings and attitudes about life aren't isolated. One part affects the whole. When you allow bitterness and cynicism to grow in your heart about something like love, it often spreads, without you knowing it, to other areas of your life. You could miss out on opportunities and friendships and incredible, life-changing experiences if you allow the attitude that it's just not worth the effort to permeate into even the smallest area of your life.


Anne Shirley is my favorite character in all of literature. She is melodramatic and temperamental, but with a zest for life and love and adventure larger than anyone else you'll likely ever meet. She's experienced hardship and pain in her life, but she always has a secret delight. She always holds onto the belief that the world is full of beauty that's worth finding, that every day is a new start, and that kindred spirits are always out there.

That's how I believe we are meant to live — with an unbridled expectation that the world is full of beauty and wonder and delight.

Imagine how much more love and adventure and who knows what else we get the chance to see when our eyes and hearts are open to it, when we choose to put the past behind us and trust and believe that our God is good, that He gives good gifts to His children, and He is working and moving in ways we might never see or know.

Yes, life is hard and scary sometimes. No, relationships don't always work out. Yes, sometimes people are absolute jerks. No, there aren't any guarantees when it comes to life or love. is also beautiful and wild and wonderful. Relationships, romantic or not, can one of the best things to ever happen to you. People are imperfect, but there's nothing like finding a kindred spirit. There aren't guarantees when it comes to life or love, but why should you let that stop you from trying and wishing and hoping?

One day, I hope to have a daughter. And one day, when she is older, I will take the ring I now wear on my finger and give it to her in the hopes that it will remind her, each and every day, to keep her heart open — to life, to adventure, to love, to whatever this world holds for her.

be a cheerleader

CreativitySarah Anne HayesComment

When I was six-years-old, I started my first gymnastics class.

For the next four years of my life, for a few hours every week, I whipped and flipped my body in every which way over a floor, trampoline, balance beam, vault, and uneven bars. I remember the excitement when I landed a cartwheel on the balance beam for the first time and how I looked at the older girls doing tumbling passes across the floor, dreaming of the day I could contort my body in such a way and still somehow land on two feet.

If you're at all familiar with gymnastics, you know that it's not only a competitive sport but also one that's incredibly time-consuming and expensive. Unlike something like soccer or swimming, where an athlete's career can span decades of their life, most elite female gymnasts will only compete through college, if that.

After four years of gymnastics, I had to stop, due to the increasing expense and time commitment, but I still dreamed of being able to do back handsprings and aerials and all other manner of tumbling passes.

Likely due to spending most of my pre-college academic career homeschooled, it wasn't until I reached college that I learned about another avenue for someone to learn all the tumbling and crazy tricks I dreamed about — competitive cheerleading.


Cheerleading for most of us probably brings up images of super peppy girls in high ponytails and short skirts or flashbacks from Bring It On. People laugh at the idea and often scoff when they learn it's part of someone's past or present.

But lately, it's become my personal goal to be a cheerleader. No, I will probably never be whipping my body at breakneck speeds while doing a tumbling pass across the floor (though it's still a personal goal to learn a back handspring and aerial), but at its core, that's not what cheerleading — competitive or not — is about.

Culturally, we think of stereotypes when we think of cheerleaders, but being a cheerleader is really being an encourager and a supporter. According to Merriam-Webster, the actual definition (aside from the expected one), is "a person who encourages other people to do or support something."

I have always loved doing this — sending cards or text messages or cheesy gifs with thumbs up and excitement and congratulations happens on a frequent basis in my life. One of my spiritual gifts is encouragement or exhortation, and since my primary love language is words of affirmation, it's the most natural way for me to show others that I love them.

You see, I have never met a person who was too encouraged. Even the seemingly most confident, talented, amazing individuals could stand to have a bit more genuine encouragement in their life.

Everyone questions if their contribution to the world has value or will be well received. Everyone has moments where they feel like a complete imposter. Everyone wonders, "Is what I do even worth it? Does anyone care?"

This is especially true for us creatives. I don't think I've ever put something out into the world — a blog post, a design idea, or even something on Instagram — without that tiny piece of fear in the back of my head that what I've created is crap. That's one of the ways the enemy fights against the process of creation in the world — he attempts to convince every artist out there, no matter how outwardly successful they may seem, that what they want to create won't make a difference.

There isn't a market for it. The market is over-saturated. There aren't enough clients to go around. It's too long. It's too short. It's too expensive. It's too inexpensive. So-and-so does the same thing and they do it better. The list of reasons to not create scream so much louder and longer than the list of reasons to create.

But that fear doesn't just fight against creatives like myself and the work we do. It fights against everyone who wants to truly live their life, rather than just existing. It fights against anyone who wants to try something new or be a little different or do anything other than go along with the mediocre status quo.


Four years ago, I joined a community of dreamers. Jon Acuff knew that fear feared community, that one of the biggest reasons people don't pursue their dreams, is because instead of an epic cheer squad supporting them from the sidelines, all they hear are the naysayers. And he wondered what would happen if you threw all of those dreamers and doers into one big group.

It's easy to be a naysayer. It's easy to ask the "responsible" questions and cause someone to think long and hard about whether or not the pursuit of their dream is worth it. And for creatives like myself who frequently respond to the "ooh, shiny!" mentality with what feels like a new idea every week, it's important for someone to ask us those questions.

But chances are, people already have that person in their life. They already have their "designated naysayer," if you will, who they've invited to caution them in their pursuits. Their go-to person to be a sounding board for what really is an incredible idea that's worth pursuing and what should be pushed to the wayside.

So be a cheerleader. Read your friends work and comment. Watch their videos and share. Like their photos. It costs you nothing to favorite a tweet, like an Instagram photo, react to a Facebook post, or simply send them a text and tell them you love what they've done or created. It takes two seconds or 30 seconds or five minutes, but the encouragement received from it is immeasurable. 

And don't do it so they'll do the same for you. Do it because you care, because you might not be their target audience but you are their friend and you want to see them succeed. We need more people who are cheerleaders for the creation of beautiful, wonderful things. More people who are cheerleaders for doing incredible things with this one beautiful, precious life we've all been given.

It's always fascinated me that we'll shout praises to the high heavens when someone we've never met and never will meet creates something that makes the world awesome, yet we are silent for the people we love.

I've often been guilty of this — recommending books and music and more to people, yet remaining silent when my friends create beautiful and wonderful things and have the courage to share them with the world. But chances are, that person whose work you rave about now was once a person who had the courage to put their creations out into the world and they had people in their lives who cheered them on every step of the way.

The world is full of naysayers. They're a dime a dozen. Instead, be a cheerleader. The world needs more of them.

on making a house a home

HospitalitySarah Anne HayesComment

This week, the house I currently live in went up for sale. Last week, my roommates and I were painting walls and straightening up spaces and decluttering stuff before the realtor came to take pictures.

For the ninth time in seven years, my life is being packed into boxes and the next few weeks will be this weird combination of half living in one space and half living in another as more stuff is organized and packed and taped and moved until the transition is complete.

Growing up as a military brat, you think I'd be used to frequent moves, but the truth is I've always hated them. And I don't think anyone could ever truly get used to packing up their life into boxes at the same time every single year. Add that to the fact that I've moved more as a single adult than I ever did as a child (all without the help of movers, mind you) and you might be able to understand why the fact that I will spend the next few weeks surrounded by boxes is somewhat disheartening.

My military upbringing instilled one extremely strong desire in my heart — I have always had a deep longing for roots that go deep.

While I know home is far more about people than it is a specific place, I have always longed to live somewhere and stay. Not just in one general area, but one physical house. One where I'm rearranging furniture and hanging new pictures not because the space is new but because the house changes and grows to reflect how life changes. One where the memories taking place in the rooms grow year after year after year. One that is a house but is also a home in every sense of the word.

For reasons unknown to me and circumstances beyond my control, the Lord has seen fit to keep me moving at least once a year since 2010 and it seems life will be in transition for the foreseeable future, as I will spend about three months in my parents basement before spending an undetermined amount of time in my sister's guest room before going only the Lord knows where and for how long.


At the beginning of the year, I decided to read through the Bible again, though in chronological order rather than cover to cover. But even chronological order means that you spend most of the first few months of the year hanging out with the Israelites, watching as they become a nation, enter into slavery, make their exodus from Egypt, and spend 40 years wandering and complaining in the desert. Then they enter the promised land and still have to go through years of fighting the inhabitants to lay claim to what God has promised them.

As I've been reading these familiar passages again, I've continued to think about a conversation I had with my mentor recently.

This world is not our home, she reminded me. As believers we know this, but in many of us there still resides a deep desire for belonging and rootedness. We want to feel known and seen and loved. We want to feel stable. We want to have a place to come home to at the end of the day that feels comfortable and welcoming and safe. And often, the Lord will give those things to us, but sometimes He intentionally uproots us, sometimes over and over and over again, to remind us that this is not our home. To remind us that we are forever in transition, forever on a journey, forever able to only find true stability in Him.

But even in the midst of their journeys through the desert, the Israelites had periods of rest and respite. They had moments like Mount Sinai, where they camped and they set up the tabernacle and the Lord resided there with them and they were able to make a place home, even if only for a moment.


When your life is fraught with movement and it seems almost a guarantee that a certain month each year will be punctuated by the sounds of tape and the smell of cardboard and the search for another place to, however temporarily, call home, it is easy to get into a mindset that the space you're in isn't important. It's easy to think that because you'll probably only be in this particular house or apartment or condo for a year that you shouldn't paint the walls or hang the pictures or buy the little table that will go perfectly in the entryway.

But I believe the Lord intended for us to put down roots whenever able. Yes, He could pull them up at any time, but uncertainty about the future should never rob you of living in the present.

Over the last seven years, I have called seven different places home. Some of them have felt more like home than others, but without a doubt, the ones that have felt most like home are the ones where I chose to invest. The ones where I chose to paint the walls or hang the picture or make the memories and dig my roots in even though they might get pulled up a year later. And in the last seven years, I've learned a couple of things about making a house into a home and planting those roots in seasons that seem fraught with instability.


i. make it yours.

Making a space homey looks different for everyone. Some people are totally good keeping the walls white and bare and others require more throw pillows than you can count before a space feels like them.

Whatever it is that you have to do to make a space feel like home to you, do it. Check with your landlord of course, but go ahead. Paint the walls. Hang the pictures and the curtains. Buy the side table. Fill it with plants and throw pillows. Don't buy into the thought process that it's not worth the effort because you could be gone in a year. You might be. But you also might not be. 

In our most recent house, we went all out. One roommate and I painted our bedrooms. We hung pictures and and canvases on the walls. We put up shelves and hung curtains. We took pieces of furniture that did one thing in an old house and made them do something new in this house. I even painted a bathroom with a pedestal sink and, let me tell you, that is not fun.

You might be in transition for one year or, like me, it could be several. Don't feel like you have to wait until things are settled to make the space you life in feel like home.


ii. throw open the doors.

In an era of Pinterest and Instagram and perfectly curated lifestyle blogs, it's insanely easy to believe that if your house and your life are in transition, that you're not in a "place" or "season" to focus on hospitality.

We get caught up in the thought process that everything has to be perfect before you can open the walls of your home and heart — that your walls must be worthy of a home decor board on Pinterest, that your tablescape must look professionally done, that your food must rival that of the best contestants on Top Chef.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to put your best foot forward. There's nothing wrong with wanting to have a gorgeous tablescape or an enviable gallery wall or an absolutely amazing meal to share with your friends. But if you're waiting for all of those things in order to open your home, the doors will forever remain closed.

Life is messy and what people are looking for isn't a polished and curated experience. They're looking for authenticity. They're looking for comfort. They're looking for a place where they can open up their hearts and be vulnerable. They're looking for a place where they can know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they are seen, heard, and loved.

So go all out if you want to, but don't let that be the prerequisite for hosting a dinner party or a game night or a girl's night in. Dress up or wear sweatpants. Make a fancy meal or cook up a frozen pizza. Set up a gorgeous tablescape or set out paper plates and napkins.

As Shauna Niequist says, "Entertaining isn't a sport of a competition. It's an act of love, if you let it be. You can twist it and turn it into anything you want—a way to show off your house, a way to compete with your friends, a way to earn love and approval. Or you can decide that every time you open your doors, it's an act of love, not performance or competition or striving. You can decide that every time people gather around your table, your goal is nourishment, not neurotic proving. You can decide."


In so many ways, the things that makes a house a home, even a temporary one, are intangible. But I think they can truly be summed up in those two lessons — make it yours and throw open the doors. 

Infuse yourself into the place you're living and let it become a haven and a place of respite, for yourself and for others.

It's no guarantee that you'll stay in one spot for a long time. It's no guarantee that your roots won't be torn up year after year after year. But the worst thing you can do is wait to live your life until things are certain. The worst thing you can do is never try to put down roots because they might be pulled up sooner than you'd like. That kind of life turns into a vagabond existence where you miss out on places and people and relationships and all the amazing lessons those things can teach you.

So wherever you are — a condo, a mansion, a basement apartment, or the house of your dreams — make it yours and throw open the doors.