Sarah Anne Writes

a mid-year reflection

Life, FaithSarah Anne Hayes2 Comments

Even though it happens every year, it's still a little bit crazy to me how fast time seems to fly by. I feel like I blinked and here we are, halfway through the year already, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. I don't know if it's just a side effect of a fast-moving, instantaneous culture, of getting older — because the more time you spend on earth, the smaller percentage each year becomes of your total life — or something completely different, but time really feels like it has flown.

To say the first half of 2017 has been full of unexpected surprises and experiences would be an understatement.

I know in my heart that we never truly know what a new year might have in store for us and I know from experience that life can completely flip upside down in a matter of days, but 2017 has truly been a year of countless surprises and unexpected things.

As with years past, I chose a word and declared 2017 the year of courage. Twenty-eight days into the year, I had the reminder — "courage, dear heart" — tattooed on my forearm. I have viewed that phrase countless times over the last five months and it has done what I hoped. Each time I see it, particularly in moments when I am anxious or fearful (or both), I am reminded to have courage. But I am also reminded of the words that come a few sentences later in Lewis' story: "And all at once everybody realised that there was nothing to be afraid of and never had been."

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Today is a special day in more ways than one. For me, just like everyone else, it is the end of another month, the end of the first half of 2017, and thus a time when many are stepping back and reflecting on where they've been and where they hope the rest of 2017 will take them. But it is also the end of this current season in my life, and possibly the end of my time working a traditional 9-to-5 job.

After I lost my job in September and spent 2 1/2 months unemployed, I started a temporary job. It was originally supposed to be three months long, but morphed into seven months and today is my last day. Though there is certainly no guarantee because we all know Jesus throws a mean curve ball, it is possible that after today I will never work a 9-to-5 job again. The thought is equally frightening and exciting.

Tomorrow morning I will hop on a bus and spend three days in New York City. A week from tomorrow I will jump on a plane and spend eight days overseas. And three weeks from Monday, I will get into my car and drive to Florida for a few months. After that, who knows?

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My mentor and I had dinner last week and as I shared with her about many of my plans and ideas for this next season, she smiled. She said she was so pleased to see how much lighter, more confident, and joyful I am now than I was a few months ago. In the thick of it, I knew there were many elements of the last year of my life that were hard, confusing, wearying, and scary. But our perspective on ourselves and our growth is often skewed, and rightly so. 

When my mentor pointed out how much growth she'd witnessed as she'd seen me walk through all the pain and frustration and confusion of the last year, I felt so grateful. In that moment, I knew I couldn't have made it through without the support of individuals like her, but even more so, I never could have made it through and come out on the other side of it a better person without the strength of my Savior.

This last year was hard and confusing. I cried a lot, even more so than I normally do. If I were to read back over my journals, I know I would see many nights crying out to the Lord for some semblance of stability and direction. And moment by moment, He gently guided me and sustained me and I don't know if there are words to express how grateful I am for a fresh reminder of His faithfulness.

There is admittedly an element of trepidation as I step into this new season because it is completely filled with unknowns. And yet, this last year has reminded me that no matter how confusing or unsure things might seem in a singular moment, the Lord is always faithful, always working, always good.

In the midst of all the travel and preparations of the next few weeks, I have a secret project I'm working on that will launch next week. It's one of the most exciting things I've ever worked on not just because of what it is, but because the Lord's hand has been so clear and evident in it. Bits and pieces of things that haven't made sense for months have fallen into place and it's just so incredible to see.

The Lord has been so faithful and so good throughout the last year (and then some) of uncertainty and hardship and it's just so incredible to be reminded, once again, that He is always working and moving and good even when all the circumstances try to convince you otherwise.

As we step into the second half of 2017, this is my encouragement to you: if you're in a season that doesn't make sense, continuing leaning into Him. He's doing something in it. I promise. 

It might take months or even years for it to all start making sense, and it may well never make sense this side of heaven. But His Word is true and He is faithful and true and good. No matter what.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

But...life 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.

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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.

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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.