Sitting the Darkness with Her

Author’s Note: This has been written as a model essay for my students and the personal narrative essay they will be writing this week.

The Prompt: Describe a time when you have helped someone else or a time when someone else has helped you, how you feel about it, and how that situation has affected/impacted you and your life.

*Names have been changed to protect privacy

I never thought the moment would come when I could possibly hold someone’s life in my hands. However, one autumn night in Brown County, Indiana, it did. One hardly thinks that the phone is going to ring in the middle of the night and one of your best friends will be on the other end of the line, her phone in one hand, and purportedly, a razor in the other. It only takes a moment for you to realize just how hard you will fight to help someone stay.

Several years ago, I was down in Brown County attending a Smekens (Reading and Literacy) retreat with two or three other teachers from Yorktown Middle School. The day’s workshops were over, and the 8th grade Social Studies teacher and I were relaxing in our hotel room, winding down and readying ourselves for sleep. It was late, past nine o’clock, when my cell phone rang. Picking it up, I saw my friend *Katherine’s name on the caller ID. I answered immediately, asking her what was up. It was unusual for her to call me on the phone; we usually spoke via Facebook messenger or Skype ever since she had finished college at Ball State University and moved back home to Ohio. I am not a phone-talker, not usually. I tend to prefer either text or face-to-face conversations. My friends know this so when one of them chooses to call me, I have no doubt that it’s likely important. This was.

When Katherine spoke, her voice was shaky, and I could tell she was crying. Through her muddled and muddied words, I was able to figure out that she was sitting alone in her bedroom, contemplating ending her life. Immediately, I jumped to my feet and walked out of my hotel room, searching for somewhere to have this private—and increasingly, critically important–conversation. Finally, I settled on a bench on the porch in front of the hotel complex, as it was deserted this late. Sitting there on that bench in the evening cool, I listened to my friend pour out her aching heart and soul and in return offered her my own, breaking itself at the thought of losing her. She had been through quite a great deal in the past few years. Her childhood had been tumultuous, with lots of ups and downs, biological and foster families involved. After that Katherine had gone through several difficult relationships, a hard breakup before she’d finished college, and then had moved back home to find setting up life as an adult to be far more challenging than she had anticipated. It was all extremely heavy and weighing on her. I had walked alongside her through the college breakup and her fear that, afterward, our circle of friends would discard her because “we had been friends with him first”. That time, too, I had sat outside on the phone with her and reassured her that I understood her fears. I was the “outsider” in the friend circle, too, and I had worried about just the same things if my relationship with my then-boyfriend-now-husband had ever gone sideways. Would I be ostracized? Would I lose the only close friends I had in this part of Indiana? And, unfortunately, she did lose some of those friends, as did we. They chose to “side” with him and, in his mind, if we weren’t with him, we were against him. It was sad and hard, losing friends always is. Now I listened to her pour out a new set of burdens that had been placed on her already loaded-down and bowed back.

I sat there in the deepening darkness of that porch and the darkness that she undoubtedly faced in her bedroom, and I listened and cried. I reassured her that she was indeed loved, that, no, she was not a burden on anyone, and that I would miss her terribly if she left. Never once did I tell her that she was being selfish or cowardly. Those were not words that she needed to hear, nor were they in any way true. No, what my friend needed then was reasons to stay. Reasons to put that razor down, reasons to let her heart keep beating and her lungs keep breathing. She needed reasons to stay alive, so I did my best to give her reason after reason that I could think of. I don’t remember how long we sat there on the phone together or what all I actually said, but, eventually, the tears slowed, the words cleared, and she let out a huge breath. It was the kind of breath you exhale when you’ve just put down something very heavy. She was going to stay. I exhaled, too, and told her how much I loved her again and again. She was going to stay.

Today, I am absolutely elated to report that Katherine is doing well. She sought out and received the help that she needed, she found and built a new, healthy relationship, has found stability, and is now healthy, happy, hearty, and whole. I am unbelievably proud of her and so very happy for the beautiful thing her life has become. Until that night, suicide was just something I had heard of. It was just another statistic, something far removed, second-hand stories that I knew to be true because friends had had friends who had attempted or succeeded. This moment brought it home to me, made it absolutely, extremely, frighteningly real, and I think it changed something in my heart and soul. Ever since then, I have worked very hard to make myself and the spaces I inhabit (my home, my Facebook page, my classroom, etc.) a place where people can feel safe. Safe enough to share their feelings, their joys, and their struggles. I want to be a person and a place where people know they aren’t going to be judged because they are having a difficult time; they aren’t going to be called lazy or cowardly or selfish or weak. I read, donate, and participate in groups and projects such as To Write Love on Her Arms and The World Needs More Love Letters. I want to hold space for others to be able to be themselves, whatever that means for them in that moment, and, with any luck, give them some encouragement, a prayer, a bit of love, and some hope. Hope that they can take the next breath. Hope that they can take the next step. Hope that they can face another day. I want to do my best to be a place where people can come and, hopefully, find that they want to stay.


To Print Love on Others

Two days ago, I had a thought. I was in need of joy and the best way I know to garner joy is to give it as best I can. Bundling that thought up in my fist, I went to the dollar store and bought a pretty storage box. That took quite a bit of deliberation as I am sucker for a pretty box. You have no idea how much self-control it took to not buy all the pretty storage containers and vessels to use somehow in my classroom. All that to say that I left the store with just what I needed for my plan.

The next day, I typed up and printed ten encouraging quotes/sayings/thoughts that had always been an uplift to me. Then I made photocopies and then cut them out, folded them, and placed them in the box. Give it a good shake and we were ready.

Today, after long period blocks of mandated early-semester testing, I handed these simple slips of paper, these drops of (hopefully) encouragement, to my students as they left my classroom. I am also urging them to add to the box if they think of or find encouraging quotes or things to say. Because everyone can use an encouraging word now and again, and building each other up is a habit that it is never too early (or too late) for anyone to learn.


The Blue Bench

There is a bench somewhere, probably nearby. You might have totally missed it before, but it’s there. More of a swing, really, though it’s mostly fallen into disuse as such over the years. Its color, however, has remained bright and vivid, as if it desires to teach the sky how to be just so. It’s a rather impossibly bright shade, making the bench simultaneously something old and something new.

This is an uncommon bench. This bench invites company. As you sit on the bench, you will find that its openness and space are not diminished. Rather, the bench seems bigger, longer, wider, brighter. So you add a friend. That bright blue bench seems bigger still. The more people who join you on the bench, the bigger it seems. The bench sees everyone as important and makes room for them.

The bench holds a lot of things, things spoken, sung, shared, and written. Joyous dreams. Mind-blowing adventures. Broken hearts. Torn souls. Stronger scars. Triumphant stories. Tearful whispers. But one of the most important things that this brilliant blue bench holds is a hand to always take yours, someone who has got your back and will always be there. Because the bench never met someone who wasn’t important. And everyone needs someone.

The Blue Bench

A Long Way From Home, Day 8: There’s No Place Like Home

Today is the last day of our visit and the prep to journey home has begun. This morning was packing, tonight will be washing clothes and making sure that everything that came goes home once again. But, in the midst of all of this, I was able to spend a wonderful lunch and long visit afterward with a high school friend of mine and her beautiful baby boy.

It was nice to sit and eat and speak at length with my friend, us trading Mommy stories, our own stories and happenings, and offering insights and encouragements. It was an afternoon that was sorely needed and greatly enjoyed.

A good ending to what has been a refreshingly good trip.

A Long Way From Home, Day 7: Expecto Patronum!

Today, I figured out what my patronus is. Or it finally told me, I’m not entirely sure which. BUT the point is that I know what it is and it fits! But, first, an explanation.

I and several of my friends and loved ones (and perhaps you, too) are sometimes plagued by nasty little thoughts and mindsets that lie to us and cause us to doubt ourselves, our voices, feelings, and our worth. We call them ‘brain weasels’ and we hates them. The cruel little things tell us that what we have to say is crap, that no one cares, no one will listen, it isn’t worth saying or writing, we are not worth it, we should be ashamed about taking up space and air, we have no right to feel what we are feeling, we don’t try enough, it’s our fault, and on and on and on. They silence our souls, break our hearts, and drown our thoughts. I have been fortunate enough to have dear ones who, when the brain weasels attack, will fight them with every ounce of everything they have, determined to beat them off with a red-hot poker and remind me that I am loved, I have worth, and I am not forgotten.

And so I endeavor to do the same for others to the best of my ability. Today, a friend of mine posted on Facebook that she had wanted to post her thoughts today but that the brain weasels were on the prowl, telling her that what she had to say was no good or that no one would care. I found myself commenting on her post and telling her, “You are safe here. I have a lovely weasel-hunting…” And then I paused before finishing the sentence. What animals hunt weasels, I wondered? So, what else? I looked it up and the animal on the weasel predator list that immediately stood out at me was a fox. Something inside me bloomed and smiled. Perfect!  It did. It felt perfect. So I finished my comment: “…I have a lovely weasel-hunting fox patronus.”

It fit. It absolutely fit. But “why?” was my next wondering. I knew that foxes are typically associated with being cunning and tricksters, but what else could they represent? (And friends who are knowledgeable and skilled with animal spirituality and totems, please feel free to chime in here, by all means!) One source lists the fox as representing patience, wisdom, intelligence, and adaptability, as characters who can straddle either or both sides of the spectrum ( Another source notes that the fox can represent observational skills, cunning, courage, invisibility, ability to observe unseen,
persistence, gentleness, swiftness, and a reliable friend (

The fox has sat happily in my mind since the moment of its realization, and I cannot help but smile as I think about a silver-white-blue fox frolicking around, a manifestation of my imagination, heart, and soul for those I love. I have been blessed with a good assortment of reliable friends and family and more than a few very happy thoughts and memories.

When you, my friends, family, and dear ones, are beset by these brain weasels, I want you to know that you are safe from their lies with me. I am willing to hear you, listen to you, see you, and remind you of just how wonderful you are. Your thoughts are not stupid to me, nor are your feelings. You are valid and relevant as you are and you are still who you are, whether it is a great day or a bad day. I love you as you are. If you need a defender, I will gladly wrap you up in my arms (figuratively or literally, whichever is needed and allowing for distance) and point my wand at that nasty brain weasel of a Dementor.

This is my friend, they are mine to support and defend. My advice? Don’t mess with those I love because, believe me…

You won’t expecto this patronum!


(Featured photo credit:

Reblog: My Favorite Badass

This was too excellent not to share from Elizabeth Gilbert’s facebook page today!

I have so many absolute badasses in my life, to be honest. Those few of you to whom I spoke today, believe me, you ARE badasses and I love you dearly in all your excellent and awesome badassery. MUAH!

= = = =


Dear Ones –

Our sweet friend Ruth Sze at posted this lovely drawing on Instagram yesterday and I love it so. She invited us to ponder who our favorite badass is right now, and I invite you to do the same, and to tag that person in your response.

My favorite badass this week is my friend Glennon Doyle Melton (Momastery) because she always uses her broken heart to heal a broken world. She is a tireless and generous love ninja, who is not afraid to be vulnerable, not afraid to risk connection, not afraid to share her scars and fears so that others do not feel so alone in their confusion.

Also, this week, somebody was mean to Glennon (which makes me become a crazy she-wolf of protection for my friend!) but Glennon refused to let it stop her from her ongoing mission of love.

My favorite badasses are all people who are not afraid to feel their feelings.

A real badass is not afraid to forgive.

A true badass is not afraid to sit in her sadness and anger and pain until she works her way through it — rather than lashing out in retaliation at the world, or making other people suffer for her pain.

A beautiful badass — in my eyes — is someone who has learned that before she can make friends with anyone else, she must make friends with the crazy shit-tornado who is herself. Because until we love our own crazy shit-tornado, we can’t love anyone else’s crazy shit-tornado.

A creative badass is anyone who is not afraid to share her imagination with the public — regardless of the criticism that may arise.

A generous badass is anyone who says, “I have more than enough for myself and I ALWAYS WILL — therefore, I will share whatever I have with you.”

A resilient badass is anyone who stands in the wreckage of failure and error and says, “Oops. Guess we better start cleaning this up…anybody got a broom?”

A brave badass is anyone who has ever asked for help.

An optimistic badass is anyone who believes that this broken world is still worth fighting for.

A smart badass is anyone who can set boundaries without being punishing or vindictive.

And a holy badass is anyone who knows that — beyond this whole wild and messy world — there is power at work greater than anything we can imagine…and that we are part of that story.

I am so lucky to be surrounded by SO MANY badasses. It would take forever to list them all. But today, I especially honor Glennon, who had a rough week and who keeps going…and for whom I will ride or die.

Now…over to you guys.

Who is your favorite badass today?


NaBloPoMo Day 13: Walking Backward in Words

Last night, as my husband was working on setting up his post-apocalyptic city in “Fallout 4”, I sat on the floor of the den by his couch and opened a particular box. This box holds the dearest of my correspondence. Letters, cards, and photos, precious pieces of memory from friends, family, and loved ones. Stacks are held together by pretty ribbon, several cards or letters sometimes set together in the same envelope to save space. But I was in search of one letter in particular; it is coupled together with a candid photo of me and the woman whom I call my mentor, my “Frodo”.

Of all the years that we have known each other and the times that she has written to me, this is the only letter I have left. The others are probably packed away somewhere else that I cannot recall. So this is the only letter of hers that I currently hold in my close possession, and it is the most precious to me. This was a letter written to me for my wedding day. At the time, Erin was a missionary in Malawi and unable to make it back for my wedding (which broke my heart a little, I admit), but she sent this letter on ahead of herself, with instructions that it wasn’t to be opened until the day of my marriage ceremony. So I waited.

When I rolled out of bed on the morning of July 22, 2006, I reached over to the nightstand, where this letter sat waiting atop my journal. I opened it tenderly and devoured the words inside. It is two pages of plain paper, covered in words written in her lovely hand, and I could hear my beloved Adona’s (what equates to “Bosslady” in Chichewe) voice rising from those words to meet my ears. Even more so, though, I could feel her voice in my heart.

She wrote: “I wish you nothing but joy, Melissa, this day and always. I wish you trials and hard times to challenge you and Ben together. I wish you the simplicity of the moment. I wish you a grand adventure together, laughing, crying, and truly knowing each moment. For these things, and above all else for awareness of His Presence. I will continue to bathe you and Ben in prayer. And it is precisely these things for which I have no doubt — you will find them. You always have, since that first day I laid eyes upon you, and I saw a heart full of love and a life full of potential.”

This is an opinion of me that I have striven to live up to for the past, not only for Erin’s sake but for mine. To be the woman God created me to be, to show to others the love that He showered on me through Erin and other dear ones who have made such an impact on my life for so much the better. Erin saw what God was endeavoring to build in me long before I ever did and she guided me into ministry opportunities that have influenced me ever since.

Over the past almost-ten years, Ben and I have indeed had joys and trials, laughter and tears, and God has never left our sides, even when were stubborn and tried to do things on our own or our way. He has always been there, arms open to us and holding us tightly. And we have only just begun.

I sat and read and cried. I remembered and thanked God for my friend who, though still farther away than I would like, has done and continues to do so much good in my life. For her letter that got a beautiful day off to a memorable and tender start. And for her prayers that continue to follow and cover me day in and day out.

BloPoMo Day 8: What I Can Do, I Will Do.

Let me preface this by being very honest and admitting that I have not had a very good (does a quick count) almost twenty-four hours. I went to bed in exhausted tears last night (you know, the kind of tears that you don’t realize you’re crying until you’re in the middle of crying). I slept fitfully and was dream-harried all night, and then I woke up in tears, a nightmare shaking me to my core and filling me with heartache and sadness as I rose to go about my Sunday.

As I drove myself and my daughter to church, I found myself having a very candid and brutally honest talk with God. It’s been a while since I had a verbal chat with Him and was a little surprised when it just all came spilling out. If my girl was older, I probably would have kept it to myself, I think, but, as she was thoroughly occupied with her balloon and rocket drawing, the flood doors just sort of opened.

I won’t rehash everything that I talked about with God. In fact, I’m not sure I could rehash it all. But what it boiled down to, at the end of it all, was this:

While I might at times feel stressed, sad, overwhelmed, lonely, just rawr at the world, etc. (sometimes without even an explanation to be given), there is something I can choose to do. Something I have asked God to help me with especially.

“Please, help me to be what I think I need for someone else.”

Sometimes, feeling absolutely sucks! I don’t want others in my corner of life to have to slog through negative feelings or down moments alone if I can change that, even a little bit. I always have a choice in the midst of feeling of how I am going to act or react. So that is my personal challenge this week: to be what I think I need (company, listening ear, strong shoulder, comforting embrace, truth-speaker, etc.). And maybe I can make those moments and feelings a bit easier for someone else’s heart and soul.

From "Unglued" by Lysa TerKeurst

From “Unglued” by Lysa TerKeurst

All That Needs Said

For the past few weeks, I have been working on an article, amidst a great deal of drama, anger, tears, etc. (yes, even my own), concerning my chosen subject. A public, much-discussed, and often-contentious subject. You know me, I don’t soapbox except once in a blue moon, and there are so many voices and so many soapboxes in this conversation that I am unsure anymore as to where my voice fits in. And maybe it doesn’t or it’s unnecessary to the public at large. I don’t know. All I know is that this week has felt terrible. I feel surrounded and beset by negative emotion – on TV, on the radio, on Facebook, in articles that I read, etc. And as I read back over my own article draft, even though it was not my intent, it feels angry and condemning in its own right. And that is not the emotion I want to contribute to. It’s made my heart exceedingly heavy, wrung out a good many tears, and destroyed any confidence or bravery I had in posting this article or sending it off to a site. It’s even been difficult to put pen to paper at all this week, regardless of what it may be – journaling, stories, or even just letters. I’ve thought and I’ve prayed but it’s been difficult, I won’t lie about that.

A few nights ago, as I talked with my husband about it, he gave me a suggestion: “You do not have to solve the issue, Mel. Maybe the best thing you can do for people right now is to just tell them you love them. That is the point, right?”

And I thought about it and slept on it. (Probably dreamt about it, too.) And thought about it some more.

So here it is.

To my friends, family, and those in my life, regardless of race, color, creed, sexuality, faith, belief, or philosophy:

I want you to know, today and every day, that I love you and thank God for you.

That’s it.

I love you.

We may not agree on any number of things but that doesn’t change this fact. I love you. I am thankful for you.

Always, Mel

I may choose to publish that article some day but, right now, I think this is all that I need to say.

I love you. You are loved. And don’t you forget it.


An Honest Legacy

Shakespeare said that “no legacy is so rich as honesty”. There is probably no legacy as costly either, however. To be honest is be vulnerable, to show them your belly and risk being struck.

Today, I was boldly honest with a friend of mine and it struck me how rare that instance is: me being completely honest. I often tend to keep back how I feel deep in my core in favor of homeostasis, or, rather, lack of confrontation and discord. It has kind of always been that way. I keep certain things, deeply heartfelt things, to myself out of fear of others’ disapproval or disappointment. I’m trying to be more honest, to step out in trust more often, and what I realized today (again) was how…freeing it can be to be honest and have someone utterly refute your fears. They do so by not only listening to you and not turning away in disgust or disappointment, but by also being supportive and encouraging. That never fails to take me by surprise. Tearfully so, most of the time.

I’m very thankful for my friends and their support and encouragement. It means a lot and strikes my heart each and every time you prove such amazing mettle as a friend. Thank you, from the bottom of my little heart. Thank you.