My very first date was on the 4th of July, when I was 20 years old. It was the summer between my sophomore and junior years of college, and I was home with my family in northeast Pennsylvania.
My older brother Lenny was a server at Applebee’s. He came home one night and said, “Sarah, I have a great guy for you. He was at Applebee’s having lunch with his pastor, he drives a red sports car and he plays golf.”
Apparently those three things — lunching with a pastor, red car, golf clubs — meant this guy was perfect for me. My brother gave him my number, and the guy called the following day. We made plans to go to the fair on the 4th of July to watch fireworks. He picked me up around 9 p.m. and we drove to the fair grounds. While we watched the fireworks raining from the sky, he stood behind me and wrapped his arms around my waist — presumably so he could “rescue” me if sparks flew in my direction.
I moved to Santa Barbara four months ago. I’d been living in Portland, Oregon, for the past 6 years, and though I love the city and the people there, the dreary drizzle got to me after a while. So in March, I moved here to work two days a week as a physician assistant at an urgent care clinic, which gives me 5 days a week to write, travel and speak.
On March 7th I spoke at a writers’ conference in Portland. I gave my talk, then literally walked off the stage, got into my car, and started driving down to California with my friend Stephanie. We drove through the night and ended up arriving around 3 p.m. The following morning we went to Pete’s Coffee in downtown SB. Behind Pete’s there’s a courtyard with a fountain and tables. On the other side of the courtyard there’s a yoga studio and a few other shops.
As we sat there drinking coffee in the early morning sunshine, we talked about who the
Invisible People of SB might be.
This week a reporter for the Santa Barbara News Press newspaper asked if he could interview me for a feature story, and I said yes.
I met him at a coffee shop on Friday afternoon. He put his digital tape recorder on the table in front of us, and then he started asking questions.
A few minutes into the interview he asked how my faith impacts my world view, and I told him that I believe that God loves the world — and that people who love God are called to love the world as well. Not to judge or hate or belittle, but love.
“How did you come to believe in a God like that?” he asked.
Without hesitation I said, “Because that’s the God my parents told me about. And as far back as I can remember, that’s how my parents loved the world.”
I woke up this morning thinking about Father’s Day (and Mother’s Day. My parents have been married for decades, so I tend to think of both holidays as Parents’ Day.) Anyway. This morning, I thought back to the interview I had last week, and I thought even further back to the memories I have of my parents.
1) “My right to bear arms is in the Constitution.”
It’s time for us to acknowledge that the Constitution is not infallible. If it were infallible, it wouldn’t have had to be amended so many times. It was written by men, not saints. Though we call them the Founding Fathers and “Christians” (because as deists they acknowledged the existence of a divine being), in fact they committed adultery, fathered children out of wedlock and kept slaves. If you think the Constitution is inspired, you’d have to say the same thing about a document written by Bill Clinton, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich and John Edwards.
I’m not advocating for anarchy. Of course changes to the Constitution take careful deliberation and thoughtful discussion — but there is a precedent for amending parts of the document. And maybe we need to start talking about amending the gun part.
Today I got a phone call from Sadaka (the middle Invisible Girl), who told me she had taken her teacher’s cell phone and hid in the janitor’s closet of her school so she could call me.
First, she got business out of the way. “My birthday’s coming up,” she said. “Can you please bring me a diary and cake?” she asked.
I laughed. “Of course,” I said. (I was planning to visit them next week anyway.) “I’ll definitely bring you a diary. They even make ones with locks on them so your sisters can’t read it.”
“That would be awesome!” she said. “And books. Bring me books, because I like to read but I can only get two books at a time from the library at school.”
We chatted for almost half an hour. She told me how she and her sisters and her mom were doing, what she liked and didn’t like about New York, and what she missed about Portland and Seattle.
“I don’t have any friends here,” she said, her voice dropping. “But I have you, and that’s all that matters,” she said, her voice strengthening. “You’re my number one friend.”
“You’re my number one friend, too,” I told her. “I love you so much, and I pray for you every day. And guess what else?”
“What?” she asked.
“REALLY!!!???” she asked.
I got to fly home to Illinois last weekend. One of my favorite parts of the trip was getting to spend time with my little niece, who’s 3 years old. It was interesting and entertaining to see the world through her eyes.
As we were driving down the highway, she noticed lots of wind turbines in the fields.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“It’s a windmill,” I said.
“What does a windmill do?”
“Well….” I paused to think of how to explain the concept to a 3 year old. “Well…it kind of….it’s like….it just…it takes the energy from wind and converts it into energy that you use to do practical things — like turning on the lights in your house.”
As I watched a puzzled look spread across her face, I felt bad that I couldn’t think of any way to make the concept more simple. She would just have to accept my words at face value until she was old enough to grasp some simple physics.
A few minutes later she asked where my house was, and I told her I lived by the ocean in California.
“Where’s California?” she asked.
I wondered how to explain it to her — how big the world is and how many hundreds of miles I’d traveled to get to her.
One of the things I appreciate most about my publisher Jericho Books (an imprint of Hachette Book Group), is that they included me in a lot of the book-making process, which was much more arduous than I’d expected. Designing the actual physical book made the writing of the manuscript seem like the easy part.
The biggest decision in the whole process was not the font or the dimensions or the quality of the paper, but the cover design.
I named the book The Invisible Girls, which described both my experience of being lost after nearly dying of cancer, as well as the experience of the Somali mom and her five daughters who were swallowed up in a western culture they didn’t understand.
As the design team planned the book cover, they threw out a few ideas. First, they asked if they could put a picture of me on the front.
“No,” I replied to their e-mail. “Because the book is not just my story; it’s also the story of the Somali girls.”
Then they sent me a sidelit picture of an African girl, from their stock photography files. “No,” I said again. “Because the book is not just about an African girl; it’s also a book about me.”
After going back and forth, I finally suggested that there be no human element on the cover, since neither a Caucasian girl nor an African girl were representative of the book.
So the design team came up with the hardback cover, which is a blurred picture of the MAX train in Portland where I first encountered the Somali family.
“Where there is perfection there is no story to tell.” Ben Okri
You know how when you graduate from high school, a million people ask you what you’re going to do with your life next?
When I was 18 and people asked me that question, I told them I was going to be a Pre-Med major, then go to medical school and become a doctor.
Why? they asked.
“Because I want to help people,” I said. And I did. I really, really did.
But I discovered that imagining a career in medicine is different than actually having a career in medicine. It’s kind of like imagining your perfect marriage partner — and then finding that your real partner sometimes can’t read your mind or meet your emotional needs. And instead of living in constant harmony, sometimes they make you mad (and vice versa) and they leave their dirty socks on the floor and sometimes they forget your anniversary.
But in spite of all the complications, it’s worth the effort to make the relationship work — even though it’s harder and messier than you thought it would be.
Medicine was kind of like that for me. After watching way too many episodes of Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, I’d imagined myself working in an ER, suturing wounds of injured patients who would, of course, be so incredibly grateful for my care. I’d give nebulizer treatments to kids with asthma, medicate people who were in pain, and sit by the bedside of my fevered patients, applying cool washcloths to their flushed foreheads.
Thanks to everyone who weighed in on the In Defense of Profanity post. After reading the comments, I have three thoughts — and then I’ll drop the subject, I swear — I mean, I promise — because there are lots of other interesting things to talk about.
First, in my book The Invisible Girls (which I’d invite you to read, especially if you weighed in against profanity, just so you can have a better context for my comments), I only quoted other people, like my atheist friend dying of cancer, who swore. I wasn’t swearing as the narrator; I was just quoting other people who did. If you say that Christian writers shouldn’t quote profanity in their books because profanity is a “sin,” according to some biblical interpretations, then by that logic, Christians also shouldn’t make movies or tell stories in which anyone steals, lies in court, has an affair or commits murder. Which means that movies like Les Mis, The Passion of the Christ or The Mission are all off limits. Do they depict and describe sin? Yes. However, not in spite of that but because of that, because they graphically depict wrongdoing, they also are able to graphically depict redemption, and in doing this, they remind us what God’s like.
On Easter Sunday morning I went to the Episcopal church near my apartment in Santa Barbara (I moved here from Portland about 6 weeks ago.) Sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows while a choral procession wove its way through the aisles with incense and banners, singing Christ the Lord is Risen Today.
I’ve loved that song since I was a little girl, especially the line, Made like him, like him we rise.
But that morning, the line brought tears to my eyes. Because I’ve been in a personal slump since I moved away from Portland, feeling lost and directionless and lonely.
The paperback version of my book The Invisible Girls just launched, and while it’s been wonderful to see people resonate with the story, I can’t help but wonder what’s next for me. I wake up early in the morning and my brain is already racing with questions. Is that the best I’ll ever write? I signed a second book contract, but what if the words don’t come? Is the best part of my life behind me? What now? What next? I’m single and I spend a lot of time in solitude. If no one else is experiencing my existence, does my presence on this planet even matter? The questions are so emotionally and mentally exhausting, that some days I feel depleted (and defeated) before I even get out of bed.