Just Call Me Sarah "All Heart" Wells

Oh no.

That’s what I thought to myself as the clock ticked closer to the cut-off point of a clip from Jerry Maguire, this morning’s edition of the At The Movies series at our church, seconds closer to when I had set the video up to automatically shut off, right before Cuba Gooding, Jr. announces, “I’m all heart…” and then drops a giant M-Fer.  Oh no, I thought to myself, what if the DVD doesn’t stop at that 40-second mark?  What if, even though I tested this–twice–to make sure it would shut off at just the right moment, what if it keeps playing?!  Oh no.

There were five clips from Jerry Maguire this morning, and our pastor had jotted down, to the second, when the clips should stop and start.  We rehearsed together the importance of the DVD times for each clip before service started.  ProPresenter makes it easy to do this.  All you do is set the time it is supposed to begin, and set the time that it is supposed to end.  Done.  No problem.

But.  What if this time the DVD keeps playing? That would be horrible!  The college students were back for the first Sunday since May.  The audience below was filled with regulars and lots of new visitors, “It’s so great to see so many new faces today!” said one of the associate pastors during announcements, “Welcome to 5 Stones!”  What if the DVD keeps playing, and the whole church watches the end of this scene?

And so I positioned the mouse arrow over the play/pause button and prepared myself to stop the DVD just in case we hit the 40-second mark and it kept playing.  We hit the 40-second mark.  I panicked.  I clicked the play/pause button.  It kept playing.  “No heart?!” Cuba Gooding, Jr. said. OH NO.


“No heart?!” Cuba Gooding, Jr., said, “I’m ALL HEART m*f*!”

EEEEEEEEEEEKK!  I shrieked, frantically clicking the play/pause button, the stop button, any button to make it stop, make it stop, JUST MAKE IT STOP!  And then it was over, the church collectively gasping and laughing, the pastor laughing and apologizing and asking for forgiveness and the congregation granting it, like they do because we have a rockin’ merciful grace-filled congregation. From the balcony behind my computer screen I yelled down, I am so sorry.

There are only a couple of times I can recall being utterly and completely mortified.  There was the time in middle school when I tripped over my own feet going up the stairs with two cheerleader/uber-popular girls behind me and let out a GEEZ! as if they had caused me to stumble, and they laughed and said, “What?! We didn’t do anything!”  And at a high school dance camp, after rehearsing all week our team’s routine and lecturing, as an officer, the whole group about the timing of the last sequence, I was the only one who shot out with a toe touch while everyone else stayed crouched down, and then I swore on the way off the stage–possibly costing us our showmanship trophy, or team spirit trophy, or some other acknowledgement of positive behavior.

This is particularly amusing to me now because I am bad at swearing.  Meaning, I don’t do it naturally.  I am not a good swearer.  I am funny when I even try, too formal, too stilted, awkward.  They just don’t roll off my tongue the way they do for other people.

So. You can imagine my horror as a church with pews filled with people listened to Cuba Gooding, Jr., deliver a pronounced and passionate F-bomb.  The mother of all F-bombs, even.

Humiliation burned on my cheeks.  I really, really hate screwing up, privately or publicly, consciously or unconsciously.  My entire body hates it, and as our pastor graciously proceeded through the rest of the sermon (a really great one, mind you), my hands shook, adrenaline pumping, head shaking, tear ducts leaking impulsively.  omg.  That just happened.  omg.  Somehow I managed to queue up the other movie clips and slides for the sermon and shake it off.  Somehow.  And after it was over, thank God, over, our laid back church embraced me with laughter and grace.

It was and continues to be hard for me to receive grace.  I want the A, I want more than good, more than good enough, more than great; I want perfect.  I expect perfect from myself.  Not from others, no, I totally get that we’re not perfect and everyone messes up and blah blah blah, yes, other people, but not me.  And so in high school when confronted with the concept of grace and forgiveness through Christ for the murderer and minor-vice-committer both, I said, No. I spat, No way.  I wanted condemnation for the sinner and crowns for me.  I’ve earned it.

And then I started to pay attention to my daily behavior.  Every time I tried not to fall short, it happened.  Oh no.  I was not perfect.  And it happened every single day!  Oh NO.  I fell short all of the time.  This was really disturbing to me.  How could I be good enough for God?  I failed again and again, I would always fail, now that I’ve failed there’s no HOPE of ever being perfect.  And then, in my freshman year of college, I thought I might be pregnant.  I might have been pregnant, for all I know, and maybe miscarried, given my record of miscarriages now.  I don’t know.

Laughter and grace.  Christ is all about grace, and I suspect he also laughs. The opposite of grace and laughter is condemnation.  Frowny face.  When I felt like I was surely condemned, life ruined, career trajectory altered forever because of what I had done as a freshman in college, what I received instead was love. Mercy. Grace.

But still.  “No heart?! I’m all heart!”  God, help me.  In some churches, you might expect lightning bolts.  In mine, laughter and grace.  I serve a great, big, amused Lord of the universe, and my church is his joyful, caring, graceful and sometimes embarrassing bride, but wow, she’s just beautiful, isn’t she?

Published by Sarah M. Wells

Sarah M. Wells is the author of The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Gospels to Help Kids and Parents Love God and Love Others (2022), American Honey: A Field Guide to Resisting Temptation (2021), Between the Heron and the Moss (2020), The Family Bible Devotional: Stories from the Bible to Help Kids and Parents Engage and Love Scripture (2018), Pruning Burning Bushes (2012), and a chapbook of poems, Acquiesce, winner of the 2008 Starting Gate Award through Finishing Line Press (2009). Sarah's work has been honored with four Pushcart Prize nominations, and her essays have appeared in the notable essays list in the Best American Essays 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, and 2018. Sarah is the recipient of a 2018 Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. She resides in Ashland, Ohio with her husband and three children.

4 thoughts on “Just Call Me Sarah "All Heart" Wells

  1. This is an amusing post that resonates with me. I don't like to admit it, but perfection is for sure an issue for me, but I find that so much of the “real” me comes through in those mistakes I make. And when I am laughing, or when I can create a scene in my writing that is amusing (because of that mistake)? That, to me, is grace.


  2. Hi, Sarah –
    I'm a new graduate student in a creative writing program (one you visited last year, I believe, though I'd rather not say the school's name on here — my name is published now in the comments as it is!) We read “Field Guide to Resisting Temptation,” today in class, and somehow I managed not to writhe right out of my seat. It was terribly challenging to make any attempts at formally analyzing that beautiful, short piece when the whole time I'm thinking … okay, God, apparently I haven't been listening to you very well and infiltrating my Reading and Writing Across the Genres course with this piece was the only other way you could think of to get my attention.
    So … thank you for that. I don't know how ready I am to “write with a shaking hand” just yet, though. I did read that, “On Writing with a Shaky Hand,” and swear with everything that I could have been the interviewee in that conversation myself, every word of it.
    I'm supposed to be reading something for another class right now but it's difficult to concentrate. I'm still kind of reeling with how much I think I was supposed to read that piece, and the other one, where you were interviewed. As one wife and mother of faith to another – thanks again. 🙂


  3. Oh, friend, my heart is with you! Thank you for your comment. As Cheryl Strayed says, (among other sayings I love of hers), be brave enough to break your own heart. We can do it! ❤


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