The Middle Ground

My latest blog post for Off the Page on the roots of racism and what we ought to do about “The Others” was shared on Wednesday. It was difficult to write this article because the temptation for me and I suspect other Christian writers is to craft the I-was-lost-but-now-I’m-found message, I was bad but now I’m better. If we must admit to wrongdoing at least let us contextualize so that our own righteousness and healing is quick on its heels.

It’s much harder to report from the middle of the journey, to acknowledge the ongoing struggle without seeming dismissive. Yeah yeah, sometimes I slip up, we might say, but with God I’m mostly awesome now and forevermore.

Except that the vast majority of us live in the gray of “I’m getting better” while swinging from major screw-up to imagined sainthood and back to the middle ground again. We navigate most of our lives in the middle ground, relative quiet in which we grow complacent until some change jolts us out of it. For me in “The Others,” it’s the dormant racism I hardly knew existed until I took a job in a place with real diversity.

I can’t tell you that the strange bird that tweets, “She’s black, he’s Asian, their Indian,” has flown away and now I am thoroughly washed clean of any awareness of difference between us, but what I can tell you is that difference no longer defaults to other-ness. There is a difference between Asiatic lilies and lilies of the valley and daylilies. The daylily is not “other.” The Asiatic lily is not “other.” The lily of the valley is not “other.” But there are still differences, and those differences are beautiful. This is where I am on that particular journey, nowhere near the end of the road but certainly far from where I began (and miles to go before I sleep, as Robert Frost might add).

And miles to go before I sleep here, too: On Thursday this week, I attended my first counseling session. I’m going, right now, when all things feel relatively stable, to build a safe place to face some shadows. To cultivate a relationship that can help me through whatever this next season holds with my mom. To navigate the emotions and potential losses and develop appropriate coping mechanisms so I don’t detonate the other areas of my life as I try to find acceptance in this big thing. To keep living in the gray of “I’m getting better.”

winter-walk-sarahmariewellsI almost didn’t go because of how great this week has been. 2016 is off to a fine start. The Factory of Happiness has churned out a few visits to the ice skating rink with Lydia, Henry, and my mother-in-law, along with two or three strolls around the block with Izzy and a couple of nights playing blackjack, Trouble, and Pictionary in lieu of the usual independent device zone-out time between dinner and bed we’d gotten into the habit of prior to the holidays.

Also, one of my shoot-for-the-moon dreams of 2015 came true this week: I signed an author agreement with Rachelle Gardner at Books & Such Literary Management. This bit of news requires several strings of exclamation points, so here goes:


*deep breath*


I am *s0* excited about this new thing and whatever evolves from it in 2016. One of the short essay/chapters in American Honey was published this week in Hippocampus Review, so if you’d like a brief tease of the memoir I hope will eventually be out in the world, hop on over and read “Genotype.”

The category was “Breakfast Food.” It could have been “In the Bathroom.” Be wary of family Pictionary with a 4-year-old time keeper, an 8-year-old boy, and a 38-year-old man.

Feeling brave and strong and successful at all things, riding high on signed agreements and brisk walks and family games of Pictionary, I almost cancelled my first counseling appointment.


But that essay is about how much I’m like my mom and how much I’m like my dad, and how much I love my mom and my dad. I read it now and tear up in ways I didn’t when I first wrote it. Every moment and memory past, present, and future is squeezed by the potential loss of Mom, sometime, somewhere down the line, regardless of how “okay” I am intellectually with loss and hope of afterlife.

Even feeling brave and strong and successful in all things, I remembered folding laundry in December, entertaining thoughts of escaping daily responsibilities and fleeing my ordinary life to be alone-alone-alone, to cope wrapped up in my Super Sarah cape, tucked in the closet of I-can-handle-all-the-things, and how poorly that actually works.

I remembered peaks and valleys, the quick shift from alone to lonely, the sudden pivot from outward inward, and I kept my appointment.

I left my first meeting with my counselor feeling lighter, hopeful, having confessed some of my fears and concerns and inner thoughts. Because that is what happens when you decide to shine light into the dark spaces, they lighten. Both in weight and in brightness.

Confession shrinks the monsters down to their rightful size–puny–so they can be dealt with as needed, either reshaped and refined into rightness or pinched by the fleshy part of their necks and punted out the side door. Confession–written or spoken–illuminates the darkness and eliminates the shadows so we can see clearly a path set before us.

It is hard for me to confess to being wrong-minded. It is hard for me to confess to needing help navigating this life. But in the confession there is hope and healing. I see the path in before me lighten.


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.

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