Category Archives: Memoir

Losing Toby (Part 1)

On April 16, 2018, a litter of sweet yellow and black Labrador puppies was born near Smyrna, Georgia. Their cute little pudgy, fluffy bodies were crowded safe and snug under their mama Sunny’s belly. The tiniest squeaks ever pierced an otherwise normal day in the south. Daddy Gator was not allowed to meet his babies. Mama made that very clear.

But the little lumps of love tumbled over one another in search of a place to nurse. Blind at this age, the puppies quickly learned to trust Sunny to teach them how to be dogs in the outside world. Three blondes and the rest black, each one was given a different color collar to identify them so their weight and development could be tracked by their breeder. Yes, this particular Monday was a beautiful day in Georgia, with a mound of tiny paws and wiggly bitty bums bringing instant joy into the world.

It was also the day my Toby dog died.

This is the first time I’ve really written about it, because it’s frankly been just too painful to think about for too long. I still ache for him, sometimes calling his name or mistakenly calling our son Toby. I still look to the edge of the bed each morning and night where his dog bed was. The last soul I spoke to at night and the first one I met each morning was his. Now, I am dogless. It’s the first time in 13 years.

Toby had just turned 13 in March, and I proudly noted that we now had a teenager in the house. With Toby’s age, I wondered if it wouldn’t be too long before we had 2 in diapers in the Bays household (smile). I just knew that part of the reason he’d made it to the ripe old age of about 100 in dog years was because he was loved and cared for so much, by so many people. So when he passed just over a month later it took me by surprise.

No, it actually sent me into psychological shock. One I didn’t snap out of for a couple weeks.

About 10 days before this, Toby had been having a hard time walking, limping heavily on one of his back legs. We thought it was arthritis. He was also diabetic, and when we had him checked out by a new vet (our first vet visit in Norman), she was fairly sure his blood sugar was not regulated and was causing his weakness. He’d been whining a bit, which was unusual for him. She had us increase his food, did some blood work, gave him some pain meds in case he was suffering from diabetic neuropathy, and had us do a glucose curve on him later that week.

She was right, his curve was off, but with a boost of insulin and pain meds, it was still going high and low at the appropriate times. We were told to do another curve, and it was on April 16 that I started out the day checking his sugar. Mid-morning it was sky high … in the 500s … which is bad for a dog. 700 is near comatose. 750+ is so high it doesn’t even register on his canine glucometer. I called the vet and was told to keep checking him and bring him in the next morning. It wasn’t an immediate emergency.

But later on that evening, Brent noticed Toby was acting strange. Actually, we’d gone out and upon our return I found him in the baby’s room. It was strange for him not to greet us near the door. I brought him into the living room and let him outside. He plopped down on the rug in front of the TV for a while, and we all hung out. Our son woke from his nap, and had finished his lunch. My husband had me put Toby in our bedroom so he’d be “safe.” Austin had taken to rough housing with Toby too much and we wanted to make sure the dog wasn’t caused any discomfort. So I let Toby into our room and he looked back at me. I told him to go relax and lay in his bed and I’d see him soon.

If I’d had any idea that was going to be his last day, I would have spent the whole thing with him, talking about his life, feeding him steak and ice cream, watching Animal Planet, feeding him cheese, peanut butter and apples (his favorite human foods) and rubbing his belly. It wasn’t meant to be. In fact, he never took another bite of food again.


So he’ll be safe

“Let this be our prayer
Let this be our prayer, just like every child
Needs to find a place, guide us with your grace
Give us faith so we’ll be safe.”

The Prayer, Celine Dion

This song touches my mother’s heart so deeply. Having a child is so much more than anything I could have ever imagined. I feel high, joyful and deeply in love every time I’m around him. I’ve started holding him so he can fall asleep in my arms and I wish every moment could be just like that.

Safe. Innocent. Pure. Blessed.

Lord, bless him and keep him. 

His little blonde baby head is fringed with the sweetest curls, a genetic nod to his Momma. He opens his tiny pink baby sweetheart lips like a baby bird when he wants to eat. He still does it, even though he’s now nearly a year old.

Lord, make Your face to shine down upon him.

I pray for him as we lay him in his crib at night, bless him in Jesus’ name and pray that he will sleep well. My prayer for him is that he will always know how much I love him and never wonder if he is the most important thing in our lives.

As I held him in the middle of the night last night, he looked at me with his precious little (big) blue baby eyes wide open, and I looked into those sea glass orbs and told him how wonderful he is and how great a man he is going to be.

And give him your peace. 

6 months down

SARAH 1Today is our 6th month anniversary. To celebrate, Brent took me to breakfast at this little cafe here in Ponder. It was nice to go someplace new and spend time together just eating and catching up.

One thing we talked about was where we were at this time 6 months ago. Brent was waiting at home, laying down, while his out-of-town family was entertained by his father.

He had arrived at my hotel room early that morning to pick up his USAF uniform jacket, since I had to sew his stripes onto each arm the night before. When I’d opened the door, I gave him a big hug and said, “I’m so happy to see you.” (Funny how love is … I’m with Brent all the time, but I miss him even if we’re just in separate rooms.)

There I was, in the process of getting my nails done, then running across the shopping center to get my hair curled, all by myself on my wedding day. I remember running out of the salon mid-style after the preacher warned my bridesmaids that he would start without the bride! ;0)

I paid the stylist, made a mad dash to my friend Monique’s car and away we went — nearly flying off the south end of hills on the country roads. I’m sure she clocked at least 80 mph at some point, and that coupled with my stress ruined my hair. But we were there on time.

Monique and I rushed into the church’s bride room where my bridesmaids were still readying themselves. I was a bit of a jerk, I must admit, insisting that their attention be focused on me and getting me dressed. I still needed makeup, all my dressings, hair, veil, jewelry, shoes, bouquet and a huge glass of ice cold water. More than just my hair was a wreck, if I’m honest.

As the bridal party (and my dad) waited outside the church sanctuary, I admit I was suddenly super nervous. I don’t have stage fright anymore, but something just caught in my belly and I felt butterflies doing somersaults inside. But when the doors flung open and I heard the Ode to Joy playing, I saw him, dressed in his Air Force blues, waiting for me at the altar. And he was beaming!

What a day! What a moment that was! It was sunny then; it’s overcast and gloomy today. We have learned so much in just 6 months. I’m so blessed to be married and I love it more and more with each passing breath.

Beautiful moments and sorrow

January Lane sunriseThis morning I had a conversation with God on my morning walk. He woke me up at 6:30 a.m. to have a little time on my own before my husband woke up.

As I hit the road for my morning walk, the sun hadn’t even begun to rise. But by the time I’d reached the end of January Lane, a massive, peachy-orange ball was just over the tree tops. As I walked back toward the house, my iPhone shuffled to a song my friend Justin Marshall wrote and recorded, and I had a few precious moments of worship with Jesus before the day began.

I’m not a morning person and anyone who knows me would tell you I don’t even like waking up early on Christmas morning. I’ve missed a few gift un-wrappings (much to my own chagrin, as my niece and nephew so enjoy the tradition) and have definitely been late to work a few times because I just couldn’t get my body going.

Since Brent and I have been living here in Ponder, I’ve been waking up early each morning. The sun slashes through the husky darkness in our bedroom, from the East and and the North. Each morning is like a sweet gift of its own from our God, who seems to let the universe glow in radiant reds, peaches, oranges, yellows, pinks, purples and blues for a few moments each day. I live for these new, and very valuable, moments.

Last night I had a really difficult conversation with someone I cherish with all my heart. I knew I had to make the phone call and do my best to settle the unrest between us. I thought I was prayed up and prepared for anything that could come out of the talk, but I wasn’t.

Another thing people would tell you about me is that I don’t play around with my words. I’m “New York direct” and think through everything I say, probably to an obsessive fault. Sometimes my words don’t come out right, but I don’t use semantics to play games with people. I’m a writer, and that would cheapen the English language. It would also make me less than truthful — something I heartily cannot abide. So I had the choice to be honest or to be flattering and try to posture my way through the chat until I got the result I wanted.

But if I let lies and deception enter my heart or flow from my mouth I would sacrifice those beautiful moments with God. Despite the harsh words and the uncaring way they were delivered to me last night, I couldn’t give in. Believe me, at times I wanted to just put it all to bed and beg for the relationship to be restored. I could have pie-in-the-sky once more, but it would all be fake.

So I spent an hour after I got off the phone sobbing on my husband’s shoulder. I hurt, ached even, deeper than I thought I could ever ache. The rest of the evening was difficult and I even went to bed and cried a bit. When I woke up, I won’t lie to you, I didn’t want to get out of bed. But the light of glory drew me into it, like it was calling me into some sort of celestial concert. So I threw my hands up in the air as I walked down January Lane, and I worshiped the only One truly worthy of my praise, my tears and my esteem.

Two months ago, I married…

Brent and I went back to the spot where we got engaged to celebrate our 2-month anniversary.
Brent and I went back to the spot where we got engaged to celebrate our 2-month anniversary.

September 12th is turning out to be a whole lot different from July 12, the day Brent and I got hitched.

Today, I’m sitting at my dining room table, the dog laying by my side, Brent napping and Gary Chapman’s “Sweet Glow of Mercy” playing.

It’s rainy and dreary today. We lost power last night and it was an unbearable night without a fan or air conditioner. We normally have the central air, a window unit and two or three fans going at the same time. And it’s still sweltering in some rooms.

I woke up delighted that the power had been restored and my hair was no longer drenched in sweat.

On that July morning, the sun was blazing high in the sky, but I hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before either. I’d stayed up into the early morning hours sewing stripes onto my groom’s USAF blues. He earned them, he deserved to wear them (and boy, did he look handsome!).

I was weary and cranky and so many things to do before 3 p.m. Our wedding was super small, so guests were pretty much able to fend for themselves. Brent stopped by around 11 a.m. and when I answered the door of my hotel room he pulled me into a big, bearlike hubby hug. It was just what I needed.

We celebrated our 2-month anniversary a couple of days ago by going back to the place where Brent asked me to marry him — the Louisiana Boardwalk. After stopping at The Chocolate Crocodile, we had dinner at the same restaurant we dined at after our engagement.

I could still envision the massive Christmas tree that stood at the center of the plaza where we took our first Christmas photo as fiance and fiancée.

It was a quite different scene back in November, as the wintry months were creeping into the heat and humidity of the South. Christmas music piped in from afar, white lights and garland wrapped the entire boardwalk with cheer and holiday spirit. The tiny bridge where Brent proposed was decorated with red garland and ribbon.

Today, life is so very different. I love being married more and more each day. I love my husband more than I thought possible. And I’m secure in his love for me, too. We’re growing together and with the Holy Spirit in our common faith and love. It’s pretty neat to see that happening.

I’ll be honest here, our wedding was nothing like I’d dreamed it would be since I was, say, 8. The church was more modern, the guests fewer, the music less compelling and the dress night as magical as I’d always planned in my mind. But the marriage — that is a world better than I’d thought it would be (already)!

On July 12, I felt like I was a highlander stuck in an English court. Today, I feel like Brent and I are out standing on a bluff high above foggy springs, next to a castle. I am truly in the heaven of my heart (stole that one from Whiteheart. Thanks guys!), even if I’m still having to remind myself that yes, I am indeed married.

And to seal the whole amazing thing, I just received my first letter addressed to “Mrs. Sarah Bays.”

‘There’s Too Much Butter on this Popcorn:’ Series Part III

Brandon, Nathan and Brent at our wedding.
Brandon, Nathan and Brent at our wedding.

When I was a kid, my family lived out in the Western New York country — miles from city life, and at least 1,000 feet from the nearest neighbor. Our tiny ranch house was boxed in by fields — of corn, of weeds, of wheat and of grapes.

Each week, we’d go into the city for church, then to my grandparents’ house nearby. They had a big in-ground pool with chaise lounges, beach towels, a radio and lots of beach balls. Some Sundays, we weren’t allowed to swim — either we forgot our swimsuits or we weren’t staying long — and I was swamped with this feeling that I can’t describe.

I just remember being there, cinched up in my Sunday best, saddle shoes, white tights and 80’s boy-cut-hair, deeply saddened about the matter.

The feeling wasn’t so much about the swimming as it was about not being able to be like my cousins, aunts and uncles — diving into the cool water, playing beach volleyball and tanning on the side of the pool. They were having fun, and my sister and I were stuck inside, able only to watch longingly from the sidelines.

Have you ever gone to bed as a kid before the sun went down? Especially on those long summer days, bedtime would come around before sunset, and it grieved me. I’d lay in bed feeling outstandingly alone, discouraged, rejected, regretful and desperate all at the same time. I would learn in later years that I was feeling the first throes of the depression that would own me as I aged.

More Lovely Days

There were times when I was also very buoyant, confident and empowered. As a youngster, those times involved containers of salsa, nacho cheese and a bag full of tortilla chips while my sister, dad and I watched a double-header on the VCR at his house. We’d heap scoops of ice cream into bowls, drowning it in chocolate syrup and settling in for our second movie of the night. And we would go to bed full of life.

Sometimes, our dad would make microwave popcorn — Act II, or some variety — and we’d substitute that for the chips and dip. It was always so salty and buttery — and I thoroughly enjoyed each crunchy bite. It’s funny, because now I catch myself buying the plain popcorn, wiping off excess butter on a napkin or tossing it out if it’s too loaded. “There’s too much butter on this popcorn,” I said to a colleague recently.

Why can’t I just enjoy the popcorn for what it’s supposed to be — that sloppy, buttery, unhealthy food that requires napkins only to smear the butter around your fingers instead of actually cleaning them?

Must I always see each day as a catalog of events to be parlayed into something greater? Can’t a day spent dressed in my Sunday clothes just be one spent sitting in the cool air chatting with my grandmother?

My wedding day was perfect because it was — not because of who showed up or how the church was decorated. It wasn’t special because it was a rite of passage, or a statement of my independence from my family of origin. The nuptials didn’t transform me into a superstar or automatically garner accolade as though I had finally arrived.

The depression that choked the first week of my marriage was borne out of my attempts to make my commitment to Brent more about me than about him. I married him to give myself away and spend the rest of my days caring about this wonderful man. God knows we’re worth it.

The Dreamland My Youth Pastors Glorified : Series Part II

I love wearing two rings now on this finger.
I love wearing two rings now on this finger.

I wanted to get married in my 20’s — my early 20’s, — have kids early and be a forever career woman.

Oh, and be a professional singer.

As a girl, I may have watched too much “Gem,” but I never considered my lifelong dreams to be unreachable, or unreasonable. My grandmother told me my dream of singing would change as I got older, and I deeply resented her not taking me seriously. But in a way, she was right.

It never occurred to me that I would have to take life by the horns and shake it until it fit my purposes. I thought it would just happen to me, much like it must have happened to my vocal heroes, Point of Grace, 4Him, Margaret Becker and Michael English. In fact, I thought that I was more likely to fulfill my purpose if I let God do all the work.

A friend commented on the first post in this series, saying perhaps I was depressed following my wedding because our society dupes women into believing that finding a man to marry is the ultimate goal in life. I think he may be on to something there, but I also think the Christian culture has something to do with why we expect to find dreamland when we reach adulthood, but instead we find regular old life.

It’s fairly typical of evangelical Christians to hear that platitude, sitting in cushioned pews during church youth group meetings. They were usually fairly solemn events, at least they were back in the early 90’s. Everything was so serious — the lights were dimmed, we watched “human videos” to Michael Card ballads, lifted our hands in worship so high we nearly lost our balance and spent so much time crying altarside that we’d walk away light-headed and with a headache.

“Let go and let God,” they told us. And so we did, or at least we tried. And we never felt like we tried quite hard enough, because we still wanted summer love, rock music and to shake our booties wearing high heels and big hair. We wanted to fit in, to be like “normal” kids our age. But our church leaders said, “Go against the grain,” coarsely reminding us to “be in the world but not of the world.”

But these same people were products of the 1960’s and 70’s, decades rife with plenty of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. In their hippie days, I wonder if the youth leaders attended every church service a week had to offer. I doubt they hedged their future careers on the bet that God would (or that He should) take up the not-yet-woven threads of our lives whip them into a tapestry. They had jobs — factory workers, dentists, construction workers, lawyers, secretaries, teachers — and they had already built their lives. Surely they had no fear in telling us (with all the best intentions) what to do because they didn’t have it lying ahead of them.

We’d been taught to set ourselves up for the dreamland, to come with great expectations. And so we grew up to be lazy, reactive and much like the drifting waves on the sea we were urged not to be. We heard “Go West young man,” when the colleges, coaches, therapists, counselors, neighbors, friends and family were going East.

And when reality hit (and we were too old to attend youth group anymore) my generation did a total face plant into the sludge of everyday normalcy. Wannabe singers settled for the occasional karaoke night or a joining the church choir. Pastoral hopefuls turned into beer slinging bartenders. And all those cute little girls that all the boys liked ended up pregnant before they could legally drive a rental car.

So, it is possible that the downward slide I felt on my honeymoon was due to societal delusions. But I think it had far more to do with situations like this one:

I was about 20, went to church by myself and was part of several ministries there. I was also in school full-time and working a part-time job nights and weekends. One Sunday I was sick. The next Sunday I was traveling with my family in Arkansas. And the next Sunday, a senior sister in the Lord who I will call Ruby, found me in the lobby after church.

What she did next was unbelievable.

Ruby literally grabbed two handfuls of my collar and pushed me into a dark, unused room by the sanctuary. I tried to leave but she blocked me, demanding to know where I’d been for the past 2 weeks. I told her what she wanted to know and made it very clear that all was well — I hadn’t “gone secular” or anything.

To that, Ruby replied: “Well, I just wanted to make sure you weren’t away with a boyfriend or anything.”

At that, I left the room. The next time I saw Ruby was at the mall a couple months later. She and a friend came into the store where I worked and said hello. I mentioned that I was very tired and a little out of it. When Ruby asked why, I gently and promptly informed her it was because I’d had a few drinks the night before.

Her previous pious posturing had backfired.

I never heard another nasty word from her again (though she did once accost my older sister after service, demanding to know where I was, because I “should be up at the altar”).

It’s people like Ruby who steer young Christians wrong — with their bitterness and legalism. They practically shove you into the dorm room at Bible college and expect you to play Stepford Christian. But somewhere in between the “thee’s” and “thou’s,” you realize that the Rubys in your life have never watched an episode of “Gem.” They never had any real dreams of their own, or they are still desperately clinging to them, wishing they could rip off their old lady wig, trade their flight-attendant-like church garb for cutoff jeans and and a tube top, and reenact the river scene from Dirty Dancing.

Ah, but they don’t, and they are miserable. They tell you to God where God leads, but they’ve never had the courage to step a low-heeled-closed-toed foot outside church.

I am a professional writer. Not because I went to the altar, and not because I went to Bible college. I’m a writer because God made me to be, and He strategically put people in my life to suggest and encourage me in my dream.

This may not be what the Rubys in my life would have liked, but my writing career started out much like that of a Las Vegas showgirl (or so Ruby would have said). After all, I penned my first song at age 8, in my bedroom, and sang it to my parents, who drank champagne and played cards at a round table.

Wishing I could do it all over again

I have a new ring, now added to my engagement diamond. Brent chose very well!
I have a new ring, now added to my engagement diamond. Brent chose very well!

Over lunch at Pat O’Brien’s, Brent and I wished each other a “happy 4-day anniversary.”

I can’t believe it’s been that long already. It seems like just a few moments ago I was carrying my maiden name and wearing only one ring on my left hand’s fourth finger. I couldn’t wait to see our nuptials arrive, and already they are in our past.

There’s something surreal and depressing about the day I’ve waited my whole life for having blown right past me.

At the same time, our days have passed so deliberately and magically that I feel as though I’ve been blasted years into the future. I don’t remember the details of our wedding weekend — they have slowly drifted into the history of Mr. and Mrs. Brent Bays.

I’d give anything to take those 50 or so slow steps down the aqua aisle in Ponder.

As much as our parents caution us to not be in a hurry to grow up, we usually play tug-of-war with our futures, aching for the highlights to hurry down history’s halls. I’m 33 — not too young anymore — and this is my first (and I pray only) marriage. I have no children yet, don’t own a home of my own and still have plenty of hallmarks to hit.

Yet I wish I could redo my wedding day a few more times, just to savor the anticipation of the pastor’s pronouncement a little longer.


Rare Honey Moon

honey moonWe had a honey moon here last week. It was massive, and covered in hazy shades of cream, wheat and lemon.

This one was also called a “strawberry moon” after ancient Native American harvest lore.

At twilight, the giant celestial pearl turned pink, as if someone used a paintbrush and water to smear the blue sky into white and added some color from the pink grapefruit sunset we had that night.

It was truly breathtaking.

The Countdown Continues

We’re getting pretty close to Wedding Day! Just 14 more days! I don’t know if I can handle how fast we’re hurtling to the Finish Line…or maybe I should say the Starting Line. But I know we’ll be ready.

We’re getting married in a Baptist church in Ponder, Texas. That’s where my fiance was born and raised. The church has a very high, pointed ceiling with ribs every 20 feet or so. The carpet is a dim sage green, so we should be able to figure out some simple decorations to match our colors, which are various shades of aqua.

My fiance have had a great past several months. He’s retired from the U.S. Air Force last week, so he’s enjoying his free time sleeping, playing video games, watching TV with the boys (dog and cat), rebuilding his computer, shopping, cooking, cleaning and keeping me on-keel emotionally ;0) So, he’s pretty busy! I’m thankful for this time he has to regroup and get some much-needed R & R. I’m not sure he’s been able to be fully refreshed for the past 18 years.

Brent is also not feeling too well. He pulled a muscle in his side and it’s really been painful for him. He says he’s feeling a bit better now, which is wonderful. I don’t want him to be hurting on his (our) special day.