It's the end of winter and we've just shared our mutual cold-all-the-time dilemma, ending the conversation by complimenting each other's sweaters. She is cross-legged on my couch, drinking her heavily cream-and-sugared coffee, in an adorable loose-fit sweater. Her presence is relaxing. It almost feels like we know each other. We both love coffee and big sweaters, but isn't that a given? There's a connection she made as soon as she walked in the door and I can't quite figure it out. She just seems so at ease, so comfortable in her own skin.
E: What is your full name?
S: Sarah Elizabeth Skeith.
E: What is the first thing we should know about you?
S: I'm a simple person, not a lot of attributes, just simple. I live a simple life, don't have a lot of stuff and that's okay with me. I don't do a lot. I know I don't need much, like it's okay if I don't go on vacation every year! I mean, I'd love to, but it's okay if I don't. A perfect day for me would be just staying home! I mean, I love to go out, especially if the weather's nice, but I'm just as happy staying home, having a Netflix marathon in my pajamas and drinking coffee all day long!
Her voice sing-songs when she talks about the coffee and Netflix, like that's a space she knows and loves.
S: That's how Jake, my husband, is, too. We like to trek down to Reston and go to the city, but we also like days where we just stay home and talk, or watch a movie–maybe fix dinner, then go see a movie. We're simple people! We don't do much.
The humility in her words is striking. Even if it's true that she doesn't do too much, doesn't need too much, how humble and meek she is to express it here! What woman have I ever met who would have the bravery to describe herself as "simple?" We want to be known for how we look, for what we do, for how we do. She's shattered the idea of this fast-paced, extroverted, "I'm too busy for that" culture we live in by declaring herself the exact opposite of what so many of us say we want, but would never want to be known for.
S: I think it's nice because then I don't have too much on my plate, because when I have too much to do it starts to stress me out and I get unhappy. So, I find I'm happiest when things are just simple and not overflowing.
E: Along those same lines, what is your perfect day?
S: Oh! Well, not having to go to work is the first thing. I like when I wake up early enough that I feel like I can actually utilize my whole day. I don't like when I sleep in because I feel like I've wasted half my morning. So, a day when I can just get up, wake up early. I have to eat breakfast, I just wake up hungry, I just have to eat, so I make breakfast, and fix a pot of coffee. That just kind of wakes up my senses just to smell that walking through the house. I like to watch something on Netflix to wake up, so I'll watch something. I also have to eat any time I'm watching something. I don't know why I'm not fat yet, because I love to watch TV! I feel better when I get ready, so even if I'm going to be home all day relaxing I'll still take a shower and put myself together. If I don't have to put on clothes, I'll just stay in my pajamas. Most of my wardrobe is pajamas! I have seriously considered that! I just wear pajamas and my scrubs to go to work.
She laughs and giggles at herself.
S: So, yeah, a day at home would be fine with me.
A day at home is a perfect day. "Simple" really does seem to fit beautifully well.
S: I love it when Jake's home with me. He has a day shift, I have an evening shift, so I love it when he spends the day with me. We often pass by each other. He gets to come home for lunch, so that's a nice treat, but I love when we're home together. I like not having plans where we just decide in the moment. I like those days where you just do whatever you feel like!
We hear my little baby crying upstairs and I ask if we can pause. He sits with us for the rest of the interview. She's asking questions about him, like she's been around babies before. Her patience and kindness is tangible.
E: So, simple. Simple life, simple days.
S: Yes. I'm simple, but I'm passionate, too. So, even the simple things in my life I am passionate about. I think that would be the best way to describe it.
E: What are the things in your life that you're passionate about?
S: Music is my first one. I could talk about that for hours. I grew up with music. I've been in the choir since I could walk, and I've always loved it. I moved on to the teen choir, and then I really didn't have anything as far as high school. But, I just started re-developing a passion for it, and I really think one of God's most awesome creations is music. He created music and we have the ability to add to it, and create more of it! It's an endless thing. I don't think we'll ever run out of music. There are just so many different arrangements of it. Growing up I was only allowed to listen to Christian music, so I had Point of Grace and Steven Curtis Chapman.
S: I had a weird childhood. But, in middle school I was introduced to country music. I really liked it! And I found out that was actually something I had in common with my dad because he loved country music. So, that was a big deal to find out you know in awkward middle school, that you have something in common with your dad. Knowing that side of Dad was really cool. That was really special for me, you know, we would talk about it, like, "Oh, have you heard this song?" That was just kind of special. There's not a particular moment when music became a really big deal for me, I just have a lot of respect for all different genres of music. I love a good rap song. If I'm going to go for a run nothing will keep me motivated except rap music. I love scores from movies! I could just listen to that all day long, especially if it's one of these days.
She's referring to the rainy, grey day through the windows from the Vv office.
S: I could just sit and listen to instrumental songs all day long. I also love how that's what you need in movies to just set the whole tone of the film. I have a great respect for composers who can do that. I just think that must be the most awesome job to have! Like, oh look at that scene, I'll just write something for that! So, when I was eighteen I joined the adult choir at church. I was the youngest one in there. Pretty much everyone had kids, and I was the youngest. They were all really sweet and welcoming, and that really meant a lot to me, to come in as an outsider to this big, awesome family of people. I've got to know them over the past three years and it's just been really awesome. I guess my greatest point about my passion is the choir. God has taken something that has over the years become something I am truly passionate about, that I really admire and love. Our music director is so great about bringing us all back to what we are doing and why. It's all for God. He has really used this choir ministry in my life, taking something that I've loved for years and combining it with these people. Over the past few years it's just been really awesome. I can't listen to a song and not cry now. It just moves me in ways that it never did before! I just love music! I love it and have great respect for it. It's so neat to see from the choirs perspective, and watch the congregation worship. I was always in the congregation, so I never saw that. But, to be with the choir and see people either in tears, or raising their hands, is just so moving. It's amazing to be a part of leading that. In the same way music is speaking to me, I know it is speaking to other people. That's all about music! I'm going to finish my cookie.
Her passion rises, then stops so quickly, I barely have time to catch my breath. After explaining the choir and her deep-founded love for music, she moves on to her cookie so fast I don't know what hit me! I'm beginning to think perhaps she might always be this passionate, this excited behind her calm, simple demeanor.
S: Oh! I do play the piano. We moved a lot, so I haven't gotten to play it much. But, I tell Jake that is my life's mission, to find a piano! I would just love to have a piano, I love playing it, and I got really good at it! I'm so sad that I stopped. When I was still living at home I played! I don't need a baby grand, just something simple! There was one song I taught myself from Pearl Harbor. I was so proud of that!
E: What does your husband, Jake, do?
S: Right now he works at the Aloft hotel , but he's off on the weekend, which is nice. It's super trendy, really modern. I could probably get you a free night stay there if you want!
E: Oh my goodness! Well, yes!
We both laugh. Her eyes grow big and bright as we laugh, as if she's excited that I'm happy, too. I'm struck by this. Kind. That is the only word to describe her.
S: When he first started working there the manager asked us to stay a night! The manager said he likes people to get a feel for what the hotel is like and what it's like to be there, so we got to stay in this huge room with a big screen TV and a king size bed. I felt like a queen!
We giggle and she blushes.
E: You are pretty young. How old are you?
S: Twenty two.
E: And how long have you been married to Jake?
S: Three years.
She says this with peace, with pleasure. He must be a good man.
S: I turned nineteen exactly one week later.
E: What was that like?
S: Exciting! So, I met Jake when I started working at Panera! That was back in 2010 and we were both dating other people at the time. We actually got to know each other at work because we were there pretty much all the time. So, later that year he actually showed up at my youth group! That night we were doing a kind of "Friendsgiving" where everyone brought food around Thanksgiving time. It was weird because we were getting to know each other, but he brought his girlfriend and I brought my boyfriend. We were obviously with other people, just being friends and getting to know each other. The only thing I really remember about that night was I took my knife and threw butter on him! I guess that was my first flirtation! So, kind of fast-forwarding: my relationship ended in December and we were pretty good friends by then, so I texted him and said, "Please be praying for me." It was just a complete heartbreak, pretty hard to get over. So, pretty conveniently around that time, my mom had a business trip she asked met to go on with her. I got to just get away from life for a week! It was like, breakup, then go to Colorado for a week!
S: Yeah! It was good. I just de-activated my Facebook. I didn't need to see how he was doing, or anything. I just needed to take a step back from everything. We actually ended on good terms and are really good friends now. I think it's like one of those relationships that ended on the plus side and everything is super nice. Anyway, Jake and I ended up texting that entire week. We weren't flirting, or anything, just being friends. But, by the end of that week I was starting to...you know, get the feelings. The day after I got back I came to Panera to talk with him after he got off his shift, and oh my goodness, that night! We talked for eight hours straight!
S: We just sat in that booth in Panera and I learned more about him in eight hours than I had in the past six months that we had known each other. I gave him my freakin' childhood life story from the time I was born to where I am now! It was just so neat. I got to learn a lot about him, too. I'd just never got to learn about someone so deeply so quickly. We officially started dating in January. At that time I caught pneumonia and he still had to work, so he came over when he got off. I was in my pajamas for about three days. He just stayed and he would bring his computer and watch Netflix. I would end up falling asleep because the drugs kicked in. I would wake up and he would still be there. It was just so nice. No one had ever done that for me before. And all the boyfriends I'd had, they never did that. So, I knew there was something different there. It was just the most perfect relationship I ever could have envisioned for myself. He was older, so there was more maturity there. It was just really nice to be with someone who was older and was actually thinking about where he was going in life. I just thought, "That's really nice, because I've been doing that since I was twelve!"
She laughs at herself and I laugh along.
S: I'd been planning my life for a very long time! It was one of those relationships where we knew we were going to get married. It was like, "Whenever you're ready just pop the question!"
We pause and talk about the hardest parts of her marriage. I am learning with every story she describes and, between sips of coffee, getting a feeling for who she is through her best friend, her husband. She describes in detail the things they've learned about one another.
S: ...For instance, he already knows when I've been upset because I'm usually cleaning. He knows, "Oh! The house is clean, what's wrong?"
We both laugh and she smiles, seemingly thinking of him.
As I suspected, her depth is greater than her appearance might suggest. She is small in stature, bubbly at first glance, but the depth of her person is well-displayed through these humble stories as she describes in detail some of the mistakes she's made in marriage and the many ways she's endeavored to not only mend past wounds, but to care for her husband moving forward. I am inspired, challenged, and impressed all at once. She speaks of those she once compared herself to, of those who have wronged her, and of her new philosophy: to forgive them, then take delight in their successes. Beautiful.
She pauses, then describes how she and her husband view things after a storm.
S: I know we haven't seen the worst, but we've been pretty close, and it's made us fairly easy-going people. I feel like that's why we're so laid back. Enjoy your life. We can look back and think, "There was no need for that year to be as difficult as it was," when you can just learn and move on. Sorry, I just rambled!
E: No, no not at all! You've given a really clear picture of who you are and how you and your husband operate. My next question was, who is the most important person in your life? And I feel like you've just talked all about him.
S: Yeah. I would definitely have to say Jake. He's just, he's my rock. I just pray to God we have at least seventy years together because I just don't want to go through life without him. He's my first, the second would be my family. We're really close, we always have been. It's just my mom, dad, my sister, and me. We've been blessed to live close to each other. So, I've got to see my niece grow up and I have a nephew coming. I'm so excited! He'll be here in April. I've also gotten close to my sister, even as she's moved into that stage of motherhood, and we've remained close as sisters. So, that's been a huge blessing because I wasn't really sure how that would go when she became a mom. As far as friends, I have three. I mean, just three. And that's okay because I'm simple! It's Bethany, Brooke, and Heather. Bethany is my childhood friend, we've known each other since middle school. We've seen each other through everything. I moved away from her and we remained close.
She speaks of Bethany, the many ups and downs their relationship has had, and her dutiful, grateful decision to remain friends through any difficulties.
S: She's the one friend I can call anytime, and I'll just have her through thick and thin.
Loyalty seems to be something Sarah not only exhibits in herself, but looks for in others.
S: Then, Brooke I met in high school through Panera. We've been best friends ever since. She's the rock who's nearby. She's at Shenandoah college, about to graduate in Music Therapy. It's so funny how Bethany is the strong, strong-willed, independent one. Then, Brooke's like my down-to-earth Christian, hippie friend. She's really strong in her faith and she's my rock in that regard. I can always talk out questions of faith with her. Heather, I just recently met. We just worked with each other a lot and when you're stuck together eight hours a day, five days a week you get to know each other pretty well! I found out she was a Christian, too, so once we had that common ground a friendship just kind of blossomed! We both really like reading, so we've exchanged books a lot. She's married and has two kids, which is very different because I don't know a lot of people close to my age who have kids, besides you! Anyway, I'd rather have three close friends than lots of people who seem close, but I don't really know.
E: Quality over quantity?
S: Yeah! Exactly. Those are the people closest to me. My husband, my family, my three close friends, and my dog.
She laughs at herself.
S: We have more conversations than I care to admit. He's my baby.
E: What are the highlights of your day?
S: I just love when I have time to sit on my couch, read a book, and snuggle with my dog. He's great if all I feel like doing is sitting on the couch all day and not saying a word. He'll just curl up next to me and snore, then move if I nudge him. But, if I feel like being spontaneous some days and going for a hike, he will gladly go with me and spend all day out in the hot weather because of it. Yeah, he's one of my best friends. He's a golden retriever, so he's just sweet and loyal. His name is Toby. But, he's kind of a doofus. Anyone who meets him eventually comes to the word doofus. Because, he doesn't really have much up there. He won't go somewhere unless I go. Anytime I've been sick he sits with me. He's so protective. If he's that way with me I just can't wait to see how he is with my child. I can just see if it's 2AM, and I'm nursing, him sitting there waiting. He won't go to sleep unless I go to sleep. Yeah, kind of veered off of my highlight of the day. Other highlights...well, I can't really call my job a highlight because it's my job. But I do like it. I love my residents and I sort of have fifty grandparents because of it. Westminster as a whole is a retirement community, so there are cottages for people who are still very independent and drive and stuff. Basically the way he community works is as you get older and need more care, it's there. You can get anything from a cottage, to living in an apartment, to assisted living, to healthcare, which is where I work. So, I'm in the healthcare where they basically need round the clock help. I guess it's a highlight because it's just a very humbling experience. You get to know their life story the more you work with them. Slowly you come to know who they are through hearing bits and pieces. Because, I don't really have time to sit down and have a conversation with any of them because I have 50 other things to do before my shift ends. You learn pieces over time and you get this picture of who they were back when they were young. A lot of them were in the war and I get to hear all these war stories and their love stories. It's so awesome. And it's awful in the same sense because you learn all about them, you get attached to them, and they are in their end stages of life. You're the one who's with them when that time comes.
E: What has this taught you about growing older?
S: It's humbling in the sense that you go right back to where you started because you can't do anything for yourself. I look at where I am now and I can only imagine how degrading it must feel to have someone feed you and wipe your bottom and have to help you do everything you could clearly do for yourself not ten years ago. I like being the person who's there for that because I know I'll give them as much dignity as possible. There are certainly some aids there who are just there to get a paycheck, it's their job and they don't really care about their patients. I strive to teach any of the students who come in for clinicals to really treat them with respect. It makes me think of growing older and how easy it is for people to throw them into a nursing home. But, I will never let my parents go there. I've been to other places where there isn't as great care just because they have so many people, so they do the best they can, then they have to move on and that just makes me so sad. I'll take care of my parents. I've already told Jake, "Just so you know, when the time comes they're moving in with us!" I just want people to know what it's like to grow older, because it's very hard. It's hard to see people get frustrated because they used to be able to form a coherent thought and now they can't. And most times people don't have the patience to take a good 10, 15 minutes to figure out what the heck they're trying to say. I would say, "respect the elderly and take care" is putting it very lightly. I don't know what my answer is to that. Even if I go out of that career field there's a piece of me that still wants to do that on the side. Because people who have lived this whole life deserve the best care possible when they're going out of it. It's also a good opportunity to share about Christ.
I get this picture of Sarah in her older years, caring for a person almost as old as she is. Her heart is phenomenal.
S: I'm actually currently working toward getting certified as a surgical tech. It's going to be odd, a complete 180 from what I'm doing right now. Because I'm used to one-on-one care when people are awake and talking, and I'm about to step into people under anesthesia getting cut open. I've learned my skill set as a CNA, though. I'm quick on my feet, I learn fast, and I've got tough skin. I'm fascinated by the human body and how it works. I'd be fascinated to learn more. I'm already fascinated just by how God makes it work! I think everybody should take anatomy and physiology! Because it's just mind blowing. For one simple contraction of your muscle 1 million other things have happened to make that happen. I'm a nerd, I guess. I think surgery is a neat field, to see how the human body works and see how we can take the skills God has given us to help heal the human body. God himself is the great physician! I think it would be neat to get to know surgeons. I want to know what they're like, because it's very easy for surgeons to have a god-like complex because they hold your life in their hands. I just wonder how you could be a surgeon, or even a doctor, and I think there is no higher power. I just think it would be neat to get to know those people and what they believe. And get my opinion in there, without getting fired!
S: The first thing I was told was don't let a surgeon see you cry. That's what my director told me. She just said, "You can come to me and cry, but don't let them ever see you cry." But, since my people are going to be flat-out unconscious, I'd like to maintain some relations like what I'll have had before. So, I'd like to find a way to maybe have both.
E: What was your vision behind the styled shoot?
S: One of the ideas was strength, with the broken pieces of the mirror. The whole idea was to look in the mirror and not look for what you think you should see, but start looking through the mirror and try to see with God's eyes. Try to see what he gave me specifically, whether it's the lines on my face, or the beauty in my heart and try to really see that. Instead of trying to look at your reflection and morphing it to what you think it should be, like somebody else's. Waking up, with no make-up on, and messy hair, and knowing and thinking that you're beautiful is something I only hope I can pass on to someone else who is struggling with it, or to my daughters, if I have them. I just pray it's not something they obsess over for years. You find so much more happiness when you're not stressing over it! And it causes you to start seeing the beauty in other things!
I agree completely. We drink our coffee and chat more about who she is, what else is in store for her. She's too fascinating to stop! If I were to describe her to a non-acquaintance I might describe her like this, "She's a lot bigger than she looks." Not in size, but in spirit, in ideals, in passion, and in strength. This woman who described herself as, "simple," is so much more than that tiny word allows. She is brave, poignant, and humble. Humility is such a rare, peculiar attribute. Dressed up as second, it is truly first. First to say, "Let me help." First to say, "I'll carry your burden." First to say, "I forgive you." First to say, "I did it with help." First to say, "Congratulations!" First to say, "I've much to learn." She is first. And I am honored to know her.
Introducing, Sarah Elizabeth Skeith.