Review: The Complicated Heart by Sarah Mae

I was invested in the concept of this book before it was even available as a book. I’ve been listening to author Sarah Mae’s podcast, The Complicated Heart, for the last year. She does such an excellent job of meeting professionals and subject matter experts who live and work at the intersection of mental health and faith. When Sarah Mae mentioned that she was writing a book on the theme that inspired the podcast, I knew I had to read it.

In the introduction to her book, Sarah Mae writes:
This is our story, the story of Mom and me, but it’s also your story, and how even in great darkness light finds a way in, comforts us when we can’t see, and leads us out into the fullness of day where redemption and freedom and healing are waiting for us.

I think this is an accurate and beautiful lead thought to share her aim and what she delivers on in the spiritual memoir. She explores, through her own memories and letters and diaries written by her mom, a difficult relationship, compounded by her mother’s own brokenness and alcoholism that manifests in abuse and neglect of Sarah Mae. The glory story in all of this is a true reconciliation of hearts. Not a perfect redemption of them as we know we will not experience perfect wholeness this side of Heaven.

Sarah Mae is an excellent writer, that should be of great importance to anyone buying a book. This one was written and organized with care. Some of the stories throughout could have been given a little more texture (more on this later) but on the whole, I think the book is very complete.

The stories in the book are certainly difficult to read in terms of what this young woman experienced with very little support at the time she was going through it all, e.g. an abortion, molestation, etc. But they are not written gratuitously, and all are part of the ultimate story of redemption. The recollections Sarah Mae shares are written often from her point of view at that particular time in her life. So when she recalls being molested by an ex-stepbrother, it’s from her POV as a young teen. This aspect of the book did not work for me. I think there was too much to unpack; it felt like a missed opportunity to delve deeply into how these events shaped the author, rather than glossing over difficult episodes and treating them only as if the wisdom of time had not been granted. Others may find it’s actually a virtue of the book because the author is faithful in all the ways to being a reliable narrator. She didn’t know then what she knows now.

The biblical wisdom in the book is not heavy-handed but helpful, I think, in offering context for how the author wants to frame her own healing and what she believes is possible for others.

The most compelling part of the book for me was at the very end. The author includes an entire chapter on tactical approaches to identifying and rooting out the core lies and core fears that plague our own complicated hearts. She offers spiritual insight on the symptoms and hazards of clinging to these core lies. Many of her podcast episodes have addressed these in different forms but I was very grateful to see the full material in written form, almost like a psycho-spiritual instruction manual.

I would especially recommend this book to anyone who has fought to have a healthy relationship with a parent or felt enmeshed and unable to establish firm boundaries with a family member. Sarah Mae’s willingness to share her story in a vulnerable, accountable way is as inspiring as it is instructive to all who want to explore the complexity of our hearts.


I received this book as a digital edition courtesy B&H Publishing in exchange for my honest review of the book.

Removable Wallpaper: Living Room Design Hack < $100

Removable Wallpaper. The coolest thing since Willy Wonka invented Snozzberry Lickable Wallpaper. I gave it a whirl and you should probably observe my method, given my outstanding record of lifestyle makeovers and other Gucci-grade designs on a TJ Maxx Budget.

First, it’s important to go to Home Depot and roam every aisle like a woman on a mission who does not need help. You will be offered assistance by all manner of friendly orange aproned retail associates, but it’s critical to ignore them until you really can’t find what you’re looking for and suddenly there is not an orange apron in sight for 50 square miles.

You should then yell into the void and see if anyone comes running. You know, could be fun?

When you finally geolocate an aproned assistant, be sure to ask him if they sell removable wallpaper like the website said they did at this location. When he responds, “Ohhh, no! Sorry! We don’t sell ANY wallpaper,” you should match his expression with equal lament, continue roaming around with a womanly rage just bubbling beneath the surface, and then lo! You will find the whole rack of removable wallpaper, right next to the blinds and the vinyl decals of Dora the Explorer & co.

Once you have landed upon your manifest destiny of removable wallpaper, consider a pattern that will probably go out of style in the next 3-6 months. This is my strategy for most things and it always fills me with regret because I pride myself on being able to spot a classic choice but WHO KNEW Chevron was not a pattern you should select as a wrapround arm tattoo?!?

I went with the birch tree pattern. (The prior link is an affiliate link to Amazon, and I now wish I had bought it on Amazon since it was cheaper and Prime-eligible. Wah.) The room I would be using it in has quite a lot of natural light. I don’t know what those two details have to do with one another, the birch and the light, but it seems like a relationship David Bromstad of HGTV would make a point to highlight.

I did not pre-measure the wall height nor check to see if I would have remotely enough removable wallpaper for the project ahead of me since I am allergic to measuring tools. You can understand my sensitivity, obviously. In fact, the very idea of calculating something in advance and thus depriving myself of all the fun and serendipity of discovering I won’t have nearly enough of a supply is just not the life I’m about, friends. Life is a highway, and I? I want to ride it. All the way back to Home Away from Home Depot two more times for more removable wallpaper.

Once I got going with the wallpaper, I found it to be easy enough to apply to the wall. Like a giant reusable sticker for your HydroFlask, the rolling out of the paper itself is easy. I had cleaned the walls in advance and kept scissors and a box cutter handy. The paper pattern was just forgiving enough that the margins were plain gray and overlapping one piece over another still looks like there isn’t a great disturbance in the forest.

As you can see from the heavily curated and professionally staged photos of my living room in various states of splendor, we are all, dog included, living our very best lives like the little woodland nymphs we all believe ourselves to be thanks to the new wall coverings. Magnifique!

Other Removable Wallpaper patterns available on Amazon include:

On Watching Girlhood Fade

girl

I believe in patent leather shoes. Cartoon band-aids. Sleepaway camp. The long, coast after you shed your training wheels and before your first lesson in driver’s ed. 

I have been an agent of Girlhood, splashing around in the 3 ft. level of the pool, fully immersed in the game, crying out and suddenly realizing no one was matching my Marco with a Polo. I glimpsed Girlhood riding off on the horizon for other girls. I was clinging to it, playing school in the basements of my friends, passing notes and trading secrets in our own little huddle.

I remember when everyone’s bathing suits started to change, the filling out and filling in and the tuck and the plunge and I was no kind of ready. My growth spurt was never up, it was only out.

Now, I am watching The Girlchild who lives with me board the growth spurt train. I add an extra bathing suit for her to the online Target cart. She will need two for sleepaway camp. She favorites one; I explain the plunging neckline and how it may not be the most comfortable for her. As if comfort were a major theme of becoming a young woman. I tell her this - all this - will not necessarily be comfortable, but it will be manageable, and I mean it.

She has questions about herself and there is acrylic paint all over her legs. Her dreams are so big and she swings between one and the other and oh, yes, her eyes alight at that other possibility there covered in paint. I am willing her dreams to be as outsized as she will allow them. I am willing her a future unrestricted by jeans size or the number of followers or likes. I will wrestle the world’s measuring stick with my own bare hands if I must. I will hide it from even myself.


The other night we were riding the subway home The Girlchild and I. In my wisdom, I had told her to bring a book in case we were waiting at the station for awhile.

A woman sitting across from us was YELL-INGG. I trusted that I would get to hear EVERY-THINGGG that “Bro” kept calling her about even after he (allegedly) hung up and called back. The YELL-ING lady kept repeating it wasn’t her problem (it was) and she was trying already (allegedly), trying to get her $*#!ng card to work but nothing would $*#!ng work 

Meanwhile on the other side of the car the guy with the ear buds and the tattoos lamented on his phone that he couldn’t find Anybody EN-KNEE-BUH-DEE on Facebook anymore.

The Girlchild was reading and thumbing the same page of Percy Jackson. She said it was her first time reading the book, though she had listened to the audio version already. She admitted she was glad which she had, since she knew how to pronounce the brother’s name properly, Chiaron, pronounced “KEER-an.”

It strikes me now that this is one way we navigate the transition of our lives, the transferring from the girlhood train to the one that only women are fit to ride. We look and we listen and we absorb; the world presents itself as a text. It is a mercy and a gift that we then get to write our own chapters, though sometimes casting a different set of characters in a completely distinct setting than the one chosen for us.

I had felt fearful, even as near as the beginning of summer, for The Girlchild to turn the page. Fearful of what she might discover about the cruel world, about her incompetent parents, about her unadulterated self. I am reminded once more that we are reading and writing this text together, riding a rumbling subway, absorbing the input, synthesizing what all will become the story of how this momentum continues, with a denouement that is well beyond our sightline.

I still believe in the sanctity of Girlhood, and she still exists in peeks these days like the fireflies that the Girlchild spent so many summer nights chasing after. (And I hope she always does.)