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.

Who are these “Spiritual Gangsters” on the prowl?

The “Spiritual Gangster” athleisure brand caught my attention, as it was created to do.

I first saw the Spiritual Gangster apparel as a walking advertisement worn by the women, most of them white, at the yoga studios I frequent. Apparently, Deepak Chopra also proclaims himself a Spiritual Gangster, along with celebrities such as Gwen Stefani and Katherine Schwarzenegger. There really seemed to be a great spectrum of folks who were a self-proclaimed part of this spiritual gang.

Yet, spiritual people, it would seem, do not need to announce it.

And gangsters, it would seem, would not be interested in yoga.

What was I missing? Further, what does it mean to be a wearer of the SG swag, to proclaim the so-called gospel of gangster threads?

Spiritual Gangster Holdings, Inc. is a private company, founded by yoga enthusiasts. The company purports to be a “a gang of spiritual people who want to make a difference.” They consider themselves spiritual in their dedication to the practice of yoga, and their behavior of banding together to support philanthropic causes, such as Feed the Hungry, from which a portion of their athleisure proceeds are donated, is where the gangster piece derives. 

So, as I distill it, the brand is about being a gang united by yoga and philanthropy. In effect, they are seeking to flip the script on “gangster” and what an intimidating band of people hellbent on a cause can do--for good.

“Spiritual Gangster,” as monikers go, is an oxymoron. To be spiritual can be manifested - or not - in a myriad of ways, most of them peaceful (though I’m sure plenty of jihadists consider themselves deeply spiritual). To be a gangster, in my view, though, commands some measure of perilous arrogance, whether one simply hails from a a rough and tumble territory, or truly makes her business preying upon the lives of those deemed enemies.

As a yogi, I like a good pair of yoga pants that keep my organs from spilling out of place when I’m in downfacing dog. I’m not particular about brands with yoga; I sweat all over them anyway. But the Spiritual Gangster brand continues to give me pause, long after I found out that they sell a $98 sports bra. Because I’m not sure if I’m bold enough in either of my practices -- yoga or do-gooding; spirituality or philanthropy; inwardness and togetherness -- to make the kind of statement that this athleisure wearers everywhere are making.


Perhaps it’s hubris that I lack, or perhaps it’s humility that I want to attain, but I feel both admiration and envy at the yoga gangsters who aren’t afraid to say who they are, of what they strive to be a part.

I think upon the times when Jesus told witnesses to his miracles not to tell anyone what they had seen. But, almost in the same breath, Jesus tells his apostles to be unapologetic about who they are and if any dismiss them, to shake the dust off their feet as they make their swift exit.

Even Peter’s betrayal of Jesus is, at its core, a denial of core identity. Peter denies that he is friends with Jesus. That he was part of his spiritual gang, as it were. 

At the beginning of many a yoga class, the teacher will tell students to set their intention. For the class, for their day, for their lives. I usually say to myself that I hope I’ll not give up and try to complete the whole class.

The next time I’m on the mat, though, I think I’ll modify my intention, perhaps to be both more spiritual and more gangster. Even if no one can tell.

But how do you order the cotton candy?

My quasi-cousin Kore and I met up at an impossibly chic taqueria on Sunday and I’m still puzzled how the Minivan Mafia let me get away with this one, how I didn’t get fined (yet?) for wearing Not Nearly Enough Black, and how it appeared I was the only one whose skull was completely blown to bits over this cotton candy novelty served apres dinner.

This cotton candy? Arrived in a big bountiful arrangement. The same big bouquet shape you’re used to seeing at the fair. Only it was placed on tables around us like a fetching centerpiece. Now, I’m not so daft and irrelevant that I’m unaware that cotton candy for growns is a HUGE thing in foodie places like Vegas, etc. I mean I might own some mom jeans but I know my way around a Sephora counter and I know that contouring is a thing I need and a boy brow is a thing I shouldn’t attempt at home. I am current in most of the ways that matter. But the cotton candy was a surprise at this urbane eatery what with its neo-gothic stained glass windows and wrought-iron sectionings.

Here’s the rub. We couldn’t figure out how to order it. It wasn’t on the menu. Maybe there was a secret password or you had to know a guy, a cottony confectionary kind of guy to order. Kore and I aren’t delicate lilacs afraid to assert ourselves or ask difficult questions like FLOOFER SUGAR, WE CAN HAZ SOME? But! Hark! Just as we asked for the check, a bloom of blue cotton candy was placed in our midst. Unbidden but definitely not unwanted. We pulled at wads and tasted an unexpected fruity flavor. This was not your sad clown cotton candy in a bag that you begged your dad to get you at the Ice Capades mostly because everyone else had some. Kore was the first to make the discovery: this cotton candy was sprinkled in Pop Rocks. For the love of Screech and Lisa Turtle, what a pair. Delicious and frivolous. Suddenly our table with a couple of cackling hens was transformed into the table that was having the most fun party for two, and I totally hope it made everyone who didn’t yet know the cotton candy secret insanely jealous.

I’ve thought about that cotton candy in the days since and I realize it’s less about the spectacle of it, and more about the moment that it arrived. You guys, I swear I heard windchimes when they set it down in front of us. Kore and I had been fine to wrap up our meal without ever solving the mystery of the cotton candy, perhaps investigating further on another cotton candy research junket (as one does). But then the restaurant said, Oh. No. Don’t leave yet. You haven’t tried this blue treat of ours. Your stay here isn’t complete until we set a bouquet of sugary goodness before you.

Even though the Pop Rocks as sprinkles was a new concept for me, I have sat at this table before. The one where I’ve been given the enviable thing without having to ask for it. The one where I’m sitting with someone who accepts me and yet challenges me to pass on the baloney when it comes around. The table where I didn’t make the reservation, where I probably didn’t even abide by the dress code of the place, but was treated kindly. And given the dessert chaser.

I keep returning to the moment, because it was all so fresh for me: the reward no one deserves but which the restauranteur wants its patrons to have; the feasting eyes from other tables; the wondering, the menu scoping. I am going to be spending some more time in this moment where we realize we are getting something we very much wanted and didn’t know how to ask for, and being glad and present for when someone who just wants to delight in our delight says, Oh, why. Here you go.

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I think this is the magic we don’t have nearly enough of in our world, and for which we should strive to create more for the people we love and others we may not even know. Because these are the moments where our expectations are suspended and our childish hopes met. Show me the folks who are mad about that. Then sprinkle them with a generous portion of Pop Rocks and see what happens.