The Carry

I have no idea how I became one of them, but I did. Thousands of women on chatty, buy, sell, and trade private facebook pages dedicated to brand name handbags. Before I knew it, I was a member of several groups. Women enmeshed in what was either a hellish addiction or heaven. Their cumulative depth of knowledge was utterly astounding. Multiple daily sales posts and professional-looking staged photos of their latest acquisitions drew me in quickly. “I’m In Love” was a common single byline over many photos. One lady posted “New Arrivals” with a photo of two handbags and her new born! I wasn’t sure what to think. Either I was missing something about handbags or these ladies were, in fact, living in another dimension. I just needed a good handbag, one that would last me my usual eight to ten years. So I stayed with the groups, a brand, and these ladies who would help me complete my task.

However, my analytical passions got the best of me and I soon desired to find out more about these ladies and their “loves.” I wondered why they sold so many bags. Were they making poor decisions? And what about this trading thing? How did that work and why wouldn’t someone just buy new? Then there was the profuse thanking of one member to another for helping find their “unicorn” bag. What was that? I felt stupid asking on a public page and even more ridiculous when my question was answered.

Dooney & Bourke Rose Samba

Within weeks, I had purchased and returned a dozen bags and was deep into interacting with ladies about sales, discounts, cash back incentives and handbag care. I was buying and selling handbags like a short order cook flipping pancakes during breakfast rush. Whenever someone asked a question, I gave my newly obtained advice. I relished the “likes” and comments on my posts and got a little buzz off how quickly I sold bags that did not work for me. I loved passing on great prices to others, due to my thriftiness. Seemingly overnight I had become one of them. I personally friended and conversed regularly with many of the members, including the woman who had posted the photo of her handbags with her newborn.

My husband and adult sons frequently expressed concern about what was looking very much like an obsession. I, in turn, saved photos of different women’s large collections to show them I had this under control. At least I thought I did. But, in a matter of five months, I had bought and sold or returned 37 items. This experience helped me decide the size, style and type of material I wanted in my handbag. However, I now had nine handbags, three totes, five accessories, a couple coming in the mail, and one on my wish list. Okay, it was two. Two were on my wish list, for now. This was far from my goal of finding one quality handbag to last me ten years. Was I out of control? Was this the beginning of another addiction just like the half dozen other things I’d “collected” and just spent years of my life purging?


“Please God,” I found myself praying. “Please don’t tell me this is just another over indulging, materialistic, entitlement-obtaining act of filling up my empty self.” As those words rolled over my tongue, I pictured my handbags posed for one of those “family photos” so many other ladies had posted. I wanted to do that. I wanted everyone to see I had a modest collection. I wanted them to see the functionality within the beautiful silhouettes that had become my personal style. I wanted them to see how well I coordinated colors, style, fashion and function. And I wanted to justify it all by telling them the amazing low price I had paid for the total collection. I wanted the beauty of what I had created to be seen.


But something more was behind all the posts and comments, sales, rebates, and addictively obsessive behavior I found myself loving. It was my own desire. I stopped wondering why other women were buying and selling handbags. I stopped thinking maybe some of them were addicted. I stopped justifying my purchases and returns based on thriftiness. I just stopped. Then I saw the attraction. I saw the empty hole I had. I saw my neediness.

When I was thirteen I finally saved enough of my own money to buy the purse I had been wanting. A burgundy all-in-one clutch style with a snap tab closure, wristlet strap, kiss lock coin purse with lots of photo sleeves and a spot for a check book. It was the very first purse I ever purchased. I excitedly showed my mother this treasure. I so wanted her to join me in the pleasure of my accomplishment in this step toward becoming a lady. But she didn’t.


Forty Two years later, I met a group of strangers who taught me about handbags. I learned about style, size, strap drop, organizational pockets, lining, closures, color and craftsmanship. I never imagined leather had so many variations. My preferences and observation of these ladies gave birth to an insatiable desire to carry my own version of a beautiful handbag. Given my handbag history, this shocked me. I knew I was not addicted to this, I had too many boundaries in place, I had too little space, and I didn’t want to own things I did not use. Still, I wondered how this new passion could be so intense this late in my life.

Then I noticed how ladies posted about their bags. “Who’s with you today?” “Starting my work week with this beauty!” “She’s finally here.” were frequent phrases accompanied by photos of a handbag in the passenger seat of a car, perched on a deck railing or in a garden of flowers. I heard the word “carry” over and over in reference to size and style. “I carry light”, “I carry everything but the kitchen sink”, “What are you carrying today?” And woven throughout the sales and discussion posts were bits and pieces of what some women carried in their personal lives. There were requests for prayer, fundraisers, kind words and generous deeds among these ladies who loved to carry beautiful handbags. This was intimately personal.


As I pondered these things I no longer struggled with why I or any of these women love to carry beautiful handbags. I know God made women to unveil beauty. I know our bodies are made for carrying things like babies and breast milk. We carry emotions and burdens for those we love. We carry painful broken promises, insults to our bodies and hearts. We carry laundry and groceries, job titles and expectations. We carry grief and loss. Love and hope. But for some of us, the pain and the promise never show the way it was intended. It is guarded, much like how some of us guard the opening of our handbags. It’s hidden by our beautiful distractions. We function our way through life with the accessories we’ve been given and the organizational systems included in our “bag.”

But every woman wants to carry beauty. If that is in our physical beauty, our parenting, relationships, or careers people will see that. If it is hidden inside our brokenness and needs to be shown in our jewelry, clothing, shoes, or handbags people will see that as well. That is why we feel good when someone compliments what we carry on the outside. Because somewhere behind that jewelry, beneath that outfit, and inside that handbag is our beauty shinning through.

Don’t ever think those things make you more beautiful. You are one-of-a-kind, perhaps vintage, but never the less, “mint” in the eyes of your Maker. And it is YOU who give beauty to all that is around you, not the other way around.









Blessings Cursed


Three surprises awaited me last week.

First, a glorious home-going for a man who spent his entire life proclaiming the forgiveness, love, and hope available to every person in the world, through a personal relationship with Jesus. The second, an unlikely and unintended tribute to my Dad. And finally, venomous words from a bitter, angry, and hate-filled person. I was brought to tears and grief by each event, all happening within four days.

Wednesday morning, I opened my iPad while sipping coffee. Immediately, the news of Billy Graham’s passing was in front of me. As soon as I saw the dash before the 2018 under his name, my heart sank. I pored over social media for confirmation, knowing all the while, it was true. He was gone.

At the age of seven, at a Billy Graham Crusade in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I asked Jesus into my little heart. There was standing room only at the crusade, right up to the platform. People could not come forward so I stood to signify my decision. I didn’t want to go to hell and he said I could avoid it by asking Christ into my life. Later, in my teens, I rededicated my life to following the footsteps of Jesus day by day, not just for fire insurance in the next life.

I didn’t understand why I was crying so much over Billy’s passing. He was finally home, completely whole, vibrant in every way. Now joining his wife who had gone before him. He was getting answers to his life-long questions. The mysteries we cannot fully know until we stand in the presence of God. I sent condolences to the grieving family. After all, he was their Daddy, Grandfather, Brother, Cousin, Uncle and Friend.


A few days later, I received a letter with a surprise related to my own Dad’s passing. It brought justice I didn’t know I needed and a layer of healing I longed for. A public tribute to my Dad’s existence on this earth. It would have made him smile in a way he never could in this life. There are some things only God can do, and this was one of them. The impact could not be removed or lessened by anyone. It would forever fade the abuse I took after he left.

I wanted to share this with the woman who sat at my Dad’s hospital bedside with me and four of my siblings, when he took his last breath. I called, asked the usual “How are you doing,” and “What’s keeping you busy?” I wished her a belated happy birthday and proceeded to explain the wonderful surprise. Then, the unexpected happened.

It spewed out of her mouth. Hatred, thick and fungus-like. Bitterness crushing my ears and anger pounding at my heart. I’d heard about this woman’s hidden rage but now was experiencing it first hand. Initially, out of pure shock, I held my tongue. Then, knowing I could not penetrate her layered attacks, I kept silent. Disbelief served to calm me, and I allowed her to continue for fifteen minutes before ending the conversation with a kindness she did not expect.

I was surprised by the words, “I HATE” articulated in front each of my sibling’s names. Surprised to hear her say my Dad never wanted any of his children near him in the end. Even more bold was the blatant accusation that I had tried to kill my father on his death bed. It took me a while to pull the arrows out. I started to believe her words could rob me of the precious memories she had been part of. The fact is, this too was a tribute. But it didn’t belong to me or my Dad.


Billy Graham would be the first to say his life was not about himself. I would agree and so it is with that understanding I continue.

Both Billy Graham and this woman were broken sinners in need of forgiveness. Both created by God. Given time, gifts, abilities, and the opportunity to choose.

This woman chose to carry all the pain this life has to offer until it could do nothing but spill over the sides of her life. She was enslaved by her circumstances.

Billy chose the freedom that surrender brings. Surrender to his Creator, Savior, and coming King. He invited us to do the same.

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yolk of slavery.” ~ The Apostle Paul (Galatians 5:1)











Revisiting Love



Last Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, hubby worked and I wished for some time to be creative about the day. I just wanted to set the day apart from every other day. However, his truck died last weekend so I counted shuttling him back and forth to work as “different” from most days. On the way home, we picked up a heart shaped pizza and the conversation went something like this . . .

“I didn’t get you . . .”

“Oh, and by the way honey” I interjected, “That Valentine’s Day gift you got me is so NICE! I don’t mind at all that you combined it with Mother’s Day as well. I’m going to love it when it arrives. Thank you!”

“I’m so glad you like it.” He responded with that all-knowing subtle smile.

His usual sweet card with personalized sentiments and no flowers because I insist (they just cost too much on holidays), and my celebratory home cooked meal would have to wait. At least until we got another vehicle.

When we got home, I showed him a photo of the gift he got me while the pizza was baking and we called it good.


It was the best we could do that day.

This was our temporary version of celebrating love. That’s the way it goes sometimes.

But I forgot about how life sometimes just happens upon us when we are unaware.

When Sunday came and life seemed to crash up against me for no reason, I slumped into an emotional pit. I wondered where my “I’m okay with ‘that’s the way it goes’ attitude” from a few days ago, went.

My high hopes of finishing the trailing ends of projects and tightening up the piece I wrote for my weekly blog post, plummeted before I even finished my morning coffee. I struggled with insignificant circumstances and a vague sense of . . . I didn’t know what. The whole day had a foggy cloud around it.

So I decided to get one errand done, give the next day a good run, and try to catch up the best I could. Getting into my car, I noticed my dashboard display. There it was. The answer to all my wondering about this day. Then I remembered other days like this, one each month, for the past year and a half. The same pattern rising up until I finally noticed the date and the unwanted anniversary.

I looked down from the display panel at the photo of my Dad and me. It was taken the last time he was able to stand on his back deck. It’s just me without any fuss and him happy to have me there. The two of us looking so much like father and daughter. Physically yes, but when I look really hard, I can see the similarities in our journeys – it’s on our faces, hidden behind our smiles, deep in our eyes. Pain and joy all wrapped up inside the Love of God.


The rest of the day’s plans washed away with the tears streaming down my face. I sat in my car. The car that would forever remind me of my Dad, with his all-knowing authoritative voice, saying, “Don’t sell that car, that’s a nice car.” He was right about that. I’m not sure how I could ever give it up now.

I thought about the way my heart just knows when it’s time to remember. I revisit love every eighteenth day of the month. I want to set it apart from every other day, but the fact is, my Dad is part of every day I walk this earth. He was my first Valentine, the first man I ever loved, and when our brown eyes meet again, it will be sweet.




Ashley got into the passenger’s side of the truck, looked at me, then over her shoulder toward the storefront. As she exhaled, she laughed uncontrollably.

“What?” I asked, beginning to laugh myself.

“She, she . . . she said,” Ashley stuttered, barely able to catch a breath in between howls of laughter

“Ash, what? What did she say?” I begged, wanting to know what could possibly elicit such drama.

Ashley caught her breath and continued, “She said, ‘your mom went out to pull up her truck.’”

Our laughter, now in unison, filled the truck cab.

“You should have seen the look on her face when I told her you were my sister!” Ashley said, wiping the tears from her eyes. “She kept saying, ‘don’t tell her I said that, please don’t tell her, I can’t lose this sale.’”

“You know Ashley,” I interrupted our laughing duet, “I AM old enough to be your mother.”

“I know.” She said, continuing to laugh.

“That’s it,” I joked, “I’m taking the rug back!”

We exploded with laughter again, holding our sides and crossing our legs.

Ashley was born the year I graduated from high school. So our relationship developed during weekends and summers when I was home from college. When I got engaged, she was four. Though my fiancé and I decided his niece would be our flower girl, Ashley decided she had to be one as well. After all, anything pink most certainly had to involve her. She was adorable that day.

After our shopping expedition, Ashley went home with her rug and the puffy jacket she also found that day. Whenever I admire my living room rug, which is often, I think of how she helped me decide how beautiful it would look in my house. The next time we talked, she asked me to be her Doula. She was having a baby and wanted me to be by her side, along with her husband.

The beauty of birth is a sisterhood many women share. It is as unique as the newborn’s cry and the gaze in a mother’s eyes the first time she looks upon her child. There is nothing like witnessing the birth of someone else’s baby. It forever bonded Ashley and me.


As women, we find the same beauty formed over tragedies like cancer and the sting of a life gone too soon. The experiences we share moving past life-altering disabilities or lost dreams knit us together like sweaters warming our very souls. We cannot help but feel kin to those who stand beside us when we can no longer stand at all.

This Sisterhood, reaches far beyond DNA.

I know this all too well.

Biology doesn’t make sisters. Biology makes siblings.

Real sisterhood is found every day between women who shop together for puffy jackets and laugh till their sides hurt. It is found in conversations about the struggle of disappointment and loss. In the impossible battles we fight together for our children and those who mean the most to us. It is forged in the races we run for causes bigger than ourselves. And in the arms of the women who hold us up.

Ashley bears none of my biological DNA. She became my sister because she decide it to be so. I became hers when I did the same.




Just Begin



Six months ago I decided I had too many words for the book I’m writing. There are so many stories within my story. As a writer, I almost never want to give up words. I love each and every one I craft. However, my message was becoming muddy with all the intertwining story lines. Every time I wrote I heard a voice in my head. It was a writer friend from my critique group.

“If you want your story to be about all these details, that is fine.” She would say, “But remember your reader doesn’t need every detail. Sometimes less is more.” (Paraphrased)

Then my story telling son’s voice would join in, “Mom, is that important to the story?”

What was I going to do about all my words?

I thought on this for three months.

Should I work on more than one book at a time? Perhaps a devotional?

Another three months passed and here I am with a blog.

In the past week, since I named and paid for the blog site, I’ve been A MESS!

I feel frozen. How can I do this? Everyone in the whole entire WORLD is going to see my words. What will they think? How will they react? What about my grammar issues!

I had no idea starting a blog would feel so complicated.

Even though I have several blog posts ready to publish, I can’t decide which one should be first. I keep evaluating possible reader responses and contemplating whether or not my target audience will keep reading my blogs. I even had a thought that maybe I should tell my readers what I intend to communicate before the beginning of each post. Hmm, I can’t even find a word for that (bad) idea.

I stalled. I fussed. I drove my blog tech helper crazy. I told myself I could not start until everything was perfect.

There it was! That word. The word which represented the ideal I had been a slave to most of my life. PERFECTION. It crept up on me again, in of all things, a blog where I hoped to help others see beauty in their darkest places.


So, here I go:

Whole Wide World,

Target Audience,


I hope you all stay with me.

Perfection, Leave. Me. Alone. I’m starting no matter what.

Sandy Gruhlke is unveiling beauty.