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Sandi is a wanderer and a stubborn dreamer.
She met her now husband when she was sixteen and they have weathered many storms since, in the twelve years they’ve traveled the world together.
From getting kicked out of church, to climbing out of poverty, to surviving a category 5 hurricane and raising two little starfarers, their story is one of wandering.
But maybe that is the only way to journey through time.
So this is to all who dream, to all who hope, to all who love …
… and to all who wander.
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I met my husband, Jesse, when I was sixteen.
And in the words of Charlotte Brontë:
“Reader, I married him.”
Pretty much right after high school, to be exact.
I know what you’re thinking and, no, we weren’t pregnant.
But we did manage to have our first child within a year of marriage. (That’s our son, Judah.)
Was it the best decision? I’m not sure. We still argue about it, twelve years and two beautiful kids later. (Lorelai is the second kid.)
Oh well. That’s why it’s not recommended to do much speculating about the past. It couldn’t have happened any other way because that’s exactly how it happened and it’s the truth of the matter.
That’s really all I want to pen in the pages of this book. The truth of the matter.
This is the redeeming quality of telling your own story. You get to tell the truth you lived out.
The trouble is, I have an issue with talking about things chronologically. The story always comes out in spurts and the threads are all interconnected.
I suppose that’s what prologues are for.
Instead of trying to unravel all the threads and make them flow in a nice orderly fashion, I decided to make this book read like life reads.
And if life is anything, it is most un-orderly.
But I do want to give you a few paragraphs of explanation so you don’t get lost on this journey of wandering.
Was that a reference to Tolkien? I can’t decide.
First. Well, you already know the first. But the story starts when I met my husband.
Jesse leaned over the counter one day at the drive-thru we worked together and said, “You play piano well.”
I had never seen this boy in my life, so I thought. I asked him how he could possibly know that I played piano and he said, “I’m in your homeroom class! Plus I’m in most of the clubs you’re in. PLUS we’ve worked together for weeks!”
At this point you may think I’m the most self-involved person in the entire world. You may be right. I like to live in my own world more than the real one.
Over the next 8 months, I got to know Jesse. I knew he was never, ever late to work. I noticed he made schedules for the night shift to make the evenings run more smoothly, even though he only made about $6 an hour. I noticed he never said a curse word and I knew some of the cooks made fun of him because his church “spoke in tongues.”
He liked to joke about it. “Who-stola-my-Honda? Shoulda-bought-a-Mazda.”
Get it? Try saying it out loud. Preferably in public. The punchline will come to you.
I thought he was funny.
When we first started dating, he drove me in his beaten up truck to a place by the bay. We stood outside around the hood and he looked me square in the eye.
“If we’re going to date,” he said. “You need to know some things about me.”
“Okay,” I responded.
“My dad took his life when I was twelve. I remember visiting him in a mental hospital. So that will come up sometimes. My mom loves me and my brother, but she’s an alcoholic. It’s why I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs, I don’t smoke, and I don’t date anyone who does. I never miss church. I go to every single event and I lead worship. They’re my family. I only date with the intention of getting married, it’s just what I’m about. If any of this is scary to you, we can end it now. We can be friends instead.”
Is this dude for real?
Maybe I would have walked away. Maybe I would have been scared out of my sixteen year old mind.
But I wasn’t, for one reason alone.
I was in the habit of giving speeches before I dated people, too.
So I just smiled, and asked about his dad.
“He was a professional musician. He could play anything. It’s why I learned bass, then piano. We think he had schizophrenia, but not sure.”
I went to church with him the following Sunday. The first time he hit the keys on the piano, I think I actually swooned.
The boy could play. Now, I’m a musician myself. I can’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t on the stage performing. Every single boyfriend I ever had was a musician. It’s just what circle I ran in.
But there were boys who knew a few riffs on the guitar or they could play “Annie, Are You Okay?” on the bass. Then there were boys like Jesse.
And Jesse, my friend, could play.
He could sing, too. A strong tenor voice.
I like to think that’s the moment I decided, “This is the dude. The dude to end all other dudes.”
But let’s face it. I was only sixteen.
Music is what brought us together. It is this revelation that saved me later on when I could no longer listen to music without experiencing pain. Deep, deep psychological pain.
We’re getting to that part.
I joined Jesse’s church, and the worship team. It was the first time in my life that I felt like I could truly let myself go in worship. For me, that was important.
To me, it felt like home.
I was grafted into the fellowship. I began passionately preaching and teaching the Bible, and for a woman raised in the south, this was liberating. After all, women aren’t viewed favorably in many churches when they want to preach.
Jesse and I got married, in the church that was our family. There were dancers at our wedding (yes, with flags), a salt covenant and lots of Song of Solomon symbolism that adorned the walls of the old country church.
Our son, Judah, was dedicated to the Lord in that church. Jesse and I were baptized in a crystal blue lake after a particularly powerful conference. We felt we might as well get baptized again. “You get a baptism, they get a baptism, WE ALL GET A BAPTISM!”
I began traveling more as a young minister. Judah was an infant, but I would put him in a baby carrier and lead worship all the same.
We were passionate. We were serious. We loved God and His people.
But, I won’t lie. We had some questions.
And we asked those questions of anyone we thought capable of giving us a good answer or even a perspective we hadn’t heard before.
The questions included topics like tithing, gay marriage, drinking alcohol, etc.
We’re not sure which of these questions got us kicked out.
Nevertheless, we got kicked out.
To date it’s still painful to think about. They were our family. Every week we spent twenty or more hours volunteering at the church. I played the piano and sang in long worship services until my fingers bled and my voice gave out.
It was home for years. Our community. All our friends.
It didn’t take us long to move. My husband got accepted into a university in Jacksonville, Florida. We would spend the next three years there.
My husband worked full time on the weekends so he could go to school. He was gone anywhere from 12-16 hours a day, every day. This meant I was alone in a new city with my two children under the age of two; and we were very, very poor. It was nothing short of an adventure, and a learning experience.
I took up a position at a small church as worship leader. This time, it was my newborn daughter, Lorelai, I strapped in a baby carrier to my chest while I led worship from the piano. Every time my fingers hit the keys, I felt pain.
But not because my fingers were bleeding from overuse.
I was starting to despise music. Music was my whole life, yet I was growing to hate it.
It would take me a while to figure that one out, with the help of some therapy.
Eventually, I couldn’t continue on in my position at the church. My heart wasn’t in it, and I also found myself disagreeing more and more with the message that was preached.
Before I left, the pastor was compelled to tell me he believed I was chasing after a false gospel.
I didn’t have a response for that.
A few months afterwards, Jesse fell into the front door, hearing voices that weren’t there.
My husband went to a psychiatrist.
He was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and, later on, that diagnosis was amended to OCPD.
This is what makes my husband a superhero. He got help. It’s because he got help that I’m able to continue with the story from here.
Jesse graduated with a degree in Physics and we moved back to my hometown, Panama City, Florida, so I could finish my own degree. My husband was on new medication that was actually working! September 2018 was the best month of our lives, and we were together again after years of struggle. We were also doing well financially for the first time in our married lives.
Then, on October 10th, 2018, Hurricane Michael destroyed my hometown and wrecked my home.
In the months following, I watched my husband slip into the throes of depression until he spent six weeks straight on the couch; unmoving, unseeing, not eating.
One month. One glorious month of clarity, and then the definition of an “act of God” happened, destroying everything. All our plans, all our hopes, all our dreams seemed to be the punching bag of Life.
I thought it was the end.
I involuntarily planned Jesse’s funeral in my head. My therapist would later call this a coping mechanism, a way for my brain to deal with watching the man I love battling a fight I could only watch from the outside.
But my husband, that fearless warrior, sat with me calmly as I drove him to the emergency behavioral hospital when things got beyond bad. He sat there in the cold, white-walled room for three hours while they decided if he was “suicidal enough” to admit him.
He wasn’t. They called it “suicidal ideation.” I was to call the police if he had a plan in place.
That wasn’t the last time my husband got help.
No. Jesse Lard is a man of some faults, but giving up is not in his vocabulary.
He was “manly” enough to drag himself to therapy, or he let me drag him. He took his medication and, if he was having a particularly bad day, he allowed me to hand him a glass of water with the pills. He heard me from some far-off world beg him to eat or shower or move from the bed to the couch.
He stayed with me. He fought to stay with us. His family.
Even if that meant laying in the bed and breathing, he stayed with us.
He tried his best to support me when I had my own bad days with depression. Sometimes we just held each other while the kids played around us, in our broken home.
Our kids. Oh, our wonderful kids.
It’s their laughter and inquisitiveness that ties the whole story together. Because most of what has happened to us has happened to them, too. They just see things with the eyes of a child.
It’s something my therapist is having me work on.
“What are some defining moments of your life?” She asked.
1.When I won an essay contest in the 5th grade. It was the first time I thought I was good at writing.
2.The first time a song I wrote was sung back to me.
3.When I met my husband.
4.Giving birth to my kids.
5.When we were kicked out of the church.
6.Finding out about my husband’s illness.
“What feelings came up for you as you were writing those defining moments down?” She asked.
“The first four, I feel happy. The last three, I feel angry that so much has happened to us. I feel upset because I feel like we’re good people, but life doesn’t care about that, does it? It doesn’t care if you do good or are good, it doesn’t matter if you’ve already overcame so much, it just happens.”
“If you woke up tomorrow,” she said, “and all of those feelings of being hurt or angry disappeared, what would that look like to you?”
Now, that’s a good question. I don’t have an answer for it yet.
I do know that beauty and pain are often intermingled. I know that because the pages of this book are riddled with both.
Just because there are moments we feel like dying, doesn’t mean we don’t sometimes laugh. Just because we feel grief doesn’t mean we don’t also feel hope entwined with it.
Just because we wander, doesn’t mean we’re lost.
Okay, that’s definitely a Tolkien reference.
I don’t believe we always get to choose when we wander. Sometimes, life just happens to us and we’re left to deal with it the best we can.
And maybe there isn’t meaning in everything, but we can create meaning out of anything.
In the pages that follow, that’s what I do. It’s a collection of essays where I sift through the dross of life, trying to find something I can create meaning out of.
It’s a love letter to all who find themselves in the same boat, trying to make sense out of the nonsensical.
To all who wander, I hope this letter finds you at the exact moment you need it.
May we sojourn on.